The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER VIII.

The Captive.

It was high time, indeed, that I should make my appearance. Waving my sword with one hand, and seizing my telescope with the other, I at once frightened and examined the enemy. Well they knew when they saw that flamingo-plume floating in the breeze — that awful figure standing in the breach — that waving war-sword sparkling in the sky — well, I say, they knew the name of the humble individual who owned the sword, the plume, and the figure. The ruffians were mustered in front, the cavalry behind. The flags were flying, the drums, gongs, tambourines, violoncellos, and other instruments of Eastern music, raised in the air a strange, barbaric melody; the officers (yatabals), mounted on white dromedaries, were seen galloping to and fro, carrying to the advancing hosts the orders of Holkar.

You see that two sides of the fort of Futtyghur (rising as it does on a rock that is almost perpendicular) are defended by the Burrumpooter river, two hundred feet deep at this point, and a thousand yards wide, so that I had no fear about them attacking me in THAT quarter. My guns, therefore (with their six-and-thirty miserable charges of shot) were dragged round to the point at which I conceived Holkar would be most likely to attack me. I was in a situation that I did not dare to fire, except at such times as I could kill a hundred men by a single discharge of a cannon; so the attacking party marched and marched, very strongly, about a mile and a half off, the elephants marching without receiving the slightest damage from us, until they had come to within four hundred yards of our walls (the rogues knew all the secrets of our weakness, through the betrayal of the dastardly Ghorumsaug, or they never would have ventured so near). At that distance — it was about the spot where the Futtyghur hill began gradually to rise — the invading force stopped; the elephants drew up in a line, at right angles with our wall (the fools! they thought they should expose themselves too much by taking a position parallel to it); the cavalry halted too, and — after the deuce’s own flourish of trumpets and banging of gongs, to be sure — somebody, in a flame-colored satin-dress, with an immense jewel blazing in his pugree (that looked through my telescope like a small but very bright planet), got up from the back of one of the very biggest elephants, and began a speech.

The elephants were, as I said, in a line formed with admirable precision, about three hundred of them. The following little diagram will explain matters:—

                                       __G
                                      |
           . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .        |
                    E                 |
                                      |
                                      |
                                      | F

E is the line of elephants. F is the wall of the fort. G a gun in the fort. NOW the reader will see what I did.

The elephants were standing, their trunks waggling to and fro gracefully before them; and I, with superhuman skill and activity, brought the gun G (a devilish long brass gun) to bear upon them. I pointed it myself; bang! it went, and what was the consequence? Why, this:—

                    X
           ____________________       |__G
           . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .        |
                    E                 |
                                      |
                                      |
                                      | F

F is the fort, as before. G is the gun, as before. E, the elephants, as we have previously seen them. What then is X? X IS THE LINE TAKEN BY THE BALL FIRED FROM G, which took off ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FOUR elephants’ trunks, and only spent itself in the tusk of a very old animal, that stood the hundred and thirty-fifth.

I say that such a shot was never fired before or since; that a gun was never pointed in such a way. Suppose I had been a common man, and contented myself with firing bang at the head of the first animal? An ass would have done it, prided himself had he hit his mark, and what would have been the consequence? Why, that the ball might have killed two elephants and wounded a third; but here, probably, it would have stopped, and done no further mischief. The TRUNK was the place at which to aim; there are no bones there; and away, consequently, went the bullet, shearing, as I have said, through one hundred and thirty-five probosces. Heavens! what a howl there was when the shot took effect! What a sudden stoppage of Holkar’s speech! What a hideous snorting of elephants! What a rush backwards was made by the whole army, as if some demon was pursuing them!

Away they went. No sooner did I see them in full retreat, than, rushing forward myself, I shouted to my men, “My friends, yonder lies your dinner!” We flung open the gates — we tore down to the spot where the elephants had fallen: seven of them were killed; and of those that escaped to die of their hideous wounds elsewhere, most had left their trunks behind them. A great quantity of them we seized; and I myself, cutting up with my scimitar a couple of the fallen animals, as a butcher would a calf, motioned to the men to take the pieces back to the fort, where barbacued elephant was served round for dinner, instead of the miserable allowance of an olive and a glass of wine, which I had promised to my female friends, in my speech to them. The animal reserved for the ladies was a young white one — the fattest and tenderest I ever ate, in my life: they are very fair eating, but the flesh has an India-rubber flavor, which, until one is accustomed to it, is unpalatable.

It was well that I had obtained this supply, for, during my absence on the works, Mrs. Vandegobbleschroy and one or two others had forced their way into the supper-room, and devoured every morsel of the garrison larder, with the exception of the cheeses, the olives, and the wine, which were locked up in my own apartment, before which stood a sentinel. Disgusting Mrs. Van! When I heard of her gluttony, I had almost a mind to eat HER. However, we made a very comfortable dinner off the barbacued steaks, and when everybody had done, had the comfort of knowing that there was enough for one meal more.

The next day, as I expected, the enemy attacked us in great force, attempting to escalade the fort; but by the help of my guns, and my good sword, by the distinguished bravery of Lieutenant Macgillicuddy and the rest of the garrison, we beat this attack off completely, the enemy sustaining a loss of seven hundred men. We were victorious; but when another attack was made, what were we to do? We had still a little powder left, but had fired off all the shot, stones, iron-bars, &c. in the garrison! On this day, too, we devoured the last morsel of our food: I shall never forget Mrs. Vandegobbleschroy’s despairing look, as I saw her sitting alone, attempting to make some impression on the little white elephant’s roasted tail.

The third day the attack was repeated. The resources of genius are never at an end. Yesterday I had no ammunition; today, I discovered charges sufficient for two guns, and two swivels, which were much longer, but had bores of about blunderbuss size.

This time my friend Loll Mahommed, who had received, as the reader may remember, such a bastinadoing for my sake, headed the attack. The poor wretch could not walk, but he was carried in an open palanquin, and came on waving his sword, and cursing horribly in his Hindustan jargon. Behind him came troops of matchlock-men, who picked off every one of our men who showed their noses above the ramparts: and a great host of blackamoors with scaling-ladders, bundles to fill the ditch, fascines, gabions, culverins, demilunes, counterscarps, and all the other appurtenances of offensive war.

On they came: my guns and men were ready for them. You will ask how my pieces were loaded? I answer, that though my garrison were without food, I knew my duty as an officer, and had put the two Dutch cheeses into the two guns, and had crammed the contents of a bottle of olives into each swivel.

They advanced — whish! went one of the Dutch cheeses — bang! went the other. Alas! they did little execution. In their first contact with an opposing body, they certainly floored it but they became at once like so much Welsh-rabbit, and did no execution beyond the man whom they struck down.

“Hogree, pogree, wongree-fum (praise to Allah and the forty-nine Imaums!)” shouted out the ferocious Loll Mahommed when he saw the failure of my shot. “Onward, sons of the Prophet! the infidel has no more ammunition. A hundred thousand lakhs of rupees to the man who brings me Gahagan’s head!”

His men set up a shout, and rushed forward — he, to do him justice, was at the very head, urging on his own palanquin-bearers, and poking them with the tip of his scimitar. They came panting up the hill: I was black with rage, but it was the cold, concentrated rage of despair. “Macgillicuddy,” said I, calling that faithful officer, “you know where the barrels of powder are?” He did. “You know the use to make of them?” He did. He grasped my hand. “Goliah,” said he, “farewell! I swear that the fort shall be in atoms, as soon as yonder unbelievers have carried it. Oh, my poor mother!” added the gallant youth, as sighing, yet fearless, he retired to his post.

I gave one thought to my blessed, my beautiful Belinda, and then, stepping into the front, took down one of the swivels; — a shower of matchlock balls came whizzing round my head. I did not heed them.

I took the swivel, and aimed coolly. Loll Mahommed, his palanquin, and his men, were now not above two hundred yards from the fort. Loll was straight before me, gesticulating and shouting to his men. I fired — bang!!!

I aimed so true, that one hundred and seventeen best Spanish olives were lodged in a lump in the face of the unhappy Loll Mahommed. The wretch, uttering a yell the most hideous and unearthly I ever heard, fell back dead; the frightened bearers flung down the palanquin and ran — the whole host ran as one man: their screams might be heard for leagues. “Tomasha, tomasha,” they cried, “it is enchantment!” Away they fled, and the victory a third time was ours. Soon as the fight was done, I flew back to my Belinda. We had eaten nothing for twenty-four hours, but I forgot hunger in the thought of once more beholding HER!

The sweet soul turned towards me with a sickly smile as I entered, and almost fainted in my arms; but alas! it was not love which caused in her bosom an emotion so strong — it was hunger! “Oh! my Goliah,” whispered she, “for three days I have not tasted food — I could not eat that horrid elephant yesterday; but now — oh! heaven! . . . .” She could say no more, but sank almost lifeless on my shoulder. I administered to her a trifling dram of rum, which revived her for a moment, and then rushed down stairs, determined that if it were a piece of my own leg, she should still have something to satisfy her hunger. Luckily I remembered that three or four elephants were still lying in the field, having been killed by us in the first action, two days before. Necessity, thought I, has no law; my adorable girl must eat elephant, until she can get something better.

I rushed into the court where the men were, for the most part, assembled. “Men,” said I, “our larder is empty; we must fill it as we did the day before yesterday. Who will follow Gahagan on a foraging party?” I expected that, as on former occasions, every man would offer to accompany me.

To my astonishment, not a soul moved — a murmur arose among the troops; and at last one of the oldest and bravest came forward.

“Captain,” he said, “it is of no use; we cannot feed upon elephants for ever; we have not a grain of powder left, and must give up the fort when the attack is made tomorrow. We may as well be prisoners now as then, and we won’t go elephant-hunting any more.”

“Ruffian!” I said, “he who first talks of surrender, dies!” and I cut him down. “Is there any one else who wishes to speak?”

No one stirred.

“Cowards! miserable cowards!” shouted I; “what, you dare not move for fear of death, at the hands of those wretches who even now fled before your arms — what, do I say YOUR arms? — before MINE! — alone I did it; and as alone I routed the foe, alone I will victual the fortress! Ho! open the gate!”

I rushed out; not a single man would follow. The bodies of the elephants that we had killed still lay on the ground where they had fallen, about four hundred yards from the fort. I descended calmly the hill, a very steep one, and coming to the spot, took my pick of the animals, choosing a tolerably small and plump one, of about thirteen feet high, which the vultures had respected. I threw this animal over my shoulders, and made for the fort.

As I marched up the acclivity, whiz — piff — whir! came the balls over my head; and pitter-patter, pitter-patter! they fell on the body of the elephant like drops of rain. The enemy were behind me; I knew it, and quickened my pace. I heard the gallop of their horse: they came nearer, nearer; I was within a hundred yards of the fort — seventy — fifty! I strained every nerve; I panted with the superhuman exertion — I ran — could a man run very fast with such a tremendous weight on his shoulders?

Up came the enemy; fifty horsemen were shouting and screaming at my tail. O heaven! five yards more — one moment — and I am saved! It is done — I strain the last strain — I make the last step — I fling forward my precious burden into the gate opened wide to receive me and it, and — I fall! The gate thunders to, and I am left ON THE OUTSIDE! Fifty knives are gleaming before my bloodshot eyes — fifty black hands are at my throat, when a voice exclaims, “Stop! — kill him not, it is Gujputi!” A film came over my eyes — exhausted nature would bear no more.

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