“I’ll send my man to release him. The fleet are all coming up, sir?”
“Yes; the Bridgewater and Kingfisher are close in our wake. Come along; we’ll catch the admiral before he goes ashore.”
Desmond received a warm welcome both from Admiral Watson and Colonel Clive. His account of the manner in which he had defeated Manik Chand’s scheme for blocking the river was received with shouts of laughter, while his ingenuity and courage were warmly commended by both officers. Indeed, the admiral, always more impulsive than Clive, offered him on the spot a lieutenancy in the fleet, and was not very well pleased when Desmond politely declined the honor. He caught a gleam of approval in Clive’s eyes, and later in the day, when he saw his hero alone, he felt well rewarded.
“A naval lieutenant ranks higher than a lieutenant in the army—I suppose you know that, Burke?” said Clive.
“And you’re only a cadet. From today you are a lieutenant, my lad. I am pleased with you, and whatever his enemies say of Bob Clive, no one ever said of him that he forgot a friend.”
The forces proceeded to Calcutta next day, and retook the town with surprising ease. Manik Chand was so much alarmed by seeing the effect of the big guns of the fleet that he abandoned the place almost without striking a blow, and when the British troops entered they were too late even to make any prisoners save a few of the ragtag and bobtail in the rear.
Mr. Merriman returned to Calcutta a few days later. Desmond was grieved to observe how rapidly he was aging. In spite of Clive’s recommendation to keep silence he could not refrain from telling his friend what he had discovered about the missing ladies; and he did not regret it, for the knowledge that they were alive and, when last heard of, out of Peloti’s clutches, acted like a tonic. Merriman was all eagerness to set off and search for them himself; but Desmond pointed out the danger of such a course, and he reluctantly agreed to wait a little longer, and see whether any news could be obtained during the operations which Clive was planning against the Nawab.
Meanwhile, Desmond learned from Bulger what had happened to him since the fall of Calcutta. He was one of the hundred and forty-six thrown into the Black Hole.
“’Tis only by the mercy of the Almighty I’m here today,” he said solemnly. “I saw what ’twould be as soon as the door of that Black Hole was locked, and me and some others tried to force it. ’Tweren’t no good. Mr. Holwell—he’s a brave man, an’ no mistake—begged an’ prayed of us all to be quiet; but Lor’ bless you, he might ha’ saved his breath. ’Twas a hot night; we soon began to sweat most horrible an’ feel a ragin’ thirst. We took off most