William M. Thackeray, Vanity Fair: Ch. 43

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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.