T HERE was once a King of a far-away country who was a tyrant. He did not care to make the people happy, but only to please himself. He was used to being obeyed so quickly by those who feared him, that he became very angry if any one failed to do as he commanded. It seemed to him that not only people should obey him, but animals and plants, and everything in the country where he ruled.
When he was walking in his garden, if he saw a plant or a tree that he did not like, he would wave his scepter at it, and say "Be gone!" And when he next passed that way, it would be gone, for the King's servants, knowing how angry it made him to be disobeyed, would quickly remove anything that displeased him. In this way the King came to think that even the wild things of nature were under his control.
There was a Brook that flowed through one side of the King's garden, after it had come down from a high mountain and passed through a meadow and along one side of the town. It was a merry, chattering Brook, that made almost any one happy to hear it, and along its banks grew lovely willow trees and many fine flowers. In the palace garden, of course, were the loveliest flowers of all; and the King was very fond of walking along the margin of the Brook.
But one day, while he was walking there, his foot slipped a little, so that he stepped into the water; and as the water was cold, and he had on very good clothes which it might harm, the King grew very angry. He struck the Brook with his scepter, and it splashed the water into his face. This, of course, angered him all the more, and it seemed to him now that the Brook was laughing at him, as it gurgled over the stones. So the King lifted up his scepter again, and said: "Be gone! I will not have any Brook in my kingdom!"
When his officers heard this they were very much troubled. For they knew that the Brook would not obey the King, and they did not know how to make believe that it had. They could not hide it or take it away. No one knew just where it came from, so they could not stop it at the source; and, if they did so, they knew that it would make a great deal of trouble in the town and in the country near by. For the Brook not only gave people pleasure by its music and its flowers, but it turned mill-wheels, and made ponds where people fished, and furnished water for people to drink, and made gardens and farms fertile, and did many useful things. So the officers decided that they would try to keep the King away from that part of the garden, hoping that he would forget what he had said.
But he did not forget. When he went out next day, and saw the Brook flowing along as merrily as ever, singing over the stones, he said: "Why is the Brook not gone?" When his officers told him that the Brook would not obey him, he said: "It must obey me. Send for all my servants."
So they sent for all his servants, and the King said to them: "The Brook is a bad brook; I will not have it here. Take it away."
So the servants got pails and jars of every kind, and began emptying the Brook. But although they worked for a great many hours, and filled all the tanks in the palace, and poured the water all over the garden, the Brook seemed to be as full as ever.
Then the King said: "Burn it up!" And they brought torches, and sheets of cotton dipped in oil, so as to make the brightest and hottest flames, and they threw these into the Brook. But the Brook only laughed as the flames hissed in it, and it carried off the black shreds of the burnt cotton, and put out all the fire without seeming to work any harder than usual, and in a short time was flowing along as clean and bright as ever.
Then the King said: "Bury it!" And the servants brought carts full of dirt, such as they used in making embankments around the palace, and began to dump these into the Brook. At last it seemed that the King's will was going to be obeyed, for the Brook began to disappear in the great mass of dirt that was poured over it. The servants carried the dirt farther and farther up the stream, until at last they had choked it up at the point where it flowed into the palace grounds. The King thought now that it was gone altogether, and went into his palace contented.
Now the King had a little daughter, whom he loved very much; and when she learned what had been done to the Brook, she felt so sorry that she nearly cried. For the Brook was one of her dearest friends, and she knew how much she would miss it. She lay awake for as much as an hour that night, thinking about it, and decided that in the morning she would go to the Good Gray Woman, and ask her what could be done.
The Good Gray Woman lived in a hut just outside the palace wall, and there was a tiny gate leading through the wall from her house, which had been made so that people from the palace could go to see her; for she was very wise, and knew the water-sprites and the flower-sprites, and all the other creatures that most people never see, and she was always ready to help any one in trouble.
So, very early in the morning the little Princess knocked at the Good Gray Woman's door, and when it opened she told her friend about the Brook. "I am sure my father would not have done it," she said, "if he had known how good the Brook was, and how much we all thought of it. Will you not go to him, and tell him about it? He will believe you."
The Good Gray Woman thought a minute. Then she said:
"I will not go myself, for I do not think I could tell the King anything that you can not tell him just as well. But I will send some friends of mine instead, who I am quite sure can make him understand. What time does the King take his seat on the throne to hear those who have anything to say to him?"
"At nine o'clock every morning," said the Princess.
"Very well," said the Good Gray Woman. "If you are there at nine o'clock, you will see my friends there, too."
The Princess could not think what friends the Good Gray Woman would send; but she believed her, and returned to the palace.
At nine o'clock the King took his seat on his throne, and asked whether any one had come to see him. The Princess was close at hand, waiting to see what would happen. As soon as the King had spoken, she saw in front of the throne two little winged creatures, that seemed to have come there by magic, for no one had seen them enter the room. They hung in the air before the King like butterflies. One of them was gray, like a bit of floating mist, but it was also streaked with all the colors of the rainbow. The other was of a deep blue color that was almost green when the sun shone on it.
"We are water-sprites," said these little creatures to the King, "and we have come to see your Majesty on important business."
"Very good," said the King. He had never seen such creatures before, and found them very interesting.
"I," said the first sprite, "belong to a water-drop from a cloud that was hanging over your garden this morning, and I was also in the beautiful rainbow that your Majesty was admiring yesterday. I came to speak to you about the Brook."
"About the Brook?" said the King. "What do you know about it?"
"Why, I used to live in it," said the sprite. "Then I went on down to the ocean, and then the sun carried me up to the cloud country. And the cloud that I now belong to was all ready to give your garden a little shower this morning, when we saw that the Brook was not there. This made all the drops that used to belong to the Brook feel very bad, for we hoped to get back to it again. So I came to ask you about it."
"Dear me!" said the King. "I had no idea that the Brook had anything to do with you. I shall have to think about it. And who are you?" he said to the other sprite.
"I belong to a water-drop from the ocean," said the sprite. "I, too, once lived in the Brook, and have been waiting all night for the other drops that it always brings us. But they stopped coming, and we all felt very sorry. So I was sent to see what was the matter."
"Dear me!" said the King again. "I had no idea that the Brook had anything to do with you. I shall have to think about it. But you will have to come and see me some other time."
This was what the King always said when he did not feel sure whether he wanted to do what people were asking him to. When the sprites saw that he would say nothing more, they flew away as silently as they had come.
The Princess waited all day, hoping that her father would think about what the sprites had told him, and command the Brook to be brought back again, for the sake of the cloud-drops and the ocean-drops. But the fact was he soon forgot all about it, and did nothing at all. So the Princess went again to the Good Gray Woman, and asked her if she could send any other friends to help her.
"Oh, yes," said the Good Gray Woman. "They will come
So the next morning when the King took his seat on his throne as usual, and asked if any one wished to see him, there were two more sprites hovering in the air before him. One of these was gray like a pebble-stone, and the other looked as though it were covered with dark brown velvet, like a caterpillar.
"And who are you?" said the King.
"We are earth-sprites," said the first one. "I belong to the little stones in your Majesty's garden. We were all being polished very beautifully by the Brook, and made ready for all sorts of pretty things. But now we are covered with dirt, and we can not hear the Brook singing above us; so we have come to ask if it can not come back again."
"Humph!" said the King. "More friends of the Brook, are you?"
"Yes," said the second sprite. "I belong to the rich, dark soil that lies around the roots of the trees in your Majesty's garden. The Brook watered us every day, so that we could feed all the growing things that need us. But now we are getting dry and hard, the roots complain that we do not care for them as we used to; and we do not know what to do."
"It is very strange how much that Brook was doing," said the King. "We shall have to see about this. Perhaps we can get another Brook. Come and see me some other time."
So the little Princes again hoped that the King would now remember the Brook and have it brought back. But all that he did was to tell the gardener to take better care of the trees, for he heard that they were complaining of the dry season; and then he forgot all about it. The Princess hardly dared hope that the Good Gray Woman would have any other friends to send to help her, but she tried once again.
"Oh, yes," said the Good Gray Woman, "there are plenty more."
So the next morning, sure enough, there were two more sprites when the King sat down on his throne. These were the most beautiful of all. One of them had wings like the petals of a violet, and a body like a yellow crocus. The other was all in green.
"I don't want to see any more sprites," said the King, "unless they have something new to talk about." But he did not know just how to send them away; so he was obliged to listen when they spoke.
"I am a flower-sprite," said the first one, "and have always lived in your Majesty's garden, by the edge of the Brook. We thought you were very fond of us, and came to tell you that, now that the Brook has gone, we are fast withering; and no new flowers will come up until it returns."
"And I," said the other sprite, "belong to the grass that grew at the edge of the Brook, and have come to tell you that all the grasses are missing it so much, that we think you will surely have pity on us."
The King would not answer these sprites, because he was tired of making them all the same answer, and really did not know what to say. But when they had flown off, he said to himself:
"I can not be bothered with so many sprites. If they keep coming I shall have nothing else to do but hear about the Brook and its friends. I wish it had never been buried."
Now this was just what the Princess was waiting for. She clapped her hands, crying:
"Then can we not have it back again?"'
"I don't know how we could get it back," said the King. "But if you wish, you may ask the Good Gray Woman what we had better do."
The Princess ran off at once to do as the King said. When the Good Gray Woman heard about it she answered:
"Tell the King, your father, to go walking with you on the palace wall, and he will see what has become of the Brook."
So the Princess took the King by the hand, and they went walking on the top of the palace wall. When they came to the place where the Brook had flowed under the wall, they saw a very strange thing. The Brook had not been buried at all! When its channel in the palace garden had been choked with the dirt put there by the King's servants, it had simply turned aside, and made another channel outside the wall; and there it was, flowing along as merrily as ever. Already some little flowers had sprung up along its new banks, and the grass was green all about it. Many children from the town were playing there, feeling very thankful that, instead of flowing into the King's garden, the Brook was out in the big free garden where they could all enjoy it.
Many children from the town were playing there
When the King had seen all this, he called his servants, and told them to take out all the dirt they had put into the Brook's channel when they had tried to bury it. And they did so. But the Brook liked its new channel very well so, although it sent a little branch to flow in the old place through the King's garden, carrying water to the flowers and trees that had missed it, it never really came back, but went on flowing in the place where it had found so many new friends. It soon made a path to the sea, and continued to send its drops to help make the ocean and the clouds and the rainbows, as well as to polish the stones and water the flowers along its banks. And although I have heard nothing of it for a long time, I am quite sure that it is flowing there merrily still.