Mrs. Galland and Minna saw her ghostlike as she passed through the living-room, their startled questions unheeded. Could it be true that she had betrayed every decent attribute of a woman in vain? Why had the counter-attack failed? Because Westerling had been too strong, too clever, for old Partow? Because God was still with the heaviest battalions? Half running, half stumbling, the light of the lantern bobbing and trembling weirdly, she hastened through the tunnel. Usually the time from taking the receiver down till Lanny replied was only a half minute. Now she waited what seemed many minutes without response. Had the connection been broken? To make sure that her impatience was not tricking her she began to count off the seconds. Then she heard Lanstron’s voice, broken and hoarse:
“Marta, Marta, he is dead! Partow is dead!”
Recovering himself, Lanstron told the story of Partow’s going, which was in keeping with his life and his prayers. As the doctor put it, the light of his mind, turned on full voltage to the last, went out without a flicker. Through the day he had attended to the dispositions for receiving the Grays’ attack, enlivening routine as usual with flashes of humor and reflection ranging beyond the details in hand. An hour or so before dark he had reached across the table and laid his big, soft palm on the back of Lanstron’s hand. He was thinking aloud, a habit of his, in Lanstron’s company, when an idea requiring gestation came to him.
“My boy, it is not fatal if we lose the apron of Engadir. The defences behind it are very strong.”
“No, not fatal,” Lanstron agreed. “But it’s very important.”
“And Westerling will think it fatal. Yes, I understand his character. Yes—yes; and if our counter-attack should fail, then Miss Galland’s position would be secure. Hm-m-m—those whom the gods would destroy—hm-m-m. Westerling will be convinced that repeated, overwhelming attacks will gain our main line. Instead of using engineering approaches, he will throw his battalions, masses upon masses, against our works until his strength is spent. It would be baiting the bull. A risk—a risk—but, my boy, I am going to—”
Partow’s head, which was bent in thought, dropped with a jerk. A convulsion shook him and he fell forward onto the map, his brave old heart in its last flutter, and Lanstron was alone in the silent room with the dead and his responsibility.
“The order that I knew he was about to speak, Marta, I gave for him,” Lanstron concluded. “It seemed to me an inspiration—his last inspiration—to make the counter-attack a feint.”
“And you’re acting chief of staff, Lanny? You against Westerling?”
WITH FRACASSE’S MEN
We have heard nothing of Jacob Pilzer, the butcher’s son, and Peterkin, the valet’s son, and others of Fracasse’s company of the 128th of the Grays since Hugo Mallin threw down his rifle when they were firing on scattered Brown soldiers in retreat.