Part 11 out of 13
When he came forth again the reckless and riotous soldiers of France
turned silently and reverentially away, so that they should not look
upon his face. For it was well known throughout the army that no
common tie had bound together the exiles of England, and the fealty of
comrade to comrade was sacred in their sight.
The fresh animal, saddled, was held ready outside the gates. He
crossed the court, moving still like a man without sense of what he
did; he had the instinct to carry out the mission trusted to him,
instantly and accurately, but he had no distinct perception or memory
of aught else, save of those long-familiar features of which, ere he
could return, the cruel sun of Africa would not have spared one trace.
He passed under the shadow of the gateway arch--a shadow black and
intense against the golden light which, with the ceasing of the storm,
flooded the land in the full morning. There were movement, noise,
changes, haste in the entrance. Besides the arrival of the detachment
of the line and a string of northward-bound camels, the retinue of
some travelers of rank was preparing for departure, and the resources
of the humble caravanserai were taxed beyond their powers. The name
that some of the hurrying grooms shouted loudly in their impatience
broke through his stupor and reached him. It was that of the woman
whom, however madly, he loved with all the strength of a passion born
out of utter hopelessness. He turned to the outrider nearest him:
"You are of the Princesse Corona's suite? What does she do here?"
"Madame travels to see the country and the war."
"The war? This is no place for her. The land is alive with danger--
rife with death."
"Milady travels with M. le Duc, her brother. Milady does not know what
The remonstrance died on his lips; he stood gazing out from the gloom
of the arch at a face close to him, on which the sun shone full, a
face unseen for twelve long years, and which, a moment before laughing
and careless in the light, changed and grew set, and rigid, and pale
with the pallor of an unutterable horror. His own flushed, and moved,
and altered with a wholly different emotion--emotion that was, above
all, of an intense and yearning tenderness. For a moment both stood
motionless and speechless; then, with a marvelous self-command and
self-restraint, Cecil brought his hand to his brow in military salute,
passed with the impassiveness of a soldier who passed a gentleman,
reached his charger, and rode away upon his errand over the brown and
He had known his brother in that fleeting glance, but he hoped that
his brother would see no more in him than a French trooper who bore
resemblance by a strange hazard to one long believed to be dead and
gone. The instinct of generosity, the instinct of self-sacrifice,
moved him now as, long ago one fatal night, they had moved him to bear
the sin of his mother's darling as his own.
Full remembrance, full consideration of what he had done, never came
to him as he dashed on across the many leagues that still lay between
him and his goal. His one impulse had been to spare the other from the
knowledge that he lived; his one longing was to have the hardness and
the bitterness of his own life buried in the oblivion of a soldier's
Within six-and-thirty hours the instructions he bore were in the tent
of the Chef du Bataillon whom they were to direct, and he himself
returned to the caravanserai to fulfill with his own hand to the dead
those last offices which he would delegate to none. It was night when
he arrived; all was still and deserted. He inquired if the party of
tourists was gone; they answered him in the affirmative; there only
remained the detachment of the French infantry, which were billeted
there for a while.
It was in the coolness and the hush of the night, with the great stars
shining clearly over the darkness of the plains, that they made the
single grave, under a leaning shelf of rock, with the somber fans of a
pine spread above it, and nothing near but the sleeping herds of
goats. The sullen echo of the soldiers' muskets gave its only funeral
requiem; and the young lambs and kids in many a future spring-time
would come and play, and browse, and stretch their little, tired limbs
upon its sod, its sole watchers in the desolation of the plains.
When all was over, and the startled flocks had settled once again to
rest and slumber, Cecil still remained there alone. Thrown down upon
the grave, he never moved as hour after hour went by. To others that
lonely and unnoticed tomb would be as nothing; only one among the
thousand marks left on the bosom of the violated earth by the ravenous
and savage lusts of war. But to him it held all that had bound him to
his lost youth, his lost country, his lost peace; all that had
remained of the years that were gone, and were now as a dream of the
night. This man had followed him, cleaved to him, endured misery and
rejected honor for his sake; and all the recompense such a life
received was to be stilled forever by a spear-thrust of an unknown
foe, unthanked, undistinguished, unavenged! It seemed to him like
murder--murder with which his own hand was stained.
The slow night hours passed; in the stillness that had succeeded to
the storm of the past day there was not a sound except the bleating of
the young goats straying from the herd. He lay prostrate under the
black lengths of the pine; the exhaustion of great fatigue was on him;
a grief, acute as remorse, consumed him for the man who, following his
fate, had only found at the end a nameless and lonely grave in the
land of his exile.
He started with a thrill of almost superstitious fear as through the
silence he heard a name whispered--the name of his childhood, of his
He sprang to this feet, and as he turned in the moonlight he saw once
more his brother's face, pale as the face of the dead, and strained
with an agonizing dread. Concealment was no longer possible. The
younger man knew that the elder lived; knew it by a strange and
irresistible certainty that needed no proof, that left no place for
hope or fear in its chill, leaden, merciless conviction.
For some moments neither spoke. A flood of innumerable memories choked
thought or word in both. They knew each other--all was said in that.
Cecil was the first to break the silence. He moved nearer with a rapid
movement, and his hand fell heavily on the other's shoulder.
"Have you lived stainlessly since?"
The question was stern as the demand of a judge. His brother shuddered
beneath this touch, and covered his face with his hands.
"God is my witness, yes! But you--you--they said that you were dead!"
Cecil's hand fell from his shoulder. There was that in the words which
smote him more cruelly than any Arab steel could have done; there was
the accent of regret.
"I am dead," he said simply; "dead to the world and you."
He who bore the title of Royallieu covered his face.
"How have you lived?" he whispered hoarsely.
"Honorably. Let that suffice. And you?"
The other looked up at him with a piteous appeal--the old, timorous,
terrified appeal that had been so often seen on the boy's face,
strangely returning on the gracious and mature beauty of the man.
"In honor too, I swear! That was my first disgrace, and my last. You
bore the weight of my shame? Good God, what can I say? Such nobility,
He would have said enough, more than enough, to satisfy the one who
had lost all for his sake, had there but been once in his voice no
fear, but only love. As it was, that which he still thought of was
himself alone. While crushed with the weight of his brother's
surpassing generosity, he still was filled with only one thought that
burned through the darkness of his bewildered horror, and that thought
was his own jeopardy. Even in the very first hours of his knowledge
that the man whom he had believed dead was living--living and bearing
the burden of the guilt he should have borne--what he was filled with
was the imminence of his own peril.
Cecil stood in silence, looking at him. He saw the boyish loveliness
he remembered so well altered into the stronger and fuller beauty of
the man. He saw that life had gone softly, smoothly, joyously, with
this weak and feminine nature; and that, in the absence of temptation
to evil, its career had been fair and straight in the sight of the
world. He saw that his brother had been, in one word, happy. He saw
that happiness had done for this character what adversity had done for
his own. He saw that by it had been saved a temperament that calamity
would have wrecked. He stood and looked at him, but he spoke not one
word; whatever he felt, he restrained from all expression.
The younger man still hid his face upon his hands, as if, even in
those pale, gray moonbeams, he shunned the light that was about him.
"We believed you were dead," he murmured wildly. "They said so; there
seemed every proof. But when I saw you yesterday, I knew you--I knew
you, though you passed me as a stranger. I stayed on here; they told
me you would return. God! what agony this day and night have been!"
Cecil was silent still; he knew that this agony had been the dread
lest he should be living.
There were many emotions at war in him--scorn, and pity, and wounded
love, and pride too proud to sue for a gratitude denied, or quote a
sacrifice that was almost without parallel in generosity, all held him
speechless. To overwhelm the sinner before him with reproaches, to
count and claim the immeasurable debts due to him, to upbraid and to
revile the wretched weakness that had left the soil of a guilt not his
own to rest upon him--to do aught of this was not in him. Long ago he
had accepted the weight of an alien crime, and borne it as his own; to
undo now all that he had done in the past, to fling out to ruin now
the one whom he had saved at such a cost; to turn, after twelve years,
and forsake the man, all coward though he was, whom he had shielded
for so long--this was not possible to him. Though it would be but his
own birthright that he would demand, his own justification that he
would establish, it would have seemed to him like a treacherous and
craven thing. No matter that the one for whom the sacrifice had been
made was unworthy of it, he held that every law of honor and justice
forbade him now to abandon his brother and yield him up to the
retribution of his early fault. It might have been a folly in the
first instance; it might even have been a madness, that choice of
standing in his brother's place to receive the shame of his brother's
action; but it had been done so long before--done on the spur of
generous affection, and actuated by the strange hazard that made the
keeping of a woman's secret demand the same reticence which also saved
the young lad's name; to draw back from it now would have been a
cowardice impossible to his nature.
All seemed uttered, without words, by their gaze at one another. He
could not speak with tenderness to this craven who had been false to
the fair repute of their name--and he would not speak with harshness.
He felt too sick at heart, too weary, too filled with pain, to ask
aught of his brother's life. It had been saved from temptation, and
therefore saved from evil; that knowledge sufficed to him.
The younger man stood half stupefied, half maddened. In the many years
that had passed by, although his character had not changed, his
position had altered greatly; and in the last few months he had
enjoyed all the power that wealth and independence and the accession
to his title could bestow. He felt some dull, hot, angered sense of
wrong done to him by the fact that the rightful heir of them still
lived; some chafing, ingrate, and unreasoning impatience with the
savior of his whole existence; some bitter pangs of conscience that he
would be baser yet, base beyond all baseness, to remain in his elder's
place, and accept this sacrifice still, while knowing now the truth.
"Bertie--Bertie!" he stammered, in hurried appeal--and the name of his
youth touched the hearer of it strangely, making him for the moment
forget all save that he looked once more upon one of his own race--"on
my soul, I never doubted that the story of your death was true. No one
did. All the world believed it. If I had known you lived, I would have
said that you were innocent; I would--I would have told them how I
forged your friend's name and your own when I was so desperate that I
scarce knew what I did. But they said that you were killed, and I
thought then--then--it was not worth while; it would have broken my
father's heart. God help me! I was a coward!"
He spoke the truth; he was a coward; he had ever been one. Herein lay
the whole story of his fall, his weakness, his sin, and his
ingratitude. Cecil knew that never will gratitude exist where craven
selfishness holds reign; yet there was an infinite pity mingled with
the scorn that moved him. After the years of bitter endurance he had
passed, the heroic endurance he had witnessed, the hard and unending
miseries that he had learned to take as his daily portion, this
feebleness and fear roused his wondering compassion almost as a
woman's weakness would have done. Still he never answered. The hatred
of the stain that had been brought upon their name by his brother's
deed (stain none the less dark, in his sight, because hidden from the
world), his revulsion from this man, who was the only creature of
their race who ever had turned poltroon, the thousand remembrances of
childhood that uprose before him, the irresistible yearning for some
word from the other's lips that should tell of some lingering trace in
him of the old love strong enough to kill, for the moment at least,
the selfish horror of personal peril--all these kept him silent.
His brother misinterpreted that silence.
"I am in your power--utterly in your power," he moaned in his fear. "I
stand in your place; I bear your title; you know that our father and
our brother are dead? All I have inherited is yours. Do you know that,
since you have never claimed it?"
"I know it."
"And you have never come forward to take your rights?"
"What I did not do to clear my own honor, I was not likely to do
merely to hold a title."
The meaning of his answer drifted beyond the ear on which his words
fell; it was too high to be comprehended by the lower nature. The man
who lived in prosperity and peace, and in the smile of the world, and
the purple of power, looked bewildered at the man who led the simple,
necessitous, perilous, semi-barbaric existence of an Arab-Franco
"But--great Heaven!--this life of yours? It must be wretchedness?"
"Perhaps. It has at least no disgrace in it."
The reply had the only sternness of contempt that he had suffered
himself to show. It stung down to his listener's soul.
"No--no!" he murmured. "You are happier than I. You have no remorse to
bear! And yet--to tell the world that I am guilty----"
"You need never tell it; I shall not."
He spoke quite quietly, quite patiently. Yet he well knew, and had
well weighed, all he surrendered in that promise--the promise to
condemn himself to a barren and hopeless fate forever.
"You will not?"
The question died almost inaudible on his dry, parched tongue. The one
passion of fear upon him was for himself; even in that moment of
supplication his disordered thoughts hovered wildly over the chances
of whether, if his elder brother even now asserted his innocence and
claimed his birthright, the world and its judges would ever believe
Cecil for a while again was silent, standing there by the newly made
grave of the soldier who had been faithful as those of his own race
and of his own Order never had been. His heart was full. The
ingratitude and the self-absorption of this life for which his own had
been destroyed smote him with a fearful suffering. And only a few
hours before he had looked once more on the face of the beloved friend
of his youth; a deadlier sacrifice than to lay down wealth, and name,
and heritage, and the world's love, was to live on, leaving that one
comrade of his early days to believe him dead after a deed of shame.
His brother sank down on the mound of freshly flung earth, sinking his
head upon his arms with a low moan. Time had not changed him greatly;
it had merely made him more intensely desirous of the pleasures and
the powers of life, more intensely abhorrent of pain, of censure, of
the contempt of the world. As, to escape these in his boyhood, he had
stooped to any degradation, so, to escape them in his manhood, he was
capable of descending to any falsehood or any weakness. His was one of
those natures which, having no love of evil for evil's sake, still
embrace any form of evil which may save them from the penalty of their
own weakness. Now, thus meeting one who for twelve years he had
believed must rise from the tomb itself to reproach or to accuse him,
unstrung his every nerve, and left him with only one consciousness--
the desire, at all costs, to be saved.
Cecil's eyes rested on him with a strange, melancholy pity. He had
loved his brother as a youth--loved him well enough to take and bear a
heavy burden of disgrace in his stead. The old love was not dead; but
stronger than itself was his hatred of the shame that had touched
their race by the wretched crime that had driven him into exile, and
his wondering scorn for the feeble and self-engrossed character that
had lived contentedly under false colors, and with a hidden blot
screened by a fictitious semblance of honor. He could not linger with
him; he did not know how to support the intolerable pain that
oppressed him in the presence of the only living creature of his race;
he could not answer for himself what passionate and withering words
might not escape him; every instant of their interview was a horrible
temptation to him--the temptation to demand from this coward his own
justification before the world--the temptation to seize out of those
unworthy hands his birthright and his due.
But the temptation--sweet, insidious, intense, strengthened by the
strength of right, and well-nigh overwhelming with all its fair,
delicious promise for the future--did not conquer him. What resisted
it was his own simple instinct of justice; an instinct too straight
and true either to yield to self-pity or to passionate desire--justice
which made him feel that, since he had chosen to save this weakling
once for their lost mother's sake, he was bound forever not to repent
nor to retract. He gazed a while longer, silently, at the younger man,
who sat, still rocking himself wearily to and fro on the loose earth
of the freshly filled grave. Then he went and laid his hand on his
brother's shoulder. The other started and trembled; he remembered that
touch in days of old.
"Do not fear me," he said, gently and very gravely. "I have kept your
secret twelve years; I will keep it still. Be happy--be as happy as
you can. All I bid of you in return is so to live that in your future
your past shall be redeemed."
The words of the saint to the thief were not more merciful, not more
noble, than the words with which he purchased, at the sacrifice of his
own life, the redemption of his brother's. The other looked at him
with a look that was half of terror--terror at the magnitude of this
ransom that was given to save him from the bondage of evil.
"My God! You cannot mean it! And you----"
"I shall lead the life fittest for me. I am content in it. It is
The answer was very calm, but it choked him in its utterance. Before
his memory rose one fair, proud face. "Content!" Ah, Heaven! It was
the only lie that had ever passed his lips.
His hand lay still upon his brother's shoulder, leaning more heavily
there, in the silence that brooded over the hushed plains.
"Let us part now, and forever. Leave Algeria at once. That is all I
Then, without another word that could add reproach or seek for
gratitude, he turned and went away over the great, dim level of the
African waste, while the man whom he had saved sat as in stupor;
gazing at the brown shadows, and the sleeping herds, and the falling
stars that ran across the sky, and doubting whether the voice he had
head and the face upon which he had looked were not the visions of a
How that night was spent Cecil could never recall in full. Vague
memories remained with him of wandering over the shadowy country, of
seeking by bodily fatigue to kill the thoughts rising in him, of
drinking at a little water-channel in the rocks as thirstily as some
driven deer, of flinging himself down at length, worn out, to sleep
under the hanging brow of a mighty wall of rock; of waking, when the
dawn was reddening the east, with the brown plains around him, and far
away, under a knot of palms was a goatherd with his flock, like an
idyl from the old pastoral life of Syria. He stood looking at the
light which heralded the sun, with some indefinite sense of heavy
loss, of fresh calamity, upon him. It was only slowly that he
remembered all. Years seemed to have been pressed into the three
nights and days since he had sat by the bivouac-fire, listening to the
fiery words of the little Friend of the Flag.
The full consciousness of all that he had surrendered in yielding up
afresh his heritage rolled in on his memory, like the wave of some
heavy sea that sweeps down all before it.
When that tear-blotted and miserable letter had reached him in the
green alleys of the Stephanien, and confessed to him that his brother
had relied on the personal likeness between them and the similarity of
their handwriting to pass off as his the bill in which his own name
and that of his friend was forged, no thought had crossed him to take
upon himself the lad's sin. It had only been when, brought under the
charge, he must, to clear himself, have at once accused the boy, and
have betrayed the woman whose reputation was in his keeping, that,
rather by generous impulse than by studied intention, he had taken up
the burden that he had now carried for so long. Whether or no the
money-lenders had been themselves in reality deceived, he could never
tell; but it had been certain that, having avowed themselves confident
of his guilt, they could never shift the charge on to his brother in
the face of his own acceptance of it. So he had saved the youth
without premeditation or reckoning of the cost. And now that the full
cost was known to him, he had not shrunk back from its payment. Yet
that payment was one that gave him a greater anguish than if he had
laid down his life in physical martyrdom.
To go back to the old luxury, and ease, and careless peace; to go back
to the old, fresh, fair English woodlands, to go back to the power of
command and the delight of free gifts, to go back to men's honor, and
reverence, and high esteem--these would have been sweet enough--sweet
as food after long famine. But far more than these would it have been
to go back and take the hand of his friend once more in the old,
unclouded trust of their youth; to go back, and stand free and
blameless among his peers, and know that all that man could do to win
the heart and the soul of a woman he could at his will do to win hers
whose mere glance of careless pity had sufficed to light his life to
passion. And he had renounced all this. This was the cost; and he had
paid it--paid it because the simple, natural, inflexible law of
justice had demanded it.
One whom he had once chosen to save he could not now have deserted,
except by what would have been, in his sight, dishonor. Therefore,
when the day broke, and the memories of the night came with his
awakening, he knew that his future was without hope--without it as
utterly as was ever that of any captive shut in darkness, and silence,
and loneliness, in a prison, whose only issue was the oubliettes.
There is infinite misery in the world, but this one misery is rare; or
men would perish from the face of the earth as though the sun withdrew
Alone in that dreary scene, beautiful from its vastness and its
solemnity, but unutterably melancholy, unutterably oppressive, he also
wondered whether he lived or dreamed.
From among the reeds the plovers were rising; over the barren rocks
the dazzling lizards glided; afar off strayed the goats; that was the
only sign of animal existence. He had wandered a long way from the
caravanserai, and he began to retrace his steps, for his horse was
there, and although he had received license to take leisure in
returning, he had no home but the camp, no friends but those wild-
eyed, leopard-like throng around him like a pack of dogs, each eager
for the first glance, the first word; these companions of his
adversity and of his perils, whom he had learned to love, with all
their vices and all their crimes, for sake of the rough, courageous
love that they could give in answer.
He moved slowly back over the desolate tracks of land stretched
between him and the Algerian halting-place. He had no fear that he
would find his brother there. He knew too well the nature with which
he had to deal to hope that old affection would so have outweighed
present fear that his debtor would have stayed to meet him yet once
more. On the impulse of the ungovernable pain which the other's
presence had been, he had bidden him leave Africa at once; now he
almost wished he had bid him stay. There was a weary, unsatisfied
longing for some touch of love or of gratitude from this usurper, whom
he had raised in his place. He would have been rewarded enough if one
sign of gladness that he lived had broken through the egotism and the
stricken fear of the man whom he remembered as a little golden-headed
child, with the hand of their dying mother lying in benediction on the
fair, silken curls.
He had asked no questions. He had gone back to no recriminations. He
guessed all it needed him to know; and he recoiled from the recital of
the existence whose happiness was purchased by his own misery, and
whose dignity was built on sand. His sacrifice had not been in vain.
Placed out of the reach of temptation, the plastic, feminine, unstable
character had been without a stain in the sight of men. But it was
little better at the core; and he wondered, in his suffering, as he
went onward through the beauty of the young day, whether it had been
worth the bitter price he had paid to raise this bending reed from out
the waters which would have broken and swamped it at the outset. It
grew fair, and free, and flower-crowned now, in the midst of a
tranquil and sunlit lake; but was it of more value than a drifted weed
bearing the snake-egg hidden at its root?
He had come so far out of the ordinary route across the plains that it
was two hours or more before he saw the dark, gray square of the
caravanserai walls, and to its left that single, leaning pine growing
out of a cleft within the rock that overhung the spot where the
keenest anguish of all his life had known had been encountered and
endured--the spot which yet, for sake of the one laid to rest there
beneath the somber branches, would be forever dearer to him than any
other place in the soil of Africa.
While yet the caravanserai was distant, the piteous cries of a mother-
goat caught his ear. She was bleating beside a water-course, into
which her kid of that spring had fallen, and whose rapid swell, filled
by the recent storm, was too strong for the young creature. Absorbed
as he was in his own thoughts, the cry reached him and drew him to the
spot. It was not in him willingly to let any living thing suffer, and
he was always gentle to all animals. He stooped, and, with some little
difficulty, rescued the little goat for its delighted dam.
As he bent over the water he saw something glitter beneath it. He
caught it in his hand and brought it up. It was the broken half of a
chain of gold, with a jewel in each link. He changed color as he saw
it; he remembered it as one that Venetia Corona had worn on the
morning that he had been admitted to her. It was of peculiar
workmanship, and he recognized it at once. He stood with the toy in
his hand, looking long at the shining links, with their flashes of
precious stones. They seemed to have voices that spoke to him of her
about whose beautiful white throat they had been woven--voices that
whispered incessantly in his ear, "Take up your birthright, and you
will be free to sue to her at least, if not to win her." No golden and
jeweled plaything ever tempted a starving man to theft as this tempted
him now to break the pledge he had just given.
His birthright! He longed for it for this woman's sake--for the sake,
at least, of the right to stand before her as an equal, and to risk
his chance with others who sought her smile--as he had never done for
any other thing which, with that heritage, would have become his. Yet
he knew that, even were he to be false to his word, and go forward and
claim his right, he would never be able to prove his innocence; he
would never hope to make the would believe him unless the real
criminal made that confession which he held himself forbidden, by his
own past action, ever to extort.
He gazed long at the broken, costly toy, while his heart ached with a
cruel pang; then he placed it in safety in the little blue enamel box,
beside the ring which Cigarette had flung back to him, and went onward
to the caravanserai. She was no longer there, in all probability; but
the lost bagatelle would give him, some time or another, a plea on
which to enter her presence. It was a pleasure to him to know that;
though he knew also that every added moment spent under the sweet
sovereignty of her glance was so much added pain, so much added folly,
to the dream-like and baseless passion with which she had inspired
The trifling incident of the goat's rescue and the chain's trouvaille,
slight as they were, still were of service to him. They called him
back from the past to the present; they broke the stupor of suffering
that had fastened on him; they recalled him to the actual world about
him in which he had to fulfill his duties as a trooper of France.
It was almost noon when, under the sun-scorched branches of the pine
that stretched its somber fans up against the glittering azure of the
morning skies, he approached the gates of the Algerine house-of-call--
a study for the color of Gerome, with the pearly gray of its stone
tints, and the pigeons wheeling above its corner towers, while under
the arch of its entrance a string of mules, maize-laden, were guided;
and on its bench sat a French soldier, singing gayly songs of Paris
while he cut open a yellow gourd.
Cecil went within, and bathed, and dressed, and drank some of the
thin, cool wine that found its way thither in the wake of the French
army. Then he sat down for a while at one of the square, cabin-like
holes which served for casements in the tower he occupied, and,
looking out into the court, tried to shape his thoughts and plan his
course. As a soldier he had no freedom, no will of his own, save for
this extra twelve or twenty-four hours which they had allowed him for
leisure in his return journey. He was obliged to go back to his camp,
and there, he knew, he might again encounter one whose tender memories
would be as quick to recognize him as the craven dread of his brother
had been. He had always feared this ordeal, although the arduous
service in which his chief years in Africa had been spent, and the
remote expeditions on which he had always been employed, had partially
removed him from the ever-present danger of such recognition until
now. And now he felt that if once the brave, kind eyes of his old
friend should meet his own, concealment would be no longer possible;
yet, for the sake of that promise he had sworn in the past night, it
must be maintained at every hazard, every cost. Vacantly he sat and
watched the play of the sunshine in the prismatic water of the
courtyard fountain, and the splashing, and the pluming, and the
murmuring of the doves and pigeons on its edge. He felt meshed in a
net from which there was no escape--none--unless, on his homeward
passage, a thrust of Arab steel should give him liberty.
The trampling of horses on the pavement below roused his attention. A
thrill of hope went through him that his brother might have lingering
conscience, latent love enough, to have made him refuse to obey the
bidding to leave Africa. He rose and leaned out. Amid the little
throng of riding-horses, grooms, and attendants who made an open way
through the polyglot crowd of an Algerian caravanserai at noon, he saw
the one dazzling face of which he had so lately dreamed by the water-
freshet in the plains. It was but a moment's glance, for she had
already dismounted from her mare, and was passing within with two
other ladies of her party; but in that one glance he knew her. His
discovery of the chain gave him a plea to seek her. Should he avail
himself of it? He hesitated a while. It would be safest, wisest, best,
to deliver up the trinket to her courier, and pass on his way without
another look at that beauty which could never be his, which could
never lighten for him even with the smile that a woman may give her
equal or her friend. She could never be aught to him save one more
memory of pain, save one remembrance the more to embitter the career
which not even hope would ever illumine. He knew that it was only
madness to go into her presence, and feed, with the cadence of her
voice, the gold light of her hair, the grace and graciousness of her
every movement, the love which she would deem such intolerable insult,
that, did he ever speak it, she would order her people to drive him
from her like a chidden hound. He knew that; but he longed to indulge
the madness, despite it; and he did so. He went down into the court
below, and found her suite.
"Tell your mistress that I, Louis Victor, have some jewels which
belong to her, and ask her permission to restore them to her hands,"
he said to one of her equerries.
"Give them to me, if you have picked them up," said the man, putting
out his hand for them.
Cecil closed his own upon them.
"Go and do as I bid you."
The equerry paused, doubtful whether or no to resist the tone and the
words. A Frenchman's respect for the military uniform prevailed. He
In the best chamber of the caravanserai Venetia Corona was sitting,
listless in the heat, when her attendant entered. The grandes dames
who were her companions in their tour through the seat of war were
gone to their siesta. She was alone, with a scarlet burnous thrown
about her, and upon her all the languor and idleness common to the
noontide, which was still very warm, though, in the autumn, the nights
were so icily cold on the exposed level of the plains. She was lost in
thought, moreover. She had heard, the day before, a story that had
touched her--of a soldier who had been slain crossing the plains, and
had been brought, through the hurricane and the sandstorm, at every
risk, by his comrade, who had chosen to endure all peril and
wretchedness rather than leave the dead body to the vultures and the
kites. It was a nameless story to her--the story of two obscure
troopers, who, for aught she knew, might have been two of the riotous
and savage brigands that were common in the Army of Africa. But the
loyalty and the love shown in it had moved her; and to the woman whose
life had been cloudless and cradled in ease from her birth, there was
that in the suffering and the sacrifice which the anecdote suggested,
that had at once the fascination of the unknown, and the pathos of a
life so far removed from her, so little dreamed of by her, that all
its coarser cruelty was hidden, while only its unutterable sadness and
courage remained before her sight.
Had she, could she, ever have seen it in its realities, watched and
read and understood it, she would have been too intensely revolted to
have perceived the actual, latent nobility possible in such an
existence. As it was she heard but of it in such words as alone could
meet the ear of a great lady; she gazed at it only in pity from a far-
distant height, and its terrible tragedy had solemnity and beauty for
When her servant approached her now with Cecil's message she hesitated
some few moments in surprise. She had not known that he was in her
vicinity. The story she had heard had been simply of two unnamed
Chasseurs d'Afrique, and he himself might have fallen on the field
weeks before, for aught that she had heard of him. Some stray rumors
of his defense of the encampment of Zaraila, and of the fine prowess
shown in his last charge, alone had drifted to her. He was but a
trooper; and he fought in Africa. The world had no concern with him,
save the miniature world of his own regiment.
She hesitated some moments; then gave the required permission. "He has
once been a gentleman; it would be cruel to wound him," thought the
imperial beauty, who would have refused a prince or neglected a duke
with chill indifference, but who was too generous to risk the
semblance of humiliation to the man who could never approach her save
upon such sufferance as was in itself mortification to one whose pride
survived his fallen fortunes.
Moreover, the interest he had succeeded in awakening in her, the
mingling of pity and of respect that his words and his bearing had
aroused, was not extinct; had, indeed, only been strengthened by the
vague stories that had of late floated to her of the day of Zaraila;
of the day of smoke and steel and carnage, of war in its grandest yet
its most frightful shape, of the darkness of death which the courage
of human souls had power to illumine as the rays of the sun the
tempest-cloud. Something more like quickened and pleasured expectation
than any one among her many lovers had ever had power to rouse, moved
her as she heard of the presence of the man who, in that day, had
saved the honor of his Flag. She came of a heroic race; she had heroic
blood in her; and heroism, physical and moral, won her regard as no
other quality could ever do. A man capable of daring greatly, and of
suffering silently, was the only man who could ever hope to hold her
The room was darkened from the piercing light without; and in its
gloom, as he was ushered in, the scarlet of her cashmere and the gleam
of her fair hair was all that, for the moment, he could see. He bowed
very low that he might get his calmness back before he looked at her;
and her voice in its lingering music came on his ear.
"You have found my chain, I think? I lost it in riding yesterday. I am
greatly indebted to you for taking care of it."
She felt that she could only thank, as she would have thanked an equal
who should have done her this sort of slight service, the man who had
brought to her the gold pieces with which his Colonel had insulted
"It is I, madame, who am the debtor of so happy an accident."
His words were very low, and his voice shook a little over them; he
was thinking not of the jeweled toy that he came here to restore, but
of the inheritance that had passed away from him forever, and which,
possessed, would have given him the title to seek what his own efforts
could do to wake a look of tenderness in those proud eyes which men
ever called so cold, but which he felt might still soften, and change,
and grow dark with the thoughts and the passions of love, if the soul
that gazed through them were but once stirred from its repose.
"Your chain is here, madame, though broken, I regret to see," he
continued, as he took the little box from his coat and handed it to
her. She took it, and thanked him, without, for the moment, opening
the enamel case as she motioned him to a seat at a little distance
from her own.
"You have been in terrible scenes since I saw you last," she
continued. "The story of Zaraila reached us. Surely they cannot refuse
you the reward of your service now?"
"It will make little difference, madame, whether they do or not."
"Little difference! How is that?"
"To my own fate, I meant. Whether I be captain or a corporal cannot
He paused; he dreaded lest the word should escape him which should
reveal to her that which she would regard as such intolerable offense,
such insolent indignity, when felt for her by a soldier in the grade
"No? Yet such recognition is usually the ambition of every military
A very weary smile passed over his face.
"I have no ambition, madame. Or, if I have, it is not a pair of
epaulettes that will content it."
She understood him; she comprehended the bitter mockery that the
tawdry, meretricious rewards of regimental decoration seemed to the
man who had waited to die at Zaraila as patiently and as grandly as
the Old Guard at Waterloo.
"I understand! The rewards are pitifully disproportionate to the
services in the army. Yet how magnificently you and your men, as I
have been told, held your ground all through that fearful day!"
"We did our duty--nothing more."
"Well! is not that the rarest thing among men?"
"Not among soldiers, madame."
"Then you think that every trooper in a regiment is actuated by the
finest and most impersonal sentiment that can actuate human beings!"
"I will not say that. Poor wretches! They are degraded enough, too
often. But I believe that more or less in every good soldier, even
when he is utterly unconscious of it, is an impersonal love for the
honor of his Flag, an uncalculating instinct to do his best for the
reputation of his corps. We are called human machines; we are so,
since we move by no will of our own; but the lowest among us will at
times be propelled by one single impulse--a desire to die greatly. It
is all that is left to most of us to do."
She looked at him with that old look which he had seen once or twice
before in her, of pity, respect, sympathy, and wonder, all in one. He
spoke to her as he had never spoken to any living being. The grave,
quiet, listless impassiveness that still was habitual with him--relic
of the old habits of his former life--was very rarely broken, for his
real nature or his real thoughts to be seen beneath it. But she, so
far removed from him by position and by circumstance, and distant with
him as a great lady could not but be with a soldier of whose
antecedents and whose character she knew nothing, gave him sympathy, a
sympathy that was sweet and rather felt than uttered; and it was like
balm to a wound, like sweet melodies on a weary ear, to the man who
had carried his secret so silently and so long, without one to know
his burden or to soothe his pain.
"Yes," she said thoughtfully, while over the brilliancy of her face
there passed a shadow. "There must be infinite nobility among these
men, who live without hope--live only to die. That soldier, a day or
two ago, who brought his dead comrade through the hurricane, risking
his own death rather than leave the body to the carrion-birds--you
have heard of him? What tenderness, what greatness there must have
been in that poor fellow's heart!"
"Oh, no! That was nothing."
"Nothing! They have told me he came every inch of the way in danger of
the Arabs' shot and steel. He had suffered so much to bring the body
safe across the plains, he fell down insensible on his entrance here."
"You set too much store on it. I owed him a debt far greater than any
act like that could ever repay."
"You! Was it you?"
"Yes, madame. He who perished had a thousandfold more of such nobility
as you have praised than I."
"Ah! Tell me of him," she said simply; but he saw that the lustrous
eyes bent on him had a grave, sweet sadness in them that was more
precious and more pitiful than a million utterances of regret could
ever have been.
Those belied her much who said that she was heartless; though grief
had never touched her, she could feel keenly the grief of other lives.
He obeyed her bidding now, and told her, in brief words, the story,
which had a profound pathos spoken there, where without, through the
oval, unglazed casement in the distance, there was seen the tall,
dark, leaning pine that overhung the grave of yesternight--the story
over which his voice oftentimes fell with the hush of a cruel pain in
it, and which he could have related to no other save herself. It had
an intense melancholy and a strange beauty in its brevity and its
simplicity, told in that gaunt, still, darkened chamber of the
caravanserai, with the gray gloom of its stone walls around, and the
rays of the golden sunlight from without straying in to touch the
glistening hair of the proud head that bent forward to listen to the
recital. Her face grew paler as she heard, and a mist was over the
radiance of her azure eyes; that death in the loneliness of the plains
moved her deeply with the grand simplicity of its unconscious heroism.
And, though he spoke little of himself, she felt, with all the
divination of a woman's sympathies, how he who told her this thing had
suffered by it--suffered far more than the comrade whom he had laid
down in the grave where, far off in the noonday warmth, the young
goats were at rest on the sod. When he ceased, there was a long
silence; he had lost even the memory of her in the memory of the death
that he had painted to her; and she was moved with that wondering
pain, that emotion, half dread and half regret, with which the
contemplation of calamities that have never touched, and that can
never touch them, will move women far more callous, far more world-
chilled than herself.
In the silence her hands toyed listlessly with the enamel bonbonniere,
whose silver had lost all its bright enameling, and was dinted and
dulled till it looked no more than lead. The lid came off at her touch
as she musingly moved it round and round; the chain and the ring fell
into her lap; the lid remained in her hand, its interior unspoiled and
studded in its center with a name in turquoise letters--"Venetia."
She started as the word caught her eye and broke her reverie; the
color came warmer into her cheek; she looked closer and closer at the
box; then, with a rapid movement, turned her head and gazed at her
"How did you obtain this?"
"The chain, madame? It had fallen in the water."
"The chain! No! the box!"
He looked at her in surprise.
"It was given me very long ago."
"And by whom?"
"By a young child, madame."
Her lips parted slightly, the flush on her cheeks deepened; the
beautiful face, which the Roman sculptor had said only wanted
tenderness to make it perfect, changed, moved, was quickened with a
thousand shadows of thought.
"The box is mine! I gave it! And you?"
He rose to his feet, and stood entranced before her, breathless and
"And you?" she repeated.
He was silent still, gazing at her. He knew her now--how had he been
so blind as never to guess the truth before, as never to know that
those imperial eyes and that diadem of golden hair could belong alone
but to the women of one race?
"And you?" she cried once more, while she stretched her hand out to
him. "And you--you are Philip's friend? you are Bertie Cecil?"
Silently he bowed his head; not even for his brother's sake, or for
the sake of his pledged word, could he have lied to her.
But her outstretched hands he would not see, he would not take. The
shadow of an imputed crime was stretched between them.
"Petite Reine!" he murmured. "Ah, God! how could I be so blind?"
She grew very pale as she sank back again upon the couch from which
she had risen. It seemed to her as though a thousand years had drifted
by since she had stood beside this man under the summer leaves of the
Stephanien, and he had kissed her childish lips, and thanked her for
her loving gift. And now--they had met thus!
He said nothing. He stood paralyzed, gazing at her. There had been no
added bitterness needed in the cup which he drank for his brother's
sake, yet this bitterness surpassed all other; it seemed beyond his
strength to leave her in the belief that he was guilty. She in whom
all fair and gracious things were met; she who was linked by her race
to his past and his youth; she whose clear eyes in her childhood had
looked upon him in that first hour of the agony that he had suffered
then, and still suffered on, in the cause of a coward and an ingrate.
She was pale still; and her eyes were fixed on him with a gaze that
recalled to him the look with which "Petite Reine" had promised that
summer day to keep his secret, and tell none of that misery of which
she had been witness.
"They thought that you were dead," she said at length, while her voice
sank very low. "Why have you lived like this?"
He made no answer.
"It was cruel to Philip," she went on, while her voice still shook.
"Child though I was, I remember his passion of grief when the news
came that you had lost your life. He has never forgotten you. So often
now he will still speak of you! He is in your camp. We are traveling
together. He will be here this evening. What delight it will give him
to know his dearest friend is living! But why--why--have kept him
ignorant, if you were lost to all the world beside?"
Still he answered her nothing. The truth he could not tell; the lie he
would not. She paused, waiting reply. Receiving none, she spoke once
more, her words full of that exquisite softness which was far more
beautiful in her than in women less tranquil, less chill, and less
negligent in ordinary moments.
"Mr. Cecil, I divined rightly! I knew that you were far higher than
your grade in Africa; I felt that in all things, save in some accident
of position, we were equals. But why have you condemned yourself to
this misery? Your life is brave, is noble, but it must be a constant
torture to such as you? I remember well what you were--so well, that I
wonder we have never recognized each other before now. The existence
you lead in Algeria must be very terrible to you, though it is
greater, in truth, than your old years of indolence."
He sank down beside her on a low seat, and bowed his head on his hands
for some moments. He knew that he must leave this woman whom he loved,
and who knew him now as one whom in her childhood she had seen
caressed and welcomed by all her race, to hold him guilty of this
wretched, mean, and fraudulent thing, under whose charge he had
quitted her country. Great dews of intense pain gathered on his
forehead; his whole mind, and heart, and soul revolted against this
brand of a guilt not his own that was stamped on him; he could have
cried out to her the truth in all the eloquence of a breaking heart.
But he knew that his lips had been sealed by his own choice forever;
and the old habits of his early life were strong upon him still. He
lifted his head and spoke gently, and very quietly, though she caught
the tremor that shook through the words.
"Do not let us speak of myself. You see what my life is; there is no
more to be said. Tell me rather of your own story--you are no longer
the Lady Venetia? You have been wedded and widowed, they say?"
"The wife of an hour--yes! But it is of yourself that I would hear.
Why have left the world, and, above all, why have left us, to think
you dead? I was not so young when we last saw you, but that I remember
well how all my people loved you."
Had she been kept in ignorance of the accusation beneath which his
flight had been made? He began to think so. It was possible. She had
been so young a child when he had left for Africa; then the story was
probably withheld from reaching her; and now, what memory had the
world to give a man whose requiem it had said twelve long years
before? In all likelihood she had never heard his name, save from her
brother's lips, that had been silent on the shame of his old comrade.
"Leave my life alone, for God's sake!" he said passionately. "Tell me
of your own--tell me, above all, of his. He loved me, you say?--O
Heaven! he did! Better than any creature that ever breathed; save the
man whose grave lies yonder."
"He does so still," she answered eagerly. "Philip's is not a heart
that forgets. It is a heart of gold, and the name of his earliest
friend is graven on it as deeply now as ever. He thinks you dead;
to-night will be the happiest hour he had ever known when he shall
meet you here."
He rose hastily, and moved thrice to and fro the narrow floor whose
rugged earth had been covered with furs and rugs lest it should strike
a chill to her as she passed over it; the torture grew unsupportable
to him. And yet, it had so much of sweetness that he was powerless to
end it--sweetness in the knowledge that she knew him now her equal, at
least by birth; in the change that it had made in her voice and her
glance, while the first grew tender with olden memories, and the last
had the smile of friendship; in the closeness of the remembrances that
seemed to draw and bind them together; in the swift sense that in an
instant, by the utterance of a name, the ex-barrier of caste which had
been between them had fallen now and forever.
She watched him with grave, musing eyes. She was moved, startled,
softened to a profound pity for him, and filled with a wondering of
regret; yet a strong emotion of relief, of pleasure, rose above these.
She had never forgotten the man to whom, in her childish innocence,
she had brought the gifts of her golden store; she was glad that he
lived, though he lived thus, glad with a quicker, warmer, more vivid
emotion than any that had ever occupied her for any man living or dead
except her brother. The interest she had vaguely felt in a stranger's
fortunes, and which she had driven contemptuously away as unworthy of
her harboring, was justified for one whom her people had known and
valued while she had been in her infancy, and of whom she had never
heard from her brother's lips aught except constant regret and
imperishable attachment. For it was true, as Cecil divined, that the
dark cloud under which his memory had passed to all in England had
never been seen by her eyes, from which, in childhood, it had been
screened, and, in womanhood, withheld, because his name had been
absolutely forgotten by all save the Seraph, to whom it had been
fraught with too much pain for its utterance to be ever voluntary.
"What is it you fear from Philip?" she asked him, at last, when she
had waited vainly for him to break the silence. "You can remember him
but ill if you think that there will be anything in his heart save joy
when he shall know that you are living. You little dream how dear your
memory is to him--"
He paused before her abruptly.
"Hush, hush! or you will kill me! Why!--three nights ago I fled the
camp as men flee pestilence, because I saw his face in the light of
the bivouac-fire and dreaded that he should so see mine!"
She gazed at him in troubled amaze; there was that in the passionate
agitation of this man who had been serene through so much danger, and
unmoved beneath so much disaster, that startled and bewildered her.
"You fled from Philip? Ah! how you must wrong him! What will it matter
to him whether you be prince or trooper, wear a peer's robes or a
soldier's uniform? His friendship never yet was given to externals.
But--why?--that reminds me of your inheritance. Do you know that lord
Royallieu is dead? That your younger brother bears the title, thinking
you perished at Marseilles? He was here with me yesterday; he has come
to Algeria for the autumn. Whatever your motive may have been to
remain thus hidden from us all, you must claim your own rights now.
You must go back to all that is so justly yours. Whatever your reason
be to have borne with all the suffering and the indignity that have
been your portion here, they will be ended now."
Her beauty had never struck him as intensely as at this moment, when,
in urging him to the demand of his rights, she so unconsciously
tempted him to betray his brother and to forsake his word. The
indifference and the careless coldness that had to so many seemed
impenetrable and unalterable in her were broken and had changed to the
warmth of sympathy, of interest, of excitation. There was a world of
feeling in her face, of eloquence in her eyes, as she stooped slightly
forward with the rich glow of the cashmeres about her, and the sun-
gleam falling across her brow. Pure, and proud, and noble in every
thought, and pressing on him now what was the due of his birth and his
heritage, she yet unwittingly tempted him with as deadly a power as
though she were the vilest of her sex, seducing him downward to some
To do what she said would be but his actual right, and would open to
him a future so fair that his heart grew sick with longing for it; and
yet to yield, and to claim justice for himself, was forbidden him as
utterly as though it were some murderous guilt. He had promised never
to sacrifice his brother; the promise held him like the fetters of a
"Why do you not answer me?" she pursued, while she leaned nearer with
wonder, and doubt, and a certain awakening dread shadowing the blue
luster of her eyes that were bent so thoughtfully, so searchingly,
upon him. "Is it possible that you have heard of your inheritance, of
your title and estates, and that you voluntarily remain a soldier
here? Lord Royallieu must yield them in the instant you prove your
identity, and in that there could be no difficulty. I remember you
well now, and Philip, I am certain, will only need to see you once
"Hush, for pity's sake! Have you never heard--have none ever told
Her face grew paler with a vague sense of fear; she knew that he had
been equable and resolute under the severest tests that could try the
strength and the patience of man, and she knew, therefore, that no
slender thing could agitate and could unman him thus.
"What is it I should have heard?" she asked him, as he kept his
He turned from her so that she could not see his face.
"That, when I became dead to the world, I died with the taint of crime
An intense horror thrilled through the echo of the word; but she rose,
and moved, and faced him with the fearless resolve of a woman whom no
half-truth would blind, and no shadowy terror appall.
"Of crime? What crime?"
Then, and then only, he looked at her, a strange, fixed, hopeless, yet
serene look, that she knew no criminal ever would or could have given.
"I was accused of having forged your brother's name."
A faint cry escaped her; her lips grew white, and her eyes darkened
"Accused. But wrongfully?"
His breath came and went in quick, sharp spasms.
"I could not prove that."
"Not prove it? Why?"
"I could not."
"But he--Philip--never believed you guilty?"
"I cannot tell. He may; he must."
"But you are not!"
It was not an interrogation, but an affirmation that rang out in the
silver clearness of her voice. There was not a single intonation of
doubt in it; there was rather a haughty authority that forbade even
himself to say that one of his race and that one of his Order could
have been capable of such ignoble and craven sin.
His mouth quivered, a bitter sigh broke from him; he turned his eyes
on her with a look that pierced her to the heart.
"Think me guilty or guiltless, as you will; I cannot answer you.
His last words were suffocated with the supreme anguish of their
utterance. As she heard it, the generosity, the faith, the inherent
justice, and the intrinsic sweetness that were latent in her beneath
the negligence and the chillness of external semblance rose at once to
reject the baser, to accept the nobler, belief offered to her choice.
She had lived much in the world, but it had not corroded her; she had
acquired keen discernment from it, but she had preserved all the
courageous and the chivalrous instincts of her superb nature. She
looked at him now, and stretched her hands out toward him with a royal
and gracious gesture of infinite eloquence.
"You are guiltless, whatever circumstance may have arrayed against
you, whatever shadow of evil may have fallen falsely on you. Is it not
He bowed his head low over her hands as he took them. In that moment
half the bitterness of his doom passed from him; he had at least her
faith. But his face was bloodless as that of a corpse, and the loud
beatings of his heart were audible on the stillness. This faith must
live on without one thing to show that he deserved it; if, in time to
come, it should waver and fall, and leave him in the darkness of the
foul suspicion under which he dwelt, what wonder would there be?
He lifted his head and looked her full in the eyes; her own closed
involuntarily, and filled with tears. She felt that the despair and
the patience of that look would haunt her until her dying day.
"I was guiltless; but none could credit it then; none would do so now;
nor can I seek to make them. Ask me no more; give me your belief, if
you can--God knows what precious mercy it is to me; but leave me to
fulfill my fate, and tell no living creature what I have told you
The great tears stood in her eyes, and blinded her as she heard. Even
in the amaze and the vagueness of this first knowledge of the cause of
his exile she felt instinctively, as the Little One also had done,
that some great sacrifice, some great fortitude and generosity, lay
within this sealed secret of his sufferance of wrong. She knew, too,
that it would be useless to seek to learn that which he had chosen to
conceal; that for no slender cause could he have come out to lead this
life of whose sufferings she could gauge the measure; that nothing
save some absolute and imperative reason could have driven him to
accept such living death as was his doom in Africa.
"Tell no one!" she echoed. "What! not Philip even? Not your oldest
friend. Ah! be sure, whatever the evidence might be against you, his
heart never condemned you for one instant."
"I believe it. Yet all you can do for me, all I implore you to do for
me, is to keep silence forever on my name. To-day, accident has made
me break a vow I never thought but to keep sacred. When you recognized
me, I could not deny myself, I could not lie to you; but, for God's
sake, tell none of what has passed between us!"
"But why?" she pursued--"why? You lie under this charge still--you
cannot disprove it, you say; but why not come out before the world,
and state to all what you swear now to me, and claim your right to
bear your father's honors? If you were falsely accused, there must
have been some guilty in your stead; and if--"
"Cease, for pity's sake! Forget I ever told you I was guiltless! Blot
my memory out; think of me as dead, as I have been, till your eyes
called me back to life. Think that I am branded with the theft of your
brother's name; think that I am vile, and shameless and fallen as the
lowest wretch that pollutes this army; think of me as what you will,
but not as innocent!"
The words broke out in a torrent from him, bearing down with them all
his self-control, as the rush of waters bears away all barriers that
have long dammed their course. They were wild, passionate, incoherent;
unlike any that had ever passed his lips, or been poured out in her
presence. He felt mad with the struggle that tore him asunder, the
longing to tell the truth to her, though he should never after look
upon her face again, and the honor which bound silence on him for sake
of the man whom he had sworn under no temptation to dispossess and to
She heard him silently, with her grand, meditative eyes, in which the
slow tears still floated, fixed upon him. Most women would have
thought that conscious guilt spoke in the violence of his self-
accusation; she did not. Her intuition was too fine, her sympathies
too true. She felt that he feared, not that she should unjustly think
him guilty, but that she should justly think him guiltless. She knew
that this, whatever its root might be, was the fear of the stainless,
not of the criminal life.
"I hear you," she answered him gently; "but I do not believe you, even
against yourself. The man whom Philip loved and honored never sank to
the base fraud of a thief."
Her glorious eyes were still on him as she spoke, seeming to read his
very soul. Under that glance all the manhood, all the race, all the
pride, and the love, and the courage within him refused to bear in her
sight the shame of an alien crime, and rose in revolt to fling off the
bondage that forced him to stand as a criminal before the noble gaze
of this woman. His eyes met hers full, and rested on them without
wavering; his head was raised, and his carriage had a fearless
"No. I was innocent. But in honor I must bear the yoke that I took on
me long ago; in honor I can never give you or any living soul the
proof that this crime was not mine. I thought that I should go to my
grave without any ever hearing of the years that I have passed in
Africa, without any ever learning the name I used to bear. As it is,
all I can ask is now--to be forgotten."
His voice fell before the last words, and faltered over them. It was
bitter to ask only for oblivion from the woman whom he loved with all
the strength of a sudden passion born in utter hopelessness; the woman
whose smile, whose beauty, whose love might even possibly have been
won as his own in the future, if he could have claimed his birthright.
So bitter that, rather than have spoken those words of resignation, he
would have been led out by a platoon of his own soldiery and shot in
the autumn sunlight beside Rake's grave.
"You ask what will not be mine to give," she answered him, while a
great weariness stole through her own words, for she was bewildered,
and pained, and oppressed with a new, strange sense of helplessness
before this man's nameless suffering. "Remember--I knew you so well in
my earliest years, and you are so dear to the one dearest to me. It
will not be possible to forget such a meeting as this. Silence, of
course, you can command from me, if you insist on it; but--"
"I command nothing from you; but I implore it. It is the sole mercy
you can show. Never, for God's sake! speak of me to your brother or to
"Do you so mistrust Philip's affection?"
"No. It is because I trust it too entirely."
"Too entirely to do what?"
"To deal it fruitless pain. As you love him--as you pity me--pray that
he and I never meet!"
"But why? If all this could be cleared----"
"It never can be."
The baffled sense of impotence against the granite wall of some
immovable calamity which she had felt before came on her. She had been
always used to be obeyed, followed, and caressed; to see obstacles
crumble, difficulties disappear, before her wish; she had not been
tried by any sorrow, save when, a mere child still, she felt the pain
of her father's death; she had been lapped in softest luxury, crowned
with easiest victory. The sense that here there was a tragedy whose
meaning she could not reach, that there was here a fate that she could
not change or soften, brought a strange, unfamiliar feeling of
weakness before a hopeless and cruel doom that was no more to be
altered by her will than the huge, bare rocks of Africa, out yonder in
the glare of noon, were to be lifted by her hand. For she knew that
this man, who made so light of perils that would have chilled many to
the soul in terror, and who bore so quiet and serene a habit beneath
the sharpest stings and hardest blows of his adversities, would not
speak thus without full warrant; would not consign himself to this
renunciation of every hope, unless he were compelled to it by a
destiny from which there was no escape.
She was silent some moments, her eyes resting on him with that grave
and luminous regard which no man had ever changed to one more tender
or less calmly contemplative. He had risen again, and paced to and fro
the narrow chamber; his head bent down, his chest rising and falling
with the labored, quickened breath. He had thought that the hour in
which his brother's ingratitude had pierced his heart had been the
greatest suffering he had ever known, or ever could know; but a
greater had waited on him here, in the fate to which the jeweled toy
that he had lifted from the water had accidentally led him, not
dreaming to what he came.
"Lord Royallieu," she said softly, at length, while she rose and moved
toward him, the scarlet of the trailing cashmeres gathering dark, ruby
lights in them as they caught sun and shadow; and at the old name,
uttered in her voice, he started, and turned, and looked at her as
though he saw some ghost of his past life rise from its grave. "Why
look at me so?" she pursued ere he could speak. "Act how you will, you
cannot change the fact that you are the bearer of your father's title.
So long as you live, your brother Berkeley can never take it legally.
You may be a Chasseur of the African Army, but none the less are you a
Peer of England."
"What means that?" he muttered. "Why tell me that? I have said I am
dead. Leave me buried here, and let him enjoy what he may--what he
"But this is folly--madness----"
"No; it is neither. I have told you I should stand as a felon in the
eyes of the English law; I should have no civil rights; the greatest
mercy fate can show me is to let me remain forgotten here. It will not
be long, most likely, before I am thrust into the African sand, to rot
like that brave soul out yonder. Berkeley will be the lawful holder of
the title then; leave him in peace and possession now."
He spoke the words out to the end--calmly, and with unfaltering
resolve. But she saw the great dews gather on his temples, where
silver threads were just glistening among the bright richness of his
hair and she heard the short, low, convulsive breathing with which his
chest heaved as he spoke. She stood close beside him, and gazed once
more full in his eyes, while the sweet, imperious cadence of her voice
"There is more than I know of here. Either you are the greatest
madman, or the most generous man that ever lived. You choose to guard
your own secret; I will not seek to persuade it from you. But tell me
one thing--why do you thus abjure your rights, permit a false charge
to rest on you, and consign yourself forever to this cruel agony?"
His lips shook under his beard as he answered her.
"Because I can do no less in honor. For God's sake, do not you tempt
"Forgive me," she said, after a long pause. "I will never ask you that
She could honor honor too well, and too well divine all that he
suffered for its sake, ever to become his temptress in bidding him
forsake it; yet, with a certain weariness, a certain dread, wholly
unfamiliar to her, she realized that what he had chosen was the choice
not of his present or of his future. It could have no concern for her,
--save that long years ago he had been the best-loved friend of her
best-loved relative,--whether or no he remained lost to all the world
under the unknown name of a French Chasseur. And yet it smote her with
a certain dull, unanalyzed pain; it gave her a certain emotion of
powerlessness and of hopelessness to realize that he would remain all
his years through, until an Arab's shot should set him free, under
this bondage of renunciation, beneath this yoke of service. She stood
silent long, leaning against the oval of the casement, with the sun
shed over the glowing cashmeres that swept round her. He stood apart
in silence also. What could he say to her? His whole heart longed with
an unutterable longing to tell her the truth, and bid her be his judge
between him and his duty; but his promise hung on him like a leaden
weight. He must remain speechless--and leave her, for doubt to assail
her, and for scorn to follow it in her thoughts of him, if so they
Heavy as had been the curse to him of that one hour in which honor had
forbade him to compromise a woman's reputation, and old tenderness had
forbade him to betray a brother's sin, he had never paid so heavy a
price for his act as that which he paid now.
Through the yellow sunlight without, over the barren, dust-strewn
plains, in the distance there approached three riders, accompanied by
a small escort of Spahis, with their crimson burnous floating in the
autumnal wind. She started, and turned to him.
"It is Philip! He is coming for me from your camp to-day."
His eyes strained through the sun-glare.
"Ah, God! I cannot meet him--I have not strength. You do not know----"
"I know how well he loved you."
"Not better than I him! But I cannot--I dare not. Unless I could meet
him as we never shall meet upon earth, we must be apart forever. For
Heaven's sake promise me never to speak my name!"
"I promise until you release me."
"And you can believe me innocent still, in face of all?"
She stretched her hands to him once more. "I believe. For I know what
you once were."
Great, burning tears fell from his eyes upon her hands as he bent over
"God bless you! You were an angel of pity to me in your childhood; in
your womanhood you give me the only mercy I have known since the last
day you looked upon my face! We shall be far sundered forever. May I
come to you once more?"
She paused in hesitation and in thought a while, while for the first
time in all her years a tremulous tenderness passed over her face; she
felt an unutterable pity for this man and for his doom. Then she drew
her hands gently away from him.
"Yes, I will see you again."
So much concession to such a prayer Venetia Corona had never before
given. He could not command his voice to answer, but he bowed low
before her as before an empress--another moment, and she was alone.
She stood looking out at the wide, level country beyond, with the
glare of the white, strong light and the red burnous of the Franco-
Arabs glowing against the blue, but cloudless sky; she thought that
she must be dreaming some fantastic story born of these desert
Yet her eyes were dim with tears, and her heart ached with another's
woe. Doubt of him never came to her; but there was a vague, terrible
pathos in the mystery of his fate that oppressed her with a weight of
future evil, unknown, and unmeasured.
"Is he a madman?" she mused. "If not, he is a martyr; one of the
greatest that ever suffered unknown to other men."
In the coolness of the late evening, in the court of the caravanserai,
her brother and his friends lounged with her and the two ladies of
their touring and sketching party, while they drank their sherbet, and
talked of the Gerome colors of the place, and watched the flame of the
afterglow burn out, and threw millet to the doves and pigeons straying
at their feet.
"My dear Venetia!" cried the Seraph, carelessly tossing handfuls of
grain to the eager birds, "I inquired for your Sculptor-Chasseur--that
fellow Victor--but I failed to see him, for he had been sent on an
expedition shortly after I reached the camp. They tell me he is a fine
soldier; but by what the Marquis said, I fear he is but a handsome
blackguard, and Africa, after all, may be his fittest place"
She gave a bend of her head to show she heard him, stroking the soft
throat of a little dove that had settled on the bench beside her.
"There is a charming little creature there, a little fire-eater--
Cigarette, they call her--who is in love with him, I fancy. Such a
picturesque child!--swears like a trooper, too," continued he who was
now Duke of Lyonnesse. "By the way, is Berkeley gone?"
"What for?--where to?"
"I was not interested to inquire."
"Ah! you never liked him! Odd enough to leave without reason or
"He had his reasons, doubtless."
"And made his apology to you?"
Her brother looked at her earnestly; there was a care upon her face
new to him.
"Are you well, my darling?" he asked her. "Has the sun been too hot,
or la bise too cold for you?"
She rose, and gathered her cashmeres about her, and smiled somewhat
wearily her adieu to him.
"Both, perhaps. I am tired. Good-night."
THE GIFT OF THE CROSS.
One of the most brilliant of Algerian autumnal days shone over the
great camp in the south. The war was almost at an end for a time; the
Arabs were defeated and driven desertwards; hostilities irksome,
harassing, and annoying, like all guerrilla warfare, would long
continue; but peace was virtually established, and Zaraila had been
the chief glory that had been added by the campaign to the flag of
Imperial France. The kites and the vultures had left the bare bones by
thousands to bleach upon the sands, and the hillocks of brown earth
rose in crowds where those, more cared for in death, had been hastily
thrust beneath the brown crust of the earth. The dead had received
their portion of reward--in the jackal's teeth, in the crow's beak, in
the worm's caress. And the living received theirs in this glorious,
rose-flecked, glittering autumn morning, when the breath of winter
made the air crisp and cool, but the ardent noon still lighted with
its furnace glow the hillside and the plain.
The whole of the Army of the South was drawn up on the immense level
of the plateau to witness the presentation of the Cross of the Legion
It was full noon. The sun shone without a single cloud on the deep,
sparkling azure of the skies. The troops stretched east and west,
north and south, formed up in three sides of one vast, massive square.
The battalions of Zouaves and of Zephyrs; the brigade of Chasseurs
d'Afrique; the squadrons of Spahis; the regiments of Tirailleurs and
Turcos; the batteries of Flying Artillery, were all massed there,
reassembled from the various camps and stations of the southern
provinces to do honor to the day--to do honor in especial to one by
whom the glory of the Tricolor had been saved unstained.
The red, white, and blue of the standards, the brass of the eagle
guidons; the gray, tossed manes of the chargers; the fierce, swarthy
faces of the soldiery; the scarlet of the Spahis' cloaks, and the
snowy folds of the Demi-Cavalry turbans; the shine of the sloped
lances, and the glisten of the carbine barrels, fused together in one
sea of blended color, flashed into a million prismatic hues against
the somber shadow of the sunburned plains and the clear blue of the
It had been a sanguinary, fruitless, cruel campaign; it had availed
nothing, except to drive the Arabs away from some hundred leagues of
useless and profitless soil; hundreds of French soldiers had fallen by
disease, and drought, and dysentery, as well as by shot and saber, and
were unrecorded save on the books of the bureaus; unlamented, save,
perhaps, in some little nestling hamlet among the great, green woods
of Normandy, or some wooden hut among the olives and the vines of
Provence, where some woman, toiling till sunset among the fields, or
praying before some wayside saint's stone niche, would give a thought
to the far-off and devouring desert that had drawn down beneath its
sands the head that used to lie upon her bosom, cradled as a child's,
or caressed as a lover's.
But the drums rolled out their long, deep thunder over the water; and
the shot-torn standards fluttered gayly in the breeze blowing from the
west; and the clear, full music of the French bands echoed away to the
dim, distant, terrible south, where the desert-scorch and the desert-
thirst had murdered their bravest and best--and the Army was en fete.
En fete, for it did honor to its darling. Cigarette received the
Mounted on her own little, bright bay, Etoile-Filante, with tricolor
ribbons flying from his bridle and among the glossy fringes of his
mane, the Little One rode among her Spahis. A scarlet kepi was set on
her thick, silken curls, a tricolor sash was knotted round her waist,
her wine-barrel was slung on her left hip, her pistols thrust in her
ceinturon, and a light carbine held in her hand with the butt-end
resting on her foot. With the sun on her childlike brunette face, her
eyes flashing like brown diamonds in the light, and her marvelous
horsemanship showing its skill in a hundred daring tricks, the little
Friend of the Flag had come hither among her half-savage warriors,
whose red robes surrounded her like a sea of blood.
And on a sea of blood she, the Child of War, had floated; never
sinking in that awful flood, but buoyant ever above its darkest waves;
catching ever some ray of sunlight upon her fair young head, and being
oftentimes like a star of hope to those over whom its dreaded waters
closed. Therefore they loved her, these grim, slaughterous, and
lustful warriors, to whom no other thing of womanhood was sacred; by
whom in their wrath or their crime no friend and no brother was
spared, whose law was license, and whose mercy was murder. They loved
her, these brutes whose greed was like the tiger's, whose hate was
like the devouring flame; and any who should have harmed a single lock
of her curling hair would have had the spears of the African
Mussulmans buried by the score in his body. They loved her, with the
one fond, triumphant love these vultures of the army ever knew; and
to-day they gloried in her with fierce, passionate delight. To-day she
was to her wild wolves of Africa what Jeanne of Vaucouleurs was to her
brethren of France. And today was the crown of her young life.
In the fair, slight, girlish body of the child-soldier there lived a
courage as daring as Danton's, a patriotism as pure as Vergniaud's, a
soul as aspiring as Napoleon's. Untaught, untutored, uninspired by
poet's words or patriot's bidding, spontaneous as the rising and the
blossoming of some wind-sown, sun-fed flower, there was, in this child
of the battle, the spirit of genius, the desire to live and to die
greatly. To be forever a beloved tradition in the army of her country,
to have her name remembered in the roll-call; to be once shrined in
the love and honor of France, Cigarette--full of the boundless joys of
life that knew no weakness and no pain; strong as the young goat,
happy as the young lamb, careless as the young flower tossing on the
summer breeze--Cigarette would have died contentedly. And now, living,
some measure of this desire had been fulfilled to her, some breath of
this imperishable glory had passed over her. France had heard the
story of Zaraila; from the Throne a message had been passed to her;
what was far beyond all else to her, her own Army of Africa had
crowned her, and thanked her, and adored her as with one voice, and
wheresoever she passed the wild cheers rang through the roar of
musketry, as through the silence of sunny air, and throughout the
regiments every sword would have sprung from its scabbard in her
defense if she had but lifted her hand and said one word--"Zaraila!"
The Army looked on her with delight now. In all that mute, still,
immovable mass that stretched out so far, in such gorgeous array,
there was not one man whose eyes did not turn on her, whose pride did
not center in her--their Little One, who was so wholly theirs, and who
had been under the shadow of their Flag ever since the curls, so dark
now, had been yellow as wheat in her infancy. There was not one in all
those hosts whose eyes did not turn on her with gratitude, and
reverence, and delight in her as their own.
Not one; except where her own keen, rapid glance, far-seeing as the
hawk's, lighted on the squadrons of the Chasseurs d'Afrique, and found
among their ranks one face, grave, weary, meditative, with a gaze that
seemed looking far away from the glittering scene to a grave that lay
unseen leagues beyond, behind the rocky ridge.
"He is thinking of the dead man, not of me," thought Cigarette; and
the first taint of bitterness entered into her cup of joy and triumph,
as such bitterness enters into most cups that are drunk by human lips.
A whole army was thinking of her, and of her alone; and there was a
void in her heart, a thorn in her crown, because one among that mighty
mass--one only--gave her presence little heed, but thought rather of a
lonely tomb among the desolation of the plains.
But she had scarce time even for that flash of pain to quiver in
impotent impatience through her. The trumpets sounded, the salvoes of
artillery pealed out, the lances and the swords were carried up in
salute; on the ground rode the Marshal of France, who represented the
imperial will and presence, surrounded by his staff, by generals of
division and brigade, by officers of rank, and by some few civilian
riders. An aid galloped up to her where she stood with the corps of
her Spahis and gave her his orders. The Little One nodded carelessly,
and touched Etoile-Filante with the prick of the spur. Like lightning
the animal bounded forth from the ranks, rearing and plunging, and
swerving from side to side, while his rider, with exquisite grace and
address, kept her seat like the little semi-Arab that she was, and
with a thousand curves and bounds cantered down the line of the
gathered troops, with the west wind blowing from the far-distant sea,
and fanning her bright cheeks till they wore the soft, scarlet flush
of the glowing japonica flower. And all down the ranks a low, hoarse,
strange, longing murmur went--the buzz of the voices which, but that
discipline suppressed them, would have broken out in worshiping
As carelessly as though she reined up before the Cafe door of the As
de Pique, she arrested her horse before the great Marshal who was the
impersonation of authority, and put her hand up in salute, with her
saucy, wayward laugh. He was the impersonation of that vast, silent,
awful, irresponsible power which, under the name of the Second Empire,
stretched its hand of iron across the sea, and forced the soldiers of
France down into nameless graves, with the desert sand choking their
mouths; but he was no more to Cigarette than any drummer-boy that
might be present. She had all the contempt for the laws of rank of
your thorough inborn democrat, all the gay, insouciant indifference to
station of the really free and untrammeled nature; and, in her sight,
a dying soldier, lying quietly in a ditch to perish of shot-wounds
without a word or a moan, was greater than all the Marshals glittering
in their stars and orders. As for impressing her, or hoping to impress
her, with rank--pooh! You might as well have bid the sailing clouds
pause in their floating passage because they came between royalty and
the sun. All the sovereigns of Europe would have awed Cigarette not
one whit more than a gathering of muleteers. "Allied sovereigns--bah!"
she would have said, "what did that mean in '15? A chorus of magpies
chattering over one stricken eagle!"
So she reined up before the Marshal and his staff, and the few great
personages whom Algeria could bring around them, as indifferently as
she had many a time reined up before a knot of grim Turcos, smoking
under a barrack-gate. He was nothing to her: it was her army that
Nevertheless, despite her gay contempt for rank, her heart beat fast
under its gold-laced packet as she reined up Etoile and saluted. In
that hot, clear sun all the eyes of that immense host were fastened on
her, and the hour of her longing desire was come at last. France had
recognized that she had done greatly. There was a group before her,
large and brilliant, but at them Cigarette never looked; what she saw
were the faces of her "children," of men who, in the majority, were
old enough to be her grandsires, who had been with her through so many
darksome hours, and whose black and rugged features lightened and grew
tender whenever they looked upon their Little One. For the moment she
felt giddy with sweet, fiery joy; they were here to behold her thanked
in the name of France.
The Marshal, in advance of all his staff, doffed his plumed hat and
bowed to his saddle-bow as he faced her. He knew her well by sight,
this pretty child of his Army of Africa, who had, before then,
suppressed mutiny like a veteran, and led the charge like a Murat--
this kitten with a lion's heart, this humming-bird with an eagle's
"Mademoiselle," he commenced, while his voice, well skilled to such
work, echoed to the farthest end of the long lines of troops, "I have
the honor to discharge to-day the happiest duty of my life. In
conveying to you the expression of the Emperor's approval of your
noble conduct in the present campaign, I express the sentiments of the
whole Army. Your action on the day of Zaraila was as brilliant in
conception as it was great in execution; and the courage you displayed
was only equaled by your patriotism. May the soldiers of many wars
remember and emulate you. In the name of France, I thank you. In the
name of the Emperor, I bring to you the Cross of the Legion of Honor."
As the brief and soldierly words rolled down the ranks of the
listening regiments, he stooped forward from the saddle and fastened
the red ribbon on her breast; while from the whole gathered mass,
watching, hearing, waiting breathlessly to give their tribute of
applause to their darling also, a great shout rose as with one voice,
strong, full, echoing over and over again across the plains in thunder
that joined her name with the name of France and of Napoleon, and
hurled it upward in fierce, tumultuous, idolatrous love to those
cruel, cloudless skies that shone above the dead. She was their child,
their treasure, their idol, their young leader in war, their young
angel in suffering; she was all their own, knowing with them one
common mother--France. Honor to her was honor to them; they gloried
with heart and soul in this bright, young fearless life that had been
among them ever since her infant feet had waded through the blood of
slaughter-fields, and her infant lips had laughed to see the tricolor
float in the sun above the smoke of battle.
And as she heard, her face became very pale, her large eyes grew dim
and very soft, her mirthful mouth trembled with the pain of a too
intense joy. She lifted her head, and all the unutterable love she
bore her country and her people thrilled through the music of her
That was all she said; in that one word of their common nationality
she spoke alike to the Marshal of the Empire and to the conscript of
the ranks. "Francais!" That one title made them all equal in her
sight; whoever claimed it was honored in her eyes, and was precious to
her heart, and when she answered them that it was nothing, this thing
which they glorified in her, she answered but what seemed the simple
truth in her code. She would have thought it "nothing" to have
perished by shot, or steel, or flame, in day-long torture for that one
fair sake of France.
Vain in all else, and to all else wayward, here she was docile and
submissive as the most patient child; here she deemed the greatest and
the hardest thing that she could ever do far less than all that she
would willingly have done. And as she looked upon the host whose
thousand and ten thousand voices rang up to the noonday sun in her
homage, and in hers alone, a light like a glory beamed upon her face
that for once was white and still and very grave--none who saw her
face then ever forgot that look.
In that moment she touched the full sweetness of a proud and pure
ambition, attained and possessed in all its intensity, in all its
perfect splendor. In that moment she knew that divine hour which, born
of a people's love and of the impossible desires of genius in its
youth, comes to so few human lives--knew that which was known to the
young Napoleon when, in the hot hush of the nights of July, France
welcomed the Conqueror of Italy. And in that moment there was an
intense stillness; the Army crowned as its bravest and its best a
woman-child in the springtime of her girlhood.
Then Cigarette laid her hand on the Cross that had been the dream of
her years since she had first seen the brazen glisten of the eagles
above her wondering eyes of infancy, and loosened it from above her
heart, and stretched her hand out with it to the great Chief.
"M. le Marshal, this is not for me."
"Not for you! The Emperor bestows it----"
Cigarette saluted with her left hand, still stretching to him the
decoration with the other.
"It is not for me--not while I wear it unjustly."
"Unjustly! What is your meaning? My child, you talk strangely. The
gifts of the Empire are not given lightly."
"No; and they shall not be given unfairly. Listen." The color had
flushed back, bright and radiant, to her cheeks; her eyes glanced with
their old daring; her contemptuous, careless eloquence returned, and
her voice echoed, every note distinct as the notes of a trumpet-call,
down the ranks of the listening soldiery. "Hark you! The Emperor sends
me this Cross; France thanks me; the Army applauds me. Well, I thank
them, one and all. Cigarette was never yet ungrateful; it is the sin
of the coward. But I say I will not take what is unjustly mine, and
this preference to me is unjust. I saved the day at Zaraila? Oh, ha!
And how?--by scampering fast on my mare, and asking for a squadron or
two of my Spahis--that was all. If I had not done so much--I, a
soldier of Africa--why, I should have deserved to have been shot like
a cat--bah! should I not? It was not I who saved the battle. Who was
it? It was a Chasseur d'Afrique, I tell you. What did he do? Why,
this. When his officers were all gone down, he rallied, and gathered
his handful of men, and held the ground with them all through the day
--two--four--six--eight--ten hours in the scorch of the sun. The
Arbicos, even were forced to see that was grand; they offered him life
if he would yield. All his answer was to form his few horsemen into
line as well as he could for the slain, and charge--a last charge in
which he knew not one of his troop could live through the swarms of
the Arabs around them. That I saw with my own eyes. I and my Spahis
just reached him in time. Then who is it that saved the day, I pray
you?--I, who just ran a race for fun and came in at the fag-end of the
thing, or this man who lived the whole day through in the carnage, and
never let go of the guidon, but only thought how to die greatly? I
tell you, the Cross is his, and not mine. Take it back, and give it
where it is due."
The Marshal listened, half amazed, half amused--half prepared to
resent the insult to the Empire and to discipline, half disposed to
award that submission to her caprice which all Algeria gave to
"Mademoiselle," he said, with a grave smile, "the honors of the Empire
are not to be treated thus. But who is this man for whom you claim so
"Who is he?" echoed Cigarette, with all her fiery disdain for
authority ablaze once more like brandy in a flame. "Oh, ha! Napoleon
Premier would not have left his Marshals to ask that! He is the finest
soldier in Africa, if it be possible for one to be finer than another
where all are so great. They know that; they pick him out for all the
dangerous missions. But the Black Hawk hates him, and so France never
hears the truth of all that he does. I tell you, if the Emperor had
seen him as I saw him on the field of Zaraila, his would have been the
Cross, and not mine."
"You are generous, my Little One."
"No; I am just."
Her brave eyes glowed in the sun, her voice rang as clear as a bell.
She raised her head proudly and glanced down the line of her army. She
was just--that was the one virtue in Cigarette's creed without which
you were poltroon, or liar, or both.
She alone knew what neglect, what indifference, what unintentional,
but none the less piercing, insults she had to avenge; she alone knew
of that pain with which she had heard the name of his patrician rival
murmured in delirious slumber after Zaraila; she alone knew of that
negligent caress of farewell with which her lips had been touched as
lightly as his hand caressed a horse's neck or a bird's wing. But
these did not weigh with her one instant to make her withhold the
words that she deemed deserved; these did not balance against him one
instant the pique and the pain of her own heart, in opposition to the
due of his courage and his fortitude.
Cigarette was rightly proud of her immunity from the weakness of her
sex; she had neither meanness nor selfishness.
The Marshal listened gravely, the groups around him smilingly. If it
had been any other than the Little One, it would have been very
different; as it was, all France and all Algeria knew Cigarette.
"What may be the name of this man whom you praise so greatly, my
pretty one?" he asked her.
"That I cannot tell, M. le Marshal. All I know is he calls himself
here Louis Victor."
"Ah! I have heard much of him. A fine soldier, but--"
"A fine soldier without a 'but,' " interrupted Cigarette, with
rebellious indifference to the rank of the great man she corrected,
"unless you add, 'but never done justice by his Chief.' "
As she spoke, her eyes for the first time glanced over the various
personages who were mingled among the staff of the Marshal, his
invited guests for the review upon the plains. The color burned more
duskily in her cheek, her eyes glittered with hate; she could have
bitten her little, frank, witty tongue through and through for having
spoken the name of that Chasseur who was yonder, out of earshot, where
the lance-heads of his squadrons glistened against the blue skies. She
saw a face which, though seen but once before, she knew instantly
again--the face of "Milady." And she saw it change color, and lose its
beautiful hue, and grow grave and troubled as the last words passed
between herself and the French Marshal.
"Ah! can she feel?" wondered Cigarette, who, with a common error of
such vehement young democrats as herself, always thought that hearts
never ached in the Patrician Order, and thought so still when she saw
the listless, proud tranquility return, not again to be altered, over
the perfect features that she watched with so much violent,
instinctive hate. "Did she heed his name, or did she not? What are
their faces in that Order? Only alabaster masks!" mused the child. And
her heart sank, and bitterness mingled with her joy, and the soul that
had a moment before been so full of all pure and noble emotion, all
high and patriotic and idealic thought, was dulled and soiled and
clogged with baser passions. So ever do unworthy things drag the
loftier nature earthward.
She scarcely heard the Marshal's voice as it addressed her with a
kindly indulgence, as to a valued soldier and a spoiled pet in one.
"Have no fear, Little One. Victor's claims are not forgotten, though
we may await our own time to investigate and reward them. No one ever
served the Empire and remained unrewarded. For yourself, wear your
Cross proudly. It glitters above not only the bravest, but the most
generous, heart in the service."
None had ever won such warm words from the redoubted chief, whose
speech was commonly rapid and stern as his conduct of war, and who
usually recompensed his men for fine service rather with a barrel of
brandy to season their rations than with speeches of military
eulogium. But it failed to give delight to Cigarette. She felt resting
upon her the calm gaze of those brilliant azure eyes; and she felt, as
she had done once in her rhododendron shelter, as though she were some
very worthless, rough, rude, untaught, and coarse little barbarian,
who was, at best, but fit for a soldier's jest and a soldier's riot in
the wild license of the barrack room or the campaigning tent. It was
only the eyes of this woman, whom he loved, which ever had the power
to awaken that humiliation, that impatience of herself, that
consciousness of something lost and irrevocable, which moved her now.
Cigarette was proud with an intense pride of all her fiery liberty
from every feminine trammel, of all her complete immunity from every
scruple and every fastidiousness of her sex. But, for once, within
sight of that noble and haughty beauty, a poignant, cruel, wounding
sense of utter inferiority, of utter debasement, possessed and weighed
down her lawless and indomitable spirit. Some vague, weary feeling
that her youth was fair enough in the sight of men, but that her older
years would be very dark, very terrible, came on her even in this hour
of the supreme joy, the supreme triumph of her life. Even her buoyant
and cloudless nature did not escape that mortal doom which pursues and
poisons every ambition in the very instant of its full fruition.
The doubt, the pain, the self-mistrust were still upon her as she
saluted once again and paced down the ranks of the assembled
divisions; while every lance was carried, every sword lifted, every
bayonet presented to the order as she went; greeted as though she were
an empress, for that cross which glittered on her heart, for that
courage wherewith she had saved the Tricolor.
The great shouts rent the air; the clash of the lowered arms saluted
her; the drums rolled out upon the air; the bands of the regiments of
Africa broke into the fiery rapture of a war-march; the folds of the
battle-torn flags were flung out wider and wider on the breeze. Gray-
bearded men gazed on her with tears of delight upon their grizzled
lashes, and young boys looked at her as the children of France once
gazed upon Jeanne d'Arc, where Cigarette, with the red ribbon on her
breast, road slowly in the noonday light along the line of troops.
It was the paradise of which she had dreamed; it was the homage of the
army she adored; it was one of those hours in which life is
transfigured, exalted, sublimated into a divine glory by the pure love
of a people; and yet in that instant, so long, so passionately
desired, the doom of all genius was hers. There was the stealing pain
of a weary unrest amid the sunlit and intoxicating joy of satisfied
The eyes of Venetia Corona followed her with something of ineffable
pity. "Poor little unsexed child!" she thought. "How pretty and how
brave she is! and--how true to him!"
The Seraph, beside her in the group around the flagstaff, smiled and
turned to her.
"I said that little Amazon was in love with this fellow Victor; how
loyally she stood up for him. But I dare say she would be as quick to
send a bullet through him, if he should ever displease her."
"Why? Where there is so much courage there must be much nobility, even
in the abandonment of such a life as hers."
"Ah, you do not know what half-French, half-African natures are. She
would die for him just now very likely; but if he ever forsake her,
she will be quite as likely to run her dirk through him."
"Forsake her! What is he to her?"
There was a certain impatience in the tone, and something of
contemptuous disbelief, that made her brother look at her in wonder.
"What on earth can the loves of a camp concern her?" he thought, as he
answered: "Nothing that I know of. But this charming little tigress is
very fond of him. By the way, can you point the man out to me? I am
curious to see him."
"Impossible! There are ten thousand faces, and the cavalry squadrons
are so far off."
She spoke with indifference, but she grew a little pale as she did so,
and the eyes that had always met his so frankly, so proudly, were
turned from him. He saw it, and it troubled him with a trouble the
more perplexed that he could assign to himself no reason for it. That
it could be caused by any interest felt for a Chasseur d'Afrique by
the haughtiest lady in all Europe would have been too preposterous and
too insulting a supposition for it ever to occur to him. And he did
not dream the truth--the truth that it was her withholding, for the
first time in all her life, any secret from him which caused her pain;
that it was the fear lest he should learn that his lost friend was
living thus which haunted her with that unspoken anxiety.
They were traveling here with the avowed purpose of seeing the