The Brownies

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“CHILDREN are a burden,” said the tailor, as he sat on his bench stitching away.

“Children are a blessing,” said the kind lady in the window.

It was the tailor’s mother who spoke. She was a very old woman and nearly helpless. All day she sat in a large armchair knitting rugs.

“What have my two lads ever done to help me?” continued the tailor, sadly. “They do nothing but play. If I send Tommy on a job, he just hangs around doing nothing. If I ask him to work, he does it so unwillingly that I would rather do it myself. Since their mother died I have indeed had a hard time.”

At this moment the two boys came in, their arms full of moss which they dropped on the floor.

“Is there any supper, grandmother?” asked Tommy.

“No, my child, only some bread for breakfast to-morrow.”

“Oh, grandmother, we are so hungry!” and the boy’s eyes filled with tears.

“What can I do for you, my poor children?” said the good woman.

“Tell us a story, please, so that we can forget we are hungry. Tell us about the brownie that used to live in your grandfather’s house. What was he like?”

“Like a little man, they say.”

“What did he do?”

“He came early in the morning before any one in the house was awake, and lighted the fire and swept the room and set out the breakfast. He never would be seen and was off before they could catch him. But they often heard him laughing and playing about the house.”

“Did they give him any wages, grandmother?”

“No, my dear, he did the work for love. They always set a pan of clear water for him, and now and then a bowl of bread and milk.”

“Oh, grandmother, where did he go?”

“The Old Owl in the woods knows; I do not. When I was young many people used to go to see the Old Owl at moon-rise, and ask her what they wanted to know.”

“How I wish a brownie would come and live with us!” cried Tommy.

“So do I,” said Johnny.

“Will you let us set out a pan of water for the brownie, father?” asked Tommy.

“You may set out what you like, my lad, but you must go to bed now.”

The boys brought out a pan of water. Then they climbed the ladder to the loft over the kitchen.

Johnny was soon in the land of dreams, but Tommy lay awake thinking how he could find a brownie and get him to live in the house. “There is an owl that lives in the grove,” he thought. “It may be the Old Owl herself. When the moon rises, I’ll go and find her.”


The moon rose like gold and went up in the heavens like silver. Tommy opened his eyes and ran to the window. “The moon has risen,” said he, “and it is time for me to go.” Downstairs he crept softly and out into the still night.

“Hoot! hoot!” cried a voice from the grove near the house.

“That’s the Old Owl,” thought Tommy. He ran to a big tree and looked up. There he saw the Old Owl, sitting on a branch and staring at him with yellow eyes.

“Oh, dear!” said Tommy, for he did not like the Owl very well.

“Come up here! Come up here!” she cried.

Tommy climbed the tree and sat face to face with her on the big branch.

“Now, what do you want?” said the Owl.

“Please,” said Tommy, “I want to know where to find the brownies, and how to get one to come and live with us.”

“Oo-hoo! oo-hoo!” said the Owl. “That’s it, is it? I know of three brownies.”

“Hurrah!” said Tommy. “Where do they live?”

“In your house,” said the Owl.

“In our house! Whereabouts? Why don’t they work?” cried Tommy.

“One of them is too little,” said the Owl.

“But why don’t the other two do something?” said Tommy. “Nobody does any work at our house except father.”

“They are idle, they are idle,” said the Old Owl.

“Then we don’t want them,” said Tommy. “What is the use of having brownies in the house if they do nothing to help us?”

“Perhaps they don’t know what to do.”

“I wish you would tell me where to find them,” said Tommy. “I could tell them what to do.”

“Could you, could you? Oo-hoo! oo-hoo!” and Tommy could not tell whether the Owl was hooting or laughing.

“Of course I could. They might get up early in the morning and sweep the house, and light the fire, and spread the table before my father comes downstairs.”

“So they might!” said the Owl. “Well, I can tell you where to find one of the brownies, and he can tell you where to find his brother. Go to the north side of the pond, where the moon is shining on the water, turn yourself around three times, while you say this charm:

Twist me and turn me and show me the elf

I looked in the water and saw—’

Then look in the water, and think of a word which rhymes with ‘elf’ and makes the charm complete.”

Tommy knew the place very well. He ran to the north side of the pond, and turning himself around three times, he repeated the charm. Then he looked in and saw—himself.

“Why, there’s no one but myself. I can’t think of the right word. What can it be? I’ll go back and ask the Old Owl,” thought Tommy. And back he went. There sat the Owl as before.

“Oo-hoo,” said she, as Tommy climbed up. “Did you find out the word?”

“No,” said Tommy, “I could find no word that rhymes with ‘elf’ except ‘myself.'”

“Well, that is the word! Now, do you know where your brother is?”

“In bed in the loft,” said Tommy.

“Then all your questions are answered. Good night;” and the Old Owl began to shake her feathers.

“Don’t go yet,” said Tommy, humbly; “I don’t understand you. I am not a brownie, am I?”

“Yes, you are, and a very idle one, too,” said the Old Owl. “All children are brownies.”

“But are there really any brownies except children?” inquired Tommy, in a dismal tone.

“No, there are not. Now listen to me, Tommy. Little people can do only little things. When they are idle and mischievous, they are called boggarts, and they are a burden to the house they live in. When they are thoughtful and useful, they are brownies, and are a blessing to every one.”

“I’ll be a brownie,” said Tommy. “I won’t be a boggart. Now I’ll go home and tell Johnny.”

“I’ll take you home,” said the Owl, and in a moment Tommy found himself in bed, with Johnny sleeping by his side.

“How quickly we came,” said Tommy to himself. “But is it morning? That is very strange! I thought the moon was shining. Come, Johnny, get up, I have a story to tell you.”


While his brother was rubbing his eyes Tommy told him of his visit to the Old Owl in the grove.

“Is that all true?” asked Johnny.

“It is all just as I tell you, and if we don’t want to be boggarts, we must get up and go to work.”

“I won’t be a boggart,” said Johnny, and so the two brownies crept softly down the ladder into the kitchen. “I will light the fire,” said Tommy. “And you, Johnny, can dig some potatoes to roast for breakfast.” They swept the room and laid the table. Just as they were putting the potatoes in a dish they heard footsteps.

“There’s father,” said Tommy; “we must run.”

The poor tailor came wearily down the stairs. Morning after morning he had found an untidy room and an empty table. But now when he entered the kitchen, he looked around in great surprise. He put his hand out to the fire to see if it was really warm. He touched the potatoes and looked at the neat room. Then he shouted, “Mother, mother! Boys, boys, the brownie has come!”

There was great excitement in the small house, but the boys said nothing. All day the tailor talked about the brownie. “I have often heard of Little People,” he said, “but this is wonderful. To come and do the work for a pan of cold water! Who would have believed it?”

The boys said nothing until they were both in bed. Then Tommy said: “The Old Owl was right, and we must stick to the work if we don’t want to be boggarts. But I don’t like to have father thinking that we are still idle. I wish he knew that we are the brownies.”

“So do I,” said Johnny.

Day after day went by and still the boys rose early, and each day they found more and more to do. The brownies were the joy of the tailor’s life.

One day a message came for the tailor to go to a farmhouse several miles away. The farmer gave him an order for a suit of clothes, and paid him at once. Full of joy at his good fortune, he hurried home. As he came near the house, he saw that the garden had been weeded. “It’s that brownie!” he said; “and I shall make a suit of clothes for him.”

“If you make clothes for the brownie, he will leave the house,” said the grandmother.

“Not if the clothes are a good fit, mother. I shall measure them by Tommy, for they say the brownies are about his size.”

At last a fine new suit with brass buttons was finished and laid out for the brownie.

“Don’t the clothes look fine?” said Tommy, when he came down in the morning; “I’ll try them on.”

The tailor rose earlier than usual that day, for he wished to catch a glimpse of the brownies. He went softly downstairs. There was Johnny sweeping the floor, and Tommy trying on the new suit.

“What does this mean?” shouted the father.

“It’s the brownies,” said the boys.

“This is no joke,” cried the tailor, angrily. “Where are the real brownies, I say?”

“We are the only brownies, father,” said Tommy.

“I can’t understand this. Who has been sweeping the kitchen lately, I should like to know?”

“We have,” said the boys.

“Who gets breakfast and puts things in order?”

“We do! we do!” they shouted.

“But when do you do it?”

“Early in the morning before you come down.”

“But if you do the work, where is the brownie?”

“Here,” cried the boys; “we are the brownies, and we are sorry that we were boggarts so long.”

The father was delighted to find how helpful his boys had become. The grandmother, however, could hardly believe that a real brownie had not been in the house. But as she sat in her chair day after day watching the boys at their work, she often repeated her favorite saying, “Children are a blessing.”

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- Total nr. of readings: 5,674 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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