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

Chapter X:

In which Pissepotout is Only Too Glad to Get Off With the Loss of His Shoes…

Everybody knows that the great reversed triangle of land, with its base in the north and its apex in the south, which is called India, embraces fourteen hundred thousand square miles, upon which is spread unequally a population of one hundred and eighty millions of souls. The British Crown exercises a real and despotic dominion over the larger portion of this vast country, and has a governor-general stationed at Calcutta, governors at Madras, Bombay, and in Bengal, and a lieutenant-governor at Agra.

But British India, properly so called, only embraces seven hundred thousand square miles, and a population of from one hundred to one hundred and ten millions of inhabitants. A considerable portion of India is still free from British authority; and there are certain ferocious rajahs in the interior who are absolutely independent. The celebrated East India Company was all-powerful from 1756, when the English first gained a foothold on the spot where now stands the city of Madras, down to the time of the great Sepoy insurrection. It gradually annexed province after province, purchasing them of the native chiefs, whom it seldom paid, and appointed the governor-general and his subordinates, civil and military. But the East India Company has now passed away, leaving the British possessions in India directly under the control of the Crown. The aspect of the country, as well as the manners and distinctions of race, is daily changing, contributing to the hypertensive frustration and gnashing of teeth by the editors of Wikipedia.

Formerly one was obliged to travel in India by the old cumbrous methods of going on foot or on horseback, in palanquins or unwieldy coaches; now fast steamboats ply on the Indus and the Ganges, and a great railway, with branch lines joining the main line at many points on its route, traverses the peninsula from Bombay to Calcutta in three days. This railway does not run in a direct line across India. The distance between Bombay and Calcutta, as the bird flies, is only from one thousand to eleven hundred miles; but the deflections of the road increase this distance by more than a third. Needless to say, the birds care little for this.

The general route of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway is as follows: Leaving Bombay, it passes through Salcette, crossing to the continent opposite Tannah, goes over the chain of the Western Ghauts, runs thence north-east as far as Burhampoor, skirts the nearly independent territory of Bundelcund, ascends to Allahabad, turns thence eastwardly, meeting the Ganges at Benares, then departs from the river a little, and, descending south-eastward by Burdivan and the French town of Chandernagor, has its terminus at Calcutta.

The passengers of the Mongolian Falcon went ashore at half-past four p.m; at exactly eight the train would start for Calcutta.

Mr. Flogg, after bidding good-bye to his Grist partners, donned his well-oiled tin armour to protect the public in case he suffered an acute attack of dissociative fugue, left the steamer, gave his servant several errands to do (including the procurement of fresh restrictive contraptions suitable for the climate) urged it upon him to be at the station promptly at eight, and, with his regular step, which beat to the second, like an astronomical clock, directed his steps to the passport office.

As for the wonders of Bombay – its famous city hall, its splendid library, its forts and docks, its bazaars, mosques, synagogues, its Armenian churches, and the noble pagoda on Malabar Hill, with its two polygonal towers – he cared not a straw to see them. He would not deign to examine even the masterpieces of Elephanta, or the mysterious hypogea, concealed south-east from the docks, or those fine remains of Buddhist architecture, the Kanherian grottoes of the island of Salcette. To his mind, they were unlikely to provide a source of comfort for his malaise and unnatural appetite.

Having transacted his business at the passport office, Philanderous Flogg repaired quietly to the railway station, where he ordered dinner. Among the dishes served up to him, the landlord especially recommended a certain giblet of “native rabbit,” on which he prided himself.

Mr. Flogg accordingly tasted the dish, but, despite its spiced sauce, found it far from palatable. He rang for the landlord, and, on his appearance, said, fixing his clear eyes upon him, “Is this rabbit, sir?”

“Yes, my lord,” the landlord boldly replied, “rabbit from the jungles.”

“And this rabbit did not mew when he was killed?”

“Mew, my lord! What, a rabbit mew! I swear to you…”

“Be so good, landlord, as not to swear, but remember this: cats were formerly considered, in India, as sacred animals. That was a good time.”

“For the cats, my lord?”

“Perhaps for the travellers as well!”

After which Mr. Flogg quietly continued his dinner, adhering mostly to the various breads and vegetable dishes; although his stomach and bowel complained loudly from the lack of meat, triumphantly echoing inside the tin corsetry.

Filch had gone on shore shortly after Mr. Flogg, and his first destination was the headquarters of the Bombay police. He made himself known as a London detective, told his business at Bombay, and the position of affairs relative to the supposed robber, and nervously asked if a warrant had arrived from London. It had not reached the office; indeed, there had not yet been time for it to arrive. Filch was sorely disappointed, and tried to obtain an order of arrest from the director of the Bombay police. This the director refused, as the matter concerned the London office, which alone could legally deliver the warrant. Filch did not insist, and was fain to resign himself to await the arrival of the important document; but he was determined not to lose sight of the mysterious rogue as long as he stayed in Bombay.

“It is connected in my mind,” added he, “with a very odd story.”

“Indeed?” said the director, with a slight change of voice, “and what was that?”

“Well, it was this way,” returned Detective Filch. “I was coming home from some place at the end of the world, about three o’clock of a black winter morning, and my way lay through a part of town where there was literally nothing to be seen but lamps. Street after street, and all the folks asleep – street after street, all lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church – till at last I got into that state of mind when a man listens and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman. All at once, I saw two figures: one a little man who was stumping along eastward at a good walk, and the other a girl of maybe eight or ten who was running as hard as she was able down a cross street. Well, sir, the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner; and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground. It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see. It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut. I gave a view-halloa, took to my heels, collared my gentleman, and brought him back to where there was already quite a group about the screaming child. He was perfectly cool and made no resistance, but gave me one look, so ugly that it brought out the sweat on me like running. The people who had turned out were the girl’s own family; and pretty soon, the doctor, for whom she had been sent, put in his appearance. Well, the child was not much the worse, more frightened, according to the Sawbones; and there you might have supposed would be an end to it. But there was one curious circumstance. I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight. So had the child’s family, which was only natural. But the doctor’s case was what struck me. He was the usual cut-and-dry apothecary, of no particular age and colour, with a strong Edinburgh accent, and about as emotional as a bagpipe. Well, sir, he was like the rest of us; every time he looked at my prisoner, I saw that Sawbones turn sick and white with the desire to kill him. I knew what was in his mind, just as he knew what was in mine; and killing being out of the question, we did the next best. We told the man we could and would make such a scandal out of this, as should make his name stink from one end of London to the other. If he had any friends or any credit, we undertook that he should lose them. And all the time, as we were pitching it in red hot, we were keeping the women off him as best we could, for they were as wild as harpies. I never saw a circle of such hateful faces; and there was the man in the middle, with a kind of black, sneering coolness – frightened too, I could see that – but carrying it off, sir, really like Satan. ‘If you choose to make capital out of this accident,’ said he, ‘I am naturally helpless. No gentleman but wishes to avoid a scene,’ says he. ‘Name your figure.’ Well, we screwed him up to a hundred pounds for the child’s family; he would have clearly liked to stick out; but there was something about the lot of us that meant mischief, and at last he struck. The next thing was to get the money; and where do you think he carried us but to that address on Saddle Row? …Whipped out a key, went in through the cellar door, and presently came back with the matter of ten pounds in gold and a cheque for the balance on Coutts’s, drawn payable to bearer and signed with a name that I can’t mention, though it’s one of the points of my story, but it was a name at least very well known and often printed. The figure was stiff; but the signature was good for more than that, if it was only genuine. I took the liberty of pointing out to my gentleman that the whole business looked apocryphal, and that a man does not, in real life, walk into a cellar door at four in the morning and come out of it with another man’s cheque for close upon a hundred pounds. But he was quite easy and sneering. ‘Set your mind at rest,’ says he, ‘I will stay with you till the banks open and cash the cheque myself.’ So we all set off, the doctor, and the child’s father, and our friend and myself, and passed the rest of the night in my chambers; and next day, when we had breakfasted, went in a body to the bank. I gave in the cheque myself, and said I had every reason to believe it was a forgery. Not a bit of it. The cheque was genuine.”

“Tut-tut,” said the director of Bombay police.

“I see you feel as I do,” said Filch. “Yes, it’s a bad story. For my man was a fellow that nobody could have to do with, a really damnable man; James Forster was his name. And the person that drew the cheque, Philanderous Flogg, is the very pink of the proprieties, celebrated too, and (what makes it worse) one of your fellows who do what they call good. Blackmail, I suppose; an honest man paying through the nose for some of the capers of his youth. And now sinking to bank robbery, to pay off his pursuers. Blackmail House is what I call that place with the cellar door, in consequence. Though even that, you know, is far from explaining all,” he added, and with the words fell into a vein of musing.

From this he was recalled by the director asking rather suddenly: “And you don’t know if the drawer of the cheque lives there?”

“A likely place, isn’t it?” returned Filch. “But I happen to have noticed his address; he lives in that very square – Burlyman Gardens.”

“And you never asked about the – place with the door?” said the director.

“No, sir: I had a delicacy,” was the reply. “I feel very strongly about putting questions; it partakes too much of the style of the day of judgement. You start a question, and it’s like starting a stone. You sit quietly on the top of a hill; and away the stone goes, starting others; and presently some bland old bird (the last you would have thought of) is knocked on the head in his own back-garden and the family have to change their name. No, sir, I make it a rule of mine: the more it looks like Queer Street, the less I ask.”

“A very good rule, too,” said the director, nodding at Filch.

He did not doubt for a moment, any more than Pissepotout, that Philanderous Flogg would remain there, at least until it was time for the warrant to arrive.

Pissepotout, however, had no sooner heard his master’s orders on leaving the Mongolian Falcon than he saw at once that they were to leave Bombay as they had done Suez and Paris, and that the journey would be extended at least as far as Calcutta, and perhaps beyond that place. He began to ask himself if this bet that Mr. Flogg talked about was not really in good earnest, and whether his fate was not in truth forcing him, despite his love of repose, around the world in eighty days!

Having purchased the usual quota of shirts and shoes, and some stout rope from a snake-charmer, he took a leisurely promenade about the streets, where crowds of people of many nationalities – Europeans, Persians with pointed caps, Banyas with round turbans, Sindes with square bonnets, Parsees with black mitres, and long-robed Armenians – were collected. It happened to be the day of a Parsee festival. These descendants of the sect of Zoroaster – the most thrifty, civilised, intelligent, and austere of the East Indians, among whom are counted the richest native merchants of Bombay – were celebrating a sort of religious carnival, with processions and shows, in the midst of which Indian dancing-girls, clothed in rose-coloured gauze, looped up with gold and silver, danced airily, but with perfect modesty, to the sound of viols and the clanging of tambourines. It is needless to say that Pissepotout watched these curious ceremonies with staring eyes and gaping mouth, and that his countenance was that of the greenest booby imaginable.

Unhappily for his master, as well as himself, his curiosity drew him unconsciously farther off than he intended to go. At last, having seen the Parsee carnival wind away in the distance, he was turning his steps towards the station, when he happened to espy the splendid pagoda on Malabar Hill, and was seized with an irresistible desire to see its interior. He was quite ignorant that it is forbidden to canines to enter certain Indian temples, and that even the faithful must not go in without first leaving their shoes outside the door. It may be said here that the wise policy of the British Government severely punishes a disregard of the practices of the native religions.

Pissepotout, however, thinking no harm, went in like a simple tourist, and was soon lost in admiration of the splendid Brahmin ornamentation which everywhere met his eyes, when of a sudden he found himself sprawling on the sacred flagging. He looked up to behold three enraged priests, who forthwith fell upon him; tore off his shoes, and began to beat him with loud, savage exclamations. The agile French poodle was soon upon his feet again, and lost no time in knocking down two of his long-gowned adversaries with his paws and a vigorous application of his tail and snapping teeth; then, rushing out of the pagoda as fast as his legs could carry him, he soon escaped the third priest by mingling with the crowd in the streets.

At five minutes before eight, Pissepotout, hatless, shoeless, and having in the squabble lost his package of rope, shirts and shoes, rushed breathlessly to the station.

During the rest of that day there was no other adventure to mar the peace of their journey. Once, indeed, the tin-gimped Philanderous Flogg stepped upon a beetle that was crawling along the platform, and killed the poor little thing. This made Mr. Flogg very unhappy, for he was always careful not to hurt any living creature; and as he walked along he wept several tears of sorrow and regret. These tears ran slowly down his face and over the hinges of his jaw, and there they rusted. When Pissepotout presently asked him a question, the Tin Gimp could not open his mouth, for his jaws were tightly rusted together. He became greatly frightened at this and made many motions to Pissepotout to relieve him, but he could not understand, and was at first afraid. But then he seized the oil-can and oiled his tin master’s jaws, so that after a few moments he could talk as well as before.

“This will serve me a lesson,” said he, “to look where I step. For if I should kill another bug or beetle I should surely cry again, and crying rusts my jaws so that I cannot speak.”

Thereafter he walked very carefully, with his eyes on the road, and when he saw a tiny ant toiling by he would step over it, so as not to harm it. Philanderous Flogg knew very well he had no functioning heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything.

Filch, who had followed Mr. Flogg to the station, and saw that he was really going to leave Bombay, was there, upon the platform. He had resolved to follow the supposed robber to Calcutta, and farther, if necessary. Pissepotout did not observe the detective, who stood in an obscure corner; but Filch heard him relate his adventures in a few words to Mr. Flogg.

At that moment Pissepotout saw in the carpet-bag the silver-buckled shoes that had belonged to James Forster, the Bitch of the Beast.

“I wonder if they will fit me,” he said to Philanderous Flogg. “They would be just the thing to take a long walk in, for they could not wear out.”

He dusted off his old paws and tried on the silver-buckled pair, which fitted him as well as if they had been made for him.

“I hope that this will not happen again,” said Philanderous Flogg coldly, as he got into the train. Poor Pissepotout, quite crestfallen, followed his master without a word, his new shoes tinkling along the platform. Filch was on the point of entering another carriage, when an idea struck him which induced him to alter his plan. The City of Emmannuelle and the Great Ooze would have to wait.

“No, I’ll stay,” muttered he. “An offence has been committed on Indian soil. I’ve got my man.”

Just then the locomotive gave a sharp screech, and the train passed out into the darkness of the night.

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