Did you ever hear of a boggart? No! Then I will tell you. A boggart is a small imp that lives in a man's house, unseen by any one, doing a little good and much harm. This imp was called a boggart in the old times, now we call such by other names—ill-temper, meanness, uncharitableness, and the like. Even now, they say, you may find a boggart in some houses. There is no placing reliance on a boggart; sometimes he may seem to be of service to his master, but there is no telling when he may do him an ill turn.
Rap! tap! tap! came a knock at the door.
The wind was piping Jack Frost's, for the time was winter, and it blew from the north. The snow lay all over the ground, like soft feathers, and the hay-ricks looked as though each one wore a dunce-cap, like the dull boy in Dame Week's school over by the green. The icicles hung down by the thatch, and the little birds crouched shivering in the bare and leafless hedge-rows.
But inside the farm-house all was warm and pleasant; the great logs snapped and crackled and roared in the wide chimney-place, throwing red light up and down the walls, so that the dark night only looked in through the latticed windows. Farmer Griggs sat warming his knees at the blaze, smoking his pipe in great comfort, while his crock of ale, with three roasted crab-apples bobbing about within it, warmed in the hot ashes beside the blazing logs, simmering pleasantly in the ruddy heat.
Dame Griggs's spinning-wheel went humm-m-m! hum-m-m-m-m! like a whole hiveful of bees, the cat purred in the warmth, the dog basked in the blaze, and little red sparks danced about the dishes standing all along in a row on the dresser.
But, rap! tap! tap! came a knock at the door.
Then Farmer Griggs took his pipe from out his mouth. "Did'ee hear un, dame?" said he. "Zooks now, there be somebody outside the door."
"Well then, thou gert oaf, why don't 'ee let un in?" said Dame Griggs.
"Look'ee now," said Georgie Griggs to himself, "sure women be of quicker wits than men!" So he opened the door. Whoo! In rushed the wind, and the blaze of the logs made as though it would leap up the chimney for fear.
"Will you let me in out of the cold, Georgie Griggs?" piped a small voice. Farmer Griggs looked down and saw a little wight no taller than his knee standing in the snow on the door-step. His face was as brown as a berry, and he looked up at the farmer with great eyes as bright as those of a toad. The red light of the fire shone on him, and Georgie Griggs saw that his feet were bare and that he wore no coat.
"Who be 'ee, little man?" said Farmer Griggs.
"I'm a boggart, at your service."
"Na, na," said Farmer Griggs, "thee's at na sarvice o'mine. I'll give na room in my house to the likes o' thee"; and he made as though he would have shut the door in the face of the little urchin.
"But listen, Georgie Griggs," said the boggart; "I will do you a good service."
Then Farmer Griggs did listen. "What sarvice will'ee do me, then?" said he.
"I'll tend your fires," said the manikin, "I'll bake your bread, I'll wash your dishes, I'll scour your pans, I'll scrub your floors, I'll brew your beer, I'll roast your meat, I'll boil your water, I'll stuff your sausages, I'll skim your milk, I'll make your butter, I'll press your cheese, I'll pluck your geese, I'll spin your thread, I'll knit your stockings, I'll mend your clothes, I'll patch your shoes—I'll be everywhere and do all of the work in your house, so that you will not have to give so much as a groat for wages to cook, scullion, or serving wench!"
Then Farmer Griggs listened a little longer without shutting the door, and so did Dame Griggs. "What's thy name, boggart?" said he.
"Hardfist," said the boggart; and he came a little farther in at the door, for he saw that Farmer Griggs had a mind to let him in all of the way.
"I don't know," said Georgie Griggs, scratching his head doubtfully; "it's an ill thing, lettin' mischief intull the house! Thee's better outside, I doubt."
"Shut the door, Georgie!" called out Dame Griggs; "thou'rt lettin' th' cold air intull th' room."
Then Farmer Griggs shut the door, but the boggart was on the inside.
This is the way in which the boggart came into Farmer Griggs's house, and there he was to stay, for it is no such easy matter getting rid of the likes of him when we once let him in, I can tell you.
The boggart came straightway over to the warm fire, and the dog growled—"chur-r-r-r!"—and showed his teeth, and the cat spit anger and jumped up on the dresser, with her back arched and her tail on end. But the boggart cared never a whit for this, but laid himself comfortably down among the warm ashes.
Now imps, like this boggart, can only be seen as the frost is seen—when it is cold. So as he grew warmer and warmer, he grew thin, like a jelly-fish, and at last, when he had become thoroughly warmed through, Farmer Griggs and the dame could see him no more than though he was thin air. But he was in the house, and he stayed there, I can tell you. For a time everything went as smooth as cream; all of the work of the house was done as though by magic, for the boggart did all that he had promised; he made the fires, he baked the bread, he washed the dishes, he scoured the pans, he scrubbed the floors, he brewed the beer, he roasted the meat, he stuffed the sausages, he skimmed the milk, he made the butter, he pressed the cheese, he plucked the geese, he spun the thread, he knit the stockings, he mended the clothes, he patched the shoes—he was everywhere and did all of the work of the house. When Farmer Griggs saw these things done, and so deftly, he rubbed his hands and chuckled to himself. He sent cook and scullion and serving maid a-packing, there being nothing for them to do, for, as I said, all of these things were done as smooth as cream. But after a time, and when the boggart's place had become easy to him, like an old shoe, mischief began to play the pipes and he began to show his pranks. The first thing that he did was to scrape the farmer's butter, so that it was light of weight, and all of the people of the market town hooted at him for giving less than he sold. Then he skimmed the children's milk, so that they had nothing but poor watery stuff to pour over their pottage of a morning. He took the milk from the cat, so that it was like to starve; he even pilfered the bones and scrapings of the dishes from the poor house-dog, as though he was a very magpie. He blew out the rush-lights, so that they were all in the dark after sunset; he made the fires burn cold, and played a hundred and forty other impish tricks of the like kind. As for the poor little children, they were always crying and complaining that the boggart did this and the boggart did that; that he scraped the butter from their bread and pulled the coverlids off of them at night.
Still the boggart did his work well, and so Farmer Griggs put up with his evil ways as long as he could. At last the time came when he could bear it no longer. "Look'ee, now, Mally," said he to his dame, "it's all along o' thee that this trouble's coome intull th' house. I'd never let the boggart in with my own good-will!" So spoke Farmer Griggs, for even nowadays there are men here and there who will now and then lay their own bundle of faults on their wives' shoulders.
"I bade thee do naught but shut the door!" answered Dame Griggs.
"Ay; it's easy enough to shut the door after the trouble's come in!"
"Then turn it out again!"
"Turn un out! Odds bodkins, that's woman's wit! Dost'ee not see that there's no turnin' o' un out? Na, na; there's naught to do but to go out ourselves!"
Yes; there was nothing else to be done. Go they must, if they would be rid of the boggart. So one fine bright day in the blessed spring-time, they packed all of their belongings into a great wain, or cart, and set off to find a new home.
Oft they trudged, just as you see in the picture, the three little children seated high up in the wain, and the farmer and the dame plodding ahead.
Now, as they came to the bottom of Shooter's Hill, whom should they meet but their good neighbor and gossip, Jerry Jinks. "So, Georgie," said he, "you're leavin' th' ould house at last?"
"High, Jerry," quoth Georgie. "We were forced tull it, neighbor, for that black boggart torments us so that there was no rest night or day for it. The poor bairns' stomachs are empty, and the good dame's nigh dead for it. So off we go, like th' field-fares in the autumn—we're flittin', we're flittin'!"
Now on the wain was a tall, upright churn; as soon as Georgie had ended his speech, the lid of the churn began to clipper-clapper, and who should speak out of it but the boggart himself. "Ay, Jerry!" said he, "we're a flittin', we're a flittin', man! Good-day to ye, neighbor, good-day to ye! Come and see us soon time!"
"High!" cried Georgie Griggs, "art thou there, thou black imp? Dang un! We'll all go back tull th' old house, for sure it's better to bear trouble there than in a new place."
So back they went again—boggart and all.
By this you may see, my dear, if you warm an imp by your fire, he will soon turn the whole house topsy-turvy. Likewise, one cannot get rid of a boggart by going from here to there, for it is sure to be in the cart with the household things.
But how did Georgie Griggs get rid of his boggart? That I will tell you.
He went to Father Grimes, the wise man, who lived on in a little house on the moor. "Father Grimes," said he, "how shall I get rid of my boggart?"
Then Father Grimes told him to take this and that, and to do thus and so with them, and see what followed. So Farmer Griggs went to Hugh the tailor's, and told him to make a pretty red coat and a neat pair of blue breeches. Then he went to William the hatter's, and bade him to make a nice little velvet cap with a bell at the top of it. Then he went to Thomas the shoemaker's, and bade him to make a fine little pair of shoes. So they all did as he told them, and after these things were made he took them home with him. He laid them on a warm spot on the hearth where the boggart used to come to sleep at night. Then he and his dame hid in the closet to see what would follow.
Presently came the boggart, whisking here and dancing there, though neither the farmer nor the dame could see him any more than though he had been a puff of wind.
"Heigh-ho!" cried the boggart, "these be fine things for sure." So saying, he tried the hat upon his head, and it fitted exactly. Then he tried the coat on his shoulders, and it fitted like wax. Then he tried the breeches on his legs, and they fitted as though they grew there. Then he tried the shoes on his feet, and there never was such a fit. So he was clad in all his new clothes from top to toe, whereupon he began dancing until he made the ashes on the hearth spin around with him as though they had gone mad, and, as he danced, he sang:
So he went singing and dancing, and skipping and leaping, out of the house and away. As for Georgie Griggs and his dame, they never heard a squeak from him afterwards.
Thus it was that Farmer Griggs got rid of his boggart. All I can say is, that if I could get rid of mine as easily (for I have one in my own house), I would make him a suit of clothes of the finest silks and satins, and would hang a bell of pure silver on the point of his cap. But, alackaday! there are no more wise men left to us, like good Father Grimes, to tell one an easy way to get rid of one's boggart.
Ye Story of a Blue China Plate
The Force of Need