The Crock of Gold

Author: James Stephens

Chapter XVII

THE ability of the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath for anger was unbounded. She was not one of those limited creatures who are swept clean by a gust of wrath and left placid and smiling after its passing. She could store her anger in those caverns of eternity which open into every soul, and which are filled with rage and violence until the time comes when they may be stored with wisdom and love; for, in the genesis of life, love is at the beginning and the end of things. First, like a laughing child, love came to labour minutely in the rocks and sands of the heart, opening the first of those roads which lead inwards for ever, and then, the labour of his day being done, love fled away and was forgotten. Following came the fierce winds of hate to work like giants and gnomes among the prodigious debris, quarrying the rocks and levelling the roads which soar inwards; but when that work is completed love will come radiantly again to live for ever in the human heart, which is Eternity.

Before the Thin Woman could undertake the redemption of her husband by wrath, it was necessary that she should be purified by the performance of that sacrifice which is called the Forgiveness of Enemies, and this she did by embracing the Leprecauns of the Gort and in the presence of the sun and the wind remitting their crime against her husband. Thus she became free to devote her malice against the State of Punishment, while forgiving the individuals who had but acted in obedience to the pressure of their infernal environment, which pressure is Sin.

This done she set about baking the three cakes against her journey to Angus Og.

While she was baking the cakes, the children, Seumas and Brigid Beg, slipped away into the wood to speak to each other and to wonder over this extraordinary occurrence.

At first their movements were very careful, for they could not be quite sure that the policemen had really gone away, or whether they were hiding in dark places waiting to pounce on them and carry them away to captivity. The word "murder" was almost unknown to them, and its strangeness was rendered still more strange by reason of the nearness of their father to the term. It was a terrible word and its terror was magnified by their father’s unthinkable implication. What had he done? Almost all his actions and habits were so familiar to them as to be commonplace, and yet, there was a dark something to which he was a party and which dashed before them as terrible and ungraspable as a lightningflash. They understood that it had something to do with that other father and mother whose bodies had been snatched from beneath the hearthstone, but they knew the Philosopher had done nothing in that instance, and, so, they saw murder as a terrible, occult affair which was quite beyond their mental horizons.

No one jumped out on them from behind the trees, so in a little time their confidence returned and they walked less carefully. When they reached the edge of the pine wood the brilliant sunshine invited them to go farther, and after a little hesitation they did so. The good spaces and the sweet air dissipated their melancholy thoughts, and very soon they were racing each other to this point and to that. Their wayward flights had carried them in the direction of Meehawl MacMurrachu’s cottage, and here, breathlessly, they threw themselves under a small tree to rest. It was a thorn bush, and as they sat beneath it the cessation of movement gave them opportunity to again consider the terrible position of their father. With children thought cannot be separated from action for very long. They think as much with their hands as with their heads. They have to do the thing they speak of in order to visualise the idea, and, consequently, Seumas Beg was soon reconstructing the earlier visit of the policemen to their house in grand pantomime. The ground beneath the thorn bush became the hearthstone of their cottage; he and Brigid became four policemen, and in a moment he was digging furiously with a broad piece of wood to find the two hidden bodies. He had digged for only a few minutes when the piece of wood struck against something hard. A very little time sufficed to throw the soil off this, and their delight was great when they unearthed a beautiful little earthen crock filled to the brim with shining, yellow dust. When they lifted this they were astonished at its great weight. They played for a long time with it, letting the heavy, yellow shower slip through their fingers and watching it glisten in the sunshine. After they tired of this they decided to bring the crock home, but by the time they reached the Gort na Cloca Mora they were so tired that they could not carry it any farther, and they decided to leave it with their friends the Leprecauns. Seumas Beg gave the taps on the tree trunk which they had learned, and in a moment the Leprecaun whom they knew came up.

"We have brought this, sir," said Seumas. But he got no further, for the instant the Leprecaun saw the crock he threw his arms around it and wept in so loud a voice that his comrades swarmed up to see what had happened to him, and they added their laughter and tears to his, to which chorus the children subjoined their sympathetic clamour, so that a noise of great complexity rang through all the Gort.

But the Leprecauns’ surrender to this happy passion was short. Hard on their gladness came remembrance and consternation; and then repentance, that dismal virtue, wailed in their ears and their hearts. How could they thank the children whose father and protector they had delivered to the unilluminated justice of humanity? that justice which demands not atonement but punishment; which is learned in the Book of Enmity but not in the Book of Friendship; which calls hatred Nature, and Love a conspiracy; whose law is an iron chain and whose mercy is debility and chagrin; the blind fiend who would impose his own blindness; that unfruitful loin which curses fertility; that stony heart which would petrify the generations of man; before whom life withers away appalled and death would shudder again to its tomb. Repentance! they wiped the inadequate ooze from their eyes and danced joyfully for spite. They could do no more, so they fed the children lovingly and carried them home.

The Thin Woman had baked three cakes. One of these she gave to each of the children and one she kept herself, whereupon they set out upon their journey to Angus Og.

It was well after midday when they started. The fresh gaiety of the morning was gone, and a tyrannous sun, whose majesty was almost insupportable, forded it over the world. There was but little shade for the travellers, and, after a time, they became hot and weary and thirsty—that is, the children did, but the Thin Woman, by reason of her thinness, was proof against every elemental rigour, except hunger, from which no creature is free.

She strode in the centre of the road, a very volcano of silence, thinking twenty different thoughts at the one moment, so that the urgency of her desire for utterance kept her terribly quiet; but against this crust of quietude there was accumulating a mass of speech which must at the last explode or petrify. From this congestion of thought there arose the first deep rumblings, precursors of uproar, and another moment would have heard the thunder of her varied malediction, but that Brigid Beg began to cry: for, indeed, the poor child was both tired and parched to distraction, and Seumas had no barrier against a similar surrender, but two minutes’ worth of boyish pride. This discovery withdrew the Thin Woman from her fiery contemplations, and in comforting the children she forgot her own hardships.

It became necessary to find water quickly: no difficult thing, for the Thin Woman, being a Natural, was like all other creatures able to sense the whereabouts of water, and so she at once led the children in a slightly different direction. In a few minutes they reached a well by the road-side, and here the children drank deeply and were comforted. There was a wide, leafy tree growing hard by the well, and in the shade of this tree they sat down and ate their cakes.

While they rested the Thin Woman advised the children on many important matters. She never addressed her discourse to both of them at once, but spoke first to Seumas on one subject and then to Brigid on another subject; for, as she said, the things which a boy must learn are not those which are necessary to a girl. It is particularly important that a man should understand how to circumvent women, for this and the capture of food forms the basis of masculine wisdom, and on this subject she spoke to Seumas. It is, however, equally urgent that a woman should be skilled to keep a man in his proper place, and to this thesis Brigid gave an undivided attention.

She taught that a man must hate all women before he is able to love a woman, but that he is at liberty, or rather he is under express command, to love all men because they are of his kind. Women also should love all other women as themselves, and they should hate all men but one man only, and him they should seek to turn into a woman, because women, by the order of their beings, must be either tyrants or slaves, and it is better they should be tyrants than slaves. She explained that between men and women there exists a state of unremitting warfare, and that the endeavour of each sex is to bring the other to subjection; but that women are possessed by a demon called Pity which severely handicaps their battle and perpetually gives victory to the male, who is thus constantly rescued on the very ridges of defeat. She said to Seumas that his fatal day would dawn when he loved a woman, because he would sacrifice his destiny to her caprice, and she begged him for love of her to beware of all that twisty sex. To Brigid she revealed that a woman’s terrible day is upon her when she knows that a man loves her, for a man in love submits only to a woman, a partial, individual and temporary submission, but a woman who is loved surrenders more fully to the very god of love himself, and so she becomes a slave, and is not alone deprived of her personal liberty, but is even infected in her mental processes by this crafty obsession. The fates work for man, and therefore, she averred, woman must be victorious, for those who dare to war against the gods are already assured of victory: this being the law of life, that only the weak shall conquer. The limit of strength is petrifaction and immobility, but there is no limit to weakness, and cunning or fluidity is its counsellor. For these reasons, and in order that life might not cease, women should seek to turn their husbands into women; then they would be tyrants and their husbands would be slaves, and life would be renewed for a further period.

As the Thin Woman proceeded with this lesson it became at last so extremely complicated that she was brought to a stand by the knots, so she decided to resume their journey and disentangle her argument when the weather became cooler.

They were repacking the cakes in their wallets when they observed a stout, comely female coming towards the well. This woman, when she drew near, saluted the Thin Woman, and her the Thin Woman saluted again, whereupon the stranger sat down.

"It’s hot weather, surely," said she, "and I’m thinking it’s as much as a body’s life is worth to be travelling this day and the sun the way it is. Did you come far, now, ma’am, or is it that you are used to going the roads and don’t mind it?"

"Not far," said the Thin Woman.

"Far or near," said the stranger, "a perch is as much as I’d like to travel this time of the year. That’s a fine pair of children you have with you now, ma’am."

"They are," said the Thin Woman.

"I’ve ten of them myself," the other continued, "and I often wondered where they came from. It’s queer to think of one woman making ten new creatures and she not getting a penny for it, nor any thanks itself."

"It is," said the Thin Woman.

"Do you ever talk more than two words at the one time, ma’am?" said the stranger.

"I do," said the Thin Woman.

"I’d give a penny to hear you," replied the other angrily, "for a more bad-natured, cross-grained, cantankerous person than yourself I never met among womankind. It’s what I said to a man only yesterday, that thin ones are bad ones, and there isn’t any one could be thinner than you are yourself."

"The reason you say that," said the Thin Woman calmly, "is because you are fat and you have to tell lies to yourself to hide your misfortune, and let on that you like it. There is no one in the world could like to be fat, and there I leave you, ma’am. You can poke your finger in your own eye, but you may keep it out of mine if you please, and, so, good-bye to you; and if I wasn’t a quiet woman I’d pull you by the hair of the head up a hill and down a hill for two hours, and now there’s an end of it. I’ve given you more than two words; let you take care or I’ll give you two more that will put blisters on your body for ever. Come along with me now, children, and if ever you see a woman like that woman you’ll know that she eats until she can’t stand, and drinks until she can’t sit, and sleeps until she is stupid; and if that sort of person ever talks to you remember that two words are all that’s due to her, and let them be short ones, for a woman like that would be a traitor and a thief, only that she’s too lazy to be anything but a sot, God help her I and, so, good-bye."

Thereupon the Thin Woman and the children arose, and having saluted the stranger they went down the wide path; but the other woman stayed where she was sitting, and she did not say a word even to herself.

As she strode along the Thin Woman lapsed again to her anger, and became so distant in her aspect that the children could get no companionship from her; so, after a while, they ceased to consider her at all and addressed themselves to their play. They danced before and behind and around her. They ran and doubled, shouted and laughed and sang. Sometimes they pretended they were husband and wife, and then they plodded quietly side by side, making wise, occasional remarks on the weather, or the condition of their health, or the state of the fields of rye. Sometimes one was a horse and the other was a driver, and then they stamped along the road with loud, fierce snortings and louder and fiercer commands. At another moment one was a cow being driven with great difficulty to market by a driver whose temper had given way hours before; or they both became goats and with their heads jammed together they pushed and squealed viciously; and these changes lapsed into one another so easily that at no moment were they unoccupied. But as the day wore on to evening the immense surrounding quietude began to weigh heavily upon them. Saving for their own shrill voices there was no sound, and this unending, wide silence at last commanded them to a corresponding quietness. Little by little they ceased their play. The scamper became a trot, each run was more and more curtailed in its length, the race back became swifter than the run forth, and, shortly, they were pacing soberly enough one on either side of the Thin Woman sending back and forth a few quiet sentences. Soon even these sentences trailed away into the vast surrounding stillness. Then Brigid Beg clutched the Thin Woman’s right hand, and not long after Seumas gently clasped her left hand, and these mute appeals for protection and comfort again released her from the valleys of fury through which she had been so fiercely careering.

As they went gently along they saw a cow lying in a field, and, seeing this animal, the Thin Woman stopped thoughtfully.

"Everything," said she, "belongs to the wayfarer," and she crossed into the field and milked the cow into a vessel which she had.

"I wonder," said Seumas, "who owns that cow."

"Maybe," said Brigid Beg, "nobody owns her at all."

"The cow owns herself," said the Thin Woman, "for nobody can own a thing that is alive. I am sure she gives her milk to us with great goodwill, for we are modest, temperate people without greed or pretension."

On being released the cow lay down again in the grass and resumed its interrupted cud. As the evening had grown chill the Thin Woman and the children huddled close to the warm animal. They drew pieces of cake from their wallets, and ate these and drank happily from the vessel of milk. Now and then the cow looked benignantly over its shoulder bidding them a welcome to its hospitable flanks. It had a mild, motherly eye, and it was very fond of children. The youngsters continually deserted their meal in order to put their arms about the cow’s neck to thank and praise her for her goodness, and to draw each other’s attention to various excellences in its appearance.

"Cow," said Brigid Beg in an ecstasy, "I love you."

"So do I," said Seumas. "Do you notice the kind of eyes it has?"

"Why does a cow have horns?" said Brigid.

So they asked the cow that question, but it only smiled and said nothing.

"If a cow talked to you," said Brigid, "what would it say?"

"Let us be cows," replied Seumas, "and then, maybe, we will find out."

So they became cows and ate a few blades of grass, but they found that when they were cows they did not want to say anything but "moo," and they decided that cows did not want to say anything more than that either, and they became interested in the reflection that, perhaps, nothing else was worth saying.

A long, thin, yellow-coloured fly was going in that direction on a journey, and he stopped to rest himself on the cow’s nose.

"You are welcome," said the cow.

"It’s a great night for travelling," said the fly, "but one gets tired alone. Have you seen any of my people about?"

"No," replied the cow, "no one but beetles to-night, and they seldom stop for a talk. You’ve rather a good kind of life, I suppose, flying about and enjoying yourself."

"We all have our troubles," said the fly in a melancholy voice, and he commenced to clean his right wing with his leg.

"Does any one ever lie against your back the way these people are lying against mine, or do they steal your milk?"

"There are too many spiders about," said the fly.

"No corner is safe from them; they squat in the grass and pounce on you. I’ve got a twist, my eye trying to watch them. They are ugly, voracious people without manners or neighbourliness, terrible, terrible creatures."

"I have seen them," said the cow, "but they never done me any harm. Move up a little bit please, I want to lick my nose: it’s queer how itchy my nose gets"—the fly moved up a bit. "If," the cow continued, "you had stayed there, and if my tongue had hit you, I don’t suppose you would ever have recovered."

"Your tongue couldn’t have hit me," said the by. "I move very quickly you know."

Hereupon the cow slily whacked her tongue across her nose. She did not see the fly move, but it was hovering safely half an inch over her nose.

"You see," said the fly.

"I do," replied the cow, and she bellowed so sudden and furious a snort of laughter that the fly was blown far away by that gust and never came back again.

This amused the cow exceedingly, and she chuckled and sniggered to herself for a long time. The children had listened with great interest to the conversation, and they also laughed delightedly, and the Thin Woman admitted that the fly had got the worse of it; but, after a while, she said that the part of the cow’s back against which she was resting was bonier than anything she had ever leaned upon before, and that while thinness was a virtue no one had any right to be thin in lumps, and that on this count the cow was not to be commended. On hearing this the cow arose, and without another look at them it walked away into the dusky field. The Thin Woman told the children afterwards that she was sorry she had said anything, but she was unable to bring her self to apologise to the cow, and so they were forced to resume their journey in order to keep themselves warm.

There was a sickle moon in the sky, a tender sword whose radiance stayed in its own high places and did not at all illumine the heavy world below; the glimmer of infrequent stars could also be seen with spacious, dark solitudes between them; but on the earth the darkness gathered in fold on fold of misty veiling, through which the trees uttered an earnest whisper, and the grasses lifted their little voices, and the wind crooned its thrilling, stern lament.

As the travellers walked on, their eyes, flinching from the darkness, rested joyfully on the gracious moon, but that joy lasted only for a little time. The Thin Woman spoke to them curiously about the moon, and, indeed, she might speak with assurance on that subject, for her ancestors had sported in the cold beam through countless dim generations.

"It is not known," said she, "that the fairies seldom dance for joy, but for sadness that they have been expelled from the sweet dawn, and therefore their midnight revels are only ceremonies to remind them of their happy state in the morning of the world before thoughtful curiosity and self-righteous moralities drove them from the kind face of the sun to the dark exile of midnight. It is strange that we may not be angry while looking on the moon. Indeed, no mere appetite or passion of any kind dare become imperative in the presence of the Shining One; and this, in a more limited degree, is true also of every form of beauty; for there is something in an absolute beauty to chide away the desires of materiality and yet to dissolve the spirit in ecstasies of fear and sadness. Beauty has no liking for Thought, but will send terror and sorrow on those who look upon her with intelligent eyes. We may neither be angry nor gay in the presence of the moon, nor may we dare to think in her bailiwick, or the Jealous One will surely afflict us. I think that she is not benevolent but malign, and that her mildness is a cloak for many shy infamies. I think that beauty tends to become frightful as it becomes perfect, and that, if we could see it comprehendingly, the extreme of beauty is a desolating hideousness, and that the name of ultimate, absolute beauty is Madness. Therefore men should seek loveliness rather than beauty, and so they would always have a friend to go beside them, to understand and to comfort them, for that is the business of loveliness: but the business of beauty—there is no person at all knows what that is. Beauty is the extreme which has not yet swung to and become merged in its opposite. The poets have sung of this beauty and the philosophers have prophesied of it, thinking that the beauty which passes all understanding is also the peace which passeth understanding; but I think that whatever passes understanding, which is imagination, is terrible, standing aloof from humanity and from kindness, and that this is the sin against the Holy Ghost, the great Artist. An isolated perfection is a symbol of terror and pride, and it is followed only by the head of man, but the heart winces from it aghast, cleaving to that loveliness which is modesty and righteousness. Every extreme is bad, in order that it may swing to and fertilize its equally horrible opposite."

Thus, speaking more to herself than to the children, the Thin Woman beguiled the way. The moon had brightened as she spoke, and on either side of the path, wherever there was a tree or a rise in the ground, a black shadow was crouching tensely watchful, seeming as if it might spring into terrible life at a bound. Of these shadows the children became so fearful that the Thin Woman forsook the path and adventured on the open hillside, so that in a short time the road was left behind and around them stretched the quiet slopes in the full shining of the moon.

When they had walked for a long time the children became sleepy; they were unused to being awake in the night, and as there was no place where they could rest, and as it was evident that they could not walk much further, the Thin Woman grew anxious. Already Brigid had made a tiny, whimpering sound, and Seumas had followed this with a sigh, the slightest prolongation of which might have trailed into a sob, and when children are overtaken by tears they do not understand how to escape from them until they are simply bored by much weeping.

When they topped a slight incline they saw a light shining some distance away, and toward this the Thin Woman hurried. As they drew near she saw it was a small fire, and around this some figures were seated. In a few minutes she came into the circle of the firelight, and here she halted suddenly. She would have turned and fled, but fear loosened her knees so that they would not obey her will; also the people by the fire had observed her, and a great voice commanded that she should draw near.

The fire was made of branches of heather, and beside it three figures sat. The Thin Woman, hiding her perturbation as well as she could, came nigh and sat down by the fire. After a low word of greeting she gave some of her cake to the children, drew them close to her, wrapped her shawl about their heads and bade them sleep. Then, shrinkingly, she looked at her hosts.

They were quite naked, and each of them gazed on her with intent earnestness. The first was so beautiful that the eye failed upon him, flinching aside as from a great brightness. He was of mighty stature, and yet so nobly proportioned, so exquisitely slender and graceful, that no idea of gravity or bulk went with his height. His face was kingly and youthful and of a terrifying serenity. The second man was of equal height, but broad to wonderment. So broad was he that his great height seemed diminished. The tense arm on which he leaned was knotted and ridged with muscle, and his hand gripped deeply into the ground. His face seemed as though it had been hammered from hard rock, a massive, blunt face as rigid as his arm. The third man can scarcely be described. He was neither short nor tall. He was muscled as heavily as the second man. As he sat he looked like a colossal toad squatting with his arms about his knees, and upon these his chin rested. He had no shape nor swiftness, and his head was flattened down and was scarcely wider than his neck. He had a protruding dog-like mouth that twitched occasionally, and from his little eyes there glinted a horrible intelligence. Before this man the soul of the Thin Woman grovelled. She felt herself crawling to him. The last terrible abasement of which humanity is capable came upon her: a fascination which would have drawn her to him in screaming adoration. Hardly could she look away from him, but her arms were about the children, and love, mightiest of the powers, stirred fiercely in her heart.

The first man spoke to her.

"Woman," said he, "for what purpose do you go abroad on this night and on this hill?"

"I travel, sir," said the Thin Woman, "searching for the Brugh of Angus the son of the Dagda Mor."

"We are all children of the Great Father," said he. "Do you know who we are?"

"I do not know that," said she.

"We are the Three Absolutes, the Three Redeemers, the three Alembics—the Most Beautiful Man, the Strongest Man and the Ugliest Man. In the midst of every strife we go unhurt. We count the slain and the victors and pass on laughing, and to us in the eternal order come all the peoples of the world to be regenerated for ever. Why have you called to us?"

"I did not call to you, indeed," said the Thin Woman; "but why do you sit in the path so that travellers to the House of the Dagda are halted on their journey?"

"There are no paths closed to us," he replied; "even the gods seek us, for they grow weary in their splendid desolation—saving Him who liveth in all things and in us; Him we serve and before His awful front we abase ourselves. You, O Woman, who are walking in the valleys of anger, have called to us in your heart, therefore we are waiting for you on the side of the hill. Choose now one of us to be your mate, and do not fear to choose, for our kingdoms are equal and our powers are equal."

"Why would I choose one of you," replied the Thin Woman, "when I am well married already to the best man in the world?"

"Beyond us there is no best man," said he, "for we are the best in beauty, and the best in strength, and the best in ugliness; there is no excellence which is not contained in us three. If you are married what does that matter to us who are free from the pettiness of jealousy and fear, being at one with ourselves and with every manifestation of nature."

"If," she replied, "you are the Absolute and are above all pettiness, can you not be superior to me also and let me pass quietly on my road to the Dagda!"

"We are what all humanity desire," quoth he, "and we desire all humanity. There is nothing, small or great, disdained by our immortal appetites. It is not lawful, even for the Absolute, to outgrow Desire, which is the breath of God quick in his creatures and not to be bounded or surmounted by any perfection."

During this conversation the other great figures had leaned forward listening intently but saying nothing. The Thin Woman could feel the children like little, terrified birds pressing closely and very quietly to her sides.

"Sir," said she, "tell me what is Beauty and what is Strength and what is Ugliness? for, although I can see these things, I do not know what they are."

"I will tell you that," he replied—"Beauty is Thought and Strength is Love and Ugliness is Generation. The home of Beauty is the head of man. The home of Strength is the heart of man, and in the loins Ugliness keeps his dreadful state. If you come with me you shall know all delight. You shall live unharmed in the flame of the spirit, and nothing that is gross shall bind your limbs or hinder your thought. You shall move as a queen amongst all raging passions without torment or despair. Never shall you be driven or ashamed, but always you will choose your own paths and walk with me in freedom and contentment and beauty."

"All things," said the Thin Woman, "must act according to the order of their being, and so I say to Thought, if you hold me against my will presently I will bind you against your will, for the holder of an unwilling mate becomes the guardian and the slave of his captive."

"That is true," said he, "and against a thing that is true I cannot contend; therefore, you are free from me, but from my brethren you are not free."

The Thin Woman turned to the second man.

"You are Strength?" said she.

"I am Strength and Love," he boomed, "and with me there is safety and peace; my days have honour and my nights quietness. There is no evil thing walks near my lands, nor is any sound heard but the lowing of my cattle, the songs of my birds and the laughter of my happy children. Come then to me who gives protection and happiness and peace, and does not fail or grow weary at any time."

"I will not go with you," said the Thin Woman, "for I am a mother and my strength cannot be increased; I am a mother and my love cannot be added to. What have I further to desire from thee, thou great man?"

"You are free of me," said the second man, "but from my brother you are not free."

Then to the third man the Thin Woman addressed herself in terror, for to that hideous one something cringed within her in an ecstasy of loathing. That repulsion which at its strongest becomes attraction gripped her. A shiver, a plunge, and she had gone, but the hands of the children withheld her while in woe she abased herself before him.

He spoke, and his voice came clogged and painful as though it urged from the matted pores of the earth itself.

"There is none left to whom you may go but me only. Do not be afraid, but come to me and I will give you these wild delights which have been long forgotten. All things which are crude and riotous, all that is gross and without limit is mine. You shall not think and suffer any longer; but you shall feel so surely that the heat of the sun will be happiness: the taste of food, the wind that blows upon you, the ripe ease of your body—these things will amaze you who have forgotten them. My great arms about you will make you furious and young again; you shall leap on the hillside like a young goat and sing for joy as the birds sing. Leave this crabbed humanity that is barred and chained away from joy and come with me, to whose ancient quietude at the last both Strength and Beauty will come like children tired in the evening, returning to the freedom of the brutes and the birds, with bodies sufficient for their pleasure and with no care for Thought or foolish curiosity."

But the Thin Woman drew back from his hand, saying-

"It is not lawful to turn again when the journey is commenced, but to go forward to whatever is appointed; nor may we return to your meadows and trees and sunny places who have once departed from them. The torments of the mind may not be renounced for any easement of the body until the smoke that blinds us is blown away, and the tormenting flame has fitted us for that immortal ecstasy which is the bosom of God. Nor is it lawful that ye great ones should beset the path of travellers, seeking to lure them away with cunning promises. It is only at the cross-roads ye may sit where the traveller will hesitate and be in doubt, but on the highway ye have no power."

"You are free of me," said the third man, "until you are ready to come to me again, for I only of all things am steadfast and patient, and to me all return in their seasons. There are brightnesses in my secret places in the woods, and lamps in my gardens beneath the hills, tended by the angels of God, and behind my face there is another face not hated by the Bright Ones."

So the three Absolutes arose and strode mightily away; and as they went their thunderous speech to each other boomed against the clouds and the earth like a gusty wind, and, even when they had disappeared, that great rumble could be heard dying gently away in the moonlit distances.

The Thin Woman and the children went slowly forward on the rugged, sloping way. Far beyond, near the distant summit of the hill there was a light gleaming.

"Yonder," said the Thin Woman, "is the Brugh of Angus Mac an Og, the son of the Dagda Mor," and toward this light she assisted the weary children.

In a little she was in the presence of the god and by him refreshed and comforted. She told him all that had happened to her husband and implored his assistance. This was readily accorded, for the chief business of the gods is to give protection and assistance to such of their people as require it; but (and this is their limitation) they cannot give any help until it is demanded, the freewill of mankind being the most jealously guarded and holy principle in life; therefore, the interference of the loving gods comes only on an equally loving summons.


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Chicago: James Stephens, "Chapter XVII," The Crock of Gold, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906 in The Crock of Gold Original Sources, accessed May 27, 2024,

MLA: Stephens, James. "Chapter XVII." The Crock of Gold, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906, in The Crock of Gold, Original Sources. 27 May. 2024.

Harvard: Stephens, J, 'Chapter XVII' in The Crock of Gold, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Crock of Gold. Original Sources, retrieved 27 May 2024, from