The Majesty Of The Law by Frank O’Connor, 1949
The magic trick:
Letting the reader get to know the man before getting to know his act
These Frank O’Connor stories really are amazing. They seem so simple. But their effect is so complex. We’ll be looking at his work all week, so settle in.
The key to “The Majesty Of The Law” is that you get to know Old Dan Bride in a sympathetic way for most of the story. We get to sit with him. We feel sorry for him. He’s polite, proud, but very lonely.
It’s not until the end that we understand the nature of this visit. By then, he’s earned plenty of good will to trade on.
And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
He made the tea and filled the two cups. The sergeant cut himself a large slice of bread and buttered it thickly.
“It is just like medicines,” said the old man, resuming his theme with the imperturbability of age. “Every secret there was is lost. And leave no one tell me that a doctor is as good a man as one that had the secrets of old times.”
“How could he be?” asked the sergeant with his mouth full.
“The proof of that was seen when there were doctors and wise people there together.”
“It wasn’t to the doctors the people went, I’ll engage.”
“It was not. And why?” With a sweeping gesture the old man took in the whole world outside his cabin. “Out there on the hillsides is the sure cure for every disease. Because it is written” – he tapped the table with his thumb – “it is written by the poets ‘wherever you find the disease you will find the cure.’ But people walk up the hills and down the hills and all they see is flowers. Flowers! As if God Almighty – honour and praise to Him! – had nothing better to do with His time than be making old flowers!”
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