IT was 2 p.m. on the afternoon of May 7, 1915. The Lusitania had been struck by two torpedoes in succession
and was sinking rapidly, while the boats were being launched with all possible speed
. The women and children were being lined up awaiting their turn. Some still clung desperately
to husbands and fathers; others clutched their children closely to their breasts. One girl stood alone, slightly apart from the rest. She was quite young, not more than eighteen. She did not seem afraid, and her grave
eyes looked straight
ahead. "I beg your pardon
A man's voice beside her made her start and turn. She had noticed the speaker
more than once amongst the first-class passengers. There had been a hint
about him which had appealed to her imagination
. He spoke
to no one. If anyone spoke
to him he was quick to rebuff
. Also he had a nervous
way of looking over his shoulder with a swift
, suspicious glance
She noticed now that he was greatly agitated
. There were beads of perspiration
on his brow. He was evidently in a state
of overmastering fear. And yet he did not strike
her as the kind of man who would be afraid to meet death!
"Yes?" Her grave
eyes met his inquiringly.
He stood looking at her with a kind of desperate
"It must be!" he muttered to himself. "Yes-it is the only way." Then aloud
he said abruptly
: "You are an American?"
The girl flushed.
"I guess you've no right
to ask such a thing! Of course I am!"
"Don't be offended. You wouldn't be if you knew how much there was at stake
. But I've got to trust
some one-and it must be a woman."
Because of 'women and children first.'" He looked round and lowered his voice. "I'm carrying papers-vitally important papers. They may make all the difference
to the Allies in the war. You understand
? These papers have got to be saved! They've more chance with you than with me. Will you take them?"
The girl held out her hand.
"Wait-I must warn
you. There may be a risk-if I've been followed. I don't think I have, but one never knows. If so, there will be danger. Have you the nerve
to go through
The girl smiled.
"I'll go through
with it all right
. And I'm real proud
to be chosen! What am I to do with them afterwards?"
"Watch the newspapers! I'll advertise
in the personal column
of the Times, beginning 'Shipmate.' At the end of three days if there's nothing-well, you'll know I'm down and out. Then take the packet to the American Embassy, and deliver
it into the Ambassador's own hands. Is that clear?"
"Then be ready-I'm going to say good-bye." He took her hand in his. "Good-bye. Good luck to you," he said in a louder tone
Her hand closed on the oilskin packet that had lain in his palm
The Lusitania settled with a more decided list to starboard
. In answer to a quick command
, the girl went forward
to take her place in the boat.