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 womens 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 Womans baby, and the Grey Woman loved the
Thin Womans 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
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
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
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 Gods secret, Power is mans secret, Sex
is womans 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
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
His wife, the Grey Woman of Dun Gortin, applauded 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 wifes 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.—Its 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
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
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
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.
Dont 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.
Id 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 lies concealed
in the beginning. All bodies grow around a skeleton. Life is a petticoat
about death. I will not go to bed.
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 doesnt 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 wifes 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
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
didnt 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 wasnt there.
It wouldnt be, said the Philosopher.
Maybe your honour could tell a body where it is then?
Maybe I could, said the Philosopher; are
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
MacMurrachus 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 wouldnt 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 shouldnt 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 policemans 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 doesnt 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
Good luck to your honour, said Meehawl.
Your wife says that either the fairies or a woman with
a goats leg has it.
Its her whiskers, said Meehawl.
They are lame, said the Philosopher sternly.
Have it your own way, sir, Im not certain now
how the creature is afflicted.
You say that this unhealthy woman has not got your wifes
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 cant 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 wouldnt neglect that, said Meehawl.
Did you cut down a thorn bush recently?
Id sooner cut my eye out, said Meehawl,
and go about as wall-eyed as Lorcan ONualains
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
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.
Ill do that, said Meehawl. Did you
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.
Theres a power of washboards in that, said
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
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 Meehawls 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. Id
have you know that Ill go to bed when I like and get up when
I like without asking your or any one elses 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
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 theres lumps
in it. A Leprecaun from Gort na Cloca Mora was here to-day. Theyll
give it to you for robbing their pot of gold. You old thief, you!
you lobeared, 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 lockjaw 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.
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.
Its a little name, said the Leprecaun.
Its what my mother calls me, sir, returned
What does your father call you, was the next question.
Seumas Roghan Maelduin OCarbhail Mac an Droid.
Its a big name, said the Leprecaun, and
he turned to the little girl. What is your name, a cailin
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
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.
Thats 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
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.
Ill teach you how to play Jackstones, said
the Leprecaun, and he picked up some pine cones and taught the children
Did you ever play Ball in the Decker?
No, sir, said Seumas.
Did you ever play ‘I can make a nail with my ree-roraddy-O,
I can make a nail with my ree-ro-ray?
No, sir, replied Seumas.
Its a nice game, said the Leprecaun, and
so is Capon-the-back, and Twenty-four yards on the Billy-goats
Tail, and Towns, and Relievo, and Leap-frog. Ill teach you
all these games, said the Leprecaun, and Ill teach
you how to play Knifey, and Hole-and-taw, and Horneys and Robbers.
Leap-frog is the best one to start with, so Ill
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 Breedeens back, and then I run and jump over Seumaseens
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, its
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. Thats a good jump, you couldnt
beat that jump, Seumas.
I can jump better than Brigid already, replied
Seumas, and Ill 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
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.
Dinner 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 had 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 thenceforward 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.
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 southeast
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
How would I know where they are? replied the Leprecaun.
Wouldnt they be at home now?
If they were at home I wouldnt have come here
looking for them, was her reply. It is my belief that
you have them.
Search me, said the Leprecaun, opening his waistcoat.
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 cant say
fairer than that.
I wouldnt fit down there, said she. Im
You know the way for making yourself little, replied
But I mightnt 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 dont let the children
up, she continued, Ill raise the Shee of Croghan
Conghaile against you. You know what happened to the Cluricauns
of Oilean na Glas when they stole the Queens baby—It
will be a worse thing than that for you. If the children are not
back in my house before moonrise this night, Ill 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, maam, he replied,
I am in great trouble this day.
Why wouldnt you be? said the Thin Woman.
I came up to have a talk with your husband about a particular
If its talk you want you have come to a good house,
Hes 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 Ill 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, maam,
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 ones 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 fathers 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 strangers 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 birds
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 fathers 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 wayward 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
On that day she did not see anybody either. She drove her
charges home in the evening listlessly and the beasts also were
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
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 dont know what you want me to do, said
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
IT was on account of his daughter that Meehawl MacMurrachu 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
I am in great trouble this day, sir, said Meehawl,
and if you would give me an advice Id be greatly beholden
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 didnt come here to thank you before this it was not because
I didnt want to come, but that I couldnt 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 youd 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 havent
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
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 Meehawl.
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.
Its 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 mans 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
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 doesnt 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 dont 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,
Its 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 youd be blowing out of a tin whistle.
I looked about for him everywhere, but not a bit of him could I
Eh? said the Philosopher.
I looked about— said Meehawl.
I know, said the Philosopher. Did you happen
to look at your goats?
I couldnt well help doing that, said Meehawl.
What were they doing? said the Philosopher eagerly.
They were bucking 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—
Its my little daughter, Caitilin, sir, said
Im 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
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 couldnt 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 shes 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 hes anywhere at all its at Gort na Cloca Mora he
is, for, being a stranger, he wouldnt know where to go unless
he was directed, and they know every hole and corner of this countryside
since ancient times. Id go up myself and have a talk with
him, but it wouldnt be a bit of good, and it wouldnt
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 wouldnt
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. Ill send my two children with
a message to him to say that he isnt doing the decent thing,
and that if he doesnt let the girl alone and go back to his
own country well send for Angus Og.
Hed make short work of him, Im thinking.
He might surely; but he may take the girl for himself
all the same.
Well, Id sooner he had her than the other one,
for hes one of ourselves anyhow, and the devil you know is
better than the devil you dont know.
Angus Og is a god, said the Philosopher severely.
I know that, sir, replied Meehawl; its
only a way of talking I have. But how will your honour get at Angus?
for I heard say that he hadnt been seen for a hundred years,
except one night only when he talked to a man for half an hour on
Ill find him, sure enough, replied the Philosopher.
Ill 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.
Theres not much fun in being dead, sir,
How do you know? said the Philosopher.
I know well enough, replied Meehawl.
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 childrens eyes, so that they could not see anything for
a few minutes, but after a little time their eyes became accustomed
to the semiobscurity 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
widefaced, 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?
No, sir, said Brigid.
Well, Ill 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
Ill measure you for a pair of shoes. Put your foot up on that
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. Theyll be ready for you in the morning.
Do you never do anything else but make shoes, sir?
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 peoples 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 hes captured by men folk he may be able to ransom
himself. But that seldom happens, because its a great disgrace
altogether to be captured by a man, and weve 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 its 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
While the children were eating the Leprecauns asked them many
questions What time do you get up in the morning?
Seven oclock, replied Seumas.
And what do you have for breakfast?
Stirabout and milk, he replied.
Its good food, said the Leprecaun. What
do you have for dinner?
Potatoes and milk, said Seumas.
Its not bad at all, said the Leprecaun.
And what do you have for supper?
Brigid answered this time because her brothers mouth
Bread and milk, sir, said she.
Theres nothing better, said the Leprecaun.
And then we go to bed, continued Brigid.
Why wouldnt 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
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.
Theres 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 isnt hopping or doing anything at all
this time, said Seumas.
Hes 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 beds were
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.
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-tittit-tit-tit. The
children were fond of him because he was so all-of-asudden. 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 goats 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-goats 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 dont 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 of the 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
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?
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 Murrachu away
from her own place.
Brigid Beg turned to Caitilin-Your father came to see
our father, and he said that he didnt 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
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 dont know,
sir, she replied.
He doesnt mind us at all, broke in Seumas
Beg, and so we dont know whether we love him or not.
I like Caitilin, said Brigid, and I like
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 goats milk
and some cheese, she replied, and she set about getting these
I never ate cheese, said Seumas. Is it good?
Surely it is, replied Pan. The cheese that
is made from goats 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
Caitilin having supplied the children with food, seated herself
in front of them. I dont 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
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 dont
Pan also thought for a little time.
I dont know what I like best either, said
he. What do you like best in the world, Shepherd Girl?
Caitilins eyes were fixed on his.
I dont 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.