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In Clive's Command - A Story of the Fight for India
by Herbert Strang
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"That is truth," said a Maratha. "The Rho would have our throats cut at once."

The Babu groaned.

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

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

"Yes, I have a plan."

He paused; there was sound of hard breathing.

"Tell it us," said the Gujarati eagerly.

"You are one of us, Fuzl Khan?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diggle waved him away.

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

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

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

"You fiend!" was all he said.

Diggle smiled, and sauntered carelessly away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I am afraid, sahib," he said.

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

"Get into the loop," he whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

"They are gambling," whispered the man.

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

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

"Yes, sahib."

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, what of Desmond and the Gujarati?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I know, sahib."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Call Sukharam," said Desmond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes."

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The serang repeated the words aloud.

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

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

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

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

"Pandu, sahib."

"How many men are on board her?"

"Three, sahib."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Is any one hurt?" asked Desmond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But the rowers?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The storm had lasted for nearly ten hours before it showed signs of abatement. Another two hours passed before it was safe to leave the helm. The wind had by this time fallen to a steady breeze; the rain had ceased; the sky was clear and starlit; but the sea was still running high. At length the serang offered to steer while the others got a little rest; and intrusting the wheel to him Desmond and Fuzl Khan threw themselves down as they were, on the deck near the wheel, and were soon fast asleep.

At dawn Desmond awoke to find the grab laboring in a heavy sea, with just steering way on. The wind had dropped to a light breeze. The Gujarati was soon up and relieved the serang at the wheel; the rest of the crew, haggard melancholy objects, were set to work to make things shipshape. Only the Babu remained below; he lay huddled in the cabin, bruised, prostrate, unable to realize that the bitterness of death was past, unable to believe that life had any further interest for him.

Desmond's position was perplexing. Where was he? Perforce he had lost his bearings. He scanned the whole circumference of the horizon, and saw nothing but the vast dark ocean plain and its immense blue dome—never a yard of land, never a stitch of canvas. He had no means of ascertaining his latitude. During the twelve hours of the storm the grab had been driven at a furious rate; if the wind had blown all the time from the southeast, the quarter from which it had struck the vessel, she must now be at least fifty miles from the coast, possibly more, and north of Bombay. In the inky blackness of the night, amid the blinding rain, it had been impossible to read anything from the stars. All was uncertain, save the golden sheen of sunlight in the east.

Desmond's only course was to put the vessel about and steer by the sun. She must thus come sooner or later in sight of the coast, and then one or the other of the men on board might recognize a landmark—a hill, a promontory, a town. The danger was that they might make the coast in the neighborhood of one of the Pirate's strongholds; but that must be risked.

For the rest of the day there were light variable winds, such as, according to Fuzl Khan, might be expected at that season of the year. The northeast monsoon was already overdue. Its coming was usually heralded by fitful and uncertain winds, varied by such squalls or storms as they had just experienced.

The sea moderated early in the morning, and became continually smoother until, as the sun went down, there was scarce a ripple on the surface. The wind meanwhile had gradually veered to the southwest, and later to the west, and the grab began to make more headway. But with the fall of night it dropped to a dead calm, a circumstance from which the Gujarati inferred that they were still a long way from the coast. When the stars appeared, however, and Desmond was able to get a better idea of the course to set, a slight breeze sprang up again from the west, and the grab crept along at a speed of perhaps four knots.

It had been a lazy day on board. The crew had recovered from their sickness, but there was nothing for them to do, and as orientals they were quite content to do nothing. Only the Babu remained off duty, in addition to the watch below. Desmond visited him, and persuaded him to take some food; but nothing would induce him to come on deck; the mere sight of the sea, he said, would externalize his interior.

It was Desmond's trick at the wheel between eight and midnight. Gulam Abdullah was on the lookout; the rest of the crew were forward squatting on the deck in a circle around Fuzl Khan. Desmond, thinking of other things, heard dully, as from a great distance, the drone of the Gujarati's voice. He was talking more freely and continuously than was usual with him; ordinarily his manner was morose; he was a man of few words, and those not too carefully chosen. So prolonged was the monotonous murmur, however, that Desmond by and by found himself wondering what was the subject of his lengthy discourse; he even strained his ears to catch, if it might be, some fragments of it; but nothing came into distinctness out of the low-pitched tone.

Occasionally it was broken by the voice of one of the others; now and again there was a brief interval of silence; then the Gujarati began again. Desmond's thoughts were once more diverted to his own strange fate. Little more than a year before, he had been a boy, with no more experience than was to be gained within the narrow circuit of a country farm. What a gamut of adventure he had run through since then! He smiled as he thought that none of the folks at Market Drayton would recognize, in the muscular, strapping, suntanned seaman, the slim boy of Wilcote Grange. His imagination had woven many a chain of incident, and set him in many a strange place; but never had it presented a picture of himself in command of as mixed a crew as was ever thrown together, navigating unknown waters without chart or compass, a fugitive from the chains of an Eastern despot.

His quick fancy was busy even now. He felt that it was not for nothing he had been brought into his present plight; and at the back of his mind was the belief, founded on his strong wish and hope, that the magnetism of Clive's personality, which he had felt so strongly at Market Drayton, was still influencing his career.

At midnight Fuzl Khan relieved him at the wheel, and he turned in. His sleep was troubled. It was a warm night—unusually warm for the time of year. There were swarms of cockroaches and rats on board; the cockroaches huge beasts, three times the size of those that overran the kitchen at home; the rats seeming as large as the rabbits he had been wont to shoot on the farm. They scurried about with their little restless noises, which usually would have had no power to break his sleep; but now they worried him. He scared them into silence for a moment by striking upon the floor; but the rustle and clipper clapper immediately began again.

After vain efforts to regain his sleep, he at length rose and went on deck. He did not move with intentional quietness, but he was barefoot, and his steps made no sound. It was a black night, a warm haze almost shutting out the stars. As he reached the deck he heard low murmurs from a point somewhere aft. He had no idea what the time was: Shaik Mahomet had the water clock, with which he timed the watches; and Desmond's could not yet be due. Avoiding the spot where the conversation was in progress, he leaned over the bulwarks, and gazed idly at the phosphorescent glow upon the water.

Then he suddenly became aware that the sounds of talking came from near the wheel, and Fuzl Khan was among the talkers. What made the man so uncommonly talkative? Seemingly he was taking up the thread where it had been dropped earlier in the night; what was it about?

Desmond asked himself the question without much interest, and was again allowing his thoughts to rove when he caught the word "sahib," and then the word "Firangi" somewhat loudly spoken. Immediately afterwards there was a low hiss from the Gujarati, as of one warning another to speak lower. The experiences of the past year had quickened Desmond's wits; with reason he had become more suspicious than of yore, and the necessity to be constantly on his guard had made him alert, alive to the least suggestion.

Why had the speaker been hushed—and by Fuzl Khan? He remembered the ugly rumors—the veiled hints he had heard about the man in Gheria. If they were true, he had sold his comrades who trusted him. They might not be true; the man himself had always indignantly denied them. Desmond had nothing against him. So far he had acted loyally enough; but then he had nothing to gain by playing his fellow fugitives false, and it was with this knowledge that Desmond had decided to make him privy to the escape.

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