A little girl sat sewing and crying
on a garden seat. She had fair floating hair,
which the breeze blew into her eyes, and between the
cloud of hair, and the mist of tears, she could not
see her work very clearly. She neither tied up
her locks, nor dried her eyes, however; for when one
is miserable, one may as well be completely so.
“What is the matter?”
said the Doctor, who was a friend of the Rector’s,
and came into the garden whenever he pleased.
The Doctor was a tall stout man, with
hair as black as crow’s feathers on the top,
and grey underneath, and a bushy beard. When young,
he had been slim and handsome, with wonderful eyes,
which were wonderful still; but that was many years
past. He had a great love for children, and this
one was a particular friend of his.
“What is the matter?” said he.
“I’m in a row,”
murmured the young lady through her veil; and the
needle went in damp, and came out with a jerk, which
is apt to result in what ladies called “puckering.”
“You are like London in a yellow
fog,” said the Doctor, throwing himself on to
the grass, “and it is very depressing to my feelings.
What is the row about, and how came you to get into
“We’re all in it,”
was the reply; and apparently the fog was thickening,
for the voice grew less and less distinct “the
boys and everybody. It’s all about forgetting,
and not putting away, and leaving about, and borrowing,
and breaking, and that sort of thing. I’ve
had Father’s new pocket-handkerchiefs to hem,
and I’ve been out climbing with the boys, and
kept forgetting and forgetting, and Mother says I
always forget; and I can’t help it. I forget
to tidy his newspapers for him, and I forget to feed
Puss, and I forgot these; besides, they’re a
great bore, and Mother gave them to Nurse to do, and
this one was lost, and we found it this morning tossing
about in the toy-cupboard.”
“It looks as if it had been
taking violent exercise,” said the Doctor.
“But what have the boys to do with it?”
“Why, then there was a regular
turn out of the toys,” she explained, “and
they’re all in a regular mess. You know,
we always go on till the last minute, and then things
get crammed in anyhow. Mary and I did tidy them
once or twice; but the boys never put anything away,
you know, so what’s the good?”
“What, indeed!” said the
Doctor. “And so you have complained of them?”
“Oh! no!” answered she.
“We don’t get them into rows, unless they
are very provoking; but some of the things were theirs,
so everybody was sent for, and I was sent out to finish
this, and they are all tidying. I don’t
know when it will be done, for I have all this side
to hem; and the soldiers’ box is broken, and
Noah is lost out of the Noah’s Ark, and so is
one of the elephants and a guinea-pig, and so is the
rocking-horse’s nose; and nobody knows what has
become of Rutlandshire and the Wash, but they’re
so small, I don’t wonder; only North America
and Europe are gone too.”
The Doctor started up in affected
horror. “Europe gone, did you say?
Bless me! what will become of us!”
“Don’t!” said the
young lady, kicking petulantly with her dangling feet,
and trying not to laugh. “You know I mean
the puzzles; and if they were yours, you wouldn’t
“I don’t half like it
as it is,” said the Doctor. “I am
seriously alarmed. An earthquake is one thing;
you have a good shaking, and settle down again.
But Europe gone lost Why, here
comes Deordie, I declare, looking much more cheerful
than we do; let us humbly hope that Europe has been
found. At present I feel like Aladdin when his
palace had been transported by the magician; I don’t
know where I am.”
“You’re here, Doctor;
aren’t you?” asked the slow curly-wigged
brother, squatting himself on the grass.
“Is Europe found?” said the Doctor
“Yes,” laughed Deordie. “I
“You will be a great man,”
said the Doctor. “And it is only
common charity to ask how about North America?”
“Found too,” said Deordie. “But
the Wash is completely lost.”
“And my six shirts in it!”
said the Doctor. “I sent them last Saturday
as ever was. What a world we live in! Any
more news? Poor Tiny here has been crying her
“I’m so sorry, Tiny,”
said the brother. “But don’t bother
about it. It’s all square now, and we’re
going to have a new shelf put up.”
“Have you found everything?” asked Tiny.
“Well, not the Wash, you know.
And the elephant and the guinea-pig are gone for good;
so the other elephant and the other guinea-pig must
walk together as a pair now. Noah was among the
soldiers, and we have put the cavalry into a night-light
box. Europe and North America were behind the
book-case; and, would you believe it? the rocking-horse’s
nose has turned up in the nursery oven.”
“I can’t believe it,”
said the Doctor. “The rocking-horse’s
nose couldn’t turn up, it was the purest Grecian,
modelled from the Elgin marbles. Perhaps it was
the heat that did it, though. However, you seem
to have got through your troubles very well, Master
Deordie. I wish poor Tiny were at the end of
“So do I,” said Deordie
ruefully. “But I tell you what I’ve
been thinking, Doctor. Nurse is always nagging
at us, and we’re always in rows of one sort
or another, for doing this, and not doing that, and
leaving our things about. But, you know, it’s
a horrid shame, for there are plenty of servants,
and I don’t see why we should be always bothering
to do little things, and ”
“Oh! come to the point, please,”
said the Doctor; “you do go round the square
so, in telling your stories, Deordie. What have
you been thinking of?”
“Well,” said Deordie,
who was as good-tempered as he was slow, “the
other day Nurse shut me up in the back nursery for
borrowing her scissors and losing them; but I’d
got ‘Grimm’ inside one of my knickerbockers,
so when she locked the door, I sat down to read.
And I read the story of the Shoemaker and the little
Elves who came and did his work for him before he
got up; and I thought it would be so jolly if we had
some little Elves to do things instead of us.”
“That’s what Tommy Trout said,”
observed the Doctor.
“Who’s Tommy Trout?” asked Deordie.
“Don’t you know, Deor?”
said Tiny. “It’s the good boy who
pulled the cat out of the what’s-his-name.
’Who pulled her
Little Tommy Trout.’
Is it the same Tommy Trout, Doctor?
I never heard anything else about him except his pulling
the cat out; and I can’t think how he did that.”
“Let down the bucket for her,
of course,” said the Doctor. “But
listen to me. If you will get that handkerchief
done, and take it to your mother with a kiss, and
not keep me waiting, I’ll have you all to tea,
and tell you the story of Tommy Trout.”
“This very night?” shouted Deordie.
“This very night.”
“Every one of us?” inquired
the young gentleman with rapturous incredulity.
“Every one of you. Now, Tiny, how
about that work?”
“It’s just done,”
said Tiny. “Oh! Deordie, climb
up behind, and hold back my hair, there’s a
darling, while I fasten off. Oh! Deor, you’re
pulling my hair out. Don’t.”
“I want to make a pig-tail,” said Deor.
“You can’t,” said
Tiny, with feminine contempt. “You can’t
plait. What’s the good of asking boys to
do anything? There! it’s done at last.
Now go and ask Mother if we may go. Will
you let me come, Doctor,” she inquired, “if
I do as you said?”
“To be sure I will,” he
answered. “Let me look at you. Your
eyes are swollen with crying. How can you be
such a silly little goose?”
“Did you never cry?” asked Tiny.
“When I was your age? Well, perhaps so.”
“You’ve never cried since, surely,”
The Doctor absolutely blushed.
“What do you think?” said he.
“Oh, of course not,” she
answered. “You’ve nothing to cry about.
You’re grown up, and you live all alone in a
beautiful house, and you do as you like, and never
get into rows, or have anybody but yourself to think
about; and no nasty pocket-handkerchiefs to hem.”
“Very nice; eh, Deordie?” said the Doctor.
“Awfully jolly,” said Deordie.
“Nothing else to wish for, eh?”
“I should keep harriers,
and not a poodle, if I were a man,” said Deordie;
“but I suppose you could, if you wanted to.”
“Nothing to cry about, at any rate?”
“I should think not!”
said Deordie. “There’s Mother,
though; let’s go and ask her about the tea;”
and off they ran.
The Doctor stretched his six feet
of length upon the sward, dropped his grey head on
a little heap of newly-mown grass, and looked up into
“Awfully jolly no
nasty pocket-handkerchiefs to hem,” said he,
laughing to himself. “Nothing else to wish
for; nothing to cry about.”
Nevertheless, he lay still, staring
at the sky, till the smile died away, and tears came
into his eyes. Fortunately, no one was there to
What could this “awfully jolly”
Doctor be thinking of to make him cry? He was
thinking of a grave-stone in the churchyard close by,
and of a story connected with this grave-stone which
was known to everybody in the place who was old enough
to remember it. This story has nothing to do
with the present story, so it ought not to be told.
And yet it has to do with the Doctor,
and is very short, so it shall be put in, after all.
THE STORY OF A GRAVE-STONE.
One early spring morning, about twenty
years before, a man going to his work at sunrise through
the churchyard, stopped by a flat stone which he had
lately helped to lay down. The day before, a name
had been cut on it, which he stayed to read; and below
the name some one had scrawled a few words in pencil,
which he read also Pitifully behold
the sorrows of our hearts. On the stone lay
a pencil, and a few feet from it lay the Doctor, face
downwards, as he had lain all night, with the hoar
frost on his black hair.
Ah! these grave-stones (they were
ugly things in those days; not the light, hopeful,
pretty crosses we set up now), how they seem remorselessly
to imprison and keep our dear dead friends away from
us! And yet they do not lie with a feather’s
weight upon the souls that are gone, while god
only knows how heavily they press upon the souls that
are left behind. Did the spirit whose body was
with the dead, stand that morning by the body whose
spirit was with the dead, and pity him? Let us
only talk about what we know.
After this it was said that the Doctor
had got a fever, and was dying, but he got better
of it; and then that he was out of his mind, but he
got better of that, and came out looking much as usual,
except that his hair never seemed quite so black again,
as if a little of that night’s hoar frost still
remained. And no further misfortune happened to
him that I ever heard of; and as time went on he grew
a beard, and got stout, and kept a German poodle,
and gave tea-parties to other people’s children.
As to the grave-stone story, whatever it was to him
at the end of twenty years, it was a great convenience
to his friends; for when he said anything they didn’t
agree with, or did anything they couldn’t understand,
or didn’t say or do what was expected of him,
what could be easier or more conclusive than to shake
one’s head and say,
“The fact is, our Doctor has
been a little odd, ever since !”
THE DOCTOR’S TEA-PARTY.
There is one great advantage attendant
upon invitations to tea with a doctor. No objections
can be raised on the score of health. It is obvious
that it must be fine enough to go out when the Doctor
asks you, and that his tea-cakes may be eaten with
Those tea-cakes were always good;
to-night they were utterly delicious; there was a
perfect abandon of currants, and the amount
of citron peel was enervating to behold. Then
the housekeeper waited in awful splendour, and yet
the Doctor’s authority over her seemed as absolute
as if he were an Eastern despot. Deordie must
be excused for believing in the charms of living alone.
It certainly has its advantages. The limited
sphere of duty conduces to discipline in the household,
demand does not exceed supply in the article of waiting,
and there is not that general scrimmage of conflicting
interests which besets a large family in the most
favoured circumstances. The housekeeper waits
in black silk, and looks as if she had no meaner occupation
than to sit in a rocking-chair, and dream of damson
Rustling, hospitable, and subservient,
this one retired at last, and
“Now,” said the Doctor,
“for the verandah; and to look at the moon.”
The company adjourned with a rush,
the rear being brought up by the poodle, who seemed
quite used to the proceedings; and there under the
verandah, framed with passion-flowers and geraniums,
the Doctor had gathered mats, rugs, cushions, and
arm-chairs, for the party; while far up in the sky,
a yellow-faced harvest moon looked down in awful benignity.
“Now!” said the Doctor.
“Take your seats. Ladies first, and gentlemen
afterwards. Mary and Tiny, race for the American
rocking-chair. Well done! Of course it will
hold both. Now, boys, shake down. No one
is to sit on the stone, or put his feet on the grass:
and when you’re ready, I’ll begin.”
“We’re ready,” said the girls.
The boys shook down in a few minutes
more, and the Doctor began the story of
“Bairns are a burden,”
said the Tailor to himself as he sat at work.
He lived in a village on some of the glorious moors
of the north of England; and by bairns he meant children,
as every Northman knows.
“Bairns are a burden,” and he sighed.
“Bairns are a blessing,”
said the old lady in the window. “It is
the family motto. The Trouts have had large families
and good luck for generations; that is, till your
grandfather’s time. He had one only son.
I married him. He was a good husband, but he had
been a spoilt child. He had always been used
to be waited upon, and he couldn’t fash to look
after the farm when it was his own. We had six
children. They are all dead but you, who were
the youngest. You were bound to a tailor.
When the farm came into your hands, your wife died,
and you have never looked up since. The land
is sold now, but not the house. No! no! you’re
right enough there; but you’ve had your troubles,
son Thomas, and the lads are idle!”
It was the Tailor’s mother who
spoke. She was a very old woman, and helpless.
She was not quite so bright in her intellect as she
had been, and got muddled over things that had lately
happened; but she had a clear memory for what was
long past, and was very pertinacious in her opinions.
She knew the private history of almost every family
in the place, and who of the Trouts were buried under
which old stones in the churchyard; and had more tales
of ghosts, doubles, warnings, fairies, witches, hobgoblins,
and such like, than even her grandchildren had ever
come to the end of. Her hands trembled with age,
and she regretted this for nothing more than for the
danger it brought her into of spilling the salt.
She was past housework, but all day she sat knitting
hearth-rugs out of the bits and scraps of cloth that
were shred in the tailoring. How far she believed
in the wonderful tales she told, and the odd little
charms she practised, no one exactly knew; but the
older she grew, the stranger were the things she remembered,
and the more testy she was if any one doubted their
truth. “Bairns are a blessing!” said
she. “It is the family motto.”
“Are they?” said the Tailor emphatically.
He had a high respect for his mother,
and did not like to contradict her, but he held his
own opinion, based upon personal experience; and not
being a metaphysician, did not understand that it is
safer to found opinions on principles than on experience,
since experience may alter, but principles cannot.
“Look at Tommy,” he broke
out suddenly. “That boy does nothing but
whittle sticks from morning till night. I have
almost to lug him out of bed o’ mornings.
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. No! no!
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.”
murmured the old lady, dreamily. “He has
a face like an apple.”
“And is about as useful,”
said the Tailor. “He might have been different,
but his brother leads him by the nose.”
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.
“I’ve swept this floor
once to-day,” said the father, “and I’m
not going to do it again. Put that rubbish outside.”
“Move it, Johnnie!” said his brother,
seating himself on a stool, and taking out his knife
and a piece of wood, at which he cut and sliced; while
the apple-cheeked Johnnie stumbled and stamped over
the moss, and scraped it out on the doorstep, leaving
long trails of earth behind him, and then sat down
“And those chips the same,”
added the Tailor; “I will not clear up
the litter you lads make.”
“Pick ’em up, Johnnie,”
said Thomas Trout, junior, with an exasperated sigh;
and the apple tumbled up, rolled after the flying chips,
and tumbled down again.
“Is there any supper, Father?” asked Tommy.
“No, there is not, Sir, unless
you know how to get it,” said the Tailor; and
taking his pipe, he went out of the house.
“Is there really nothing to eat, Granny?”
asked the boy.
“No, my bairn, only some bread for breakfast
“What makes Father so cross, Granny?”
“He’s wearied, and you don’t help
him, my dear.”
“What could I do, Grandmother?”
“Many little things, if you
tried,” said the old lady. “He spent
half-an-hour to-day, while you were on the moor, getting
turf for the fire, and you could have got it just
as well, and he been at his work.”
“He never told me,” said Tommy.
“You might help me a bit just
now, if you would, my laddie,” said the old
lady coaxingly; “these bits of cloth want tearing
into lengths, and if you get ’em ready, I can
go on knitting. There’ll be some food when
this mat is done and sold.”
“I’ll try,” said
Tommy, lounging up with desperate resignation.
“Hold my knife, Johnnie. 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. Will that do,
The old lady put down her knitting
and looked. “My dear, that’s too
short. Bless me! I gave the lad a piece to
“I thought it was the same length.
Oh, dear! I am so tired;” and he propped
himself against the old lady’s chair.
“My dear! don’t lean so;
you’ll tipple me over!” she shrieked.
“I beg your pardon, Grandmother. Will that
“It’s that much too long.”
“Tear that bit off. Now it’s all
“But, my dear, that wastes it.
Now that bit is of no use. There goes my knitting,
you awkward lad!”
“Johnnie, pick it up! Oh!
Grandmother, I am so hungry.” The
boy’s eyes filled with tears, and the old lady
was melted in an instant.
“What can I do for you, my poor
bairns?” said she. “There, never mind
the scraps, Tommy.”
“Tell us a tale, Granny.
If you told us a new one, I shouldn’t keep thinking
of that bread in the cupboard. Come, Johnnie,
and sit against me. Now then!”
“I doubt if there’s one
of my old-world cracks I haven’t told you,”
said the old lady, “unless it’s a queer
ghost story was told me years ago of that house in
the hollow with the blocked-up windows.”
“Oh! not ghosts!” Tommy
broke in; “we’ve had so many. 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.”
“It was nothing of the sort
as a tombstone,” said the old lady with dignity.
“It’s a good half-mile from the churchyard.
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. But never
mind! Though it’s as true as a sermon.”
Johnnie lifted his head from his brother’s knee.
“Let Granny tell what she likes,
Tommy. It’s a new ghost, and I should like
to know who he was, and why his victuals came in by
“I don’t like a story
about victuals,” sulked Tommy. “It
makes me think of the bread. O Granny dear! do
tell us a fairy story. You never will tell us
about the Fairies, and I know you know.”
“Hush! hush!” said the
old lady. “There’s Miss Surbiton’s
Love-letter, and her Dreadful End.”
“I know Miss Surbiton, Granny.
I think she was a goose. Why don’t you
tell us about the Fairies?”
“Hush! hush! my dear. There’s
the Clerk and the Corpse-candles.”
“I know the Corpse-candles,
Granny. Besides, they make Johnnie dream, and
he wakes me to keep him company. Why won’t
you tell us about the Fairies?”
“My dear, they don’t like it,” said
the old lady.
“O Granny dear, why don’t
they? Do tell! I shouldn’t think of
the bread a bit, if you told us about the Fairies.
I know nothing about them.”
“He lived in this house long
enough,” said the old lady. “But it’s
not lucky to name him.”
“O Granny, we are so hungry
and miserable, what can it matter?”
“Well, that’s true enough,”
she sighed. “Trout’s luck is gone;
it went with the Brownie, I believe.”
“Was that he, Granny?”
“Yes, my dear, he lived with the Trouts for
“What was he like, Granny?”
“Like a little man, they say, my dear.”
“What did he do?”
“He came in before the family
were up, and swept up the hearth, and lighted the
fire, and set out the breakfast, and tidied the room,
and did all sorts of house-work. 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.”
“What a darling! Did they give him any
“No! my dear. 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.”
“O Granny! why did he go?”
“The maids caught sight of him
one night, my dear, and his coat was so ragged, that
they got a new suit, and a linen shirt for him, and
laid them by the bread-and-milk bowl. But when
Brownie saw the things, he put them on, and dancing
round the kitchen, sang,
’What have we
here? Hemten hamten!
Here will I never more
tread nor stampen,’
and so danced through the door, and
never came back again.”
“O Grandmother! But why
not? Didn’t he like the new clothes?”
“The Old Owl knows, my dear; I don’t.”
“Who’s the Old Owl, Granny?”
“I don’t exactly know,
my dear. 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!), who took the shape of a bird, but couldn’t
change her voice, and that’s why the owl sits
silent all day for fear she should betray herself
by speaking, and has no singing voice like other birds.
Many people used to go and consult the Old Owl at
moon-rise, in my young days.”
“Did you ever go, Granny?”
“Once, very nearly, my dear.”
“Oh! tell us, Granny dear. There
are no Corpse-candles, Johnnie; it’s only moonlight,”
he added consolingly, as Johnnie crept closer to his
knee, and pricked his little red ears.
“It was when your grandfather
was courting me, my dears,” said the old lady,
“and I couldn’t quite make up my mind.
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?’
And my mother said, ’The Old Owl knows;’
for she was fairly puzzled. So says I, ’I’ll
go and ask her to-night, as sure as the moon rises.’
“So at moon-rise I went, and
there in the white light by the gate stood your grandfather.
‘What are you doing here at this time o’
night?’ says I. ‘Watching your window,’
says he. ’What are you doing here
at this time o’ night?’ ‘The Old
Owl knows,’ said I, and burst out crying.”
“What for?” said Johnnie.
“I can’t rightly tell
you, my dear,” said the old lady, “but
it gave me such a turn to see him. And without
more ado your grandfather kissed me. ‘How
dare you?’ said I. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The Old Owl knows,’ said he. So
we never went.”
“How stupid!” said Tommy.
“Tell us more about Brownie,
please,” said Johnnie, “Did he ever live
with anybody else?”
“There are plenty of Brownies,”
said the old lady, “or used to be in my mother’s
young days. Some houses had several.”
“Oh! I wish ours would come back!”
cried both the boys in chorus. “He’d
“tidy the room,” said Johnnie;
“fetch the turf,” said Tommy;
“pick up the chips,” said Johnnie;
“sort your scraps,” said Tommy;
“and do everything. Oh! I wish he
hadn’t gone away.”
“What’s that?” said the Tailor,
coming in at this moment.
“It’s the Brownie, Father,”
said Tommy. “We are so sorry he went, and
do so wish we had one.”
“What nonsense have you been telling them, Mother?”
asked the Tailor.
“Heighty teighty,” said
the old lady, bristling. “Nonsense, indeed!
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.”
“Well, well,” said the
Tailor, “I beg their pardon. 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
“Would you mind our setting
a pan of water, Father?” asked Tommy very gently.
“There’s no bread-and-milk.”
“You may set what you like,
my lad,” said the Tailor; “and I wish there
were bread-and-milk for your sakes, bairns. 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 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.
“There’s an owl living in the old shed
by the mere,” he thought. “It may
be the Old Owl herself, and she knows, Granny says.
When Father’s gone to bed, and the moon rises,
I’ll go.” Meanwhile he lay down.
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 moon has risen,” said
he, and crept softly down the ladder, through the
kitchen, where was the pan of water, but no Brownie,
and so out on to the moor. 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 had all 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
“Hoot! hoot!” said a voice
from the fir plantation behind him. Somebody
else was awake, then. “It’s the Old
Owl,” said Tommy; and there she came, swinging
heavily across the moor with a flapping stately flight,
and sailed into the shed by the mere. 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.
“Oh dear!” said Tommy, for he didn’t
much like it.
The Old Owl dropped the black mass
on to the floor; and Tommy did not care somehow to
“Come up! come up!” said she hoarsely.
She could speak, then! Beyond
all doubt it was the Old Owl, and none other.
“Come up here! come up here!” said the
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
“Kiss my fluffy face,” said the Owl.
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. Oh! it was so downy and warm,
so soft, so indescribably soft. Tommy’s
lips sank into it, and couldn’t get to the bottom.
It was unfathomable feathers and fluffiness.
“Now, what do you want?” said the Owl.
“Please,” said Tommy,
who felt rather re-assured, “can you tell me
where to find the Brownies, and how to get one to come
and live with us?”
“Oohoo!” said the Owl,
“that’s it, is it? I know of three
“Hurrah!” said Tommy. “Where
do they live?”
“In your house,” said the Owl.
Tommy was aghast.
“In our house!” he exclaimed.
“Whereabouts? Let me rummage them out.
Why do they do nothing?”
“One of them is too young,” said the Owl.
“But why don’t the others work?”
“They are idle, they are idle,”
said the Old Owl, and she gave herself such a shake
as she said it, that the fluff went flying through
the shed, and Tommy nearly tumbled off the beam in
“Then we don’t want them,”
said he. “What is the use of having Brownies
if they do nothing to help us?”
“Perhaps they don’t know
how, as no one has told them,” said the Owl.
“I wish you would tell me where
to find them,” said Tommy; “I could tell
“Could you?” said the
Owl. “Oohoo! oohoo!” and Tommy couldn’t
tell whether she were hooting or laughing.
“Of course I could,” he
said. “They might be up and sweep the house,
and light the fire, and spread the table, and that
sort of thing, before Father came down. 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. Oh! there’s lots to do.”
“So there is,” said the
Owl. “Oohoo! 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 feel equal to undertaking
it, and whether you will follow my directions.”
“I am quite ready to go,”
said Tommy, “and I will do as you shall tell
me. I feel sure I could persuade them. If
they only knew how every one would love them if they
made themselves useful!”
“Oohoo! oohoo!” said the
Owl. “Now pay attention. 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:
’Twist me, and
turn me, and show me the Elf
I looked in the water,
and saw ’
When you have got so far, look into
the water, and at the same moment you will see the
Brownie, and think of a word that will fill up the
couplet, and rhyme with the first line. If either
you do not see the Brownie, or fail to think of the
word, it will be of no use.”
“Is the Brownie a merman,”
said Tommy, wriggling himself along the beam, “that
he lives under water?”
“That depends on whether he
has a fish’s tail,” said the Owl, “and
this you can discover for yourself.”
“Well, the moon is shining,
so I shall go,” said Tommy. “Good-bye,
and thank you, Ma’am;” and he jumped down
and went, saying to himself as he ran, “I believe
he is a merman all the same, or else how could he live
in the mere? 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 ”
Now for it! He looked in, and
saw the reflection of his own face.
“Why, there’s no one but
myself!” said Tommy. “And what can
the word be? I must have done it wrong.”
“Wrong!” said the Echo.
Tommy was almost surprised to find
the echo awake at this time of night.
“Hold your tongue!” said
he. “Matters are provoking enough of themselves.
Belf! Celf! Delf! Felf! Gelf!
Helf! Jelf! What rubbish! There can’t
be a word to fit it. And then to look for a Brownie,
and see nothing but myself!”
“Myself,” said the Echo.
“Will you be quiet?” said
Tommy. “If you would tell one the word there
would be some sense in your interference; but to roar
‘Myself!’ at one, which neither rhymes
nor runs it does rhyme though, as it happens,”
he added; “and how very odd! it runs too
’Twist me, and
turn me, and show me the Elf
I looked in the water,
and saw myself,’
which I certainly did. What can
it mean? The Old Owl knows, as Granny would say;
so I shall go back and ask her.”
“Ask her!” said the Echo.
“Didn’t I say I should?”
said Tommy. “How exasperating you are!
It is very strange. Myself certainly does rhyme,
and I wonder I did not think of it long ago.”
“Go,” said the Echo.
“Will you mind your own business,
and go to sleep?” said Tommy. “I am
going; I said I should.”
And back he went. There sat the Old Owl as before.
“Oohoo!” said she, as Tommy climbed up.
“What did you see in the mere?”
“I saw nothing but myself,” said Tommy
“And what did you expect to see?” asked
“I expected to see a Brownie,” said Tommy;
“you told me so.”
“And what are Brownies like, pray?” inquired
“The one Granny knew was a useful
little fellow, something like a little man,”
“Ah!” said the Owl, “but
you know at present this one is an idle little fellow,
something like a little man. Oohoo! oohoo!
Are you quite sure you didn’t see him?”
“Quite,” answered Tommy sharply.
“I saw no one but myself.”
“Hoot! toot! How touchy we are! And
who are you, pray?”
“I’m not a Brownie,” said Tommy.
“Don’t be too sure,” said the Owl.
“Did you find out the word?”
“No,” said Tommy.
“I could find no word with any meaning that would
rhyme but ‘myself.’”
“Well, that runs and rhymes,”
said the Owl. “What do you want? Where’s
your brother now?”
“In bed in the malt-loft,” said Tommy.
“Then now all your questions
are answered,” said the Owl, “and you know
what wants doing, so go and do it. Good-night,
or rather good-morning, for it is long past midnight;”
and the old lady began to shake her feathers for a
“Don’t go yet, please,”
said Tommy humbly. “I don’t understand
it. You know I’m not a Brownie, am I?”
“Yes, you are,” said the
Owl, “and a very idle one too. All children
“But I couldn’t do work like a Brownie,”
“Why not?” inquired the
Owl. “Couldn’t you sweep the floor,
light the fire, spread the table, tidy the room, fetch
the turf, pick up your own chips, and sort your grandmother’s
scraps? You know ’there’s lots to
“But I don’t think I should
like it,” said Tommy. “I’d much
rather have a Brownie to do it for me.”
“And what would you do meanwhile?”
asked the Owl. “Be idle, I suppose; and
what do you suppose is the use of a man’s having
children if they do nothing to help him? Ah!
if they only knew how every one would love them if
they made themselves useful!”
“But is it really and truly
so?” asked Tommy, in a dismal voice. “Are
there no Brownies but children?”
“No, there are not,” said
the Owl. “And pray do you think that the
Brownies, whoever they may be, come into the house
to save trouble for the idle healthy little boys who
live in it? Listen to me, Tommy,” said
the old lady, her eyes shooting rays of fire in the
dark corner where she sat. “Listen to me,
you are a clever boy, and can understand when one
speaks; so I will tell you the whole history of the
Brownies, as it has been handed down in our family
from my grandmother’s great-grandmother, who
lived in the Druid’s Oak, and was intimate with
the fairies. 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.”
“I should like to hear if you please,”
The Old Owl shook out a tuft or two
of fluff, and set her eyes a-going and began:
“The Brownies, or, as they are
sometimes called, the Small Folk, the Little People,
or the Good People, are a race of tiny beings who
domesticate themselves in a house of which some grown-up
human being pays the rent and taxes. 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
“How nice!” said Tommy.
“Very nice,” said the
Old Owl. “But what” and
she shook herself more fiercely than ever, and glared
so that Tommy expected nothing less than that her
eyes would set fire to her feathers and she would be
burnt alive. “But what must I say of the
Boggarts? 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.”
“Don’t!” said Tommy. “I
can’t bear it.”
“I hope when Boggarts grow into
men,” said the Old Owl, “that their children
will be Boggarts too, and then they’ll know what
Tommy. “I won’t be a Boggart.
I’ll be a Brownie.”
nodded the Old Owl. “I said you were a boy
who could understand when one spoke. 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.”
“Please,” said Tommy,
“I should like to go home now, and tell Johnnie.
It’s getting cold, and I am so tired!”
“Very true,” said the
Old Owl, “and then you will have to be up early
to-morrow. I think I had better take you home.”
“I know the way, thank you,” said Tommy.
“I didn’t say show
you the way, I said take you carry
you,” said the Owl. “Lean against
“I’d rather not, thank you,” said
“Lean against me,” screamed
the Owl. “Oohoo! how obstinate boys are
to be sure!”
Tommy crept up very unwillingly.
“Lean your full weight, and shut your eyes,”
said the Owl.
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.
“How quickly we came!”
said he; “that is certainly a very clever Old
Owl. I couldn’t have counted ten whilst
my eyes were shut. How very odd!”
But what was odder still was, that
it was no longer moonlight, but early dawn.
“Get up, Johnnie,” said
his brother, “I’ve got a story to tell
And while Johnnie sat up, and rubbed
his eyes open, he related his adventures on the moor.
“Is all that true?” said
Johnnie. “I mean, did it really happen?”
“Of course it did,” said
his brother; “don’t you believe it?”
“Oh yes,” said Johnnie.
“But I thought it was perhaps only a true story,
like Granny’s true stories. I believe all
those, you know. But if you were there, you know,
it is different ”
“I was there,” said Tommy,
“and it’s all just as I tell you:
and I tell you what, if we mean to do anything we
must get up: though, oh dear! 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.”
“I won’t be a Boggart
at all,” said Johnnie, “it’s horrid.
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!”
“I can do it well enough,”
said Tommy, following his brother’s example
and getting up. “Don’t you suppose
I can light a fire? 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 enough 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
“Look at that door-step, Johnnie,”
said the Brownie-elect, “what a mess you made
of it! If you had lifted the moss carefully, instead
of stamping and struggling with it, it would have
saved us ten minutes’ work this morning.”
This wisdom could not be gainsaid,
and Johnnie only looked meek and rueful.
“I am going to light the fire,”
pursued his brother; “the next turfs,
you know, we must get you can tidy
a bit. Look at that knife I gave you to hold
last night, and that wood that’s my
fault though, and so are those scraps by Granny’s
chair. What are you grubbing at that rat-hole
Johnnie raised his head somewhat flushed and tumbled.
“What do you think I have found?”
said he triumphantly. “Father’s measure
that has been lost for a week!”
“Hurrah!” said Tommy,
“put it by his things. 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
garden, 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.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve
thought of, if we have time,” said Johnnie, as
he washed the potatoes in the water that had been set
for Brownie. “We might run down to the
South Pasture for some mushrooms. 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.”
“There’s plenty of time,”
said Tommy; so they went. 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 of 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.
“This is where the fairies feast,”
said Tommy. “They had a large party last
night. 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.”
“I wonder whether giants would
like to eat our tables,” said Johnnie.
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-stairs.
They were depositing the last mushroom
in a dish on the table, when his footsteps were heard
“There he is!” exclaimed
Tommy. “Remember, we mustn’t be caught.
Run back to bed.”
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
down-stairs. 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. When
he came in he looked round, and started, and rubbed
his eyes; looked round again, and rubbed them harder:
then went up to the fire and held out his hand, (warm
certainly) then up to the table and smelt
the mushrooms, (esculent fungi beyond a doubt) handled
the loaf, stared at the open door and window, the
swept floor, and the sunshine pouring in, and finally
sat down in stunned admiration. Then he jumped
up and ran to the foot of the stairs, shouting,
“Mother! mother! Trout’s
luck has come again.” “And yet, no!”
he thought, “the old lady’s asleep, it’s
a shame to wake her, I’ll tell those idle rascally
lads, they’ll be more pleased than they deserve.
It was Tommy after all that set the water and caught
him.” “Boys! boys!” he shouted
at the foot of the ladder, “the Brownie has come! and
if he hasn’t found my measure!” he added
on returning to the kitchen; “this is as good
as a day’s work to me.”
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.
“I’ve often heard of the
Good People,” he broke out towards the end of
the evening. “And I’ve heard folk
say they’ve known those that have seen them
capering round the grey rocks on the moor at midnight:
but this is wonderful! To come and do the work
for a pan of cold water! Who could have believed
“You might have believed it
if you’d believed me, son Thomas,” said
the old lady tossily. “I told you so.
But young people always know better than their elders!”
“I didn’t see him,”
said the Tailor, beginning his story afresh; “but
I thought as I came in I heard a sort of laughing
“My mother said they often heard
him playing and laughing about the house,” said
the old lady. “I told you so.”
“Well, he sha’n’t
want for a bowl of bread-and-milk to-morrow, anyhow,”
said the Tailor, “if I have to stick to Farmer
Swede’s waistcoat till midnight.”
But the waistcoat was finished by
bed-time, and the Tailor set the bread-and-milk-himself,
and went to rest.
“I say,” said Tommy, when
both the boys were in bed, “the Old Owl was
right, and we must stick to it. 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.”
“So do I,” said Johnnie; and he sighed.
“I tell you what,” said
Tommy, with the decisiveness of elder brotherhood,
“we’ll keep quiet for a bit for fear we
should leave off; but when we’ve gone on a good
while, I shall tell him. 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.”
“No more they are,” said
Johnnie; “look at Granny about this.”
“I know,” said Tommy. “She’s
in a regular muddle.”
“So she is,” said Johnnie. “But
that’s rather fun, I think.”
And they went to sleep.
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
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 farm-house
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.
“Brownies?” laughed the
dame. “Ay, Master, I have heard of them.
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 house-work
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.”
“And what was he like?”
inquired the Tailor, as composedly as he was able.
“A little fellow, they said,”
answered the Farmer’s wife, knitting calmly
on. “Like a dwarf, you know, with a largish
head for his body. 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
“You never had one here, I suppose?” said
“Not we,” she answered;
“and I think I’d rather not. 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. No! no!” she
added, laughing, “if we had had one you’d
have heard of it, whoever didn’t, for I should
have had some decent clothes made for him. I
couldn’t stand rags and old cloaks, messing
and moth-catching, in my house.”
“They say it’s not lucky
to give them clothes, though,” said the Tailor;
“they don’t like it.”
“Tell me!” said the dame,
“as if any one that liked a tidy room wouldn’t
like tidy clothes, if they could get them. No!
no! when we have one, you shall take his measure,
I promise you.”
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.
“That has been laid by for being
too small for the master now he’s so stout,”
she said; “but except for a stain or two it’s
good enough, and will cut up like new for one of the
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.
“It’s that Blessed Brownie!”
said the Tailor. “Has he been as usual?”
he asked, when he was in the house.
“To be sure,” said the
old lady; “all has been well, son Thomas.”
“I’ll tell you what it
is,” said the Tailor, after a pause. “I’m
a needy man, but I hope I’m not ungrateful.
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.”
shrieked the old lady. “Son Thomas, son
Thomas, you’re mad! Do what you please
for the Brownies, but never make them clothes.”
“There’s nothing they
want more,” said the Tailor, “by all accounts.
They’re all in rags, as well they may be, doing
so much work.”
“If you make clothes for this
Brownie, he’ll go for good,” said the
Grandmother, in a voice of awful warning.
“Well, I don’t know,”
said her son. “The mistress up at the farm
is clever enough, I can tell you; and as she said
to me, fancy any one that likes a tidy room not liking
a tidy coat!” For the Tailor, like most men,
was apt to think well of the wisdom of womankind in
“Well, well,” said the
old lady, “go your own way. 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.”
“I know, Mother,” said
the Tailor, “and I’ve been thinking of
it all the way home; and I can tell you why it was.
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.”
“Please yourself,” said
the old lady, and she would say no more.
“I think you’re quite
right, Father,” said Tommy, “and if I can,
I’ll help you to make them.”
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
“It’s not like the same
thing,” he broke out at last, “to have
some one a bit helpful about you; both for the tailoring
and for company’s sake. 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
“I’ll be back directly,”
said Tommy, who burst out of the room in search of
“I’ve come away,”
he said, squatting down, “because I can’t
bear it. 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. “I wish he’d measured
“I’m very glad he didn’t,”
said Johnnie. “I wish he’d kept them
“Bottle-green, with brass buttons,”
murmured Tommy, and therewith fell into a reverie.
The next night the suit was finished,
and laid by the bread-and-milk.
“We shall see,” said the
old lady, in a withering tone. There is not much
real prophetic wisdom in this truism, but it sounds
very awful, and the Tailor went to bed somewhat depressed.
Next morning the Brownies came down as usual.
“Don’t they look splendid?”
said Tommy, feeling the cloth. “When we’ve
tidied the place I shall put them on.”
But long before the place was tidy,
he could wait no longer, and dressed up.
“Look at me!” he shouted;
“bottle-green and brass buttons! Oh, Johnnie,
I wish you had some.”
“It’s a good thing there
are two Brownies,” said Johnnie, laughing, “and
one of them in rags still. I shall do the work
this morning.” And he went flourishing
round with a broom, while Tommy jumped madly about
in his new suit. “Hurrah!” he shouted,
“I feel just like the Brownie. 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.’”
And on he danced, regardless of the
clouds of dust raised by Johnnie, as he drove the
broom indiscriminately over the floor, to the tune
of his own laughter.
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 down-stairs.
“It’s the Brownie,”
he thought; “I must look, if it’s for the
At the door he paused and listened.
The laughter was mixed with singing, and he heard
“What have we
here? Hemten hamten!
Here will I never more
tread nor stampen.”
He pushed in, and this was the sight that met his
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.
“What’s this?” shouted
the astonished Tailor, when he could find breath to
“It’s the Brownies,”
sang the boys; and on they danced, for they had worked
themselves up into a state of excitement from which
it was not easy to settle down.
“Where is Brownie?” shouted the
“He’s here,” said Tommy; “we
are the Brownies.”
“Can’t you stop that fooling?”
cried the Tailor, angrily. “This is past
a joke. Where is the real Brownie, I say?”
“We are the only Brownies, really,
Father,” said Tommy, coming to a full stop,
and feeling strongly tempted to run down from laughing
to crying. “Ask the Old Owl. It’s
The Tailor saw the boy was in earnest,
and passed his hand over his forehead.
“I suppose I’m getting
old,” he said; “I can’t see daylight
through this. If you are the Brownie, who has
been tidying the kitchen lately?”
“We have,” said they.
“But who found my measure?”
“I did,” said Johnnie.
“And who sorts your grandmother’s scraps?”
“We do,” said they.
“And who sets breakfast, and puts my things
“We do,” said they.
“But when do you do it?” asked the Tailor.
“Before you come down,” said they.
“But I always have to call you,” said
“We get back to bed again,” said the boys.
“But how was it you never did it before?”
asked the Tailor doubtfully.
“We were idle, we were idle,” said Tommy.
The Tailor’s voice rose to a pitch of desperation
“But if you did the work,” he shouted,
“where is the Brownie?”
“Here!” cried the boys,
“and we are very sorry that we were Boggarts
With which the father and sons fell
into each other’s arms and fairly wept.
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.
“What do you think of it all, Mother?”
“Bairns are a blessing,” said the old
lady tartly, “I told you so.”
“That’s not the end, is
it?” asked one of the boys in a tone of dismay,
for the Doctor had paused here.
“Yes, it is,” said he.
“But couldn’t you make
a little more end?” asked Deordie, “to
tell us what became of them all?”
“I don’t see what there is to tell,”
said the Doctor.
“Why, there’s whether
they ever saw the Old Owl again, and whether Tommy
and Johnnie went on being Brownies,” said the
The Doctor laughed.
“Well, be quiet for five minutes,” he
“We’ll be as quiet as mice,” said
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.”
“Well,” he said, sitting
up suddenly, “the Brownies went on with their
work in spite of the bottle-green suit, and Trout’s
luck returned to the old house once more. 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! are much desired as wives, whereas
a man might as well marry an old witch as a young
“And about the Owl?” clamoured
the children, rather resentful of the Doctor’s
pausing to take breath.
“Of course,” he continued,
“the Tailor heard the whole story, and being
both anxious to thank the Old Owl for her friendly
offices, and also rather curious to see and hear her,
he went with the boys one night at moon-rise to the
shed by the mere. 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.
“I don’t mean to intrude,
Ma’am,” said the Tailor, “but I was
wishful to pay my respects and gratitude.”
Still the Owl gazed in determined silence.
“Don’t you remember me?”
said Tommy pitifully. “I did everything
you told me. Won’t you even say good-bye?”
and he went up towards her.
The Owl’s eyes contracted, she
shuddered a few tufts of fluff into the shed, shook
her wings, and shouting “Oohoo!” at the
top of her voice, flew out upon the moor. 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. “Good-bye!” they shouted
as she disappeared; first the departing owl, then a
shadowy body with flapping sails, then two wings beating
the same measured time, then two moving lines still
to the old tune, then a stroke, a fancy, and then the
green sky and the pale moon, but the Old Owl was gone.
“Did she never come back?”
asked Tiny in subdued tones, for the Doctor had paused
“No,” said he; “at
least not to the shed by the mere. 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.”
“Is that the very very end?” asked Tiny.
“The very very end,” said the Doctor.
“I suppose there might be more
and more ends,” speculated Deordie “about
whether the Brownies had any children when they grew
into farmers, and whether the children were Brownies,
and whether they had other Brownies, and so
on and on.” And Deordie rocked himself
among the geraniums, in the luxurious imagining of
an endless fairy tale.
“You insatiable rascal!”
said the Doctor. “Not another word.
Jump up, for I am going to see you home. I have
to be off early to-morrow.”
“Where?” said Deordie.
“Never mind. 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!”
And the Doctor’s mouth twitched
a little till he fixed it into a stiff smile.
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!”
and that Johnnie Green (who, of course, was not Johnnie
Trout) was some unworthy village acquaintance, and
“a thorough Boggart.”
“Doctor!” said Tiny, as
they stood by the garden-gate, “how long do you
think gentlemen’s pocket-handkerchiefs take to
“That, my dear Madam,”
said the Doctor, “must depend, like other terrestrial
matters, upon circumstances; whether the gentleman
bought fine cambric, or coarse cotton with pink portraits
of the reigning Sovereign, to commence with; whether
he catches many colds, has his pockets picked, takes
snuff, or allows his washerwoman to use washing powders.
But why do you want to know?”
“I sha’n’t tell
you that,” said Tiny, who was spoilt by the Doctor,
and consequently tyrannized in proportion; “but
I will tell you what I mean to do. 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 Brownie will come and do
“Kiss my fluffy face!”
said the Doctor in sepulchral tones.
“The owl is too high up,” said Tiny, tossing
The Doctor lifted her four feet or
so, obtained his kiss, and set her down again.
“You’re not fluffy at
all,” said she in a tone of the utmost contempt;
“you’re tickly and bristly. Puss is
more fluffy, and Father is scrubby and scratchy, because
“And which of the three styles
do you prefer?” said the Doctor.
“Not tickly and bristly,”
said Tiny with firmness; and she strutted up the walk
for a space or two, and then turned round to laugh
over her shoulder.
her victim, shaking his fist after her.
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 church-yard, 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.
he said in a low quiet voice. “Good-night,
my darling!” The dog licked his hand, but there
was no voice to answer, nor any that regarded.
Poor foolish Doctor! 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.
A BORROWED BROWNIE.
“I can’t imagine,”
said the Rector, walking into the drawing-room the
following afternoon; “I can’t imagine where
Tiny is. I want her to drive to the other end
of the parish with me.”
“There she comes,” said
his wife, looking out of the window, “by the
garden-gate, with a great basket; what has she been
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
“Where have you been?” said he.
“In the Doctor’s garden,”
said Tiny triumphantly; “and look what I have
done! 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.”
“But look here!” said
the Rector, affecting a great appearance of severity,
“you’re my Brownie, not his. 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.
“But, Father dear,” she
pleaded, “I didn’t mean not to be your
Brownie; only, you know, you had got five left at
home, and it was only for a short time, and the Doctor
hasn’t any Brownie at all. Don’t you
And the Rector, who was old enough
to remember that grave-stone story we wot of, hugged
his Brownie in his arms, and answered,
“My Darling, I do pity him!”