The Little Brown Man





Once upon a time, there lived at the top of a very tall tree a little

magic sprite. Now this magic sprite was called the Little Brown Man, and

the tree was called the Tall Pine Tree. The Little Brown Man was so very

small that had you ever seen him skipping and hopping about in his tree,

you would have thought him some lively little brown squirrel. The Little

Brown Man was always busy as a bee and twice as cheerful. He spent his

days sweeping away the withered pine needles so that fresh new green

needles might grow. With his cunning hands and powers of magic he mended

broken places in the bark with healing herbs. At night the Little Brown

Man rested from his labors. He curled himself up in the topmost boughs

of the Tall Pine Tree, and the tree would rock him gently and sing him

songs about the sea.



Thus the Little Brown Man, scarce bigger than my hand, and the Tall Pine

Tree so high lived on in peace and happiness until an evil time befell

them. It happened on a black winter's night, when the Storm Wind in a

rage went crashing through the forest. Lashing the heavy branches of the

tallest trees, he tore them loose and flung them to the ground as though

they had been but so many twigs. Uprooting tiny trees and saplings by

the score, the Storm Wind tore his way along until he reached the Tall

Pine Tree. There he saw the Little Brown Man asleep in its topmost

boughs.



"Ha, Little Brown Man!" laughed the Storm Wind wickedly. "At last I've

caught you unaware, and I will do you mischief!" So saying, he blew a

furious blast and flung the Little Brown Man to the ground beneath.

Then, in a wailing voice, the Storm Wind wove a spell of deep

enchantment round the Little Brown Man, singing thus:



"Flaming eye and hand like claw,

You'll dwell at your tree top no more;

No child at your approach will stay,

Your face will scare them all away.

But 'til some child bids you good-day,

You'll dwell down on the ground so low,

And to the Tall Pine cannot go!"



And then the Storm Wind blew away.



For a long time, the Little Brown Man lay still as one dead, for the

fall had hurt him cruelly. The Tall Pine Tree wept bitterly at the

little sprite's misfortune, and by and by its tears, falling like rain,

wakened the Little Brown Man. But alas! The Storm Wind's wicked spell

had changed him, and the Little Brown Man with flaming eye and clawlike

hand was very fierce and terrible to look upon.



"Oh, tell me, my Pine Tree!" cried the Little Brown Man in dismay, "how

am I changed thus? My hands are hands no longer, but claws like those of

wild beasts; my eye flames redder than the wicked wolf's! I cannot hop

or skip; indeed, I scarce can hobble, so bent and twisted have I grown."



"Alas, my Little Brown Man!" the Tall Pine Tree replied. "While you did

sleep, the Storm Wind tore you from my topmost bough, and wove this

wicked spell around you. Until some child will speak to you a kindly

word, you must remain thus bound by this evil spell."



In spite of his twisted back, the Little Brown Man tried again and again

to climb into the Tall Pine Tree, but all his efforts were in vain.

Wearied and tired out at last, he made himself a nest among the withered

pine needles and began to wait for the magic word to break the Storm

Wind's evil spell.



At last the winter passed. The snow began to melt; the brook, freed of

its coat of ice, began to sing and chatter as it splashed along; the

birds built nests; the sun shone down; the pussy willows, gray and

brown, began to bud and bloom. Then boys and girls came out to play

beneath the trees and gather buttercups and bluebells. The Little Brown

Man's heart rejoiced, for he was sure the evil spell that bound him soon

would end. Whenever happy children played beside the Tall Pine Tree, he

would hobble toward them, saying:



"Good day to you! Good day to you, my children!"



But alas! The boys and girls were frightened of his clawlike hands and

flaming eye, and so they screamed and ran away. Thus springtime went,

and summer followed after; the maple leaves flamed red and gold in

autumn, and winter came again to wrap the forest in its cloak of snowy

white. Still the magic words to break the Storm Wind's spell remained

unspoken. Thus years and years rolled on. In winter now the Storm Wind

tore the branches of the Tall Pine Tree and flung them to the ground.

The Little Brown Man, with his cunning hands and powers of magic, could

no longer bind them fast. The Tall Pine Tree, once so green, grew old

and rusty looking, because the Little Brown Man could no longer sweep

the withered needles from its boughs. The Little Brown Man, down upon

the ground, was in despair. It seemed the wicked spell would never be

broken. No children ever lingered near the Tall Pine Tree. Indeed, when

once they passed that way, they never came again. They thought the

Little Brown Man was a wicked pixie who would do them harm.



Then at last the Little Brown Man peered from his nest one bright

morning and saw a little girl walking slowly toward the Tall Pine Tree.

Little Nannie always walked very slowly, because she was quite lame, and

leaned upon a crutch. Sometimes she paused to watch a bee or butterfly;

sometimes she leaned against a tree to rest, and all the while the

Little Brown Man watched her eagerly. At last she reached the Tall Pine

Tree, and then he hobbled forward, saying:



"Good day to you! Good day to you, my child!"



His flaming eye and clawlike hand so startled Little Nannie that she

dropped her crutch; but when she saw that the Little Brown Man was also

very lame, she was sorry for him, and so she answered bravely:



"Good day to you, good sir! I hope your health is fine," and so the

magic words were spoken.



The Little Brown Man could scarcely believe his ears and began to caper

about and prance with glee. Then presto! In a twinkling vanished all his

ugly features, his back grew straight, and he was once more kindly-eyed.



"Oh, Tall Pine Tree! Oh, Tall Pine Tree!" he cried in joy. "Behold now

I am free to climb up to your topmost boughs once more!" But in his joy

the Little Brown Man did not forget Little Nannie, who stood staring,

wide-eyed, at the wonders she had seen.



"And now, my child!" cried he, "what can I do to serve you?"



"Oh, please, sir," answered Little Nannie timidly, "if you would give me

my crutch, I would be most grateful. I am so lame that I cannot stoop to

pick it up myself."



"Your crutch!" screamed the Little Brown Man in a passion of rage. "It

is a wicked stick that holds you back when you would run and play, and

so I treat it thus!" He seized the crutch and flung it in the brook, and

there it floated swiftly in the current.



"Oh, Little Brown Man, what have you done!" wept Little Nannie. "Now I

can never wander in the forest any more, but must sit always in my

chair. I cannot walk without my crutch, and my mother is too poor to buy

me another." She leaned against the Tall Pine Tree and sobbed aloud.



"Stop, stop, Little Nannie!" cried the Little Brown Man, "I meant you

no harm, as you will see. Now tell me this: Is it your wish to walk

always with a crutch? If so, say but a word, and I will bring it back

again, for now my powers of magic are returned."



"Oh, Little Brown Man!" answered Little Nannie through her tears, "I do

not wish to walk always with a crutch; indeed, I often weep because I

wish to run and play like other boys and girls."



"Then try and see if your wish come true, Little Nannie," commanded the

Little Brown Man.



Little Nannie took a step forward, and then another and another, and

found her feet like wings. So, singing and laughing, she danced home

through the forest, the happiest child in all the world. When she

reached her gate, she cried out:



"Oh, Mother! Mother! Come quickly and see! I can run and play like other

boys and girls! The Little Brown Man has granted my wish to me!"



"My child!" cried her mother in amazement, "this is the work of a good

fairy without doubt! And what did you say to thank the Little Brown

Man?"



"Oh, mother, I was so happy I forgot," replied Little Nannie, hanging

her head.



"Then let us go in search of him at once," said her mother.



So hand in hand they sought the Little Brown Man, but though they called

loud and long at the foot of the Tall Pine Tree, they could not find the

Little Brown Man. For at the magic of a kindly word, he had flown to the

topmost boughs, and there he dwelled for evermore.





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