“‘Twas that there Diggle as was the why and wherefore o’ this little ornament, sir, and ’twas only right he should be paid for what he done. We fell down, him and me; I was under. He hoisted himself on his hands to get free, and I lifted my hook, sir, and caught him a blow under the chin. If it didn’t break his neck, sir, my name en’t Bill Bulger, which I’m sorry for his poor wicked soul all the same.”
Phyllis had her hands clasped about Desmond’s arm.
“Is he dead?” she asked in a voice of awe.
“Come away,” said Desmond quietly, leading her toward the house. “Let us find your mother.”
Chapter 31: In which friends meet, and part: and our hero hints a proposal.
The fight was over. It was Diggle’s quarrel; neither the Frenchmen nor the natives had any concern in it, and when their leader was dead they had no more interest in continuing the struggle. They drew off; the weary defenders collected the dead and attended to the wounded; and Desmond went into the house.
“God bless you, Mr. Burke!” said Mrs. Merriman, tears streaming from her eyes as she met him and clasped his hands. “You are not hurt?”
“Just a scratch or two, ma’am: nothing to trouble about.”
But the ladies insisted on bathing the two slight wounds on head and arm which in the heat of the fight he had not noticed. And then Mrs. Merriman told him all that had happened since the day he left them in such merry spirits at Khulna. How they had been trapped by Diggle, pretending to be a Monsieur de Bonnefon: how he had conveyed them to the house of his friend Sinfray: how after many months their whereabouts had been revealed to Surendra Nath by one of his numerous relatives, a man who had a distant cousin among Sinfray’s servants: how the Babu, displaying unwonted energy, had come with a number of friends and fallen unawares upon their captors, afterward taking them to a house of his father’s in this village: how the old man and his son had both been stricken with jungle fever, and the father died, and when the Babu lay helpless and unconscious on his sickbed they had found no means of communicating with their friends.
Mrs. Merriman shuddered as she spoke of the terrors of their captivity. They had been well treated, indeed; Monsieur de Bonnefon, or Diggle, as she afterward learned to call him, had visited them several times and seen that their wants were supplied. But their enforced seclusion and inactivity, their dread of the unknown, their uncertainty as to what might have befallen Mr. Merriman, had told heavily upon their health and spirits. Rumor brought news of the tragedy of the Black Hole: they heard that the few survivors were prisoners of the Nawab; and they feared the worst. From Surendra Nath they learned that they need not despair; and since then they had lived on in the hope that, when the Babu had recovered from his illness, he would find some means of restoring them to the husband and father from whom they had so long been parted.