“I will go,” she muttered in her throat; “and you—you—O God! no wonder men love you when even I cannot hate you!”
Almost ere the words were uttered she had dashed aside the hangings before the tent entrance, and had darted out into the night air. Venetia Corona gazed after the swiftly flying figure as it passed over the starlit ground, lost in amazement, in pity, and in regret; wondering afresh if she had only dreamed of this strange interview in the Algerian camp, which seemed to have come and gone with the blinding rapidity of lightning.
“A little tigress!” she thought; “and yet with infinite nobility, with wonderful germs of good in her. Of such a nature what a rare life might have been made! As it is, her childhood we smile at and forgive; but, great Heaven! what will be her maturity, her old age! Yet how she loves him! And she is so brave she will not show it.”
With the recollection came the remembrance of Cigarette’s words as to his own passion for herself, and she grew paler as it did so. “God forbid he should have that pain, too!” she murmured. “What could it be save misery for us both!”
Yet she did not thrust the fancy from her with contemptuous nonchalance as she had done every other of the many passions she had excited and disdained; it had a great sadness and a greater terror for her. She dreaded it slightly for herself.
She wished now that she had not sent for him. But it was done; it was for sake of their old friendship; and she was not one to vainly regret what was unalterable, or to desert what she deemed generous and right for the considerations of prudence or of egotism.
Ordeal by fire.
Amid the mirth, the noise, the festivity, which reigned throughout the camp as the men surrendered themselves to the enjoyment of the largesses of food and of wine allotted to them by their Marshal’s command in commemoration of Zaraila, one alone remained apart; silent and powerless to rouse himself even to the forced semblance, the forced endurance, of their mischief and their pleasure. They knew him well, and they also loved him too well to press such participation on him. They knew that it was no lack of sympathy with them that made him so grave amid their mirth, so mute amid their volubility. Some thought that he was sorely wounded by the delay of the honors promised him. Others, who knew him better, thought that it was the loss of his brother-exile which weighed on him, and made all the scene around him full of pain. None approached him; but while they feasted in their tents, making the celebration of Zaraila equal to the Jour de Mazagran, he sat alone over a picket-fire on the far outskirts of the camp.