Nasty Knobbly Gnome and the Garden People

Chapter One

Nasty Knobbly Gnome lived at the bottom of an otherwise pleasant garden in a clump of Deadly-Night-Shade. Each day, after a very early breakfast of burnt toast, he fed his only friend Toado, put on his dingy tunic, snatched up his cudgel and rushed out angrily looking for trouble.

Mostly he went first by the orchard where the apple elves lived; as he passed he usually battered down some of their toadstool roofs and trampled on any wildflowers that had bloomed during the night. In the vegetable garden, if the smoke was rising from the Herb-Brownies' houses, he blew down the chimneys to put out their fires - and for good measure scattered the neat piles of firewood stacked on their porches.

Next he visited the flower garden where the blossom fairies hid until he grumbled by. Occasionally he caught an unwary one and chased her home in terror. Sometimes, if gossamer washing hung from the spiderweb lines, he would undo the pegs and drop the garments in the dust. Or he would creep to where the garden people caught dew and rainwater in woven grass baskets. Here he would put salt into some and tip over the rest.

Once or twice, a few brave Herb-Brownies and Orchard Elves had tried to catch Knobbly Gnome at his naughty work, but he ran and ran as fast as the wind back to his rusty-tin-house, and sent his friend Toado to croak crossly at his pursuers.

None ever dared venture beyond the edge of the clump of Deadly Night Shade - prickly burrs studded the marshy grass, feet sank in black bog at every step and behind the rusty tin house lay a gloomy pond. This was the home of Toado the big black frog.

As Parsley Brownie remarked to his friend Jonathon Applelf one day, while they repaired Jonathon's roof,

"It's not as though Knobbly enjoys his mischief. He scowls and grumps the whole time!"

Jonathon nodded -

"And he's always in such a hurry," he said. "He rushes from one bad turn to another as though he hadn't a moment to spare."

"It's always very early in the morning," said Parsley. "I wonder why? And what does he do for the rest of the day?"

"I really don't care," said Jonathon shuddering. "Let's just be thankful he stays away after breakfast or we wouldn't have a home left in our garden."

"I can see we'll just have to go and find out" said Parsley.

"What!" cried Jonathon turning pale. "Visit the clump of Deadly Night Shade - never - you're joking!"

It took Parsley some time to persuade Jonathon that it was their duty to find out why Knobbly Gnome had become so extra nasty.

Chapter Two

While the friends talked, Nasty Knobbly Gnome, growling and grumbling, had stumped rapidly back to the rusty tin house. He blew the embers to life in the stove and onto the fire he put a huge black pot.

Into the pot he put a bucket of stagnant water, drawn from Toado's pool, a handful of prickly burrs, seven toadstools, four crow's feathers, several pieces of coal, half a cup of snake's eggs, and the juice of thirteen lemons. Between additions, he consulted a huge brass-bound black book that rested on a rickety table, running a grubby finger along each line, and mumbling the words as he read.

At last he gave a final stir to the pot with a wooden spoon as big as himself, picked up a tin dish, opened his rusty tin door, and beat loudly on the dish with the spoon.

In a moment, Toado's head appeared above the slimy bank of his pond, and he came squelching and croaking dismally up the slippery path. He stood expectantly beside the steaming black pot while Knobbly ladled a liberal helping into the dish.

Knobbly watched with strange anxiety as Toado tasted the brew three times - slurp - slurp - slurp.

After a moment, Toado turned and hopped sadly away.

Knobbly stamped his foot, tore out a handful of his wispy hair (though he put this carefully aside after a moment's thought) then emptied the black pot, plopped it back on the stove, and began all over again, first turning the page in the big book.

"Four pounds of licorice allsorts," he mumbled, "one gallon of mouldy jam, two bottles of castor oil, one bucket of washing up water, one cake of carbolic soap, and a pound and a half of assorted jellyfish."

He rushed about hurling strange ingredients into the pot, pushing more wood into the stove, consulting the book, and stirring the mixture. As before, he called Toado. But after a mouthful or two, Toado turned and shuffled off dejectedly again.

Knobbly wasted some time shaking his fist at the pot, kicking an empty bucket into the air and jumping up and down on the tin plate - which didn't improve his shabby shoes. Then he began again, unaware that this time unseen eyes were watching him.

Parsley Brownie and Jonathon Applelf, dressed in their very oldest clothes, had braved the bog and the Deadly Night Shade and succeeded in reaching the rusty tin walls without being seen.

Chapter Three

The house had no windows, but the walls had jagged holes, roughly stuffed with leaves to keep out the wind. From one of these, Parsley noiselessly removed the filling, a little at a time. Beside him, Jonathon was engaged in the same task. Soon, both could see and hear all that happened in the kitchen.

Knobbly Gnome had turned another page in his book and holding his tousled head in his hands, was reading aloud -

"One cup old tea leaves, two tins mustard, two quarts custard, one bucket of sump oil, one tin of floor polish and a bottle of turpentine."

He sprang up and began rushing violently about again, producing ingredients from bags and boxes and bins and bundles.

The two friends watched in amazement as the weird collection was flung into the great pot, and stirred and stirred. Knobbly, by this time, was muttering and twitching and dancing with impatience. When he opened his back door and called Toado, Parsley and Jonathon bobbed quickly out of sight, but they were back at their peep holes in time to see Toado taste three times, turn his bulging eyes reproachfully on Knobbly, and hop away again with a dreary croak.

They watched for some hours while the process was repeated - Knobbly Gnome becoming more and more distracted at each discarded pot full.

As he began on yet another, they quietly left their posts and returned unnoticed to their own sunny part of the garden.

"Whatever is he doing?" they asked each other. "This must be put before Sage Brownie," they agreed.

They set off at once to visit the wise Brownie. He was a merry old fellow with a face like a walnut. They found him taking a nap after his lunch.

He shook his head over their story, until the bobble on his nightcap fell over his eyes -

"Baffling, very baffling - but something must certainly be done about Nasty Knobbly Gnome," he said. "Call a meeting of all garden people at once. Get the Ants and Spiders onto it - messages to everyone - no time to lose."

He peered round his nightcap at Parsley and Jonathon.

"Four o'clock sharp - under the lilacs - thank you for calling."

And as the two friends hurried away, his eyes closed and he settled back to his interrupted nap.

Chapter Four

All night long, a light glimmered through the cracks in the rusty tin house. Nasty Knobbly Gnome, looking more and more exhausted, redoubled his efforts with every unsuccessful batch.

By midnight, he was whisking frantically from book to cupboards, from cupboards to pot, like a knobbly whirlwind. At last as he consulted the black book again, his tousled head sank onto his knobbly arms and he fell asleep.

At daybreak he awoke with a start, called Toado to taste the last cold concoction, re-lit his fire, burnt his toast, flung on his tunic, picked up his cudgel, and hurried out by the rusty back door.

He knew nothing of the decisions made at the meeting under the lilacs the previous afternoon - he could not guess that an army of Spiders had worked through the night to weave a strong web net - or that since sunrise the shrubs in the flower garden above his usual patch had been filled with Orchard Elves and Herb Brownies. Each held an edge of the net.

Knobbly proceeded in his accustomed manner, first through the orchard and Herb Garden, spoiling what he could on the way, and on to the flower garden. He beat at a few forget-me-nots and daisies as he went. Then he set foot on the path between the shrubs -

"Now!" Cried Sage Brownie, in a voice of command.

The huge net descended and in an instant Knobbly Gnome was caught in its silken folds. He was too busy kicking and screaming with rage, and beating about with his cudgel, to see the elves and brownies as they dropped from the trees. The spiders had woven well and the more Knobbly struggled, the more bound he became.

At last he lay still and glared up at the circle of quiet Garden People who stood about him.

"Let me go!" He yelled, "Let me go!"

"I'm afraid not Knobbly," said Sage Brownie sternly. "You have bothered us long enough - we must put a stop to your unkindness. You will now be taken before Father Thyme Brownie who will decide what to do with you."

At this, Knobbly Gnome began to kick and howl.

"No, no!" He screamed in a frenzy, "No, no! You must let me go!"

Chapter Five

The Garden People rolled Knobbly, quite gently, into a sort of sausage, and with two of their number at each end, carried him - still shouting - to where Father Thyme Brownie sat tranquilly in a rocking chair under the what-o-clocks.

He was the oldest and wisest Brownie in the world. He had a long thistle-down beard and kind eyes that looked sadly now at the flailing fists, and angry red face in the bundle set at his feet.

"Well Knobbly," he said "I'm sorry to see you like this. I hope you are sorry too."

"I'm not sorry. I don't care!" shrieked Knobbly.

"Then you should care," said Father Thyme more gravely than before. "You must stay with me until you do care and I will help you."

"I won't! I won't!" Knobbly began to kick and struggle again. "I haven't time I tell you!"

"Neither have we time to repair the damage you cause," put in Sage Brownie severely. "You should have thought of it before."

"I won't stay! yelled Knobbly.

"I'm afraid you must," said Father Thyme quietly. "I shall keep you with me."

Just then, there was an unexpected interruption. A small Pixie who had been leaning against a tree root chewing a piece of grass called suddenly,

"I really don't think you should."

Jonathon Applelf looked cross.

"What would you know about it Pesky Pixie? You're nearly as much bother as Knobbly Gnome."

"I am not!" said Pesky Pixie, "and I know quite a lot about it. Also, I never do mean things."

"True," said Jonathon, "but you are a pest sometimes."

"I like teasing," said Pesky with a grin and a twitch of a pointed ear. "Anyway, I know why Knobbly's worse lately - why he never sleeps and why he's always in such a hurry."

At this, Knobbly began to twist savagely against his bonds.

"Don't tell!" he shrieked.

Father Thyme held up his hand and even Knobbly Gnome grew silent.

"Now, Pesky Pixie," he said, "come forward and tell us what you know.

Chapter Six

"You remember that though he was always a cross patch, he only did bad turns occasionally, and at least he seemed to enjoy them?" began Pesky.

"Yes, yes, of course," agreed the others.

"Well, one of the reasons he didn't bother you so much, was that he often came to bother us in Pixies' Wood. He chased our birds from their nests, filled the rabbits' burrows with sand and stole honey from the flowers before the bees could find it. What he didn't know about our Wood - and what you probably don't know - " Pesky Pixie paused impressively, "is that in the centre of it is a cave. In the cave lives a Beastly Bogle." In spite of himself his voice dropped and he looked nervously over his shoulder.

All the little people gasped, and Knobbly Gnome gave a miserable wail.

"Now we of the Woods," went on Pesky, "have learned to live with Beastly Bogle. We all like a bit of mischief now and again, but if we leave him alone, he doesn't bother us. His magic is stronger than ours so we often put special little treats at the mouth of his cave. Otherwise, we leave him strictly undisturbed.

"Have you ever seen him?" asked a wide-eyed fairy.

"I have," said Pesky "on the very day I want to tell you about.

"What is he like?" asked another fearfully.

"Like a dragon, with bat's wings. Like a rhinoceros with seven eyes." said Pesky.

There was a hollow groan from Knobbly.

"Well," continued Pesky "Knobbly didn't even know Beastly Bogle existed. On one of his excursions he saw plates of cookies set out at the mouth of a cave. He probably thought it was a pixies' picnic. So he tipped over all the food and was busy smashing up the dishes with his cudgel, when Beastly Bogle came out looking for a snack."

"I happened to be passing, when I heard Beastly Bogle bellow. I was just in time to dodge behind a tree, and I saw all that happened."

"Tell us, tell us," breathed the Garden People.

"First, Beastly Bogle blew his fiery breath over Knobbly, and roared and raged and threatened to boil him in oil. Then he said, on second thoughts, he might change him into an ugly toad instead. Here, Knobbly made his big mistake. He shouted that he didn't care anyway, because his only friend was a toad - and he wouldn't mind being like him. "Aha!" roared Beastly Bogle, "then I won't do it. I'll waft your friend away in a puff of smoke instead. You won't even have one friend!" He gloated with wicked laughter."

"I was surprised then, because Knobbly fell on the ground and begged and pleaded and promised Beastly Bogle everything he could think of if he would spare Toado. Beastly Bogle thought it over while Knobbly Gnome kept promising more and more in exchange for his friend's life - the chest of gold pieces he had hidden under his house - his Great Aunt Grisly Goblin's emeralds - a pink iced jelly cake every Thursday - and even his best striped stockings."

"At last, when he was sure Knobbly had nothing more to offer, Beastly Bogle spoke: "In exchange for everything you have promised, I will give Toado exactly one more year with you. As well, you must read me a story every Thursday when you bring my jelly cake. You must perform six bad deeds every morning before breakfast. After one year, unless you have discovered stronger magic than mine, Toado will vanish for ever.""

"And I think," concluded Pesky Pixie, "that the year ends at midnight tomorrow."

Chapter Seven

At this point, Knobbly Gnome gave up struggling. To everyone's astonishment he began to sob and howl at the top of his voice.

"Boo hoo - I can't save him - I can't find a formula. Boo hoo - Wah - Boo wah!" he yelled.

His face was so grimy that by the time the great tears dripped off his chin, they were as black as ink.

This was too much for the tender-hearted fairies.

"There, there," they said. "There, there," looking uneasily from one to the other, though Nasty Knobbly Gnome still managed to glare and scowl through his tears.

"Come, come," said Father Thyme Brownie. "This won't help. Pull yourself together Knobbly Gnome. Tell us quietly and calmly whether Pesky's story is true and what you have done to break the spell?"

Knobbly made a tremendous effort to stop crying.

"Of course it's all true," he muttered at last. "I'm worn out I tell you - six bad deeds - cakes on Thursday - anti-spells. I never get any rest. Aunty Grisly didn't like parting with her emeralds, I can tell you. But she lent me her anti-spell book. She said if I found the right one, Toado would turn pink - but he hasn't, not once - and I'm nearly at the end of the book. The time's up - and Toado will vanish tomorrow. Oooh! Booo-Hooo! Waaa!"

It was the longest speech Knobbly had made for years. Conversations with Toado were limited to croaking, and Knobbly's voice sounded rusty, even to himself.

Father Thyme looked with compassion on Nasty Knobbly Gnome.

"You silly fellow," he said. "Why didn't you ask me for help?"

Knobbly looked shifty and muttered and mumbled.

"Couldn't." They heard. "Wouldn't. Magic's not strong enough. You couldn't help," he even managed to sound nasty through his tears.

"Nonsense," said Father Thyme. "Of course it is. Of course I can help. All I have to do you foolish gnome is to change Toado into somebody else. If there's no Toado, Beastly Bogle can't make him vanish."

Knobbly Gnome looked stunned as he thought this over.

"I don't suppose you'll do it though, will you?" he sneered at last, one little eye peeping furtively at Father Thyme, through his tangled eyebrows.

"Pshaw!" said Father Thyme, "you know I will. Fetch Toado please," he called to Pesky Pixie - who set off at once toward the clump of Deadly Night Shade.

"Now," he asked," turning to Knobbly, "who would you like him to become?"

Knobbly Gnome thought - he puckered up his face - he twisted his ear and twiddled his toes in the dirt. Then a sort of greenish-purplish-reddish blush spread from his scraggly beard to his straggly hair.

"Could he..." his voice cracked to a squeak so that he had to clear his throat and begin again, "...could he be Knotty Gnome? And do you think he" he managed at last.

"Oh no!" groaned the Garden People at last in unison. "Not too Nasty Gnomes!"

"On one condition," said Father Thyme sternly.

"Huh!" grumbled Knobbly, "I knew it! Here it comes!"

"You must never bother the Elves or Fairies or Brownies again," said Father Thyme.

"You mean never?" cried Knobbly in dismay.

"Never!" said Father Thyme and Sage Brownie firmly together.

"Ow.." said Knobbly. "Ar..." said Knobbly. "Well..." said Knobbly. "Oh...ALL right!" said Knobbly.

"Very well," said Father Thyme. "But remember, if you break your promise at any time, Knotty will turn back to Toado and vanish in a puff of smoke - Beastly Bogle's spell will be overdue.

Knobbly sulked for a moment.

"Oh, go ahead then," he said in a grudging way.

Parsley noticed however that, as Pesky came back with Toado squelching along behind, Knobbly was so excited he began hopping from one foot to the other.

Father Thyme Brownie took a package from his pocket and sprinkled a scented shower of herbs over Toado.

"Be as you were meant to be
Not Toado as before
Brother to this Gnome we'll see
Be "Knotty" ever more."
He touched the frog gently with one finger. In a flash, Toado was gone and in his place beside Knobbly stood another Gnome. He was very like Knobbly, except that his eyes bulged more. He was shorter and squatter and his voice, when he spoke, was even more croaky.

"Now look what you've done," he snarled glaring round at everyone, "how do you know I want to be a Gnome - eh? - eh? Can't live in my lovely slimy pond any more!" He scowled, and shook his fist at them all, then turned on Knobbly and gave him a kick in the shins.

"Stupid fellow!" He said roughly. "All your fault! That'll teach you to fool around with Bogles."

Father Thyme and Sage Brownie looked at each other and laughed a bit.

"Well, well," said Father Thyme, "off you go then - off you go."

Knobbly and Knotty, arguing and whacking at each other, were already on their way towards the clump of Deadly Night Shade, but every now and then, the Brownies noticed, one or other of them gave a little hop, skip, and a jump.

Chapter Nine

The following night there was a terrible commotion in the clump of Deadly Night Shade. And in the morning the rusty-tin-house and the slimy pond and the whole clump of Deadly Night Shade had vanished in a puff of smoke.

The garden people knew that Beastly Bogle had worked his spell as much as he was able. They also knew that Nasty Knobbly Gnome, and Naughty Knotty Gnome, had packed their bags yesterday and - bickering loudly at every step - had left the garden for ever.

They did hear, some time later, that the Berry Pixies and the Bramble Brownies (who shared a field a few miles away) were having a little trouble with two Gnomes who had moved into their Nettle Patch.

One day, Parsley and Jonathon, who always like to know, may lead an expedition - just to make sure.

Norah Boehme