Early that morning, when the snowy cloud of pigeons were circling down to take their daily alms from Cigarette, where her bright brown face looked out from the lattice-hole, Cecil, with some of the roughriders of his regiment, was sent far into the interior to bring in a string of colts, bought of a friendly desert tribe, and destined to be shipped to France for the Imperial Haras. The mission took two days; early on the third day they returned with the string of wild young horses, whom it had taken not a little exertion and address to conduct successfully through the country into Algiers.
He was usually kept in incessant activity, because those in command over him had quickly discovered the immeasurable value of a bas-officier who was certain to enforce and obtain implicit obedience, and certain to execute any command given him with perfect address and surety, yet, who, at the same time, was adored by his men, and had acquired a most singularly advantageous influence over them. But of this he was always glad; throughout his twelve years’ service under the Emperor’s flag, he had only found those moments in which he was unemployed intolerable; he would willingly have been in the saddle from dawn till midnight.
Chateauroy was himself present when the colts were taken into the stable-yard; and himself inquired, without the medium of any third person, the whole details of the sale and of the transit. It was impossible, with all his inclination, to find any fault either with the execution of the errand or with the brief, respectful answers by which his corporal replied to his rapid and imperious cross-questionings. There were a great number of men within hearing, many of them the most daring and rebellious pratiques of the regiment; and Cecil would have let the coarsest upbraidings scourge him rather than put the temptation to mutiny in their way which one insubordinate or even not strictly deferential word from him would have given. Hence the inspection passed off peaceably; as the Marquis turned on his heel, however, he paused a moment.
“I have not forgotten your insolence with those ivory toys. But Mme. la Princesse herself has deigned to solicit that it shall be passed over unpunished. She cannot, of course, yield to your impertinent request to remain also unpaid for them. I charged myself with the fulfillment of her wishes. You deserve the stick, but since Milady herself is lenient enough to pardon you, you are to take this instead. Hold your hand, sir!”
Cecil put out his hand; he expected to receive a heavy blow from his commander’s saber, that possibly might break the wrist. These little trifles were common in Africa.
Instead a rouleau of Napoleons was laid on his open palm. Chateauroy knew the gold would sting more than the blow.