THE LAST SHOT
Author of Over the Pass, etc.
TO THE READER
This story of war grew out of my experience in many wars. I have been under fire without fighting; known the comradeship of arms without bearing arms, and the hardships and the humors of the march with only an observer's incentive. A singular career, begun by chance, was pursued to the ends of the earth in the study of the greatest drama which the earth stages. Whether watching a small force of white regulars disciplining a primitive people, or the complex tactics of huge army against huge army; whether watching war in the large or in the small, I have found the same basic human qualities in the white heat of conflict working out the same illusions, heroisms, tragedies, and comedies.
The fellowship of campaigning made the cause of the force that I accompanied mine for the time being. Thus, one who settles in the town of A absorbs its local feeling of rivalry against the town of B in athletic games or character of citizenship. To A, B is never quite sportsmanlike; B is provincial and bigoted and generally inferior. But settle in B and your prejudices reverse their favor from A to B.
Yet in the midst of battle, with the detachment of a non-combatant marvelling at the irony of two lines of men engaged in an effort at mutual extermination, I have caught myself thinking with the other side. I knew why my side was busy at killing. Why was the other? For the same reasons as ours.
I was seeing humanity against humanity. A man killed was a man killed, courage was courage, sacrifice was sacrifice, romance was romance, a heart-broken mother was a heart-broken mother, a village burned was a village burned, regardless of race or nation. Every war became a story in a certain set form: the rise of the war passion; the conflict; victory and defeat; and then peace, in joyous relief, which the nations enjoyed before they took the trouble to fight for it.
But such thoughts have been a familiar theme to the poet, the novelist, the dramatist, the satirist, the dreamer, and the peace propagandist, while the world goes on arming. In want of their talent, I offer experience of the monstrous object of their gibes and imagination. To me, the old war novels have the atmosphere of smoke powder and antiquated tactics which still survived when I went on my first campaign sixteen years ago. These classic masterpieces endure through their genius; the excuse of any plodder who chooses their theme to-day is that he deals with the material of to-day.
Methods of light and of motive power have not changed more rapidly in the forty-odd years since the last great European war than the soldier's weapons and his work. With all the symbols of economic improvement the public is familiar, while usually it thinks of war in the old symbols for want of familiarity with the new. My aim is to express not only war as fought to-day, soldiers of to-day under the fire of arms of to-day, but also the effects of war in the nth degree of modern organization and methods on a group of men and women, free in its realism from the wild improbabilities of some latter-day novelists who have given us wars in the air or regaled us with the decimation of armies by explosives dropped from dirigibles or their asphyxiation by noxious gases compounded by the hero of the tale.
The Russo-Japanese and the Balkan campaigns, particular in their nature, gave me useful impressions, but not the scene for my purpose. The world must think of those wars comparatively as second-rate and only partially illustrative, when its fearful curiosity and more fearful apprehension centre on the possibility of the clash of arms between the enormous forces of two first-class European land-powers, with their supreme training and precision in arms. What would such a war mean in reality to the soldiers engaged? What the play of human elements? What form the new symbols? Therefore have I laid my scene in a small section of a European frontier, and the time the present.
Identify your combatants, some friends insist. Make the Italians fight the Austrians or the French fight the Germans. As a spectator of wars, under the spell of the growing cosmopolitanism that makes mankind more and more akin, I could not see it in that way and be true to my experience. My soldiers exist for my purpose only as human beings. Race prejudices they have. Race prejudice is one of the factors of war. But make the prejudice English, Italian, German, Russian, or French and there is the temptation for reader and author to forget the story of men as men and war as war. Even as in the long campaign in Manchuria I would see a battle simply as an argument to the death between little fellows in short khaki blouses and big fellows in long gray coats, so I see the Browns and the Grays in "The Last Shot" take the field.
But, though the scene is imaginary, the characters are from life. Their actions and their sayings are those of men whom I have studied under the stress of danger and sudden emergency. The delightful, boyish confidence of Eugene Aronson has been at my elbow in a charge; Feller I knew in the tropics as an outcast who shared my rations; Dellarme's last words I heard from a dying captain; the philosophy of Hugo Mallin is no less familiar than the bragging of Pilzer or the transformation of Stransky, who whistled a wedding-march as he pumped bullets at the enemy. In Lanstron we have a type of the modern officer; in the elder Fragini a type of the soldier of another day. Each marches in his place and plays his part in the sort of spectacle that I have often watched. If there be no particular hero, then I can only say, in confidence behind the scenes, that I have found no one man, however heroic in the martial imagination of his country, to be a particular hero in fact. Take, for example, our trembling little Peterkin, who won the bronze cross for courage.
As for Marta and Minna, they speak for another element—for a good half of the world's population that does not bear arms. In a siege once I had glimpses of women under fire and I learned that bravery is not an exclusively masculine trait. The game of solitaire? Well, it occurred in a house in the midst of bursting shells. But the part that Marta plays? Is it extravaganza? Not in war. The author sees it as something very real.
I. A SPECK IN THE SKY II. TEN YEARS LATER III. OURS AND THEIRS IV. THE DIVIDENDS OF POWER V. OFF TO THE FRONTIER VI. THE SECOND PROPHECY VII. TIMES HAVE CHANGED VIII. THANKS TO A BUMBLEBEE IX. A SUNDAY MORNING CALL X. A LUNCHEON AT THE GALLANDS' XI. MARTA HEARS FELLER'S STORY XII. A CRISIS WITHIN A CRISIS XIII. BREAKING A PAPER-KNIFE XIV. IN PARTOW'S OFFICE XV. CLOSE TO THE WHITE POSTS XVI. DELLARME'S MEN GET A MASCOT XVII. A SUNDAY MORNING IN TOWN XVIII. THE BAPTISM OF FIRE XIX. RECEIVING THE CHARGE XX. MARTA'S FIRST GLIMPSE OF WAR XXI. SHE CHANGES HER MIND XXII. FLOWERS FOR THE WOUNDED XIII. STRANSKY FIGHTS ALONE XXIV. THE MAKING OF A HERO XXV. THE TERRIBLE NIGHT XXVI. FELLER IS TEMPTED XXVII. HAND TO HAND XXVIII. AN APPEAL TO PARTOW XXIX. THROUGH THE VENEER XXX. MARTA MEETS HUGO XXXI. UNTO CAESAR XXXII. TEA ON THE VERANDA AGAIN XXXIII. IN FELLER'S PLACE XXXIV. THREE VOICES XXXV. MRS. GALLAND INSISTS XXXVI. MARKING TIME XXXVII. THUMBS DOWN FOR BOUCHARD XXXVIII. HUNTING GHOSTS XXXIX. A CHANGE OF PLAN XL. WITH FRACASSE'S MEN XLI. WITH FELLER AND STRANSKY XLII. THE RAM XLIII. JOVE'S ISOLATION XLIV. TURNING THE TABLES XLV. THE RETREAT XLVI. THE LAST SHOT XLVII. THE PEACE OF WISDOM
THE LAST SHOT
A SPECK IN THE SKY
It was Marta who first saw the speck in the sky. Her outcry and her bound from her seat at the tea-table brought her mother and Colonel Westerling after her onto the lawn, where they became motionless figures, screening their eyes with their hands. The newest and most wonderful thing in the world at the time was this speck appearing above the irregular horizon of the Brown range, in view of a landscape that centuries of civilization had fertilized and cultivated and formed.
At the base of the range ran a line of white stone posts, placed by international commissions of surveyors to the nicety of an inch's variation. In the very direction of the speck's flight a spur of foot-hills extended into the plain that stretched away to the Gray range, distinct at the distance of thirty miles in the bright afternoon light. Faithful to their part in refusing to climb, the white posts circled around the spur, hugging the levels.
In the lap of the spur was La Tir, the old town, and on the other side of the boundary lay South La Tir, the new town. Through both ran the dusty ribbon of a road, drawn straight across the plain and over the glistening thread of a river. On its way to the pass of the Brown range it skirted the garden of the Gallands, which rose in terraces to a seventeenth-century house overlooking the old town from its outskirts. They were such a town, such a road, such a landscape as you may see on many European frontiers. The Christian people who lived in the region were like the Christian people you know if you look for the realities of human nature under the surface differences of language and habits.
Beyond the house rose the ruins of a castle, its tower still intact. Marta always referred to the castle as the baron; for in her girlhood she had a way of personifying all inanimate things. If the castle walls were covered with hoar frost, she said that the baron was shivering; if the wind tore around the tower, she said that the baron was groaning over the democratic tendencies of the time. On such a summer afternoon as this, the baron was growing old gracefully, at peace with his enemies.
Centuries older than the speck in the sky was the baron; but the pass road was many more, countless more, centuries older than he. It had been a trail for tribes long before Roman legions won a victory in the pass, which was acclaimed an imperial triumph. To hold the pass was to hold the range. All the blood shed there would make a red river, inundating the plain. Marta, a maker of pictures, saw how the legions, brown, sinewy, lean aliens, looked in their close ranks. They were no less real to her imagination than the infantry of the last war thirty years ago, or the Crusaders who came that way, or the baron in person and his shaggy-bearded, uncouth, ignorant ruffians who were their own moral law, leaving their stronghold to plunder the people of the fertile plain of the fruits of their toil.
Stone axe, spear and bow, javelin and broadsword, blunderbuss and creaking cannon—all the weapons of all stages in the art of war—had gone trooping past. Now had come the speck in the sky, straight on, like some projectile born of the ether.
"Beside the old baron, we are parvenus," Marta would say. "And what a parvenu the baron would have been to the Roman aristocrat!"
"Our family is old enough—none older in the province!" Mrs. Galland would reply. "Marta, how your mind does wander! I'd get a headache just contemplating the things you are able to think of in five minutes."
The first Galland had built a house on the land that his king had given him for one of the most brilliant feats of arms in the history of the pass. He had the advantage of the baron in that he could read and write, though with difficulty. Marta had an idea that he was not presentable at a tea-table; however, he must have been more so than the baron, who, she guessed, would have grabbed all the cakes on the plate as a sheer matter of habit in taking what he wanted unless a stronger than he interfered.
Even the tower, raised to the glory of an older family whose descendants, if any survived, were unaware of their lineage, had become known as the Galland tower. The Gallands were rooted in the soil of the frontier; they were used to having war's hot breath blow past their door; they were at home in the language and customs of two peoples; theirs was a peculiar tradition, which Marta had absorbed with her first breath. Every detail of her circumscribed existence reminded her that she was a Galland.
Town and plain and range were the first vista of landscape that she had seen; doubtless they would be the last. Meanwhile, there was the horizon. She was particularly fond of looking at it. If you are seventeen, with a fanciful mind, you can find much information not in histories or encyclopaedias or the curricula of schools in the horizon.
There she had learned that the Roman aristocrat had turned his thumb down to a lot of barbarian captives because he had a fit of indigestion, and the next day, when his digestion was better, he had scattered coins among barbarian children; that Napoleon, who had also gone over the pass road, was a pompous, fat little man, who did not always wipe his upper lip clean of snuff when he was on a campaign; that the baron's youngest daughter had lost her eyesight from a bodkin thrust for telling her sister, who had her father's temper, that she was developing a double chin.
For the people of Maria's visions were humanly real to her, and as such she liked and understood them. If the first Galland were half a robber, to disguise the fact because he was her ancestor was not playing fair. It made him only a lay figure of romance.
One or two afternoons a week Colonel Hedworth Westerling, commander of the regimental post of the Grays on the other side of the white posts, stretched his privilege of crossing the frontier and appeared for tea at the Gallands'. It meant a pleasant half-hour breaking a long walk, a relief from garrison surroundings. Favored in mind and person, favored in high places, he had become a colonel at thirty-two. People with fixed ideas as to the appearance of a soldier said that he looked every inch the commander. He was tall, strong-built, his deep, broad chest suggesting powerful energy. Conscious of his abilities, it was not without reason that he thought well of himself, in view of the order, received that morning, which was to make this a farewell call.
He had found Mrs. Galland an agreeable reflection of an aristocratic past. The daughter had what he defined vaguely as girlish piquancy. He found it amusing to try to answer her unusual questions; he liked the variety of her inventive mind, with its flashes of downright matter-of-factness.
Ascending the steps with his firm, regular tread, he suggested poise and confidence and, perhaps, vanity also in his fastidious dress. As Marta's slight, immature figure came to the edge of the veranda, he wondered what she would be like five years later, when she would be twenty-two and a woman. It was unlikely that he would ever know, or that in a month he would care to know. He would pass on; his rank would keep him from returning to South La Tir, which was a colonel's billet except in time of war.
Not until tea was served did he mention his new assignment; he was going to the general staff at the capital. Mrs. Galland murmured her congratulations in conventional fashion.
"Into the very holy of holies of the great war machine, isn't it?" Marta asked.
"Yes—yes, exactly!" he replied.
Her chair was drawn back from the table. She leaned forward in a favorite position of hers when she was intensely interested, with hands clasped over her knee, which her mother always found aggravatingly tomboyish. She had a mass of lustrous black hair and a mouth rather large in repose, but capable of changing curves of emotion. Her large, dark eyes, luminously deep under long lashes, if not the rest of her face, had beauty. Her head was bent, the lashes forming a line with her brow now, and her eyes had the still flame of wonder that they had when she was looking all around a thing and through it to find what it meant. Westerling knew by the signs that she was going to break out with one of her visions, rather than one of her whimsical ideas. She was seeing the Roman general, the baron, the first Galland, and the fat, pompous little man, no less in the life than Hedworth Westerling. She had fused them into one.
"Some day you will be chief of staff, the head of the Gray army!" she suddenly exclaimed.
Westerling started as if he had been surprised in a secret. Then he flushed slightly.
"Why?" he asked with forced carelessness. "Your reasons? They're more interesting than your prophecy."
"Because you have the will to be," she said without emphasis, in the impersonal revelations of thought. "You want power. You have ambition."
He looked the picture of it, with his square jaw, his well-moulded head set close to the shoulders on a sturdy neck, his even teeth showing as his lips parted in an unconscious smile.
"Marta, Marta! She is—is so explosive," Mrs. Galland remarked apologetically to the colonel.
"I asked for her reasons. I brought it on myself—and it is not a bad compliment," he replied. Indeed, he had never received one so thrilling.
His smile, a smile well pleased with itself, remained as Mrs. Galland began to talk of other things, and its lingering satisfaction disappeared only with Marta's cry at sight of the speck in the sky over the Brown range. She was out on the lawn before the others had risen from their seats.
"An aeroplane! Hurry!" she called.
This was a summons that aroused even Mrs. Galland's serenity to haste. For the first time they were seeing the new wonder in all the fascination of novelty to us moderns, who soon make our new wonders commonplace and clamor impatiently for others.
"He flies! A man flies!" Marta exclaimed. "Look at that—coming straight for your tower, baron! You'd better pull up the drawbridge and go on your knees in the chapel, for devils are abroad!"
How fast the speck grew! How it spread to the entranced vision! It became a thing of still, soaring wings with a human atom in its centre, Captain Arthur Lanstron, already called a fool for his rashness by a group of Brown officers on the aviation grounds beyond the Brown range.
Naturally, the business of war, watching for every invention that might serve its ends, was the first patron of flight. Lanstron, pupil of a pioneer aviator, had been warned by him and by the chief of staff of the Browns, who was looking on, to keep in a circle close to the ground. But he was doing so well that he thought he would try rising a little higher. When the levers responded with the ease of a bird's wings, temptation became inspiration and inspiration urged on temptation. He had gone mad with the ecstasy of his sensation, there between heaven and earth. Five seconds of this was worth five thousand years of any other form of life.
The summits of the range shot under him, unfolding a variegated rug of landscape. He dipped the planes slightly, intending to follow the range's descent and again they answered to his desire. He saw himself the eyes of an army, the scout of the empyrean. If a body of troops were to march along the pass road they would be as visible as a cloud in the sky. Yes, here was revolution in detecting the enemy's plans! He had become momentarily unconscious of the swiftness of his progress, thanks to its hypnotic facility. He was in the danger which too active a brain may bring to a critical and delicate mechanical task. The tower loomed before him as suddenly as if it had been shot up out of the earth. He must turn, and quickly, to avoid disaster; he must turn, or he would be across the white posts in the enemy's country.
"Oh, glorious magic!" cried Marta.
"A dozen good shots could readily bring it down," remarked Westerling critically. "It makes a steady target at that angle of approach. He's going to turn—but take care, there!"
"Oh!" groaned Marta and Mrs. Galland together.
In an agony of suspense they saw the fragile creation of cloth and bamboo and metal, which had seemed as secure as an albatross riding on the lap of a steady wind, dip far over, careen back in the other direction, and then the whirring noise that had grown with its flight ceased. It was no longer a thing of winged life, defying the law of gravity, but a thing dead, falling under the burden of a living weight.
"The engine has stopped!" exclaimed Westerling, any trace of emotion in his observant imperturbability that of satisfaction that the machine was the enemy's. He was thinking of the exhibition, not of the man in the machine.
Marta was thinking of the man who was about to die, a silhouette against the soft blue holding its own balance resolutely in the face of peril. She could not watch any longer; she could not wait on the catastrophe. She was living the part of the aviator more vividly than he, with his hand and mind occupied. She rushed down the terrace steps wildly, as if her going and her agonized prayer could avert the inevitable. The plane, descending, skimmed the garden wall and passed out of sight. She heard a thud, a crackling of braces, a ripping of cloth, but no cry.
Westerling had started after her, exclaiming, "This is a case for first aid!" while Mrs. Galland, taking the steps as fast as she could, brought up the rear. Through the gateway in the garden wall could be seen the shoulders of a young officer, a streak of red coursing down his cheek, rising from the wreck. An inarticulate sob of relief broke from Marta's throat, followed by quick gasps of breath. Captain Arthur Lanstron was looking into the startled eyes of a young girl that seemed to reflect his own emotions of the moment after having shared those he had in the air.
"I flew! I flew clear over the range, at any rate!" he said. "And I'm alive. I managed to hold her so she missed the wall and made an easy bump."
Marta smiled in the reaction from terror at his idea of an easy bump, while he was examining the damage to his person. He got one foot free of the wreck and that leg was all right. She shared his elation. Then he found that the other was uninjured, just as she cried in distress:
"But your hand—oh, your hand!"
His left hand hung limp from the wrist, cut, mashed, and bleeding. Its nerves numbed, he had not as yet felt any pain from the injury. Now he regarded it in a kind of awakening stare of realization of a deformity to come.
"Wool-gathering again!" he muttered to himself crossly.
Then, seeing that she had turned white, he thrust the disgusting thing behind his back and twinged with the movement. The pain was arriving.
"It must be bandaged! I have a handkerchief!" she begged. "I'm not going to faint or anything like that!"
"Only bruised—and it's the left. I am glad it was not the right," he replied. Westerling arrived and joined Marta in offers of assistance just as they heard the prolonged honk of an automobile demanding the right of way at top speed in the direction of the pass.
"Thank you, but they're coming for me," said Lanstron to Westerling as he glanced up the road.
Westerling was looking at the wreck. Lanstron, who recognized him as an officer, though in mufti, kicked a bit of the torn cloth over some apparatus to hide it. At this Westerling smiled faintly. Then Lanstron saluted as officer to officer might salute across the white posts, giving his name and receiving in return Westeling's.
They made a contrast, these two men, the colonel of the Grays, swart and sturdy, his physical vitality so evident, and the captain of the Browns, some seven or eight years the junior, bareheaded, in dishevelled fatigue uniform, his lips twitching, his slender body quivering with the pain that he could not control, while his rather bold forehead and delicate, sensitive features suggested a man of nerve and nerves who might have left experiments in a laboratory for an adventure in the air. There was a kind of challenge in their glances; the challenge of an ancient feud of their peoples; of the professional rivalry of polite duellists. Lanstron's slight figure seemed to express the weaker number of the three million soldiers of the Browns; Westerling's bulkier one, the four million five hundred thousand of the Grays.
"You had a narrow squeak and you made a very snappy recovery at the last second," said Westerling, passing a compliment across the white posts. Marta could literally see a white post there between the two.
"That's in the line of duty for you and me, isn't it?" Lanstron replied, his voice thick with pain as he forced a smile.
There was no pose in his fortitude. He was evidently disgusted with himself over the whole business, and he turned to the group of three officers and a civilian who alighted from a big Brown army automobile as if he were prepared to have them say their worst. They seemed between the impulse of reprimanding and embracing him.
"I hope that you are not surprised at the result," said the oldest of the officers, a man of late middle age, rather affectionately and teasingly. He wore a single order on his breast, a plain iron cross, and the insignia of his rank was that of a field-marshal.
"Not now. I should be again, sir," said Lanstron, looking full at the field-marshal in the appeal of one asking for another chance. "I was wool-gathering. My mind was off duty for a second and I got a lesson in self-control at the expense of the machine. I treated it worse than it deserved, and it treated me better than I deserved. But I shall not wool-gather next time. I've got a reminder more urgent than a string tied around my finger."
"Yes, that hand needs immediate attention," said the doctor. He and another officer began helping Lanstron into the automobile.
"The first flight ever made over a range—even a low one! Thirty miles straightaway!" remarked the civilian, making a cursory examination of the wreck of the machine which was a pattern known by his name.
"Very educational for our young man," said the field-marshal, and at sight of Mrs. Galland paused while they exchanged the greetings of old friends.
"Your Excellency, may we send back for you, sir?" called the doctor. He was not one to let rank awe him when duty pressed. "This hand ought to be at the hospital at once."
"I'm coming along. I've a train to catch," replied His Excellency, springing into the car. "No more wool-gathering, eh?" he said, giving Lanstron a pat on the shoulder. To Lanstron this pat meant another chance.
"Good-by!" he called to the young girl, who was still watching him with big, sympathetic eyes. "I am coming back soon and land in the field, there, and when I do. I'll claim a bunch of flowers."
"Do! What fun!" she cried, as the car started.
"The field-marshal was Partow, their chief of staff?" Westerling asked.
"Yes," said Mrs. Galland. "I remember when he was a young infantry officer before the last war, before he had won the iron cross and become so great. He was not of an army family—a doctor's son, but very clever and skilful."
"Getting a little old for his work!" remarked Westerling. "But apparently he is keen enough to take a personal interest in anything new."
"Wasn't it thrilling and—and terrible!" Marta exclaimed.
"Yes, like war at our own door again," replied Mrs. Galland, who knew war. She had seen war raging on the pass road. "Lanstron, the young man said his name was," she resumed after a pause. "No doubt the Lanstrons of Thorbourg. An old family and many of them in the army."
"The way he refused to give in—that was fine!" said Marta.
Westerling, who had been engrossed in his own thoughts, looked up.
"Courage is the cheapest thing an army has! You can get hundreds of young officers who are glad to take a risk of that kind. The thing is," and his fingers pressed in on the palm of his hand in a pounding gesture of the forearm, "to direct and command—head work—organization!"
"If war should come again—" Marta began. Mrs. Galland nudged her. A Brown never mentioned war to an officer of the Grays; it was not at all in the accepted proprieties. But Marta rushed on: "So many would be engaged that it would be more horrible than ever."
"You cannot make omelets without breaking eggs," Westerling answered with suave finality.
"I wonder if the baron ever said that!" Marta recollected that it was a favorite expression of the fat, pompous little man. "It sounds like the baron, at all events."
Westerling did not mind being likened to the baron. It was a corroboration of her prophecy. The baron must have been a great leader of men in his time.
"The aeroplane will take its place as an auxiliary," he went on, his mind still running on the theme of her prophecy, which the meeting with Lanstron had quickened. "But war will, as ever, be won by the bayonet that takes and holds a position. We shall have no miracle victories, no—"
There he broke off. He did not accompany Mrs. Galland and Marta back to the house, but made his adieus at the garden-gate.
"I'm sure that I shall never marry a soldier!" Marta burst out as she and her mother were ascending the steps.
"No?" exclaimed Mrs. Galland with the rising inflection of a placid scepticism that would not be drawn into an argument. Another of Marta's explosions! It was not yet time to think of marriage for her. If it had been Mrs. Galland would not have been so hospitable to Colonel Westerling. She would hardly have been, even if the colonel had been younger, say, of Captain Lanstron's age. Though an officer was an officer, whether of the Browns or the Grays, and, perforce, a gentleman to be received with the politeness of a common caste, every beat of her heart was loyal to her race. Her daughter's hand was not for any Gray. Young Lanstron certainly must be of the Thorbourg Lanstrons, she mused. A most excellent family! Of course, Marta would marry an officer. It was the natural destiny of a Galland woman. Yet she was sometimes worried about Marta's whimsies. She, too, could wonder what Marta would be like in five years.
TEN YEARS LATER
Does any man of power know whither the tendencies of his time are leading him, or the people whom he leads whither they are being led? Had any one of these four heroes of the Grays in their heavy gilt frames divined what kind of a to-morrow his day was preparing? All knew the pass of La Tir well, and if all had not won decisive battles they would have been hung in the outer office or even in the corridors, where a line of half-forgotten or forgotten generals crooked down the stairways into the oblivion of the basement. That unfortunate one whom the first Galland had driven through the pass was quite obscured in darkness. He would soon be crowded out to an antique shop for sale as an example of the portrait art of his period.
The privileged quartet on that Valhalla of victories, the walls of the chief of staff's room, personified the military inheritance of a great nation; their names shone in luminous letters out of the thickening shadows of the past, where those of lesser men grew dimmer as their generations receded into history. He in the steel corselet, with high cheek-bones, ferret, cold eyes, and high, thin nose, its nostrils drawn back in an aristocratic sniff—camps were evil-smelling in those days—his casquette resting on his arm, was the progenitor of him with the Louis XIV. curls; he of the early nineteenth century, with a face like Marshal Ney's, was the progenitor of him with the mustache and imperial of the sixties.
It was whispered that the aristocratic sniff had taken to fierce, no-quarter campaigns in the bitterness of a broken heart. Did the Grays, then, really owe two of their fairest provinces to the lady who had jilted him? Had they to thank the clever wife of him of the Louis XIV. curls, whose intrigues won for her husband command of the army, for another province? It was whispered, too, that the military glory of him of the Marshal Ney physiognomy was due to the good fortune of a senile field-marshal for an opponent. But no matter. These gentlemen had seen the enemy fly. They had won. Therefore, they were the supermen of sagas who incarnate a people's valor.
The Browns gratified their own sense of superiority, in turn, by admiration of the supermen who had vanquished the Gray generals consigned to the oblivion of the basement. In their staff building, the first Galland occupied a prominent position in the main hall; while in the days of Marta's old baron heroes did not have their portraits painted for want of painters, and the present nations had consisted only of warring baronies and principalities.
They must have been rather lonely, these immortals in the Gray Valhalla, as His Excellency the chief of staff was seldom in his office. His Excellency had years, rank, prestige. The breast of his uniform sagged with the weight of his decorations. He appeared for the army at great functions, his picture was in the shop-windows. Hedworth Westerling, the new vice-chief of staff, was content with this arrangement. His years would not permit him the supreme honor. This was for a figurehead, while he had the power.
His appointment to the staff ten years ago had given him the fields he wanted, the capital itself, for the play of his abilities. His vital energy, his impressive personality, his gift for courting the influences that counted, whether man's or woman's, his astute readiness in stooping to some measures that were in keeping with the times but not with army precedent, had won for him the goal of his ambition. He had passed over the heads of older men, whom many thought his betters, rather ruthlessly. Those who would serve loyally he drew around him; those who were bitter he crowded out of his way.
The immortals would have been still more lonely, or at least confused, in the adjoining room occupied by Westerling. There the walls were hung with the silhouettes of infantrymen, such as you see at manoeuvres, in different positions of firing, crouching in shallow trenches, standing in deep trenches, or lying flat on the stomach on level earth. Another silhouette, that of an infantryman running, was peppered with white points in arms and legs and parts of the body that were not vital, to show in how many places a man may be hit with a small-calibre bullet and still survive.
The immortals had small armies. Even the mustache and imperial had only three hundred thousand in the great battle of the last war. In this day of universal European conscription, if Westerling were to win it would be with five millions—five hundred thousand more than when he faced a young Brown officer over the wreck of an aeroplane—including the reserves; each man running, firing, crouching, as was the figure on the wall, and trying to give more of the white points that peppered the silhouette than he received.
Now Turcas, the assistant vice-chief of staff, and Bouchard, chief of the division of intelligence, standing on either side of Westerling's desk, awaited his decisions on certain matters which they had brought to his attention. Both were older than Westerling, Turcas by ten and Bouchard by fifteen years.
Turcas had been strongly urged in inner army circles for the place that Westerling had won, but his manner and his inability to court influence were against him A lath of a man and stiff as a lath, pale, with thin, tightly-drawn lips, quiet, steel-gray eyes, a tracery of blue veins showing on his full temples, he suggested the ascetic no less than the soldier, while his incisive brevity of speech, flavored now and then with pungent humor, without any inflection in his dry voice, was in keeping with his appearance. He arrived with the clerks in the morning and frequently remained after they were gone. His life was an affair of calculated units of time; his habits of diet and exercise all regulated for the end of service. His subordinates, whose respect he held by the power of his intellect, said that his brain never tired and he had not enough body to tire. He was one of the wheels of the great army machine and loved the work for its own sake too well to be embittered at being overshadowed by a younger man. As a master of detail Westerling regarded him as an invaluable assistant, with certain limitations, which were those of the pigeonhole and the treadmill.
As for Bouchard, nature had meant him to be a wheel-horse. He had never had any hope of being chief of staff. Hawk-eyed, with a great beak nose and iron-gray hair, intensely and solemnly serious, lacking a sense of humor, he would have looked at home with his big, bony hands gripping a broadsword hilt and his lank body clothed in chain armor. He had a mastiff's devotion to its master for his chief.
"Since Lanstron became chief of intelligence of the Browns information seems to have stopped," said Westerling, but not complainingly. He appreciated Bouchard's loyalty.
"Yes, they say he even burns his laundry bills, he is so careful," Bouchard replied.
"But that we ought to know," Westerling proceeded, referring very insistently to a secret of the Browns which had baffled Bouchard. "Try a woman," he went on with that terse, hard directness which reflected one of his sides. "There is nobody like a woman for that sort of thing. Spend enough to get the right woman."
Turcas and Bouchard exchanged a glance, which rose suggestively from the top of the head of the seated vice-chief of staff. Turcas smiled slightly, while Bouchard was graven as usual.
"You could hardly reach Lanstron though you spent a queen's ransom," said Bouchard in his literal fashion.
"I should say not!" Westerling exclaimed. "No doubt about Lanstron's being all there! I saw him ten years ago after his first aeroplane flight under conditions that proved it. However, he must have susceptible subordinates."
"We'll set all the machinery we have to work to find one, sir," Bouchard replied.
"Another thing, we may dismiss any idea that they are concealing either artillery or dirigibles or planes that we do not know of," continued Westerling. "That is a figment of our apprehensions. The fact that we find no truth in the rumors proves that there is none. Such things are too important to be concealed by one army from another."
"Lanstron certainly cannot carry them in his pockets," remarked Turcas. "Still, we must be sure," he added thoughtfully, more to himself than to Westerling, who had already turned his attention to a document which Turcas had laid on the desk.
"A recommendation by the surgeon-in-chief," said Turcas, "for a new method of prompt segregation of ghastly cases among the wounded. I have put it in the form of an order. If reserves coming into action see men badly lacerated by shell fire it is bound to make them self-conscious and affect morale."
"Yes," Westerling agreed. "If moving pictures of the horrors of Port Arthur were to be shown in our barracks before a war, it would hardly encourage martial enthusiasm. I shall look this over and then have it issued. It will not be necessary to wait on action of the staff in council."
Turcas and Bouchard exchanged another glance. They had fresh evidence of Westerling's tendency to concentrate authority in himself.
"The 128th Regiment has been ordered to South La Tir, but no order yet given for the 132d, whose place it takes," Turcas went on.
"Let it remain for the present!" Westerling replied.
After they had withdrawn, the look that passed between Turcas and Bouchard was a pointed question. The 132d to remain at South La Tir! Was there something more than "newspaper talk" in this latest diplomatic crisis between the Grays and the Browns? Westerling alone was in the confidence of the premier of late. Any exchange of ideas between the two subordinates would be fruitless surmise and against the very instinct of staff secrecy, where every man knew only his work and asked about no one else's.
Westerling ran through the papers that Turcas had prepared for him. If Turcas had written the order for the wounded, Westerling knew that it was properly done. Having cleared his desk into the hands of his executive clerk, he looked at the clock. It had barely turned four. He picked up the final staff report of observations on the late Balkan campaign, just printed in book form, glanced at it and laid it aside. Already he knew the few lessons afforded by this war "done on the cheap," with limited equipment and over bad roads. No dirigibles had been used and few planes. It was no criterion, except in the effect of the fire of the new pattern guns, for the conflict of vast masses of highly trained men against vast masses of highly trained men, with rapid transportation over good roads, complete equipment, thorough organization, backed by generous resources, in the cataclysm of two great European powers.
Rather idly, now, he drew a pad toward him and, taking up a pencil, made the figures seventeen and twenty-seven. Then he made the figures thirty-two and forty-two. He blackened them with repeated tracings as he mused. This done, he put seventeen under twenty-seven and thirty-two under forty-two. He made the subtraction and studied the two tens.
A swing door opened softly and his executive clerk reappeared with a soft tread, unheard by Westerling engaged in mechanically blackening the tens. The clerk, pausing as he waited for a signal of recognition, observed the process wonderingly. To be absently making figures on a pad was not characteristic of the vice-chief of staff. When he was absorbed his habit was to tap the desk edge with the blunt end of his pencil.
"Some papers for your signature, sir," said the clerk as he slipped them on the blotter in front of Westerling. "And the 132d—no order about that, sir?" he asked.
"None. It remains!" Westerling replied.
The clerk went out impressed. His chief taking to sums of subtraction and totally preoccupied! The 132d to remain! He, too, had a question-mark in his secret mind.
Westerling proceeded with his mathematics. Having heavily shaded the tens, he essayed a sum in division. He found that ten went into seventy just seven times.
"One-seventh the allotted span of life!" he mused. "Take off fifteen years for youth and fifteen after fifty-five—nobody counts after that, though I mean to—and you have ten into forty, which is one fourth. That is a good deal. But it's more to a woman than to a man—yes, a lot more to a woman than to a man!"
The clerk was right in thinking Westerling preoccupied; but it was not with the international crisis. He had dismissed that for the present from his thoughts by sending the 128th Regiment to South La Tir. He might move some other regiments in the morning if advices from the premier warranted. At all events, the army was ready, always ready for any emergency. He was used to international crises. Probably a dozen had occurred in the ten years since he had spoken his adieu to a young girl at a garden-gate. Over his coffee the name of Miss Marta Galland, in a list of arrivals at a hotel, had caught his eye in the morning paper. A note to her had brought an answer, saying that her time was limited, but she would be glad to have him call at five that afternoon.
Rather impatiently he watched the slow minute-hand on the clock. He had risen from his desk at four-thirty, when his personal aide, a handsome, boyish, rosy-cheeked young officer, who seemed to be moulded into his uniform, appeared.
"Your car is waiting, sir," he said. His military correctness could not hide the admiration and devotion in his eyes. He thought himself the most fortunate lieutenant in the army. To him Westerling was, indeed, great. Westerling realized this.
"This is a personal call," Westerling explained; "so you are at liberty to make one yourself, if you like," he added, with that magnetic smile of a genial power which he used to draw men to him and hold them.
OURS AND THEIRS
On the second terrace, Feller, the Gallands' gardener, a patch of blue blouse and a patch of broad-brimmed straw hat over a fringe of white hair, was planting bulbs. Mrs. Galland came down the path from the veranda loiteringly, pausing to look at the flowers and again at the sweep of hills and plain. The air was singularly still, so still that she heard the cries of the children at play in the yards of the factory-workers' houses which had been steadily creeping up the hill from the town. She breathed in the peace and beauty of the surroundings with that deliberate appreciation of age which holds to the happiness in hand. To-morrow it might rain; to-day it is pleasant. She was getting old. Serenely she made the most of to-day.
The gardener did not look up when she reached his side. She watched his fingers firmly pressing the moist earth around the bulbs that he had sunk in their new beds. There were only three more to set out, and her inclination, in keeping with her leisureliness, was to wait on the completion of his task before speaking. Again she let her glance wander away to the distances. It was arrested and held this time by two groups of far-away points in the sky along the frontier, in the same bright light of that other afternoon when Captain Arthur Lanstron had made his first night over the range.
"Look!" she cried. "Look, look!" she repeated, a girlish excitement rippling her placidity.
Aeroplanes and dirigibles had become a familiar sight. They were always going and coming and manoeuvring, the Browns over their territory and the Grays over theirs. But here was something new: two squadrons of dirigibles and planes in company, one on either side of the white posts. For the fraction of a second the dirigibles seemed prisms and the planes still-winged dragon-flies hung on a blue wall. With the next fraction the prisms were seen to be growing and the stretch of the plane wings broadening.
"They are racing—ours against theirs!" exclaimed Mrs. Galland. "Look, look!"
Still the gardener bent to his work, unconcerned.
"I forgot! I always forget that you are deaf!" she murmured.
She touched his shoulder. The effect was magical on the stoop-shouldered figure, which rose with the spring of muscles that are elastic and joints that are limber. His hat was removed with prompt and rather graceful deference, revealing eyebrows that were still dark in contrast to the white hair. For only an instant did he remain erect, but long enough to suggest how supple and well-formed he must have been in youth. Then he made a grimace and dropped his hand demonstratively over his knee.
"Pardon, Mrs. Galland, I have old bones. They always remind me if I try to play any youthful tricks on them. Pardon! I did not see that you were here. I," he said, in the monotonous voice of the deaf, which, however, had a certain attractive wistfulness—"I—" and from the same throat as he saw the object of her gaze came a vibration of passionate interest. "Yes, neck and neck! Coming right for the baron's tower, neck and neck!" he cried, in the zest of a contest understood and enjoyed.
His hand rose in a vigorous, pulsating gesture; his eyes were snapping; his lips parted in an ecstasy that made him seem twenty years younger; his shoulders broadened and his chest expanded with the indrawing of a deep breath. This let go, the stoop returned in a sudden reaction, the briefly kindled flame died out of his eyes, his lips took on the droop of age, and he thrust his hat back on his head, pulling the brim low over his brow.
"Wonderful, but terrible—terrible!" said Mrs. Galland. "Another horror is added to war, as if there were not already enough. Oh, I know what war is! I've seen this garden all spattered with blood and dead bodies in a row here at our feet, and heard the groans and the cheers—the groans of the wounded here in the garden and the cheers of the men who had taken the castle hill!"
Feller, with the lids of shaded eyes half closed, watched the oncoming squadrons in a staring mesmerism. His only movement was a tattoo of the fingers on his trousers' legs.
"War!" he exclaimed with motionless lips. "War!" he repeated softly, coaxingly. One would easily have mistaken the thought of war as something delightful to him if he had not appeared so gentle and detached. It seemed doubtful if he realized what he was saying or even that he was speaking aloud.
As the Gray squadron started to turn in order to keep on their side of the white posts which circled around the spur of La Tir, one of the dirigibles failed to respond to its rudder and lost speed; that in the rear, responding too readily, had its leader on the thwart. An aeroplane, sheering too abruptly to make room, tipped at a dangerous angle and a tragedy seemed due within another wink of the eye.
"Huh-huh-huh!" came from Feller in quick breaths, like the panting of a dog on a hot day.
"Oh!" gasped Mrs. Galland in one long breath of suspense.
The envelope of the second dirigible grazed the envelope of its leader; the groggy plane righted itself and volplaned underneath a dirigible; and, though scattered, the Gray squadron drew away safely from the Brown, which, slowing down, came on as straight as an arrow in unchanged formation in a line over the castle tower. From the forward Brown aeroplane, as its shadow shot over the garden, pursued by the great, oblong shadows of the dirigibles, a white ball was dropped. It made a plummet streak until about fifty feet above the earth, when it exploded into a fine shower of powder, leaving intact a pirouetting bit of white.
"I think that was Colonel Lanstron leading when he ought to leave such work to his assistants," said Mrs. Galland. "You remember him—why, it was the colonel who recommended you! There, now, I've forgotten again that you are deaf!"
The slip of paper glided back and forth on slight currents of air and finally fell among the rose-bushes a few yards from where the two were standing. Feller brought it to Mrs. Galland.
"Yes, it was Colonel Lanstron," she said, after reading the message. "The message says: 'Hello, Marta!' Any other officer would have said: 'How do you do, Miss Galland!' He could not have known that she was away. I've just had a telegram from her that she will be home in the morning, and that takes me back to my idea that I came to speak about to you," she babbled on, while Feller regarded her with a gentle, uncomprehending smile. "You know how she likes chrysanthemums and they are in full bloom. We'll cut them and fill all the vases in the living-room and her room and—oh, how I do forget! You're not hearing a word!" she exclaimed as she noted the helpless eagerness of his eyes.
"It is a great nuisance, deafness in a gardener. But I love my work. I try to do it well," he said in his monotone.
"You do wonderfully, wonderfully!" she assented; "and you deserve great credit. Many deaf people are irritable—and you are so cheerful!"
He smiled as pleasantly as if he had heard the compliment and passed her a small pad from his blouse pocket. With the pencil attached to it by a string she wrote her instructions slowly, in an old-fashioned hand, dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's.
"Pardon me, madam, but Miss Galland"—he paused, dwelling with a slight inflection on his mention of the daughter as the talisman that warranted his presuming to disagree with the mother—"Miss Galland, when she took her last look around before going, said: 'Please don't cut any yet. I want to see them all abloom in their beds first.'"
"She has taken such an interest in them, and my idea was to please her. Of course, leave them," said Mrs. Galland. She made repeated vigorous nods of assent to save herself the trouble of writing. Starting back up the steps, she murmured: "I suppose cut flowers are out of fashion—I know I am—and deaf gardeners are in." She sighed. "And you are twenty-seven, Marta, twenty-seven!" She drew another, a very long sigh, and then her serenity returned.
"Ours did not pass theirs," observed the gardener, with a musing smile when he was alone; "but theirs nearly had a jolly spill there at the turn!"
As he bent once more to his work a bumblebee approached on its glad, piratical errand from flower to flower in the rapt stillness, and Feller looked around with a slight courtesy of his hat brim.
"You and your fussily thunderous wings!" he said, half aloud. "I wonder if you think you're an aeroplane. Surely, they'd never train you to evolute in squadrons. You are an anarchist, you are, and an epicurean into the bargain!"
He went with his barrow for more bulbs. Meanwhile, the sun sank behind the range. The plain lay bathed in soft, golden light; the ravines were tongues of black shadow. As the evening gun boomed out from a fortress on the Brown side of the frontier, Feller glanced around to see if any one were watching. Assured that he was alone, he removed his hat, and, though he wiped the brim and wiped his brow, in his attitude was the suggestion of the military stance of attention at colors. A minute later, when the evening gun of the Grays across the white posts reverberated over the plain, he jammed his hat back on his head rather abruptly and started to the tool house with his barrow.
"War! war!" he repeated softly. "Yes, war!" he added in eager desire.
THE DIVIDENDS OF POWER
Westerling realized that the question of marriage as a social requirement might arise when he should become officially chief of staff with the retirement of His Excellency the field-marshal. For the present he enjoyed his position as a bachelor who was the most favored man in the army too much to think of marriage. This did not imply an absence of fondness for women; rather the contrary. He liked sitting next to a beautiful neck and shoulders and having a pair of feminine eyes sparkle into his at dinner; though, with rare exceptions, not the same neck and shoulders on succeeding nights. His natural sense of organization divided women into two classes: those of family and wealth, whom he met at great houses, and those purring kittens who live in small flats. Both afforded him diversion. A woman had been the most telling influence in making him vice-chief of staff; an affair to which gossip gave the breath of scandal had been an argument against him.
It was a little surprising that the bell that the girl of seventeen had rung in his secret mind when he was on one of the first rounds of the ladder, now lost in the mists of a lower stratum of existence, should ever tinkle again.... Yet he had heard its note in the tone of her prophecy with each step in his promotion; and while the other people whom he had known at La Tir were the vaguest shadows of personalities, her picture was as definite in detail as when she said: "You have the will! You have the ambition!" She had recognized in him the power that he felt; foreseen his ascent to the very apex of the pyramid. She was still unmarried, which was strange; for she had not been bad-looking and she was of a fine old family. What was she like now? Commonplace and provincial, most likely. Many of the people he had known in his early days appeared so when he met them again. But, at the worst, he looked for an interesting half-hour.
The throbbing activity of the streets of the capital, as his car proceeded on the way to her hotel, formed an energetic accompaniment to his gratifying backward survey of how all his plans had worked out from the very day of the prophecy. Had he heard the remark of a great manufacturer to the banker at his side in a passing limousine, "There goes the greatest captain of industry of us all!" Westerling would only have thought: "Certainly. I am chief of staff. I am at the head of all your workmen at one time or another!" Had he heard the banker's answer, "But pretty poor pay, pretty small dividends!" he would have thought: "Splendid dividends—the dividends of power!"
He had a caste contempt for the men of commerce, with their mercenary talk about credit and market prices; and also for the scientists, doctors, engineers, and men of other professions, who spoke of things in books which he did not understand. Reading books was one of the faults of Turcas, his assistant. No bookish soldier, he knew, had ever been a great general. He resented the growing power of these leaders of the civil world, taking distinction away from the military, even when, as a man of parts, he had to court their influence. His was the profession that was and ever should be the elect. A penniless subaltern was a gentleman, while he could never think of a man hi business as one.
All the faces in the street belonged to a strange, busy world outside his interest and thoughts. They formed what was known as the public, often making a clatter About things which they did not understand, when they Should obey the orders of their superiors. Of late, their clatter had been about the extra taxes for the recent increase of the standing forces by another corps. The public was bovine with a parrot's head. Yet it did not admire the toiling ox, but the eagle and the lion.
As his car came to the park his eyes lighted at sight of one of the dividends—one feature of urban life that ever gave him a thrill. A battalion of the 128th, which he had ordered that afternoon to the very garrison at South La Tir that he had once commanded, was marching through the main avenue. Youths all, of twenty-one or two, they were in a muddy-grayish uniform which was the color of the plain as seen from the veranda of the Galland house.
Around them, in a mighty, pervasive monotone, was the roar of city traffic, broken by the nearer sounds of the cries of children playing in the sand piles, the bark of motor horns, the screech of small boys' velocipedes on the paths of the park; while they themselves were silent, except for the rhythmic tramp of the military shoes of identical pattern, as was every article of their clothing and equipment from head to foot, whose character had been the subject of the weightiest deliberation of the staff.
How much can a soldier carry and how best carry it easily? What shoes are the most serviceable for marching and yet cheap? Nothing was so precise in all their surroundings, nothing seemed so resolutely dependable as this column of soldiers. They were the last word in filling human tissue into a mould for a set task. Where these came from were other boys growing up to take their places. The mothers of the nation were doing their duty. All the land was a breeding-ground for the dividends of Hedworth Westerling.
At the far side of the park he saw another kind of dividend—another group of marching men. These were not in uniform. They were the unemployed. Many were middle-aged, with worn, tired faces. Beside the flag of the country at the head of the procession was that of universal radicalism. And his car had to stop to let them pass. For an instant the indignation of military autocracy rose strong within him at sight of the national colors in such company. But he noted how naturally the men kept step; the solidarity of their movement. The stamp of their army service in youth could not be easily removed. He realized the advantage of heading an army in which defence was not dependent on a mixture of regulars and volunteers, but on universal conscription that brought every able-bodied man under discipline.
These reservists, in the event of war, would hear the call of race and they would fight for the one flag that then had any significance. Yes, the old human impulses would predominate and the only enemy would be on the other side of the frontier. They would be pawns of his will—the will that Marta Galland had said would make him chief of staff.
Wasn't war the real cure for the general unrest? Wasn't the nation growing stale from the long peace? He was ready for war now that he had become vice-chief, when the retirement of His Excellency, unable to bear the weight of his years and decorations in the field, would make him the supreme commander. One ambition gained, he heard the appeal of another: to live to see the guns and rifles that had fired only blank cartridges in practice pouring out shells and bullets, and all the battalions that had played at sham war in manoeuvres engaged in real war, under his direction. He saw his columns sweeping up the slopes of the Brown range. Victory was certain. He would be the first to lead a great modern army against a great modern army; his place as the master of modern tactics secure in the minds of all the soldiers of the world. The public would forget its unrest in the thrill of battles won and provinces conquered, and its clatter would be that of acclaim for a new idol of its old faith.
OFF TO THE FRONTIER
Ranks broken in the barracks yard, backs free of packs, shoulders free of rifles, the men of the first battalion of the 28th, which Westerling had seen marching through the park, had no thought except the prospect of the joyous lassitude of resting muscles and of loosening tongues that had been silent on the march. They were simply tired human beings in the democracy of a common life and service.
The 128th had been recruited from a province in the high country distant from the capital. In the days of Maria's old baron, a baron of the same type had plundered their ancestors, and in the days of the first Galland they formed a principality frequently at war with their neighbors of the same blood and language. At length they had united with their neighbors who had in turn united with other neighbors, forming the present nation of the Grays, which vented its fighting spirit against other nations. Each generation must send forth its valorous and adventurous youth to the proof of its manhood in battle, while those who survived wounds and disease became the heroes of their reminiscences, inciting the younger generation to emulation. With each step in the evolution learning had spread and civilization developed.
Since the last war universal conscription had gone hand in hand with popular education and the telegraphic click of the news of the world to all breakfast tables and cheap travel and better living. Every private of the five millions was a scholar compared to the old baron; he had a broader horizon than the first Galland. In the name of defence, to hold their borders secure, the great powers were straining their resources to strengthen the forces that kept an armed peace. Evolution never ceases. What next?
In a group of the members of Company B, who dropped on a bench in the barrack room, were the sons of a farmer, a barber, a butcher, an army officer, a day-laborer, a judge, a blacksmith, a rich man's valet, a banker, a doctor, a manufacturer, and a small shopkeeper.
"Six months more and my tour is up!" cried the judge's son.
"Six months more for me!"
"Now you're counting!"
"And for me—one, two, three, four, five, six!"
"Oh, don't rub it in," the manufacturer's son shouted above the chorus, "you old fellows! I've a year and six months more."
"Here, too!" chimed in the banker's son. "A year and six months more of iron spoons and tin cups and army shoes and army fare and early rising. Hep-hep-hep, drill-drill-drill, and drudgery!"
"Oh, I don't know!" said the day-laborer's son. "I don't have to get up any earlier than I do at home, and I don't have to work as hard as I'll have to when I leave."
"Nor I!" agreed the blacksmith's son. "It's a kind of holiday for me."
"Holiday!" the banker's son gasped. "That's so," he added thoughtfully, and smiled gratefully over a fate that had been indulgent to him in a matter of fathers and limousines.
"Look at the newspapers! Maybe we shall be going to war," said the manufacturer's son.
"Stuff! Nonsense!" said the judge's son. "We are always having scares. They sell papers and give the fellows at the Foreign Office a chance to look unconcerned. But let's have the opinion of an international expert, of the great and only philosopher, guide, companion, and friend. What do you think of the crisis, eh, Hugo? Soberly, now. The fate of nations may hang on your words. If not, at least the price of a ginger soda!"
It was around Hugo Mallin that the group had formed. Groups were always forming around Hugo. He could spring the unexpected and incongruous and make people laugh. Slight but wiry of physique, he had light hair, a freckled and rather nondescript nose, large brown eyes, and a broad, sensitive mouth. Nature had not attempted any regularity of features in his case. She had been content with making each one a mobile servant of his mind. In repose his face was homely, and it was a mask.
"Come on, Hugo! Out with it!"
Hugo's brow contracted; the lines of the mask were drawn in deliberate seriousness.
"I never hear war mentioned that I don't have a shiver right down my spine, as I did when I was a little boy and went into the cellar without a light," he replied.
"Fear?" exclaimed Eugene Aronson, the farmer's son, whose big, plain face expressed dumb incomprehension. He alone was standing. Being the giant and the athlete of the company, the march had not tired him.
"Fear?" some of the others repeated. The sentiment was astounding, and Hugo was as manifestly in earnest as if he were a minister addressing a parliamentary chamber.
"Yes, don't you?" asked Hugo, in bland surprise.
"I should say not!" declared Eugene.
"Do you want to be killed?" asked Hugo, with profound interest.
"The bullet isn't made that will get me!" answered Eugene, throwing back his broad shoulders.
"I don't know," mused Hugo, eying the giant up and down. "You're pretty big, Gene, and a bullet that only nicked one of us in the bark might get you in the wood. However, if you are sure that you are in no danger, why, you don't count. But let's take a census while we are about it and see who wants to be killed. First, you, Armand; do you?" he asked the doctor's son, Armand Daution.
Armand grinned. The others grinned, not at him, but at the quizzical solemnity of Hugo's manner.
"If so, state whether you prefer bullets or shrapnel, early in the campaign or late, a la carte or table d'hote, morning or—" Hugo went on.
But laughter drowned the sentence, though Hugo's face was without a smile.
"You ought to go on the stage!" some one exclaimed.
"If it were as easy to amuse a pay audience as you fellows, I might," Hugo replied. "But I've another question," he pursued. "Do you think that the fellows on the other side of the frontier want to be killed?"
"No danger! They'll give in. They always do," said Eugene.
"I confess that it hardly seems reasonable to make war over the Bodlapoo affair!" This from the judge's son.
"Over some hot weather, some swamp, and some black policemen in Africa," said Hugo.
"But they hauled down our flag!" exclaimed the army officer's son.
"On their territory, they say. We were the aggressors," Hugo interposed.
"It was our flag!" said Eugene.
"But we wouldn't want them to put up their flag on our territory, would we?" Hugo asked.
"Let them try it!" thundered Eugene, with a full breath from the big bellows in his broad chest. "Hugo, I don't like to hear you talk that way," he added, shaking his head sadly. Such views from a friend really hurt him; indeed, he was almost lugubrious. This brought another laugh.
"Don't you see he's getting you, Gene?"
"He always gets you, you old simpleton!" The judge's son gave Eugene an affectionate dig in the ribs.
Eugene was well liked and in the way that a big Saint Bernard dog is liked. At the latest manoeuvres, on the night that their division had made a rapid flank movement, without any apparent sense that his own load was the heavier for it, he had carried the rifle and pack of Peter Kinderling, a valet's pasty-faced little son "Peterkin," as he was called, was the stupid of Company B. Being generally inoffensive, the butt of the drill sergeant, who thought that he would never learn even the manual of arms, and rounding out the variety of characters which makes for fellowship, he was regarded with a sympathetic kindliness by his comrades.
"But I don't think you ought to joke about the flag That's sacred!" declared Eugene.
"Now you're talking!" said Jacob Pilzer, the butcher's son, who sat on the other side of the bench from Eugene. He was heavily built, with an undershot jaw and a patch of liverish birthmark on his cheek.
"Yes," piped Peterkin, who had an opinion when the two strong men of the company agreed on any subject. But he spoke tentatively, nevertheless. He was taking no risks.
"Oh, if we went to war the Bodlapoo affair would be only an excuse," said the manufacturer's son. "We shall go to war as a matter of broad national policy."
"Right you are!" agreed the banker's son. "No emotion about it. Emotion as an international quantity is dead. Everything is business now in this business age."
"Killing people as a broad international policy!" mused Hugo sotto voce, as if this were a matter of his own thoughts.
The others scarcely heard him as the manufacturer's son struck his fist in the palm of his hand resoundingly to demand attention.
"We need room in which to expand. We have eighty million people to their fifty, while our territory is only a little larger than theirs. Our population grows; the Browns' does not!" he announced.
"But there is a remedy for that," Hugo interjected loftly, so softly that everybody looked at him. "Why, all the conscripts of the army for two years could take a vow not to marry," he said. "We could reduce the output, as your father's factory does when the market is dull. We should not have so many babies. This would be cheaper than rearing them to be slaughtered in their young manhood."
"Hear ye! Hear ye!" shouted the doctor's son, in the midst of the hilarity that ensued. "Hugo Mallin solves the whole problem of eugenics by destroying the field for eugenics!"
"The levity of a lot of mere unthinking privates who mistake themselves for sociological experts shall not deter me from finishing my speech," pursued the manufacturer's son.
"Listen to the fount of wisdom play!"
"A beer if you produce an idea!"
"War must come some day. It must come if for no other reason than to stop the strikes, arouse patriotism, and give an impetus to industry. An army of five millions on our side against the Browns' three millions! Of course, they won't start it! We shall have to take the aggressive; naturally, they'll not."
"And they'll run, they'll run, just as they always have" Eugene cried enthusiastically.
"You bet they will, or they'll be mush for our bayonets!" said Pilzer, the butcher's son.
"Will they? Do you really think they will?" asked Hugo, drawing down the corners of his mouth in profound contemplation that was actually mournful. "I wonder, now, I wonder if they can run any faster than I can?"
Everybody was laughing except him. If he had laughed too, he would not have been funny. His faint, look of surprise over their outburst only served to prolong it.
"Hugo, you're immense!"
"You're a scream!"
"But I am considering," Hugo resumed, when there was silence. "If both sides ran as fast as they could when the war began, it would be interesting to see which army reached home first. Some of us might get out of breath, but nobody would be killed." He had to wait on another laugh before he could continue. It takes little to amuse men in garrison if one knows how. "I don't want to be killed, and why should I want to kill strangers on the other side of the frontier?" He paused on the rising inflection of his question, a calm, earnest challenge in his eyes. "I don't know them. I haven't the slightest grudge against them."
No grudge against the Browns—against the ancient enemy! The faces around were frowning, as if in doubt how to take him.
"What did you come into the army for, then?" called Pilzer, the butcher's son. "You didn't have to, being an only son. Talk that stuff to your officers! They will let you out. They don't want any cowards like you!"
"Cowards! Hold on, there!" said Eugene, who was very fond of Hugo. He spoke in the even voice of his vast good nature, but he looked meaningly at the butcher's son.
"Coward? Is that the word, Jake?" Hugo inquired amiably. "Now, maybe I am. I don't know. But it wouldn't prove that I wasn't if I fought you any more than if I fought the strangers on the other side of the frontier."
"Well, if you don't want to fight, what are you in the army for? That's a fair question, isn't it?" growled Pilzer, in an appeal to public opinion.
"Yes, you can carry a joke too far," said the army officer's son. "Yes, why?"
The others nodded. An atmosphere of hostility was gathering around Hugo. In face of it a smile began playing about the corners of his lips. The smile spread. For the first time he was laughing, while all the others were serious. Suddenly he threw his arms around the necks of the men next to him.
"Why, to be with all you good fellows, of course!" he said, "and to complete my education. If I hadn't taken my period in the army, you might have shaved me, Eduardo; you might have fixed a horseshoe for me, Henry; you might have sold me turnips, Eugene, but I shouldn't have known you. Now we all know one another by eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, marching side by side, and submitting to another kind of discipline than that of our officers—the discipline of close association in a community of service. There's hope for humanity in that—for humanity trying to free itself of its fetters. We have mixed with the people of the capital. They have found us and we have found them to be of the same human family."
"That's so! This business of moving regiments about from one garrison to another is a good cure for provincialism," said the doctor's son.
"Judge's son or banker's son or blacksmith's son, whenever we meet in after-life there will be a thought of fellowship exchanged in our glances," Hugo continued. "Haven't we got something that we couldn't get otherwise? Doesn't it thrill you now when we're all tired from the march except leviathan Gene—thrill you with a warm glow from the flow of good, rich, healthy red blood?"
"Yes, yes, yes!"
There was a chorus of assent. Banker's son clapped valet's son on the shoulder; laborer's son and doctor's son locked arms and teetered on the edge of the cot together.
"And I've another idea," proceeded Hugo very seriously as the vows of eternal friendship subsided. "It is one to spread education and the spirit of comradeship still further. Instead of two sets of autumn manoeuvres, one on either side of the frontier, I'd have our army and the Browns hold a manoeuvre together—this year on their side and next year on ours."
The biggest roar yet rose from throats that had been venting a tender tone. Only the slow Eugene Aronson was blank and puzzled. But directly he, too, broke into laughter, louder and more prolonged than the others.
"You can be so solemn that it takes a minute to see your joke," he said.
"And humorous when we expect him to be solemn—and, presto, there he goes!" added the judge's son.
Hugo's lips were twitching peculiarly.
"Look at him!" exclaimed the manufacturer's son. "Oh, you've had us all going this afternoon, you old farceur, you, Hugo!"
In the silence that waited on another extravagance from the entertainer the sergeant entered the room.
"We shall entrain to-morrow morning!" he announced. "We are going to South La Tir on the frontier."
Oh, joy! Oh, lucky 128th! It was to see still more of the world! The sergeant stood by listening to the uproar and cautioning the men not to overturn the tables and benches. Even the banker's and the manufacturer's sons, who had toured the country from frontier to frontier in paternal automobiles, were as happy as the laborer's son.
"What fun it would be if we could visit back and forth with the fellows on the other side of the frontier!" said Hugo.
"What the—eh!" exclaimed the sergeant. "Will you never stop your joking, you, Hugo Mallin?"
"Never, sir," replied Hugo dryly. "It comes natural to me!"
THE SECOND PROPHECY
In the reception-room, where he awaited the despatch of his card, Hedworth Westerling caught a glimpse of his person in a panel glass so convenient as to suggest that an adroit hotel manager might have placed it there for the delectation of well-preserved men of forty-two. He saw a face of health that was little lined; brown hair that did not reveal its sprinkle of gray at that distance; shoulders, bearing the gracefully draped gold cords of the staff, squarely set on a rigid spine in his natural attitude. Yes, he had taken good care of himself, enjoying his pleasures with discreet, epicurean relish as he would this meeting with a woman whom he had not seen for ten years.
On her part, Marta, when she had received the note, had been in doubt as to her answer. Her curiosity to see him again was not of itself compelling. The actual making of the prophecy was rather dim to her mind until he recalled it. She had heard of his rise and she had heard, too, things about him which a girl of twenty-seven can better understand than a girl of seventeen. His reason for wanting to see her he had said was to "renew an old acquaintance." He could have little interest in her, and her interest in him was that he was head of the Gray army. His work had intimate relation to that which the Marta of twenty-seven, a Marta with a mission, had set for herself.
A page came to tell Westerling that Miss Galland should be down directly. But before she came a waiter entered with a tea-tray.
"By the lady's direction, sir," he explained as he set the tray on a table opposite Westerling.
Across a tea-table the prophecy had been made and across a tea-table they had held most of their talks. Having a picture in memory for comparison, he was seeing the doorway as the frame for a second picture. When she appeared the picture seemed the same as of old. There was an undeniable delight in this first impression of externals. There had been no promise that she would be beautiful, and she was not. There had been promise of distinction, and she seemed to have fulfilled it. For a second she paused on the threshold rather diffidently. Then she smiled as she had when she greeted him from the veranda as he came up the terrace steps. She crossed the room with a flowing, spontaneous vitality that appealed to him as something familiar.
"Ten years, isn't it?" she exclaimed, putting a genuine quality of personal interest into the words as she gave his hand a quick, firm shake. Then, with the informality of old acquaintances who had parted only yesterday, she indicated a place on the sofa for him, while she seated herself on the other side of the tea-table. "The terrace there in the foreground," she said with conforming gestures of location, "the church steeple over the town, the upward sweep of the mountains, and there the plain melting into the horizon. And, let me see, you took two lumps, if I remember?"
He would have known the hand that poised over the sugar bowl though he had not seen the face; a brownish hand, not long-fingered, not narrow for its length—a compact, deft, firm little hand.
"None now," he said.
"Do you find it fattening?" she asked.
He recognized the mischievous sparkle of the eyes, the quizzical turn of the lips, which was her asset in keeping any question from being personal. Nevertheless, he flushed slightly.
"A change of taste," he averred.
"Since you've become such a great man?" she hazarded. "Is that too strong?" This referred to the tea.
"No, just right!" he nodded.
He was studying her with the polite, veiled scrutiny of a man of the world. A materialist, he would look a woman over as he would a soldier when he had been a major-general making an inspection. She was slim, supple; he liked slim, supple women. Her eyes, though none the less luminous, and her lips, though none the less flexible, did not seem quite as out of proportion with the rest of her face as formerly, now that it had taken on the contour of maturity, which was noticeable also in the lines of her figure. Yes, she was twenty-seven, with the vivacity of seventeen retained, though she were on the edge of being an old maid according to the conventional notions. Necks and shoulders that happened to be at his side at dinner, he had found, when they were really beautiful, were not averse to his glance of appreciative and discriminating admiration of physical charm. But he saw her shrug slightly and caught a spark from her eyes that made him vaguely conscious of an offence to her sensibilities, and he was wholly conscious that the suggestion, bringing his faculties up sharply, had the pleasure of a novel sensation.
"How fast you have gone ahead!" she said. "That little prophecy of mine did come true. You are chief of Staff!"
After a smile of satisfaction he corrected her.
"Not quite; vice-chief—the right-hand man of His Excellency. I am a buffer between him and the heads of divisions. This has led to the erroneous assumption which I cannot too forcibly deny—"
He was proceeding with the phraseology habitual whenever men or women, to flatter him, had intimated that they realized that he was the actual head of the army. His Excellency, with the prestige of a career, must be kept soporifically enjoying the forms of authority. To arouse his jealousy might curtail Westerling's actual power.
"Yes, yes!" breathed Marta softly, arching her eyebrows a trifle as she would when looking all around and through a thing or when she found any one beating about the bush. The little frown disappeared and she smiled understandingly. "You know I'm not a perfect goose!" she added. "Had you been made chief of staff in name, too, all the old generals would have been in the sulks and the young generals jealous," she continued. "The one way that you might have the power to exercise was by proxy."
This downright frankness was another reflection of the old days before he was at the apex of the pyramid. Now it was so unusual in his experience as to be almost a shock. On the point of arguing, he caught a mischievous, delightful "Isn't that so?" in her eyes, and replied:
"Yes, I shouldn't wonder if it were!"
Why shouldn't he admit the truth to the one who had rung the bell of his secret ambition long ago by recognizing in him the ability to reach his goal? He marvelled at her grasp of the situation.
"It wasn't so very hard to say, was it?" she asked happily, in response to his smile. Then, her gift of putting herself in another's place, while she strove to look at things with his purpose and vision, in full play, she went on in a different tone, as much to herself as to him: "You have labored to make yourself master of a mighty organization. You did not care for the non-essentials. You wanted the reality of shaping results."
"Yes, the results, the power!" he exclaimed.
"Fifteen hundred regiments!" she continued thoughtfully, looking at a given point rather than at him. "Every regiment a blade which you would bring to an even sharpness! Every regiment a unit of a harmonious whole, knowing how to screen itself from fire and give fire as long as bidden, in answer to your will if war comes! That is what you live and plan for, isn't it?"
"Yes, exactly! Yes, you have it!" he said. His shoulders stiffened as he thrilled at seeing a picture of himself, as he wanted to see himself, done in bold strokes. It assured him that not only had his own mind grown beyond what were to him the narrow associations of his old La Tir days, but that hers had grown, too. "And you—what have you been doing all these years?" he asked.
"Living the life of a woman on a country estate," she replied. "Since you made a rule that no Gray officers Should cross the frontier we have been a little lonelier, having only the Brown officers to tea. Did you really find it so bad for discipline in your own case?" she concluded with playful solemnity.
"One cannot consider individual cases in a general order," he explained. "And, remember, the Browns made the ruling first. You see, every year means a tightening—yes, a tightening, as arms and armies grow more complicated and the maintaining of staff secrets more important. And you have been all the time at La Tir, truly?" he asked, changing the subject. He was convinced that she had acquired something that could not be gained on the outskirts of a provincial town.
"No. I have travelled. I have been quite around the world."
"You have!" This explained much. "How I envy you! That is a privilege I shall not know until I am superannuated." While he should remain chief of staff he must be literally a prisoner in his own country.
"Yes, I should say it was splendid! Splendid—yes, indeed!" Snappy little nods of the head being unequal to expressing the joy of the memories that her exclamation evoked, she clasped her hands over her knees and swung back and forth in the ecstasy of seventeen.
"Splendid! I should say so!" She nestled the curling tip of her tongue against her teeth, as if the recollection must also be tasted. "Splendid, enchanting, enlightening, stupendous, and wickedly expensive! Another girl and I did it all on our own."
"O-oh!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, oh, oh!" she repeated after him. "Oh, what, please?"
"Oh, nothing!" he said. It was quite comprehensible to him how well equipped she was to take care of herself on such an adventure.
"Precisely, when you come to think it over!" she concluded.
"What interested you most? What was the big lesson of all your journeying?" he asked, ready to play the listener.
"Being born and bred on a frontier, of an ancestry that was born and bred on a frontier, why, frontiers interested me most," she said. "I collected impressions of frontiers as some people collect pictures. I found them all alike—stupid, just stupid! Oh, so stupid!" Her frown grew with the repetition of the word; her fingers closed in on her palm in vexation. He recollected that he had seen her like this two or three times at La Tir, when he had found the outbursts most entertaining. He imagined that the small fist pressed against the table edge could deliver a stinging blow. "As stupid as it is for neighbors to quarrel! It put me at war with all frontiers."
"Apparently," he said.
She withdrew her fist from the table, dropped the opened hand over the other on her knee, her body relaxing, her wrath passing into a kind of shamefacedness and then into a soft, prolonged laugh.
"I laugh at myself, at my own inconsistency," she said. "I was warlike against war. At all events, if there is anything to make a teacher of peace lose her temper it is the folly of frontiers."
"Yes?" he exclaimed. "Yes? Go on!" And he thought: "I'm really having a very good time."
"You see, I came home from my tour with an idea—an idea for a life occupation just as engrossing as yours," she went on, "and opposed to yours. I saw there was no use of working with the grown-up folks. They must be left to The Hague conferences and the peace societies. But children are quite alike the world over. You can plant thoughts in the young that will take root and grow as they grow."
"Patriotism, for instance," he observed narrowly.
"No, the follies of martial patriotism! The wickedness of war, which is the product of martial patriotism!"
The follies of patriotism! This was the red flag of anarchy to him. He started to speak, flushing angrily, but held his tongue and only emitted a "whew!" in good-humored wonder.
"I see you are not very frightened by my opposition," she rejoined in a flash of amusement not wholly untempered by exasperation.
"We got the appropriation for an additional army corps this year," he explained contentedly, his repose completely regained.
"Thus increasing the odds against us. But perhaps not; for we are dealing with the children not with recruits, as I said. We call ourselves the teachers of peace. I organized the first class in La Tir. I have the children come together every Sunday morning and I tell them about the children that live in other countries. I tell them that a child a thousand miles away is just as much a neighbor as the one across the street. At first I feared that they would find it uninteresting. But if you know how to talk to them they don't."
"Naturally they don't, when you talk to them," he interrupted.
She was so intent that she passed over the compliment with a gesture like that of brushing away a cobweb. Her eyes were like deep, clear wells of faith and repose.
"I try to make the children of other countries so interesting that our children will like them too well ever to want to kill them when they grow up. We have a little peace prayer—they have even come to like to recite it—a prayer and an oath. But I'll not bother you with it. Other women have taken up the idea. I have found a girl who is going to start a class on your side in South La Tir, and I came here to meet some women who want to inaugurate the movement in your capital."
"I'll have to see about that!" he rejoined, half-banteringly, half-threateningly.
"There is something else to come, even more irritating," she said, less intently and smiling. "So please be prepared to hold your temper."
"I shall not beat my fist on the table defending war as you did defending peace!" he retaliated with significant enjoyment.
But she used his retort for an opening.
"Oh, I'd rather you would do that than jest! It's human. It's going to war because one is angry. You would go to war as a matter of cold reason."