Diggle at the first shock had staggered to his feet and stumbled toward the barricade. As he reached it, a black boy, springing as it were out of the earth, hastened to him and helped him to crawl between the wheels of a cart and down the slope. On the boy’s arm he limped toward his horse, tethered to a tree. A wounded wretch was clumsily attempting to mount. Him Diggle felled; then he crawled painfully into the saddle and galloped away, Scipio Africanus leaping up behind.
By this time his followers were dispersing in all directions—all but eight luckless men who would never more wield cutlass or lathi, and a dozen who lay on one side or other of the barricade, too hard hit to move.
Diggle’s escape passed unnoticed until it was too late to pursue him. At the sight of Toley and his messmates of the Hormuzzeer, Bulger had let fall his musket and dropped to the ground, where he sat mopping his face and crying, “Go it, mateys!” Desmond felt a strange faintness, and leaned dizzily against one of the hackeris. But, revived by a draft from Mr. Toley’s flask, he thanked the mate warmly, and wanted to hear how he had contrived to come up in time.
When Desmond’s messenger arrived in Calcutta, Mr. Merriman was away up the river, engaged in very serious business. The messenger had applied to the governor, to members of the Council, to Captain Minchin and other officers, and the reply of one and all was the same: they could do nothing; it was more important that every man should be employed in strengthening the defenses of Calcutta than in going upcountry on what might prove a vain and useless errand. But Toley happened to be in the town, and learning of the difficulties and perils of his friend Burke, with the captain’s consent he had hastily collected the crew of the Hormuzzeer, that still lay off the fort, and led them, under the guidance of the messenger, to support him. Meeting Surendra Nath, and learning from him that a fight was imminent, he had pushed on with all speed, the Babu leading the way.
“It was well done,” said Desmond warmly. “We owe our lives to you, and Mr. Merriman his goods. But what was the business that took Mr. Merriman from Calcutta at this time of trouble?”
“Trouble of his own, Burke,” said Mr. Toley. “I guess he’d better have let the Nawab keep his goods and sent you to look after his womenfolk.”
“What do you mean? I left the ladies at Khulna; what has happened to them?”
“’Tis what Mr. Merriman would fain know. They’ve disappeared, gone clean out of sight.”
“But the peons?”
“Gone, too. Nothing heard or seen of them.”
This serious news came as a shock to Desmond. If he had only known! How willingly he would have let Coja Solomon do what he pleased with the goods, and hastened to the help of the wife and daughter Mr. Merriman held so dear! While in Cossimbazar, he had heard from Mr. Watts terrible stories of the Nawab’s villainy, which no respect of persons held in check. He feared that if Mrs. Merriman and Phyllis had indeed fallen into Sirajuddaula’s hands, they were lost to their family and friends forever.