The Amazing Interlude
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 2 out of 5
He carried her suitcase back, and stooping over to place it at her feet
he said: "I shall send him on board with a message to the captain. When
I come back try again."
He left her at once. The passengers for Boulogne were embarking now.
A silent lot, they disappeared into the warmth and brightness of the
little boat and were lost. No one paid any attention to Sara Lee
standing in the shadows.
Soon Henri came back. He walked briskly and touched his cap as he
passed. He went aboard the Boulogne steamer, and without a backward
Sara Lee watched him out of sight, in a very real panic. He had been
something real and tangible in that shadowy place--something familiar
in an unfamiliar world. But he was gone. She threw up her head.
So once more Sara Lee picked up her suitcase and went down the pier.
Now she was unchallenged. What lurking figure might be on the dark deck
of the Calais boat she could not tell. That was the chance she was to
take. The gangway was still out, and as quietly as possible she went
aboard. The Boulogne boat had suddenly gone dark, and she heard the
churning of the screw. With the extinction of the lights on the other
boat came at last deeper night to her aid. A few steps, a stumble, a
gasp--and she was on board the forbidden ship.
She turned forward, according to her instructions, where the overhead
deck made below an even deeper shadow. Henri had said that there were
cabins there, and that the chance was of finding an unlocked one. If
they were all locked she would be discovered at dawn, and arrested. And
Sara Lee was not a war correspondent. She was not accustomed to arrest.
Indeed she had a deep conviction that arrest in her case would mean death.
False, of course, but surely it shows her courage.
As she stood there, breathless and listening, the Boulogne boat moved
out. She heard the wash against the jetty, felt the rolling of its
waves. But being on the landward side she could not see the faint
gleam of a cigarette that marked Henri's anxious figure at the rail.
So long as the black hulk of the Calais boat was visible, and long
after indeed, Henri stood there, outwardly calm but actually shaken by
many fears. She had looked so small and young; and who could know what
deviltry lurked abroad that night?
He had not gone with her because it was necessary that he be in Boulogne
the next morning. And also, the very chance of getting her across lay
in her being alone and unobserved.
So he stood by the rail and looked back and said a wordless little prayer
that if there was trouble it come to his boat and not to the other.
Which might very considerably have disturbed the buyers had they known
of it and believed in prayer.
Sara Lee stood in the shadows and listened. There were voices overhead,
from the bridge. A door opened onto the deck and threw out a ray of
light. Some one came out and went on shore, walking with brisk ringing
steps. And then at last she put down her bag and tried door after door,
The man who had gone ashore called another. The gangway was drawn in.
The engines began to vibrate under foot. Sara Lee, breathless and
terrified, stood close to a cabin door and remained immovable. At one
moment it seemed as if a seaman was coming forward to where she stood.
But he did not come.
The Calais boat was waiting until the other steamer had got well out of
the harbor. The fog had lifted, and the searchlight was moving over
the surface. It played round the channel steamer without touching it.
But none of this was visible to Sara Lee.
At last the lights of the quay began to recede. The little boat rocked
slightly in its own waves as it edged away. It moved slowly through
the shipping and out until, catching the swell of the channel, it shot
ahead at top speed.
For an hour Sara Lee stood there. The channel wind caught her and tore
at her skirts until she was almost frozen. And finally, in sheer
desperation, she worked her way round to the other side. She saw no
one. Save for the beating heart of the engine below it might have been
a dead ship.
On the other side she found an open door and stumbled into the tiny dark
deck cabin, as chilled and frightened a philanthropist as had ever
crossed that old and tricky and soured bit of seaway. And there, to be
frank, she forgot her fright in as bitter a tribute of seasickness as
even the channel has ever exacted.
She had locked herself in, and she fell at last into an exhausted sleep.
When she wakened and peered out through the tiny window it was gray
winter dawn. The boat was quiet, and before her lay the quay of Calais
and the Gare Maritime. A gangway was out and a hurried survey showed
no one in sight.
Sara Lee picked up her suitcase and opened the door. The fresh morning
air revived her, but nevertheless it was an extremely pale young woman
who, obeying Henri's instructions, went ashore that morning in the gray
dawn unseen, undisturbed and unquestioned. But from the moment she
appeared on the gangway until the double glass doors of the Gare
Maritime closed behind her this apparently calm young woman did not
breathe at all. She arrived, indeed, with lungs fairly collapsed and
her heart entirely unreliable.
A woman clerk was asleep at a desk. Sara Lee roused her to half
wakefulness, no interest and extremely poor English. A drowsy porter
led her up a staircase and down an endless corridor. Then at last he
was gone, and Sara Lee turned the key in her door and burst into tears.
Now up to this point Sara Lee's mind had come to rest at Calais. She
must get there; after that the other things would need to be worried
over. Henri had already in their short acquaintance installed himself
as the central figure of this strange and amazing interlude--not as a
good-looking young soldier surprisingly fertile in expedients, but as a
sort of agent of providence, by whom and through whom things were done.
And Henri had said she was to go to the Gare Maritime at Calais and make
herself comfortable--if she got there. After that things would be
Sara Lee therefore took a hot bath, though hardly a satisfactory one,
for there was no soap and she had brought none. She learned later on
to carry soap with her everywhere. So she soaked the chill out of her
slim body and then dressed. The room was cold, but a great exultation
kept her warm. She had run the blockade, she had escaped the War
Office--which, by the way, was looking her up almost violently by
that time, via the censor. It had found the trunk she left at Morley's,
and cross-questioned the maid into hysteria--and here she was,
safe in France, the harbor of Calais before her, and here and there
strange-looking war craft taking on coal. Destroyers, she learned later.
Her ignorance was rather appalling at first.
It was all unreal--the room with its cold steam pipes, the heavy window
hangings, the very words on the hot and cold taps in the bathroom. A
great vessel moved into the harbor. As it turned she saw its name
printed on its side in huge letters, and the flag, also painted, of a
neutral country--a hoped-for protection against German submarines. It
brought home to her, rather, the thing she had escaped.
After a time she thought of food, but rather hopelessly. Her attempts
to get savon from a stupid boy had produced nothing more useful than a
flow of unintelligible French and no soap whatever. She tried a
pantomime of washing her hands, but to the boy she had appeared to be
merely wringing them. And, as a great many females were wringing their
hands in France those days, he had gone away, rather sorry for her.
When hunger drove her to the bell again he came back and found her with
her little phrase book in her hands, feverishly turning the pages. She
could find plenty of sentences such as "Garcon, vous avez renverse du
vin sur ma robe," but not an egg lifted its shining pate above the pages.
Not cereal. Not fruit. Not even the word breakfast.
Long, long afterward Sara Lee found a quite delightful breakfast
hidden between two pages that were stuck together. But it was then far
"Donnez-moi," began Sara Lee, and turned the pages rapidly, "this; do
you see?" She had found roast beef.
The boy observed stolidly, in French, that it was not ready until noon.
She was able to make out, from his failing to depart, that there was no
"Good gracious!" she said, ravenous and exasperated. "Go and get me
some bread and coffee, anyhow." She repeated it, slightly louder.
That was the tableau that Henri found when, after a custom that may be
war or may be Continental, he had inquired the number of her room and
made his way there.
There was a twinkle in his blue eyes as he bowed before her--and a vast
"So you are here!" he said in a tone of satisfaction. He had put in an
extremely bad night, even for him, by whom nights were seldom wasted in
a bed. While he was with her something of her poise had communicated
itself to him. He had felt the confidence, in men and affairs, that
American girls are given as a birthright. And her desire for service
he had understood as a year or two ago he could not have understood.
But he had stood by the rail staring north, and cursing himself for
having placed her in danger during the entire crossing.
There was nothing about him that morning, however to show his bad
hours. He was debonnaire and smiling.
"I am famishing," said Sara Lee. "And there are no eggs in this book
"Eggs! You wish eggs?"
"I just want food. Almost anything will do. I asked for eggs because
they can come quickly."
Henri turned to the boy and sent him off with a rapid order. Then:
"May I come in?" he said.
Sara Lee cast an uneasy glance over the room. It was extremely tidy,
and unmistakably it was a bedroom. But though her color rose she asked
him in. After all, what did it matter? To have refused would have
looked priggish, she said to herself. And as a matter of fact one of
the early lessons she learned in France was learned that morning--that
though convention had had to go, like many other things in the war, men
who were gentlemen ignored its passing.
Henri came in and stood by the center table.
"Now, please tell me," he said. "I have been most uneasy. On the quay
last night you looked--frightened."
"I was awfully frightened. Nothing happened. I even slept."
"You were very brave."
"I was very seasick."
"I am sorry."
Henri took a turn up and down the room.
"But," said Sara Lee slowly, "I--I--can't be on your hands, you know.
You must have many things to do. If you are going to have to order my
meals and all that, I'm going to be a dreadful burden."
"But you will learn very quickly."
"I'm stupid about languages."
Henri dismissed that with a gesture. She could not, he felt, be stupid
about anything. He went to the window and looked out. The destroyers
were still coaling, and a small cargo was being taken off the boat at
the quay. The rain was over, and in the early sunlight an officer in
blue tunic, red breeches and black cavalry boots was taking the air, his
head bent over his chest. Not a detail of the scene escaped him.
"I have agreed to find the right place for you," he said thoughtfully.
"There is one, but I think--" He hesitated. "I do not wish to place
you again in danger."
"You mean that it is near the Front?"
"Very near, mademoiselle."
"But I should be rather near, to be useful."
"Perhaps, for your work. But what of you? These brutes--they shell
far and wide. One can never be sure."
He paused and surveyed her whimsically.
"Who allowed you to come, alone, like this?" he demanded. "Is there no
one who objected?"
Sara Lee glanced down at her ring.
"The man I am going to marry. He is very angry."
Henri looked at her, and followed her eyes to Harvey's ring. He said
nothing, however, but he went over and gave the bell cord a violent jerk.
"You must have food quickly," he said in a rather flat voice. "You are
looking tired and pale."
A sense of unreality was growing on Sara Lee. That she should be alone
in France with a man she had never seen three days before; that she knew
nothing whatever about that man; that, for the present at least, she was
utterly and absolutely dependent on him, even for the food she ate--it
was all of a piece with the night's voyage and the little room at the
Savoy. And it was none of it real.
When the breakfast tray came Henri was again at the window and silent.
And Sara Lee saw that it was laid for two. She was a little startled,
but the businesslike way in which the young officer drew up two chairs
and held one out for her made protest seem absurd. And the flat-faced
boy, who waited, looked unshocked and uninterested.
It was not until she had had some coffee that Henri followed up his
line of thought.
"So--the fiance did not approve? It is not difficult to understand.
There is always danger, for there are German aeroplanes even in remote
places. And you are very young. You still wish to establish yourself,
"Would it be a comfort to cable your safe arrival in France to the
fiance?" When he saw her face he smiled. And if it was a rather heroic
smile it was none the less friendly. "I see. What shall I say? Or
will you write it?"
So Sara Lee, vastly cheered by two cups of coffee, an egg, and a very
considerable portion of bread and butter, wrote her cable. It was to
be brief, for cables cost money. It said, "Safe. Well. Love." And
Henri, who seemed to have strange and ominous powers, sent it almost
immediately. Total cost, as reported to Sara Lee, two francs. He took
the money she offered him gravely.
"We shall cable quite often," he said. "He will be anxious. And I
think he has a right to know."
The "we" was entirely unconscious.
"And now," he said, when he had gravely allowed Sara Lee to pay her half
of the breakfast, "we must arrange to get you out of Calais. And that,
mademoiselle, may take time."
It took time. Sara Lee, growing accustomed now to little rooms entirely
filled with men and typewriters, went from one office to another, walking
along the narrow pavements with Henri, through streets filled with
soldiers. Once they drew aside to let pass a procession of Belgian
refugees, those who had held to their village homes until bombardment
had destroyed them--stout peasant women in short skirts and with huge
bundles, old men, a few young ones, many children. The terror of the
early flight was not theirs, but there was in all of them a sort of
sodden hopelessness that cut Sara Lee to the heart. In an irregular
column they walked along, staring ahead but seeing nothing. Even the
children looked old and tired.
Sara Lee's eyes filled with tears.
"My people," said Henri. "Simple country folk, and going to England,
where they will grieve for the things that are gone--their fields and
their sons. The old ones will die, quickly, of homesickness. It is
difficult to transplant an old tree."
The final formalities seemed to offer certain difficulties. Henri, who
liked to do things quickly and like a prince, flushed with irritation.
He drew himself up rather haughtily in reply to one question, and glanced
uneasily at the girl. But it was all as intelligible as Sanskrit to her.
It was only after a whispered sentence to the man at the head of the
table that the paper was finally signed.
As they went down to the street together Sara Lee made a little protest.
"But I simply must not take all your time," she said, looking up anxiously.
"I begin to realize how foolhardy the whole thing is. I meant well, but
--it is you who are doing everything; not I."
"I shall not make the soup, mademoiselle," he replied gravely.
Here were more things to do. Sara Lee's money must be exchanged at a
bank for French gold. She had three hundred dollars, and it had been
given her in a tiny brown canvas bag. And then there was the matter of
going from Calais toward the Front. She had expected to find a train,
but there were no trains. All cars were being used for troops. She
stared at Henri in blank dismay.
"No trains!" she said blankly. "Would an automobile be very expensive?"
"They are all under government control, mademoiselle. Even the petrol."
She stopped in the street.
"Then I shall have to go back."
Henri laughed boyishly.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "I have been requested to take you to a place
where you may render us the service we so badly need. For the present
that is my duty, and nothing else. So if you will accept the offer of
my car, which is a shameful one but travels well, we can continue our
Long, long afterward, Sara Lee found a snapshot of Henri's car, taken
by a light-hearted British officer. Found it and sat for a long time
with it in her hand, thinking and remembering that first day she saw it,
in the sun at Calais. A long low car it was, once green, but now
roughly painted gray. But it was not the crude painting, significant
as it was, that brought so close the thing she was going to. It was
that the car was but a shell of a car. The mud guards were crumpled up
against the side. Body and hood were pitted with shrapnel. A door had
been shot away, and the wind shield was but a frame set round with
broken glass. Even the soldier-chauffeur wore a patch over one eye,
and his uniform was ragged.
"Not a beautiful car, mademoiselle, as I warned you! But a fast one!"
Henri was having a double enjoyment. He was watching Sara Lee's face
and his chauffeur's remaining eye.
"But fast; eh, Jean?" he said to the chauffeur. The man nodded and
said something in French. It was probably the thing Henri had hoped for,
and he threw back his head and laughed.
"Jean is reminding me," he said gayly, "that it is forbidden to officers
to take a lady along the road that we shall travel." But when he saw
how Sara Lee flushed he turned to the man.
"Mademoiselle has come from America to help us, Jean," he said quietly.
"And now for Dunkirk."
The road from Dunkirk to Calais was well guarded in those days. From
Nieuport for some miles inland only the shattered remnant of the Belgian
Army held the line. For the cry "On to Paris!" the Germans had
substituted "On to Calais!"
So, on French soil at least, the road was well guarded. A few miles in
the battered car, then a slowing up, a showing of passports, the clatter
of a great chain as it dropped to the road, a lowering of leveled rifles,
and a salute from the officer--that was the method by which they
Henri sat with the driver and talked in a low tone. Sometimes he sat
quiet, looking ahead. He seemed, somehow, older, more careworn. His
boyishness had gone. Now and then he turned to ask if she was
comfortable, but in the intervals she felt that he had entirely forgotten
her. Once, at something Jean said, he got out a pocket map and went
over it carefully. It was a long time after that before he turned to
see if she was all right.
Sara Lee sat forward and watched everything. She saw little evidence of
war, beyond the occasional sentries and chains. Women were walking along
the roads. Children stopped and pointed, smiling, at the battered car.
One very small boy saluted, and Henri as gravely returned the salute.
Some time after that he turned to her.
"I find that I shall have to leave you in Dunkirk," he said. "A matter
of a day only, probably. But I will see before I go that you are
"I shall be quite all right, of course."
But something had gone out of the day for her.
Sara Lee learned one thing that day, learned it as some women do learn,
by the glance of an eye, the tone of a voice. The chauffeur adored
Henri. His one unbandaged eye stole moments from the road to glance
at him. When he spoke, while Henri read his map, his very voice betrayed
him. And while she pondered the thing, woman-fashion they drew into
the square of Dunkirk, where the statue of Jean Bart, pirate and
privateer stared down at this new procession of war which passed daily
and nightly under his cold eyes.
Jean and a porter carried in her luggage. Henri and a voluble and
smiling Frenchwoman showed her to her room. She felt like an island of
silence in a rapid-rolling sea of French. The Frenchwoman threw open
A great room with high curtained windows; a huge bed with a faded gilt
canopy and heavy draperies; a wardrobe as vast as the bed; and for a
toilet table an enormous mirror reaching to the ceiling and with a
marble shelf below--that was her room.
"I think you will be comfortable here, mademoiselle."
Sara Lee, who still clutched her small bag of gold, shook her head.
"Comfortable, yes," she said. "But I am afraid it is very expensive."
Henri named an extremely low figure--an exact fourth, to be accurate,
of its real cost. A surprising person Henri, with his worn uniform and
his capacity for kindly mendacity. And seeing something in the
Frenchwoman's face that perhaps he had expected, he turned to her
"You are to understand, madame, that this lady has been placed in my
care by authority that will not be questioned. She is to have every
That was all, but was enough. And from that time on Sara Lee Kennedy,
of Ohio, was called, in the tiny box downstairs which constituted the
office, "Mademoiselle La Princesse."
Henri did a characteristic and kindly thing for Sara Lee before he left
that evening on one of the many mysterious journeys that he was to make
during the time Sara Lee knew him. He came to her door, menus in hand,
and painstakingly ordered for her a dinner for that night, and the
three meals for the day following.
He made no suggestion of dining with her that evening. Indeed, watching
him from her small table, Sara Lee decided that he had put her entirely
out of his mind. He did not so much as glance at her. Save the cashier
at her boxed-in desk and money drawer, she was the only woman in that
room full of officers. Quite certainly Henri was the only man who did
not find some excuse for glancing in her direction.
But finishing early, he paused by the cashier's desk to pay for his meal,
and then he gave Sara Lee the stiffest and most ceremonious of bows.
She felt hurt. Alone in her great room, the curtains drawn by order of
the police, lest a ray of light betray the town to eyes in the air, she
went carefully over the hours she had spent with Henri that day,
looking for a cause of offense. She must have hurt him or he would
surely have stopped to speak to her.
Perhaps already he was finding her a burden. She flushed with shame
when she remembered about the meals he had had to order for her, and
she sat up in her great bed until late, studying by candlelight such
"Il y a une erreur dans la note," and "Garcon, quels fruits avez-vous?"
She tried to write to Harvey that night, but she gave it up at last.
There was too much he would not understand. She could not write frankly
without telling of Henri, and to this point everything had centered
about Henri. It all rather worried her, because there was nothing she
was ashamed of, nothing she should have had to conceal. She had yet to
learn, had Sara Lee, that many of the concealments of life are based
not on wrongdoing but on fear of misunderstanding.
So she got as far as: "Dearest Harvey: I am here in a hotel at Dunkirk"
--and then stopped, fairly engulfed in a wave of homesickness. Not so
much for Harvey as for familiar things--Uncle James in his chair by the
fire, with the phonograph playing "My Little Gray Home in the West";
her own white bedroom; the sun on the red geraniums in the dining-room
window; the voices of happy children wandering home from school.
She got up and went to the window, first blowing out the candle.
Outside, the town lay asleep, and from a gate in the old wall a sentry
with a bugle blew a quiet "All's well." From somewhere near, on top
of the mairie perhaps, where eyes all night searched the sky for danger,
came the same trumpet call of safety for the time, of a little longer
for quiet sleep.
For two days the girl was alone. There was no sign of Henri. She had
nothing to read, and her eyes, watching hour after hour the panorama
that passed through the square under her window, searched vainly for
his battered gray car. In daytime the panorama was chiefly of motor
lorries--she called them trucks--piled high with supplies, often
fodder for the horses in that vague district beyond ammunition and food.
Now and then a battery rumbled through, its gunners on the limbers,
detached, with folded arms; and always there were soldiers.
Sometimes, from her window, she saw the market people below, in their
striped red-and-white booths, staring up at the sky. She would look up,
too, and there would be an aeroplane sliding along, sometimes so low
that one could hear the faint report of the exhaust.
But it was the ambulances that Sara Lee looked for. Mostly they came
at night, a steady stream of them. Sometimes they moved rapidly.
Again, one would be going very slowly, and other machines would circle
impatiently round it and go on. A silent, grim procession in the
moonlight it was, and it helped the girl to bear the solitude of those
two interminable days.
Inside those long gray cars with the red crosses painted on the tops--a
symbol of mercy that had ceased to protect--inside those cars were
wounded men, men who had perhaps lain for hours without food or care.
Surely, surely it was right that she had come. The little she could do
must count in the great total. She twisted Harvey's ring on her finger
and sent a little message to him.
"You will forgive me when you know, dear," was the message. "It is so
terrible! So pitiful!"
Yet during the day the square was gay enough. Officers in spurs clanked
across, wide capes blowing in the wind. Common soldiers bought fruit
and paper bags of fried potatoes from the booths. Countless dogs fought
under the feet of passers-by, and over all leered the sardonic face of
Jean Bart, pirate and privateer.
Sara Lee went out daily, but never far. And she practiced French with
the maid, after this fashion:
"Draps de toile," said the smiling maid, putting the linen sheets on
Sara Lee would repeat it some six times.
"Taies d'oreiller," when the pillows came. So Sara Lee called pillows
by the name of their slips from that time forward! Came a bright hour
when she rang the bell for the boy and asked for matches, which she
certainly did not need, with entire success.
On the second night Sara Lee slept badly. At two o'clock she heard a
sound in the hall, and putting on her kimono, opened the door. On a
stiff chair outside, snoring profoundly, sat Jean, fully dressed.
The light from her candle roused him and he was wide awake in an instant.
"Why, Jean!" she said. "Isn't there any place for you to sleep?"
"I am to remain here, mademoiselle," he replied in English.
"But surely--not because of me?"
"It is the captain's order," he said briefly.
"I don't understand. Why?"
"All sorts of people come to this place, mademoiselle. But few ladies.
It is best that I remain here."
She could not move him. He had remained standing while she spoke to him,
and now he yawned, striving to conceal it. Sara Lee felt very
uncomfortable, but Jean's attitude and voice alike were firm. She
thanked him and said good night, but she slept little after that.
Lying there in the darkness, a warm glow of gratitude to Henri, and a
feeling of her safety in his care, wrapped her like a mantle. She
wondered drowsily if Harvey would ever have thought of all the small
things that seemed second nature to this young Belgian officer.
She rather thought not.
While she was breakfasting the next morning there was a tap at the door,
and thinking it the maid she called to her to come in.
But it was Jean, an anxious Jean, twisting his cap in his hands.
"You have had a message from the captain, mademoiselle?"
"He was to have returned during the night. He has not come,
Sara Lee forgot her morning negligee in Jean's harassed face.
"But--where did he go?"
Jean shrugged his shoulders and did not reply.
"Are you worried about him?"
"I am anxious, mademoiselle. But I am often anxious; and--he always
He smiled almost sheepishly. Sara Lee, who had no subtlety but a great
deal of intuition, felt that there was a certain relief in the smile, as
though Jean, having had no message from his master, was pleased that
she had none. Which was true enough, at that. Also she felt that Jean's
one eye was inspecting her closely, which was also true. A new factor
had come into Henri's life--by Jean's reasoning, a new and dangerous
one. And there were dangers enough already.
Highly dangerous, Jean reflected in the back of his head as he backed
out with a bow. A young girl unafraid of the morning sun and sitting
at a little breakfast table as fresh as herself--that was a picture for
a war-weary man.
Jean forgot for a moment his anxiety for Henri's safety in his fear for
his peace of mind. For a doubt had been removed. The girl was straight.
Jean's one sophisticated eye had grasped that at once. A good girl,
alone, and far from home! And Henri, like all soldiers, woman-hungry
for good women, for unpainted skins and clear eyes and the freshness and
bloom of youth.
All there, behind that little breakfast table which might so pleasantly
have been laid for two.
Jean took a walk that morning, and stood staring for twenty minutes into
a clock maker's window, full of clocks. After which he drew out his
watch and looked at the time!
At two in the afternoon Sara Lee saw Henri's car come into the square.
It was, if possible, more dilapidated than before, and he came like a
gray whirlwind, scattering people and dogs out of his way. Almost
before he had had time to enter the hotel Sara Lee heard him in the
hall, and the next moment he was bowing before her.
"I have been longer than I expected," he explained. "Have you been
Sara Lee, however, was gazing at him with startled eyes. He was dirty,
unshaven, and his eyes looked hollow and bloodshot. From his neck to
his heels he was smeared with mud, and his tidy tunic was torn into
"But you--you have been fighting!" she gasped.
"I? No, mademoiselle. There has been no battle." His eyes left her
and traveled over the room. "They are doing everything for you? They
"Everything is splendid," said Sara Lee. "If you won't tell me how you
got into that condition, at least you can send your coat down to me to
"My tunic!" He looked at it smilingly. "You would do that?"
"I am nearly frantic for something to do."
He smiled, and suddenly bending down he took her hand and kissed it.
"You are not only very beautiful, mademoiselle, but you are very good."
He went away then, and Sara Lee got out her sewing things. The tunic
came soon, carefully brushed and very ragged. But it was not Jean who
brought it; it was the Flemish boy.
And upstairs in a small room with two beds Sara Lee might have been
surprised to find Jean, the chauffeur, lying on one, while Henri shaved
himself beside the other. For Jean, of the ragged uniform and the patch
over one eye, was a count of Belgium, and served Henri because he loved
him. And because, too, he was no longer useful in that little army
where lay his heart.
Sometime a book will be written about the Jeans of this war, the great
friendships it has brought forth between men. And not the least of its
stories will be that of this Jean of the one eye. But its place is not
And perhaps there will be a book about the Henris, also. But not for a
long time, and even then with care. For the heroes of one department of
an army in the field live and die unsung. Their bravest exploits are
buried in secrecy. And that is as it must be. But it is a fine tale to
After he had bathed and shaved, Henri sat down at a tiny table and wrote.
He drew a plan also, from a rough one before him. Then he took a match
and burned the original drawing until it was but charred black ashes.
When he had finished Jean got up from the bed and put on his overcoat.
"To the King?" he said.
"To the King, old friend."
Jean took the letter and went out.
Down below, Sara Lee sat with Henri's ragged tunic on her lap and
stitched carefully. Sometime, she reflected, she would be mending worn
garments for another man, now far away. A little flood of tenderness
came over her. So helpless these men! There was so much to do for them!
And soon, please God, she would be helping other tired and weary men,
with food, and perhaps a word--when she had acquired some French--and
perhaps a thread and needle.
She dined alone that night, as usual. Henri did not appear, though she
had sent what she suspected was his only tunic back to him neatly mended
at five o'clock. As a matter of fact Henri was sound asleep. He had
meant to rest only for an hour a body that was crying aloud with fatigue.
But Jean, coming in quietly, had found him sleeping like a child, and
had put his own blanket over him and left him. Henri slept until morning,
when Jean, coming up from his vigil outside the American girl's door,
found him waking and rested, and rang for coffee.
Jean sat down on the edge of his bed and put on his shoes and puttees.
He was a taciturn man, but now he had something to say that he did not
like to say. And Henri knew it.
"What is it?" he asked, his arms under his head. "Come, let us have it!
It is, of course, about the American lady."
"It is," Jean said bluntly. "You cannot mix women and war."
"And you think I am doing that?"
"I am not an idiot," Jean growled. "You do not know what you are doing.
I do. She is young and lonely. You are young and not unattractive to
women. Already she turns pale when I so much as ask if she has heard
"You asked her that?"
"You were gone much longer than--"
"And you thought I might send her word, and not you!" Henri's voice was
offended. He lay back while the boy brought in the morning coffee and
"Let me tell you something," he said when the boy had gone. "She is
betrothed to an American. She wears a betrothal ring. I am to her--the
But, though Henri laughed, Jean remained grave and brooding. For Henri
had not said what Sara Lee already was to him.
It was later in the morning that Henri broached the subject again. They
were in the courtyard of an old house, working over the engine of the car.
"I think I have found a location for the young American lady," he said.
Jean hammered for a considerable time at a refractory rim.
"And where?" he asked at last.
Henri named the little town. Like Henri's family name, it must not be
told. Too many things happened there, and perhaps it is even now Henri's
headquarters. For that portion of the line has changed very little.
Jean fell to renewed hammering.
"If you will be silent I shall explain a plan," Henri said in a cautious
tone. "She will make soup, with help which we shall find. And if coming
in for refreshments a soldier shall leave a letter for me it is natural,
is it not?"
"She will suspect, of course."
"I think not. And she reads no French. None whatever."
Yet Jean's suspicions were not entirely allayed. The plan had its
advantages. It was important that Henri receive certain reports, and
already the hotel whispered that Henri was of the secret service. It
brought him added deference, of course, but additional danger.
So Jean accepted the plan, but with reservation. And it was not long
afterward that he said to Sara Lee, in French: "There is a spider on
your neck, mademoiselle."
But Sara Lee only said, "I'm sorry, Jean; you'll have to speak English
to me for a while, I'm afraid."
And though he watched her for five minutes she did not put her hand
to her neck.
However, that was later on. That afternoon Henri spent an hour with the
Minister of War. And at the end of that time he said: "Thank you, Baron.
I think you will not regret it. America must learn the truth, and how
better than through those friendly people who come to us to help?"
It is as well to state, however, that he left the Minister of War with
the undoubted impression that Miss Sara Lee Kennedy was a spinster of
Sara Lee packed her own suitcase that afternoon, doing it rather
nervously because Henri was standing in the room by the window waiting
for it. He had come in as matter-of-factly as Harvey had entered the
parlor at Aunt Harriet's, except that he carried in his arms some six
towels, a cake of soap and what looked suspiciously like two sheets.
"The house I have under consideration," he said, "has little to
recommend it but the building, and even that--The occupants have gone
away, and--you are not a soldier."
Sara Lee eyed the bundle.
"I don't need sheets," she expostulated.
"There are but two. And Jean has placed blankets in the car. You must
have a pillow also."
He calmly took one of the hotel pillows from the bed.
"What else?" he asked calmly. "Cigarettes? But no, you do not smoke."
Sara Lee eyed him with something very like despair.
"Aren't you ever going to let me think for myself?"
"Would you have thought of these?" he demanded triumphantly. "You--you
think only of soup and tired soldiers. Some one must think of you."
And there was a touch of tenderness in his voice. Sara Lee felt it and
trembled slightly. He was so fine, and he must not think of her that
way. It was not real. It couldn't be. Men were lonely here, where
everything was hard and cruel. They wanted some of the softness of life,
and all of kindness and sweetness that she could give should be Henri's.
But she must make it clear that there could never be anything more.
There was a tightness about her mouth as she folded the white frock.
"I know that garment," he said boyishly. "Do you remember the night you
wore it? And how we wandered in the square and made the plan that has
brought us together again?"
Sara Lee reached down into her suitcase and brought up Harvey's picture.
"I would like you to see this," she said a little breathlessly. "It is
the man I am to marry."
For a moment she thought Henri was not going to take it. But he came,
rather slowly, and held out his hand for it. He went with it to the
window and stood there for some time looking down at it.
"When are you going to marry him, mademoiselle?"
"As soon as I go back."
Sara Lee had expected some other comment, but he made none. He put the
photograph very quietly on the bed before her, and gathered up the linen
and the pillow in his arms.
"I shall send for your luggage, mademoiselle. And you will find me at
the car outside, waiting."
And so it was that a very silent Henri sat with Jean going out to that
strange land which was to be Sara Lee's home for many months. And a
very silent Sara Lee, flanked with pillow and blankets, who sat back
alone and tried to recall the tones of Harvey's voice.
From Dunkirk to the Front, the road, after the Belgian line was passed,
was lightly guarded. Henri came out of a reverie to explain to Sara Lee.
"We have not many men," he said. "And those that remain are holding the
line. It is very weary, our army."
Now at home Uncle James had thought very highly of the Belgian Army. He
had watched the fight they made, and he had tried to interest Sara Lee
in it. But without much result. She had generally said: "Isn't it
wonderful!" or "horrible," as the case might be, and put out of her mind
as soon as possible the ringing words he had been reading. But she had
not forgotten, she found. They came back to her as she rode through that
deserted countryside. Henri, glancing back somewhat later, found her in
He climbed back at once into the rear of the car and sat down beside her.
"You are homesick, I think?"
"Yes. But not for myself. I am just homesick for all the people who
have lost their homes. You--and Jean, and all the rest."
"Some day I shall tell you about my home and what has happened to it,"
he said gravely. "Not now. It is not pleasant. But you must remember
this: We are going back home, we Belgians." And after a little pause:
"Just as you are."
He lapsed into silence after that, and Sara Lee, stealing a glance at
him, saw his face set and hard. She had a purely maternal impulse to
reach over and pat his hand.
Jean did not like Henri's shift to the rear of the car. He drove with
a sort of irritable feverishness, until Henri leaned over and touched
him on the shoulder.
"We have mademoiselle with us, Jean," he said in French.
"It is not difficult to believe," growled Jean. But he slackened his
So far the road had been deserted. Now they had come up to a stream of
traffic flowing slowly toward the Front. Armored cars, looking tall and
top-heavy, rumbled and jolted along. Many lorries, one limousine
containing a general, a few Paris buses, all smeared a dingy gray and
filled with French soldiers, numberless and nondescript open machines,
here and there a horse-drawn vehicle--these filled the road. In and
out among them Jean threaded his way, while Sara Lee grew crimson with
the effort to see it all, and Henri sat very stiff and silent.
At a crossroads they were halted by troops who had fallen out for a rest.
The men stood at ease, and stared their fill at Sara Lee. Save for a
few weary peasants, most of them had seen no women for months. But they
were respectful, if openly admiring. And their admiration of her was
nothing to Sara Lee's feeling toward them. She loved them all--boys
with their first straggly beards on their chins; older men, looking worn
and tired; French and Belgian; smiling and sad. But most of all, for
Uncle James' sake, she loved the Belgians.
"I cannot tell you," she said breathlessly to Henri. "It is like a
dream come true. And I shall help. You look doubtful sometimes, but
I am sure."
"You are heaven sent," Henri replied gravely.
They turned into a crossroad after a time, and there in a little village
Sara Lee found her new home. A strange village indeed, unoccupied and
largely destroyed. Piles of bricks and plaster lined the streets.
Broken glass was everywhere. Jean blew out a tire finally, because of
the glass, and they were obliged to walk the remainder of the way.
"A poor place, mademoiselle," Henri said as they went along. "A peaceful
little town, and quite beautiful, once. And it harbored no troops. But
everything is meat for the mouths of their guns."
Sara Lee stopped and looked about her. Her heart was beating fast, but
her lips were steady enough.
"And it is here that I--"
"A little distance down the street. You must see before you decide."
Steady, passionless firing was going on, not near, but far away, like
low thunder before a summer storm. She was for months to live, to eat
and sleep and dream to that rumbling from the Ypres salient, to waken
when it ceased or to look up from her work at the strange silence. But
it was new to her then, and terrible.
"Do they still shell this--this town?" she asked, rather breathlessly.
"Not now. They have done their work. Of course--" he did not finish.
Sara Lee's heart slowed down somewhat. After all, she had asked to be
near the Front. And that meant guns and such destruction as was all
about her. Only one thing troubled her.
"It is rather far from the trenches, isn't it?"
He smiled slightly.
"Far! It is not very far. Not so far as I would wish, mademoiselle.
But, to do what you desire, it is the best I have to offer."
"How far away are the trenches?"
"A quarter of a mile beyond those poplar trees." He indicated on a slight
rise a row of great trees broken somewhat but not yet reduced to the
twisted skeletons they were to become later on. In a long line they
faced the enemy like sentinels, winter-quiet but dauntless, and behind
them lay the wreck of the little village, quiet and empty.
"Will the men know I am here?" Sara Lee asked anxiously.
"But, yes, mademoiselle. At night they come up from the trenches, and
fresh troops take their places. They come up this street and go on to
wherever they are to rest. And when they find that a house of--mercy
is here--and soup, they will come. More than you wish."
"Only Belgian soldiers. That is as you want it to be, I think."
"If only I spoke French!"
"You will learn. And in the meantime, mademoiselle, I have taken the
liberty of finding you a servant--a young peasant woman. And you will
also have a soldier always on guard."
Something that had been in the back of Sara Lee's mind for some time
suddenly went away. She had been thinking of Aunt Harriet and the Ladies'
Aid Society of the Methodist Church. She had, in fact, been wondering
how they would feel when they learned that she was living alone, the
only woman among thousands of men. It had, oddly enough, never occurred
to her before.
"You have thought of everything," she said gratefully.
But Henri said nothing. He had indeed thought of everything with a
vengeance, with the net result that he was not looking at Sara Lee more
than he could help.
These Americans were strange. An American girl would cross the seas,
and come here alone with him--a man and human. And she would take for
granted that he would do what he was doing for love of his kind--which
was partly true; and she would be beautiful and sweet and amiable and
quite unself-conscious. And then she would go back home, warm of heart
with gratitude, and marry the man of the picture.
The village had but one street, and that deserted and in ruins. Behind
its double row of houses, away from the enemy, lay the fields, a muddy
canal and more poplar trees. And from far away, toward Ypres, there
came constantly that somewhat casual booming of artillery which marked
the first winter of the war.
The sound of the guns had first alarmed, then interested Sara Lee. It
was detached then, far away. It meant little to her. It was only later,
when she saw some of the results of the sounds she heard, that they
became significant. But this is not a tale of the wounding of men.
There are many such. This is the story of a little house of mercy, and
of a girl with a dauntless spirit, and of two men who loved her. Only
The maid Henri had found was already in the house, sweeping. Henri
presented her to Sara Lee, and he also brought a smiling little Belgian
boy, in uniform and with a rifle.
"Your staff, mademoiselle!" he said. "And your residence!"
Sara Lee looked about her. With the trifling exception that there was
no roof, it was whole. And the roof was not necessary, for the floors
of the upper story served instead. There was a narrow passage with a
room on either side, and a tiny kitchen behind.
Henri threw open a door on the right.
"Your bedroom," he said. "Well furnished, as you will see. It should
be, since there has been brought here all the furniture not destroyed
in the village."
His blacker mood had fallen away before her naive delight. He went
about smiling boyishly, showing her the kettles in the kitchen; the
supply, already so rare, of firewood; the little stove. But he stiffened
somewhat when she placed her hand rather timidly on his arm.
"How am I ever to thank you?" she asked.
"By doing much good. And by never going beyond the poplar trees."
She promised both very earnestly.
But she was a little sad as she followed Henri about, he volubly
expatiating on such advantages as plenty of air owing to the absence of
a roof; and the attraction of the stove, which he showed much like a
salesman anxious to make a sale. "Such a stove!" he finished
contentedly. "It will make soup even in your absence, mademoiselle!
Our peasants eat much soup; therefore it is what you would call a
Before Sara Lee's eyes came a picture of Harvey and the Leete house,
its white dining room, its bay window for plants, its comfortable charm
and prettiness. And Harvey's face, as he planned it for her anxious,
pleading, loving. She drew a long breath. If Henri noticed her
abstraction he ignored it. He was all over the little house. One moment
he was instructing Marie volubly, to her evident confusion. On Rene,
the guard, he descended like a young cyclone, with warnings for
mademoiselle's safety and comfort. He was everywhere, sitting on the
bed to see if it was soft, tramping hard on the upper floor to discover
if any plaster might loosen below, and pausing in that process to look
keenly at a windmill in the field behind.
When he came down it was to say: "You are not entirely alone in the
village, after all, mademoiselle. The miller has come back. I shall
visit him now and explain."
He found Sara Lee, however, still depressed. She was sitting in a low
chair in the kitchen gazing thoughtfully at the stove.
"I am here," she said. "And here is the house, and a stove, and--
everything. But there are no shops; and what shall I make my soup
Henri stared at her rather blankly.
"True!" he said. "Very true. And I never thought of it!"
Then suddenly they both laughed, the joyous ringing laugh of ridiculous
youth, which can see its own absurdities and laugh at them.
Henri counted off on his fingers.
"I thought of water," he said, "and a house, and firewood, and kettles
and furniture. And there I ceased thinking."
It was dusk now. Marie lifted the lid from the stove, and a warm red
glow of reflected light filled the little kitchen. It was warm and
cozy; the kettle sang like the purring of a cat. And something else
that had troubled Sara Lee came out.
"I wonder," she said, "if you are doing all this only because I--well,
because I persuaded you." Which she had not. "Do the men really need
"Need you, mademoiselle?"
"Do they need what little I can give? They were smiling, all the ones
"A Belgian soldier always smiles. Even when he is fighting." His voice
had lost its gayety and had taken on a deeper note. "Mademoiselle, I
have brought you here, where I can think of no other woman who would
have the courage to come, because you are needed. I cannot promise you
entire safety"--his mouth tightened--"but I can promise you work and
gratitude. Such gratitude, mademoiselle, as you may never know again."
That reassured her. But in her practical mind the matter of supplies
loomed large. She brought the matter up again directly.
"It is to be hot chocolate and soup?" he asked.
"Both, if I find I have enough money. Soup only, perhaps."
"And soup takes meat, of course."
"It should, to be strengthening."
Henri looked up, to see Jean in the doorway smiling grimly.
"It is very simple," Jean said to him in French. "You have no other
duties of course; so each day you shall buy in the market place at
Dunkirk, with American money. And I shall become a delivery boy and
bring out food for mademoiselle, and whatever is needed."
Henri smiled back at him cheerfully. "An excellent plan, Jean," he said.
"Not every day, but frequently."
Jean growled and disappeared.
However, there was the immediate present to think of, and while Jean
thawed his hands at the fire and Sara Lee was taking housewifely stock
of her new home, Henri disappeared.
He came back in a half hour, carrying in a small basket butter, eggs,
bread and potatoes.
"The miller!" he explained cheerfully to Sara Lee. "He has still a few
hens, and hidden somewhere a cow. We can have milk--is there a pail
for Marie to take to the mill?--and bread and an omelet. That is a
There was but one lamp, which hung over the kitchen stove. The room
across from Sara Lee's bedroom contained a small round dining table and
chairs. Sara Lee, enveloped in a large pinafore apron, made the
omelet in the kitchen. Marie brought a pail of fresh milk. Henri, with
a towel over his left arm, and in absurd mimicry of a Parisian waiter,
laid the table; and Jean, dour Jean, caught a bit of the infection, and
finding four bottles set to work with his pocketknife to fit candles
into their necks.
Standing in corners, smiling, useless against the cheerful English that
flowed from the kitchen stove to the dining room and back again, were
Rene and Marie. It was of no use to attempt to help. Did the fire burn
low, it was the young officer who went out for fresh wood. But Rene
could not permit that twice. He brought in great armfuls of firewood
and piled them neatly by the stove.
Henri was absurdly happy again. He would come to the door gravely, with
Sara Lee's little phrase book in hand, and read from it in a solemn tone:
"'Shall we have duck or chicken?' 'Where can we get a good dinner at a
moderate price?' 'Waiter, you have spilled wine on my dress.' 'Will
you have a cigar?' 'No, thank you. I prefer a pipe.'"
And Sara Lee beat up the eggs and found, after a bad moment, some salt
in a box, and then poured her omelet into the pan. She was very anxious
that it be a good omelet. She must make good her claim as a cook or
Henri's sublime faith in her would die.
It was a divine omelet. Even Jean said so. They sat, the three of them,
in the cold little dining room and never knew that it was cold, and they
ate prodigious quantities of omelet and bread and butter, and bully beef
out of a tin, and drank a great deal of milk.
Even Jean thawed at last, under the influence of food and Sara Lee.
Before the meal was over he was planning how to get her supplies to her
and making notes on a piece of paper as to what she would need at once.
They adjourned to Sara Lee's bedroom, where Marie had kindled a fire in
the little iron stove, and sat there in the warmth with two candles,
still planning. By that time Sara Lee had quite forgotten that at home
one did not have visitors in one's bedroom.
Suddenly Henri held up his hand.
"Listen!" he said.
That was the first time Sara Lee had ever heard the quiet shuffling step
of tired men, leaving their trenches under cover of darkness. Henri
threw his military cape over her shoulders and she stood in the dark
The empty street was no longer empty. From gutter to gutter flowed a
stream of men, like a sluggish river which narrowed where a fallen house
partly filled the way; not talking, not singing, just moving, bent under
their heavy and mud-covered equipment. Here and there the clack of
wooden sabots on the cobbles told of one poor fellow not outfitted with
leather shoes. The light of a match here and there showed some few
lucky enough to have still remaining cigarettes, and revealed also, in
the immediate vicinity, a white bandage or two. Some few, recognizing
Henri's officer's cap, saluted. Most of them stumbled on, too weary to
so much as glance aside.
Nothing that Sara Lee had dreamed of war was like this. This was dreary
and sodden and hopeless. Those fresh troops at the crossroads that day
had been blithe and smiling. There had been none of the glitter and
panoply of war, but there had been movement, the beating of a drum, the
sharp cries of officers as the lines re-formed.
Here there were no lines. Just such a stream of men as at home might
issue at night from a coal mine, too weary for speech. Only here they
were packed together closely, and they did not speak, and some of them
"There are so many!" she whispered to Henri. "A hundred such efforts as
mine would not be enough."
"I would to God there were more!" Henri replied, through shut teeth.
"Listen, mademoiselle," he said later. "You cannot do all the kind
work of the world. But you can do your part. And you will start by
caring for only such as are wounded or ill. The others can go on. But
every night some twenty or thirty, or even more, will come to your door
--men slightly wounded or too weary to go on without a rest. And for
those there will be a chair by the fire, and something hot, or perhaps
a clean bandage. It sounds small? But in a month, think! You will
have given comfort to perhaps a thousand men. You--alone!"
"I--alone!" she said in a queer choking voice. "And what about you?
It is you who have made it possible."
But Henri was looking down the street to where the row of poplars hid
what lay beyond. Far beyond a star shell had risen above the flat
fields and floated there, a pure and lovely thing, shedding its white
light over the terrain below. It gleamed for some thirty seconds and
"Like that!" Henri said to her, but in French. "Like that you are to me.
Bright and shining--and so soon gone."
Sara Lee thought he had asked her if she was cold.
The girl was singularly adaptable. In a few days it was as though she
had been for years in her little ruined house. She was very happy,
though there was scarcely a day when her heart was not wrung. Such
young-old faces! Such weary men! And such tales of wretchedness!
She got the tales by intuition rather than by words, though she was
picking up some French at that. Marie would weep openly, at times. The
most frequent story was of no news from the country held by the Germans,
of families left with nothing and probably starving. The first inquiry
was always for news. Had the American lady any way to make inquiry?
In time Sara Lee began to take notes of names and addresses, and through
Mr. Travers, in London, and the Relief Commission, in Belgium, bits of
information came back. A certain family was in England at a village in
Surrey. Of another a child had died. Here was one that could not be
located, and another reported massacred during the invasion.
Later on Sara Lee was to find her little house growing famous, besieged
by anxious soldiers who besought her efforts, so that she used enormous
numbers of stamps and a great deal of effort. But that was later on.
And when that time came she turned to the work as a refuge from her
thoughts. For days were coming when Sara Lee did not want to think.
But like all big things the little house made a humble beginning. A mere
handful of men, daring the gibes of their comrades, stopped in that first
night the door stood open, with its invitation of firelight and candles.
But these few went away with a strange story--of a beautiful American,
and hot soup, and even a cigarette apiece. That had been Henri's
contribution, the cigarettes. And soon the fame of the little house went
up and down the trenches, and it was like to die of overpopularity.
It was at night that the little house of mercy bloomed like a flower.
During the daytime it was quiet, and it was then, as time went on, that
Sara Lee wrote her letters home and to England, and sent her lists of
names to be investigated. But from the beginning there was much to do.
Vegetables were to be prepared for the soup, Marie must find and bring
in milk for the chocolate, Rene must lay aside his rifle and chop
One worry, however, disappeared with the days. Henri was proving a
clever buyer. The money she sent in secured marvels. Only Jean knew,
or ever knew, just how much of Henri's steadily decreasing funds went
to that buying. Certainly not Sara Lee. And Jean expostulated only
once--to be met by such blazing fury as set him sullen for two days.
"I am doing this," Henri finished, a trifle ashamed of himself, "not for
mademoiselle, but for our army. And since when have you felt that the
best we can give is too much for such a purpose?"
Which was, however lofty, only a part of the truth.
So supplies came in plentifully, and Sara Lee pared vegetables and sang
a bit under her breath, and glowed with good will when at night the weary
vanguard of a weary little army stopped at her door and scraped the mud
off its boots and edged in shyly.
She was very happy, and her soup was growing famous. It is true that
the beef she used was not often beef, but she did not know that, and
merely complained that the meat was stringy. Now and then there was
no beef at all, and she used hares instead. On quiet days, when there
was little firing beyond the poplar trees, she went about with a basket
through the neglected winter gardens of the town. There were Brussels
sprouts, and sometimes she found in a cellar carrots or cabbages. She
had potatoes always.
It was at night then, from seven in the evening until one, that the
little house was busiest. Word had gone out through the trenches beyond
the poplar trees that slightly wounded men needing rest before walking
back to their billets, exhausted and sick men, were welcome to the little
house. It was soon necessary to give the officers tickets for the men.
Rene took them in at the door, with his rifle in the hollow of his arm,
and he was as implacable as a ticket taker at the opera.
Never once in all the months of her life there did Sara Lee have an ugly
word, an offensive glance. But, though she never knew this, many half
articulate and wholly earnest prayers were offered for her in those
little churches behind the lines where sometimes the men slept, and often
She was very businesslike. She sent home to the Ladies' Aid Society a
weekly record of what had been done: So many bowls of soup; so many
cups of chocolate; so many minor injuries dressed. Because, very soon,
she found first aid added to her activities. She sickened somewhat at
first. Later she allowed to Marie much of the serving of food, and in
the little salle a manger she had ready on the table basins, water, cotton,
iodine and bandages.
Henri explained the method to her.
"It is a matter of cleanliness," he said. "First one washes the wound
and then there is the iodine. Then cotton, a bandage, and--a surgeon
could do little more."
Henri and Jean came often. And more than once during the first ten days
Jean spent the night rolled in a blanket by the kitchen fire, and Henri
disappeared. He was always back in the morning, however, looking dirty
and very tired. Sara Lee sewed more than one rent for him, those days,
but she was strangely incurious. It was as though, where everything was
strange, Henri's erratic comings and goings were but a part with the rest.
Then one night the unexpected happened. The village was shelled.
Sara Lee had received her first letter from Harvey that day. The maid
at Morley's had forwarded it to her, and Henri had brought it up.
"I think I have brought you something you wish for very much," he said,
looking down at her.
"Mutton?" she inquired anxiously.
"Better than that."
"A letter, mademoiselle."
Afterward he could not quite understand the way she had suddenly drawn
in her breath. He had no memory, as she had, of Harvey's obstinate anger
at her going, his conviction that she was doing a thing criminally wrong
"Give it to me, please."
She took it into her room and closed the door. When she came out again
she was composed and quiet, but rather white. Poor Henri! He was half
mad that day with jealousy. Her whiteness he construed as longing.
This is a part of Harvey's letter:
You may think that I have become reconciled, but I have not. If I could
see any reason for it I might. But what reason is there? So many
others, older and more experienced, could do what you are doing, and
In your letter from the steamer you tell me not to worry. Good God, Sara
Lee, how can I help worrying? I do not even know where you are! If you
are in England, well and good. If you are abroad I do not want to know
it. I know these foreigners. I run into them every day. And they do
not understand American women. I get crazy when I think about it. I
have had to let the Leete house go. There is not likely to be such a
chance soon again. Business is good, but I don't seem to care much about
it any more. Honestly, dear, I think you have treated me very badly. I
always feel as though the people I meet are wondering if we have quarreled
or what on earth took you away on this wild-goose chase. I don't know
myself, so how can I tell them?
I shall always love you, Sara Lee. I guess I'm that sort. But sometimes
I wonder if, when we are married, you will leave me again in some such
uncalled-for way. I warn you now, dear, that I won't stand for it. I'm
suffering too much.
Sara Lee wore the letter next her heart, but it did not warm her. She
went through the next few hours in a sort of frozen composure and ate
nothing at all.
Then came the bombardment.
Henri and Jean, driving out from Dunkirk, had passed on the road
ammunition trains, waiting in the road until dark before moving on to
the Front. Henri had given Sara Lee her letter, had watched jealously
for its effect on her, and then, his own face white and set, had gone on
down the ruined street.
Here within the walls of a destroyed house he disappeared. The place
was evidently familiar to him, for he moved without hesitation. Broken
furniture still stood in the roofless rooms, and in front of a battered
bureau Henri paused. Still whistling under his breath, he took off his
uniform and donned a strange one, of greenish gray. In the pocket of
the blouse he stuffed a soft round cap of the same color. Then, resuming
his cape and Belgian cap, with its tassel over his forehead, he went out
into the street again. He carried in his belt a pistol, but it was not
the one he had brought in with him. As a matter of fact, by the addition
of the cap in his pocket, Henri was at that moment in the full uniform of
a lieutenant of a Bavarian infantry regiment, pistol and all.
He went down the street and along the road toward the poplars. He met
the first detachment of men out of the trenches just beyond the trees,
and stepped aside into the mud to let them pass, calling a greeting to
them out of the darkness.
"Bonsoir!" they replied, and saluted stiffly. There were few among them
who did not know his voice, and fewer still who did not suspect his
"A brave man," they said among themselves as they went on.
"How long will he last?" asked one young soldier, a boy in his teens.
"One cannot live long who does as he does," replied a gaunt and bearded
man. "But it is a fine life while it continues. A fine life!"
The boy stepped out of the shuffling line and looked behind him. He
could see only the glow of Henri's eternal cigarette. "I should like to
go with him," he muttered wistfully.
The ammunition train was in the village now. It kept the center of the
road, lest it should slide into the mud on either side and be mired.
The men moved out of its way into the ditch, grumbling.
Henri went whistling softly down the road.
The first shell fell in the neglected square. The second struck the
rear wagons of the ammunition train. Henri heard the terrific explosion
that followed, and turning ran madly back into the village. More shells
fell into the road. The men scattered like partridges, running for the
fields, but the drivers of the ammunition wagons beat their horses and
came lurching and shouting down the road.
There was cold terror in Henri's heart. He ran madly, throwing aside
his cape as he went. More shells fell ahead in the street. Once in the
darkness he fell flat over the body of a horse. There was a steady
groaning from the ditch near by. But he got up and ran on, a strange
figure with his flying hair and his German uniform.
He was all but stabbed by Rene when he entered the little house.
"Mademoiselle?" Henri gasped, holding Rene's bayonet away from his
"I am here," said Sara Lee's voice from the little salle a manger. "Let
them carry in the wounded. I am getting ready hot water and bandages.
There is not much space, for the corner of the room has been shot away."
She was as dead white in the candlelight, but very calm.
"You cannot stay here," Henri panted. "At any time--"
Another shell fell, followed by the rumble of falling walls.
"Some one must stay," said Sara Lee. "There must be wounded in the
streets. Marie is in the cellar."
Henri pleaded passionately with her to go to the cellar, but she refused.
He would have gathered her up in his arms and carried her there, but
Jean came in, leading a wounded man, and Henri gave up in despair.
All that night they worked, a ghastly business. More than one man died
that night in the little house, while a blond young man in a German
uniform gave him a last mouthful of water or took down those pitifully
vague addresses which were all the dying Belgians had to give.
"I have not heard--last at Aarschot, but now--God knows where."
No more shells fell. At dawn, with all done that could be done, Sara
Lee fainted quietly in the hallway. Henri carried her in and placed
her on her bed. A corner of the room was indeed gone. The mantel was
shattered and the little stove. But on the floor lay Harvey's photograph
uninjured. Henri lifted it and looked at it. Then he placed it on the
table, and very reverently he kissed the palm of Sara Lee's quiet hand.
Daylight found the street pitiful indeed. Henri, whose costume Rene had
been casting wondering glances at all night, sent a request for men from
the trenches to clear away the bodies of the horses and bury them, and
somewhat later over a single grave in the fields there was a simple
ceremony of burial for the men who had fallen. Henri had changed again
by that time, but he sternly forbade Sara Lee to attend.
"On pain," he said, "of no more supplies, mademoiselle. These things
must be. They are war. But you can do nothing to help, and it will
be very sad."
Ambulances took away the wounded at dawn, and the little house became
quiet once more. With planks Rene repaired the damage to the corner,
and triumphantly produced and set up another stove. He even put up a
mantelshelf, and on it, smiling somewhat, he placed Harvey's picture.
Sara Lee saw it there, and a tiny seed of resentment took root and grew.
"If there had been no one here last night," she said to the photograph,
"many more would have died. How can you say I am cruel to you? Isn't
this worth the doing?"
But Harvey remained impassive, detached, his eyes on the photographer's
white muslin screen. And the angle of his jaw was set and dogged.
That morning there was a conference in the little house--Colonel Lilias,
who had come in before for a mute but appreciative call on Sara Lee, and
for a cup of chocolate; Captain Tournay, Jean and Henri. It was held
round the little table in the salle a manger, after Marie had brought
coffee and gone out.
"They had information undoubtedly," said the colonel. "The same thing
happened at Pervyse when an ammunition train went through. They had the
place, and what is more they had the time. Of course there are the
"It did not leave the main road until too late for observation from the
air," Henri put in shortly.
"Yet any one who saw it waiting at the crossroads might have learned its
destination. The drivers talk sometimes."
"But the word had to be carried across," said Captain Tournay. "That is
the point. My men report flashes of lights from the fields. We have
followed them up and found no houses, no anything. In this flat country
a small light travels far."
"I shall try to learn to-night," Henri said. "It is, of course,
possible that some one from over there--" He shrugged his shoulders.
"I think not." Colonel Lilias put a hand on Henri's shoulder
affectionately. "They have not your finesse, boy. And I doubt if, in
all their army, they have so brave a man."
"There is a courage under fire, with their fellows round--that is one
thing. And a courage of attack--that is even more simple. But the
bravest man is the one who works alone--the man to whom capture is death
The meeting broke up. Jean and Henri went away in the car, and though
supplies came up regularly Sara Lee did not see the battered gray car
for four days. At the end of that time Henri came alone. Jean, he said
briefly, was laid up for a little while with a flesh wound in his
shoulder. He would be well very soon. In the meantime here at last was
mutton. It had come from England, and he, Henri, had found it lying
forgotten and lonely and very sad and had brought it along.
After that Henri disappeared on foot. It was midafternoon and a sunny
day. Sara Lee saw him walking briskly across the fields and watched him
out of sight. She spoke some French now, and she had gathered from Rene,
who had no scruples about listening at a door, that Henri was the bravest
man in the Belgian Army.
Until now Sara Lee had given small thought to Henri's occupation. She
knew nothing of war, and the fact that Henri, while wearing a uniform,
was unattached, had not greatly impressed her. Had she known the
constitution of a modern army she might have wondered over his freedom,
his powerful car, his passes and maps. But his detachment had not seemed
odd to her. Even his appearance during the bombardment in the uniform
of a German lieutenant had meant nothing to her. She had never seen a
That evening, however, when he returned she ventured a question. They
dined together, the two of them, for the first time at the little house
alone. Always before Jean had made the third. And it was a real meal,
for Sara Lee had sacrificed a bit of mutton from her soup, and Henri had
produced from his pocket a few small and withered oranges.
"A gift!" he said gayly, and piled them in a precarious heap in the
center of the table. On the exact top he placed a walnut.
"Now speak gently and walk softly," he said. "It is a work of art and
not to be lightly demolished."
He was alternately gay and silent during the meal, and more than once
Sara Lee found his eyes on her, with something new and different in them.
"Just you and I together!" he said once. "It is very wonderful."
And again: "When you go back to him, shall you tell him of your good
friend who has tried hard to serve you?"
"Of course I shall," said Sara Lee. "And he will write you, I know. He
will be very grateful."
But it was she who was silent after that, because somehow it would be
hard to make Harvey understand. And as for his being grateful--
"Mademoiselle," said Henri later on, "would you object if I make a
suggestion? You wear a very valuable ring. I think it is entirely safe,
but--who can tell? And also it is not entirely kind to remind men who
are far from all they love that you--"
Sara Lee flushed and took off her ring.
"I am glad you told me," she said. And Henri did not explain that the
Belgian soldiers would not recognize the ring as either a diamond or a
symbol, but that to him it was close to torture.
It was when he insisted on carrying out the dishes, singing a little
French song as he did so, that Sara Lee decided to speak what was in her
mind. He was in high spirits then.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "shall I show you something that the eye of no
man has seen before, and that, when we have seen it, shall never be seen
On her interested consent he called in Marie and Rene, making a great
ceremony of the matter, and sending Marie into hysterical giggling.
"Now see!" he said earnestly. "No eye before has ever seen or will again.
Will you guess, mademoiselle? Or you, Marie? Rene?"
"A tear?" ventured Sara Lee.
"But--do I look like weeping?"
He did not, indeed. He stood, tall and young and smiling before them,
and produced from his pocket the walnut.
"Perceive!" he said, breaking it open and showing the kernel. "Has human
eye ever before seen it?" He thrust it into Marie's open mouth. "And
it is gone! Voila tout!"
It was that evening, while Sara Lee cut bandages and Henri rolled them,
that she asked him what his work was. He looked rather surprised, and
rolled for a moment without replying. Then: "I am a man of all work,"
he said. "What you call odd jobs."
"Then you don't do any fighting?"
"In the trenches--no. But now and then I have a little skirmish."
A sort of fear had been formulating itself in Sara Lee's mind. The
trenches she could understand or was beginning to understand. But this
alternately joyous and silent idler, this soldier of no regiment and no
detail--was he playing a man's part in the war?
"Why don't you go into the trenches?" she asked with her usual directness.
"You say there are too few men. Yet--I can understand Monsieur Jean,
because he has only one eye. But you!"
"I do something," he said, avoiding her eyes. "It is not a great deal.
It is the thing I can do best. That is all."
He went away some time after that, leaving the little house full and busy
justifying its existence. The miller's son, who came daily to chat with
Marie, was helping in the kitchen. By the warm stove, and only kept from
standing over it by Marie's sharp orders, were as many men as could get
near. Each held a bowl of hot soup, and--that being a good day--a
piece of bread. Tall soldiers and little ones, all dirty, all weary,
almost all smiling, they peered over each other's shoulders, to catch,
if might be, a glimpse of Marie's face.
When they came too close she poked an elbow into some hulking fellow and
sent him back.
"Elbow-room, in the name of God," she would beg.
Over all the room hung the warm steam from the kettles, and a delicious
odor, and peace.
Sara Lee had never heard of the word morale. She would have been
astonished to have been told that she was helping the morale of an army.
But she gave each night in that little house of mercy something that
nothing else could give--warmth and welcome, but above all a touch of
That night Henri did not come back. She stood by her table bandaging,
washing small wounds, talking her bits of French, until one o'clock.
Then, the last dressing done, she went to the kitchen. Marie was there,
with Maurice, the miller's son.
"Has the captain returned?" she asked.
"Not yet, mademoiselle."
"Leave a warm fire," Sara Lee said. "He will probably come in later."
Maurice went away, with a civil good night. Sara Lee stood in the
doorway after he had gone, looking out. Farther along the line there
was a bombardment going on. She knew now what a bombardment meant and
her brows contracted. Somewhere there in the trenches men were enduring
that, while Henri--
She said a little additional prayer that night, which was that she
should have courage to say to him what she felt--that there were big
things to do, and that it should not all be left to these smiling,
ill-clad peasant soldiers.
At that moment Henri, in his gray-green uniform, was cutting wire before
a German trench, one of a party of German soldiers, who could not know
in the darkness that there had been a strange addition to their group.
Cutting wire and learning many things which it was well that he should
Now and then, in perfect German, he whispered a question. Always he
received a reply. And stowed it away in his tenacious memory for those
it most concerned.
At daylight he was asleep by Sara Lee's kitchen fire. And at daylight
Sara Lee was awakened by much firing, and putting on a dressing gown she
went out to see what was happening. Rene was in the street looking
toward the poplar trees.
"An attack," he said briefly.
"You mean--the Germans?"
She went back into the little ruined house, heavy-hearted. She knew now
what it meant, an attack. That night there would be ambulances in the
street, and word would come up that certain men were gone--would never
seek warmth and shelter in her kitchen or beg like children for a second
bowl of soup.
On the kitchen floor by the dying fire Henri lay asleep.
Much has been said of the work of spies--said and written. Here is a
woman in Paris sending forbidden messages on a marked coin. Men are
tapped on the shoulder by a civil gentleman in a sack suit, and walk
away with him, never to be seen again.
But of one sort of spy nothing has been written and but little is known.
Yet by him are battles won or lost. On the intelligence he brings
attacks are prepared for and counter-attacks launched. It is not always
the airman, in these days of camouflage, who brings word of ammunition
trains or of new batteries.
In the early days of the war the work of the secret service at the Front
was of the gravest importance. There were fewer air machines, and
observation from the air was a new science. Also trench systems were
incomplete. Between them, known to a few, were breaks of solid land,
guarded from behind. To one who knew, it was possible, though dangerous
beyond words, to cross the inundated country that lay between the Belgian
Front and the German lines, and even with good luck to go farther.
Henri, for instance, on that night before had left the advanced trench
at the railway line, had crawled through the Belgian barbed wire, and
had advanced, standing motionless as each star shell burst overhead, and
then moving on quickly. The inundation was his greatest difficulty.
Shallow in most places, it was full of hidden wire and crisscrossed with
irrigation ditches. Once he stumbled into one, but he got out by
swimming. Had he been laden with a rifle and equipment it might have
He swore to himself as his feet touched ground again. For a star shell
was hanging overhead, and his efforts had sent wide and ever increasingly
widening circles over the placid surface of the lagoon. Let them lap to
the German outposts and he was lost.
Henri's method was peculiar to himself. Where there was dry terrain he
did as did the others, crouched and crept. But here in the salt marshes,
where the sea had been called to Belgium's aid, he had evolved a system
of moving, neck deep in water, stopping under the white night lights,
advancing in the darkness. There was no shelter. The country was flat
as a hearth.
He would crawl out at last in the darkness and lie flat, as the dead lie.
And then, inch by inch, he would work his way forward, by routes that he
knew. Sometimes he went entirely through the German lines, and
reconnoitered on the roads behind. They were shallow lines then, for
the inundation made the country almost untenable, and a charge in force
from the Belgians across was unlikely.
Henri knew his country well, as well as he loved it. In a farmhouse
behind the German lines he sometimes doffed his wet gray-green uniform
and put on the clothing of a Belgian peasant. Trust Henri then for being
a lout, a simple fellow who spoke only Flemish--but could hear in many
tongues. Watch him standing at crossroads and marveling at big guns that
At first Henri had wished, having learned of an attack, to be among those
who repelled it. Then one day his King had sent for him to come to that
little village which was now his capital city.
He had been sent in alone and had found the King at the table, writing.
Henri bowed and waited. They were not unlike, these two men, only Henri
was younger and lighter, and where the King's eyes were gray Henri's were
blue. Such a queer setting for a king it was--a tawdry summer home,
ill-heated and cheaply furnished. But by the presence of Belgium's man
of all time it became royal.
So Henri bowed and waited, and soon the King got up and shook hands with
him. As a matter of fact they knew each other rather well, but to
explain more would be to tell that family name of Henri's which must
never be known.
"Sit down," said the King gravely. And he got a box of cigars from the
mantelpiece and offered it. "I sent for you because I want to talk to
you. You are doing valuable work."
"I am glad you think it so, sire," said Henri rather unhappily, because
he felt what was coming. "But I cannot do it all the time. There are
An ordinary mortal may not interrupt a king, but a king may interrupt
anything, except perhaps a German bombardment.
"Intervals, of course. If there were not you would be done in a month."
"But I am a soldier. My place is--"
"Your place is where you are most useful."
Henri was getting nothing out of the cigar. He flung it away and got up.
"I want to fight too," he said stubbornly. "We need every man, and I am
--rather a good shot. I do this other because I can do it. I speak
their infernal tongue. But it's dirty business at the best, sire." He
remembered to put in the sire, but rather ungraciously. Indeed he shot
it out like a bullet.
"Dirty business!" said the King thoughtfully. "I see what you mean. It
is, of course. But--not so dirty as the things they have done, and are
He sat still and let Henri stamp up and down, because, as has been said,
he knew the boy. And he had never been one to insist on deference,
which was why he got so much of it. But at last he got up and when
Henri stood still, rather ashamed of himself, he put an arm over the
"I want you to do this thing, for me. And this thing only," he said.
"It is the work you do best. There are others who can fight, but--I do
not know any one else who can do as you have done."
Henri promised. He would have promised to go out and drown himself in
the sea, just beyond the wind-swept little garden, for the tall grave
man who stood before him. Then he bowed and went out, and the King
went back to his plain pine table and his work. That was the reason why
Sara Lee found him asleep on the floor by her kitchen stove that morning,
and went back to her cold bed to lie awake and think. But no explanation
came to her.
The arrival of Marie roused Henri. The worst of the bombardment was
over, but there was far-away desultory firing. He listened carefully
before, standing outside in the cold, he poured over his head and
shoulders a pail of cold water. He was drying himself vigorously when
he heard Sara Lee's voice in the kitchen.
The day began for Henri when first he saw the girl. It might be evening,
but it was the beginning for him. So he went in when he had finished
his toilet and bowed over her hand.
"You are cold, mademoiselle."
"I think I am nervous. There was an attack this morning."
Marie had gone into the next room, and Sara Lee raised haggard eyes
"Henri," she said desperately--it was the first time she had called him
that--"I have something to say to you, and it's not very pleasant."
"You are going home?" It was the worst thing he could think of. But
she shook her head.
"You will think me most ungrateful and unkind."
"You? Kindness itself!"
"But this is different. It is not for myself. It is because I care a
great deal about--about--"
"About your honor. And somehow this morning, when I found you here
asleep, and those poor fellows in the trenches fighting--"
Henri stared at her. So that was it! And he could never tell her. He
was sworn to secrecy by every tradition and instinct of his work. He
could never tell her, and she would go on thinking him a shirker and a
coward. She would be grateful. She would be sweetness itself. But
deep in her heart she would loathe him, as only women can hate for a
failing they never forgive.
"But I have told you," he said rather wildly, "I am not idle. I do
certain things--not much, but of a degree of importance."
"You do not fight."
In Sara Lee's defense many things may be urged--her ignorance of modern
warfare; the isolation of her lack of knowledge of the language; but,
perhaps more than anything, a certain rigidity of standard that
comprehended no halfway ground. Right was right and wrong was wrong to
her in those days. Men were brave or were cowards. Henri was worthy
or unworthy. And she felt that, for all his kindness to her, he was
He could have set himself right with a word, at that. But his pride was
hurt. He said nothing except, when she asked if he had minded what she
said, to reply:
"I am sorry you feel as you do. I am not angry."
He went away, however, without breakfast. Sara Lee heard his car going
at its usual breakneck speed up the street, and went to the door. She
would have called him back if she could, for his eyes haunted her. But
he did not look back.
For four days the gray car did not come again. Supplies appeared in
another gray car, driven by a surly Fleming. The waking hours were full,
as usual. Sara Lee grew a little thin, and seemed to be always
listening. But there was no Henri, and something that was vivid and
joyous seemed to have gone out of the little house.
Even Marie no longer sang as she swept or washed the kettles, and Sara
Lee, making up the records to send home, put little spirit into the
letter that went with them.
On the second day she wrote to Harvey.
"I am sorry that you feel as you do," she wrote, perhaps unconsciously
using Henri's last words to her. "I have not meant to be cruel. And
if you were here you would realize that whether others could have done
what I am doing or not--and of course many could--it is worth doing.
I hear that other women are establishing houses like this, but the
British and the French will not allow women so near the lines. The men
come in at night from the trenches so tired, so hungry and so cold.
Some of them are wounded too. I dress the little wounds. I do give
them something, Harvey dear--if it is only a reminder that there are
homes in the world, and everything is not mud and waiting and killing."
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