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´╗┐Title: In Clive's Command - A Story of the Fight for India
Author: Strang, Herbert
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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IN CLIVE'S COMMAND

A Story of the Fight for India

by

HERBERT STRANG



Contents

            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.



Preface


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.

Herbert Strang



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--"

"Near sixteen."

"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.

"You scoundrel!"

"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.

"No, massa."

"Oh, you're the black boy, Mr. Diggle's servant. Is your master in?"

"No, massa."

"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."

And Desmond went into the inn.



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.


One warm October afternoon, some ten days after the night of his visit to
the Four Alls, Desmond was walking along the tow path of the Thames,
somewhat north of Kingston. As he came to the spot where the river bends
round towards Teddington, he met a man plodding along with a rope over
his shoulder, hauling a laden hoy.

"Can you tell me the way to the Waterman's Rest?" asked Desmond.

"Ay, that can I," replied the man without stopping. "'Tis about a quarter
mile  behind me, right on waterside. And the best beer this side o'
Greenwich."

Thanking him, Desmond walked on. He had not gone many yards farther
before there fell upon his ear, from some point ahead, the sound of
several  rough voices raised in chorus, trolling a tune that seemed
familiar to him. As he came nearer to the singers, he distinguished the
words of the song, and remembered the occasion on which he had heard them
before: the evening of Clive's banquet at Market Drayton--the open window
of the Four Alls, the voice of Marmaduke Diggle.

"Sir William Norris, Masulipatam"--these were the first words he caught;
and immediately afterwards the voices broke into the second verse:

"Says Governor Pitt, Fort George, Madras,
'I know what you are: an ass, an ass,
An ass, an ass, an ASS, an ASS,'
Signed 'Governor Pitt, Fort George, Madras.'"

And at the conclusion there was a clatter of metal upon wood, and then
one voice, loud and rotund, struck up the first verse once more--"Says
Billy Norris, Masulipatam"--The singer was in the middle of the stave
when Desmond, rounding a privet hedge, came upon the scene. A patch of
greensward,  sloping  up  from  a  slipway on the riverside; a low,
cozy-looking inn of red brick covered with a crimson creeper; in front of
it a long deal table, and seated at the table a group of some eight or
ten seamen, each with a pewter tankard before him. To the left, and
somewhat in the rear of the long table, was a smaller one, at which two
seamen, by their garb a cut above the others, sat opposite each other,
intent on some game.

Desmond's attention was drawn towards the larger table. Rough as was the
common seaman of George the Second's time, the group here collected would
have been hard to match for villainous looks. One had half his teeth
knocked out, another a broken nose; all bore scars and other marks of
battery.

Among  them,  however,  there was one man marked out by his general
appearance and facial expression as superior to the rest. In dress he was
no different from his mates; he wore the loose blouse, the pantaloons,
the turned-up cloth hat of the period. But he towered above them in
height; he had a very large head, with a very small squab nose, merry
eyes, and a fringe of jet-black hair round cheeks and chin.

When he removed his hat presently he revealed a shiny pink skull, rising
from short, wiry hair as black as his whiskers. Alone of the group, he
wore no love locks or greased pigtail. In his right hand, when Desmond
first caught sight of him, he held a tankard, waving it to and fro in
time with his song. He had lost his left hand and forearm, which were
replaced by an iron hook projecting from a wooden socket, just visible in
his loose sleeve.

He was halfway through the second stanza when he noticed Desmond standing
at the angle of the hedge a few yards away. He fixed his merry eyes on
the  boy, and, beating time with his hook, went on with the song in
stentorian tones:

"An ass, an ass, an Ass, an ASS,
Signed 'Governor Pitt, Fort George, Madras.'"

The others took up the chorus, and finally brought their tankards down
upon the deal with a resounding whack.

"Ahoy, Mother Wiggs, more beer!" shouted the big man.

Desmond went forward.

"Is this the Waterman's Rest?"

"Ay, ay, young gen'leman, and a blamed restful place it is, too, fit for
watermen what en't naught but landlubbers, speaking by the book, but not
fit for the likes of us jack tars. Eh, mateys?"

His companions grunted acquiescence.

"I have a message for Mr. Toley; is he here?"

"Ay, that he is. That's him at the table yonder.

"Mr. Toley, sir, a young gen'leman to see you."

Desmond advanced to the smaller table. The two men looked up from their
game of dominoes. One was a tall, lean fellow, with lined and sunken
cheeks covered with iron-gray stubble, a very sharp nose, and colorless
eyes; the expression of his features was melancholy in the extreme. The
other was a shorter man, snub-nosed, big-mouthed; one eye was blue, the
other green, and they looked in contrary directions. His hat was tilted
forward, resting on two bony prominences above his eyebrows.

"Well?" said Mr. Toley, the man of melancholy countenance.

"I have a message from Captain Barker," said Desmond. "I am to say that
he expects you and the men at Custom House Quay next Wednesday morning,
high tide at five o'clock."

Mr. Toley lifted the tankard at his left hand, drained it, smacked his
lips, then said in a hollow voice:

"Bulger, Custom House Quay, Wednesday morning, five o'clock."

A grunt of satisfaction and relief rolled round the company, and in
response to repeated cries for more beer a stout woman in a mob cap and
dirty apron came from the inn with a huge copper can, from which she
proceeded to fill the empty tankards.

"Is the press still hot, sir?" asked Mr. Toley.

"Yes.  Four  men,  I  was  told, were hauled out of the Good Intent
yesterday."

"And four bad bargains for the king," put in the second man, whose cross
glances caused Desmond no little discomfort.

At this moment Joshua Wiggs, the innkeeper, came up, carrying three
fowling pieces.

"There be plenty o' ducks today, mister," he said.

"Then we'll try our luck," said Mr. Toley, rising.

"Thank 'ee, my lad," he added to Desmond. "You'll take a sup with the men
afore you go?

"Bulger, see to the gentleman."

"Ay, ay, sir.

"Come aboard, matey."

He made a place for Desmond at his side on the bench, and called to
Mother Wiggs to bring a mug for the gentleman. Meanwhile, Mr. Toley and
his companion had each taken a fowling piece and gone away with the
landlord. Bulger winked at his companions, and when the sportsmen were
out of earshot he broke into a guffaw.

"Rare  sport  they'll  have! I wouldn't be in Mr. Toley's shoes for
something.  What's a cock-eyed man want with a gun in his hand, eh,
mateys?"

Desmond felt somewhat out of his element in his present company; but
having reasons of his own for making himself pleasant, he said, by way of
opening a conversation:

"You seem pleased at the idea of going to sea again, Mr. Bulger."

"Well, we are and we en't, eh, mateys? The Waterman's Rest en't exactly
the kind of place to spend shore leave; it en't a patch on Wapping or
Rotherhithe. And to tell 'ee true, we're dead sick of it. But there's
reasons; there mostly is; and the whys and wherefores, therefores and
becauses,  I  dessay you know, young gen'lman, acomin' from Captain
Barker."

"The press gang?"

"Ay, the press is hot in these days. Cap'n sent us here to be out o' the
way, and the orficers to look arter us. Not but what 'tis safer for them
too; for if Mr. Sunman showed his cock-eyes anywhere near the Pool, he'd
be nabbed by the bailiffs, sure as he's second mate o' the Good Intent.
Goin' to sea's bad enough, but the Waterman's Rest and holdin' on the
slack here's worse, eh, mateys?"

"Ay, you're right there, Bulger."

"But why don't you like going to sea?" asked Desmond.

"Why? You're a landlubber, sir--meanin' no offense--or you wouldn't axe
sich a foolish question. At sea 'tis all rope's end and salt pork, with
Irish horse for a tit-bit."

"Irish horse?"

"Ay. That's our name for it. 'Cos why? Explain to the gen'lman, mateys."

With a laugh the men began to chant--
"Salt horse, salt horse, what brought you here?
You've carried turf for many a year.
From Dublin quay to Mallyack
You've carried turf upon your back."

"That's the why and wherefore of it," added Bulger. "Cooks call it salt
beef, same as French mounseers don't like the sound of taters an' calls
'em pummy detair; but we calls it Irish horse, which we know the flavor.
Accordingly, notwithstandin' an' for that reason, if you axe the advice
of an old salt, never you go to sea, matey."

"That's unfortunate," said Desmond, with a smile, "because I expect to
sail next Wednesday morning, high tide at five o'clock."

"Binks and barnacles! Be you a-goin' to sail with us?"

"I hope so."

"Billy come up! You've got business out East, then?"

"Not yet, but I hope to have. I'm going out as supercargo."

"Oh! As supercargo!"

Bulger winked at his companions, and a hoarse titter went the round of
the table.

"Well," continued Bulger, "the supercargo do have a better time of it
than us poor chaps. And what do Cap'n Barker say to you as supercargo,
which you are very young, sir?"

"I don't know Captain Barker."

"Oho! But I thought as how you brought a message from the captain?"

"Yes, but it came through Mr. Diggle."

"Ah! Mr. Diggle?"

"A friend of mine--a friend of the captain. He has arranged everything."

"I believe you, matey. He's arranged everything. Supercargo! Well, to be
sure! Never a supercargo as I ever knowed but wanted a man to look arter
him, fetch and carry for him, so to say. How would I do, if I might make
so bold?"

"Thanks," said Desmond, smiling as he surveyed the man's huge form. "But
I think Captain Barker might object to that. You'd be of more use on
deck, in spite of--"

He paused, but his glance at the iron hook had not escaped Bulger's
observant eye.

"Spite of the curlin' tongs, you'd say. Bless you, spit it out; I en't
tender in my feelin's."

"Besides," added Desmond, "I shall probably make use of the boy who has
been attending to me at the Goat and Compasses--a clever little black boy
of Mr. Diggle's."

"Black boys be hanged! I never knowed a Sambo as was any use on board
ship. They howls when they're sick, and they're allers sick, and never
larns to tell a marlinspike from a belayin' pin."

"But Scipio isn't one of that sort. He's never sick, Mr. Diggle says;
they've been several voyages together, and Scipio knows a ship from stem
to stern."

"Scipio, which his name is? Uncommon name, that."

There was a new tone in Bulger's voice, and he gave Desmond a keen and,
as it seemed, a troubled look.

"Yes, it is strange," replied the boy, vaguely aware of the change of
manner. "But Mr. Diggle has ways of his own."

"This Mr. Diggle, now; I may be wrong, but I should say--yes, he's short,
with bow legs and a wart on his cheek?"

"No, no; you must be thinking of some one else. He is tall, rather a
well-looking man; he hasn't a wart, but there is a scar on his brow,
something like yours."

"Ah,  I  know  they  sort;  a fightin' sort o' feller, with a voice
like--which I say, like a nine pounder?"

"Well, not exactly; he speaks rather quietly; he is well educated, too,
to judge by the Latin he quotes."

"Sure now, a scholard. Myself, I never had no book larnin' to speak of;
never got no further than pothooks an' hangers!"

He laughed as he lifted his hook. But he seemed to be disinclined for
further conversation. He buried his face in his tankard, and when he had
taken a long pull, set the vessel on the table and stared at it with a
preoccupied air. He seemed to have forgotten the presence of Desmond. The
other men were talking among themselves, and Desmond, having by this time
finished his mug of beer, rose to go on his way.

"Goodby, Mr. Bulger," he said; "we shall meet again next Wednesday."

"Ay, ay, sir," returned the man.

He looked long after the boy as he walked away.

"Supercargo!" he muttered. "Diggle! I may be wrong, but--"

Desmond had come through Southwark and across Clapham and Wimbledon
Common,  thus approaching the Waterman's Rest from the direction of
Kingston. Accustomed as he was to long tramps, he felt no fatigue, and
with a boy's natural curiosity he decided to return to the city by a
different route, following the river bank. He had not walked far before
he came to the ferry at Twickenham. The view on the other side of the
river attracted him: meadows dotted with cows and sheep, a verdant hill
with pleasant villas here and there; and, seeing the ferryman resting on
his oars, he accosted him.

"Can I get to London if I cross here?" he asked.

"Sure you can, sir. Up the hill past Mr. Walpole his house; then you
comes to Isleworth and Brentford, and a straight road through Hammersmith
village--a fine walk, sir, and only a penny for the ferryman."

Desmond paid his penny and crossed. He sauntered along up Strawberry
Hill, taking a good look at the snug little house upon which Mr. Horace
Walpole was spending much money and pains. Wandering on, and preferring
bylanes to the high road, he lost his bearings, and at length, fearing
that he was going in the wrong direction, he stopped at a wayside cottage
to inquire the way.

He was farther out than he knew. The woman who came to the door in answer
to his knock said that, having come so far, he had better proceed in the
same direction until he reached Hounslow, and then strike into the London
road and keep to it.

Desmond was nothing loath. He had heard of Hounslow and those notorious
"Diana's foresters," Plunket and James Maclean--highwaymen who a few
years before had been the terror of night travelers across the lonely
Heath. There was a fascination about the scene of their exploits. So he
trudged on, feeling now a little tired, and hoping to get a lift in some
farmer's cart that might be going towards London.

More than once as he walked his thoughts recurred to the scene at the
Waterman's Rest. They were a rough, villainous-looking set, these members
of the crew of the Good Intent! Of course, as supercargo he would not
come into close contact with them; and Mr. Diggle had warned him that he
would find seafaring men somewhat different from the country folk among
whom all his life hitherto had been passed.

Diggle's frankness had pleased him. They had left the Four Alls early on
the morning after that strange incident at the squire's. Desmond had told
his friend what had happened, and Diggle, apparently surprised to learn
of Grinsell's villainy, had declared that the sooner they were out of his
company the better. They had come by easy stages to London, and were now
lodging at a small inn near the Tower: not a very savory neighborhood,
Diggle admitted, but convenient. Diggle had soon obtained for Desmond a
berth on board the Good Intent bound for the East Indies, and from what
he let drop, the boy understood that he was to sail as supercargo.

He had not yet seen the vessel; she was painting, and would shortly be
coming up to the Pool. Nor had he seen Captain Barker, who was very much
occupied, said Diggle, and had a great deal of trouble in keeping his
crew out of the clutches of the press gang. Some of the best of them had
been sent to the Waterman's Rest in charge of the chief and second mates.
It was at Diggle's suggestion that he had been deputed to convey the
captain's message to the men.

It was drawing towards evening when Desmond reached Hounslow Heath; a
wide, bare expanse of scrubby land intersected by a muddy road. A light
mist lay over the ground, and he was thankful that the road to London was
perfectly direct, so that there was no further risk of his losing his
way. The solitude and the dismal appearance of the country, together with
its ill repute, made him quicken his pace, though he had no fear of
molestation; having nothing to lose, he would be but poor prey for a
highwayman,  and  he  trusted to his cudgel to protect him from the
attentions of any single footpad or tramp.

Striding along in the gathering dusk, he came suddenly upon a curious
scene. A heavy traveling carriage was drawn half across the road, its
forewheels perilously near the ditch. Near by was a lady, standing with
arms stiff and hands clenched, stamping her foot as she addressed, in no
measured terms, two men who were rolling over one another in a desperate
tussle a few yards away on the heath. As Desmond drew nearer he perceived
that a second and younger lady stood at the horses' heads, grasping the
bridles firmly with both hands.

His footsteps were unheard on the heavy road, and the elder lady's back
being towards him, he came up to her unawares. She started with a little
cry  when she saw a stranger move towards her out of the gloom. But
perceiving  at a second glance that he was only a boy, with nothing
villainous about his appearance, she turned to him impulsively and,
taking him by the sleeve, said:

"There! You see them! The wretches! They are drunk and pay no heed to me!
Can you part them? I do not wish to be benighted on this heath. The
wretch uppermost is the coachman."

"I might part them, perhaps," said Desmond dubiously. "Of course I will
try, ma'am."

"Sure I wouldn't trust 'em, mamma," called the younger lady from the
horses' heads. "The man is too drunk to drive."

"I fear 'tis so. 'Tis not our own man, sir. As we returned today from a
visit to Taplow our coachman was trampled by a horse at Slough, and my
husband stayed with him--an old and trusty servant--till he could consult
a surgeon. We found a substitute at the inn to drive us home. But the
wretch brought a bottle; he drank with the footman all along the road;
and now, as you see, they are at each other's throats in their drunken
fury. Sure we shall never get home in time for the rout we are bid to."

"Shall I drive you to London, ma'am?" said Desmond, "'Twere best to leave
the men to settle their differences."

"But can you drive?"

"Oh, yes," replied Desmond, with a smile. "I am used to horses."

"Then I beg you to oblige us. Yes, let the wretches fight themselves
sober.

"Phyllis, this gentleman will drive us; come."

The  girl--a  fair,  rosy  cheeked, merry-eyed damsel of fifteen or
thereabouts--left the horses' heads and entered the carriage with her
mother. Desmond made a rapid examination of the harness to see that all
was  right; then he mounted the box and drove off. The noise of the
rumbling wheels penetrated the besotted intelligence of the struggling
men; they scrambled to their feet, looked wildly about them, and set off
in  pursuit. But they had no command of their limbs; they staggered
clumsily this way and that, and finally found their level in the slimy
ditch that flanked the road.

Desmond whipped up the horses in the highest spirits. He had hoped for a
lift in a farmer's cart; fortune had favored him in giving him four
roadsters to drive himself. And no boy, certainly not one of his romantic
impulses,  but  would  feel elated at the idea of helping ladies in
distress, and on a spot known far and wide as the scene of perilous
adventure.

The carriage was heavy; the road, though level, was thick with autumn
mud; and the horses made no great speed. Desmond, indeed, durst not urge
them too much, for the mist was thickening, making the air even darker
than the hour warranted; and as the roadway had neither hedge nor wall to
define it, but was bounded on each side by a ditch, it behooved him to go
warily.

He had just come to a particularly heavy part of the road where the
horses were compelled to walk, when he heard the thud of hoofs some
distance behind him. The sound made him vaguely uneasy. It ceased for a
moment or two; then he heard it again, and realized that the horse was
coming at full gallop. Instinctively he whipped up the horses. The ladies
had also heard the sound; and, putting her head out of the window, the
elder implored him to drive faster.

Could the two besotted knaves have put the horseman on his track, he
wondered. They must believe that the carriage had been run away with, and
in their tipsy rage they would seize any means of overtaking him that
offered. The horseman might be an inoffensive traveler; on the other
hand, he might not. It was best to leave nothing to chance. With a cheery
word, to give the ladies confidence, he lashed at the horses and forced
the carriage on at a pace that put its clumsy springs to a severe test.

Fortunately the road was straight, and the horses instinctively kept to
the middle of the track. But fast as they were now going, Desmond felt
that if the horseman was indeed pursuing he would soon be overtaken. He
must be prepared for the worst. Gripping the reins hard with his left
hand, he dropped the whip for a moment and felt in the box below the seat
in the hope of finding a pistol; but it was empty.

He whistled under his breath at the discovery: if the pursuer was a
"gentleman of the road" his predicament was indeed awkward. The carriage
was rumbling and rattling so noisily that he had long since lost the
sound of the horse's hoofs behind. He could not pause to learn if the
pursuit had ceased; his only course was to drive on. Surely he would soon
reach the edge of the heath; there would be houses; every few yards must
bring him nearer to the possibility of obtaining help. Thus thinking, he
clenched his teeth and lashed the reeking flanks of the horses, which
plunged along now at a mad gallop.

Suddenly, above the noise of their hoofs and the rattling of the coach he
heard an angry shout. A scream came from the ladies. Heeding neither,
Desmond quickly reversed his whip, holding it halfway down the long
handle, with the heavy iron-tipped stock outward. The horseman came
galloping up on the right side, shouted to Desmond to stop, and without
waiting drew level with the box and fired point blank.

But the rapid movement of his horse and the swaying of the carriage
forbade him to take careful aim. Desmond felt the wind of the bullet as
it whizzed past him. Next moment he leaned slightly sidewise, and, never
loosening  his hold on the reins with his left hand, he brought the
weighty butt of his whip with a rapid cut, half sidewise, half downwards,
upon the horseman's head. The man with a cry swerved on the saddle;
almost before Desmond could recover his balance he was amazed to see the
horse dash suddenly to the right, spring across the ditch, and gallop at
full speed across the heath.

But he had no time at the moment to speculate on this very easy victory.
The horses, alarmed by the pistol shot, were plunging madly, dragging the
vehicle perilously near to the ditch on the left hand. Then Desmond's
familiarity  with animals, gained at so much cost to himself on his
brother's farm, bore good fruit. He spoke to the horses soothingly,
managed them with infinite tact, and coaxed them into submission. Then he
let them have their heads, and they galloped on at speed, pausing only
when they reached the turnpike going into Brentford. They were then in a
bath of foam; their flanks heaving like to burst.

Learning from the turnpike man that he could obtain a change of horses at
the "Bull" inn, Desmond drove there, and was soon upon his way again.

While the change was being made, he obtained from the lady the address in
Soho  Square  where she was staying. The new horses were fresh; the
carriage rattled through Gunnersbury, past the turnpike at Hammersmith
and through Kensington, and soon after nine o'clock Desmond had the
satisfaction of pulling up at the door of Sheriff Soames' mansion in Soho
Square.

The door was already open, the rattle of wheels having brought lackeys
with lighted torches to welcome the belated travelers. Torches flamed in
the cressets on both sides of the entrance. The hall was filled with
servants and members of the household, and in the bustle that ensued when
the ladies in their brocades and hoops had entered the house, Desmond saw
an opportunity of slipping away. He felt that it was perhaps a little
ungracious to go without a word to the ladies; but he was tired; he was
unaccustomed to town society, and the service he had been able to render
seemed to him so slight that he was modestly eager to efface himself.
Leaving the carriage in the hands of one of the lackeys, with a few words
of explanation, he hastened on towards Holborn and the city.



Chapter 7: In which Colonel Clive suffers an unrecorded defeat; and
our hero finds food for reflection.


It was four o'clock, and Tuesday afternoon--the day before the Good
Intent was to sail from the Pool. Desmond was kicking his heels in his
inn, longing for the morrow. Even now he had not seen the vessel on which
he was to set forth in quest of his fortune. She lay in the Pool, but
Diggle had found innumerable reasons why Desmond should not visit her
until he embarked for good and all. She was loading her cargo; he would
be in the way. Captain Barker was in a bad temper; better not see him in
his  tantrums. The press gangs were active; they thought nothing of
boarding a vessel and seizing on any active young fellow who looked a
likely subject for his Majesty's navy. Such were the reasons alleged.

And so Desmond had to swallow his impatience and fill in his time as best
he might; reading the newspapers, going to see Mr. Garrick and Mistress
Kitty Clive at Drury Lane, spending an odd evening at Ranelagh Gardens.

On this Tuesday afternoon he had nothing to do. Diggle was out; Desmond
had read the newspapers and glanced at the last number of the World; he
had written to his mother--the third letter since his arrival in London;
he could not settle to anything. He resolved to go for a walk as far as
St. Paul's, perhaps, and take a last look at the busy streets he was not
likely to see again for many a day.

Forth then he issued. The streets were muddy; a mist was creeping up from
the river, promising to thicken into a London fog, and the link boys were
already preparing their tow and looking for a rich harvest of coppers ere
the night was old. Desmond picked his way through the quagmires of John
Street, crossed Crutched Friars, and went up Mark Lane into Fenchurch
Street, intending to go by Leadenhall Street and Cornhill into Cheapside.

He  had  just  reached the lower end of Billiter Street, the narrow
thoroughfare leading into Leadenhall, when he saw Diggle's tall figure
running amain towards him, with another man close behind, apparently in
hot pursuit. Diggle caught sight of Desmond at the same moment, and his
eyes gleamed as with relief. He quickened his pace.

"Hold this fellow behind me," he panted as he passed, and before Desmond
could put a question he was gone.

There was no time for deliberation. Desmond had but just perceived that
the pursuer was in the garb of a gentleman and had a broad patch of
plaster stretched across his left temple, when the moment for action
arrived. Stooping low, he suddenly caught at the man's knees. Down he
came heavily, mouthing hearty abuse, and man and boy were on the ground
together.

Desmond was up first. He now saw that a second figure was hurrying on
from the other end of the street. He was not sure what Diggle demanded of
him; whether it was sufficient to have tripped up the pursuer, or whether
he must hold him still in play. But by this time the man was also on his
feet; his hat was off, his silk breeches and brown coat with lace ruffles
were all bemired. Puffing and blowing, uttering many a round oath such as
came freely to the lips of the Englishman of King George the Second's
time, he shouted to his friend behind to come on, and, disregarding
Desmond, made to continue his pursuit.

Desmond could but grapple with him.

"Let go, villain!" cried the man, striving to free himself.

Desmond clung on; there was a brief struggle, but he was no match in size
or strength for his opponent, who was thick-set and of considerable
girth. He fell backwards, overborne by the man's weight. His head struck
on the road; dazed by the blow he loosened his clutch, and lay for a
moment in semi-consciousness while the man sprang away.

But he was not so far gone as not to hear a loud shout behind him and
near at hand, followed by the tramp of feet.

"Avast there!" The voice was familiar: surely it was Bulger's. "Fair
play! Fourteen stone against seven en't odds. Show a leg, mateys."

The big sailor with a dozen of his mates stood full in the path of the
irate gentleman, who, seeing himself beset, drew his rapier and prepared
to fight his way through. A moment later he was joined by his companion,
who had also drawn his rapier. Together the gentlemen stood facing the
sailors.

"This  is  check,  Merriman,"  said  the last comer, as the seamen,
flourishing their hangers menacingly, pressed forward past the prostrate
body  of  Desmond.  "The  fellow  has escaped you; best withdraw at
discretion."

"Come on," shouted Bulger, waving his hook. "Bill Bulger en't the man to
sheer off from a couple of landlubbers."

As with his mates in line he steadily advanced, the two gentlemen, their
lips set, their eyes fixed on the assailants, their rapiers pointed,
backed slowly up the street. The noise had brought clerks and merchants
to the doors; someone sprang a rattle; there were cries for the watchmen;
but no one actively interfered.

Meanwhile Desmond had regained his senses, and, still feeling somewhat
dizzy,  had sat down upon a doorstep, wondering not a little at the
pursuit and flight of Diggle and the opportune arrival of the sailors.
Everything had happened very rapidly; scarcely two minutes had elapsed
since the first onset.

He was still resting when there was a sudden change in the quality of the
shouts up street. Hitherto they had been boisterous rallying cries; now
they were unmistakably hearty British cheers, expressing nothing but
approval and admiration. And they came not merely from the throats of the
sailors, but from the now considerable crowd that filled the street. A
few moments afterwards he saw the throng part, and through it Bulger
marching at the head of his mates, singing lustily. They came opposite to
the step on which he sat, and Bulger caught sight of him.

"Blest if it en't our supercargo!" he cried, stopping short.

A shout of laughter broke from the sailors. One of them struck up a song.

"Oho! we says goodby,
But never pipes our eye,
Tho' we leaves Sue, Poll, and Kitty all behind us;
And if we drops our bones
Down along o' Davy Jones,
Why, they'll come and axe the mermaids for to find us."

"And what took ye, Mister Supercargo, to try a fall with the fourteen
stoner?"

"Oh, I was helping a friend."

"Ay, an' a friend was helpin' him, an' here's a dozen of us a-helpin' of
one supercargo."

"And I'm much obliged to you, Mr. Bulger. But what were you cheering
for?"

"Cheerin'! Why, you wouldn't guess. 'Twas General Clive, matey."

"General Clive!"

"Ay, General Clive, him what chased the mounseers out o' Fort St. George
with a marlinspike. I didn't know him at fust, comin' up behind t'other
chap; but when I seed that purple coat with the gold lace and the face of
him above it I knowed him. In course there was no more fight for us then;
'twas  hip-hip hurray and up with our hangers. Clive, he smiled and
touched his hat. 'Bulger,' says he, 'you en't much fatter--'"

"Does he know you, then?"

"Know me! In course he does. Wasn't I bo'sun's mate on board the Indiaman
as took him east twelve year ago or more? That was afore I got this here
button hook o' mine. Ay, I remember him well, a-trampin' up an' down deck
with his hands in his pockets an' his mouth set tight an' his chin on his
stock, never speakin' to a soul, in the doldrums if ever a lad was. Why,
we all thought there was no more spirit in him than in the old wooden
figurehead--leastways, all but me.

"'I may be wrong,' says I to old Tinsley the bo'sun, 'I may be wrong,'
says I, 'but I be main sure that young sad down-in-the-mouth have got a
blazin' fire somewhere in his innards.'

"Ay, and time showed it. There was a lot of cadets aboard as poked fun at
the quiet chap an' talked him over, a-winkin' their eyes. From talkin' it
got to doin'. One day, goin' to his bunk, he found it all topsyversy,
hair powder on his pillow, dubbin in his shavin' cup, salt pork wropt up
in his dressin' gown. Well, I seed him as he comed on deck, an' his face
were a sight to remember, pale as death, but his eyes a-blazin' like live
coals in the galley fire. Up he steps to the cadet as was ringleader; how
he knowed it I can't tell you, but he was sure of it, same as I always
am.

"'Sir,' says he, quiet as a lamb, 'I want a word with you.'

"'Dear me!' says the cadet, 'have Mr. Clive found his voice at last?'

"'Yes, sir,' says Clive, 'he has, an' something else.'

"Cook happened to be passin' with a tray; a lady what was squeamish had
been having her vittles on deck. Mr. Clive cotched up a basin o' pea soup
what was too greasy for madam, and in a twink he sets it upside down on
the cadet's head. Ay, 'twas a pretty pictur', the greasy yellow stuff
runnin' down over his powdered hair an' lace collar an' fine blue coat.
My eye! there was a rare old shindy, the cadet cursin' and splutterin',
the others laughin' fit to bust 'emselves. The cadet out with his fists,
but there, 'twas no manner o' use. Mr. Clive bowled him over like a
ninepin till he lay along deck all pea soup an' gore. There was no more
baitin' o' Mr. Clive that voyage.

"'Bo'sun,' says I, 'what did I tell you? I may be wrong, but that young
Mr. Bob Clive'll be a handful for the factors in Fort St. George.'"

While this narrative had been in progress, Desmond was walking with
Bulger and his mates back towards the river.

"How was it you happened to be hereabouts so early?" asked Desmond. "I
didn't expect to see you till tomorrow."

Bulger winked.

"You wouldn't axe if you wasn't a landlubber, meanin' no offense," he
said. "'Tis last night ashore. We sailor men has had enough o' Waterman's
Rests an' such like. To tell you the truth, we gave Mr. Toley the slip,
and now we be goin' to have a night at the Crown an' Anchor."

"What about the press gang?"

"We  takes our chance. They won't press me, sartin sure, 'cos o' my
tenterhook here, and I'll keep my weather eye open, trust me for that."

Here they parted company. Desmond watched the jolly crew as they turned
into the Minories, and heard their rollicking chorus:

"Ho! when the cargo's shipped,
An the anchor's neatly tripped,
An' the gals are weepin' bucketfuls o' sorrer,
Why, there's the decks to swab,
An' we en't a-goin' to sob,
S'pose the sharks do make a meal of us tomorrer."

At the Goat and Compasses Diggle was awaiting him.

"Ha! my friend, you did it as prettily as a man could wish. Solitudo
aliquid adjuvat, as Tully somewhere hath it, not foreseeing my case,
when solitude would have been my undoing. I thank thee."

"Was the fellow attacking you?" asked Desmond.

"That to be sure was his intention. I was in truth in the very article of
peril; I was blown; my breath was near gone, when at the critical moment
up  comes  a gallant youth--subvenisti homini jam perdito--and with
dexterous hand stays the enemy in his course."

"But what was it all about? Do you know the man?"

"Ods my life! 'twas a complete stranger, a man, I should guess, of hasty
passions and tetchy temper. By the merest accident, at a somewhat crowded
part,  I  unluckily  elbowed  the man into the kennel, and though I
apologized in the handsomest way, he must take offense and seek to cut
off my life, to extinguish me in primo aevo, as Naso would say. But
Atropos  was  forestalled, my thread of life still falls uncut from
Clotho's shuttle; still, still, my boy, I bear on the torch of life
unextinguished."

Desmond  felt  that all this fine phrasing, this copious draft from
classical sources, was intended to quench the ardor of his curiosity.
Diggle's explanation was very lame; the fury depicted on the pursuer's
face could scarcely be due to a mere accidental jostling in the street.
And Diggle was certainly not the man to take to his heels on slight
occasion. But, after all, Diggle's quarrels were his own concern. That
his past life included secrets Desmond had long suspected, but he was not
the first man of birth and education who had fallen into misfortune, and
at all events he had always treated Desmond with kindness. So the boy put
the matter from his thoughts.

The incident, however, left a sting of vexation behind it. In agreeing to
accompany  Diggle to the East, Desmond had harbored a vague hope of
falling in with Clive and taking service, in however humble a capacity,
with him. It vexed him sorely to think that Clive, whose memory for
faces, as his recognition of Bulger after twelve years had shown, was
very good, might recognize him, should they meet, as the boy who had
played a part in what was almost a street brawl. Still, it could not be
helped. Desmond comforted himself with the hope that Clive had taken no
particular  note  of him, and, if they should ever encounter, would
probably meet him as a stranger.



Chapter 8: In which several weeks are supposed to elapse; and our hero is
discovered in the Doldrums.


The Good Intent lay becalmed in the doldrums. There was not wind enough
to puff out a candle flame. The sails hung limp and idle from the masts,
yet the vessel rolled as in a storm, heaving on a tremendous swell so
violently that it would seem her masts must be shaken out of her. The air
was sweltering, the sky the color of burnished copper, out of which the
sun beat remorselessly in almost perpendicular beams. Pitch ran from
every  seam of the decks, great blisters like bubbles rose upon the
woodwork; the decks were no sooner swabbed than--presto!--it was as
though they had not known the touch of water for an age.

For  three  weeks she had lain thus. Sometimes the hot day would be
succeeded by a night of terrible storm, thunder crashing around, the
whole vault above lacerated by lightning, and rain pouring as it were out
of the fissures in sheets. But in a day all traces of the storm would
disappear, and if, meanwhile, a sudden breath of wind had carried the
vessel a few knots on her southward course, the hopes thus raised would
prove illusory, and once more she would lie on a sea of molten lead, or,
still worse, would be rocked on a long swell that had all the discomforts
of a gale without its compensating excitement.

The tempers of officers and crew had gone from bad to worse. The officers
snapped and snarled at one another, and treated the men with even more
than the customary brutality of the merchant marine of those days. The
crew, lounging about half naked on the decks, seeking what shelter they
could get from the pitiless sun, with little to do and no spirit to do
anything, quarreled among themselves, growling at the unnecessary tasks
set them merely to keep them from flying at each other's throats.

The Good Intent was a fine three-masted vessel of nearly four hundred
tons, large for those days, though the new East Indiamen approached five
hundred tons. When her keel was laid for the Honorable East India Company
some twenty years earlier, she had been looked on as one of the finest
merchant vessels afloat; but the buffeting of wind and wave in a score of
voyages  to  the  eastern  seas, and the more insidious and equally
destructive attacks of worms and dry rot, had told upon her timbers. She
had been sold off and purchased by Captain Barker, who was one of the
class known as "interlopers," men who made trading voyages to the East
Indies on their own account, running the risk of their vessels being
seized and themselves penalized for infringing the Company's monopoly.
She was now filled with a miscellaneous cargo: wine in chests, beer and
cider in bottles, hats, worsted stockings, wigs, small shot, lead, iron,
knives, glass, hubblebubbles, cochineal, sword blades, toys, coarse
cloth, woolen goods--anything that would find a market among the European
merchants, the native princes, or the trading classes of India. There was
also a large consignment of muskets and ammunition. When Desmond asked
the second mate where they were going, the reply was that if he asked no
questions he would be told no lies.

On this sultry afternoon a group of seamen, clad in nothing but shirt and
breeches, were lolling, lying crouching on the deck forward, circled
around  Bulger. Seated on an upturned tub, he was busily engaged in
baiting a hook. Tired of the "Irish horse" and salt pork that formed the
staple of the sailors' food, he was taking advantage of the calm to fish
for bonitos, a large fish over two feet long, the deadly enemy of the
beautiful flying fish that every now and then fell panting upon the deck
in their mad flight from marine foes. The bait was made to resemble the
flying fish itself, the hook being hidden by white rag stuffing, with
feathers pricked in to counterfeit spiked fins.

As the big seaman deftly worked with iron hook and right hand, he spun
yarns for the delectation of his mates. They chewed tobacco, listened,
laughed, sneered, as their temper inclined them. Only one of the group
gave him rapt and undivided attention--a slim youth, with hollow sunburnt
cheeks, long bleached hair, and large gleaming eyes. His neck and arms
were bare, and the color of boiled lobsters; but, unlike the rest, he had
no tattoo marks pricked into his skin. His breeches were tatters, his
striped shirt covered with party-colored darns.

"Ay, as I was saying," said Bulger, "'twas in these latitudes, on my last
voyage but three. I was in a Bristol ship a-carryin' of slaves from
Guinea to the plantations. Storms!--I never seed such storms nowhere; and
contrariwise, calms enough to make a Quaker sick. In course the water was
short, an' scurvy come aboard, an' 'twas a hammock an' round shot for one
or the other of us every livin' day. As reg'lar as the mornin' watch the
sharks came for their breakfast; we could see 'em comin' from all p'ints
o' the compass; an' sure as seven bells struck there they was, ten deep,
with jaws wide open, like Parmiter's there when there's a go of grog to
be sarved out. We was all like the livin' skellington at Bartlemy Fair,
and our teeth droppin' out that fast, they pattered like hailstones on
the deck."

"How did you stick 'em in again?" interrupted Parmiter, anxious to get
even with Bulger for the allusion to his gaping jaw. He was a thick set,
ugly fellow, his face seamed with scars, his mouth twisted, his ears
dragged at the lobes by heavy brass rings.

"With glue made out of albacores we caught, to be sure. Well, as I was
saying, we was so weak there wasn't a man aboard could reach the maintop,
an' the man at the wheel had two men to hold him up. Things was so, thus,
an' in such case, when, about eight hells one arternoon, the lookout at
the masthead--"

"Thought you couldn't climb? How'd he get there?" said the same skeptic.

"Give me time, Parmiter, and you'll know all about the hows an' whys,
notwithstandin's and sobeits. He'd been there for a week, for why? 'cos
he couldn't get down. We passed him up a quarter pint o' water and a
biscuit or two every day by a halyard.

"Well,  as  I  was sayin', all at once the lookout calls out, 'Land
ho!'--leastways he croaked it, 'cos what with weakness and little water
our throats was as dry as last year's biscuit.

"'Where away?' croaks first mate, which I remember his name was Tonking.

"And there, sure enough, we seed a small island, which it might be a
quarter-mile long. Now, mind you, we hadn't made a knot for three weeks.
How did that island come there so sudden like? In course, it must ha'
come up from the bottom o' the sea. And as we was a-lookin' at it we saw
it grow, mateys--long spits o' land shootin' out this side, that side,
and t'other side--and the whole concarn begins to move towards us, comin'
on, hand over hand, slow, dead slow, but sure and steady. Our jaws were
just a-droppin' arter our teeth when fust mate busts out in a laugh; by
thunder, I remember that there laugh today! 'twas like--well, I don't
know what 'twas like, if not the scrapin' of a handsaw; an' says he, 'By
Neptune, 'tis a darned monstrous squid!'

"And, sure enough, that was what it was, a squid as big round as the Isle
o' Wight, with arms that ud reach from Wapping Stairs to Bugsby Marshes,
and just that curly shape. An' what was more, 'twas steerin' straight for
us. Ay, mateys, 'twas a horrible moment!"

The seamen, even Parmiter the scoffer, were listening open mouthed, when
a  hoarse  voice  broke the spell, cutting short Bulger's story and
dispersing the group.

"Here you, Burke, you, up aloft and pay the topmost with grease. I'll
have no lazy lubbers aboard my ship, I tell you. I've got no use for
nobody too good for his berth. No Jimmy Duffs for me! Show a leg, or, by
heavens, I'll show you a rope's end and make my mark--mind that, my lad!"

Captain Barker turned to the man at his side.

"'Twas  an  ill turn you did me and the ship's company, Mr. Diggle,
bringing this useless lubber aboard."

"It does appear so, captain," said Diggle sorrowfully. "But 'tis his
first voyage, sir: discipline--a little discipline!"

Meanwhile Desmond, without a word, had moved away to obey orders. He had
long since found the uselessness of protest. Diggle had taken him on
board the Good Intent an hour before sailing. He left him to himself
until the vessel was well out in the mouth of the Thames, and then came
with a rueful countenance and explained that, after all his endeavors,
the owners had absolutely refused to accept so youthful a fellow as
supercargo. Desmond felt his cheeks go pale.

"What am I to be, then?" he asked quietly.

"Well, my dear boy, Captain Barker is rather short of apprentices, and he
has no objection to taking you in place of one if you will make yourself
useful. He is a first-rate seaman. You will imbibe a vast deal of useful
knowledge and gain a free passage, and when we reach the Indies I shall
be able, I doubt not, by means of my connections, to assist you in the
first steps of what, I trust, will prove a successful career."

"Then, who is supercargo?"

"Unluckily that greatness has been thrust upon me. Unluckily, I say; for
the office is not one that befits a former fellow of King's College at
Cambridge. Yet there is an element of good luck in it, too; for, as you
know, my fortunes were at a desperately low ebb, and the emoluments of
this office, while not great, will stand me in good stead when we reach
our destination, and enable me to set you, my dear boy--to borrow from
the vernacular--on your legs."

"You have deceived me, then!"

"Nay, nay, you do bear me hard, young man. To be disappointed is not the
same thing as to be deceived. True, you are not, as I hoped, supercargo,
but  the  conditions are not otherwise altered. You wished to go to
India--well, Zephyr's jocund breezes, as Catullus hath it, will waft you
thither: we are flying to the bright cities of the East. No fragile bark
is this, carving a dubious course through the main, as Seneca, I think,
puts it. No, 'tis an excellent vessel, with an excellent captain, who
will steer a certain course, who fears not the African blast nor the
grisly Hyades nor the fury of Notus--"

Desmond did not await the end of Diggle's peroration. It was then too
late to repine. The vessel was already rounding the Foreland, and though
he was more than half convinced that he had been decoyed on board on
false pretenses, he could not divine any motive on Diggle's part, and
hoped  that  his voyage would be not much less pleasant than he had
anticipated.

But  even  before  the Good Intent made the Channel he was woefully
undeceived. His first interview with the captain opened his eyes. Captain
Barker was a small, thin, sandy man, with a large upper lip that met the
lower in a straight line, a lean nose, and eyes perpetually bloodshot.
His manner was that of a bully of the most brutal kind. He browbeat his
officers, cuffed and kicked his men, in his best days a martinet, in his
worst a madman. The only good point about him was that he never used the
cat, which, as Bulger said, was a mercy.

"Humph!" he said when Desmond was presented to him. "You're him, are you?
Well, let me tell you this, my lad: the ship's boy on board this 'ere
ship have got to do what he's bid, and no mistake about it. If he don't,
I'll make him. Now, you go for'ard into the galley and scrape the slush
off the cook's pans; quick's the word."

From that day Desmond led a dog's life. He found that as ship's boy he
was at the beck and call of the whole company. The officers, with the
exception of Mr. Toley, the melancholy first mate, took their cue from
the captain; and Mr. Toley, as a matter of policy, never took his part
openly. The men resented his superior manners and the fact that he was
socially above them. The majority of the seamen were even more ruffianly
than  the specimens he had seen at the Waterman's Rest--the scum of
Wapping and Rotherhithe. His only real friend on board was Bulger, who
helped him to master the many details of a sailor's work, and often
protected him against the ill treatment of his mates; and, in spite of
his one arm, Bulger was a power to be reckoned with.

At the best of times the life of a sailor was hard, and Desmond found it
at first almost intolerable. Irregular sleep on an uncomfortable hammock,
wedged in with the other members of the crew, bad food, and over exertion
told upon his frame. From the moment when all hands were piped to lash
hammocks to the moment when the signal was given for turning in, it was
one long round of thankless drudgery. But he proved himself to be very
quick and nimble. Before long, no one could lash his hammock with the
seven turns in a shorter time than he. After learning the work on the
mainsails and trysails he was sent to practise the more acrobatic duties
in the tops, and when two months had passed, no one excelled him in
quickness aloft.

If his work had been confined to the ordinary seaman's duties he would
have been fairly content, for there is always a certain pleasure in
accomplishment, and the consciousness of growing skill and power was some
compensation for the hardships he had to undergo. But he had to do dirty
work for the cook, clean out the styes of the captain's pigs, swab the
lower deck, sometimes descend on errands for one or other to the nauseous
hold.

Perhaps the badness of the food was the worst evil to a boy accustomed to
plain  but good country fare. The burgoo or oatmeal gruel served at
breakfast made him sick; he knew how it had been made in the cook's dirty
pans. The "Irish horse" and salt pork for dinner soon became distasteful;
it was not in the best condition when brought aboard, and before long it
became putrid. The strong cheese for supper was even more horrible. He
lived for the most part on the tough sea biscuit of mixed wheat and pea
flour, and on the occasional duffs of flour boiled with fat, which did
duty as pudding. For drink he had nothing but small beer; the water in
the wooden casks was full of green, grassy, slimy things. But the fresh
sea air seemed to be a food itself; and though Desmond became lean and
hollow cheeked, his muscles developed and hardened. Little deserving
Captain Barker's ill-tempered abuse, he became handy in many ways on
board, and proved to be the possessor of a remarkably keen pair of eyes.

When, in obedience to the captain's orders, he was greasing the mast, his
attention was caught by three or four specks on the horizon.

"Sail ho!" he called to the officer of the watch.

"Where away?" was the reply.

"On the larboard quarter, sir; three or four sail, I think."

The officer at once mounted the shrouds and took a long look at the
specks Desmond pointed out, while the crew below crowded to the bulwarks
and eagerly strained their eyes in the same direction.

"What do you make of 'em, Mr. Sunman?" asked the captain.

"Three or four sail, sir, sure enough. They are hull down; there's not a
doubt but they're bringing the wind with 'em."

"Hurray!" shouted the men, overjoyed at the prospect of moving at last.

In a couple of hours the strangers had become distinctly visible, and the
first faint puffs of the approaching breeze caused the sails to flap
lazily against the yards. Then the canvas filled out, and at last, after
nearly a fortnight's delay, the Good Intent began to slip through the
water at three or four knots.

The wind freshened during the night, and next morning the Good Intent was
bowling along under single-reefed topsails. The ships sighted the night
before had disappeared, to the evident relief of Captain Barker. Whether
they were Company's vessels or privateers he had no wish to come to close
quarters with them.

After breakfast, when the watch on deck were busy about the rigging or
the guns, or the hundred and one details of a sailor's work, the rest of
the crew had the interval till dinner pretty much to themselves. Some
slept, some reeled out yarns to their messmates, others mended their
clothes.

It happened one day that Desmond, sitting in the forecastle among the men
of his mess, was occupied in darning a pair of breeches for Parmiter. It
was the one thing he could not do satisfactorily; and one of the men,
after quizzically observing his well meant but ludicrous attempts, at
last  caught  up  the garment and held it aloft, calling his mates'
attention to it with a shout of laughter.

Parmiter chanced to be coming along at the moment. Hearing the laugh, and
seeing the pitiable object of it, he flew into a rage, sprang at Desmond,
and knocked him down.

"What do you mean, you clumsy young lubber, you," he cried, "by treating
my smalls like that? I'll brain you, sure as my name's Parmiter!"

Desmond  had already suffered not a little at Parmiter's hands. His
endurance was at an end. Springing up with flaming cheeks he leaped
towards the bully, and putting in practice the methods he had learned in
many a hard-fought mill at Mr. Burslem's school, he began to punish the
offender. His muscles were in good condition; Parmiter was too much
addicted to grog to make a steady pugilist; and though he was naturally
much the stronger man, he was totally unable to cope with his agile
antagonist.

A few rounds settled the matter; Parmiter had to confess that he had had
enough, and Desmond, flinging his breeches to him, sat down tingling
among his mates, who greeted the close of the fight with spontaneous and
unrestrained applause.

Next day Parmiter was in the foretop splicing the forestay. Desmond was
walking  along the deck when suddenly he felt his arm clutched from
behind, and he was pulled aside so violently by Bulger's hook that he
stumbled and fell at full length. At the same moment something struck the
deck with a heavy thud.

"By thunder! 'twas a narrow shave," said Bulger. "See that, matey?"

Looking in the direction Bulger pointed, he saw that the foretopsail
sheet block had fallen on deck, within an inch of where he would have
been but for the intervention of Bulger's hook. Glancing aloft, he saw
Parmiter grinning down at him.

"Hitch that block to a halyard, youngster," said the man.

Desmond was on the point of refusing; the man, he thought, might at least
have apologized: but reflecting that a refusal would entail a complaint
to the captain, and a subsequent flogging, he bit his lips, fastened the
block, and went on his way.

"'Tis my belief 'twas no accident," said Bulger afterwards. "I may be
wrong, but Parmiter bears a grudge against you. And he and that there Mr.
Diggle is too thick by half. I never could make out why Diggle diddled
you about that supercargo business; he don't mean you no kindness, you
may be sure; and when you see two villains like him and Parmiter puttin'
their heads together, look out for squalls, that's what I say."

Desmond was inclined to laugh; the idea seemed preposterous.

"Why are you so suspicious of Mr. Diggle?" he said. "He has not kept his
promise, that's true, and I am sorry enough I ever listened to him. But
that doesn't prove him to be an out-and-out villain. I've noticed that
you keep out of his way. Do you know anything of him? Speak out plainly,
man."

"Well, I'll tell you what I knows about him."

He settled himself against the mast, gave a final polish to his hook with
holystone,  and  using the hook every now and then to punctuate his
narrative, began.

"Let me see, 'twas a matter o' three years ago. I was bo'sun on the
Swallow, a spanker she was, chartered by the Company, London to Calcutta.
There was none of the doldrums that trip, dodged 'em fair an' square; a
topsail breeze to the Cape, and then the fust of the monsoon to the
Hugli. We lay maybe a couple of months at Calcutta, when what should I do
but take aboard a full dose of the cramp, just as the Swallow was in a
manner of speakin' on the wing. Not but what it sarved me right, for what
business had I at my time of life to be wastin' shore leave by poppin' at
little dicky birds in the dirty slimy jheels, as they call 'em, round
about Calcutta!

"Well, I was put ashore, as was on'y natural, and 'twas a marvel I pulled
through--for it en't many as take the cramp in Bengal and live to tell
it. The Company, I'll say that for 'em, was very kind; I had the best o'
nussin' and vittles; but when I found my legs again there I was, as one
might say, high and dry, for there was no Company's ship ready to sail.
So  I got leave to sign on a country ship, bound for Canton; and we
dropped down the Hugli with enough opium on board to buy up the lord
mayor and a baker's dozen of aldermen.

"Nearly half a mile astern was three small country ships, such as might
creep  round  the  coast  to Chittagong, dodgin' the pirates o' the
Sandarbands if they was lucky, and gettin' their weazands slit if they
wasn't. They drew less water than us, and was generally handier in the
river, which is uncommon full of shoals and sandbanks; but for all that I
remember  they  was  still maybe half a mile astern when we dropped
anchor--anchors, I should say--for the night, some way below Diamond
Harbor. But to us white men the way o' these Moors is always a bag o'
mystery, and as seamen they en't anyway of much account. Well, it might
be about seven bells, and my watch below, when I was woke by a most
tremenjous bangin' and hullabaloo. We tumbles up mighty sharp, and well
we did, for there was one of these country fellows board and board with
us, and another foulin' our hawser. Their grapnels came whizzin' aboard;
but the first lot couldn't take a hold nohow, and she dropped downstream.
That gave us a chance to be ready for the other. She got a grip of us and
held on like a shark what grabs you by the legs. But pistols and pikes
had been sarved out, and when they came bundlin' over into the foc'sle,
we bundled 'em back into the Hugli, and you may be sure they wasn't
exactly seaworthy when they got there. They was a mixed lot; that we soon
found out by their manner o' swearin' as they slipped by the board, for
although  there  was  Moors among 'em, most of 'em was Frenchies or
Dutchmen, and considerin' they wasn't Englishmen they made a good fight
of it. But over they went, until only a few was left; and we was just
about to finish 'em off, when another country ship dropped alongside, and
before we knew where we was a score of yellin' ruffians was into the
waist and rushin' us in the stern sheets, as you might say. We had to
fight then, by thunder! we did.

"The odds was against us now, and we was catchin' it from two sides. But
our blood was up, and we knew what to expect if they beat us. 'Twas the
Hugli for every man Jack of us, and no mistake. There was no orders,
every man for himself, with just enough room and no more to see the
mounseers in front of him. Some of us--I was one of 'em--fixed the flints
of the pirates for'ard, while the rest faced round and kept the others
off. Then we went at 'em, and as they couldn't all get at us at the same
time, owing to the deck being narrow, the odds was not so bad arter all.
'Twas now hand to hand, fist to fist, one for you and one for me; you
found a Frenchman and stuck to him till you finished him off, or he
finished you, as the case might be, in a manner of speakin'. Well, I
found one lanky chap--he was number four that night--and all in ten
minutes, as it were, I jabbed a pike at him, and missed, for it was hard
to keep footin' on the wet deck, though the wet was not Hugli water;
thick as it is, this was thicker--and he fired a pistol at me by way of
thank you. I saw his figurehead in the flash, and I shan't forget it
either, for he left me this to remember him by, though I didn't know it
at the time."

Here Bulger held up the iron hook that did duty for his left forearm.
Then glancing cautiously around, he added in a whisper:

"'Twas Diggle--or I'm a Dutchman. That was my fust meetin' with him. Of
course, I'm in a way helpless now, being on the ship's books, and he in a
manner  of speakin' an orficer; but one of these days there'll be a
reckonin', or my name en't Bulger."

The  boatswain brought down his fist with a resounding whack on the
scuttle butt, threatening to stave in the top of the barrel.

"And how did the fight end?" asked Desmond.

"We drove 'em back bit by bit, and fairly wore 'em down. They weren't all
sailormen, or we couldn't have done it, for they had the numbers; but an
Englishman on his own ship is worth any two furriners--aye, half a dozen
some do say, though I wouldn't go so far as that myself--and at the last
some of them turned tail and bolted back. The ship's boy, what was in the
shrouds, saw 'em on the run and set up a screech: 'Hooray! hooray!' That
was all we wanted. We hoorayed too; and went at 'em in such a slap-bang
go-to-glory way that in a brace of shakes there wasn't a Frenchman, a
Dutchman, nor a Moor on board. They cut the grapnels and floated clear,
and next mornin' we saw 'em on their beam ends on a sandbank a mile down
the river. That's how I fust come across Mr. Diggle; I may be wrong, but
I says it again: look out for squalls."

For some days the wind held fair, and the ship being now in the main
track of the trades, all promised well for a quick run to the Cape. But
suddenly  there  was  a change; a squall struck the vessel from the
southwest. Captain Barker, catching sight of Desmond and a seaman near at
hand, shouted:

"Furl the top-gallant sail, you two. Now show a leg, or, by thunder, the
masts will go by the board."

Springing up the shrouds on the weather side, Desmond was quickest aloft.
He crawled out on the yard, the wind threatening every moment to tear him
from his dizzy, rocking perch, and began with desperate energy to furl
the straining canvas. It was hard work, and but for the development of
his muscles during the past few months, and a naturally cool head, the
task  would  have been beyond his powers. But setting his teeth and
exerting his utmost strength, he accomplished his share of it as quickly
as the able seaman on the lee yard.

The sail was half furled when all at once the mast swung through a huge
arc; the canvas came with tremendous force against the cross trees, and
Desmond, flung violently outwards, found himself swinging in midair,
clinging desperately to the leech of the sail. With a convulsive movement
he grasped at a loose gasket above him, and catching a grip, wound it
twice or thrice round his arm. The strain was intense; the gasket was
thin and cut deeply into the flesh; he knew that should it give way
nothing could save him. So he hung, the wind howling around him, the
yards rattling, the boisterous sea below heaving as if to clutch him and
drag him to destruction.

A few seconds passed, every one of which seemed an eternity. Then through
the noise he heard shouts on deck. The vessel suddenly swung over, and
Desmond's body inclined towards instead of from the mast. Shooting out
his arm he caught at the yard, seized it, and held on, though it seemed
that  his arm must be wrenched from the socket. In a few moments he
succeeded in clambering on to the yard, where he clung, endeavoring to
regain his breath and his senses.

Then he completed his job, and with a sense of unutterable relief slid
down to the deck. A strange sight met his eyes. Bulger and Parmiter were
lying side by side; there was blood on the deck; and Captain Barker stood
over them with a marlinspike, his eyes blazing, his face distorted with
passion. In consternation Desmond slipped out of the way, and asked the
first man he met for an explanation.

It appeared that Parmiter, who was at the wheel when the squall struck
the ship, had put her in stays before the sail was furled, with the
result that she heeled over and Desmond had narrowly escaped being flung
into the sea. Seeing the boy's plight, Bulger had sprung forward, and,
knocking Parmiter from the wheel, had put the vessel on the other tack,
thus giving Desmond the one chance of escape which, fortunately, he had
been able to seize. The captain had been incensed to a blind fury, first
with  Parmiter  for  acting without orders and then with Bulger for
interfering  with the man at the wheel. In a paroxysm of madness he
attacked both men with a spike; the ship was left without a helmsman, and
nothing  but the promptitude of the melancholy mate, who had rushed
forward and taken the abandoned wheel himself, had saved the vessel from
the imminent risk of carrying away her masts.

Later in the day, when the squall and the captain's rage had subsided,
the incident was talked over by a knot of seamen in the forecastle.

"You may say what you like," said one, "but I hold to it that Parmiter
meant to knock young Burke into the sea. For why else did he put the ship
in stays? He en't a fool, en't Parmiter."

"Ay," said another, "and arter that there business with the block, eh?
One and one make two; that's twice the youngster has nigh gone to Davy
Jones through Parmiter, and it en't in reason that sich-like things
should allers happen to the same party."

"But what's the reason?" asked a third. "What call has Parmiter to have
such a desperate spite against Burke? He got a lickin', in course, but
what's a lickin' to a Englishman? Rot it all, the youngster en't a bad
matey. He've led a dog's life, that he have, and I've never heard a
grumble, nary one; have you?"

"True," said the first. "And I tell you what it is. I believe Bulger's in
the right of it, and 'tis all along o' that there Diggle, hang him! He's
too perlite by half, with his smile and his fine lingo and all. And
what's he keep his hand wropt up in that there velvet mitten thing for?
I'd like to know that. There's summat mortal queer about Diggle, mark my
words, and we'll find it out if we live long enough."

"Wasn't it Diggle brought Burke aboard?"

"Course it was; that's what proves it, don't you see? He stuffs him up as
he's to be supercargo; call that number one. He brings him aboard and
makes him ship boy; that's number two. He looks us all up and down with
those rat's eyes of his, and thinks we're a pretty ugly lot, and Parmiter
the ugliest, how's that for number three? Then he makes hissel sweet to
Parmiter; I've seed him more'n once; that's number four. Then there's
that there block: five; and today's hanky panky: six; and it wants one
more to make seven, and that's the perfect number, I've heard tell, 'cos
o' the Seven Champions o' Christendom."

"I guess you've reasoned that out mighty well," drawled the melancholy
voice of Mr. Toley, who had come up unseen and heard the last speech.
"Well, I'll give you number seven."

"Thunder and blazes, sir, he en't bin and gone and done it already?"

"No, he en't. Number seven is, be kind o' tender with young Burke. Count
them words. He's had enough kicks. That's all."

And the melancholy man went away as silently as he had come.



Chapter 9: In which the Good Intent makes a running fight:
Mr. Toley makes a suggestion.


Making good sailing, the Good Intent reached Saldanhas Bay, where she put
in for a few necessary repairs, then safely rounded the Cape, and after a
short  stay  at Johanna, one of the Comoro Islands, taking in fresh
provisions there, set sail for the Malabar coast. The wind blew steadily
from the southwest, and she ran merrily before it.

During  this part of the voyage Desmond found his position somewhat
improved. His pluck had won the rough admiration of the men; Captain
Barker was not so constantly chevying him; and Mr. Toley showed a more
active interest in him, teaching him the use of the sextant and quadrant,
how to take the altitude of the sun, and many other matters important in
navigation.

It was the third week of April, and the monsoon having begun, Captain
Barker expected before long to sight the Indian coast. One morning, about
two bells, the lookout reported a small vessel on the larboard bow,
laboring  heavily.  The  captain took a long look at it through his
perspective  glass, and made out that it was a two-masted grab; the
mainmast was gone.

"Odds bobs," he said to Mr. Toley, "'tis strange to meet a grab so far
out at sea. We'll run down to it."

"What is a grab?" asked Desmond of Bulger, when the news had circulated
through the ship's company.

"Why, that's a grab, sure enough. I en't a good hand at pictur' paintin';
we're runnin' square for the critter, and then you'll see for yourself.
This I'll say, that you don't see 'em anywheres in partickler but off the
Malabar coast."

Desmond  was soon able to take stock of the vessel. It was broad in
proportion to its length, narrowing from the middle to the end, and
having a projecting prow like the old-fashioned galleys of which he had
seen pictures. The prow was covered with a deck, level with the main deck
of the vessel, but with a bulkhead between this and the forecastle.

"En't she pitchin'!" remarked Bulger, standing by Desmond's side. "You
couldn't expect nothing else of a craft built that shape. Look at the
water pourin' off her; why, I may be wrong, but I'll lay my best breeches
she's a-founderin'."

As usual, Bulger was right. When the grab was overhauled, the men on
board, dark-skinned Marathas with very scanty clothing, made signs that
they were in distress.

"Throw her into the wind," shouted the captain.

Mr. Toley at the wheel put the helm down, the longboat was lowered, and
with some difficulty, owing to the heavy sea, the thirty men on the grab
were taken off. As they came aboard the Good Intent, Diggle, who was
leaning over the bulwarks, suddenly straightened himself, smiled, and
moved towards the taffrail. One of the newcomers, a fine muscular fellow,
seeing Diggle approaching, stood for a moment in surprise, then salaamed.
The Englishman said something in the stranger's tongue, and grasped his
hand with the familiarity of old friendship.

"You know the man, Mr. Diggle?" said the captain.

"Yes, truly. The Gentoos and I are in a sense comrades in arms. His name
is Hybati; he's a Maratha."

"What's he jabbering about?"

The man was talking rapidly and earnestly.

"He says, captain," returned Diggle, with a smile, "that he hopes you
will  send  and  fetch the crew's rice on board. They won't eat our
food--afraid of losing caste."

"I'll be hang if I launch the longboat again. The grab won't live another
five minutes in this sea, and I wouldn't risk two of my crew against a
hundred of these dirty Moors."

"They'll starve otherwise, captain."

"Well, let 'em starve. I won't have any nonsense aboard my ship. Beggars
mustn't be choosers, and if the heathen can't eat good honest English
vittles they don't deserve to eat at all."

Diggle smiled and explained to Hybati that his provisions must be left to
their fate. Even as he spoke a heavy sea struck the vessel athwart, and,
amid cries from the Marathas she keeled over and sank.

When the strangers had dried themselves, Diggle inquired of Hybati how he
came to be in his present predicament. The Maratha explained that he had
been in command of Angria's fortress of Suwarndrug, which was so strong
that he had believed it able to withstand any attacks. But one day a
number of vessels of the East India Company's fleet had appeared between
the mainland and the island on which the fortress was situated, and had
begun a bombardment which soon reduced the parapets to ruins. The chief
damage had been done by an English ship. Hybati and his men had made the
best defense they could, but the gunners were shot down by musket fire
from the round tops of the enemy, and when a shell set fire to a thatched
house within the fort, the garrison were too much alarmed to attempt to
extinguish the flames; the blaze spread, a powder magazine blew up, and
the inhabitants, with the greater part of the soldiers, fled to the
shore, and tried to make their escape in eight large boats. Hybati had
kept up the fight for some time longer, hoping to receive succor; but
under cover of the fire of the ships the English commodore landed half
his seamen, who rushed up to the gate, and cutting down the sally port
with their axes forced their way in.

Seeing that the game was up, Hybati fled with thirty of his men, and was
lucky in pushing off in the grab, unobserved by the enemy. The winds,
however, proving contrary, the vessel had been blown northward along the
coast and then driven far out to sea. With the breaking of the monsoon a
violent squall had dismasted the grab and shattered her bulkhead; she was
continually shipping water, and, as the sahib saw, was at the point of
sinking when the English ship came up.

Such was the Maratha's story, as by and by it became common property on
board the Good Intent. Of all the crew Desmond was perhaps the most
interested. To the others there was nothing novel in the sight of the
Indians; but to him they stood for romance, the embodiment of all the
tales he had heard and all the dreams he had dreamed of this wonderful
country in the East. He was now assured that he was actually within reach
of  his  desired  haven;  and he hoped shortly to see an end of the
disappointments and hardships, the toils and distresses, of the past
seven months.

He was eager to learn more of these Marathas, and their fortress, and the
circumstances of the recent fight. Bulger was willing to tell all he
knew; but his information was not very exact, and Desmond did not hear
the full story till long after.

The  Malabar  coast had long been the haunt of Maratha pirates, who
interfered greatly with the native trade between India and Arabia and
Persia. In defense of the interests of his Mohammedan subjects the Mogul
emperor at length, in the early part of the eighteenth century, fitted
out a fleet, under the command of an admiral known as the Sidi. But there
happened to be among the Marathas at that time a warrior of great daring
and resource, one Kunaji Angria. This man first defeated the Sidi, then,
in the insolence of victory, revolted against his own sovereign, and set
up as an independent ruler.

By means of a well-equipped fleet of grabs and gallivats he made himself
master  of place after place along the coast, including the Maratha
fortress at Suwarndrug and the Portuguese fort of Gheria. His successors,
who adopted in turn the dynastic name of Angria, followed up Kunaji's
conquest, until by the year 1750 the ruling Angria was in possession of a
strip of territory on the mainland a hundred and eighty miles long and
about forty broad, together with many small adjacent islands.

For  the  defense  of this little piratical state Angria's Marathas
constructed  a  number  of  forts, choosing admirable positions and
displaying no small measure of engineering skill. From these strongholds
they  made depredations by sea and land, not only upon their native
neighbors,  but also upon the European traders, English, Dutch, and
Portuguese;  swooping down on unprotected merchant vessels and even
presuming to attack warships. Several expeditions had been directed
against them, but always in vain; and when in 1754 the chief of that
date, Tulaji Angria, known to Europeans as the Pirate, burnt two large
Dutch vessels of fifty and thirty-six guns respectively, and captured a
smaller one of eighteen guns, he boasted in his elation that he would
soon be master of the Indian seas.

But a term was about to be put to his insolence and his depredations. On
March twenty-second, 1755, Commodore William James, commander of the East
India Company's marine force, set sail from Bombay in the Protector of
forty-four guns, with the Swallow of sixteen guns, and two bomb vessels.
With  the  assistance of a Maratha fleet he had attacked the island
fortress of Suwarndrug, and captured it, as Hybati had related. A few
days  afterwards  another of the Pirate's fortresses, the island of
Bancoote, six miles north of Suwarndrug, surrendered. The Maratha rajah,
Ramaji Punt, delighted with these successes against fortified places
which had for nearly fifty years been deemed impregnable, offered the
English commodore an immense sum of money to proceed against others of
Angria's forts; but the monsoon approaching, the commodore was recalled
to Bombay.

The spot at which the Good Intent had fallen in with the sinking grab was
about eighty miles from the Indian coast, and Captain Barker expected to
sight land next day. No one was more delighted at the prospect than
Desmond. Leaving out of account the miseries of the long voyage, he felt
that now he was within reach of the goal of his hopes. The future was all
uncertain; he was no longer inclined to trust his fortunes to Diggle, for
though he could not believe that the man had deliberately practised
against his life, he had with good reason lost confidence in him, and
what he had learned from Bulger threw a new light on his past career.

One thing puzzled him. If the Pirate was such a terror to unprotected
ships, and strong enough to attack several armed vessels at once, why was
Captain Barker running into the very jaws of the enemy? In her palmy days
as an East Indiaman the Good Intent had carried a dozen nine-pounders on
her upper deck and six on the quarterdeck; and Bulger had said that under
a  stout  captain  she  had once beaten off near Surat half a dozen
three-masted grabs and a score of gallivats from the pirate stronghold at
Gheria. But now she had only half a dozen guns all told, and even had she
possessed the full armament there were not men enough to work them, for
her complement of forty men was only half what it had been when she
sailed under the Company's flag.

Desmond confided his puzzlement to Bulger. The seaman laughed.

"Why, bless 'ee, we en't a-goin' to run into no danger. Trust Cap'n
Barker for that. You en't supercargo, to be sure; but who do you think
them guns and round shots in the hold be for? Why, the Pirate himself.
And he'll pay a good price for 'em, too."

"Do you mean to say that English merchants supply Angria with weapons to
fight against their own countrymen?"

"Well, blest if you en't a innocent. In course they do. The guns en't
always fust-class metal, to be sure; but what's the odds? The interlopers
ha' got to live."

"I don't call that right. It's not patriotic."

"Patry what?"

"Patriotic--a right way of thinking of one's own country. An Englishman
isn't worth the name who helps England's enemies."

Bulger looked at him in amazement. The idea of patriotism was evidently
new to him.

"I'll have to put that there notion in my pipe and smoke it," he said.
"I'd fight any mounseer, or Dutchman, or Portuguee as soon as look at
him, 'tis on'y natural; but if a mounseer likes to give me twopence for a
thing  that's  worth  a  penny--why,  I'll  say  thank  'ee and axe
him--leastways  if  there's any matey by as knows the lingo--to buy
another."

Shortly after dawn next morning the lookout reported four vessels to
windward. From their appearance Captain Barker at once concluded that two
were Company's ships, with an escort of a couple of grabs. As he was
still scanning them he was joined by Diggle, with whom he entered into
conversation.

"They're making for Bombay, I reckon," said the captain.

"I take it we don't wish to come to close quarters with them, Barker?"

"By thunder, no! But if we hold our present course we're bound to pass
within hailing distance. Better put 'em off the scent."

He altered the vessel's course a point or two with the object of passing
to windward of the strangers, as if steering for the Portuguese port of
Goa.

"They are running up their colors," remarked Diggle, half an hour later.

"British, as I thought. We'll hoist Portuguese."

A minute or two later a puff of smoke was observed to sally from the
larger of the two grabs, followed in a few seconds by the boom of a gun.

"A call to us to heave to," said Bulger, in answer to Desmond's inquiry.
"The unbelievin' critters thinks that Portuguee rag is all my eye."

But the Good Intent was by this time to windward of the vessels, and
Captain Barker, standing on the quarterdeck, paid no heed to the signal.
After a short interval another puff came from the deck of the grab, and a
round shot plunged into the sea a cable's length from the Good Intent's
bows, the grab at the same time hauling her wind and preparing to alter
her course in pursuit. This movement was at once copied by the other
three vessels, but being at least half a mile ahead of the grab that had
fired, they were a long distance astern when the chase--for chase it was
to be--began.

Captain Barker watched the grab with the eyes of a lynx. The Good Intent
had run out of range while the grab was being put about; but the captain
knew very well that the pursuer could sail much closer to the wind than
his own vessel, and that his only chance was to beat off the leading boat
before the others had time to come up.

It required very little at any time to put Captain Barker into a rage,
and his demeanor was watched now with different feelings by different
members of the crew. Diggle alone appeared unconcerned; he was smiling as
he lolled against the mast.

"They'll fire at me, will they?" growled the captain with a curse. "And
chase me, will they? By jimmy, they shall sink me before I surrender!"

"Degeneres animos timor arguit," quoted Diggle, smiling.

"Argue it? I'll be hanged if I argue it! They're not king's ships to take
it on 'emselves to stop me on the high seas! If the Company wants to
prevent me from honest trading in these waters let 'em go to law, and be
hanged to 'em! Talk of arguing! Lawyer's work. Humph!"

"You mistake, Barker. The Roman fellow whose words slipped out of my
mouth almost unawares said nothing of arguing. 'Fear is the mark of only
base minds': so it runs in English, captain; which is as much as to say
that Captain Ben Barker is not the man to haul down his colors in a
hurry."

"You're right there. Another shot! That's their argument: well, Ben
Barker can talk that way as well as another."

He called up the boatswain. Shortly afterwards the order was piped, "Up
all hammocks!" The men quickly stowed their bedding, secured it with
lashings, and carried it to the appointed places on the quarterdeck,
poop, or forecastle. Meanwhile the boatswain and his mates secured the
yards; the ship's carpenter brought up shot plugs for repairing any
breeches made under the waterline; and the gunners looked to the cannon
and prepared charges for them and the small arms.

Bulger was in charge of the twelve-pounder aft, and Mr. Toley had tolled
off Desmond to assist him. They stood side by side watching the progress
of the grab, which gained steadily in spite of the plunging due to its
curious build. Presently another shot came from her; it shattered the
belfry on the forecastle of the Good Intent, and splashed into the sea a
hundred yards ahead.

"They make good practice, for sartin," remarked Bulger. "I may be wrong,
but I'll lay my life there be old man-o'-war's men aboard. I mind me when
I was with Captain Golightly on the Minotaur--"

But Bulger's yarn was intercepted. At that moment the boatswain piped,
"All hands to quarters!" In a surprisingly short time all timber was
cleared away, the galley fire was extinguished, the yards slung, the deck
strewn with wet sand, and sails, booms, and boats liberally drenched with
water. The gun captains, each with his crew, cast loose the lashings of
their weapons and struck open the ports. The tompions was taken out; the
sponge, rammer, crows and handspikes placed in readiness, and all awaited
eagerly the word for the action to begin.

"'Tis about time we opened our mouths at 'em," said Bulger. "The next
bolus they send us as like as not will bring the spars a-rattlin' about
our  ears.  To  be  sure it goes against my stummick to fire on old
messmates; but it en't in Englishmen to hold their noses and swallow
pills o' that there size. We'll load up all ready, mateys."

He stripped to the waist, and tied a handkerchief over his ears. Desmond
and the men followed his example. Then one of them sponged the bore,
another inserted the cartridge, containing three pounds of powder, by
means of a long ladle, a third shoved in a wad of rope yarn. This having
been driven home by the rammer, the round shot was inserted, and covered
like the cartridge with a wad. Then Bulger took his priming iron, an
instrument like a long thin corkscrew, and thrust it into the touch hole
to clear the vent and make an incision in the cartridge. Removing the
priming iron, he replaced it by the priming tube--a thin tapering tube
with very narrow bore. Into this he poured a quantity of fine mealed
powder; then he laid a train of the same powder in the little groove cut
in the gun from the touch hole towards the breech. With the end of his
powder horn he slightly bruised the train, and the gun only awaited a
spark from the match.

Everything was done very quickly, and Desmond watched the seamen with
admiration. He himself had charge of the linstock, about which was wound
several matches, consisting of lengths of twisted cotton wick steeped in
lye. They had already been lighted, for they burnt so slowly that they
would last for several hours.

"Now, we're shipshape," said Bulger. "Mind you, Burke, don't come to far
for'ard with your linstock. I don't want the train fired with no sparks
afore I'm ready. And 'ware o' the breech; she'll kick like a jumping
jackass when the shot flies out of her, an'll knock your teeth out afore
you can say Jack Robinson--

"Ah! there's the word at last; now, mateys, here goes!"

He laid the gun, waited for the ship to rise from a roll, and then took
one of the matches, gently blew its smoldering end, and applied the
glowing wick to the bruised part of the priming. There was a flash, a
roar, and before Desmond could see the effect of the shot Bulger had
closed the vent, the gun was run in, and the sponger was at work cleaning
the chamber.

As the black smoke cleared away it was apparent that the seaman had not
forgotten his cunning. The shot had struck the grab on the deck of the
prow and smashed into the forecastle. But the bow chasers were apparently
uninjured, for they replied a few seconds later.

"Ah! There's a wunner!" said Bulger admiringly.

A  shot  had carried away a yard of the gunwale of the Good Intent,
scattering splinters far and wide, which inflicted nasty wounds on the
second mate and a seaman on the quarterdeck. A jagged end of the wood
flying high struck Diggle on the left cheek. He wiped away the blood
imperturbably; it was evident that lack of courage was not among his
defects.

Captain Barker's ire was now at white heat. Shouting an order to Bulger
and the next man to make rapid practice with the two stern chasers, he
prepared to fall off and bring the Good Intent's broadside to bear on the
enemy.

But the next shot was decisive. Diggle had quietly strolled down to the
gun next to Bulger's. It had just been reloaded. He bade the gun captain,
in a low tone, to move aside. Then, with a glance to see that the priming
was in order, he took careful sight, and waiting until the grab's main,
mizzen and foremasts opened to view altogether, he applied the match. The
shot sped true, and a second later the grab's mainmast, with sails and
rigging, went by the board.

A wild cheer from the crew of the Good Intent acclaimed the excellent
shot.

"By  thunder!" said Bulger to Desmond. "Diggle may be a rogue and a
vagabond, but he knows how to train a gun."

Captain Barker signified his approval by a tremendous mouth-filling oath.
But he was not yet safe. The second grab was following hard in the wake
of the first; and it was plain that the two Indiamen were both somewhat
faster than the Good Intent; for during the running fight that had just
ended so disastrously for the grab, they had considerably lessened the
gap between them and their quarry. Captain Barker watched them with an
expression of fierce determination, but not without anxiety. If they
should come within striking distance it was impossible to withstand
successfully their heavier armament and larger crews. The firing had
ceased: each vessel had crowded on all sail; and the brisk breeze must
soon bring pursuer and pursued to a close engagement which could have
only one result.

"I may be wrong, but seems to me we'd better say our prayers," Bulger
remarked grimly to his gun crew.

But Desmond, gazing up at the shrouds, said suddenly:

"The wind's dropping. Look!"

It was true. Before the monsoon sets in in earnest it not unfrequently
happens  that the wind veers fitfully; a squall is succeeded almost
instantaneously by a calm. So it was now. In less than an hour all five
vessels were becalmed; and when night fell three miles separated the Good
Intent from the second grab; the Indiamen lay a mile farther astern; and
the damaged vessel was out of sight.

Captain Barker took counsel with his officers. He expected to be attacked
during the night by the united boats of the pursuing fleet. Under cover
of darkness they would be able to creep up close and board the vessel,
and the captain knew well that if taken he would be treated as a pirate.
His papers were made out for Philadelphia; he had hoisted Portuguese
colors, but the enemy at close quarters could easily see that the Good
Intent was British built; he had disabled one of the Company's vessels;
there would be no mercy for him.

He saw no chance of beating off the enemy; they would outnumber him by at
least five to one. Even if the wind sprang up again there was small
likelihood of escape. One or other of the pursuing vessels would almost
certainly overhaul him, and hold him until the others came up.

"'Tis a 'tarnal fix," he said.

"Methinks 'tis a case of actum est de nobis," remarked Diggle pleasantly.

"Confound you!" said the captain with a burst of anger. "What could I
expect with a gallows bird like you aboard? 'Tis enough to sink a vessel
without shot."

Diggle's face darkened. But in a moment his smile returned.

"You are overwrought, captain," he said; "you are unstrung. 'Twould be
ridiculous to take amiss words said in haste. In cold blood--well, you
know me, Captain Barker. I will leave you to recover from your brief
madness."

He  went  below.  The captain was left with Mr. Toley and the other
officers. Barker and Toley always got on well together, for the simple
reason that the mate never thwarted his superior, never resented his
abuse, but went quietly his own way. He listened now for a quarter of an
hour, with fixed sadness of expression, while Captain Barker poured the
vials of his wrath upon everything under the sun. When the captain had
come to an end, and sunk into an estate of lowering dudgeon, Mr. Toley
said quietly:

"'Tis all you say, sir, and more. I guess I've never seen a harder case.
But while you was speaking, something you said struck a sort of idea into
my brain."

"That don't happen often. What is it?"

"Why, the sort of idea that came to me out o' what you was saying was
just this. How would it be to take soundings?"

"So, that's your notion, is it? Hang me, are you a fool like the rest of
'em? You're always taking soundings! What in the name of thunder do you
want to take soundings for?"

"Nothing particular, cap'n. That was the kind o' notion that come of what
you was saying. Of course it depends on the depths hereabouts."

"Deep enough to sink you and your notions and all that's like to come of
'em. Darned if I ain't got the most lubberly company ever mortal man was
plagued with. Officers and men, there en't one of you as is worth your
salt, and you with your long face and your notions--why, hang me, you're
no more good than the dirtiest waister afloat."

Mr. Toley smiled sadly, and ventured on no rejoinder. After the captain's
outburst none of the group dared to utter a word. This pleased him no
better; he cursed them all for standing mum; and spent ten minutes in
reviling them in turn. Then his passion appeared to have burnt itself
out. Turning suddenly to the melancholy mate, he said roughly:

"Go and heave your lead, then, and be hanged to it."

Mr.  Toley  walked away aft and ordered one of the men to heave the
deep-sea  lead. The plummet, shaped like the frustum of a cone, and
weighing thirty pounds, was thrown out from the side in the line of the
vessel's drift.

"By the mark sixty, less five," sang out the man when the lead touched
the bottom.

"I guess that'll do," said the first mate, returning to the quarterdeck.

"Well, what about your notion?" said the captain scornfully. But he
listened quietly and with an intent look upon his weatherbeaten face as
Mr. Toley explained.

"You see, sir," he said, "while you was talking just now, I sort o' saw
that if they attack us, 'twon't be for at least two hours after dark. The
boats won't put off while there's light enough to see 'em; and won't
hurry anyhow, 'cos if they did the men 'ud have nary much strength left
to 'em. Well, they'll take our bearings, of course. Thinks I, owing to
what you said, sir, what if we could shift 'em by half a mile or so? The
boats 'ud miss us in the darkness."

"That's so," ejaculated the captain; "and what then?"

"Well, sir, 'tis there my idea of taking soundings comes in. The Good
Intent can't be towed, not with our handful of men; but why shouldn't she
be kedged? That's the notion, sir; and I guess you'll think it over."

"By jimmy, Toley, you en't come out o' Salem, Massachusetts, for nothing.
'Tis a notion, a rare one; Ben Barker en't the man to bear a grudge, and
I take back them words o' mine--leastways some on 'em.

"Bo'sun, get ready to lower the longboat."

The longboat was lowered, out of sight of the enemy. A kedge anchor,
fastened to a stout hawser, was put on board, and as soon as it was
sufficiently dark to make so comparatively small an object as a boat
invisible to the hostile craft, she put off at right angles to the Good
Intent's previous course, the hawser attached to the kedge being paid out
as the boat drew away. When it had gone about a fifth of a mile from the
vessel the kedge was dropped, and a signal was given by hauling on the
rope.

"Clap on, men!" cried Captain Barker. "Get a good purchase, and none of
your singsong; avast all jabber."

The crew manned the windlass and began with a will to haul on the cable
in  dead silence. The vessel was slowly warped ahead. Meanwhile the
longboat was returning; when she reached the side of the Good Intent, a
second kedge was lowered into her, and again she put off, to drop the
anchor two cables' length beyond the first, so that when the ship had
tripped that, the second was ready to be hauled on.

When the Good Intent had been thus warped a mile from her position at
nightfall, Captain Parker ordered the operation to be stopped. To avoid
noise the boat was not hoisted in. No lights were shown, and the sky
being  somewhat  overcast,  the boat's crew found that the ship was
invisible at the distance of a fourth of a cable's length.

"I may be wrong," said Bulger to Desmond, "but I don't believe kedgin'
was  ever done so far from harbor afore. I allers thought there was
something in that long head of Mr. Toley, though, to be sure, there en't
no call for him to pull a long face, too."

An hour passed after the loading had been stopped. All on board the Good
Intent remained silent, speaking, if they spoke at all, in whispers.
There had been no signs of the expected attack. Desmond was leaning on
the gunwale, straining his eyes for a glimpse of the enemy. But his ears
gave  him  the first intimation of their approach. He heard a faint
creaking, as of oars in rowlocks, and stepped back to where Bulger was
leaning against the mast.

"There they come," he said.

The  sound had already reached Captain Barker's ears. It was faint;
doubtless the oars were muffled. The ship was rolling lazily; save for
the creaking nothing was heard but the lapping of the ripples against the
hull. So still was the night that the slightest sound must travel far,
and the captain remarked in a whisper to Mr. Toley that he guessed the
approaching boats to be at least six cables' lengths distant.

Officers and men listened intently. The creaking grew no louder; on the
contrary, it gradually became fainter, and at last died away. There was a
long  silence,  broken  only  by  what sounded like a low hail some
considerable distance away.

"They're musterin' the boats," said Bulger, with a chuckle. "I may be
wrong, but I'll bet my breeches they find they've overshot the mark. Now
they'll scatter and try to nose us out."

Another hour of anxious suspense slowly passed, and still nothing had
happened. Then suddenly a blue light flashed for a few moments on the
blackness of the sea, answered almost instantaneously by a rocket from
another quarter. It was clear that the boats, having signaled that the
search had failed, had been recalled by the rocket to the fleet.

"By thunder, Mr. Toley, you've done the trick!" said the captain.

"I  guess we don't get our living by making mistakes--not in Salem,
Massachusetts," returned the first mate with his sad smile.

Through the night the watch was kept with more than ordinary vigilance,
but nothing occurred to give Captain Barker anxiety. With morning light
the enemy could be seen far astern.



Chapter 10: In which our hero arrives in the Golden East, and Mr. Diggle
presents him to a native prince.


About  midday  a light breeze sprang up from the northwest. The two
Indiamen and the uninjured grab, being the first to catch it, gained a
full mile before the Good Intent, under topgallant sails, studding sails,
royal and driver, began to slip through the water at her best speed. But,
as the previous day's experience had proved, she was no match in sailing
capacity for the pursuers. They gained on her steadily, and the grab had
come almost within cannon range when the man at the masthead shouted:

"Sail ho! About a dozen sail ahead, sir!"

The captain spluttered out a round dozen oaths, and his dark face grew
still darker. So many vessels in company must surely mean the king's
ships with a convoy. The French, so far as Captain Barker knew, had no
such fleet in Indian waters, nor had the Dutch or Portuguese. If they
were indeed British men-o'-war he would be caught between two fires, for
there was not a doubt that they would support the Company's vessels.

"We  ought to be within twenty miles of the coast, Mr. Toley," said
Captain Barker.

"Ay, sir, and somewhere in the latitude of Gheria."

"Odds bobs, and now I come to think of it, those there vessels may be
sailing  to attack Gheria, seeing as how, as these niggers told us,
they've bust up Suwarndrug."

"Guess I'll get to the foretop myself and take a look, sir," said Mr.
Toley.

He mounted, carrying the only perspective glass the vessel possessed. The
captain watched him anxiously as he took a long look.

"What do you make of 'em?" he shouted.

The mate shut up the telescope and came leisurely down.

"I count fifteen in all, sir."

"I don't care how many. What are they?"

"I calculate they're grabs and gallivats, sir."

The captain gave a hoarse chuckle.

"By thunder, then, we'll soon turn the tables! Angria's gallivats--eh,
Mr. Toley? We'll make a haul yet."

But Captain Barker was to be disappointed. The fleet had been descried
also by the pursuers. A few minutes later the grab threw out a signal,
hauled her wind and stood away to the northward, followed closely by the
two larger vessels. The captain growled his disappointment. Nearly a
dozen of the coast craft, as they were now clearly seen to be, went in
pursuit,  but  with  little chance of coming up with the chase. The
remaining vessels of the newly-arrived fleet stood out to meet the Good
Intent.

"Fetch us that Maratha fellow," cried the captain, "and hoist a white
flag."

When the Maratha appeared, a pitiable object, emaciated for want of food,
Captain  Barker bade him shout as soon as the newcomers came within
hailing distance. The white flag at the masthead, and a loud, long-drawn
hail from Hybati, apprised the grab that the Good Intent was no enemy,
and averted hostilities. And thus it was, amid a convoy of Angria's own
fleet, that Captain Barker's vessel, a few hours later, sailed peacefully
into the harbor of Gheria.

Desmond looked with curious eyes on the famous fort and harbor. On the
right, as the Good Intent entered, he saw a long, narrow promontory, at
the end of which was a fortress, constructed, as it appeared, of solid
rock. The promontory was joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus of
sand, beyond which lay an open town of some size. The shore was fringed
with palmyras, mangoes and other tropical trees, and behind the straw
huts and stone buildings of the town leafy groves clothed the sides of a
gentle hill.

The harbor, which forms the mouth of a river, was studded with Angria's
vessels,  large and small, and from the docks situated on the sandy
isthmus came the busy sound of shipwrights at work. The rocky walls of
the fort were fifty feet high, with round towers, long curtains, and some
fifty embrasures. The left shore of the harbor was flat, but to the south
of the fort rose a hill of the same height as the walls of rock. Such was
the headquarters of the notorious pirate Tulaji Angria, the last of the
line which had for fifty years been the terror of the Malabar coast.

The Good Intent dropped anchor off the jetty running out from the docks
north of the fort. Captain Barker had already given orders that no shore
leave was to be allowed to the crew, and as soon as he had stepped into
the longboat, accompanied by Diggle, the men's discontent broke forth in
angry imprecations, which Mr. Toley wisely affected not to hear.

No time was lost in unloading the portion of the cargo intended for
Angria. The goods were carried along the jetty by stalwart Marathas clad
only in loincloths, and stored in rude cabins with penthouse roofs. As
Desmond knew, the heavy chests that taxed the strength of the bearers
contained for the most part muskets and ammunition. The work went on for
the greater part of the day, and at nightfall neither the captain nor
Diggle had returned to the vessel.

Next day a large quantity of Indian produce was taken on board. Desmond
noticed that as the bales and casks reached the deck, some of the crew
were told off to remove all marks from them.

"What's that for?" repeated Bulger, in reply to a question of Desmond's.
"Why, 'cos if the ship came to be overhauled by a Company's vessel, it
would tell tales if the cargo had Company's marks on it. That wouldn't do
by no manner o' means."

"But how should they get Company's marks on them?"

Bulger winked.

"You're raw yet, Burke," he said. "You'll know quite as much as is good
for  you  by the time you've made another voyage or two in the Good
Intent."

"But I don't intend to make another voyage in her. Mr. Diggle promised to
get me employment in the country."

"What? You still believes in that there Diggle? Well, I don't want to
hurt no feelin's, and I may be wrong, but I'll lay my bottom dollar
Diggle won't do a hand's turn for you."

The  second  day passed, and in the evening Captain Barker, who had
hitherto left Mr. Toley in charge, came aboard in high humor.

"I may be wrong," remarked Bulger, "but judgin' by cap'n's face, he've
been an' choused the Pirate--got twice the valley o' the goods he's
landed."

"I wonder where Mr. Diggle is?" said Desmond.

"You en't no call to mourn for him, I tell you. He's an old friend of the
Pirate, don't make no mistake; neither you nor me will be any the worse
for not seein' his grinnin' phiz no more. Thank your stars he've left you
alone for the last part of the voyage, which I wonder at, all the same."

Next day all was bustle on board in preparation for sailing. In the
afternoon a peon {messenger} came hurrying along the jetty, boarded the
vessel, and handed a note to the captain, who read it, tore it up, and
dismissed the messenger. He went down to his cabin, and coming up a few
minutes later, cried:

"Where's that boy Burke?"

"Here, sir," cried Desmond, starting up from the place where, in Bulger's
company, he had been splicing a rope.

"Idling away your time as usual, of course. Here, take this chit {note}
and run ashore. 'Tis for Mr. Diggle, as you can see if you can read."

"But how am I to find him, sir?"

"Hang me, that's your concern. Find him, and give the chit into his own
hand, and be back without any tomfoolery, or by thunder I'll lay a rope
across your shoulders."

Desmond took the note, left the vessel, and hurried along the jetty.
After what Bulger had said he was not very well pleased at the prospect
of meeting Diggle again. At the shore end of the jetty he was accosted by
the peon who had brought Diggle's note on board. The man intimated by
signs that he would show the way, and Desmond, wondering why the Indian
had not himself waited to receive Captain Barker's answer, followed him
at a rapid pace on shore, past the docks, through a corner of the town
where the appearance of a white stranger attracted the curious attention
of the natives, to an open space in front of the entrance to the fort.

Here they arrived at a low wall cut by an open gateway, at each side of
which stood a Maratha sentry armed with a matchlock. A few words were
exchanged  between Desmond's guide and one of the sentries; the two
entered, crossed a compound dotted with trees, and passing through the
principal gateway came to a large, square building near the center of the
fort. The door of this was guarded by a sentry. Again a few words were
spoken.  Desmond fancied he saw a slight smile curl the lips of the
natives; then the sentry called another peon who stood at hand, and sent
him into the palace.

Desmond felt a strange sinking at heart. The smile upon these dark faces
awakened a vague uneasiness; it was so like Diggle's smile. He supposed
that the man had gone in to report that he had arrived with the captain's
answer. The note still remained with him; the Marathas apparently knew
that it was to be delivered personally; yet he was left at the door, and
his guide stood by in an attitude that suggested he was on guard.

How long was he to be kept waiting? he wondered. Captain Barker had
ordered him to return at once; the penalty for disobedience he knew only
too well; yet the minutes passed, and lengthened into two hours without
any sign of the man who had gone in with the message. Desmond spoke to
the guide, but the man shook his head, knowing no English. Becoming more
and more uneasy, he was at length relieved to see the messenger come back
to the door and beckon him to enter. As he passed the sentries they made
him a salaam in which his anxious sensitiveness detected a shade of
mockery; but before he could define his feelings he reached a third door
guarded like the others, and was ushered in.

He found himself in a large chamber, its walls dazzling with barbaric
decoration--figures of Ganessa, a favorite idol of the Marathas, of
monstrous elephants, and peacocks with enormously expanded tails. The
hall was so crowded that his first confusion was redoubled. A path was
made through the throng as at a signal, and at the end of the room he saw
two men apart from the rest.

One of them, standing a little back from the other, was Diggle; the
other,  a  tall, powerful figure in raiment as gaudy as the painted
peacocks around him, his fingers covered with rings, a diamond blazing in
his headdress, was sitting cross-legged on a dais. Behind him, against
the wall, was an image of Ganessa, made of solid gold, with diamonds for
eyes, and blazing with jewels. At one side was his hookah, at the other a
two-edged sword and an unsheathed dagger. Below the dais on either hand
two fierce-visaged Marathas stood, their heads and shoulders covered with
a helmet, their bodies cased in a quilted vest, each holding a straight
two-edged sword. Between Angria and the idol two fan bearers lightly
swept the air above their lord's head with broad fans of palm leaves.

Desmond walked towards the dais, feeling woefully out of place amid the
brilliant costumes of Angria's court. Scarcely two of the Marathas were
dressed alike; some were in white, some in lilac, others in purple, but
each with ornaments after his own taste. Desmond had not had time before
leaving the Good Intent to smarten himself up, and he stood there a tall,
thin, sunburnt youth in dirty, tattered garments, doing his best to face
the assembly with British courage.

At the foot of the dais he paused and held out the captain's note. Diggle
took it in silence, his face wearing the smile that Desmond knew so well
and now so fully distrusted. Without reading it, he tore it in fragments
and threw them upon the floor, at the same time saying a few words to the
resplendent figure at his side.

Tulaji  Angria  was dark, inclined to be fat, and not unpleasant in
feature. But it was with a scowling brow that he replied to Diggle.
Desmond was no coward, but he afterward confessed that as he stood there
watching the two faces, the dark, lowering face of Angria, the smiling,
scarcely less swarthy face of Diggle, he felt his knees tremble under
him.  What  was the Pirate saying? That he was the subject of their
conversation was plain from the glances thrown at him; that he was at a
crisis in his fate he knew by instinct; but, ignorant of the tongue they
spoke, he could but wait in fearful anxiety and mistrust.

He learned afterwards the purport of the talk.

"That is your man?" said Angria. 'You have deceived me. I looked for a
man of large stature and robust make, like the Englishmen I already have.
What good will this slim, starved stripling be in my barge?"

"You must not be impatient, huzur {lord}," replied Diggle. "He is a
stripling, it is true; slim, certainly; starved--well, the work on board
ship does not tend to fatten a man. But give him time; he is but sixteen
or seventeen years old, young in my country. In a year or two, under your
regimen, he will develop; he comes of a hardy stock, and already he can
make himself useful. He was one of the quickest and handiest on board our
ship, though this was his first voyage."

"But you yourself admit that he is not yet competent for the oar in my
barge. What is to recompense me for the food he will eat while he is
growing? No, Diggle sahib, if I take him I must have some allowance off
the price. In truth, I will not take him unless you send me from your
vessel a dozen good muskets. That is my word."

"Still, huzur--" began Diggle, but Angria cut him short with a gesture of
impatience.

"That is my word, I say. Shall I, Tulaji Angria, dispute with you? I will
have twenty muskets, or you may keep the boy."

Diggle shrugged and smiled.

"Very well, huzur. You drive a hard bargain; but it shall be as you say.
I will send a chit to the captain, and you shall have the muskets before
the ship sails."

Angria made a sign to one of his attendants. The man approached Desmond,
took him by the sleeve, and signed for him to come away. Desmond threw a
beseeching look at Diggle, and said hurriedly:

"Mr. Diggle, please tell me--"

But Angria rose to his feet in wrath, and shouted to the man who had
Desmond by the sleeve. Desmond made no further resistance. His head swam
as he passed between the dusky ranks out into the courtyard.

"What does it all mean?" he asked himself.

His guide hurried him along until they came to a barn-like building under
the northwest angle of the fort. The Maratha unlocked the door, signed to
Desmond to enter, and locked him in. He was alone.

He spent three miserable hours. Bitterly did he now regret having cast in
his lot with the smooth-spoken stranger who had been so sympathetic with
him in his troubles at home. He tried to guess what was to be done with
him. He was in Angria's power, a prisoner, but to what end? Had he run
from the tyranny at home merely to fall a victim to a worse tyranny at
the hands of an oriental? He knew so little of Angria, and his brain was
in such a turmoil, that he could not give definite shape to his fears.

He paced up and down the hot, stuffy shed, awaiting, dreading, he knew
not what. Through the hole that served for a window he saw men passing to
and fro across the courtyard, but they were all swarthy, all alien; there
was no one from whom he could expect a friendly word.

Toward evening, as he looked through the hole, he saw Diggle issue from
the door of the palace and cross towards the outer gate.

"Mr. Diggle! Mr. Diggle!" he called. "Please! I am locked up here."

Diggle looked round, smiled, and leisurely approached the shed.

"Why have they shut me up here?" demanded Desmond. "Captain Barker said I
was to return at once. Do get the door unlocked."

"You ask the impossible, my young friend," replied Diggle through the
hole. "You are here by the orders of Angria, and 'twould be treason in me
to pick his locks."

"But why? what right has he to lock me up? and you, why did you let him?
You  said  you  were my friend; you promised--oh, you know what you
promised."

"I promised? Truly, I promised that, if you were bent on accompanying me
to these shores, I would use my influence to procure you employment with
one of my friends among the native princes. Well, I have kept my word;
firmavi fidem, as the Latin hath it. Angria is my friend; I have used my
influence with him; and you are now in the service of one of the most
potent of Indian princes. True, your service is but beginning. It may be
arduous at first; it may be long ab ovo usque ad mala; the egg may be
hard, and the apples, perchance, somewhat sour; but as you become inured
to your duties, you will learn resignation and patience, and--"

"Don't!" burst out Desmond, unable to endure the smooth-flowing periods
of the man now self-confessed a villain. "What does it mean? Tell me
plainly; am I a slave?"

"Servulus, non servus, my dear boy. What is the odds whether you serve
Dick Burke, a booby farmer, or Tulaji Angria, a prince and a man of
intelligence? Yet there is a difference, and I would give you a word of
counsel. Angria is an oriental, and a despot; it were best to serve him
with all diligence, or--"

He finished the sentence with a meaning grimace.

"Mr. Diggle, you can't mean it," said Desmond. "Don't leave me here! I
implore you to release me. What have I ever done to you? Don't leave me
in this awful place."

Diggle smiled and began to move away. At the sight of his malicious smile
the prisoner's despair was swept away before a tempest of rage.

"You scoundrel! You shameless scoundrel!"

The words, low spoken and vibrant with contempt, reached Diggle when he
was some distance from the shed. He turned and sauntered back.

"Heia! contumeliosae voces! 'Tis pretty abuse. My young friend, I must
withdraw my ears from such shocking language. But stay! if you have any
message for Sir Willoughby, your squire, whose affections you have so
diligently cultivated to the prejudice of his nearest and dearest, it
were well for you to give it. 'Tis your last opportunity; for those who
enter Angria's service enjoy a useful but not a long career. And before I
return to Gheria from a little journey I am about to make, you may have
joined the majority of those who have tempted fate in this insalubrious
clime. Horae momento cita mors yen it--you remember the phrase?"

Diggle leaned against the wooden wall, watching with malicious enjoyment
the effect of his words. Desmond was very pale; all his strength seemed
to have deserted him. Finding that his taunts provoked no reply, Diggle
went on:

"Time presses, my young friend. You will be logged a deserter from the
Good  Intent. 'Tis my fervent hope you never fall into the hands of
Captain Barker; as you know, he is a terrible man when roused."

Waving  his  gloved  hand, he moved away. Desmond did not watch his
departure.  Falling back from the window, he threw himself upon the
ground, and gave way to a long fit of black despair.

How long he lay in this agony he knew not. But he was at last roused by
the opening of the door. It was almost dark. Rising to his feet, he saw a
number of men hustled into the shed. Ranged along one of the walls, they
squatted on the floor, and for some minutes afterwards Desmond heard the
clank of irons and the harsh grating of a key. Then a big Maratha came to
him, searched him thoroughly, clapped iron bands upon his ankles, and
locked the chains to staples in the wall. Soon the door was shut, barred,
and locked, and Desmond found himself a prisoner with eight others.

For a little they spoke among themselves, in the low tones of men utterly
spent and dispirited. Then all was silent, and they slept. But Desmond
lay wide awake, waiting for the morning.

The shed was terribly hot. Air came only through the one narrow opening,
and before an hour was past the atmosphere was foul, seeming the more
horrible to Desmond by contrast with the freshness of his life on the
ocean. Mosquitoes nipped him until he could scarcely endure the intense
irritation. He would have given anything for a little water; but though
he heard a sentry pacing up and down outside, he did not venture to call
to him, and could only writhe in heat and torture, longing for the dawn,
yet fearing it and what it might bring forth.

Worn and haggard after his sleepless night, Desmond had scarcely spirit
enough to look with curiosity on his fellow prisoners when the shed was
faintly  lit by the morning sun. But he saw that the eight men, all
natives, were lying on crude charpoys {mat beds} along the wall, each man
chained to a staple like his own. One of the men was awake; and, catching
Desmond's lusterless eyes fixed upon him, he sat up and returned his
gaze.

"Your Honor is an English gentleman?"

The words caused Desmond to start: they were so unexpected in such a
place. The Indian spoke softly and carefully, as if anxious not to awaken
his companions.

"Yes," replied Desmond. "Who are you?"

"My name, sir, is Surendra Nath Chuckerbutti. I was lately a clerk in the
employ of a burra {great} sahib, English factor, at Calcutta."

"How did you get here?"

"That, sahib, is a moving tale. While on a visit of condolence to my
respectable uncle and aunt at Chittagong, I was kidnapped by Sandarband
piratical  dogs. Presto!--at that serious crisis a Dutch ship makes
apparition and rescues me; but my last state is more desperate than the
first. The Dutch vessel will not stop to replace me on mother earth; she
is for Bombay, across the kala pani {black water}, as we say. I am not a
swimmer; besides, what boots it?--we are ten miles from land, to say
nothing of sharks and crocodiles and the lordly tiger. So I perforce
remain, to the injury of my caste, which forbids navigation. But see the
issue. The Dutch ship is assaulted; grabs and gallivats galore swarm upon
the face of the waters; all is confusion worse confounded; in a brace of
shakes we are in the toils. It is now two years since this untoward
catastrophe. With the crew I am conveyed hither and eat the bitter crust
of  servitude. Some of the Dutchmen are consigned to other forts in
possession of the Pirate, and three serve here in his state barge."

Desmond glanced at the sleeping forms.

"No, sir, they are not here," said the Babu {equivalent to Mr.; applied
by the English to the native clerk}, catching his look. "They share
another apartment with your countrymen--chained? Oh, yes! These, my
bedfellows of misfortune, are Indians, not of Bengal, like myself; two
are Biluchis hauled from a country ship; two are Mussulmans from Mysore;
one a Gujarati; two Marathas. We are a motley crew--a miscellany, no
less."

"What do they do with you in the daytime?"

"I,  sir,  adjust  accounts of the Pirate's dockyard; for this I am
qualified  by  prolonged driving of quill in Calcutta, to expressed
satisfaction of Honorable John Company and English merchants. But my
position, sir, is of Damoclean anxiety. I am horrified by conviction that
one small error of calculation will entail direst retribution. Videlicet,
sir, this week a fellow captive is minus a finger and thumb--and all for
oversight of six annas {the anna is the 16th part of a rupee}. But I hear
the step of our jailer; I must bridle my tongue."

The Babu had spoken throughout in a low monotonous tone that had not
disturbed  the  slumbers of his fellow prisoners. But they were all
awakened by the noisy opening of the door and the entrance of their
jailer. He went to each in turn, and unlocked their fetters; then they
filed out in dumb submission, to be escorted by armed sentries to the
different sheds where they fed, each caste by itself.

When the eight had disappeared the jailer turned to Desmond, and, taking
him by the sleeve, led him across the courtyard into the palace. Here, in
a little room, he was given a meager breakfast of rice; after which he
was taken to another room where he found Angria in company with a big
Maratha, who had in his hand a long bamboo cane. The Pirate was no longer
in durbar {council, ceremonial} array, but was clad in a long yellow robe
with a lilac-colored shawl.

Conscious that he made a very poor appearance in his tatters, Desmond
felt that the two men looked at him with contempt. A brief conversation
passed between them; then the Maratha salaamed to Angria and went from
the room, beckoning Desmond to follow him. They went out of the precincts
of the palace, and through a part of the town, until they arrived at the
docks. There the laborers, slaves and free, were already at work. Desmond
at the first glance noticed several Europeans among them, miserable
objects who scarcely lifted their heads to look at this latest newcomer
of their race. His guide called up one of the foremen shipwrights, and
instructed him to place the boy among a gang of the workmen. Then he went
away. Scarcely a minute had elapsed when Desmond heard a cry, and looking
round, saw the man brutally belaboring with his rattan the bare shoulders
of a native. He quivered; the incident seemed of ill augury.

In a few minutes Desmond found himself among a gang of men who were
working at a new gallivat in process of construction for Angria's own
use. He received his orders in dumb show from the foreman of the gang.
Miserable as he was, he would not have been a boy if he had not been
interested in his novel surroundings; and no intelligent boy could have
failed to take an interest in the construction of a gallivat. It was a
large rowboat of from thirty to seventy tons, with two masts, the mizzen
being very slight. The mainmast bore one huge sail, triangular in form,
its peak extending to a considerable height above the mast. The smaller
gallivats were covered with a spar deck made of split bamboos, their
armament consisting of pettararoes fixed on swivels in the gunwale. But
the larger vessels had a fixed deck on which were mounted six or eight
cannon, from two to four pounders; and in addition to their sail they had
from forty to fifty oars, so that, with a stout crew, they attained a
rate of four or five miles an hour.

One of the first things Desmond learned was that the Indian mode of ship
building differed fundamentally from the European. The timbers were
fitted in after the planks had been put together; and the planks were put
together, not with flat edges, but rabbited, the parts made to correspond
with  the greatest exactness. When a plank was set up, its edge was
smeared with red lead, and the edge of the plank to come next was pressed
down upon it, the inequalities in its surface being thus shown by the
marks of the lead. These being smoothed away, if necessary several times,
and the edges fitting exactly, they were rubbed with da'ma, a sort of
glue that in course of time became as hard as iron. The planks were then
firmly riveted with pegs, and by the time the work was finished the seams
were scarcely visible, the whole forming apparently one entire piece of
timber.

The process of building a gallivat was thus a very long and tedious one;
but the vessel when completed was so strong that it could go to sea for
many years before the hull needed repair.

Desmond learned all this only gradually; but from the first day, making a
virtue of necessity, he threw himself into the work and became very
useful, winning the good opinion of the officers of the dockyard. His
feelings were frequently wrung by the brutal punishments inflicted by the
overseer upon defaulters. The man had absolute power over the workers. He
could flog them, starve them, even cut off their ears and noses. One of
his favorite devices was to tie a quantity of oiled cotton round each of
a man's fingers and set light to these living torches.

Another, used with a man whom he considered lazy, was the tank. Between
the dockyard and the river, separated from the latter only by a thin
wall, was a square cavity about seven feet deep covered with boarding, in
the center of which was a circular hole. In the wall was a small orifice
through which water could be let in from the river, while in the opposite
wall  was the pipe and spout of a small hand pump. The man whom the
overseer regarded as an idler was let down into the tank, the covering
replaced, and water allowed to enter from the river. This was a potent
spur to the defaulter's activity, for if he did not work the pump fast
enough the water would gradually rise in the tank, and he would drown.
Desmond learned of one case where the man, utterly worn out by his life
of alternate toil and punishment, refused to work the pump and stood in
silent indifference while the water mounted inch by inch until it covered
his head and ended his woes.

Desmond's diligence in the dockyard pleased the overseer, whose name was
Govinda, and he was by and by employed on lighter tasks which took him
sometimes into the town. Until the novelty wore off he felt a lively
interest  in the scenes that met his eye--the bazaars, crowded with
dark-skinned natives, the men mustachioed, clad for the most part in
white garments that covered them from the crown of the head to the knee,
with a touch of red sometimes in their turbans; the women with bare heads
and arms and feet, garbed in red and blue; the gosains, mendicants with
matted hair and unspeakable filth; the women who fried chapatis {small,
flat, unleavened cakes} on griddles in the streets, grinding their meal
in handmills; the sword grinders, whetting the blades of the Maratha
two-edged swords; the barbers, whose shops had a never-ending succession
of customers; the Brahmans, almost naked and shaved bald save for a small
tuft at the back of the head; the sellers of madi, a toddy extracted from
the cocoanut palm; the magicians in their shawls, with high stiff red
cap, painted all over with snakes; the humped bullocks that were employed
as beasts of burden, and when not in use roamed the streets untended;
occasionally the basawa, the sacred bull of Siva, the destroyer, and the
rath {car} carrying the sacred rat of Ganessa. But with familiarity such
scenes lost their charm; and as the months passed away Desmond felt more
and more the gnawing of care at his heart, the constant sadness of a
slave.



Chapter 11: In which the Babu tells the story of King Vikramaditya; and the
discerning reader may find more than appears on the surface.


Day followed day in dreary sameness. Regularly every evening Desmond was
locked with his eight fellow prisoners in the shed, there to spend hours
of weariness and discomfort until morning brought release and the common
task.  He  had  the  same rations of rice and ragi {a cereal}, with
occasional doles of more substantial fare. He was carefully kept from all
communication with the other European prisoners, and as the Bengali was
the only man of his set who knew English, his only opportunities of using
his native tongue occurred in the evening before he slept.

His fellow prisoners spoke Urdu among themselves, and Desmond found some
alleviation of the monotony of his life in learning the lingua franca of
India under the Babu's tuition. He was encouraged to persevere in the
study by the fact that the Babu proved to be an excellent storyteller,
often beguiling the tedium of wakeful hours in the shed by relating
interminable narratives from the Hindu mythology, and in particular the
exploits of the legendary hero Vikramaditya. So accomplished was he in
this very oriental art that it was not uncommon for one or other of the
sentries to listen to him through the opening in the shed wall, and the
head warder who locked the prisoners' fetters would himself sometimes
squat  down at the door before leaving them at night, and remain an
interested auditor until the blast of a horn warned all in the fort and
town that the hour of sleep had come. It was some time before Desmond was
sufficiently familiar with the language to pick up more than a few words
of the stories here and there, but in three months he found himself able
to follow the narrative with ease.

Meanwhile he was growing apace. The constant work in the open air, clad,
save during the rains, in nothing but a thin dhoti {a cloth worn round
the  waist, passed between the legs and tucked in behind the back},
developed  his physique and, even in that hot climate, hardened his
muscles. The Babu one day remarked with envy that he would soon be deemed
worthy of promotion to Angria's own gallivat, whose crew consisted of
picked men of all nationalities.

This was an honor Desmond by no means coveted. As a dockyard workman,
earning his food by the sweat of his brow, he did not come in contact
with Angria, and was indeed less hardly used than he had been on board
the Good Intent. But to become a galley slave seemed to him a different
thing, and the prospect of pulling an oar in the Pirate's gallivat served
to intensify his longing to escape.

For, though he proved so willing and docile in the dockyard, not a day
passed but he pondered the idea of escape. He seized every opportunity of
learning  the  topography of the fort and town, being aided in this
unwittingly by Govinda, who employed him more and more often, as he
became familiar with the language, in conveying messages from one part of
the settlement to another. But he was forced to confess to himself that
the chances of escape were very slight. Gheria was many miles from the
nearest European settlement where he might find refuge. To escape by sea
seemed impossible; if he fled through the town and got clear of Angria's
territory he would almost certainly fall into the hands of the Peshwa's
{the prime minister and real ruler of the Maratha kingdom} people, and
although the Peshwa was nominally an ally of the Company, his subjects--a
lawless, turbulent, predatory race--were not likely to be specially
friendly to a solitary English lad. A half-felt hope that he might be
able to reach Suwarndrug, lately captured by Commodore James, was dashed
by the news that that fort had been handed over by him to the Marathas.
Moreover,  such  was the rivalry among the various European nations
competing for trade in India that he was by no means sure of a friendly
reception  if  he  should  succeed in gaining a Portuguese or Dutch
settlement.  Dark  stories  were  told  of Portuguese dealings with
Englishmen, and the Dutch bore no good repute for their treatment of
prisoners.

It was a matter of wonder to Desmond that none of his companions ever
hinted at escape. He could not imagine that any man could be a slave
without feeling a yearning for liberty; yet these men lived through the
unvarying round; eating, toiling, sleeping, without any apparent mental
revolt. He could only surmise that all manliness and spirit had been
crushed out of them, and from motives of prudence he forbore to speak of
freedom.

But one evening, a sultry August evening when the shed was like an oven,
and, bathed in sweat, he felt utterly limp and depressed, he asked the
Babu in English whether anyone had ever escaped out of Angria's clutches.
Surendra Nath Chuckerbutti glanced anxiously around, as if fearful that
the others might understand. But they lay listless on their charpoys;
they knew no English, and there was nothing in Desmond's tone to quicken
their hopelessness.

"No, sahib," said the Bengali; "such escapade, if successful, is beyond
my ken. There have been attempts; cui bono? Nobody is an anna the better.
Nay,  the  last state of such misguided men is even worse; they die
suffering very ingenious torture."

Desmond had been amazed at the Babu's command of English until he learned
that the man was an omnivorous reader, and in his leisure at Calcutta had
spent many an hour in poring over such literature as his master's scanty
library afforded, the works of Mr. Samuel Johnson and Mr. Henry Fielding
in particular.

At this moment Desmond said no more, but in the dead of night, when all
were asleep, he leaned over to the Babu's charpoy and gently nudged him.

"Surendra Nath!" he whispered.

"Who calls?" returned the Babu.

"Listen. Have you yourself ever thought of escaping?"

"Peace and quietness, sir. He will hear."

"Who?"

"The Gujarati, sir--Fuzl Khan."

"But he doesn't understand. And if he did, what then?"

"He was the single man, positively unique, who was spared among six
attempting escape last rains."

"They did make an attempt, then. Why was he spared?"

"That, sir, deponent knoweth not. The plot was carried to Angria."

"How?"

"That also is dark as pitch. But Fuzl Khan was spared, that we know. No
man  can trust his vis-a-vis. No man is now so bold to discuss such
matters."

"Is that why we are all chained up at night?"

"That, sir, is the case. It is since then our limbs are shackled."

Desmond thought over this piece of information. He had noticed that the
Gujarati was left much alone by the others. They were outwardly civil
enough, but they rarely spoke to him of their own accord, and sometimes
they would break off in a conversation if he appeared interested. Desmond
had put this down to the man's temper; he was a sullen fellow, with a
perpetually hangdog look, occasionally breaking out in paroxysms of
violence which cost him many a scourging from the overseer's merciless
rattan. But the attitude of his fellow prisoner was more easily explained
if the Babu's hint was well founded. They feared him.

Yet, if he had indeed betrayed his comrades, he had gained little by his
treachery. He was no favorite with the officers of the yard. They kept
him hard at work, and seemed to take a delight in harrying him. More than
once, unjustly, as it appeared to Desmond, he had made acquaintance with
the punishment tank. In his dealings with his fellows he was morose and
offensive. A man of great physical strength, he was a match for any two
of  his shed companions save the Biluchis, who, though individually
weaker, retained something of the spirit of their race and made common
cause against him. The rest he bullied, and none more than the Bengali,
whose weaklier constitution spared him the hard manual work of the yard,
but whose timidity invited aggression.

Now that the subject which constantly occupied his thoughts had been
mooted, Desmond found himself more eagerly striving to find a solution of
the problem presented by the idea of escape. At all hours of the day, and
often when he lay in sleepless discomfort at night, his active mind
recurred to the one absorbing matter: how to regain his freedom. He had
already canvassed the possibilities of escape by land, only to dismiss
the idea as utterly impracticable; for even could he elude the vigilance
of the sentries he could not pass as a native, and the perils besetting
an Englishman were not confined to Angria's territory.

But how stood the chances of escape by sea? Could he stow himself on
board a grab or gallivat, and try to swim ashore when near some friendly
port? He put the suggestion from him as absurd. Supposing he succeeded in
stowing himself on an outgoing vessel, how could he know when he was near
a friendly port without risking almost certain discovery? Besides, except
in such rare cases as the visit of an interloper like the Good Intent,
the Pirate did little trade. His vessels were employed mainly in dashing
out on insufficiently-convoyed merchantmen.

But the train of thought once started could not but be followed out. What
if he could seize a grab or gallivat in the harbor? To navigate such a
vessel required a party, men having some knowledge of the sea. How stood
his fellow prisoners in that respect? The Biluchis, tall wiry men, were
traders, and had several times, he knew, made the voyage from the Persian
Gulf to Surat. It was on one of these journeys that they had fallen into
Angria's  hands. They might have picked up something of the simpler
details  of  navigation.  The  Mysoreans,  being up-country men and
agriculturists, were not likely even to have seen the sea until they
became slaves of Angria. The Marathas would be loath to embark; they
belonged to a warrior race which had for centuries lived by raiding its
neighbors; but being forbidden by their religion to eat or drink at sea
they would never make good seamen. The Babu was a native of Bengal, and
the  Bengalis  were  physically  the weakest of the Indian peoples,
constitutionally timid, and unenterprising in matters demanding physical
courage. Desmond smiled as he thought of how his friend Surendra Nath
might comport himself in a storm.

There remained the Gujarati, and of his nautical capacity Desmond knew
nothing. But, mentioning the matter of seamanship casually to the Babu
one day, he learned that Fuzl Khan was a khalasi {sailor} from Cutch. He
had in him a strain of negro blood, derived probably from some Zanzibari
ancestor brought to Cutch as a slave. The men of the coast of Cutch were
the best sailors in India; and Fuzl Khan himself had spent a considerable
portion of his life at sea.

Thus reflecting on the qualities of his fellow captives, Desmond had
ruefully to acknowledge that they would make a poor crew to navigate a
grab or gallivat. Yet he could find no other, for Angria's system of
mixing the nationalities was cunningly devised to prevent any concerted
schemes. If the attempt was to be made at all, it must be made with the
men  whom  he knew intimately and with whom he had opportunities of
discussing a plan.

But  he  was  at  once  faced  by  the  question  of the Gujarati's
trustworthiness. If there was any truth in Surendra Nath's suspicions, he
would be quite ready to betray his fellows; and if looks and manner were
any criterion, the suspicions were amply justified. True, the man had
gained nothing by his former treachery, but that might not prevent him
from  repeating it, in the hope that a second betrayal would compel
reward.

While  Desmond  was  still  pondering and puzzling, it happened one
unfortunate day that Govinda the overseer was carried off within a few
hours by what the Babu called the cramp--a disease now known as cholera.
His place was immediately filled. But his successor was a very different
man. He was not so capable as Govinda, and endeavored to make up for his
incapacity by greater brutality and violence. The work of the yard fell
off; he tried to mend matters by harrying the men. The whip and rattan
were in constant use, but the result was less efficiency than ever, and
he sought for the cause everywhere but in himself. The lives of the
captives, bad enough before, became a continual torment.

Desmond fared no better than the rest. He lost the trifling privileges he
had  formerly enjoyed. The new overseer seemed to take a delight in
bullying him. Many a night, when he returned to the shed, his back was
raw where the lash had cut a livid streak through his thin dhoti. His
companions suffered in common with him, Fuzl Khan more than any. For days
at a time the man was incapacitated from work by the treatment meted out
to him. Desmond felt that if the Gujarati had indeed purchased his life
by betraying his comrades, he had made a dear bargain.

One night, when his eight companions were all asleep, and nothing could
be heard but the regular calls of the sentries, the beating of tom toms
in the town, and the howls of jackals prowling in the outskirts, Desmond
gently woke the Babu.

"My friend, listen," he whispered, "I have something to say to you."

Surendra Nath turned over in his charpoy.

"Speak soft, I pray," he said.

"My head is on fire," continued Desmond. "I cannot sleep. I have been
thinking.  What is life worth to us? Can anything be worse than our
present lot? Do you ever think of escape?"

"What good, sir? I have said so before. We are fettered; what can we do?
There is but one thing that all men in our plight desire; that is death."

"Nonsense! I do not desire death. This life is hateful, but while we live
there is something to hope for, and I for one am not content to endure
lifelong misery. I mean to escape."

"It is easy to say, but the doing--that is impossible."

"How can we tell that unless we try? The men who tried to escape did not
think it impossible. They might have succeeded--who can say?--if Fuzl
Khan had not betrayed them."

"And he is still with us. He would betray us again."

"I am not sure of that. See what he has suffered! Today his whole body
must have writhed with pain. But for the majum {a preparation of hemp} he
has smoked and the plentiful ghi {clarified butter} we rubbed him with,
he would be moaning now. I think he will be with us if we can only find
out a way. You have been here longer than I; can not you help me to form
a plan?"

"No, sahib; my brain is like running water. Besides, I am afraid. If we
could get rid of our fetters and escape we might have to fight. I cannot
fight; I am not a man of war; I am commercial."

"But you will help me if I can think of a plan?"

"I cannot persuade myself to promise, sahib. It is impossible. Death is
the only deliverer."

Desmond was impatient of the man's lack of spirit. But he suffered no
sign of his feeling to escape him. He had grown to have a liking for the
Babu.

"Well, I shall not give up the idea," he said. "Perhaps I shall speak of
it to you again."

Two nights later, in the dark and silent hours, Desmond reopened the
matter. This time the conversation lasted much longer, and in the course
of it the Babu became so much interested and indeed excited that he
forgot his usual caution, and spoke in a high-pitched tone that woke the
Biluchi on the other side. The man hurled abuse at the disturber of his
repose, and Surendra Nath regained his caution and relapsed into his
usual soft murmur. Desmond and he were still talking when the light of
dawn stole into the shed; but though neither had slept, they went about
their work during the day with unusual briskness and lightness of heart.

That  evening,  after the prisoners had eaten their supper in their
respective eating rooms, they squatted against the outer wall of the shed
for a brief rest before being locked up for the night. The Babu had
promised to tell a story. The approaches to the yard were all guarded by
the usual sentries, and in the distance could be heard the clanking of
the warder's keys as he went from shed to shed performing his nightly
office.

"The story! the story!" said one of the Marathas impatiently. "Why dost
thou tarry, Babu?"

"I have eaten, Gousla, and when the belly is full the brain is sluggish.
But the balance is adjusting itself, and in a little I will begin."

Through the farther gate came the warder. Desmond and his companions were
the last with whom he had to deal. His keys jangling, he advanced slowly
between two Marathas armed with matchlocks and two-edged swords.

The Babu had his back against the shed, the others were grouped about
him, and at his left there was a vacant space. It was growing dusk.

"Hai, worthy jailer!" said Surendra Nath pleasantly, "I was about to tell
the marvelous story of King Bhoya's golden throne. But I will even now
check the stream at the source. Your time is precious. My comrades must
wait until we get inside."

"Not so, Babu," said the warder gruffly. "Tell thy tale. Barik Allah, you
nine are the last of my round. I will myself wait and hear, for thou hast
a ready tongue, and the learning of a pundit {learned man, teacher},
Babu, and thy stories, after the day's work, are they not as honey poured
on rice?"

"You honor me beyond my deserts. If you will deign to be seated!"

The warder marched to the vacant spot at the Babu's side, and squatted
down, crossing his legs, his heavy bunch of keys lying on the skirt of
his dhoti. The armed Marathas stood at a little distance, leaning on
their matchlocks, within hearing of the Babu, and at spots where they
could see anyone approaching from either end of the yard. It would not do
for the warder to be found thus by the officer of the watch.

"It happened during the reign of the illustrious King Bhoya," began the
Babu; then he caught his breath, looking strangely nervous.

"It is the heat, good jailer," he said hurriedly; "--of the illustrious
King Bhoya, I said, that a poor ryot {peasant} named Yajnadatta, digging
one  day  in his field, found there buried the divine throne of the
incomparable King Vikramaditya. When his eyes were somewhat recovered
from the dazzling vision, and he could gaze unblinking at the wondrous
throne, he beheld that it was resplendent with thirty-two graven images,
and adorned with a multitude of jewels: rubies and diamonds, pearls and
jasper, crystal and coral and sapphires.

"Now the news of this wondrous discovery coming to the ears of King
Bhoya, he incontinently caused the throne to be conveyed to his palace,
and had it set in the midst of his hall of counsel that rose on columns
of gold and silver, of coral and crystal. Then the desire came upon him
to sit on this throne, and calling his wise men, he bade them choose a
moment of good augury, and gave order to his servitors to make all things
ready for his coronation. Whereupon his people brought curded milk,
sandalwood, flowers, saffron, umbrellas, parasols, divers tails--tails of
oxen,  tails of peacocks; arrows, weapons of war, mirrors and other
objects proper to be held by wedded women--all things, indeed, meet for a
solemn festival, with a well-striped tiger skin to represent the seven
continents  of  the  earth;  nothing was wanting of all the matters
prescribed in the Shastras {holy books} for the solemn crowning of kings;
and having thus fulfilled their duty, the servitors humbly acquainted his
Majesty therewith. Then when the Guru {religious teacher}, the Purohita
{hereditary priest of the royal house}, the Brahmans, the wise men, the
councilors, the officers, the soldiers, the chief captain, had entered,
the august King Bhoya drew near the throne, to the end that he might be
anointed.

"But lo! the first of the carven figures that surrounded the throne thus
spake  and  said:  'Harken, O King. That prince who is endowed with
sovereign  qualities;  who  shines  before all others in wealth, in
liberality, in mercy; who excels in heroism and in goodness; who is drawn
by his nature to deeds of piety; who is full of might and majesty; that
prince alone is worthy to sit upon this throne--no other, no meaner
sovereign, is worthy. Harken, O King, to the story of the throne.'"

"Go on, Babu," said the jailer, as the narrator paused; "what said the
graven image?"

"'There once lived,'" continued the Babu, "'in the city of Avanti, a
king, Bartrihari by name. Having come to recognize the vanity of earthly
things, this king one day left his throne and went as a jogi {ascetic}
afar into the desert. His kingdom, being then without a head--for he had
no sons, and his younger brother, the illustrious Vikramaditya, was
traveling in far lands--fell into sore disorder, so that thieves and
evildoers increased from day to day.

"'The wise men in their trouble sought diligently for a child having the
signs of royalty, and in due time, having found one, Xatrya by name, they
gave the kingdom into his charge. But in that land there dwelt a mighty
jin {evil spirit}, Vetala Agni {spirit of fire}, who, when he heard of
what the wise men had done, came forth on the night of the same day the
young king had been enthroned and slew him and departed. And it befell
that each time the councilors found a new king, lo, the Vetala Agni came
forth and slew him.

"'Now upon a certain day, when the wise men, in sore trouble of heart,
were  met  in  council,  there  appeared among them the illustrious
Vikramaditya, newly returned from long travel, who, when he had heard
what was toward, said:

"'"O ye wise men and faithful, make me king without ado."

"'And the wise men, seeing that Vikramaditya was worthy of that dignity
thus spake:

"'"From this day, O excellency, thou art king of the realm of Avanti."

"'Having in this fashion become king of Avanti, Vikramaditya busied
himself all that day with the affairs of his kingdom, tasting the sweets
of power; and at the fall of night he prepared, against the visit of the
Vetala Agni, great store of heady liquors, all kinds of meat, fish,
bread, confections, rice boiled with milk and honey, sauces, curded milk,
butter  refined, sandalwood, bouquets and garlands, divers sorts of
sweet-scented things; and all these he kept in his palace, and himself
remained therein, reclining in full wakefulness upon his fairest bed.

"'Then into this palace came the Vetala Agni, sword in hand, and went
about to slay the august Vikramaditya. But the king said:

"'"Harken, O Vetala Agni; seeing that thy Excellency has come for to
cause me to perish, it is not doubtful that thou wilt succeed in thy
purpose; albeit, all these viands thou dost here behold have been brought
together for thy behoof; eat, then, whatsoever thou dost find worthy;
afterwards thou shalt work thy will."

"'And the Vetala Agni, having heard these words, filled himself with this
great store of food, and, marvelously content with the king, said unto
him:

"'"Truly I am content, and well disposed towards thee, and I give thee
the realm of Avanti; sit thou in the highest place and taste its joys;
but take heed of one thing: every day shalt thou prepare for me a repast
like unto this."

"'With these words, the Vetala Agni departed from that spot and betook
him into his own place.

"'Then for a long space did Vikramaditya diligently fulfill that command;
but by and by, growing aweary of feeding the Vetala Agni, he sought
counsel of the jogi Trilokanatha, who had his dwelling on the mount of
Kanahakrita. The jogi, perceiving the manifold merits of the incomparable
Vikramaditya, was moved with compassion towards him, and when he had long
meditated and recited sundry mantras {hymns and prayers}, he thus spake
and said:

"'"Harken, O King. From the sacred tank of Shakravatar spring alleys four
times seven, as it were branches from one trunk, to wit, seven to the
north, seven to the east, seven to the west, and seven to the south. Of
the seven alleys springing to the north do you choose the seventh, and in
the seventh alley the seventh tree from the sacred tank, and on the
seventh branch of the seventh tree thou shalt find the nest of a bulbul.
Within that nest thou shalt discover a golden key."'"

The Babu was now speaking very slowly, and an observer watching Desmond
would have perceived that his eyes were fixed with a strange look of
mingled eagerness and anxiety upon the storyteller. But no one observed
this; every man in the group was intent upon the story, hanging upon the
lips of the eloquent Babu.

"'Having obtained the golden key,'" continued the narrator, "'thou shalt
return forthwith to thy palace, and the same night, when the Vetala Angi
has eaten and drunk his fill, thou shalt in his presence lay the key upon
the palm of thy left hand, thus--'" (here the Babu quietly took up a key
hanging from the bunch attached to the warder's girdle, and laid it upon
his left palm). "'Then shalt thou say to the Vetala:

"'"O illustrious Vetala, tell me, I pray thee, what doth this golden key
unlock?"

"'Then if the aspect of the Vetala be fierce, fear not, for he must needs
reply: such is the virtue of the key; and by his words thou shalt direct
thy course. Verily it is for such a trial that the gods have endowed thee
with wisdom beyond the common lot of men.

"'Vikramaditya performed in all points the jogi's bidding; and having in
the presence of the Vetala laid the golden key upon the palm of his hand,
a voice within bade him ask the question:

"'"O Vetala, what art thou apt to do? What knowest thou?"

"'And the Vetala answered:

"'"All that I have in my mind, that I am apt to perform. I know all
things."

"'And the king said:

"'"Speak, then; what is the number of my years?"

"'And the Vetala answered:

"'"The years of thy life are a hundred."

"'Then said the king:

"'"I am troubled because in the tale of my years there are two gaps;
grant me, then, one year in excess of a hundred, or from the hundred take
one."

"'And the Vetala answered:

"'"O King, thou art in the highest degree good, liberal, merciful, just,
lord of thyself, and honored of gods and of Brahmans; the measure of joys
that are ordained to fill thy life is full; to add anything thereto, to
take anything therefrom, are alike impossible."

"'Having  heard these words, the king was satisfied, and the Vetala
departed unto his own place.

"'Upon the night following the king prepared no feast against the coming
of the Vetala, but girt himself for fight. The Vetala came, and seeing
nothing in readiness for the repast, but, on the contrary, all things
requisite to a combat, he waxed wroth and said:

"'"O wicked and perverse king, why hast thou made ready nothing for my
pleasure this night?"

"'And the king answered: "Since thou canst neither add to my length of
years, nor take anything therefrom, why should I make ready a repast for
thee continually and without profit?"

"'The Vetala made answer:

"'"Ho--'tis thus that thou speakest! Now, truly, come fight with me; this
night will I devour thee."

"'At these words the king rose up in wrath to smite the Vetala, and held
him in swift and dexterous combat for a brief space. And the Vetala,
having thus made proof of the might and heroism of the king, and being
satisfied, spake and said:

"'"O King, thou art mighty indeed; I am content with thy valor; now,
then, ask me what thou wilt."

"'And the king answered:

"'"Seeing that thou art well-disposed towards me, grant me this grace,
that when I call thee, thou wilt in that same instant stand at my side."

"'And the Vetala, having granted this grace to the king, departed unto
his own place.'"

The Babu waved his hands as a sign that the story was ended. He was damp
with perspiration, and in his glance at Desmond there was a kind of
furtive appeal for approval.

"Thou speakest well, Babu," said the warder. "But what befell King Bhoya
when the graven image had thus ended his saying?"

"That,  good jailer, is another story, and if you please to hear it
another night, I will do my poor best to satisfy you."

"Well, the hour is late."

The warder rose to his feet and resumed his official gruffness.

"Come, rise; it is time I locked your fetters; and, in good sooth, mine
is no golden key."

He chuckled as he watched the prisoners file one by one into the shed.
Following them, he quickly locked each in turn to his staple in the wall
and went out, bolting and double-locking the door behind him.

"You did well, my friend," whispered Desmond in English to the Babu.

"My heart flutters like the wing of a bulbul," answered the Babu; "but I
am content, sahib."

"But say, Surendra Nath," remarked one of the Maratha captives, "last
time you told us that story you said nothing of the golden key."

"Ah!" replied the Babu, "you are thinking of the story told by the second
graven  image  in  King Vikramaditya's throne. I will tell you that
tomorrow."



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.


Next morning, when Desmond left the shed with his fellow prisoners, he
took with him, secreted in a fold of his dhoti, a small piece of clay. It
had been given him overnight by the Babu. An hour or two later, happening
to be for a moment alone in the tool shop, he took out the clay and
examined it carefully. It was a moment for which he had waited and longed
with feverish impatience. The clay was a thin strip, oval in shape, and
slightly curved. In the middle of it was the impression, faint but clear,
of a key. A footstep approaching, he concealed the clay again in his
garment, and, when a workman entered, was busily plying a chisel upon a
deal plank.

Before he left the tool shop, he secreted with the clay a scrap of steel
and a small file. That day, and for several days after, whenever chance
gave him a minute or two apart from his fellow workmen, he employed the
precious moments in diligently filing the steel to the pattern on the
clay. It was slow work: all too tedious for his eager thought. But he
worked at his secret task with unfailing patience, and at the week's end
had filed the steel to the likeness of the wards of a key.

That night, when his "co-mates in exile" were asleep, he gently inserted
the steel in the lock of his ankle band. He tried to turn it. It stuck
fast; the wards did not fit. He was not surprised. Before he made the
experiment he had felt that it would fail; the key was indeed a clumsy,
ill-shapen instrument. But next day he began to work on another piece of
steel, and on this he spent every spare minute he could snatch. This time
he  found  himself able to work faster. Night and morning he looked
searchingly at the key on the warder's bunch, and afterward tried to cut
the steel to the pattern that was now, as it were, stamped upon his
brain.

He wished he could test his second model in the morning light before the
warder came, and correct it then. But to do so would involve discovery by
his fellow captives; the time to take them into his confidence was not
yet. He had perforce to wait till dead of night before he could tell
whether the changes, more and more delicate and minute, made upon his key
during the day were effective. And the Babu was fretful; having done his
part admirably, as Desmond told him, in working the key into his story,
he seemed to expect that the rest would be easy, and did not make account
of the long labor of the file.

At length a night came when, inserting the key in the lock, Desmond felt
it  turn easily. Success at last! As he heard the click, he felt an
extraordinary sense of elation. Quietly unclasping the fetter, he removed
it from his ankle, and stood free. If it could be called free--to be shut
up in a locked and barred shed in the heart of one of the strongest
fortresses in Hindostan! But at least his limbs were at liberty. What a
world of difference there was between that and his former state!

Should  he inform the Babu? He felt tempted to do so, for it was to
Surendra Nath's ingenuity in interpolating the incident of the key into a
well-known story that he owed the clay pattern of the warder's key. But
Surendra Nath was excitable; he was quite capable of uttering a yell of
delight that would waken the other men and force a premature disclosure.
Desmond decided to wait for a quiet moment next day before telling the
Babu of his success. So he replaced his ankle band, locked the catch, and
lay down to the soundest and most refreshing sleep he had enjoyed for
many a night.

He had only just reached the workshop next morning when a peon came with
a  message that Angria Rho {a chief or prince} required his instant
attendance at the palace. He began to quake in spite of himself. Could
the prince have discovered already that the lock of his fetters had been
tampered with? Desmond could scarcely believe it. He had made his first
test in complete darkness; nothing had broken the silence save the one
momentary click; and the warder, when he unloosed him, had not examined
the lock. What if he were searched and the precious key were found upon
him?  It  was carefully hidden in a fold of his dhoti. There was no
opportunity of finding another hiding place for it; he must go as he was
and  trust  that  suspicion had not been aroused. But it was with a
galloping pulse that he followed the peon out of the dockyard, within the
walls of the fort, and into the hall where he had had his first interview
with the Pirate.

His uneasiness was hardly allayed when he saw that Angria was in company
with Diggle. Both were squatting on the carpeted dais; no other person
was in the room. Having ushered him in, the peon withdrew, and Desmond
was alone with the two men he had most cause to fear. Diggle was smiling,
Angria's eyes were gleaming, his mobile lips working as with impatience,
if not anxiety.

The Pirate spoke quickly, imperiously.

"You have learnt our tongue, Firangi {originally applied by the natives
to the Portuguese, then to any European} boy?" he said.

"I have done my best, huzur," replied Desmond in Urdu.

"That is well. Now harken to what I say. You have pleased me; my jamadar
{head servant} speaks well of you; but you are my slave, and, if I will
it, you will always be my slave. You would earn your freedom?"

"I am in your august hands, huzur," said Desmond diplomatically.

"You may earn your freedom in one way," continued Angria in the same
rapid, impatient tone. "My scouts report that an English fleet has passed
up the coast towards Bombay. My spies tell me that in Bombay a large
force is collected under the command of that sur ka batcha {son of a pig}
Clive. But I cannot learn the purpose of this armament. The dogs may
think, having taken my fortress of Suwarndrug, to come and attack me
here. Or they may intend to proceed against the French at Hyderabad. It
is not convenient for me to remain in this uncertainty. You will go to
Bombay and learn these things of which I am in ignorance and come again
and tell me. I will then set you free."

"I cannot do it, huzur."

Desmond's reply came without a moment's hesitation. To act as a spy upon
his own countrymen--how could Angria imagine that an English boy would
ever consent to win his freedom on such terms?

His simple words roused the Maratha to fury. He sprang to his feet and
angrily addressed Diggle, who had also risen, and stood at his side,
still smiling. Diggle replied to his vehement words in a tone too low for
Desmond to catch what he said. Angria turned to the boy again.

"I will not only set you free; I will give you half a lakh of rupees; you
shall have a place at my court, or, if you please, I will recommend you
to another prince in whose service you may rise to wealth and honor. If
you refuse, I shall kill you; no, I shall not kill you, for death is
sweet to a slave; I shall inflict on you the tortures I reserve for those
who provoke my anger; you shall lose your ears, your nose, and--"

Diggle again interposed.

"Pardon me, bhai {brother}," Desmond heard him say, "that is hardly the
way to deal with a boy of my nation. If you will deign to leave him to
me,  I  think  that  in a little I shall find means to overcome his
hesitation."

"But even then, how can I trust the boy? He may give his word to escape
me; then betray me to his countrymen. I have no faith in the Firangi."

"Believe me, if he gives his word he will keep it. That is the way with
us."

"It is not your way."

"I am no longer of them," said Diggle with consummate aplomb. "Dismiss
him now; I shall do my best with him."

"Then you must hasten. I give you three days: if within that time he has
not consented, I shall do to him all that I have said, and more also."

"I do not require three days to make up my mind," said Desmond quietly.
"I cannot do what--"

"Hush, you young fool!" cried Diggle angrily in English.

Turning to the Pirate he added: "The boy is as stiff-necked as a pig; but
even a pig can be led if you ring his snout. I beg you leave him to me."

"Take him away!" exclaimed Angria, clapping his hands.

Two attendants came in answer to his summons, and Desmond was led off and
escorted by them to his workshop.

Angry and disgusted as he was with both the Maratha and Diggle, he was
still more anxious at this unexpected turn in his affairs. He had but
three days! If he had not escaped before the fourth day dawned, his fate
would be the most terrible that could befall a living creature. The
tender mercies of the wicked are cruel! He had seen, among the prisoners,
some of the victims of Angria's cruelty; they had suffered tortures too
terrible to be named, and dragged out a life of unutterable degradation
and  misery,  longing  for  death as a blissful end. With his quick
imagination he already felt the hands of the torturers upon him; and for
all the self control which his life in Gheria had induced, he was for
some moments so wholly possessed by terror that he could scarcely endure
the consciousness of existence.

But when the first tremors were past, and he began to go about his usual
tasks, and was able to think calmly, not for an instant did he waver in
his resolve. Betray his countrymen! It was not to be thought of. Give his
word to Angria and then forswear himself! Ah! even Diggle knew that he
would not do that. Freedom, wealth, a high place in some prince's court!
He would buy none of them at the price of his honor. Diggle was false,
unspeakably base; let him do Angria's work if he would; Desmond Burke
would never stoop to it.

He scarcely argued the matter explicitly with himself: it was settled in
Angria's presence by his instinctive repulsion. But it was not in a boy
like Desmond, young, strong, high spirited, tamely to fold his hands
before adverse fate. He had three days: it would go hard with him if he
did not make good use of them. He felt a glow of thankfulness that the
first step, and that a difficult one, had been taken, providentially, as
it seemed, the very night before this crisis in his fate. His future plan
had already outlined itself; it was necessary first to gain over his
companions in captivity; that done, he hoped within the short period
allowed him to break prison and turn his back forever on this place of
horror.

It seemed to his eager impatience that that day would never end. It was
November, and the beginning of the cold season, and the work of the
dockyard, being urgent, was carried on all day without the usual break
during  the  hot  middle  hours, so that he found no opportunity of
consulting his fellows. Further, the foremen of the yard were specially
active. The Pirate had been for some time fearful lest the capture of
Suwarndrug should prove to be the prelude to an assault upon his stronger
fort and headquarters at Gheria, and to meet the danger he had had nine
new vessels laid down. Three of them had been finished, but the work had
been much interrupted by the rains, and the delay in the completion of
the remaining six had irritated him. He had visited his displeasure upon
the foremen. After his interview with Desmond he summoned them to his
presence and threatened them with such dire punishment if the work was
not more rapidly pushed on, that they had used the lash more furiously
and with even less discrimination than ever. Consequently when Desmond
met his companions in the shed at night he found them all in desperate
indignation and rage. He had seen nothing more of Diggle; he must strike
while the iron was hot.

When they were locked in, and all was quiet outside, the prisoners gave
vent,  each  in  his own way, to their feelings. For a time Desmond
listened, taking no part in their lamentation and cursing. But when the
tide of impotent fury ebbed, and there was a lull, he said quietly:

"Are my brothers dogs that, suffering these things, they merely whine?"

The  quiet  level tones, so strangely contrasting with the tones of
fierceness and hate that were still ringing in the ears of the unhappy
prisoners, had an extraordinary effect. There was dead silence in the
shed: it seemed that every man was afraid to speak. Then one of the
Marathas said in a whisper:

"What do you mean, sahib?"

"What do I mean? Surely it must be clear to any man. Have we not sat long
enough on the carpet of patience?"

Again the silence remained for a space unbroken.

"You, Gulam Mahomed," continued Desmond, addressing one of the Biluchis
whom he considered the boldest--"have you never thought of escape?"

"Allah  knows!"  said the man in an undertone. "But He knows that I
remember what happened a year ago. Fuzl Khan can tell the sahib something
about that."

A fierce cry broke from the Gujarati, who had been moaning under his
charpoy in anguish from the lashings he had undergone that day. Desmond
heard him spring up; but if he had meant to attack the Biluchi, the
clashing of his fetters reminded him of his helplessness. He cursed the
man, demanding what he meant.

"Nothing," returned Gulam Mahomed. "But you were the only man, Allah
knows, who escaped the executioner."

"Pig, and son of a pig!" cried Fuzl Khan, "I knew nothing of the plot. If
any man says I did he lies. They did it without me; some evil jin must
have heard their whisperings. They failed. They were swine of Canarese."

"Do  not  let  us  quarrel,"  said Desmond. "We are all brothers in
misfortune; we ought to be as close knit as the strands of a rope. Here
is our brother Fuzl Khan, the only man of his gang who did not try to
escape, and see how he is treated! Could he be worse misused? Would not
death be a boon?

"Is it not so, Fuzl Khan?"

The Gujarati assented with a passionate cry.

"As for the rest of us, it is only a matter of time. I am the youngest of
you, and not the hardest worked, yet I feel that the strain of our toil
is wearing me out. What must it be with you? You are dying slowly. If we
make an attempt to escape and fail we shall die quickly, that is all the
difference. What is to be is written, is it not so, Shaik Abdullah?"

"Even so, sahib," replied the second Biluchi, "it is written. Who can
escape his fate?"

"And what do you say, Surendra Nath?"

"The key, sahib," whispered the Babu in English; "what of the key?"

"Speak in Urdu, Babu," said Desmond quickly. "Don't agree at once."

Surendra Nath was quick witted; he perceived that Desmond did not wish
the others to suspect that there had been any confidences between them.

"I am a coward, the sahib knows," he said in Urdu. "I could not give
blows; I should die. It was told us today that the English are about to
attack this fort. They will set us free; we need run no risks."

"Wah!" exclaimed one of the Mysoreans. "If the Firangi get into the fort,
we shall all be murdered."

"That is truth," said a Maratha. "The Rho would have our throats cut at
once."

The Babu groaned.

"You see, Surendra Nath, it is useless to wait in the hope of help from
my countrymen," said Desmond. "If there is fighting to be done, we can do
all that is needed: is it not so, my brothers? As for you, Babu, if you
would sooner die without--well, there is nothing to prevent you."

"If the sahib does not wish me to fight, it is well. But has the sahib a
plan?"

"Yes, I have a plan."

He paused; there was sound of hard breathing.

"Tell it us," said the Gujarati eagerly.

"You are one of us, Fuzl Khan?"

"The plan! the plan! Is not my back mangled? Have I not endured the tank?
Is not freedom sweet to me as to another? The plan, sahib! I swear, I
Fuzl Khan, to be true to you and all; only tell me the plan."

"You shall have the plan in good time. First I have a thing to say. When
a battle is to be fought, no soldier fights only for himself, doing that
which  seems good to him alone. He looks to the captain for orders.
Otherwise mistakes would be made, and all effort would be wasted. We must
have a captain: who is he to be?"

"Yourself, sahib," said the Gujarati at once. "You have spoken; you have
the plan; we take you as leader."

"You hear what Fuzl Khan says. Do you all agree?"

The others assented eagerly. Then Desmond told his wondering hearers the
secret  of the key, and during several hours of that quiet night he
discussed with them in whispers the details of the scheme which he had
worked out. At intervals the sentry passed and flashed his light through
the  opening  in the wall; but at these moments every man was lying
motionless upon his charpoy, and not a sound was audible save a snore.

Next  day when Desmond, having finished his midday meal of rice and
mangoes, had returned to his workshop, Diggle sauntered in.

"Ah, my young friend," he said in his quiet voice and with his usual
smile,  "doubtless  you have expected a visit from me. Night brings
counsel. I did not visit you yesterday, thinking that after sleeping over
the amiable and generous proposition made to you by my friend Angria you
would view it in another light. I trust that during the nocturnal hours
you have come to perceive the advantages of choosing the discreet part.
Let us reason together."

There were several natives with them in the workshop, but none of them
understood English, and the two Englishmen could talk at ease.

"Reason!" said Desmond in reply to Diggle's last sentence. "If you are
going to talk of what your pirate friend spoke of yesterday, it is mere
waste of time. I shall never agree."

"Words, my young friend, mere words! You will be one of us yet. You will
never have such a chance again. Why, in a few years you will be able to
return to England, if you will, a rich man, a very nawab {governor}. My
friend Angria has his faults; nemo est sine culpa: but he is at least
generous. An instance! The man who took the chief part in the capture of
the Dutchman two years ago--what is he now? A naib {deputy governor}, a
man of wealth, of high repute at the Nizam's court. There is no reason
why you should not follow so worthy an example; cut out an Indiaman or
two, and Desmond Burke may, if he will, convey a shipload of precious
things to the shores of Albion, and enjoy his leisured dignity on a
landed estate of his own. He shall drive a coach while his oaf of a
brother perspires behind a plow."

Desmond was silent. Diggle watched him keenly, and after a slight pause
continued:

"This is no great thing that is asked of you. You sail on one of Angria's
grabs; you are set upon the shore; you enter Bombay with a likely story
of escape from the fortress of the Pirate; you are a hero, the boon
fellow of the men, the pet of the ladies--for there are ladies in Bombay,
forma praestante puellae. In a week you know everything, all the purposes
that Angria's spies have failed to discover. One day you disappear; the
ladies wail and tear their hair; a tiger has eaten you; in a week you
will be forgotten. But you are back in Angria's fortress, no longer a
slave, downtrodden and despised; but a free man, a rich man, a potentate
to be. Is it not worth thinking of, my young friend, especially when you
remember the other side of the picture? It is a dark side; an unpleasant
side; even, let me confess, horrible: I prefer to keep it to the wall."

He waved his gloved hand, deprecatingly, watching Desmond with the same
intentness. The boy was dumb: he might also have been deaf. Diggle drew
from his fob an elaborately chased snuffbox and took a pinch of fine
rappee, Desmond mechanically noticing that the box bore ornamentation of
Dutch design.

"If I were not your friend," continued Diggle, "I might say that your
attitude is one of sheer obstinacy. Why not trust us? You see we trust
you. I stand pledged for you with Angria; but I flatter myself I know a
man when I see one: si fractus illabitur orbis--you have already shown
your mettle. Of course I understand your scruples; I was young myself
once; I know the generous impulses that rule the hearts of youth. But
this is a matter that must be decided, not by feeling, but by hard fact
and cold reason. Who benefits by your scruples? A set of hard-living
money grubbers in Bombay who fatten on the oppression of the ryot, who
tithe mint and anise and cumin, who hoard up treasure which they will
take back with their jaundiced livers to England, there to become pests
to society with their splenetic and domineering tempers. What's the
Company  to  you,  or you to the Company? Why, Governor Pitt was an
interloper;  and your own father: yes, he was an interloper, and an
interloper of the best."

"But not a pirate," said Desmond hotly, his scornful silence yielding at
last.

"True, true," said Diggle suavely; "but in the Indies, you see, we don't
draw fine distinctions. We are all bucaneers in a sense; some with the
sword, others the ledger. Throw in your lot frankly with me; I will stand
your friend."

"You are wasting your breath and your eloquence," interrupted Desmond
firmly, "and even if I were tempted to agree, as I never could be, I
should remember who is talking to me."

Then he added with a whimsical smile, "Come, Mr. Diggle, you are fond of
quotations; I am not; but there's one I remember--'I fear the Greeks,
though'--"

"You young hound!" cried Diggle, his sallow face becoming purple. His
anger, it seemed to Desmond afterwards reflecting on it, was out of
proportion to the cause of offense. "You talk of my eloquence. By heaven,
when I see you again I shall use it otherwise. You shall hear something
of how Angria wreaks his vengeance; you shall have a foretaste of the
sweets in store for an obstinate, recalcitrant pig-headed fool!"

He strode away, leaving Desmond a prey to the gloomiest anticipations.

That evening, when the prisoners were squatting outside the shed for the
usual hour of talk before being locked up for the night, a new feature
was added to the entertainment. One of the Marathas had somehow possessed
himself of a tom tom, and proved himself an excellent performer on that
weird instrument. While he tapped its sides, his fellow Maratha, in a
strange hard tuneless voice, chanted a song, repeating its single stanza
again and again without apparently wearying his hearers, and clapping his
hand to mark the time.

It  was  a  song  about  a  banya {merchant} with a beautiful young
daughter-in-law, whom he appointed to deal out the daily handful of flour
expected as alms by every beggar who passed his door. Her hands being
much smaller than his own, he pleased himself with the idea that, without
losing his reputation for charity, he would give away through her much
less grain than if he himself performed the charitable office. But it
turned out bad thrift, for so beautiful was she that she attracted to the
door not only the genuine beggars, but also many, both young and old, who
had disguised themselves in mendicant rags for the mere pleasure of
beholding her and getting from her a smile and a gentle word.

It was a popular song, and the warder himself was tempted to stay and
listen until, the hour for locking up being past, he at last recollected
his duty and bundled the prisoners into the shed.

"Sing inside if you must," he said, "but not too loud, lest the overseer
come with the bamboo."

Inside the shed, reclining on their charpoys, the men continued their
performance, changing their song, though not, as it seemed to Desmond,
the tune. He, however, was perhaps not sufficiently attentive to the
monotonous strains; for, as soon as the warder had left the yard, he had
unlocked his fetters and begun to work in the darkness. Poised on one of
the rafters, he held on with one hand to a joist, and with the other
plied a small saw, well greased with ghi. The sound of the slow careful
movements of the tool was completely drowned by the singing and the
hollow rat-a-pan of the tom tom. Beneath him stood the Babu, extending
his  dhoti  like an apron, and catching in it the falling shower of
sawdust.

Suddenly the figure on the rafter gave a low whistle. Through the window
he had seen the dim form of the sentry outside approach the space lighted
by the rays from the lantern, which he had laid down at a corner of the
shed. Before the soldier had time to lift it and throw a beam into the
shed (which he did as much from curiosity to see the untiring performers
as in the exercise of his duty) Desmond had swung down from his perch and
stretched himself upon the nearest charpoy. The Babu meanwhile had darted
with his folded dhoti to the darkest corner. When the sentry peered in,
the two performing Marathas were sitting up; the rest were lying prone,
to all appearance soothed to sleep.

"Verily thou wilt rap a hole in the tom tom," said the sentry with a
grin. "Better save a little of it for tomorrow."

"Sleep is far from my eyes," replied the man. "My comrades are all at
rest; if it does not offend thee--"

"No. Tap till it burst, for me. But without sleep the work will be hard
in the morning."

He went away. Instantly the two figures were again upon their feet, and
the sawing recommenced. For three hours the work continued, interrupted
at  intervals by the visits of the sentry. Midnight was past before
Desmond, with cramped limbs and aching head, gave the word for the song
and accompaniment to cease, and the shed was in silence.



Chapter 13: In which Mr. Diggle illustrates his argument; and there are
strange doings in Gheria harbor.


The  morning of the third day dawned--the last of the three allowed
Desmond for making up his mind. When the other prisoners were loosed from
their fetters and marched off under guard to their usual work, he alone
was left. Evidently he was to be kept in confinement with a view to
quickening his resolution. Some hours passed. About midday he heard
footsteps approaching the shed. The door was opened, and in the entrance
Diggle appeared.

"You will excuse me," he said with a sniff, "if I remain on the threshold
of your apartment. It is, I fear, but imperfectly aired."

He pulled a charpoy to the door, and sat down upon it, as much outside as
within. Taking out his snuffbox, he tapped it, took a pinch, savored it,
and added:

"You will find the apartment prepared for you in my friend Angria's
palace somewhat sweeter than this your present abode--somewhat more
commodious also."

Desmond, reclining at a distance, looked his enemy calmly and steadily in
the face.

"If you have come, Mr. Diggle," he said, "merely to repeat what you said
yesterday, let me say at once that it is a waste of breath. I have not
changed my mind."

"No,  not to repeat, my young friend. Crambe repetita--you know the
phrase? Yesterday I appealed, in what I had to say, to your reason;
either my appeal, or your reason, was at fault. Today I have another
purpose. 'Tis pity to come down to a lower plane; to appeal to the more
ignoble part of man; but since you have not yet cut your wisdom teeth I
must e'en accommodate myself. Angria is my friend; but there are moments,
look you, when the bonds of our friendship are put to a heavy strain. At
those moments Angria is perhaps most himself, and I, perhaps, am most
myself;  which might prove to a philosopher that there is a radical
antagonism between the oriental and the occidental character. Since my
picture of the brighter side has failed to impress you, I propose to show
you the other side--such is the sincerity of my desire for your welfare.
And 'tis no empty picture--inanis imago, as Ovid might say--no, 'tis
sheer reality, speaking, terrible."

He turned and beckoned. In a moment Desmond heard the clank of chains,
and by and by, at the entrance of the shed, stood a figure at sight of
whom his blood ran cold. It was the bent, thin, broken figure of a Hindu,
his thin bare legs weighted with heavy irons. Ears, nose, upper lip were
gone; his eyes were lit with the glare of madness; the parched skin of
his hollow cheeks was drawn back, disclosing a grinning mouth and yellow
teeth. His arms and legs were like sticks; both hands had lost their
thumbs, his feet were twisted, straggling wisps of gray hair escaped from
his  turban. Standing there beside Diggle, he began to mop and mow,
uttering incomprehensible gibberish.

Diggle waved him away.

"That,  my  dear  boy,  illustrates  the  darker  side  of Angria's
character--the side which forbids me to call Angria unreservedly my
friend. A year ago that man was as straight as you; he had all his organs
and dimensions; he was rich, and of importance in his little world.
Today--but you have seen him: it boots not to attempt in words to say
what the living image has already said.

"And within twenty-four hours, unless you come to a better mind, even as
that man is, so will you be."

He rose slowly to his feet, bending upon Desmond a look of mournful
interest  and compassion. Desmond had stood all but transfixed with
horror. But as Diggle now prepared to leave him, the boy flushed hot; his
fists clenched; his eyes flashed with indignation.

"You fiend!" was all he said.

Diggle smiled, and sauntered carelessly away.

That night, when the prisoners were brought as usual to the shed, and
warder and sentries were out of earshot, Desmond told them what he had
seen.

"It must be tonight, my brothers," he said in conclusion. "We have no
longer time. Before sunrise tomorrow we must be out of this evil place.
We must work, work, for life and liberty."

This night again the singer sang untiringly, the tom tom accompanying him
with its weird hollow notes. And in the blackness, Desmond worked as he
had never worked before, plying his saw hour after hour, never forgetting
his  caution,  running no risks when he had warning of the sentry's
approach. And hour after hour the shower of sawdust fell noiselessly into
Babu's outspread dhoti. Then suddenly the beating of the tom tom ceased,
the singer's voice died away on a lingering wail, and the silence of the
night was unbroken save by the melancholy howl of a distant jackal, and
the call of sentry to sentry as at intervals they went their rounds.

At midnight the guard was relieved. The newcomer--a tall, thin, lanky
Maratha--arriving at Desmond's shed, put his head in at the little window
space, and flashed his lantern from left to right more carefully than the
man whom he had just replaced. The nine forms lay flat or curled up on
their charpoys--all was well.

Coming back an hour later, he fancied he heard a slight sound within the
shed. He went to the window and peered in, flashing his lantern before
him from left to right. But as he did so, he felt upon his throat a grip
as of steel. He struggled to free himself; his cry was stifled ere it was
uttered; his matchlock fell with a clatter to the ground. He was like a
child in the hands of his captor, and when the Gujarati in a fierce low
whisper said to him: "Yield, hound, or I choke you!" his struggle ceased
and he stood trembling in sweat.

But  now came the sentries' call, passed from man to man around the
circuit of the fort.

"Answer the call!" whispered the Gujarati, with a significant squeeze of
the man's windpipe.

When his turn arrived, the sentry took up the word, but it was a thin
quavering call that barely reached the next man a hundred yards away.

While this brief struggle had been going on, a light figure within the
shed had mounted to the rafters and, gently feeling for and twisting
round a couple of wooden pins, handed down to his companions below a
section of the roof some two feet square, which had been kept in its
place only by these temporary supports. The wood was placed silently on
the floor. Then the figure above crawled out upon the roof, and let
himself down by the aid of a rope held by the two Biluchis within.

It was a pitch-dark night; nothing broke the blackness save the scattered
points of light from the sentries' lanterns. Stepping to the side of the
half-garroted Maratha, who was leaning passively against the shed, the
sinewy hand of the Gujarati still pressing upon his windpipe, Desmond
thrust a gag into his mouth and with quick deft movements bound his
hands. Now he had cause to thank the destiny that had made him Bulger's
shipmate; he had learned from Bulger how to tie a sailor's knot.

Scarcely had he bound the sentry's hands when he was joined by one of his
fellow prisoners, and soon seven of them stood with him in the shadow of
the shed. The last man, the Gujarati, had held the rope while the Babu
descended. There was no one left to hold the rope for him, but he swung
himself up to the roof and climbed down on the shoulders of one of the
Biluchis. Meanwhile the sentry, whose lantern had been extinguished and
from the folds of whose garments its flint and tinderbox had been taken,
had now been completely trussed up, and lay helpless and perforce silent
against the wall of the shed. From the time when the hapless man first
felt the grip of the Gujarati upon his throat scarcely five minutes had
elapsed.

Now the party of nine moved in single file, swiftly and silently on their
bare feet, under the wall of the fort toward the northeast bastion,
gliding like phantoms in the gloom. Each man bore his burden: the Babu
carried the dark lantern; one of the Marathas the coil of rope; the other
the  sentry's  matchlock  and ammunition; several had small bundles
containing food, secreted during the past three days from their rations.

Suddenly the leader stopped. They had reached the foot of the narrow
flight  of steps leading up into the bastion. Just above them was a
sentinel. The pause was but for a moment. The plan of action had been
thought out and discussed. On hands and knees the Gujarati crept up the
steps; at his heels followed Desmond in equal stealth and silence. At the
top, hardly distinguishable from the blackness of the sky, the sentinel
was leaning against the parapet, looking out to sea. Many a night had he
held that post, and seen the stars, and listened to the rustle of the
surf; many a night he had heard the call of the sentry next below, and
passed it to the man on the bastion beyond; but never a night had he seen
anything but the stars and the dim forms of vessels in the harbor, heard
anything but the hourly call of his mates and the eternal voice of the
sea.

He was listless, bemused. What was it, then, that made him suddenly
spring  erect?  What gave him that strange uneasiness? He had heard
nothing, seen nothing, yet he faced round, and stood at the head of the
steps with his back to the sea. The figures prone below him felt that he
was looking toward them. They held their breath. Both were on the topmost
step but one; only a narrow space separated them from the sentinel; they
could hear the movement of his jaws as he chewed a betel {nut of the
areca palm wrapped in the leaf of the betel plant}.

Thus a few moments passed. Desmond's pulse beat in a fever of impatience;
every second was precious. Then the sentinel moved; his uneasiness seemed
to be allayed; he began to hum a Maratha camp song, and, half turning,
glanced once more out to the sea.

The moment was come. Silently Fuzl Khan rose to his feet; he sprang
forward with the lightness, the speed, the deadly certainty of a Thug
{name of a class of hereditary stranglers}, his hand was on the man's
throat. Desmond, close behind, had a gag ready, but there was no need to
use it. In the open the Gujarati could exert his strength more freely
than  through the narrow windows of the shed. Almost before Desmond
reached his side the sentinel was dead.

In that desperate situation there was no time to expostulate. While the
Gujarati laid the hapless man gently beside the gun that peeped through
the embrasure of the parapet, Desmond picked up the sentinel's matchlock,
ran softly back, and summoned his companions. They came silently up the
steps. To fasten the rope securely to the gun carriage was the work of a
few instants; then the Gujarati mounted the parapet, and, swarming down
the rope, sank into the darkness. One by one the men followed; it came to
the Babu's turn. Trembling with excitement and fear he shrank back.

"I am afraid, sahib," he said.

Without hesitation Desmond drew up the rope and looped the end.

"Get into the loop," he whispered.

The Babu trembled but obeyed, and, assisting him to climb the parapet,
Desmond lowered him slowly to the foot of the wall. Then he himself
descended  last of all, and on the rocks below the little group was
complete.

They were free. But the most difficult part of their enterprise was yet
to come. Behind them was the curtain of the fort; before them a short,
shelving rocky beach and the open sea.

No time was wasted. Walking two by two for mutual support over the rough
ground,  the  party set off toward the jetty. They kept as close as
possible to the wall, so that they would not be seen if a sentinel should
happen to look over the parapet; and being barefooted, the slight sound
they might make would be inaudible through the never-ceasing swish of the
surf. Their feet were cut by the sharp edges of the rocks; many a bruise
they got; but they kept on their silent way without a murmur.

Reaching  the angle of the wall, they had now perforce to leave its
shelter, for their course led past the outskirts of the native town
across a comparatively open space. Fortunately the night was very dark,
and here and there on the shore were boats and small huts which afforded
some cover. The tide was on the ebb; and, when they at length struck the
jetty,  it was at a point some twenty yards from its shoreward end.
Groping  beneath it they halted for a moment, then the two Marathas
separated  themselves  from  the rest and, with a whispered word of
farewell, disappeared like shadows into the blackness. The sea was not
for them, they would take their chance on land.

From a point some distance beyond the end of the jetty shone a faint
glimmer of light. Desmond silently drew the Gujarati's attention to it.

"They are gambling," whispered the man.

"So much the better for our chances," thought Desmond.

Turning to the Babu he whispered: "Now, Surendra Nath, you know what to
do?"

"Yes, sahib."

Placing their bundles in the woodwork supporting the jetty, five members
of the party--the Biluchis, the Mysoreans, and the Babu--stole away in
the darkness. Desmond and the Gujarati were left alone. The Babu placed
himself near the end of the jetty to keep guard. The two Mysoreans struck
off thence obliquely for a few yards until they came to a rude open shed
in which the Pirate's carpenters were wont to work during the rains. From
a heap of shavings they drew a small but heavy barrel. Carrying this
between them they made their way with some difficulty back towards the
jetty, where they rejoined the Babu.

Meanwhile the Biluchis had returned some distance along the path by which
they had come from the fort, then turned off to the left, and came to a
place where a number of small boats were drawn up just above high water.
The boats were the ordinary tonis {small boats cut out of the solid tree,
used for passing between the shore and larger vessels} of the coast, each
propelled by short scull paddles. Moving quickly but with great caution
the Biluchis collected the paddles from all these boats save one, carried
them noiselessly down to the water's edge, waded a few yards into the
surf, and, setting down their burdens, pushed them gently seawards. They
then returned to the one boat which they had not robbed of its paddle,
and lay down beside it, apparently waiting.

By and by they were joined by the Mysoreans. The four men lifted the
toni, and carrying it down to the jetty, quietly launched it under the
shadow of the woodwork. A few yards away the Babu sat upon the barrel.
This was lifted on board, and one of the men, tearing a long strip from
his dhoti, muffled the single paddle. Then all five men squatted at the
waterside, awaiting with true oriental patience the signal for further
action.

Not one of them but was aware that the plight of the two sentries they
had left behind them in the fort might at any moment be discovered. The
hourly call must be nearly due. When no response came from the sentry
whose beat ended at their shed the alarm would at once be given, and in a
few seconds the silent form of the sentinel on the bastion would be
found, and the whole garrison would be sped to their pursuit.

But at this moment of suspense only the Babu was agitated. His natural
timidity, and the tincture of European ways of thought he had gained
during  his service in Calcutta, rendered him less subject than his
Mohammedan companions to the fatalism which rules the oriental mind. To
the Mohammedan what must be must be. Allah has appointed to every man his
lot; man is but as a cork on the stream of fate. Not even when a low,
half-strangled cry came to them across the water, out of the blackness
that  brooded  upon  the  harbor,  did any of the four give sign of
excitement. The Babu started, and rose to his feet shivering; the others
still squatted, mute and motionless as statues of ebony, neither by
gesture nor murmur betraying their consciousness that at any moment, by
tocsin from the fort, a thousand fierce and relentless warriors might be
launched like sleuth hounds upon their track.

Meanwhile, what of Desmond and the Gujarati?

During  the  months Desmond had spent in Gheria he had made himself
familiar, as far as his opportunities allowed, with the construction of
the harbor and the manner of mooring the vessels there. He knew that the
gallivats of the Pirate's fleet, lashed together, lay about eighty yards
from the head of the jetty under the shelter of the fortress rock, which
protected them from the worst fury of the southwest monsoon. The grabs
lay on the other side of the jetty, some hundred and twenty yards towards
the river--except three vessels which were held constantly ready for sea
somewhat nearer the harbor mouth.

He had learned, moreover, by cautious and apparently casual inquiries,
that the gallivats were under a guard of ten men, the grabs of twenty.
These men were only relieved at intervals of three days; they slept on
board when the vessels were in harbor and the crews dispersed ashore.

In thinking over the difficult problem of escape, Desmond had found
himself in a state of perplexity somewhat similar to that of the man who
had to convey a fox and a goose and a bag of corn across a river in a
boat that would take but one at a time. He could not, with his small
party, man a gallivat, which required fifty oarsmen to propel it at
speed; while if he seized one of the lighter grabs, he would have no
chance whatever of outrunning the gallivats that would be immediately
launched in pursuit. It was this problem that had occupied him the whole
day during which Diggle had fondly imagined he was meditating on Angria's
offer of freedom.

A few moments after their five companions had left them, Desmond and the
Gujarati  climbed  with the agility of seamen along the ties of the
framework supporting the jetty, until they reached a spot a yard or two
from  the end. There, quite invisible from sea or land, they gently
lowered themselves into the water. Guided by the dim light which he had
noticed, and which he knew must proceed from one of the moored gallivats,
Desmond  struck out towards the farther end of the line of vessels,
swimming a noiseless breast stroke. Fuzl Khan followed him in equal
silence a length behind.

The water was warm, and a few minutes' steady swimming brought them
within twenty or thirty yards of the light. The hulls of the gallivats
and their tall raking spars could now be seen looming up out of the
blackness. Desmond perceived that the light was on the outermost of the
line, and, treading water for a moment, he caught the low hum of voices
coming from the after part of the gallivat. Striking out to the left,
still followed by the Gujarati, he swam along past the sterns of the
lashed vessels until he came under the side of the one nearest the shore.
He caught at the hempen cable, swarmed up it, and, the gallivat having
but little freeboard, soon reached the bulwark.

There he paused to recover his breath and to listen. Hearing nothing, he
quietly slipped over the side and lay on the main deck. In a few seconds
he was joined by his companion. In the shadow of the bulwarks the two
groped their way cautiously along the deck. Presently Desmond, who was in
front, struck his foot against some object invisible to him. There was a
grunt beneath him.

The two paused, Fuzl Khan nervously fingering the knife he had taken from
the sentinel on the bastion. The grunt was repeated; but the intruders
remained still as death, and with a sleepy grumble the man who had been
disturbed turned over on his charpoy, placed transversely across the
deck, and fell asleep.

All was quiet. Once more the two moved forward. They came to the ropes by
which the vessel was lashed to the next in the line. For a moment Desmond
stood irresolute; then he led the way swiftly and silently to the deck of
the adjacent gallivat, crossed it without mishap, and so across the
third. Fortunately both were sailors, accustomed to finding their way on
shipboard in the night, as much by sense of touch as by sight. Being
barefooted, only the sharpest ears, deliberately on the alert, could have
detected them.

They had now reached the fourth of the line of vessels. It was by far the
largest of the fleet, and for this reason Desmond had guessed that it
would have been chosen for his quarters by the serang {head of a crew} in
charge  of  the watch. If he could secure this man he felt that his
hazardous enterprise would be half accomplished. This was indeed the
pivot on which the whole scheme turned, for in no other way would it be
possible to seize the ten men on board the gallivats without raising such
an alarm as must shock fort, city, and harbor to instant activity. And it
was necessary to Desmond's plan, not only to secure the serang, but to
secure him alive.

The gallivat was Angria's own vessel, used in his visits up river to his
country house, and, during calm weather, in occasional excursions to
Suwarndrug and the other forts on the sea coast. As Desmond was aware, it
boasted a large state cabin aft, and he thought it very probable that the
serang had appropriated this for his watch below.

Pausing a moment as they reached the vessel to make sure that no one was
stirring, Desmond and Fuzl Khan crept on to its deck and threw themselves
down, again listening intently. From the last vessel of the line came the
sound of low voices, accompanied at intervals by the click of the oblong
bone dice with which the men were gambling. This was a boon, for when the
Indian, a born gambler, is engaged in one of his games of chance, he is
oblivious of all else around him. But on Angria's gallivat there was no
sound. Rising to a crouching position, so that his form could not be seen
if any of the gamblers chanced to look in his direction, Desmond slowly
crept aft, halting at every few steps to listen. Still there was no
sound.

But all at once he caught sight of a faint glow ahead; what was it? For a
few seconds he was puzzled. As he approached, the glow took shape; he saw
that it was the entrance to the cabin, the sliding door being half open.
Creeping to the darker side, careful not to come within the radius of the
light, he stood erect, and again listened. From within came the snores of
a sleeper. Now he felt sure that his guess had been correct, for none but
the serang would dare to occupy the cabin, and even he would no doubt
have cause to tremble if his presumption should come to the Pirate's
ears.

Keeping his body as much in the shadow as possible, Desmond craned his
head forward and peeped into the cabin. He could see little or nothing;
the light came from a small oil lantern with its face turned to the wall.
Made of some vegetable substance, the oil gave off a pungent smell. The
lantern was no doubt carried by the serang in his rounds of inspection;
probably he kept it within reach at night; he must be sleeping in the
black shadow cast by it. To locate a sound is always difficult; but, as
far as Desmond could judge, the snores came from the neighborhood of the
lantern and as from the floor.

He stepped back again into complete darkness. The Gujarati was at his
elbow.

"Wait, Fuzl Khan," said Desmond in the lowest of whispers. "I must go in
and see where the man is and how the cabin is arranged."

The Gujarati crouched in the shadow of the bulwarks. Desmond, dropping on
hands and knees, crawled slowly forward into the cabin towards the light.
It was slightly above him, probably on a raised divan--the most likely
place for the serang to choose as his bed. In a few moments Desmond's
outstretched fingers touched the edge of the little platform; the light
was still nearly two yards away. Still he was unable to see the sleeper,
though by the sound of his breathing he must be very near.

Desmond feared that every moment might bring him into contact with the
man. Whatever the risk, it was necessary to obtain a little more light.
Slightly raising himself he found that, without actually mounting the
platform, he could just reach the lamp with outstretched fingers. Very
slowly he pushed it round, so that the light fell more directly into the
room. Then he was able to see, about four feet away, curled up on the
divan, with his arms under his head, the form of a man. There was no
other in the cabin. Having discovered all that he wished to know, Desmond
crawled backward as carefully as he had come.

At the moment of discovery he had felt the eager boy's impulse to spring
upon the sleeper at once, but although his muscles had been hardened by a
year of toil he doubted whether he had sufficient physical strength to
make absolutely sure of his man; a single cry, the sound of a scuffle,
might be fatal. The Gujarati, on the other hand, a man of great bulk,
could be trusted to overpower the victim by sheer weight, and with his
iron clutch to insure that no sound came from him. Desmond's only fear
indeed was that the man, as in the case of the sentinel on the bastion,
might overdo his part and give him all too thorough a quietus.

He came to the entrance of the cabin. His appearance brought the Gujarati
to his side.

"Remember, Fuzl Khan," he whispered, "we must keep the serang alive; not
even stun him. You understand?"

"I know, sahib."

Drawing him silently into the apartment and to the edge of the platform,
Desmond again crept to the lantern, and now turned it gradually still
farther inwards until the form of the sleeper could be distinctly seen.
The  light was still dim; but it occurred to Desmond that the glow,
increased  now that the lantern was turned round, might attract the
attention of the gamblers on the gallivat at the end of the line. So,
while the Gujarati stood at the platform, ready to pounce on the sleeper
as a cat on a mouse if he made the least movement, Desmond tiptoed to the
door and began to close the sliding panel. It gave a slight creak; the
sleeper stirred; Desmond quickly pushed the panel home, and as he did so
the serang sat up, rubbing his eyes and looking in sleepy suspicion
towards the lantern.

While his knuckles were still at his eyes Fuzl Khan was upon him. A brief
scuffle, almost noiseless, on the linen covering of the divan; a heavy
panting for breath; then silence. The Gujarati relaxed his grip on the
man's throat; he made another attempt to cry out; but the firm fingers
tightened their pressure and the incipient cry was choked in a feeble
gurgle. Once more the hapless serang tried to rise; Fuzl Khan pressed him
down and shook him vigorously. He saw that it was useless to resist, and
lay limp and half throttled in his captor's hands.

By this time Desmond had turned the lantern full upon the scene. Coming
to the man's head, while the Gujarati still held him by the throat, he
said, in low, rapid, but determined tones:

"Obey, and your life will be spared. But if you attempt to raise an alarm
you will be lost. Answer my questions. Where is there some loose rope on
board?"

The man hesitated to reply, but a squeeze from the Gujarati decided him.

"There is a coil near the mainmast," he said.

Desmond slipped out, and in a few seconds returned with several yards of
thin coir, a strong rope made of cocoanut fiber. Soon the serang lay
bound hand and foot.

"What are the names of the men on the furthest vessel?"

"They are Rama, Sukharam, Ganu, Ganpat, Hari."

"Call Rama, gently; bid him come here. Do not raise your voice."

The man obeyed. The clicking of the dice ceased, and in a few moments a
Maratha appeared at the doorway and entered blinking. No sooner had he
set foot within the cabin than he was seized by the Gujarata and gagged,
and then, with a rapidity only possible to the practised sailor, he was
roped and laid helpless on the floor.

"Call Sukharam," said Desmond.

The second man answered the summons, only to suffer the same fate. A
third was dealt with in the same fashion; then the fourth and fifth came
together, wondering why the serang was so brutally interfering with their
game. By the time they reached the door Desmond had turned the lantern to
the wall, so that they saw only a dim shape within the cabin. Ganpat was
secured before the last man became aware of what was happening. Hari
hesitated at the threshold, hearing the sound of a slight scuffle caused
by the seizure of his companion.

"Tell him to come in," whispered Desmond in the serang's ear, emphasizing
the order by laying the cold blade of a knife against his collarbone.

Fuzl  Khan had not yet finished trussing the other; as the last man
entered  Desmond threw himself upon him. He could not prevent a low
startled cry; and struggling together, the two rolled upon the floor. The
Maratha, not recognizing his assailant, apparently thought that the
serang had suddenly gone mad, for he merely tried to disengage himself,
speaking in a tone half angry, half soothing. But finding that the man
grasping him had a determined purpose, he became furious with alarm, and
plucking a knife from his girdle struck viciously at the form above him.

Desmond, with his back to the light, saw the blow coming. He caught the
man's wrist, and in another moment the Gujarati came to his assistance.
Thus the last of the watchmen was secured and laid beside his comrades.

Six of the men on board the gallivats had been disposed of. But there
still remained five, asleep until their turn for watching and dicing
came. So quietly had the capture of the six been effected that not one of
the sleepers had been disturbed.

To deal with them was an easier matter. Leaving the bound men in the
cabin, and led by the serang, whose feet had been released, Desmond and
Fuzl Khan visited each of the gallivats in turn. The sleeping men awoke
at their approach, but they were reassured by the voice of the serang,
who in terror for his life spoke to them at Desmond's bidding; and before
they realized what was happening they were in the toils, helpless like
the rest.

When the last of the watchmen was thus secured, Desmond crept to the
vessel nearest the shore and, making a bell of his hands, sent a low hail
across the surface of the water in the direction of the jetty. He waited
anxiously, peering into the darkness, straining his ears. Five minutes
passed, fraught with the pain of uncertainty and suspense. Then he caught
the faint sound of ripples: he fancied he descried a dark form on the
water; it drew nearer, became more definite.

"Is that you, sahib?" said a low voice.

"Yes."

He gave a great sigh of relief. The toni drew alongside, and soon five
men,  with bundles, muskets, and the small heavy barrel, stood with
Desmond and the Gujarati on the deck of the gallivat.



Chapter 14: In which seven bold men light a big bonfire; and the Pirate
finds our hero a bad bargain.


Desmond's strongest feeling, as his companions stepped on board, was
wonder--wonder at the silence of the fort, the darkness that covered the
whole face of the country, the safety of himself and the men so lately
prisoners. What time had passed since they had left the shed he was
unable to guess; the moments had been so crowded that any reckoning was
impossible. But when, as he waited for the coming of the boat, his mind
ran over the incidents of the flight--the trussing of the sentry, the
wary approach to the bastion, the tragic fate of the sentinel there, the
stealthy creeping along the shore, the swim to the gallivats and all that
had happened since: as he recalled these things, he could not but wonder
that the alarm he dreaded had not already been given. But it was clear
that all was as yet undiscovered; and the plot had worked out so exactly
as planned that he hoped still for a breathing space to carry out his
enterprise to the end.

There was not a moment to be wasted. The instant the men were aboard
Desmond rapidly gave his orders. Fuzl Khan and one of the Mysoreans he
sent to carry the barrel to Angria's gallivat. It contained da'ma. They
were to break it open, tear down the hangings in the cabin, smear them
plentifully, and set light to them from the lantern. Meanwhile Desmond
himself, with the rest of the men, set about preparing the gallivat in
which he was about to make his next move.

The lightest of the line of vessels was the one in which the watchmen had
been gambling. It happened that this, with the gallivat next to it, had
come into harbor late in the evening from a short scouting cruise, and
the sweeps used by their crews had not been carried on shore, as the
custom was. The larger vessel had fifty of these sweeps, the smaller
thirty. If pursuit was to be checked it was essential that none of them
should be left in the enemy's hands, and the work of carrying the fifty
from the larger to the smaller vessel took some time.

There was no longer the same need for quietness of movement. So long as
any great noise and bustle was avoided, the sentinels on the walls of the
fort would only suppose, if sounds reached their ears, that the watch on
board were securing the gallivats at their moorings.

When the sweeps had all been transferred Desmond ordered the prisoners to
be brought from Angria's cabin to the smaller vessel. The lashings of
their feet were cut in turn; each man was carefully searched, deprived of
all weapons, and escorted from the one vessel to the other, his feet
being then securely bound as before.

On board the smallest gallivat were now Desmond, five of his companions,
and eleven helpless Marathas. He had just directed one of the Biluchis to
cast  loose  the  lashings  between  the  vessels,  and was already
congratulating himself that the main difficulties of his venture were
past, when he suddenly heard shouts from the direction of the fort.
Immediately afterwards the deep notes of the huge gong kept in Angria's
courtyard boomed and reverberated across the harbor, echoed at brief
intervals by the strident clanging of several smaller gongs in the town.

Barely had the first sound reached his ears when he saw a light flash
forth from the outermost bastion; to the left of it appeared a second;
and soon, along the whole face of the fort, in the dockyard, in the town,
innumerable lights dotted the blackness, some stationary, others moving
this way and that. Now cries were heard from all sides, growing in volume
until the sound was as of some gigantic hornet's nest awakened into angry
activity. To the clangor of gongs was added the blare of trumpets, and
from the walls of the fort and palace, from the hill beyond, from every
cliff along the shore, echoed and re-echoed an immense and furious din.

For  a  few  seconds  Desmond  stood as if fascinated, watching the
transformation which the hundreds of twinkling lights had caused. Then he
pulled himself together, and with a word to the Biluchi who had loosed
the lashings, bidding him hold on to the next gallivat, he sprang to the
side of this vessel, and hurried towards Angria's. Fuzl Khan had not
returned; Desmond almost feared that some mishap had befallen the man.

Reaching the center vessel, he peered down the hatchway, but started back
as  a  gust  of acrid smoke struck him from below. He called to the
Gujarati. There was no response. For an instant he stood in hesitation;
had the man been overcome by the suffocating fumes filling the hold? But
just as, with the instinct of rescue, he was about to lower himself into
the depths, he heard a low hail from the vessel at the end of the line
nearest the shore. A moment afterwards Fuzl Khan came stumbling towards
him.

"I have fired another gallivat, sahib," he said, his voice ringing with
fierce exultation.

"Well done, Fuzl Khan," said Desmond. "Now we must be off. See, there are
torches coming down towards the jetty."

The two sprang across the intervening vessel, a dense cloud of smoke
following them from the hatchway of Angria's gallivat. Reaching the
outermost of the line, Desmond gave the word, the anchor was slipped, the
two Biluchis pressed with all their force against the adjacent vessel,
and the gallivat moved slowly out. Desmond ran to the helm, and the
Gujarati with his five companions seizing each upon one of the long
sweeps, they dropped their blades into the water and began to pull.

Desmond was all a-tingle with excitement and determination. The shouts
from the shore were nearer; the lights were brighter; for all he knew,
the whole garrison and population were gathering. They had guessed that
an escape was being attempted by sea. Even now perhaps boats were setting
off, bringing rowers to man the gallivats, and oars to send them in
pursuit.

If they should reach the vessels before the middle one had burst into
flame, he felt that his chances of getting away were small indeed. When
would the flame appear? It might check the pursuers, throw them into
consternation, confuse and delay the pursuit. Would the longed-for blaze
never show itself? And how slowly his gallivat was moving! The rowers
were bending to their work with a will, but six men are but a poor crew
for a vessel of a hundred tons, and the slow progress it was making was
in fact due more to the still ebbing tide than to the frantic efforts of
the oarsmen. The wind was contrary; it would be useless to hoist the
sail. At this rate they would be half an hour or more in reaching the
three grabs anchored nearer the mouth of the harbor. The willing rowers
on their benches could not know how slowly the vessel was moving, but it
was painfully clear to Desmond at the helm; relative to the lights on
shore the gallivat seemed scarcely to move at all.

He called to Fuzl Khan, who left his oar and hurried aft.

"We must make more speed, Fuzl Khan. Release the prisoners' hands; keep
their  feet tied, and place them among our party. Don't take an oar
yourself: stand over them ready to strike down any man who mutinies."

The Gujarati grunted and hurried away. Assisted by Surendra Nath, who,
being his companion on the rowing bench, had perforce dropped his oar, he
soon had the prisoners in position. Urging them with terrible threats and
fierce imprecations, he forced them to ply their oars with long steady
strokes.  The  way on the gallivat increased. There was not a great
distance now to be covered, it was unnecessary to husband their strength,
and with still more furious menaces Fuzl Khan got out of the sturdy
Marathas all the energy of which they were capable. The escaped prisoners
needed no spur; they were working with might and main, for dear life.

Desmond had to steer by guesswork and such landmarks as were afforded by
the lights on shore. He peered anxiously ahead, hoping to see the dim
shapes of the three grabs; but this was at present impossible, since they
lay between him and the seaward extremity of the fort, where lights had
not yet appeared. Looking back he saw a number of torches flitting along
the shore; and now two or three dark objects, no doubt boats, were moving
from the farther side of the jetty towards the gallivats. At the same
moment  he  caught  sight  of these he saw at last, rising from the
gallivats, the thin tongue of flame he had so long expected.

But now that it had come at last, showing that the work on board had been
thorough, he almost regretted it, for it was instantly seen from the
shore and greeted by a babel of yells caught up in different parts of the
town and fort. As at a signal the torches no longer flickered hither and
thither aimlessly, but all took the same direction towards the jetty. The
hunt was up!

Glancing round, Desmond suddenly gave the order to cease rowing, and
putting the helm hard down just avoided crashing into a dark object
ahead. The sweeps grated against the side of what proved to be one of the
grabs for which he had been looking. A voice from its deck hailed him.

"Take care! Where are you going? Who are you?"

Desmond called up the serang. He dare not reply himself, lest his accent
should betray him.

"Tell him all is well. We have a message from the fort to the Tremukji,"
he said in a whisper.

The serang repeated the words aloud.

"Well, huzur. But what is the meaning of the noise and the torches and
the blaze on the sea?"

"Tell him we have no time to waste. Ask him where the Tremukji lies."

The man on the grab replied that she lay outside, a dozen boat lengths.
Desmond  knew  that this vessel, which had been launched during his
captivity, and in whose construction he had had a humble part, had proved
the swiftest in the fleet, although much smaller than the majority of the
Pirate's. Once on board her, and beyond reach of the guns of the fort, he
might fairly hope to get clear away in spite of his miscellaneous crew.
Giving to the Gujarati the order to go ahead, he questioned the serang.

"What is the name of the serang in charge of the Tremukji?"

"Pandu, sahib."

"How many men are on board her?"

"Three, sahib."

"Then, when we come alongside and I give the word, you will tell him to
come aboard at once; we have a message from the fort for him."

Owing to the trend of the shore, the gallivat had been slowly nearing the
walls of the fort, and at this moment could not be more than a hundred
and fifty yards distant from them. But for the shouting on shore the
noise of the sweeps must by this time have been heard. In the glow of the
blazing vessels in mid channel the moving gallivat had almost certainly
been seen. Desmond grew more and more anxious.

"Hail the grab," he said to the serang as the vessel loomed up ahead.

"Hai, hai, Tremukji!" cried the man.

There came an answering hail. Then the serang hesitated; he was evidently
wondering whether even now he might not defy this foreigner who was
bearding his terrible master. But his hesitation was short. At a sign
from Desmond, Gulam the Biluchi, who had brought the serang forward,
applied the point of his knife to the back of the unfortunate man's neck.

"I have a message from Angria Rho," he cried quickly. "Come aboard at
once."

The rowers at a word from Fuzl Khan shipped their oars, and the two
vessels came together with a sharp thud. The serang in charge of the grab
vaulted across the bulwarks and fell into the waiting arms of Fuzl Khan,
who squeezed his throat, muttered a few fierce words in his ear, and
handed him over to Gulam, who bundled him below. Then, shouting the order
to make fast, the Gujarati flung a hawser across to the grab. The two men
on board her obeyed without question; but they were still at the work
when Desmond and Fuzl Khan, followed by the two Mysoreans, leaped upon
them from the deck of the gallivat. There was a short sharp scrimmage;
then these guardians of the grab were hauled on to the gallivat and sent
to join the rowers on the main deck.

Desmond and his six companions now had fourteen prisoners on their hands,
and in ordinary circumstances the disproportion would have been fatal.
But the captives, besides having been deprived of all means of offense,
had no exact knowledge of the exact number of men who had trapped them.
Their fears and the darkness had a magnifying effect, and, like Falstaff,
they would have sworn that their enemies were ten times as many as they
actually were.

So deeply engrossed had Desmond been in the capture of the grab that he
had forgotten the one serious danger that threatened to turn the tide of
accident, hitherto so favorable, completely against him. He had forgotten
the burning gallivats. But now his attention was recalled to them in a
very unpleasant and forcible way. There was a deafening report, as it
seemed from a few yards' distance, followed immediately by a splash in
the water just ahead. The glare of the burning vessels was dimly lighting
up almost the whole harbor mouth, and the runaway gallivat, now clearly
seen from the fort, had become a target for its guns. The gunners had
been  specially exercised of late in anticipation of an attack from
Bombay, and Desmond knew that in his slow-going vessel he could not hope
to draw out of range in time to escape a battering.

But  his  gallivat  was  among the grabs. At this moment it must be
impossible for the gunners to distinguish between the runaway and the
loyal vessels. If he could only cause them to hold their fire for a time!
Knowing that the Gujarati had a stentorian voice, and that a shout would
carry upwards from the water to the parapet, in a flash Desmond saw the
possibility of a ruse. He spoke to Fuzl Khan. The man at once turned to
the fort, and with the full force of his lungs shouted:

"Comrades, do not fire. We have caught them!"

Answering shouts came from the walls; the words were indistinguishable,
but the trick had succeeded, at any rate for the moment. No second shot
was at this time fired.

Desmond made full use of this period of grace. He recognized that the
gallivat, while short-handed, was too slow to make good the escape; the
grab, with the wind contrary, could never be got out of the harbor; the
only course open to him was to make use of the one to tow the other until
they reached the open sea. As soon as a hawser could be bent the grab was
taken in tow: its crew was impressed with the other prisoners as rowers,
under the charge of the Biluchis; and with Desmond at the helm of the
grab and the Gujarati steering the gallivat, the two vessels crept slowly
seawards. They went at a snail's pace, for it was nearly slack tide; and
slow as the progress of the gallivat had been before, it was much slower
now that the men had to move two vessels instead of one.

To Desmond, turning every now and again to watch the increasing glare
from the burning gallivats, it seemed that he scarcely advanced at all.
The town and the townward part of the fort were minute by minute becoming
more brightly illuminated; every detail around the blazing vessels could
be distinctly seen; and mingled with the myriad noises from the shore was
now the crackle of the flames, and the hiss of burning spars and rigging
as they fell into the water.

The gallivats had separated into two groups; either they had been cut
apart, or, more probably, the lashings had been burned through. Around
one of the groups Desmond saw a number of small boats. They appeared to
be trying to cut out the middle of the three gallivats, which seemed to
be as yet uninjured, while the vessels on either side were in full blaze.
Owing to the intense heat the men's task was a difficult and dangerous
one, and Desmond had good hope that they would not succeed until the
gallivat was too much damaged to be of use for pursuit. He wondered,
indeed, at the attempt being made at all; for it kept all the available
boats engaged when they might have dashed upon the grab in tow and made
short work of it.

The true explanation of their blunder did not at the moment occur to
Desmond.  The fact was that the men trying so earnestly to save the
gallivat knew nothing of what had happened to the grab. They were aware
that a gallivat had been cut loose and was standing out to sea; but the
glare of the fire blinded them to all that was happening beyond a narrow
circle, and as yet they had had no information from shore of what was
actually occurring. When they did learn that two vessels were on their
way to the sea, they would no doubt set out to recapture the fugitives
instead  of  wasting  their efforts in a futile attempt to save the
unsavable.

Desmond was still speculating on the point when another shot from the
fort aroused him to the imminent danger. The dark shapes of the two
vessels must now certainly be visible from the walls. The shot flew wide.
Although the grab was well within range it was doubtless difficult to
take aim, the distance being deceptive and the sights useless in the
dark. But this shot was followed at intervals of a few seconds by another
and another; it was clear that the fugitives were running the gauntlet of
the whole armament on this side of the fort. The guns were being fired as
fast as they could be loaded; the gunners were becoming accustomed to the
darkness, and when Desmond heard the shots plumping into the water,
nearer to him, it seemed, every time, he could not but recognize that
success or failure hung upon a hair.

Crash! A round shot struck the grab within a few feet of the wheel. A
shower of splinters flew in all directions. Desmond felt a stinging blow
on the forehead; he put up his hand; when he took it away it was wet. He
could not leave the wheel to see what damage had been done to the ship,
still less to examine his own injury.

He was alone on board. Every other man was straining at his oar in the
gallivat. He felt the blood trickling down his face; from time to time he
wiped it away with the loose end of his dhoti. Then he forgot his wound,
for two more shots within a few seconds of each other struck the grab
forward. Clearly the gunners were aiming at his vessel, which, being
larger than the gallivat, and higher in the water, presented an easier
mark. Where had she been hit? If below the waterline, before many minutes
were past she would be sinking under him.

Yet he could do nothing. He dared not order the men in the gallivat to
cease rowing; he dared not leave the helm of the grab; he could but wait
and hold his post. It would not be long before he knew whether the vessel
had been seriously hit: if it was so, then would be the time to cast off
the tow rope.

The gallivat, at any rate, appeared not to have suffered. Desmond was
beginning to think he was out of the wood when he heard a crash in front,
followed by a still more ominous sound. The motion of the gallivat at
once ceased, and, the grab slowly creeping up to her, Desmond had to put
his helm hard up to avoid a collision. He could hear the Gujarati raging
and storming on deck, and cries as of men in pain; then, as the grab came
abreast of the smaller vessel, he became aware of what had happened. The
mainmast of the gallivat had been struck by a shot and had gone by the
board.

Desmond hailed the Gujarati and told him to get three or four men to cut
away the wreckage.

"Keep an eye on the prisoners," he added, feeling that this was perhaps
the most serious element in a serious situation; for with round shot
flying about the vessel it might well have seemed to the unhappy men on
the rowing benches that mutiny was the lesser of two risks. But the
rowers were cowed by the presence of the two Biluchis armed with their
terrible knives, and they crowded in dumb helplessness while the tangled
rigging was cut away.

"Is any one hurt?" asked Desmond.

"One of the rowers has a broken arm, sahib," replied Shaik Abdullah.

"And I have a contusion of the nose," said the Babu lugubriously.

It was impossible to do anything for the sufferers at the moment. It was
still touch-and-go with the whole party. The shots from the fort were now
beginning to fall short, but, for all Desmond knew, boats might have been
launched in pursuit, and if he was overtaken it meant lingering torture
and a fearful death. He was in a fever of impatience until at length, the
tangled shrouds having been cut away, the rowing was resumed and the two
vessels began again to creep slowly seaward.

Gradually they drew out of range of the guns. Steering straight out to
sea, Desmond had a clear view of the whole of the harbor and a long
stretch of the river. The scene was brightly lit up, and he saw that two
of the gallivats had been towed away from the burning vessels, from which
the flames were now shooting high into the air. But even on the two that
had been cut loose there were spurts of flame; and Desmond hoped that
they had sustained enough damage to make them unseaworthy.

Suddenly there were two loud explosions, in quick succession. A column of
fire  rose toward the sky from the gallivats that were blazing most
brightly. The fire had at length reached the ammunition. The red sparks
sprang upwards like a fountain, casting a ruddy glow for many yards
around; then they fell back into the sea, and all was darkness, except
for the lesser lights from the burning vessels whose magazines had as yet
escaped. The explosions could hardly have occurred at a more opportune
moment, for the darkness was now all the more intense, and favored the
fugitives.

There was a brisk breeze from the southwest outside the harbor, and when
the two vessels lost the shelter of the headland they crept along even
more slowly than before. Desmond had learned enough of seamanship on
board the Good Intent to know that he must have sea room before he cast
off the gallivat and made sail northwards; otherwise he would inevitably
be driven on shore. It was this fact that had prompted his operations in
the harbor. He knew that the grabs could not put to sea unless they were
towed, and the gallivats being rendered useless, towing was impossible.

The sea was choppy, and the rowers had much ado to control the sweeps.
Only their dread of the Biluchis' knives kept them at their work. But the
progress, though slow, was steady; gradually the glow in the sky behind
the headland grew dimmer; though it was as yet impossible to judge with
certainty how much offing had been made. Desmond, resolving to give away
no chances, and being unacquainted with the trend of the coast, kept the
rowers at work, with short intervals of rest, until dawn. By this means
he hoped to avoid all risk of being driven on a lee shore, and to throw
Angria  off  the scent, for it would naturally be supposed that the
fugitives would head at once for Bombay, and pursuit, if attempted, would
be made in that direction.

When day broke over the hills, Desmond guessed that the coast must be now
five miles off. As far as he could see, it ran north by east. He had now
plenty of sea room; there was no pursuer in sight; the wind was in his
favor, and if it held, no vessel in Angria's harbor could now catch him.
He called to the Gujarati, who shouted an order to the Biluchis; the
worn-out men on the benches ceased rowing, except four who pulled a few
strokes every now and then to prevent the two vessels from colliding.

Desmond  had thought at first of stopping the rowing altogether and
running the grab alongside the gallivat; but that course, while safe
enough in the still water of the harbor, would have its dangers in the
open sea. So, lashing the helm of the grab, he dropped into a small boat
which had been bumping throughout the night against the vessel's side,
and in a few minutes was on board the gallivat.

He first inquired after the men who had been wounded in the night. One
had a broken arm, which no one on board knew how to set. The Babu had
certainly a much discolored nose, the contusion having been caused no
doubt by a splinter of wood thrown up by the shot. Two or three of the
rowers had slight bruises and abrasions, but none had been killed and
none dangerously hurt.

Then Desmond had a short and earnest talk with the Gujarati, who alone of
the men had sufficient seamanship to make him of any value in deciding
upon the next move.

"What is to be done with the gallivat?" asked Desmond.

"Scuttle her, sahib, and hoist sail on the grab."

"But the rowers?"

"Fasten them to the benches and let them drown. They could not help our
enemies then, and it would make up for what you and I and all of us have
suffered in Gheria."

"No, I can't do that," said Desmond.

"It must be as I say, sahib. There is nothing else to do. We have killed
no one yet, except the sentinel on the parapet; I did that neatly, the
sahib will agree; I would have a life for every lash of the whip upon my
back."

"No," said Desmond decisively, "I shall not drown the men. We will take
on board the grab three or four, who must be sailors; let us ask who will
volunteer. We will promise them good pay; we haven't any money, to be
sure, but the grab can be sold when we reach Bombay, and though we stole
her I think everybody would admit that she is our lawful prize. I should
think they'll be ready enough to volunteer, for they won't care to return
to Gheria and face Angria's rage. At the same time we can't take more
than three or four, because in the daylight they can now see how few we
are, and they might take a fancy to recapture the grab. What do you think
of that plan?"

The Gujarati sullenly assented. He did not understand mercy to an enemy.

"There is no need to pay them, sahib," he said. "You can promise pay; a
promise is enough."

Desmond was unwilling to start an argument and said nothing. Once in
Bombay he could insure that any pledges given would be strictly kept.

As he expected, there was no difficulty in obtaining volunteers. Twice
the number required offered their services. They had not found their work
with  the  Pirate  so easy or so well rewarded as to have any great
objection to a change of masters. Moreover, they no doubt feared the
reception they would get from Angria if they returned. And it appeared
afterwards that during the night the Biluchis had recounted many fabulous
incidents, all tending to show that the sahib was a very important as
well as a very ingenious Firangi, so that this reputation, coupled with
an offer of good pay, overcame any scruples the men might retain.

Among those who volunteered and whose services were accepted was the
serang of Angria's gallivat. Unknown to Desmond, while he was holding
this conversation with the Gujarati, the serang, crouching in apparent
apathy on his bench, had really strained his ears to catch what was being
said. He, with the three other men selected, was released from his bonds,
and ordered to lower the longboat of the gallivat and stow in it all the
ammunition for the guns that was to be found in the ship's magazine. This
was  then  taken  on board the grab, and Desmond ordered one of the
Mysoreans to load the grab's stern chasers, telling the Marathas whom he
intended to leave on the gallivat that, at the first sign of any attempt
to pursue, their vessel would be sunk.

Then in two parties the fugitives went on board the grab. Desmond was the
last to leave the gallivat, releasing one of the captive rowers, who in
his turn could release the rest.

As soon as Desmond stepped on board the grab, the hawser connecting the
two vessels was cast off, the mainsail was run up, and the grab, sailing
large,  stood up the coast. Fuzl Khan, swarming up to the masthead,
reported two or three sail far behind, apparently at the mouth of Gheria
harbor. But Desmond, knowing that if they were in pursuit they had a long
beat to windward before them, felt no anxiety on that score. Besides, the
grab he was on had been selected precisely because it was the fastest
vessel in Angria's fleet.

Having got fairly under way, he felt that he had leisure to inspect the
damage done to the grab by the shots from the fort which had given him so
much concern in the darkness. That she had suffered no serious injury was
clear from the ease with which she answered the helm and the rapidity of
her sailing. He found that a hole or two had been made in the forepart of
the deck, and a couple of yards of the bulwarks carried away. There was
nothing to cause alarm or to demand repair.

It was a bright cool morning, and Desmond, after the excitements and the
strain of the last few days, felt an extraordinary lightness of spirit as
the vessel cut through the water. For the first time in his life he knew
the  meaning  of  the word freedom; none but a man who has suffered
captivity or duress can know such joy as now filled his soul. The long
stress of his menial life on board the Good Intent, the weary months of
toil, difficulty and danger as Angria's prisoner, were past; and it was
with whole-hearted joyousness he realized that he was now on his way to
Bombay, where Clive was--Clive, the hero who was as a fixed star in his
mental firmament.

The gallivat, lying all but motionless on the water, a forlorn object
with the jagged stump of her mainmast, grew smaller and smaller in the
distance, and was soon hull down. Desmond, turning away from a last look
in her direction, awoke from his reverie to the consciousness that he was
ravenously hungry.



Chapter 15: In which our hero weathers a storm; and prepares for squalls.


Hungry as he was, however, Desmond would not eat while he was, so to
speak, still in touch with Gheria. He ran up the sail on the mizzen, and
the grab was soon cutting her way through the water at a spanking rate.
He had closely studied the chart on board the Good Intent when that
vessel was approaching the Indian coast--not with any fixed purpose, but
in the curiosity which invested all things Indian with interest for him.
From his recollection he believed that Gheria was somewhat more than a
hundred  miles from Bombay. If the grab continued to make such good
sailing she might hope to cover this distance by midnight. But she could
hardly run into harbor until the following day. There was, of course, no
chart, not even a compass, on board; the only apparatus he possessed was
a water clock; naturally he could not venture far out to sea, but neither
dared he hug the shore too closely. He knew not what reefs there might be
lying in wait for his untaught keel. Besides, he might be sighted from
one or other of the coast strongholds still remaining in Angria's hands,
and it was not impossible that swift messengers had already been sent
along the shore from Gheria, prescribing a keen lookout and the chase of
any solitary grab making northward.

But if he kept too far out he might run past Bombay, though when he
mentioned this to his fellow fugitives he was assured by the Biluchis and
Fuzl Khan that they would unfailingly recognize the landmarks, having
more than once in the course of their trading and pirate voyages touched
at that port.

On the whole he thought it best to keep the largest possible offing that
would still leave the coast within sight. Putting the helm down he ran
out some eight or ten miles, until the coast was visible only from the
masthead as a purple line on the horizon, with occasional glimpses of
high ghats {mountains} behind.

Meanwhile the Gujarati and some of the others had breakfasted from their
bundles. Leaving the former in charge of the wheel, Desmond took his
well-earned  meal  of  rice and chapatis, stale, but sweet with the
sweetness of freedom.

In his ignorance of the coast he felt that he must not venture to run
into Bombay in the darkness, and resolved to heave-to during the night.
At the dawn he would creep in towards the shore without anxiety, for
there  was  little chance of falling in with hostile vessels in the
immediate neighborhood of Bombay. Knowing that a considerable British
fleet lay there, the Pirate would not allow his vessels to cruise far
from his own strongholds. But as there was a prospect of spending at
least one night at sea, it was necessary to establish some system of
watches. The task of steering had to be shared between Desmond and Fuzl
Khan; and the majority of the men being wholly inexperienced, it was not
safe to leave fewer than six of them on duty at a time. The only danger
likely to arise was from the weather. So far it was good; the sea was
calm, the sky was clear; but Desmond was enough of a seaman to know that,
being  near the coast, the grab might at any moment, almost without
warning, be struck by a squall. He had to consider how best to divide up
his crew.

Including himself there were eleven men on board. Four of them were
strangers of whom he knew nothing; the six who had escaped with him were
known only as fellow prisoners.

To  minimize  any risk, he divided the crew into three watches. One
consisted of the Babu, the serang, and one of the Marathas from the
gallivat. Each of the others comprised a Mysorean, a Biluchi, and a
Maratha. Thus the strangers were separated as much as possible, and the
number  of  Marathas  on  duty was never in excess of the number of
fugitives; the steersman, Desmond or the Gujarati, as the case might be,
turned the balance.

The watch was set by means of the water clock found in the cabin. Desmond
arranged that he and Fuzl Khan should take alternate periods of eight
hours on and four off. The two matchlocks taken from the sentinels of the
fort and brought on board were loaded and placed on deck near the wheel.
None of the crew was armed save the Biluchis, who retained their knives.

Towards  midday  the  wind  dropped almost to a dead calm. This was
disappointing, for Desmond suspected that he was still within the area of
Angria's piratical operations--if not from Gheria, at any rate from some
of the more northerly strongholds not yet captured by the East India
Company or the Peshwa. But he had a good offing: scanning the horizon all
around he failed to sight a single sail; and he hoped that the breeze
would freshen as suddenly as it had dropped.

Now that excitement and suspense were over, and there was nothing that
called for activity, Desmond felt the natural reaction from the strain he
had undergone. By midday he was so tired and sleepy that he found himself
beginning to doze at the wheel. The Gujarati had been sleeping for some
hours, and, as the vessel now required scarcely any attention Desmond
thought it a good opportunity for snatching a rest. Calling to Fuzl Khan
to take his place and bidding him keep the vessel's head, as far as he
could, due north, he went below. About six bells, as time would have been
reckoned on the Good Intent, he was wakened by the Babu, with a message
from the Gujarati desiring him to come on deck.

"Is anything wrong, Babu?" he asked, springing up.

"Not so far as I am aware, sahib. Only it is much hotter since I began my
watch."

Desmond had hardly stepped on deck before he understood the reason for
the summons. Overhead all was clear; but towards the land a dense bank of
black cloud was rising, and approaching the vessel with great rapidity.
It was as though some vast blanket were being thrown seawards. The air
was oppressively hot, and the sea lay like lead. Desmond knew the signs;
the Gujarati knew them too; and they set to work with a will to meet the
storm.

Fortunately Desmond, recognizing the unhandiness of his crew, had taken
care to set no more sail than could be shortened at the briefest notice.
He had not been called a moment too soon. A flash lit the black sky; a
peal of thunder rattled like artillery far off; and then a squall struck
the grab with terrific force, and the sea, suddenly lashed into fury,
advanced  like a cluster of green liquid mountains to overwhelm the
vessel. She heeled bulwarks under, and was instantly wrapped in a dense
mist, rain pouring in blinding sheets. The main topsail was blown away
with a report like a gun shot; and then, under a reefed foresail, the
grab  ran  before  the  wind, which was apparently blowing from the
southeast.

Furious seas broke over the deck; the wind bellowed through the rigging;
the vessel staggered and plunged under the shocks of sea and wind. Fuzl
Khan clung to the helm with all his strength, but his arms were almost
torn from their sockets, and he called aloud for Desmond to come to his
assistance.

It was fortunate that little was required of the crew, for in a few
minutes  all  of them save the four Marathas from the gallivat were
prostrated with seasickness. The Babu had run below, and occasionally,
between two gusts, Desmond could hear the shrieks and groans of the
terrified man. But he had no time to sympathize; his whole energies were
bent on preventing the grab from being pooped. He felt no alarm; indeed,
the storm exhilarated him; danger is bracing to a courageous spirit, and
his blood leaped to this contest with the elements. He thrilled with a
sense of personal triumph as he realized that the grab was a magnificent
sea boat. There was no fear but that the hull would stand the strain;
Desmond  knew the pains that had been expended in her building: the
careful selection of the timbers, the niceness with which the planks had
been  fitted.  No European vessel could have proved her superior in
seaworthiness.

But she was fast drifting out into the Indian Ocean, far away from the
haven Desmond desired to make. How long was this going to last? Whither
was he being carried? Without chart or compass he could take no bearings,
set no true course. It was a dismal prospect, and Desmond, glowing as he
was with the excitement of the fight, yet felt some anxiety. Luckily,
besides the provisions brought in their bundles by the fugitives, there
was a fair supply of food and water on board; for although every portable
article  of value had been taken on shore when the grab anchored in
Gheria, it had not been thought necessary to remove the bulkier articles.
Thus, if at the worst the vessel were driven far out to sea, there was no
danger of starvation, even if she could not make port for several days.

But  Desmond hoped that things would not come to this pass. Towards
nightfall,  surely,  the squall would blow itself out. Yet the wind
appeared to be gaining rather than losing strength; hour after hour
passed, and he still could not venture to quit the wheel. He was drenched
through and through with the rain; his muscles ached with the stress; and
he could barely manage to eat the food and water brought him staggeringly
by the serang in the intervals of the wilder gusts.

The storm had lasted for nearly ten hours before it showed signs of
abatement. Another two hours passed before it was safe to leave the helm.
The wind had by this time fallen to a steady breeze; the rain had ceased;
the sky was clear and starlit; but the sea was still running high. At
length the serang offered to steer while the others got a little rest;
and intrusting the wheel to him Desmond and Fuzl Khan threw themselves
down as they were, on the deck near the wheel, and were soon fast asleep.

At dawn Desmond awoke to find the grab laboring in a heavy sea, with just
steering way on. The wind had dropped to a light breeze. The Gujarati was
soon up and relieved the serang at the wheel; the rest of the crew,
haggard melancholy objects, were set to work to make things shipshape.
Only the Babu remained below; he lay huddled in the cabin, bruised,
prostrate, unable to realize that the bitterness of death was past,
unable to believe that life had any further interest for him.

Desmond's position was perplexing. Where was he? Perforce he had lost his
bearings. He scanned the whole circumference of the horizon, and saw
nothing but the vast dark ocean plain and its immense blue dome--never a
yard of land, never a stitch of canvas. He had no means of ascertaining
his latitude. During the twelve hours of the storm the grab had been
driven at a furious rate; if the wind had blown all the time from the
southeast, the quarter from which it had struck the vessel, she must now
be at least fifty miles from the coast, possibly more, and north of
Bombay. In the inky blackness of the night, amid the blinding rain, it
had been impossible to read anything from the stars. All was uncertain,
save the golden sheen of sunlight in the east.

Desmond's only course was to put the vessel about and steer by the sun.
She must thus come sooner or later in sight of the coast, and then one or
the other of the men on board might recognize a landmark--a hill, a
promontory, a town. The danger was that they might make the coast in the
neighborhood of one of the Pirate's strongholds; but that must be risked.

For  the  rest of the day there were light variable winds, such as,
according to Fuzl Khan, might be expected at that season of the year. The
northeast monsoon was already overdue. Its coming was usually heralded by
fitful and uncertain winds, varied by such squalls or storms as they had
just experienced.

The sea moderated early in the morning, and became continually smoother
until, as the sun went down, there was scarce a ripple on the surface.
The wind meanwhile had gradually veered to the southwest, and later to
the west, and the grab began to make more headway. But with the fall of
night it dropped to a dead calm, a circumstance from which the Gujarati
inferred that they were still a long way from the coast. When the stars
appeared, however, and Desmond was able to get a better idea of the
course to set, a slight breeze sprang up again from the west, and the
grab crept along at a speed of perhaps four knots.

It  had been a lazy day on board. The crew had recovered from their
sickness, but there was nothing for them to do, and as orientals they
were quite content to do nothing. Only the Babu remained off duty, in
addition to the watch below. Desmond visited him, and persuaded him to
take some food; but nothing would induce him to come on deck; the mere
sight of the sea, he said, would externalize his interior.

It was Desmond's trick at the wheel between eight and midnight. Gulam
Abdullah was on the lookout; the rest of the crew were forward squatting
on the deck in a circle around Fuzl Khan. Desmond, thinking of other
things,  heard  dully,  as  from a great distance, the drone of the
Gujarati's voice. He was talking more freely and continuously than was
usual with him; ordinarily his manner was morose; he was a man of few
words,  and  those  not  too carefully chosen. So prolonged was the
monotonous  murmur,  however,  that Desmond by and by found himself
wondering what was the subject of his lengthy discourse; he even strained
his ears to catch, if it might be, some fragments of it; but nothing came
into distinctness out of the low-pitched tone.

Occasionally it was broken by the voice of one of the others; now and
again there was a brief interval of silence; then the Gujarati began
again. Desmond's thoughts were once more diverted to his own strange
fate. Little more than a year before, he had been a boy, with no more
experience than was to be gained within the narrow circuit of a country
farm. What a gamut of adventure he had run through since then! He smiled
as he thought that none of the folks at Market Drayton would recognize,
in the muscular, strapping, suntanned seaman, the slim boy of Wilcote
Grange. His imagination had woven many a chain of incident, and set him
in many a strange place; but never had it presented a picture of himself
in command of as mixed a crew as was ever thrown together, navigating
unknown waters without chart or compass, a fugitive from the chains of an
Eastern despot.

His quick fancy was busy even now. He felt that it was not for nothing he
had been brought into his present plight; and at the back of his mind was
the belief, founded on his strong wish and hope, that the magnetism of
Clive's personality, which he had felt so strongly at Market Drayton, was
still influencing his career.

At midnight Fuzl Khan relieved him at the wheel, and he turned in. His
sleep was troubled. It was a warm night--unusually warm for the time of
year. There were swarms of cockroaches and rats on board; the cockroaches
huge beasts, three times the size of those that overran the kitchen at
home; the rats seeming as large as the rabbits he had been wont to shoot
on the farm. They scurried about with their little restless noises, which
usually would have had no power to break his sleep; but now they worried
him. He scared them into silence for a moment by striking upon the floor;
but the rustle and clipper clapper immediately began again.

After vain efforts to regain his sleep, he at length rose and went on
deck. He did not move with intentional quietness, but he was barefoot,
and his steps made no sound. It was a black night, a warm haze almost
shutting out the stars. As he reached the deck he heard low murmurs from
a point somewhere aft. He had no idea what the time was: Shaik Mahomet
had the water clock, with which he timed the watches; and Desmond's could
not yet be due. Avoiding the spot where the conversation was in progress,
he leaned over the bulwarks, and gazed idly at the phosphorescent glow
upon the water.

Then he suddenly became aware that the sounds of talking came from near
the wheel, and Fuzl Khan was among the talkers. What made the man so
uncommonly talkative? Seemingly he was taking up the thread where it had
been dropped earlier in the night; what was it about?

Desmond asked himself the question without much interest, and was again
allowing his thoughts to rove when he caught the word "sahib," and then
the word "Firangi" somewhat loudly spoken. Immediately afterwards there
was a low hiss from the Gujarati, as of one warning another to speak
lower. The experiences of the past year had quickened Desmond's wits;
with reason he had become more suspicious than of yore, and the necessity
to be constantly on his guard had made him alert, alive to the least
suggestion.

Why had the speaker been hushed--and by Fuzl Khan? He remembered the ugly
rumors--the veiled hints he had heard about the man in Gheria. If they
were true, he had sold his comrades who trusted him. They might not be
true; the man himself had always indignantly denied them. Desmond had
nothing against him. So far he had acted loyally enough; but then he had
nothing to gain by playing his fellow fugitives false, and it was with
this knowledge that Desmond had decided to make him privy to the escape.

But now they were clear of Gheria. Fuzl Khan was free like the rest; he
had no longer the same inducement to play straight if his interest seemed
to him to clash with the general. Yet it was not easy to see how such a
clashing could occur. Like the others he was lost at sea; until land was
reached, at any rate, he could have no motive for opposition or mutiny.

While these, thoughts were passing through Desmond's mind he heard a man
rise from the group aft and come forward. Instinctively he moved from the
side of the vessel towards the mainmast, and as the man drew near Desmond
stood so that the stout tree trunk was between them. The man went rapidly
towards the bows, and in a low tone hailed the lookout, whispering him a
summons  to  join the Gujarati at the helm. The lookout, one of the
Marathas, left his post; he came aft with the messenger, and both passing
on the same side of the vessel, Desmond by dodging round the mast escaped
their notice.

At the best, the action of Fuzl Khan was a dereliction of duty; at the
worst!--Desmond could not put his suspicions into words. It was clear
that something was afoot, and he resolved to find out what it was. Very
cautiously he followed the two men. Bending low, and keeping under the
shadow of the bulwarks, he crept to within a few feet of the almost
invisible group. A friendly coil of rope near the taffrail gave him
additional cover; but the night was so dark that he ran little risk of
being perceived so long as the men remained stationary. He himself could
barely see the tall form of the Gujarati dimly outlined against the sky.



Chapter 16: In which a mutiny is quelled in a minute; and our Babu proves
himself a man of war.


Crouching low, Desmond waited. When the Maratha joined the groups Fuzl
Khan addressed him directly in a low firm tone.

"We are all agreed, Nanna," he said. "You are the only man wanting to our
purpose. This is the fastest grab on the coast. I know a port where we
can get arms and ammunition; with a few good men (and I know where they
can be found), we can make a strong band, and grow rich upon our spoils."

"But what about the sahib?"

"Wah!  We  know  what  these Firangi are like--at least the Angrezi
{English}. They have the heads of pigs: there is no moving them. It would
be vain to ask the young sahib to join us; his mind is set on getting to
Bombay and telling all his troubles to the Company. What a folly! And
what  an injustice to us! It would destroy our chance of making our
fortunes, for what would happen? The grab would be sold; the sahib would
take the most of the price; we should get a small share, not enough to
help us to become rovers of the sea and our own masters."

"The sahib will refuse, then. So be it! But what then shall we do with
him?"

"He will not get the chance of refusing. He will not be told."

"But he is taking us to Bombay. How then can we work our will?"

"He thinks he is sailing to Bombay: he will really take us to Cutch."

"How that, brother?"

"Does he know Bombay? Of a truth no. He is a boy, he has never sailed
these seas. He depends on us. Suppose we come in sight of Bombay, who
will tell him? Nobody. If he asks, we will say it is some other place:
how can he tell? We will run past Bombay until we are within sight of
Cutch: then truly I will do the rest."

The Maratha did not reply. The momentary silence was broken by Fuzl Khan
again.

"See! Put the one thing in the balance against the other: how does it
turn? On the one side the twenty rupees--a pitiful sum--promised by the
sahib: and who knows he will keep his promise? On the other, a tenth
share for each of you in the grab and whatsoever prey falls to it."

"Then the Babu is to have a share? Of a truth he is a small man, a hare
in spirit; does he merit an equal share with us? We are elephants to
him."

"No. He will have no share. He will go overboard."

"Why, then, what of the tenth share?"

"It will be mine. I shall be your leader and take two."

Desmond had heard enough. The Gujarati was showing himself in his true
colors. His greed was roused, and the chance of setting up as a pirate on
his own account, and making himself a copy of the man whose prisoner he
had  been,  had  prompted  this pretty little scheme. Desmond crept
noiselessly away and returned to his quarters. Not to sleep; he spent the
remainder of his watch below in thinking out his position--in trying to
devise some means of meeting this new and unexpected difficulty. He had
not heard what Fuzl Khan proposed ultimately to do with him. He might
share the Babu's fate: at the best it would appear that he had shaken off
one captivity to fall into the toils of another.

He had heard grim tales of the pirates of the Cambay Gulf; they were not
likely to prove more pleasant masters than the Marathas farther south,
even if they did not prefer to put him summarily out of the way. His
presence among them might prove irksome, and what would the death of a
single English youth matter? He was out of reach of all of his friends;
on the Good Intent none but Bulger and the New Englander had any real
kindness for him, and if Bulger were to mention at any port that a young
English lad was in captivity with the Pirate, what could be done? Should
the projected expedition against Gheria prove successful, and he not be
found among the European prisoners, it would be assumed that he was no
longer living; and even if the news of his escape became known, it was
absurd to suppose that all India would be searched for him.

The  outlook,  from any point of view, was gloomy. The Gujarati had
evidently won over the whole ship's company. Were they acting from the
inclination for a rover's life, coupled with the hope of gain, or had
they been jockeyed into mutiny by Fuzl Khan? Desmond could not tell, nor
could he find out without betraying a knowledge of the plot.

Then he remembered the Babu. He alone had been excepted; the other men
held him in contempt; but despite his weaknesses, for which he was indeed
hardly accountable, Desmond had a real liking for him; and it was an
unpleasant  thought that, whatever happened to himself, if the plot
succeeded, Surendra Nath was doomed.

But thinking of this, Desmond saw one ray of hope. He had not been for
long the companion of men of different castes without picking up a few
notions of what caste meant. The Babu was a Brahman; as a Bengali he had
no claim on the sympathies of the others; but as a Brahman his person to
other Hindus was inviolable. The Marathas were Hindus, and they at least
would not willingly raise their hand against him. Yet Desmond could not
be certain on this point. During his short residence in Gheria he had
found  that,  in the East as too often in the West, the precepts of
religion were apt to be kept rather in the letter than in the spirit. He
had seen the sacred cow, which no good Hindu would venture to kill for
untold gold, atrociously overworked, and, when too decrepit to be of
further service, left to perish miserably of neglect and starvation. It
might be that although the Marathas would not themselves lay hands on the
Babu, they would be quite content to look calmly on while a Mohammedan
did the work.

At the best, it was Desmond and the Babu against the crew--hopeless odds,
for if it came to a fight the latter would be worse than useless. Not
that Desmond held the man in such scorn as the men of his own color.
Surendra  Nath  was  certainly  timid  and  slack, physically weak,
temperamentally a coward: yet he had shown gleams of spirit during the
escape, and it seemed to Desmond that he was a man who, having once been
induced to enter upon a course, might prove both constant and loyal. The
difficulty now was that, prostrated by his illness during the storm, he
was not at his best; certainly in no condition to face a difficulty
either mental or physical.

So Desmond resolved not to tell him of the danger impending. He feared
the effect upon his shaken nerves. He would not intentionally do anything
against Desmond's interest, but he could scarcely fail to betray his
anxiety to the conspirators. Feeling that there was nobody to confide in,
Desmond decided that his only course was to feign ignorance of what was
going on, and await events with what composure he might. Not that he
would relax his watchfulness; on the contrary he was alert and keen,
ready to seize with manful grip the skirts of chance.

Perhaps, he thought, the grab might fall in with a British ship. But what
would that avail? The grab with her extraordinary sailing powers could
show a clean pair of heels to any Indiaman, however fast, even if he
could find an opportunity of signaling for help. Fuzl Khan, without
doubt, would take care that he never had such a chance.

Turning things over in his mind, and seeing no way out of his difficulty,
he was at length summoned to relieve the Gujarati at the wheel. It was,
he supposed, about four in the morning, and still pitch dark. When he
came to the helm Fuzl Khan was alone: there was nothing to betray the
fact that the plotters had, but little before, been gathered around him.
The  lookout, who had left his post to join the group, had returned
forward, and was now being relieved, like the Gujarati himself.

Desmond exchanged a word or two with the man, and was left alone at the
wheel. His mind was still set on the problem how to frustrate the scheme
of the mutineers. He was convinced that if the grab once touched shore at
any point save Bombay his plight would be hopeless. But how could he
guard against the danger? Even if he could keep the navigation of the
grab entirely in his own hands by remaining continuously at the helm, he
was dependent on the plotters for information about the coast; to mislead
him would be the easiest thing in the world. But it suddenly occurred to
him that he might gain time by altering the course of the vessel. If he
kept out of sight of land he might increase the chance of some diversion
occurring.

Accordingly he so contrived that the grab lost rather than gained in her
tacks against the light northwest wind now blowing. None of the men,
except possibly the Gujarati, had sufficient seamanship to detect this
manoeuver; he had gone below, and when he came on deck again he could not
tell what progress had been made during his absence. Only the mainsail,
foresail, and one topsail were set: these were quite enough for the
untrained crew to trim in the darkness--likely to prove too much, indeed,
in the event of a sudden squall. Thus the process of going about was a
long and laborious one, and at the best much way was lost.

Not long after he had begun to act on this idea he was somewhat concerned
to see the serang, who was in charge of the deck watch, come aft and hang
about near the wheel, as though his curiosity had been aroused. Had he
any suspicions? Desmond resolved to address the man and see what he could
infer from the manner of his reply.

"Is all well, serang?"

"All well, sahib," answered the man. He stopped, and seemed to hesitate
whether to say more; but after a moment or two he moved slowly away.

Desmond watched him. Had he discovered the trick? Would he go below and
waken Fuzl Khan? Desmond could not still a momentary tremor. But the
serang did not rejoin his mess mates, nor go below. He walked up and down
the deck alone. Apparently he suspected nothing.

Desmond felt relieved; but though he was gaining time, he could but
recognize that it seemed likely to profit him little. A criminal going to
execution may step never so slowly across the prison yard; there is the
inexorable gallows at the end, and certain doom.

Could he not force matters, Desmond wondered? It was evidently to be a
contest, whether of wits or physical strength, between himself and the
Gujarati. Without one or other the vessel could not be safely navigated;
if he could in some way overcome the ringleader, he felt pretty sure that
the crew would accept the result and all difficulty would be at an end.
But how could he gain so unmistakable an ascendancy? In physical strength
Fuzl Khan was more than his match: there was no doubt of the issue of a
struggle if it were a matter of sheer muscular power.

For a moment he thought of attempting to enlist the Marathas on his side.
They were Hindus; the Gujarati was a Muslim; and they must surely feel
that, once he was among his co-religionists in Cutch, in some pirate
stronghold, they would run a very poor chance of getting fair treatment.
But he soon dismissed the idea. The Gujarati must seem to them much more
formidable than the stripling against whom he was plotting. The Hindu,
even more than the average human being elsewhere, is inclined to attach
importance  to  might and bulk--even to mere fat. If he sounded the
Marathas, and, their fear of the Gujarati outweighing their inevitable
distrust of him as a Firangi, they betrayed him to curry a little favor,
there was no doubt that the fate both of himself and the Babu would
instantly be decided. He must trust to himself alone.

While he was still anxiously debating the matter with himself his eye
caught the two muskets lashed to the wooden framework supporting the
wheel. He must leave no hostages to fortune. Taking advantage of a lull
in the wind he steadied the wheel with his body, and with some difficulty
drew the charges and dropped them into the sea. If it came to a tussle
the enemy would certainly seize the muskets; it would be worth something
to Desmond to know that they were not loaded. It was, in truth, but a
slight lessening of the odds against him; and as he restored the weapons
to their place he felt once more how hopeless his position remained.

Thus pondering and puzzling, with no satisfaction, he spent the full
period of his term of duty. At the appointed time Fuzl Khan came to
relieve him. It was now full daylight; but, scanning the horizon with a
restless eye, Desmond saw no sign of land, nor the sail of any vessel.

"No land yet, sahib?" said the Gujarati, apparently in surprise.

"No, as you see."

"But you set the course by the stars, sahib?"

"Oh, yes; the grab must have been going slower than we imagined."

"The wind has not shifted?"

"Very little. I have had to tack several times."

The  man grunted, and looked at Desmond, frowning suspiciously, but
Desmond met his glance boldly, and said, as he left to go below:

"Be sure and have me called the moment you sight land."

He went below, threw himself into his hammock, and being dead tired, was
soon fast asleep.

Some hours later he was called by the Babu.

"Sahib, they say land is in sight at last. I am indeed thankful. To the
landlubber the swell of waves causes nauseating upheaval."

"'Tis good news indeed," said Desmond, smiling. "Come on deck with me."

They  went  up together. The vessel was bowling along under a brisk
southwester, which he found had been blowing steadily almost from the
moment he had left the helm. The land was as yet but a dim line on the
horizon; it was necessary to stand in much closer if any of the landmarks
were to be recognized. He took the wheel; the shade on the sea line
gradually became more definite; and in the course of an hour they opened
up a fort somewhat similar in appearance to that of Gheria. All the
ship's company were now on deck, looking eagerly shorewards.

"Do you know the place?" asked Desmond of the Gujarati unconcernedly.

The man gazed at it intently for a minute or so.

"Yes, sahib; it is Suwarndrug," he said. "Is it not, Nanna?"

"Yes, of a truth; it is Suwarndrug; I was there a month ago," replied the
Maratha.

"What do you say, Gulam?" he continued, turning to one of the Biluchis
standing near.

"It is Suwarndrug. I have seen it scores of times. No one can mistake
Suwarndrug. See, there is the hill; and there is the mango grove. Oh,
yes, certainly it is Suwarndrug."

At this moment four grabs were seen beating out of the harbor. Fuzl Khan
uttered an exclamation; then, turning to Desmond, he said with a note of
anxiety:

"It is best to put about at once, sahib. See the grabs! They may be
enemies."

Desmond's heart gave a jump; his pulse beat more quickly under the stress
of a sudden inspiration. He felt convinced that the fortress was not
Suwarndrug; the Gujarati's anxiety to pile up testimony to the contrary
was almost sufficient in itself to prove that. If not Suwarndrug, it was
probably one of Angria's strongholds, possibly Kulaba. In that case the
grabs now beating out were certainly the Pirate's, and the men knew it.

Here was an opportunity, probably the only one that would occur, of
grappling  with  the  mutiny. The crew would be torn by conflicting
emotions; with the prospect of recapture by Angria their action would be
paralyzed; if he could take advantage of their indecision he might yet
gain  the  upper hand. It was a risky venture; but the occasion was
desperate. He could afford for the present to neglect the distant grabs,
for none of the vessels on the coast could match the Tremukji in speed,
and bend all his energies upon the more serious danger on board.

"Surely  it  can not be Suwarndrug?" he said, with an appearance of
composure that he was far from feeling. "Suwarndrug, you remember, has
been captured. The last news at Gheria was that it was in the Company's
hands, though there was a rumor that it might be handed over to the
Peshwa. We should not now see Angria's grabs coming out of Suwarndrug.
But if it is Suwarndrug, Fuzl Khan, why put about? As fugitives from
Gheria we should be assured of a welcome at Suwarndrug. We should be as
safe there as at Bombay."

The Gujarati was none too quick witted. He was patently taken aback, and
hesitated for a reply. The grab was standing steadily on her course
shorewards. Desmond was to all appearance unconcerned; but the crew were
looking at one another uneasily, and the Gujarati's brow was darkening;
his fidgetiness increasing. Surendra Nath was the only man among the
natives who showed no anxiety. He was leaning on the taffrail, gazing
almost  gloatingly  at  the land, and paying no heed to the strange
situation around him.

Desmond  was  watching  the Gujarati keenly. The man's manner fully
confirmed his suspicions, and even in the tenseness of the moment he felt
a passing amusement at the big fellow's puzzle-headed attempts to invent
an explanation that would square with the facts. Failing to hit upon a
plausible argument, he began to bluster.

"You, Firangi, heed what I say. It is not for us to run risks: the hind
does not walk open eyed into the tiger's mouth. The grab must be put
about immediately."

"Who is in command?" asked Desmond quietly; "you or I?"

"We share it. I can navigate as well as you."

"You forget our arrangement in Gheria. You agreed that I should command."

"Yes, but at the pleasure of the rest. We are ten; we will have our way;
the grab must be put about, at once.

"Not by me."

Desmond felt what was coming and braced himself to meet it.

Then things happened with startling rapidity. The Gujarati, with a yell
of rage, made a rush towards the wheel. Knowing what to expect, Desmond
slipped behind it and with a few light steps gained the deck forward.
Fuzl Khan shouted to the serang to take the helm and steer the vessel out
to sea; then set off in headlong pursuit of Desmond, who had now turned
and stood awaiting the attack.

The Gujarati did not even trouble to draw his knife. He plunged at him
like a bull, shouting that he would deal with the pig of a Firangi as he
had dealt with the sentinel at Gheria.

But it was not for nothing that Desmond had fought a dozen battles for
the possession of Clive's desk at school, and a dozen more for the honor
of the school against the town; that his muscles had been developed by
months of hard work at sea and harder work in the dockyard at Gheria.
Deftly dodging the man's blind rush, he planted his bare feet firmly and
threw his whole weight into a terrific body blow that sent the bigger man
with a thud to the deck. Panting, breathless, trembling with fury, Fuzl
Khan sprang to his feet, caught sight of the muskets, and tearing one
from its fastenings raised it to his shoulder.

Desmond seized the moment with a quickness that spoke volumes for his
will's absolute mastery of his body. As the man pulled the harmless
trigger, Desmond leaped at him; a crashing blow between the eyes sent him
staggering against the wheel; a second while he tottered brought him limp
and almost stunned to the deck.

Meanwhile  the  crew  had looked on for a few breathless moments in
amazement  at this sudden turn of affairs. But as the Gujarati fell
Desmond heard a noise behind him. Half turning, he saw Shaik Abdullah
rushing  towards  him  with  a  marlinspike.  The  man had him at a
disadvantage, for he was breathless from his tussle with Fuzl Khan; but
at that moment a dark object hurtled through the air, striking this new
antagonist at the back of the head, and hurling him a lifeless lump into
the scuppers.

Desmond  looked  round  in  wonderment: who among the crew had thus
befriended him so opportunely? His wonder was not lessened when he saw
the  Babu,  trembling like a leaf, his eyes blazing, his dusky face
indescribably changed. At the sight of Desmond's peril the Bengali,
forgetting his weakness, exalted above his timidity, had caught up with
both hands a round nine-pounder shot that lay on deck, and in a sudden
strength of fury had hurled it at the Biluchi. His aim was fatally true;
the man was killed on the spot.

With his eyes Desmond thanked the Babu; there was no time for words. The
hostile grabs were undoubtedly making chase. They had separated, with the
intention of bearing down upon and overhauling the Tremukji in whatever
direction she might flee. Fuzl Khan still lay helpless upon the deck.

"Secure that man," said Desmond to two of the crew.

He spoke curtly and sternly, with the air of one who expected his orders
to be executed without question; though he felt a touch of anxiety lest
the men should still defy him. But they went about their task instantly
without a word: Desmond's bold stand, and the swift overthrow of the big
Gujarati, had turned the tide in his favor, and he thrilled with relief
and keen pleasure that he was master of the situation.

While the ringleader of the mutineers was being firmly bound, Desmond
turned to Nanna and said:

"Now, answer me at once. What is that place?"

"It is Kulaba, sahib."

"Where is Kulaba?"

"A few miles south of Bombay, sahib."

"Good. Run up the fore-topsail."

He went to the wheel.

"Thank you, serang. I will relieve you. Go forward and see that the men
crowd on all sail."

The mutiny had been snuffed out; the men went about their work quietly,
with the look of whipped dogs; and barring accidents Desmond knew that
before long he would make Bombay and be safe. With every stitch of canvas
set, the vessel soon showed that she had the heels of her pursuers.
Before she could draw clear, two of them came within range with their bow
chasers,  and  their  shot whistled around somewhat too close to be
comfortable. But she steadily drew ahead, and ere long it was seen that
the four grabs were being hopelessly outpaced. They kept up the chase for
the  best part of an hour, but as they neared the British port they
recognized that they were running into danger and had the discretion to
draw off.

Now that the pursuit was over, Desmond ventured to steer due northeast,
and  the coastline became more distinctly visible. It was about two
o'clock in the afternoon, judging by the height of the sun, when the
serang, pointing shorewards, said:

"There is Bombay, sahib."

"You are sure?"

"Yes; I know it by the cluster of palmyra trees. No one can mistake
them."

Moment by moment the town and harbor came more clearly into view. Desmond
saw an extensive castle, a flag flying on its pinnacled roof, set amid a
green mass of jungle and cocoanut forest, with a few Portuguese-built
houses dotted here and there. In front a narrow jungle-clad island,
called, as he afterwards learned, Old Woman Island, stretched like a spit
into the sea. To the left of the fort, at the head of a small bay, was
the Bunder pier, with the warehouses at the shore end. Still farther to
the left were the docks and the marine yards, and; at the extremity of
the island on which Bombay stands, a frowning bastion.

Feeling that he had now nothing more to fear, Desmond ordered Fuzl Khan
to  be cast loose and brought to him. The man wore a look of sullen
surprise, which Desmond cheerfully ignored.

"Now, Fuzl Khan," he said, "we are running into Bombay harbor. You know
the channel?"

The man grunted a surly affirmative.

"Well, you will take the helm, and steer us in to the most convenient
moorings."

He  turned  away, smiling at the look of utter consternation on the
Gujarati's  face.  To  be trusted after his treacherous conduct was
evidently more than the man could understand. The easy unconcern with
which Desmond walked away had its effect on the crew. When orders were
given to take in sail they carried them out with promptitude, and Desmond
chuckled  as  he  saw  them talking to one another in low tones and
discussing him, as he guessed by their glances in his direction.

The Gujarati performed his work at the helm skilfully, and about five
o'clock, when the sun was setting, casting a romantic glow over the long
straggling settlement, the Tremukji ran to her anchorage among a host of
small  craft,  within a few cable lengths of the vessels of Admiral
Watson's squadron, which had arrived from Madras a few weeks before.



Chapter 17: In which our hero finds himself among friends;
and Colonel Clive prepares to astonish Angria.


The entrance of a strange grab had not passed unnoticed. Before the
anchor had been dropped, the harbor master put off in a toni.

"What grab is that?" he shouted in Urdu, as he came alongside.

"The Tremukji, sir," replied Desmond in English.

"Eh! what! who in the name of Jupiter are you?"

"You'd better come aboard, sir, and I'll explain," said Desmond with a
smile.

The harbor master mounted the side, rapping out sundry exclamations of
astonishment that amused Desmond not a little.

"Don't talk like a native! H'm! Queer! Turn him inside out! No nonsense!"

"Well, here I am," he added, stepping up to Desmond. "My name's Johnson,
and I'm harbor master. Now then, explain; no nonsense."

Desmond liked the look of the little man. He was short and stout, with a
very large red face, a broad turn-up nose, and childlike blue eyes that
bespoke confidence at once.

"My name is Desmond Burke, sir, and I've run away from Gheria in this
grab."

"The deuce you have!"

"Yes, sir. I've been a prisoner there for six months and more, and we got
off a few nights ago in the darkness."

"H'm! Any more Irishmen aboard?"

"Not that I'm aware of, sir."

"And you got away from Gheria, did you? You're the first that ever I
heard did so. Nothing to do with Commodore James, eh?"

"No, sir. I don't know what you mean."

"Why, Commodore James started t'other day to take a good sea-look at
Gheria.  There's  an expedition getting ready to draw that rascally
Pirate's teeth. You saw nothing of the squadron? No nonsense, now."

"Not a thing, sir. We were blown out to sea, and I suppose the commodore
passed us in the night."

"H'm! Very likely. And you weathered that storm, did you? Learned your
seamanship, eh?"

"Picked up a little on board the Good Intent, sir. I was ship's boy
aboard."

"Mighty queer ship's boy!" said Mr. Johnson in an audible aside. "The
Good Intent's a villainous interloper; how came you aboard of her?"

"I was in a sense tricked into it, sir, and when we got to Gheria Captain
Barker and Mr. Diggle, the supercargo, sold me to Angria."

"Sold you to the Pirate?"

"Yes, sir."

"And where do you hail from, then?"

"Shropshire, sir; my father was Captain Richard Burke in the Company's
service."

"Jupiter! You're Dick Burke's son! Gad, sir, give me your hand; I knew
Dick Burke; many's the sneaker of Bombay punch we've tossed off together.
No nonsense about Dick; give me your fist.

"And so you sneaked out of Gheria and sailed this grab, eh? Well, you're
a chip of the old block, and a credit to your old dad. I want to hear all
about this. And you'll have to come ashore and see the governor."

"It's very kind of you, Mr. Johnson, but really I can't appear before the
governor in this rig."

He glanced ruefully at his bare legs and feet and tattered garments.

"True, you en't very shipshape, but we'll soon alter that. Ever use a
razor?"

"Not yet, sir," replied Desmond with a smile.

"Thought not. Plenty of native barbers. You must get shaved. And I'll rig
you up in a suit of some sort. You must see the governor at once, and no
nonsense."

"What about the grab, sir?"

"Leave that to me. You've got a pretty mixed crew, I see. All escaped
prisoners, too?"

"All but four."

"And not one of 'em to be trusted, I'll swear. Well, I'll put a crew
aboard to take charge. Come along; there's no time to lose. Colonel Clive
goes to bed early."

"Colonel Clive! Is he here?"

"Yes; arrived from home two days ago. Ah! that reminds me; you're a
Shropshire lad; so's he; do you know him?"

"No, sir; I've seen him; I--I--"

Desmond stammered, remembering his unfortunate encounter with Clive in
Billiter Street.

"Well, well," said the harbor master, with a quizzical look; "you'll see
him again. Come along."

Desmond accompanied Mr. Johnson on shore. A crowd had gathered. There
were Sepoys in turban, cabay {cloak}, and baggy drawers; bearded Arabs;
Parsis in their square caps; and a various assortment of habitues of the
shore--crimps, landsharks, badmashes {bad characters}, bunder {port}
gangs. Seeing Desmond hold his nose at the all-prevailing stench of fish,
Mr. Johnson laughed.

"You'll soon get used to that," he said. "'Tis all fish oil and bummaloes
{small fish the size of smelt, known when dried as 'Bombay duck'} in
Bombay."

Having sent a trustworthy crew on board the Tremukji, the harbor master
led Desmond to his house near the docks. Here, while a native barber
plied his dexterous razor on Desmond's cheeks and chin, Mr. Johnson
searched through a miscellaneous hoard of clothes in one of his capacious
presses for an outfit. He found garments that proved a reasonable fit,
and Desmond, while dressing, gave a rapid sketch of his adventures since
he left the prison shed in Gheria.

"My wigs, but you've had a time of it. Mutiny and all! Dash my buttons,
here's a tale for the ladies! Let me look at you. Yes, you'll do now, and
faith you're a pretty fellow. And Dick Burke's son! You've got his nose
to a T; no nonsense about that. Now you're ready to make your bow to Mr.
Bourchier. He's been a coursing match with Colonel Clive and Mr. Watson
{it was customary to use the title Mr. in speaking to or of both naval
and military officers} up Malabar Hill, and we'll catch him before he
sits down to supper.

"How do you feel inside, by the way? Ready for a decent meal after the
Pirate's pig's wash, eh?"

"I'm quite comfortable inside," said Desmond, smiling, "but, to tell you
the truth, Mr. Johnson, I feel mighty uneasy outside. After six months of
the dhoti these breeches and things seem just like bandages."

"It en't the first time you've been swaddled, if you had a mother. Well
now, if you're ready. What! That rascal gashed you! Tuts! 'tis a scratch.
Can't wait to doctor that. Come on."

The two made their way into the fort inclosure, and walked rapidly to the
Government House in the center. In answer to Mr. Johnson the darwan
{doorkeeper} at the door said that the governor would not return that
night. After the coursing match he was giving a supper party at his
country house at Parell.

"That's a nuisance. But we can't have any nonsense. The governor's a bit
of an autocrat; too much starch in his shirt, I say; but we'll go out to
Parell and beard him, by Jove! 'Tis only five miles out, and we'll drive
there in under an hour."

Turning away he hurried out past the tank house on to the Green, and by
good luck found an empty shigram {carriage like a palanquin on wheels}
waiting  to  be  hired.  Desmond mounted the vehicle with no little
curiosity. These great beasts with their strange humps would surely not
cover five miles in less than an hour. But he was undeceived when they
started. The two sturdy oxen trotted along at a good pace in obedience to
the driver's goad, and the shigram rattled across Bombay Green, past the
church  and  the whitewashed houses of the English merchants, their
oyster-shell windows already lit up; and in some forty-five minutes
entered a long avenue leading to Mr. Bourchier's country house. Twice
during  the course of the journey Desmond was interested to see the
shigramwallah {wallah is a personal affix, denoting a close connection
between  the  person  and  the  thing  described  by the main word.
Shigramwallah thus is carriage driver} pull his team up, dismount, and,
going to their heads, insert his hand in their mouths.

"What does he do that for?" he asked.

"To clear their throats, to be sure. When the beasts go at this pace they
make a terrible lot of foam, and if he didn't swab it out they'd choke,
and no nonsense.

"Well, here we are. Dash my wig, won't his Excellency open his eyes!"

Since their departure from the fort the sky had become quite dark. At the
end of the avenue they could see the lights of Governor Bourchier's
bungalow, and by and by caught sight of figures sitting on the veranda.
Desmond's heart beat high; he made no doubt that one of them was Clive;
the moment to which he had looked forward so eagerly was at last at hand.
He was in no dream land; but his dream had come true. He felt a little
nervous at the prospect of meeting men so famous, so immeasurably above
him, as Clive and Admiral Watson; but with Clive he felt a bond of union
in his birthplace, and it was with recovered confidence that he sprang
out of the cart and accompanied Mr. Johnson to the bungalow. He was
further reassured by a jolly laugh that rang out just as he reached the
steps leading up to the veranda.

"Hullo, Johnson," said a voice, "what does this mean?"

"I've come to see the governor, Captain."

"Then you couldn't have come at a worse time. The supper's half an hour
late, and you know what that means to the governor."

Mr. Johnson smiled.

"He'll  forget his supper when he has heard my news. 'Tis about the
Pirate."

"What's that?" said another voice. "News of the Pirate?"

"Yes, Mr. Watson. This young gentleman--"

But he was interrupted by the khansaman {butler}, who came out at this
moment and with a salaam announced that supper was served.

"You'd better come in, Johnson," said the first speaker. "Any news of the
Pirate will be sauce to Mr. Bourchier's goose."

The gentlemen rose from their seats, and went into the house, followed by
Desmond and the harbor master. In a moment Desmond found himself in a
large room brilliantly lighted with candles. In the center was a round
table, and Mr. Bourchier, the governor, was placing his guests. He did
not look very pleasant, and when he saw Mr. Johnson he said:

"You come at a somewhat unseasonable hour, sir. Can not your business
wait till the morning?"

"I made bold to come, your Excellency, because 'tis a piece of news the
like  of  which  no one in Bombay has ever heard before. This young
gentleman, Mr. Desmond Burke, son of Captain Burke, whom you'll remember,
sir, has escaped from Gheria."

The governor and his guests were by this time seated, and instantly all
eyes were focused on Desmond, and exclamations of astonishment broke from
their lips.

"Indeed! Bring chairs, Hossain."

One of the native attendants left the room noiselessly, and returning
with chairs placed them at the table.

"Sit down, gentlemen. This is amazing news, as you say, Mr. Johnson.
Perhaps Mr. Burke will relate his adventure as we eat."

Desmond took the chair set for him. The guests were five. Two of them
wore the laced coats of admirals; the taller, a man of handsome presence,
with a round chubby face, large eyes, small full lips, his head crowned
by a neat curled wig, was Charles Watson, in command of the British
fleet; the other was his second, Rear Admiral Pocock. A third was Richard
King, captain of an Indiaman, in a blue coat with velvet lappets and gold
embroidery, buff waistcoat and breeches. Next him sat a jolly red-faced
gentleman in plain attire, and between him and the governor was Clive
himself, whose striking face--the lawyer's brow, the warrior's nose and
chin, the dreamer's mouth--would have marked him out in any company.

Desmond began his story. The barefooted attendants moved quietly about
with the dishes, but the food was almost neglected as the six gentlemen
listened to the clear low voice telling of the escape from the fort, the
capture of the grab, and the eventful voyage to Bombay harbor.

"By George! 'tis a famous adventure," exclaimed Admiral Watson, when the
story was ended. "What about this Pirate's den? Gheria fort is said to be
impregnable; what are the chances if we attack, eh? The approaches to the
harbor, now; do you know the depth of the water?"

"Vessels can stand in to three fathoms water, sir. Seven fathoms is
within point-blank shot of the fort. The walls are about fifty feet high;
there are twenty-seven bastions, and they mount more than two hundred
guns."

"And the opposite shore?"

"A flat tableland, within distance for bombarding. A diversion might be
made from there while the principal attack could be carried on in the
harbor, or from a hill south of the fort."

"Is the landing easy?"

"Yes, sir. There are three sandy bays under the hill, without any surf to
make landing difficult. One is out of the line of fire from the fort."

"And what about the land side? There's a town, is there not?"

"On  a neck of land, sir. There's a wall, but nothing to keep out a
considerable force. If an attack were made from that side the people
would, I think, flock into the fort."

"And is that as strong as rumor says?"

"'Tis pretty strong, sir; there are double walls, and thick ones; they'd
stand a good battering."

"It seems to me, Admiral," said the red-faced gentleman with a laugh,
"that you've learned all you sent Commodore James to find out.

"What do you say, Mr. Clive?"

"It seems so, Mr. Merriman. But I think, Mr. Watson, in our eagerness to
learn something of Gheria, we must seem somewhat cavalier to this lad,
whose interest in our plans cannot be equal to our own.

"You have shown, sir," he added, addressing Desmond, "great spirit and
courage, not less ingenuity, in your daring escape from the Pirate. But I
want to go farther back. How came you to fall into the Pirate's hands?
You have told us only part of your story."

"Yes, indeed," said Mr. Bourchier. "If you are not tired, we shall be
vastly pleased to hear more, Mr. Burke."

"Your name is Burke?" interrupted Clive. "I had not before caught it. May
I ask what part of Ireland you come from, sir? Pardon me, but your accent
smacks more of Shropshire than of County Dublin."

"'Tis Shropshire, sir; I come from Market Drayton."

("Like yourself!" his glowing cheeks and flashing eyes seemed to say.
This was the proudest moment in Desmond's life as yet.)

"I was not mistaken," said Clive. "I remember a schoolfellow of mine of
your name; let me see--"

"Richard Burke, sir, my brother; my father was Captain Burke in the
Company's service."

"Sure I have it now. I remember him: a tall, fine old sea dog whom I saw
at times in Market Drayton when I was a child. I had a great awe of
Captain Burke--i'faith, the only man I was afraid of. And you are his
son!--But come, I am interrupting your story."

Desmond spoke of his longing for adventure, which had led him to leave
home in search of fortune. He glossed over his brother's ill treatment.
He told how he had been inveigled on board the Good Intent, and handed
over to Angria when the vessel arrived at Gheria. He mentioned no names
except that of Captain Barker, though he could not have explained his
motive in keeping silence about Diggle.

"Barker is a villain, ripe for the gallows," said Captain King. "But, Mr.
Burke, I don't understand how you came to be so hoodwinked in London.
Sure you must have known that a boy without an ounce of experience would
never be made supercargo. Had you any enemies in London?"

"I didn't know that I had, sir, till the Good Intent had sailed. I was
deceived, but the man who promised me the berth was very friendly, and I
didn't suspect him."

"It was not Barker, then?"

"No, sir; it was a man I met at Market Drayton."

"At Market Drayton?" said Clive. "That's odd. What was his name?"

"His name was Diggle, and--"

"A stranger? I remember no one of that name," said Clive.

"I thought he was a stranger, sir; but of late I have begun to suspect he
was not such a stranger as he seemed."

"How did you meet him?"

"Accidentally, sir, the night of your banquet in Market Drayton."

"Indeed! 'Tis all vastly curious. Was he lodging in the town?"

"He came in from Chester that night and lodged at the Four Alls."

"With that disreputable sot Grinsell!" Clive paused. "Did he tell you
anything about himself?"

"Very little, sir, except that he'd been unlucky. I think he mentioned
once that he was a fellow at a Cambridge college, but he spoke to me most
about India."

As he put his questions Clive leaned forward, and seemed to become more
keenly interested with every answer. He now turned and gave a hard look
at the bluff man whom he had called Mr. Merriman. The rest of the company
were silent.

"Do you happen to know whether he went up to the Hall?" asked Clive.

"Sir Willoughby's? I met him several times walking in that neighborhood,
but I don't think he went to the Hall. He did not appear to know Sir
Willoughby.--And  yet,  sir, I remember now that I heard Diggle and
Grinsell talking about the squire the night I first saw them together at
the Four Alls."

"And you were with this--Diggle, in London, Mr. Burke?"

"Yes, sir."

Desmond began to feel uncomfortable. Clive had evidently not recognized
him before, and he was hoping that the unfortunate incident in Billiter
Street would not be recalled. Clive's next words made him wish to sink
into the floor.

"Do you remember, Mr. Burke, in London, throwing yourself in the way of a
gentleman that was in pursuit of your friend Mr. Diggle, and bringing him
to the ground?"

"Yes, sir, I did, and I am sorry for it."

Desmond did not like the grim tone of Clive's voice; he wished he would
address him as "my lad" instead of "Mr. Burke."

"That was a bad start, let me say, Mr. Burke--an uncommonly bad start."

"Oh come, Mr. Clive!" broke in Mr. Merriman, "say no more about that. The
boy was in bad company: 'twas not his fault. In truth, 'twas my own
fault: I am impetuous; the sight of that scoundrel was too much for me.

"I bear you no grudge, my lad, though I had a bump on my head for a week
afterwards. Had you not tripped me I should have run my rapier through
the villain, and there would like have been an end of me."

"Shall I tell the boy, Mr. Merriman?" said Clive.

"Not now, not now," said Merriman quickly.

The  other gentlemen, during this dialogue, had been discussing the
information they had gained about Gheria fort.

"Well," said Clive, "you are lucky, let me tell you, Mr. Burke, to be out
of this Diggle's clutches. By the way, have you seen him since he sold
you to the Pirate?"

"He came a few days before I escaped, and wanted me to come here as a
spy. Angria promised me my freedom and a large sum of money."

"What's that?" cried Merriman. "Wanted you to come as a spy?"

"Yes, sir."

"And what did you say?"

"I told him he might do it himself."

"A palpable hit!" said Merriman with a grim laugh, "and a very proper
answer. But he'll have more respect for his skin."

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Bourchier, "we have kept Mr. Burke talking so much
that he hasn't had a mouthful of food. I think we might go out on the
veranda and smoke our cigars while he takes some supper.

"Mr. Johnson, you've done most justice to my viands, I think. Perhaps you
will join us."

The harbor master became purple in the face. He had in fact been eating
and drinking with great gusto, taking advantage of the preoccupation of
the company to insure that the excellent fare should not be wasted. He
rose  hurriedly  and, with a sheepish look that scarcely fitted his
cheerful features, followed his sarcastic host to the veranda. All the
guests save Mr. Merriman accompanied Mr. Bourchier.

"They all want to talk shop; this expedition against the Pirate," said
Mr. Merriman. "You and I can have a little chat."

Desmond was attracted by the open face of his new acquaintance, slightly
disfigured, as he noticed, by a long scar on the left temple.

"You're plucky and lucky," continued Merriman, "and in spite of what Mr.
Clive calls your bad start in bowling me over, you'll do well."

His face clouded as he went on.

"That man Diggle: why should he have sold you to the Pirate: what had he
against you?"

"I can not imagine, sir."

"You are lucky to have escaped him, as Mr. Clive said. I think--yes, I
will tell you about him. His name is not Diggle; it is Simon Peloti. He
is a nephew of Sir Willoughby's. His mother married a Greek, against her
brother's wish; the man died when the child was a year old. As a boy
Peloti was as charming a little fellow as one could wish: handsome, high
spirited, clever. He did well at school, and afterwards at Cambridge: won
a fellowship there. Then he went to the dogs--not all at once; men never
do. He was absolutely without principle, and thought of nothing but his
own  ease  and  success.  One thing led to another; at last, in the
forty-five--"

He paused. After a moment he went on:

"I had a brother, my lad--"

He stopped again, his face expressing poignant grief.

"I know, sir," said Desmond. "Sir Willoughby told me."

"He told you! He did not mention Peloti?"

"No,  sir; but I see it all now. It was Diggle--Peloti, I mean--who
betrayed your brother. I understand now why the squire took no steps
against Grinsell. His accomplice was Diggle."

He related the incident of the house breakers.

"Yes," said Merriman, "that throws a light on things. Peloti, I imagine,
had previously seen the squire, and tried to get money from him. Sir
Willoughby  refused: he gave him a thousand pounds ten years ago on
condition he left the country and did not return. So the villain resolved
to rob him. 'Twas fortunate indeed you appeared in time. That is the
reason for his hating you."

"There was another, sir," said Desmond with some hesitation. "He thought
I was hankering after the squire's property--aiming at becoming his heir.
'Twas ridiculous, sir; such an idea never entered my head."

"I see. Peloti came to India and got employment in the Company's service
at Madras. But he behaved so badly that he had to be turned out--he said
Mr. Clive hounded him out. What became of him after that I don't know.
But let us leave the miserable subject. Tell me, what are your ideas?
What are you going to do, now that you are a free man once more? Get
another berth as supercargo?"

His eyes twinkled as he said this.

"No, thank you, sir; once bit twice shy. I haven't really thought of
anything  definite,  but  what I should like best of all would be a
cadetship under Colonel Clive."

"Soho! You're a fighter, are you? But of course you are; I have reason to
know that. Well, we'll see what my friend Mr. Clive says. You've no
money, I suppose?"

"Not a half penny, sir; but if the governor will admit that the grab is
my lawful prize, I thought of selling her; that will bring me a few
pounds."

"Capital idea. Punctilio won't stand in the way of that, I should think.
Well now, I'll speak to Mr. Clive for you, but don't build too much on
it. He cannot give you a commission, I fear, without the authority of the
governor  of  Madras;  and though no doubt a word from him would be
effectual, he's a very particular man, and you'll have to prove you're
fit for a soldier's life.

"Meanwhile, what do you say to this? I've taken a fancy to you. I'm a
merchant; trade pays better than soldiering, in general. I've got ships
of my own, and I dare say I could find a berth for you on one of them.
You seem to know something of navigation?"

"Very little, sir; just what I picked up on the Good Intent."

"Well, that's a beginning. I've no doubt that Admiral Watson will wish
you to go to Gheria with him: your knowledge of the place will be useful.
He won't start for a month or two: why not occupy the time in improving
your navigation, so that if there are difficulties about a cadetship
you'll be competent for a mate's berth? Nothing like having two strings
to your bow. What do you say to that?"

"'Tis very good of you, sir; I accept with pleasure."

"That's right. Now when you've finished that curry we'll go out on the
veranda. Before you came they were talking of nothing but their dogs; but
I wager 'tis nothing but the Pirate now."

They soon rejoined the other gentlemen.

"Come, Mr. Burke," said Admiral Watson, "we've been talking over the
information you've given us. You've nothing to do, I suppose?"

"I've just suggested that he should read up navigation, Mr. Watson," said
Merriman.

"You're a wizard, Mr. Merriman. I was proposing to engage Mr. Burke to
accompany us on our expedition against the Pirate. He can make himself
useful when we get to Gheria. We'll see how James' information tallies
with his.

"You won't object to serve his Majesty, Mr. Burke?"

"'Tis what I should like best in the world, sir."

"Very well. Meanwhile learn all you can; Captain King here will take
charge of you, I've no doubt."

"Certainly, Mr. Watson."

"You will give Mr. Burke quarters for the present, Mr. Johnson?" said
Merriman.

"To be sure. And as 'tis late we'd better be going.

"Good night, your Excellency; good night, gentlemen."

Early next day Admiral Watson himself rode down to the harbor to inspect
the grab. He was so much pleased with her that he offered to buy her for
the service. Before the day was out Desmond found himself in possession
of seven thousand rupees. After paying the Marathas the wages agreed
upon, he proceeded to divide the balance. He retained two shares for
himself, and gave each of the men who had escaped with him an equal part.

No one was more surprised than Fuzl Khan when he received his share in
full. He had expected to get the punishment he knew he well deserved. But
Desmond, against the advice of the harbor master, determined to overlook
the man's misconduct. He went further. At his request Admiral Watson gave
him  a  place  on the grab. The Gujarati seemed overwhelmed by this
generosity  on  the part of a man he had wronged, and for the nonce
breaking through his usual morose reserve, he thanked Desmond, awkwardly
indeed, but with manifest sincerity.

The other men were no less delighted with their good fortune. The sums
they received made them rich men for life. None was more elated than
Surendra Nath. It happened that Mr. Merriman came on board to see the
grab at the moment when Desmond was distributing the prize money. Desmond
noticed a curious expression on the Babu's face, and he was compelled to
laugh  when  the man, after a moment's hesitation, walked up to Mr.
Merriman, and with a strange mixture of humility and importance said:

"I wish you a very good morning, your Honor."

"Good gad!--Surendra Nath Chuckerbutti! I'm uncommonly glad to see you."

He shook hands warmly, a mark of condescension which made the Babu beam
with gratification.

"Why," continued Merriman, "we'd given you up for dead long ago. So
you're the plucky and ingenious fellow who did so much to help Mr. Burke
in the famous escape!

"Surendra Nath was one of my best clerks, Mr. Burke. His father is my
head clerk for Company's business.

"He hasn't been the same man since you disappeared. You must tell me your
story. Come up to Mr. Bowman's house on the Green tonight; I am staying
there."

"I shall be most glad to return to my desk in Calcutta, your Honor," said
the Babu. "But I do not like the sea. It has no sympathy with me. I think
of accomplishing the journey by land."

"Good heavens, man! it would take you a year at the least, if you weren't
swallowed by a tiger or strangled by a Thug on the way. You'll have to go
by water, as you came."

The Babu's face fell.

"That is the fly in the ointment, your Honor. But I will chew majum and
bestow myself in the cabin; thus perhaps I may avoid squeamishness. By
the  kindness of Burke Sahib I have a modicum of money, now a small
capital; and I hope, with your Honor's permission, to do trifling trade
for myself."

"Certainly," said Merriman with a laugh. "You'll be a rich man yet,
Surendra Nath. Well, don't forget; you'll find me at Mr. Bowman's on the
Green at eight o'clock."



Chapter 18: In which Angria is astonished; and our hero begins to pay off
old scores.


Time sped quickly. Desmond made the best use of his opportunities of
learning navigation under Captain King and the harbor master, and before
two months had expired was pronounced fit to act as mate on the finest
East Indiaman afloat. He took this with a grain of salt. The fact was
that his adventures, the modesty with which he deprecated all allusions
to his part in the escape from Gheria, and the industry with which he
worked, won him the goodwill of all; he was a general favorite with the
little European community of Bombay.

Apart  from his study, he found plenty to interest him in his spare
moments. The strange mixture of people, the temples and pagodas, the
towers of silence on which the Parsees exposed their dead, the burning
pyres of the Hindus on the beach, the gaunt filthy fakirs {religious
mendicant (Mohammedan)} and jogis who whined and told fortunes in the
streets  for  alms, the exercising of the troops, the refitting and
careening of Admiral Watson's ships--all this provided endless matter for
curiosity and amusement.

One thing disappointed him. Not once during the two months did he come in
contact with Clive. Mr. Merriman remained in Bombay, awaiting the arrival
of a vessel of his from Muscat; but Desmond was loath to ask him whether
he had sounded Clive about a cadetship. As a matter of fact Mr. Merriman
had mentioned the matter at once.

"Patience,  Merriman,"  was  Clive's  reply.  "I have my eye on the
youngster."

And with that the merchant, knowing his friend, was very well content;
but he kept his own counsel.

At length, one day in the first week of February, 1756, Desmond received
a summons to visit the admiral. His interview was brief. He was directed
to place himself under the orders of Captain Latham on the Tyger; the
fleet was about to sail.

It was a bright, cool February morning; cool, that is, for Bombay, when
the vessels weighed anchor and sailed slowly out of the harbor. All
Bombay lined the shores: natives of every hue and every mode of attire;
English  merchants;  ladies fluttering white handkerchiefs. Such an
expedition had never been undertaken against the noted Pirate before, and
the report of Commodore James, confirming the information brought by
Desmond,  had given the authorities good hope that this pest of the
Malabar coast was at last to be destroyed.

It was an inspiriting sight as the vessels, rounding the point, made
under full sail to the south. There were six line-of-battle ships, six
Company's vessels, five bomb ketches, four Maratha grabs--one of them
Angria's own grab, the Tremukji, on which Desmond had escaped--and forty
gallivats. The Tyger led the van. Admiral Watson's flag was hoisted on
the Kent, Admiral Pocock's on the Cumberland. On board the fleet were two
hundred  European soldiers, three hundred Sepoys, and three hundred
Topasses--mainly half-caste Portuguese in the service of the Company,
owing their name to the topi {hat} they wore. To cooperate with this
force a land army of twelve thousand Marathas, horse and foot, under the
command of Ramaji Punt, one of the Peshwa's generals, had been for some
time investing the town of Gheria.

At this time of year the winds were so slight and variable that it was
nearly a week before the fleet arrived off Gheria. When the bastions of
the fort hove into sight Desmond could not help contrasting his feelings
with those of two months before.

"Like the look of your cage, Mr. Burke?" asked Captain Latham at his
elbow.

"I was just thinking of it, sir," said Desmond. "It makes a very great
difference when you're outside the bars."

"And we'll break those bars before we're much older, or I'm a Dutchman."

But at this moment the signal to heave-to was seen flying at the masthead
of the Kent. Before the vessels had anchored one of the grabs left the
main fleet and ran into the harbor. It bore a message from Admiral Watson
to Tulaji Angria, summoning him to surrender. The answer returned was
that if the admiral desired to be master of the fort he must take it by
force, as Angria was resolved to defend it to the last extremity.

The ships remained at anchor outside the harbor during the night. Next
morning a boat put off from the town end of the fort conveying several of
Angria's relatives and some officers of Ramaji Punt's army. It by and by
became known that Tulaji Angria, leaving his brother in charge of the
fort, had given himself up to Ramaji Punt, and was now a prisoner in his
camp. The visitors had come ostensibly to view the squadron, but really
to  discover what were Admiral Watson's intentions in regard to the
disposal of the fort, supposing it fell into his hands. The admiral saw
through the device, which was no doubt to hand the fort over to the
Peshwa's general, and so balk the British of their legitimate prize.

Admiral Watson made short work of the visitors. He told them that if
Angria would surrender his fort peaceably he and his family would be
protected; but that the fort he must have. They pleaded for a few days'
grace, but the admiral declined to wait a single day. If the fort was not
immediately given up he would sail in and attack it.

It was evident that hostilities could not be avoided. About one in the
afternoon Captain Henry Smith of the Kingfisher sloop was ordered to lead
the way, and Desmond was sent to join him.

"What is the depth under the walls, Mr. Burke?" the captain asked him.

"Three and a half fathoms, sir--deep enough to float the biggest of us."

The sloop weighed anchor, and stood in before the afternoon breeze. It
was an imposing sight as the fleet formed in two divisions and came
slowly in their wake. Each ship covered a bomb ketch, protecting the
smaller vessels from the enemy's fire. Desmond himself was kept very
busy, going from ship to ship as ordered by signals from the Kent, and
assisting each captain in turn to navigate the unfamiliar harbor.

It was just two o'clock when the engagement began with a shot from the
fort at the Kingfisher. The shot was returned, and a quarter of an hour
later, while the fleet was under full sail, the Kent flew the signal for
a general action. One by one the vessels anchored at various points
opposite the fortifications, and soon a hundred and fifty guns were
blazing away at the massive bastions and curtains, answered vigorously by
Angria's two hundred and fifty.

Desmond was all excitement. The deafening roar of the guns, the huge
columns  of smoke that floated heavily over the fort, and sometimes
enveloped the vessels, the bray of trumpets, the beating of tom toms, the
shouts of men, set his blood tingling: and though he afterwards witnessed
other stirring scenes, he never forgot the vivid impression of the fight
at Gheria.

About three o'clock a shell set fire to one of the Pirate's grabs--one
that  had  formerly been taken by him from the Company. Leaving its
moorings, it drifted among the main pirate fleet of grabs which still lay
lashed together where Desmond had last seen them by the blaze of the
burning gallivats. They were soon alight. The fire spread rapidly to the
dockyard, caught the unfinished grabs on the stocks, and before long the
whole of Angria's shipping was a mass of flame.

Meanwhile  the  bombardment  had  made  little  impression  on  the
fortifications,  and it appeared to the admiral that time was being
wasted. Accordingly he gave orders to elevate the guns and fire over the
walls into the interior of the fort. A shell from one of the bomb ketches
fell plump into one of the outhouses of the palace and set it on fire.
Fanned  by  the west wind, the flames spread to the arsenal and the
storehouse, licking up the sheds and smaller buildings until they reached
the outskirts of the city. The crackling of flames was now mingled with
the din of artillery, and as dusk drew on, the sky was lit up over a
large space with the red glow of burning. By half-past six the guns on
the bastions had been silenced, and the admiral gave the signal to cease
fire.

Some time before this a message reached Captain Smith ordering him to
send Desmond at once on board the Kent. When he stepped on deck he found
Admiral Watson in consultation with Clive. It appeared that during the
afternoon  a cloud of horsemen had been observed hovering on a hill
eastward of the city, and being by no means sure of the loyalty of the
Maratha allies, Clive had come to the conclusion that it was time to land
his troops. But it was important that the shore and the neck of land east
of the fort should be reconnoitered before the landing was attempted. The
groves might, for all he knew, be occupied by the Pirate's troops or by
those of Ramaji Punt, and Clive had had enough experience of native
treachery to be well on his guard.

"I am going to send you on a somewhat delicate mission, Mr. Burke," he
said. "You know the ground. I want you to go quickly on shore and see
first of all whether there is safe landing for us, and then whether the
ground between the town and the fort is occupied. Be quick and secret; I
need waste no words. Mr. Watson has a boat's crew ready."

"I think, sir," said Desmond, "that it will hardly be necessary, perhaps
not advisable, to take a boat's crew from this ship. If I might have a
couple  of natives, there would be a good deal less risk in getting
ashore."

"Certainly. But there is no time to spare; indeed, if you are not back in
a couple of hours I shall land at once. But I should like to know what we
have to expect. You had better get a couple of men from the nearest
grab."

"The Tremukji is only a few cable lengths away, sir, and there's a man on
board who knows the harbor. I will take him, with your permission."

"Very well. Good luck go with you."

Desmond saluted, and stepping into the boat which had rowed him to the
Kent, he was quickly conveyed to the grab. In a few minutes he left this
in a skiff accompanied only by Fuzl Khan and a lascar. Not till then did
he explain what he required of them. The Gujarati seemed overcome by the
selection of himself for this mission.

"You are kind to me, sahib," he said. "I do not deserve it; but I will
serve you to my life's end."

There was in the man's tone a fervency which touched Desmond at the time,
and which he had good cause afterwards to remember.

A quarter of an hour after Desmond quitted the deck of the Kent, he was
put ashore at a sandy bay at the farther extremity of the isthmus, hidden
from the fort by a small clump of mango trees.

"Now, Fuzl Khan," he said, "you will wait here for a few minutes till it
is quite dark, then you will row quickly along the shore till you come to
within a short distance of the jetty. I am going across the sand up
toward the fort, and will come round to you."

He stepped over the soft sand towards the trees and was lost to sight.
The bombardment had now ceased, and though he heard a confused noise from
the direction of the fort, there was no sound from the town, and he
concluded that the people had fled either into the fort or away into the
country. It appeared at present that the whole stretch of land between
the town and the fort was deserted.

He had not walked far when he was startled by hearing, as he fancied, a
stealthy footstep following him. Gripping in his right hand the pistol he
had brought as a precaution, and with the left loosening his sword in its
scabbard, he faced round with his back to the wall of a shed in which
Angria's ropes were made, and waited, listening intently. But the sound,
slight as it was, had ceased. Possibly it had been made by some animal,
though that seemed scarcely likely: the noise and the glare from the
burning buildings must surely have scared away all the animals in the
neighborhood. Finding that the sound was not repeated, he went on again.
Some minutes later, his ears on the stretch, he fancied he caught the
same soft furtive tread: but when he stopped and listened and heard
nothing, he believed that he must have been mistaken, and set it down as
an echo of his own excitement.

Stepping  warily,  he  picked his way through the darkness, faintly
illuminated by the distant glow of the conflagration. He skirted the
dockyard, and drew nearer to the walls of the courtyard surrounding the
fort, remembering how, nearly twelve months before, he had come almost
the same way from the jetty with the decoy message from Captain Barker.
Then he had been a source of amusement to crowds of natives as he passed
on his way to the palace; now the spot was deserted, and but for the
noises that reached him from distant quarters he might have thought
himself the sole living creature in that once populous settlement.

He had now reached the outer wall, which was separated from the fort only
by the wide compound dotted here and there with palm trees. It was clear
that no force, whether of the Pirate's men or of Ramaji Punt's, held the
ground between the shore and the fort. All the fighting men had without
doubt been withdrawn within the walls. His mission was accomplished.

It had been his intention to make his way back by a shorter cut along the
outer wall, by the west side of the dockyard, until he reached the shore
near the jetty. But standing for a moment under the shade of a palm tree,
he hesitated to carry out his plan, for the path he meant to follow must
be lit up along its whole course by a double glare: from the blazing
buildings inside the fort, and from the burning gallivats in the dockyard
and harbor.

He was on the point of retracing his steps when, looking over the low
wall  towards the fort, he saw two dark figures approaching, moving
swiftly from tree to tree, as if wishing to escape observation. It was
too late to move now; if he left the shelter of the palm tree he would
come distinctly into view of the two men, and it would be unwise to risk
anything that would delay his return to Clive. Accordingly he kept well
in the shadow and waited. The stealthy movements of the men suggested
that they were fugitives, eager to get away with whole skins before the
fort was stormed.

They came to the last of the palm trees within the wall, and paused there
for a brief space. A few yards of open ground separated them from the
gate. Desmond watched curiously, then with some anxiety, for it suddenly
struck him that the men were making for him, and that he had actually
been shadowed from his landing place by someone acting, strange as it
seemed, in collusion with them. On all accounts it was necessary to keep
close.

Suddenly he saw the men leave the shelter of their tree and run rapidly
across the ground to the gate. Having reached it, they turned aside into
the shadow of the wall and stood as if to recover breath. Desmond had
kept his eyes upon them all the time. Previously, in the shade of the
trees, their faces had not been clearly distinguishable; but while now
invisible from the fort, they were lit up by the glow from the harbor. It
was with a shock of surprise that he recognized in the fugitives the
overseer  of the dockyard, whose cruelties he had so good reason to
remember, and Marmaduke Diggle, as he still must call him.

The sight of the latter set his nerves tingling; his fingers itched to
take some toll for the miseries he had endured through Diggle's villainy.
But  he  checked  his impulse to rush forward and confront the man.
Single-handed he could not cope with both the fugitives; and though, if
he had been free, he might have cast all prudence from him in his longing
to bring the man to book, he recollected his duty to Clive and remained
in silent rage beneath the tree.

All at once he heard a rustle behind him, a low growl like that of an
animal enraged; and almost before he was aware of what was happening a
dark figure sprang past him, leaped over the ground with the rapidity of
a panther, and threw himself upon the overseer just as with Diggle he was
beginning to move towards the town. There was a cry from each man, and
the red light falling upon the face of the assailant, Desmond saw with
amazement that it was the Gujarati, whom he had supposed to be rowing
along the shore to meet him.

He had hardly recognized the man before he saw that he was at deadly
grips with the overseer, both snarling like wild beasts. There was no
time for thought, for Diggle, momentarily taken aback by the sudden
onslaught, had recovered himself and was making with drawn sword toward
the two combatants, who in their struggle had moved away from him.

Desmond no longer stayed to weigh possibilities or count risks. It was
clear that Fuzl Khan's first onslaught had failed; had he got home, the
overseer, powerful as he was, must have been killed on the spot. In the
darkness the Gujarati's knife had probably missed its aim. He had now two
enemies to deal with, and but for intervention he must soon be overcome
and slain.

Drawing his sword, Desmond sprang from the tree and dashed across the
open, reaching the scene of the struggle just in the nick of time to
strike up Diggle's weapon ere it sheathed itself in the Gujarati's side.
Diggle turned with a startled oath, and seeing who his assailant was, he
left his companion to take care of himself, and faced Desmond, a smile of
anticipated triumph wreathing his lips.

No word was spoken. Diggle lunged, and Desmond at that moment knew that
he was at a perilous crisis of his life. The movements of the practised
swordsman could not be mistaken; he himself had little experience; all
that he could rely on was his quick eye and the toughness of his muscles.
He gave back, parrying the lunge, tempted to use his pistol upon his
adversary. But now that the cannonading had ceased the shot might be
heard by some of the Pirate's men, and before he could escape he might be
beset by a crowd of ruffians against whom he would have no chance at all.
He could but defend himself with his sword and hope that Diggle might
overreach himself in his fury and give him an opportunity to get home a
blow.

Steel  struck  upon steel; the sparks flew; and the evil smile upon
Diggle's face became fixed as he saw that Desmond was no match for him in
swordsmanship.  But  it changed when he found that though his young
opponent's science was at fault, his strength and dexterity, his wariness
in avoiding a close attack, served him in good stead. Impatient to finish
the fight, he took a step forward, and lunged so rapidly that Desmond
could hardly have escaped his blade but for an accident. There was a
choking sob to his right, and just as Diggle's sword was flashing towards
him a heavy form fell against the blade and upon Desmond. In the course
of their deadly struggle the Gujarati and the overseer had shifted their
ground, and at this moment, fortunately for Desmond, Fuzl Khan had driven
his knife into his old oppressor's heart.

But  the  same  accident  that  saved Desmond's life gave Diggle an
opportunity of which he was quick to avail himself. Before Desmond could
recover his footing, Diggle shortened his arm and was about to drive his
sword through the lad's heart. The Gujarati saw the movement. Springing
in with uplifted knife, he attempted to turn the blade. He succeeded; he
struck it upwards; but the force with which he had thrown himself between
the two swordsmen was his undoing. Unable to check his rush, he received
the point of Diggle's sword in his throat. With a terrible cry he raised
his  hands to clutch his assailant; but his strength failed him; he
swayed, tottered, and fell gasping at Desmond's feet, beside the lifeless
overseer.

Desmond saw that the turn of fortune had given the opportunity to him. He
sprang forward as Diggle tried to recover his sword; Diggle gave way: and
before he could lift his dripping weapon to parry the stroke, Desmond's
blade was through his forearm. Panting with rage, he sought with his left
hand to draw his pistol; but Desmond was beforehand with him. He caught
his  arm,  wrenched  the  pistol from him, and, breathless with his
exertions, said:

"You are my prisoner."

"'Tis fate, my young friend," said Diggle, with all his old blandness;
Desmond  never  ceased  to  be  amazed  at the self command of this
extraordinary man. "I have let some blood, I perceive; my sword arm is
for the time disabled; but my great regret at this moment--you will
understand the feeling--is that this gallant friend of yours lies low
with the wound intended for another. So Antores received in his flank the
lance hurled at Lausus: infelix alieno volnere."

"I dare say, Mr. Diggle," interrupted Desmond, "but I have no time to
construe Latin."

Covering  Diggle  with his pistol, Desmond stooped over Fuzl Khan's
prostrate body and discovered in a moment that the poor fellow's heart
had ceased to beat. He rose, and added: "I must trouble you to come with
me; and quickly, for you perceive you are at my mercy."

"Where do you propose to take me, my friend?"

"We will go this way, and please step out."

Diggle scowled, and stood as though meditating resistance.

"Come, come, Mr. Diggle, you have no choice. I do not wish to have to
drag you; it might cause you pain."

"Surely you will spare a moment to an old friend! I fear you are entirely
mistaken. 'Tis pity that with the natural ebullition of your youthful
spirit you should have set upon a man whom--"

"You can talk as we go, Mr. Diggle, if you talk low enough. Must I repeat
it?"

"But where are we going? Really, Mr. Burke, respect for my years should
prompt a more considerate treatment."

"You see yonder point?" said Desmond impatiently; "yonder on the shore.
You will come with me there."

Diggle looked around as if hoping that even now something might happen in
his favor. But no one was in sight; Desmond stood over him with sword
still drawn; and recognizing his helplessness the man at length turned
towards the shore and began to walk slowly along, Desmond a foot or so in
the rear.

"'Twas a most strange chance, surely," he said, "that brought you to this
spot at the very moment when I was shaking the dust of Gheria from my
feet. How impossible it is to escape the penalty of one's wrongdoing! Old
Horace knew it: Raro antecedentem scelestum--you remember the rest. Mr.
Burslem drubbed our Latin into us, Mr. Burke. I am a fellow townsman of
yours,  though  you did not know it: aye, a boy in your old school,
switched by your old master. I have treated you badly. I admit it; but
what could I do? Your brother slandered you; I see now how he deceived
me; he wished you out of his way. Here I acted under pressure of Angria;
he was bent on sending you to Bombay; I could not defy him. I was wrong;
what  you  said when I saw you last made a deep impression on me; I
repented, and, as Tully, I think, put it, 'a change of plan is the best
harbor  to a penitent man.' I was indeed seeking that refuge of the
repentant, and altering my whole plan of life; and if you will but tarry
a moment--"

"Keep on, Mr. Diggle," said Desmond, as the man, who had been talking
over his shoulder, half stopped; "my point is sharp."

"I was leaving the fort, as you saw. Not from any fear; you will acquit
me of that, and as you know, the fort is impregnable, and I might have
remained there in perfect safety. No, I was quitting it because I was
wearied,  disgusted  with  Angria  and  his  ways.  'Twas  under  a
misapprehension I for a time consorted with him; I am disabused, and it
is by the mere malignity of Fate that at this turning point of my career
I encounter one whom, I acknowledge, I have wronged. I am beaten; I do
not blink that; and by a better man. But youth is generous; and you, Mr.
Burke, are not the man to press your advantage against one who all his
life has been the sport of evil circumstance. I was bound for farther
India; I know a little port to the south where I should have taken ship,
with strong hope of getting useful and honorable employment when my
voyage was ended. Perchance you have heard of Alivirdi Khan; if you would
but pause a moment--"

"Go on, Mr. Diggle," said Desmond inexorably; "and it will be well to
mend your pace."

"Alivirdi Khan," resumed Diggle, speaking more rapidly; the waters of the
harbor, glowing red, were in sight: "Alivirdi Khan is sick unto death. He
is wealthy beyond all imaginings. His likeliest heir, Sirajuddaula, soon
to be Subah {viceroy} of Bengal, is well known to me, and indeed beholden
to  me  for  services rendered in the past. Mr. Burke, I make you a
proposition--it is worth considering. Why not come with me? Wipe off old
scores, throw in your lot with mine. Together, what could we not do--I
with my experience, you with your youthful vigor! See, here is an earnest
of my sincerity."

He took from his fob a large diamond which flashed in the red light of
the conflagration.

"Accept this; in the treasuries of Alivirdi there are thousands like it,
each worth a king's ransom. Come with me, and I promise you that within
two years you shall be rich beyond your wildest dreams."

"Put up your diamond, Mr. Peloti. You may repeat your offer when we reach
Colonel Clive."

Diggle stopped as if shot. He looked with startled eyes at the boy, who
had known him only as Diggle.

"You are going to Colonel Clive!" he exclaimed. The smoothness of his
manner was gone; his tone expressed mortal anxiety. "But--but--he is a
personal enemy; he will--I beseech you think again; I--"

He broke off, and with a suddenness that took Desmond by surprise he
sprang away, making towards the grove of mangoes that stood between him
and the shore. Desmond was instantly in pursuit. If Diggle gained the
shelter of the trees he might escape in the darkness. But the race was
short. Weak from fear and loss of blood, the elder was no match in speed
for the younger. In less than a hundred yards he was overtaken, and stood
panting, quivering, unnerved. Desmond gripped his uninjured arm, and with
quickened footsteps hurried him towards the shore. There was the boat,
the lascar resting motionless on his oar. Ten minutes later Diggle was
assisted up the side of the Kent, and handed over to the officer of the
watch. Then Desmond made his report to Clive.

"All the enemy are withdrawn within the fort, sir. The whole ground
between the fort and the shore is clear. There is nothing to obstruct
your landing."

"I thank you. You have exceeded your time by ten minutes. Who is that man
who came aboard with you?"

"It was he who delayed me, sir. It is Mr. Diggle, or Peloti, I should
say."

"The deuce he is!"

"He  was stealing out of the fort; it came to a scuffle, and he was
wounded--so I brought him along."

"Mr. Speke," said Clive, turning to the captain, "may I ask you to see
this man safe bestowed? I will deal with him when our business here is
concluded.

"Mr. Burke, you will come with me."

By nine o'clock Clive had landed his troops. They bivouacked on the
shore, in expectation of storming the fort next day. At daybreak an
officer  was  sent into the fort with a flag of truce to demand its
surrender. This being refused, the admiral ordered his ships to warp
within a cable's length of the walls in three fathoms and a quarter
water,  and the attack was renewed by sea and land, Clive gradually
advancing  and worrying the enemy with his cannon. At two o'clock a
magazine in the fort blew up, and not long after, just as Clive was about
to give the order to storm, a white flag was seen fluttering at one of
the bastions.

A messenger was sent to the governor to arrange the capitulation, but
when he was met by prevarication and pleas for delay the bombardment was
once more resumed. A few minutes of this sufficed to bring the defenders
to reason, and by five o'clock the English flag flew upon the walls.

Clive postponed his entry until dawn on the following morning.

"By Jove, Mr. Burke," he said to Desmond, who showed him the way to the
palace, "if we had been within these walls I think we could have held out
till doomsday."

All  the  English  officers  were  impressed by the strength of the
fortifications. Besides Angria's two hundred and fifty cannon, an immense
quantity of stores and ammunition fell into the hands of the captors. In
the vaults of the palace were found silver rupees to the value of one
hundred thousand pounds, and treasure worth thirty thousand pounds more.
The capture had been effected with the loss of only twenty killed and
wounded.

Desmond took the earliest opportunity of seeking the body of Fuzl Khan.
Fortunately the fires and the noises of the night had preserved it from
mangling by wild beasts. The poor man lay where he had fallen, near the
body of the overseer.

"Poor fellow!" thought Desmond, looking at the strong, fierce face and
the gigantic frame now stiff and cold. "Little he knew, when he said he'd
serve me to his life's end, that the end was so near."

He had the body carried into the town, and reverently buried according to
Mohammedan rites. From the lascar he had learned all that he ever knew of
the motives of the Gujarati's action. Desmond had hardly left the boat
when the man sprang quickly after him, saying briefly:

"I go to guard the sahib."

It was like the instinctive impulse of a faithful dog; and Desmond often
regretted  the  loss of the man who had shown himself so capable of
devotion.

That evening Clive summoned Desmond to attend him in the palace. When he
entered  the  durbar hall he saw, seated on the dais, a small group
consisting  of  Clive, Admiral Watson, and two or three subordinate
officers. Standing in front of them was Diggle, in the charge of two
marines.

"How many European prisoners have been released, Mr. Ward?" the admiral
was saying.

"Thirteen, sir; ten English and three Dutch."

"Is that correct, Mr. Burke? Was that the number when you were here?"

"Yes, sir, that is correct."

"Then you may go, Mr. Ward, and see that the poor fellows are taken on
board the Tyger and well looked after."

As the officer saluted and withdrew the admiral turned to Clive.

"Now for this white pirate," he said: "a most unpleasant matter, truly."

Signing to the marines to bring forward their prisoner, he threw himself
back upon the divan, leaving the matter in Clive's hands. Clive was
gazing hard at Diggle, who had lost the look of terror he had worn two
nights before, and stood before them in his usual attitude of careless
ease.

"You captured this man," said Clive, turning to Desmond, "within the
precincts of the fort?"

His hard level tone contrasted strongly with the urbaner manner of the
admiral.

"Yes, sir," replied Desmond.

"He is the same man who inveigled you on board the interloper Good Intent
and delivered you to the Pirate?"

"And he was to your knowledge associated with the Pirate, and offered you
inducements to spy upon his Majesty's forces in Bombay?"

"Yes, sir."

"Have you anything to say for yourself, Mr. Peloti?"

"Pardon me, Mr. Clive; Diggle--Marmaduke Diggle."

"Diggle, if you like," said Clive with a shrug. "You will hang as well in
that name as another."

One of the officers smiled at the grim jest, but there was no smile on
Clive's stern set face.

"You asked me if I had anything to say for myself," said Diggle quietly.
"Assuredly; but it seems your Honors have condemned me already. Why
should I waste your time, and my breath? I bethink me 'twas not even in
Rome the custom to judge a matter before learning the facts--prius rem
dijudicare--but  it  is a long time, Mr. Clive, since we conned our
Terence together."

Desmond could not but admire the superb insouciance and the easy smile
with which Diggle played his card. Seeing that Clive for an instant
hesitated, the intrepid prisoner continued:

"But there, Mr. Clive, you never excelled in the Latin. 'Twas a sore
point with poor Mr. Burslem."

"Come, come," cried Clive, visibly nettled, "this is no time for quips.
You fail to appreciate your position. You are caught red handed. If you
have no defense to make you will meet the fate of other pirates before
you. Have you anything to say?"

"Yes. You accuse me of piracy; I have a complete answer to that charge;
but as an Englishman I claim an Englishman's right--a fair trial before a
jury of my countrymen. In any case, Mr. Clive, it would be invidious to
give me worse treatment than Monaji Angria and his officers. As for the
rest, it depends on the evidence of this single witness."

Here Admiral Watson bent forward and said to Clive in an undertone,
inaudible to the others:

"I think we had better defer this. If, as you suppose, the fellow has
knowledge of the French plans, it would be only politic to give Mr.
Bourchier an opportunity of inquiring into the matter. No doubt he richly
deserves hanging, but dead men tell no tales."

Clive frowned, and, drumming upon the divan impatiently with his fingers,
seemed for the moment to be lost in thought. Then he said:

"Yes, Mr. Watson, I think you are right."

"Take the prisoner back to your ship," said the admiral, "and put him
under double guard.

"Thank you, Mr. Burke; we shall require your evidence in Bombay. One word
before you go. I am vastly indebted to you for your services; you have
been  of the greatest use to myself and my captains. Your name will
frequently appear in our ships' logs, and I shall take care to show your
work in the proper light when I make my report. Meanwhile, when the
division of prize money is made, you will receive a lieutenant's share.
Good night, sir."

And Desmond's face, as he left the room, bore a flush of happiness and
pride.



Chapter 19: In which the scene changes; the dramatis personae remaining the
same.


A few days after the capture, the Tyger left Gheria, having on board the
men  wounded  in the attack and the European prisoners who had been
rescued. Desmond also sailed in it, with an official report from Admiral
Watson to Governor Bourchier.

The arrival of the Tyger at Bombay, with the first news of the success of
the expedition and the fall of the fortress so long deemed impregnable,
was the occasion of a great demonstration of rejoicing. The trading
community, whether European or native, was enthusiastic over the ruin of
the notorious Pirate; and Desmond, as one who had had a share in the
operations, came in for a good deal of congratulation which he laughingly
protested ought to have been reserved for better men.

Mr. Merriman was among the crowd that welcomed the Tyger, and as soon as
Desmond had delivered his report to Mr. Bourchier, the genial merchant
carried  him off to the house on the Green where he was staying and
insisted on having a full account of his experiences. When he learned
that  Diggle  had been captured and would shortly reach Bombay as a
prisoner,  his  jolly  face assumed as intense a look of vindictive
satisfaction as it was capable of expressing.

"By thunder! that's the best of your news for me. The villain will get
his deserts at last. I'm only sorry that I shall not be here to serve on
the jury."

"Are you leaving Bombay then?"

"Yes, and I wanted you to come with me. My ship the Hormuzzeer came to
port  two  days  ago, and I had to dismiss the second mate, who was
continually at odds with the lascars. I hoped you would accept his berth,
and sail with me. I want to get back to Calcutta. We had advices the
other day that things are not looking well in Bengal. Alivirdi Khan is
dying; and there is sure to be some bother about the succession. All
Bengal may be aflame. My wife and daughter are in Calcutta, and I don't
care about being away from them if danger is threatening. I want to get
away as soon as possible, and thought of taking passage in an Indiaman;
but the Hormuzzeer being here I'll sail in that; she'll make direct for
the Hugli; an Indiaman would put in at Madras, and goodness knows how
long I might be delayed."

"'Tis a pity," said Desmond. "I should have liked of all things to accept
your offer, but I'm bound to stay for Diggle's trial, and that can't be
held until the fleet return."

"How long will that be?"

"I heard the admiral say he expected it would take a month to settle
everything at Gheria. He wants to keep the place in our hands, but Ramaji
Punt claims it for the Peshwa, and Captain Speke of the Kent told me that
it'll be very lucky if they come to an arrangement within a month."

"It's uncommonly vexatious. I can't wait a month. It'll take a week or
more  to clean the Hormuzzeer's hull, and another to load her; in a
fortnight  at the outside I hope to be on my way. Well, it can't be
helped. What will you do when the trial is over?"

"I don't know."

"Did Mr. Clive say anything about a cadetship?"

"Not a word. He only said that I should get a share of the Gheria prize
money."

"That's something to the good. Use it wisely. I came out to Calcutta
twenty years ago with next to nothing, and I've done well. There's no
reason why you should not make your fortune, too, if your health will
stand the climate. We'll have a talk over things before I sail."

A week later the Bridgewater arrived from Gheria, with Diggle on board.
He  was  imprisoned in the fort, being allotted far too comfortable
quarters to please Mr. Merriman. But Merriman's indignation at what he
considered the governor's leniency was changed to hot rage three days
later when it became known that the prisoner had disappeared. Not a trace
of him could be discovered. He had been locked in as usual one night, and
next morning his room was empty. Imprisonment was much less stringent in
those days than now; the prisoner was allowed to see visitors and to live
more or less at ease. The only clue to Diggle's escape was afforded by
the discovery that, at the same time that he disappeared, there vanished
also a black boy, who had been brought among the prisoners from Gheria
and was employed in doing odd jobs about the harbor.

Desmond had no doubt that this was Diggle's boy Scipio Africanus. And
when he mentioned the connection between the two, it was supposed that
the negro had acted as go-between for his master with the friends in the
town by whose aid the escape had been arranged. Among the large native
population of Bombay there were many who were suspected of being secret
agents of the French, and as Diggle was well provided with funds it was
not at all unlikely that his jailer had been tampered with.

Merriman's wrath was very bitter. He had been waiting for years, as he
told Desmond, for the punishment of Peloti. It was gall and wormwood to
him that the villain should have cheated the gallows.

Diggle's  escape,  however,  gave Merriman an opportunity to secure
Desmond's services. The culprit being gone, the evidence was no longer
required. Finding that Desmond was still ready to accept the position of
mate on the Hormuzzeer, Merriman consulted Mr. Bourchier, who admitted
that he saw no reason for detaining the lad. Accordingly, the first week
in March, when the vessel stood out of Bombay harbor, Desmond sailed with
her.

The  weather  was calm, but the winds not wholly favorable, and the
Hormuzzeer made a somewhat slow passage. Mr. Merriman was impatient to
reach Calcutta, and Desmond was surprised at his increasing uneasiness.
He had believed that the French and Dutch were the only people in Bengal
who gave the Company trouble, and as England was at peace with both
France and the Netherlands, there was nothing, he thought, to fear from
them.

"You are mistaken," said Mr. Merriman, in the course of a conversation
one day. "The natives are a terrible thorn in our side. At best we are in
Bengal on sufferance; we are a very small community--only a hundred or
two Europeans in Calcutta: and since the Marathas overran the country
some years ago we have felt as though sitting on the brink of a volcano.
Alivirdi wants to keep us down; he has forbidden us to fight the French
even if war does break out between us at home; and though the Mogul has
granted us charters--they call them firmans here--Alivirdi doesn't care a
rap for such things, and must have us under his heel. Only his trading
profits and his fear of the Mogul keep him civil."

"But you said he was dying."

"So he is, and that makes matters worse, for his grandson, Sirajuddaula,
who'll probably succeed him, is no better than a tiger. He lives at
Murshidabad, about one hundred miles up the river. He's a vain, peacocky,
empty-headed youth, and as soon as the breath is out of his granddad's
body he'll want to try his wings and take a peck or two at us. He may do
it slyly, or go so far as to attack us openly."

"But if he did that, sure Calcutta is defended; and, as Mr. Clive said to
me in Gheria, British soldiers behind walls might hold out forever."

"Clive doesn't know Calcutta then! That's the mischief! At the Maratha
invasion the Bengalis on our territory took fright, and at their own
expense began a great ditch round Calcutta--we call it the Maratha ditch;
but the Nawab bought the Marathas off, the work was stopped, the walls of
the fort are now crumbling to ruins, and the cannon lie about unmounted
and useless. Worst of all, our governor, Mr. Drake, is a quiet soul, an
excellent worthy man, who wouldn't hurt a fly. We call him the Quaker.
Quakers are all very well at home, where they can 'thee' and 'thou' and
get rich and pocket affronts without any harm; but they won't do in
India. Might is right with the natives; they don't understand anything
else; and as sure as they see any sign of weakness in us they'll take
advantage of it and send us all to kingdom come.

"And I'm thinking of the womenfolk: India's no place for them at the
best; and I did all I could to persuade my wife and daughter to remain at
home. But they would come out with me when I returned last year; and glad
as I am to have them with me I sometimes get very anxious; I can't bear
them out of my sight, and that's a fact."

Mr.  Merriman showed his relief when, on the thirtieth of April, he
noticed the yellow tinge in the water, which indicated that the vessel
was approaching the mouth of the Hugli. Next day the vessel arrived at
Balasore, where a pilot was taken on board, and entered the river. Mr.
Merriman pointed out to Desmond the island of Sagar, whither in the late
autumn the jogis came down in crowds to purify themselves in the salt
water, "and provide a meal for the tiger," he added. At Kalpi a large
barge, rowed by a number of men dressed in white, with pink sashes, came
to meet the Hormuzzeer.

"That's my budgero," said Merriman. "We'll get into it and row up to
Calcutta in half the time it would take the ship. Each of us merchants
has his own budgero, and instead of putting our men in buttons with our
arms and all that nonsense, we give them colored sashes--and don't our
women squabble about the colors, my boy, just don't they!"

In the budgero they passed the Dutch factory at Fulta, and the Subah's
forts at Budge Budge and Tanna. At Gobindpur's reach, Merriman pointed
out  the  pyramid  of  stone that marked the limit of the Company's
jurisdiction. Soon the gardens of the British merchants came in sight,
then the Company's docks, and at last the town of Calcutta, where the
Company's landing stage was thronged with people awaiting the arrival of
the budgero in the hope of getting news from home.

"There's Surendra Nath and his father," said Mr. Merriman, as they came
near the steps.

His jolly face beamed when he stepped on to the ghat {landing stage}.

"Hullo, Babu!" he said, "glad to see you again."

He shook hands with both the men; the elder was much like his son, a
slightly-built Bengali, with white hair and very bright eyes. Both were
clad in dhotis of pure white; their legs were bare from the knee, their
feet shod with sandals. When the greeting had passed between them and
their master, the old man moved towards Desmond, put his hands together,
and made a deep salaam.

"I have heard what the sahib did for my son. I thank the sahib," he said.

"Yes, 'twas excellent good fortune for Surendra Nath," said Mr. Merriman.
"I knew you would be overjoyed to see your son again. But how is the bibi
{lady}, and the chota {young} bibi?"

"They were well, sahib, when last I heard. They are on a visit to Watts
Sahib, at Cossimbazar."

Merriman's face fell, but he had no time to say more, for he was accosted
by a friend.

"Glad  to see you back, Mr. Merriman. I've wanted your voice on the
Council for some time past."

"Is anything wrong, Mr. Holwell?" asked Merriman anxiously.

"Everything is wrong. Alivirdi died a fortnight ago; Sirajuddaula has
stepped into his shoes; and Drake has made a mess of everything, with
Manningham's and Frankland's assistance. I want you to come and dine with
me this evening; we must have a serious talk; I've asked two or three men
of our sort in anticipation of your consent."

"Very well. Let me present my friend, Mr. Burke. He escaped from Gheria;
you've heard that Colonel Clive captured the place?"

"Yes; we had despatches from Admiral Watson some days ago. I had heard of
Mr. Burke's adventures--

"Your servant, sir; I am delighted to meet you--

"Well, Merriman, three o'clock; I will not detain you now; you'll want to
get home."

Mr. Merriman's bearers were at hand with his palanquin; he got into it;
the men set off at a swinging pace, warning the bystanders with their cry
of "Tok! Tok!" and Desmond walked by the side of the chair, amused to
watch the self-important airs of the peon who went in front. They passed
the fort and the Company's house, and arrived at length at a two-story
flat-roofed house with a veranda, the windows filled, not with oyster
shells as at Bombay, but with thin screens of reeds.

"Here we are," said Merriman with a sigh of relief.

"Now I'll hand you over to the baniya {factotum}; he'll show you to your
room. I'm vexed that my wife is not here; of course she didn't know when
to expect me; and Mrs. Watts is an old friend of hers. 'Tis a relief in
one way; for Mr. Watts is a shrewd fellow--he's head of our factory at
Cossimbazar, and senior member of Council here--and he would have sent
the ladies away if he scented danger. Sorry I shall have to leave you; I
must dine with Mr. Holwell; he's our zamindar--judge of the Cutcheri
court and collector of taxes: a fine fellow, the most cool-headed man on
the Council. But the khansaman will give you something to eat: and I'll
be back as soon as I can. You can take it easy on the veranda, and you'll
find a hookah if you care to try it."

"No, thanks," said Desmond with a smile; "I've no fancy that way."

Shortly afterwards Mr. Merriman left the house in his palanquin, wearing
the short white calico jacket that was then de rigueur at dinner parties.
It was late before he returned. There was an anxious and worried look on
his face, but he said cheerily:

"Well, how have you been getting on?"

"I've been reading, sir: I found a volume of Mr. Fielding's Amelia, and
'twas a change to read after eighteen months without setting eyes on a
book. I hope you had a good dinner."

"'Pon my soul, I don't know. None of us knows, I warrant. We had too much
to talk about to think about our appetites. Two or three members of
Council were there, and Captain Minchin, the military commandant. Things
are looking black, Desmond. Alivirdi is dead, and, as I expected, his
scoundrel  of  a  grandson,  Sirajuddaula, is the new Subah. He has
imprisoned one of his rivals, his aunt, and is marching against another,
his cousin Shaukat Jung; and 'tis the common talk that our turn will come
next."

"But why should he be at odds with us?"

"Why, to begin with, he's a native and hates us; thinks we're too rich,
and though he's rich enough he would like to get what we have and turn us
out. Then our president Mr. Drake has acted in the weakest possible way;
the very way to encourage the Subah. Instead of siding with Sirajuddaula
from the first, as he might well have done, because the rivals never had
the ghost of a chance, he shilly shallied. Then he offended him by giving
shelter to a fellow named Krishna Das, who came in a month ago with fifty
sacks of treasure from Murshidabad; it really belonged to the Subah's
aunt, but the Subah had an eye on it and he's furious at losing it. That
wasn't enough. Mr. Watts at Cossimbazar had warned the Council here of
the new Subah's unfriendliness; they talk at Murshidabad of our weak
defenses and how easy it would be to overcome us. He advised Mr. Drake to
keep on good terms with the Subah; but what must he do but turn out of
the place a man named Narayan Das, the brother of the new Nawab's chief
spy."

"Sure you don't allow the enemy's spies to live in Calcutta?"

"Sure we can't help ourselves. The place is full of them--spies of the
Subah, and of the French too. We can't do anything. We may suspect, but
if we raised a hand we should stir up a hornets' nest, as indeed Mr.
Drake appears to be doing.

"But that isn't all. The Company's ship Delaware came in a fortnight ago
with the news that a French fleet is fitting out under Count Lally, at
Brest; 'tis supposed war will break out again and the fleet is intended
to attack us here. So that we may have the Subah making common cause with
the French to crush us. He'll turn against the French then, but that
won't save us. On top of that comes a fakir from Murshidabad demanding in
the Subah's name that we should stop work on our fortifications; the
insolence of the wretch passes all bounds. Mr. Drake properly refused the
demand; he said we were repairing our defenses in case we needed 'em
against the French; but he undertook not to start any new works, which
was a mistake.

"Altogether, Desmond, things are in a pretty mess. I'm afraid Mr. Drake
is not the man to cope with a grave situation; but he has the majority of
the Council with him, and we can't alter it. Now I think we had better
turn in; perhaps I shall feel better after a good sleep; I am certainly
far from easy in mind."

Desmond slept like a top on his light mattress, enveloped in his mosquito
curtains. In the morning he accompanied Mr. Merriman to his daftarkhanah
{office}, where he found a large staff under the superintendence of the
muhri {chief clerk}, Surendra Nath's father. He returned to the house for
tiffin, spent the afternoon indoors over his novel, and after the three
o'clock  dinner  accompanied his host in a walk through the English
quarter.

As they returned, Mr. Merriman suggested that they should walk down to
Mr. Watts' house near the river to see if any news had arrived from
Cossimbazar. On the way they passed a large pakka {substantial} house,
surrounded by a compound and a low wall.

"We were talking yesterday about spies," said Merriman. "In that house
lives  a  man  who  in  my  belief  is  a  spy,  and  a treacherous
scoundrel--actually living next door to Mr. Lyre, the keeper of our
military stores. He's a Sikh named Omichand, and the richest merchant in
the city. He owns half of it; he's my landlord, confound him! For forty
years he was the contractor for supplying the Company with cloth, but we
found out that he was cheating us right and left, and dismissed him. Yet
he's very friendly to us, which is a bad sign. 'Twas he who brought
Krishna Das with his treasure into the place, and my belief is, he did it
merely to embroil us with the Subah. Mr. Drake is disposed to pooh-pooh
the idea, but I incline to Mr. Holwell's opinion, that Omichand's a
schemer and a villain, ready to betray us to French, Dutch, or Gentoos as
it suits him."

"Why don't you turn him out, then?" asked Desmond.

"My dear boy, he's far too powerful. And we'd rather keep him in sight.
While he's here we can tell something of what is going on; his house is
pretty well watched; but if he were away he might try all manner of
tricks and we should never learn anything about them. Our policy is to be
very sweet to him--to make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, as
Mr. Bellamy, our padre, puts it. You're bound to see him one of these
days, the hoary-headed old villain."

Though Mr. Merriman fully relied on Mr. Watts' discretion to send his
visitors back to Calcutta if there were the least sign of danger, he was
so anxious to have his wife and daughter with him that next day he sent a
special messenger up the river asking them to return as soon as they
could. He could not fetch them, public affairs not allowing him to leave
Calcutta at once, but he promised to meet them somewhere on the way.

He spent the day in making himself acquainted with the business that had
been done during his absence. A valuable consignment of silks, muslins,
and taffeties was expected from Cossimbazar, he learned, and as soon as
it arrived the Hormuzzeer would be able to sail for Penang.

"A  private  venture,"  he said to Desmond, "nothing to do with the
Company."

Desmond expressed his surprise that the Company's officials were at
liberty to engage in private trading.

"Why, bless you, how could we live otherwise? Do you imagine I got rich
on the Company? What do you suppose my salary is as member of Council?
'Tis just forty pounds. The factors get fifteen and the writers five:
Colonel Clive began at five pounds a year: so you may guess that we have
to do something to keep flesh on our bones.

"And that reminds me of a proposal I wished to make to you. You have a
little money from the sale of the Pirate's grab, and you'll have more by
and by when the Gheria prize money is distributed. Why not put some of it
into the Hormuzzeer? Let me buy some goods for you, and send 'em to
Penang: they'll fetch top prices there, especially in the present state
of trade. 'Twill be an excellent investment."

"Thank you, sir, I'll be glad to follow your advice."

"That's right. I'll see about it at once, and the sooner these things
come from Cossimbazar the better. The delay is vexing, and I fear I'll
have to change my agent there."

Mr. Merriman being so much occupied with business and public affairs,
Desmond had much time to himself. He soon made friends among the junior
merchants and factors, and in their company went about Calcutta.

Fort William was built near the river, the factory house in the center of
the inclosure. Around it on three sides were the houses of individual
merchants and officers. A wide avenue known as the Lal Bazar led from the
ravelin of the fort past the courthouse to the native part of the town.
On one side of the avenue was the Park or Lal Bagh, with a great tank by
which a band played in the evening. Around the town was the incomplete
Maratha ditch.

Desmond became the object of much kindly attention from the Company's
servants and their families. Everyone was eager to hear from his own lips
the story of his adventures, and invitations to dinners and routs and
card parties poured upon him. He accepted one or two and politely excused
himself from the rest, not from any want of sociability, but from motives
of prudence. His kind host had already given him a friendly warning; some
of the writers and younger servants of the Company were wild spirits, and
spent more time than was good for them in cards and revels.

On the evening of the third day after his arrival he went down to the
river to watch the arrival of some country vessels. There was the usual
crowd at the ghat, and as Desmond gradually worked his way through it he
suddenly  saw,  just in front of him, two men whose backs were very
familiar. They were in the dress of seamen: one was tall and thin, the
other broad and brawny, and Desmond did not need his glimpse of the iron
hook to be sure that the men were none other than his old friend Bulger
and Mr. Toley, the melancholy mate. They were standing side by side
watching in silence the arrival of the boats.

Desmond  edged  his way to them until he was within arm's length of
Bulger's hook. He stood for a moment looking at them, imagining their
surprise when they saw him, wondering if their pleasure would be as keen
as his own. Both appeared rather battered; Mr. Toley's expression was
never merry, and he was neither more nor less melancholy than usual; but
Bulger's habitual cheerfulness seemed to have left him; his air was moody
and downcast.

How came they here? The Good Intent being an interloper, it was not at
all likely that she had ventured to put in at Calcutta.

By and by Bulger seemed to become aware that someone was gazing at him,
for  he  turned  round  slowly.  Desmond could not but smile at his
extraordinary change of expression. His first look of blank amazement
quickly gave place to one of almost boyish delight, and taking an eager
step forward he exclaimed:

"By thunder, 'tis Mr. Burke or his ghost! Bless my heart! Ho! shake
hands, matey; this is a sight for bad eyes!"

"Glad to see you, Bulger," said Desmond quietly; "and you, too, Mr.
Toley."

Mr. Toley had shown no surprise; but then, nothing ever surprised Mr.
Toley.

"Sure I'm rejoiced," he said. "We had given you up for lost."

His hearty hand grip was more convincing than his words, though, indeed,
Desmond had good reason to know the real kindliness that always lay
behind his outward solemnity of manner.

"You're better in togs than when I seed you last, sir," said Bulger,
gripping his hand again. "Which you look quite the gentleman; got a berth
as supercargo, sir?"

"Not yet, Bulger," replied Desmond, laughing. "How's Captain Barker?"

Bulger spat out a quid of tobacco and hitched up his breeches.

"I don't know how Captain Barker is, and what's more, I don't care," he
said. "Me and Barker en't friends: leastways, not on speakin' terms;
which I will say, hang Captain Barker, topsy versy, any way you like; and
I don't care who hears me."

"What has happened?"

"Happened! Why, sir, Mr. Toley'll tell you what happened. He knows the
thus, therefore, and whereupon of it."

The good fellow was itching to tell, but as in duty bound deferred to his
superior officer.

"Go on, Bulger," said the American, "you've got a looser tongue than me."

"Which I don't deny, sir. Two days ago--'twas at Chandernagore, where the
Good Intent's been laid up for a matter a' weeks--the captain he went an'
forgot hisself, sir; clean forgot hisself, an' lifted his hand to Mr.
Toley; ay, hit him, sir. Wunst it was, sir, on'y wunst; then 'twas Mr.
Toley his turn. Ah, an' I warrant Captain Barker's in his bunk today.
Never did I see sich a sight all the years I've been afloat, an' that's
saying something. There was captain spread out on deck, sir, with his
eyes bunged up an' a tooth or two that had lost their bearin's, and all
his bones wonderin' if they was ever goin' to get joined again.

"That's the why and wherefore of it, sir. Well, in course, 'twas no
kiss-an'-be-friends arter that; so, bein' in a mounseer's place, Mr.
Toley took French leave, which I did the same, and here we are a-lookin'
for a job.

"But Lor' bless me! what's happened to you, Mr. Burke? When you didn't
come aboard at that there Gheria, Captain Barker he says, 'Log that there
knave Burke a deserter,' says he. But I says to Mr. Toley, 'I may be
wrong, sir,' says I, 'but I lay my whiskers that Diggle has been an' sold
him to the Pirate, an' that's the last we shall ever see of as nice a
young fellow as ever hauled on a hawser.' How did you get out of the
Pirate's den, sir?"

"That's a long story, Bulger. I'll tell you all in good time. You're
looking for a job, are you? Well, I happen to know of a skipper here--a
good man: maybe he'll have a berth for a seasoned salt like you. I'll
present you to him, and I know he'll do what he can for you."

Before he left the men, Desmond took Mr. Toley aside.

"Mr. Toley," he said, "my friend Mr. Merriman wants a mate for one of his
vessels, as I happen to know. You would be willing to sign on?"

"I would, sir. I'm a man of few words."

"Very well; come up to Mr. Merriman's house by the Rope Walk and we'll
see what he says."

That same day Mr. Merriman invited the American to dinner, and engaged
him, to Desmond's surprise, as first mate for the Hormuzzeer, with Bulger
as bo'sun.

"Don't look so blue," he said to Desmond when Mr. Toley had gone. "He
will, of course, take your place. The fact is, I've taken a fancy to you,
and I think you can do better than by serving as mate on a coasting
vessel. Look in at the daftarkhanah sometimes, and get Surendra Nath to
explain something of our business methods."

He said no more at that time, and Desmond felt no little curiosity about
his host's intentions.

One evening Desmond was sitting alone on the veranda, reading, awaiting
Mr. Merriman's return from a meeting of the Council to which he had been
hastily summoned. Hearing a footstep, he looked up, and was surprised to
see, instead of Mr. Merriman, as he expected, Bulger hastening up with an
air of excitement.

"Mr. Burke, sir, what d'you think I've seed? I could hardly believe my
own eyes. I was walkin' down towards the fort when I seed two men goin'
into a big house. They was Englishmen, leastways white men, and I may be
wrong, but I bet my boots one on 'em was that there soft-speakin' villain
Diggle."

"Diggle!"  exclaimed  Desmond, springing up. "You must be mistaken,
Bulger."

"I may be wrong, sir, but I never remembers any time when I was."

"What house did he go into?"

"That I can't tell you, sir, not bein' sure o' my bearin's."

"But you could point it out?"

"'Course I could. Rather. Just so."

"Then I'll came along with you, and you can show me. If it is Diggle, we
must have him arrested."

"True, an' I'll knot the rope for his neck."

"How long ago was this?"

"Not a quarter of an hour, sir. I comed up at once."

The  two  set off together. They quickly reached the house; Desmond
recognized it as Omichand's. The evening was closing in, but no lights
were visible through the chiks {hanging screens made of thin strips of
bamboo} that covered the windows. While Desmond was considering, two
figures stepped down from the veranda and walked rapidly across the
compound towards the gate in the wall.

At the first glance Desmond saw that Bulger had not been mistaken. The
taller of the two figures was disguised, but it was impossible to mistake
the gloved right hand. It was Diggle to a certainty.

"Are you game to capture them?" said Desmond.

Bulger grunted and gave a twist to his hook.

"I'll take Diggle," added Desmond: "you go for the other man."

They waited in the shadow of the wall. The gate opened, the two men came
out, and in an instant Desmond and his companion dashed forward. Taken by
surprise, the men had no time to defend themselves. With his left hand
Desmond caught at Diggle's sword arm, and, pointing his rapier at his
heart, said:

"You are my prisoner, Mr. Diggle."

At the same moment Bulger had caught the second man by the throat, and
raising his formidable hook, cried:

"Heave to, matey, or I'll spoil your mug for you."

The man uttered an exclamation in French, which ended in a wheeze as
Bulger's strong fingers clutched his windpipe.

But the next moment an unlooked-for diversion occurred. Attracted by the
sound  of  the rapid scuffle, a number of natives armed with lathis
{bludgeons} rushed across the compound into the street, and came swiftly
to the rescue. Desmond and his companion had perforce to release their
prisoners and turn to defend themselves. With their backs against the
wall they met the assailants, Desmond with his rapier, Bulger with his
hook, each dexterously warding off the furious blows of the excited
natives.  Diggle  and  the  Frenchman took instant advantage of the
opportunity to slip away, and the Englishmen had already got home more
than one shrewd blow, provoking yells of pain from the attackers, when
the onslaught suddenly ceased, and the natives stood rigid, as if under a
spell. Looking round, Desmond saw at the gate a bent old figure with
dusky, wrinkled face and prominent eyes. He wore a turban in which a
jewel sparkled, and his white garment was girt with a yellow sash.

"What is this, sahib?" he said severely in careful English, addressing
Desmond.

"'Tis pretty plain what it is," said Desmond somewhat hotly; "we have
been set upon by these six ruffians."

The newcomer motioned with his hand, and the men slunk away.

"I regret, sahib. The men are badmashes; Calcutta is unhappily in a
disturbed state."

"Badmashes or not, they came from your house--if this is your house."

"It is my house, sahib. My name is Omichand. I must inquire how the
badmashes came to be in my compound. I fear my darwan {doorkeeper} is at
fault."

"And what about the two men?"

"The two men, sahib?"

"Yes, the two Europeans who came first from the house, and were protected
by these ruffians?"

"You must be mistaken, sahib. English sahibs do not visit at the houses
of Indian gentlemen. If the sahib had been longer in Calcutta he would
know that."

A  smile flickered on the Indian's face, but it was gone instantly.
Desmond was nonplussed. It was useless to contradict the merchant; he was
clearly not disposed to give any information; Diggle was gone. All he
could do was to return and report the matter to Mr. Merriman.

"Come along, Bulger," he said, with an unceremonious gesture to Omichand.
"We can do no good here."

"The old Ananias!" growled Bulger, as they walked away. "What in thunder
is Diggle's game here? I'd give a year's 'baccy to have a chanst o' usin'
my hook on him."

Mr. Merriman looked grave when he heard what had happened.

"To think of that villain once more escaping our clutches! The other
fellow was a Frenchman, you say? There's mischief brewing. Sure if I was
president I'd be tempted to arrest that wily old Omichand. Not that it
would be of much use, probably. Peloti is a bold fellow to venture here.
You are sure 'twas he?"

"Absolutely. His disguise was good: he has altered his face in some way,
and his dress is altogether changed; but I couldn't mistake the covered
hand."

"'Tis an odd thing, that mitten. Probably it conceals some defect; the
man's as vain as a peacock. The mitten is a thing by which he may be
traced, and I'll send my peons to start inquiries tomorrow. But I've
something to say to you: something to propose. The Hormuzzeer is ready to
sail, save for that consignment at Cossimbazar I mentioned. My agent
there is an Armenian named Coja Solomon; I've employed him for some
years, and found him trustworthy; but I can't get delivery of these
goods. I've sent two or three messengers to him, asking him to hurry, but
he  replies that there is some difficulty about the dastaks--papers
authorizing the despatch of goods free from customs duty.

"Now, will you go up the river and see what is causing the delay? I'll
give you an introduction to Mr. Watts; he will do all he can for you,
though no doubt his hands are full. You can take Surendra Nath with you
to interpret; and you had better have some armed peons as an escort, and
perhaps a number of men we can trust to work the boat if you can release
the goods. Are you willing?"

"I  will  gladly  do  anything  I can, sir. Indeed, I wished for an
opportunity to see something of the country."

"You may see too much! I'd say beware of tigers, but Surendra Nath is so
desperately  timid  that you can depend on him not to lead you into
danger."

"The Hormuzzeer will not sail until I return?"

"Not till the goods arrive. Why do you ask?"

"I should like to take Bulger with me. He's a good companion, with a
shrewd head."

"And a useful hook. I have no objection. You will be ready to start
tomorrow, then. You must be up early: traveling will be impossible in the
heat of the day."

"At dawn, sir."



Chapter 20: In which there are recognitions and explanations; and our hero
meets one Coja Solomon, of Cossimbazar.


At sunrise next morning Desmond found his party awaiting him at the
Causeway beyond the Maratha ditch. The natives salaamed when he came up
in company with Mr. Merriman, and Bulger pulled his forelock.

"Mornin', sir; mornin'; I may be wrong, but 'tis my belief we're goin' to
have a bilin' hot day, and I've come accordin'."

He was clad in nothing but shirt and breeches, with his coat strapped to
his back, and a hat apparently improvised out of cabbage leaves. The
natives were all in white, with their employer's pink ribbons. Some were
armed with matchlocks and pikes; others carried light cooking utensils;
others, groceries for the Englishmen's use; for their own food they
depended on the villages through which they would pass.

"Well, I wish you a good journey," said Mr. Merriman, who appeared to be
in better spirits than for many a day. "I'm glad to tell you, Burke, that
I got a letter from Mr. Watts this morning, saying that my wife and
daughter  are  on  their way down the river with Mrs. Watts and her
children. They've got Mr. Warren Hastings to escort them: trust 'em to
find a handsome man! The road follows the river, and if you look out I
dare  say you will see them. You'll recognize our livery. Introduce
yourself if you meet 'em. You have your letter from Mr. Watts? That's all
right. Goodby, and good luck to you."

The party set off. The old road by which they were to travel ran at a
short  distance from the left bank of the Hugli, passing through an
undulating country, interspersed with patches of low wood and scattered
trees. The scenery was full of charm for Desmond: the rich vegetation;
antelopes darting among the trees; flamingoes and pelicans standing
motionless at the edge of the slow-gliding river; white-clad figures
coming down the broad steps of the riverside ghats to bathe; occasionally
the dusky corpse of some devotee consigned by his relations to the bosom
of the holy river.

The first halt was called at Barrackpur, where, amid a luxuriant grove of
palms and bamboos, stood some beautiful pagodas, built of the unburnt
brick of the country, and faced with a fine stucco that gleamed in the
sunlight  like polished marble. Here, under the shade of the palms,
Desmond lay through the hot afternoon, watching the boats of all shapes
and sizes that floated lazily down the broad-bosomed stream. In the
evening the march was resumed; the party crossed the river by a ford at
Pulta Ghat, and following the road on the other bank came at sundown to
the outskirts of the French settlement at Chandernagore. There they
camped for the night. Desmond was for some time tormented by the doleful
yells of packs of jackals roaming abroad in search of food. Their cries
so much resembled those of human beings in dire agony that he shivered on
his mattress; but falling asleep at length, he slept soundly and woke
with the dawn.

He started again soon after sunrise. Just beyond Chandernagore Bulger
pointed out the stripped spars of the Good Intent, lying far up a narrow
creek.

"Wouldn't I just like to cut her out?" said Bulger. "But 'spose we can't
stop for that, sir?"

"Certainly not. And you'd have the French about our ears."

Passing the Dutch settlement at Chinsura, he came into a country of rice
fields, now bare, broken by numerous nullahs worn by the torrents in the
rainy season, but now nearly dry. Here and there the party had to ford a
jhil--an extensive shallow lake formed by the rains. Desmond tried a shot
or two at the flights of teal that floated on these ponds; but they were
so wild that he could never approach within range. Towards evening, after
passing the little village of Amboa, they came to a grove of peepuls
filled with green parrots and monkeys screaming and jabbering as though
engaged in a competition. A few miles farther on they arrived at the
larger village of Khulna, where they tied up for the night.

Next morning Desmond was wakened by Surendra Nath.

"Sahib," he said, "the bibi and the chota bibi are here."

"Mrs. Merriman?"

"Yes. They arrived last night by boat, and are pursuing their journey
today."

"I should like to see them before they go. But I'm afraid I am hardly
presentable."

"Believe me, sahib, you will not offend the bibi's punctilio."

"Well, send one of the peons to say that I shall have the pleasure of
waiting on Mrs. Merriman in half an hour, if she will permit me."

Having shaved and bathed, and donned a change of clothes, Desmond set off
accompanied by Surendra Nath to visit the ladies. He found them on a long
shallow boat, in a cabin constructed of laths and mats filling one end of
the light craft. The Babu made the introduction, then effaced himself.

A lady, whose voice seemed to waken an echo in Desmond's memory, said:

"How do you do, Mr. Burke? I have heard of you in my husband's letters.
Is the dear man well?"

"He is in good health, ma'am, but somewhat anxious to have you back
again."

"Dear man! What is he anxious about? Mr. Watts seemed anxious also to get
rid  of  us. He was vexed that Mrs. Watts is too much indisposed to
accompany us. And Mr. Warren Hastings, who was to escort us, was quite
angry because he had to go to one of the out-factories instead. I do not
understand why these gentlemen are so much disturbed."

Desmond saw that Mrs. Merriman had been deliberately kept in ignorance of
the grounds of the Englishmen's anxiety, and was seeking on the spur of
the moment for a means to divert her from the subject, when he was spared
the necessity. Miss Merriman had been looking at him curiously, and she
now  turned to her mother and said something in a tone inaudible to
Desmond.

"La! you don't say so, my dear," exclaimed the lady.

"Why. Mr. Burke, my daughter tells me that we have met you before."

His vague recollection of Mrs. Merriman's voice being thus so suddenly
confirmed, he recalled, as from a far distant past, a scene upon Hounslow
Heath;  a coach that stood perilously near the ditch, a girl at the
horses' heads, a lady stamping her foot at two servants wrestling in
drunken stupidity on the ground.

"You  never gave us an opportunity of thanking you," continued Mrs.
Merriman. "'Twas not kind of you, Mr. Burke, to slip away thus without a
word after doing two poor lone women such a service."

"Indeed, ma'am, 'twas with no discourteous intention, but seeing you were
safe with your friends I--I--in short, ma'am--"

Desmond stopped in confusion, at a loss for a satisfactory explanation.
The ladies were smiling.

"You thought to flee our acknowledgments," said Mrs. Merriman. "La, la, I
know; I have a young brother of my own. But you shall not escape them
now, and what is more, I shall see that Merriman, poor man, adds his, for
I am sure he has forgiven you your exploit."

The younger lady laughed outright, while Desmond looked from one to the
other. What did they mean?

"Indeed, ma'am," he said, "I had no idea--"

"That there was need for forgiveness?" said the lady, taking him up. "But
indeed there was-eh, Phyllis?

"Mr. Burke," she added, with a sudden solemnity, "a few minutes after you
left  us at Soho Square Merriman rode up, and I assure you I nearly
swooned, poor man! and hardly had strength to send for the surgeon. It
needed three stitches--and he such a handsome man, too."

A horrid suspicion flashed through Desmond's mind. He remembered the scar
on Mr. Merriman's brow, and that it was a scarcely healed wound when he
met him with Clive on that unfortunate occasion in Billiter Street.

"Surely, ma'am, you don't mean--the highwayman?"

"Indeed I do. That is just it. Your highwayman was--Mr. Merriman. Fancy
the hurt to his feelings, to say nothing of his good looks. Fie, fie, Mr.
Burke!"

For a moment Desmond did not know whether embarrassment or amazement was
uppermost with him. It was bad enough to have tripped Mr. Merriman up in
the muddy street; but to have also dealt him a blow of which he would
retain the mark to his dying day--"This is terrible!" he thought. Still
there was an element of absurdity in the adventure that appealed to his
sense of the ridiculous. But he felt the propriety of being apologetic,
and was about to express his regret for his mistake when Mrs. Merriman
interrupted him with a smile:

"But there, Mr. Burke, he bears you no grudge, I am sure. He is the
essence of good temper. It was a mistake; he saw that when I explained;
and when he had vented his spleen on the coachman next day he owned that
it was a plucky deed in you to take charge of us, and indeed he said that
you was a mighty good whip; although," she added laughing, "you was a
trifle heavy in hand."

Desmond felt bound to make a full confession. He related the incident of
his encounter with Merriman in London--how he had toppled him over in the
mud--wondering how the ladies would take it. He was relieved when they
received his story with a peal of laughter.

"Oh, mamma; and it was his new frock!" said Phyllis.

"La, so it was, just fresh from Mr. Small's in Wigmore Street--forty
guineas and no less!"

"Well, ma'am, I'm already forgiven for that; I trust that with your good
favor my earlier indiscretion will be forgiven."

"Indeed it shall be, Mr. Burke, I promise you. Now tell me: what brings
you here?"

Desmond explained his errand in a few words. The ladies wished him a
prosperous journey, and said they would hope to see him in a few days on
his return. He left them, feeling that he had gained friends, and with a
new  motive,  of  which  he was only vaguely conscious, to a speedy
accomplishment of his business.

On the evening of the sixth day after leaving Calcutta there came into
sight a church of considerable size, which Surendra Nath explained was
the temple of the Armenian colony of Cossimbazar. Passing this, and
leaving a maze of native dwellings and the French factory on the left,
the travelers reached the Dutch factory, and beyond this the English
settlement and fort.

Leaving the Babu to arrange quarters for the peons in the native part of
the town, Desmond hastened on past the stables and the hospital to the
factory. It was a rough oblong in shape, defended at each corner by a
bastion mounted with ten guns, the bastions being connected by massive
curtains. In the south curtain, windowed for the greater part of its
length, was the gateway. Desmond was admitted by a native servant, and in
a few minutes found himself in the presence of the chief, Mr. William
Watts.

Mr. Watts was a tall man of near forty years--of striking presence, with
firm chin, pleasant mouth, and eyes of peculiar depth and brilliance. He
was clad in a long purple-laced coat, with ruffles at the wrists and a
high stock, and wore the short curled wig of the period. He welcomed
Desmond with great cordiality, and, glancing over Mr. Merriman's letter,
said:

"My friend Mr. Merriman needlessly disturbs himself, I think. I apprehend
no immediate difficulty with the new Subah, although 'tis true there have
been  little vexations. As to the goods, they are in Coja Solomon's
godown; they were delivered some time ago and paid for; what the reason
of the delay is I cannot tell. One thing I may mention--it appears that
Mr. Merriman is ignorant of it: Coja Solomon has lately become the agent
of Omichand, whose peons have been seen to visit him, then passing on to
Murshidabad. I happen to know also that he has communicated with Coja
Wajid: do you know anything of him?"

"No, sir; I have never heard his name."

"He's a rich Armenian trader in Hugli, and acts as agent between the
Nawab  and  the  French  and  Dutch.  We suspect him of encouraging
Sirajuddaula against us; but of course we can't prove anything. My advice
to you is, be wary and be quick; don't trust any of these fellows further
than you can see them. But you can't do anything tonight. You will allow
me to give you a bed: in the morning you can make a call on Coja Solomon.
What has become of your peons?"

"A Babu I brought with me is looking after them. But I have an English
seaman also: can you tell me what to do with him?"

"Sure he can lodge with Sergeant Bowler close by--near the southeast
bastion. The sergeant will be glad of the company of a fellow countryman;
your man will be a change after the Dutchmen and topasses he has to do
with."

Early next morning Desmond, accompanied by Surendra Nath, went to find
Coja Solomon. He lived in a house not far from the Armenian church,
between it and the river. The Armenian was at home. He received Desmond
with great politeness, assuring him with much volubility that he had but
one  interest  in  life, and that was the business of his honorable
employer, Mr. Merriman. He invited Desmond to accompany him to the godown
near the river where the goods were stored--muslins of Dacca, both plain
and flowered, Bengal raw silk, and taffeties manufactured in Cossimbazar.

"You have not been long in the country, sir," said Coja Solomon, with a
shrewd look at Desmond, "and therefore you will find it hard to believe,
perhaps, that these goods, so insignificant in bulk, are worth over two
lakhs of rupees. A precious load indeed, sir. This delay is naturally a
cause of vexation to my distinguished superior, but it is not due to any
idleness  or inattention on my part. It is caused by the surprising
difficulty of getting the dastaks countersigned by the Faujdar {officer
in command of troops, and also a magistrate}--Without his signature, as
you know, the goods can not be removed. I dare not venture."

"But why didn't the Faujdar sign the papers?"

"That  I cannot tell. I send messengers to him: they come back: the
Faujdar is much occupied with the Nawab's business, but he will attend to
this  little matter as soon as he has leisure. He calls it a little
matter; and so it is, perhaps, if we remember that the Nawab's wealth is
reckoned by millions; but it is not a little matter to Mr. Merriman, and
I deeply deplore the unfortunate delay."

"Well, be good enough to send another message at once. Represent to the
Faujdar that Mr. Merriman's ship is prevented from sailing until the
goods reach Calcutta, and that this causes great inconvenience and loss."

Here the Babu whispered in his ear.

"Yes, and add--you will know how to put it--that if the dastaks are sent
off immediately, the Faujdar will receive from Mr. Merriman a suitable
gratification."

The Armenian rubbed his hands and smilingly assented; but Desmond, who
had had some practice in reading faces since he left Market Drayton
eighteen months before, felt an uneasy suspicion that Coja Solomon was a
scamp. Returning to the factory, he acquainted Mr. Watts with the result
of his interview and his opinion of the agent. The chief's eye twinkled.

"You haven't been long reckoning him up, Mr. Burke. I'm afraid you're
right. I'll see what I can do for you."

Calling "Qui hai {'Is there any one?'--used as a summons}!" he ordered
the  peon  who appeared in answer to his summons to go to the black
merchants' houses, a row of two-story buildings some forty yards from the
southwest bastion, and bring back with him Babu Joti Lal Chatterji.

In less than ten minutes the man returned with an intelligent-looking
young Bengali. Mr. Watts addressed the latter in Hindustani, bidding him
hasten to Murshidabad and find out quietly what the Faujdar was doing
with the dastaks. When he had gone, Mr. Watts showed Desmond over the
fort, introduced him to his wife, and then took him round the English
settlement.

Next day Joti Lal Chatterji returned from Murshidabad with the news that
the dastaks, duly signed by the Faujdar, had been delivered to Coja
Solomon a fortnight before.

"'Tis rather worse than I expected," said Mr. Watts gravely. "There is
something  in  this that I do not understand. We will send for Coja
Solomon."

No one could have seemed more genuinely surprised than the Armenian when
informed  of  what had been learned. He had received no dastaks, he
declared;  either  a  mistake had been made, or the papers had been
intercepted, possibly by some enemy who had a grudge against him and
wished to embroil him with his employer. It was annoying, he agreed; and
he offered to go to Murshidabad himself and, if necessary, get other
dastaks signed.

"Very well," said Mr. Watts, from whose manner no one could have guessed
that he suspected his visitor. "We shall look for you tomorrow."

The man departed. Nothing was heard of him for two days. Then a letter
arrived, saying that he remained in Murshidabad, awaiting the return of
the Faujdar, who had been summoned to Rajmahal by the Nawab Sirajuddaula.
Three more days slipped by, and nothing further was heard from Coja
Solomon.

Desmond became more and more impatient. Bulger suggested that they should
break into the godown and remove the goods without any ceremony--a course
that Desmond himself was not disinclined to adopt; but when he hinted at
it to Mr. Watts that gentleman's look of horror could not have been more
expressive if his consent had been asked to commit a crime.

"Why, Mr. Burke, if we acted in that impetuous way we'd have all Bengal
at our throats. Trade must pass through the usual channels; to convey
goods  from  here  to  Calcutta  without  a dastak would be a grave
misdemeanor, if not high treason; and it would get us into very hot water
with the Nawab. I can only advise patience."

One morning, Desmond had just finished breakfast with Mr. Watts and his
wife,  when  Lieutenant  Elliott,  in command of the garrison, came
unceremoniously into the room.

"Mr.  Watts," he said, "the fat's in the fire. A lot of the Nawab's
Persian cavalry have come into the town during the night. They have
surrounded the French and Dutch factories and are coming on here."

"Don't be alarmed, my dear," said the chief, as his wife started up in a
state of panic; "'tis only one of the Nawab's tricks. He has used that
means of extorting money before. We'll buy them off, never fear."

But  it  was soon seen that the troops had come with a more serious
purpose. They completely invested the factory, and next day withdrew the
guards  that had been placed around the French and Dutch forts, and
confined their whole attention to the British. Mr. Watts withdrew all the
garrison  and officials behind the bastioned walls of the fort, and
fearing that an attack in force would be made upon him, despatched a
kasid {courier} to Calcutta with an urgent request for reinforcements.

While waiting anxiously for the reply, he took stock of his position. His
garrison numbered only fifty men all told, half of them being Dutch
deserters and the remainder half-caste topasses, with only two English
officers, Lieutenant Elliott and Sergeant Bowler. The guns of the fort
were old; and within a few yards of the walls were houses that would
afford excellent cover to the enemy. Without help resistance for any
length of time was impossible, and to resist at all meant a declaration
of war against the Nawab, and would entail serious consequences--possibly
involve  the total ruin of the Company in Bengal. In this difficult
position Mr. Watts hoped that an opportunity of making an arrangement
with the besiegers would offer itself. Meanwhile, pending the arrival of
instructions from Calcutta, he gave orders that any attempt to force an
entrance to the fort was to be repelled.

But no letters came from Calcutta. Though several were despatched, none
of them reached Cossimbazar. On June first Ridurlabh, in command of the
besiegers, received orders from the Nawab, now at Murshidabad, to take
the  fort.  He came to the gate and tried to force an entrance, but
hurriedly withdrew when he met Sergeant Bowler's gleaming bayonet and saw
the gunners standing by with lighted matches in their hands.

By and by he sent a messenger asking Mr. Watts to come out and parley.
and offering a betel, the usual native pledge of safe conduct. Against
the advice of Lieutenant Elliott, Mr. Watts decided to leave the fort and
visit  the  Nawab himself. Next day, therefore, with Mr. Forth, the
surgeon, and two servants, he departed, cheerfully declaring that he
would make all right with Sirajuddaula. Mr. Forth returned a day later
with the news that on reaching the Nawab's tent both he and Mr. Watts had
had their arms bound behind their backs and been led as prisoners into
Sirajuddaula's presence. The Nawab had demanded their signatures to a
document   binding  the  English  at  Calcutta  to  demolish  their
fortifications. Mr. Watts explained that the signatures of two other
members of his Council were required, hoping that the delay would allow
time for help to reach him from Calcutta. After some hesitation two
gentlemen left the fort with the surgeon.

The same evening Mr. Forth once more returned to inform the garrison that
the members of Council had likewise been imprisoned, and that Mr. Watts
recommended Lieutenant Elliott to deliver up the fort and ammunition.

The merchants in the factory were aghast; Lieutenant Elliott fumed with
indignation; but they saw that they had no alternative. Their chief had
been  removed by treachery; to resist was hopeless; and though such
submission  to  a native was galling they could but recognize their
helplessness and make the best of a bad situation. Desmond, besides
sharing in their anger, had a further cause for concern in the almost
certain loss of Mr. Merriman's goods. But the fort would not be given up
till next day, and before he retired to rest he received a message that
turned his thoughts into another channel and made him set his wits to
work.

During the siege natives had been allowed to go freely in and out between
the fort and the settlement; Ridurlabh was confident in his superior
numbers and could afford to regard with indifference the despatch of
messages to Calcutta. A messenger came to Desmond in the evening from
Surendra Nath, to say that Coja Solomon had returned to Cossimbazar, and
was now loading up Mr. Merriman's goods in petalas {cargo boats}, their
destination being Murshidabad. Desmond saw at once that the Armenian was
taking advantage of the disturbance to make away with the goods for his
own behoof. He could always pretend afterwards that his godown had been
plundered. It was pretty clear, too, that his long detention of the goods
must be due to his having had a hint of the Nawab's plans.

This news reached Desmond just after Mr. Forth had brought orders for the
surrender of the fort. He kept his own counsel. After his experience at
Gheria he was resolved not to be made a prisoner again; but he would not
be content with merely saving his own skin. Mr. Merriman's goods were
valuable; it touched Desmond's self esteem to think he should be bested
by a rascally Armenian. If there had been any prospect of a fight in
defense of the fort he would have stayed to take his part in it; but as
the factory was to be given up without a struggle he saw no reason for
considering anything except the interests of Mr. Merriman and himself.

Only one thing gave him a slight qualm. The equities of the case were
perfectly clear; but he had some doubt as to the issue if it should
become known that he had forcibly made off with the goods. The relations
between the Nawab and the Company were so strained, and the circumstances
of the moment so dangerous, that such action on his part might prove the
spark to a train of gunpowder. But he could not help thinking that the
Nawab  was  in any case bent on picking a quarrel with the Company;
anything that Desmond might do would be but one petty incident in a
possible campaign; meanwhile the goods were worth two lakhs of rupees, a
serious loss to Mr. Merriman if Coja Solomon's plans succeeded; an effort
to save them was surely worth the risk, and they could only be saved if
he  could  secure  them before the Armenian's boats had started for
Murshidabad.

He did not take long to decide upon a plan. Calling the native who had
attended  him  in  the  fort, he sent him out to Surendra Nath with
instructions to prepare his peons for instant action. Bulger was with
them; he had been absent from Bowler's house when the order came to
retire to the fort, and only just succeeded in joining Surendra Nath
before the investment began.

From Joti Lal Chatterji, the man whom Mr. Watts had employed to make
inquiries in Murshidabad, the servant was to get a dress such as would be
worn by a khitmatgar {table servant}, and some material for staining the
skin. In the darkness Desmond hoped that he might pass without question
for a native so long as disguise was necessary. Within an hour the man
returned, bringing the articles required.



Chapter 21: In which Coja Solomon finds dishonesty the worse policy; and a
journey down the Hugli little to his liking.


The short twilight was thickening into darkness when Desmond, with face,
legs, and arms stained brown, slipped out of the fort in native dress and
walked slowly towards the houses of the native merchants. In his hand he
carried a small bundle. Reaching the house where his party was staying,
kept by one Abdul Kader, he almost betrayed himself by forgetting to slip
off his sandals as he entered. But he bethought himself in time and was
admitted without question.

He found that he was not a moment too soon. Bulger had taken up his
quarters there with a very bad grace, the arrival of the Nawab's army
having aroused in him the fighting spirit of the sturdy British tar. But
when the news ran through the settlement that the fort was to be given up
his feelings overcame him, and it was only with the greatest difficulty
that Surendra Nath had persuaded him to wait patiently for orders from
Desmond. Then the Babu himself had quitted the house, and Bulger was left
without the restraint of anyone who could speak English. He was on the
point of casting off all prudence and stalking out, like Achilles from
his tent, when Desmond arrived.

"By thunder, sir!" he said, when he had recovered from his astonishment
at seeing Desmond in native dress, "I en't a-goin' to surrender to no
Moors, sure as my name's Bulger. 'Tis a downright scandalous shame;
that's what I call it."

"Well, you can tell Mr. Watts so if ever you see him. At present we have
no time to waste in talk. Where is Surendra Nath?"

"Gone to keep his weather eye on the codger's godown, sir."

"Which shows he's a man of sense. Are all the men here?"

"So far as I know, sir. I may be wrong."

"Well, they'll make their way in small parties down to the river. 'Tis
dark enough now; they will not be noticed, and they can steal along the
bank under the trees until they come near Coja Solomon's ghat. You must
come with me."

"Very good, sir," replied Bulger, hitching up his breeches and drawing
his hanger.

"But not like that. You'll have to get those black whiskers of yours
shaved, my man. If they grew all over you'd pass perhaps for a Moor; but
not with a fringe like that. And you must stain your face; I have the
stuff in this bundle; and we'll borrow a dhoti and sandals from Abdul
Kader. We'll dress you up between us."

Bulger looked aghast.

"Dash my buttons, sir, I'll look like a November guy! What would my mates
say, a-seein' me dressed up like a stuffed Moor at Smithfield fair--a
penny a shy, sir?"

"Your mates are not here to see you, and if you hold your tongue they'll
never know it."

"But what about this little corkscrew o' mine, sir? I don't see any ways
o' dressin' that up."

"You can stick it into your dhoti. Now here are soap and a razor; I give
you ten minutes to shave and get your face stained; Abdul Kader will
help. Quick's the word, man."

A  quarter of an hour later Desmond left the house with Bulger, the
latter, in spite of the darkness, looking very much ashamed of himself.
The  other members of the party had already gone towards the river.
Walking  very slowly until they had safely cleared the lines of the
investing troops, the two hurried their pace and about half-past eight
reached the Armenian godown. The three boats containing Mr. Merriman's
goods were moored at the ghat. A number of men were on board, and bales
were still being carried down by the light of torches. It appeared that
Coja Solomon had no intention of leaving until the factory was actually
in Rai Durlabh's hands.

Desmond had already decided that, to legalize his position, he must gain
possession of the dastaks. Not that they would help him much if, as was
only too probable, Coja Solomon should be backed up by the Nawab. As soon
as it was discovered that the goods had been carried off, kasids would
undoubtedly be sent along the banks, possibly swift boats would set off
down the river in pursuit, and, dastaks or no dastaks, the goods would be
impounded at Khulna or Hugli and himself arrested. It was therefore of
the first importance that the loss of the boats should not be discovered
until he was well on his way, and to insure this he must secure the
person of Coja Solomon. If that could be done there was a chance of
delaying the pursuit, or preventing it altogether.

Desmond  kept  well in the shelter of the palm trees as he made his
observation of the ghat. He wondered where Surendra Nath was, but could
not waste time in looking for him. Retracing his steps with Bulger for a
little distance, he came to a spot on the river bank where the rest of
his party were waiting in a boat, moored to an overhanging tree. He
ordered the men to land; then, leaving Bulger in charge of them, he
selected three of the armed peons and with them made his way across paddy
{rice} fields toward the Armenian's house, a hundred yards or so from the
bank.

Light came through the reed-screened window. Bidding the men remain
outside and rush in if he called them, he left the shelter of the trees
and, approaching the door, stumbled over the darwan lying across the
threshold.

"Hai, darwan!" he said, with the bluntness of servant addressing servant;
"sleeping  again!  Go  and  tell your master I'm here to see him: a
khitmatgar from the fort."

The  man rose sleepily and preceded him into the house. He made the
announcement, salaamed and retired. Desmond went in.

In a little room on the ground floor Coja Solomon reclined on a divan,
smoking his hubblebubble. A small oil lamp burnt on a bracket above his
head. He looked up as Desmond entered; if he thought that his visitor was
somewhat better set-up than the average khitmatgar, he did not suspect
any disguise. The light was dim, and Coja Solomon was old.

"Good evening, Khwaja," said Desmond quietly.

The man jumped as if shot.

"No, don't get up, and don't make a noise. My business with you will not
take long. I will ask you to hand over Mr. Merriman's dastaks. I know
that they are in your possession. I have come to get them, and to take
away the goods--Mr. Merriman's goods."

The Armenian had meanwhile removed the mouthpiece of his hubblebubble,
and was bending over as if to replace it by one of several that lay on a
shelf at his right hand. But Desmond noticed that beneath the shelf stood
a  small  gong. He whipped out a pistol, and pointed it full at the
merchant.

"Don't touch that," he said curtly. "I have not come unprepared, as you
see. Your plans are known to me. If you value your life you will do as I
wish, without delay or disturbance. My men are outside; a word from me
will bring them swarming in. Now, the dastaks!"

Coja  Solomon was an Armenian and a merchant; in neither capacity a
fighting man. In a contest of wits he could be as cool and as ready as
any man in Bengal; but he had no skill in arms and no physical courage.
There was an air of determination about his visitor that impressed him;
and he felt by no means comfortable within point-blank range of the
pistol covering him so completely. If his thoughts had been read, they
would  have  run  somewhat thus: "Pistols have been known to go off
accidentally. What will the goods profit me if such an accident happen
now? Besides, even if I yield there may still be a chance of saving them.
It is a long way to Calcutta: the river is low: God be praised the rains
have not begun! There are shallows and rocks along its course: the boats
must go slowly: and the Nawab's horsemen can soon outstrip them on the
banks. The dog of an Englishman thinks he has outwitted me: we shall see.
And he is only a youth: let us see if Coja Solomon is not a match for
him."

Rising to his feet, he smiled and shrugged, and spread out his hands
deprecatingly.

"It  is true the dastaks are here," he said suavely, "but they only
reached me yesterday, and indeed, as soon as I received them, I had the
goods put on board the boats for transit to Calcutta."

"That is very fortunate," said Desmond. "It will save my time. As Mr.
Merriman's representative I will take over the goods--with the dastaks."

"If you will excuse me, I will fetch them."

"Stay!"  said Desmond, as the man moved toward the door. He had not
lowered the pistol. "Where are they?"

"They are in my office beside the godown."

"Very well. It would be a pity to trouble you to bring them here. I will
go with you. Will you lead the way?"

He knew it was a lie. Valuable papers would not be left in a hut of an
office, and he had already noticed a curiously wrought almara {cabinet}
at one end of the room--just the place to keep documents.

There  was  the  shadow  of a scowl on the Armenian's face. The man
hesitated;  then walked towards the door: stopped as if at a sudden
recollection; and turned to Desmond with a bland smile.

"I was forgetting," he said, "I brought the papers here for safety's
sake."

He went to the almara, searched for a moment, and handed two papers to
Desmond.

"There,  sir,"  he said, with a quite paternal smile; "you take the
responsibility. In these unfortunate circumstances"--he waved his hand in
the direction of the factory--"it is, believe me, a relief to me to see
the last of these papers.

"That is well."

But Desmond, as he took the papers, felt himself in a quandary. Though he
could speak, he could not read Hindustani! The papers might not be the
dastaks after all. What was he to do?

The peons were not likely to be able to read. He scanned the papers.
There was the name Merriman in English characters, but all the rest was
in native script. The smile hovering on the Armenian's face annoyed
Desmond, and he was still undecided what to do when a voice at his elbow
gave him welcome relief.

"Babu Surendra Nath Chuckerbutti," announced the darwan.

The Babu entered.

"Come and tell me if these are our dastaks," said Desmond.

The Babu ran his eyes over the papers, and declared:

"Yes, sir, they are the identical papers, and I perceive the signature of
the Faujdar is dated three weeks ago."

"Thank you," said Desmond.

"Now, Coja Solomon, I must ask you to come with me."

"Why, sir--" began the Armenian, no longer smiling.

"I will explain to you by and by.--

"What is it, Surendra Nath?"

The Babu whispered a word or two in his ear.

"A happy thought!" said Desmond. "Surendra Nath suggests that I should
borrow that excellent robe I see yonder, Khwaja; and your turban also.
They will become me better than this khitmatgar's garb, I doubt not."

Coja  Solomon  looked on helplessly as Desmond exchanged his meaner
garments for the richer clothes of his unwilling host.

"Now we will go. You will tell the darwan that you have gone down to the
ghat,  so  that if a question is asked he will be at no loss for an
answer."

In the faint light of the rising moon the barrel of the pistol gleamed as
they came into the open. The Armenian marched between Desmond and the
Babu. Behind came the three peons, moving as silently as ghosts.

"The Khwaja," said Desmond to them in the Armenian's hearing, as they
reached the ghat, "is coming a little way with us down the river.

"You, Kristodas Das, will go and tell Bulger Sahib that I wish him to
follow the Khwaja's boats at a few yards' distance, and to be prepared to
board at any moment.

"You," turning to the other two peons, "will come with me. The Khwaja
will send word to his durwan that he is going to Murshidabad by river and
will not return tonight; his house is to be locked up. The Khwaja will, I
am sure, give these orders correctly, for Surendra Nath will understand
better than I what he says."

With the Babu, the two peons, and Coja Solomon, who was now obviously ill
at ease, Desmond went down the ghat to the place where the crews of the
petalas were assigned to him. The man dared not depart by a jot from the
words put into his mouth. One of his coolies left with the message, the
rest followed their employer on board with Desmond and his companions,
and in a few minutes the three boats were cast off and stood upstream. As
they started Desmond saw the boat containing Bulger and his men slip from
the shade of the trees and begin to creep after them.

The boats had not gone more than a couple of hundred yards upstream when
Coja Solomon, at Desmond's orders, bade the men row toward the opposite
shore and turn the boats' heads round, explaining that he had decided
after all to convey the goods to Hugli. There was some grumbling among
the crew, who had expected to go to Murshidabad, and did not relish the
prospect of the longer voyage. But the Armenian, knowing that every word
was overheard by Desmond's men, made haste to pacify the boatmen.

It was by no means easy work getting down the river. The boats were flat
bottomed and drew very little water; but the stream being very low, they
stuck fast time after time in the shallows. By day the boatmen might have
picked their way more carefully, but the moon was new and shed too little
light for river navigation. More than once they had to leap overboard
and, wading, shove and haul until the boats came off the mud banks into
practicable water again. They rowed hard when the course was clear,
encouraged by promises of liberal bakshish made by their employer at
Desmond's prompting. But the interruptions were so frequent that the dawn
found the boats only some thirty miles from their starting-point. The
river being here a little deeper, Desmond could afford to let the rowers
take a much-needed rest, while the boats floated down with the stream.

But as the day wore on the river again played them false, and progress
was at times reduced to scarcely more than two miles an hour. Things had
been uncomfortable in the night, but the discomforts were increased
tenfold in the day. It was the hottest season of the year; out of the
clear sky the sun's rays beat down with pitiless ferocity; the whole
landscape was a-quiver with heat; all things seemed to swoon under the
oppression. The petalas, being cargo boats, were not provided with any
accommodation or conveniences for passengers; and Desmond's thoughts as
he lay panting on his mat, haggard from want of sleep, faint from want of
food--for though there was rice on board, and the men ate freely, he had
no appetite for that--reverted to the worst period of his imprisonment in
Gheria, and he recalled the sufferings he had endured there.

Here at least he was free. His journey had so far been unmolested, and he
hoped that the happy chance that had favored him at Cossimbazar would not
fail him now.

He was in a fever of impatience; yet the men were doing their best. They
passed the mud walls of Cutwa; another stage of the journey was safely
completed; but twelve miles lower down there was a post at Path; and with
every mile the danger grew.

Desmond talked over the situation with the Babu. Surendra Nath agreed
that by nightfall, if no unforeseen delay occurred, they might hope to be
in the neighborhood of Khulna, and arrive there before any messenger
carrying news of the escape.

But there was little or no chance of the same good fortune at Hugli. The
prize was so valuable that every effort would certainly be made to stop
them. A whole day or more might pass before the reason of Coja Solomon's
absence was discovered. But when the discovery was made fast runners
would be sent to Khulna and Hugli, and by relays the distance between
Cossimbazar and Hugli could be covered in twenty-four hours. Supposing
such a messenger started at nightfall on June fifth, nearly twenty-four
hours after Coja Solomon's disappearance, he might well get to Hugli long
before the fugitive boats, even if they were rowed all night without
cessation; and the men were already so much fatigued that such continuous
exertion could hardly be expected of them.

There was a further danger. If the news of the capture of Cossimbazar
Fort had preceded him, he might be stopped at any of the riverside places
without any reference to Coja Solomon's abduction, pending orders from
the Nawab. Desmond's anxiety would have been largely increased had he
known that Sirajuddaula, before his men had actually marched into the
fort, had already started with the bulk of his forces on his fateful
march to Calcutta.

Desmond was still in conversation with the Babu when the little flotilla
came in sight of Patli. Its approach was observed. A boat put off from
the ghat, and awaited the arrival of Desmond's boat in midstream. As it
came alongside an official ordered the men to cease rowing and demanded
to know who was the owner of the goods on board and to see the dastaks.
The Babu, to whom Desmond had intrusted the papers, showed them to the
man; he scanned them, said that he was satisfied, and rowed back to the
ghat.

Evidently he had no suspicions. During the short colloquy Desmond kept
close beside the Armenian, who was well known to the riverside official;
but Coja Solomon was thoroughly scared, and had not the presence of mind
to do anything more than to acknowledge the customary salaam.

Desmond  breathed  freely  once  more now that Path was passed. But
two-thirds of the journey still remained to be completed, and he dare not
hope that at his slow rate of progress he would be able always to keep
ahead of information from Cossimbazar. Seeing that he could not hasten
his journey, he wondered whether it was possible to put pursuers off the
scent. After thinking for a while he said to the Babu, out of hearing of
the Armenian:

"I have an idea, Surendra Nath: tell me what you think of it. Did you not
tell me as we came up that there is a gumashta {agent} of the Company at
Santipur?"

"Certainly I did, sir."

"Well, as we are, I fear, sure to be cut off by water, may we not take to
the land? Could not the gumashta get us a dozen hackeris {bullock carts}?
We could transfer the goods to them and elude our pursuers perhaps long
enough for help to arrive from Calcutta."

"That is good counsel, sir; why should we not do so?"

Accordingly, when they came to the spot where the high road crossed the
river by a ford, Desmond ordered his men to row in to the left bank.
Selecting two men who knew the country, he bade them land and make the
best speed in carrying out instructions which he proceeded to give them.

"You,  Mohun Lal," he said, "will go to Santipur, quickly, avoiding
observation, and request the gumashta in Merriman Sahib's name to have
twelve hackeris, or as many as he can collect, ready to receive loads two
or  three  hours  before tomorrow's dawn. He must get them from the
villages, not from Khulna or Amboa, and he must not tell anyone why he
requires the carts.

"You, Ishan, will go on to Calcutta, find Merriman Sahib, and ask him to
send a body of armed men along the Barrakpur road towards Santipur. You
will tell him what we have done, and also that Cossimbazar Fort is in the
hands of the Nawab, and Watts Sahib a prisoner. He may know this already.
You both understand?"

The men salaamed and started on their journey.



Chapter 22: In which is given a full, true, and particular account of the
Battle of the Carts.


Desmond  expected that Mohun Lal would reach Santipur shortly after
nightfall. He himself might hope to arrive there, if not intercepted at
Khulna  or  Amboa,  at any time between midnight and three o'clock,
according to the state of the river.

It was approaching dusk when he drew near to Khulna. The boats having
been tied up to the bank, as the custom was, Desmond sent the Babu to
find out from the Company's gumashta there whether news of the capture of
Cossimbazar Fort had reached the bazar, and if any runner had come in
from the north. In an hour the Babu returned. He said that there was
great excitement in the bazar: no official messenger had arrived, but
everybody was saying that the Nawab had captured the English factory at
Cossimbazar, and was going to drive all the Firangi out of Bengal.

Desmond decided to take a bold course. Official news not having arrived,
he might seize the moment to present his dastaks and get away before the
customs officers found any pretext for stopping him. Everything happened
as he hoped. He met with no more difficulty than at Path, and informing
the official who examined the dastaks that he would drop down to Amboa
before tying up for the night, he drew out again into the stream.

He spent some time in consultation with the serang. In a rather desolate
reach of the Hugli, he learned that in the middle of the stream there was
a small island, uninhabited save by teal and other waterfowl, and not
known to be the haunt of tigers or other beasts of prey. Reaching this
islet about ten o'clock at night, when all river traffic had ceased, he
rowed in, and landed the Armenian with his crews.

"I thank you for your company, Coja Solomon," he said blandly. 'We must
here  part, to my regret, for I should like to have the pleasure of
witnessing your meeting with Mr. Merriman. The nights are warm, and you
will, I am sure, be quite comfortable till the morning, when no doubt a
passing boat will take you off and convey you back to your business at
Cossimbazar."

"I will not stay here," protested the Armenian, his face livid with
anger.

"Believe me, you have no choice. Let me remind you that had you behaved
honestly  there  would  have  been no reason for putting you to the
inconvenience of this tiring journey. You have brought it on yourself."

Coja  Solomon sullenly went up the shore. Desmond then paid the men
handsomely:  they  had indeed worked well, and they were abundantly
satisfied with the hire they received.

Leaving Coja Solomon to his bitter reflections, Desmond dropped down to
Santipur, arriving there about two o'clock in the morning. Just before
dawn ten hackeris, each yoked with two oxen, drew up near the Company's
ghat. They were accompanied by a crowd of the inhabitants, lively with
curiosity about the engagement of so many vehicles. The gumashta came up
with the first cart, his face clouded with anxiety. He recognized the
Babu at once, and said that while he had fulfilled the order he had
received on Mr. Merriman's behalf, he had done it in fear and trembling.
The whole country knew that Cossimbazar Fort was in possession of the
Nawab, and, more than that, the Nawab had on the previous day set out
with an immense army for Calcutta. Santipur was not on the high road, and
the Company was respected there; yet the gumashta feared the people would
make an attack on the party if they suspected that they carried goods
belonging to an Englishman.

Hitherto Desmond had kept himself in the background. But now he had an
idea inspired by confidence in his costume. Introducing himself to the
gumashta, he asked him to give out that the party was in command of a
Firangi  in the service of the Nawab, and was conveying part of the
Nawab's private equipage in advance to Baraset, a few miles north of
Calcutta,  there to await the arrival of the main army. To make the
imposition more effective, he called for the lambadar of the village and
ordered him in the Nawab's name to despatch a flotilla of twenty-five
wollacks {barges} to Cutwa to convey the official baggage.

The trick proved effective. Desmond found himself regarded as a person of
importance; the natives humbly salaamed to him; and, taking matters with
a high hand, he impressed a score of the village idlers into the work of
transferring his precious bales from the boats to the hackeris. The work
was accomplished in half an hour.

"Bulger," said Desmond, when the loading was done, "you will consider
yourself in charge of this convoy. The Babu will interpret for you. You
will hurry on as fast as possible toward Calcutta. I shall overtake you
by and by. The people here believe that I am a Frenchman, so you had
better pass as that, too, for of course your disguise will deceive no
native in the daylight."

"Well I knows it." said Bulger. "They've been starin' at me like as if I
was  a prize pig this half hour and more, and lookin' most uncommon
curious at my little button hook. But, sir, I don't see any call for me
to make out I'm a mounseer. 'T'ud make me uneasy inside, sir, the very
thought of eatin' what the mounseers eat."

"My good man, there's no need to carry it too far. Do as you please, only
take care of the goods."

Except Desmond and four men whom he retained, the whole party moved off
with the hackeris towards Calcutta. The road was an unmade track, heavy
with dust, rough, execrably bad; and at the gumashta's suggestion Desmond
had arranged for three extra teams of oxen to accompany the carts, to
extricate  them  in  case  of  necessity from holes or soft places.
Fortunately the weather was dry: had the rains begun--and they were
overdue--the road would have been a slough of mud and ooze, and the
journey would have been impossible.

When  the convoy had set off, Desmond with three men, including the
serang, returned to the empty boats. The lookers-on stared to see the
craft  put off and drop down the river with a crew of one man each:
Desmond in the first, and the smaller boat that had contained Bulger and
his party trailing behind. Floating down some four or five miles with the
stream, Desmond gave the order to scuttle the three petalas, and rowed
ashore in the smaller boat. On reaching land he got the serang to knock a
hole in the bottom of the boat, and shoved it off towards midstream,
where it rapidly filled and sank.

It was full daylight when Desmond and his party of three struck off
inland in a direction that would bring them upon the track of the carts.
He had a presentiment that his difficulties were only beginning. By this
time, no doubt, the news of his escapade had been carried through the
country by the swift kasids of the Nawab. His passing at Khulna and Amboa
would  be  reported, and a watch would be kept for him at Hugli. If
perchance a kasid or a chance traveler entered Santipur, the trick he had
practised there would be immediately discovered; but if the messenger
only touched at the places on the direct route on the other bank, he
might hope that some time would elapse before the authorities there
suspected that he had left the river. They must soon learn that three
petalas lay wrecked in the stream below Amboa; but they could not satisfy
themselves without examination that these were the vessels of which they
were in search.

Tramping across two miles of fields newly sown with maize and sorghum, he
at length descried the trail of his convoy and soon came up with it. If
pursuers were indeed upon his track, only by the greatest good fortune
could he escape them. The carts creaked along with painful slowness; the
wheels halfway to the axles in dust; now stopping altogether, now rocking
like ships in a stormy sea.

With his arrival and the promise of liberal bakshish the hackeriwallahs
urged the laboring oxen with their cruel goads till Desmond, always
tender with animals, could hardly endure the sight. By nine o'clock the
morning had become stiflingly hot. There was little or no breeze, and
Desmond, unused of late to active exercise, found the heat terribly
trying. But Bulger suffered still more. A stout, florid man, he toiled
along, panting, streaming with sweat, in difficulties so manifest, that
Desmond, eying him anxiously, feared lest a stroke of apoplexy should
bring him to an untimely end.

The country was so flat that a string of carts could not fail to be seen
from a long distance. If noticed from the towers of Hugli across the
river, curiosity, if not suspicion, would be aroused, and it would not
take long to send over by a ford a force sufficient to arrest and capture
the party. To escape observation it was necessary to make wide detours.
At several small hamlets on the route Desmond managed to get fresh oxen,
but not enough for complete changes of team.

So, through all the broiling heat of the day, at hours when no other
Europeans in all Bengal were out of doors, the convoy struggled on,
making its own road, crossing the dry beds of pools, skirting or laboring
over rugged nullahs.

At nightfall Desmond learned from one of the drivers that they were still
six miles short of being opposite to Hugli. The patient Bengalis could
endure no more; the oxen were done up, the men refused to go farther
without a rest. Halting at a hamlet some five miles from the river, they
rested  and  fed  till  midnight, then set off again. It was not so
insufferably hot at night, but on the other hand they were less able to
avoid obstructions: and the rest had not been long enough to make up for
the terrible exertions of the day.

By daybreak they were some distance past Hugli, still keeping about five
miles from the river. Desmond was beginning to congratulate himself that
the worst was over; Barrackpur was only about twelve miles away. But a
little after dawn he caught sight of a European on horseback crossing
their track towards the river. He was going at a walking pace, attended
by two syces {grooms}. Attracted, apparently, by the sight, unusual at
this time of year, of a string of hackeris, he wheeled his horse and
cantered towards the tail of the convoy, which was under Bulger's charge.

"Hai, hackeriwallah," he said in Urdu to the rearmost driver, "to whom do
these hackeris belong?"

"To the great Company, huzur. The sahib will tell you."

"The sahib--what sahib?" asked the rider in astonishment.

"The sahib yonder," replied the man, pointing to Bulger.

Bulger had been staring at the horseman, and growing more and more red in
the face. Catching the rider's surprised look, he could contain himself
no longer.

"By thunder! 'tis that villain Diggle!" he shouted, and rushed forward to
drag him from his horse.

But Diggle was not taken unawares. Setting spurs to his steed, he caused
it to spring away. Bulger raised his musket, but ere he could fire Diggle
was out of range. Keeping a careful distance he rode leisurely along the
whole convoy, and a smile of malignant pleasure shone upon his face as he
took stock of its contents.

Meanwhile Bulger, already repenting of his hasty action, hurried forward
to acquaint Desmond with what had happened. Diggle's smile broadened; he
halted and took a long look at the tall figure in native dress to whom
Bulger  was  so  excitedly speaking. Then, turning his horse in the
direction of the river, he spoke over his shoulder to his syces and
galloped away, followed by them at a run.

"You were a fool, Bulger," said Desmond testily. "This may lead to no end
of trouble."

Bulger looked penitent, and wrathful, and overwhelmed.

"We must try to hurry," added Desmond to Surendra Nath. "Promise the men
more bakshish: don't stint."

For two hours longer they pushed on with all the speed of which the jaded
beasts were capable. Every now and again Desmond looked anxiously back,
hoping against hope that they would not be pursued. But he knew that
Diggle had recognized him, and being prepared for the worst, he began to
rack his brains for some means of defense.

Misfortune seemed to dog him. Two of the oxen collapsed. It was necessary
to distribute the loads of their hackeris among the others. The march was
delayed, and when the convoy was again under way, its progress was slower
than ever.

It had, indeed, barely started, when in the distance Desmond spied a
horseman cantering towards them. A few minutes revealed him as Diggle. He
rode up almost within musket shot, then turned and trotted back.

What was the meaning of his action? Desmond, from his position near the
foremost hackeri, could see nothing more. But, a few yards ahead of him,
to the right of the track, there was a low artificial mound, possibly the
site of an ancient temple, standing at the edge of a nullah, its top some
ten or twelve feet above the surrounding plain. Hastening to this he
gained the summit, and, looking back, saw a numerous body of men on foot
advancing rapidly from the direction in which the horseman had come. In
twenty minutes they would have come up with the convoy. He must turn at
bay.

He  glanced anxiously around. He was in the midst of an almost bare
sun-baked plain, the new-sown fields awaiting the rains to spring into
verdure. Here and there were clumps of trees--the towering palmyra with
its  fan-shaped foliage, the bamboo with its feathery branches, the
plantain, throwing its immense leaves of vivid green into every fantastic
form. There was no safety on the plain.

But below him was the nullah, thirty feet deep, eighty yards wide, soon
to be a swollen torrent dashing towards the Hugli, but now dry. Its sides
were in parts steep, and unscalable in face of determined resistance. In
a moment Desmond saw the utmost of possibility.

Running back to the convoy, he turned its head towards the mound, and,
calling every man to the help of the oxen, he dragged the carts one by
one to the top. There he caused the beasts to be unyoked, and placed the
hackeris, their poles interlocked, so as to form a rough semicircular
breastwork around the summit of the mound. For a moment he hesitated in
deciding what to do with the cattle. Should he keep them within his
little intrenchment? If they took fright they might stampede and do
mischief; in any case they would be in the way, and he resolved to send
them all off under charge of such of the drivers as were too timid to
remain. He noticed that the Babu was quivering with alarm.

"Surendra Nath," he said, "this is no place for you. Slip away quietly;
go towards Calcutta; and if you meet Mr. Merriman coming in response to
my message, tell him the plight we are in and ask him to hasten to our
help."

"I do not like to show the white feather, sir," said the Babu.

"Not at all, Babu, we must have a trustworthy messenger: you are the man.
Now get away as fast as you can."

The Babu departed on his errand with the speed of gladness and relief.

The ground sloped sharply outward from the carts, and the rear of the
position was formed by the nullah. The last two hackeris were being
placed in position when the vanguard of the pursuers, with Diggle at
their head, came to a point just out of range. The party was larger than
Desmond had estimated it to be at his first hasty glance. There were some
twenty men armed with matchlocks, and forty with swords and lathis. All
were natives.

His heart sank as he measured the odds against him. What was his dismay
when he saw, half a mile off, another body following up. And these were
white men! Was Diggle bringing the French of Chandernagore into the fray?

Desmond posted his twelve armed peons behind the hackeris. He gave them
strict  orders to fire only at the word of command, and as they had
undergone some discipline in Calcutta he hoped that, if only in self
preservation, they would maintain a certain steadiness. Behind them he
placed twelve sturdy boatmen armed with half pikes, instructing them to
take the place of the peons when they had fired. Bulger stood at the
midpoint of the semicircle; his rough square face was a deep purple with
a  rim  of  black; his dhoti had become loosened, leaving his great
shoulders and brawny chest bare; his turban was awry; his eyes, bloodshot
with the heat, were as the eyes of Mars himself, burning with the fire of
battle.

The pursuers had halted. Diggle came forward, trotting his horse up to
the base of the mound. The peons fingered their matchlocks and looked
expectant; Bulger growled; but Desmond gazed calmly at his enemy.

"Your disguise is excellent," said Diggle in his smoothest tones; "but I
believe I speak to Mr. Desmond Burke."

"Yes, Mr. Diggle," said Desmond, stepping forward.

"I am glad to have overtaken you. Sure you have encamped early. I have a
message  from  my  friend  the  Faujdar of Hugli. By some mistake a
consignment of merchandise has been illegally removed from Cossimbazar,
and the Faujdar, understanding that the goods are contained in these
carts, bids me ask you to deliver them up to his men, whom you see here
with me."

Desmond was anxious to gain time. He thought out his plan of action while
Diggle was speaking. His impulsiveness prompted a flat defiance in few
words; policy counseled a formality of utterance equal to Diggle's.

"These carts certainly contain merchandise, Mr. Diggle," he said. "It is
the property of Mr. Edward Merriman, of Calcutta; I think you know him?
It was removed from Cossimbazar; but not, I assure you, illegally. I have
the dastaks authorizing its removal to Calcutta; they are signed by the
Faujdar of Murshidabad. Has the Faujdar of--where did you say?"

"Of Hugli."

"Has the Faujdar of Hugli power to countermand what the Faujdar of the
capital has done?"

"Why discuss that point?" said Diggle with a smile. "The Faujdar of Hugli
is an officer of the Nawab; hoc sat est tibi--blunt language, but the
phrase is Tully's."

"Well, I waive that. But I am not satisfied that you, an Englishman, have
authority to act for the Faujdar of Hugli. The crowd I see before me--a
rabble of lathiwallahs--clearly cannot be the Faujdar's men."

At this point he heard an exclamation from Bulger. The second body of men
had come up and ranked themselves behind the first.

"And  may I ask," added Desmond, with a slight gesture to Bulger to
restrain himself--he too had recognized the newcomers--"since when the
Nawab has taken into his service the crew of an interloping English
merchantman?"

"I shall give you full information, Mr. Burke," said Diggle suavely,
"when we stand together before my friend the Faujdar. In the meantime you
will, if I may venture to advise, consult your interest best in yielding
to superior numbers and delivering up the goods."

"And what about myself, Mr. Diggle?"

"You, of course, will accompany me to the Faujdar. He will be incensed, I
make no doubt, at your temerity, and not unjustly; but I will intercede
for you, and you will be treated with the most delicate attentions."

"You speak fair, Mr. Diggle," said Desmond, still bent upon gaining time;
"but that is your way. What assurance have I that you will, this time,
keep your word?"

"You persist in misjudging me," said Diggle regretfully. "As Cicero says
in the play, you construe things after your fashion, clean from the
purpose of the things themselves. My interest in you is undiminished; nay
rather, it is increased and mixed with admiration. My offers still hold
good: join hands with me, and I promise you that you shall soon be a
persona grata at the court of Murshidabad, with wealth and honors in your
grasp."

"Your offer is tempting, Mr. Diggle, to a poor adventurer like me, and if
only my own interests were involved, I might strike a bargain with you. I
have had such excellent reasons to trust you in the past! But the goods
are not mine; they are Mr. Merriman's; and the utmost I can do at present
is to ask you to draw your men off and wait while I send a messenger to
Calcutta. When he returns with Mr. Merriman's consent to the delivery of
the goods, then--"

The sentence remained unfinished. Diggle's expression had been becoming
blacker and blacker as Desmond spoke, and seeing with fury that he was
being played with he suddenly wheeled round, and, cantering back to his
men, gave the order to fire. At the same moment Desmond called to his men
to lie flat on the ground and aim at the enemy from behind the solid
wooden wheels of the hackeris. Being on the flat top of the mound, they
were to some extent below the line of fire from the plain, and when the
first  volley was delivered no harm was done to them save for a few
scratches made by flying splinters struck from the carts.

But the crack of the matchlocks struck terror into the pale hearts of
some  of the hackeriwallahs. Several sprang over the breastwork and
scuttled away like scared rabbits. The remainder stood firm, grasping
their lathis in a manner that showed the fighting instinct to be strong,
even in the Bengali.

Many anxious looks were bent upon Desmond, his men expecting the order to
fire. But he bade them remain still, and through the interval between two
carts he watched for the rush that was coming. The crew of the Good
Intent, headed by Sunman, the cross-eyed mate, and Parmiter, had come up
behind the natives. These, having emptied their matchlocks, were now
retiring to reload. Diggle had dismounted, and was talking earnestly with
the mate. They walked together to the edge of the nullah, and looked up
and down it, doubtless canvassing the chances of an attack in the rear;
but the sides were steep; there was no hope of success in this direction;
and they rejoined the main body.

Evidently they had decided on making a vigorous direct attack over the
carts. Dividing his troop into two portions, Diggle put himself at the
head  of  the  one,  Sunman at the head of the other. Arranged in a
semicircle concentric with the breastwork, at the word of command all the
men with firearms discharged their pieces; then, with shrill cries from
the natives, and a hoarse cheer from the crew of the Good Intent, they
charged in a close line up the slope.

Behind the barricade the men's impatience had only been curbed by the
quiet  imperturbable  manner  of their young leader. But their self
restraint was on the point of breaking down when, short, sharp and clear,
the long-awaited command was given. Their matchlocks flashed; the volley
told with deadly effect at the short range of thirty paces; four or five
men dropped; as many more staggered down the slope; the rest halted
indecisively, in doubt whether to push forward or turn tail.

"Blockheads! cowards!" shouted Diggle in a fury. "Push on, you dogs; we
are four to one!"

He  was  now a very different Diggle from the man Desmond had known
hitherto. His smile was gone; all languor and indolence was lost; his
eyes flashed, his lips met in a hard cruel line; his voice rang out
strong and metallic. That he was no coward Desmond already knew. He put
himself in the forefront of the line, and, as always happens, a brave
leader never lacks followers.

The whole of the seamen and many of the Bengalis surged forward after
him. Behind the breastwork all the men were now mixed up--musketeers with
pikemen  and lathiwallahs. Upon these came the swarming enemy, some
clambering over the carts, others wriggling between the wheels. There was
a babel of cries; the exultant bellow of the born fighter, British or
native; a few pistol shots; the scream of the men mortally hit; the "Wah!
wah!" of the Bengalis applauding their own prowess.

As Diggle had said, the odds were four to one. But the defenders had the
advantage of position, and for a few moments they held the yelling mob at
bay.  The  half pikes of the boatmen were terrible weapons at close
quarters, more formidable than the cutlasses of the seamen balked by the
breastwork, or the loaded bamboo clubs of the lathiwallahs.

Sunman, the mate, was one of the first victims; he fell to a shot from
Bulger. But Parmiter and Diggle, followed by half a dozen of the sailors,
and a score of the more determined lathiwallahs and musketeers with
clubbed muskets, succeeded in clambering to the top of the carts and
prepared to jump down among the defenders, most of whom were busily
engaged in jabbing at the men swarming in between the wheels. Desmond saw
that if his barricade was once broken through the issue of the fight must
be decided by mere weight of numbers.

"Bulger, here!" he cried, "and you, Hossain."

The men sprang to him, and, following his example, leaped on to the cart
next to that occupied by Diggle and Parmiter. Desmond's intention was to
take them in flank. Jumping over the bales of silk, he swung over his
head a matchlock he had seized from one of his peons, and brought it down
with  a  horizontal  sweep.  Two of the Bengalis among the crowd of
lathiwallahs, who were hanging back out of reach of the boatmen's pikes,
were swept off the cart. But the violence of his blow disturbed Desmond's
own balance; he fell on one knee; his matchlock was seized and jerked out
of his hand; and in a second three men were upon him. Bulger and the
serang, although a little late, owing to want of agility in scaling the
cart, were close behind.

"Belay there!" roared Bulger, as he flung himself upon the combatants.

The bullet head of one sturdy badmash cracked like an eggshell under the
butt of the bold tar's musket; a second received the terrible hook square
in the teeth; and a third, no other than Parmiter himself, was caught
round the neck at the next lunge of the hook, and flung, with a mighty
heave, full into the midst of the defenders. Bulger drew a long breath.

At the same moment Diggle, attacked by the serang, was thrown from his
perch on the hackeri and fell among his followers outside the barricade.
There was a moment's lull while both parties recovered their wind. Firing
had  ceased;  to load a matchlock was a long affair, and though the
attackers might have divided and come forward in relays with loaded
weapons, they would have run the risk of hitting their own friends.

It was to be again a hand-to-hand fight. Diggle was not to be denied.
Desmond, who had jumped down inside the barricade when the pressure was
relieved by Bulger, could not but admire the spirit and determination of
his old enemy, though it boded ill for his own chance of escape. He was
weary;  worn out by want of rest and food; almost prostrated by the
terrible heat. Looking round his little fort, he felt a tremor as he saw
that five out of his twenty-four men were more or less disabled. True,
there were now more than a dozen of the enemy in the same or a worse
plight; but they could afford their losses, and Desmond indeed wondered
why  Diggle  did not sacrifice a few men in one fierce overwhelming
onslaught.

"A hundred rupees to the man who kills the young sahib, two hundred to
the man who takes him alive!" cried Diggle to his dusky followers, as
though in answer to Desmond's thought.

Then, turning to the discomfited crew of the Good intent, he said: "Sure,
my men, you will not be beaten by a boy and a one-armed man. There's a
fortune for all of you in those carts. At them again, my men; I'll show
you the way."

He was as good as his word. He snatched a long lathi from one of the
Bengalis and rushed up the slope to the hackeri nearest the nullah.
Finding a purchase for one end of his club in the woodwork of the wagon,
he put forth all his strength in the effort to push it over the edge.
Owing to the length of the lathi he was out of reach of the half pikes in
the hands of the boatmen, who had to lunge either over or under the
carts.

His unaided strength would have been unequal to the task of moving the
hackeri, heavily laden as it was, resting on soft soil, and interlocked
with the next. But as soon as his followers saw the aim of his movements,
and especially when they found that the defenders could not touch him
without exposing themselves, he gained as many eager helpers as could
bring their lathis to bear upon the two carts.

Meanwhile the defense at this spot was weak, for the men of the Good
Intent had swarmed up to the adjoining carts and were threatening at any
moment to force a way over the barricade. They were more formidable
enemies than the Bengalis.

Slowly the two hackeris began to move, till the wheels of one hung over
the  edge of the nullah. One more united heave, and it rolled over,
dragging the other cart with it and splitting itself into a hundred
fragments  on  the rocky bottom. Through the gap thus formed in the
barricade sprang Diggle, with half a dozen men of the Good Intent and a
score of Bengalis.

Desmond  gathered  his little band into a knot in the center of the
inclosure. Then the brazen sun looked down upon a Homeric struggle.
Bulger, brawny warrior of the iron hook, swung his musket like a flail,
every now and again shooting forth his more sinister weapon with terrible
effect. Desmond, slim and athletic, dashed in upon the enemy with his
half pike as they recoiled before Bulger's whirling musket. The rest, now
a bare dozen, Bengalis though they were, presented still an undaunted
front to the swarm that surged into the narrow space. The hot air grew
hotter with the fight.

To avoid being surrounded, the little band instinctively backed towards
the edge of the nullah. Diggle exulted as they were pressed remorselessly
to the rear. Not a man dreamed of surrender; the temper of the assailants
was indeed so savage that nothing but the annihilation of their victims
would now satisfy them. Yet Diggle once again bethought himself that
Desmond might be worth to him more alive than dead, and in the midst of
the clamor Desmond heard him repeat his offer of reward to the man who
should capture him.

Diggle himself resolved to make the attempt. Venturing too near, he
received an ugly gash from Desmond's pike, promising a permanent mark
from brow to chin. This was too much for him. Beside himself with fury,
he yelled a command to his men to sweep the pigs over the brink, and, one
side of his face livid with rage, the other streaming with blood, he
dashed forward at Bulger, who had come up panting to engage him.

He had well timed his rush, for Bulger's musket was at the far end of its
pendulum  swing,  but the old seaman saw his danger in time. With a
movement of extraordinary agility in a man of his bulk, he swung on his
heel, presenting his side to the rapier that flashed in Diggle's hand.
Parrying the thrust with his hook, he shortened his stump and lunged at
Diggle below the belt. His enemy collapsed as if shot; but his followers
swept forward over his prostrate body, and it seemed as if, in one brief
half minute, the knot of defenders would be hurled to the bottom of the
nullah.

But, at this critical moment, assailants and defenders were stricken into
quietude  by  a  tumultuous cheer, the cheer of Europeans, from the
direction of the gap in the barricade. Weapons remained poised in mid
air; every man stood motionless, wondering whether the interruption came
from friend or foe. The question was answered on the instant.

"Now, men, have at them!"

With a thrill Desmond recognized the voice. It was the voice of Silas
Toley. There was nothing of melancholy in it, nor in the expression of
the New Englander as he sprang, cutlass in hand, through the gap. Slow to
take fire, when Toley's anger was kindled it blazed with a devouring
flame. The crowd of assailants dissolved as if by magic. Before the last
of the crew of the Hormuzzeer, lascars and Europeans, had passed into the
inclosure, the men of the Good Intent and their Bengali allies were
streaming over and under the carts toward the open.

Diggle at the first shock had staggered to his feet and stumbled toward
the barricade. As he reached it, a black boy, springing as it were out of
the earth, hastened to him and helped him to crawl between the wheels of
a cart and down the slope. On the boy's arm he limped toward his horse,
tethered to a tree. A wounded wretch was clumsily attempting to mount.
Him Diggle felled; then he crawled painfully into the saddle and galloped
away, Scipio Africanus leaping up behind.

By this time his followers were dispersing in all directions--all but
eight luckless men who would never more wield cutlass or lathi, and a
dozen who lay on one side or other of the barricade, too hard hit to
move.



Chapter 23: In which there are many moving events; and our hero finds
himself a cadet of John Company.


Diggle's escape passed unnoticed until it was too late to pursue him. At
the sight of Toley and his messmates of the Hormuzzeer, Bulger had let
fall his musket and dropped to the ground, where he sat mopping his face
and crying, "Go it, mateys!" Desmond felt a strange faintness, and leaned
dizzily against one of the hackeris. But, revived by a draft from Mr.
Toley's flask, he thanked the mate warmly, and wanted to hear how he had
contrived to come up in time.

When Desmond's messenger arrived in Calcutta, Mr. Merriman was away up
the river, engaged in very serious business. The messenger had applied to
the governor, to members of the Council, to Captain Minchin and other
officers,  and the reply of one and all was the same: they could do
nothing; it was more important that every man should be employed in
strengthening the defenses of Calcutta than in going upcountry on what
might prove a vain and useless errand. But Toley happened to be in the
town, and learning of the difficulties and perils of his friend Burke,
with the captain's consent he had hastily collected the crew of the
Hormuzzeer, that still lay off the fort, and led them, under the guidance
of the messenger, to support him. Meeting Surendra Nath, and learning
from him that a fight was imminent, he had pushed on with all speed, the
Babu leading the way.

"It was well done," said Desmond warmly. "We owe our lives to you, and
Mr. Merriman his goods. But what was the business that took Mr. Merriman
from Calcutta at this time of trouble?"

"Trouble of his own, Burke," said Mr. Toley. "I guess he'd better have
let the Nawab keep his goods and sent you to look after his womenfolk."

"What do you mean? I left the ladies at Khulna; what has happened to
them?"

"'Tis what Mr. Merriman would fain know. They've disappeared, gone clean
out of sight."

"But the peons?"

"Gone, too. Nothing heard or seen of them."

This serious news came as a shock to Desmond. If he had only known! How
willingly he would have let Coja Solomon do what he pleased with the
goods, and hastened to the help of the wife and daughter Mr. Merriman
held so dear! While in Cossimbazar, he had heard from Mr. Watts terrible
stories of the Nawab's villainy, which no respect of persons held in
check. He feared that if Mrs. Merriman and Phyllis had indeed fallen into
Sirajuddaula's hands, they were lost to their family and friends forever.

But, eager as he was to get back to Calcutta and join Mr. Merriman in
searching for them, he had a strange certainty that it was not to be. The
faintness that he had already felt returned. His head was burning and
throbbing; his ears buzzed; his limbs ached; his whole frame was seized
at moments with paroxysms of shivering which no effort could control.
Unknown to himself the seeds of malarial fever had found a lodgment in
his system. While listening to Toley's story, he had reclined on the
ground. When he tried to rise, he was overcome by giddiness and nausea.

"I am done up," he continued. "Mr. Toley, you must take charge and get
these goods conveyed to Calcutta. Lose no time."

Surendra Nath recognized the symptoms of the disease, and immediately had
a litter improvised for Desmond out of the linen covering of one of the
carts and a couple of muskets. Mr. Toley at once made preparations for
moving on with the convoy. The hackeriwallahs who had driven off the
cattle had not gone far; they had waited in the hope of getting the
bakshish promised them--if not from the young sahib, at least from the
leader of the attacking party, which from its numbers they believed would
gain the day.

The oxen were soon yoked up. Mr. Toley would not wait to recover the
loads of the carts that had toppled into the nullah, nor would he leave
men for that purpose, lest another attack should be made on them from
Hugli. He set off as soon as the teams were ready. Half an hour after
they started, Bulger, walking beside the litter, saw to his dismay that
Desmond had lost consciousness.

It was nearly a fortnight later when Desmond came to himself in his old
bunk on board the Hormuzzeer. He was alone. Lying on his back, feebly
trying to adjust his thoughts to his surroundings, he heard the faint
boom of guns. What was happening? He tried to rise, but all power was
gone from him; he could hardly lift an arm. Even the slight effort was
too much for him, and he swooned again.

When he once more recovered consciousness, he saw a figure by his side.
It was Mr. Toley. Again the distant thunder of artillery fell upon his
ears.

"What is happening?" he asked feebly.

"Almighty be praised!" said Toley fervently, "you're coming safe to port.
Hush! Lie you still. You'll want nussin' like a babby. Never you heed the
popguns; I'll tell you all about them when you're stronger. Food, sleep,
and air; that's my catechism, larned from the surgeon. Bless you, Burke,
I feared you was a done man."

With this Desmond had to be for the time content. But every day he heard
firing, and every day, as he slowly regained strength, he became more and
more anxious to know what it meant. Toley seemed to have left the ship;
Desmond was tended only by natives.

From them he learned that the Nawab was attacking Calcutta. How were the
defenders  faring?  They  could not tell. He knew how small was the
garrison,  how  weak the fortifications; but, with an English lad's
unconquerable faith in his countrymen's valor, he could not believe that
they could fail to hold their own.

One day, however, he heard no more firing. In the afternoon Mr. Toley
came to his bunk, bringing with him Mr. Merriman himself. The merchant
had his head bound up, and wore his left arm in a sling. He was pale,
haggard, the shadow of his former self.

"What has happened, sir?" cried Desmond the instant he saw him. "Are the
ladies safe?"

"God pity us, Desmond! I shall never see them again. My poor Dora! my
sweet Phyllis! They are lost! All is lost! The Nawab has taken the fort.
We are beaten, shamed, ruined!"

"How did it happen? I heard the firing. Tell me; it can not be so bad as
that. Sure something can be done!"

"Nothing, nothing; we did all we could. 'Twas little; would that Drake
had  heeded our advice! But I am rejoiced to see you on the road to
recovery, dear boy; 'twould have been another nail in my coffin to know
that you had lost your life in doing a service for me. I thank God for
that, from the bottom of my heart."

He pressed Desmond's hand affectionately.

"But tell me, sir; I want to know what has happened. How came you to be
wounded? Sure I am strong enough to hear now; it will do me no harm."

"It cuts me to the heart, Desmond, but you shall know. I was absent when
you were carried to my house--searching for my dear ones. But Dr. Gray
tended you; alas! the good man is now a prisoner. I returned three days
after, driven back from up the river by the advance of the Nawab's army.
I was worn out, distraught; not a trace had I found of my dear wife; she
had vanished; nor of my daughter; nor even of my peons; all had gone.

"And there was trouble enough in Calcutta for me and for all. 'Twas the
very day I returned that the news came of Sirajuddaula's approach. And a
letter from his chief spy was intercepted, addressed to Omichand, bidding
him escape while there was yet time and join the Subah. That seemed to
Mr. Drake clear proof that Omichand was in league with our enemies, and
he had him arrested and thrown into the fort prison. But Mr. Drake never
acts till 'tis too late. He gave orders next to arrest Krishna Das. The
man  barricaded  himself  in his house and beat our peons off, till
Lieutenant Blagg and thirty Europeans drove in his gates. They found a
vast quantity of arms collected there. They stormed Omichand's house
also, where three hundred armed domestics made a stout fight against 'em.
When our men got in--'tis a horrid story--the head jamadar with his own
hands stabbed all his master's women and children, to prevent em falling
into our hands, and then set fire to the place.

"Our men had already been driven out of Tanna fort by Manik Chand, who
had come up with two thousand men and a couple of field pieces. Then came
up Mir Jafar, the Nawab's bakshi {commander in chief}, and began firing
from the Chitpur gate. We got all our women into the fort; the poor
creatures left all they had but their clothes and their bedding. You may
guess the confusion. The natives were flocking out of the town; most of
our servants fled with them; all our cooks were gone, so that though we
had a great stock of food we were like to starve in the midst of plenty.

"But we filled their places with some of the Portuguese who came crowding
into the fort. Two thousand of 'em, men, women, and children, filled the
courtyard, sitting among their bundles of goods, so that we could scarce
move for 'em. The enemy was in the town; they had set light to the Great
Bazaar, and were burning and plundering in the native parts. We fired the
bastis  to the east and south, to deprive 'em of cover; and you may
imagine the scene, Desmond--the blazing sky, the tears and screams of the
women, the din of guns. We wrote to the French at Chandernagore begging
'em to lend us some ammunition, for the most of ours was useless; but
they sent us a genteel reply saying they'd no more than sufficient for
their own needs; yet the wretches made the Nawab a present of two hundred
chests of powder, 'tis said.

"Next day we were besieged in earnest. The Nawab had, we learned, nigh
fifty thousand men, with one hundred and fifty elephants and camels, and
two hundred and fifty Frenchmen working his artillery. Against 'em we had
about five hundred in all, only half of 'em Europeans. What could so few
do against so many? Our officers were all brave enough, but they've had a
slack time, and few of 'em are fit for the work. Ensign Picard, sure, did
wonders, and Lieutenant Smyth defended the north battery with exceeding
skill; but we had not men enough to hold our positions, and step by step
we were driven back.

"'Twas clear we could not hold out long, and on Friday night we held a
council of war, and decided to send the women on board the ships in the
river, to get 'em out of harm's way. Then by heaven! Desmond, two of the
Council shamed 'emselves for ever. Mr. Manningham and Mr. Frankland,
special friends of Mr. Drake, attended the ladies to the ship--'twas the
Dodalay, of which they are owners--and they stayed on board with 'em--the
cowards, to set such an infamous example! And well 'twas followed. 'Tis
scarce credible, but Captain Minchin, our gallant commander, and Mr.
Drake, our noble president, went down to the ghat and had 'emselves rowed
off to the shipping and deserted us: good God! do they deserve the name
of Englishmen? One of our gentlemen standing on the steps was so enraged
that he sent a bullet after the cravens; others did the same, and I would
to heaven that one of their shots had took effect on the wretches! We
made Mr. Holwell governor in the Quaker's place; and I tell you, Desmond,
had we done so before, there would have been a different story to tell
this day.

"Mr. Holwell saw 'twas impossible to withstand the Nawab's hordes much
longer, and spoke for an orderly retreat; but he was overrid by some of
the military officers; and besides, retreat was cut off, for the ships
that had lain in the river moved away, and though we hung out signals
from the fort asking 'em to come back and take us off, they paid no heed;
nay, they stood farther off, leaving us to our fate. What could we do?
Mr. Holwell sent to Omichand in his prison and offered to release him if
he would treat with the Nawab for us. But the Gentoo refused. All he
would do was to write a letter to Manik Chand asking him to intercede for
us. Mr. Holwell threw the letter over the wall among the enemy, and by
heaven! Desmond, never did I suppose Englishmen would be reduced to such
a point of humiliation.

"But 'twas of no effect. The enemy came on with the more determination,
and brought bamboos to scale the walls. We drove 'em off again, but with
frightful loss; twenty-five of our bravest men were killed outright and
sixty wounded. 'Twas there I got my wounds, and 'twould have been all
over with me but for that fine fellow Bulger; he turned aside with his
hook a slashing blow from a scimitar and gave my assailant his quietus.
Bulger fought like a hero, and the very look of him, black with powder
and stained with blood, seemed to drive all the fight out of the Moors
that came his way.

"All this time the shots of the Nawab's cannon annoyed us, not to much
harm, for they were most villainously served; their fire arrows did us
more mischief, flying into the thick of the crowds of screaming women and
children. It made my heart sick to think of the poor innocent people
suffering through the weakness and incompetence and the guilty neglect of
our Council. The heat and the glare, the want of food, the uproar and
commotion--may I never see or hear the like again!

"Yesterday there was a lull in the fighting about midday. The enemy were
still outside the fort, though they had possession of all the houses
around. They showed a flag of truce, whereupon Mr. Holwell writ a letter
asking 'em for terms. But 'twas a trick to deceive us. While we were
resting, waiting the result of the parley, the Moors poured out of their
hiding places and swarmed upon the eastern gate of the fort and the
pallisadoes on the southwest. In the interval many of our common men had
fallen asleep; some, alas! were drunk, so that we had no force to resist
the invaders, who scaled the roof of the godowns on the north wall with
the aid of their bamboos and swept over into the fort.

"Most of us Europeans who were left collected in the veranda in front of
the barracks--you know, between the great gate and the southeast bastion.
Scarce a man of us but was wounded. There we were unmolested, for the
enemy, as soon as they burst into our private rooms, made busy with their
spoil; and, as it appeared, the Nawab had given orders that we were to be
spared.

"At five o'clock he came into the fort in a gay litter and held a durbar
in our Council room, Mir Jafar salaaming before him and making fulsome
compliments on his great victory. Then the wretch sent for Mr. Holwell.
We bade him farewell; sure we thought we should never see him more. But
he returned to us presently, and told us the Nawab was vastly enraged at
the smallness of the treasure he had found; the stories of the French had
led him to expect untold wealth. Omichand and Krishna Das had been took
out of prison, and treated with great affability, and presented by the
Nawab with siropas--robes of honor, a precious token of his favor. But
the Nawab. Mr. Holwell told us, had promised no harm should befall us. A
guard of five hundred gunmen was set over us with matches lighted, and
the sun being now nigh setting, men came with torches, though sure they
were not needed, a great part of the factory being in flames, so that
indeed we feared we should be suffocated. But we were shortly afterwards
told to go into the barracks, nigh the veranda where we stood.

"Then it was that I, by the mercy of God, was enabled to escape. I was at
the end of the veranda, farthest from the barracks. Just as I was about
to move off after the rest, one of the guards came in front of me, and
whispered me to hide behind the last of the thick pillars till he came
for me. I recognized the man: 'twas an old peon of mine. Thank God for a
faithful servant! More dead than alive I did what he said. For hours I
lay there, fearing I know not what, not daring to stir lest some eye
should see me, and suffering agonies from my untended wounds. At last the
man came to me.

"'Sahib,'  he  said,  'you were good to me. I shall save you. Come,
quickly.'

"I got up and stumbled after him. He led me by dark ways out of the fort,
past the new godown, across the burying ground, down to Chandpal ghat.
There I found Mr. Toley awaiting me with a boat, and 'tis thanks to my
old peon and him I now find myself safe."

"And do you know what became of Bulger?" asked Desmond.

"He is with the rest, sorely battered, poor man."

"What will happen to the prisoners? How many are there?"

"There are nigh a hundred and fifty. The Nawab has promised they shall
suffer no harm, and after a night in barracks I suppose he will let 'em
go. We shall drop down the river till we reach the other vessels at
Surman's, and then, by heaven! I shall see what I can do to bring Mr.
Drake to a sense of his duty, and persuade him to come back and take off
the Europeans.

"Sure  this action of Sirajuddaula's will not go unavenged. We have
already sent letters to Madras, and within two months, I hope, succor
will reach us from thence, and we shall chastise this insolent young
Nawab."

"Do you think he will keep his word?--I mean, to do the prisoners no
harm."

"I think so. He has done no harm to Mr. Watts, whom he brought with him
from Cossimbazar; and our people will be more valuable to him alive than
dead. Yes; by this time tomorrow I trust Mr. Holwell and the others will
be  safe on board the ships, and I do not envy Mr. Drake his bitter
experience when the men he has deserted confront him."

While Mr. Merriman was telling his story, the Hormuzzeer was slowly
drifting down the river. At Surman's garden, about five miles south of
Calcutta, it joined the other vessels belonging to British owners, and
dropped anchor. Several gentlemen came on board, eager to learn what had
been the last scene in the tragic drama. Mr. Merriman told them all he
knew, and every one drew a long breath of relief when they learned that
though prisoners, Mr. Holwell and the gallant few who had stuck to their
posts had been assured of good treatment. During the day the vessel
dropped still lower down the river to Budge Budge, running the gauntlet
of a brisk but ineffective fire from Tanna Fort, now in the hands of the
Nawab's troops.

When the Hormuzzeer lay at anchor at Budge Budge, Mr. Merriman explained
to Desmond the plans he had formed for him. The vessel now had her full
cargo, and would sail immediately for Penang. Mr. Merriman proposed that
Desmond should make the voyage. In his weak state the climate of Fulta,
where the Europeans intended to stay until help reached them from Madras,
might prove fatal to him; while the sea air would complete his cure.

His share of the sale price of the Tremukji, together with the Gheria
prize money, amounted to more than a thousand pounds, and this had been
invested for him by his friend.

"For myself," added Merriman, "I shall remain. My wounds are not severe;
I am accustomed to the climate; and though India is now odious to me, I
shall not leave Indian soil until I find traces of my dear wife and
daughter. God grant that by the time you return I shall have some news of
them."

Desmond would have liked to remain with the merchant, but he knew that in
his  weakness  he could do him no service, and he acquiesced in the
arrangement.

That same evening the fugitives received news that made their blood run
cold. Two Englishmen, Messrs. Cooke and Lushington, who had remained
staunchly by Mr. Holwell's side, came from the shore in a small boat and
boarded the Dodalay. Their appearance struck every one with amazement and
horror. Mr. Cooke was a merchant, aged thirty-one; Mr. Lushington a
writer in the Company's service, his age eighteen; but the events of one
night had altered them almost beyond recognition. They said that when the
order had been given to confine them in the barracks, the prisoners had
all expected to pass the night in comparative comfort. What was their
amazement when they were escorted to the Black Hole, a little chamber no
more than eighteen feet square, which was only used as a rule for the
confinement of one or two unruly prisoners. In vain they protested; their
brutal guards forced them, a hundred and forty-six in number, into the
narrow space, and locked the door upon them. It was one of the hottest
nights of the year; there was but one small opening in the wall, and
before long the want of air and the intense heat drove the poor people to
fury. They trampled each other down in their mad attempts to get near the
opening for air and the water which one of their jailers, less brutal
than the rest, handed in to them.

The  horror  of  the  scenes that passed in that small room baffles
description. Men and women in the agonies of thirst and suffocation
fought like tigers. Many prayed their guards to shoot them and end their
sufferings, only to meet with jeers and laughter. Some of the native
officers took pity on them and would have opened the door, but none durst
move without the Nawab's permission, or brave his fury if they roused him
from his sleep. From seven in the evening till six in the morning the
agony continued, and when at length the order came for their release,
only  twenty-three of the hundred and forty-six tottered forth, the
ghastliest wrecks of human beings.

Mr. Holwell and three others were then conveyed as prisoners in a bullock
cart to Omichand's garden, and thence to Murshidabad; the rest were
bidden to go where they pleased.

The news was kept from Desmond. It was not till weeks after that he heard
of the terrible tragedy. Then, with the horror and pity he felt, there
was mingled a fear that Bulger had been among those who perished. The
seaman, he knew, had taken a stout part in the defense of the fort; Mr.
Merriman had not mentioned him as being among the prisoners; it was
possible that he had escaped; but the thought that the brave fellow had
perhaps died in that awful hole made Desmond sick at heart.

Though the season was now at its hottest, the fresh sea air proved a
wonderful tonic to him, and he rapidly regained his strength. The voyage
was slow. The Hormuzzeer beat down the Bay of Bengal against the monsoon
now beginning, and it was nearly two months before she made Penang. She
unloaded there: her cargo was sold at great profit, she being the only
vessel that had for some time left the Hugli; and Desmond found his
capital increased by nearly a hundred per cent. She then took on a cargo
for Madras, where she arrived in the first week of September.

Desmond took the earliest opportunity of going on shore. The roads were
studded with Admiral Watson's fleet, and he learned that Clive was in the
town preparing an expedition to avenge the wrong suffered by the English
in Calcutta. He hastened to obtain an interview with the colonel.

"'Tis no conventional speech when I say I am glad to see you alive and
well, Mr. Burke," said Clive. "Have you come direct from Calcutta?"

"No, sir. I left there some ten weeks ago for Penang."

"Then I have later news of my friend Merriman than you. Poor fellow! He
is distraught at the loss of his wife and girl. I have received several
letters  from him. He spoke of you; told me of what you had done at
Cossimbazar. Gad, sir, you did right well in defending his goods; and I
promise myself if ever I lay hands on that villain Peloti he shall smart
for that piece of rascaldom and many more. Are you still minded to take
service with me?"

"I should like nothing better, sir, but I doubt whether I can think of it
until I see Mr. Merriman."

"Tut, man, that is unnecessary. 'Twas arranged between Mr. Merriman and
me in Bombay that he would release you as soon as a vacancy occurred in
the Company's military establishment. There are several such vacancies
now, and I shall be glad to have a Shropshire man as a lieutenant. I trow
you are not averse to taking a hand in this expedition?"

"No one who knows what happened in Calcutta can be that, sir."

"That is settled, then. I appoint you a cadet in the Company's service."

"Thank you indeed, sir," said Desmond, flushing with pleasure. "I have
longed all my life to serve under you."

"You may find me a hard taskmaster," said Clive, setting his lips in the
grim way that so many had cause to fear.

"When do we start, sir?"

"That I can't say. 'Tis not by my wish we have delayed so long. I will
let you know when I require your services. Meanwhile, make yourself
acquainted with the officers."

Desmond learned from his new comrades that there was some disagreement
among the Madras Council about the command of the expedition. Clive had
volunteered  to lead it as soon as the news of the fall of Calcutta
arrived;  but  he  was inferior in rank to Colonel Adlercron of the
Thirty-ninth Regiment, and that officer was a great stickler for military
etiquette. The Council had some reason for anxiety. They were expecting
to hear, from outcoming ships, of the outbreak of war between France and
England; and as the French were strong in Southern India, it required
much moral courage to weaken the force disposable for the defense of
Madras.

One day, before the matter of the command had been definitely settled,
Desmond received a summons from Clive. He found the great soldier alone.

"You have heard of the discussions in the Council, Mr. Burke," began
Clive without ceremony. "I tell you this: I and no other will command
this expedition. In that confidence I have sent for you. What I have
heard of you speaks well for your readiness and resource, and I think you
could be more useful to me in the Hugli than waiting here until our
respected  Council  can  make  up their minds. The men here are not
acquainted with Bengal. You are: you know the country from Calcutta to
Murshidabad, at all events, and you speak Hindustani with some fluency.
You can serve me best by picking up any information you can get regarding
the enemy's movements. You are willing, I take it, to run some risks?"

"I'll do anything you wish, sir."

"As I expected. Well, you will go at once to Fulta. Not to Mr. Drake:
I've no confidence in him and the other old women who are conducting the
Company's affairs in Bengal. Major Killpatrick, an excellent officer,
left here in June with a small reinforcement. He is now at Fulta. You
will join him. I shall ask him to give you a free hand in going and
coming and collecting information. You understand that in a sense you are
on  secret  service.  I want you to keep an eye particularly on the
movements of the French. 'Tis reported that they are in league with
Sirajuddaula: find out whether that's the case: and gad, sir, if it is,
I'll not be satisfied till I've turned 'em neck and crop out of Bengal.
You'll want money: here are five thousand rupees; if you want more, ask
Major Killpatrick. Now, when can you start?"

"The Hormuzzeer is sailing in ballast tomorrow, sir. She'll go light, and
aboard her I should get to Fulta as quickly as on any other vessel."

"Very well. I trust you: much depends on your work; go on as you have
begun and I promise you Robert Clive won't forget it. Goodby.

"By the way, your duties will take you through the parts where Mrs.
Merriman disappeared. Your first duty is to me, and through me to your
king and country, remember that. But if you can get any news of the
missing ladies, so much the better. Mrs. Merriman is a cousin of my
wife's, and I am deeply concerned about her fate."

Next day the Hormuzzeer sailed, and by the middle of September Desmond
had reached Fulta, and reported himself both to Major Killpatrick and to
Mr. Merriman there.



Chapter 24: In which the danger of judging by appearance is notably
exemplified.


"Sure 'tis a most pleasant engaging young man," said Mrs. Merriman, as
her boat dropped down the river towards Chandernagore. "Don't you think
so, Phyllis?"

"Why, mamma, it does seem so. But 'tis too soon to make up my mind in ten
minutes."

"Indeed, miss! Let me tell you I made up my mind about your father in
five. La, how Merriman will laugh when he hears 'twas Mr. Burke gave him
that scar--

"What is the matter, Munnoo Khan?"

The boat had stopped with a jerk, and the boatmen were looking at one
another with some anxiety. The serang explained that ill luck had caused
the boat to strike a snag in the river, and she was taking in water.

"You clumsy man! The Sahib will be angry with you. Make haste, then; row
harder."

"Mamma, 'tis impossible!" cried Phyllis in alarm. "See, the water is
coming in fast; we shall be swamped in a few minutes!"

"Mercy me. 'Tis as you say! Munnoo Khan, row to the nearest ghat; you see
it there! Sure 'tis a private ghat, belonging to the house of one of the
French merchants. He will lend us a boat. 'Twill be vastly annoying if we
do not reach home before dark."

The men just succeeded in reaching the ghat, on the left bank of the
river about a mile below Chandernagore, before the boat sank. When the
party had landed, Mrs. Merriman sent her jamadar up to the house to ask
for the loan of a boat, or for shelter while one was being obtained from
Chandernagore.

"Tell the Sahib 'tis the bibi of an English sahib," she said. "He will
not refuse to do English ladies a service."

The jamadar shortly returned, followed by a tall dark-featured European
in white clothes. He bowed and smiled pleasantly when he came down to the
ghat, and addressed Mrs. Merriman in French.

"I am happy to be of service, Madam. Alas! I have no boat at hand, but I
shall send instantly to Chandernagore for one. Meanwhile, if you will
have the goodness to come to my house, my wife will be proud to offer you
refreshments, and we shall do our best to entertain you until the boat
arrives.

"Permit me, Madam."

He offered his left hand to assist the lady up the steps.

"I  had  the  mischance  to injure my right hand the other day," he
explained. "It is needful to keep it from the air."

It was thrust into the pocket of his coat.

"The Frenchman is vastly polite," said Mrs. Merriman to her daughter, as
they preceded him up the path to the house. "But there, that is the way
with their nation."

"Hush, mamma!" said Phyllis, "he may understand English.

"I do not like his smile," she added in a whisper.

"La, my dear, it means nothing; it comes natural to a Frenchman. He looks
quite genteel, you must confess; I should not be surprised if he were a
somebody in his own land."

As if in response to the implied question, the man moved to her side,
and, in a manner of great deference, said:

"Your jamadar named you to me, Madam; I feel that I ought to explain who
I  am. My name is Jacques de Bonnefon--a name, I may say it without
boasting, once even better known at the court of his Majesty, King Louis
the Fifteenth, than in Chandernagore. Alas, Madam fortune is a fickle
jade. Here I am now, in Bengal, slowly retrieving by honest commerce a
patrimony of which my lamented father was not too careful."

"There! What did I say?" whispered Mrs. Merriman to her daughter as
Monsieur de Bonnefon went forward to meet them on the threshold of his
veranda. "A noble in misfortune! I only hope his wife is presentable."

They entered the house and were shown into a room opening on the veranda.

"You will pardon my leaving you for a few moments, Mesdames," said their
obliging  host.  "I shall bring my wife to welcome you, and send to
Chandernagore for a boat."

With a bow he left them, closing the door behind him.

"Madame  de  Bonnefon  was taken by surprise, I suppose," said Mrs.
Merriman, "and is making her toilet. The vanity of these French people,
my dear!"

Minutes  passed. Evening was coming on apace; little light filtered
through the chiks. The ladies sat, wondering why their hostess did not
appear.

"Madame takes a long time, my dear," said Mrs. Merriman.

"I  don't like it, mamma. I wish we hadn't come into the stranger's
house."

"Why, my love, what nonsense! The man is not a savage. The French are not
at war with us, and if they were, they do not war on women. Something has
happened to delay Monsieur de Bonnefon."

"I can't help it, mamma; I don't like his looks; I fear something, I
don't know what. Oh, I wish father were here!"

She  got  up and walked to and fro restlessly. Then, as by a sudden
impulse, she went quickly to the door and turned the handle, She gave a
low cry under her breath, and sprang round.

"Mamma! Mamma!" she cried. "I knew it! The door is locked."

Mrs. Merriman rose immediately.

"Nonsense, my dear! He would not dare do such a thing!"

But the door did not yield to her hand, though she pulled and shook it
violently.

"The insolent villain!" she exclaimed.

She had plenty of courage, and if her voice shook, it was with anger, not
fear. She went to the window opening on the veranda, loosed the bars, and
looked out.

"We  can  get  out  here,"  she  said.  "We  will walk instantly to
Chandernagore, and demand assistance from the governor."

But the next moment she shrank back into the room. Two armed peons stood
in the veranda, one on each side of the window. Recovering herself, Mrs.
Merriman went to the window again.

"They will not dare to stop us," she said.

"Let me pass, you men; I will not be kept here."

But the natives did not budge from their post. Only, as the angry lady
flung open one of the folding doors, they closed together and barred the
way with their pikes. Accustomed to absolute subservience from her own
peons, Mrs. Merriman saw at once that insistence was useless. If these
men did not obey instantly they would not obey at all.

"I cannot fight them," she said, again turning back. "The wretches! If
only your father were here!"

"Or Mr. Burke," said Phyllis. "Oh, how I wish he had come with us!"

"Wishing is no use, my dear. I vow the Frenchman shall pay dearly for
this insolence. We must make the best of it."

Meanwhile Monsieur de Bonnefon had gone down to the ghat. But he did not
send  a  messenger to Chandernagore as he had promised. He told the
jamadar, in Urdu, that his mistress and the chota bibi would remain at
his house for the night. They feared another accident if they should
proceed in the darkness. He bade the man bring his party to the house,
where they would all find accommodation until the morning.

In the small hours of that night there was a short sharp scuffle in the
servants' quarters. The Merriman boatmen and peons were set upon by a
score of sturdy men who promptly roped them together, and, hauling them
down to the ghat and into a boat, rowed them up to Hugli. There they were
thrown into the common prison.

In the morning a charge of dacoity {gang robbery} was laid against them.
The story was that they had been apprehended in the act of breaking into
the house of Monsieur Sinfray. Plenty of witnesses were forthcoming to
give evidence against them; such can be purchased outside any cutcherry
in India for a few rupees. The men were convicted. Some were given a
choice between execution and service in the Nawab's army; others were
sentenced  offhand  to a term of imprisonment, and these considered
themselves lucky in escaping with their lives. In vain they protested
their innocence and pleaded that a messenger might be sent to Calcutta;
the Nawab was known to be so much incensed against the English that the
fact of their being Company's servants would probably avail them nothing.

About the same time that the men were being condemned, a two-ox hackeri,
such as was used for the conveyance of pardarnishin {literally, sitting
behind screens} women, left the house of Monsieur de Bonnefon and drove
inland for some five miles. The curtains were closely drawn, and the
people who met it on the road wondered from what zenana the ladies thus
screened from the public gaze had come. The team halted at a lonely house
surrounded by a high wall, once the residence of a zamindar, now owned by
Coja  Solomon  of  Cossimbazar,  and leased to a fellow Armenian of
Chandernagore. It had been hired more than once by Monsieur Sinfray, the
secretary to the Council at Chandernagore and a persona grata with the
Nawab, for al fresco entertainments got up in imitation of the fetes at
Versailles. But of late Monsieur Sinfray had had too much important
business on hand to spare time for such delights. He was believed to be
with Sirajuddaula at Murshidabad, and the house had remained untenanted.

The hackeri pulled up at the gate in the wall. The curtains were drawn
aside; a group of peons surrounded the cart to fend off prying eyes; and
the passengers descended--two ladies clad in long white saris {garment in
one piece, covering the body from head to foot} and closely veiled. A
sleek Bengali had already got out from a palanquin which had accompanied
the hackeri; in a second palanquin sat Monsieur de Bonnefon, who did not
take the trouble to alight.

With many salaams the Bengali led the ladies through the gate and across
the compound towards the house. They both walked proudly erect, with a
gait very different from that of the native ladies who time and again had
followed the same path. They entered the house; the heavy door was shut;
and from behind the screens of the room to which they were led they heard
the hackeri rumbling away.

Monsieur de Bonnefon, as his palanquin was borne off, soliloquized,
ticking off imaginary accounts on the fingers of his left hand; the right
hand  was partly hidden by a black velvet mitten. His reckoning ran
somewhat as follows:

"In account with Edward Merriman:

"Credit--to the hounding out of the Company by his friend Clive: nominal:
I made more outside; to scurrilous abuse in public and private: mere
words; say fifty rupees; to threat to hang me: mere words again: say
fifty rupees. Total credit, say a hundred rupees.

"Debit--to ransom for wife and daughter: two lakhs.

"Balance in my favor, say a hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred
rupees.

"In  a  few  weeks,  Mr. Edward Merriman, I shall trouble you for a
settlement."



Chapter 25: In which our hero embarks on a hazardous mission; and Monsieur
Sinfray's khansaman makes a confession.


On arriving at Fulta, Desmond found that the European fugitives from
Calcutta were living for the most part on board the country ships in the
river,  while the military were cantoned in huts ashore, on a plain
eastward of the town. The avenues leading to their camp were occupied by
Sepoys. Desmond lost no time in making his way to Major Killpatrick's hut
and presenting his credentials.

"Very glad to make your acquaintance," said the major heartily. "Oh yes,
I know all about you. Mr. Merriman has told me of the way you brought his
cargo through from Cossimbazar, and the plucky stand you made against
odds. By Jove, sir, 'twas an amazing good piece of work. You deserved a
commission if any youngster ever did, and I'm glad Mr. Clive has done the
right thing. Let me tell you, Mr. Clive don't make mistakes--in military
matters, that is to say. And Gheria, now: egad, sir, you must have a head
on your shoulders; and that en't flattery; we soldiers en't in the habit
of laying on the butter.

"You did well; and sure you'll be of the greatest use to us here. We need
a few men as are able to keep their heads in a warm place: and, begad, if
they'd such men in Bengal these last months we wouldn't be rotting here
in this fever-haunted place. Why, I've lost thirty-two officers and men
in less than a couple of months, and I'll be lucky if I've fifty fit for
service by the time Mr. Clive arrives. When may we expect him, sir?"

"He couldn't tell me, sir. The Madras Council can't make up their minds
who is to command the expedition, and they're waiting for ships from
home."

Major Killpatrick laughed.

"Why, I know how that will end. With Mr. Stringer Lawrence laid up there
is only one man fit to do this job, and that's Mr. Clive, and the sooner
the gentlemen on their office stools at Madras see that, the better in
the end for everybody.

"Now you're strong again, eh? Got rid of that touch of fever?"

"Yes, sir; I'm as well as ever."

"And want to be doing something, I'll be bound. Well, 'twill need some
thinking, what you've to do. We're badly served with news. We've got
spies, of course; but I don't set much store by native spies in this
country. We've information by the bushel, but when you come to sift it
out there's precious little of it you can trust. And the enemy has got
spies, too--hundreds of 'em. I'll bet my boots there's a regular system
of kasids for carrying news of us to Manik Chand and from him to the
Nawab. If the truth was known, I dare say that rascal knows how many
hairs I have on my bald crown under my wig--if that's any interest to
him.

"Well, I suppose you'll join Mr. Merriman on board one of the ships.
Better chance of escaping the fever there. I'll turn over a thing or two
I have in my mind and send for you when I've done turning."

On the way back to the shore Desmond met the serang who had accompanied
him down the river from Cossimbazar. The man explained that after the
capture of Calcutta his brother Hubbo, the Company's syr serang {head
boatman},  had been impressed into the service of the Nawab, and he
himself  had  been sent by Hubbo to Fulta to assist the Council and
merchants of the Company. He had there met Mr. Merriman, whom in common
with many others he had believed to be dead. Mr. Merriman, having no
immediate need for his services, had willingly permitted him to take his
brother's place in the employment of the Company.

Mr.  Merriman  welcomed  Desmond with quite fatherly affection, and
congratulated him heartily on his appointment. The Hormuzzeer being
unlikely, owing to the complete cessation of trade, to make another
voyage for some months to come, he decided to take up his quarters on
board, and Desmond lived with him as a matter of course.

Desmond was shocked to see the change wrought on his friend by the loss
of  his wife and daughter. All his gay spirits had left him; he had
thinned perceptibly, and his eyes had that strained look which only a
great sorrow can cause.

"I have been thinking it over, Desmond," he said as they sat in the
cabin,  "and  I can only conclude that this is one more of Peloti's
villainies. Good God! had he not done me and mine harm enough? Who else
would be so dead to all sense of right, of decency, as to seize upon two
helpless women? My brother was hanged, Desmond; hanging is too good for
that  scoundrel; but we cannot touch him; he laughs at us; and I am
helpless--helpless!"

"Like you, sir, I have come to believe that you owe this terrible sorrow
to Diggle--I must always call him that. Don't give up heart, sir. What
his motive is, if he has indeed captured the ladies, I cannot tell. It
may be to use them as hostages in case he gets into trouble with us; it
is impossible to see into the black depths of his mind. But I believe the
ladies are safe, and, please God, I shall learn something about them and
maybe bring them back to you."

Desmond waited a couple of days in the hope of receiving a definite task
from Major Killpatrick. But that officer, while an excellent soldier, was
not fertile in expedients. The process of "turning things over in his
mind" did not furnish him with an inspiration.

He came on board the Hormuzzeer one afternoon, and confessed that he
didn't see how Desmond could possibly get up and down the river. Mr.
Merriman reminded him that in the early days of the stay at Fulta, Mr.
Robert Gregory had gone up with requests to the French and Dutch for
assistance. Under cover of a storm he passed Tanna and Calcutta unnoticed
by the Nawab's men.

"The French were very polite, but wouldn't move a finger for us," added
Mr.  Merriman.  "The  Dutch  were more neighborly, and sent us some
provisions--badly needed, I assure you. Mr. Gregory is still with them at
Chinsura."

"If he got through, why shouldn't I?" asked Desmond.

"My dear boy," said Killpatrick, "the river is narrowly watched. The
Moors know that Gregory outwitted them; sure no other Englishman could
repeat the trick. And if you were caught, there's no saying how Manik
Chand might serve you. He seems disposed to be friendly, to be sure: he's
made governor of Calcutta now, and wants to feel his feet. But he's a
weak man, by all accounts; and weak men, when they are afraid, are always
cruel. If he caught an Englishman spying out the land he'd most probably
treat him after oriental methods.

"In fact, the situation between him and us is such," concluded the major
with a laugh, "that he'd be quite justified in stringing you up."

Major Killpatrick left without offering any suggestion. When he had gone
Desmond spent an hour or two in "turning things over in his mind." He
felt that the major was well disposed and would probably jump at any
reasonable scheme that was put before him.

After a period of quiet reflection he sought out Hossain, the serang, and
had a long talk with him. At the conclusion of the interview he went to
see Mr. Merriman. He explained that Hossain wished to return to the
service of a former employer, a native grain merchant in Calcutta, who
did a large trade along the Hugli from the Sandarbands to Murshidabad.
The consent of the Council was required, and Desmond wished Mr. Merriman
to arrange the matter without giving any explanation.

The merchant was naturally anxious to know why Desmond interested himself
in the man, and what he learned drew from him an instant promise to
obtain the Council's consent without delay. Then Desmond made his way to
Major Killpatrick's hut, and remained closeted with that genial officer
till a late hour.

Six weeks later a heavily-laden petala, with a dinghy trailing behind,
was dropping down the river above Hugli. Its crew numbered four. One was
Hossain, the serang, who had left Fulta with Desmond on the day after his
interview with Major Killpatrick. Two were dark-skinned boatmen, Bengalis
somewhat stupid in appearance. The fourth, who was steering, was rather
lighter in hue, as well as more alert and energetic in mien: a lascar, as
Hossain explained in answer to inquiries along the river. He had lately
been employed on one of the Company's vessels, but it had been sunk in
the Hugli during the siege of Calcutta. He was a handy man in a boat, and
very glad to earn a few pice in this time of stagnant trade. Things were
not looking bright for boatmen on the Hugli; as only a few vessels had
left the river from Chandernagore and Chinsura since the troubles began
there was little or no opening for men of the shipwrecked crew.

The petala made fast for the night near the bank, at a spot a little
below Hugli, between that place and Chinsura. When the two Bengalis had
eaten their evening rice, Hossain told them that they might, if they
pleased, take the dinghy and attend a tamasha {entertainment} that was
being held in Chinsura that night in honor of the wedding of one of the
Dutch Company's principal gumashtas. The Bengalis, always ready for an
entertainment of this kind, slipped overboard and were soon rowing down
to Chinsura. Their orders were to be back immediately after the second
watch of the night. Only the lascar and Hossain were left in the boat.

Ten minutes after the men had disappeared from view, the serang lit a
small oil lamp in the tiny cabin. He then made his way to the helm,
whispered a word in the lascar's ear, and took his place. The latter
nodded and went into the cabin. Drawing the curtains, he squatted on a
mattress, took from a hiding place in the cabin a few sheets of paper and
a pencil, and, resting the paper on the back of a tray, began to write.

As he did so he frequently consulted a scrap of paper he kept at his left
hand; it was closely covered with letters and figures, these latter not
Hindustani characters, but the Arabic figures employed by Europeans.

The first line of what he wrote himself ran thus:

29 19 28 19 36 38 32 20 21 39 23 34 19 29 29 35 32 38 24 38 23 32
{constructed from the cipher actually used by Mr. Watts at Murshidabad}.

The letter or message upon which he was engaged was not a lengthy one,
but it took a long time to compose. When it was finished the lascar went
over it line by line, comparing it with the paper at his left hand. Then
he folded it very small, sealed it with a wafer, and, returning to the
serang, said a few words. Whereupon Hossain made a trumpet of his hands,
and, looking toward the left bank, sounded a few notes in imitation of a
bird's warble. The shore was fringed here with low bushes. As if in
answer to the call a small boat darted out from the shelter of a bush; a
few strokes brought it alongside of the petala; and the serang, bending
over, handed the folded paper to the boatman, and whispered a few words
in his ear. The man pushed off, and the lascar watched the boat float
silently down the stream until it was lost to sight.

Dawn was hardly breaking when Major Killpatrick, awakened by his servant,
received from his hands a folded paper which by the aid of a candle he
began to pore over, laboriously comparing it with a small code similar to
that used by the lascar. One by one he penciled on a scrap of paper
certain letters, every now and then whistling between his teeth as he
spelt out the words they made. The result appeared thus:

Magazines for ammunition and stores of grain being prepared Tribeni and
Hugli. Bazaar rumor Nawab about to march with army to Calcutta. Orders
issued Hugli traffic to be strictly watched. Dutch phataks {gate or
barrier} closed. Forth unable leave Chinsura. Tanna Fort 9 guns; opposite
Tanna 6 guns; Holwell's garden 5 guns; 4 each Surman's and Ganj; 2 each
Mr. Watts' house, Seth's ghat, Maryas ghat, carpenter's yard.

"Egad!" he exclaimed, on a second reading of the message, "the boy's a
conjurer. This is important enough to send to Mr. Clive at once. But I'll
make a copy of it first in case of accident."

Having made his copy and sealed the original and his first transcription,
he  summoned his servant and bade him send for the kasid. To him he
intrusted the papers, directing him to convey them without loss of time
to Clive Sahib, whom he might expect to find at Kalpi.

It was December thirteenth. Two months before, the fleet containing
Colonel Clive and the troops destined for the Bengal expedition had
sailed from Madras. The force consisted of two hundred and seventy-six
king's troops, six hundred and seventy-six of the Company's, about a
thousand Sepoys, and two hundred and sixty lascars. They were embarked on
five of the king's ships, with Admiral Watson in the Kent, and as many
Company's vessels.

Baffling winds, various mishaps, and the calms usual at this time of the
year had protracted the voyage, so seriously that the men had to be put
on a two-thirds allowance of rations. Many of the European soldiers were
down with scurvy, many of the Sepoys actually died of starvation, having
consumed all their rice, and refusing to touch the meat provided for the
British soldiers, for fear of losing caste. When the admiral at length
arrived at Fulta, he had only six of the ten ships with which he started,
two that had parted company arriving some ten days later, and two being
forced to put back to Madras, under stress of weather.

While the Kent lay at Kalpi Clive received the message sent him by Major
Killpatrick,  and was visited by Mr. Drake and other members of the
Council, from whom he heard of the sickness among the troops. On arriving
at Fulta he at once went on shore and visited the major.

"Sorry to hear of your sad case, Mr. Killpatrick," he said. "We're very
little better off. But we must make the best of it. I got your note.
'Twas an excellent greeting. Young Burke is a capital fellow; I have not
mistook his capacity."

"Faith, 'twas what I told him, sir. I said Colonel Clive never mistook
his men."

"Well,  if  that's  true,  what  you said won't make him vain. This
information is valuable: you see that. Have you heard anything more from
the lad?"

"Nothing, sir."

"And you can't communicate with him?"

"No, 'twas a part of his scheme never to let me know his whereabouts, in
case the messages miscarried."

"So; 'twas his scheme, not yours?"

"Egad, sir, I've no head for that sort of thing," said Killpatrick with a
laugh. "Give me a company, and a wall to scale or a regiment to charge,
and--"

"My dear fellow," interrupted Clive, "we all know the king has no better
officer. Credit where credit is due, major, and you're not the man to
grudge this youngster his full credit for an uncommonly daring and clever
scheme. Did you see him in his disguise?"

"I did, sir, and at a distance he took in both Mr. Merriman and myself."

"Well, he's a boy to keep an eye on, and I only hope that tigers or
dacoits or the Nawab's Moors won't get hold of him; he's the kind of lad
we can't spare. Now, let me know the state of your troops."

When he had sent off his note to Major Killpatrick, Desmond enjoyed a
short spell on deck preparatory to turning in. Hossain was placidly
smoking his hubblebubble; from the far bank of the Hugli came the mingled
sounds of tom toms and other instruments; near the boat all was quiet,
the wavelets of the stream lapping idly against the sides, the stillness
broken only by the occasional howl of a jackal prowling near the bank in
quest of the corpses of pious Hindus consigned to the sacred waters of
the Ganges.

Desmond was half dozing when he was startled into wakefulness by a sudden
clamor from the native town. He heard shots, loud cries, the hideous
blare of the Bengal trumpets. For half an hour the shouts continued
intermittently; then they gradually died away.

Wondering whether the tamasha had ended in a tumult, Desmond was about to
seek his couch, when, just beneath him, as it seemed, he heard a voice--a
feeble cry for help. He sprang up and looked over the side. Soon a dark
head appeared on the water. With a cry to the serang to cast loose and
row after him, Desmond took a header into the stream, and with a few
strokes gained the drowning man's side.

He was clearly exhausted. Supporting him with one arm, Desmond struck out
with the other, and being a strong swimmer he reached the stern of the
boat even before the serang had slipped his moorings. With Hossain's aid
he lifted the man into the boat, and carried him to the cabin. He was all
but unconscious.

A mouthful of arrack {fermented liquor made from rice or the juice of the
palm} from the serang's jar revived him. No sooner was he in command of
his breath than he implored his rescuers for their help and protection.
He had escaped, he said, from Hugli Fort, not without a gunshot wound
behind his shoulder. He spoke in Bengali. Seeing that he was too much
exhausted and agitated to tell his story that night, Desmond bade the
serang assure him of his safety. Then they made shift to tend his wound,
and, comforting him with food and drink, left him to sleep and recover.

The two Bengalis who had been to Chinsura returned before they were
expected. They had been alarmed by the uproar. As soon as they were
aboard Desmond decided to drop a mile or two farther down the river. The
boat coming to a ghat below Chandernagore, the serang ordered the men to
pull in, and tied up for the night.

In the morning the Bengalis were despatched on some errand along the
bank, and the coast being clear Desmond went with the serang to the
wounded man to learn particulars of the escape. The Bengali had now
almost wholly recovered, and was very voluble in his gratitude for his
rescue. Happening to glance towards the bank, he suddenly uttered an
exclamation of fear, and begged the serang with frantic waving of the
hands to leave the spot at once.

"Why, O brother, this fear?" asked Hossain.

"I will tell you. It is a great fear. Just before the coming of the rains
I was at Khulna. There I was hired by the head serang of a lady traveling
to Calcutta. She was the wife of a burra sahib of the great Company, and
with  her  was  her  daughter.  All  went  well  until we came near
Chandernagore; we struck a snag; the boat sprang a leak; we feared the
bibis would be drowned. We rowed to this very ghat; a sahib welcomed the
ladies; they went into his house yonder. Presently he sent for us; we
lodged with his servants; but in the night we were set upon, bound, and
carried to Hugli. False witnesses accused us of being dacoits; we were
condemned; and I was confined with others in the prison.

"Always since then have I looked for a chance of escape. It came at last.
Some of the jailers went last night to the tamasha at Chinsura. I stole
out and got away. A sentry fired upon me, and hit me; but I am a good
swimmer and I plunged into the river. You know all that happened then, O
serang, and I beseech you leave this place; it is a dreadful place; some
harm will come to us all."

Desmond's knowledge of Bengali was as yet slight, and he caught only
portions of the man's narrative. But he understood enough to convince him
that he was at last on the track of the missing ladies; and when, shortly
afterwards,  Hossain  gave  him  in Urdu the whole of the story, he
determined at once to act on the information.

On the return of the two Bengalis, he arranged with the serang to set
them at work on some imaginary repairs to the boat: that pretext for
delay  was  as  good as another. Then, Hossain having reassured the
fugitive, he himself landed and made his way up to the house.

It was closed. There was no sign of its being inhabited. But about a
hundred yards from the gate Desmond saw a basti {block of native huts},
and from one of the huts smoke was issuing. He sauntered up. Before the
door, lolling in unstudied dishabille, squatted a bearded, turbaned
Mohammedan, whom from his rotundity Desmond guessed to be the khansaman
of the big house.

"Salaam aleikam {peace be with you!}, khansaman!" said Desmond suavely.
"Pardon the curiosity of an ignorant sailor from Gujarat. What nawab owns
the great house yonder?"

The khansaman, beaming in acknowledgment of the implied compliment to his
own importance, replied:

"To Sinfray Sahib, worthy khalasi."

"The great Sinfray Sahib of Chandernagore? Surely that is a strange
thing!"

"Strange! What is strange? That Sinfray Sahib should own so fine a house?
You should see his other house in Chandernagore: then indeed you might
lift your eyes in wonder."

"Nay, indeed, I marveled not at that, for Sinfray Sahib is indeed a great
man. We who dwell upon the kala pani know well his name. Is it not known
in the bazaars in Pondicheri and Surat? But I marvel at this, khansaman:
that  on one day, this day of my speaking to you, I should meet the
sahib's most trusty servant, as I doubt not you are, and also the man who
has  sworn revenge upon the owner of this house--ay, and on all the
household."

"Bismillah! {'in the name of Allah!'--a common exclamation}" exclaimed
the khansaman, spitting out his betel. He was thoroughly interested, but
as yet unconcerned. "What do you mean, khalasi?"

"I parted but now, on the river, from a fellow boatman who of late has
lain in prison at Hugli, put there, they say, by order of Sinfray Sahib.
He is not a dacoit; no man less so; but false witnesses rose up against
him. And, I bethink me, he said that the sahib's khansaman was one of
these men with lying lips.

"Surely he was in error; for your face, O khansaman, is open as the sun,
your lips are fragrant with the very attar of truth. But he is filled
with rage and fury; in his madness he will not tarry to inquire. If he
should meet you--well, it is the will of Allah: no man can escape his
fate."

The khansaman, as Desmond spoke, looked more and more distressed; and at
the last words his face was livid.

"It is not true," he said. "But I know the blind fury of revenge. Do thou
entreat him for me. I will pay thee well. I have saved a few pice {coin,
value one-eighth of a penny}. It will be worth five rupees to thee; and
to make amends to the madman, I will give him fifty rupees, even if it
strips me of all I have. Allah knows it was not my doing; it was forced
upon me."

"How could that be, khansaman?" said Desmond, letting pass the man's
contradictory statements.

"It is not necessary to explain; my word is my word."

"No doubt; but so enraged is the khalasi I speak of that unless I can
explain to him fully he will not heed me. Never shall I dissuade him from
his purpose."

"It is the will of Allah!" said the khansaman resignedly. "I will tell
you. It was not Sinfray Sahib at all. He was at the Nawab's court at
Murshidabad. He had lent his house to a friend while he was absent. The
friend had a spite against Merriman Sahib, the merchant at Calcutta; and
when the bibi and the chota bibi came down the river he seized them.
Sinfray Sahib believes there was an attack by dacoits; but the bibi's
peons were carried away by the sahib's friend: it was he that brought the
evidence against them. The Angrezi Sahib induced me to swear falsely by
avouching that Sinfray Sahib was also an enemy of Merriman Sahib; but
when the judge had said his word the sahib bade me keep silence with my
master, for he was ignorant of it all. The Angrezi Sahib is a terrible
man: what could I do? I was afraid to speak."

"And what was the name of the Angrezi Sahib?"

"His name?--It was Higli--no, Digli Sahib--accursed be the day I first
saw him."

Desmond drew a long breath.

"And what became of the bibi and the chota bibi?"

"They were taken away."

"Whither?"

"I do not know."

The answer was glib; Desmond thought a little too glib.

"Why then, khansaman," he said, "I fear it would be vain for me to reason
with the man I spoke of. He has eaten the salt of Merriman Sahib; his
lord's injury is his also. But you acted for the best. Allah hafiz! that
will be a morsel of comfort even if this man's knife should find its way
between your ribs. Not every dying man has such consolation. Live in
peace, good khansaman."

Desmond, who had been squatting in the oriental manner--an accomplishment
he had learned with some pains at Gheria--rose to leave. The khansaman's
florid cheeks again put on a sickly hue, and when the seeming lascar had
gone a few paces he called him back.

"Ahi, excellent khalasi. I think--I remember--I am almost sure I can
discover where the two bibis are concealed."

"Inshallah!  {'please  God!'--a  common exclamation} That is indeed
fortunate," said Desmond, turning back. "There lies the best chance of
averting the wrath of this much-wronged man."

"Wait but a little till I have clad myself duly; I will then go to a
friend yonder and inquire."

He went into his hut and soon returned clothed in the garments that
befitted his position. Walking to a hut at the end of the block, he made
pretense, Desmond suspected, of inquiring. He was soon back.

"Allah is good!" he said. "The khitmatgar yonder tells me they were taken
to a house three coss {the coss is nearly two miles} distant, belonging
to the great faujdar Manik Chand. It is rented from him by Digli Sahib,
who is a great friend of his Excellency."

"Well, khansaman, you will show me the way to the house."

But the khansaman appeared to have donned, with his clothes, a sense of
his own importance. The authoritative tone of the lascar offended his
dignity.

"Who are you, scum of the sea, that you tell a khansaman of Bengal what
he shall do? Hold your tongue, piece of seaweed, or by the beard of the
Prophet--"

The threat was never completed, for Desmond, stepping up close to the
man, caught him by the back of the neck and shook him till his teeth
rattled in his head.

"Quick! Lead the way! Foolish khansaman, do you want your fat body shaken
to a jelly? That is the way with us khalasis from Gujarat. Quick, I say!"

"Hold, khalasi!" panted the khansaman; "I will do what you wish. Believe
me, you are the first khalasi from Gujarat I have seen--"

"Or you would not have delayed so long. Quick, man!"

With a downcast air the man set off. The sun was getting high; being fat
and soft, the khansaman was soon in distress. But Desmond allowed him no
respite. In about two hours they arrived at the house he had mentioned.
The gate was ajar; the door broken open. Hastily entering, Desmond knew
instinctively by the appearance of the place that it was deserted.

He went through the house from bottom to top. Not a living person was to
be seen. But in one of the rooms his quick eye caught sight of a small
hairpin such as only a European woman would use. He picked it up. In
another room a cooking pot had been left, and it was evident that it had
but lately been used. The simple furniture was in some disorder.

The khansaman had with much labor managed to mount the stairs.

"Allah is Allah!" he said. "They are gone!"



Chapter 26: In which presence of mind is shown to be next best
to absence of body.


The khansaman's surprise was clearly genuine, and Desmond refrained from
visiting on him his disappointment. Bitter as that was, his alarm was
still  more  keen.  What had become of the ladies! With all his old
impulsiveness he had come to rescue them, never pausing to think of what
risks he himself might run. And now they were gone! Could Diggle have
suspected that his carefully-hidden tracks were being followed up, and
have removed the prisoners to some spot remoter from the river? It was
idle to speculate; they were gone; and there was no obvious clue to their
whereabouts.

The khansaman, limp and damp after his unwonted exercise, had squatted on
the floor and was fanning himself, groaning deeply. Desmond went to the
window of the room and looked out over the country; wondering, longing,
fearing. As he gazed disconsolately before him, he caught sight of a
party of horsemen rapidly approaching. Bidding the khansaman stifle his
groans, he watched them eagerly through the chiks of the window. Soon a
dozen native horsemen cantered up to the front gate and drew rein.

One of them, clad in turban of gold tissue, short blue jacket lavishly
decorated with gold, and crimson trousers, bade the rest dismount. He was
a tall man, a handsome figure in his fine array. He wore a sword with
hilt inlaid with gold, the scabbard covered with crimson velvet; and in
his girdle was stuck a knife with agate handle, and a small Moorish
dagger ornamented with gold and silver.

He stood for a time gazing as in perplexity at the broken gateway. His
face was concealed by his turban from Desmond, looking from above. But
when he directed his glance upward, Desmond, peering through the chiks,
could scarcely believe his eyes. The features were those of Marmaduke
Diggle. His heart thumped against his ribs. Never, perhaps, in the whole
course  of  his  adventures,  had he been in such deadly peril. The
appearance of the party had been so sudden, and he had been so deeply
engrossed with his musings, that he had not had time to think of his own
situation.

"Come, son of a pig," said Diggle at length, throwing himself from his
horse and beckoning to his syce, "we will search the place. There must be
something to show who the dacoits were."

He strode into the compound, followed by his trembling servant.

"Indeed, huzur," said the man in shrill tones of excuse, "we did our
best. But they were many: our livers were as water."

"Chup {shut up}, pig! Wait till you are spoken to," exclaimed Diggle,
turning angrily upon him.

"Achha, sahib! bahut achha, sahib {good, sahib--very good, sahib}!"

A vicious kick cut short his protestations, and the two passed out of
hearing of the two watchers above, the khansaman having brought his
quivering flabbiness to Desmond's side. Diggle passed into the entrance
hall, the native horsemen waiting like statues at the gate.

"It is the sahib!" whispered the shaking khansaman to Desmond: "Digli
Sahib. He will kill me. He is a tiger."

"Silence, fool!" said Desmond sternly: "there must be a way out.

"Jeldi jao {go quickly}! we shall be too late."

The man seemed glued to the spot with fear. The footsteps of Diggle could
be heard in the rooms below. In a few minutes he would reach the upper
story; then it would indeed be too late to flee. If they could gain the
back staircase they might slip down and hide in the garden. But fright
appeared to have bereft the khansaman of all power of movement.

Yet Desmond, for more than one reason, was unwilling to leave him. He
knew  what  Diggle's tender mercies were; but he also knew that the
khansaman, if discovered, would certainly try to purchase his safety by
betraying his companion. So, without more ado, seizing him by the neck,
Desmond shook him vigorously.

"Come!" he said in a fierce whisper, "or I shall leave you to face the
sahib alone."

This summary treatment shocked the man from his stupor. Stepping on
tiptoe he darted across the room, through the door communicating with a
room beyond, into a narrow passageway at the rear of the house. Here was
a second staircase leading downwards to the servants' quarters.

"Wait there," said Desmond when they were halfway down. "If you hear any
one coming up, rejoin me above."

He himself crept noiselessly back to the upper floor. No sooner had he
reached the top than he heard Diggle moving in the room he had recently
left. He darted to a khashkas {a fragrant plant whose roots are used for
making screens} curtain, through the meshes of which he could see into
the two intercommunicating rooms. Diggle was carefully searching the
apartment; he clearly knew it was the one lately occupied by the ladies.

As he stooped to pick up a cushion that lay on the floor beside a divan,
his eye was caught by a scrap of crumpled paper. He snatched at it like a
hawk and with quick fingers straightened it out--the fingers of the
mittened hand that Desmond knew so well. On the paper was writing; the
characters were English, but Diggle appeared to have some difficulty in
making them out.

"'Your servant Surendra Nath Chuckerbutti,'" he said slowly, aloud.

"Who is Surendra Nath Chuckerbutti?" he asked his man, standing behind.

"Truly, huzur, I know not. It is a common name in Bengal--a vile Hindu;
an unbeliever--"

"How did this paper come here?" cried Diggle impatiently.

"How should I know, sahib? I am a poor man, an ignorant man; I do not
read--"

"Come with me and search the back of the house," said Diggle, turning
away with an oath.

Desmond stepped noiselessly across the floor and joined the khansaman.
They made their way out stealthily down the stairs, through the garden at
the back, into a mango grove. There they remained hidden until Diggle,
finding his search fruitless, remounted with his men and galloped away.

Desmond felt in a maze of bewilderment. It was clear that Diggle was
ignorant of the whereabouts of the ladies; where had they been spirited
to, and by whom? Apparently there had been an attack on the house, and
they had been carried away: was it by friends or foes? What was the
meaning of the paper found by Diggle? Had the Babu had any hand in the
latest disappearance, or was it his letter that had put someone else on
their track? Desmond had heard nothing of Surendra Nath or his father
since the sack of Calcutta.

There  was no clue to the solution of the problem. Meanwhile it was
necessary to get back to Calcutta. The journey had been delayed too long
already, and Hossain's employer, the grain merchant, would have good
reason for complaint if he felt that his business was being neglected.

"We must go, khansaman," said Desmond in sudden determination.

The  man was nothing loath. They returned by the way they had come.
Desmond left the man some distance short of Sinfray's house, promising,
in return for his assistance, to use his best offices with the irate
manjhi {steersman} on his behalf. Then he struck off for the point lower
down the river where his boat was moored. As soon as he arrived they got
under way, and late that evening reached Tanna Fort, where they had to
deliver their cargo of rice for the use of the Nawab's garrison.

In the dead of night they were surprised by a visit from Hubbo, the
serang's brother. He had seen them as they passed from one of the sloops
that lay in the river opposite the fort. Though chief in command of the
Nawab's  vessels  at that point, he was still secretly loyal to the
Company, and was anxious to serve their interests to the best of his
power.

He had now brought important news. The three sloops and two brigantines
that lay off the fort were, he said, filled with earth. On the approach
of  Admiral Watson's fleet they were to be scuttled and sunk in the
fairway. A subahdar {equivalent to colonel of infantry} of Manik Chand's
force was at present on board one of the sloops, to superintend the work
of scuttling. The signal would be given by the subahdar himself from his
sloop.

"Very well, Hubbo," said Desmond, "that signal must not be given."

"But how prevent it, sahib? I wish well to the Company; have I not eaten
their salt? But what can one man do against many? The subahdar is a very
fierce man; very zabburdasti {masterful}. When he gives the word it will
be death to disobey."

Desmond sat for some time with his chin in his hands, thinking. Then he
asked:

"Do you know where the British fleet is at present?"

"Yes, sahib. I was in the bazaar today; it was said that this morning the
ships were still at Fulta. The sepoys are recovering from the privations
of the voyage."

"We shall drop down the river tomorrow as soon as we have unloaded our
cargo. You may expect us back ahead of the fleet, so keep a good lookout
for us. I shall take care that Mr. Drake is informed of your fidelity,
and you will certainly be well rewarded."

Early in the morning the cargo was unloaded; then, under pretense of
taking in goods at Mayapur, the petala dropped down the river and gained
Fulta under cover of night.

Next morning Desmond, having resumed his ordinary attire, sought an
interview with Clive.

"The very man I wished to see," said Clive, shaking hands. "Your scouting
is  the  one  ray  of light in the darkness that covers the enemy's
arrangements. You have done remarkably well, and I take it you would not
be here unless you had something to tell me."

Desmond gave briefly the information he had learned from Hubbo.

"That's the game, is it?" said Clive. "A pretty scheme, egad! 'Twill be
fatal to us if carried out. 'Twould put a spoke in the admiral's wheel
and throw all the work on the land force. That's weak enough, what with
Mr. Killpatrick's men dying off every day--he has only thirty left--and
my own Sepoys mostly skeletons. And we haven't proved ourselves against
the Nawab's troops; I suppose they outnumber us thirty to one, and after
their success at Calcutta they'll be very cock-a-hoop. Yet 'tis so easy
to sink a few ships, especially if preparations have been made long in
advance, as appears to be the case."

"I think, sir, it might be prevented."

Clive, who had been pacing up and down in some perturbation of mind, his
head bent, his hands clasped behind him, halted, looked up sharply, and
said:

"Indeed! How?"

"If we could get hold of the subahdar."

"By bribing him? He might not be open to bribery. Most of these native
officials are, but there are some honest men among them, and he may be
one.  He wouldn't have been selected for his job unless Manik Chand
thought  him  trustworthy.  Besides,  how  are we going to get into
communication with him? And even if we did, and filled him to the brim
with  rupees, how are we to know he wouldn't sell us in turn to the
enemy?"

"But there are other ways, sir. We can depend on Hubbo, and if I might
suggest, it would pay to promise him a rich reward if he managed to keep
the passage clear."

"Yes, I agree. What reward would be most effective?"

"A few hundred rupees and the post of syr serang in the Company's service
when Calcutta is retaken."

"Not too extravagant! Well, I shall see Mr. Drake; the offer had better
come from him and reach Hubbo through his brother."

"And then, sir, it ought not to be impossible to secure the subahdar
himself when the moment arrives."

Clive looked at the bright eager countenance of the boy before him.

"Upon my word, my lad," he said, "I believe you can do it. How, I don't
know; but you have shown so much resource already that you may be able to
help us in this fix--for fix it is, and a bad one. 'Tis the will that
counts; if one is only determined enough no difficulty is insuperable--a
lesson that our friends from Calcutta might take to heart. But have you a
plan?"

"Not at present, sir. I should like to think it over; and if I can hit on
anything that seems feasible I should be glad of your leave to try."

"By all means, my lad. If you fail--well, no one will be more sorry than
I, for your sake. If you succeed, you will find that I shall not forget.

"There's  one thing I want to ask you before you go. Have you heard
anything of my friend Merriman's ladies?"

"Yes,  sir;  and,  as I suspected, Diggle is at the bottom of their
disappearance."

He related the series of incidents up the river.

"Dressed like a native, was he? And looked like a risaldar {officer
commanding a troop of horse}? There's no end to that fellow's villainy.
But his day of reckoning will come; I am sure of it, and the world will
be none the worse for the loss of so vile a creature. If you take my
advice you'll say nothing to Mr. Merriman of this discovery. 'Twould only
unsettle the poor man. He had better know nothing until we can either
restore the ladies to him or tell him that there is no hope."

"I don't give up hope, sir. They're alive, at any rate; and Diggle has
lost them. I feel sure we shall find them."

"God grant it, my lad."



Chapter 27: In which an officer of the Nawab disappears; and Bulger
reappears.


"This will be my last trip, sahib, for my present master. He says I waste
too much time on the river. He also complains that I go to places without
leave and without reason. He heard we were at Mayapur, and wanted to know
why. I made excuses, sahib; I said whatever came into my head; but he was
not satisfied, and I leave his service in a week."

"That is a pity, Hossain. Unless we are in the service of some well-known
banya we cannot go up and down the river without exciting suspicion.
However, let us hope that before the week is out the fleet will be here."

Desmond  looked  a  little  anxious. The success of his project for
preventing the fouling of the passage at Tanna Fort was more than ever
doubtful. The petala was moored opposite the Crane ghat at Calcutta,
taking  in a cargo of jawar {millet} for Chandernagore. The work of
loading had been protracted to the utmost by the serang; for Desmond did
not wish to leave the neighborhood of Calcutta at the present juncture,
when everything turned upon their being on the spot at the critical
moment.

While they were talking, a man who had every appearance of a respectable
banya approached the plank over which the coolies were carrying the jawer
on board. He stood idly watching the work, then moved away, and squatted
on a low pile of bags which had been emptied of their contents. For a
time the serang paid no apparent heed to him; but presently, while the
coolies were still busy, he sauntered across the plank and strolling to
the onlooker exchanged a salaam and squatted beside him. Passers by might
have caught a word or two about the grain market; the high prices; the
difficulties of transit; the deplorable slackness of trade; the infamous
duplicity of the Greek merchants. At last the banya rose, salaamed, and
walked away.

As he did so the serang carelessly lifted the bag upon which the banya
had been sitting, and, making sure that he was not observed, picked up a
tiny ball of paper scarcely bigger than a pea. Waiting a few moments, he
rose and sauntered back on board. A minute or two later the lascar in the
after part of the boat was unobtrusively examining the scrap of paper. It
contained three words and an initial:

Tomorrow about ten.--C.

A change had been made in the composition of Hossain's crew since the
incident  at  Sinfray's house. One day Desmond had found one of the
Bengalis rummaging in the corner of the cabin where he was accustomed to
keep his few personal belongings. Hossain had dismissed the man on the
spot. The man saved from the river had been kept on the boat and proved a
good  worker,  eager, and willing to be of use. He was an excellent
boatman,  a  handy  man generally, and, for a Bengali, possessed of
exceptional physical strength. At Desmond's suggestion Hossain offered
him the vacant place, and he at once accepted it.

Since his rescue he had shown much gratitude to Desmond. He was quick
witted, and had not been long on board before he felt that the khalasi
was not quite what he appeared to be. His suspicion was strengthened by
the deference, slight but unmistakable, paid by the serang to the lascar;
for though Desmond had warned Hossain to be on his guard, the man had
been unable to preserve thoroughly the attitude of a superior to an
inferior.

On receiving the short message from Clive, Desmond had a consultation
with Hossain. The coolies had finished their work and received their pay,
and there was nothing unusual in the sight of the boatmen squatting on
deck before loosing their craft from its moorings.

"If we are to do what we wish to do, Hossain," said Desmond, "we shall
require a third man to help us. Shall we take Karim into our confidence?"

"That is as you please, sahib. He is a good man, and will, I think, be
faithful."

"Well, send the other fellow on shore; I shall speak to the man."

The  serang  gave the second of the two Bengalis who had formed his
original crew an errand on shore. Desmond beckoned up the new man.

"Are  you willing to undertake a service of risk, for a big reward,
Karim?" he asked.

The man hesitated.

"It will be worth a hundred rupees to you."

Karim's eyes sparkled; a hundred rupees represented a fortune to a man of
his class; but he still hesitated.

"Am I to be alone?" he asked at length.

"No," said Desmond; "we shall be with you."

"Hai! If the sahib"--the word slipped out unawares--"is to be there it is
fixed. He is my father and mother: did he not save me from the river? I
would serve him without reward."

"That is very well. All the same the reward shall be yours--to be paid to
you if we succeed, to your family if we fail. For if we fail it will be
our last day: they will certainly shoot us. There is time to draw back."

"If the sahib is to be there I am not afraid."

"Good. You can go aft. We shall tell you later what is to be done. And
remember, on this boat I am no sahib. I am a khalasi from Gujarat."

"I shall remember--sahib."

Desmond  told  the serang that the help of the man was assured, and
discussed with him the enterprise upon which he was bent. He had given
his word to Clive that the blocking of the river should be prevented, and
though the task bade fair to be difficult he was resolved not to fail.
The vessels that were to be sunk in the fairway were moored opposite the
fort  at  a distance of about a ship's length from one another. The
subahdar was on the sloop farthest down the river, Hubbo on the next.
With the subahdar there were three men. The signal for the scuttling of
the vessels was to be the waving of a green flag by the subahdar; this
was to be repeated by Hubbo, then by the serang on the sloop above him,
and so on to the end. The vessels were in echelon, the one highest up the
river lying well over to the left bank and nearest to the fort, the rest
studding the fairway so that if they sank at their moorings it would be
impossible for a ship of any size to thread its way between them. It did
not appear that anything had been done to insure their sinking broadside
to  the  current, the reason being probably that, whatever might be
attempted  with this design, the river would have its will with the
vessels as soon as they sank.

"Our only chance," said Desmond, "is to get hold of the subahdar. If we
can only capture him the rest should be easy--especially as Hubbo is on
the next sloop, which screens the subahdar's from the rest. It is out of
speaking distance from the fort, too--another piece of luck for us. I
shall think things over in the night, Hossain; be sure to wake me, if I
am not awake, at least a gharri {half an hour} before dawn."

It was the first of January, 1757. At half-past seven in the morning a
heavily-laden petala was making its way slowly against the tide down the
Hugli. Four men were on board; two were rowing, one was at the helm, the
fourth stood looking intently before him. The boat had passed several
vessels lying opposite Tanna Fort, at various distances from the bank,
and came abreast of the last but one. There the rowers ceased pulling at
an order from the man standing, who put his hand to his mouth and hailed
the sloop.

An answer came from a man on deck inviting the caller to come on board.
With a few strokes of the oars the petala was run alongside, and Hossain
joined his brother.

"Is it well, brother?" he said.

"It is well," replied Hubbo.

Desmond at the helm of the petala looked eagerly ahead at the last sloop
of the line. He could see the subahdar on deck, a somewhat portly figure
in resplendent costume. A small dinghy was passing between his vessel and
the shore. It contained a number of servants, who had brought him his
breakfast from the fort. The crews of the other vessels had prepared
their food on board.

After a time a dinghy was let down from Hubbo's sloop. Hubbo himself
stepped into it with one of his crew, and was rowed to the subahdar's
vessel. Desmond, watching him narrowly, saw him salaam deeply as he went
on board.

"Salaam,  huzur!"  said Hubbo. "Your Excellency will pardon me, but
bismillah! I have just discovered a matter of importance. Our task,
huzur, has lain much on my mind; we have never done anything of the sort
before, and seeing on yonder petala a man I know well, who has spent many
years on the kala pani, I ventured to ask if he knew what time would be
needed to sink a ship with several holes drilled in the hull."

"That depends on the size of the holes, fool!" said the subahdar with a
snort.

"True, huzur; that is what the serang said. But he went on to tell me of
a case like your Excellency's. His ship was once captured by the pirates
of the Sandarbands. They drilled several holes in the hull, and rowed
away, leaving my friend and several of the crew to sink with the vessel.
But the holes were not big enough. When the pirate had disappeared, the
men on the ship, using all their strength, managed to run her ashore,
filled up the holes at low tide, and floated her off when the tide came
in again."

A look of concern crept over the subahdar's face as he listened. He was a
man without experience of ships, and became uneasy at the suggestion that
anything might mar the execution of his task. Manik Chand would not
lightly overlook a failure.

"Hearing this, huzur," Hubbo continued, "I venture to mention the matter
to your Excellency, especially as it seemed to me, from what the serang
said, that the holes drilled by the pirates were even larger than those
made by the mistris {head workmen} sent from the fort."

The subahdar looked still more concerned.

"Hai!" he exclaimed, "it is very disturbing. And there is no time to do
anything; the Firangi's ships are reported to be on their way up the
river; the dogs of Kafirs {unbelievers} may be here soon."

He bit his fingers, frowned, looked anxiously down the river, then across
to the brick fort at Tanna, then to the new mud fort at Aligarh on the
other bank, as if wondering whether he should send or signal a message to
one or the other. Hubbo was silent for a moment, then he said:

"Have I the huzur's leave to speak?"

"By the twelve imams {high priests descending from Ali, the son-in-law of
Mahomet}, yes! but quickly."

"There is a mistri on board the serang's boat who is used to working in
ships--a  khalasi from Gujarat. He might do something on board your
Excellency's  ship. If this vessel sank, according to the plan, the
Firangi would not be able to get aboard the others, and they would have
time to sink slowly."

"Barik allah {bravo!}! It is a good idea. Bid the mistri come aboard at
once."

Hubbo sent a long hail over the water. The serang cast off the rope by
which he had made fast to the sloop, and the petala came slowly down
until it was abreast of the subahdar's vessel. Hossain, Desmond, and
Karim stepped aboard, the last carrying a small box of tools. Only the
Bengali was left in the boat. All salaamed low to the subahdar.

"This, huzur, is my friend," said Hubbo, presenting his brother. "This is
the mistri, and this his assistant."

"Good!" said the subahdar. "Go down into the hold, mistri: look to the
holes; if they are not large enough make them larger, and as quickly as
you can."

Desmond with Karim dived down into the hold. It was filled with earth,
except where a gangway shored up with balks of timber had been left to
give access to the holes that had been drilled and temporarily stopped.
After a few words from the subahdar, Hubbo and his brother followed
Desmond below.

Half an hour later, Hubbo climbed up through the hatchway and approached
the subahdar, who was pacing the deck, giving many an anxious glance down
the river.

"The mistri has bored another hole, huzur. He said the more holes the
better. Perhaps your Excellency will deign to see whether you regard it
as sufficient."

"Nay, I should defile my clothes," said the subahdar, not relishing the
thought of descending into the malodorous depths.

"As your Excellency pleases," said Hubbo, salaaming.

Then  the gravity of his charge appeared to overcome the subahdar's
scruples. Gathering his robes close about him, he stepped to the hatchway
and lowered himself into the hold.

"We must hasten," he said. "The ships of the Firangi may appear at any
moment, and I must be on the lookout.

"Meantime," he added to Hubbo, "you keep watch."

For a man of his build he was fairly active. Dropping on to the loose
earth, he scrambled over it towards the oil lamp by whose light the
mistri and his assistant were working.

"This, huzur," said Hossain, pointing to a circular cut in the planking
of the vessel, "is the new hole. It is not yet driven through, but if
your Excellency thinks it sufficient--"

The subahdar craned forward to examine it. "Khubber dar {look out}!" said
Desmond in a low voice.

Hossain had only waited for this signal. He threw himself on the stooping
subahdar and bore him to the floor, at the same time stuffing a gag
between  his  teeth.  In a couple of minutes he was lying bound and
helpless. His ornate garment was but little sullied. It had been stripped
from  him  by the mistri, who hastily donned it over his own scanty
raiment, together with the subahdar's turban.

"How will that do, Hossain?" asked Desmond with a smile.

The serang held up the oil lamp to inspect him. With his other hand he
slightly altered the set of the turban and rearranged the folds of the
robe.

"That is excellent, sahib," he said. "A little more girth would perhaps
have been better, but in the distance no one will notice."

Then calling to Hubbo, he said that all was ready. Hossain clambered
through the hatchway, leaving Desmond concealed behind a large timber
upright, supporting the deck. As soon as the serang had reached his side,
Hubbo called to the men on watch and said:

"Hai, Ali, Chedi, come here!"

"Jo hukm {as ordered}!" replied one of the men. Two of the three hurried
aft, and at Hubbo's bidding, swung down into the hold. The serang ordered
them to go towards the lamp. They groped their way in that direction;
Desmond sprang up through the hatchway; it was clapped down and firmly
secured, and the subahdar with two-thirds of his crew was a prisoner in
the hold. The third man at the far end of the boat had not seen or heard
anything of what had happened.

So far the plot had succeeded admirably. Whatever order might reach the
waiting vessels, it would not be given by the subahdar. The question now
was, how to prevent the men in charge of the vessels and the authorities
in  Tanna  Fort  from  becoming suspicious. The latter would not be
difficult. Manik Chand would gain nothing by blocking the fairway unless
it were absolutely necessary to do so, and, in common with other of the
Nawab's lieutenants, he had an overweening confidence in the power of the
forts to repel an attack from the English ships. For this reason it was
advisable to make the minds of the other men easy, and Desmond soon hit
on a plan.

"You had better return to your sloop, Hubbo," he said. "Send a message to
the men on the other vessels that I--the subahdar, you know--have made up
my mind to allow one of the enemy's ships to pass me before giving the
signal. I shall thus capture one at least, and it may be the admiral's."

Hubbo set off, and when he reached his own vessel he sent a boat with a
message to each of the ships in turn. Meanwhile, thinking the appearance
of a petala alongside of the subahdar's sloop might awaken suspicion or
at least curiosity in the fort, Desmond decided to send it down the river
in charge of Hossain. He was thus left alone on deck with the subahdar's
third man.

For a time the man, standing far forward, was unaware of the striking
change in the personality garbed in the subahdar's clothes. But glancing
back at length, he started, looked a second time, and after a moment's
hesitation walked down the deck.

"Go back to your post," said Desmond sternly, "and see that you keep a
good lookout for the Firangi's ships."

The man salaamed and returned to the prow in manifest bewilderment. More
than  once he looked back as he heard strange knockings from below.
Desmond only smiled. If the sound was heard from the forts, it would be
regarded merely as a sign that the preparations for sinking the vessel
were not yet completed.

Time passed on, and ever and anon Desmond looked eagerly down the river
for a sign of the oncoming fleet. At last, somewhere about midday, he
observed signs of excitement in Tanna Fort, and almost simultaneously saw
a puff of smoke and heard a report from one of its guns.

Shortly afterwards he observed the spars of a British-built ship slowly
approaching upstream. In full confidence that the scheme for blocking the
river was now frustrated, he awaited with patience the oncoming of the
fleet, wondering whether the forts would make a determined resistance.

Slowly the vessel drew nearer. Another shot was fired from the fort, with
what result Desmond could not tell. But immediately afterwards he heard
the distant report of a heavy gun, followed by a crash near at hand, and
a babel of yells. A shot from the British ship had plumped right in the
center  of  Tanna  Fort.  At the same moment Desmond recognized the
figurehead.

"'Tis the Tyger!" he said to himself with a smile. "Won't Captain Latham
grin when he sees me in this rig!"

Then he laughed aloud, for the valiant defenders of Tanna Fort had not
waited for a second shot. They were swarming helter skelter out of harm's
way, rushing at the top of their speed up the river and leaving their
fortress to its fate. On the other bank the garrison of Aligarh Fort had
also taken flight, and were streaming along with excited cries in the
direction of Calcutta.

The man in the bows of the sloop looked amazedly at the new subahdar. Why
did he laugh? Why did he not wave the green flag that lay at his hand?
When were the men who had gone below going to knock out the stoppings of
the holes and take to the boat with himself and their commander? But the
subahdar still stood laughing.

All at once Desmond, remembering the real subahdar below, asked himself:
what if he drove out the bungs and scuttled the vessel? But the question
brought a smile to his lips. He could not conceive of the Bengali's
playing such a heroic part, and he possessed his soul in peace.

Now  the  Tyger  was  in full sight, and behind her Desmond saw the
well-remembered Kent, Admiral Watson's flagship. The stampede from the
forts had evidently been observed on board, for firing had ceased, and
boats were already being lowered and filled with men.

Desmond waited. The Tyger's boats, he saw, were making for Tanna Fort:
the Kent's for Aligarh. But one of the latter was heading straight for
the sloop. Desmond could not resist the temptation to a joke. Making
himself look as important as he could, he stood by the gunwale watching
with an air of dignity the oncoming of the boat. It was in command of a
young lieutenant. The men bent to their oars with a will, and Desmond
could soon hear the voice of the officer as he called to his crew.

But his amusement was mingled with amazement and delight when, in the big
form sitting in the bow of the boat, he recognized no other than his old
messmate, his old comrade in the Fight of the Carts--William Bulger. The
joke would be even better than he had expected.

The boat drew closer: it was level with the nose of the sloop; and the
lieutenant sang out the command, "Ship oars!" It came alongside.

"Bulger," cried the lieutenant, "skip aboard and announce us to that old
peacock up on deck."

"Ay, ay, sir," replied Bulger, "which his feathers will be plucked, or my
name en't Bulger."

At the side of the sloop lay the dinghy intended to convey the subahdar
and his men ashore when the work of sinking had been started. It was made
fast to the vessel by a rope. Bulger sprang into the dinghy and then
began an ascent so clever, and at the same time so comical, that Desmond
had much ado not to spoil his joke by a premature explosion of laughter.
The burly seaman swarmed up the rope like a monkey, clasping it with his
legs as he took each upward grip. But the comedy of his actions was
provided by his hook. Having only one arm--an arm, it is true, with the
biceps of a giant--he could not clutch the rope in the ordinary way. But
at each successive spring he dug his hook into the side of the vessel,
and mounted with amazing rapidity, talking to himself all the time.

"Avast, there!" he shouted, as with a final heave upon the hook dug into
the gunwale he hoisted himself on deck. "Haul down your colors, matey,
which they make a pretty pictur', they do."

He came overpoweringly towards Desmond, his arm and stump spread wide as
if to embrace him.

"I  may  be  wrong,"  said Desmond, "but have I not the pleasure of
addressing Mr. William Bulger?"

Bulger started as if shot. His broad face spelled first blank amazement,
then incredulity, then surprised belief. Spreading his legs wide and
bending his knees, he rested his hand on one and his hook on the other,
shut one eye, and stuck his tongue out at the corner of his mouth.

"By the Dutchman!" he exclaimed, "if it don't beat cock fighting! Sure,
'tis Mr. Burke himself! Anna Maria! But for why did you go for to make
yourself sich a Guy Faux guy, sir?"

"How  are you, old fellow?" said Desmond heartily. "I am a bit of a
scarecrow, no doubt, but we've won the trick, man. The real guy is down
below, dead from fright by this time, I expect.

"Sorry  to give you the trouble of boarding, sir," he added, as the
lieutenant came over the side. "If you'll take me into your boat I'll be
glad to report to the admiral or to Colonel Clive."

"By jimmy, Mr. Burke!" said the lieutenant, laughing, "you've got a way
of your own of popping up at odd times and in odd places. Come with me,
by all means--just as you are, if you please. The admiral wouldn't miss
the look of you for anything. By George! 'tis a rare bit of play acting.
Did I hear you say you've got some natives under hatchways?"

"Yes; the owner of this finery is below with two of his men. You can hear
him now."

There was a violent and sustained knocking below deck.

"I'll send my man to release him. The fleet are all coming up, sir?"

"Yes; the Bridgewater and Kingfisher are close in our wake. Come along;
we'll catch the admiral before he goes ashore."



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.


Desmond received a warm welcome both from Admiral Watson and Colonel
Clive. His account of the manner in which he had defeated Manik Chand's
scheme for blocking the river was received with shouts of laughter, while
his ingenuity and courage were warmly commended by both officers. Indeed,
the admiral, always more impulsive than Clive, offered him on the spot a
lieutenancy in the fleet, and was not very well pleased when Desmond
politely declined the honor. He caught a gleam of approval in Clive's
eyes, and later in the day, when he saw his hero alone, he felt well
rewarded.

"A naval lieutenant ranks higher than a lieutenant in the army--I suppose
you know that, Burke?" said Clive.

"Yes, sir."

"And you're only a cadet. From today you are a lieutenant, my lad. I am
pleased with you, and whatever his enemies say of Bob Clive, no one ever
said of him that he forgot a friend."

The forces proceeded to Calcutta next day, and retook the town with
surprising ease. Manik Chand was so much alarmed by seeing the effect of
the big guns of the fleet that he abandoned the place almost without
striking a blow, and when the British troops entered they were too late
even to make any prisoners save a few of the ragtag and bobtail in the
rear.

Mr. Merriman returned to Calcutta a few days later. Desmond was grieved
to observe how rapidly he was aging. In spite of Clive's recommendation
to keep silence he could not refrain from telling his friend what he had
discovered about the missing ladies; and he did not regret it, for the
knowledge that they were alive and, when last heard of, out of Peloti's
clutches, acted like a tonic. Merriman was all eagerness to set off and
search for them himself; but Desmond pointed out the danger of such a
course,  and he reluctantly agreed to wait a little longer, and see
whether any news could be obtained during the operations which Clive was
planning against the Nawab.

Meanwhile, Desmond learned from Bulger what had happened to him since the
fall of Calcutta. He was one of the hundred and forty-six thrown into the
Black Hole.

"'Tis  only  by  the mercy of the Almighty I'm here today," he said
solemnly. "I saw what 'twould be as soon as the door of that Black Hole
was locked, and me and some others tried to force it. 'Tweren't no good.
Mr. Holwell--he's a brave man, an' no mistake--begged an' prayed of us
all to be quiet; but Lor' bless you, he might ha' saved his breath. 'Twas
a hot night; we soon began to sweat most horrible an' feel a ragin'
thirst. We took off most of our clothes, an' waved our hats to set the
air a-movin'; which 'twas hard enough work, 'cos we was packed so tight.
I en't a-goin' to tell you all the horrors o' that night, sir; I'd like
uncommon to forget 'em, though I don't believe I never shall. 'Twas so
awful that many a poor wretch begged of the Moors outside to fire on 'em.
Worst was when the old jamadar put skins o' water in at the window. My
God! them about me fought like demons, which if I hadn't flattened myself
against the wall I should ha' been crushed or trodden to death, like most
on 'em. For me, I couldn't get near the water; I sucked my shirt sleeves,
an' 'tis my belief 'twas on'y that saved me from goin' mad. A man what
was next me took out his knife an' slit a vein, 'cos he couldn't bear the
agony no longer. Soon arter, I fell in a dead faint, an' knowed no more
till I found myself on my back outside, with a Moor chuckin' water at me.
They let me go, along with some others; and a rotten old hulk I was,
there en't no mistake about that. Why, bless you, my skin come out all
boils as thick as barnacles on a hull arter a six months' voyage, all
'cos o' being in sich bad air without water. And then the fever came
aboard, an' somehow or other I got shipped to the mounseers' hospital at
Chandernagore, which they was very kind to me, sir; there en't no denyin'
that. I may be wrong, but I could take my oath, haffidavy, an' solemn
will an' testament that a mounseer's got a heart inside of his body arter
all, which makes him all the better chap to have a slap at if you come to
think of the why an' wherefore of it."

"But how came you on board the Tyger?"

"Well, when my boils was gone an' the fever slung overboard, I got down
to Fulta an' held on the slack there; an' when the ships come up, they
sent for me, 'cos havin' sailed up an' down the river many a time, they
thought as how I could do a bit o' pilotin', there not bein' enough Dutch
pilots to go round. An' I ha' had some fun, too, which I wonder I can
laugh arter that Black Hole and all. By thunder! 'tis a merry sight to
see the Moors run. The very look of a cutlass a'most turns 'un white, and
they well-nigh drops down dead if they see a sailor man. Why, t'other day
at Budge Budge--they ought to call it Fudge Fudge now, seems to me--the
Jack tars went ashore about nightfall to help the lobsters storm the fort
in the dark. But Colonel Clive he was dog tired, an' went to his bed,
sayin' as how he'd lead a boardin' party in the mornin'. That warn't
exactly beans an' bacon; nary a man but would ha' took a big dose o'
fever if they'd laid out on the fields all night.

"Anyways, somewhere about eleven, an' pitch dark, a Jack which his name
is Strahan--a Scotchman, by what they say--went off all alone by himself,
to have a sort of private peep at that there fort. He was pretty well
filled up wi' grog, or pr'aps he wouldn't ha' been quite so venturesome.
Well, he waded up to his chin in a ditch o' mud what goes round the fort,
with his pistols above his head. When he gets over, bang goes one pistol,
an'  he  sets  up  a  shout:  'One  and  all, my boys! one and all,
hurray!'--a-dreamin' I s'pose as he was captain of a boardin' party an a
crew o' swabs behind him. Up he goes, up the bastion; bang goes t'other
pistol; then he outs with his cutlass, a-roarin' hurray with a voice like
a twelve pounder; down goes three o' them Moors; another breaks Jack's
cutlass with his simitar; bless you, what's he care? don't care a straw,
which his name is Strahan; he've got a fist, he have, an' he dashes it in
the Moor's face, collars his simitar, cuts his throat and sings out, 'Ho,
mateys! this 'ere fort's mine!'

"Up comes three or four of his mates what heard his voice; they swings
round the cannon on the bastion an' turns it on the enemy; bang! bang!
and bless your heart, the Moors cut and run, an' the fort was ourn."

At the moment Desmond thought that Bulger was drawing the long bow. But
meeting Captain Speke of the Kent a little later, he asked how much truth
there was in the story.

"'Tis all true," said the captain, laughing, "but not the whole truth.
The  day after Strahan's mad performance the admiral sends for him:
discipline must be maintained, you know. 'What's this I hear about you?'
says Mr. Watson, with a face of thunder. Strahan bobbed, and scratched
his head, and twirled his hat in his hand, and says: 'Why to be sure,
sir, 'twas I took the fort, and I hope there ain't no harm in it!' By
George! 'twas as much as the admiral could do to keep a straight face. He
got the fellow to tell us about it: we had our faces in our handkerchiefs
all the time. Then Mr. Watson gave him a pretty rough wigging, and wound
up by saying that he'd consult me as to the number of lashes to be laid
on.

"You should have seen the fellow's face! As he went out of the cabin I
heard him mutter: 'Well, if I'm to be flogged for this 'ere haction, be
hanged if I ever take another fort alone by myself as long as I live!'"

"Surely he wasn't flogged?" said Desmond, laughing heartily.

"Oh, no! Mr. Watson told us as a matter of form to put in a plea for the
fellow, and then condescended to let him off. Pity he's such a loose
fish!"

For  two months Desmond remained with Clive. He was with him at the
capture of Hugli, and in that brisk fight at Calcutta on the fifth of
February,  which gave the Nawab his first taste of British quality.
Sirajuddaula was encamped to the northeast of the town with a huge army.
In a heavy fog, about daybreak, Clive came up at the head of a mixed
force of king's troops, sepoys and sailors, some two thousand men in all.
Hordes of Persian cavalry charged him through the mist, but they were
beaten off, and Clive forced his way through the enemy's camp until he
came  near  the  Nawab's  own  tents, pitched in Omichand's garden.
Sirajuddaula himself was within an ace of being captured. His troops made
but a poor stand against the British, and by midday the battle was over.

Scared by this defeat, the Nawab was ready to conclude with the Company
the treaty which long negotiations had failed to effect. By this treaty
the trading privileges granted to the Company by the emperor of Delhi
were confirmed; the Nawab agreed to pay full compensation for the losses
sustained by the Company and its servants; and the right to fortify
Calcutta was conceded. The longstanding grievances of the Company were
thus, on paper, redressed.

A day or two after the battle a ship arrived with the news that war had
been declared in Europe between England and France. Efforts to maintain
neutrality between the English and French in Bengal having failed, Clive
wished the Nawab to join him in an attack on the French settlements in
Bengal. This the Nawab refused to do, though he wrote, promising that he
would hold as enemies all who were enemies of Clive--a promise that bore
bitter fruit before many months had passed.

The French were keen rivals of the Company in the trade of India, and
constantly took advantage of native troubles to score a point in the
game. Clive had come to Bengal with the full intention of making the
Company, whose servant he was, supreme; and having secured the treaty
with Sirajuddaula he resolved to turn his arms against the French. They
were suspected of helping the Nawab in his expedition against Calcutta:
it was known that the Nawab, treating his engagements with reckless
levity  and faithlessness, was trying to persuade Bussy, the French
commander in the Dekkan, to help him to expel the British from Bengal.
There was excuse enough for an attack on Chandernagore.

But before Clive could open hostilities, he was required, by an old
arrangement with the Mogul, to obtain permission from the Nawab. This
permission was at length got from him by Omichand. The sack of Calcutta
by the Nawab had caused Omichand great loss, and, hoping in part to
retrieve it, he made his peace with Clive and the Council, and was then
selected to accompany Mr. Watts when he went as British representative to
Murshidabad. The wily Sikh, working always for his own ends, contrived to
make the unstable young despot believe that the French were tricking him,
and in a fit of passion he sealed a letter allowing Admiral Watson to
make war upon them. He repented of it immediately, but the letter was
gone.

On the day after it reached the admiral, March twelfth, 1757, Clive sent
a  summons  to  Monsieur Renault, the governor of Chandernagore, to
surrender the fort. No reply was received that day, and Clive resolved,
failing a satisfactory answer within twenty-four hours, to read King
George's declaration of war and attack the French.

Desmond was breakfasting among a number of his fellow officers next
morning when up came Hossain, the serang who had accompanied him on his
eventful journeys up and down the Hugli. Lately he had been employed, on
Desmond's recommendation, in bringing supplies up the river for the
troops. The man salaamed and said that he wished to say a few words
privately to the sahib. Desmond rose, and went apart with him.

At sunrise, said the man, a vessel flying Dutch colors had dropped down
the river past the English fleet. Her name was Dutch, and her destination
Rotterdam; but Hossain was certain that she was really the Good Intent,
which Desmond had pointed out to him as they passed Chandernagore, and
which they had more than once seen since in the course of their journeys.
Her appearance had attracted some attention on the fleet; and the Tyger
had sent a shot after her, ordering her to heave to; but having a strong
northeast wind behind her, she took no notice of the signal and held on
her course.

Desmond thanked Hossain for the information, and, leaving his breakfast
unfinished, went off at once to see Clive, whom he was to join that
morning on a tour of inspection of the northwest part of the French
settlement.

"Well, I don't see what we can do," said Clive, when Desmond repeated the
news to him. "Mr. Watson no doubt suspected her when it was too late.
Nothing but a regular chase could have captured her after she had passed.
Ships can't be spared for that; they've much more important work on
hand."

"Still, 'tis a pity, sir," said Desmond. "'Tis not only that Captain
Barker is an interloper; he has been in league with pirates, and his
being at Chandernagore all these months means no good."

"It means, at any rate, that he hasn't been able to get a cargo. Trade's
at a standstill. Well, I'd give something to lay Mr. Barker and his crew
by the heels--on behalf of the Company, Burke, for don't forget, as some
of our friends of the Calcutta Council do, that I am here to save the
Company, not their private property. 'Tis too late to stop the vessel
now."

"I'd like to try, sir."

"I dare say you would. You're as ready to take risks as I am," he added,
with his characteristic pursing of the lips; "and 'pon my word, you're
just as lucky! For I'm lucky, Burke; there's no doubt of it. That affair
at Calcutta might have done for us but for the morning mist. I'd like to
try myself. It would punish a set of rogues, and discourage interloping,
to the benefit of the Company. But I can't spare men for the job. Barker
has no doubt a large crew; they'll be on the lookout for attack; no, I
can't touch it."

Desmond hesitated for a moment. He did not wish to lose the fighting at
Chandernagore, but he had the strongest personal reasons for desiring the
arrest of the Good Intent.

"Do you think, sir, we shall capture this place tomorrow?" he asked
suddenly.

"Scarcely, my boy," said Clive, smiling; "nor by tomorrow week, unless
the French have forgotten how to fight. Why do you ask?"

"Because if you'd give me leave I'd like to have a shot at the Good
Intent--provided I got back in time to be with you in the fighting line,
sir."

"Well, I can't keep things waiting for you. And it seems a wild-goose
chase--rather a hazardous one."

"I'd risk that, sir. I could get together some men in Calcutta, and I'd
hope to be back here in a couple of days."

"Well, well, Burke, you'd wheedle the Mogul himself. Anyone could tell
you're an Irishman. Get along, then; do your best, and if you don't come
back I'll try to take Chandernagore without you."

He smiled as he slapped Desmond on the shoulder. Well pleased with his
ready consent, Desmond hurried away, got a horse, and riding hard reached
Calcutta by eight o'clock and went straight to Mr. Merriman. Explaining
what was afoot, he asked for the loan of the men of the Hormuzzeer.
Merriman at once agreed; Captain Barker was a friend of Peloti's; and he
needed no stronger inducement.

Desmond  hurried  down  to  the river; the Hormuzzeer was lying off
Cruttenden Ghat; and Mr. Toley for once broke through his settled sadness
of demeanor when he learned of the expedition proposed.

While  Toley  collected the crew and made his preparations, Desmond
consulted a pilot. The Good Intent had passed Calcutta an hour before;
but the man said that, though favored by the wind, she would scarcely get
past  the  bar  at  Mayapur on the evening tide. She might do so if
exceptionally lucky; in that case there would be very little chance of
overtaking her.

Less than two hours after Desmond reached Calcutta two budgeros left
Cruttenden Ghat. Each was provided with a double complement of men, and
although the sails filled with a strong following wind, their oars were
kept constantly in play. The passengers on board were for the most part
unaccustomed to this luxurious mode of traveling. There were a dozen
lascars;  Hossain  the  serang;  Karim, the man saved by Desmond at
Chandernagore; Bulger and the second mate of the Hormuzzeer, and Mr.
Toley, who, like Desmond and the serang, was clothed, much to Bulger's
amusement, as a fairly well-to-do ryot.

For some hours the tide was contrary; but when it turned, the budgeros,
under  the  combined  impulses of sail, oar and current, made swift
progress, arousing some curiosity among the crews of riverside craft,
little accustomed to the sight of budgeros moving so rapidly.

Approaching Mayapur, Desmond descried the spars of the Good Intent a long
way  ahead. Was there enough water to allow her to pass the bar? he
wondered. Apparently there was, for she kept straight on her course under
full sail. Desmond bit his lips with vexation, and had almost given up
hope, though he did not permit any slackening of speed, when to his joy
he saw the vessel strike her topsails, then the rest of her canvas.

He at once ran his boats to the shore at Mayapur. There were a number of
river craft at the place, so that the movements of his budgeros, if
observed from the Good Intent, were not likely to awaken suspicion. On
landing he went to the house of a native merchant, Babu Aghor Nath Bose,
to whom he had a letter from Mr. Merriman.

"Can you arrange for us," he said, when civilities had been exchanged,
"tonight, the loan of two shabby old country boats?"

The native considered.

"I think I can, sahib," he said at length. "I would do much for Merriman
Sahib. A man I frequently employ is now anchored off my ghat. No doubt,
for fair pay, he and another might be persuaded to lend their craft."

"Very well, be good enough to arrange it. I only require the boats for a
few hours tomorrow morning. Do you think twenty rupees would suffice?"

The native opened his eyes. He himself would not have offered so much.
But he said:

"Doubtless that will suffice, sahib. The matter is settled."

"I shall meet you in an hour. Thank you."

Returning to the budgeros, Desmond instructed Hossain to go into the
bazaar and buy up all the fresh fruit he could find. The sales for the
day were over; but Hossain hunted up the fruit sellers and bargained so
successfully that when he returned he was accompanied by a whole gang of
coolies, bearing what seemed to Desmond an appalling quantity of melons,
all for thirty rupees.

Before this, however, Aghor Nath Bose had reported that the hire of the
two boats was duly arranged. They were open boats, little more than
barges, with a small cabin or shelter aft. Their crews had been dismissed
and had taken their belongings ashore; both were empty of cargo. Desmond
went with Bulger on board and arranged a number of bamboos crosswise on
the boats, covering up the empty spaces which would usually be occupied
by merchandise. Over the bamboos he placed a layer of thin matting, and
on this, when Hossain returned, he ordered the coolies to put the melons.
To a casual observer it would have appeared that the boats were laden
with a particularly heavy cargo of the golden fruit.

An hour before dawn, the lascars and others from the Hormuzzeer slipped
quietly  from the budgeros on board the country boats, and bestowed
themselves  as best they could under the bamboo deck supporting the
melons. It was cool in the early morning, although the hot season was
approaching; but Desmond did not envy the men their close quarters. They
were so much excited, however, at the adventure before them, and so eager
to earn the liberal reward promised them if it succeeded, that not a man
murmured. The Europeans had cooler quarters in the rude cabins, where
they were hidden from prying eyes under miscellaneous native wraps.

Desmond had learned from the pilot that it would be nearly eight o'clock
before the depth of water over the bar was sufficient to allow a ship
like the Good Intent to proceed with safety. A little before daybreak the
two boats crept out from the ghat. It was well to avoid curiosity before
Mayapur woke up. Desmond steered the first, Hossain the second; and
besides the steersmen there were two men visible on the deck of each.

The tide was running up, but the wind still held from the northeast, and
though moderated in force since the evening it was strong enough to take
them slowly down toward the Good Intent. The sky was lightening, but a
slight mist hung over the river. Desmond kept a close lookout ahead, and
after about half an hour he caught sight of the hull of the Good Intent,
looming before him out of the mist. Allowing the second boat to come
alongside, he turned and spoke to the serang.

"Now, Hossain, there she is. Hail her."

"Hai, hai!" shouted the man. "Do the sahibs want to buy any fresh fruit?"

An oath floated down from the stern. Captain Barker was there, peering
intently through the mist up the river.

"Good melons, sahib, all fresh, and not too ripe. Cheap as ragi, sahib."

The mate had joined the captain; the Dutch pilot stood by, smoking a
pipe.  The fruit boats had by this time come under the stern of the
vessel, and Desmond heard the mate say:

"We came away in such a hurry, sir, that we hadn't time to take in a
supply of vegetables. Melons'll keep, sir, if they en't overripe."

Barker growled, then bent over and called to the serang. "How much?"

"Very cheap, sahib, very cheap. I will come aboard."

"Then be quick about it: we're going to trip the anchor, melons or no
melons. D'ye hear?"

Hossain ran down the sail and clambered up the chains; which the other
boatmen made fast to a rope thrown from the deck. Desmond also lowered
his sail, steering so as to approach the port quarter of the Good Intent,
the serang's boat being on the starboard. No rope was thrown to him, but
he found that the tide was now only strong enough to neutralize the wind,
and a stroke every now and again with the paddle at the stern kept his
boat stationary.

Meanwhile there came from the deck the singsong of men heaving up the
anchor. When the serang stepped on board the greater part of the crew of
the Good Intent were forward. Little time was spent in haggling. A melon
was thrown up as a sample, and the price asked was so extraordinarily low
that Captain Barker evidently thought he had got a bargain.

"Heave 'em up," he said, "and if they en't all up to sample--"

He broke off, no doubt believing that his fierce scowl was sufficient to
point his threat.

The serang hailed Desmond to come alongside. A few sweeps of the paddle
brought the boat close underneath the Good Intent's side, and a second
rope enabled him to make fast.

He swarmed up the rope, followed by one of the boatmen. The other, on the
boat, began to fill a basket with melons, as if preparing to send them on
board. At the same time Karim joined Hossain from the other side, so that
there were now four of the party on deck.

At  a sign from Desmond, the two natives, carrying out instructions
previously given, strolled toward the companionway. Hossain had started a
conversation with the captain and mate, telling them about the British
fleet he had passed as he came down the river. The Dutch pilot looked on,
stolidly puffing his pipe.

Desmond stepped to the side of the vessel as though to hoist the basket
with the running tackle. Making a sign to the men below, he called in a
loud voice:

"Tano!"

Instantly the men swarmed up the rope. At the signal, misleading to the
crew of the Good Intent, man after man crawled from beneath the matting
on the boat below, and clambered up the ropes, led by Bulger on one side
and Mr. Toley on the other. They made little noise, and that was drowned
by the singsong of the sailors and the grinding of the cables; the pilot
with his back to the bulwarks saw nothing, and before Captain Barker knew
that anything unusual was occurring both Bulger and Toley were tumbling
over the sides.

The captain stood almost petrified with amazement as he saw Bulger's red
face rising like the morning sun. He stepped back apace.

"What the--"

The exclamation was never completed. Desmond stepped up to him and in a
low voice said:

"In  the name of his Majesty, King George, I call upon you, Captain
Barker, to surrender this ship."

He had a leveled pistol in his hand. Bulger with a cutlass sprang to one
side, and Toley ranged himself on the other. Hossain had joined the two
boatmen at the companionway; all had brought out pistols from the folds
of their clothing, and the companionway commanded access to the ship's
armory.

Barker, who had grown purple at the sight of Bulger, now turned a sickly
white. The mate dashed forward, calling to the crew, who, seeing that
something was amiss, came along with a rush, arming themselves with
belaying pins and any other weapons that came handy. Toley, however,
leaving the cowed and speechless captain to Desmond, stepped toward the
men. They recognized him at once and paused doubtfully.

"You know me," he said. "I'm a man of few words. You won't go further
this voyage. Captain Barker has surrendered the ship. You'll drop those
desperate things in your hands and go for'ard. Show a leg, now!"

The men looked from one to another, then at the captain, who was at that
moment handing over his sword to Desmond. If Captain Barker was too badly
beaten to swear he was in poor case indeed. The crew's hesitation was but
momentary; under Toley's sad gaze they sullenly flung down their weapons
and went forward.

Only then did the captain find speech. But it was to utter a fearful
curse, ending with the name:

"Diggle."



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.


Leaving  Mr. Toley to bring the Good Intent up to Calcutta, Desmond
hurried back in advance and remained in the town just long enough to
inform Mr. Merriman of the happy result of his adventure and to change
into his own clothes, and then returned to Chandernagore on horseback, as
he had come. He found Clive encamped two miles to the west of the fort.
No reply having reached him from Monsieur Renault, Clive had read the
declaration of war as he had threatened, and opened hostilities by an
attack on an outpost.

"You've no need to tell me you've succeeded, Burke," he said when Desmond
presented himself. "I see it in your eyes. But I've no time to hear your
story  now. It must wait until we have seen the result of the day's
fighting. Not that I expect much of it in this quarter. We can't take the
place with the land force only, and I won't throw away life till the
admiral has tried the effect of his guns."

The French in Chandernagore were not well prepared to stand a determined
siege. The governor, Monsieur Renault, had none of the military genius of
a Dupleix or a Bussy. With him were only some eight hundred fighting men,
of whom perhaps half were Europeans. Instead of concentrating his defense
on the fort, he scattered his men about the town, leaving the weakest
part of his defenses, the eastern curtain, insufficiently manned.

He believed that Admiral Watson would find it impossible to bring his
biggest ships within gunshot, and fancied that by sinking some vessels at
the narrowest part of the river he would keep the whole British fleet
unemployed--a mistake that was to cost him dear.

By the night of March fourteenth Clive had driven in the outposts. The
immediate effect of this was the desertion of two thousand Moors sent to
Renault's assistance by Nandkumar the faujdar of Hugli. A continuous
bombardment was kept up until the nineteenth, when Admiral Watson arrived
from Calcutta with the Kent, the Tyger, and the Salisbury.

Next morning an officer was despatched in a boat to summon Renault once
more to surrender. Rowing between the sunken vessels, whose masts showed
above water, he took soundings and found that with careful handling the
men-o'-war might safely pass. Once more Renault refused to surrender. His
offer to ransom the fort was declined by the admiral, who the same night
sent the master of the Kent to buoy the channel. Two nights later, in
pitch darkness, several English boats were rowed with muffled oars to the
sunken vessels. Their crews fixed lanterns to the masts of these in such
a way that the light, while guiding the warships, would be invisible from
the fort.

Early  next morning Clive captured the battery commanding the river
passage, and the three British ships ran up with the tide. The Kent and
Tyger opened fire on the southeast and northeast bastions, and these two
vessels bore the brunt of a tremendous cannonade from the fort. The
French artillery was well served, doing fearful damage on board the
British  vessels.  On  the  Kent,  save the admiral himself and one
lieutenant, every officer was killed or wounded. One shot struck down
Captain Speke and shattered the leg of his son, a brave boy of sixteen,
who refused to allow his wound to be examined until his father had been
attended to, and then bore the pain of the rough amputation of those days
without a murmur.

Meanwhile Clive's men had climbed to the roofs of houses near the fort,
which commanded the French batteries; and his musketeers poured in a
galling fire and shot down the gunners at their work. As the walls of the
barracks and fort were shattered by the guns from the ships, the Sepoys
crept closer and closer, awaiting the word to storm.

The morning drew on. Admiral Watson began to fear that when the tide fell
his big guns would be at too low a level to do further execution. There
was always considerable rivalry between himself and Clive, fed by the
stupid jealousy of some of the Calcutta Council. While Clive, foreseeing
even more serious work later, was anxious to spare his men, Watson was
equally eager to reap all possible credit for a victory over the French.

As  it happened, neither had to go to the last extremity, for about
half-past nine a white flag was seen flying from the fort. Lieutenant
Brereton of the Kent and Captain Eyre Coote from the land force were sent
to arrange the surrender, and a little later the articles of capitulation
were signed by Admirals Watson and Pocock, and by Clive.

Desmond was by no means satisfied with the part he played in the fight.
In command of a company of Sepoys he was one of the first to rush the
shore battery and take post under the walls of the barracks in readiness
to lead a storming party. But, as he complained afterward to his friend
Captain Latham of the Tyger, the fleet had the honors of the day.

"After all, you're better off than I am," grumbled the captain. "How
would you like to have your laurels snatched away? Admiral Pocock ought
to have remained on the Cumberland down the river and left the Tyger to
me. But he didn't see the fun of being out of the fighting; and up he
came posthaste and hoisted his flag on my ship, putting my nose badly out
of joint, I can tell you. Still, one oughtn't to grumble. It doesn't
matter much who gets the credit so long as we've done our job. 'Tis all
in the day's work."

The victory at Chandernagore destroyed the French power in Bengal. But it
turned out to be only the prelude to a greater event--an event which must
be reckoned as the foundation stone of the British Empire in India. It
sprang  from the character of Sirajuddaula. That prince was a cruel
despot,  but weak-willed, vacillating, and totally unable to keep a
friend. One day he would strut in some vainglorious semblance of dignity;
the next he would engage in drunken revels with the meanest and most
dissolute of his subjects. He insulted his commander-in-chief, Mir Jafar:
he offended the Seths, wealthy bankers of Murshidabad who had helped him
to his throne: he played fast and loose with everyone with whom he had
dealings. His own people were weary of him, and at length a plot was
hatched to dethrone him and set Mir Jafar in his place.

Mr. Watts, the British agent in Murshidabad, communicated this design to
Clive and the Council of Calcutta, suggesting that they should cooperate
in deposing the vicious Nawab. They agreed, on the grounds that his
dishonesty and insolence showed that he had no real intention of abiding
by the terms of his treaty, and that he was constantly interfering with
the French. A treaty was accordingly drawn up with Mir Jafar, in which
the prospective Subah agreed to all the terms formerly agreed to by
Sirajuddaula. But Omichand, who was on bad terms with Mir Jafar and the
Seths, threatened to reveal the whole plot to the Nawab and have Mr.
Watts put to death, unless he were guaranteed in the treaty the payment
of a sum of money equivalent to nearly four hundred thousand pounds.

Clive was so much disgusted with Omichand's double dealing that, though
he was ready to make him fair compensation for his losses in Calcutta, he
was  not inclined to accede to his impudent demand. Yet it would be
dangerous to refuse him point blank. He therefore descended to a trick
which, whatever may be urged in its defense--the proved treachery of
Omichand, the customs of the country, the utter want of scruple shown by
the natives in their dealings--must ever remain a blot on a great man's
fame.

Two treaties with Mir Jafar were drawn up; one on red paper, known as lal
kagaz, containing a clause embodying Omichand's demand; the other on
white, containing no such clause. Admiral Watson, with bluff honesty,
refused to have anything to do with the sham treaty; it was dishonorable,
he said, and to ask his signature was an affront. But his signature was
necessary to satisfy Omichand. At Clive's request, it was forged by Mr.
Lushington, a young writer of the Company's. The red treaty was shown to
Omichand; it bought his silence; he suspected nothing.

The plot was now ripe. Omichand left Murshidabad; Mr. Watts slipped away;
and  the Nawab, on being informed of his flight, wrote to Clive and
Watson, upbraiding them with breaking their treaty with him, and set out
to join his army.

Clive  left  Chandernagore on June thirteenth, his guns, stores and
European soldiers being towed up the river in two hundred boats, the
Sepoys marching along the highway parallel with the right bank. Palti and
Katwa were successively occupied by his advance guard under Eyre Coote.
But a terrible rain storm on the eighteenth delayed his march, and next
day  he  received  from  Mir Jafar a letter that gave him no little
uneasiness.

Mir Jafar announced that he had pretended to patch up his quarrel with
the Nawab and sworn to be loyal to him; but he added that the measures
arranged with Clive were still to be carried out. This strange message
suggested that Mir Jafar was playing off one against the other, or at
best sitting on the fence until he was sure of the victor. It was serious
enough to give pause to Clive. He was one hundred and fifty miles from
his base at Calcutta; before him was an unfordable river watched by a
vast hostile force. If Mir Jafar should elect to remain faithful to his
master the English army would in all likelihood be annihilated. In these
circumstances Clive wrote to the Committee of Council in Calcutta that he
would not cross the river until he was definitely assured that Mir Jafar
would join him.

His decision seemed to be justified next day when he received a letter
from Mr. Watts at Khulna. On the day he left Murshidabad, said Mr. Watts,
Mir Jafar had denounced him as a spy and sworn to repel any attempt of
the English to cross the river. On receipt of this news Clive adopted a
course unusual with him. He called a Council of War, for the first and
last time in his career. Desmond was in Major Killpatrick's tent when the
summons to attend the Council reached that officer.

"Burke, my boy," he said, "'tis a mighty odd thing. Mr. Clive is not
partial to Councils; has had enough of 'em at Madras first, and lately at
Calcutta. D'you know, I don't understand Mr. Clive; I don't believe any
one does. In the field he is as bold as a lion, fearless, quick to see
what to do at the moment, never losing a chance. Yet more than once I've
noticed, beforehand, a strange hesitation. He gets fits of the dumps,
broods, wonders whether he is doing the right thing, and is as touchy as
a bear with a sore head. Well, 'tis almost noon; I must be off; we'll see
what the Council has to say."

Desmond  watched  the major almost with envy as he went off to this
momentous meeting. How he wished he was a little older, a little higher
in rank, so that he too might have the right to attend! He lay back in
the tent wondering what the result of the Council would be.

"If they asked for my vote," he thought, "I'd say fight;" and then he
laughed at himself for venturing to have an opinion.

By and by Major Killpatrick returned.

"Well, my boy," he said, "we've carried our point, twelve against seven."

"For fighting?"

"No, my young firebrand; against fighting. You needn't look so chop
fallen. There'll be a fight before long; but we're going to run no risks.
We'll wait till the monsoon is over and we can collect enough men to
smash the Subah."

"Was that Colonel Clive's decision?"

"'Twas, indeed. But let me tell you, there was a comical thing to start
with. Lieutenant Hayter, one of Watson's men, was bid to the Council, but
the nincompoop was huffed because he wasn't allowed precedence of the
Company's captains. These naval men's airs are vastly amusing. He took
himself off. Then Mr. Clive put the case; fight at once, or wait. Against
the custom, he himself voted first--against immediate action. Then he
asked me and Grant in turn; we voted with him. 'Twas Eyre Coote's turn
next; he voted t'other way, and gave his reasons--uncommonly well, I must
admit. He said our men were in good spirits, and had been damped enough
by the rains. The Frenchman Law might come up and join the Nawab, and
then every froggy who entered our service after Chandernagore would
desert  and fight against us. We're so far from Calcutta 'twould be
difficult  to protect our communications. These were his reasons. I
watched Clive while Coote was speaking; he stuck his lips together and
stared at him; and, have you noticed? he squints a trifle when he looks
hard. Well, the voting went on, and ended as I said--twelve against
immediate action, seven for."

"How did the Bengal men vote?"

"I'm  bound to say, for--except Le Beaume. 'Twas the Madras men who
outvoted 'em."

"Well, with all respect, sir, I think the opinion of the Bengal men, who
know the people and the country, ought to have outweighed the opinion of
strangers. Still, it would be difficult to oppose Colonel Clive."

Further  conversation  was  cut short by the arrival of a messenger
summoning Desmond to attend the colonel.

"Where is he?" he asked.

"Under a clump of trees beyond the camp, sir. He's been there by himself
an hour or more."

Desmond hurried off. On the way he met Major Coote.

"Hullo, Burke," cried the major; "you've heard the news?"

"Yes, and I'm sorry for it."

"All smoke, my dear boy, all smoke. Colonel Clive has been thinking it
over, and has decided to disregard the decision of the Council and cross
the river at sunrise tomorrow."

Desmond could not refrain from flinging up his hat and performing other
antics expressive of delight; he was caught in the act by Clive himself,
who was returning to his tent.

"You're a madcap, Burke," he said. "Come to my tent."

He  employed  Desmond during the next hour in writing orders to the
officers of his force. This consisted of about nine hundred Europeans,
two hundred Topasses, a few lascars, and some two thousand Sepoys. Eight
six-pounders and two howitzers formed the whole of the artillery. Among
the Europeans were about fifty sailors, some from the king's ships, some
from merchantmen. Among the latter were Mr. Toley and Bulger, whose
excellent service in capturing the Good Intent had enforced their request
to be allowed to accompany the little army.

Shortly before dawn on June twenty-second Clive's men began to cross the
river. The passage being made in safety, they rested during the hot
hours, and resumed their march in the evening amid a heavy storm of rain,
often having to wade waist-high the flooded fields. Soon after midnight
the men, drenched to the skin, reached a mango grove somewhat north of
the village of Plassey: and there, as they lay down in discomfort to
snatch a brief sleep before dawn, they heard the sound of tom toms and
trumpets from the Nawab's camp three miles away.

"'Tis a real comfort, that there noise," remarked Bulger as he stirred
his campfire with his hook. Desmond had come to bid him good night. "Ay,
true comfort to a sea-goin' man like me. For why? 'Cos it makes me feel
at  home.  Why,  I  don't  sleep  easy  if  there en't some sort o'
hullabaloo--wind or wave, or, if ashore, cats a-caterwaulin'. No, Mr.
Subah, Nawab, or whatsomdever you call yourself, you won't frighten Bill
Bulger with your tum-tum-tumin'. I may be wrong, Mr. Burke, which I never
am, but there'll be tum-tum-tum of another sort tomorrer."

The grove held by Clive's troops was known as the Laksha Bagh--the grove
of a hundred thousand trees. It was nearly half a mile long and three
hundred yards broad. A high embankment ran all round it, and beyond this
a weedy ditch formed an additional protection against assault. A little
north of the grove, on the bank of the river Cossimbazar, stood a stone
hunting box belonging to Sirajuddaula. Still farther north, near the
river, was a quadrangular tank, and beyond this a redoubt and a mound of
earth. The river there makes a loop somewhat like a horseshoe in shape,
and in the neck of land between the curves of the stream the Nawab had
placed his intrenched camp.

His army numbered nearly seventy thousand men, of whom fifty thousand
were infantry, armed with matchlocks, bows and arrows, pikes and swords.
He had in all fifty-three guns, mounted on platforms drawn by elephants
and oxen. The most efficient part of his artillery was commanded by
Monsieur  Sinfray,  who  had  under  him  some fifty Frenchmen from
Chandernagore. The Nawab's vanguard consisted of fifteen thousand men
under his most trusty lieutenants, including Manik Chand and Mir Madan.
Rai Durlabh, the captor of Cossimbazar, and two other officers commanded
separate divisions.

Dawn had hardly broken on June twenty-third, King George's birthday, when
Mir  Madan  with a body of picked troops, seven thousand foot, five
thousand horse, and Sinfray's artillery, moved out to the attack with
great clamor of trumpets and drums. The remainder of the Nawab's army
formed a wide arc about the north and east of the English position.
Nearest to the grove was Mir Jafar's detachment.

The English were arranged in four divisions, under Majors Killpatrick,
Grant and Coote, and Captain Gaupp. These had taken position in front of
the embankment, the guns on the left, the Europeans in the center, the
Sepoys on the right. Sinfray's gunners occupied an eminence near the tank
about two hundred yards in advance of the grove, and made such good play
that Clive, directing operations from the Nawab's hunting box, deemed it
prudent to withdraw his men into the grove, where they were sheltered
from the enemy's fire. The Nawab's troops hailed this movement with loud
shouts of exultation, and, throwing their guns forward, opened a still
more vigorous cannonade, which, however, did little damage.

If Mir Madan had had the courage and dash to order a combined assault,
there is very little doubt that he must have overwhelmed Clive's army by
sheer weight of numbers. But he let the opportunity slip. Meanwhile Clive
had sent forward his two howitzers and two large guns to check Sinfray's
fire.

Midday came, and save for the cannonading no fighting had taken place.
Clive left the hunting box, called his officers together, and gave orders
that they were to hold their positions during the rest of the day and
prepare to storm the Nawab's camp at midnight. He was still talking to
them when a heavy shower descended, the rain falling in torrents for an
hour. Wet through, Clive hastened to the hunting lodge to change his
clothes.

Scarcely  had  he  departed  when the enemy's fire slackened. Their
ammunition, having been left exposed, had been rendered almost entirely
useless by the rain. Fancying that the English gunners had been equally
careless, Mir Madan ordered his horse to charge; but the Englishmen had
kept their powder dry and received the cavalry with a deadly fire that
sent them headlong back. At this moment Mir Madan himself was killed by a
cannonball, and his followers, dismayed at his loss, began a precipitate
retreat to their intrenchments.

Clive was still absent. The sight of the enemy retreating was too much
for Major Killpatrick. Forgetting the order to maintain his position, he
thought the moment opportune for a general advance. He turned to Desmond,
who had remained at his side all the morning, and said:

"Burke, run off to Mr. Clive, and tell him the Moors are retreating, and
I am following up."

Desmond hurried away, and reached the hunting box just as Clive had
completed his change of clothes. He delivered his message. Then for the
first  time  he saw Clive's temper at full blaze. With a passionate
imprecation he rushed from the lodge, and came upon the gallant major
just as he was about to lead his men to the assault.

"What the deuce do you mean, sir, by disobeying my orders? Take your men
back to the grove, and be quick about it."

His  tone stung like a whip. But Killpatrick had the courage of his
opinions, and Desmond admired the frank manner in which he replied.

"I beg a thousand pardons, Mr. Clive, for my breach of orders, but I
thought 'twas what you yourself, sir, would have done, had you been on
the spot. If we can drive the Frenchmen from that eminence yonder we
command the field, sir, and--"

"You're right, sir," said Clive, his rage subsiding as easily as it had
arisen. "You're too far forward to retire now. I'll lead your companies.
Bring up the rest of the men from the grove."

Placing himself at the head of two companies of grenadiers he continued
the advance. Sinfray did not await the assault. He hastily evacuated his
position, retiring on the redoubt near the Nawab's intrenchments. It was
apparent to Clive that the main body of the enemy was by this time much
demoralized, and he was eager to make a vigorous attack upon them while
in this state. But two circumstances gave him pause. To advance upon the
intrenchments would bring him under a crossfire from the redoubt, and he
had sufficient respect for the Frenchmen to hesitate to risk losses among
his small body of men. Further, the movements of the enemy's detachments
on his right caused him some uneasiness. He suspected that they were the
troops of Mir Jafar and Rai Durlabh, but he had no certain information on
that point, nor had he received a message from them. He knew that Mir
Jafar was untrustworthy, therefore he was unwilling to risk a general
assault until assured that the troops on his flank were not hostile to
him.

The doubt was suddenly resolved when he saw them check their movement,
retire, and draw apart from the remainder of the Nawab's army. Giving the
word at once to advance, he led his men to storm the redoubt and the
mound on its right. For a short time Sinfray and his gallant Frenchmen
showed a bold front; but the vigorous onslaught of the English struck
fear into the hearts of his native allies; the news that the Nawab had
fled completed their panic; and then began a wild and disorderly flight;
horsemen galloping from the field; infantry scampering this way and that;
elephants trumpeting; camels screaming, as they charged through the
rabble. With British cheers and native yells Clive's men poured into the
Nawab's camp, some dashing on in pursuit of the enemy, others delaying to
plunder the baggage and stores, of which immense quantities lay open to
their hand.

By half-past five on that memorable twenty-third of June the battle was
over--the battle that gave Britain immediately the wealthiest province of
India and, indirectly, the mastery of the whole of that vast Empire. The
loss to the British was only twenty-three killed and fifty wounded.

Clive rested for a while in Sirajuddaula's tent, where he found on his
inkstand a list of thirteen courtiers whom, even in that moment of dire
extremity, he had condemned to death. From a prisoner it was learned that
the Nawab had escaped on a camel with two thousand horsemen, fleeing
toward  Murshidabad.  All  day he had been in a state of terror and
agitation. Deprived of his bravest officer Mir Madan, betrayed by his own
relatives, the wretched youth had not waited for the critical moment.
Himself carried to his capital the news of his defeat.

Orders were given to push on that night to Daudpur, six miles north of
Plassey. But some time was occupied by Clive's commissariat in replacing
their  exhausted  bullocks with teams captured in the Nawab's camp.
Meanwhile Clive sent Eyre Coote forward with a small detachment to keep
the enemy on the run. Among those who accompanied him was Desmond, with
Bulger and Mr. Toley. Desmond hoped that he might overtake and capture
Monsieur  Sinfray,  from  whom  he thought it likely he might wrest
information about Mrs. Merriman and her daughter. Diggle had made use of
Sinfray's house; it was not improbable that the Frenchmen knew something
about the ladies. As for the seamen, they were so much disgusted at the
tameness of the enemy's resistance that they were eager for anything that
promised activity and adventure. Their eagerness was no whit diminished
when Desmond mentioned what he had in his mind.

"By thunder, sir," said Bulger, "give me the chanst and I'll learn the
mounseer the why and wherefore of it. And as for Diggle--well, I may be
wrong, but I'll lay my share o' the prize money out o' the Good Intent
that  he's  hatchin' mischief, and not far off neither. Show a leg,
mateys."



Chapter 30: In which Coja Solomon reappears: and gives our hero valuable
information.


Before Major Coote reached Daudpur he was overtaken by a horseman bearing
a message from Clive.

"A job for you, Burke," said the major, after reading the note. "Mr.
Clive is annoyed at the Nawab's escape and thinks he may give us trouble
yet if he can join hands with Law and his Frenchmen. I am to send you
ahead to reconnoiter. You've been to Murshidabad, I think?"

"No, only to Cossimbazar, but that is not far off."

"Well, you know the best part of the road, at any rate. The colonel wants
you to go with a small party to Murshidabad and find out whether the
Frenchmen have come within reach. You'll have to go on foot: take care
you don't get into trouble. Pick your own men, of course. You must have a
rest first."

"Two or three hours will be enough for me. If we start soon we shall
reach Murshidabad before dawn, and with little risk. I'm to come back and
report, sir?"

"Of course. No doubt you will meet us on the way."

On reaching Daudpur Desmond selected twenty Sepoys who knew the country
and ordered them to be ready to start with him at midnight. Bulger and
Mr. Toley he had already informed of his mission, and he found them more
than eager to share in it. Just after midnight the little party set out.
A march of some four hours brought them to the outskirts of Murshidabad.
Desmond called a halt, encamped for the remainder of the night in a grove
of palmyras, and at dawn sent forward one of the Sepoys, disguised as a
ryot, to make inquiries as to what was happening in the town.

It was near midday when the man returned. He reported that the Nawab had
gone to his palace, while the chiefs who had accompanied or followed him
from the field of battle had shown their recognition that his cause was
lost by deserting him and going to their own houses. He had heard nothing
of the French. The Nawab, in order to ingratiate himself with the people,
had thrown open his treasury, from which all and sundry were carrying off
what they pleased. The city was in such a disturbed state that it would
be exceedingly unsafe for any stranger to enter.

Desmond decided to remain where he was until nightfall, and then to skirt
the city and move northwards in the hope of learning something definite
of the movements of the French. Meanwhile he sent the man back to learn
if anything happened during the day.

In the evening the man returned again. This time he reported that Mir
Jafar had arrived with a large force and taken possession of the Nawab's
palace  of  Mansurganj.  Immediately  after  the  traitor's arrival
Sirajuddaula had collected all the gold and jewels on which he could lay
hands and fled with his women. Suspecting that the luckless Nawab was
making for Rajmahal in the hope of meeting Law there, Desmond made up his
mind to follow. He struck his camp, marched all night, and soon after
daybreak reached a village near the river some miles south of Rajmahal.

He was surprised to find the village deserted. But passing a small house,
he heard cries of distress, and going in he found the place full of smoke
from some straw that had been kindled, and a man tied by his thumbs to a
staple  in the wall. He recognized the man in a moment. It was Coja
Solomon, Mr. Merriman's rascally agent of Cossimbazar. He was half dead
with pain and fright. Desmond cut him loose and hurried him out of the
stifling room into the open, where Bulger revived him with copious douses
of water until he was sufficiently recovered to explain his unhappy
plight.

"God be praised!" exclaimed the Armenian fervently. "You were in time,
sir.  I was seeking safety. The Faujdar of Murshidabad villainously
ill-used me. He owes me much, but there is no gratitude in him. I saw
that  neither  my  life nor my goods were safe, so I packed up what
valuables I could and left with my servants, intending to go to Patna,
where I have a house. I had just reached this village when I saw a band
of some fifty horsemen approaching from the other end, and fearing that I
might be set upon and plundered I hastily concealed my goods at the edge
of  the tank hard by. Alas! it availed me nothing. My servants were
dispersed, and the risaldar of the horsemen, a European, seized me and
thrust me into this house, abandoned like all the rest, for the people
fled before his approach, fearing he would burn and destroy. Then I was
tied up as you saw, until I confessed where my valuables were hidden; one
of my servants must have betrayed me. The risaldar promised to release me
as soon as I should confess: but instead of that he set fire to the straw
out of pure villainy, for what could I do to him? I have been a good
friend to the English. Sir, pursue that man: he must be a Frenchman. I
will give you a quarter, nay, a third of my goods, if you recover them."

"That is impossible, Khwaja. I've only twenty men on foot: what is the
use of pursuing fifty on horseback? Your friendship for the British has
come, I fear, a little too late."

The Armenian wrung his hands in despair, whining that he was a ruined
man. Then his tone changed; was there not still a chance? He explained
that, a few hours before his capture, he had met a man who had recognized
him as the agent for Mr. Merriman. The man said that he was a servant of
Surendra  Nath Chuckerbutti and was on his way to meet Clive Sahib,
carrying a letter to him from his master. But he was worn out, having
come on foot a day and a night without rest. Coja Solomon unblushingly
confessed that, while the man slept at midday, he had taken the letter
from him and read it.

"Why did you do that?"

"I thought it would be safer with me, for every one knows--"

"Yes, that'll do, Khwaja; go on with your story."

"The letter was written at Malda, a village on the other side of the
river, and the writer, Surendra Nath, informed Mr. Clive that the wife
and daughter of Mr. Merriman were in his house there, and asked him to
send a party to bring them away. Naturally, sir, I was pleased to find--"

"Go on with your story," cried Desmond impatiently, all excitement at
coming upon the track of the ladies at last.

"It was while I was reading the letter that the horsemen came up. The
risaldar took it from me, read it, and questioned me. His face changed.
He smiled evilly, and from the questions he asked me, and from what I
heard him say to his followers, he has gone to Malda, with a design to
take these ladies."

"Stay, Khwaja, what was he like?"

"He was a tall man, with scars on his face, and on his right hand he wore
a black glove."

"The scoundrel!" exclaimed Desmond.

His look of trouble and anxiety did not escape the Armenian.

"It is but a little since he left me," he said. "If you make your way to
the village--it is three coss on the other side of the river--you may
capture him, sir, as well as regain my property, a third of which is
yours."

"But how--how, man?" cried Desmond impatiently. "How can we overtake him
on foot?"

"He will have to ride near to Rajmahal to find a ford, sir. He will cross
there, and ride back down the river some five coss before he comes to
Malda."

"But could he not swim the river?"

"He could, sir, but it is a feat he is not likely to attempt, seeing that
there is no need for haste. I implore you, sir, start at once. Otherwise
I am a ruined man; my old age will be spent in poverty and distress."

"If he can not cross, how can I?" said Desmond.

"There is sure to be a boat on the bank, sir, unless they have all been
seized by the Nawab, who, rumor says, is coming from Bhagwangola by river
to Rajmahal."

Desmond felt uneasy and perplexed. He doubted whether his duty to Clive
did  not forbid him to go in search of the ladies, and there was no
possibility of communicating in time with either Clive or Coote. Then it
suddenly occurred to him that pursuit of Diggle might well come within
his duty. Diggle was in the service of the Nawab; it was possible that he
was even leading an advance guard of Law's Frenchmen.

"Were there any other Europeans besides the risaldar among the horsemen?"
he asked.

"Two, sahib, and they were French. I suspect they were from the force of
Law, sahib; he was, I know, at Patna a few days ago."

Desmond hesitated no longer. His affection for Mr. Merriman prompted an
attempt to save the ladies: his mission from Clive was to discover the
movements of the French. If he set off on Diggle's track he might succeed
in both. It was a risky adventure--to pursue fifty men under such a
leader  as Diggle, with only a score. But twice before he had tried
conclusions with Diggle and come off best: why should fortune fail him
again?

Hurriedly explaining the situation to Mr. Toley and Bulger, he hastened
with his men down to the river. There was no boat at the village ghat. He
looked  anxiously  up  and down. On the opposite side he saw a long
riverboat moored in a narrow backwater. He could only get it by swimming,
and here the current ran so swiftly that to swim would be dangerous. Yet
on the spur of the moment he was preparing to take to the water himself
when one of his men, a slim and active Sepoy, volunteered to go.

"Good! I will give you ten rupees if you bring the boat across. You are a
good swimmer?"

"The sahib will see," replied the man, with a salaam and a smile.

He took a kedgeree pot, an earthen vessel used for cooking, and firmly
tied to it a stout bamboo some six feet long, so that the thicker end of
the pole was even with the mouth of the vessel. The boat was slightly
down the stream. The man ran a little way upstream to a point where a
spit of land jutted out into the river, his companions following quickly
with the pot. This they placed mouth downwards in the water. Then the
Sepoy mounted on top, launched himself on this novel buoy, and, holding
on to the pole, floated breast high in the water down with the current,
dexterously steering himself with his legs to the point where the boat
was moored. Soon he reached the spot. He clambered into the boat and with
rapid movements of the stern oar brought it to the other side, viewing
with beaming face the promised reward.

While this was going on the sky had been darkening. A northwester was
coming up, and after his experience on the eve of Plassey, Desmond knew
what that meant. He hastily embarked his men, and the boat started: but
it had scarcely covered a third of the distance across the river when the
wind  struck  it.  Fortunately  the sail was not up: as it was, the
flat-bottomed boat was nearly swamped. Drenching rain began to fall. The
river was lashed to fury: for three crowded minutes it seemed to Desmond
a miracle that the boat was still afloat. The waves dashed over its
sides; the men, blinded by the rain, were too much cowed to attempt to
bail out.

Desmond was at the helm; Bulger and Toley had an oar each; although only
a few yards distant, Desmond could scarcely see them through the pelting
rain. Then the wind moderated somewhat: he peremptorily ordered the men
to use their brass lotis {drinking vessel} to bale out the boat, and
determined to turn the storm to account.

With great difficulty he got the sail hoisted; and then the vessel ran
down the river at racing speed. The distance to Malda, as the Armenian
had told him, was six miles--four by river, two by land. By Diggle's
route it was ten miles. The horsemen had had such a start of him that he
feared he could not overtake them in time. Still, the storm that now
helped him would hinder them. If he survived the perils of the river
passage he might even yet succeed.

He was alive to the risks he ran. More than once, as the wind changed a
point, it seemed that the cranky craft must turn turtle. But she escaped
again and again, plunging on her headlong course. The Sepoys were sturdy
enough fellows, but being unused to the water they cowered in the bottom
of the boat, except when Desmond's stern command set them frantically
bailing.

Almost before it seemed possible they came in sight of a bend in the
river which one of the men, who knew the district, had described to
Desmond as the nearest point to the village he sought. So rapid had the
passage been that Desmond felt that, if they could only land in safety,
they might have gained considerably on Diggle's horsemen. The latter must
have felt the full effect of the gale: it was likely that they had taken
shelter  for a time. Desmond and his men were wet to the skin, but,
profiting by the recollection of what had happened at Plassey, they had
kept their ammunition dry.

At the bend the river presented a shelving beach, being at least twice as
wide at this point during the rainy season as at other periods. Without
hesitation Desmond ran the nose of the boat straight at the beach: she
came to with a violent bump; the men tumbled out waist deep into the
water, and with shrill cries of relief scrambled ashore.

No time was lost. Waiting only to inspect their muskets, Desmond at once
began the march, the band being led by the man who knew the country.
Another man, a noted runner, formerly a kasid in the employment of the
Nawab of the Deccan, was sent in advance to find Surendra Nath's house,
give him warning of Desmond's coming, and instruct him to have someone on
the lookout for the approach of the enemy, if Diggle were not, indeed,
already in possession of the village. The rest pushed on with all speed.
The storm had cleared the air: the rain had ceased, and though it was
unpleasant walking over the soppy ground, the march was much cooler than
it would otherwise have been.

Desmond longed for a hill from which to get a view of the country. But,
as almost everywhere in the valley of the Ganges, it was dead flat. The
party was within a quarter of a mile of the village when the kasid came
running back. He had found the Babu's house. From its flat roof a body of
horse had been seen in the distance, nearly a coss away. Desmond at once
ordered his men to double, and as they dashed into the village among the
wondering people, the kasid pointed out Surendra Nath's house at the far
end--a small two-storied building, surrounded by a wall and approached
through a rickety iron gateway. It was the first house to which the
approaching horsemen would come.

A man in native dress was standing at the gate. At first Desmond did not
recognize him, but as he drew nearer he saw that it was Surendra Nath
himself, looking years older--weak, thin, sunken-eyed, little like the
sleek, well-fed Babu Desmond had last seen in Calcutta.

"Are the ladies safe?" asked Desmond, yards ahead of his men.

"Yes, sir, quite safe," replied Surendra Nath, trembling.

"Thank God for that! Go in, Babu: tell them we are here to protect them."

While speaking he had eagerly scanned the surroundings. On each side of
the  sodden track that did duty for a road there was a mango grove.
Desmond directed Toley to take four men to one side, and Bulger four men
to the other, and place themselves among the trees. When the first three
files of the horsemen should have passed through, the seamen were to give
the word to fire; then, taking advantage of the inevitable confusion, to
rush with their men to the house. Desmond himself meanwhile, with the
remaining  twelve,  set  to  work to strengthen the defenses. These
proceedings were watched with amazement by the villagers, who, men,
women, and children, stood in groups, discussing in shrill tones the
movements of these energetic strangers.

There was a small veranda to the house. This was wrenched away by main
force. The posts and other parts of the woodwork were carried to the
gateway and piled up as rapidly as possible to form a rough barricade.
Scarcely was this task half accomplished when the clanking of weapons was
heard in the distance, soon accompanied by the swashing of horses' hoofs
on the drenched soil.

Desmond coolly ordered his men to proceed with the work. A minute later
there was a sharp discharge of musketry, followed by cries, shouts, and
the sound of galloping horses. The villagers scuttled away shrieking.
Immediately afterward Bulger and Toley with their eight men sprang from
cover and made a dash for the wall.

"Muskets first!" shouted Desmond.

The muskets were pitched over: then the men scrambled up, Desmond and his
Sepoys assisting them to get across. Almost the first to drop down into
the compound was Bulger, whose hook had proved, not for the first time,
of more service than a sound left arm. Once over himself, he used his
hook to haul the Sepoys after him, with many a vigorous "Yo, heave ho!"

"All aboard, sir," he cried, when the last of the men was within the
wall. "I may be wrong, but I lay my button hook 'tis now all hands to
repel boarders; and only two cutlasses among us--mine and Mr. Toley's.
What ho, mateys! who cares--"

Desmond ordered four of his men to post themselves at the barricaded
gateway: the rest he divided into two parties, and stationed behind the
wall at each side. The wall was six feet high--too high to fire over; but
as it was in a somewhat dilapidated condition there was no difficulty in
knocking away several loose bricks at intervals, so as to make a rough
and ready battlement. Desmond instructed the men to fire alternately
through the embrasures thus made. As soon as one had fired he was to fall
back and reload as fast as possible while another man took his place. By
this device, Desmond hoped to deceive the enemy for a time as to the
number of the defenders in the compound.

But it was not to be expected that the enemy could long be kept out, and
in the last resort it would be necessary to retreat to the house. In view
of the presence of the ladies this was a step to be avoided if possible.
It might indeed be the wiser course to surrender, for their sakes. As the
thought struck Desmond he called to the Babu, who was keeping watch on
the roof.

"Babu," he said, "ask the ladies to occupy the least exposed room. Tell
them  that  if  the  enemy  get over the wall I will try to make an
arrangement with them, rather than provoke an attack on the house."

The Babu disappeared. But a few moments later Phyllis Merriman, wearing
the costume of a native lady, came running out.

"Mother  bids me say, Mr. Burke," she said, "on no account let such
considerations weigh with you. She says, fight to the last. We will risk
anything rather than go back to captivity. You will beat them, Mr. Burke,
won't you?"

"I shall do my best, Miss Merriman," replied Desmond. "But pray go back:
they may be here at any moment. I need not say how glad I am to find you
well. Pray tell Mrs. Merriman that we shall all do our best for her and
you."

"I know you will. And my father?"

"He is distressed, of course, but clings to hope. Do, Miss Merriman,
retire at once. I see the enemy coming from the grove."

"Phyllis! Phyllis!" cried Mrs. Merriman from the house; "come in at once!

"Mr. Burke, send her in. Have no mercy on the wretches, I implore you."

The girl walked back reluctantly. Unknown to Desmond, she went no farther
than the doorway, where, just hidden from sight, she watched all that
followed.

The enemy had clearly been nonplussed by their sudden check. There were
no  British  troops, as far as they knew, for many miles round, and
concerted resistance from the natives was unlikely. But they were now
emerging from the mango grove, a hundred yards away. They came on foot,
leaving their horses out of musket range.

Desmond's heart sank as he counted them. There were even more than he had
supposed. They numbered fifty-four and several had no doubt been left in
charge of the horses. Still, he felt that he had two advantages. The
first was his position behind the wall; the second, the fact that the
enemy, unless they had obtained information from the villagers, could not
know what force they had to deal with. Their ignorance, of course, must
be only temporary: if one of them should succeed in mounting the wall the
weakness of the defense must immediately be seen.

As the enemy, tall men in the costume of native cavalry, assembled by
twos and threes at the edge of the grove, Desmond noticed three Europeans
leave the main body and advance some way into the open. It was with a
flush of indignation and a fierce resolve to bring him at last to book
that Desmond recognized one of them as Diggle. With his companions he
walked at a safe distance completely round the building.

For some time they halted at the back, carefully scanning the position.
Here the wall approached the house much more closely than in the front,
and no one could mount it without being fully exposed to fire from the
upper windows. After his examination, Diggle returned with the two men,
whom from their appearance Desmond judged to be Frenchmen, to the main
body, and sent off half a dozen men toward the other end of the village.
While  they  were gone one of the Frenchmen seemed to Desmond to be
expostulating with Diggle: but the latter only laughed and waved his
gloved hand in the direction of the house.

The messengers soon returned, dragging with them three of the villagers.
These  Diggle took aside separately and questioned: it was clear to
Desmond that he was ascertaining the strength of the garrison. Apparently
satisfied, he divided his force into three parts; the largest, consisting
of some forty men, remained at the edge of the grove; the two smaller
proceeded to the right and left of the back of the house. One was in
command of a Frenchman, but the Frenchman who had expostulated with
Diggle had apparently refused to have anything to do with the affair: he
held himself aloof, and by and by disappeared into the grove.

Diggle's evident intention was to weaken the garrison by forcing Desmond
to divide his already too small force. He had to detach eight of his
men--three to the windows and five to the wall--leaving only fourteen,
including Bulger and Toley, to meet the rush in front.

It was not long in coming. Diggle did not wait to parley. Taking a musket
from one of his men he raised it to his shoulder and fired at a Sepoy,
whose head just showed above the gate. The man raised his hand to his
brow and fell back with a sharp cry--a bullet had plowed a furrow through
his scalp. Desmond checked his men as they were about to fire in reply:
but when, in the rush that followed, the enemy came within thirty yards,
he gave the word, and seven muskets flashed forth across the barricade.

The attacking party were coming forward in close order, and five of the
men fell. But the rest sprang forward with shrill yells, Diggle, who was
untouched, urging them on. Even the fire of Desmond's second rank failed
to check them. Two or three dropped; others were soon swarming up the
wall; and though the defenders with clubbed muskets struck savagely at
their heads and hands as they appeared above the coping, if one drew
back, another took his place: and the wall was so long that at several
points there were gaps between Desmond's Sepoys where the enemy could
mount unmolested.

Desmond, having discharged his two pistols, disposing of one of the
assailants with each shot, was in the act of reloading when Diggle leaped
into  the compound, followed by two of his men. Shouting to Bulger,
Desmond threw the pistols and rammer on the ground behind him, and,
drawing his sword, dashed at the three intruders, who were slightly
winded by the charge and their exertions in scaling the wall.

Desmond could never afterward remember the details of the crowded moments
that followed. There were cries all around him: behind, the strident
voice of Mr. Toley was cheering his men to repel the assault at the back
of the house: at his side Bulger was bellowing like a bull of Bashan. But
all this was confused noise to him, for his attention was wholly occupied
with his old enemy. His first lunge at Diggle was neatly parried, and the
two, oblivious of all that was happening around them, looked full into
each other's eyes, read grim determination there, and fought with a cold
fury that meant death to the first that gave an opening to his opponent's
sword.

If  motive  counted, if the right cause could always win, the issue
admitted of no doubt. Desmond had a heavy score to pay off. From the time
when  he had met Diggle in the street at Market Drayton to his last
encounter with him at the Battle of the Carts, he had been the mark of
his enmity, malice, spite, trickery. But Desmond thought less of his own
wrongs than of the sorrow of his friend, Mr. Merriman, and the harrowing
wretchedness which must have been the lot of the ladies while they were
in Diggle's power. The man had brought misery into so many lives that it
would be a good deed if, in the fortune of war, Desmond's sword could rid
the world of him.

And Diggle, on his side, was nerved by the power of hate. Baseless as
were his suspicions of Desmond's friendship with Sir Willoughby Stokes,
he felt that this boy was an obstacle. Ever since their paths had crossed
he had been conscious that he had to do with a finer, nobler nature than
his own: and Desmond's courage and skill had already frustrated him. As
he faced him now, it was with the feeling that, if this boy were killed,
a bar would be removed from his career.

Thus, on either side, it was war to the death. What Desmond lacked in
skill  and experience he made up for by youth and strength. The two
combatants were thus equally matched: a grain in the scale might decide
the issue. But the longer the fight lasted the better were Desmond's
chances. He had youth in his favor. He had led a hard life: his muscles
were like iron. The older man by and by began to flag: more than once his
guard  was  nearly  beaten  down:  nothing  but  his great skill in
swordsmanship, and the coolness that never deserted him, saved him from
the sharp edge of Desmond's blade.

But when he seemed almost at the end of his strength, fortune suddenly
befriended him. Bulger, with his clubbed musket and terrible iron hook,
had disposed of the two men who leaped with Diggle into the compound; but
there were others behind them; three men dropped to the ground close by,
and,  making a simultaneous rush, bore Bulger back against Desmond,
hampering his sword arm.

One of Desmond's Sepoys sprang to the rescue, but he was too late to stem
the tide. A blow from a musket stock disabled Bulger's right arm; he lost
his footing; as he fell, his hook, still active, caught Diggle's leg and
brought him to the ground, just as, taking advantage of the diversion, he
was making exultantly what he intended for a final lunge at Desmond. He
fell headlong, rolling over Bulger, who was already on the ground.

How the end came Desmond did not clearly see. He knew that he was beset
by three of Diggle's men, and, falling back before them, he heard the
voice of Phyllis Merriman close by, and felt his pistols thrust into his
hands. She had slipped out of the doorway, picked up the weapons as they
lay where Desmond had flung them, completed the loading, and advanced
fearlessly into the thick of the fray. At one and the same moment Desmond
fired upon his enemies and implored the brave girl to go back.

Then suddenly there was a lull in the uproar. Bulger was upon his feet.
Diggle's men paused to gaze at their prostrate leader. Then every man of
them was scrambling pell mell over the wall, yelling as the stocks of the
Sepoys' muskets sped them on their flight.

"What is it?" asked Desmond.

Bulger pointed to Diggle, among the fallen.

"He've gone to his account, sir, which I may be wrong, but the Almighty
have got a long black score agen him."

"How did it happen?"

Bulger lifted his hook.

"'Twas that there Diggle as was the why and wherefore o' this little
ornament, sir, and 'twas only right he should be paid for what he done.
We fell down, him and me; I was under. He hoisted himself on his hands to
get free, and I lifted my hook, sir, and caught him a blow under the
chin. If it didn't break his neck, sir, my name en't Bill Bulger, which
I'm sorry for his poor wicked soul all the same."

Phyllis had her hands clasped about Desmond's arm.

"Is he dead?" she asked in a voice of awe.

"Come away," said Desmond quietly, leading her toward the house. "Let us
find your mother."



Chapter 31: In which friends meet, and part: and our hero hints a proposal.


The fight was over. It was Diggle's quarrel; neither the Frenchmen nor
the natives had any concern in it, and when their leader was dead they
had no more interest in continuing the struggle. They drew off; the weary
defenders collected the dead and attended to the wounded; and Desmond
went into the house.

"God bless you, Mr. Burke!" said Mrs. Merriman, tears streaming from her
eyes as she met him and clasped his hands. "You are not hurt?"

"Just a scratch or two, ma'am: nothing to trouble about."

But the ladies insisted on bathing the two slight wounds on head and arm
which in the heat of the fight he had not noticed. And then Mrs. Merriman
told him all that had happened since the day he left them in such merry
spirits at Khulna. How they had been trapped by Diggle, pretending to be
a Monsieur de Bonnefon: how he had conveyed them to the house of his
friend Sinfray: how after many months their whereabouts had been revealed
to  Surendra Nath by one of his numerous relatives, a man who had a
distant  cousin  among Sinfray's servants: how the Babu, displaying
unwonted energy, had come with a number of friends and fallen unawares
upon their captors, afterward taking them to a house of his father's in
this village: how the old man and his son had both been stricken with
jungle fever, and the father died, and when the Babu lay helpless and
unconscious on his sickbed they had found no means of communicating with
their friends.

Mrs. Merriman shuddered as she spoke of the terrors of their captivity.
They had been well treated, indeed; Monsieur de Bonnefon, or Diggle, as
she afterward learned to call him, had visited them several times and
seen that their wants were supplied. But their enforced seclusion and
inactivity, their dread of the unknown, their uncertainty as to what
might have befallen Mr. Merriman, had told heavily upon their health and
spirits. Rumor brought news of the tragedy of the Black Hole: they heard
that the few survivors were prisoners of the Nawab; and they feared the
worst. From Surendra Nath they learned that they need not despair; and
since  then  they  had lived on in the hope that, when the Babu had
recovered from his illness, he would find some means of restoring them to
the husband and father from whom they had so long been parted.

"Surendra Nath has a heart of gold, Mr. Burke," said Mrs. Merriman in
concluding  her  story. "Poor man! he has been very ill. We must do
something to show our gratitude for his devotion when we get back to
Calcutta."

Desmond then in his turn told them all that had happened since their
disappearance. When they learned of the result of the Battle of Plassey,
and that Clive was marching toward Murshidabad, they were eager to set
off at once.

"Yes, ma'am," said Desmond, "we shall start as soon as possible. I shall
leave you to make your preparations. It may not be possible to start
before night, the country being so disturbed, so that if you can sleep
through the day you will be fitter for the journey."

He left them, and going into the compound, found Bulger and Toley looking
with curiosity at the body of Diggle.

"Hi, sir!" said Bulger as Desmond came up to them: "this here bit o'
velvet is explained at last. Mr. Toley, he slit it with his cutlass, sir,
and never did I see a man so down in the mouth when he knowed what was
under it. 'T'ent nothing at all, sir; just three letters; and what for he
went and burnt them three letters into the back of his hand 'twould beat
a Daniel to explain.

"'F u r,' sir, that's what they spells; but whether 'tis rabbit skin or
fox I can't say, though 'tis most likely fox, knowing the man."

Desmond stooped and looked at the unclad right hand. The letters F U R
were branded livid below the knuckles.

"He was always quoting Latin, Bulger," he said. "'Fur' is a Latin word:
it means 'thief.'"

"Which I might have knowed it, sir, only I think as how the man that did
the stampin' might have done it in plain English. I don't hold with these
foreign lingos, sir; there allers seems something sly and deceivin' about
em. No right man 'ud ever think 'fur' meant 'thief'! Thief an' all, sir,
he's dead. Mr. Toley and me'll put him away decent like: and it won't do
him no harm if we just says 'Our Father' over the grave."

Desmond was turning away when three of his men came into the compound,
two grasping a Frenchman by the arms, the third a black boy. The former
Desmond recognized as the man whom he had seen expostulating with Diggle;
the latter was Scipio Africanus, looking scared and miserable.

The men explained that, pursuing the fugitives, they had captured their
prisoners in the grove. The Frenchman at once addressed Desmond in broken
English. He said that he had tried in vain to dissuade Diggle from his
attempt to capture the ladies. The party had been sent in advance by
Monsieur Law to announce his coming. He was at Patna with a considerable
body of French corps designed for the support of the Nawab. As he was
speaking the Frenchman caught sight of Diggle's exposed hand. He started,
with an exclamation of surprise. Then in answer to Desmond's question he
revealed the secret that had so long perplexed him.

Seven years before, he said, in December, 1750, there was a brilliant
foreigner named Peloti among the officers of Major de la Touche, a young
soldier who had been singled out by Dupleix, the French Governor of
Pondicherry, as a military genius of the first order. Peloti was with the
French army when, less than four thousand in number, it fell upon the
vast hordes of Nadir Jang near Gingi and won the battle that set Muzaffar
Jang on the throne of the Deccan and marked the zenith of Dupleix's
success. The new Nawab, in gratitude to the French for the services
rendered him, sent to Dupleix a present of a million rupees, and a casket
of jewels worth half as much again. This casket was given to Peloti to
deliver:  he  had  abused  his  trust by abstracting the gem of the
collection,  a  beautiful diamond; and the theft being accidentally
discovered, Dupleix in his rage ordered the thief to be branded on the
right  hand  with the word 'fur,' and drummed him out of the French
service.

The identity of Peloti with Diggle was not suspected by the French, and
when  Diggle a few months back offered his services to Bussy, their
commander, they were eagerly accepted, for his evident knowledge of
Clive's movements and of affairs in Calcutta promised to be exceedingly
valuable. None of the French then in the Deccan knew him: and though they
remarked his curious habit of wearing a fingerless glove on his right
hand, no one connected it with the half-forgotten story of the stolen
diamond.

Desmond thanked the Frenchman for his information.

"I am sorry to keep you a prisoner, Monsieur," he said; "but I must
trouble you to return with me to Murshidabad. I can promise you good
treatment from Colonel Clive."

The Frenchman smiled, shrugged, and exclaimed: "Eh bien! La guerre est la
guerre!"

Remembering Coja Solomon, Desmond asked Toley to search Diggle's body
before burying it. But nothing was found, except a little money. The
Armenian's property had evidently been left under guard in the grove, and
was doubtless, by this time, far away, in the possession of one or other
of Diggle's runagate followers.

At nightfall the party set off. Closed chairs had been provided for the
ladies, and these were carried in the midst, Bulger on one side, Toley on
the other, and Desmond behind. One person whom Desmond had expected to
take with him was absent: Scipio Africanus, on seeing the dead body of
his master, had uttered one heartrending howl and fled. Desmond never saw
him again. He reflected that, villainous as Diggle had proved to be, he
had at least been able to win the affection of his servant.

On the way they met Coja Solomon, who, on learning of the disappearance
of his valuables, heaped abuse upon Desmond and went away wringing his
hands. Traveling slowly, by easy stages, and only by night, it took the
party three days to reach Murshidabad. Desmond found that Clive had
entered the city two days before and taken up his abode at the Murda
Bagh. Mir Jafar had been accepted as Nawab, and nothing had been heard of
Sirajuddaula.

Desmond first sought out Major Coote.

"By George, Burke!" said that officer, "Colonel Clive is in a towering
rage at your long absence; he expected your return long ago. And you
ought to know that Colonel Clive in a rage is not quite as mild as milk."

"I'm  afraid I must brave his anger," said Desmond. "I've found Mr.
Merriman's ladies."

"You have?"

"Yes, and brought them back with me. And Peloti will trouble us no more:
we had to fight for the ladies, and Bulger killed him. Won't Mr. Clive
forgive me?"

"I can't answer for Mr. Clive; no one can say what he will do. But I tell
you one thing: you'll put Warren Hastings' nose out of joint. You know he
was sweet on Merriman's daughter."

"No, I didn't know it. I don't see what that has to do with me."

"Don't you, egad!" said Coote with a laugh. "Sure, my boy, you'll see it
before long. Well, I won't keep you to hear your story. Go to Mr. Clive
at once; and let me know what happens."

Desmond found Clive in company with Mr. Watts, and Rai Durlabh, Mr.
Scrafton and Omichand. He had some difficulty in obtaining admittance;
only his representation that he bore important news prevailed with the
darwan. He learned afterwards that the great bankers, the Seths, had just
left the meeting, after it had been decided that, owing to the depletion
of the treasury, only one-half of the immense sums promised to Clive and
the English in Mir Jafar's treaty could be paid at once, the remainder to
follow in three years.

Desmond entered the room just in time to hear Clive say to Scrafton:

"It is now time to undeceive Omichand."

Mr. Scrafton went up to the Sikh, and said quietly in Hindustani:

"Omichand, the red paper is a trick: you are to have nothing."

Omichand stood for a moment dazed: then he fell back in a faint and was
carried by his attendants from the room. The shock had unhinged the poor
man's reason: he lingered insane for eighteen months and died.

At the time Desmond knew nothing of the deceit that had been practised on
him; but in the light of his after knowledge he understood the strange
expression that clouded Clive's face as the old man was carried away: a
look of pity mingled with contempt. Catching sight of Desmond, the great
soldier flashed out:

"What do you mean, sir, by absenting yourself so long? I sent you in
advance because I thought you would be speedy. A snail would have gone
more quickly."

"I am sorry, sir," said Desmond; "I was unexpectedly delayed. I had got
nearly  as  far  as Rajmahal when I learned the whereabouts of Mrs.
Merriman. She was in hiding with Surendra Nath, one of Mr. Merriman's
men.  I  heard  that  Diggle--Peloti, sir--was about to attempt her
recapture, and I felt that you yourself, had you been in my place, would
have tried to save the ladies."

Clive grunted.

"Go on, sir," he said.

"We found the place just in time, sir. Diggle came up with a couple of
Frenchmen and a troop of native horse. We beat them off, and I have
brought the ladies here."

"And forgotten your instructions?"

"No, sir. Monsieur Law was advancing from Patna: Diggle was coming ahead
to inform the Nawab of his approach. But the whole country knows of your
victory, and I fancy Monsieur Law will come no further."

"And Diggle?"

"He was killed in the fight, sir."

"Indeed! And how many did his men muster?"

"Nearly sixty, sir."

"And yours?"

"A score of Sepoys, sir; but I had two seamen with me: Bulger, whom you
know; and Mr. Toley, an American, mate of one of Mr. Merriman's ships.
They were worth a dozen others."

Clive grunted again.

"Well, go and tell Mrs. Merriman I shall be glad to wait on her. And look
here, Burke: you may consider yourself a captain in the Company's service
from this day. Come now, I'm very busy: go and give Mrs. Merriman my
message, and take care that next time you are sent on special service you
are not drawn off on any such mad expedition. Come to me tomorrow."

Desmond trod on air as he left the house. Clive's impulsiveness had never
before seemed to him such an admirable quality.

As he went into the street he became aware, from the excited state of the
crowd, that something had happened. Meeting a Sepoy he inquired, and
learned  that Sirajuddaula had just been brought into the city. The
luckless Nawab had arrived in his boat close to Rajmahal, and with the
recklessness  that  characterized him, he had gone ashore while his
servants prepared a meal. Though disguised in mean clothes he had been
recognized by a fakir, who happened to be at the very spot where he
landed. The man had a grudge against him; his ears and nose had been cut
off some time before at the Nawab's order. Hastening into Rajmahal he had
informed the governor, who sent a guard at once to seize the unhappy
prince and bring him to Murshidabad.

Before the next morning dawned Sirajuddaula was dead. Mir Jafar handed
him to his son Miran with strict orders to guard him. Acting on a mocking
suggestion of Miran, a courtier named Muhammad Beg took a band of armed
men  to the Nawab's room, and hacked him to death. Next morning his
mutilated body was borne on an elephant's back through the streets, and
it was known to his former subjects that the prince who had ruled them so
evilly was no more. Such was the piteous end, in his twenty-sixth year,
of Sirajuddaula.

Immediately on arriving in Murshidabad, Desmond had sent a kasid to
Calcutta to inform Mr. Merriman that his wife and daughter had been found
and were safe. The merchant set off at once on horseback and arrived in
the midst of preparations for the return of the army to Calcutta. Desmond
was present at his meeting with the ladies; the scene brought a lump into
his  throat;  and  his  embarrassment was complete when one and all
overwhelmed him with praise and thanks.

A few days later a long procession of three hundred boats, laden with the
money, plate and jewels that had been handed over to the British, set off
with colors flying, amid strains of martial music, down the river to
Calcutta. Every man who had taken part in the expedition had a share of
the vast treasure. Desmond found himself richer by three thousand pounds.

Calcutta was en fete when the expedition returned. Desmond was surprised
to see how much had already been done to repair the ruin wrought by the
Nawab. A new city was rising from the ruins. Congratulations were poured
on the victors; and though now, as always, Clive had to contend with the
jealousies of lesser men, there was none but had to admit that he was a
great man who deserved well of his country.

Mr. Merriman at once completed the winding up of his business, begun
months before. His recent troubles had much aged him; India was to him
now a hateful country, and he decided to return to England immediately
with his wife and daughter. He tried to persuade Desmond to accompany
him, but in vain.

"'Tis very good of you, sir," said Desmond warmly; "you have done so much
for me. But Mr. Clive has made me a captain: his work is not yet done;
and I do not feel that I can leave him until I have done something to
justify his confidence in me."

"Well, boys will be boys. I have made a fortune here: I suppose you want
to do the same. 'Tis natural. But don't stay in India as long as I have.
I don't want to lose sight of you. You have done me the best service man
ever did: you have avenged my brother and restored to me all that I held
dearest in the world. I love you as a son, Desmond; I wish you were my
son, indeed, my boy."

Desmond looked a little uncomfortable.

"May I venture--" he began hesitatingly; "do you think, in some years'
time, if I get on here, I might--"

"Well?"

"Do you think I might--in short, that I might have a chance of becoming
your son, sir?"

"Eh? Is that it? Mr. Warren Hastings asked me the same question the other
day, Desmond. You can't both have her, you know. What does Phyllis say?"

"I--I haven't asked her, sir."

"Quite right. You're only a boy. Well, Hastings is to remain as assistant
to  Mr.  Scrafton,  our  new  agent  at  Murshidabad. You remain as
assistant--or is it rival, eh--to Mr. Clive. You're both out of the way.
Phyllis may prefer Bulger."

"Bulger?"

"Yes. Didn't you know? Phyllis has taken a fancy to him; that hook of his
appears to be a most fascinating feature; and he will accompany us home."

Desmond laughed a little awkwardly.

"I hope--" he began.

"He won't hook her? But there, I mustn't make sport of such a serious
matter. Go on as you have begun, my dear lad, and I promise you, when you
come home, that if Phyllis hasn't found someone already to her liking,
you shall have all the influence I can exert with the minx."

"Thank you, sir: I couldn't ask for more. There's another thing: do you
think you could do anything for Mr. Toley? He's a capital fellow."

"I know it. I have anticipated you. Toley is appointed captain of the
Jane, an Indiaman that arrived the other day; her captain died of scurvy
on the way out. She'll sail for England next week; we go with her; and so
does that villain Barker, who'll get his deserts when he reaches London.
The Good Intent is broken up; her interloping is over for good and all.

"But  come, my boy, sure 'tis time we dressed: Admiral Watson likes
punctuality, and I promise you he'll give us a capital dinner. A word in
your ear: Phyllis is to sit between you and Hastings. You can't eat him,
at any rate."

A week later Desmond went down to the Company's ghat to see the Jane
sail. Mr. Toley in his brand new uniform looked more melancholy than
ever, and Phyllis Merriman made a little grimace when she saw for the
first time the captain under whose charge she was to sail for home.

"Don't be alarmed," said Desmond, laughing. "The sadder he looks, I
believe  the happier he is. Silas Toley is a fine seaman and a true
gentleman.--

"I wonder if we shall ever meet again, Miss Merriman?"

"I wonder, Mr. Burke."

"I shall hear about you, I hope."

"Dear me; it is very unlikely. Father hates putting pen to paper. 'Tis
far more likely I shall hear of you, Mr. Burke, doing terrible things
among these poor Indians--and tigers: I am sure you must want to shoot a
tiger."

"You shall have my first skin--if I may send it."

"Mamma will be charmed, I am sure; though indeed she may have too many of
them, for we have the same promise from--let me see--Mr. Lushington, and
Mr. Picard, and Mr. Hastings, and--"

"All aboard!" sang out a voice from the deck of the vessel.

Phyllis gave Desmond her hand, and looked at last into his eyes. What he
read in hers filled him with contentment. She ran across the plank and
joined  her father and mother, to whom Desmond had already said his
adieux.  At the last moment Bulger came up puffing, a miscellaneous
collection of curiosities dangling from his hook.

"Goodby, sir," he said, giving Desmond a hearty grip. Then he shut one
eye and jerked his head in the direction of the vessel. "Never you fear,
sir: I'll keep my weather eye open. Missy have taken an uncommon fancy to
this here little fishhook o' mine, and 'tis my belief I'll keep her
hanging on to it, sir, nevertheless and notwithstandin' and all that,
till you comes home covered with gore and glory. I may be wrong."

He tumbled on deck. Then amid cheers, with flags flying and handkerchiefs
waving, the good ship moved from the ghat into the swelling river.



Chapter 32: In which the curtain falls to the sound of wedding bells: and
our hero comes to his own.


It was a mellow day in October 1760, a little more than six years since
the day when Market Drayton gave rein to its enthusiasm in honor of
Clive. From a flagstaff newly erected on the roof of the Four Alls on the
Newport Road, a square of bunting flapped in the breeze. Inside the inn
the innkeeper was drawing a pint of ale for his one solitary customer, a
shambling countryman with a shock of very red hair, and eyes of innocent
blue.

"There, that makes a quart, Tummus Biles, and 'tis as much as your turnip
head can safely carry."

He passed the can across the bar on a hook that projected from a wooden
socket in his sleeve.

"Why, now, Mr. Bulger," said Tummus, the tranter, "what fur do you go fur
to miscall me like other fowk? I've been miscalled ever since that day I
drove a stranger into Market Drayton six year ago. I mind me he had a red
feather in his cap, and not knowing my name was plain Tummus, he called
me Jehu, he did, and I never forgot it. Ay, and I tell ya what, Mr.
Bulger: it took me two year to find out why he give me such an uncommon
name. I mind I was sittin' by a hayrick of Mr. Burke's--that was long
afore he was lamed by that terrible horse o' his--and ponderin' on that
heathen name, when all at once it comed to me like a flash o' lightnin'.

"'Jehu!' says I to myself. 'I've got ya at last.' Ya see, when that
stranger  saw me, I were drivin' a horse. Well, I says to my horse,
'Gee-ho!' says I. Not knowing my true chrisom name, the stranger takes up
my words an' fits 'em to me. 'Gee-ho!' says I; 'Gee-ho!' says he; only
bein' a kind o' furriner he turns it into 'Jehu'; an' the name fits me
uncommon. Hee hee!"

"I may be wrong," said Bulger, "but 'tis my belief 'Hee haw!' would fit
you a big sight better. But hark! en't them the bells a-ringin'?"

The two hastened to the door, and stood looking down the road toward
Market Drayton. From the distance came the faint sounds of a merry peal.
By and by a four-horsed open carriage with outriders appeared on the
crest of the hill. Amid the dust it raised another could be seen, and
behind this a long line of vehicles. Every coachman's whip was decorated
with a wedding favor. The cavalcade approached rapidly. As the first
carriage drew nearer Bulger became more and more excited, and when it
dashed past the inn he raised his hook and shouted "Hurray! hurray!" with
the full force of his lungs.

"Give 'em a cheer, Tummus," he cried. "Hee haw will do if you knows no
better. Hurray for Major Desmond Burke and his madam--the purtiest gal I
ever did see, east or west. Hurray for her father and mother: there they
are, with old squire an' the major's mother. And there's Mr. Clive, all
alone by himself 'cos his leg's stiff wi' rheumatics; but he would come
to see the deed done, which I may be wrong, but the new King George'll
make him a live lord afore he's much older.

"Open your mouth, Tummus, an' if you hee haw loud enough, I'll draw you
another pint for nothing."

Desmond, now a major, had returned home in company with Clive. During the
three years that had passed since he witnessed the sailing of the Jane he
had seen much service. He had been with Colonel Forde when that fine
soldier expelled the French from the northern Sirkars. He was with the
same officer when he thrashed the Dutch at Biderra. He had been in close
touch with Clive when these successful operations were planned, and the
nearer he saw him, the more he admired the great man's courage in taking
risks, promptitude in dealing with sudden emergencies, sagacity in seeing
to the heart of a difficult situation. Thus, during those three years, he
gained much knowledge of the science of war, and much experience in
dealing with men. He became rich also, not by questionable means, but by
reaping the legitimate rewards of good and faithful service.

Before leaving India, Desmond learned of changes that had happened at
home. His brother had been thrown by a young and mettlesome horse, and so
badly trampled that he must remain a helpless invalid for the rest of his
life. Sir Willoughby Stokes, even before he heard of the death of his
nephew Peloti, had made Desmond his heir. Mr. Merriman had bought an
estate near his father's old friend, and settled down to the life of a
country gentleman. A year after his return, Job Grinsell, the landlord of
the Four Alls, had been sentenced to a long term of imprisonment for
poaching, and Mr. Merriman had no difficulty in persuading Sir Philip
Chetwode to let his inn to Bulger.

After an interview with Mr. Merriman, Desmond found the courage to put to
Phyllis the question which he had not ventured to ask before she left
India.  What  the answer was may be inferred from the fact that Sir
Willoughby insisted on the wedding taking place at once. It was time for
the return of his old enemy the gout, he said; he was going to Buxton to
end his days, and wished to see the Hall in the hands of his heir before
he left.

Mr. Burslem, Desmond's old schoolmaster, performed the ceremony, and
Clive, though suffering from rheumatism, came down for the occasion. The
only familiar form that Desmond missed was that of old Dickon, who had
died a few months after Desmond's departure from home.

Desmond  settled down for a time at the Hall, cheering his mother's
declining  years, repaying good for ill to his invalid brother, and
winning golden opinions from all his neighbors high and low. He eagerly
watched the further career of his old hero, now Lord Clive; learned to
admire him as statesman as well as soldier; sympathized with him through
all the attacks made upon him; and mourned him sincerely when, in 1774,
the great man, preyed upon by an insidious disease, died by his own hand.

Five years later he felt the East calling, bought a commission, and
sailed with General Sir Eyre Coote, to take part in the "frantic military
exploits," as some one called them, of Warren Hastings against Haidar Ali
and Tippu in Mysore. He came home a colonel, and was made a baronet for
his services in the war. Finally retiring from public life, he lived for
thirty years longer on his estate, happy in the careers of his two sons,
who became soldiers like himself. He died, an old man, in the year after
Waterloo, at which his eldest grandson, a lieutenant in the guards,
behaved with a gallantry that attracted the notice of the Iron Duke.

Visitors to Sir Desmond Burke's house were amused and interested to see a
battered wooden stump with an iron hook hanging in a conspicuous place in
the hall amid tigers' heads, Indian weapons, and other trophies from the
East.

"That?"  Sir  Desmond would say, in answer to their question. "That
belonged to one of the best friends I ever had, a fine old salt named
William Bulger. I met him when I was sixteen, and buried him when I was
forty: and my wife and I have felt ever since a blank in our lives. If
you can put up with an old man's stories, I'll tell you something of what
Bulger and I went through together, when I was a youngster with Clive in
India."





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