Though the season was now at its hottest, the fresh sea air proved a wonderful tonic to him, and he rapidly regained his strength. The voyage was slow. The Hormuzzeer beat down the Bay of Bengal against the monsoon now beginning, and it was nearly two months before she made Penang. She unloaded there: her cargo was sold at great profit, she being the only vessel that had for some time left the Hugli; and Desmond found his capital increased by nearly a hundred per cent. She then took on a cargo for Madras, where she arrived in the first week of September.
Desmond took the earliest opportunity of going on shore. The roads were studded with Admiral Watson’s fleet, and he learned that Clive was in the town preparing an expedition to avenge the wrong suffered by the English in Calcutta. He hastened to obtain an interview with the colonel.
“’Tis no conventional speech when I say I am glad to see you alive and well, Mr. Burke,” said Clive. “Have you come direct from Calcutta?”
“No, sir. I left there some ten weeks ago for Penang.”
“Then I have later news of my friend Merriman than you. Poor fellow! He is distraught at the loss of his wife and girl. I have received several letters from him. He spoke of you; told me of what you had done at Cossimbazar. Gad, sir, you did right well in defending his goods; and I promise myself if ever I lay hands on that villain Peloti he shall smart for that piece of rascaldom and many more. Are you still minded to take service with me?”
“I should like nothing better, sir, but I doubt whether I can think of it until I see Mr. Merriman.”
“Tut, man, that is unnecessary. ’Twas arranged between Mr. Merriman and me in Bombay that he would release you as soon as a vacancy occurred in the Company’s military establishment. There are several such vacancies now, and I shall be glad to have a Shropshire man as a lieutenant. I trow you are not averse to taking a hand in this expedition?”
“No one who knows what happened in Calcutta can be that, sir.”
“That is settled, then. I appoint you a cadet in the Company’s service.”
“Thank you indeed, sir,” said Desmond, flushing with pleasure. “I have longed all my life to serve under you.”
“You may find me a hard taskmaster,” said Clive, setting his lips in the grim way that so many had cause to fear.
“When do we start, sir?”
“That I can’t say. ’Tis not by my wish we have delayed so long. I will let you know when I require your services. Meanwhile, make yourself acquainted with the officers.”
Desmond learned from his new comrades that there was some disagreement among the Madras Council about the command of the expedition. Clive had volunteered to lead it as soon as the news of the fall of Calcutta arrived; but he was inferior in rank to Colonel Adlercron of the Thirty-ninth Regiment, and that officer was a great stickler for military etiquette. The Council had some reason for anxiety. They were expecting to hear, from outcoming ships, of the outbreak of war between France and England; and as the French were strong in Southern India, it required much moral courage to weaken the force disposable for the defense of Madras.