She gave the order as though she were a Marshal of the Empire, the sun-blaze full on her where she sat on the rearing, fretting, half-bred gray, with the Tricolor folds above her head, and her teeth tight gripped on the chain-bridle, and her face all glowing and warm and full of the fierce fire of war—a little Amazon in scarlet and blue and gold; a young Jeanne d’Arc, with the crimson fez in lieu of the silvered casque, and the gay broideries of her fantastic dress instead of the breastplate of steel. And with the Flag of her idolatry, the Flag that was as her religion, floating back as she went, she spurred her mare straight against the Arabs, straight over the lifeless forms of the hundreds slain; and after her poured the fresh squadrons of cavalry, the ruby burnous of the Spahis streaming on the wind as their darling led them on to retrieve the day for France.
Not a bullet struck, not a saber grazed her; but there, in the heat and the press of the worst of the slaughter, Cigarette rode hither and thither, to and fro, her voice ringing like a bird’s song over the field, in command, in applause, in encouragement, in delight; bearing her standard aloft and untouched; dashing heedless through a storm of blows; cheering on her “children” to the charge again and again; and all the while with the sunlight full on her radiant, spirited head, and with the grim, gray raven flying above her, shrieking shrilly its “Tue, tue, tue!” The Army believed with superstitious faith in the potent spell of that veteran bird, and the story ran that, whenever he flew above a combat, France was victor before the sun set. The echo of the raven’s cry, and the presence of the child who, they knew, would have a thousand musket-balls fired in her fair young breast rather than live to see them defeated, made the fresh squadrons sweep in like a whirlwind, bearing down all before them.
Cigarette saved the day.
The love of the Amazon.
Before the sun had declined from his zenith the French were masters of the field, and pursued the retreat of the Arabs till, for miles along the plain, the line of their flight was marked with horses that had dropped dead in the strain, and with the motionless forms of their desert-riders, their cold hands clinched in the loose, hot sands, and their stern faces turned upward to the cloudless scorch of their native skies, under whose freedom they would never again ride forth to the joyous clash of the cymbals and the fierce embrace of the death-grapple.