The Amazing Interlude
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 3 out of 5
She told him that his picture was on her mantel, but she did not say
that a corner of her room had been blown away or that the mantel was
but a plank from a destroyed house. And she sent a great deal of love,
but she did not say that she no longer wore his ring on her finger.
And, of course, she was coming back to him if he still wanted her.
More than Henri's absence was troubling Sara Lee those days. Indeed she
herself laid all her anxiety to one thing, a serious one at that. With
all the marvels of Henri's buying, and Jean's, her money was not holding
out. The scope of the little house had grown with its fame. Now and
then there were unexpected calls, too--Marie's mother, starving in
Havre; sickness and death in the little town at the crossroads: a dozen
small emergencies, but adding to the demands on her slender income. She
had, as a matter of fact, already begun to draw on her private capital.
And during the days when no gray car appeared she faced the situation,
took stock, as it were, and grew heavy-eyed and wistful.
On the fifth day the gray car came again, but Jean drove it alone. He
disclaimed any need for sympathy over his wound, and with Rene's aid
carried in the supplies.
There was the business of checking them off, and the further business
of Sara Lee's paying for them in gold. She sat at the table, Jean
across, and struggled with centimes and francs and louis d'or, an
engrossed frown between her eyebrows.
Jean, sitting across, thought her rather changed. She smiled very seldom,
and her eyes were perhaps more steady. It was a young girl he and Henri
had brought out to the little house. It was a very serious and rather
anxious young woman who sat across from him and piled up the money he
had brought back into little stacks.
"Jean," she said finally, "I am not going to be able to do it."
"To do what?"
"You see I had a little money of my own, and twenty pounds I got in
London. You and--and Henri have done miracles for me. But soon I
shall have used all my own money, except enough to take me back. And
now I shall have to start on my English notes. After that--"
"You are too good to the men. These cigarettes, now--you could do
"But they are very cheap, and they mean so much, Jean."
She sat still, her hands before her on the table. From the kitchen came
the bubbling of the eternal soup. Suddenly a tear rolled slowly down
her cheek. She had a hatred of crying in public, but Jean apparently
did not notice.
"The trouble, mademoiselle, is that you are trying to feed and comfort
"Jean," she said suddenly, "where is Henri?"
"In England, I think."
The only clear thought in Sara Lee's mind was that Henri was not in
France, and that he had gone without telling her. She had hurt him
horribly. She knew that. He might never come back to the little house
of mercy. There was, in Henri, for all his joyousness, an implacable
strain. And she had attacked his honor. What possible right had she
to do that?
The memory of all his thoughtful kindness came back, and it was a pale
and distracted Sara Lee who looked across the table at Jean.
"Did he tell you anything?"
"He is very angry with me, Jean."
"But surely no, mademoiselle. With you? It is impossible."
But though they said nothing more, Jean considered the matter deeply.
He understood now, for instance, a certain strangeness in Henri's manner
before his departure. They had quarreled, these two. Perhaps it was as
well, though Jean was by now a convert to Sara Lee. But he looked out,
those days, on but half a world, did Jean. So he saw only the woman
hunger in Henri, and nothing deeper. And in Sara Lee a woman, and
And--being Jean he shrugged his shoulders.
They fell to discussing ways and means. The chocolate could be cut out,
but not the cigarettes. Sara Lee, arguing vehemently for them and
trying to forget other things, remembered suddenly how Uncle James had
hated cigarettes, and that Harvey himself disapproved of them. Somehow
Harvey seemed, those days, to present a constant figure of disapproval.
He gave her no moral support.
At Jean's suggestion she added to her report of so many men fed with
soup, so much tobacco, sort not specified, so many small wounds dressed
--a request that if possible her allowance be increased. She did it
nervously, but when the letter had gone she felt a great relief. She
enclosed a snapshot of the little house.
Jean, as it happens, had lied about Henri. Not once, but several times.
He had told Marie, for instance, that Henri was in England, and later
on he told Rene. Then, having done his errand, he drove six miles back
along the main road to Dunkirk and picked up Henri, who was sitting on
the bank of a canal watching an ammunition train go by.
Jean backed into a lane and turned the car round. After that Henri got
in and they went rapidly back toward the Front. It was a different
Henri, however, who left the car a mile from the crossroads--a Henri in
the uniform of a French private soldier, one of those odd and
impracticable uniforms of France during the first year, baggy dark blue
trousers, stiff cap, and the long-tailed coat, its skirts turned back
and faced. Round his neck he wore a knitted scarf, which covered his
chin, and, true to the instinct of the French peasant in a winter
campaign, he wore innumerable undergarments, the red of a jersey showing
through rents in his coat.
Gone were Henri's long clean lines, his small waist and broad shoulders,
the swing of his walk. Instead, he walked with the bent-kneed swing of
the French infantryman, that tireless but awkward marching step which
renders the French Army so mobile.
He carried all the impedimenta of a man going into the trenches, an
extra jar of water, a flat loaf of bread strapped to his haversack, and
an intrenching tool jingling at his belt.
Even Jean smiled as he watched him moving along toward the crowded
crossroads--smiled and then sighed. For Jean had lost everything in
the war. His wife had died of a German bullet long months before, and
with her had gone a child much prayed for and soon to come. But Henri
had brought back to Jean something to live for--or to die for, as might
Henri walked along gayly. He hailed other French soldiers. He joined a
handful and stood talking to them. But he reached the crossroads before
the ammunition train.
The crossroads was crowded, as usual--many soldiers, at rest, waiting
for the word to fall in, a battery held up by the breaking of a wheel.
A temporary forge had been set up, and soldiers in leather aprons were
working over the fire. A handful of peasants watched, their dull eyes
following every gesture. And one of them was a man Henri sought.
Henri sat down on the ground and lighted a cigarette. The ammunition
train rolled in and halted, and the man Henri watched turned his
attention to the train. He had been dull and quiet at the forge, but
now he became smiling, a good fellow. He found a man he knew among the
drivers and offered him a cigarette. He also produced and presented an
entire box of matches. Matches were very dear, and hardly to be bought
at any price.
Henri watched grimly and hummed a little song:
"Trou la la, ce ne va guere;
Trou la la, ca ne va pas."
Still humming under his breath, when the peasant left the crossroads he
followed him. Not closely. The peasant cut across the fields. Henri
followed the road and entered the fields at a different angle. He knew
his way quite well, for he had done the same thing each day for four
days. Only twice he had been a Belgian peasant, and once he was an
officer, and once he had been a priest.
Four days he had done this thing, but to-day was different. To-day there
would be something worth while, he fancied. And he made a mental note
that Sara Lee must not be in the little house that night.
When he had got to a canal where the pollard willows were already sending
out their tiny red buds, Henri sat down again. The village lay before
him, desolate and ruined, a travesty of homes. And on a slight rise, but
so concealed from him by the willows that only the great wings showed,
stood the windmill.
It was the noon respite then, and beyond the line of poplars all was quiet.
The enemy liked time for foods and the Belgians crippled by the loss of
that earlier train, were husbanding their ammunition. Far away a gap in
the poplar trees showed a German observation balloon, a tiny dot against
The man Henri watched went slowly, for he carried a bag of grain on his
back. Henri no longed watched him, He watched the wind wheel. It had
been broken, and one plane was now patched with what looked like a red
cloth. There was a good wind, but clearly the miller was idle that day.
The great wings were not turning.
Henri sat still and smoked. He thought of many things--of Sara Lee's
eyes when in the center of the London traffic she had held the dying
donkey; of her small and radiant figure at the Savoy; of the morning he
had found her at Calais, in the Gare Maritime, quietly unconscious that
she had done a courageous thing. And he thought, too, of the ring and
the photograph she carried. But mostly he remembered the things she had
said to him on their last meeting.
Perhaps there came to him his temptation too. It would be so easy that
night, if things went well, to make a brave showing before her, to let
her see that these odd jobs he did had their value and their risks. But
he put that from him. The little house of mercy must be empty that
night, for her sake. He shivered as he remembered the room where she
slept, the corner that was shot away and left open to the street.
So he sat and watched. And at one o'clock the mill wheel began turning.
It was easy to count the revolutions by the red wing. Nine times it
turned, and stopped. After five minutes or so it turned again, thirty
times. Henri smiled: an ugly smile.
"A good guess," he said to himself. "But it must be more than a guess."
His work for the afternoon was done. Still with the bent-kneed swing he
struck back to the road, and avoiding the crossroads, went across more
fields to a lane where Jean waited with the car. Henri took a plunge
into the canal when he had removed his French uniform, and producing a
towel from under a bush rubbed himself dry. His lean boyish body
gleamed, arms and legs brown from much swimming under peaceful summer
suns. On his chest he showed two scars, still pink. Shrapnel bites, he
called them. But he had, it is to be feared, a certain young
satisfaction in them.
He was in high good humor. The water was icy, and Jean had refused to
"My passion for cleanliness," Henri said blithely, "is the result of my
English school days. You would have been the better for an English
"A canal in March!" Jean grunted. "You will end badly."
Henri looked longingly at the water.
"Had I a dry towel," he said, "I would go in again"
Jean looked at him with his one eye.
"You would be prettier without those scars," he observed. But in his
heart he prayed that there might be no others added to them, that
nothing might mar or destroy that bright and youthful body.
"Depechez-vous! Vous sommes presses!" he added.
But Henri was minded to play. He girded himself with the towel and
struck an attitude.
"The Russian ballet, Jean!" he said, and capering madly sent Jean
into deep grumbles of laughter by his burlesque.
"I must have exercise," Henri said at last when, breathless and with
flying hair, he began to dress. "That, too, is my English schooling. If
"To the devil with your English schooling!" Jean remonstrated.
Henri sobered quickly after that. The exhilaration of his cold plunge
"The American lady?" he asked. "She is all right?"
"She is worried. There is not enough money."
"And I have nothing!"
This opened up an old wound with Jean.
"If you would be practical and take pay for what you are doing," he began.
Henri cut him short.
"Pay!" he said. "What is there to pay me with? And what is the use of
reopening the matter? A man may be a spy for love of his country. God
knows there is enough lying and deceit in the business. But to be a spy
There was a little silence. Then: "Now for mademoiselle," said Henri.
"She must be out of the village to-night. And that, dear friend, must
be your affair. She does not like me."
All the life had gone out of his voice.
"But why should I go?" Sara Lee asked. "It is kind of you to ask me,
Jean. But I am here to work, not to play."
Long ago Sara Lee had abandoned her idea of Jean as a paid chauffeur.
She even surmised, from something Marie had said, that he had been a
person of importance in the Belgium of before the war. So she was
grateful, but inclined to be obstinate.
"You have been so much alone, mademoiselle--"
"Cut off from your own kind. And now and then one finds, at the hotel
in Dunkirk, some English nurses who are having a holiday. You would
like to talk to them perhaps."
"Jean," she said unexpectedly, "why don't you tell me the truth? You
want me to leave the village to-night. Why?"
"Because, mademoiselle, there will be a bombardment."
"The village itself?"
"We expect it," he answered dryly.
Sara Lee went a little pale.
"But then I shall be needed, as I was before."
"No troops will pass through the town to-night. They will take a road
beyond the fields."
"How do you know these things?" she asked, wondering. "About the troops
I can understand. But the bombardment."
"There are ways of finding out, mademoiselle," he replied in his
noncommittal voice. "Now, will you go?"
"May I tell Marie and Rene?"
"Then I shall not go. How can you think that I would consider my own
safety and leave them here?"
Jean had ascertained before speaking that Marie was not in the house.
As for Rene, he sat on the single doorstep and whittled pegs on which to
hang his rifle inside the door. And as he carved he sang words of his
own to the tune of Tipperary.
Inside the little salle a manger Jean reassured Sara Lee. It was
important--vital--that Rene and Marie should not know far in advance
of the bombardment. They were loyal, certainly, but these were his
orders. In abundance of time they would be warned to leave the village.
"Who is to warn them?"
"Henri has promised, mademoiselle. And what he promises is done."
"You said this morning that he was in England."
"He has returned."
Sara Lee's heart, which had been going along merely as a matter of duty
all day, suddenly began to beat faster. Her color came up, and then faded
again. He had returned, and he had not come to the little house. But
then--what could Henri mean to her, his coming or his going? Was she
to add to her other sins against Harvey the supreme one of being
interested in Henri?
Not that she said all that, even to herself. There was a wave of
gladness and then a surge of remorse. That is all. But it was a very
sober Sara Lee who put on her black suit with the white collar that
afternoon and ordered, by Jean's suggestion, the evening's preparations
as though nothing was to happen.
She looked round her little room before she left it. It might not be
there when she returned. So she placed Harvey's photograph under her
mattress for safety, and rather uncomfortably she laid beside it the
small ivory crucifix that Henri had found in a ruined house and brought
to her. Harvey was not a Catholic. He did not believe in visualizing
his religion. And she had a distinct impression that he considered such
things as did so as bordering on idolatry.
Sometime after dusk that evening the ammunition train moved out. At a
point a mile or so from the village a dispatch rider on a motor cycle
stopped the rumbling lorry at the head of the procession and delivered
a message, which the guide read by the light of a sheltered match. The
train moved on, but it did not turn down to the village. It went beyond
to a place of safety, and there remained for the night.
But before that time Henri, lying close in a field, had seen a skulking
figure run from the road to the mill, and soon after had seen the mill
wheel turn once, describing a great arc; and on one of the wings, showing
only toward the poplar trees, was a lighted lantern.
Five minutes later, exactly time enough for the train to have reached
the village street, German shells began to fall in it. Henri, lying
flat on the ground, swore silently and deeply.
In every land during this war there have been those who would sell their
country for a price. Sometimes money. Sometimes protection. And of all
betrayals that of the man who sells his own country is the most dastardly.
Henri, lying face down, bit the grass beneath him in sheer rage.
One thing he had not counted on, he who foresaw most things. The miller
and his son, being what they were, were cowards as well. Doubtless the
mill had been promised protection. It was too valuable to the Germans
to be destroyed. But with the first shot both men left the house by the
mill and scurried like rabbits for the open fields.
Maurice, poor Marie's lover by now, almost trampled on Henri's prostrate
body. And Henri was alone, and his work was to take them alive. They
had information he must have--how the modus vivendi had been arranged,
through what channels. And under suitable treatment they would tell.
He could not follow them through the fields. He lay still, during a
fiercer bombardment than the one before, raising his head now and then
to see if the little house of mercy still stood. No shells came his
way, but the sky line of the village altered quickly. The standing
fragment of the church towers went early. There was much sound of
falling masonry. From somewhere behind him a Belgian battery gave
tongue, but not for long. And then came silence.
Henri moved then. He crept nearer the mill and nearer. And at last he
stood inside and took his bearings. A lamp burned in the kitchen,
showing a dirty brick floor and a littered table--such a house as men
keep, untidy and unhomelike. A burnt kettle stood on the hearth, and
leaning against the wall was the bag of grain Maurice had carried from
"A mill which grinds without grain," Henri said to himself.
There was a boxed-in staircase to the upper floor, and there, with the
door slightly ajar, he stationed himself, pistol in hand. Now and then
he glanced uneasily at the clock. Sara Lee must not be back before he
had taken his prisoners to the little house and turned them over to
those who waited there.
There were footsteps outside, and Henri drew the door a little closer.
But he was dismayed to find it Marie. She crept in, a white and broken
thing, and looked about her.
"Maurice!" she called.
She sat down for a moment, and then, seeing the disorder about her, set
to work to clear the table. It was then that Henri lowered his pistol
and opened the door.
"Don't shriek, Marie," he said.
She turned and saw him, and clutched at the table.
"Marie," he said quietly, "go up these stairs and remain quiet. Do not
walk round. And do not come down, no matter what you hear!"
She obeyed him, stumbling somewhat. For she had seen his revolver, and
it frightened her. But as she passed him she clutched at his sleeve.
"He is good--Maurice," she said, gasping. "Of the father I know nothing,
"Go up and be silent!" was all he said.
Now, by all that goes to make a story, Sara Lee should have met Mabel at
the Hotel des Arcades in Dunkirk, and should have been able to make that
efficient young woman burn with jealousy--Mabel, who from the safety of
her hospital in Boulogne considered Dunkirk the Front.
Indeed Sara Lee, to whom the world was beginning to seem very small, had
had some such faint hope. But Mabel was not there, and it was not until
long after that they met at all, and then only when the lights had gone
down and Sara Lee was again knitting by the fire.
There were a few nurses there, in their white veils with the red cross
over the forehead, and one or two Englishwomen in hats that sat a trifle
too high on the tops of their heads and with long lists before them
which they checked as they ate. Aviators in leather coats; a few Spahis
in cloak and turban, with full-gathered bloomers and high boots; some
American ambulance drivers, rather noisy and very young; and many
officers, in every uniform of the Allied armies--sat at food together
and for a time forgot their anxieties under the influence of lights, food
and warmth, and red and white wine mixed with water.
When he chose, Jean could be a delightful companion; not with Henri's
lift of spirits, but quietly interesting. And that evening he was a new
Jean to Sara Lee, a man of the world, talking of world affairs. He
found her apt and intelligent, and for Sara Lee much that had been
clouded cleared up forever that night. Until then she had known only
the humanities of the war, or its inhumanities. There, over that little
table, she learned something of its politics and its inevitability. She
had been working in the dark, with her heart only. Now she began to
grasp the real significance of it all, of Belgium's anxiety for many
years, of Germany's cold and cruel preparation, and empty protests of
friendship. She learned of the flight of the government from Brussels,
the most important state papers being taken away in a hand cart, on top
of which, at the last moment, some flustered official had placed a tall
silk hat! She learned of the failure of great fortifications before the
invaders' heavy guns. And he had drawn for her such a picture of
Albert of Belgium as she was never to forget.
Perhaps Sara Lee's real growth began that night, over that simple dinner
at the Hotel des Arcades.
"I wish," she said at last, "that Uncle James could have heard all this.
He was always so puzzled about it all. And--you make it so clear."
When dinner was over a bit of tension had relaxed in her somewhat. She
had been too close, for too long. And when a group of Belgian officers,
learning who she was, asked to be presented and gravely thanked her, she
flushed with happiness.
"We must see if mademoiselle shall not have a medal," said the only one
who spoke English.
"A medal? For what?"
"For courage," he said, bowing. "Belgium has little to give, but it can
at least do honor to a brave lady."
Jean was smiling when they passed on. What a story would this slip of a
girl take home with her!
But: "I don't think I want a medal, Jean," she said. "I didn't come for
that. And after all it is you and Henri who have done the thing--not I."
Accustomed to women of a more sophisticated class, Jean had at first
taken her naivete for the height of subtlety. He was always expecting
her to betray herself. But after that evening with her he changed. Just
such simplicity had been his wife's. Sometimes Sara Lee reminded him of
her--the upraising of her eyes or an unstudied gesture.
"You are very wonderful, you Americans," he said. It was the nearest to
a compliment that he had ever come. And after that evening he was always
very gentle with her. Once he had protected her because Henri had asked
him to do so; now he himself became in his silent way her protector.
The ride home through the dark was very quiet. Sara Lee sat beside him
watching the stars and growing increasingly anxious as they went, not
too rapidly, toward the little house. There were no lights. Air raids
had grown common in Dunkirk, and there were no street lights in the
little city. Once on the highway Jean lighted the lamps, but left them
very low, and two miles from the little house he put them out altogether.
They traveled by starlight then, following as best they could the tall
trees that marked the road. Now and then they went astray at that, and
once they tilted into the ditch and had hard pulling to get out.
At the top of the street Jean stopped and went on foot a little way down.
He came back, with the report that new shells had made the way impassable;
and again Sara Lee shivered. If the little house was gone!
But it was there, and lighted too. Through its broken shutters came the
yellow glow of the oil lamp that now hung over the table in the salle a
Whatever Jean's anxieties had been fell from him as he pushed open the
door. Henri's voice was the first thing they heard. He was too much
occupied to notice their approach.
So it was that Sara Lee saw, for the last time, the miller and his son,
Maurice; saw them, but did not know them, for over their heads were bags
of their own sacking, with eyeholes roughly cut in them. Their hands
were bound, and three soldiers were waiting to take them away.
"I have covered your heads," Henri was saying in French, "because it is
not well that our brave Belgians should know that they have been betrayed
by those of their own number."
It was a cold and terrible Henri who spoke.
"Take them away," he said to the waiting men.
A few moments later he turned from the door and heard Sara Lee sobbing
in her room. He tapped, and on receiving no reply he went in. The room
was unharmed, and by the light of a candle he saw the girl, face down on
the bed. He spoke to her, but she only lay crouched deeper, her
"It is war, mademoiselle," he said, and went closer. Then suddenly all
the hurt of the past days, all the bitterness of the last hour, were
lost in an overwhelming burst of tenderness.
He bent over her and put his arms round her.
"That I should have hurt you so!" he said softly. "I, who would die for
you, mademoiselle. I who worship you." He buried his face in the warm
hollow of her neck and held her close. He was trembling. "I love you,"
he whispered. "I love you."
She quieted under his touch. He was very strong, and there was refuge
in his arms. For a moment she lay still, happier than she had been for
weeks. It was Henri who was shaken now and the girl who was still.
But very soon came the thing that, after all, he expected. She drew
herself away from him, and Henri, sensitive to every gesture, stood back.
"Who are they?" was the first thing she said. It rather stabbed him.
He had just told her that he loved her, and never before in his careless
young life had he said that to any woman.
"Spies," he said briefly.
A flushed and tearful Sara Lee stood up then and looked up at him gravely.
"Then--that is what you do?"
Quite suddenly she went to him and held up her face.
"Please kiss me, Henri," she said very simply. "I have been cruel and
But he had her in his arms then, and he drew her close as though he
would never let her go. He was one great burst of joy, poor Henri. But
when she gently freed herself at last it was to deliver what seemed for
a time his death wound.
"You have paid me a great tribute," she said, still simply and gravely.
"I wanted you to kiss me, because of what you said. But that will have
to be all, Henri dear."
"All?" he said blankly.
"You haven't forgotten, have you? I--I am engaged to somebody else."
Henri stood still, swaying a little.
"And you love him? More than you care for me?"
"He is--he is my kind," said Sara Lee rather pitifully. "I am not what
you think me. You see me here, doing what you think is good work, and
you are grateful. And you don't see any other women. So I--"
"And you think I love you because I see no one else?" he demanded, still
"Isn't that part of it?"
He flung out his hands as though he despaired of making her understand.
"This man at home--" he said bitterly; "this man who loves you so well
that he let you cross the sea and come here alone--do you love him very
"I am promised to him."
All at once Sara Lee saw the little parlor at home, and Harvey, gentle,
rather stolid and dependable. Oh, very dependable. She saw him as he
had looked the night he had said he loved her, rather wistful and very,
very tender. She could not hurt him so. She had said she was going
back to him, and she must go.
"I love him very much, Henri."
Very quietly, considering the hell that was raging in him, Henri bent
over and kissed her hand. Then he turned it over, and for an instant
he held his cheek against its warmth. He went out at once, and Sara
Lee heard the door slam.
Time passed quickly, as always it does when there is work to do. Round
the ruined houses the gray grass turned green again, and in travesties
of gardens early spring flowers began to show a touch of color.
The first of them greeted Sara Lee one morning as she stood on her
doorstep in the early sun. She gathered them and placed them, one on
each grave, in the cemetery near the poplar trees, where small wooden
crosses, sometimes surmounted by a cap, marked many graves.
Marie, a silent subdued Marie, worked steadily in the little house. She
did not weep, but now and then Sara Lee found her stirring something on
the stove and looking toward the quiet mill in the fields. And once
Sara Lee, surprising that look on her face, put her arms about the girl
and held her for a moment. But she did not say anything. There was
nothing to say.
With the opening up of the spring came increased movement and activity
among the troops. The beach and the sand dunes round La Panne were
filled with drilling men, Belgium's new army. Veterans of the winter,
at rest behind the lines, sat in the sun and pared potatoes for the
midday meal. Convalescents from the hospital appeared in motley
garments from the Ambulance Ocean and walked along the water front,
where the sea, no longer gray and sullen, rolled up in thin white lines
of foam to their very feet. Winter straw came out of wooden sabots.
Winter-bitten hands turned soft. Canal boats blossomed out with great
washings. And the sentry at the gun emplacement in the sand up the
beach gave over gathering sticks for his fire, and lay, when no one was
about, in a hollow in the dune, face to the sky.
So spring came to that small fragment of Belgium which had been saved,
spring and hope. Soon now the great and powerful Allies would drive out
the Huns, and all would be as it had been. Splendid rumors were about.
The Germans were already yielding at La Bassee. There was to be a great
drive along the entire Front, and hopefully one would return home in
time for the spring planting.
A sort of informal council took place occasionally in the little house.
Maps replaced the dressings on the table in the salle a manger, and
junior officers, armed with Sara Lee's box of pins, thrust back the
enemy at various points and proved conclusively that his position was
untenable. They celebrated these paper victories with Sara Lee's tea,
and went away the better for an hour or so of hope and tea and a girl's
soft voice and quiet eyes.
Now and then there was one, of course, who lagged behind his fellows,
with a yearning tenderness in his face that a glance from the girl would
have quickly turned to love. But Sara Lee had no coquetry. When, as
occasionally happened, there was a bit too much fervor when her hand was
kissed, she laid it where it belonged--to loneliness and the spring--
and became extremely maternal and very, very kind. Which--both of them
--are death blows to young love.
The winter floods were receding. Along the Yser Canal mud-caked flats
began to appear, with here and there rusty tangles of barbed wire. And
with the lessening of the flood came new activities to the little house.
The spring drive was coming.
There was spring indeed, everywhere but in Henri's heart.
Day after day messages were left with Sara Lee by men in uniform--
sometimes letters, sometimes a word. And these she faithfully cared for
until such time as Jean came for them. Now and then it was Henri who
came, but when he stayed in the village he made his headquarters at the
house of the mill. There, with sacking over the windows, he wrote his
reports by lamplight, reports which Jean carried back to the villa in
the fishing village by the sea.
However, though he no longer came and went as before, Henri made frequent
calls at the house of mercy. But now he came in the evenings, when the
place was full of men. Sara Lee was doing more dressings than before.
The semi-armistice of winter was over, and there were nights when a row
of wounded men lay on the floor in the little salle a manger and waited,
in a sort of dreadful quiet, to be taken away.
Rumors came of hard fighting farther along the line, and sometimes, on
nights when the clouds hung low, the flashes of the guns at Ypres looked
like incessant lightning. From the sand dunes at Nieuport and Dixmude
there was firing also, and the air seemed sometimes to be full of
The Canadians were moving toward the Front at Neuve Chapelle at that
time. And one day a lorry, piled high with boxes, rolled and thumped
down the street, and halted by Rene.
"Rather think we are lost," explained the driver, grinning sheepishly
There were four boys in khaki on the truck, and not a word of French
among them. Sara Lee, who rolled her own bandages now, heard the
speech and came out.
"Good gracious!" she said, and gave an alarmed glance at the sky. But
it was the noon hour, when every good German abandons war for food, and
the sky was empty.
The boys cheered perceptibly. Here was at last some one who spoke a
"Must have taken the wrong turning, miss," said one of them, saluting.
"Where do you want to go?" she asked. "You are very close to the Belgian
Front here. It is not at all safe."
They all saluted; then, staring at her curiously, told her.
"Dear me!" said Sara Lee. "You are a long way off. And a long way
from home too."
They smiled. They looked, with their clean-shaven faces, absurdly young
after the bearded Belgian soldiers.
"I am an American, too," said Sara Lee with just a touch of homesickness
in her voice. She had been feeling lonely lately. "If you have time to
come in I could give you luncheon. Rene can tell us if any German air
machines come over."
Would they come in? Indeed, yes! They crawled down off the lorry, and
took off their caps, and ate every particle of food in the house. And,
though they were mutely curious at first, soon they were asking questions.
How long had she been there? What did she do? Wasn't it dangerous?
"Not so dangerous as it looks," said Sara Lee, smiling. "The Germans
seldom bother the town now. It is not worth while."
Later on they went over the house. They climbed the broken staircase
and stared toward the break in the poplar trees, from the roofless floor
"Some girl!" one of them said in an undertone.
The others were gazing intently toward the Front. Never before had they
been so close. Never had they seen a ruined town. War, until now, had
been a thing of Valcartier, of a long voyage, of much drill in the mud
at Salisbury Plain. Now here they saw, at their feet, what war could do.
"Damn them!" said one of the boys suddenly. "Fellows, we'll get back at
So they went away, a trifle silent and very grateful. But before they
left they had a glimpse of Sara Lee's room, with the corner gone, and
Harvey's picture on the mantel.
"Some girl!" they repeated as they drove up the street. It was the
tribute of inarticulate youth.
Sara Lee went back to her bandages and her thoughts. She had not a great
deal of time to think, what with the officers stopping in to fight their
paper-and-pin battles, and with letters to write and dressings to make
and supplies to order. She began to have many visitors--officers from
the French lines, correspondents on tours of the Front, and once even an
English cabinet member, who took six precious lumps of sugar in his tea
and dug a piece of shell out of the wall with his pocketknife as a
Once a British aviator brought his machine down in the field by the mill,
and walked over with the stiff stride of a man who has been for hours in
the air. She gave him tea and bread and butter, and she learned then of
the big fighting that was to come.
When she was alone she thought about Henri. Generally her thoughts were
tender; always they were grateful. But she was greatly puzzled. He had
said that he loved her. Then, if he loved her, why should he not be
gentle and kind to her? Men did not hurt the women they loved. And
because she was hurt, she was rather less than just. He had not asked
her to marry him. He had said that he loved her, but that was different.
And the insidious poison of Harvey's letter about foreigners began to
have its effect.
The truth was that she was tired. The strain was telling on her. And
at a time when she needed every moral support Henri had drawn off behind
a wall of misery, and all her efforts at a renewal of their old
friendship only brought up against a sort of stony despair.
There were times, too, when she grew a little frightened. She was so
alone. What if Henri went away altogether? What if he took away the
little car, and his protection, and the supplies that came so regularly?
It was not a selfish fear. It was for her work that she trembled.
For the first time she realized her complete dependence on his good
will. And now and then she felt that it would be good to see Harvey
again, and be safe from all worry, and not have to depend on a man who
loved her as Henri did. For that she never doubted. Inexperienced as
she was in such matters, she knew that the boy loved her. Just how
wildly she did not know until later, too late to undo what the madness
Then one day a strange thing happened. It had been raining, and when in
the late afternoon the sun came out it gleamed in the puddles that filled
the shell holes in the road and set to a red blaze the windows of the
house of the mill.
First, soaring overhead, came a half dozen friendly planes. Next, the
eyes of the enemy having thus been blinded, so to speak, there came a
regiment of fresh troops, swinging down the street for all the world as
though the German Army was safely drinking beer in Munich. They passed
Rene, standing open-mouthed in the doorway, and one wag of a Belgian boy,
out of sheer joy of spring, did the goose step as he passed the little
sentry and, head screwed round in the German salute, crossed his eyes
over his impudent nose.
Came, then, the planes. Came the regiment, which turned off into a field
and there spread itself, like a snake uncoiling, into a double line.
Came a machine, gray and battered, containing officers. Came a general
with gold braid on his shoulder, and a pleasant smile. Came the strange
The general found Sara Lee in the salle a manger cutting cotton into
three-inch squares, and he stood in the doorway and bowed profoundly.
"Mademoiselle Kennedy?" he inquired.
Sara Lee replied to that, and then gave a quick thought to her larder.
Because generals usually meant tea. But this time at last, Sara Lee was
to receive something, not to give. She turned very white when she was
told, and said she had not deserved it; she was indeed on the verge of
declining, not knowing that there are certain things one does not
decline. But Marie brought her hat and jacket--a smiling, tremulous
Marie--and Sara Lee put them on.
The general was very tall. In her short skirt and with flying hair she
looked like a child beside him as they walked across the fields.
Suddenly Sara Lee was terribly afraid she was going to cry.
The troops stood rigidly at attention. And a cold wind flapped Sara
Lee's skirts, and the guns hammered at Ypres, and the general blew on
his fingers. And soon a low open car came down the street and the
King got out. Sara Lee watched him coming--his tall, slightly stooped
figure, his fair hair, his plain blue uniform. Sara Lee had never seen
a king before, and she had always thought of them as sitting up on a
sort of platform--never as trudging through spring mud.
"What shall I do?" she asked nervously.
"He will shake hands, mademoiselle. Bow as he approaches. That is all."
The amazing interlude, indeed! With Sara Lee being decorated by the
King, and troops drawn up to do her honor, and over all the rumbling of
the great guns. A palpitating and dazed Sara Lee, when the decoration
was fastened to her black jacket, a Sara Lee whose hat blew off at
exactly the worst moment and rolled, end on, like a hoop, into a puddle.
But, oddly, she did not mind about the hat. She had only one conscious
thought just then. She hoped that, wherever Uncle James might be in
that world of the gone before, he might know what was happening to her
--or even see it. He would have liked it. He had believed in the
Belgians and in the King. And now--the King did not go at once. He
went back to the little house and went through it. And he and one of
his generals climbed to the upper floor, and the King stood looking out
silently toward the land he loved and which for a time was no longer his.
He came down after a time, stooping his tall figure in the low doorway,
and said he would like some tea. So Marie put the kettle on, and Sara
Lee and the King talked. It was all rather dazing. Every now and then
she forgot certain instructions whispered her by the general, and after
a time the King said: "Why do you do that, mademoiselle?"
For Sara Lee, with an intent face and moving lips, had been stepping
Sara Lee flushed to the eyes.
"Because, sire, I was told to remain at a distance of six feet."
"But we are being informal," said the King, smiling. "And it is a very
Sara Lee, who had been taught in the schoolroom that kings are usurpers
of the divine rights of the people--Sara Lee lost just a bit of her
staunch democracy that day. She saw the King of the Belgians for what
he really was, a ruler, but a symbol as well. He represented his
country, as the Flag she loved represented hers. The flag was America,
the King was Belgium. That was all.
It was a very humble and flushed Sara Lee who watched the gray car go
flying up the street later on. She went in and told the whole story to
Harvey's picture, but it was difficult to feel that he was hearing. His
eyes were turned away and his face was set and stern. And, at last, she
gave it up. This thing which meant so much to her would never mean
anything to Harvey. She knew, even then, what he would say.
"Decorate you! I should think they might. Medals are cheap. Everybody
over there is getting medals. You feed their men and risk your life and
your reputation, and they give you a thing to pin on. It's cheap at the
And later on those were Harvey's very words. But to be fair to him they
were but the sloughing of a wound that would not heal.
That evening Henri came again. He was, for the first time, his gay self
again--at least on the surface. It was as though, knowing what he was
going into, he would leave with Sara Lee no feeling, if he never
returned, that she had inflicted a lasting hurt. He was everywhere in
the little house, elbowing his way among the men with his cheery
nonsense, bantering the weary ones until they smiled, carrying hot water
for Sara Lee and helping her now and then with a bad dressing.
"If you would do it in this fashion, mademoiselle," he would say, "with
one turn of the bandage over the elbow--"
"But it won't hold that way."
"You say that to me, mademoiselle? I who have taught you all you know
They would wrangle a bit, and end by doing it in Sara Lee's way.
He had a fund of nonsense that he drew on, too, when a dressing was
painful. It would run like this, to an early accompaniment of groans:
"Pierre, what can you put in your left hand that you cannot place in the
right? Stop grunting like a pig, and think, man!"
Pierre would give a final rumble and begin to think deeply.
"I cannot think. I--in my left hand, monsieur le capitaine?"
"In your left hand."
The little crowd in the dressing room would draw in close about the table
"I do not know, monsieur."
"Idiot!" Henri would say. "Your right elbow, man!"
And the dressing was done.
He had an inexhaustible stock of such riddles, almost never guessed. He
would tell the answer and then laugh delightedly. And pain seemed to
leave the little room when he entered it.
It was that night that Henri disappeared.
There was a question to settle, and it was for Henri to do it. Two
questions indeed. One was a matter of engineering, and before the bottom
fell out of his world Henri had studied engineering. The second was
For the first, this thing had happened. Of all the trenches to be held,
the Belgians had undeniably the worst. Properly speaking they were not
trenches at all, but shallow gutters dug a foot or two into the saturated
ground and then built man-high with bags of earth or sand. Here and
there they were not dug at all, but were purely shelters, against a
railway embankment, of planks or sandbags, and reinforced by rails from
the deserted track behind which they were hidden.
For this corner of Belgium had been saved by turning it into a shallow
lake. By opening the gates in the dikes the Allies had let in the sea
and placed a flood in front of the advancing enemy. The battle front
was a reeking pond. The opposing armies lived like duck hunters in a
swamp. To dig a foot was to encounter water. Machine guns here and
there sat but six inches above the yellow flood. Men lay in pools to
fire them. To reach outposts were narrow paths built first of bags of
earth--a life, sometimes for every bag. And, when this filling was
sufficient, on top a path of fascines, bound together in bundles, made
For this reason the Belgians approached their trenches not through deep
cuts which gave them shelter but with no other cover than the darkness
of night. During the day, they lay in their shallow dugouts, cut off
from any connection with the world behind them. Food, cooked miles away,
came up at night, cold and unappetizing. For water, having exhausted
their canteens, there was nothing but the brackish tide before them, ill-
smelling and reeking of fever. Water carts trundled forward at night,
but often they were far too few.
The Belgians, having faced their future through long years of anxiety,
had been trained to fight. In a way they had been trained to fight a
losing war, for they could not hope to defeat their greedy neighbor on
the east. But now they found themselves fighting almost not at all,
condemned to inactivity, to being almost passively slaughtered by enemy
artillery, and to living under such conditions as would have sapped the
courage of a less desperate people.
To add to the difficulties, not only did the sea encroach, turning a
fertile land into a salt marsh, but the winter rains, unusually heavy
that tragic first winter, and lacking their usual egress to the sea,
spread the flood. There were many places well back of the lines where
fields were flooded, and where roads, sadly needed, lost themselves in
unfordable wallows of mud and water.
Henri then, knowing all this--none better--had his first question to
settle, which was this: As spring advanced the flood had commenced to
recede. Time came when, in those trenches now huddled shallow behind
the railway track, one could live in a certain comfort. In the deeper
ones, the bottom of the trench appeared for the first time.
On a day previous, however, the water had commenced to come back. There
had been no rain, but little by little in a certain place yellow,
ill-smelling little streams began to flow sluggishly into the trenches.
Seeped, rather than flowed. At first the Belgian officers laid it to
that bad luck that had so persistently pursued them. Then they held a
conference in the small brick house with its maps and its pine tables
and its picture of an American harvester on the wall, which was now
Sitting under the hanging lamp, with an orderly making coffee at a stove
in the corner, they talked it over. Henri was there, silent before his
elders, but intently listening. And at last they turned to him.
"I can go and find out," he said quietly. "It is possible, though I do
not see how." He smiled. "They are, I think, only drying themselves at
our expense. It is a bit of German humor."
But the cry of "Calais in a month!" was in the air, and undoubtedly there
had been renewed activity along the German Front near the sea. The
second question to be answered was dependent on the first.
Had the Germans, as Henri said, merely shifted the water, by some clever
engineering, to the Belgian trenches, or was there some bigger thing on
hand? What, for instance, if they were about to attempt to drain the
inundation, smash the Belgian line, and march by the Dunkirk road to
So, that night while Henri jested about Pierre's right elbow and watched
Sara Lee for a smile, he had difficult work before him.
Sometime near midnight he slipped away. Jean was waiting in the street,
and wrung the boy's hand.
"I could go with you," he said rather wistfully.
"You don't speak their ugly tongue."
"I could be mute--shell shock. You could be helping me back."
But Henri only held his hand a moment and shook his head.
"You would double the risk, and--what good would it do?"
"Two pistols are better than one."
"I have two pistols, my friend," said Henri, and turned the corner of
the building, past the boards Rene had built in, toward the house of
the mill. But once out of Jean's sight he stopped a moment, his hand
resting against that frail wall to Sara Lee's room. It was his good-by
For three days Jean stayed in the village. He slept at the mill, but
he came for his meals to the little house. Once he went to Dunkirk and
brought out provisions and the mail, including Sara Lee's monthly
allowance. But mostly he sat in the mill house and waited. He could
"You do not eat at all, Jean," Sara Lee said to him more than once. And
twice she insisted that he was feverish, and placed a hand that was
somewhat marred with much peeling of vegetables, on his forehead.
"I am entirely well, mademoiselle," he would say, and draw back. He had
anxieties enough just now without being reminded by the touch of a
woman's hand of all that he had lost.
Long before that Sara Lee had learned not to question Jean about Henri's
absences. Even his knowledge, now, that she knew something of Henri's
work, did not remove the barrier. So Sara Lee waited, as did Jean, but
more helplessly. She knew something was wrong, but she had not Jean's
privilege of going at night to the trenches and there waiting, staring
over the gray water with its ugly floating shadows, for Henri to emerge
from the flood.
Something rather forced and mechanical there was those days in her work.
Her smile was rather set. She did not sleep well. And one night she
violated Henri's orders and walked across the softened fields to beyond
the poplar trees.
There was nothing to see except an intermittent flash from the clouds
that hung low over the sea at Nieuport, where British gunboats were
bombarding the coast; or the steady streaks from the Ypres salient, where
night and day the guns never rested.
From the Belgian trenches, fifteen hundred feet or so away, there was no
sound. A German electric signal blazed its message in code, and went out
quickly. Now and then a rifle shot, thin and sharp, rang out from where,
under the floating starlights, keen eyes on each side watched for
movements on the other.
Sara Lee sat down under a tree and watched for a while. Then she found
herself crying softly. It was all so sad, and useless, and cruel. And
somewhere there ahead was Henri, Henri with his blue eyes, his smile,
the ardor of his young arms--Henri, who had been to her many friends.
Sara Lee had never deceived herself about Henri. She loved him. But
she was quite certain she was not in love with him, which is entirely
different. She knew that this last was impossible, because she was
engaged to Harvey. What was probably the truth was that she loved them
both in entirely different ways. Men have always insisted on such
possibilities, and have even asserted their right, now and then, to
love two women at the same time. But women are less frank with
And, in such cases, there is no grand passion. There are tenderness,
and the joy of companionship, and sometimes a touching dependence. But
it is not a love that burns with a white fire.
Perhaps Sara Lee was one of those women who are always loved more than
they love. There are such women, not selfish, not seeking love, but
softly feminine, kind, appealing and genuine. Men need, after all, but
an altar on which to lay tribute. And the high, remote white altar that
was Sara Lee had already received the love of two strong men.
She was not troubling her head that night, however, about being an altar,
of a sort. She cried a little at first, because she was terrified for
Henri and because Jean's face was growing pinched and gray. Then she
cried very hard, prone on the ground and face down, because Henri was
young, and all of life should have been before him. And he was missing.
Henri was undeniably missing. Even the King knew it now, and set down
in his heart, among the other crosses there, Henri's full name, which
we may not know, and took to pacing his little study and looking out at
the spring sea.
That night Marie, having ladled to the bottom of her kettle, found Sara
Lee missing, and was told by Rene of the direction she had taken. Marie,
muttering to herself, set out to find her, and almost stumbled over her
in the wood by the road.
She sat down on the ground without a word and placed a clumsy hand on
the girl's shoulder. It was not until Sara Lee ceased sobbing that
"It is far from hopeless, mademoiselle."
They had by now established a system of communication. Sara Lee spoke
her orders in halting French, but general conversation was beyond her.
And much hearing of English had taught the Belgian girl enough to follow.
Sara Lee replied, then, in smothered English:
"He is gone, Marie. He will never come back."
"Who can tell? There are many missing who are not dead."
Sara Lee shuddered. For spies were not made prisoners. They had no
rights as prisoners of war. Their own governments did not protect them.
To Henri capture was death. But she could not say this to Marie.
Marie sat softly stroking Sara Lee's hair, her own eyes tragic and
"Even if it were--the other," she said, "it is not so bad to die for
one's country. The thing that is terrible, that leaves behind it only
bitterness and grief and no hope, mademoiselle, even with many prayers,
is that one has died a traitor."
She coaxed Sara Lee back at last. They went through the fields, for
fresh troops were being thrown into the Belgian trenches and the street
was full of men. Great dray horses were dragging forward batteries, the
heavy guns sliding and slipping In the absence of such information as
only Henri had been wont to bring it was best to provide for the worst.
The next day Jean did not come over for breakfast, and Rene handed Sara
Lee a note.
"I am going to England," Jean had written that dawn in the house of the
mill. "And from there to Holland. I can get past the barrier and shall
work down toward the Front. I must learn what has happened, mademoiselle.
As you know, if he was captured, there is no hope. But there is an
excellent chance that he is in hiding, unable to get back. Look for me
in two weeks."
There followed what instructions he had given as to her supplies, which
would come as before. Beautifully written in Jean's small fine hand, it
spelled for Sara Lee the last hope. She read Jean's desperation through
its forced cheerfulness. And she faced for the first time a long period
of loneliness in the crowded little house.
She tried very hard to fill the gap that Henri had left--tried to joke
with the men in her queer bits of French; was more smiling than ever,
for fear she might be less. But now and then in cautious whispers she
heard Henri's name, and her heart contracted with very terror.
A week. Two weeks. Twice the village was bombarded severely, but the
little house escaped by a miracle. Marie considered it the same miracle
that left holy pictures unhurt on the walls of destroyed houses, and
allowed the frailest of old ebony and rosewood crucifixes to remain
Great generals, often as tall as they were great, stopped at the little
house to implore Sara Lee to leave. But she only shook her head.
"Not unless you send me away," she always said; "and that would break
"But to move, mademoiselle, only to the next village!" they would
remonstrate, and as a final argument: "You are too valuable to risk an
"I must remain here," she said. And some of them thought they
understood. When an unusually obdurate officer came along, Sara Lee
would insist on taking him to the cellar.
"You see!" she would say, holding her candle high. "It is a nice cellar,
warm and dry. It is"--proudly--"one of the best cellars in the village.
It is a really homelike cellar."
The officer would go away then, and send her cigarettes for her men or,
as in more than one case, a squad with bags of earth and other things
to protect the little house as much as possible. After a time the little
house began to represent the ideas in protection and camouflage, then in
its early stages, of many different minds.
Rene shot a man there one night, a skulking figure working its way in
the shadows up the street. It was just before dawn, and Rene, who was
sleepless those days, like the others, called to him. The man started
to run, dodging behind walls. But Rene ran faster and killed him.
He was a German in Belgian peasant's clothing. But he wore the great
shoes of the German soldier, and he had been making a rough map of the
Sara Lee did not see him. But when she heard the shot she went out, and
Rene told her breathlessly.
From that time on her terrors took the definite form of Henri lying dead
in a ruined street, and being buried, as this man was buried, without
ceremony and without a prayer, in some sodden spring field.
As the spring advanced Harvey grew increasingly bitter; grew morbid
and increasingly self-conscious also. He began to think that people were
smiling behind his back, and when they asked about Sara Lee he met with
almost insulting brevity what he felt was half-contemptuous kindness.
He went nowhere, and worked all day and until late in the night. He did
well in his business, however, and late in March he received a
substantial raise in salary. He took it without enthusiasm, and told
Belle that night at dinner with apathy.
After the evening meal it was now his custom to go to his room and there,
shut in, to read. He read no books on the war, and even the quarter
column entitled Salient Points of the Day's War News hardly received a
glance from him now.
In the office when the talk turned to the war, as it did almost hourly,
he would go out or scowl over his letters.
"Harvey's hit hard," they said there.
"He's acting like a rotten cub," was likely to be the next sentence.
But sometimes it was: "Well, what'd you expect? Everything ready to get
married, and the girl beating it for France without notice! I'd be sore
On the day of the raise in salary his sister got the children to bed and
straightened up the litter of small garments that seemed always to
bestrew the house, even to the lower floor. Then she went into Harvey's
room. Coat and collar off, he was lying on the bed, but not reading.
His book lay beside him, and with his arms under his head he was staring
at the ceiling.
She did not sit down beside him on the bed. They were an undemonstrative
family, and such endearments as Belle used were lavished on her children.
But her eyes were kind, and a little nervous.
"Do you mind talking a little, Harvey?"
"I don't feel like talking much. I'm tired, I guess. But go on. What
is it? Bills?"
She came to him in her constant financial anxieties, and always he was
ready to help her out. But his tone now was gruff. A slight flush of
resentment colored her cheeks.
"Not this time, Harve. I was just thinking about things."
She sat on the straight chair beside the bed, the chair on which, in
neat order, Harvey placed his clothing at night, his shoes beneath, his
coat over the back.
"I wish you'd go out more, Harvey."
"Why? Go out and talk to a lot of driveling fools who don't care for me
any more than I do for them?"
"That's not like you, Harve."
"Sorry." His tone softened. "I don't care much about going round,
Belle. That's all. I guess you know why."
"So does everybody else."
He sat up and looked at her.
"Well, suppose they do? I can't help that, can I? When a fellow has
"You haven't been jilted."
He lay down again, his arms under his head; and Belle knew that his eyes
were on Sara Lee's picture on his dresser.
"It amounts to the same thing."
"Harvey," Belle said hesitatingly, "I've brought Sara Lee's report from
the Ladies' Aid. May I read it to you?"
"I don't want to hear it." Then: "Give it here. I'll look at it."
He read it carefully, his hands rather unsteady. So many men given soup,
so many given chocolate. So many dressings done. And at the bottom
Sara Lee's request for more money--an apologetic, rather breathless
request, and closing, rather primly with this:
"I am sure that the society will feel, from the above report, that the
work is worth while, and worth continuing. I am only sorry that I
cannot send photographs of the men who come for aid, but as they come
at night it is impossible. I enclose, however, a small picture of the
house, which is now known as the little house of mercy."
"At night!" said Harvey. "So she's there alone with a lot of ignorant
foreigners at night. Why the devil don't they come in the daytime?"
"Here's the picture, Harvey."
He got up then, and carried the tiny photograph over close to the gas
jet. There he stood for a long time, gazing at it. There was Rene
with his rifle and his smile. There was Marie in her white apron. And
in the center, the wind blowing her soft hair, was Sara Lee.
Harvey groaned and Belle came over and putting her hand on his shoulder
looked at the photograph with him.
"Do you know what I think, Harvey?" she said. "I think Sara Lee is right
and you are wrong."
He turned on her almost savagely.
"That's not the point!" he snapped out. "I don't begrudge the poor
devils their soup. What I feel is this: If she'd cared a tinker's damn
for me she'd never have gone. That's all."
He returned to a moody survey of the picture.
"Look at it!" he said. "She insists that she's safe. But that fellow's
got a gun. What for, if she's so safe? And look at that house! There's
a corner shot away; and it's got no upper floor. Safe!"
Belle held out her hand.
"I must return the picture to the society, Harve."
"Not just yet," he said ominously. "I want to look at it. I haven't
got it all yet. And I'll return it myself--with a short speech."
"Well," he retorted, "why shouldn't I tell that lot of old scandalmongers
what I think of them? They'll sit here safe at home and beg money--God,
one of them was in the office to-day!--and send a young girl over to--
You'd better get out, Belle. I'm not company for any one to-night."
She turned away, but he came after her, and suddenly putting his arms
round her he kissed her.
"Don't worry about me," he said. "I'm done with wearing my heart on my
sleeve. She looks happy, so I guess I can be." He released her. "Good
night. I'll return the picture."
He sat up very late, alternately reading the report and looking at the
picture. It was unfortunate that Sara Lee had smiled into the camera.
Coupled with her blowing hair it had given her a light-heartedness, a
sort of joyousness, that hurt him to the soul.
He made some mad plans after he had turned out the lights--to flirt
wildly with the unattached girls he knew; to go to France and confront
Sara Lee and then bring her home. Or--He had found a way. He lay
there and thought it over, and it bore the test of the broken sleep that
followed. In the morning, dressing, he wondered he had not thought of
it before. He was more cheerful at breakfast than he had been for weeks.
In the little house of mercy two weeks went by, and then a third.
Soldiers marching out to the trenches sometimes wore flowers tucked
gayly in their caps. More and more Allied aeroplanes were in the
air. Sometimes, standing in the streets, Sara Lee saw one far overhead,
while balloon-shaped clouds of bursting shells hung far below it.
Once or twice in the early morning a German plane, flying so low that
one could easily see the black cross on each wing, reconnoitered the
village for wagon trains or troops. Always they found it empty.
Hope had almost fled now. In the afternoons Marie went to the ruined
church, and there knelt before the heap of marble and masonry that had
once been the altar, and prayed. And Sara Lee, who had been brought up
a Protestant and had never before entered a Catholic church, took to
going there too. In some strange fashion the peace of former days
seemed to cling to the little structure, roofless as it was. On quiet
days its silence was deeper than elsewhere. On days of much firing the
sound from within its broken walls seemed deadened, far away.
Marie burned a candle as she prayed, for that soul in purgatory which she
had once loved, and now pitied. Sara Lee burned no candle, but she
knelt, sometimes beside Marie, sometimes alone, and prayed for many
things: that Henri should be living, somewhere; that the war might end;
that that day there would be little wounding; that some day the Belgians
might go home again; and that back in America Harvey might grow to
understand and forgive her. And now and then she looked into the very
depths of her soul, and on those days she prayed that her homeland
might, before it was too late, see this thing as she was seeing it. The
wanton waste of it all, the ghastly cruelty the Germans had brought into
Sara Lee's vague thinking began to crystallize. This war was not a
judgment sent from on high to a sinful world. It was the wicked
imposition of one nation on other nations. It was national. It was
almost racial. But most of all it was a war of hate on the German side.
She had never believed in hate. There were ugly passions in the world
--jealousy, envy, suspicion; but not hate. The word was not in her
rather limited vocabulary.
There was no hate on the part of the men she knew. The officers who
stopped in on their way to and from the trenches were gentlemen and
soldiers. They were determined and grave; they resented, they even
loathed. But they did not hate. The little Belgian soldiers were
bewildered, puzzled, desperately resentful. But of hate, as translated
into terms of frightfulness, they had no understanding.
Yet from the other side were coming methods of war so wantonly cruel,
so useless save as inflicting needless agony, as only hate could devise.
No strategic value justified them. They were spontaneous outgrowths of
venom, nursed during the winter deadlock and now grown to full size and
The rumor of a gas that seared and killed came to the little house as
early as February. In March there came the first victims, poor writhing
creatures, deprived of the boon of air, their seared lungs collapsed
and agonized, their faces drawn into masks of suffering. Some of them
died in the little house, and even after death their faces held the
imprint of horror.
To Sara Lee, burying her own anxiety under the cloak of service, there
came new and terrible thoughts. This was not war. The Germans had sent
their clouds of poisoned gas across the inundation, but had made no
attempt to follow. This was killing, for the lust of killing; suffering,
for the joy of inflicting pain.
And a day or so later she heard of The Hague Convention. She had not
known of it before. Now she learned of that gentlemen's agreement among
nations, and that it said: "The use of poison or of poisoned weapons is
forbidden." She pondered that carefully, trying to think dispassionately.
Now and then she received a copy of a home newspaper, and she saw that
the use of poison gases was being denied by Germans in America and set
down to rumor and hysteria.
So, on a cold spring day, she sat down at the table in the salle a manger
and wrote a letter to the President, beginning "Dear Sir"; and telling
what she knew of poison gas. She also, on second thought, wrote one to
Andrew Carnegie, who had built a library in her city. She felt that
the expense to him of sending some one over to investigate would not be
prohibitive, and something must be done.
She never heard from either of her letters, but she felt better for
having written them. And a day or two later she received from Mrs.
Travers, in England, a small supply of the first gas masks of the war.
Simple and primitive they were, those first masks; useless, too, as it
turned out--a square of folded gauze, soaked in some solution and then
dried, with tapes to tie it over the mouth and nose. To adjust them the
soldiers had but to stoop and wet them in the ever-present water in
the trench, and then to tie them on.
Sara Lee gave them out that night, and there was much mirth in the little
house, such mirth as there had not been since Henri went away. The
Belgians called it a bal masque, and putting them on bowed before one
another and requested dances, and even flirted coyly with each other over
their bits of white gauze. And in the very middle of the gayety some
one propounded one of Henri's idiotic riddles; and Sara Lee went across
to her little room and closed the door and stood there with her eyes
shut, for fear she would scream.
Then, one day, coming out of the little church, she saw the low broken
gray car turn in at the top of the street and come slowly, so very
slowly, toward her. There were two men in it.
One was Henri.
She ran, stumbling because of tears, up the street. It was Henri! There
was no mistake. There he sat beside Jean, brushed and very neat; and
very, very white.
"Mademoiselle!" he said, and came very close to crying himself when he
saw her face. He was greatly excited. His sunken eyes devoured her as
she ran toward him. Almost he held out his arms. But he could not do
that, even if he would, for one was bandaged to his side.
It is rather sad to record how many times Sara Lee wept during her
amazing interlude. For here is another time. She wept for joy and
wretchedness. She stood on the running board and cried and smiled. And
Jean winked his one eye rapidly.
"This idiot, mademoiselle," he said gruffly, "this maniac--he would not
remain in Calais, with proper care. He must come on here. And rapidly.
Could he have taken the wheel from me we should have been here an hour
ago. But for once I have an advantage."
The car jolted to the little house, and Jean helped Henri out. Such a
strange Henri, smiling and joyous, and walking at a crawl, even with
Jean's support. He protested violently against being put to bed, and
when he found himself led into Sara Lee's small room he openly rebelled.
"Never!" he said stubbornly, halting in the doorway. "This is
mademoiselle's boudoir. Her drawing-room as well. I am going to the
mill house and--"
So Sara Lee's room had a different occupant for a time, a thin and
fine-worn young Belgian, who yielded to Sara Lee when Jean gave up in
despair, and who proceeded, most unmanfully, to faint as soon as he was
between the blankets.
If Sara Lee hoped to nurse Henri she was doomed to disappointment. Jean
it was who took over the care of the boy, a Jean who now ate prodigiously,
and whistled occasionally, and slept at night robed in his blanket on the
floor beside Henri's bed, lest that rebellious invalid get up and try to
On the first night, with the door closed, against Henri's entreaties,
while the little house received its evening complement of men, and with
Henri lying back on his pillows, fresh dressed as to the wounds in his
arm and chest, fed with Sara Lee's daintiest, and resting, Jean found the
boy's eyes resting on the mantel.
"Dear and obstinate friend," said Henri, "do you wish me to be happy?"
"You shall not leave the room or your bed. That is arranged for."
"How?" demanded Henri with interest.
"Because I have hidden away your trousers."
Henri laughed, but he sobered quickly.
"If you wish me to be happy," he said, "take away that American
photograph. But first, please to bring it here."
Jean brought it, holding it gingerly between his thumb and forefinger.
And Henri lay back and studied it.
"It is mademoiselle's fiance," he said.
"Look at it, Jean," Henri said in his half-bantering tone, with despair
beneath it; "and then look at me. Or no--remembering me as I was when
I was a man. He is better, eh? It is a good face. But there is a jaw,
a-- Do you think he will be kind to her as she requires? She requires
much kindness. Some women--"
He broke off and watched Jean anxiously.
"A half face!" Jean said scornfully. "The pretty view! As for
kindness--" He put the photograph face down on the table. "I knew
once a man in Belgium who married an American. At Antwerp. They were
"You are lying," he said with boyish pleasure in his own astuteness.
"You knew no such couple. You are trying to make me resigned."
But quite a little later, when Jean thought he was asleep, he said:
"I shall never be resigned."
So at last spring had come, and Henri and the great spring drive. The
Germans had not drained the inundation, nor had they broken through to
Calais. And it is not to be known here how much this utter failure had
been due to the information Henri had secured before he was wounded.
One day in his bed Henri received a visit from the King, and was left
lying with a decoration on his breast and a beatific, if somewhat
sheepish, expression on his face. And one night the village was
bombarded, and on Henri's refusing to be moved to the cellar Sara Lee
took up a determined stand in his doorway, until at last he made a most
humiliating move for safety.
Bit by bit Sara Lee got the story, its bare detail from Henri, its
courage and sheer recklessness from Jean. It would, for instance, run
like this, with Henri in a chair perhaps, and cutting dressings--since
that might be done with one hand--and Sara Lee, sleeves rolled up and
a great bowl of vegetables before her:
"And when you got through the water, Henri?" she would ask: "What then?"
"It was quite simple. They had put up some additional wire, however--"
"There was a break," he would explain. "I have told you--between their
trenches. I had used it before to get through."
"But how could you go through?"
"Like a snake," he would say, smiling. "Very flat and wriggling. I have
eaten of the dirt, mademoiselle."
Then he would stop and cut, very awkwardly, with his left hand.
"Go on," she would prompt him. "But they had put barbed wire there. Is
that it? So you could not get through?"
"With tin cans on it, and stones in the cans. I thought I had removed
them all, but there was one left. So they heard me."
More cutting and a muttered French expletive. Henri was not a
particularly patient cripple. And apparently there was an end to the
"For goodness' sake," Sara Lee would exclaim despairingly; "so they
heard you! That isn't all, is it?"
"It was almost all," he would say with his boyish smile.
"And they shot at you?"
"Even better. They shot me. That was this one." And he would point to
More silence, more cutting, a gathering exasperation on Sara Lee's part.
"Are you going on or not?"
"Then I pretended to be one of them, mademoiselle. I speak German as
French. I pretended not to be hurt, but to be on a reconnoissance. And
I got into the trench and we had a talk in the darkness. It was most
interesting. Only if they had shown a light they would have seen that
I was wounded."
By bits, not that day, but after many days, she got the story. In the
next trench he slipped a sling over the wounded arm and, as a Bavarian
on his way to the dressing station, got back.
"I had some trouble," he confessed one day. "Now and then one would
offer to go back with me. And I did not care for assistance!"
But sometime later there was trouble. She was four days getting to that
part of it. He had got behind the lines by that time, and he knew that
in some way suspicion had been roused. He was weak by that time, and
could not go far. He had lain hidden, for a day and part of a night,
without water, in a destroyed barn, and then had escaped.
He got into the Belgian costume as before, but he could not wear a sling
for his wounded arm. He got the peasant to thrust his helpless right
hand into his pocket, and for two days he made a close inspection of
what was going on. But fever had developed, and on the third night,
half delirious, when he was spoken to by an officer he had replied, of
all tongues, in English.
The officer shot him instantly in the chest. He fell and lay still and
the officer bent over him. In that moment Henri stabbed him with a
knife in his left hand. Men were coming from every direction, but he
got away--he did not clearly remember how. And at dawn he fell into
the Belgian farmhouse, apparently dying.
Jean's story, on the other hand, was given early and with no hesitation.
He had crossed the border at Holland in civilian clothes, by the simple
expedient of bribing a sentry. He had got, with little difficulty, to
the farmhouse, and found Henri, now recovering but very weak; he was
lying hidden in a garret, and he was suffering from hunger and lack of
medical attention. In a wagon full of market stuff, Henri hidden in the
bed of it, they had got to the border again. And there Jean had, it
seemed, stabbed the sentry he had bribed before and driven on to neutral
Not an unusual story, that of Henri and Jean. The journey across
Belgium in the springless farm wagon was the worst. They had had to
take roundabout lanes, avoiding the main highways. Fortunately, always
at night there were friendly houses, kind hands to lift Henri into warm
fire-lighted interiors. Many messages they had brought back, some of
cheer, but too often of tragedy, from the small farmsteads of Belgium.
Then finally had been Holland, and the chartering of a boat--and at
last--"Here we are, and here we are, and here we are again," sang Henri,
chopping at his cotton and making a great show of cheerfulness before
But with Jean sometimes he showed the black depression beneath. He
would never be a man again. He was done for. He gained strength so
slowly that he believed he was not gaining at all. He was not happy,
and the unhappy mend slowly.
After the time he had asked Jean to take away Harvey's photograph he did
not recur to the subject, but he did not need to. Jean knew, perhaps
even better than Henri himself, that the boy was recklessly, hopelessly,
not quite rationally in love with the American girl.
Also Henri was fretting about his work. Sometimes at night, following
Henri's instructions, Jean wandered quietly along roads and paths that
paralleled the Front. At such times his eyes were turned, not toward
the trenches, but toward that flat country which lay behind, still dotted
at that time with groves of trees, with canals overhung with pollard
willows, and with here and there a farmhouse that at night took on in
the starlight the appearance of being whole again.
Singularly white and peaceful were those small steadings of Belgium in
the night hours--until cruel dawn showed them for what they were--
skeletons of dead homes, clothed only at night with wraithlike roofs and
chimneys; ghosts of houses, appearing between midnight and cock crow.
Jean had not Henri's eyes nor his recklessness nor his speed, for that
matter. Now and then he saw the small appearing and disappearing lights
on some small rise. He would reach the spot, with such shelter as
possible, to find only a sugar-beet field, neglected and unplowed.
Then, one night, tragedy came to the little house of mercy.
Harvey proceeded to put his plan into effect at once, with the simple
method of an essentially simple nature. The thing had become
intolerable; therefore it must end.
On the afternoon following his talk with Belle he came home at three
o'clock. Belle heard him moving about in his room, and when she entered
it, after he had gone, she found that he had shaved and put on his best
She smiled a little. It was like Harvey to be literal. He had said he
was going to go round and have a good time, and he was losing no time.
But in their restricted social life, where most of the men worked until
five o'clock or even later, there were fewer afternoon calls paid.
Belle wondered with mild sisterly curiosity into what arena Harvey was
about to fling his best hat.
But though Harvey paid a call that afternoon it was not on any of the
young women he knew. He went to see Mrs. Gregory. She was at home--he
had arranged for that by telephone--and the one butler of the
neighborhood admitted him. It was a truculent young man, for all his
politeness, who confronted Mrs. Gregory in her drawing-room--a quietly
truculent young man, who came to the point while he was still shaking
"You're not going to be glad to see me in a minute," he said in reply
to her greeting.
"How can you know that?"
"Because I've come to get you to do something you won't want to do."
"We won't quarrel before we begin, then," she said pleasantly. "Because
I really never do anything I don't wish to do."
But she gave him a second glance and her smile became a trifle forced.
She knew all about Harvey and Sara Lee. She had heard rumors of his
disapproval also. Though she was not a clever nor a very keen woman,
she saw what was coming and braced herself for it.
Harvey had prepared in his mind a summary of his position, and he
delivered it with the rapidity and strength of a blow.
"I know all about the Belgians, Mrs. Gregory," he said. "I'm sorry for
them. So is every one, I suppose. But I want to know if you think a
girl of twenty ought to be over there practically at the Front, and
alone?" He gave her time to reply. "Would you like to have your
daughter there, if you had one?"
"Perhaps not, under ordinary circumstances. But this is war."
"It is not our war."
"Humanity," said Mrs. Gregory, remembering the phrase she had written
for a speech--"humanity has no nationality. It is of all men, for
"That's men. Not women!"
He got up and stood on the hearthrug. He was singularly reminiscent of
the time he had stood on Aunt Harriet's white fur rug and had told Sara
Lee she could not go.
"Now see here, Mrs. Gregory," he said, "we'll stop beating about the
bush, if you don't mind. She's got to come home. She's coming, if I
have to go and get her!"
"You needn't look at me so fiercely. I didn't send her. It was her own
"No," he said slowly. "But I notice your society publishes her reports
in the papers, and that the names of the officers are rarely missing."
Mrs. Gregory colored.
"We must have publicity to get money," she said. "It is hard to get.
Sometimes I have had to make up the deficit out of my own pocket."
"Then for God's sake bring her home! If the thing has to go on, send
over there some of the middle-aged women who have no ties. Let 'em get
shot if they want to. They can write as good reports as she can, if
that's all you want. And make as good soup," he added bitterly.
"It could be done, of course," she said, thoughtfully. "But--I must
tell you this: I doubt if an older woman could have got where she has.
There is no doubt that her charm, her youth and beauty have helped her
greatly. We cannot--"
The very whites of his eyes turned red then. He shouted furiously that
for their silly work and their love of publicity, they were trading on
a girl's youth and beauty; that if anything happened to her he would
publish the truth in every newspaper in the country; that they would at
once recall Sara Lee or he would placard the city with what they were
doing. These were only a few of the things he threw at her.
When he was out of breath he jerked the picture of the little house of
mercy out of his pocket and flung it into her lap.
"There!" he said. "Do you know where that house is? It's in a ruined
village. She hasn't said that, has she? Well, look at the masonry
there. That's a shell hole in the street. That soldier's got a gun.
Why? Because the Germans may march up that street any day on their way
Mrs. Gregory looked at the picture. Sara Lee smiled into the sun. And
Rene, ignorant that his single rifle was to oppose the march of the
German Army to Calais--Rene smiled also.
Mrs. Gregory rose.
"I shall report your view to the society," she said coldly. "I
understand how you feel, but I fail to see the reason for this attack
"I guess you see all right!" he flung at her. "She's my future wife.
If you hadn't put this nonsense into her head we'd be married now and
she'd be here in God's country and not living with a lot of foreigners
who don't know a good woman when they see one. I want her back, that's
all. But I want her back safe. And if anything happens to her I'll
make you pay--you and all your notoriety hunters."
He went out then, and was for leaving without his hat or coat, but the
butler caught him at the door. Out in the spring sunlight he walked
rapidly, still seething, remembering other bitter things he had meant
to say, and repeating them to himself.
But he had said enough.
Mrs. Gregory's account of his visit she reported at a meeting specially
called. The narrative lost nothing in the repetition. But the kindly
women who sat in the church house sewing or knitting listened to what
Harvey had said and looked troubled. They liked Sara Lee, and many of
them had daughters of their own.
The photograph was passed around. Undoubtedly Sara Lee was living in a
ruined village. Certainly ruined villages were only found very near the
Front. And Rene unquestionably held a gun. Tales of German brutalities
to women had come and were coming constantly to their ears. Mabel
Andrews had written to them for supplies, and she had added to the
chapter of horrors.
Briefly, the sense of the meeting was that Harvey had been brutal, but
that he was right. An older woman in a safe place they might continue
to support, but none of them would assume the responsibility of the
crushing out of a young girl's life.
To be quite frank, possibly Harvey's appeal would have carried less
weight had it not coincided with Sara Lee's request for more money.
Neither one alone would have brought about the catastrophe, but
altogether they made question and answer, problem and solution. Money
was scarce. Demands were heavy. None of them except Mrs. Gregory had
more than just enough. And there was this additional situation to face:
there was no end of the war in sight; it gave promise now of going on
Joifre had said, "I nibble them." But to nibble a hole in the Germany
Army might take years. They had sent Sara Lee for a few months. How
about keeping her there indefinitely?
Oddly enough, it was Harvey's sister Belle who made the only protest
against the recall.
"Of course, I want her back," she said slowly. "You'd understand better
if you had to live with Harvey. I'm sorry, Mrs. Gregory, that he spoke
to you as he did, but he's nearly crazy." She eyed the assembly with
her tired shrewd eyes. "I'm no talker," she went on, "but Sara Lee has
done a big thing. We don't realize, I guess, how big it is. And I
think we'll just about kill her if we bring her home."
"Better to do that than to have her killed over there," some one said.
And in spite of Belle's protest, that remained the sense of the meeting.
It was put to the vote and decided to recall Sara Lee. She could bring
a report of conditions, and if she thought it wise an older woman could
go later, to a safer place.
Belle was very quiet that evening. After dinner she went to Harvey's
room and found him dressing to go out.
"I'm going with a crowd to the theater," he said. "First week of the
summer stock company, you know."
He tied his tie defiantly, avoiding Belle's eyes in the mirror.
"Harvey," she said, "they're going to bring Sara Lee home."
He said nothing, but his hands shook somewhat. "And I think," Belle
said, "that you will be sorry for what you have done--all the rest of
By the time Henri was well enough to resume his former activities it was
almost the first of May. The winter quiet was over with a vengeance, and
the Allies were hammering hard with their first tolerably full supply of
Cheering reports came daily to the little house--, of rapidly augmenting
armies, of big guns on caterpillar trucks that were moving slowly up to
the Allied Front. Great Britain had at last learned her lesson, that
only shells of immense destructiveness were of any avail against the
German batteries. She was moving heaven and earth to get them, but the
supply was still inadequate. With the new shells experiments were being
made in barrage fire--costly experiments now and then; but the Allies
were apt in learning the ugly game of modern war.
Only on the Belgian Front was there small change. The shattered army
was being freshly outfitted. England was sending money and ammunition,
and on the sand dunes small bodies of fresh troops drilled and smiled
grimly and drilled again. But there were not, as in England and in
France, great bodies of young men to draw from. Too many had been
caught beyond the German wall of steel.
Yet a wave of renewed courage had come with the sun and the green
fields. And conditions had improved for the Belgians in other ways.
They were being paid, for one thing, with something like regularity.
Food was better and more plentiful. One day Henri appeared at the top
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