The pathway was so narrow that only one of us could ride upon it at a time, but we presently abandoned it altogether, using it simply as a guide, and galloping along side by side over the rolling plain. We were all silent, Reuben meditating upon his new corslet, as I could see from his frequent glances at it; while Saxon, with his eyes half closed, was brooding over some matter of his own. For my own part, my thoughts ran upon the ignominy of the old soldier's designs upon the gold chest, and the additional shame which rose from the knowledge that our host had in some way divined his intention. No good could come of an alliance with a man so devoid of all feelings of honour or of gratitude. So strongly did I feel upon it that I at last broke the silence by pointing to a cross path, which turned away from the one which we were pursuing, and recommending him to follow it, since he had proved that he was no fit company for honest men.
'By the living rood!' he cried, laying his hand upon the hilt of his rapier,' have you taken leave of your senses? These are words such as no honourable cavaliero can abide.'
'They are none the less words of truth,' I answered.
His blade flashed out in an instant, while his mare bounded twice her length under the sharp dig of his spurs.
'We have here,' he cried, reining her round, with his fierce lean face all of a quiver with passion, 'an excellent level stretch on which to discuss the matter. Out with your bilbo and maintain your words.'
'I shall not stir a hair's-breadth to attack you,' I answered. 'Why should I, when I bear you no ill-will? If you come against me, however, I will assuredly beat you out of your saddle, for all your tricky sword play.' I drew my broadsword as I spoke, and stood upon my guard, for I guessed that with so old a soldier the onset would be sharp and sudden.
'By all the saints in heaven!' cried Reuben, 'which ever of ye strikes first at the other I'll snap this pistol at his head. None of your jokes, Don Decimo, for by the Lord I'll let drive at you if you were my own mother's son. Put up your sword, for the trigger falls easy, and my finger is a twitching.'
'Curse you for a spoil-sport!' growled Saxon, sulkily sheathing his weapon. 'Nay, Clarke,' he added, after a few moments of reflection, 'this is but child's play, that two camarados with a purpose in view should fall out over such a trifle. I, who am old enough to be your father, should have known better than to have drawn upon you, for a boy's tongue wags on impulse and without due thought. Do but say that you have said more than you meant.'
'My way of saying it may have been over plain and rough,' I answered, for I saw that he did but want a little salve where my short words had galled him. 'At the same time, our ways differ from your ways, and that difference must be mended, or you can be no true comrade of ours.'
'All right, Master Morality,' quoth he, 'I must e'en unlearn some of the tricks of my trade. Od's feet, man, if ye object to me, what the henker would ye think of some whom I have known? However, let that pass. It is time that we were at the wars, for our good swords will not bide in their scabbards.
"The trenchant blade, Toledo trusty, For want of fighting was grown rusty, And ate into itself for lack Of somebody to hew and hack."
You cannot think a thought but old Samuel hath been before you.'
'Surely we shall be at the end of this dreary plain presently,' Reuben cried. 'Its insipid flatness is enough to set the best of friends by the ears. We might be in the deserts of Libya instead of his most graceless Majesty's county of Wiltshire.'
'There is smoke over yonder, upon the side of that hill,' said Saxon, pointing to the southward.
'Methinks I see one straight line of houses there,' I observed, shading my eyes with my hand. 'But it is distant, and the shimmer of the sun disturbs the sight.'
'It must be the hamlet of Hindon,' said Reuben. 'Oh, the heat of this steel coat! I wonder if it were very un-soldierly to slip it off and tie it about Dido's neck.