Part 4 out of 5
of the street and drove down triumphantly a small unclipped horse,
which trundled behind it a vertical boiler on wheels with fire box and
"A portable kitchen!" he explained. "See, here for soup and here for
coffee. And more are coming."
"Very soon, Henri, they will not need me," Sara Lee said wistfully.
But he protested almost violently. He even put the question to the
horse, and blowing in his ear made him shake his head in the negative.
She was needed, indeed. To the great base hospital at La Panne went
more and more wounded men. But to the little house of mercy came the
small odds and ends in increasing numbers. Medical men were scarce, and
badly overworked. There was talk, for a time, of sending a surgeon to
the little house, but it came to nothing. La Panne was not far away,
and all the surgeons they could get there were not too many.
So the little house went on much as before. Henri had moved to the mill.
He was at work again, and one day, in the King's villa and quietly,
because of many reasons, Henri, a very white and erect Henri, received a
second medal, the highest for courage that could be given.
He did not tell Sara Lee.
But though he and the men who served under him worked hard, they could
not always perform miracles. The German planes still outnumbered the
Allied ones. They had grown more daring with the spring, too, and
whatever Henri might learn of ground operations, he could not foretell
those of the air.
On a moonlight night in early May, Sara Lee, setting out her dressings,
heard a man running up the street. Rene challenged him sharply, only
to step aside. It was Henri. He burst in on Sara Lee.
"To the cellar, mademoiselle!" he said.
"A bombardment?" asked Sara Lee.
"From the air. They may pass over, but there are twelve taubes, and
they are circling overhead."
The first bomb dropped then in the street. It was white moonlight and
the Germans must have seen that there were no troops. Probably it was
as Henri said later, that they had learned of the little house, and
since it brought such aid and comfort as might be it was to be destroyed.
The house of the mill went with the second bomb. Then followed a
deafening uproar as plane after plane dropped its shells on the dead
town. Marie and Sara Lee were in the cellar by that time, but the
cellar was scarcely safer than the floor above. From a bombardment by
shells from guns miles away there was protection. From a bomb dropped
from the sky, the floors above were practically useless.
Only Henri and Rene remained on the street floor. Henri was
extinguishing lights. In the passage Rene stood, not willing to take
refuge until Henri, whom he adored, had done so. For a moment the
uproar ceased, and in a spirit of bravado Rene stepped out into the
moonlight and made a gesture of derision into the air.
He fell there, struck by a piece of splintered shell.
"Come, Rene!" Henri called. "The brave are those who live to fight
But Rene's figure against the moonlight was gone. Henri ran to the
doorway then and found him lying, his head on the little step where he
had been wont to sit and whittle and sing his Tipperaree. He was dead.
Henri carried him in and laid him in the little passage, very reverently.
Then he went below.
"Where is Rene?" Sara Lee asked from the darkness.
"A foolish boy," said Henri, a catch in his throat. "He is, I think,
watching these fiends of the air, from some shelter."
"There is no shelter," shivered the girl.
He groped for her hand in the darkness, and so they stood, hand in hand,
like two children, waiting for what might come.
It was not until the thing was over that he told her. He had gone up
first and so that she would not happen on his silent figure unwarned,
had carried Rene to the open upper floor, where he lay, singularly
peaceful, face up to the awful beauty of the night.
"Good night, little brother," Henri said to him, and left him there with
a heavy heart. Never again would Rene sit and whittle on the doorstep
and sing his tuneless Tipperaree. Never again would he gaze with boyish
adoring eyes at Sara Lee as she moved back and forth in the little house.
Henri stared up at the sky. The moon looked down, cold, and cruelly
bright, on the vanishing squadron of death, on the destroyed town and on
the boy's white face. Somewhere, Henri felt, vanishing like the German
taubes, but to peace instead of war, was moving Rene's brave and smiling
spirit--a boyish angel, eager and dauntless, and still looking up.
Henri took off his cap and crossed himself.
Another sentry took Rene's place the next day, but the little house had
lost something it could not regain. And a greater loss was to come.
Jean brought out the mail that day. For Sara Lee, moving about silent
and red-eyed, there was a letter from Mr. Travers. He inclosed a hundred
pounds and a clipping from a London newspaper entitled The Little House
"Evidently," he wrote, "you were right and we were wrong. One-half of
the inclosed check is from my wife, who takes this method of showing her
affectionate gratitude. The balance is from myself. Once, some months
ago, I said to you that almost you restored my faith in human nature.
To-day I may say that, in these hours of sorrow for us all, what you have
done and are doing has brought into my gray day a breath of hope."
There was another clipping, but no comment. It recorded the death of a
Reginald Alexander Travers, aged thirty.
It was then that Sara Lee, who was by way of thinking for herself those
days, and of thinking clearly, recognized the strange new self-abnegation
of the English--their attitude not so much of suppressing their private
griefs as of refusing to obtrude them. A strongly individualistic people,
they were already commencing to think nationally. Grief was a private
matter, to be borne privately. To the world they must present an unbroken
front, an unshaken and unshakable faith. A new attitude, and a strange
one, for grumbling, crochety, gouty-souled England.
A people who had for centuries insisted not only on its rights but on
its privileges was now giving as freely as ever it had demanded. It
was as though, having hoarded all those years, it had but been hoarding
against the day of payment. As it had received it gave--in money, in
effort, in life. And without pretext.
So the Traverses, having given up all that had made life for them, sent
a clipping only, and no comment. Sara Lee, through a mist of tears,
saw them alone in their drawing-room, having tea as usual, and valiantly
speaking of small things, and bravely facing the future, but never, in
the bitterest moments, making complaint or protest.
Would America, she wondered, if her hour came, be so brave? Harvey had
a phrase for such things. It was "stand the gaff." Would America stand
the gaff so well? Courage was America's watchword, but a courage of the
body rather than of the soul--physical courage, not moral. What would
happen if America entered the struggle and the papers were filled, as
were the British and the French, with long casualty lists, each name a
knife thrust somewhere?
And then, before long, it was Sara Lee's turn to stand the gaff. There
was another letter, a curiously incoherent one from Harvey's sister. She
referred to something that the society had done, and hoped that Sara Lee
would take it in kindness, as it was meant. Harvey was well and much
happier. She was to try to understand Harvey's part. He had been
almost desperate. Evidently the letter had preceded one that should have
arrived at the same time. Sara Lee was sadly puzzled. She went to Henri
with it, but he could make nothing out of it. There was nothing to do
but to wait.
The next night Henri was to go through the lines again. Since his
wounding he had been working on the Allied side, and fewer lights there
were in his district that flashed the treacherous message across the
flood, between night and morning. But now it was imperative that he go
through the German lines again. It was feared that with grappling hooks
the enemy was slowly and cautiously withdrawing the barbed wire from the
inundated fields; and that could mean but one thing.
On the night he was to go Henri called Sara Lee from the crowded salle a
manger and drawing her into the room across closed the door.
"Mademoiselle," he said gravely, "once before, long ago, you permitted
me to kiss you. Will you do that for me again?"
She kissed him at once gravely. Once she would have flushed. She did
not now. For there was a change in Sara Lee as well as in her outlook.
She had been seeing for months the shortness of life, the brief tenure
men held on it, the value of such happiness as might be for the hours
that remained. She was a woman now, for all her slim young body and her
charm of youth. Values had changed. To love, and to show that love, to
cheer, to comfort and help--that was necessary, because soon the chance
might be gone, and there would be long aching years of regret.
So she kissed him gravely and looked up into his eyes, her own full of
"God bless and keep you, dear Henri," she said.
Then she went back to her work.
Much of Sara Lee's life at home had faded. She seemed to be two people.
One was the girl who had knitted the afghan for Anna, and had hidden it
away from Uncle James' kind but curious eyes. And one was this present
Sara Lee, living on the edge of eternity, and seeing men die or suffer
horribly, not to gain anything--except perhaps some honorable
advancement for their souls--but that there might be preserved, at any
cost, the right of honest folk to labor in their fields, to love, to
pray, and at last to sleep in the peace of God.
She had lost the past and she dared not look into the future. So she
was living each day as it came, with its labor, its love, its prayers
and at last its sleep. Even Harvey seemed remote and stern and bitter.
She reread his letters often, but they were forced. And after a time
she realized another quality in them. They were self-centered. It was
his anxiety, his loneliness, his humiliation. Sara Lee's eyes were
looking out, those days, over a suffering world. Harvey's eyes were
turned in on himself.
She realized this, but she never formulated it, even to herself. What
she did acknowledge was a growing fear of the reunion which must come
sometime--that he was cherishing still further bitterness against that
day, that he would say things that he would regret later. Sometimes the
thought of that day came to her when she was doing a dressing, and her
hands would tremble.
Henri had not returned when, the second day after Rene's death, the
letter came which recalled her. She opened it eagerly. Though from
Harvey there usually came at the best veiled reproach, the society had
always sent its enthusiastic approval.
She read it twice before she understood, and it was only when she read
Belle's letter again that she began to comprehend. She was recalled;
and the recall was Harvey's work.
She was very close to hating him that day. He had never understood.
She would go back to him, as she had promised; but always, all the rest
of their lives, there would be this barrier between them. To the
barrier of his bitterness would be added her own resentment. She could
never even talk to him of her work, of those great days when in her
small way she had felt herself a part of the machinery of mercy of
Harvey had lost something out of Sara Lee's love for him. He had done
it himself, madly, despairingly. She still loved him, she felt. Nothing
could change that or her promise to him. But with that love there was
something now of fear. And she felt, too, that after all the years she
had known him she had not known him at all. The Harvey she had known
was a tender and considerate man, soft-spoken, slow to wrath, always
gentle. But the Harvey of his letters and of the recall was a stranger.
It was the result of her upbringing, probably, that she had no thought
of revolt. Her tie to Harvey was a real tie. By her promise to him her
life was no longer hers to order. It belonged to some one else, to be
ordered for her. But, though she accepted, she was too clear a thinker
not to resent.
When Henri returned, toward dawn of the following night, he did not come
alone. Sara Lee, rising early, found two men in her kitchen--one of
them Henri, who was making coffee, and a soldier in a gray-green uniform,
with a bad bruise over one eye and a sulky face. His hands were tied,
but otherwise he sat at ease, and Henri, having made the coffee, held a
cup to his lips.
"It is good for the spirits, man," he said in German. "Drink it."
The German took it, first gingerly, then eagerly. Henri was in high
"See, I have brought you a gift!" he exclaimed on seeing Sara Lee. "What
shall we do with him? Send him to America? To show the appearance of
the madmen of Europe?"
The prisoner was only a boy, such a boy as Henri himself; but a peasant,
and muscular. Beside his bulk Henri looked slim as a reed. Henri eyed
him with a certain tolerant humor.
"He is young, and a Bavarian," he said. "Other wise I should have
killed him, for he fought hard. He has but just been called."
There was another conference in the little house that morning, but
Henri's prisoner could tell little. He had heard nothing of an advance.
Further along the line it was said that there was much fighting. He sat
there, pale and bewildered and very civil, and in the end his frightened
politeness brought about a change in the attitude of the men who
questioned him. Hate all Germans as they must, who had suffered so
grossly, this boy was not of those who had outraged them.
They sent him on at last, and Sara Lee was free to tell Henri her news.
But she had grown very wise as to Henri's moods, and she hesitated. A
certain dissatisfaction had been growing in the boy for some time, a
sense of hopelessness. Further along the spring had brought renewed
activity to the Allied armies. Great movements were taking place.
But his own men stood in their trenches, or what passed for trenches, or
lay on their hours of relief in such wretched quarters as could be found,
still with no prospect of action. No great guns, drawn by heavy
tractors, came down the roads toward the trenches by the sea. Steady
bombarding, incessant sniping and no movement on either side--that was
the Belgian Front during the first year of the war. Inaction, with that
eating anxiety as to what was going on in the occupied territory, was
the portion of the heroic small army that stretched from Nieuport to
And Henri's nerves were not good. He was unhappy--that always--and he
was not yet quite recovered from his wounds. There was on his mind, too,
a certain gun which moved on a railway track, back and forth, behind the
German lines, doing the work of many. He had tried to get to that gun,
and failed. And he hated failure.
Certainly in this story of Sara Lee and of Henri, whose other name must
not be known, allowance must be made for all those things. Yet--perhaps
no allowance is enough.
Sara Lee told him that evening of her recall, told him when the shuffling
of many feet in the street told of the first weary men from the trenches
coming up the road.
He heard her in a dazed silence. Then:
"But you will not go?" he said. "It is impossible! You--you are
"What can I do, Henri? They have recalled me. My money will not come
"Perhaps we can arrange that. It does not cost so much. I have friends
--and think, mademoiselle, how many know now of what you are doing, and
love you for it. Some of them would contribute, surely."
He was desperately revolving expedients in his mind. He could himself
do no more than he had done. He, or rather Jean and he together, had
been bearing a full half of the expense of the little house since the
beginning. But he dared not tell her that. And though he spoke
hopefully, he knew well that he could raise nothing from the Belgians
he knew best. Henri came of a class that held its fortunes in land, and
that land was now in German hands.
"We will arrange it somehow," he said with forced cheerfulness. "No
beautiful thing--and this is surely beautiful--must die because of
It was then that Sara Lee took the plunge.
"It is not only money, Henri."
"He has sent for you!"
Harvey was always "he" to Henri.
"Not exactly. But I think he went to some one and said I should not be
here alone. You can understand how he feels. We were going to be
married very soon, and then I decided to come. It made an awful upset."
Henri stood with folded arms and listened. At first he said nothing.
When he spoke it was in a voice of ominous calm:
"So for a stupid convention he would destroy this beautiful thing you
have made! Does he know your work? Does he know what you are to the
men here? Have you ever told him?"
"I have, of course, but--"
"Do you want to go back?"
"No, Henri. Not yet. I--"
"That is enough. You are needed. You are willing to stay. I shall
attend to the money. It is arranged."
"You don't understand," said Sara Lee desperately. "I am engaged to him.
I can't wreck his life, can I?"
"Would it wreck your life?" he demanded. "Tell me that and I shall know
how to reason with you."
But she only looked at him helplessly.
Heavy tramping in the passage told of the arrival of the first men.
They did not talk and laugh as usual. As well as they could they came
quietly. For Rene had been a good friend to many of them, and had
admitted on slack nights many a weary man who had no ticket. Much as
the neighbors had entered the house back home after Uncle James had gone
away, came these bearded men that night. And Sara Lee, hearing their
muffled voices, brushed a hand over her eyes and tried to smile.
"We can talk about it later," she said. "We mustn't quarrel. I owe so
much to you, Henri."
Suddenly Henri caught her by the arm and turned her about so that she
faced the lamp.
"Do you love him?" he demanded. "Sara Lee, look at me!" Only he
pronounced it Saralie. "He has done a very cruel thing. Do you still
Sara Lee shut her eyes.
"I don't know. I think I do. He is very unhappy, and it is my fault."
"I must go, Henri. The men are waiting."
But he still held her arm.
"Does he love you as I love you?" he demanded. "Would he die for you?"
"That's rather silly, isn't it? Men don't die for the people they love."
"I would die for you, Saralie."
She eyed him rather helplessly.
"I don't think you mean that." Bad strategy that, for he drew her to
him. His arms were like steel, and it was a rebellious and very rigid
Sara Lee who found she could not free herself.
"I would die for you, Saralie!" he repeated fiercely. "That would be
easier, far, than living without you. There is nothing that matters but
you. Listen--I would put everything I have--my honor, my life, my
hope of eternity--on one side of the scale and you on the other. And I
would choose you. Is that love?" He freed her.
"It's insanity," said Sara Lee angrily. "You don't mean it. And I
don't want that kind of love, if that is what you call it."
"And you will go back to that man who loves himself better than he loves
"That's not true!" she flashed at him. "He is sending for me, not to
get me back to him, but to get me back to safety."
"What sort of safety?" Henri demanded in an ominous tone. "Is he afraid
"He doesn't know anything about you."
"You have never told him? Why?" His eyes narrowed.
"He wouldn't have understood, Henri."
"You are going back to him," he said slowly; "and you will always keep
these days of ours buried in your heart. Is that it?" His eyes softened.
"I am to be a memory! Do you know what I think? I think you care for
me more than you know. We have lived a lifetime together in these
months. You know me better than you know him, already. We have faced
death together. That is a strong tie. And I have held you in my arms.
Do you think you can forget that?"
"I shall never want to forget you."
"I shall not let you forget me. You may go--I cannot prevent that
perhaps. But wherever I am; Saralie, I shall stand between that lover
of yours and you. And sometime I shall come from this other side of the
world, and I shall find you, and you will come back with me. Back to
this country--our country."
They were boyish words, but back of them was the iron determination of a
man. His eyes seemed sunken in his head. His face was white. But there
was almost a prophetic ring in his voice.
Sara Lee went out and left him there, went out rather terrified and
bewildered, and refusing absolutely to look into her own heart.
Late in May she started for home. It had not been necessary to close
the little house. An Englishwoman of mature years and considerable
wealth, hearing from Mr. Travers of Sara Lee's recall, went out a day or
two before she left and took charge. She was a kindly woman, in deep
mourning; and some of the ache left Sara Lee's heart when she had talked
with her successor.
Perhaps, too, Mrs. Cameron understood some of the things that had
puzzled her before. She had been a trifle skeptical perhaps about Sara
Lee before she saw her. A young girl alone among an army of men! She
was a good woman herself, and not given to harsh judgments, but the
thing had seemed odd. But Sara Lee in her little house, as virginal, as
without sex-consciousness as a child, Sara Lee with her shabby clothes
and her stained hands and her honest eyes--this was not only a good
girl, this was a brave and high-spirited and idealistic woman.
And after an evening in the house of mercy, with the soldiers openly
adoring and entirely respectful, Mrs. Cameron put her arms round Sara
Lee and kissed her.
"You must let me thank you," she said. "You have made me feel what I
have not felt since--"
She stopped. Her mourning was only a month old. "I see to-night that,
after all, many things may be gone, but that while service remains there
is something worth while in life."
The next day she asked Sara Lee to stay with her, at least through the
summer. Sara Lee hesitated, but at last she agreed to cable. As Henri
had disappeared with the arrival of Mrs. Cameron it was that lady's
chauffeur who took the message to Dunkirk and sent it off.
She had sent the cable to Harvey. It was no longer a matter of the
Ladies' Aid. It was between Harvey and herself.
The reply came on the second day. It was curt and decisive.
"Now or never," was the message Harvey sent out of his black despair,
across the Atlantic to the little house so close under the guns of
Henri was half mad those last days. Jean tried to counsel him, but he
was irritable, almost savage. And Jean understood. The girl had grown
deep into his own heart. Like Henri, he believed that she was going
back to unhappiness; he even said so to her in the car, on that last sad
day when Sara Lee, having visited Rene's grave and prayed in the ruined
church, said good-by to the little house, and went away, tearless at the
last, because she was too sad for tears.
It was not for some time that Jean spoke what was in his mind, and when
he had done so she turned to him gravely:
"You are wrong, Jean. He is the kindest of men. Once I am back, and
safe, he will be very different. I'm afraid I've given you a wrong
impression of him."
"You think then, mademoiselle, that he will forget all these months--
he will never be unhappy over them?"
"Why should he?" said Sara Lee proudly. "When I tell him everything he
will understand. And he will be very proud that I have done my share."
But Jean's one eye was dubious.
At the wharf in Dunkirk they found Henri, a pale but composed Henri.
Jean's brows contracted. He had thought that the boy would follow his
advice and stay away. But Henri was there.
It was as well, perhaps, for Sara Lee had brought him a letter, one of
those missives from the trenches which had been so often left at the
Henri thrust it into his pocket without reading it.
"Everything is prepared," he said. "It is the British Admiralty boat,
and one of the officers has offered his cabin. You will be quite
He appeared entirely calm. He saw to carrying Sara Lee's small bag on
board; he chatted with the officers; he even wandered over to a
hospital ship moored near by and exchanged civilities with a wounded man
in a chair on the deck. Perhaps he swaggered a bit too much, for Jean
watched him with some anxiety. He saw that the boy was taking it hard.
His eyes were very sunken now, and he moved his right arm stiffly, as
though the old wound troubled him.
Jean did not like leave-takings. Particularly he did not like taking
leave of Sara Lee. Some time before the boat sailed he kissed her hand,
and then patted it and went away in the car without looking back.
The boat was preparing to get under way. Henri was standing by her very
quietly. He had not slept the night before, but then there were many
nights when Henri did not sleep. He had wandered about, smoking
incessantly, trying to picture the black future.
He could see no hope anywhere. America was far away, and peaceful.
Very soon the tranquillity of it all would make the last months seem
dreamlike and unreal. She would forget Belgium, forget him. Or she
would remember him as a soldier who had once loved her. Once loved her,
because she had never seemed to realize the lasting quality of his love.
She had always felt that he would forget her. If he could only make her
believe that he would not, it would not be so hopeless.
He had written a bit of a love letter on the little table at Dunkirk
that morning, written it with the hope that the sight of the written
words might carry conviction where all his protests had failed.
"I shall love you all the years of my life," he wrote. "At any time, in
any place, you may come to me and know that I am waiting. Great love
like this comes only once to any man, and once come to him it never goes
away. At any time in the years to come you may know with certainty that
you are still to me what you are now, the love of my life.
"Sometimes I think, dearest--I may call you that once, now that you
have left me--that far away you will hear this call of mine and come
back to me. Perhaps you will never come. Perhaps I shall not live. I
feel to-day that I do not care greatly to live.
"If that is to be, then think of me somewhere, perhaps with Rene by my
side, since he, too, loved you. And I shall still be calling you, and
waiting. Perhaps even beyond the stars they have need of a little house
of mercy; and, God knows, wherever I am I shall have need of you."
He had the letter in the pocket of his tunic, and at last the moment
came when the boat must leave. Suddenly Henri knew that he could not
allow her to cross to England alone. The last few days had brought many
stories of submarine attacks. Here, so far north, the Germans were
particularly active. They had for a long time lurked in waiting for
this British Admiralty boat, with its valuable cargo, its officers and
the government officials who used it.
"Good-by, Henri," said Sara Lee. "I--of course it is no use to try to
"I am going across with you."
"I allowed you to come over alone. I shiver when I think of it. I shall
take you back myself."
"Is it very dangerous?"
"Probably not. But can you think of me standing safe on that quay and
letting you go into danger alone?"
"I am not afraid."
"I know that. I have never seen you afraid. But if you wish to see a
coward, look at me. I am a coward for you."
He put his hand into his pocket. It occurred to him to give her the
letter now so that if anything happened she would at least have had it.
He wanted no mistake about that appointment beyond the stars. But the
great world of eternity was very large, and they must have a definite
understanding about that meeting at the little house of mercy Over There.
Perhaps he had a little fever that day. He was alternately flushed and
pale; and certainly he was not quite rational. His hand shook as he
brought out her letter--and with it the other letter, from the Front.
"Have you the time to come with me?" Sara Lee asked doubtfully. "I want
you to come, of course, but if your work will suffer--"
He held out his letter to her.
"I shall go away," he said, "while you read it. And perhaps you will
not destroy it, because--I should like to feel that you have it always."
He went away at once, saluting as he passed other officers, who gravely
saluted him. On the deck of the hospital ship the invalid touched his
cap. Word was going about, in the stealthy manner of such things, that
Henri whose family name we may not know, was a brave man and doing brave
The steamer had not yet cast off. As usual, it was to take a flying
start from the harbor, for it was just outside the harbor that the wolves
of the sea lay in wait. Henri, alone at last, opened his letter, and
stood staring at it. There was again movement behind the German line,
a matter to be looked into, as only he could do it. Probably nothing,
as before; but who could say?
Henri looked along the shore to where but a few miles away lay the
ragged remnant of his country. And he looked forward to where Sara Lee,
his letter in her hand, was staring blindly at nothing. Then he looked
out toward the sea, where lay who knew what dangers of death and
After that first moment of indecision he never hesitated. He stood on
the deck and watched, rather frozen and rigid, and with a mind that had
ceased working, while the steamer warped out from the quay. If in his
subconsciousness there was any thought it was doubtless that he had done
his best for a long time, and that he had earned the right to protect
for a few hours the girl he loved. That, too, there had been activity
along the German-Belgian line before, without result.
Perhaps subconsciously those things were there. He himself was conscious
of no thought, of only a dogged determination to get Sara Lee across the
channel safely. He put everything else behind him. He counted no cost.
The little admiralty boat sped on. In the bow, on the bridge, and at
different stations lookouts kept watch. The lifeboats were hung
overboard, ready to lower instantly. On the horizon a British destroyer
steamed leisurely. Henri stood for a long time on the deck. The land
fell away quickly. From a clear silhouette of the town against the sky
--the dunes, the spire of the cathedral, the roof of the mairie--it
became vague, shadowy--the height of a hand--a line--nothing.
Henri roused himself. He was very thirsty, and the wound in his arm
ached. When he raised his hand to salute the movement was painful.
It was a very grave Sara Lee he found in the officer's cabin when he
went inside later on. She was sitting on the long seat below the open
port, her hat slightly askew and her hands folded in her lap. Her bag
was beside her, and there was in her eyes a perplexity Henri was too
wretched to notice.
For the first time Sara Lee was realizing the full value of the thing
she was throwing away. She had persistently discounted it until now.
She had been grateful for it. She had felt unworthy of it. But now,
on the edge of leaving it, she felt that something infinitely precious
and very beautiful was going out of her life. She had already a sense
For the first time, too, she was allowing herself to think of certain
contingencies that were now forever impossible. For instance, suppose
she had stayed with Mrs. Cameron? Suppose she had broken her promise
to Harvey and remained at the little house? Suppose she had done as
Henri had so wildly urged her, and had broken entirely with Harvey?
Would she have married Henri?
There was a certain element of caution in the girl. It made the chances
she had taken rather more courageous, indeed, because she had always
counted the cost. But marriage was not a matter for taking chances. One
should know not only the man, but his setting, though she would not have
thought of it in that way. Not only the man, but the things that made up
his life--his people, his home.
And Henri was to her still a figure, not so much now of mystery as of
detachment. Except Jean he had no intimates. He had no family on the
only side of the line she knew. He had not even a country.
She had reached that point when Henri came below and saluted her stiffly
from the doorway.
"Henri!" she said. "I believe you are ill!"
"I am not ill," he said, and threw himself into the corner of the seat.
"You have read it?"
She nodded. Even thinking of it brought a lump into her throat. He
bent forward, but he did not touch her.
"I meant it, Saralie," he said. "Sometimes men are infatuated, and
write what they do not mean. They are sincere at the time, and then
later on-- But I meant it. I shall always mean it."
Not then, nor during the three days in London, did he so much as take
her hand. He was not well. He ate nothing, and at night he lay awake
and drank a great deal of water. Once or twice he found her looking at
him anxiously, but he disclaimed all illness.
He had known from the beginning what he was doing. But he did not touch
her, because in his heart he knew that where once he had been worthy he
was no longer worthy. He had left his work for a woman.
It is true that he had expected to go back at once. But the Philadelphia,
which had been listed to sail the next day, was held up by a strike in
Liverpool, and he waited on, taking such hours as she could give him,
feverishly anxious to make her happy, buying her little gifts, mostly
flowers, which she wore tucked in her belt and smiled over, because she
had never before received flowers from a man.
He was alternately gay and silent. They walked across the Thames by the
Parliament buildings, and midway across he stopped and looked long at the
stream. And they went to the Zoological Gardens, where he gravely named
one of the sea lions for Colonel Lilias because of its mustache, and
insisted on saluting it each time before he flung it a fish. Once he
soberly gathered up a very new baby camel, all legs, in his arms, and
presented it to her.
"Please accept it, mademoiselle," he said. "With my compliments."
They dined together every night, very modestly, sitting in some crowded
restaurant perhaps, but seeing little but each other. Sara Lee had
bought a new hat in London--black, of course, but faced with white.
He adored her in it. He would sit for long moments, his elbows propped
on the table, his blond hair gleaming in the candlelight, and watch her.
"I wonder," he said once, "if you had never met him would you have loved
"I do love you, Henri."
"I don't want that sort of love." And he had turned his head away.
But one evening he called for her at Morley's, a white and crushed boy,
needing all that she could give him and much more. He came as a man
goes to the woman he loves when he is in trouble, much as a child to his
mother. Sara Lee, coming down to the reception room, found him alone
there, walking rapidly up and down. He turned desperate eyes on her.
"I have brought bad news," he said abruptly.
"The little house--"
"I do not know. I ran away, mademoiselle. I am a traitor. And the
Germans broke through last night."
"They broke through. We were not ready. That is what I have done."
"Don't you think," Sara Lee said in a frozen voice, "that is what I have
done? I let you come."
"You? You are taking the blame? Mademoiselle, I have enough to bear
He explained further, still standing in his rigid attitude. If he had
been white before at times he was ghastly now. It had not been an attack
in force. A small number had got across and had penetrated beyond the
railway line. There had been hand-to-hand fighting in the road beyond
the poplars. But it looked more like an experiment, an endeavor to
discover the possibility of a real advance through the inundation; or
perhaps a feint to cover operations elsewhere.
"For every life lost I am responsible," he ended in a flat and lifeless
"But you might not have known," she protested wildly. "Even if you had
been there, Henri, you might not have known." She knew something of war
by that time. "How could you have told that a small movement of troops
was to take place?"
"I should have been there."
"But--if they came without warning?"
"I did not tell you," he said, looking away from her. "There had been a
warning. I disregarded it."
He went back to Belgium that night. Sara Lee, at the last, held out her
hand. She was terrified for him, and she showed it.
"I shall not touch your hand," he said. "I have forfeited my right to
do that." Then, seeing what was in her face, he reassured her. "I shall
not do that," he said. "It would be easier. But I shall have to go
back and see what can be done."
He was the old Henri to the last, however. He went carefully over her
steamship ticket, and inquired with equal care into the amount of money
"It will take you home?" he asked.
"Very comfortably, Henri."
"It seems very little."
Then he said, apropos of nothing: "Poor Jean!"
When he left her at last he went to the door, very erect and soldierly.
But he turned there and stood for a moment looking at her, as though
through all that was coming he must have with him, to give him strength,
that final picture of her.
The elderly chambermaid, coming into Sara Lee's room the next morning,
found her fully dressed in the frock she had worn the night before, face
down on her bed.
It was early in June when at last the lights went down behind the back
drop and came up in front, to show Sara Lee knitting again, though not
by the fire. The amazing interlude was over.
Over, except in Sara Lee's heart. The voyage had been a nightmare. She
had been ill for one thing--a combination of seasickness and
heartsickness. She had allowed Henri to come to England with her, and
the Germans had broken through. All the good she had done--and she had
helped--was nothing to this mischief she had wrought.
It had been a small raid. She gathered that from the papers on board.
But that was not the vital thing. What mattered was that she had let a
man forget his duty to his country in his solicitude for her.
But as the days went on the excitement of her return dulled the edge of
her misery somewhat. The thing was done. She could do only one thing
to help. She would never go back, never again bring trouble and
suffering where she had meant only to bring aid and comfort.
She had a faint hope that Harvey would meet her at the pier. She needed
comforting and soothing, and perhaps a bit of praise. She was so very
tired; depressed, too, if the truth be known. She needed a hand to lead
her back to her old place on the stage, and kind faces to make her forget
that she had ever gone away.
Because that was what she had to do. She must forget Henri and the
little house on the road to the poplar trees; and most of all, she must
forget that because of her Henri had let the Germans through.
But Harvey did not meet her. There was a telegram saying he would meet
her train if she wired when she was leaving--an exultant message
breathing forgiveness and signed "with much love." She flushed when she
Of course he could not meet her in New York. This was not the Continent
in wartime, where convention had died of a great necessity. And he was
not angry, after all. A great wave of relief swept over her. But it
was odd how helpless she felt. Since her arrival in England months
before there had always been Henri to look after things for her. It was
incredible to recall how little she had done for herself.
Was she glad to be back? She did not ask herself. It was as though the
voyage had automatically detached her from that other Sara Lee of the
little house. That was behind her, a dream--a mirage--or a memory.
Here, a trifle confused by the bustle, was once again the Sara Lee who
had knitted for Anna, and tended the plants in the dining-room window,
and watched Uncle James slowly lowered into his quiet grave.
Part of her detachment was voluntary. She could not bear to remember.
She had but to close her eyes to see Henri's tragic face that last night
at Morley's. And part of the detachment was because, after all, the
interlude had been but a matter of months, and reaching out familiar
hands to her were the habits and customs and surroundings of all the
earlier years of her life, drawing her back to them.
It was strange how Henri's face haunted her. She could close her eyes
and see it, line by line, his very swagger--for he did swagger, just a
little; his tall figure and unruly hair; his long, narrow, muscular
hands. Strange and rather uncomfortable. Because she could not summon
Harvey's image at all. She tried to bring before her, that night in the
train speeding west, his solid figure and kind eyes as they would greet
her the next day--tried, and failed. All she got was the profile of
the photograph, and the stubborn angle of the jaw.
She was up very early the next morning, and it was then, as the train
rolled through familiar country, that she began to find Harvey again.
A flush of tenderness warmed her. She must be very kind to him because
of all that he had suffered.
The train came to a stop. Rather breathless Sara Lee went out on the
platform. Harvey was there, in the crowd. He did not see her at first.
He was looking toward the front of the train. So her first glimpse of
him was the view of the photograph. His hat was off, and his hair,
carefully brushed back, gave him the eager look of the picture.
He was a strong and manly figure, as unlike Henri as an oak is unlike
one of Henri's own tall and swaying poplars. Sara Lee drew a long
breath. Here after all were rest and peace; love and gentleness; quiet
days and still evenings. No more crowds and wounds and weary men, no
more great thunderings of guns, no imminence of death. Rest and peace.
Then Harvey saw her, and the gleam of happiness and relief in his eyes
made her own eyes misty. She saw even in that first glance that he
looked thinner and older. A pang of remorse shot through her. Was
happiness always bought at the cost of happiness? Did one always take
away in order to give? Not in so many words, but in a flash of doubt
the thought went through her mind.
There was no reserve in Harvey's embrace. He put his arms about her and
held her close. He did not speak at first. Then:
"My own little girl," he said. "My own little girl!"
Suddenly Sara Lee was very happy. All her doubts were swept away by his
voice, his arms. There was no thrill for her in his caress, but there
were peace and quiet joy. It was enough for her, just then, that she
had brought back some of the happiness she had robbed him of.
"Oh, Harvey!" she said. "I'm glad to be back again--with you."
He held her off then and looked at her.
"You are thin," he said. "You're not pale, but you are thin." And in a
harder voice: "What did they do to you over there?"
But he did not wait for a reply. He did not seem to want one. He picked
up her bag, and guiding her by the elbow, piloted her through the crowd.
"A lot of folks wanted to come and meet you," he said, "but I steered
them off. You'd have thought Roosevelt was coming to town the way
they've been calling up."
"To meet me?"
"I expect the Ladies' Aid Society wanted to get into the papers again,"
he said rather grimly. "They are merry little advertisers, all right."
"I don't think that, Harvey."
"Well, I do," he said, and brought her to a stop facing a smart little
car, very new, very gay.
"How do you like it?" he asked.
"Like it? Why, it's not yours, is it?"
"Surest thing you know. Or, rather, it's ours. Had a few war babies,
and they grew up."
Sara Lee looked at it, and for just an instant, a rather sickening
instant, she saw Henri's shattered low car, battle-scarred and broken.
"It's--lovely," said Sara Lee. And Harvey found no fault with her tone.
Sara Lee had intended to go to Anna's, for a time at least. But she
found that Belle was expecting her and would not take no.
"She's moved the baby in with the others," Harvey explained as he took
the wheel. "Wait until you see your room. I knew we'd be buying
furniture soon, so I fixed it up."
He said nothing for a time. He was new to driving a car, and the traffic
engrossed him. But when they had reached a quieter neighborhood he put
a hand over hers.
"Good God, how I've been hungry for you!" he said. "I guess I was pretty
nearly crazy sometimes." He glanced at her apprehensively, but if she
knew his connection with her recall she showed no resentment. As a
matter of fact there was in his voice something that reminded her of
Henri, the same deeper note, almost husky.
She was, indeed, asking herself very earnestly what was there in her of
all people that should make two men care for her as both Henri and Harvey
cared. In the humility of all modest women she was bewildered. It made
her rather silent and a little sad. She was so far from being what they
Harvey, stealing a moment from the car to glance at her, saw something
baffling in her face.
"Do you still care, Sara Lee?" he asked almost diffidently. "As much as
"I have come back to you," she said after an imperceptible pause.
"Well, I guess that's the answer."
He drew a deep satisfied breath. "I used to think of you over there,
and all those foreigners in uniform strutting about, and it almost got
me, some times."
And again, as long before, he read into her passivity his own passion,
and was deeply content.
Belle was waiting on the small front porch. There was an anxious frown
on her face, and she looked first, not at Sara Lee, but at Harvey. What
she saw there evidently satisfied her, for the frown disappeared. She
kissed Sara Lee impulsively.
All that afternoon, much to Harvey's resentment, Sara Lee received
callers. The Ladies' Aid came en masse and went out to the dining-room
and there had tea and cake. Harvey disappeared when they came.
"You are back," he said, "and safe, and all that. But it's not their
fault. And I'll be hanged if I'll stand round and listen to them."
He got his hat and then, finding her alone in a back hall for a moment,
reverted uneasily to the subject.
"There are two sides to every story," he said. "They're going to knife
me this afternoon, all right. Damned hypocrites! You just keep your
head, and I'll tell you my side of it later."
"Harvey," she said slowly, "I want to know now just what you did. I'm
not angry. I've never been angry. But I ought to know."
It was a very one-sided story that Harvey told her, standing in the
little back hall, with Belle's children hanging over the staircase and
begging for cake. Yet in the main it was true. He had reached his
limit of endurance. She was in danger, as the photograph plainly showed.
And a fellow had a right to fight for his own happiness.
"I wanted you back, that's all," he ended. And added an anticlimax by
passing a plate of sliced jelly roll through the stair rail to the
Sara Lee stood there for a moment after he had gone. He was right, or
at least he had been within his rights. She had never even heard of the
new doctrine of liberty for women. There was nothing in her training to
teach her revolt. She was engaged to Harvey; already, potentially, she
belonged to him. He had interfered with her life, but he had had the
right to interfere.
And also there was in the back of her mind a feeling that was almost
guilt. She had let Henri tell her he loved her. She had even kissed
him. And there had been many times in the little house when Harvey, for
days at a time, had not even entered her thoughts. There was, therefore,
a very real tenderness in the face she lifted for his good-by kiss.
To Belle in the front hall Harvey gave a firm order.
"Don't let any reporters in," he said warningly. "This is strictly our
affair. It's a private matter. It's nobody's business what she did over
there. She's home. That's all that matters."
Belle assented, but she was uneasy. She knew that Harvey was
unreasonably, madly jealous of Sara Lee's work at the little house of
mercy, and she knew him well enough to know that sooner or later he would
show that jealousy. She felt, too, that the girl should have been
allowed her small triumph without interference. There had been
interference enough already. But it was easier to yield to Harvey than
to argue with him.
It was rather a worried Belle who served tea that afternoon in her dining
room, with Mrs. Gregory pouring; the more uneasy, because already she
divined a change in Sara Lee. She was as lovely as ever, even lovelier.
But she had a poise, a steadiness, that were new; and silences in which,
to Belle's shrewd eyes, she seemed to be weighing things.
Reporters clamored to see Sara Lee that day, and, failing to see her,
telephoned Harvey at his office to ask if it was true that she had been
decorated by the King. He was short to the point of affront.
"I haven't heard anything about it," he snapped. "And I wouldn't say if
I had. But it's not likely. What d'you fellows think she was doing
anyhow? Leading a charge? She was running a soup kitchen. That's all."
He hung up the receiver with a jerk, but shortly after that he fell to
pacing his small office. She had not said anything about being decorated,
but the reporters had said it had been in a London newspaper. If she
had not told him that, there were probably many things she had not told
him. But of course there had been very little time. He would see if
she mentioned it that night.
Sara Lee had had a hard day. The children loved her. In the intervals
of calls they crawled over her, and the littlest one called her Saralie.
She held the child in her arms close.
"Saralie!" said the child, over and over; "Saralie! That's your name.
I love your name."
And there came, echoing in her ears, Henri and his tender Saralie.
There was an oppression on her too. Her very bedroom thrust on her her
approaching marriage. This was her own furniture, for her new home. It
was beautiful, simple and good. But she was not ready for marriage. She
had been too close to the great struggle to be prepared to think in terms
of peace so soon. Perhaps, had she dared to look deeper than that, she
would have found something else, a something she had not counted on.
She and Belle had a little time after the visitors had gone, before
Harvey came home. They sat in Belle's bedroom, and her sentences were
punctuated by little backs briskly presented to have small garments
fastened, or bows put on stiffly bobbed yellow hair.
"Did you understand my letter?" she asked. "I was sorry I had sent it,
but it was too late then."
"I put your letter and--theirs, together. I supposed that Harvey--"
"He was about out of his mind," Belle said in her worried voice. "Stand
still, Mary Ellen! He went to Mrs. Gregory, and I suppose he said a good
bit. You know the way he does. Anyhow, she was very angry. She called
a special meeting, and--I tried to prevent their recalling you. He
doesn't know that, of course."
"Well, I felt as though it was your work," Belle said rather
uncomfortably. "Bring me the comb, Alice. I guess we get pretty narrow
here and--I've been following things more closely since you went over.
I know more than I did. And, of course, after one marries there isn't
much chance. There are children and--" Her face twisted. "I wish I
could do something."
She got up and brought from the dresser a newspaper clipping.
"It's the London newspaper," she explained. "I've been taking it, but
Harvey doesn't know. He doesn't care much for the English. This is
about your being decorated."
Sara Lee held it listlessly in her hands.
"Shall I tell him, Belle?" she asked.
"I don't believe I would," she said forlornly. "He won't like it.
That's why I've never showed him that clipping. He hates it all so."
Sara Lee dressed that evening in the white frock. She dressed slowly,
thinking hard. All round her was the shiny newness of her furniture,
a trifle crowded in Belle's small room. Sara Lee had a terrible feeling
of being fastened in by it. Wherever she turned it gleamed. She felt
She had meant to make a clean breast of things--of the little house,
and of Henri, and of the King, pinning the medal on her shabby black
jacket and shaking hands with her. Henri she must tell about--not his
name of course, nor his madness, nor even his love. But she felt that
she owed it to Harvey to have as few secrets from him as possible. She
would tell about what the boy had done for her, and how he, and he alone,
had made it all possible.
Surely Harvey would understand. It was a page that was closed. It had
held nothing to hurt him. She had come back.
She stood by her window, thinking. And a breath of wind set the leaves
outside to rustling. Instantly she was back again in the little house,
and the sound was not leaves, but the shuffling of many stealthy feet
on the cobbles of the street at night, that shuffling that was so like
the rustling of leaves in a wood or the murmur of water running over a
stony creek bed.
It was clear to Sara Lee from the beginning of the evening that Harvey
did not intend to hear her story. He did not say so; indeed, for a time
he did not talk at all. He sat with his arms round her, content just to
have her there.
"I have a lot of arrears to make up," he said. "I've got to get used to
having you where I can touch you. To-night when I go upstairs I'm going
to take that damned colorless photograph of you and throw it out the
"I must tell you about your photograph," she ventured. "It always stood
on the mantel over the stove, and when there was a threatened bombardment
I used to put it under--"
"Let's not talk, honey."
When he came out of that particular silence he said abruptly:
"Will Leete is dead."
"Oh, no! Poor Will Leete."
"Died of pneumonia in some God-forsaken hole over there. He's left a
wife and nothing much to keep her. That's what comes of mixing in the
other fellow's fight. I guess we can get the house as soon as we want
it. She has to sell; and it ought to be a bargain."
"Harvey," she said rather timidly, "you speak of the other fellow's
fight. They say over there that we are sure to be drawn into it sooner
"Not on our life!" he replied brusquely. "And if you don't mind, honey,
I don't care to hear about what they think over there." He got up from
his old place on the arm of her chair and stood on the rug. "I'd better
tell you now how I feel about this thing. I can't talk about it, that's
all. We'll finish up now and let it go at that. I'm sorry there's a
war. I'll send money when I can afford it, to help the Belgians, though
my personal opinion is that they're getting theirs for what they did in
the Congo. But I don't want to hear about what you did over there."
He saw her face, and he went to her and kissed her cheek.
"I don't want to hurt you, honey," he said. "I love you with all my
heart. But somehow I can't forget that you left me and went over there
when there was no reason for it. You put off our marriage, and I
suppose we'd better get it over. Go ahead and tell me about it."
He drew up a chair and waited, but the girl smiled rather tremulously.
"Perhaps we'd better wait, if you feel that way, Harvey."
His face was set as he looked at her.
"There's only one thing I want to know," he said. "And I've got a right
to know that. You're a young girl, and you're beautiful--to me, anyhow.
You've been over there with a lot of crazy foreigners." He got up again
and all the bitterness of the empty months was in his voice. "Did any
of them--was there anybody there you cared about?"
"I came back, Harvey."
"That's not the question."
"There were many men--officers--who were kind to me. I--"
"That's not the question, either."
"If I had loved any one more than I loved you I should not have come
"Wait a minute!" he said quickly. "You had to come back, you know."
"I could have stayed. The Englishwoman who took over my work asked me
to stay on and help her."
He was satisfied then. He went back to the arm of her chair and kissed
"All right," he said. "I've suffered the tortures of the damned, but
--that fixes it. Now let's talk about something else. I'm sick of
this war talk."
"I'd like to tell you about my little house. And poor Rene--"
"Who was Rene?" he demanded.
"The one on the step, with a rifle?"
"Look here," he said. "I've got to get to all that gradually. I don't
know that I'll ever get to it cheerfully. But I can't talk about that
place to-night. And I don't want to talk war. The whole business makes
me sick. I've got a car out of it, and if things keep on we may be able
to get the Leete house. But there's no reason in it, no sense. I'm
sick to death of hearing about it. Let's talk of something else."
But--and here was something strange--Sara Lee could find nothing else
to talk about. The thing that she had looked forward so eagerly to
telling--that was barred. And the small gossip of their little circle,
purely personal and trivial, held only faint interest for her. For the
first time they had no common ground to meet on.
Yet it was a very happy man who went whistling to his room that night.
He was rather proud of himself too. After all the bitterness of the
past months, he had been gentle and loving to Sara Lee. He had not
In the next room he could hear her going quietly about, opening and
closing the drawers of the new bureau, moving a chair. Pretty soon, God
willing, they need never be separated. He would have her always, to
protect and cherish and love.
He went outside to her closed door.
"Good night, sweetheart," he called softly.
"Good night, dear," came her soft reply.
But long after he was asleep Sara Lee stood at her window and listened
to the leaves, so like the feet of weary men on the ruined street over
For the first time she was questioning the thing she had done. She
loved Harvey--but there were many kinds of love. There was the love of
Jean for Henri, and there was the wonderful love, though the memory now
was cruel and hurt her, of Henri for herself. And there was the love of
Marie for the memory of Maurice the spy. Many kinds of love; and one
heart might love many people, in different ways.
A small doubt crept into her mind. This feeling she had for Harvey was
not what she had thought it was over there. It was a thing that had
belonged to a certain phase of her life. But that phase was over. It
was, like Marie's, but a memory.
This Harvey of the new car and the increased income and the occasional
hardness in his voice was not the Harvey she had left. Or perhaps it
was she who had changed. She wondered. She felt precisely the same,
tender toward her friends, unwilling to hurt them. She did not want
to hurt Harvey.
But she did not love him as he deserved to be loved. And she had a
momentary lift of the veil, when she saw the long vista of the years,
the two of them always together and always between them hidden,
untouched, but eating like a cancer, Harvey's resentment and suspicion
of her months away from him.
There would always be a barrier between them. Not only on Harvey's side.
There were things she had no right to tell--of Henri, of his love and
care for her, and of that last terrible day when he realized what he had
That night, lying in the new bed, she faced that situation too. How
much was she to blame? If Henri felt that each life lost was lost by
him wasn't the same true for her? Why had she allowed him to stay in
But that was one question she did not answer frankly.
She lay there in the darkness and wondered what punishment he would
receive. He had done so much for them over there. Surely, surely, they
would allow for that. But small things came back to her--the awful
sight of the miller and his son, led away to death, with the sacks over
their heads. The relentlessness of it all, the expecting that men
should give everything, even life itself, and ask for no mercy.
And this, too, she remembered: Once in a wild moment Henri had said he
would follow her to America, and that there he would prove to her that
his and not Harvey's was the real love of her life--the great love,
that comes but once to any woman, and to some not at all. Yet on that
last night at Morley's he had said what she now felt was a final
farewell. That last look of his, from the doorway--that had been the
look of a man who would fill his eyes for the last time.
She got up and stood by the window. What had they done to him? What
would they do? She looked at her watch. It was four o'clock in the
morning over there. The little house would be quiet now, but down along
the lines men would be standing on the firing step of the trench, and
waiting, against what the dawn might bring.
Through the thin wall came the sound of Harvey's heavy, regular
breathing. She remembered Henri's light sleeping on the kitchen floor,
his cap on the table, his cape rolled round him--a sleeping, for all
his weariness, so light that he seemed always half conscious. She
remembered the innumerable times he had come in at this hour, muddy,
sometimes rather gray of face with fatigue, but always cheerful.
It was just such an hour that she found him giving hot coffee to the
German prisoner. It had been but a little earlier when he had taken her
to the roof and had there shown her Rene, lying with his face up toward
the sky which had sent him death.
A hundred memories crowded--Henri's love for the Belgian soldiers, and
theirs for him; his humor; his absurd riddles. There was the one he had
asked Rene, the very day before the air attack. He had stood stiffly and
frowningly before the boy, and he had asked in a highly official tone:
"What must a man be to be buried with military honors?"
"No, no! Use your head boy! This is very important. A mistake would
be most serious."
Rene had shaken his head dejectedly.
"He must be dead, Rene," Henri had said gravely. "Entirely dead. As I
said, it is well to know these things. A mistake would be unfortunate."
His blue eyes had gleamed with fun, but his face had remained frowning.
It was quite five minutes before she had heard Rene chuckling on the
Was he still living, this Henri of the love of life and courting of
death? Could anything so living die? And if he had died had it been
because of her? She faced that squarely for the first time.
"Perhaps even beyond the stars they have need of a little house of mercy;
and, God knows, wherever I am I shall have need of you."
Beyond the partition Harvey slept on, his arms under his head.
Harvey was clamoring for an early wedding. And indeed there were few
arguments against it, save one that Sara Lee buried in her heart.
Belle's house was small, and though she was welcome there, and more than
that, Sara Lee knew that she was crowding the family.
Perhaps Sara Lee would have agreed in the end. There seemed to be
nothing else to do, though by the end of the first week she was no longer
in any doubt as to what her feeling for Harvey really was. It was
kindness, affection; but it was not love. She would marry him because
she had promised to, and because their small world expected her to do so;
and because she could not shame him again.
For to her surprise she found that that was what he had felt--a strange,
self-conscious shame, like that of a man who has been jilted. She felt
that by coming back to him she had forfeited the right to break the
So every hour of every day seemed to make the thing more inevitable.
Belle was embroidering towels for her in her scant leisure. Even Anna,
with a second child coming, sent in her contribution to the bride's
linen chest. By almost desperately insisting on a visit to Aunt Harriet
she got a reprieve of a month. And Harvey was inclined to be jealous
even of that.
Sometimes, but mostly at night when she was alone, a hot wave of
resentment overwhelmed her. Why should she be forced into the thing?
Was there any prospect of happiness after marriage when there was so
For she realized now that even Harvey was not happy. He had at last
definitely refused to hear the story of the little house.
"I'd rather just forget it, honey!" he said.
But inconsistently he knew she did not forget it, and it angered him.
True to his insistence on ignoring those months of her absence, she made
no attempt to tell him. Now and then, however, closed in the library
together, they would fail of things to talk about, and Sara Lee's
knitting needles would be the only sound in the room. At those times he
would sit back in his chair and watch the far-away look in her eyes, and
it maddened him.
From her busy life Belle studied them both, with an understanding she
did not reveal. And one morning when the mail came she saw Sara Lee's
face as she turned away, finding there was no letter for her, and made
an excuse to follow her to her room.
The girl was standing by the window looking out. The children were
playing below, and the maple trees were silent. Belle joined her there
and slipped an arm round her.
"Why are you doing it, Sara Lee?" she asked.
Sara Lee looked at her with startled eyes.
"I'm engaged to him, Belle. I've promised."
"Exactly," said Belle dryly. "But that's hardly a good reason, is it?
It takes more than a promise." She stared down at the flock of children
in the yard below. "Harvey's a man," she said. "He doesn't understand,
but I do. You've got to care a whole lot, Sara Lee, if you're going to
go through with it. It takes a lot of love, when it comes to having
children and all that."
"He's so good, Belle. How can I hurt him?"
"You'll hurt him a lot more by marrying him when you don't love him."
"If only I could have a little time," she cried wildly. "I'm so--I'm
tired, Belle. And I can't forget about the war and all that. I've
tried. Sometimes I think if we could talk it over together I'd get it
out of my mind."
"He won't talk about it?"
"He's my own brother, and I love him dearly. But sometimes I think he's
hard. Not that he's ever ugly," she hastened to add; "but he's stubborn.
There's a sort of wall in him, and he puts some things behind it. And
it's like beating against a rock to try to get at them."
After a little silence she said hesitatingly:
"We've got him to think of too. He has a right to be happy. Sometimes
I've looked at you--you're so pretty, Sara Lee--and I've wondered if
there wasn't some one over there who--cared for you."
"There was one man, an officer--Oh, Belle, I can't tell you. Not you!"
"Why not!" asked Belle practically. "You ought to talk it out to some
one, and if Harvey insists on being a fool that's his own fault."
For all the remainder of that sunny morning Sara Lee talked what was in
her heart. And Belle--poor, romantic, starved Belle--heard and
thrilled. She made buttonholes as she listened, but once or twice a
new tone in Sara Lee's voice caused her to look up. Here was a new
Sara Lee, a creature of vibrant voice and glowing eyes; and Belle was
not stupid. She saw that it was Henri whose name brought the deeper note.
Sara Lee had stopped with her recall, had stopped and looked about the
room with its shiny new furniture and had shivered. Belle bent over her
"Why don't you go back?" she asked.
Sara Lee looked at her piteously.
"How can I? There is Harvey. And the society would not send me again.
It's over, Belle. All over."
After a pause Belle said: "What's become of Henri? He hasn't written,
Sara Lee got up and went to the window.
"I don't know where he is. He may be dead."
Her voice was flat and lifeless. Belle knew all that she wanted to know.
She rose and gathered up her sewing.
"I'm going to talk to Harvey. You're not going to be rushed into a
wedding. You're tired, and it's all nonsense. Well, I'll have to run
now and dress the children."
That night Harvey and Belle had almost a violent scene. He had taken
Sara Lee over the Leete house that evening. Will Leete's widow had met
them there, a small sad figure in her mourning, but very composed, until
she opened the door into a tiny room upstairs with a desk and a lamp
"This was Will's study," she said. "He did his work here in the
evenings, and I sat in that little chair and sewed. I never thought
then--" Her lips quivered.
"Pretty rotten of Will Leete to leave that little thing alone," said
Harvey on their way home. "He had his fling; and she's paying for it."
But Sara Lee was silent. It was useless to try to make Harvey understand
the urge that had called Will Leete across the sea to do his share for
the war, and that had brought him that peace of God that passeth all
It was not a good time for Belle to put up to him her suggestion for a
delay in the marriage, that evening after their return. He took it
badly and insisted on sending upstairs for Sara Lee.
"Did you ask Belle to do this?" he demanded bluntly.
"To do what?"
"To put things off."
"I have already told you, Harvey," Belle put in. "It is my own idea.
She is tired. She's been through a lot. I've heard the story you're
too stubborn to listen to. And I strongly advise her to wait a while."
And after a time he agreed ungraciously. He would buy the house and fix
it over, and in the early fall it would be ready.
"Unless," he added to Sara Lee with a bitterness born of disappointment--
"unless you change your mind again."
He did not kiss her that night when she and Belle went together up the
stairs. But he stared after her gloomily, with hurt and bewilderment in
He did not understand. He never would. She had come home to him all
gentleness and tenderness, ready to find in him the things she needed so
badly. But out of his obstinacy and hurt he had himself built up a
That night Sara Lee dreamed that she was back in the little house of
mercy. Rene was there; and Henri; and Jean, with the patch over his eye.
They were waiting for the men to come, and the narrow hall was full of
the odor of Marie's soup. Then she heard them coming, the shuffling of
many feet on the road. She went to the door, with Henri beside her, and
watched them coming up the road, a deeper shadow in the blackness--tired
men, wounded men, homeless men coming to her little house with its
firelight and its warmth. Here and there the match that lighted a
cigarette showed a white but smiling face. They stopped before the door,
and the warm little house, with its guarded lights and its food and
cheer, took them in.
Very pale and desperate, Henri took the night A train for Folkestone
after he had said good-by to Sara Lee. He alternately chilled and
burned with fever, and when he slept, as he did now and then, going off
suddenly into a doze and waking with a jerk, it was to dream of horrors.
He thought, in his wilder intervals, of killing himself. But his code
did not include such a shirker's refuge. He was going back to tell his
story and to take his punishment.
He had cabled to Jean to meet him at Calais, but when, at dawn the next
morning, the channel boat drew in to the wharf there was no sign of
Jean or the car. Henri regarded the empty quay with apathetic eyes.
They would come, later on. If he could only get his head down and sleep
for a while he would be better able to get toward the Front. For he
knew now that he was ill. He had, indeed, been ill for days, but he did
not realize that. And he hated illness. He regarded it with suspicion,
as a weakness not for a strong man.
The drowsy girl in her chair at the Gare Maritime regarded him curiously
and with interest. Many women turned to look after Henri, but he did
not know this. Had he known it he would have regarded it much as he
The stupid boy was not round. The girl herself took the key and led the
way down the long corridor upstairs to a room. Henri stumbled in and
fell across the bed. He was almost immediately asleep.
Late in the afternoon he wakened. Strange that Jean had not come. He
got up and bathed his face. His right arm was very stiff now, and pains
ran from the old wound in his chest down to the fingers of his hand. He
tried to exercise to limber it, and grew almost weak with pain.
At six o'clock, when Jean had not come, Henri resorted to ways that he
knew of and secured a car. He had had some coffee by that time, and he
felt much better--so well indeed that he sang under his breath a
strange rambling song that sounded rather like Rene's rendering of
Tipperary. The driver looked at him curiously every now and then.
It was ten o'clock when they reached La Panne. Henri went at once to
the villa set high on a sand dune where the King's secretary lived. The
house was dark, but in the library at the rear there was a light. He
stumbled along the paths beside the house, and reached at last, after
interminable miles, when the path sometimes came up almost to his eyes
and again fell away so that it seemed to drop from under his feet--at
last he reached the long French doors, with their drawn curtains. He
opened the door suddenly and thereby surprised the secretary, who was a
most dignified and rather nervous gentleman, into laying his hand on a
"I wish to see the King," said Henri in a loud tone. Because at that
moment the secretary, lamp and inkwell and all, retired suddenly to a
very great distance, as if one had viewed them through the reverse end
of an opera glass.
The secretary knew Henri. He, too, eyed him curiously.
"The King has retired, monsieur."
"I think," said Henri in a dangerous tone, "that he will see me."
To tell the truth, the secretary rather thought so too. There was a
strange rumor going round, to the effect that the boy had followed a
woman to England at a critical time. Which would have been a pity, the
secretary thought. There were so many women, and so few men like Henri.
The secretary considered gravely. Henri was by that time in a chair, but
it moved about so that he had to hold very tight to the arms. When he
looked up again the secretary had picked up his soft black hat and was
at the door.
"I shall inquire," he said. Henri saluted him stiffly, with his left
hand, as he went out.
The secretary went to His Majesty's equerry, who was in the next house
playing solitaire and trying to forget the family he had left on the
other side of the line.
So it was that in due time Henri again traversed miles of path and
pavement, between tall borders of wild sea grass, miles which perhaps
were a hundred yards. And went round the screen, and--found the King
on the hearthrug. But when he drew himself stiffly to attention he
overdid the thing rather and went over backward with a crash.
He was up again almost immediately, very flushed and uncomfortable.
After that he kept himself in hand, but the King, who had a way all his
own of forgetting his divine right to rule, and a great many other
things--the King watched him gravely.
Henri sat in a chair and made a clean breast of it. Because he was
feeling rather strange he told a great many things that an agent of the
secret service is hardly expected to reveal to his king. He mentioned,
for instance, the color of Sara Lee's eyes, and the way she bandaged,
like one who had been trained.
Once, in the very middle of his narrative, where he had put the letter
from the Front in his pocket and decided to go to England anyhow, he
stopped and hummed Rene's version of Tipperary. Only a bar or two.
Then he remembered.
But one thing brought him round with a start.
"Then," said the King slowly, "Jean was not with you?"
Only he did not call him Jean. He gave him his other name, which, like
Henri's, is not to be told.
Henri's brain cleared then with the news that Jean was missing. When,
somewhat later, he staggered out of the villa, it was under royal
instructions to report to the great hospital along the sea front and
near by, and there to go to bed and have a doctor. Indeed, because the
boy's eyes were wild by that time, the equerry went along and held his
arm. But that was because Henri was in open revolt, and while walking
steadily enough showed a tendency to bolt every now and then.
He would stop on the way and argue, though one does not argue easily
with an equerry.
"I must go," he would say fretfully. "God knows where he is. He'd
never give me up if I were the one."
And once he shook off the equerry violently and said:
"Let go of me, I tell you! I'll come back and go to bed when I've
The equerry soothed him like a child.
An English nurse took charge of Henri in the hospital, and put him to
bed. He was very polite to her, and extremely cynical. She sat in a
chair by his bed and held the key of the room in her hand. Once he
thought she was Sara Lee, but that was only for a moment. She did not
look like Sara Lee. And she was suspicious, too; for when he asked her
what she could put in her left hand that she could not put in her right,
she moved away and placed the door key on the stand, out of reach.
However, toward morning she dozed. There was steady firing at Nieuport
and the windows shook constantly. An ambulance came in, followed by a
stirring on the lower floor. Then silence. He got up then and secured
the key. There was no time for dressing, because she was a suspicious
person and likely to waken at any time. He rolled his clothing into a
bundle and carried it under his well arm. The other was almost useless.
The ambulance was still waiting outside, at the foot of the staircase.
There were voices and lights in the operating room, forward along the
tiled hall. Still in his night clothing, Henri got into the ambulance
and threw his uniform behind him. Then he got the car under way.
Outside the village he paused long enough to dress. His head was
amazingly clear. He had never felt so sure of himself before. As to
his errand he had no doubt whatever. Jean had learned that he had
crossed the channel. Therefore Jean had taken up his work--Jean, who
had but one eye and was as clumsy as a bear. The thought of Jean
crawling through the German trenches set him laughing until he ended
with a sob.
It was rather odd about the ambulance. It did not keep the road very
well. Sometimes it was on one side and sometimes on the other. It slid
as though the road were greased. And after a time Henri made an amazing
discovery. He was not alone in the car.
He looked back, without stopping, and the machine went off in a wide arc.
He brought it back again, grinning.
"Thought you had me, didn't you?" he observed to the car in general, and
the engine in particular. "Now no tricks!"
There was a wounded man in the car. He had had morphia and he was very
comfortable. He was not badly hurt, and he considered that he was being
taken to Calais. He was too tired to talk, and the swinging of the car
rather interested him. He would doze and waken and doze again. But at
last he heard something that made him rise on his elbow.
It was the hammering of the big guns.
He called Henri's attention to this, but Henri said:
"Lie down, Jean, and don't talk. We'll make it yet."
The wounded man intended to make a protest, but he went to sleep instead.
They had reached the village now where was the little house of mercy.
The ambulance rolled and leaped down the street, with both lights full
on, which was forbidden, and came to a stop at the door. The man inside
was grunting then, and Henri, whose head had never been so clear, got
out and went round to the rear of the car.
"Now, out with you, comrade!" he said. "I have made an error, but it is
immaterial. Can you walk?"
He lighted a cigarette, and the man inside saw his burning eyes and
shaking hands. Even through the apathy of the morphia he felt a thrill
of terror. He could walk. He got out while Henri pounded at the door.
"Attention!" he called. "Attention!"
Then he hummed an air of the camps:
Trou la la, ce ne va guere;
Trou la la, ca ne va pas.
When he heard steps inside Henri went back to the ambulance. He got in
and drove it, lights and all, down the street.
Trou la la, ce ne va guere;
Trou la la, ca ne va pas.
Somewhere down the road beyond the poplar trees he abandoned the ambulance.
They found it there the next morning, or rather what was left of it.
Evidently its two unwinking eyes had got on the Germans' nerves.
Early the next morning a Saxon regiment, standing on the firing step
ready for what the dawn might bring forth, watched the mist rise from
the water in front of them. It shone on a body in a Belgian uniform,
lying across their wire, and very close indeed.
Now the Saxons are not Prussians, so no one for sport fired at the body.
Which was rather a good thing, because it moved slightly and stirred.
And then in a loud voice, which is an unusual thing for bodies to
possess, it began to sing:
Trou la la, ce ne va guere;
Trou la la, ca ne va pas.
Late in August Sara Lee broke her engagement with Harvey. She had been
away, at Cousin Jennie's, for a month, and for the first time since her
return she had had time to think. In the little suburban town there
were long hours of quiet when Cousin Jennie mended on the porch and Aunt
Harriet, enjoying a sort of reflected glory from Sara Lee, presided
at Red Cross meetings.
Sara Lee decided to send for Harvey, and he came for a week-end, arriving
pathetically eager, but with a sort of defiance too. He was determined
to hold her, but to hold her on his own terms.
Aunt Harriet had been vaguely uneasy, but Harvey's arrival seemed to put
everything right. She even kissed him when he came, and took great pains
to carry off Cousin Jennie when she showed an inclination toward
conversation and a seat on the porch.
Sara Lee had made a desperate resolve. She intended to lay all her
cards on the table. He should know all that there was to know. If,
after that, he still wanted to hold her--but she did not go so far.
She was so sure he would release her.
It was a despairing thing to do, but she was rather despairing those
days. There had been no letter from Henri or from Jean. She had written
them both several times, to Dunkirk, to the Savoy in London, to the
little house near the Front. But no replies had come. Yet mail was
going through. Mabel Andrews' letters from Boulogne came regularly.
When August went by, with no letters save Harvey's, begging her to come
back, she gave up at last. In the little church on Sundays, with Jennie
on one side and Aunt Harriet on the other, she voiced small silent
prayers--that the thing she feared had not happened. But she could not
think of Henri as not living. He was too strong, too vital.
She did not understand herself those days. She was desperately unhappy.
Sometimes she wondered if it would not be easier to know the truth, even
if that truth comprehended the worst.
Once she received, from some unknown hand, a French journal, and pored
over it for days with her French dictionary, to find if it contained any
news. It was not until a week later that she received a letter from
Mabel, explaining that she had sent the journal, which contained a
description of her hospital.
All of Harvey's Sunday she spent in trying to bring her courage to the
point of breaking the silence he had imposed on her, but it was not
until evening that she succeeded. The house was empty. The family had
gone to church. On the veranda, with the heavy scent of phlox at night
permeating the still air, Sara Lee made her confession. She began at
the beginning. Harvey did not stir--until she told of the way she had
stowed away to cross the channel. Then he moved.
"This fellow who planned that for you--did you ever see him again?"
"He met me in Calais."
"And then what?"
"He took me to Dunkirk in his car. Such a hideous car, Harvey--all
wrecked. It had been under fire again and again. I--"
"He took you to Dunkirk! Who was with you?"
"Just Jean, the chauffeur."
"I like his nerve! Wasn't there in all that Godforsaken country a
woman to take with you? You and this--What was his name, anyhow?"
"I can't tell you that, Harvey."
"Look here!" he burst out. "How much of this aren't you going to tell?
Because I want it all or not at all."
"I can't tell you his name. I'm only trying to make you understand the
way I feel about things. His name doesn't matter." She clenched her
hands in the darkness. "I don't think he is alive now."
He tried to see her face, but she turned it away.
"Dead, eh? What makes you think that?"
"I haven't heard from him."
"Why should you hear from him?" His voice cut like a knife. "Look at
me. Why should he write to you?"
"He cared for me, Harvey."
He sat in a heavy silence which alarmed her.
"Don't be angry, please," she begged. "I couldn't bear it. It wasn't my
fault, or his either."
"The damned scoundrel!" said Harvey thickly.
But she reached over and put a trembling hand over his lips.
"Don't say that," she said. "Don't! I won't allow you to. When I
think what may have happened to him, I--" Her voice broke.
"Go on," Harvey said in cold tones she had never heard before. "Tell it
all, now you've begun it. God knows I didn't want to hear it. He took
you to the hotel at Dunkirk, the way those foreigners take their women.
And he established you in the house at the Front, I suppose, like a--"
Sara Lee suddenly stood up and drew off her ring.
"You needn't go on," she said quietly. "I had a decision to make
to-night, and I have made it. Ever since I came home I have been trying
to go back to where we were before I left. It isn't possible. You are
what you always were, Harvey. But I've changed. I can't go back."
She put the ring into his hand.
"It isn't that you don't love me. I think you do. But I've been
thinking things over. It isn't only to-night, or what you just said.
It's because we don't care for the same things, or believe in them."
"But--if we love each other--"
"It's not that, either. I used to feel that way. A home, and some one
to care about, and a little pleasure and work."
"That ought to be enough, honey."
He was terrified. His anger was gone. He placed an appealing hand on
her arm, and as she stood there in the faint starlight the wonder of her
once again got him by the throat. She had that sort of repressed
eagerness, that look of being poised for flight, that had always made
him feel cheap and unworthy.
"Isn't that enough, honey?" he repeated.
"Not now," she said, her eyes turned toward the east. "These are great
days, Harvey. They are greater and more terrible than any one can know
who has not been there. I've been there and I know. I haven't the
right to all this peace and comfort when I know how things are going
Down the quiet street of the little town service was over. The last
hymn had been sung. Through the open windows came the mellow sound of
the minister's voice in benediction, too far away to be more than a
tone, like a single deep note of the organ. Sara Lee listened. She
knew the words he was saying, and she listened with her eyes turned to
"The peace of God that passeth all understanding
be and abide with you all, forevermore. Amen."
Sara Lee listened, and from the step below her Harvey watched her with
furtive, haggard eyes. He had not heard the benediction.
"The peace of God!" she said slowly. "There is only one peace of God,
Harvey, and that is service. I am going back."
"Service!" he scoffed. "You are going back to him!"
"I'm afraid he is not there any more. I am going back to work. But if
he is there--"
Harvey slid the ring into his pocket. "What if he's not there," he
demanded bitterly. "If you think, after all this, that I'm going to
wait, on the chance of your coming back to me, you're mistaken. I've
been a laughing stock long enough."
In the light of her new decision Sara Lee viewed him for the first time
with the pitiless eyes of women who have lost a faith. She saw him for
what he was, not deliberately cruel, not even unkindly, but selfish,