[from 'The Woman of Knockaloe' 1923]
CHRISTMAS has gone; the spring has come; the seed is in the ground; the cattle are out on the hill after their, long winter imprisonment in the cow-houses; but the war is still going on and Robbie has not yet returned home.
It is a bright spring morning. Mona is coming back from Peel in her shandry when she sees three gentlemen walking over the farm with her father, one of them in officer's uniform, the other two in silk hats and light overcoats.
As she turns in at the gate she sees a fourth gentleman come down from the hill- side and join them in the lane. He wears a Norfolk jacket, has a gun under his arm and two or three dogs at his heels. Mona recog- nizes the fourth gentleman as their landlord,
and as she drives slowly past she hears her father, say to him
" But what about the farm, sir, when the war is over?
" Don't trouble about that," says the landlord. " You are here for life, Robert -you and your children."
Mona puts up her horse and goes into the house, and when the gentlemen have gone her father comes in to her. With a halting embarrassment he tells her what has hap- pened. One of the gentlemen had been the Governor of the island, the strangers had been officials from the Home Office.
" It seems the Government in London have come to your opinion, girl."
" What's that? " says Mona.
" That the civilian Germans must be interned."
" Interned? What does that mean "
" Shut up in camps to keep them out of mischief."
" Prison camps? "
" That's so."
" Serve them right, the spies and sneaks! But why did the gentlemen come here? "
" The Governor, brought them. He thinks Knockaloe is the best place in the island for an internment camp."
Mona is aghast.
" What? Those creatures ! Are we to be turned out of the farm for the like of them?"
" Not that exactly," says the old man, and he explains the plan that had been proposed to him by the gentlemen from . London. He and his family are to remain in the farm-house and keep that part of the pasture land that lies on the hill-side in order to provide the fresh milk that will be required for the camp.
Mona is indignant.
" Do you mean that we are to work to keep alive those Germans whose brothers are killing our boys in France? Never 1 Never in this world."
Her father must refuse. Of course he must. The farm is theirs-for as long as the lease lasts, anyway;
" Tell the Governor, to find some other place for his internment camp."
The old man explains that he has no choice. What the Government wants in a time of war, it must have.,
:,Very well," says Mona ; " let them have the farm and we'll go elsewhere."
The old man tells her that he must remain. He is practically conscripted.
" They don't want me, though, do they? " Well, yes, they do. They are not for having other wwomen about the camp, but under the circumstances they must have one woman anyway.'-'
" It won't be me, then. Not likely ! " The old man pleads with the girl. Is she going to leave him alone?
" Me growing old, too, and Robbie at the war!"
At length Mona consents. She will remain for her father's sake, but she hates the thought of living in the midst of Germans and helping to provide for them.
" It will be worse than being at the war -a thousand times worse."
It is a fortnight later. Huge wagons, full of bricks and timber and other building materials, with vast rolls of barbed wire, have been arriving at the farm, and a multi- tude of bricklayers and carpenters have been working all day long and half the night. Ugly stone-paved paths have been cut through the green fields; the grass-grown lane from the farm-house to the high road has been made into a broad bare avenue; gorse-covered hedges, already beginning to bloom, have been torn down, and long rows of hideous wooden booths have been thrown up and then tarred and pitched on their faces and roofs. It has been like magic--- black magic, Mona calls it.
Already a large area on the left of the avenue, encompassed by double lines of barbed wire, which look like cages for Ø1d beasts, is ready for occupation. It is called Compound Number One.
Mona is now the only woman on the land, the maids being dismissed, and men and boys employed to take their places. The last of the girls to go is a pert young thing from Peel. Her name is Liza Kinnish, and before the war she used to make eyes at Robbie. Now that other men are to come she wants to remain, but Mona packs her off with the rest.
It is evening. Mona hears the whistle of the last train pulling up in the railway station, and a little later the cadenced tramp, tramp, tramp, as of an advancing army on the high road.
It is the first of the Germans. From the door of the house she looks at them as they come up the avenue-a long procession of men in dark civilian clothes, marching in double file, with a thinner line of British soldiers on either side of them. Mona shudders. She thinks they look like a long black serpent.
Next morning from the window of her bedroom Mona sees more of them. They are a sullen-looking lot, but generally well- dressed and with a certain air of breeding. On going towards the cow-house she speaks to one of the guard. He tells her they are the best she is likely to see. Many of them are well-to-do men. Some are rich, and have been carrying on great businesses in London and living in large houses and even mansions. Later she hears from her father that they are grumbling about their quarters and the food provided for them.
" Let them," she says. " They deserve no better."
In a half-hearted way the old man excuses them. After all they are prisoners, cut off from their wives and children.
" Well, and what worse off are they than
our men who are fighting at the front? The hypocrites! The traitors! "
" You're hard, woman, you're hard," says the old man.
It is another fortnight later. The black magic has been going on as before, and Compound Number. Two, on the right of the avenue, is ready for occupation.
At the same hour in the evening Mona hears the tramp, tramp, tramp, as of another army coming up the high road. It is the second company of the Germans, and they are a hundredfold worse-looking than the first. A coarse, dirty, brutal lot, some of them in rags-sailors, chiefly, who have been captured at the docks in Liverpool and Glasgow and in certain cases taken off ships at sea. But they are all in high spirits, or pretend to be so. They come up the avenue laughing, singing and swearing.
Mona is standing at the door to look at them. They see her, address her with coarse pleasantries which she does not understand, and finally make noises with their, lips as if they were kissing her. She turns indoors.
" The scum! The beasts! " she says.
" You're hard, woman, you're hard," says the old man.
A month later Compound Number Three is ready, and once more there is the sound of marching on the high road. Mona, who is in the house, will not go to the door again. She is sour of heart and stomach at the thought that she has to live among the Germans and help to provide for them.
She hears the new batch pass through to their compound, which is on the seaward side of the farm-house, and is compelled to notice that, unlike their predecessors, they make no noise. Next morning her father tells her they are young men for the most part, young clerks, young doctors, young professional men of many sorts.
" Quite a decent-looking lot," the old man says.
Mona curls her lips. They are Germans. That's enough for her.
You're hard, woman, you're hard," the old man says. " What did the old Book teach thee to pray?-Our Father! " Mona's hatred of the Germans is deepen- ing every hour, yet twice a day she has to meet with some of them. Morning and evening she serves the regulated supply of milk to the men who come from the com- pounds, attended by their guard. They try to engage her in conversation, but she rarely answers them, and she tries not to listen.
Always the last to come is a pale-faced young fellow from the Third Compound. He has a hacking cough, and Mona thinks he must be consumptive. An impulse of pity sometimes seizes her, but she fights it down. After all, what matter? He belongs to the breed of the brutes who plotted the war.
The newspapers continue to come, and every night after supper, the old man reads the war news to his household. The Germans, who seem to have been always advancing, are beginning to fall back. The armies of the Allies are co-operating, and it is hoped that !before long a decisive blow Øl1 be struck. The old man's voice, which has usually had a certain tremor, grows strong and triumphant to-night. And when he has come to the end of his reading of the Gospel, which always follows the reading of the newspaper, he closes the big book, drops his head over it, shuts his eyes and, putting his hands together, says
" Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
When the farm-servants have gone out of the kitchen, Mona, who has been standing by the fireplace leaning one hand on the high mantelpiece, says, in a vibrant voice :
" Father, do you really want peace? " " Goodness sakes, girl, why not? "
" I don't. I want war and more war until those demons are driven home or wiped out of the world."
A few days later a letter comes from Robbie. He has been made lieutenant, and is in high spirits. They have had a pretty rotten time thus far, but things are coming round now. He has heard it whispered that there is to be a great offensive soon, and that he himself is to go, for the first time, up to the front trenches. He is in a hurry now, preparations going forward so furiously, but they'll hear of him again before long.
" So bye-bye for the present, dad, and wish me luck! And, by the way, tell Mona I read a part of her last letter to some of the officers at the mess last night, and when I had finished they all cried out, like one man, 'My God! That's girl's a stunner! ' And then the major said, ` If we had a thousand men with the spirit of your sister the war wouldn't last a month longer.' "
A week has passed since Robbie's letter, and the newspapers report a wonderful victory-the enemy is on the run. Every evening, at the hour when the postman is expected to arrive at the camp, the old man, who has said nothing, has been out on the paved way in front of the farm-house (the " street," as the Manx call it), in his sleeve waistcoat, smoking his pipe and with the setting sun from over the sea on his face.
The other letter Robbie promised has not come yet. But this evening through the kitchen window Mona sees the postman striding slowly up the garden path with his head down and a letter in his hand, and something grips at her heart. The postman gives the letter to her father, and goes off without speaking. The old man fumbles it, turning the envelope over and over, in his hands. It is a large one, and it has printing
across the top. At length, as if making a call on his resolution, he opens it with a trembling hand, tearing the letter as he drags it out of the envelope. He looks at it, seems to be trying to read it and finding himself unable to do so. Mona goes out to him, and he gives her the torn sheet of typewriting.
" Read it, girl," he says helplessly, and then he lays hold of the trammon tree that grows by the porch. Mona begins, " The Secretary of State for War regrets . . ."
She stops. There is no need to go farther. Robbie has fallen in action.
The truth dawns on the old man in a moment. An unseen flash as of lightning seems to strike him, and he reels as if about to fall. Mona calls to some of the farm hands, and they help her father indoors and up to bed, and then run for the nearest doctor-the English doctor of the First Compound.
The old man has had a stroke. It is a slight one, but he must stay in bed for a long time and be kept absolutely quiet. No more letters or newspapers-nothing that will startle or, distress him. It is his only chance.
Mona does not cry, but her eyes flash and her nostrils quiver. Her hatred of the Germans is now fiercer than ever. They have killed her brother and stricken her_ father. May God punish them-every one of them! Not their Kings and Kaisers only, but every man, woman and child! If He does not, there is no God at all-there cannot be.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008