The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart - HTML preview
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As the spring advanced Harvey grew increasingly bitter; grew morbid and increasingly self-conscious also. He began to think that people were smiling behind his back, and when they asked about Sara Lee he met with almost insulting brevity what he felt was half-contemptuous kindness. He went nowhere, and worked all day and until late in the night. He did well in his business, however, and late in March he received a substantial raise in salary.
He took it without enthusiasm, and told Belle that night at dinner with apathy.
After the evening meal it was now his custom to go to his room and there, shut in, to read. He read no books on the war, and even the quarter column entitled Salient Points of the Day's War News hardly received a glance from him now.
In the office when the talk turned to the war, as it did almost hourly, he would go out or scowl over his letters.
"Harvey's hit hard," they said there.
"He's acting like a rotten cub," was likely to be the next sentence. But sometimes it was: "Well, what'd you expect? Everything ready to get married, and the girl beating it for France without notice! I'd be sore myself."
On the day of the raise in salary his sister got the children to bed and straightened up the litter of small garments that seemed always to bestrew the house, even to the lower floor. Then she went into Harvey's room.
Coat and collar off, he was lying on the bed, but not reading. His book lay beside him, and with his arms under his head he was staring at the ceiling.
She did not sit down beside him on the bed. They were an undemonstrative family, and such endearments as Belle used were lavished on her children. But her eyes were kind, and a little nervous.
"Do you mind talking a little, Harvey?"
"I don't feel like talking much. I'm tired, I guess. But go on. What is it? Bills?"
She came to him in her constant financial anxieties, and always he was ready to help her out. But his tone now was gruff. A slight flush of resentment colored her cheeks.
"Not this time, Harve. I was just thinking about things."
"Sit down." She sat on the straight chair beside the bed, the chair on which, in neat order, Harvey placed his clothing at night, his shoes beneath, his coat over the back.
"I wish you'd go out more, Harvey."
"Why? Go out and talk to a lot of driveling fools who don't care for me any more than I do for them?"
"That's not like you, Harve."
"Sorry." His tone softened. "I don't care much about going round, Belle. That's all. I guess you know why."
"So does everybody else."
He sat up and looked at her.
"Well, suppose they do? I can't help that, can I? When a fellow has been jilted--"
"You haven't been jilted."
He lay down again, his arms under his head; and Belle knew that his eyes were on Sara Lee's picture on his dresser.
"It amounts to the same thing."
"Harvey," Belle said hesitatingly, "I've brought Sara Lee's report from the Ladies' Aid. May I read it to you?"
"I don't want to hear it." Then: "Give it here. I'll look at it."
He read it carefully, his hands rather unsteady. So many men given soup, so many given chocolate. So many dressings done. And at the bottom Sara Lee's request for more money--an apologetic, rather breathless request, and closing, rather primly with this:
"I am sure that the society will feel, from the above report, that the work is worth while, and worth continuing. I am only sorry that I cannot send photographs of the men who come for aid, but as they come at night it is impossible.
I enclose, however, a small picture of the house, which is now known as the little house of mercy."
"At night!" said Harvey. "So she's there alone with a lot of ignorant foreigners at night. Why the devil don't they come in the daytime?"
"Here's the picture, Harvey." He got up then, and carried the tiny photograph over close to the gas jet. There he stood for a long time, gazing at it. There was Rene with his rifle and his smile. There was Marie in her white apron. And in the center, the wind blowing her soft hair, was Sara Lee.
Harvey groaned and Belle came over and putting her hand on his shoulder looked at the photograph with him.
"Do you know what I think, Harvey?" she said. "I think Sara Lee is right and you are wrong."
He turned on her almost savagely.
"That's not the point!" he snapped out. "I don't begrudge the poor devils their soup. What I feel is this: If she'd cared a tinker's damn for me she'd never have gone. That's all."
He returned to a moody survey of the picture.
"Look at it!" he said. "She insists that she's safe. But that fellow's got a gun. What for, if she's so safe? And look at that house! There's a corner shot away; and it's got no upper floor. Safe!"
Belle held out her hand.
"I must return the picture to the society, Harve."
"Not just yet," he said ominously. "I want to look at it. I haven't got it all yet. And I'll return it myself--with a short speech."
"Well," he retorted, "why shouldn't I tell that lot of old scandalmongers what I think of them?
They'll sit here safe at home and beg money--God, one of them was in the office to-day!-and send a young girl over to-- You'd better get out, Belle. I'm not company for any one to-night."
She turned away, but he came after her, and suddenly putting his arms round her he kissed her.
"Don't worry about me," he said. "I'm done with wearing my heart on my sleeve. She looks happy, so I guess I can be." He released her. "Good night. I'll return the picture."
He sat up very late, alternately reading the report and looking at the picture. It was unfortunate that Sara Lee had smiled into the camera.
Coupled with her blowing hair it had given her a light-heartedness, a sort of joyousness, that hurt him to the soul.
He made some mad plans after he had turned out the lights--to flirt wildly with the unattached girls he knew; to go to France and confront Sara Lee and then bring her home. Or--He had found a way. He lay there and thought it over, and it bore the test of the broken sleep that followed. In the morning, dressing, he wondered he had not thought of it before. He was more cheerful at breakfast than he had been for weeks.