As I brought my hilt to the salute he dropped his hand and stared at me.
'Halloa!' said he. 'It's Gerard!' You would have thought by his manner that I had met him by appointment. For my own part, I would have embraced him had he but come an inch of the way to meet me.
'I thought we were in for some sport,' said he. 'I never dreamed that it was you.'
I found this tone of disappointment somewhat irritating. Instead of being glad at having met a friend, he was sorry at having missed an enemy.
'I should have been happy to join in your sport, my dear Bart,' said I. 'But I really cannot turn my sword upon a man who saved my life.'
'Tut, never mind about that.'
'No, it is impossible. I should never forgive myself.'
'You make too much of a trifle.'
'My mother's one desire is to embrace you. If ever you should be in Gascony----'
'Lord Wellington is coming there with 60,000 men.'
'Then one of them will have a chance of surviving,' said I, laughing. 'In the meantime, put your sword in your sheath!'
Our horses were standing head to tail, and the Bart put out his hand and patted me on the thigh.
'You're a good chap, Gerard,' said he. 'I only wish you had been born on the right side of the Channel.'
'I was,' said I.
'Poor devil!' he cried, with such an earnestness of pity that he set me laughing again. 'But look here, Gerard,' he continued; 'this is all very well, but it is not business, you know. I don't know what Massena would say to it, but our Chief would jump out of his riding-boots if he saw us. We weren't sent out here for a picnic--either of us.'
'What would you have?'
'Well, we had a little argument about our hussars and dragoons, if you remember. I've got fifty of the Sixteenth all chewing their carbine bullets behind me. You've got as many fine-looking boys over yonder, who seem to be fidgeting in their saddles. If you and I took the right flanks we should not spoil each other's beauty--though a little blood-letting is a friendly thing in this climate.'
There seemed to me to be a good deal of sense in what he said. For the moment Mr Alexis Morgan and the Countess of La Ronda and the Abbey of Almeixal went right out of my head, and I could only think of the fine level turf and of the beautiful skirmish which we might have.
'Very good, Bart,' said I. 'We have seen the front of your dragoons. We shall now have a look at their backs.'
'Any betting?' he asked.
'The stake,' said I, 'is nothing less than the honour of the Hussars of Conflans.'
'Well, come on!' he answered. 'If we break you, well and good--if you break us, it will be all the better for Marshal Millefleurs.'
When he said that I could only stare at him in astonishment.
'Why for Marshal Millefleurs?' I asked.
'It is the name of a rascal who lives out this way. My dragoons have been sent by Lord Wellington to see him safely hanged.'
'Name of a name!' I cried. 'Why, my hussars have been sent by Massena for that very object.'
We burst out laughing at that, and sheathed our swords. There was a whirr of steel from behind us as our troopers followed our example.
'We are allies!' he cried.
'For a day.'
'We must join forces.'
'There is no doubt of it.'
And so, instead of fighting, we wheeled our half squadrons round and moved in two little columns down the valley, the shakos and the helmets turned inwards, and the men looking their neighbours up and down, like old fighting dogs with tattered ears who have learned to respect each other's teeth. The most were on the broad grin, but there were some on either side who looked black and challenging, especially the English sergeant and my own sub-officer Papilette. They were men of habit, you see, who could not change all their ways of thinking in a moment. Besides, Papilette had lost his only brother at Busaco. As for the Bart and me, we rode together at the head and chatted about all that had occurred to us since that famous game of ecarte of which I have told you.
For my own part, I spoke to him of my adventures in England.