Skill, grace, talent, invention whose mother was necessity, and invention that was the unforced offshoot of natural genius, were all at work; and the hands that could send the naked steel down at a blow through turban and through brain could shape, with a woman’s ingenuity, with a craftsman’s skill, every quaint device and dainty bijou from stone and wood, and many-colored feathers, and mountain berries, and all odds and ends that chance might bring to hand, and that the women of Bedouin tribes or the tourists of North Africa might hereafter buy with a wondrous tale appended to them—racy and marvelous as the Sapir slang and the military imagination could weave—to enhance the toys’ value, and get a few coins more on them for their manufacture.
Ignorance jostled art, and bizarre ran hand in hand with talent, in all the products of the Chasseurs’ extemporized studio; but nowhere was there ever clumsiness, and everywhere was there an industry, gay, untiring, accustomed to make the best of the worst; the workers laughing, chattering, singing, in all good-fellowship, while the fingers that gave the dead thrust held the carver’s chisel, and the eyes that glared blood-red in the heat of battle twinkled mischievously over the meerschaum bowl, in whose grinning form some great chief of the Bureau had just been sculptured in audacious parody.
In the midst sat Rake, tattooing with an eastern skill the skin of a great lion, that a year before he had killed in single combat in the heart of Oran, having watched for the beast twelve nights in vain, high perched on a leafy crest of rock, above a water-course. While he worked his tongue flew far and fast over the camp slang—the slangs of all nations came easy to him—in voluble conversation with the Chasseur next, who was making a fan out of feathers that any Peeress might have signaled with at the Opera. “Crache-au-nez-d’la-Mort” was in high popularity with his comrades; and had said but the truth when he averred that he had never been so happy as under the tricolor. The officers pronounced him an incurably audacious “pratique”; he was always in mischief, and the regimental rules