The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER I.

“Truth is Strange, Stranger than Fiction.”

I think it but right that in making my appearance before the public I should at once acquaint them with my titles and name. My card, as I leave it at the houses of the nobility, my friends, is as follows:—

MAJOR GOLIAH O’GRADY GAHAGAN, H.E.I.C.S.,

Commanding Battalion of Irregular Horse,

AHMEDNUGGAR.

Seeing, I say, this simple visiting ticket, the world will avoid any of those awkward mistakes as to my person, which have been so frequent of late. There has been no end to the blunders regarding this humble title of mine, and the confusion thereby created. When I published my volume of poems, for instance, the Morning Post newspaper remarked “that the Lyrics of the Heart, by Miss Gahagan, may be ranked among the sweetest flowrets of the present spring season.” The Quarterly Review, commenting upon my Observations on the “Pons Asinorum” (4to. London, 1836), called me “Doctor Gahagan,” and so on. It was time to put an end to these mistakes, and I have taken the above simple remedy.

I was urged to it by a very exalted personage. Dining in August last at the palace of the T-lr-es at Paris, the lovely young Duch-ss of Orl — ns (who, though she does not speak English, understands it as well as I do,) said to me in the softest Teutonic, “Lieber Herr Major, haben sie den Ahmednuggarischen-jager-battalion gelassen?” “Warum denn?” said I, quite astonished at her R——l H——— ss’s question. The P—— cess then spoke of some trifle from my pen, which was simply signed Goliah Gahagan.

There was, unluckily, a dead silence as H. R. H. put this question.

“Comment donc?” said H. M. Lo-is Ph-l-ppe, looking gravely at Count Mole; “le cher Major a quitte l’armee! Nicolas donc sera maitre de l’Inde!” H. M—— and the Pr. M-n-ster pursued their conversation in a low tone, and left me, as may be imagined in a dreadful state of confusion. I blushed and stuttered, and murmured out a few incoherent words to explain — but it would not do — I could not recover my equanimity during the course of the dinner and while endeavoring to help an English Duke, my neighbor, to poulet a l’Austerlitz, fairly sent seven mushrooms and three large greasy croutes over his whiskers and shirt-frill. Another laugh at my expense. “Ah! M. le Major,” said the Q—— of the B-lg — ns, archly, “vous n’aurez jamais votre brevet de Colonel.” Her M——y’s joke will be better understood when I state that his Grace is the brother of a Minister.

I am not at liberty to violate the sanctity of private life, by mentioning the names of the parties concerned in this little anecdote. I only wish to have it understood that I am a gentleman, and live at least in DECENT society. Verbum sat.

But to be serious. I am obliged always to write the name of Goliah in full, to distinguish me from my brother, Gregory Gahagan, who was also a Major (in the King’s service), and whom I killed in a duel, as the public most likely knows. Poor Greg! a very trivial dispute was the cause of our quarrel, which never would have originated but for the similarity of our names. The circumstance was this: I had been lucky enough to render the Nawaub of Lucknow some trifling service (in the notorious affair of Choprasjee Muckjee), and his Highness sent down a gold toothpick-case directed to Captain G. Gahagan, which I of course thought was for me: my brother madly claimed it; we fought, and the consequence was, that in about three minutes he received a slash in the right side (cut 6), which effectually did his business:— he was a good swordsman enough — I was THE BEST in the universe. The most ridiculous part of the affair is, that the toothpick-case was his, after all — he had left it on the Nawaub’s table at tiffin. I can’t conceive what madness prompted him to fight about such a paltry bauble; he had much better have yielded it at once, when he saw I was determined to have it. From this slight specimen of my adventures, the reader will perceive that my life has been one of no ordinary interest; and, in fact, I may say that I have led a more remarkable life than any man in the service — I have been at more pitched battles, led more forlorn hopes, had more success among the fair sex, drunk harder, read more, and been a handsomer man than any officer now serving her Majesty.

When I at first went to India in 1802, I was a raw cornet of seventeen, with blazing red hair, six feet four in height, athletic at all kinds of exercises, owing money to my tailor and everybody else who would trust me, possessing an Irish brogue, and my full pay of 120L. a year. I need not say that with all these advantages I did that which a number of clever fellows have done before me — I fell in love, and proposed to marry immediately.

But how to overcome the difficulty? — It is true that I loved Julia Jowler — loved her to madness; but her father intended her for a Member of Council at least, and not for a beggarly Irish ensign. It was, however, my fate to make the passage to India (on board of the “Samuel Snob” East Indiaman, Captain Duffy,) with this lovely creature, and my misfortune instantaneously to fall in love with her. We were not out of the Channel before I adored her, worshipped the deck which she trod upon, kissed a thousand times the cuddy-chair on which she used to sit. The same madness fell on every man in the ship. The two mates fought about her at the Cape; the surgeon, a sober, pious Scotchman, from disappointed affection, took so dreadfully to drinking as to threaten spontaneous combustion; and old Colonel Lilywhite, carrying his wife and seven daughters to Bengal, swore that he would have a divorce from Mrs. L., and made an attempt at suicide; the captain himself told me, with tears in his eyes, that he hated his hitherto-adored Mrs. Duffy, although he had had nineteen children by her.

We used to call her the witch — there was magic in her beauty and in her voice. I was spell-bound when I looked at her, and stark staring mad when she looked at me! O lustrous black eyes! — O glossy night-black ringlets! — O lips! — O dainty frocks of white muslin! — O tiny kid slippers! — though old and gouty, Gahagan sees you still! I recollect, off Ascension, she looked at me in her particular way one day at dinner, just as I happened to be blowing on a piece of scalding hot green fat. I was stupefied at once — I thrust the entire morsel (about half a pound) into my mouth. I made no attempt to swallow, or to masticate it, but left it there for many minutes, burning, burning! I had no skin to my palate for seven weeks after, and lived on rice-water during the rest of the voyage. The anecdote is trivial, but it shows the power of Julia Jowler over me.

The writers of marine novels have so exhausted the subject of storms, shipwrecks, mutinies, engagements, sea-sickness, and so forth, that (although I have experienced each of these in many varieties) I think it quite unnecessary to recount such trifling adventures; suffice it to say, that during our five months’ trajet, my mad passion for Julia daily increased; so did the captain’s and the surgeon’s; so did Colonel Lilywhite’s; so did the doctor’s, the mate’s — that of most part of the passengers, and a considerable number of the crew. For myself, I swore — ensign as I was — I would win her for my wife; I vowed that I would make her glorious with my sword — that as soon as I had made a favorable impression on my commanding officer (which I did not doubt to create), I would lay open to him the state of my affections, and demand his daughter’s hand. With such sentimental outpourings did our voyage continue and conclude.

We landed at the Sunderbunds on a grilling hot day in December, 1802, and then for the moment Julia and I separated. She was carried off to her papa’s arms in a palanquin, surrounded by at least forty hookahbadars; whilst the poor cornet, attended but by two dandies and a solitary beasty (by which unnatural name these blackamoors are called), made his way humbly to join the regiment at head-quarters.

The — th Regiment of Bengal Cavalry, then under the command of Lieut.-Colonel Julius Jowler, C.B., was known throughout Asia and Europe by the proud title of the Bundelcund Invincibles — so great was its character for bravery, so remarkable were its services in that delightful district of India. Major Sir George Gutch was next in command, and Tom Thrupp, as kind a fellow as ever ran a Mahratta through the body, was second Major. We were on the eve of that remarkable war which was speedily to spread throughout the whole of India, to call forth the valor of a Wellesley, and the indomitable gallantry of a Gahagan; which was illustrated by our victories at Ahmednuggar (where I was the first over the barricade at the storming of the Pettah); at Argaum, where I slew with my own sword twenty-three matchlock-men, and cut a dromedary in two; and by that terrible day of Assaye, where Wellesley would have been beaten but for me — me alone: I headed nineteen charges of cavalry, took (aided by only four men of my own troop) seventeen field-pieces, killing the scoundrelly French artillerymen; on that day I had eleven elephants shot under me, and carried away Scindiah’s nose-ring with a pistol-ball. Wellesley is a Duke and a Marshal, I but a simple Major of Irregulars. Such is fortune and war! But my feelings carry me away from my narrative, which had better proceed with more order.

On arriving, I say, at our barracks at Dum Dum, I for the first time put on the beautiful uniform of the Invincibles: a light blue swallow-tailed jacket with silver lace and wings, ornamented with about 3,000 sugar-loaf buttons, rhubarb-colored leather inexpressibles (tights), and red morocco boots with silver spurs and tassels, set off to admiration the handsome persons of the officers of our corps. We wore powder in those days; and a regulation pigtail of seventeen inches, a brass helmet surrounded by leopard-skin with a bearskin top and a horsetail feather, gave the head a fierce and chivalrous appearance, which is far more easily imagined than described.

Attired in this magnificent costume, I first presented myself before Colonel Jowler. He was habited in a manner precisely similar, but not being more than five feet in height, and weighing at least fifteen stone, the dress he wore did not become him quite so much as slimmer and taller men. Flanked by his tall Majors, Thrupp and Gutch, he looked like a stumpy skittle-ball between two attenuated skittles. The plump little Colonel received me with vast cordiality, and I speedily became a prime favorite with himself and the other officers of the corps. Jowler was the most hospitable of men; and gratifying my appetite and my love together, I continually partook of his dinners, and feasted on the sweet presence of Julia.

I can see now, what I would not and could not perceive in those early days, that this Miss Jowler — on whom I had lavished my first and warmest love, whom I had endowed with all perfection and purity — was no better than a little impudent flirt, who played with my feelings, because during the monotony of a sea-voyage she had no other toy to play with; and who deserted others for me, and me for others, just as her whim or her interest might guide her. She had not been three weeks at head-quarters when half the regiment was in love with her. Each and all of the candidates had some favor to boast of, or some encouraging hopes on which to build. It was the scene of the “Samuel Snob” over again, only heightened in interest by a number of duels. The following list will give the reader a notion of some of them:—

1. Cornet Gahagan . . Ensign Hicks, of the Sappers and Miners. Hicks received a ball in his jaw, and was half choked by a quantity of carroty whisker forced down his throat with the ball.

2. Capt. Macgillicuddy, B.N.I., . . Cornet Gahagan. I was run through the body, but the sword passed between the ribs, and injured me very slightly.

3. Capt. Macgillicuddy, B.N.I., . . Mr. Mulligatawny, B.C.S., Deputy-Assistant Vice Sub-Controller of the Boggleywollah Indigo grounds, Ramgolly branch.

Macgillicuddy should have stuck to sword’s-play, and he might have come off in his second duel as well as in his first; as it was, the civilian placed a ball and a part of Mac’s gold repeater in his stomach. A remarkable circumstance attended this shot, an account of which I sent home to the “Philosophical Transactions:” the surgeon had extracted the ball, and was going off, thinking that all was well, when the gold repeater struck thirteen in poor Macgillicuddy’s abdomen. I suppose that the works must have been disarranged in some way by the bullet, for the repeater was one of Barraud’s, never known to fail before, and the circumstance occurred at SEVEN o’clock.6

6 So admirable are the performances of these watches, which will stand in any climate, that I repeatedly heard poor Macgillicuddy relate the following fact. The hours, as it is known, count in Italy from one to twenty-four: the day Mac landed at Naples his repeater rung the Italian hours, from one to twenty-four; as soon as he crossed the Alps it only sounded as usual. — G. O’G. G.

I could continue, almost ad infinitum, an account of the wars which this Helen occasioned, but the above three specimens will, I should think, satisfy the peaceful reader. I delight not in scenes of blood, heaven knows, but I was compelled in the course of a few weeks, and for the sake of this one woman, to fight nine duels myself, and I know that four times as many more took place concerning her.

I forgot to say that Jowler’s wife was a half-caste woman, who had been born and bred entirely in India, and whom the Colonel had married from the house of her mother, a native. There were some singular rumors abroad regarding this latter lady’s history: it was reported that she was the daughter of a native Rajah, and had been carried off by a poor English subaltern in Lord Clive’s time. The young man was killed very soon after, and left his child with its mother. The black Prince forgave his daughter and bequeathed to her a handsome sum of money. I suppose that it was on this account that Jowler married Mrs. J., a creature who had not, I do believe, a Christian name, or a single Christian quality: she was a hideous, bloated, yellow creature, with a beard, black teeth, and red eyes: she was fat, lying, ugly, and stingy — she hated and was hated by all the world, and by her jolly husband as devoutly as by any other. She did not pass a month in the year with him, but spent most of her time with her native friends. I wonder how she could have given birth to so lovely a creature as her daughter. This woman was of course with the Colonel when Julia arrived, and the spice of the devil in her daughter’s composition was most carefully nourished and fed by her. If Julia had been a flirt before, she was a downright jilt now; she set the whole cantonment by the ears; she made wives jealous and husbands miserable; she caused all those duels of which I have discoursed already, and yet such was the fascination of THE WITCH that I still thought her an angel. I made court to the nasty mother in order to be near the daughter; and I listened untiringly to Jowler’s interminable dull stories, because I was occupied all the time in watching the graceful movements of Miss Julia.

But the trumpet of war was soon ringing in our ears; and on the battle-field Gahagan is a man! The Bundelcund Invincibles received orders to march, and Jowler, Hector-like, donned his helmet and prepared to part from his Andromache. And now arose his perplexity: what must be done with his daughter, his Julia? He knew his wife’s peculiarities of living, and did not much care to trust his daughter to her keeping; but in vain he tried to find her an asylum among the respectable ladies of his regiment. Lady Gutch offered to receive her, but would have nothing to do with Mrs. Jowler; the surgeon’s wife, Mrs. Sawbone, would have neither mother nor daughter; there was no help for it, Julia and her mother must have a house together, and Jowler knew that his wife would fill it with her odious blackamoor friends.

I could not, however, go forth satisfied to the campaign until I learned from Julia my fate. I watched twenty opportunities to see her alone, and wandered about the Colonel’s bungalow as an informer does about a public-house, marking the incomings and the outgoings of the family, and longing to seize the moment when Miss Jowler, unbiassed by her mother or her papa, might listen, perhaps, to my eloquence, and melt at the tale of my love.

But it would not do — old Jowler seemed to have taken all of a sudden to such a fit of domesticity, that there was no finding him out of doors, and his rhubarb-colored wife (I believe that her skin gave the first idea of our regimental breeches), who before had been gadding ceaselessly abroad, and poking her broad nose into every menage in the cantonment, stopped faithfully at home with her spouse. My only chance was to beard the old couple in their den, and ask them at once for their cub.

So I called one day at tiffin:— old Jowler was always happy to have my company at this meal; it amused him, he said, to see me drink Hodgson’s pale ale (I drank two hundred and thirty-four dozen the first year I was in Bengal)— and it was no small piece of fun, certainly, to see old Mrs. Jowler attack the currie-bhaut; — she was exactly the color of it, as I have had already the honor to remark, and she swallowed the mixture with a gusto which was never equalled, except by my poor friend Dando apropos d’huitres. She consumed the first three platefuls with a fork and spoon, like a Christian; but as she warmed to her work, the old hag would throw away her silver implements, and dragging the dishes towards her, go to work with her hands, flip the rice into her mouth with her fingers, and stow away a quantity of eatables sufficient for a sepoy company. But why do I diverge from the main point of my story?

Julia, then, Jowler, and Mrs. J. were at luncheon: the dear girl was in the act to sabler a glass of Hodgson as I entered. “How do you do, Mr. Gagin?” said the old hag, leeringly. “Eat a bit o’ currie-bhaut,”— and she thrust the dish towards me, securing a heap as it passed. “What! Gagy my boy, how do, how do?” said the fat Colonel. “What! run through the body? — got well again — have some Hodgson — run through your body too!”— and at this, I may say, coarse joke (alluding to the fact that in these hot climates the ale oozes out as it were from the pores of the skin) old Jowler laughed: a host of swarthy chobdars, kitmatgars, sices, consomahs, and bobbychies laughed too, as they provided me, unasked, with the grateful fluid. Swallowing six tumblers of it, I paused nervously for a moment, and then said —

“Bobbachy, consomah, ballybaloo hoga.”

The black ruffians took the hint and retired.

“Colonel and Mrs. Jowler,” said I solemnly, “we are alone; and you, Miss Jowler, you are alone too; that is — I mean — I take this opportunity to —(another glass of ale, if you please)— to express, once for all, before departing on a dangerous campaign”—(Julia turned pale)—“before entering, I say, upon a war which may stretch in the dust my high-raised hopes and me, to express my hopes while life still remains to me, and to declare in the face of heaven, earth, and Colonel Jowler, that I love you, Julia!” The Colonel, astonished, let fall a steel fork, which stuck quivering for some minutes in the calf of my leg; but I heeded not the paltry interruption. “Yes, by yon bright heaven,” continued I, “I love you, Julia! I respect my commander, I esteem your excellent and beauteous mother; tell me, before I leave you, if I may hope for a return of my affection. Say that you love me, and I will do such deeds in this coming war as shall make you proud of the name of your Gahagan.”

The old woman, as I delivered these touching words, stared, snapped, and ground her teeth, like an enraged monkey. Julia was now red, now white; the Colonel stretched forward, took the fork out of the calf of my leg, wiped it, and then seized a bundle of letters which I had remarked by his side.

“A cornet!” said he, in a voice choking with emotion; “a pitiful, beggarly Irish cornet aspire to the hand of Julia Jowler! Gag, Gahagan, are you mad, or laughing at us? Look at these letters, young man — at these letters, I say — one hundred and twenty-four epistles from every part of India (not including one from the Governor-General, and six from his brother, Colonel Wellesley,)— one hundred and twenty-four proposals for the hand of Miss Jowler! Cornet Gahagan,” he continued, “I wish to think well of you: you are the bravest, the most modest, and, perhaps, the handsomest man in our corps; but you have not got a single rupee. You ask me for Julia, and you do not possess even an anna!”—(Here the old rogue grinned, as if he had made a capital pun). —“No, no,” said he, waxing good-natured; “Gagy, my boy, it is nonsense! Julia, love, retire with your mamma; this silly young gentleman will remain and smoke a pipe with me.”

I took one; it was the bitterest chillum I ever smoked in my life.

***

I am not going to give here an account of my military services; they will appear in my great national autobiography, in forty volumes, which I am now preparing for the press. I was with my regiment in all Wellesley’s brilliant campaigns; then taking dawk, I travelled across the country north-eastward, and had the honor of fighting by the side of Lord Lake at Laswaree, Deeg, Furruckabad, Futtyghur, and Bhurtpore: but I will not boast of my actions — the military man knows them, MY SOVEREIGN appreciates them. If asked who was the bravest man of the Indian army, there is not an officer belonging to it who would not cry at once, GAHAGAN. The fact is, I was desperate: I cared not for life, deprived of Julia Jowler.

With Julia’s stony looks ever before my eyes, her father’s stern refusal in my ears, I did not care, at the close of the campaign, again to seek her company or to press my suit. We were eighteen months on service, marching and countermarching, and fighting almost every other day: to the world I did not seem altered; but the world only saw the face, and not the seared and blighted heart within me. My valor, always desperate, now reached to a pitch of cruelty; I tortured my grooms and grass-cutters for the most trifling offence or error — I never in action spared a man — I sheared off three hundred and nine heads in the course of that single campaign.

Some influence, equally melancholy, seemed to have fallen upon poor old Jowler. About six months after we had left Dum Dum, he received a parcel of letters from Benares (whither his wife had retired with her daughter), and so deeply did they seem to weigh upon his spirits, that he ordered eleven men of his regiment to be flogged within two days; but it was against the blacks that he chiefly turned his wrath. Our fellows, in the heat and hurry of the campaign, were in the habit of dealing rather roughly with their prisoners, to extract treasure from them: they used to pull their nails out by the root, to boil them in kedgeree pots, to flog them and dress their wounds with cayenne pepper, and so on. Jowler, when he heard of these proceedings, which before had always justly exasperated him (he was a humane and kind little man), used now to smile fiercely and say, “D—— the black scoundrels! Serve them right, serve them right!”

One day, about a couple of miles in advance of the column, I had been on a foraging-party with a few dragoons, and was returning peaceably to camp, when of a sudden a troop of Mahrattas burst on us from a neighboring mango-tope, in which they had been hidden: in an instant three of my men’s saddles were empty, and I was left with but seven more to make head against at least thirty of these vagabond black horsemen. I never saw in my life a nobler figure than the leader of the troop — mounted on a splendid black Arab: he was as tall, very nearly, as myself; he wore a steel cap and a shirt of mail, and carried a beautiful French carbine, which had already done execution upon two of my men. I saw that our only chance of safety lay in the destruction of this man. I shouted to him in a voice of thunder (in the Hindustanee tongue of course), “Stop, dog, if you dare, and encounter a man!”

In reply his lance came whirling in the air over my head, and mortally transfixed poor Foggarty of ours, who was behind me. Grinding my teeth and swearing horribly, I drew that scimitar which never yet failed its blow,7 and rushed at the Indian. He came down at full gallop, his own sword making ten thousand gleaming circles in the air, shrieking his cry of battle.

7 In my affair with Macgillicuddy, I was fool enough to go out with small-swords — miserable weapons only fit for tailors. — G. O’G. G.

The contest did not last an instant. With my first blow I cut off his sword-arm at the wrist; my second I levelled at his head. I said that he wore a steel cap, with a gilt iron spike of six inches, and a hood of chain mail. I rose in my stirrups and delivered “ST. GEORGE;” my sword caught the spike exactly on the point, split it sheer in two, cut crashing through the steel cap and hood, and was only stopped by a ruby which he wore in his back-plate. His head, cut clean in two between the eyebrows and nostrils, even between the two front teeth, fell one side on each shoulder, and he galloped on till his horse was stopped by my men, who were not a little amused at the feat.

As I had expected, the remaining ruffians fled on seeing their leader’s fate. I took home his helmet by way of curiosity, and we made a single prisoner, who was instantly carried before old Jowler.

We asked the prisoner the name of the leader of the troop; he said it was Chowder Loll.

“Chowder Loll!” shrieked Colonel Jowler. “O fate! thy hand is here!” He rushed wildly into his tent — the next day applied for leave of absence. Gutch took the command of the regiment, and I saw him no more for some time.

***

As I had distinguished myself not a little during the war, General Lake sent me up with despatches to Calcutta, where Lord Wellesley received me with the greatest distinction. Fancy my surprise, on going to a ball at Government House, to meet my old friend Jowler; my trembling, blushing, thrilling delight, when I saw Julia by his side!

Jowler seemed to blush too when he beheld me. I thought of my former passages with his daughter. “Gagy my boy,” says he, shaking hands, “glad to see you. Old friend, Julia — come to tiffin — Hodgson’s pale — brave fellow Gagy.” Julia did not speak, but she turned ashy pale, and fixed upon me her awful eyes! I fainted almost, and uttered some incoherent words. Julia took my hand, gazed at me still, and said, “Come!” Need I say I went?

I will not go over the pale ale and currie-bhaut again; but this I know, that in half an hour I was as much in love as I ever had been: and that in three weeks I— yes, I— was the accepted lover of Julia! I did not pause to ask where were the one hundred and twenty-four offers? why I, refused before, should be accepted now? I only felt that I loved her, and was happy!

***

One night, one memorable night, I could not sleep, and, with a lover’s pardonable passion, wandered solitary through the city of palaces until I came to the house which contained my Julia. I peeped into the compound — all was still; I looked into the veranda — all was dark, except a light — yes, one light — and it was in Julia’s chamber! My heart throbbed almost to stilling. I would — I WOULD advance, if but to gaze upon her for a moment, and to bless her as she slept. I DID look, I DID advance; and, O heaven! I saw a lamp burning, Mrs. Jow. in a nightdress, with a very dark baby in her arms, and Julia looking tenderly at an ayah, who was nursing another.

“Oh, mamma,” said Julia, “what would that fool Gahagan say if he knew all?”

“HE DOES KNOW ALL!” shouted I, springing forward, and tearing down the tatties from the window. Mrs. Jow. ran shrieking out of the room, Julia fainted, the cursed black children squalled, and their d —— d nurse fell on her knees, gabbling some infernal jargon of Hindustanee. Old Jowler at this juncture entered with a candle and a drawn sword.

“Liar! scoundrel! deceiver!” shouted I. “Turn, ruffian, and defend yourself!” But old Jowler, when he saw me, only whistled, looked at his lifeless daughter, and slowly left the room.

Why continue the tale? I need not now account for Jowler’s gloom on receiving his letters from Benares — for his exclamation upon the death of the Indian chief — for his desire to marry his daughter: the woman I was wooing was no longer Miss Julia Jowler, she was Mrs. Chowder Loll!

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07