“But you are still a deaf gardener to me,” said Marta, finding consolation in pleasing him.
“Eh? eh?” He put his hand to his ear as he resumed his stoop. “Yes, yes,” he added, as a deaf man will when understanding of a remark which he failed at first to catch comes to him in an echo. “Yes, the gardener has no past,” he declared in the gentle old gardener’s voice, “when all the flowers die every year and he thinks only of next year’s blossoms—of the future!”
Now the air of the room seemed to be stifling him, that of the roofless world of the garden calling him. His face spoke pitifully a desire for escape as he withdrew. The bent figure disappeared around a turn in the path and they listened without moving until the sound of his slow, dragging footfalls had died away.
“When he is serving those of his own social station I can see how it would be easier for him not to have me know,” said Marta. “Sensitive, proud, and intense—” and a look of horror appeared in her eyes. “As he came across the room his face was transformed. I imagine it was like that of a man giving no quarter in a bayonet charge!”
“His secret was at stake!” Lanstron said in ready championship.
She put up her hand as if to shut out a picture.
“Don’t let us think of it!” she exclaimed with a shudder. “He did not know what he was doing. His is one of the natures that have moments when an impulse throws them off their balance and ruins the work of years. No, we must think only of his sacrifice, his enforced humiliation, in order to try to make amends for the past according to his light. No one could refuse him sympathy and respect.”
Feller had won the day for himself where a friend’s pleas might have failed. This was as it should be, Lanstron thought; and he smiled happily over the rare thing in Marta that felt the appeal which Feller had for him.
“The right view—the view that you were bound to take!” he said.
“And yet, I don’t know your plans for him, Lanny. Pity is one thing; there is another thing to consider,” she replied, with an abrupt change of tone. “But first let us leave Feller’s quarters. We are intruders here.”
A CRISIS WITHIN A CRISIS
“A broken-hearted man playing deaf; a secret telephone installed on our premises without our consent—this is all I know so far,” said Marta, who was opposite Lanstron at one end of the circular seat in the arbor of Mercury, leaning back, with her weight partly resting on her hand spread out on the edge of the bench, head down, lashes lowered so that they formed a curtain for her glance. “I listen!” she added.
“Of course, with our three millions against their five, the Grays will take the offensive,” he said. “For us, the defensive. La Tir is in an angle. It does not belong in the permanent tactical line of our defences. Nevertheless, there will be hard fighting here. The Browns will fall back step by step, and we mean, with relatively small cost to ourselves, to make the Grays pay a heavy price for each step—just as heavy as we can!”