One day, before the matter of the command had been definitely settled, Desmond received a summons from Clive. He found the great soldier alone.
“You have heard of the discussions in the Council, Mr. Burke,” began Clive without ceremony. “I tell you this: I and no other will command this expedition. In that confidence I have sent for you. What I have heard of you speaks well for your readiness and resource, and I think you could be more useful to me in the Hugli than waiting here until our respected Council can make up their minds. The men here are not acquainted with Bengal. You are: you know the country from Calcutta to Murshidabad, at all events, and you speak Hindustani with some fluency. You can serve me best by picking up any information you can get regarding the enemy’s movements. You are willing, I take it, to run some risks?”
“I’ll do anything you wish, sir.”
“As I expected. Well, you will go at once to Fulta. Not to Mr. Drake: I’ve no confidence in him and the other old women who are conducting the Company’s affairs in Bengal. Major Killpatrick, an excellent officer, left here in June with a small reinforcement. He is now at Fulta. You will join him. I shall ask him to give you a free hand in going and coming and collecting information. You understand that in a sense you are on secret service. I want you to keep an eye particularly on the movements of the French. ’Tis reported that they are in league with Sirajuddaula: find out whether that’s the case: and gad, sir, if it is, I’ll not be satisfied till I’ve turned ’em neck and crop out of Bengal. You’ll want money: here are five thousand rupees; if you want more, ask Major Killpatrick. Now, when can you start?”
“The Hormuzzeer is sailing in ballast tomorrow, sir. She’ll go light, and aboard her I should get to Fulta as quickly as on any other vessel.”
“Very well. I trust you: much depends on your work; go on as you have begun and I promise you Robert Clive won’t forget it. Goodby.
“By the way, your duties will take you through the parts where Mrs. Merriman disappeared. Your first duty is to me, and through me to your king and country, remember that. But if you can get any news of the missing ladies, so much the better. Mrs. Merriman is a cousin of my wife’s, and I am deeply concerned about her fate.”
Next day the Hormuzzeer sailed, and by the middle of September Desmond had reached Fulta, and reported himself both to Major Killpatrick and to Mr. Merriman there.
“Sure ’tis a most pleasant engaging young man,” said Mrs. Merriman, as her boat dropped down the river towards Chandernagore. “Don’t you think so, Phyllis?”
“Why, mamma, it does seem so. But ’tis too soon to make up my mind in ten minutes.”