She might be a careless young coquette, a lawless little brigand, a child of sunny caprices, an elf of dauntless mischief; but she was more than these. The divine fire of genius had touched her, and Cigarette would have perished for her country not less surely than Jeanne d’Arc. The holiness of an impersonal love, the glow of an imperishable patriotism, the melancholy of a passionate pity for the concrete and unnumbered sufferings of the people were in her, instinctive and inborn, as fragrance in the heart of flowers. And all these together moved her now, and made her young face beautiful as she looked down upon the crowding soldiery.
“It was nothing,” she answered them—“it was nothing. It was for France.”
For France! They shouted back the beloved word with tenfold joy; and the great sea of life beneath her tossed to and fro in stormy triumph, in frantic paradise of victory, ringing her name with that of France upon the air, in thunder-shouts like spears of steel smiting on shields of bronze.
But she stretched her hand out, and swept it backward to the desert-border of the south with a gesture that had awe for them.
“Hush!” she said softly, with an accent in her voice that hushed the riot of their rejoicing homage till it lulled like the lull in a storm. “Give me no honor while they sleep yonder. With the dead lies the glory!”
By the bivouac fire.
“Hold!” cried Cigarette, interrupting herself in her chant in honor of the attributes of war, as the Tringlo’s mules which she was driving, some three weeks after the fray of Zaraila, stopped, by sheer force of old habit, in the middle of a green plateau on the outskirts of a camp pitched in its center, and overlooked by brown, rugged scarps of rock, with stunted bushes on their summits, and here and there a maritime pine clinging to their naked slopes. At sight of the food-laden little beasts, and the well-known form behind them, the Tirailleurs, Indigenes, and the Zouaves, on whose side of the encampment she had approached, rushed toward her with frantic shouts, and wild delight, and vehement hurrahs in a tempest of vociferous welcome that might have stunned any ears less used, and startled any nerves less steeled, to military life than the Friend of the Flag. She signed back the shouting, disorderly crowd with her mule-whip, as superbly as though she were a Marshal of France signing back a whole army’s mutiny.
“What children you are! You push, and scramble, and tear, like a set of monkeys over a nut. Get out of my way, or I swear you shall none of you have so much as a morsel of black bread—do you hear!”
It was amusing to see how they minded her contemptuous orders; how these black-bearded fire-eaters, the terror of the country, each one of whom could have crushed her in his grasp as a wolf crushes a lamb, slunk back, silenced and obedient, before the imperious bidding of the little vivandiere. They had heeded her and let her rule over them almost as much when she had been seven years old, and her curls, now so dark, had been yellow as corn in the sun.