If I send him an errand, he loiters; I'd better have gone myself. If I set him to do anything, I have to tell him everything; I could sooner do it myself. And if he does work, it's done so unwillingly, with such a poor grace; better, far better, to do it myself. What housework do the boys ever do but looking after the baby? And this afternoon she was asleep in the cradle, and off they went, and when she awoke, I must leave my work to take her.
I gave her her supper, and put her to bed. And what with what they want and I have to get, and what they take out to play with and lose, and what they bring in to play with and leave about, bairns give some trouble, Mother, and I've not an easy life of it. The pay is poor enough when one can get the work, and the work is hard enough when one has a clear day to do it in; but housekeeping and bairn-minding don't leave a man much time for his trade. Ma'am, the luck of the Trouts is gone, and 'Bairns are a burden,' is the motto now.
Though they are one's own," he muttered to himself, "and not bad ones, and I did hope once would have been a blessing. His brother led him in as the Tailor spoke, not literally by his snub, though, but by the hand. They were a handsome pair, this lazy couple.
Johnnie especially had the largest and roundest of foreheads, the reddest of cheeks, the brightest of eyes, the quaintest and most twitchy of chins, and looked altogether like a gutta-percha cherub in a chronic state of longitudinal squeeze. They were locked together by two grubby paws, and had each an armful of moss, which they deposited on the floor as they came in. Put that rubbish outside. There'll be some food when this mat is done and sold. Father's been cross, and everything has been miserable, ever since the farm was sold.
I wish I were a big man, and could make a fortune. The old lady put down her knitting and looked. I gave the lad a piece to measure by. I am so tired;" and he propped himself against the old lady's chair. Now that bit is of no use. There goes my knitting, you awkward lad! If you told us a new one, I shouldn't keep thinking of that bread in the cupboard. I know it was a rattling, or a scratching, or a knocking, or a figure in white; and if it turns out a tombstone or a white petticoat, I hate it.
And as to white petticoats, there wasn't a female in the house; he wouldn't have one; and his victuals came in by the pantry window. Though it's as true as a sermon. It's a new ghost, and I should like to know who he was, and why his victuals came in by the window. You never will tell us about the Fairies, and I know you know. I think she was a goose. Why don't you tell us about the Fairies? Besides, they make Johnnie dream, and he wakes me to keep him company.
Why won't you tell us about the Fairies? I shouldn't think of the bread a bit, if you told us about the Fairies. I know nothing about them. But he never would be seen, and was off before they could catch him. But they could hear him laughing and playing about the house sometimes. He did it for love. They set a pancheon of clear water for him over night, and now and then a bowl of bread and milk, or cream. He liked that, for he was very dainty. Sometimes he left a bit of money in the water.
Sometimes he weeded the garden, or threshed the corn. He saved endless trouble, both to men and maids. But when Brownie saw the things, he put them on, and dancing round the kitchen, sang, 'What have we here? Here will I never more tread nor stampen,' and so danced through the door, and never came back again.
It's what my mother used to say when we asked anything that puzzled her. It was said that the Old Owl was Nanny Besom, a witch, my dear! Many people used to go and consult the Old Owl at moonrise, in my young days. So I went to my mother, and said, 'He's this on the one side, but then he's that on the other, and so on. Shall I say yes or no? So says I, 'I'll go and ask her to-night, as sure as the moon rises.
And without more ado your grandfather kissed me. So we never went. Some houses had several. As good men as you, Son Thomas, would as soon have jumped off the crags, as spoken lightly of them , in my mother's young days. They never did aught for me, whatever they did for my forbears; but they're as welcome to the old place as ever, if they choose to come. There's plenty to do. You should have it, had I got it. But go to bed now. They lugged out a pancheon, and filled it with more dexterity than usual, and then went off to bed, leaving the knife in one corner, the wood in another, and a few splashes of water in their track.
There was more room than comfort in the ruined old farm-house, and the two boys slept on a bed of cut heather, in what had been the old malt loft. Johnnie was soon in the land of dreams, growing rosier and rosier as he slept, a tumbled apple among the grey heather. But not so lazy Tommy.
THE BROWNIES AND OTHER TALES.
The idea of a domesticated Brownie had taken full possession of his mind; and whither Brownie had gone, where he might be found, and what would induce him to return, were mysteries he longed to solve. When Father's gone to bed, and the moon rises, I'll go. The moon rose like gold, and went up into the heavens like silver, flooding the moors with a pale ghostly light, taking the colour out of the heather, and painting black shadows under the stone walls. Tommy opened his eyes, and ran to the window.
The air was fresh, not to say chilly; but it was a glorious night, though everything but the wind and Tommy seemed asleep. The stones, the walls, the gleaming lanes, were so intensely still; the church tower in the valley seemed awake and watching, but silent; the houses in the village round it all had their eyes shut, that is, their window-blinds down; and it seemed to Tommy as if the very moors had drawn white sheets over them, and lay sleeping also.
Somebody else was awake, then. The old lady moved faster than she seemed to do, and though Tommy ran hard she was in the shed some time before him. When he got in, no bird was to be seen, but he heard a crunching sound from above, and looking up, there sat the Old Owl, pecking and tearing and munching at some shapeless black object, and blinking at him—Tommy—with yellow eyes. The Old Owl dropped the black mass on to the floor; and Tommy did not care somehow to examine it. She could speak, then!
Beyond all doubt it was the Old Owl, and none other. The Old Owl sat on a beam that ran across the shed. Tommy had often climbed up for fun; and he climbed up now, and sat face to face with her, and thought her eyes looked as if they were made of flame. Her eyes were going round like flaming catherine wheels, but there are certain requests which one has not the option of refusing.
Tommy crept nearer, and put his lips to the round face out of which the eyes shone. Tommy's lips sank into it, and couldn't get to the bottom. It was unfathomable feathers and fluffyness. Besides, they could see what was wanted. The Brownies did all that in Granny's mother's young days. And then they could tidy the room, and fetch the turf, and pick up my chips, and sort Granny's scraps. Well, I can tell you where to find one of the Brownies; and if you find him, he will tell you where his brother is.
But all this depends upon whether you feet equal to undertaking it, and whether you will follow my directions. I feel sure I could persuade them. If they only knew how every one would love them if they made themselves useful! You must go to the north side of the mere when the moon is shining— 'I know Brownies like water,' muttered Tommy —and turn yourself round three times, saying this charm: I know more about Brownies than Granny does, and I shall tell her so;" for Tommy was somewhat opinionated, like other young people.
The moon shone very brightly on the centre of the mere. Tommy knew the place well, for there was a fine echo there. Round the edge grew rushes and water plants, which cast a border of shadow. Tommy went to the north side, and turning himself three times, as the Old Owl had told him, he repeated the charm— "Twist me, and turn me, and show me the Elf— I looked in the water, and saw—".
I must have done it wrong. There can't be a word to fit it. And then to look for a Brownie, and see nothing but myself! What can it mean?
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The Old Owl knows, as Granny would say; so I shall go back and ask her. It is very strange. Myself certainly does rhyme, and I wonder I did not think of it long ago. Are you quite sure you didn't see him? Good-night, or rather good morning, for it is long past midnight;" and the old lady began to shake her feathers for a start.
You know I'm not a Brownie, am I? You know 'there's lots to do. Listen to me, Johnny," said the old lady, her eyes shooting rays of fire in the dark corner where she sat. And when I have done you shall tell me what you think they are, if they are not children. It's the opinion I have come to at any rate, and I don't think that wisdom died with our great-grandmothers. They are like small editions of men and women, they are too small and fragile for heavy work; they have not the strength of a man, but are a thousand times more fresh and nimble. They can run and jump, and roll and tumble, with marvellous agility and endurance, and of many of the aches and pains which men and women groan under, they do not even know the names.
They have no trade or profession, and as they live entirely upon other people, they know nothing of domestic cares; in fact, they know very little upon any subject, though they are often intelligent and highly inquisitive. They love dainties, play, and mischief.
They are apt to be greatly beloved, and are themselves capriciously affectionate. They are little people, and can only do little things.
When they are idle and mischievous, they are called Boggarts, and are a curse to the house they live in. When they are useful and considerate, they are Brownies, and are a much coveted blessing. Sometimes the Blessed Brownies will take up their abode with some worthy couple, cheer them with their romps and merry laughter, tidy the house, find things that have been lost, and take little troubles out of hands full of great anxieties.
Then in time these Little People are Brownies no longer. They grow up into men and women. They do not care so much for dainties, play, or mischief. They cease to jump and tumble, and roll about the house. They know more, and laugh less. Then, when their heads begin to ache with anxiety, and they have to labour for their own living, and the great cares of life come on, other Brownies come and live with them, and take up their little cares, and supply their little comforts, and make the house merry once more. Those idle urchins who eat the bread and milk, and don't do the work, who lie in bed without an ache or pain to excuse them, who untidy instead of tidying, cause work instead of doing it, and leave little cares to heap on big cares, till the old people who support them are worn out altogether.
And remember that the Brownies never are seen at their work. They get up before the household, and get away before any one can see them. I can't tell you why. I don't think my grandmother's great-grandmother knew. Perhaps because all good deeds are better done in secret. It's getting cold, and I am so tired! I think I had better take you home. Tommy laid his head against the Old Owl's feathers, had a vague idea that she smelt of heather, and thought it must be from living on the moor, shut his eyes, and leant his full weight, expecting that he and the Owl would certainly fall off the beam together.
Down—feathers—fluff—he sank and sank, could feel nothing solid, jumped up with a start to save himself, opened his eyes, and found that he was sitting among the heather in the malt loft, with Johnnie sleeping by his side. I couldn't have counted ten whilst my eyes were shut. I believe all those, you know. But if you were there, you know, it is different—". I should like to stay in bed.
I say," he added, after a pause, "suppose we do. It can't matter being Boggarts for one night more. I mean to be a Brownie before I grow up, though. I couldn't stand boggarty children. But I don't see how we can be Brownies, for I'm afraid we can't do the things. I wish I were bigger! Think of all the bonfires we have made!
And I don't think I should mind having a regular good tidy-up either. It's that stupid putting-away-things-when-you've-done-with-them that I hate so! The Brownies crept softly down the ladder and into the kitchen. There was the blank hearth, the dirty floor, and all the odds and ends lying about, looking cheerless in the dim light. Tommy felt quite important as he looked round. There is no such cure for untidiness as clearing up after other people; one sees so clearly where the fault lies. If you had lifted the moss carefully, instead of stamping and struggling with it, it would have saved us ten minutes' work this morning.
Look at that knife I gave you to hold last night, andthat wood—that's my fault though, and so are those scraps by Granny's chair. What are you grubbing at that rat-hole for? That's just a sort of thing for a Brownie to have done. What will he say? And I say, Johnnie, when you've tidied, just go and grub up a potato or two in the gardens and I'll put them to roast for breakfast. I'm lighting such a bonfire! The fire was very successful. Johnnie went after the potatoes, and Tommy cleaned the door-step, swept the room, dusted the chairs and the old chest, and set out the table.
There was no doubt he could be handy when he chose. Father said the reason we found so few was that people go by sunrise for them to take to market. The sun's only just rising, we should be sure to find some, and they would do for breakfast. The dew lay heavy and thick upon the grass by the road side, and over the miles of network that the spiders had woven from blossom to blossom in the heather.
The dew is the Sun's breakfast; but he was barely up yet, and had not eaten it, and the world felt anything but warm. Nevertheless, it was so sweet and fresh as it is at no later hour of the day, and every sound was like the returning voice of a long absent friend. Down to the pastures, where was more network and more dew, but when one has nothing to speak of in the way of boots, the state of the ground is of the less consequence.
The Tailor had been right, there was no lack of mushrooms at this time of the morning. All over the pasture they stood, of all sizes, some like buttons, some like tables; and in the distance one or two ragged women, stooping over them with baskets, looked like huge fungi also. When they go, they take away the dishes and cups, for they are made of gold; but they leave their tables, and we eat them.
This was beyond Tommy's capabilities of surmise; so they filled a handkerchief, and hurried back again, for fear the Tailor should have come down. They were depositing the last mushroom in a dish on the table, when his footsteps were heard descending. Johnnie caught up the handkerchief, and smothering their laughter, the two scrambled back up the ladder, and dashed straight into the heather. Meanwhile the poor Tailor came wearily downstairs.
Day after day, since his wife's death, he had come down every morning to the same desolate sight—yesterday's refuse and an empty hearth. This morning task of tidying was always a sad and ungrateful one to the widowed father. His awkward struggles with the house-work in which she had been so notable, chafed him. The dirty kitchen was dreary, the labour lonely, and it was an hour's time lost to his trade. But life does not stand still while one is wishing, and so the Tailor did that for which there was neither remedy nor substitute; and came down this morning as other mornings to the pail and broom.
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When he came in he looked round, and started, and rubbed his eyes; looked round again, and rubbed them harder: Then he jumped up and ran to the foot of the stairs, shouting,—. Trout's luck has come again. It was Tommy after all that set the water and caught him. There was great excitement in the small household that day. The boys kept their own counsel. The old Grandmother was triumphant, and tried not to seem surprised. The Tailor made no such vain effort, and remained till bed-time in a state of fresh and unconcealed amazement.
To come and do the work for a pan of cold water! Who could have believed it? But young people always know better than their elders! But the waistcoat was finished by bed-time, and the Tailor set the bread and milk himself, and went to rest. But I'll tell you what I don't like, and that is Father thinking we're idle still. I wish he knew we were the Brownies. It was only the Old Owl's grandmother's great-grandmother who said it was to be kept secret, and the Old Owl herself said grandmothers were not always in the right.
Day after day went by, and still the Brownies "stuck to it," and did their work. It is no such very hard matter after all to get up early when one is young and light-hearted, and sleeps upon heather in a loft without window-blinds, and with so many broken window-panes that the air comes freely in. In old times the boys used to play at tents among the heather, while the Tailor did the house-work; now they came down and did it for him.
Size is not everything, even in this material existence. One has heard of dwarfs who were quite as clever, not to say as powerful, as giants, and I do not fancy that Fairy Godmothers are ever very large. It is wonderful what a comfort Brownies may be in the house that is fortunate enough to hold them! The Tailor's Brownies were the joy of his life; and day after day they seemed to grow more and more ingenious in finding little things to do for his good. Now-a-days Granny never picked a scrap for herself. One day's shearings were all neatly arranged the next morning, and laid by her knitting-pins; and the Tailor's tape and shears were no more absent without leave.
One day a message came to him to offer him two or three days' tailoring in a farmhouse some miles up the valley.
This was pleasant and advantageous sort of work; good food, sure pay, and a cheerful change; but he did not know how he could leave his family, unless, indeed, the Brownie might be relied upon to "keep the house together," as they say. The boys were sure that he would, and they promised to set his water, and to give as little trouble as possible; so, finally, the Tailor took up his shears and went up the valley, where the green banks sloped up into purple moor, or broke into sandy rocks, crowned with nodding oak fern.
On to the prosperous old farm, where he spent a very pleasant time, sitting level with the window geraniums on a table set apart for him, stitching and gossiping, gossiping and stitching, and feeling secure of honest payment when his work was done. The mistress of the house was a kind good creature, and loved a chat; and though the Tailor kept his own secret as to the Brownies, he felt rather curious to know if the Good People had any hand in the comfort of this flourishing household, and watched his opportunity to make a few careless inquiries on the subject.
When I was a girl, in service at the old hall, on Cowberry Edge, I heard a good deal of one they said had lived there in former times. He did housework as well as a woman, and a good deal quicker, they said. One night one of the young ladies that were then, they're all dead now, hid herself in a cupboard, to see what he was like. Not taller than—why, my Bill, or your eldest boy, perhaps. And he was dressed in rags, with an old cloak on, and stamping with passion at a cobweb he couldn't get at with his broom. They've very uncertain tempers, they say.
Tears one minute, and laughing the next. They're not canny after all; and my master and me have always been used to work, and we've sons and daughters to help us, and that's better than meddling with the Fairies, to my mind. I couldn't stand rags and old cloaks, messing and moth-catching in my house. And this was all the Tailor got out of her on the subject. When his work was finished, the Farmer paid him at once; and the good dame added half a cheese, and a bottle-green coat. The Tailor thanked them, and said farewell, and went home. Down the valley, where the river, wandering between the green banks and the sandy rocks, was caught by giant mosses, and bands of fairy fern, and there choked and struggled, and at last barely escaped with an existence, and ran away in a diminished stream.
On up the purple hills to the old ruined house. As he came in at the gate he was struck by some idea of change, and looking again, he saw that the garden had been weeded, and was comparatively tidy. The truth is, that Tommy and Johnnie had taken advantage of the Tailor's absence to do some Brownie's work in the daytime. I can never repay the Brownie for what he has done for me and mine; but the mistress up yonder has given me a bottle-green coat that will cut up as good as new; and as sure as there's a Brownie in this house, I'll make him a suit of it. Do what you please for the Brownies, but never make them clothes.
They're all in rags, as well they may be, doing so much work. I'm an old woman, and my time is not long. It doesn't matter much to me. But it was new clothes that drove the Brownie out before, and Trout's luck went with him. Depend upon it, the clothes didn't fit. But I'll tell you what I mean to do.
I shall measure them by Tommy—they say the Brownies are about his size—and if ever I turned out a well-made coat and waistcoat, they shall be his. Next day the father and son set to work, and Tommy contrived to make himself so useful, that the Tailor hardly knew how he got through so much work.
I've not done such a pleasant morning's work since your poor mother died.
I'll tell you what it is, Tommy," he added, "if you were always like this, I shouldn't much care whether Brownie stayed or went. I'd give up his help to have yours. I very nearly let it all out, and I shall soon. I wish the things weren't going to come to me," he added, kicking a stone in front of him. There is not much real prophetic wisdom in this truism, but it sounds very awful, and the Tailor went to bed somewhat depressed.
I shall do the work this morning. What was it Granny said he sang when he got his clothes? Oh, I know— 'What have we here? Hemten hamten, Here will I never more tread nor stampen. It was laughter which roused the Tailor that morning, laughter coming through the floor from the kitchen below. He scrambled on his things and stole downstairs. At the door he paused and listened. The laughter was mixed with singing, and he heard the words— "What have we here? The kitchen in its primeval condition of chaos, the untidy particulars of which were the less apparent, as everything was more or less obscured by the clouds of dust, where Johnnie reigned triumphant, like a witch with her broomstick; and, to crown all, Tommy capering and singing in the Brownie's bottle-green suit, brass buttons and all.
Where is the real Brownie, I say? If you are the Brownie, who has been tidying the kitchen lately? The Tailor's voice rose to a pitch of desperation—"But if you did the work," he shouted, " Where is the Brownie? It will be believed that to explain all this to the Grandmother was not the work of a moment. She understood it all at last, however, and the Tailor could not restrain a little good-humoured triumph on the subject. Before he went to work he settled her down in the window with her knitting, and kissed her.
And as quiet as mice they were. Very like mice, indeed. Very like mice behind a wainscot at night, when you have just thrown something to frighten them away. Death-like stillness for a few seconds, and then all the rustling and scuffling you please. So the children sat holding their breath for a moment or two, and then shuffling feet and smothered bursts of laughter testified to their impatience, and to the difficulty of understanding the process of story-making as displayed by the Doctor, who sat pulling his beard, and staring at his boots, as he made up "a little more end.
Before long Tommy began to work for the farmers, and Baby grew up into a Brownie, and made as girls are apt to make the best house-sprite of all. For, in the Brownie's habits of self-denial, thoughtfulness, consideration, and the art of little kindnesses, boys are, I am afraid, as a general rule, somewhat behindhand with their sisters. Whether this altogether proceeds from constitutional deficiency on these points in the masculine character, or is one result among many of the code of bye-laws which obtains in men's moral education from the cradle, is a question on which everybody has their own opinion.
For the present the young gentlemen may appropriate whichever theory they prefer, and we will go back to the story. The Tailor lived to see his boy-Brownies become men, with all the cares of a prosperous farm on their hands, and his girl-Brownie carry her fairy talents into another home. For these Brownies—young ladies! It was earlier in the evening than when Tommy went, for before daylight had vanished, and at the first appearance of the moon, the impatient Tailor was at the place. There they found the Owl looking very solemn and stately on the beam.
She was sitting among the shadows with her shoulders up, and she fixed her eyes so steadily on the Tailor, that he felt quite overpowered. He made her a civil bow, however, and said—"I'm much obliged to you, Ma'am, for your good advice to my Tommy. The Owl blinked sharply, as if she grudged shutting her eyes for an instant, and then stared on, but not a word spoke she.
Won't you even say good-bye? The Owl's eyes contracted, she shuddered a few tufts of fluff into the shed, shook her wings, and shouting "Oohoo! The Tailor and his sons rushed out to watch her. They could see her clearly against the green twilight sky, flapping rapidly away with her round face to the pale moon. Tommy saw many owls after this in the course of his life; but as none of them would speak, and as most of them were addicted to the unconventional customs of staring and winking, he could not distinguish his friend, if she were among them.
And now I think that is all. Jump up, for I'm going to see you home. I have to be off early to-morrow. I shall be away all day, and I want to be at home in good time in the evening, for I mean to attack that crop of groundsel between the sweet-pea hedges. You know, no Brownies come to my homestead! The children tried hard to extract some more ends out of him on the way to the Rectory; but he declined to pursue the history of the Trout family through indefinite generations.
It was decided on all hands, however, that Tommy Trout was evidently one and the same with the Tommy Trout who pulled the cat out of the well, because "it was just a sort of thing for a Brownie to do, you know! But why do you want to know? I mean to tell Mother that when Father wants any more pocket-handkerchiefs hemmed, she had better put them by the bath in the nursery, and perhaps some Browmie will come and do them. Puss is more fluffy, and Father is scrubby and scratchy, because he shaves.
The other children took a noisy farewell, and they all raced into the house to give joint versions of the fairy tale, first to the parents in the drawing-room, and then to Nurse in the nursery. The Doctor went home also, with his poodle at his heels, but not by the way he came.
He went out of his way, which was odd; but then the Doctor was "a little odd," and moreover this was always the end of his evening walk. Through the churchyard, where spreading cedars and stiff yews rose from the velvet grass, and where among tombstones and crosses of various devices lay one of older and uglier date, by which he stayed.
It was framed by a border of the most brilliant flowers, and it would seem as if the Doctor must have been the gardener, for he picked off some dead ones, and put them absently in his pocket. Then he looked round as if to see that he was alone. Not a soul was to be seen, and the moonlight and shadow lay quietly side by side, as the dead do in their graves.
The Doctor stooped down and took off his hat. Most foolish to speak to the departed with his face earthwards. But we are weak mortals, the best of us; and this man one of the very best raised his head at last, and went home like a lonely owl with his face to the moon and the sky. I want her to drive to the other end of the parish with me. The Rector went out to discover, and met his daughter looking decidedly earthy, and seemingly much exhausted by the weight of a basketful of groundsel plants.
I've weeded his sweet-peas, and brought away the groundsel; so when he gets home to-night he'll think a Brownie has been in the garden, for Mrs. Pickles has promised not to tell him. Supposing Tommy Trout had gone and weeded Farmer Swede's garden, and brought back his weeds to go to seed on the Tailor's flower-beds, how do you think he would have liked it?
Tiny looked rather crestfallen. When one has fairly carried through a splendid benevolence of this kind, it is trying to find oneself in the wrong. She crept up to the Rector, however, and put her golden head upon his arm. Don't you pity him? And the Rector, who was old enough to remember that grave-stone story we wot of, hugged his Brownie in his arms, and answered—. I T was certainly an aggravated offence. They are profound and intimate tales and maybe that's why he's decided to veil them.
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Would you like to report poor quality or formatting in this book? Reader reviews Read the following reviews or write one of your own. The adults would like it because they can look back at all the stories they have read in their childhood. It is good for children, like myself, because you haven't got too many words on a page and the pictures aren't too small.