by Graham Cotter
The Warkworth Fair Grounds, at first sight, do not compare with the garish domes and modern avenues of Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition. There is a race track, a grandstand, a judges’ turret, the Warkworth Arena, and a two storey red Exhibition building. But when fair time comes, there is a transformation; people make the fair, not the buildings. The same is true of the annual Donnybrook, the auction of everyone’s barn-stored junk or generous donations, as the case may be, which takes place at the end of June. The auctioneers give their services free, and the proceeds are for some worthy town purposes. For days ahead volunteers go around collecting old chairs, bedspreads, bags of wheat or sacks of bulbs, jars of pickles, lamps mirrors and farm implements.
There are many such Donnybrooks across Ontario; but no county has as many villages as Northumberland, nor has Northumberland any village to compare with Warkworth. It is even blessed by the nearness of religion. For at the very gates, those proud stone gates with their memorial tablets in bronze, is St. John’s Church.
St. John’s Church flourished in some remote past, when the sonorous notes of Cranmer’s Prayer Book might have been heard through its simple gothic windows. But its membership declined, or preferred to drive to Campbellford. Church authority, remote in Toronto, thrice offered the building as a community centre, but those who wanted a community centre preferred, on the one hand to always have a reason to raise money at the Donnybrook, and on the other, to make plans to float a mighty loan, and make various deals along the way. And so, by the time of the stirring events which befell the Scace children and the developers of Own Your Own Ontario, St. John’s was occupied by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Pavel Florovsky, in a long white beard and flowing black robes; incense came from the window cracks, strange chants were heard at early hours and late, and whether any people from Warkworth ever worshipped there was uncertain. There were even some nasty minds, among those elderly who congregated to exchange information, which threw doubt on just who was worshipped there.
Such thoughts did not affect the dozens of people who milled through the Fair Ground gates on this hot Saturday in June. Normally, the Donnybrook begins in early evening, when all the donations have been collected and the buyers are free from their chores and shopping and ploughing to gather round. But the influx of 200 visitors, or voyageurs, as Bondworthy preferred to call them, and the total breakdown of the original plans made for them, led to swift and useful compromises. The auctioneering would begin an hour earlier, and the auctioneers, scattered over the country at rightful auctions, were urged to finish their supper early and come.
In the meantime, Cynthia and her OFY shock troops had organized the 200 people into all kinds of games and activities. Feeding facilities had been set up in the Exhibition building, and all the bread in Warkworth had been commandeered along with all the jam and peanut butter. Bondworthy’s logistics had broken down somewhere and the caterer’s boxes, when unpacked from the crippled buses and opened, had proved to have only one hundred sandwiches, and one hundred bottles of warm pop.
The Pine Ridge Inn, whose restaurant usually provided good simple food for the wayfarer at a small margin of profit, suddenly had a boom: ordinary operations were closed down entirely while the staff made hundreds more sandwiches and many many dollars – all at the expense of the Triple O Development, not their guests.
The BeeHive and Perchards and even Edwards Market in Norham sent emergency cars and trucks to Campbellford for extra supplies, and the teenagers of that fair canal town, setting out to gossip at a corner or drive to Hailey’s Falls, or do some necking by the locks, found every pop outlet dry, and were forced to drink either water or milk, or raid the forbidden beer supplies of unsuspecting parents.
The 200 Voyageurs were enjoying themselves. They had after all, been provided eventually with food, along with Cynthia’s kind of organized interference, which at least kept the children and teenagers busy, and above all, with the excitement of the flood. They would be, when they returned to Painted Post Drive, Neapolitan Crescent, Manorhampton Place, Coquette Road, or Driftwood Park, the centre of attention. They, at first hand, had witnessed the explosion and flood which had held all Ontario spellbound before it’s TV sets, when the baseball games were interrupted with special bulletins and the Emergency Measures Organization at Caesaria, near Lake Scugog, mistaking the signal, had forced all the inhabitants from their homes and driven them into the midst of a decorous nudist conference in the reforested highlands near Uxbridge.
When Harald Todeski had dragged Bondworthy breathless through the crowd who were listening to the Minister, he had really no idea what he could accomplish. He knew his charge was a very strong one, and that the fuse had been set for about thirty hours – never having meant to use that means of detonation in any case. He grabbed Bondworthy, because he could not see Carl O’Donnell the foreman, and he felt some degree of responsibility towards the company which had employed him; perhaps by getting Bondworthy to drive him to the scene he might yet smother the fuse.
As he reached the Fair Ground Gates, and began to explain to the now terrified Bondworthy what the situation was, the remarks of the Minister, and then the Mayor, came across the loud hailer with frightening loudness. The Mayor’s last words “children” had no sooner been uttered, than the explosion was heard by everyone, and Harald and his captive, already facing towards Main St. and Scace’s Hill, not only heard the distant rumble but saw a mushroom-like cloud of dust and smoke rise in the direction of the by-pass highway. The roar and rumble continued, but the smoke just hung there.
“The children!” said Harald, “That must be those missing girls of Albert Scace’s! I’ll bet they’re somewhere near the dynamite!”
“Oh, no! “said Bondworthy, “They couldn’t be!”
“Why not? Don’t children always go where they shouldn’t?”
“Yes – no -YES. I mean if anything happens to them I might be blamed!”
“I quarrelled with their father!”
“Come, quickly, where is your car?”
“Someone borrowed it to get supplies for the Voyageurs.”
“Damn the Voyageurs! They made a mess of everything.”
Harald was recollecting that he had found the beer supply entirely gone in the Liquor Store.
By this time, the crowd had started to run after them, leaving the Minister floundering with the loud hailer, and Mayor Scace, anxious for his nieces, was running faster than most, even pushing some of the dodderers and slow-pokes as he went. His car was not far away, just by St. John’s, and he called out to Todeski to hop in as he started up. So Bondworthy was left, hardly able to stand, his little green hat in hand, his tie askew, and utterly bewildered by events.
A few other cars followed the Mayor, as he raced up Church Street, then Mill Street, and finally along the bypass highway. The spectators on foot, followed as best they could; Cynthia, abandoning a session with her OFY leaders in which she was telling them how to handle mobs, simply raced, taking a shortcut along the concession road out to the bypass. Both city and town boys cheered her on, and the more daring and less easily winded raced after her.
Thus it was that there were, at a few hundred yards distance, spectators on foot, when the small crowd of vehicles, buzzing together at the locked Triple O gate, found a solution. Letcherley, an easygoing farmer who loved to drive his big truck everywhere and never seemed to have to do much with his land, shouted out:
“Get dose damn cars outa da way! I’m gonna ram the gate!”
He reversed noisily along the highway, and the cars quickly moved away from the entrance, on the verge or wherever they could go to. He raced his engine, started off like an advertisement for a Detroit super car, and drove straight through the gate. There wasn’t even a second’s delay, the truck cut as though through butter, and the gate rode bedraggled on top of the cab, the name ‘Frost’ showing up like some lost and out of season weather forecast. The cars rushed in behind, and the running youngsters, still down the road a distance, stopped long enough to cheer.
When Cynthia and her runners reached the row of cars, parked at the edge of the knoll which overlooked what had been Putnam’s farm, but was now the site of the Triple O Lodge, they found the men who had driven standing silent and motionless, looking at the confusion below. A small new lake was there, still in turbulence, spouts of water coming up from place to place where there had previously been attempts to drill wells.
Logs and fence rails were in the water, and there was still a roar of a fierce watery commotion at the far edge of the lake where in fact the explosion had taken place. The rock stood above the waters at the far edge, and there was yet a layer of dust hanging in the air. To the north, the water had rushed to and flooded the now empty farm house, and was lapping close to a parked car, which was in fact Skip Martin’s though the onlookers didn’t know it.
There was some fear lest the water should break through in that direction and flood Warkworth; but the watershed was the other way, to the south, and the current was moving along the course of what had been Brian’s dry river bed, by which he had approached to spy on the Triple O. But there was no sign of this water source now, only it’s direction and the water rushing along, overrunning the road allowance at the culvert to join the Salt River out of sight of the onlookers.
Cynthia came behind Mayor Scace.
“Do you think the children were in that?” she whispered.
“I don’t know. I hope not!” replied Timothy.
“Harald, was this area searched?”
“Maybe. I was home at Rice Lake, you know, when the search began. Carl maybe did it.”
“Look Mr. Scace! “shouted Cynthia “In the field, beyond the big rock!”
“Where, what do you see?”
“It’s a man running. Can’t make out who he is though.”
“Yes, I see…Look there, more people!”
“It’s kids,” said Harald, “I think it’s them of Albert’s!”
“The girls you mean, the girls?”
“All four of them. Whew, I hope I’m right!”
When they were satisfied that the little group in the distance was the Scace children, Timothy Scace led the others back to his car, giving lifts to the young runners. He first asked Letcherley to drive toward Norham to check whether the flooding would come up to the bypass, and then to warn some of the Norham folk with low lying houses. He and Cynthia then went back to the Fair Grounds, planning what to do next as they drove. One crisis, at least, seemed over, if those were indeed the girls. But there were still visitors, and the Minister, and the Donnybrook; and then there was the flood.
An hour later, Dr. Coldwell had finished his examination of all four children.
“Well, Bert and Mrs. Scace, there’s nothing wrong with those two girls but what they told you – hunger. They show every sign of having fasted for 24 hours – and eaten too many jam sandwiches before I got here. You really should have made them wait. Suppose it had been serious?”
He was plainly exasperated, as doctors often are when they firmly expect their warnings and instructions never to be followed, even by parents.
“But that’s even more extraordinary,” said Thelma, “Whatever could have made them sleep so long?”
“I don’t know, and no one may ever know, unless it happens to them again.”
“There couldn’t have been any gas, or anything like that connected with the dynamite?”
“Not with the dynamite. There might have been with the fuse, but I doubt it. From what I gather from the boys, the girls were well separated from where the explosion charge must have been.”
“That’s good anyway.”
“What about Kevin, Milton?”
“Bert, that boy’s been through considerable emotional stain. You’d think of the two of them that Brian would be the more highly strung. But all the tension’s in Kevin.”
“Don’t we know it!”
“Kevin’s not really hurt physically. He’s a bit bruised from jumping into the bushes to help the girls. All four of them had a lot of dust and smoke in their eyes. Now I want to talk to you a bit about Brian.”
“Yes. It seems he’s been off his prescription for a couple of days.”
“Perhaps so, he hasn’t shown any sign of allergy or asthma since yesterday morning.”
“Well I can’t explain that, particularly if he’s been off the drugs. But right now he’s worse than ever. Eyes pouring like a flood. Rash on his hands. All choked up. I’ve given him a shot. Of the four of them, he’d better take it easy tonight. No Donnybrook.”
“He’ll be disappointed. I guess he’ll have to stay home and watch TV.”
“That might be worse than the Donnybrook. Anyway, he knows how to keep quiet.”
The telephone rang at this point and Albert answered it.
“Right here.” the doctor listened for a moment, said something and hung up.
“I’ll have to go now. That fellow Bondworthy seems to have collapsed.”
Thelma stood at the door.
“No comment,” she said.
Dr. Coldwell looked at her.
“Don’t like him, huh?”
And off he went.
“Doctors!” said Mrs. Yurychuck, who had been sitting just out of eye sight. “They thin’ they know everythink, and they can’t explain the girls’ sleeping, or Brian – being cured and then starting up again. Telma, are you sure the children haven’t been tryink drugs at the school?”
“Drugs! Mother! What a notion! Anyway, Brian’s on drugs all the time. It’s when he came off the drugs that he was alright.”
Albert put his two cents in.
“Well, as Milton says, we’ll probably never know. Perhaps he borrowed some of Kevin’s surplus stress and it was good for him.”
In the hours that followed till suppertime the girls played quietly with their dolls and books in their room, going downstairs regularly to get more food and drink.
Meanwhile, Kevin and Brian both slept the afternoon away, released from their worries, and unaware of the drama that was still gripping Percy Township.
The Salt River did fill to its top, all the way down, but no houses in Norham were flooded. Photographers who had come to cover the case of the missing girls, having been shooed away by Bert and Thelma, in the name of the children’s peace, swarmed over the site of the explosion and took pictures of the new lake; a helicopter made a special visit to take pictures from the air.
Then the press found the situation in Warkworth equally newsworthy, with the crowds of visitors, a special service truck from Cobourg trying to repair the tires of the buses, and the Minister of Municipal Affairs caught in the midst of the local drama. They decided to stay for the Donnybrook, and hoped they would get full credit for ample coverage. They had telephoned their home papers and broadcast stations and they had been promised by Bert that the family and the rescued girls would come down to the auction.