The shout was, “A moi, Roumis! Pour la France!” And Cigarette knew the voice, ringing melodiously and calm still, though it gave the sound of alarm.
“Cigarette au secour!” she cried in answer; she had cried it many a time over the heat of battlefields, and when the wounded men in the dead of the sickly night writhed under the knife of the camp-thieves. If she had gone like the wind before, she went like the lightning now.
A few yards onward she saw a confused knot of horses and of riders struggling one with another in a cloud of white dust, silvery and hazy in the radiance of the moon.
The center figure was Cecil’s; the four others were Arabs, armed to the teeth and mad with drink, who had spent the whole day in drunken debauchery; pouring in raki down their throats until they were wild with its poisonous fire, and had darted headlong, all abreast, down out of the town; overriding all that came in their way, and lashing their poor beasts with their sabers till the horses’ flanks ran blood. Just as they neared Cecil they had knocked aside and trampled over a worn out old colon, of age too feeble for him to totter in time from their path. Cecil had reined up and shouted to them to pause; they, inflamed with the perilous drink, and senseless with the fury which seems to possess every Arab once started in a race neck-to-neck, were too blind to see, and too furious to care, that they were faced by a soldier of France, but rode down on him at once, with their curled sabers flashing round their heads. His horse stood the shock gallantly, and he sought at first only to parry their thrusts and to cut through their stallions’ reins; but the latter were chain bridles, and only notched his sword as the blade struck them, and the former became too numerous and too savagely dealt to be easily played with in carte and tierce. The Arabs were dead-drunk, he saw at a glance, and had got the blood-thirst upon them; roused and burning with brandy and raki, these men were like tigers to deal with; the words he had spoken they never heard, and their horses hemmed him in powerless, while their steel flashed on every side—they were not of the tribe of Khalifa.