“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.
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.”