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, paternal great-grandfather, by the light of a stub of a candle on a moonless summer night works on the accounts of actress Dora Jordan. As he calculates, the crow of an awakened cock hails the appearance of a rare celestial phenomenon. A seven-tailed comet is burning in the black sky. For a better look the lawyer picks up the candleholder, and ambles to a pine cabinet. From the top drawer he removes a foot-long leather case, with the diameter of a plum, containing a device which he will now use for the first and only time. Unlatching the case¶s top, Arthur pulls out a brass spyglass. Leaning out of the window, he snaps open all seven of the telescope¶s levels. Observing ancient spectacle, he takes this moment to contemplate the destiny of his forthcoming child, and his child¶s child, and that child¶s child. Seven minutes later, he stows away the spyglass and returns to work. While he puts the candleholder back on the table, a drop of wax splatters onto the fresh ink of the invoice to the Gaiety Theatre. Arthur uses a rusted knife to scrape off the wax, but a speck of the residue slightly obscures one of the figures. A seven now resembles a one. Intoxicated by the thrill of having his first play read by the owner, the mouse-faced accountant for the Gaiety Theatre, Mr. Thomas Thalia, shows uncharacteristic sloppiness in the handling the business affairs. One actress is the victim of two mistakes. Carelessly he interprets the wax smudged seven as a one on Dora Jordan¶s invoice, and pays her one-seventh her due. Exasperating matters, an invitation to a party celebrating the birth of Dora¶s American-born grandson, buried in a welter of paper²goes unnoticed, and unanswered. Dora Jordan¶s Home- the next morning² ³Sean Flannigan, the Gaiety¶s owner is the only one,´ announces Mrs. Flippers, finalizing the party¶s details, ³who has yet to respond to your invitation,´ Dora¶s housekeeper, who wears her chestnut hair in a coil as tight as the mainspring of a priest¶s pocket watch. Plucking a high note for Lafferty, Miss Tiserly, her seamstress tells Dora, while fitting her new dress ³Arthur Lafferty¶s note was the first to arrive. He answered it the same day he received his invitation. It¶s a shame that a man who manages your investments so well, drinks weak tea and has only few grain for his chickens, especially now that a new Lafferty is aching for birth.´ The comedic gifts of Dorothea Jordan²like a shattered wine glass²cut in jagged patterns. With homespun cotton and French rouge, she conjures the character of a foolish chipmunk-cheek, freckled-face tomboy wielding the wit of a braggadocio court jester. Making theatre owners rich and pushing structural limits, for three decades she packs houses to their capacity. However, when she detects the least slight, real or imagined, or when she comes to the defense of an ally, Dora was as cunning as Hermes and as conniving as Lucrezia Borgia. Feeling the cut of her dress, ³Don¶t think,´ says Dora, with a sharp shimmy, ³that I wouldn¶t be inclined to help Mr. Lafferty. He would never accept that kind of charity.´ ³Sometimes,´ says Miss Tiserly, biting off a strand of thread ³there are ways to help²without² them knowing nor feeling them that they are in your debt.´ ³Mrs. Jordan, I hate to bring up another unpleasantness,´ says Mrs. Flippers, standing erect with one arm flying to her hip ³You should know that Mr. Flannigan, this month²shorted your fee!
It¶s probably a mistake, but these matters should not be dismissed.´ ³You¶ve both given me something to ponder,´ says Dora. ³Please stop by Mr. Lafferty¶s home. Inform him that there is a legal matter that requires his immediate attention. Tomorrow at 7 a.m. is best,´ Dora says to Mrs. Flippers, smiling smugly. Dora¶s kitchen ± the next morning Although he is of ordinary stature, Arthur Lafferty¶s timidity, owlish eyes and bowed noggin, which exposes his meager grey scrubs, makes him seem small and innocuous. ³There is a matter requires your immediate attention, Mr. Lafferty,´ says Dora, pouring the lawyer a cup of strong tea. His fingers testing the strength of the thread holding the buttons of his vest, Lafferty says, ³I am here to serve.´ With the morning sunshine glinting off of her corn-kernelled teeth, Dora belts out, ³I have been swindled and insulted!´ ³Gracious, madam. How distressing!´ says Lafferty in tones more measured than his words. ³I¶m suing the owner of the Gaiety Theatre, Sean Flannigan!´ Dora says fiercely. ³Although, madam, I have been a lawyer since maturity, there has never been a need for me to go to court. I manage accounts. This is a matter that man such as Samuel Fletcher could handle quite adequately,´ says Lafferty. ³Mr. Lafferty! I will pay the price! But will not tolerate chaffer,´ she says adamantly, handing him an envelope, fat with bills of large denomination. ³Madam,´ he says examining the contents, ³this is too much.´ ³Not for what I expect!´ For several years, Lafferty adequately administered her legal and financial papers, which includes performance contracts, and scattered investments in mining and inventions. On several occasions it was necessary for Lafferty to plead with an errant seamstress, a thumb heavy butcher, a cavalier chandler or cocksure cobbler. But this matter different and Lafferty is perplexed. ³So much expense for such a small dispute.´ ³It¶s principle; I cannot afford to be the subject of malfeasance, no matter how small it may appear to be. They confused the character that I play with the person that I am. I only pretend to be a fool, while Sean Flannigan is treating me as if I were one!´ she answers. Two nights before the hearing, Dora gives a rare, free performance at the Abbey Theatre, situated directly across the street from the Gaiety. The stage manager, no friend of Mr. Flannigan, eggs Dora on to satirize the rival theatre. Although not rehearsed, her monologue ends with the catchy refrain of ³Get me Lafferty!´ By end of the performance, the entire audience joins in on cue, ³Get me Lafferty!´ In the imagination of thousands of tipsy Irishmen, the pudgy lawyer had been transmuted into a mythical character. He slays fire-breathing dragons, topples Cyclops, and charms the jealousy out of Juno. Walking by any number of pubs later that night, one hears bawdy variations on the triumphal ballads of Lafferty. In some public establishments the theme is his physical endurance. ³In 490 B.C. when the Persians landed in Marathon and the Athenians need a man to run to Sparta, the general turned to his lieutenants and says: Get me Lafferty!´ ³In 218 B.C., when Hannibal and his 37 elephants came sliding down the Alps, hurling towards
the Roman gates, Quintius Fabius Maximus yells for all to hear: Get me Lafferty!´ In literary pubs, the lawyer¶s feats were just as impressive. ³As Hamlet dodges the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, deciding whether to shuffle off his mortal coil, the Bard could not quite form the question. With opening night just hours away, he turns to the ticket seller and he says: Get me Lafferty!´ The last pub on Collins Street, across the way from Guild¶s Cathedral, is bent theologically. ³In the beginning God forms the Heavens and Earth out of a shapeless void. But he couldn¶t see the miracles he created. With only six days left and so much to do, he did the only thing a supreme being could. With his richest and deepest voice, the almighty yells: Get me Lafferty!´ The morning was cool and crisp. By the time the drizzle had soaked into the grass and soil, the roosters were crowing and the street vendors barking. After tossing handfuls of dried corn to their seven chucking chickens, Arthur and Mrs. Lafferty eat back bacon and black pudding. The embers in the hearth crackle and glow, as they quietly talk about naming their child. Sipping oolong tea that had gone cold, they decide. Mary, were it a daughter; James, were it a son. Unaware that a legend is in the making, Arthur spends the morning transcribing notes, and mending his torn shirt cuff. Lustily the street vendors of Dublin exchange goods, coin and gossip. Actors prepare lines and butchers slaughter swine. Lafferty rethreads his needle and Flannigan buys salted pork from the street, and prepares afternoon crow. Before the close of business that summer day, a respectful messenger delivers a sealed envelope to Dora. His eyes on the ground and his hands in his pockets, he waits for her reply. The envelope contains negotiable bills and an apologetic note. ³I¶ve come to my senses, my dear Dorothea. You are absolutely right. I was wrong. Here is the money I owe, plus some extra for any expenses you may have incurred in directing your just cause. I hope this puts my terrible mistake that I solely made in the shadows and we can be looking forward to see your lovely face again, at double your usual price for the next season. Please wish Mrs. Lafferty my best. I am planning to dedicate a seat in honor of the forthcoming child.´ It is signed ³With the utmost respect and regret, your servant Sean Flannigan, proprietor of the Gaiety Theatre. ³Tell Mr. Flannigan,´ Dora starts to lash out of a habit of quick responses, but abruptly stops. She examines the cash and note, again. ³Tell Mr. Flannigan that the matter has met with my total satisfaction. I should be honored to entertain at his house²at my usual rate. I accept no blood money, but I am confident that the Lafferty child will mightily benefit from the dramatic, poetic and comedic treasures to be bestowed up on him by your fine theatre.´ The messenger tips his hat. He walks away, self consciously glancing back to see if she was still watching him. Her attention is fixed on the letter. Softly she reads it aloud seven times; with each rendition she uses a slightly different voice. The next morning, wearing his mended shirt, Lafferty files the petition to revoke ³Jordan versus Flannigan.´ While waiting, the magistrate admires the craftsmanship of Lafferty¶s repaired cuff. ³No seamstress had better lay wits against you, Mr. Lafferty,´ says the magistrate. Stamping the document, Lafferty smiles. Although the court appearance fails to materialize, Dora refuses to accept Lafferty¶s offer to return his retainer. ³You were hired for what you accomplished. Should you be deprived of your rightful fee because it was your reputation and not your voice that won the case? I will not allow you to deny me the pleasure of rightful payment for a done deed!´ For the remainder of their lives, Arthur Lafferty and his son would enjoy the benefits and suffer
the consequences of being a legend. For over a century, the expression ³Get me Lafferty´ echoed through the inflamed of Europe, and sailed across the Atlantic. It was put to rest on the shores of the Mississippi River, when from its own weight of false expectations, like so many legends, crawled and wept to a gloomy death. Although the trial a phantom, Dora¶s money was real; it proved desperately needed for the care of the motherless child. Mrs. Lafferty¶s end came moments after the birth of the premature, wrinkled as a prune, ruby red James Vincent De Paul Lafferty. ³If he was worth his weight in gold, you couldn¶t buy a flagon of ale with him,´ says Sally Marsh the first time she laid her squinting aqua eyes on James. A parade of unmarried townswomen kept the infant fed and warm. Each freely espoused their theories on the proper care of what they called the ³premie.´ James was fed often, kept dry and the subject of more attention than any baby with a single mother. Dublin Ireland- 1827 ±August 27th the Gaiety Theatre Seven years later, Arthur Lafferty visits the Gaiety Theatre to discuss a legal matter with his long time client, Sean Flannigan. The appointment is ill-timed for young James Lafferty. It is his birthday and preparations at their home are made to celebrate the occasion. But ³Flannigan insisted.´ The Laffertys arrive at the theatre¶s back exit, and a moment before the father¶s knuckles rap at the door¶s coarse wood, they are greeted by a disheveled Flannigan. In an oddly mysterious tone, the theatre owner says, ³Honored to have you come, Mr. Lafferty, and of course²James.´ Flannigan leads them through a shadowy labyrinth of the theatre¶s back stage; the dirt floor, littered with posters, crumbled and bent; handbills, offprinted, misprinted and smudged; the halls obstacled with rope coils, painted scenery boards, panels and screens, and a cracked sledgehammer holding open the door to a sagging low-ceiling gallery supported by shredding wormholed rafters, obstructed by racks of hastily hung velvet and silk costumes. The travail leads the trio to the rear theatre door, which as if by some supernatural force²flings open. Roaring with gas lights, blazing with tallow candles, the auditorium assaults the nose like a smoldering perfumery. Juiced like chorus from a Dionysusian festival, dozens of reveling skylarkers shriek, wail, and howl ³Happy birthday! Happy seventh birthday, James!´ The hullabalooers, all women, except for a scattered fob, are adorned in silks, laces and their finest wool. Lyrically waving her hand, Mollie Gibbons, the petticoated Moses, who tweezes barley weevils by day, parts the squealing multitude. Grabbing James¶ surprised hand, she trots and swerves him down the narrow center isle, swinging the boy to a stop at the flower draped first row. ³Hear Ye! Hear Ye!´ she clamors, bobbing and twirling her invisible scepter. In the wardrobe of Othman, the14th century Turkish tribal chieftain, Flannigan, preens, scagals, and thumps down the isle, never failing to pinch, slap, or nuzzle any feminine fanny within grasp. Gaging his acoustical prowess against the crowd¶s clatter, Flannigan booms ³Seven years ago.´ Adjusting to softer, poignant tones, he says ³I made a promise to Arthur²Mr. Lafferty. I can call him Author, since he works for the Gaiety, protecting the theatre¶s interests from the lesser Laffertys.´ Arthur timorously repays Flannigan¶s complement with a dawdling nod and an eyebrow jiggle. The whites of his big moist eyes glistening the candle¶s light, Lafferty roundly smiles at the audience to a scattering of polite applause. ³More accurately,´ Flannigan clarifies,
³the promise seven years ago was made to that late comedic legend, Dorthea Jordan. Dora, as I was privileged to call her. I told her, in the wake of a little misunderstanding between she and I, that a seat would be named in honor of Arthur¶s son²James. Finally, the day, at last has come.´ On cue, Molly leads a polite, respectful applause. Although several suspect that Arthur Lafferty is not the lawyer of his reputation, Flannigan included, but since it¶s to the theater owner¶s advantage, he foster¶s the legend. Whether it is fatherly pride, or his appetite to express the limelight towards his son, Arthur does something quite robust and daring. Like a carnival strongman flinging a dumbbell, Arthur swoops up his discombobulated son, and hoists the yelping boy high over his head, spinning him around several times before James¶ screams of terror convinces Arthur it was time to return him to earth. Struggling for composure, the lad staggers on his melting limbs and clenches his nauseous stomach. ³James Vincent De Paul Lafferty,´ says the theatre owner, crafting the tone of each word like a steep arch from a gothic cathedral, ³from this day forward, this seat shall be yours. Yours until your malignant lungs gasp for their final breath; yours until the last corpuscle of your red blood, coagulating, curdling and clotting, ceases to nourish your liver and spleen, and yours until your skull, so brittle with the ravages of age, can no longer contain even the simplest thought of a demented mind. Until that day comes, and I hope it¶s a long time off, you will never have to pay a penny to see a performance in the Gaiety. This I swear. These witnesses, bound and shackled by the their iron honor, will keep me true.´ After a suitable delay, insuring that Flannigan has actually finished, and not pausing for dramatic effect, the attendees applaud. ³Say thank you, sir´ Arthur, prompts his son, who is still absorbing and weighing the content of Flannigan¶s oath. If there was ever any doubt as to the career that James would choose, the next several moments would forever bury that question in the deepest catacombs. Even ill-mannered boys express a modest serving of gratitude when a gift of any dimension is publicly bestowed on them, particularly in the presence of their parent. James¶ reaction to the gift is unique to his calling. The uneasy silence flitters in the theatre¶s smoky air, like thousands of hovering crows. Molly removes the flower wreath from the boy¶s chair, and swats off the truant pedals. Wordlessly, claiming his throne, like a young king, James surmounts his seat. Leaning back, gazing at his new court, drinks from the moment¶s majesty. A faint, satisfied smile, journeys across his face, infusing his audience with relief. Molly places a simple laurel wreath crown on his head. The honors were not finished. Contritely bowed, Arthur Lafferty, with something mysterious hidden behind his back, steps up to the boy. ³My son, on this proud day, it is my pleasure, honor and duty to confer upon you, that which one day you will confer upon your son, and he his son, and that son¶s son. Slowly Arthur brings the mysterious object into his son¶s view. It¶s a leather case. Arthur unlatchs the top. He pulls out the seven-tiered spyglass. Handing it to his son, the lawyer mumbles a few words, as if he had forgotten the wise platitudes in store for the occasion. At first James looks at the instrument perplexed. Arthur motions for him to pull open its levels, which James does to his amusement. Several times the boy pulls open and shuts the device. ³It is used for seeing,´ Arthur says to the boy, offering him a brief demonstration of the spyglass¶s rudiments. ³It makes far look close,´
says the lawyer, as the boy focuses on a balcony candle. When the fired wick was fixed in view, its immense size startles James, but within a few moments he understands the principle behind the lens yielding the optical magic. ³Thank you father,´ he says to Arthur who was pulling out a sheet of printed paper from the case. ³This is a letter from your mother, which I think I will keep. Now isn¶t there something that you won¶t to say to Mr. Flannigan?´ ³You¶re right, father, there is´ says James, turning his attention to the theatre owner. ³Mr. Flannigan, sir,´ he says in a tone unusually sharp for a seven-year-old boy. ³Yes, my little prince?´ ³Let us suppose a rightful ticket holder was sitting in my seat. This seat, the one deemed mine, on the night I choose to enjoy an entertainment?´ James asks, adjusting his laurel crown. Flannigan, looking puzzled says ³We¶d just have to throw the fuddler out into the rain,´ he says with a chuckle. ³I doubt,´ interjects the Arthur Lafferty, ³that measures that extreme will be required.´ Nether reacting to his father¶s words or ungluing his stare from Flannigan he says mechanically ³Thank you²Father. Now, Mr. Flannigan,´ adjusting his weight in the chair, he continues. ³On several nights there will probably be occasions when I will not have the luxury of going to the theatre, myself. Should such inevitable circumstance arise, would it be within my rights to have, for example, to have my father enjoy the show²as my guest?´ ³This proves no impediment; I¶d be honored to allow your fine father, who has served me so well, to go in your stead,´ says Flannigan. ³Yes, sir. Thank you!´ James says, snapping open the spyglass to the first, second, and then third tier. ³Suppose one of the delightful ladies,´ the boy says using the now fully extended telescope to point towards the giggling women, ³baked a delicious bread pudding, and was so gracious as to give me a portion.´ Flannigan smiles at the women. ³They are probably capable of many pleasures.´ ³Yes, sir. As a gentlemen, and one day as a man of commerce, I may desire to extricate myself from this debt of kindness with something more tangible than a cordial thank you,´ says James, knocking back a telescopic tier, so only six are visible. Looking a Flannigan, then at his son, Arthur Lafferty offers some fatherly wisdom. ³The value of sincere gratitude should not be underestimated.´ ³I won¶t!´ says the boy, tossing his interrupting father a frosty glance, that hardens into a frozen glare when it appeared that Arthur may have additional comments. ³Now Mr. Flannigan, on such an occasion, would I also be in my rights to extend my endowment of this seat to one of these ladies, or am I limited to just my father?´ Flannigan silently ponders, as James snaps open and closed the spyglass. ³Yes, Mr. Flannigan,´ coquettishly Molly asks. ³If the boy²young man, I must say, wanted me to have the pleasure of seeing one of your wonderful entertainments, would you deny him that right?´ Swagging next to the young inquisitor, Sally Marsh even more saucily asks ³And me, after a brutish day of milking cows, churning butter, washing clothes, and baking.´ Tugging her dress up. ³I¶d love to see something²uplifting.´ Flannigan sits down next to the boy. ³You are seven years old, right?´ he asks with an exasperated chuckle. James, looks at his father, the ladies and then Flannigan. ³Today is my seventh birthday,´ James says wearily, collapsing the spyglass.
³Let me say this, there will come a day²soon, when they¶ll be saying µGet me Lafferty!¶ and it won¶t be your father they¶ll be meaning.´
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