The Brownie O' Ferne-den
: The Scottish Fairy Book
There have been many Brownies known in Scotland; and stories have been
written 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
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
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--corn 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
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
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
up 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
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