Vireflau listened attentively—a short, lean, black-visaged campaigner, who yet relaxed into a grim half-smile as the vivandiere addressed him with that air, as of a generalissimo addressing a subordinate, which always characterized Cigarette the more strongly the higher the grade of her companion or opponent.
“Always eloquent, pretty one!” he growled. “Are you sure he did not begin the fray?”
“Don’t I tell you the four Arabs were like four devils! They knocked down an old colon, and Bel-a-faire-peur tried to prevent their doing more mischief, and they set on him like so many wild-cats. He kept his temper wonderfully; he always tries to preserve order; you can’t say so much of your riff-raff, Captain Vireflau, commonly! Here! this is his horse. Send some men to him; and mind the thing is reported fairly, and to his credit, to-morrow.”
With which command, given as with the air of a commander-in-chief, in its hauteur and its nonchalance, Cigarette vaulted off the charger, flung the bridle to a soldier, and was away and out of sight before Francois Vireflau had time to consider whether he should laugh at her caprices, as all the army did, or resent her insolence to his dignity. But he was a good-natured man, and, what was better, a just one; and Cigarette had judged rightly that the tale she had told would weigh well with him to the credit side of his Corporal, and would not reach his Colonel in any warped version that could give pretext for any fresh exercise of tyranny over “Bel-a-faire-peur” under the title of “discipline.”
“Dieu de Dieu!” thought his champion as she made her way through the gas-lit streets. “I swore to have my vengeance on him. It is a droll vengeance, to save his life, and plead his cause with Vireflau! No matter! One could not look on and let a set of Arbicos kill a good lascar of France; and the thing that is just must be said, let it go as it will against one’s grain. Public Welfare before Private Pique!”
A grand and misty generality which consoled Cigarette for an abandonment of her sworn revenge which she felt was a weakness utterly unworthy of her, and too much like that inconsequent weathercock, that useless, insignificant part of creation, those objects of her supreme derision and contempt, those frivolous trifles which she wondered the good God had ever troubled himself to make—namely, “Les Femmes.”