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 the extraordinary footmarks, she was greatly puzzled. Who could have done all this? 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, to say nothing of jumping 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 afterward 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.
BROWNIE AND THE CHERRY TREE
By Mrs. Dinah Mulock Craik
The "next time" was quick in coming, which was not wonderful, considering there was a Brownie in the house. Otherwise the house was like most other houses, and the family like most other families. The children also: they were sometimes good, sometimes naughty, like other children; but, on the whole, they deserved to have the pleasure of a Brownie to play with them, as they declared he did--many and many a time.
A favorite play-place was the orchard, where grew the biggest cherry tree you ever saw. They called it their "castle," because it rose up ten feet from the ground in one thick stem, and then branched out into a circle of boughs, with a flat place in the middle, where two or three children could sit at once. There they often did sit, turn by turn, or one at a time--sometimes with a book, reading; and the biggest boy made a sort of rope ladder by which they could climb up and down--which they did all winter, and enjoyed their "castle" very much.
But one day in spring they found their ladder cut away! The Gardener had done it, saying it injured the tree, which was just coming into blossom. Now this Gardener was a rather gruff man, with a growling voice. He did not mean to be unkind, but he disliked children; he said they bothered him. But when they complained to their mother about the ladder, she agreed with Gardener that the tree must not be injured, as it bore the biggest cherries in all the neighborhood--so big that the old saying of "taking two bites at a cherry" came really true.
"Wait till the cherries are ripe," said she; and so the little people waited, and watched it through its leafing and blossoming--such sheets of blossoms, white as snow!--till the fruit began to show, and grew large and red on every bough.
At last one morning the mother said, "Children, should you like to help gather the cherries to-day?"
"Hurrah!" they cried, "and not a day too soon; for we saw a flock of starlings in the next field--and if we don't clear the tree, they will."
"Very well; clear it, then. Only mind and fill my baskets quite full, for preserving. What is over you may eat, if you like."
"Thank you, thank you!" and the children were eager to be off; but the mother stopped them till she could get the Gardener and his ladder.
"For it is he must climb the tree, not you; and you must do exactly as he tells you; and he will stop with you all the time and see that you don't come to harm."
This was no slight cloud on the children's happiness, and they begged hard to go alone.
"Please, might we? We will be so good!"
The mother shook her head. All the goodness in the world would not help them if they tumbled off the tree, or ate themselves sick with cherries. "You would not be safe, and I should be so unhappy!"
To make mother "unhappy" was the worst rebuke possible to these children; so they choked down their disappointment, and followed the Gardener as he walked on ahead, carrying his ladder on his shoulder.
He looked very cross, and as if he did not like the children's company at all.
They were pretty good, on the whole, though they chattered a good deal; but Gardener said not a word to them all the way to the orchard.
When they reached it, he just told them to "keep out of his way and not worrit him," which they politely promised, saying among themselves that they should not enjoy their cherry-gathering at all. But children who make the best of things, and try to be as good as they can, sometimes have fun unawares.
When the Gardener was steadying his ladder against the trunk of the cherry tree, there was suddenly heard the barking of a dog, and a very fierce dog, too. First it seemed close beside them, then in the flower garden, then in the fowl yard.
Gardener dropped the ladder out of his hands. "It's that Boxer! He has got loose again! He will be running after my chickens, and dragging his broken chain all over my borders. And he is so fierce, and so delighted to get free. He'll bite anybody who ties him up, except me."
"Hadn't you better go and see after him?"
Gardener thought it was the eldest boy who spoke, and turned around angrily; but the little fellow had never opened his lips.
Here there was heard a still louder bark, and from a quite different part of the garden.
"There he is--I'm sure of it! jumping over my bedding-out plants, and breaking my cucumber frames. Abominable beast!--just let me catch him!"
Off Gardener darted in a violent passion, throwing the ladder down upon the grass, and forgetting all about the cherries and the children.
The instant he was gone, a shrill laugh, loud and merry, was heard close by, and a little brown old man's face peeped from behind the cherry tree.
"How d'ye do?--Boxer was me. Didn't I bark well? Now I'm come to play with you."
The children clapped their hands; for they knew that they were going to have some fun if Brownie was there--he was the best little playfellow in the world. And then they had him all to themselves.
Nobody ever saw him except the children.
"Come on!" cried he, in his shrill voice, half like an old man's, half like a baby's. "Who'll begin to gather the cherries?"
They all looked blank; for the tree was so high to where the branches sprung, and besides, their mother had said that they were not to climb. And the ladder lay flat upon the grass--far too heavy for little hands to move.
"What! you big boys don't expect a poor little fellow like me to lift the ladder all by myself? Try! I'll help you."
Whether he helped or not, no sooner had they taken hold of the ladder than it rose up, almost of its own accord, and fixed itself quite safely against the tree.
"But we must not climb--mother told us not," said the boys ruefully.
"Mother said we were to stand at the bottom and pick up the cherries."
"Very well. Obey your mother. I'll just run up the tree myself."
Before the words were out of his mouth Brownie had darted up the ladder like a monkey, and disappeared among the fruit-laden branches.
The children looked dismayed for a minute, till they saw a merry brown face peeping out from the green leaves at the very top of the tree.
"Biggest fruit always grows highest," cried the Brownie. "Stand in a row, all you children. Little boys, hold out your caps: little girls, make a bag of your pinafores. Open your mouths and shut your eyes, and see what the queen will send you."