Billy Duff and the Devil

P. H. Emerson July 26, 2015
10 min read
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    Billy Duffy was an Irishman, a blacksmith, and a drunkard. He had the Keltic aversion from steady work, and stuck to his forge only long enough to get money for drink; when that was spent, he returned to work.

    Billy was coming home one day after one of these drinking-bouts, soberer than usual, when he exclaimed to himself, for the thirst was upon him, “By God! I would sell myself to the devil if I could get some more drink.”

    At that moment a tall gentleman in black stepped up to him, and said, “What did you say?”

    “I said I would sell myself to the devil if I could get a drink.”

    “Well, how much do you want for seven years, and the devil to get you then?”

    “Well, I can’t tell exactly, when it comes to the push.”

    “Will £700 do you?”

    “Yes; I’d take £700.”

    “And the devil to get you then?”

    “Oh, yes; I don’t care about that.”

    When Billy got home he found the money in his smithy. He at once shut the smithy, and began squandering the money, keeping open house.

    Amongst the people who flocked to get what they could out of Billy came an old hermit, who said, “I am very hungry, and nearly starved. Will you give me something to eat and drink?”

    “Oh, yes; come in and get what you like.”

    The hermit disappeared, after eating and drinking, and did not reappear for several months, when he received the same kindly welcome, again disappearing. A few months afterwards he again appeared.

    “Come in, come in!” said Billy.

    After he had eaten and drunk his full, the hermit said to Billy: “Well, three times have you been good and kind to me. I’ll give you three wishes, and whatever you wish will be sure to come true.”

    “I must have time to consider,” said Billy.

    “Oh, you shall have plenty of time to consider, and mind they are good wishes.”

    Next morning Billy told the hermit he was ready. “Well, go on; be sure they’re good wishes,” said the hermit.

    “Well, I’ve got a big sledge-hammer in the smithy, and I wish whoever gets hold of that hammer shall go on striking the anvil, and never break it, till I tell him to stop.”

    “Oh, that’s a bad wish, Billy.”

    “Oh, no; you’ll see it’s good. Next thing I wish for is a purse so that no one can take out whatever I put into it.”

    “Oh, Billy, Billy! that’s a bad wish. Be careful now about the third wish,” said the hermit.

    “Well, I have got an armchair upstairs, and I wish that whoever may sit in that armchair will never be able to get up till I let them.”

    “Well, well, indeed; they are not very good wishes.”

    “Oh, yes; I’ve got my senses about me. I think I’ll make them good wishes, after all.”

    The seven years, all but three days, had passed, and Billy was back working at his forge, for all his money was gone, when the dark gentleman stepped in and said:

    “Now, Billy, during these last three days you may have as much money as you like,” and he disappeared.

    On the last day of his seven years Billy was penniless, and he went to the taproom of his favourite inn, which was full.

    “Well, boys,” said Billy, “we must have some money to-night. I’ll treat you, and give you a pound each,” and rising, he placed his tumbler in the middle of the table, and wished for twenty pounds. No sooner had he wished than a ball of fire came through the ceiling, and the twenty sovereigns fell into the tumbler. Everyone was taken aback, and there was a noise as if a bomb had burst, and the fireball disappeared, and rolled down the garden path, the landlord following it. After this they each drank what they liked, and Billy gave them a sovereign apiece before he went home.

    The next morning he was in his smithy making a pair of horseshoes, when the devil came in and said:

    “Well, Billy, I’ll want you this morning.”

    “Yes; all right. Take hold of this sledge-hammer, and give me a few hammers till I finish this job before I go.”

    So the devil seized the hammer and began striking the anvil, but he couldn’t stop.

    So Billy laughed, and locked him in, and was away three days. During this time the people collected round the smithy, and peeped through the cracks in the shutter, for they could hear the hammer going night and day.

    At the end of three days Billy returned and opened the door, and the devil said, “Oh, Billy, you’ve played a fine trick to me; let me go.”

    “What are you going to give me if I let you go?”

    “Seven years more, twice the money, and two days’ grace for wishing for what you like.”

    The devil paid his money and disappeared, and Billy shut the smithy and took to gambling and drinking, so that at the end of seven years he was without a penny, and working again in his smithy.

    On the last night of the seven years he went to his favourite public-house again, and wished for five pounds.

    After he wished, a little man entered and spat the sovereigns into the tumbler, and they all drank all night.

    Next morning Billy went back to his smithy. The devil, who had grown suspicious, turned himself into a sovereign and appeared on the floor. Billy seized the sovereign and clapped it into his purse. Then he took his purse and lay it upon the anvil, and began to beat it with his sledge-hammer, when the devil began to call out, “Spare my poor limbs, spare my poor limbs!”

    “How much now if I let you go?” asked Billy

    “Seven more years, three times the money, and one day in which to wish for what you like.”

    Billy took the sovereign out of his purse and threw it away, when he found his money in the smithy.

    Billy carried on worse than ever; gambled and drank and raced, squandering it all before his seven years was gone. On the last day of his term he went to his favourite inn as usual and wished for a tumbler full of sovereigns. A little man with a big head, a big nose, and big mouth, a little body, and little legs, with clubbed feet and a forked tail, brought them in and put them in the tumbler. The drunkards in the room got scared when they saw the little man, for he looked all glowing with fire as he danced on the table. When he finished, he said, “Billy, to-morrow morning our compact is up.”

    “I know it, old boy, I know it, old boy!” said Billy. Then the devil ran out and disappeared, and the people began to question Billy:

    “What is that? I think it is you, Mister Duffy, he is after.”

    “Oh, it is nothing at all,” said Billy.

    “I should think there was something,” said the man.

    “I am afraid my house will get a bad name,” croaked the landlord.

    “Not in the least! You are only a coward,” said Billy.

    “But in the name of God, what is it all about?” asked an old man.

    “Oh, you’ll see by-and-bye,” said Billy; “it is nothing at all.”

    Next morning Billy went to his smithy, but the devil would not come near it.

    So he went to his house, and began to quarrel with his wife, and whilst he was quarrelling the devil walked in and said:

    “Well, Mr. Duffy, I am ready for you.”

    “Ah, yes; just sit down and wait a minute or two. I have some papers
    I want to put to rights before I go.”

    So the devil sat down in the arm-chair, and Billy went to the smithy and heated a pair of tongs red-hot, and coming back, he got the devil by the nose, and pulled it out as though it had been soft iron. And the devil began yelling, but he could not move, and Billy kept drawing the nose out till it was long enough to reach over the window, when he put an old bell-topper on the end of it. And the devil yelled, and snorted fire from his nose.

    The whole of the village crowded round Billy’s, house—at a safe distance—calling out, “Billy and the devil! The devil and Billy Duffy!”

    The devil got awful savage, and blackguarded Billy Duffy terribly; but it was useless. Billy kept him there for days, till he got civil and said:

    “Mr. Duffy, what will you let me go for?”

    “Only one thing: I am to live the rest of my life without you, and have as much gold as I like.”

    The devil agreed, so Billy let him go; and immediately he grew rich. He lived to a good old age squandering money all the time, but at last he died and when he got to the gates of hell the clerk said “Who are you?” “Billy Duffy,” said he. And when the devil, who was standing near, heard, he said:

    “Good God! bar the gates and double-lock them for if this Billy
    Duffy the blacksmith gets in he will ruin us all.”

    Old Billy saw a pair of red-hot tongs, which he picked up, and seized the devil by the nose. When the devil pulled back his head he left a red-hot bit of his nose in the tongs.

    Then Billy Duffy went up to the gates of heaven and St. Peter asked him who he was.

    “Billy Duffy the blacksmith,” he answered.

    “No admittance! You are a bold, bad man,” said St. Peter.

    “Good God! what will I do?” said Billy, and he went back to the earth, where he and the piece of the devil’s nose melted into a ball of fire, and he roves the earth till this day as a will-o’-the-wisp.

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