King Midas loved gold more than anything else in the world. His greatest pleasure was counting it. One day he was visited by Bacchus (pronounced BACK-us), one of the Greek gods. Midas had once helped Bacchus and in return Bacchus offered him a gift. ‘What can I give you,’ he said, ‘that would bring you happiness?’
Midas thought for a moment and then decided. ‘Let everything I touch be turned to gold.’ he asked.
Bacchus laughed loud and long when he heard this but he agreed. He told Midas that as soon as the sun rose next morning, he would have the ‘Golden Touch”. When Midas woke up the next day, he found Bacchus had kept his word.
The first thought that came to him was that the bedclothes seemed heavier and much less soft than usual. Looking at them, he realised that they had turned into gold! So had his pillows. He stretched out his hand and touched the bedposts. They, too, immediately became pillars of solid gold. He jumped out of bed with a glad cry. He had been given the Golden Touch!
As he dressed, his royal robes of crimson and purple changed to cloth of gold. When he moved about the room, footprints on the floor showed the same precious metal. His sandals, as he slipped his feet into them, became golden. Overjoyed, he went from room to room, touching things here and there. One and all they were changed into gold. Hangings, rugs, chairs, and tables, even a bird in its cage — his magic touch transformed them all.
Going into the garden, he breathed deeply the scent of the roses and lilies and the other flowers. How lovely they looked with the dew upon them! Midas touched them lightly, thinking to make them lovelier still. The scent and the colour faded; but to Midas, the golden blossoms on their stiff golden stems seemed much more beautiful then they were before.
Well content, and beginning to feel hungry, he returned to the palace. One the way he picked up a handful of small pebbies from the path and rejoiced to see how they at once became nuggets of pure gold. Still clutching them, he sat down to breakfast. If the servants thought their master’s dress dull and colourless compared with his usual brightly hued robes, Midas at least did not guess their thoughts.
Breakfast looked and smelt delicious — fresh bread, butter, honey, little trout fried to perfection, juice in a tall flagon. Midas set to with good appetite. Alas! Alas! The instant the food touched his lips it turned into gold! So did the juice. It seemed he could no longer eat or drink. He grew more and more unhappy. To add to his distress, one of his little daughters, his favourite child, came weeping to him, a golden rose in her hand.
‘Look!’ she sobbed. ‘Something dreadful has happened to the roses. They are faded and yellow, and they have lost their sweet smell,
‘But this is a golden rose,’ exclaimed Midas. ‘It will never fade. It is worth more than a thousand roses.’
‘I don’t care,’ cried the child, stamping her foot. ‘I hate it! I hate it!’ She threw it from her and came to sit on her father’s knee.
Saddened by his child’s tears, Midas put his arms around her, trying to comfort her. Then the terrible thing happened. The soft, warm little body became hard and cold. Instead of his darling daughter, Midas held a little golden statue in his arms.
Then indeed was he in despair. His servants came running on hearing his cries of grief, but he commanded them to keep away, saying that he was accursed. Clasping his little daughter, his lips pressed to her cold cheek, he groaned in anguish.
‘Satisfied, friend Midas?’ murmured the mocking voice that he remembered.
The king threw himself on his knees before the god. ‘Take away this curse from me,’ he implored. ‘I was mad to ask for such a gift.’
‘But surely now you have all the gold you desire,’ the mocking voice continued. ‘Are you still not content?’
‘I had forgotten that there are things much more precious than gold,’ said Midas sadly, ‘my little daughter, the flowers she loved, friends, even a cup of cold water.’ He buried his face in his hands and wept.
‘You have learnt wisdom,’ said Bacchus in a kinder voice. ‘Your heart has not become as hard and unfeeling as your gold. Had that happened then indeed I could not have helped you. Go now to Pactolus, the river that flows past your garden. Bathe in it and its water shall wash the curse from you, and restore what you have already changed to gold.’
Midas lost no time in carrying out the command. Without pausing to remove his golden robes, he plunged into the stream. As he rose to the surface, spluttering and panting, he saw that once more he was clothed in his usual crimson and purple robes. Anxiously he touched a flower on the river bank. It remained unchanged. Eagerly he filled a pitcher with the healing water and hurried to the place where his little girl lay. He poured so much of the river water over her that she was astonished and gasped, as she sat up.
‘Are you trying to drown me, Father?’
Together they went out into he garden where they sprinkled the roses and the lilies and the other flowers. Together they rejoiced to see how the natural colours and perfumes came back to them.