Farmer Griggs’s Boggart by Howard Pyle

Story type: Literature

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.

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:

“Cap for the head, alas poor head!
Coat for the back, alas poor back!
Breeks for the legs, alas poor legs!
Shoen for the feet, alas poor feet!
If these be mine, mine cannot be
The house of honest man, Georgie!”

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.