May Sinclair

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium

The mosquitoes from the canal have come up and bitten me. I was ill all night with something that felt like malarial fever, if it isn’t influenza. Couldn’t get up—too drowsy.

Mr. L. came in to see me first thing in the morning. He also came to hear at first hand the story of our run into Antwerp. He was extremely kind. He sat and looked at me sorrowfully, as if he had been the family doctor, and gave me some of his very own China tea (in Belgium in war-time this is one of the most devoted things that man can do for his brother). He was so gentle and so sympathetic that my heart went out to him, and I forgot all about poor Mr. Davidson, and gave up to him the whole splendid “scoop” of the British troops at Saint Nicolas.

I couldn’t tell him much about the run into Antwerp. No doubt it was a thrilling performance—through all the languor of malaria it thrills me now when I think of it—but it wasn’t much to offer a War Correspondent, since it took us nowhere near the bombardment. It had nothing for the psychologist or for the amateur of strange sensations, and nothing for the pure and ardent Spirit of Adventure, and nothing for that insatiable and implacable Self, that drives you to the abhorred experiment, determined to know how you will come out of it. For there was no more danger in the excursion than in a run down to Brighton and back; and I know no more of fear or courage than I did before I started.

But now that I realize what the insatiable and implacable Self is after, how it worked in me against all decency and all pity, how it actually made me feel as if I wanted to see Antwerp under siege, and how the spirit of adventure backed it up, I can forgive the Commandant. I still think that he sinned when he took Ursula Dearmer to Termonde and to Alost. But the temptation that assailed him at Alost and Termonde was not to be measured by anybody who was not there.

It must have been irresistible.

Besides, it is not certain that he did take Ursula Dearmer into danger; it is every bit as likely that she took him; more likely still that they were both victims of force majeure, fascinated by the lure of the greatest possible danger. And, oh, how I did pitch into him!

I am ashamed of the things I said in that access of insulting and indignant virtue.

Can it be that I was jealous of Ursula Dearmer, that innocent girl, because she saw a shell burst and I didn’t? I know this is what was the matter with Mrs. Torrence the other day. She even seemed to imply that there was some feminine perfidy in Ursula Dearmer’s power of drawing shells to her. (She, poor dear, can’t attract even a bullet within a mile of her.)

Lying there, in that mosquito-haunted room, I dissolved into a blessed state, a beautiful, drowsy tenderness to everybody, a drowsy, beautiful forgiveness of the Commandant. I forgot that he intimated, sternly, that no ambulance would be at my disposal in the flight from Ghent—I remember only that he took me into Antwerp yesterday, and that he couldn’t help it if the outer forts were thirty kilometres away, and I forgive him, beautifully and drowsily.

But when he came running up in great haste to see me, and rushed down into the kitchens of the Hotel to order soup for me, and into the chemist’s shop in the Place d’Armes to get my medicine, and ran back again to give it me, before I knew where I was (such is the debilitating influence of malaria), instead of forgiving him, I found myself, in abject contrition, actually asking him to forgive me.

It was all wrong, of course; but the mosquitoes had bitten me rather badly.

········

Mrs. Torrence and Janet McNeil have got to work at last. All afternoon and all night yesterday they were busy between the Station and the hospitals removing the wounded from the Antwerp trains.

And Car 1 had no sooner got into the yard of the “Flandria” to rest after its trip to Antwerp and back than it was ordered out again with the Commandant and Ursula Dearmer and Mrs. Torrence to meet the last ambulance train. The chauffeur Tom was nowhere to be seen when the order came. He was, however, found after much search, in the Park, in the company of the Cricklewood bus and a whole regiment of Tommies.

One of these ambulance trains had been shelled by the Germans (they couldn’t have been very far from us in our run from Antwerp—it was their nearness, in fact, that accounted for our prodigious haste!), and many of the men came in worse wounded than they went out.

We are all tremendously excited over the arrival of the Tommies and the Cricklewood bus. We can think of nothing else but the relief of Antwerp.

Ursula Dearmer came to see me. She understands that I have forgiven her that shell—and why. She wore the clothes—the rather heart-rending school-girl clothes—she wore when she came to see the Committee. But oh, how the youngest but one has grown up since then!

Mrs. Torrence came to see me also, and Janet McNeil. Mrs. Torrence, though that shell still rankles, is greatly appeased by the labours of last night. So is Janet.

They told rather a nice story.

A train full of British troops from Ostend came into the station yesterday at the same time as the ambulance train from Antwerp. The two were drawn up one on each side of the same platform. When the wounded Belgians saw the British they struggled to their feet. At every window of the ambulance train bandaged heads were thrust out and bandaged hands waved. And the Belgians shouted.

But the British stood dumb, stolid and impassive before their enthusiasm.

Mrs. Torrence called out, “Give them a cheer, boys. They’re the bravest little soldiers in the world.”

Then the Tommies let themselves go, and the Station roof nearly flew off with the explosion.

The Corps worked till four in the morning clearing out those ambulance trains. The wards are nearly full. And this is only the beginning.

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