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The Scottish Fairy Book
The Brownie o’ Ferne-Den


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 hands.

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 him.

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 Brownie.

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 his errand.

“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 creature.”

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."


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