MARTA MEETS HUGO
The general staff-officer of the Grays, who had tasted Marta’s temper on his first call, when he returned the next morning did not enter unannounced. He rang the door-bell.
“I have a message for you from General Westerling,” he said to her. “The general expresses his deep regret at the unavoidable damage to your house and grounds and has directed that everything possible be done immediately in the way of repairs.”
In proof of this the officer called attention to a group of service-corps men who were removing the sand-bags from the first terrace. Others were at work in the garden setting uprooted plants back into the earth.
“His Excellency says,” continued the officer, “that, although the house is so admirably suited for staff purposes, we will find another if you desire.”
He was too polite and too considerate in his attitude for Marta not to meet him in the same spirit.
“That is what we should naturally prefer,” and Marta bowed her head in indecision.
“We should have to begin installing the telegraph and telephone service on the lower floor at once,” he remarked. “In fact, all arrangements must be made before the general’s arrival.”
“He has been a guest here before,” she said reminiscently and detachedly.
Her head dropped lower, in apparent disregard of his presence, as she took counsel with herself. She was perfectly still, without even the movement of an eyelash. Other considerations than any he might suggest, he subtly understood, held her attention. They were the criterion by which she would at length assent or dissent, and nothing could hurry the Marta of to-day, who yesterday had been a creature of feverish impulse.
It seemed a long time that he was watching that wonderful profile under the very black hair, soft with the softness of flesh, yet firmly carved. She lifted her head gradually, her eyes sweeping past the spot where Dellarme had lain dying, where Feller had manned the automatic, where Stransky had thrown Pilzer over the parapet. He saw the glance arrested and focussed on the flag of the Grays, which was floating from a staff on the outskirts of the town, and slowly, glowingly, the light rippling on its folds was reflected in her face.
“She is for us! She is a Gray!” he thought triumphantly. The woman and the flag! The matter-of-fact staff-officer felt the thrill of sentiment.
“I think we can arrange it,” Marta announced with a rare smile of assent.
“Then I’ll go back to town and set the signal-corps men to work,” he said.
“And when you come you will find the house at your disposal,” she assured him.
Except that he was raising his cap instead of saluting, he was conscious of withdrawing with the deference due to a superior.
In place of the smile, after he had gone, came a frown and a look in her eyes as if at something revolting; then the smile returned, to be succeeded by the frown, which was followed by an indeterminate shaking of the head.