'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Figgy's House

I spent half an hour following a blackbird around the garden. He searched the lawns for food. Sometimes he perched on a branch and surveyed the ground beneath him. My grandfather often spent summer evenings looking for birds around the garden. He once spent an entire weekend looking for a snake that my grandmother claimed to have seen, but it turned out to be a copper pipe. He enjoyed the chase anyway. He was assisted in his search by a man who claimed to be a snake charmer, but he wasn't very good at it. He was bitten almost on a daily basis, mostly by women. His snake charming techniques were devoid of charm when used on the opposite sex.

My cousin Charlie used to take a shortcut through the fields to get to the pub. He'd follow the same path on the way back after midnight. On his way home one night he was walking around the edge of a forest when he met Figgy, one of his neighbours. Figgy was looking at his hands. Charlie pointed out that he could do this from the comfort of his own home, but he said his home hadn't been so comfortable since it caught fire.

A gravedigger called Jerome emerged from the trees. He had a shovel in his hands and a satisfied look on his face, as if he'd just dug a particularly good grave. He told them the grave was intended for a man known as Moondalf. Moondalf claimed to be a wizard, and he always carried a staff, but this was just a way to defend himself against the husbands or boyfriends of the women he allowed under his cloak. Jerome suspected that his girlfriend, Ingrid, had been let under the cloak.

Figgy was nervous. He had let Ingrid underneath something as well. She was surprised by what she found there, but she didn't run away.

Moondalf used this path every night, and Jerome was hoping to intercept him. They had to wait another ten minutes for the wizard to arrive. He wasn't in the least bit surprised to see Jerome. "I knew you'd be here," he said. "I saw this scene hours ago."

"Then you'll already know what I'm going to do to you."

"I know what you're going to try to do to me. But you don't know how you're going to fail. It'll be a surprise for you. These chaps will applaud my magic act, but you won't be able to applaud because your hands will be tied to something."

"You're all talk. Words are the only thing you can conjure."

"Who do you think started that fire in Figgy's house?"

"You don't need magic to start a fire."

"You do if you're two miles away with a lady friend who begs you not to leave because she's feeling peculiar."

"If you're referring to Ingrid, you'll be starting your fires from six feet under ground."

"I mention a woman who feels peculiar and you immediately think of your girlfriend. Is that the effect you have on her?"

Figgy inched away as they argued. He started running after he disappeared into the forest, but he didn't get far. He fell into a grave. They heard his scream and they went into the forest. When they saw Figgy in the grave, Moondalf said, "I did that."

"It was me who dug the grave," Jerome said.

"And it was me who sent him to it."

"What have you got against Figgy? First you set fire to his house and then you send him to a grave."

"I'm not at liberty to divulge."

"You had nothing to do with the fire or with Figgy ending up in the grave. If a dog walked into a lamp post you'd take responsibility for it."

"Dogs don't walk into lamp posts by accident."

"I'd believe you use some sort of magic when it comes to women. I've seen dogs sniffing around your cloak. In my experience, women are repulsed by the smells that dogs love, and vice versa."

"I'm not surprised you have experience of that."

"You could make a fortune if you taught people the magic trick you use on women."

"It's a natural gift. I make them feel weak at the knees. You make them feel peculiar."

"Why did you send Figgy to your grave?"

"There's a reason for everything. It'll become apparent over time."

They waited for over half an hour, mostly in silence. Figgy started looking at his hands as he waited in the grave. Moondalf said, "Have you ever seen a labradonkey walk into a van? That wasn't an accident. Although the creation of the labradonkey was an unfortunate mishap."

They heard a voice. It was Ingrid, and she was calling out Figgy's name. When she saw Jerome, Moondalf and Charlie she said, "I was just passing by Figgy's house and it was still on fire, so I thought I should let him know."

"Thanks," Figgy said.

Jerome and Moondalf started arguing again. They didn't see Ingrid helping Figgy out of the grave, and they didn't notice the two of them sneaking away together. Charlie noticed and he guessed what was going on. He was hoping that Jerome and Moondalf wouldn't come to the same conclusion, but when they finally stopped arguing and noticed that Ingrid and Figgy had left, they put two and two together. "I'll kill him," Jerome said.

"I'll get there first," Moondalf said. "Only I have the power of life and death." He took off his cloak and turned it inside out. It was jet black on the other side. He put it on and pulled up the hood. "Tonight, Mathew, I will be Death," he said.

"Who's Mathew?"

"Never mind."

They walked through the woods towards Figgy's house. Charlie went with them because he wanted to protect Figgy.

A group of hunters had been hunting a panther for five years, but they'd never found it. They had never considered the possibility that the man who first reported the sighting was just a man with a poor sense of perspective who'd seen a black cat. The hunters were in the woods that night. They inched forward very slowly when they heard the sound of Jerome, Moondalf and Charlie walking through the woods.

Moondalf heard the sound of the hunters. He crouched and inched forward very slowly. One of the hunters saw him and he thought he'd finally found his quarry. He shot a tranquilliser dart at Moondalf.

The hunters were delighted at first, but then they remembered that panthers don't use swear words. They ran away. Moondalf said, "I've been bitten," as he fell to the ground, before falling into a deep sleep. Jerome was terrified. Maybe this Mathew was to blame, he thought.

Charlie suspected that the hunters were behind it, but he didn't mention this. Instead he said they should carry Moondalf to Figgy's house.

There were no lights on in Figgy's house, but there was plenty light from the fire. Jerome went to the front door and rang the bell. Figgy's black cat was asleep on the roof of the porch. The heat of the fire made it a comfortable bed, but the cat woke up suddenly when a spark landed on him. He jumped onto Jerome, who started screaming.

The hunters had run away after shooting Moondalf, but after thinking about it they realised they should make sure the man they shot was okay. They followed Jerome and Charlie to Figgy's house. When one of the hunters saw the black cat attack Jerome he shot at the cat because he thought Jerome would be torn to pieces. The realisation that domestic cats are too small to tear men to pieces came shortly after the realisation that he'd actually shot Jerome. The hunters ran away again.

Jerome felt the dart in his back and he thought he'd been bitten by the cat. This was his last thought before he slipped into unconsciousness. Figgy and Ingrid came out of the house, and Charlie explained to them what had happened. Figgy wanted to put Moondalf and Jerome into the grave to frighten them, but Charlie had an even more diabolical idea: put them in each other's arms. Charlie was able to put out the fire too. All they really needed was a few buckets of water.

Moondalf and Jerome were afraid of Figgy after this. They thought his black cat had bitten them and made them do things that would be forever hidden beneath the veil of amnesia. They were always nervous around Figgy. They were nervous around each other too.

The moose's head over the fireplace enjoys wearing his top hat. The wife bought it for him in a second hand shop. It reminded the wife's uncle of a wedding, but everything is reminding him of weddings these days. He's asked lots of women to marry him so far this year, but only one of them said 'yes', and she thought he said 'Will you carry me?'. She's six-foot-five and she weighs seventeen stone, so she was able to carry him with ease. He enjoyed it, and so did she.