'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Herd

I still haven't solved the mystery of the hole in the garden. My great-grandfather once started digging a hole with the intention of building a mountain next to it. He was sleep-walking at the time. He only managed a sort of a molehill before he went back to bed. In his dream he saw people skiing down that molehill.

My cousin Craig plays in a brass band with his friends, Bill, Shane and Kenny. When they first started the band they all played the tuba, but there wasn't much of an audience for an all-tuba band. So now Craig plays the trumpet, Bill plays the French horn, Shane plays the trombone and Kenny plays the tuba. They asked Nick, their former music teacher, to help them, and he agreed to give them lessons in the park in the evening. He said he needed an open space for his teaching methods.

There was really only one method, and this was walking behind them as they played and making them move forward by prodding them with a cattle prod. The frustration of being unable to use a cattle prod in school meant that he over-used it outside of school hours.

The band hated being herded like cattle, but they saw a way to herd him instead. They used to practise in a field because this was one of the few places where there was no one to threaten them with violence unless they stopped playing. While they were out in the field one day they noticed a sheepdog listening to the music, and he seemed to be reacting to the sound. They found that they could control his movements with their music.

They got a loan of the dog for one of their lessons with Nick. When he started prodding them with the cattle prod, they played sounds that instructed the dog to herd Nick. Nick was afraid of the dog. He kept looking back as he prodded the band, and he let himself be herded around the park by the dog. The band were effectively herding themselves, but it was better than being herded by Nick. No one was prepared to accept defeat, so throughout that lesson the band were followed by Nick who was followed by the dog.

It happened again on the following evening. Before the end of this lesson a woman called Monica walked through the park. When she was looking at Nick he became much more liberal in his use of the cattle prod, thinking it would impress her, but it didn't. She walked on as fast as she could, and he stopped using the cattle prod. The band could tell that he was downhearted, and they figured out what was going on.

Craig asked him about it and he told them he was in love with Monica. She loved earthworms. She loved feeling them on her fingers. It took him a long time to get his head around this, and he spent a lot of time thinking about her as he tried to understand her love of earthworms. He kept talking about her, but most of what he said was a variation of the following: "That's weird. She's weird. That's just weird."

Whenever he spent that much time talking about a woman he always fell in love with her, and it was no different with Monica. He wanted to impress her, but he had no idea how he'd go about doing this. He didn't think that flowers or chocolates would work on her, and he thought it might look weird if he gave her earthworms. Craig pointed out that using the cattle prod on a brass band hadn't worked either. Nick said, "I know a woman who'd be impressed by that, but she's weird."

"What if we found a way you could impress her?" Bill said. "Would you stop using the cattle prod on us then?"

"Of course," Nick said. "Assuming ye stop herding me with the dog."

"That goes without saying."

"But how will ye find out how to impress her?"

"Spying," Craig said. "We're going to have to spend some time spying on a woman again."

The band followed her when she left her house on the following evening. She went to the theatre, where a dance company were performing. The conclusion they drew from this was that an ability to dance would impress her, but they didn't think that this would be of much use to Nick.

On the next evening she went to see the dance show again. They decided to wait until she left the theatre, and see where she went from there.

They waited in the pub at the other side of the street. They sat at a table near the window so they could see the front door of the theatre. They saw the audience leave the building at ten o' clock. Monica turned left when she came out of the door. They waited until she disappeared around the corner at the end of the street before they started following her. When they turned the corner she was standing there, waiting for them. "Why are ye following me?" she said.

"We're not," Craig said.

"I'm not stupid. And ye're not very good at following people."

"It's not what you think it is. I have no idea what you think it is, but it's almost certainly not that. We're following you because Nick is in love with you. We want to figure out how he'd go about impressing you, because if you fall in love with him he'll stop prodding us with a cattle prod."

"How could I fall in love with someone who prods people with a cattle prod?"

"He will stop if you fall in love with him. I think you should consider doing it for that reason alone."

"It's not the sort of thing you can choose."

"But you have so much in common with him. He's a fantastic dancer."

"Nick? A dancer?"

"Dancing is his life. Music and dance are intertwined."

"He doesn't look like a dancer."

"Looks can be deceptive," Kenny said.

"That's right," Craig said. "Nick will be performing one of his dance routines in the park on Friday evening. You should come along."

"I certainly will," Monica said. "Thanks for telling me."

The band went to see Nick to tell him about his performance. He invited them in when they called at his house, but they thought it would be better to break the news outside. This would give them a chance to get away. He went inside to get his cattle prod when he heard that he was due to perform a dance in public. He chased them all around the garden with the cattle prod, but they were no longer confined to the herd of a band so they could split up, and he couldn't catch any of them.

He stopped chasing them when he got tired. Craig told him that if he really wanted to impress her he should have a go at the dance. Nick thought about it for a while and he said, "I suppose I do really want to impress her."

"I know just the man who can help," Bill said. "His name is Aidan. He's a dancer."

Aidan called his dancing 'folk dancing' because he thought he was continuing an ancient tradition. He'd dance and allow spirits to enter his body. All of the people who used to live near his house in the past would crowd into him and have a barn dance, each one of them using his legs. This made him look maniacal when he danced. He let them in when he was carving wood as well. He'd carve at a frantic pace, and the end result would be a mess because all of the people inside him would be trying to use his hands at once. It wasn't advisable to let so many people use his hands when he was holding a knife.

Aidan helped Nick come up with his own dance routine. Nick thought he looked like his grandfather scaring away the crows, but he'd rather look like his grandfather than like a dancer, so he agreed to perform this routine in public.

The brass band would provide the musical accompaniment for Nick's performance in the park. Monica was the only member of audience when he began his routine, but it didn't take long for a crowd to gather. Nick soon realised that the band weren't really playing to accompany his dancing. Their music was controlling the movements of the dog, who was dancing next to him. The band had spent most of the day teaching the dog how to dance. Nick was convinced that they were only doing this to make him look like an idiot, and he couldn't wait to get hold of his cattle prod. But when he finished his dance he realised that the crowd liked his performance, and Monica loved it.

The band enjoyed it as well. Making Nick look like an idiot is what made it so enjoyable for them. This was payback for all of the times he'd used the cattle prod on them. For his next performance they dressed the dog up in a pirate's costume. They could see that Nick hated dancing with a dog dressed up as a pirate, but Monica's enthusiasm for his dancing stopped him from using the cattle prod.

The moose's head over the fireplace still looks disgruntled after having to endure two hours of Paul's company on Saturday evening. Paul is one of our neighbours. He started telling the moose's head about people he knows who get bored with their heads and they try on other people's heads. They don't physically make the switch -- that would be something you should only do under medical supervision. It was more of a spiritual thing. Then he spent the next two hours talking about the funny noise his knee makes, which, he claims, is also a spiritual thing.