CHAPTER I

 

IN the centre of the pine wood called Coilla Doraca there lived not long ago two Philosophers. They were wiser than anything else in the world except the Salmon who lies in the pool of Glyn Cagny into which the nuts of knowledge fall from the hazel bush on its bank. He, of course, is the most profound of living creatures, but the two Philosophers are next to him in wisdom. Their faces looked as though they were made of parchment, there was ink under their nails, and every difficulty that was submitted to them, even by women, they were able to instantly resolve. The Grey Woman of Dun Gortin and the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath asked them the three questions which nobody had ever been able to answer, and they were able to answer them. That was how they obtained the enmity of these two women which is more valuable than the friendship of angels. The Grey Woman and the Thin Woman were so incensed at being answered that they married the two Philosophers in order to be able to pinch them in bed, but the skins of the Philosophers were so thick that they did not know they were being pinched. They repaid the fury of the women with such tender affection that these vicious creatures almost expired of chagrin, and once, in a very ecstacy of exasperation, after having been kissed by their husbands, they uttered the fourteen hundred maledictions which comprised their wisdom, and these were learned by the Philosophers who thus became even wiser than before.

In due process of time two children were born of these marriages. They were born on the same day and in the same hour, and they were only different in this, that one of them was a boy and the other one was a girl. Nobody was able to tell how this had happened, and, for the first time in their lives, the Philosophers were forced to admire an event which they had been unable to prognosticate; but having proved by many different methods that the children were really children, that what must be must be, that a fact cannot be controverted, and that what has happened once may happen twice, they described the occurrence as extraordinary but not unnatural, and submitted peacefully to a Providence even wiser than they were.

The Philosopher who had the boy was very pleased because, he said, there were too many women in the world, and the Philosopher who had the girl was very pleased also because, he said, you cannot have too much of a good thing: the Grey Woman and the Thin Woman, however, were not in the least softened by maternity--they said that they had not bargained for it, that the children were gotten under false presences, that they were respectable married women, and that, as a protest against their wrongs, they would not cook any more food for the Philosophers. This was pleasant news for their husbands, who disliked the women's cooking very much, but they did not say so, for the women would certainly have insisted on their rights to cook had they imagined their husbands disliked the results: therefore, the Philosophers besought their wives every day to cook one of their lovely dinners again, and this the women always refused to do.

They all lived together in a small house in the very centre of a dark pine wood. Into this place the sun never shone because the shade was too deep, and no wind ever came there either, because the boughs were too thick, so that it was the most solitary and quiet place in the world, and the Philosophers were able to hear each other thinking all day long, or making speeches to each other, and these were the pleasantest sounds they knew of. To them there were only two kinds of sounds anywhere--these were conversation and noise: they liked the first very much indeed, but they spoke of the second with stern disapproval, and, even when it was made by a bird, a breeze, or a shower of rain, they grew angry and demanded that it should be abolished. Their wives seldom spoke at all and yet they were never silent: they communicated with each other by a kind of physical telegraphy which they had learned among the Shee--they cracked their finger-joints quickly or slowly and so were able to communicate with each other over immense distances, for by dint of long practice they could make great explosive sounds which were nearly like thunder, and gentler sounds like the tapping of grey ashes on a hearthstone. The Thin Woman hated her own child, but she loved the Grey Woman's baby, and the Grey Woman loved the Thin Woman's infant but could not abide her own. A compromise may put an end to the most perplexing of situations, and, consequently, the two women swapped children, and at once became the most tender and amiable mothers imaginable, and the families were able to live together in a more perfect amity than could be found anywhere else.

The children grew in grace and comeliness. At first the little boy was short and fat and the little girl was long and thin, then the little girl became round and chubby while the little boy grew lanky and wiry. This was because the little girl used to sit very quiet and be good and the little boy used not.

They lived for many years in the deep seclusion of the pine wood wherein a perpetual twilight reigned, and here they were wont to play their childish games, flitting among the shadowy trees like little quick shadows. At times their mothers, the Grey Woman and the Thin Woman, played with them, but this was seldom, and sometimes their fathers, the two Philosophers, came out and looked at them through spectacles which were very round and very glassy, and had immense circles of horn all round the edges. They had, however, other playmates with whom they could romp all day long. There were hundreds of rabbits running about in the brushwood; they were full of fun and were very fond of playing with the children. There were squirrels who joined cheerfully in their games, and some goats, having one day strayed in from the big world, were made so welcome that they always came again whenever they got the chance. There were birds also, crows and blackbirds and willy-wagtails, who were well acquainted with the youngsters, and visited them as frequently as their busy lives permitted.

At a short distance from their home there was a clearing in the wood about ten feet square; through this clearing, as through a funnel, the sun for a few hours in the summer time blazed down. It was the boy who first discovered the strange radiant shaft in the wood. One day he had been sent out to collect pine cones for the fire. As these were gathered daily the supply immediately near the house was scanty, therefore he had, while searching for more, wandered further from his home than usual. The first sight of the extraordinary blaze astonished him. He had never seen anything like it before, and the steady, unwinking glare aroused his fear and curiosity equally. Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will; indeed, it has led many people into dangers which mere physical courage would shudder away from, for hunger and love and curiosity are the great impelling forces of life. When the little boy found that the light did not move he drew closer to it, and at last, emboldened by curiosity, he stepped right into it and found that it was not a thing at all. The instant that he stepped into the light he found it was hot, and this so frightened him that he jumped out of it again and ran behind a tree. Then he jumped into it for a moment and out of it again, and for nearly half an hour he played a splendid game of tip and tig with the sunlight. At last he grew quite bold and stood in it and found that it did not burn him at all, but he did not like to remain in it, fearing that he might be cooked. When he went home with the pine cones he said nothing to the Grey Woman of Dun Gortin or to the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath or to the two Philosophers, but he told the little girl all about it when they went to bed, and every day afterwards they used to go and play with the sunlight, and the rabbits and the squirrels would follow them there and join in their games with twice the interest they had shown before.

 

CHAPTER II

 

To the lonely house in the pine wood people sometimes came for advice on subjects too recondite for even those extremes of elucidation, the parish priest and the tavern. These people were always well received, and their perplexities were attended to instantly, for the Philosophers liked being wise and they were not ashamed to put their learning to the proof, nor were they, as so many wise people are, fearful lest they should become poor or less respected by giving away their knowledge. These were favourite maxims with them:

You must be fit to give before you can be fit to receive.

Knowledge becomes lumber in a week, therefore, get rid of it.

The box must be emptied before it can be refilled.

Refilling is progress.

A sword, a spade, and a thought should never be allowed to rust.

The Grey Woman and the Thin Woman, however, held opinions quite contrary to these, and their maxims also were different:

A secret is a weapon and a friend.

Man is God's secret, Power is man's secret, Sex is woman's secret.

By having much you are fitted to have more.

There is always room in the box.

The art of packing is the last lecture of wisdom.

The scalp of your enemy is progress.

Holding these opposed views it seemed likely that visitors seeking for advice from the Philosophers might be astonished and captured by their wives; but the women were true to their own doctrines and refused to part with information to any persons saving only those of high rank, such as policemen, gombeen men, and district and county councillors; but even to these they charged high prices for their information, and a bonus on any gains which accrued through the following of their advices. It is unnecessary to state that their following was small when compared with those who sought the assistance of their husbands, for scarcely a week passed but some person came through the pine wood with his brows in a tangle of perplexity.

In these people the children were deeply interested. They used to go apart afterwards and talk about them, and would try to remember what they looked like, how they talked, and their manner of walking or taking snuff. After a time they became interested in the problems which these people submitted to their parents and the replies or instructions wherewith the latter relieved them. Long training had made the children able to sit perfectly quiet, so that when the talk came to the interesting part they were entirely forgotten, and ideas which might otherwise have been spared their youth became the commonplaces of their conversation.

When the children were ten years of age one of the Philosophers died. He called the household together and announced that the time had come when he must bid them all good-bye, and that his intention was to die as quickly as might be. It was, he continued, an unfortunate thing that his health was at the moment more robust than it had been for a long time, but that, of course, was no obstacle to his resolution, for death did not depend upon ill-health but upon a multitude of other factors with the details whereof he would not trouble them.

His wife, the Grey Woman of Dun Gortin, ap-plauded this resolution and added as an amendment that it was high time he did something, that the life he had been leading was an arid and unprofitable one, that he had stolen her fourteen hundred maledictions for which he had no use and presented her with a child for which she had none, and that, all things concerned, the sooner he did die and stop talking the sooner everybody concerned would be made happy.

The other Philosopher replied mildly as he lit his pipe: "Brother, the greatest of all virtues is curiosity, and the end of all desire is wisdom; tell us, therefore, by what steps you have arrived at this commendable resolution."

To this the Philosopher replied: "I have attained to all the wisdom which I am fitted to bear. In the space of one week no new truth has come to me. All that I have read lately I knew before; all that I have thought has been but a recapitulation of old and wearisome ideas. There is no longer an horizon before my eves. Space has narrowed to the petty dimensions of my thumb. Time is the tick of a clock. Good and evil are two peas in the one pod. My wife's face is the same for ever. I want to play with the children, and yet I do not want to. Your conversation with me, brother, is like the droning of a bee in a dark cell. The pine trees take root and grow and die.--It's all bosh. Good-bye."

His friend replied:

"Brother, these are weighty reflections, and I do clearly perceive that the time has come for you to stop. I might observe, not in order to combat your views, but merely to continue an interesting conversation, that there are still some knowledges which you have not assimilated--you do not yet know how to play the tambourine, nor how to be nice to your wife, nor how to get up first in the morning and cook the breakfast. Have you learned how to smoke strong tobacco as I do? or can you dance in the moonlight with a woman of the Shee? To understand the theory which underlies all things is not sufficient. It has occurred to me, brother, that wisdom may not be the end of everything. Goodness and kindliness are, perhaps, beyond wisdom. Is it not possible that the ultimate end is gaiety and music and a dance of joy? Wisdom is the oldest of all things. Wisdom is all head and no heart. Behold, brother, you are being crushed under the weight of your head. You are dying of old age while you are yet a child."

"Brother," replied the other Philosopher, "your voice is like the droning of a bee in a dark cell. If in my latter days I am reduced to playing on the tambourine and running after a hag in the moonlight, and cooking your breakfast in the grey morning, then it is indeed time that I should die. Good-bye, brother."

So saying, the Philosopher arose and removed all the furniture to the sides of the room so that there was a clear space left in the centre. He then took off his boots and his coat, and standing on his toes he commenced to gyrate with extraordinary rapidity. In a few moments his movements became steady and swift, and a sound came from him like the humming of a swift saw; this sound grew deeper and deeper, and at last continuous, so that the room was filled with a thrilling noise. In a quarter of an hour the movement began to noticeably slacken. In another three minutes it was quite slow. In two more minutes he grew visible again as a body, and then he wobbled to and fro, and at last dropped in a heap on the floor. He was quite dead, and on his face was an expression of serene beatitude.

"God be with you, brother," said the remaining Philosopher, and he lit his pipe, focused his vision on the extreme tip of his nose, and began to meditate profoundly on the aphorism whether the good is the all or the all is the good. In another moment he would have become oblivious of the room, the company, and the corpse, but the Grey Woman of Dun Gortin shattered his meditation by a demand for advice as to what should next be done. The Philosopher, with an effort, detached his eyes from his nose and his mind from his maxim.

"Chaos," said he, "is the first condition. Order is the first law. Continuity is the first reflection. Quietude is the first happiness. Our brother is dead--bury him." So saying, he returned his eyes to his nose, and his mind to his maxim, and lapsed to a profound reflection wherein nothing sat perched on insubstantiality, and the Spirit of Artifice goggled at the puzzle.

The Grey Woman of Dun Gortin took a pinch of snuff from her box and raised the keen over her husband:

"You were my husband and you are dead.

It is wisdom that has killed you.

If you had listened to my wisdom instead of to your own you would still be a trouble to me and I would still be happy.

Women are stronger than men--they do not die of wisdom.

They are better than men because they do not seek wisdom.

They are wiser than men because they know less and understand more.

I had fourteen hundred maledictions, my little store, and by a trick you stole them and left me empty.

You stole my wisdom and it has broken your neck.

I lost my knowledge and I am yet alive raising the keen over your body, but it was too heavy for you, my little knowledge.

You will never go out into the pine wood in the morning, or wander abroad on a night of stars.

You will not sit in the chimney-corner on the hard nights, or go to bed, or rise again, or do anything at all from this day out.

Who will gather pine cones now when the fire is going down, or call my name in the empty house, or be angry when the kettle is not boiling?

Now I am desolate indeed. I have no knowledge, I have no husband, I have no more to say."

"If I had anything better you should have it," said she politely to the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath.

"Thank you," said the Thin Woman, "it was very nice. Shall I begin now? My husband is meditating and we may be able to annoy him."

"Don't trouble yourself," replied the other, "I am past enjoyment and am, moreover, a respectable woman."

"That is no more than the truth, indeed."

"I have always done the right thing at the right time."

"I'd be the last body in the world to deny that," was the warm response.

"Very well, then," said the Grey Woman, and she commenced to take off her boots. She stood in the centre of the room and balanced herself on her toe.

"You are a decent, respectable lady," said the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath, and then the Grey Woman began to gyrate rapidly and more rapidly until she was a very fervour of motion, and in three-quarters of an hour (for she was very tough) she began to slacken, grew visible, wobbled, and fell beside her dead husband, and on her face was a beatitude almost surpassing his.

The Thin Woman of Inis Magrath smacked the children and put them to bed, next she buried the two bodies under the hearthstone, and then, with some trouble, detached her husband from his meditations. When he became capable of ordinary occurrences she detailed all that had happened, and said that he alone was to blame for the sad bereavement. He replied:

"The toxin generates the anti-toxin. The end liesconcealed in the beginning. All bodies grow around a skeleton. Life is a petticoat about death. I will not go to bed."

 

CHAPTER III

 

ON the day following this melancholy occurrence Meehawl MacMurrachu, a small farmer in the neighbourhood, came through the pine trees with tangled brows. At the door of the little house he said, "God be with all here," and marched in.

The Philosopher removed his pipe from his lips--"God be with yourself," said he, and he replaced his pipe.

Meehawl MacMurrachu crooked his thumb at space--"Where is the other one?" said he.

"Ah!" said the Philosopher.

"He might be outside, maybe?"

"He might, indeed," said the Philosopher gravely.

"Well, it doesn't matter," said the visitor, "for you have enough knowledge by yourself to stock a shop. The reason I came here to-day was to ask your honoured advice about my wife's washing-board. She only has it a couple of years, and the last time she used it was when she washed out my Sunday shirt and her black skirt with the red things on it--you know the one?"

"I do not," said the Philosopher.

"Well, anyhow, the washboard is gone, and my wife says it was either taken by the fairies or by Bessie Hannigan--you know Bessie Hannigan? She has whiskers like a goat and a lame leg!"

"I do not," said the Philosopher.

"No matter," said Meehawl MacMurrachu. "She didn't take it, because my wife got her out yesterday and kept her talking for two hours while I went through everything in her bit of a house--the washboard wasn't there."

"It wouldn't be," said the Philosopher.

"Maybe your honour could tell a body where it is then?"

"Maybe I could," said the Philosopher; "are you listening?" "I am," said Meehawl MacMurrachu.

The Philosopher drew his chair closer to the visitor until their knees were jammed together. He laid both his hands on Meehawl MacMurrachu's knees.

"Washing is an extraordinary custom," said he. "We are washed both on coming into the world and on going out of it, and we take no pleasure from the first washing nor any profit from the last."

"True for you, sir," said Meehawl MacMurrachu.

"Many people consider that scourings supplementary to these are only due to habit. Now, habit is continuity of action, it is a most detestable thing and is very difficult to get away from. A proverb will run where a writ will not, and the follies of our forefathers are of greater importance to us than is the well-being of our posterity."

"I wouldn't say a word against that, sir," said Meehawl MacMurrachu.

"Cats are a philosophic and thoughtful race, but they do not admit the efficacy of either water or soap, and yet it is usually conceded that they are cleanly folk. There are exceptions to every rule, and I once knew a cat who lusted after water and bathed daily: he was an unnatural brute and died ultimately of the head staggers. Children are nearly as wise as cats. It is true that they will utilize water in a variety of ways, for instance, the destruction of a tablecloth or a pinafore, and I have observed them greasing a ladder with soap, showing in the process a great knowledge of the properties of this material."

"Why shouldn't they, to be sure?" said Meehawl MacMurrachu. "Have you got a match, sir?"

"I have not," said the Philosopher. "Sparrows, again, are a highly acute and reasonable folk. They use water to quench thirst, but when they are dirty they take a dust bath and are at once cleansed. Of course, birds are often seen in the water, but they go there to catch fish and not to wash. I have often fancied that fish are a dirty, sly, and unintelligent people--this is due to their staying so much in the water, and it has been observed that on being removed from this element they at once expire through sheer ecstasy at escaping from their prolonged washing."

"I have seen them doing it myself," said Meehawl. "Did you ever hear, sir, about the fish that Paudeen MacLoughlin caught in the policeman's hat."

"I did not," said the Philosopher. "The first person who washed was possibly a person seeking a cheap notoriety. Any fool can wash himself, but every wise man knows that it is an unnecessary labour,for nature will quickly reduce him to a natural and healthy dirtiness again. We should seek, therefore, not how to make ourselves clean, but how to attain a more unique and splendid dirtiness, and perhaps the accumulated layers of matter might, by ordinary geologic compulsion, become incorporated with the human cuticle and so render clothing unnecessary--"

"About that washboard," said Meehawl, "I was just going to say--"

"It doesn't matter," said the Philosopher. "In its proper place I admit the necessity for water. As a thing to sail a ship on it can scarcely be surpassed (not, you will understand, that I entirely approve of ships, they tend to create and perpetuate international curiosity and the smaller vermin of different latitudes). As an element wherewith to put out a fire, or brew tea, or make a slide in winter it is useful, but in a tin basin it has a repulsive and meagre aspect.--Now as to your wife's washboard--"

"Good luck to your honour," said Meehawl.

"Your wife says that either the fairies or a woman with a goat's leg has it."

"It's her whiskers," said Meehawl.

"They are lame," said the Philosopher sternly.

"Have it your own way, sir, I'm not certain now how the creature is afflicted."

"You say that this unhealthy woman has not got your wife's washboard. It remains, therefore, that the fairies have it."

"It looks that way," said Meehawl.

"There are six clans of fairies living in this neighbourhood; but the process of elimination, which has shaped the world to a globe, the ant to its environment, and man to the captaincy of the vertebrates, will not fail in this instance either."

"Did you ever see anything like the way wasps have increased this season?" said Meehawl; "faith, you can't sit down anywhere but your breeches--"

"I did not," said the Philosopher. "Did you leave out a pan of milk on last Tuesday?"

"I did then."

"Do you take off your hat when you meet a dust twirl?"

"I wouldn't neglect that," said Meehawl.

"Did you cut down a thorn bush recently?" "I'd sooner cut my eye out," said Meehawl, "and go about as wall-eyed as Lorcan O'Nualain's ass: I would that. Did you ever see his ass, sir? It--"

"I did not," said the Philosopher. "Did you kill a robin redbreast?"

"Never,'" said Meehawl. "By the pipers," he added, "that old skinny cat of mine caught a bird on the roof yesterday."

"Hah!'' cried the Philosopher, moving, if it were possible, even closer to his client, "now we have it. It is the Leprecauns of Gort na Cloca Mora took your washboard. Go to the Gort at once. There is a hole under a tree in the south-east of the field. Try what you will find in that hole."

"I'll do that," said Meehawl. "Did you ever -"

"I did not," said the Philosopher.

So Meehawl MacMurrachu went away and did as he had been bidden, and underneath the tree of Gort na Cloca Mora he found a little crock of gold.

"There's a power of washboards in that," said he.

By reason of this incident the fame of the Philosopher became even greater than it had been before, and also by reason of it many singular events were to happen with which you shall duly become acquainted.

 

CHAPTER IV

 

IT SO happened that the Leprecauns of Gort na Cloca Mora were not thankful to the Philosopher for having sent Meehawl MacMurrachu to their field. In stealing Meehawl's property they were quite within their rights because their bird had undoubtedly been slain by his cat. Not alone, therefore, was their righteous vengeance nullified, but the crock of gold which had taken their community many thousands of years to amass was stolen. A Leprecaun without a pot of gold is like a rose without perfume, a bird without a wing, or an inside without an outside. They considered that the Philosopher had treated them badly, that his action was mischievous and unneighbourly, and that until they were adequately compensated for their loss both of treasure and dignity, no conditions other than those of enmity could exist between their people and the little house in the pine wood. Furthermore, for them the situation was cruelly complicated. They were unable to organise a direct, personal hostility against their new enemy, because the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath would certainly protect her husband. She belonged to the Shee of Croghan Conghaile, who had relatives in every fairy fort in Ireland, and were also strongly represented in the forts and duns of their immediate neighbours. They could, of course, have called an extraordinary meeting of the Sheogs, Leprecauns, and Cluricauns, and presented their case with a claim for damages against the Shee of Croghan Conghaile, but that Clann would assuredly repudiate any liability on the ground that no member of their fraternity was responsible for the outrage, as it was the Philosopher, and not the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath, who had done the deed. Notwithstanding this they were unwilling to let the matter rest, and the fact that justice was out of reach only added fury to their anger.

One of their number was sent to interview the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath, and the others concentrated nightly about the dwelling of Meehawl MacMurrachu in an endeavour to recapture the treasure which they were quite satisfied was hopeless. They found that Meehawl, who understood the customs of the Earth Folk very well, had buried the crock of gold beneath a thorn bush, thereby placing it under the protection of every fairy in the world--the Leprecauns themselves included, and until it was removed from this place by human hands they were bound to respect its hiding-place, and even guarantee its safety with their blood.

They afflicted Meehawl with an extraordinary attack of rheumatism and his wife with an equally virulent sciatica, but they got no lasting pleasure from their groans.

The Leprecaun, who had been detailed to visit the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath, duly arrived at the cottage in the pine wood and made his complaint. The little man wept as he told the story, and the two children wept out of sympathy for him. The Thin Woman said she was desperately grieved by the whole unpleasant transaction, and that all her sympathies were with Gort na Cloca Mora, but that she must disassociate herself from any responsibility in the matter as it was her husband who was the culpable person, and that she had no control over his mental processes, which, she concluded, was one of the seven curious things in the world.

As her husband was away in a distant part of the wood nothing further could be done at that time, so the Leprecaun returned again to his fellows without any good news, but he promised to come back early on the following day. When the Philosopher come home late that night the Thin Woman was waiting up for him.

"Woman," said the Philosopher, "you ought to be in bed."

"Ought I indeed?" said the Thin Woman. "I'd have you know that I'll go to bed when I like and get up when I like without asking your or any one else's permission."

"That is not true," said the Philosopher. "You get sleepy whether you like it or not, and you awaken again without your permission being asked. Like many other customs such as singing, dancing, music, and acting, sleep has crept into popular favour as part of a religious ceremonial. Nowhere can one go to sleep more easily than in a church."

"Do you know," said the Thin Woman, "that a Leprecaun came here to-day?"

"I do not," said the Philosopher, "and notwithstanding the innumerable centuries which have elapsed since that first sleeper (probably with extreme difficulty) sank into his religious trance, we can to-day sleep through a religious ceremony with an ease which would have been a source of wealth and fame to that prehistoric worshipper and his acolytes."

"Are you going to listen to what I am telling you about the Leprecaun?" said the Thin Woman.

"I am not," said the Philosopher. "It has been suggested that we go to sleep at night because it is then too dark to do anything else; but owls, who are a venerably sagacious folk, do not sleep in the night time. Bats, also, are a very clear-minded race; they sleep in the broadest day, and they do it in a charming manner. They clutch the branch of a tree with their toes and hang head downwards--a position which I consider singularly happy, for the rush of blood to the head consequent on this inverted position should engender a drowsiness and a certain imbecility of mind which must either sleep or explode."

"Will you never be done talking?" shouted the Thin Woman passionately. "I will not," said the Philosopher. "In certain ways sleep is useful. It is an excellent way of listening to an opera or seeing pictures on a bioscope. As a medium for day-dreams I know of nothing that can equal it. As an accomplishment it is graceful, but as a means of spending a night it is intolerably ridiculous. If you were going to say anything, my love, please say it now, but you should always remember to think before you speak. A woman should be seen seldom but never heard. Quietness is the beginning of virtue. To be silent is to be beautiful. Stars do not make a noise. Children should always be in bed. These are serious truths, which cannot be controverted; therefore, silence is fitting as regards them."

"Your stirabout is on the hob," said the Thin Woman. "You can get it for yourself. I would not move the breadth of my nail if you were dying of hunger. I hope there's lumps in it. A Leprecaun from Gort na Cloca Mora was here to-day. They'll give it to you for robbing their pot of gold. You old thief, you! you lob-eared, crock-kneed fat-eye!"

The Thin Woman whizzed suddenly from where she stood and leaped into bed. From beneath the blanket she turned a vivid, furious eye on her husband. She was trying to give him rheumatism and toothache and lock-jaw all at once. If she had been satisfied to concentrate her attention on one only of these torments she might have succeeded in afflicting her husband according to her wish, but she was not able to do that.

"Finality is death. Perfection is finality. Nothing is perfect. There are lumps in it," said the Philosopher.

 

CHAPTER V

 

WHEN the Leprecaun came through the pine wood on the following day he met two children at a little distance from the house. He raised his open right hand above his head (this is both the fairy and the Gaelic form of salutation), and would have passed on but that a thought brought him to a halt. Sitting down before the two children he stared at them for a long time, and they stared back at him. At last he said to the boy:

"What is your name, a vic vig O?"

"Seumas Beg, sir," the boy replied.

"It's a little name," said the Leprecaun.

"It's what my mother calls me, sir," returned the boy.

"What does your father call you," was the next question.

"Seumas Eoghan Maelduin O'Carbhail Mac an Droid."

"It's a big name," said the Leprecaun, and he turned to the little girl. "What is your name, a cailin vig O?"

"Brigid Beg, sir."

"And what does your father call you?"

"He never calls me at all, sir."

"Well, Seumaseen and Breedeen, you are good little children, and I like you very much. Health be with you until I come to see you again."

And then the Leprecaun went back the way he had come. As he went he made little jumps and cracked his fingers, and sometimes he rubbed one leg against the other.

"That's a nice Leprecaun," said Seumas.

"I like him too," said Brigid.

"Listen," said Seumas, "let me be the Leprecaun, and you be the two children, and I will ask you our names."

So they did that.

The next day the Leprecaun came again. He sat down beside the children and, as before, he was silent for a little time.

"Are you not going to ask us our names, sir?" said Seumas.

His sister smoothed out her dress shyly. "My name, sir, is Brigid Beg," said she.

"Did you ever play Jackstones?" said the Leprecaun.

"No, sir," replied Seumas.

"I'll teach you how to play Jackstones," said the Leprecaun, and he picked up some pine cones and taught the children that game.

"Did you ever play Ball in the Decker?"

"No, sir," said Seumas.

"Did you ever play 'I can make a nail with my ree-ro-raddy-O, I can make a nail with my ree-ro-ray'?"

"No, sir," replied Seumas.

"It's a nice game," said the Leprecaun, "and so is Cap-on-the-back, and Twenty-four yards on the Billy-goat's Tail, and Towns, and Relievo, and Leap-frog. I'll teach you all these games," said the Leprecaun, "and I'll teach you how to play Knifey, and Hole-and-taw, and Horneys and Robbers.

"Leap-frog is the best one to start with, so I'll teach it to you at once. Let you bend down like this, Breedeen, and you bend down like that a good distance away, Seumas. Now I jump over Breedeen's back, and then I run and jump over Seumaseen's back like this, and then I run ahead again and I bend down. Now, Breedeen, you jump over your brother, and then you jump over me, and run a good bit on and bend down again. Now, Seumas, it's your turn; you jump over me and then over your sister, and then you run on and bend down again and I jump."

"This is a fine game, sir," said Seumas.

"It is, a vic vig,--keep in your head," said the Leprecaun. "That's a good jump, you couldn't beat that jump, Seumas."

"I can jump better than Brigid already," replied Seumas, "and I'll jump as well as you do when I get more practice--keep in your head, sir."

Almost without noticing it they had passed through the edge of the wood, and were playing into a rough field which was cumbered with big, grey rocks. It was the very last field in sight, and behind it the rough, heather-packed mountain sloped distantly away to the skyline. There was a raggedy blackberry hedge all round the field, and there were long, tough, haggard-looking plants growing in clumps here and there. Near a corner of this field there was a broad, low tree, and as they played they came near and nearer to it. The Leprecaun gave a back very close to the tree. Seumas ran and jumped and slid down a hole at the side of the tree. Then Brigid ran and jumped and slid down the same hole.

"Dear me!" said Brigid, and she flashed out of sight.

The Leprecaun cracked his fingers and rubbed one leg against the other, and then he also dived into the hole and disappeared from view.

When the time at which the children usually went home had passed, the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath became a little anxious. She had never known them to be late for dinner before. There was one of the children whom she hated; it was her own child, but as she had forgotten which of them was hers, and as she loved one of them, she was compelled to love both for fear of making a mistake and chastising the child for whom her heart secretly yearned. Therefore, she was equally concerned about both of them.

Dmner time passed and supper time arrived, but the children did not. Again and again the Thin Woman went out through the dark pine trees and called until she was so hoarse that she could not even hear herself when she roared. The evening wore on to the night, and while she waited for the Philosopher to come in she reviewed the situation. Her husband had not come in, the children had not come in, the Leprecaun had not returned as arranged .... A light flashed upon her. The Leprecaun nad kidnapped her children! She announced a vengeance against the Leprecauns which would stagger humanity. While in the extreme centre of her ecstasy the Philosopher came through the trees and entered the house.

The Thin Woman flew to him--"Husband," said she, "the Leprecauns of Gort na Cloca Mora have kidnapped our children."

The Philosopher gazed at her for a moment.

"Kidnapping," said he, "has been for many centuries a favourite occupation of fairies, gypsies, and the brigands of the East. The usual procedure is to attach a person and hold it to ransom. If the ransom is not paid an ear or a finger may be cut from the captive and despatched to those interested, with the statement that an arm or a leg will follow in a week unless suitable arrangements are entered into."

"Do you understand," said the Thin Woman passionately, "that it is your own children who have been kidnapped?"

"I do not," said the Philosopher. "This course, however, is rarely followed by the fairy people: they do not ordinarily steal for ransom, but for love of thieving, or from some other obscure and possibly functional causes, and the victim is retained in their forts or duns until by the effluxion of time they forget their origin and become peaceable citizens of the fairy state. Kidnapping is not by any means confined to either humanity or the fairy people."

"Monster," said the Thin Woman in a deep voice, "will you listen to me?"

"I will not," said the Philosopher. "Many of the insectivora also practice this custom. Ants, for example, are a respectable race living in well-ordered communities. They have attained to a most complex and artificial civilization, and will frequently adventure far afield on colonising or other expeditions from whence they return with a rich booty of aphides and other stock, who thence-forward become the servants and domestic creatures of the republic. As they neither kill nor eat their captives, this practice will be termed kidnapping. The same may be said of bees, a hardy and industrious race living in hexagonal cells which are very difficult to make. Sometimes, on lacking a queen of their own, they have been observed to abduct one from a less powerful neighbour, and use her for their own purposes without shame, mercy, or remorse."

"Will you not understand?" screamed the Thin Woman.

"I will not," said the Philosopher. "Semi-tropical apes have been rumoured to kidnap children, and are reported to use them very tenderly indeed, sharing their coconuts, yams, plantains, and other equatorial provender with the largest generosity, and conveying their delicate captives from tree to tree (often at great distances from each other and from the ground) with the most guarded solicitude and benevolence."

"I am going to bed," said the Thin Woman, "your stirabout is on the hob."

"Are there lumps in it, my dear?" said the Philosopher.

"I hope there are," replied the Thin Woman, and she leaped into bed.

That night the Philosopher was afflicted with the most extraordinary attack of rheumatism he had ever known, nor did he get any ease until the grey morning wearied his lady into a reluctant slumber.

 

CHAPTER VI

 

THE Thin Woman of Inis Magrath slept very late that morning, but when she did awaken her impatience was so urgent that she could scarcely delay to eat her breakfast. Immediately after she had eaten she put on her bonnet and shawl and went through the pine wood in the direction of Gort na Cloca Mora. In a short time she reached the rocky field, and, walking over to the tree in the south-east corner, she picked up a small stone and hammered loudly against the trunk of the tree. She hammered in a peculiar fashion, giving two knocks and then three knocks, and then one knock. A voice came up from the hole.

"Who is that, please?" said the voice.

"Ban na Droid of Inis Magrath, and well you know it," was her reply.

"I am coming up, Noble Woman," said the voice, and in another moment the Leprecaun leaped out of the hole.

"Where are Seumas and Brigid Beg?" said the Thin Woman sternly.

"How would I know where they are?" replied the Leprecaun. "Wouldn't they be at home now?"

"If they were at home I wouldn't have come here looking for them," was her reply. "It is my belief that you have them."

"Search me," said the Leprecaun, opening his waist-coat.

"They are down there in your little house," said the Thin Woman angrily, "and the sooner you let them up the better it will be for yourself and your five brothers."

"Noble Woman," said the Leprecaun, "you can go down yourself into our little house and look. I can't say fairer than that."

"I wouldn't fit down there," said she. "I'm too big."

"You know the way for making yourself little," replied the Leprecaun.

"But I mightn't be able to make myself big again," said the Thin Woman, "and then you and your dirty brothers would have it all your own way. If you don't let the children up," she continued, "I'll raise the Shee of Croghan Conghaile against you. You know what happened to the Cluricauns of Oilean na Glas when they stole the Queen's baby--It will be a worse thing than that for you. If the children are not back in my house before moonrise this night, I'll go round to my people. Just tell that to your five ugly brothers. Health with you," she added, and strode away.

"Health with yourself, Noble Woman," said the Leprecaun, and he stood on one leg until she was out of sight and then he slid down into the hole again.

When the Thin Woman was going back through the pine wood she saw Meehawl MacMurrachu travelling in the same direction and his brows were in a tangle of perplexity.

"God be with you, Meehawl MacMurrachu," said she.

"God and Mary be with you, ma'am," he replied, "I am in great trouble this day."

"Why wouldn't you be?" said the Thin Woman.

"I came up to have a talk with your husband about a particular thing."

"If it's talk you want you have come to a good house, Meehawl."

"He's a powerful man right enough," said Meehawl.

After a few minutes the Thin Woman spoke again. "I can get the reek of his pipe from here. Let you go right in to him now and I'll stay outside for a while, for the sound of your two voices would give me a pain in my head."

"Whatever will please you will please me, ma'am," said her companion, and he went into the little house.

Meehawl MacMurrachu had good reason to be perplexed. He was the father of one child only, and she was the most beautiful girl in the whole world. The pity of it was that no one at all knew she was beautiful, and she did not even know it herself. At times when she bathed in the eddy of a mountain stream and saw her reflection looking up from the placid water she thought that she looked very nice, and then a great sadness would come upon her, for what is the use of looking nice if there is nobody to see one's beauty? Beauty, also, is usefulness. The arts as well as the crafts, the graces equally with the utilities must stand up in the marketplace and be judged by the gombeen men.

The only house near to her father's was that occupied by Bessie Hannigan. The other few houses were scattered widely with long, quiet miles of hill and bog between them, so that she had hardly seen more than a couple of men beside her father since she was born. She helped her father and mother in all the small businesses of their house, and every day also she drove their three cows and two goats to pasture on the mountain slopes. Here through the sunny days the years had passed in a slow, warm thoughtlessness wherein, without thinking, many thoughts had entered into her mind and many pictures hung for a moment like birds in the thin air. At first, and for a long time, she had been happy enough; there were many things in which a child might be interested: the spacious heavens which never wore the same beauty on any day; the innumerable little creatures living among the grasses or in the heather; the steep swing of a bird down from the mountain to the infinite plains below; the little flowers which were so contented each in its peaceful place; the bees gathering food for their houses, and the stout beetles who are always losing their way in the dusk. These things, and many others, interested her. The three cows after they had grazed for a long time would come and lie by her side and look at her as they chewed their cud, and the goats would prance from the bracken to push their heads against her breast because they loved her.

Indeed, everything in her quiet world loved this girl: but very slowly there was growing in her consciousness an unrest, a disquietude to which she had hitherto been a stranger. Sometimes an infinite weariness oppressed her to the earth. A thought was born in her mind and it had no name. It was growing and could not be expressed. She had no words wherewith to meet it, to exorcise or greet this stranger who, more and more insistently and pleadingly, tapped upon her doors and begged to be spoken to, admitted and caressed and nourished. A thought is a real thing and words are only its raiment, but a thought is as shy as a virgin; unless it is fittingly apparelled we may not look on its shadowy nakedness: it will fly from us and only return again in the darkness crying in a thin, childish voice which we may not comprehend until, with aching minds, listening and divining, we at last fashion for it those symbols which are its protection and its banner. So she could not understand the touch that came to her from afar and yet how intimately, the whisper so aloof and yet so thrillingly personal. The standard of either language or experience was not hers; she could listen but not think, she could feel but not know, her eyes looked forward and did not see, her hands groped in the sunlight and felt nothing. It was like the edge of a little wind which stirred her tresses but could not lift them, or the first white peep of the dawn which is neither light nor darkness. But she listened, not with her ears but with her blood. The fingers of her soul stretched out to clasp a stranger's hand, and her disquietude was quickened through with an eagerness which was neither physical nor mental, for neither her body nor her mind was definitely interested. Some dim region between these grew alarmed and watched and waited and did not sleep or grow weary at all.

One morning she lay among the long, warm grasses. She watched a bird who soared and sang for a little time, and then it sped swiftly away down the steep air and out of sight in the blue distance. Even when it was gone the song seemed to ring in her ears. It seemed to linger with her as a faint, sweet echo, coming fitfully, with little pauses as though a wind disturbed it, and careless, distant eddies. After a few moments she knew it was not a bird. No bird's song had that consecutive melody, for their themes are as careless as their wings. She sat up and looked about her, but there was nothing in sight: the mountains sloped gently above her and away to the clear sky; around her the scattered clumps of heather were drowsing in the sunlight; far below she could see her father's house, a little grey patch near some trees--and then the music stopped and left her wondering.

She could not find her goats anywhere although for a long time she searched. They came to her at last of their own accord from behind a fold in the hills, and they were more wildly excited than she had ever seen them before. Even the cows forsook their solemnity and broke into awkward gambols around her. As she walked home that evening a strange elation taught her feet to dance. Hither and thither she flitted in front of the beasts and behind them. Her feet tripped to a way-ward measure. There was a tune in her ears and she danced to it, throwing her arms out and above her head and swaying and bending as she went. The full freedom of her body was hers now: the lightness and poise and certainty of her limbs delighted her, and the strength that did not tire delighted her also. The evening was full of peace and quietude, the mellow, dusky sunlight made a path for her feet, and everywhere through the wide fields birds were flashing and singing, and she sang with them a song that had no words and wanted none.

The following day she heard the music again, faint and thin, wonderfully sweet and as wild as the song of a bird, but it was a melody which no bird would adhere to. A theme was repeated again and again. In the middle of trills, grace-notes, runs and catches it recurred with a strange, almost holy, solemnity,--a hushing, slender melody full of austerity and aloofness. There was something in it to set her heart beating. She yearned to it with her ears and her lips. Was it joy, menace, carelessness? She did not know, but this she did know, that however terrible it was personal to her. It was her unborn thought strangely audible and felt rather than understood.

On that day she did not see anybody either. She drove her charges home in the evening listlessly and the beasts also were very quiet.

When the music came again she made no effort to discover where it came from. She only listened, and when the tune was ended she saw a figure rise from the fold of a little hill. The sunlight was gleaming from his arms and shoulders but the rest of his body was hidden by the bracken, and he did not look at her as he went away playing softly on a double pipe.

The next day he did look at her. He stood waist-deep in greenery fronting her squarely. She had never seen so strange a face before. Her eyes almost died on him as she gazed and he returned her look for a long minute with an intent, expressionless regard. His hair was a cluster of brown curls, his nose was little and straight, and his wide mouth drooped sadly at the corners. His eyes were wide and most mournful, and his forehead was very broad and white. His sad eyes and mouth almost made her weep.

When he turned away he smiled at her, and it was as though the sun had shone suddenly in a dark place, banishing all sadness and gloom. Then he went mincingly away. As he went he lifted the slender double reed to his lips and blew a few careless notes.

The next day he fronted her as before, looking down to her eyes from a short distance. He played for only a few moments, and fitfully, and then he came to her. When he left the bracken the girl suddenly clapped her hands against her eyes affrighted. There was something different, terrible about him. The upper part of his body was beautiful, but the lower part .... She dared not look at him again. She would have risen and fled away but she feared he might pursue her, and the thought of such a chase and the inevitable capture froze her blood. The thought of anything behind us is always terrible. The sound of pursuing feet is worse than the murder from which we fly--So she sat still and waited but nothing happened. At last, desperately, she dropped her hands. He was sitting on the ground a few paces from her. He was not looking at her but far away sidewards across the spreading hill. His legs were crossed; they were shaggy and hoofed like the legs of a goat: but she would not look at these because of his wonderful, sad, grotesque face. Gaiety is good to look upon and an innocent face is delightful to our souls, but no woman can resist sadness or weakness, and ugliness she dare not resist. Her nature leaps to be the comforter. It is her reason. It exalts her to an ecstasy wherein nothing but the sacrifice of herself has any proportion. Men are not fathers by instinct but by chance, but women are mothers beyond thought, beyond instinct which is the father of thought. Motherliness, pity, self-sacrifice--these are the charges of her primal cell, and not even the discovery that men are comedians, liars, and egotists will wean her from this. As she looked at the pathos of his face she repudiated the hideousness of his body. The beast which is in all men is glossed by women; it is his childishness, the destructive energy inseparable from youth and high spirits, and it is always forgiven by women, often forgotten, sometimes, and not rarely, cherished and fostered.

After a few moments of this silence he placed the reed to his lips and played a plaintive little air, and then he spoke to her in a strange voice, coming like a wind from distant places.

"What is your name, Shepherd Girl?" said he.

"Caitilin, Ingin Ni Murrachu," she whispered.

"Daughter of Murrachu," said he, "I have come from a far place where there are high hills. The men and maidens who follow their flocks in that place know me and love me for I am the Master of the Shepherds. They sing and dance and are glad when I come to them in the sunlight; but in this country no people have done any reverence to me. The shepherds fly away when they hear my pipes in the pastures; the maidens scream in fear when I dance to them in the meadows. I am very lonely in this strange country. You also, although you danced to the music of my pipes, have covered your face against me and made no reverence."

"I will do whatever you say if it is right," said she.

"You must not do anything because it is right, but because it is your wish. Right is a word and Wrong is a word, but the sun shines in the morning and the dew falls in the dusk without thinking of these words which have no meaning. The bee flies to the flower and the seed goes abroad and is happy. Is that right, Shepherd Girl?--it is wrong also. I come to you because the bee goes to the flower--it is wrong! If I did not come to you to whom would I go? There is no right and no wrong but only the will of the gods."

"I am afraid of you," said the girl.

"You fear me because my legs are shaggy like the legs of a goat. Look at them well, O Maiden, and know that they are indeed the legs of a beast and then you will not be afraid any more. Do you not love beasts? Surely you should love them for they yearn to you humbly or fiercely, craving your hand upon their heads as I do. If I were not fashioned thus I would not come to you because I would not need you. Man is a god and a brute. He aspires to the stars with his head but his feet are contented in the grasses of the field, and when he forsakes the brute upon which he stands then there will be no more men and no more women and the immortal gods will blow this world away like smoke."

"I don't know what you want me to do," said the girl.

"I want you to want me. I want you to forget right and wrong; to be as happy as the beasts, as careless as the flowers and the birds. To live to the depths of your nature as well as to the heights. Truly there are stars in the heights and they will be a garland for your forehead. But the depths are equal to the heights. Wondrous deep are the depths, very fertile is the lowest deep. There are stars there also, brighter than the stars on high. The name of the heights is Wisdom and the name of the depths is Love. How shall they come together and be fruitful if you do not plunge deeply and fearlessly? Wisdom is the spirit and the wings of the spirit, Love is the shaggy beast that goes down. Gallantly he dives, below thought, beyond Wisdom, to rise again as high above these as he had first descended. Wisdom is righteous and clean, but Love is unclean and holy. I sing of the beast and the descent: the great unclean purging itself in fire: the thought that is not born in the measure or the ice or the head, but in the feet and the hot blood and the pulse of fury. The Crown of Life is not lodged in the sun: the wise gods have buried it deeply where the thoughtful will not find it, nor the good: but the Gay Ones, the Adventurous Ones, the Careless Plungers, they will bring it to the wise and astonish them. All things are seen in the light--How shall we value that which is easy to see? But the precious things which are hidden, they will be more precious for our search: they will be beautiful with our sorrow: they will be noble because of our desire for them. Come away with me, Shepherd Girl, through the fields, and we will be careless and happy, and we will leave thought to find us when it can, for that is the duty of thought, and it is more anxious to discover us than we are to be found."

So Caitilin Ni Murrachu arose and went with him through the fields, and she did not go with him because of love, nor because his words had been understood by her, but only because he was naked and unashamed.