CHAPTER IX. I RETURN TO DUBLIN DUBLIN PRISONS.

After I had been in England a few days,I began to feel as if I had imagined the whole of the events of the last awful week.Surely such things could not have happened in the twentieth century in what we supposed was a civilised country. It was utterly impossible. Night after night I went over the whole of that ghastly day in my sleep. Every night I woke up to see a ghoulish figure creeping up the garden path with a revolver in his hand. I heard the shots, and saw the blood-stained hall and stairs, and the figures of the dead and dying. I saw my friend in her pink nightgown covered with her husband's blood. I saw my husband lying wounded on the bed. And I shall see it all as long as I live. I dreaded the thought of going back to that accursed country ; for every stick and stone of it will be for ever hateful to me. I had been in England about a fortnight, when I received a letter from the Authorities, saying that my presence would be required at a murder trial in Dublin that week, and that I ought to be ready to start at once on the receipt of a telegram, probably the following day, as the trial would be early in the week. The letter went on to say that I should be accommodated in a hotel in Dublin, which had been taken over by the Government for witnesses, and that I should be well guarded. I wired back to say that I would go, but added that I was five miles from a station, and the motor could not go out because of the deep snow on the roads, and would they give me twenty-four hours' notice if possible

I also wrote and said that I would do all I possibly could to help them, but I utterly refused to stay at any hotel in Dublin.I had friends in the Castle and Royal Hospital, who I knew would put me up, and where I should feel a great deal safer than in a hotel. Besides which, I had stayed at the best hotel in Dublin,and I trembled to think what the worst would be like,and I did not think it likely that the Government would run to even the second best. I prepaid the reply to my telegram. All that day and the next I waited as patiently as I could for an answer. None came. I could not endure the waiting, so I wired again. Still no reply. Then I wrote, but that was no good. From the first I had volunteered to go back. I thought my evidence might be useful, and I was willing to go. I felt it was all I could do for the poor murdered men. I do not very often want to do disagreeable things: I generally spend my life in evading them. But this time I did want to do what I thought was right. The desire rapidly abated, as I waited day after day and week after week, without even an acknowledgment of my letter or wires. By now my husband had arrived from hospital, and he started to write. At last he received a vague letter to say the trials had been postponed, but they expected they would be held shortly. Why they had not had the courtesy to let me know this at once I do not know. Meanwhile I heard privately from Dublin that the man for whose trial I was going over had been released from prison, so I began to hope that I should not be required. Vain hope. We had gone on to stay with some other friends in the country, and were walking in the garden, when the intensely correct and pompous butler came out, and said in a most disapproving voice to my husband, "You are wanted by the H Police, sir." This proved to be a message from Scotland Yard through the local police, to say that the trial would be held after all, and would we go over as soon as convenient? Arrangements had been made for us to stay at the Chief Secretary's Lodge in Phoenix Park, and an escort would meet us at Kingstown, if we would kindly wire the date of our arrival. A letter confirming this arrived the same night. Apparently they had rearrested the prisoner, and decided to try him after all. Just a little touch of Irish humour, but rather hard on the prisoner and on me. By this time I had lost all wish to go. I was frightened of Ireland, and I only wanted to try and forget.

However, we started, and I was comforted by the thought that at least I should be safe and comfortable in the Chief Secretary's Lodge. But I had forgotten the curious habits of Irish officials in Ireland, and that a letter or two is nothing to them. We arrived at Kingstown at the usual hour of 6 A.M. Other people were met by motors the King's Messenger and several other officers drove off. We scorned all offers of help . Were we not important witnesses? Were we not going to stay at an official residence? Every moment I expected a large car and the promised escort to arrive. We waited over an hour. It was quite dark and very cold. At last we crawled into an open Ford car that had come to meet two policemen from Liverpool. They, being wise men, had apparently not arrived. We were tired, hungry, and very cross. About a mile out of Kingstown we met a motor, which stopped when they saw us. It was the promised car, escort and all, one hour and a half late.An officer handed us a letter. I tore it open. It simply said that the arrangements for accommodating us at the Chief Secretary's Lodge had fallen through, and that rooms had been taken for us at a hotel on the Quays. The writer hoped we might be " reasonably comfortable," and added, he hotel was well guarded, and there were sentries on the roof. I had often passed that hotel, and knew it well, for what it was, a pot-house ; and twenty sentries on the roof would not make it any cleaner. My temper used to be fairly good, but Ireland had ruined it. I do not like to think now what that escort must have thought of me.

I decided at first to return to Kingstown, and to take the same boat back to England, but I felt there was such a lot of things I wanted to say first to several people in Dublin Castle. So we drove in gloomy silence to the Castle. I had firmly refused to set foot in that dreadful hotel. It was after eight o'clock by now, but the Castle inhabitants are not early risers. Poor things, they work most of the night. Ordinarily,I only feel pity and admiration for most of them, but that morning it added insult to injury to find no one up. No fire anywhere, no food, no one to swear at. I lighted a fire with my evidence, which I had written out so neatly. Eventually sleepy orderlies arrived, and I took refuge in the house of a General, who was a friend of ours. We had several friends, too, on his staff. They were very sympathetic, and quite horrified at the way I had been treated. After a bath and breakfast I felt warmer and happier. One or two police officials came to see me, but I refused to be soothed. To one I said, "Who was the idiot responsible for there being no motor to meet us? " To which he replied nervously, " I was ; as a matter of fact I looked up the boat in an old time-table.It used to arrive at eight o'clock,so I ordered the motor for that hour." This was too much for me, and I had to laugh. This was Ireland at its brightest and best. I was persuaded to stay and give my evidence, but the problem as to where we were to stay had not yet been solved. Every one, without exception, agreed the suggested hotel was quite out of the question for any woman. By this time I was too tired and bored to care much where I went. Some one eventually wired to the Chief Secretary, who was in London, to ask if he really had withdrawn his previous offer of his house. In an hour back came his answer. Of course we were to go there ; we were expected. So it was " only " some one's mistake.A very unpleasant mistake for me. We drove to Phoenix Park just as it was getting dusk. The streets seemed fuller than ever. The usual groups of men at all the corners stared into the car as we passed. They looked even more sullen, more menacing, than formerly. Oh, it was horrible to be back again !

A cheerful black cat met us in the hall of the Chief Secretary's Lodge. It was a particularly vulgar looking animal. There were at least four others like it, each more common than the last. But they were all so nice and friendly, so very pleased to see me. It was a good deal more than any one else had been that day. I loved them for it, and did my best to reward them at meal-times. The next day I found, to my dismay, that we were only wanted this time for the summary of evidence, and that I should have to go over again in about three weeks' time for the court-martial itself. In Ireland, of course, if they said three weeks, it probably meant six,and I felt that I should never be finished with this detestable business. I was also told that the police authorities would be very grateful if I would go round the Dublin prisons to see if I could identify one of the murderers among the men who had been arrested since 21st November. I gave my evidence at the summary, in front of the prisoner. There were only five or six people in the room, but I felt very nervous, and my heart thumped. What would the court-martial itself be like ! Going round the prisons the day after was another unforgettable episode. We started off as usual in a closed car, at a great pace,followed by more cars full of detectives, every man with his hand in his right-hand pocket. I realised now very well what that meant. I sat buried in a fur coat, another fur up to my eyes. I did not like it a bit. On arrival at the first prison an officer came out and took me up a sort of passage, telling me to keep very close to one side, as the other side could be seen from the top windows of the prison. I simply flattened myself against the wall. I was put into a little hut. The windows were covered with felt, and in the felt slits about eighteen inches long and three inches high were cut. It was explained to me that I was to stand with my eyes at one of these slits, and the prisoners would be paraded in front of me in batches of ten. They would be numbered, and if I thought I recognised one of them I was to give the number to the officer at my side. I was told that there was no cause for alarm, as the prisoners could only see my eyes, and could not possibly know me again. There were about twenty other people in the hut soldiers, detectives, one or two other women, and a little boy of eight, whose father had been murdered before his eyes, and who had said "he thought he could recognise the man who killed daddy." I felt almost too sick to look at the first batch of prisoners who arrived. Never have I seen such an unpleasant sight. They all seemed absolutely terror-stricken;they were shaking and gibbering with fright. They were not there to be shot, they were only there to be looked at, and yet they looked, I imagine, as a coward would look when facing a firing party. One or two nervously sucked cigarettes. I do not know why they were allowed to smoke at all.

As each batch went away unrecognised by any one, some of them sang in a quavering voice a sort of song of triumph or possibly relief. This noise was stupid and irritating. It was the most extraordinary feeling to meet all those pairs of eyes. The prisoners had to look straight in front of them at the hut, and they stood there, licking their pallid lips, with quivering faces and shaking hands. They presented a sight not easily to be forgotten, and which, I hope, not many other women will have to see.Surely they must have been guilty of some crime , or they could not have looked as they did. No one identified any one, and the procession of cars moved on to another prison. Here there was the same sort of hut, and again I stood with my eyes glued to a slit in the wall.I think I nearly fainted once.The atmosphere of the hut was very close, and I could not bear to look at all those men. I saw about two hundred altogether, and the strain was terrible. I knew that some of them must have the blood of my friends on their hands. Some of them looked capable of any crime. But, unlike the first prison, where I had seen only the scum of Dublin, I saw a few fine looking men here. One in particular had a wonderful face. He looked straight at the hut, but through it and beyond it. He stood with his head up, without a ionary. I wondered what crime he had committed, why he was there. Whatever he had done he was not ashamed of it. But then, alas ! no Sinn Feiner is ashamed of murder. Again I recognised no one, but one prisoner was identified by a man in the hut. It must have been a nasty moment for him when his number and name were taken and he was led away. At last the long ordeal came to an end. So exhausted that I could hardly stand, I was conducted out of the prison, and we motored rapidly home, followed by some eight or nine detectives in Ford cars. The worst of it was, that the Sinn Feiners were also nearly always clean-shaven men, and also went about in Fords, and I never knew whether I was being guarded or hunted. I left for England that night. How I wished I had not got to return. Every one promised, from the Commander-in-Chief downwards, to get the court-martial through as soon as possible. I knew there would be no rest or peace for me while it was hanging over my head, a shadow on my life. The journey back was much more successfully arranged. They seemed anxious to make amends for our arrival the arrangements or rather lack of arrangements for which had certainly not inspired me with confidence.

Perhaps it would be wiser not to mention all the precautions that were taken. I never knew whether to laugh or to cry, some of them were so very funny. The name selected for me to travel under was so original; the Intelligence officer who had thought of it was so obviously proud of his choice, and I tried hard to remember to answer when addressed by it. But it was too much for my gravity when the procession of armoured cars, pulled up at Kingstown pier, and a portly detective put his head inside my motor and said, "And what name are you travelling under to-night ? " What was it ? It began with T., and that was all I could remember. I could not take things seriously, or think that I really was in danger ; but then I remembered 21st November, and knew all things are possible in Ireland.

Mrs Woodcock's Story