“We must not think of that now,” she said. “We must think of nothing personal; of nothing but your work until your work is done!”
The prompting devil had not permitted a false note in her voice. Her very pallor, in fixity of idea, served her purpose. Westerling drew a deep breath that seemed to expand his whole being with greater appreciation of her. Yet that harried hunger, the hunger of a beast, was still in his glance.
“This is like you—like what I want you to be!” he said. “You are right.” He caught her hand, enclosing it entirely in his grip, and she was sensible, in a kind of dazed horror, of the thrill of his strength. “Nothing can stop us! Numbers will win! Hard fighting in the mercy of a quick end!” he declared with his old rigidity of five against three which was welcome to her. “Then,” he added—“and then—”
“Then!” she repeated, averting her glance. “Then—” There the devil ended the sentence and she withdrew her hand and felt the relief of one escaping suffocation, to find that he had realized that anything further during that interview would be banality and was rising to go.
“I don’t feel decent!” she thought. “Society turned on Minna for a human weakness—but I—I’m not a human being! I am one of the pawns of the machine of war!”
Walking slowly with lowered head as she left the arbor, she almost ran into Bouchard, who apologized with the single word “Pardon!” as he lifted his cap in overdone courtesy, which his stolid brevity made the more conspicuous.
“Miss Galland, you seem lost in abstraction,” he said in sudden loquacity. “I am almost on the point of accusing you of being a poet.”
“Accusing!” she replied. “Then you must think that I would write bad poetry.”
“On the contrary, I should say excellent—using the sonnet form,” he returned.
“I might make a counter accusation, only that yours would be the epic form,” answered Marta. “For you, too, seem fond of rambling.”
There was a veiled challenge in the hawk eyes, which she met with commonplace politeness in hers, before he again lifted his cap and proceeded on his way.
For the next two weeks Marta’s role resolved itself into a kind of routine. Their cramped quarters became spacious to the three women in the intimacy of the common secret shared by them under the very nose of the staff. With little Clarissa Eileen, they formed the only feminine society in the neighborhood. On sunshiny days Mrs. Galland was usually to be found in her favorite chair outside the tower door; and here Minna set the urn on a table at four-thirty as in the old days.