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ONCE upon a time there was a lad about eighteen years old named Tom Tiver who had hired out to work for a farmer. One beautiful Sunday night in July he was walking across a field. The weather was warm and still, and the air was full of little sounds as if the trees and grasses were softly chattering to themselves.
But all at once there came from on ahead the most pitiful wailings that ever he had heard — a sobbing as of a child spent with fear and nearly heartbroken. Soon the sound changed to a moan, and then rose again in a long whimpering wailing that made Tom sick to hark to it. He began to look everywhere for the poor creature.
“It must be Sally Barton’s child,” he thought. “She was always a flighty thing and never looks after it properly. Like as not she’s flaunting about the lanes, and has clean forgot the baby.”
He looked and looked, yet he could see nought. Meanwhile the whimpering got louder and stronger and there seemed to be words of some sort mingled with the sobs. Tom harkened with all his ears, and heard the unhappy creature saying: “Oh! the stone, the great big stone! Oh! the stone on top!”
He wondered where the stone might be, and he looked until he found, close to a hedge, a great flat stone almost buried in the earth and hidden in the matted grass and Weeds. Down he fell on his knees and listened again. Clearer than ever, but tired with crying came the little sobbing voice, “Oh! oh! the stone, the stone on top!”
Tom was scared, and he disliked to meddle with the thing, but he could not withstand the whimpering baby, and he tore like mad at the earth around the stone till he got his fingers under it and felt it loosening. Then a puff of warm air came out of the damp earth and the tangle of grass and growing things, and he tipped the stone back out of the way.
Underneath where it had been was a cavity, and there lay a tiny thing on its back blinking up at the moon and at him. ‘It was no bigger than a year old baby, but it had a great mass of hair and a heavy beard, and the hair and the beard were so long and so twisted round and round the creature’s body that Tom could not see its clothes. The hair was yellow and silky like a child’s, but the face of the thing was as old as if it had not been young and smooth for hundreds of years. There were just wrinkles and two bright black eyes set in a lot of shining yellow hair; and the skin was the color of fresh-turned earth in the spring — brown as brown could be — and its bare hands and feet were as brown as its face. The crying had stopped, but the tears were standing on its cheeks, and the tiny creature looked dazed in the moonshine and the night air.
When its eyes got used to the moonlight it looked boldly up in Tom’s face and said:
“Tom, you are a good lad.”
The coolness with which it spoke was astonishing, and its voice was high and piping like the twittering of a little bird. Tom touched his hat, and tried to think what he ought to say.
“Hoots!” the thing exclaimed, “you needn’t be afraid of me. You have done me a good turn, and I’ll do as much for you.”
Tom couldn’t speak yet, but he thought, for sure it’s a bogle!”
The creature seemed to know what passed in Tom’s mind, for it instantly said: “I’m no bogle, but you’d better not ask what I am. Anyhow, I am a good friend of yours.”
Tom’s knees smote together with terror. Certainly an ordinary body couldn’t have known what he had been thinking, but the thing looked so kind and spoke so fair, that he made bold to say in a quavering voice, “Might I be asking to know your honor’s name?”
“H’m!” the creature said, pulling its beard, “as for that, you may call me Yallery Brown. That’s the way I look as you plainly see, and ‘twill do for a name as well as any other. I am your friend, Yallery Brown, my lad.”
“Thank you, master,” Tom responded meekly
“And now,” it said, “I’m in a hurry tonight. So tell me without delay what I can I do for you. Would you like a wife? I can you the finest lass in the town. Would like riches? I can give you as much as you can carry. Or would you have me help you with your work? Only say the word.”
Tom, scratched his head. “I have no hankering for a wife,” he said. “Wives are bothersome bodies, and I have women folk at home who will mend my clothes. Gold is worth having, but if you could lighten my work that would suit me best of all. I can’t abide work, and I’ll thank —”
“Stop!” Yallery Brown cried, as quick as lightning, “I’ll help you and welcome, but if ever you thank me you’ll never see me more. Remember that! I’ll have no thanks”; and it stamped its tiny feet on the ground and looked as wicked as a raging bull. “Harken! you great lump!” it went ton, calming down a bit. “If ever you need help, or get into trouble, call on me. Just say, ‘Yallery Brown, come from the earth, I want you!’ and I’ll be with you at once; and now, good night.”
So saying, it picked a dandelion puff and blew the winged seeds all up into Tom’s eyes and ears. When Tom could see again Yallery Brown was gone, and he would have thought he had been dreaming, were it not for the stone on end and the hole at his feet.