“Yes, exactly. The declaration of war and the ambassador’s passports will be prepared and the wire that fighting has begun will release them,” agreed the premier. “Another thing,” he added, “there is the question of the opinion of the world as represented by The Hague and the peace societies. This government has always expressed sympathy with their ideas.”
“Naturally,” Westerling put in. “We shall use hand-grenades, explosives from dirigibles, every known power of destruction. So will the Browns, you may be sure. In such a cataclysm we shall have no time for niceties. The peace societies will have hardly formulated their protests to The Hague before the war is over. Our answer will be our victory—the power that goes with the prestige of unconquerable force. Victory, nothing but victory counts!”
Westerling was speaking by the book, expressing the ideas that he had again and again rehearsed as a part of the preparation, the eternal preparation for the sudden emergency of war, which is the duty of the staff. So letter-perfect was he in his lines that a layman might have scouted his realization of the enormousness of his responsibility.
“Yet if we did lose! If when I had given you all you ask your plans went wrong! If our army were broken to pieces on the frontier and then the nation, kept in ignorance of events, learned the truth”—the premier enunciated slowly and pointedly while he locked glances with Westerling—“that is the end for us both. You would hardly want to return to the capital to face public wrath!”
“We must win though we lose a million men!” he answered. “I stake my life!” he cried hoarsely, striking his fist on the table.
“You stake your life!” repeated the premier with slow emphasis.
“Bravado hardly becomes a chief of staff. His place is not under fire,” Westerling explained. “However, I mean to make my headquarters at La Tir, immediately we have taken it, for the effect of having the leader of the army promptly established on conquered territory.”
“I understand that,” replied the premier. “But still you stake your life? That is the greatest thing a man has to stake. You stake your life on victory?” he demanded fiercely.
“I do!” said Westerling. “Yes, my life. We cannot fail!”
“Then it will be war, if the people want it!” said the premier. “I shall not resist their desire!” he added in his official manner, at peace with his conscience.
IN PARTOW’S OFFICE
Partow was a great brain set on an enormous body. Partow’s eyes had the fire of youth at sixty-five, but the pendulous flesh of his cheeks was pasty. Partow was picturesque; he was a personality with a dome forehead sweeping back nobly to scattered and contentious, short gray hairs. Jealousy and faction had endeavored for years to remove him from his position at the head of the army on account of age. New governments decided as they came in that he must go, and they went out with him still in the saddle. He worked fourteen hours a day, took no holidays and little exercise, violated the rules of health, and never appeared at gold-braid functions. The business of official display, as he said pungently, he delegated to that specialist, his handsome vice-chief of staff.