Some had made their pact and were departing. I noticed one young girl whose looks would have drawn attention anywhere, whispering an address from beneath an enormous feathered hat to the driver of a taxicab, while her companion, a pleasant-looking, fresh-coloured boy, for he was scarcely more, entered the vehicle, a self-satisfied air upon his face. She sprang in also, and the cab with its occupants glided away out of my ken for ever.
Here and there stalwart, quiet policemen requested loiterers to move on, and the loiterers obeyed and re-formed in groups behind them; here and there a respectable woman pushed her way through the throng, gathering up her skirts as she did so and glancing covertly at this unaccustomed company out of the corners of her eyes.
While watching all these sights we lost touch of the Salvation Army ladies, who wormed their way through the crowd as easily and quickly as a snake does through undergrowth, and set out to find them. Big drops began to fall, the thunder growled, and in a moment the concourse commenced to melt. Five minutes later the rain was falling fast and the streets had emptied. That night’s market was at an end.
No farmer watches the weather more anxiously than do these painted women in their muslins and gold-laced shoes.
Meanwhile, their night’s work done, the Salvation Army ladies were tramping through the wet back to Titchfield Street, for they do not spend money on cabs, and the buses had ceased to run.
This is a branch of the Army’s work with which I have been more or less acquainted for some years.
The idea of an Anti-Suicide Bureau arose in the Army four or five years ago; but every one seems to have forgotten with whom it actually originated. I suppose that it grew, like Topsy, or was discovered simultaneously by several Officers, like a new planet by different astronomers studying the heavens in faith and hope. At any rate, the results of the idea are remarkable. Thus in London alone 1,064 cases were dealt with in the year 1909, and of those cases it is estimated that all but about a dozen were turned from their fatal purpose. Let us halve these figures, and say that 500 lives were actually saved, that 500 men live to-day in and about London who otherwise would be dead by their own hands and buried in dishonoured graves. Or let us even quarter them, and surely this remains a wonderful work, especially when we remember that London is by no means the only place in which it is being carried on.