On a lonely moor lived one Tom Trebisken and his wife Joan. They had been married up for many years, and had no child, which was a disappointment to both of them an despecially to Joan, who suffered from rheumatism that had crippled her feet.
Tom had long given up all hope of having a child, but Joan still believed that one would come to them some day, and it cheered her dreary hours, as she sat helpless in her armchair, to think of the coming of the little one who would gladden their life.
Every six days in seven she spent completely alone, for Tom worked as surface-man all the year round at the great tin-mine Ding Dong at the other end of their moor; he had to leave for work early in the morning and did not return till late in the evening. So it was not surprising that she wanted a child and that she sometimes cried in her heart: "Oh that I had a little maid of my own to do things for me and keep me company when my Tom is away all day!"
The part of the moor where the Trebiskens lived was three miles or more from Ding Dong, and two miles from their nearest neighbour. It was quite out of the beaten track, and nobody used to pass by their cottage. They would not have lived there at all, but that the cottage was Joan's. It had been left to her by will with the condition that they should live in it themselves.
The cottage walls were built of small blocks of mica  and porphyry , and for a century and more the weather had polished the walls till they became as smooth as glass. Joan said the weather had nothing to do with it, and that it was done by the dear little people who lived in the earn near where the cottage stood, she added. At any rate, the house was a pleasure to look at, particularly when the sun began to sink behind the moors and shone well on its walls; for then all the richness of the porphyry's rose, all the hornblende's  soft blackness, and all the mica's brilliancy, were brought out of the stone, and intensified till a less imaginative person than Joan Trebisken would have believed it was built by enchantment. Even its roof of brown thatch, which overspread the small casement windows in shaggy raggedness, did not take from the burning wonder of the walls. Perhaps it was because a company of yellow-flowered, evergreen stonecrop had found a dwelling-place there, and that on the ridge of the roof stood out in red distinctness half a dozen of ridge-tiles with knobs, called pysgy-pows. These curious little round-knobbed tiles had been placed there by Joan's forebears for the piskeys to dance on, as was common in West Cornwall earlier.
1. Mica. Minerals that glitter. More precisely: colored or transparent mineral silicates.
Joan seldom saw the outside splendour of their cottage, as she could not move from her chair without help, and when her Tom came home, his face was the only thing she wanted to see, she said. But fortunately her doors and windows opened to the moor, and from where she used to sit, she could look at a long stretch of moorland. Although it was wild, it was none the less beautiful at every season of the year, but especially in the springtime, when the yellow broom and golden gorse were in flower.
Joan loved the lonely moor with all her heart and spent most of her day looking out on it till the days shortened and the dark month of November drew near.
She dreaded that month, with its damp clinging cold and its fogs and mists that often veiled the whole landscape, including their great harvesting-field, and was careful to shut her door and hatch and her small casement-windows before October was half through. For the pain in her bones always got worse when November was on its way.
By shutting the door and windows she shut out the music of the Small People's voices, she said. Tom told her it was not the voices of the wee folk she heard, but the trickling of a little stream making its way down by the field on its way across the moor. But she said she knew better and could distinguish between the tinkle of water and the sweet voices of the dear little people, even if he could not. Like a sensible man Tom let her hold to her belief.
Joan beieved greatly in the fairies, and often said they were so friendly with her because her forebears had put the pysgy-pows on the roof of their cottage for them to dance on. She had never seen any of the dear little creatures, but when they got a baby, maybe she would see them then, she said.
Toward the end of October one year her door and window had been shut and she felt sad. Then November came, and she felt still sadder, and also depressed, so much so that Tom dreaded to leave her sitting all alone by the chimney-corner with a long face.
He was one of the kindest husbands in the world, and never went to his work without doing all that lay in his power to make her comfortable while he was away. She was generally very appreciative and grateful for all he did for her; but today she grumbled at everything he did, even when he piled dry peat and furze within her reach, filled the kettle and put it on the iron stool and placed her dinner on a small table by her side. She would not even look at him, or say good-bye, when at last he had to go off to the mine in the dark autumn morning. And when Tom was out of sight in the foggy weather, she was more sad and depressed than ever, and it lasted all day long. She could not see a yard beyond her window most of the day.
When the hour for Tom's return at last drew near she grew more cheerful. She put on the last of the furze he had placed within reach of her hand, partly to boil the kettle and to light him down the road leading to their cottage, but chiefly to make her kitchen cheery-looking to make up for his cold send-off.
She was on the watch now for his step, and her face grew brighter as she listened. The kettle was crooning on the fire and everything was warm in cheerful welcome as a step was heard on the hard road outside, and a hand fumbled at the door-latch.
Joan, being all impatience to see her man, cried out: "What are you so stupid about, man? Give the door a shove, dear! It is stuck by the damp."
She had scarcely said this when the door and its hatch opened gently. But in the doorway stood the bent figure of a tiny old woman with a small bramble-basket on her back, and not her husband. The woman's form was enveloped in a cloak that had the colour of far-away hills, and her face was hidden in the depths of a large bonnet.
Joan was too amazed to see a stranger at her door to ask what she wanted, and before she could get over her surprise, the little old woman had come into the cottage, stepped to the hearthplace, unslung her bramble-basket, and laid it at her feet, while singing a curious rhyme in a wild and sweet voice. It reminded Joan, as she listened, which she did as one in a dream, of the music of moor-birds and rippling streams, and the voices of the small people who lived among the fields:
The song and its music had hardly died away, when the tiny old woman spread her hands over the bramble-basket, as if in blessing, and then stole out of the cottage as noiselessly and mysteriously as she had come.
Joan was all of a tremble quite five minutes after she had gone, and when she had somewhat recovered herself, her glance fell on the bramble-basket. At first she was afraid what it contained; but her curiosity got the better of her fears, and, bending over the rough basket, she turned over the bracken, laid in careful order on its top, and saw lying on a bed of dried moss and leaves something that brought a cry of amazement, mingled with horror, to her lips.
It was a babe, but so tiny and so ugly that she shuddered as she gazed on it. It was in a deep sleep, or seemed to be, and its skinny little face, crinkled all over like a poppy just out of its sheath, was resting on its claw-like hand.
In all her dreams of a getting child, Joan had never dreamt of anything so uncanny as this babe, and she told herself that the little creature in its bramble-basket cradle was sent to punish her for her desire for a child.
Tom came home just then, and soon knew all that his wife could tell of the mysterious little old and of her strange song; and, like Joan, when he looked into the bramble-basket and saw the bit of ugliness within, he gave voice to a cry of horror that anything so uncanny should be left on their hands. In fact, he was so angry that he wanted to take the basket and all it held on to the moor, and let her who brought it come and take it away, for he would not have it in his house for all the crocks of gold the little people were said to have in their keeping.
The night was bitterly cold, and by little moans and sighs outside, Joan could tell the wind was about to rise, and would perhaps end in a great storm. And though she was much upset at having such an ugly little creature thrust on them, she was too tender-hearted to wish it to lie outside even for an hour on such a night on their moor. Besides, the child was helpless and demanded compassion, so she begged Tom to let it stay in their house till tomorrow.
Tom could seldom refuse his crippled wife anything when her heart was set on it, and yielded to her entreaties; but he was careful to add that he could only suffer it to stay till he was ready to start for the tin mine.
"Whatever the weather then, fair or foul, out it shall go on the moor!" he cried. "It is a changeling," he added, with a solemn shake of his head, "and if we let it to remain here, we get nothing but bad luck all the rest of our days."
Joan, having got her way, did not care to contradict him; for the song the little old woman had sung, pointed to something different than bad luck. Still, she would not keep the babe longer than tomorrow if he were against it.
When bedtime came, Tom and Joan had quite a dispute as to where the strange cradle and its stranger occupant should be put for the night, and as Tom was against its being taken up into the bed-chamber, Joan said she she would sit up with it all night, and nothing Tom could say should prevent her. So Tom went off to his bed in a huff, muttering loudly that "the child or whatever it was," had brought misery to them already.
Joan sat in her armchair with the bramble-basket at her feet till well on towards the dawn. Then Tom came down to see how she was faring, and found to his surprise that she was as fresh as a newly gathered rose.
"And I am not sleepy either!" she cried in triumph. "I have not felt so well since I first got rheumatism, and my hands don't look so twisted, do they?" holding them up. "I believe it is all owing to that little child down there in the bramble-basket."
As Tom could not gainsay this, he went off to do his morning's work, and to get Joan's breakfast. By the time he had done this, the sun was rising and the eastern sky was a miracle of purple and rose. The night had been wild, but the storm had abated, and the dawn was all the more beautiful.
The babe was still asleep, and had not moved all night, Joan said, and Tom fervently hoped it would not till it was out on the moor. But he hoped in vain, for when the sun began to wheel up behind the hills in the east and sent a beam of rosy light in at the casement window, the little creature shuffled in the bramble-basket, and when Joan pushed back its covering of bracken to give it air, it opened its eyes and smiled, and that smile transformed its whole face.
"Why, Tom," she cried, "the little dear isn't ugly one bit; and the little eyes of it are as soft as moor-pools! Come and have a squint at it."
Tom came, and when he had stared at the babe a minute or more, he said slowly, as if weighing his words:
"You are right, Joan, but it makes the mystery all the more queer. A child that can look as ugly as nettles one minute and as pretty as flowers the next is not for us to keep."
"Don't expose your ignorance about babes!" cried Joan, fearful of what his words implied. "Some look terrible plain in their sleep as this poor dear did, and some look beautiful. It is as Nature made them, bless their hearts!"
The babe now turned her eyes on Tom, and was gazing on him as if she wanted to look into his very soul, and then, as if she quite approved of what she saw there, gave him a fascinating smile, which won his heart at once.
"You won't take the child out on the moors today, Tom, will you?" asked Joan, who was quick to see the change in her man's face.
"We will keep it till I come home from the mine, at any rate," he said cautiously. And then the babe, as if to show its gratitude, held up both its little arms to him to be taken out of its bramble-basket cradle. Tom was so delighted at this that he could hardly hide his pride.
"That infant knows a thing or two, whatever it may be," said Joan to herself with a chuckle.
There was no question now about the little stranger staying, but, all the same Tom went off to the mine with many misgivings. He said to himself as he walked quickly over the moor, that if Joan was too helpless to tend herself, how was she going to tend a babe? That thought troubled him all the day.
But his fears were needless; for when he got home that evening and looked in at the door, he saw a sight which surprised him, yet gladdened his heart. Joan was sitting in her elbow-chair, with a face as bright as a moon in a cloudless sky, cuddling the strange babe, who was babbling to the kind face looking down into it as it lay in her arms.
"However did you manage to lift the child on to your lap, Joan?" he asked, when his wife saw him.
"Oh! we managed somehow between us," she answered with a happy laugh. "It was as light as a feather, and I think the small people gave it a hoist on to my lap! Eh?" she went on, chirping and speaking to the babe. "And it has not a been a bit of trouble either, all this blessed day!"
And then, looking up at Tom with a look he never forgot: "And it has lifted the latch of my loneliness, and I am as happy as a queen!"
Tom was thankful to hear all this, and he thought it was no accident that had brought such comfort to his poor lonely wife. He had still greater cause for thankfulness as the days wore on; for as Joan now had her thoughts taken from herself in having a tiny baby girl to think of and attend to as far as she was able, she grew healthier, and before winter was over could go about the house-place and do all her little chores by herself," she proudly declared. She even swept and sanded her kitchen floor, and made figgy pastries for her husband's dinner, which she had not been able to do since the early years of their marriage.
There were, however, a few things Joan could not do; but as they were all done for her in some mysterious way, and much better than she herself could have done, it was more a matter for rejoicing than regret. Whenever she put her washing out in the back-kitchen to wait till Tom had time to do it, somebody took it away and brought it back washed and dried and ironed, all looking as white as Mayblossom and smelling as sweet as moor-flowers.
She was never certain who did this kindness to her, but in her heart she believed it was either done by the little old woman who brought the babe or the small people.
Several happy years passed away, and the little child Ninnie-Dinnie, as they called her, was now able to return some of the kindness her foster-parents. This she did by helping in small household duties, for Joan, partly because it was right and partly because she feared the rheumatism might some day make her helpless again, had brought her up to be useful.
The child did not like work at all, and Joan might have spared the little maid from many a small household duty if the pail had allowed it.
In shaking up the moss and leaves in the bramblebasket the evening the mysterious little woman brought it to the cottage, Tom had found at the feet of the babe a small dark pail, which he said must have been shaped out of a block of black tin left by the old men who worked the Cornish tin-mines ages before the art of turning black tin into white was discovered. The crude pail looked very old, and had some curious letters cut under its rim, but neither Tom nor his wife could understand them.
They thought the pail was put into the bramble-basket for the child to play with, and telling themselves they would give her a better plaything when she was old enough, they set it on the dresser.
They were soon to learn that the pail was something more than a child's toy, and had strange properties of making itself light or dark at will, thrusting its characters out of the metal in strong relief from its surface and withdrawing them again.
The pail either showed that it approved or disapproved of what Ninnie-Dinnie did. If the little maid was especially helpful and kind, the pail became a lovely shade of silver and grey, and its letters stood out in glittering distinctness; but if she was lazy or spoke rudely to her foster-parents, it grew darker than hornblende, and its characters were hardly visible.
This strange property of the pail made Joan feel quite creepy when she first discovered that peculiarity one day when Ninnie-Dinnie was very fractious and would do nothing she was bidden. However, in time Joan got used to hot the pail worked, and was even glad it showed its pleasure, or otherwise, in the ways it did so. She also told her husband that when the little maid was particularly kind to her when he was at the mine, the pail would laugh all over its sides. Tom declared it had in some mysterious way to do with the little creature's welfare, and Joan remembered the song the dinky old woman had sung about "pail and wail and then to harvesting-fields."
Ninnie-Dinnie was now in her eighth year, counting the year she was brought to the cottage, and a dear, useful little maid she was; and no one to beat her anywhere for work, Tom declared, particularly when her size was considered. The child was very small, so small that she could still sleep in the basket cradle she came in, and she did too, for the simple reason that she was wakeful all night if she slept anywhere else. Both Tom and Joan were sometimes troubled at her size. For she never seemed to grow bigger or fatter, whatever they gave her to eat, and they feared she would always be a little go-by-the-ground. . Joan, however, consoled herself that perhaps she was an off relation of the dear little people.
1. A very short person.
Although Ninnie-Dinnie was exceedingly tiny, she was very sharp, and asked more questions in a day than they could answer in a year. She wanted to know the why and wherefore of everything what the moor-flowers were made of, and who lived innside the great grey earns, and what made Carn Kenidzhek  hoot - was it the giant who lived inside it? and much besides that neither Tom nor Joan could answer, because they did not know themselves.
1. A natural rock formation, also known as Carn Kenidjack
Tom said she was wise beyond her years, and that she ought to be out of doors more. Joan quite agreed with him, and suggested that he should take her with him sometimes over the moor, only stipulating that she was not to go as far as the mineworks.
Tom thought this was a splendid idea; and so, every now and then when Ninnie-Dinnie was willing, she accompanied him part of the way. And as there was only one road leading back to the cottage, she easily found her way home alone.
One day, when the child had reached the place where the miner generally sent her back, she begged to go with him all the way to the mine; and as he was rather weak where his women were concerned, he willingly agreed.
When they reached Ding Dong with its hundreds of busy workers, the little maid grew very frightened, and fled back across the moor in the direction of home as fast as her legs could take her. The miner, as he watched her running away, rather reproached himself for bringing her so far; and he wondered whether she got home all right.
"So you did take our Ninnie-Dinnie to the mine?" was his wife's greeting when he got home that evening. "I've been terribly lonely without her all day."
"You don't mean to say the little dear haven't come back?" cried Tom. "That is terrible news! She didn't stop a minute at the mine, and tore off home like a hare."
"I haven't seen her since she went out with you this morning!" cried Joan, greatly distressed. "I hope nothing has happened to her. Perhaps she has tumbled down into one of the old, disused mines out there on the moor."
Tom went as white as a sheet at the thought of this possibility, and he started off at once to look for the child, leaving his poor wife more troubled than she had ever been since Ninnie-Dinnie came.
He was gone a little over an hour. Then he returned with the child. He told he had found her not far from the beaten track, sitting at the edge of a meadow waiting for him to come for her.
She told him she had lost her way, and that as she was sitting on the heath, an ugly little man with long ears like a hare came up to her. And because she was afraid of him and would not go into his little house under the meadow, he was very angry. She did not know what would have happened to her if a little old woman in a bonnet had not come along just then, and took her to the place where Tom found her. The woman told her to sit where she was till Daddie Trebisken came to fetch her, which he would be sure to do after sunset. In the meantime she was to say her own name backwards seven times if the long-eared man came near her again. She also told her that Ninnie-Dinnie, if she cared to believe it, was her real name spelt backwards with an "n" left out; and she said she must never go out on the lonely moors without taking the pail of old Cornish tin, with her.
It was ever so long before Joan got over her fright about Ninnie-Dinnie, and for weeks she would not hear of her going out on the moors. But in time she got over this anxiety, and when April came and the broom and the gorse were in flower, making the great brown moor yellow-gold and scenting all the air with peach-like fragrance, she was willing that the little maid should go with Tom once more. And Tom willingly took her.
As they were going out of the door, something fell on the pail standing on the dresser, and the child, remembering the injunction of the little old woman about the pail, turned back to get it.
"What shall I bring you home, Mammie Trebisken?" she asked, looking at her foster-mother; and Joan, hearing the lark singing faintly in the distance, replied laughingly:
"You shall bring me home a pailful of lark's music, my dear."
"You know the little maid can't bring you that," cried Tom impatiently.
"I was only joking," said his wife.
"Nevertheless, I will bring you home this pail full of lark's music," said Ninnie-Dinnie seriously and put her tiny hand into Tom's big one, and they started off. Joan watched them till they were out of sight.
When the miner and the child got about half-way to the mine, scores of larks were up in the blue air singing, and their little dark bodies waving to and fro in the rapture of their song, till it seemed to the miner as if their melody was trickling down all over him, and Ninnie-Dinnie declared it was.
As they stood listening, one of the larks began to descend, singing as it came.
"Now is the time if you want to catch the lark's music for Mammie Trebisken," laughed Tom, watching the bird's descent. "There it is, just over your soft little head. Up with your pail, my dear!"
And Ninnie-Dinnie, with her face as grave as the great boulders lying among the golden-blossomed furze, lifted the pail above her head. As she did so, the strange letters under its rim stood out and glowed like white fire.
"Little lark, little lark, give me your music!" she chanted in a voice as clear and sweet as linnets' fluting. "Little lark, little lark, give me your song!" and the small bird twirled down towards her singing wilder and sweeter as it came, till it hovered over the uplifted pail.
"The dear little lark has given me its music and its song to make Mammie Trebisken's heart glad," said the child, as the lark dropped on the thyme-scented turf at her feet.
"Pretending, are you?" laughed Tom.
"No!" cried Ninnie-Dinnie. "Listen!"
And the miner, putting his ear close to the pail, heard, to his utter amazement, a lark singing quite distinctly, yet rather faintly, as if it was singing far away.
"Jimmery chry! Can it be believed?" he exclaimed. "And I don't think the dear little bird likes this either," he he went on, looking down at the lark, who was trailing its wings on the ground in a distressful way. "Give it back its own, dear little maid."
"I can't," said Ninnie-Dinnie. "Ony Mammie Trebisken can do that; and I don't think she will want to, for the song in the pail will make her heart sing."
She covered the pail with her pinafore as she spoke, and the little lark disappeared into a brake of flaming gorse.
Tom was late for his work, and left the child to go back to their cottage without protesting any more. But he did not feel very comfortable as he strode on his way to the mine.
It was late in the morning when Ninnie-Dinnie got home, and Joan was beginning to be troubled at her long absence when she came in.
"Have you brought the lark's music along with you?" she asked, as the child set the pail on the red-painted dresser.
"Yes," said Ninnie-Dinnie; "and at sundown you will hear it."
Joan, thinking it was all make-believe, laughed, and said she would keep her ears open to listen.
When the shadows of the great grey meadows stretched over the heather and the sun sunk over the moor, the pail began to move slightly on the dresser, and a sound came out like grass moved gently by the wind. It drew Joan's attention to it at once. Then, to her amazement, it shook all over, and there poured forth from it such a gush of melody that almost took her breath away. It was like lark's music, she said, with a strain of sweeter, wilder music added to it. It reminded her of the flute-like voice of the little old woman in the bonnet when she sang that rude rhyme when she brought them their dear little Ninnie-Dinnie. She sat in her elbow-chair entranced, and the queer child sat at her feet, apparently entranced too.
The melody, which at first came from the depths of the pail, or the turfy ground, it was hard to say which, rose higher and higher, till it sounded like a bird singing its heart out in the soft azure of an evening sky.
Joan never knew how long she listened to that fetterless song; she only knew she awoke to the fact that the sky's little songster, the pail, or whatever it was, had stopped singing, that daylight was leaving the moor, and that a small dark shadow was slowly stealing across her window.
"Why, it is a little bird, surely," she said, speaking to the tiny maid at her feet. "The light of our fire have attracted it from its sleeping-place, poor little thing!"
"Perhaps it is the little lark come for its music and its song," suggested Ninnie-Dinnie, fixing her gaze on the bird, which was now fluttering against the panes and uttering a tiny note of distress.
"I never thought of that," said Joan. "I hope it haven't."
As she was speaking, the pail on the dresser was again agitated, and out of it rushed another entrancing melody, till all the cottage was full of music, and Joan said it was raining down on her head from the oaken beams. But through the melody could be distinctly heard a little voice, which was the lark's voice:
"Give me back my music! Give me back my song!"
"My Aunt Betsy!" cried Joan. "Whoever heard of a bird talking before?"
"Are you going to give the little lark what it wants?" asked Ninnie-Dinnie, watching the bird, which was still fluttering against the bottle-green pane.
"No," said Joan decidedly. "I don't think so. It makes my heart young and happy again."
"I was hoping you would like to give back the lark its music and its song," said Ninnie-Dinnie.
"Whatever for, little child?" Joan asked.
"Because," answered the child, "I have been wondering what the lark's little mate will do if he hasn't his song to sing to her now she is sitting on her pretty eggs out on the grass."
"Why, make another song, of course!" cried Joan, laying her paintwisted fingers on the child's elfin locks.
"It has no music to make a song with; it gave it all to me to take home to my dear Mammie Trebisken," said the little maid.
Once more the lark's song came out of the pail, and Joan said it was sweeter and wilder and freer than even the second time. As she listened intently, she was carried to her courting days, when she and Tom took their Sunday walks through the growing corn and flaming poppies to hear the larks sing. Then as the songster came earthward again and its music died away into the silence of the years, or into the pail - she was too bewildered to say which - there appeared on the threshold of the door the little lark, which, as she looked at it, trailed its wings and piped: "Give me back my music! Give me back my song!" and its sad cry went right down into her pitiful heart.
"I was selfish to want to keep what didn't belong to me," she cried, and she told Ninnie-Dinnie to give it back what it wanted.
"I can't give back: you only can do that," said the little maid. "I can only bring you what you ask."
The little bird in the doorway again made itself heard: "Give me back my music! Give me back my song!" and its pleading was so distressful that she clutched the child's shoulder and went at once to the dresser, and, almost before she knew it, she was standing at the door with the pail in her hand.
"Take your music and your song, you poor little dear," she said in her tenderest voice to the bird; "and go along home to your mate, and make her as happy as you have made my heart today."
She turned the pail over on its side as she spoke, and the lark flew into it; and in a minute or less it was out again and away into the twilight, singing its own ecstatic song as it went.
Tom came up the road as it flew off; and as she waited there by the door for him to help her back to her chair, the little old woman's rhyme came back to her, the last line of which floated through her brain:
"To give her a treasure
A year and four months went by, and Joan became about as helpless as when the babe was brought to her, and but for that babe, now to childhood grown, she did not know what she would have done. Her man was not so young as he had been and had a great deal more to do at the mine, and therefore less time to devote to woman's work. But thanks to Ninnie-Dinnie's careful training, most of his services at home were not required. The little maid now did all the work of the small cottage, and the cooking too, even to making the pork pasties for Tom's dinner. Se also waited on her dear Mammie Trebisken hand and foot, and made the poor sufferer's life as happy as possible under the circumstances. Tom wondered how she did it all, "and such a dinky little soul too not much bigger than a little blue-tit itself," he said.
Ninnie-Dinnie did not go out on the moor all this time, and nothing Joan could say would make her. But when July came, and the blackberry brambles were in flower and the great moors began to look beautifully purple with the bloom of the heather, she cast wistful glances out of the window, and one bright morning she asked Tom to take her with him a little way.
Her eye caught the darkening look of the pail as she was putting on her sunbonnet, and she thought the look meant she must take it with her, and she did.
"What shall I bring you home?" she asked, looking over her shoulder at Joan as she and Tom were going out of the door; and the invalid, catching sight of a sunbeamed pool lying high on the heath, said, with a laugh:
"You shall bring me home a pailful of sunbeams from the pool I can see from my chair."
"Nonsense!" cried Tom, resting his huge hand on Ninnie-Dinnie's head."
The woman smiled tenderly at both her dears.
"All the same," said Ninnie-Dinnie, "I will bring you home a pailful of sunbeams if I can."
When she and Tom reached the pool, they stopped and looked in, or tried to, for they could not see its bottom for sunbeams, which rippled all over its surface in tiny waves of light.
"Now is your chance to get that pailful of sunbeams your foolish old Mammie Trebisken asked you to get," said the miner.
"It is," said Ninnie-Dinnie in her grave old woman's manner; and, leaning over the pool, she held the pail over the side and cried: "Little brown pool, give me your sunbeams! Little brown pool, give me your light!". And to Tom's amazement he saw the light leave the pool and flow into the pail.
When the moor-pool had given all its sunbeams, and the water was a darker brown than a sparrow's back, Ninnie-Dinnie stood up and looked into her pail, and Tom looked too, and saw nothing.
"It is full of emptiness," said he, laughing.
"It is full of the dear little pool's sunbeams to make Mammie Trebisken's eyes glad," insisted the child; and covering the pail very carefully with her pinafore, she went down towards the cottage, and Tom watched her till she was hidden behind a great boulder of granite, and then he too went on his way.
Ninnie-Dinnie did not get home till quite late in the afternoon, and when Joan asked her where she had been so long, she said a little Skavarnak [hare] would not let her come before, and that he stood in the path barring the way, till a dinky little woman in a bluish cloak came over the moor, and then he sped away through a hole in a earn.
"What a funny thing!" said Joan; "hares generally keep out of folks' way. He must be different from other little hares."
"I am sure he must be," said Ninnie-Dinnie, setting the pail on the dresser.
"Have you brought the sunbeams?" asked Joan, turning her gaze to the bucket.
"Yes. By-and-by, when the sun begins to set, you will be able to see them."
Joan only laughed and thought her Ninnie-Dinnie was pretending, for when the child came into the kitchen, she had seen that the pail contained nothing.
When the great, round sun dropped down to his setting, the crippled woman, happening to turn her face to the dresser, saw a tongue of white flame rise out of the pail, and on its tip burnt a ruby star.
It startled her almost out of her senses at first; but as it did not grow bigger, but only increased in beauty, she gazed at it with wondering delight.
As the evening darkened over the moor, and the Hooting Carn  was dim in the distance, the light in the pail grew exceedingly beautiful, and took all manner of shapes and colours, and made the room where Joan sat as lovely as the dear Small people's Country, Ninnie-Dinnie said how she knew, it did not occur to her foster-mother to inquire.
Hooting Carn, or Carn Kenidjack: A wild, fascinating, boulder-strewn moorland district behind St. Just in Penwith, near the Land's End.
"It's magic!" cried the woman, looking round the room, "and I don't understand it one bit."
"Perhaps," said the child softly, "it is the dear little people's way of showing how grateful they feel for your kindness to your little Ninnie-Dinnie."
"I haven't been kinder than I ought," began Joan; "and it's raining, surely," she broke off, as a trickle of water fell on her ear. "It's queer, too! There's no sign of wet weather in the sky."
The child went to the window and looked out.
"There is a tiny stream of water coming down the road," she said. "I believe it's the little brown pool coming for its sunbeams. Yes, it is, and it has made itself into a dark ring outside our door."
As she was speaking, a rippling voice broke out: "Give me back my light! Give me back my sunbeams!"
"I won't," said Joan irritably. "Why should I, when it is making my little place look handsome? I haven't seen anything like it in all my born days!"
"I was hoping you would give back the poor little brown pool its shine," said Ninnie-Dinnie with a pleading look in her eyes. "The little flowers that live in the pool will die without light, and the dear little sundews will have no silver beads to tip their red spikes."
"Why did you bring me home a pailful of sunbeams, if you want me to give it away again?" asked the woman still more irritably.
"You asked me to bring you the brown pool's sunbeams," said the child gently. "I did but do what you asked."
The light in the pail was redder and brighter than the setting sun, and all in the room was a lovely crimson glow. But as Joan gazed at the pail again, she heard the rippling voice outside her door: "Give me my light! Give me my sunbeams!" and it continued rippling its demand till the woman's kind heart was troubled.
"Poor little pool!" she said to herself at last. "I expect it is feeling as lonley without its light as I was before my Ninnie-Dinnie came in the bramble-basket. It's wrong to want to keep the light in such a case. I don't suppose even a little moor-pool can be happy and bear flowers on its bosom without sunbeams and light," and she told the child to give back the pool its own.
"I can't," said Ninnie-Dinnie. "Only you can do that. Lean on me," offering her tiny arm, "and I'll help you to get the pail to give the dear little pool its sunbeams."
Joan was greatly amused that a dinky little maid like her, scarcely bigger than a large doll, could support a great helpless body like herself to walk across the floor. She could not help laughing, and as she laughed the pool cried again in such a beseeching voice that she unwittingly put her hand on the child's shoulder. Then, before she knew it, she found herself at the door with the pail in her hand.
"I give you back your brightness, dear little pool," she said, "and I am much obliged to you for letting me have it here in my little room. Now go along home to where you belong, among the heath flowers. And the little pool took its shine and left, twisting and twirling its way back to its place, shining and rippling as it went.
"The pool will shine all the more brightly tomorrow for having given you its sunbeams," said the child, as she helped Joan back to her chair.
A few days after Ninnie-Dinnie had brought the pailful of sunbeams, she again asked to go with Tom over the moors, and Tom willingly took her.
"What impossible thing is Mammie Trebisken going to ask you to bring back today?" said the miner in joke as the child went to the dresser for the pail.
"The only thing I should like to have brought home to me today is that nasty little Skavarnak which frightened my Ninnie-Dinnie," said Joan. "If she catches one and brings it home in the pail, I won't be willing to let him get out of it again in a hurry!"
"Do you really want the little long-eared one?" asked the child, with a curious look in her eyes.
"Of course I do. I suppose he won't be so easy to get into the pail as the lark's music or the pool's sunbeams."
"Not nearly so easy," responded Ninnie-Dinnie. "And even if I can get him into the pail, you won't like to keep him, and you must until -"
She did not finish what she was going to say, as Tom was in a hurry to be off, and they left Joan greatly wondering whatever the little maid was about to say.
The sun was rising when Tom and his little fosterchild reached a part of the great moor where a road turned towards Ding Dong, and where they saw a hare sitting on his haunches cleaning his whiskers.
"There is mister Long-Eared," whispered Tom. "Now is your chance to catch him, my dear." But the hare had heard the whisper, and he vanished under the bracken.
"He will be very difficult to get into the pail," sighed Ninnie-Dinnie. "But he will have to go into it, or the spell won't be broken."
"What spell?" asked the miner.
"What! have you forgotten the rhyme the dinky woman sang when she brought me to Mammie Trevisken?
"By magic and pail,
"I had clean forgotten," said Tom. "But I don't suppose it meant anything. Perhaps the little body in the bonnet didn't know what she was singing."
The miner went on his way to Ding Dong, and Ninnie-Dinnie seated herself on a bed of wild thyme close to where the hare had disappeared, and began calling very gently, but with great persistence:
"Skavarnak! Skavarnak! Come into the magic pail!
But nothing stirred among the ferns.
Long the child called - hours it seemed - till at last there was a movement under the great leaves of large, coarse ferns, and out came a woebegone little hare and went into the pail!
"You are caught by the magic of the old men's pail at last," said Ninnie-Dinnie, with a strange look in her eye; and covering the pail with her pinafore, she set her face homeward.
"Have you got the hare?" was Joan's greeting, as the child appeared in the doorway.
"I have," she cried, with a ring of triumph in her voice.
"Oh, you poor little thing!" exclaimed Joan, eyeing the hare, who was gazing at her from over the pail with a most dejected look in his dark eyes.
"Please don't pity him," said Ninnie-Dinnie. "He isn't really a hare: he is a dreadful little hobgoblin who has been cruel to all the dear little people you love so much."
"Who told you all that, child?" asked Joan, looking at the little maid.
"Perhaps the little folk whispered it to me as I lay in the bramble-basket," answered the child.
When evening came, a most terrible wail came from the dresser, like the cry of a hurt child or an animal caught in a trap, and the wail found its way at once to Joan's feeling heart.
"I can't bear to hear that cry," she said to Ninnie-Dinnie. "Do set the poor little creature free, dear."
"I can't, Mammie Trebisken, and I don't think I want you to, either. It is good for him to be kept prisoner in the magic pail."
The hare wailed on, and poor Joan had to put her fingers in her ears to shut out the sound.
Tom came home just then, and, seeing there was a nice fat hare in the pail, said he would soon stop his music, and that he would have him put into a pastry for his dinner - a threat which so frightened the poor creature that there was no wail left in him for all that evening. Leaning his head on the edge of the pail he looked exceedingly miserable.
The hare was kept prisoner in the pail all that night and all the next day, and not even Joan gave him a look of pity, for even her heart was hardened against him.
When evening came again, he once more lifted up his voice in a loud and prolonged howl, which was almost more than the tender-hearted woman could bear, and she was about to ask Ninnie-Dinnie to set him free, when a soft scamper of tiny feet made her turn her gaze to the open door, and in a minute or less there appeared on the step three small hares, who, when they saw her pitiful glance on them, began to cry:
"Give us back our Daddy Skavarnak! Give us back our Daddy Long-Ears!"
"Listen to that," cried Joan, turning to Ninnie-Dinnie, who was preparing Tom's supper. "I wonder how you, of all people, can bear to hear it. Do give the little Skavarnaks their poor daddy."
"You know I haven't the power," said the little maid quietly, "and I am afraid I shouldn't be very willing if I had."
"But you wanted me to give the lark his music and his song and the pool its beams," remonstrated Joan as Ninnie-Dinnie shook her head. "Why ever don't you want the hare to be given back to his children?"
"I told you that Long-Eared had been very cruel to the dear little folk. He was terribly cruel to one poor fairy's baby in particular. The baby's mammie, to save it from further cruelty, had to hide it somewhere till he was caught in the magic pail. You see," as Joan lifted up her pain-twisted hands in amazement, "when he was taken prisoner by the pail and brought into a good woman's cottage he became powerless to do the dear little people any more harm, and all the spells that he threw over them became weak as money-spiders' threads."
"What a wicked little creature he must have been!" cried Joan indignantly, shaking her head at the hare, who looked thoroughly ashamed of himself, and lolled his head over the edge of the pail. "But who told you about the wicked Skavarnak and his doings?" turning to the child, and giving her a searching look.
Ninnie-Dinnie did not answer, but a peculiar look came into her eyes and a smile played about her lips.
"I'm beginning to think our Ninnie-Dinnie is one of the little folk herself," said Joan to herself, gazing at the quaint little figure, with its dark, unfathomable eyes, and its elfin locks framing the gentle little face, "and that she is the Skillywidden its mammie hid for safety in a cottage. She is a dear little soul, whoever she is, and I wouldn't part with her now - no, not for a mine full of diamonds."
As these thoughts travelled through her mind, the three little hares on the doorstep wailed out their entreaty again: "Give us back our Daddy Skavarnak! Give us back our Daddy Long-Ears!" and the hare in the magic pail lifted his head and looked beseechingly at the child, who, however, took no notice of him.
The three little hares continued to cry on, and although it worried Joan's kind heart to hear it, she steeled herself against them on account of their daddy's cruelty, but into Ninnie-Dinnie's eyes there stole a wondrous pity.
"Poor little things!" she whispered to herself; and then, looking up at her foster-mother, she said softly: "You may let Long-Eared free if you like."
"But I don't like," said Joan severely. "Why should I, when he has been so unkind to the dear little people?"
"I would like you to give him his freedom if he will promise to go away from our moor and never come back any more for five hundred years," continued the child, who apparently had not noticed the interruption. "If he does not keep his promise after he is set free, he will run the terrible risk of again being taken prisoner in the magic pail and having Daddy Trebisken's threat carried out on him."
"What threat?" asked Joan. "Oh, I remember now his being put into a pastry for my Tom's dinner. He is too bad for my good Tom to make a meal of," shaking her head at the hare in the pail. "He will have to be made into a pasty as a warning to all evil-intending long-ears."
The poor animal in the pail could not have looked more wretched if he was to be made into a pasty there and then, and he cried in his terror, and the three little hares on the doorstep lifted up their small voices in sympathy.
The latter's wails were more than Joan's tender heart could stand.
"Poor little things!" she cried, looking first at the small long-ears and then at Ninnie-Dinnie. "If he will promise to do what you want him, I'll set him free. It's hard they should suffer for their wicked old daddy's wrongdoing."
"It is," responded the child in her gravest manner. "And it is for their sakes more than his own that I am willing he should have his liberty. Ask him if he will agree to do all I told you."
Joan, looking at the prisoner, repeated what Ninnie-Dinnie had said, and asked him whether he would have his freedom under those conditions.
Long-Eared muttered something she did not understand, but the little maid told her foster-mother at once that though the conditions were hard, he had promised to keep them if she would set him free from the magic pail.
"Then let us do it now cried Joan, for the appealing eyes of those three little hares on the doorstep were more than she could endure.
The child came to her side, and offered her shoulder to enable the crippled woman to do her kind deed, and almost before Joan knew it she was at the door, with the magic pail gripped firmly in her hand, and found herself saying:
"I command you, in the name of my little Ninnie-Dinnie and the magic pail, never to come on our moors till the five hundred years are up. Remember, if you do, or try to hurt any of the dear little people, they will compel you to come into this here pail, and hand you over to somebody who loves the little folk as much as I do, and who will cut you all to bits, and put you into a great lashing pasty for a miner's dinner."
Once on a time the Cornish believed that the devil was afraid to come into the Cornish land for fear of being put into a pasty.
The Skavarnak uttered a terrified howl, and Joan, looking down into the pail, saw, not a hare, but a dreadful little hobgoblin, with ears as long as his ugly little body.
She dropped the pail in her fright, and the ugly little creature sped away into the darkness, followed by the three wee hares, or hobgoblins, as no doubt they were.
Ninnie-Dinnie looked very happy when they had gone, and the pail evidently shared her joy, for it was nearly white, and its embossed characters looked almost as beautiful as the little Pool's sunbeams.
The child would not go out on the moor for a long time after Long-Ears was set free. She said she must stop at home and look after her Mammie Trebisken. But when October came and the purple heath-bells had changed to tawny brown and the ferns from green into orange and bronze, she began once more to give little wistful glances out over the great stretch of moorland.
One day - the very day of the same month she was brought to the cottage in the bramble-basket ten years before - Tom, noticing the longing glances, begged her to go with him a little way, and Ninnie-Dinnie, after asking the crippled woman if she could spare her, got ready to go.
"I thought you wouldn't want to take the pail along with you now the Long-Eared can't hurt you any more," said Joan, as the child went to the dresser for the pail.
"And yet I must take it," she replied. "What shall I bring you home?"
"Yourself, my beauty!" cried the woman. "I'm safe, I reckon, in wanting to have only my Ninnie-Dinnie brought back to me. She is better than all the lark's music and the pool's shine, isn't she?" appealing to Tom, who nodded his head.
"I should think so," said the miner. "Mammie Trebisken's request was a downright sensible one this time, wasn't it?" he remarked to the little maid as they walked away from the cottage.
Ninnie-Dinnie did not answer, which somehow troubled him, and he looked at her curiously.
When the miner and the child had reached the place where she had caught the hare, they stopped and looked about them.
The sun had risen, and was making everything beautiful on the moor - the little pools and all. It was a perfect morning for so late in the autumn. The dwarf furze, now in blossom, was burning like gorse in springtime round the bases of the great grey fields; the bramble-vines were beautiful too, as they trailed in all their richness of colour over the boulders, and the gossamers lay thick on the turf and brown heather and shone softly, as only gossamer can. Everything was very still, and there was not wind enough to stir even the blades of grass, nor was there anything on the wing save a seagull floating along on the blue air, and a few gorgeously coloured Red Admiral butterflies hovering over their beloved nettles.
For ever so long Tom and the quaint little maid stood still, taking in all the wild, yet soft, beauty of the moors, until Tom broke the silence: "I must hasten on to the mine now, my dear. You can stay here or go back to Mammie Trebisken, just as you have a mind to."
"Yes," she said with a start.
As Tom turned to go on his way, he heard her speak in the same flute-like voice as when she had spoken to the lark, the pool, and the hare, and the words were to herself: "Ninnie-Dinnie, give me yourself! Ninnie-Dinnie, give me yourself!" and as he glanced over his shoulder, he saw the little figure disappear into the pail, which started at a rapid speed down towards his cottage.
He was too upset to go on to Ding Ding after that, and trembling like an aspen leaf, he followed in the track of the pail; but oddly enough he could not get home until dark, and when he got there, he found his wife sitting alone.
Three or four hours after Tom and Ninnie-Dinnie had left, Joan heard a little noise outside the cottage, and, looking up, saw the pail walking down the road all by itself, as if it had legs. It came to the step of her door, and then it crossed the threshold and came to the fireplace where she was sitting and staring at the walking pail. When it reached her feet it stopped. Looking into it she saw a very tiny Ninnie-Dinnie looking up at her with eyes full of love and pleading.
"Please, Mammie Trebisken, give me back myself!" she piped. "Please, Mammie Trebisken, give me back myself!" and Joan took up the pail in her deformed hands, and turning it over on its side, she cried:
"Ninnie-Dinnie, I give you back yourself. Come out of the pail to once."
And Ninnie-Dinnie came out and stood before her, looking just as she had looked when she set out with Tom in the dawn.
"What did you let the pail get hold of you for?" asked Joan, when the child set the pail in its place.
"Because you asked me to bring me back myself," she said. "And now I will sit at your feet and kiss your dear hands straight."
Ninnie-Dinnie was very quiet the rest of the day, and when it drew towards evening and Tom's return, she asked if she might bring the bramble-basket to the hearthplace, as she felt so tired and sleepy.
Joan said she might, but was afraid it was too heavy for a dinky little maid like her to carry.
The child said she would manage to bring it somehow, and she did; and when she had shaken up the moss and leaves in the bramble-basket, she got into it, lay down, and was soon in a deep slumber.
Joan kept very quiet, so as not to disturb the dear little thing, and when she looked into the bramble-basket half an hour later, she saw something lying there that made her rub her eyes to see if she were dreaming.
In the place where Ninnie-Dinnie had lain down there was the most beautiful little creature it was possible to conceive. "The face," Joan afterwards told her husband, "was ever so much sweeter to look at than a wild-rose, and its hair was softer and more silky than anything she had ever seen, even the head of the torn-tit; and as for its mouth, it was far too tender and lovely even for her kissing. It had different clothes on, too, from what their little dear wore." Joan said she could not tell what they were, only they were all goldy, like furze blossom.
Before she could get over her surprise at this little tiny thing in the bramble-basket, she heard a step outside, and thinking it was Tom come back from the mine, she looked up, and there in the doorway stood the same little bent old woman, her face hidden in a bonnet, who had brought the child ten years before. Before she could ask her what she wanted, the dinky woman had glided like moor-mist over to the hearthplace, and was bending over the basket and singing:
"Give me my Ninnie, my dear little mudgeskerry;
"I can't give back my dear little Ninnie-Dinnie!" cried Joan, breaking in on the song, as it suddenly dawned on her why the little old woman had come. "Please don't ask me to do that. I have given back whatever else was asked of me gladly; but I can't, oh, I can't part with that dear little thing down there in the bramble-basket."
The strange little body took no notice of the interruption, but went on singing; and as she sang, the beautiful little creature in the bramble-basket opened its eyes and looked up at Joan with tender entreaty in them. That they were Ninnie-Dinnie's own little eyes looking up at her Joan did not for a moment doubt; and she could but see they grew more wistful as the queer little woman sang on:
"Oh, seek not to hinder my own little Ninnie,
Ninnie-Dinnie in the bramble-basket gave the crippled woman another look of entreaty as the voice of the singer died away. Joan understood that look so well, for the little maid had appealed to her heart in that very same way when she had asked her to give back the lark his music, the pool its beams, and it made her feel now, as she felt then, that it was too selfish of her to want to keep what was not really her own, however desirable. And when the child, or whatever it was, met her gaze again, Joan conquered her selfishness and resolved to give her back, whatever it cost her - "even if it breaks my heart-strings," she said. And as the odd little woman in the bonnet paused for a moment as if awaiting her will, in all the impetuosity of her generous nature she cried out:
"I give you back your dinky, your little Mudgeskerry, your little Pednpaley, and whatever else you do call the little dear that you brought me ten years ago. I feel I've no mortal right to keep what don't belong to me, though I thought she did by this time. Take her if you must, and thank you kindly for the loan of her all these years."
Joan's voice trembled as she uttered the last word, and the eyes of the lovely little Ninnie-Dinnie spoke their sympathy as she kept her gaze on her, and the funny little woman who had the voice of youth and the figure of old age showed hers in her voice, for she sang sweeter than before. It was an unfettered song, as unfettered as a lark's in the golden dawn:
"To the fields we will hasten, my little pednpaley.
As she was singing, Joan saw her glance over her shoulder at the pail, which was all one shine on the dresser, and which, as she looked, left the dresser and came towards the fireplace and hopped into the bramble-basket!
As the last words of the song died away into the silence of the fire-lighted room, the little old woman in the bonnet lifted the bramble-basket on to her back and glided out of the cottage as she had entered it; and the crippled woman, as she followed her with her eyes, saw hundreds and hundreds of dear little people coming down the moor to meet her, singing and dancing as they came, and waving little white lights tipped with red stars, very much like the one that had shone from the pail. When they came to where she stood they formed a ring around the quaint, bent little figure with the bramble-basket on her back; and then she disappeared, and Joan saw in the centre of the ring, as the little folk twirled in their dance, two tiny little people more beautiful than all the rest - one of them she was sure was her Ninnie-Dinnie and the other the fairy who had brought her to her cottage in the form of a little old woman in a blue-grey cloak and a bonnet, that never-to-be-forgotten autumn evening.
Joan missed Ninnie-Dinnie dreadfully at first; but from the evening she gave her back, the rheumatism left her, and she was as well and strong as she was in the first years of her married life. And when autumn came round again, a dear little soft head of her own came to nestle close to her heart, and to make Tom and herself glad the rest of their days. But dear as this little Ninnie-Dinnie was, lovely as they thought her, they did not love her one bit more than that other Ninnie-Dinnie, the Skillywidden of the dear little people, who were her friends for ever after.
[Much abridged from Tregarthen 1905, p. 59-110]
A parson was once walking on the moors when he met a boy who was getting heather to make brooms. The parson said, "Come, my boy, can you tell me what the time is?"
The boy said, "I can't."
"Well," said the parson, "do you think it's twelve?"
"It can't be no more," said the boy.
"Well," said the parson, "do you think it's one o'clock?"
"It can't be no less," said the boy.
"The parson went on, "Can you read?"
"No," said the boy.
"Then how do you get your living?" asked the parson.
"Well," said the boy, "we make brooms and sell them. And how do you get your living?"
"Why," said the parson, "I'm a parson."
"So," said the boy, "you get your living by saying prayers, and I get mine by making brooms. Every man to his trade."
[Addy 1895, p. 22-23. From Norton, in Derbyshire]
A woodman went to the forest to fell some timber. Just as he was about to start cutting the trunk of a huge old oak with his axe, a fairy jumped out. She begged him by words and gestures to spare the tree. In fright and astonishment the man agreed. As a reward the fairy promised him that his three next wishes would be fulfilled.
He did not remember fairy promise until evening, though. But at night, when he and his wife were dozing before a blazing fire, the old fellow grew hungry and said aloud: "Oh, how I wish I had a link of hog's pudding!"
No sooner had the words escaped his lips than a rustling was beard in the chimney, and down came a bunch of the wished-for delicacies. They landed safely at the feet of the astounded woodman, and now he was reminded of the fairy wishes. He told his wife about what had happened in the wood early that morning.
"You are a fool, Jan," she said, and was angry at how careless he was instead of making the best of his good luck. "I wish the links of pudding stuck to your nose!"
At once the links of pudding fixed themselves to his nose and stuck so tight that he saw no other way out of it than to wish them off. By that a third wish had been used up too, and that ended any great expectations that might have been kindled. But he got some pudding.
[Northamptonshire. Retold from Hartland 1890, p. 251-52]