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- Under Two Flags - 1/129 -


Under Two Flags

by Ouida [Louise de la Ramee]

TO COLONEL POULETT CAMERON whose family has given so many brilliant soldiers to the armies of France and England and made the battle-fields of Europe ring with "The War-Cry of Lochiel" this story of a soldier's life is dedicated in sincere friendship.

AVIS AU LECTEUR.

This Story was originally written for a military periodical. It has been fortunate enough to receive much commendation from military men, and for them it is now specially issued in its present form. For the general public it may be as well to add that, where translations are appended to the French phrases, those translations usually follow the idiomatic and particular meaning attached to these expressions in the argot of the Army of Algeria, and not the correct or literal one given to such words or sentences in ordinary grammatical parlance.

OUIDA.

UNDER TWO FLAGS.

CHAPTER I.

"BEAUTY OF THE BRIGADES."

"I don't say but what he's difficult to please with his Tops," said Mr. Rake, factotum to the Hon. Bertie Cecil, of the 1st Life Guards, with that article of hunting toggery suspended in his right hand as he paused, before going upstairs, to deliver his opinions with characteristic weight and vivacity to the stud-groom, "he is uncommon particular about 'em; and if his leathers aint as white as snow he'll never touch 'em, tho' as soon as the pack come nigh him at Royallieu, the leathers might just as well never have been cleaned, them hounds jump about him so; old Champion's at his saddle before you can say Davy Jones. Tops are trials, I aint denying that, specially when you've jacks, and moccasins, and moor boots, and Russia-leather crickets, and turf backs, and Hythe boots, and waterproofs, and all manner of varnish things for dress, that none of the boys will do right unless you look after 'em yourself. But is it likely that he should know what a worry a Top's complexion is, and how hard it is to come right with all the Fast Brown polishing in the world? How should he guess what a piece of work it is to get 'em all of a color, and how like they are to come mottled, and how a'most sure they'll ten to one go off dark just as they're growing yellow, and put you to shame, let you do what you will to make 'em cut a shine over the country? How should he know? I don't complain of that; bless you, he never thinks. It's 'do this, Rake,' 'do that'; and he never remembers 'tisn't done by magic. But he's a true gentleman, Mr. Cecil; never grudge a guinea, or a fiver to you; never out of temper either, always have a kind word for you if you want, thoro'bred every inch of him; see him bring down a rocketer, or lift his horse over the Broad Water! He's a gentleman-- not like your snobs that have nothing sound about 'em but their cash, and swept out their shops before they bought their fine feathers!--and I'll be d----d if I care what I do for him."

With which peroration to his born enemy the stud-groom, with whom he waged a perpetual and most lively feud, Rake flourished the tops that had been under discussion, and triumphant, as he invariably was, ran up the back stairs of his master's lodgings in Piccadilly, opposite the Green Park, and with a rap on the panels entered his master's bedroom.

A Guardsman at home is always, if anything, rather more luxuriously accommodated than a young Duchess, and Bertie Cecil was never behind his fellows in anything; besides, he was one of the cracks of the Household, and women sent him pretty things enough to fill the Palais Royal. The dressing-table was littered with Bohemian glass and gold- stoppered bottles, and all the perfumes of Araby represented by Breidenback and Rimmel. The dressing-case was of silver, with the name studded on the lid in turquoises; the brushes, bootjack, boot-trees, whip-stands, were of ivory and tortoiseshell; a couple of tiger skins were on the hearth with a retriever and blue greyhound in possession; above the mantel-piece were crossed swords in all the varieties of gilt, gold, silver, ivory, aluminum, chiseled and embossed hilts; and on the walls were a few perfect French pictures, with the portraits of a greyhound drawn by Landseer, of a steeple-chaser by Harry Hall, one or two of Herring's hunters, and two or three fair women in crayons. The hangings of the room were silken and rose-colored, and a delicious confusion prevailed through it pell-mell; box-spurs, hunting-stirrups, cartridge cases, curb-chains, muzzle-loaders, hunting flasks, and white gauntlets, being mixed up with Paris novels, pink notes, point- lace ties, bracelets, and bouquets to be dispatched to various destinations, and velvet and silk bags for banknotes, cigars, or vesuvians, embroidered by feminine fingers and as useless as those pretty fingers themselves. On the softest of sofas, half dressed, and having half an hour before splashed like a waterdog out of the bath, as big as a small pond, in the dressing-chamber beyond was the Hon. Bertie himself, second son of Viscount Royallieu, known generally in the Brigades as "Beauty." The appellative, gained at Eton, was in no way undeserved; when the smoke cleared away that was circling round him out of a great meerschaum bowl, it showed a face of as much delicacy and brilliancy as a woman's; handsome, thoroughbred, languid, nonchalant, with a certain latent recklessness under the impressive calm of habit, and a singular softness given to the large, dark hazel eyes by the unusual length of the lashes over them. His features were exceedingly fair--fair as the fairest girl's; his hair was of the softest, silkiest, brightest chestnut; his mouth very beautifully shaped; on the whole, with a certain gentle, mournful love-me look that his eyes had with them, it was no wonder that great ladies and gay lionnes alike gave him the palm as the handsomest man in all the Household Regiments--not even excepting that splendid golden-haired Colossus, his oldest friend and closest comrade, known as "the Seraph."

He looked at the new tops that Rake swung in his hand, and shook his head.

"Better, Rake; but not right yet. Can't you get that tawny color in the tiger's skin there? You go so much to brown."

Rake shook his head in turn, as he set down the incorrigible tops beside six pairs of their fellows, and six times six of every other sort of boots that the covert side, the heather, the flat, or the sweet shady side of "Pall Mall" ever knew.

"Do my best, sir; but Polish don't come nigh Nature, Mr. Cecil."

"Goes beyond it, the ladies say; and to do them justice they favor it much the most," laughed Cecil to himself, floating fresh clouds of Turkish about him. "Willon up?"

"Yes, sir. Come in this minute for orders."

"How'd Forest King stand the train?"

"Bright as a bird, sir; he never mind nothing. Mother o' Pearl she worreted a little, he says; she always do, along of the engine noise, but the King walked in and out just as if the station were his own stable-yard."

"He gave them gruel and chilled water after the shaking before he let them go to their corn?"

"He says he did, sir."

Rake would by no means take upon himself to warrant the veracity of his sworn foe, the stud-groom; unremitting feud was between them; Rake considered that he knew more about horses than any other man living, and the other functionary proportionately resented back his knowledge and his interference, as utterly out of place in a body-servant.

"Tell him I'll look in at the stable after duty and see the screws are all right; and that he's to be ready to go down with them by my train to-morrow--noon, you know. Send that note there, and the bracelets, to St. John's Wood: and that white bouquet to Mrs. Delamaine. Bid Willon get some Banbury bits; I prefer the revolving mouths, and some of Wood's double mouths and Nelson gags; we want new ones. Mind that lever-snap breech-loader comes home in time. Look in at the Commission stables, and if you see a likely black charger as good as Black Douglas, tell me. Write about the stud fox-terrier, and buy the blue Dandy Dinmont; Lady Guinevere wants him. I'll take him down with me. but first put me into harness, Rake; it's getting late."

Murmuring which multiplicity of directions, for Rake to catch as he could, in the softest and sleepiest of tones, Bertie Cecil drank a glass of Curacoa, put his tall, lithe limbs indolently off his sofa, and surrendered himself to the martyrdom of cuirass and gorget, standing six feet one without his spurred jacks, but light-built and full of grace as a deer, or his weight would not have been what it was in gentleman-rider races from the Hunt steeple-chase at La Marche to the Grand National in the Shires.

"As if Parliament couldn't meet without dragging us through the dust! The idiots write about 'the swells in the Guards,' as if we had all fun and no work, and knew nothing of the rough of the Service. I should like to learn what they call sitting motionless in your saddle through half a day, while a London mob goes mad round you, and lost dogs snap at your charger's nose, and dirty little beggars squeeze against your legs, and the sun broils you, or the fog soaks you, and you sit sentinel over a gingerbread coach till you're deaf with the noise, and blind with the dust, and sick with the crowd, and half dead for want of sodas and brandies, and from going a whole morning without one cigarette! Not to mention the inevitable apple-woman who invariably entangles herself between your horse's legs, and the certainty of your riding down somebody and having a summons about it the next day! If all that isn't the rough of the Service, I should like to know what is. Why the hottest day in the batteries, or the sharpest rush into Ghoorkhas or Bhoteahs, would be light work, compared!" murmured Cecil with the most plaintive pity for the hardships of life in the Household, while Rake, with the rapid proficiency of long habit, braced, and buckled and buttoned, knotted the sash with the knack of professional genius, girt on the brightest of all glittering polished silver steel "Cut-and-Thrusts," with its rich gild mountings, and contemplated with flattering self-complacency leathers white as snow, jacks brilliant as black varnish could make


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