The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER VI.

Famine in the Garrison.

Thus my dangers for the night being overcome, I hastened with my precious box into my own apartment, which communicated with another, where I had left my prisoner, with a guard to report if he should recover, and to prevent his escape. My servant, Ghorumsaug, was one of the guard. I called him, and the fellow came, looking very much confused and frightened, as it seemed, at my appearance.

“Why, Ghorumsaug,” said I, “what makes thee look so pale, fellow?” (he was as white as a sheet.) “It is thy master, dost thou not remember him?” The man had seen me dress myself in the Pitan’s clothes, but was not present when I had blacked my face and beard in the manner I have described.

“O Bramah, Vishnu, and Mahomet!” cried the faithful fellow, “and do I see my dear master disguised in this way? For heaven’s sake let me rid you of this odious black paint; for what will the ladies say in the ball-room, if the beautiful Feringhee should appear amongst them with his roses turned into coal?”

I am still one of the finest men in Europe, and at the time of which I write, when only two-and-twenty, I confess I WAS a little vain of my personal appearance, and not very willing to appear before my dear Belinda disguised like a blackamoor. I allowed Ghorumsaug to divest me of the heathenish armor and habiliments which I wore; and having, with a world of scrubbing and trouble, divested my face and beard of their black tinge, I put on my own becoming uniform, and hastened to wait on the ladies; hastened, I say — although delayed would have been the better word, for the operation of bleaching lasted at least two hours.

“How is the prisoner, Ghorumsaug?” said I, before leaving my apartment.

“He has recovered from the blow which the Lion dealt him; two men and myself watch over him; and Macgillicuddy Sahib (the second in command) has just been the rounds, and has seen that all was secure.”

I bade Ghorumsaug help me to put away my chest of treasure (my exultation in taking it was so great that I could not help informing him of its contents); and this done, I despatched him to his post near the prisoner, while I prepared to sally forth and pay my respects to the fair creatures under my protection. “What good after all have I done,” thought I to myself, “in this expedition which I had so rashly undertaken?” I had seen the renowned Holkar, I had been in the heart of his camp; I knew the disposition of his troops, that there were eleven thousand of them, and that he only waited for his guns to make a regular attack on the fort. I had seen Puttee Rooge; I had robbed her (I say ROBBED her, and I don’t care what the reader or any other man may think of the act) of a deal box, containing jewels to the amount of three millions sterling, the property of herself and husband.

Three millions in money and jewels! And what the deuce were money and jewels to me or to my poor garrison? Could my adorable Miss Bulcher eat a fricassee of diamonds, or, Cleopatra-like, melt down pearls to her tea? Could I, careless as I am about food, with a stomach that would digest anything —(once, in Spain, I ate the leg of a horse during a famine, and was so eager to swallow this morsel that I bolted the shoe, as well as the hoof, and never felt the slightest inconvenience from either,)— could I, I say, expect to live long and well upon a ragout of rupees, or a dish of stewed emeralds and rubies? With all the wealth of Croesus before me I felt melancholy; and would have paid cheerfully its weight in carats for a good honest round of boiled beef. Wealth, wealth, what art thou? What is gold? — Soft metal. What are diamonds? — Shining tinsel. The great wealth-winners, the only fame-achievers, the sole objects worthy of a soldier’s consideration, are beefsteaks, gunpowder, and cold iron.

The two latter means of competency we possessed; I had in my own apartments a small store of gunpowder (keeping it under my own bed, with a candle burning for fear of accidents); I had 14 pieces of artillery (4 long 48’s and 4 carronades, 5 howitzers, and a long brass mortar, for grape, which I had taken myself at the battle of Assaye), and muskets for ten times my force. My garrison, as I have told the reader in a previous number, consisted of 40 men, two chaplains, and a surgeon; add to these my guests, 83 in number, of whom nine only were gentlemen (in tights, powder, pigtails, and silk stockings, who had come out merely for a dance, and found themselves in for a siege). Such were our numbers:—

Ladies 74
Troops and artillerymen 40
Other non-combatants 11
MAJOR-GEN. O’G. GAHAGAN 1000



1,125

I count myself good for a thousand, for so I was regularly rated in the army: with this great benefit to it, that I only consumed as much as an ordinary mortal. We were then, as far as the victuals went, 126 mouths; as combatants we numbered 1,040 gallant men, with 12 guns and a fort, against Holkar and his 12,000. No such alarming odds, if —

IF! — ay, there was the rub — IF we had SHOT, as well as powder for our guns; IF we had not only MEN but MEAT. Of the former commodity we had only three rounds for each piece. Of the latter, upon my sacred honor, to feed 126 souls, we had but

Two drumsticks of fowls, and a bone of ham.
Fourteen bottles of ginger-beer.
Of soda-water, four ditto.
Two bottles of fine Spanish olives.
Raspberry cream — the remainder of two dishes.
Seven macaroons, lying in the puddle of a demolished trifle.
Half a drum of best Turkey figs.
Some bits of broken bread; two Dutch cheeses (whole); the crust
of an old Stilton; and about an ounce of almonds and raisins.
Three ham-sandwiches, and a pot of currant-jelly, and 197 bottles
of brandy, rum, madeira, pale ale (my private stock); a couple
of hard eggs for a salad, and a flask of Florence oil.

This was the provision for the whole garrison! The men after supper had seized upon the relics of the repast, as they were carried off from the table; and these were the miserable remnants I found and counted on my return, taking good care to lock the door of the supper-room, and treasure what little sustenance still remained in it.

When I appeared in the saloon, now lighted up by the morning sun, I not only caused a sensation myself, but felt one in my own bosom, which was of the most painful description. Oh, my reader! may you never behold such a sight as that which presented itself: eighty-three men and women in ball-dresses; the former with their lank powdered locks streaming over their faces; the latter with faded flowers, uncurled wigs, smudged rouge, blear eyes, draggling feathers, rumpled satins — each more desperately melancholy and hideous than the other — each, except my beloved Belinda Bulcher, whose raven ringlets never having been in curl, could of course never go OUT of curl; whose cheek, pale as the lily, could, as it may naturally be supposed, grow no paler; whose neck and beauteous arms, dazzling as alabaster, needed no pearl-powder, and therefore, as I need not state, did not suffer because the pearl-powder had come off. Joy (deft link-boy!) lit his lamps in each of her eyes as I entered. As if I had been her sun, her spring, lo! blushing roses mantled in her cheek! Seventy-three ladies, as I entered, opened their fire upon me, and stunned me with cross-questions, regarding my adventures in the camp — SHE, as she saw me, gave a faint scream, (the sweetest, sure, that ever gurgled through the throat of a woman!) then started up — then made as if she would sit down — then moved backwards — then tottered forwards — then tumbled into my — Psha! why recall, why attempt to describe that delicious — that passionate greeting of two young hearts? What was the surrounding crowd to US? What cared we for the sneers of the men, the titters of the jealous women, the shrill “Upon my word!” of the elder Miss Bulcher, and the loud expostulations of Belinda’s mamma? The brave girl loved me, and wept in my arms. “Goliah! my Goliah!” said she, “my brave, my beautiful, THOU art returned, and hope comes back with thee. Oh! who can tell the anguish of my soul, during this dreadful, dreadful night!” Other similar ejaculations of love and joy she uttered; and if I HAD perilled life in her service, if I DID believe that hope of escape there was none, so exquisite was the moment of our meeting, that I forgot all else in this overwhelming joy!

***

[The Major’s description of this meeting, which lasted at the very most not ten seconds, occupies thirteen pages of writing. We have been compelled to dock off twelve and a half; for the whole passage, though highly creditable to his feelings, might possibly be tedious to the reader.]

***

As I said, the ladies and gentlemen were inclined to sneer, and were giggling audibly. I led the dear girl to a chair, and, scowling round with a tremendous fierceness, which those who know me know I can sometimes put on, I shouted out, “Hark ye men and women — I am this lady’s truest knight — her husband I hope one day to be. I am commander, too, in this fort — the enemy is without it; another word of mockery — another glance of scorn — and, by heaven, I will hurl every man and woman from the battlements, a prey to the ruffianly Holkar!” This quieted them. I am a man of my word, and none of them stirred or looked disrespectfully from that moment.

It was now MY turn to make THEM look foolish. Mrs. Vandegobbleschroy (whose unfailing appetite is pretty well known to every person who has been in India) cried, “Well, Captain Gahagan, your ball has been so pleasant, and the supper was despatched so long ago, that myself and the ladies would be very glad of a little breakfast.” And Mrs. Van giggled as if she had made a very witty and reasonable speech. “Oh! breakfast, breakfast by all means,” said the rest; “we really are dying for a warm cup of tea.”

“Is it bohay tay or souchong tay that you’d like, ladies?” says I.

“Nonsense, you silly man; any tea you like,” said fat Mrs. Van.

“What do you say, then, to some prime GUNPOWDER?” Of course they said it was the very thing.

“And do you like hot rowls or cowld — muffins or crumpets — fresh butter or salt? And you, gentlemen, what do you say to some ilegant divvled-kidneys for yourselves, and just a trifle of grilled turkeys, and a couple of hundthred new-laid eggs for the ladies?”

“Pooh, pooh! be it as you will, my dear fellow,” answered they all.

“But stop,” says I. “O ladies, O ladies: O gentlemen, gentlemen, that you should ever have come to the quarters of Goliah Gahagan, and he been without —”

“What?” said they, in a breath.

“Alas I alas! I have not got a single stick of chocolate in the whole house.”

“Well, well, we can do without it.”

“Or a single pound of coffee.”

“Never mind; let that pass too.” (Mrs. Van and the rest were beginning to look alarmed.)

“And about the kidneys — now I remember, the black divvles outside the fort have seized upon all the sheep; and how are we to have kidneys without them?” (Here there was a slight o — o — o!)

“And with regard to the milk and crame, it may be remarked that the cows are likewise in pawn, and not a single drop can be had for money or love: but we can beat up eggs, you know, in the tay, which will be just as good.”

“Oh! just as good.”

“Only the divvle’s in the luck, there’s not a fresh egg to be had — no, nor a fresh chicken,” continued I, “nor a stale one either; nor a tayspoonful of souchong, nor a thimbleful of bohay; nor the laste taste in life of butther, salt or fresh; nor hot rowls or cowld!”

“In the name of heaven!” said Mrs. Van, growing very pale, “what is there, then?”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll tell you what there is now,” shouted I. “There’s

“Two drumsticks of fowls, and a bone of ham.
Fourteen bottles of ginger-beer,” &c. &c. &c.

And I went through the whole list of eatables as before, ending with the ham-sandwiches and the pot of jelly.

“Law! Mr. Gahagan,” said Mrs. Colonel Vandegobbleschroy, “give me the ham-sandwiches — I must manage to breakfast off them.”

And you should have heard the pretty to-do there was at this modest proposition! Of course I did not accede to it — why should I? I was the commander of the fort, and intended to keep these three very sandwiches for the use of myself and my dear Belinda. “Ladies,” said I, “there are in this fort one hundred and twenty-six souls, and this is all the food which is to last us during the siege. Meat there is none — of drink there is a tolerable quantity; and at one o’clock punctually, a glass of wine and one olive shall be served out to each woman: the men will receive two glasses, and an olive and a fig — and this must be your food during the siege. Lord Lake cannot be absent more than three days; and if he be — why, still there is a chance — why do I say a chance? — a CERTAINTY of escaping from the hands of these ruffians.”

“Oh, name it, name it, dear Captain Gahagan!” screeched the whole covey at a breath.

“It lies,” answered I, “in the POWDER MAGAZINE. I will blow this fort, and all it contains, to atoms, ere it becomes the prey of Holkar.”

The women, at this, raised a squeal that might have been heard in Holkar’s camp, and fainted in different directions; but my dear Belinda whispered in my ear, “Well done, thou noble knight! bravely said, my heart’s Goliah!” I felt I was right: I could have blown her up twenty times for the luxury of that single moment! “And now, ladies,” said I, “I must leave you. The two chaplains will remain with you to administer professional consolation — the other gentlemen will follow me up stairs to the ramparts, where I shall find plenty of work for them.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/gahagan/chapter6.html

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