The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart
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 window."
"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 or later."
"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 back."
"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 her.
"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 scolded her.
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 there.
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 done.
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 London?
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 doorstep.
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.