Vanity Fair By William Makepeace Thackeray Chapters 43-46

CHAPTER 43

In Which the Reader Has to Double the Cape

The astonished reader must be called upon to transport himself ten thousand miles to the military station of Bundlegunge, in the Madras division of our Indian empire, where our gallant old friends of the — th regiment are quartered under the command of the brave Colonel, Sir Michael O'Dowd. Time has dealt kindly with that stout officer, as it does ordinarily with men who have good stomachs and good tempers and are not perplexed over much by fatigue of the brain. The Colonel plays a good knife and fork at tiffin and resumes those weapons with great success at dinner. He smokes his hookah after both meals and puffs as quietly while his wife scolds him as he did under the fire of the French at Waterloo. Age and heat have not diminished the activity or the eloquence of the descendant of the Malonys and the Molloys. Her Ladyship, our old acquaintance, is as much at home at Madras as at Brussels in the cantonment as under the tents. On the march you saw her at the head of the regiment seated on a royal elephant, a noble sight. Mounted on that beast, she has been into action with tigers in the jungle, she has been received by native princes, who have welcomed her and Glorvina into the recesses of their zenanas and offered her shawls and jewels which it went to her heart to refuse. The sentries of all arms salute her wherever she makes her appearance, and she touches her hat gravely to their salutation. Lady O'Dowd is one of the greatest ladies in the Presidency of Madras — her quarrel with Lady Smith, wife of Sir Minos Smith the puisne judge, is still remembered by some at Madras, when the Colonel's lady snapped her fingers in the Judge's lady's face and said SHE'D never walk behind ever a beggarly civilian. Even now, though it is five-and-twenty years ago, people remember Lady O'Dowd performing a jig at Government House, where she danced down two Aides-de-Camp, a Major of Madras cavalry, and two gentlemen of the Civil Service; and, persuaded by Major Dobbin, C.B., second in command of the — th, to retire to the supper-room, lassata nondum satiata recessit.

Peggy O'Dowd is indeed the same as ever, kind in act and thought; impetuous in temper; eager to command; a tyrant over her Michael; a dragon amongst all the ladies of the regiment; a mother to all the young men, whom she tends in their sickness, defends in all their scrapes, and with whom Lady Peggy is immensely popular. But the Subalterns' and Captains' ladies (the Major is unmarried) cabal against her a good deal. They say that Glorvina gives herself airs and that Peggy herself is ill tolerably domineering. She interfered with a little congregation which Mrs. Kirk had got up and laughed the young men away from her sermons, stating that a soldier's wife had no business to be a parson — that Mrs. Kirk would be much better mending her husband's clothes; and, if the regiment wanted sermons, that she had the finest in the world, those of her uncle, the Dean. She abruptly put a termination to a flirtation which Lieutenant Stubble of the regiment had commenced with the Surgeon's wife, threatening to come down upon Stubble for the money which he had borrowed from her (for the young fellow was still of an extravagant turn) unless he broke off at once and went to the Cape on sick leave. On the other hand, she housed and sheltered Mrs. Posky, who fled from her bungalow one night, pursued by her infuriate husband, wielding his second brandy bottle, and actually carried Posky through the delirium tremens and broke him of the habit of drinking, which had grown upon that officer, as all evil habits will grow upon men. In a word, in adversity she was the best of comforters, in good fortune the most troublesome of friends, having a perfectly good opinion of herself always and an indomitable resolution to have her own way.

Among other points, she had made up her mind that Glorvina should marry our old friend Dobbin. Mrs. O'Dowd knew the Major's expectations and appreciated his good qualities and the high character which he enjoyed in his profession. Glorvina, a very handsome, fresh-coloured, black-haired, blue-eyed young lady, who could ride a horse, or play a sonata with any girl out of the County Cork, seemed to be the very person destined to insure Dobbin's happiness — much more than that poor good little weak-spur'ted Amelia, about whom he used to take on so. — "Look at Glorvina enter a room," Mrs. O'Dowd would say, "and compare her with that poor Mrs. Osborne, who couldn't say boo to a goose. She'd be worthy of you, Major — you're a quiet man yourself, and want some one to talk for ye. And though she does not come of such good blood as the Malonys or Molloys, let me tell ye, she's of an ancient family that any nobleman might be proud to marry into."

But before she had come to such a resolution and determined to subjugate Major Dobbin by her endearments, it must be owned that Glorvina had practised them a good deal elsewhere. She had had a season in Dublin, and who knows how many in Cork, Killarney, and Mallow? She had flirted with all the marriageable officers whom the depots of her country afforded, and all the bachelor squires who seemed eligible. She had been engaged to be married a half-score times in Ireland, besides the clergyman at Bath who used her so ill. She had flirted all the way to Madras with the Captain and chief mate of the Ramchunder East Indiaman, and had a season at the Presidency with her brother and Mrs. O'Dowd, who was staying there, while the Major of the regiment was in command at the station. Everybody admired her there; everybody danced with her; but no one proposed who was worth the marrying — one or two exceedingly young subalterns sighed after her, and a beardless civilian or two, but she rejected these as beneath her pretensions — and other and younger virgins than Glorvina were married before her. There are women, and handsome women too, who have this fortune in life. They fall in love with the utmost generosity; they ride and walk with half the Army-list, though they draw near to forty, and yet the Misses O'Grady are the Misses O'Grady still: Glorvina persisted that but for Lady O'Dowd's unlucky quarrel with the Judge's lady, she would have made a good match at Madras, where old Mr. Chutney, who was at the head of the civil service (and who afterwards married Miss Dolby, a young lady only thirteen years of age who had just arrived from school in Europe), was just at the point of proposing to her.

Well, although Lady O'Dowd and Glorvina quarrelled a great number of times every day, and upon almost every conceivable subject — indeed, if Mick O'Dowd had not possessed the temper of an angel two such women constantly about his ears would have driven him out of his senses — yet they agreed between themselves on this point, that Glorvina should marry Major Dobbin, and were determined that the Major should have no rest until the arrangement was brought about. Undismayed by forty or fifty previous defeats, Glorvina laid siege to him. She sang Irish melodies at him unceasingly. She asked him so frequently and pathetically, Will ye come to the bower? that it is a wonder how any man of feeling could have resisted the invitation. She was never tired of inquiring, if Sorrow had his young days faded, and was ready to listen and weep like Desdemona at the stories of his dangers and his campaigns. It has been said that our honest and dear old friend used to perform on the flute in private; Glorvina insisted upon having duets with him, and Lady O'Dowd would rise and artlessly quit the room when the young couple were so engaged. Glorvina forced the Major to ride with her of mornings. The whole cantonment saw them set out and return. She was constantly writing notes over to him at his house, borrowing his books, and scoring with her great pencil-marks such passages of sentiment or humour as awakened her sympathy. She borrowed his horses, his servants, his spoons, and palanquin — no wonder that public rumour assigned her to him, and that the Major's sisters in England should fancy they were about to have a sister-in-law.

Dobbin, who was thus vigorously besieged, was in the meanwhile in a state of the most odious tranquillity. He used to laugh when the young fellows of the regiment joked him about Glorvina's manifest attentions to him. "Bah!" said he, "she is only keeping her hand in — she practises upon me as she does upon Mrs. Tozer's piano, because it's the most handy instrument in the station. I am much too battered and old for such a fine young lady as Glorvina." And so he went on riding with her, and copying music and verses into her albums, and playing at chess with her very submissively; for it is with these simple amusements that some officers in India are accustomed to while away their leisure moments, while others of a less domestic turn hunt hogs, and shoot snipes, or gamble and smoke cheroots, and betake themselves to brandy-and-water. As for Sir Michael O'Dowd, though his lady and her sister both urged him to call upon the Major to explain himself and not keep on torturing a poor innocent girl in that shameful way, the old soldier refused point-blank to have anything to do with the conspiracy. "Faith, the Major's big enough to choose for himself," Sir Michael said; "he'll ask ye when he wants ye"; or else he would turn the matter off jocularly, declaring that "Dobbin was too young to keep house, and had written home to ask lave of his mamma." Nay, he went farther, and in private communications with his Major would caution and rally him, crying, "Mind your oi, Dob, my boy, them girls is bent on mischief — me Lady has just got a box of gowns from Europe, and there's a pink satin for Glorvina, which will finish ye, Dob, if it's in the power of woman or satin to move ye."

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