“My duty—my duty, in the hope that we shall kill two Browns for every Gray who has fallen—that we shall yet see them starved and besieged and crying for mercy in their capital,” replied Bouchard. He saluted with a dismal, urgent formality and stalked out of the room with the tread of the ghost of Hamlet’s father.
The strange impression that this farewell left with Bellini still lingered when, a few moments later, Westerling summoned him. Not alone the diffidence of a new member of the staff going into the Presence accounted for the stir in his temples, as he waited till some papers were signed before he had Westerling’s attention. Then Westerling picked up Bouchard’s note and shook his head sadly.
“Poor Bouchard! You can see for yourself,” and he handed the note to Bellini. “I should have realized earlier that it was a case for the doctor and not for reprimand. Mad! Poor Bouchard! He hadn’t the ability or the resiliency of mind for his task, as I hope you have, colonel.”
“I hope so, sir,” replied Bellini.
“I’ve no doubt you have,” said Westerling. “You are my choice!”
A CHANGE OF PLAN
That day and the next Westerling had no time fix strolling in the garden. His only exercise was a few periods of pacing on the veranda. Turcas, as tirelessly industrious as ever, developed an increasingly quiet insistence to leave the responsibility of decisions about everything of importance to a chief who was becoming increasingly arbitrary. The attack on Engadir being the jewel of Westerling’s own planning, he was disinclined to risk success by delegating authority, which also meant sharing the glory of victory.
Bouchard’s note, though officially dismissed as a matter of pathology, would not accept dismissal privately. In flashes of distinctness it recurred to him between reports of the progress of preparations and directions as to dispositions. At dusk of the second day, when all the guns and troops had their places for the final movement under cover of darkness and he rose from his desk, the thing that had edged its way into a crowded mind took possession of the premises that strategy and tactics had vacated. It passed under the same analysis as his work. His overweening pride, so sensitive to the suspicion of a conviction that he had been fooled, put his relations with Marta in logical review.
He had fallen in love in the midst of war. This fact was something that his egoism must resent. Any woman who had struck such a response in him as she had must have great depths. Had she depths that he had not fathomed? He recalled her sudden change of attitude toward war, her conversion to the cause of the Grays, and her charm in this as in all their relations.
Was it conceivable that the change was not due to a personal feeling for him? Was her charm a charm with a purpose? Had he, the chief of staff, been beguiled into making a woman his confidant in military secrets? Just what had he told her? He could not recollect anything definite and recollection was the more difficult because he could not call to mind a single pertinent military question that she had ever asked him. Such information as he might have imparted had been incidental to their talks.