The Genii of the Gold Mines
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"Can gold calm passion, or make reason shine?
Can we dig peace or wisdom from the mine?
Wisdom to gold prefer; for 'tis much less
To make our fortune than our happiness."
David Winters sat by the fireside one cold blustering night. His arm-chair was drawn up within a few feet of the crackling wood fire, and he felt in a very comfortable, drowsy — contemplative mood. What did he care, if the wind shook the casement and rattle the doors, as though it would break through into his snug parlor? He only gazed complacently around upon the comfortable arrangements of his fireside, and relapsed into a fit of musing. Mr. Winters was not what one might call rich in this world's goods. He had his comfortable house, a few acres of good tillable land, good barn, well filled with livestock, a smart sprinkling of hens, ducks, and geese; and he had another thing which he prized as of far greater value than all the rest — a good wife and two children — a boy and a girl. My reader will perhaps say, learning this, "Is he not contented with his lot? can he wish for any greater riches?"
I am very sorry to say, dear reader, that he was not. He was blessed with health in his family, a loving spouse, and an easy, independent life — yet he was not satisfied. Some of his neighbors had been to the land of gold, and returned with well-filled purses. He had taken the infection, and wanted to visit that land himself. Visions of "mountains of gold," gold dust, and golden ingots, filled his brain.
Mary, his wife, sat on the opposite side of the hearth, turning her spinning-wheel and converting the shining flax into tough thread, which in turn was to be converted into garments for David Winters Junior, who was at that time enjoying himself in a delicious sleep beside his mother.
"Mary," said Mr. Winters, suddenly breaking the silence, and striking his open hand upon his knee, as if he had an idea in his head — a singular idea, "Mary, do you know what I was just thinking of?"
"Not me, David — how would I know, unless you were thinking how much more wood it would take to melt the old — "
"Pshaw, Mary! nonsense," broke in David, not waiting for her conclusion, "I was just thinking how much money, how much gold would satisfy me."
"Gracious! David, what a man you are! Haven't you got everything comfortable around you; everything nice and convenient? and can't you be satisfied? Well, how much did you think would make you contented?"
"I thought, Mary, that if I had all I could place in the half bushel measure, I would be nearly satisfied; and, that if I had all I could put in this room, I would be perfectly satisfied!"
"Dear me! what an avaricious man you are, David! You'll never be contented, I'm afraid, if nothing less will satisfy your craving for wealth. I heard you tell Mr. Wilson today, that you had made up your mind to go to California. You were not in sober earnest, were you, husband? Oh! I know you weren't! How could you leave little David, Jeannette, and me?"
A tear trembled in the good woman's eye, and the hand that guided the flaxen thread shook nervously. She tangled the yarn around the spindle — her hands then fell to her side, and her head sank upon her bosom.
"Oh! don't cry, Mary," said David, almost repenting his ambition. "When I come back with a heap of money, you will be as glad to help dispose of it as anybody. Don't cry, Mary!"
An hour passed, and the old clock recorded it in its musical chimes. Mrs. Winters had resumed her spinning, and David sat in his chair almost asleep. The wheel buzzed merrily, the fire crackled cheerily, the old cat upon the hearth stretched herself lazily, and David's eyelids almost closed together, as he began to enter into dreamland.
As he sat there gazing into the bright fire — upon the glowing coals — he saw a slight movement among them, and a little fellow, all covered with dust and ashes, leaped out on to the hearth and shook himself. When David's eye first discovered him, he was not certainly bigger than a man's thumb, and might have been mistaken for a coal of fire, he was so red in the face. Gradually, he seemed to expand in form and limb, until his figure could hardly stand beneath the ceiling of the room. As the figure increased in size, his face grew redder and redder, until it grew warm around him, and David felt uncomfortably warm. He did not feel at all alarmed in the presence of the giant creature, but involuntarily inquired who he was.
"I am the Genii of the Gold Mines," said he, looking down upon David with his great yellow eyes. "I am the spirit of the mines, and have it in my power to make you rich. I can show you where the main treasure lies, and teach you how to gain immense quantities of gold."
"And what do you require of men in return for this information?" said Mr. Winters.
"I only require that they should give me full sway over their bodies and souls — give themselves entirely to my service, the remainder of their lives. When I call — they must answer; when I command — they must obey; and when death summons them hence — their souls are delivered up to my guardianship."
"Is that all? Truly, some men hazard as much, and in the end get nothing. Show me the treasure, sir, and I'll comply with your stipulations. Give me 'gold galore,' and I'll serve you through life, and deed over to you my spirit after death!"
A smile curled the red Genii's lip, and he immediately disappeared in the coals, from whence he came. David sat by the fire some minutes, impatiently awaiting the return of the Genii. He had almost persuaded himself that it was all a dream, and that the Genii would never return, when a beautiful girl appeared before him, as if by magic, with golden hair and the deepest blue eyes, the pearliest teeth and the most bewitching little smile that he ever saw. She opened her ruby lips, and in a mellow flute-like voice, which thrilled his very heart, she said,
"Mortal, you see before you a servant of the Genii of the Mines. I am called Flora. I am sent to conduct you to the presence of my master!"
"Lead on," said David, bewildered with her beauty, "lead on, and I will follow."
She placed her dark blue eyes steadily upon his for a moment, glided toward him, and placing one finger upon his forehead, she retreated toward the fire-place. David did not leave his chair, but it seemed to glide along, as if upon ice, in the same direction. Thus, as if in a mesmeric sleep, he entered the glowing grate. A moment, and all was dark. Still he felt the impress of the finger upon his forehead, and that he was passing through the atmosphere at a rapid rate. Soon there appeared in the distance, a light as of a glimmering star. It grew rapidly larger and larger, and brighter and brighter, until the dazzling light blinded his eyes. He stood in the presence of the Genii when he again looked around him, and his guide had disappeared. He stood in an immense cavern, whose sides, roof, and floor were of solid, massive golden rock.
"Frail mortal, you stand in the main treasure-chamber, from whence comes all the gold of earth," said the Genii. "Look around, and feast your greedy eyes upon the millions of millions that are here deposited. You can never but once come to it. Sign these writings, and then choose your manner of taking a share of gold from these walls."
David seized the pen and subscribed his name to the Deed. The letters traced were of a dark red color.
"There, that will do," chuckled the Genii; "you are mine, mine, Mine! heart, soul, and body! ha! ha! ha!" and he almost shrieked a laugh. The echo was caught up and resounded from each corner and point of the immense cavern. It was dreadful — awful. The perspiration started from every pore, and David most heartily wished himself out of the place.
"How much gold will satisfy you?" said the Genii, fixing his yellow eyes upon his, as though he would read his innermost thought.
"Would you be satisfied with as much as you could raise from the floor?"
Now be it known, David was not a man who might be called small or weakly. He once prided himself very much upon his bodily strength, and the enormous weights he could lift. So the proposition of the Genii was in his favor.
"Yes," answered he. "Give me all I can lift, and I will be satisfied."
"Let it be so. You shall have your wish." The Genii seized an iron instrument, and commenced digging the gold from the wall. His blows fell thick and fast. Presently a large lump of the precious metal was detached. He threw aside the instrument, and from a chest nearby, took a stout linen bag, apparently capable of holding two bushels of grain.
"Now," said he to David, who stood amazed, "I will make you acquainted with my further conditions." David did not answer, for he was glad to do anything to get himself out of the present predicament.
"You can take this bag," resumed the Genii, "and place in it as much of the metal as, in your best judgment, you think you can lift. If you over-estimate your strength, and get more gold than you can lift, you shall have none, but shall be sent back to your family worse than when you left them. If you do lift it, it shall be yours. My servants shall escort you home, and a conveyance shall be furnished for your treasure."
David took the sack, and began filling it with the largest and brightest pieces. At first he thought he would limit his desires, and be sure not to put in more than he could lift. As he handled the precious lumps he became more and more excited, until he had no command over himself. The bag was about half filled, and he desisted a moment. The idea of having so much gold stimulated him to prepare for immense exertion, in order to lift it.
"One more lump!" thought he, and added it to the pile.
"Oh! one more will not make it much heavier!"
Another lump was added — and yet another. The bag was placed in a convenient position, and he paused over it to take breath before he tried the lift. He did not have the slightest doubt but he could raise it, so excited had he become. He stooped, grasped the mouth of the sack in both his brawny hands, and raising himself slowly, steadily, but with all his strength, he essayed the task. He strained, he tugged with all his might; he exerted every muscle; the blood rushed to his brain — he saw more stars than revolve in the firmament; but it was all in vain. The obstinate load would not budge a hair's breadth.
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the demon, and his face glowed with a brighter glow. "You did not raise it! But try once more, and then if you do not raise it — ha! ha!" Again the echo was caught up as if by a myriad of fiends, and the cavern was filled with the laugh.
Once more David Winters grasped the sack. This time, with the determination to raise it or die in the attempt. When he was lifting with the utmost of his strength, the solid linen of the sack parted in twain, and David, losing his balance, fell heavily upon the floor. The Genii raised another, "Ha! ha! ha!" and again it echoed through the cave.
"Lost! lost! lost!" cried David, and — awoke!
"Bless my heart, David! what is the matter? Here you've been tugging and pulling at the arm of your chair, and now you've pulled it clean off, and fallen on the floor. Oh! what is the matter?"
David rubbed his eyes and looked around.
It was all a dream!
He related his dream to Mary that night, but said not a word about going to California, as in fact he never did afterwards. Several days passed before he recovered from the severe contusion on his head from the fall.
The moral of this simple sketch is obvious. When a man is comfortably located, having a home and a family, and with a fair income — he is not justified in leaving all, to seek more gold afar off. Like the hero of this dream, in doing so, he may not gain anything there, but lose everything he has at home.