The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER IX.

Surprise of Futtyghur.

When I awoke from the trance into which I had fallen, I found myself in a bath, surrounded by innumerable black faces; and a Hindoo pothukoor (whence our word apothecary) feeling my pulse and looking at me with an air of sagacity.

“Where am I?” I exclaimed, looking round and examining the strange faces, and the strange apartment which met my view. “Bekhusm!” said the apothecary. “Silence! Gahagan Sahib is in the hands of those who know his valor, and will save his life.”

“Know my valor, slave? Of course you do,” said I; “but the fort — the garrison — the elephant — Belinda, my love — my darling — Macgillicuddy — the scoundrelly mutineers — the deal bo — . . . .”

I could say no more; the painful recollections pressed so heavily upon my poor shattered mind and frame, that both failed once more. I fainted again, and I know not how long I lay insensible.

Again, however, I came to my senses: the pothukoor applied restoratives, and after a slumber of some hours I awoke, much refreshed. I had no wound; my repeated swoons had been brought on (as indeed well they might) by my gigantic efforts in carrying the elephant up a steep hill a quarter of a mile in length. Walking, the task is bad enough: but running, it is the deuce; and I would recommend any of my readers who may be disposed to try and carry a dead elephant, never, on any account, to go a pace of more than five miles an hour.

Scarcely was I awake, when I heard the clash of arms at my door (plainly indicating that sentinels were posted there), and a single old gentleman, richly habited, entered the room. Did my eyes deceive me? I had surely seen him before. No — yes — no — yes — it WAS he: the snowy white beard, the mild eyes, the nose flattened to a jelly, and level with the rest of the venerable face, proclaimed him at once to be — Saadut Alee Beg Bimbukchee, Holkar’s prime vizier; whose nose, as the reader may recollect, his Highness had flattened with his kaleawn during my interview with him in the Pitan’s disguise. I now knew my fate but too well — I was in the hands of Holkar.

Saadut Alee Beg Bimbukchee slowly advanced towards me, and with a mild air of benevolence, which distinguished that excellent man (he was torn to pieces by wild horses the year after, on account of a difference with Holkar), he came to my bedside, and taking gently my hand, said, “Life and death, my son, are not ours. Strength is deceitful, valor is unavailing, fame is only wind — the nightingale sings of the rose all night — where is the rose in the morning? Booch, booch! it is withered by a frost. The rose makes remarks regarding the nightingale, and where is that delightful song-bird? Penabekhoda, he is netted, plucked, spitted, and roasted! Who knows how misfortune comes? It has come to Gahagan Gujputi!”

“It is well,” said I, stoutly, and in the Malay language. “Gahagan Gujputi will bear it like a man.”

“No doubt — like a wise man and a brave one; but there is no lane so long to which there is not a turning, no night so black to which there comes not a morning. Icy winter is followed by merry spring-time — grief is often succeeded by joy.”

“Interpret, O riddler!” said I; “Gahagan Khan is no reader of puzzles — no prating mollah. Gujputi loves not words, but swords.”

“Listen, then, O Gujputi: you are in Holkar’s power.”

“I know it.”

“You will die by the most horrible tortures tomorrow morning.”

“I dare say.”

“They will tear your teeth from your jaws, your nails from your fingers, and your eyes from your head.”

“Very possibly.”

“They will flay you alive, and then burn you.”

“Well; they can’t do any more.”

“They will seize upon every man and woman in yonder fort,”— it was not then taken! —“and repeat upon them the same tortures.”

“Ha! Belinda! Speak — how can all this be avoided?”

“Listen. Gahagan loves the moon-face called Belinda.”

“He does, Vizier, to distraction.”

“Of what rank is he in the Koompani’s army?”

“A captain.”

“A miserable captain — oh shame! Of what creed is he?”

“I am an Irishman, and a Catholic.”

“But he has not been very particular about his religious duties?”

“Alas, no.”

“He has not been to his mosque for these twelve years?”

“’Tis too true.”

“Hearken now, Gahagan Khan. His Highness Prince Holkar has sent me to thee. You shall have the moon-face for your wife — your second wife, that is; — the first shall be the incomparable Puttee Rooge, who loves you to madness; — with Puttee Rooge, who is the wife, you shall have the wealth and rank of Bobbachy Bahawder, of whom his Highness intends to get rid. You shall be second in command of his Highness’s forces. Look, here is his commission signed with the celestial seal, and attested by the sacred names of the forty-nine Imaums. You have but to renounce your religion and your service, and all these rewards are yours.”

He produced a parchment, signed as he said, and gave it to me (it was beautifully written in Indian ink: I had it for fourteen years, but a rascally valet, seeing it very dirty, WASHED it, forsooth, and washed off every bit of the writing). I took it calmly, and said, “This is a tempting offer. O Vizier, how long wilt thou give me to consider of it?”

After a long parley, he allowed me six hours, when I promised to give him an answer. My mind, however, was made up — as soon as he was gone, I threw myself on the sofa and fell asleep.

***

At the end of the six hours the Vizier came back: two people were with him; one, by his martial appearance, I knew to be Holkar, the other I did not recognize. It was about midnight.

“Have you considered?” said the Vizier as he came to my couch.

“I have,” said I, sitting up — I could not stand, for my legs were tied, and my arms fixed in a neat pair of steel handcuffs. “I have,” said I, “unbelieving dogs! I have. Do you think to pervert a Christian gentleman from his faith and honor? Ruffian blackamoors! do your worst; heap tortures on this body, they cannot last long. Tear me to pieces: after you have torn me into a certain number of pieces, I shall not feel it; and if I did, if each torture could last a life, if each limb were to feel the agonies of a whole body, what then? I would bear all — all — all — all — all — ALL!” My breast heaved — my form dilated — my eye flashed as I spoke these words. “Tyrants!” said I, “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” Having thus clinched the argument, I was silent.

The venerable Grand Vizier turned away; I saw a tear trickling down his cheeks.

“What a constancy,” said he. “Oh, that such beauty and such bravery should be doomed so soon to quit the earth!”

His tall companion only sneered and said, “AND BELINDA—?”

“Ha!” said I, “ruffian, be still! — heaven will protect her spotless innocence. Holkar, I know thee, and thou knowest ME too! Who, with his single sword, destroyed thy armies? Who, with his pistol, cleft in twain thy nose-ring? Who slew thy generals? Who slew thy elephants? Three hundred mighty beasts went forth to battle: of these I slew one hundred and thirty-five! Dog, coward, ruffian, tyrant, unbeliever! Gahagan hates thee, spurns thee, spits on thee!”

Holkar, as I made these uncomplimentary remarks, gave a scream of rage, and, drawing his scimitar, rushed on to despatch me at once (it was the very thing I wished for), when the third person sprang forward, and seizing his arm, cried —

“Papa! oh, save him!” It was Puttee Rooge! “Remember,” continued she, “his misfortunes — remember, oh, remember my — love!”— and here she blushed, and putting one finger into her mouth, and banging down her head, looked the very picture of modest affection.

Holkar sulkily sheathed his scimitar, and muttered, “’Tis better as it is; had I killed him now, I had spared him the torture. None of this shameless fooling, Puttee Rooge,” continued the tyrant, dragging her away. “Captain Gahagan dies three hours from hence.” Puttee Rooge gave one scream and fainted — her father and the Vizier carried her off between them; nor was I loth to part with her, for, with all her love, she was as ugly as the deuce.

They were gone — my fate was decided. I had but three hours more of life: so I flung myself again on the sofa, and fell profoundly asleep. As it may happen to any of my readers to be in the same situation, and to be hanged themselves, let me earnestly entreat them to adopt this plan of going to sleep, which I for my part have repeatedly found to be successful. It saves unnecessary annoyance, it passes away a great deal of unpleasant time, and it prepares one to meet like a man the coming catastrophe.

***

Three o’clock came: the sun was at this time making his appearance in the heavens, and with it came the guards, who were appointed to conduct me to the torture. I woke, rose, was carried out, and was set on the very white donkey on which Loll Mahommed was conducted through the camp after he was bastinadoed. Bobbachy Bahawder rode behind me, restored to his rank and state; troops of cavalry hemmed us in on all sides; my ass was conducted by the common executioner: a crier went forward, shouting out, “Make way for the destroyer of the faithful — he goes to bear the punishment of his crimes.” We came to the fatal plain: it was the very spot whence I had borne away the elephant, and in full sight of the fort. I looked towards it. Thank heaven! King George’s banner waved on it still — a crowd were gathered on the walls — the men, the dastards who had deserted me — and women, too. Among the latter I thought I distinguished ONE who — O gods! the thought turned me sick — I trembled and looked pale for the first time.

“He trembles! he turns pale,” shouted out Bobbachy Bahawder, ferociously exulting over his conquered enemy.

“Dog!” shouted I—(I was sitting with my head to the donkey’s tail, and so looked the Bobbachy full in the face)—“not so pale as you looked when I felled you with this arm — not so pale as your women looked when I entered your harem!” Completely chop-fallen, the Indian ruffian was silent: at any rate, I had done for HIM.

We arrived at the place of execution. A stake, a couple of feet thick and eight high, was driven in the grass: round the stake, about seven feet from the ground, was an iron ring, to which were attached two fetters; in these my wrists were placed. Two or three executioners stood near, with strange-looking instruments: others were blowing at a fire, over which was a caldron, and in the embers were stuck other prongs and instruments of iron.

The crier came forward and read my sentence. It was the same in effect as that which had been hinted to me the day previous by the Grand Vizier. I confess I was too agitated to catch every word that was spoken.

Holkar himself, on a tall dromedary, was at a little distance. The Grand Vizier came up to me — it was his duty to stand by, and see the punishment performed. “It is yet time!” said he.

I nodded my head, but did not answer.

The Vizier cast up to heaven a look of inexpressible anguish, and with a voice choking with emotion, said, “EXECUTIONER— DO— YOUR— DUTY!”

The horrid man advanced — he whispered sulkily in the ears of the Grand Vizier, “Guggly ka ghee, hum khedgeree,” said he, “the oil does not boil yet — wait one minute.” The assistants blew, the fire blazed, the oil was heated. The Vizier drew a few feet aside: taking a large ladle full of the boiling liquid, he advanced —

***

“Whish! bang, bang! pop!” the executioner was dead at my feet, shot through the head; the ladle of scalding oil had been dashed in the face of the unhappy Grand Vizier, who lay on the plain, howling. “Whish! bang! pop! Hurrah! — charge! — forwards! — cut them down! — no quarter!”

I saw — yes, no, yes, no, yes! — I saw regiment upon regiment of galloping British horsemen riding over the ranks of the flying natives. First of the host, I recognized, O heaven! my AHMEDNUGGAR IRREGULARS! On came the gallant line of black steeds and horsemen, swift, swift before them rode my officers in yellow — Glogger, Pappendick, and Stuffle; their sabres gleamed in the sun, their voices rung in the air. “D—— them!” they cried, “give it them, boys!” A strength supernatural thrilled through my veins at that delicious music: by one tremendous effort, I wrested the post from its foundation, five feet in the ground. I could not release my hands from the fetters, it is true; but, grasping the beam tightly, I sprung forward — with one blow I levelled the five executioners in the midst of the fire, their fall upsetting the scalding oil-can; with the next, I swept the bearers of Bobbachy’s palanquin off their legs; with the third, I caught that chief himself in the small of the back, and sent him flying on to the sabres of my advancing soldiers!

The next minute, Glogger and Stuffle were in my arms, Pappendick leading on the Irregulars. Friend and foe in that wild chase had swept far away. We were alone; I was freed from my immense bar; and ten minutes afterwards, when Lord Lake trotted up with his staff, he found me sitting on it.

“Look at Gahagan,” said his lordship. “Gentlemen, did I not tell you we should be sure to find him AT HIS POST?”

The gallant old nobleman rode on: and this was the famous BATTLE OF FURRUCKABAD, OR Surprise of Futtyghur, fought on the 17th of November, 1804.

***

About a month afterwards, the following announcement appeared in the Boggleywollah Hurkaru and other Indian papers:—“Married, on the 25th of December, at Futtyghur, by the Rev. Dr. Snorter, Captain Goliah O’Grady Gahagan, Commanding Irregular Horse, Abmednuggar, to Belinda, second daughter of Major-General Bulcher, C.B. His Excellency the Commander-inChief gave away the bride; and after a splendid dejeune, the happy pair set off to pass the Mango season at Hurrygurrybang. Venus must recollect, however, that Mars must not ALWAYS be at her side. The Irregulars are nothing without their leader.”

Such was the paragraph — such the event — the happiest in the existence of

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