THOSE WHO SMILED
From the great villa, marble-white amid its yews and cedars, in which the invaders had set up their headquarters, the two officers the stout, formidable German captain and the young Austrian lieutenant went together through the mulberry orchards, where the parched grass underfoot was tiger-striped with alternate sun and shadow. The hush of the afternoon and the benign tyranny of the North Italian sun subdued them; they scarcely spoke as they came through the ranks of fruit-laden trees to the low embankment where the last houses of the village tailed out beside the road.
"So ist's gut!" said Captain Hahn then. "We are on time nicely on time!" He climbed the grassy bank to the road and paused, his tall young companion beside him. "Halt here," he directed; "we shall see everything from here."
He suspired exhaustively in the still, strong heat, and took possession of the scene with commanding, intolerant eyes. He was a man in the earliest years of middle life, short, naturally full-bodied, and already plethoric with undisciplined passions and appetites. His large sanguine face had anger and impatience for an habitual expression; he carried a thick bamboo cane, with which he lashed the air about him in vehement gesticulation as he spoke; all his appearance and manner were an incarnate ejaculation. Beside him, and by contrast with the violence of his effect, his companion was eclipsed and insignificant, no more than a shape of a silent young man, slender in his close-fitting grey uniform, with a swart, immobile face intent upon what passed.
It was the hour that should crown recent police activities of Captain Hahn with the arrest of an absconding forced-laborer, who, having escaped from his slave-gang behind the firing-line on the Piave, had been traced to his father's house in the village. An Italian renegade, a discovery of Captain Hahn's, had served in the affair; a whole machinery of espionage and secret treachery had been put in motion; and now Lieutenant Jovannic, of the Austrian Army, was to be shown how the German method ensured the German success. Even as they arrived upon the road they saw the carefully careless group of lounging soldiers, like characters on a stage "discovered" at the rise of the curtain, break into movement and slouch with elaborate purposelessness to surround the cottage. Their corporal remained where he was, leaning against a wall in the shade, eating an onion and ready to give the signal with his whistle; he did not glance towards the two watching officers. To Lieutenant Jovannic, the falsity and unreality of it all were as strident as a brass band; yet in the long vista of the village street, brimful of sun and silence, the few people who moved upon their business went indifferently as shadows upon a wall. An old man trudged in the wake of a laden donkey; a girl bore water-buckets slung from a yoke; a child was sweeping up dung. None turned a head.
"Sieh' 'mal!" chuckled Captain Harm joyously. "Here comes my Judas!"
From the door of the cottage opposite them, whose opening showed dead black against the golden glare without, came the renegade, pausing upon the threshold to speak a last cheery word to those within....