She was pretty, she was insolent, she was intolerably coquettish, she was mischievous as a marmoset; she would swear, if need be, like a Zouave; she could fire galloping, she could toss off her brandy or her vermouth like a trooper; she would on occasion clinch her little brown hand and deal a blow that the recipient would not covet twice; she was an enfant de Paris and had all its wickedness at her fingers; she would sing you guinguette songs till you were suffocated with laughter, and she would dance the cancan at the Salle de Mars, with the biggest giant of a Cuirassier there. And yet with all that, she was not wholly unsexed; with all that she had the delicious fragrance of youth, and had not left a certain feminine grace behind her, though she wore a vivandiere’s uniform, and had been born in a barrack, and meant to die in a battle; it was the blending of the two that made her piquante, made her a notoriety in her own way; known at pleasure, and equally, in the Army of Africa as “Cigarette,” and “L’Amie du Drapeau.”
“Not like a tipsy Spahi!” It was a cruel cut to her gros bebees, mostly Spahis, lying there at her feet, or rather at the foot of the wall, singing the praises—with magnanimity beyond praise—of a certain Chasseur d’Afrique.
“Ho, Cigarette!” growled a little Zouave, known as Tata Leroux. “That is the way thou forsakest thy friends for the first fresh face.”
“Well, it is not a face like a tobacco-stopper, as thine is, Tata!” responded Cigarette, with a puff of her namesake; the repartee of the camp is apt to be rough. “He is Bel-a-faire-peur, as you nickname him.”
“A woman’s face!” growled the injured Tata; whose own countenance was of the color and well-nigh of the flatness of one of the red bricks of the wall.
“Ouf!” said the Friend of the Flag, with more expression in that single exclamation than could be put in a volume. “He does woman’s deeds, does he? He has woman’s hands, but they can fight, I fancy? Six Arabs to his own sword the other day in that skirmish! Superb!”
“Sapristi! And what did he say, this droll, when he looked at them lying there? Just shrugged his shoulders and rode away. ’I’d better have killed myself; less mischief, on the whole!’ Now who is to make anything of such a man as that?”
“Ah! he did not stop to cut their gold buttons off, and steal their cangiars, as thou wouldst have done, Tata? Well! he has not learned la guerre,” laughed Cigarette. “It was a waste; he should have brought me their sashes, at least. By the way—when did he join?”
“Ten—twelve—years ago, or thereabouts.”
“He should have learned to strip Arabs by this time, then,” said the Amie du Drapeau, turning the tap of her barrel to replenish the wine-cup; “and to steal from them too, living or dead. Thou must take him in hand, Tata!”
Tata laughed, considering that he had received a compliment.