by Robert Louis Stevenson
The King was a man that stood well before the
world; his smile was sweet as clover, but his soul
withinsides was as little as a pea. He had two
sons; and the younger son was a boy after his heart,
but the elder was one whom he feared. It befell
one morning that the drum sounded in the dun before
it was yet day; and the King rode with his two sons,
and a brave array behind them. They rode two hours,
and came to the foot of a brown mountain that was
"Where do we ride?" said the elder son.
"Across this brown mountain," said the King, and
smiled to himself.
"My father knows what he is doing," said the younger
And they rode two hours more, and came to the sides
of a black river that
was wondrous deep.
"And where do we ride?" asked the elder son.
"Over this black river," said the King, and smiled
"My father knows what he is doing," said the
And they rode all that day, and about the time of
the sunsetting came to the side of a lake, where
was a great dun.
"It is here we ride," said the King; "to a King's
house, and a priest's, and a house where you will
At the gates of the dun, the King who was a priest
met them; and he was a grave man, and beside him
stood his daughter, and she was as fair as the
morn, and one that smiled and looked down.
"These are my two sons," said the first King.
"And here is my daughter," said the King who was
"She is a wonderful fine maid," said the first
King, "and I like her manner of smiling,"
"They are wonderful well-grown lads," said the
second, "and I like their gravity."
And then the two Kings looked at each other, and
said, "The thing may
And in the meanwhile the two lads looked upon
the maid, and the one grew pale and the other
red; and the maid looked upon the ground smiling.
"Here is the maid that I shall marry," said the
elder. "For I think she smiled upon me."
But the younger plucked his father by the sleeve.
"Father," said he, "a word in your ear. If I find
favour in your sight, might not I wed this maid,
for I think she smiles upon me?"
"A word in yours," said the King his father.
"Waiting is good hunting, and when the teeth are
shut the tongue is at home."
Now they were come into the dun, and feasted;
and this was a great house, so that the lads were
astonished; and the King that was a priest sat at
the end of the board and was silent, so that the
lads were filled with reverence; and the maid
served them smiling with downcast eyes, so that
their hearts were enlarged.
Before it was day, the elder son arose, and he
found the maid at her weaving, for she was a
diligent girl. "Maid," quoth he, "I would fain
"You must speak with my father," said she, and
she looked upon the ground smiling, and became
like the rose.
"Her heart is with me," said the elder son, and
he went down to the lake and sang.
A little after came the younger son. "Maid,"
quoth he, "if our fathers were agreed, I would
like well to marry you."
"You can speak to my father," said she, and
looked upon the ground and smiled and grew
like the rose.
"She is a dutiful daughter," said the younger
son, "she will make an obedient wife." And
then he thought, "What shall I do?" and he
remembered the King her father was a priest;
so he went into the temple, and sacrificed a
weasel and a hare.
Presently the news got about; and the two lads
and the first King were called into the presence
of the King who was a priest, where he sat upon
the high seat.
"Little I reck of gear," said the King who was
a priest, "and little of power. For we live
here among the shadow of things, and the heart
is sick of seeing them. And we stay here in
the wind like raiment drying, and the heart is
weary of the wind. But one thing I love, and
that is truth; and for one thing will I give
my daughter, and that is the trial stone. For
in the light of that stone the seeming goes,
and the being shows, and all things besides
are worthless. Therefore, lads, if ye would
wed my daughter, out foot, and bring me the
stone of touch, for that is the price of her."
"A word in your ear," said the younger son to
his father. "I think we do very well without
"A word in yours," said the father. "I am of
your way of thinking; but when the teeth are
shut the tongue is at home." And he smiled to
the King that was a priest.
But the elder son got to his feet, and called
the King that was a priest by the name of father.
"For whether I marry the maid or no, I will call
you by that word for the love of your wisdom;
and even now I will ride forth and search the
world for the stone of touch." So he said
farewell and rode into the world.
"I think I will go, too," said the younger son,
"if I can have your leave. For my heart goes
out to the maid."
"You will ride home with me," said his father.
So they rode home, and when they came to the
dun, the King had his son into his treasury.
"Here," said he, "is the touchstone which shows
truth; for there is no truth but plain truth;
and if you will look in this, you will see
yourself as you are."
And the younger son looked in it, and saw his
face as it were the face of a beardless youth,
and he was well enough pleased; for the thing
was a piece of a mirror.
"Here is no such great thing to make a work
about," said he; "but if it will get me the
maid I shall never complain. But what a fool
is my brother to ride into the world, and the
thing all the while at home."
So they rode back to the other dun, and showed
the mirror to the King that was a priest; and
when he had looked in it, and seen himself like
a King, and his house like a King's house, and
all things like themselves, he cried out and
blessed God. "For now I know," said he, "there
is no truth but the plain truth; and I am a
King indeed, although my heart misgave me."
And he pulled down his temple, and built a new
one; and then the younger son was married to
In the meantime the elder son rode into the
world to find the touchstone of the trial of
truth; and whenever he came to a place of habitation,
he would ask the men if they had heard of it.
And in every place the men answered: "Not only
have we heard of it, but we alone, of all men,
possess the thing itself, and it hangs in the
side of our chimney to this day." Then would
the elder son be glad, and beg for a sight of
it. And sometimes it would be a piece of mirror,
that showed the seeming of things; and then he
would say, "This can never be, for there should
be more than seeming." And sometimes it would
be a lump of coal, which showed nothing; and
then he would say, "This can never be, for at
least there is the seeming." And sometimes it
would be a touchstone indeed, beautiful in hue,
adorned with polishing, the light inhabiting its
sides; and when he found this, he would beg the
thing, and the persons of that place would give
it him, for all men were very generous of that
gift; so that at the last he had his wallet full
of them, and they chinked together when he rode;
and when he halted by the side of the way he
would take them out and try them, till his head
turned like the sails upon a windmill.
"A murrain upon this business!" said the elder
son, "for I perceive no end to it. Here I have
the red, and here the blue and the green; and to
me they seem all excellent, and yet shame each
other. A murrain on the trade! If it were not
for the King that is a priest and whom I have
called my father, and if it were not for the
fair maid of the dun that makes my mouth to sing
and my heart enlarge, I would even tumble them
all into the salt sea, and go home and be a King
like other folk."
But he was like the hunter that has seen a stag
upon a mountain, so that the night may fall, and
the fire be kindled and the lights shine in his
house, but desire of that stag is single in his
Now after many years the elder son came upon the
sides of the salt sea; and it was night, and a
savage place, and the clamour of the sea was
loud. There he was aware of a house, and a man
that sat there by the light of a candle, for he
had no fire. Now the elder son came in to him,
and the man gave him water to drink, for he had
no bread; and wagged his head when he was spoken
to, for he had no words.
"Have you the touchstone of truth?" asked the
elder son; and when the man had wagged his head,
"I might have known that," cried the elder son.
"I have here a wallet full of them!" And with
that he laughed, although his heart was weary.
And with that the man laughed too, and with the
fuff of his laughter the candle went out.
"Sleep," said the man, "for now I think you
have come far enough; and your quest is ended,
and my candle is out."
Now when the morning came, the man gave him a
clear pebble in his hand, and it had no beauty
and no colour; and the elder son looked upon it
scornfully and shook his head; and he went away,
for it seemed a small affair to him.
All that day he rode, and his mind was quiet,
and the desire of the chase allayed. "How if
this poor pebble be the touchstone, after all?"
said he; and he got down from his horse, and
emptied forth his wallet by the side of the
way. Now, in the light of each other, all the
touchstones lost their hue and fire, and withered
like stars at morning; but in the light of the
pebble, their beauty remained, only the pebble
was the most bright. And the elder son smote
upon his brow. "How if this be the truth?" he
cried, "that all are a little true?" And he
took the pebble, and turned its light upon the
heavens, and they deepened about him like the
pit; and he turned it on the hills, and the
hills were cold and rugged, but life ran in
their sides so that his own life bounded; and
he turned it on the dust, and he beheld the
dust with joy and terror; and he turned it on
himself, and kneeled down and prayed.
"Now, thanks be to God," said the elder son, "I
have found the touchstone; and now I may turn my
reins, and ride home to the King and to the maid
of the dun that makes my mouth to sing and my
Now when he came to the dun, he saw children
playing by the gate where the King had met him
in the old days; and this stayed his pleasure,
for he thought in his heart, "It is here my
children should be playing." And when he came
into the hall, there was his brother on the high
seat and the maid beside him; and at that his
anger rose, for he thought in his heart, "It is
I that should be sitting there, and the maid
"Who are you?" said his brother. "And what make
you in the dun?"
"I am your elder brother," he replied. "And I
am come to marry the maid, for I have brought
the touchstone of truth."
Then the younger brother laughed aloud. "Why,"
said he, "I found the touchstone years ago, and
married the maid, and there are our children
playing at the gate."
Now at this the elder brother grew as gray as
the dawn. "I pray you have dealt justly," said
he, "for I perceive my life is lost."
"Justly?" quoth the younger brother. "It becomes
you ill, that are a restless man and a runagate,
to doubt my justice, or the King my father's,
that are sedentary folk and known in the land."
"Nay," said the elder brother, "you have all
else, have patience also; and suffer me to say
the world is full of touchstones, and it appears
not easily which is true."
"I have no shame of mine," said the younger
brother. "There it is, and look in it."
So the elder brother looked in the mirror, and
he was sore amazed; for he was an old man, and
his hair was white upon his head; and he sat
down in the hall and wept aloud.
"Now," said the younger brother, "see what a
fool's part you have played, that ran over all
the world to seek what was lying in our father's
treasury, and came back an old carle for the
dogs to bark at, and without chick or child.
And I that was dutiful and wise sit here crowned
with virtues and pleasures, and happy in the
light of my hearth."
"Methinks you have a cruel tongue," said the
elder brother; and he pulled out the clear
pebble and turned its light on his brother;
and behold the man was lying, his soul was
shrunk into the smallness of a pea, and his
heart was a bag of little fears like scorpions,
and love was dead in his bosom. And at that
the elder brother cried out aloud, and turned
the light of the pebble on the maid, and, lo!
she was but a mask of a woman, and withinside's
she was quite dead, and she smiled as a clock
ticks, and knew not wherefore.
"Oh, well," said the elder brother, "I perceive
there is both good and bad. So fare ye all as
well as ye may in the dun; but I will go forth
into the world with my pebble in my pocket."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~