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Chapter 6

BENEDICT TURPIN


Lenhart, in his double capacity of hackney coachman and purveyor of travellers and tourists for the Hôtel Royal, Hanover, was well known to Mr. Stephen, landlord thereof, who gave him a cordial reception. Anxious to magnify the importance of his present consignment, Lenhart hastened to inform him that the new arrival was a mortal enemy of the Prussians, that he never missed a shot, and that if war were declared, he would place himself and his deadly weapon at the disposal of the King of Hanover. To all of which Stephen lent an attentive ear.

"But where does your traveller come from," he at length enquired.

"He says he's a Frenchman, but I don't believe it. I've never once heard him boast about anything, besides, his German is too good. But there, he is calling you."

Stephen quickly answered the summons. The stranger was talking to an English officer of the Royal Household and his English appeared no less fluent than his German. Turning to Stephen he said in the latter language.

"I have asked a question of Colonel Anderson, who has kindly given me one-half of the answer, and tells me to apply to you for the rest. I asked for the title of the principal newspaper here, and the name of its editor. Colonel Anderson says the 'Hanoverian Gazette,' but does not know the editor's name."

"Wait a moment, Excellency. Yes, yes, let me see. He is Herr Bodemeyer, a tall, thin man with a beard, is he not?"

"Never mind his appearance. I want his name and address. I wish to send him my card."

"I only know the office address, Park Strasse. Do you dine at the table d'hôte? If so, Herr Bodemeyer is one of our regular guests. It is at five o'clock, he will be here in half-an-hour."

"All the more reason why he should have my card first," and producing a visiting-card bearing the legend "Benedict Turpin, Artist," he addressed it to Herr Bodemeyer, and handed it and a florin to the hotel messenger, who undertook to deliver it within ten minutes.

Stephen then ventured to suggest that if there were private matters to discuss a private room might be desirable.

"A good idea," said Benedict, and going to Colonel Anderson, "Sir," said he, "although we have never been formally introduced, I nevertheless hope you will waive etiquette and do me the honour of dining with me and Herr Bodemeyer, who I think will not refuse to join us. Our host promises an excellent dinner and good wine. It is six months since I left France, consequently six months since I had a chance of conversation. In England they talk, in Germany they dream, it is in France only that they converse. Let us have a nice little dinner at which we can do all three. Here is my card, that of an insignificant artist, devoid of armorial bearings or coronets, but with the simple Cross of the Legion d'Honneur. I would add, colonel," he continued seriously, "that in a day or two I may find myself obliged to ask a favour of you, and I should like to prove myself not unworthy of the consideration I hope you will show me."

The colonel accepted the card and bowed politely.

"Sir," said he with courteous English formality, "the hope you give me of being able to render you some service would certainly induce me to accept your hospitality. I have no reason whatever against dining with Herr Bodemeyer, and I have a thousand for wishing to dine with you, not the least being, if I may say so, that I find your person and manners exceedingly attractive."

Benedict bowed in his turn.

"Since you have done me the honour to accept," he said, "and I feel pretty sure of Herr Bodemeyer, it becomes my first duty to see that the dinner is a decent one. If you will excuse me I should like to interview the chef on the subject," and he departed kitchenwards while the colonel sought the hotel reading-room.

Left in possession of a fair income at an age when the usual idea is only how best to squander it, Benedict Turpin had shown practical sense as well as genius. A believer in the excellent proverb which says that a man doubles his opportunities in life when he learns a new language, he had quadrupled his by spending a year in England, another in Germany, a third in Spain, and a fourth in Italy. At eighteen he was a first-rate linguist, and he spent the next two years in completing his education by classical and scientific studies, not neglecting the use of weapons and the general practice of games, calculated to further his physical development. By the time he was twenty he had attained an all-round proficiency very unusual in youths of his age and promised much in the time to come.

He took part in the Chinese expedition, and being possessed of sufficient means to indulge his taste for travelling, spent several years in world-wide wandering, hunting wild beasts, traversing deserts, picking up tapestries, jewels, curiosities, etc., wherewith on his return he furnished one of the most artistic studios in Paris. At the time our story opens he had, in the course of a round of visits to celebrated German painters, arrived in Berlin, where he upheld the honour of France, with the insolent good luck which seemed never to desert him. When the attention of the mob was momentarily diverted by the attack on the Prime Minister, Benedict succeeded in escaping unnoticed, and took refuge at the French Embassy, where he was well known. Early in the following morning he left by train and finally arrived at Hanover without let or hindrance. He had just given his last instructions to the cook when he was warned that Herr Bodemeyer was already approaching the hotel.

Benedict hurried to the entrance, where he saw close at hand a gentleman drawing near, who held a visiting card in his hand, and seemed pondering much as to what the owner could possibly want with him.

It is said that the denizens of that ancient Gaul which gave Czar so much trouble have so marked a personality that, wherever one is seen, the passers-by immediately remark: "Look, that's a Frenchman!"

Herr Bodemeyer, at any rate, seemed to recognize Benedict's nationality at once. He advanced smiling, with extended hand. Benedict promptly descended the steps to meet him and the two exchanged the customary civilities. Hearing that the artist had come from Berlin, and being professionally eager for news, the editor at once demanded an account of the uproar of the previous evening, and of the attempted assassination of Count Bismarck.

As to the latter, Benedict could give little information. He had heard the shots, seen two men struggling, and one handed over to some officers, and then had hastily sprung into the café, left it by a door in another street, and found shelter at the Embassy. There he heard further that the young man was the stepson of a proscribed refugee of the '48, named Blind, and that he had made terrible accusations against the count, which, coming as they did from the relative of a banished rebel, were held to count for very little.

"Well, we know a little more than that," said Herr Bodemeyer, "we hear that the young man attempted to cut his throat with a penknife, but that the wounds were only slight and the doctor says are not dangerous. But the "Kreuz Zeitung" will be here directly and we shall know a little more."

Even as he spoke newsboys hurried down the street shouting "Kreuz Zeitung—Zeitung!" There was a rush for the paper. Hanover was nearly as excited as Berlin had been the night before. Did the poor little kingdom already feel itself in the crushing embrace of the Prussian boa-constrictor?

Benedict beckoned to one of the newsboys and bought a paper. Turning to the Hanoverian editor,

"I hope you will dine with me and Colonel Anderson," he said. "We have a private room, and can talk politics as much as we like. Besides, I have something to ask of you which I could hardly ask at a public table."

Just then Colonel Anderson approached. He and Bodemeyer knew each other by sight already. Benedict now formally introduced them. The colonel had already glanced at his newspaper.

"Do you know," said he, "that although the doctor pronounced the wound of no consequence, young Blind nevertheless died early this morning? A Hanoverian officer come from Berlin says that about four o'clock a man wrapped in a large cloak and wearing a large shady hat which concealed his face, arrived at the prison provided with a permission to see the prisoner, and was taken to his cell. Blind had been put into a strait waistcoat and no one knows what passed between them, but when his cell was inspected at eight o'clock he was dead. The doctor says he must have been dead nearly four hours, so that he must have died about the time this mysterious visitor left him."

"Is this official news?" enquired Bodemeyer. "As editor of a Government paper I am bound to accept only official information. Let us see what the 'Kreuz Zeitung' has to say."

They withdrew to the room assigned to them, and the Hanoverian editor proceeded to examine the Berlin newspaper. The first paragraph of consequence stated:

"We are assured that the king's warrant decreeing the dissolution of the Lower Chamber will be officially published to-morrow."

"Come," said the colonel, "that is of some importance."

"Wait a moment; there is something more."

"It is also announced that a decree ordering the mobilization of the Landwehr will be officially published the day after to-morrow."

"That is enough," observed the colonel, "we know now that the minister wins all along the line and that war will be declared in less than a fortnight. Let us have the general news. We know all we want to know of the political. Only, first, on which side will Hanover be?"

"There is no doubt about that," replied Bodemeyer. "Hanover is bound to adhere to the Confederation."

"And on which side is the Confederation," asked Benedict.

"On the side of Austria," answered the journalist promptly. "But listen, here is a fresh account of the scene in Unter den Linden."

"Oh! let us have that by all means," cried Benedict. "I was there, and I want to know if the account is correct.

"What! were you there?"

"Very much there," and he added laughing, "I might even say with AEneas, 'Et quorum pars magna fui.' I was in the thick of it."

Herr Bodemeyer continued:

"We are now able to give fuller details concerning the demonstration in Unter den Linden which occurred yesterday after the report of the Emperor Louis Napoleon's speech had been received. It appears that just as our most distinguished vocalist finished singing 'The German Rhine,' which was received with tremendous enthusiasm, a loud hiss was heard. It was soon seen that the author of this insult was a foreigner, a French painter, evidently intoxicated, and who would probably have atoned for his folly with his life, had not some Prussian officers generously protected him from the infuriated populace. The young fool further defied the crowd by giving his name and address, but when enquiries were made at the Black Eagle this morning he had disappeared. We commend his prudence and wish him a pleasant journey."

"Is that paragraph signed," asked Benedict.

"No. Is it inaccurate?" returned the reader.

"May I be permitted to remark that the one thing I have everywhere observed in my wanderings over three of the four quarters of the world—I beg your pardon, there are five, if we count Oceania—is the extremely small regard for truth shown by the purveyors of this sort of news. Whether in the north or the south, St. Petersburg or Calcutta, Paris or Constantinople, they are all alike. Each journal is bound to give so many beats of its drum every day. Good or bad, false or true, it has to give them, and those who feel injured must obtain redress—if they can."

"Which means, I suppose," observed Colonel Anderson, "that this account is incorrect."

"Not only incorrect, but incomplete. The 'young fool' it speaks of, not only hissed, but cried, 'Vive la France!' Further, he drank to the health of France, and also disposed satisfactorily of the four first who attacked, him. It is true that these three Prussian officers intervened. They wished him to cry 'Vive Guillaume I' and 'Vive la Prusse.' He mounted a table, and instead, gave them a recital of Alfred de Musset's 'Answer to the German Rhine' from end to end. It is also true that just then the reports of Blind's revolver attracted general attention, and, not proposing to fight all Berlin, he profited by the incident to escape, taking refuge in the French Embassy. He had challenged one, two, or four adversaries, but not the entire populace. He also left a message at the Black Eagle to be given to any enquirers to the effect that he could not remain in Berlin, but would wait in some neighbouring country in order to oblige any one demanding satisfaction. And, leaving Berlin by an early train he arrived at Hanover an hour ago and at once sent his card to Herr Bodemeyer, hoping that that gentleman will kindly announce in his Gazette both the town and the hotel where this 'young fool' may be found by any one unable to find him at the Black Eagle."

"Good heavens," exclaimed the editor, "then it was you who caused this mighty uproar at Berlin."

"Even I; small things make much noise, as you see." Turning to the Englishman, Benedict continued, "And now you also see why I warned Colonel Anderson that I had a favour to ask him. I want him to be my second in case, as is quite possible, some wrathful individual should arrive demanding why, being in a foreign country, I have dared to uphold the honour of my own."

His hearers, with one accord, immediately offered their hands. Benedict continued:

"And now, to show I am not absolutely unknown, here is a letter from the Head of our 'Department of Fine Arts' to Herr Kaulbach, Painter to the King of Hanover. He lives here, does he not?"

"Yes, the king had a charming house built on purpose for him."

At this moment the door communicating with the next room was thrown open, the rotund figure of the landlord appeared in the opening and a solemn and impressive voice announced:

"Their Excellencies are served."

Whether the chef had perceived that Benedict really understood what he was talking about, or else had had orders from his master to do what he was told, he had, at any rate, earned out his instructions to the very last letter, the result being neither French, English, nor German, but cosmopolitan, a banquet for a conference if not a congress. Nor was brilliant conversation lacking. Bodemeyer, like all German journalists, was a well-read man, but had never been outside Hanover. Anderson, on the contrary, had read little, but had travelled everywhere and seen much. He and Benedict had explored the same countries and encountered the same people. Both had been at the siege of Pekin; Anderson had followed Benedict in India, and preceded him in Russia. Both related their experiences, the one with English reserve and humour, the other with French vivacity and wit. The Englishman, a true modern Phoenician, saw everything from the industrial and commercial point of view, the Frenchman from that of intellectual progress. Their different ideas, brought forward with warmth and also with the courtesy of well-bred and distinguished men, crossed each other like foils in the hands of experienced fencers, emitting sparks, brilliant if transitory. Bodemeyer, unused to this style of discussion, endeavoured to give it a philosophical turn, in which he was met by Benedict, but which Anderson found difficult to follow. The journalist seemed unintelligible, but Benedict's theories he understood as he had never understood before.

The clock striking eight abruptly terminated the conversation. The editor sprang up.

"My paper!" he cried, "my 'Gazette'! It is not ready by half!" Never before had he succumbed to such an intellectual temptation. "Frenchmen are the very devil," he muttered, trying in vain to find a hat which would fit him. They are the champagne of the earth, they are clear, strong, and sparkling. In vain did Benedict entreat him for five minutes in which to write his announcement. "You must let me have it before eleven o'clock," cried Bodemeyer, as, having discovered his own hat and cane he fled as if the enemy were behind him.

Next morning the following announcement might have been read in the "Hanoverian Gazette".


"On June 7th, 1866, in Unter den Linden at Berlin I had occasion to both give and receive several blows in an encounter with various excellent citizens who wished to tear me to pieces because I had publicly emptied my glass to the glory of France. I have not the honour of knowing who gave these blows, but, wishing to be known by those who received mine, I hereby announce that during the next eight days I may be found at the Hôtel Royal, Hanover, by any one wishing to criticize either my words or actions on the said occasion, and I particularly hope that the author of a certain article referring to me in yesterday's issue of the 'Kreuz Zeitung,' will accept this invitation. Being ignorant of his name, I have no other means of addressing him.

"I wish to thank the three Prussian officers who interfered to protect me from the amiable people of Berlin. But, should any of them consider himself offended by me, my gratitude will not extend to refusing him satisfaction.

"I said then and I repeat now, that I am familiar with the use of all weapons."

"BENEDICT TURPIN.
"At the Hôtel Royal, Hanover."

Alexandre Dumas pere