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
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
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
"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
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
Off Gardener darted in a violent passion, throwing the ladder down
upon the grass, and forgetting all about the cherries and the
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
"How d'ye do?—Boxer was me. Didn't I bark well? Now I'm come to play
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."
They laughed and did as they were told; whereupon they were drowned in
a shower of cherries—cherries falling like hailstones, hitting them
on their heads, their cheeks, their noses—filling their caps and
pinafores and then rolling and tumbling on to the grass, till it was
strewn thick as leaves in autumn with the rosy fruit.
What a glorious scramble they had—these three little boys and three
little girls! How they laughed and jumped and knocked heads together
in picking up the cherries, yet never quarreled—for there were such
heaps, it would have been ridiculous to squabble over them; and
besides, whenever they began to quarrel, Brownie always ran away. Now
he was the merriest of the lot; ran up and down the tree like a cat,
helped to pick up the cherries, and was first-rate at filling the
large market basket.
"We were to eat as many as we liked, only we must first fill the
basket," conscientiously said the eldest girl; upon which they all set
to at once, and filled it to the brim.
"Now we'll have a dinner-party," cried the Brownie; and squatted down
like a Turk, crossing his queer little legs, and sticking his elbows
upon his knees, in a way that nobody but a Brownie could manage. "Sit
in a ring! sit in a ring! and we'll see who can eat the fastest."
The children obeyed. How many cherries they devoured, and how fast
they did it, passes my capacity of telling. I only hope they were not
ill next day, and that all the cherry-stones they swallowed by mistake
did not disagree with them. But perhaps nothing does disagree with one
when one dines with a Brownie. They ate so much, laughing in equal
proportion, that they had quite forgotten the Gardener—when, all of a
sudden, they heard him clicking angrily the orchard gate, and talking
to himself as he walked through.
"That nasty dog! It wasn't Boxer, after all. A nice joke! to find him
quietly asleep in his kennel after having hunted him, as I thought,
from one end of the garden to the other! Now for the cherries and the
children—bless us! where are the children? And the cherries? Why, the
tree is as bare as a blackthorn in February! The starlings have been
at it, after all. Oh, dear! oh, dear!"
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" echoed a voice from behind the tree, followed by
shouts of mocking laughter. Not from the children—they sat as demure
as possible, all in a ring, with their hands before them, and in the
center the huge basket of cherries, piled as full as it could possibly
hold. But the Brownie had disappeared.
"You naughty brats, I'll have you punished!" cried the Gardener,
furious at the laughter, for he never laughed himself. But as there
was nothing wrong, the cherries being gathered—a very large crop—and
the ladder found safe in its place—it was difficult to say what had
been the harm done and who had done it.
So he went growling back to the house, carrying the cherries to the
mistress, who coaxed him into good temper again, as she sometimes did;
bidding also the children to behave well to him, since he was an old
man, and not really bad—only cross. As for the little folks, she had
not the slightest intention of punishing them; and, as for the
Brownie, it was impossible to catch him. So nobody was punished at