The Everlasting Pie
The pie appeared on the stoop. At full noon, I was looking out at Goodwife Hubbard milking the cow: I but turned my back for a moment to beat at a mouse with a besom broom and the pie had appeared.
‘Goodwife,’ I pointed at the pie.
‘What is this that I espy
Who has left us so fine a pie?’
Fine it was; the golden pastry was risen in the centre, the dish was deep and a plume of steam curled from a hole in the pastry lid.
‘I know not, for I saw none,
save Jack Ash, this hour gone,’ said she
It was a puzzlement. Jack Ash would no more leave a pie than a gold coin. The old man of the woods might leave a cord of logs, a bundle of kindling or – if you crossed him – dried leaves and a tinderbox’s spark. Never a pie. Goodwife Hubbard approached the pie, lifting her broad feet and placing them gently as though approaching a skittish donkey.
Steam was still rising from the pie. How could even the freshest-baked stay warm on the cold stoop of a farmer’s cottage, on a February morning?
‘Is it magic black or woodland lore,
Never has a pie appeared before!’
I thought it the former, and that none should know it better than my own Goody.
Even so, the steps my Goodwife made backward were less careful. I stepped towards the smell of larks and pastry.
‘Do you smell it, Goody? Larks!
A pie that is better than good in parts’
Stepping closer she cried,
‘Larks? It is no more morning birds than fish,
‘Tis a most succulent-smelling mincemeat dish!’
I no longer sensed the presence of morning birds in the dish, but rabbit and honeyed ham.
‘Come closer, Goodwife. ‘Tis rabbit and ham,
no.. indeed it must be lamb!’
She was uncertain, but did as she was bid,
‘O no, tis not, dearest John,
The pie is of apples and cinnamón.’
This was most peculiar : we reserved our forenames for the marital bed. Joan had not used mine for many a long day. Her face was lit as though by an unexpected sun.
‘Whatever it be, husband mine,
I’m sure it tastes uncommon fine.’
Her fear banished, she seized the dish and bore it into the kitchen, where she cut a large portion and laid it on a plate.
‘This pie whose filling we cannot name,
Should we not ask from whence it came?’
She did not answer, but was bolting the pie as though she had not eaten for a week.
I could not but take a slice for myself. We made a fine pair of bolters both.
We looked back at the pie on the scullery table. It was entire, and still it steamed. So we cut more… and more. And still more until we had sampled pies savoury and pies sweet, pies with game and pies with meat of domesticated kine. But still the pie was entire.
‘Dost think the crust uncommon thick?
Methinks I feel a little sick!’
My Goody never left a crumb nor scrap on any dish. However, I too felt a discomfort within my belt. There was no resisting the scents. After each and every slice the pie was whole once more. I looked at Goody’s homely face, at the wen on her veined cheek. She seemed to be smiling.
‘This is something never known,
For all we have eaten, the pie has grown.’
We ate through the afternoon, the evening and the night. The pie grew and grew. We both carried it out to the barn and each stood guard over the miraculous dish, lest any bird or beast should come to steal it.
The next morning, a man in rags came to beg a piece of the pie. I looked to Goody who said,
‘We give nothing to vulgar swine,
This pie is surely thine and mine!’
Whereupon she chased him off with a pitchfork.
The chickens remained unfed, whilst the goats ate the chickens and a great, grey wolf passed by and carried off a goat or two, whilst we each tried the pie over and over, never once encountering the same filling. Some I did not recognize, meats and fruits from distant lands. All were fit to serve before a king.
The following morning a merchant passed by atop a horse caparisoned with bells and ribbons.
‘I have heard of a wondrous pie,
Is there a slice that I might buy?’ he said.
‘Get thee hence, merchant vile,
We’ve had no money long awhile.’
The horse reared and bucked as my Goody shook her fist in its face.
Meanwhile the pie grew and grew and Goody bade me chop down the wooden walls of the barn leaving only pillars to support the roof. She took to sleeping under the pastry which drooped over the rim of the dish that very night. I took to our bed in the cottage. In the dark of night I called out,
‘Goody, more pie is surely not to be borne,
Might we have chops or stew the morn?’
She snarled and ranted and cursed a little,
‘Tell me husband, tell me why,
We should not eat our miraculous pie?’
As the day dawned, six knights rode into our little farmyard. The roof of the barn had fallen onto the pie without causing damage. Goody and I were removing slate and beams from the pie lid as best we could. One knight addressed me much as he might any serf,
‘Peasant, hither comes the king,
Gold and riches will he bring.’
Goody it was who answered.
‘We need not ask the reason why,
pray tell him we will not sell our pie!’
The king thus preserved his dignity by not hearing the refusal directly from such as we. I wished that we had sold the damnable pie.
At dusk I spied a lone, hunched figure coming up the lane, a bundle of kindling at his back. It was Jack Ash. I hoped that he would not beg a piece of the pie, for fear what Goody might say to him. He did not.
‘I see you have eaten and eaten well,
Tempted by many a different scent or smell.;
He smiled and produced a sword from a rusted scabbard.
‘Let me something to you show,
about this pie that all should know.’
He cleaved the enormous pie in two with one blow of the dull sword. An ichorous, slimy substance oozed to the ground, staining the dust of the farmyard black as black could be.
It looked like something that could not but be poison, or some wicked concoction once stirred in cauldron.
‘Let none any substance eat,
No fruit, or meal or finest meat,
Heed the pricking of your thumbs,
And know well whence your provender comes’.
Our skeletons stand guard - and ever will - over an empty pie dish near the ruins of a farm.