With many salaams the Bengali led the ladies through the gate and across the compound towards the house. They both walked proudly erect, with a gait very different from that of the native ladies who time and again had followed the same path. They entered the house; the heavy door was shut; and from behind the screens of the room to which they were led they heard the hackeri rumbling away.
Monsieur de Bonnefon, as his palanquin was borne off, soliloquized, ticking off imaginary accounts on the fingers of his left hand; the right hand was partly hidden by a black velvet mitten. His reckoning ran somewhat as follows:
“In account with Edward Merriman:
“Credit—to the hounding out of the Company by his friend Clive: nominal: I made more outside; to scurrilous abuse in public and private: mere words; say fifty rupees; to threat to hang me: mere words again: say fifty rupees. Total credit, say a hundred rupees.
“Debit—to ransom for wife and daughter: two lakhs.
“Balance in my favor, say a hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred rupees.
“In a few weeks, Mr. Edward Merriman, I shall trouble you for a settlement.”
On arriving at Fulta, Desmond found that the European fugitives from Calcutta were living for the most part on board the country ships in the river, while the military were cantoned in huts ashore, on a plain eastward of the town. The avenues leading to their camp were occupied by Sepoys. Desmond lost no time in making his way to Major Killpatrick’s hut and presenting his credentials.
“Very glad to make your acquaintance,” said the major heartily. “Oh yes, I know all about you. Mr. Merriman has told me of the way you brought his cargo through from Cossimbazar, and the plucky stand you made against odds. By Jove, sir, ’twas an amazing good piece of work. You deserved a commission if any youngster ever did, and I’m glad Mr. Clive has done the right thing. Let me tell you, Mr. Clive don’t make mistakes—in military matters, that is to say. And Gheria, now: egad, sir, you must have a head on your shoulders; and that en’t flattery; we soldiers en’t in the habit of laying on the butter.
“You did well; and sure you’ll be of the greatest use to us here. We need a few men as are able to keep their heads in a warm place: and, begad, if they’d such men in Bengal these last months we wouldn’t be rotting here in this fever-haunted place. Why, I’ve lost thirty-two officers and men in less than a couple of months, and I’ll be lucky if I’ve fifty fit for service by the time Mr. Clive arrives. When may we expect him, sir?”
“He couldn’t tell me, sir. The Madras Council can’t make up their minds who is to command the expedition, and they’re waiting for ships from home.”