Pot of Broth
Adapted by Bertie from a play by WB Yeats
Read by Elizabeth.
Produced by Jana Elizabeth.
‘The Pot of Broth’ - An Irish tale, adapted from a short play by W.B. Yeats.
An old soldier was coming back from the wars. As he passed through a village, he saw a cottage with the door half open.
“Well, well,” he said to himself. “This is a nice and genteel spot to stop and eat me dinner.”
He walked through the door and found a tidy kitchen.“Now, what’ll we discover in this here pot?” he said as he lifted the lid. “Ah, nothing! Well no doubt we’ll have better luck with this little bottle - Oh Mary! Empty! But a good and courageous man does not let himself get downhearted in the face of the hardest misfortune - he presses on regardless - we will find good luck yet in this here chest - oh no - Locked! And how’s a man supposed to make a living here abouts?”
He was about to leave the cottage, not sure if he was more disgusted or disappointed, when he heard a commotion and a woman’s voice coming from the courtyard.
“John! Stop that old schemer of a hen flying up on the roof like she was an eagle!”
The frantic clucking and cluttering continued as did the woman’s shouts: “Quick grab her now before she flies off! She has the whole wide world before her!”
Next, a man’s voice pleaded, ”What could I do Sibby? She slipped through my hands.”
Now the old soldier had heard that name spoken on the lips of his comrades, and never with affection. He said to himself, “I wonder if it is the same Sibby Connelly’s house that I am in. If so, it is a bad chance - a regular old hoarder she is - so mean she would skin a flee for its hide. She would starve the rats she would. If all the saints came begging at her door, she would turn them away. And, here is me, right down on me luck. All I have left to fill me stomach is me wits. I must muster them like that time I met the minister on the path and sold him his own flock of turkeys.”
While he was musing thus, he felt in his pocket in case he could find a coin or something of use that he had perhaps forgotten about. But there was no coin - all he had was a smooth pebble that he had picked up when a dog was snarling at him two miles back. He looked at this stone and thought, and as he thought he smiled, and then he sung to himself:
There’s broth in the pot for you old man
There’s broth in the pot for you old man
There’s cabbage for me and broth for you
And beef for Jack the Journeyman.
After a long while, Sibby and her husband John came back down the path. The old soldier heard the lady’s voice saying: “You can’t go feeding the priest a meal that’s fit only for a potato digger. High-up and genteel folk care for a bit of tasty meat on the end of their knife.”
The old soldier, who was sitting on the chest in the darkest corner of the parlour, spoke up:
“And Mary never said a truer word.”
Sibby, who had not seen him until then, was so startled that she was momentarily lost for words. John stepped forward telling the man: “Here, I’ll cut you a piece of ham and then be off with you.”
“Piece of ham!” said Sibby coming to her senses. “You’ll give him no such thing. He’s a no good beggar, that’s what he is. Be off with you... scram! Or I’ll call Mr Kernan and tell him to bring his dog.”
“I’ll be letting you know that I’m no beggar,” said the old soldier, whose eyes were fixed on the hen that Sibby had finally caught and plucked and was now holding under her arm. “In fact, those that know me well will tell you that giving, not taking, is my line. I rarely visit a house that does not wish me to return as soon as I am gone.”
“Well you look enough like a beggar to my eyes,” said Sibby.
“It’s a mistake that you be making,” replied the old soldier. “If I was a beggar, I would be visiting common people, not a genteel and refined lady such as yourself, that is only used to talking to the noble sort.”
“Well what is it you are after?” asked Sibby, still suspicious. “If it’s something to eat you want, I can’t be giving it, for we will have guests for dinner and their appetite will be keen.”
“I am not one to ask for something to eat or drink,” said the soldier. “I have what’s better than turkey, or mutton, or bacon, or current cakes, or sacks of flour.” As he spoke he held the pebble in his hand, caressing it with his finger and thumb.
“And what is it that you have got there?” said Sibby curiously.
“You never saw what it can do,” said the soldier.
“And what is it that it can do?” asked Sibby.
“It can do many things,” said the soldier.”
“Such as make me a drop of broth for me dinner.”
“A stone can do that, can it?”
“No other stone but this very one can do that, for the little folk put an enchantment on it.”
“Well, seeing is believing.”
“You shall see it,” said the soldier, and turning to John, he said, “Be so genteel as to bring me that there empty pot will you?”
John was happy to oblige. He brought over the pot and put it on the table. The soldier lifted the lid and dropped the stone into it with a clink.
“Now, good dame, can you spare me a drop of boiling water to assist the stone in its work of wonder?”
“That I can give you,” said Sibby, who went to the stove to fetch the kettle. The soldier poured the water into the pot.
“And now,” he said. “You wouldn’t be having a sprig of the fairlies herb called Slan-lus that was cut with a knife that has a black handle would you?”
“I do not have any of that,” said Sibby.
“Never mind. Have you got some fearavan, that was cut when the wind was blowing from the north?”
“I have none of it,” admitted Sibby.
“Or a sprig of Arthaithalan, the father of herbs?”
“Hmm, oh well,” said the soldier. “These here leaves will do me well,” and so saying he picked up the chopped cabbage, onions, and herbs off the table and threw them into the pot. It bubbled away, and the room started to fill with the savoury smell of cooking.
“How did you come by this stone?” asked Sibby, who was now very interested.
“In times past, I was out exercising my dog. As fine a greyhound as you ever saw, he was. Well he ran into some bushes, and next I heard a little shriek. I thought perhaps he had cornered a hare, so I came up to see what it was, but it was no hare. It was one of the little folk, who says to me, “Call off your dog and I’ll give you this here stone. If you are ever in need of a drop of broth or a bit of stirabout or a drop of poteen itself, just add water, and it will oblige you.”
“Thanking you kindly,” I says, and I takes the stone and calls off the dog, for I saw right away that what he offered was more useful to me than a hare.”
He lifted the lid and took a little peek inside the pot.
“Let me see,” said Sibby.
“Hold on, my good dame, not yet,” said the soldier. “It is bad luck for you to look too soon. But if you were to lend me that chicken that you are holding on your lap, it would prove useful.”
Sibby, who was now intrigued by the fairy pot gladly handed over the hen that she had caught for the priest’s dinner. The soldier dropped it into the pot.
John said sarcastically, “This is some fairy magic,” and Sibby retorted, “Hold you tongue, husband, in case you disturb the magic.”
“A true word, well spoken, Ma'am,” the soldier commended her.
“But let me take my chicken out now,” said Sibby.
“Do not scold your fair hand,” said the soldier, “Your skin is that rare colour where the rose and the lilly fight for mastery. Before you were married, the young men hereabouts used to sing.
Her eyes are gray like the morning dew
Her curling hair falls to her shoe
The white swan is blacker than my nail
Beside my queen, my Granuaille,
Oh - My Sibby - oh
The King of France would give his throne
To lie beside Sibby - what’s the rhyme now? - to lie beside Sibby alone
So I myself would happy be
The Spanish fleet is sailing the sea
For my sibby - oh
Sibby was all but bewitched by the old soldier’s song. At long last she asked, “Did you take the chicken out?”
“That I did, ma’am,” said the soldier, though he lied, for the chicken was still cooking inside the pot.
“And how is the broth?”
“Just grand, it is, just grand.”
“Give me a taste of it.”
“Lend me two cups, and I will ladle it out.”
John brought some cups and the soldier filled them with broth. He gulped his portion down while Sibby sat still, simply smelling the aroma of hers. At last she said,
“What I would give for a stone like that.”
“It is the only one of its kind,” said the soldier.
“And I could not part with it for all the world, well - apart from one thing -”
“And what would that be?” asked Sibby.
“Well I am in need of a pot to cook my broth in,” he said.
“I will lend you my pot, if you will lend me your stone so that I might try it out, “ said the lady.
“Now it’s a favour that you ask, but it is only reasonable,” agreed the soldier. “I am always happy to oblige a lady of quality such as yourself. And I’ll need a drop of whisky too.”
“Here take this - you’ve earned it - said John who was smiling at the way the soldier had bewitched the lady.
And in a very short time the soldier, the pot, the chicken, the broth, and the whiskey were gone through the door and were a mile down the road.
And that was ‘A Pot of Broth’ by W.B. Yeats, read by me, Elizabeth for Storynory.com. And you can find more Irish stories on our website where you can also find out how to become a supporter of Storynory and help us give free stories to the world.