'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Emerald

The dog keeps barking at the glasshouse. He spent years ignoring it, and now that he's suddenly acknowledged its existence he keeps barking at it. The wife's aunt claims that it's haunted by the ghost of a woman called Mrs. Cavanagh who's just been reunited with the ghost of her cat, after nearly a century apart. The cat spent the past hundred years travelling all around the world. If travel broadens the mind, then my mind must be far narrower than that of this dead cat, but I'm used to unfavourable comparisons with dead animals.

My cousin June's kids, Daisy and Graham, used to feed a scarecrow every day. They never saw him eating, but the food would always be gone when they came back to get the empty plate or bowl. During their summer holidays from school, they'd leave the pasta or rice pudding or garlic bread with him at about ten o' clock in the morning and they'd come back an hour later. They believed that he was looking much healthier after they started feeding him. He was putting on weight, and he looked happier. Some people told them that he wasn't eating the food at all. Their cousin, Mike, believed that crows were eating all the food, and that they were really tormenting the scarecrow because he couldn't eat it, and instead he had to watch his greatest foe, the crow, eating the food right in front of him. Not only did he have to put up with the torment of seeing the crows enjoying a meal intended for him, he also had to accept his failure in the one thing he should be good at: scaring crows away. Other people believed that someone was using the scarecrow as bait to catch a meal, that this person would emerge from a hiding place and eat the food after it had been left there. But Daisy and Graham rejected all these theories. They were convinced that the scarecrow was eating the food and that he was their friend.

They thought they had proof of this when they arrived in the field one morning with a bowl of Cornflakes and they found that the scarecrow had a gift for them. In one hand he held a silver ring with an emerald, and in the other hand he held a note. The note explained that the ring was his way of thanking them for the food. He was aware that they might not have much use for a ring, but it would bring them good luck, as long as they used it in the right way.

They thanked the scarecrow for the present, and they promised to bring him a slice of chocolate cake on the following day. As they walked home they wondered what they'd do with the ring. "What does he mean by 'the right way'?" Graham said.

"He means we must do something good."

"What if he's an evil scarecrow? He'd want us to do something bad then."

"Do you really want to be a partner in crime with an evil scarecrow?"

Graham considered this. He could see many benefits to being in league with an evil scarecrow, but there would be a downside as well, and his mother would never let him out to play with anything inherently evil. Reluctantly, he said, "No. I suppose not."

"If he's evil then it's even more important that we do good. We have to show him that we want nothing to do with his plans. But I think he's good."

"I think so too. He ate the porridge we gave him. I can't imagine bad people eating porridge. So what could we do that would be good?"

"We'll have to give the ring to someone who could use it. And not someone who's just going to wear it and think 'hooray, I'm wearing an emerald'. Some good will have to come out of it."

They decided to give the ring to a neighbour of theirs, a man called Dennis. He was in his early sixties. For the previous ten years he'd been in love with a woman called Imelda. Every Friday night they went ballroom dancing. They went for walks together, and they'd go for drives to the coast. She was obviously in love with him as well, but he was having trouble asking her to marry him. There had been a few near-misses, like the time he got down on one knee to propose and his knee crushed a slice of Black Forrest Gateau. It never crossed her mind that he had been in the process of proposing to her. She assumed that he got down on one knee to crush a slice of Black Forrest Gateau. She thought it was an odd way of dealing with a dessert, but she didn't like Black Forrest Gateau, so if he'd gone ahead with the proposal, his seemingly strange behaviour wouldn't have stopped her from saying yes. Dennis decided that the best course of action was to abandon the proposal. He stood up and started picking bits of Black Forrest Gateau from his trousers.

A few months later he was ready to propose on a walk by the sea. He had prepared a speech about how he'd known her for a long time and how attached he'd become to her and so forth, but he'd only said the words 'I've known' when the front page of a newspaper blew onto his face and stayed there. The headline was about a celebrity who'd been cheating on his wife. Dennis knew this because Imelda read it out loud while the paper was stuck to his face. When she'd finished reading this story of adultery he didn't think it would be appropriate to fill the silence with the words 'Will you marry me?'.

Daisy and Graham thought that the scarecrow was hinting at how the ring should be used, because 'emerald' sounds like 'Imelda'. They wanted Dennis to use the ring to propose to her, and to convince him to do it, they forged a note from the scarecrow. It said that the ring was guaranteed to make Imelda say yes if he used it to propose.

They gave him the ring and the note and they told him about the scarecrow. They were expecting him to go straight to Imelda's house and then come back to invite them to the engagement party on the following evening. They were going to make muffins for the party. But he seemed reluctant to use the ring. "I'm struggling to believe all this," he said. "For one thing, scarecrows can't write."

"No," Graham said. "It really is all true. I mean really. I mean, the note is a total forgery. But it really is all true."

"It's nice of ye to show such concern for my love life, but I think I'm going to wait for a better opportunity to propose. Maybe at Christmas. And if that doesn't work, there's always Christmas next year."

Daisy and Graham started thinking about an alternative use for the ring, but Dennis had a change of heart after a dream that night. The scarecrow appeared to him in this dream and showed him a vision of a future in which Imelda married a man called Roger. It was a nightmare for Dennis. Roger had been making jokes about Dennis's bike for fifty-five years. Dennis hadn't said anything to Roger in thirty-seven years. He gave up speaking to his former classmate in the hope that this would put an end to the jokes, but it didn't. Every time they met, Roger belittled the bike Dennis had when he was a child.

Some people told Dennis that the dream was entirely a product of his own subconscious, and that it might well have been influenced by something he ate. His brother asked him if he'd put his knee into his dinner before eating it, and had he put his knee into something foul before putting it into his dinner. But Dennis was convinced that this was no ordinary dream. He was determined to propose to Imelda this time, and he was confident of success because the scarecrow had reassured him that she'd say yes.

She accepted his proposal. She probably would have said yes if he'd given her a Black Forrest Gateau instead of a ring (though she would have had reservations), but she was overwhelmed by the emerald. She thought it was a good omen for their marriage. "It's just like the emerald ring my grandmother had," she said. "And my grandmother was married for over seventy years. Of course, my grandmother's sister was married for over a hundred-and-seventy years, but that's the combined lengths of her marriages to five different men. She led a very busy life. My grandmother took pride in only having one husband at a time, and in having him all the time."

Daisy and Graham were invited to the wedding, along with their parents. June bought Waterford crystal glasses as a wedding present for the happy couple. Daisy and Graham were given a present by Dennis and Imelda, to say thanks for their role in bringing about the wedding. They got new bikes.

"We wouldn't have got the bikes if we'd done something bad," Daisy said to her brother.

"We could have stolen bikes."

"You've got to admit, this is a much better way of getting a bike."

"I suppose so."

"We have to do something for the scarecrow, to say thanks for what he did."

They decided to give some of the wedding cake to the scarecrow. They left it on a plate in front of him. As they were walking away they heard a sound, and when they turned around the cake was gone. The scarecrow looked perfectly content with the world. The crows waiting at the edge of the field all looked depressed.

The moose's head over the fireplace is looking forward to the start of the Premier League on Saturday. It should be a good way of forgetting about the hurling. I won't say any more about the hurling. All my attempts to forget about it only serve as reminders. The one thing that helped take my mind off it for a while was listening to the latest album that my wife's niece recorded on a cassette, but that was so disturbing I had to think about the hurling to take my mind off it.