The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER V.

The Issue of My Interview with My Wife.

I found Puneeree Muckun, with the rest of my attendants, waiting at the gate, and they immediately conducted me to my own tents in the neighborhood. I have been in many dangerous predicaments before that time and since, but I don’t care to deny that I felt in the present instance such a throbbing of the heart as I never have experienced when leading a forlorn hope, or marching up to a battery.

As soon as I entered the tents a host of menials sprang forward, some to ease me of my armor, some to offer me refreshments, some with hookahs, attar of roses (in great quart-bottles), and the thousand delicacies of Eastern life. I motioned them away. “I will wear my armor,” said I; “I shall go forth to-night; carry my duty to the princess, and say I grieve that to-night I have not the time to see her. Spread me a couch here, and bring me supper here: a jar of Persian wine well cooled, a lamb stuffed with pistachio-nuts, a pillaw of a couple of turkeys, a curried kid — anything. Begone! Give me a pipe; leave me alone, and tell me when the meal is ready.”

I thought by these means to put off the fair Puttee Rooge, and hoped to be able to escape without subjecting myself to the examination of her curious eyes. After smoking for a while, an attendant came to tell me that my supper was prepared in the inner apartment of the tent (I suppose that the reader, if he be possessed of the commonest intelligence, knows that the tents of the Indian grandees are made of the finest Cashmere shawls, and contain a dozen rooms at least, with carpets, chimneys, and sash-windows complete). I entered, I say, into an inner chamber, and there began with my fingers to devour my meal in the Oriental fashion, taking, every now and then, a pull from the wine-jar, which was cooling deliciously in another jar of snow.

I was just in the act of despatching the last morsel of a most savory stewed lamb and rice, which had formed my meal, when I heard a scuffle of feet, a shrill clatter of female voices, and, the curtain being flung open, in marched a lady accompanied by twelve slaves, with moon faces and slim waists, lovely as the houris in Paradise.

The lady herself, to do her justice, was as great a contrast to her attendants as could possibly be: she was crooked, old, of the complexion of molasses, and rendered a thousand times more ugly by the tawdry dress and the blazing jewels with which she was covered. A line of yellow chalk drawn from her forehead to the tip of her nose (which was further ornamented by an immense glittering nose-ring), her eyelids painted bright red, and a large dab of the same color on her chin, showed she was not of the Mussulman, but the Brahmin faith — and of a very high caste; you could see that by her eyes. My mind was instantaneously made up as to my line of action.

The male attendants had of course quitted the apartment, as they heard the well-known sound of her voice. It would have been death to them to have remained and looked in her face. The females ranged themselves round their mistress, as she squatted down opposite to me.

“And is this,” said she, “a welcome, O Khan! after six months’ absence, for the most unfortunate and loving wife in all the world? Is this lamb, O glutton! half so tender as thy spouse? Is this wine, O sot! half so sweet as her looks?”

I saw the storm was brewing — her slaves, to whom she turned, kept up a kind of chorus:—

“Oh, the faithless one!” cried they. “Oh, the rascal, the false one, who has no eye for beauty, and no heart for love, like the Khanum’s!”

“A lamb is not so sweet as love,” said I gravely: “but a lamb has a good temper; a wine-cup is not so intoxicating as a woman — but a wine-cup has NO TONGUE, O Khanum Gee!” and again I dipped my nose in the soul-refreshing jar.

The sweet Puttee Rooge was not, however, to be put off by my repartees; she and her maidens recommenced their chorus, and chattered and stormed until I lost all patience.

“Retire, friends,” said I, “and leave me in peace.”

“Stir, on your peril!” cried the Khanum.

So, seeing there was no help for it but violence, I drew out my pistols, cocked them, and said, “O houris! these pistols contain each two balls: the daughter of Holkar bears a sacred life for me — but for you! — by all the saints of Hindustan, four of ye shall die if ye stay a moment longer in my presence!” This was enough; the ladies gave a shriek, and skurried out of the apartment like a covey of partridges on the wing.

Now, then, was the time for action. My wife, or rather Bobbachy’s wife, sat still, a little flurried by the unusual ferocity which her lord had displayed in her presence. I seized her hand and, gripping it close, whispered in her ear, to which I put the other pistol:—“O Khanum, listen and scream not; the moment you scream, you die!” She was completely beaten: she turned as pale as a woman could in her situation, and said, “Speak, Bobbachy Bahawder, I am dumb.”

“Woman,” said I, taking off my helmet, and removing the chain cape which had covered almost the whole of my face —“I AM NOT THY HUSBAND— I am the slaver of elephants, the world renowned GAHAGAN!”

As I said this, and as the long ringlets of red hair fell over my shoulders (contrasting strangely with my dyed face and beard), I formed one of the finest pictures that can possibly be conceived, and I recommend it as a subject to Mr. Heath, for the next “Book of Beauty.”

“Wretch!” said she, “what wouldst thou?”

“You black-faced fiend,” said I, “raise but your voice, and you are dead!”

“And afterwards,” said she, “do you suppose that YOU can escape? The torments of hell are not so terrible as the tortures that Holkar will invent for thee.”

“Tortures, madam?” answered I, coolly. “Fiddlesticks! You will neither betray me, nor will I be put to the torture: on the contrary, you will give me your best jewels and facilitate my escape to the fort. Don’t grind your teeth and swear at me. Listen, madam: you know this dress and these arms; — they are the arms of your husband, Bobbachy Bahawder — MY PRISONER. He now lies in yonder fort, and if I do not return before daylight, at SUNRISE HE DIES: and then, when they send his corpse back to Holkar, what will you, HIS WIDOW, do?”

“Oh!” said she, shuddering, “spare me, spare me!”

“I’ll tell you what you will do. You will have the pleasure of dying along with him — of BEING ROASTED, madam: an agonizing death, from which your father cannot save you, to which he will be the first man to condemn and conduct you. Ha! I see we understand each other, and you will give me over the cash-box and jewels.” And so saying I threw myself back with the calmest air imaginable, flinging the pistols over to her. “Light me a pipe, my love,” said I, “and then go and hand me over the dollars; do you hear?” You see I had her in my power — up a tree, as the Americans say, and she very humbly lighted my pipe for me, and then departed for the goods I spoke about.

What a thing is luck! If Loll Mahommed had not been made to take that ride round the camp, I should infallibly have been lost.

My supper, my quarrel with the princess, and my pipe afterwards, had occupied a couple of hours of my time. The princess returned from her quest, and brought with her the box, containing valuables to the amount of about three millions sterling. (I was cheated of them afterwards, but have the box still, a plain deal one.) I was just about to take my departure, when a tremendous knocking, shouting, and screaming was heard at the entrance of the tent. It was Holkar himself, accompanied by that cursed Loll Mahommed, who, after his punishment, found his master restored to good humor, and had communicated to him his firm conviction that I was an impostor.

“Ho, Begum,” shouted he, in the ante-room (for he and his people could not enter the women’s apartments), “speak, O my daughter! is your husband returned?”

“Speak, madam,” said I, “or REMEMBER THE ROASTING.”

“He is, papa,” said the Begum.

“Are you sure? Ho! ho! ho!” (the old ruffian was laughing outside)—“are you sure it is? — Ha! aha! — HE-E-E!”

“Indeed it is he, and no other. I pray you, father, to go, and to pass no more such shameless jests on your daughter. Have I ever seen the face of any other man?” And hereat she began to weep as if her heart would break — the deceitful minx!

Holkar’s laugh was instantly turned to fury. “Oh, you liar and eternal thief!” said he, turning round (as I presume, for I could only hear) to Loll Mahommed, “to make your prince eat such monstrous dirt as this! Furoshes, seize this man. I dismiss him from my service, I degrade him from his rank, I appropriate to myself all his property: and hark ye, furoshes, GIVE HIM A HUNDRED DOZEN MORE!”

Again I heard the whacks of the bamboos, and peace flowed into my soul.

***

Just as morn began to break, two figures were seen to approach the little fortress of Futtyghur: one was a woman wrapped closely in a veil, the other a warrior, remarkable for the size and manly beauty of his form, who carried in his hand a deal box of considerable size. The warrior at the gate gave the word and was admitted, the woman returned slowly to the Indian camp. Her name was Puttee Rooge; his was —

G. O’G. G., M. H. E. I. C. S., C. I. H. A.

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