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 over there."
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 east:
"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, small, without vision. Harvey was for his own fireside, his office, his little family group. His labor would always be for himself and his own. Whereas Sara Lee was, now and forever, for all the world, her hands consecrated to bind up its little wounds and to soothe its great ones. Harvey craved a cheap and easy peace. She wanted no peace except that bought by service, the peace of a tired body, the peace of the little house in Belgium where, after days of torture, weary men found quiet and ease and the cheer of the open door.