At the same moment, through the lighted streets of Algiers, Cigarette, like a union of fairy and of fury, was flying with the news. Cigarette had seen the flame of war at its height, and had danced in the midst of its whitest heat, as young children dance to see the fires leap red in the black winter’s night. Cigarette loved the battle, the charge, the wild music of bugles, the thunder-tramp of battalions, the sirocco-sweep of light squadrons, the mad tarantala of triumph when the slaughter was done, the grand swoop of the Eagles down unto the carnage, the wild hurrah of France.
She loved them with all her heart and soul; and she flew now through the starlit, sultry night, crying, “La guerre! La guerre! La guerre!” and chanting to the enraptured soldiery a “Marseillaise” of her own improvisation, all slang, and doggerel, and barrack grammar; but fire-giving as a torch, and rousing as a bugle in the way she sang it, waving the tricolor high over her head.
The African day was at its noon.
From the first break of dawn the battle had raged; now, at midday, it was at its height. Far in the interior, almost on the edge of the great desert, in that terrible season when air that is flame by day is ice by night, and when the scorch of a blazing sun may be followed in an hour by the blinding fury of a snow-storm, the slaughter had gone on, hour through hour, under a shadowless sky, blue as steel, hard as a sheet of brass. The Arabs had surprised the French encampment, where it lay in the center of an arid plain that was called Zaraila. Hovering like a cloud of hawks on the entrance of the Sahara, massed together for one mighty, if futile, effort—with all their ancient war-lust, and with a new despair—the tribes who refused the yoke of the alien empire were once again in arms; were once again combined in defense of those limitless kingdoms of drifting sand, of that beloved belt of bare and desolate land so useless to the conqueror, so dear to the nomad. When they had been, as it had been thought, beaten back into the desert wilderness; when, without water and without cattle, it had been calculated that they would, of sheer necessity, bow themselves in submission, or perish of famine and of thirst; they had recovered their ardor, their strength, their resistance, their power to harass without ceasing, if they could never arrest, the enemy. They had cast the torch of war afresh into the land, and here, southward, the flame burned bitterly, and with a merciless tongue devoured the lives of men, licking them up as a forest fire the dry leaves and the touchwood.