“The Hormuzzeer will not sail until I return?”
“Not till the goods arrive. Why do you ask?”
“I should like to take Bulger with me. He’s a good companion, with a shrewd head.”
“And a useful hook. I have no objection. You will be ready to start tomorrow, then. You must be up early: traveling will be impossible in the heat of the day.”
“At dawn, sir.”
At sunrise next morning Desmond found his party awaiting him at the Causeway beyond the Maratha ditch. The natives salaamed when he came up in company with Mr. Merriman, and Bulger pulled his forelock.
“Mornin’, sir; mornin’; I may be wrong, but ‘tis my belief we’re goin’ to have a bilin’ hot day, and I’ve come accordin’.”
He was clad in nothing but shirt and breeches, with his coat strapped to his back, and a hat apparently improvised out of cabbage leaves. The natives were all in white, with their employer’s pink ribbons. Some were armed with matchlocks and pikes; others carried light cooking utensils; others, groceries for the Englishmen’s use; for their own food they depended on the villages through which they would pass.
“Well, I wish you a good journey,” said Mr. Merriman, who appeared to be in better spirits than for many a day. “I’m glad to tell you, Burke, that I got a letter from Mr. Watts this morning, saying that my wife and daughter are on their way down the river with Mrs. Watts and her children. They’ve got Mr. Warren Hastings to escort them: trust ’em to find a handsome man! The road follows the river, and if you look out I dare say you will see them. You’ll recognize our livery. Introduce yourself if you meet ’em. You have your letter from Mr. Watts? That’s all right. Goodby, and good luck to you.”
The party set off. The old road by which they were to travel ran at a short distance from the left bank of the Hugli, passing through an undulating country, interspersed with patches of low wood and scattered trees. The scenery was full of charm for Desmond: the rich vegetation; antelopes darting among the trees; flamingoes and pelicans standing motionless at the edge of the slow-gliding river; white-clad figures coming down the broad steps of the riverside ghats to bathe; occasionally the dusky corpse of some devotee consigned by his relations to the bosom of the holy river.
The first halt was called at Barrackpur, where, amid a luxuriant grove of palms and bamboos, stood some beautiful pagodas, built of the unburnt brick of the country, and faced with a fine stucco that gleamed in the sunlight like polished marble. Here, under the shade of the palms, Desmond lay through the hot afternoon, watching the boats of all shapes and sizes that floated lazily down the broad-bosomed