“And you have given yourself up to us that, by your death, you may purchase a messenger from us for this errand?” pursued their leader. He had been reared as a boy in the high tenets and the pure chivalries of the school of Abd-el-Kader; and they were not lost in him, despite the crimes and the desperation of his life.
She held the paper out to him, with a passionate entreaty breaking through the enforced calm of despair with which she had hitherto spoken.
“Cut me in ten thousand pieces with your swords, but save him, as you are brave men, as you are generous foes!”
With a single sign of his hand their leader waved them back where they crowded around her, and leaped down from his saddle, and led the horse he had dismounted to her.
“Maiden,” he said gently, “we are Arabs, but we are not brutes. We swore to avenge ourselves on an enemy; we are not vile enough to accept a martyrdom. Take my horse—he is the swiftest of my troop—and go you on your errand. You are safe from me.”
She looked at him in stupor; the sense of his words was not tangible to her; she had had no hope, no thought, that they would ever deal thus with her; all she had ever dreamed of was so to touch their hearts and their generosity that they would spare one from among their troop to do the errand of mercy she had begged of them.
“You play with me!” she murmured, while her lips grew whiter and her great eyes larger in the intensity of her emotion. “Ah! for pity’s sake, make haste and kill me, so that this only may reach him!”
The chief, standing by her, lifted her up in his sinewy arms, up on to the saddle of his charger. His voice was very solemn, his glance was very gentle; all the nobility of the highest Arab nature was aroused in him at the heroism of a child, a girl, an infidel—one, in his sight abandoned and shameful among her sex.
“Go in peace,” he said simply; “it is not with such as thee that we war.”
Then, and then only, as she felt the fresh reins placed in her hand, and saw the ruthless horde around her fall back and leave her free, did she understand his meaning; did she comprehend that he gave her back both liberty and life, and, with the surrender of the horse he loved, the noblest and most precious gift that the Arab ever bestows or ever receives. The unutterable joy seemed to blind her, and gleam upon her face like the blazing light of noon, as she turned her burning eyes full on him.
“Ah! now I believe that thine Allah rules thee, equally with Christians! If I live, thou shalt see me back ere another night; if I die, France will know how to thank thee!”
“We do not do the thing that is right for the sake that men may recompense us,” he answered her gently. “Fly to thy friend, and hereafter do not judge that those who are in arms against thee must needs be as the brutes that seek out whom they shall devour.”