E-text prepared by Martin Robb
IN CLIVE'S COMMAND
A Story of the Fight for India
Preface Chapter 1: In which the Court Leet of Market Drayton entertains Colonel Robert Clive; and our hero makes an acquaintance. Chapter 2: In which our hero overhears a conversation; and, meeting with the unexpected, is none the less surprised and offended. Chapter 3: In which Mr. Marmaduke Diggle talks of the Golden East; and our hero interrupts an interview, and dreams dreams. Chapter 4: In which blows are exchanged; and our hero, setting forth upon his travels, scents an adventure. Chapter 5: In which Job Grinsell explains; and three visitors come by night to the Four Alls. Chapter 6: In which the reader becomes acquainted with William Bulger and other sailor men; and our hero as a squire of dames acquits himself with credit. Chapter 7: In which Colonel Clive suffers an unrecorded defeat; and our hero finds food for reflection. Chapter 8: In which several weeks are supposed to elapse; and our hero is discovered in the Doldrums. Chapter 9: In which the Good Intent makes a running fight: Mr. Toley makes a suggestion. Chapter 10: In which our hero arrives in the Golden East, and Mr. Diggle presents him to a native prince. Chapter 11: In which the Babu tells the story of King Vikramaditya; and the discerning reader may find more than appears on the surface. Chapter 12: In which our hero is offered freedom at the price of honor; and Mr. Diggle finds that others can quote Latin on occasion. Chapter 13: In which Mr. Diggle illustrates his argument; and there are strange doings in Gheria harbor. Chapter 14: In which seven bold men light a big bonfire; and the Pirate finds our hero a bad bargain. Chapter 15: In which our hero weathers a storm; and prepares for squalls. Chapter 16: In which a mutiny is quelled in a minute; and our Babu proves himself a man of war. Chapter 17: In which our hero finds himself among friends; and Colonel Clive prepares to astonish Angria. Chapter 18: In which Angria is astonished; and our hero begins to pay off old scores. Chapter 19: In which the scene changes; the dramatis personae remaining the same. Chapter 20: In which there are recognitions and explanations; and our hero meets one Coja Solomon, of Cossimbazar. Chapter 21: In which Coja Solomon finds dishonesty the worse policy; and a journey down the Hugli little to his liking. Chapter 22: In which is given a full, true, and particular account of the Battle of the Carts. Chapter 23: In which there are many moving events; and our hero finds himself a cadet of John Company. Chapter 24: In which the danger of judging by appearance is notably exemplified. Chapter 25: In which our hero embarks on a hazardous mission; and Monsieur Sinfray's khansaman makes a confession. Chapter 26: In which presence of mind is shown to be next best to absence of body. Chapter 27: In which an officer of the Nawab disappears; and Bulger reappears. Chapter 28: In which Captain Barker has cause to rue the day when he met Mr. Diggle; and our hero continues to wipe off old scores. Chapter 29: In which our hero does not win the Battle of Plassey: but, where all do well, gains as much glory as the rest. Chapter 30: In which Coja Solomon reappears: and gives our hero valuable information. Chapter 31: In which friends meet, and part: and our hero hints a proposal. Chapter 32: In which the curtain falls to the sound of wedding bells: and our hero comes to his own.
I have not attempted in this story to give a full account of the career of Lord Clive. That has been done by my old friend, Mr. Henty, in "With Clive in India." It has always seemed to me that a single book provides too narrow a canvas for the display of a life so full and varied as Clive's, and that a work of fiction is bound to suffer, structurally and in detail, from the compression of the events of a lifetime within so restricted a space. I have therefore chosen two outstanding events in the history of India—the capture of Gheria and the battle of Plassey—and have made them the pivot of a personal story of adventure. The whole action of the present work is comprised in the years from 1754 to 1757.
But while this book is thus rather a romance with a background of history than an historical biography with an admixture of fiction, the reader may be assured that the information its pages contain is accurate. I have drawn freely upon the standard authorities: Orme, Ives, Grose, the lives of Clive by Malcolm and Colonel Malleson, and many other works; in particular the monumental volumes by Mr. S.C. Hill recently published, "Bengal in 1756-7," which give a very full, careful and clear account of that notable year, with a mass of most useful and interesting documents. The maps of Bengal, Fort William and Plassey are taken from Mr. Hill's work by kind permission of the Secretary of State for India. I have to thank also Mr. T. P. Marshall, of Newport, for some valuable notes on the history and topography of Market Drayton.
For several years I myself lived within a stone's throw of the scene of the tragedy of the Black Hole; and though at that time I had no intention of writing a story for boys, I hope that the impressions of Indian life, character and scenery then gained have helped to create an atmosphere and to give reality to my picture. History is more than a mere record of events; and I shall be satisfied if the reader gets from these pages an idea, however imperfect, of the conditions of life under which all empire builders labored in India a hundred and fifty years ago.
Chapter 1: In which the Court Leet of Market Drayton entertains Colonel Robert Clive; and our hero makes an acquaintance.
One fine autumn evening, in the year 1754, a country cart jogged eastwards into Market Drayton at the heels of a thick-set, shaggy-fetlocked and broken-winded cob. The low tilt, worn and ill fitting, swayed widely with the motion, scarcely avoiding the hats of the two men who sat side by side on the front seat, and who, to a person watching their approach, would have appeared as dark figures in a tottering archway, against a background of crimson sky.
As the vehicle jolted through Shropshire Street, the creakings of its unsteady wheels mingled with a deep humming, as of innumerable bees, proceeding from the heart of the town. Turning the corner by the butchers' bulks into the High Street, the cart came to an abrupt stop. In front, from the corn market, a large wooden structure in the center of the street, to the Talbot Inn, stretched a dense mass of people; partly townfolk, as might be discerned by their dress, partly country folk who, having come in from outlying villages to market, had presumably been kept in the town by their curiosity or the fair weather.
"We'n better goo round about, Measter," said the driver, to the passenger at his side. "Summat's afoot down yander."
"You're a wise man, to be sure. Something's afoot, as you truly say. And, being troubled from my youth up with an inquiring nose, I'll e'en step forward and smell out the occasion. Do you bide here, my Jehu, till I come back."
"Why, I will, then, Measter, but my name binna Jehu. 'Tis plain Tummus."
"You don't say so! Now I come to think of it, it suits you better than Jehu, for the Son of Nimshi drove furiously. Well, Tummus, I will not keep you long; this troublesome nose of mine, I dare say, will soon be satisfied."
By this time he had slipped down from his seat, and was walking toward the throng. Now that he was upon his feet, he showed himself to be more than common tall, spare and loose jointed. His face was lean and swarthy, his eyes black and restless; his well-cut lips even now wore the same smile as when he mischievously misnamed his driver. Though he wore the usual dress of the Englishman of his day—frock, knee breeches and buckle shoes, none of them in their first youth—there was a something outlandish about him, in the bright yellow of his neckcloth and the red feather stuck at a jaunty angle into the ribbon of his hat; and Tummus, as he looked curiously after his strange passenger, shook his head and bit the straw in his mouth, and muttered:
"Ay, it binna on'y the nose, 't binna on'y the nose, with his Jehus an' such."
Meanwhile the man strode rapidly along, reached the fringe of the crowd, and appeared to make his way through its mass without difficulty, perhaps by reason of his commanding height, possibly by the aforesaid quaintness of his aspect, and the smile which forbade any one to regard him as an aggressor. He went steadily on until he came opposite to the Talbot Inn. At that moment a stillness fell upon the crowd; every voice was hushed; every head was craned towards the open windows of the inn's assembly room.
Gazing with the rest, the stranger saw a long table glittering under the soft radiance of many candles and surrounded by a numerous company—fat and thin, old and young, red-faced and pale, gentle and simple. At the end farthest from the street one figure stood erect—a short, round, rubicund little man, wearing a gown of rusty black, one thumb stuck into his vest, and a rosy benignity in the glance with which he scanned the table. He threw back his head, cleared his tight throat sonorously, and began, in tones perhaps best described as treacly, to address the seated company, with an intention also towards the larger audience without.
"Now, neebors all, we be trim and cozy in our insides, and 'tis time fur me to say summat. I be proud, that I be, as it falls to me, bein' bailiff o' this town, to axe ya all to drink the good health of our honored townsman an guest. I ha' lived hereabout, boy an' man, fur a matter o' fifty year, an' if so be I lived fifty more I couldna be a prouder man than I bin this night. Boy an' man, says I? Ay, I knowed our guest when he were no more'n table high. Well I mind him, that I do, comin' by this very street to school; ay, an' he minds me too, I warrant.
"I see him now, I do, skippin' along street fresh an' nimblelike, his eyne chock full o' mischief lookin' round fur to see some poor soul to play a prank on. It do feel strange-like to have him a-sittin' by my elbow today. Many's the tale I could tell o' his doin' an' our sufferin'. Why, I mind a poor lump of a 'prentice as I wunst had, a loon as never could raise a keek: poor soul, he bin underground this many year. Well, as I were sayin', this 'prentice o' mine were allers bein' baited by the boys o' the grammar school. I done my best for him, spoke them boys fair an' soft, but, bless ya, 'twas no good; they baited him worse'n ever. So one day I used my stick to um. Next mornin' I was down in my bake hus, makin' my batch ready fur oven, when, oothout a word o' warnin', up comes my two feet behind, down I goes head fust into my flour barrel, and them young—hem! the clergy be present—them youngsters dancin' round me like forty mad merry andrews at a fair."
A roar of laughter greeted the anecdote.
"Ay, neebors," resumed the bailiff, "we can laugh now, you an' me, but theer's many on ya could tell o' your own mishappenin's if ya had a mind to 't. As fur me, I bided my time. One day I cotched the leader o' them boys nigh corn market, an' I laid him across the badgerin' stone and walloped him nineteen—twenty—hee! hee! D'ya mind that, General?"
He turned to the guest at his right hand, who sat with but the glimmer of a smile, crumbling one of Bailiff Malkin's rolls on the tablecloth.
"But theer," continued the speaker, "that be nigh twenty year ago, an' the shape o' my strap binna theer now, I warrant. Three skins ha' growed since then—hee! hee! Who'd ha' thought, neebors, as that young limb as plagued our very lives out 'ud ha' bin here today, a general, an' a great man, an' a credit to his town an' country? Us all thought as he'd bring his poor feyther's gray hairs in sorrow to the grave. An' when I heerd as he'd bin shipped off to the Injies—well, thinks I, that bin the last we'll hear o' Bob Clive.
"But, bless ya! all eggs binna addled. General Clive here—'twere the Injun sun what hatched he, an' binna he, I axe ya, a rare young fightin' cock? Ay, and a good breed, too. A hunnerd year ago theer was a Bob Clive as med all our grandfeythers quake in mortal fear, a terrible man o' war was he. They wanted to put 'n into po'try an' the church sarvice.
"'From Wem and from Wyche An' from Clive o' the Styche, Good Lord, deliver us.'
"That's what they thought o' the Bob Clive o' long ago. Well, this Bob Clive now a-sittin' at my elbow be just as desp'rate a fighter, an' thankful let us all be, neebors, as he does his fightin' wi' the black-faced Injuns an' the black-hearted French, an' not the peaceful bide-at-homes o' Market Drayton."
The little bailiff paused to moisten his lips. From his audience arose feeling murmurs of approval.
"Ya known what General Clive ha' done," he resumed. "'Twas all read out o' prent by the crier in corn market. An' the grand folks in Lun'on ha' give him a gowd sword, an' he bin hob-a-nob wi' King Jarge hisself. An' us folks o' Market Drayton take it proud, we do, as he be come to see us afore he goes back to his duty.
"Theer's a example fur you boys. Theer be limbs o' mischief in Market Drayton yet.
"Ay, I see tha' 'Lijah Notcutt, a-hangin' on to winder theer. I know who wringed the neck o' Widder Peplow's turkey.
"An' I see tha' too, 'Zekiel Podmore; I know who broke the handle o' town pump. If I cotch ya at your tricks I'll leather ya fust an' clap ya in the stocks afterwards, sure as my name be Randle Malkin.
"But as I wan sayin', if ya foller th' example o' General Clive, an' turn yer young sperits into the lawful way—why, mebbe there be gowd swords an' mints o' money somewheers fur ya too.
"Well now, I bin talkin' long enough, an' to tell ya the truth, I be dry as a whistle, so I'll axe ya all to lift yer glasses, neebors, an' drink the good health o' General Clive. So theer!"
As the worthy bailiff concluded his speech, the company primed their glasses, rose and drank the toast with enthusiasm. Lusty cheers broke from the drier throats outside; caps were waved, rattles whirled, kettles beaten with a vigor that could not have been exceeded if the general loyalty had been stirred by the presence of King George himself.
Only one man in the crowd held his peace. The stranger remained opposite the window, silent, motionless, looking now into the room, now round upon the throng, with the same smile of whimsical amusement. Only once did his manner change; the smile faded, his lips met in a straight line, and he made a slight rearward movement, seeming at the same moment to lose something of his height.
It was when the guest of the evening stood up to reply: a young man, looking somewhat older than his twenty-nine years, his powdered hair crowning a strong face; with keen, deep-set eyes, full lips and masterful chin. He wore a belaced purple coat; a crimson sash crossed his embroidered vest; a diamond flashed upon his finger. Letting his eyes range slowly over the flushed faces of the diners, he waited until the bailiff had waved down the untiring applauders without; then, in a clear voice, began:
"Bailiff Malkin, my old friends—"
But his speech was broken in upon by a sudden commotion in the street. Loud cries of a different tenor arose at various points; the boys who had been hanging upon the window ledge dropped to the ground; the crowd surged this way and that, and above the mingled clamor sounded a wild and fearful squeal that drew many of the company to their feet and several in alarm to the window.
Among these the bailiff, now red with anger, shook his fist at the people and demanded the meaning of the disturbance. A small boy, his eyes round with excitement, piped up:
"An't please yer worship, 'tis a wild Injun come from nowheer an' doin' all manner o' wickedness."
"A wild Injun! Cotch him! Ring the 'larum bell! Put him in the stocks!"
But the bailiff's commands passed unheeded. The people were thronging up the street, elbowing each other, treading on each other's toes, yelling, booing, forgetful of all save the strange coincidence that, on this evening of all others, the banquet in honor of Clive, the Indian hero, had been interrupted by the sudden appearance of a live Indian in their very midst.
A curious change had come over the demeanor of the stranger, who hitherto had been so silent, so detached in manner, so unmoved. He was now to be seen energetically forcing his way toward the outskirts of the crowd, heaving, hurling, his long arms sweeping obstacles aside. His eyes flashed fire upon the yokels skurrying before him, a vitriolic stream of abuse scorched their faces as he bore them down.
At length he stopped suddenly, caught a hulking farmer by the shoulder, and, with a violent twist and jerk, flung him headlong among his fellows. Released from the man's grasp, a small negro boy, his eyes starting, his breast heaving with terror, sprang to the side of his deliverer, who soothingly patted his woolly head, and turned at bay upon the crowd, now again pressing near.
"Back, you boobies!" he shouted. "'Tis my boy! If a man of you follows me, I'll break his head for him."
He turned and, clasping the black boy's hand close in his, strode away towards the waiting cart. The crowd stood in hesitation, daunted by the tall stranger's fierce mien. But one came out from among them, a slim boy of some fifteen years, who had followed at the heels of the stranger and had indeed assisted his progress. The rest, disappointed of their Indian hunt, were now moving back towards the inn; but the boy hastened on. Hearing his quick footsteps, the man swung around with a snarl.
"I hope the boy isn't hurt," said the lad quietly. "Can I do anything for you?"
The stranger looked keenly at him; then, recognizing by his mien and voice that this at least was no booby, he smiled; the truculence of his manner vanished, and he said:
"Your question is pat, my excellent friend, and I thank you for your goodwill. As you perceive, my withers are not wrung."
He waved his right hand airily, and the boy noticed that it was covered from wrist to knuckles with what appeared to be a fingerless glove of black velvet.
"The boy has taken no harm. Hic niger est, as Horace somewhere hath it; and black spells Indian to your too hasty friends yonder. Scipio is his praenomen, bestowed on him by me to match the cognomen his already by nature—Africanus, to wit. You take me, kind sir? But I detain you; your ears doubtless itch for the eloquence of our condescending friend yonder; without more ado then, good night!"
And turning on his heel, waving his gloved hand in salutation, the stranger went his way. The lad watched him wonderingly. For all his shabbiness he appeared a gentleman. His speech was clean cut, his accent pure; yet in his tone, as in his dress, there was something unusual, a touch of the theatrical, strange to that old sleepy town.
He hoisted the negro into the cart, then mounted to his place beside the driver, and the vehicle rumbled away.
Retracing his steps, the boy once more joined the crowd, and wormed his way through its now silent ranks until he came within sight of the assembly room. But if he had wished to hear Clive's speech of thanks, he was too late. As he arrived, applause greeted the hero's final words, and he resumed his seat. To the speeches that followed, no heed was paid by the populace; words from the vicar and the local attorney had no novelty for them. But they waited, gossiping among themselves, until the festivity was over and the party broke up.
More shouts arose as the great man appeared at the inn door. Horses were there in waiting; a hundred hands were ready to hold the stirrup for Clive; but he mounted unassisted and rode off in company with Sir Philip Chetwode, a neighboring squire whose guest he was. When the principal figure had gone, the throng rapidly melted away, and soon the street had resumed its normal quiet.
The boy was among the last to quit the scene. Walking slowly down the road, he overtook a bent old man in the smock of a farm laborer, trudging along alone.
"Hey, Measter Desmond," said the old man, "I feels for tha, that I do. I seed yer brother theer, eatin' an' drinkin' along wi' the noble general, an' thinks I, 'tis hard on them as ha' to look on, wi' mouths a-waterin' fur the vittles an' drink. But theer, I'd be afeard to set lips to some o' them kickshawses as goes down into the nattlens o' high folk, an', all said an' done, a man canna be more'n full, even so it bin wi' nowt but turmuts an' Cheshire cheese.
"Well, sir, 'tis fine to be an elder son, that's true, an' dunna ye take on about it. You bin on'y a lad, after all, pardon my bold way o' speakin', an' mebbe when you come to man's estate, why, theer'll be a knife an' fork fur you too, though I doubt we'll never see General Clive in these parts no moore. Here be my turnin'; good night to ya, sir."
"Good night, Dickon."
And Desmond Burke passed on alone, out of the silent town, into the now darkening road that led to his home towards Cheswardine.
Chapter 2: In which our hero overhears a conversation; and, meeting with the unexpected, is none the less surprised and offended.
Desmond's pace became slower when, having crossed the valley, he began the long ascent that led past the site of Tyrley Castle. But when he again reached a stretch of level road he stepped out more briskly, for the darkness of the autumn night was moment by moment contracting the horizon, and he had still several miles to go on the unlighted road. Even as the thought of his dark walk crossed his mind he caught sight of the one light that served as a never-failing beacon to night travelers along that highway. It came from the windows of a wayside inn, a common place of call for farmers wending to or from Drayton Market, and one whose curious sign Desmond had many times studied with a small boy's interest.
The inn was named the "Four Alls": its sign, a crude painting of a table and four seated figures, a king, a parson, a soldier, and a farmer. Beneath the group, in a rough scrawl, were the words—
Rule all: Pray all: Fight all: Pay all.
As Desmond drew nearer to the inn, there came to him along the silent road the sound of singing. This was somewhat unusual at such an hour, for folk went early to bed, and the inn was too far from the town to have attracted waifs and strays from the crowd. What was still more unusual, the tones were not the rough, forced, vagrant tones of tipsy farmers; they were of a single voice, light, musical, and true. Desmond's curiosity was flicked, and he hastened his step, guessing from the clearness of the sound that the windows were open and the singer in full view.
The singing ceased abruptly just as he reached the inn. But the windows stood indeed wide open, and from the safe darkness of the road he could see clearly, by the light of four candles on the high mantel shelf, the whole interior of the inn parlor. It held four persons. One lay back in a chair near the fire, his legs outstretched, his chin on his breast, his open lips shaking as he snored. It was Tummus Biles, the tranter, who had driven a tall stranger from Chester to the present spot, and whose indignation at being miscalled Jehu had only been appeased by a quart of strong ale. On the other side of the fireplace, curled up on a settle, and also asleep, lay the black boy, Scipio Africanus. Desmond noted these two figures in passing; his gaze fastened upon the remaining two, who sat at a corner of the table, a tankard in front of each.
One of the two was Job Grinsell, landlord of the inn, a man with a red nose, loose mouth, and shifty eyes—not a pleasant fellow to look at, and regarded vaguely as a bad character. He had once been head gamekeeper to Sir Willoughby Stokes, the squire, whose service he had left suddenly and in manifest disgrace. His companion was the stranger, the negro boy's master, the man whose odd appearance and manner of talk had already set Desmond's curiosity a-buzzing. It was clear that he must be the singer, for Job Grinsell had a voice like a saw, and Tummus Biles knew no music save the squeak of his cartwheels. It surprised Desmond to find the stranger already on the most friendly, to all appearance, indeed, confidential terms with the landlord.
"Hale, did you say?" he heard Grinsell ask. "Ay, hale as you an' me, an' like to last another twenty year, rot him."
"But the gout takes him, you said—nodosa podagra, as my friend Ovid would say?"
"Ay, but I've knowed a man live forty year win the gout. And he dunna believe in doctor's dosin'; he goes to Buxton to drink the weeters when he bin madded wi' the pain, an' comes back sound fur six month."
"Restored to his dear neighbors and friends—caris propinquis—"
"Hang me, but I wish you'd speak plain English an' not pepper your talk win outlandish jabber."
"Patience, Job; why, man, you belie your name. Come, you must humor an old friend; that's what comes of education, you see; my head is stuffed with odds and ends that annoy my friends, while you can't read, nor write, nor cipher beyond keeping your score. Lucky Job!"
Desmond turned away. The two men's conversation was none of his business; and he suspected from the stranger's manner that he had been drinking freely. He had stepped barely a dozen paces when he heard the voice again break into song. He halted and wheeled about; the tune was catching, and now he distinguished some of the words—
Says Billy Norris, Masulipatam, To Governor Pitt: "D'ye know who I am, D'ye know who I am, I AM, I AM? Sir William Norris, Masulipatam." Says Governor Pitt, Fort George, Madras: "I know what you are—"
Again the song broke off; the singer addressed a question to Grinsell. Desmond waited a moment; he felt an odd eagerness to know what Governor Pitt was; but hearing now only the drone of talking, he once more turned his face homeward. His curiosity was livelier than ever as to the identity of this newcomer, who addressed the landlord as he might his own familiar friend.
And what had the stranger to do with Sir Willoughby Stokes? For it was Sir Willoughby that suffered from the gout; he it was that went every autumn and spring to Buxton; he was away at this present time, but would shortly return to receive his Michaelmas rents. The stranger had not the air of a husbandman; but there was a vacant farm on the estate; perhaps he had come to offer himself as a tenant.
And why did he wear that half glove upon his right hand? Finger stalls, wrist straps, even mittens were common enough, useful, and necessary at times; but the stranger's glove was not a mitten, and it had no fellow for the left hand. Perhaps, thought Desmond, it was a freak of the wearer's, on a par with his red feather and his vivid neckcloth. Desmond, as he walked on, found himself hoping that the visitor at the Four Alls would remain for a day or two.
After passing through the sleeping hamlet of Woods Eaves, he struck into a road on his left hand. Twenty minutes' steady plodding uphill brought him in sight of his home—a large, ancient, rambling grange house lying back from the road. It was now nearly ten o'clock, an hour when the household was usually abed; but the door of Wilcote Grange stood open, and a guarded candle in the hall threw a faint yellow light upon the path. The gravel crunched under Desmond's boots, and, as if summoned by the sound, a tall figure crossed the hall and stood in the entrance. At the sight Desmond's mouth set hard; his hands clenched; his breath came more quickly as he went forward.
"Where have you been, sirrah?" were the angry words that greeted him.
"Into the town, sir," returned Desmond.
He had perforce to halt, the doorway being barred by the man's broad form.
"Into the town? You defy me, do you? Did I not bid you remain at home and make up the stock book?"
"I did that before I left."
"You did, did you? I lay my life 'tis ill done. What did you in the town this time o' night?"
"I went to see General Clive."
"Indeed! You! Hang me, what's Clive to you? Was you invited to the regale? You was one of that stinking crowd, I suppose, that bawled in the street. You go and herd with knaves and yokels, do you? and bring shame upon me, and set the countryside a-chattering of Richard Burke and his idle young oaf of a brother! By gad, sir, I'll whip you for this; I'll give you something to remember General Clive by!"
He caught up a riding whip that stood in the angle of the doorway, and took Desmond by the shoulder. The boy did not flinch.
"Whip me if you must," he said quietly, "but don't you think we'd better go outside?"
The elder, with an imprecation, thrust Desmond into the open, hauled him some distance down the path, and then beat him heavily about the shoulders. He stood a foot higher, his arm was strong, his grip firm as a vise; resistance would have been vain; but Desmond knew better than to resist. He bent to the cruel blows without a wince or a murmur. Only, his face was very pale when, the bully's arm being tired and his breath spent, he was flung away and permitted to stagger to the house. He crawled painfully up the wainscoted staircase and into the dark corridor leading to his bedroom. Halfway down this he paused, felt with his hand along the wall, and, discovering by this means that a door was ajar, stood listening.
"Is that you, Desmond?" said a low voice within.
"Yes, mother," he replied, commanding his voice, and quietly entering. "I hoped you were asleep."
"I could not sleep until you came in, dear. I heard Dick's voice. What is the matter? Your hand is trembling, Desmond."
"Nothing, mother, as usual."
A mother's ears are quick; and Mrs. Burke detected the quiver that Desmond tried to still. She tightened her clasp on his hot hand.
"Did he strike you, dear?"
"It was nothing, mother. I am used to that."
"My poor boy! But what angered him? Why do you offend your brother?"
"Offend him!" exclaimed the boy passionately, but still in a low tone. "Everything I do offends him. I went to see General Clive; I wished to; that is enough for Dick. Mother, I am sick of it all."
"Never mind, dear. A little patience. Dick doesn't understand you. You should humor him, Desmond."
"Haven't I tried, mother? Haven't I? But what is the use? He treats me worse than any carter on the farm. I drudge for him, and he bullies me, miscalls me before the men, thrashes me—oh, mother! I can't endure it any longer. Let me go away, anywhere; anything would be better than this!"
Desmond was quivering with pain and indignation; only with difficulty did he keep back the tears.
"Hush, Desmond!" said his mother. "Dick will hear you. You are tired out, dear boy; go to bed; things will look brighter in the morning. Only have patience. Good night, my son."
Desmond kissed his mother and went to his room. But it was long before he slept. His bruised body found no comfort; his head throbbed; his soul was filled with resentment and the passionate longing for release.
His life had not been very happy. He barely remembered his father—a big, keen-eyed, loud-voiced old man—who died when his younger son was four years old. Richard Burke had run away from his Irish home to sea. He served on Admiral Rooke's flagship at the battle of La Hogue, and, rising in the navy to the rank of warrant officer, bought a ship with the savings of twenty years and fitted it out for unauthorized trade with the East Indies. His daring, skill, and success attracted the attention of the officers of the Company. He was invited to enter the Company's service. As captain of an Indiaman he sailed backwards and forwards for ten years; then at the age of fifty retired with a considerable fortune and married the daughter of a Shropshire farmer. The death of his wife's relatives led him to settle on the farm their family had tenanted for generations, and it was at Wilcote Grange that his three children were born.
Fifteen years separated the elder son from the younger; between them came a daughter, who married early and left the neighborhood. Four years after Desmond's birth the old man died, leaving the boy to the guardianship of his brother.
There lay the seed of trouble. No brothers could have been more unlike than the two sons of Captain Burke. Richard was made on a large and powerful scale; he was hard working, methodical, grasping, wholly unimaginative, and in temper violent and domineering. Slighter and less robust, though not less healthy, Desmond was a boy of vivid imagination, high strung, high spirited, his feelings easily moved, his pride easily wounded. His brother was too dull and stolid to understand him, taking for deliberate malice what was but boyish mischief, and regarding him as sullen when he was only dreamily thoughtful.
As a young boy Desmond kept as much as possible out of his brother's way. But as he grew older he came more directly under Richard's control, with the result that they were now in a constant state of feud. Their mother, a woman of sweet temper but weak will, favored her younger son in secret; she learned by experience that open intervention on his behalf did more harm than good.
Desmond had two habits which especially moved his brother to anger. He was fond of roaming the country alone for hours together; he was fond of reading. To Richard each was a waste of time. He never opened a book, save a manual of husbandry or a ready reckoner; he could conceive of no reason for walking, unless it were the business of the farm. Nothing irritated him more than to see Desmond stretched at length with his nose in Mr. Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, or a volume of Hakluyt's Voyages, or perhaps Mr. Oldys's Life of Sir Walter Raleigh. And as he himself never dreamed by day or by night, there was no chance of his divining the fact that Desmond, on those long solitary walks of his, was engaged chiefly in dreaming, not idly, for in his dreams he was always the center of activity, greedy for doing.
These daydreams constituted almost the sole joy of Desmond's life. When he was only a little fellow he would sprawl on the bank near Tyrley Castle and weave romances about the Norman barons whose home it had been—romances in which he bore a strenuous part. He knew every interesting spot in the neighborhood: Salisbury Hill, where the Yorkist leader pitched his camp before the battle of Blore Heath; Audley Brow, where Audley the Lancastrian lay watching his foe; above all Styche Hall, whence a former Clive had ridden forth to battle against the king, and where his namesake, the present Robert Clive, had been born. He imagined himself each of those bold warriors in turn, and saw himself, now a knight in mail, now a gay cavalier of Rupert's, now a bewigged Georgian gentleman in frock and pantaloons, but always with sword in hand.
No name sang a merrier tune in Desmond's imagination than the name of Robert Clive. Three years before, when he was imbibing Latin, Greek, and Hebrew under Mr. Burslem at the grammar school on the hill, the amazing news came one day that Bob Clive, the wild boy who had terrorized the tradespeople, plagued his master, led the school in tremendous fights with the town boys, and suffered more birchings than any scholar of his time—Bob Clive, the scapegrace who had been packed off to India as a last resource, had turned out, as his father said, "not such a booby after all"—had indeed proved himself to be a military genius. How Desmond thrilled when the old schoolmaster read out the glorious news of Clive's defense of Arcot with a handful of men against an overwhelming host! How he glowed when the schoolroom rang with the cheers of the boys, and when, a half holiday being granted, he rushed forth with the rest to do battle in the church yard with the town boys, and helped to lick them thoroughly in honor of Clive!
From that moment there was for Desmond but one man in the world, and that man was Robert Clive. In the twinkling of an eye he became the devoutest of hero worshipers. He coaxed Mr. Burslem to let him occupy Clive's old desk, and with his fists maintained the privilege against all comers. The initials R. C. roughly cut in the oak never lost their fascination for him. He walked out day after day to Styche Hall, two miles away, and pleased himself with the thought that his feet trod the very spots once trodden by Bob Clive. Not an inch of the route from Hall to school—the meadow path into Longslow, the lane from Longslow to Shropshire Street, Little Street, Church Street, the church yard—was unknown to him: Bob Clive had known them all. He feasted on the oft-told stories of Clive's boyish escapades: how he had bundled a watchman into the bulks and made him prisoner there by closing down and fastening the shutters; how he had thrown himself across the current of a torrential gutter to divert the stream into the cellar shop of a tradesman who had offended him; above all, that feat of his when, ascending the spiral turret stair of the church, he had lowered himself down from the parapet, and, astride upon a gargoyle, had worked his way along it until he could secure a stone that lay in its mouth, the perilous and dizzy adventure watched by a breathless throng in the churchyard below. The Bob Clive who had done these things was now doing greater deeds in India; and Desmond Burke sat day after day at his desk, gazing at the entrancing R. C., and doing over again in his own person the exploits of which all Market Drayton was proud, and he the proudest.
But at the age of fourteen his brother took him from school, though Mr. Burslem had pleaded that he might remain longer and afterwards proceed to the university. He was set to do odd jobs about the farm. To farming itself he had no objection; he was fond of animals and would willingly have spent his life with them. But he did object to drudging for a hard and inconsiderate taskmaster such as his brother was, and the work he was compelled to do became loathsome to him, and bred a spirit of discontent and rebellion. The further news of Clive's exploits in India, coming at long intervals, set wild notions beating in Desmond's head, and made him long passionately for a change. At times he thought of running away: his father had run away and carved out a successful career, why should not he do the same? But he had never quite made up his mind to cut the knot.
Meanwhile it became known in Market Drayton that Clive had returned to England. Rumor credited him with fabulous wealth. It was said that he drove through London in a gold coach, and outshone the king himself in the splendor of his attire. No report was too highly colored to find easy credence among the simple country folk. Clive was indeed rich: he had a taste for ornate dress, and though neither so wealthy nor so gaily appareled as rumor said, he was for a season the lion of London society. The directors of the East India Company toasted him as "General" Clive, and presented him with a jeweled sword as a token of their sense of his services on the Coromandel coast.
No one suspected at the time that his work was of more than local importance and would have more far-reaching consequences than the success of a trading company. Clive had, in fact, without knowing it, laid the foundations of a vast empire.
At intervals during the two years, scraps of news about Clive filtered through to his birthplace. His father had left the neighborhood, and Styche Hall was now in the hands of a stranger, so that Desmond hardly dared to hope that he would have an opportunity of seeing his idol. But, information having reached the court of directors that all was not going well in India, their eyes turned at once to Clive as the man to set things right. They requested him to return to India as Governor of Fort St. David, and, since a good deal of the trouble was caused by quarrels as to precedence between the king's and the Company's officers, they strengthened his hands by obtaining for him a lieutenant colonel's commission from King George.
Clive was nothing loath to take up his work again. He had been somewhat extravagant since his arrival in England; great holes had been made in the fortune he had brought back; and he was still a young man, full of energy and ambition. What was Desmond's ecstasy, then, to learn that his hero, on the eve of his departure, had accepted an invitation to the town of his birth, there to be entertained by the court leet. From the bailiff and the steward of the manor down to the javelin men and the ale taster, official Market Drayton was all agog to do him honor. Desmond looked forward eagerly to this red letter day.
His brother, as a yeoman of standing, was invited to the banquet, and it seemed to Desmond that Richard took a delight in taunting him, throwing cold water on his young enthusiasm, ironically commenting on the mistake someone had made in not including him among the guests. His crowning stroke of cruelty was to forbid the boy to leave the house on the great evening, so that he might not even obtain a glimpse of Clive. But this was too much: Desmond for the first time deliberately defied his guardian, and though he suffered the inevitable penalty, he had seen and heard his hero, and was content.
Chapter 3: In which Mr. Marmaduke Diggle talks of the Golden East; and our hero interrupts an interview, and dreams dreams.
Sore from his flogging, Desmond, when he slept at last, slept heavily. Richard Burke was a stickler for early rising, and admitted no excuses. When his brother did not appear at the usual hour Richard went to his room, and, smiting with his rough hand the boy's bruised shoulders, startled him to wakefulness and pain.
"Now, slug-a-bed," he said, "you have ten minutes for your breakfast, then you will foot it to the Hall and see whether Sir Willoughby has returned or is expected."
Turning on his heel, he went out to harry his laborers.
Desmond, when he came down stairs, felt too sick to eat. He gulped a pitcher of milk, then set off for his two-mile walk to the Hall. He was glad of the errand. Sir Willoughby Stokes, the lord of the manor, was an old gentleman of near seventy years, a good landlord, a persistent Jacobite, and a confirmed bachelor. By nature genial, he was subject to periodical attacks of the gout, which made him terrible. At these times he betook himself to Buxton, or Bath, or some other spa, and so timed his return that he was always good tempered on rent day, much to the relief of his tenants. He disliked Richard Burke as a man as much as he admired him as a tenant; but he had taken a fancy to Desmond, lent him books from his library, took him out shooting when the weather and Richard permitted, and played chess with him sometimes of a rainy afternoon. His housekeeper said that Master Desmond was the only human being whose presence the squire could endure when the gout was on him. In short, Sir Willoughby and Desmond were very good friends.
Desmond had almost reached the gate of the Hall when, at a sudden turn of the road, he came upon a man seated upon a low hillock by the roadside, idly swishing at the long ripe grass with a cane. At the first glance Desmond noticed the strangely-clad right hand of his overnight acquaintance; the shabby clothes, the red feather, the flaming neckcloth.
The man looked up at his approach; the winning smile settled upon his swarthy face, which daylight now revealed as seamed and scarred; and, without stirring from his seat or desisting from his occupation, he looked in the boy's face and said softly:
"You are early afoot, like the son of Anchises, my young friend. If I mistake not, when Aeneas met the son of Evander they joined their right hands. We have met; let us also join hands and bid each other a very good morning."
Desmond shook hands; he did not know what to make of this remarkable fellow who must always be quoting from his school books; but there was no harm in shaking hands. He could not in politeness ask the question that rose to his lips—why the stranger wore a mitten on one hand; and if the man observed his curiosity he let it pass.
"You are on business bent, I wot," continued the stranger. "Not for the world would I delay you. But since the handclasp is but part of the ceremony of introduction, might we not complete it by exchanging names?"
"My name is Desmond Burke," said the boy.
"A good name, a pleasant name, a name that I know."
Desmond was conscious that the man was looking keenly at him.
"There is a gentleman of the same name—I chanced to meet him in London—cultivating literature in the Temple; his praenomen, I bethink me, is Edmund. And I bethink me, too, that in the course of my peregrinations on this planet I have more than once heard the name of one Captain Richard Burke, a notable seaman, in the service of our great Company. I repeat, my young friend, your name is a good one; may you live to add luster to it!"
"Captain Burke was my father."
"My prophetic soul!" exclaimed the stranger. "But surely you are somewhat late in following the paternal craft; you do not learn seamanship in this sylvan sphere."
"True," responded Desmond, with a smile. "My father turned farmer; he died when I was a little fellow, and I live with my mother. But you will excuse me, sir; I have an errand to the Hall beyond us here."
"I am rebuked. Nam garrulus idem est, as our friend Horace would say. Yet one moment. Ere we part let us complete our interrupted ceremony. Marmaduke Diggle, sir—plain Marmaduke Diggle, at your service."
He swept off his hat with a smile. But as soon as Desmond had passed on, the smile faded. Marmaduke Diggle's mouth became hard, and he looked after the retreating form with a gaze in which curiosity, suspicion, and dislike were blended.
He was still seated by the roadside when Desmond returned some minutes later.
"A pleasant surprise, Mr. Burke," he said. "Your business is most briefly, and let us hope happily despatched."
"Briefly, at any rate. I only went up to the Hall to see if the squire was returned; it is near rent day, and he is not usually so late in returning."
"Ah, your squires!" said Diggle, with a sigh. "A fine thing to have lands—olive yards and vineyards, as the Scripture saith. You are returning? The squire is not at home? Permit me to accompany you some steps on your road.
"Yes, it is a fine thing to be a landlord. It is a state of life much to be envied by poor landless men like me. I confess I am poor—none the pleasanter because 'tis my own fault. You behold in me, Mr. Burke, one of the luckless. I sought fame and fortune years ago in the fabulous East Indies—"
"The Indies, sir?"
"You are interested? In me also, when I was your age, the name stirred my blood and haunted my imagination. Yes, 'tis nigh ten years since I first sailed from these shores for the marvelous east. Multum et terris jactatus et alto. Twice have I made my fortune—got me enough of the wealth of Ormus and of Ind to buy up half your county. Twice, alas! has an unkind Fate robbed me of my all! But, as I said, 'tis my own fault. Nemo contentus, sir—you know the passage? I was not satisfied: I must have a little more; and yet a little more. I put my wealth forth in hazardous enterprises—presto! it is swept away. But I was born, sir, after all, under a merry star. Nothing discourages me. After a brief sojourn for recuperation in this salubrious spot, I shall return; and this time, mark you, I shall run no risks. Five years to make my fortune; then I shall come home, content with a round ten lakhs."
"What is a lakh?"
"Ah, I forgot, you are not acquainted with these phrases of the Orient. A lakh, my friend, is a hundred thousand rupees, say twelve thousand pounds. And I warrant you I will not squander it as a certain gentleman we know squandered his."
"You mean General Clive?"
"Colonel Clive, my friend. Yes, I say Colonel Clive has squandered his fortune. Why, he came home with thirty lakhs at the least: and what does he do? He must ruffle it in purple and fine linen, and feed the fat in royal entertainments; then, forsooth, he stands for a seat in Parliament, pours out his gold like water—to what end? A petition is presented against his return: the House holds an inquiry; and the end of the sorry farce is, that Mr. Robert Clive's services are dispensed with. When I think of the good money he has wasted—But then, sir, I am no politician. Colonel Clive and I are two ruined men; 'tis a somewhat strange coincidence that he and I are almost of an age, and that we both, before many weeks are past, shall be crossing the ocean once more to retrieve our fallen fortunes."
Walking side by side during this conversation they had now come into the road leading past Desmond's home. In the distance, approaching them, appeared a post chaise, drawn by four galloping horses. The sight broke the thread of the conversation.
"'Tis the squire at last!" cried Desmond. "Sure he must have put up at Newcastle overnight."
But that he was intently watching the rapid progress of the chaise, he might have noticed a curious change of expression on his companion's face. The smile faded, the lips became set with a kind of grim determination. But Diggle's pleasant tone had not altered when he said:
"Our ways part here, my friend—for the present. I doubt not we shall meet again; and if you care to hear of my adventures by field and flood—why, 'I will a round unvarnished tale deliver,' as the Moor of Venice says in the play. For the present, then, farewell!"
He turned down a leafy lane, and had disappeared from view before the chaise reached the spot. As it ran by, its only occupant, a big, red-faced, white-wigged old gentleman, caught sight of the boy and hailed him in a rich, jolly voice.
"Ha, Desmond! Home again, you see! Scotched the enemy once more! Come and see me!"
The chaise was past before Desmond could reply. He watched it until it vanished from sight; then, feeling somewhat cheered, went on to report to his brother that the squire had at last returned.
He felt no little curiosity about his new acquaintance. What had brought him to so retired a spot as Market Drayton? He could have no friends in the neighborhood, or he would surely not have chosen for his lodging a place of ill repute like the Four Alls. Yet he had seemed to have some acquaintance with Grinsell the innkeeper. He did not answer to Desmond's idea of an adventurer. He was not rough of tongue or boisterous in manner; his accent, indeed, was refined; his speech somewhat studied, and, to judge by his allusions and his Latin, he had some share of polite learning. Desmond was puzzled to fit these apparent incongruities, and looked forward with interest to further meetings with Marmaduke Diggle.
During the next few days they met more than once. It was always late in the evening, always in quiet places, and Diggle was always alone. Apparently he desired to make no acquaintances. The gossips of the neighborhood seized upon the presence of a stranger at the Four Alls, but they caught the barest glimpses of him; Grinsell was as a stone wall in unresponsiveness to their inquiries; and the black boy, if perchance a countryman met him on the road and questioned him, shook his head and made meaningless noises in his throat, and the countryman would assure his cronies that the boy was as dumb as a platter.
But whenever Desmond encountered the stranger, strolling by himself in the fields or some quiet lane, Diggle always seemed pleased to see him, and talked to him with the same ease and freedom, ever ready with a tag from his school books. Desmond did not like his Latin, but he found compensation in the traveler's tales of which Diggle had an inexhaustible store—tales of shipwreck and mutiny, of wild animals and wild men, of Dutch traders and Portuguese adventurers, of Indian nawabs and French bucaneers. Above all was Desmond interested in stories of India: he heard of the immense wealth of the Indian princes, the rivalries of the English, French, and Dutch trading companies; the keen struggle between France and England for the preponderating influence with the natives. Desmond was eager to hear of Clive's doings; but he found Diggle, for an Englishman who had been in India, strangely ignorant of Clive's career; he seemed impatient of Clive's name, and was always more ready to talk of his French rivals, Dupleix and Bussy. The boy was impressed by the mystery, the color, the romance of the East; and after these talks with Diggle he went home with his mind afire, and dreamed of elephants and tigers, treasures of gold and diamonds, and fierce battles in which English, French, and Indians weltered in seas of blood.
One morning Desmond set out for a long walk in the direction of Newport. It was holiday on the farm; Richard Burke allowed his men a day off once every half year when he paid his rent. They would almost rather not have had it, for he made himself particularly unpleasant both before and after. On this morning he had got up in a bad temper, and managed to find half a dozen occasions for grumbling at Desmond before breakfast, so that the boy was glad to get away and walk off his resentment and soreness of heart.
As he passed the end of the lane leading toward the Hall, he saw two men in conversation some distance down it. One was on horseback, the other on foot. At a second glance he saw with surprise that the mounted man was his brother; the other, Diggle. A well-filled moneybag hung at Richard Burke's saddle bow; he was on his way to the Hall to pay his rent. His back was towards Desmond; but, as the latter paused, Richard threw a rapid glance over his shoulder, and with a word to the man at his side cantered away.
Diggle gave Desmond a hail and came slowly up the lane, his face wearing its usual pleasant smile. His manner was always very friendly, and had the effect of making Desmond feel on good terms with himself.
"Well met, my friend," said Diggle cordially. "I was longing for a chat. Beshrew me if I have spoken more than a dozen words today, and that, to a man of my sociable temper, not to speak of my swift and practised tongue—lingua celer et exercitata: you remember the phrase of Tully's—is a sore trial."
"You seemed to be having a conversation a moment ago," said Desmond.
"Seemed!—that is the very word. That excellent farmer—sure he hath a prosperous look—had mistaken me. 'Tis not the apparel makes the man; my attire is not of the best, I admit; but, I beg you tell me frankly, would you have taken me for a husbandman, one who with relentless plowshare turns the stubborn soil, as friend Horace somewhere puts it? Would you, now?"
"Decidedly not. But did my brother so mistake you?"
"Your brother! Was that prosperous and well-mounted gentleman your brother?"
"Certainly. He is Richard Burke, and leases the Wilcote farm."
"Noble pair of brothers!" exclaimed Diggle, seizing Desmond's reluctant hand. "I congratulate you, my friend. What a brother! I stopped him to ask the time of day. But permit me to say, friend Desmond, you appear somewhat downcast; your countenance hath not that serenity one looks for in a lad of your years. What is the trouble?"
"Oh, nothing to speak of," said Desmond curtly; he was vexed that his face still betrayed the irritation of the morning.
"Very well," said Diggle with a shrug. "Far be it from me to probe your sorrows. They are nothing to me, but sure a simple question from a friend—"
"Pardon me, Mr. Diggle," said Desmond impulsively, "I did not mean to offend you."
"My dear boy, a tough-hided traveler does not easily take offense. Shall we walk? D'you know, Master Desmond, I fancy I could make a shrewd guess at your trouble. Your brother—Richard, I think you said?—is a farmer, he was born a farmer, he has the air of a farmer, and a well-doing farmer to boot. But we are not all born with a love for mother earth, and you, meseems, have dreamed of a larger life than lies within the pin folds of a farm. To tell the truth, my lad, I have been studying you."
They were walking now side by side along the Newport road. Desmond felt that the stranger was becoming personal; but his manner was so suave and sympathetic that he could not take offense.
"Yes, I have been studying you," continued Diggle. "And what is the sum of my discovery? You are wasting your life here. A country village is no place for a boy of ideas and imagination, of warm blood and springing fancy. The world is wide, my friend: why not adventure forth?"
"I have indeed thought of it, Mr. Diggle, but—"
"But me no buts," interrupted Diggle, with a smile. "Your age is—"
"Ah, still a boy; you have a year ere you reach the bourne of young manhood, as the Romans held it. But what matters that? Was not Scipio Africanus—namesake of the ingenuous youth that serves me—styled boy at twenty? Yet you are old enough to walk alone, and not in leading strings—or waiting maybe for dead men's shoes."
"What do you mean, sir?" Desmond flashed out, reddening with indignation.
"Do I offend you?" said Diggle innocently. "I make apology. But I had heard, I own, that Master Desmond Burke was in high favor with your squire; 'tis even whispered that Master Desmond cherishes, cultivates, cossets the old man—a bachelor, I understand, and wealthy, and lacking kith or kin. Sure I should never have believed 'twas with any dishonorable motive."
"'Tis not, sir. I never thought of such a thing."
"I was sure of it. But to come back to my starting point. 'Tis time you broke these narrow bounds. India, now—what better sphere for a young man bent on making his way? Look at Clive, whom you admire—as stupid a boy as you could meet in a day's march. Why, I can remember—"
He caught himself up, but after the slightest pause, resumed:
"Forsan et haec ohm meminisse juvabit. Look at Clive, I was saying; a lout, a bear, a booby—as a boy, mark you; yet now! Is there a man whose name rings more loudly in the world's ear? And what Robert Clive is, that Desmond Burke might be if he had the mind and the will. You are going farther? Ah, I have not your love of ambulation. I will bid you farewell for this time; sure it will profit you to ponder my words."
Desmond did ponder his words. He walked for three or four hours, thinking all the time. Who had said that he was waiting for the squire's shoes? He glowed with indignation at the idea of such a construction being placed upon his friendship for Sir Willoughby.
"If they think that," he said to himself, "the sooner I go away the better."
And the seed planted by Diggle took root and began to germinate with wonderful rapidity. To emulate Clive!—what would he not give for the chance? But how was it possible? Clive had begun as a writer in the service of the East India Company; but how could Desmond procure a nomination? Perhaps Sir Willoughby could help him; he might have influence with the Company's directors. But, supposing he obtained a nomination, how could he purchase his outfit? He had but a few guineas, and after what Diggle had said he would starve rather than ask the squire for a penny. True, under his father's will he was to receive five thousand pounds at the age of twenty-one. Would Richard advance part of the sum? Knowing Richard, he hardly dared to hope for such a departure from the letter of the law. But it was at least worth attempting.
Chapter 4: In which blows are exchanged; and our hero, setting forth upon his travels, scents an adventure.
That same day, at supper, seeing that Richard was apparently in good humor, Desmond ventured to make a suggestion.
"Dick," he said frankly, "don't you think it would be better for all of us if I went away? You and I don't get along very well, and perhaps I was not cut out for a farmer."
Richard grunted, and Mrs. Burke looked apprehensively from one to the other.
"What's your idea?" asked Richard.
"Well, I had thought of a writership in the East India Company's service, or better still, a cadetship in the Company's forces."
"Hark to him!" exclaimed Richard, with a scornful laugh. "A second Clive, sink me! And where do you suppose the money is to come from?"
"Couldn't you advance me a part of what is to come to me when I am twenty-one?"
"Not a penny, I tell you at once, not a penny. 'Tis enough to be saddled with you all these years. You may think yourself lucky if I can scrape together a tenth of the money that'll be due to you when you're twenty-one. That's the dead hand, if you like; why father put that provision in his will it passes common sense to understand. No, you'll have to stay and earn part of it, though in truth you'll never be worth your keep."
"That depends on the keeper," retorted Desmond, rather warmly.
"No insolence, now. I repeat, I will not advance one penny! Go and get some money out of the squire, that is so precious fond of you."
"Richard, Richard!" said his mother anxiously.
"Mother, I'm the boy's guardian. I know what it is. He has been crammed with nonsense by that idle knave at the Four Alls. Look'ee, my man, if I catch you speaking to him again, I'll flay your skin for you."
"Why shouldn't I?" replied Desmond. "I saw you speaking to him."
"Hold your tongue, sir. The dog accosted me. I answered his question and passed on. Heed what I say: I'm a man of my word."
Desmond said no more. But before he fell asleep that night he had advanced one step further towards freedom. His request had met with the refusal he had anticipated. He could hope for no pecuniary assistance; it remained to take the first opportunity of consulting Diggle. It was Diggle who had suggested India as the field for his ambition; and the suggestion would hardly have been made if there were great obstacles in the way of its being acted on. Desmond made light of his brother's command that he should cut Diggle's acquaintance; it seemed to him only another act of tyranny, and his relations with Richard were such that to forbid a thing was to provoke him to do it.
His opportunity came next day. Late in the afternoon he met Diggle, as he had done many times before, walking in the fields, remote from houses. When Desmond caught sight of him, he was sauntering along, his eyes bent upon the ground, his face troubled. But he smiled on seeing Desmond.
"Well met, friend," he said; "leni perfruor otio—which is as much as to say—I bask in idleness. Well, now, I perceive in your eye that you have been meditating my counsel. 'Tis well, friend Desmond, and whereto has your meditation arrived?"
"I have thought over what you said. I do wish to get away from here; I should like to go to India; indeed, I asked my brother to advance a part of some money that is to come to me, so that I might obtain service with the Company; but he refused."
"And you come to me for counsel. 'Tis well done, though I trow your brother would scarce be pleased to hear of it."
"He forbade me to speak to you."
"Egad, he did! Haec summa est! What has he against me?—a question to be asked. I am a stranger in these parts: that is ill; and buffeted by fortune: that is worse; and somewhat versed in humane letters: that, to the rustic intelligence, is a crime. Well, my lad, you have come to the right man at the right time. You are acquainted with my design shortly to return to the Indies—a rare field for a lad of mettle. You shall come with me."
"But are you connected with the Company? None other, I believed, has a right to trade."
"The Company! Sure, my lad, I am no friend to the Company, a set of stiff-necked, ignorant, grasping, paunchy peddlers who fatten at home on the toil of better men. No, I am an adventurer, I own it; I am an interloper; and we interlopers, despite the Company's monopoly, yet contrive to keep body and soul together."
"Then I should not sail to India on a Company's ship?"
"Far from it, indeed. But let not that disturb you, there are other vessels. And for the passage—why, sure I could find you a place as supercargo or some such thing; you would thus keep the little money you have and add to it, forming a nest egg which, I say it without boasting, I could help you to hatch into a fine brood. I am not without friends in the Indies, my dear boy; there are princes in that land whom I have assisted to their thrones; and if, on behalf of a friend, I ask of them some slight thing, provided it be honest—'tis the first law of friendship, says Tully, as you will remember, to seek honest things for our friends—if, I say, on your behalf, I proffer some slight request, sure the nawabs will vie to pleasure me, and the foundation of your fortune will be laid."
Desmond had not observed that, during this eloquent passage, Diggle had more than once glanced beyond him, as though his mind were not wholly occupied with his oratorical efforts. It was therefore something of a shock that he heard him say in the same level tone:
"But I perceive your brother approaching. I am not the man to cause differences between persons near akin; I will therefore leave you; we will have further speech on the subject of our discourse."
He moved away. A moment after, Richard Burke came up in a towering passion.
"You brave me, do you?" he cried. "Did I not forbid you to converse with that vagabond?"
"You have no right to dictate to me on such matters," said Desmond hotly, facing his brother.
"I've no right, haven't I?" shouted Richard. "I've a guardian's right to thrash you if you disobey me, and by George! I'll keep my promise."
He lifted the riding whip, without which he seldom went abroad, and struck at Desmond. But the boy's blood was up. He sprang aside as the thong fell; it missed him, and before the whip could be raised again he had leaped towards his brother. Wrenching the stock from his grasp, Desmond flung the whip over the hedge into a green-mantled pool, and stood, his cheeks pale, his fists clenched, his eyes flaming, before the astonished man.
"Coward!" he cried, "'tis the last time you lay hands on me."
Recovered from his amazement at Desmond's resistance, Richard, purple with wrath, advanced to seize the boy. But Desmond, nimbly evading his clutch, slipped his foot within his brother's, and with a dexterous movement tripped him up, so that he fell sprawling, with many an oath, on the miry road. Before he could regain his feet, Desmond had vaulted the hedge and set off at a run towards home. Diggle was nowhere in sight.
The die was now cast. Never before had Desmond actively retaliated upon his brother, and he knew him well enough to be sure that such an affront was unforgivable. The farm would no longer be safe for him. With startling suddenness his vague notions of leaving home were crystallized into a resolve. No definite plan formed itself in his mind as he raced over the fields. He only knew that the moment for departure had come, and he was hastening now to secure the little money he possessed and to make a bundle of his clothes and the few things he valued before Richard could return.
Reaching the Grange, he slipped quietly upstairs, not daring to face his mother, lest her grief should weaken his resolution, and in five minutes he returned with his bundle. He stole out through the garden, skirted the copse that bounded the farm inclosure, and ran for half a mile up the lane until he felt that he was out of reach. Then, breathless with haste, quivering with the shock of this sudden plunge into independence, he sat down on the grassy bank to reflect.
What had he done? It was no light thing for a boy of his years, ignorant of life and the world, to cut himself adrift from old ties and voyage into the unknown. Had he been wise? He had no trade as a standby; his whole endowment was his youth and his wits. Would they suffice? Diggle's talk had opened up an immense prospect, full of color and mystery and romance, chiming well with his daydreams. Was it possible that, sailing to India, he might find some of his dreams come true?
Could he trust Diggle, a stranger, by his own admission an adventurer, a man who had run through two fortunes already? He had no reason for distrust; Diggle was well educated, a gentleman, frank, amiable. What motive could he have for leading a boy astray?
Mingled with Desmond's Irish impulsiveness there was a strain of caution derived from the stolid English yeomen, his forebears on the maternal side. He felt the need, before crossing his Rubicon, of taking counsel with someone older and wiser—with a tried friend. Sir Willoughby Stokes, the squire, had always been kind to him. Would it not be well to put his case to the squire and follow his advice? But he durst not venture to the Hall yet. His brother might suspect that he had gone there and seize him, or intercept him on the way. He would wait. It was the squire's custom to spend a quiet hour in his own room long after the time when other folk in that rural neighborhood were abed. Desmond sometimes sat with him there, reading or playing chess. If he went up to the Hall at nine o'clock he would be sure of a welcome.
The evening passed slowly for Desmond in his enforced idleness. At nine o'clock, leaving his bundle in a hollow tree, he set off toward the Hall, taking a short cut across the fields. It was a dark night, and he stopped with a start as, on descending a stile overhung by a spreading sycamore, he almost struck against a person who had just preceded him.
"Who's that?" he asked quickly, stepping back a little: it was unusual to meet anyone in the fields at so late an hour.
"Be that you, Measter Desmond?"
"Oh, 'tis you, Dickon. What are you doing this way at such an hour? You ought to have been abed long ago."
"Ay, sure, Measter Desmond; but I be goin' to see squire," said the old man, apparently with some hesitation.
"That's odd. So am I. We may as well walk together, then—for fear of the ghosts, eh, Dickon?"
"I binna afeard o' ghosts, not I. True, 'tis odd I be goin' to see squire. I feel it so. Squire be a high man, and I ha' never dared lift up my voice to him oothout axen. But 'tis to be. I ha' summat to tell him, low born as I be; ay, I mun tell him, cost what it may."
"Well, he's not a dragon. I have something to tell him too—cost what it may."
There was silence for a space. Then Dickon said tremulously:
"Bin it a great matter, yourn, sir, I make bold to axe?"
"That's as it turns out, Dickon. But what is it with you, old man? Is aught amiss?"
"Not wi' me, sir, not wi' me, thank the Lord above. But I seed ya, Measter Desmond, t'other day, in speech win that—that Diggle as he do call hisself, and—and I tell ya true, sir, I dunna like the looks on him; no, he binna a right man; an' I were afeard as he med ha' bin fillin' yer head wi' fine tales about the wonders o' the world an' all."
"Is that all, Dickon? You fear my head may be turned, eh? Don't worry about me."
"Why, sir, ya may think me bold, but I do say this. If so be ya gets notions in yer head—notions o' goin' out along an' seein' the world an' all, go up an' axe squire about it. Squire he done have a wise head; he'll advise ya for the best; an' sure I bin he'd warn ya not to have no dealin's win that Diggle, as he do call hissen."
"Why, does the squire know him, then?"
"'Tis my belief squire do know everything an' everybody. Diggle he med not know, to be sure, but if so be ya say 'tis a lean man, wi' sharp nose, an' black eyes like live coals, an' a smilin' mouth—why, squire knows them sort, he done, and wouldna trust him not a ell. But maybe ya'd better go on, sir: my old shanks be slow fur one so young an' nimble."
"No hurry, Dickon. Lucky the squire was used to London hours in his youth, or we'd find him abed. See, there's a light in the Hall; 'tis in the strong room next to the library; Sir Willoughby is reckoning up his rents maybe, though 'tis late for that."
"Ay, ya knows the Hall, true. Theer be a terrible deal o gowd an' silver up in that room, fur sure, more 'n a aged man like me could tell in a week."
"The light is moving; it seems Sir Willoughby is finishing up for the night. I hope we shall not be too late."
But at this moment a winding of the path brought another face of the Hall into view.
"Why, Dickon," exclaimed Desmond, "there's another light; 'tis the squire's own room. He cannot be in two places at once; 'tis odd at this time of night. Come, stir your stumps, old man."
They hurried along, scrambling through the hedge that bounded the field, Desmond leaping, Dickon wading the brook that ran alongside the road. Turning to the left, they came to the front entrance to the Hall, and passed through the wicket gate into the grounds. They could see the squire's shadow on the blind of the parlor; but the lighted window of the strong room was now hidden from them.
Stepping in that direction, to satisfy a strange curiosity he felt, Desmond halted in amazement as he saw, faintly silhouetted against the sky, a ladder placed against the wall, resting on the sill of the strong room. His surprise at seeing lights in two rooms, in different wings of the house, so late at night, changed to misgiving and suspicion. He hastened back to Dickon.
"I fear some mischief is afoot," he said. Drawing the old man into the shade of the shrubbery, he added: "Remain here; do not stir until I come for you, or unless you hear me call."
Leaving Dickon in trembling perplexity and alarm, he stole forward on tiptoe towards the house.
Chapter 5: In which Job Grinsell explains; and three visitors come by night to the Four Alls.
At the foot of the wall lay a flower bed, now bare and black, separated by a gravel path from a low shrubbery of laurel. Behind this latter Desmond stole, screened from observation by the bushes. Coming to a spot exactly opposite the ladder, he saw that it rested on the sill of the library window, which was open. The library itself was dark, but there was still a dull glow in the next room. At the foot of the ladder stood a man.
The meaning of it all was plain. The large sum of money recently received by Sir Willoughby as rents had tempted someone to rob him. The robber must have learned that the money was kept in the strong room; and it argued either considerable daring or great ignorance to have timed his visit for an hour when anyone familiar with the squire's habits would have known that he would not yet have retired to rest.
Desmond was about to run round to the other side of the house and rouse the squire, when the dim light in the strong room was suddenly extinguished. Apparently the confederate of the man below had secured his booty and was preparing to return. Desmond remained fixed to the spot, in some doubt what to do. He might call to Dickon and make a rush on the man before him, but the laborer was old and feeble, and the criminal was no doubt armed. A disturber would probably be shot, and though the shot would alarm the household, the burglars would have time to escape in the darkness. Save Sir Willoughby himself, doubtless every person in the house was by this time abed and asleep.
It seemed best to Desmond to send Dickon for help while he himself still mounted guard. Creeping silently as a cat along the shrubbery, he hastened back to the laborer, told him in a hurried whisper of his discovery, and bade him steal round to the servants' quarters, rouse them quietly, and bring one or two to trap the man at the foot of the ladder while others made a dash through the library upon the marauder in the strong room. Dickon, whose wits were nimbler than his legs, understood what he was to do and slipped away, Desmond returning to his coign of vantage as noiselessly as he came.
He was just in time to see that a heavy object, apparently a box, was being lowered from the library window on to the ladder. Sliding slowly down, it came to the hands of the waiting man; immediately afterwards the rope by which it had been suspended was dropped from above, and the dark figure of a man mounted the sill.
He already had one leg over, preparing to descend, when Desmond, with a sudden rush, dashed through the shrubs and sprang across the path. The confederate was stooping over the booty; his back was towards the shrubbery; at the snapping of twigs and the crunching of the gravel he straightened himself and turned. Before he was aware of what was happening, Desmond caught at the ladder by the lowest rung, and jerked it violently outwards so that its top fell several feet below the windowsill, resting on the wall out of reach of the man above.
Desmond heard a smothered exclamation break from the fellow, but he could pay no further attention to him, for, as he rose from stooping over the ladder, he was set upon by a burly form. He dodged behind the ladder. The man sprang after him, blindly, clumsily, and tripped over the box. But he was up in a moment, and, reckless of the consequences of raising an alarm, was fumbling for a pistol, when there fell upon his ears a shout, the tramp of hurrying feet, and the sound of another window being thrown open.
With a muffled curse he swung on his heel, and made to cross the gravel path and plunge into the shrubbery. But Desmond was too quick for him. Springing upon his back, he caught his arms, thus preventing him from using his pistol. He was a powerful man, and Desmond alone would have been no match for him; but before he could wriggle himself entirely free, three half-clad men servants came up with a rush, and in a trice he was secured.
In the excitement of these close-packed moments Desmond had forgotten the other man, whom he had last seen with his leg dangling over the windowsill. He looked up now; the window was still open; the ladder lay exactly where he had jerked it; evidently the robber had not descended.
"Quick!" cried Desmond. "Round to the door! The other fellow will escape!"
He himself sprinted round the front of the house to the door by which the servants had issued, and met the squire hobbling along on his stick, pistol in hand.
"We have got one, sir!" cried Desmond. "Have you seen the other?"
"What—why—how many villains are there?" replied the squire, who, between amazement and wrath, was scarcely able to appreciate the situation.
"There was a man in the library; he did not come down the ladder; he may be still in the house."
"The deuce he is! Desmond, take the pistol, and shoot the knave like a dog if you meet him."
"I'll guard the door, Sir Willoughby. They are bringing the other man round. Then we'll go into the house and search. He can't get out without being seen if the other doors are locked."
"Locked and barred. I did it myself an hour ago. I'll hang the villain."
In a few moments the servants came up with their captive and the box, old Dickon following. Only their figures could be seen: it was too dark to distinguish features.
"You scoundrel!" cried the squire, brandishing his stick. "You'll hang for this.
"Take him into the house. In with you all.
"An' you please, Sir Willoughby, 'tis—" began one of the servants.
"In with you, I say," roared the squire. "I'll know how to deal with the villain."
The culprit was hustled into the house, and the group followed, Sir Willoughby bringing up the rear. Inside he barred and locked the door, and bade the men carry their prisoner to the library. The corridors and staircase were dark, but by the time the squire had mounted on his gouty legs, candles had been lighted, and the face of the housebreaker was for the first time visible. Two servants held the man; the others, with Desmond and Dickon, looked on in amazement.
"Job Grinsell, on my soul and body!" cried the squire. "You villain! You ungrateful knave! Is this how you repay me? I might have hanged you, you scoundrel, when you poached my game; a word from me and Sir Philip would have seen you whipped before he let his inn to you; but I was too kind; I am a fool; and you—by, gad, you shall hang this time."
The squire's face was purple with anger, and he shook his stick as though then and there he would have wrought chastisement on the offender. Grinsell's flabby face, however, expressed amusement rather than fear.
"Bless my soul!" cried the squire, suddenly turning to his men, "I'd forgotten the other villain. Off with you; search for him; bring him here."
Desmond had already set off to look for Grinsell's accomplice. Taper in hand he went quickly from room to room; joined by the squire's servants, he searched every nook and cranny of the house, examining doors and windows, opening cupboards, poking at curtains—all in vain. At last, at the end of a dark corridor, he came upon an open window some ten feet above the ground. It was so narrow that a man of ordinary size must have had some difficulty in squeezing his shoulders through; but Desmond was forced to the conclusion that the housebreaker had sprung out here, and by this time had made good his escape. Disappointed at his failure, he returned with the servants to the library.
"We can't find him, Sir Willoughby," said Desmond, as he opened the door.
To his surprise, Grinsell and Dickon were gone; no one but the squire was in the room, and he was sitting in a big chair, limp and listless, his eyes fixed upon the floor.
"We can't find him," repeated Desmond.
The squire looked up.
"What did you say?" he asked, as though the events of the past half-hour were a blank. "Oh, 'tis you, Desmond, yes; what can I do for you?"
Desmond was embarrassed.
"I—we have—we have looked for the other villain, Sir Willoughby," he stammered. "We can't find him."
"Ah! 'Twas you gave the alarm. Good boy; zeal, excellent; but a little mistake; yes, Grinsell explained; a mistake, Desmond."
The squire spoke hurriedly, disconnectedly, with an embarrassment even greater than Desmond's.
"But, sir," the boy began, "I saw—"
"Yes, yes," interrupted the old man. "I know all about it. But Grinsell's explanation—yes, I know all about it. I am obliged to you, Desmond; but I am satisfied with Grinsell's explanation; I shall go no further in the matter."
He groaned and put his hand to his head.
"Are you ill, Sir Willoughby?" asked Desmond anxiously.
The squire looked up; his face was an image of distress. He was silent for a moment; then said slowly:
"Sick at heart, Desmond, sick at heart. I am an old man—an old man."
Desmond was uncomfortable. He had never seen the squire in such a mood, and had a healthy boy's natural uneasiness at any display of feeling.
"You see that portrait?" the squire went on, pointing wearily with his stick at the head of a young man done in oils. "The son of my oldest friend—my dear old friend Merriman. I never told you of him. Nine years ago, Desmond—nine years ago, my old friend was as hale and hearty a man as myself, and George was the apple of his eye. They were for the king—God save him!-and when word came that Prince Charles was marching south from Scotland, they arranged secretly with a party of loyal gentlemen to join him. But I hung back; I had not their courage; I am alive, and I lost my friend."
His voice sank, and, leaning heavily upon his stick, he gazed vacantly into space. Desmond was perplexed and still more ill at ease. What had this to do with the incidents of the night? He shrank from asking the question.
"Yes, I lost my friend," the squire continued. "We had news of the prince; he had left Carlisle; he was moving southwards, about to strike a blow for his father's throne. He was approaching Derby. George Merriman sent a message to his friends, appointing a rendezvous: gallant gentlemen, they would join the Stuart flag! The day came, they met, and the minions of the Hanoverian surrounded them. Betrayed!—poor, loyal gentlemen, betrayed by one who had their confidence and abused it—one of my own blood, Desmond—the shame of it! They were tried, hanged—hanged! It broke my old friend's heart; he died; 'twas one of my blood that killed him."
Again speech failed him. Then, with a sudden change of manner, he said:
"But 'tis late, boy; your brother keeps early hours. I am not myself tonight; the memory of the past unnerves me. Bid me good night, boy."
Desmond hesitated, biting his lips. What of the motive of his visit? He had come to ask advice; could he go without having mentioned the subject that troubled him? The old man had sunk into a reverie; his lips moved as though he communed with himself. Desmond had not the heart to intrude his concerns on one so bowed with grief.
"Good night, Sir Willoughby!" he said.
The squire paid no heed, and Desmond, vexed, bewildered, went slowly from the room.
At the outer door he found Dickon awaiting him.
"The squire has let Grinsell go, Dickon," he said; "he says 'twas all a mistake."
"If squire says it, then 't must be," said Dickon slowly, nodding his head.
"We'n better be goin' home, sir."
"But you had something to tell Sir Willoughby?"
"Ay, sure, but he knows it—knows it better'n me."
"Come, Dickon, what is this mystery! I am in a maze; what is it, man?"
"Binna fur a aged, poor feller like me to say. We'n better go home, sir."
Nothing that Desmond said prevailed upon Dickon to tell more, and the two started homewards across the fields.
Some minutes afterwards they heard the sound of a horse's hoofs clattering on the road to their left, and going in the same direction. It was an unusual sound at that late hour, and both stopped instinctively and looked at each other.
"A late traveler, Dickon," said Desmond.
"Ay, maybe a king's post, Measter Desmond," replied the old man.
Without more words they went on till they came to a lane leading to the laborer's cottage.
"We part here," said Desmond. "Dickon, good night!"
"Good night to you, sir!" said the old man. He paused; then, in a grave, earnest, quavering voice, he added: "The Lord Almighty have you in his keeping, Measter Desmond, watch over you night and day, now and evermore."
And with that he hobbled down the lane.
At nine o'clock that night Richard Burke left the Grange—an unusual thing for him—and walked quickly to the Four Alls. The inn was closed, and shutters darkened the windows; but, seeing a chink of light between the folds, the farmer knocked at the door. There was no answer. He knocked again and again, grumbling under his breath. At length, when his patience was almost exhausted, a window above opened, and, looking up, Mr. Burke dimly saw a head.
"Is that you, Grinsell?" he asked.
"Oh, you're the black boy, Mr. Diggle's servant. Is your master in?"
"Well, come down and open the door. I'll wait for him."
"Massa said no open door for nuffin."
"Confound you, open at once! He knows me; I'm a friend of his; open the door!"
"Massa said no open door for nobody."
The farmer pleaded, stormed, cursed, but Scipio Africanus was inflexible. His master had given him orders, and the boy had learned, at no little cost, that it was the wisest and safest policy to obey. Finding that neither threats nor persuasion availed, Burke took a stride or two in the direction of home; then he halted, pondered for a moment, changed his mind, and began to pace up and down the road.
His restless movements were by and by checked by the sound of footsteps approaching. He crossed the road, stood in the shadow of an elm and waited. The footsteps drew nearer; he heard low voices, and now discerned two dark figures against the lighter road. They came to the inn and stopped. One of them took a key from his pocket and inserted it in the lock.
"'Tis you at last," said Burke, stepping out from his place of concealment. "That boy of yours would not let me in, hang him!"
At the first words Diggle started and swung round, his right hand flying to his pocket; but, recognizing the voice almost immediately, he laughed.
"'Tis you, my friend," he said. "Multa de nocte profectus es. But you've forgot all your Latin, Dick. What is the news, man? Come in."
"The bird is flitting, Sim, that's all. He has not been home. His mother was in a rare to-do. I pacified her; told her I'd sent him to Chester to sell oats—haw, haw! He has taken some clothes and gone. But he won't go far, I trow, without seeing you, and I look to you to carry out the bargain."
"Egad, Dick, I need no persuasion. He won't go without me, I promise you that. I've a bone to pick with him myself—eh, friend Job?"
Grinsell swore a hearty oath. At this moment the silence without was broken by the sound of a trotting horse.
"Is the door bolted?" whispered Burke. "I mustn't be seen here."
"Trust me fur that," said Grinsell. "But no one will stop here at this time o' night."
But the three men stood silent, listening. The sound steadily grew louder; the horse was almost abreast of the inn; it was passing—but no, it came to a halt; they heard a man's footsteps, and the sound of the bridle being hitched to a hook in the wall. Then there was a sharp rap at the door.
"Who's there?" cried Grinsell gruffly.
"Open the door instantly," said a loud, masterful voice.
Burke looked aghast.
"You can't let him in," he whispered.
The others exchanged glances.
"Open the door," cried the voice again. "D'you hear, Grinsell? At once!—or I ride to Drayton for the constables."
Grinsell gave Diggle a meaning look.
"Slip out by the back door, Mr. Burke," said the innkeeper. "I'll make a noise with the bolts so that he cannot hear you."
Burke hastily departed, and Grinsell, after long, loud fumbling with the bolts, threw open the door and gave admittance to the squire.
"Ah, you are here both," said Sir Willoughby, standing in the middle of the floor, his riding whip in his hand.
"Now, Mr.—Diggle, I think you call yourself, I'm a man of few words, as you know. I have to say this, I give you till eight o'clock tomorrow morning; if you are not gone, bag and baggage, by that time, I will issue a warrant. Is that clear?"
"Perfectly," said Diggle with his enigmatical smile.
"And one word more. Show your face again in these parts and I shall have you arrested. I have spared you twice for your mother's sake. This is my last warning.
"Grinsell, you hear that, too?"
"I hear 't," growled the man.
"Remember it, for, mark my words, you'll share his fate."
The squire was gone.
Grinsell scowled with malignant spite; Diggle laughed softly.
"Quanta de spe decidi!" he said, "which in plain English, friend Job, means that we are dished—utterly, absolutely. I must go on my travels again. Well, such was my intention; the only difference is, that I go with an empty purse instead of a full one. Who'd have thought the old dog would ha' been such an unconscionable time dying!"
"Gout or no gout, he's good for another ten year," growled the innkeeper.
"Well, I'll give him five. And, with the boy out of the way, maybe I'll come to my own even yet. The young puppy!"
At this moment Diggle's face was by no means pleasant to look upon.
"Fate has always had a grudge against me, Job. In the old days, I bethink me, 'twas I that was always found out. You had many an escape."
"Till the last. But I've come out of this well." He chuckled. "To think what a fool blood makes of a man! Squire winna touch me, 'cause of you. But it must gall him; ay, it must gall him."
"I—list!" said Diggle suddenly. "There are footsteps again. Is it Burke coming back? The door's open, Job."
The innkeeper went to the door and peered into the dark. A slight figure came up at that moment—a boy, with a bundle in his hand.
"Is that you, Grinsell? Is Mr. Diggle in?"
"Come in, my friend," said Diggle, hastening to the door. "We were just talking of you. Come in; 'tis a late hour; si vespertinus subito—you remember old Horace? True, we haven't a hen to baste with Falernian for you, but sure friend Job can find a wedge of Cheshire and a mug of ale. Come in."