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 anyone 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, though, 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 forever. 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 forever. 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 middleaged, 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 passersby 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 everyone 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 anyone 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 anyone 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 someone, 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 someone 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. We 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. I couldn’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.