Which title she gave with a saucy laugh, hitting with a chocolate bonbon the black African-burnt visage of the omnipotent chief she had the audacity to attack. High or low, they were all the same to Cigarette. She would have “slanged” the Emperor himself with the self-same coolness, and the Army had given her a passport of immunity so wide that it would have fared ill with anyone who had ever attempted to bring the vivandiere to book for her uttermost mischief.
“By the way!” she went on, quick as thought, with her reckless, devil-may-care gayety. “One thing! Your Corporal will demoralize the army of Africa, monsieur!”
“He shall have an ounce of cold lead before he does. What in?”
“He will demoralize it,” said Cigarette, with a sagacious shake of her head. “If they follow his example we shan’t have a Chasseur, or a Spahi, or a Piou-piou, or a Sapeur worth anything—”
“Sacre! What does he do?” The Colonel’s strong teeth bit savagely through his cigar; he would have given much to have been able to find a single thing of insubordination or laxity of duty in a soldier who irritated and annoyed him, but who obeyed him implicitly, and was one of the most brilliant “fire-eaters” of his regiment.
“He won’t only demoralize the army,” pursued the Cigarette, with vivacious eloquence, “but if his example is followed, he’ll ruin the Prefets, close the Bureaux, destroy the Exchequer, beggar all the officials, make African life as tame as milk and water, and rob you, M. le Colonel, of your very highest and dearest privilege!”
“Sacre bleu!” cried her hearers, as their hands instinctively sought their swords; “what does he do?”
Cigarette looked at them out of her arch black lashes.
“Why, he never thieves from the Arabs! If the fashion comes in, adieu to our occupation. Court-martial him, Colonel!”
With which sally Cigarette thrust her pretty soft curls back of her temples, and launched herself into lansquenet with all the ardor of a gambler and the vivacity of a child; her eyes flashing, her cheeks flushing, her little teeth set, her whole soul in a whirl of the game, made all the more riotous by the peals of laughter from her comrades and the wines that were washed down like water. Cigarette was a terrible little gamester, and had gaming made very easy to her, for it was the creed of the Army that her losses never counted, but her gains were paid to her often double or treble. Indeed, so well did she play, and so well did the goddess of hazard favor her, that she might have grown a millionaire on the fruits of her dice and her cards, but for this fact, that whatever the little Friend of the Flag had in her hands one hour was given away the next, to the first wounded soldier, or ailing veteran, or needy Arab woman that required the charity.
As much gold was showered on her as on Isabel of the Jockey Club; but Cigarette was never the richer for it. “Bah!” she would say, when they told her of her heedlessness, “money is like a mill, no good standing still. Let it turn, turn, turn, as fast as ever it can, and the more bread will come from it for the people to eat.”