The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan, by William Makepeace Thackeray


The Escape.

Loth as they were, these gentlemen had nothing for it but to obey, and they accordingly followed me to the ramparts, where I proceeded to review my men. The fort, in my absence, had been left in command of Lieutenant Macgillicuddy, a countryman of my own (with whom, as may be seen in an early chapter of my memoirs, I had an affair of honor); and the prisoner Bobbachy Bahawder, whom I had only stunned, never wishing to kill him, had been left in charge of that officer. Three of the garrison (one of them a man of the Ahmednuggar Irregulars, my own body-servant, Ghorumsaug above named,) were appointed to watch the captive by turns, and never leave him out of their sight. The lieutenant was instructed to look to them and to their prisoner, and as Bobbachy was severely injured by the blow which I had given him, and was, moreover, bound hand and foot, and gagged smartly with cords, I considered myself sure of his person.

Macgillicuddy did not make his appearance when I reviewed my little force, and the three havildars were likewise absent: this did not surprise me, as I had told them not to leave their prisoner; but desirous to speak with the lieutenant, I despatched a messenger to him, and ordered him to appear immediately.

The messenger came back; he was looking ghastly pale: he whispered some information into my ear, which instantly caused me to hasten to the apartments where I had caused Bobbachy Bahawder to be confined.

The men had fled; — Bobbachy had fled; and in his place, fancy my astonishment when I found — with a rope cutting his naturally wide mouth almost into his ears — with a dreadful sabre-cut across his forehead — with his legs tied over his head, and his arms tied between his legs — my unhappy, my attached friend — Mortimer Macgillicuddy!

He had been in this position for about three hours — it was the very position in which I had caused Bobbachy Bahawder to be placed — an attitude uncomfortable, it is true, but one which renders escape impossible, unless treason aid the prisoner.

I restored the lieutenant to his natural erect position: I poured half a bottle of whiskey down the immensely enlarged orifice of his mouth, and when he had been released, he informed me of the circumstances that had taken place.

Fool that I was! idiot! — upon my return to the fort, to have been anxious about my personal appearance, and to have spent a couple of hours in removing the artificial blackening from my beard and complexion, instead of going to examine my prisoner — when his escape would have been prevented. O foppery, foppery! — it was that cursed love of personal appearance which had led me to forget my duty to my general, my country, my monarch, and my own honor!

Thus it was that the escape took place:— My own fellow of the Irregulars, whom I had summoned to dress me, performed the operation to my satisfaction, invested me with the elegant uniform of my corps, and removed the Pitan’s disguise, which I had taken from the back of the prostrate Bobbachy Bahawder. What did the rogue do next? — Why, he carried back the dress to the Bobbachy — he put it, once more, on its right owner; he and his infernal black companions (who had been won over by the Bobbachy with promises of enormous reward), gagged Macgillicuddy, who was going the rounds, and then marched with the Indian coolly up to the outer gate, and gave the word. The sentinel, thinking it was myself, who had first come in, and was as likely to go out again — (indeed my rascally valet said that Gahagan Sahib was about to go out with him and his two companions to reconnoitre,)— opened the gates, and off they went!

This accounted for the confusion of my valet when I entered! — and for the scoundrel’s speech, that the lieutenant had JUST BEEN THE ROUNDS; — he HAD, poor fellow, and had been seized and bound in this cruel way. The three men, with their liberated prisoner, had just been on the point of escape, when my arrival disconcerted them: I had changed the guard at the gate (whom they had won over likewise); and yet, although they had overcome poor Mac, and although they were ready for the start, they had positively no means for effecting their escape, until I was ass enough to put means in their way. Fool! fool! thrice besotted fool that I was, to think of my own silly person when I should have been occupied solely with my public duty.

From Macgillicuddy’s incoherent accounts, as he was gasping from the effects of the gag and the whiskey he had taken to revive him, and from my own subsequent observations, I learned this sad story. A sudden and painful thought struck me — my precious box! — I rushed back, I found that box — I have it still. Opening it, there, where I had left ingots, sacks of bright tomauns, kopeks and rupees, strings of diamonds as big as ducks’ eggs, rubies as red as the lips of my Belinda, countless strings of pearls, amethysts, emeralds, piles upon piles of bank-notes — I found — a piece of paper! with a few lines in the Sanscrit language, which are thus, word for word, translated:


“(On disappointing a certain Major.)

“The conquering Lion return’d with his prey,
And safe in his cavern he set it,
The sly little fox stole the booty away;
And, as he escaped, to the lion did say,
‘AHA! don’t you wish you may get it?’”

Confusion! Oh, how my blood boiled as I read these cutting lines. I stamped — I swore — I don’t know to what insane lengths my rage might have carried me, had not at this moment a soldier rushed in, screaming, “The enemy, the enemy!”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00