She was incensed, piqued, and provoked. She had been ready to forgive him because he carved so wonderfully, and sold the carvings for his comrade at the hospital; she was holding out the olive-branch after her own petulant fashion; and she thought, if he had had any grace in him, he would have responded with some such florid compliment as those for which she was accustomed to box the ears of her admirers, and would have swung himself up to the coping, to touch, or at least try to touch, those sweet, fresh, crimson lips of hers, that were like a half-opened damask rose. Modesty is apt to go to the wall in camps, and poor little Cigarette’s notions of the great passion were very simple, rudimentary, and in no way coy. How should they be? She had tossed about with the army, like one of the tassels to their standards; blowing whichever way the breath of war floated her; and had experienced, or thought she had experienced, as many affairs as the veriest Don Juan among them, though her heart had never been much concerned in them, but had beaten scarce a shade quicker, if a lunge in a duel, or a shot from an Indigene, had pounced off with her hero of the hour to Hades.
“Fine manners!” echoed Cecil, with a smile. “My poor child, have you been so buffeted about that you have never been treated with commonest courtesy?”
“Whew!” cried the little lady, blowing a puff of smoke down on him. “None of your pity for me! Buffeted about? Do you suppose anybody ever did anything with me that I didn’t choose? If you had as much power as I have in the army, Chateauroy would not send for you to sell your toys like a peddler. You are a slave! I am a sovereign!”
With which she tossed back her graceful, spirited head, as though the gold band of her cap were the gold band of a diadem. She was very proud of her station in the Army of Africa, and glorified her privileges with all a child’s vanity.
He listened, amused with her boastful supremacy; but the last words touched him with a certain pang just in that moment. He felt like a slave—a slave who must obey his tyrant, or go out and die like a dog.
“Well, yes,” he said slowly; “I am a slave, I fear. I wish a Bedouin flissa would cut my thralls in two.”
He spoke jestingly, but there was a tinge of sadness in the words that touched Cigarette’s changeful temper to contrition, and filled her with the same compassion and wonder at him that she had felt when the ivory wreaths and crucifixes had lain in her hands. She knew she had been ungenerous—a crime dark as night in the sight of the little chivalrous soldier.