'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Crossbow Orchard.

The trees are almost bare now after the storm last week. There are rust-coloured leaves all over the lawns. Thankfully we haven’t had much rain over the past few days. We’ve had a lot of grey skies instead, but you don’t really need the blue above when you’ve got thousands of leaves below to look at.

My cousin Ronan had been going out with a woman called Heather for a few months when they met another cousin of mine, Jane. She asked Heather what she saw in Ronan, and Heather said it was his romantic charm that she couldn’t resist. Jane laughed when she heard that, but Ronan told the story of how he invited Heather to a party at his parents’ house, and in the light of the moon he serenaded her in the crossbow orchard. Jane didn’t laugh at that. She was very impressed, but the same couldn’t be said for Heather. She had never heard that place referred to as ‘the crossbow orchard’ before. The night when he serenaded her was a beautiful memory, but the idea that it took place in an orchard called after a crossbow seemed to drain all the romance from the occasion. Ronan sensed this. She seemed much colder towards him, a lot like the way she was before he serenaded her in the orchard. When she asked him why the place was called ‘the crossbow orchard’ he figured out what was on her mind. He knew he needed to find a way of injecting the romance back into the memory, so he told her that his father had proposed to his mother in that very orchard, but as he was about to put the ring on her finger, a magpie flew away with it. The bird didn’t get far. Ronan’s father, my uncle Harry, got out his crossbow and shot it. He retrieved the ring and put it on the finger of his wife-to-be, Aunt Bridget, but that’s just according to Ronan’s version of events. The real story had nothing to do with proposals of marriage. The truth behind the name is that a few years earlier, Ronan’s father had got home from the pub late one night and he thought he heard something moving in the orchard at the end of the garden, so he went outside with his crossbow. Earlier that day, Aunt Bridget had bought a peacock from a friend of hers who lived down the road. The friend thought it would be a good idea to have a peacock roaming about their front lawn, but her dog didn’t agree, so she sold the peacock to Bridget. Uncle Harry wasn’t aware of this at all, so when the peacock spread its feathers, he didn’t know what it was at first and he shot at it. He missed, even though it was a big target. Fortunately for the peacock, the alcohol in Harry’s brain impaired his ability to shoot peacocks with crossbows. The arrow came to a rest in a tree, where it remains to this day. That’s why the place became known as the crossbow orchard. Uncle Harry has always regretted missing with his first shot. He doesn’t like that peacock at all, and he’s always been looking for an excuse to have another go at it. Heather loved the story about Ronan’s father shooting the magpie, but he was afraid that she’d find out the truth someday. She loves the peacock, and a story about it being shot at with a crossbow could really kill the romance. A few weeks later, there was another party at his parents’ house – it was for my aunt and uncle’s thirtieth wedding anniversary – and Ronan was very nervous about this one. He was convinced that Heather would mention the story about shooting the magpie. On the day of the party, his niece and nephew, Daisy and Graham, were at the house with their mother. Daisy loves the peacock too, but she thought he was slightly off-form on this day. Aunt Bridget said that he hadn’t been eating much over the previous few days, so Daisy decided to get some food for him. She went around the garden collecting earthworms and she brought them all back to the peacock, but the bird wasn’t interested in them at all. Daisy put the earthworms on the ground and tried to arrange them so they’d spell the word ‘food’, but the worms kept moving. By the time she had the D in place, the F would have moved away. The best she could do was ‘ood’. She spent half an hour trying to get the word right, but then she wondered if the peacock could actually read. There was no point trying to get the word right if he couldn’t read. She thought about how she’d test him and she came up with the idea of writing a message in the earth and seeing if the peacock would respond to it. So she wrote the words ‘The cat is hiding in the cupboard in the shed’. The peacock always loved scaring the cat, but he took no notice of the note. Daisy wondered if this meant he couldn’t read or that he just wasn’t in the mood for scaring the cat. She left the peacock and went inside. When her brother, Graham, saw the note in the soil he went straight to the shed. He tapped the side of the cupboard and listened, but he couldn’t hear anything. He tapped louder and listened again, but still nothing. The cat was obviously sound asleep, and Graham was determined to wake it up (he loved scaring the cat as much as the peacock did). He took a few steps back and ran into the side of the cupboard. The whole thing shook, and a can of paint fell from the top. As Graham was running out the door he looked back and saw the paint spilling over the floor. During the party in the evening, Daisy went outside to look for the peacock, but she couldn’t find it in the garden so she went to the shed, and she saw the paint on the floor. Uncle Harry joined her shortly afterwards. When he saw the paint he asked her what happened and she said, “The peacock did it. He can read.” “Not for much longer,” Harry said as he went to get his crossbow. This was just the excuse he’d been looking for to have another shot at the peacock. An hour after Heather arrived, she still hadn’t said a word about the magpie, and Ronan was starting to relax. She said that she’d like to sing a song for everyone, and play the piano. At first he was all in favour of this idea – she had a great voice and she was an excellent pianist – but then she said she’d written a song especially for the occasion. It was about how his father proposed to his mother; the shooting of the magpie with the crossbow and all that. Before Ronan could stop her, she went to the piano and sat down. Aunt Bridget asked for silence because she wanted everyone to hear how good Heather was. Ronan had to think quickly. He needed to stop the performance, and one idea sprang to mind. When he was young he fell and hit his head off the edge of the table. Everyone paid attention to him then, so he decided to have another go at that. Just as she started playing, and just as Ronan was getting ready for his fall, everyone in the room looked out the window. The peacock was running around the lawn outside, being followed by Harry with the crossbow. He was waiting for the bird to stop moving before shooting. Everyone in the room saw what was going on, apart from Heather. She continued with her song about Harry shooting a magpie to retrieve the engagement ring for Bridget, but no one listened to it. Ronan put his fall on hold. He didn’t want Heather to stop playing now because he didn’t want her to look out the window and see his father about to shoot the peacock with the crossbow. Just as the song was about to end, Harry finally fired the arrow, but he missed, and the peacock was able to get away. Everyone in the room remembered the song then. They all applauded loudly when Heather stopped playing. She said to Bridget, “I hope it was an accurate portrayal of what happened, with the crossbow in the orchard.” And my aunt said, “Oh yes. That was exactly what happened.”

The moose’s head over the fireplace seems to be smiling to himself about something and I think I know what it is. I was watching a TV show with Iris last night and there was a horse wearing a hair net on it. The hair net made the horse look stupid, and the moose would be all in favour of horses looking stupid. The clocks went back at the weekend. It’ll be a long time before I can look out the window in the evening and see daylight again. Yes, the moose’s head is definitely smiling to himself about something.