Around the World in Eighty Days Yeller Brick Road: Chapter Fourteen

Chapter XIV:

In which Philanderous Flogg Descends the Whole Length of the Beautiful Valley of the Ganges Without Ever Thinking of Seeing It…

The rash exploit had been accomplished; and for an hour Pissepotout laughed gaily at his success. Sir Francis pressed the worthy fellow’s hand, and his master said, “Well done!” which, from him, was high commendation; to which Pissepotout replied that all the credit of the affair belonged to Mr. Flogg. As for him, he had only been struck with a “queer” idea; and he laughed to think that for a few moments he, Pissepotout, the ex-gymnast, ex-sergeant firedog, had been the spouse of a charming woman, a venerable, embalmed rajah! He now quite recognised her, from the theatre of his fancies in London – precisely as he had related to Filch aboard the Mongolian Falcon – but too aware of his new status and hers, did not dare to impress upon her their previous acquaintance.

As for the young Indian woman, she had been unconscious throughout of what was passing, and now, wrapped up in a travelling-blanket, was reposing in one of the howdahs.

The elephant, thanks to the skilful guidance of the Parsee, was advancing rapidly through the still darksome forest, and, an hour after leaving the pagoda, had crossed a vast plain.

The road was smooth and well paved, now, and the country about was beautiful, so that the travellers rejoiced in leaving the forest far behind, and with it the many dangers they had met in its gloomy shades. Once more they could see fences built beside the road; but these were painted green, and when they came to a small house, in which a farmer evidently lived, that also was painted green. They passed by several of these houses during the afternoon, and sometimes people came to the doors and looked at them as if they would like to ask questions; but no-one came near them nor spoke to them because of the great elephant, of which they were very much afraid. The people were all dressed in clothing of a lovely emerald-green colour, and wore peaked hats like those of the Munchlings.

They made a halt at seven o’clock, the young woman being still in a state of complete prostration. The guide made her drink a little brandy and water, but the drowsiness which stupefied her could not yet be shaken off. Sir Francis, who was familiar with the effects of the intoxication produced by the fumes of hemp, reassured his companions on her account. But he was more disturbed at the prospect of her future fate. He told Philanderous Flogg that, should Aorta remain in India, she would inevitably fall again into the hands of her executioners. These fanatics were scattered throughout the county, and would, despite the English police, recover their victim at Madras, Bombay, or Calcutta. She would only be safe by quitting India for ever.

Philanderous Flogg replied that he would reflect upon the matter.

“I should like something to eat besides fruit,” said the gentleman, “and I’m sure Piss-pot-oto is nearly starved. Let us stop at the next house and talk to the people.”

So, when they came to a good-sized farmhouse, the Parsee walked boldly up to the door and knocked.

A woman opened it just far enough to look out, and said, “What do you want, child, and why is that great elephant with you?”

“We wish to pass a meal with you, if you will allow us,” answered Sir Francis; “and the elephant is my friend and comrade, and would not hurt you for the world.”

“Is he tame?” asked the woman, opening the door a little wider.

“Oh, yes,” said the general. “He will be more afraid of you than you are of him.”

“Well,” said the woman, after thinking it over and taking another peep at the elephant, “if that is the case you may come in, and I will give you some supper and a place to rest.”

So they all entered the house, where there were, besides the woman, two children and a man. The man had hurt his leg, and was lying on the couch in a corner. They seemed greatly surprised to see so strange a company, and while the woman was busy laying the table, the man asked:

“Where are you all going?”

“To the Emmannuelle City,” said Pissepotout, “to see the Great Ooze.”

“Oh, indeed!” exclaimed the man. “Are you sure that Ooze will see you?”

“Why not?” he replied.

“Why, it is said that he never lets anyone come into his presence. I have been to the Emmannuelle City many times, and it is a beautiful and wonderful place; but I have never been permitted to see the Great Ooze, nor do I know of any living person who has seen him.”

“Does he never go out?” asked the general.

“Never. He sits day after day in the great Throne Room of his Palace, and even those who wait upon him do not see him face to face.”

“What is he like?” asked the French poodle.

“That is hard to tell,” said the man thoughtfully. “You see, Ooze is a Great Wizard, and can take on any form he wishes. So that some say he looks like a bird; and some say he looks like an elephant; and some say he looks like a cat. To others he appears as a beautiful fairy, or a brownie, or in any other form that pleases him. But who the real Ooze is, when he is in his own form, no-one can tell.”

“That is very strange,” said Philanderous Flogg, “but we must try, in some way, to see him, or we shall have made our journey for nothing.”

“Why do you wish to see the terrible Ooze?” asked the man.

“I want him to give me some brains,” said the zombie.

“Oh, Ooze could do that easily enough,” declared the man. “He has more than he needs.”

“And I want him to give me a heart,” said the general.

“That will not trouble him,” continued the man. “For Ooze has a large collection of hearts, of all sizes and shapes.”

“And I want him to give me courage,” said the Parsee.

“Ooze keeps a great pot of courage in his Throne Room,” said the man, “which he has covered with a golden plate, to keep it from running over. He will be glad to give you some.”

“And I want him to send me back to Cannes,” said Pissepotout.

“Where is Cannes?” asked the man, with surprise.

“I don’t know,” replied Pissepotout sorrowfully, “but it is my home, and I’m sure it’s somewhere.”

“Very likely. Well, Ooze can do anything; so I suppose he will find Cannes for you. But first you must get to see him, and that will be a hard task; for the Great Wizard does not like to see anyone, and he usually has his own way.”

The woman now called to them that supper was ready, so they gathered around the table and Pissepotout ate some delicious porridge and a dish of scrambled eggs and a plate of nice white bread, and enjoyed his meal. The elephant ate some of the porridge, but did not care for it, saying it was made from oats and oats were food for horses, not for elephants. Philanderous Flogg ate a little of everything, and was glad to get a good supper again.

The station at Allahabad was reached about ten o’clock, and, the interrupted line of railway being resumed, would enable them to reach Calcutta in less than twenty-four hours. Philanderous Flogg would thus be able to arrive in time to take the steamer which left Calcutta the next day, October 25th, at noon, for Hong Kong.

The young woman was placed in one of the waiting-rooms of the station, whilst Pissepotout was charged with purchasing for her various articles of toilet, a dress, shawl, and some furs; for which his master gave him unlimited credit. Pissepotout started off forthwith, and found himself in the streets of Allahabad, that is, the City of God, one of the most venerated in India, being built at the junction of the two sacred rivers, Ganges and Jumna, the waters of which attract pilgrims from every part of the peninsula. The Ganges, according to the legends of the Ramayana, rises in heaven, whence, owing to Brahma’s agency, it descends to the earth.

Pissepotout made it a point, as he made his purchases, to take a good look at the city. It was formerly defended by a noble fort, which had since become a state prison; its commerce had dwindled away, and Pissepotout in vain looked about him for such a bazaar as he used to frequent in Regent Street. At last he came upon an elderly, crusty Jew, who sold second-hand articles, and from whom he purchased a dress of Scotch stuff, a large mantle, and a fine otter-skin pelisse, for which he did not hesitate to pay seventy-five pounds. He then returned triumphantly to the station.

The influence to which the priests of Pillaji had subjected Aorta began gradually to yield, and she became more herself, so that her fine eyes resumed all their soft Indian expression.

When the poet-king, Ucaf Uddaul, celebrates the charms of the queen of Ahmehnagara, he speaks thus:

“Her shining tresses, divided in two parts, encircle the harmonious contour of her white and delicate cheeks, brilliant in their glow and freshness. Her ebony brows have the form and charm of the bow of Kama, the god of love, and beneath her long silken lashes the purest reflections and a celestial light swim, as in the sacred lakes of Himalaya, in the black pupils of her great clear eyes. Her teeth, fine, equal, and white, glitter between her smiling lips like dewdrops in a passion-flower’s half-enveloped breast. Her delicately formed ears, her vermilion hands, her little feet, curved and tender as the lotus-bud, glitter with the brilliancy of the loveliest pearls of Ceylon, the most dazzling diamonds of Golconda. Her narrow and supple waist, which a hand may clasp around, sets forth the outline of her rounded figure and the beauty of her bosom, where youth in its flower displays the wealth of its treasures; and beneath the silken folds of her tunic she seems to have been modelled in pure silver by the godlike hand of Vicvarcarma, the immortal sculptor.”

It is enough to say, without applying this poetical rhapsody to Aorta, that she was a charming woman, in all the European acceptation of the phrase. She spoke English with great purity, and the guide had not exaggerated in saying that the young Parsee had been transformed by her upbringing.

The train was about to start from Allahabad, and Mr. Flogg proceeded to pay the guide the price agreed upon for his service, and not a farthing more; which astonished Pissepotout, who remembered all that his master owed to the guide’s devotion. He had, indeed, risked his life in the adventure at Pillaji, and, if he should be caught afterwards by the Indians, he would with difficulty escape their vengeance.

Kiouni, also, must be disposed of. What should be done with the elephant, which had been so dearly purchased?

Philanderous Flogg had already determined this question.

“Parsee,” said he to the guide, “you have been serviceable and devoted. I have paid for your service, but not for your devotion. Would you like to have this elephant? He is yours.”

The guide’s eyes glistened.

“Your honour is giving me a fortune!” cried he.

“Take him, guide,” returned Mr. Flogg, “and I shall still be your debtor.”

“Good!” exclaimed Pissepotout. “Take him, friend. Kiouni is a brave and faithful beast.” And, going up to the elephant, he gave him several lumps of sugar, saying, “Here, Kiouni, here, here.”

The elephant grunted out his satisfaction, and, clasping Pissepotout around the waist with his trunk, lifted him as high as his head. Pissepotout, not in the least alarmed, caressed the animal, who replaced him gently on the ground.

Soon after, Philanderous Flogg, Sir Francis Crapperty, and Pissepotout, installed in a carriage with Aorta, who had the best seat, were whirling at full speed towards Benares. It was a run of eighty miles, and was accomplished in two hours. During the journey, the young woman fully recovered her senses. What was her astonishment to find herself in this carriage, on the railway, dressed in European habiliments, and with travellers who were quite strangers to her! Her companions first set about fully reviving her with a little liquor, and then Sir Francis narrated to her what had passed, dwelling upon the courage with which Philanderous Flogg had not hesitated to risk his life to save her, and recounting the happy sequel of the venture, the result of Pissepotout’s rash idea. Mr. Flogg said nothing; while Pissepotout, abashed, kept repeating that “it wasn’t worth telling.”

Aorta pathetically thanked her deliverers, rather with tears than words; her fine eyes interpreted her gratitude better than her lips. Then, as her thoughts strayed back to the scene of the sacrifice, and recalled the dangers which still menaced her, she shuddered with terror.

Philanderous Flogg understood what was passing in Aorta’s mind, and offered, in order to reassure her, to escort her to Hong Kong, where she might remain safely until the affair was hushed up – an offer which she eagerly and gratefully accepted. She had, it seems, a Parsee relation, who was one of the principal merchants of Hong Kong, which is wholly an English city, though on an island on the Chinese coast.

At half-past twelve the train stopped at Benares. The Brahmin legends assert that this city is built on the site of the ancient Casi, which, like Mahomet’s tomb, was once suspended between heaven and earth; though the Benares of to-day, which the Orientalists call the Athens of India, stands quite unpoetically on the solid earth. Pissepotout caught glimpses of its brick houses and clay huts, giving an aspect of desolation to the place, as the train entered it.

Benares was Sir Francis Crapperty’s destination, the troops he was rejoining being encamped some miles northward of the city. He bade adieu to Philanderous Flogg, wishing him all success, and expressing the hope that they would coincide at the Emmannuelle City, and that he would come that way again in a less original but more profitable fashion. Mr. Flogg lightly pressed him by the hand. The parting of Aorta, who did not forget what she owed to Sir Francis, betrayed more warmth; and, as for Pissepotout, he received a hearty shake of the hand from the gallant general.

The railway, on leaving Benares, passed for a while along the valley of the Ganges. Through the windows of their carriage the travellers had glimpses of the diversified landscape of Behar, with its mountains clothed in verdure, its fields of barley, wheat, and corn, its jungles peopled with green alligators, its neat villages, and its still thickly-leaved forests. Elephants were bathing in the waters of the sacred river, and groups of Indians, despite the advanced season and chilly air, were performing solemnly their pious ablutions. These were fervent Brahmins, the bitterest foes of Buddhism, their deities being Vishnu, the solar god, Shiva, the divine impersonation of natural forces, and Brahma, the supreme ruler of priests and legislators. What would these divinities think of India, anglicised as it is today, with steamers whistling and scudding along the Ganges, frightening the gulls which float upon its surface, the turtles swarming along its banks, and the faithful dwelling upon its borders?

The panorama passed before their eyes like a flash, save when the steam concealed it fitfully from the view; the travellers could scarcely discern the fort of Chupenie, twenty miles south-westward from Benares, the ancient stronghold of the rajahs of Behar; or Ghazipur and its famous rose-water factories; or the tomb of Lord Cornwallis, rising on the left bank of the Ganges; the fortified town of Buxar, or Patna, a large manufacturing and trading-place, where is held the principal opium market of India; or Monghir, a more than European town, for it is as English as Manchester or Birmingham, with its iron foundries, edgetool factories, and high chimneys puffing clouds of black smoke heavenward.

Night came on; the train passed on at full speed, in the midst of the roaring of the tigers, bears, and wolves which fled before the locomotive; and the marvels of Bengal, Golconda ruined Gour, Murshedabad, the ancient capital, Burdwan, Hugly, and the French town of Chandernagor, where Pissepotout would have been proud to see his country’s flag flying, were hidden from their view in the darkness.

“Extra tight tonight, Piss-pot-oto,” ordered the gentleman, as the French poodle unpacked the nocturnal accoutrements. “And perhaps some additional flogging. There is a young lady in the next-door compartment. I would not wish upon her the Beast.”

“If the Great Ooze gives you brains,” Pissepotout began, “will your appetite be satisfied forever, monsieur?”

“One can hope,” Philanderous Flogg replied, succumbing to the straps buckled around his chest, attached to the bunk. “There is also the risk that it will be sharpened instead. But we must not give our fellow travellers cause for alarm. Very good…” He tested the restraints, and the mattress creaked beneath him. “A little tighter – and then, I think, the cat o’nine tails, and a quick going-over with the birch twigs should suffice…”

Pissepotout set about his master obediently, shutting his ears to the wincing and moaning that emerged. And as Philanderous Flogg lay in a stupor afterwards, while cleaning and re-packing the equipment the faithful poodle heard him murmuring, reminiscing.

“…The most racking pangs succeeded: A grinding in the bones, deadly nausea, and a horror of the spirit that cannot be exceeded at the hour of birth or death. Then these agonies began swiftly to subside, and I came to myself as if out of a great sickness. There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new and, from its very novelty, incredibly sweet. I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a mill-race in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul. I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine. I stretched out my hands, exulting in the freshness of these sensations; and in the act, I was suddenly aware that I had lost in stature. There was no mirror, at that date, in my room. The night, however, was far gone into the morning – the morning, black as it was, was nearly ripe for the conception of the day – the inmates of my house, James Forster and the Munchlings, were locked in the most rigorous hours of slumber; and I determined, flushed as I was with hope and triumph, to venture in my new shape as far as to my bedroom. I crossed the yard, wherein the constellations looked down upon me, I could have thought, with wonder, the first creature of that sort that their unsleeping vigilance had yet disclosed to them; I stole through the corridors, a stranger in my own house; and coming to my room, I saw for the first time the appearance of the undead.”

Quietly, Pissepotout wiped a tear from his eye, and silently closed the compartment door behind him.

Momentarily he paused outside the young Parsee woman’s sleeper, wondering whether to knock and check her welfare. At the back of his mind, a brief fancy of dropping to one knee and re-iterating his undying love as he had done so in London; but the elevation between their statuses was now insurmountable, even to his gymnastic abilities. What had passed in London had been an infatuation of youth – now, she almost a Princess, and he a whipping-dog. The fantasy of their reunion would forever be impossible to realise.

“There are worse things than honour,” he told himself sternly, and turned to his own small cubicle to pass the night.

If Aorta was disturbed by the physical infractions occurring in her neighbouring compartments, she gave no sign, and apparently passed a peaceful night.

Calcutta was reached at seven in the morning, and the packet left for Hong Kong at noon; so that Philanderous Flogg had five hours before him.

According to his journal, he was due at Calcutta on the 25th of October, and that was the exact date of his actual arrival. He was therefore neither behind-hand nor ahead of time. The two days gained between London and Bombay had been lost, as has been seen, in the journey across India. But it is not to be supposed that Philanderous Flogg regretted them.

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