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Title: One of Clive's Heroes
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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[Illustration: Cover]



[Illustration: THE SUBAHDAR FALLS INTO THE TRAP.]



                         ONE OF CLIVE’S HEROES

                     A Story of the Fight for India


                                   By
                             HERBERT STRANG



                            HUMPHREY MILFORD
                        OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
                       LONDON, EDINBURGH, GLASGOW
                 TORONTO, MELBOURNE, CAPE TOWN, BOMBAY



           Copyright, 1906, by the Bobbs Merrill Company, in
                      the United States of America


       REPRINTED 1938 IN GREAT BRITAIN BY R. CLAY AND SONS, LTD.,
                            BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.



                                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; while a story is bound to suffer, structurally and in detail,
from the compression of the events of a life-time into so restricted a
space.  I have therefore chosen two outstanding events in the history of
India and of Clive--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’s
_History_, Ives’ _Voyage_, Grose’s _Voyage_, the lives of Clive by
Malcolm and by 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 in the present volume 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 Indian words and names the Hunterian spelling has been adopted in
the main.

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; I shall be satisfied if the reader gets from
these pages an idea, however imperfect, of the conditions of life in
which our empire-builders laboured in India a hundred and fifty years
ago.

HERBERT STRANG.



                                Contents


                           CHAPTER THE FIRST

In which the Court Leet of Market Drayton entertains Colonel Robert
Clive; and our hero makes an acquaintance


                           CHAPTER THE SECOND

In which our hero overhears a conversation; and, meeting with the
expected, is none the less surprised and offended


                           CHAPTER THE THIRD

In which Mr. Marmaduke Diggle talks of the Golden East; and our hero
interrupts an interview, and dreams dreams


                           CHAPTER THE FOURTH

In which blows are exchanged; and our hero, setting forth upon his
travels, scents an adventure


                           CHAPTER THE FIFTH

In which Job Grinsell explains; and three visitors come by night to the
_Four Alls_


                           CHAPTER THE SIXTH

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 THE SEVENTH

In which Colonel Clive suffers a defeat hitherto unrecorded; and our
hero finds food for reflection


                           CHAPTER THE EIGHTH

In which several weeks are supposed to elapse; and our hero is
discovered in the doldrums


                           CHAPTER THE NINTH

In which the _Good Intent_ makes a running fight; and Mr. Toley makes a
suggestion


                           CHAPTER THE TENTH

In which our hero arrives in the Golden East; and Mr. Diggle presents
him to a native prince


                          CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH

In which the Babu tells the story of King Vikramâditya; and the
discerning reader may find more than appears on the surface


                          CHAPTER THE TWELFTH

In which our hero is offered freedom at the price of honour; and Mr.
Diggle finds that he has no monopoly of quotations


                         CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH

In which Mr. Diggle illustrates his argument; and there are strange
doings in Gheria Harbour


                         CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH

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


                         CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH

In which our hero weathers a storm; and prepares for squalls


                         CHAPTER THE SIXTEENTH

In which a mutiny is quelled in a minute; and our Babu proves himself a
man of war


                        CHAPTER THE SEVENTEENTH

In which our hero finds himself among friends; and Colonel Clive
prepares to astonish Angria


                         CHAPTER THE EIGHTEENTH

In which Angria is astonished; and our hero begins to pay off old scores


                         CHAPTER THE NINETEENTH

In which the scene changes; the dramatis personæ remaining the same


                         CHAPTER THE TWENTIETH

In which there are recognitions and explanations; and our hero meets one
Coja Solomon, of Cossimbazar


                        CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIRST

In which Coja Solomon finds dishonesty the worse policy; and a journey
down the Hugli little to his liking


                       CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SECOND

In which is given a full, true, and particular account Of the Battle of
the Carts


                        CHAPTER THE TWENTY-THIRD

In which there are many moving events; and our hero finds himself a
cadet of John Company


                       CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FOURTH

In which the danger of judging by appearance is notably exemplified


                        CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIFTH

In which our hero embarks on a hazardous mission; and Monsieur Sinfray’s
khansaman makes a confession


                        CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SIXTH

In which presence of mind is shown to be next best to absence of body


                       CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SEVENTH

In which an officer of the Nawab disappears; and Bulger reappears


                       CHAPTER THE TWENTY-EIGHTH

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 THE TWENTY-NINTH

In which our hero does not win the Battle of Plassey; but, where all do
well, gains as much glory as the rest


                         CHAPTER THE THIRTIETH

In which Coja Solomon reappears; and gives our hero valuable information


                        CHAPTER THE THIRTY-FIRST

In which friends meet, and part; and our hero hints a proposal


                       CHAPTER THE THIRTY-SECOND

In which the curtain falls, to the sound of bells; and our hero comes to
his own



                           CHAPTER THE FIRST


*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 thickset
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 any
one 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 centre
of the street, to the _Talbot Inn_, stretched a dense mass of people,
partly townsfolk, 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 Tummas."

"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, Tummas, 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 towards
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 riband of his hat;
and Tummas, 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.

[Sidenote: Reminiscences]

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, neebours all, we be trim and cosy 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 ax ya all to drink the good health of our
honoured 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’
nimble-like, 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 to-day.  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 merryandrews
at a fair."

A roar of laughter greeted the anecdote.

"Ay, neebours," 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 table-cloth.

"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, neebours, as that young
limb as plagued our very lives out ’ud ha’ bin here to-day, 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 grey 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 ax 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, neebours, 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 ax ya all to lift yer glasses, neebours, an’ drink the good
health o’ General Clive.  So theer!"

[Sidenote: "General Clive!"

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 vigour 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 to 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 clamour 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, red now 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 honour 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 demeanour 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 towards the outskirts of
the crowd, heaving, hurling, his long arms sweeping obstacles aside.
His eyes flashed fire upon the yokels scurrying 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 round 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
good will.  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!"

[Sidenote: A Gloved Hand]

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
neighbouring 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 labourer,
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 a
nelder son, that’s true, an’ dunna ya 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, there’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."

[Sidenote: To Cheswardine]

And Desmond Burke passed on alone, out of the silent town, into the now
darkening road that led to his home towards Cheswardine.



                           CHAPTER THE SECOND


*In which our hero overhears a conversation; and, meeting with the
expected, 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 travellers
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; it was a single voice, light, musical, and true.  Desmond’s
curiosity was nicked, 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 mantelshelf, the
whole interior of the inn parlour.  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 Tummas 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 abuzzing.  It was clear that he must
be the singer, for Job Grinsell had a voice like a saw, and Tummas Biles
knew no music save the squeak of his cart-wheels.  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 neighbours and friends--caris propinquis----"

"Hang me, but I wish you’d speak plain English an’ not pepper yer talk
win outlandish jabber."

"Patience, Job; why, man, you belie your name.  Come, you must humour 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 Morris, 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 homewards.  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, like 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."

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 at 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 vice; 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 humour 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 neighbourhood.  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, favoured her
younger son in secret; she learnt 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
centre of activity, greedy for doing.

These day-dreams constituted almost the sole joy of Desmond’s life.
When he was quite 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 neighbourhood: 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 defence 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 churchyard with the town
boys, and helped to lick them thoroughly in honour 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-worshippers.  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 churchyard--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.  Rumour credited him with fabulous wealth.  It was said that he
drove through London in a gold coach, and outshone the King himself in
the splendour of his attire.  No report was too highly coloured 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
apparelled as rumour 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 jewelled 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 two years scraps of news about Clive filtered
through to his birthplace.  His father had left the neighbourhood, 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 loth 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 honour. 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 some one 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 THE THIRD


*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 labourers.

Desmond, when he came downstairs, 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 hand-clasp is but a 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 lustre to it!"

"Captain Burke was my father."

"My prophetic soul!" exclaimed the stranger.  "But surely you are
somewhat late in following the craft paternal; 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 there."

"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--oliveyards 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 marvellous 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 neighbourhood, 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
neighbourhood 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 traveller’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 buccaneers.  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 colour, 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 towards 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 money-bag 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 to-day, 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
ploughshare 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 traveller does not easily take
offence.--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 pinfolds 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 offence.
"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 bourn 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?" said Diggle innocently.  "I make my apology.  But I had
heard, I own, that Master Desmond Burke was in high favour 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
dishonourable 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 olim 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 THE FOURTH


*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 a good
temper, 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 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?  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 see what could be done without money; and he resolved 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, have 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 with 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 leapt 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 enclosure, 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
stand-by; his whole endowment was his youth and his wits.  Would they
suffice?  Diggle’s talk had opened up an immense prospect, full of
colour and mystery and romance, chiming well with his day-dreams.  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 some one 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 his errand and seize
him there, 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 neighbourhood 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 any one 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 ax?"

"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 alone an’ seein’ the world an’
all, go up an’ ax Squire about it.  Squire he done have a wise head;
he’ll advise ya fur the best; an’ sure I bin he’d warn ya not to have no
dealin’s win that Diggle, as he do call hisself."

"Why, does the Squire know him, then?"

"’Tis my belief Squire do know everything an’ every body.  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 parlour; 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 a 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
tip-toe towards the house.



                           CHAPTER THE FIFTH


*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 some one to rob
him. The robber must have learnt 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 any one 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 labourer was old and feeble, and the
criminal was no doubt armed. A disturber would probably be shot, and
though the report 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 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 labourer, 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
window-sill, 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
window-sill.  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 all 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 I 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
to-night, 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 traveller, 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
labourer’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 learnt, 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 to-morrow 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 will 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."

"Hist!" 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 THE SIXTH


*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 further
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, cosy-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 half-way 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
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 colourless
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 to-day, 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’leman, a-comin’
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 offence--or you wouldn’t ax
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’leman,
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 Ballyack
    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
flavour. Accordingly, notwithstandin’ an’ for that reason, if you axes
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 agoin’ 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 ’t out, I en’t
tender in my feelin’s."

"Besides," added Desmond, "I shall probably make use of the boy who has
been attending on 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 marlin-spike 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?  Oncommon 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.

"Good-bye, 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
by-lanes 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 further 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 loth.  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 travellers 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 savoury
neighbourhood, 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 pressgang.  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 travelling 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 a 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 to-day 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
hit in a farmer’s cart; fortune had favoured 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 behoved
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 a
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 traveller; 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 half-way down the
long handle, with the heavy iron-tipped stock outward.  The horseman
came galloping up on the off 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 sideways, 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 sideways, half downwards, upon the
horseman’s head.  The man with a cry swerved in 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 lacqueys
with lighted torches to welcome the belated travellers.  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 with 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
lacqueys, with a few words of explanation, he hastened on towards
Holborn and the city.



                          CHAPTER THE SEVENTH


*In which Colonel Clive suffers a defeat hitherto unrecorded; 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 pressgangs 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 upon 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-unconsciousness 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; some one 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 good-bye,
      But never pipes our eye,
    Tho’ we leaves Poll, Sue, and Kitty all behind us;
      And if we drops our bones
      Down along o’ Davy Jones,
    Why, they’ll come and ax 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 marlin-spike.  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 figure-head--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,
awinkin’ their eyes.  From talkin’ it got to doin’.  One day, goin’ to
his bunk, he found it all topsy-versy, 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, ’behave, an’ something else.’  Cook happened to be passin’ with a
tray; a lady what was squeamish had been havin’ 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 to-morrow."

Bulger winked.

"You wouldn’t ax if you wasn’t a landlubber, meanin’ no offence," he
said.  "’Tis last night ashore.  We sailormen 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 pressgang?"

"We takes our chance.  They won’t press me, sartin sure, ’cos o’ my
tenter-hook 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 agoin’ to sob,
    S’pose the sharks do make a meal of us to-morrer.


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 offence 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 draught from
classical sources, was intended to quench the ardour 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 harboured 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 THE EIGHTH


*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 colour 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 two 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, quarrelled among themselves, growling at the
unnecessary tasks set them merely to keep them from flying at each
others’ throats.

The _Good Intent_ was a fine three-masted vessel of nearly 400 tons,
large for those days, though the new East Indiamen approached 500 tons.
When her keel was laid for the Honourable 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 dozen 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, hubble-bubbles, cochineal, sword-blades, toys, coarse cloth,
woollen 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 colour of boiled lobsters; but, unlike the
rest, he had no tattoo-marks pricked into his skin.  His breeches were
tatters, his striped shirt was covered with parti-coloured 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, contrairywise, calms enough to make a Quaker sick. In
course the water was short, an’ scurvy come aboard, an’ ’twas a hammock
an’ a round shot for one or 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 albicores 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 bells one arternoon,
the look-out at the mast-head----"

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

"Give me time, Parmiter, and you’ll know all about the hows an’ whys,
notwithstanding 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 look-out calls down, ’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 seed 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
to-day!  ’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 topmast 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
endeavours, 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 connexions, 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 wait the end of Diggle’s peroration. It was 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
pretences, 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 sided with him
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 try-sails 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 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. Darning was the one thing he could not do satisfactorily;
and one of the men, quizzically observing his well-meant but really
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 leapt
towards the bully, and putting in practice the methods he had learnt 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 apologised: but reflecting that a refusal would entail a
complaint to the captain, and subsequent punishment, 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 holy-stone, 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 bosun 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 of 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 o’ 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
Harbour.  But to us white men the ways o’ these Moors[#] is always a bag
o’ mystery, and as seamen they en’t anyhow 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
down stream.  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 natives of India were thus called by Englishmen in the 18th
century.


"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 mounseer 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 figure-head 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 round, 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 officer; but one of these days there’ll be a
reckonin’, or my name en’t Bulger."

The sailor 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 warn’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 an’ 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 warn’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 acrost 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
south-west. 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 mid-air,
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 hand 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, endeavouring 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 martin spike, 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 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 foc’s’le.

"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’s 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
hisself sweet to Parmiter; I’ve seed him more’n once; that’s number
four.  Then there’s that there block: five; and to-day’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 THE NINTH


*In which the *_*Good Intent*_* makes a running fight; and 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 south-west, 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 look-out reported a small vessel on the larboard
bow, labouring heavily.  The captain took a long look at it through his
perspective glass, anc 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 hanged if I launch the long-boat 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 heeled 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 Suvarndrug, which was so
strong that he had believed it able to withstand all 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 defence 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
succour; 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 long
voyage.

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 defence 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
Suvarndrug 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 defence 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 neighbours, 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 22, 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 Suvarndrug, 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 Suvarndrug, 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 he was now 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 learnt 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 quarter-deck; 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 what’s worth a penny--why, I’ll say thank ’ee and ax
him--leastways if there’s any matey by as knows the lingo--to buy
another."

Shortly after dawn next morning the look-out 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’re running up their colours," 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 the
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 quarter-deck, 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 demeanour was watched now with different feelings by different
members of his 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 jiminy, 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 only
of 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 colours 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 quarter-deck,
poop, or forecastle.  Meanwhile the boatswain and his mates secured the
yards; the ship’s carpenter brought up shot plugs for repairing any
breaches made under the water-line; and the gunners looked to the cannon
and prepared charges for them and the small arms.

Bulger was in charge of the 12-pounder aft, and Mr. Toley had told 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
were 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 swaller
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 were
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 ship-shape," said Bulger.  "Mind you, Burke, don’t come too
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
jumpin’ 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, then took one
of the matches, gently blew its smouldering 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 quarter-deck.  A jagged end of 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 all
together, 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, 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 further
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 colours, 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 till the others came up.

"’Tis a ’tarnal fix," he said.

"Methinks ’tis a case of ’actum est de nobis’," re marked 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 cool 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 a state 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 depth hereabouts."

"Deep enough to sink you and your notions and all that’s like to come of
’em.  Darned if I han’t got the most lubberly ship’s 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
quarter-deck.

"Well, what about your notion?" said the captain scornfully.  But he
listened quietly and with an intent look upon his weather-beaten 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, Mr. 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 long-boat."

The long-boat 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 sing-song; 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
long-boat 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 Barker 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 harbour 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 kedging had been stopped. All on board the
_Good Intent_ remained silent, or spoke in whispers, if they spoke at
all.  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 cable-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 astern.

"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 signalled 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 THE TENTH


*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 north-west. 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 mast-head 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 o’ 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 Suvarndrug."

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

When the Maratha appeared, a pitiable object, emaciated from want of
food, Captain Barker bade him shout as soon as the newcomers came within
hailing distance. The white flag at the mast-head, 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 harbour of Gheria.

Desmond looked with curious eyes on the famous fort and harbour.  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 harbour, which formed 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
harbour 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 long-boat, 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 loin-cloths, to be 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 good humour.

"I may be wrong," remarked Bulger, "but judgin’ by cap’n’s face, he’ve
been an’ choused the Pirate--got twice the vally 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[#] 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:


[#] Messenger.


"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[#] and
run ashore.  ’Tis for Mr. Diggle, as you can see if you can read."


[#] Note.


"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 centre 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
his 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 favourite 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 wofully 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 afterwards 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 learnt 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[#]," 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."


[#] Lord.


"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 to 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 north-west 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.

Towards 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 take, you may have joined the majority of those who have tempted fate
in this insalubrious clime.  In a moment swift death cometh--you
remember the phrase?"

Diggle leant 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 rude charpoys[#] along the wall, each man chained
to a staple like his own.  One of the men was awake; and, catching
Desmond’s lustreless eyes fixed upon him, he sat up and returned his
gaze.


[#] Mat beds.


"Your honour 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[#] sahib, English factor, at Calcutta."


[#] Great.


"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 Sanderband
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[#], 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."


[#] Black water--the sea.


Desmond glanced at the sleeping forms.

"No, sir, they are not here," said the Babu[#], 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 Musalmans
from Mysore; one a Gujarati; two Marathas. We are a motley crew--a
miscellany, no less."


[#] Equivalent to Mr.; generally applied to educated Bengalis.


"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 Honourable 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.[#]  But I hear the step of
our jailer; I must bridle my tongue."


[#] The anna is the sixteenth part of a rupee.


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 meagre 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[#] array, but was clad in a long yellow robe with a
lilac-coloured shawl.


[#] Council, ceremonial.


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 labourers, 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 belabouring
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, even in a calm, a
rate of four or five miles an hour.

One of the first things Desmond learnt was that the Indian mode of
shipbuilding 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 rabbeted, 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 learnt 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 favourite 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 centre 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 learnt 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 moustachioed, 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[#]
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 hasawa, the sacred bull of Siva the destroyer, and the rath[#]
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.


[#] Small flat unleavened cakes.

[#] Car.



                          CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH


*In which the Babu tells the story of King Vikramâditya; 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,[#] 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.


[#] A cereal.


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 story-teller,
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 Vikramâditya.  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 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[#], 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 honour 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 be free.


[#] A cloth worn round the waist, passed between the legs and tucked in
behind the back.


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[#] 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 Suvarndrug, 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.


[#] The prime minister and real ruler of the Maratha kingdom.


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 October 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 any one 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 learnt
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 leant 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-à-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 favourite 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 harbour?  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 loth to embark; they
belonged to a warrior race which had for centuries lived by raiding its
neighbours; but being forbidden by their religion to eat or drink at sea
they would never make good sailors.  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 learnt that Fuzl Khan was a khalasi[#] 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.


[#] Sailor.


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--the 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 endeavoured
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 on the outskirts, Desmond
gently woke the Babu.

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

Surendra Nath turned over on 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 life-long 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! To-day his whole body
must have writhed with pain.  But for the majum[#] he has smoked and the
plentiful ghi[#] 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; cannot you help me to form a plan?"


[#] A preparation of hemp.

[#] Clarified butter.


"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 further 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.

"Hail, worthy jailer!" said Surendra Nath pleasantly. "I was about to
tell the marvellous 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,[#]
Babu, and thy stories, after the day’s work, are they not as honey
poured on rice?"


[#] Praise to Allah!

[#] Learned man, teacher.


"You honour 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 any one 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[#] named Yajnadatta, digging one day in his
field, found there buried the divine throne of the incomparable King
Vikramâditya.  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.


[#] Peasant.


"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[#] for the solemn crowning of kings;
and having thus fulfilled their duty, the servitors humbly acquainted
his majesty therewith.  Then, when the Guru,[#] the Purohita,[#] the
Brahmans, the wise men, the councillors, the officers, the soldiers, the
chief captain, had entered, the august King Bhoya drew near to the
throne, to the end that he might be anointed.


[#] Holy Books.

[#] Religious teacher.

[#] Hereditary priest of the royal house.


"But lo! the first of the carven figures that surrounded the throne thus
spake and said: ’Hearken, 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.  Hearken, 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[#]
afar into the desert. His kingdom, being then without a head--for he had
no sons, and his younger brother, the illustrious Vikramâditya, was
travelling in far lands--fell into sore disorder, so that thieves and
evil-doers increased from day to day.


[#] Ascetic.


"’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,[#] Vetâla Agni,[#] 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 councillors found a new king, lo, the Vetâla Agni came forth and
slew him.


[#] Evil spirit.

[#] Spirit of fire.


"’Now upon a certain day, when the wise men, in sore trouble of heart,
were met in council, there appeared among them the illustrious
Vikramâditya, 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 Vikramâditya 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,
Vikramâditya 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 Vetâla 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 Vetâla Agni, sword in hand, and went
about to slay the august Vikramâditya. But the king said: "Hearken, O
Vetâla 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 Vetâla Agni, having heard
these words, filled himself with this great store of food, and,
marvellously 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 Vetâla Agni departed from that spot and betook him
unto his own place.

"’Then for a long space did Vikramâditya diligently fulfil that command;
but by and by growing aweary of feeding the Vetâla 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 Vikramâditya, was moved with compassion towards him, and
when he had long meditated and recited sundry mantras,[#] he thus spake
and said: "Hearken, 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 thou 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.’"


[#] Hymns and prayers.


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 story-teller.  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 Vetâla Agni
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 Vetâla: "O
illustrious Vetâla, tell me, I pray thee, what doth this golden key
unlock?"  Then if the aspect of the Vetâla 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.

"’Vikramâditya performed in all points the jogi’s bidding; and having in
the presence of the Vetâla laid the golden key upon the palm of his
hand, a voice within bade him ask the question: "O Vetâla, what art thou
apt to do?  What knowest thou?"  And the Vetâla 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
Vetâla 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 Vetâla answered: "O king, thou art in the highest
degree good, liberal, merciful, just, lord of thyself, and honoured of
gods and Brahmans; the measure of the days 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 Vetâla departed unto his own place.

"’Upon the night following the king prepared no feast against the coming
of the Vetâla, but girt himself for fight.  The Vetâla 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 Vetâla 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 Vetâla, and held
him in swift and dexterous combat for a brief space.  And the Vetâla,
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 valour; 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 shall call thee, thou wilt in that same instant stand
at my side."  And the Vetâla, 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 wings 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 Vikramâditya’s throne.  I will tell you that
to-morrow."



                          CHAPTER THE TWELFTH


*In which our hero is offered freedom at the price of honour; and Mr.
Diggle finds that he has no monopoly of quotations.*


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 afterwards 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 labour 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 Hindustan!  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 Rao[#] 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.


[#] A chief or prince.


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[#] boy?" he said.


[#] Originally applied by the natives to the Portuguese, then to any
European.


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

"That is well.  Now hearken to what I say.  You have pleased me; my
jamadar[#] 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?"


[#] Lieutenant.


"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 soor ka batcha[#]
Clive.  But I cannot learn the purpose of this armament. The dogs may
think, having taken my fortress of Suvarndrug, 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."


[#] Son of a pig.


"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
honour.  If you refuse, I will kill you; no, I will not kill you, for
death is sweet to a slave; I will 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[#]," 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."


[#] Brother.


"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 will do my best with him."

"Then you must hasten.  I give you three days: if within that time he
has not consented, I will 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 honour.
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 for ever 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
Suvarndrug 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 or 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 upon 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 to-day 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 Rao 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 a 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 his 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 mid-day 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.[#]  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,[#] 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 plough."


[#] Governor.

[#] Deputy-governor.


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, down-trodden 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 snuff-box 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 anice and cummin, 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 buccaneers 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, even----’"

"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 offence.  "You talk of my eloquence.  By
Heaven, when I see you again I will 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 pigheaded 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 hands to mark the time.  It was a song
about a banya[#] 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.


[#] Hindu merchant.


"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 to-morrow."

"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 THE THIRTEENTH


*In which Mr. Diggle illustrates his argument; and there are strange
doings in Gheria harbour.*


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 snuff-box, he tapped it, took a pinch,
savoured 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 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.  To-day 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, lean, 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 grey 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. To-day--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 to-night, my brothers," he said in conclusion.  "We have no
longer time.  Before sunrise to-morrow 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 the 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 new-comer--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 as
before 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
struggles 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-garrotted Maratha, who was leaning passively against the shed, the
sinewy hand of the Gujarati still pressed 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 learnt 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 his flint and
tinder-box 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 towards the north-east
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 harbour, 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 towards 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 his pan supari.[#] 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 sea.


[#] Nut of the areca palm wrapped in the leaf of the betel plant.


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[#]; 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 window 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.


[#] Name of a class of hereditary stranglers.


"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 towards 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[#] 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.


[#] Small boats cut out of the solid tree, used for passing between the
shore and larger vessels.


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
water-side, 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 harbour, 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 harbour 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 south-west 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 harbour mouth.

He had learnt, 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 harbour 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. 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 maindeck.  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 ship-board 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[#] 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 harbour to instant activity.  And it
was necessary to Desmond’s plan, not only to secure the serang, but to
secure him alive.


[#] Head of a crew.


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
Suvarndrug 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
neighbourhood 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 movement 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 the 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 ensure 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 main mast," he said.

Desmond slipped out, and in a few seconds returned with several yards of
thin coir, a strong rope made of cocoa-nut fibre.  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 Gujarati 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 the
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
collar-bone.  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 to 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 THE FOURTEENTH


*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 harbour 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 harbour, 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 hornets’ nest awakened
into angry activity.  To the clangour 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 centre 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 vessels, 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
were but a poor crew for so large a vessel, and the 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 harbour.  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 further side of the jetty towards the gallivats. At the
same moment that he caught sight of these he saw at last, rising from
the gallivats, the thin tongue of flame hi 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’s-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.

"Eo, eo, _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 Rao," 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, leapt
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
offence, had no exact knowledge of the 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 favourable, 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 harbour 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 harbour; 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 burnt 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 harbour 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 towards the sky from each of 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 favoured the fugitives.

There was a brisk breeze from the south-west outside the harbour, and
when the two vessels lost the shelter of the headland they crept along
even more slowly than before. Desmond had learnt 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 harbour.  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 favour, and if it held, no vessel in Angria’s harbour 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 again 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 harbour, 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 discoloured 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 will 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 ensure 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 and 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 long boat 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 chaser, 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 mast-head,
reported two or three sail far behind, apparently at the mouth of Gheria
harbour.  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 instant 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, whence he might proceed to Madras, and Clive--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 THE FIFTEENTH


*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 harbour 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 look-out 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
mast-head as a purple line on the horizon, with occasional glimpses of
high ghats[#] behind.


[#] Mountains.


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 could creep in towards the shore without anxiety, for
there was little chance of falling in with hostile vessels in the
immediate neighbourhood 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 were 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 of
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 maintopsail 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
south-east. Furious seas broke over the deck; the wind shrieked 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 sea-sickness.  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 leapt 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 entrusting 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 labouring 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
ship-shape.  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 south-east, 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 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 neighbourhood 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 north-east 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 south-west, 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
Mahomed was on the look-out; the rest of the crew were forward squatting
on the deck in a circle round 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 drone.
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, sun-tanned 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
Abdullah 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 leant 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 rumours, 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 look-out,
whispering him a summons to join the Gujarati at the helm.  The
look-out, 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 THE SIXTEENTH


*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 group 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.[#]
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."


[#] English.


"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 is 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
colours.  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 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 was 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 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
colour.  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 signalling 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 look-out, 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 north-west wind now blowing.  None of the men,
except possibly the Gujarati, had sufficient seamanship to detect this
manoeuvre; 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 messmates, 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 of 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 ascendency?  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
favour, 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 to 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
south-wester, 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 Suvarndrug," he said.  "Is it not, Nanna?"

"Yes, of a truth; it is Suvarndrug; 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 Suvarndrug.  I have seen it scores of times. No one can mistake
Suvarndrug.  See, there is the hill; and there is the mango grove.  Oh
yes, certainly it is Suvarndrug."

At this moment four grabs were seen beating out of the harbour.  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 Suvarndrug; the Gujarati’s anxiety to pile up testimony to the
contrary was almost sufficient in itself to prove that.  If not
Suvarndrug it was probably one of Angria’s strongholds, possibly Kolaba.
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 cannot be Suvarndrug?" he said, with an appearance of
composure that he was far from feeling. "Suvarndrug, you remember, has
been captured.  The last news at Gheria was that it was in the Company’s
hands, though there was a rumour that it might be handed over to the
Peshwa.  We should not now see Angria’s grabs coming out of Suvarndrug.
But if it is Suvarndrug, Fuzl Khan, why put about?  As fugitives from
Gheria we should be assured of a welcome at Suvarndrug.  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 fidgettiness 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, or----"

"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 leaps 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
honour 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 leapt at him; a crashing blow beneath the chin sent him
staggering against the wheel; a second while he tottered brought him
limp and almost stunned to the deck.

[Illustration: A SHORT WAY WITH MUTINEERS.]

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 favour, 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 Kolaba, sahib."

"Where is Kolaba?"

"Two or three 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 north-east,
and the coast line 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 harbour 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 cocoa-nut forest, with a few
Portuguese-built houses dotted here and there.  In front a narrow
jungle-clad island, called, as he afterwards learnt, Old Woman Island,
stretched like a spit into the sea.  To the south of the fort was the
Bunder pier, with the warehouses at the shore end.  Southward of these
were the hospital and the doctor’s house overlooking the harbour, while
hard by were the marine yard and the docks ensconced behind the royal
bastion.

Feeling that he had 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 harbour.  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 cables-lengths of the vessels of Admiral
Watson’s squadron, which had arrived from Madras a few weeks before.



                        CHAPTER THE SEVENTEENTH


*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 superintendent of marine 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 superintendent 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 superintendent of marine. 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?  Learnt 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 ship-shape, 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 superintendent, 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,[#] and baggy drawers; bearded Arabs;
Parsis in their square brimless hats; and a various assortment of
habitués of the shore--crimps, landsharks, badmashes,[#] bunder[#]
gangs. Seeing Desmond hold his nose at the all-prevailing stench of fish
Mr. Johnson laughed.


[#] Cloak.

[#] Rowdy characters.

[#] Port.


"You’ll soon get used to that," he said.  "’Tis all fish-oil and
bummaloes[#] in Bombay."


[#] Small fish the size of smelt, known when dried as "Bombay duck."


Having sent a trustworthy crew on board the Tremukji, the superintendent
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[#] 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 hog’s wash, eh?"


[#] It was customary to use the title Mr. in speaking to or of both
naval and military officers.


"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 enclosure, and walked rapidly to
Government House in the centre.  In answer to Mr. Johnson the darwan[#]
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
Parel.


[#] Doorkeeper.


"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 Parel 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[#] 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[#] pull his team up,
dismount, and, going to their heads, insert his hand in their mouths.


[#] Carriage like a palanquin on wheels.

[#] Wallah is a personal affix, denoting a close connexion between the
person and the thing described by the main word.  Shigramwallah
thus=carriage-driver.


"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 dreamland; 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.

"Hallo, 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,[#] who came out at this moment
and with a salaam announced that supper was served.


[#] Butler.


"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 superintendent.  In a moment Desmond found himself in
a large room brilliantly lighted with candles.  In the centre 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. Cannot 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 focussed 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.  That 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 harbour.

"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 harbour, now; do you know the depth of 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
harbour, 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 rumour 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 learnt 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 leant 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
neighbourhood, 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 in an undertone.

"Not now, not now," said Merriman quickly.

The other gentlemen, during this dialogue, had been discussing the
information they had gained about Gheria.

"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," put in 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 cheroots while he takes some supper.  Mr.
Johnson, you’ve done most justice to my viands, I think.  Perhaps you
will join us."

The superintendent 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 ensure 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 cannot 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.  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 ’45----"

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!  And 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 housebreakers.

"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 halfpenny, 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 daresay 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’s 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 harbour 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 superintendent,
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 sum
they each 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 honour."

"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 to-night; I am staying
there."

"I shall be most glad to return to my desk in Calcutta, your honour,"
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 wasn’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 honour.  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 honour’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 THE EIGHTEENTH


*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 superintendent, 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 favourite
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 Parsis exposed their dead, the burning
ghats of the Hindus on the beach, the gaunt filthy fakirs[#] 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 loth to ask him whether he
had sounded Clive about a cadetship.  As a matter of fact Mr. Merriman
had mentioned the matter at once.


[#] Religious mendicants (Mohammedan).


"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 harbour.  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 200 European soldiers, 300 sepoys, and 300
Topasses--mainly half-caste Portuguese in the service of the Company,
owing their name to the topi[#] they wore.  To co-operate with this
force a land army of 12,000 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.


[#] Hat.


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?" said 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."

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 harbour.  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 harbour 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 harbour.

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 still 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 fleet of pirate 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 rapidly spread 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 reconnoitred 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 quietly 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 cables-lengths away, sir, and there’s a
man on board who knows the harbour.  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 further 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 neighbourhood.  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
illumined 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 a 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 harbour.  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 some one 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
harbour.  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, leapt 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 towards 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, a 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 round as if hoping that even now something might happen in
his favour.  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
wrong-doing!  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: ay, 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, puts it, ’a change
of plan is the best harbour 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
further India; I know a little port to the south where I should have
taken ship, with strong hope of getting useful and honourable 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 harbour, glowing red, were in sight--"Alivirdi Khan is sick unto
death.  He is wealthy beyond all imaginings.  His likeliest heir,
Siraj-uddaula, soon to be Subah[#] 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 vigour!  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."


[#] Viceroy.


"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 of
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 250 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 £100,000, and
treasure worth £30,000 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 learnt 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 a small group seated on the dais,
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?"

"Yes, sir."

"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 had I anything to say for myself," said Diggle quietly.
"Assuredly; but it seems your honours 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 defence 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 THE NINETEENTH


*In which the scene changes; the dramatis personæ 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 her, 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
learnt 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
harbour.  Desmond had no doubt that this was Diggle’s boy Scipio
Africanus.  And when he mentioned the connexion 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, at
the end of the first week in March, when the vessel stood out of Bombay
harbour, Desmond sailed with her.

The weather was calm, but the winds not wholly favourable, 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 then 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 things of that sort, and won’t be satisfied until he has us
under his heel. Only his trading profits and his fear of the Mogul have
kept him civil."

"But you said he was dying."

"So he is, and that makes matters worse, for his grandson,
Siraj-uddaula, who’ll probably succeed him, is no better than a tiger.
He lives at Murshidabad, about 100 miles up the river.  He’s a vain,
peacocky, empty-headed youth, and as soon as the breath is out of his
grandad’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 for ever."

"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 women folk: 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 30th 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 tigers," 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 coloured sashes--and don’t our
women squabble about the colours, 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.[#]  "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.


[#] Landing-stage.


"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,[#] and the chota[#] bibi?"


[#] Lady: _mem-sahib_ was not yet in use.

[#] Young.


"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; Siraj-uddaula 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 have 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-storey 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[#]; 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."


[#] Factotum.


"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 know.  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, Siraj-uddaula, 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
Siraj-uddaula 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 defences 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 defences 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,[#] where he found a large staff under the superintendence
of the muhri,[#] 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.


[#] Office.

[#] Chief clerk.


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[#] house, surrounded
by a compound and a low wall.


[#] Substantial.


"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. Eyre, 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 learnt, 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 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 centre of the
enclosure.  Around it on three sides were the houses of individual
merchants and officers.  A wide avenue known as the Lai Bazar led from
the ravelin of the fort past the court-house to the native part of the
town.  On one side of the avenue was the Park or Lai 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.  Every one 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 a few 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 landing 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 some one 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 sad 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 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 o’ 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 to-day.  Never did I see sich a sight all the years I’ve been
afloat, an’ that’s sayin’ 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 country
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 come 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[#] 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 impassible to mistake the
gloved right hand.  It was Diggle to a certainty.


[#] Hanging screens made of thin strips of bamboo.


"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[#] 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, 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 thrust, 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.


[#] Bludgeons.


"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 new-comer 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 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 to-morrow.  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 boats 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
to-morrow, then.  You must be up early: travelling will be impossible in
the heat of the day."

"At dawn, sir."



                         CHAPTER THE TWENTIETH


*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 ribands.  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 for Mr. Watts? That’s
all right.  Good-bye, 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 stream; 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 Barrakpur, 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
paddy 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
to-day."

"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
favour 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 travellers 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
Siraj-uddaula 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 to-night.  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 south-east
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 honourable
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.[#]
Without his signature, as you know, the goods cannot be removed. I dare
not venture."


[#] Officer in command of troops, and also a magistrate.


"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!"[#] he ordered the peon who appeared in answer to his
summons to go to the black merchants’ houses, a row of two-storey
buildings some forty yards from the south-west bastion, and bring back
with him Babu Joti Lai Chatterji.


[#] "Is there any one?"--used as a summons.


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 Lai 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 learnt. 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 will look for you to-morrow."

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
Siraj-uddaula. 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 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
misdemeanour, 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[#] 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.


[#] Courier.


But no letters came from Calcutta.  Though several were despatched, none
of them reached Cossimbazar.  On June 1 Rai Durlabh, 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 Siraj-uddaula.  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 Siraj-uddaula’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; Rai Durlabh 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,[#]
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.


[#] Cargo boats.


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 defence 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 Lai 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,[#] 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.


[#] Table servant.


Within an hour the man returned, bringing the articles required.



                        CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIRST


*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 any one 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 you ever 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’s 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 ensure 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
some 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[#] fields towards 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.


[#] Rice.


"Uthao,[#] Marwan!" 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."


[#] Get up.


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 hubble-bubble.  A small oil-lamp burnt in a pendant 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
growing 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 hubble-bubble,
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 towards 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[#] at one
end of the room--just the place to keep documents.


[#] Cabinet.


There was a 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
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 eye 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 darwan that he is going to
Murshidabad by river and will not return to-night; 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 squatting, and bade the Armenian carry out the part
assigned to him.  The man durst 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 up stream.  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 for more than a couple of hundred yards up stream
when Coja Solomon, at Desmond’s orders, bade the men row towards 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 favoured 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 Patli,
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 neighbourhood 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-two hours.
Supposing such a messenger started at nightfall on June 5, 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 Siraj-uddaula, 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 mid-stream.  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 entrusted 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 acknowledge the
customary salaam.

Desmond breathed freely once more now that Patli was passed.  But
two-thirds of the journey still remained to be completed, and he could
not dare 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[#] of the Company at
Santipur?"


[#] Agent.


"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[#]?  We
could transfer the goods to them and elude our pursuers perhaps long
enough for help to arrive from Calcutta."


[#] Bullock-carts.


"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 Lai," 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 to-morrow’s dawn.  He must get them from the
villages, not from Khulna or Amboa, and he must not tell any one 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 THE TWENTY-SECOND


*In which is given a full, true, and particular account of the Battle of
the Carts.*


Desmond expected that Mohun Lai 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 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
Patli, 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 learnt, and in the middle of the stream,
there was a small island, uninhabited save by teal and other water-fowl,
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[#] to Cutwa to convey the official baggage.  The
plan proved successful.  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.


[#] Headman.

[#] Barges.


"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 towards 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 they 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 mid
stream, 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 traveller 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 half-way 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
labouring 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,
eyeing 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 labouring over rugged
nullahs.

At nightfall Desmond learnt 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 further
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; Barrakpur 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.[#] 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.


[#] Grooms.


"Eo, 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 defence.  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 quarter whence
the horseman had ridden.  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 a dry, slightly
undulating 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 entrenchment?  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 outwards 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 serenely 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 counselled 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 lathi-wallahs--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 new-comers; "since when the Nawab has taken into
his service the crew of an interloping English merchantman?"

"I will 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 honours
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 become
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 thick
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 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, leapt 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 egg-shell 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.

[Illustration: THE BATTLE OF THE CARTS.]

"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 beat
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 hacked 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 brine their lathis to bear upon the two carts.

Meanwhile the defence 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 centre of the
enclosure.  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 dreamt 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 clamour 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 enclosure, the men of the _Good Intent_ and their Bengali
allies were streaming over and under the carts towards the open.  Diggle
at the first shock had staggered to his feet and stumbled towards 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 towards his
horse, tethered to a tree.  A wounded wretch was clumsily attempting to
mount.  Him Diggle felled; then he climbed 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 THE TWENTY-THIRD


*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
leant dizzily against one of the hackeris.  But, revived by a draught
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 defences of Calcutta than in going up-country on what
might prove a vain and useless errand.  But Toley happened to be in the
town, and hearing 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 women-folk."

"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 Siraj-uddaula’s hands, they were lost to their family and
friends for ever.

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 pop-guns; 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 valour, 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 cannot 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 news came of Siraj-uddaula’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,[#] 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 Bazar, 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.


[#] Commander-in-chief.

[#] Blocks of huts.


"Next day we were besieged in earnest.  The Nawab had, we learnt, nigh
50,000 men, with 150 elephants and camels, and 250 Frenchmen working his
artillery.  Against ’em we had about 500 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
their 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 further 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 mid-day.  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 south-west.  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 south-east
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 honour, a
precious token of his favour.  But the Nawab, Mr. Holwell told us, had
promised no harm should befall us.  A guard of 500 gun-men 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 will 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 Siraj-uddaula’s will not go
unavenged.  We have already sent letters to Madras, and within two
months, I hope, succour 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 to-morrow 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 learnt
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 have done 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.  In the
agonies of thirst and suffocation the prisoners 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 defence 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 learnt 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 task-master," 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 learnt 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 39th
Regiment, and that officer was a great stickler for military etiquette.
The Council had some reason for anxiety. They might hear, at any moment,
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 defence 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 will 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
Siraj-uddaula: 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 5,000 rupees; if you want more, ask Major
Killpatrick.  Now, when can you start?"

"The _Hormuzzeer_ is sailing in ballast to-morrow, 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.  Good-bye.--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, 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 THE TWENTY-FOURTH


*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 to-night."

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 will 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 will 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 will 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 jhilmils.  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 with 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 go 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[#] 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 off-hand 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 availed them nothing.


[#] Gang robbery.

[#] Court-house.


About the same time that the men were being condemned, a two-ox hackeri,
such as was used for the conveyance of pardahnishin[#] 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 fêtes 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
Siraj-uddaula at Murshidabad, and the house had remained untenanted.


[#] Literally, sitting behind screens.


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[#] 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.

[#] Garment in one piece, covering the body from head to foot.

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 favour, 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 THE TWENTY-FIFTH


*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 had 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’re 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 daresay 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,[#] 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.


[#] Head boatman.


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 will 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 neighbourly, 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 Sanderbands 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
learnt 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[#] that was being held in
Chinsura that night in honour 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.


[#] Entertainment.


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 31 39 23 34 19 29 29 35 32 38 24 38 23 32


[#] Constructed from the cipher used by Mr. Watts at Murshidabad.
[Transcriber’s note: there was no footnote reference in the source book
for this footnote.]


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.  Hossain made a trumpet of his hands, and,
looking towards 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 pencilled 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.  Bazar rumour Nawab about to march with army to Calcutta.  Orders
issued Hugli traffic to be strictly watched.  Dutch phataks[#] 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.


[#] Gate or barrier.


"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 entrusted 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 13.  Two months before, the fleet containing Colonel
Clive and the troops destined for the Bengal expedition had sailed from
Madras.  The force consisted of 276 King’s troops, 676 of the Company’s,
about a thousand sepoys, and 260 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 his scheme only to send messages; to receive them would
double the risk."

"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 hubble-bubble; 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 clamour 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 in 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[#] 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
gun-shot 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.


[#] A fermented liquor made from rice or the juice of the palm.


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 rest of 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 his escape.  The Bengali had now
almost wholly recovered, and was very voluble in his gratitude for his
rescue.  While he was speaking the boat slightly shifted her position,
and the Bengali suddenly caught sight, through the matting, of a large
house beyond the ghat. He 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
travelling 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, and from one of the
huts smoke was issuing. He sauntered up.  Before the door, lolling in
unstudied deshabille, squatted a bearded Mohammedan, whom from his
rotundity Desmond guessed to be the khansaman of the big house.

"Salaam aleikam,[#] khansaman!" said Desmond suavely. "Pardon the
curiosity of an ignorant sailor from Gujarat. What nawab owns the great
house yonder?"


[#] Peace be with you!


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 marvelled 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 bazars in Pondicherry 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!"[#] exclaimed the khansaman, spitting out his supari.  He
was thoroughly interested, but as yet unconcerned.  "What do you mean,
khalasi?"


[#] "In the name of Allah!"--a common exclamation.


"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.[#]  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."


[#] Coin, value one-eighth of a penny.


"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 learnt 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![#]  That is indeed fortunate," said Desmond, turning back.
"There lies the best chance of averting the wrath of this much-wronged
man."


[#] "Please God!"--a common exclamation.


"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 pretence, 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[#] distant, belonging to the great faujdar
Manik Chand.  It is rented from him by Digli Sahib, who is a great
friend of his excellency."


[#] The coss is nearly two miles.


"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 hair-pin 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 labour managed to mount the stairs.

"Inshallah!" he said.  "They are gone!"



                        CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SIXTH


*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 might himself run.  And now they were gone! Could Diggle have
suspected that his carefully hidden tracks were being followed up, and
have removed his 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[#], pig!  Wait till you are spoken to," exclaimed Diggle, turning
angrily upon him.


[#] Shut up.


"Achchha, sahib! bahut achchha, 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.  Jaldi
jao![#] we shall be too late."


[#] Go quickly.


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 will 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 passage-way at the rear of the house.  Here
was a second staircase leading downwards to the servants’ quarters.

"Wait there," said Desmond when they were half-way 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 khaskhas[#] 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.


[#] A fragrant grass whose roots are used for making screens.


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 some one 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.

The man was nothing loth.  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[#] 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.


[#] Steersman.


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 to the fort.  Though in chief
command of the Nawab’s boats 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[#] 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.


[#] Equivalent to captain of infantry.


"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.[#]   When he gives the word it
will be death to disobey."


[#] Masterful.


Desmond sat for some time with his chin on his hands, thinking.  Then he
asked:

"Do you know where the British fleet is at present?"

"Yes, sahib.  I was in the bazar to-day; it was said that this morning
the ships were still at Fulta.  The sepoys are recovering from their
privations during the voyage."

"We will drop down the river to-morrow as soon as we have unloaded our
cargo.  You may expect us back ahead of the fleet, so keep a good
look-out for us.  I will 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 pretence 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 learnt 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 will 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?[#]  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."


[#] Officer commanding a troop of horse.


"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 THE TWENTY-SEVENTH


*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 eyer
doubtful.  The petala was moored opposite the Crane ghat at Calcutta,
taking in a cargo of jawar[#] for Chandernagore.  The work of loading
had been protracted to the utmost by the serang; for Desmond did not
wish to leave the neighbourhood of Calcutta at the present juncture,
when everything turned upon their being on the spot at the critical
moment.


[#] Millet.


While they were talking, a man who had every appearance of a respectable
banya approached the plank over which the coolies were carrying the
jawar 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:

_To-morrow 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 will 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."

"Ji!  Han!  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 will tell you later what is to be done.
And, remember, on this boat I am no sahib. I am a khalasi from Gujarat."

"I will 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 ensure
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 will think things over in the night, Hossain; be sure to wake me, if I
am not awake, at least a gharri[#] before dawn."


[#] A 60th part of a day: _i.e._ 24 minutes.



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 Sanderbands. 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 pirates 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[#] sent from the fort."


[#] Head workmen.


The subahdar looked still more concerned.

"Wai!" 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[#] may be here soon."


[#] Unbelievers.


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 imáms[#], yes! but quickly."


[#] High priests descending from Ali, the son-in-law of Mahomet.


"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![#]  It is a good idea.  Bid the mistri come aboard at
once."


[#] "Bravo!"


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 look-out.  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.  "Khubbar dar!"[#] said
Desmond in a low voice.


[#] Look out!


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--

"Eo!  Ali, Chedi, come here!"

"Jo hukm!"[#] 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.


[#] Whatever is ordered (I will obey)


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 look-out 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 up-stream.  In full confidence that the scheme for blocking
the river was now frustrated, he awaited with patience the arrival 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 centre of Tanna Fort.  At the same moment Desmond
recognized the figure-head.

"’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 playing such a heroic part, and he possessed his soul in peace.

Now the _Tyger_ was full in 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 Battle 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 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 colours, 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 spelt 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 jiminy, 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 THE TWENTY-EIGHTH


*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 honour.  Desmond 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 to-day 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 rag-tag 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 pointing out the danger of such a
course, 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 learnt 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 to-day," 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.  ’Twern’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-going’ 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 twelve 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 ’em
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 scimitar; 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 scimitar, 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 en’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 action, 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 February 5
which gave the Nawab his first taste of British quality.  Siraj-uddaula
was encamped to the north-east 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 2,000 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.  Siraj-uddaula 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 long-standing 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 Siraj-uddaula 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
12, 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 in 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 colours 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 north-east 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 north-west 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 daresay 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 look-out
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 to-morrow?" he asked
suddenly.

"Scarcely, my boy," said Clive, "nor by to-morrow 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, even for you," said Clive with a
smile; "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. Any one 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; 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 demeanour when he learnt
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 favoured 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 travelling.  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 impulse 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,
"to-night, 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 to-morrow 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 will meet you in an hour.  Thank you."

Returning to the budgeros, Desmond instructed Hossain to go into the
bazar 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 learnt 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 steersman there were two men visible on the deck of
each.  The tide was running up, but the wind still held from the
north-east, and, though moderated in force since the evening, it was
strong enough to take them slowly down towards the _Good Intent_.  The
sky was lightening, but a slight mist hung over the river. Desmond kept
a close look-out ahead, and in a quarter of 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."

"Eo, eo!" 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 over-ripe."

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, while 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 sing-song 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 towards the companion way. 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 sing-song 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 a pace.

"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 levelled 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 companion way; all had brought out pistols from the
folds of their clothing, and the companion way commanded access to the
ship’s armoury.

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 towards 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 THE TWENTY-NINTH


*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
defence on the fort he scattered his men about the town, leaving the
weakest part of his defences, 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 14 Clive had driven in the outposts.  The
immediate effect of this was the desertion of 2,000 natives sent to
Renault’s assistance by Nandkumar the faujdar of Hugli.  A continuous
bombardment was kept up until the 19th, 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 lights, 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 south-east and north-east 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 afterwards to his
friend Captain Latham of the _Tyger_, the fleet had the honours 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 post-haste 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 Siraj-uddaula.  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 every one 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
co-operate 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
intriguing with the French.  A treaty was accordingly drawn up with Mir
Jafar, in which the prospective Subah agreed to all the terms formerly
granted by Siraj-uddaula.  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 £400,000.  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 defence--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 dishonourable, 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 13, his guns, stores and European
soldiers being towed up the river in 200 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 rainstorm on the 18th 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 temporising until he was sure of the victor.  It was serious enough
to give pause to Clive.  He was 150 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 Kalna.  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
chopfallen.  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 voted himself 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 that ’twould be difficult to protect our
communications. Those 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 to-morrow."

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 900 Europeans, 200
topasses, a few lascars, and some 2,000 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 22 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
the camp-fire 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 to-morrer."

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 Siraj-uddaula. 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 70,000 men, of whom 50,000 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 15,000 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 23, King George’s birthday, when Mir
Madan, with a body of picked troops, 7,000 foot, 5,000 horse, and
Sinfray’s artillery, moved out to the attack with great clamour 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 centre, 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 cannon-ball, and his followers, dismayed at his
loss, began a precipitate retreat to their entrenchments.

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 wait the assault.  He hastily evacuated
his position, retiring on the redoubt near the Nawab’s entrenchments.
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 entrenchments would bring him under a cross fire 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 decamped 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 23rd 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 Siraj-uddaula’s tent, where he found on his
inkstand a list of thirteen courtiers whom, even in that moment of dire
extremity, the tyrant had condemned to death.  From a prisoner it was
learnt that the Nawab had escaped on a camel with two thousand horsemen,
fleeing towards 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 little 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 would
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
Frenchman 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 larn the
mounseer the why and wherefore of it.  And as for Diggle--well, I maybe
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 THE THIRTIETH


*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 reconnoitre.  You’ve been to Murshidabad, I think?"

"No, only to Cossimbazar; but that is not far off."

"Well, you know 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
Siraj-uddaula 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 douches 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, some hours before his capture, he had met a man who recognized him
as the agent of 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 many miles through the heat 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 Manda, 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 Manda, 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 Manda."

"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 cannot 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, rumour 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 the third time?

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
river-boat 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 up stream 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.  He clambered into it, and with rapid movements of the stern
oar brought it to the other side, receiving with beaming face the
promised reward.

While this was going on the sky had been darkening.  A north-wester 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 bale 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[#] to bale out the
boat, and determined to turn the storm to account.


[#] Drinking vessels.


With great difficulty he got the sail hoisted, and their the vessel ran
down the river at racing speed.  The distance to Manda, 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 baling. 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 for a time they had taken
shelter.  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 Dekkan, was sent in advance to find
Surendra Nath’s house, give him warning of Desmond’s coming, and
instruct him to have some one on the look-out for the approach of the
enemy, if Diggle was 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 had been earlier in the day.

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-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
defences. 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 afterwards 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.
Howsomdever, notwithstandin’, and which is all the same!"

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 numbers 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 will 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 will 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
further 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, so 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 a 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
defence 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 towards 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 ploughed 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 leapt
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 afterwards 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 and 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 again and again
frustrated him.  As he faced him now, it was with the feeling that, if
this boy were killed, a most dangerous barrier to the realisation of his
nefarious schemes would be removed. 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 favour.
Thanks in large measure to Diggle himself, Desmond 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 leapt 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 a pistol thrust into his
hand. 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 in their fighting and gazed in consternation at
their prostrate leader.  It seemed but a moment; 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 the form of Diggle, lying huddled 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 towards the house.  "Let
us find your mother."



                        CHAPTER THE THIRTY-FIRST


*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, afterwards 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 sick bed 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 afterwards 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.  Rumour 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 learnt 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 learnt of the result of the battle of Plassey
and that Clive was marching towards Murshidabad, they were eager to set
off at once.

"Yes, ma’am," said Desmond, "we will start as soon as we can.  I will
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. Ten’t 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.  ’Fur,’ sir, that’s what they spells;
but whether ’tis rabbit-skin or fox I can’t say, though ’tis most likely
fox, knowin’ the man."

Desmond stooped and looked at the unclad right hand. The letters FUR
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 what 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 by
Monsieur Law to announce his coming. He was advancing from Patna with a
considerable body of French troops 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 4,000 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 Dekkan 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 accidently
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
employment. For some years nothing more had been seen of Peloti; but he
had recently returned, and offered his services to Bussy, the French
commander in the Dekkan.  He brought with him valuable information,
gained in London, of the East India Company’s intentions; and this,
together with his evident knowledge of Clive’s movements and of affairs
in Calcutta, had caused his former offence to be overlooked, and his
offer was accepted.

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!  À la guerre
comme à 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.

Desmond was collecting his party, preparatory to starting for
Murshidabad, when a native horseman rode into the village at full speed,
dismounted, and, humbly salaaming, announced that he had a message from
Law Sahib.  It was clear that, seeing Europeans, he supposed them to be
Frenchmen.  Desmond did not undeceive him.  The man said that Law Sahib
had received news of Clive Sahib’s victory at Plassey, and, seeing that
his promised assistance to the Nawab was too late, had at once retired
to Patna and wished Diggle Sahib to rejoin him there.  Dismissing the
messenger, Desmond rejoiced that there was no reason now to delay his
departure; his mission for Clive was fulfilled.

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 heart-rending howl and fled.  No attempt
was made to pursue him; and 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.

Travelling slowly, by easy stages, and only in the cooler hours, 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 Murad
Bagh.  Mir Jafar had been accepted as Nawab, and nothing had been heard
of Siraj-uddaula.  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
knew 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 learnt afterwards that the great bankers, the Seths, had just
left the meeting, after it had been proved 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 learnt 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: Peloti was coming
ahead to inform the Nawab of his approach.  But the whole country knows
of your victory; the news reached Monsieur Law, and he at once turned
back.  The messenger he sent to inform Peloti of his change of plan came
too late."

"Indeed!  What was Peloti about?"

"He was killed in the fight, sir."

"A good riddance!" exclaimed Clive impetuously. Then a far-away look
came into his eyes; his expression softened.  "Poor wretch!" he said in
an undertone. "How many did his men muster, Burke?"

"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’ll 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 to-morrow."

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
learnt that Siraj-uddaula 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 by the Nawab’s orders.  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 Siraj-uddaula was dead.  Mir Jafar handed
him to his son Miran with strict orders to guard him carefully.  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 Siraj-uddaula.

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.

Nor was Surendra Nath forgotten.  His readiness and courage at the
critical moment had undoubtedly saved the ladies; Mr. Merriman declared
that he would henceforth have a higher opinion of the Bengali character.
The Babu beamed with joy when his employer announced that he would give
him the _Hormuzzeer_ and a considerable part of his business.

"I change the name to _Merriman_, sir," he said, "and my family will
hold that name in veneration and esteem unto third and fourth
generations."

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 colours 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 £3,000.

Calcutta was _en fête_ 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 affairs, 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 some one 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! ’tis 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,
Mr. Picard, 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
adieus. At the last moment Bulger came up puffing, a miscellaneous
collection of curiosities dangling from his hook.

"Good-bye, 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 took an uncommon
fancy to this here little fish-hook o’ mine, and ’tis my belief I’ll
keep her hangin’ 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 THE THIRTY-SECOND


*In which the curtain falls, to the sound of 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 honour 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, Tummas 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 Tummas the tranter, "what fur do you go fur
to miscall me like other fowk? I’ve been miscalled ever since that day
since 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 Tummas
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 wunst it comed to me like a flash o’
lightnin’.  ’Jehu!’ says I to myself. ’I bin and 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 knowin’ 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 towards
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 favour.  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, Tummas," 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’ the 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, Tummas, 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 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 learnt 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 learnt 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 neighbours high and low.  He
eagerly watched the further career of his old hero, now Lord Clive;
learnt 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."



                                THE END.



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



                   Uniform Edition of the Stories of

                             HERBERT STRANG

        SIZE 7 3/4 in. x 5 in., CLOTH, WITH COLOUR AND HALF-TONE
                    PLATES, AND FULL COLOUR JACKETS.


Tom Burnaby: A Story of Uganda and the Great Congo Forest.  Illustrated
by C. SHELDON.

A particular interest attaches to "Tom Burnaby," for it was the first
romance of adventure written by Mr. Herbert Strang, and it secured for
him the place in the forefront of writers of boys’ stories that he has
maintained ever since. The hero is attached to an expedition sent to
punish a band of slave-raiding Arabs in the vicinity of the Victoria
Nyanza. He is captured by the Arabs, but escapes, and, after long
wanderings in the great Congo Forest, is befriended by an African chief,
whom he assists in a prolonged struggle with his old enemies.  The story
of Tom’s efforts to impart military discipline to the natives, his
strategy and final triumph over the Arabs, is told with great zest and
with many touches of humour.

"The tone of the story is excellent; manly and spirited, it cannot fail
to rouse a response in a boy’s heart."--_World_.



A Gentleman-at-Arms: Being Passages in the Life of Sir Christopher Rudd,
Knight, as Related by Himself in the Year 1641.

This book is unique in literature for boys.  It relates the adventurous
career of an Elizabethan gentleman, in a style carefully modelled on the
simple prose of the century which produced the Authorised Version of the
Bible.  No previous writer for boys has ever attempted a similar
achievement. Apart from its romantic and exciting incidents, this story
has great value by reason of its historical and geographical
information, and its exceptional style.



Sultan Jim: Empire Builder.  Illustrated by CYRUS CUNEO.

Mr. Herbert Strang has chosen the African continent as the setting for
some of his most remarkable stories, and of these "Sultan Jim" is not
the least remarkable.  It was written prior to the war, when the
colonising activities of rival European powers was raising problems of
the greatest interest and importance.  The presence of a young
Englishman in one of the debatable lands at a time of upheaval and
international rivalry enables him to uphold the interests of the Empire
against formidable opposition.  The story is brimful of adventure, and
its moral is that of patriotic self-sacrifice.



The Adventures of Harry Rochester: A Story of the Days of Marlborough
and Eugene.  Illustrated by W. RAINEY.

Harry Rochester stands unrivalled amongst stories for boys as a living
presentment of a stirring period of English history. It creates anew the
glamour of the eighteenth century, and many of the great personages of
the time cross its pages. Harry’s ambition is to carry the Queen’s
colours, but his father being a poor country parson, and commissions
selling high, he sees no prospect of attaining it.  Nothing daunted,
however, he takes whatever means offer to carve out a career for
himself.  As assistant to a Dutch merchant responsible for victualling
certain of the Allied troops, Harry is brought into contact with the
army in Flanders, and with Marlborough himself; and, later, his desire
for a military career finds an outlet with the army of Prince Eugene,
under whom he fights at Blenheim.

"A stirring tale ... told in such a manner as to make it welcome to any
healthy-minded boy, and also, be it said, to not a few whose boyhood,
alas! is many a long year behind them."--_Daily Telegraph_.



Humphrey Bold: His Chances and Mischances by Land and Sea.  A Story of
the Time of Benbow. Illustrated by W. H. MARGETSON.

In this book, one of Mr. Herbert Strang’s best-known historical
romances, are recounted the adventures of Humphrey Bold from the time
when he was a puny slip of a boy attending Shrewsbury School, the butt
of his companions, who chaffed him for being Bold by name and timid by
nature, until he had grown into a sturdy young giant, and sailed into
Plymouth Sound as First Lieutenant of the Bristol frigate.  The
intervening chapters tell of Humphrey’s service at sea under Admiral
Benbow, his capture by the French and his escape from prison, and of the
many exciting events that befell him in the West Indies.

"So felicitous is he in imparting local colour to his narrative that
whilst reading it we have found ourselves thinking of Thackeray.  This
suggests a standard by which very few writers of boys’ books will bear
being judged.  The majority of them are content to provide their young
friends with mere reading.  Herbert Strang offers them
literature."--_Glasgow Herald_.



Rob the Ranger: A Story of the Fight for Canada. Illustrated by W. H.
MARGETSON.

"Rob the Ranger," which has been placed by General Baden-Powell first
among the great scouting stories, brings out the romantic side of the
fight for Canada.  Rob Somers, son of an English settler in New York
State, sets out with Lone Pete, a trapper, in pursuit of an Indian
raiding party which has destroyed his home and carried off his younger
brother. He is captured and taken to Quebec, where he finds his brother
in strange circumstances, and escapes in dead of winter, in company with
a little band of New Englanders.  They are pursued over snow and ice,
and in a log-hut beside Lake Champlain maintain a desperate struggle
against a large force of French, Indians, and half-breeds, ultimately
reaching Fort Edward in safety.

"If there had ever been the least doubt as to Mr. Strang’s pre-eminence
as a writer of boys’ books, it would be very effectually banished by
this work of his."--_Glasgow Herald_.



Palm Tree Island: A Romance of the South Seas. Illustrated by ARCHIBALD
WEBB and ALAN WRIGHT.

In this story two boys are left on a volcanic island in the South Seas,
destitute of everything but their clothes.  The story relates how they
provided themselves with food and shelter, with tools and weapons; how
they fought with wild dogs and sea monsters; and how, when they have
settled down to a comfortable life under the shadow of the volcano,
their peace is disturbed by the advent of savages and a crew of mutinous
Englishmen.  The savages are driven away; the mutineers are subdued
through the boys’ ingenuity; and they ultimately sail away in a vessel
of their own construction.  In no other book has the author more
admirably blended amusement with instruction.

"Written so well that there is not a dull page in the book."--_The
World_.

"A capital story for boys, thoroughly healthy in tone, providing plenty
of adventure and a quantum of the marvellous to satisfy the most
exacting of our young bloods."--_Schoolmaster_.



Settlers and Scouts: A Story of Pioneering in East Africa.  Illustrated
by T. C. DUGDALE.

The scene of this story is laid in the Highlands of British East Africa,
and the book gives a vivid and accurately-drawn picture of the dangers
and hardships that even in these days await the pioneer in the more
remote parts of the British Empire.  It also furnishes a good deal of
information respecting the country and the people amid which the story
moves. An Englishman and his son emigrate thither and settle down as
farmers and stock-raisers; and the difficulties they encounter, first
through the depredations of wild beasts, and afterwards owing to the
hostility of an Arab chief and his followers engaged in the ivory trade,
prove in the highest degree their courage and resource.

"Mr. Strang, as behoves such a favourite as he, provides plenty of
adventure and excitement, but he gives much practical information as
well, and his books may be recommended to any reader who wishes to learn
what chance there is for a white settler in Uganda or to study the state
of affairs at the Congo."--_Daily Mail_.



Boys of the Light Brigade: A Story of the Peninsular War.  Illustrated
by W. RAINEY.

This book opens in the streets of Salamanca with Lieutenant Jack Lumsden
of the 95th Rifles endeavouring to keep the peace between some of his
own Riflemen and the Spaniards. His harangue in fluent Spanish is
overheard by Sir John Moore, who recognises in the young officer just
the man he wants for his purpose, and sends him off upon a mission of
some delicacy. Thence onward, Lumsden’s adventures are interwoven with
the history of Moore’s gallant army in the Peninsula, culminating in the
great retreat and the Battle of Corunna.

"Of all the qualities that go to make up a perfect boys’ book we know of
none that is wanting in ’Boys of the Light Brigade,’"--_Glasgow Herald_.



Kobo: A Story of the Far East.  Illustrated by W. RAINEY.

This book recounts the adventures of a young British engineer during the
opening phases of the Russo-Japanese War.  Bob Fawcett is sent to the
Far East on behalf of his firm, which has supplied range-finding
instruments to the Japanese Navy. His arrival coinciding with the
outbreak of war leads, by a natural sequence of events, to his being an
eye-witness of the first great sea fights by which Japan revealed
herself to the world as a first-rate naval power; and the grim struggle
between East and West is an ever-present background to the stirring
story of his subsequent adventures amongst Cossacks and Manchu brigands,
and of his friendship with Kobo, an officer of the Japanese Secret
Service.

"An excellent story, such as one might expect to have from the author of
that capital book, ’Tom Burnaby.’  ’With a Japanese duty comes
inexorably first.’  This, indeed, is the keynote of the whole story.
This principle of action dominates Bob’s friend, and it dominates the
story."--_Spectator_.

"The book is capital: full of life and vigour and local colour.... Mr.
Strang has intimate personal knowledge of the countries of which he
writes, which, no doubt, accounts for much of the _vraisemblance_ of his
story."--_Guardian_.



Jack Brown in China: A Story of the Russo-Japanese War.  (Originally
published under the title of "Brown of Moukden.")  Illustrated by W.
RAINEY.

This book describes the adventures of a young Englishman in Manchuria
during the latter stages of the Russo-Japanese War.  Mr. Brown, senior,
a merchant of Moukden, is wrongly convicted by the Russian authorities
of giving information to the Japanese, and is deported from the city.
Jack does not know where his father has been sent, but he goes through
some desperate adventures in his attempts to find out, and to get his
wrongs redressed.  At one time he is in imminent danger of being
beheaded as a "foreign devil" in an outlying village, but is delivered
in the nick of time by a band of brigands; and he has more than a
passing glimpse of actual warfare. There is humour as well as excitement
in the book, and some of Mr. Strang’s orientals are very entertaining
characters.

"The equal of anything we know of in the whole range of juvenile
fiction....  The book will hold boy readers spellbound."--_Church
Times_.



Samba: A Story of the Congo.  Illustrated by W. RAINEY.

The scene of this story is laid in the Congo Free State, where a young
Englishman and his uncle, while prospecting for gold, are brought into
violent contact with the Belgians who are working the rubber
concessions.  Moved to indignation by the sight of the barbarous methods
employed to extort rubber from the natives, the hero openly champions
the cause of the oppressed; he gathers about him a small force, to which
he imparts a measure of military discipline, and with it administers a
sharp lesson to the slave-drivers.  He restores the confidence of the
natives in the White Man; to them he is Lokolobolo, a great chief, and a
harbinger of brighter days.

"It was an excellent idea on the part of Mr. Herbert Strang to write a
story about the treatment of the natives in the Congo Free State.... Mr.
Strang has a big following among English boys, and anything he chooses
to write is sure to receive their appreciative attention."--_Standard_.

"Mr. Herbert Strang has written not a few admirable books for boys, but
none likely to make a more profound impression than his new story of
this year."--_Scotsman_.



The Adventures of Dick Trevanion: A Story of 1804.  Illustrated by W.
RAINEY.

This is a romance of the early years of the nineteenth century. In it
the old smuggling days are made to live again, and reverberations are
heard of the war with Napoleon.  The Trevanions are a Cornish family,
whose fortunes have fallen low through the working out of their tin
mines, and the scheming of a relative who bears a grudge against the
head of the house.  Dick, after many exciting events in which he is
involved with smugglers and French privateers, makes a happy discovery,
through which the prosperity of his family is restored.

"Mr. Herbert Strang has been well called the ’Twentieth-Century
Marryat.’  His many books stand high up on the list of boys’ favourites.
and among his new books for this year none is likely to be more welcome
than ’The Adventures of Dick Trevanion.’  The story is dated in the
early years of the nineteenth century, and Dick’s adventures on land and
sea are so vividly depicted by Mr. Strang that it would not be
surprising to find the book in the hands of older readers with a taste
for adventure."--_Gentlewoman_.



With Drake on the Spanish Main: Illustrated by ARCHIBALD WEBB.

A rousing story of adventure by sea and land.  The hero, Dennis
Hazelrig, is cast ashore on an island in the Spanish Main, the sole
survivor of a band of adventurers from Plymouth. He lives for some time
with no companion but a spider monkey, but by a series of remarkable
incidents he gathers about him a numerous band of escaped slaves and
prisoners, English, French and native; captures a Spanish fort; fights a
Spanish galleon; meets Francis Drake, and accompanies him in his famous
adventures on the Isthmus of Panama; and finally reaches England the
possessor of much treasure.

"Mr. Herbert Strang bids fair to become to the present what the late G.
A. Henty was to the past generation of young folk; in fact, his stirring
romances, though, like Henty’s, worked up on a sound historical basis,
are far better written."--_The Lady_.

"Another of Mr. Herbert Strang’s masterful stories of adventure and
romance."--_School Guardian_.



The Air Patrol: A Story of the North-West Frontier. Illustrated by CYRUS
CUNEO.

In this book Mr. Strang looks ahead to a time when there is a great
Mongolian Empire whose army sweeps down on to the North-West Frontier of
India.  His two heroes luckily have an aeroplane, and with the help of a
few Pathan miners, they hold a pass in the Hindu Kush against a swarm of
Mongols, long enough to prevent the cutting of the communications of the
Indian army operating in Afghanistan.

"An exceptionally good book, written moreover in excellent
style."--_Times_.

"The ’Air Patrol’ is really a masterpiece."--_Morning Post_.



Barclay of the Guides: A Story of the Indian Mutiny.  Illustrated in
Colour by W. KOEKKOEK.  With Maps.

Of all our native Indian regiments the Guides have probably the most
glorious traditions.  They were among the few who remained true to their
salt during the trying days of the great Mutiny, vying in gallantry and
devotion with our best British regiments.  The story tells how James
Barclay, after a strange career in Afghanistan, becomes associated with
this famous regiment, and, though young in years, bears a man’s part in
the great march to Delhi, the capture of the royal city, and the
suppression of the Mutiny.

"Mr. Strang has been truly described as ’a born teacher of history,’ and
this story of the Indian Mutiny is an additional proof of the truth of
the observation."--_Schoolmistress_.



                 _Complete List of Stories for Boys by_
                             HERBERT STRANG


ADVENTURES OF DICK TREVANION, THE
ADVENTURES OF HARRY ROCHESTER, THE
A GENTLEMAN-AT-ARMS
A HERO OF LIEGE
AIR PATROL, THE
AIR SCOUT, THE
BARCLAY OF THE GUIDES
BLUE RAIDER, THE
BOYS OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
BRIGHT IDEAS
BURTON OF THE FLYING CORPS
CARRY ON
CRUISE OF THE GYRO-CAR, THE
FIGHTING WITH FRENCH
FLYING BOAT, THE
FRANK FORESTER
HEIR OF A HUNDRED KINGS, THE
HUMPHREY BOLD
JACK BROWN IN CHINA
JACK HARDY
KING OF THE AIR
KOBO
LONG TRAIL, THE
LORD OF THE SEAS
MOTOR SCOUT, THE
NO MAN’S ISLAND
OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN, THE
ONE OF CLIVE’S HEROES
PALM TREE ISLAND
ROB THE RANGER
ROUND THE WORLD IN SEVEN DAYS
SAMBA
SETTLERS AND SCOUTS
SULTAN JIM
SWIFT AND SURE
THOUSAND MILES AN HOUR, A
THROUGH THE ENEMY’S LINES
TOM BURNABY
TOM WILLOUGHBY’S SCOUTS
TRUE AS STEEL
WINNING HIS NAME
WITH DRAKE ON THE SPANISH MAIN
WITH HAIG ON THE SOMME
YOUNG JACK





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