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THE BROWNIE OF BLEDNOCK
Did you ever hear how a Brownie came to the village of Blednock and was frightened away again?

It was one November evening, just when the milking was done and before the children were put to bed. The people of the village were standing by their doorsteps talking about their bad harvest and the turnips, and what chances there were of a good price for their cattle at the coming fair.

All at once the queerest humming noise seemed to come up from the riverside. It came nearer and nearer, and all the good people stopped talking and began to look down the road. And, indeed, it was no wonder that they stared, for there, coming up the middle 179of the highway, was the strangest little creature that human eyes had ever seen.

He looked like a wee, wee man. He had a long blue beard which almost touched the ground. His legs were twisted, his knees knocked together as he walked, and his arms were so long that his hands trailed in the mud as he came along. He seemed to be humming something over and over. As he came nearer, the good people of the village could make out the words:
“Have ye work for Aiken-Drum?
Any work for Aiken-Drum?”

Oh, how frightened the people were! The children screamed and hid their faces in their mothers’ gowns and the milkmaids threw down the pails of milk they were carrying. Even the dogs crept in behind the doors, whining and hiding their tails between their legs. Some of the men who were not too frightened to look the wee man in the face, laughed and hooted at him.

“Did you ever see such eyes?” cried one.

“His mouth is so big he could swallow the 180moon and never even notice it,” said the other.

“Look at his long blue beard!” said a third.

And still the poor little man came slowly up the road, crying:
“Have ye work for Aiken-Drum?
Any work for Aiken-Drum?”

Good Grannie Duncan, the kindest old woman in the village, called out at last: “He’s just a Brownie, a simple, kindly Brownie. I’ve heard tell of Brownies before. Many a long day’s work will they do for the people who treat them well.”

Gathering courage from her words, all the village folk crowded around the little man. When they were close to him, they saw that his face was kind and gentle and that his tiny eyes had a merry twinkle in them.

“Strange little creature,” said an old man, “tell us what you want and where you came from?”
182

183“I cannot well tell thee whence I came,” said the wee man. “My country is a nameless land and is very different from this land of yours. For there we all learn to serve, while here every one wishes to be served. When there is no work for us to do at home, we sometimes set out to visit thy land to see if there is any work we can do there. If thou wilt, I will stay here awhile. I do not wish anyone to wait on me, for I want no wages, nor clothes, nor bedding. All I ask for is a corner of the barn to sleep in, and a bowl of broth set down on the floor at bedtime. If no one meddles with me, I shall be ready to help any one who needs me. I’ll gather your sheep on the hill. I’ll take in the harvest by moonlight. I’ll sing your bairns to sleep in their cradles. You’ll find that the bairns all love Aiken-Drum. And, good housewives, I’ll churn for you and bake your bread on a busy day. The men folk, too, may find me useful when there is corn to thrash, or untamed colts in the stables, or when the waters are out in flood.”

No one knew quite what to say in answer to the little creature’s strange request. It was an unheard-of thing for anyone to come and offer 184his services for nothing. Some thought it could not be true; others said it were better to have nothing to do with the little creature.

Then up spoke good Grannie Duncan again:

“He’s but a Brownie, I tell you, a harmless Brownie. Many a story I’ve heard in my young days about the work that a Brownie can do, if he be treated well and let alone. Have we not all been complaining about bad times, small wages, and the hard work we all have to do? And now, when a workman comes ready to your hand, you will have nothing to do with him just because he is strange looking. And I’ve heard that a Brownie can stalk a whole ten-acre field in a single night! Shame on you, say I!”

“A ten-acre field in a single night!” cried out all the men of the village at once. “A ten-acre field!” repeated one. “And in a single night!” added another. That settled the matter. The miller at once offered the Brownie a corner of his barn to sleep in, and good Grannie Duncan promised to make him some broth at bedtime and to send her grandchild, 185wee Janie, down to the barn with it every evening. Then all the people of the village said, “Good night,” and went to their homes. But they were careful to look over their shoulders once in a while, for fear that the strange little man was following them.

But if they were afraid of him that night, they had a very different story to tell about him before a week had passed. Whatever he was or wherever he came from, he was the most wonderful little worker that these people had ever known. And the strange thing was that he did most of the work at night. Village folk came from all parts of the countryside to catch a glimpse of this queer little worker, but they were never successful, for he was never to be seen when one looked for him. They might have gone to the miller’s barn twenty times a day, and twenty times a day they would have found nothing but a heap of straw and an empty broth bowl.

But whenever there was work to be done, whether it was a tired child to be sung to, or a house to be made tidy, or a batch of bread 186to be worked up, or a flock of sheep to be gathered together on a stormy night, Aiken-Drum always knew of it and appeared ready to help just at the right time.

Many a time some poor mother who had been up all night with a crying child would sit down with it on her lap in front of the fire in the morning and fall asleep. When she awoke she would find that Aiken-Drum had made a visit to her house; for the floor would be scrubbed and the dishes washed, the fire made up and the kettle put on to boil. But the little Brownie would have slipped away as if he were afraid of being thanked.

The little children were the only ones who ever saw him when he was not working, and, oh, how they loved him! When school was out you could see them away down by the stream crowding around the little dark brown figure, and you could hear the sound of low, sweet singing; for Aiken-Drum knew all the songs that children love well.

By and by the name of Aiken-Drum came to be a household word among the good people 187of the village, for, although they seldom saw him near at hand, they loved him like one of their own people.

And he would never have gone away if every one in the village had remembered what good Grannie Duncan told them about Brownies. “A Brownie works for love,” she had said to them over and over again. “He will not work for pay. If anyone tries to pay him, the wee creature’s feelings will be hurt, and he will vanish in the night.”

But a good man of the village and his wife forgot all that had been said, and one day they planned to make something for Aiken-Drum.

“He should not work for nothing,” said the good man.

“He has already worn out his coat and trousers slaving for us,” said his wife.

So one day they made him a little pair of green trousers and a little brown coat. That night the two good people laid a parcel by the side of the bowl of broth in the miller’s barn.

In the middle of the night some one heard 188the Brownie saying to himself, “A nice pair of green trousers and a little brown coat for me. I can come here no more till one of the children of this village travels the world over and finds me first.”

So this strange little creature had to go away. He vanished in the night as any Brownie is sure to do if some one tries to pay him.

And all the good people of Blednock talked of the kind deeds of the little strange man who came one evening into their midst, and they wondered and wondered if he would ever come back to them again.



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