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The Ships of Tarshish

Chapter II. Deutsch Spreu

Chapter II. Deutsch Spreu.

Having introduced the three principal persons of the situation, we will proceed to sketch out the general run of their conversation. Norval and a German student who could speak English were discussing the Helswig-Schlosstein affair. The German was of course filled with admiration at the achievements of the allied army, and seemed to expect Norval to sympathize with his admiration, and to wonder at its high state of discipline and equipment, and all the rest of it. But Norval could not be prevailed upon to see it in that light. On the contrary, he appeared to be possessed by a demon of depreciation.

"You say so much about what you've done," said Norval; "but after all you have only had three or four thousand killed and wounded in the whole affair. Why! that is an ordinary morning's work before breakfast for Lee or Grant, in America."

This somewhat nettled the German, who said, "At any rate, it was somewhat amusing to see how England altered her tone and drew in her horns before the calm and firm demeanour of the allies."

"Oh yes! I know all that," returned Norval; "but in the beginning Prussia was a good deal more cautious than England at the end. Only just going to exercise a little pressure here, and do something else there; but it was wonderful to see how plucky she suddenly got, after some one had carried over a written guarantee, page 4that she should at all risks have only the numerous army of Denmark to contend with. I fancy that we should have seen a drawing in of horns more quick than that of England, had we sent over a few regiments before the passing of the frontiers. You may not think so, but I am sure of it."

"What could your paltry twenty regiments or so have done against united Germany, which in that case would have rushed forward. The fact is, that this affair has revealed the true position of your country. It has long been known on the Continent by sensible people, that, thanks to her lofty tone and assumption, England has had conceded to her a position much higher than her real power has warranted. In a military point of view, England only ranks with a third-rate power, such as Bavaria for instance."

Norval, swelling with disdain at this to him preposterous proposition, was about to argue the matter bonâ fide, when Box struck in, first muttering under his moustache—"Stay Norval, let me—I can do it better than you. You know what Solomon says about answering a what's-his-name according to his what-do-you-call-it." Then turning to the German, with the utmost gravity and apparent deference he said, "I think, mein Herr, that I shall be able to convince you that you are wrong. I will concede for argument's sake all that you say about the English army, and its relation to that of Bavaria, but then you have lost sight of the well-known fact that one English soldier is as good as at least a dozen Bavarian or any other. Why! if it were not so, what a set of fools we should be, when we are well able to pay for as big an army as we like to have. For the matter of that, when we are hard up, we can come over and buy up some of the armies of Fatherland."

All this was said with the utmost gravity. The German didn't seem quite to know whether to laugh or to be angry. Perhaps he did not quite understand it. By this time the dialogue had begun to attract the notice of the surrounding Germans, some of whom understood, more or less, Box's last speech, to which they listened with no pleased emotions.

"Ah!" broke in one of these listeners, "we Germans have lost all respect for the English. Formerly, though not liking them, in consequence of their many offensive ways, we had some respect for them; but after the shameless and impudent manner in page 5which they have been writing and falsifying, we respect them no longer."

"You needn't tell as that yon don't like us," said Norval; "you never did, for that matter. All the alliance that has ever been between the two nations has been one between your princes alone on the one hand and us as cat's-paw on the other. But since the Italian war disclosed that we were not going to be cat's-paws any longer, that sham has been dissipated, and your journals are no longer ordered to be civil. As for your respect, we've too much respect for our noble selves to care about anybody else's. Of course we see it's quite natural you don't like us. You can't. There are no common grounds of sympathy between the two nations. You'll like ns some day—when you are in the same condition as ourselves—in short, you'll like us when you're— free."

"Oh, yes! the tailor's workshop of Europe is very free!" exclaimed a young Prussian, euphoniously designated the Baron von Kalbskopf. "Free you are to break one another's heads in your public parks, at meetings for the great Garibaldi! Free to sell your wives at Smithfield market! Free to be garotted! Free to die of starvation! We don't want such freedom. Our Government suits us; it is as good as yours."

"Excuse me, mein Herr," said Box; "I think it is a good deal better, as I can logically prove to you. The first indisputable proposition I shall lay down is this: Every nation, in the long run, gets as good a government as it deserves. Now, both the German and English nations have had a very long run; so by this time they must each have got as good governments as they deserve. Now, unquestionably, the Germans, upon their own showing, are a much more civilized and virtuous nation than us poor, huckstering, rioting, garotting, wife-selling, and pauper-starving English, and, consequently, deserve a much better government; argal, they have a much better government. Quod erat, &c. Here," continued Box, raising his glass to his lips, "is success to the most noble Bismarck Schöuhausen. He is worthy of his nation, and his nation is worthy of him. Were there any miserable so-called Liberals within hearing, I should advise them not to champ the bit any longer, but to submit with a good grace before they are obliged to submit with a bad."

"I also," said Norval, "concede what you said just now—that page 6we are a nation of tailors; and admit, in return, that you are a nation of princes. But then we console ourselves with the reflection that while the greater part of our tailors have the souls of princes, the greater part of your princes have the souls of tailors." These speeches, in spite of their complimentary admissions, seemed to have the reverse of a mollifying effect on the surrounding Germans. The greater part of them could only guess at the general tenour of what was said, and some of these latter would have answered, if they could have mustered English enough. One of them, seized with a bright thought, determined to administer his blow some how or another, snatched up two or three numbers of the Berlin Kladderadatsch, and, with a red face, shoved it before Box and pointed to one of the pictures, saying,

"See here, Englander! here is John Pull. How like you him?"

Here there was a chorus of "sniggering," as Norval phrased it, and another voice said—

"Oh, it is no use for to laugh at Pull; Pull haf blenty baum-wool—cotton he call it—to stoff in ze ear."

The caricature in question was one displaying the phases of John Bull's altering demeanour during the progress of the great Helswig-Schlosstein war, and typifying in what manner his self-importance gradually diminished, as the affair went on, by means of a row of full-length portraits. The first showed John Bull tall and bloated, with immense irregular teeth, displaying the said teeth in derisive laughter because the German Diet had ordered federal execution. In the next two or three portraits he also discloses the said immense teeth, but with this difference, that whereas in the first instance it was done in pure derision, in the latter cases he is beginning, as it were, to laugh on the wrong side of his mouth. The reason of this is that Prussia and Austria by this time are supposed to have taken the field; and evidently, in spite of his blaster, he is continually getting smaller. In the next following portraits the big teeth appear to have been gradually extracted, until poor John Bull has not one to show, though his mouth is still distended, but now for the purpose of advocating prudence and of abusing Denmark for her folly. And lastly the severe artist resolves him into a mere money-bag, labelled L. S. D., surmounted and identified by the hat which has distinguished John through the piece.

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"Oh, very good!" said Box;" and whom is this pot-bellied, snaggle-toothed individual with the villanously low forehead supposed to represent?"

"Zat is John Pull; and zis—and zis—and zis money-pag—all John Pull."

"And pray," said Box, turning over some leaves, "who is this pair of barber's window, wax-looking, Apollo Belvederes?"

"Zat! zat is Oesterreich and Preussen."

"That's Austria and Prussia, is it? Well then, I've got a little advice to give your Bladderbosh artists, and that is to follow the example of our Punch a little, if they can, and be more impartial in the distribution of ugliness; and when they want to represent fighting heroes, to think of their own Blucher, and not go to a barber's window for models."

"And as for your Bladderbosh editor," said Norval, "we can afford to forgive him for his many unkind cuts lately. Bismarck is sure to put him in prison one of these days, and then we shall be more than revenged."

"By the bye," said Von Kalbskopf, "where is the old Lord Firebrand, your great Bam, now, with his 'Civis Romanus'?"

"O ja!" sung out the red-faced German; "Civis Romanus, alias Macdonald.

"He! he!" tittered a lot of voices, while Norval swelled with trying to conceal his rage.

"And just now, you talked about your freedom," continued Von Kalbskopf; "but you are the servants of our servant. We send our orders over to those who order you."

"We won't talk about that—you'd like to, no doubt," answered Norval; "but I'll tell you one thing—you'll find that the husband of the King of Denmark's daughter won't take any of your orders, not even that of the Black Vulture."

"Oh! your Prince of Wales will do great things, no doubt," retorted Von Kalbskopf, viciously, at a loss for the moment what to say.

"Ze Brince of Vales," struck in the red-faced German, who imperfectly comprehended what was going on, and who was not a bad-humoured fellow, but full of pugnacity and patriotism;—"Ze Brince of Vales kriegt ze brice for piggest esel by ze Maulthier exhibitsyown."

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The ludicrousness of the language, opportunely, by making him laugh, restored Norval's equanimity a little.

"I'd recommend you," said he, turning to the last speaker, "to kreeg a little more English before you attempt to put your oar in."

"Kreeg," said Box, gravely taking it up; "when Kreeg meets Kreeg then comes the tug of war. Why don't you laugh, Mandevil?"

"I think," said that personage, rising, "that all this is becoming rather undignified, and may perhaps," he murmured, "be soon something worse. Norval, I am going up the eastle way, come along; Box, are you inclined for a walk?"

Then with a most elaborate bow, deeply lowering his hat to the surrounding Germans, Mandevil walked out, followed by Box and Norval.