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BROWNIE AND THE COOK

from Types Of Children's Literature - The King Of The Golden River; Or, The Black Brothers





Dinah Maria Mulock Craik


There was once a little Brownie who lived--where do you
think he lived?--In a coal cellar.

Now a coal cellar may seem a most curious place to choose to
live in; but then a Brownie is a curious creature--a fairy, and
yet not one of that sort of fairies who fly about on gossamer
wings, and dance in the moonlight, and so on. He never dances;
and as to wings, what use would they be to him in a coal cellar?
He is a sober, stay-at-home household elf--nothing much to look
at, even if you did see him, which you are not likely to do--only
a little old man, about a foot high, all dressed in brown, with a
brown face and hands, and a brown peaked cap, just the color of a
brown mouse. And like a mouse he hides in corners--especially
kitchen corners, and only comes out after dark when nobody is about,
and so sometimes people call him Mr. Nobody.

I said you were not likely to see him. I never did, certainly, and
never knew anybody that did; but still, if you were to go into
Devonshire, you would hear many funny stories about Brownies in
general, and so I may as well tell you the adventures of this
particular Brownie, who belonged to a family there; which family he
had followed from house to house, most faithfully, for years and
years.

A good many people had heard him--or supposed they had--
when there were extraordinary noises about the house; noises which
must have come from a mouse or a rat--or a Brownie. But nobody
had ever seen him, except the children, the three little boys and
three little girls--who declared he often came to play with them when
they were alone, and was the nicest companion in the world, though
he was such an old man--hundreds of years old! He was full of
fun and mischief and up to all sorts of tricks, but he never did
anybody any harm unless they deserved it.

Brownie was supposed to live under one particular coal, in the
darkest corner of the cellar, which was never allowed to be
disturbed. Why he had chosen it nobody knew, and how he lived there,
nobody knew either; nor what he lived upon. Except that, ever
since the family could remember, there had always been a bowl of
milk put behind the coal cellar door for the Brownie's supper.
Perhaps he drank it--perhaps he didn't: anyhow, the bowl was
always found empty next morning.

The old Cook, who had lived all her life in the family, had never
once forgotten to give Brownie his supper; but at last she died, and a
young Cook came in her stead, who was very apt to forget everything.
She was also both careless and lazy, and disliked taking
the trouble to put a bowl of milk in the same place every night for
Mr. Nobody. "She didn't believe in Brownies," she said; "she
had never seen one, and seeing's believing." So she laughed at the
other servants, who looked very grave, and put the bowl of milk in
its place as often as they could, without saying much about it.

But once, when Brownie woke up, at his usual hour for rising--
ten o'clock at night, and looked round in search of his supper--
which was in fact his breakfast, he found nothing there. At first
he could not imagine such neglect, and went smelling and smelling
about for his bowl of milk--it was not always placed in the same
corner now--but in vain.

"This will never do," said he; and being extremely hungry, began
running about the coal cellar to see what he could find. His eyes
were as useful in the dark as in the light--like a pussycat's; but
there was nothing to be seen--not even a potato paring, or a dry
crust, or a well-gnawed bone, such as Tiny the terrier sometimes
brought into the coal cellar and left on the floor. Nothing, in short,
but heaps of coals and coal dust, which even a Brownie cannot eat,
you know.

"Can't stand this; quite impossible!" said the Brownie, tightening
his belt to make his poor little inside feel less empty. He had been
asleep so long--about a week, I believe, as was his habit when there
was nothing to do---that he seemed ready to eat his own head, or his
boots, or anything. "What's to be done? Since nobody brings my
supper I must go and fetch it."

He spoke quickly, for he always thought quickly and made up
his mind in a minute. To be sure it was a very little mind, like his
little body; but he did the best he could with it, and was not a bad
sort of old fellow after all. In the house he had never done any
harm--and often some good, for he frightened away all the rats,
mice, and black beetles. Not the crickets--he liked them, as the
old Cook had done: she said they were such cheerful creatures, and
always brought luck to the house. But the young Cook could not
bear them, and used to pour boiling water down their holes, and set
basins of beer with little wooden bridges up to the rim, that they
might walk up, tumble in, and be drowned.

So there was not even a cricket singing in the silent house when
Brownie put his head out of his coal cellar door, which, to his
surprise, he found open. Old Cook used to lock it every night;
but the young Cook had left that key, and the kitchen and pantry
keys too, all dangling in the lock, so that any thief might have got
in and wandered all over the house without being found out.

"Hurrah, here's luck!" cried Brownie, tossing his cap up in
the air, and bounding right through the scullery into the kitchen.
It was quite empty, but there was a good fire burning itself out--
just for its own amusement, and the remains of a capital supper
were spread on the table--enough for half-a-dozen people being
left still.

Would you like to know what there was? Devonshire cream, of
course; and part of a large dish of junket, which is something like
curds and whey. Lots of bread and butter and cheese, and half an
apple pudding. Also a great jug of cider and another of milk,
and several half-full glasses, and no end of dirty plates, knives, and
forks. All were scattered about the table in the most untidy fashion,
just as the servants had risen from their supper, without thinking to
put anything away.

Brownie screwed up his little old face and turned up his button
of a nose, and gave a long whistle. You might not believe it, seeing
he lived in a coal cellar, but really he liked tidiness and always
played his pranks upon disorderly or slovenly folk.

"Whew!" said he, "here's a chance! What a supper I'll get
now!"

And he jumped on to a chair and thence to the table, but so quietly
that the large black cat with four white paws, called Muff, because
she was so fat and soft and her fur so long, who sat dozing in front
of the fire, just opened one eye and went to sleep again. She had
tried to get her nose into the milk jug, but it was too small; and
the junket dish was too deep for her to reach, except with one paw.
She didn't care much for bread and cheese and apple pudding, and
was very well fed besides; so after just wandering round the table
she had jumped down from it again, and settled herself to sleep on
the hearth.

But Brownie had no notion of going to sleep. He wanted his
supper, and oh! what a supper he did eat! first one thing and then
another, and then trying everything all over again. And oh! what
a lot he drank!--first milk and then cider, and then mixed the two
together in a way that would have disagreed with anybody except a
Brownie. As it was, he was obliged to slacken his belt several times,
and at last took it off altogether. But he must have had a most
extraordinary capacity for eating and drinking--since, after he
had nearly cleared the table, he was just as lively as ever, and
began jumping about on the table as if he had had no supper at all.

Now his jumping was a little awkward, for there happened to be
a clean white tablecloth! as this was only Monday, it had had no time
to get dirty--untidy as the Cook was. And you know Brownie lived
in a coal cellar, and his feet were black with running about in coal
dust. So wherever he trod, he left the impression behind; until at
last the whole tablecloth was covered with black marks.

Not that he minded this; in fact, he took great pains to make the
cloth as dirty as possible; and then laughing loudly, "Ho, ho, ho!"
leaped on to the hearth, and began teasing the cat; squeaking like a
mouse, or chirping like a cricket, or buzzing like a fly; and altogether
disturbing poor Pussy's mind so much, that she went and hid herself in
the farthest corner, and left him the hearth all to himself, where he
lay at ease till daybreak.

Then, hearing a slight noise overhead, which might be the servants
getting up, he jumped on to the table again--gobbled up the
few remaining crumbs for his breakfast, and scampered off to his
coal cellar; where he hid himself under his big coal, and fell asleep
for the day.

Well, the Cook came downstairs rather earlier than usual, for she
remembered she had to clear off the remains of supper; but lo and
behold, there was nothing left to clear! Every bit of food was
eaten up--the cheese looked as if a dozen mice had been nibbling
at it, and nibbled it down to the very rind; the milk and cider were
all drunk--and mice don't care for milk and cider, you know: as for
the apple pudding, it had vanished altogether; and the dish was
licked as clean as if Boxer the yard dog had been at it, in his
hungriest mood.

"And my white tablecloth--oh, my clean white tablecloth!
What can have been done to it?" cried she in amazement. For it
was all over little black footmarks, just the size of a baby's foot--
only babies don't wear shoes with nails in them, and don't run about
and climb on kitchen tables after all the family have gone to bed.

Cook was a little frightened; but her fright changed to anger
when she saw the large black cat stretched comfortably on the
hearth. Poor Muff had crept there for a little snooze after Brownie
went away.

"You nasty cat! I see it all now; it's you that have eaten up all
the supper; it's you that have been on my clean tablecloth with
your dirty paws."

They were white paws, and as clean as possible; but Cook never
thought of that, any more than she did of the fact that cats don't
usually drink cider or eat apple pudding.

"I'll teach you to come stealing food in this way; take that--
and that--and that!"

Cook got hold of a broom and beat poor Pussy till the creature ran
mewing away. She couldn't speak, you know--unfortunate cat!
and tell people that it was Brownie who had done it all.

Next night Cook thought she would make all safe and sure; so,
instead of letting the cat sleep by the fire, she shut her up in the
chilly coal cellar--locked the door, put the key in her pocket, and
went off to bed; leaving the supper as before.

When Brownie woke up and looked out of his hole, there was as
usual no supper for him, and the cellar was close shut. He peered
about, to try and find some cranny under the door to creep out at,
but there was none. And he felt so hungry that he could almost
have eaten the cat, who kept walking to and fro in a melancholy
manner--only she was alive, and he couldn't well eat her alive:--
besides he knew she was old, and had an idea she might be tough;
so he merely said, politely, "How do you do, Mrs. Pussy?" to
which she answered nothing--of course.

Something must be done, and luckily Brownies can do things
which nobody else can do. So he thought he would change himself
into a mouse, and gnaw a hole through the door. But then he suddenly
remembered the cat, who, though he had decided not to eat
her, might take this opportunity of eating him. So he thought it
advisable to wait till she was fast asleep, which did not happen for
a good while. At length, quite tired with walking about, Pussy
turned round on her tail six times, curled down in a corner, and fell
fast asleep.

Immediately Brownie changed himself into the smallest mouse
possible; and, taking care not to make the least noise, gnawed a hole
in the door, and squeezed himself through--immediately turning
into his proper shape again, for fear of accidents.

The kitchen fire was at its last glimmer; but it showed a better
supper than even last night, for the Cook had had friends with her,
a brother and two cousins, and they had been exceedingly merry.
The food they had left behind was enough for three Brownies at least,
but this one managed to eat it all up. Only once, in trying to cut
a great slice of beef, he let the carving knife and fork fall with
such a clatter, that Tiny the terrier, who was tied up at the foot of
the stairs, began to bark furiously. However, he brought her her
puppy, which had been left in a basket in a corner of the kitchen,
and so succeeded in quieting her.

After that he enjoyed himself amazingly, and made more marks
than ever on the white tablecloth--for he began jumping about
like a pea on a trencher, in order to make his particularly large
supper agree with him.

Then, in the absence of the cat, he teased the puppy for an hour
or two, till, hearing the clock strike five, he thought it as well to
turn into a mouse again, and creep back cautiously into his cellar.
He was only just in time, for Muff opened one eye, and was just
going to pounce upon him, when he changed himself back into a
Brownie. She was so startled that she bounded away, her tail growing
into twice its natural size, and her eyes gleaming like round
green globes. But Brownie only said, "Ha, ha, ho!" and walked
deliberately into his hole.

When Cook came downstairs and saw that the same thing had
happened again--that the supper was all eaten, and the tablecloth
blacker than ever with extraordinary footmarks, she was greatly
puzzled. Who could have done it all? Not the cat, who came mewing
out of the coal cellar the minute she unlocked the door. Possibly
a rat--but then would a rat have come within reach of Tiny?

"It must have been Tiny herself, or her puppy," which just came
rolling out of its basket over Cook's feet. "You little wretch! You
and your mother are the greatest nuisance imaginable. I'll punish
you!"

And quite forgetting that Tiny had been safely tied up all night,
and that her poor little puppy was so fat and helpless it could
scarcely stand on its legs--and so was unlikely to jump on chairs
and tables, she gave them both such a thrashing that they ran howling
together out of the kitchen door, where the kind little kitchen maid
took them up in her arms.

"You ought to have beaten the Brownie, if you could catch him,"
said she in a whisper. "He'll do it again and again, you'll see, for
he can't bear an untidy kitchen. You'd better do as poor old Cook
did, and clear the supper things away, and put the odds and ends
safe in the larder; also," she added mysteriously, "if I were you,
I'd put a bowl of milk behind the coal-cellar door."

"Nonsense!" answered the young Cook and flounced away. But
afterwards she thought better of it, and did as she was advised,
grumbling all the time, but doing it.

Next morning, the milk was gone! Perhaps Brownie had drunk
it up, anyhow nobody could say that he hadn't. As for the supper,
Cook having safely laid it on the shelves of the larder, nobody
touched it. And the tablecloth, which was wrapped up tidily and
put in the dresser drawer, came out as clean as ever, with not a
single black footmark upon it. No mischief being done, the cat
and the dog both escaped beating, and Brownie played no more
tricks with anybody--till the next time.





Next: HOW THE AGRICULTURAL SYSTEM OF THE BLACK BROTHERS WAS INTERFERED

Previous: BROTHER RABBIT AND BROTHER BULL-FROG



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