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

Chapter XI:

In which Philanderous Flogg Secures a Curious Means of Conveyance at a Fabulous Price…

The train had started punctually. Among the passengers were a number of officers, Government officials, and opium and indigo merchants, whose business called them to the eastern coast. Pissepotout rode in the same carriage with his master, and a third passenger occupied a seat opposite to them. This was Sir Francis Crapperty, one of Mr. Flogg’s Grist partners on the Mongolian Falcon, now on his way to join his corps at Benares. Sir Francis was a tall, fair man of fifty, who had greatly distinguished himself in the last Sepoy revolt. He made India his home, only paying brief visits to England at rare intervals; and was almost as familiar as a native with the customs, history, and character of India and its people. But Philanderous Flogg, who was not travelling, but only describing a circumference, took no pains to inquire into these subjects; he was a solid body, traversing an orbit around the terrestrial globe, according to the laws of rational mechanics.

He was at this moment calculating in his mind the number of hours spent since his departure from London, and, had it been in his nature to make a useless demonstration, would have rubbed his hands for satisfaction. Sir Francis Crapperty had observed the oddity of his travelling companion – although the only opportunity he had for studying him had been while he was dealing the cards, and between two rubbers – and questioned himself whether a human heart had ever really beat beneath this cold, undead exterior, and whether Philanderous Flogg had ever any sense of the beauties of nature. The brigadier-general was free to mentally confess that, of all the eccentric persons he had ever met, none was comparable to this product of the exact sciences.

Philanderous Flogg had not concealed from Sir Francis his design of going round the world, nor the circumstances under which he set out; and the general only saw in the wager a useless eccentricity and a lack of sound common sense. In the way this strange gentleman was going on, he would leave the world without having done any good to himself or anybody else.

“I will tell you my story,” said Flogg, “and then you will understand.”

So, while they were seated in the carriage, the zombie masochist told the following story:

“I was born the son of a woodman, Charles Musgrove Flogg, who chopped down trees in the forest and sold the wood for a living. When I grew up, I too became a woodchopper, and after my father died I took care of my old mother as long as she lived. Then I made up my mind that instead of living alone I would marry, so that I might not become lonely.

“There was one of the Munchling girls, Lady Jane Ostentatious, who was so beautiful that I soon grew to love her with all my heart. She, on her part, promised to marry me as soon as I could earn enough money to build a house for her; so I set to work harder than ever. But the girl lived with an old woman who did not want her to marry anyone, for she was so lazy she wished the girl to remain with her and do the cooking and the housework. So the old woman went to a wicked Bitch, and promised him two sheep and a cow if he would prevent the marriage. Thereupon the wicked Bitch greased my axe, and when I was chopping away at my best one day, for I was anxious to get the new house and my wife as soon as possible, the axe slipped all at once and cut off my left leg. I went to the Sawbones, an eminent surgeon from Edinburgh, who at once sewed my limb back in place – but in the recovery period, I missed my wedding, and the Lady Jane was left jilted at the altar. I could not face her – could not, I tell you – but I confronted that terrible gentleman James Forster, the wicked Bitch, and made him work for me instead. He was greedy, you see, and his loyalty lay only where the fattest purse resided. But now the Bitch is dead, and I have my freedom, and my new servant Piss-pot-oto to attend to me. But I can never hope to win back my Lady Jane, who is to this day pining away in her corsets and veil in an attic with the remains of the rotting banquet, refusing to eat anything but stale wedding cake.”

An hour after leaving Bombay the train had passed the viaducts and the Island of Salcette, and had got into the open country. At Callyan they reached the junction of the branch line which descends towards south-eastern India by Kandallah and Pounah; and, passing Pauwell, they entered the defiles of the mountains, with their basalt bases, and their summits crowned with thick and verdant forests. Philanderous Flogg and Sir Francis Crapperty exchanged a few words from time to time, and now Sir Francis, reviving the conversation, observed, “Some years ago, Mr. Flogg, you would have met with a delay at this point which would probably have lost you your wager.”

“How so, Sir Francis?”

“Because the railway stopped at the base of these mountains, which the passengers were obliged to cross in palanquins or on ponies to Kandallah, on the other side.”

“Such a delay would not have deranged my plans in the least,” said Mr. Flogg. “I have constantly foreseen the likelihood of certain obstacles.”

“But, Mr. Flogg,” pursued Sir Francis, “you run the risk of having some difficulty about this worthy fellow’s adventure at the pagoda.” Pissepotout, his feet comfortably wrapped in his travelling-blanket, was sound asleep and did not dream that anybody was talking about him. “The Government is very severe upon that kind of offence. It takes particular care that the religious customs of the Indians should be respected, and if your servant were caught…”

“Very well, Sir Francis,” replied Mr. Flogg; “if he had been caught he would have been condemned and punished, and then would have quietly returned to Europe. I don’t see how this affair could have delayed his master.”

The conversation fell again. During the night the train left the mountains behind, and passed Nassik, and the next day proceeded over the flat, well-cultivated country of the Khandeish, with its straggling villages, above which rose the minarets of the pagodas. This fertile territory is watered by numerous small rivers and limpid streams, mostly tributaries of the Godavery.

Pissepotout, on waking and looking out, could not realise that he was actually crossing India in a railway train. The locomotive, guided by an English engineer and fed with English coal, threw out its smoke upon cotton, coffee, nutmeg, clove, and pepper plantations, while the steam curled in spirals around groups of palm-trees, in the midst of which were seen picturesque bungalows, viharis (sort of abandoned monasteries), and marvellous temples enriched by the exhaustless ornamentation of Indian architecture. Then they came upon vast tracts extending to the horizon, with jungles inhabited by snakes and tigers, which fled at the noise of the train; succeeded by forests penetrated by the railway, and still haunted by elephants which, with pensive eyes, gazed at the train as it passed. The travellers crossed, beyond Milligaum, the fatal country so often stained with blood by the sectaries of the goddess Kali. Not far off rose Ellora, with its graceful pagodas, and the famous Aurungabad, capital of the ferocious Aureng-Zeb, now the chief town of one of the detached provinces of the kingdom of the Nizam. It was thereabouts that Feringhea, the Thuggee chief, king of the stranglers, held his sway. These ruffians, united by a secret bond, strangled victims of every age in honour of the goddess Death, without ever shedding blood; there was a period when this part of the country could scarcely be travelled over without corpses being found in every direction. The English Government has succeeded in greatly diminishing these murders, though the Thuggees still exist, and pursue the exercise of their horrible rites.

At half-past twelve the train stopped at Burhampoor where Pissepotout was able to purchase some more rope, shirts, and some Indian slippers, ornamented with false pearls. The travellers made a hasty breakfast and started off for Assurghur, after skirting for a little the banks of the small river Tapty, which empties into the Gulf of Cambray, near Surat.

Pissepotout was now plunged into absorbing reverie. Up to his arrival at Bombay, he had entertained hopes that their journey would end there; but, now that they were plainly whirling across India at full speed, a sudden change had come over the spirit of his dreams. His old vagabond nature returned to him; the fantastic ideas of his youth once more took possession of him. He came to regard his master’s project as intended in good earnest, believed in the reality of the bet, and therefore in the tour of the world and the necessity of making it without fail within the designated period. Already he began to worry about possible delays, and accidents which might happen on the way. He recognised himself as being personally interested in the wager, and trembled at the thought that he might have been the means of losing it by his unpardonable folly of the night before. Being much less cool-headed than Mr. Flogg, he was much more restless, counting and recounting the days passed over, uttering maledictions when the train stopped, and accusing it of sluggishness, and mentally blaming Mr. Flogg for not having bribed the engineer. The worthy fellow was ignorant that, while it was possible by such means to hasten the rate of a steamer, it could not be done on the railway.

The train entered the defiles of the Sutpour Mountains, which separate the Khandeish from Bundelcund, towards evening.

“You must tie me securely to the bunk,” said Philanderous Flogg to his servant, once laced tightly into a fabulous new beaded silk corset of russet and orange. “For with the noise of the train upon the tracks, I will be sure to sleep lightly. We cannot risk an incident at this stage in our journey.”

Pissepotout obligingly struggled with the ropes, until his master had quite succumbed to his complicated macramé.

“I believe the Japanese are fond of artistic knotwork, my little yellow friend,” he approved, trying to huff an artistically-frayed tassel away from his eye. “You would appear to have studied its disciplines.”

Non, monsieur,” said Pissepotout. “But I have in my time made many hanging-baskets and ornamental lampshades for my lords and masters.”

The next day Sir Francis Crapperty asked Pissepotout what time it was; to which, on consulting his watch, he replied that it was three in the morning. This famous timepiece, always regulated on the Greenwich meridian, which was now some seventy-seven degrees westward, was at least four hours slow. Sir Francis corrected Pissepotout’s time, whereupon the latter made the same remark that he had done to Filch; and upon the general insisting that the watch should be regulated in each new meridian, since he was constantly going eastward, that is in the face of the sun, and therefore the days were shorter by four minutes for each degree gone over, Pissepotout obstinately refused to alter his watch, which he kept at London time. It was an innocent delusion which could harm no one.

The train stopped, at eight o’clock, in the midst of a glade some fifteen miles beyond Rothal, where there were several bungalows, and workmen’s cabins. The conductor, passing along the carriages, shouted, “Passengers will get out here!”

Philanderous Flogg looked at Sir Francis Crapperty for an explanation; but the general could not tell what meant a halt in the midst of this forest of dates and acacias.

Pissepotout, not less surprised, rushed out and speedily returned, crying: “Monsieur, no more railway!”

“What do you mean?” asked Sir Francis.

“I mean to say that the train isn’t going on.”

The general at once stepped out, while Philanderous Flogg buckled on his iron gag and calmly followed him, and they proceeded together to the conductor.

“Where are we?” asked Sir Francis.

“At the hamlet of Kholby.” the conductor replied.

“Do we stop here?”

“Certainly. The railway isn’t finished.”

“What! not finished?”

“No. There’s still a matter of fifty miles to be laid from here to Allahabad, where the line begins again.”

“But the papers announced the opening of the railway throughout.”

“What would you have, officer? The papers were mistaken.”

“Yet you sell tickets from Bombay to Calcutta,” retorted Sir Francis, who was growing warm.

“No doubt,” replied the conductor; “but the passengers know that they must provide means of transportation for themselves from Kholby to Allahabad.”

Sir Francis was furious. Pissepotout would willingly have knocked the conductor down, and did not dare to look at his master.

“Sir Francis,” said Mr. Flogg quietly, “we will, if you please, look about for some means of conveyance to Allahabad.”

“Mr. Flogg, this is a delay greatly to your disadvantage.”

“No, Sir Francis; it was foreseen.”

“What! You knew that the way…”

“Not at all; but I knew that some obstacle or other would sooner or later arise on my route. Nothing, therefore, is lost. I have two days, which I have already gained, to sacrifice. A steamer leaves Calcutta for Hong Kong at noon, on the 25th. This is the 22nd, and we shall reach Calcutta in time.”

There was nothing to say to so confident a response.

It was but too true that the railway came to a termination at this point. The papers were like some watches, which have a way of getting too fast, and had been premature in their announcement of the completion of the line. The greater part of the travellers were aware of this interruption, and, leaving the train, they began to engage such vehicles as the village could provide; four-wheeled palkigharis, waggons drawn by zebus, carriages that looked like perambulating pagodas, palanquins, ponies, and what not.

Mr. Flogg and Sir Francis Crapperty, after searching the village from end to end, came back without having found anything.

“I shall go afoot,” said Philanderous Flogg.

Pissepotout, who had now rejoined his master, made a wry grimace, as he thought of his magnificent, but too new silver-buckled shoes. Happily he too had been looking about him, and, after a moment’s hesitation, said, “Monsieur, I think I have found a means of conveyance.”

“What?”

“An elephant! An elephant that belongs to an Indian who lives but a hundred steps from here.”

“Let’s go and see the elephant,” replied Mr. Flogg.

They soon reached a small hut, near which, enclosed within some high palings, was the animal in question. An Indian came out of the hut, and, at their request, conducted them within the enclosure. The elephant, which its owner had reared, not for a beast of burden, but for warlike purposes, was half domesticated. The Indian had begun already, by often irritating him, and feeding him every three months on sugar and butter, to impart to him a ferocity not in his nature, this method being often employed by those who train the Indian elephants for battle. Happily, however, for Mr. Flogg, the animal’s instruction in this direction had not gone far, and the elephant still preserved his natural gentleness. Kiouni – this was the name of the beast – could doubtless travel rapidly for a long time, and, in default of any other means of conveyance, Mr. Flogg resolved to hire him. But elephants are far from cheap in India, where they are becoming scarce, the males, which alone are suitable for circus shows, are much sought, especially as but few of them are domesticated. When therefore Mr. Flogg proposed to the Indian to hire Kiouni, he refused point-blank. Mr. Flogg persisted, offering the excessive sum of ten pounds an hour for the loan of the beast to Allahabad. Refused. Twenty pounds? Refused also. Forty pounds? Still refused. Pissepotout jumped at each advance; but the Indian declined to be tempted. Yet the offer was an alluring one, for, supposing it took the elephant fifteen hours to reach Allahabad, his owner would receive no less than six hundred pounds sterling.

Philanderous Flogg, without getting in the least flurried, then proposed to purchase the animal outright, and at first offered a thousand pounds for him. The Indian, perhaps thinking he was going to make a great bargain, still refused.

Sir Francis Crapperty took Mr. Flogg aside, and begged him to reflect before he went any further; to which that gentleman replied that he was not in the habit of acting rashly, that a bet of twenty thousand pounds was at stake, that the elephant was absolutely necessary to him, and that he would secure him if he had to pay twenty times his value. Returning to the Indian, whose small, sharp eyes, glistening with avarice, betrayed that with him it was only a question of how great a price he could obtain. Mr. Flogg offered first twelve hundred, then fifteen hundred, eighteen hundred, two thousand pounds. Pissepotout, usually so rubicund, was fairly white with suspense.

At two thousand pounds the Indian yielded.

“What a price, good heavens!” cried Pissepotout, “for an elephant.”

It only remained now to find a guide, which was comparatively easy. A young Parsee, with an intelligent face, offered his services, which Mr. Flogg accepted, promising so generous a reward as to materially stimulate his zeal. The elephant was led out and equipped. The Parsee, who was an accomplished elephant driver, covered his back with a sort of saddle-cloth, and attached to each of his flanks some curiously uncomfortable howdahs. Philanderous Flogg paid the Indian with some banknotes which he extracted from the famous carpet-bag, a proceeding that seemed to deprive poor Pissepotout of his vitals. Then he offered to carry Sir Francis to Allahabad, which the brigadier gratefully accepted, as one traveller the more would not be likely to fatigue the gigantic beast. Provisions and fresh oil for the oil-can were purchased at Kholby, and, while Sir Francis and Mr. Flogg, in his tin armour for safety’s sake, took the howdahs on either side, Pissepotout got astride the saddle-cloth between them. The Parsee perched himself on the elephant’s neck, and at nine o’clock they set out from the village, the animal marching off through the dense forest of palms by the shortest cut.

This was to be an eventful day for the travellers. They had hardly been walking an hour when they saw before them a great ditch that crossed the road and divided the forest as far as they could see on either side. It was a very wide ditch, and when they crept up to the edge and looked into it they could see it was also very deep, and there were many big, jagged rocks at the bottom. The sides were so steep that none of them could climb down, and for a moment it seemed that their journey must end.

“What shall we do?” asked Pissepotout despairingly.

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” said Sir Francis, and the elephant shook his shaggy ears and looked thoughtful.

But the Parsee said, “We cannot fly, that is certain. Neither can we climb down into this great ditch. Therefore, if we cannot jump over it, we must stop where we are.”

“I think I could jump over it,” said the elephant, after measuring the distance carefully in his mind.

“Then we are all right,” answered Philanderous Flogg, “for you can carry us all over on your back, one at a time.”

“Well, I’ll try it,” said the elephant. “Who will go first?”

“I will,” declared Pissepotout, “for, if you found that you could not jump over the gulf, Sir Francis would be killed, or the tin gimp outfit badly dented on the rocks below and maybe even injure Monsieur Flogg. But if I am on your back it will not matter so much, for the fall would not hurt me at all.”

“I am terribly afraid of falling, myself,” said the elephant, “but I suppose there is nothing to do but try it. So get on my back and we will make the attempt.”

Pissepotout sat upon the elephant’s back, grabbed onto the harness and pommel, and the big beast walked to the edge of the gulf and crouched down.

“Why don’t you run and jump?” asked the French poodle.

“Because that isn’t the way we elephants do these things,” he replied. Then giving a great spring, he shot through the air and landed safely on the other side. They were all greatly pleased to see how easily he did it, and after the poodle had got down from his back, the elephant sprang across the ditch again.

Sir Francis thought he would go next; so he took the Parsee’s arm and climbed on the elephant’s back, holding tightly to his reins with one hand. The next moment it seemed as if they were flying through the air; and then, before he had time to think about it, he was safe with the Parsee on the other side. The elephant went back a third time and got the Tin Gimp, and then they all sat down for a few moments to give the beast a chance to rest, for his great leaps had made his breath short, and he panted like a big dog.

They found the forest very thick on this side, and it looked dark and gloomy. After the elephant had rested they started along the road of yellow brick, silently wondering, each in his own mind, if ever they would come to the end of the woods and reach the bright sunshine again. To add to their discomfort, they soon heard strange noises in the depths of the forest, and the elephant whispered to them that it was in this part of the country that the Kandallahs lived.

“What are the Kandallahs?” asked the poodle.

“They are monstrous beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers,” replied the elephant, “and with claws so long and sharp that they could tear me in two as easily as I could kill you, my little French poodle. I’m terribly afraid of the Kandallahs.”

“I’m not surprised that you are,” returned Pissepotout. “They must be dreadful beasts.”

The elephant was about to reply when suddenly they came to another gulf across the road. But this one was so broad and deep that the elephant knew at once he could not leap across it.

So they sat down to consider what they should do, and after serious thought the brigadier general said:

“Here is a great tree, standing close to the ditch. If we can chop it down, so that it will fall to the other side, we can walk across it easily.”

“That is a first-rate idea,” said the French poodle. “One would almost suspect you had brains in your head, monsieur.”

They set to work at once with the tools that accompanied Philanderous Flogg’s metal corsetry, and so sharp was his axe that the tree was soon chopped nearly through. Then the elephant put his strong front legs against the tree and pushed with all his might, and slowly the big tree tipped and fell with a crash across the ditch, with its top branches on the other side.

They had just started to cross this queer bridge when a sharp growl made them all look up, and to their horror they saw running toward them two great beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers, salivating and snarling horribly.

“They are the Kandallahs!” said the elephant, beginning to tremble.

“Quick!” cried Philanderous Flogg. “Let us cross over!”

So Sir Francis went first, holding onto the Parsee’s arm; the Tin Gimp followed, and the French poodle Pissepotout came next. The elephant, although he was certainly afraid, turned to face the Kandallahs, and then he gave so loud and terrible a roar that Sir Francis screamed and the Parsee fell over backwards, while even the fierce beasts stopped short and looked at him in surprise.

But, seeing they were bigger than the elephant, and remembering that there were two of them and only one of him, the Kandallahs again rushed forward, and the elephant crossed over the tree and turned to see what they would do next. Without stopping an instant the fierce beasts also began to cross the tree. And the elephant said to Pissepotout:

“We are lost, for they will surely tear us to pieces with their sharp claws. But stand close behind me, and I will fight them as long as I am alive.”

“Wait a minute!” called the general. He had been thinking what was best to be done, and now he asked Philanderous Flogg to chop away the end of the tree that rested on their side of the ditch. The Tin Gimp began to use his axe at once, and, just as the two Kandallahs were nearly across, the tree fell with a crash into the gulf, carrying the ugly, snarling brutes with it, and both were dashed to pieces on the sharp rocks at the bottom.

“Well,” said Sir Francis, drawing a long breath of relief, “I see we are going to live a little while longer, and I am glad of it, for it must be a very uncomfortable thing not to be alive. Those creatures frightened me so badly that my heart is beating yet.”

“Ah,” said Philanderous Flogg sadly, as he dusted off his great axe and replaced it in the carpet bag. “I wish I had a living heart to beat.”

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