In which Pissepotout Receives a New Proof that Fortune Favours the Brave…
The project was a bold one, full of difficulty, perhaps impracticable. Mr. Flogg was going to risk life, or at least liberty, and therefore the success of his tour. But he did not hesitate, and he found in Sir Francis Crapperty an enthusiastic ally.
As for Pissepotout, he was ready for anything that might be proposed. His master’s idea charmed him; he perceived a heart, a soul, under that icy exterior. He began to love Philanderous Flogg. The illusion was satisfied by his new perception that the feeling would be mutual.
There remained the guide: What course would he adopt? Would he not take part with the Indians? In default of his assistance, it was necessary to be assured of his neutrality.
Sir Francis frankly put the question to him.
“Officers,” replied the guide, “I am a Parsee, and this woman is a Parsee. Command me as you will.”
“Excellent!” said Mr. Flogg.
“However,” resumed the guide, “it is certain, not only that we shall risk our lives, but horrible tortures, if we are taken.”
“That is foreseen,” replied Mr. Flogg. “I think we must wait till night before acting.”
“I think so,” said the guide.
They walked along listening to the singing of the brightly-coloured birds and looking at the lovely flowers which now became so thick that the ground was carpeted with them. There were big yellow and white and blue and purple blossoms, besides great clusters of scarlet poppies, which were so brilliant in colour they almost dazzled Pissepotout’s eyes.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” the French poodle asked, as he breathed in the spicy scent of the bright flowers.
“I suppose so,” answered Philanderous Flogg. “If I had tasted brains, which would accentuate my senses, I should probably like them better.”
“If I only had the heart, I should love them,” added Sir Francis.
“I always did like flowers,” said the elephant. “They all seem so helpless and frail. But there are none in the forest so bright as these.”
They now came upon more and more of the big scarlet poppies, and fewer and fewer of the other flowers; and soon they found themselves in the midst of a great meadow of poppies. Now it is well known that when there are many of these flowers together their opium odour is so powerful that anyone who breathes it falls asleep, and if the sleeper is not carried away from the scent of the flowers, he sleeps on and on forever. But Pissepotout did not know this, nor could he get away from the bright red flowers that were everywhere about; so presently his eyes grew heavy and he felt he must sit down to rest and to sleep.
But the Parsee would not let him do this.
“We must hurry and get back to the road of yellow brick before dark,” he said; and the general agreed with him. So they kept walking until Pissepotout could stand no longer. His eyes closed in spite of himself, and he forgot where he was and fell among the poppies, fast asleep.
“What shall we do?” asked the general.
“If we leave him here he will die,” said Philanderous Flogg. “The smell of the flowers is killing us all. I myself can scarcely keep my eyes open, and the dog is asleep already.”
It was true; Pissepotout had fallen down beside his gray master. But the Parsee and the elephant, not being made of foreign flesh, were not so troubled by the scent of the flowers.
“Run fast,” said the general to the elephant, “and get out of this deadly flower bed as soon as you can. We will bring the little dog with us, but if you should fall asleep you are too big to be carried.”
So the elephant aroused himself and bounded forward as fast as he could go. In a moment he was out of sight.
“Let us make a chair with our hands and carry him,” said the general. So they picked up Pissepotout, and they made a chair with their hands for the seat and their arms for the arms and carried the sleeping poodle between them through the flowers.
On and on they walked, and it seemed that the great carpet of deadly flowers that surrounded them would never end. They followed the bend of the river, and at last came upon their friend the elephant, lying fast asleep among the poppies. The flowers had been too strong for the huge beast and he had given up at last, and fallen only a short distance from the end of the poppy bed, where the sweet grass spread in beautiful green fields before them.
“We can do nothing for him,” said Philanderous Flogg to the Parsee, sadly; “for he is much too heavy to lift. We must leave him here to sleep on forever, and perhaps he will dream that he has found doughnuts at last.”
“I’m sorry,” said the general. “The elephant was a very good comrade.”
They carried the sleeping dog to a pretty spot beside the river, far enough from the poppy field to prevent him breathing any more of the poison of the flowers, and here they laid him gently on the soft grass and waited for the fresh breeze to waken him.
The worthy Indian then gave some account of the Bundelcund victim, who, he said, was a celebrated beauty of the Parsee race, and the daughter of a wealthy Bombay merchant. She had received a thoroughly English education in that gray city of London, and, from her manners and intelligence, would be thought a European.
Her name was Aorta…
Later left an orphan, she was married against her will to the old rajah of Bundelcund; and, knowing the fate that awaited her, she escaped, was retaken, and devoted by the rajah’s relatives, who had an interest in her death, to the sacrifice from which it seemed she could not escape.
“We cannot be far from the road of yellow brick, now,” remarked Sir Francis, as he stood beside the French poodle, “for we have come nearly as far as the river carried us away.”
Philanderous Flogg was about to reply when he heard a low growl, and turning his head, he saw a strange beast come bounding over the grass toward them. It was, indeed, a great yellow Wildcat, and the zombie thought it must be chasing something, for its ears were lying close to its head and its mouth was wide open, showing two rows of ugly teeth, while its red eyes glowed like balls of fire. As it came nearer, Philanderous Flogg saw that running before the beast was a little gray field mouse, and although he had no beating heart he knew it was wrong for the Wildcat to try to kill such a pretty, harmless creature.
So the zombie raised his axe, and as the Wildcat ran by he gave it a quick blow that cut the beast’s head clean off from its body, and it rolled over at his feet in two pieces.
The field mouse, now that it was freed from its enemy, stopped short; and coming slowly up to their party it said, in a squeaky little voice:
“Oh, thank you! Thank you ever so much for saving my life.”
“Don’t speak of it, I beg of you,” replied Philanderous Flogg. “I have no living heart, you know, so I am careful to help all those who may need a friend, even if it happens to be only a mouse.”
“Only a mouse!” cried the little animal, indignantly. “Why, I am a Queen – the Queen of all the Field Mice!”
“Oh, indeed,” said Philanderous Flogg, making a bow.
“Therefore you have done a great deed, as well as a brave one, in saving my life,” added the Queen.
At that moment several mice were seen running up as fast as their little legs could carry them, and when they saw their Queen they exclaimed:
“Oh, your Majesty, we thought you would be killed! How did you manage to escape the great Wildcat?” They all bowed so low to the little Queen that they almost stood upon their heads.
“This funny tin man,” she answered, “killed the Wildcat and saved my life. So hereafter you must all serve him, and obey his slightest wish.”
“We will!” cried all the mice, in a shrill chorus. And then they scampered in all directions, for Pissepotout had awakened from his sleep, and seeing all these mice around him he gave one bark of delight and jumped right into the middle of the group. He had always loved to chase mice when he lived in Cannes, and he saw no harm in it.
But Philanderous Flogg caught the dog in his arms and held him tight, while he called to the mice, “Come back! Come back! Piss-pot-oto shall not hurt you.”
At this the Queen of the Mice stuck her head out from underneath a clump of grass and asked, in a timid voice, “Are you sure he will not bite us?”
“I will not let him,” said the tin-corseted zombie; “so do not be afraid.”
One by one the mice came creeping back, and Pissepotout did not bark again, although he tried to get out of his master’s arms, and would have bitten him had he not known very well he was already a zombie. Finally one of the biggest mice spoke.
“Is there anything we can do,” it asked, “to repay you for saving the life of our Queen?”
“Nothing that I know of,” answered the general; but Philanderous Flogg said quickly: “Oh, yes; you can save our friend, the elephant Kiouni, who is asleep in the poppy bed.”
“An elephant!” cried the little Queen. “Why, he would eat us all up.”
“Oh, no,” declared Philanderous Flogg; “this elephant is a vegetarian.”
“Really?” asked the Mouse.
“He says so himself,” answered the general, “and he would never hurt anyone who is our friend. If you will help us to save him I promise that he shall treat you all with kindness.”
“Very well,” said the Queen, “we trust you. But what shall we do?”
“Are there many of these mice which call you Queen and are willing to obey you?”
“Oh, yes; there are thousands,” she replied.
“Then send for them all to come here as soon as possible, and let each one bring a long piece of string.”
The Queen turned to the mice that attended her and told them to go at once and get all her people. As soon as they heard her orders they ran away in every direction as fast as possible.
“Now,” said Philanderous Flogg to the French poodle, “you must go to those trees by the riverside and make a truck that will carry the elephant.”
So Pissepotout went at once to the trees, and began to work; and he soon made a truck out of the limbs of trees, from which he chopped away all the leaves and branches. He fastened it together with wooden pegs and made the four wheels out of short pieces of a big tree trunk. So fast and so well did he work that by the time the mice began to arrive the truck was all ready for them.
They came from all directions, and there were thousands of them: big mice and little mice and middle-sized mice; and each one brought a piece of string in his mouth.
The general Sir Francis and the Parsee now began to fasten the mice to the truck, using the strings they had brought. One end of a string was tied around the neck of each mouse and the other end to the truck. Of course the truck was a thousand times bigger than any of the mice who were to draw it; but when all the mice had been harnessed, they were able to pull it quite easily. Even Philanderous Flogg and the General could sit on it, and were drawn swiftly by their queer little horses to the place where the elephant lay asleep.
After a great deal of hard work, for the elephant was heavy, they managed to get him up on the truck. Then the Queen hurriedly gave her people the order to start, for she feared if the mice stayed among the poppies too long they also would fall asleep.
At first the little creatures, many though they were, could hardly stir the heavily loaded truck; but the Parsee and Pissepotout both pushed from behind, and they got along better. Soon they rolled the elephant out of the poppy bed to the green fields, where he could breathe the sweet, fresh air again, instead of the poisonous scent of the flowers.
Pissepotout thanked the little mice warmly for saving his companion from death. He had grown so fond of the big elephant, he was glad he had been rescued.
Then the mice were unharnessed from the truck and scampered away through the grass to their homes. The Queen of the Mice was the last to leave. She solemnly presented Philanderous Flogg with a pretty silver whistle.
“If ever you need us again,” she said, “come out into the field and call, and we shall hear you and come to your assistance. Good-bye!”
“Good-bye!” they all answered, and away the Queen ran, while Philanderous Flogg held Pissepotout tightly lest he should run after her and frighten her.
After this they sat down beside the elephant until he should awaken; and the Parsee brought some fruit from a tree nearby, which they ate for dinner.
The Parsee’s narrative only confirmed Mr. Flogg and his companions in their generous design. It was decided that the guide should direct the elephant towards the pagoda of Pillaji, which he accordingly approached as quickly as possible. They halted, half an hour afterwards, in a copse, some five hundred feet from the pagoda, where they were well concealed; but they could hear the groans and cries of the fakirs distinctly.
They then discussed the means of getting at the victim. The guide was familiar with the pagoda of Pillaji, in which, as he declared, the young woman was imprisoned. Could they enter any of its doors while the whole party of Indians was plunged in a drunken sleep, or was it safer to attempt to make a hole in the walls? This could only be determined at the moment and the place themselves; but it was certain that the abduction must be made that night, and not when, at break of day, the victim was led to her funeral pyre. Then no human intervention could save her.
As soon as night fell, about six o’clock, they decided to make a reconnaissance around the pagoda. The cries of the fakirs were just ceasing; the Indians were in the act of plunging themselves into the drunkenness caused by liquid opium mingled with hemp, and it might be possible to slip between them to the temple itself.
The Parsee, leading the others, noiselessly crept through the wood, and in ten minutes they found themselves on the banks of a small stream, whence, by the light of the rosin torches, they perceived a pyre of wood, on the top of which lay the embalmed body of the rajah, which was to be burned with his wife. The pagoda, whose minarets loomed above the trees in the deepening dusk, stood a hundred steps away.
“Come!” whispered the guide.
He slipped more cautiously than ever through the brush, followed by his companions; the silence around was only broken by the low murmuring of the wind among the branches.
Soon the Parsee stopped on the borders of the glade, which was lit up by the torches. The ground was covered by groups of the Indians, motionless in their drunken sleep; it seemed a battlefield strewn with the dead. Men, women, and children lay together.
In the background, among the trees, the pagoda of Pillaji loomed distinctly. Much to the guide’s disappointment, the guards of the rajah, lighted by torches, were watching at the doors and marching to and fro with naked sabres; probably the priests, too, were watching within.
The Parsee, now convinced that it was impossible to force an entrance to the temple, advanced no farther, but led his companions back again. Philanderous Flogg and Sir Francis Crapperty also saw that nothing could be attempted in that direction. They stopped, and engaged in a whispered colloquy.
“It is only eight now,” said the brigadier, “and these guards may also go to sleep.”
“It is not impossible,” returned the Parsee.
They lay down at the foot of a tree, and waited.
The time seemed long; the guide ever and anon left them to take an observation on the edge of the wood, but the guards watched steadily by the glare of the torches, and a dim light crept through the windows of the pagoda.
They waited till midnight; but no change took place among the guards, and it became apparent that their yielding to sleep could not be counted on. The other plan must be carried out; an opening in the walls of the pagoda must be made. It remained to ascertain whether the priests were watching by the side of their victim as assiduously as were the soldiers at the door.
After a last consultation, the guide announced that he was ready for the attempt, and advanced, followed by the others. They took a roundabout way, so as to get at the pagoda on the rear. They reached the walls about half-past twelve, without having met anyone; here there was no guard, nor were there either windows or doors.
The night was dark. The moon, on the wane, scarcely left the horizon, and was covered with heavy clouds; the height of the trees deepened the darkness.
It was not enough to reach the walls; an opening in them must be accomplished, and to attain this purpose the party only had their pocket-knives. Happily the temple walls were built of brick and wood, which could be penetrated with little difficulty; after one brick had been taken out, the rest would yield easily.
They set noiselessly to work, and the Parsee on one side and Pissepotout on the other began to loosen the bricks so as to make an aperture two feet wide. They were getting on rapidly, when suddenly a cry was heard in the interior of the temple, followed almost instantly by other cries replying from the outside. Pissepotout and the guide stopped. Had they been heard? Was the alarm being given? Common prudence urged them to retire, and they did so, followed by Philanderous Flogg and Sir Francis. They again hid themselves in the wood, and waited till the disturbance, whatever it might be, ceased, holding themselves ready to resume their attempt without delay. But, awkwardly enough, the guards now appeared at the rear of the temple, and there installed themselves, in readiness to prevent a surprise.
It would be difficult to describe the disappointment of the party, thus interrupted in their work. They could not now reach the victim; how, then, could they save her? Sir Francis shook his fists, Pissepotout was beside himself, and the guide gnashed his teeth with rage. The tranquil Flogg waited, without betraying any emotion.
“We have nothing to do but to go away,” whispered Sir Francis.
“Nothing but to go away,” echoed the guide.
“Stop,” said Flogg. “I am only due at Allahabad tomorrow before noon.”
“But what can you hope to do?” asked Sir Francis. “In a few hours it will be daylight, and…”
“The chance which now seems lost may present itself at the last moment.”
Sir Francis would have liked to read Philanderous Flogg’s eyes. What was this cool Englishman thinking of? Was he planning to make a rush for the young woman at the very moment of the sacrifice, and boldly snatch her from her executioners?
This would be utter folly, and it was hard to admit that Flogg was such a fool. Sir Francis consented, however, to remain to the end of this terrible drama. The guide led them to the rear of the glade, where they were able to observe the sleeping groups.
Meanwhile Pissepotout, who had perched himself on the lower branches of a tree, was resolving an idea which had at first struck him like a flash, and which was now firmly lodged in his brain.
He had commenced by saying to himself, “What folly!” and then he repeated, “Why not, after all? It’s a chance – perhaps the only one; and with such sots!” Thinking thus, he slipped, with the suppleness of a serpent, to the lowest branches, the ends of which bent almost to the ground.
The hours passed, and the lighter shades now announced the approach of day, though it was not yet light.
This was the moment. The slumbering multitude became animated, the tambourines sounded, songs and cries arose; the hour of the sacrifice had come.
The doors of the pagoda swung open, and a bright light escaped from its interior, in the midst of which Mr. Flogg and Sir Francis espied the victim. She seemed, having shaken off the stupor of intoxication, to be striving to escape from her executioner.
Sir Francis’s heart throbbed; and, convulsively seizing Mr. Flogg’s hand, found in it an open knife, with which the gentleman had been recklessly loosening his corsets.
Just at this moment the crowd began to move. The young woman had again fallen into a stupor caused by the fumes of hemp, and passed among the fakirs, who escorted her with their wild, religious cries.
Philanderous Flogg and his companions, mingling in the rear ranks of the crowd, followed; and in two minutes they reached the banks of the stream, and stopped fifty paces from the pyre, upon which still lay the rajah’s corpse. In the semi-obscurity they saw the victim, quite senseless, stretched out beside her husband’s body. Then a torch was brought, and the wood, heavily soaked with oil, instantly took fire.
At this moment Sir Francis and the guide seized Philanderous Flogg, who, in an instant of mad generosity and repressed appetite, was about to rush upon the pyre. But he had quickly pushed them aside, when the whole scene suddenly changed. A cry of terror arose. The whole multitude prostrated themselves, terror-stricken, on the ground.
The old rajah was not dead, then, since he rose of a sudden, like a spectre, took up his wife in his arms, and descended from the pyre in the midst of the clouds of smoke, which only heightened his ghostly appearance.
Fakirs and soldiers and priests, seized with instant terror, lay there, with their faces on the ground, not daring to lift their eyes and behold such a prodigy.
The inanimate victim was borne along by the vigorous arms which supported her, and which she did not seem in the least to burden. Mr. Flogg and Sir Francis stood erect, the Parsee bowed his head, and Pissepotout was, no doubt, scarcely less stupefied.
The resuscitated rajah approached Sir Francis and Mr. Flogg, and, in an abrupt tone, said, “Let us be off!”
It was Pissepotout himself, who had slipped upon the pyre in the midst of the smoke and, profiting by the still overhanging darkness, had delivered the young woman from death! It was Pissepotout who, playing his part with a happy audacity, had passed through the crowd amid the general terror.
A moment after all four of the party had disappeared in the woods, and the elephant was bearing them away at a rapid pace. But the cries and noise, and a ball which whizzed through Philanderous Flogg’s hat, apprised them that the trick had been discovered.
The old rajah’s body, indeed, now appeared upon the burning pyre; and the priests, recovered from their terror, perceived that an abduction had taken place. They hastened into the forest, followed by the soldiers, who fired a volley after the fugitives; but the latter rapidly increased the distance between them, and ere long found themselves beyond the reach of the bullets and arrows.