“No; you are too generous. But not the less do I wish I could render them more worthily than by words. If I live, I will try; if not, keep this in my memory. It is the only thing I have.”
He put into her hand the ring she had seen in the little bon-bon box; a ring of his mother’s that he had saved when he had parted with all else, and had put off his hand and into the box of Petite Reine’s gift the day he entered the Algerian army.
Cigarette flushed scarlet with passions he could not understand, and she could not have disentangled.
“The ring of your mistress! Not for me, if I know it! Do you think I want to be paid?”
“The ring was my mother’s,” he answered her simply. “And I offer it only as souvenir.”
She lost all her color and all her fiery wrath; his grave and gentle courtesy always strangely stilled and rebuked her; but she raised the ring off the ground where she had flung it, and placed it back in his hand.
“If so, still less should you part with it. Keep it; it will bring you happiness one day. As for me, I have done nothing!”
“You have done what I value the more for that noble disclaimer. May I thank you thus, Little One?”
He stooped and kissed her; a kiss that the lips of a man will always give to the bright, youthful lips of a women, but a kiss, as she knew well, without passion, even without tenderness in it.
With a sudden impetuous movement, with a shyness and a refusal that had never been in her before, she wrested herself from him, her face burning, her heart panting, and plunged away from him into the depth of the shadow; and he never sought to follow her, but threw himself into saddle as his gray was brought up. Another instant, and, armed to the teeth, he rode out of the camp into the darkness of the silent, melancholy, lonely Arab night.
SEUL au monde.
The errand on which he went was one, as he was well aware, from which it were a thousand chances to one that he ever issued alive.
It was to reach a distant branch of the Army of Occupation with dispatches for the chief in command there, and to do this he had to pass through a fiercely hostile region, occupied by Arabs with whom no sort of peace had ever been made, the most savage as well as the most predatory of the wandering tribes. His knowledge of their tongue, and his friendship with some men of their nation, would avail him nothing here; for their fury against the Franks was intense, and it was said that all prisoners who had fallen into their hands had been put to death with merciless barbarities. This might be true or not true; wild tales were common among Algerian campaigners; whichever it were, he thought little of it as he rode out on to the lonely plains. Every kind of hazardous adventure and every variety of peril had been familiar with him in the African life; and now there were thoughts and memories on him which deadened every recollection of merely physical risk.