“I am not a croc-mitaine, perhaps; but I say what I think, with little heed of my auditors, usually.”
Chanrellon bent his bright brown eyes curiously on him. “He is a croc-mitaine,” he thought. “He is not to be lost.”
“I prefer your foes,” went on the other, quite quietly, quite listlessly, as though the glittering, gas-lit cafe were not full of French soldiers. “In the first place, they are on the losing side; in the second, they are the lords of the soil; in the third, they live as free as air; and in the fourth, they have undoubtedly the right of the quarrel!”
“Monsieur!” cried the Chasseurs, laying their hands on their swords, fiery as lions. He looked indolently and wearily up from under the long lashes of his lids, and went on, as though they had not spoken.
“I will fight you all, if you like, as that worthy of yours, Rire-pour-tout, did, but I don’t think it’s worth while,” he said carelessly, where he leaned over the marble table. “Brawling’s bad style; we don’t do it. I was saying, I like your foes best; mere matter of taste; no need to quarrel over it—that I see. I shall go into their service or into yours, monsieur—will you play a game of dice to decide?”
“Why—this way,” said the other, with the weary listlessness of one who cares not two straws how things turn. “If I win, I go to the Arabs; if you win, I come to your ranks.”
“Mort de Dieu! it is a droll gambling,” murmured Chanrellon. “But—if you win, do you think we shall let you go off to our enemies? Pas si bete, monsieur!”
“Yes, you will,” said the other quietly. “Men who knew what honor meant enough to redeem Rire-pour-tout’s pledge of safety to the Bedouins, will not take advantage of an openly confessed and unarmed adversary.”
A murmur of ratification ran through his listeners.
Chanrellon swore a mighty oath.
“Pardieu, no. You are right. If you want to go, you shall go. Hola there! bring the dice. Champagne, monsieur? Vermouth? Cognac?”
“Nothing, I thank you.”
He leaned back with an apathetic indolence and indifference oddly at contrast with the injudicious daring of his war-provoking words and the rough campaigning that he sought. The assembled Chasseurs eyed him curiously; they liked his manner and they resented his first speeches; they noted every particular about him—his delicate white hands, his weather-worn and travel-stained dress, his fair, aristocratic features, his sweeping, abundant beard, his careless, cool, tired, reckless way; and they were uncertain what to make of him.
The dice were brought.
“What stakes, monsieur?” asked Chanrellon.
“Ten napoleons a side—and—the Arabs.”
He set ten napoleons down on the table; they were the only coins he had in the world; it was very characteristic that he risked them.
They threw the main—two sixes.