The Amazing Interlude

by Mary Roberts Rinehart

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Chapter VI

Sara Lee Kennedy was up at dawn the next morning. There was a very serious matter to decide, for Henri's plan had included only such hand luggage as she herself could carry.

Sara Lee carefully laid out on the bed such articles as she could not possibly do without, and was able to pack into her suitcase less than a fourth of them. She had fortunately brought a soft wool sweater, which required little room. Undergarments, several blouses, the sweater and a pair of heavy shoes—that was her equipment, plus such small toilet outfit as is necessary when a young woman uses no make-up and regards cold cream only as a remedy for chapped hands.

The maid found her in rather a dismal mood.

"Going across, miss!" she said. "Fancy that!"

"It's a secret," cautioned Sara Lee. "I am really not sure I am going. I am only trying to go."

The maid, who found Sara Lee and the picture of Harvey on her dressing table both romantic and appealing, offered to pack. From the first moment it was evident that she meant to include the white dress. Indeed she packed it first.

"You never know what's going to happen over there," she asserted. "They do say that royalties are everywhere, going about like common people. You'd better have a good frock with you."

She had an air of subdued excitement, and after she had established the fact that not only the white frock but slippers and hose also would go in she went to the door and glanced up and down the passage. Then she closed the door.

"There was queer goings-on here last night, miss," she said cautiously. "Spies!"

"Oh, no!" cried Sara Lee.

"Spies," she repeated. "A man and a woman, pretending to be Belgian refugees. They took them away at daylight. I expect by now they've been shot."

Sara Lee ate very little breakfast that morning. All through England it was confidently believed that spies were shot on discovery, a theory that has been persistent—and false, save at the battle line—since the beginning of the war. And Henri's plan assumed new proportions. Suppose she made her attempt and failed? Suppose they took her for a spy, and that tomorrow's sun found her facing a firing squad? Not, indeed, that she had ever heard of a firing squad, as such. But she had seen spies shot in the movies. They invariably stood in front of a brick wall, with the hero in the center.

So she absent-mindedly ate her kippered herring, which had been strongly recommended by the waiter, and tried to think of what a spy would do, so she might avoid any suspicious movements. It struck her, too, that war seemed to have made the people on that side of the ocean extremely ready with weapons. They would be quite likely to shoot first and ask questions afterwards—which would be too late to be helpful.

She remembered Henri, for instance, and the way, without a word, he had shot the donkey.

That day she wrote Harvey a letter.

"Dearest:" it began; "I think I am to leave for France to-night. Things seem to be moving nicely, and I am being helped by the Belgian Relief Commission. It is composed of Belgians and is at the Savoy Hotel."

Here she stopped and cried a little. What if she should never see Harvey again—never have his sturdy arms about her? Harvey gained by distance. She remembered only his unfailing kindness and strength and his love for her. He seemed, here at the edge of the whirlpool, a sort of eddy of peace and quiet. Even then she had no thought of going back until her work was done, but she did an unusual thing for her, unused to demonstration of any sort. She kissed his ring.

Followed directions about sending the money from the church society, a description of Morley's and Trafalgar Square, an account of tea at the Travers', and of the little donkey—without mention, however, of Henri. She felt that Harvey would not understand Henri.

But at the end came the passage which poor Harvey read and re-read when the letter came, and alternately ground his teeth over and kissed.

"I do love you, Harvey dear. And I am coming back to you. I have felt that I had to do what I am doing, but I am coming back. That's a promise. Unless, of course, I should take sick, or something like that, which isn't likely."

There was a long pause in the writing here, but Harvey could not know that.

"I shall wear your ring always; and always, Harvey, it will mean to me that I belong to you. With dearest love.


Then she added a postscript, of course.

"The War Office is not letting people cross to Calais just now. But I am going to do it anyhow. It is perfectly simple. And when I get over I shall write and tell you how.


It was the next day that an indignant official in the censor's office read that postscript, and rose in his wrath and sent a third Undersomething-or-other to look up Sara Lee at Morley's. But by this time she was embarked on the big adventure; and by the time a cable reached Calais there was no trace of Sara Lee.

During the afternoon she called up Mr. Travers at his office, and rather gathered that he did not care to use the telephone during business hours.

"I just wanted to tell you that you need not bother about me any more," she said. "I am being sent over and I think everything is all right."

He was greatly relieved. Mrs. Travers had not fully indorsed his encomiums of the girl. She had felt that no really nice girl would travel so far on so precarious an errand, particularly when she was alone. And how could one tell, coming from America, how her sympathies really lay? She might be of German parentage—the very worst sort, because they spoke American. It was easy enough to change a name.

Nevertheless, Mr. Travers felt a trifle low in his mind when he hung up the receiver. He said twice to himself: "Twenty pounds!" And at last he put four sovereigns in an envelope and sent them to her anonymously by messenger. Sara Lee guessed whence they came, but she respected the manner of the gift and did not thank him. It was almost the first gold money she had ever seen.

She was very carefully searched at the railway station that night and found that her American Red Cross button, which had come with her dollar subscription to the association, made the matron inspector rather kindly inclined. Nevertheless, she took off Sara Lee's shoes, and ran over the lining of her coat, and quite ruined the maid's packing of the suitcase.

"You are going to Boulogne?" asked the matron inspector.

Sara Lee did not like to lie.

"Wherever the boat takes me," she said with smile.

The matron smiled too.

"I shouldn't be nervous, miss," she said. "It's a chance, of course, but they have not done much damage yet."

It was after midnight then, and a cold fog made the station a gloomy thing of blurred yellow lights and raw chill. A few people moved about, mostly officers in uniform. Half a dozen men in civilian clothes eyed her as she passed through the gates; Scotland Yard, but she did not know. And once she thought she saw Henri, but he walked away into the shadows and disappeared. The train, looking as absurdly small and light as all English trains do, was waiting out in the shed. There were no porters, and Sara Lee carried her own bag.

She felt quite sure she had been mistaken about Henri, for of course he would have come and carried it for her.

The train was cold and quiet. When it finally moved out it was under way before she knew that it was going. And then suddenly Sara Lee's heart began to pound hard.

It was a very cold and shivering Sara Lee who curled up, alone in her compartment, and stared hard at Harvey's ring to keep her courage up. But a curious thing had happened. Harvey gave her no moral support. He brought her only disapproval. She found herself remembering none of the loving things he had said to her, but only the bitter ones.

Perhaps it was the best thing for her, after all. For a sort of dogged determination to go through with it all, at any cost, braced her to her final effort.

So far it had all been busy enough, but not comfortable. She was cold, and she had eaten almost nothing all day. As the hours went on and the train slid through the darkness she realized that she was rather faint. The steam pipes, only warm at the start, were entirely cold by one o'clock, and by two Sara Lee was sitting on her feet, with a heavy coat wrapped about her knees.

The train moved quietly, as do all English trains, with no jars and little sound. There were few lights outside, for the towns of Eastern England were darkened, like London, against air attacks. So when she looked at the window she saw only her own reflection, white and wide-eyed, above Aunt Harriet's fur neckpiece.

In the next compartment an officer was snoring, but she did not close her eyes. Perhaps, for that last hour, some of the glow that had brought her so far failed her. She was not able to think beyond Folkestone, save occasionally, and that with a feeling that it should not be made so difficult to do a kind and helpful thing.

At a quarter before three the train eased down. In the same proportion Sara Lee's pulse went up. A long period of crawling along, a stop or two, but no resultant opening of the doors; and at last, in a cold rain and a howling wind from the channel, the little seaport city.

More officers than she had suspected, a few women, got out. The latter Sara Lee's experience on the steamer enabled her to place; buyers mostly, and Americans, on their way to Paris, blockade or no blockade, because the American woman must be well and smartly gowned and hatted. A man with a mourning band on his sleeve carried a wailing child.

The officers lighted cigarettes. The civilians formed a line on the jetty under the roof of the shed, and waited, passports in hand, before a door that gleamed with yellow light. Faces looked pale and anxious. The blockade was on, and Germany had said that no ships would cross that night.

As if defiantly the Boulogne boat, near at hand, was ablaze, on the shore side at least, with lights. Stewards came and went. Beyond it lay the harbor, dark and mysterious save where, from somewhere across, a flashlight made a brave effort to pierce the fog.

One of the buyers ahead of Sara Lee seemed exhilarated by the danger ahead.

"They'll never get us," she said. "Look at that fog!"

"It's lifting, dearie," answered a weary voice behind her. "The wind is carrying it away."

When Sara Lee's turn came she was ready. A group of men in civilian clothes, seated about a long table, looked her over carefully. Her passports moved deliberately from hand to hand. A long business, and the baby wailing harder than ever. But the office was at least warm. Some of her failing courage came back as she moved, following her papers, round the table. They were given back to her at last, and she went out. She had passed the first ordeal.

Suitcase in hand she wandered down the stone jetty. The Boulogne boat she passed, and kept on. At the very end, dark and sinister, lay another boat. It had no lights. The tide was in, and its deck lay almost flush with the pier. Sara Lee walked on toward it until a voice spoke to her out of the darkness and near at hand.

"Your boat is back there, madam."

"I know. Thank you. I am just walking about."

The petty officer—he was a petty officer, though Sara Lee had never heard the term—was inclined to be suspicious. Under excuse of lighting his pipe he struck a match, and Sara Lee's young figure stood out in full relief. His suspicions died away with the flare.

"Bad night, miss," he offered.

"Very," said Sara Lee, and turned back again.

This time, bewildered and uneasy, she certainly saw Henri. But he ignored her. He was alone, and smoking one of his interminable cigarettes. He had not said he was crossing, and why had he not spoken to her? He wandered past down the pier, and she lost him in the shadows. When he came back he paused near her, and at last saluted and spoke.

"Pardon," he said. "If you will stand back here you will find less wind."

"Thank you."

He carried her suitcase back, and stooping over to place it at her feet he said: "I shall send him on board with a message to the captain. When I come back try again."

He left her at once. The passengers for Boulogne were embarking now. A silent lot, they disappeared into the warmth and brightness of the little boat and were lost. No one paid any attention to Sara Lee standing in the shadows.

Soon Henri came back. He walked briskly and touched his cap as he passed. He went aboard the Boulogne steamer, and without a backward glance disappeared.

Sara Lee watched him out of sight, in a very real panic. He had been something real and tangible in that shadowy place—something familiar in an unfamiliar world. But he was gone. She threw up her head.

So once more Sara Lee picked up her suitcase and went down the pier. Now she was unchallenged. What lurking figure might be on the dark deck of the Calais boat she could not tell. That was the chance she was to take. The gangway was still out, and as quietly as possible she went aboard. The Boulogne boat had suddenly gone dark, and she heard the churning of the screw. With the extinction of the lights on the other boat came at last deeper night to her aid. A few steps, a stumble, a gasp—and she was on board the forbidden ship.

She turned forward, according to her instructions, where the overhead deck made below an even deeper shadow. Henri had said that there were cabins there, and that the chance was of finding an unlocked one. If they were all locked she would be discovered at dawn, and arrested. And Sara Lee was not a war correspondent. She was not accustomed to arrest. Indeed she had a deep conviction that arrest in her case would mean death. False, of course, but surely it shows her courage.

As she stood there, breathless and listening, the Boulogne boat moved out. She heard the wash against the jetty, felt the rolling of its waves. But being on the landward side she could not see the faint gleam of a cigarette that marked Henri's anxious figure at the rail. So long as the black hulk of the Calais boat was visible, and long after indeed, Henri stood there, outwardly calm but actually shaken by many fears. She had looked so small and young; and who could know what deviltry lurked abroad that night?

He had not gone with her because it was necessary that he be in Boulogne the next morning. And also, the very chance of getting her across lay in her being alone and unobserved.

So he stood by the rail and looked back and said a wordless little prayer that if there was trouble it come to his boat and not to the other. Which might very considerably have disturbed the buyers had they known of it and believed in prayer.

Sara Lee stood in the shadows and listened. There were voices overhead, from the bridge. A door opened onto the deck and threw out a ray of light. Some one came out and went on shore, walking with brisk ringing steps. And then at last she put down her bag and tried door after door, without result.

The man who had gone ashore called another. The gangway was drawn in. The engines began to vibrate under foot. Sara Lee, breathless and terrified, stood close to a cabin door and remained immovable. At one moment it seemed as if a seaman was coming forward to where she stood. But he did not come.

The Calais boat was waiting until the other steamer had got well out of the harbor. The fog had lifted, and the searchlight was moving over the surface. It played round the channel steamer without touching it. But none of this was visible to Sara Lee.

At last the lights of the quay began to recede. The little boat rocked slightly in its own waves as it edged away. It moved slowly through the shipping and out until, catching the swell of the channel, it shot ahead at top speed.

For an hour Sara Lee stood there. The channel wind caught her and tore at her skirts until she was almost frozen. And finally, in sheer desperation, she worked her way round to the other side. She saw no one. Save for the beating heart of the engine below it might have been a dead ship.

On the other side she found an open door and stumbled into the tiny dark deck cabin, as chilled and frightened a philanthropist as had ever crossed that old and tricky and soured bit of seaway. And there, to be frank, she forgot her fright in as bitter a tribute of seasickness as even the channel has ever exacted.

She had locked herself in, and she fell at last into an exhausted sleep. When she wakened and peered out through the tiny window it was gray winter dawn. The boat was quiet, and before her lay the quay of Calais and the Gare Maritime. A gangway was out and a hurried survey showed no one in sight.

Sara Lee picked up her suitcase and opened the door. The fresh morning air revived her, but nevertheless it was an extremely pale young woman who, obeying Henri's instructions, went ashore that morning in the gray dawn unseen, undisturbed and unquestioned. But from the moment she appeared on the gangway until the double glass doors of the Gare Maritime closed behind her this apparently calm young woman did not breathe at all. She arrived, indeed, with lungs fairly collapsed and her heart entirely unreliable.

A woman clerk was asleep at a desk. Sara Lee roused her to half wakefulness, no interest and extremely poor English. A drowsy porter led her up a staircase and down an endless corridor. Then at last he was gone, and Sara Lee turned the key in her door and burst into tears.

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