The Brownie Of Blednock

: Tales From Scottish Ballads

"There came a strange wight to our town en',

An' the fient a body did him ken;

He twirled na' lang, but he glided ben,

Wi' a weary, dreary hum.

His face did glow like the glow o' the West,

When the drumly cloud had it half o'ercast;

Or the struggling moon when she's sair distrest.

O, Sirs! it was Aiken-Drum."

Did you
ever hear how a Brownie came to our village of Blednock, and was

frightened away again by a silly young wife, who thought she was

cleverer than anyone else, but who did us the worst turn that she ever

did anybody in her life, when she made the queer, funny, useful little

man disappear?

Well, it was one November evening, in the gloaming, just when the

milking was done, and before the bairns were put to bed, and everyone

was standing on their doorsteps, having a crack about the bad harvest,

and the turnips, and what chances there were of good prices for the

stirks[26] at the Martinmas Fair, when the queerest humming noise

started down by the river.

[Footnote 26: Bullocks.]

It came nearer and nearer, and everyone stopped their clavers[27] and

began to look down the road. And, 'deed, it was no wonder that they

stared, for there, coming up the middle of the highway, was the

strangest, most frightsome-looking creature that human eyes had ever


[Footnote 27: Idle talk.]

He looked like a little wee, wee man, and yet he looked almost like a

beast, for he was covered with hair from head to foot, and he wore no

clothing except a little kilt of green rashes which hung round his

waist. His hair was matted, and his head hung forward on his breast, and

he had a long blue beard, which almost touched the ground.

His legs were twisted, and knocked together as he walked, and his arms

were so long that his hands trailed in the mud.

He seemed to be humming something over and over again, and, as he came

near us we could just make out the words, "Hae ye wark for Aiken-Drum?"

Eh, but I can tell you the folk were scared. If it had been the Evil One

himself who had come to our quiet little village, I doubt if he would

have caused more stir.[28] The bairns screamed, and hid their faces in

their mothers' gown-tails; while the lassies, idle huzzies that they

were, threw down the pails of milk, which should have been in the

milkhouse long ago, if they had not been so busy gossiping; and the very

dogs crept in behind their masters, whining, and hiding their tails

between their legs. The grown men, who should have known better, and who

were not frightened to look the wee man in the face, laughed and hooted

at him.

[Footnote 28: Excitement.]

"Did ye ever see such eyes?" cried one.

"His mouth is so big, he could swallow the moon," said another.

"Hech, sirs, but did ye ever see such a creature?" cried a third.

And still the poor little man went slowly up the street, crying

wistfully, "Hae ye wark for Aiken-Drum? Any wark for Aiken-Drum?"

Some of us tried to speak to him, but our tongues seemed to be tied, and

the words died away on our lips, and we could only stand and watch him

with frightened glances, as if we were bewitched.

Old Grannie Duncan, the oldest, and the kindest woman in the village,

was the first to come to her senses. "He may be a ghost, or a bogle, or

a wraith," she said; "or he may only be a harmless Brownie. It is beyond

me to say; but this I know, that if he be an evil spirit, he will not

dare to look on the Holy Book." And with that she ran into her cottage,

and brought out the great leather-bound Bible which aye lay on her

little table by the window.

She stood on the road, and held it out, right in front of the creature,

but he took no more heed of it than if it had been an old song-book, and

went slowly on, with his weary cry for work.

"He's just a Brownie," cried Grannie Duncan in triumph, "a simple,

kindly Brownie. I've heard tell of such folk before, and many a long

day's work will they do for the people who treat them well."

Gathering courage from her words, we all crowded round the wee man, and

now that we were close to him, we saw that his hairy face was kind and

gentle, and his tiny eyes had a merry twinkle in them.

"Save us, and help us, creature!" said an old man reprovingly, "but can

ye no speak, and tell us what ye want, and where ye come from?"

For answer the Brownie looked all round him, and gave such a groan, that

we scattered and ran in all directions, and it was full five minutes

before we could pluck up our courage and go close to him again.

But Grannie Duncan stood her ground, like a brave old woman that she

was, and it was to her that the creature spoke.

"I cannot tell thee from whence I come," he said. "'Tis a nameless land,

and 'tis very different from this land of thine. For there we all learn

to serve, while here everyone wishes to be served. And when there is no

work for us to do at home, then we sometimes set out to visit thy land,

to see if there is any work which we may do there. I must seem strange

to human eyes, that I know; but if thou wilt, I will stay in this place

awhile. I need not that any should wait on me, for I seek neither wages,

nor clothes, nor bedding. All I ask for is the corner of a barn to sleep

in, and a cogful of brose set down on the floor at bedtime; and if no

one meddles with me, I will be ready to help anyone who needs me. I'll

gather your sheep betimes on the hill; I'll take in your harvest by

moonlight. I'll sing the bairns to sleep in their cradles, and, though I

doubt you'll not believe it, you'll find that the babes will love me.

I'll kirn your kirns[29] for you, goodwives, and I'll bake your bread on

a busy day; while, as for the men folk, they may find me useful when

there is corn to thrash, or untamed colts in the stables, or when the

waters are out in flood."

[Footnote 29: A churn.]

No one quite knew what to say in answer to the creature's strange

request. It was an unheard-of thing for anyone to come and offer their

services for nothing, and the men began to whisper among themselves, and

to say that it was not canny, and 'twere better to have nothing to do

with him.

But up spoke old Grannie Duncan again. "'Tis but a Brownie, I tell you,"

she repeated, "a poor, harmless Brownie, and many a story have I heard

in my young days about the work that a Brownie can do, if he be well

treated and let alone. Have we not been complaining all summer about bad

times, and scant wages, and a lack of workmen to work the work? And now,

when a workman comes ready to your hand, ye will have none of him, just

because he is not bonnie to look on."

Still the men hesitated, and the silly young wenches screwed their

faces, and pulled their mouths. "But, Grannie," cried they, "that is all

very well, but if we keep such a creature in our village, no one will

come near it, and then what shall we do for sweethearts?"

"Shame on ye," cried Grannie impatiently, "and on all you men for

encouraging the silly things in their whimsies. It's time that ye were

thinking o' other things than bonnie faces and sweethearts. 'Handsome is

that handsome does,' is a good old saying; and what about the corn that

stands rotting in the fields, an' it past Hallowe'en already? I've heard

that a Brownie can stack a whole ten-acre field in a single night."

That settled the matter. The miller offered the creature the corner of

his barn to sleep in, and Grannie promised to boil the cogful of brose,

and send her grandchild, wee Jeannie, down with it every evening, and

then we all said good-night, and went into our houses, looking over our

shoulders as we did so, for fear that the strange little man was

following us.

But if we were afraid of him that night, we had a very different song to

sing before a week was over. Whatever he was, or wherever he came from,

he was the most wonderful worker that men had ever known. And the

strange thing was that he did most of it at night. He had the corn safe

into the stackyards, and the stacks thatched, in the clap of a hand, as

the old folk say.

The village became the talk of the countryside, and folk came from all

parts to see if they could catch a glimpse of our queer, hairy little

visitor; but they were always unsuccessful, for he was never to be seen

when one looked for him. One might go into the miller's barn twenty

times a day, and twenty times a day find nothing but a heap of straw;

and although the cog of brose was aye empty in the morning, no one knew

when he came home, or when he supped it.

But wherever there was work to be done, whether it was a sickly bairn to

be sung to, or a house to be tidied up; a kirn that would not kirn, or a

batch of bread that would not rise; a flock of sheep to be gathered

together on a stormy night, or a bundle to be carried home by some weary

labourer; Aiken-Drum, as we learned to call him, always got to know of

it, and appeared in the nick of time. It looked as if we had all got

wishing-caps, for we had just to wish, and the work was done.

Many a time, some poor mother, who had been up with a crying babe all

night, would sit down with it in her lap, in front of the fire, in the

morning, and fall fast asleep, and when she awoke, she would find that

Aiken-Drum had paid her a visit, for the floor would be washed, and the

dishes too, and the fire made up, and the kettle put on to boil; but the

little man would have slipped away, as if he were frightened of being


The bairns were the only ones who ever saw him idle, and oh, how they

loved him! In the gloaming, or when the school was out, one could see

them away down in some corner by the burn[30]-side, crowding round the

little dark brown figure, with its kilt of rushes, and one would hear

the sound of wondrous low sweet singing, for he knew all the songs that

the little ones loved.

[Footnote 30: Stream.]

So by and by the name of Aiken-Drum came to be a household word amongst

us, and although we so seldom saw him near at hand, we loved him like

one of our ain folk.

And he might have been here still, had it not been for a silly,

senseless young wife who thought she knew better than everyone else, and

who took some idle notion into her empty head that it was not right to

make the little man work, and give him no wage.

She dinned[31] this into our heads, morning, noon, and night, and she

would not believe us when we told her that Aiken-Drum worked for love,

and love only.

[Footnote 31: Impressed this upon us.]

Poor thing, she could not understand anyone doing that, so she made up

her mind that she, at least, would do what was right, and set us all an


"She did not mean any harm," she said afterwards, when the miller took

her to task for it; but although she might not mean to do any harm, she

did plenty, as senseless folk are apt to do when they cannot bear to

take other people's advice, for she took a pair of her husband's old,

mouldy, worn-out breeches, and laid them down one night beside the

cogful of brose.

By my faith, if the village folk had not remembered so well what

Aiken-Drum had said about wanting no wages, they would have found

something better to give him than a pair of worn-out breeks.

Be that as it may, the long and the short of it was, that the dear wee

man's feelings were hurt because we would not take his services for

nothing, and he vanished in the night, as Brownies are apt to do, so

Grannie Duncan says, if anyone tries to pay them, and we have never seen

him from that day to this, although the bairns declare that they

sometimes hear him singing down by the mill, as they pass it in the

gloaming, on their way home from school.