Occasionally it was broken by the voice of one of the others; now and again there was a brief interval of silence; then the Gujarati began again. Desmond’s thoughts were once more diverted to his own strange fate. Little more than a year before, he had been a boy, with no more experience than was to be gained within the narrow circuit of a country farm. What a gamut of adventure he had run through since then! He smiled as he thought that none of the folks at Market Drayton would recognize, in the muscular, strapping, suntanned seaman, the slim boy of Wilcote Grange. His imagination had woven many a chain of incident, and set him in many a strange place; but never had it presented a picture of himself in command of as mixed a crew as was ever thrown together, navigating unknown waters without chart or compass, a fugitive from the chains of an Eastern despot.
His quick fancy was busy even now. He felt that it was not for nothing he had been brought into his present plight; and at the back of his mind was the belief, founded on his strong wish and hope, that the magnetism of Clive’s personality, which he had felt so strongly at Market Drayton, was still influencing his career.
At midnight Fuzl Khan relieved him at the wheel, and he turned in. His sleep was troubled. It was a warm night—unusually warm for the time of year. There were swarms of cockroaches and rats on board; the cockroaches huge beasts, three times the size of those that overran the kitchen at home; the rats seeming as large as the rabbits he had been wont to shoot on the farm. They scurried about with their little restless noises, which usually would have had no power to break his sleep; but now they worried him. He scared them into silence for a moment by striking upon the floor; but the rustle and clipper clapper immediately began again.
After vain efforts to regain his sleep, he at length rose and went on deck. He did not move with intentional quietness, but he was barefoot, and his steps made no sound. It was a black night, a warm haze almost shutting out the stars. As he reached the deck he heard low murmurs from a point somewhere aft. He had no idea what the time was: Shaik Mahomet had the water clock, with which he timed the watches; and Desmond’s could not yet be due. Avoiding the spot where the conversation was in progress, he leaned over the bulwarks, and gazed idly at the phosphorescent glow upon the water.
Then he suddenly became aware that the sounds of talking came from near the wheel, and Fuzl Khan was among the talkers. What made the man so uncommonly talkative? Seemingly he was taking up the thread where it had been dropped earlier in the night; what was it about?
Desmond asked himself the question without much interest, and was again allowing his thoughts to rove when he caught the word “sahib,” and then the word “Firangi” somewhat loudly spoken. Immediately afterwards there was a low hiss from the Gujarati, as of one warning another to speak lower. The experiences of the past year had quickened Desmond’s wits; with reason he had become more suspicious than of yore, and the necessity to be constantly on his guard had made him alert, alive to the least suggestion.