Part 13 out of 13
It seemed well to him. Dead, his secret would lie in the grave with
him, and the long martyrdom of his life be ended.
In the brightness of the noon Cigarette leaned out of her little oval
casement that framed her head like an old black oak carving--a head
with the mellow bloom on its cheeks, and the flash of scarlet above
its dark curls, and the robin-like grace of poise and balance as it
hung out there in the sun.
Cigarette had been there a whole hour in thought; she who never had
wasted a moment in meditation or reverie, and who found the long
African day all too short for her busy, abundant, joyous life, that
was always full of haste and work, just as a bird's will seem so,
though the bird have no more to do than to fly at its will through
summer air, and feed at its will from brook and from berry, from a
ripe ear of the corn or from a deep cup of the lily. For the first
time she was letting time drift away in the fruitless labor of vain,
purposeless thought, because, for the first time also, happiness was
not with her.
They were gone forever--all the elastic joyance, all the free, fair
hours, all the dauntless gayety of childhood, all the sweet,
harmonious laughter of a heart without a care. They were gone forever;
for the touch of love and of pain had been laid on her; and never
again would her radiant eyes smile cloudlessly, like the young
eagle's, at a sun that rose but to be greeted as only youth can great
another dawn of life that is without a shadow.
And she leaned wearily there, with her cheek lying on the cold, gray
Moorish stone; the color and the brightness were in the rays of the
light, in the rich hues of her hair and her mouth, in the scarlet glow
of her dress; there was no brightness in her face. The eyes were
vacant as they watched the green lizard glide over the wall beyond,
and the lips were parted with a look of unspeakable fatigue; the tire,
not of the limbs, but of the heart. She had come thither, hoping to
leave behind her on the desert wind that alien care, that new, strange
passion, which sapped her strength, and stung her pride, and made her
evil with such murderous lust of vengeance; and they were with her
still. Only something of the deadly, biting ferocity of jealousy had
changed into a passionate longing to be as that woman was who had his
love; into a certain hopeless, sickening sense of having forever lost
that which alone could have given her such beauty and such honor in
the sight of men as those this woman had.
To her it seemed impossible that this patrician who had his passion
should not return it. To the child of the camp, though she often
mocked at caste, all the inexorable rules, all the reticent instincts
of caste, were things unknown. She would have failed to comprehend all
the thousand reasons which would have forbidden any bond between the
great aristocrat and a man of low grade and of dubious name. She only
thought of love as she had always seen it, quickly born, hotly
cherished, wildly indulged, and without tie or restraint.
"And I came without my vengeance!" she mused. To the nature that felt
the ferocity of the vendetta a right and a due, there was wounding
humiliation in her knowledge that she had left her rival unharmed, and
had come hither, out from his sight and his presence, lest he should
see in her one glimpse of that folly which she would have killed
herself under her own steel rather than have been betrayed, either for
his contempt or his compassion.
"And I came without my vengeance!" she mused, in that oppressive noon,
in that gray and lonely place, in that lofty tower-solitude, where
there was nothing between her and the hot, hard, cruel blue of the
heavens, vengeance looked the only thing that was left her; the only
means whereby that void in her heart could be filled, that shame in
her life be washed out. To love! and to love a man who had no love for
her, whose eyes only beheld another's face, whose ears only thirsted
for another's voice! Its degradation stamped her a traitress in her
own sight--traitress to her code, to her pride, to her country, to her
And yet, at the core of her heart so tired a pang was aching! She who
had gloried in being the child of the whole people, the daughter of
the whole army, felt lonely and abandoned, as though she were some
bird which an hour ago had been flying in all its joy among its
brethren and now, maimed with one shot, had fallen, with broken pinion
and torn plumage, to lie alone upon the sand and die.
The touch of a bird's wing brushing her hair brought the dreamy
comparison to her wandering thoughts. She started and lifted her head;
it was a blue carrier-pigeon, one of the many she fed at that
casement, and the swiftest and surest of several she sent with
messages for the soldiers between the various stations and corps. She
had forgotten she had left the bird at the encampment.
She caressed it absently, while the tired creature sank down on her
bosom; then only she saw that there was a letter beneath one wing. She
unloosed it, and looked at it without being able to tell its meaning;
she could not read a word, printed or written. Military habits were
too strong with her for the arrival not to change her reverie into
action; whoever it was for, it must be seen. She gave the pigeon water
and grain, then wound her way down the dark, narrow stairs, through
the height of the tower, out into the passage below.
She found an old French cobbler sitting at a stall in a casement,
stitching leather; he was her customary reader and scribe in this
quarter. She touched him with the paper. "Bon Mathieu! Wilt thou read
this to me?"
"It is for thee, Little One, and signed 'Petit Pot-de-terre.' "
Cigarette nodded listlessly.
" 'Tis a good lad, and a scholar," she answered absently. "Read on!"
And he read aloud:
" 'There is ill news. I send the bird on a chance to find thee.
Bel-a-faire-peau struck the Black Hawk--a slight blow, but with
threat to kill following it. He has been tried, and is to be shot.
There is no appeal. The case is clear; the Colonel could have cut
him down, were that all. I thought you should know. We are all
sorry. It was done on the night of the great fete. I am thy humble
lover and slave.' "
So the boy-Zouave's scrawl, crushed, and blotted, and written with
great difficulty, ran in its brief phrases that the slow muttering of
the old shoemaker drew out in tedious length.
Cigarette heard; she never made a movement or gave a sound, but all
the blood fled out of her brilliant face, leaving it horribly blanched
beneath its brown sun-scorch; and her eyes--distended, senseless,
sightless--were fastened on the old man's slowly moving mouth.
"Read it again!" she said simply, when all was ended. He started and
looked up at her face; the voice had not one accent of its own tone
He obeyed, and read it once more to the end. Then a loud, shuddering
sigh escaped her, like the breath of one stifling under flames.
"Shot!" she said vacantly. "Shot!"
Her vengeance had come without her once lifting her hand to summon it.
The old man rose hurriedly.
"Child! Art thou ill?"
"The blow was struck for her!" she muttered. "It was that night, you
"What night? Thou lookest so strangely! Dost thou love this doomed
Cigarette laughed--a laugh whose echo thrilled horribly through the
lonely Moresco courtway.
"Love? Love? I hated him, look you! So I said. And I longed for my
vengeance. It is come!"
She was still a moment; her white, parched mouth quivering as though
she were under physical torture, her strained eyes fastened on the
empty air, the veins in her throat swelling and throbbing till they
glowed to purple. Then she crushed the letter in one hand, and flew,
fleet as any antelope through the streets of the Moorish quarter, and
across the city to the quay.
The people ever gave way before her; but now they scattered like
frightened sheep from her path. There was something that terrified
them in that bloodless horror set upon her face, and in that fury of
resistless speed with which she rushed upon her way.
Once only in her headlong career through the throngs she paused; it
was as one face, on which the strong light of the noontide poured,
came before her. The senseless look changed in her eyes; she wheeled
out of her route, and stopped before the man who had thus arrested
her. He was leaning idly over the stall of a Turkish bazaar, and her
hand grasped his arm before he saw her.
"You have his face!" she muttered. "What are you to him?"
He made no answer; he was too amazed.
"You are of his race," she persisted. "You are brethren by your look.
What are you to him?"
"To the man who calls himself Louis Victor! A Chasseur of my army!"
Her eyes were fastened entirely on him; keen, ruthless, fierce, in
this moment as a hawk's. He grew pale and murmured an incoherent
denial. He sought to shake her off, first gently, then more rudely; he
called her mad, and tried to fling her from him; but the lithe fingers
only wound themselves closer on his arm.
"Be still--fool!" she muttered; and there was that in the accent that
lent a strange force and dignity in that moment to the careless and
mischievous plaything of the soldiery--force that overcame him,
dignity that overawed him. "You are of his people; you have his eyes,
and his look, and his features. He disowns you, or you him. No matter
which. He is of your blood; and he lies under sentence of death. Do
you know that?"
With a stifled cry, the other recoiled from her; he never doubted that
she spoke the truth; nor could any who had looked upon her face.
"Do not lie to me," she said curtly. "It avails you nothing. Read
She thrust before him the paper the pigeon had brought; his hand
trembled sorely as he held it; he believed in that moment that this
strange creature--half soldier, half woman, half brigand, half child--
knew all his story and all his shame from his brother.
"Shot!" he echoed hoarsely, as she had done, when he had read on to
the end. "Shot! Oh, my God! and I----"
She drew him out of the thoroughfare into a dark recess within the
bazaar, he submitting unresistingly. He was filled with the horror,
the remorse, the overwhelming shock of his brother's doom.
"He will be shot," she said with a strange calmness. "We shoot down
many men in our army. I knew him well. He was justified in his act, I
do not doubt; but discipline will not stay for that--"
"Silence, for mercy's sake! Is there no hope--no possibility?"
Her lips were parched like the desert sand as her dry, hard words came
through them. "None. His chief could have cut him down in the instant.
It took place in camp. You feel this thing; you are of his race,
"I am his brother!"
She was silent; looking at him fixedly, it did not seem to her strange
that she should thus have met one of his blood in the crowds of
Algiers. She was absorbed in the one catastrophe whose hideousness
seemed to eat her very life away, even while her nerve, and her brain,
and her courage remained at their keenest and strongest.
"You are his brother," she said slowly, so much as an affirmation that
his belief was confirmed that she had learned both their relationship
and their history from Cecil. "You must go to him, then."
He shook from head to foot.
"Yes, yes! But it will be too late!"
She did not know that the words were cried out in all the contrition
of an unavailing remorse; she gave them only their literal
significance, and shuddered as she answered him.
"That you must risk. You must go to him. But, first, I must know more.
Tell me his name, his rank."
He was silent; coward and egotist though he was, both cowardice and
egotism were killed in him under the overwhelming horror with which he
felt himself as truly by moral guilt a fratricide as though he had
stabbed his elder through the heart.
"Speak!" hissed Cigarette through her clenched teeth. "If you have any
kindness, any pity, any love for the man of your blood, who will be
shot there like a dog, do not waste a second--answer me, tell me all."
He turned his wild, terrified glance upon her; he had in that moment
no sense but to seize some means of reparation, to declare his
brother's rights, to cry out to the very stones of the streets his own
wrong and his victim's sacrifice.
"He is the head of my house!" he answered her, scarce knowing what he
answered. "He should bear the title that I bear now. He is here, in
this misery, because he is the most merciful, the most generous, the
most long-suffering of living souls! If he dies, it is not they who
have killed him; it is I!"
She listened, with her face set in that stern, fixed, resolute command
which never varied; she neglected all that wonder, or curiosity, or
interest would have made her as at any other time, she only heeded the
few great facts that bore upon the fate of the condemned.
"Settle with yourself for that sin," she said bitterly. "Your remorse
will not save him. But do the thing that I bid you, if that remorse be
sincere. Write me out here that title you say he should bear, and your
statement that he is your brother, and should be the chief of your
house; then sign it, and give it to me."
He seized her hands, and gazed with imploring eyes into her face.
"Who are you? What are you? If you have the power to do it, for the
love of God rescue him! It is I who have murdered him--I--who have let
him live on in this hell for my sake!"
"For your sake!"
She flung his hands off her and looked him full in the face; that
glance of the speechless scorn, the unutterable rebuke of the woman-
child who would herself have died a thousand deaths rather than have
purchased a whole existence by a single falsehood or a single
cowardice, smote him like a blow, and avenged his sin more absolutely
than any public chastisement. The courage and the truth of a girl
scorned his timorous fear and his living lie. His head sank, he seemed
to shrink under her gaze; his act had never looked so vile to him as
it looked now.
She gazed a moment longer at him with her mute and wondering disdain
that there should be on earth a male life capable of such fear and of
such ignominy as this. Then the strong and rapid power in her took its
instant ascendancy over the weaker nature.
"Monsieur, I do not know your story, I do not want. I am not used to
men who let others suffer for them. What I want is your written
statement of your brother's name and station; give it me."
He made a gesture of consent; he would have signed away his soul, if
he could, in the stupor of remorse which had seized him. She brought
him pens and paper from the Turk's store, and dictated what he wrote:
"I hereby affirm that the person serving in the Chasseurs d'Afrique
under the name of Louis Victor is my older brother, Bertie Cecil,
lawfully, by inheritance, the Viscount Royallieu, Peer of England.
I hereby also acknowledge that I have succeeded to and borne the
title illegally, under the supposition of his death.
He wrote it mechanically; the force of her will and the torture of his
own conscience driving him, on an impulse, to undo in an instant the
whole web of falsehood that he had let circumstance weave on and on to
shelter him through twelve long years. He let her draw the paper from
him and fold it away in her belt. He watched her with a curious,
dreamy sense of his own impotence against the fierce and fiery torrent
of her bidding.
"What is it you will do?" he asked her.
"The best that shall lie in my power. Do you the same."
"Can his life yet be saved?"
"His honor may--his honor shall."
Her face had an exceeding beauty as she spoke though it was stern and
rigid still, a look that was sublime gleamed over it. She, the waif
and stray of a dissolute camp, knew better than the scion of his own
race how the doomed man would choose the vindication of his honor
before the rescue of his life. He laid his hand on her as she moved.
"Stay!--stay! One word----"
She flung him off her again.
"This is no time for words. Go to him--coward!--and let the balls that
kill him reach you too, if you have one trait of manhood left in you!"
Then, swiftly as a swallow darts, she quitted him and flew on her
headlong way, down through the pressure of the people, and the throngs
of the marts, and the noise, and the color, and the movement of the
The sun was scarce declined from its noon before she rode out of the
city, on a half-bred horse of the Spahis, swift as the antelope and as
wild, with her only equipment some pistols in her holsters, and a bag
of rice and a skin of water slung at her saddle-bow.
They asked her where she went; she never answered. The hoofs struck
sharp echoes out of the rugged stones, and the people were scattered
like chaff as she went at full gallop down through Algiers. Her
comrades, used to see her ever with some song in the air and some
laugh on the lips as she went, looked after her with wonder as she
passed them, silent, and with her face white and stern as though the
bright, brown loveliness of it had been changed to alabaster.
"What is it with the Cigarette?" they asked each other. None could
tell; the desert horse and his rider flew by them as a swallow flies.
The gleam of her Cross and the colorless calm of the childlike face
that wore the resolve of a Napoleon's on it were the last they ever
saw of Cigarette.
All her fluent, untiring speech was gone--gone with the rose hue from
her cheek, with the laugh from her mouth, with the child's joyance
from her heart; but the brave, stanch, dauntless spirit lived with a
soldier's courage, with a martyr's patience.
And she rode straight through the scorch of the midday sun, along the
sea-coast westward. The dizzy swiftness would have blinded most who
should have been carried through the dry air and under the burning
skies at that breathless and pauseless speed; but she had ridden half-
maddened colts with the skill of Arabs themselves; she had been tossed
on a holster from her earliest years, and had clung with an infant's
hands in fearless glee to the mane of roughriders' chargers. She never
swerved, she never sickened; she was borne on and on against the hard,
hot currents of the cleft air with only one sense--that she went so
slowly, so slowly, when with every beat of the ringing hoofs one of
the few moments of a charmed life fled away!
She had a long route before her; she had many leagues to travel, and
there were but four-and-twenty hours, she knew well, left to the man
who was condemned to death. Four-and-twenty hours left open for appeal
--no more--betwixt the delivery and execution of the sentence. That
delay was always interpreted by the French Code as a delay extending
from the evening of the day to the dawn of the second day following;
and some slight interval might then ensue, according as the general in
command ordained. But the twenty-four hours was all of which she could
be certain; and even of them some must have flown by since the
carrier-pigeon had been loosed to her. She could not tell how long he
had to live.
There were fifty miles between her and her goal; Abd-el-Kader's horse
had once covered that space in three hours, so men of the Army of
D'Aumale had told her; she knew what they had done she could do. Once
only she paused, to let her horse lie a brief while, and cool his
foam-flecked sides, and crop some short, sweet grass that grew where a
cleft of water ran and made the bare earth green. She sat quite
motionless while he rested; she was keenly alive to all that could
best save his strength and further her travel; but she watched him
during those few minutes of rest and inaction with a fearful look of
hunger in her eyes--the worst hunger--that which craves Time and
cannot seize it fast enough. Then she mounted again, and again went
on, on her flight.
She swept by cantonments, villages, soldiers on the march, douairs of
peaceful Arabs, strings of mules and camels, caravans of merchandise;
nothing arrested her; she saw nothing that she passed, as she rode
over the hard, dust-covered, shadowless roads; over the weary, sun-
scorched, monotonous country; over the land without verdure and
without foliage, the land that yet has so weird a beauty, so
irresistible a fascination; the land to which men, knowing that death
waits for them in it, yet return with as mad an infatuation as her
lovers went back across the waters to Circe.
The horse was reeking with smoke and foam, and the blood was coursing
from his flanks, as she reached her destination at last, and threw
herself off his saddle as he sank, faint and quivering, to the ground.
Whither she had come was to a fortress where the Marshal of France,
who was the Viceroy of Africa, had arrived that day in his progress of
inspection throughout the provinces. Soldiers clustered round her
eagerly beneath the gates and over the fallen beast; a thousand
questions pouring from their curious tongues. She pointed to the
animal with one hand, to the gaunt pile of stone that bristled with
cannon with the other.
"Have a care of him; and lead me to the chief."
She spoke quietly; but a certain sensation of awe and fear moved those
who heard. She was not the Child of the Army whom they knew so well.
She was a creature, desperate, hard-pressed, mute as death, strong as
steel; above all, hunted by despair.
They hesitated to take her message, to do her bidding. The one whom
she sought was great and supreme here as a king; they dreaded to
approach his staff, to ask his audience.
Cigarette looked at them a moment, then loosened her Cross and held it
out to an adjutant standing beneath the gates.
"Take that to the man who gave it me. Tell him Cigarette waits; and
with each moment that she waits a soldier's life is lost. Go!"
The adjutant took it, and went. Over and over again she had brought
intelligence of an Arab movement, news of a contemplated razzia,
warning of an internal revolt, or tidings of an encounter on the
plains, that had been of priceless value to the army which she served.
It was not lightly that Cigarette's words were ever received when she
spoke as she spoke now; nor was it impossible that she now brought to
them that which would brook neither delay nor trifling.
She waited patiently; all the iron discipline of military life had
never bound her gay and lawless spirit down; but now she was
singularly still and mute. Only there gleamed thirstily in her eyes
that fearful avarice which begrudges every moment in its flight as
never the miser grudged his hoarded gold into the robber's grasp.
A few minutes and the decoration was brought back to her, and her
demand granted. She was summoned to the Marshal's presence. It was the
ordnance room, a long, vast, silent chamber filled with stands of
arms, with all the arts and appliances of war brought to their
uttermost perfection, and massed in all the resource of a great empire
against the sons of the desert, who had nothing to oppose to them save
the despair of a perishing nationality and a stifled freedom.
The Marshal, leaning against a brass field-piece, turned to her with a
smile in his keen, stern eyes.
"You, my young one! What brings you here?"
She came up to him with her rapid leopard-like grace, and he started
as he saw the change upon her features. She was covered with sand and
dust, and with the animal's blood-flecked foam. The beating of her
heart from the fury of the gallop had drained every hue from her face;
her voice was scarcely articulate in its breathless haste as she
"Monsieur, I have come from Algiers since noon--"
"From Algiers!" He and his officers echoed the name of the city in
incredulous amaze; they knew how far from them down along the sea-line
the white town lay.
"Since noon, to rescue a life--the life of a great soldier, of a
guiltless man. He who saved the honor of France at Zaraila is to die
the death of a mutineer at dawn!"
A dusky, scarlet fire burned through the pallor of her face; but her
eyes never quailed, and the torrent of her eloquence returned under
the pangs of shame that were beaten back under the noble instincts of
"Mine!--since he is a soldier of France; yours, too, by that title. I
am come here, from Algiers, to speak the truth in his name, and to
save him for his own honor and the honor of my Empire. See here! At
noon, I have this paper, sent by a swift pigeon. Read it! You see how
he is to die, and why. Well, by my Cross, by my Flag, by my France, I
swear that not a hair of his head shall be touched, and not a drop of
blood in his veins shall be shed!"
He looked at her, astonished at the grandeur and the courage which
could come on this child of razzias and revelries, and give to her all
the splendor of a fearless command of some young empress. But his face
darkened and set sternly as he read the paper; it was the greatest
crime in the sight of a proud soldier, this crime against discipline,
of the man for whom she pleaded.
"You speak madly," he said, with cold brevity. "The offense merits the
chastisement. I shall not attempt to interfere."
"Wait! You will hear, at least, Monsieur?"
"I will hear you--yes, but I tell you, once for all, I never change
sentences that are pronounced by councils of war; and this crime is
the last for which you should attempt to plead for mercy with me."
"Hear me, at least!" she cried, with passionate ferocity--the ferocity
of a dumb animal wounded by a shot. "You do not know what this man is
--how he has had to endure; I do. I have watched him; I have seen the
brutal tyranny of his chief, who hated him because the soldiers loved
him. I have seen his patience, his obedience, his long-suffering
beneath insults that would have driven any other to revolt and murder.
I have seen him--I have told you how--at Zaraila, thinking never of
death or life, only of our Flag, that he has made his own, and under
which he has been forced to lead the life of a galley slave--"
"The finer soldier he be, the less pardonable his offense."
"That I deny! If he were a dolt, a brute, a thing of wood as many are,
he would have no right to vengeance; as it is, he is a gentleman, a
hero, a martyr; may he not forget for one hour that he is a slave?
Look you! I have seen him so tried that I told him--I, who love my
army better than any living thing under the sun--that I would forgive
him if he forgot duty and dealt with his tyrant as man to man. And he
always held his soul in patience. Why? Not because he feared death--he
desired it; but because he loved his comrades, and suffered in peace
and in silence lest, through him, they should be led into evil----"
His eyes softened as he heard her; but the inflexibility of his voice
"It is useless to argue with me," he said briefly; "I never change a
"But I say that you shall!" As the audacious words were flung forth,
she looked him full in the eyes, while her voice rang with its old
imperious oratory. "You are a great chief; you are as a monarch here;
you hold the gifts and the grandeur of the Empire; but, because of
that--because you are as France in my eyes--I swear, by the name of
France, that you shall see justice done to him; after death, if you
cannot in life. Do you know who he is--this man whom his comrades will
shoot down at sunrise as they shoot down the murderer and the ravisher
in their crimes?"
"He is a rebellious soldier; it is sufficient."
"He is not! He is a man who vindicated a woman's honor; he is a man
who suffers in a brother's place; he is an aristocrat exiled to a
martyrdom; he is a hero who has never been greater than he will be
great in his last hour. Read that! What you refuse to justice, and
mercy, and courage, and guiltlessness, you will grant, maybe, to your
She forced into his hand the written statement of Cecil's name and
station. All the hot blood was back in her cheek, all the fiery
passion back in her eyes. She lashed this potent ruler with the
scourge of her scorn as she had lashed a drunken horde of plunderers
with her whip. She was reckless of what she said; she was conscious
only of one thing--the despair that consumed her.
The French Marshal glanced his eye on the fragment, carelessly and
coldly. As he saw the words, he started, and read on with wondering
"Royallieu!" he muttered--"Royallieu!"
The name was familiar to him; he it was who, when he had murmured,
"That man has the seat of the English Guards," as a Chasseur d'Afrique
had passed him, had been ignorant that in that Chasseur he saw one
whom he had known in many a scene of court splendor and Parisian
pleasure. The years had been many since Cecil and he had met, but not
so many but that the name brought memories of friendship with it, and
moved him with a strange emotion.
He turned with grave anxiety to Cigarette.
"You speak strangely. How came this in your hands?"
"Thus: the day that you gave me the Cross, I saw Mme. la Princesse
Corona. I hated her, and I went--no matter! From her I learned that he
whom we call Louis Victor was of her rank, was of old friendship with
her house, was exiled and nameless, but for some reason unknown to
her. She needed to see him; to bid him farewell, so she said. I took
the message for her; I sent him to her." Her voice grew husky and
savage, but she forced her words on with the reckless sacrifice of
self that moved her. "He went to her tent, alone, at night; that was,
of course, whence he came when Chateauroy met him. I doubt not the
Black Hawk had some foul thing to hint of his visit, and that blow was
struck for her--for her! Well; in the streets of Algiers I saw a man
with a face like his own, different, but the same race, look you. I
spoke to him; I taxed him. When he found that the one whom I spoke of
was under sentence of death, he grew mad; he cried out that he was his
brother and had murdered him--that it was for his sake that the
cruelty of this exile had been borne--that, if his brother perished,
he would be his destroyer. Then I bade him write down that paper,
since these English names were unknown to me, and I brought it hither
to you that you might see, under his hand and with your own eyes, that
I have uttered the truth. And now, is that man to be killed like a mad
beast whom you fear? Is that death the reward France will give for
Her eyes were fixed with a fearful intensity of appeal upon the stern
face bent over her; her last arrow was sped; if this failed, all was
over. As he heard, he was visibly moved; he remembered the felon's
shame that in years gone by had fallen across the banished name of
Bertie Cecil; the history seemed clear as crystal to him, seen beneath
the light shed on it from other days.
His hand fell heavily on the gun-carriage.
"Mort de Dieu! it was his brother's sin, not his!"
There was a long silence; those present, who knew nothing of all that
was in his memory, felt instinctively that some dead weight of alien
guilt was lifted off a blameless life forever.
She drew a deep, long, sighing breath; she knew that he was safe. Her
hands unconsciously locked on the great chief's arms; her eyes looked
up, senselessly in their rapture and their dread, to his.
"Quick, quick!" she gasped. "The hours go so fast; while we speak here
The words died in her throat. The Marshal swung around with a rapid
sign to a staff officer.
"Pens and ink! Instantly! My brave child, what can we say to you? I
will send an aid to arrest the execution of the sentence. It must be
deferred till we know the whole truth of this. If it be as it looks
now, he shall be saved if the Empire can save him!"
She looked up in his eyes with a look that froze his very heart.
"His honor!" she muttered; "his honor--if not his life!"
He understood her; he bowed his haughty head low down to hers.
"True. We will cleanse that, if all other justice be too late."
The answer was infinitely gentle, infinitely solemn. Then he turned
and wrote his hurried order, and bade his aid go with it without a
second's loss. But Cigarette caught it from his hand.
"To me! to me! No other will go so fast!"
"But, my child, you are worn out already."
She turned on him her beautiful, wild eyes, in which the blinding,
passionate tears were floating.
"Do you think I would tarry for that? Ah! I wish that I had let them
tell me of God, that I might ask Him now to bless you! Quick, quick!
Lend me your swiftest horse! One that will not tire. And send a second
order by your aid-de-camp; the Arabs may kill me as I go, and then,
they will not know!"
He stooped and touched her little, brown, scorched, feverish hand with
"My child, Africa has shown me much heroism, but none like yours. If
you fall, he shall be safe, and France will know how to avenge its
She turned and gave him one look, infinitely sweet, infinitely
"Ah, France!" she said, so softly that the last word was but a sign of
unutterable tenderness. The old, imperishable early love was not
dethroned; it was there, still before all else. France was without
rival with her.
Then, without another second's pause, she flew from them, and vaulting
into the saddle of a young horse which stood without in the court-
yard, rode once more, at full speed out into the pitiless blaze of the
sun, out to the wasted desolation of the plains.
The order of release, indeed, was in her bosom; but the chances were
as a million to one that she would reach him with it in time, ere with
the rising of the sun his life would have set forever.
All the horror of remorse was on her; to her nature the bitter
jealousy in which she had desired vengeance on him seemed to have
rendered her a murderess. She loved him--loved him with an exceeding
passion; and only in this extremity, when it was confronted with the
imminence of death, did the fullness and the greatness of that love
make their way out of the petulant pride and the wounded vanity which
had obscured them. She had been ere now a child and a hero; beneath
this blow which struck at him she changed--she became a woman and a
And she rode at full speed through the night, as she had done through
the daylight, her eyes glancing all around in the keen instinct of a
trooper, her hand always on the butt of her belt pistol. For she knew
well what the danger was of these lonely, unguarded, untraveled
leagues that yawned in so vast a distance between her and her goal.
The Arabs, beaten, but only rendered furious by defeat, swept down on
to those plains with the old guerrilla skill, the old marvelous
rapidity. She knew that with every second shot or steel might send her
reeling from her saddle; that with every moment she might be
surrounded by some desperate band who would spare neither her sex nor
her youth. But that intoxication of peril, the wine-draught she had
drunk from her infancy, was all which sustained her in that race with
death. It filled her veins with their old heat, her heart with its old
daring, her nerves with their old matchless courage; but for it she
would have dropped, heart-sick with terror and despair, ere her errand
could be done; under it she had the coolness, the keenness, the
sagacity, the sustained force, and the supernatural strength of some
young hunted animal. They might slay her, so that she left perforce
her mission unaccomplished; but no dread of such a fate had even an
instant's power to appall her or arrest her. While there should be
breath in her, she would go on to the end.
There were eight hours' hard riding before her, at the swiftest pace
her horse could make; and she was already worn by the leagues already
traversed. Although this was nothing new that she did now, yet as time
flew on and she flew with it, ceaselessly, through the dim, solitary,
barren moonlit land, her brain now and then grew giddy, her heart now
and then stood still with a sudden numbing faintness. She shook the
weakness off her with the resolute scorn for it of her nature, and
succeeded in its banishment. They had put in her hand, as she had
passed through the fortress gates, a lance with a lantern muffled in
Arab fashion, so that the light was unseen from before, while it
streamed over herself, to enable her to guide her way if the moon
should be veiled by clouds. With that single, starry gleam aslant on a
level with her eyes, she rode through the ghastly twilight of the
half-lit plains; now flooded with luster as the moon emerged, now
engulfed in darkness as the stormy western winds drove the cirrhi over
it. But neither darkness nor light differed to her; she noted neither;
she was like one drunk with strong wine, and she had but one dread--
that the power of her horse would give way under the unnatural strain
made on it, and that she would reach too late, when the life she went
to save would have fallen forever, silent unto death, as she had seen
the life of Marquise fall.
Hour on hour, league on league, passed away; she felt the animal
quiver under the spur, and she heard the catch in his panting breath
as he strained to give his fleetest and best, that told her how, ere
long, the racing speed, the extended gallop at which she kept him,
would tell, and beat him down, despite his desert strain. She had no
pity; she would have killed twenty horses under her to reach her goal.
She was giving her own life, she was willing to lose it, if by its
loss she did this thing, to save even the man condemned to die with
the rising of the sun. She did not spare herself; and she would have
spared no living thing, to fulfill the mission that she undertook. She
loved with the passionate blindness of her sex, with the absolute
abandonment of the southern blood. If to spare him she must have
bidden thousands fall, she would have given the word for their
destruction without a moment's pause.
Once, from some screen of gaunt and barren rock, a shot was fired at
her, and flew within a hair's breadth of her brain; she never even
looked around to see whence it had come; she knew it was from some
Arab prowler of the plains. Her single spark of light through the
half-veiled lantern passed as swiftly as a shooting-star across the
plateau. And as she felt the hours steal on--so fast, so hideously
fast--with that horrible relentlessness which tarries for no despair,
as it hastens for no desire, her lips grew dry as dust, her tongue
clove to the roof of her mouth, the blood beat like a thousand hammers
on her brain.
What she dreaded came.
Midway in her course, when, by the stars, she knew midnight was
passed, the animal strained with hard-drawn, panting gasps to answer
the demand made on him by the spur and by the lance-shaft with which
he was goaded onward. In the lantern light she saw his head stretched
out in the racing agony, his distended eyeballs, his neck covered with
foam and blood, his heaving flanks that seemed bursting with every
throb that his heart gave; she knew that, half a league more forced
from him, he would drop like a dead thing never to rise again. She let
the bridle drop upon the poor beast's neck, and threw her arms above
her head with a shrill, wailing cry, whose despair echoed over the
noiseless plains like the cry of a shot-stricken animal. She saw it
all: the breaking of the rosy, golden day; the stillness of the hushed
camp; the tread of the few picked men; the open coffin by the open
grave; the leveled carbines gleaming in the first rays of the sun. . .
She had seen it so many times--seen it to the awful end, when the
living man fell down in the morning light a shattered, senseless,
soulless, crushed-out mass.
That single moment was all the soldier's nature in her gave to the
abandonment of despair, to the paralysis that seized her. With that
one cry from the depths of her breaking heart, the weakness spent
itself; she knew that action alone could aid him. She looked across,
southward and northward, east and west, to see if there were aught
near from which she could get aid. If there were none, the horse must
drop down to die, and with his life the other life would perish as
surely as the sun would rise.
Her gaze, straining through the darkness, broken here and there by
fitful gleams of moonlight, caught sight in the distance of some yet
darker thing, moving rapidly--a large cloud skimming the earth. She
let the horse, which had paused the instant the bridle had touched his
neck, stand still a while, and kept her eyes fixed on the advancing
cloud till, with the marvelous surety of her desert-trained vision,
she disentangled it from the floating mists and wavering shadows and
recognized it, as it was, a band of Arabs.
If she turned eastward out of her route, the failing strength of her
horse would be fully enough to take her into safety from their
pursuit, or even from their perception, for they were coming
straightly and swiftly across the plain. If she were seen by them, she
was certain of her fate; they could only be the desperate remnant of
the decimated tribes, the foraging raiders of starving and desperate
men, hunted from refuge to refuge, and carrying fire and sword in
their vengeance wherever an unprotected caravan or a defenseless
settlement gave them the power of plunder and of slaughter, that
spared neither age nor sex. She was known throughout the length and
the breadth of the land to the Arabs; she was neither child nor woman
to them; she was but the soldier who had brought up the French reserve
at Zaraila; she was but the foe who had seen them defeated, and ridden
down with her comrades in their pursuit in twice a score of
vanquished, bitter, intolerably shameful days. Some among them had
sworn by their God to put her to a fearful death if ever they made her
captive, for they held her in superstitious awe, and thought the spell
of the Frankish successes would be broken if she were slain. She knew
that; yet, knowing it, she looked at their advancing band one moment,
then turned her horse's head and rode straight toward them.
"They will kill me, but that may save him," she thought. "Any other
way he is lost."
So she rode directly toward them; rode so that she crossed their
front, and placed herself in their path, standing quite still, with
the cloth torn from the lantern, so that its light fell full about
her, as she held it above her head. In an instant they knew her. They
were the remnant who had escaped from the carnage of Zaraila; they
knew her with all the rapid, unerring surety of hate. They gave the
shrill, wild war-shout of their tribe, and the whole mass of gaunt,
dark, mounted figures with their weapons whirling round their heads
inclosed her; a cloud of kites settled down with their black wings and
cruel beaks upon one young silvery-plumed falcon.
She sat unmoved, and looked up at the naked blades that flashed above
her; there was no fear upon her face, only a calm, resolute, proud
beauty--very pale, very still in the light that gleamed on it from the
"I surrender," she said briefly; she had never thought to say these
words of submission to her scorned foes; she would not have been
brought to utter them to spare her own existence. Their answer was a
yell of furious delight, and their bare blades smote each other with a
clash of brutal joy. They had her, the Frankish child who had brought
shame and destruction on them at Zaraila, and they longed to draw
their steel across the fair young throat, to plunge their lances into
the bright, bare bosom, to twine her hair round their spear handles,
to rend her delicate limbs apart, as a tiger rends the antelope, to
torture, to outrage, to wreak their vengeance on her. Their chief,
only, motioned their violence back from her, and bade them leave her
untouched. At him she looked still with the same fixed, serene,
scornful resolve; she had encountered these men so often in battle,
she knew so well how rich a prize she was to him. But she had one
thought alone with her; and for it she subdued contempt, and hate, and
pride, and every passion in her.
"I surrender," she said, with the same tranquillity. "I have heard
that you have sworn by your God and your Prophet to tear me limb from
limb because that I--a child, and a woman-child--brought you to shame
and to grief on the day of Zaraila. Well, I am here; do it. You can
slake your will on me. But that you are brave men, and that I have
ever met you in fair fight, let me speak one word with you first."
Through the menaces and the rage around her, fierce as the yelling of
starving wolves around a frozen corpse, her clear, brave tones reached
the ear of the chief in the lingua sabir that she used. He was a young
man, and his ear was caught by that tuneful voice, his eyes by that
youthful face. He signed upward the swords of his followers, and
motioned them back as their arms were stretched to seize her, and
their shouts clamored for her slaughter.
"Speak on," he said briefly to her.
"You have sworn to take my body, sawn in two, to Ben-Ihreddin?" she
pursued, naming the Arab leader whom her Spahis had driven off the
field of Zaraila. "Well, here it is; you can take it to him; and you
will receive the piasters, and the horses, and the arms that he has
promised to whoever shall slay me. I have surrendered; I am yours. But
you are bold men, and the bold are never mean; therefore, I will ask
one thing of you. There is a man yonder, in my camp, condemned to
death with the dawn. He is innocent. I have ridden from Algiers to-day
with the order of his release. If it is not there by sunrise he will
be shot; and he is guiltless as a child unborn. My horse is worn out;
he could not go another half league. I knew that, since he had failed,
my comrade would perish, unless I found a fresh beast or a messenger
to go in my stead. I saw your band come across the plain. I knew that
you would kill me, because of your oath and of your Emir's bride; but
I thought that you would have greatness enough in you to save this man
who is condemned, without crime, and who must perish unless you, his
foes, have pity on him. Therefore I came. Take the paper that frees
him; send your fleetest and surest with it, under a flag of truce,
into our camp by the dawn; let him tell them there that I, Cigarette,
gave it him. He must say no word of what you have done to me, or his
white flag will not protect him from the vengeance of my army--and
then receive your reward from your chief, Ben-Ihreddin, when you lay
my head down for his horse's hoofs to trample into the dust. Answer me
--is the compact fair? Ride on with this paper northward, and then
kill me with what torments you choose."
She spoke with calm, unwavering resolve, meaning that which she
uttered to its very uttermost letter. She knew that these men had
thirsted for her blood; she offered it to be shed to gain for him that
messenger on whose speed his life was hanging. She knew that a price
was set upon her head; but she delivered herself over to the hands of
her enemies so that thereby she might purchase his redemption.
As they heard, silence fell upon the brutal, clamorous herd around--
the silence of amaze and of respect. The young chief listened gravely;
by the glistening of his keen, black eyes, he was surprised and moved,
though, true to his teaching, he showed neither emotion as he answered
"Who is this Frank for whom you do this thing?"
"He is the warrior to whom you offered life on the field of Zaraila
because his courage was as the courage of gods."
She knew the qualities of the desert character; knew how to appeal to
its reverence and to its chivalry.
"And for what does he perish?" he asked.
"Because he forgot for once that he was a slave, and because he has
borne the burden of guilt that was not his own."
They were quite still now, closed around her; these ferocious
plunderers, who had been thirsty a moment before to sheathe their
weapons in her body, were spellbound by the sympathy of courageous
souls, by some vague perception that there was a greatness in this
little tigress of France, whom they had sworn to hunt down and
slaughter, which surpassed all they had known or dreamed.
"And you have given yourself up to us that, by your death, you may
purchase a messenger from us for this errand?" pursued their leader.
He had been reared as a boy in the high tenets and the pure chivalries
of the school of Abd-el-Kader; and they were not lost in him, despite
the crimes and the desperation of his life.
She held the paper out to him, with a passionate entreaty breaking
through the enforced calm of despair with which she had hitherto
"Cut me in ten thousand pieces with your swords, but save him, as you
are brave men, as you are generous foes!"
With a single sign of his hand their leader waved them back where they
crowded around her, and leaped down from his saddle, and led the horse
he had dismounted to her.
"Maiden," he said gently, "we are Arabs, but we are not brutes. We
swore to avenge ourselves on an enemy; we are not vile enough to
accept a martyrdom. Take my horse--he is the swiftest of my troop--and
go you on your errand. You are safe from me."
She looked at him in stupor; the sense of his words was not tangible
to her; she had had no hope, no thought, that they would ever deal
thus with her; all she had ever dreamed of was so to touch their
hearts and their generosity that they would spare one from among their
troop to do the errand of mercy she had begged of them.
"You play with me!" she murmured, while her lips grew whiter and her
great eyes larger in the intensity of her emotion. "Ah! for pity's
sake, make haste and kill me, so that this only may reach him!"
The chief, standing by her, lifted her up in his sinewy arms, up on to
the saddle of his charger. His voice was very solemn, his glance was
very gentle; all the nobility of the highest Arab nature was aroused
in him at the heroism of a child, a girl, an infidel--one, in his
sight abandoned and shameful among her sex.
"Go in peace," he said simply; "it is not with such as thee that we
Then, and then only, as she felt the fresh reins placed in her hand,
and saw the ruthless horde around her fall back and leave her free,
did she understand his meaning; did she comprehend that he gave her
back both liberty and life, and, with the surrender of the horse he
loved, the noblest and most precious gift that the Arab ever bestows
or ever receives. The unutterable joy seemed to blind her, and gleam
upon her face like the blazing light of noon, as she turned her
burning eyes full on him.
"Ah! now I believe that thine Allah rules thee, equally with
Christians! If I live, thou shalt see me back ere another night; if I
die, France will know how to thank thee!"
"We do not do the thing that is right for the sake that men may
recompense us," he answered her gently. "Fly to thy friend, and
hereafter do not judge that those who are in arms against thee must
needs be as the brutes that seek out whom they shall devour."
Then, with one word in his own tongue, he bade the horse bear her
southward, and, as swiftly as a spear launched from his hand, the
animal obeyed him and flew across the plains. He looked after a while,
through the dim, tremulous darkness that seemed cleft by the rush of
the gallop as the clouds are cleft by lightning, while his tribe sat
silent on their horses in moody, unwilling consent; savage in that
they had been deprived of prey, moved in that they were sensible of
this martyrdom which had been offered to them.
"Verily the courage of a woman has put the best among us unto shame,"
he said, rather to himself than them, as he mounted the stallion
brought him from the rear and rode slowly northward; unconscious that
the thing he had done was great, because conscious only that it was
And, borne by the fleetness of the desert-bred beast, she went away
through the heavy, bronze-hued dullness of the night. Her brain had no
sense, her hands had no feeling, her eyes had no sight; the rushing of
waters was loud on her ears, the giddiness of fasting and of fatigue
sent the gloom eddying round and round like a whirlpool of shadow. Yet
she had remembrance enough left to ride on, and on, and on without
once flinching from the agonies that racked her cramped limbs and
throbbed in her beating temples; she had remembrance enough to strain
her blind eyes toward the east and murmur, in her terror of that white
dawn, that must soon break, the only prayer that had been ever uttered
by the lips no mother's kiss had ever touched:
"O God! keep the day back!"
IN THE MIDST OF HER ARMY.
There was a line of light in the eastern sky. The camp was very still.
It was the hour for the mounting of the guard, and, as the light
spread higher and higher, whiter and whiter, as the morning came, a
score of men advanced slowly and in silence to a broad strip of land
screened from the great encampment by the rise and fall of the ground,
and stretching far and even, with only here and there a single palm to
break its surface, over which the immense arc of the sky bent, gray
and serene, with only the one colorless gleam eastward that was
changing imperceptibly into the warm, red flush of opening day.
Sunrise and solitude: they were alike chosen, lest the army that
honored, the comrades that loved him, should rise to his rescue;
casting off the yoke of discipline, and remembering only that tyranny
and that wretchedness under which they had seen him patient and
unmoved throughout so many years of servitude.
He stood tranquil beside the coffin within which his broken limbs and
shot-pierced corpse would so soon be laid forever. There was a deep
sadness on his face, but it was perfectly serene. To the words of the
priest who approached him he listened with respect, though he gently
declined the services of the Church. He had spoken but very little
since his arrest; he was led out of the camp in silence and waited in
silence now, looking across the plains to where the dawn was growing
richer and brighter with every moment that the numbered seconds of his
life drifted slowly and surely away.
When they came near to bind the covering over his eyes, he motioned
them away, taking the bandage from their hands and casting it far from
"Did I ever fear to look down the depths of my enemies' muskets?"
It was the single outbreak, the single reproach, that escaped from him
--the single utterance by which he ever quoted his services to France.
Not one who heard him dared again force on him that indignity which
would have blinded his sight, as though he had ever dreaded to meet
That one protest having escaped from him, he was once more still and
calm, as though the vacant grave yawning at his feet had been but a
couch of down to rest his tired limbs. His eyes watched the daylight
deepen, and widen, and grow into one sheet of glowing roseate warmth;
but there was no regret in the gaze; there was a fixed, fathomless
resignation that moved with a vague sense of awe those who had come to
slay him, and who had been so used to slaughter that they fired their
volley into their comrade's breast as callously as into the ranks of
"It is best thus," he thought, "if only she never knows----"
Over the slope of brown and barren earth that screened the camp from
view there came, at the very moment that the ramrods were drawn out
with a shrill, sharp ring from the carbine-barrels, a single figure--
tall, stalwart, lithe, with the spring of the deerstalker in its rapid
step, and the sinew of the northern races in its mold.
Cecil never saw it; he was looking at the east, at the deepening of
the morning flush that was the signal of his slaughter, and his head
was turned away.
The newcomer went straight to the adjutant in command, and addressed
him with brief preface, hurriedly and low.
"Your prisoner is Victor of the Chasseurs?--he is to be shot this
The officer assented; he suffered the interruption, recognizing the
rank of the speaker.
"I heard of it yesterday; I rode all night from Oran. I feel great
pity for this man, though he is unknown to me," the stranger pursued,
in rapid, whispered words. "His crime was--"
"A blow to his colonel, monsieur."
"And there is no possibility of a reprieve?"
"May I speak with him an instant? I have heard it said that he is of
my country, and of a rank above his standing in his regiment here."
"You may address him, M. le Duc; but be brief. Time presses."
He thanked the officer for the unusual permission, and turned to
approach the prisoner. At that moment Cecil turned also, and their
eyes met. A great, shuddering cry broke from them both; his head sank
as though the bullet had already pierced his breast, and the man who
believed him dead stood gazing at him, paralyzed with horror.
For a moment there was an awful silence. Then the Seraph's voice rang
out with a terror in it that thrilled through the careless, callous
hearts of the watching soldiery.
"Who is that man? He died--he died so long ago! And yet----"
Cecil's head was sunk on his chest; he never spoke, he never moved; he
knew the helpless, hopeless misery that waited for the one who found
him living only to find him also standing before his open grave. He
saw nothing; he only felt the crushing force of his friend's arms
flung round him, as though seizing him to learn whether he were a
living man or a spector dreamed of in delirium.
"Who are you? Answer me, for pity's sake!"
As the swift, hoarse, incredulous words poured on his ear, he, not
seeking to unloose the other's hold, lifted his head and looked full
in the eyes that had not met his own for twelve long years. In that
one look all was uttered; the strained, eager, doubting eyes that read
their answer in it needed no other.
"You live still! Oh! thank God--thank God!"
And as the thanksgiving escaped him, he forgot all save the breathless
joy of this resurrection; forgot that at their feet the yawning grave
was open and unfilled. Then, and only then, under that recognition of
the friendship that had never failed and never doubted, the courage of
the condemned gave way, and his limbs shook with a great shiver of
intolerable torture; and at the look that came upon his face, the look
of death, brute-like anguish, the man who loved him remembered all--
remembered that he stood there in the morning light only to be shot
down like a beast of prey. Holding him there still with that strong
pressure of his sinewy hands, he swore a great oath that rolled like
thunder down the hard, keen air.
"You! perishing here! If they send their shots through you, they shall
reach me first in their passage! O Heaven! Why have you lived like
this? Why have you been lost to me, if you were dead to all the world
They were the words that his sister had spoken. Cecil's white lips
quivered as he heard them; his voice was scarcely audible as it panted
"I was accused--"
"Aye! But by whom? Not by me! Never by me!"
Cecil's eyes filled with slow, blinding tears; tears sweet as a
woman's in her joy, bitter as a man's in his agony. He knew that in
this one heart at least no base suspicion ever had harbored; he knew
that this love, at least, had cleaved to him through all shame and
against all evil.
"God reward you!" he murmured. "You have never doubted?"
"Doubted? Was your honor not as my own?"
"I can die at peace then; you know me guiltless--"
"Great God! Death shall not touch you. As I stand here not a hair of
your head shall be harmed--"
"Hush! Justice must take its course. One thing only--has she heard?"
"Nothing. She has left Africa. But you can be saved; you shall be
saved! They do not know what they do!"
"Yes! They but follow the sentence of the law. Do not regret it. It is
"Best!--that you should be slaughtered in cold blood!" His voice was
hoarse with the horror which, despite his words, possessed him. He
knew what the demands of discipline exacted, he knew what the
inexorable tyranny of the army enforced, he knew that he had found the
life lost to him for so long only to stand by and see it struck down
like a shot stag's.
Cecil's eyes looked at him with a regard in which all the sacrifice,
all the patience, all the martyrdom of his life spoke.
"Best, because a lie I could never speak to you, and the truth I can
never tell to you. Do not let her know; it might give her pain. I have
loved her; that is useless, like all the rest. Give me your hand once
more, and then--let them do their duty. Turn your head away; it will
soon be over!"
Almost ere he asked it, his friend's hands closed upon both is own,
keeping the promise made so long before in the old years gone; great,
tearless sobs heaved the depths of his broad chest; those gentle,
weary words had rent his very soul, and he knew that he was powerless
here; he knew that he could no more stay this doom of death than he
could stay the rising of the sun up over the eastern heavens. The
clear voice of the officer in command rang shrilly through the
"Monsieur, make your farewell. I can wait no longer."
The Seraph started, and flung himself round with the grand challenge
of a lion, struck by a puny spear. His face flushed crimson; his words
were choked in his throbbing throat.
"As I live, you shall not fire! I forbid you! I swear by my honor and
the honor of England that he shall not die like a dog. He is of my
country; he is of my Order. I will appeal to your Emperor; he will
accord me his life the instant I ask it. Give me only an hour's
reprieve--a few moments' space to speak to your chiefs, to seek out
"It is impossible, monsieur."
The curt, calm answer was inflexible; against the sentence and its
execution there could be no appeal.
Cecil laid his hand upon his old friend's shoulders.
"It will be useless," he murmured. "Let them act; the quicker the
"What! you think I would look on and see you die?"
"Would to Heaven you had never known I lived----"
The officer made a gesture to the guard to separate them.
"Monsieur, submit to the execution of the law, or I must arrest you."
Lyonnesse flung off the detaining hand of the guard, and swung round
so that his agonized eyes gazed close into the adjutant's immovable
face, which before that gaze lost its coldness and its rigor, and
changed to a great pity for this stranger who had found the friend of
his youth in the man who stood condemned to perish there.
"An hour's reprieve; for mercy's sake, grant that!"
"I have said, it is impossible."
"But you do not dream who is--"
"It matters not."
"He is an English noble, I tell you--"
"He is a soldier who has broken the law; that suffices."
"O Heaven! have you no humanity?"
"We have justice."
"Justice! If you have justice, let your chiefs hear his story; let his
name be made known; give me an hour's space to plead for him. Your
Emperor would grant me his life, were he here; yield me an hour--a
half hour--anything that will give me time to serve him--"
"It is out of the question; I must obey my orders. I regret you should
have this pain; but if you do not cease to interfere, my soldiers must
Where the guards held him, Cecil saw and heard. His voice rose with
all its old strength and sweetness.
"My friend, do not plead for me. For the sake of our common country
and our old love, let us both meet this with silence and with
"You are a madman!" cried the man, whose heart felt breaking under
this doom he could neither avert nor share. "You think that they shall
kill you before my eyes!--you think I shall stand by to see you
murdered! What crime have you done? None, I dare swear, save being
moved, under insult, to act as the men of your race ever acted! Ah,
God! why have lived as you have done? Why not have trusted my faith
and my love? If you had believed in my faith as I believed in your
innocence, this misery never had come to us!"
"Hush! hush! or you will make me die like a coward."
He dreaded lest he should do so; this ordeal was greater than his
power to bear it. With the mere sound of this man's voice a longing,
so intense in its despairing desire, came on him for this life which
they were about to kill in him forever.
The words stung his hearer well-nigh to madness; he turned on the
soldiers with all the fury of his race that slumbered so long, but
when it awoke was like the lion's rage. Invective, entreaty,
conjuration, command, imploring prayer, and ungoverned passion poured
in tumultuous words, in agonized eloquence, from his lips; all answer
was a quick sign of the hand, and, ere he saw them, a dozen soldiers
were round him, his arms were seized, his splendid frame was held as
powerless as a lassoed bull; for a moment there was a horrible
struggle, then a score of ruthless hands locked him as in iron gyves,
and forced his mouth to silence and his eyes to blindness. This was
all the mercy they could give--to spare him the sight of his friend's
Cecil's eyes strained in him with one last, longing look; then he
raised his hand and gave the signal for his own death-shot.
The leveled carbines covered him; he stood erect with his face full
toward the sun. Ere they could fire, a shrill cry pierced the air.
"Wait! In the name of France."
Dismounted, breathless, staggering, with her arms flung upward, and
her face bloodless with fear, Cigarette appeared upon the ridge of
The cry of command pealed out upon the silence in the voice that the
Army of Africa loved as the voice of their Little One. And the cry
came too late; the volley was fired, the crash of sound thrilled
across the words that bade them pause, the heavy smoke rolled out upon
the air; the death that was doomed was dealt.
But beyond the smoke-cloud he staggered slightly, and then stood erect
still, almost unharmed, grazed only by some few of the balls. The
flash of fire was not so fleet as the swiftness of her love; and on
his breast she threw herself, and flung her arms about him, and turned
her head backward with her old, dauntless, sunlit smile as the balls
pierced her bosom, and broke her limbs, and were turned away by the
shield of warm young life from him.
Her arms were gliding from about his neck, and her shot limbs were
sinking to the earth as he caught her up where she dropped to his
"O God! my child! They have killed you!"
He suffered more, as the cry broke from him, than if the bullets had
brought him that death which he saw at one glance had stricken down
forever all the glory of her childhood, all the gladness of her youth.
She laughed--all the clear, imperious, arch laughter of her sunniest
"Chut! It is the powder and ball of France! That does not hurt. If it
was an Arbico's bullet now! But wait! Here is the Marshal's order. He
suspends your sentence; I have told him all. You are safe!--do you
hear?--you are safe! How he looks! Is he grieved to live? Mes
Francais! Tell him clearer than I can tell--here is the order. The
General must have it. No--not out of my hand till the General sees it.
Fetch him, some of you--fetch him to me."
"Great Heavens! You have given your life for mine!"
The words broke from him in an agony as he held her upward against his
heart, himself so blind, so stunned, with the sudden recall from death
to life, and with the sacrifice whereby life was thus brought to him,
that he could scarce see her face, scarce hear her voice, but only
dimly, incredulously, terribly knew, in some vague sense, that she was
dying, and dying thus for him.
She smiled up in his eyes, while even in that moment, when her life
was broken down like a wounded bird's, and the shots had pierced
through from her shoulder to her bosom, a hot, scarlet flush came over
her cheeks as she felt his touch, and rested on his heart.
"A life! what is it to give? We hold it in our hands every hour, we
soldiers, and toss it in change for a draught of wine. Lay me down on
the ground--at your feet--so! I shall live longest that way, and I
have much to tell. How they crowd around me! Mes soldats, do not make
that grief and that rage over me. They are sorry they fired; that is
foolish. They were only doing their duty, and they could not hear me
But the brave words could not console those who had killed the Child
of the Tricolor; they flung their carbines away, they beat their
breasts, they cursed themselves and the mother who had borne them; the
silent, rigid, motionless phalanx that had stood there in the dawn to
see death dealt in the inexorable penalty of the law was broken up
into a tumultuous, breathless, heart-stricken, infuriated throng,
maddened with remorse, convulsed with sorrow, turning wild eyes of
hate on him as on the cause through which their darling had been
stricken. He, laying her down with unspeakable gentleness as she had
bidden him, hung over her, leaning her head against his arm, and
watching in paralyzed horror the helplessness of the quivering limbs,
the slow flowing of the blood beneath the Cross that shone where that
young heroic heart so soon would beat no more.
"Oh, my child, my child!" he moaned, as the full might and meaning of
this devotion which had saved him at such cost rushed on him. "What am
I worth that you should perish for me? Better a thousand times have
left me to my fate! Such nobility, such sacrifice, such love!"
The hot color flushed her face once more; she was strong to the last
to conceal that passion for which she was still content to perish in
"Chut! We are comrades, and you are a brave man. I would do the same
for any of my Spahis. Look you, I never heard of your arrest till I
heard, too, of your sentence----"
She paused a moment, and her features grew white and quivered with
pain and with the oppression that seemed to lie like lead upon her
chest. But she forced herself to be stronger than the anguish which
assailed her strength; and she motioned them all to be silent as she
spoke on while her voice still should serve her.
"They will tell you how I did it--I have not time. The Marshal gave
his word you shall be saved; there is no fear. That is your friend who
bends over me here?--is it not? A fair face, a brave face! You will go
back to your land--you will live among your own people--and she, she
will love you now--now she knows you are of her Order!"
Something of the old thrill of jealous dread and hate quivered through
the words, but the purer nobler nature vanquished it; she smiled up in
his eyes, heedless of the tumult round them.
"You will be happy. That is well. Look you--it is nothing that I did.
I would have done it for any one of my soldiers. And for this"--she
touched the blood flowing from her side with the old, bright, brave
smile--"it was an accident; they must not grieve for it. My men are
good to me; they will feel much regret and remorse; but do not let
them. I am glad to die."
The words were unwavering and heroic; but for one moment a convulsion
went over her face; the young life was so strong in her, the young
spirit was so joyous in her, existence was so new, so fresh, so
bright, so dauntless a thing to Cigarette. She loved life; the
darkness, the loneliness, the annihilation of death were horrible to
her as the blackness and the solitude of night to a young child.
Death, like night, can be welcome only to the weary, and she was weary
of nothing on the earth that bore her buoyant steps; the suns, the
winds, the delights of the sights, the joys of the senses, the music
of her own laughter, the mere pleasure of the air upon her cheeks, or
of the blue sky above her head, were all so sweet to her. Her welcome
of her death-shot was the only untruth that had ever soiled her
fearless lips. Death was terrible; yet she was content--content to
have come to it for his sake.
There was a ghastly, stricken silence round her. The order she had
brought had just been glanced at, but no other thought was with the
most callous there than the heroism of her act, than the martyrdom of
The color was fast passing from her lips, and a mortal pallor settling
there in the stead of that rich, bright hue, once warm as the scarlet
heart of the pomegranate. Her head leaned back on Cecil's breast and
she felt the great burning tears fall, one by one, upon her brow as he
hung speechless over her; she put her hand upward and touched his eyes
"Chut! What is it to die--just to die? You have lived your martyrdom;
I could not have done that. Listen, just one moment. You will be rich.
Take care of the old man--he will not trouble long--and of Vole-qui-
veut and Etoile, and Boule Blanche, and the rat, and all the dogs,
will you? They will show you the Chateau de Cigarette in Algiers. I
should not like to think that they would starve."
She felt his lips move with the promise he could not find voice to
utter; and she thanked him with that old child-like smile that had
lost nothing of its light.
"That is good; they will be happy with you. And see here--that Arab
must have back his white horse; he alone saved you. Have heed that
they spare him. And make my grave somewhere where my army passes;
where I can hear the trumpets, and the arms, and the passage of the
troops--O God! I forgot! I shall not wake when the bugles sound. It
will all end now; will it not? That is horrible, horrible!"
A shudder shook her as, for the moment, the full sense that all her
glowing, redundant, sunlit, passionate life was crushed out forever
from its place upon the earth forced itself on and overwhelmed her.
But she was of too brave a mold to suffer any foe--even the foe that
conquers kings--to have power to appall her. She raised herself, and
looked at the soldiery around her, among them the men whose carbines
had killed her, whose anguish was like the heart-rending anguish of
"Mes Francais! That was a foolish word of mine. How many of my bravest
have fallen in death; and shall I be afraid of what they welcomed? Do
not grieve like that. You could not help it; you were doing your duty.
If the shots had not come to me, they would have gone to him; and he
has been unhappy so long, and borne wrong so patiently, he has earned
the right to live and enjoy. Now I--I have been happy all my days,
like a bird, like a kitten, like a foal, just from being young and
taking no thought. I should have had to suffer if I had lived. It is
much best as it is----"
Her voice failed her when she had spoken the heroic words; loss of
blood was fast draining all strength from her, and she quivered in a
torture she could not wholly conceal. He for whom she perished hung
over her in an agony greater far than hers. It seemed a hideous dream
to him that this child lay dying in his stead.
"Can nothing save her?" he cried aloud. "O God! that you had fired one
She heard; and looked up at him with a look in which all the
passionate, hopeless, imperishable love she had resisted and concealed
so long spoke with an intensity she never dreamed.
"She is content," she whispered softly. "You did not understand her
rightly; that was all."
"All! O God, how I have wronged you!"
The full strength, and nobility, and devotion of this passion he had
disbelieved in and neglected rushed on him as he met her eyes; for the
first time he saw her as she was; for the first time he saw all of
which the splendid heroism of this untrained nature would have been
capable under a different fate. And it struck him suddenly, heavily,
as with a blow; it filled him with a passion of remorse.
"My darling! my darling! what have I done to be worthy of such love?"
he murmured while the tears fell from his blinded eyes, and his head
drooped until his lips met hers. At the first utterance of that word
between them, at the unconscious tenderness of his kisses that had the
anguish of a farewell in them, the color suddenly flushed all over her
blanched face; she trembled in his arms; and a great, shivering sigh
ran through her. It came too late, this warmth of love. She learned
what its sweetness might have been only when her lips grew numb, and
her eyes sightless, and her heart without pulse, and her senses
"Hush!" she answered, with a look that pierced his soul. "Keep those
kisses for Milady. She will have the right to love you; she is of your
'aristocrats,' she is not 'unsexed.' As for me--I am only a little
trooper who has saved my comrade! My soldiers, come round me one
instant; I shall not long find words."
Her eyes closed as she spoke; a deadly faintness and coldness passed
over her; and she gasped for breath. A moment, and the resolute
courage in her conquered; her eyes opened and rested on the war-worn
faces of her "children"--rested in a long, last look of unspeakable
wistfulness and tenderness.
"I cannot speak as I would," she said at length, while her voice grew
very faint. "But I have loved you. All is said!"
All was uttered in those four brief words. "She had loved them." The
whole story of her young life was told in the single phrase. And the
gaunt, battle-scarred, murderous, ruthless veterans of Africa who
heard her could have turned their weapons against their own breasts,
and sheathed them there, rather than have looked on to see their
"I have been too quick in anger sometimes--forgive it," she said
gently. "And do not fight and curse among yourselves; it is bad amid
brethren. Bury my Cross with me, if they will let you; and let the
colors be over my grave, if you can. Think of me when you go into
battle; and tell them in France----"
For the first time her eyes filled with great tears as the name of her
beloved land paused upon her lips. She stretched her arms out with a
gesture of infinite longing, like a lost child that vainly seeks its
"If I could only see France once more! France----"
It was the last word upon her utterance; her eyes met Cecil's in one
fleeting, upward glance of unutterable tenderness, then, with her
hands still stretched out westward to where her country was, and with
the dauntless heroism of her smile upon her face like light, she gave
a tired sigh as of a child that sinks to sleep, and in the midst of
her Army of Africa the Little One lay dead.
In the shadow of his tent, at midnight he whom she had rescued stood
looking down at a bowed, stricken form before him with an exceeding,
yearning pity in his gaze.
The words had at length been spoken that had lifted from him the
burden of another's guilt; the hour at last had come in which his eyes
had met the eyes of his friend, without a hidden thought between them.
The sacrifice was ended, the martyrdom was over; henceforth this doom
of exile and of wretchedness would be but as a hideous dream;
henceforth his name would be stainless among men, and the desire of
his heart would be given him. And in this hour of release the
strongest feeling in him was the sadness of an infinite compassion;
and where his brother was stretched prostrate in shame before him,
Cecil stooped and raised him tenderly.
"Say no more," he murmured. "It has been well for me that I have
suffered these things. For yourself--if you do indeed repent, and feel
that you owe me any debt, atone for it, and pay it, by letting your
own life be strong in truth and fair in honor."
And it seemed to him that he himself had done no great or righteous
thing in that servitude for another's sake, whose yoke was now lifted
off him for evermore. But, looking out over the sleeping camp where
one young child alone lay in a slumber that never would be broken, his
heart ached with the sense of some great, priceless gift received, and
undeserved, and cast aside; even while in the dreams of passion that
now knew its fruition possible, and the sweetness of communion with
the friend whose faith had never forsaken him, he retraced the years
of his exile, and thanked God that it was thus with him at the end.
CHAPTER THE LAST.
Under the green, springtide leafage of English woodlands, made musical
with the movement and the song of innumerable birds that had their
nests among the hawthorn boughs and deep, cool foliage of elm and
beech, an old horse stood at pasture. Sleeping--with the sun on his
gray, silken skin, and the flies driven off with a dreamy switch of
his tail, and the grasses odorous about his hoofs, with dog-violets,
and cowslips, and wild thyme--sleeping, yet not so surely but at one
voice he started, and raised his head with all the eager grace of his
youth, and gave a murmuring noise of welcome and delight. He had known
that voice in an instant, though for so many years his ear had never
thrilled to it; Forest King had never forgotten. Now, scarce a day
passed but what it spoke to him some word of greeting or of affection,
and his black, soft eyes would gleam with their old fire, because its
tone brought back a thousand memories of bygone victory--only memories
now, when Forest King, in the years of age, dreamed out his happy life
under the fragrant shade of the forest wealth of Royallieu.
With his arm over the horse's neck, the exile, who had returned to his
birthright, stood silent a while, gazing out over the land on which
his eyes never wearied of resting; the glad, cool, green, dew-
freshened earth that was so sweet and full of peace, after the
scorched and blood-stained plains, whose sun was as flame, and whose
breath was as pestilence. Then his glance came back and dwelt upon the
face beside him, the proud and splendid woman's face that had learned
its softness and its passion from him alone.
"It was worth banishment to return," he murmured to her. "It was worth
the trials that I bore to learn the love that I have known----"
She, looking upward at him with those deep, lustrous, imperial eyes
that had first met his own in the glare of the African noon, passed
her hand over his lips with a gesture of tenderness far more eloquent
from her than from women less proud and less prone to weakness.
"Ah, hush! when I think of what her love was, how worthless looks my
own! How little worthy of the fate it finds! What have I done that
every joy should become mine, when she----"
Her mouth trembled, and the phrase died unfinished; strong as her love
had grown, it looked to her unproven and without desert, beside that
which had chose to perish for his sake. And where they stood with the
future as fair before them as the light of the day around them, he
bowed his head, as before some sacred thing, at the whisper of the
child who had died for him. The memories of both went back to a place
in a desert land where the folds of the Tricolor drooped over one
little grave turned westward toward the shores of France--a grave made
where the beat of drum, and the sound of moving squadrons, and the
ring of the trumpet-call, and the noise of the assembling battalions
could be heard by night and day; a grave where the troops, as they
passed it by, saluted and lowered their arms in tender reverence, in
faithful, unasked homage, because beneath the Flag they honored there
was carved in the white stone one name that spoke to every heart
within the army she had loved, one name on which the Arab sun streamed
as with a martyr's glory:
"ENFANT DE L'ARMEE, SOLDAT DE LA FRANCE."