Being human and not a heroine fed on lotos blossoms, and being exhausted and also hungry, when she was seated at table, with Minna adroitly urging her, Marta ate with the relish of little Peterkin in the shell crater munching biscuits from his haversack.
HAND TO HAND
With Mrs. Galland on guard, insistent that wherever her daughter went she should go, Marta might not so easily expose herself again. For the time being she seemed hardly of a mind to. She sat staring at the kitchen clock on the wall in front of her, the only sign of any break in the funereal march of her thoughts being an occasional deep-drawn breath, or a shudder, or a clenching of the hands, or a bitter smile of irony.
An hour or more of intermittent firing passed in the suspense of listening to a trickle of water undermining a dam. Then, with the roar of waters carrying away the dam, a cataract of shell fire broke and continued in far heavier volume than that of the first attack.
“The last war was nothing like this!” murmured Mrs. Galland.
At every concussion against the walls of the house, at every crash within the house, Marta pressed her nails tighter into her palms. Abruptly as the inferno of the guns had commenced, it ceased, and the steady, passionate, desperate blasts of the rifles, now uninterrupted, were more deadly and venomous if less shocking to the ear.
The movement of the minute-hand on the clock-face became uncanny and merciless to her eye in its deliberate regularity. Dellarme had been told to hold on until noon, she knew. Was he still smiling? Was Feller still happy in playing a stream of lead from the automatic? Was the second charge of the Grays, which must have come to close quarters when the guns went silent, going to succeed?
The rifle-fire died down suddenly and she heard a cheer like that of the morning, only wilder and fiercer and even less human. Could it be from the Browns celebrating a repulse? Or from the Grays after taking the position? What did it matter? If the Grays had won there was an end to the agony so far as her mother and herself were concerned—an end to murder on the lawn and devastation of their property. But, at length, the rifle-fire beginning again in a slow, irregular pulse told her that the Browns had held.
Now another long intermission. The demon was wiping his brow and recovering his breath, Marta thought; he was repairing damaged joints in his armor and removing the flesh of victims from his claws. But he would not rest long, for the war was young—exactly one day old—and many battalions of victims remained unslain.
How slowly the big hand of the clock kept hitching on from minute-mark to minute-mark! Yet no more slowly than the hands of clocks in distant provinces of the Browns or of the Grays, where this day was as quiet and peaceful as any other day.