At the far side of the park he saw another kind of dividend—another group of marching men. These were not in uniform. They were the unemployed. Many were middle-aged, with worn, tired faces. Beside the flag of the country at the head of the procession was that of universal radicalism. And his car had to stop to let them pass. For an instant the indignation of military autocracy rose strong within him at sight of the national colors in such company. But he noted how naturally the men kept step; the solidarity of their movement. The stamp of their army service in youth could not be easily removed. He realized the advantage of heading an army in which defence was not dependent on a mixture of regulars and volunteers, but on universal conscription that brought every able-bodied man under discipline.
These reservists, in the event of war, would hear the call of race and they would fight for the one flag that then had any significance. Yes, the old human impulses would predominate and the only enemy would be on the other side of the frontier. They would be pawns of his will—the will that Marta Galland had said would make him chief of staff.
Wasn’t war the real cure for the general unrest? Wasn’t the nation growing stale from the long peace? He was ready for war now that he had become vice-chief, when the retirement of His Excellency, unable to bear the weight of his years and decorations in the field, would make him the supreme commander. One ambition gained, he heard the appeal of another: to live to see the guns and rifles that had fired only blank cartridges in practice pouring out shells and bullets, and all the battalions that had played at sham war in manoeuvres engaged in real war, under his direction. He saw his columns sweeping up the slopes of the Brown range. Victory was certain. He would be the first to lead a great modern army against a great modern army; his place as the master of modern tactics secure in the minds of all the soldiers of the world. The public would forget its unrest in the thrill of battles won and provinces conquered, and its clatter would be that of acclaim for a new idol of its old faith.
OFF TO THE FRONTIER
Ranks broken in the barracks yard, backs free of packs, shoulders free of rifles, the men of the first battalion of the 28th, which Westerling had seen marching through the park, had no thought except the prospect of the joyous lassitude of resting muscles and of loosening tongues that had been silent on the march. They were simply tired human beings in the democracy of a common life and service.