“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.
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.