Around the World in Eighty Days Yeller Brick Road – Chapter Five

Chapter V:

In which a New Species of Parody, Unknown to the Moneyed Men, Appears to Change…

Philanderous Flogg rightly suspected that his departure from London would create a lively sensation at the West End, and not just amongst the Munchlings and their household bitches. The news of the bet spread through the Conform Club, and afforded an exciting topic of conversation to its members. From the club it soon got into the papers throughout England.

The boasted ‘tour of the world’ was talked about, disputed, argued with as much warmth as if the subject were another copyright dispute claim over Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Some took sides with Philanderous Flogg, but the large majority shook their heads and declared against him; it was absurd, impossible, they declared, that the tour of the world could be made, except theoretically and on paper, in this minimum of time, and with the existing means of transport. The Times, Standard, Morning Post, and Daily News, and twenty other highly respectable newspapers scouted Mr. Flogg’s project as madness; the Daily Telegraph alone hesitatingly supported him.

People in general thought him a lunatic, and blamed his Conform Club friends for having accepted a wager which betrayed the mental aberration of its proposer.

Articles no less passionate than logical appeared on the question, for geography is one of the pet subjects of the English; and the columns devoted to Philanderous Flogg’s venture were eagerly devoured by all classes of reader. At first some rash individuals, principally of the gentler sex, espoused his cause, which became still more popular when the Illustrated London News came out with his flattering portrait, copied from a photograph in the Conform Club. Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world. No wonder Oscar Wilde had worshipped him, when he was alive.

A few readers of the Daily Telegraph even dared to say: “Why not, after all? Stranger things have come to pass.”

At last a long article appeared, on the 7th of October, in the bulletin of the Royal Geographical Society, which treated the question from every point of view, and demonstrated the utter folly of the enterprise.

Everything, it said, was against the travellers, every obstacle imposed alike by man and by nature. A miraculous agreement of the times of departure and arrival, which was impossible, was absolutely necessary to his success. He might, perhaps, reckon on the arrival of trains at the designated hours, in Europe, where the distances were relatively moderate; but when he calculated upon crossing India in three days, and the United States in seven, could he rely beyond misgiving upon accomplishing his task? There were accidents to machinery, the liability of trains to run off the line, collisions, bad weather, the blocking up by snow – were not all these against Philanderous Flogg? Would he not find himself, when travelling by steamer in winter, at the mercy of the winds and fogs? Is it uncommon for the best ocean steamers to be two or three days behind time? But a single delay would suffice to fatally break the chain of communication; should Philanderous Flogg once miss, even by an hour; a steamer, he would have to wait for the next, and that would irrevocably render his attempt vain.

This article made a great deal of noise, and, being copied into all the papers, seriously depressed the advocates of the rash tourist.

Everybody knows that England is the world of betting men, who are of a higher class than mere gamblers; to bet is in the English temperament. Not only the members of the Conform, but the general public, made heavy wagers for or against Philanderous Flogg, who was set down in the betting books as if he were a race-horse. Bonds were issued, and made their appearance on Change; ‘Philanderous Flogg’s bonds’ were offered at par or at a premium, and a great business was done in them. But five days after the article in the bulletin of the Geographical Society appeared, the demand began to subside: ‘Philanderous Flogg’ declined. They were offered by packages, at first of five, then of ten, until at last nobody would take less than twenty, fifty, a hundred!

Lord Albatross, an elderly paralytic gentleman, was now the only advocate of Philanderous Flogg left. He was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle and soon-to-be-forgotten hour, and consolation in a distressed one, for almost every day he forgot his own name and the whereabouts of the latrine. There his deteriorating mental faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents. There any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs and clenching while in search of the privy, changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century. And there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed, for he had the memory-span of a common goldfish.

This noble lord, who was fastened to his bath-chair day and night so as not to do himself (or others) a mischief, would have given his fortune to be able to make the tour of the world, if it took ten years; and he bet five thousand pounds on his fellow bondage-enthusiast, Philanderous Flogg.

When the folly as well as the uselessness of the adventure was pointed out to him, he contented himself with replying, “If the thing is feasible, the first to do it ought to be an Englishman. I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream – I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of Medievalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal – to something finer, richer than the Hellenic ideal, it may be. But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself. The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our lives. We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to.”

Vanity was the beginning and the end of Lord Albatross’s character; vanity of person and of situation. He had been remarkably handsome in his youth; and, at seventy-four, was still a very fine man, at least in outward presentation. Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did, nor could even the valet of any new-made lord be more delighted with the place he held in society. He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of a fetish; and Philanderous Flogg, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion. However, it is fair to say that primarily it was the mirror that was still no stranger to him, for which Lord Albatross was much relieved, although occasionally he had forgetfully enquired of the handsome devil reflected within if there were a gentleman’s lavatory in the vicinity.

The Flogg party dwindled more and more, everybody was going against him, and the bets stood a hundred and fifty and two hundred to one; and a week after his departure an incident occurred which deprived him of backers at any price.

The Commissioner of Police was sitting in his office at nine o’clock one evening, when the following telegraphic dispatch was put into his hands:

Suez to London.

Rowan, Commissioner of Police, Scotland Yard:

I’ve found the bank robber, Philanderous Flogg. Send without delay warrant of arrest to Bombay.

Filch, Detective.

Precisely such had the paragraph originally stood from the printer’s hands; but the Commissioner Rowan had improved it by adding, for the information of himself and his officers these words, after the date of the Suez-bound ship’s berth: “Unmarried, according to records of December 16, 1871; Philanderous, son and heir of Charles Musgrove Flogg, Esq. of Uppercross, in the county of Somerset,” and by inserting most accurately the day of the month on which he had jilted Lady Jane, his wife-to-be.

The effect of this dispatch was instantaneous. The perceived polished gentleman disappeared, to give place to the pursued, runaway robber of the Bank of England.

His photograph, which was hung with those of the rest of the members at the Conform Club, was minutely examined, and it betrayed, feature by feature, the description of the thief which had been provided to the police. His good looks and his rank had one fair claim on his attachment; since to them he must have owed a future wife of very superior character to anything deserved by his own. Lady Jane Ostentatious had been an excellent woman, sensible and amiable; whose judgement and conduct, if they might be pardoned the youthful infatuation which made her doggedly pursue the evasive and now undead Flogg to the altar, had never found indulgence or satisfaction afterwards.

The mysterious habits of Philanderous Flogg were recalled; his solitary ways, his insatiable appetite, his latex corset collection, his fixation with restraints, his obsession with Dr. Jekkyl, his favouring of trained dogs as staff, his sudden departure, and the strange smell that seemed to linger in his presence; and it seemed clear that, in undertaking a tour round the world on the pretext of a wager, he had had no other end in view than to elude the detectives, and throw them off his track.

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