In Clive's Command - A Story of the Fight for India
by Herbert Strang
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But now they were clear of Gheria. Fuzl Khan was free like the rest; he had no longer the same inducement to play straight if his interest seemed to him to clash with the general. Yet it was not easy to see how such a clashing could occur. Like the others he was lost at sea; until land was reached, at any rate, he could have no motive for opposition or mutiny.

While these, thoughts were passing through Desmond's mind he heard a man rise from the group aft and come forward. Instinctively he moved from the side of the vessel towards the mainmast, and as the man drew near Desmond stood so that the stout tree trunk was between them. The man went rapidly towards the bows, and in a low tone hailed the lookout, whispering him a summons to join the Gujarati at the helm. The lookout, one of the Marathas, left his post; he came aft with the messenger, and both passing on the same side of the vessel, Desmond by dodging round the mast escaped their notice.

At the best, the action of Fuzl Khan was a dereliction of duty; at the worst!—Desmond could not put his suspicions into words. It was clear that something was afoot, and he resolved to find out what it was. Very cautiously he followed the two men. Bending low, and keeping under the shadow of the bulwarks, he crept to within a few feet of the almost invisible group. A friendly coil of rope near the taffrail gave him additional cover; but the night was so dark that he ran little risk of being perceived so long as the men remained stationary. He himself could barely see the tall form of the Gujarati dimly outlined against the sky.

Chapter 16: In which a mutiny is quelled in a minute; and our Babu proves himself a man of war.

Crouching low, Desmond waited. When the Maratha joined the groups Fuzl Khan addressed him directly in a low firm tone.

"We are all agreed, Nanna," he said. "You are the only man wanting to our purpose. This is the fastest grab on the coast. I know a port where we can get arms and ammunition; with a few good men (and I know where they can be found), we can make a strong band, and grow rich upon our spoils."

"But what about the sahib?"

"Wah! We know what these Firangi are like—at least the Angrezi {English}. They have the heads of pigs: there is no moving them. It would be vain to ask the young sahib to join us; his mind is set on getting to Bombay and telling all his troubles to the Company. What a folly! And what an injustice to us! It would destroy our chance of making our fortunes, for what would happen? The grab would be sold; the sahib would take the most of the price; we should get a small share, not enough to help us to become rovers of the sea and our own masters."

"The sahib will refuse, then. So be it! But what then shall we do with him?"

"He will not get the chance of refusing. He will not be told."

"But he is taking us to Bombay. How then can we work our will?"

"He thinks he is sailing to Bombay: he will really take us to Cutch."

"How that, brother?"

"Does he know Bombay? Of a truth no. He is a boy, he has never sailed these seas. He depends on us. Suppose we come in sight of Bombay, who will tell him? Nobody. If he asks, we will say it is some other place: how can he tell? We will run past Bombay until we are within sight of Cutch: then truly I will do the rest."

The Maratha did not reply. The momentary silence was broken by Fuzl Khan again.

"See! Put the one thing in the balance against the other: how does it turn? On the one side the twenty rupees—a pitiful sum—promised by the sahib: and who knows he will keep his promise? On the other, a tenth share for each of you in the grab and whatsoever prey falls to it."

"Then the Babu is to have a share? Of a truth he is a small man, a hare in spirit; does he merit an equal share with us? We are elephants to him."

"No. He will have no share. He will go overboard."

"Why, then, what of the tenth share?"

"It will be mine. I shall be your leader and take two."

Desmond had heard enough. The Gujarati was showing himself in his true colors. His greed was roused, and the chance of setting up as a pirate on his own account, and making himself a copy of the man whose prisoner he had been, had prompted this pretty little scheme. Desmond crept noiselessly away and returned to his quarters. Not to sleep; he spent the remainder of his watch below in thinking out his position—in trying to devise some means of meeting this new and unexpected difficulty. He had not heard what Fuzl Khan proposed ultimately to do with him. He might share the Babu's fate: at the best it would appear that he had shaken off one captivity to fall into the toils of another.

He had heard grim tales of the pirates of the Cambay Gulf; they were not likely to prove more pleasant masters than the Marathas farther south, even if they did not prefer to put him summarily out of the way. His presence among them might prove irksome, and what would the death of a single English youth matter? He was out of reach of all of his friends; on the Good Intent none but Bulger and the New Englander had any real kindness for him, and if Bulger were to mention at any port that a young English lad was in captivity with the Pirate, what could be done? Should the projected expedition against Gheria prove successful, and he not be found among the European prisoners, it would be assumed that he was no longer living; and even if the news of his escape became known, it was absurd to suppose that all India would be searched for him.

The outlook, from any point of view, was gloomy. The Gujarati had evidently won over the whole ship's company. Were they acting from the inclination for a rover's life, coupled with the hope of gain, or had they been jockeyed into mutiny by Fuzl Khan? Desmond could not tell, nor could he find out without betraying a knowledge of the plot.

Then he remembered the Babu. He alone had been excepted; the other men held him in contempt; but despite his weaknesses, for which he was indeed hardly accountable, Desmond had a real liking for him; and it was an unpleasant thought that, whatever happened to himself, if the plot succeeded, Surendra Nath was doomed.

But thinking of this, Desmond saw one ray of hope. He had not been for long the companion of men of different castes without picking up a few notions of what caste meant. The Babu was a Brahman; as a Bengali he had no claim on the sympathies of the others; but as a Brahman his person to other Hindus was inviolable. The Marathas were Hindus, and they at least would not willingly raise their hand against him. Yet Desmond could not be certain on this point. During his short residence in Gheria he had found that, in the East as too often in the West, the precepts of religion were apt to be kept rather in the letter than in the spirit. He had seen the sacred cow, which no good Hindu would venture to kill for untold gold, atrociously overworked, and, when too decrepit to be of further service, left to perish miserably of neglect and starvation. It might be that although the Marathas would not themselves lay hands on the Babu, they would be quite content to look calmly on while a Mohammedan did the work.

At the best, it was Desmond and the Babu against the crew—hopeless odds, for if it came to a fight the latter would be worse than useless. Not that Desmond held the man in such scorn as the men of his own color. Surendra Nath was certainly timid and slack, physically weak, temperamentally a coward: yet he had shown gleams of spirit during the escape, and it seemed to Desmond that he was a man who, having once been induced to enter upon a course, might prove both constant and loyal. The difficulty now was that, prostrated by his illness during the storm, he was not at his best; certainly in no condition to face a difficulty either mental or physical.

So Desmond resolved not to tell him of the danger impending. He feared the effect upon his shaken nerves. He would not intentionally do anything against Desmond's interest, but he could scarcely fail to betray his anxiety to the conspirators. Feeling that there was nobody to confide in, Desmond decided that his only course was to feign ignorance of what was going on, and await events with what composure he might. Not that he would relax his watchfulness; on the contrary he was alert and keen, ready to seize with manful grip the skirts of chance.

Perhaps, he thought, the grab might fall in with a British ship. But what would that avail? The grab with her extraordinary sailing powers could show a clean pair of heels to any Indiaman, however fast, even if he could find an opportunity of signaling for help. Fuzl Khan, without doubt, would take care that he never had such a chance.

Turning things over in his mind, and seeing no way out of his difficulty, he was at length summoned to relieve the Gujarati at the wheel. It was, he supposed, about four in the morning, and still pitch dark. When he came to the helm Fuzl Khan was alone: there was nothing to betray the fact that the plotters had, but little before, been gathered around him. The lookout, who had left his post to join the group, had returned forward, and was now being relieved, like the Gujarati himself.

Desmond exchanged a word or two with the man, and was left alone at the wheel. His mind was still set on the problem how to frustrate the scheme of the mutineers. He was convinced that if the grab once touched shore at any point save Bombay his plight would be hopeless. But how could he guard against the danger? Even if he could keep the navigation of the grab entirely in his own hands by remaining continuously at the helm, he was dependent on the plotters for information about the coast; to mislead him would be the easiest thing in the world. But it suddenly occurred to him that he might gain time by altering the course of the vessel. If he kept out of sight of land he might increase the chance of some diversion occurring.

Accordingly he so contrived that the grab lost rather than gained in her tacks against the light northwest wind now blowing. None of the men, except possibly the Gujarati, had sufficient seamanship to detect this manoeuver; he had gone below, and when he came on deck again he could not tell what progress had been made during his absence. Only the mainsail, foresail, and one topsail were set: these were quite enough for the untrained crew to trim in the darkness—likely to prove too much, indeed, in the event of a sudden squall. Thus the process of going about was a long and laborious one, and at the best much way was lost.

Not long after he had begun to act on this idea he was somewhat concerned to see the serang, who was in charge of the deck watch, come aft and hang about near the wheel, as though his curiosity had been aroused. Had he any suspicions? Desmond resolved to address the man and see what he could infer from the manner of his reply.

"Is all well, serang?"

"All well, sahib," answered the man. He stopped, and seemed to hesitate whether to say more; but after a moment or two he moved slowly away.

Desmond watched him. Had he discovered the trick? Would he go below and waken Fuzl Khan? Desmond could not still a momentary tremor. But the serang did not rejoin his mess mates, nor go below. He walked up and down the deck alone. Apparently he suspected nothing.

Desmond felt relieved; but though he was gaining time, he could but recognize that it seemed likely to profit him little. A criminal going to execution may step never so slowly across the prison yard; there is the inexorable gallows at the end, and certain doom.

Could he not force matters, Desmond wondered? It was evidently to be a contest, whether of wits or physical strength, between himself and the Gujarati. Without one or other the vessel could not be safely navigated; if he could in some way overcome the ringleader, he felt pretty sure that the crew would accept the result and all difficulty would be at an end. But how could he gain so unmistakable an ascendancy? In physical strength Fuzl Khan was more than his match: there was no doubt of the issue of a struggle if it were a matter of sheer muscular power.

For a moment he thought of attempting to enlist the Marathas on his side. They were Hindus; the Gujarati was a Muslim; and they must surely feel that, once he was among his co-religionists in Cutch, in some pirate stronghold, they would run a very poor chance of getting fair treatment. But he soon dismissed the idea. The Gujarati must seem to them much more formidable than the stripling against whom he was plotting. The Hindu, even more than the average human being elsewhere, is inclined to attach importance to might and bulk—even to mere fat. If he sounded the Marathas, and, their fear of the Gujarati outweighing their inevitable distrust of him as a Firangi, they betrayed him to curry a little favor, there was no doubt that the fate both of himself and the Babu would instantly be decided. He must trust to himself alone.

While he was still anxiously debating the matter with himself his eye caught the two muskets lashed to the wooden framework supporting the wheel. He must leave no hostages to fortune. Taking advantage of a lull in the wind he steadied the wheel with his body, and with some difficulty drew the charges and dropped them into the sea. If it came to a tussle the enemy would certainly seize the muskets; it would be worth something to Desmond to know that they were not loaded. It was, in truth, but a slight lessening of the odds against him; and as he restored the weapons to their place he felt once more how hopeless his position remained.

Thus pondering and puzzling, with no satisfaction, he spent the full period of his term of duty. At the appointed time Fuzl Khan came to relieve him. It was now full daylight; but, scanning the horizon with a restless eye, Desmond saw no sign of land, nor the sail of any vessel.

"No land yet, sahib?" said the Gujarati, apparently in surprise.

"No, as you see."

"But you set the course by the stars, sahib?"

"Oh, yes; the grab must have been going slower than we imagined."

"The wind has not shifted?"

"Very little. I have had to tack several times."

The man grunted, and looked at Desmond, frowning suspiciously, but Desmond met his glance boldly, and said, as he left to go below:

"Be sure and have me called the moment you sight land."

He went below, threw himself into his hammock, and being dead tired, was soon fast asleep.

Some hours later he was called by the Babu.

"Sahib, they say land is in sight at last. I am indeed thankful. To the landlubber the swell of waves causes nauseating upheaval."

"'Tis good news indeed," said Desmond, smiling. "Come on deck with me."

They went up together. The vessel was bowling along under a brisk southwester, which he found had been blowing steadily almost from the moment he had left the helm. The land was as yet but a dim line on the horizon; it was necessary to stand in much closer if any of the landmarks were to be recognized. He took the wheel; the shade on the sea line gradually became more definite; and in the course of an hour they opened up a fort somewhat similar in appearance to that of Gheria. All the ship's company were now on deck, looking eagerly shorewards.

"Do you know the place?" asked Desmond of the Gujarati unconcernedly.

The man gazed at it intently for a minute or so.

"Yes, sahib; it is Suwarndrug," he said. "Is it not, Nanna?"

"Yes, of a truth; it is Suwarndrug; I was there a month ago," replied the Maratha.

"What do you say, Gulam?" he continued, turning to one of the Biluchis standing near.

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

At this moment four grabs were seen beating out of the harbor. Fuzl Khan uttered an exclamation; then, turning to Desmond, he said with a note of anxiety:

"It is best to put about at once, sahib. See the grabs! They may be enemies."

Desmond's heart gave a jump; his pulse beat more quickly under the stress of a sudden inspiration. He felt convinced that the fortress was not Suwarndrug; the Gujarati's anxiety to pile up testimony to the contrary was almost sufficient in itself to prove that. If not Suwarndrug, it was probably one of Angria's strongholds, possibly Kulaba. In that case the grabs now beating out were certainly the Pirate's, and the men knew it.

Here was an opportunity, probably the only one that would occur, of grappling with the mutiny. The crew would be torn by conflicting emotions; with the prospect of recapture by Angria their action would be paralyzed; if he could take advantage of their indecision he might yet gain the upper hand. It was a risky venture; but the occasion was desperate. He could afford for the present to neglect the distant grabs, for none of the vessels on the coast could match the Tremukji in speed, and bend all his energies upon the more serious danger on board.

"Surely it can not be Suwarndrug?" he said, with an appearance of composure that he was far from feeling. "Suwarndrug, you remember, has been captured. The last news at Gheria was that it was in the Company's hands, though there was a rumor that it might be handed over to the Peshwa. We should not now see Angria's grabs coming out of Suwarndrug. But if it is Suwarndrug, Fuzl Khan, why put about? As fugitives from Gheria we should be assured of a welcome at Suwarndrug. We should be as safe there as at Bombay."

The Gujarati was none too quick witted. He was patently taken aback, and hesitated for a reply. The grab was standing steadily on her course shorewards. Desmond was to all appearance unconcerned; but the crew were looking at one another uneasily, and the Gujarati's brow was darkening; his fidgetiness increasing. Surendra Nath was the only man among the natives who showed no anxiety. He was leaning on the taffrail, gazing almost gloatingly at the land, and paying no heed to the strange situation around him.

Desmond was watching the Gujarati keenly. The man's manner fully confirmed his suspicions, and even in the tenseness of the moment he felt a passing amusement at the big fellow's puzzle-headed attempts to invent an explanation that would square with the facts. Failing to hit upon a plausible argument, he began to bluster.

"You, Firangi, heed what I say. It is not for us to run risks: the hind does not walk open eyed into the tiger's mouth. The grab must be put about immediately."

"Who is in command?" asked Desmond quietly; "you or I?"

"We share it. I can navigate as well as you."

"You forget our arrangement in Gheria. You agreed that I should command."

"Yes, but at the pleasure of the rest. We are ten; we will have our way; the grab must be put about, at once.

"Not by me."

Desmond felt what was coming and braced himself to meet it.

Then things happened with startling rapidity. The Gujarati, with a yell of rage, made a rush towards the wheel. Knowing what to expect, Desmond slipped behind it and with a few light steps gained the deck forward. Fuzl Khan shouted to the serang to take the helm and steer the vessel out to sea; then set off in headlong pursuit of Desmond, who had now turned and stood awaiting the attack.

The Gujarati did not even trouble to draw his knife. He plunged at him like a bull, shouting that he would deal with the pig of a Firangi as he had dealt with the sentinel at Gheria.

But it was not for nothing that Desmond had fought a dozen battles for the possession of Clive's desk at school, and a dozen more for the honor of the school against the town; that his muscles had been developed by months of hard work at sea and harder work in the dockyard at Gheria. Deftly dodging the man's blind rush, he planted his bare feet firmly and threw his whole weight into a terrific body blow that sent the bigger man with a thud to the deck. Panting, breathless, trembling with fury, Fuzl Khan sprang to his feet, caught sight of the muskets, and tearing one from its fastenings raised it to his shoulder.

Desmond seized the moment with a quickness that spoke volumes for his will's absolute mastery of his body. As the man pulled the harmless trigger, Desmond leaped at him; a crashing blow between the eyes sent him staggering against the wheel; a second while he tottered brought him limp and almost stunned to the deck.

Meanwhile the crew had looked on for a few breathless moments in amazement at this sudden turn of affairs. But as the Gujarati fell Desmond heard a noise behind him. Half turning, he saw Shaik Abdullah rushing towards him with a marlinspike. The man had him at a disadvantage, for he was breathless from his tussle with Fuzl Khan; but at that moment a dark object hurtled through the air, striking this new antagonist at the back of the head, and hurling him a lifeless lump into the scuppers.

Desmond looked round in wonderment: who among the crew had thus befriended him so opportunely? His wonder was not lessened when he saw the Babu, trembling like a leaf, his eyes blazing, his dusky face indescribably changed. At the sight of Desmond's peril the Bengali, forgetting his weakness, exalted above his timidity, had caught up with both hands a round nine-pounder shot that lay on deck, and in a sudden strength of fury had hurled it at the Biluchi. His aim was fatally true; the man was killed on the spot.

With his eyes Desmond thanked the Babu; there was no time for words. The hostile grabs were undoubtedly making chase. They had separated, with the intention of bearing down upon and overhauling the Tremukji in whatever direction she might flee. Fuzl Khan still lay helpless upon the deck.

"Secure that man," said Desmond to two of the crew.

He spoke curtly and sternly, with the air of one who expected his orders to be executed without question; though he felt a touch of anxiety lest the men should still defy him. But they went about their task instantly without a word: Desmond's bold stand, and the swift overthrow of the big Gujarati, had turned the tide in his favor, and he thrilled with relief and keen pleasure that he was master of the situation.

While the ringleader of the mutineers was being firmly bound, Desmond turned to Nanna and said:

"Now, answer me at once. What is that place?"

"It is Kulaba, sahib."

"Where is Kulaba?"

"A few miles south of Bombay, sahib."

"Good. Run up the fore-topsail."

He went to the wheel.

"Thank you, serang. I will relieve you. Go forward and see that the men crowd on all sail."

The mutiny had been snuffed out; the men went about their work quietly, with the look of whipped dogs; and barring accidents Desmond knew that before long he would make Bombay and be safe. With every stitch of canvas set, the vessel soon showed that she had the heels of her pursuers. Before she could draw clear, two of them came within range with their bow chasers, and their shot whistled around somewhat too close to be comfortable. But she steadily drew ahead, and ere long it was seen that the four grabs were being hopelessly outpaced. They kept up the chase for the best part of an hour, but as they neared the British port they recognized that they were running into danger and had the discretion to draw off.

Now that the pursuit was over, Desmond ventured to steer due northeast, and the coastline became more distinctly visible. It was about two o'clock in the afternoon, judging by the height of the sun, when the serang, pointing shorewards, said:

"There is Bombay, sahib."

"You are sure?"

"Yes; I know it by the cluster of palmyra trees. No one can mistake them."

Moment by moment the town and harbor came more clearly into view. Desmond saw an extensive castle, a flag flying on its pinnacled roof, set amid a green mass of jungle and cocoanut forest, with a few Portuguese-built houses dotted here and there. In front a narrow jungle-clad island, called, as he afterwards learned, Old Woman Island, stretched like a spit into the sea. To the left of the fort, at the head of a small bay, was the Bunder pier, with the warehouses at the shore end. Still farther to the left were the docks and the marine yards, and; at the extremity of the island on which Bombay stands, a frowning bastion.

Feeling that he had now nothing more to fear, Desmond ordered Fuzl Khan to be cast loose and brought to him. The man wore a look of sullen surprise, which Desmond cheerfully ignored.

"Now, Fuzl Khan," he said, "we are running into Bombay harbor. You know the channel?"

The man grunted a surly affirmative.

"Well, you will take the helm, and steer us in to the most convenient moorings."

He turned away, smiling at the look of utter consternation on the Gujarati's face. To be trusted after his treacherous conduct was evidently more than the man could understand. The easy unconcern with which Desmond walked away had its effect on the crew. When orders were given to take in sail they carried them out with promptitude, and Desmond chuckled as he saw them talking to one another in low tones and discussing him, as he guessed by their glances in his direction.

The Gujarati performed his work at the helm skilfully, and about five o'clock, when the sun was setting, casting a romantic glow over the long straggling settlement, the Tremukji ran to her anchorage among a host of small craft, within a few cable lengths of the vessels of Admiral Watson's squadron, which had arrived from Madras a few weeks before.

Chapter 17: In which our hero finds himself among friends; and Colonel Clive prepares to astonish Angria.

The entrance of a strange grab had not passed unnoticed. Before the anchor had been dropped, the harbor master put off in a toni.

"What grab is that?" he shouted in Urdu, as he came alongside.

"The Tremukji, sir," replied Desmond in English.

"Eh! what! who in the name of Jupiter are you?"

"You'd better come aboard, sir, and I'll explain," said Desmond with a smile.

The harbor master mounted the side, rapping out sundry exclamations of astonishment that amused Desmond not a little.

"Don't talk like a native! H'm! Queer! Turn him inside out! No nonsense!"

"Well, here I am," he added, stepping up to Desmond. "My name's Johnson, and I'm harbor master. Now then, explain; no nonsense."

Desmond liked the look of the little man. He was short and stout, with a very large red face, a broad turn-up nose, and childlike blue eyes that bespoke confidence at once.

"My name is Desmond Burke, sir, and I've run away from Gheria in this grab."

"The deuce you have!"

"Yes, sir. I've been a prisoner there for six months and more, and we got off a few nights ago in the darkness."

"H'm! Any more Irishmen aboard?"

"Not that I'm aware of, sir."

"And you got away from Gheria, did you? You're the first that ever I heard did so. Nothing to do with Commodore James, eh?"

"No, sir. I don't know what you mean."

"Why, Commodore James started t'other day to take a good sea-look at Gheria. There's an expedition getting ready to draw that rascally Pirate's teeth. You saw nothing of the squadron? No nonsense, now."

"Not a thing, sir. We were blown out to sea, and I suppose the commodore passed us in the night."

"H'm! Very likely. And you weathered that storm, did you? Learned your seamanship, eh?"

"Picked up a little on board the Good Intent, sir. I was ship's boy aboard."

"Mighty queer ship's boy!" said Mr. Johnson in an audible aside. "The Good Intent's a villainous interloper; how came you aboard of her?"

"I was in a sense tricked into it, sir, and when we got to Gheria Captain Barker and Mr. Diggle, the supercargo, sold me to Angria."

"Sold you to the Pirate?"

"Yes, sir."

"And where do you hail from, then?"

"Shropshire, sir; my father was Captain Richard Burke in the Company's service."

"Jupiter! You're Dick Burke's son! Gad, sir, give me your hand; I knew Dick Burke; many's the sneaker of Bombay punch we've tossed off together. No nonsense about Dick; give me your fist.

"And so you sneaked out of Gheria and sailed this grab, eh? Well, you're a chip of the old block, and a credit to your old dad. I want to hear all about this. And you'll have to come ashore and see the governor."

"It's very kind of you, Mr. Johnson, but really I can't appear before the governor in this rig."

He glanced ruefully at his bare legs and feet and tattered garments.

"True, you en't very shipshape, but we'll soon alter that. Ever use a razor?"

"Not yet, sir," replied Desmond with a smile.

"Thought not. Plenty of native barbers. You must get shaved. And I'll rig you up in a suit of some sort. You must see the governor at once, and no nonsense."

"What about the grab, sir?"

"Leave that to me. You've got a pretty mixed crew, I see. All escaped prisoners, too?"

"All but four."

"And not one of 'em to be trusted, I'll swear. Well, I'll put a crew aboard to take charge. Come along; there's no time to lose. Colonel Clive goes to bed early."

"Colonel Clive! Is he here?"

"Yes; arrived from home two days ago. Ah! that reminds me; you're a Shropshire lad; so's he; do you know him?"

"No, sir; I've seen him; I—I—"

Desmond stammered, remembering his unfortunate encounter with Clive in Billiter Street.

"Well, well," said the harbor master, with a quizzical look; "you'll see him again. Come along."

Desmond accompanied Mr. Johnson on shore. A crowd had gathered. There were Sepoys in turban, cabay {cloak}, and baggy drawers; bearded Arabs; Parsis in their square caps; and a various assortment of habitues of the shore—crimps, landsharks, badmashes {bad characters}, bunder {port} gangs. Seeing Desmond hold his nose at the all-prevailing stench of fish, Mr. Johnson laughed.

"You'll soon get used to that," he said. "'Tis all fish oil and bummaloes {small fish the size of smelt, known when dried as 'Bombay duck'} in Bombay."

Having sent a trustworthy crew on board the Tremukji, the harbor master led Desmond to his house near the docks. Here, while a native barber plied his dexterous razor on Desmond's cheeks and chin, Mr. Johnson searched through a miscellaneous hoard of clothes in one of his capacious presses for an outfit. He found garments that proved a reasonable fit, and Desmond, while dressing, gave a rapid sketch of his adventures since he left the prison shed in Gheria.

"My wigs, but you've had a time of it. Mutiny and all! Dash my buttons, here's a tale for the ladies! Let me look at you. Yes, you'll do now, and faith you're a pretty fellow. And Dick Burke's son! You've got his nose to a T; no nonsense about that. Now you're ready to make your bow to Mr. Bourchier. He's been a coursing match with Colonel Clive and Mr. Watson {it was customary to use the title Mr. in speaking to or of both naval and military officers} up Malabar Hill, and we'll catch him before he sits down to supper.

"How do you feel inside, by the way? Ready for a decent meal after the Pirate's pig's wash, eh?"

"I'm quite comfortable inside," said Desmond, smiling, "but, to tell you the truth, Mr. Johnson, I feel mighty uneasy outside. After six months of the dhoti these breeches and things seem just like bandages."

"It en't the first time you've been swaddled, if you had a mother. Well now, if you're ready. What! That rascal gashed you! Tuts! 'tis a scratch. Can't wait to doctor that. Come on."

The two made their way into the fort inclosure, and walked rapidly to the Government House in the center. In answer to Mr. Johnson the darwan {doorkeeper} at the door said that the governor would not return that night. After the coursing match he was giving a supper party at his country house at Parell.

"That's a nuisance. But we can't have any nonsense. The governor's a bit of an autocrat; too much starch in his shirt, I say; but we'll go out to Parell and beard him, by Jove! 'Tis only five miles out, and we'll drive there in under an hour."

Turning away he hurried out past the tank house on to the Green, and by good luck found an empty shigram {carriage like a palanquin on wheels} waiting to be hired. Desmond mounted the vehicle with no little curiosity. These great beasts with their strange humps would surely not cover five miles in less than an hour. But he was undeceived when they started. The two sturdy oxen trotted along at a good pace in obedience to the driver's goad, and the shigram rattled across Bombay Green, past the church and the whitewashed houses of the English merchants, their oyster-shell windows already lit up; and in some forty-five minutes entered a long avenue leading to Mr. Bourchier's country house. Twice during the course of the journey Desmond was interested to see the shigramwallah {wallah is a personal affix, denoting a close connection between the person and the thing described by the main word. Shigramwallah thus is carriage driver} pull his team up, dismount, and, going to their heads, insert his hand in their mouths.

"What does he do that for?" he asked.

"To clear their throats, to be sure. When the beasts go at this pace they make a terrible lot of foam, and if he didn't swab it out they'd choke, and no nonsense.

"Well, here we are. Dash my wig, won't his Excellency open his eyes!"

Since their departure from the fort the sky had become quite dark. At the end of the avenue they could see the lights of Governor Bourchier's bungalow, and by and by caught sight of figures sitting on the veranda. Desmond's heart beat high; he made no doubt that one of them was Clive; the moment to which he had looked forward so eagerly was at last at hand. He was in no dream land; but his dream had come true. He felt a little nervous at the prospect of meeting men so famous, so immeasurably above him, as Clive and Admiral Watson; but with Clive he felt a bond of union in his birthplace, and it was with recovered confidence that he sprang out of the cart and accompanied Mr. Johnson to the bungalow. He was further reassured by a jolly laugh that rang out just as he reached the steps leading up to the veranda.

"Hullo, Johnson," said a voice, "what does this mean?"

"I've come to see the governor, Captain."

"Then you couldn't have come at a worse time. The supper's half an hour late, and you know what that means to the governor."

Mr. Johnson smiled.

"He'll forget his supper when he has heard my news. 'Tis about the Pirate."

"What's that?" said another voice. "News of the Pirate?"

"Yes, Mr. Watson. This young gentleman—"

But he was interrupted by the khansaman {butler}, who came out at this moment and with a salaam announced that supper was served.

"You'd better come in, Johnson," said the first speaker. "Any news of the Pirate will be sauce to Mr. Bourchier's goose."

The gentlemen rose from their seats, and went into the house, followed by Desmond and the harbor master. In a moment Desmond found himself in a large room brilliantly lighted with candles. In the center was a round table, and Mr. Bourchier, the governor, was placing his guests. He did not look very pleasant, and when he saw Mr. Johnson he said:

"You come at a somewhat unseasonable hour, sir. Can not your business wait till the morning?"

"I made bold to come, your Excellency, because 'tis a piece of news the like of which no one in Bombay has ever heard before. This young gentleman, Mr. Desmond Burke, son of Captain Burke, whom you'll remember, sir, has escaped from Gheria."

The governor and his guests were by this time seated, and instantly all eyes were focused on Desmond, and exclamations of astonishment broke from their lips.

"Indeed! Bring chairs, Hossain."

One of the native attendants left the room noiselessly, and returning with chairs placed them at the table.

"Sit down, gentlemen. This is amazing news, as you say, Mr. Johnson. Perhaps Mr. Burke will relate his adventure as we eat."

Desmond took the chair set for him. The guests were five. Two of them wore the laced coats of admirals; the taller, a man of handsome presence, with a round chubby face, large eyes, small full lips, his head crowned by a neat curled wig, was Charles Watson, in command of the British fleet; the other was his second, Rear Admiral Pocock. A third was Richard King, captain of an Indiaman, in a blue coat with velvet lappets and gold embroidery, buff waistcoat and breeches. Next him sat a jolly red-faced gentleman in plain attire, and between him and the governor was Clive himself, whose striking face—the lawyer's brow, the warrior's nose and chin, the dreamer's mouth—would have marked him out in any company.

Desmond began his story. The barefooted attendants moved quietly about with the dishes, but the food was almost neglected as the six gentlemen listened to the clear low voice telling of the escape from the fort, the capture of the grab, and the eventful voyage to Bombay harbor.

"By George! 'tis a famous adventure," exclaimed Admiral Watson, when the story was ended. "What about this Pirate's den? Gheria fort is said to be impregnable; what are the chances if we attack, eh? The approaches to the harbor, now; do you know the depth of the water?"

"Vessels can stand in to three fathoms water, sir. Seven fathoms is within point-blank shot of the fort. The walls are about fifty feet high; there are twenty-seven bastions, and they mount more than two hundred guns."

"And the opposite shore?"

"A flat tableland, within distance for bombarding. A diversion might be made from there while the principal attack could be carried on in the harbor, or from a hill south of the fort."

"Is the landing easy?"

"Yes, sir. There are three sandy bays under the hill, without any surf to make landing difficult. One is out of the line of fire from the fort."

"And what about the land side? There's a town, is there not?"

"On a neck of land, sir. There's a wall, but nothing to keep out a considerable force. If an attack were made from that side the people would, I think, flock into the fort."

"And is that as strong as rumor says?"

"'Tis pretty strong, sir; there are double walls, and thick ones; they'd stand a good battering."

"It seems to me, Admiral," said the red-faced gentleman with a laugh, "that you've learned all you sent Commodore James to find out.

"What do you say, Mr. Clive?"

"It seems so, Mr. Merriman. But I think, Mr. Watson, in our eagerness to learn something of Gheria, we must seem somewhat cavalier to this lad, whose interest in our plans cannot be equal to our own.

"You have shown, sir," he added, addressing Desmond, "great spirit and courage, not less ingenuity, in your daring escape from the Pirate. But I want to go farther back. How came you to fall into the Pirate's hands? You have told us only part of your story."

"Yes, indeed," said Mr. Bourchier. "If you are not tired, we shall be vastly pleased to hear more, Mr. Burke."

"Your name is Burke?" interrupted Clive. "I had not before caught it. May I ask what part of Ireland you come from, sir? Pardon me, but your accent smacks more of Shropshire than of County Dublin."

"'Tis Shropshire, sir; I come from Market Drayton."

("Like yourself!" his glowing cheeks and flashing eyes seemed to say. This was the proudest moment in Desmond's life as yet.)

"I was not mistaken," said Clive. "I remember a schoolfellow of mine of your name; let me see—"

"Richard Burke, sir, my brother; my father was Captain Burke in the Company's service."

"Sure I have it now. I remember him: a tall, fine old sea dog whom I saw at times in Market Drayton when I was a child. I had a great awe of Captain Burke—i'faith, the only man I was afraid of. And you are his son!—But come, I am interrupting your story."

Desmond spoke of his longing for adventure, which had led him to leave home in search of fortune. He glossed over his brother's ill treatment. He told how he had been inveigled on board the Good Intent, and handed over to Angria when the vessel arrived at Gheria. He mentioned no names except that of Captain Barker, though he could not have explained his motive in keeping silence about Diggle.

"Barker is a villain, ripe for the gallows," said Captain King. "But, Mr. Burke, I don't understand how you came to be so hoodwinked in London. Sure you must have known that a boy without an ounce of experience would never be made supercargo. Had you any enemies in London?"

"I didn't know that I had, sir, till the Good Intent had sailed. I was deceived, but the man who promised me the berth was very friendly, and I didn't suspect him."

"It was not Barker, then?"

"No, sir; it was a man I met at Market Drayton."

"At Market Drayton?" said Clive. "That's odd. What was his name?"

"His name was Diggle, and—"

"A stranger? I remember no one of that name," said Clive.

"I thought he was a stranger, sir; but of late I have begun to suspect he was not such a stranger as he seemed."

"How did you meet him?"

"Accidentally, sir, the night of your banquet in Market Drayton."

"Indeed! 'Tis all vastly curious. Was he lodging in the town?"

"He came in from Chester that night and lodged at the Four Alls."

"With that disreputable sot Grinsell!" Clive paused. "Did he tell you anything about himself?"

"Very little, sir, except that he'd been unlucky. I think he mentioned once that he was a fellow at a Cambridge college, but he spoke to me most about India."

As he put his questions Clive leaned forward, and seemed to become more keenly interested with every answer. He now turned and gave a hard look at the bluff man whom he had called Mr. Merriman. The rest of the company were silent.

"Do you happen to know whether he went up to the Hall?" asked Clive.

"Sir Willoughby's? I met him several times walking in that neighborhood, but I don't think he went to the Hall. He did not appear to know Sir Willoughby.—And yet, sir, I remember now that I heard Diggle and Grinsell talking about the squire the night I first saw them together at the Four Alls."

"And you were with this—Diggle, in London, Mr. Burke?"

"Yes, sir."

Desmond began to feel uncomfortable. Clive had evidently not recognized him before, and he was hoping that the unfortunate incident in Billiter Street would not be recalled. Clive's next words made him wish to sink into the floor.

"Do you remember, Mr. Burke, in London, throwing yourself in the way of a gentleman that was in pursuit of your friend Mr. Diggle, and bringing him to the ground?"

"Yes, sir, I did, and I am sorry for it."

Desmond did not like the grim tone of Clive's voice; he wished he would address him as "my lad" instead of "Mr. Burke."

"That was a bad start, let me say, Mr. Burke—an uncommonly bad start."

"Oh come, Mr. Clive!" broke in Mr. Merriman, "say no more about that. The boy was in bad company: 'twas not his fault. In truth, 'twas my own fault: I am impetuous; the sight of that scoundrel was too much for me.

"I bear you no grudge, my lad, though I had a bump on my head for a week afterwards. Had you not tripped me I should have run my rapier through the villain, and there would like have been an end of me."

"Shall I tell the boy, Mr. Merriman?" said Clive.

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

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

"Well," said Clive, "you are lucky, let me tell you, Mr. Burke, to be out of this Diggle's clutches. By the way, have you seen him since he sold you to the Pirate?"

"He came a few days before I escaped, and wanted me to come here as a spy. Angria promised me my freedom and a large sum of money."

"What's that?" cried Merriman. "Wanted you to come as a spy?"

"Yes, sir."

"And what did you say?"

"I told him he might do it himself."

"A palpable hit!" said Merriman with a grim laugh, "and a very proper answer. But he'll have more respect for his skin."

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Bourchier, "we have kept Mr. Burke talking so much that he hasn't had a mouthful of food. I think we might go out on the veranda and smoke our cigars while he takes some supper.

"Mr. Johnson, you've done most justice to my viands, I think. Perhaps you will join us."

The harbor master became purple in the face. He had in fact been eating and drinking with great gusto, taking advantage of the preoccupation of the company to insure that the excellent fare should not be wasted. He rose hurriedly and, with a sheepish look that scarcely fitted his cheerful features, followed his sarcastic host to the veranda. All the guests save Mr. Merriman accompanied Mr. Bourchier.

"They all want to talk shop; this expedition against the Pirate," said Mr. Merriman. "You and I can have a little chat."

Desmond was attracted by the open face of his new acquaintance, slightly disfigured, as he noticed, by a long scar on the left temple.

"You're plucky and lucky," continued Merriman, "and in spite of what Mr. Clive calls your bad start in bowling me over, you'll do well."

His face clouded as he went on.

"That man Diggle: why should he have sold you to the Pirate: what had he against you?"

"I can not imagine, sir."

"You are lucky to have escaped him, as Mr. Clive said. I think—yes, I will tell you about him. His name is not Diggle; it is Simon Peloti. He is a nephew of Sir Willoughby's. His mother married a Greek, against her brother's wish; the man died when the child was a year old. As a boy Peloti was as charming a little fellow as one could wish: handsome, high spirited, clever. He did well at school, and afterwards at Cambridge: won a fellowship there. Then he went to the dogs—not all at once; men never do. He was absolutely without principle, and thought of nothing but his own ease and success. One thing led to another; at last, in the forty-five—"

He paused. After a moment he went on:

"I had a brother, my lad—"

He stopped again, his face expressing poignant grief.

"I know, sir," said Desmond. "Sir Willoughby told me."

"He told you! He did not mention Peloti?"

"No, sir; but I see it all now. It was Diggle—Peloti, I mean—who betrayed your brother. I understand now why the squire took no steps against Grinsell. His accomplice was Diggle."

He related the incident of the house breakers.

"Yes," said Merriman, "that throws a light on things. Peloti, I imagine, had previously seen the squire, and tried to get money from him. Sir Willoughby refused: he gave him a thousand pounds ten years ago on condition he left the country and did not return. So the villain resolved to rob him. 'Twas fortunate indeed you appeared in time. That is the reason for his hating you."

"There was another, sir," said Desmond with some hesitation. "He thought I was hankering after the squire's property—aiming at becoming his heir. 'Twas ridiculous, sir; such an idea never entered my head."

"I see. Peloti came to India and got employment in the Company's service at Madras. But he behaved so badly that he had to be turned out—he said Mr. Clive hounded him out. What became of him after that I don't know. But let us leave the miserable subject. Tell me, what are your ideas? What are you going to do, now that you are a free man once more? Get another berth as supercargo?"

His eyes twinkled as he said this.

"No, thank you, sir; once bit twice shy. I haven't really thought of anything definite, but what I should like best of all would be a cadetship under Colonel Clive."

"Soho! You're a fighter, are you? But of course you are; I have reason to know that. Well, we'll see what my friend Mr. Clive says. You've no money, I suppose?"

"Not a half penny, sir; but if the governor will admit that the grab is my lawful prize, I thought of selling her; that will bring me a few pounds."

"Capital idea. Punctilio won't stand in the way of that, I should think. Well now, I'll speak to Mr. Clive for you, but don't build too much on it. He cannot give you a commission, I fear, without the authority of the governor of Madras; and though no doubt a word from him would be effectual, he's a very particular man, and you'll have to prove you're fit for a soldier's life.

"Meanwhile, what do you say to this? I've taken a fancy to you. I'm a merchant; trade pays better than soldiering, in general. I've got ships of my own, and I dare say I could find a berth for you on one of them. You seem to know something of navigation?"

"Very little, sir; just what I picked up on the Good Intent."

"Well, that's a beginning. I've no doubt that Admiral Watson will wish you to go to Gheria with him: your knowledge of the place will be useful. He won't start for a month or two: why not occupy the time in improving your navigation, so that if there are difficulties about a cadetship you'll be competent for a mate's berth? Nothing like having two strings to your bow. What do you say to that?"

"'Tis very good of you, sir; I accept with pleasure."

"That's right. Now when you've finished that curry we'll go out on the veranda. Before you came they were talking of nothing but their dogs; but I wager 'tis nothing but the Pirate now."

They soon rejoined the other gentlemen.

"Come, Mr. Burke," said Admiral Watson, "we've been talking over the information you've given us. You've nothing to do, I suppose?"

"I've just suggested that he should read up navigation, Mr. Watson," said Merriman.

"You're a wizard, Mr. Merriman. I was proposing to engage Mr. Burke to accompany us on our expedition against the Pirate. He can make himself useful when we get to Gheria. We'll see how James' information tallies with his.

"You won't object to serve his Majesty, Mr. Burke?"

"'Tis what I should like best in the world, sir."

"Very well. Meanwhile learn all you can; Captain King here will take charge of you, I've no doubt."

"Certainly, Mr. Watson."

"You will give Mr. Burke quarters for the present, Mr. Johnson?" said Merriman.

"To be sure. And as 'tis late we'd better be going.

"Good night, your Excellency; good night, gentlemen."

Early next day Admiral Watson himself rode down to the harbor to inspect the grab. He was so much pleased with her that he offered to buy her for the service. Before the day was out Desmond found himself in possession of seven thousand rupees. After paying the Marathas the wages agreed upon, he proceeded to divide the balance. He retained two shares for himself, and gave each of the men who had escaped with him an equal part.

No one was more surprised than Fuzl Khan when he received his share in full. He had expected to get the punishment he knew he well deserved. But Desmond, against the advice of the harbor master, determined to overlook the man's misconduct. He went further. At his request Admiral Watson gave him a place on the grab. The Gujarati seemed overwhelmed by this generosity on the part of a man he had wronged, and for the nonce breaking through his usual morose reserve, he thanked Desmond, awkwardly indeed, but with manifest sincerity.

The other men were no less delighted with their good fortune. The sums they received made them rich men for life. None was more elated than Surendra Nath. It happened that Mr. Merriman came on board to see the grab at the moment when Desmond was distributing the prize money. Desmond noticed a curious expression on the Babu's face, and he was compelled to laugh when the man, after a moment's hesitation, walked up to Mr. Merriman, and with a strange mixture of humility and importance said:

"I wish you a very good morning, your Honor."

"Good gad!—Surendra Nath Chuckerbutti! I'm uncommonly glad to see you."

He shook hands warmly, a mark of condescension which made the Babu beam with gratification.

"Why," continued Merriman, "we'd given you up for dead long ago. So you're the plucky and ingenious fellow who did so much to help Mr. Burke in the famous escape!

"Surendra Nath was one of my best clerks, Mr. Burke. His father is my head clerk for Company's business.

"He hasn't been the same man since you disappeared. You must tell me your story. Come up to Mr. Bowman's house on the Green tonight; I am staying there."

"I shall be most glad to return to my desk in Calcutta, your Honor," said the Babu. "But I do not like the sea. It has no sympathy with me. I think of accomplishing the journey by land."

"Good heavens, man! it would take you a year at the least, if you weren't swallowed by a tiger or strangled by a Thug on the way. You'll have to go by water, as you came."

The Babu's face fell.

"That is the fly in the ointment, your Honor. But I will chew majum and bestow myself in the cabin; thus perhaps I may avoid squeamishness. By the kindness of Burke Sahib I have a modicum of money, now a small capital; and I hope, with your Honor's permission, to do trifling trade for myself."

"Certainly," said Merriman with a laugh. "You'll be a rich man yet, Surendra Nath. Well, don't forget; you'll find me at Mr. Bowman's on the Green at eight o'clock."

Chapter 18: In which Angria is astonished; and our hero begins to pay off old scores.

Time sped quickly. Desmond made the best use of his opportunities of learning navigation under Captain King and the harbor master, and before two months had expired was pronounced fit to act as mate on the finest East Indiaman afloat. He took this with a grain of salt. The fact was that his adventures, the modesty with which he deprecated all allusions to his part in the escape from Gheria, and the industry with which he worked, won him the goodwill of all; he was a general favorite with the little European community of Bombay.

Apart from his study, he found plenty to interest him in his spare moments. The strange mixture of people, the temples and pagodas, the towers of silence on which the Parsees exposed their dead, the burning pyres of the Hindus on the beach, the gaunt filthy fakirs {religious mendicant (Mohammedan)} and jogis who whined and told fortunes in the streets for alms, the exercising of the troops, the refitting and careening of Admiral Watson's ships—all this provided endless matter for curiosity and amusement.

One thing disappointed him. Not once during the two months did he come in contact with Clive. Mr. Merriman remained in Bombay, awaiting the arrival of a vessel of his from Muscat; but Desmond was loath to ask him whether he had sounded Clive about a cadetship. As a matter of fact Mr. Merriman had mentioned the matter at once.

"Patience, Merriman," was Clive's reply. "I have my eye on the youngster."

And with that the merchant, knowing his friend, was very well content; but he kept his own counsel.

At length, one day in the first week of February, 1756, Desmond received a summons to visit the admiral. His interview was brief. He was directed to place himself under the orders of Captain Latham on the Tyger; the fleet was about to sail.

It was a bright, cool February morning; cool, that is, for Bombay, when the vessels weighed anchor and sailed slowly out of the harbor. All Bombay lined the shores: natives of every hue and every mode of attire; English merchants; ladies fluttering white handkerchiefs. Such an expedition had never been undertaken against the noted Pirate before, and the report of Commodore James, confirming the information brought by Desmond, had given the authorities good hope that this pest of the Malabar coast was at last to be destroyed.

It was an inspiriting sight as the vessels, rounding the point, made under full sail to the south. There were six line-of-battle ships, six Company's vessels, five bomb ketches, four Maratha grabs—one of them Angria's own grab, the Tremukji, on which Desmond had escaped—and forty gallivats. The Tyger led the van. Admiral Watson's flag was hoisted on the Kent, Admiral Pocock's on the Cumberland. On board the fleet were two hundred European soldiers, three hundred Sepoys, and three hundred Topasses—mainly half-caste Portuguese in the service of the Company, owing their name to the topi {hat} they wore. To cooperate with this force a land army of twelve thousand Marathas, horse and foot, under the command of Ramaji Punt, one of the Peshwa's generals, had been for some time investing the town of Gheria.

At this time of year the winds were so slight and variable that it was nearly a week before the fleet arrived off Gheria. When the bastions of the fort hove into sight Desmond could not help contrasting his feelings with those of two months before.

"Like the look of your cage, Mr. Burke?" asked Captain Latham at his elbow.

"I was just thinking of it, sir," said Desmond. "It makes a very great difference when you're outside the bars."

"And we'll break those bars before we're much older, or I'm a Dutchman."

But at this moment the signal to heave-to was seen flying at the masthead of the Kent. Before the vessels had anchored one of the grabs left the main fleet and ran into the harbor. It bore a message from Admiral Watson to Tulaji Angria, summoning him to surrender. The answer returned was that if the admiral desired to be master of the fort he must take it by force, as Angria was resolved to defend it to the last extremity.

The ships remained at anchor outside the harbor during the night. Next morning a boat put off from the town end of the fort conveying several of Angria's relatives and some officers of Ramaji Punt's army. It by and by became known that Tulaji Angria, leaving his brother in charge of the fort, had given himself up to Ramaji Punt, and was now a prisoner in his camp. The visitors had come ostensibly to view the squadron, but really to discover what were Admiral Watson's intentions in regard to the disposal of the fort, supposing it fell into his hands. The admiral saw through the device, which was no doubt to hand the fort over to the Peshwa's general, and so balk the British of their legitimate prize.

Admiral Watson made short work of the visitors. He told them that if Angria would surrender his fort peaceably he and his family would be protected; but that the fort he must have. They pleaded for a few days' grace, but the admiral declined to wait a single day. If the fort was not immediately given up he would sail in and attack it.

It was evident that hostilities could not be avoided. About one in the afternoon Captain Henry Smith of the Kingfisher sloop was ordered to lead the way, and Desmond was sent to join him.

"What is the depth under the walls, Mr. Burke?" the captain asked him.

"Three and a half fathoms, sir—deep enough to float the biggest of us."

The sloop weighed anchor, and stood in before the afternoon breeze. It was an imposing sight as the fleet formed in two divisions and came slowly in their wake. Each ship covered a bomb ketch, protecting the smaller vessels from the enemy's fire. Desmond himself was kept very busy, going from ship to ship as ordered by signals from the Kent, and assisting each captain in turn to navigate the unfamiliar harbor.

It was just two o'clock when the engagement began with a shot from the fort at the Kingfisher. The shot was returned, and a quarter of an hour later, while the fleet was under full sail, the Kent flew the signal for a general action. One by one the vessels anchored at various points opposite the fortifications, and soon a hundred and fifty guns were blazing away at the massive bastions and curtains, answered vigorously by Angria's two hundred and fifty.

Desmond was all excitement. The deafening roar of the guns, the huge columns of smoke that floated heavily over the fort, and sometimes enveloped the vessels, the bray of trumpets, the beating of tom toms, the shouts of men, set his blood tingling: and though he afterwards witnessed other stirring scenes, he never forgot the vivid impression of the fight at Gheria.

About three o'clock a shell set fire to one of the Pirate's grabs—one that had formerly been taken by him from the Company. Leaving its moorings, it drifted among the main pirate fleet of grabs which still lay lashed together where Desmond had last seen them by the blaze of the burning gallivats. They were soon alight. The fire spread rapidly to the dockyard, caught the unfinished grabs on the stocks, and before long the whole of Angria's shipping was a mass of flame.

Meanwhile the bombardment had made little impression on the fortifications, and it appeared to the admiral that time was being wasted. Accordingly he gave orders to elevate the guns and fire over the walls into the interior of the fort. A shell from one of the bomb ketches fell plump into one of the outhouses of the palace and set it on fire. Fanned by the west wind, the flames spread to the arsenal and the storehouse, licking up the sheds and smaller buildings until they reached the outskirts of the city. The crackling of flames was now mingled with the din of artillery, and as dusk drew on, the sky was lit up over a large space with the red glow of burning. By half-past six the guns on the bastions had been silenced, and the admiral gave the signal to cease fire.

Some time before this a message reached Captain Smith ordering him to send Desmond at once on board the Kent. When he stepped on deck he found Admiral Watson in consultation with Clive. It appeared that during the afternoon a cloud of horsemen had been observed hovering on a hill eastward of the city, and being by no means sure of the loyalty of the Maratha allies, Clive had come to the conclusion that it was time to land his troops. But it was important that the shore and the neck of land east of the fort should be reconnoitered before the landing was attempted. The groves might, for all he knew, be occupied by the Pirate's troops or by those of Ramaji Punt, and Clive had had enough experience of native treachery to be well on his guard.

"I am going to send you on a somewhat delicate mission, Mr. Burke," he said. "You know the ground. I want you to go quickly on shore and see first of all whether there is safe landing for us, and then whether the ground between the town and the fort is occupied. Be quick and secret; I need waste no words. Mr. Watson has a boat's crew ready."

"I think, sir," said Desmond, "that it will hardly be necessary, perhaps not advisable, to take a boat's crew from this ship. If I might have a couple of natives, there would be a good deal less risk in getting ashore."

"Certainly. But there is no time to spare; indeed, if you are not back in a couple of hours I shall land at once. But I should like to know what we have to expect. You had better get a couple of men from the nearest grab."

"The Tremukji is only a few cable lengths away, sir, and there's a man on board who knows the harbor. I will take him, with your permission."

"Very well. Good luck go with you."

Desmond saluted, and stepping into the boat which had rowed him to the Kent, he was quickly conveyed to the grab. In a few minutes he left this in a skiff accompanied only by Fuzl Khan and a lascar. Not till then did he explain what he required of them. The Gujarati seemed overcome by the selection of himself for this mission.

"You are kind to me, sahib," he said. "I do not deserve it; but I will serve you to my life's end."

There was in the man's tone a fervency which touched Desmond at the time, and which he had good cause afterwards to remember.

A quarter of an hour after Desmond quitted the deck of the Kent, he was put ashore at a sandy bay at the farther extremity of the isthmus, hidden from the fort by a small clump of mango trees.

"Now, Fuzl Khan," he said, "you will wait here for a few minutes till it is quite dark, then you will row quickly along the shore till you come to within a short distance of the jetty. I am going across the sand up toward the fort, and will come round to you."

He stepped over the soft sand towards the trees and was lost to sight. The bombardment had now ceased, and though he heard a confused noise from the direction of the fort, there was no sound from the town, and he concluded that the people had fled either into the fort or away into the country. It appeared at present that the whole stretch of land between the town and the fort was deserted.

He had not walked far when he was startled by hearing, as he fancied, a stealthy footstep following him. Gripping in his right hand the pistol he had brought as a precaution, and with the left loosening his sword in its scabbard, he faced round with his back to the wall of a shed in which Angria's ropes were made, and waited, listening intently. But the sound, slight as it was, had ceased. Possibly it had been made by some animal, though that seemed scarcely likely: the noise and the glare from the burning buildings must surely have scared away all the animals in the neighborhood. Finding that the sound was not repeated, he went on again. Some minutes later, his ears on the stretch, he fancied he caught the same soft furtive tread: but when he stopped and listened and heard nothing, he believed that he must have been mistaken, and set it down as an echo of his own excitement.

Stepping warily, he picked his way through the darkness, faintly illuminated by the distant glow of the conflagration. He skirted the dockyard, and drew nearer to the walls of the courtyard surrounding the fort, remembering how, nearly twelve months before, he had come almost the same way from the jetty with the decoy message from Captain Barker. Then he had been a source of amusement to crowds of natives as he passed on his way to the palace; now the spot was deserted, and but for the noises that reached him from distant quarters he might have thought himself the sole living creature in that once populous settlement.

He had now reached the outer wall, which was separated from the fort only by the wide compound dotted here and there with palm trees. It was clear that no force, whether of the Pirate's men or of Ramaji Punt's, held the ground between the shore and the fort. All the fighting men had without doubt been withdrawn within the walls. His mission was accomplished.

It had been his intention to make his way back by a shorter cut along the outer wall, by the west side of the dockyard, until he reached the shore near the jetty. But standing for a moment under the shade of a palm tree, he hesitated to carry out his plan, for the path he meant to follow must be lit up along its whole course by a double glare: from the blazing buildings inside the fort, and from the burning gallivats in the dockyard and harbor.

He was on the point of retracing his steps when, looking over the low wall towards the fort, he saw two dark figures approaching, moving swiftly from tree to tree, as if wishing to escape observation. It was too late to move now; if he left the shelter of the palm tree he would come distinctly into view of the two men, and it would be unwise to risk anything that would delay his return to Clive. Accordingly he kept well in the shadow and waited. The stealthy movements of the men suggested that they were fugitives, eager to get away with whole skins before the fort was stormed.

They came to the last of the palm trees within the wall, and paused there for a brief space. A few yards of open ground separated them from the gate. Desmond watched curiously, then with some anxiety, for it suddenly struck him that the men were making for him, and that he had actually been shadowed from his landing place by someone acting, strange as it seemed, in collusion with them. On all accounts it was necessary to keep close.

Suddenly he saw the men leave the shelter of their tree and run rapidly across the ground to the gate. Having reached it, they turned aside into the shadow of the wall and stood as if to recover breath. Desmond had kept his eyes upon them all the time. Previously, in the shade of the trees, their faces had not been clearly distinguishable; but while now invisible from the fort, they were lit up by the glow from the harbor. It was with a shock of surprise that he recognized in the fugitives the overseer of the dockyard, whose cruelties he had so good reason to remember, and Marmaduke Diggle, as he still must call him.

The sight of the latter set his nerves tingling; his fingers itched to take some toll for the miseries he had endured through Diggle's villainy. But he checked his impulse to rush forward and confront the man. Single-handed he could not cope with both the fugitives; and though, if he had been free, he might have cast all prudence from him in his longing to bring the man to book, he recollected his duty to Clive and remained in silent rage beneath the tree.

All at once he heard a rustle behind him, a low growl like that of an animal enraged; and almost before he was aware of what was happening a dark figure sprang past him, leaped over the ground with the rapidity of a panther, and threw himself upon the overseer just as with Diggle he was beginning to move towards the town. There was a cry from each man, and the red light falling upon the face of the assailant, Desmond saw with amazement that it was the Gujarati, whom he had supposed to be rowing along the shore to meet him.

He had hardly recognized the man before he saw that he was at deadly grips with the overseer, both snarling like wild beasts. There was no time for thought, for Diggle, momentarily taken aback by the sudden onslaught, had recovered himself and was making with drawn sword toward the two combatants, who in their struggle had moved away from him.

Desmond no longer stayed to weigh possibilities or count risks. It was clear that Fuzl Khan's first onslaught had failed; had he got home, the overseer, powerful as he was, must have been killed on the spot. In the darkness the Gujarati's knife had probably missed its aim. He had now two enemies to deal with, and but for intervention he must soon be overcome and slain.

Drawing his sword, Desmond sprang from the tree and dashed across the open, reaching the scene of the struggle just in the nick of time to strike up Diggle's weapon ere it sheathed itself in the Gujarati's side. Diggle turned with a startled oath, and seeing who his assailant was, he left his companion to take care of himself, and faced Desmond, a smile of anticipated triumph wreathing his lips.

No word was spoken. Diggle lunged, and Desmond at that moment knew that he was at a perilous crisis of his life. The movements of the practised swordsman could not be mistaken; he himself had little experience; all that he could rely on was his quick eye and the toughness of his muscles. He gave back, parrying the lunge, tempted to use his pistol upon his adversary. But now that the cannonading had ceased the shot might be heard by some of the Pirate's men, and before he could escape he might be beset by a crowd of ruffians against whom he would have no chance at all. He could but defend himself with his sword and hope that Diggle might overreach himself in his fury and give him an opportunity to get home a blow.

Steel struck upon steel; the sparks flew; and the evil smile upon Diggle's face became fixed as he saw that Desmond was no match for him in swordsmanship. But it changed when he found that though his young opponent's science was at fault, his strength and dexterity, his wariness in avoiding a close attack, served him in good stead. Impatient to finish the fight, he took a step forward, and lunged so rapidly that Desmond could hardly have escaped his blade but for an accident. There was a choking sob to his right, and just as Diggle's sword was flashing towards him a heavy form fell against the blade and upon Desmond. In the course of their deadly struggle the Gujarati and the overseer had shifted their ground, and at this moment, fortunately for Desmond, Fuzl Khan had driven his knife into his old oppressor's heart.

But the same accident that saved Desmond's life gave Diggle an opportunity of which he was quick to avail himself. Before Desmond could recover his footing, Diggle shortened his arm and was about to drive his sword through the lad's heart. The Gujarati saw the movement. Springing in with uplifted knife, he attempted to turn the blade. He succeeded; he struck it upwards; but the force with which he had thrown himself between the two swordsmen was his undoing. Unable to check his rush, he received the point of Diggle's sword in his throat. With a terrible cry he raised his hands to clutch his assailant; but his strength failed him; he swayed, tottered, and fell gasping at Desmond's feet, beside the lifeless overseer.

Desmond saw that the turn of fortune had given the opportunity to him. He sprang forward as Diggle tried to recover his sword; Diggle gave way: and before he could lift his dripping weapon to parry the stroke, Desmond's blade was through his forearm. Panting with rage, he sought with his left hand to draw his pistol; but Desmond was beforehand with him. He caught his arm, wrenched the pistol from him, and, breathless with his exertions, said:

"You are my prisoner."

"'Tis fate, my young friend," said Diggle, with all his old blandness; Desmond never ceased to be amazed at the self command of this extraordinary man. "I have let some blood, I perceive; my sword arm is for the time disabled; but my great regret at this moment—you will understand the feeling—is that this gallant friend of yours lies low with the wound intended for another. So Antores received in his flank the lance hurled at Lausus: infelix alieno volnere."

"I dare say, Mr. Diggle," interrupted Desmond, "but I have no time to construe Latin."

Covering Diggle with his pistol, Desmond stooped over Fuzl Khan's prostrate body and discovered in a moment that the poor fellow's heart had ceased to beat. He rose, and added: "I must trouble you to come with me; and quickly, for you perceive you are at my mercy."

"Where do you propose to take me, my friend?"

"We will go this way, and please step out."

Diggle scowled, and stood as though meditating resistance.

"Come, come, Mr. Diggle, you have no choice. I do not wish to have to drag you; it might cause you pain."

"Surely you will spare a moment to an old friend! I fear you are entirely mistaken. 'Tis pity that with the natural ebullition of your youthful spirit you should have set upon a man whom—"

"You can talk as we go, Mr. Diggle, if you talk low enough. Must I repeat it?"

"But where are we going? Really, Mr. Burke, respect for my years should prompt a more considerate treatment."

"You see yonder point?" said Desmond impatiently; "yonder on the shore. You will come with me there."

Diggle looked around as if hoping that even now something might happen in his favor. But no one was in sight; Desmond stood over him with sword still drawn; and recognizing his helplessness the man at length turned towards the shore and began to walk slowly along, Desmond a foot or so in the rear.

"'Twas a most strange chance, surely," he said, "that brought you to this spot at the very moment when I was shaking the dust of Gheria from my feet. How impossible it is to escape the penalty of one's wrongdoing! Old Horace knew it: Raro antecedentem scelestum—you remember the rest. Mr. Burslem drubbed our Latin into us, Mr. Burke. I am a fellow townsman of yours, though you did not know it: aye, a boy in your old school, switched by your old master. I have treated you badly. I admit it; but what could I do? Your brother slandered you; I see now how he deceived me; he wished you out of his way. Here I acted under pressure of Angria; he was bent on sending you to Bombay; I could not defy him. I was wrong; what you said when I saw you last made a deep impression on me; I repented, and, as Tully, I think, put it, 'a change of plan is the best harbor to a penitent man.' I was indeed seeking that refuge of the repentant, and altering my whole plan of life; and if you will but tarry a moment—"

"Keep on, Mr. Diggle," said Desmond, as the man, who had been talking over his shoulder, half stopped; "my point is sharp."

"I was leaving the fort, as you saw. Not from any fear; you will acquit me of that, and as you know, the fort is impregnable, and I might have remained there in perfect safety. No, I was quitting it because I was wearied, disgusted with Angria and his ways. 'Twas under a misapprehension I for a time consorted with him; I am disabused, and it is by the mere malignity of Fate that at this turning point of my career I encounter one whom, I acknowledge, I have wronged. I am beaten; I do not blink that; and by a better man. But youth is generous; and you, Mr. Burke, are not the man to press your advantage against one who all his life has been the sport of evil circumstance. I was bound for farther India; I know a little port to the south where I should have taken ship, with strong hope of getting useful and honorable employment when my voyage was ended. Perchance you have heard of Alivirdi Khan; if you would but pause a moment—"

"Go on, Mr. Diggle," said Desmond inexorably; "and it will be well to mend your pace."

"Alivirdi Khan," resumed Diggle, speaking more rapidly; the waters of the harbor, glowing red, were in sight: "Alivirdi Khan is sick unto death. He is wealthy beyond all imaginings. His likeliest heir, Sirajuddaula, soon to be Subah {viceroy} of Bengal, is well known to me, and indeed beholden to me for services rendered in the past. Mr. Burke, I make you a proposition—it is worth considering. Why not come with me? Wipe off old scores, throw in your lot with mine. Together, what could we not do—I with my experience, you with your youthful vigor! See, here is an earnest of my sincerity."

He took from his fob a large diamond which flashed in the red light of the conflagration.

"Accept this; in the treasuries of Alivirdi there are thousands like it, each worth a king's ransom. Come with me, and I promise you that within two years you shall be rich beyond your wildest dreams."

"Put up your diamond, Mr. Peloti. You may repeat your offer when we reach Colonel Clive."

Diggle stopped as if shot. He looked with startled eyes at the boy, who had known him only as Diggle.

"You are going to Colonel Clive!" he exclaimed. The smoothness of his manner was gone; his tone expressed mortal anxiety. "But—but—he is a personal enemy; he will—I beseech you think again; I—"

He broke off, and with a suddenness that took Desmond by surprise he sprang away, making towards the grove of mangoes that stood between him and the shore. Desmond was instantly in pursuit. If Diggle gained the shelter of the trees he might escape in the darkness. But the race was short. Weak from fear and loss of blood, the elder was no match in speed for the younger. In less than a hundred yards he was overtaken, and stood panting, quivering, unnerved. Desmond gripped his uninjured arm, and with quickened footsteps hurried him towards the shore. There was the boat, the lascar resting motionless on his oar. Ten minutes later Diggle was assisted up the side of the Kent, and handed over to the officer of the watch. Then Desmond made his report to Clive.

"All the enemy are withdrawn within the fort, sir. The whole ground between the fort and the shore is clear. There is nothing to obstruct your landing."

"I thank you. You have exceeded your time by ten minutes. Who is that man who came aboard with you?"

"It was he who delayed me, sir. It is Mr. Diggle, or Peloti, I should say."

"The deuce he is!"

"He was stealing out of the fort; it came to a scuffle, and he was wounded—so I brought him along."

"Mr. Speke," said Clive, turning to the captain, "may I ask you to see this man safe bestowed? I will deal with him when our business here is concluded.

"Mr. Burke, you will come with me."

By nine o'clock Clive had landed his troops. They bivouacked on the shore, in expectation of storming the fort next day. At daybreak an officer was sent into the fort with a flag of truce to demand its surrender. This being refused, the admiral ordered his ships to warp within a cable's length of the walls in three fathoms and a quarter water, and the attack was renewed by sea and land, Clive gradually advancing and worrying the enemy with his cannon. At two o'clock a magazine in the fort blew up, and not long after, just as Clive was about to give the order to storm, a white flag was seen fluttering at one of the bastions.

A messenger was sent to the governor to arrange the capitulation, but when he was met by prevarication and pleas for delay the bombardment was once more resumed. A few minutes of this sufficed to bring the defenders to reason, and by five o'clock the English flag flew upon the walls.

Clive postponed his entry until dawn on the following morning.

"By Jove, Mr. Burke," he said to Desmond, who showed him the way to the palace, "if we had been within these walls I think we could have held out till doomsday."

All the English officers were impressed by the strength of the fortifications. Besides Angria's two hundred and fifty cannon, an immense quantity of stores and ammunition fell into the hands of the captors. In the vaults of the palace were found silver rupees to the value of one hundred thousand pounds, and treasure worth thirty thousand pounds more. The capture had been effected with the loss of only twenty killed and wounded.

Desmond took the earliest opportunity of seeking the body of Fuzl Khan. Fortunately the fires and the noises of the night had preserved it from mangling by wild beasts. The poor man lay where he had fallen, near the body of the overseer.

"Poor fellow!" thought Desmond, looking at the strong, fierce face and the gigantic frame now stiff and cold. "Little he knew, when he said he'd serve me to his life's end, that the end was so near."

He had the body carried into the town, and reverently buried according to Mohammedan rites. From the lascar he had learned all that he ever knew of the motives of the Gujarati's action. Desmond had hardly left the boat when the man sprang quickly after him, saying briefly:

"I go to guard the sahib."

It was like the instinctive impulse of a faithful dog; and Desmond often regretted the loss of the man who had shown himself so capable of devotion.

That evening Clive summoned Desmond to attend him in the palace. When he entered the durbar hall he saw, seated on the dais, a small group consisting of Clive, Admiral Watson, and two or three subordinate officers. Standing in front of them was Diggle, in the charge of two marines.

"How many European prisoners have been released, Mr. Ward?" the admiral was saying.

"Thirteen, sir; ten English and three Dutch."

"Is that correct, Mr. Burke? Was that the number when you were here?"

"Yes, sir, that is correct."

"Then you may go, Mr. Ward, and see that the poor fellows are taken on board the Tyger and well looked after."

As the officer saluted and withdrew the admiral turned to Clive.

"Now for this white pirate," he said: "a most unpleasant matter, truly."

Signing to the marines to bring forward their prisoner, he threw himself back upon the divan, leaving the matter in Clive's hands. Clive was gazing hard at Diggle, who had lost the look of terror he had worn two nights before, and stood before them in his usual attitude of careless ease.

"You captured this man," said Clive, turning to Desmond, "within the precincts of the fort?"

His hard level tone contrasted strongly with the urbaner manner of the admiral.

"Yes, sir," replied Desmond.

"He is the same man who inveigled you on board the interloper Good Intent and delivered you to the Pirate?"

"And he was to your knowledge associated with the Pirate, and offered you inducements to spy upon his Majesty's forces in Bombay?"

"Yes, sir."

"Have you anything to say for yourself, Mr. Peloti?"

"Pardon me, Mr. Clive; Diggle—Marmaduke Diggle."

"Diggle, if you like," said Clive with a shrug. "You will hang as well in that name as another."

One of the officers smiled at the grim jest, but there was no smile on Clive's stern set face.

"You asked me if I had anything to say for myself," said Diggle quietly. "Assuredly; but it seems your Honors have condemned me already. Why should I waste your time, and my breath? I bethink me 'twas not even in Rome the custom to judge a matter before learning the facts—prius rem dijudicare—but it is a long time, Mr. Clive, since we conned our Terence together."

Desmond could not but admire the superb insouciance and the easy smile with which Diggle played his card. Seeing that Clive for an instant hesitated, the intrepid prisoner continued:

"But there, Mr. Clive, you never excelled in the Latin. 'Twas a sore point with poor Mr. Burslem."

"Come, come," cried Clive, visibly nettled, "this is no time for quips. You fail to appreciate your position. You are caught red handed. If you have no defense to make you will meet the fate of other pirates before you. Have you anything to say?"

"Yes. You accuse me of piracy; I have a complete answer to that charge; but as an Englishman I claim an Englishman's right—a fair trial before a jury of my countrymen. In any case, Mr. Clive, it would be invidious to give me worse treatment than Monaji Angria and his officers. As for the rest, it depends on the evidence of this single witness."

Here Admiral Watson bent forward and said to Clive in an undertone, inaudible to the others:

"I think we had better defer this. If, as you suppose, the fellow has knowledge of the French plans, it would be only politic to give Mr. Bourchier an opportunity of inquiring into the matter. No doubt he richly deserves hanging, but dead men tell no tales."

Clive frowned, and, drumming upon the divan impatiently with his fingers, seemed for the moment to be lost in thought. Then he said:

"Yes, Mr. Watson, I think you are right."

"Take the prisoner back to your ship," said the admiral, "and put him under double guard.

"Thank you, Mr. Burke; we shall require your evidence in Bombay. One word before you go. I am vastly indebted to you for your services; you have been of the greatest use to myself and my captains. Your name will frequently appear in our ships' logs, and I shall take care to show your work in the proper light when I make my report. Meanwhile, when the division of prize money is made, you will receive a lieutenant's share. Good night, sir."

And Desmond's face, as he left the room, bore a flush of happiness and pride.

Chapter 19: In which the scene changes; the dramatis personae remaining the same.

A few days after the capture, the Tyger left Gheria, having on board the men wounded in the attack and the European prisoners who had been rescued. Desmond also sailed in it, with an official report from Admiral Watson to Governor Bourchier.

The arrival of the Tyger at Bombay, with the first news of the success of the expedition and the fall of the fortress so long deemed impregnable, was the occasion of a great demonstration of rejoicing. The trading community, whether European or native, was enthusiastic over the ruin of the notorious Pirate; and Desmond, as one who had had a share in the operations, came in for a good deal of congratulation which he laughingly protested ought to have been reserved for better men.

Mr. Merriman was among the crowd that welcomed the Tyger, and as soon as Desmond had delivered his report to Mr. Bourchier, the genial merchant carried him off to the house on the Green where he was staying and insisted on having a full account of his experiences. When he learned that Diggle had been captured and would shortly reach Bombay as a prisoner, his jolly face assumed as intense a look of vindictive satisfaction as it was capable of expressing.

"By thunder! that's the best of your news for me. The villain will get his deserts at last. I'm only sorry that I shall not be here to serve on the jury."

"Are you leaving Bombay then?"

"Yes, and I wanted you to come with me. My ship the Hormuzzeer came to port two days ago, and I had to dismiss the second mate, who was continually at odds with the lascars. I hoped you would accept his berth, and sail with me. I want to get back to Calcutta. We had advices the other day that things are not looking well in Bengal. Alivirdi Khan is dying; and there is sure to be some bother about the succession. All Bengal may be aflame. My wife and daughter are in Calcutta, and I don't care about being away from them if danger is threatening. I want to get away as soon as possible, and thought of taking passage in an Indiaman; but the Hormuzzeer being here I'll sail in that; she'll make direct for the Hugli; an Indiaman would put in at Madras, and goodness knows how long I might be delayed."

"'Tis a pity," said Desmond. "I should have liked of all things to accept your offer, but I'm bound to stay for Diggle's trial, and that can't be held until the fleet return."

"How long will that be?"

"I heard the admiral say he expected it would take a month to settle everything at Gheria. He wants to keep the place in our hands, but Ramaji Punt claims it for the Peshwa, and Captain Speke of the Kent told me that it'll be very lucky if they come to an arrangement within a month."

"It's uncommonly vexatious. I can't wait a month. It'll take a week or more to clean the Hormuzzeer's hull, and another to load her; in a fortnight at the outside I hope to be on my way. Well, it can't be helped. What will you do when the trial is over?"

"I don't know."

"Did Mr. Clive say anything about a cadetship?"

"Not a word. He only said that I should get a share of the Gheria prize money."

"That's something to the good. Use it wisely. I came out to Calcutta twenty years ago with next to nothing, and I've done well. There's no reason why you should not make your fortune, too, if your health will stand the climate. We'll have a talk over things before I sail."

A week later the Bridgewater arrived from Gheria, with Diggle on board. He was imprisoned in the fort, being allotted far too comfortable quarters to please Mr. Merriman. But Merriman's indignation at what he considered the governor's leniency was changed to hot rage three days later when it became known that the prisoner had disappeared. Not a trace of him could be discovered. He had been locked in as usual one night, and next morning his room was empty. Imprisonment was much less stringent in those days than now; the prisoner was allowed to see visitors and to live more or less at ease. The only clue to Diggle's escape was afforded by the discovery that, at the same time that he disappeared, there vanished also a black boy, who had been brought among the prisoners from Gheria and was employed in doing odd jobs about the harbor.

Desmond had no doubt that this was Diggle's boy Scipio Africanus. And when he mentioned the connection between the two, it was supposed that the negro had acted as go-between for his master with the friends in the town by whose aid the escape had been arranged. Among the large native population of Bombay there were many who were suspected of being secret agents of the French, and as Diggle was well provided with funds it was not at all unlikely that his jailer had been tampered with.

Merriman's wrath was very bitter. He had been waiting for years, as he told Desmond, for the punishment of Peloti. It was gall and wormwood to him that the villain should have cheated the gallows.

Diggle's escape, however, gave Merriman an opportunity to secure Desmond's services. The culprit being gone, the evidence was no longer required. Finding that Desmond was still ready to accept the position of mate on the Hormuzzeer, Merriman consulted Mr. Bourchier, who admitted that he saw no reason for detaining the lad. Accordingly, the first week in March, when the vessel stood out of Bombay harbor, Desmond sailed with her.

The weather was calm, but the winds not wholly favorable, and the Hormuzzeer made a somewhat slow passage. Mr. Merriman was impatient to reach Calcutta, and Desmond was surprised at his increasing uneasiness. He had believed that the French and Dutch were the only people in Bengal who gave the Company trouble, and as England was at peace with both France and the Netherlands, there was nothing, he thought, to fear from them.

"You are mistaken," said Mr. Merriman, in the course of a conversation one day. "The natives are a terrible thorn in our side. At best we are in Bengal on sufferance; we are a very small community—only a hundred or two Europeans in Calcutta: and since the Marathas overran the country some years ago we have felt as though sitting on the brink of a volcano. Alivirdi wants to keep us down; he has forbidden us to fight the French even if war does break out between us at home; and though the Mogul has granted us charters—they call them firmans here—Alivirdi doesn't care a rap for such things, and must have us under his heel. Only his trading profits and his fear of the Mogul keep him civil."

"But you said he was dying."

"So he is, and that makes matters worse, for his grandson, Sirajuddaula, who'll probably succeed him, is no better than a tiger. He lives at Murshidabad, about one hundred miles up the river. He's a vain, peacocky, empty-headed youth, and as soon as the breath is out of his granddad's body he'll want to try his wings and take a peck or two at us. He may do it slyly, or go so far as to attack us openly."

"But if he did that, sure Calcutta is defended; and, as Mr. Clive said to me in Gheria, British soldiers behind walls might hold out forever."

"Clive doesn't know Calcutta then! That's the mischief! At the Maratha invasion the Bengalis on our territory took fright, and at their own expense began a great ditch round Calcutta—we call it the Maratha ditch; but the Nawab bought the Marathas off, the work was stopped, the walls of the fort are now crumbling to ruins, and the cannon lie about unmounted and useless. Worst of all, our governor, Mr. Drake, is a quiet soul, an excellent worthy man, who wouldn't hurt a fly. We call him the Quaker. Quakers are all very well at home, where they can 'thee' and 'thou' and get rich and pocket affronts without any harm; but they won't do in India. Might is right with the natives; they don't understand anything else; and as sure as they see any sign of weakness in us they'll take advantage of it and send us all to kingdom come.

"And I'm thinking of the womenfolk: India's no place for them at the best; and I did all I could to persuade my wife and daughter to remain at home. But they would come out with me when I returned last year; and glad as I am to have them with me I sometimes get very anxious; I can't bear them out of my sight, and that's a fact."

Mr. Merriman showed his relief when, on the thirtieth of April, he noticed the yellow tinge in the water, which indicated that the vessel was approaching the mouth of the Hugli. Next day the vessel arrived at Balasore, where a pilot was taken on board, and entered the river. Mr. Merriman pointed out to Desmond the island of Sagar, whither in the late autumn the jogis came down in crowds to purify themselves in the salt water, "and provide a meal for the tiger," he added. At Kalpi a large barge, rowed by a number of men dressed in white, with pink sashes, came to meet the Hormuzzeer.

"That's my budgero," said Merriman. "We'll get into it and row up to Calcutta in half the time it would take the ship. Each of us merchants has his own budgero, and instead of putting our men in buttons with our arms and all that nonsense, we give them colored sashes—and don't our women squabble about the colors, my boy, just don't they!"

In the budgero they passed the Dutch factory at Fulta, and the Subah's forts at Budge Budge and Tanna. At Gobindpur's reach, Merriman pointed out the pyramid of stone that marked the limit of the Company's jurisdiction. Soon the gardens of the British merchants came in sight, then the Company's docks, and at last the town of Calcutta, where the Company's landing stage was thronged with people awaiting the arrival of the budgero in the hope of getting news from home.

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