I brought the message-carrier home with me. On its weighted canvas bag is written in ink: “Urgent! You are requested to forward this at once to the inclosed address. From His Majesty’s airship ——.”
The sight of the press-censor stamp reminded an English officer, who had lived in Belgium, of the way letters to and from interned Belgians have been taken over the frontier into Holland and there dispatched. Men who are willing to risk their lives for money collect these letters. At one time the price was as high as two hundred francs for each one. When enough have been gathered together to make the risk worth while the bearer starts on his journey. He must slip through the sentry lines disguised as a workman, or perhaps by crawling through the barbed wire at the barrier. For fear of capture some of these bearers, working their way through the line at night, have dragged their letters behind them, so that in case of capture they could drop the cord and be found without incriminating evidence on them. For taking letters into Belgium the process is naturally reversed. But letters are sent, not to names, but to numbers. The bearer has a list of numbers which correspond to certain addresses. Thus, even if he is taken and the letters are found on him, their intended recipients will not be implicated. I saw a letter which had been received in this way by a Belgian woman. It was addressed simply to Number Twenty-eight.
The fire was burning better behind its automobile hood. An orderly had brought in tea, white bread, butter, a pitcher of condensed cream, and an English teacake. We gathered round the tea table. War seemed a hundred miles away. Except for the blue uniforms and brass buttons of the officers who belonged to the naval air service, the orderly’s khaki and the bayonet from a gun used casually at the other end of the table as a paperweight, it was an ordinary English tea.
THE WOMEN AT THE FRONT
It was commencing to rain outside. The rain beat on the windows and made even the reluctant fire seem cosy. Some one had had a box of candy sent from home. It was brought out and presented with a flourish.
“It is frightful, this life in the trenches!” said the young officer who passed it about.
Shortly afterward the party was increased. An orderly came in and announced that an Englishwoman, whose automobile had broken down, was standing on the bridge over the canal and asked to be admitted. She did not know the password and the sentry refused to let her pass by.
One of the officers went out and returned in a few moments with a small lady much wrapped in veils and extremely wet. She stood blinking in the doorway in the accustomed light. She was recognised at once as a well-known English novelist who is conducting a soup kitchen at a railroad station three miles behind the Belgian front.