The Crock of Gold, by James Stephens

Book IV

The Philosopher’s Return

Chapter XIII

WHICH is, the Earth or the creatures that move upon it, the more important? This is a question prompted solely by intellectual arrogance, for in life there is no greater and no less. The thing that is has justified its own importance by mere existence, for that is the great and equal achievement. If life were arranged for us from without such a question of supremacy would assume importance, but life is always from within, and is modified or extended by our own appetites, aspirations, and central activities. From without we get pollen and the refreshment of space and quietude — it is sufficient. We might ask, is the Earth anything more than an extension of our human consciousness, or are we, moving creatures, only projections of the Earth’s antennae? But these matters have no value save as a field wherein Thought, like a wise lamb, may frolic merrily. And all would be very well if Thought would but continue to frolic, instead of setting up first as locum tenens for Intuition and sticking to the job, and afterwards as the counsel and critic of Omnipotence. Everything has two names, and everything is twofold. The name of male Thought as it faces the world is Philosophy, but the name it bears in Tir-na-nOg is Delusion. Female Thought is called Socialism on earth, but in Eternity it is known as Illusion; and this is so because there has been no matrimony of minds, but only an hermaphroditic propagation of automatic ideas, which in their due rotation assume dominance and reign severely. To the world this system of thought, because it is consecutive, is known as Logic, but Eternity has written it down in the Book of Errors as Mechanism: for life may not be consecutive, but explosive and variable, else it is a shackled and timorous slave.

One of the great troubles of life is that Reason has taken charge of the administration of Justice, and by mere identification it has achieved the crown and sceptre of its master. But the imperceptible usurpation was recorded, and discriminating minds understand the chasm which still divides the pretender Law from the exiled King. In a like manner, and with feigned humility, the Cold Demon advanced to serve Religion, and by guile and violence usurped her throne; but the pure in heart still fly from the spectre Theology to dance in ecstasy before the starry and eternal goddess. Statecraft, also, that tender Shepherd of the Flocks, has been despoiled of his crook and bell, and wanders in unknown desolation while, beneath the banner of Politics, Reason sits howling over an intellectual chaos.

Justice is the maintaining of equilibrium. The blood of Cain must cry, not from the lips of the Avenger, but from the aggrieved Earth herself who demands that atonement shall be made for a disturbance of her consciousness. All justice is, therefore, readjustment. A thwarted consciousness has every right to clamour for assistance, but not for punishment. This latter can only be sought by timorous and egotistic Intellect, which sees the Earth from which it has emerged and into which it must return again in its own despite, and so, being self-centred and envious and a renegade from life, Reason is more cruelly unjust, and more timorous than any other manifestation of the divinely erratic energy — erratic, because, as has been said, “the crooked roads are the roads of genius.” Nature grants to all her creatures an unrestricted liberty, quickened by competitive appetite, to succeed or to fail; save only to Reason, her Demon of Order, which can do neither, and whose wings she has clipped for some reason with which I am not yet acquainted. It may be that an unrestricted mentality would endanger her own intuitive perceptions by shackling all her other organs of perception, or annoy her by vexatious efforts at creative rivalry.

It will, therefore, be understood that when the Leprecauns of Gort na Cloca Mora acted in the manner about to be recorded, they were not prompted by any lewd passion for revenge, but were merely striving to reconstruct a rhythm which was their very existence, and which must have been of direct importance to the Earth. Revenge is the vilest passion known to life. It has made Law possible, and by doing so it gave to Intellect the first grip at that universal dominion which is its ambition. A Leprecaun is of more value to the Earth than is a Prime Minister or a stockbroker, because a Leprecaun dances and makes merry, while a Prime Minister knows nothing of these natural virtues — consequently, an injury done to a Leprecaun afflicts the Earth with misery, and justice is, for these reasons, an imperative and momentous necessity.

A community of Leprecauns without a crock of gold is a blighted and merriless community, and they are certainly justified in seeking sympathy and assistance for the recovery of so essential a treasure. But the steps whereby the Leprecauns of Gort na Cloca Mora sought to regain their property must for ever brand their memory with a certain odium. It should be remembered in their favour that they were cunningly and cruelly encompassed. Not only was their gold stolen, but it was buried in such a position as placed it under the protection of their own communal honour, and the household of their enemy was secured against their active and righteous malice, because the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath belonged to the most powerful Shee of Ireland. It is in circumstances such as these that dangerous alliances are made, and, for the first time in history, the elemental beings invoked bourgeois assistance.

They were loath to do it, and justice must record the fact. They were angry when they did it, and anger is both mental and intuitive blindness. It is not the beneficent blindness which prevents one from seeing without, but it is that desperate darkness which cloaks the within, and hides the heart and the brain from each other’s husbandry and wifely recognition. But even those mitigating circumstances cannot justify the course they adopted, and the wider idea must be sought for, that out of evil good must ultimately come, or else evil is vitiated beyond even the redemption of usage. When they were able to realize of what they had been guilty, they were very sorry indeed, and endeavoured to publish their repentance in many ways; but, lacking atonement, repentance is only a post-mortem virtue which is good for nothing but burial.

When the Leprecauns of Gort na Cloca Mora found they were unable to regain their crock of gold by any means they laid an anonymous information at the nearest Police Station showing that two dead bodies would be found under the hearthstone in the hut of Coille Doraca, and the inference to be drawn from their crafty missive was that these bodies had been murdered by the Philosopher for reasons very discreditable to him.

The Philosopher had been scarcely more than three hours on his journey to Angus Og when four policemen approached the little house from as many different directions, and without any trouble they effected an entrance. The Thin Woman of Inis Magrath and the two children heard from afar their badly muffled advance, and on discovering the character of their visitors they concealed themselves among the thickly clustering trees. Shortly after the men had entered the hut loud and sustained noises began to issue therefrom, and in about twenty minutes the invaders emerged again bearing the bodies of the Grey Woman of Dun Gortin and her husband. They wrenched the door off its hinges, and, placing the bodies on the door, proceeded at a rapid pace through the trees and disappeared in a short time. When they had departed the Thin Woman and the children returned to their home and over the yawning hearth the Thin Woman pronounced a long and fervid malediction wherein policemen were exhibited naked before the blushes of Eternity. . .

With your goodwill let us now return to the Philosopher.

Following his interview with Angus Og the Philosopher received the blessing of the god and returned on his homeward journey. When he left the cave he had no knowledge where he was nor whether he should turn to the right hand or to the left. This alone was his guiding idea, that as he had come up the mountain on his first journey his home-going must, by mere opposition, be down the mountain, and, accordingly, he set his face downhill and trod lustily forward. He had stamped up the hill with vigour, he strode down it in ecstasy. He tossed his voice on every wind that went by. From tne wells of forgetfulness he regained the shining words and gay melodies which his childhood had delighted in, and these he sang loudly and unceasingly as he marched. The sun had not yet risen but, far away, a quiet brightness was creeping over the sky. The daylight, however, was near the full, one slender veil only remaining of the shadows, and a calm, unmoving quietude brooded from the grey sky to the whispering earth. The birds had begun to bestir themselves but not to sing. Now and again a solitary wing feathered the chill air; but for the most part the birds huddled closer in the swinging nests, or under the bracken, or in the tufty grass. Here a faint twitter was heard and ceased. A little farther a drowsy voice called “cheep-cheep” and turned again to the warmth of its wing. The very grasshoppers were silent. The creatures who range in the night time had returned to their cells and were setting their households in order, and those who belonged to the day hugged their comfort for but one minute longer. Then the first level beam stepped like a mild angel to the mountain top. The slender radiance brightened and grew strong. The grey veil faded away. The birds leaped from their nests. The grasshoppers awakened and were busy at a stroke. Voice called to voice without ceasing, and, momently, a song thrilled for a few wide seconds. But for the most part it was chatter-chatter they went as they soared and plunged and swept, each bird eager for its breakfast.

The Philosopher thrust his hand into his wallet and found there the last broken remnants of his cake, and the instant his hand touched the food he was seized by a hunger so furious that he sat down where he stopped and prepared to eat.

The place where he sat was a raised bank under a hedge, and this place directly fronted a clumsy wooden gate leading into a great field. When the Philosopher had seated himself he raised his eyes and saw through the gate a small company approaching. There were four men and three women, and each of them carried a metal pail. The Philosopher with a sigh returned the cake to his wallet, saying:

“All men are brothers, and it may be that these people are as hungry as I am.”

In a short time the strangers came near. The foremost of them was a huge man who was bearded to the eyelids and who moved like a strong wind. He opened the gate by removing a piece of wood wherewith it was jammed, and he and his companions passed through, whereupon he closed the gate and secured it. To this man, as being the eldest, the Philosopher approached.

“I am about to breakfast,” said he, “and if you are hungry perhaps you would like to eat with me.”

“Why not,” said the man, “for the person who would refuse a kind invitation is a dog. These are my three sons and three of my daughters, and we are all thankful to you.”

Saying this he sat down on the bank and his companions, placing their pails behind them, did likewise. The Philosopher divided his cake into eight pieces and gave one to each person.

“I am sorry it is so little,” said he.

“A gift,” said the bearded man, “is never little,” and he courteously ate his piece in three bites although he could have easily eaten it in one, and his children also.

“That was a good, satisfying cake,” said he when he had finished; “it was well baked and well shared, but,” he continued, “I am in a difficulty and maybe you could advise me what to do, sir?”

“What might be your trouble?” said the Philosopher.

“It is this,” said the man. “Every morning when we go out to milk the cows the mother of my clann gives to each of us a parcel of food so that we need not be any hungrier than we like; but now we have had a good breakfast with you, what shall we do with the food that we brought with us? The woman of the house would not be pleased if we carried it back to her, and if we threw food away it would be a sin. If it was not disrespectful to your breakfast the boys and girls here might be able to get rid of it by eating it, for, as you know, young people can always eat a bit more, no matter how much they have already eaten.”

“It would surely be better to eat it than to waste it,” said the Philosopher wistfully.

The young people produced large parcels of food from their pockets and opened them, and the bearded man said, “I have a little one myself also, and it would not

be wasted if you were kind enough to help me to eat it,” and he pulled out his parcel, which was twice as big as any of the others.

He opened the parcel and handed the larger part of its contents to the Philosopher; he then plunged a tin vessel into one of the milk pails and set this also by the Philosopher, and, instantly, they all began to eat with furious appetite.

When the meal was finished the Philosopher filled his tobacco pipe and the bearded man and his three sons did likewise.

“Sir,” said the bearded man, “I would be glad to know why you are travelling abroad so early in the morning, for, at this hour, no one stirs but the sun and the birds and the folk who, like ourselves, follow the cattle?”

“I will tell you that gladly,” said the Philosopher, “if you will tell me your name.”

“My name,” said the bearded man, “is Mac Cul.”

“Last night,” said the Philosopher, “when I came from the house of Angus Og in the Caves of the Sleepers of Erinn I was bidden say to a man named Mac Cul — that the horses had trampled in their sleep and the sleepers had turned on their sides.”

“Sir,” said the bearded man, “your words thrill in my heart like music, but my head does not understand them.”

“I have learned,” said the Philosopher, “that the head does not hear anything until the heart has listened, and that what the heart knows today the head will understand tomorrow.”

“All the birds of the world are singing in my soul,” said the bearded man, “and I bless you because you have

filled me with hope and pride.”

So the Philosopher shook him by the hand, and he shook the hands of his sons and daughters who bowed before him at the mild command of their father, and when he had gone a little way he looked around again and he saw that group of people standing where he had left them, and the bearded man was embracing his children on the highroad.

A bend in the path soon shut them from view, and then the Philosopher, fortified by food and the freshness of the morning, strode onwards singing for very joy. It was still early, but now the birds had eaten their breakfasts and were devoting themselves to each other. They rested side by side on the branches of the trees and on the hedges, they danced in the air in happy brotherhoods and they sang to one another amiable and pleasant ditties.

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When the Philosopher had walked for a long time he felt a little weary and sat down to refresh himself in the shadow of a great tree. Hard by there was a house of rugged stone. Long years ago it had been a castle, and, even now, though patched by time and misfortune its front was warlike and frowning. While he sat a young woman came along the road and stood gazing earnestly at this house. Her hair was as black as night and as smooth as still water, but her face came so stormily forward that her quiet attitude had yet no quietness in it. To her, after a few moments, the Philosopher spoke.

“Girl,” said he, “why do you look so earnestly at the house?”

The girl turned her pale face and stared at him.

“I did not notice you sitting under the tree,” said she, and she came slowly forward.

“Sit down by me,” said the Philosopher, “and we will talk. If you are in any trouble tell it to me, and perhaps you will talk the heaviest part away.”

“I will sit beside you willingly,” said the girl, and she did so.

“It is good to talk trouble over,” he continued. “Do you know that talk is a real thing? There is more power in speech than many people conceive. Thoughts come from God, they are born through the marriage of the head and the lungs. The head moulds the thought into the form of words, then it is borne and sounded on the air which has been already in the secret kingdoms of the body, which goes in bearing life and come out freighted with wisdom. For this reason a lie is very terrible, because it is turning mighty and incomprehensible things to base uses, and is burdening the life-giving element with a foul return for its goodness; but those who speak the truth and whose words are the symbols of wisdom and beauty, these purify the whole world and daunt contagion. The only trouble the body can know is disease. All other miseries come from the brain, and, as these belong to thought, they can be driven out by their master as unruly and unpleasant vagabonds; for a mental trouble should be spoken to, confronted, reprimanded and so dismissed. The brain cannot afford to harbour any but pleasant and eager citizens who will do their part in making laughter and holiness for the world, for that is the duty of thought.”

While the Philosopher spoke the girl had been regarding him steadfastly.

“Sir,” said she, “we tell our hearts to a young man and our heads to an old man, and when the heart is a fool the head is bound to be a liar. I can tell you the things I know, but how will I tell you the things I feel when I myself do not understand them? If I say these words to you ‘I love a man’ I do not say anything at all, and you do not hear one of the words which my heart is repeating over and over to itself in the silence of my body. Young people are fools in their heads and old people are fools in their hearts, and they can only look at each other and pass by in wonder.”

“You are wrong,” said the Philosopher. “An old person can take your hand like this and say, ‘May every good thing come to you, my daughter.’ For all trouble there is sympathy, and for love there is memory, and these are the head and the heart talking to each other in quiet friendship. What the heart knows today the head will understand tomorrow, and as the head must be the scholar of the heart it is necessary that our hearts be purified and free from every false thing, else we are tainted beyond personal redemption.”

“Sir,” said the girl, “I know of two great follies — they are love and speech, for when these are given they can never be taken back again, and the person to whom these are given is not any richer, but the giver is made poor and abashed. I gave my love to a man who did not want it. I told him of my love, and he lifted his eyelids at me; that is my trouble.”

For a moment the Philosopher sat in stricken silence looking on the ground. He had a strange disinclination to look at the girl although he felt her eyes fixed steadily on him. But in a little while he did look at her and spoke again.

“To carry gifts to an ungrateful person cannot be justified and need not be mourned for. If your love is noble why do you treat it meanly? If it is lewd the man was right to reject it.”

“We love as the wind blows,” she replied.

“There is a thing,” said the Philosopher, “and it is both the biggest and the littlest thing in the world.”

“What is that?” said the girl.

“It is pride,” he answered. “It lives in an empty house. The head which has never been visited by the heart is the house pride lives in. You are in error, my dear, and not in love. Drive out the knave pride, put a flower in your hair and walk freely again.”

The girl laughed, and suddenly her pale face became rosy as the dawn and as radiant and lovely as a cloud. She shed warmth and beauty about her as she leaned forward.

“You are wrong,” she whispered, “because he does love me; but he does not know it yet. He is young and full of fury, and has no time to look at women, but he looked at me. My heart knows it and my head knows it, but I am impatient and yearn for him to look at me again. His heart will remember me tomorrow, and he will come searching for me with prayers and tears, with shouts and threats. I will be very hard to find tomorrow when he holds out his arms to the air and the sky, and is astonished and frightened to find me nowhere. I will hide from him tomorrow, and frown at him when he speaks, and turn aside when he follows me: until the day after tomorrow when he will frighten me with his anger, and hold me with his furious hands, and make me look at him.”

Saying this the girl arose and prepared to go away.

“He is in that house,” said she, “and I would not let him see me here for anything in the world.”

“You have wasted all my time,” said the Philosopher, smiling.

“What else is time for?” said the girl, and she kissed the Philosopher and ran swiftly down the road.

She had been gone but a few moments when a man came out of the grey house and walked quickly across the grass. When he reached the hedge separating the field from the road he tossed his two arms in the air, swung them down, and jumped over the hedge into the roadway. He was a short, dark youth, and so swift and sudden were his movements that he seemed to look on every side at the one moment although he bore furiously to his own direction.

The Philosopher addressed him mildly.

“That was a good jump,” said he.

The young man spun around from where he stood, and was by the Philosopher’s side in an instant.

“It would be a good jump for other men,” said he, “but it is only a little jump for me. You are very dusty, sir; you must have travelled a long distance today.”

“A long distance,” replied the Philosopher. “Sit down here, my friend, and keep me company for a little time.”

“I do not like sitting down,” said the young man, “but I always consent to a request, and I always accept friendship.” And, so saying, he threw himself down on the grass.

“Do you work in that big house?” said the Philosopher.

“I do,” he replied. “I train the hounds for a fat, jovial man, full of laughter and insolence.”

“I think you do not like your master.”

“Believe, sir, that I do not like any master; but this man I hate. I have been a week in his service, and he has not once looked on me as on a friend. This very day, in the kennel, he passed me as though I were a tree or a stone. I almost leaped to catch him by the throat and say: ‘Dog, do you not salute your fellow-man?’ But I looked after him and let him go, for it would be an unpleasant thing to strangle a fat person.”

“If you are displeased with your master should you not look for another occupation?” said the Philosopher.

“I was thinking of that, and I was thinking whether I ought to kill him or marry his daughter. She would have passed me by as her father did, but I would not let a woman do that to me: no man would.”

“What did you do to her?” said the Philosopher.

The young man chuckled —“I did not look at her the first time, and when she came near me the second time I looked another way, and on the third day she spoke to me, and while she stood I looked over her shoulder distantly. She said she hoped I would be happy in my new home, and she made her voice sound pleasant while she said it; but I thanked her and turned away carelessly.”

“Is the girl beautiful?” said the Philosopher.

“I do not know,” he replied; “I have not looked at her yet, although now I see her everywhere. I think she is a woman who would annoy me if I married her.”

“If you haven’t seen her, how can you think that?”

“She has tame feet,” said the youth. “I looked at them and they got frightened. Where have you travelled from, sir?”

“I will tell you that,” said the Philosopher, “if you will tell me your name.”

“It is easily told,” he answered; “my name is Mac–Culain.”

“When I came last night,” said the Philosopher, “from the place of Angus Og in the cave of the Sleepers of Erinn I was bidden say to a man named MacCulain that The Grey of Macha had neighed in his sleep and the sword of Laeg clashed on the floor as he turned in his slumber.”

The young man leaped from the grass.

“Sir,” said he in a strained voice, “I do not understand your words, but they make my heart to dance and sing within me like a bird.”

“If you listen to your heart,” said the Philosopher, “you will learn every good thing, for the heart is the fountain of wisdom tossing its thoughts up to the brain which gives them form,”— and, so saying, he saluted the youth and went again on his way by the curving road.

Now the day had advanced, noon was long past, and the strong sunlight blazed ceaselessly on the world. His path was still on the high mountains, running on for a short distance and twisting perpetually to the right hand and to the left. One might scarcely call it a path, it grew so narrow. Sometimes, indeed, it almost ceased to be a path, for the grass had stolen forward inch by inch to cover up the tracks of man. There were no hedges but rough, tumbled ground only, which was patched by trailing bushes and stretched away in mounds and hummocks beyond the far horizon. There was a deep silence everywhere, not painful, for where the sun shines there is no sorrow: the only sound to be heard was the swish of long grasses against his feet as he trod, and the buzz of an occasional bee that came and was gone in an instant.

The Philosopher was very hungry, and he looked about on all sides to see if there was anything he might eat. “If I were a goat or a cow,” said he, “I could eat this grass and be nourished. If I were a donkey I could crop the hard thistles which are growing on every hand, or if I were a bird I could feed on the caterpillars and creeping things which stir innumerably everywhere. But a man may not eat even in the midst of plenty, because he has departed from nature, and lives by crafty and twisted thought.”

Speaking in this manner he chanced to lift his eyes from the ground and saw, far away, a solitary figure which melted into the folding earth and reappeared again in a different place. So peculiar and erratic were the movements of this figure that the Philosopher had great difficulty in following it, and, indeed, would have been unable to follow, but that the other chanced in his direction. When they came nearer he saw it was a young boy, who was dancing hither and thither in any and every direction. A bushy mound hid him for an instant, and the next they were standing face to face staring at each other. After a moment’s silence the boy, who was about twelve years of age, and as beautiful as the morning, saluted the Philosopher.

“Have you lost your way, sir?” said he.

“All paths,” the Philosopher replied, “are on the earth, and so one can never be lost — but I have lost my dinner.”

The boy commenced to laugh.

“What are you laughing at, my son?” said the Philosopher.

“Because,” he replied, “I am bringing you your dinner. I wondered what sent me out in this direction, for I generally go more to the east.”

“Have you got my dinner?” said the Philosopher anxiously.

“I have,” said the boy: “I ate my own dinner at home, and I put your dinner in my pocket. I thought,” he explained, “that I might be hungry if I went far away.”

“The gods directed you,” said the Philosopher.

“They often do,” said the boy, and he pulled a small parcel from his pocket.

The Philosopher instantly sat down, and the boy handed him the parcel. He opened this and found bread and cheese.

“It’s a good dinner,” said he, and commenced to eat.

“Would you not like a piece also, my son?”

“I would like a little piece,” said the boy, and he sat down before the Philosopher, and they ate together happily.

When they had finished the Philosopher praised the gods, and then said, more to himself than to the boy:

“If I had a little drink of water I would want nothing else.”

“There is a stream four paces from here,” said his companion. “I will get some water in my cap,” and he leaped away.

In a few moments he came back holding his cap tenderly, and the Philosopher took this and drank the water.

“I want nothing more in the world,” said he, “except to talk with you. The sun is shining, the wind is pleasant, and the grass is soft. Sit down beside me again for a little time.”

So the boy sat down, and the Philosopher lit his pipe.

“Do you live far from here?” said he.

“Not far,” said the boy. “You could see my mother’s house from this place if you were as tall as a tree, and even from the ground you can see a shape of smoke yonder that floats over our cottage.”

The Philosopher looked but could see nothing.

“My eyes are not as good as yours are,” said he, “because I am getting old.”

“What does it feel like to be old?” said the boy.

“It feels stiff like,” said the Philosopher.

“Is that all?” said the boy.

“I don’t know,” the Philosopher replied after a few moments’ silence. “Can you tell me what it looks like to be young?”

“Why not?” said the boy, and then a slight look of perplexity crossed his face, and he continued, “I don’t think I can.”

“Young people,” said the Philosopher, “do not know what age is, and old people forget what youth was. When you begin to grow old always think deeply of your youth, for an old man without memories is a wasted life, and nothing is worth remembering but our childhood. I will tell you some of the differences between being old and young, and then you can ask me questions, and so we will get at both sides of the matter. First, an old man gets tired quicker than a boy.”

The boy thought for a moment, and then replied:

“That is not a great difference, for a boy does get very tired.”

The Philosopher continued:

“An old man does not want to eat as often as a boy.”

“That is not a great difference either,” the boy replied, “for they both do eat. Tell me the big difference.”

“I do not know it, my son; but I have always thought there was a big difference. Perhaps it is that an old man has memories of things which a boy cannot even guess at.”

“But they both have memories,” said the boy, laughing, “and so it is not a big difference.”

“That is true,” said the Philosopher. “Maybe there is not so much difference after all. Tell me things you do, and we will see if I can do them also.”

“But I don’t know what I do,” he replied.

“You must know the things you do,” said the Philosopher, “but you may not understand how to put them in order. The great trouble about any kind of examination is to know where to begin, but there are always two places in everything with which we can commence — they are the beginning and the end. From either of these points a view may be had which comprehends the entire period. So we will begin with the things you did this morning.”

“I am satisfied with that,” said the boy.

The Philosopher then continued:

“When you awakened this morning and went out of the house what was the first thing you did?”

The boy thought —“I went out, then I picked up a stone and threw it into the field as far as I could.”

“What then?” said the Philosopher.

“Then I ran after the stone to see could I catch up on it before it hit the ground.”

“Yes,” said the Philosopher.

“I ran so fast that I tumbled over myself into the grass.”

“What did you do after that?”

“I lay where I fell and plucked handfuls of the grass with both hands and threw them on my back.”

“Did you get up then?”

“No, I pressed my face into the grass and shouted a lot of times with my mouth against the ground, and then I sat up and did not move for a long time.”

“Were you thinking?” said the Philosopher.

“No, I was not thinking or doing anything.”

“Why did you do all these things?” said the Philosopher.

“For no reason at all,” said the boy.

“That,” said the Philosopher triumphantly, “is the difference between age and youth. Boys do things for no reason, and old people do not. I wonder do we get old because we do things by reason instead of instinct?”

“I don’t know,” said the boy, “everything gets old. Have you travelled very far today, sir?”

“I will tell you that if you will tell me your name.”

“My name,” said the boy, “is MacCushin.”

“When I came last night,” said the Philosopher, “from the place of Angus Og in the Caste of the Sleepers I was bidden say to one named MacCushin that a son would be born to Angus Og and his wife, Caitilin, and that the sleepers of Erinn had turned in their slumbers.”

The boy regarded him steadfastly.

“I know,” said he, “why Angus Og sent me that message. He wants me to make a poem to the people of Erinn, so that when the Sleepers arise they will meet with friends.”

“The Sleepers have arisen,” said the Philosopher. “They are about us on every side. They are walking now, but they have forgotten their names and the meanings of their names. You are to tell them their names and their lineage, for I am an old man, and my work is done.”

“I will make a poem some day,” said the boy, “and every man will shout when he hears it.”

“God be with you, my son,” said the Philosopher, and he embraced the boy and went forward on his journey.

About half an hour’s easy travelling brought him to a point from which he could see far down below to the pine trees of Coille Doraca. The shadowy evening had crept over the world ere he reached the wood, and when he entered the little house the darkness had already descended.

The Thin Woman of Inis Magrath met him as he entered, and was about to speak harshly of his long absence, but the Philosopher kissed her with such unaccustomed tenderness, and spoke so mildly to her, that, first, astonishment enchained her tongue, and then delight set it free in a direction to which it had long been a stranger.

“Wife,” said the Philosopher, “I cannot say how joyful I am to see your good face again.”

The Thin Woman was unable at first to reply to this salutation, but, with incredible speed, she put on a pot of stirabout, began to bake a cake, and tried to roast potatoes. After a little while she wept loudly, and proclaimed that the world did not contain the equal of her husband for comeliness and goodness, and that she was herself a sinful person unworthy of the kindness of the gods or of such a mate.

But while the Philosopher was embracing Seumas and Brigid Beg, the door was suddenly burst open with a great noise, four policemen entered the little room, and after one dumbfoundered minute they retreated again bearing the Philosopher with them to answer a charge of murder.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30