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The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter I

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With Julia's stony looks ever before my eyes, her father's stern refusal in my ears, I did not care, at the close of the campaign, again to seek her company or to press my suit. We were eighteen months on service, marching and counter-marching, and fighting almost every other day: to the world I did not seem altered; but the world only saw the face, and not the seared and blighted heart within me. My valour, always desperate, now reached to a pitch of cruelty; I tortured my grooms and grass-cutters for the most trifling offence or error,--I never in action spared a man,--I sheared off three hundred and nine heads in the course of that single campaign.

Some influence, equally melancholy, seemed to have fallen upon poor old Jowler. About six months after we had left Dum Dum, he received a parcel of letters from Benares (whither his wife had retired with her daughter), and so deeply did they seem to weigh upon his spirits, that he ordered eleven men of his regiment to be flogged within two days; but it was against the blacks that he chiefly turned his wrath. Our fellows, in the heat and hurry of the campaign, were in the habit of dealing rather roughly with their prisoners, to extract treasure from them: they used to pull their nails out by the root, to boil them in kedgeree pots, to flog them and dress their wounds with cayenne pepper, and so on. Jowler, when he heard of these proceedings, which before had always justly exasperated him (he was a humane and kind little man), used now to smile fiercely and say, "D- the black scoundrels! Serve them right, serve them right!"

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One day, about a couple of miles in advance of the column, I had been on a foraging-party with a few dragoons, and was returning peaceably to camp, when of a sudden a troop of Mahrattas burst on us from a neighbouring mango-tope, in which they had been hidden: in an instant three of my men's saddles were empty, and I was left with but seven more to make head against at least thirty of these vagabond black horsemen. I never saw in my life a nobler figure than the leader of the troop--mounted on a splendid black Arab; he was as tall, very nearly, as myself; he wore a steel cap and a shirt of mail, and carried a beautiful French carbine, which had already done execution upon two of my men. I saw that our only chance of safety lay in the destruction of this man. I shouted to him in a voice of thunder (in the Hindustanee tongue of course), "Stop, dog, if you dare, and encounter a man!"

In reply his lance came whirling in the air over my head, and mortally transfixed poor Foggarty of ours, who was behind me. Grinding my teeth and swearing horribly, I drew that scimitar which never yet failed its blow, [2] and rushed at the Indian. He came down at full gallop, his own sword making ten thousand gleaming circles in the air, shrieking his cry of battle.

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The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan
William Makepeace Thackeray

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