'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Beard.

The wind has been strong for the past few days. Things get blown around the garden, like the watering can, but there’s not much use for that now anyway. The rain does its job. There are a lot of leaves on the wind too.

My cousin Hugh fell in love with Annabel a long time before she fell for him. They’re engaged now, but when he first met her, he had a rival for her affections. She couldn’t decide between Hugh and this other man, Stan. Her parents were very sure about who they wanted her to go for. They thought Stan was much more suitable as a son-in-law than Hugh. There was a rumour going around at the time that Hugh had to grow a beard after stealing a policeman’s hat. When people heard that story, they had a vague idea that the beard had something to do with him being in hiding after stealing the hat, but no one ever really thought about it. Hugh never had a beard. The only thing Annabel’s parents thought about it was that it made him completely unsuitable as a husband for their daughter. Her sister was having a fancy dress party, and she invited both Hugh and Stan to it. Her sister’s son and daughter, Jason and Michelle, were going to the party too. A few weeks earlier, Jason told Michelle that there was a mouse in her doll’s house. She never saw the mouse, but she could imagine it in the tiny rooms, its head inside the windows. She stopped playing with her doll’s house after that, and then one day her mother said there must be a mouse around the house because she had found little holes in cardboard boxes. In her mind Michelle saw the mouse’s head at the window of her doll’s house, and then she imagined it at the window in their living room. She could see its head covering the whole window. This thing must be huge, she thought. Every time she went into a room she put her head around the door first to make sure the mouse wasn’t there, and she went to the fancy dress party as a gladiator so she could use the shield and the sword to protect herself from the mouse. She was going to go as Florence Nightingale, but she thought the mouse wouldn’t be afraid of a lamp. Hugh went as Moses and Stan went as Abraham Lincoln. Someone had the misfortune to go as a rabbit, and when Michelle saw him from behind she thought he was the mouse. She started poking him with her sword, but she stopped when the rabbit made some very un-mouse-like noises. When she saw that it wasn’t the mouse she said, “Oh. Sorry, Mr. Rabbit,” and she walked on. Annabel’s parents were there too. Hugh would have been nervous around them anyway, but her father went as a policeman, and there was something about the sight of a policeman that made my cousin want to be somewhere else. He was drinking a lot to ease his nerves, and he thought he should slow down in case he made a fool of himself, so he went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. As he stood at the kitchen sink he looked out the window and saw a tiny light flashing in the sky. He wondered if it was an airplane or a star. He stood there staring at the light, and it was only when the light disappeared thirty seconds later that he figured out it was an airplane. Stars don’t move across the sky like that. He poured the glass of water and walked away, but his fake beard didn’t go with him. While he was standing there, Jason had glued the beard to the sink. He stood there for a few minutes, trying to figure out what he should do, but he could only just about comprehend the situation. As far as he could work out, he was moving and his beard was stationary, and as far as he could remember, beards normally do move with the face they’re attached to, like people in airplanes. But then, we’re all moving, he thought. The world is constantly spinning, so the beard is moving too. He decided to leave the beard where it was, moving with the sink, while he moved back to the party. Everyone else had drunk a lot as well, and no one would notice his missing beard. Or so he thought. Everyone noticed the missing beard after the rumour about him growing a beard. People asked him about it, and he said, “I, ah… I just left it in the kitchen.” The only person not to mention the beard was Annabel’s father. His hat had gone missing, and he said to Hugh, “I’m keeping a very close eye on you.” Hugh went back to the kitchen to get the beard but it was gone. Jason had cut it off the sink, and at that moment in time he was cutting out two small circles from a piece of paper. He wanted to use the beard as a fake mouse to scare his sister, and the paper circles would be the eyes. Michelle thought she heard something move across the floor in one of the rooms upstairs, so she climbed the stairs with her shield in front of her. She slowly opened the door of the room and turned on the light. When she didn’t see the mouse straightaway she thought it mustn’t be there at all, but then she saw it running across the floor and she laughed at it. The mouse was tiny. She picked it up by its tail and said, “Hello, Mr. Mouse.” She took it downstairs and put it into the policeman’s hat that her grandfather was wearing, and then she left the hat right behind her brother. She knew he’d try it on when he found it. Hugh, meanwhile, was trying to solve the problem of finding another beard. He ruled out growing one (after a quick estimation he thought that would take too long), so instead he decided to steal one from someone else, and the first person he saw was Abraham Lincoln. Stan was standing next to a chest of drawers and Hugh saw the perfect opportunity. He went over to talk to Stan, and he casually opened the top drawer. Then he pointed at something on top of the chest of drawers and said, “What’s that?” Stan looked very closely at what Hugh was pointing at, but he couldn’t see anything. He had drunk as much as Hugh, and he stared at it for about thirty seconds, trying to figure out what it was, but he came to the conclusion that it was nothing at all. While he was looking at the spot, his beard was resting in the top drawer, and Hugh slowly closed the drawer on it. Then he pointed at something on the ceiling and said, “What’s that?” Stan looked up, but his beard stayed in the drawer. About thirty seconds later he said, “I can’t see anything,” but by then his beard and Hugh had gone. He didn’t even notice the absence of his beard. When Jason ran to his mother in tears he told her that he had tried on a policeman’s hat, but someone had put a mouse in the hat. Everyone immediately thought of Hugh. They remembered seeing him without the beard earlier. Stealing a hat was bad enough, but putting a mouse in it was surely something that would convince a daughter that he’d be completely unsuitable as a husband. Annabel’s parents were confident that she’d see sense. She was furious with Hugh, and she was ready to tell him where to go as soon as she saw him, but when he walked into the room he was wearing a beard. It was completely different to the one he was wearing earlier, and he looked nothing like Moses in it, but everyone had suspected him of stealing the hat because he didn’t have a beard, so when they saw him with a beard again they thought this suggested that he didn’t do it. No one was entirely sure of this, but it became clear in their minds when Stan walked into the room without a beard. It was he who stole the hat and put the mouse in it. Stan couldn’t figure out why everyone was staring at him. Jason kicked him in the shins. Annabel said to Hugh, “Would you like to go for a walk in the garden?” Her parents were delighted with the choice she made. On the following day she wondered if the fact that Hugh was wearing a beard made it more likely that he stole the hat, but she didn’t care then because she had a great time with Hugh on the night before.

The moose’s head over the fireplace seemed to be looking up at the ceiling when I walked into the room. I poured a brandy and stood at the window, but I turned around when I thought I heard the moose singing ‘Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head’. I couldn’t hear anything when I turned around, but then a few minutes later I thought I heard that tune again.