Another one off the freebee book site Project Gutenberg, another book-for-boys (that’s “YA” for you people in 2014) by Herbert Stang, whose The Adventures of Dick Trevalion I reviewed HERE. In this one, a bold yard of a plucky lad wins his fortune (and England an empire) by bashing the fuzzy-wuzzies in India in the 1750s.
Yes, our boy this time is young Desmond Burke, a farmer lad, son of a famous English trader and now brother to a brutish older brother (a soddish farmer), who hero-worships Robert Clive, the local hometown boy who’s done well on the frontier. Things look ploddingly neutral for our lad until he crosses paths with the questionable Marmaduke Diggle, a caddish fellow with a tongue for Latin and a perchance for trouble. Foreign, urbanely oily, his right hand capped by a mysterious mitten, this is the gentleman who convinces Desmond to try his hand overseas, for pshaw, what can go wrong?
What, other than the fact that he’s not traveling as supercargo but rather an overworked cabin boy, and that Diggle and the foul-mouthed Captain Barker sell our boy into slavery to an Indian pirate-prince. So aye, things are stacked against our hero, likely-seaming.
But Desmond is full of stronger stuff. When Diggle returns to tell the boy to spy against his own flag (the rotter!), Desmond responds by escaping with the pirate’s own cutter in as nice an escape scene as you are likely to read. Eventually (after hot pursuit and a mutiny), the boy reaches Bombay and enters service for the East India Company. He’s got Clive’s eye, but still has to prove himself to his hero.
And so now we’re involved with Desmond’s role in the establishment of British rule over the French and Dutch (and, oh yes, the indigenous Indians), opening the floodgates of untold wealth that would keep the crown afloat for centuries. In this, he weaves through several historic (and many fictional) struggles. And Diggle, a bad penny is there was ever one, keeps showing up to nearly do in our hero, to lose and snarl, cutting loose at the last second. Amazingly, apparently the English are so desperate for heroics that they are willing to trust critical scouting and espionage missions to a cabin boy. Over and over, we see Desmond face heavy odds and win out, because he is, after all, One of Clive’s Heroes.
If anything, the book is fun to read if only for the empirical expressions within. The natives are pretty useless, prone to treachery and generally formationed in near-rout. Stang spent time in India, and the gulf between his worldly outlook of 1906 and our’s of 2014 are apparent here. Yes, it’s easy to sneer in modern-day disdain (and yes, I think I will), but getting around that, it’s a pretty good tale. As one would expect, Desmond evens up with everyone who did him wrong, wins accolades (and the girl) by the end of the book. So if you think you can deal with olde-worlde storytelling, pull this one down from Project Gutenberg. You can get it HERE.