Insult of the Week: this inquisitive hag – damn her gooseberry wig

In chapter 61 of Waverley, our misfortunate hero finds himself sharing a conveyance – “the northern diligence”, described as “a huge old-fashioned tub” – with a companion he would really rather avoid, if at all possible.

Mrs. Nosebag is

… the lady of Lieutenant Nosebag, adjutant and riding-master of the — dragoons, a jolly woman of about fifty, wearing a blue habit, faced with scarlet, and grasping a silver-mounted horse-whip.

This fashionable lady, who takes a possessive interest in her husband’s regiment and army matters in general, is determined to know everything about her travelling companion, and quizzes him on his military experience and antecedents.  This is a problem for him, because he is currently travelling under an assumed name, having deserted his English regiment and gone over to the Scots.

Edward finds their conversation veering uncomfortably close to dangerous territory when she asks him about whether he fought in the recent battle of Preston:  the answer is yes, but on the opposite side from her husband.

‘Devil confound you,’ thought Waverley: ‘what infernal luck has penned me up with this inquisitive hag!’

Happily, her attention is soon distracted by the sight of a drunken trooper from her own troop, and she conscripts Waverley to go along with her while she upbraids him.  Corporal Bridoon is not at first best pleased to be harangued by “this doughty female commander”, but soon realises that his best bet is to meekly accept the telling off – at least while she’s present.

‘D—n her gooseberry wig,’ said the corporal, when she was out of hearing, ‘that gimlet-eyed jade—mother adjutant, as we call her—is a greater plague to the regiment than provost-marshal, sergeant-major, and old Hubble-de-Shuff, the colonel, into the bargain…”

a series of portraits and caricatures by j. kay
I don’t know where this regiment would be without me to look after it, I’m telling you

Edward’s charming travelling companion keeps him on his toes for the rest of the journey, picking fights with other passengers and nearly blowing his cover on a number of occasions, “till he was almost mad with vexation and anxiety”.  Unsurprisingly,

never was he more rejoiced in his life at the termination of a journey than when the arrival of the coach in London freed him from the attentions of Madam Nosebag.


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