[from 'The Woman of Knockaloe' 1923]
MONA rises next day before the cows have begun to call, and as soon as her work in the dairy is done she hurries off to Peel. The court-house is as crowded as before with guards and townspeople. With difficulty she crushes her way into the last place by the door.
The proceedings have begun and the prisoners are standing in the dock with their backs to her-five unkempt heads of com- mon-looking sailors and Oskar's erect figure, with his fair hair, at the end of them. The Governor is on the bench, and he has the High Bailiff and the Commandant on either side of him. The captain of the guard, with a bandage across his forehead, is in the witness-box. He is answering the questions of the advocate for the Crown.
" And now, Captain, tell us your own story."
Humbly saluting the court, with many " sirs " and " worships " and " excellencies," the captain tells his tale. It was yesterday about this time. He had hardly entered the Second Compound in the ordinary discharge of his duty when he was set upon, without the slightest warning or provocation, by a gang of the prisoners. There must have been two hundred of them, but the six men in the dock had been the ringleaders. Five of the six belonged to the Second Compound, but the sixth came from the Third, and he was the worst of the lot. Being a camp captain he was allowed to move about anywhere, and he had often abused his liberty to undermine the captain's authority.
"How do you know that?" asks the High Bailiff.
" My guard have told me what he has said, your Worship, but I heard him myself in this case."
" What did you hear? "
" I was behind the baron's bungalow in the First Compound, your Worship, when I heard him telling the men of the second to lynch and murder me."
The Governor leans forward and says
" You mean that this sixth man has a spite against you? "
" A most bitter spite, your Excellency." " Have you given him any cause? "
" No cause whatever, your Excellency.'' " What is his name? "
" Oskar Heine."
" Let Oskar Heine be called," says the Governor. - As Oskar steps out of the dock Mona feels hot and dizzy. Being a prisoner he is not sworn.
He stands at the foot of the witness-box, but his head is up, and when he answers the questions of the advocate appointed to represent the prisoners he does not seem to be afraid.
" You have heard the evidence of the captain."
" I have."
" Is it true-what he says about yourself? "
" No, sir, not a word of it."
" Did you take any part in the attack that was made on him? "
" None whatever."
" Did you tell the other prisoners to do what they did? "
" No, I did not; but if I had known as much about the captain then as I know now I should have done."
" Done what? " asks the Governor sharply.
" Told them to do what they did-and worse."
" And what do you know now, if you please? "
" That he has been cheating and bullying and blackmailing and corrupting them."
" And if you had known this before what would you have told them to do, as you say?" " Thrash him within an inch of his life." " You admit that? "
" I do, sir."
The Governor turns to the High Bailiff and says
" Is it necessary to go further? The man denies that he took part in the actual assault, but no evidence could be more corroborative of the captain's story."
The High Bailiff appears to assent, and the advocate for the defence, who had in- tended to call the other prisoners, signifies by a gesture that he thinks it is hopeless to do so now.
" I ask for the utmost penalty of the law against the six prisoners," says the advocate for the Crown, " for a brutal and cowardly assault on an officer of the army in the lawful discharge of his duty."
There is some low talking on the bench which Mona, who is breathing audibly, does not hear, and then the High Bailiff prepares to give judgment.
" This is a serious offence. If such riots were to be permitted at the encampment all military discipline would be at an end. Therefore it is the duty of the civil authori- ties in dealing with civilian prisoners . . ."
The High Bailiff's voice is drowned by a noise near the door. A woman's tremulous voice is heard to say
" Wait a minute, sir."
At the next moment Mona is seen push- ing her way to the front. The advocate for the Crown recognizes her, and thinking she comes to support his case, he rises and says
" This is the young woman I spoke of in my opening as having saved the life of the captain from the fury of the prisoners. If it is not too late she may be able to say some- thing that will throw light on the conduct of the men and on their motive."
" No, not on the conduct and motive of the men, but on that of the captain," says Mona.
There is further murmuring on the bench, and then the High Bailiff says
" Let her be called."
Being in the witness-box and sworn, Mona, with the eyes of the judges, advo- cates and spectators upon her, begins to tremble all over, but she answers firmly when spoken to.
" You wish to say something about the captain-what is it? "
" That he is a bad man, and a disgrace to the army."
The Governor, puts up his eyeglass and looks at her. Then he smiles rather cynically and says:
" You seem to know something about the army, miss. What is the medal you are wearing on your breast? "
" The Victoria Cross, sir," says Mona, throwing up her head, " won by my brother when he died in the war, and sent home to my father by the King."
The eyeglass drops from the Governor's nose and his face straightens. After a moment of silence the High Bailiff says
" What you say of the captain-is it from hearsay or from personal experience?"
" From personal experience, sir."
There is another moment of silence and then the High Bailiff says
" Tell us."
Mona takes hold of the rail of the witness- box, and it is seen that her fingers are trembling. She tries to begin, but at first the words will not come. At length, lifting her eyes as if saying to herself, " Oh, what matter about me? " she tells the story of the captain's attempt at a criminal assault upon her; how, late at night, when she was alone and unprotected he had tried to force his way into her house and had almost overcome her resistance when Oskar Heine came
up and laid hold of him by the throat and flung him back into the road.
" So if there's any spite," she says, " it's not Heine's against the captain, but the captain's against Heine."
There is a dead hush in the court-house until she has done. Then the High Bailiff looks down at Oskar, who is still standing by the witness-box, and says
" Is this true? "
Oskar answers in a husky voice
" I'm sorry the young lady has said it, sir, but it's true, perfectly true."
" It's a lie," shouts the captain, tossing ùp his red face defiantly.
" Is it? " cries Oskar quickly. And then throwing out his arm and pointing to the captain, he says
" Look at him. The marks of my hands are on his throat at this moment." Instantly the captain drops his chin into his breast, but not before everybody on the bench has seen the black stamp of four fingers and a thumb on the man's red throat.
The advocate for the defence rises and asks permission (things having gone so far) to call the other prisoners.
One by one the five are called and tell the same story-that when the horse-racing began the captain, who went to Belle Vue nearly every afternoon, enticed them to trust him with their stakes; but though they found out afterwards that their horses had often won, he had always lied to them and kept their money.;
"Heine advised us to complain to the Commandant, but we decided to strip the man and search his pockets, and having a drop to drink we went further than we intended."
" It's a pack of lies," roars the captain.
" No, it's not that neither," says a voice from behind the prisoners.
It is one of the guard who had brought the men to court, and stepping out of the
bench at the back of the dock, he says
" Swear me next, your Worship."
" Take care what you're saying, Radcliffe," cries the captain in a voice that is almost unintelligible from anger. " No lies here, remember."
" No, I've told enough for you at the camp. I'm going to tell the truth for once, Captain."
The soldier corroborates the evidence of the prisoners, and adds that the guard themselves have been similarly cheated, blackmailed and bullied.
" More than that, it's the captain himself who has been bringing drink into the camp, especially into the millionaires' compound. He is making a big purse out of it, too, and only two nights ago, when he was in liquor, he boasted that he had five hundred pounds in the bank already."
After that the proceedings are brought to a quick conclusion, the Governor being afraid of further disclosures. The six men are sentenced to one day's imprisonment, but having been as long as that in custody already they are acquitted.
And then the trial being over, the Commandant addresses the captain, telling him he is not to return to the camp, but to prepare to he sent over the water to-morrow morning.
" It's a few men like you who give the enemy their excuse for saying we are as bad as they are."
The court having risen, the prisoners are taken out between their guard. Oskar Heine passes close to the place where Mona is standing, but he does not raise his eyes to her.
Only then, her excitement being over, does Mona realize what she has done for her- self. The townspeople are surging out of the court-house, and, as they go, they are casting black looks at her. She awaits until she thinks they are gone, and then, ventur-
ing out, she finds a throng of them, women as well as men, on the steps and about the gate, and they fall on her with insults.
" Here she comes! " " The traitor!"
" It's an ill bird that fouls its own nest." " The woman might have held her tongue, anyway; not given away her own country- man to save a dirty Boche."
A hiss that is like the sound of water boiling over hot stones follows her down the street and out of the town, until she reaches the country.
Half-way home she is overtaken by the Commandant in his motor-car. He stops to speak to her, and his kind face looks serious, almost stern.
" I'm willing to believe that what you did was done in the interest of justice, but all the same I'm sorry for you, my girl, very sorry."
The six prisoners have arrived at the camp before her, and a report of what she has done at the trial has passed with the speed of a forest fire over the five compounds. As she walks up the avenue, hardly able to support herself, the brutal sailors of the Second Compound, the same that had formerly offended her by their vulgar familiarity, rush to the barbed wire to lift their caps to her. She does not look at them, but hurries into the house, overwhelmed with shame and confusion.
To get through the work of the day is hard, and when night comes she drops into her father's seat by the fire and sits there for hours, forgetting that she has eaten nothing since morning.
It is all over. The secret she has been struggling so hard to hide even from herself, denying it over and over again to her conscience, she has proclaimed aloud in public.
She loves this German-she who had hated all his race as no one else had ever hated them! Everybody knows it, too, and everybody loathes her. And her father-if she had killed her father before, as people said, she has killed him a second time that day, covering his very grave with disgrace.
" I couldn't help it," she thinks, but that brings her no comfort now.
At one moment she tells herself that since she has renounced her race she must run away somewhere-she cannot live at gnockaloe any longer. But then she thinks of Oskar, that he must remain, and cries in her heart
" I can't! I can't!"
And remembering what Oskar had said about her in court she throws up her head and thinks
Why should I ? "
When the time comes to lock up the house for the night she finds a letter which has been pushed under the door. It is on prisoners' notepaper and in a handwriting she has never seen before, and it contains three words only
" God bless you !"
Instantly, instinctively, she lifts it to her lips and kisses it. But at the next moment, as she is going upstairs, the old weakness comes sweeping back on her.
" I couldn't help it! I couldn't help it! God forgive me! "
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008