The Crock of Gold, by James Stephens

Book V

The Policemen

Chapter XIV

SOME distance down the road the policemen halted. The night had fallen before they effected their capture, and now, in the gathering darkness, they were not at ease. In the first place, they knew that the occupation upon which they were employed was not a creditable one to a man whatever it might be to a policeman. The seizure of a criminal may be justified by certain arguments as to the health of society and the preservation of property, but no person wishes under any circumstances to hale a wise man to prison. They were further distressed by the knowledge that they were in the very centre of a populous fairy country, and that on every side the elemental hosts might be ranging, ready to fall upon them with the terrors of war or the still more awful scourge of their humour. The path leading to their station was a long one, winding through great alleys of trees, which in some places overhung the road so thickly that even the full moon could not search out that deep blackness. In the daylight these men would have arrested an Archangel and, if necessary, bludgeoned him, but in the night-time a thousand fears afflicted and a multitude of sounds shocked them from every quarter.

Two men were holding the Philosopher, one on either side; the other two walked one before and one behind him. In this order they were proceeding when just in front through the dim light they saw the road swallowed up by one of these groves already spoken of. When they came nigh they halted irresolutely: the man who was in front (a silent and perturbed sergeant) turned fiercely to the others —“Come on, can’t you?” said he; “what the devil are you waiting for?” and he strode forward into the black gape.

“Keep a good hold of that man,” said the one behind.

“Don’t be talking out of you,” replied he on the right. “Haven’t we got a good grip of him, and isn’t he an old man into the bargain?”

“Well, keep a good tight grip of him, anyhow, for if he gave you the slip in there he’d vanish like a weasel in a bush. Them old fellows do be slippery customers. Look here, mister,” said he to the Philosopher, “if you try to run away from us I’ll give you a clout on the head with my baton; do you mind me now!”

They had taken only a few paces forward when the sound of hasty footsteps brought them again to a halt, and in a moment the sergeant came striding back. He was angry.

“Are you going to stay there the whole night, or what are you going to do at all?” said he.

“Let you be quiet now,” said another; “we were only settling with the man here the way he wouldn’t try to give us the slip in a dark place.”

“Is it thinking of giving us the slip he is?” said the sergeant. “Take your baton in your hand, Shawn, and if he turns his head to one side of him hit him on that side.”

“I’ll do that,” said Shawn, and he pulled out his truncheon.

The Philosopher had been dazed by the suddenness of these occurrences, and the enforced rapidity of his movements prevented him from either thinking or speaking, but during this brief stoppage his scattered wits began to return to their allegiance. First, bewilderment at his enforcement had seized him, and the four men, who were continually running round him and speaking all at once, and each pulling him in a different direction, gave him the impression that he was surrounded by a great rabble of people, but he could not discover what they wanted. After a time he found that there were only four men, and gathered from their remarks that he was being arrested for murder — this precipitated him into another and a deeper gulf of bewilderment. He was unable to conceive why they should arrest him for murder when he had not committed any; and, following this, he became indignant.

“I will not go another step,” said he, “unless you tell me where you are bringing me and what I am accused of.”

“Tell me,” said the sergeant, “what did you kill them with? for it’s a miracle how they came to their ends without as much as a mark on their skins or a broken tooth itself.”

“Who are you talking about?” the Philosopher demanded.

“It’s mighty innocent you are,” he replied. “Who would I be talking about but the man and woman that

used to be living with you beyond in the little house? Is it poison you gave them now, or what was it? Take a hold of your note-book, Shawn.”

“Can’t you have sense, man?” said Shawn. “How would I be writing in the middle of a dark place and me without as much as a pencil, let alone a book?”

“Well, we’ll take it down at the station, and himself can tell us all about it as we go along. Move on now, for this is no place to be conversing in.”

They paced on again, and in another moment they were swallowed up by the darkness. When they had proceeded for a little distance there came a peculiar sound in front like the breathing of some enormous animal, and also a kind of shuffling noise, and so they again halted.

“There’s a queer kind of a thing in front of us,” said one of the men in a low voice.

“If I had a match itself,” said another.

The sergeant had also halted.

“Draw well into the side of the road,” said he, “and poke your batons in front of you. Keep a tight hold of that man, Shawn.”

“I’ll do that,” said Shawn.

Just then one of them found a few matches in his pocket, and he struck a light; there was no wind, so that it blazed easily enough, and they all peered in front. A big black cart-horse was lying in the middle of the

road having a gentle sleep, and when the light shone it scrambled to its feet and went thundering away in a panic.

“Isn’t that enough to put the heart crossways in you?” said one of the men, with a great sigh.

“Ay,” said another; “if you stepped on that beast in the darkness you wouldn’t know what to be thinking.”

“I don’t quite remember the way about here,” said the sergeant after a while, “but I think we should take the first turn to the right. I wonder have we passed the turn yet; these criss-cross kinds of roads are the devil, and it dark as well. Do any of you men know the way?”

“I don’t,” said one voice; “I’m a Cavan man myself.”

“Roscommon,” said another, “is my country, and I wish I was there now, so I do.”

“Well, if we walk straight on we’re bound to get somewhere, so step it out. Have you got a good hold of that man, Shawn?”

“I have so,” said Shawn.

The Philosopher’s voice came pealing through the darkness.

“There is no need to pinch me, sir,” said he.

“I’m not pinching you at all,” said the man.

“You are so,” returned the Philosopher. “You have a big lump of skin doubled up in the sleeve of my coat, and unless you instantly release it I will sit down in the road.”

“Is that any better?” said the man, relaxing his hold a little.

“You have only let out half of it,” replied the Philosopher. “That’s better now,” he continued, and they resumed their journey.

After a few minutes of silence the Philosopher began to speak.

“I do not see any necessity in nature for policemen,” said he, “nor do I understand how the custom first originated. Dogs and cats do not employ these extraordinary mercenaries, and yet their polity is progressive and orderly. Crows are a gregarious race with settled habitations and an organized commonwealth. They usually congregate in a ruined tower or on the top of a church, and their civilization is based on mutual aid and tolerance for each other’s idiosyncrasies. Their exceeding mobility and hardiness renders them dangerous to attack, and thus they are free to devote themselves to the development of their domestic laws and customs. If policemen were necessary to a civilization crows would certainly have evolved them, but I triumphantly insist that they have not got any policemen in their republic —”

“I don’t understand a word you are saying,” said the sergeant.

“It doesn’t matter,” said the Philosopher. “Ants and bees also live in specialized communities and have an extreme complexity both of function and occupation. Their experience in governmental matters is enormous, and yet they have never discovered that a police force is at all essential to their wellbeing —”

“Do you know,” said the sergeant, “that whatever you say now will be used in evidence against you later on?”

“I do not,” said the Philosopher. “It may be said that these races are free from crime, that such vices as they have are organized and communal instead of individua1 and anarchistic, and that, consequently, there is no necessity for policecraft, but I cannot believe that these large aggregations of people could have attained their present high culture without an interval of both national and individual dishonesty —”

“Tell me now, as you are talking,” said the sergeant, “did you buy the poison at a chemist’s shop, or did you smother the pair of them with a pillow?”

“I did not,” said the Philosopher. “If crime is a condition precedent to the evolution of policemen, then I will submit that jackdaws are a very thievish clan — they are somewhat larger than a blackbird, and will steal wool off a sheep’s back to line their nests with; they have, furthermore, been known to abstract one shilling in copper and secrete this booty so ingeniously that it has never since been recovered —”

“I had a jackdaw myself,” said one of the men. “I got it from a woman that came to the door with a basket for fourpence. My mother stood on its back one day, and she getting out of bed. I split its tongue with a threepenny bit the way it would talk, but devil the word it ever said for me. It used to hop around letting on it had a lame leg, and then it would steal your socks.”

“Shut up!” roared the sergeant.

“If,” said the Philosopher, “these people steal both from from sheep and from men, if their peculations range from wool to money, I do not see how they can avoid stealing from each other, and consequently, if anywhere, it is amongst jackdaws one should look for the growth of a police force, but there is no such force in existence. The real reason is that they are a witty and thoughtful race who look temperately on what is known as crime and evil — one eats, one steals; it is all in the order of things, and therefore not to be quarrelled with. There is no other view possible to a philosophical people —”

“What the devil is he talking about?” said the sergeant.

“Monkeys are gregarious and thievish and semi-human. They inhabit the equatorial latitudes and eat nuts —”

“Do you know what he is saying, Shawn?”

“I do not,” said Shawn.

“— they ought to have evolved professional thief-takers, but it is common knowledge that they have not done so. Fishes, squirrels, rats, beavers, and bison have also abstained from this singular growth — therefore, when I insist that I see no necessity for policemen and object to their presence, I base that objection on logic and facts, and not on any immediate petty prejudice.”

“Shawn,” said the sergeant, “have you got a good grip on that man?”

“I have,” said Shawn.

“Well, if he talks any more hit him with your baton.”

“I will so,” said Shawn.

“There’s a speck of light down yonder, and, maybe, it’s a candle in a window — we’ll ask the way at that place.”

In about three minutes they came to a small house which was overhung by trees. If the light had not been visible they would undoubtedly have passed it in the darkness. As they approached the door the sound of a female voice came to them scoldingly.

“There’s somebody up anyhow,” said the sergeant, and he tapped at the door.

The scolding voice ceased instantly. After a few seconds he tapped again; then a voice was heard from just behind the door.

“Tomas,” said the voice, “go and bring up the two dogs with you before I take the door off the chain.”

The door was then opened a few inches and a face peered out —“What would you be wanting at this hour of the night?” said the woman.

“Not much, ma’am,” said the sergeant; “only a little direction about the road, for we are not sure whether we’ve gone too far or not far enough.”

The woman noticed their uniforms.

“Is it policemen ye are? There’s no harm in your coming in, I suppose, and if a drink of milk is any good to ye I have plenty of it.”

“Milk’s better than nothing,” said the sergeant with a sigh.

“I’ve a little sup of spirits,” said she, “but it wouldn’t be enough to go around.”

“Ah, well,” said he, looking sternly at his comrades, “everybody has to take their chance in this world,” and he stepped into the house followed by his men.

The women gave him a little sup of whisky from a bottle, and to each of the other men she gave a cup of milk.

“It’ll wash the dust out of our gullets, anyhow,” said one of them.

There were two chairs, a bed, and a table in the room. The Philosopher and his attendants sat on the bed. The sergeant sat on the table, the fourth man took a chair, and the woman dropped wearily into the remaining chair from which she looked with pity at the prisoner.

“What are you taking the poor man away for?” she

asked.

“He’s a bad one, ma’am,” said the sergeant. “He killed a man and a woman that were staying with him and he buried their corpses underneath the hearthstone of his house. He’s a real malefactor, mind you.”

“Is it hanging him you’ll be, God help us?”

“You never know, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it came to that. But you were in trouble yourself, ma’am, for we heard your voice lamenting about something as we came along the road.”

“I was, indeed,” she replied, “for the person that has a son in her house has a trouble in her heart.”

“Do you tell me now — What did he do on you?” and the sergeant bent a look of grave reprobation on a young lad who was standing against the wall between two dogs.

“He’s a good boy enough in some ways,” said she, “but he’s too fond of beasts. He’ll go and lie in the kennel along with them two dogs for hours at a time, petting them and making a lot of them, but if I try to give him a kiss, or to hug him for a couple of minutes when I do be tired after the work, he’ll wriggle like an eel till I let him out — it would make a body hate him, so it would. Sure, there’s no nature in him, sir, and I’m his mother.”

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you young whelp,” said the sergeant very severely.

“And then there’s the horse,” she continued. “Maybe you met it down the road a while ago?”

“We did, ma’am,” said the sergeant.

“Well, when he came in Tomas went to tie him up, for he’s a caution at getting out and wandering about the road, the way you’d break your neck over him if you weren’t minding. After a while I told the boy to come in, but he didn’t come, so I went out myself, and there was himself and the horse with their arms round each other’s necks looking as if they were moonstruck.”

“Faith, he’s the queer lad!” said the sergeant. “What do you be making love to the horse for, Tomas?”

“It was all I could do to make him come in,” she continued, “and then I said to him, ‘Sit down alongside of me here, Tomas, and keep me company for a little while’ — for I do be lonely in the night-time — but he wouldn’t stay quiet at all. One minute he’d say, ‘Mother, there’s a moth flying round the candle and it’ll be burnt,’ and then, ‘There was a fly going into the spider’s web in the corner,’ and he’d have to save it, and after that, ‘There’s a daddy-long-legs hurting himself on the window-pane,’ and he’d have to let it out; but when I try to kiss him he pushes me away. My heart is tormented, so it is, for what have I in the world but him?”

“Is his father dead, ma’am?” said the sergeant kindly.

“I’ll tell the truth,” said she. “I don’t know whether he is or not, for a long time ago, when we used to live in the city of Bla’ Cliah, he lost his work one time and he never came back to me again. He was ashamed to come home I’m thinking, the poor man, because he had no money; as if I would have minded whether he had any money or not — sure, he was very fond of me, sir, and we could have pulled along somehow. After that I came back to my father’s place here; the rest of the children died on me, and then my father died, and I’m doing the best I can by myself. It’s only that I’m a little bit troubled with the boy now and again.”

“It’s a hard case, ma’am,” said the sergeant, “but

maybe the boy is only a bit wild not having his father over him, and maybe it’s just that he’s used to yourself, for there isn’t a child at all that doesn’t love his mother. Let you behave yourself now, Tomas; attend to your mother, and leave the beasts and the insects alone, like a decent boy, for there’s no insect in the world will ever like you as well as she does. Could you tell me, ma’am, if we have passed the first turn on this road, or is it in front of us still, for we are lost altogether in the darkness?”

“It’s in front of you still,” she replied, “about ten minutes down the road; you can’t miss it, for you’ll see the sky where there is a gap in the trees, and that gap is the turn you want.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” said the sergeant; “we’d better be moving on, for there’s a long tramp in front of us before we get to sleep this night.”

He stood up and the men rose to follow him when, suddenly, the boy spoke in a whisper.

“Mother,” said he, “they are going to hang the man,” and he burst into tears.

“Oh, hush, hush,” said the woman, “sure, the men can’t help it.” She dropped quickly on her knees and opened her arms, “Come over to your mother, my darling.”

The boy ran to her.

“They are going to hang him,” he cried in a high, thin voice, and he plucked at her arm violently.

“Now, then, my young boy-o,” said the sergeant, “none of that violence.”

The boy turned suddenly and flew at him with astonishing ferocity. He hurled himself against the sergeant’s legs and bit, and kicked, and struck at him. So furiously sudden was his attack that the man went staggering back against the wall, then he plucked at the boy and whirled him across the room. In an instant the two dogs leaped at him snarling with rage — one of these he kicked into a corner, from which it rebounded again bristling and red-eyed; the other dog was caught by the woman, and after a few frantic seconds she gripped the first dog also. To a horrible chorus of howls and snapping teeth the men hustled outside and slammed the door.

“Shawn,” the sergeant bawled, “have you got a good grip of that man?”

“I have so,” said Shawn.

“If he gets away I’ll kick the belly out of you; mind that now! Come along with you and no more of your slouching.”

They marched down the road in a tingling silence.

“Dogs,” said the Philosopher, “are a most intelligent race of people —”

“People, my granny!” said the sergeant.

“From the earliest ages their intelligence has been observed and recorded, so that ancient literatures are bulky with references to their sagacity and fidelity —”

“Will you shut your old jaw?” said the sergeant.

“I will not,” said the Philosopher. “Elephants also are credited with an extreme intelligence and devotion to their masters, and they will build a wall or nurse a baby with equal skill and happiness. Horses have received high recommendations in this respect, but crocodiles, hens, beetles, armadillos, and fish do not evince any remarkable partiality for man —”

“I wish,” said the sergeant bitterly, “that all them beasts were stuffed down your throttle the way you’d have to hold your prate.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said the Philosopher. “I do not know why these animals should attach themselves to men with gentleness and love and yet be able to preserve intact their initial bloodthirstiness, so that while they will allow their masters to misuse them in any way they will yet fight most willingly with each other, and are never really happy saving in the conduct of some private and nonsensical battle of their own. I do not believe that it is fear which tames these creatures into mildness, but that the most savage animal has a capacity for love which has not been sufficiently noted, and which, if more intelligent attention had been directed upon it, would have raised them to the status of intellectual animals as against intelligent ones, and, perhaps, have opened to us a correspondence which could not have been other than bene — ficial.”

“Keep your eyes out for that gap in the trees, Shawn,” said the sergeant.

“I’m doing that,” said Shawn.

The Philosopher continued:

“Why can I not exchange ideas with a cow? I am amazed at the incompleteness of my growth when I and a fellow-creature stand dumbly before each other without one glimmer of comprehension, locked and barred from all friendship and intercourse —”

“Shawn,” cried the sergeant.

“Don’t interrupt,” said the Philosopher; “you are always talking. — The lower animals, as they are foolishly called, have abilities at which we can only wonder. The mind of an ant is one to which I would readily go to school. Birds have atmospheric and levitational information which millions of years will not render accessible to us; who that has seen a spider weaving his labyrinth, or a bee voyaging safely in the trackless air, can refuse to credit that a vivid, trained intelligence animates these small enigmas? and the commonest earthworm is the heir to a culture before which I bow with the profoundest veneration —”

“Shawn,” said the sergeant, “say something for goodness’ sake to take the sound of that man’s clack out of my ear.”

“I wouldn’t know what to be talking about,” said Shawn, “for I never was much of a hand at conversation, and, barring my prayers, I got no education — I think myself that he was making a remark about a dog. Did you ever own a dog, sergeant?”

“You are doing very well, Shawn,” said the sergeant, “keep it up now.”

“I knew a man had a dog would count up to a hundred for you. He won lots of money in bets about it, and he’d have made a fortune, only that I noticed one day he used to be winking at the dog, and when he’d stop winking the dog would stop counting. We made him turn his back after that, and got the dog to count sixpence, but he barked for more than five shillings, he did so, and he would have counted up to a pound, maybe, only that his master turned round and hit him a kick. Every person that ever paid him a bet said they wanted their money back, but the man went away to America in the night, and I expect he’s doing well there for he took the dog with him. It was a wire-haired terrier bitch, and it was the devil for having pups.”

“It is astonishing,” said the Philosopher, “on what slender compulsion people will go to America —”

“Keep it up, Shawn,” said the sergeant, “you are doing me a favour.”

“I will so,” said Shawn. “I had a cat one time and it used to have kittens every two months.”

The Philosopher’s voice arose:

“If there was any periodicity about these migrations one could understand them. Birds, for example, migrate from their homes in the late autumn and seek abroad the sustenance and warmth which the winter would withhold if they remained in their native lands. The salmon also, a dignified fish with a pink skin, emigrates from the Atlantic Ocean, and betakes himself inland to the streams and lakes, where he recuperates for a season, and is often surprised by net, angle, or spear —”

“Cut in now, Shawn,” said the sergeant anxiously.

Shawn began to gabble with amazing speed and in a mighty voice:

“Cats sometimes eat their kittens, and sometimes they don’t. A cat that eats its kittens is a heartless brute. I knew a cat used to eat its kittens — it had four legs and a long tail, and it used to get the head-staggers every time it had eaten its kittens. I killed it myself one day with a hammer for I couldn’t stand the smell it made, so I couldn’t —”

“Shawn,” said the sergeant, “can’t you talk about something else besides cats and dogs?”

“Sure, I don’t know what to talk about,” said Shawn. “I’m sweating this minute trying to please you, so I arm. If you’ll tell me what to talk about I’ll do my endeavours.”

“You’re a fool,” said the sergeant sorrowfully; “you’ll never make a constable. I’m thinking that I would sooner listen to the man himself than to you. Have you got a good hold of him now?”

“I have so,” said Shawn.

“Well, step out and maybe we’ll reach the barracks this night, unless this is a road that there isn’t any end to at all. What was that? Did you hear a noise?”

“I didn’t hear a thing,” said Shawn.

“I thought,” said another man, “that I heard something moving in the hedge at the side of the road.”

“That’s what I heard,” said the sergeant. “Maybe it was a weasel. I wish to the devil that we were out of this place where you can’t see as much as your own nose. Now did you hear it, Shawn?”

“I did so,” said Shawn; “there’s some one in the hedge, for a weasel would make a different kind of a noise if it made any at all.”

“Keep together, men,” said the sergeant, “and march on; if there’s anybody about they’ve no business with us.

He had scarcely spoken when there came a sudden pattering of feet, and immediately the four men were surrounded and were being struck at on every side with sticks and hands and feet.

“Draw your batons,” the sergeant roared; “keep a good grip of that man, Shawn.”

“I will so,” said Shawn.

“Stand round him, you other men, and hit anything that comes near you.”

There was no sound of voices from the assailants, only a rapid scuffle of feet, the whistle of sticks as they swung through the air or slapped smartly against a body or clashed upon each other, and the quick breathing of many people; but from the four policemen there came noise and to spare as they struck wildly on every side, cursing the darkness and their opposers with fierce enthusiasm.

“Let out,” cried Shawn suddenly. “Let out or I’ll smash your nut for you. There’s some one pulling at the prisoner, and I’ve dropped my baton.”

The truncheons of the policemen had been so ferociously exercised that their antagonists departed as swiftly and as mysteriously as they came. It was just two minutes of frantic, aimless conflict, and then the silent night was round them again, without any sound but the slow creaking of branches, the swish of leaves as they swung and poised, and the quiet croon of the wind along the road.

“Come on, men,” said the sergeant, “we’d better be getting out of this place as quick as we can. Are any of ye hurted?”

“I’ve got one of the enemy,” said Shawn, panting.

“You’ve got what?” said the sergeant.

“I’ve got one of them, and he is wriggling like an eel on a pan.”

“Hold him tight,” said the sergeant excitedly.

“I will so,” said Shawn. “It’s a little one by the feel of it. If one of ye would hold the prisoner, I’d get a better grip on this one. Aren’t they dangerous villains now?”

Another man took hold of the Philosopher’s arm, and Shawn got both hands on his captive.

“Keep quiet, I’m telling you,” said he, “or I’ll throttle you, I will so. Faith, it seems like a little boy by the feel of it!”

“A little boy!” said the sergeant.

“Yes, he doesn’t reach up to my waist.”

“It must be the young brat from the cottage that set the dogs on us, the one that loves beasts. Now then, boy, what do you mean by this kind of thing? You’ll find yourself in gaol for this, my young buck-o. Who was with you, eh? Tell me that now?” and the sergeant bent forward.

“Hold up your head, sonny, and talk to the sergeant,” said Shawn. “Oh!” he roared, and suddenly he made a little rush forward. “I’ve got him,” he gasped; “he nearly got away. It isn’t a boy at all, sergeant; there’s whiskers on it!”

“What do you say?” said the sergeant.

“I put my hand under its chin and there’s whiskers on it. I nearly let him out with the surprise, I did so.”

“Try again,” said the sergeant in a low voice; “you are making a mistake.”

“I don’t like touching them,” said Shawn. “It’s a soft whisker like a billy-goat’s. Maybe you’d try yourself, sergeant, for I tell you I’m frightened of it.”

“Hold him over here,” said the sergeant, “and keep a good grip of him.”

“I’ll do that,” said Shawn, and he hauled some reluctant object towards his superior.

The sergeant put out his hand and touched a head.

“It’s only a boy’s size to be sure,” said he, then he slid his hand down the face and withdrew it quickly.

“There are whiskers on it,” said he soberly. “What the devil can it be? I never met whiskers so near the ground before. Maybe they are false ones, and it’s just the boy yonder trying to disguise himself.” He put out his hand again with an effort, felt his way to the chin, and tugged.

Instantly there came a yell, so loud, so sudden, that every man of them jumped in a panic.

“They are real whiskers,” said the sergeant with a sigh. “I wish I knew what it is. His voice is big enough for two men, and that’s a fact. Have you got another match on you?”

“I have two more in my waistcoat pocket,” said one of the men.

“Give me one of them,” said the sergeant; “I’ll strike it myself.”

He groped about until he found the hand with the match.

“Be sure and hold him tight, Shawn, the way we can have a good look at him, for this is like to be a queer miracle of a thing.”

“I’m holding him by the two arms,” said Shawn, “he can’t stir anything but his head, and I’ve got my chest on that.”

The sergeant struck the match, shading it for a moment with his hand, then he turned it on their new prisoner.

They saw a little man dressed in tight green clothes; he had a broad pale face with staring eyes, and there was a thin fringe of grey whisker under his chin — then the match went out.

“It’s a Leprecaun,” said the sergeant.

The men were silent for a full couple of minutes — at last Shawn spoke.

“Do you tell me so?” said he in a musing voice; “that’s a queer miracle altogether.”

“I do,” said the sergeant. “Doesn’t it stand to reason that it can’t be anything else? You saw it yourself.”

Shawn plumped down on his knees before his captive.

“Tell me where the money is?” he hissed. “Tell me where the money is or I’ll twist your neck off.”

plate9

The other men also gathered eagerly around, shouting threats and commands at the Leprecaun.

“Hold your whist,” said Shawn fiercely to them. “He can’t answer the lot of you, can he?” and he turned again to the Leprecaun and shook him until his teeth chattered.

“If you don’t tell me where the money is at once I’ll kill you, I will so.”

“I haven’t got any money at all, sir,” said the Leprecaun.

“None of your lies,” roared Shawn. “Tell the truth now or it’ll be worse for you.”

“I haven’t got any money,” said the Leprecaun, “for Meehawl MacMurrachu of the Hill stole our crock a while back, and he buried it under a thorn bush. I can bring you to the place if you don’t believe me.”

“Very good,” said Shawn. “Come on with me now, and I’ll clout you if you as much as wriggle; do you mind me?”

“What would I wriggle for?” said the Leprecaun: “sure I like being with you.”

Hereupon the sergeant roared at the top of his voice.

“Attention,” said he, and the men leaped to position like automata.

“What is it you are going to do with your prisoner, Shawn?” said he sarcastically. “Don’t you think we’ve had enough tramping of these roads for one night, now? Bring up that Leprecaun to the barracks or it’ll be the worse for you — do you hear me talking to you?”

“But the gold, sergeant,” said Shawn sulkily.

“If there’s any gold it’ll be treasure trove, and belong to the Crown. What kind of a constable are you at all, Shawn? Mind what you are about now, my man, and no back answers. Step along there. Bring that murderer up at once, whichever of you has him.”

There came a gasp from the darkness.

“Oh, Oh, Oh!” said a voice of horror.

“What’s wrong with you?” said the sergeant: “are you hurted?”

“The prisoner!” he gasped, “he, he’s got away!”

“Got away?” and the sergeant’s voice was a blare of fury.

“While we were looking at the Leprecaun,” said the voice of woe, “I must have forgotten about the other one — I, I haven’t got him —”

“You gawm!” gritted the sergeant.

“Is it my prisoner that’s gone?” said Shawn in a deep voice. He leaped forward with a curse and smote his negligent comrade so terrible a blow in the face, that the man went flying backwards, and the thud of his head on the road could have been heard anywhere.

“Get up,” said Shawn, “get up till I give you another one.”

“That will do,” said the sergeant, “we’ll go home. We’re the laughing-stock of the world. I’ll pay you out for this some time, every damn man of ye. Bring that Leprecaun along with you, and quick march.”

“Oh!” said Shawn in a strangled tone.

“What is it now?” said the sergeant testily.

“Nothing,” replied Shawn.

“What did you say ‘Oh!’ for then, you block-head?”

“It’s the Leprecaun, sergeant,” said Shawn in a whisper —“he’s got away — when I was hitting the man there I forgot all about the Leprecaun: he must have run into the hedge. Oh, sergeant, dear, don’t say anything to me now —!”

“Quick march,” said the sergeant, and the four men moved on through the darkness in a silence, which was only skin deep.

Chapter XV

BY reason of the many years which he had spent in the gloomy pine wood, the Philosopher could see a little in the darkness, and when he found there was no longer any hold on his coat he continued his journey quietly, marching along with his head sunken on his breast in a deep abstraction. He was meditating on the word “Me,” and endeavouring to pursue it through all its changes and adventures. The fact of “meness” was one which startled him. He was amazed at his own being. He knew that the hand which he held up and pinched with another hand was not him and the endeavour to find out what was him was one which had frequently exercised his leisure. He had not gone far when there came a tug at his sleeve and looking down he found one of the Leprecauns of the Gort trotting by his side.

“Noble Sir,” said the Leprecaun, “you are terrible hard to get into conversation with. I have been talking to you for the last long time and you won’t listen.”

“I am listening now,” replied the Philosopher.

“You are, indeed,” said the Leprecaun heartily. “My brothers are on the other side of the road over there beyond the hedge, and they want to talk to you: will you come with me, Noble Sir?”

“Why wouldn’t I go with you?” said the Philosopher, and he turned aside with the Leprecaun.

They pushed softly through a gap in the hedge and into a field beyond.

“Come this way, sir,” said his guide, and the Philosopher followed him across the field. In a few minutes they came to a thick bush among the leaves of which the other Leprecauns were hiding. They thronged out to meet the Philosopher’s approach and welcomed him with every appearance of joy. With them was the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath, who embraced her husband tenderly and gave thanks for his escape.

“The night is young yet,” remarked one of the Leprecauns. “Let us sit down here and talk about what should be done.”

“I am tired enough,” said the Philosopher, “for I have been travelling all yesterday, and all this day and the whole of this night I have been going also, so I would be glad to sit down anywhere.”

They sat down under the bush and the Philosopher lit his pipe. In the open space where they were there was just light enough to see the smoke coming from his pipe, but scarcely more. One recognized a figure as a deeper shadow than the surrounding darkness; but as the ground was dry and the air just touched with a pleasant chill, there was no discomfort. After the Philosopher had drawn a few mouthfuls of smoke he passed his pipe on to the next person, and in this way his pipe made the circuit of the party.

“When I put the children to bed,” said the Thin Woman, “I came down the road in your wake with a basin of stirabout, for you had no time to take your food, God help you! and I was thinking you must have been hungry.”

“That is so,” said the Philosopher in a very anxious voice: “but I don’t blame you, my dear, for letting the basin fall on the road —”

“While I was going along,” she continued, “I met these good people and when I told them what happened they came with me to see if anything could be done. The time they ran out of the hedge to fight the policemen I wanted to go with them, but I was afraid the stirabout would be spilt.”

The Philosopher licked his lips.

“I am listening to you, my love,” said he.

“So I had to stay where I was with the stirabout under my shawl —”

“Did you slip then, dear wife?”

“I did not, indeed,” she replied: “I have the stirabout with me this minute. It’s rather cold, I’m thinking, but it is better than nothing at all,” and she placed the bowl in his hands.

“I put sugar in it,” said she shyly, “and currants, and I have a spoon in my pocket.”

“It tastes well,” said the Philosopher, and he cleaned the basin so speedily that his wife wept because of his hunger.

By this time the pipe had come round to him again and it was welcomed.

“Now we can talk,” said he, and he blew a great cloud of smoke into the darkness and sighed happily.

“We were thinking,” said the Thin Woman, “that you won’t be able to come back to our house for a while yet: the policemen will be peeping about Coille Doraca for a long time, to be sure; for isn’t it true that if there is a good thing coming to a person, nobody takes much trouble to find him, but if there is a bad thing or a punishment in store for a man, then the whole world will be searched until he be found?”

“It is a true statement,” said the Philosopher.

“So what we arranged was this — that you should go to live with these little men in their house under the yew tree of the Gort. There is not a policeman in the world would find you there; or if you went by night to the Brugh of the Boyne, Angus Og himself would give you a refuge.”

One of the Leprecauns here interposed.

“Noble Sir,” said he, “there isn’t much room in our house but there’s no stint of welcome in it. You would have a good time with us travelling on moonlit nights and seeing strange things, for we often go to visit the Shee of the Hills and they come to see us; there is always something to talk about, and we have dances in the caves and on the tops of the hills. Don’t be imagining now that we have a poor life for there is fun and plenty with us and the Brugh of Angus Mac an Og is hard to be got at.”

“I would like to dance, indeed,” returned the Philosopher, “for I do believe that dancing is the first and last duty of man. If we cannot be gay what can we be? Life is not any use at all unless we find a laugh here and there — but this time, decent men of the Gort, I cannot go with you, for it is laid on me to give myself up to the police.”

“You would not do that,” exclaimed the Thin Woman pitifully: “You wouldn’t think of doing that now!”

“An innocent man,” said he, “cannot be oppressed, for he is fortified by his mind and his heart cheers him. It is only on a guilty person that the rigour of punishment can fall, for he punishes himself. This is what I think, that a man should always obey the law with his body and always disobey it with his mind. I have been arrested, the men of the law had me in their hands, and I will have to go back to them so that they may do whatever they have to do.”

The Philosopher resumed his pipe, and although the others reasoned with him for a long time they could not by any means remove him from his purpose. So, when the pale glimmer of dawn had stolen over the sky, they arose and went downwards to the cross-roads and so to the Police Station.

Outside the village the Leprecauns bade him farewell and the Thin Woman also took her leave of him, saying she would visit Angus Og and implore his assistance on behalf of her husband, and then the Leprecauns and the Thin Woman returned again the way they came, and the Philosopher walked on to the barracks.

Chapter XVI

WHEN he knocked at the barracks door it was opened by a man with tousled, red hair, who looked as though he had just awakened from sleep.

“What do you want at this hour of the night?” said he.

“I want to give myself up,” said the Philosopher. The policeman looked at him —“A man as old as you are,” said he, “oughtn’t to be a fool. Go home now, I advise you, and don’t say a word to any one whether you did it or not. Tell me this now, was it found out, or are you only making a clean breast of it?”

“Sure I must give myself up,” said the Philosopher.

“If you must, you must, and that’s an end of it. Wipe your feet on the rail there and come in — I’ll take your deposition.”

“I have no deposition for you,” said the Philosopher, “for I didn’t do a thing at all.”

The policeman stared at him again.

“If that’s so,” said he, “you needn’t come in at all, and you needn’t have wakened me out of my sleep either. Maybe, tho’, you are the man that fought the badger on the Naas Road — Eh?”

“I am not,” replied the Philosopher: “but I was arrested for killing my brother and his wife, although I never touched them.”

“Is that who you are?” said the policeman; and then, briskly, “You’re as welcome as the cuckoo, you are so. Come in and make yourself comfortable till the men awaken, and they are the lads that’ll be glad to see you. I couldn’t make head or tail of what they said when they came in last night, and no one else either, for they did nothing but fight each other and curse the banshees and cluricauns of Leinster. Sit down there on the settle by the fire and, maybe, you’ll be able to get a sleep; you look as if you were tired, and the mud of every county in Ireland is on your boots.”

The Philosopher thanked him and stretched out on the settle. In a short time, for he was very weary, he fell asleep.

Many hours later he was awakened by the sound of voices, and found on rising, that the men who had captured him on the previous evening were standing by the bed. The sergeant’s face beamed with joy. He was dressed only in his trousers and shirt. His hair was sticking up in some places and sticking out in others which gave a certain wild look to him, and his feet were bare. He took the Philosopher’s two hands in his own and swore if ever there was anything he could do to comfort him he would do that and more. Shawn, in a similar state of unclothedness, greeted the Philosopher and proclaimed himself his friend and follower for ever. Shawn further announced that he did not believe the Philosopher had killed the two people, that if he had killed them they must have richly deserved it, and that if he was hung he would plant flowers on his grave; for a decenter, quieter, and wiser man he had never met and never would meet in the world.

These professions of esteem comforted the Philosopher, and he replied to them in terms which made the red-haired policeman gape in astonishment and approval.

He was given a breakfast of bread and cocoa which he ate with his guardians, and then, as they had to take up their outdoor duties, he was conducted to the backyard and informed he could walk about there and that he might smoke until he was black in the face. The policemen severally presented him with a pipe, a tin of tobacco, two boxes of matches and a dictionary, and then they withdrew, leaving him to his own devices.

The garden was about twelve feet square, having high, smooth walls on every side, and into it there came neither sun nor wind. In one corner a clump of rusty-looking sweet-pea was climbing up the wall — every leaf of this plant was riddled with holes, and there were no flowers on it. Another corner was occupied by dwarf nasturtiums, and on this plant, in despite of every discouragement, two flowers were blooming, but its leaves also were tattered and dejected. A mass of ivy clung to the third corner, its leaves were big and glossy at the top, but near the ground there was only grey, naked stalks laced together by cobwebs. The fourth wall was clothed in a loose Virginia creeper every leaf of which looked like an insect that could crawl if it wanted to. The centre of this small plot had used every possible artifice to cover itself with grass, and in some places it had wonderfully succeeded, but the pieces of broken bottles, shattered jampots, and sections of crockery were so numerous that no attempt at growth could be other than tentative and unpassioned.

Here, for a long time, the Philosopher marched up and down. At one moment he examined the sweet-pea and mourned with it on a wretched existence. Again he congratulated the nasturtium on its two bright children; but he thought of the gardens wherein they might have bloomed and the remembrance of that spacious, sunny freedom saddened him.

“Indeed, poor creatures!” said he, “ye also are in gaol.”

The blank, soundless yard troubled him so much that at last he called to the red-haired policeman and begged to be put into a cell in preference; and to the common cell he was, accordingly, conducted.

This place was a small cellar built beneath the level of the ground. An iron grating at the top of the wall admitted one blanched wink of light, but the place was bathed in obscurity. A wooden ladder led down to the cell from a hole in the ceiling, and this hole also gave a spark of brightness and some little air to the room. The walls were of stone covered with plaster, but the plaster had fallen away in many places leaving the rough stones visible at every turn of the eye.

There were two men in the cell, and these the Philosopher saluted; but they did not reply, nor did they speak to each other. There was a low, wooden form fixed to the wall, running quite round the room, and on this, far apart from each other, the two men were seated, with their elbows resting on their knees, their heads propped upon their hands, and each of them with an unwavering gaze fixed on the floor between his feet.

The Philosopher walked for a time up and down the little cell, but soon he also sat down on the low form, propped his head on his hands and lapsed to a melancholy dream.

So the day passed. Twice a policeman came down the ladder bearing three portions of food, bread and cocoa; and by imperceptible gradations the light faded away from the grating and the darkness came. After a great interval the policeman again approached carrying three mattresses and three rough blankets, and these he bundled through the hole. Each of the men took a mattress and a blanket and spread them on the floor, and the Philosopher took his share also.

By this time they could not see each other and all their operations were conducted by the sense of touch alone. They laid themselves down on the beds and a terrible, dark silence brooded over the room.

But the Philosopher could not sleep, he kept his eyes shut, for the darkness under his eyelids was not so dense as that which surrounded him; indeed, he could at will illuminate his own darkness and order around him the sunny roads or the sparkling sky. While his eyes were closed he had the mastery of all pictures of light and colour and warmth, but an irresistible fascination compelled him every few minutes to reopen them, and in the sad space around he could not create any happiness. The darkness weighed very sadly upon him so that in a short time it did creep under his eyelids and drowned his happy pictures until a blackness possessed him both within and without —“Can one’s mind go to prison as well as one’s body?” said he.

He strove desperately to regain his intellectual freedom, but he could not. He could conjure up no visions but those of fear. The creatures of the dark invaded him, fantastic terrors were thronging on every side: they came from the darkness into his eyes and beyond into himself, so that his mind as well as his fancy was captured, and he knew he was, indeed, in gaol.

It was with a great start that he heard a voice speaking from the silence — a harsh, yet cultivated voice, but he could not imagine which of his companions was speaking. He had a vision of that man tormented by the mental imprisonment of the darkness, trying to get away from his ghosts and slimy enemies, goaded into speech in his own despite lest he should be submerged and finally possessed by the abysmal demons. For a while the voice spoke of the strangeness of life and the cruelty of men to each other — disconnected sentences, odd words of self-pity and self-encouragement, and then the matter became more connected and a story grew in the dark cell —“I knew a man,” said the voice, “and he was a clerk. He had thirty shillings a week, and for five years he had never missed a day going to his work. He was a careful man, but a person with a wife and four children cannot save much out of thirty shillings a week. The rent of a house is high, a wife and children must be fed, and they have to get boots and clothes, so that at the end of each week that man’s thirty shillings used to be all gone. But they managed to get along somehow — the man and his wife and the four children were fed and clothed and educated, and the man often wondered how so much could be done with so little money; but the reason was that his wife was a careful woman . . . and then the man got sick. A poor person cannot afford to get sick, and a married man cannot leave his work. If he is sick he has to be sick; but he must go to his work all the same, for if he stayed away who would pay the wages and feed his family? and when he went back to work he might find that there was nothing for him to do. This man fell sick, but he made no change in his way of life: he got up at the same time and went to the office as usual, and he got through the day somehow without attracting his employer’s attention. He didn’t know what was wrong with him: he only knew that he was sick. Sometimes he had sharp, swift pains in his head, and again there would be long hours of languor when he could scarcely bear to change his position or lift a pen. He would commence a letter with the words ‘Dear Sir,’ forming the letter ‘D’ with painful, accurate slowness, elaborating and thickening the up and down strokes, and being troubled when he had to leave that letter for the next one; he built the next letter by hair strokes and would start on the third with hatred. The end of a word seemed to that man like the conclusion of an event — it was a surprising, isolated, individual thing, having no reference to anything else in the world, and on starting a new word he seemed bound, in order to preserve its individuality, to write it in a different handwriting. He would sit with his shoulders hunched up and his pen resting on the paper, staring at a letter until he was nearly mesmerized, and then come to himself with a sense of fear, which started him working like a madman, so that he might not be behind with his business. The day seemed to be so long. It rolled on rusty hinges that could scarcely move. Each hour was like a great circle swollen with heavy air, and it droned and buzzed into an eternity. It seemed to the man that his hand in particular wanted to rest. It was luxury not to work with it. It was good to lay it down on a sheet of paper with the pen sloping against his finger, and then watch his hand going to sleep — it seemed to the man that it was his hand and not himself wanted to sleep, but it always awakened when the pen slipped. There was an instinct in him somewhere not to let the pen slip, and every time the pen moved his hand awakened, and began to work languidly. When he went home at night he lay down at once and stared for hours at a fly on the wall or a crack on the ceiling. When his wife spoke to him he heard her speaking as from a great distance, and he answered her dully as though he was replying through a cloud. He only wanted to be let alone, to be allowed to stare at the fly on the wall, or the crack on the ceiling.

“One morning he found that he couldn’t get up, or rather, that he didn’t want to get up. When his wife called him he made no reply, and she seemed to call him every ten seconds — the words, ‘get up, get up,’ were crackling all round him; they were bursting like bombs on the right hand and on the left of him: they were scattering from above and all around him, bursting upwards from the floor, swirling, swaying, and jostling each other. Then the sounds ceased, and one voice only said to him ‘You are late!’ He saw these words like a blur hanging in the air, just beyond his eyelids, and he stared at the blur until he fell asleep.”

The voice in the cell ceased speaking for a few minutes, and then it went on again.

“For three weeks the man did not leave his bed — he lived faintly in a kind of trance, wherein great forms moved about slowly and immense words were drumming gently for ever. When he began to take notice again everything in the house was different. Most of the furniture, paid for so hardly, was gone. He missed a thing everywhere — chairs, a mirror, a table: wherever he looked he missed something; and downstairs was worse — there, everything was gone. His wife had sold all her furniture to pay for doctors, for medicine, for food and rent. And she was changed too: good things had gone from her face; she was gaunt, sharp-featured, miserable — but she was comforted to think he was going back to work soon.

“There was a flurry in his head when he went to his office. He didn’t know what his employer would say for stopping away. He might blame him for being sick — he wondered would his employer pay him for the weeks he was absent. When he stood at the door he was frightened. Suddenly the thought of his master’s eye grew terrible to him: it was a steady, cold, glassy eye; but he opened the door and went in. His master was there with another man and he tried to say ‘Good morning, sir,’ in a natural and calm voice; but he knew that the strange man had been engaged instead of himself, and this knowledge posted itself between his tongue and his thought. He heard himself stammering, he felt that his whole bearing had become drooping and abject. His master was talking swiftly and the other man was looking at him in an embarrassed, stealthy, and pleading manner: his eyes seemed to be apologising for having supplanted him — so he mumbled ‘Good day, sir,’ and stumbled out.

“When he got outside he could not think where to go. After a while he went in the direction of the little park in the centre of the city. It was quite near and he sat down on an iron bench facing a pond. There were children walking up and down by the water giving pieces of bread to the swans. Now and again a labouring man or a messenger went by quickly; now and again a middle-aged, slovenly-dressed man drooped past aimlessly: sometimes a tattered, self-intent woman with a badgered face flopped by him. When he looked at these dull people the thought came to him that they were not walking there at all; they were trailing through hell, and their desperate eyes saw none but devils around them. He saw himself joining these battered strollers . . . and he could not think what he would tell his wife when he went home. He rehearsed to himself the terms of his dismissal a hundred times. How his master looked, what he had said: and then the fine, ironical things he had said to his master. He sat in the park all day, and when evening fell he went home at his accustomed hour.

“His wife asked him questions as to how he had got on, and wanted to know was there any chance of being paid for the weeks of absence; the man answered her volubly, ate his supper and went to bed: but he did not tell his wife that he had been dismissed and that there would be no money at the end of the week. He tried to tell her, but when he met her eye he found that he could not say the words — he was afraid of the look that might come into her face when she heard it — she, standing terrified in those dismantled rooms . . .!

“In the morning he ate his breakfast and went out again — to work, his wife thought. She bid him ask the master about the three weeks’ wages, or to try and get an advance on the present week’s wages, for they were hardly put to it to buy food. He said he would do his best, but he went straight to the park and sat looking at the pond, looking at the passers-by and dreaming. In the middle of the day he started up in a panic and went about the city asking for work in offices, shops, warehouses, everywhere, but he could not get any. He trailed back heavy-footed again to the park and sat down.

“He told his wife more lies about his work that night and what his master had said when he asked for an advance. He couldn’t bear the children to touch him. After a little time he sneaked away to his bed.

“A week went that way. He didn’t look for work any more. He sat in the park, dreaming, with his head bowed into his hands. The next day would be the day he should have been paid his wages. The next day! What would his wife say when he told her he had no money? She would stare at him and flush and say — ‘Didn’t you go out every day to work?’— How would he tell her then so that she could understand quickly and spare him words?

“Morning came and the man ate his breakfast silently. There was no butter on the bread, and his wife seemed to be apologising to him for not having any. She said, ‘We’ll be able to start fair from tomorrow,’ and when he snapped at her angrily she thought it was because he had to eat dry bread.

“He went to the park and sat there for hours. Now and again he got up and walked into a neighbouring street, but always, after half an hour or so, he came back. Six o’clock in the evening was his hour for going home. When six o’clock came he did not move, he still sat opposite the pond with his head bowed down into his arms. Seven o’clock passed. At nine o’clock a bell was rung and every one had to leave. He went also. He stood outside the gates looking on this side and on that. Which way would he go? All roads were alike to him, so he turned at last and walked somewhere. He did not go home that night. He never went home again. He never was heard of again anywhere in the wide world.”

The voice ceased speaking and silence swung down again upon the little cell. The Philosopher had been listening intently to this story, and after a few minutes he spoke —“When you go up this road there is a turn to the left and all the path along is bordered with trees — there are birds in the trees, Glory be to God! There is only one house on that road, and the woman in it gave us milk to drink. She has but one son, a good boy, and she said the other children were dead; she was speaking of a husband who went away and left her —‘Why should he have been afraid to come home?’ said she —‘sure, I loved him.’”

After a little interval the voice spoke again —“I don’t know what became of the man I was speaking of. I am a thief, and I’m well known to the police everywhere. I don’t think that man would get a welcome at the house up here, for why should he?”

Another, a different, querulous kind of voice came from the silence —“If I knew a place where there was a welcome I’d go there as quickly as I could, but I don’t know a place and I never will, for what good would a man of my age be to any person? I am a thief also. The first thing I stole was a hen out of a little yard. I roasted it in a ditch and ate it, and then I stole another one and ate it, and after that I stole everything I could lay my hands on. I suppose I will steal as long as I live, and I’ll die in a ditch at the heel of the hunt. There was a time, not long ago, and if any one had told me then that I would rob, even for hunger, I’d have been insulted: but what does it matter now? And the reason I am a thief is because I got old without noticing it. Other people noticed it, but I did not. I suppose age comes on one so gradually that it is seldom observed. If there are wrinkles on one’s face we do not remember when they were not there: we put down all kind of little infirmities to sedentary living, and you will see plenty of young people bald. If a man has no occasion to tell any one his age, and if he never thinks of it himself, he won’t see ten years’ difference between his youth and his age, for we live in slow, quiet times, and nothing ever happens to mark the years as they go by, one after the other, and all the same.

“I lodged in a house for a great many years, and a little girl grew up there, the daughter of my landlady. She used to slide down the bannisters very well, and she used to play the piano very badly. These two things worried me many a time. She used to bring me my meals in the morning and the evening, and often enough she’d stop to talk with me while I was eating. She was a very chatty girl and I was a talkative person myself. When she was about eighteen years of age I got so used to her that if her mother came with the food I would be worried for the rest of the day. Her face was as bright as a sunbeam, and her lazy, careless ways, big, free movements, and girlish chatter were pleasant to a man whose loneliness was only beginning to be apparent to him through her company. I’ve thought of it often since, and I suppose that’s how it began. She used to listen to all my opinions and she’d agree with them because she had none of her own yet. She was a good girl, but lazy in her mind and body; childish, in fact. Her talk was as involved as her actions: she always seemed to be sliding down mental bannisters; she thought in kinks and spoke in spasms, hopped mentally from one subject to another without the slightest difficulty, and could use a lot of language in saying nothing at all. I could see all that at the time, but I suppose I was too pleased with my own sharp business brains, and sick enough, although I did not know it, of my sharp-brained, business companions — dear Lord! I remember them well. It’s easy enough to have brains as they call it, but it is not so easy to have a little gaiety or carelessness or childishness or whatever it was she had. It is good, too, to feel superior to some one, even a girl.

“One day this thought came to me —‘It is time that I settled down.’ I don’t know where the idea came from; one hears it often enough and it always seems to apply to some one else, but I don’t know what brought it to roost with me. I was foolish, too: I bought ties and differently shaped collars, and took to creasing my trousers by folding them under the bed and lying on them all night — It never struck me that I was more than three times her age. I brought home sweets for her and she was delighted. She said she adored sweets, and she used to insist on my eating some of them with her; she liked to compare notes as to how they tasted while eating them. I used to get a toothache from them, but I bore with it although at that time I hated toothache almost as much as I hated sweets. Then I asked her to come out with me for a walk. She was willing enough and it was a novel experience for me. Indeed, it was rather exciting. le went out together often after that, and sometimes we’d meet people I knew, young men from my office or from other offices. I used to be shy when some of these people winked at me as they saluted. It was pleasant, too, telling the girl who they were, their business and their salaries: for there was little I didn’t know. I used to tell her of my own position in the office and what the chief said to me through the day. Sometimes we talked of the things that had appeared in the evening papers. A murder perhaps, some phase of a divorce case, the speech a political person had made, or the price of stock. She was interested in anything so long as it was talk. And her own share in the conversation was good to hear. Every lady that passed us had a hat that stirred her to the top of rapture or the other pinnacle of disgust. She told me what ladies were frights and what were ducks. Under her scampering tongue I began to learn something of humanity, even though she saw most people as delightfully funny clowns or superb, majestical princes, but I noticed that she never said a bad word of a man, although many of the men she looked after were ordinary enough. Until I went walking with her I never knew what a shop window was. A jeweller’s window especially: there were curious things in it. She told me how a tiara should be worn, and a pendant, and she explained the kind of studs I should wear myself; they were made of gold and had red stones in them; she showed me the ropes of pearl or diamonds that she thought would look pretty on herself: and one day she said that she liked me very much. I was pleased and excited that day, but I was a business man and I said very little in reply. I never liked a pig in a poke.

“She used to go out two nights in the week, Monday and Thursday, dressed in her best clothes. I didn’t know where she went, and I didn’t ask — I thought she visited an acquaintance, a girl friend or some such. The time went by and I made up my mind to ask her to marry me. I had watched her long enough and she was always kind and bright. I liked the way she smiled, and I liked her obedient, mannerly bearing. There was something else I liked, which I did not recognise then, something surrounding all her movements, a graciousness, a spaciousness: I did not analyse it; but I know now that it was her youth. I remember that when we were out together she walked slowly, but in the house she would leap up and down the stairs — she moved furiously, but I didn’t.

“One evening she dressed to go out as usual, and she called at my door to know had I everything I wanted. I said I had something to tell her when she came home, something important. She promised to come in early to hear it, and I laughed at her and she laughed back and went sliding down the bannisters. I don’t think I have had any reason to laugh since that night. A letter came for me after she had gone, and I knew by the shape and the handwriting that it was from the office. It puzzled me to think why I should be written to. I didn’t like opening it somehow. . . . It was my dismissal on account of advancing age, and it hoped for my future welfare politely enough. It was signed by the Senior. I didn’t grip it at first, and then I thought it was a hoax. For a long time I sat in my room with an empty mind. I was watching my mind: there were immense distances in it that drowsed and buzzed; large, soft movements seemed to be made in my mind, and although I was looking at the letter in my hand I was really trying to focus those great, swinging spaces in my brain, and my ears were listening for a movement of some kind. I can see back to that time plainly. I went walking up and down the room. There was a dull, subterranean anger in me. I remember muttering once or twice, ‘Shameful!’ and again I said, ‘Ridiculous!’ At the idea of age I looked at my face in the glass, but I was looking at my mind, and it seemed to go grey, there was a heaviness there also. I seemed to be peering from beneath a weight at something strange. I had a feeling that I had let go a grip which I had held tightly for a long time, and I had a feeling that the letting go was a grave disaster . . . that strange face in the glass! how wrinkled it was! there were only a few hairs on the head and they were grey ones. There was a constant twitching of the lips and the eyes were deep-set, little and dull. I left the glass and sat down by the window, looking out. I saw nothing in the street: I just looked into a blackness. My mind was as blank as the night and as soundless. There was a swirl outside the window, rain tossed by the wind; without noticing, I saw it, and my brain swung with the rain until it heaved in circles, and then a feeling of faintness awakened me to myself. I did not allow my mind to think, but now and again a word swooped from immense distances through my brain, swinging like a comet across a sky and jarring terribly when it struck: ‘Sacked’ was one word, ‘Old’ was another word.

“I don’t know how long I sat watching the flight of these dreadful words and listening to their clanking impact, but a movement in the street aroused me. Two people, the girl and a young, slender man, were coming slowly up to the house. The rain was falling heavily, but they did not seem to mind it. There was a big puddle of water close to the kerb, and the girl, stepping daintily as a cat, went round this, but the young man stood for a moment beyond it. He raised both arms, clenched his fists, swung them, and jumped over the puddle. Then he and the girl stood looking at the water, apparently measuring the jump. I could see them plainly by a street lamp. They were bidding each other goodbye. The girl put her hand to his neck and settled the collar of his coat, and while her hand rested on him the young man suddenly and violently flung his arms about her and hugged her; then they kissed and moved apart. The man walked to the rain puddle and stood there with his face turned back laughing at her, and then he jumped straight into the middle of the puddle and began to dance up and down in it, the muddy water splashing up to his knees. She ran over to him crying ‘Stop, silly!’ When she came into the house, I bolted my door and I gave no answer to her knock.

“In a few months the money I had saved was spent. Icouldn’t get any work, I was too old; they put it that they wanted a younger man. I couldn’t pay my rent. I went out into the world again, like a baby, an old baby in a new world. I stole food, food, food anywhere and everywhere. At first I was always caught. Often I was sent to gaol; sometimes I was let go; sometimes I was kicked; but I learned to live like a wolf at last. I am not often caught now when I steal food. But there is something happening every day, whether it is going to gaol or planning how to steal a hen or a loaf of bread. I find that it is a good life, much better than the one I lived for nearly sixty years, and I have time to think over every sort of thing . . . .”

When the morning came the Philosopher was taken on a car to the big City in order that he might be put on his trial and hanged. It was the custom.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/stephens/james/crock/book5.html

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