“After school! You have your duty this morning and I have mine!” Marta interrupted pleasantly, and turned toward the chapel.
“They are putting sharpshooters in the church tower to get the aeroplanes, and there are lots of the little guns that fire bullets so fast you can’t count ’em—and little spring wagons with dynamite to blow things up—and—” Jacky Werther ran on in a series of vocal explosions as Marta opened the door to let the children go in.
“Yet you came!” said Marta with a hand caressingly on his shoulder.
“It looks pretty bad for peace, but we came,” answered Jacky, round-eyed, in loyalty. “We’d come right through the bullets ’cause we said we would if we wasn’t sick, and we wasn’t sick.”
“My seven disciples—seven!” exclaimed Marta as she counted them. “And you need not sit on the regular seats, but around me on the platform. It will be more intimate.”
“That’s grand!” came in chorus. They did not bother, about chairs, but seated themselves on the floor around Marta’s skirts.
“My, Miss Galland, but your eyes are bright!”
“And your cheeks are all red!”
“With little spots in the centre!”
“You’re very wonderful, Miss Galland!”
The church clock boomed out its deliberate strokes through ten, the hour set for the lesson, and all counted them—one—two—three. Marta was thinking what a dismal little effort theirs was, and yet she was very happy, tremblingly happy in her distraction and excitement, that they had not waited for her at the door of the chapel in vain.
She announced that there would be no talk this morning; they would only say their oath. Repeating in concert the pledge to the boys and girls of other lands, the childish voices peculiarly sweet and harmonious in contrast to the raucous and uneven sounds of foreboding from the street, they came in due course to the words of the concession that the oath made to militancy.
“If an enemy tries to take my land—”
“Children—I—” Marta interrupted with a sense of wonder and shock. They paused and looked at her questioningly. “I had almost forgotten that part!” she breathed confusedly.
“That’s the part that makes all we’re doing against the Grays right!” put in Jacky Werther promptly.
“As I wrote it for you! ’I shall appeal to his sense of justice and reason with him—’”
Jaws dropped and eyes bulged, for above the sounds of the street rose from the distance the unmistakable crackling of rifle-fire which, as they listened, spread and increased in volume.
“Go on—on to the end of the oath! It will take only a moment,” said Marta resolutely. “It isn’t much, but it’s the best we can do!”
THE BAPTISM OF FIRE
After the morning sun commenced to tickle the back of his neck, Eugene Aronson, the giant of the 128th of the Grays, stretched his limbs as healthily as a cub bear.