Part 12 out of 13
military operations of the south; she could not have prevented him
from accepting the Marshal's invitation to the review of the African
Army without exciting comment and interrogation; she was forced to let
events take their own course, and shape themselves as they would; yet
an apprehension, a dread, that she could hardly form into distant
shape, pursued her. It weighed on her with an infinite oppression--
this story which she alone had had revealed to her; this life whose
martyrdom she alone had seen, and whose secret even she could not
divine. It affected her more powerfully, it grieved her more keenly,
than she herself knew. It brought her close, for the only time in her
experience, to a life absolutely without a hope, and one that accepted
the despair of such a destiny with silent resignation; it moved her as
nothing less, as nothing feebler or of more common type could ever
have found power to do. There were a simplicity and a greatness in the
mute, unpretentious, almost unconscious, heroism of this man, who, for
the sheer sake of that which he deemed the need of "honor," accepted
the desolation of his entire future, which attracted her as nothing
else had ever done, which made her heart ache when she looked at the
glitter of the Franco-Arab squadrons, where their sloped lances
glistened in the sun, with a pang that she had never felt before.
Moreover, as the untutored, half-barbaric, impulsive young heart of
Cigarette had felt, so felt the high-bred, cultured, world-wise mind
of Venetia Corona--that this man's exile was no shame, but some great
sacrifice; a sacrifice whose bitterness smote her with its own
suffering, whose mystery wearied her with its own perplexity, as she
gazed down the line of the regiments to where the shot-bruised Eagle
of Zaraila gleamed above the squadrons of the Chasseurs d'Afrique.
He, in his place among those squadrons, knew her, though so far
distant, and endured the deadliest trial of patience which had come to
him while beneath the yoke of African discipline. To leave his place
was to incur the heaviest punishment; yet he could almost have risked
that sentence rather than wait there. Only seven days had gone by
since he had been with her under the roof of the caravanserai; but it
seemed to him as if these days had aged him more than all the twelve
years that he had passed upon the Algerian soil. He was thankful that
the enmity of his relentless chief had placed such shadow of evil
report between his name and the rewards due to his service, that even
the promised recognition of his brilliant actions at Zaraila and
elsewhere was postponed a while on the plea of investigation. He was
thankful that the honors which the whole Army expected for him, and
which the antagonism of Chateauroy would soon be powerless to avert
any longer from their meet bestowal, did not force him to go up there
in the scorching light of the noon, and take those honors as a soldier
of France, under the eyes of the man he loved, of the woman he adored.
As it was, he sat motionless as a statue in his saddle, and never
looked westward to where the tricolors of the flagstaff drooped above
the head of Venetia Corona.
Thus, he never heard the gallant words spoken in his behalf by the
loyal lips that he had not cared to caress. As she passed down the
ranks, indeed, he saw and smiled on his little champion; but the smile
had only a weary kindness of recognition in it and it wounded
Cigarette more than though he had struck her through the breast with
The moment that he had dreaded came; the troops broke up and marched
past the representative of their empire, the cavalry at the head of
the divisions. He passed among the rest; he raised his lance so that
it hid his features as much as its slender shaft could do; the fair
and noble face on which his glance flashed was very pale and very
grave; the one beside her was sunny and frank, and unchanged by the
years that had drifted by, and its azure eyes, so like her own,
sweeping over the masses with all the swift, keen appreciation of a
military glance, were so eagerly noting carriage, accouterment,
harness, horses, that they never once fell upon the single soldier
whose heart so unutterably longed for, even while it dreaded, his
Venetia gave a low, quick breath of mingled pain and relief as the
last of the Chasseurs passed by. The Seraph started, and turned his
"My darling! Are you not well?"
"You do not look so; and you forgot now to point me out this special
trooper. I forgot him too."
"He goes there--the tenth from here."
Her brother looked; it was too late.
"He is taller than the others. That is all I can see now that his back
is turned. I will seek him out when--"
"Do no such thing!"
"And why? It was your own request that I inquired--"
"Think me changeable as you will. Do nothing to seek him, to inquire
"But why? A man who at Zaraila--"
"Never mind! Do not let it be said you notice a Chasseur d'Afrique at
The color flushed her face as she spoke; it was with the scorn, the
hatred, of this shadow of an untruth with which she for the sole time
in life soiled her lips. He, noting it, shook himself restlessly in
his saddle. If he had not known her to be the noblest and the
haughtiest of all the imperial women who had crowned his house with
their beauty and their honor, he could have believed that some
interest, degrading as disgrace, moved her toward this foreign
trooper, and caused her altered wishes and her silence. As it was, so
much insult to her as would have existed in the mere thought was
impossible to him; yet it left him annoyed and vaguely disquieted.
The subject did not wholly fade from his mind throughout the
entertainments that succeeded to the military inspection in the great
white tent glistening with gilded bees and brightened with tricolor
standards which the ingenuity of the soldiers of the administration
had reared as though by magic amid the barrenness of the country, and
in which the skill of camp cooks served up a delicate banquet. The
scene was very picturesque, and all the more so for the widespread,
changing panorama without the canvas city of the camp. It was chiefly
designed to pleasure the great lady who had come so far southward; all
the resources which could be employed were exhausted to make the
occasion memorable and worthy of the dignity of the guests whom the
Viceroy of the Empire delighted to honor. Yet she, seated there on his
right hand, where the rich skins and cashmeres and carpets were strewn
on a dais, saw in reality little save a confused blending of hues, and
metals, and orders, and weapons, and snowy beards, and olive faces,
and French elegance and glitter fused with the grave majesty of Arab
pomp. For her thoughts were not with the scene around her, but with
the soldier who was without in that teeming crowd of tents, who lived
in poverty, and danger, and the hard slavery of unquestioning
obedience, and asked only to be as one dead to all who had known and
loved him in his youth. It was in vain that she repelled the memory;
it usurped her, and would not be displaced.
Meantime, in another part of the camp, the heroine of Zaraila was
feasted, not less distinctively, if more noisily and more familiarly,
by the younger officers of the various regiments. La Cigarette, many a
time before the reigning spirit of suppers and carouses, was banqueted
with all the eclat that befitted that cross which sparkled on her blue
and scarlet vest. High throned on a pyramid of knapsacks, canteens,
and rugs, toasted a thousand times in all brandies and red wines that
the stores would yield, sung of in improvised odes that were chanted
by voices which might have won European fame as tenor or as basso,
caressed and sued with all the rapid, fiery, lightly-come and lightly-
go love of the camp, with twice a hundred flashing, darkling eyes bent
on her in the hot admiration that her vain, coquette spirit found
delight in, ruling as she would with jest, and caprice, and command,
and bravado all these men who were terrible as tigers to their foes,
the Little One reigned alone; and--like many who have reigned before
her--found lead in her scepter, dross in her diadem, satiety in her
When it was over, this banquet that was all in her honor, and that
three months before would have been a paradise to her, she shook
herself free of the scores of arms outstretched to keep her captive,
and went out into the night alone. She did not know what she ailed,
but she was restless, oppressed, weighed down with a sense of
dissatisfied weariness that had never before touched the joyous and
elastic nature of the child of France.
And this, too, in the moment when the very sweetest and loftiest of
her ambitions was attained! When her hand wandered to that decoration
on her heart which had been ever in her sight what the crown of wild
olive and the wreath of summer grasses were to the youths and to the
victors of the old, dead classic years! As she stood in solitude under
the brilliancy of the stars, tears, unfamiliar and unbidden, rose in
her eyes as they gazed over the hosts around her.
"How they live only for the slaughter! How they perish like the beasts
of the field!" she thought. Upon her, as on the poet or the patriot
who could translate and could utter the thought as she could not,
there weighed the burden of that heart-sick consciousness of the
vanity of the highest hope, the futility of the noblest effort, to
bring light into the darkness of the suffering, toiling, blind throngs
of human life.
"There is only one thing worth doing--to die greatly!" thought the
aching heart of the child-soldier, unconsciously returning to the only
end that the genius and the greatness of Greece could find as issue to
the terrible jest, the mysterious despair, of all existence.
THE DESERT HAWK AND THE PARADISE-BIRD.
Some way distant, parted by a broad strip of unoccupied ground from
the camp, were the grand marquees set aside for the Marshal and for
his guests. They were twelve in number, gayly decorated--as far as
decoration could be obtained in the southern provinces of Algeria--and
had, Arab-like, in front of each the standard of the Tricolor. Before
one were two other standards also: the flags of England and of Spain.
Cigarette, looking on from afar, saw the alien colors wave in the
torchlight flickering on them. "That is hers," thought the Little One,
with the mournful and noble emotions of the previous moments swiftly
changing into the violent, reasonless, tumultuous hatred at once of a
rival and of an Order.
Cigarette was a thorough democrat; when she was two years old she had
sat on the topmost pile of a Parisian barricade, with the red bonnet
on her curls, and had clapped her tiny hands for delight when the
bullets flew, and the "Marseillaise" rose above the cannonading; and
the spirit of the musketry and of the "Marseillaise" had together
passed into her and made her what she was. She was a genuine democrat;
and nothing short of the pure isonomy of the Greeks was tolerated in
her political philosophy, though she could not have told what such a
word had meant for her life. She had all the furious prejudices and
all the instinctive truths in her of an uncompromising Rouge; and the
sight alone of those lofty standards, signalizing the place of rest of
the "aristocrats," while her "children's" lowly tents wore in her
sight all the dignity and all the distinction of the true field, would
have aroused her ire at any time. But now a hate tenfold keener moved
her; she had a jealousy of the one in whose honor those two foreign
ensigns floated, that was the most bitter thing which had ever entered
her short and sunny life--a hate the hotter because tinged with that
sickening sense of self-humiliation, because mingled with that
wondering emotion at beholding something so utterly unlike to all that
she had known or dreamed.
She had it in her, could she have had the power, to mercilessly and
brutally destroy this woman's beauty, which was so far above her
reach, as she had once destroyed the ivory wreath; yet, as that of the
snow-white carving had done, so did this fair and regal beauty touch
her, even in the midst of her fury, with a certain reverent awe, with
a certain dim sense of something her own life had missed. She had
trodden the ivory in pieces with all the violence of childish, savage,
uncalculating hate, and she had been chidden, as by a rebuking voice,
by the wreck which her action had made at her feet; so could she now,
had it been possible, have ruined and annihilated the loveliness that
filled his heart and his soul; but so would she also, the moment her
instinct to avenge herself had been sated, have felt the remorse and
the shame of having struck down a delicate and gracious thing that
even in its destruction had a glory that was above her.
Even her very hate attracted her to the sight, to the study, to the
presence of this woman, who was as dissimilar to all of womanhood that
had ever crossed her path, in camp and barrack, as the pure, white
gleaming lily of the hothouse is unlike the wind-tossed, sand-stained,
yellow leaf down-trodden in the mud. An irresistible fascination drew
her toward the self-same pain which had so wounded her a few hours
before--an impulse more intense than curiosity, and more vital than
caprice, urged her to the vicinity of the only human being who had
ever awakened in her the pang of humiliation, the throbs of envy.
And she went to that vicinity, now that the daylight had just changed
to evening, and the ruddy torch-glare was glowing everywhere from
great pine boughs thrust in the ground, with their resinous branches
steeped in oil and flaring alight. There was not a man that night in
camp who would have dared oppose the steps of the young heroine of the
Cross wherever they might choose, in their fantastic flight, to
wander. The sentinels passing up and down the great space before the
marquees challenged her, indeed, but she was quick to give the
answering password, and they let her go by them, their eyes turning
after the little picturesque form that every soldier of the Corps of
Africa loved almost like the flag beneath which he fought. Once in the
magic circle, she paused a while; the desire that urged her on, and
the hate that impelled her backward, keeping her rooted there in the
dusky shadow which the flapping standards threw.
To creep covertly into her rival's presence, to hide herself like a
spy to see what she wished, to show fear, or hesitation, or deference,
were not in the least what she contemplated. What she intended was to
confront this fair, strange, cold, cruel thing, and see if she were of
flesh and blood like other living beings, and do the best that could
be done to outrage, to scourge, to challenge, to deride her with all
the insolent artillery of camp ribaldry, and show her how a child of
the people could laugh at her rank, and affront her purity, and scorn
her power. Definite idea there was none to her; she had come on
impulse. But a vague longing in some way to break down that proud
serenity which galled her so sharply, and bring hot blood of shame
into that delicate face, and cast indignity on that imperious and
unassailable pride, consumed her.
She longed to do as some girl of whom she had once been told by an old
Invalide had done in the '89--a girl of the people, a fisher-girl of
the Cannebiere, who had loved one above her rank, a noble who deserted
her for a woman of his own Order, a beautiful, soft-skinned, lily-
like, scornful aristocrat, with the silver ring of merciless laughter
and the languid luster of sweet, contemptuous eyes. The Marseillaise
bore her wrong in silence--she was a daughter of the south and of the
populace, with a dark, brooding, burning beauty, strong and fierce,
and braced with the salt lashing of the sea and with the keen breath
of the stormy mistral. She held her peace while the great lady was
wooed and won, while the marriage joys came with the purple vintage
time, while the people were made drunk at the bridal of their
chatelaine in those hot, ruddy, luscious autumn days.
She held her peace; and the Terror came, and the streets of the city
by the sea ran blood, and the scorch of the sun blazed, every noon, on
the scaffold. Then she had her vengeance. She stood and saw the ax
fall down on the proud, snow-white neck that never had bent till it
bent there, and she drew the severed head into her own bronzed hands
and smote the lips his lips had kissed,--a cruel blow that blurred
their beauty out,--and twined a fish-hook in the long and glistening
hair, and drew it, laughing as she went, through dust, and mire, and
gore, and over the rough stones of the town, and through the shouting
crowds of the multitudes, and tossed it out on to the sea, laughing
still as the waves flung it out from billow to billow, and the fish
sucked it down to make their feast. She stood and laughed by the side
of the gray, angry water, watching the tresses of the floating hair
sink downward like a heap of sea-tossed weed.
That horrible story came to the memory of Cigarette now as it had been
told her by the old soldier who, in his boyhood, had seen the entry of
the Marseillais to Paris. She knew what the woman of the people had
felt when she had bruised and mocked and thrown out to the devouring
waters that fair and fallen head.
"I could do it--I could do it," she thought, with the savage instinct
of her many-sided nature dominant, leaving uppermost only its ferocity
--the same ferocity as had moved the southern woman to wreak her
hatred on the senseless head of her rival. The school in which the
child-soldier had been reared had been one to foster all those
barbaric impulses; to leave in their inborn, uncontrolled force all
those native desires which the human shares with the animal nature.
There had been no more to teach her that these were criminal or
forbidden than there is to teach the young tigress that it is cruel to
tear the antelope for food. What Cigarette was, that nature had made
her; she was no more trained to self-control, or to the knowledge of
good, than is the tiger's cub as it wantons in its play under the
great, broad tropic leaves.
Now, she acted on her impulse; her impulse of open scorn of rank, of
reckless vindication of her right to do just whatsoever pleasured her;
and she went boldly forward and dashed aside, with no gentle hand, the
folds that hung before the entrance of the tent, and stood there with
the gleam of the starry night and the glow of the torches behind her,
so that her picturesque and brightly colored form looked painted on a
dusky, lurid background of shadow and of flame.
The action startled the occupants of the tent, and made them both look
up; they were Venetia Corona and a Levantine woman, who was her
favorite and most devoted attendant, and had been about her from her
birth. The tent was the first of three set aside for her occupancy,
and had been adorned with as much luxury as was procurable, and with
many of the rich and curious things of Algerian art and workmanship,
so far as they could be hastily collected by the skill and quickness
of the French intendance. Cigarette stood silently looking at the
scene on which she had thus broken without leave or question; she saw
nothing of it except one head lifted in surprise at her entrance--just
such a head, just so proudly carried, just so crowned with gleaming
hair as that which the Marseillaise had dragged through the dust of
the streets and cast out into the lust of the sharks. Venetia
hesitated a moment in astonished wonder; then, with the grace and the
courtesy of her race, rose and approached the entrance of her tent, in
which that fierce--half a soldier, half a child--was standing, with
the fitful, reddened light behind. She recognized whose it was.
"Is it you, ma petite?" she said kindly. "Come within. Do not be
She spoke with the gentle consideration of a great lady to one whom
she admired for her heroism, compassionated for her position, and
thought naturally in need of such encouragement. She had liked the
frank, fearless, ardent brunette face of the Little Friend of the
Flag; she had liked her fiery and indomitable defense of the soldier
of Zaraila; she felt an interest in her as deep as her pity, and she
was above the scruples which many women of her rank might have had as
to the fitness of entering into conversation with this child of the
army. She was gentle to her as to a young bird, a young kitten, a
young colt; what her brother had said of the vivandiere's love for one
whom the girl only knew as a trooper of Chasseurs filled with an
indefinable compassion the woman who knew him as her own equal and of
her own Order.
Cigarette, for once, answered nothing; her eyes very lowering,
"You wish to see me?" Venetia asked once more. "Come nearer. Have no
The one word unloosed the spell which had kept Cigarette speechless;
the one word was an insult beyond endurance, that lashed all the worst
spirit in her into flame.
"Fear!" she cried, with a camp oath, whose blasphemy was happily
unintelligible to her listener. "Fear! You think I fear you!--the
darling of the army, who saved the squadron at Zaraila, who has seen a
thousand days of bloodshed, who has killed as many men with her own
hand as any Lascar among them all--fear you, you hothouse flower, you
paradise-bird, you silver pheasant, who never did aught but spread
your dainty colors in the sun, and never earned so much as the right
to eat a pierce of black bread, if you had your deserts! Fear you--I!
Why! do you not know that I could kill you where you stand as easily
as I could wring the neck of any one of those gold-winged orioles that
flew above your head to-day, and who have more right to live than you,
for they do at least labor in their own fashion for their food, and
their drink, and their dwelling? Dieu de Dieu! Why, I have killed
Arabs, I tell you--great, gaunt, grim men--and made them bite the dust
under my fire. Do you think I would check for a moment at dealing you
death, you beautiful, useless, honeyed, poisoned, painted exotic, that
has every wind tempered to you, and thinks the world only made to bear
the fall of your foot!"
The fury of words was poured out without pause, and with an intense
passion vibrating through them; the wine was hot in her veins, the
hate was hot in her heart; her eyes glittered with murderous meaning,
and she darted with one swift bound to the side of the rival she
loathed, with the pistol half out of her belt; she expected to see the
one she threatened recoil, quail, hear the threat in terror; she
mistook the nature with which she dealt. Venetia Corona never moved,
never gave a sign of the amazement that awoke in her; but she put her
hand out and clasped the barrel of the weapon, while her eyes looked
down into the flashing, looming, ferocious ones that menaced her, with
calm, contemptuous rebuke, in which something of infinite pity was
"Child, are you mad?" she said gravely. "Brave natures do not stoop to
assassination, which you seem to deify. If you have any reason to feel
evil against me, tell me what it is. I always repair a wrong, if I
can. But as for those threats, they are most absurd if you do not mean
them; they are most wicked if you do."
The tranquil, unmoved, serious words stilled the vehement passion she
rebuked with a strange and irresistible power; under her gaze the
savage lust in Cigarette's eyes died out, and their lids drooped over
them; the dusky, scarlet color failed from her cheeks; for the first
time in her life she felt humiliated, vanquished, awed. If this
"aristocrat" had shown one sign of fear, one trace of apprehension,
all her violent and reckless hatred would have reigned on, and, it
might have been, have rushed from threat to execution; but showing the
only quality, that of courage, for which she had respect, her great
rival confused and disarmed her. She was only sensible, with a vivid,
agonizing sense of shame, that her only cause of hatred against this
woman was that he loved her. And this she would have died a thousand
deaths rather than have acknowledged.
She let the pistol pass into Venetia's grasp; and stood, irresolute
and ashamed, her fluent tongue stricken dumb, her intent to wound, and
sting, and outrage with every vile, coarse jest she knew, rendered
impossible to execute. The purity and the dignity of her opponent's
presence had their irresistible influence, an influence too strong for
even her debonair and dangerous insolence. She hated herself in that
moment more than she hated her rival.
Venetia laid the loaded pistol down, away from both, and seated
herself on the cushions from which she had risen. Then she looked once
more, long and quietly, at her unknown antagonist.
"Well?" she said, at length. "Why do you venture to come here? And why
do you feel this malignity toward a stranger who never saw you until
Under the challenge the fiery spirit of Cigarette rallied, though a
rare and galling sense of intense inferiority, of intense
mortification, was upon her; though she would almost have given the
Cross which was on her breast that she had never come into this
"Oh, ah!" she answered recklessly, with the red blood flushing her
face again at the only evasion of truth of which the little desperado,
with all her sins, had ever been guilty. "I hate you, Milady, because
of your Order--because of your nation--because of your fine, dainty
ways--because of your aristocrat's insolence--because you treat my
soldiers like paupers--because you are one of those who do no more to
have the right to live than the purple butterfly that flies in the
sun, and who oust the people out of their dues as the cuckoo kicks the
poor birds that have reared it, out of the nest of down, to which it
never has carried a twig or a moss!"
Her listener heard with a slight smile of amusement and of surprise
that bitterly discomfited the speaker. To Venetia Corona the girl-
soldier seemed mad; but it was a madness that interested her, and she
knew at a glance that this child of the army was of no common nature
and no common mind.
"I do not wish to discuss democracy with you," she answered, with a
tone that sounded strangely tranquil to Cigarette after the scathing
acrimony of her own. "I should probably convince you as little as you
would convince me; and I never waste words. But I heard you to-day
claim a certain virtue--justice. How do you reconcile with that your
very hasty condemnation of a stranger of whose motives, actions, and
modes of life it is impossible you can have any accurate knowledge?"
Cigarette once again was silenced; her face burned, her heart was hot
with rage. She had come prepared to upbraid and to outrage this
patrician with every jibe and grossness camp usage could supply her
with, and--she stood dumb before her! She could only feel an all-
absorbing sense of being ridiculous, and contemptible, and puerile in
"You bring two charges against me," said Venetia, when she had vainly
awaited answer. "That I treat your comrades like paupers, and that I
rob the people--my own people, I imagine you to mean--of their dues.
In the first, how will you prove it?--in the second, how can you know
"Pardieu, Milady!" swore Cigarette recklessly, seeking only to hold
her own against the new sense of inferiority and of inability that
oppressed her. "I was in the hospital when your fruits and your wines
came; and as for your people, I don't speak of them,--they are all
slaves, they say, in Albion, and will bear to be yoked like oxen if
they think they can turn any gold in the furrows--I speak of the
people. Of the toiling, weary, agonized, joyless, hapless multitudes
who labor on, and on, and on, ever in darkness, that such as you may
bask in sunlight and take your pleasures wrung out of the death-sweat
of millions of work-murdered poor! What right have you to have your
path strewn with roses, and every pain spared from you; only to lift
your voice and say, 'Let that be done,' to see it done?--to find life
one long, sweet summer day of gladness and abundance, while they die
out in agony by thousands, ague-stricken, famine-stricken, crime-
stricken, age-stricken, for want only of one ray of the light of
happiness that falls from dawn to dawn like gold upon your head?"
Vehement and exaggerated as the upbraiding was, her hearer's face grew
very grave, very thoughtful, as she spoke, those luminous, earnest
eyes, whose power even the young democrat felt, gazed wearily down
"Ah, child! Do you think we never think of that? You wrong me--you
wrong my Order. There are many besides myself who turn over that
terrible problem as despairingly as you can ever do. As far as in us
lies, we strive to remedy its evil; the uttermost effort can do but
little, but that little is only lessened--fearfully lessened--whenever
Class is arrayed against Class by that blind antagonism which animates
Cigarette's intelligence was too rapid not to grasp the truths
conveyed by these words; but she was in no mood to acknowledge them.
"Nom de Dieu, Milady!" she swore in her teeth. "If you do turn over
the problem--you aristocrats--it is pretty work, no doubt! Just
putting the bits of a puzzle-ball together so long as the game pleases
you, and leaving the puzzle in chaos when you are tired! Oh, ha! I
know how fine ladies and fine gentlemen play at philanthropies! But I
am a child of the People, mark you; and I only see how birth is an
angel that gives such as you eternal sunlight and eternal summer, and
how birth is a devil that drives down the millions into a pit of
darkness, of crime, of ignorance, of misery, of suffering, where they
are condemned before they have opened their eyes to existence, where
they are sentenced before they have left their mothers' bosoms in
infancy. You do not know what that darkness is. It is night--it is
ice--it is hell!"
Venetia Corona sighed wearily as she heard; pain had been so far from
her own life, and there was an intense eloquence in the low, deep
words that seemed to thrill through the stillness.
"Nor do you know how many shadows checker that light which you envy!
But I have said; it is useless for me to argue these questions with
you. You commence with a hatred of a class; all justice is over
wherever that element enters. If I were what you think, I should bid
you leave my presence which you have entered so rudely. I do not
desire to do that. I am sure that the heroine of Zaraila has something
nobler in her than mere malignity against a person who can never have
injured her; and I would endure her insolence for the sake of
awakening her justice. A virtue, that was so great in her at noon,
cannot be utterly dead at nightfall."
Cigarette's fearless eyes drooped under the gaze of those bent so
searchingly, yet so gently, upon her; but only for a moment. She
raised them afresh with their old dauntless frankness.
"Dieu! you shall never say you wanted justice and truth from a French
soldier, and failed to get them! I hate you, never mind why--I do,
though you never harmed me. I came here for two reasons: one, because
I wanted to look at you close--you are not like anything that I ever
saw; the other, because I wanted to wound you, to hurt you, to outrage
you, if I could find a way how. And you will not let me do it. I do
not know what it is in you."
In all her courted life, the great lady had had no truer homage than
lay in that irate, reluctant wonder of this fiery foe.
She smiled slightly.
"My poor child, it is rather something in yourself--a native nobility
that will not allow you to be as unjust and as insolent as your soul
Cigarette gave a movement of intolerable impatience.
"Pardieu! Do not pity me, or I shall give you a taste of my
'insolence' in earnest! You may be a sovereign grand dame everywhere
else, but you can carry no terror with you for me, I promise you!"
"I do not seek to do so. If I did not feel interest in you, do you
suppose I should suffer for a moment the ignorant rudeness of an ill-
bred child? You fail in the tact, as in the courtesy, that belong to
The rebuke was gentle, but it was all the more severe for its very
serenity. It cut Cigarette to the quick; it covered her with an
overwhelming sense of mortification and of failure. She was too keen
and too just, despite all her vanity, not to feel that she had
deserved the condemnation, and not to know that her opponent had all
the advantage and all the justice on her side. She had done nothing by
coming here; nothing except to appear as an insolent and wayward child
before her superb rival, and to feel a very anguish of inferiority
before the grace, the calm, the beauty, the nameless, potent charm of
this woman, whom she had intended to humiliate and injure!
The inborn truth within her, the native generosity and candor that
soon or late always overruled every other element in the Little One,
conquered her now. She dashed down her Cross on the ground, and trod
passionately on the decoration she adored.
"I disgrace it the first day I wear it! You are right, though I hate
you, and you are as beautiful as a sorceress! There is no wonder he
There was a colder and more utterly amazed hauteur in the
interrogation than had come into her voice throughout the interview,
yet on her fair face a faint warmth rose.
The words were out, and Cigarette was reckless what she said; almost
unconscious, indeed, in the violence of the many emotions in her.
"The man who carves the toys you give your dog to break!" she answered
bitterly. "Dieu de Dieu! he loves you. When he was down with his
wounds after Zaraila, he said so; but he never knew what he said, and
he never knew that I heard him. You are like the women of his old
world; though through you he got treated like a dog, he loves you!"
"Of whom do you venture to speak?"
The cold, calm dignity of the question, whose very tone was a rebuke,
came strangely after the violent audacity of Cigarette's speech.
"Sacre bleu! Of him, I tell you, who was made to bring his wares to
you like a hawker. And you think it insult, I will warrant!--insult
for a soldier who has nothing but his courage, and his endurance, and
his heroism under suffering to ennoble him, to dare to love Mme. la
Princesse Corona! I think otherwise. I think that Mme. la Princesse
Corona never had a love of so much honor, though she has had princes
and nobles and all the men of her rank, no doubt, at her feet, through
that beauty that is like a spell!"
Hurried headlong by her own vehemence, and her own hatred for her
rival, which drove her to magnify the worth of the passion of which
she was so jealous, that she might lessen, if she could, the pride of
her on whom it was lavished, she never paused to care what she said,
or heed what its consequences might become. She felt incensed, amazed,
irritated, to see no trace of any emotion come on her hearer's face;
the hot, impetuous, expansive, untrained nature underrated the power
for self-command of the Order she so blindly hated.
"You speak idly and at random, like the child you are," the grande
dame answered her with chill, contemptuous rebuke. "I do not imagine
that the person you allude to made you his confidante in such a
"He!" retorted Cigarette. "He belongs to your class, Milady. He is as
silent as the grave. You might kill him, and he would never show it
hurt. I only know what he muttered in his fever."
"When you attended him?"
"Not I!" cried Cigarette, who saw for the first time that she was
betraying herself. "He lay in the scullion's tent where I was; that
was all; and he was delirious with the shot-wounds. Men often are--"
"Wait! Hear me a little while, before you rush on in this headlong and
foolish speech," interrupted her auditor, who had in a moment's rapid
thought decided on her course with this strange, wayward nature. "You
err in the construction you have placed on the words, whatever they
were, which you heard. The gentleman--he is a gentleman--whom you
speak of bears me no love. We are almost strangers. But by a strange
chain of circumstances he is connected with my family; he once had
great friendship with my brother; for reasons that I do not know, but
which are imperative with him, he desires to keep his identity
unsuspected by everyone; an accident alone revealed it to me, and I
have promised him not to divulge it. You understand?"
Cigarette gave an affirmative gesture. Her eyes were fastened
suddenly, yet with a deep, bright glow in them, upon her companion;
she was beginning to see her way through his secret--a secret she was
too intrinsically loyal even now to dream of betraying.
"You spoke very nobly for him to-day. You have the fealty of one brave
character to another, I am sure!" pursued Venetia Corona, purposely
avoiding all hints of any warmer feeling on her listener's part, since
she saw how tenacious the girl was of any confession of it. "You would
do him service if you could, I fancy. Am I right?"
"Oh, yes!" answered Cigarette, with an over-assumption of
carelessness. "He is bon zig; we always help each other. Besides, he
is very good to my men. What is it you want of me?"
"To preserve secrecy on what I have told you for his sake; and to give
him a message from me."
Cigarette laughed scornfully; she was furious with herself for
standing obediently like a chidden child to hear this patrician's
bidding, and to do her will. And yet, try how she would, she could not
shake off the spell under which those grave, sweet, lustrous eyes of
command held her.
"Pardieu, Milady! Do you think I babble like any young drunk with his
first measure of wine? As for your message, you had better let him
come and hear what you have to say; I cannot promise to remember it!"
"Your answer is reckless; I want a serious one. You spoke like a brave
and a just friend to him to-day; are you willing to act as such
to-night? You have come here strangely, rudely, without pretext or
apology; but I think better of you than you would allow me to do, if I
judged only from the surface. I believe that you have loyalty, as I
know that you have courage."
Cigarette set her teeth hard.
"What of that?"
"This of it. That one who has them will never cherish malice
unjustifiably, or fail to fulfill a trust."
Cigarette's clear, brown skin grew very red.
"That is true," she muttered reluctantly. Her better nature was
growing uppermost, though she strove hard to keep the evil one
"Then you will cease to feel hatred toward me for so senseless a
reason as that I belong to an aristocracy that offends you; and you
will remain silent on what I tell you concerning the one whom you know
as Louis Victor?"
Cigarette nodded assent; the sullen fire-glow still burned in her
eyes, but she succumbed to the resistless influence which the
serenity, the patience, and the dignity of this woman had over her.
She was studying Venetia Corona all this while with the keen, rapid
perceptions of envy and of jealousy; studying her features, her form,
her dress, her attitude, all the many various and intangible marks of
birth and breeding which were so new to her, and which made her rival
seem so strange, so dazzling, so marvelous a sorceress to her; and all
the while the sense of her own inferiority, her own worthlessness, her
own boldness, her own debasement was growing upon her, eating, sharply
into the metal of her vanity and her pride, humiliating her
unbearably, yet making her heart ache with a sad, pathetic pity for
"He is of your Order, then?" she asked abruptly.
"Oh, ha!" cried Cigarette, with her old irony. "Then he must be
always, mustn't he? You think too much of your blue blood, you
patricians, to fancy it can lose its royalty, whether it run under a
King's purple or a Roumi's canvas shirt. Blood tells, they say! Well,
perhaps it does. Some say my father was a Prince of France--maybe! So,
he is of your Order? Bah! I knew that the first day I saw his hands.
Do you want me to tell you why he lives among us, buried like this?"
"Not if you violate any confidence to do so."
"Pardieu! He makes no confidence, I promise you. Not ten words will
Monsieur say, if he can help it, about anything. He is as silent as a
lama. But we learn things without being told in camp; and I know well
enough he is here to save someone else, in someone's place; it is a
sacrifice, look you, that nails him down to this martyrdom."
Her auditor was silent; she thought as the vivandiere thought, but the
pride in her, the natural reticence and reserve of her class, made her
shrink from discussing the history of one whom she knew--shrink from
having any argument on his past or future with a saucy, rough, fiery
young camp-follower, who had broken thus unceremoniously on her
privacy. Yet she needed greatly to be able to trust Cigarette; the
child was the only means through which she could send him a warning
that must be sent; and there were a bravery and a truth in her which
attracted the "aristocrat," to whom she was so singular and novel a
rarity as though she were some young savage of desert western isles.
"Look you, Milady," said Cigarette, half sullenly, half passionately,
for the words were wrenched out of her generosity, and choked her in
their utterance, "that man suffers; his life here is a hell upon earth
--I don't mean for the danger, he is bon soldat; but for the
indignity, the subordination, the license, the brutality, the tyranny.
He is as if he were chained to the galleys. He never says anything.
Oh, no! he is of your kind you know! But he suffers. Mort de Dieu! he
suffers. Now, if you be his friend, can you do nothing for him? Can
you ransom him in no way? Can you go away out of Africa and leave him
in this living death to get killed and thrust into the sand, like his
comrade the other day?"
Her hearer did not answer; the words made her heart ache; they cut her
to the soul. It was not for the first time that the awful desolation
of his future had been present before her; but it was the first time
that the fate to which she would pass away and leave him had been so
directly in words before her. Cigarette, obeying the generous impulses
of her better nature, and abandoning self with the same reckless
impetuosity with which a moment before she would, if she could, have
sacrificed her rival, saw the advantage gained, and pursued it with
rapid skill. She was pleading against herself; no matter. In that
instant she was capable of crucifying herself, and only remembering
mercy to the absent.
"I have heard," she went on vehemently, for the utterance to which she
forced herself was very cruel to her, "that you of the Noblesse are
stanch as steel to your own people. It is the best virtue that you
have. Well, he is of your people. Will you go away in your negligent
indifference, and leave him to eat his heart out in bitterness and
misery? He was your brother's friend; he was known to you in his early
time; you said so. And are you cold enough and cruel enough, Milady,
not to make one effort to redeem him out of bondage?--to go back to
your palaces, and your pleasures, and your luxuries, and your
flatteries, and be happy, while this man is left on bearing his yoke
here?--and it is a yoke that galls, that kills!--bearing it until, in
some day of desperation, a naked blade cuts its way to his heart, and
makes its pulse cease forever? If you do, you patricians are worse
still than I thought you!"
Venetia heard her without interruption; a great sadness came over her
face as the vivid phrases followed each other. She was too absorbed in
the subject of them to heed the challenge and the insolence of their
manner. She knew that the Little One who spoke them loved him, though
so tenacious to conceal her love; and she was touched, not less by the
magnanimity which, for his sake, sought to release him from the
African service, than by the hopelessness of his coming years as thus
prefigured before her.
"Your reproaches are unneeded," she replied, slowly and wearily. "I
could not abandon one who was once the friend of my family to such a
fate as you picture without very great pain. But I do not see how to
alter this fate, as you think I could do with so much ease. I am not
in its secret; I do not know the reason of its seeming suicide; I have
no more connection with its intricacies than you have. This gentleman
has chosen his own path; it is not for me to change his choice or spy
into his motives."
Cigarette's flashing, searching eyes bent all their brown light on
"Mme. Corona, you are courageous; to those who are so, all things are
"A great fallacy! You must have seen many courageous men vanquished.
But what would you imply by it?"
"That you can help this man, if you will."
"Would that I could; but I can discern no means--"
Even in that moment her listener smiled involuntarily at the curt,
imperious tones, decisive as Napoleon's "Partons!" before the Passage
of the Alps.
"Be certain, if I can, I will. Meantime, there is one pressing danger
of which you must be my medium to warn him. He and my brother must not
meet. Tell him that the latter, knowing him only as Louis Victor, and
interested in the incidents of his military career, will seek him out
early to-morrow morning before we quit the camp. I must leave it to
him to avoid the meeting as best he may be able."
Cigarette smiled grimly.
"You do not know much of the camp. Victor is only a bas-officier; if
his officers call him up, he must come, or be thrashed like a slave
for contumacy. He has no will of his own."
Venetia gave an irrepressible gesture of pain.
"True; I forgot. Well, go and send him to me. My brother must be taken
into his confidence, whatever that confidence reveals. I will tell him
so. Go and send him to me; it is the last chance."
Cigarette gave no movement of assent; all the jealous rage in her
flared up afresh to stifle the noble and unselfish instincts under
which she had been led during the later moments. A coarse and impudent
scoff rose to her tongue, but it remained unuttered; she could not
speak it under that glance, which held the evil in her in subjection,
and compelled her reluctant reverence against her will.
"Tell him to come here to me," repeated Venetia, with the calm
decision of one to whom any possibility of false interpretation of her
motives never occurred, and who was habituated to the free action that
accompanied an unassailable rank. "My brother must know what I know. I
shall be alone, and he can make his way hither, without doubt,
unobserved. Go and say this to him. You are his loyal little friend
"If I be, I do not see why I am to turn your lackey, Madame," said
Cigarette bitterly. "If you want him, you can send for him by other
Venetia Corona looked at her steadfastly, with a certain contempt in
"Then your pleading for him was all insincere? Let the matter drop,
and be good enough to leave my presence, which, you will remember, you
entered unsummoned and undesired."
The undeviating gentleness of the tone made the rebuke cut deeper, as
her first rebuke had cut, than any sterner censure or more peremptory
dismissal could have done. Cigarette stood irresolute, ashamed, filled
with rage, torn by contrition, impatient, wounded, swayed by jealous
rage and by the purer impulses she strove to stifle.
The Cross she had tossed down caught her sight as it glittered on the
carpet strewn over the hard earth; she stooped and raised it; the
action sufficed to turn the tide with her impressionable, ardent,
capricious nature; she would not disgrace that.
"I will go," she muttered in her throat; "and you--you--O God! no
wonder men love you when even I cannot hate you!"
Almost ere the words were uttered she had dashed aside the hangings
before the tent entrance, and had darted out into the night air.
Venetia Corona gazed after the swiftly flying figure as it passed over
the starlit ground, lost in amazement, in pity, and in regret;
wondering afresh if she had only dreamed of this strange interview in
the Algerian camp, which seemed to have come and gone with the
blinding rapidity of lightning.
"A little tigress!" she thought; "and yet with infinite nobility, with
wonderful germs of good in her. Of such a nature what a rare life
might have been made! As it is, her childhood we smile at and forgive;
but, great Heaven! what will be her maturity, her old age! Yet how she
loves him! And she is so brave she will not show it."
With the recollection came the remembrance of Cigarette's words as to
his own passion for herself, and she grew paler as it did so. "God
forbid he should have that pain, too!" she murmured. "What could it be
save misery for us both!"
Yet she did not thrust the fancy from her with contemptuous
nonchalance as she had done every other of the many passions she had
excited and disdained; it had a great sadness and a greater terror for
her. She dreaded it slightly for herself.
She wished now that she had not sent for him. But it was done; it was
for sake of their old friendship; and she was not one to vainly regret
what was unalterable, or to desert what she deemed generous and right
for the considerations of prudence or of egotism.
ORDEAL BY FIRE.
Amid the mirth, the noise, the festivity, which reigned throughout the
camp as the men surrendered themselves to the enjoyment of the
largesses of food and of wine allotted to them by their Marshal's
command in commemoration of Zaraila, one alone remained apart; silent
and powerless to rouse himself even to the forced semblance, the
forced endurance, of their mischief and their pleasure. They knew him
well, and they also loved him too well to press such participation on
him. They knew that it was no lack of sympathy with them that made him
so grave amid their mirth, so mute amid their volubility. Some thought
that he was sorely wounded by the delay of the honors promised him.
Others, who knew him better, thought that it was the loss of his
brother-exile which weighed on him, and made all the scene around him
full of pain. None approached him; but while they feasted in their
tents, making the celebration of Zaraila equal to the Jour de
Mazagran, he sat alone over a picket-fire on the far outskirts of the
His heart was sick within him. To remain here was to risk with every
moment that ordeal of recognition which he so utterly dreaded; and to
flee was to leave his name to the men, with whom he had served so
long, covered with obloquy and odium, buried under all the burning
shame and degradation of a traitor's and deserter's memory. The latter
course was impossible to him; the only alternative was to trust that
the vastness of that great concrete body, of which he was one unit,
would suffice to hide him from the discovery of the friend whose love
he feared as he feared the hatred of no foe. He had not been seen as
he had passed the flag-staff; there was little fear that in the few
remaining hours any chance could bring the illustrious guest of a
Marshal to the outpost of the scattered camp.
Yet he shuddered as he sat in the glow of the fire of pinewood; she
was so near, and he could not behold her!--though he might never see
her face again; though they must pass out of Africa, home to the land
that he desired as only exiles can desire, while he still remained
silent, knowing that, until death should release him, there could be
no other fate for him, save only this one, hard, bitter, desolate,
uncompanioned, unpitied, unrewarded life. But to break his word as the
price of his freedom was not possible to his nature or in his creed.
This fate was, in chief, of his own making; he accepted it without
rebellion, because rebellion would have been in this case both
cowardice and self-pity.
He was not conscious of any heroism in this; it seemed to him the only
course left to a man who, in losing the position, had not abandoned
the instincts of a gentleman.
The evening wore away, unmeasured by him; the echoes of the soldiers'
mirth came dimly on his ear; the laughter, and the songs, and the
music were subdued into one confused murmur by distance; there was
nothing near him except a few tethered horses, and far way the mounted
figure of the guard who kept watch beyond the boundaries of the
encampment. The fire burned on, for it had been piled high before it
was abandoned; the little white dog of his regiment was curled at his
feet; he sat motionless, sunk in thought, with his head drooped upon
his breast. The voice of Cigarette broke on his musing.
"Beau sire, you are wanted yonder."
He looked up wearily; could he never be at peace? He did not notice
that the tone of the greeting was rough and curt; he did not notice
that there was a stormy darkness, a repressed bitterness, stern and
scornful, on the Little One's face; he only thought that the very dogs
were left sometimes at rest and unchained, but a soldier never.
"You are wanted!" repeated Cigarette, with imperious contempt.
He rose on the old instinct of obedience.
She stood looking at him without replying; her mouth was tightly shut
in a hard line that pressed inward all its soft and rosy prettiness.
She was seeing how haggard his face was, how heavy his eyes, how full
of fatigue his movements. Her silence recalled him to the memory of
the past day.
"Forgive me, my dear child, if I have seemed without sympathy in all
your honors," he said gently, as he laid his hand on her shoulder.
"Believe me, it was unintentional. No one knows better than I how
richly you deserved them; no one rejoices more that you should have
The very gentleness of the apology stung her like a scorpion; she
shook herself roughly out of his hold.
"Point de phrases! All the army is at my back; do you think I cannot
do without you? Sympathy too! Bah! We don't know those fine words in
camp. You are wanted, I tell you--go!"
"To your Silver Pheasant yonder--go!"
"Who? I do not--"
"Dame! Can you not understand? Milady wants to see you; I told her I
would send you to her. You can use your dainty sentences with her; she
is of your Order!"
"What! she wishes--"
"Go!" reiterated the Little One with a stamp of her boot. "You know
the great tent where she is throned in honor--Morbleu!--as if the
oldest and ugliest hag that washes out my soldiers' linen were not of
more use and more deserved such lodgment than Mme. la Princesse, who
has never done aught in her life, not even brushed out her own hair of
gold! She waits for you. Where are your palace manners? Go to her, I
tell you. She is of your own people; we are not!"
The vehement, imperious phrases coursed in disorder one after another,
rapid and harsh, and vibrating with a hundred repressed emotions. He
paused one moment, doubting whether she did not play some trick upon
him; then, without a word, left her, and went rapidly through the
Cigarette stood looking after him with a gaze that was very evil,
almost savage, in its wrath, in its pain, in its fiery jealousy, that
ached so hotly in her, and was chained down by that pride which was as
intense in the Vivandiere of Algeria as ever it could be in any
Duchess of a Court. Reckless, unfeminine, hardened, vitiated in much,
as all her sex would have deemed, and capable of the utmost
abandonment to her passion had it been returned, the haughty young
soul of the child of the People was as sensitively delicate in this
one thing as the purest and chastest among women could have been; she
dreaded above every other thing that he should ever suspect that she
loved him, or that she desired his love.
Her honor, her generosity, her pity for him, her natural instinct to
do the thing that was right, even to her foes, any one of the
unstudied and unanalyzed qualities in her had made her serve him even
at her rival's bidding. But it had cost her none the less hardly
because so manfully done; none the less did all the violent, ruthless
hate, the vivid, childlike fury, the burning, intolerable jealousy of
her nature combat in her with the cruel sense of her own unlikeness
with that beauty which had subdued even herself, and with that nobler
impulse of self-sacrifice which grew side by side with the baser
impulses of passion.
As she crouched down by the side of the fire all the gracious,
spiritual light that had been upon her face was gone; there was
something of the goaded, dangerous, sullen ferocity of a brave animal
hard-pressed and over-driven.
Her native generosity, the loyal disinterestedness of her love for
him, had overborne the jealousy, the wounded vanity, and the desire of
vengeance that reigned in her. Carried away by the first, she had, for
the hour, risen above the last, and allowed the nobler wish to serve
and rescue him to prevail over the baser egotism. Nothing with her was
ever premeditated; all was the offspring of the caprices of the
impulse of the immediate moment. And now the reaction followed; she
was only sensible of the burning envy that consumed her of this woman
who seemed to her more than mortal in her wonderful, fair loveliness,
in her marvelous difference from everything of their sex that the camp
and the barrack ever showed.
"And I have sent him to her when I should have fired my pistol into
her breast!" she thought, as she sat by the dying embers. And she
remembered once more the story of the Marseilles fisherwoman. She
understood that terrible vengeance under the hot, southern sun, beside
the ruthless, southern seas.
Meanwhile he, who so little knew or heeded how he occupied her heart,
passed unnoticed through the movements of the military crowds, crossed
the breadth that parted the encampment from the marquees of the
generals and their guests, gave the countersign and approached
unarrested, and so far unseen save by the sentinels, the tents of the
Corona suite. The Marshal and his male visitors were still over their
banquet wines; she had withdrawn early, on the plea of fatigue; there
was no one to notice his visit except the men on guard, who concluded
that he went by command. In the dusky light, for the moon was very
young, and the flare of the torches made the shadows black and
uncertain, no one recognized him; the few soldiers stationed about saw
one of their own troopers, and offered him no opposition, made him no
question. He knew the password; that was sufficient. The Levantine
waiting near the entrance drew the tent-folds aside and signed to him
to enter. Another moment, and he was in the presence of her mistress,
in that dim, amber light from the standing candelabra, in that heavy,
soft-scented air perfumed from the aloe-wood burning in a brazier,
through which he saw, half blinded at first coming from the darkness
without, that face which subdued and dazzled even the antagonism and
the lawlessness of Cigarette.
He bowed low before her, preserving that distant ceremonial due from
the rank he ostensibly held to hers.
"Madame, this is very merciful! I know not how to thank you."
She motioned to him to take a seat near to her, while the Levantine,
who knew nothing of the English tongue, retired to the farther end of
"I only kept my word," she answered, "for we leave the camp to-morrow;
Africa next week."
She saw the blood forsake the bronzed fairness of his face, and leave
the dusky pallor there. It wounded her as if she suffered herself. For
the first time she believed what the Little One had said--that this
man loved her.
"I sent for you," she continued hurriedly, her graceful languor and
tranquillity for the first time stirred and quickened by emotion,
almost by embarrassment. "It was very strange, it was very painful,
for me to trust that child with such a message. But you know us of
old; you know we do not forsake our friends for considerations of
self-interest or outward semblance. We act as we deem right; we do not
heed untrue constructions. There are many things I desire to say to
She paused; he merely bent his head; he could not trust the calmness
of his voice in answer.
"First," she continued, "I must entreat you to allow me to tell Philip
what I know. You cannot conceive how intensely oppressive it becomes
to me to have any secret from him. I never concealed so much as a
thought from my brother in all my life, and to evade even a mute
question from his brave, frank eyes makes me feel a traitress to him."
"Anything else," he muttered. "Ask me anything else. For God's sake,
do not let him dream that I live!"
"But why? You still speak to me in enigmas. To-morrow, moreover,
before we leave, he intends to seek you out as what he thinks you--a
soldier of France. He is interested by all he hears of your career; he
was first interested by what I told him of you when he saw the ivory
carvings at my villa. I asked the little vivandiere to tell you this,
but, on second thoughts it seemed best to see you myself once more, as
I had promised."
There was a slow weariness in the utterance of the words. She had said
that she could not reflect on leaving him to such a fate as this of
his in Africa without personal suffering, or without an effort to
induce him to reconsider his decision to condemn himself to it for
"That French child," she went on rapidly, to cover both the pain that
she felt and that she dealt, "forced her entrance here in a strange
fashion; she wished to see me, I suppose, and to try my courage too.
She is a little brigand, but she had a true and generous nature, and
she loves you very loyally."
"Cigarette?" he asked wearily; his thoughts could not stay for either
the pity or interest for her in this moment. "Oh, no! I trust not. I
have done nothing to win her love, and she is a fierce little
condottiera who disdains all such weakness. She forced her way in
here? That was unpardonable; but she seems to bear a singular dislike
"Singular, indeed! I never saw her until to-day."
He answered nothing; the conviction stole on him that Cigarette hated
her because he loved her.
"And yet she brought you my message?" pursued his companion. "That
seems her nature--violent passions, yet thorough loyalty. But time is
precious. I must urge on you what I bade you come to hear. It is to
implore you to put your trust, your confidence in Philip. You have
acknowledged to me that you are guiltless--no one who knows what you
once were could ever doubt it for an instant--then let him hear this,
let him be your judge as to what course is right and what wrong for
you to pursue. It is impossible for me to return to Europe knowing you
are living thus and leaving you to such a fate. What motive you have
to sentence yourself to such eternal banishment I am ignorant; but all
I ask of you is, confide in him. Let him learn that you live; let him
decide whether or not this sacrifice of yourself be needed. His honor
is an punctilious as that of any man on earth; his friendship you can
never doubt. Why conceal anything from him?"
His eyes turned on her with that dumb agony which once before had
chilled her to the soul.
"Do you think, if I could speak in honor, I should not tell you all?"
A flush passed over her face, the first that the gaze of any man had
ever brought there. She understood him.
"But," she said, gently and hurriedly, "may it not be that you
overrate the obligations of honor? I know that many a noble-hearted
man has inexorably condemned himself to a severity of rule that a
dispassionate judge of his life might deem very exaggerated, very
unnecessary. It is so natural for an honorable man to so dread that he
should do a dishonorable thing through self-interest or self-pity,
that he may very well overestimate the sacrifice required of him
through what he deems justice or generosity. May it not be so with
you? I can conceive no reason that can be strong enough to require of
you such fearful surrender of every hope, such utter abandonment of
your own existence."
Her voice failed slightly over the last words; she could not think
with calmness of the destiny that he accepted. Involuntarily some
prescience of pain that would forever pursue her own life unless his
were rescued lent an intense earnestness, almost entreaty, to her
argument. She did not bear him love as yet; she had seen too little of
him, too lately only known him as her equal; but there were in her,
stranger than she knew, a pity, a tenderness, a regret, an honor for
him that drew her toward him with an indefinable attraction, and would
sooner or later warm and deepen into love. Already it was sufficient,
though she deemed it but compassion and friendship, to make her feel
that an intolerable weight would be heavy on her future if his should
remain condemned to this awful isolation and oblivion while she alone
of all the world should know and hold his secret.
He started from her side as he heard, and paced to and fro the narrow
limits of the tent like a caged animal. For the first time it grew a
belief to him, in his thoughts, that were he free, were he owner of
his heritage, he could rouse her heart from its long repose and make
her love him with the soft and passionate warmth of his dead Arab
mistress--a thing that had been so distant from her negligence and her
pride as warmth from the diamond or the crystal. He felt as if the
struggle would kill him. He had but to betray his brother, and he
would be unchained from his torture; he had but to break his word, and
he would be at liberty. All the temptation that had before beset him
paled and grew as naught beside this possibility of the possession of
her love which dawned upon him now.
She, knowing nothing of this which moved him, believed only that he
weighed her words in hesitation, and strove to turn the balance.
"Hear me," she said softly. "I do not bid you decide; I only bid you
confide in Philip--in one who, as you must well remember, would sooner
cut off his own hand than counsel a base thing or do an unfaithful
act. You are guiltless of this charge under which you left England;
you endure it rather than do what you deem dishonorable to clear
yourself. That is noble--that is great. But it is possible, as I say,
that you may exaggerate the abnegation required of you. Whoever was
the criminal should suffer. Yours is magnificent magnanimity; but it
may surely be also false justice alike to yourself and the world."
He turned on her almost fiercely in the suffering she dealt him.
"It is! It was a madness--a Quixotism--the wild, unconsidered act of a
fool. What you will! But it is done; it was done forever--so long ago
--when your young eyes looked on me in the pity of your innocent
childhood. I cannot redeem its folly now by adding to it baseness. I
cannot change the choice of a madman by repenting of it with a
coward's caprice. Ah, God! you do not know what you do--how you tempt.
For pity's sake, urge me no more. Help me--strengthen me--to be true
to my word. Do not bid me do evil that I may enter paradise through my
He threw himself down beside her as the incoherent words poured out,
his arms flung across the pile of cushions on which he had been
seated, his face hidden on them. His teeth clinched on his tongue till
the blood flowed; he felt that if the power of speech remained with
him he should forswear every law that had bound him to silence, and
tell her all, whatever the cost.
She looked at him, she heard him, moved to a greater agitation than
ever had had sway over her; for the first time the storm winds that
swept by her did not leave her passionless and calm; this man's whole
future was in her hands. She could bid him seek happiness dishonored;
or cleave to honor, and accept wretchedness forever.
It was a fearful choice to hold.
"Answer me! Choose for me!" he said vehemently. "Be my law, and be my
She gave a gesture almost of fear.
"Hush, hush! The woman does not live who should be that to any man."
"You shall be it to me! Choose for me!"
"I cannot! You leave so much in darkness and untold----"
"Nothing that you need know to decide your choice for me, save one
thing only--that I love you."
"This is madness! What have you seen of me?"
"Enough to love you while my life shall last, and love no other woman.
Ah! I was but an African trooper in your sight, but in my own I was
your equal. You only saw a man to whom your gracious alms and your
gentle charity were to be given, as a queen may stoop in mercy to a
beggar; but I saw one who had the light of my old days in her smile,
the sweetness of my old joys in her eyes, the memories of my old world
in her every grace and gesture. You forget! I was nothing to you; but
you were so much to me. I loved you the first moment that your voice
fell on my ear. It is madness! Oh, yes! I should have said so, too, in
those old years. A madness I would have sworn never to feel. But I
have lived a hard life since then, and no men ever love like those who
suffer. Now you know all; know the worst that tempts me. No famine, no
humiliation, no obloquy, no loss I have known, ever drove me so
cruelly to buy back my happiness with the price of dishonor as the one
desire--to stand in my rightful place before men, and be free to
strive with you for what they have not won!"
As she heard, all the warmth, all the life, faded out of her face; it
grew as white as his own, and her lips parted slightly, as though to
draw her breath was oppressive. The wild words overwhelmed her with
their surprise not less than they shocked her with their despair. An
intense truth vibrated through them, a truth that pierced her and
reached her heart, as no other such supplication ever had done. She
had no love for him yet, or she thought not; she was very proud, and
resisted such passions; but in that moment the thought swept by her
that such love might be possible. It was the nearest submission to it
she had ever given. She heard him in unbroken silence; she kept
silence long after he had spoken. So far as her courage and her
dignity could be touched with it, she felt something akin to terror at
the magnitude of the choice left to her.
"You give me great pain, great surprise," she murmured. "All I can
trust is that your love is of such sudden birth that it will die as
He interrupted her.
"You mean that, under no circumstances--not even were I to possess my
inheritance--could you give me any hope that I might wake your
She looked at him full in the eyes with the old, fearless, haughty
instinct of refusal to all such entreaty, which had made her so
indifferent--and many said so pitiless--to all. At his gaze, however
her own changed and softened, grew shadowed, and then wandered from
"I do not say that. I cannot tell----"
The words were very low; she was too truthful to conceal from him what
half dawned on herself--the possibility that, more in his presence and
under different circumstances, she might feel her heart go to him with
a warmer and a softer impulse than that of friendship. The heroism of
his life had moved her greatly.
His head dropped down again upon his arms.
"O God! It is possible, at least! I am blind--mad. Make my choice for
me! I know not what to do."
The tears that had gathered in her eyes fell slowly down over her
colorless cheeks; she looked at him with a pity that made her heart
ache with a sorrow only less than his own. The grief was for him
chiefly; yet something of it for herself. Some sense of present
bitterness that fell on her from his fate, some foreboding of future
regret that would inevitably and forever follow her when she left him
to his loneliness and his misery, smote on her with a weightier pang
than any her caressed and cloudless existence had encountered. Love
was dimly before her as the possibility he called it; remote,
unrealized, still unacknowledged, but possible under certain
conditions, only known as such when it was also impossible through
He had suffered silently; endured strongly; fought greatly; these were
the only means through which any man could have ever reached her
sympathy, her respect, her tenderness. Yet, though a very noble and a
very generous woman, she was also a woman of the world. She knew that
it was not for her to say even thus much to a man who was in one sense
well-nigh a stranger, and who stood under the accusation of a crime
whose shadow he allowed to rest on him unmoved. She felt sick at
heart; she longed unutterably, with a warmer longing than had moved
her previously, to bid him, at all cost, lay bare his past, and throw
off the imputed shame that lay on him. Yet all the grand traditions of
her race forbade her to counsel the acceptance of an escape whose way
led through a forfeiture of honor.
"Choose for me, Venetia!" he muttered at last once more.
She rose with what was almost a gesture of despair, and thrust the
gold hair off her temples.
"Heaven help me, I cannot--I dare not! And--I am no longer capable of
There was an accent almost of passion in her voice; she felt that so
greatly did she desire his deliverance, his justification, his return
to all which was his own--desired even his presence among them in her
own world--that she could no longer give him calm and unbiased
judgment. He heard, and the burning tide of a new joy rushed on him,
checked almost ere it was known, by the dread lest for her sake she
should ever give him so much pity that such pity became love.
He started to his feet and looked down imploringly into her eyes--a
look under which her own never quailed or drooped, but which they
answered with that same regard which she had given him when she had
declared her faith in his innocence.
"If I thought it possible you could ever care----"
She moved slightly from him; her face was very white still, and her
voice, though serenely sustained, shook as it answered him.
"If I could--believe me, I am not a woman who would bid you forsake
your honor to spare yourself or me. Let us speak no more of this. What
can it avail, except to make you suffer greater things? Follow the
counsels of your own conscience. You have been true to them hitherto;
it is not for me, or through me, that you shall ever be turned aside
A bitter sigh broke from him as he heard.
"They are noble words. And yet it is so easy to utter, so hard to
follow them. If you had one thought of tenderness for me, you could
not speak them."
A flush passed over her face.
"Do not think me without feeling--without sympathy--pity--"
"These are not love."
She was silent; they were, in a sense, nearer to love than any emotion
she had ever known.
"If you loved me," he pursued passionately--"ah, God! the very word
from me to you sounds insult; and yet there is not one thought in me
that does not honor you--if you loved me, could you stand there and
bid me drag on this life forever; nameless, friendless, hopeless;
having all the bitterness, but none of the torpor of death; wearing
out the doom of a galley slave, though guiltless of all crime?"
"Why speak so? You are unreasoning. A moment ago you implored me not
to tempt you to the violation of what you hold your honor; because I
bid you be faithful to it, you deem me cruel!"
"Heaven help me! I scarce know what I say. I ask you, if you were a
woman who loved me, could you decide thus?"
"These are wild questions," she murmured; "what can they serve? I
believe that I should--I am sure that I should. As it is--as your
"Ah, hush! Friendship is crueler than hate."
"Yes; the worst cruelty when we seek love--a stone proffered us when
we ask for bread in famine!"
There was desperation, almost ferocity, in the answer; she was moved
and shaken by it--not to fear, for fear was not in her nature, but to
something of awe, and something of the despairing hopelessness that
was in him.
"Lord Royallieu," she said slowly, as if the familiar name were some
tie between them, some cause of excuse for these, the only love words
she had ever heard without disdain and rejection--"Lord Royallieu, it
is unworthy of you to take this advantage of an interview which I
sought, and sought for your own sake. You pain me, you wound me. I
cannot tell how to answer you. You speak strangely, and without
He stood mute and motionless before her, his head sunk on his chest.
He knew that she rebuked him justly; he knew that he had broken
through every law he had prescribed himself, and that he had sinned
against the code of chivalry which should have made her sacred from
such words while they were those he could not utter, nor she hear,
except in secrecy and shame. Unless he could stand justified in her
sight and in that of all men, he had no right to seek to wring out
tenderness from her regret and from her pity. Yet all his heart went
out to her in one irrepressible entreaty.
"Forgive me, for pity's sake! After to-night I shall never look upon
your face again."
"I do forgive," she said gently, while her voice grew very sweet. "You
endure too much already for one needless pang to be added by me. All I
wish is that you had never met me, so that this last, worst thing had
not come unto you!"
A long silence fell between them; where she leaned back among her
cushions, her face was turned from him. He stood motionless in the
shadow, his head still dropped upon his breast, his breathing loud and
slow and hard. To speak of love to her was forbidden to him, yet the
insidious temptation wound close and closer round his strength. He had
only to betray the man he had sworn to protect, and she would know his
innocence, she would hear his passion; he would be free, and she--he
grew giddy as the thought rose before him--she might, with time, be
brought to give him other tenderness than that of friendship. He
seemed to touch the very supremacy of joy; to reach it almost with his
hand; to have honors, and peace, and all the glory of her haughty
loveliness, and all the sweetness of her subjugation, and all the soft
delights of passions before him in their golden promise, and he was
held back in bands of iron, he was driven out from them desolate and
Unlike Cain, he had suffered in his brother's stead, yet, like Cain,
he was branded and could only wander out into the darkness and the
She watched him many minutes, he unconscious of her gaze; and while
she did so, many conflicting emotions passed over the colorless
delicacy of her features; her eyes were filled and shadowed with many
altering thoughts; her heart was waking from its rest, and the high,
generous, unselfish nature in her strove with her pride of birth, her
dignity of habit.
"Wait," she said softly, with the old imperial command of her voice
subdued, though not wholly banished. "I think you have mistaken me
somewhat. You wrong me if you think that I could be so callous, so
indifferent, as to leave you here without heed as to your fate.
Believe in your innocence you know that I do, as firmly as though you
substantiated it with a thousand proofs; reverence your devotion to
your honor you are certain that I must, or all better things were dead
Her voice sank inaudible for the instant; she recovered her self-
control with an effort.
"You reject my friendship--you term it cruel--but at least it will be
faithful to you; too faithful for me to pass out of Africa and never
give you one thought again. I believe in you. Do you not know that
that is the highest trust, to my thinking, that one human life can
show in another's? You decide that it is your duty not to free
yourself from this bondage, not to expose the actual criminal, not to
take up your rights of birth. I dare not seek to alter that decision.
But I cannot leave you to such a future without infinite pain, and
there must--there shall be--means through which you will let me hear
of you--through which, at least, I can know that you are living."
She stretched her hands toward him with that same gesture with which
she had first declared her faith in his guiltlessness; the tears
trembled in her voice and swam in her eyes. As she had said, she
suffered for him exceedingly. He, hearing those words which breathed
the only pity that had ever humiliated him, and the loyal trust which
was but the truer because the sincerity of faith in lieu of the
insanity of love dictated it, made a blind, staggering, unconscious
movement of passionate, dumb agony. He seized her hands in his and
held them close against his breast one instant, against the loud, hard
panting of his aching heart.
"God reward you! God keep you! If I stay, I shall tell you all. Let me
go, and forget that we ever met! I am dead--let me be dead to you!"
With another instant he had left the tent and passed out into the red
glow of the torchlit evening. And Venetia Corona dropped her proud
head down upon the silken cushions where his own had rested, and wept
as women weep over their dead--in such a passion as had never come to
her in all the course of her radiant, victorious, and imperious life.
It seemed to her as if she had seen him slain in cold blood, and had
never lifted her hand or her voice against his murder.
His voice rang in her ear; his face was before her with its white,
still, rigid anguish; the burning accents of his avowal of love seemed
to search her very heart. If this man perished in any of the thousand
perils of war she would forever feel herself his assassin. She had his
secret, she had his soul, she had his honor in her hands; and she
could do nothing better for them both than to send him from her to
eternal silence, to eternal solitude!
Her thoughts grew unbearable; she rose impetuously from her couch and
paced to and fro in the narrow confines of her tent. Her tranquillity
was broken down; her pride was abandoned; her heart, at length, was
reached and sorely wounded. The only man she had ever found, whom it
would have been possible to her to have loved, was one already severed
from her by a fate almost more hideous than death.
And yet, in her loneliness, the color flushed back into her face; her
eyes gathered some of their old light; one dreaming, shapeless fancy
floated vaguely through her mind.
If, in the years to come, she knew him in all ways worthy, and learned
to give him back this love he bore her, it was in her to prove that
love, no matter what cost to her pride and her lineage. If his perfect
innocence were made clear in her own sight, there was greatness and
there was unselfishness enough in her nature to make her capable of
regarding alone his martyrdom and his heroism, and disregarding the
opinion of the world. If, hereafter, she grew to find his presence the
necessity of her life, and his sacrifice of that nobility and of that
purity she now believed it, she--proud as she was with the twin pride
of lineage and of nature--would be capable of incurring the odium and
the marvel of all who knew her by uniting her fate to his own, by
making manifest her honor and her tenderness for him, though men saw
in him only a soldier of the empire, only a base-born trooper, beneath
her as Riom beneath the daughter of D'Orleans. She was of a brave
nature, of a great nature, of a daring courage, and of a superb
generosity. Abhorring dishonor, full of glory in the stainless history
of her race, and tenacious of the dignity and of the magnitude of her
House, she yet was too courageous and too haughty a woman not to be
capable of braving calumny, if conscious of her own pure rectitude
beneath it; not to be capable of incurring false censure, if
encountered in the path of justice and of magnanimity. It was
possible, even on herself it dawned as possible, that so great might
become her compassion and her tenderness for this man that she would,
in some distant future, when the might of his love and the severity of
his suffering should prevail with her, say to him:
"Keep your secret from the world as you will. Prove your innocence
only to me; let me and the friend of your youth alone know your name
and your rights. And knowing all, knowing you myself to be hero and
martyr in one, I shall not care what the world thinks of you, what the
world says of me. I will be your wife; I have lands, and riches, and
honors, and greatness enough to suffice for us both."
If ever she loved him exceedingly, she would become capable of this
sacrifice from the strength, and the graciousness, and the
fearlessness of her nature, and such love was not so distant from her
as she thought.
Outside her tent there was a peculiar mingling of light and shadow; of
darkness from the moonless and now cloud-covered sky, of reddened
warmth from the tall, burning pine-boughs thrust into the soil in lieu
of other illumination. The atmosphere was hot from the flames, and
chilly with the breath of the night winds; it was oppressively still,
though from afar off the sounds of laughter in the camp still echoed,
and near at hand the dull and steady tramp of the sentinels fell on
the hard, parched soil. Into that blended heat and cold, dead
blackness and burning glare, he reeled out from her presence; drunk
with pain as deliriously as men grow drunk with raki. The challenge
rang on the air:
"Who goes there?"
He never heard it. Even the old, long-accustomed habits of a soldier's
obedience were killed in him.
"Who goes there?" the challenge rang again.
Still he never heard, but went on blindly. From where the tents stood
there was a stronger breadth of light through which he had passed, and
was passing still--a light strong enough for it to be seen whence he
came, but not strong enough to show his features.
"Halt, or I fire!" The sentinel brought the weapon to his shoulder and
took a calm, close, sure aim. He did not speak; the password he had
forgotten as though he had never heard or never given it.
Another figure than that of the soldier on guard came out of the
shadow, and stood between him and the sentinel. It was that of
Chateauroy; he was mounted on his gray horse and wrapped in his
military cloak, about to go the round of the cavalry camp. Their eyes
met in the wavering light like the glow from a furnace-mouth: in a
glance they knew each other.
"It is one of my men," said the chief carelessly to the sentinel.
"Leave me to deal with him."
The guard saluted, and resumed his beat.
"Why did you refuse the word, sir?"
"I did not hear."
There was no reply.
"Why are you absent from your squadron?"
There was no reply still.
"Have you no tongue, sir? The stick shall soon make you speak! Why are
There was again no answer.
Chateauroy's teeth ground out a furious oath; yet a flash of brutal
delight glittered in his eyes. At last he had hounded down this man,
so long out of his reach, into disobedience and contumacy.
"Why are you here, and where have you been?" he demanded once more.
"I will not say."
The answer, given at length, was tranquil, low, slowly and distinctly
uttered, in a deliberate refusal, in a deliberate defiance.
The dark and evil countenance above him grew livid with fury.
"I can have you thrashed like a dog for that answer, and I will. But
first listen here, beau sire! I know as well as though you had
confessed to me. Your silence cannot shelter your great mistress'
shame. Ah, ha! So Mme. la Princesse is so cold to her equals, only to
choose her lovers out of my blackguards, and take her midnight
intrigues like a camp courtesan!"
Cecil's face changed terribly as the vile words were spoken. With the
light and rapid spring of a leopard, he reached the side of his
commander, one hand on the horse's mane, the other on the wrists of
his chief, that it gripped like an iron vise.
"You lie! And you know that you lie. Breathe her name once more, and,
by God, as we are both living men, I will have your life for your
And, as he spoke, with his left hand he smote the lips that had
blasphemed against her.
It was broken asunder at last--all the long and bitter patience, all
the calm and resolute endurance, all the undeviating serenity beneath
provocation, which had never yielded through twelve long years, but
which had borne with infamy and with tyranny with such absolute
submission for sake of those around him, who would revolt at his sign
and be slaughtered for his cause. The promise he had given to endure
all things for their sakes--the sakes of his soldiery, of his comrades
--was at last forgotten. All he remembered was the vileness that dared
touch her name, the shame that through him was breathed on her. Rank,
duty, bondage, consequence, all were forgotten in that one instant of
insult that mocked in its odious lie at her purity. He was no longer
the soldier bound in obedience to submit to the indignities that his
chief chose to heap on him; he was a gentleman who defended a woman's
honor, a man who avenged a slur on the life that he loved.
Chateauroy wrenched his wrist out of the hold that crushed it, and
drew his pistol. Cecil knew that the laws of active service would hold
him but justly dealt with if the shot laid him dead in that instant
for his act and his words.
"You can kill me--I know it. Well, use your prerogative; it will be
the sole good you have ever done to me."
And he stood erect, patient, motionless, looking into his chief's eyes
with a calm disdain, with an unuttered challenge that, for the first
moment, wrung something of savage respect and of sullen admiration out
from the soul of his great foe.
He did not fire; it was the only time in which any trait of abstinence
from cruelty had been ever seen in him. He signed to the soldiers of
the guard with one hand, while with the other he still covered with
his pistol the man whom martial law would have allowed him to have
shot down, or have cut down, at his horse's feet.
"Arrest him," he said simply.
Cecil offered no resistance; he let them seize and disarm him without
an effort at the opposition which could have been but a futile,
unavailing trial of brute force. He dreaded lest there should be one
sound that should reach her in that tent where the triad of standards
drooped in the dusky distance. He had been, moreover, too long beneath
the yoke of that despotic and irresponsible authority to waste breath
or to waste dignity in vain contest with the absolute and the
immutable. He was content with what he had done--content to have met
once, not as soldier to chief, but as man to man, the tyrant who held
For once, beneath the spur of that foul outrage to the dignity and the
innocence of the woman he had quitted, he had allowed a passionate
truth to force its way through the barriers of rank and the bonds of
subservience. Insult to himself he had borne as the base prerogative
of his superior, but insult to her he had avenged with the vengeance
of equal to equal, of the man who loved on the man who calumniated
And as he sat in the darkness of the night with the heavy tramp of his
guards forever on his ear, there was peace rather than rebellion in
his heart--the peace of one heartsick with strife and with temptation,
who beholds in death a merciful ending to the ordeal of existence. "I
shall die in her cause at least," he thought. "I could be content if I
were only sure that she would never know."
For this was the chief dread which hung on him, that she should ever
know, and in knowing, suffer for his sake.
The night rolled on, the army around him knew nothing of what had
happened. Chateauroy, conscious of his own coarse guilt against the
guest of his Marshal, kept the matter untold and undiscovered, under
the plea that he desired not to destroy the harmony of the general
rejoicing. The one or two field-officers with whom he took counsel
agreed to the wisdom of letting the night pass away undisturbed. The
accused was the idol of his own squadron; there was no gauge what
might not be done by troops heated with excitement and drunk with
wine, if they knew that their favorite comrade had set the example of
insubordination, and would be sentenced to suffer for it. Beyond
these, and the men employed in his arrest and guard, none knew what
had chanced; not the soldiery beneath that vast sea of canvas, many of
whom would have rushed headlong to mutiny and to destruction at his
word; not the woman who in the solitude of her wakeful hours was
haunted by the memory of his love-words, and felt steal on her the
unacknowledged sense that, if his future were left to misery,
happiness could never more touch her own; not the friend of his early
days, laughing and drinking with the officers of the staff.
None knew; not even Cigarette. She sat alone, so far away that none
sought her out, beside the picket-fire that had long died out, with
the little white dog of Zaraila curled on the scarlet folds of her
skirt. Her arms rested on her knees, and her temples leaned on her
hands tightly twisted among the dark, silken curls of her boyish hair.
Her face had the same dusky, savage intensity upon it; and she never
once moved from that rigid attitude.
She had the Cross on her heart--the idol of her long desire, the star
to which her longing eyes had looked up ever since her childhood
through the reek of carnage and the smoke of battle; and she would
have flung it away like dross, to have had his lips touch hers once
And she knew herself mad; for the desires and the delights of love die
swiftly, but the knowledge of honor abides always. Love would have
made her youth sweet with an unutterable gladness, to glide from her
and leave her weary, dissatisfied, forsaken. But that Cross, the gift
of her country, the symbol of her heroism, would be with her always,
and light her forever with the honor of which it was the emblem; and
if her life should last until youth passed away, and age came, and
with age death, her hand would wander to it on her dying bed, and she
would smile, as she died, to hear the living watchers murmur: "That
life had glory--that life was lived for France."
She knew this; but she was young; she was a woman-child; she had the
ardor of passionate youth in her veins, she had the desolation of
abandoned youth in her heart. And honor looked so cold beside love!
She rose impetuously; the night was far spent, the camp was very
still, the torches had long died out, and a streak of dawn was visible
in the east. She stood a while, looking very earnestly across the
wide, black city of tents.
"I shall be best away for a time. I grow mad, treacherous, wicked
here," she thought. "I will go and see Blanc-Bec."
Blanc-Bec was the soldier of the Army of Italy.
In a brief while she had saddled and bridled Etoile-Filante, and
ridden out of the camp without warning or farewell to any; she was as
free to come and to go as though she were a bird on the wing. Thus she
went, knowing nothing of his fate. And with the sunrise went also the
woman whom he loved--in ignorance.
THE VENGEANCE OF THE LITTLE ONE.
The warm, transparent light of an African autumnal noon shone down
through the white canvas roof of a great tent in the heart of the
encamped divisions at the headquarters of the Army of the South. In
the tent there was a densely packed throng--an immense, close, hushed,
listening crowd, of which every man wore the uniform of France, of
which the mute, undeviating attention, forbidden by discipline alike
to be broken by sound of approval or dissent, had in it something that
was almost terrible, contrasted with the vivid eagerness in their eyes
and the strained absorption of their countenances; for they were in
court, and that court was the Council of War of their own southern
The prisoner was arraigned on the heaviest charge that can be laid
against the soldier of any army, and yet, as the many eyes of the
military crowd turned on him where he stood surrounded by his guard,
his crime against his chief was forgotten, and they only remembered--
Many of those present had seen him throughout that day of blood, at
the head of his decimated squadron, with the guidon held aloft above
every foe; to them that tall, slender form standing there, with a
calm, weary dignity, that had nothing of the passion of the mutinous
or the consciousness of the criminal in its serene repose, had shed
upon it the luster of a heroism that made them ready almost to weep
like women that the death of a mutineer should be the sole answer
given by France to the savior of her honor.
He preserved entire reticence in court. The instant the accusation had
been read to him, he had seen that his chief would not dare to couple
with it the proud, pure name he had dared to outrage; his most bitter
anxiety was thus at an end. For all the rest, he was tranquil.
No case could be clearer, briefer, less complex, more entirely
incapable of defense. The soldiers of the guard gave evidence as to
the violence and fury of the assault. The sentinel bore witness to
having heard the refusal to reply; a moment after, he had seen the
attack made and the blow given. The accuser merely stated that,
meeting his sous-officier out of the bounds of the cavalry camp, he
had asked him where he had been, and why he was there, and, on his
commanding an answer, had been assaulted in the manner described, with
violence sufficient to have cost his life had not the guard been so
near at hand. When questioned as to what motive he could assign for
the act, he replied that he considered his corporal had always incited
evil feeling and mutinous conduct in the squadrons, and had, he
believed, that day attributed to himself his failure to receive the
Cross. The statement passed without contradiction by the prisoner,
who, to the interrogations and entreaties of his legal defender, only
replied that the facts were stated accurately as they occurred, and
that his reasons for the deed he declined to assert.
When once more questioned as to his country and his past by the
president, he briefly declined to give answer. When asked if the names
by which he was enrolled were his own, he replied that they were two
of his baptismal names, which had served his purpose on entering the
army. When asked if he accepted as true the charge of exciting
sedition among the troops, he replied that it was so little true that,
over and over again, the men would have mutinied if he had given them
a sign, and that he had continually induced them to submit to
discipline sheerly by force of his own example. When interrogated as
to the cause of the language he had used to his commanding officer, he
said briefly that the language deserved the strongest censure as for a
soldier to his colonel, but that it was justified as he had used it,
which was as man to man, though he was aware the plea availed nothing
in military law, and was impermissible for the safety of the service.
When it was inquired of him if he had not repeatedly inveighed against
his commanding officer for severity, he briefly denied it; no man had
ever heard him say a syllable that could have been construed into
complaint; at the same time, he observed that all the squadrons knew
perfectly well personal enmity and oppression had been shown him by
his chief throughout the whole time of his association with the
regiment. When pressed as to the cause that he assigned for this, he
gave, in a few comprehensive outlines, the story of the capture and
the deliverance of the Emir's bride; this was all that could be
elicited from him; and even this was answered only out of deference to
the authority of the court, and from his unwillingness, even now, to
set a bad example before the men with whom he had served so long. When
it was finally demanded of him if he had aught to urge in his own
extenuation, he paused a moment, with a gaze under which even the
hard, eagle eyes grew restless, looked across to Chateauroy, and
addressed his antagonist rather than the president.
"Only this: that a tyrant, a liar, and a traducer cannot wonder if men
prefer death to submission beneath insult. But I am well aware this is
no vindication of my act as a soldier, and I have no desire to say
words which, whatever their truth, might become hereafter dangerous
legacies, and dangerous precedents to the army."
That was all which he answered, and neither his counsel nor his
accusers could extort another syllable from him.
He knew that what he had done was justified to his own conscience, but
he did not seek to dispute that it was unjustifiable in military law.
True, had all been told, it was possible enough that his judges would
exonerate him morally, even if they condemned him legally; his act
would be seen blameless as a man's, even while still punishable as a
soldier's; but to purchase immunity for himself at the cost of
bringing the fairness of her fame into the coarse babble of men's
tongues was an alternative, craven and shameful, which never even once
glanced across his thoughts.
He had kept faith to a woman whom he had known heartless and well-nigh
worthless; it was not to the woman whom he loved with all the might of
an intense passion, and whom he knew pure and glorious as the morning
sun, that he would break his faith now.
All through the three days that the council sat his look and his
manner never changed--the first was quite calm, though very weary; the
latter courteous, but resolute, with the unchanged firmness of one who
knew his own past action justified. For the rest, many noticed that,
during the chief of the long, exhausting hours of his examination and
his trial, his thoughts seemed far away, and he appeared to recall
them to the present with difficulty, and with nothing of the vivid
suspense of an accused, whose life and death swung in the judgment-
In truth, he had no dread as he had no hope left; he knew well enough
that by the blow which had vindicated her honor he had forfeited his
own existence. All he wished was that his sentence had been dealt
without this formula of debate and of delay, which could have issue
but in one end. There was not one man in court who was not more moved
than he, more quick to terror and regret for his doom. To many among
his comrades who had learned to love the gentle, silent "aristocrat,"
who bore every hardship so patiently, and humanized them so
imperceptibly by the simple force of an unvaunted example, those three
days were torture. Wild, brutal brigands, whose year was one long
razzia of plunder, rapine, and slaughter, felt their lips tremble like
young girls' when they asked how the issue went for him; and the
blood-stained marauders, who thought as little of assassination for a
hidden pot of gold as butchers of drawing a knife across a sheep's
throat, grew still and fear-stricken with a great awe when the
muttering passed through the camp that they would see no more among
their ranks that "woman's face" which they had beheld so often
foremost in the fight, with a look on it that thrilled their hearts
like their forbidden chant of the Marseillaise. For when the third day
closed, they knew that he must die.
There were men, hard as steel, ravenous of blood as vultures, who,
when they heard that sentence given, choked great, deep sobs down into
the cavernous depths of their broad, seared, sinewy breasts; but he
never gave sigh or sign. He never moved once while the decree of death
was read to him; and there was no change in the weary calmness of his
eyes. He bent his head in acquiescence.
"C'est bien!" he said simply.