“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—”