The Amazing Interlude

by Mary Roberts Rinehart

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Chapter IV

Henri sat on his sofa and watched Sara Lee. Also he shamelessly listened to the conversation, not because he meant to be an eavesdropper but because he liked Sara Lee's voice. He had expected a highly inflected British voice, and instead here was something entirely different—that is, Sara Lee's endeavor to reconcile the English "a" with her normal western Pennsylvania pronunciation. She did it quite unintentionally, but she had a good ear and it was difficult, for instance, to say "rather" when Mr. Travers said "rawther."

Henri had a good ear too. And the man he was waiting for did not come. Also he had been to school in England and spoke English rather better than most British. So he heard a conversation like this, the gaps being what he lost:

MR. TRAVERS: —— to France, anyhow. After that ——

SARA LEE: Awfully sorry to be —— But what shall I do if I do get over? The chambermaid up-stairs —— very difficult.

MR. TRAVERS: The proper and sensible thing is —— home.

SARA LEE: To America? But I haven't done anything yet.

Henri knew that she was an American. He also realized that she was on the verge of tears. He glared at poor Mr. Travers, who was doing his best, and lighted a French cigarette.

"There must be some way," said Sara Lee. "If they need help—and I have read you Mabel Andrews' letter—then I should think they'd be glad to send me."

"They would be, of course," he said. "But the fact is—there's been some trouble about spies, and—"

Henri's eyes narrowed.

"Spies! And they think I'm a spy?"

"My dear child," remonstrated Mr. Travers, slightly exasperated, "they're not thinking about you at all. The War Office has never heard of you. It's a general rule."

Sara Lee was not placated.

"Let them cable home and find out about me. I can give them references. Why, all sorts of prominent people are sending me money. They must trust me, or they wouldn't."

There were no gaps for Henri now. Sara Lee did not care who heard her, and even Mr. Travers had slightly raised his voice. Henri was divided between a conviction that he ought to go away and a mad desire to join in the conversation, greatly augmented when Sara Lee went to the window and wiped her eyes.

"If you only spoke French—" began Mr. Travers.

Sara Lee looked over her shoulder. "But of course I do!" she said. "And German and—and Yiddish, and all sorts of languages. Every spy does."

Henri smiled appreciatively.

It might all have ended there very easily. Sara Lee might have fought the War Office single-handed and won out, but it is extremely unlikely. The chances at that moment were that she would spend endless days and hours in anterooms, and tell her story and make her plea a hundred times. And then—go back home to Harvey and the Leete house, and after a time, like Mrs. Gregory, speak rather too often of "the time I went abroad."

But Sara Lee was to go to France, and even further, to the fragment of unconquered Belgium that remained. And never so long as she lived, would she be able to forget those days or to speak of them easily. So she stood by the window trying not to cry, and a little donkey drawing a coster's cart moved out in front of the traffic and was caught by a motor bus. There was only time for the picture—the tiny beast lying there and her owner wringing his hands. Such of the traffic as could get by swerved and went on. London must move, though a thousand willing little beasts lay dying.

And Sara moved too. One moment she was there by the window. And the next she had given a stifled cry and ran out.

"Bless my soul!" said Mr. Travers, and got up slowly.

Henri was already up and at the window. What he saw was Sara Lee making her way through the stream of vehicles, taking a dozen chances for her life. Henri waited until he saw her crouched by the donkey, its head on her knee. Then he, too, ran out.

That is how Henri, of no other name that may be given, met Sara Lee Kennedy, of Pennsylvania—under a London motor bus. And that, I think, will be the picture he carries of her until he dies, her soft eyes full of pity, utterly regardless of the dirt and the crowd and an expostulating bobby, with that grotesque and agonized head on her knees.

Henri crawled under the bus, though the policeman was extremely anxious to keep him out. And he ran a practiced eye over the injured donkey.

"It's dying," said Sara Lee with white lips.

"It will die," replied Henri, "but how soon? They are very strong, these little beasts."

The conductor of the bus made a suggestion then, one that froze the blood round Sara Lee's heart: "If you'll move away and let us run over it proper it'll be out of its trouble, miss."

Sara Lee raised haggard eyes to Henri.

"Did you hear that?" she said. "They'd do it too!"

The total result of a conference between four policemen, the costermonger, and, by that time, Mr. Travers—was to draw the animal off the street and into the square. Sara Lee stuck close by. So, naturally, did Henri. And when the hopeless condition of Nellie, as they learned she was named, became increasingly evident, Henri behaved like a man and a soldier.

He got out his revolver and shot her in the brain.

"A kindness," he explained, as Sara Lee would have caught his hand. "The only way, mademoiselle."

Mr. Travers had the usual British hatred of a crowd and publicity, coupled with a deadly fear of getting into the papers, except through an occasional letter to the Times. He vanished just before the shot, and might have been seen moving rapidly through the square, turning over in his mind the difficulty of trying to treat young American girls like rational human beings.

But Henri understood. He had had a French mother, and there is a leaven of French blood in the American temperament, old Huguenot, some of it. So Americans love beauty and obey their impulses and find life good to do things rather than to be something or other more or less important. And so Henri could quite understand how Sara Lee had forgotten herself when Mr. Travers could not. And he understood, also, when Sara Lee, having composed the little donkey's quiet figure, straightened up with tears in her eyes.

"It was very dear of you to come out," she said. "And—of course it was the best thing."

She held out her hand. The crowd had gone. Traffic was moving again, racing to make up for five lost precious moments. The square was dark, that first darkness of London, when air raids were threatened but had not yet taken place. From the top of the Admiralty, near by, a flashlight shot up into the air and began its nightly process of brushing the sky. Henri took her hand and bent over it.

"You are very brave, mademoiselle," he said, and touched her hand with his lips.

The amazing interlude had commenced.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.