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The Ships of Tarshish

Chapter III. Corncob and Fight

Chapter III. Corncob and Fight.

I Always find," said Mandevil, when fairly in the street, "a grand bow is a sort of open sesame with the Germans; and it has the merit of being a cheap resource too. Norval, my boy, I have a word of advice for you; avoid getting into these sorts of discussions; you'll get into a row one of these days, and then you'll find that their notions of fair-play don't altogether square up with your British prejudices. I think it was lucky for you this afternoon, that they were in a good humour through having had everything their own way lately. As it was, I saw a storm brewing, and was glad to get away."

"And you need not instruct me about their notions of fair play," said Norval, laughing; "'Me and another knows it,' as Jerry the Resurrectionist said. One soon finds that out here. The two of us had to encounter six, and only running saved us. I hadn't forgot the science which you imparted to me; but what's the use of science in fistycuffs against sticks. I've learnt prudence, but it's rather hard to put up with their cockiness just now."

"You are right, and I think if Earl Bustler could have foreseen the ignominy under which his countrymen have to suffer now, he would most certainly have been stirred up into sending the fleet into the Baltic."

"I think," said Box, "it is a great shame that he didn't. Not page 9e'en Corncob and Fight can say that I am not disinterested and self-sacrificing in my opinion. War would have cost me at least a hundred pounds, moving out of Stuttgart."

"Bother Corncob and Fight," said Norval; " they're always abusing their own countrymen. It's one of the greatest annoyances one has, to hear them continually quoted against us by confounded foreigners."

"When you are a few years older, Norval," observed Mandevil quietly, "you will have a different opinion of Corncob and Fight. I remember, even only seven or eight years ago, I disliked Corncob, and I mortally hated Fight. But I think very differently of them now; since that I have been knocked about all over the world, and have been cheated and swindled in a variety of ways, and found out what men are."

"Whew!" whistled Norval, "I thought every decent fellow hated Corncob and Fight."

"That is because your circle of society has been a very narrow one, Norval," said Mandevil. "I can tell you what it is,—it is a good thing for a nation to have such men; and it is a healthy sign for it, and one upon which it may congratulate itself, when men who don't flatter it are so popular as they are."

"I believe you are right, Mandevil," observed Box; "but what strikes me as something very good is the way in which foreigners testify to the value of such men—that is, as belonging to us; but their admiration is of the kind which one feels for a martyr. There are the French, for example. How readily they —both Conservative and Liberal—appreciate the noble cosmopolitan spirit of these men, who tell their nation that it isn't everything it ought, or imagines itself to be. And yet, if among their public men a Corncob or a Fight ever ventures to pitch his voice to any tune at variance with the perfect glories of France, he is hunted down from all sides, as if by wild beasts."

"And how about the Germans?" asked Mandevil, laughing; "do they ill-use their Corncobs and Fights?"

"They don't," replied Box, "and simply for this reason, that the genus doesn't exist among them. It is a natural impossibility of breed for there ever to be any one among them who should have a shadow of doubt of the perfection of everything Fatherlandish. They have their faultfinders, certainly; but then these only blame their countrymen for not thinking still more of them page 10selves than they do. But don't you think it is a shame we didn't go to war?"

"Well, it's a question that requires consideration, as a Scotchman would say," answered Mandevil; "but I am inclined to think, that if I had had the decision of the matter, I would have gone in for war, and it would have been a just one. But now that it has been decided the other way, and as far as we ourselves are concerned, I am quite satisfied that things are such as they are. Were it only to have had a good reason for washing our hands clean of the whole lot of them, from henceforth and for ever, it were worth enduring the momentary depreciation in the estimation of the admirers of glory. I consider that the alliance between England and Germany—that is, Germany of the past and present—has been the backbone of tyranny in Europe. If that backbone has not now been broken, it has, any way, had a paralyzing wrench. You were talking rightly about our having been made a cat's-paw of, Norval; but I think this affair has put a stopper on that system for ever. It is beautiful! The very party among us that was most inclined upon principle to coquette with these fellows is the one that has felt the slap in the face, which they have delivered the keenest."

"I should be satisfied too," said Norval, "if I thought that it would be as you say; and I suppose it must be so, for it would be most disgusting, after having been so precious careful in this instance, where the most of us felt so strongly, not to risk anything, to be ever made tools of again."

"I'll tell you what it is," said Box; "I am afraid, after they have settled matters according to their own satisfaction, they will be coming to honour us with the proposal to register their degrees, and that there will be interest used to entrap us into it Should it be so, I declare I shall forswear my country. What business has that Lord Bloisown-Clarion to be poking about at Vienna just now? The fact is, we ought to have pitched into them—we ought to have joined with France and pitched into Russia the year before, and then all this wouldn't have happened. That delightful Russia! I suppose, after having crucified the poor Poles and Circassians, we are to let bygones be bygones, and make commercial treaties and be very friendly, and all that sort of thing. This mere commercial spirit of general Phil-Anthropy reminds me of that of Solomon's lady, who wipes her mouth so page 11complacently, and is about as equally noble and disinterested. Any commercial treaty with Russia or Prussia after this will be dealings with the devil I say, bother Gladwyn with his economy. And now you have my profession of faith. The bearings of these here observations lays in the application of them."

"What a pity it is, Box," said Mandevil, gravely, "that they don't get Englishmen like ourselves, with our great local experience on the Continent, to settle these things. But seriously, about Gladwyn; you will get no sympathy from me in abusing him; for of all men he is to me a hero, a Nature's anax andron I like Corncob and Fight as one likes necessary medicine, that is, a conviction of their utility creates the sentiment; but with Gladwyn, my admiration and liking are without any drawback; and as to what are called his faults as a statesman, I consider them to be the noblest part of him. I will show you the influence which his name exercises over me. If I have reconciled my mind to the seemingly inglorious termination of our course in this affair, it is because I have believed that he had a good deal to do with it, and I know that we can trust him, for he is a thorough English-man of the mass of the nation, and that the sequel of the affair will be carried out in an English sense, or else all his splendid talent will be against it. And so I have no fear of your being reduced to forswear your country, Box. We'll not have to wait very long before we shall see."

During this conversation they had ascended the steep stony road leading up to the castle, and had come on to the wooded portion of the platform on which it stands. They took possession of one of the rustic seats—Norval and Box smoking. Mandevil declined a cigar which Box offered him. "I have given up smoking these two years," he said; "I find it sets me castle-building too much."

After a little. Box took his leave, remembering that he had a visit to pay that evening to Darmstadt.