The Mad Pudding of Ballyboulteen

by William Carleton

“Moll Roe Rafferty, the daughter of ould Jack Rafferty, was a fine, young bouncin’ girl, large an’ lavish, wid a purty head of hair on her—scarlet—that bein’ one of the raisons why she was called Roe, or red; her arms and cheeks were much the colour of her hair, an’ her saddle nose was the purtiest thing of its kind that ever was on a face.

“Well, anyhow, it was Moll Rafferty that was the dilsy. It happened that there was a nate vagabone in the neighbourhood, just as much overburdened wid beauty as herself, and he was named Gusty Gillespie. Gusty was what they call a black-mouth Prosbytarian, and wouldn’t keep Christmas Day, except what they call ‘ould style.’ Gusty was rather good-lookin’, when seen in the dark, as well as Moll herself; anyhow, they got attached to each other, and in the end everything was arranged for their marriage.

“Now this was the first marriage that had happened for a long time in the neighbourhood between a Prodestant and a Catholic, and faix, there was of the bride’s uncles, ould Harry Connolly, a fairyman, who could cure all complaints wid a secret he had, and as he didn’t wish to see his niece married to sich a fellow, he fought bitterly against the match. All Moll’s friends, however, stood up for the marriage, barrin’ him, and, of coorse, the Sunday was appointed, as I said, that they were to be dove-tailed together.

“Well, the day arrived, and Moll, as became her, went to Mass, and Gusty to meeting, afther which they were to join one another in Jack Rafferty’s, where the priest, Father McSorley was to slip up afther Mass to take his dinner wid them, and to keep Mister McShuttle, who was to marry them, company. Nobody remained at home but ould Jack Rafferty an’ his wife, who stopped to dress for dinner, for, to tell the truth, it was to be a great let-out entirely. Maybe if all was known, too, Father McSorley was to give them a cast of his office over and above the ministher, in regard that Moll’s friends were not altogether satisfied at the kind of marriage which McShuttle could give them. The sorrow may care about that—splice here, splice there—all I can say is that when Mrs. Rafferty was goin’ to tie up a big bag pudden, in walks Harry Connolly, the fairyman, in a rage, and shouts, ‘Blood and blunder-bushes, what are yez here for?’

“‘Arrah, why, Harry? Why, avick?’

“‘Why, the sun’s in the suds, and the moon in the high Horricks; there’s a clip-stick comin’ on, and there you’re both as unconsarned as if it was about to rain mether. Go out an’ cross yourselves three times in the name o’ the four Mandromarvins, for, as the prophecy says:—‘Fill the pot, Eddy, supernaculum—a blazin’ star’s a rare spectaculum.’ Go out, both of you, an’ look at the sun, I say, an’ ye’ll see the condition he’s in—off!’

“Begad, sure enough, Jack gave a bounce to the door, and his wife leaped like a two-year-ould, till they were both got on a stile beside the house to see what was wrong in the sky.

“‘Arrah, what is it, Jack?’ says she, ‘can you see anything?’

“‘No,’ says he, ‘sorra the full of my eye of anything I can spy, barrin’ the sun himself, that’s not visible, in regard of the clouds. God guard us! I doubt there’s something to happen.’

“‘If there wasn’t, Jack, what’d put Harry, that knows so much, in that state he’s in?’

“‘I doubt it’s this marriage,’ says Jack. ‘Betune ourselves, it’s not over an’ above religious of Moll to marry a black-mouth, an’ only for—; but, it can’t be helped now, though you see it’s not a taste o’ the sun is willing to show his face upon it.’

“‘As to that,’ says his wife, winkin’ with both eyes, ‘if Gusty’s satisfied with Moll, it’s enough. I know who’ll carry the whip hand, anyhow; but in the manetime let us ax Harry within what ails the sun?’

“Well, they accordingly went in, and put this question to him, ‘Harry, what’s wrong, ahagur? What is it now, for if anybody alive knows ’tis yourself?’

“‘Ah,’ said Harry, screwin’ his mouth wid a kind of a dry smile, ‘The sun has a hard twist o’ the colic; but never mind that, I tell you, you’ll have a merrier weddin’ than you think, that’s all’; and havin’ said this, he put on his hat and left the house.

“Now, Harry’s answer relieved them very much, and so, afther callin’ to him to be back for dinner, Jack sat down to take a shough o’ the pipe, and the wife lost no time in tying up the pudden, and puttin’ it in the pot to be boiled.

“In this way things went on well enough for a while, Jack smokin’ away an’ the wife cookin’ an’ dressin’ at the rate of a hunt. At last, Jack, while sittin’, I said, contently at the fire, thought he could persave an odd dancin’ kind of motion in the pot that puzzled him a good deal.

“‘Katty,’ says he, ‘what in the dickens is in this pot on the fire?’

“‘Nerra a thing but the big pudden. Why do you ax?’ says she.

“‘Why,’ says he, ‘if ever a pot tuk it into its head to dance a jig, this did. Thunder and sparbles, look at it!’

“Begad, and it was thrue enough; there was the pot bobbin’ up an’ down, and from side to side, jiggin’ it away as merry as a grig; an’ it was quite aisy to see that it wasn’t the pot itself, but what was inside it, that brought about the hornpipe.

“‘Be the hole o’ my coat,’ shouted Jack, ‘there’s somethin’ alive in it, or it would niver cut sich capers!’

“‘Begorra, there is, Jack; something sthrange entirely has got into it. Wirra, man alive, what’s to be done?’

“Jist as she spoke the pot seemed to cut the buckle in prime style, and afther a spring that’d shame a dancin’ masther, off flew the lid, and out bounced the pudden itself, hoppin’ as nimble as a pea on a drum-head about the floor. Jack blessed himself, and Katty crossed herself. Jack shouted and Katty screamed. ‘In the name of goodness, keep your distance; no one here injured you!’

“The pudden, however, made a set at him, and Jack lepped first on a chair, and then on the kitchen table, to avoid it. It then danced towards Katty, who was repatin’ her prayers at the top of her voice, while the cunnin’ thief of a pudden was hoppin’ an’ jiggin’ it around her as if it was amused at her distress.

“‘If I could get a pitchfork,’ says Jack, ‘I’d dale wid it—by goxty, I’d thry its mettle.’

“‘No, no,’ shouted Katty, thinkin’ there was a fairy in it; ‘let us spake it fair. Who knows what harm it might do? Aisy, now,’ says she to the pudden; ‘aisy, dear; don’t harm honest people that never meant to offend you. It wasn’t us—no, in troth, it was ould Harry Connolly that bewitched you; pursue him, if you wish, but spare a woman like me!’

“The pudden, bedad, seemed to take her at her word, and danced away from her towards Jack, who, like the wife, believin’ there was a fairy in it, an’ that spakin’ it fair was the best plan, thought he would give it a soft word as well as her.

“‘Plase your honour,’ said Jack, ‘she only spakes the truth, an’ upon my voracity, we both feels much obliged to you for your quietness. Faith, it’s quite clear that if you weren’t a gentleman pudden, all out, you’d act otherwise. Ould Harry, the rogue, is your mark; he’s jist down the road there, and if you go fast you’ll overtake him. Be my song, your dancin’-masther did his duty, anyway. Thank your honour! God speed you, and may you niver meet wid a parson or alderman in your thravels.’

“Jist as Jack spoke, the pudden appeared to take the hint, for it quietly hopped out, and as the house was directly on the roadside, turned down towards the bridge, the very way that ould Harry went. It was very natural, of coorse, that Jack and Katty should go and see how it intended to thravel, and as the day was Sunday, it was but natural too, that a greater number of people than usual were passin’ the road. This was a fact; and when Jack and his wife were seen followin’ the pudden, the whole neighbourhood was soon up and after it.

“‘Jack Rafferty, what is it? Katty, ahagur, will you tell us what it manes?’

“‘Why,’ replied Katty, ‘it’s my big pudden that’s bewitched, an’ it’s out hot pursuin’—here she stopped, not wishin’ to mention her brother’s name—‘someone or other that surely put pishrogues (a fairy spell) an it.’

“This was enough; Jack, now seein’ he had assistance, found his courage comin’ back to him; so says he to Katty, ‘Go home,’ says he, ‘an’ lose no time in makin’ another pudden as good, an’ here’s Paddy Scanlan’s wife Bridget says she’ll let you boil it on her fire, as you’ll want our own to dress for dinner; and Paddy himself will lend me a pitchfork, for pursuin’ to the morsel of that same pudden will escape, till I let the wind out of it, now that I’ve the neighbours to back an’ support me,’ says Jack.

“This was agreed to, an’ Katty went back to prepare a fresh pudden, while Jack an’ half the townland pursued the other wid spades, graips, pitchforks, scythes, flails, and all possible description of instruments. On the pudden went, however, at the rate of about six Irish miles an hour, an’ sich a chase was never seen. Catholics, Prodestants, and Prosbytarians were all afther it, armed, as I said, an’ bad end to the thing but its own activity could save it. Here it made a hop, there a prod was made at it, but off it went, and someone, as eager to get a slice at it on the other side, got the prod instead of the pudden. Big Frank Farrell, the miller, of Ballyboulteen, got a prod backwards that brought a hullabulloo out of him that you might hear at the other end of the parish. One got a slice of the scythe, another a whack of a flail, a third a rap of the spade, that made him look nine ways at wanst.

“‘Where is it goin’?’ asked one. ‘My life for you, it’s on its way to meeting. Three cheers for it, if it turns to Carntaul!’ ‘Prod the sowl out of it if it’s a Prodestan,’ shouted the others; ‘if it turns to the left, slice it into pancakes. We’ll have no Prodestan’ puddens here.’

“Begad, by this time the people were on the point of begginnin’ to have a regular fight about it, when, very fortunately, it took a short turn down a little by-lane that led towards the Methodist praychin’-house, an’ in an instant all parties were in an uproar against it as a Methodist pudden. ‘It’s a Wesleyan,’ shouted several voices; ‘an’ by this an’ by that, into a Methodist chapel it won’t put a foot to-day, or we’ll lose a fall. Let the wind out of it. Come, boys, where’s your pitchforks?’

“The divil pursuin’ to the one of them, however, ever could touch the pudden, and jist when they thought they had it up against the gravel of the Methodist chapel, begad, it gave them the slip, and hops over to the left, clane into the river, and sails away before their eyes as light as an egg-shell.

“Now, it so happened that a little below this place the demesne wall of Colonel Bragshaw was built up to the very edge of the river on each side of its banks; and so, findin’ there was a stop put to their pursuit of it, they went home again, every man, woman, and child of them, puzzled to think what the pudden was at all, what it meant, or where it was goin’. Had Jack Rafferty an’ his wife been willin’ to let out the opinion they held about Harry Connolly bewitchin’ it, there is no doubt of it but poor Harry might be badly trated by the crowd, when their blood was up. They had  sense enough, howaniver, to keep that to themselves, for Harry, bein’ an ould bachelor, was a kind friend to the Raffertys. So, of coorse, there was all kinds of talk about it—some guessin’ this, an’ some guessin’ that—one party sayin’ the pudden was of their side, and another denyin’ it, an’ insisting it belonged to them, an’ so on.

“In the meantime, Katty Rafferty for ‘fraid the dinner might come short, went home and made another pudden much about the same size as the one that had escaped, an’ bringing it over to their next neighbour, Paddy Scanlan’s, it was put into a pot, and placed on the fire to boil, hopin’ that it might be done in time, espishilly as they were to have the ministher, who loved a warm slice of a good pudden as well as e’er a gentleman in Europe.

“Anyhow, the day passed; Moll and Gusty were made man an’ wife, an’ no two could be more lovin’. Their friends that had been asked to the weddin’ were saunterin’ about in the pleasant little groups till dinner-time, chattin’ an’ laughin’; but, above all things, sthrivin’ to account for the figaries of the pudden; for, to tell the truth, its adventures had now gone through the whole parish.

“Well, at any rate, dinner-time was drawin’ near, and Paddy Scanlan was sittin’ comfortably wid his wife at the fire, the pudden boilin’ before their eyes when in walks Harry Connolly in a flutter, shoutin’ ‘Blood and blunder-bushes, what are yez here for?’

“‘Arrah, why, Harry—why, avick?’ said Mrs. Scanlan.

“‘Why,’ said Harry, ‘the sun’s in the suds, an’ the moon in the high Horricks! Here’s a clipstick comin’  on, an’ there you sit as unconsarned as if it was about to rain mether! Go out, both of you, an’ look at the sun, I say, an’ ye’ll see the condition he’s in—off!’

“‘Ay, but, Harry, what’s that rowled up in the tail of your cothamore (big coat)?’

“‘Out wid yez,’ says Harry, ‘an’ pray against the clipstick—the sky’s fallin’!’

“Begad, it was hard to say whether Paddy or the wife got out first, they were so much alarmed by Harry’s wild, thin face and piercin’ eyes; so out they went to see what was wonderful in the sky, an’ kep lookin’ in every direction, but not a thing was to be seen, barrin’ the sun shinin’ down wid great good-humour, an’ not a single cloud in the sky.

“Paddy an’ the wife now came in laughin’ to scould Harry, who, no doubt, was a great wag in his way when he wished. ‘Musha, bad scran to you, Harry—’ and they had time to say no more, howandiver, for, as they were goin’ into the door, they met him comin’ out of it, wid a reek of smoke out of his tail like a limekiln.

“‘Harry,’ shouted Bridget, ‘my sowl to glory, but the tail of your cothamore’s afire—you’ll be burned. Don’t you see the smoke that’s out of it?’

“‘Cross yourselves three times,’ said Harry, without stoppin’ or even lookin’ behind him, ‘for as the prophecy says, Fill the pot, Eddy—’ They could hear no more, for Harry appeared to feel like a man that carried something a great deal hotter than he wished, as anyone might see by the liveliness of his motions, and the quare faces he was forced to make as he went along.

“‘What the dickens is he carryin’ in the skirts of his big coat?’ asked Paddy.

“‘My sowl to happiness, but maybe he has stolen the pudden,’ said Bridget, ‘for it’s known that many a sthrange thing he does.’

“They immediately examined the pot, but found that the pudden was there, as safe as tuppence, an’ this puzzled them the more to think what it was he could be carryin’ about with him in the manner he did. But little they knew what he had done while they were sky-gazin’!

“Well, anyhow, the day passed, and the dinner was ready an’ no doubt but a fine gatherin’ there was to partake of it. The Prosbytarian ministher met the Methodist praycher—a divilish stretcher of an appetite he had, in throth—on his way to Jack Rafferty’s, an’ as he knew he could take the liberty, why, he insisted on his dining wid him; for, afther all, in thim days the clergy of all descriptions lived upon the best footin’ among one another not all at one as now—but no matther. Well, they had nearly finished their dinner, when Jack Rafferty himself axed Katty for the pudden; but jist as he spoke, in it came, as big as a mess-pot.

“‘Gentlemen,’ said he, ‘I hope none of you will refuse tastin’ a bit of Katty’s pudden; I don’t mane the dancin’ one that took to its thravels to-day, but a good, solid fellow that she med since.’

“‘To be sure we won’t,’ replied the priest. ‘So, Jack, put a thrifle on them three plates at your right hand, and send them over here to the clargy, an’ maybe,’ he said, laughin’—for he was a droll, good-humoured man—‘maybe, Jack, we won’t set you a proper example.’

“‘Wid a heart an’ a half, your riverence an’ gintlemen; in throth, it’s not a bad example ever any of you set us at the likes, or ever will set us, I’ll go bail. An’ sure,  I only wish it was betther fare I had for you; but we’re humble people, gintlemen, an’ so you can’t expect to meet here what you would in higher places.’

“‘Betther a male of herbs,’ said the Methodist praycher, ‘where pace is—’ He had time to go no further, however; for, much to his amazement, the priest an’ the ministher started up from the table, jist as he was going to swallow the first mouthful of the pudden, and, before you could say Jack Robinson, started away at a lively jig down the floor.

“At this moment a neighbour’s son came runnin’ in, and tould them that the parson was comin’ to see the new-married couple, an’ wish them all happiness; an’ the words were scarcely out of his mouth when he made his appearance. What to think he knew not, when he saw the ministher footin’ it away at the rate of a weddin’. He had very little time, however, to think; for, before he could sit down, up starts the Methodist praycher, an’, clappin’ his fists in his sides, chimes in in great style along wid him.

“‘Jack Rafferty,’ says he, and, by the way, Jack was his tenant, ‘what the dickens does all this mane?’ says he; ‘I’m amazed!’

“‘Then not a particle o’ me can tell you,’ says Jack; ‘but will your reverence jist taste a morsel o’ pudden, merely that the young couple may boast that you ait at their weddin’; ‘for sure, if you wouldn’t, who would?’

“‘Well,’ says he, to gratify them, I will; so, just a morsel. But, Jack, this bates Banagher,’ says he again, puttin’ the spoonful of pudden into his mouth; ‘has there been drink here?’

“‘Oh, the divil a spudh,’ says Jack, ‘for although  there’s plenty in the house, faith, it appears the gentlemen wouldn’t wait for it. Unless they tuck it elsewhere, I can make nothin’ o’ this.’

“He had scarcely spoken when the parson, who was an active man, cut a caper a yard high, an’ before you could bless yourself, the three clargy were hard at work dancin’, as if for a wager. Begad, it would be unpossible for me to tell you the state the whole meetin’ was in when they see this. Some were hoarse wid laughin’; some turned up their eyes wid wondher; many thought them mad; and others thought they had turned up their little fingers a thrifle too often.

“‘Be Goxty, it’s a burnin’ shame,’ said one, ‘to see three black-mouth clargy in sich a state at this early hour!’” ‘Thunder an’ ounze, what’s over them all?’ says others; ‘why, one would think they were bewitched. Holy Moses, look at the caper the Methodist cuts! An’ as for the Recthor, who would think he could handle his feet at sich a rate! Be this, an’ be that, he cuts the buckle, an’ does the threblin’ step aiquil to Paddy Horaghan, the dancin’-masther himself! An’ see! Bad cess to the morsel of the parson that’s not too hard at “Pease upon a Trancher,” and it upon a Sunday, too! Whirroo, gintlemen, the fun’s in yez, afther all—whish! more power to yez!’

“The sorra’s own fun they had, an’ no wondher; but judge of what they felt when all at once they saw ould Jack Rafferty himself bouncin’ in among them, an’ footin’ it away like the best of them. Bedad, no play could come up to it, an’ nothin’ could be heard but laughin’, shouts of encouragement, an’ clappin’ of hands like mad. Now, the minute Jack Rafferty left the chair, where he had been carvin’ the pudden, ould Harry  Connolly come over and claps himself down in his place, in ordher to send it round, of coorse; an’ he was scarcely sated when who should make his appearance but Barney Hartigan, the piper. Barney, by the way, had been sent for early in the day, but, bein’ from home when the message for him came, he couldn’t come any sooner.

“‘Begorra’ says Barney, ‘you’re airly at the work, gintlemen! But what does this mane? But divel may care, yez shan’t want the music, while there’s a blast in the pipes, anyhow!’ So sayin’ he gave them “Jig Polthogue,” and afther that, “Kiss my Lady” in his best style.

“In the manetime the fun went on thick and threefold, for it must be remembered that Harry, the ould knave, was at the pudden; an’ maybe, he didn’t sarve it about in double-quick time, too! The first he helped was the bride, and before you could say chopstick she was at it hard and fast, before the Methodist praycher, who gave a jolly spring before her that threw them all into convulsions. Harry liked this, and made up his mind soon to find partners for the rest; an’, to make a long story short, barrin’ the piper an’ himself, there wasn’t a pair of heels in the house but was busy at the dancin’ as if their lives depended on it.

“‘Barney,’ says Harry, ‘jist taste a morsel o’ this pudden; divil the sich a bully of a pudden ever you ett. Here, your sowl! thry a snig of it—it’s beautiful!’

“‘To be sure I will,’ says Barney. ‘I’m not the boy to refuse a good thing. But, Harry, be quick, for you know my hands is engaged, an’ it would be a thousand pities not to keep them in music, an’ they so well inclined. Thank you, Harry. Begad, that is a fine pudden. But, blood an’ turnips! what’s this for?’

“The words was scarcely out of his mouth when he bounced up, pipes an’ all, and dashed into the middle of the party. ‘Hurroo! your sowls, let us make a night of it! The Ballyboulteen boys for ever! Go it, your reverence!—turn your partner—heel and toe, ministher. Good! Well done, again! Whish! Hurroo! Here’s for Ballyboulteen, an’ the sky over it!’

“Bad luck to sich a set ever was seen together in this world, or will again, I suppose. The worst, however, wasn’t come yet, for jist as they were in the very heat’ an’ fury of the dance, what do you think comes hoppin’ in among them but another pudden, as nimble an’ merry as the first! That was enough; they had all heard of it—the ministhers among the rest—an’ most of them had seen the other pudden, an’ knew that there must be a fairy in it, sure enough. Well, as I said, in it comes, to the thick o’ them; but the very appearance of it was enough. Off the three clergymen danced, and off the whole weddiners danced, afther them, everyone makin’ the best of their way home, but not a sowl of them able to break out of the step, if they were to be hanged for it. Troth, it wouldn’t lave a laff in you to see the parson dancin’ down the road on his way home, and the ministher and Methodist praycher cuttin’ the buckle as they went along in the opposite direction. To make short work of it, they all danced home at last wid scarce a puff of wind in them; and the bride an’ bridegroom danced away to bed.”