CHAPTER VII

 

IT was on account of his daughter that Meehawl Mac-Murrachu had come to visit the Philosopher. He did not know what had become of her, and the facts he had to lay before his adviser were very few.

He left the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath taking snuff under a pine tree and went into the house.

"God be with all here," said he as he entered.

"God be with yourself, Meehawl MacMurrachu," said the Philosopher.

"I am in great trouble this day, sir," said Meehawl, "and if you would give me an advice I'd be greatly beholden to you."

"I can give you that," replied the Philosopher.

"None better than your honour and no trouble to you either. It was a powerful advice you gave me about the washboard, and if I didn't come here to thank you before this it was not because I didn't want to come, but that I couldn't move hand or foot by dint of the cruel rheumatism put upon me by the Leprecauns of Gort na Cloca Mora, bad cess to them for ever: twisted I was the way you'd get a squint in your eye if you only looked at me, and the pain I suffered would astonish you."

"It would not," said the Philosopher.

"No matter," said Meehawl. "What I came about was my young daughter Caitilin. Sight or light of her I haven't had for three days. My wife said first, that it was the fairies had taken her, and then she said it was a travelling man that had a musical instrument she went away with, and after that she said, that maybe the girl was lying dead in the butt of a ditch with her eyes wide open, and she staring broadly at the moon in the night time and the sun in the day until the crows would be finding her out."

The Philosopher drew his chair closer to Meehawl.

"Daughters," said he, "have been a cause of anxiety to their parents ever since they were instituted. The flightiness of the female temperament is very evident in those who have not arrived at the years which teach how to hide faults and frailties, and, therefore, indiscretions bristle from a young girl the way branches do from a bush."

"The person who would deny that--" said Mee-hawl.

"Female children, however, have the particular sanction of nature. They are produced in astonishing excess over males, and may, accordingly, be admitted as dominant to the male; but the well-proven law that the minority shall always control the majority will relieve our minds from a fear which might otherwise become intolerable."

"It's true enough," said Meehawl. "Have you noticed, sir, that in a litter of pups--"

"I have not," said the Philosopher. "Certain trades and professions, it is curious to note, tend to be perpetuated in the female line. The sovereign profession among bees and ants is always female, and publicans also descend on the distaff side. You will have noticed that every publican has three daughters of extraordinary charms. Lacking these signs we would do well to look askance at such a man's liquor, divining that in his brew there will be an undue percentage of water, for if his primogeniture is infected how shall his honesty escape?"

"It would take a wise head to answer that," said Meehawl.

"It would not," said the Philosopher. "Throughout nature the female tends to polygamy."

"If," said Meehawl, "that unfortunate daughter of mine is lying dead in a ditch--"

"It doesn't matter," said the Philosopher. "Many races have endeavoured to place some limits to this increase in females. Certain Oriental peoples have conferred the titles of divinity on crocodiles, serpents, and tigers of the jungle, and have fed these with their surplusage of daughters. In China, likewise, such sacrifices are defended as honourable and economic practices. But, broadly speaking, if daughters have to be curtailed I prefer your method of losing them rather than the religio-hysterical compromises of the Orient."

"I give you my word, sir," said Meehawl, "that I don't know what you are talking about at all."

"That," said the Philosopher, "may be accounted for in three ways--firstly, there is a lack of cerebral continuity: that is, faulty attention; secondly, it might be due to a local peculiarity in the conformation of the skull, or, perhaps, a superficial instead of a deep indenting of the cerebral coil; and thirdly--"

"Did you ever hear," said Meehawl, "of the man that had the scalp of his head blown off by a gun, and they soldered the bottom of a tin dish to the top of his skull the way you could hear his brains ticking inside of it for all the world like a Waterbury watch?"

"I did not," said the Philosopher. "Thirdly, it may--"

"It's my daughter, Caitilin, sir," said Meehawl humbly. "Maybe she is lying in the butt of a ditch and the crows picking her eyes out."

"What did she die of?" said the Philosopher.

"My wife only put it that maybe she was dead, and that maybe she was taken by the fairies, and that maybe she went away with the travelling man that had the musical instrument. She said it was a concertina, but I think myself it was a flute he had."

"Who was this traveller?"

"I never saw him," said Meehawl, "but one day I went a few perches up the hill and I heard him playing--thin, squeaky music it was like you'd be blowing out of a tin whistle. I looked about for him everywhere, but not a bit of him could I see."

"Eh?" said the Philosopher.

"I looked about--" said Meehawl.

"I know," said the Philosopher. "Did you happen to look at your goats?"

"I couldn't well help doing that," said Meehawl.

"What were they doing?" said the Philosopher eagerly.

"They were pucking each other across the field, and standing on their hind legs and cutting such capers that I laughed till I had a pain in my stomach at the gait of them."

"This is very interesting," said the Philosopher.

"Do you tell me so?" said Meehawl.

"I do," said the Philosopher, "and for this reason--most of the races of the world have at one time or another--"

"It's my little daughter, Caitilin, sir," said Meehawl.

"I'm attending to her," the Philosopher replied.

"I thank you kindly," returned Meehawl.

The Philosopher continued--

"Most of the races of the world have at one time or another been visited by this deity, whose title is the 'Great God Pan,' but there is no record of his ever having journeyed to Ireland, and, certainly within historic times, he has not set foot on these shores. He lived for a great number of years in Egypt, Persia, and Greece, and although his empire is supposed to be world-wide, this universal sway has always been, and always will be, contested; but nevertheless, however sharply his empire may be curtailed, he will never be without a kingdom wherein his exercise of sovereign rights will be gladly and passionately acclaimed."

"Is he one of the old gods, sir?" said Meehawl.

"He is," replied the Philosopher, "and his coming intends no good to this country. Have you any idea why he should have captured your daughter?"

"Not an idea in the world."

"Is your daughter beautiful?"

"I couldn't tell you, because I never thought of looking at her that way. But she is a good milker, and as strong as a man. She can lift a bag of meal under her arm easier than I can; but she's a timid creature for all that."

"Whatever the reason is I am certain that he has the girl, and I am inclined to think that he was directed to her by the Leprecauns of the Gort. You know they are at feud with you ever since their bird was killed?"

"I am not likely to forget it, and they racking me day and night with torments."

"You may be sure," said the Philosopher, "that if he's anywhere at all it's at Gort na Cloca Mora he is, for, being a stranger, he wouldn't know where to go unless he was directed, and they know every hole and corner of this countryside since ancient times. I'd go up myself and have a talk with him, but it wouldn't be a bit of good, and it wouldn't be any use your going either. He has power over all grown people so that they either go and get drunk or else they fall in love with every person they meet, and commit assaults and things I wouldn't like to be telling you about. The only folk who can go near him at all are little children, because he has no power over them until they grow to the sensual age, and then he exercises lordship over them as over every one else. I'll send my two children with a message to him to say that he isn't doing the decent thing, and that if he doesn't let the girl alone and go back to his own country we'll send for Angus Og."

"He'd make short work of him, I'm thinking."

"He might surely; but he may take the girl for himself all the same."

"Well, I'd sooner he had her than the other one, for he's one of ourselves anyhow, and the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know."

"Angus Og is a god," said the Philosopher severely.

"I know that, sir," replied Meehawl; "it's only a way of talking I have. But how will your honour get at Angus? for I heard say that he hadn't been seen for a hundred years, except one night only when he talked to a man for half an hour on Kilmasheogue."

"I'll find him, sure enough," replied the Philosopher.

"I'll warrant you will," replied Meehawl heartily as he stood up. "Long life and good health to your honour," said he as he turned away.

The Philosopher lit his pipe.

"We live as long as we are let," said he, "and we get the health we deserve. Your salutation embodies a reflection on death which is not philosophic. We must acquiesce in all logical progressions. The merging of opposites is completion. Life runs to death as to its goal, and we should go towards that next stage of experience either carelessly as to what must be, or with a good, honest curiosity as to what may be."

"There's not much fun in being dead, sir," said Mee-hawl.

"How do you know?" said the Philosopher.

"I know well enough," replied Meehawl.

 

CHAPTER VIII

 

WHEN the children leaped into the hole at the foot of the tree they found themselves sliding down a dark, narrow slant which dropped them softly enough into a little room. This room was hollowed out immediately under the tree, and great care had been taken not to disturb any of the roots which ran here and there through the chamber in the strangest criss-cross, twisted fashion. To get across such a place one had to walk round, and jump over, and duck under perpetually. Some of the roots had formed themselves very conveniently into low seats and narrow, uneven tables, and at the bottom all the roots ran into the floor and away again in the direction required by their business. After the clear air outside this place was very dark to the children's eyes, so that they could not see anything for a few minutes, but after a little time their eyes became accustomed to the semi-obscurity and they were able to see quite well. The first things they became aware of were six small men who were seated on low roots. They were all dressed in tight green clothes and little leathern aprons, and they wore tall green hats which wobbled when they moved. They were all busily engaged making shoes. One was drawing out wax ends on his knee, another was softening pieces of leather in a bucket of water, another was polishing the instep of a shoe with a piece of curved bone, another was paring down a heel with a short broad-bladed knife, and another was hammering wooden pegs into a sole. He had all the pegs in his mouth, which gave him a wide-faced, jolly expression, and according as a peg was wanted he blew it into his hand and hit it twice with his hammer, and then he blew another peg, and he always blew the peg with the right end uppermost, and never had to hit it more than twice. He was a person well worth watching.

The children had slid down so unexpectedly that they almost forgot their good manners, but as soon as Seumas Beg discovered that he was really in a room he removed his cap and stood up.

"God be with all here," said he.

The Leprecaun who had brought them lifted Brigid from the floor to which amazement still constrained her.

"Sit down on that little root, child of my heart," said he, "and you can knit stockings for us."

"Yes, sir," said Brigid meekly.

The Leprecaun took four knitting needles and a ball of green wool from the top of a high, horizontal root. He had to climb over one, go round three and climb up two roots to get at it, and he did this so easily that it did not seem a bit of trouble. He gave the needles and wool to Brigid Beg.

"Do you know how to turn the heel, Brigid Beg?" said he.

"No, sir," said Brigid.

"Well, I'll show you how when you come to it."

The other six Leprecauns had ceased work and were looking at the children. Seumas turned to them.

"God bless the work," said he politely.

One of the Leprecauns, who had a grey, puckered face and a thin fringe of grey whisker very far under his chin, then spoke.

"Come over here, Seumas Beg," said he, "and I'll measure you for a pair of shoes. Put your foot up on that root."

The boy did so, and the Leprecaun took the measure of his foot with a wooden rule.

"Now, Brigid Beg, show me your foot," and he measured her also. "They'll be ready for you in the morning."

"Do you never do anything else but make shoes, sir?" said Seumas.

"We do not," replied the Leprecaun, "except when we want new clothes, and then we have to make them, but we grudge every minute spent making anything else except shoes, because that is the proper work for a Leprecaun. In the night time we go about the country into people's houses and we clip little pieces off their money, and so, bit by bit, we get a crock of gold together, because, do you see, a Leprecaun has to have a crock of gold so that if he's captured by men folk he may be able to ransom himself. But that seldom happens, because it's a great disgrace altogether to be captured by a man, and we've practiced so long dodging among the roots here that we can easily get away from them. Of course, now and again we are caught; but men are fools, and we always escape without having to pay the ransom at all. We wear green clothes because it's the colour of the grass and the leaves, and when we sit down under a bush or lie in the grass they just walk by without noticing us."

"Will you let me see your crock of gold?" said Seumas.

The Leprecaun looked at him fixedly for a moment.

"Do you like griddle bread and milk?" said he.

"I like it well," Seumas answered.

"Then you had better have some," and the Leprecaun took a piece of griddle bread from the shelf and filled two saucers with milk.

While the children were eating the Leprecauns asked them many questions--

"What time do you get up in the morning?"

"Seven o'clock," replied Seumas.

"And what do you have for breakfast?"

"Stirabout and milk," he replied.

"It's good food," said the Leprecaun. "What do you have for dinner?"

"Potatoes and milk," said Seumas.

"It's not bad at all," said the Leprecaun. "And what do you have for supper?"

Brigid answered this time because her brother's mouth was full.

"Bread and milk, sir," said she.

"There's nothing better," said the Leprecaun.

"And then we go to bed," continued Brigid.

"Why wouldn't you?" said the Leprecaun.

It was at this point the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath knocked on the tree trunk and demanded that the children should be returned to her.

When she had gone away the Leprecauns held a consultation, whereat it was decided that they could not afford to anger the Thin Woman and the Shee of Croghan Conghaile, so they shook hands with the children and bade them good-bye. The Leprecaun who had enticed them away from home brought them back again, and on parting he begged the children to visit Gort na Cloca Mora whenever they felt inclined.

"There's always a bit of griddle bread or potato cake, and a noggin of milk for a friend," said he.

"You are very kind, sir," replied Seumas, and his sister said the same words.

As the Leprecaun walked away they stood watching him.

"Do you remember," said Seumas, "the way he hopped and waggled his leg the last time he was here?"

"I do so," replied Brigid.

"Well, he isn't hopping or doing anything at all this time," said Seumas.

"He's not in good humour to-night," said Brigid, "but I like him."

"So do I," said Seumas.

When they went into the house the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath was very glad to see them, and she baked a cake with currants in it, and also gave them both stir-about and potatoes; but the Philosopher did not notice that they had been away at all. He said at last that "talking was bad wit, that women were always making a fuss, that children should be fed, but not fattened, and that bedswere meant to be slept in." The Thin Woman replied "that he was a grisly old man without bowels, that she did not know what she had married him for, that he was three times her age, and that no one would believe what she had to put up with."

 

CHAPTER IX

 

PURSUANT to his arrangement with Meehawl MacMurrachu, the Philosopher sent the children in search of Pan. He gave them the fullest instructions as to how they should address the Sylvan Deity, and then, having received the admonishments of the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath, the children departed in the early morning.

When they reached the clearing in the pine wood, through which the sun was blazing, they sat down for a little while to rest in the heat. Birds were continually darting down this leafy shaft, and diving away into the dark wood. These birds always had something in their beaks. One would have a worm, or a snail, or a grasshopper, or a little piece of wool torn off a sheep, or a scrap of cloth, or a piece of hay; and when they had put these things in a certain place they flew up the sun-shaft again and looked for something else to bring home. On seeing the children each of the birds waggled his wings, and made a particular sound. They said "caw" and "chip" and "twit" and "tut" and "what" and "pit"; and one, whom the youngsters liked very much, always said "tit-tit-tit-tit-tit." The children were fond of him because he was so all-of-a-sudden. They never knew where he was going to fly next, and they did not believe he knew himself. He would fly backwards and forwards, and up and down, and sideways and bawways--all, so to speak, in the one breath. He did this because he was curious to see what was happening everywhere, and, as something is always happening everywhere, he was never able to fly in a straight line for more than the littlest distance. He was a cowardly bird too, and continually fancied that some person was going to throw a stone at him from behind a bush, or a wall, or a tree, and these imaginary dangers tended to make his journeyings still more wayward and erratic. He never flew where he wanted to go himself, but only where God directed him, and so he did not fare at all badly.

The children knew each of the birds by their sounds, and always said these words to them when they came near. For a little time they had difficulty in saying the right word to the right bird, and sometimes said "chip" when the salutation should have been "tut." The birds always resented this, and would scold them angrily, but after a little practice they never made any mistakes at all. There was one bird, a big, black fellow, who loved to be talked to. He used to sit on the ground beside the children, and say "caw" as long as they would repeat it after him. He often wasted a whole morning in talk, but none of the other birds remained for more than a few minutes at a time. They were always busy in the morning, but in the evening they had more leisure, and would stay and chat as long as the children wanted them. The awkward thing was that in the evening all the birds wanted to talk at the same moment, so that the youngsters never knew which of them to answer. Seumas Beg got out of that difficulty for a while by learning to whistle their notes, but, even so, they spoke with such rapidity that he could not by any means keep pace with them. Brigid could only whistle one note; it was a little flat "whoo" sound, which the birds all laughed at, and after a few trials she refused to whistle any more.

While they were sitting two rabbits came to play about in the brush. They ran round and round in a circle, and all their movements were very quick and twisty. Sometimes they jumped over each other six or seven times in succession, and every now and then they sat upright on their hind legs, and washed their faces with their paws. At other times they picked up a blade of grass, which they ate with great deliberation, pretending all the time that it was a complicated banquet of cabbage leaves and lettuce.

While the children were playing with the rabbits an ancient, stalwart he-goat came prancing through the bracken. He was an old acquaintance of theirs, and he enjoyed lying beside them to have his forehead scratched with a piece of sharp stick. His forehead was hard as rock, and the hair grew there as sparse as grass does on a wall, or rather the way moss grows on a wall--it was a mat instead of a crop. His horns were long and very sharp, and brilliantly polished. On this day the he-goat had two chains around his neck--one was made of butter-cups and the other was made of daisies, and the children wondered to each other who it was could have woven these so carefully. They asked the he-goat this question, but he only looked at them and did not say a word. The children liked examining this goat's eyes; they were very big, and of the queerest light-gray colour. They had a strange steadfast look, and had also at times a look of queer, deep intelligence, and at other times they had a fatherly and benevolent expression, and at other times again, especially when he looked sidewards, they had a mischievous, light-and-airy, daring, mocking, inviting and terrifying look; but he always looked brave and unconcerned. When the he-goat's forehead had been scratched as much as he desired he arose from between the children and went pacing away lightly through the wood. The children ran after him and each caught hold of one of his horns, and he ambled and reared between them while they danced along on his either side singing snatches of bird songs, and scraps of old tunes which the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath had learned among the people of the Shee.

In a little time they came to Gort na Cloca Mora, but here the he-goat did not stop. They went past the big tree of the Leprecauns, through a broken part of the hedge and into another rough field. The sun was shining gloriously. There was scarcely a wind at all to stir the harsh grasses. Far and near was silence and warmth, an immense, cheerful peace. Across the sky a few light clouds sailed gently on a blue so vast that the eye failed before that horizon. A few bees sounded their deep chant, and now and again a wasp rasped hastily on his journey. Than these there was no sound of any kind. So peaceful, innocent and safe did everything appear that it might have been the childhood of the world as it was of the morning.

The children, still clinging to the friendly goat, came near the edge of the field, which here sloped more steeply to the mountain top. Great boulders, slightly covered with lichen and moss, were strewn about, and around them the bracken and gorse were growing, and in every crevice of these rocks there were plants whose little, tight-fisted roots gripped a desperate, adventurous habitation in a soil scarcely more than half an inch deep. At some time these rocks had been smitten so fiercely that the solid granite surfaces had shattered into fragments. At one place a sheer wall of stone, ragged and battered, looked harshly out from the thin vegetation. To this rocky wall the he-goat danced. At one place there was a hole in the wall covered by a thick brush. The goat pushed his way behind this growth and disappeared. Then the children, curious to see where he had gone, pushed through also. Behind the bush they found a high, narrow opening, and when they had rubbed their legs, which smarted from the stings of nettles, thistles and gorse prickles, they went into the hole which they thought was a place the goat had for sleeping in on cold, wet nights. After a few paces they found the passage was quite comfortably big, and then they saw a light, and in another moment they were blinking at the god Pan and Caitilin Ni Murrachu.

Caitilin knew them at once and came forward with welcome.

"O, Seumas Beg," she cried reproachfully, "how dirty you have let your feet get. Why don't you walk in the grassy places? And you, Brigid, have a right to be ashamed of yourself to have your hands the way they are. Come over here at once."

Every child knows that every grown female person in the world has authority to wash children and to give them food;that is what grown people were made for, consequently Seumas and Brigid Beg submitted to the scouring for which Caitilin made instant preparation. When they were cleaned she pointed to a couple of flat stones against the wall ofthe cave and bade them sit down and be good, and this the children did, fixing their eyes on Pan with the cheerful gravity and curiosity which good-natured youngsters always give to a stranger.

Pan, who had been lying on a couch of dried grass, sat up and bent an equally cheerful regard on the children.

"Shepherd Girl," said he, "who are those children?"

"They are the children of the Philosophers of Coilla Doraca; the Grey Woman of Dun Gortin and the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath are their mothers, and they are decent, poor children, God bless them."

"What have they come here for?"

"You will have to ask themselves that."

Pan looked at them smilingly.

"What have you come here for, little children?" said he.

The children questioned one another with their eyes to see which of them would reply, and then Seumas Beg answered:

"My father sent me to see you, sir, and to say that you were not doing a good thing in keeping Caitilin Ni Mur-rachu away from her own place."

Brigid Beg turned to Caitilin--"Your father came to see our father, and he said that he didn't know what had become of you at all, and that maybe you were lying flat in a ditch with the black crows picking at your flesh."

"And what," said Pan, "did your father say to that?"

"He told us to come and ask her to go home."

"Do you love your father, little child?" said Pan.

Brigid Beg thought for a moment. "I don't know, sir," she replied.

"He doesn't mind us at all," broke in Seumas Beg, "and so we don't know whether we love him or not."

"I like Caitilin," said Brigid, "and I like you."

"So do I," said Seumas.

"I like you also, little children," said Pan. "Come over here and sit beside me, and we will talk."

So the two children went over to Pan and sat down one each side of him, and he put his arms about them. "Daughter of Murrachu," said he, "is there no food in the house for guests?"

"There is a cake of bread, a little goat's milk and some cheese," she replied, and she set about getting these things.

"I never ate cheese," said Seumas. "Is it good?"

"Surely it is," replied Pan. "The cheese that is made from goat's milk is rather strong, and it is good to be eaten by people who live in the open air, but not by those who live in houses, for such people do not have any appetite. They are poor creatures whom I do not like."

"I like eating," said Seumas.

"So do I," said Pan. "All good people like eating. Every person who is hungry is a good person, and every person who is not hungry is a bad person. It is better to be hungry than rich."

Caitilin having supplied the children with food, seated herself in front of them. "I don't think that is right," said she. "I have always been hungry, and it was never good."

"If you had always been full you would like it even less," he replied, "because when you are hungry you are alive, and when you are not hungry you are only half alive."

"One has to be poor to be hungry," replied Caitilin. "My father is poor and gets no good of it but to work from morning to night and never to stop doing that."

"It is bad for a wise person to be poor," said Pan, "and it is bad for a fool to be rich. A rich fool will think of nothing else at first but to find a dark house wherein to hide away, and there he will satisfy his hunger, and he will continue to do that until his hunger is dead and he is no better than dead but a wise person who is rich will carefully preserve his appetite. All people who have been rich for a long time, or who are rich from birth, live a great deal outside of their houses, and so they are always hungry and healthy."

"Poor people have no time to be wise," said Caitilin.

"They have time to be hungry," said Pan. "I ask no more of them."

"My father is very wise," said Seumas Beg.

"How do you know that, little boy?" said Pan.

"Because he is always talking," replied Seumas. "Do you always listen, my dear?"

"No, sir," said Seumas; "I go to sleep when he talks."

"That is very clever of you," said Pan.

"I go to sleep too," said Brigid.

"It is clever of you also, my darling. Do you go to sleep when your mother talks?"

"Oh, no," she answered. "If we went to sleep then our mother would pinch us and say that we were a bad breed."

"I think your mother is wise," said Pan. "What do you like best in the world, Seumas Beg?"

The boy thought for a moment and replied: "I don't know, sir."

Pan also thought for a little time.

"I don't know what I like best either," said he. "What do you like best in the world, Shepherd Girl?"

Caitilin's eyes were fixed on his.

"I don't know yet," she answered slowly.

"May the gods keep you safe from that knowledge," said Pan gravely.

"Why would you say that?" she replied. "One must find out all things, and when we find out a thing we know if it is good or bad."

"That is the beginning of knowledge," said Pan, "but it is not the beginning of wisdom."

"What is the beginning of wisdom?"

"It is carelessness," replied Pan.

"And what is the end of wisdom?" said she.

"I do not know," he answered, after a little pause.

"Is it greater carelessness?" she enquired.

"I do not know, I do not know," said he sharply. "I am tired of talking," and, so saying, he turned his face away from them and lay down on the couch.

Caitilin in great concern hurried the children to the door of the cave and kissed them good-bye.

"Pan is sick," said the boy gravely.

"I hope he will be well soon again," the girl murmured.

"Yes, yes," said Caitilin, and she ran back quickly to her lord.