Lanny would return through the garden. She remained leaning against the wagon body, still faint from happiness, waiting for him. She was drawing deeper and longer breaths that were velvety with the glow of sunshine. A flame, the flame that Lanny had desired, of many gentle yet passionate tongues, leaping hither and thither in glad freedom, was in possession of her being. When his figure appeared out of the darkness the flame swept her to her feet and toward him. Though he might reject her he should know that she loved him; this glad thing, after all the shame she had endured, she could confess triumphantly.
But she stopped short under the whip of conscience. Where was her courage? Where her sense of duty? What right had she, who had played such a horrible part, to think of self? There were other sweethearts with lovers alive who might be dead on the morrow if war continued. The flame sank to a live coal in her secret heart. Another passion possessed her as she seized Lanstron’s hand in both her own.
“Lanny, listen! Not the sound of a shot—for the first time since the war began! Oh, the blessed silence! It’s peace, peace—isn’t it to be peace?” As they ascended the steps she was pouring out a flood of broken, feverish sentences which permitted of no interruption. “You kept on fighting to-day, but you won’t to-morrow, will you? It isn’t I who plead—it’s the women, more women than there are men in the army, who want you to stop now! Can’t you hear them? Can’t you see them?”
In the fervor of appeal, before she realized his purpose, they were on the veranda and at the door of the dining-room, where the Brown staff was gathered around the table.
“I still rely on you to help me, Marta!” he whispered as he stood to one side for her to enter.
THE LAST SHOT
Blinking as she came out of the darkness into the bright light, with a lock of her dew-sprinkled dark hair free and brushing her flushed cheek, Marta saw the division chiefs of the Browns, after their start when Lanstron spoke her name, all stand at the salute, looking at her rather than at him. The reality in the flesh of the woman who had been a comrade in service, sacrificing her sensibilities for their cause, appealed to them as a true likeness of their conceptions of her. In their eyes she might read the finest thing that can pass from man’s to woman’s or from man’s to man’s. These were the strong men of her people who had driven the burglar from her house with the sword of justice. Their tribute had the steadfast loyalty of soldiers who were craving to do anything in the world that she might ask, whether to go on their knees to her or to kill dragons for her.
“I may come in?” she asked.
“Who if not you is entitled to the privilege of the staff council?” exclaimed the vice-chief.