There have been many
Brownies known in Scotland ; and stories have been writteja. about
the Brownie o’ Bodsbeck and the Brownie o’ Blednock, but about
neither of them has a prettier story been told than that which I am
going to tell you about the Brownie o’ Ferne-Den.
Now, Ferne-Den was a farmhouse, which got its name from the glen, or
“den,” on the edge of which it stood, and through which anyone who
wished to reach the dwelling had to pass.
And this glen was believed to be the abode of a Brownie, who never
appeared to anyone in the daytime, but who, it was said, was
sometimes seen at night, stealing about, like an ungainly shadow,
from tree to tree, trying to keep from observation, and never, by
any chance, harming anybody.
Indeed, like all Brownies that are properly treated and let alone,
so far was he from harming anybody that he was always on the
look-out to do a good turn to those who needed his assistance.' The
farmer often said that he did not know what he would do without him;
for if there was any work to be finished in a hurry at the farm—oorn
to thrash, or winnow, or tie up into bags, turnips to cut, clothes
to wash, a kirn to be kirned, a garden to be weeded—all that the
farmer and his wife had to do was to leave the door of the barn, or
the turnip shed, or the milk house open when they went to bed, and
put down a bowl of new milk on the doorstep for the Brownie’s
supper, and when they woke the next morning the bowl would be empty,
and the job finished better than if it had been done by mortal
In spite of all this, however, which might have proved to them how
gentle and kindly the Creature really was, everyone about the place
was afraid of him, and would rather go a couple of miles round about
in the dark, when they were coming home from Kirk or Market, than
pass through the glen, and run the risk of catching a glimpse of
I said that they were all afraid of him, but that was not true, for
the farmer’s wife was so good and gentle that she was not afraid of
anything on God’s earth, and when the Brownie’s supper had to be
left outside, she always filled his bowl with the richest milk, and
added a good spoonful of cream to it, for, said she, “He works so
hard for us, and asks no wages, he well deserves the very best meal
that we can give him.”
One night this gentle lady was taken very ill, and everyone was
afraid that she was going to die. Of course, her husband was greatly
distressed, and so were her servants, for she had been such a good
Mistress to them that they loved her as if she had been their
mother. But they were all young, and none of them knew very much
about illness, and everyone agreed that it would be better to send
off for an old woman who lived about seven miles away on the other
side of the river, who was known to be a very skilful nurse.
But who was to go? That was the question. For it was black midnight,
and the way to the old woman’s house lay straight through the glen.
And whoever travelled that road ran the risk of meeting the dreaded
The farmer would have gone only too willingly, but he dare not leave
his wife alone; and the servants stood in groups about the kitchen,
each one telling the other that he ought to go, yet no one offering
to go themselves.
Little did they think that the cause of all their terror, a queer,
wee, misshapen little man, all covered with hair, with a long beard,
red-rimmed eyes, broad, flat feet, just like the feet of a paddock,
and enormous long arms that touched the ground, even when he stood
upright, was within a yard or two of them, listening to their talk,
with an anxious face, behind the kitchen door.
For he had come up as usual, from his hiding-place in the glen, to
see if there were any work for him to do, and to look for his bowl
of milk. And he had seen, from the open door and lit-up windows,
that there was something wrong inside the farmhouse, which at that
hour was wont to be dark, and still, and silent; and he had crept
into the entry to try and find out what the matter was.
When he gathered from the servants' talk that the Mistress, whom he
loved so dearly, and who had been so kind to him, was ill, his heart
sank within him; and when he heard that the silly servants were so
taken np with their own fears that they dared not set out to fetch a
nurse for her, his contempt and anger knew no bounds.
“Fools, idiots, dolts!" he muttered to himself, stamping his queer,
misshapen feet on the floor. “They speak as if a body were ready to
take a bite off them as soon as ever he met them. .If they only knew
the bother it gives me to keep out of their road they wouldna be so
silly. But, by my troth, if they go on like this, the bonnie lady
will die amongst their fingers. So it strikes me that Brownie must
e'en gang himself."
So saying, he reached up his hand, and took down a dark cloak which
belonged to the farmer, which was hanging on a peg on the wall, and,
throwing it over his head and shoulders, or as somewhat to hide his
ungainly form, he hurried away to the stable, and saddled and
bridled the fleetest-footed horse that stood there.
When the last buckle was fastened, he led it to the door, and
scrambled on its back. “Now, if ever thou travelledst fleetly,
travel fleetly now," he said; and it was as if the creature
understood him, for it gave a little whinny and pricked up its ears;
then it darted out into the darkness like an arrow from the bow.
In less time than the distance had ever been ridden in before, the
Brownie drew rein at the old woman's cottage.
She was in bed, fast asleep; but he rapped sharply on the window,
and when she rose and put her old face, framed in its white mutch,
close to the pane to ask who was there, he bent forward and told her
“Thou must come with me, Goodwife, and that quickly,” he commanded,
in his deep, harsh voice, “if the Lady of Ferne-Den's life is to be
saved; for there is no one to nurse her up-bye at the farm there,
save a lot of empty-headed servant wenches.”
“But how am I to get there? Have they sent a cart for me?” asked the
old woman anxiously; for, as far as she could see, there was nothing
at the door save a horse and its rider.
“No, they have sent no cart,” replied the Brownie, shortly. “So you
must just climb up behind me on the saddle, and hang on tight to my
waist, and I'll promise to land ye at Ferne-Den safe and sound.”
His voice was so masterful that the old woman dare not refuse to do
as she was bid; besides, she had often ridden pillion-wise when she
was a lassie, so she made haste to dress herself, and when she was
ready she unlocked her door, and, mounting the louping-on stane that
stood beside it, she was soon seated behind the dark-cloaked
stranger, with her arms clasped tightly round him.
Not a word was spoken till they approached the dreaded glen, then
the old woman felt her courage giving way. “Do ye think that there
will be any chance of meeting the Brownie?” she asked timidly. “I
would fain not run the risk, for folk say that he is an unchancy
Her companion gave a
curious laugh. “Keep up your heart, and dinna talk havers" he said,
“for I promise ye ye'll see naught uglier this night than the man
whom ye ride behind.”
“Oh, then, I'm fine and safe,” replied the old woman, with a sigh of
relief; “for although I havena’ seen your face, I warrant that ye
are a true man, for the care you have taken of a poor old woman."
She relapsed into silence again till the glen was passed and the
good horse had turned into the farmyard. Then the horseman slid to
the ground, and, turning round, lifted her carefully down in his
long, strong arms. As he did so the cloak slipped off him, revealing
his short, broad body and his misshapen limbs.
“In a' the world, what kind o' man are ye?" she asked, peering into
his face in the grey morning light, which was just dawning. “What
makes your eyes so big? And what have ye done to your feet? They are
more like paddock’s webs than aught else."
The queer little man laughed again. “I've wandered many a mile in my
time without a horse to help me, and I've heard it said that ower
much walking makes the feet unshapely," he replied. “But waste no
time in talking, good Dame. Go thy way into the house; and, hark’ee,
if anyone asks thee who brought thee hither so quickly, tell them
that there was a lack of men, so thou hadst e’en to be content to
ride behind the BROWNIE O’ FERNE-DEN."