There was once a boy who was a nightmare to his mother. He wouldn’t eat his food, he answered back and he stayed out till all hours of the day and night. Finally, she had had enough. She sent him to stay with his godfather, who happened to be a priest.
“He’ll put the fear of God into the little devil, if nothing else, she thought.
“Right, Godson,” said the priest, “I am going to put you to work.”
“OK, Godfather,” said the boy, hoping for some mischief.
“Your first task,” said the priest with a smile, “is to ring the bell at six o’clock for morning prayers.”
“OK, Godfather, I’ll do that,” the boy replied.
Early the next morning, when it was still dark, the boy got up and went up to the belfry to ring the bell. But the priest had hung a skeleton in front of the bell to give the boy a scare.
“Who are you?” the boy demanded. “And what are you doing here?”
The skeleton, of course, said nothing.
“You’re in my way,” said the boy. “Move your skinny butt, you bag of bones.”
The skeleton, of course, didn’t move.
“OK,” said the boy. “I’m going to have to smash you up.” So saying, he grabbed the skeleton and threw it down the tower. It hit the church floor and shattered into many pieces.
The boy rang the bell and then went to fetch his godfather.
“Wake up, Godfather! It’s time for prayers!” he cried.
The priest was surprised to see the boy looking so composed.
“Did you come across anything in the belfry?” he asked.
“Yes,” the boy laughed and he told his godfather what had happened.
The little devil doesn’t scare easily, thought the priest.
“Have you got another task for me, Godfather,” asked the boy hopefully.
The priest thought. Then he said, “My choirmaster is sick. Tonight you can look after him and give me a break.”
“OK, Godfather,” the boy agreed, though looking after a sick choirmaster didn’t sound like music to his ears. Maybe the old fool would be asleep, he thought.
So that night the boy went to look after the choirmaster. But he wasn’t asleep, he was moaning and groaning and laying it on thick, because he wasn’t actually sick at all, just pretending.
“You look as if you’re so sick you’re going to die,” said the boy.
“I feel like I’m going to die,” whimpered the choirmaster.
“Well, I’ll put you out of your misery,” said the boy. “You’ve suffered too much.”
“No, I’ll be all right in a while,” groaned the choirmaster.
But the boy was insistent. “I’ll have to wring your neck, old man,” he said. So he grasped the choirmaster round the neck and strangled him until he really was dead.
The boy went to find his godfather.
“Godfather,” he said, “the choirmaster was very sick, so I killed him to put an end to his suffering.”
“What!” cried the priest. “He wasn’t sick!”
“He was,” the boy insisted. “And now he’s dead. I killed him.”
“But he wasn’t sick, I tell you, you little devil,” spluttered the priest.
“Then why did you send me to look after him?” queried the boy.
“Just to give you something good to do,” said the priest.
The priest was at his wits’ end just what to do with his troublesome godson. He thought for a long time and finally came up with a plan to get rid of the boy. “I have a new task for you,” he said. “You must take a letter to the Devil in Hell and bring back the reply. It will take you four years.”
“OK,” said the boy cheerfully. He’d often thought that he’d like to visit Hell. Well, you could do all sorts of bad stuff and no one would care. “But I want a rod with a pair of pincers on top to take with me,” he demanded.
His godfather agreed. He wrote the letter and gave the boy his rod with the pincers and sent him on his way.
After a long time of travelling, almost two years, the boy came at last to his destination, Hell. There was a thick dark door with a heavy, black, cast-iron knocker. The boy knocked on the door, once, twice, three times, very loudly. The door creaked slowly open. The terrible, fiery red face of the doorman appeared, all covered in boils and carbuncles, oozing pus.
“Yes?” roared the doorman. “What do you want, little squirt?” He glared at the boy with demonic, smouldering eyes
“I’ve got a letter for the Devil,” said the boy, undaunted.
“A letter!” boomed the doorman. “Well, you’d better come in.”
So the boy entered the underworld.
The doorman pointed to a seat that was smoking with sulphur. “Sit down and wait,” he ordered.
But the boy pulled a face. “I’m not sitting on that seat,” he said. “It stinks.”
“As you please,” hissed the doorman.
The boy waited … and waited … and waited… But there was no sign of the Devil.
“Maybe you could read the letter and give me an answer,” suggested the boy to the doorman.
The doorman shook his hideous head. “Not I,” he tutted. “I’m just the doorman.” He thought a moment. “But there is a little devil somewhere about the place who might be able to help. I’ll go and fetch him.”
The doorman went away and came back some time later with a little devil.
“Can you read this letter and give me a reply,” said the boy.
“Maybe,” the little devil shrugged. He read the letter.
“Well, what’s the answer?” the boy asked.
“I’m thinking,” said the little devil.
A long time passed.
“Well, what’s the answer?” the boy asked again.
“I’m still thinking,” replied the little devil.
More time passed. A lot more time. The boy was growing very impatient.
“Come on, what’s the answer?” he demanded.
“Ah, um, well … I’m still thinking,” said the little devil.
The boy had had enough.
“You can be the answer,” he said. “I’ll take you back with me.”
“Hey, who do you think you’re ordering around?” sneered the little devil. “You’re not in charge here.”
“Want a bet?” laughed the boy and he took hold of one of the little devil’s ears with his pincers and dragged him out of Hell.
Exactly four years to the day since he’d set off on his task, the boy returned to his godfather’s house. The priest was astonished and perplexed, having expected never to see his godson again.
“Hello, Godfather,” said the boy with great cheer. “I did as you asked, but I couldn’t get a reply, so I’ve brought this little devil back instead.”
Then the boy went home to his mother and, as he wasn’t as rude or wild as he had been (having mellowed a little from his travels), they got along better than might have been expected. As for the little devil, he stayed with the priest and made his life hell for ever and ever.