Suddenly she lifted both her hands above her head.
It was the signal well known, the signal of permission to join in that wild vertigo for which every one of her spectators was panting; their pipes were flung away, their kepis tossed off their heads, the music clashed louder and faster and more fiery with every sound; the chorus of the Marseillaise des Bataillons thundered from a hundred voices—they danced as only men can dance who serve under the French flag, and live under the African sun. Two, only, still looked on—the Chasseur d’Afrique, and a veteran of the 10th company, lamed for life at Mazagran.
“Are you a stupid? Don’t you dance?” muttered the veteran Zephyr to his silent companion.
The Chasseur turned and smiled a little.
“I prefer a bamboula whose music is the cannon, bon pere.”
“Bravo! Yet she is pretty enough to tempt you?”
“Yes; too pretty to be unsexed by such a life.”
His thoughts went to a woman he had loved well: a young Arab, with eyes like the softness of dark waters, who had fallen to him once in a razzia as his share of spoil, and for whom he had denied himself cards, or wine, or tobacco, or an hour at the Cafe, or anything that alleviated the privation and severity of his lot as “simple soldat,” which he had been then, that she might have such few and slender comforts as he could give her from his miserable pay. She was dead. Her death had been the darkest passage in his life in Africa—but the flute-like music of her voice seemed to come on his ear now. This girl-soldier had little charm for him after the sweet, silent, tender grace of his lost Zelme.
He turned and touched on the shoulder a Chasseur who had paused a moment to get breath in the headlong whirl:
“Come, we are to be with the Djied by dawn!”
The trooper obeyed instantly; they were ordered to visit and remain with a Bedouin camp some thirty miles away on the naked plateau; a camp professedly submissive, but not so much so but that the Bureau deemed it well to profit themselves by the services of the corporal, whose knowledge of Arabic, whose friendship with the tribes, and whose superior intelligence in all such missions rendered him peculiarly fitted for errands that required diplomacy and address as well as daring and fire.
He went thoughtfully out of the noisy, reeking ballroom into the warm luster of the Algerian night; as he went, Cigarette, who had been nearer than he knew, flashed full in his eyes the fury of her own sparkling ones, while, with a contemptuous laugh, she struck him on the lips with the cigar she hurled at him.
“Unsexed? Pouf! If you have a woman’s face, may I not have a man’s soul? It is only a fair exchange. I am no kitten, bon zig; take care of my talons!”
The words were spoken with the fierceness of Africa; she had too much in her of the spirit of the Zephyrs and the Chacals, with whom her youth had been spent from her cradle up, not to be dangerous when roused; she was off at a bound, and in the midst of the mad whirl again before he could attempt to soften or efface the words she had overheard, and the last thing he saw of her was in a cloud of Zouaves and Spahis with the wild uproar of the music shaking riotous echoes from the rafters.