“And this is wiser,” said the aide, unfastening the detachable insignia of rank from the shoulders of the greatcoat. “It’s wiser, too, that we walk,” he added.
“Walk? But my car!” exclaimed Westerling petulantly.
“I’m afraid that the car could not get through the press in the town,” was the reply. “Walking is safer.”
The absence in him of that quality which is the soldier’s real glory, the picture of this deserted leader, this god of a machine who had been crushed by his machine, his very lack of stoicism or courage—all this suddenly appealed to Marta’s quick sympathies. They had once drunk tea together.
“Oh, it was not personal! I did not think of myself as a person or of you as one—only of principles and of thousands of others—to end the killing—to save our country to its people! Oh, I’m sorry and, personally, I’m horrible—horrible!” she called after him in a broken, quavering gust of words which he heard confusedly in tragic mockery.
He made no answer; he did not even look around. Head bowed and hardly seeing the path, he permitted the aide to choose the way, which lay across the boundary of the Galland estate.
They had passed the stumps of the linden-trees and were in the vacant lot on the other side, when something white fluttered toward him, rustled by the breeze that carried it, and lay still almost at his feet. He saw his own picture on the front page of a newspaper, with the caption, “His Excellency, Field-Marshal Hedworth Westerling, Chief of Staff of Our Victorious Army.” He stared at the picture and the picture stared at him as if they knew not each other. A racking shudder swept through him. He turned his face with a kind of resolution, appealing in its starkness, toward the battle and his glance rested on the battery and the shattered regiment of infantry in the fields opposite the Galland gate, under a canopy of shrapnel smoke, bravely holding their ground.
“I should be there. That is the place for me!” he exclaimed with a trace of his old forcefulness.
The aide’s lips parted as if to speak in protest, but they closed in silence, while a glance of deep human understanding, dissolving the barriers of caste, passed between him and the valet, eloquent of their approval and their loyal readiness to share the fate of their fallen chief.
The canopy of shrapnel smoke grew thicker; the infantry began to break.
“But, no!” said Westerling. “The place for a chief of staff is at his headquarters.”