She nodded; she understood him. Yet his shoulders and his chest were well-nigh flayed, despite the tough and horny skin of which he made his boast.
“Dieu! we are droll!” mused Cigarette. “If we do a good thing, we hide it as if it were a bit of stolen meat, we are so afraid it should be found out; but, if they do one in the world there, they bray it at the tops of their voices from the houses’ roofs, and run all down the streets screaming about it, for fear it should be lost. Dieu! we are droll!”
And she dashed the spurs into her mare and galloped off at the height of her speed into camp—a very city of canvas, buzzing with the hum of life, regulated with the marvelous skill and precision of French warfare, yet with the carelessness and the picturesqueness of the desert-life pervading it.
“C’est la Cigarette!” ran from mouth to mouth, as the bay mare with her little Amazon rider, followed by the scarlet cloud of the Spahis, all ablaze like poppies in the sun, rose in sight, thrown out against the azure of the skies.
What she had done had been told long before by an orderly, riding hard in the early night to take the news of the battle; and the whole host was on watch for its darling—the savior of the honor of France. Like wave rushing on wave of some tempestuous ocean, the men swept out to meet her in one great, surging tide of life, impetuous, passionate, idolatrous, exultant; with all the vivid ardor, all the uncontrolled emotion, of natures south-born, sun-nurtured. They broke away from their midday rest as from their military toil, moved as by one swift breath of fire, and flung themselves out to meet her, the chorus of a thousand voices ringing in deafening vivas to the skies. She was enveloped in that vast sea of eager, furious lives; in that dizzy tumult of vociferous cries and stretching hands and upturned faces. As her soldiers had done the night before, so these did now—kissing her hands, her dress, her feet; sending her name in thunder through the sunlit air; lifting her from off her horse, and bearing her, in a score of stalwart arms, triumphant in their midst.
She was theirs—their own—the Child of the Army, the Little One whose voice above their dying brethren had the sweetness of an angel’s song, and whose feet, in their hours of revelry, flew like the swift and dazzling flight of gold-winged orioles. And she had saved the honor of their Eagles; she had given to them and to France their god of Victory. They loved her—O God, how they loved her!—with that intense, breathless, intoxicating love of a multitude which, though it may stone to-morrow what it adores to-day, has yet for those on whom it has once been given thus a power no other love can know—a passion unutterably sad, deliriously strong.
That passion moved her strangely.
As she looked down upon them, she knew that not one man breathed among that tumultuous mass but would have died that moment at her word; not one mouth moved among that countless host but breathed her name in pride, and love, and honor.