On the day following this melancholy occurrence Meehawl MacMurrachu, a small farmer in the neighbourhood, came through the pine trees with tangled brows. At the door of the little house he said, “God be with all here,” and marched in.

The Philosopher removed his pipe from his lips⁠—

“God be with yourself,” said he, and he replaced his pipe.

Meehawl MacMurrachu crooked his thumb at space⁠—

“Where is the other one?” said he.

“Ah!” said the Philosopher.

“He might be outside, maybe?”

“He might, indeed,” said the Philosopher gravely.

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” said the visitor, “for you have enough knowledge by yourself to stock a shop. The reason I came here today was to ask your honoured advice about my wife’s washing board. She only has it a couple of years, and the last time she used it was when she washed out my Sunday shirt and her black skirt with the red things on it⁠—you know the one?”

“I do not,” said the Philosopher.

“Well, anyhow, the washboard is gone, and my wife says it was either taken by the fairies or by Bessie Hannigan⁠—you know Bessie Hannigan? She has whiskers like a goat and a lame leg!”⁠—

“I do not,” said the Philosopher.

“No matter,” said Meehawl MacMurrachu. “She didn’t take it, because my wife got her out yesterday and kept her talking for two hours while I went through everything in her bit of a house⁠—the washboard wasn’t there.”

“It wouldn’t be,” said the Philosopher.

“Maybe your honour could tell a body where it is then?”

“Maybe I could,” said the Philosopher; “are you listening?”

“I am,” said Meehawl MacMurrachu.

The Philosopher drew his chair closer to the visitor until their knees were jammed together. He laid both his hands on Meehawl MacMurrachu’s knees⁠—

“Washing is an extraordinary custom,” said he. “We are washed both on coming into the world and on going out of it, and we take no pleasure from the first washing nor any profit from the last.”

“True for you, sir,” said Meehawl MacMurrachu.

“Many people consider that scourings supplementary to these are only due to habit. Now, habit is continuity of action, it is a most detestable thing and is very difficult to get away from. A proverb will run where a writ will not, and the follies of our forefathers are of greater importance to us than is the well-being of our posterity.”

“I wouldn’t say a word against that, sir,” said Meehawl MacMurrachu.

“Cats are a philosophic and thoughtful race, but they do not admit the efficacy of either water or soap, and yet it is usually conceded that they are cleanly folk. There are exceptions to every rule, and I once knew a cat who lusted after water and bathed daily: he was an unnatural brute and died ultimately of the head staggers. Children are nearly as wise as cats. It is true that they will utilize water in a variety of ways, for instance, the destruction of a tablecloth or a pinafore, and I have observed them greasing a ladder with soap, showing in the process a great knowledge of the properties of this material.”

“Why shouldn’t they, to be sure?” said Meehawl MacMurrachu. “Have you got a match, sir?”

“I have not,” said the Philosopher. “Sparrows, again, are a highly acute and reasonable folk. They use water to quench thirst, but when they are dirty they take a dust bath and are at once cleansed. Of course, birds are often seen in the water, but they go there to catch fish and not to wash. I have often fancied that fish are a dirty, sly, and unintelligent people⁠—this is due to their staying so much in the water, and it has been observed that on being removed from this element they at once expire through sheer ecstasy at escaping from their prolonged washing.”

“I have seen them doing it myself,” said Meehawl. “Did you ever hear, sir, about the fish that Paudeen MacLoughlin caught in the policeman’s hat.”

“I did not,” said the Philosopher. “The first person who washed was possibly a person seeking a cheap notoriety. Any fool can wash himself, but every wise man knows that it is an unnecessary labour, for nature will quickly reduce him to a natural and healthy dirtiness again. We should seek, therefore, not how to make ourselves clean, but how to attain a more unique and splendid dirtiness, and perhaps the accumulated layers of matter might, by ordinary geologic compulsion, become incorporated with the human cuticle and so render clothing unnecessary⁠—”

“About that washboard,” said Meehawl, “I was just going to say⁠—”

“It doesn’t matter,” said the Philosopher. “In its proper place I admit the necessity for water. As a thing to sail a ship on it can scarcely be surpassed (not, you will understand, that I entirely approve of ships, they tend to create and perpetuate international curiosity and the smaller vermin of different latitudes). As an element wherewith to put out a fire, or brew tea, or make a slide in winter it is useful, but in a tin basin it has a repulsive and meagre aspect.⁠—Now as to your wife’s washboard⁠—”

“Good luck to your honour,” said Meehawl.

“Your wife says that either the fairies or a woman with a goat’s leg has it.”

“It’s her whiskers,” said Meehawl.

“They are lame,” said the Philosopher sternly.

“Have it your own way, sir, I’m not certain now how the creature is afflicted.”

“You say that this unhealthy woman has not got your wife’s washboard. It remains, therefore, that the fairies have it.”

“It looks that way,” said Meehawl.

“There are six clans of fairies living in this neighbourhood; but the process of elimination, which has shaped the world to a globe, the ant to its environment, and man to the captaincy of the vertebrates, will not fail in this instance either.”

“Did you ever see anything like the way wasps have increased this season?” said Meehawl; “faith, you can’t sit down anywhere but your breeches⁠—”

“I did not,” said the Philosopher. “Did you leave out a pan of milk on last Tuesday?”

“I did then.”

“Do you take off your hat when you meet a dust twirl?”

“I wouldn’t neglect that,” said Meehawl.

“Did you cut down a thorn bush recently?”

“I’d sooner cut my eye out,” said Meehawl, “and go about as walleyed as Lorcan O’Nualain’s ass: I would that. Did you ever see his ass, sir? It⁠—”

“I did not,” said the Philosopher. “Did you kill a robin redbreast?”

“Never,” said Meehawl. “By the pipers,” he added, “that old skinny cat of mine caught a bird on the roof yesterday.”

“Hah!” cried the Philosopher, moving, if it were possible, even closer to his client, “now we have it. It is the Leprecauns of Gort na Cloca Mora took your washboard. Go to the Gort at once. There is a hole under a tree in the southeast of the field. Try what you will find in that hole.”

“I’ll do that,” said Meehawl. “Did you ever⁠—”

“I did not,” said the Philosopher.

So Meehawl MacMurrachu went away and did as he had been bidden, and underneath the tree of Gort na Cloca Mora he found a little crock of gold.

“There’s a power of washboards in that,” said he.

By reason of this incident the fame of the Philosopher became even greater than it had been before, and also by reason of it many singular events were to happen with which you shall duly become acquainted.