I have not attempted in this story to give a full account of the career of Lord Clive. That has been done by my old friend, Mr. Henty, in “With Clive in India.” It has always seemed to me that a single book provides too narrow a canvas for the display of a life so full and varied as Clive’s, and that a work of fiction is bound to suffer, structurally and in detail, from the compression of the events of a lifetime within so restricted a space. I have therefore chosen two outstanding events in the history of India—the capture of Gheria and the battle of Plassey—and have made them the pivot of a personal story of adventure. The whole action of the present work is comprised in the years from 1754 to 1757.
But while this book is thus rather a romance with a background of history than an historical biography with an admixture of fiction, the reader may be assured that the information its pages contain is accurate. I have drawn freely upon the standard authorities: Orme, Ives, Grose, the lives of Clive by Malcolm and Colonel Malleson, and many other works; in particular the monumental volumes by Mr. S.C. Hill recently published, “Bengal in 1756-7,” which give a very full, careful and clear account of that notable year, with a mass of most useful and interesting documents. The maps of Bengal, Fort William and Plassey are taken from Mr. Hill’s work by kind permission of the Secretary of State for India. I have to thank also Mr. T. P. Marshall, of Newport, for some valuable notes on the history and topography of Market Drayton.
For several years I myself lived within a stone’s throw of the scene of the tragedy of the Black Hole; and though at that time I had no intention of writing a story for boys, I hope that the impressions of Indian life, character and scenery then gained have helped to create an atmosphere and to give reality to my picture. History is more than a mere record of events; and I shall be satisfied if the reader gets from these pages an idea, however imperfect, of the conditions of life under which all empire builders labored in India a hundred and fifty years ago.
One fine autumn evening, in the year 1754, a country cart jogged eastwards into Market Drayton at the heels of a thick-set, shaggy-fetlocked and broken-winded cob. The low tilt, worn and ill fitting, swayed widely with the motion, scarcely avoiding the hats of the two men who sat side by side on the front seat, and who, to a person watching their approach, would have appeared as dark figures in a tottering archway, against a background of crimson sky.