“It is delightful to have breakfast in your kitchen, madame,” said Hugo to Mrs. Galland in a way that ought to have justified her in thinking herself the most charming and useful person in the world.
It was more irritating than ever for Mrs. Galland to keep pace with her daughter’s inconsistencies. There was a Marta listening in partisan sympathy to Hugo’s story of why he had refused to fight and telling the story of her school in return. There was a Marta seizing Hugo’s hand in a quick, impulsive grasp as she exclaimed: “Your act personified what I taught my children!” There was a Marta planning how he should be secreted in the coachman’s quarters over the stable, where he would be reasonably free from discovery until his strength was regained. Then here was another Marta, after Hugo had been carried away on the litter, saying coolly to her mother:
“‘Unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s!’ We have our property, our home to protect. Perhaps the Grays have come to stay for good, so graciousness is our only weapon. We cannot fight a whole army single-handed.”
“You have found that out, Marta?” said Mrs. Galland.
“We have four rooms in the baron’s tower and a kitchen stove,” Marta proceeded. “With Minna we can make ourselves very comfortable and leave the house to the staff.”
“The Gallands in their gardener’s quarters! The staff of the Grays in ours! Your father will turn in his grave!” Mrs. Galland exclaimed.
“But, mother, it is not quite agreeable to think of three women living in the same house with a score of strange men!” Marta persisted.
“I had not thought of that, Marta. Of course, it would be abominable!” agreed Mrs. Galland, promptly capitulating where a point of propriety was involved.
When Marta informed the officer—the same one who had rung the door-bell on his second visit—of the family’s decision he appeared shocked at the idea of eviction that was implied. But, secretly pleased at the turn of events, he hastened to apologize for war’s brutal necessities, and Marta’s complaisance led him to consider himself something of a diplomatist. Yes, more than ever he was convinced of the wisdom of an invader ringing door-bells.
Meanwhile, the service-corps men had continued their work until now there was no vestige of war in the grounds that labor could obliterate; and masons had come to repair the walls of the house itself and plasterers to renew the broken ceilings.
All this Marta regarded in a kind of charmed wonder that an invader could be so considerate. Her manner with the officers in charge of preparations had the simplicity and ease which a woman of twenty-seven, who is not old-maidish because she is not afraid of a single future, may employ as a serene hostess. She frequently asked if there were good news.