There was something of her old brusquerie and recklessness in the closing sentences; but it had not her customary debonair lightness. She knew too well that the chances were as a hundred to one that he would never return alive from this service on which he had entreated to be dispatched. Cecil grasped both her hands in his with warm gratitude, that was still, like the touch of his hands, the gratitude of comrade to comrade, not of man to woman.
“God bless you, Cigarette! You are a true friend, my child. You have done me immeasurable benefits—”
“Oh! I am a true friend,” said the Little One, somewhat pettishly. She would have preferred another epithet. “If a man wants to get shot as a very great favor, I always let him pleasure himself. Give a man his own way, if you wish to be kind to him. You are children, all of you, nothing but children, and if the toy that pleases you best is death, why—you must have it. Nothing else would content you. I know you. You always want what flies from you, and are tired of what lies to your hand. That is always a man.”
“And a woman, too, is it not?”
Cigarette shrugged her shoulders.
“Oh, I dare say! We love what is new—what is strange. We are humming-tops; we will only spin when we are fresh wound up with a string to our liking.”
“Make an exception of yourself, my child. You are always ready to do a good action, and never tire of that. From my heart I thank you. I wish to Heaven I could prove it better.”
She drew her hands away from him.
“A great thing I have done, certainly! Got you permission to go and throw a cartel at old King Death; that is all! There! That is your summons.”
The orderly approached, and brought the bidding of the general in command of the Cavalry for Cecil to render himself at once to his presence. These things brook no second’s delay in obedience; he went with a quick adieu to Cigarette, and the little Friend of the Flag was left in his vacant place beside the fire.
And there was a pang at her heart.
“Ten to one he goes to his death,” she thought. But Cigarette, little mischief-maker though she was, could reach very high in one thing; she could reach a love that was unselfish, and one that was heroic.
A few moments, and Cecil returned.
“Rake,” he said rapidly, in the French he habitually used, “saddle my horse and your own. I am allowed to choose one of you to accompany me.”
Rake, in paradise, and the envied of every man in the squadron, turned to his work—with him a task of scarce more than a second; and Cecil approached his little Friend of the Flag.
“My child, I cannot attempt to thank you. But for you, I should have been tempted to send my lance through my own heart.”
“Keep its lunge for the Arbicos, mon ami,” said Cigarette brusquely—the more brusquely because that new and bitter pang was on her. “As for me, I want no thanks.”