“Such a man as that buried in the ranks of this brutalized army!” she mused. “What fatal chance could bring him here? Misfortune, not misconduct, surely. I wonder if Lyon could learn? He shall try.”
“Your Chasseur has the air of a Prince, my love,” said a voice behind her.
“Equivocal compliment! A much better air than most Princes,” said Mme. Corona, glancing up with a slight shrug of her shoulders, as her guest and traveling companion, the Marquise de Renardiere, entered.
“Indeed! I saw him as he passed out; and he saluted me as if he had been a Marshal. Why did he come?”
Venetia Corona pointed to the Napoleons, and told the story; rather listlessly and briefly.
“Ah! The man has been a gentleman, I dare say. So many of them come to our army. I remember General Villefleur’s telling me—he commanded here a while—that the ranks of the Zephyrs and Zouaves were full of well-born men, utterly good-for-nothing, the handsomest scoundrels possible; who had every gift and every grace, and yet come to no better end than a pistol-shot in a ditch or a mortal thrust from Bedouin steel. I dare say your Corporal is one of them.”
“It may be so.”
“But you doubt it, I imagine.”
“I am not sure now that I do. But this person is certainly unlike a man to whom disgrace has ever attached.”
“You think your protege, then, has become what he is through adversity, I suppose? Very interesting!”
“I really can tell you nothing of his antecedents. Through his skill at sculpture, and my notice of it, considerable indignity has been brought upon him; and a soldier can feel, it seems, though it is very absurd that he should! That is all my concern with the matter, except that I have to teach his commander not to play with my name in his barrack yard.”
She spoke with that negligence which always sounded very cold, though the words were so gently spoken. Her best and most familiar friends always knew when, with that courtly chillness, she had signed them their line of demarcation.
And the Marquise de Renardiere said no more, but talked of the Ambassador’s poems.
“Le bon zig.”
Meanwhile the subject of their first discourse returned to the Chambree.
He had encouraged the men to pursue those various industries and ingenuities, which, though they are affectedly considered against “discipline,” formed, as he knew well, the best preservative from real insubordination, and the best instrument in humanizing and ameliorating the condition of his comrades. The habit of application alone was something gained; and if it kept them only for a while from the haunts of those coarsest debaucheries which are the only possible form in which the soldier can pursue the forbidden license of vice, it was better than that leisure should be spent in that joyless bestiality which made Cecil, once used to every refinement of luxury and indulgence, sicken with a pitying wonder for those who found in it the only shape they knew of “pleasure.”