The vivandiere was by instinct a fine political economist.
Meanwhile, where she had left him among the stones of the ruined mosque, the Chasseur, whom they nicknamed Bel-a-faire-peur, in a double sense, because of his “woman’s face,” as Tata Leroux termed it, and because of the terror his sword had become through North Africa, sat motionless with his right arm resting on his knee, and his spurred heel thrust into the sand; the sun shining down unheeded in its fierce, burning glare on the chestnut masses of his beard and the bright glitter of his uniform.
He was a dashing cavalry soldier, who had had a dozen wounds cut over his body by the Bedouin swords, in many and hot skirmishes; who had waited through sultry African nights for the lion’s tread, and had fought the desert-king and conquered; who had ridden a thousand miles over the great sand waste, and the boundless arid plains, and slept under the stars with the saddle beneath his head, and his rifle in his hand, all through the night; who had served, and served well, in fierce, arduous, unremitting work, in trying campaigns and in close discipline; who had blent the verve, the brilliance, the daring, the eat-drink-and-enjoy-for-to-morrow-we-die of the French Chasseur, with something that was very different, and much more tranquil.
Yet, though as bold a man as any enrolled in the French Service, he sat alone here in the shadow of the column, thoughtful, motionless, lost in silence.
In his left hand was a Galignani, six months old, and his eye rested on a line in the obituary:
“On the 10th ult., at Royallieu, suddenly, the Right Hon. Denzil, Viscount Royallieu; aged 90.”
Cigarette en bacchante.
Vanitas vanitatum! The dust of death lies over the fallen altars of Bubastis, where once all Egypt came down the flood of glowing Nile, and Herodotus mused under the shadowy foliage, looking on the lake-like rings of water. The Temple of the Sun, where the beauty of Asenath beguiled the Israelite to forget his sale into bondage and banishment, lies in shapeless hillocks, over which canter the mules of dragomen and chatter the tongues of tourists. Where the Lutetian Palace of Julian saluted their darling as Augustus, the sledge-hammer and the stucco of the Haussmann fiat bear desolation in their wake. Levantine dice are rattled where Hypatia’s voice was heard. Bills of exchange are trafficked in where Cleopatra wandered under the palm aisles of her rose gardens. Drummers roll their caserne-calls where Drusus fell and Sulla laid down dominion.
And here—in the land of Hannibal, in the conquest of Scipio, in the Phoenicia whose loveliness used to flash in the burning, sea-mirrored sun, while her fleets went eastward and westward for the honey of Athens and the gold of Spain—here Cigarette danced the cancan!