“I wonder he has not been, since you have the ruling of his fate,” she said, with a slight smile lingering about the proud, rich softness of her lips.
“So do I.”
There was a gaunt, grim, stern significance in the three monosyllables that escaped him unconsciously; it made her turn and look at him more closely.
“How has he offended you?” she asked.
Chateauroy laughed off her question.
“In a thousand ways, madame. Chiefly because I received my regimental training under one who followed the traditions of the Armies of Egypt and the Rhine, and have, I confess little tolerance, in consequence, of a rebel who plays the martyr, and a soldier who is too effeminate an idler to do anything except attitudinize in interesting situations to awaken sympathy.”
She listened with something of distaste upon her face where she still leaned against the marble balustrade, toying with the ivory Bedouins.
“I am not much interested in military discussion,” she said coldly, “but I imagine—if you will pardon me for saying so—that you do your Corporal some little injustice here. I should not fancy he ‘affects’ anything, to judge from the very good tone of his manners. For the rest, I shall not keep the chessmen without making him fitting payment for them; since he declines money, you will tell me what form that had better take to be of real and welcome service to a Chasseur d’Afrique.”
Chateauroy, more incensed than he chose or dared to show, bowed courteously, but with a grim, ironic smile.
“If you really insist, give him a Napoleon or two whenever you see him; he will be very happy to take it and spend it au cabaret, though he played the aristocrat to-day. But you are too good to him, he is one of the very worst of my pratiques; and you are as cruel to me in refusing to deign to accept my trooper’s worthless bagatelles at my hands.”
She bent her superb head silently, whether in acquiescence or rejection he could not well resolve with himself, and turned to the staff officers, among them the heir of a princely semi-royal French House, who surrounded her, and sorely begrudged the moments she had given to those miniature carvings and the private soldier who had wrought them. She was no coquette; she was of too imperial a nature, had too lofty a pride, and was too difficult to charm or to enchain; but those meditative, brilliant, serene eyes had a terrible gift of awakening without ever seeking love, and of drawing without ever recompensing homage.
Crouched down among her rose-hued covert, Cigarette had watched and heard; her teeth set tightly, her breath coming and going swiftly, her hand clinched close on the butts of her pistols; fiery curses, with all the infinite variety in cursing of a barrack repertoire, chasing one another in hot, fast mutterings of those bright lips, that should have known nothing except a child’s careless and innocent song.