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.