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CHIQUITA OF THE LEGION

by Donald Francis McGrew
Author of "The Grenadier," "The Guns of the Seventy-Third," etc.

I MET the man first when be came in with a batch of recruits for the First Regiment of the Foreign Legion at Sidi-bel-Abbès, Algeria. The girl I had known for some time. He was big, young, blonde, the product of rich American parents of this day and age; she was Spanish youth and fire. They called her "Chiquita of the Legion."

Him being the only American with the bleus—merde! his clothes were cut the way they are cut along Fifth Avenue, and it gave me a gulp in the throat—I was tempted to fall on his neck. But he gave me a slight chill at the outset—he wasn't used to the soldiers' method of self-introduction.

"My God! I heard him groan under his breath. "My God!" And his eyes took in the surroundings.

I read his thoughts. He was sizing up the barracks of the Legion—his home for the next five years. The big yard, all sprinkled with gravel, and bare as the prison parade at Aden; the monstrous unpainted barracks, looming up like so many barns in the middle of a Wyoming plain; the high thick walls like those that clamp in the dead city of Nire; overhead a hot African sun beating down from a glazed blue sky—say! It was a cheerful picture. Three thousand légionnaires in white fatigue clothes couldn't enliven it—their faces had soaked in something as listless as the voice of the muezzin calling to prayer.

"My God!" he muttered again. "Five years——!"

"You'll get used to it," was my cheering comment. "What's your name, now? And bow'd you come to do it?"

He started to turn away from me, but I caught him by the arm.

"Son," I said, "we try to grin and bear one another here. Especially countrymen. Try to get into my company—the ninth— and maybe I can help you out."

Well, he apologized then; and after he was assigned to my company, I was able to help him quite a bit. But all through his bath, and drawing his clothes, he acted like a man in a sick dream, answering me only with short grunts; and when he drew his kit, and stood there moping over that pile of blue trousers, blue tunics, white trousers and kepis, not knowing which strap was which, I had to give him whatfor. On the outside I would have dropped him; but he had good cigarettes, and money —which means wine, in the Legion.

"Buck up," I said. "You're in for it now. Here—here's how you make the paquelage; and this is the way you make your bunk; and here's what you put in your knapsack. You've got it to do—that or prison. So do it."

Perforce he did buck up a little then, but when soup call came, he stuck up his nose at the thought of la gamelle. We old légionnaires were banging on the table with our tins and yelling: "Alles schieb' los! A la soupe, soupe!" at the garde chambre— that famous yell of the Legion—when he hunches me and wants to know where we can buy a good meal.

Instanter my pan had gone to another fellow and we were heading past the sergeant at the gate. Trust me to know where I could get a good meal—after six months in the Legion!

"I'll take you to the Café de la Légion," I told him as we hurried through the yellow sand of the streets and into the alley district.

He stuck up his nose with a wry face— those Spanish Jews and Arabs in the Ghetto district do smell bad—they and the tilth and the heavy, sweet odor of musk and Arab cigarettes; and he cast a longing look back at the better streets.

"You're not welcome back there," I grinned. "Ah, ces malheureux légionnaires! I'll take you to Chiquita's place—Chiquita of the Legion."

"Chiquita?" he says. "That means sweetheart in Spanish, don't it?" I nodded, and he looked at me, grinning cynically.

"The sweetheart of the Legion," he mur...

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