“Assuredly; unless by your wish it be broken. Yet—I await my brother’s arrival here; he is a soldier himself; I shall hope that he will persuade you to think differently of your future. At any rate, both his and my own influence will always be exerted for you, if you will avail yourself of it.”
“You do me much honor, madame. All I will ever ask of you is to return those coins to my Colonel, and to forget that your gentleness has made me forget, for one merciful half hour, the sufferance on which alone a trooper can present himself here.”
He swept the ground with his kepi as though it were the plumed hat of a Marshal, and backed slowly from her presence, as he had many a time long before backed out of a throne-room.
As he went, his eyes caught the armies of the ivory chessmen; they stood under glass, and had not been broken by her lapdog.
Milady, left alone there in her luxurious morning room, sat a while lost in thought. He attracted her; he interested her; he aroused her sympathy and her wonder as the men of her own world failed to do—aroused them despite the pride which made her impatient of lending so much attention to a mere Chasseur d’Afrique. His knowledge of the fact that he was in reality the representative of his race, although the power to declare himself so had been forever abandoned and lost, had given him in her presence that day a certain melancholy, and a certain grave dignity that would have shown a far more superficial observer than she was that he had come of a great race, and had memories that were of a very different hue to the coarse and hard life which he led now. She had seen much of the world, and was naturally far more penetrative and more correct in judgment than are most women. She discovered the ring of true gold in his words, and the carriage of pure breeding in his actions. He interested her more than it pleased her that he should. A man so utterly beneath her; doubtless brought into the grade to which he had fallen by every kind of error, of improvidence, of folly—of probably worse than folly!
It was too absurd that she, so difficult to interest, so inaccessible, so fastidious, so satiated with all that was brilliant and celebrated, should find herself seriously spending her thoughts, her pity, and her speculation on an adventurer of the African Army! She laughed a little at herself as she stretched out her hand for a new volume of French poems dedicated to her by their accomplished writer, who was a Parisian diplomatist.
“One would imagine I was just out of a convent, and weaving a marvelous romance from a mystery and a tristesse, because the first soldier I notice in Algeria has a gentleman’s voice and is ill treated by his officers!” she thought with a smile, while she opened the poems which had that day arrived, radiant in the creamy vellum, the white velvet, and the gold of a dedication copy, with the coronet of the Corona d’Amague on their binding. The poems were sparkling with grace and elegant silvery harmonies; but they served ill to chain her attention, for while she read her eyes wandered at intervals to the chess battalions.