ALL kinds of strange things came to pass in the days of long ago, but perhaps the strangest of all was that the nurses who cared for little children were not women, but brooks and rivers. The children and the brooks ran about together, and the brooks and rivers never said, "It is time to go to bed," for they liked to play as well as the children, and perhaps a little better. Sometimes the brooks ran first and the children followed. Sometimes the children ran first and the brooks followed. Of course, if any animal came near that would hurt the children, the brook or river in whose care they were left flowed quickly around them, so that they stood on an island and were safe from all harm.
Two little boys lived in those days who were sons of the king. When the children were old enough to run about, the king called the rivers and brooks to come before him. They came gladly, for they felt sure that something pleasant would happen, and they waited so patiently that no one would have thought they were so full of frolic.
"I have called you," said the king, "to give you the care of my two little sons. They like so well to run about that one nurse will not be enough to care for them, and of course it will be pleasanter for them to have many playmates. So I felt that it would be better to ask every river and evern brook to see that they are not hurt or lost."
"We shall have the king's sons for our playmates!" whispered the rivers. "Nothing so pleasant ever happened to us before."
But the king went on, "If you keep my boys safely and well, and follow them so closely that they are not lost, then I will give you whatever gift you wish; but if I find that you have forgotten them one moment and they are lost or hurt, then you will be punished as no river was ever punished before."
The rivers and even the most frolicsome little brooks were again quiet for a moment. Then they all cried together, "O king, we will be good. There were never better nurses than we will be to your sons."
At first all went well, and the playmates had the merriest times that could be thought of. Then came a day when the sunshine was very warm, but the boys ran faster and farther than boys had ever run in the world before, and even the brooks could not keep up with them. The rivers had never been weary before, but when this warm day came, one river after another had some reason for being quiet. One complained, "I have followed the boys farther than any river." "Perhaps you have," said another, "But I have been up and down and round and round till I have forgotten how it seems to be quiet." Another declared, "I have run about long enough, and I shall run no more." A little brook said, "If I were a great river, perhaps I could run farther," and a great river replied, "If I were a little brook, of course I could run farther."
So they talked, and the day passed. Night came before they knew it, and they could not find the boys.
"Where are my sons?" cried the king.
"Indeed, we do not know," answered the brooks and rivers in great fear, and each one looked at the others.
"You have lost my children," said the king, "and if you do not find them, you shall be punished. Go and search for them."
"Please help us," the rivers begged of the trees and plants, and everything that had life began to search for the lost boys. "Perhaps they are underground," thought the trees, and they sent their roots down into the earth. "Perhaps they are in the east," cried one animal, and he went to the east. "They may be on the mountain," said one plant, and so it climbed to the very top of the mountain. "They may be in the village," said another, and so that one crept up close to the homes of men.
Many years passed. The king was almost broken-hearted, but he knew it was of no use to search longer, so he called very sadly, "Search no longer. Let each plant and animal make its home where it is. The little plant that has crept up the mountain shall live on the mountain top, and the roots of the trees shall stay under ground. The rivers"-- Then the king stopped, and the rivers trembled. They knew that they would be punished, but what would the punishment be? The king looked at them, "As for you, rivers and brooks," he declared, "it was your work to watch my boys. The plants and trees shall find rest and live happily in their homes, but you shall ever search for my lost boys, and you shall never have a home."
So from that day to this the rivers have gone on looking for the lost children. They never stop, and some of them are so troubled that they flow first one way and then the other.