“In course they are, sir; they wouldn’t be such larky company unless they was. But what I say is that they’re scamps who’re told they may be great men, if they like; not scamps who’re told that, because they’ve once gone to the devil, they must always keep there. It makes all the difference in life.”
“Yes—it makes all the difference in life, whether hope is left, or—left out!”
The words were murmured with a half smile that had a dash of infinite sadness in it; the other looked at him quickly with a shadow of keen pain passing over the bright, frank, laughing features of his sunburned face; he knew that the brief words held the whole history of a life.
“Won’t there never be no hope, sir?” he whispered, while his voice trembled a little under the long, fierce sweep of his yellow mustaches.
The Chasseur rallied himself with a slight, careless laugh; the laugh with which he had met before now the onslaught of charges ferocious as those of the magnificent day of Mazagran.
“Whom for? Both of us? Oh, yes; very likely we shall achieve fame and die! A splendid destiny.”
“No, sir,” said the other, with the hesitation still in the quiver of his voice. “You know I meant, no hope of your ever being again——”
He stopped, he scarcely knew how to phrase the thoughts he was thinking.
The other moved with a certain impatience.
“How often must I tell you to forget that I was ever anything except a soldier of France?—forget as I have forgotten it!”
The audacious, irrepressible “Crache-au-nez-d’la-Mort,” whom nothing could daunt and nothing could awe, looked penitent and ashamed as a chidden spaniel.
“I know, sir. I have tried, many a year; but I thought, perhaps, as how his lordship’s death—”
“No life and no death can make any difference to me, except the death that some day an Arbico’s lunge will give me; and that is a long time coming.”
“Ah, for God’s sake, Mr. Cecil, don’t talk like this!”
The Chasseur gave a short, sharp shiver, and started at this name, as if a bullet had struck him.
“Never say that again!”
Rake, Algerian-christened “Crache-au-nez-d’la-Mort,” stammered a contrite apology.
“I never have done, sir—not for never a year; but it wrung it out of me like—you talking of wanting death in that way——”
“Oh, I don’t want death!” laughed the other, with a low, indifferent laughter, that had in it a singular tone of sadness all the while. “I am of our friends the Spahis’ opinion—that life is very pleasant with a handsome, well-chosen harem, and a good horse to one’s saddle. Unhappily harems are too expensive for Roumis! Yet I am not sure that I am not better amused in the Chasseurs than I was in the Household—specially when we are at war. I suppose we must be wild animals at the core, or we should never find such an infinite zest in the death grapple. Good-night!”