The train pulls into the Minneapolis station. With suitcases in hand, the children exit onto the platform with Mrs. Scatcherd and Mr. Curran. Escorted by a police officer, they walk through the station to a waiting room. They see signs advertising the event, calling for families to come and see the children up for adoption. Niamh considers how “strange” it feels to be in a place her parents “will never see.” Dutchy tells Niamh they are being “auctioned” like pigs. Mrs. Scatcherd asks the children to form a circle. The older boys, so confident and cool before, now appear just as vulnerable and uncertain as the younger children. Mrs. Scatcherd says a prayer for all of the children, asking God to be with them. She tells the children not to worry if they don’t find a home this time, as the train will continue onto other towns. Niamh feels “trembly.”
The signs advertising the event draw attention to the reality of the children’s situation –there appears to be no system for inspecting or filtering out the parents considering adoption. Mrs. Scatcherd’s prayer suggests her sincere good wishes for the children, while also emphasizing how much their fate remains out of her control. Niamh’s realization that she is in a place her parents “will never see” reminds her of how far from home and alone she is. At the same time, this thought implies that Niamh is beginning to realize that she as a person continues living even after her family’s lives have ended.
The children are ushered into a large windowless room and onto a stage. Below them is a crowd of adults. Mr. Curran gets on the stage and announces that the children are free to adopt on a ninety-day trial period. He explains that the families must sign a contract, agreeing to provide for the children’s basic needs and education. Men and women form a line on the stage, looking carefully at the children. Niamh remembers a cattle sale she attended with her Grandad in Kinvara. A poorly dressed countrywoman says she “doesn’t like the look” of Niamh, and Dutchy shocks everyone by defending her. Mrs. Scatcherd forces him to apologize. An attractive, kind-seeming young couple decides to adopt Carmine, who refuses to let go of Niamh. On an impulse, Niamh offers to go with them to help “mend and cook,” but the woman sadly turns her down. Niamh “pushes back tears.”
Dutchy’s use of the word “auction” in the previous section captures the commercial setup of the arrangement: a crowd of adults look at the children on display, inspecting them and deciding on the spot if they want them or not. This setup no doubt makes the children feel objectified and dehumanized. Dutchy’s loyalty to Niamh is evident when he risks punishment by talking back to one of the patrons. Niamh’s impulsive offer to come with Carmine and her tears show the depth of her attachment to the baby, who along with Dutchy has been her only constant company since losing her family.
Most of the children around Niamh are chosen. A gruff-looking farmer and his wife come onto the stage, and the man pokes Dutchy’s muscles and forces Dutchy to let him inspect his mouth. He and his wife decide to take Dutchy, who they agree is in good shape for farm labor, despite his resistant attitude. The wife says: “We break horses. Boys aren’t that different.” Without waiting for Dutchy, they go downstairs to sign the paperwork. Dutchy is devastated that he was right. Niamh tells him to make them send him to school. Just before Dutchy walks down the stairs, she reminds him of his promise to find her someday. The event ends, and the only children left are older boys, “sickly” or “homely” children, and Niamh. Mrs. Scatcherd encourages the children to keep their hopes up that they will find a home with the “good people of Albans, Minnesota.”
The farmer dehumanizes Dutchy by inspecting his muscles and mouth as if he were a farm animal for purchase. This scene validates Dutchy and Niamh’s perception that they are like animals at an auction. Dutchy’s devastation when his fate is sealed reveals that underneath his façade of skepticism, he had been secretly hoping that he was wrong. The dramatic moment when Niamh reminds Dutchy of his promise before he departs appears to be the climax of their time together. By having the characters repeat their promise, the author creates the sense that this promise is important to the plot of the story.