Once upon a time, long, long, before any of you were born, there lived an old woman in a cottage, beside a wide-stretching moor, behind the Ochil hills. Her cottage was in a very lonely spot, far from neighbours, and to keep her company there lived a little grandchild with the name of Nelly. The house in which they dwelt was known by the name of "Bessie o' the Bogs", for the old woman's name was Bessie, and the moor at this part was full of boggy places, in which it was very dangerous to venture. The old woman kept a cow and a few fowls, so that she and her grandchild were supplied with plenty of milk, butter, and eggs. Little Nelly was not able to go to school, because the road was too long for her tiny feet; so her grandmother gave her lessons at home, and taught Nelly the letters of the Alphabet from an old horn book, which she had used herself when a little girl. She also taught Nelly to sew a sampler, which is a piece of fine canvas, stretched upon a frame, on which is sewn in coloured wool all the letters of the Alphabet, the figures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, and beneath that the girl's own name, which in this case was Nelly Henderson.
On the long winter nights the Granny used to tell stories about the Fairies and Brownies, who were at that time believed to dwell in a large earth mound, called "The Fairy Knowe," which was near Pendreich, overlooking the beautiful vale of Menteith, and the western group of the Grampian mountains. There they held high revels, dancing in the silver moonbeams, and playing at leap-frog and other funny games, which kept them amused until the dawn drove them into hiding. Nelly loved to listen to tales of these grey people, as they were sometimes called, and especially the doings of one Brownie, called Tod Lowrie, or Red Bonnett, from the red cap which he was supposed to wear. This Brownie was a great favourite with the shepherds who looked after the sheep on the Ochils, and as he always helped them, though he was never seen by any of them, none would speak an evil word of this good Fairy.
Nelly's Granny had quite a budget of tales about the things Tod Lowrie used to do, and thus the little girl got to love the tiny elf whose good-humour and kindly deeds were proverbial. At night when she went to bed she used to wish very much to see her favourite Fairy, but she never managed to catch even a glimpse of his red cap. As time went on little Nelly thought more and more about her Fairy friends, and often wished to see some of them as the gambolled on the dewy grass or crept quietly into people's houses to do their work for them, and leave everything tidy in the morning. For, of course, Nelly knew that when all the folks in a house were sound asleep, then it was that Tod Lowrie would step inside, and take up the broom and sweep the floors and lay the fire, and leave everything tidy and neat for the shephard's wife in the morning.
Though Nelly and her Granny lived so far from other people, they had a little world of their own to take up their attention. Nelly was specially fond of the scones which her Granny baked, and which she called her "Fairy scones", because they were covered with little rings made by a thimble. These rings reminded Nelly of the rings she often observed on the dewy grass in the early morning, which were supposed to be made by the Fairies dancing at the dawn of day. When the evening shadows fell she would sit by the fire and dream of the little queer folk who hid away from the view of mortals, and only appeared to do some service to the people they regarded with favour.
One night, as Nelly thus sat by the fire and watched the glowing peats, for they had no coal in that moorland region, she prayed to herself that God would let her see the Brownie whom she knew as Tod Lowrie, or Red Bonnet. Her Granny had not been very well that day, and Nelly had tried her best to do the work of the house, but she had not been able to do it all. When she went to bed, where her Granny had been resting all day, she felt very tired, and soon fell asleep. It was the month of January, and the cold of winter was severe, the ground being covered with snow.
That night a snowstorm began to blow across the moor, just as the evening shadows began to fall, and about the time little Nelly had gone to bed. Some little time after she fell asleep the door gently opened, and a strange, quaint little figure stole into the room. It was a wee man with a red cap upon his head, green shoes upon his feet, and a tight little jacket of greenish leather closely buttoned round his body. He looked slyly round the room, which was in semi-darkness, the only light being that which came from the flickering embers of the peat fire. Having satisfied himself that everybody was asleep, he picked up a broom and set to work to sweep the hearth and the floor; next he arranged the dishes upon the shelves of the dresser or cupboard. Then the Brownie, for this was none other than Tod Lowrie himself, went out to an outhouse and brought in two wooden stoups, or pitchers, full of water, and set them carefully in a corner. Going out again, he brought in some peats which he placed upon the fire, and bending down upon his knees, he blew the embers until the fire blazed quite cheerily. Taking a hurried glance round to see if he might be observed, he seemed to be satisfied that all was well, and going into a scullery close by, he carried a pot into the room, and, having put some water into it, he hung it upon the hook above the fire. The Brownie then took a bowl full of meal, and with a wooden stick, called a "spurtle," in his hand, he slowly allowed the oatmeal to trickle through his fingers into the pot, stirring the contents the while until it boiled; adding a pinch of salt, he allowed it to boil for some time. Taking out the wooden spurtle, he scraped it upon the side of the pot and laid it carefully aside. His next action was to fetch two wooden bowls from a press, one large and one small.
Turning to the fire, he unhooked the pot, carried it carefully to the table, and poured out the porridge into the two empty bowls. When this was done, Ted Lowrie took the pot into the scullery and washed it clean, using a bunch of heather stalks tied firmly together, called a "range"; going into the scullery again, he returned with two small bowls of fresh milk, which he placed beside the bowls of steaming porridge.
Looking at his handiwork, the Brownie smiled to himself and rubbed his hands together in high glee. "This will surprise my little Nell," he said to himself; and wheeling round he said, "Now it's time I was off, before the morning light wakens up my little friend." Red Bonnet went to the door, but great was his surprise to find that during the night, when he had been so busy, the snow had been falling and the wind had been causing it to drift; so heavy had it been that the cottage was completely surrounded by a bank of snow, heaped up to the roof.
He next tried the window, but it was blocked too, so the wee man could find no exit that way. Standing in the middle of the floor the Brownie considered what he should do. At last he hit upon a plan of escape. He went to the fireplace and prepared to climb up the chimney; but as he stepped upon the jamb of the fireplace, the smoke from the burning peats so tickled his little nose that he gave a huge sneeze and fell with a dump on the floor. This untoward noise awoke Nelly from her slumbers, and looking out from her box-bed, she saw the wee Brownie with his red cap and green shoes, and, thrilled with delight; she cried to her Granny: "Oh look, Granny, here's Tod Lowrie!" But when Granny had opened her eyes and looked out of the bed, the Brownie was gone, having leapt up the chimney and vanished.
So, after all, the only person who ever saw Tod Lowrie was little Nelly, whose pure eyes and kind heart enabled her to see a Fairy.
Presented to you by Nancy MacCorkill, F.S.A. Scot
Historian of the Ancient Clans of Scotland
Source Material from Scottish Tales
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