Faustian Pacts: Billy Duffy and the Devil

A Faustian Pact

Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from Welsh Fairy-Tales And Other Stories – Author: Anonymous – Edited by P. H. Emerson.  The story is essentially a Faustian pact – a contract made with the Devil – by a roguish character intent on living a debauched and immoderate lifestyle.  Although the Devil usually comes out tops in such deals occasionally he meets someone who is a bit too clever for him and comes unstuck.  The story is also an etiological folktale giving an explanation of the origin of the phenomenon known as the “will-o’-the-wisp” from many folkloric traditions.

Billy Duffy and the Devil

The story centers on Billy Duffy, an all round drunkard, philanderer and blaggard, a blacksmith by trade and a very good one when he was sober.   He worked in his own smithy, which was also his home.  He tended to work until he had made just enough money to tide him over extended periods when he partook in his favorite activities of drinking, gambling and philandering.  After one such spree, with his money gone, he was staggering home when he said to himself, “Good God, if only I could just get my hands on more booze I would gladly sell myself to the Devil!”

After a few more steps to his complete surprise, he felt someone tap him on the shoulder from behind.   Looking around he saw a tall, dark, gentleman dressed in shiny red looking down on him.  

“Ahem!” said the gentleman, “What did you say?”

“I said I would gladly sell myself to the Devil for more money for booze!” replied Billy slurring his speech and swaying this way and that.

“Hmm now,” replied the gentleman, “how much money would you want to cover you for the next seven years and at the end of that time the Devil takes your soul?”

“Aw, well now, that’s a good question that I cannot rightly answer when it comes right down to it!” replied Billy.

“Would a bucket of gold sovereigns be enough?” asked the gentleman.

“Best make it three!” replied Billy never afraid to push his luck.

“Ok, three it is and at the end of seven years the Devil will find you.  He will then give you three days grace at the end of this period with as much money as you like and then your very soul shall be his for eternity.  Do you agree!” replied the gentleman his eyes glittering and a sneering smile forming in the corner of his mouth.

“I would be glad to accept that even if the Devil himself offered it!” replied Billy eagerly.

“Billy, surely you know who I am don’t you?”

“Alright, I guess you are the Devil himself, but I still agree!” replied Billy.

With business concluded the Devil produced a piece of paper and asking him to hold out a finger, pricked it making it bleed and wrote out the contract and a copy of it in Billy’s blood.  He made sure Billy had read and signed both papers and giving him the contract retained the copy and promptly disappeared.  Billy staggered home forgetting the incident putting it down to the alcohol but when he opened the door to his smithy he found three big buckets brimming with gold sovereigns.

Three Wishes

Grabbing a handful and after carefully hiding the rest he staggered back to his favorite pub and began treating everyone to drinks again and again.  It was only when he slipped into unconsciousness oblivion that he stopped. The landlord, grateful for such a generous customer, insisted the other drinkers carry him carefully safely home in a wheelbarrow he lent them.

Night after night Billy took a handful of sovereigns from the buckets and spent them in the pubs and bars around town.  He paid for all the drinks of his companions and because of his generosity their numbers grew and grew as people flocked to be part of his entourage.  He spent freely and refused no one.

One evening an old hermit, dressed in rags and starving approached Billy begging him to buy him food and drink.  Billy looked him up and down and invited him to sit next to him, “What can I buy you?” he asked, “You can have anything you fancy that this place sells.”  

So the hermit chose a good wholesome plate of food and mug of beer and proceeded to eat and drink it all ravenously. When he had finished he thanked Billy gratefully and left. Billy did not see him again for several months when he appeared in the same pub in the same famished and impoverished state.  Once again Billy generously treated him and after consuming the food and drink the hermit thanked him and disappeared. 

Several months later he reappeared in the same bar and again Billy brought him food and drink but this time the grateful hermit said, “My thanks to you, Billy Duffy for you have been most kind and generous to me, a poor hermit, three times now.  Therefore, out of gratitude I offer you three wishes of your own choice that will come true.”

This took Billy completely by surprise and he said, “Thank you, I am most grateful but I must have time to think about what to wish for wisely.”

“You can take your time and I will call upon you tomorrow, but make sure they are good wishes!” replied the hermit.

The next day the hermit appeared outside Billy’s smithy just as he was leaving for the night out and asked,

“Have you decided?”

“I have,” said Billy.

“Tell me,” said the hermit.

“The first is this.  In my smithy I have a big sledge-hammer and I wish that whoever takes up that hammer, other than me, shall strike the anvil with it with all their force until I tell them to stop,” said Billy

“Hmm!” replied the hermit, “that is not a very wise wish.  What is the second?”

“The second wish is for a purse that will not let out whatever I put inside it,” answered Billy chuckling. 

“Well, that does not seem like a very good wish either!” said the hermit growing perplexed.

“My third wish is this.  I have an armchair and I wish that anyone who sits in it will be unable to get up until I allow it,” said Billy looking very pleased.

“Billy, Billy, Billy, these are not wise wishes, you could have so much more just on the asking!” exclaimed the hermit.

“Well now, these are my wishes and I think they are very good wishes so will you grant them as you promised,” answered Billy determinedly.

“Very well, as you insist, they are yours and will manifest exactly what you wish for when ever you choose to use them,” replied the perplexed hermit. With that he left the pub and Billy never saw him again.

Time’s Up.

Billy spent all his waking hours in his favorite pastimes of boozing, debauchery and having an all round good time and the years rolled by. He ran out of money just before the seven years were up so he returned to his smithy to make money.  When his time was up the Devil stepped into his forge saying, “Well now Billy Duffy you now have three days grace and you shall have as much money as you desire.  Ask and it will be given.” 

Despite being penniless he had great confidence in the Devil and made his way to his favorite pub.  Stepping inside, he was welcomed raucously by his friends who were all expecting him to treat them. They were profoundly disappointed when he proclaimed he was stony broke.  Nevertheless, he boldly walked up to the bar, slammed his fist down and demanded an empty glass.  The landlord was used to Billy’s antics and always grateful for the money he spent in the past and obliged.  Holding the empty glass aloft Billy cried, “Fill this glass with money!”

The response was dramatic.  After a loud bang and blinding flash Billy was left holding aloft a glass full of money.

“Well, now folks, it seems I am not as broke as I thought.  Landlord, the drinks are on me!” he cried.

Although astonished, the landlord wasted no time in filling everyone’s glass.  He had no idea how Billy did it but it was very good for business.  Billy paid for everyone’s drink that evening and the beer and wine flowed fast and free.  After three days of drinking and debauchery Billy’s money finally ran out and he staggered home.

Billy Tricks the Devil

Out of money he was up working in his smithy the next morning when the Devil arrived and told him, “OK Billy your time is up. It is time to go, come along!”

“Alright, just give me a hand here for a minute so I can finish this job.  Just give that horse shoe there on the anvil a good hammering while I go and wash my hands.” replied Billy moving to the sink and running the tap. 

The Devil, liking to show off, picked hold of the hammer thinking to give the horseshoe three mighty whacks to impress Billy.  However, after the third blow he found he could not stop hammering.”

Billy laughed as he dried his hands and locked up the smithy leaving the Devil hammering away at the horseshoe.   He did not return for three days and in that time the Devil could not stop hammering away night and day.  When he returned Billy found a crowd of people had gathered around the smithy peeping though the window and cracks in the door to see what Billy was up to.

As Billy opened the door he greeted the Devil cheerily who replied angrily, “Billy that is a terrible trick to play on me.  You know who I am and you should show me some respect.  Make me stop!”

“Well now,” replied Billy, “surely you don’t expect something for nothing, do you?  What is it worth?”

“OK! OK!” replied the exasperated Devil, “How about seven more years, twice the money and two days grace where you can wish for what you like?”

Billy readily agreed and the Devil paid up and promptly vanished in a huff.  Billy spent the next seven years filled with boozing, gambling and all kinds of debauchery.  At the end of those seven years again with out a penny Billy returned to his smithy to work for a living.  On the first day of his two days grace he went to his favorite pub and wished for twenty pounds.  Immediately a little tubby man entered the bar with a bag of coins and held it out to Billy.   Of course that night Billy spent the lot until it was gone.  The second night, again Billy wished for money and the little tubby man brought him a bag of coins.

The Devil Takes a Hammering

The next morning he went to the smithy to wait for the Devil knowing he would arrive sooner or later.  It so happened that the Devil, remembering how Billy had tricked him before, arrived at the smithy before him.  Thinking to outsmart Billy, he turned himself into a gold sovereign and lay in wait on Billy’s floor.  When Billy entered he immediately spied the coin and clapped it into the purse he had wished for from the hermit.   Laying the purse on his anvil he proceeded to beat it with his hammer with all his might again and again and again. 

The Devil could not open the purse to escape and was forced to cry out, “Billy!, Billy!, Billy! Stop! Stop! Stop!”

“And if I do what will you give me?” replied Billy.

“I will give you seven more years, three times more money and one day of grace!” replied the Devil

Billy opened the purse and the Devil flew out and Billy got his money.  He carried on spending the next seven years in his usual style.  On his last night of grace Billy went to the pub and wished for money.  Again the little tubby man arrived with a big purse of gold coins for him but this time warned him that this was his last day and in the morning he would be whisked away to hell.  By now the landlord and his drinking partners were all suspicious and the landlord said, “Billy Duffy, I believe you are in league with the Devil.  You will give my house a bad name”

“No, no, not at all! More in league against him and your house has always had a bad name!” retorted Billy, “Why else would I be found here?” 

The landlord had no answer to such logic but demanded, “Well, what is going on?”

“Oh, you will see in due course, have no fear!” replied Billy.  Despite their suspicions his friends and the landlord were all happy to help Billy spend his money.

The next morning Billy began working way in his smithy but the Devil would come nowhere near. Eventually, Billy finished his task and went into his sitting room and started going over papers.   Plucking up courage the Devil entered and said, “Right Billy, let us go now and no tricks!”

“Ah, there you are, I wondered where you were.  Come and sit down for a few minutes while I pop in the smithy and extinguish the furnace.” said Billy, amiably gesturing to the large comfortable looking armchair.

The Devil Gets His Nose Tweaked

The Devil sat down and relaxed in the armchair which really was very comfortable.  Billy went to his smithy, where out of sight of the Devil he heated up a pair of tongs until they were red hot and returned hiding them behind his back.

“Ah, there you are!” said the Devil making to stand up but found he was stuck fast.

With his red hot tongs Billy grabbed the Devil by the nose pulling it and stretching it this way and that.  The Devil roared with pain and fire snorted from his nostrils but it only heated the tongs up further.   Billy clapped an iron cap over his nose to stop the flames. The Devil continued to yell and roar but he could not move from the armchair. A crown gathered around Billy’s house to see what the rumpus was.  Seeing how Billy had the Devil in such dire straits they began clapping and cheering, “Billy’s got the Devil! Billy’s got the Devil! Billy’s got the Devil!”

The Devil, in his predicament cursed and threatened Billy with all the dire consequences he could think of using the vilest and most obnoxious terms. Undeterred, Billy continued tweaking his nose with the red hot tongs. Billy kept him there for days while the Devil shouted and swore.   Eventually he realized that if he was ever to be free he would have to be civil to Billy and calmed down.

“Ok, Billy, what do you want to set me free?” asked the Devil as civilly as he could.

“Well, now sir, I think I would like to be free of you for the rest of my life and have as much money as I like whenever I want it,” replied Billy.

By now the Devil would have agreed to anything and everything so he readily accepted Billy’s proposal.   As promised Billy set him free from the armchair keeping his side of the bargain.  The Devil kept his and Billy had a plentiful and never ending supply of money for the rest of his life.  The Devil, fearing some new ruse of Billy’s never once attempted to interfere with him knowing they would meet again sooner or later. 

Rejected by Heaven, Barred From Hell

Billy never changed his ways and spent his remaining years as he had all his life in a state of drunkenness and debauchery.  He lived to a ripe old age but at last his body could stand the strain no longer and he passed on.  First he went to the Pearly Gates where he met Saint Peter who told him, “No Billy Duffy, you cannot enter here.  You have lived your life as a bad, bold man and you are simply far too bad for Heaven”

So Billy made his way down below to the gates of Hell.  “Who are you?” demanded the gatekeeper opening the gates for him to enter. 

“I am Billy Duffy,” he replied, “and Saint Peter says I am too bad for Heaven!” 

“And too clever for Hell,” roared the Devil who had just appeared around the corner, “Do not let him in.  Lock and bar the gates and keep him out.”

But before anyone could move Billy jumped forward.  Grabbing a pair of red hot tongs which was sizzling in one of the plentiful fires of Hell he seized the Devil by the nose with it.  The Devil shouted and cursed, “My dose, my dose, not my poor dose again!”

Several demons leaped on Billy and dragged him from the Devil.  However, Billy maintained a firm grip on the tongs which squeezed the Devil’s snout terribly, but they pulled so hard the red hot tip of his nose came off.

“Get him out!” cried the Devil, “He is too bad for Heaven and too clever for Hell.”

Will O’ The Wisp

The demons threw Billy out of the Gates of Hell but he still retained the tongs which held fast the tip of the Devil’s nose.   It was so hot it evaporated him but the tongs remained in his hands bearing the glowing tip of the Devil’s nose that shone bright in the darkness and was his only guide.  Folks traveling at night will sometimes see him as a strange light floating in the darkness.  In his lonely wandering he has been seen in many different locations around the world by many different people and became known by many different names.  One of the names he became known by is “Will-o-the-wisp” but the Devil has other names for him which we cannot reveal here.

Copyright 09/09/2021 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 9th, 2021 zteve t evans

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