Sunday fiction: The Kildare Pooka
Mr HR, when he was alive, used to live a good deal in Dublin, and he was once a great while out of the country on account of the “ninety-eight” business. But the servants kept on in the big house at Rathmore all the same as if the family was at home.
Well, they used to be frightened out of their lives after going to their beds with the banging of the kitchen-door, and the clattering of fire-irons, and the pots and plates and dishes. One evening they sat up ever so long, keeping one another in heart with telling stories about ghosts and fetches, and that when–what would you have it?–the little scullery boy that used to be sleeping over the horses, and could not get room at the fire, crept into the hot hearth, and when he got tired listening to the stories, sorra fear him, but he fell dead asleep.
Well and good, after they were all gone and the kitchen fire raked up, he was woke with the noise of the kitchen door opening, and the trampling of an ass on the kitchen floor. He peeped out, and what should he see but a big ass, sure enough, sitting on his curabingo and yawning before the fire. After a little he looked about him, and began scratching his ears as if he was quite tired, and says he, “I may as well begin first as last.
” The poor boy’s teeth began to chatter in his head, for says he, “Now he’s goin’ to ate me;” but the fellow with the long ears and tail on him had something else to do. He stirred the fire, and then he brought in a pail of water from the pump, and filled a big pot that he put on the fire before he went out. He then put in his hand–foot, I mean–into the hot hearth, and pulled out the little boy. He let a roar out of him with the fright, but the pooka only looked at him, and thrust out his lower lip to show how little he valued him, and then he pitched him into his pew again.
Well, he then lay down before the fire till he heard the boil coming on the water, and maybe there wasn’t a plate, or a dish, or a spoon on the dresser that he didn’t fetch and put into the pot, and wash and dry the whole bilin’ of ‘em as well as e’er a kitchen-maid from that to Dublin town. He then put all of them up on their places on the shelves; and if he didn’t give a good sweepin’ to the kitchen, leave it till again.
Then he comes and sits foment the boy, let down one of his ears, and cocked up the other, and gave a grin. The poor fellow strove to roar out, but not a dheeg ‘ud come out of the throat. The last thing the pooka done was to rake up the fire, and walk out, giving such a slap o’ the door, that the boy thought the house couldn’t help tumbling down.
Well, to be sure if there wasn’t a hullabullo, next morning when the poor fellow told his story! They could talk of nothing else the whole day. One said one thing, another said another, but a fat, lazy scullery girl said the wittiest thing of all. “Musha!” says she, “if the pooka does be cleaning up everything that way when we are asleep, what should we be slaving ourselves for doing his work?” “Shu gu dheine,” says another; “them’s the wisest words you ever said, Kauth; it’s meeself won’t contradict you.”
So said, so done. Not a bit of a plate or dish saw a drop of water that evening, and not a besom was laid on the floor, and every one went to bed soon after sundown. Next morning everything was as fine as fine in the kitchen, and the lord mayor might eat his dinner off the flags. It was great case to the lazy servants, you may depend, and everything went on well till a foolhardy gag of a boy said he would stay up one night and have a chat with the pooka.
He was a little daunted when the door was thrown open and the ass marched up to the fire.
“An’ then, sir,” says he, at last, picking up courage, “if it isn’t taking a liberty, might I ax who you are, and why you are so kind as to do half of the day’s work for the girls every night?”
“No liberty at all,” says the pooka, says he: “I’ll tell you, and welcome. I was a servant in the time of Squire R.’s father, and was the laziest rogue that ever was clothed and fed, and done nothing for it. When my time came for the other world, this is the punishment was laid on me–to come here and do all this labour every night, and then go out in the cold. It isn’t so bad in the fine weather; but if you only knew what it is to stand with your head between your legs, facing the storm, from midnight to sunrise, on a bleak winter night.”
“And could we do anything for your comfort, my poor fellow?” says the boy.
“Musha, I don’t know,” says the pooka; “but I think a good quilted frieze coat would help to keep the life in me them long nights.”
“Why then, in troth, we’d be the ungratefullest of people if we didn’t feel for you.”
To make a long story short, the next night but two the boy was there again; and if he didn’t delight the poor pooka holding up a fine warm coat before him, it’s no mather! Betune the pooka and the man, his legs was got into the four arms of it, and it was buttoned down the breast and the belly, and he was so pleased he walked up to the glass to see how he looked. “Well,” says he, “it’s a long lane that has no turning. I am much obliged to you and your fellow-servants. You have made me happy at last. Good-night to you.”
So he was walking out, but the other cried, “Och! sure your going too soon. What about the washing and sweeping?”
“Ah, you may tell the girls that they must now get their turn. My punishment was to last till I was thought worthy of a reward for the way I done my duty. You’ll see me no more.” And no more they did, and right sorry they were for having been in such a hurry to reward the ungrateful pooka.