In which Pissepotout is Convinced that He Has At Last Found His Ideal
“Faith,” muttered Pissepotout, somewhat flurried in his panting anxiousness. “I’ve seen people at Madame Tussaud’s more lively than my new master!”
Madame Tussaud’s ‘people’ let it be said, are of wax, and are much visited in London; speech is all that is wanting to make them human.
He had been awakened by a shock, so sudden and severe that if Pissepotout had not been lying on the floor, he might have been hurt. As it was, the jar made him catch his breath and wonder what had happened; and he put his cold little nose up to the door and whined dismally. He eventually sat up, and noticed that the house was not moving; nor was it dark, for the bright sunshine came in at the window, flooding the little hallway. He sprang up and opened the door, looking keenly for his new master’s return.
During his brief interview with Mr. Flogg, Pissepotout had been carefully observing him. He appeared to have been a man about forty years of age when alive, with fine, handsome features, and a tall, well-shaped figure; his hair and whiskers were light, his forehead compact and unwrinkled, his face rather pale as befitting the recently deceased, even his teeth magnificent. His countenance possessed in the highest degree what physiognomists call “repose in action,” a quality of those who act rather than talk. Calm and phlegmatic, with at least one clear eye, Mr. Flogg seemed to present a perfect mask of that English composure, which Andrew Lloyd-Webber has so skilfully represented in musicals such as Phantom. Seen in the various phases of his daily life, he gave the idea of being perfectly well-balanced, as exactly regulated as an elderly gentleman’s bladder – no doubt still enacting the very routines that had comforted him as living man. Philanderous Flogg was, indeed, exactitude personified, and this was betrayed even in the expression of his very hands and feet; for in men, as well as in animals, the limbs themselves are expressive of the congealed – er, concealed – passions.
He was so exact that he was never in a hurry, was always ready, and was economical alike of his steps and his motions. He never took one step too many, and always went to his destination by the shortest cut; he made no superfluous gestures, and was never seen to be moved or agitated. He was the most deliberate, unimaginative person in the world, yet always reached his destination at the exact moment, so as not to miss anything.
He lived alone, and, so to speak, outside of every social relation; and as he knew that in this world, account must be taken of friction, and that friction retards the sensibilities of even the most vibrantly alive, therefore he never rubbed against anybody.
Truly, no man but he in polite society had been spoken and speculated about by so many, for such an extent of time, and in such detail, while ensuring the art of gossip to have so little to discuss, to appear so vacuous, and to lead so empty and dead a life for so long. The proudest and most promising débutantes had died of boredom, or turned to a life of Christ, awaiting to hear something inspiring about him, or to learn of any spark of vitality behind those cold, calculating, clock-watching eyes.
As for Pissepotout, he was a true Parisian of Paris. Since he had abandoned his own country for England, taking service as a valet, he had in vain searched for a master after his own heart. Pissepotout was by no means one of those pet dunces depicted by Moliere with a bold gaze, a shiny coat, and a wet nose held high in the air; he was an honest fellow, with a pleasant face, lips a trifle protruding, soft-mannered and serviceable, with a good round head, such as one likes to see on the shoulders of man’s best friend. His eyes were blue, his complexion rubicund, his figure almost portly and well-built, his body muscular, and his physical powers fully developed by the exercises of his younger days. His fur was somewhat tumbled; for, while the ancient sculptors are said to have known eighteen methods of arranging Minerva’s tresses, Pissepotout was familiar with but one of dressing his own: three strokes of a large-toothed comb and a delightful roll upon the doormat completed his toilet.
It would be rash to predict how Pissepotout’s lively nature would agree with Mr. Flogg. It was impossible to tell whether the new servant would turn out as absolutely methodical as his undead master required; experience alone could solve the question. Why did he favour dogs as companions, when loyal hunchbacked misfits named ‘Igor’ were so much better suited to the coffin-dodgers of the upper-class? Pissepotout had been a sort of vagrant himself in his early years, and now yearned for repose; but so far he had failed to find it, though he had already served in ten English houses, and had ten different silver-plated engraved name-discs to prove it. But he could not take root in any of these; with chagrin, he found his masters invariably whimsical and irregular, constantly running about the countryside shouting at him ‘Fenton!’ or ‘Benton!’ and even ‘Jesus Christ!’ and on the look-out for misadventure. His last master, young Lord Longferry, Member of Parliament, after passing his nights in the Haymarket taverns, was too often brought home in the morning on policemen’s shoulders. Pissepotout, desirous of respecting the gentleman whom he served, ventured a mild remonstrance on such conduct, by relieving himself in the inebriated Lord’s slippers; which, being ill-received, he took his leave. Hearing that Mr. Philanderous Flogg was looking for a servant, and that his life was one of unbroken regularity, that he neither travelled nor stayed from home overnight, he felt sure that this would be the place he was after. He presented himself, and was accepted, as has been seen.
At half-past eleven, then, Pissepotout found himself alone in the house in Saddle Row. He began a storm-damage inspection without delay, scouring it from cellar to garret. So clean, well-arranged, solemn a mansion pleased him; it seemed to him like a snail’s shell, lighted and warmed by gas, which sufficed for both these purposes. When Pissepotout reached the second storey he recognised at once the room which he was to inhabit, and he was well satisfied with it. Electric bells and speaking-tubes afforded communication with the lower storeys; while on the mantel stood an electric clock, precisely like that in Mr. Flogg’s bedchamber, both beating the same second at the same instant.
“That’s good, that’ll do,” said Pissepotout to himself.
He suddenly observed, hung over the clock, a card which, upon inspection, proved to be a programme of the daily routine of the house. It comprised all that was required of the servant, from eight in the morning, exactly at which hour Philanderous Flogg rose, till half-past eleven, when he left the house for the Conform Club – all the details of service; the whipping and birching to thoroughly rouse at eight promptly, tea and toast and calamine lotion at twenty-three minutes past eight, the removal of the manacles and inflatable rubber corset at twelve minutes before nine, the removal of all overnight metal braces, clamps and piercings at ten minutes after nine, the shaving-water at thirty-seven minutes past nine, then the crowbar to open the nocturnal chastity belts and assistance at the toilet at twenty minutes before ten. Everything was regulated and foreseen that was to be done from half-past eleven a.m. till midnight, the hour at which the methodical gentleman retired, whereupon the morning’s instructions were repeated, mostly in reverse.
Mr. Flogg’s wardrobe was amply supplied and in the best taste. Each pair of trousers, coat, and vest bore a number, indicating the time of year and season at which they were in turn to be laid out for wearing; and the same system was applied to the master’s shoes. In short, the house in Saddle Row, which must have been a very temple of disorder and unrest under the illustrious but dissipated Shergar, was cosiness, comfort, and method idealised. There was no study, nor were there books, which would have been quite useless to the brain-dead Mr. Flogg; for at the Conform two libraries, one of general literature and the other of law and politics, were at his service. A moderate-sized safe stood in his bedroom, constructed so as to defy fire as well as burglars; but Pissepotout found neither arms nor hunting weapons anywhere, not even an axe; everything betrayed the most tranquil and peaceable attitude towards the general public.
But upon opening the under-stairs cupboard, he had another reason to be startled, after that morning’s tornado. For peeking out at him, was a group of the queerest people he had ever seen. They were not as big as the grown folk he had always been used to, and certainly nowhere near as big as Mr. Flogg; but neither were they very small. In fact, they seemed about as tall as Pissepotout, who was a well-grown dog for his age, although they were, so far as looks go, many years older.
Three were men and one a woman, and all were oddly dressed. They wore round hats that rose to a small point a foot above their heads, with little bells around the brims that tinkled sweetly as they moved. The hats of the men were blue; the little woman’s hat was white, and she wore a white gown that hung in pleats from her shoulders. Over it were sprinkled little stars that glistened like diamonds. The men were dressed in blue, of the same shade as their hats, and wore well-polished boots with a deep roll of blue at the tops. The men, Pissepotout thought, were about as old as Big Ben, for two of them had beards. But the little woman was doubtless much older. Her face was covered with wrinkles, her hair was nearly white, and she walked rather stiffly.
When these people drew near to where Pissepotout was standing in the doorway, they paused and whispered among themselves, as if afraid to come out farther into the hall. But the little old woman walked up to him, made a low bow and said, in a sweet voice:
“You are welcome, most noble Sorcerer, to the house of the Munchlings. We are so grateful to you for having killed the wicked James of Forster, and for setting our people free from bondage.”
Pissepotout listened to this speech with wonder. What could the little woman possibly mean by calling him a sorcerer, and saying he had killed James Forster? Pissepotout was an innocent, hardworking little poodle, who had been carried by circumstance many miles from home; and he had never killed anything in all his life.
But the little woman evidently expected him to answer; so he said, with hesitation, “You are very kind, but there must be some mistake. I have not killed anything.”
“The house did, anyway,” replied the little old woman, with a rather hysterical laugh. “And that is the same thing. See!” she continued, pointing out of the front door, to the corner of the house. “There are his two feet, still sticking out from under a block of wood.”
Pissepotout looked, and gave a little cry of fright. There, indeed, just under the corner of the great foundation beam the house rested on, where the external cellar door had been torn away in the storm, two feet were sticking out, shod in silver-buckled shoes with pointed toes.
“Oh, dear! Oh, dear!” cried Pissepotout, clasping his hands together in dismay. “He must have tripped and fallen under the house into the cellar, after our great upheaval earlier. Whatever shall we do?”
“There is nothing to be done,” said the little woman calmly.
“But who was he?” asked Pissepotout.
“He was the wicked James of Forster, as I said,” answered the little woman. “He has held all the Munchlings in bondage for many years while servicing the Great and Terrible Flogg, making them slave for him night and day. Now they are all set free, and are grateful to you for the favour.”
“Who are the Munchlings?” inquired Pissepotout.
“They are the people who live in this house of the Beast, where the wicked James ruled.”
“Are you a Munchling?” asked Pissepotout.
“No, but I am their friend, although I live in the house over to the North. When they saw the wicked Forster was dead the Munchlings sent a swift messenger to me via the plumbing, and I came at once. I am the Bitch of the North House.”
“Oh, my gracious me!” cried Pissepotout. Females of his species rarely crossed his path. “Are you a real bitch?”
“Yes, indeed,” answered the little woman, unconvincingly to the French poodle’s questing nose. “But I am a good bitch, and the people love me. I am not as powerful as the wicked bitch James was who ruled here, or I should have set the people free myself.”
“But I thought all bitches were neutered,” said the dog, who was half frightened at facing a real bitch. He had never prepared for the eventuality – having focused all of his efforts on finding the perfect master instead.
“Oh, no, that is a great mistake. There were only four true bitches in all of London, and two of them, those who live in the North and the South, are good bitches. I know this is true, for I am one of them myself, and cannot be mistaken. Those who dwelt in the East End and the West Central were, indeed, wicked bitches; but now that you have killed one of them, there is but one wicked bitch in all of London.”
“But,” said Pissepotout, after a moment’s thought, “Aunt Em has told me that the bitches were all dead – years and years ago.”
“Who is Aunt Em?” inquired the little old woman.
“She is my aunt who lives in Cannes, where I came from.”
The Bitch of the North House seemed to think for a time, with her head bowed and her eyes upon the ground. Then she looked up and said, “I do not know where Cannes is, for I have never heard that country mentioned before. But tell me, is it a civilized country?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Pissepotout.
“Then that accounts for it. In the civilized countries I believe there are no bitches left, no wickedness, nor submissives, nor masochists. But, you see, London has never been civilized, for we are cut off from all the rest of the world. Therefore we still have bitches and wicked people amongst us.”
“Who are the wicked ones?” asked Pissepotout.
“Flogg himself is the most wicked,” answered the Bitch, sinking her voice to a whisper. “He is more powerful than all the rest of us together. He is from the city of Emmannuelle.”
Pissepotout was going to ask another question, but just then the Munchlings, who had been standing silently by, gave a loud shout and pointed to the corner of the house where the wicked James Forster had been lying.
“What is it?” asked the little old woman, and looked, and began to laugh in her strange hysterical tone. The feet of the dead bitch James had disappeared entirely, and nothing was left but the silver-buckled shoes.
“He was so old-school,” explained the Bitch of the North, “that he dried up quickly in the sun. That is the end of him. But the silver-buckled shoes are yours, and you shall have them to wear.” She reached down and picked up the shoes, and after shaking the dust out of them, handed them to Pissepotout.
“The Bitch of the Beast was proud of those silver-buckled shoes,” said one of the Munchlings, “and there is some powerful charm connected with them; but what it is we never knew.”
Pissepotout quickly carried the shoes into the house and placed them on the table. Then he turned again to the Munchlings under the stairs and said:
“I am anxious to get back my master, for I am sure I will worry without him. Can you help me find him?”
The Munchlings and the Bitch first looked at one another, and then at Pissepotout, and then shook their heads.
“At the second home of the Beast, not far from here,” said one, “there is a great dessert club, the Conform; and none who is not a member could live to cross its threshhold.”
“It is the same at the South,” said another, “for I have been there and seen it. The South is the country of the Quadrilles. No-one enters or leaves there, without being challenged to the Danse Macabre.”
“I am told,” said the third man, “that it is the same at the Westminster. And that country is ruled by the wicked Bitch of the West, who would make you her slave if you passed her way.”
“The North is my home,” said the old lady, “and at its edge is the same great dessert club that obsesses this mind of Flogg. I’m afraid, my dear, you will have to stay in and wait with us.”
The three Munchlings bowed low to him and wished him a pleasant term in servitude, after which they walked away back down the cellar stairs. The Bitch gave Pissepotout a friendly little nod, whirled around on her left heel three times, and straight away disappeared, much to the surprise of the little poodle, who barked after her loudly enough when she had gone, because he had been afraid even to growl while she stood by.
But gradually Pissepotout, knowing her to be a bitch, found he had expected her to disappear in just that way, and presently was not surprised in the least.
Having scrutinised the house from top to bottom, he rubbed his hands, a broad smile overspread his features, and he said joyfully, “This is just what I wanted! Ah, we shall get on together, Mr. Flogg and I! What a domestic and regular gentleman! A real machine, almost as if constructed of tin; well, I don’t mind servicing a machine. All machines require a good kicking and beating once in a while to perform at their best.”