In Clive's Command - A Story of the Fight for India
by Herbert Strang
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He had now brought important news. The three sloops and two brigantines that lay off the fort were, he said, filled with earth. On the approach of Admiral Watson's fleet they were to be scuttled and sunk in the fairway. A subahdar {equivalent to colonel of infantry} of Manik Chand's force was at present on board one of the sloops, to superintend the work of scuttling. The signal would be given by the subahdar himself from his sloop.

"Very well, Hubbo," said Desmond, "that signal must not be given."

"But how prevent it, sahib? I wish well to the Company; have I not eaten their salt? But what can one man do against many? The subahdar is a very fierce man; very zabburdasti {masterful}. When he gives the word it will be death to disobey."

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

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

"Yes, sahib. I was in the bazaar today; it was said that this morning the ships were still at Fulta. The sepoys are recovering from the privations of the voyage."

"We shall drop down the river tomorrow as soon as we have unloaded our cargo. You may expect us back ahead of the fleet, so keep a good lookout for us. I shall take care that Mr. Drake is informed of your fidelity, and you will certainly be well rewarded."

Early in the morning the cargo was unloaded; then, under pretense of taking in goods at Mayapur, the petala dropped down the river and gained Fulta under cover of night.

Next morning Desmond, having resumed his ordinary attire, sought an interview with Clive.

"The very man I wished to see," said Clive, shaking hands. "Your scouting is the one ray of light in the darkness that covers the enemy's arrangements. You have done remarkably well, and I take it you would not be here unless you had something to tell me."

Desmond gave briefly the information he had learned from Hubbo.

"That's the game, is it?" said Clive. "A pretty scheme, egad! 'Twill be fatal to us if carried out. 'Twould put a spoke in the admiral's wheel and throw all the work on the land force. That's weak enough, what with Mr. Killpatrick's men dying off every day—he has only thirty left—and my own Sepoys mostly skeletons. And we haven't proved ourselves against the Nawab's troops; I suppose they outnumber us thirty to one, and after their success at Calcutta they'll be very cock-a-hoop. Yet 'tis so easy to sink a few ships, especially if preparations have been made long in advance, as appears to be the case."

"I think, sir, it might be prevented."

Clive, who had been pacing up and down in some perturbation of mind, his head bent, his hands clasped behind him, halted, looked up sharply, and said:

"Indeed! How?"

"If we could get hold of the subahdar."

"By bribing him? He might not be open to bribery. Most of these native officials are, but there are some honest men among them, and he may be one. He wouldn't have been selected for his job unless Manik Chand thought him trustworthy. Besides, how are we going to get into communication with him? And even if we did, and filled him to the brim with rupees, how are we to know he wouldn't sell us in turn to the enemy?"

"But there are other ways, sir. We can depend on Hubbo, and if I might suggest, it would pay to promise him a rich reward if he managed to keep the passage clear."

"Yes, I agree. What reward would be most effective?"

"A few hundred rupees and the post of syr serang in the Company's service when Calcutta is retaken."

"Not too extravagant! Well, I shall see Mr. Drake; the offer had better come from him and reach Hubbo through his brother."

"And then, sir, it ought not to be impossible to secure the subahdar himself when the moment arrives."

Clive looked at the bright eager countenance of the boy before him.

"Upon my word, my lad," he said, "I believe you can do it. How, I don't know; but you have shown so much resource already that you may be able to help us in this fix—for fix it is, and a bad one. 'Tis the will that counts; if one is only determined enough no difficulty is insuperable—a lesson that our friends from Calcutta might take to heart. But have you a plan?"

"Not at present, sir. I should like to think it over; and if I can hit on anything that seems feasible I should be glad of your leave to try."

"By all means, my lad. If you fail—well, no one will be more sorry than I, for your sake. If you succeed, you will find that I shall not forget.

"There's one thing I want to ask you before you go. Have you heard anything of my friend Merriman's ladies?"

"Yes, sir; and, as I suspected, Diggle is at the bottom of their disappearance."

He related the series of incidents up the river.

"Dressed like a native, was he? And looked like a risaldar {officer commanding a troop of horse}? There's no end to that fellow's villainy. But his day of reckoning will come; I am sure of it, and the world will be none the worse for the loss of so vile a creature. If you take my advice you'll say nothing to Mr. Merriman of this discovery. 'Twould only unsettle the poor man. He had better know nothing until we can either restore the ladies to him or tell him that there is no hope."

"I don't give up hope, sir. They're alive, at any rate; and Diggle has lost them. I feel sure we shall find them."

"God grant it, my lad."

Chapter 27: In which an officer of the Nawab disappears; and Bulger reappears.

"This will be my last trip, sahib, for my present master. He says I waste too much time on the river. He also complains that I go to places without leave and without reason. He heard we were at Mayapur, and wanted to know why. I made excuses, sahib; I said whatever came into my head; but he was not satisfied, and I leave his service in a week."

"That is a pity, Hossain. Unless we are in the service of some well-known banya we cannot go up and down the river without exciting suspicion. However, let us hope that before the week is out the fleet will be here."

Desmond looked a little anxious. The success of his project for preventing the fouling of the passage at Tanna Fort was more than ever doubtful. The petala was moored opposite the Crane ghat at Calcutta, taking in a cargo of jawar {millet} for Chandernagore. The work of loading had been protracted to the utmost by the serang; for Desmond did not wish to leave the neighborhood of Calcutta at the present juncture, when everything turned upon their being on the spot at the critical moment.

While they were talking, a man who had every appearance of a respectable banya approached the plank over which the coolies were carrying the jawer on board. He stood idly watching the work, then moved away, and squatted on a low pile of bags which had been emptied of their contents. For a time the serang paid no apparent heed to him; but presently, while the coolies were still busy, he sauntered across the plank and strolling to the onlooker exchanged a salaam and squatted beside him. Passers by might have caught a word or two about the grain market; the high prices; the difficulties of transit; the deplorable slackness of trade; the infamous duplicity of the Greek merchants. At last the banya rose, salaamed, and walked away.

As he did so the serang carelessly lifted the bag upon which the banya had been sitting, and, making sure that he was not observed, picked up a tiny ball of paper scarcely bigger than a pea. Waiting a few moments, he rose and sauntered back on board. A minute or two later the lascar in the after part of the boat was unobtrusively examining the scrap of paper. It contained three words and an initial:

Tomorrow about ten.—C.

A change had been made in the composition of Hossain's crew since the incident at Sinfray's house. One day Desmond had found one of the Bengalis rummaging in the corner of the cabin where he was accustomed to keep his few personal belongings. Hossain had dismissed the man on the spot. The man saved from the river had been kept on the boat and proved a good worker, eager, and willing to be of use. He was an excellent boatman, a handy man generally, and, for a Bengali, possessed of exceptional physical strength. At Desmond's suggestion Hossain offered him the vacant place, and he at once accepted it.

Since his rescue he had shown much gratitude to Desmond. He was quick witted, and had not been long on board before he felt that the khalasi was not quite what he appeared to be. His suspicion was strengthened by the deference, slight but unmistakable, paid by the serang to the lascar; for though Desmond had warned Hossain to be on his guard, the man had been unable to preserve thoroughly the attitude of a superior to an inferior.

On receiving the short message from Clive, Desmond had a consultation with Hossain. The coolies had finished their work and received their pay, and there was nothing unusual in the sight of the boatmen squatting on deck before loosing their craft from its moorings.

"If we are to do what we wish to do, Hossain," said Desmond, "we shall require a third man to help us. Shall we take Karim into our confidence?"

"That is as you please, sahib. He is a good man, and will, I think, be faithful."

"Well, send the other fellow on shore; I shall speak to the man."

The serang gave the second of the two Bengalis who had formed his original crew an errand on shore. Desmond beckoned up the new man.

"Are you willing to undertake a service of risk, for a big reward, Karim?" he asked.

The man hesitated.

"It will be worth a hundred rupees to you."

Karim's eyes sparkled; a hundred rupees represented a fortune to a man of his class; but he still hesitated.

"Am I to be alone?" he asked at length.

"No," said Desmond; "we shall be with you."

"Hai! If the sahib"—the word slipped out unawares—"is to be there it is fixed. He is my father and mother: did he not save me from the river? I would serve him without reward."

"That is very well. All the same the reward shall be yours—to be paid to you if we succeed, to your family if we fail. For if we fail it will be our last day: they will certainly shoot us. There is time to draw back."

"If the sahib is to be there I am not afraid."

"Good. You can go aft. We shall tell you later what is to be done. And remember, on this boat I am no sahib. I am a khalasi from Gujarat."

"I shall remember—sahib."

Desmond told the serang that the help of the man was assured, and discussed with him the enterprise upon which he was bent. He had given his word to Clive that the blocking of the river should be prevented, and though the task bade fair to be difficult he was resolved not to fail. The vessels that were to be sunk in the fairway were moored opposite the fort at a distance of about a ship's length from one another. The subahdar was on the sloop farthest down the river, Hubbo on the next. With the subahdar there were three men. The signal for the scuttling of the vessels was to be the waving of a green flag by the subahdar; this was to be repeated by Hubbo, then by the serang on the sloop above him, and so on to the end. The vessels were in echelon, the one highest up the river lying well over to the left bank and nearest to the fort, the rest studding the fairway so that if they sank at their moorings it would be impossible for a ship of any size to thread its way between them. It did not appear that anything had been done to insure their sinking broadside to the current, the reason being probably that, whatever might be attempted with this design, the river would have its will with the vessels as soon as they sank.

"Our only chance," said Desmond, "is to get hold of the subahdar. If we can only capture him the rest should be easy—especially as Hubbo is on the next sloop, which screens the subahdar's from the rest. It is out of speaking distance from the fort, too—another piece of luck for us. I shall think things over in the night, Hossain; be sure to wake me, if I am not awake, at least a gharri {half an hour} before dawn."

It was the first of January, 1757. At half-past seven in the morning a heavily-laden petala was making its way slowly against the tide down the Hugli. Four men were on board; two were rowing, one was at the helm, the fourth stood looking intently before him. The boat had passed several vessels lying opposite Tanna Fort, at various distances from the bank, and came abreast of the last but one. There the rowers ceased pulling at an order from the man standing, who put his hand to his mouth and hailed the sloop.

An answer came from a man on deck inviting the caller to come on board. With a few strokes of the oars the petala was run alongside, and Hossain joined his brother.

"Is it well, brother?" he said.

"It is well," replied Hubbo.

Desmond at the helm of the petala looked eagerly ahead at the last sloop of the line. He could see the subahdar on deck, a somewhat portly figure in resplendent costume. A small dinghy was passing between his vessel and the shore. It contained a number of servants, who had brought him his breakfast from the fort. The crews of the other vessels had prepared their food on board.

After a time a dinghy was let down from Hubbo's sloop. Hubbo himself stepped into it with one of his crew, and was rowed to the subahdar's vessel. Desmond, watching him narrowly, saw him salaam deeply as he went on board.

"Salaam, huzur!" said Hubbo. "Your Excellency will pardon me, but bismillah! I have just discovered a matter of importance. Our task, huzur, has lain much on my mind; we have never done anything of the sort before, and seeing on yonder petala a man I know well, who has spent many years on the kala pani, I ventured to ask if he knew what time would be needed to sink a ship with several holes drilled in the hull."

"That depends on the size of the holes, fool!" said the subahdar with a snort.

"True, huzur; that is what the serang said. But he went on to tell me of a case like your Excellency's. His ship was once captured by the pirates of the Sandarbands. They drilled several holes in the hull, and rowed away, leaving my friend and several of the crew to sink with the vessel. But the holes were not big enough. When the pirate had disappeared, the men on the ship, using all their strength, managed to run her ashore, filled up the holes at low tide, and floated her off when the tide came in again."

A look of concern crept over the subahdar's face as he listened. He was a man without experience of ships, and became uneasy at the suggestion that anything might mar the execution of his task. Manik Chand would not lightly overlook a failure.

"Hearing this, huzur," Hubbo continued, "I venture to mention the matter to your Excellency, especially as it seemed to me, from what the serang said, that the holes drilled by the pirates were even larger than those made by the mistris {head workmen} sent from the fort."

The subahdar looked still more concerned.

"Hai!" he exclaimed, "it is very disturbing. And there is no time to do anything; the Firangi's ships are reported to be on their way up the river; the dogs of Kafirs {unbelievers} may be here soon."

He bit his fingers, frowned, looked anxiously down the river, then across to the brick fort at Tanna, then to the new mud fort at Aligarh on the other bank, as if wondering whether he should send or signal a message to one or the other. Hubbo was silent for a moment, then he said:

"Have I the huzur's leave to speak?"

"By the twelve imams {high priests descending from Ali, the son-in-law of Mahomet}, yes! but quickly."

"There is a mistri on board the serang's boat who is used to working in ships—a khalasi from Gujarat. He might do something on board your Excellency's ship. If this vessel sank, according to the plan, the Firangi would not be able to get aboard the others, and they would have time to sink slowly."

"Barik allah {bravo!}! It is a good idea. Bid the mistri come aboard at once."

Hubbo sent a long hail over the water. The serang cast off the rope by which he had made fast to the sloop, and the petala came slowly down until it was abreast of the subahdar's vessel. Hossain, Desmond, and Karim stepped aboard, the last carrying a small box of tools. Only the Bengali was left in the boat. All salaamed low to the subahdar.

"This, huzur, is my friend," said Hubbo, presenting his brother. "This is the mistri, and this his assistant."

"Good!" said the subahdar. "Go down into the hold, mistri: look to the holes; if they are not large enough make them larger, and as quickly as you can."

Desmond with Karim dived down into the hold. It was filled with earth, except where a gangway shored up with balks of timber had been left to give access to the holes that had been drilled and temporarily stopped. After a few words from the subahdar, Hubbo and his brother followed Desmond below.

Half an hour later, Hubbo climbed up through the hatchway and approached the subahdar, who was pacing the deck, giving many an anxious glance down the river.

"The mistri has bored another hole, huzur. He said the more holes the better. Perhaps your Excellency will deign to see whether you regard it as sufficient."

"Nay, I should defile my clothes," said the subahdar, not relishing the thought of descending into the malodorous depths.

"As your Excellency pleases," said Hubbo, salaaming.

Then the gravity of his charge appeared to overcome the subahdar's scruples. Gathering his robes close about him, he stepped to the hatchway and lowered himself into the hold.

"We must hasten," he said. "The ships of the Firangi may appear at any moment, and I must be on the lookout.

"Meantime," he added to Hubbo, "you keep watch."

For a man of his build he was fairly active. Dropping on to the loose earth, he scrambled over it towards the oil lamp by whose light the mistri and his assistant were working.

"This, huzur," said Hossain, pointing to a circular cut in the planking of the vessel, "is the new hole. It is not yet driven through, but if your Excellency thinks it sufficient—"

The subahdar craned forward to examine it. "Khubber dar {look out}!" said Desmond in a low voice.

Hossain had only waited for this signal. He threw himself on the stooping subahdar and bore him to the floor, at the same time stuffing a gag between his teeth. In a couple of minutes he was lying bound and helpless. His ornate garment was but little sullied. It had been stripped from him by the mistri, who hastily donned it over his own scanty raiment, together with the subahdar's turban.

"How will that do, Hossain?" asked Desmond with a smile.

The serang held up the oil lamp to inspect him. With his other hand he slightly altered the set of the turban and rearranged the folds of the robe.

"That is excellent, sahib," he said. "A little more girth would perhaps have been better, but in the distance no one will notice."

Then calling to Hubbo, he said that all was ready. Hossain clambered through the hatchway, leaving Desmond concealed behind a large timber upright, supporting the deck. As soon as the serang had reached his side, Hubbo called to the men on watch and said:

"Hai, Ali, Chedi, come here!"

"Jo hukm {as ordered}!" replied one of the men. Two of the three hurried aft, and at Hubbo's bidding, swung down into the hold. The serang ordered them to go towards the lamp. They groped their way in that direction; Desmond sprang up through the hatchway; it was clapped down and firmly secured, and the subahdar with two-thirds of his crew was a prisoner in the hold. The third man at the far end of the boat had not seen or heard anything of what had happened.

So far the plot had succeeded admirably. Whatever order might reach the waiting vessels, it would not be given by the subahdar. The question now was, how to prevent the men in charge of the vessels and the authorities in Tanna Fort from becoming suspicious. The latter would not be difficult. Manik Chand would gain nothing by blocking the fairway unless it were absolutely necessary to do so, and, in common with other of the Nawab's lieutenants, he had an overweening confidence in the power of the forts to repel an attack from the English ships. For this reason it was advisable to make the minds of the other men easy, and Desmond soon hit on a plan.

"You had better return to your sloop, Hubbo," he said. "Send a message to the men on the other vessels that I—the subahdar, you know—have made up my mind to allow one of the enemy's ships to pass me before giving the signal. I shall thus capture one at least, and it may be the admiral's."

Hubbo set off, and when he reached his own vessel he sent a boat with a message to each of the ships in turn. Meanwhile, thinking the appearance of a petala alongside of the subahdar's sloop might awaken suspicion or at least curiosity in the fort, Desmond decided to send it down the river in charge of Hossain. He was thus left alone on deck with the subahdar's third man.

For a time the man, standing far forward, was unaware of the striking change in the personality garbed in the subahdar's clothes. But glancing back at length, he started, looked a second time, and after a moment's hesitation walked down the deck.

"Go back to your post," said Desmond sternly, "and see that you keep a good lookout for the Firangi's ships."

The man salaamed and returned to the prow in manifest bewilderment. More than once he looked back as he heard strange knockings from below. Desmond only smiled. If the sound was heard from the forts, it would be regarded merely as a sign that the preparations for sinking the vessel were not yet completed.

Time passed on, and ever and anon Desmond looked eagerly down the river for a sign of the oncoming fleet. At last, somewhere about midday, he observed signs of excitement in Tanna Fort, and almost simultaneously saw a puff of smoke and heard a report from one of its guns.

Shortly afterwards he observed the spars of a British-built ship slowly approaching upstream. In full confidence that the scheme for blocking the river was now frustrated, he awaited with patience the oncoming of the fleet, wondering whether the forts would make a determined resistance.

Slowly the vessel drew nearer. Another shot was fired from the fort, with what result Desmond could not tell. But immediately afterwards he heard the distant report of a heavy gun, followed by a crash near at hand, and a babel of yells. A shot from the British ship had plumped right in the center of Tanna Fort. At the same moment Desmond recognized the figurehead.

"'Tis the Tyger!" he said to himself with a smile. "Won't Captain Latham grin when he sees me in this rig!"

Then he laughed aloud, for the valiant defenders of Tanna Fort had not waited for a second shot. They were swarming helter skelter out of harm's way, rushing at the top of their speed up the river and leaving their fortress to its fate. On the other bank the garrison of Aligarh Fort had also taken flight, and were streaming along with excited cries in the direction of Calcutta.

The man in the bows of the sloop looked amazedly at the new subahdar. Why did he laugh? Why did he not wave the green flag that lay at his hand? When were the men who had gone below going to knock out the stoppings of the holes and take to the boat with himself and their commander? But the subahdar still stood laughing.

All at once Desmond, remembering the real subahdar below, asked himself: what if he drove out the bungs and scuttled the vessel? But the question brought a smile to his lips. He could not conceive of the Bengali's playing such a heroic part, and he possessed his soul in peace.

Now the Tyger was in full sight, and behind her Desmond saw the well-remembered Kent, Admiral Watson's flagship. The stampede from the forts had evidently been observed on board, for firing had ceased, and boats were already being lowered and filled with men.

Desmond waited. The Tyger's boats, he saw, were making for Tanna Fort: the Kent's for Aligarh. But one of the latter was heading straight for the sloop. Desmond could not resist the temptation to a joke. Making himself look as important as he could, he stood by the gunwale watching with an air of dignity the oncoming of the boat. It was in command of a young lieutenant. The men bent to their oars with a will, and Desmond could soon hear the voice of the officer as he called to his crew.

But his amusement was mingled with amazement and delight when, in the big form sitting in the bow of the boat, he recognized no other than his old messmate, his old comrade in the Fight of the Carts—William Bulger. The joke would be even better than he had expected.

The boat drew closer: it was level with the nose of the sloop; and the lieutenant sang out the command, "Ship oars!" It came alongside.

"Bulger," cried the lieutenant, "skip aboard and announce us to that old peacock up on deck."

"Ay, ay, sir," replied Bulger, "which his feathers will be plucked, or my name en't Bulger."

At the side of the sloop lay the dinghy intended to convey the subahdar and his men ashore when the work of sinking had been started. It was made fast to the vessel by a rope. Bulger sprang into the dinghy and then began an ascent so clever, and at the same time so comical, that Desmond had much ado not to spoil his joke by a premature explosion of laughter. The burly seaman swarmed up the rope like a monkey, clasping it with his legs as he took each upward grip. But the comedy of his actions was provided by his hook. Having only one arm—an arm, it is true, with the biceps of a giant—he could not clutch the rope in the ordinary way. But at each successive spring he dug his hook into the side of the vessel, and mounted with amazing rapidity, talking to himself all the time.

"Avast, there!" he shouted, as with a final heave upon the hook dug into the gunwale he hoisted himself on deck. "Haul down your colors, matey, which they make a pretty pictur', they do."

He came overpoweringly towards Desmond, his arm and stump spread wide as if to embrace him.

"I may be wrong," said Desmond, "but have I not the pleasure of addressing Mr. William Bulger?"

Bulger started as if shot. His broad face spelled first blank amazement, then incredulity, then surprised belief. Spreading his legs wide and bending his knees, he rested his hand on one and his hook on the other, shut one eye, and stuck his tongue out at the corner of his mouth.

"By the Dutchman!" he exclaimed, "if it don't beat cock fighting! Sure, 'tis Mr. Burke himself! Anna Maria! But for why did you go for to make yourself sich a Guy Faux guy, sir?"

"How are you, old fellow?" said Desmond heartily. "I am a bit of a scarecrow, no doubt, but we've won the trick, man. The real guy is down below, dead from fright by this time, I expect.

"Sorry to give you the trouble of boarding, sir," he added, as the lieutenant came over the side. "If you'll take me into your boat I'll be glad to report to the admiral or to Colonel Clive."

"By jimmy, Mr. Burke!" said the lieutenant, laughing, "you've got a way of your own of popping up at odd times and in odd places. Come with me, by all means—just as you are, if you please. The admiral wouldn't miss the look of you for anything. By George! 'tis a rare bit of play acting. Did I hear you say you've got some natives under hatchways?"

"Yes; the owner of this finery is below with two of his men. You can hear him now."

There was a violent and sustained knocking below deck.

"I'll send my man to release him. The fleet are all coming up, sir?"

"Yes; the Bridgewater and Kingfisher are close in our wake. Come along; we'll catch the admiral before he goes ashore."

Chapter 28: In which Captain Barker has cause to rue the day when he met Mr. Diggle; and our hero continues to wipe off old scores.

Desmond received a warm welcome both from Admiral Watson and Colonel Clive. His account of the manner in which he had defeated Manik Chand's scheme for blocking the river was received with shouts of laughter, while his ingenuity and courage were warmly commended by both officers. Indeed, the admiral, always more impulsive than Clive, offered him on the spot a lieutenancy in the fleet, and was not very well pleased when Desmond politely declined the honor. He caught a gleam of approval in Clive's eyes, and later in the day, when he saw his hero alone, he felt well rewarded.

"A naval lieutenant ranks higher than a lieutenant in the army—I suppose you know that, Burke?" said Clive.

"Yes, sir."

"And you're only a cadet. From today you are a lieutenant, my lad. I am pleased with you, and whatever his enemies say of Bob Clive, no one ever said of him that he forgot a friend."

The forces proceeded to Calcutta next day, and retook the town with surprising ease. Manik Chand was so much alarmed by seeing the effect of the big guns of the fleet that he abandoned the place almost without striking a blow, and when the British troops entered they were too late even to make any prisoners save a few of the ragtag and bobtail in the rear.

Mr. Merriman returned to Calcutta a few days later. Desmond was grieved to observe how rapidly he was aging. In spite of Clive's recommendation to keep silence he could not refrain from telling his friend what he had discovered about the missing ladies; and he did not regret it, for the knowledge that they were alive and, when last heard of, out of Peloti's clutches, acted like a tonic. Merriman was all eagerness to set off and search for them himself; but Desmond pointed out the danger of such a course, and he reluctantly agreed to wait a little longer, and see whether any news could be obtained during the operations which Clive was planning against the Nawab.

Meanwhile, Desmond learned from Bulger what had happened to him since the fall of Calcutta. He was one of the hundred and forty-six thrown into the Black Hole.

"'Tis only by the mercy of the Almighty I'm here today," he said solemnly. "I saw what 'twould be as soon as the door of that Black Hole was locked, and me and some others tried to force it. 'Tweren't no good. Mr. Holwell—he's a brave man, an' no mistake—begged an' prayed of us all to be quiet; but Lor' bless you, he might ha' saved his breath. 'Twas a hot night; we soon began to sweat most horrible an' feel a ragin' thirst. We took off most of our clothes, an' waved our hats to set the air a-movin'; which 'twas hard enough work, 'cos we was packed so tight. I en't a-goin' to tell you all the horrors o' that night, sir; I'd like uncommon to forget 'em, though I don't believe I never shall. 'Twas so awful that many a poor wretch begged of the Moors outside to fire on 'em. Worst was when the old jamadar put skins o' water in at the window. My God! them about me fought like demons, which if I hadn't flattened myself against the wall I should ha' been crushed or trodden to death, like most on 'em. For me, I couldn't get near the water; I sucked my shirt sleeves, an' 'tis my belief 'twas on'y that saved me from goin' mad. A man what was next me took out his knife an' slit a vein, 'cos he couldn't bear the agony no longer. Soon arter, I fell in a dead faint, an' knowed no more till I found myself on my back outside, with a Moor chuckin' water at me. They let me go, along with some others; and a rotten old hulk I was, there en't no mistake about that. Why, bless you, my skin come out all boils as thick as barnacles on a hull arter a six months' voyage, all 'cos o' being in sich bad air without water. And then the fever came aboard, an' somehow or other I got shipped to the mounseers' hospital at Chandernagore, which they was very kind to me, sir; there en't no denyin' that. I may be wrong, but I could take my oath, haffidavy, an' solemn will an' testament that a mounseer's got a heart inside of his body arter all, which makes him all the better chap to have a slap at if you come to think of the why an' wherefore of it."

"But how came you on board the Tyger?"

"Well, when my boils was gone an' the fever slung overboard, I got down to Fulta an' held on the slack there; an' when the ships come up, they sent for me, 'cos havin' sailed up an' down the river many a time, they thought as how I could do a bit o' pilotin', there not bein' enough Dutch pilots to go round. An' I ha' had some fun, too, which I wonder I can laugh arter that Black Hole and all. By thunder! 'tis a merry sight to see the Moors run. The very look of a cutlass a'most turns 'un white, and they well-nigh drops down dead if they see a sailor man. Why, t'other day at Budge Budge—they ought to call it Fudge Fudge now, seems to me—the Jack tars went ashore about nightfall to help the lobsters storm the fort in the dark. But Colonel Clive he was dog tired, an' went to his bed, sayin' as how he'd lead a boardin' party in the mornin'. That warn't exactly beans an' bacon; nary a man but would ha' took a big dose o' fever if they'd laid out on the fields all night.

"Anyways, somewhere about eleven, an' pitch dark, a Jack which his name is Strahan—a Scotchman, by what they say—went off all alone by himself, to have a sort of private peep at that there fort. He was pretty well filled up wi' grog, or pr'aps he wouldn't ha' been quite so venturesome. Well, he waded up to his chin in a ditch o' mud what goes round the fort, with his pistols above his head. When he gets over, bang goes one pistol, an' he sets up a shout: 'One and all, my boys! one and all, hurray!'—a-dreamin' I s'pose as he was captain of a boardin' party an a crew o' swabs behind him. Up he goes, up the bastion; bang goes t'other pistol; then he outs with his cutlass, a-roarin' hurray with a voice like a twelve pounder; down goes three o' them Moors; another breaks Jack's cutlass with his simitar; bless you, what's he care? don't care a straw, which his name is Strahan; he've got a fist, he have, an' he dashes it in the Moor's face, collars his simitar, cuts his throat and sings out, 'Ho, mateys! this 'ere fort's mine!'

"Up comes three or four of his mates what heard his voice; they swings round the cannon on the bastion an' turns it on the enemy; bang! bang! and bless your heart, the Moors cut and run, an' the fort was ourn."

At the moment Desmond thought that Bulger was drawing the long bow. But meeting Captain Speke of the Kent a little later, he asked how much truth there was in the story.

"'Tis all true," said the captain, laughing, "but not the whole truth. The day after Strahan's mad performance the admiral sends for him: discipline must be maintained, you know. 'What's this I hear about you?' says Mr. Watson, with a face of thunder. Strahan bobbed, and scratched his head, and twirled his hat in his hand, and says: 'Why to be sure, sir, 'twas I took the fort, and I hope there ain't no harm in it!' By George! 'twas as much as the admiral could do to keep a straight face. He got the fellow to tell us about it: we had our faces in our handkerchiefs all the time. Then Mr. Watson gave him a pretty rough wigging, and wound up by saying that he'd consult me as to the number of lashes to be laid on.

"You should have seen the fellow's face! As he went out of the cabin I heard him mutter: 'Well, if I'm to be flogged for this 'ere haction, be hanged if I ever take another fort alone by myself as long as I live!'"

"Surely he wasn't flogged?" said Desmond, laughing heartily.

"Oh, no! Mr. Watson told us as a matter of form to put in a plea for the fellow, and then condescended to let him off. Pity he's such a loose fish!"

For two months Desmond remained with Clive. He was with him at the capture of Hugli, and in that brisk fight at Calcutta on the fifth of February, which gave the Nawab his first taste of British quality. Sirajuddaula was encamped to the northeast of the town with a huge army. In a heavy fog, about daybreak, Clive came up at the head of a mixed force of king's troops, sepoys and sailors, some two thousand men in all. Hordes of Persian cavalry charged him through the mist, but they were beaten off, and Clive forced his way through the enemy's camp until he came near the Nawab's own tents, pitched in Omichand's garden. Sirajuddaula himself was within an ace of being captured. His troops made but a poor stand against the British, and by midday the battle was over.

Scared by this defeat, the Nawab was ready to conclude with the Company the treaty which long negotiations had failed to effect. By this treaty the trading privileges granted to the Company by the emperor of Delhi were confirmed; the Nawab agreed to pay full compensation for the losses sustained by the Company and its servants; and the right to fortify Calcutta was conceded. The longstanding grievances of the Company were thus, on paper, redressed.

A day or two after the battle a ship arrived with the news that war had been declared in Europe between England and France. Efforts to maintain neutrality between the English and French in Bengal having failed, Clive wished the Nawab to join him in an attack on the French settlements in Bengal. This the Nawab refused to do, though he wrote, promising that he would hold as enemies all who were enemies of Clive—a promise that bore bitter fruit before many months had passed.

The French were keen rivals of the Company in the trade of India, and constantly took advantage of native troubles to score a point in the game. Clive had come to Bengal with the full intention of making the Company, whose servant he was, supreme; and having secured the treaty with Sirajuddaula he resolved to turn his arms against the French. They were suspected of helping the Nawab in his expedition against Calcutta: it was known that the Nawab, treating his engagements with reckless levity and faithlessness, was trying to persuade Bussy, the French commander in the Dekkan, to help him to expel the British from Bengal. There was excuse enough for an attack on Chandernagore.

But before Clive could open hostilities, he was required, by an old arrangement with the Mogul, to obtain permission from the Nawab. This permission was at length got from him by Omichand. The sack of Calcutta by the Nawab had caused Omichand great loss, and, hoping in part to retrieve it, he made his peace with Clive and the Council, and was then selected to accompany Mr. Watts when he went as British representative to Murshidabad. The wily Sikh, working always for his own ends, contrived to make the unstable young despot believe that the French were tricking him, and in a fit of passion he sealed a letter allowing Admiral Watson to make war upon them. He repented of it immediately, but the letter was gone.

On the day after it reached the admiral, March twelfth, 1757, Clive sent a summons to Monsieur Renault, the governor of Chandernagore, to surrender the fort. No reply was received that day, and Clive resolved, failing a satisfactory answer within twenty-four hours, to read King George's declaration of war and attack the French.

Desmond was breakfasting among a number of his fellow officers next morning when up came Hossain, the serang who had accompanied him on his eventful journeys up and down the Hugli. Lately he had been employed, on Desmond's recommendation, in bringing supplies up the river for the troops. The man salaamed and said that he wished to say a few words privately to the sahib. Desmond rose, and went apart with him.

At sunrise, said the man, a vessel flying Dutch colors had dropped down the river past the English fleet. Her name was Dutch, and her destination Rotterdam; but Hossain was certain that she was really the Good Intent, which Desmond had pointed out to him as they passed Chandernagore, and which they had more than once seen since in the course of their journeys. Her appearance had attracted some attention on the fleet; and the Tyger had sent a shot after her, ordering her to heave to; but having a strong northeast wind behind her, she took no notice of the signal and held on her course.

Desmond thanked Hossain for the information, and, leaving his breakfast unfinished, went off at once to see Clive, whom he was to join that morning on a tour of inspection of the northwest part of the French settlement.

"Well, I don't see what we can do," said Clive, when Desmond repeated the news to him. "Mr. Watson no doubt suspected her when it was too late. Nothing but a regular chase could have captured her after she had passed. Ships can't be spared for that; they've much more important work on hand."

"Still, 'tis a pity, sir," said Desmond. "'Tis not only that Captain Barker is an interloper; he has been in league with pirates, and his being at Chandernagore all these months means no good."

"It means, at any rate, that he hasn't been able to get a cargo. Trade's at a standstill. Well, I'd give something to lay Mr. Barker and his crew by the heels—on behalf of the Company, Burke, for don't forget, as some of our friends of the Calcutta Council do, that I am here to save the Company, not their private property. 'Tis too late to stop the vessel now."

"I'd like to try, sir."

"I dare say you would. You're as ready to take risks as I am," he added, with his characteristic pursing of the lips; "and 'pon my word, you're just as lucky! For I'm lucky, Burke; there's no doubt of it. That affair at Calcutta might have done for us but for the morning mist. I'd like to try myself. It would punish a set of rogues, and discourage interloping, to the benefit of the Company. But I can't spare men for the job. Barker has no doubt a large crew; they'll be on the lookout for attack; no, I can't touch it."

Desmond hesitated for a moment. He did not wish to lose the fighting at Chandernagore, but he had the strongest personal reasons for desiring the arrest of the Good Intent.

"Do you think, sir, we shall capture this place tomorrow?" he asked suddenly.

"Scarcely, my boy," said Clive, smiling; "nor by tomorrow week, unless the French have forgotten how to fight. Why do you ask?"

"Because if you'd give me leave I'd like to have a shot at the Good Intent—provided I got back in time to be with you in the fighting line, sir."

"Well, I can't keep things waiting for you. And it seems a wild-goose chase—rather a hazardous one."

"I'd risk that, sir. I could get together some men in Calcutta, and I'd hope to be back here in a couple of days."

"Well, well, Burke, you'd wheedle the Mogul himself. Anyone could tell you're an Irishman. Get along, then; do your best, and if you don't come back I'll try to take Chandernagore without you."

He smiled as he slapped Desmond on the shoulder. Well pleased with his ready consent, Desmond hurried away, got a horse, and riding hard reached Calcutta by eight o'clock and went straight to Mr. Merriman. Explaining what was afoot, he asked for the loan of the men of the Hormuzzeer. Merriman at once agreed; Captain Barker was a friend of Peloti's; and he needed no stronger inducement.

Desmond hurried down to the river; the Hormuzzeer was lying off Cruttenden Ghat; and Mr. Toley for once broke through his settled sadness of demeanor when he learned of the expedition proposed.

While Toley collected the crew and made his preparations, Desmond consulted a pilot. The Good Intent had passed Calcutta an hour before; but the man said that, though favored by the wind, she would scarcely get past the bar at Mayapur on the evening tide. She might do so if exceptionally lucky; in that case there would be very little chance of overtaking her.

Less than two hours after Desmond reached Calcutta two budgeros left Cruttenden Ghat. Each was provided with a double complement of men, and although the sails filled with a strong following wind, their oars were kept constantly in play. The passengers on board were for the most part unaccustomed to this luxurious mode of traveling. There were a dozen lascars; Hossain the serang; Karim, the man saved by Desmond at Chandernagore; Bulger and the second mate of the Hormuzzeer, and Mr. Toley, who, like Desmond and the serang, was clothed, much to Bulger's amusement, as a fairly well-to-do ryot.

For some hours the tide was contrary; but when it turned, the budgeros, under the combined impulses of sail, oar and current, made swift progress, arousing some curiosity among the crews of riverside craft, little accustomed to the sight of budgeros moving so rapidly.

Approaching Mayapur, Desmond descried the spars of the Good Intent a long way ahead. Was there enough water to allow her to pass the bar? he wondered. Apparently there was, for she kept straight on her course under full sail. Desmond bit his lips with vexation, and had almost given up hope, though he did not permit any slackening of speed, when to his joy he saw the vessel strike her topsails, then the rest of her canvas.

He at once ran his boats to the shore at Mayapur. There were a number of river craft at the place, so that the movements of his budgeros, if observed from the Good Intent, were not likely to awaken suspicion. On landing he went to the house of a native merchant, Babu Aghor Nath Bose, to whom he had a letter from Mr. Merriman.

"Can you arrange for us," he said, when civilities had been exchanged, "tonight, the loan of two shabby old country boats?"

The native considered.

"I think I can, sahib," he said at length. "I would do much for Merriman Sahib. A man I frequently employ is now anchored off my ghat. No doubt, for fair pay, he and another might be persuaded to lend their craft."

"Very well, be good enough to arrange it. I only require the boats for a few hours tomorrow morning. Do you think twenty rupees would suffice?"

The native opened his eyes. He himself would not have offered so much. But he said:

"Doubtless that will suffice, sahib. The matter is settled."

"I shall meet you in an hour. Thank you."

Returning to the budgeros, Desmond instructed Hossain to go into the bazaar and buy up all the fresh fruit he could find. The sales for the day were over; but Hossain hunted up the fruit sellers and bargained so successfully that when he returned he was accompanied by a whole gang of coolies, bearing what seemed to Desmond an appalling quantity of melons, all for thirty rupees.

Before this, however, Aghor Nath Bose had reported that the hire of the two boats was duly arranged. They were open boats, little more than barges, with a small cabin or shelter aft. Their crews had been dismissed and had taken their belongings ashore; both were empty of cargo. Desmond went with Bulger on board and arranged a number of bamboos crosswise on the boats, covering up the empty spaces which would usually be occupied by merchandise. Over the bamboos he placed a layer of thin matting, and on this, when Hossain returned, he ordered the coolies to put the melons. To a casual observer it would have appeared that the boats were laden with a particularly heavy cargo of the golden fruit.

An hour before dawn, the lascars and others from the Hormuzzeer slipped quietly from the budgeros on board the country boats, and bestowed themselves as best they could under the bamboo deck supporting the melons. It was cool in the early morning, although the hot season was approaching; but Desmond did not envy the men their close quarters. They were so much excited, however, at the adventure before them, and so eager to earn the liberal reward promised them if it succeeded, that not a man murmured. The Europeans had cooler quarters in the rude cabins, where they were hidden from prying eyes under miscellaneous native wraps.

Desmond had learned from the pilot that it would be nearly eight o'clock before the depth of water over the bar was sufficient to allow a ship like the Good Intent to proceed with safety. A little before daybreak the two boats crept out from the ghat. It was well to avoid curiosity before Mayapur woke up. Desmond steered the first, Hossain the second; and besides the steersmen there were two men visible on the deck of each.

The tide was running up, but the wind still held from the northeast, and though moderated in force since the evening it was strong enough to take them slowly down toward the Good Intent. The sky was lightening, but a slight mist hung over the river. Desmond kept a close lookout ahead, and after about half an hour he caught sight of the hull of the Good Intent, looming before him out of the mist. Allowing the second boat to come alongside, he turned and spoke to the serang.

"Now, Hossain, there she is. Hail her."

"Hai, hai!" shouted the man. "Do the sahibs want to buy any fresh fruit?"

An oath floated down from the stern. Captain Barker was there, peering intently through the mist up the river.

"Good melons, sahib, all fresh, and not too ripe. Cheap as ragi, sahib."

The mate had joined the captain; the Dutch pilot stood by, smoking a pipe. The fruit boats had by this time come under the stern of the vessel, and Desmond heard the mate say:

"We came away in such a hurry, sir, that we hadn't time to take in a supply of vegetables. Melons'll keep, sir, if they en't overripe."

Barker growled, then bent over and called to the serang. "How much?"

"Very cheap, sahib, very cheap. I will come aboard."

"Then be quick about it: we're going to trip the anchor, melons or no melons. D'ye hear?"

Hossain ran down the sail and clambered up the chains; which the other boatmen made fast to a rope thrown from the deck. Desmond also lowered his sail, steering so as to approach the port quarter of the Good Intent, the serang's boat being on the starboard. No rope was thrown to him, but he found that the tide was now only strong enough to neutralize the wind, and a stroke every now and again with the paddle at the stern kept his boat stationary.

Meanwhile there came from the deck the singsong of men heaving up the anchor. When the serang stepped on board the greater part of the crew of the Good Intent were forward. Little time was spent in haggling. A melon was thrown up as a sample, and the price asked was so extraordinarily low that Captain Barker evidently thought he had got a bargain.

"Heave 'em up," he said, "and if they en't all up to sample—"

He broke off, no doubt believing that his fierce scowl was sufficient to point his threat.

The serang hailed Desmond to come alongside. A few sweeps of the paddle brought the boat close underneath the Good Intent's side, and a second rope enabled him to make fast.

He swarmed up the rope, followed by one of the boatmen. The other, on the boat, began to fill a basket with melons, as if preparing to send them on board. At the same time Karim joined Hossain from the other side, so that there were now four of the party on deck.

At a sign from Desmond, the two natives, carrying out instructions previously given, strolled toward the companionway. Hossain had started a conversation with the captain and mate, telling them about the British fleet he had passed as he came down the river. The Dutch pilot looked on, stolidly puffing his pipe.

Desmond stepped to the side of the vessel as though to hoist the basket with the running tackle. Making a sign to the men below, he called in a loud voice:


Instantly the men swarmed up the rope. At the signal, misleading to the crew of the Good Intent, man after man crawled from beneath the matting on the boat below, and clambered up the ropes, led by Bulger on one side and Mr. Toley on the other. They made little noise, and that was drowned by the singsong of the sailors and the grinding of the cables; the pilot with his back to the bulwarks saw nothing, and before Captain Barker knew that anything unusual was occurring both Bulger and Toley were tumbling over the sides.

The captain stood almost petrified with amazement as he saw Bulger's red face rising like the morning sun. He stepped back apace.

"What the—"

The exclamation was never completed. Desmond stepped up to him and in a low voice said:

"In the name of his Majesty, King George, I call upon you, Captain Barker, to surrender this ship."

He had a leveled pistol in his hand. Bulger with a cutlass sprang to one side, and Toley ranged himself on the other. Hossain had joined the two boatmen at the companionway; all had brought out pistols from the folds of their clothing, and the companionway commanded access to the ship's armory.

Barker, who had grown purple at the sight of Bulger, now turned a sickly white. The mate dashed forward, calling to the crew, who, seeing that something was amiss, came along with a rush, arming themselves with belaying pins and any other weapons that came handy. Toley, however, leaving the cowed and speechless captain to Desmond, stepped toward the men. They recognized him at once and paused doubtfully.

"You know me," he said. "I'm a man of few words. You won't go further this voyage. Captain Barker has surrendered the ship. You'll drop those desperate things in your hands and go for'ard. Show a leg, now!"

The men looked from one to another, then at the captain, who was at that moment handing over his sword to Desmond. If Captain Barker was too badly beaten to swear he was in poor case indeed. The crew's hesitation was but momentary; under Toley's sad gaze they sullenly flung down their weapons and went forward.

Only then did the captain find speech. But it was to utter a fearful curse, ending with the name:


Chapter 29: In which our hero does not win the Battle of Plassey: but, where all do well, gains as much glory as the rest.

Leaving Mr. Toley to bring the Good Intent up to Calcutta, Desmond hurried back in advance and remained in the town just long enough to inform Mr. Merriman of the happy result of his adventure and to change into his own clothes, and then returned to Chandernagore on horseback, as he had come. He found Clive encamped two miles to the west of the fort. No reply having reached him from Monsieur Renault, Clive had read the declaration of war as he had threatened, and opened hostilities by an attack on an outpost.

"You've no need to tell me you've succeeded, Burke," he said when Desmond presented himself. "I see it in your eyes. But I've no time to hear your story now. It must wait until we have seen the result of the day's fighting. Not that I expect much of it in this quarter. We can't take the place with the land force only, and I won't throw away life till the admiral has tried the effect of his guns."

The French in Chandernagore were not well prepared to stand a determined siege. The governor, Monsieur Renault, had none of the military genius of a Dupleix or a Bussy. With him were only some eight hundred fighting men, of whom perhaps half were Europeans. Instead of concentrating his defense on the fort, he scattered his men about the town, leaving the weakest part of his defenses, the eastern curtain, insufficiently manned.

He believed that Admiral Watson would find it impossible to bring his biggest ships within gunshot, and fancied that by sinking some vessels at the narrowest part of the river he would keep the whole British fleet unemployed—a mistake that was to cost him dear.

By the night of March fourteenth Clive had driven in the outposts. The immediate effect of this was the desertion of two thousand Moors sent to Renault's assistance by Nandkumar the faujdar of Hugli. A continuous bombardment was kept up until the nineteenth, when Admiral Watson arrived from Calcutta with the Kent, the Tyger, and the Salisbury.

Next morning an officer was despatched in a boat to summon Renault once more to surrender. Rowing between the sunken vessels, whose masts showed above water, he took soundings and found that with careful handling the men-o'-war might safely pass. Once more Renault refused to surrender. His offer to ransom the fort was declined by the admiral, who the same night sent the master of the Kent to buoy the channel. Two nights later, in pitch darkness, several English boats were rowed with muffled oars to the sunken vessels. Their crews fixed lanterns to the masts of these in such a way that the light, while guiding the warships, would be invisible from the fort.

Early next morning Clive captured the battery commanding the river passage, and the three British ships ran up with the tide. The Kent and Tyger opened fire on the southeast and northeast bastions, and these two vessels bore the brunt of a tremendous cannonade from the fort. The French artillery was well served, doing fearful damage on board the British vessels. On the Kent, save the admiral himself and one lieutenant, every officer was killed or wounded. One shot struck down Captain Speke and shattered the leg of his son, a brave boy of sixteen, who refused to allow his wound to be examined until his father had been attended to, and then bore the pain of the rough amputation of those days without a murmur.

Meanwhile Clive's men had climbed to the roofs of houses near the fort, which commanded the French batteries; and his musketeers poured in a galling fire and shot down the gunners at their work. As the walls of the barracks and fort were shattered by the guns from the ships, the Sepoys crept closer and closer, awaiting the word to storm.

The morning drew on. Admiral Watson began to fear that when the tide fell his big guns would be at too low a level to do further execution. There was always considerable rivalry between himself and Clive, fed by the stupid jealousy of some of the Calcutta Council. While Clive, foreseeing even more serious work later, was anxious to spare his men, Watson was equally eager to reap all possible credit for a victory over the French.

As it happened, neither had to go to the last extremity, for about half-past nine a white flag was seen flying from the fort. Lieutenant Brereton of the Kent and Captain Eyre Coote from the land force were sent to arrange the surrender, and a little later the articles of capitulation were signed by Admirals Watson and Pocock, and by Clive.

Desmond was by no means satisfied with the part he played in the fight. In command of a company of Sepoys he was one of the first to rush the shore battery and take post under the walls of the barracks in readiness to lead a storming party. But, as he complained afterward to his friend Captain Latham of the Tyger, the fleet had the honors of the day.

"After all, you're better off than I am," grumbled the captain. "How would you like to have your laurels snatched away? Admiral Pocock ought to have remained on the Cumberland down the river and left the Tyger to me. But he didn't see the fun of being out of the fighting; and up he came posthaste and hoisted his flag on my ship, putting my nose badly out of joint, I can tell you. Still, one oughtn't to grumble. It doesn't matter much who gets the credit so long as we've done our job. 'Tis all in the day's work."

The victory at Chandernagore destroyed the French power in Bengal. But it turned out to be only the prelude to a greater event—an event which must be reckoned as the foundation stone of the British Empire in India. It sprang from the character of Sirajuddaula. That prince was a cruel despot, but weak-willed, vacillating, and totally unable to keep a friend. One day he would strut in some vainglorious semblance of dignity; the next he would engage in drunken revels with the meanest and most dissolute of his subjects. He insulted his commander-in-chief, Mir Jafar: he offended the Seths, wealthy bankers of Murshidabad who had helped him to his throne: he played fast and loose with everyone with whom he had dealings. His own people were weary of him, and at length a plot was hatched to dethrone him and set Mir Jafar in his place.

Mr. Watts, the British agent in Murshidabad, communicated this design to Clive and the Council of Calcutta, suggesting that they should cooperate in deposing the vicious Nawab. They agreed, on the grounds that his dishonesty and insolence showed that he had no real intention of abiding by the terms of his treaty, and that he was constantly interfering with the French. A treaty was accordingly drawn up with Mir Jafar, in which the prospective Subah agreed to all the terms formerly agreed to by Sirajuddaula. But Omichand, who was on bad terms with Mir Jafar and the Seths, threatened to reveal the whole plot to the Nawab and have Mr. Watts put to death, unless he were guaranteed in the treaty the payment of a sum of money equivalent to nearly four hundred thousand pounds.

Clive was so much disgusted with Omichand's double dealing that, though he was ready to make him fair compensation for his losses in Calcutta, he was not inclined to accede to his impudent demand. Yet it would be dangerous to refuse him point blank. He therefore descended to a trick which, whatever may be urged in its defense—the proved treachery of Omichand, the customs of the country, the utter want of scruple shown by the natives in their dealings—must ever remain a blot on a great man's fame.

Two treaties with Mir Jafar were drawn up; one on red paper, known as lal kagaz, containing a clause embodying Omichand's demand; the other on white, containing no such clause. Admiral Watson, with bluff honesty, refused to have anything to do with the sham treaty; it was dishonorable, he said, and to ask his signature was an affront. But his signature was necessary to satisfy Omichand. At Clive's request, it was forged by Mr. Lushington, a young writer of the Company's. The red treaty was shown to Omichand; it bought his silence; he suspected nothing.

The plot was now ripe. Omichand left Murshidabad; Mr. Watts slipped away; and the Nawab, on being informed of his flight, wrote to Clive and Watson, upbraiding them with breaking their treaty with him, and set out to join his army.

Clive left Chandernagore on June thirteenth, his guns, stores and European soldiers being towed up the river in two hundred boats, the Sepoys marching along the highway parallel with the right bank. Palti and Katwa were successively occupied by his advance guard under Eyre Coote. But a terrible rain storm on the eighteenth delayed his march, and next day he received from Mir Jafar a letter that gave him no little uneasiness.

Mir Jafar announced that he had pretended to patch up his quarrel with the Nawab and sworn to be loyal to him; but he added that the measures arranged with Clive were still to be carried out. This strange message suggested that Mir Jafar was playing off one against the other, or at best sitting on the fence until he was sure of the victor. It was serious enough to give pause to Clive. He was one hundred and fifty miles from his base at Calcutta; before him was an unfordable river watched by a vast hostile force. If Mir Jafar should elect to remain faithful to his master the English army would in all likelihood be annihilated. In these circumstances Clive wrote to the Committee of Council in Calcutta that he would not cross the river until he was definitely assured that Mir Jafar would join him.

His decision seemed to be justified next day when he received a letter from Mr. Watts at Khulna. On the day he left Murshidabad, said Mr. Watts, Mir Jafar had denounced him as a spy and sworn to repel any attempt of the English to cross the river. On receipt of this news Clive adopted a course unusual with him. He called a Council of War, for the first and last time in his career. Desmond was in Major Killpatrick's tent when the summons to attend the Council reached that officer.

"Burke, my boy," he said, "'tis a mighty odd thing. Mr. Clive is not partial to Councils; has had enough of 'em at Madras first, and lately at Calcutta. D'you know, I don't understand Mr. Clive; I don't believe any one does. In the field he is as bold as a lion, fearless, quick to see what to do at the moment, never losing a chance. Yet more than once I've noticed, beforehand, a strange hesitation. He gets fits of the dumps, broods, wonders whether he is doing the right thing, and is as touchy as a bear with a sore head. Well, 'tis almost noon; I must be off; we'll see what the Council has to say."

Desmond watched the major almost with envy as he went off to this momentous meeting. How he wished he was a little older, a little higher in rank, so that he too might have the right to attend! He lay back in the tent wondering what the result of the Council would be.

"If they asked for my vote," he thought, "I'd say fight;" and then he laughed at himself for venturing to have an opinion.

By and by Major Killpatrick returned.

"Well, my boy," he said, "we've carried our point, twelve against seven."

"For fighting?"

"No, my young firebrand; against fighting. You needn't look so chop fallen. There'll be a fight before long; but we're going to run no risks. We'll wait till the monsoon is over and we can collect enough men to smash the Subah."

"Was that Colonel Clive's decision?"

"'Twas, indeed. But let me tell you, there was a comical thing to start with. Lieutenant Hayter, one of Watson's men, was bid to the Council, but the nincompoop was huffed because he wasn't allowed precedence of the Company's captains. These naval men's airs are vastly amusing. He took himself off. Then Mr. Clive put the case; fight at once, or wait. Against the custom, he himself voted first—against immediate action. Then he asked me and Grant in turn; we voted with him. 'Twas Eyre Coote's turn next; he voted t'other way, and gave his reasons—uncommonly well, I must admit. He said our men were in good spirits, and had been damped enough by the rains. The Frenchman Law might come up and join the Nawab, and then every froggy who entered our service after Chandernagore would desert and fight against us. We're so far from Calcutta 'twould be difficult to protect our communications. These were his reasons. I watched Clive while Coote was speaking; he stuck his lips together and stared at him; and, have you noticed? he squints a trifle when he looks hard. Well, the voting went on, and ended as I said—twelve against immediate action, seven for."

"How did the Bengal men vote?"

"I'm bound to say, for—except Le Beaume. 'Twas the Madras men who outvoted 'em."

"Well, with all respect, sir, I think the opinion of the Bengal men, who know the people and the country, ought to have outweighed the opinion of strangers. Still, it would be difficult to oppose Colonel Clive."

Further conversation was cut short by the arrival of a messenger summoning Desmond to attend the colonel.

"Where is he?" he asked.

"Under a clump of trees beyond the camp, sir. He's been there by himself an hour or more."

Desmond hurried off. On the way he met Major Coote.

"Hullo, Burke," cried the major; "you've heard the news?"

"Yes, and I'm sorry for it."

"All smoke, my dear boy, all smoke. Colonel Clive has been thinking it over, and has decided to disregard the decision of the Council and cross the river at sunrise tomorrow."

Desmond could not refrain from flinging up his hat and performing other antics expressive of delight; he was caught in the act by Clive himself, who was returning to his tent.

"You're a madcap, Burke," he said. "Come to my tent."

He employed Desmond during the next hour in writing orders to the officers of his force. This consisted of about nine hundred Europeans, two hundred Topasses, a few lascars, and some two thousand Sepoys. Eight six-pounders and two howitzers formed the whole of the artillery. Among the Europeans were about fifty sailors, some from the king's ships, some from merchantmen. Among the latter were Mr. Toley and Bulger, whose excellent service in capturing the Good Intent had enforced their request to be allowed to accompany the little army.

Shortly before dawn on June twenty-second Clive's men began to cross the river. The passage being made in safety, they rested during the hot hours, and resumed their march in the evening amid a heavy storm of rain, often having to wade waist-high the flooded fields. Soon after midnight the men, drenched to the skin, reached a mango grove somewhat north of the village of Plassey: and there, as they lay down in discomfort to snatch a brief sleep before dawn, they heard the sound of tom toms and trumpets from the Nawab's camp three miles away.

"'Tis a real comfort, that there noise," remarked Bulger as he stirred his campfire with his hook. Desmond had come to bid him good night. "Ay, true comfort to a sea-goin' man like me. For why? 'Cos it makes me feel at home. Why, I don't sleep easy if there en't some sort o' hullabaloo—wind or wave, or, if ashore, cats a-caterwaulin'. No, Mr. Subah, Nawab, or whatsomdever you call yourself, you won't frighten Bill Bulger with your tum-tum-tumin'. I may be wrong, Mr. Burke, which I never am, but there'll be tum-tum-tum of another sort tomorrer."

The grove held by Clive's troops was known as the Laksha Bagh—the grove of a hundred thousand trees. It was nearly half a mile long and three hundred yards broad. A high embankment ran all round it, and beyond this a weedy ditch formed an additional protection against assault. A little north of the grove, on the bank of the river Cossimbazar, stood a stone hunting box belonging to Sirajuddaula. Still farther north, near the river, was a quadrangular tank, and beyond this a redoubt and a mound of earth. The river there makes a loop somewhat like a horseshoe in shape, and in the neck of land between the curves of the stream the Nawab had placed his intrenched camp.

His army numbered nearly seventy thousand men, of whom fifty thousand were infantry, armed with matchlocks, bows and arrows, pikes and swords. He had in all fifty-three guns, mounted on platforms drawn by elephants and oxen. The most efficient part of his artillery was commanded by Monsieur Sinfray, who had under him some fifty Frenchmen from Chandernagore. The Nawab's vanguard consisted of fifteen thousand men under his most trusty lieutenants, including Manik Chand and Mir Madan. Rai Durlabh, the captor of Cossimbazar, and two other officers commanded separate divisions.

Dawn had hardly broken on June twenty-third, King George's birthday, when Mir Madan with a body of picked troops, seven thousand foot, five thousand horse, and Sinfray's artillery, moved out to the attack with great clamor of trumpets and drums. The remainder of the Nawab's army formed a wide arc about the north and east of the English position. Nearest to the grove was Mir Jafar's detachment.

The English were arranged in four divisions, under Majors Killpatrick, Grant and Coote, and Captain Gaupp. These had taken position in front of the embankment, the guns on the left, the Europeans in the center, the Sepoys on the right. Sinfray's gunners occupied an eminence near the tank about two hundred yards in advance of the grove, and made such good play that Clive, directing operations from the Nawab's hunting box, deemed it prudent to withdraw his men into the grove, where they were sheltered from the enemy's fire. The Nawab's troops hailed this movement with loud shouts of exultation, and, throwing their guns forward, opened a still more vigorous cannonade, which, however, did little damage.

If Mir Madan had had the courage and dash to order a combined assault, there is very little doubt that he must have overwhelmed Clive's army by sheer weight of numbers. But he let the opportunity slip. Meanwhile Clive had sent forward his two howitzers and two large guns to check Sinfray's fire.

Midday came, and save for the cannonading no fighting had taken place. Clive left the hunting box, called his officers together, and gave orders that they were to hold their positions during the rest of the day and prepare to storm the Nawab's camp at midnight. He was still talking to them when a heavy shower descended, the rain falling in torrents for an hour. Wet through, Clive hastened to the hunting lodge to change his clothes.

Scarcely had he departed when the enemy's fire slackened. Their ammunition, having been left exposed, had been rendered almost entirely useless by the rain. Fancying that the English gunners had been equally careless, Mir Madan ordered his horse to charge; but the Englishmen had kept their powder dry and received the cavalry with a deadly fire that sent them headlong back. At this moment Mir Madan himself was killed by a cannonball, and his followers, dismayed at his loss, began a precipitate retreat to their intrenchments.

Clive was still absent. The sight of the enemy retreating was too much for Major Killpatrick. Forgetting the order to maintain his position, he thought the moment opportune for a general advance. He turned to Desmond, who had remained at his side all the morning, and said:

"Burke, run off to Mr. Clive, and tell him the Moors are retreating, and I am following up."

Desmond hurried away, and reached the hunting box just as Clive had completed his change of clothes. He delivered his message. Then for the first time he saw Clive's temper at full blaze. With a passionate imprecation he rushed from the lodge, and came upon the gallant major just as he was about to lead his men to the assault.

"What the deuce do you mean, sir, by disobeying my orders? Take your men back to the grove, and be quick about it."

His tone stung like a whip. But Killpatrick had the courage of his opinions, and Desmond admired the frank manner in which he replied.

"I beg a thousand pardons, Mr. Clive, for my breach of orders, but I thought 'twas what you yourself, sir, would have done, had you been on the spot. If we can drive the Frenchmen from that eminence yonder we command the field, sir, and—"

"You're right, sir," said Clive, his rage subsiding as easily as it had arisen. "You're too far forward to retire now. I'll lead your companies. Bring up the rest of the men from the grove."

Placing himself at the head of two companies of grenadiers he continued the advance. Sinfray did not await the assault. He hastily evacuated his position, retiring on the redoubt near the Nawab's intrenchments. It was apparent to Clive that the main body of the enemy was by this time much demoralized, and he was eager to make a vigorous attack upon them while in this state. But two circumstances gave him pause. To advance upon the intrenchments would bring him under a crossfire from the redoubt, and he had sufficient respect for the Frenchmen to hesitate to risk losses among his small body of men. Further, the movements of the enemy's detachments on his right caused him some uneasiness. He suspected that they were the troops of Mir Jafar and Rai Durlabh, but he had no certain information on that point, nor had he received a message from them. He knew that Mir Jafar was untrustworthy, therefore he was unwilling to risk a general assault until assured that the troops on his flank were not hostile to him.

The doubt was suddenly resolved when he saw them check their movement, retire, and draw apart from the remainder of the Nawab's army. Giving the word at once to advance, he led his men to storm the redoubt and the mound on its right. For a short time Sinfray and his gallant Frenchmen showed a bold front; but the vigorous onslaught of the English struck fear into the hearts of his native allies; the news that the Nawab had fled completed their panic; and then began a wild and disorderly flight; horsemen galloping from the field; infantry scampering this way and that; elephants trumpeting; camels screaming, as they charged through the rabble. With British cheers and native yells Clive's men poured into the Nawab's camp, some dashing on in pursuit of the enemy, others delaying to plunder the baggage and stores, of which immense quantities lay open to their hand.

By half-past five on that memorable twenty-third of June the battle was over—the battle that gave Britain immediately the wealthiest province of India and, indirectly, the mastery of the whole of that vast Empire. The loss to the British was only twenty-three killed and fifty wounded.

Clive rested for a while in Sirajuddaula's tent, where he found on his inkstand a list of thirteen courtiers whom, even in that moment of dire extremity, he had condemned to death. From a prisoner it was learned that the Nawab had escaped on a camel with two thousand horsemen, fleeing toward Murshidabad. All day he had been in a state of terror and agitation. Deprived of his bravest officer Mir Madan, betrayed by his own relatives, the wretched youth had not waited for the critical moment. Himself carried to his capital the news of his defeat.

Orders were given to push on that night to Daudpur, six miles north of Plassey. But some time was occupied by Clive's commissariat in replacing their exhausted bullocks with teams captured in the Nawab's camp. Meanwhile Clive sent Eyre Coote forward with a small detachment to keep the enemy on the run. Among those who accompanied him was Desmond, with Bulger and Mr. Toley. Desmond hoped that he might overtake and capture Monsieur Sinfray, from whom he thought it likely he might wrest information about Mrs. Merriman and her daughter. Diggle had made use of Sinfray's house; it was not improbable that the Frenchmen knew something about the ladies. As for the seamen, they were so much disgusted at the tameness of the enemy's resistance that they were eager for anything that promised activity and adventure. Their eagerness was no whit diminished when Desmond mentioned what he had in his mind.

"By thunder, sir," said Bulger, "give me the chanst and I'll learn the mounseer the why and wherefore of it. And as for Diggle—well, I may be wrong, but I'll lay my share o' the prize money out o' the Good Intent that he's hatchin' mischief, and not far off neither. Show a leg, mateys."

Chapter 30: In which Coja Solomon reappears: and gives our hero valuable information.

Before Major Coote reached Daudpur he was overtaken by a horseman bearing a message from Clive.

"A job for you, Burke," said the major, after reading the note. "Mr. Clive is annoyed at the Nawab's escape and thinks he may give us trouble yet if he can join hands with Law and his Frenchmen. I am to send you ahead to reconnoiter. You've been to Murshidabad, I think?"

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

"Well, you know the best part of the road, at any rate. The colonel wants you to go with a small party to Murshidabad and find out whether the Frenchmen have come within reach. You'll have to go on foot: take care you don't get into trouble. Pick your own men, of course. You must have a rest first."

"Two or three hours will be enough for me. If we start soon we shall reach Murshidabad before dawn, and with little risk. I'm to come back and report, sir?"

"Of course. No doubt you will meet us on the way."

On reaching Daudpur Desmond selected twenty Sepoys who knew the country and ordered them to be ready to start with him at midnight. Bulger and Mr. Toley he had already informed of his mission, and he found them more than eager to share in it. Just after midnight the little party set out. A march of some four hours brought them to the outskirts of Murshidabad. Desmond called a halt, encamped for the remainder of the night in a grove of palmyras, and at dawn sent forward one of the Sepoys, disguised as a ryot, to make inquiries as to what was happening in the town.

It was near midday when the man returned. He reported that the Nawab had gone to his palace, while the chiefs who had accompanied or followed him from the field of battle had shown their recognition that his cause was lost by deserting him and going to their own houses. He had heard nothing of the French. The Nawab, in order to ingratiate himself with the people, had thrown open his treasury, from which all and sundry were carrying off what they pleased. The city was in such a disturbed state that it would be exceedingly unsafe for any stranger to enter.

Desmond decided to remain where he was until nightfall, and then to skirt the city and move northwards in the hope of learning something definite of the movements of the French. Meanwhile he sent the man back to learn if anything happened during the day.

In the evening the man returned again. This time he reported that Mir Jafar had arrived with a large force and taken possession of the Nawab's palace of Mansurganj. Immediately after the traitor's arrival Sirajuddaula had collected all the gold and jewels on which he could lay hands and fled with his women. Suspecting that the luckless Nawab was making for Rajmahal in the hope of meeting Law there, Desmond made up his mind to follow. He struck his camp, marched all night, and soon after daybreak reached a village near the river some miles south of Rajmahal.

He was surprised to find the village deserted. But passing a small house, he heard cries of distress, and going in he found the place full of smoke from some straw that had been kindled, and a man tied by his thumbs to a staple in the wall. He recognized the man in a moment. It was Coja Solomon, Mr. Merriman's rascally agent of Cossimbazar. He was half dead with pain and fright. Desmond cut him loose and hurried him out of the stifling room into the open, where Bulger revived him with copious douses of water until he was sufficiently recovered to explain his unhappy plight.

"God be praised!" exclaimed the Armenian fervently. "You were in time, sir. I was seeking safety. The Faujdar of Murshidabad villainously ill-used me. He owes me much, but there is no gratitude in him. I saw that neither my life nor my goods were safe, so I packed up what valuables I could and left with my servants, intending to go to Patna, where I have a house. I had just reached this village when I saw a band of some fifty horsemen approaching from the other end, and fearing that I might be set upon and plundered I hastily concealed my goods at the edge of the tank hard by. Alas! it availed me nothing. My servants were dispersed, and the risaldar of the horsemen, a European, seized me and thrust me into this house, abandoned like all the rest, for the people fled before his approach, fearing he would burn and destroy. Then I was tied up as you saw, until I confessed where my valuables were hidden; one of my servants must have betrayed me. The risaldar promised to release me as soon as I should confess: but instead of that he set fire to the straw out of pure villainy, for what could I do to him? I have been a good friend to the English. Sir, pursue that man: he must be a Frenchman. I will give you a quarter, nay, a third of my goods, if you recover them."

"That is impossible, Khwaja. I've only twenty men on foot: what is the use of pursuing fifty on horseback? Your friendship for the British has come, I fear, a little too late."

The Armenian wrung his hands in despair, whining that he was a ruined man. Then his tone changed; was there not still a chance? He explained that, a few hours before his capture, he had met a man who had recognized him as the agent for Mr. Merriman. The man said that he was a servant of Surendra Nath Chuckerbutti and was on his way to meet Clive Sahib, carrying a letter to him from his master. But he was worn out, having come on foot a day and a night without rest. Coja Solomon unblushingly confessed that, while the man slept at midday, he had taken the letter from him and read it.

"Why did you do that?"

"I thought it would be safer with me, for every one knows—"

"Yes, that'll do, Khwaja; go on with your story."

"The letter was written at Malda, a village on the other side of the river, and the writer, Surendra Nath, informed Mr. Clive that the wife and daughter of Mr. Merriman were in his house there, and asked him to send a party to bring them away. Naturally, sir, I was pleased to find—"

"Go on with your story," cried Desmond impatiently, all excitement at coming upon the track of the ladies at last.

"It was while I was reading the letter that the horsemen came up. The risaldar took it from me, read it, and questioned me. His face changed. He smiled evilly, and from the questions he asked me, and from what I heard him say to his followers, he has gone to Malda, with a design to take these ladies."

"Stay, Khwaja, what was he like?"

"He was a tall man, with scars on his face, and on his right hand he wore a black glove."

"The scoundrel!" exclaimed Desmond.

His look of trouble and anxiety did not escape the Armenian.

"It is but a little since he left me," he said. "If you make your way to the village—it is three coss on the other side of the river—you may capture him, sir, as well as regain my property, a third of which is yours."

"But how—how, man?" cried Desmond impatiently. "How can we overtake him on foot?"

"He will have to ride near to Rajmahal to find a ford, sir. He will cross there, and ride back down the river some five coss before he comes to Malda."

"But could he not swim the river?"

"He could, sir, but it is a feat he is not likely to attempt, seeing that there is no need for haste. I implore you, sir, start at once. Otherwise I am a ruined man; my old age will be spent in poverty and distress."

"If he can not cross, how can I?" said Desmond.

"There is sure to be a boat on the bank, sir, unless they have all been seized by the Nawab, who, rumor says, is coming from Bhagwangola by river to Rajmahal."

Desmond felt uneasy and perplexed. He doubted whether his duty to Clive did not forbid him to go in search of the ladies, and there was no possibility of communicating in time with either Clive or Coote. Then it suddenly occurred to him that pursuit of Diggle might well come within his duty. Diggle was in the service of the Nawab; it was possible that he was even leading an advance guard of Law's Frenchmen.

"Were there any other Europeans besides the risaldar among the horsemen?" he asked.

"Two, sahib, and they were French. I suspect they were from the force of Law, sahib; he was, I know, at Patna a few days ago."

Desmond hesitated no longer. His affection for Mr. Merriman prompted an attempt to save the ladies: his mission from Clive was to discover the movements of the French. If he set off on Diggle's track he might succeed in both. It was a risky adventure—to pursue fifty men under such a leader as Diggle, with only a score. But twice before he had tried conclusions with Diggle and come off best: why should fortune fail him again?

Hurriedly explaining the situation to Mr. Toley and Bulger, he hastened with his men down to the river. There was no boat at the village ghat. He looked anxiously up and down. On the opposite side he saw a long riverboat moored in a narrow backwater. He could only get it by swimming, and here the current ran so swiftly that to swim would be dangerous. Yet on the spur of the moment he was preparing to take to the water himself when one of his men, a slim and active Sepoy, volunteered to go.

"Good! I will give you ten rupees if you bring the boat across. You are a good swimmer?"

"The sahib will see," replied the man, with a salaam and a smile.

He took a kedgeree pot, an earthen vessel used for cooking, and firmly tied to it a stout bamboo some six feet long, so that the thicker end of the pole was even with the mouth of the vessel. The boat was slightly down the stream. The man ran a little way upstream to a point where a spit of land jutted out into the river, his companions following quickly with the pot. This they placed mouth downwards in the water. Then the Sepoy mounted on top, launched himself on this novel buoy, and, holding on to the pole, floated breast high in the water down with the current, dexterously steering himself with his legs to the point where the boat was moored. Soon he reached the spot. He clambered into the boat and with rapid movements of the stern oar brought it to the other side, viewing with beaming face the promised reward.

While this was going on the sky had been darkening. A northwester was coming up, and after his experience on the eve of Plassey, Desmond knew what that meant. He hastily embarked his men, and the boat started: but it had scarcely covered a third of the distance across the river when the wind struck it. Fortunately the sail was not up: as it was, the flat-bottomed boat was nearly swamped. Drenching rain began to fall. The river was lashed to fury: for three crowded minutes it seemed to Desmond a miracle that the boat was still afloat. The waves dashed over its sides; the men, blinded by the rain, were too much cowed to attempt to bail out.

Desmond was at the helm; Bulger and Toley had an oar each; although only a few yards distant, Desmond could scarcely see them through the pelting rain. Then the wind moderated somewhat: he peremptorily ordered the men to use their brass lotis {drinking vessel} to bale out the boat, and determined to turn the storm to account.

With great difficulty he got the sail hoisted; and then the vessel ran down the river at racing speed. The distance to Malda, as the Armenian had told him, was six miles—four by river, two by land. By Diggle's route it was ten miles. The horsemen had had such a start of him that he feared he could not overtake them in time. Still, the storm that now helped him would hinder them. If he survived the perils of the river passage he might even yet succeed.

He was alive to the risks he ran. More than once, as the wind changed a point, it seemed that the cranky craft must turn turtle. But she escaped again and again, plunging on her headlong course. The Sepoys were sturdy enough fellows, but being unused to the water they cowered in the bottom of the boat, except when Desmond's stern command set them frantically bailing.

Almost before it seemed possible they came in sight of a bend in the river which one of the men, who knew the district, had described to Desmond as the nearest point to the village he sought. So rapid had the passage been that Desmond felt that, if they could only land in safety, they might have gained considerably on Diggle's horsemen. The latter must have felt the full effect of the gale: it was likely that they had taken shelter for a time. Desmond and his men were wet to the skin, but, profiting by the recollection of what had happened at Plassey, they had kept their ammunition dry.

At the bend the river presented a shelving beach, being at least twice as wide at this point during the rainy season as at other periods. Without hesitation Desmond ran the nose of the boat straight at the beach: she came to with a violent bump; the men tumbled out waist deep into the water, and with shrill cries of relief scrambled ashore.

No time was lost. Waiting only to inspect their muskets, Desmond at once began the march, the band being led by the man who knew the country. Another man, a noted runner, formerly a kasid in the employment of the Nawab of the Deccan, was sent in advance to find Surendra Nath's house, give him warning of Desmond's coming, and instruct him to have someone on the lookout for the approach of the enemy, if Diggle were not, indeed, already in possession of the village. The rest pushed on with all speed. The storm had cleared the air: the rain had ceased, and though it was unpleasant walking over the soppy ground, the march was much cooler than it would otherwise have been.

Desmond longed for a hill from which to get a view of the country. But, as almost everywhere in the valley of the Ganges, it was dead flat. The party was within a quarter of a mile of the village when the kasid came running back. He had found the Babu's house. From its flat roof a body of horse had been seen in the distance, nearly a coss away. Desmond at once ordered his men to double, and as they dashed into the village among the wondering people, the kasid pointed out Surendra Nath's house at the far end—a small two-storied building, surrounded by a wall and approached through a rickety iron gateway. It was the first house to which the approaching horsemen would come.

A man in native dress was standing at the gate. At first Desmond did not recognize him, but as he drew nearer he saw that it was Surendra Nath himself, looking years older—weak, thin, sunken-eyed, little like the sleek, well-fed Babu Desmond had last seen in Calcutta.

"Are the ladies safe?" asked Desmond, yards ahead of his men.

"Yes, sir, quite safe," replied Surendra Nath, trembling.

"Thank God for that! Go in, Babu: tell them we are here to protect them."

While speaking he had eagerly scanned the surroundings. On each side of the sodden track that did duty for a road there was a mango grove. Desmond directed Toley to take four men to one side, and Bulger four men to the other, and place themselves among the trees. When the first three files of the horsemen should have passed through, the seamen were to give the word to fire; then, taking advantage of the inevitable confusion, to rush with their men to the house. Desmond himself meanwhile, with the remaining twelve, set to work to strengthen the defenses. These proceedings were watched with amazement by the villagers, who, men, women, and children, stood in groups, discussing in shrill tones the movements of these energetic strangers.

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