[from 'The Woman of Knockaloe' 1923]

THIRTEENTH CHAPTER

 

The men of the Fourth and Fifth Compounds, three-quarters of the guard and many of the officers have gone, when a stranger comes to the camp to make a bid for the purchase of the booths and huts.

After a tour of the wooden buildings he arrives at the farm-yard, and steps on to the mounting-block to take a general view, and at the same moment Mona comes to the door of her dairy.

He is an American, a cheerful and rather free-spoken person, and he says, with a smile on his lips, by way of excuse for opening a conversation

I guess the farm-house is not for sale, is it? "

" You must ask the landlord about that, sir," says Mona.

" Not you also? You're the tenant of the farm, aren't you? "

" Yes, but I'm leaving it presently."

" Ah, I remember! I've heard something about you. And where are you going to when you leave here? "

I don't know yet, sir."

He looks at her as if measuring her from head to foot, and then says, with another smile

" Come to my country, girlie. We have some strapping young women out west, but we can do with a few more of the same sort, I guess."

Mona is startled. Obvious as the word is, it comes like an inspiration. America !

" The melting-pot of the nations! " All the races of the world are there. They must live in peace together or life could not go on.

When Oskar comes that night she tells him what the stranger has said, and his big, heavy, sleepless eyes become bright and excited.

" Why not? Why shouldn't we? That great free country ! What a relief to leave all the d---d mess of this life in Europe behind us! "

There is a difficulty, though. He has heard that America refuses to admit people who have been in prison. He has been four years in an internment camp-will America allow him to land? He must ask the chaplain.

The following night Oskar comes back with a still brighter face.

" It's all right, Mona. Internment is not imprisonment in the eyes of American law." But there is one other difficulty. America requires that every immigrant shall have something in his pocket to prevent him from becoming a burden on the new country.

" It's not much, but I have too little. If I had been a free man I should have earned four thousand pounds in the time I've been here, but when I leave the camp I shall only have fifty."

Mona is overjoyed-at length she can do something.

" That's no difficulty at all, Oskar. The auction is to come off soon, and after I've paid what I owe I shall have enough for both of us."

It is the day before the auction, and Mona is gathering up the stock and bringing them down to the houses-the beasts she had put out on the grass, the " dry " cows that are stretched on their bellies chewing the cud, the sheep that are bleating, and the early lambs that are baa-ing.

She is going up the mountain to fetch the young bull to which she has taken a bowl of wheat twice a week throughout the winter. A new wave of hope has come to her, a golden radiance is shining in the future, and she is singing to herself as she climbs through the heather.;

Suddenly, when she reaches the top of the hill, by the tower called " Corrin's Folly," she hears fierce animals snorting, and at the next moment sees that three bulls are fighting. One of them is her own young bull, small and lithe, the two others are old and large and black and have iron rings in their nostrils. She remembers the old ones. They belong to John Corlett, and must have leapt over the boundary to get at the young one, and are now goring it fearfully.

The fight is frightful. The young bull is bleeding horribly and trying to escape. It leaps over the wall of the little cemetery around the tower and makes for the land on the other side of it which goes down by a steep descent to precipitous cliffs, with the broad sea lying below at a terrible depth. But the old bulls, making hoarse noises from their nostrils, are following it up on either side and intercepting it. As often as the hunted animal runs to the right they gore it back to the left, and when it flies to the left they gore it back to the right.

At length the young bull stands for a moment, with its wild eyes flashing fire and its face towards the cliffs. And then, with a loud snort as of despair and defiance, it bounds forward, gallops straight ahead, and leaps clear over the cliff-head into the sea. The old bulls look after it for a moment with heaving nostrils and dilated eyes, and then begin to graze as if nothing had happened.

Mona has stood helpless and trembling while the fight has lasted, and when it is over and she comes to herself she finds Oskar standing behind her. He has been working on the roof of the tower, to remove the electric wires which have been attached to it, and from there he has seen everything.

" It was horrible, wasn't it? " " Horrible! "

" So cruel and cowardly.,"

" Yes," he says, from between his clenched teeth, " and so damnably human." Mona looks at him. They go down the hill together, without saying any more.

At last it has come, the day of the sale. The Commandant has permitted it to be held at the farm, although the camp is not yet entirely cleared. It is his last act before leaving, for he is going away that morning. Mona sees him driving off in his motor car, hardly recognizable in his civilian clothes. As he passes the farm-house he raises his hat to her-an English gentleman, every inch of him.

Towards eleven o'clock there is much commotion about the farmstead. The guards (they have had orders to help) are bringing the big beasts out of the houses into the " haggard " and driving the sheep and lambs into pens. There is a great deal of bleating and lowing. Mona, who is compelled to hear, but cannot bring herself to see what is going on, is indoors, trying not to look or listen.

At length there is the sound of voices. The Advocate, with the auctioneer and his clerk, are coming up the avenue, and behind them are many farmers. Long John Corlett, in his chapel clothes, is prominent among the latter, talking and laughing and hobnobbing with everybody.. Mona 'sees the look of impudent certainty in the man's empty face. She also sees Oskar,, who is behind the barbed wire of the Third Compound, with a face that is white and fierce.

After a short period for inspection the auction begins. The Advocate reads the conditions of sale (the whole of the stock on the farm is to be sold without reserve), and then the auctioneer steps up to the top of the mounting-block, while the clerk takes his place at the foot of it, and the farmers form a circle around them. There are the usual facetiae.

" Now, gentlemen. you've got the chance of your lives this morning. John Corlett, I know you've come to buy up everything, so get your purse-strings loosened. Mr. Lace, thou knows a good beast if anybody on the island does, and there are lashings of them here, I can tell thee."

The first animal to be led out by the guard into the circle of the spectators is a fine milch cow, five years old.. Mona remembers that she gave forty pounds for it in the middle of the war. It is knocked down for twenty. " What name? "

" John Corlett."

For a long half-hour there are scenes of the same kind. Every fresh beast put up is knocked down at half its value, and always, after the crack of the auctioneer's hammer, there comes the same name-" John Corlett."

At length Mona's anger becomes ungovernable. It is conspiracy, collusion! John Corlett has bought up all competitors! She rises from her seat by the fire with the intention of throwing up the window and shouting her protest. But while her hand is on the sash she sees Oskar at the other side of the barbed wire, striding hastily away, and she returns to her seat.

The auction goes on for an hour longer. Mona does not look out again, but she hears everything that is said outside, every word, almost every whisper.

The farmers are beginning to laugh at the monotony of the proceedings. At length there is a murmur of conversation between the auctioneer and the Advocate, and the auctioneer says, " Very well, if you wish, sir," whereupon the Advocate raises his voice and cries

" Gentlemen, this is going too far. If I hadn't announced that the sale would be without reserve I should stop it on my own responsibility. Come now, be Manxmen. What's doing on you anyway? Is it the war -or what? Men, we all knew old Robert Craine. He is dead. Let us be fair to his only daughter."

After that there is no more laughter, but there is less bidding and the results are the

same. The sale, which was expected to last until evening, is over by lunch-time.

" Gentlemen," says the auctioneer, " I thank you for your attendance. It's just as I expected-John Corlett has bought in all the stock on the farm."

And much good may it do him," says the Advocate.

" I might have given her more for it ěthout the auction, sir," says John Corlett.

" And so you might, or you should have been d well ashamed of yourself." Then Mona hears the sound of trapesing feet on the avenue and the various voices of people passing under her window.

Serve her right, though! We want no Fauns settling here on the island."

" No, nor no good Manx money going over to Germany neither."

A moment later the Advocate comes into the house.

"I'm sorry the sale has not been as good

as we expected, miss. The total _receipts will scarcely cover the valuation,"

" Then there's nothing left for me-nothing whatever? '

" Nothing 1 I'm sorry, very sorry," Mona, who had risen, sinks back into her, seat as if stunned.; After, a while, the Advocate having gone, she hears the barking of dogs, the shouting of men, the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle. The stock are being driven back to the hill by,, the servants of their new owner..

At length there is silence. It is not at first that Mona is able to realize the full meaning of what has happened, but at last it falls on her. America is closed to her, now. And that means that there is no place left to her in the world 1

Oskar, comes towards bed-time.: He is biting his lips and his eyes are bloodshot. She looks up at him helplessly-all the strength of her soul has gone out of lier.

" You've heard the result? "

" Yes, I have heard," he says, speaking between his teeth.

" I can't think how, people could be so unkind. "-

" Unkind ! "

He is laughing bitterly, fiercely.

" One's nearest neighbours-the people one has known all one's life."

" Oh, your people are no worse than any other-not an atom. People are the same everywhere. It's the war, Mona. It has drained every drop of humanity out of them."

He is laughing again, still more bitterly and fiercely.

" War! What a damned stupid, idiotic thing it is-and the people who make it! Patriots? Criminals, I call them! Crowned criminals and their mountebank crew conspiring against God and nature."

He smites the doorpost with his fist and says

" But the war is not the worst 'by a long way."

" What is, Oskarr? "

" This damnable peace that has followed it. People thought when the peace came they could go to sleep and forget. What fools! Think of it! Miserable old men spouting about a table, gambling in the fate of the young and the unborn; forgetting their loss in precious human lives, but wrangling about their, reparations, about land, about money, which the little mother rocking her baby's cradle will have to pay the interest of in blood and tears some day.; setting nation against nation; brewing a cauldron of hate which is hardening the hearts and poisoning the souls of men and women all the -world over."

Mona, who has hardly heard What he has said, is still looking up at him helplessly. " We couldn't help it, could we, Oskar? "

Oskar, recovering his self-command, pity. struck and ashamed, lifts up her work. stained hands and puts them to his lips.

" Forgive me, Mona."

We struggled hard, didn't we? " " Yes."

" But since God had put it into our hearts we couldn't resist it, could we? '-'

" And now. He doesn't seem to care, does He? "

"No! He doesn't seem to care," says Oskar. And then he goes off with head down.


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