Brownie and the Dame – Illustration
By Hans Christian Andersen (1868)
You know the brownie, but do you know the dame, the gardener’s dame ? She had learning, knew verses by heart, could even write them herself with ease ; only the rhymes, ‘ clinchings ‘, she called them, caused her a little trouble. She had the gift of writing, and of talking ; she might very well have been a pastor, or at least a pastor’s wife. ‘ The earth is lovely in its Sunday gown,’ said she, and this thought she had put into words and ‘clinching ‘, and had set it in a poem, so long and beautiful. The student, Mr. Kisserup (the name has nothing to do with the story), was a nephew, and on a visit to the gardener ; he heard the dame’s poem, and it did him good, he said ever so much good. ‘ You have soul, madam,’ said he.
‘ Stuff and nonsense,’ said the gardener, ‘ don’t be putting such ideas into her head ! a woman should be a body, a decent body, and look after her pot, so that the porridge may not be burned.’
‘ I will take away that burnt taste with a piece of burning charcoal,’ said the dame, ‘and then I will take the burnt taste from you with a little kiss. One would think that you only thought of cabbages and potatoes, and yet you love the flowers ! ‘ and so she kissed him. ‘ The flowers are the soul,’ said she.
‘ Look after your pot,’ said he, and went into the garden : that was his pot, and he looked after it. But the student sat and talked with the dame. Her beautiful words, ‘ The earth is lovely ‘, he made quite a sermon about, in his own way.
‘ The earth is lovely, make it subject unto you ! was said, and we became its rulers. Some are so with the mind, some with the body ; one is sent into the world like an exclamation mark, another like a printer’s dash, so that one may well ask, ” What is he doing here ? ” One becomes a bishop, another only a poor schoolmaster, but all is wisely ordered. The earth is lovely, and always in its Sunday dress ! That was a thought-stirring poem, dame, full of feeling and geography.’
‘ You have soul, Mr. Kisserup,’ said the dame, ‘ much soul, I assure you ! One gets clearness in oneself, when one talks with you.’
And so they went on talking, as beautifully and as well ; but out in the kitchen, there was also one who talked, and that was the brownie, the little brownie dressed in grey with a red cap. You know him ! Brownie sat hi the kitchen, and was the pot-watcher ; he talked, but no one heard him except the big black pussy cat, ‘ Cream-thief ‘, as the dame called him.
The brownie was so angry with her, because she did not believe in his existence, he knew ; she had certainly never seen him, but still she must, with all her learning, know that he did exist, and might have shown him a little attention. It never occurred to her on Christmas Eve, to set so much as a spoonful of porridge down for him ; all his ancestors had got that, and had got it from dames who had absolutely no learning ; the porridge had been swimming in butter and cream. It made the cat’s mouth water to hear of it.
‘ She calls me an idea ! ‘ said the brownie, ‘ that is beyond all my ideas. She actually denies me ! That I have listened to, and now I have listened again ; she sits and wheezes to that boy-whacker, the student. I say with the goodman, ” Mind your pot ! ” that she doesn’t do; now I shall make it boil over ! ‘ And Brownie puffed at the fire, which blazed and burned. ‘ Hubble -bubble -hish the pot boiled over. ‘ Now I shall go in and make holes in the goodman’s socks ! ‘ said Brownie, ‘ I will unravel a big hole in the toe and the heel, so there will be something to darn, unless she must go and make poetry. Dame poetess, darn the goodman’s stockings I ‘
The cat sneezed at that ; he had a cold, although he always wore furs.
‘ I have opened the dining-room door,’ said Brownie, ‘ there is clotted cream there, as thick -as gruel. If you won’t lick it, shall.’
‘ If I shall have the blame and the blows/ said the cat, ‘ let me also lick the cream.’
‘ First the cream, then the licking,’ said the brownie. ‘ But now I shall go into the student’s room, hang his braces on the looking-glass, and put his socks in the waterjug ; then he will think that the punch has been too strong, and that he is giddy in the head. Last night I sat on the wood-stack beside the dog-kennel ; I take a great pleasure in teasing the watch-dog ; I let my legs hang down and dangle. The dog could not reach them, however high he jumped ; that made him angry ; he barked and barked, I dingled and dangled ; it was a racket. The student woke up with it and got up three times to look out ; but he did not see me, although he had spectacles on ; he always sleeps with spectacles.’
‘ Say mew, when the dame is coming,’ said the cat. ‘ I am rather deaf ; I am not well to-day ! ‘
‘ You are licking-sick,’ said Brownie, ‘ lick away, lick the sickness away ! but dry your whiskers, so that the cream may not hang there. Now I will go and listen.’
And Brownie stood by the door, and the door stood ajar ; there was no one in the room except the dame and the student ; they talked about what the student so finely called ‘ that which one ought to set above all pots and pans in every household ; the gifts of the soul ! ‘
‘ Mr. Kisserup,’ said the dame, ‘ now I shall show you something in this connexion, which I have never yet shown to any earthly soul, least of all to a man, my little poems ; some are rather long, however. I have called them ” Clinchings by a gentlewoman “.’
And she took out of the drawer a writing-book with a light-green cover and two blots of ink on it. ‘ There is much that is earnest in this book,’ said she. ‘ I have the strongest feeling for what is sorrowful. Here now is ” The Sigh in the Night “, ” My Evening-Red “, and ” When I got Klemmensen “, my husband. You can pass over that, although it has feeling and thought. ” The House-wife’s Duties ” is the best piece ! all very melancholy, in that lies my strength. Only one piece is jocular ; it contains some lively thoughts, such as one may also have, thoughts about,
you must not laugh at me about being a poetess ! It is only known to myself and my drawer, and now also to you, Mr. Kisserup ! I am very fond of poetry, it comes over me, it teases, and rules, and reigns over me. I have expressed it in the title, ” Little Brownie.” You know the old peasant belief in the brownie, who is always playing tricks in the house. I have imagined that I myself was
the house, and that poetry, the feeling within me, was the brownie, the spirit which rules in me. His power and greatness I have sung in ” The little Brownie “, but you must promise me with hand and mouth, never to disclose it to my husband or any one. Read it aloud, so that I can hear if you understand my writing ! ‘
And the student read, and the dame listened, and the little brownie listened too ; he was eavesdropping, you know, and had just come when the title ‘ The little Brownie ‘ was read.
‘ That concerns me,’ said he ; ‘ what can she have written about me ? Oh ! I shall pinch her, pinch her eggs, pinch her chickens, hound the fat off her fat calf. What a dame ! ‘
And he listened with pursed-up mouth and long ears, but as he heard about Brownie’s glory and power, and his lordship over the dame (it was Poetry, you know, that she meant, but the brownie took it literally) the little fellow smiled more and more, his eyes sparkled with joy, there came something of a superior air into the corners of his mouth, he lifted his heels and stood on his toes, and became a whole inch taller than before ; he was delighted with what was said about the little brownie.
‘ The dame has soul and great breeding ! I have done the woman great injustice. She has set me in her ” Clinchings “, which will be printed and read. Now, the cat will not get leave to drink her cream, I will do that myself ! One drinks less than two, that is always a saving, and that I will introduce, and respect and honour the dame.’
‘ What a human creature he is, the brownie, said the old cat ; ‘ only a sweet mew from the dame, a mew about himself, and he at once changes his mind. The dame is sly.’
But she was not sly ; it was the brownie who was a human being.
If you cannot understand this story, then ask, but you must not ask the brownie, nor the dame, either.