Silence, except an occasional rifle-shot—silence and the darkness before dawn which would, she knew, concentrate the lightnings around the house. She glanced into her mother’s room and marvelled as at a miracle to find her sleeping. Then she stole down-stairs and opened the outer door of the dining-room. A step or two brought her to the edge of the veranda. There she paused and leaned against one of the stone pillars. Dellarme himself was in a half-reclining position, his back to a tree. He seemed to be nodding. Except for a few on watch over the sand-bags, his men were stretched on the earth, moving restlessly at intervals, either in an effort to sleep or waking suddenly after a spell of harassed unconsciousness.
FELLER IS TEMPTED
With the first sign of dawn there was a movement of shadowy forms taking position in answer to low-spoken commands. The search-light yielded its vigil to the wide-spread beam out of the east, and the detail of the setting where Marta was to watch the play of one of man’s passions, which he dares not permit the tender flesh of woman to share, grew distinct. Bayonets were fixed on the rifles that lay along the parapet of sand-bags in front of the row of brown shoulders. Back of them in the yard was a section of infantry in reserve, also with bayonets fixed, ready to fill the place of any who fell out of line, a doctor and stretchers to care for the wounded, and a detachment of engineers to mend any breaches made in the breastwork by shell fire.
The gunner of the automatic sighted his barrel, slightly adjusted its elevation, and swung it back and forth to make sure that it worked smoothly, while his assistant saw that the fresh belts of cartridges which were to feed it were within easy reach. Dellarme, walking behind his men, cautioning them not to expose their heads and at the same time to fire low, had his cheery smile in excellent working order.
“We expect great things of you!” this smile said as he bent over the gunner with a pat on the shoulder.
“I understand!” said the upward glance in reply.
Marta could not deny that there was something fine about Dellarme’s smile no less than in his bearing and his delicately, chiselled features. It had the assurance and self-possession of a surgeon about to perform a critical operation, the difference being that, unlike the surgeon, he shared in the risk, which was for the purpose of taking vigorous young lives rather than saving lives enfeebled by disease. Was it this that gave to war its halo—this offering of the most valuable thing man possesses to sudden destruction that made war heroic?
But where was the romance of the last war forty years ago? Where the glad songs going into battle? The glitter of buttons and the pomp of showy uniforms? The general’s staff watching the course of the action by the billows of black smoke? Gone where the railroad sent the stage-coach, electricity sent the candle and horse-drawn street-cars, serum sent diphtheria, the knife sent the appendix, and rifled cannon and explosive shells sent the wooden walls of old ships of the line.