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Brownie in the Kitchen

"Does it really work, Dad?" Donny pointed excitedly at the big fireplace in the kitchen.

"It sure does," said Mr. Binger. "This house was built more than 200 years ago. Maybe we'll make a fire tonight, after dinner. But first you'd better help your mother with those boxes."

The Bingers had just moved out to a farm. Donny and his sister Pam were looking forward to exploring the old stone farmhouse and the tumbled-down barn. Perhaps there was a secret passage -- or even a buried treasure! But first they had to help their parents move the furniture into place and unpack boxes of dishes and clothes.

It was past nine o'clock that night when the Bingers finished a late supper. "Leave the dishes till tomorrow," Mr. Binger called as he stacked logs in the fireplace. "Let's relax and enjoy a good fire."

Donny and Pam toasted marshmallows over the fire for awhile. But after an hour, Mr. Binger yawned and said, "Let's call it a night."

The next morning Donny and Pam were up early, eager to start exploring. Pam was in the kitchen, pouring herself a glass of orange juice, when her mother came in. She glanced around the room in surprise.

"Why, that was nice of you, Pam," she said, "to wash up the supper dishes for me. And you did a very nice job on the kitchen."

Pam blinked. "I didn't wash the dishes, Mom. I thought you did."

"Yeah," said Donny. "We just got downstairs."

"Well, who did clean the kitchen?" Mrs. Binger asked. For the dirty supper dishes had been washed and dried and neatly put away in the cabinet. The room was spotless -- even the hearth had been swept and the ashes emptied into the pail.

"Maybe we have a Brownie!" Pam giggled. Donny and Mrs. Binger laughed.

That night, when Mrs. Binger went to bed, she left half a box of unfinished mending on the chair by the fireplace. The next morning, all the clothes in the box were neatly mended and folded. And the hearth was swept clean again.

"Someone has certainly been giving me some nice surprises," Mrs. Binger remarked, looking at Donny and Pam.

"Maybe we really do have a Brownie," Donny whispered, nudging Pam with his elbow.

At school that day, Donny looked up Brownies in the encyclopedia. "You're supposed to leave a saucer of milk for them," Donny reported to his sister that afternoon. "Let's try it."

That night, after their parents had gone upstairs, Donny and Pam slipped down to the kitchen, poured some milk into a saucer, and left it on the hearth. Sure enough, the next morning the milk was gone.

"We've got a Brownie, we really do!" Pam shouted. But Mrs. Binger only smiled and would not listen to their explanation.

That night the children were determined to try to see the Brownie for themselves. Pam set her alarm clock for midnight. When it rang, she and Donny tiptoed down to the kitchen. They poured out another saucer of milk, placed it on the hearth, and then hid behind the refrigerator to wait.

Time seemed to go so slowly. Pam's head began to nod. Then suddenly she was wide awake. Donny was poking her. In the pale moonlight streaming in through the window, they could see a tiny figure moving by the fireplace. He had a little broom and was sweeping. Donny leaped out and grabbed him, while Pam flicked on the light. It was a Brownie!

"You've broken the rules,'' he said. "If you spy on a Brownie while he's working, he'll leave the house and never come back."

"Oh, no!" Pam cried. "Will you do that?"

"I guess not," said the Brownie. "I've been so lonely for the last two hundred years that it's nice to have somebody to talk to, even if it is only a couple of humans." He explained that he had been accidentally trapped in a coal scuttle and brought over from Europe by the family who had built this house. "I'm probably the only Brownie in the whole United States," he sighed.

The next morning, Donny and Pam tried to tell their parents about the Brownie. But Mr. and Mrs. Binger thought the children were just making up the story. For the next few weeks, the Brownie continued to clean up the kitchen at night and do any odd jobs that were left for him. Donny even tried leaving his homework by the fireplace. It worked fine for history. But the Brownie got all the math problems wrong. Sometimes the children got up at night to talk to the Brownie. They felt sorry about his being so lonely.

"Say," exclaimed Donny one night. "Dad's going to Europe on a business trip next month. Maybe he can bring back a friend for you."

The night before Mr. Binger was due to leave for Europe, the Brownie wrote out a message in Brownie language. Donny gave it to his father the next morning.

"Dad," he said, "if you're staying anywhere with a fireplace, please put this paper on the hearth." Mr. Binger laughed and stuffed the paper into his pocket.

Several nights later, as he was getting undressed for bed, he happened to put his hand into his pocket and felt the paper. He pulled it out and looked at it. He couldn't read a word. "Just scribbling," he shrugged. He crumpled the paper up and tossed it at the fireplace. It missed and landed on the hearth. The next morning it was gone, and the hearth was clean.

When Mr. Binger got back home, he laid his big suitcase on the armchair near the fireplace. "Guess what I brought for you?" he said.

As he opened the suitcase, Donny and Pam started to cheer. Mr. Binger blinked. They weren't even looking at the toys he was lifting out of the bag. They were watching something he couldn't see at all: a small Brownie who leaped nimbly out of a corner of the suitcase and disappeared into the fireplace.


©1973, 2013 The Silversteins