TAKING A CHANCE
I started for the Continent on a bright day early in January. I was searched by a woman from Scotland Yard before being allowed on the platform. The pockets of my fur coat were examined; my one piece of baggage, a suitcase, was inspected; my letters of introduction were opened and read.
“Now, Mrs. Rinehart,” she said, straightening, “just why are you going?”
I told her exactly half of why I was going. I had a shrewd idea that the question in itself meant nothing. But it gave her a good chance to look at me. She was a very clever woman.
And so, having been discovered to be carrying neither weapons nor seditious documents, and having an open and honest eye, I was allowed to go through the straight and narrow way that led to possible destruction. Once or twice, later on, I blamed that woman for letting me through. I blamed myself for telling only half of my reasons for going. Had I told her all she would have detained me safely in England, where automobiles sometimes go less than eighty miles an hour, and where a sharp bang means a door slamming in the wind and not a shell exploding, where hostile aeroplanes overhead with bombs and unpleasant little steel darts, were not always between one’s eyes and heaven. She let me through, and I went out on the platform.
The leaving of the one-o’clock train from Victoria Station, London, is an event and a tragedy. Wounded who have recovered are going back; soldiers who have been having their week at home are returning to that mysterious region across the Channel, the front.
Not the least of the British achievements had been to transport, during the deadlock of the first winter of the war, almost the entire army, in relays, back to England for a week’s rest. It had been done without the loss of a man, across a channel swarming with hostile submarines. They came in thousands, covered with mud weary, eager, their eyes searching the waiting crowd for some beloved face. And those who waited and watched as the cars emptied sometimes wept with joy and sometimes turned and went away alone.
Their week over, rested, tidy, eyes still eager but now turned toward France, the station platform beside the one-o’clock train was filled with soldiers going back. There were few to see them off; there were not many tears. Nothing is more typical of the courage and patriotism of the British women than that platform beside the one-o’clock train at Victoria. The crowd was shut out by ropes and Scotland Yard men stood guard. And out on the platform, saying little because words are so feeble, pacing back and forth slowly, went these silent couples. They did not even touch hands. One felt that all the unselfish stoicism and restraint would crumble under the familiar touch.
The platform filled. Sir Purtab Singh, an Indian prince, with his suite, was going back to the English lines. I had been a neighbour of his at Claridge’s Hotel in London. I caught his eye. It was filled with cold suspicion. It said quite plainly that I could put nothing over on him. But whether he suspected me of being a newspaper writer or a spy I do not know.