In which Philanderous Flogg and Pissepotout Accept Each Other,
the One as Master, the Other as Dog…
Mr. Philanderous Flogg lived, in 1872, at No.7, Saddle Row, Burlyman Gardens, the house in which Shergar died in 1984. When he stood in the doorway and looked around, he could see nothing but the great gray streets on every side. Not a tree nor a shrub broke the broad sweep of the city that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The summer sun had baked the road into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass in Hyde Park was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray colour to be seen everywhere. Once the house on Saddle Row had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.
He was one of the most noticeable members of the Conform Club, though he seemed always to avoid attracting attention; an enigmatic personage, about whom little was known, except that he was a self-polished man of the world. People said that he resembled Byron – at least that his head was Byronic; but the fantasy circulated that he was a tranquil Byron, who might live on a thousand years without growing old, rather like the equally charismatic and undead Dorian Gray himself.
Certainly an Englishman, it was more doubtful whether Philanderous Flogg was an indigenous Londoner. He was never seen on Change, nor at the Bank, nor in the counting-rooms of the “City”; no ships ever came into London docks of which he was the owner; he had no public employment; he had never been entered at any of the Inns of Court, either at the Temple, or Lincoln’s Inn, or Gray’s Inn; nor had his voice ever resounded in the Court of Chancery, or in the Exchequer, or the Queen’s Bench, or the Ecclesiastical Courts. He certainly was not a manufacturer; nor was he a merchant or a gentleman farmer. His name was strange to the scientific and learned societies, and he never was known to take part in the sage deliberations of the Royal Institution or the London Institution, the Artisan’s Association, or the Institution of Arts and Sciences. Nor was he known at the Jam-Maker’s and Chutneys Guild, nor by the Knights of Origami, nor the Remedial Potato-Printer’s Press. He belonged, in fact, to none of the numerous societies which swarm in the English capital, from the Harmonic to that of the Entomologists, founded mainly for the purpose of abolishing pernicious insects. And even if mentioned to the Seamstresses, they insisted that his wardrobe alterations were not known to them either.
Philanderous Flogg was a member of the Conform, and that was all.
The way in which he got admission to this exclusive club was simple enough.
He was recommended by the Barings, with whom he had an open credit. His cheques were regularly paid at sight from his account current, which was always flush.
Was Philanderous Flogg rich? Undoubtedly. But those who knew him best could not imagine how he had made his fortune, and Mr. Flogg was the last person to whom to apply for the information. He was not lavish, nor, on the contrary, avaricious; for, whenever he knew that money was needed for a noble, useful, or benevolent purpose, he supplied it quietly and sometimes anonymously. He was, in short, the least communicative of men. He talked very little, and seemed all the more mysterious for his taciturn manner. His daily habits were quite open to observation; but whatever he did was so exactly the same thing that he had always done before, that the wits of the curious were fairly puzzled.
Had he travelled? It was likely, for no one seemed to know the world more familiarly; there was no spot so secluded that he did not appear to have an intimate acquaintance with it. He often corrected, with a few clear words, the thousand conjectures advanced by members of the club as to lost and unheard-of travellers, pointing out the true probabilities, and seeming as if gifted with a sort of second sight, so often did events justify his predictions. He must have travelled everywhere, at least in the spirit.
It was at least certain that Philanderous Flogg had not absented himself from London for many years. Those who were honoured by a better acquaintance with him than the rest, declared that nobody could pretend to have ever seen him anywhere else. His sole pastimes were reading the papers and playing Grist. He often won at this game, which, as a silent one, harmonised with his nature; but his winnings never went into his purse, being reserved as a fund for his charities. Mr. Flogg played, not to win, but for the sake of playing. The game was in his eyes a contest, a struggle with a difficulty, yet a motionless, unwearying struggle, congenial to his tastes.
Was he married? No. But he had not the sallow complexion of a deprived man. More the twinkle in his eye of a depraved one. And the infrequent, unexplained bruise upon the throat, kept mostly hidden by a white silk cravat; or a candle-wax scald upon the palms, necessitating a pair of fine kid gloves. Occasionally, a carpet-burn on the head, curtained modestly by his Bohemian forelock.
Philanderous Flogg was not known to ever have had either wife or children, which may happen to the most honest people; neither relatives or near friends, which is certainly more unusual. He lived alone in his house in Saddle Row, whither none penetrated. A single, overworked, quite exhausted domestic sufficed to serve his particular needs. He breakfasted and dined at the club, at hours mathematically fixed, in the same room, at the same table, never taking his meals with other members, much less bringing a guest with him; and went home at exactly midnight, only to retire at once to bed. He never used the cosy chambers which the Conform provides for its favoured members, stating them to be too extravagantly equipped for his own sleeping arrangements. He passed ten hours out of the twenty-four in Saddle Row, either in sleeping, musing, flagellation, or making his toilet. When he chose to take a walk it was with a regular step in the entrance hall with its mosaic flooring, or in the circular gallery with its dome supported by twenty red porphyry Ionic columns, and illumined by blue painted windows. When he breakfasted or dined all the resources of the club – its kitchens and pantries, its buttery and dairy – aided to crowd his table with their most succulent stores; he was served by the gravest waiters, in dress coats, and shoes with swan-skin soles, who proffered the viands in special porcelain, and on the finest linen; club decanters, of a lost mould, contained his sherry, his port, and his cinnamon-spiced claret; while his beverages were refreshingly cooled with ice, brought at great cost from the American lakes.
If to live in this style is to be eccentric, it must be confessed that there is something good in eccentricity.
The mansion in Saddle Row, though not sumptuous, was exceedingly comfortable. The habits of its occupant were such as to demand little and often from the sole domestic, but Philanderous Flogg required him to be almost superhumanly prompt and regular. On this very 2nd of October he had dismissed James Forster, because that luckless lurcher had brought him shaving-water at eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit instead of eighty-six; and he was awaiting his successor, who was due at the house between eleven and half-past.
Philanderous Flogg was seated squarely in his armchair and looked anxiously at the sky through the windows, which was even grayer than usual; his feet close together like those of a grenadier on parade, his hands resting on his knees, his body straight, his head erect; he was steadily watching a complicated clock which indicated the hours, the minutes, the seconds, the days, the months, and the years. At exactly half-past eleven Mr. Flogg would, according to his daily habit, quit Saddle Row, and repair to the Conform.
A rap at this moment sounded on the door of the cosy apartment where Philanderous Flogg was seated, and James Forster, the dismissed pet, appeared.
“The new servant,” said he.
A young pedigree advanced and bowed.
“You are a French poodle, I believe,” asked Philanderous Flogg, “and your name is John?”
“Jean, if monsieur pleases,” replied the newcomer, “And I am indeed a French poodle; Jean Pissepotout, a surname which has clung to me because I have a natural aptness for going out to do one business into another. I believe I’m honest, monsieur, but, to be outspoken, I’ve had several trades. I’ve been an itinerant singer, a circus-mutt, when I used to vault like Leotard, and dance on a rope like Blondin. Then I got to be a professor of gymnastics, so as to make better use of my talents; and then I was an errant fire-dog in Paris, and arrested at many a big fire. But I quit France five years ago, and, wishing to taste the sweets of domestic life, took service as a valet here in England. Finding myself out of place, and hearing that Monsieur Philanderous Flogg was the most exact and settled gentleman in the United Kingdom, I have come to monsieur in the hope of living with him a tranquil life, and forgetting even the name of Pissepotout.”
“Piss-pot-oto suits me,” responded Mr. Flogg, with terribly patronising pronunciation. “Although somewhat long, to shout out in Hyde Park during afternoon walkies. I may shorten it to Toto, or Brian. You are well recommended to me; I hear a good report of you. You know my conditions, my little yellow friend?”
“Good! What time is it?”
“Twenty-two minutes after eleven,” returned Pissepotout, drawing an enormous silver watch from the depths of his pocket.
“You are too slow,” said Mr. Flogg.
“Pardon me, monsieur, it is impossible…”
“You are four minutes too slow. No matter; it’s enough to mention the error. Now from this moment, twenty-nine minutes after eleven a.m, this Wednesday, 2nd October, you are in my service.”
From the far north they heard a low wail of the wind, and Philanderous Flogg and Pissepotout could see from the windows where the passers-by bowed almost double before the coming storm. There now came a sharp whistling in the air from the south, and as they turned their eyes that way they saw dust-devils coming from that direction also.
Then a strange thing happened.
The house whirled around two or three times and rose slowly through the air. Pissepotout felt as if he were going up in a balloon.
The north and south winds met where the house stood, and made it the exact centre of the cyclone. In the middle of a cyclone the air is generally still, but the great pressure of the wind on every side of the house raised it up higher and higher, until it was at the very top of the cyclone; and there it remained and was carried miles and miles upwards, as easily as you could carry a feather.
It was very dark, and the wind howled horribly around them, but they found they were riding quite easily. After the first few whirls around, and one other time when the house tipped badly, it felt as if they were being rocked gently, like a baby in a cradle.
Pissepotout did not like it. He ran about the room, now here, now there, barking loudly; but Philanderous Flogg sat quite still on the chair and waited to see what would happen.
After what seemed like hour after hour passed away, and slowly the ashamed Pissepotout got over his fright; but the wind shrieked so loudly all about him that he nearly became deaf. At first he had wondered if he would be dashed to pieces when the house fell again; but as the time passed and nothing terrible happened, he stopped worrying and resolved to wait calmly and see what the future would bring.
Eventually, with a jolt, No.7 Saddle Row came to earth once more, slightly concussing the mailman, who had been awaiting patiently and a little bemusedly at the top step, with that day’s post.
Philanderous Flogg got up, took his hat in his left hand, put it on his head with an automatic motion, and went off without a word.
Pissepotout heard the street door shut once; it was his new master going out. He heard it shut again; it was his predecessor, James Forster, departing in his turn. Pissepotout remained alone in the house in Saddle Row, awaiting his master’s anticipated return in the hallway, ears pricked.