↑ Return to Stories

The Brownies


Such wonderful stories as grandmother told Johnnie and Tommy! Stories
of ghosts and hob-goblins, of dwarfs and fairies; and once she told
them about a brownie that was said to have lived in their own family,
long ago,–a brownie who did all manner of wonderful and useful things.
He was a little fellow no larger than Tommy, she said, but very active
and very shy. He slept by the kitchen fire, and no one ever saw him;
but, early in the morning, when all the family were in their beds, this
brownie would get up, sweep the room, build the fire, spread the table,
milk the cow, churn the cream, bring the water, scrub and dust, until
there was not a speck of dirt anywhere to be seen.

The children liked this story very much, and oh! how they did wish such
a brownie would come to live in their house now! Over and over again
they said: “Was there really and truly a brownie, grandmother, and did
he really help all the people as you say? How we wish he would come
back again! Why, he could mind the baby and tidy the room and bring in
the wood and wait on you, grandmother! Can’t we do something to get
him back again?”

“I don’t know, my dears,” said the grandmother; “but they used to say,
in my young days, that if one set a bowl of bread and milk or even a
pan of clear water for him over night he would be sure to come, and
would do all the work just for that.”

“Oh! let us try it!” said both the boys; and one ran to get a pan, and
the other to fetch fresh water from the well, for they knew, poor
hungry lads, that there was no bread or milk in the house. Their
father, who was a poor tailor, could scarcely earn money enough to buy
food for them all. His wife had died when the baby was born and he
could not make as many coats as before, for he must now do all the work
of the house. Johnnie and Tommy were idle and lazy and too thoughtless
to help their father, although they were fine grown lads of five and

One night Tommy had a wonderful dream. He thought he went down in the
meadow by the old mill pond, and there he saw an owl who shook her
feathers, rolled her great eyes, and called: “Tuwhit, tuwhoo! Tuwhoo,
whoo-o-o-o! Tommy, what are you doing way down here this time of

“Please, I came to find the brownies,” said Tommy; “can you tell me
where they live, ma’am?”

“Tuwhoo, tuwhoo!” screamed the old owl; “so it’s the brownies you are
after, is it? Tuwhoo, tuwhoo! Go look in the mill pond. Tuwhoo,
tuwhoo! Go look in the water at midnight, and you’ll see one. By the
light of the moon a brownie you’ll see, to be sure, but such a lazy
one! Tuwhoo, tuwhoo!” screamed the old owl; and, flapping her wings,
she went sailing away in the moonlight.

“The mill pond, at midnight, by moonlight,” thought Tommy. What could
the old owl mean? It was midnight then, and moonlight, too; and there
he was right down by the water. “Silly old thing,” said Tommy,
“brownies don’t live in the water.” But for all that Tommy went to the
bank and peeped in. The moon was shining as bright as day; and what do
you suppose he saw? Why, just a picture of himself in the water, and
that was all. “Humph! I’m no brownie,” said he to himself; but the
longer he looked the harder he thought. At last he said:

“Am I a brownie? Perhaps I am one, after all. Grandmother said they
are about as large as I, and the old owl said that I would see a very
lazy one if I looked in the water. Am I lazy? That must be what she
meant. I am the brownie myself.” The longer he thought about it the
surer he was that he must be a brownie. “Why,” he said, “if I am one,
Johnnie must be another; then there are two of us. I’ll go home and
tell Johnnie all about it.”

Off he ran as fast as his legs could carry him, and just as he was
calling, “Johnnie, Johnnie! We are brownies! The old owl told me!” he
found himself wide awake, sitting up in bed, rubbing his eyes, while
Johnnie lay fast asleep by his side. The first faint rays of morning
light were just creeping in at their chamber window. “Johnnie,
Johnnie, wake up! I have something to tell you!”

After telling his brother all about his strange dream, Tommy said: “Let
us play we really are brownies, John, even if we are not; it will be
such fun for once to surprise father and grandmother. We will keep out
of sight and tell about it afterwards. Oh, do come! It will be such

So these two brownies put on their clothes in a great hurry and crept
softly down to the kitchen, where at first there seemed enough work for
a dozen brownies to do. Tommy built up a blazing fire, and, while the
kettle was boiling, swept the untidy floor, while Johnnie dusted,
placed his grandmother’s chair, got the cradle ready for the baby and
spread the table. Just as everything was in order they heard their
father’s footstep on the stairs. “Run!” whispered Tommy, “or he will
see us.” So the boys scampered away to their bed in the loft and
pretended to be fast asleep when their father called them to breakfast.

The poor tailor was fairly beside himself with delight and
astonishment, and believed that the brownie he had heard so much about
in his childhood had really come back again. The old grandmother was
delighted, too, and said: “What did I tell you, son Thomas? I always
knew there were real brownies.”

Although being brownies was fun for the boys, it was hard work, too,
and they sometimes thought they would leave off; but then they would
think of their hard-working father and would grow quite ashamed.
Things were so much better at home than they used to be. The tailor
never scolded now, the grandmother was more cheerful than of old, the
baby was less fretful, the house was always tidy; and because the
tailor had more time for his work, now that the brownies helped, he
could make more coats and could get more money, and the boys did not go
hungry to bed as they used to do; but there was always bread and milk
enough, and a great bowlful to spare that they set each night for the

At last the tailor said, “I am going to do something for that brownie.
He has done so much for us all.” So he cut and stitched the neatest
little coat you ever saw; for he said: “I have always heard that a
brownie’s clothes are ragged, so our brownie will need this, I know.”
When the coat was done it just fitted Tommy and was very fine to see,
all stitched with gold thread and covered with brave brass buttons.

That night the little coat was placed by the bowl of milk set for the
brownie and, when the early morning came, the tailor was awakened by
the sound of laughter and scuffling in the kitchen. “It’s the
brownie,” thought he; and getting out of bed he crept softly down the

But when he reached the kitchen, instead of the brownie, he saw Johnnie
and Tommy sweeping and making the fire and dusting and setting the
table. Tommy had put on the coat that the tailor had made for the
brownie, and was skipping about in it laughing and calling to Johnnie
to see how fine he looked, but saying: “I wish he had made it to fit
you, John.”

“Boys, what does all this mean?” cried the tailor. “Tommy, why have
you put on that coat?”

When the boys saw their father they ran to him and tried to tell him
all about it. “There is no brownie, father,” they cried, “but we have
done the work. And O father! we are sorry that we were lazy and idle
so long; but we mean to be brownies now, real brownies, and help you
till we grow to be big men.” The poor tailor was so happy that he knew
not what to say, and there were tears in his eyes as he kissed each
little son.

Tommy and Johnnie kept their promise and continued being brownies until
they went away to homes of their own. But their little sister grew to
be the best brownie of all; and she kept her father’s house so bright
and clean with mop and brush and broom and dustpan that not a speck of
dirt was anywhere to be seen.