Even her very hate attracted her to the sight, to the study, to the presence of this woman, who was as dissimilar to all of womanhood that had ever crossed her path, in camp and barrack, as the pure, white gleaming lily of the hothouse is unlike the wind-tossed, sand-stained, yellow leaf down-trodden in the mud. An irresistible fascination drew her toward the self-same pain which had so wounded her a few hours before—an impulse more intense than curiosity, and more vital than caprice, urged her to the vicinity of the only human being who had ever awakened in her the pang of humiliation, the throbs of envy.
And she went to that vicinity, now that the daylight had just changed to evening, and the ruddy torch-glare was glowing everywhere from great pine boughs thrust in the ground, with their resinous branches steeped in oil and flaring alight. There was not a man that night in camp who would have dared oppose the steps of the young heroine of the Cross wherever they might choose, in their fantastic flight, to wander. The sentinels passing up and down the great space before the marquees challenged her, indeed, but she was quick to give the answering password, and they let her go by them, their eyes turning after the little picturesque form that every soldier of the Corps of Africa loved almost like the flag beneath which he fought. Once in the magic circle, she paused a while; the desire that urged her on, and the hate that impelled her backward, keeping her rooted there in the dusky shadow which the flapping standards threw.
To creep covertly into her rival’s presence, to hide herself like a spy to see what she wished, to show fear, or hesitation, or deference, were not in the least what she contemplated. What she intended was to confront this fair, strange, cold, cruel thing, and see if she were of flesh and blood like other living beings, and do the best that could be done to outrage, to scourge, to challenge, to deride her with all the insolent artillery of camp ribaldry, and show her how a child of the people could laugh at her rank, and affront her purity, and scorn her power. Definite idea there was none to her; she had come on impulse. But a vague longing in some way to break down that proud serenity which galled her so sharply, and bring hot blood of shame into that delicate face, and cast indignity on that imperious and unassailable pride, consumed her.