“Indeed, miss! Let me tell you I made up my mind about your father in five. La, how Merriman will laugh when he hears ’twas Mr. Burke gave him that scar—
“What is the matter, Munnoo Khan?”
The boat had stopped with a jerk, and the boatmen were looking at one another with some anxiety. The serang explained that ill luck had caused the boat to strike a snag in the river, and she was taking in water.
“You clumsy man! The Sahib will be angry with you. Make haste, then; row harder.”
“Mamma, ’tis impossible!” cried Phyllis in alarm. “See, the water is coming in fast; we shall be swamped in a few minutes!”
“Mercy me. ’Tis as you say! Munnoo Khan, row to the nearest ghat; you see it there! Sure ’tis a private ghat, belonging to the house of one of the French merchants. He will lend us a boat. ’Twill be vastly annoying if we do not reach home before dark.”
The men just succeeded in reaching the ghat, on the left bank of the river about a mile below Chandernagore, before the boat sank. When the party had landed, Mrs. Merriman sent her jamadar up to the house to ask for the loan of a boat, or for shelter while one was being obtained from Chandernagore.
“Tell the Sahib ’tis the bibi of an English sahib,” she said. “He will not refuse to do English ladies a service.”
The jamadar shortly returned, followed by a tall dark-featured European in white clothes. He bowed and smiled pleasantly when he came down to the ghat, and addressed Mrs. Merriman in French.
“I am happy to be of service, Madam. Alas! I have no boat at hand, but I shall send instantly to Chandernagore for one. Meanwhile, if you will have the goodness to come to my house, my wife will be proud to offer you refreshments, and we shall do our best to entertain you until the boat arrives.
“Permit me, Madam.”
He offered his left hand to assist the lady up the steps.
“I had the mischance to injure my right hand the other day,” he explained. “It is needful to keep it from the air.”
It was thrust into the pocket of his coat.
“The Frenchman is vastly polite,” said Mrs. Merriman to her daughter, as they preceded him up the path to the house. “But there, that is the way with their nation.”
“Hush, mamma!” said Phyllis, “he may understand English.
“I do not like his smile,” she added in a whisper.
“La, my dear, it means nothing; it comes natural to a Frenchman. He looks quite genteel, you must confess; I should not be surprised if he were a somebody in his own land.”
As if in response to the implied question, the man moved to her side, and, in a manner of great deference, said:
“Your jamadar named you to me, Madam; I feel that I ought to explain who I am. My name is Jacques de Bonnefon—a name, I may say it without boasting, once even better known at the court of his Majesty, King Louis the Fifteenth, than in Chandernagore. Alas, Madam fortune is a fickle jade. Here I am now, in Bengal, slowly retrieving by honest commerce a patrimony of which my lamented father was not too careful.”