Diggle waved him away.
“That, my dear boy, illustrates the darker side of Angria’s character—the side which forbids me to call Angria unreservedly my friend. A year ago that man was as straight as you; he had all his organs and dimensions; he was rich, and of importance in his little world. Today—but you have seen him: it boots not to attempt in words to say what the living image has already said.
“And within twenty-four hours, unless you come to a better mind, even as that man is, so will you be.”
He rose slowly to his feet, bending upon Desmond a look of mournful interest and compassion. Desmond had stood all but transfixed with horror. But as Diggle now prepared to leave him, the boy flushed hot; his fists clenched; his eyes flashed with indignation.
“You fiend!” was all he said.
Diggle smiled, and sauntered carelessly away.
That night, when the prisoners were brought as usual to the shed, and warder and sentries were out of earshot, Desmond told them what he had seen.
“It must be tonight, my brothers,” he said in conclusion. “We have no longer time. Before sunrise tomorrow we must be out of this evil place. We must work, work, for life and liberty.”
This night again the singer sang untiringly, the tom tom accompanying him with its weird hollow notes. And in the blackness, Desmond worked as he had never worked before, plying his saw hour after hour, never forgetting his caution, running no risks when he had warning of the sentry’s approach. And hour after hour the shower of sawdust fell noiselessly into Babu’s outspread dhoti. Then suddenly the beating of the tom tom ceased, the singer’s voice died away on a lingering wail, and the silence of the night was unbroken save by the melancholy howl of a distant jackal, and the call of sentry to sentry as at intervals they went their rounds.
At midnight the guard was relieved. The newcomer—a tall, thin, lanky Maratha—arriving at Desmond’s shed, put his head in at the little window space, and flashed his lantern from left to right more carefully than the man whom he had just replaced. The nine forms lay flat or curled up on their charpoys—all was well.
Coming back an hour later, he fancied he heard a slight sound within the shed. He went to the window and peered in, flashing his lantern before him from left to right. But as he did so, he felt upon his throat a grip as of steel. He struggled to free himself; his cry was stifled ere it was uttered; his matchlock fell with a clatter to the ground. He was like a child in the hands of his captor, and when the Gujarati in a fierce low whisper said to him: “Yield, hound, or I choke you!” his struggle ceased and he stood trembling in sweat.
But now came the sentries’ call, passed from man to man around the circuit of the fort.
“Answer the call!” whispered the Gujarati, with a significant squeeze of the man’s windpipe.