“I think that we might cut them all now and fill the vases,” he suggested, a musical, ingratiating note in his voice. “To-morrow we may not have a chance.”
“Yes,” she agreed mechanically, her thoughts still dwelling on the collision of the squadrons.
“And some of the finest ones for you to take now,” he added, plying the shears as he made his selections. “I’ll bring the rest,” he concluded when he had gathered a dozen choice blossoms.
His fingers touched hers as the stems changed hands. In his eyes, showing just below the rim of his hat, was the light which she had seen first during the dramatic scene in his sitting-room and the appeal of deference, of suffering, and of the boyish hope of a cadet.
SHE CHANGES HER MIND
The indefatigable captain of engineers had turned spectator. With high-power binoculars glued to his eyes, he was watching to see if the faint brown line of Dellarme’s men were going to hold or break. If it held, he might have hours in which to complete his task; if it broke, he had only minutes.
Marta came up the terrace path from the chrysanthemum bed in time to watch the shroud of shrapnel smoke billowing over the knoll, to visualise another scene in place of the collision of the squadrons, and to note the captain’s exultation over Fracasse’s repulse.
“How we must have punished them!” he exclaimed to his lieutenant. “How we must have mowed them down! Lanstron certainly knew what he was doing.”
“You mean that he knew how we should mow them down?” asked Marta.
Not until she spoke did he realize that she was standing near him.
“Why, naturally! If we hadn’t mowed them down his plan would have failed. Mowing them down was the only way to hold them back,” he said; and seeing her horror made haste to add: “Miss Galland, now you know what a ghastly business war is. It will be worse here than there.”
“Yes,” she said blankly. Her colorless cheeks, her drooping underlip convinced him that now, with a little show of masculine authority, he would gain his point.
“You and your mother must go!” he said firmly.
This was the very thing to whip her thoughts back from the knoll. He was thunderstruck at the transformation: hot color in her cheeks, eyes aflame, lips curving around a whirlwind of words.
“You name the very reason why I wish to stay. Why do you want to save the women? Why shouldn’t they bear their share? Why don’t you want them to see men mowed down? Is it because you are ashamed of your profession? Why, I ask?”
The problem of dealing with an angry woman breaking a shell fire of questions over his head had not been ready-solved in the captain’s curriculum like other professional problems, nor was it mentioned in the official instructions about the defences of the Galland house. He aimed to smile soothingly in the helplessness of man in presence of feminine fury.