Part 8 out of 13
"It is to enjoy a luxury long ago lost forever. It is--to be allowed
to give the slight courtesy of a gentleman without being tendered the
wage of a servant."
She understood him; she was moved, too, by the inflexion of his voice.
She was not so cold, not so negligent, as the world called her.
"I had passed my word to grant it; I cannot retract," she answered
him, after a pause. "I will press nothing more on you. But--as an
obligation to me--can you find no way in which a rouleau of gold would
benefit your men?"
"No way that I can take it for them. But, if you care indeed to do
them a charity, a little wine, a little fruit, a few flowers (for
there are those among them who love flowers), sent to the hospital,
will bring many benedictions on your name, madame. They lie in
infinite misery there!"
"I will remember," she said simply, while a thoughtful sadness passed
over her brilliant face. "Adieu, M. le Caporal; and if you should
think better of your choice, and will allow your name to be mentioned
by me to his Majesty, send me word through my people. There is my
The carriage whirled away down the crooked street. He stood under the
tawny awning of the Moorish house, with the thin, glazed card in his
hand. On it was printed:
"Mme. la Princesse Corona d'Amague,
"Hotel Corona, Paris."
In the corner was written, "Villa Aiaussa, Algiers." He thrust it in
the folds of his sash, and turned within.
"Do you know her?" he asked Ben Arsli.
The old man shook his head.
"She is the most beautiful of thy many fair Frankish women. I never
saw her till to-day. But listen here. Touching these ivory toys--if
thou does not bring henceforth to me all the work in them that thou
doest, thou shalt never come here more to meet the light of her eyes."
Cecil smiled and pressed the Moslem's hand.
"I kept them away because you would have given me a hundred piasters
for what had not been worth one. As for her eyes, they are stars that
shine on another world than an African trooper's. So best!"
Yet they were stars of which he thought more, as he wended his way
back to the barracks, than of the splendid constellations of the
Algerian evening that shone with all the luster of the day, but with
the soft, enchanted light which transfigured sea, and earth, and sky
as never did the day's full glow, as he returned to the mechanical
duties, to the thankless services, to the distasteful meal, to the
riotous mirth, to the coarse comradeship, which seemed to him to-night
more bitter than they had ever done since his very identity, his very
existence, had been killed and buried past recall, past resurrection,
under the kepi d'ordonnance of a Chasseur d'Afrique.
Meanwhile the Princess Corona drove homeward--homeward to where a
temporary home had been made by her in the most elegant of the many
snow-white villas that stud the sides of the Sahel and face the bright
bow of the sunlit bay; a villa with balconies, and awnings, and cool,
silent chambers, and rich, glowing gardens, and a broad, low roof,
half hidden in bay and orange and myrtle and basilica, and the liquid
sound of waters bubbling beneath a riotous luxuriance of blossom.
Mme. la Princesse passed from her carriage to her own morning room and
sank down on a couch, a little listless and weary with her search
among the treasures of the Algerine bazaars. It was purposeless work,
after all. Had she not bronzes, and porcelains, and bric-a-brac, and
objets d'art in profusion in her Roman villa, her Parisian hotel, her
great, grim palace in Estremadura.
"Not one of those things do I want--not one shall I look at twice. The
money would have been better at the soldiers' hospital," she thought,
while her eyes dwelt on a chess-table near her--a table on which the
mimic hosts of Chasseurs and Arabs were ranged in opposite squadrons.
She took the White King in her hand and gazed at it with a certain
"That man has been noble once," she thought. "What a fate--what a
It touched her to great pity; although proud with too intense a pride,
her nature was exceedingly generous, and, when once moved, deeply
compassionate. The unerring glance of a woman habituated to the first
society of Europe had told her that the accent, the bearing, the tone,
the features of this soldier, who only asked of life "oblivion," were
those of one originally of gentle blood; and the dignity and patience
of his acceptance of the indignities which his present rank entailed
on him had not escaped her any more than the delicate beauty of his
face as she had seen it, weary, pale, and shadowed with pain, in the
unconscious revelation of sleep.
"How bitter his life must be!" she mused. "When Philip comes, perhaps
he will show some way to aid him. And yet--who can serve a man who
only desires to be forgotten?"
Then, with a certain impatient sense of some absurd discrepancy, of
some unseemly occupation, in her thus dwelling on the wishes and the
burdens of a sous-officier of Light Cavalry, she laughed a little, and
put the White Chief back once more in his place. Yet even as she set
the king among his mimic forces, the very carvings themselves served
to retain their artist in her memory.
There was about them an indescribable elegance, an exceeding grace and
beauty, which spoke of a knowledge of art and of refinement of taste
far beyond those of a mere military amateur in the one who had
"What could bring a man of that talent, with that address, into the
ranks?" she mused. "Persons of good family, of once fine position,
come here, they say, and live and die unrecognized under the Imperial
flag. It is usually some dishonor that drives them out of their own
worlds; it may be so with him. Yet he does not look like one whom
shame has touched; he is proud still--prouder than he knows. More
likely it is the old, old story--a high name and a narrow fortune--the
ruin of thousands! He is French, I suppose; a French aristocrat who
has played au roi depouille, most probably, and buried himself and his
history forever beneath those two names that tell one nothing--Louis
Victor. Well, it is no matter of mine. Very possibly he is a mere
adventurer with a good manner. This army here is a pot-pourri, they
say, of all the varied scoundrelisms of Europe!"
She left the chess-table and went onward to the dressing and bath and
bed chambers, which opened in one suite from her boudoir, and resigned
herself to the hands of her attendants for her dinner toilet.
The Moslem had said aright of her beauty; and now, as her splendid
hair was unloosened and gathered up afresh with a crescent-shaped comb
of gold that was not brighter than the tresses themselves, the
brilliant, haughty, thoughtful face was of a truth, as he had said,
the fairest that had ever come from the Frankish shores to the hot
African sea-board. Many beside the old Moslem had thought it "the
fairest that e'er the sun shone on," and held one grave, lustrous
glance of the blue imperial eyes above aught else on earth. Many had
loved her--all without return. Yet, although only twenty years had
passed over her proud head, the Princesse Corona d'Amague had been
wedded and been widowed.
Wedded, with no other sentiment than that of a certain pity and a
certain honor for the man whose noble Spanish name she took. Widowed,
by a death that was the seal of her marriage sacrament, and left her
his wife only in name and law.
The marriage had left no chain upon her; it had only made her mistress
of wide wealth, of that villa on the Sicilian Sea, of that light,
spacious palace-dwelling in Paris that bore her name, of that vast
majestic old castle throned on brown Estremaduran crags, and looking
down on mighty woods of cork and chestnut, and flashing streams of
falling water hurling through the gorges. The death had left no regret
upon her; it only gave her for a while a graver shadow over the
brilliancy of her youth and of her beauty, and gave her for always--or
for so long, at least, as she chose to use it--a plea for that
indifference to men's worship of her which their sex called
heartlessness; which her own sex thought an ultra-refined coquetry;
and which was, in real truth, neither the one nor the other, but
simply the negligence of a woman very difficult to touch, and, as it
had seemed, impossible to charm.
None knew quite aright the history of that marriage. Some were wont to
whisper "ambition"; and, when that whisper came round to her, her
splendid lips would curl with as splendid a scorn.
"Do they not know that scarce any marriage can mate us equally?" she
would ask; for she came of a great Line that thought few royal
branches on equality with it; and she cherished as things of strictest
creed the legends that gave her race, with its amber hair and its eyes
of sapphire blue, the blood of Arthur in their veins.
Of a surety it was not ambition that had allied her, on his death-bed,
with Beltran Corona d'Amague; but what it was the world could never
tell precisely. The world would not have believed it if it had heard
the truth--the truth that it had been, in a different fashion, a gleam
of something of the same compassion that now made her merciful to a
common trooper of Africa which had wedded her to the dead Spanish
Prince--compassion which, with many another rich and generous thing,
lay beneath her coldness and her pride as the golden stamen lies
folded within the white, virginal, chill cup of the lily.
She had never felt a touch of even passing preference to any one out
of the many who had sought her high-born beauty; she was too proud to
be easily moved to such selection, and she was far too habituated to
homage to be wrought upon by it, ever so slightly. She was of a noble,
sun-lit, gracious nature, she had been always happy, always obeyed,
always caressed, always adored; it had rendered her immeasurably
contemptuous of flattery; it had rendered her a little contemptuous of
pain. She had never had aught to regret; it was not possible that she
could realize what regret was.
Hence men called and found her very cold; yet those of her own kin
whom she loved knew that the heart of a summer rose was not warmer,
nor sweeter, nor richer than hers. And first among these was her
brother--at once her guardian and her slave--who thought her perfect,
and would no more have crossed her will than he would have set his
foot on her beautiful, imperial head. Corona d'Amague had been his
friend; the only one for whom he had ever sought to break her
unvarying indifference to her lovers, but for whom even he had pleaded
vainly until one autumn season, when they had stayed together at a
great archducal castle in South Austria. In one of the forest-glades,
awaiting the fanfare of the hunt, she rejected, for the third time,
the passionate supplication of the superb noble who ranked with the
D'Ossuna and the Medina-Sidonia. He rode from her in great bitterness,
in grief that no way moved her--she was importuned with these
entreaties to weariness. An hour after he was brought past her,
wounded and senseless; he had saved her brother from imminent death at
his own cost, and the tusks of the mighty Styrian boar had plunged
through and through his frame, as they had met in the narrow woodland
"He will be a cripple--a paralyzed cripple--for life!" said the one
whose life had been saved by his devotion to her that night; and his
lips shook a little under his golden beard as he spoke.
She looked at him; she loved him well, and no homage to herself could
have moved her as this sacrifice for him had done.
"You think he will live?" she asked.
"They say it is sure. He may live on to old age. But how? My God! what
a death in life! And all for my sake, in my stead!"
She was silent several moments; then she raised her face, a little
paler than it had been, but with a passionless resolve set on it.
"Philip, we do not leave our debts unpaid. Go; tell him I will be his
"His wife--now! Venetia----"
"Go!" she said briefly. "Tell him what I say."
"But what a sacrifice! In your beauty, your youth--"
"He did not count cost. Are we less generous? Go--tell him."
He was told; and was repaid. Such a light of unutterable joy burned
through the misty agony of his eyes as never, it seemed to those who
saw, had beamed before in mortal eyes. He did not once hesitate at the
acceptance of her self-surrender; he only pleaded that the marriage
ceremony should pass between them that night.
There were notaries and many priests in the great ducal household; all
was done as he desired. She consented without wavering; she had passed
her word, she would not have withdrawn it if it had been a thousand
times more bitter in its fulfillment. The honor of her house was
dearer to her than any individual happiness. This man for them had
lost peace, health, joy, strength, every hope of life; to dedicate her
own life to him, as he had vainly prayed her when in the full glow and
vigor of his manhood, was the only means by which their vast debt to
him could be paid. To so pay it was the instant choice of her high
code of honor, and of her generosity that would not be outrun.
Moreover, she pitied him unspeakably, though her heart had no
tenderness for him; she had dismissed him with cold disdain, and he
had gone from her to save the only life she loved, and was stretched a
stricken, broken, helpless wreck, with endless years of pain and
weariness before him!
At midnight, in the great, dim magnificence of the state chamber where
he lay, and with the low, soft chanting of the chapel choir from afar
echoing through the incensed air, she bent her haughty head down over
his couch, and the marriage benediction was spoken over them.
His voice was faint and broken, but it had the thrill of a passionate
triumph in it. When the last words were uttered, he lay a while,
exhausted, silent; only looking ever upward at her with his dark,
dreamy eyes, in which the old love glanced so strangely through the
blindness of pain. Then he smiled as the last echo of the choral
melodies died softly on the silence.
"That is joy enough! Ah! have no fear. With the dawn you will be free
once more. Did you think that I could have taken your sacrifice? I
knew well, let them say as they would, that I should not live the
night through. But, lest existence should linger to curse me, to chain
you, I rent the linen bands off my wounds an hour ago. All their
science will not put back the life now! My limbs are dead, and the
cold steals up! Ah, love! Ah, love! You never thought how men can
suffer! But have no grief for me. I am happy. Bend your head down, and
lay your lips on mine once. You are my own!--death is sweeter than
And before sunrise he died.
Some shadow from that fatal and tragic midnight marriage rested on her
still. Though she was blameless, some vague remorse ever haunted her;
though she had been so wholly guiltless of it, this death for her sake
ever seemed in some sort of her bringing. Men thought her only colder,
only prouder; but they erred. She was one of those women who, beneath
the courtly negligence of a chill manner, are capable of infinite
tenderness, infinite nobility, and infinite self-reproach.
A great French painter once, in Rome, looking on her from a distance,
shaded his eyes with his hand, as if her beauty, like the sun dazzled
him. "Exquisite--superb!" he muttered; and he was a man whose own
ideals were so matchless that living women rarely could wring out his
praise. "She is nearly perfect, your Princesse Corona!"
"Nearly!" cried a Roman sculptor. "What, in Heaven's name, can she
"Only one thing!"
"And that is----"
"To have loved."
Wherewith he turned into the Greco.
He had found the one flaw--and it was still there. What he missed in
her was still wanting.
THE LITTLE LEOPARD OF FRANCE.
"V'la ce que c'est la gloire--au grabat!"
The contemptuous sentence was crushed through Cigarette's tight-
pressed, bright-red lips, with an irony sadder than tears. She was
sitting on the edge of a grabat, hard as wood, comfortless as a truss
of straw, and looking down the long hospital room, with its endless
rows of beds and its hot sun shining blindingly on its glaring,
She was well known and well loved there. When her little brilliant-
hued figure fluttered, like some scarlet bird of Africa, down the
dreary length of those chambers of misery, bloodless lips, close-
clinched in torture, would stir with a smile, would move with a word
of welcome. No tender-voiced, dove-eyed Sister of Orders of Mercy,
gliding gray and soft, and like a living psalm of consolation, beside
those couches of misery, bore with them the infinite, inexpressible
charm that the Friend of the Flag brought to the sufferers. The
Sisters were good, were gentle, were valued as they merited by the
greatest blackguard prostrate there; but they never smiled, they never
took the dying heart of a man back with one glance to the days of his
childhood, they never gave a sweet, wild snatch of song like a bird's
on a spring-blossoming bough that thrilled through half-dead senses,
with a thousand voices from a thousand buried hours. "But the Little
One," as said a gaunt, gray-bearded Zephyr once, where he lay with the
death-chill stealing slowly up his jagged, torn frame--"the Little One
--do you see--she is youth, she is life; she is all we have lost. That
is her charm! The Sisters are good women, they are very good; but they
only pity us. The Little One, she loves us. That is the difference; do
It was all the difference--a wide difference; she loved them all, with
the warmth and fire of her young heart, for the sake of France and of
their common Flag. And though she was but a wild, wayward, mischievous
gamin,--a gamin all over, though in a girl's form,--men would tell in
camp and hospital, with great tears coursing down their brown, scarred
cheeks, how her touch would lie softly as a snowflake on their heated
foreheads; how her watch would be kept by them through long nights of
torment; how her gifts of golden trinkets would be sold or pawned as
soon as received to buy them ice or wine; and how in their delirium
the sweet, fresh voice of the child of the regiment would soothe them,
singing above their wretched beds some carol or chant of their own
native province, which it always seemed she must know by magic; for,
were it Basque or Breton, were it a sea-lay of Vendee or a mountain-
song of the Orientales, were it a mere, ringing rhyme for the mules of
Alsace, or a wild, bold romanesque from the country of Berri--
Cigarette knew each and all, and never erred by any chance, but ever
sung to every soldier the rhythm familiar from his infancy, the melody
of his mother's cradle-song and of his first love's lips. And there
had been times when those songs, suddenly breaking through the
darkness of night, suddenly lulling the fiery anguish of wounds, had
made the men who one hour before had been like mad dogs, like goaded
tigers--men full of the lusts of slaughter and the lust of the senses,
and chained powerless and blaspheming to a bed of agony--tremble and
shudder at themselves, and turn their faces to the wall and weep like
children, and fall asleep, at length, with wondering dreams of God.
"V'la ce que c'est la gloire--au grabat!" said Cigarette, now grinding
her pretty teeth. She was in her most revolutionary and reckless mood,
drumming the rataplan with her spurred heels, and sitting smoking on
the corner of old Miou-Matou's mattress. Miou-Matou, who had acquired
that title among the joyeux for his scientific powers of making a
tomcat into a stew so divine that you could not tell it from rabbit,
being laid up with a ball in his hip, a spear-head between his
shoulders, a rib or so broken, and one or two other little trifling
Miou-Matou, who looked very like an old grizzly bear, laughed in the
depths of his great, hairy chest. "Dream of glory, and end on a
grabat! Just so, just so. And yet one has pleasures--to sweep off an
Arbico's neck nice and clean--swish!" and he described a circle with
his lean, brawny arm with as infinite a relish as a dilettante, grown
blind, would listen thirstily to the description of an exquisite bit
of Faience or Della Quercia work.
"Pleasures! My God! Infinite, endless misery!" murmured a man on her
right hand. He was not thirty years of age; with a delicate, dark,
beautiful head that might have passed as model to a painter for a St.
John. He was dying fast of the most terrible form of pulmonary
Cigarette flashed her bright, falcon glance over him.
"Well! is it not misery that is glory?"
"We think that it is when we are children. God help me!" murmured the
man who lay dying of lung-disease.
"Ouf! Then we think rightly! Glory! Is it the cross, the star, the
baton? No![*] He who wins those runs his horse up on a hill, out of
shot range, and watches through his glass how his troops surge up,
wave on wave, in the great sea of blood. It is misery that is glory--
the misery that toils with bleeding feet under burning suns without
complaint; that lies half-dead through the long night with but one
care--to keep the torn flag free from the conqueror's touch; that
bears the rain of blows in punishment, rather than break silence and
buy release by betrayal of a comrade's trust; that is beaten like the
mule, and galled like the horse, and starved like the camel, and
housed like the dog, and yet does the thing which is right, and the
thing which is brave, despite all; that suffers, and endures, and
pours out his blood like water to the thirsty sands, whose thirst is
never stilled, and goes up in the morning sun to the combat, as though
death were paradise that the Arbicos dream; knowing the while, that no
paradise waits save the crash of the hoof through the throbbing brain,
or the roll of the gun-carriage over the writhing limb. That is glory.
The misery that is heroism because France needs it, because a
soldier's honor wills it. That is glory. It is here to-day in the
hospital as it never is in the Cour des Princes, where the glittering
host of the marshals gather!"
[*] Having received ardent reproaches from field officers and
commanders of divisions for the injustice done their services by
this sentence, I beg to assure them that the sentiment is
Cigarette's--not mine. I should be very sorry for an instant to
seem to depreciate that "genius of command" without whose guidance
an army is but a rabble, or to underrate that noblest courage
which accepts the burden of arduous responsibilities and of duties
as bitter in anxiety as they are precious in honor.
Her voice rang clear as a clarion; the warm blood burned in her bright
cheeks; the swift, fiery, pathetic eloquence of her nation moved her,
and moved strangely the hearts of her hearers; for though she could
neither read nor write, there was in Cigarette the germ of that power
which the world mistily calls genius.
There were men lying in that sick-chamber brutalized, crime-stained,
ignorant as the bullocks of the plains, and, like them, reared and
driven for the slaughter; yet there was not one among them to whom
some ray of light failed to come from those words, through whom some
thrill failed to pass as they heard them. Out yonder in the free air,
in the barrack court, or on the plains, the Little One would rate them
furiously, mock them mercilessly, rally them with the fist of a saber,
if they were mutinous, and lash them with the most pitiless ironies if
they were grumbling; but here, in the hospital, the Little One loved
them, and they knew it, and that love gave a flute-like music to the
passion of her voice.
Then she laughed, and drummed the rataplan again with her brass heel.
"All the same, one is not in paradise au grabat; eh, Pere Matou?" she
said curtly. She was half impatient of her own momentary lapse into
enthusiasm, and she knew the temper of her "children" as accurately as
a bugler knows the notes of the reveille--knew that they loved to
laugh even with the death-rattle in their throats, and with their
hearts half breaking over a comrade's corpse, would cry in burlesque
mirth, "Ah, the good fellow! He's swallowed his own cartouche!"
"Paradise!" growled Pere Matou. "Ouf! Who wants that? If one had a few
bidons of brandy, now----"
"Brandy? Oh, ha. you are to be much more of aristocrats now than
that!" cried Cigarette, with an immeasurable satire curling on her
rosy piquant lips. "The Silver Pheasants have taken to patronize you.
If I were you, I would not touch a glass, nor eat a fig; you will not,
if you have the spirit of a rabbit. You! Fed like dogs with the
leavings of her table--pardieu! That is not for soldiers of France!"
"What dost thou say?" growled Miou-Matou, peering up under his gray,
"Only that a grande dame has sent you champagne. That is all.
Sapristi! How easy it is to play the saint and Samaritan with two
words to one's maitre d'hotel, and a rouleau of gold that one never
misses! The rich they can buy all things, you see, even heaven, so
cheap!" With which withering satire Cigarette left Pere Matou in the
conviction that he must be already dead and among the angels if the
people began to talk of champagne to him; and flitting down between
the long rows of beds with the old disabled veterans who tended them,
skimmed her way, like a bird as she was, into another great chamber,
filled, like the first, with suffering in all stages and at all years,
from the boy-conscript, tossing in African fever, to the white-haired
campaigner of a hundred wounds.
Cigarette was as caustic as a Voltaire this morning. Coming through
the entrance of the hospital, she had casually heard that Mme. la
Princesse Corona d'Amague had made a gift of singular munificence and
mercy to the invalid soldiers--a gift of wine, of fruit, of flowers,
that would brighten their long, dreary hours for many weeks. Who Mme.
la Princesse might be she knew nothing; but the title was enough; she
was a silver pheasant--bah! And Cigarette hated the aristocrats--when
they were of the sex feminine. "An aristocrat in adversity is an
eagle," she would say, "but an aristocrat in prosperity is a peacock."
Which was the reason why she flouted glittering young nobles with all
the insolence imaginable, but took the part of "Marquise," of "Bel-a-
faire-peur," and of such wanderers like them, who had buried their
sixteen quarterings under the black shield of the Battalion of Africa.
With a word here and a touch there,--tender, soft, and bright,--since,
however ironic her mood, she never brought anything except sunshine to
those who lay in such sore need of it, beholding the sun in the
heavens only through the narrow chink of a hospital window; at last
she reached the bed she came most specially to visit--a bed on which
was stretched the emaciated form of a man once beautiful as a Greek
dream of a god.
The dews of a great agony stood on his forehead; his teeth were tight
clinched on lips white and parched; and his immense eyes, with the
heavy circles round them, were fastened on vacancy with the yearning
misery that gleams in the eyes of a Spanish bull when it is struck
again and again by the matador, and yet cannot die.
She bent over him softly.
"Tiens, M. Leon! I have brought you some ice."
His weary eyes turned on her gratefully; he sought to speak, but the
effort brought the spasm on his lungs afresh; it shook him with
horrible violence from head to foot, and the foam on his auburn beard
was red with blood.
There was no one by to watch him; he was sure to die; a week sooner or
later--what mattered it! He was useless as a soldier; good only to be
thrown into a pit, with some quicklime to hasten destruction and do
the work of the slower earthworms.
Cigarette said not a word, but she took out of some vine-leaves a
cold, hard lump of ice, and held it to him; the delicious coolness and
freshness in that parching, noontide heat stilled the convulsion; his
eyes thanked her, though his lips could not; he lay panting,
exhausted, but relieved; and she--thoughtfully for her--slid herself
down on the floor, and began singing low and sweetly, as a fairy might
sing on the raft of a water-lily leaf. She sung quadriales, to be
sure, Beranger's songs and odes of the camp; for she knew of no hymn
but the "Marseillaise," and her chants were all chants like the "Laus
Veneris." But the voice that gave them was pure as the voice of a
thrush in the spring, and the cadence of its music was so silvery
sweet that it soothed like a spell all the fever-racked brains, all
the pain-tortured spirits.
"Ah, that is sweet," murmured the dying man. "It is like the brooks--
like the birds--like the winds in the leaves."
He was but half conscious; but the lulling of that gliding voice
brought him peace. And Cigarette sung on, only moving to reach him
some fresh touch of ice, while time traveled on, and the first
afternoon shadows crept across the bare floor. Every now and then,
dimly through the openings of the windows, came a distant roll of
drums, a burst of military music, an echo of the laughter of a crowd;
and then her head went up eagerly, an impatient shade swept across her
It was a fete-day in Algiers; there were flags and banners fluttering
from the houses; there were Arab races and Arab maneuvers; there was a
review of troops for some foreign general; there were all the mirth
and the mischief that she loved, and that never went on without her;
and she knew well enough that from mouth to mouth there was sure to be
asking, "Mais ou done est Cigarette?" Cigarette, who was the
Generalissima of Africa!
But still she never moved; though all her vivacious life was longing
to be out and in their midst, on the back of a desert horse, on the
head of a huge drum, perched on the iron support of a high-hung
lantern, standing on a cannon while the Horse Artillery swept full
gallop, firing down a volley of argot on the hot homage of a hundred
lovers, drinking creamy liqueurs and filling her pockets with bonbons
from handsome subalterns and aids-de-camp, doing as she had done ever
since she could remember her first rataplan. But she never moved. She
knew that in the general gala these sick-beds would be left more
deserted and less soothed than ever. She knew, too, that it was for
the sake of this man, lying dying here from the lunge of a Bedouin
lance through his lungs, that the ivory wreaths and crosses and
statuettes had been sold.
And Cigarette had done more than this ere now many a time for her
The day stole on; Leon Ramon lay very quiet; the ice for his chest and
the song for his ear gave him that semi-oblivion, dreamy and
comparatively painless, which was the only mercy which could come to
him. All the chamber was unusually still; on three of the beds the
sheet had been drawn over the face of the sleepers, who had sunk to a
last sleep since the morning rose. The shadows lengthened, the hours
followed one another; Cigarette sang on to herself with few pauses;
whenever she did so pause to lay soaked linen on the soldier's hot
forehead, or to tend him gently in those paroxysms that wrenched the
clotted blood from off his lungs, there was a light on her face that
did not come from the golden heat of the African sun.
Such a light those who know well the Children of France may have seen,
in battle or in insurrection, grow beautiful upon the young face of a
conscript or a boy-insurgent as he lifted a dying comrade, or pushed
to the front to be slain in another's stead; the face that a moment
before had been keen for the slaughter as the eyes of a kite, and
recklessly gay as the saucy refrain the lips caroled.
A step sounded on the bare boards; she looked up; and the wounded man
raised his weary lids with a gleam of gladness under them; Cecil bent
above his couch.
"Dear Leon! How is it with you?"
His voice was softened to infinite tenderness; Leon Ramon had been for
many a year his comrade and his friend; an artist of Paris, a man of
marvelous genius, of high idealic creeds, who, in a fatal moment of
rash despair, had flung his talents, his broken fortunes, his pure and
noble spirit, into the fiery furnace of the hell of military Africa;
and now lay dying here, a common soldier, forgotten as though he were
already in his grave.
"The review is just over. I got ten minutes to spare, and came to you
the instant I could," pursued Cecil. "See here what I bring you! You,
with your artist's soul, will feel yourself all but well when you look
He spoke with a hopefulness he could never feel, for he knew that the
life of Leon Ramon was doomed; and as the other strove to gain breath
enough to answer him, he gently motioned him to silence, and placed on
his bed some peaches bedded deep in moss and circled round with
stephanotis, with magnolia, with roses, with other rarer flowers
The face of the artist-soldier lightened with a longing joy; his lips
"Ah, God! they have the fragrance of my France!"
Cecil said nothing, but moved them nearer in to the clasp of hie eager
hands. Cigarette he did not see.
There were some moments of silence, while the dark eyes of the dying
man thirstily dwelt on the beauty of the flowers, and his dry, ashen
lips seemed to drink in their perfumes as those athirst drink in
"They are beautiful," he said faintly, at length. "They have our youth
in them. How came you by them, dear friend?"
"They are not due to me," answered Cecil hurriedly. "Mme. la Princess
Corona sends them to you. She has sent great gifts to the hospital--
wines, fruits, a profusion of flowers, such as those. Through her,
these miserable chambers will bloom for a while like a garden; and the
best wines of Europe will slake your thirst in lieu of that miserable
"It is very kind," murmured Leon Ramon languidly; life was too feeble
in him to leave him vivid pleasures in aught. "But I am ungrateful. La
Cigarette here--she has been so good, so tender, so pitiful. For once
I have almost not missed you!"
Cigarette, thus alluded to, sprang to her feet with her head tossed
back, and all her cynicism back again; a hot color was on her cheeks,
the light had passed from her face, she struck her white teeth
together. She had thought "Bel-a-faire-peur" chained to his regiment
in the field of maneuver, or she would never have come thither to tend
his friend. She had felt happy in her self-sacrifice; she had grown
into a gentle, pensive, merciful mood, singing here by the side of the
dying soldier, and now the first thing she heard was of the charities
of Mme. la Princesse!
That was all her reward! Cigarette received the recompense that
usually comes to generous natures which have strung themselves to some
self-surrender that costs them dear.
Cecil looked at her surprised, and smiled.
"Ma belle, is it you? That is, indeed, good. You were the good angel
of my life the other night, and to-day come to bring consolation to my
"Good angel! Chut, M. Victor! One does not know those mots sucres in
Algiers. There is nothing of the angel about me, I hope. Your friend,
too! Do you think I have never been used to taking care of my comrades
in hospital before you played the sick-nurse here?"
She spoke with all her brusque petulance in arms again; she hated that
he should imagine she had sacrificed her fete-day to Leon Ramon,
because the artist-trooper was dear to him; she hated him to suppose
that she had waited there all the hours through on the chance that he
would find her at her post, and admire her for her charity. Cigarette
was far too proud and disdainful a young soldier to seek either his
presence or his praise.
He smiled again; he did not understand the caprices of her changeful
moods, and he did not feel that interest in her which would have made
him divine the threads of their vagaries.
"I did not think to offend you, my little one," he said gently. "I
meant only to thank you for your goodness to Ramon in my absence."
Cigarette shrugged her shoulders.
"There was no goodness, and there need be no thanks. Ask Pere Matou
how often I have sat with him hours through."
"But on a fete-day! And you who love pleasure, and grace it so well--"
"Ouf! I have had so much of it," said the little one contemptuously.
"It is so tame to me. Clouds of dust, scurry of horses, fanfare of
trumpets, thunder of drums, and all for nothing! Bah! I have been in a
dozen battles--I--and I am not likely to care much for a sham fight."
"Nay, she is unjust to herself," murmured Leon Ramon. "She gave up the
fete to do this mercy--it has been a great one. She is more generous
than she will ever allow. Here, Cigarette, look at these scarlet
rosebuds; they are like your bright cheeks. Will you have them? I have
nothing else to give."
"Rosebuds!" echoed Cigarette, with supreme scorn. "Rosebuds for me? I
know no rose but the red of the tricolor; and I could not tell a weed
from a flower. Besides, I told Miou-Matou just now, if my children do
as I tell them, they will not take a leaf or a peach-stone from this
grande dame--how does she call herself?--Mme. Corona d'Amague!"
Cecil looked up quickly: "Why not?"
Cigarette flashed on him her brilliant, brown eyes with a fire that
"Because we are soldiers, not paupers!"
"And it is not for the silver pheasants, who have done nothing to
deserve their life but lain in nests of cotton wool, and eaten grain
that others sow and shell for them, and spread their shining plumage
in a sun that never clouds above their heads, to insult, with the
insolence of their 'pity' and their 'charity,' the heroes of France,
who perish as they have lived, for their Country and their Flag!"
It was a superb peroration! If the hapless flowers lying there had
been a cartel of outrage to the concrete majesty of the French Army,
the Army's champion could not have spoken with more impassioned force
Cecil laughed slightly; but he answered, with a certain annoyance:
"There is no 'insolence' here; no question of it. Mme. la Princesse
desired to offer some gift to the soldiers of Algiers; I suggested to
her that to increase the scant comforts of the hospital, and gladden
the weary eyes of sick men with beauties that the Executive never
dreams of bestowing, would be the most merciful and acceptable mode of
exercising her kindness. If blame there be in the matter, it is mine."
In defending the generosity of what he knew to be a genuine and
sincere wish to gratify his comrades, he betrayed what he did not
intend to have revealed, namely, the conversation that had passed
between himself and the Spanish Princesse. Cigarette caught at the
inference with the quickness of her lightning-like thought.
"Oh, ha! So it is she!"
There was a whole world of emphasis, scorn, meaning, wrath,
comprehension, and irony in the four monosyllables; the dying man
looked at her with languid wonder.
"She? Who? What story goes with these roses?"
"None," said Cecil, with the same inflection of annoyance in his
voice; to have his passing encounter with this beautiful patrician
pass into a barrack canard, through the unsparing jests of the
soldiery around him, was a prospect very unwelcome to him. "None
whatever. A generous thoughtfulness for our common necessities as
"Ouf!" interrupted Cigarette, before his phrase was one-third
finished. "The stalled mare will not go with the wild coursers; an
aristocrat may live with us, but he will always cling to his old
order. This is the story that runs with the roses. Milady was
languidly insolent over some ivory chessmen, and Corporal Victor
thought it divine, because languor and insolence are the twin gods of
the noblesse, parbleu! Milady, knowing no gods but those two, worships
them, and sends to the soldiers of France, as the sort of sacrifice
her gods love, fruits, and wines that, day after day, are set on her
table, to be touched, if tasted at all, with a butterfly's sip; and
Corporal Victor finds this a charity sublime--to give what costs
nothing, and scatter a few crumbs out from the profusion of a life of
waste and indulgence! And I say that, if my children are of my fashion
of thinking, they will choke like dogs dying of thirst rather than
slake their throats with alms cast to them as if they were beggars!"
With which fiery and bitter enunciation of her views on the gifts of
the Princesse Corona d'Amague, Cigarette struck light to her brule-
guele, and thrusting it between her lips, with her hands in the folds
of her scarlet waist-sash, went off with the light, swift step natural
to her, exaggerated into the carriage she had learned of the Zouaves;
laughing her good-morrows noisily to this and that trooper as she
passed their couches, and not dropping her voice even as she passed
the place where the dead lay, but singing, as loud as she could, the
most impudent drinking-song out of the taverns of the Spahis that ever
celebrated wine, women, and war in the lawlessness of the lingua
Her wrath was hot, and her heart heavy within her. She had given up
her whole fete-day to wait on the anguish and to soothe the solitude
of his friend lying dying there; and her reward had been to hear him
speak of this aristocrat's donations, that cost her nothing but the
trouble of a few words of command to her household, as though they
were the saintly charities of some angel from heaven!
"Diantre!" she muttered, as her hand wandered to the ever-beloved
forms of the pistols within her sash. "Any of them would throw a
draught of wine in his face, and lay him dead for me with a pass or
two ten minutes after. Why don't I bid them? I have a mind----"
In that moment she could have shot him dead herself without a moment's
thought. Storm and sunlight swept, one after another, with electrical
rapidity at all times, through her vivid, changeful temper; and here
she had been wounded and been stung in the very hour in which she had
subdued her national love of mirth, and her childlike passion for
show, and her impatience of all confinement, and her hatred of all
things mournful, in the attainment of this self-negation! Moreover,
there mingled with it the fierce and intolerant heat of the passionate
and scarce-conscious jealousy of an utterly untamed nature, and of
Gallic blood, quick and hot as the steaming springs of the Geyser.
"You have vexed her, Victor," said Leon Ramon, as she was lost to
sight through the doors of the great, desolate chamber.
"I hope not; I do not know how," answered Cecil. "It is impossible to
follow the windings of her wayward caprices. A child--a soldier--a
dancer--a brigand--a spoiled beauty--a mischievous gamin--how is one
to treat such a little fagot of opposites?"
The others smiled.
"Ah! you do not know the Little One yet. She is worth a study. I
painted her years ago--'La Vivandiere a Sept Ans.' There was not a
picture in the Salon that winter that was sought like it. I had
traveled in Algeria then; I had not entered the army. The first thing
I saw of Cigarette was this: She was seven years old; she had been
beaten black and blue; she had had two of her tiny teeth knocked out.
The men were furious--she was a pet with them; and she would not say
who had done it, though she knew twenty swords would have beaten him
flat as a fritter if she had given his name. I got her to sit to me
some days after. I pleased her with her own picture. I asked her to
tell me why she would not say who had ill-treated her. She put her
head on one side like a robin, and told me, in a whisper: 'It was one
of my comrades--because I would not steal for him. I would not have
the army know--it would demoralize them. If a French soldier ever does
a cowardly thing, another French soldier must not betray it.' That was
Cigarette--at seven years. The esprit de corps was stronger than her
own wrongs. What do you say to that nature?"
"That is superb!--that it might be molded to anything. The pity is--"
"Ah," said the artist-trooper, half wearily, half laughingly. "Spare
me the old world-worn, threadbare formulas. Because the flax and the
laleza blossom for use, and the garden flowers grow trained and
pruned, must there be no bud that opens for mere love of the sun, and
swings free in the wind in its fearless, fair fashion? Believe me,
dear Victor, it is the lives which follow no previous rule that do the
most good and give the most harvest."
"Surely. Only for this child--a woman--in her future--"
"Her future! Well, she will die, I dare say, some bright day or
another, at the head of a regiment; with some desperate battle turned
by the valor of her charge, and the sight of the torn tricolor upheld
in her little hands. That is what Cigarette hopes for--why not? There
will always be a million of commonplace women ready to keep up the
decorous traditions of their sex, and sit in safety over their needles
by the side of their hearths. One little lioness here and there in a
generation cannot do overmuch harm."
Cecil was silent. He would not cross the words of the wounded man by
saying what might bring a train of less pleasant thoughts--saying
what, in truth, was in his mind, that the future which he had meant
for the little Friend of the Flag was not that of any glorious death
by combat, but that of a life (unless no bullet early cut its silver
cord in twain) when youth should have fled, and have carried forever
with it her numberless graces, and left in its stead that ribaldry-
stained, drink-defiled, hardened, battered, joyless, cruel, terrible
thing which is unsightly and repugnant to even the lowest among men;
which is as the lees of the drunk wine, as the ashes of the burned-out
fires, as the discord of the broken and earth-clogged lyre.
Cigarette was charming now--a fairy-story set into living motion--a
fantastic little firework out of an extravaganza, with the impudence
of a boy-harlequin and the witching kitten-hood of a girl's beauty.
But when this youth that made it all fair should have passed (and
youth passes soon when thus adrift on the world), when there should be
left in its stead only shamelessness, hardihood, vice, weariness--
those who found the prettiest jest in her now would be the first to
cast aside, with an oath, the charred, wrecked rocket-stick of a life
from which no golden, careless stream of many-colored fires of
coquette caprices would rise and enchant them then.
"Who is it that sent these?" asked Leon Ramon, later on, as his hands
still wandered among the flowers; for the moment he was at peace; the
ice and the hours of quietude had calmed him.
Cecil told him again.
"What does Cigarette know of her?" he pursued.
"Nothing, except, I believe, she knew that Mme. Corona accepted my
"Ah! I thought the Little One was jealous, Victor."
"Jealous? Pshaw! Of whom?"
"Of anyone you admire--especially of this grande dame."
"Absurd!" said Cecil, with a sense of annoyance. "Cigarette is far too
bold a little trooper to have any thoughts of those follies; and as
for this grande dame, as you call her, I shall, in every likelihood,
never see her again--unless when the word is given to 'Carry Swords'
or 'Lances' at the General's Salute, where she reins her horse beside
M. le Marechal's at a review, as I have done this morning."
The keen ear of the sick man caught the inflection of an impatience,
of a mortification, in the tone that the speaker himself was
unconscious of. He guessed the truth--that Cecil had never felt more
restless under the shadow of the Eagles than he had done when he had
carried his sword up in the salute as he passed with his regiment the
flagstaff where the aristocracy of Algiers had been gathered about the
Marshal and his staff, and the azure eyes of Mme. la Princesse had
glanced carelessly and critically over the long line of gray horses of
those Chasseurs d'Afrique among whom he rode a bas-officier.
"Cigarette is right," said Ramon, with a slight smile. "Your heart is
with your old order. You are an aristocrat."
"Indeed I am not, mon ami; I am a mere trooper."
"Now! Well, keep your history as you have always done, if you will.
What my friend was matters nothing; I know well what he is, and how
true a friend. As for Milady, she will be best out of your path,
Victor. Women! God!--they are so fatal!"
"Does not our folly make their fatality?"
"Not always; not often. The madness may be ours, but they sow it. Ah!
do they not know how to rouse and enrage it; how to fan, to burn, to
lull, to pierce, to slake, to inflame, to entice, to sting? Heavens!
so well they know--that their beauty must come, one thinks, out of
His great eyes gleamed like fire, his hollow chest panted for breath,
the sweat stood out on his temples. Cecil sought to soothe him, but
his words rushed on with the impetuous course of the passionate
memories that arose in him.
"Do you know what brought me here? No! As little as I know what
brought you, though we have been close comrades all these years. Well,
it was she! I was an artist. I had no money, I had few friends; but I
had youth, I had ambition, I had, I think, genius, till she killed it.
I loved my art with a great love, and I was happy. Even in Paris one
can be so happy without wealth, while one is young. The mirth of the
Barriere--the grotesques of the Halles--the wooden booths on New
Year's Day--the bright midnight crowds under the gaslights--the bursts
of music from the gay cafes--the gray little nuns flitting through the
snow--the Mardi Gras and the Old-World fooleries--the summer Sundays
under the leaves while we laughed like children--the silent dreams
through the length of the Louvre--dreams that went home with us and
made our garret bright with their visions--one was happy in them--
His eyes were still fastened on the blank, white wall before him while
he spoke, as though the things that his words sketched so faintly were
painted in all their vivid colors on the dull, blank surface. And so
in truth they were, as remembrance pictured all the thousand perished
hours of his youth.
"Happy--until she looked at me," he pursued, while his voice flew in
feverish haste over the words. "Why would she not let me be? She had
them all in her golden nets: nobles, and princes, and poets, and
soldiers--she swept them in far and wide. She had her empire; why must
she seek out a man who had but his art and his youth, and steal those?
Women are so insatiate, look you; though they held all the world, they
would not rest if one mote in the air swam in sunshine, free of them!
It was the first year I touched triumph that I saw her. They began for
the first time to speak of me; it was the little painting of
Cigarette, as a child of the army, that did it. Ah, God! I thought
myself already so famous! Well, she sent for me to take her picture,
and I went. I went and I painted her as Cleopatra--by her wish. Ah! it
was a face for Cleopatra--the eyes that burn your youth dead, the lips
that kiss your honor blind! A face--my God! how beautiful! She had set
herself to gain my soul; and as the picture grew, and grew, and grew,
so my life grew into hers till I lived only by her breath. Why did she
want my life? she had so many! She had rich lives, great lives, grand
lives at her bidding; and yet she knew no rest till she had leaned
down from her cruel height and had seized mine, that had nothing on
earth but the joys of the sun and the dew, and the falling of night,
and the dawning of day, that are given to the birds of the fields."
His chest heaved with the spasms that with each throe seemed to tear
his frame asunder; still he conquered them, and his words went on; his
eyes fastened on the burning white glare of the wall as though all the
beauty of this woman glowed afresh there to his sight.
"She was great; no matter her name--she lives still. She was vile;
aye, but not in my sight till too late. Why is it that the heart which
is pure never makes ours beat upon it with the rapture sin gives?
Through month on month my picture grew, and my passion grew with it,
fanned by her hand. She knew that never would a man paint her beauty
like one who gave his soul for the price of success. I had my
paradise; I was drunk; and I painted as never the colors of mortals
painted a woman. I think even she was content; even she, who in her
superb arrogance thought she was matchless and deathless. Then came my
reward; when the picture was done, her fancy had changed! A light
scorn, a careless laugh, a touch of her fan on my cheek; could I not
understand? Was I still such a child? Must I be broken more harshly in
to learn to give place? That was all! And at last her lackey pushed me
back with his wand from her gates! What would you? I had not known
what a great lady's illicit caprices meant; I was still but a boy! She
had killed me; she had struck my genius dead; she had made earth my
hell--what of that? She had her beauty eternal in the picture she
needed, and the whole city rang with her loveliness as they looked on
my work. I have never painted again. I came here. What of that? An
artist the less then, the world did not care; a life the less soon,
she will not care either!"
Then, as the words ended, a great wave of blood beat back his breath
and burst from the pent-up torture of his striving lungs, and stained
red the dark and silken masses of his beard. His comrade had seen the
hemorrhage many times; yet now he knew, as he had never known before,
that that was death.
As he held him upward in his arms, and shouted loud for help, the
great luminous eyes of the French soldier looked up at him through
their mist with the deep, fond gratitude that beams in the eyes of a
dog as it drops down to die, knowing one touch and one voice to the
"You do not forsake," he murmured brokenly, while his voice ebbed
faintly away as the stream of his life flowed faster and faster out.
"It is over now--so best! If only I could have seen France once more.
He stretched his arms outward as he spoke, with the vain longing of a
hopeless love. Then a deep sigh quivered through his lips; his hand
strove to close on the hand of his comrade, and his head fell, resting
on the flushed blossoms of the rose-buds of Provence.
He was dead.
An hour later Cecil left the hospital, seeing and hearing nothing of
the gay riot of the town about him, though the folds of many-colored
silk and bunting fluttered across the narrow Moorish streets, and the
whole of the populace was swarming through them with the vivacious
enjoyment of Paris mingling with the stately, picturesque life of Arab
habit and custom. He was well used to pain of every sort; his bread
had long been the bread of bitterness, and the waters of his draught
been of gall. Yet this stroke, though looked for, fell heavily and cut
Yonder, in the deadroom, there lay a broken, useless mass of flesh and
bone that in the sight of the Bureau Arabe was only a worn-out machine
that had paid its due toll to the wars of the Second Empire, and was
now valueless; only fit to be cast in to rot, unmourned, in the
devouring African soil. But to him that lifeless, useless mass was
dear still; was the wreck of the bravest, tenderest, and best-loved
friend that he had found in his adversity.
In Leon Ramon he had found a man whom he had loved, and who had loved
him. They had suffered much, and much endured together; their very
dissimilarities had seemed to draw them nearer to each other. The
gentle impassiveness of the Englishman had been like rest to the
ardent impetuosity of the French soldier; the passionate and poetic
temperament of the artist-trooper had revealed to Cecil a thousand
views of thought and of feeling which had never before then dawned on
him. And now that the one lay dead, a heavy, weary sense of loneliness
rested on the other. They died around him every day; the fearless,
fiery blood of France watered in ceaseless streams the arid,
harvestless fields of northern Africa. Death was so common that the
fall of a comrade was no more noted by them than the fall of a loose
stone that their horse's foot shook down a precipice. Yet this death
was very bitter to him. He wondered with a dull sense of aching
impatience why no Bedouin bullet, no Arab saber, had ever found his
own life out, and cut his thralls asunder.
The evening had just followed on the glow of the day--evening, more
lustrous even than ever, for the houses were all aglitter with endless
lines of colored lamps and strings of sparkling illuminations, a very
sea of bright-hued fire. The noise, the mirth, the sudden swell of
music, the pleasure-seeking crowds--all that were about him--served
only to make more desolate and more oppressive by their contrast his
memories of that life, once gracious, and gifted, and content with the
dower of its youth, ruined by a woman, and now slaughtered here, for
no avail and with no honor, by a lance-thrust in a midnight skirmish,
which had been unrecorded even in the few lines of the gazette that
chronicled the war news of Algeria.
Passing one of the cafes, a favorite resort of the officers of his own
regiment, he saw Cigarette. A sheaf of blue, and white, and scarlet
lights flashed with tongues of golden flame over her head, and a great
tricolor flag, with the brass eagle above it, was hanging in the
still, hot air from the balcony from which she leaned. Her tunic-skirt
was full of bonbons and crackers that she was flinging down among the
crowd while she sang; stopping every now and then to exchange some
passage of gaulois wit with them that made her hearers scream with
laughter, while behind her was a throng of young officers drinking
champagne, eating ices, and smoking; echoing her songs and her satires
with enthusiastic voices and stamps of their spurred bootheels. As he
glanced upward, she looked literally in a blaze of luminance, and the
wild, mellow tones of her voice, ringing out sounded like a mockery of
that dying-bed beside which they had both so late stood together.
"She has the playfulness of the young leopard, and the cruelty," he
thought, with a sense of disgust; forgetting that she did not know
what he knew, and that, if Cigarette had waited to laugh until death
had passed by, she would have never laughed all her life through, in
the battalions of Africa.
She saw him, as he went beneath her balcony; and she sung all the
louder, she flung her sweetmeat missiles with reckless force; she
launched bolts of tenfold more audacious raillery at the delighted mob
below. Cigarette was "bon soldat"; when she was wounded, she wound her
scarf round the nerve that ached, and only laughed the gayer.
And he did her that injustice which the best among us are apt to do to
those whom we do not feel interest enough in to study with that
closeness which can alone give comprehension of the intricate and
complex rebus, so faintly sketched, so marvelously involved, of human
He thought her a little leopard, in her vivacious play and her inborn
Well, the little leopard of France played recklessly enough that
evening. Algiers was en fete, and Cigarette was sparkling over the
whole of the town like a humming-bird or a firefly--here and there,
and everywhere, in a thousand places at once, as it seemed; staying
long with none, making music and mirth with all. Waltzing like a thing
possessed, pelting her lovers with a tempest storm of dragees,
standing on the head of a gigantic Spahi en tableau amid a shower of
fireworks, improvising slang songs, and chorused by a hundred lusty
lungs that yelled the burden in riotous glee as furiously as they were
accustomed to shout "En avant!" in assault and in charge, Cigarette
made amends to herself at night for her vain self-sacrifice of the
She had her wound; yes, it throbbed still now and then, and stung like
a bee in the warm core of a rose. But she was young, she was gay, she
was a little philosopher; above all, she was French, and in the real
French blood happiness runs so richly that it will hardly be utterly
chilled until the veins freeze in the coldness of death. She enjoyed--
enjoyed all the more fiercely, perhaps, because a certain desperate
bitterness mingled with the abandonment of her Queen Mab-like
revelries. Until now Cigarette had been as absolutely heedless and
without a care as any young bird, taking its first summer circles
downward through the intoxication of the sunny air. It was not without
fiery resistance and scornful revolt that the madcap would be
prevailed on to admit that any shadow could have power to rest on her.
She played through more than half the night, with the agile, bounding,
graceful play of the young leopard to which he had likened her, and
with a quick punishment from her velvet-sheathed talons if any durst
offend her. Then when the dawn was nigh, leopard-like, the Little One
sought her den.
She was most commonly under canvas; but when she was in town it was at
one with the proud independence of her nature that she rejected all
offers made her, and would have her own nook to live in, even though
she were not there one hour out of the twenty-four.
"Le Chateau de Cigarette" was a standing jest of the Army; for none
was ever allowed to follow her thither, or to behold the interior of
her fortress; and one overventurous Spahi, scaling the ramparts, had
been rewarded with so hot a deluge of lentil soup from a boiling
casserole poured on his head from above, that he had beaten a hasty
and ignominious retreat--which was more than a whole tribe of the most
warlike of his countrymen could ever have made him do.
"Le Chateau de Cigarette" was neither more nor less than a couple of
garrets, high in the air, in an old Moorish house, in an old Moorish
court, decayed, silent, poverty-struck; with the wild pumpkin
thrusting its leaves through the broken fretwork, and the green lizard
shooting over the broad pavements, once brilliant in mosaic, that the
robe of the princes of Islam had swept; now carpeted deep with the
dry, white, drifted dust, and only crossed by the tottering feet of
aged Jews or the laden steps of Algerine women.
Up a long, winding rickety stair Cigarette approached her castle,
which was very near the sky indeed. "I like the blue," said the
chatelaine laconically, "and the pigeons fly close by my window." And
through it, too, she might have added; for, though no human thing
might invade her chateau, the pigeons, circling in the sunrise light,
always knew well there were rice and crumbs spread for them in that
eyelet-hole of a casement.
Cigarette threaded her agile way up the dark, ladder-like shaft, and
opened her door. There was a dim oil wick burning; the garret was
large, and as clean as a palace could be; its occupants were various,
and all sound asleep except one, who, rough, and hard, and small, and
three-legged, limped up to her and rubbed a little bullet head against
"Bouffarick--petite Bouffarick!" returned Cigarette caressingly, in a
whisper, and Bouffarick, content, limped back to a nest of hay; being
a little wiry dog that had lost a leg in one of the most famous
battles of Oran, and lain in its dead master's breast through three
days and nights on the field. Cigarette, shading the lamp with one
hand, glanced round on her family.
They had all histories--histories in the French Army, which was the
only history she considered of any import to the universe. There was a
raven perched high, by name Vole-qui-Vent; he was a noted character
among the Zouaves, and had made many a campaign riding on his owner's
bayonet; he loved a combat, and was specially famed for screaming
"Tue! Tue! Tue!" all over a battlefield; he was very gray now, and the
Zouave's bones had long bleached on the edge of the desert.
There was a tame rat who was a vieille moustache, and who had lived
many years in a Lignard's pocket, and munched waifs and strays of the
military rations, until, the enormous crime being discovered that it
was taught to sit up and dress its whiskers to the heinous air of the
"Marseillaise," the Lignard got the stick, and the rat was condemned
to be killed, had not Cigarette dashed in to the rescue and carried
the long-tailed revolutionist off in safety.
There was a big white cat curled in a ball, who had been the darling
of a Tringlo, and had traveled all over North Africa on the top of his
mule's back, seven seasons through; in the eighth the Tringlo was
picked off by a flying shot, and an Indigene was about to skin the
shrieking cat for the soup-pot, when a bullet broke his wrist, making
him drop the cat with a yell of pain, and the Friend of the Flag,
catching it up, laughed in his face: "A lead comfit instead of
slaughter-soup, my friend!"
There were little Bouffarick and three other brother-dogs of equal
celebrity; one, in especial, who had been brought from Chalons, in
defiance of the regulations, inside the drum of his regiment, and had
been wounded a dozen times; always seeking the hottest heat of the
skirmish. And there was, besides these, sleeping serenely on straw, a
very old man with a snowy beard. A very old man--one who had been a
conscript in the bands of Young France, and marched from his Pyrenean
village to the battle tramp of the Marseillaise, and charged with the
Enfants de Paris across the plains; who had known the passage of the
Alps, and lifted the long curls from the dead brow of Dessaix at
Marengo, and seen in the sultry noonday dust of a glorious summer the
Guard march into Paris, while the people laughed and wept with joy;
surging like the mighty sea around one pale, frail form, so young by
years, so absolute by genius.
A very old man; long broken with poverty, with pain, with bereavement,
with extreme old age; and, by a long course of cruel accidents, alone,
here in Africa, without one left of the friends of his youth, or of
the children of his name, and deprived even of the charities due from
his country to his services--alone, save for the little Friend of the
Flag, who, for four years, had kept him on the proceeds of her wine
trade, in this Moorish attic; tending him herself when in town, taking
heed that he should want for nothing when she was campaigning.
"I will have a care of him," she had said curtly, when she had found
him in great misery and learned his history from others; and she had
had the care accordingly, maintaining him at her own cost in the
Moorish building, and paying a good Jewess of the quarter to tend him
when she was not herself in Algiers.
The old man was almost dead, mentally, though in bodily strength still
well able to know the physical comforts of food and rest, and
attendance; he was in his second childhood, in his ninetieth year, and
was unconscious of the debt he owed her; even, with a curious caprice
of decrepitude, he disliked her, and noticed nothing, except the raven
when it shrieked its "Tue! Tue! Tue!" But to Cigarette he was as
sacred as a god; had he not fought beneath the glance, and gazed upon
the face of the First Consul?"
She bent over him now, saw that he slept, busied herself noiselessly
in brewing a little tin pot full of coffee and hot milk, set it over
the lamp to keep it warm, and placed it beside him ready for his
morning meal, with a roll of white wheat bread; then, with a glance
round to see that her other dependents wanted for nothing, went to her
own garret adjoining, and with the lattice fastened back, that the
first rays of sunrise and the first white flash of her friends the
pigeons' gleaming wings might awaken her, threw herself on her straw
and slept with all the graceful, careless rest of the childhood which,
though in once sense she had never known, yet in another had never
She hid as her lawless courage would not have stooped to hide a sin,
had she chosen to commit one, this compassion which she, the young
condottiera of Algeria, showed with so tender a charity to the soldier
of Bonaparte. To him, moreover, her fiery, imperious voice was gentle
as the dove; her wayward, dominant will was pliant as the reed; her
contemptuous, skeptic spirit was reverent as a child's before an
altar. In her sight the survivor of the Army of Italy was sacred;
sacred the eyes which, when full of light, had seen the sun glitter on
the breastplates of the Hussars of Murat, the Dragoons of Kellerman,
the Cuirassiers of Milhaud; sacred the hands which, when nervous with
youth, had borne the standard of the Republic victorious against the
gathered Teuton host in Champagne; sacred the ears which, when quick
to hear, had heard the thunder of Arcola, of Lodi, of Rivoli, and,
above even the tempest of war, the clear, still voice of Napoleon;
sacred the lips which when their beard was dark in the fullness of
manhood, had quivered, as with a woman's weeping, at the farewell, in
the spring night, in the moonlit Cour des Adieux.
Cigarette had a religion of her own; and followed it more closely than
most disciples follow other creeds.
"MILADY AUX BEAUX YEUX BLEUS."
Early that morning, when the snowy cloud of pigeons were circling down
to take their daily alms from Cigarette, where her bright brown face
looked out from the lattice-hole, Cecil, with some of the roughriders
of his regiment, was sent far into the interior to bring in a string
of colts, bought of a friendly desert tribe, and destined to be
shipped to France for the Imperial Haras. The mission took two days;
early on the third day they returned with the string of wild young
horses, whom it had taken not a little exertion and address to conduct
successfully through the country into Algiers.
He was usually kept in incessant activity, because those in command
over him had quickly discovered the immeasurable value of a bas-
officier who was certain to enforce and obtain implicit obedience, and
certain to execute any command given him with perfect address and
surety, yet, who, at the same time, was adored by his men, and had
acquired a most singularly advantageous influence over them. But of
this he was always glad; throughout his twelve years' service under
the Emperor's flag, he had only found those moments in which he was
unemployed intolerable; he would willingly have been in the saddle
from dawn till midnight.
Chateauroy was himself present when the colts were taken into the
stable-yard; and himself inquired, without the medium of any third
person, the whole details of the sale and of the transit. It was
impossible, with all his inclination, to find any fault either with
the execution of the errand or with the brief, respectful answers by
which his corporal replied to his rapid and imperious cross-
questionings. There were a great number of men within hearing, many of
them the most daring and rebellious pratiques of the regiment; and
Cecil would have let the coarsest upbraidings scourge him rather than
put the temptation to mutiny in their way which one insubordinate or
even not strictly deferential word from him would have given. Hence
the inspection passed off peaceably; as the Marquis turned on his
heel, however, he paused a moment.
"I have not forgotten your insolence with those ivory toys. But Mme.
la Princesse herself has deigned to solicit that it shall be passed
over unpunished. She cannot, of course, yield to your impertinent
request to remain also unpaid for them. I charged myself with the
fulfillment of her wishes. You deserve the stick, but since Milady
herself is lenient enough to pardon you, you are to take this instead.
Hold your hand, sir!"
Cecil put out his hand; he expected to receive a heavy blow from his
commander's saber, that possibly might break the wrist. These little
trifles were common in Africa.
Instead a rouleau of Napoleons was laid on his open palm. Chateauroy
knew the gold would sting more than the blow.
For the moment Cecil had but one impulse--to dash the pieces in the
giver's face. In time to restrain the impulse, he caught sight of the
wild, eager hatred gleaming in the eyes of Rake, of Petit Picpon, of a
score of others, who loved him and cursed their Colonel, and would at
one signal from him have sheathed their swords in the mighty frame of
the Marquis, though they should have been fired down the next moment
themselves for the murder. The warning of Cigarette came to his
memory; his hand clasped on the gold; he gave the salute calmly as
Chateauroy swung himself away.
The troops looked at him with longing, questioning eyes; they knew
enough of him by now to know the bitterness such gold, so given, had
for him. Any other, even a corporal, would have been challenged with a
storm of raillery, a volley of congratulation, and would have had
shouted or hissed after him opprobrious accusations of "faisant
suisse" if he had not forthwith treated his comrades royally from such
largesse. With Bel-a-faire-peur they held their peace; they kept the
silence which they saw that he wished to keep, as, his hour of liberty
being come, he went slowly out of the great court with the handful of
Napoleons thrust in the folds of his sash.
Rather unconsciously than by premeditation his steps turned through
the streets that led to his old familiar haunt, the As de Pique; and
dropping down on a bench under the awning, he asked for a draught of
water. It was brought him at once; the hostess, a quick, brown little
woman from Paris, whom the lovers of Eugene Sue called Rogolette,
adding of her own accord a lump of ice and a slice or two of lemon,
for which she vivaciously refused payment, though generosity was by no
means her cardinal virtue.
"Bel-a-faire-peur" awakened general interest through Algiers; he
brought so fiery and so daring a reputation with him from the wars and
raids of the interior, yet he was so calm, so grave, so gentle, so
listless. It was known that he had made himself the terror of Kabyle
and Bedouin, yet here in the city he thanked the negro boy who took
him a glass of lemonade at an estaminet, and sharply rebuked one of
his men for knocking down an old colon with a burden of gourds and of
melons; such a Roumi as this the good people of the Franco-African
capital held as a perfect gift of the gods, and not understanding one
whit, nevertheless fully appreciated.
He did not look at the newspapers she offered him; but sat gazing out
from the tawny awning, like the sail of a Neapolitan felucca, down the
checkered shadows and the many-colored masses of the little, crooked,
rambling, semi-barbaric alley. He was thinking of the Napoleons in his
sash and of the promise he had pledged to Cigarette. That he would
keep it he was resolved. The few impressive, vivid words of the young
vivandiere had painted before him like a picture the horrors of mutiny
and its hopelessness; rather than that, through him, these should
befall the men who had become his brethren-in-arms, he felt ready to
let the Black Hawk do his worst on his own life. Yet a weariness, a
bitterness, he had never known in the excitement of active service
came on him, brought by this sting of insult brought from the fair
hand of an aristocrate.
There was absolutely no hope possible in his future. The uttermost
that could ever come to him would be a grade something higher in the
army that now enrolled him; the gift of the cross, or a post in the
bureau. Algerine warfare was not like the campaigns of the armies of
Italy or the Rhine, and there was no Napoleon here to discern with
unerring omniscience a leader's genius under the kepi of a common
trooper. Though he should show the qualities of a Massena or a Kleber,
the chances were a million to one that he would never get even as much
as a lieutenancy; and the raids on the decimated tribes, the obscure
skirmishes of the interior, though terrible in slaughter and
venturesome enough, were not the fields on which great military
successes were won and great military honors acquired. The French
fought for a barren strip of brown plateau that, gained, would be of
little use or profit to them; he thought that he did much the same,
that his future was much like those arid sand-plains, these thirsty,
verdureless stretches of burned earth--very little worth the reaching.
The heavy folds of a Bedouin's haick, brushing the papers off the
bench, broke the thread of his musings. As he stooped for them, he saw
that one was an English journal some weeks old. His own name caught
his eye--the name buried so utterly, whose utterance in the Sheik's
tent had struck him like a dagger's thrust. The flickering light and
darkness, as the awning waved to and fro, made the lines move dizzily
upward and downward as he read--read the short paragraph touching the
fortunes of the race that had disowned him:
"The Royallieu Succession.--We regret to learn that the Rt. Hon.
Viscount Royallieu, who so lately succeeded to the family title on
his father's death, has expired at Mentone, whither his health had
induced him to go some months previous. The late Lord was
unmarried. His next brother was, it will be remembered, many years
ago, killed on a southern railway. The title, therefore, now falls
to the third and only remaining son, the Hon. Berkeley Cecil, who,
having lately inherited considerable properties from a distant
relative, will, we believe, revive all the old glories of this
Peerage, which have, from a variety of causes, lost somewhat of
their ancient brilliancy."
Cecil sat quite still, as he had sat looking down on the record of his
father's death, when Cigarette had rallied him with her gay challenge
among the Moresco ruins. His face flushed hotly under the warm, golden
hue of the desert bronze, then lost all its color as suddenly, till it
was as pale as any of the ivory he carved. The letters of the paper
reeled and wavered, and grew misty before his eyes; he lost all sense
of the noisy, changing, polyglot crowd thronging past him; he, a
common soldier in the Algerian Cavalry, knew that, by every law of
birthright, he was now a Peer of England.
His first thought was for the dead man. True, there had been little
amity, little intimacy, between them; a negligent friendliness,
whenever they had met, had been all that they had ever reached. But in
their childhood they had been carelessly kind to one another, and the
memory of the boy who had once played beside him down the old
galleries and under the old forests, of the man who had now died
yonder where the southern sea-board lay across the warm, blue
Mediterranean, was alone on him for the moment. His thoughts had gone
back, with a pang, almost ere he had read the opening lines, to autumn
mornings in his youngest years when the leaves had been flushed with
their earliest red, and the brown, still pools had been alive with
water-birds, and the dogs had dropped down charging among the flags
and rushes, and his brother's boyish face had laughed on him from the
wilderness of willows, and his brother's boyish hands had taught him
to handle his first cartridge and to fire his first shot. The many
years of indifference and estrangement were forgotten, the few years
of childhood's confidence and comradeship alone remembered, as he saw
the words that brought him in his exile the story of his brethren's
fate and of his race's fortunes. His head sank, his face was still
colorless, he sat motionless with the printed sheet in his hand. Once
his eyes flashed, his breath came fast and uneven; he rose with a
sudden impulse, with a proud, bold instinct of birth and freedom. Let
him stand here in what grade he would, with the badge of a Corporal of
the Army of Africa on his arm, this inheritance that had come to him
was his; he bore the name and the title of his house as surely as any
had ever borne it since the first of the Norman owners of Royallieu
had followed the Bastard's banner.
The vagabond throngs--Moorish, Frank, Negro, Colon--paused as they
pushed their way over the uneven road, and stared at him vacantly
where he stood. There was something in his attitude, in his look,
which swept over them, seeing none of them, in the eager lifting of
his head, in the excited fire in his eyes, that arrested all--from the
dullest muleteer, plodding on with his string of patient beasts, to
the most volatile French girl laughing on her way with a group of
fantassins. He did not note them, hear them, think of them; the whole
of the Algerine scene had faded out as if it had no place before him;
he had forgot that he was a cavalry soldier of the Empire; he saw
nothing but the green wealth of the old home woods far away in
England; he remembered nothing save that he, and he alone, was the
rightful Lord of Royallieu.
The hand of a broad-chested, black-visaged veteran of Chasseurs fell
on his shoulder, and the wooden rim of a little wine-cup was thrust
toward him with the proffered drink. It startled him and recalled him
to the consciousness of where he was. He stared one moment absently in
the trooper's amazed face, and then shook him off with a suddenness
that tossed back the cup to the ground; and, holding the journal
clinched close in his hand, went swiftly through the masses of the
people--out and away, he little noted where--till he had forced his
road beyond the gates, beyond the town, beyond all reach of its dust
and its babble and its discord, and was alone in the farther
outskirts, where to the north the calm, sunlit bay slept peacefully
with a few scattered ships riding at anchor, and southward the
luxuriance of the Sahel stretched to meet the wide and cheerless
plateaus, dotted with the conical houses of hair, and desolate as
though the locust-swarm had just alighted there to lay them waste.
Reaching the heights he stood still involuntarily, and looked down
once more on the words that told him of his birthright; in the
blinding, intense light of the African day they seemed to stand out as
though carved in stone; and as he read them once more a great darkness
passed over his face--this heritage was his, and he could never take
it up; this thing had come to him, and he must never claim it. He was
Viscount Royallieu as surely as any of his fathers had been so before
him, and he was dead forever in the world's belief; he must live, and
grow old, and perish by shot or steel, by sickness or by age, with his
name and his rights buried, and his years passed as a private soldier
The momentary glow which had come to him, with the sudden resurrection
of hope and of pride, faded utterly as he slowly read and re-read the
lines of the journal on the broken terraces of the hill-side, where
the great fig trees spread their fantastic shadows, and through a
rocky channel a russet stream of shallow waters threaded its downward
path under the reeds, and no living thing was near him save some quiet
browsing herds far off, and their Arab shepherd-lad that an artist
might have sketched as Ishmael. What his future might have been rose
before his thoughts; what it must be rose also, bitterly, blackly,
drearily in contrast. A noble without even a name; a chief of his race
without even the power to claim kinship with that race; owner by law
of three thousand broad English acres, yet an exile without freedom to
set foot on his native land; by heritage one among the aristocracy of
England, by circumstances, now and forever, till an Arab bullet should
cut in twain his thread of life, a soldier of the African legions,
bound to obey the commonest and coarsest boor that had risen to a rank
above him: this was what he knew himself to be, and knew that he must
continue to be without one appeal against it, without once stretching
out his hand toward his right of birth and station.
There was a passionate revolt, a bitter heart-sickness on him; all the
old freedom and peace and luxury and pleasure of the life he had left
so long allured him with a terrible temptation; the honors of the rank
that he should now have filled were not what he remembered. What he
longed for with an agonized desire was to stand once more stainless
among his equals; to reach once more the liberty of unchallenged,
unfettered life; to return once more to those who held him but as a
dishonored memory, as one whom violent death had well snatched from
the shame of a criminal career.
"But who would believe me now?" he thought. "Besides, this makes no
difference. If three words spoken would reinstate me, I could not
speak them at that cost. The beginning perhaps was folly, but for
sheer justice sake there is no drawing back now. Let him enjoy it; God
knows I do not grudge him it."
Yet, though it was true to the very core that no envy and no evil lay
in his heart against the younger brother to whose lot had fallen all
good gifts of men and fate, there was almost unbearable anguish on him
in this hour in which he learned the inheritance that had come to him,
and remembered that he could never take again even so much of it as
lay in the name of his fathers. When he had given his memory up to
slander and oblivion, and the shadow of a great shame; when he had let
his life die out from the world that had known him, and buried it
beneath the rough, weather-stained, blood-soaked cloth of a private
soldier's uniform, he had not counted the cost then, nor foreseen the
cost hereafter. It had fallen on him very heavily now.
Where he stood under some sheltered columns of a long-ruined mosque
whose shafts were bound together by a thousand withes and wreaths of
the rich, fantastic Sahel foliage, an exceeding weariness of longing
was upon him--longing for all that he had forfeited, for all that was
his own, yet never could be claimed as his.
The day was intensely still; there was not a sound except when, here
and there, the movement of a lizard under the dry grasses gave a low,
crackling rustle. He wondered almost which was the dream and which the
truth: that old life that he had once led, and that looked now so far
away and so unreal; or this which had been about him for so many years
in the camps and the bivouacs, the barracks and the battlefields. He
wondered almost which he himself was--an English Peer on whom the
title of his line had fallen, or a Corporal of Chasseurs who must take
his chief's insults as patiently as a cur takes the blows of its
master; that he was both seemed to him, as he stood there with the
glisten of the sea before and the swelling slopes of the hillside
above, a vague, distorted nightmare.
Hours might have passed, or only moments--he could not have told; his
eyes looked blankly out at the sun-glow, his hand instinctively
clinched on the journal whose stray lines had told him in an Algerine
trattoria that he had inherited what he never could enjoy.
"Are they content, I wonder?" he thought, gazing down that fiery blaze
of shadowless light. "Do they ever remember?"
He thought of those for whose sakes he had become what he was.
The distant, mellow, ringing notes of a trumpet-call floated to his
ear from the town at his feet; it was sounding the rentree en caserne.
Old instinct, long habit, made him start and shake his harness
together and listen. The trumpet-blast, winding cheerily from afar
off, recalled him to the truth; summoned him sharply back from vain
regrets to the facts of daily life. It waked him as it wakes a
sleeping charger; it roused him as it rouses a wounded trooper.
He stood hearkening to the familiar music till it had died away--
spirited, yet still lingering; full of fire, yet fading softly down
the wind. He listened till the last echo ceased; then he tore the
paper that he held in strips, and let it float away, drifting down the
yellow current of the reedy river channel; and he half drew from its
scabbard the saber whose blade had been notched and dented and stained
in many midnight skirmishes and many headlong charges under the desert
suns, and looked at it as though a friend's eye gazed at him in the
gleam of the trusty steel. And his soldier-like philosophy, his
campaigner's carelessness, his habitual, easy negligence that had
sometimes been weak as water and sometimes heroic as martyrdom, came
back to him with a deeper shadow on it, that was grave with a calm,
resolute, silent courage.
"So best after all, perhaps," he said half aloud, in the solitude of
the ruined and abandoned mosque. "He cannot well come to shipwreck
with such a fair wind and such a smooth sea. And I--I am just as well
here. To ride with the Chasseurs is more exciting than to ride with
the Pytchley; and the rules of the Chambree are scarce more tedious
than the rules of a Court. Nature turned me out for a soldier, though
Fashion spoiled me for one. I can make a good campaigner--I should
never make anything else."
And he let his sword drop back again into the scabbard, and quarreled
no more with fate.
His hand touched the thirty gold pieces in his sash.
He started, as the recollection of the forgotten insult came back on
him. He stood a while in thought; then he took his resolve.
A half hour of quick movement, for he had become used to the heat as
an Arab and heeded it as little, brought him before the entrance-gates
of the Villa Aioussa. A native of Soudan, in a rich dress, who had the
office of porter, asked him politely his errand. Every indigene learns
by hard experience to be courteous to a French soldier. Cecil simply
asked, in answer, if Mme. La Princesse were visible. The negro
returned cautiously that she was at home, but doubted her being
accessible. "You come from M. le Marquis?" he inquired.
"No; on my own errand."
"You!" Not all the native African awe of a Roumi could restrain the
contemptuous amaze in the word.
"I. Ask if Corporal Victor, of the Chasseurs, can be permitted a
moment's interview with your mistress. I come by permission," he
added, as the native hesitated between his fear of a Roumi and his
sense of the appalling unfittingness of a private soldier seeking
audience of a Spanish princesse. The message was passed about between
several of the household; at last a servant of higher authority
"Madame permitted Corporal Victor to be taken to her presence. Would
He uncovered his head and entered, passing through several passages
and chambers, richly hung and furnished; for the villa had been the
"campagne" of an illustrious French personage, who had offered it to
the Princesse Corona when, for some slight delicacy of health, the air
of Algeria was advocated. A singular sensation came on him, half of
familiarity, half of strangeness, as he advanced along them; for
twelve years he had seen nothing but the bare walls of barrack rooms,
the goat-skin of douars, and the canvas of his own camp-tent. To come
once more, after so long an interval, amid the old things of luxury
and grace that had been so long unseen wrought curiously on him. He
could not fairly disentangle past and present. For the moment, as his
feet fell once more on soft carpets, and his eyes glanced over gold
and silver, malachite and bronze, white silk and violet damasks, he
almost thought the Algerian years were a disordered dream of the
His spur caught in the yielding carpet, and his saber clashed slightly
against it; as the rentree au caserne had done an hour before, the
sound recalled the actual present to him. He was but a French soldier,
who went on sufferance into the presence of a great lady. All the rest
was dead and buried.
Some half dozen apartments, large and small, were crossed; then into
that presence he was ushered. The room was deeply shaded, and fragrant
with the odors of the innumerable flowers of the Sahel soil; there was
that about it which struck on him as some air--long unheard, but once
intimately familiar--on the ear will revive innumerable memories. She
was at some distance from him, with the trailing draperies of eastern
fabrics falling about her in a rich, unbroken, shadowy cloud of
melting color, through which, here and there, broke threads of gold;
involuntarily he paused on the threshold, looking at her. Some faint,
far-off remembrance stirred in him, but deep down in the closed grave
of his past; some vague, intangible association of forgotten days,
forgotten thoughts, drifted before him as it had drifted before him
when first in the Chambree of his barracks he had beheld Venetia
She moved forward as her servant announced him; she saw him pause
there like one spell-bound, and thought it the hesitation of one who
felt sensitively his own low grade in life. She came toward him with
the silent, sweeping grace that gave her the carriage of an empress;
her voice fell on his ear with the accent of a woman immeasurably
proud, but too proud not to bend softly and graciously to those who
were so far beneath her that, without such aid from her, they could
never have addressed or have approached her.
"You have come, I trust, to withdraw your prohibition? Nothing will
give me greater pleasure than to bring his Majesty's notice to one of
the best soldiers his Army holds."
There was that in the words, gently as they were spoken, that recalled
him suddenly to himself; they had that negligent, courteous pity she
would have shown to some colon begging at her gates! He forgot--forgot
utterly--that he was only an African trooper. He only remembered that
he had once been a gentleman, that--if a life of honor and of self-
negation can make any so--he was one still. He advanced and bowed with
the old serene elegance that his bow had once been famed for; and she,
well used to be even overcritical in such trifles, thought, "That man
has once lived in courts!"
"Pardon me, madame, I do not come to trespass so far upon your
benignity," he answered, as he bent before her. "I come to express,
rather, my regret that you should have made one single error."
"Error!"--a haughty surprise glanced from her eyes as they swept over
him. Such a word had never been used to her in the whole course of her
brilliant and pampered life of sovereignty and indulgence.
"One common enough, madame, in your Order. The error to suppose that
under the rough cloth of a private trooper's uniform there cannot
possibly be such aristocratic monopolies as nerves to wound."
"I do not comprehend you." She spoke very coldly; she repented her
profoundly of her concession in admitting a Chasseur d'Afrique to her
"Possibly not. Mine was the folly to dream that you would ever do so.
I should not have intruded on you now, but for this reason: the
humiliation you were pleased to pass on me I could neither refuse nor
resent to the dealer of it. Had I done so, men who are only too loyal
to me would have resented with me, and been thrashed or been shot, as
payment. I was compelled to accept it, and to wait until I could
return your gift to you. I have no right to complain that you pained
me with it, since one who occupies my position ought, I presume, to
consider remembrance, even by an outrage, an honor done to him by the
As he said the last words he laid on the table that stood near him the
gold of Chateauroy's insult. She had listened with a bewildering
wonder, held in check by the haughtier impulse of offense, that a man
in this grade could venture thus to address, thus to arraign her. His
words were totally incomprehensible to her, though, by the grave
rebuke of his manner, she saw that they were fully meant, and, as he
considered, fully authorized by some wrong done to him. As he laid the
gold pieces down upon her table, an idea of the truth came to her.
"I know nothing of what you complain of; I sent you no money. What is
it you would imply?" she asked him, looking up from where she leaned
back in the low couch into whose depth she had sunk as he had spoken.
"You did not send me these? Not as payment for the chess service?"
"Absolutely not. After what you said the other day, I should have
scarcely been so ill-bred and so heedless of inflicting pain. Who used
my name thus?"
His face lightened with a pleasure and a relief that changed it
wonderfully; that brighter look of gladness had been a stranger to it
for so many years.
"You give me infinite happiness, madame. You little dream how bitter
such slights are where one has lost the power to resent them! It was
M. de Chateauroy, who this morning--"
"Dared to tell you I sent you those coins?"
The serenity of a courtly woman of the world was unbroken, but her
blue and brilliant eyes darkened and gleamed beneath the sweep of
"Perhaps I can scarcely say so much. He gave them, and he implied that
he gave them from you. The words he spoke were these."
He told her them as they had been uttered, adding no more; she saw the
construction they had been intended to bear, and that which they had
borne naturally to his ear; she listened earnestly to the end. Then
she turned to him with the exquisite softness of grace which, when she
was moved to it, contrasted so vividly with the haughty and almost
chill languor of her habitual manner.
"Believe me, I regret deeply that you should have been wounded by this
most coarse indignity; I grieve sincerely that through myself in any
way it should have been brought upon you. As for the perpetrator of
it, M. de Chateauroy will be received here no more; and it shall be my
care that he learns not only how I resent his unpardonable use of my
name, but how I esteem his cruel outrage to a defender of his own
Flag. You did exceedingly well and wisely to acquaint me; in your
treatment of it as an affront that I was without warrant to offer you,
you showed the just indignation of a soldier, and--of what I am very
sure that you are--a gentleman."
He bowed low before her.
"Madame, you have made me the debtor of my enemy's outrage. Those
words from you are more than sufficient compensation for it."
"A poor one, I fear! Your Colonel is your enemy, then? And wherefore?"
He paused a moment.
"Why, at first, I scarcely know. We are antagonistic, I suppose."
"But is it usual for officers of his high grade to show such malice to
"Most unusual. In this service especially so; although officers rising
from the ranks themselves are more apt to contract prejudices and ill
feeling against, as they are to feel favoritism to, their men, than
where they enter the regiment in a superior grade at once. At least,
that is the opinion I myself have formed; studying the working of the
"You know the English service, then?"
"I know something of it."
"And still, though thinking this, you prefer the French?"
"I distinctly prefer it, as one that knows how to make fine soldiers
and how to reward them; as one in which a brave man will be valued,
and a worn-out veteran will not be left to die like a horse at a
"A brave man valued, and yet you are a corporal!" thought Milady, as
"Since I am here, madame, let me thank you, in the Army's name, for
your infinite goodness in acting so munificently on my slight hint.
Your generosity has made many happy hearts in the hospital."
"Generosity! Oh, do not call it by any such name! What did it cost me?
We are terribly selfish here. I am indebted to you that for once you
made me remember those who suffered."
She spoke with a certain impulse of candor and of self-accusation that
broke with great sweetness the somewhat coldness of her general
manner; it was like a gleam of light that showed all the depth and the
warmth that in truth lay beneath that imperious languor of habit. It
broke further the ice of distance that severed the grande dame from
the cavalry soldier.
Insensibly to himself, the knowledge that he had, in fact, the right
to stand before her as an equal gave him the bearing of one who
exercised that right, and her rapid perception had felt before now
that this Roumi of Africa was as true a gentleman as any that had ever
thronged about her in palaces. Her own life had been an uninterrupted
course of luxury, prosperity, serenity, and power; the adversity which
she could not but perceive had weighed on his had a strange interest
to her. She had heard of many calamities, and aided many; but they had
always been far sundered from her, they had never touched her; in this
man's presence they seemed to grow very close, terribly real. She led
him on to speak of his comrades, of his daily life, of his harassing
routine of duties in peace, and of his various experiences in war. He
told her, too, of Leon Ramon's history; and as she listened, he saw a
mist arise and dim the brilliancy of those eyes that men complained
would never soften. The very fidelity with which he sketched to her
the bitter sufferings and the rough nobility that were momentarily
borne and seen in that great military family of which he had become a
son by adoption, interested her by its very unlikeness to anything in
her own world.
His voice had still the old sweetness, his manner still its old grace;
and added to these were a grave earnestness and a natural eloquence
that the darkness of his own fortunes, and the sympathies with others
that pain had awakened, had brought to him. He wholly forgot their
respective stations; he only remembered that for the first time for so
many years he had the charm of converse with a woman of high breeding,
of inexpressible beauty, and of keen and delicate intuition. He wholly
forgot how time passed, and she did not seek to remind him; indeed,
she but little noted it herself.
At last the conversation turned back to his Chief.
"You seem to be aware of some motive for your commandant's dislike?"
she asked him. "Tell me to what you attribute it?"
"It is a long tale, madame."
"No matter; I would hear it."
"I fear it would only weary you."
"Do not fear that. Tell it me."
He obeyed, and told to her the story of the Emir and of the Pearl of
the Desert; and Venetia Corona listened, as she had listened to him
throughout, with an interest that she rarely vouchsafed to the
recitals and the witticisms of her own circle. He gave to the
narrative a soldierly simplicity and a picturesque coloring that lent
a new interest to her; and she was of that nature which, however, it
may be led to conceal feeling from pride and from hatred, never fails
to awaken to indignant sympathy at wrong.
"This barbarian is your chief!" she said, as the tale closed. "His
enmity is your honor! I can well credit that he will never pardon your
having stood between him and his crime."
"He has never pardoned it yet, of a surety."
"I will not tell you it was a noble action," she said, with a smile
sweet as the morning--a smile that few saw light on them. "It came too
naturally to a man of honor for you to care for the epithet. Yet it
was a great one, a most generous one. But I have not heard one thing:
what argument did you use to obtain her release?"
"No one has ever heard it," he answered her, while his voice sank low.
"I will trust you with it; it will not pass elsewhere. I told him
enough of--of my own past life to show him that I knew what his had
been, and that I knew, moreover, though they were dead to me now, men
in that greater world of Europe who would believe my statement if I
wrote them this outrage on the Emir, and would avenge it for the
reputation of the Empire. And unless he released the Emir's wife, I
swore to him that I would so write, though he had me shot on the
morrow; and he knew I should keep my word."
She was silent some moments, looking on him with a musing gaze, in
which some pity and more honor for him were blended.
"You told him your past. Will you confess it to me?"
"I cannot, madame."
"Because I am dead! Because, in your presence, it becomes more bitter
to me to remember that I ever lived."
"You speak strangely. Cannot your life have a resurrection?"
"Never, madame. For a brief hour you have given it one--in dreams. It
will have no other."
"But surely there may be ways--such a story as you have told me
brought to the Emperor's knowledge, you would see your enemy
disgraced, yourself honored?"
"Possibly, madame. But it is out of the question that it should ever
be so brought. As I am now, so I desire to live and die."
"You voluntarily condemn yourself to this?"
"I have voluntarily chosen it. I am well sure that the silence I
entreat will be kept by you?"
"Assuredly; unless by your wish it be broken. Yet--I await my
brother's arrival here; he is a soldier himself; I shall hope that he
will persuade you to think differently of your future. At any rate,
both his and my own influence will always be exerted for you, if you
will avail yourself of it."
"You do me much honor, madame. All I will ever ask of you is to return
those coins to my Colonel, and to forget that your gentleness has made
me forget, for one merciful half hour, the sufferance on which alone a
trooper can present himself here."
He swept the ground with his kepi as though it were the plumed hat of
a Marshal, and backed slowly from her presence, as he had many a time
long before backed out of a throne-room.
As he went, his eyes caught the armies of the ivory chessmen; they
stood under glass, and had not been broken by her lapdog.
Milady, left alone there in her luxurious morning room, sat a while
lost in thought. He attracted her; he interested her; he aroused her
sympathy and her wonder as the men of her own world failed to do--
aroused them despite the pride which made her impatient of lending so
much attention to a mere Chasseur d'Afrique. His knowledge of the fact
that he was in reality the representative of his race, although the
power to declare himself so had been forever abandoned and lost, had