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

Chapter XII:

In which Philanderous Flogg And His Companions Venture
Across the Indian Forests, and What Ensued…

In order to shorten the journey, the guide passed to the left of the line where the railway was still in process of being built. This line, owing to the capricious turnings of the Vindhia Mountains, did not pursue a straight course. The Parsee, who was quite familiar with the roads and paths in the district, declared that they would gain twenty miles by striking directly through the forest.

Philanderous Flogg and Sir Francis Crapperty, plunged to the neck in the peculiar howdahs provided for them, were horribly jostled by the swift trotting of the elephant, spurred on as he was by the skilful Parsee; but they endured the discomfort with true British phlegm, talking little, and scarcely able to catch a glimpse of each other. As for Pissepotout, who was mounted on the beast’s back, and received the direct force of each concussion as he trod along, he was very careful, in accordance with his master’s advice, to keep his tongue from between his teeth, as it would otherwise have been bitten off short. The worthy fellow bounced from the elephant’s neck to his rump, and vaulted like a clown on a spring-board; yet he laughed in the midst of his bouncing, and from time to time took a piece of sugar out of his pocket, and inserted it in Kiouni’s trunk, who received it without in the least slackening his regular trot.

After two hours the guide stopped the elephant, and gave him an hour for rest, during which Kiouni, after quenching his thirst at a neighbouring spring, set to devouring the branches and shrubs round about him. Neither Sir Francis nor Mr. Flogg regretted the delay, and both descended with a feeling of relief. “Why, he’s made of iron!” exclaimed the general, gazing admiringly on Kiouni.

“Of forged iron,” replied Pissepotout, as he set about preparing a hasty breakfast.

At noon the Parsee gave the signal of departure. The country soon presented a very savage aspect. Copses of dates and dwarf-palms succeeded the dense forests; then vast, dry plains, dotted with scanty shrubs, and sown with great blocks of syenite. All this portion of Bundelcund, which is little frequented by travellers, is inhabited by a fanatical population, hardened in the most horrible practices of the Voodoo faith. The English have not been able to secure complete dominion over this territory, which is subjected to the influence of rajahs, whom it is almost impossible to reach in their inaccessible mountain fastnesses. The travellers several times saw bands of ferocious Indians, who, when they perceived the elephant striding across-country, made angry and threatening motions. The Parsee avoided them as much as possible. Few animals were observed on the route; even the monkeys hurried from their path with contortions and grimaces which convulsed Pissepotout with laughter.

In the midst of his gaiety, however, one thought troubled the worthy servant. What would Mr. Flogg do with the elephant when he got to Allahabad? Would he carry him on with him? Impossible! The cost of transporting him would make him ruinously expensive. Would he sell him, or set him free? The estimable beast certainly deserved some consideration. Should Mr. Flogg choose to make him, Pissepotout, a present of Kiouni, he would be very much embarrassed; and these thoughts did not cease worrying him for a long time.

To their great joy the trees became thinner the farther they advanced, and in the afternoon they suddenly came upon a broad river, flowing swiftly just before them. On the other side of the water they could see the road of yellow brick running through a beautiful country, with green meadows dotted with bright flowers and all the road bordered with trees hanging full of delicious fruits. They were greatly pleased to see this delightful country before them.

“How shall we cross the river?” asked Pissepotout.

“That is easily done,” replied the general. “We must build a raft, so we can float to the other side.”

So Pissepotout took the axe and began to chop down small trees to make a raft, and while he was busy at this, the Parsee found on the riverbank a tree full of fine fruit. This pleased Pissepotout, who had eaten nothing but nuts all day, and he made a hearty meal of the ripe fruit.

But it takes time to make a raft, even when one is as industrious and untiring as the French poodle, and when night came the work was not done.

The principal chain of the Vindhias had been crossed by eight in the evening, and so another halt was made here, on the northern slope, in a ruined bungalow. They had gone nearly twenty-five miles that day, and an equal distance still separated them from the station of Allahabad.

The night was cold. The Parsee lit a fire in the bungalow with a few dry branches, and the warmth was very grateful, provisions purchased at Kholby sufficed for supper, and the travellers ate ravenously. The conversation, beginning with a few disconnected phrases, soon gave place to loud and steady snores. The guide watched Kiouni, who slept standing, bolstering himself against the trunk of a large tree. Nothing occurred during the night to disturb the slumberers, although occasional growls from panthers and chatterings of monkeys broke the silence; the more formidable beasts made no cries or hostile demonstration against the occupants of the bungalow. Sir Francis slept heavily, like an honest soldier overcome with fatigue. Pissepotout was wrapped in uneasy dreams of the bouncing of the day before. As for Mr. Flogg – once chained to a beam in his tin corsets – he slumbered as peacefully as if he had been in his serene mansion in Saddle Row.

Our little party of travelers awakened the next morning refreshed and full of hope, and Philanderous Flogg breakfasted like a princess off peaches and plums from the trees beside the river. Behind them was the dark forest they had passed safely through, although they had suffered many discouragements; but before them was a lovely, sunny country that seemed to beckon them on to the mythical Emmannuelle City.

To be sure, the broad river now cut them off from this beautiful land. But the raft was nearly done, and after Pissepotout had cut a few more logs and fastened them together with wooden pins, they were ready to start. The general Sir Francis sat down in the middle of the raft and held onto the Parsee’s arm. When the elephant stepped upon the raft it tipped badly, for he was big and heavy; but Pissepotout and Philanderous Flogg stood upon the other end to steady it, and they had long poles in their hands to push the raft through the water.

They got along quite well at first, but when they reached the middle of the river the swift current swept the raft downstream, farther and farther away from the road of yellow brick. And the water grew so deep that the long poles would not touch the bottom.

“This is bad,” said the general, “for if we cannot get to the land we shall be carried into the country of the wicked Bitch of the West, and she will enchant us and make us her slaves.”

“And I should never get back to Cannes,” said Pissepotout.

“We must certainly get to the Emmannuelle City if we can,” Philanderous Flogg continued, and he pushed so hard on his long pole that it stuck fast in the mud at the bottom of the river. Then, before he could pull it out again – or let go – the raft was swept away, and the poor zombie masochist left clinging to the pole in the middle of the river.

“Good-bye!” he called after them, and they were very sorry to leave him. Indeed, the French poodle began to cry.

Of course this was a bad thing for Mr. Philanderous Flogg.

“I am now worse off than when I first met James Forster,” he thought. “Then, I was stuck on a pole in a cornfield, where I could make-believe scare the crows, at any rate. But surely there is no use for a zombie stuck on a pole in the middle of a river. I am afraid I shall never taste any brains, after all!”

Down the stream the raft floated, and the poor zombie was left far behind. Then the elephant Kiouni said:

“Something must be done to save us. I think I can swim to the shore and pull the raft after me, if you will only hold fast to the tip of my tail.”

So he sprang into the water, and Pissepotout caught fast hold of his tail. Then the elephant began to swim with all his might toward the shore. It was hard work, although he was so big; but by and by they were drawn out of the current, and then Sir Francis took the long pole and helped push the raft to the land.

They were all tired out when they reached the shore at last and stepped off upon the grass, and they also knew that the stream had carried them a long way past the road of yellow brick that led to the Emmannuelle City, and the station of Allahabad.

“What shall we do now?” asked Pissepotout, as the elephant lay down on the grass to let the sun dry him.

“We must get back to the road, in some way,” said Sir Francis.

“The best plan will be to walk along the riverbank until we come to the road again,” remarked the Parsee.

So, when they were rested, Pissepotout picked up his carpet bag and they started along the grassy bank, to the road from which the river had carried them. It was a lovely country, with plenty of flowers and fruit trees and sunshine to cheer them, and had they not felt so sorry for the poor Mr. Flogg, they could have been very happy.

They walked along as fast as they could, Pissepotout only stopping once to pick a beautiful flower; and after a time the Parsee cried out: “Look!”

Then they all looked at the river and saw the zombie masochist perched upon his pole in the middle of the water, looking very lonely and sad.

“What can we do to save him?” asked Pissepotout.

The elephant and the general both shook their heads, for they did not know. So they sat down upon the bank and gazed wistfully at Mr. Flogg until a Stork flew by, who, upon seeing them, stopped to rest at the water’s edge. She gave them a quizzical look.

“Who are you and where are you going?” asked the Stork.

“I am Pissepotout,” answered the poodle, “and these are my friends, the general Sir Francis and the elephant Kiouni; and we are going to the Emmannuelle City to find the Great Ooze.”

“This isn’t the road,” said the Stork, as she twisted her long neck and looked sharply at the queer party.

“I know it,” returned Pissepotout, “but we have lost our friend Monsieur Flogg, and are wondering how we shall get him again.”

“Where is he?” asked the Stork.

“Over there in the river,” answered the little French poodle.

“If he wasn’t so big and heavy I would get him for you,” remarked the Stork.

“He isn’t heavy a bit,” said Pissepotout eagerly, “for he mostly only wears the tin corsets and restraints at night; and if you will bring him back to us, we shall thank you ever and ever so much.”

“Well, I’ll try,” said the Stork, “but if I find he is too heavy to carry I shall have to drop him in the river again.”

So the big bird flew into the air and over the water till she came to where Philanderous Flogg was perched upon his pole. Then the Stork with her great claws grabbed the zombie by the arm and carried him up into the air and back to the bank, where Pissepotout and the general and the Parsee and the elephant were sitting.

“I was afraid I should have to stay in the river forever,” Philanderous Flogg said, “but the kind Stork saved me, and if I ever get the opportunity I shall find her again and do her some kindness in return.”

“That’s all right,” said the Stork, who was flying along beside them. “I always like to help anyone in trouble. But I must go now, for my babies are waiting in the nest for me. I hope you will find the Emmannuelle City and that Ooze will help you.”

“Thank you,” replied Pissepotout, and then the kind Stork flew into the air and was soon out of sight.

The journey was resumed; the guide hoped to reach Allahabad by evening. In that case, Mr. Flogg would only lose a part of the forty-eight hours saved since the beginning of the tour. Kiouni, resuming his rapid gait, soon descended the lower spurs of the Vindhias, and towards noon they passed by the village of Kallenger, on the Cani, one of the branches of the Ganges. The guide avoided inhabited places, thinking it safer to keep the open country, which lies along the first depressions of the basin of the great river. Allahabad was now only twelve miles to the north-east. They stopped under a clump of bananas, the fruit of which, as healthy as bread and as succulent as cream, was amply partaken of and appreciated.

At two o’clock the guide entered a thick forest which extended several miles; he preferred to travel under cover of the woods. They had not as yet had any more unpleasant encounters, and the journey seemed on the point of being successfully accomplished, when the elephant, becoming restless, suddenly stopped.

It was then four o’clock.

“What’s the matter?” asked Sir Francis, putting out his head.

“I don’t know, officer,” replied the Parsee, listening attentively to a confused murmur which came through the thick branches.

The murmur soon became more distinct; it now seemed like a distant concert of human voices accompanied by brass instruments. Pissepotout was all eyes and ears. Mr. Flogg patiently waited without a word. The Parsee jumped to the ground, fastened the elephant to a tree, and plunged into the thicket. He soon returned, saying:

“A procession of Brahmins is coming this way. We must prevent their seeing us, if possible.”

The guide unloosed the elephant and led him into a thicket, at the same time asking the travellers not to stir. He held himself ready to bestride the animal at a moment’s notice, should flight become necessary; but he evidently thought that the procession of the faithful would pass without perceiving them amid the thick foliage, in which they were wholly concealed.

The discordant tones of the voices and instruments drew nearer, and now droning songs mingled with the sound of the tambourines and cymbals. The head of the procession soon appeared beneath the trees, a hundred paces away; and the strange figures who performed the religious ceremony were easily distinguished through the branches. First came the priests, with mitres on their heads, and clothed in long lace robes. They were surrounded by men, women, and children, who sang a kind of lugubrious psalm, interrupted at regular intervals by the tambourines and cymbals; while behind them was drawn a car with large wheels, the spokes of which represented serpents entwined with each other. Upon the car, which was drawn by four richly caparisoned zebus, stood a hideous statue with four arms, the body coloured a dull red, with haggard eyes, dishevelled hair, protruding tongue, and lips tinted with betel. It stood upright upon the figure of a prostrate and headless giant.

Sir Francis, recognising the statue, whispered, “The goddess Kali; the goddess of love and death.”

“Of death, perhaps,” muttered back Pissepotout, “but of love – that ugly old hag? Never!”

The Parsee made a motion to keep silence.

A group of old fakirs were capering and making a wild ado round the statue; these were striped with ochre, and covered with cuts whence their blood issued drop by drop – stupid fanatics, who, in the great Indian ceremonies, still throw themselves under the wheels of Juggernaut. Some Brahmins, clad in all the sumptuousness of Oriental apparel, and leading a woman who faltered at every step, followed. This woman was young, and as fair as a European. Her head and neck, shoulders, ears, arms, hands, and toes were loaded down with jewels and gems with bracelets, earrings, and rings; while a tunic bordered with gold, and covered with a light muslin robe, betrayed the outline of her form.

The guards who followed the young woman presented a violent contrast to her, armed as they were with naked sabres hung at their waists, and long damascened pistols, and bearing a corpse on a palanquin. It was the body of an old man, gorgeously arrayed in the habiliments of a rajah, wearing, as in life, a turban embroidered with pearls, a robe of tissue of silk and gold, a scarf of cashmere sewed with diamonds, and the magnificent weapons of a Voodoo prince. Next came the musicians and a rearguard of capering fakirs, whose cries sometimes drowned the noise of the instruments; these closed the procession.

Sir Francis watched the procession with a sad countenance, and, turning to the guide, said, “A suttee.”

The Parsee nodded, and put his finger to his lips. The procession slowly wound under the trees, and soon its last ranks disappeared in the depths of the wood. The songs gradually died away; occasionally cries were heard in the distance, until at last all was silence again.

Philanderous Flogg had heard what Sir Francis said, and, as soon as the procession had disappeared, asked: “What is a suttee?”

“A suttee,” returned the general, “is a human sacrifice, but a voluntary one. The woman you have just seen will be burned to-morrow at the dawn of day.”

“Oh, the scoundrels!” cried Pissepotout, who could not repress his indignation. The beautiful young woman strangely reminded him of one also very dear to him…

“And the corpse?” asked Mr. Flogg.

“Is that of the prince, her husband,” said the guide; “an independent rajah of Bundelcund.”

“Is it possible,” resumed Philanderous Flogg, his voice betraying not the least emotion, “that these barbarous customs still exist in India, and that the English have been unable to put a stop to them?”

“These sacrifices do not occur in the larger portion of India,” replied Sir Francis; “but we have no power over these savage territories, and especially here in Bundelcund. The whole district north of the Vindhias is the theatre of incessant murders and pillage.”

“The poor wretch!” exclaimed Pissepotout, “to be burned alive!”

“Yes,” returned Sir Francis, “burned alive. And, if she were not, you cannot conceive what treatment she would be obliged to submit to from her relatives. They would shave off her hair, feed her on a scanty allowance of rice, treat her with contempt; she would be looked upon as an unclean creature, and would die in some corner, like a scurvy dog. The prospect of so frightful an existence drives these poor creatures to the sacrifice much more than love or religious fanaticism. Sometimes, however, the sacrifice is really voluntary, and it requires the active interference of the Government to prevent it. Several years ago, when I was living at Bombay, a young widow asked permission of the governor to be burned along with her husband’s body; but, as you may imagine, he refused. The woman left the town, took refuge with an independent rajah, and there carried out her self-devoted purpose.”

While Sir Francis was speaking, the guide shook his head several times, and now said: “The sacrifice which will take place to-morrow at dawn is not a voluntary one.”

“How do you know?”

“Everybody knows about this affair in Bundelcund.”

“But the wretched creature did not seem to be making any resistance,” observed Sir Francis.

“That was because they had intoxicated her with fumes of hemp and opium.”

“But where are they taking her?”

“To the pagoda of Pillaji, two miles from here; she will pass the night there.”

“And the sacrifice will take place…”

“Tomorrow, at the first light of dawn.”

The guide now led the elephant out of the thicket, and leaped upon his neck. Just at the moment that he was about to urge Kiouni forward with a peculiar whistle, Mr. Flogg stopped him, and, turning to Sir Francis Crapperty, said, “Suppose we save this woman.”

“Save the woman, Mr. Flogg!”

“I have yet twelve hours to spare; I can devote them to that.”

“Why, you are a man of heart!”

“Sometimes,” replied Philanderous Flogg, quietly; “when I have the time.”

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