'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Vase

One of the garden gnomes keeps falling over. It's the one who plays the saxophone. The wife thinks he's trying to headbutt the one who plays the banjo.

My Uncle Harry married a woman called Bridget who grew up on a large estate in the country. Her parents still lived in the manor house. They had a maid and a butler, and they always had guests staying with them, so they were never alone. In the summer there wouldn't be a free place at the breakfast table.

They had a party in the middle of July and they invited all the relatives. Harry and Bridget went with their children, June, Rachel, Alan and Ronan, and June had her kids, Daisy and Graham, and of course her husband, Dan.

After they arrived on a Friday afternoon, Alan took a walk around the gardens and he remembered playing there when he was young. He had spent many happy hours getting lost in the maze with the other kids, or playing hide-and-seek with the peacocks, not that the peacocks ever did much seeking and they weren't very good at hiding.

His reminiscences were only interrupted when he walked around a hedge and saw a woman standing next to the fountain. This was Elinor, a friend of his cousin Ruth, but it took a few seconds for Alan to recognise her because he hadn't seen her in years, not since she was sixteen, and in the intervening years she became about two foot taller, much slimmer, and able to see without those huge glasses that frightened the cat. There was nothing frightening about her now. Alan imagined birds landing on her hand, butterflies flying around her head, himself climbing a ladder to her bedroom window.

He walked over to her, smiled and said hello. She smiled too, and said, "Hi Alan. It's great to see you again."

"I was just about to say that too. And I'd never have said anything more sincere in my life."

She laughed. He suggested a walk in the maze and she said, "Lead the way."

When they came back out of the maze half an hour later, Alan was telling his story about the time he was attacked by a swan, and she was fascinated by it, but before he could tell her the ending, they bumped into William, one of Alan's cousins from his mother's side of the family. He seemed to go out of his way just to bump into Alan. William played rugby, and when he bumped into people on the field they had a habit of losing consciousness and being unable to move for a long time afterwards. Alan was going to ask if he was practising for the next round of rugby-related accidents, but there was something very menacing about the way William was glaring at him. With the glare, he was trying to say 'Stay away from that woman or say goodbye to your head', but Alan had no intention of staying away from Elinor. He was falling in love with her, and no amount of glaring was going to keep him away. He had every intention of staying away from William -- that's what the glare kept reminding him to do.

Lots of Alan's young cousins were swarming around the house that weekend. Daisy and Graham were part of the swarm. They were playing hide-and-seek at about five o' clock, and Graham went to look for a place to hide in the kitchen, but he was distracted by the sun shining on the tap near the window. He stood there and stared at the tap, and completely forgot about the game. Alice was doing the seeking, and when she had counted to a hundred she started looking for the others. She went to the kitchen first. She walked right past Graham, and she didn't notice him as he stared at the tap. He didn't notice her either.

The maid did notice Graham when she came into the kitchen, but she couldn't figure out what he was up to. She stood there and stared at him as he stared at the tap.

After Alice had found all the others, they helped her in the search for Graham. They went back to the kitchen, and Alice asked the maid if she'd seen Graham. The maid slowly shook her head and said 'no' without taking her eyes off him.

The kids left to look elsewhere, but they were back half an hour later. This time they all looked very carefully over every square inch of ground and in every cupboard, and eventually Daisy spotted Graham, still staring at the tap. "There he is!" she said, and pointed at her brother.

"Where were you?" Alice said.

"Hm?... Oh, I was just looking at the tap."

They had another game of hide-and-seek, and this time they all stared at things, but they were all found straightaway, apart from Graham. They forgot about him when they were called for dinner.

After dinner, they all went to the drawing room. Alan stood by the sideboard with a glass in his hand and a glint in his eye as he told Elinor his story about the time he got his foot stuck in a flowerpot half an hour before a wedding, and he was the best man. "It was very funny. The man with all the bees said I'd more lives than a flat cat. I don't know what he meant by that."

She laughed, and he smiled because not everyone found it funny. But then he noticed the glare of William, and he suggested to Elinor that they go for a walk in the gardens. They left while Bridget's father, Eamon, was sitting on an armchair by the fireplace, talking about the time he spent in Singapore. "Of course, I couldn't tell one box from the other, but they seemed to think that I was from the office. And I have to say I let them think it when I really should have told them I was there for the horse..."

He was interrupted briefly by the butler, who brought him a letter and said, "A message from the rowing club, sir."

The 'rowing club' was code for the bookies, and the letter contained Eamon's winnings from the races that day. He said, "Ah yes, the rowing club," and winked a few times at the butler. "Now, where was I..."

The kids were showing no signs of tiredness as the evening wore on. They were running around in circles on one of the lawns when Alan and Elinor approached them. He was saying to her, "Of course I never really believed it was a bat, but it's just one of those things you have to play along with."


When they saw William come around the side of the house they both hid behind a hedge. She told Alan that she couldn't stand William's company, and hiding was the only way to avoid him. He said he was all in favour of hiding from his cousin.

They heard William ask the kids if they had seen Alan and Elinor, but the kids had been too busy running in circles to notice anything. When William walked on again, Alan and Elinor came out from behind the hedge and continued on their way.

They went to the orchard and walked through the trees. They stood in the glasshouse and looked out as the stars began to appear above. They walked back towards the house in the last of the evening light, but when they turned a corner, they bumped into William again. Alan thought he'd be tackled if he tried to hide behind a hedge now, so he just stood there and tried to avoid the glare. Elinor looked down at her shoes.

William pointed a finger at Alan and said, "What..."

He was interrupted by one of the kids, who pointed at the dog and said, "He's shaking his head at the peacocks again."

When William turned around, Alan and Elinor made their getaway. They went back inside and said goodnight, but they agreed to meet again later, after everyone else had gone to bed. As Alan went to his room, all thoughts of William had been erased from his mind. There was nothing but Elinor above.

Within an hour, all of the lights had been turned off downstairs. The moon lit up the rooms at the front of the house. The shadow of a man dressed in black moved across the carpet in the drawing room as he tiptoed towards the door, but he stopped suddenly when he heard a voice from the other side of an armchair. "And I said to her, If you think for one second I'm going to pretend to be your gardener... You know, you do have quite stunning eyes."

There was silence once more. The thief went around to the front of the armchair and saw Eamon, sound asleep with an empty brandy glass in his hand.

The thief left the room and went down the corridor to the study. He opened the door as quietly as he could and stepped inside. He took a few steps towards the opposite wall and stopped suddenly when he saw a woman dressed all in black.

"Who are you?" he whispered.

"I'm... Gladys. A cousin of... him." She pointed at a portrait on the wall.

"Why are you dressed all in black?"

"I don't know. Why is he dressed in a cloak?" She pointed at the portrait again.

"You should know -- he's your cousin."

"Well why are you dressed in black."

"I asked you first."

"Well maybe I'm dressed in black for the same reason you're dressed in black."

"That's what I thought."

"So what are you here for?" she said.

"I haven't made my mind up yet. What about you?"

"I asked you first."

"I haven't made my mind up."

"Well then neither have I."

"Fine," he said. "Is there any particular reason why you came to this room."

"No particular reason. What about you?"

"No particular reason."

They stood there for about thirty seconds before he said, "Look, we might as well both go for the safe or we'll be here all night."

"Fair enough. How were you going to open it?"

He opened a bag and showed her the explosives.

"There's enough there to blow up the whole house," she said.

"There's barely enough to open the door."

"You'll wake the whole house."

"It won't even wake the dog."

"What dog?"


"This is stupid," she said. "What if it breaks the vase as well?"

"So you're after the vase too?"

"So you're after the vase."

"We both know we're both after the vase."

"And we're not going to blow anything up."

He thought about it for a while and said, "Why don't we steal the safe? I did that once before. It's not as difficult as it sounds."

"What if the vase isn't in it?"

"Good point... How were you going to steal it?"

"I heard he keeps the combination for the safe in a book in the library so he won't forget it."

"What book?"

"I don't know exactly, but it's a book about bog-draining."

"There can't be too many books about bog-draining."

There were five shelves of books about bog-draining in the library.

"We'll never find it," he said.

"Do you want to try blowing them up?"

"Yes, I do want to try blowing them up."

"We just have to look."

They started looking through the books on the first shelf. Alan was upstairs in his room. He kept looking at his watch, and at one o' clock, he left the room and tiptoed down the corridor.

The thieves in the library looked through all of the books, but they couldn't find the code for the safe. The only interesting thing they came across was a drawing of a wine bottle, a very detailed drawing. She suggested a trip to the wine cellar. "If we find this bottle of wine, then we'll find the code. I'd put money on it."

"I know you've got this thing against explosions, but..."

He stopped talking when she put a finger to her lips, and pointed towards a table behind him. He looked around and saw a young boy staring at a goldfish bowl.

The two thieves walked over to him, but he never took his eyes off the bowl. For about ten minutes, they stared at him as he stared at the goldfish. Then she coughed to attract his attention, and Graham finally looked up. "Oh, hello," he said.

"Hello," she said. "Are you... Do you like goldfish?"

"Well, they're not exactly dogs, but..." Graham started laughing when he realised that he'd been staring at the goldfish for hours.

He told them about the hide-and-seek, and then he said, "I think this goldfish is deliberately ignoring the other goldfish."

The thieves stared at the bowl with Graham. They could see the goldfish in the moonlight. None of them noticed the door opening and the footsteps on the carpet. The maid had seen a betting slip on the ground next to Eamon's chair earlier in the evening, and she was anxious to get hold of it before anyone else. Herself and the butler had made a lot of money from Eamon's tips over the years. His wife didn't know anything about it, and they all wanted to keep it that way. When the maid noticed the betting slip on the ground, there were other people nearby, and she thought she'd never get it without being seen, so she decided to come back after everyone else had gone to bed.

She retrieved the betting slip from the drawing room, and as she was walking past the library she heard voices. When she went inside she saw Graham and the thieves staring at the goldfish bowl. She stared at them for a while too, before leaving the room and going back to the servants' quarters.

It was only after she had gone to bed and turned out the light that the penny finally dropped. "They're thieves!" she said to herself. She got up again and went to the butler's room. She told him that there were two thieves with Graham in the study. He got a club he used just for these occasions, and left to investigate.

Alan and Elinor had been walking down a corridor upstairs when they heard the door to William's room opening. They ran to the end of the corridor and down the stairs. They hid in the billiards room for a while, and listened at the door.

The butler went to the library and saw Graham staring at the goldfish bowl. He wondered if the maid had imagined the two thieves, but then he heard footsteps outside, and he left the room with his club. The thieves were hiding behind a sofa in the library. They looked at each other in the moonlight, listening carefully to the sounds in the room. There was silence after the door closed. He said to her, "You know, you do have quite stunning eyes."

Alan and Elinor had left the billiards room. They were just about to turn a corner when they heard footsteps close by. They stopped and leaned against the wall. The butler had heard footsteps just around the corner he was approaching too. He stopped and listened, but he couldn't hear anything then. He tiptoed forwards, stopped, and listened again. Then he ran forwards, ready to strike with his club, and he struck the man he bumped into just around the corner.

William lay unconscious on the floor, a sight that would have delighted all of his opponents on the rugby field. It certainly please Alan and Elinor as they passed by.

The whole house was woken seconds later by the sound of a small explosion. The lights were turned on, and most people went to the library, where the safe was. Graham was staring at a plant on a small table outside. There was no one in the library, and the safe was undisturbed. They were all getting ready to go back to bed when Eamon came into the room and said a few words he shouldn't have said in front of the children. Then he said, "They've blown off the door to the wine cellar and taken some of my best wine."

The vase they had come for was still on the windowsill in the library, and the cat was walking all around it, occasionally brushing off it. Alan and Elinor were outside in the maze, doing their best to get lost.

The moose's head over the fireplace was disappointed to see Liverpool lose the Champions' League final. It wasn't a great game, and it was a nice reminder of the good old days when the European Cup final was guaranteed to be one of the worst games of the season. Tedious football followed by wild celebrations and devastation -- that's the beauty of European football.