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Brownies and Bogles By Louise Imogen Guiney Characters: 10908

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

THE fairy-fellows who made a regular business of mischief-making seemed to have two favorite ways of setting to work. They either saddled themselves with little boys and spilled them, sooner or later, into the water, or else they danced along holding a twinkling light, and led any one so foolish as to follow them a pretty march into chasms and quagmires. Their jokes were grim and hurtful, and not merely funny, like Brownie's; for Brownie usually gave his victims (except in Molly Jones's case) nothing much worse than a pinch. So people came to have great awe and horror of the heartless goblins who waylaid travellers, and left them broken-limbed or dead.

Very often quarrelsome, disobedient or vicious folk fell into the snare of a Kelpie, or a Will-o'-the-Wisp; for the little whipper-snappers had a fine eye for poetical justice, and dealt out punishments with the nicest discrimination. We never hear that they troubled good, steady mortals; but only that sometimes they beguiled them, for sheer love, into Fairyland.

We know that all "ouphes and elves" could change their shapes at will; therefore when we spy fairy-horses, fairy-lambs, and such quadrupeds, we guess at once that they are only roguish small gentlemen masquerading. Never for the innocent fun of it, either; but alas! to bring silly persons to grief.

In Hampshire, in England, was a spirit known as Coltpixy, which, itself shaped like a miniature neighing horse, beguiled other horses into bogs and morasses. The Irish Pooka or Phooka was a horse too, and a famous rascal. He lived on land, and was something like the Welsh Gwyll: a tiny, black, wicked-faced wild colt, with chains dangling about him. Again, he frisked around in the shape of a goat or a bat. Spenser has him:

"Ne let the Pouke, ne other evill spright, . . .

Ne let hobgoblins, names whose sense we see not,

Fray us with things that be not."

"Fray," as you are likely to guess, means to frighten or to scare.


Kelpies, who were Scotch, haunted fords and ferries, especially in storms; allured bystanders into the water, or swelled the river so that it broke the roads, and overwhelmed travellers.

Very like them were the Brag, the little Shoopil-tree of the Shetland Islands, and the Nick, who was the Icelandic Nykkur-horse; gamesome deceivers all, who enticed children and others to bestride them, and who were treacherous as a quicksand, every time. And there were many more of the Kelpie kingdom, of whom we can hunt up no clews.

A man who saw a Kelpie gave himself up for lost; for he was sure, by hook or crook, to meet his death by drowning. Kelpie, familiar so far away as China, never stayed in the next-door countries, Ireland or England, long enough to be recognized. They knew nothing of him by sight, nor of the Nix his cousin, nor of anything resembling them. In Ireland lived the merrow; but she was only an amiable mermaid.


The Japanese had a water-dragon called Kappa, "whose office it was to swallow bad boys who went to swim in disobedience to their parents' commands, and at improper times and places." In the River Tees was a green-haired lady named Peg Powler, and in some streams in Lancashire one christened Jenny Greenteeth; two hungry goblins whose only delight was to drown and devour unlucky travellers. But we know already that the water-sprites were more than likely so to behave.

In Provence there is a tale told of seven little boys who went out at night against their grandmother's wishes. A little dark pony came prancing up to them, and the youngest clambered on his sleek back, and after him, the whole seven, one after the other, which was quite a wonderful weight for the wee creature; but his back meanwhile kept growing longer and larger to accommodate them. As they galloped along, the children called such of their playmates as were out of doors, to join them, the obliging nag stretching and stretching until thirty pairs of young legs dangled at his sides! when he made straight for the sea, and plunged in, and drowned them all.

The Piskies, or Pigseys, of Cornwall, were naughty and unsociable. Their great trick was to entice people into marshes, by making themselves look like a light held in a man's hand, or a light in a friendly cottage window. Pisky also[115]

[116] rode the farmers' colts hard, and chased the farmers' cows. For all his diabolics, you had to excuse him in part, when you heard his hearty fearless laugh; it was so merry and sweet. "To laugh like a Pisky," passed into a proverb. The Barguest of Yorkshire, like the Osschaert of the Netherlands, was an open-air bugaboo whose presence always portended disaster. Sometimes he appeared as a horse or dog, merely to play the old trick with a false light, and to vanish, laughing.

The Tückebold was a very malicious chap, carrying a candle, who lived in Hanover; his blood-relation in Scandinavia was the Lyktgubhe. Over in Flanders and Brabant was one Kludde, a fellow whisking here and there as a half-starved little mare, or a cat, or a frog, or a bat; but who was always accompanied by two dancing blue flames, and who could overtake any one as swiftly as a snake. The Ellydan (dan is a Welsh word meaning fire, and also a lure or a snare: a luring elf-fire) was a rogue with wings, wide ears, a tall cap and two huge torches, who precisely resembled the English Will-o'-the-Wisp, the Scandi

navian Lyktgubhe and the Breton Sand Yan y Tad. Our American negroes make him out Jack-muh-Lantern: a vast, hairy, goggle-eyed, big-mouthed ogre, leaping like a giant grasshopper, and forcing his victims into a swamp, where they died. The gentlemen of this tribe preferred to walk abroad at night, like any other torchlight procession. Their little bodies were invisible, and the traveller who hurried towards the pleasant lamp ahead, never knew that he was being tricked by a grinning fairy, until he stumbled on the brink of a precipice, or found himself knee-deep in a bog. Then the brazen little guide shouted outright with glee, put out his mysterious flame, and somersaulted off, leaving the poor tourist to help himself. The only way to escape his arts was to turn your coat inside out.

You may guess that the ungodly wights had plenty of fun in them, by this anecdote: A great many Scotch Jack-o'-Lanterns, as they are often called, were once bothering the horse belonging to a clergyman, who with his servant, was returning home late at night. The horse reared and whinnied, and the clergyman was alarmed, for a thousand impish fires were waltzing before the wheels. Like a good man, he began to pray aloud, to no avail. But the servant just roared: "Wull ye be aff noo, in the deil's name!" and sure enough, in a wink, there was not a goblin within gunshot.


There were some freakish fairies in old England, whose names were Puckerel, Hob Howland, Bygorn, Bogleboe, Rawhead or Bloodybones; the last two were certainly scarers of nurseries.

The Boggart was a little spectre who haunted farms and houses, like Brownie or Nis; but he was usually a sorry busybody, tearing the bed-curtains, rattling the doors, whistling through the keyholes, snatching his bread-and-butter from the baby, playing pranks upon the servants, and doing all manner of mischief.


The Dunnie, in Northumberland, was fond of annoying farmers. When night came, he gave them and himself a rest, and hung his long legs over the crags, whistling and banging his idle heels. Red Comb or Bloody Cap was a tyrant who lived in every Border castle, dungeon and tower. He was short and thickset long-toothed and skinny-fingered, with big red eyes, grisly flowing hair, and iron boots; a pikestaff in his left hand, and a red cap on his ugly head.

The village of Hedley, near Ebchester, in England, was haunted by a churlish imp known far and wide as the Hedley Gow. He took the form of a cow, and amused himself at milking-time with kicking over the pails, scaring the maids, and calling the cats, of whom he was fond, to lick up the cream. Then he slipped the ropes and vanished, with a great laugh. In Northern Germany we find the Hedley Gow's next-of-kin, and there, too, were little underground beings who accompanied maids and men to the milking, and drank up what was spilt; but if nothing happened to be spilt in measuring out the quarts, they got angry, overturned the pails, and ran away. These jackanapes were a foot and a half high, and dressed in black, with red caps.

Many ominous fairies, such as the Banshee, portended misfortune and death. The Banshee had a high shrill voice, and long hair. Once in a while she seemed to be as tall as an ordinary woman, very thin, with head uncovered, and a floating white cloak, wringing her hands and wailing. She attached herself only to certain ancient Irish families, and cried under their windows when one of their race was sick, and doomed to die. But she scorned families who had a dash of Saxon and Norman ancestry, and would have nothing to do with them.

Every single fairy that ever was known to the annals of this world was, at times, a mischief-maker. He could no more keep out of mischief than a trout out of water. What lives the dandiprats led our poor great-great-great-great grand-sires! As a very clever living writer put it:

"A man could not ride out without risking an encounter with a Puck or a Will-o'-the Wisp. He could not approach a stream in safety unless he closed his ears to the sirens' songs, and his eyes to the fair form of the mermaid. In the hillside were the dwarfs, in the forest Queen Mab and her court. Brownie ruled over him in his house, and Robin Goodfellow in his walks and wanderings. From the moment a Christian came into the world until his departure therefrom, he was at the mercy of the fairy-folk, and his devices to elude them were many. Unhappy was the mother who neglected to lay a pair of scissors or of tongs, a knife or her husband's breeches, in the cradle of her new-born infant; for if she forgot, then was she sure to receive a changeling in its place. Great was the loss of the child to whose baptism the fairies were not invited, or the bride to whose wedding the Nix, or water-spirit, was not bidden. If the inhabitants of Thale did not throw a black cock annually into the Bode, one of them was claimed as his lawful victim by the Nickelmann dwelling in that stream. The Russian peasant who failed to present the Rusalka or water-sprite he met at Whitsuntide, with a handkerchief, or a piece torn from his or her clothing, was doomed to death."

One had to be ever on the lookout to escape the sharp little immortals, whose very kindness to men and women was a species of coquetry, and who never spared their friends' feelings at the expense of their own saucy delight.

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