by Graham Cotter
At each corner and at the centre of the Warkworth Arena the five auctions took place simultaneously, and the bidders moved from one auction to the other as they saw attractive items coming up. The onlookers, among whom daring souls emerged to bid from time to time, were also roughly in five groups, though they were not separated in the slowly moving crowd. There were regular inhabitants ofthe township and their friends from elsewhere in the county; there were a few professional antique dealers, some all the way from King and Jarvis Streets in Toronto; there were the Triple O visitors caught up in a new and bewildering experience; there were other visitors, including the Government party and some other very strange looking ones, and there were the children.
The word “Donnybrook” is taken from a town in Ireland where the annual fair was traditionally a place of drunkenness and rioting. The local children did not know this, but they were accustomed to carrying on the tradition. A few years back, when Warkworth was less frequently visited by city people, the children’s contribution to the Donnybrook was to play games out in the fair grounds. There they naturally divided into those who attended the local schools and all others. By this date, however, the local children who knew each other banded together to make life difficult for all those from out of town.
The coming of the Triple O Voyageurs was a special challenge, and Bartholomew Cart, already a leader among his schoolmates, organized a game in the grandstand into which the visitors were innocently invited. Two teams were picked, Percy and City, and one member from each team was supposed to jump the grandstand rail, run twice around the stand and be back in place for the next player to start. It was to be a relay.
Bart, however, had arranged that other Percy members should be concealed behind the stand, and should lie in wait to blindfold the visitors, and lead them to the arena. At the last minute he changed the rules – he was an expert at this – and said the contestants were to leave the stand without waiting for the others to return, at the count of twenty-five from the last set leaving. The visitors had mostly fallen into the trap, before the remnant caught on, and a general scuffle began. In the meantime various children kept being pushed on to the arena floor, tied and blindfolded. Bartholomew was delighted.
One auction was of rather large articles of furniture piled at one end of the arena near the door. There were in fact, two doors, complete with frames, a battered organ, chairs of various kinds, and an apparently portable privy. A group of people were standing nearby, as the auctioneer tried to get up interest in a very large picture frame. A grey-blond middle aged woman was with a short red-faced man. Nearby was a tattered looking hippie type lad. All three were gazing at the organ.
“Jim! I want that organ!”
“Don’t be a bloody fool! Eva! You’ve already got one.”
“Want another. It’ll go for nothing you’ll see!”
At the next sale bidding was running high for an old ice chest. A tall heavy- set man with a small neat mustache was bidding against a willowy man from the city, obviously a dealer. At $25 the dealer gave up, and the tall man turned to his grinning wife, saying
“See! I got it!”
A village couple watched this, and one said to the other not very quietly,
“The junk some folks will buy!”
“More money than sense, those people from the city. And they don’t work half as hard as us.”
A third joined in.
“That fancy looking guy, he’s a dealer in Tronna. Wonder he didn’t go higher.”
“Dealer! What would he do with it?”
“The people who stay in Tronna must be even stupider than the ones they send out here.”
All three guffawed, and looked to see what would go next.
Back at the first sale the blond woman had got the organ for five dollars. The hippie boy looked at it in disappointment: higher than $4.45 he wouldn’t go. The new owner examined it proudly.
“See! Dominion Organ and Piano Manufacturing Company, Bowmanville. Just like the one we have!”
“Only it doesn’t work. What’ll you do with it?”
“I haven’t thought of that.”
She looked across at the hippie: “Would you like it?”
Hippie: “How much?”
“What did you bid ?”
“Sure. You take it, and welcome.”
“But what’ll you get out of it?”
“Fun of bidding for it. And beating you. And giving it away.”
“Nuts,” said the man called Jim. “You must have drink taken!”
The noise was indescribable: the high whine of the auctioneers’ babble rising and falling above the din of talking , shouting and movement, like the shouts that rose and lowered a mile away still, as the underground water pressure continued to flood the field. Everyone was busy with what was in front of him, except for a pickpocket, who was looking for those preoccupied with sales, and a plainclothe policeman, who was keeping an eye on the pick-pocket. So nobody noticed that a bus load of strange people had appeared at the main door. Or, rather, a wagon load,
for they came riding on the back of a wagon drawn by two horses. They came into the arena chatting away. They must have been going on to some fancy dress party, for they were all in the styles of the 1840’s, even to their shoes, spectacles and finger rings. They were about fifteen in number, both men and women and some seemed to be married and others young and single.
“Look Mam, that our organ?”
“Looks like our organ, Priscilla, but much too dirty. Anyways, our organ’s at home, where we left it.”
Their speech was harsh, and sounded like old country speech, but not clipped. It was in fact rural Ontario speech of the last century. Eva, the new owner of the organ, or rather the giver of the organ, looked at the mother and daughter, and dug her brother in the rubs.
“Aren’t they priceless, Jim. Must be actors. Even got the accent right!”
“Hey, Mam,” said Priscilla, “Look at the bum who’s pushing our piano. He’s stealing it!”
“Prissy, please, don’t use that word! tramp, if you please!”
Further discussion was interrupted by the voice of the Mayor over the loudhailer: “Ladies and Gentleman. Please pardon this interruption! I warned the auctioneers to expect it, so they will forgive me. All bids are suspended. The minister of Municipal Affairs, the Honorable David Williams, wishes to make a short announcement.”
“Thank you for your indulgence Mr. Mayor. Ladies and Gentlemen, having been unable to finish my address earlier because of unfortunate events I wish to conclude my visit with you on a happier note. I hope that this day had not been too disappointing for some of the visitors though I understand that all has not gone exactly according to plan. The unfortunate explosion and flooding, which I have myself looked at, is probably of a temporary nature.”
“We hope the explosion is temporary, Minister!”
“Yes, of course,” said the Minister, trying to smile, “I believe the flood will go down. There may in fact, be important geological discoveries as a result of the flood. The government will look into whether compensation would be appropriate.”
“Triple O don’t need compensation!” shouted one voice.
“Prosecution, you mean.” said another, “They blew up the damn place!”
“As I was saying, we wish to end on a happy note. And I am pleased to present to you the family about which we were all so concerned. Here are Mr. and Mrs. Albert Scace and Linda and Deborah, who were missing but unharmed. Let’s give them a hand!”
Everyone clapped politely. Linda and Debbie looked stonily at the crowd, and Debbie gave a little wave of her hand. They didn’t know what the fuss was about. They’d only been asleep.
“And a special word for their older brother, Kevin, who with his brother Brian, and Mr. Martin of the Country Office, found the girls. Kevin blushed scarlet, and stood closer to his father. His embarrassment was partly covered, however because at that moment yet another invasion of the arena took place. For some time the “City” side of the children’s game had been tossed bound and blindfolded, into the arena, where the Percy side continued to harass them. By now the blindfold children had mostly got out of their blinders, and were thirsty for the blood of their persecutors. Bart Cart was ready for this too, and shouted, just as the clapping – more earnest this time – for Kevin began:
“Yeah Percy! City kids are jerks! Let’s get em, kids!”
At this the whole arena was in an uproar, children running in all directions, knocking down adults and pushing over chairs and tables. One boy found a bag of lily bulbs donated for sale and started throwing them into the crowd. The policeman caught the pickpocket. The mayor ushered out the Minister, leaving his brother’s family to make their own way. The fancy dress visitors gathered together and began to sing, ‘O Canada’ in powerful old-fashioned voices.
Then, in a blaze of light, a procession entered by the door the Minister had just left. Father Florovsky had decided to join the fun from St. John’s and appeared robed in a golden vestment; two black robed figures carried burning tapers, and another waved a censor with clouds of pine-scented incense. The priest began to intone, in deep bass, while the other singers continued their national song: “Hagios ho theos, hagios ischyros, hagios athanatos eleison hemas.”
Up at Scace’s Hill, Brian stayed home on doctor’s orders. His grandmother was in the house, but he told her he was going for a quiet walk. At the edge of the field he saw George, lighting up his tractor headlights to begin a bit of ploughing. He called to him, running as he did,
“Mr. Wiseman, Mr. Wiseman!” “Why it’s young Brian! How come you’re not down at the Donnybrook?”
“Asthma’s come back. Doctor Coldwell says I mustn’t.”
“That’s too bad. Really troubles you. But not so much you couldn’t help find the girls. Very glad that turned out so well.”
“How come you’re not there yourself?”
“Have to catch up on my ploughing. Spent a lot of time searching for those sisters of yours.”
“Mr. Wiseman, what do you think of that flood?”
“Don’t know what to make of it. Now you take water – funny thing water. Never know why it comes up or where it goes down.”
Brian thought he had heard something like this before, so he got a word in.
“Do you think it’s anything to do with what we were saying about the sand hills and all that?”
“Maybe, maybe, – funny things happening all over this weekend. Girls missin’, and then that explosion and flood, and them Zero Zero, Zero Voyeurs around the village, and the Minister visiting. Why we haven’t had a cabinet Minister in Warkworth for years. Not from Queen’s Park, leastways. Too many liberals for their likes. Just a bit too much comin’ and goin’ if you ask me.”
Brian grinned at him, one of his rare bursts of humour:
“Mr. Erkelens would say all those things are just a `coinkydink’!
“Coincidence,” said Brian quietly.
George’s serious inquiry had little time for jokes.
“Now tell me Brian. I heard tell on the telephone, or leastways, my wife heard tell, that your sisters were sleeping all the time. Is that right?”
“Nothing wrong with them?”
“No. Doctor says nothing. Just hunger.”
“Well, well, that’s really something. Like little Rip Van Winkles.”
Brian’s generation had not been brought up on Rip Van Winkle.
“And your brother. How was it he came to find them?”
“He smelled an awful smell. He’s smelled it before.”
“A smell! Did you smell it?”
“No, only something like gunpowder. That led me to Kevin just as he found the girls.”
“Well, well very good. Suppose your Mum’s not too keen on those sisters of yours travelling round quite so much now?”
“Mum says, where boys can go, girls can go, and the countryside belongs to all of us. But she’s going to work out something so it doesn’t happen again.”
“Well, that’s a great mother you have. Good mind.”
“So’s my Dad, ” said Brian defensively.
“Yes, yes, of course. I must get to my ploughing now. Goodnight, Brian.”
“Goodnight Mr. Wiseman. Let’s get to talk about water again sometime.”
“Yes, Brian. Leastways, we’ll talk, though I don’t know that much about it.”
He drove off, and Brian walked slowly home, breathing roughly, the dampness of the night air catching his chest.
Readers of Drumlin Fever will be intrigued to know that I learned of the Bleasdale Boulder, near Trenton Ontario, and not far from Warkworth, while presenting this edition of the book for publication some 40 years after the story was written. - Graham Cotter January, 2014