Part 9 out of 13
given him in her presence that day a certain melancholy, and a certain
grave dignity that would have shown a far more superficial observer
than she was that he had come of a great race, and had memories that
were of a very different hue to the coarse and hard life which he led
now. She had seen much of the world, and was naturally far more
penetrative and more correct in judgment than are most women. She
discovered the ring of true gold in his words, and the carriage of
pure breeding in his actions. He interested her more than it pleased
her that he should. A man so utterly beneath her; doubtless brought
into the grade to which he had fallen by every kind of error, of
improvidence, of folly--of probably worse than folly!
It was too absurd that she, so difficult to interest, so inaccessible,
so fastidious, so satiated with all that was brilliant and celebrated,
should find herself seriously spending her thoughts, her pity, and her
speculation on an adventurer of the African Army! She laughed a little
at herself as she stretched out her hand for a new volume of French
poems dedicated to her by their accomplished writer, who was a
"One would imagine I was just out of a convent, and weaving a
marvelous romance from a mystery and a tristesse, because the first
soldier I notice in Algeria has a gentleman's voice and is ill treated
by his officers!" she thought with a smile, while she opened the poems
which had that day arrived, radiant in the creamy vellum, the white
velvet, and the gold of a dedication copy, with the coronet of the
Corona d'Amague on their binding. The poems were sparkling with grace
and elegant silvery harmonies; but they served ill to chain her
attention, for while she read her eyes wandered at intervals to the
"Such a man as that buried in the ranks of this brutalized army!" she
mused. "What fatal chance could bring him here? Misfortune, not
misconduct, surely. I wonder if Lyon could learn? He shall try."
"Your Chasseur has the air of a Prince, my love," said a voice behind
"Equivocal compliment! A much better air than most Princes," said Mme.
Corona, glancing up with a slight shrug of her shoulders, as her guest
and traveling companion, the Marquise de Renardiere, entered.
"Indeed! I saw him as he passed out; and he saluted me as if he had
been a Marshal. Why did he come?"
Venetia Corona pointed to the Napoleons, and told the story; rather
listlessly and briefly.
"Ah! The man has been a gentleman, I dare say. So many of them come to
our army. I remember General Villefleur's telling me--he commanded
here a while--that the ranks of the Zephyrs and Zouaves were full of
well-born men, utterly good-for-nothing, the handsomest scoundrels
possible; who had every gift and every grace, and yet come to no
better end than a pistol-shot in a ditch or a mortal thrust from
Bedouin steel. I dare say your Corporal is one of them."
"It may be so."
"But you doubt it, I imagine."
"I am not sure now that I do. But this person is certainly unlike a
man to whom disgrace has ever attached."
"You think your protege, then, has become what he is through
adversity, I suppose? Very interesting!"
"I really can tell you nothing of his antecedents. Through his skill
at sculpture, and my notice of it, considerable indignity has been
brought upon him; and a soldier can feel, it seems, though it is very
absurd that he should! That is all my concern with the matter, except
that I have to teach his commander not to play with my name in his
She spoke with that negligence which always sounded very cold, though
the words were so gently spoken. Her best and most familiar friends
always knew when, with that courtly chillness, she had signed them
their line of demarcation.
And the Marquise de Renardiere said no more, but talked of the
"LE BON ZIG."
Meanwhile the subject of their first discourse returned to the
He had encouraged the men to pursue those various industries and
ingenuities, which, though they are affectedly considered against
"discipline," formed, as he knew well, the best preservative from real
insubordination, and the best instrument in humanizing and
ameliorating the condition of his comrades. The habit of application
alone was something gained; and if it kept them only for a while from
the haunts of those coarsest debaucheries which are the only possible
form in which the soldier can pursue the forbidden license of vice, it
was better than that leisure should be spent in that joyless
bestiality which made Cecil, once used to every refinement of luxury
and indulgence, sicken with a pitying wonder for those who found in it
the only shape they knew of "pleasure."
He had seen from the first, capabilities that might be turned to
endless uses; in the conscript drawn from the populace of the
provinces there was almost always a knowledge of self-help, and often
of some trade, coupled with habits of diligence; in the soldier made
from the street Arab of Paris there were always inconceivable
intelligence, rapidity of wit, and plastic vivacity; in the
adventurers come, like himself, from higher grades of society, and
burying a broken career under the shelter of the tricolor, there were
continually gifts and acquirements, and even genius, that had run to
seed and brought forth no fruit. Of all these France always avails
herself in a great degree; but, as far as Cecil's influence extended,
they were developed much more than usual. As his own character
gradually changed under the force of fate, the desire for some
interest in life grew on him (every man, save one absolutely brainless
and self-engrossed, feels this sooner or late); and that interest he
found, or rather created, in his regiment. All that he could do to
contribute to its efficiency in the field he did; all that he could do
to further its internal excellence he did likewise.
Coarseness perceptibly abated, and violence became much rarer in that
portion of his corps with which he had immediately to do; the men
gradually acquired from him a better, a higher tone; they learned to
do duties inglorious and distasteful as well as they did those which
led them to the danger and the excitation that they loved; and, having
their good faith and sympathy, heart and soul, with him, he met, in
these lawless leopards of African France, with loyalty, courage,
generosity, and self-abnegation far surpassing those which he had ever
met with in the polished civilization of his early experience.
For their sakes, he spent many of his free hours in the Chambree. Many
a man, seeing him there, came and worked at some ingenious design,
instead of going off to burn his brains out with brandy, if he had
sous enough to buy any, or to do some dexterous bit of thieving on a
native, if he had not. Many a time knowing him to be there sufficed to
restrain the talk around from lewdness and from ribaldry, and turn it
into channels at once less loathsome and more mirthful, because they
felt that obscenity and vulgarity were alike jarring on his ear,
although he had never more than tacitly shown that they were so. A
precisian would have been covered with their contumely and ridicule; a
saint would have been driven out from their midst with every missile
merciless tongues and merciless hands could pelt with; a martinet
would have been cursed aloud, and cheated, flouted, rebelled against,
on every possible occasion. But the man who was "one of them"
entirely, while yet simply and thoroughly a gentleman, had great
influence--an influence exclusively for good.
The Chambree was empty when he returned; the men were scattered over
the town in one of their scant pauses of liberty; there was only the
dog of the regiment, Flick-Flack, a snow-white poodle, asleep in the
heat, on a sack, who, without waking, moved his tail in a sign of
gratification as Cecil stroked him and sat down near; betaking himself
to the work he had in hand.
It was a stone for the grave of Leon Ramon. There was no other to
remember the dead Chasseur; no other beside himself, save an old woman
sitting spinning at her wheel under the low-sloping, shingle roof of a
cottage by the western Biscayan sea, who, as she spun, and as the
thread flew, looked with anxious, aged eyes over the purple waves
where she had seen his father--the son of her youth--go down beneath
But the thread of her flax would be spun out, and the thread of her
waning life be broken, ere ever the soldier for whom she watched would
go back to her and to Languedoc.
For life is brutal; and to none so brutal as to the aged who remember
so well, and yet are forgotten as though already they were amid the
Cecil's hand pressed the graver along the letters, but his thoughts
wandered far from the place where he was. Alone there, in the great
sun-scorched barrack room, the news that he had read, the presence he
had quitted, seemed like a dream.
He had never known fully all that he had lost until he had stood
before the beauty of this woman, in whose deep imperial eyes the light
of other years seemed to lie; the memories of other worlds seemed to
These blue, proud, fathomless eyes! Why had they looked on him? He had
grown content with his fate; he had been satisfied to live and to fall
a soldier of France; he had set a seal on that far-off life of his
earlier time, and had grown to forget that it had ever been. Why had
chance flung him in her way that, with one careless, haughty glance,
one smile of courteous pity, she should have undone in a moment all
the work of a half-score years, and shattered in a day the serenity
which it had cost him such weary self-contest, such hard-fought
victory, to attain?
She had come to pain, to weaken, to disturb, to influence him, to
shadow his peace, to wring his pride, to unman his resolve, as women
do mostly with men. Was life not hard enough here already, that she
must make it more bitter yet to bear?
He had been content, with a soldier's contentment, in danger and in
duty; and she must waken the old coiled serpent of restless, stinging
regret which he had thought lulled to rest forever!
"If I had my heritage!" he thought; and the chisel fell from his hands
as he looked down the length of the barrack room with the blue glare
of the African sky through the casement.
Then he smiled at his own folly, in dreaming idly thus of things that
might have been.
"I will see her no more," he said to himself. "If I do not take care,
I shall end by thinking myself a martyr--the last refuge and
consolation of emasculate vanity, of impotent egotism!"
For though his whole existence was a sacrifice, it never occurred to
him that there was anything whatever great in its acceptation, or
unjust in its endurance. He thought too little of his life's value, or
of its deserts, even to consider by any chance that it had been
harshly dealt with, or unmeritedly visited.
At that instant Petit Picpon's keen, pale, Parisian face peered
through the door; his great, black eyes, that at times had so pathetic
a melancholy, and at others such a monkeyish mirth and malice, were
sparkling excitedly and gleefully.
"You, Picpon! What is it?"
"Mon, Caporal, there is great news. There is fighting broken out
"Ah! Are you sure?"
"Sure, mon Caporal. The Arbicos want a skirmish to the music of
musketry. We are not to know just yet; we are to have the order de
route to-morrow. I overheard our officers say so. They think we shall
have brisk work. And for that they will not punish the vieille lame."
"Punish! Is there fresh disobedience? In my squadron; in my absence?"
He rose instinctively, buckling on the sword which he had put aside.
"Not in your squadron, mon Caporal," said Picpon quickly. "It is not
much, either. Only the bon zig Rac."
"Rake? What has he been doing?"
There was infinite anxiety and vexation in his voice. Rake had
recently been changed into another squadron of the regiment, to his
great loss and regret; for not only did he miss the man's bright face
and familiar voice from the Chambree, but he had much disquietude on
the score of his safety, for Rake was an incorrigible pratique, had
only been kept from scrapes and mischief by Cecil's influence, and
even despite that had been often in hot water, and once even had been
drafted for a year or so of chastisement among the "Zephyrs," a mode
of punishment which, but for its separation of him from his idol,
would have given unmitigated delight to the audacious offender.
"Very little, mon Caporal!" said Picpon eagerly. "A mere nothing--a
bagatelle! Run a Spahi through the stomach, that is all. I don't think
the man is so much as dead, even!"
"I hope not, indeed. When will you cease this brawling among
yourselves? A soldier's blade should never be turned upon men of his
own army. How did it happen?"
"A woman! They quarreled about a little fruit-seller. The Spahi was in
fault. 'Crache-au-nez-d'la-Mort' was there before him; and was
preferred by the girl; and women should be allowed something to do
with choosing their lovers, that I think, though it is true they often
take the worst man. They quarreled; the Spahi drew first; and then,
pouf et passe! quick as thought, Rac lunged through him. He has always
a most beautiful stroke. Le Capitaine Argentier was passing, and made
a fuss; else nothing would have been done. They have put him under
arrest; but I heard them say they would let him free to-night because
we should march at dawn."
"I will go and see him at once."
"Wait, mon Caporal; I have something to tell you," said Picpon
quickly. "The zig has a motive in what he does. Rac wanted to get the
prison. He has done more than one bit of mischief only for that."
"Only for what? He cannot be in love with the prison?"
"It serves his turn," said Picpon mysteriously. "Did you never guess
why, mon Caporal? Well, I have. 'Crache-au-nez-d'la-Mort' is a fine
fearless soldier. The officers know it; the bureaus know it. He would
have mounted, mounted, mounted, and been a Captain long before now, if
he had not been a pratique."
"I know that; so would many of you."
"Ah, mon Caporal; but that is just what Rac does not choose. In the
books his page beats every man's, except yours. They have talked of
him many times for the cross and for promotion; but whenever they do
he goes off to a bit of mischief, and gets himself punished. Any term
of punishment, long or short, serves his purpose. They think him too
wild to take out of the ranks. You remember, mon Caporal, that
splendid thing that he did five years ago at Sabasasta? Well, you know
they spoke of promoting him for it, and he would have run up all the
grades like a squirrel, and died a Kebir, I dare say. What did he do
to prevent it? Why, went that escapade into Oran disguised as a
Dervish, and go the prison instead."
"To prevent it? Not purposely?"
"Purposely, mon Caporal," said Petit Picpon, with a sapient nod that
spoke volumes. "He always does something when he thinks promotion is
coming--something to get himself out of its way, do you see? And the
reason is this: 'tis a good zig, and loves you, and will not be put
over your head. 'Me rise afore him?' said the zig to me once. 'I'll
have the As de pique on my collar fifty times over first! He's a
Prince, and I'm a mongrel got in a gutter! I owe him more than I'll
ever pay, and I'll kill the Kebir himself afore I'll insult him that
way.' So say little to him about the Spahi, mon Caporal. He loves you
well, does your Rac."
"Well, indeed! Good God! what nobility!"
Picpon glanced at him; then, with the tact of his nation, glided away
and busied himself teaching Flick-Flack to shoulder and present arms,
the weapon being a long stick.
"After all, Diderot was in the right when he told Rousseau which side
of the question to take," mused Cecil, as he crossed the barrack-yard
a few minutes later to visit the incarcerated pratique. "On my life,
civilization develops comfort, but I do believe it kills nobility.
Individuality dies in it, and egotism grows strong and specious. Why
is it that in a polished life a man, while becoming incapable of
sinking to crime, almost always becomes also incapable of rising to
greatness? Why is it that misery, tumult, privation, bloodshed,
famine, beget, in such a life as this, such countless things of
heroism, of endurance, of self-sacrifice--things worthy of demigods--
in men who quarrel with the wolves for a wild-boar's carcass, for a
A question which perplexes, very wearily, thinkers who have more time,
more subtlety, and more logic to bring to its unravelment than Bertie
had either leisure or inclination to do.
"Is this true, Rake--that you intentionally commit these freaks of
misconduct to escape promotion?" he asked of the man when he stood
alone with him in his place of confinement.
Rake flushed a little.
"Mischief's bred in me, sir; it must come out! It's just bottled up in
me like ale; if I didn't take the cork out now and then, I should fly
"But many a time when you have been close on the reward of your
splendid gallantry in the field, you have frustrated your own fortunes
and the wishes of your superiors by wantonly proving yourself unfit
for the higher grade they were going to raise you to. Why do you do
Rake fidgeted restlessly, and, to avoid the awkwardness of the
question, replied, like a Parliamentary orator, by a flow of rhetoric.
"Sir, there's a many chaps like me. They can't help nohow busting out
when the fit takes 'em. 'Tain't reasonable to blame 'em for it;
they're just made so, like a chestnut's made to bust its pod, and a
chicken to bust its shell. Well, you see, sir, France, she knows that,
and she says to herself, 'Here are these madcaps; if I keep 'em tight
in hand I shan't do nothing with 'em--they'll turn obstreperous and
cram my convict-cells. Now I want soldiers, I don't want convicts. I
can't let 'em stay in the Regulars, 'cause they'll be for making all
the army wildfire like 'em; I'll just draft 'em by theirselves, treat
'em different, and let 'em fire away. They've got good stuff in 'em,
though too much of the curb riles 'em.' Well, sir, she do that; and
aren't the Zephyrs as fine a lot of fellows as any in the service? Of
course they are; but if they'd been in England--God bless her, the
dear old obstinate soul!--they'd have been drove crazy along o'
pipeclay and razors; she'd never have seed what was in 'em, her eyes
are so bunged up with routine. If a pup riot in the pack, she's no
notion but to double-thong him, and, a-course, in double-quick time,
she finds herself obliged to go further and hang him. She don't ever
remember that it may be only just along of his breeding, and that he
may make a very good hound elseways let out a bit, though he'll spoil
the whole pack if she will be a fool and try to make a steady line-
hunter of him, straight agin his nature."
Rake stopped, breathless in his rhetoric, which contained more truth
in it, as also more roughness, than most rhetoric does.
"You are right. But you wander from my question," said Cecil gently.
"Do you avoid promotion?"
"Yes, sir; I do," said Rake, something sulkily; for he felt he was
being driven "up a corner." "I do. I ain't not one bit fitter for an
officer than that rioting pup I talk on is fit to lead them crack
packs at home. I should be in a strait-waistcoat if I was promoted;
and as for the cross--Lord, sir, that would get me into a world o'
trouble! I should pawn it for a toss of wine the first day out, or
give it to the first moukiera that winked her black eye for it! The
star put on my buttons suits me a deal better; if you'll believe me,
sir, it do."[*]
[*] The star on the metal buttons of the insubordinates, or Zephyrs.
Cecil's eyes rested on him with a look that said far more than his
"Rake, I know you better than you would let me do, if you had your
way. My noble fellow! You reject advancement, and earn yourself an
unjust reputation for mutinous conduct, because you are too generous
to be given a step above mine in the regiment."
"Who's been a-telling you that trash, sir?" retorted Rake, with
"No matter who. It is no trash. It is a splendid loyalty of which I am
utterly unworthy, and it shall be my care that it is known at the
Bureaus, so that henceforth your great merits may be--"
"Stop that, sir!" cried Rake vehemently. "Stow that, if you please!
Promoted I won't be--no, not if the Emperor hisself was to order it,
and come across here to see it done! A pretty thing, surely! Me a
officer, and you never a one--me a-commanding of you, and you a-
saluting of me! By the Lord, sir! we might as well see the camp-
scullions a-riding in state, and the Marshals a-scouring out the soup-
"Not at all. This Army has not a finer soldier than yourself; you have
a right to the reward of your services in it. And I assure you you do
me a great injustice if you think I would not as willingly go out
under your orders as under those of all the Marshals of the Empire."
The tears rushed into the hardy eyes of the redoubtable "Crache-au-
nez-d'la-Mort," though he dashed them away in a fury of eloquence.
"Sir, if you don't understand as how you've given me a power more than
all the crosses in the world in saying of them there words, why, you
don't know me much either, that's all. You're a gentleman--a right on
rare thing that is--and being a gentleman, a-course you'd be too
generous and too proud like not to behave well to me, whether I was a-
serving you as I've always served you, or a-insulting of you by riding
over your head in that way as we're speaking on. But I know my place,
sir, and I know yours. If it wasn't for that ere Black Hawk--damn him!
--I can't help it, sir; I will damn him, if he shoot me for it--you'd
been a Chef d'Escadron by now. There ain't the leastest doubt of it.
Ask all the zigs what they think. Well, sir, now you know I'm a man
what do as I say. If you don't let me have my own way, and if you do
the littlest thing to get me a step, why, sir, I swear, as I'm a
living being, that I'll draw on Chateauroy the first time I see him
afterward, and slit his throat as I'd slit a jackal's! There--my
And Cecil saw that it would also be kept. The natural lawlessness and
fiery passion inborn in Rake had of course not been cooled by the
teaching of African warfare; and his hate was intense against the all-
potent Chief of his regiment; as intense as the love he bore to the
man whom he had followed out into exile.
Cecil tried vainly to argue with him; all his reasonings fell like
hailstones on a cuirass, and made no more impression; he was resolute.
"But listen to one thing," he urged at last. "Can you not see how you
pain me by this self-sacrifice? If I knew that you had attained a
higher grade, and wore your epaulettes in this service, can you not
fancy I should feel pleasure then (as I feel regret, even remorse,
now) that I brought you to Africa through my own follies and
"Do you sir? There ain't the least cause for it, then," returned Rake
sturdily. "Lord bless you, sir; why this life's made a-purpose for me!
If ever a round peg went trim and neat into a round hole, it was when
I came into this here Army. I never was so happy in all my days
before. They're right on good fellows, and will back you to the death
if so be as you've allays been share-and-share-alike with 'em, as a
zig should. As a private, sir, I'm happy and I'm safe; as a officer, I
should be kicking over the traces and blundering everlastingly.
However, there ain't no need to say a word more about it. I've sworn,
and you've heerd me swear, sir, and you know as how I shall keep my
oath if ever I'm provoked to it by being took notice of. I stuck that
Spahi just now just by way of a lark, and only 'cause he come where
he'd no business to poke his turbaned old pate; 'taint likely as I
should stop at giving the Hawk two inches of steel if he comes such a
insult over us both as to offer a blackguard like me the epaulettes as
you ought to be a-wearing!"
And Cecil knew that it was hopeless either to persuade him to his own
advantage or to convince him of his disobedience in speaking thus of
his supreme, before his con-commissioned, officer. He was himself,
moreover, deeply moved by the man's fidelity.
He stretched his hand out.
"I wish there were more blackguards with hearts like yours. I cannot
repay your love, Rake, but I can value it."
Rake put his own hands behind his back.
"God bless you, sir; you've repaid it ten dozen times over. But you
shan't do that, sir. I told you long ago, I'm too much of a scamp!
Some day, perhaps, as I said, when I've settled scores with myself,
and wiped off all the bad 'uns with a clear sweep, tolerably clean.
Not afore, sir!"
And Rake was too sturdily obstinate not to always carry his point.
The love that he bore to Cecil was very much such a wild, chivalric,
romantic fidelity as the Cavaliers or the Gentlemen of the North bore
to their Stuart idols. That his benefactor had become a soldier of
Africa in no way lessened the reverent love of his loyalty, any more
than theirs was lessened by the adversities of their royal masters.
Like theirs, also, it had beauty in its blindness--the beauty that
lies in every pure unselfishness.
Meanwhile, Picpon's news was correct.
The regiments were ordered out on the march. There was fresh war in
the interior; and wherever there was the hottest slaughter, there the
Black Hawk always flew down with his falcon-flock. When Cecil left his
incorrigible zig, the trumpets were sounding an assembly; there were
noise, tumult, eagerness, excitement, delighted zest on every side; a
general order was read to the enraptured squadrons; they were to leave
the town at the first streak of dawn.
There were before them death, deprivation, long days of famine, long
days of drought and thirst; parching, sun-baked roads; bitter, chilly
nights; fiery furnace-blasts of sirocco; killing, pitiless, northern
winds; hunger, only sharpened by a snatch of raw meat or a handful of
maize; and the probabilities, ten to one, of being thrust under the
sand to rot, or left to have their skeletons picked clean by the
vultures. But what of that! There were also the wild delight of
combat, the freedom of lawless warfare, the joy of deep strokes thrust
home, the chance of plunder, of wine-skins, of cattle, of women; above
all, that lust for slaughter which burns so deep down in the hidden
souls of men and gives them such brotherhood with wolf and vulture and
tiger, when once its flame bursts forth.
That evening, at the Villa Aioussa, there gathered a courtly assembly,
of much higher rank than Algiers can commonly afford, because many of
station as lofty as her own had been drawn thither to follow her to
what the Princesse Corona called her banishment--an endurable
banishment enough under those azure skies, in that clear, elastic air,
and with that charming "bonbonniere" in which to dwell, yet still a
banishment to the reigning beauty of Paris, to one who had the habits
and the commands of a wholly undisputed sovereignty in the royal
splendor of her womanhood.
There was a variety of distractions to prevent ennui; there were half
a dozen clever Paris actors playing the airiest of vaudevilles in the
Bijou theater beyond the drawing-rooms; there were some celebrated
Italian singers whom an Imperial Prince had brought over in his yacht;
there was the best music; there was wit as well as homage whispered in
her ear. Yet she was not altogether amused; she was a little touched
"Those men are very stupid. They have not half the talent of that
soldier!" she thought once, turning from a Peer of France, an Austrian
Archduke, and a Russian diplomatist. And she smiled a little, furling
her fan and musing on the horror that the triad of fashionable
conquerors near her would feel if they knew that she thought them
duller than an African lascar!
But they only told her things of which she had been long weary,
specially of her own beauty; he had told her of things totally unknown
to her--things real, terrible, vivid, strong, sorrowful--strong as
life, sorrowful as death.
"Chateauroy and his Chasseurs have an order de route," a voice was
saying, that moment, behind her chair.
"Indeed?" said another. "The Black Hawk is never so happy as when
unhooded. When do they go?"
"To-morrow. At dawn."
"There is always fighting here, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes! The losses in men are immense; only the journals would get a
communique, or worse, if they ventured to say so in France. How
delicious La Doche is! She comes in again with the next scene."
The Princesse Corona listened; and her attention wandered farther from
the Archduke, the Peer, and the diplomatist, as from the Vaudeville.
She did not find Mme. Doche very charming; and she was absorbed for a
time looking at the miniatures on her fan.
At the same moment, through the lighted streets of Algiers, Cigarette,
like a union of fairy and of fury, was flying with the news. Cigarette
had seen the flame of war at its height, and had danced in the midst
of its whitest heat, as young children dance to see the fires leap red
in the black winter's night. Cigarette loved the battle, the charge,
the wild music of bugles, the thunder-tramp of battalions, the
sirocco-sweep of light squadrons, the mad tarantala of triumph when
the slaughter was done, the grand swoop of the Eagles down unto the
carnage, the wild hurrah of France.
She loved them with all her heart and soul; and she flew now through
the starlit, sultry night, crying, "La guerre! La guerre! La guerre!"
and chanting to the enraptured soldiery a "Marseillaise" of her own
improvisation, all slang, and doggerel, and barrack grammar; but fire-
giving as a torch, and rousing as a bugle in the way she sang it,
waving the tricolor high over her head.
The African day was at its noon.
From the first break of dawn the battle had raged; now, at midday, it
was at its height. Far in the interior, almost on the edge of the
great desert, in that terrible season when air that is flame by day is
ice by night, and when the scorch of a blazing sun may be followed in
an hour by the blinding fury of a snow-storm, the slaughter had gone
on, hour through hour, under a shadowless sky, blue as steel, hard as
a sheet of brass. The Arabs had surprised the French encampment, where
it lay in the center of an arid plain that was called Zaraila.
Hovering like a cloud of hawks on the entrance of the Sahara, massed
together for one mighty, if futile, effort--with all their ancient
war-lust, and with a new despair--the tribes who refused the yoke of
the alien empire were once again in arms; were once again combined in
defense of those limitless kingdoms of drifting sand, of that beloved
belt of bare and desolate land so useless to the conqueror, so dear to
the nomad. When they had been, as it had been thought, beaten back
into the desert wilderness; when, without water and without cattle, it
had been calculated that they would, of sheer necessity, bow
themselves in submission, or perish of famine and of thirst; they had
recovered their ardor, their strength, their resistance, their power
to harass without ceasing, if they could never arrest, the enemy. They
had cast the torch of war afresh into the land, and here, southward,
the flame burned bitterly, and with a merciless tongue devoured the
lives of men, licking them up as a forest fire the dry leaves and the
Circling, sweeping, silently, swiftly, with that rapid spring, that
marvelous whirlwind of force, that is of Africa, and of Africa alone,
the tribes had rushed down in the darkness of night, lightly as a kite
rushes through the gloom of the dawn. For once the vigilance of the
invader served him naught; for once the Frankish camp was surprised
off its guard. While the air was still chilly with the breath of the
night, while the first gleam of morning had barely broken through the
mists of the east, while the picket-fires burned through the dusky
gloom, and the sentinels and vedettes paced slowly to and fro, and
circled round, hearing nothing worse than the stealthy tread of the
jackal, or the muffled flight of a night-bird, afar in the south a
great dark cloud had risen, darker than the brooding shadows of the
earth and sky.
The cloud swept onward, like a mass of cirrhi, in those shadows
shrouded. Fleet as though wind-driven, dense as though thunder-
charged, it moved over the plains. As it grew nearer and nearer, it
grew grayer, a changing mass of white and black that fused, in the
obscurity, into a shadow color; a dense array of men and horses
flitting noiselessly like spirits, and as though guided alone by one
rein and moved alone by one breath and one will; not a bit champed,
not a linen-fold loosened, not a shiver of steel was heard; as
silently as the winds of the desert sweep up northward over the
plains, so they rode now, host upon host of the warriors of the soil.
The outlying vedettes, the advancing sentinels, had scrutinized so
long through the night every wavering shade of cloud and moving form
of buffalo in the dim distance, that their sleepless eyes, strained
and aching, failed to distinguish this moving mass that was so like
the brown plains and starless sky that it could scarce be told from
them. The night, too, was bitter; northern cold cut hardly chillier
than this that parted the blaze of one hot day from the blaze of
another. The sea-winds were blowing cruelly keen, and men who at noon
gladly stripped to their shirts, shivered now where they lay under
Awake while his comrades slept around him, Cecil was stretched, half
unharnessed. The foraging duty of the past twenty-four hours had been
work harassing and heavy, inglorious and full of fatigue. The country
round was bare as a table-rock; the water-courses poor, choked with
dust and stones, unfed as yet by the rains or snows of the approaching
winter. The horses suffered sorely, the men scarce less. The hay for
the former was scant and bad; the rations for the latter often cut off
by flying skirmishers of the foe. The campaign, so far as it had gone,
had been fruitless, yet had cost largely in human life. The men died
rapidly of dysentery, disease, and the chills of the nights, and had
severe losses in countless obscure skirmishes, that served no end
except to water the African soil with blood.
True, France would fill the gaps up as fast as they occurred, and the
"Monitor" would only allude to the present operations when it could
give a flourishing line descriptive of the Arabs being driven back,
decimated, to the borders of the Sahara. But as the flourish of the
"Monitor" would never reach a thousand little way-side huts, and sea-
side cabins, and vine-dressers' sunny nests, where the memory of some
lad who had gone forth never to return would leave a deadly shadow
athwart the humble threshold--so the knowledge that they were only so
many automata in the hands of government, whose loss would merely be
noted that it might be efficiently supplied, was not that wine-draught
of La Gloire which poured the strength and the daring of gods into the
limbs of the men of Jena and of Austerlitz. Still, there was a war-
lust in them, and there was the fire of France; they fought not less
superbly here, where to be food for jackal and kite was their
likeliest doom, than their sires had done under the eagles of the
First Empire, when the Conscript hero of to-day was the glittering
Marshal of to-morrow.
Cecil had awakened while the camp still slept. Do what he would, force
himself into the fullness of this fierce and hard existence as he
might, he could not burn out or banish a thing that had many a time
haunted him, but never as it did now--the remembrance of a woman. He
almost laughed as he lay there on a pile of rotting straw, and wrung
the truth out of his own heart, that he--a soldier of these exiled
squadrons--was mad enough to love that woman whose deep, proud eyes
had dwelt with such serene pity upon him.
Yet his hand clinched on the straw as it had clinched once when the
operator's knife had cut down through the bones of his breast to reach
a bullet that, left in his chest, would have been death. If in the
sight of men he had only stood in the rank that was his by birthright,
he could have striven for--it might be that he could have roused--some
answering passion in her. But that chance was lost to him forever.
Well, it was but one thing more that was added to all that he had of
his own will given up. He was dead; he must be content, as the dead
must be, to leave the warmth of kisses, the glow of delight, the
possession of a woman's loveliness, the homage of men's honor, the
gladness of successful desires, to those who still lived in the light
he had quitted. He had never allowed himself the emasculating
indulgence of regret; he flung it off him now.
Flick-Flack--coiled asleep in his bosom--thrilled, stirred, and
growled. He rose, and, with the little dog under his arm, looked out
from the canvas. He knew that the most vigilant sentry in the service
had not the instinct for a foe afar off that Flick-Flack possessed. He
gazed keenly southward, the poodle growling on; that cloud so dim, so
distant, caught his sight. Was it a moving herd, a shifting mist, a
shadow-play between the night and dawn?
For a moment longer he watched it; then, what it was he knew, or felt
by such strong instinct as makes knowledge; and, like the blast of a
clarion, his alarm rang over the unarmed and slumbering camp.
An instant, and the hive of men, so still, so motionless, broke into
violent movement; and from the tents the half-clothed sleepers poured,
wakened, and fresh in wakening as hounds. Perfect discipline did the
rest. With marvelous, with matchless swiftness and precision they
harnessed and got under arms. They were but fifteen hundred or so in
all--a single squadron of Chasseurs, two battalions of Zouaves, half a
corps of Tirailleurs, and some Turcos; only a branch of the main body,
and without artillery. But they were some of the flower of the army of
Algiers, and they roused in a second, with the vivacious ferocity of
the bounding tiger, with the glad, eager impatience for the slaughter
of the unloosed hawk. Yet, rapid in its wondrous celerity as their
united action was, it was not so rapid as the downward sweep of the
war-cloud that came so near, with the tossing of white draperies and
the shine of countless sabers, now growing clearer and clearer out of
the darkness, till, with a whir like the noise of an eagle's wings,
and a swoop like an eagle's seizure, the Arabs whirled down upon them,
met a few yards in advance by the answering charge of the Light
There was a crash as if rock were hurled upon rock, as the Chasseurs,
scarce seated in saddle, rushed forward to save the pickets; to
encounter the first blind force of attack, and, to give the infantry,
further in, more time for harness and defense. Out of the caverns of
the night an armed multitude seemed to have suddenly poured. A moment
ago they had slept in security; now thousands on thousands, whom they
could not number; whom they could but dimly even perceive, were thrown
on them in immeasurable hosts, which the encircling cloud of dust
served but to render vaster, ghastlier, and more majestic. The Arab
line stretched out with wings that seemed to extend on and on without
end; the line of the Chasseurs was not one-half its length; they were
but a single squadron flung in their stirrups, scarcely clothed,
knowing only that the foe was upon them, caring only that their sword-
hands were hard on their weapons. With all the elan of France they
launched themselves forward to break the rush of the desert horses;
they met with a terrible sound, like falling trees, like clashing
The hoofs of the rearing chargers struck each other's breasts, and
these bit and tore at each other's manes, while their riders reeled
down dead. Frank and Arab were blent in one inextricable mass as the
charging squadrons encountered. The outer wings of the tribes were
spared the shock, and swept on to meet the bayonets of Zouaves and
Turcos as, at their swift foot-gallop, the Enfants Perdus of France
threw themselves forward from the darkness. The cavalry was enveloped
in the overwhelming numbers of the center, and the flanks seemed to
cover the Zouaves and Tirailleurs as some great settling mist may
cover the cattle who move beneath it.
It was not a battle; it was a frightful tangling of men and brutes. No
contest of modern warfare, such as commences and conquers by a duel of
artillery, and, sometimes, gives the victory to whosoever has the
superiority of ordnance, but a conflict, hand to hand, breast to
breast, life for life; a Homeric combat of spear and of sword even
while the first volleys of the answering musketry pealed over the
For once the Desert avenged, in like, that terrible inexhaustibility
of supply wherewith the Empire so long had crushed them beneath the
overwhelming difference of numbers. It was the Day of Mazagran once
more, as the light of the morning broke--gray, silvered, beautiful--in
the far, dim distance, beyond the tawny seas of reeds. Smoke and sand
soon densely rose above the struggle, white, hot, blinding; but out
from it the lean, dark Bedouin faces, the snowy haicks, the red
burnous, the gleam of the Tunisian muskets, the flash of the silver-
hilted yataghans, were seen fused in a mass with the brawny, naked
necks of the Zouaves, with the shine of the French bayonets; with the
tossing manes and glowing nostrils of the Chasseurs' horses; with the
torn, stained silk of the raised Tricolor, through which the storm of
balls flew thick and fast as hail, yet whose folds were never suffered
to fall, though again and again the hand that held its staff was cut
away or was unloosed in death, yet ever found another to take its
charge before the Flag could once have trembled in the enemy's sight.
The Chasseurs could not charge; they were hemmed in, packed between
bodies of horsemen that pressed them together as between iron plates;
now and then they could cut their way through, clear enough to reach
their comrades of the demi-cavalry, but as often as they did so, so
often the overwhelming numbers of the Arabs urged in on them afresh
like a flood, and closed upon them, and drove them back.
Every soldier in the squadron that lived kept his life by sheer,
breathless, ceaseless, hand-to-hand sword-play, hewing right and left,
front and rear, without pause, as, in the great tangled forests of the
west, men hew aside branch and brushwood ere they can force one step
The gleam of the dawn spread in one golden glow of morning, and the
day rose radiant over the world; they stayed not for its beauty or its
peace; the carnage went on, hour upon hour; men began to grow drunk
with slaughter as with raki. It was sublimely grand; it was hideously
hateful--this wild-beast struggle, this heaving tumult of striving
lives, that ever and anon stirred the vast war-cloud of smoke and
broke from it as the lightning from the night. The sun laughed in its
warmth over a thousand hills and streams, over the blue seas lying
northward, and over the yellow sands of the south; but the touch of
its heat only made the flame in their blood burn fiercer; the fullness
of its light only served to show them clearer where to strike and how
It was bitter, stifling, cruel work; with their mouths choked with
sand, with their throats caked with thirst, with their eyes blind with
smoke; cramped as in a vise, scorched with the blaze of powder,
covered with blood and with dust; while the steel was thrust through
nerve and sinew, or the shot plowed through bone and flesh. The
answering fire of the Zouaves and Tirailleurs kept the Arabs further
at bay, and mowed them faster down; but in the Chasseurs' quarter of
the field--parted from the rest of their comrades as they had been by
the rush of that broken charge with which they had sought to save the
camp and arrest the foe--the worst pressure of the attack was felt,
and the fiercest of the slaughter fell.
The Chef d'Escadron had been shot dead as they had first swept out to
encounter the advance of the desert horsemen; one by one the officers
had been cut down, singled out by the keen eyes of their enemies, and
throwing themselves into the deadliest of the carnage with the
impetuous self-devotion characteristic of their service. At the last
there remained but a mere handful out of all the brilliant squadron
that had galloped down in the gray of the dawn to meet the whirlwind
of Arab fury. At their head was Cecil.
Two horses had been killed under him, and he had thrown himself afresh
across unwounded chargers, whose riders had fallen in the melee, and
at whose bridles he had caught as he shook himself free of the dead
animals' stirrups. His head was uncovered; his uniform, hurriedly
thrown on, had been torn aside, and his chest was bare to the red
folds of his sash; he was drenched with blood, not his own, that had
rained on him as he fought; and his face and his hands were black with
smoke and with powder. He could not see a yard in front of him; he
could not tell how the day went anywhere, save in that corner where
his own troop was hemmed in. As fast as they beat the Arabs back, and
forced themselves some clearer space, so fast the tribes closed in
afresh. No orders reached him from the General of the Brigade in
command; except for the well-known war-shouts of the Zouaves that ever
and again rang above the din, he could not tell whether the French
battalions were not cut utterly to pieces under the immense numerical
superiority of their foes. All he could see was that every officer of
Chasseurs was down, and that, unless he took the vacant place, and
rallied them together, the few score troopers that were still left
would scatter, confused and demoralized, as the best soldiers will at
times when they can see no chief to follow.
He spurred the horse he had just mounted against the dense crowd
opposing him, against the hard, black wall of dust, and smoke, and
steel, and savage faces, and lean, swarthy arms, which were all that
his eyes could see, and that seemed impenetrable as granite, moving
and changing though it was. He thrust the gray against it, while he
waved his sword above his head.
"En avant, mes freres! France! France! France!"
His voice--well known, well loved--thrilled the hearts of his
comrades, and brought them together like a trumpet-call. They had gone
with him many a time into the hell of battle, into the jaws of death.
They surged about him now; striking, thrusting, forcing, with blows of
their sabers or their lances and blows of their beasts' fore-feet, a
passage one to another, until they were reunited once more as one
troop, while their shrill shouts, like an oath of vengeance, echoed
after him in the defiance that has pealed victorious over so many
fields from the soldiery of France. They loved him; he had called them
his brethren. They were like lambs for him to lead, like tigers for
him to incite.
They could scarcely see his face in that great red mist of combat, in
that horrible, stifling pressure on every side that jammed them as if
they were in a press of iron, and gave them no power to pause, though
their animals' hoofs struck the lingering life out of some half-dead
comrade, or trampled over the writhing limbs of the brother-in-arms
they loved dearest and best. But his voice reached them, clear and
ringing in its appeal for sake of the country they never once forgot
or once reviled, though in her name they were starved and beaten like
rebellious hounds; though in her cause they were exiled all their
manhood through under the sun of this cruel, ravenous, burning Africa.
They could see him lift aloft the Eagle he had caught from the last
hand that had borne it, the golden gleam of the young morning flashing
like flame upon the brazen wings; and they shouted, as with one
throat, "Mazagran! Mazagran!" As the battalion of Mazagran had died
keeping the ground through the whole of the scorching day while the
fresh hordes poured down on them like ceaseless torrents, snow-fed and
exhaustless--so they were ready to hold the ground here, until of all
their numbers there should be left not one living man.
He glanced back on them, guarding his head the while from the lances
that were rained on him; and he lifted the guidon higher and higher,
till, out of the ruck and the throng, the brazen bird caught afresh
the rays of the rising sun.
Then, like arrows launched at once from a hundred bows, they charged;
he still slightly in advance of them, the bridle flung upon his
horse's neck, his head and breast bare, one hand striking aside with
his blade the steel shafts as they poured on him, the other holding
high above the press the Eagle of the Bonapartes.
The effort was superb.
Dense bodies of Arabs parted them in the front from the camp where the
battle raged, harassed them in the rear with flying shots and hurled
lances, and forced down on them on either side like the closing jaws
of a trap. The impetuosity of their onward movement was, for the
moment, irresistible; it bore headlong all before it; the desert
horses recoiled, and the desert riders themselves yielded--crushed,
staggered, trodden aside, struck aside, by the tremendous impetus with
which the Chasseurs were thrown upon them. For the moment the Bedouins
gave way, shaken and confused, as at the head of the French they saw
this man, with his hair blowing in the wind, and the sun on the
fairness of his face, ride down on them thus unharmed, though a dozen
spears were aimed at his naked breast; dealing strokes sure as death,
right and left as he went, with the light from the hot, blue skies on
the ensign of France that he bore.
They knew him; they had met him in many conflicts; and wherever the
"fair Frank," as they called him, came, there they knew of old the
battle was hard to win; bitter to the bitterest end, whether that end
were defeat, or victory costly as defeat in its achievement.
And for the moment they recoiled under the shock of that fiery
onslaught; for the moment they parted and wavered and oscillated
beneath the impetus with which he hurled his hundred Chasseurs on
them, with that light, swift, indescribable rapidity and
resistlessness of attack characteristic of the African Cavalry.
Though a score or more, one on another, had singled him out with
special and violent attack, he had gone, as yet, unwounded, save for a
lance-thrust in his shoulder, of which, in the heat of the conflict,
he was unconscious. The "fighting fury" was upon him; and when once
this had been lit in him, the Arabs knew of old that the fiercest
vulture in the Frankish ranks never struck so surely home as his hand.
As he spurred his horse down on them now, twenty blades glittered
against him; the foremost would have cut straight down through the
bone of his bared chest and killed him at a single lunge, but as its
steel flashed in the sun, one of his troopers threw himself against
it, and parried the stroke from him by sheathing it in his own breast.
The blow was mortal; and the one who had saved him reeled down off his
saddle under the hoofs of the trampling chargers. "Picpon s'en
souvient," he murmured with a smile; and as the charge swept onward,
Cecil, with a great cry of horror, saw the feet of the maddened horses
strike to pulp the writhing body, and saw the black, wistful eyes of
the Enfant de Paris look upward to him once, with love, and fealty,
and unspeakable sweetness gleaming through their darkened sight.
But to pause was impossible. Though the French horses were forced with
marvelous dexterity through a bristling forest of steel, though the
remnant of the once-glittering squadron was cast against them in as
headlong a daring as if it had half the regiments of the Empire at its
back, the charge availed little against the hosts of the desert that
had rallied and swooped down afresh almost as soon as they had been,
for the instant of the shock, panic-stricken. The hatred of the
opposed races was aroused in all its blind, ravening passion; the
conquered had the conquering nation for once at their mercy; for once
at tremendous disadvantage; on neither side was there aught except
that one instinct for slaughter, which, once awakened, kills every
other in the breast in which it burns.
The Arabs had cruel years to avenge--years of a loathed tyranny, years
of starvation and oppression, years of constant flight southward, with
no choice but submission or death. They had deadly memories to wash
out--memories of brethren who had been killed like carrion by the
invaders' shot and steel; of nomadic freedom begrudged and crushed by
civilization; of young children murdered in the darkness of the
caverns, with the sulphurous smoke choking the innocent throats that
had only breathed the golden air of a few summers; of women, well
beloved, torn from them in the hot flames of burning tents and
outraged before their eyes with insult whose end was a bayonet-thrust
into their breasts--breasts whose sin was fidelity to the vanquished.
They had vengeance to do that made every stroke seem righteous and
holy in their sight; that nerved each of their bare and sinewy arms as
with the strength of a thousand limbs. Right--so barren, so hopeless,
so unavailing--had long been with them. Now to it was added at last
the power of might; and they exercised the power with the savage
ruthlessness of the desert. They closed in on every side; wheeling
their swift coursers hither and thither; striking with lance and
blade; hemming in, beyond escape, the doomed fragment of the Frankish
squadron till there remained of them but one small nucleus, driven
close together, rather as infantry will form than as cavalry usually
does--a ring of horsemen, of which every one had his face to the foe;
a solid circle curiously wedged one against the other, with the bodies
of chargers and of men deep around them, and with the ground soaked
with blood till the sand was one red morass.
Cecil held the Eagle still, and looked round on the few left to him.
"You are sons of the Old Guard; die like them."
They answered with a pealing cry, terrible as the cry of the lion in
the hush of night, but a shout that had in it assent, triumph, fealty,
victory, even as they obeyed him and drew up to die, while in their
front was the young brow of Petit Picpon turned upward to the glare of
There was nothing for them but to draw up thus, and await their
butchery, defending the Eagle to the last; looking till the last
toward that "woman's face of their leader," as they had often termed
it, that was to them now as the face of Napoleon was to the soldiers
who loved him.
There was a pause, brief as is the pause of the lungs to take a fuller
breath. The Arabs honored these men, who alone and in the midst of the
hostile force, held their ground and prepared thus to be slaughtered
one by one, till of all the squadron that had ridden out in the
darkness of the dawn there should be only a black, huddled, stiffened
heap of dead men and of dead beasts. The chief who led them pressed
them back, withholding them from the end that was so near to their
hands when they should stretch that single ring of horsemen all
lifeless in the dust.
"You are great warriors," he cried, in the Sabir tongue; "surrender;
we will spare!"
Cecil looked back once more on the fragment of his troop, and raised
the Eagle higher aloft where the wings should glisten in the fuller
day. Half naked, scorched, blinded; with an open gash in his shoulder
where the lance had struck, and with his brow wet with the great dews
of the noon-heat and the breathless toil; his eyes were clear as they
flashed with the light of the sun in them; his mouth smiled as he
"Have we shown ourselves cowards, that you think we shall yield?"
A hurrah of wild delight from the Chasseurs he led greeted and
ratified the choice. "On meurt--on ne se rend pas!" they shouted in
the words which, even if they be but legendary, are too true to the
spirit of the soldiers of France not to be as truth in their sight.
Then, with their swords above their heads, they waited for the
collision of the terrible attack which would fall on them upon every
side, and strike all the sentient life out of them before the sun
should be one point higher in the heavens. It came; with a yell as of
wild beasts in their famine, the Arabs threw themselves forward, the
chief himself singling out the "fair Frank" with the violence of a
lion flinging himself on a leopard. One instant longer, one flash of
time, and the tribes pressing on them would have massacred them like
cattle driven into the pens of slaughter. Ere it could be done, a
voice like the ring of a silver trumpet echoed over the field:
"En avant! En avant! Tue, tue, tue!"
Above the din, the shouts, the tumult, the echoing of the distant
musketry, that silvery cadence rung; down into the midst, with the
Tricolor waving above her head, the bridle of her fiery mare between
her teeth, the raven of the dead Zouave flying above her head, and her
pistol leveled in deadly aim, rode Cigarette.
The lightning fire of the crossing swords played round her, the
glitter of the lances dazzled her eyes, the reek of smoke and of
carnage was round her; but she dashed down into the heart of the
conflict as gayly as though she rode at a review--laughing, shouting,
waving the torn colors that she grasped, with her curls blowing back
in the breeze, and her bright young face set in the warrior's lust.
Behind her, by scarcely a length, galloped three squadrons of
Chasseurs and Spahis; trampling headlong over the corpse-strewn field,
and breaking through the masses of the Arabs as though they were seas
She wheeled her mare round by Cecil's side at the moment when, with
six swift passes of his blade, he had warded off the Chief's blows and
sent his own sword down through the chest-bones of the Bedouin's
"Well struck! The day is turned! Charge!"
She gave the order as though she were a Marshal of the Empire, the
sun-blaze full on her where she sat on the rearing, fretting, half-
bred gray, with the Tricolor folds above her head, and her teeth tight
gripped on the chain-bridle, and her face all glowing and warm and
full of the fierce fire of war--a little Amazon in scarlet and blue
and gold; a young Jeanne d'Arc, with the crimson fez in lieu of the
silvered casque, and the gay broideries of her fantastic dress instead
of the breastplate of steel. And with the Flag of her idolatry, the
Flag that was as her religion, floating back as she went, she spurred
her mare straight against the Arabs, straight over the lifeless forms
of the hundreds slain; and after her poured the fresh squadrons of
cavalry, the ruby burnous of the Spahis streaming on the wind as their
darling led them on to retrieve the day for France.
Not a bullet struck, not a saber grazed her; but there, in the heat
and the press of the worst of the slaughter, Cigarette rode hither and
thither, to and fro, her voice ringing like a bird's song over the
field, in command, in applause, in encouragement, in delight; bearing
her standard aloft and untouched; dashing heedless through a storm of
blows; cheering on her "children" to the charge again and again; and
all the while with the sunlight full on her radiant, spirited head,
and with the grim, gray raven flying above her, shrieking shrilly its
"Tue, tue, tue!" The Army believed with superstitious faith in the
potent spell of that veteran bird, and the story ran that, whenever he
flew above a combat, France was victor before the sun set. The echo of
the raven's cry, and the presence of the child who, they knew, would
have a thousand musket-balls fired in her fair young breast rather
than live to see them defeated, made the fresh squadrons sweep in like
a whirlwind, bearing down all before them.
Cigarette saved the day.
THE LOVE OF THE AMAZON.
Before the sun had declined from his zenith the French were masters of
the field, and pursued the retreat of the Arabs till, for miles along
the plain, the line of their flight was marked with horses that had
dropped dead in the strain, and with the motionless forms of their
desert-riders, their cold hands clinched in the loose, hot sands, and
their stern faces turned upward to the cloudless scorch of their
native skies, under whose freedom they would never again ride forth to
the joyous clash of the cymbals and the fierce embrace of the death-
When at length she returned, coming in with her ruthless Spahis, whose
terrible passions she feared no more than Vergil's Volscian huntress
feared the beasts of the forest and plain, the raven still hovered
above her exhausted mare, the torn flag was still in her left hand;
and the bright laughter, the flash of ecstatic triumph, was still in
her face as she sang the last lines of her own war-chant. The leopard
nature was roused in her. She was a soldier; death had been about her
from her birth; she neither feared to give nor to receive it; she was
proud as ever was young Pompeius flushed with the glories of his first
eastern conquests; she was happy as such elastic, sun-lit, dauntless
youth as hers alone can be, returning in the reddening after-glow, at
the head of her comrades, to the camp that she had saved.
She could be cruel--women are, when roused, as many a revolution has
shown; she could be heroic--she would have died a hundred deaths for
France; she was vain with a vivacious, childlike vanity; she was brave
with a bravery beside which many a man's high courage paled. Cruelty,
heroism, vanity, and bravery were all on fire, and all fed to their
uttermost, most eager, most ardent flame, now that she came back at
the head of her Spahis; while all who remained of the soldiers who,
but for her, would have been massacred long ere then, without one
spared among them, threw themselves forward, crowded round her,
caressed, and laughed, and wept, and shouted with all the changes of
their intense mercurial temperaments; kissed her boots, her sash, her
mare's drooping neck, and, lifting her, with wild vivas that rent the
sky, on to the shoulders of the two tallest men among them, bore her
to the presence of the only officer of high rank who had survived the
terrors of the day, a Chef de Bataillon of the Zouaves.
And he, a grave and noble-looking veteran, uncovered his head and
bowed before her as courtiers bow before their queens.
"Mademoiselle, you saved the honor of France. In the name of France, I
The tears rushed swift and hot into Cigarette's bright eyes--tears of
joy, tears of pride. She was but a child still in much, and she could
be moved by the name of France as other children by the name of their
"Chut! I did nothing," she said rapidly. "I only rode fast."
The frenzied hurrahs of the men who heard her drowned her words. They
loved her for what she had done; they loved her better still because
she set no count on it.
"The Empire will think otherwise," said the Major of the Zouaves.
"Tell me, my Little One, how did you do this thing?"
Cigarette, balancing herself with a foot on either shoulder of her
supporters, gave the salute, and answered:
"Simply, mon Commandant--very simply. I was alone, riding midway
between you and the main army--three leagues, say, from each. I was
all alone; only Vole-qui-veut flying with me for fun. I met a colon. I
knew the man. For the matter of that, I did him once a service--saved
his geese and his fowls from burning, one winter's day, in their
house, while he wrung his hands and looked on. Well, he was full of
terror, and told me there was fighting yonder--here he meant--so I
rode nearer to see. That was just upon sunrise. I dismounted, and ran
up a palm there." And Cigarette pointed to a far-off slope crowned
with the remains of a once mighty palm forest. "I got up very high. I
could see miles round. I saw how things were with you. For the moment
I was coming straight to you. Then I thought I should do more service
if I let the main army know, and brought you a re-enforcement. I rode
fast. Dieu! I rode fast. My horse dropped under me twice; but I
reached them at last, and I went at once to the General. He guessed at
a glance how things were, and I told him to give me my Spahis and let
me go. So he did. I got on the mare of his own staff, and away we
came. It was a near thing. If we had been a minute later, it had been
all up with you."
"True, indeed," muttered the Zouave in his beard. "A superb action, my
Little One. But did you meet no Arab scouts to stop you?"
"Did I not? Met them by dozens. Some had a shot at me; some had a shot
from me. One fellow nearly winged me; but I got through them all
somehow. Sapristi! I galloped so fast I was very hard to hit flying.
These things only require a little judgment; but some men, pardi!
always are creeping when they should fly, and always are scampering
when they should saunter; and then they wonder when they make fiasco!
And Cigarette laughed again. Men were such bunglers--ouf!
"Mademoiselle, if all soldiers were like you," answered the Major of
Zouaves curtly, "to command a battalion would be paradise!"
"All soldiers would do anything I have done," retorted Cigarette, who
never took a compliment at the expense of her "children." "They do not
all get the opportunity, look you. Opportunity is a little angel; some
catch him as he goes, some let him pass by forever. You must be quick
with him, for he is like an eel to wriggle away. If you want a good
soldier, take that aristocrat of the Chasse-Marais--that beau Victor.
Pouf! All his officers were down; and how splendidly he led the troop!
He was going to die with them rather than surrender. Napoleon"--and
Cigarette uncovered her curly head reverentially as at the name of a
deity--"Napoleon would have given him his brigade ere this. If you had
seen him kill the chief!"
"He will have justice done him, never fear. And for you--the Cross
shall be on your breast, Cigarette, if I live over to-night to write
And the Chef de Bataillon saluted her once more, and turned away to
view the carnage-strewn plain, and number the few who remained out of
those who had been wakened by the clash of the Arab arms in the gray
of the earliest dawn.
Cigarette's eyes flashed like sun playing on water, and her flushed
cheeks grew scarlet. Since her infancy it had been her dream to have
the Cross, to have the Grande Croix to lie above her little lion's
heart; it had been the one longing, the one ambition, the only undying
desire of her soul; and lo! she touched its realization!
The wild, frantic, tumultuous cheers and caresses of her soldiery, who
could not triumph in her and triumph with her enough to satiate them,
recalled her to the actual moment. She sprang down from her elevation,
and turned on them with a rebuke. "Ah! you are making this fuss about
me while hundreds of better soldiers than I lie yonder. Let us look to
them first; we will play the fool afterward."
And, though she had ridden fifty miles that day, if she had ridden one
--though she had eaten nothing since sunrise, and had only had one
draught of bad water--though she was tired, and stiff, and bruised,
and parched with thirst, Cigarette dashed off as lightly as a young
goat to look for the wounded and the dying men who strewed the plain
far and near.
She remembered one whom she had not seen after that first moment in
which she had given the word to the squadrons to charge.
It was a terrible sight--the arid plain, lying in the scarlet glow of
sunset, covered with dead bodies, with mutilated limbs, with horses
gasping and writhing, with men raving like mad creatures in the
torture of their wounds. It was a sight which always went to her
heart. She was a true soldier, and, though, she could deal death
pitilessly, could, when the delirium of war was over, tend and yield
infinite compassion to those who were in suffering. But such scenes
had been familiar to her from the earliest years when, on an infant's
limbs, she had toddled over such battlefields, and wound tiny hands in
the hair of some dead trooper who had given her sweetmeats the hour
before, vainly trying to awaken him. And she went through all the
intense misery and desolation of the scene now without shrinking, and
with that fearless, tender devotion to the wounded which Cigarette
showed in common with other soldiers of her nation; being, like them,
a young lion in the combat, but a creature unspeakably gentle and full
of sympathy when the fury of the fight was over.
She had seen great slaughter often enough, but even she had not seen
any struggle more close, more murderous, than this had been. The dead
lay by hundreds; French and Arab locked in one another's limbs as they
had fallen when the ordinary mode of warfare had failed to satiate
their violence, and they had wrestled together like wolves fighting
and rending each ocher over a disputed carcass. The bitterness and the
hatred of the contest were shown in the fact that there were very few
merely wounded or disabled; almost all the numbers that strewed the
plain were dead. It had been a battle-royal, and, but for her arrival
with the fresh squadrons, not one among her countrymen would have
lived to tell the story of this terrible duello which had been as
magnificent in heroism as any Austerlitz or Gemappes, but which would
pass unhonored, almost unnamed, among the futile, fruitless heroisms
of Algerian warfare.
"Is he killed? Is he killed?" she thought, as she bent over each knot
of motionless bodies, where, here and there, some faint, stifled
breath, or some moan of agony, told that life still lingered beneath
the huddled, stiffening heap. And a tightness came at her heart, an
aching fear made her shrink, as she raised each hidden face, that she
had never known before. "What if he be?" she said fiercely to herself.
"It is nothing to me. I hate him, the cold aristocrat! I ought to be
glad if I see him lie here."
But, despite her hatred for him, she could not banish that hot,
feverish hope, that cold, suffocating fear, which, turn by turn,
quickened and slackened the bright flow of her warm, young blood as
she searched among the slain.
"Ah! le pauvre Picpon!" she said softly, as she reached at last the
place where the young Chasseur lay, and lifted the black curls off his
forehead. The hoofs of the charging cavalry had cruelly struck and
trampled his frame; the back had been broken, and the body had been
mashed as in a mortar under the thundering gallop of the Horse; but
the face was still uninjured, and had a strange, pathetic beauty, a
calm and smiling courage on it. It was ashen pale; but the great black
eyes that had glistened in such malicious mirth, and sparkled in such
malignant mischief during life, were open, and had a mournful, pitiful
serenity in their look as if from their depths the soul still gazed--
that soul which had been neglected and cursed, and left to wander
among evil ways, yet which, through all its darkness, all its
ignorance, had reached, unguided, to love and to nobility.
Cigarette closed their long, black lashes down on the white cheeks
with soft and reverent touch; she had seen that look ere now on the
upturned faces of the dead who had strewn the barricades of Paris,
with the words of the Marseillaise the last upon their lips.
To her there could be no fate fairer, no glory more glorious, than
this of his--to die for France. And she laid him gently down, and left
him, and went on with her quest.
It was here that she had lost sight of Cecil as they had charged
together, and her mare, enraged and intoxicated with noise and terror,
had torn away at full speed that had outstripped even the swiftest of
her Spahis. A little farther on a dog's moan caught her ear; she
turned and looked across. Upright, among a ghastly pile of men and
chargers, sat the small, snowy poodle of the Chasseurs, beating the
air with its little paws, as it had been taught to do when it needed
anything, and howling piteously as it begged.
"Flick-Flack? What is it, Flick-Flack?" she cried to him, while, with
a bound, she reached the spot. The dog leaped on her, rejoicing. The
dead were thick there--ten or twelve deep--French trooper and Bedouin
rider flung across each other, horribly entangled with the limbs, the
manes, the shattered bodies of their own horses. Among them she saw
the face she sought, as the dog eagerly ran back, caressing the hair
of a soldier who lay underneath the weight of his gray charger, that
had been killed by a musket-ball.
Cigarette grew very pale, as she had never grown when the hailstorm of
shots had been pouring on her in the midst of a battle; but, with the
rapid skill and strength she had acquired long before, she reached the
place, lifted aside first one, then another of the lifeless Arabs that
had fallen above him, and drew out from beneath the suffocating
pressure of his horse's weight the head and the frame of the Chasseur
whom Flick-Flack had sought out and guarded.
For a moment she thought him dead; then, as she drew him out where the
cooled breeze of the declining day could reach him, a slow breath,
painfully drawn, moved his chest; she saw that he was unconscious from
the stifling oppression under which he had been buried since the noon;
an hour more without the touch of fresher air, and life would have
Cigarette had with her the flask of brandy that she always brought on
such errands as these; she forced the end between his lips, and poured
some down his throat; her hand shook slightly as she did so, a
weakness the gallant little campaigner never before then had known.
It revived him in a degree; he breathed more freely, though heavily,
and with difficulty still; but gradually the deadly, leaden color of
his face was replaced by the hue of life, and his heart began to beat
more loudly. Consciousness did not return to him; he lay motionless
and senseless, with his head resting on her lap, and with Flick-Flack,
in eager affection, licking his hands and his hair.
"He was as good as dead, Flick-Flack, if it had not been for you and
me," said Cigarette, while she wetted his lips with more brandy. "Ah,
bah! and he would be more grateful, Flick-Flack, for a scornful scoff
Still, though she thought this, she let his head lie on her lap, and,
as she looked down on him, there was the glisten as of tears in the
brave, sunny eyes of the little Friend of the Flag. She was of a
vivid, voluptuous, artistic nature; she was thoroughly woman-like in
her passions and her instincts, though she so fiercely contemned
womanhood. If he had not been beautiful she would never have looked
twice at him, never once have pitied his fate.
And he was beautiful still, though his hair was heavy with dew and
dust; though his face was scorched with powder; though his eyes were
closed as with the leaden weight of death, and his beard was covered
with the red stain of blood that had flowed from the lance-wound on
He was not dead; he was not even in peril of death. She knew enough of
medical lore to know that it was but the insensibility of exhaustion
and suffocation; and she did not care that he should waken. She
dropped her head over him, moving her hand softly among the masses of
his curls, and watching the quickening beatings of his heart under the
bare, strong nerves. Her face grew tender, and warm, and eager, and
melting with a marvelous change of passionate hues. She had all the
ardor of southern blood; without a wish he had wakened in her a love
that grew daily and hourly, though she would not acknowledge it. She
loved to see him lie there as though he were asleep, to cheat herself
into the fancy that she watched his rest to wake it with a kiss on his
lips. In that unconsciousness, in that abandonment, he seemed wholly
her own; passion which she could not have analyzed made her bend above
him with a half-fierce, half-dreamy delight in that solitary
possession of his beauty, of his life.
The restless movements of little Flick-Flack detached a piece of twine
passed round his favorite's throat; the glitter of gold arrested
Cigarette's eyes. She caught what the poodle's impatient caress had
broken from the string. It was a small, blue-enamel medallion bonbon-
box, with a hole through it by which it had been slung--a tiny toy
once costly, now tarnished, for it had been carried through many rough
scenes and many years of hardship; had been bent by blows struck at
the breast against which it rested, and was clotted now with blood.
Inside it was a woman's ring, of sapphires and opals.
She looked at both close, in the glow of the setting sun; then passed
the string through and fastened the box afresh. It was a mere trifle,
but it sufficed to banish her dream; to arouse her to contemptuous,
impatient bitterness with that new weakness that had for the hour
broken her down to the level of this feverish folly. He was beautiful
--yes! She could not bring herself to hate him; she could not help the
brimming tears blinding her eyes when she looked at him, stretched
senseless thus. But he was wedded to his past; that toy in his breast,
whatever it might be, whatever tale might cling to it, was sweeter to
him than her lips would ever be. Bah! there were better men than he;
why had she not let him lie and die as he might, under the pile of
Bah! she could have killed herself for her folly! She, who had scores
of lovers, from princes, to piou-pious, and never had a heartache for
one of them, to go and care for a silent "ci-devant," who had never
even noticed that her eyes had any brightness or her face had any
"You deserve to be shot--you!" said Cigarette, fiercely abusing
herself as she put his head off her lap, and rose abruptly and shouted
to a Tringlo, who was at some distance searching for the wounded.
"Here is a Chasse-Marais with some breath in him," she said curtly, as
the man with his mule-cart and his sad burden of half-dead, moaning,
writhing frames drew near to her summons. "Put him in. Soldiers cost
too much training to waste them on jackals and kites, if one can help
it. Lift him up--quick!"
"He is badly hurt?" said the Tringlo.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Oh, no! I have had worse scratches myself. The horse fell on him,
that was the mischief. I never saw a prettier thing--every Lascar has
killed his own little knot of Arbicos. Look how nice and neat they
Cigarette glanced over the field, with the satisfied appreciation of a
dilettante glancing over a collection unimpeachable for accuracy and
arrangement; and drank a toss of her brandy, and lighted her little
amber pipe, and sang loudly, as she did so, the gayest ballad of the
She was not going to have him imagine she cared for that Chasseur whom
he lifted up on his little wagon with so kindly a care--not she!
Cigarette was as proud in her way as was ever the Princesse Venetia
Nevertheless, she kept pace with the mules, carrying little Flick-
Flack, and never paused on her way, though she passed scores of dead
Arabs, whose silver ornaments and silk embroideries, commonly
replenished the knapsack and adorned in profusion the uniform of the
young filibuster; being gleaned by her, right and left, as her lawful
harvest after the fray.
"Leave him there. I will have a look at him," she said, at the first
empty tent they reached. The camp had been the scene of as fierce a
struggle as the part of the plain which the cavalry had held, and it
was strewn with the slaughter of Zouaves and Tirailleurs. The Tringlo
obeyed her, and went about his errand of mercy. Cigarette, left alone
with the wounded man, lying insensible still on a heap of forage,
ceased her song and grew very quiet. She had a certain surgical skill,
learned as her untutored genius learned most things, with marvelous
rapidity, by observation and intuition; and she had saved many a life
by her knowledge and her patient attendance on the sufferers--patience
that she had been famed for when she had been only six years old, and
a surgeon of the Algerian regiments had affirmed that he could trust
her to be as wakeful, as watchful, and as sure to obey his directions
as though she were a Soeur de Charite. Now, "the little fagot of
opposites," as Cecil had called her, put this skill into active use.
The tent had been a scullion's tent; the poor marmiton had been
killed, and lay outside, with his head clean severed by an Arab
flissa; his fire had gone out, but his brass pots and pans, his jar of
fresh water, and his various preparations for the General's dinner
were still there. The General was dead also; far yonder, where he had
fallen in the van of his Zouaves, exposing himself with all the
splendid, reckless gallantry of France; and the soup stood unserved;
the wild plovers were taken by Flick-Flack; the empty dishes waited
for the viands which there were no hands to prepare and no mouths to
eat. Cigarette glanced round, and saw all with one flash of her eyes;
then she knelt down beside the heap of forage, and, for the first
thing, dressed his wounds with the cold, clear water, and washed away
the dust and the blood that covered his breast.
"He is too good a soldier to die; one must do it for France," she said
to herself, in a kind of self-apology. And as she did it, and bound
the lance-gash close, and bathed his breast, his forehead, his hair,
his beard, free from the sand and the powder and the gore, a thousand
changes swept over her mobile face. It was one moment soft, and
flushed, and tender as passion; it was the next jealous, fiery,
scornful, pale, and full of impatient self-disdain.
He was nothing to her--morbleu! He was an aristocrat, and she was a
child of the people. She had been besieged by dukes and had flouted
princes; she had borne herself in such gay liberty, such vivacious
freedom, such proud and careless sovereignty--bah! what was it to her
whether this man lived or died? If she saved him, he would give her a
low bow as he thanked her; thinking all the while of Milady!
And yet she went on with her work.
Cecil had been stunned by a stroke from his horse's hoof as the poor
beast fell beneath and rolled over him. His wounds were light--
marvelously so, for the thousand strokes that had been aimed at him;
but it was difficult to arouse him from unconsciousness, and his face
was white as death where he lay on the heap of dry reeds and grasses.
She began to feel fear of that lengthened syncope; a chill, tight,
despairing fear that she had never known in her life before. She knelt
silent a moment, drawing through her hand the wet locks of his hair
with the bright threads of gold gleaming in it.
Then she started up, and, leaving him, found a match, and lighted the
died-out wood afresh; the fire soon blazed up, and she warmed above it
the soup that had grown cold, poured into it some red wine that was
near, and forced some, little by little, down his throat. It was with
difficulty at first that she could pass any though his tightly locked
teeth; but by degrees she succeeded, and, only half-conscious still,
he drank it faster; the heat and the strength reviving him as its
stimulant warmed his veins. His eyes did not unclose, but he stirred,
moved his limbs, and, with some muttered words she could not hear,
drew a deeper breath and turned.
"He will sleep now--he is safe," she thought to herself, while she
stood watching him with a curious conflict of pity, impatience, anger,
and relief at war within her.
Bah! Why was she always doing good services to this man, who only
cared for the blue, serene eyes of a woman who would never give him
aught except pain? Why should she take such care to keep the fire of
vitality alight in him, when it had been crushed out in thousands as
good as he, who would have no notice save a hasty thrust into the
earth; no funeral chant except the screech of the carrion-birds?
Cigarette had been too successful in her rebellion against all
weakness, and was far too fiery a young warrior to find refuge or
consolation in the poet's plea,
"How is it under our control to love or not to love?"
To allow anything to gain ascendancy over her that she resisted, to
succumb to any conqueror that was unbidden and unwelcome, was a
submission beyond words degrading to the fearless soldier-code of the
Friend of the Flag. And yet--there she stayed and watched him. She
took some food, for she had been fasting all day; then she dropped
down before the fire she had lighted, and, in one of those soft,
curled, kitten-like attitudes that were characteristic of her, kept
her vigil over him.
She was bruised, stiff, tired, longing like a tired child to fall
asleep; her eyes felt hot as flame; her rounded, supple limbs were
aching, her throat was sore with long thirst and the sand that she
seemed to have swallowed till no draught of water or wine would take
the scorched, dry pain out of it. But, as she had given up her fete-
day in the hospital, so she sat now--as patient in the self-sacrifice
as she was impatient when the vivacious agility of her young frame was
longing for the frenzied delights of the dance or the battle.
Yonder she knew, where her Spahis bivouacked on the hard-won field,
there were riotous homage, wild applause, intoxicating triumph waiting
for the Little One who had saved the day, if she chose to go out for
it; and she loved to be the center of such adoration and rejoicing,
with all the exultant vanity of a child and a hero in one. Here there
were warmth of flames, quietness of rest, long hours for slumber; all
that her burning eyes and throbbing nerves were longing for, as the
sleep she would not yield to stole on her, and the racking pain of
fatigue cramped her bones. But she would not go to the pleasure
without, and she would not give way to the weariness that tortured
Cigarette could crucify self with a generous courage, all the purer
because it never occurred to her that there was anything of virtue or
of sacrifice in it. She was acting en bon soldat--that was all. Pouf!
That wanted no thanks.
Silence settled over the camp; half the slain could not be buried, and
the clear, luminous stars rose on the ghastly plateau. All that were
heard were the challenge of sentinels, the tramp of patrols. The guard
visited her once.
She kept herself awake in the little dark tent, only lit by the glow
of the fire. Dead men were just without, and in the moonlight without,
as the night came on, she could see the severed throat of the
scullion, and the head further off, like a round, gray stone. But that
was nothing to Cigarette; dead men were no more to her than dead trees
are to others.
Every now and then, four or five times in an hour, she gave him whom
she tended the soup or the wine that she kept warmed for him over the
embers. He took it without knowledge, sunk half in lethargy, half in
sleep; but it kept the life glowing in him which, without it, might
have perished of cold and exhaustion as the chills and northerly wind
of the evening succeeded to the heat of the day, and pierced through
the canvas walls of the tent. It was very bitter; more keenly felt
because of the previous burning of the sun. There was no cloak or
covering to fling over him; she took off her blue cloth tunic and
threw it across his chest, and, shivering despite herself, curled
closer to the little fire.
She did not know why she did it--he was nothing to her--and yet she
kept herself wide awake through the dark autumn night, lest he should
sigh or stir and she not hear him.
"I have saved his life twice," she thought, looking at him; "beware of
the third time, they say!"
He moved restlessly, and she went to him. His face was flushed now;
his breath came rapidly and shortly; there was some fever on him. The
linen was displaced from his wounds; she dipped it again in water, and
laid the cooled bands on them. "Ah, bah! If I were not unsexed enough
for this, how would it be with you now?" she said in her teeth. He
tossed wearily to and fro; detached words caught her ear as he
"Let it be, let it be--he is welcome! How could I prove it at his
cost? I saved him--I could do that. It was not much----"
She listened with intent anxiety to hear the other whispers ending the
sentence, but they were stifled and broken.
"Tiens!" she murmured below her breath. "It is for some other he has
She could not catch the words that followed. They were in an unknown
language to her, for she knew nothing of English, and they poured fast
and obscure from his lips as he moved in feverish unrest; the wine
that had saved him from exhaustion inflaming his brain in his sleep.
Now and then French phrases crossed the English ones; she leaned down
to seize their meaning till her cheek was against his forehead, till
her lips touched his hair; and at that half caress her heart beat, her
face flushed, her mouth trembled with a too vivid joy, with an
impulse, half fear and half longing, that had never so moved her
"If I had my birthright," he muttered in her own tongue. "If I had it
--would she look so cold then? She might love me--women used once. O
God! if she had not looked on me, I had never known all I had lost!"
Cigarette started as if a knife had stabbed her, and sprang up from
her rest beside him.
"She--she--always she!" she muttered fiercely, while her face grew
duskily scarlet in the fire-glow of the tent; and she went slowly
away, back to the low wood fire.
This was to be ever her reward!
Her eyes glistened and flashed with the fiery, vengeful passions of
her hot and jealous instincts. Cigarette had in her the violence, as
she had the nobility, of a grand nature that has gone wholly untutored
and unguided; and she had the power of southern vengeance in her,
though she had also the swift temper. It was bitter, beyond any other
bitterness that could have wounded her, for the spoilt, victorious,
imperious, little empress of the Army of Algeria to feel that, though
she had given his life twice back to the man, she was less to him than
the tiny white dog that nestled in his breast; that she, who never
before had endured a slight, or known what neglect could mean, gave
care, and pity, and aid, and even tenderness, to one whose only
thought was for a woman who had accorded him nothing but a few chill
syllables of haughty condescension!
He lay there unconscious of her presence, tossing wearily to and fro
in fevered, unrefreshing sleep, murmuring incoherent words of French
and English strangely mingled; and Cigarette crouched on the ground,
with the firelight playing all over her picturesque, childlike beauty,
and her large eyes strained and savage, yet with a strange, wistful
pain in them; looking out at the moonlight where the headless body lay
in a cold, gray sea of shadow.
Yet she did not leave him.
She was too generous for that. "What is right is right. He is a
soldier of France," she muttered, while she kept her vigil. She felt
no want of sleep; a hard, hateful wakefulness seemed to have banished
all rest from her; she stayed there all the night so, with the touch
of water on his forehead, or of cooled wine to his lips, by the
alteration of the linen on his wounds, or the shifting of the rough
forage that made his bed. But she did it without anything of that
loving, lingering attendance she had given before; she never once drew
out the task longer than it needed, or let her hands wander among his
hair, or over his lips, as she had done before.
And he never once was conscious of it; he never once knew that she was
near. He did not waken from the painful, delirious, stupefied slumber
that had fallen on him; he only vaguely felt that he was suffering
pain; he only vaguely dreamed of what he murmured of--his past, and
the beauty of the woman who had brought all the memories of that past
back on him.
And this was Cigarette's reward--to hear him mutter wearily of the
proud eyes and of the lost smile of another!
The dawn came at last; her constant care and the skill with which she
had cooled and dressed his wounds had done him infinite service; the
fever had subsided, and toward morning his incoherent words ceased,
his breathing grew calmer and more tranquil; he fell asleep--sleep
that was profound, dreamless, and refreshing.
She looked at him with a tempestuous shadow darkening her face, that
was soft with a tenderness that she could not banish. She hated him;
she ought to have stabbed or shot him rather than have tended him
thus; he neglected her, and only thought of that woman of his old
Order. As a daughter of the People, as a child of the Army, as a
soldier of France, she ought to have killed him rather than have
caressed his hair and soothed his pain! Pshaw! She ground one in
another her tiny white teeth, that were like a spaniel's.
Then gently, very gently, lest she should waken him, she took her
tunic skirt with which she had covered him from the chills of the
night, put more broken wood on the fading fire, and with a last,
lingering look at him where he slept, passed out from the tent as the
sun rose in a flushed and beautiful dawn. He would never know that she
had saved him thus: he never should know it, she vowed in her heart.
Cigarette was very haughty in her own wayward, careless fashion. At a
word of love from him, at a kiss from his lips, at a prayer from his
voice, she would have given herself to him in all the abandonment of a
first passion, and have gloried in being known as his mistress. But
she would have perished by a thousand deaths rather than have sought
him through his pity or through his gratitude; rather than have
accepted the compassion of a heart that gave its warmth to another;
rather than have ever let him learn that he was any more to her than
all their other countless comrades who filled up the hosts of Africa.
"He will never know," she said to herself, as she passed through the
disordered camp, and in a distant quarter coiled herself among the hay
of a forage-wagon, and covered up in dry grass, like a bird in a nest,
let her tired limbs lie and her aching eyes close in repose. She was
very tired; and every now and then, as she slept, a quick, sobbing
breath shook her as she slumbered, like a worn-out fawn who has been
wounded while it played.
THE LEATHERN ZACKRIST.
With the reveille and the break of morning Cigarette woke, herself
again; she gave a little petulant shake to her fairy form when she
thought of what folly she had been guilty. "Ah, bah! you deserve to be
shot," she said to herself afresh. "One would think you were a Silver
Pheasant--you grow such a little fool!"
Love was all very well, so Cigarette's philosophy had always reckoned;
a chocolate bonbon, a firework, a bagatelle, a draught of champagne,
to flavor an idle moment. "Vin et Venus" she had always been
accustomed to see worshiped together, as became their alliterative; it
was a bit of fun--that was all. A passion that had pain in it had
never touched the Little One; she had disdained it with the lightest,
airiest contumely. "If your sweetmeat has a bitter almond in it, eat
the sugar and throw the almond away, you goose! That is simple enough,
isn't it? Bah? I don't pity the people who eat the bitter almond; not
I!" she had said once, when arguing with an officer on the absurdity
of a melancholy love that possessed him, and whose sadness she rallied
most unmercifully. Now, for once in her young life, the Child of
France found that it was remotely possible to meet with almonds so
bitter that the taste will remain and taint all things, do what
philosophy may to throw its acridity aside.
With the reveille she awoke, herself again, though she had not had
more than an hour's slumber, it is true, with a dull ache at her heart
that was very new and bitterly unwelcome to her, but with the buoyant
vivacity and the proud carelessness of her nature in arms against it,
and with that gayety of childhood inherent to her repelling, and very
nearly successfully, the foreign depression that weighted on it.
Her first thought was to take care that he should never learn what she
had done for him. The Princesse Corona would not have been more
utterly disdained to solicit regard through making a claim upon
gratitude than the fiery little warrior of France would have done. She
went straight to the Tringlo who had known her at her mission of
"Georges, mon brave," said the Little One, with that accent of
authority which was as haughty as any General's, "do you know how that
Chasseur is that we brought in last night?"
"Not heard, ma belle," said the cheery little Tringlo, who was hard
pressed; for there was much to be done, and he was very busy.
"What is to be done with the wounded?"
Georges lifted his eyebrows.
"Ma belle! There are very few. There are hundreds of dead. The few
there are we shall take with an escort of Spahis to headquarters."
"Good. I will go with you. Have a heed, Georges, never to whisper that
I had anything to do with saving that man I called to you about."
"And why, my Little One?"
"Because I desire it!" said Cigarette, with her most imperious
emphasis. "They say he is English, and a ruined Milord, pardieu! Now,
I would not have an Englishman think I thought his six feet of carcass
worth saving, for a ransom."
The Tringlo chuckled; he was an Anglophobist. In the Chinese
expedition his share of "loot" had been robbed from him by a trick of
which two English soldiers had been the concocters, and a vehement
animosity against the whole British race had been the fruit of it in
"Non, non, non!" he answered her heartily. "I understand. Thou art
very bright, Cigarette. If we have ever obliged an Englishman, he
thinks his obligation to us opens him a neat little door through which
to cheat us. It is very dangerous to oblige the English; they always
hate you for it. That is their way. They may have virtues; they may,"
he added dubiously, but with an impressive air of strictest
impartiality, "but among them is not written gratitude. Ask that man,
Rac, how they treat their soldiers!" and M. Georges hurried away to
this mules and his duties; thinking with loving regret of the
delicious Chinese plunder of which the dogs of Albion had deprived
"He is safe!" thought Cigarette; of the patrol who had seen her, she
was not afraid--he had never noticed with whom she was when he had put
his head into the scullion's tent; and she made her way toward the
place where she had left him, to see how it went with this man who she
as so careful should never know that which he had owed to her.
It went well with him, thanks to her; care, and strengthening
nourishment, and the skill of her tendance had warded off all danger
from his wound. The bruise and pressure from the weight of the horse
had been more ominous, and he could not raise himself or even breathe
without severe pain; but his fever had left him, and he had just been
lifted into a mule-drawn ambulance-wagon as Cigarette reached the
"How goes the day, M. Victor? So you got sharp scratches, I hear? Ah!
that was a splendid thing we had yesterday! When did you go down? We
charged together!" she cried gayly to him; then her voice dropped
suddenly, with an indescribable sweetness and change of tone. "So!--
you suffer still?" she asked softly.
Coming close up to where he lay on the straw, she saw the exhausted
languor of his regard, the heavy darkness under his eyelids, the
effort with which his lips moved as the faint words came broken
"Not very much, ma belle, I thank you. I shall be fit for harness in a
day or two. Do not let them send me into hospital. I shall be
Cigarette swayed herself upon the wheel and leaned toward him,
touching and changing his bandages with clever hands.
"They have dressed your wound ill; whose doing is that?"
"It is nothing. I have been half cut to pieces before now; this is a
mere bagatelle. It is only--"
"That it hurts you to breathe? I know! Have they given you anything to
eat this morning?"
"No. Everything is in confusion. We----"
She did not stay for the conclusion of his sentence; she had darted
off, quick as a swallow. She knew what she had left in her dead
scullion's tent. Everything was in confusion, as he had said. Of the
few hundreds that had been left after the terrific onslaught of the
past day, some were employed far out, thrusting their own dead into
the soil; others were removing the tents and all the equipage of the
camp; others were busied with the wounded, of whom the greatest
sufferers were to be borne to the nearest hospital (that nearest many
leagues away over the wild and barren country); while those who were
likely to be again soon ready for service were to be escorted to the
headquarters of the main army. Among the latter Cecil had passionately
entreated to be numbered; his prayer was granted to the man who had
kept at the head of his Chasseurs and borne aloft the Tricolor through
the whole of the war-tempest on which the dawn had risen, and which
had barely lulled and sunk by the setting of the sun. Chateauroy was
away with the other five of his squadrons; and the Zouave chef-de-
bataillon, the only officer of any rank who had come alive through the
conflict, had himself visited Bertie, and given him warm words of
eulogy, and even of gratitude, that had soldierly sincerity and
cordiality in them.
"Your conduct was magnificent," he had said, as he had turned away.
"It shall be my care that it is duly reported and rewarded."
Cigarette was but a few seconds absent; she soon bounded back like the
swift little chamois she was, bringing with her a huge bowlful of red
wine with bread broken in it.
"This is the best I could get," she said; "it is better than nothing.
It will strengthen you."
"What have you had yourself, petite?"
"Ah, bah! Leave off thinking for others; I have breakfasted long ago,"
she answered him. (She had only eaten a biscuit well-nigh as hard as a
flint.) "Take it--here, I will hold it for you."
She perched herself on the wheel like a bird on a twig; she had a
bird's power of alighting and sustaining herself on the most difficult
and most airy elevation; but Cecil turned his eyes on the only soldier
in the cart besides himself, one of the worst men in his regiment--a
murderous, sullen, black-browed, evil wretch, fitter for the bench of
the convict-galley than for the ranks of the cavalry.
"Give half to Zackrist," he said. "I know no hunger; and he has more
need of it."
"Zackrist! That is the man who stole your lance and accouterments, and
got you into trouble by taking them to pawn in your name, a year or
"Well, what of that? He is not the less hungry."
"What of that? Why, you were going to be turned into the First
Battalion,[*] disgraced for the affair, because you would not tell of
him; if Vireflau had not found out the right of the matter in time!"
[*] The Battalion of the criminal outcasts of all corps, whether horse
"What has that to do with it?"
"This, M. Victor, that you are a fool."
"I dare say I am. But that does not make Zackrist less hungry."
He took the bowl from her hands and, emptying a little of it into the
wooden bidon that hung to her belt, kept that for himself and,
stretching his arm across the straw, gave the bowl to Zackrist, who
had watched it with the longing, ravenous eyes of a starving wolf, and
seized it with rabid avidity.
A smile passed over Cecil's face, amused despite the pain he suffered.
"That is one of my 'sensational tricks,' as M. de Chateauroy calls
them. Poor Zackrist! Did you see his eyes?"
"A jackal's eyes, yes!" said Cigarette, who, between her admiration
for the action and her impatience at the waste of her good bread and
wine, hardly knew whether to applaud or to deride him. "What
recompense do you think you will get? He will steal your things again,
"May be. I don't think he will. But he is very hungry, all the same;
that is about the only question just now," he answered her as he drank
and ate his portion, with a need of it that could willingly have made
him take thrice as much, though for the sake of Zackrist, he had
denied his want of it.
Zackrist himself, who could hear perfectly what was said, uttered no
word; but when he had finished the contents of the bowl, lay looking
at his corporal with an odd gleam in the dark, sullen savage depths of
his hollow eyes. He was not going to say a word of thanks; no! none
had ever heard a grateful or a decent word from him in his life; he
was proud of that. He was the most foul-mouthed brute in the army,
and, like Snake in the School for Scandal, thought a good action would
have ruined his character forever. Nevertheless, there came into his
cunning and ferocious eyes a glisten of the same light which had been
in the little gamin's when, first by the bivouac fire, he had
murmured, "Picpon s'en souviendra."
"When anybody stole from me," muttered Cigarette, "I shot him."
"You would have fed him, had he been starving. Do not belie yourself,