“God with us!” as Partow had said, over and over The saying had come to be repeated by hard-headed, agnostic staff-officers, who believed that the deity had no relation to the efficiency of gun-fire. The Brown infantrymen even were beginning to mutter it in the midst of action.
Waiting on the path of the second terrace for Westerling to come, Marta realized the full meaning of her task. Day in and day out she was to have suspense at her elbow and the horror of hypocrisy on her conscience, the while keeping her wits nicely balanced. She must feel her part and at the same time she must be sufficiently conscious that she was placing a part not to let any impulse of aversion betray her. The tea-table scene had been a rehearsal; coming was a premiere before the ghostly, still faces across the bent glare of the footlights. No ready-made lines, hers She must create them. Every word must be the right word and spoken in the right way, all for the deception of one man.
When she saw Westerling appear on the veranda and start over the lawn she felt dizzy and uncertain of her capabilities. In the gathering dusk he seemed of giant stature, too masterful to be outwitted by any trickery she might devise. She wondered if she would be able to articulate a word; if she would not turn and flee.
“I have considered all that you said for my guidance and I have decided,” she began.
Marta heard her own voice with the relief of a singer in a debut who, with knees shaking, finds that her notes are true. She was looking directly at Westerling in profound seriousness. Though knees shook, lips and chin could aid eyes in revealing the painful fatigue of a battle that had raged in the mind of a woman who went away for half an hour to think for herself.
“I have concluded,” she went on, “that it is an occasion for the sacrifice of private ethics to a great purpose, the sooner to end the slaughter.”
“All true!” whispered an inner voice. Its tone was Lanny’s, in the old days of their comradeship. It gave her strength. All true!
“Yes, an end—a speedy end!” said Westerling with a fine, inflexible emphasis. “That is your prayer and mine and the prayer of all lovers of humanity.”
“He is not thinking of humanity, but of individual victory!” whispered another voice, which had the mellow tone of Hugo Mallin’s deliberate wisdom.
“It is little that I know, but such as it is you shall have it,” she began, conscious of his guarded scrutiny. When she told him of Bordir, the weak point in the first line of the Browns’ defence, she noted no change in his steady look; but with the mention of Engadir in the main line she detected a gleam in his eyes that had the merciless delight of a cutting edge of steel. “I have made my sacrifice to some purpose? The information is worth something to you?” she asked wistfully.