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Ch. 2: Reingelder and the German Flag

(1891)


Hans Breitmann paddled across the deck in his pink pyjamas, a cup of tea
in one hand and a cheroot in the other, when the steamer was sweltering
down the coast on her way to Singapur. He drank beer all day and all
night, and played a game called 'Scairt' with three compatriots.

'I haf washed,' said he in a voice of thunder, 'but dere is no use
washing on these hell-seas. Look at me--I am still all wet and
schweatin'. It is der tea dot makes me so. Boy, bring me Bilsener on
ice.'

'You will die if you drink beer before breakfast,' said one man. 'Beer
is the worst thing in the world for--'

'Ya, I know--der liver. I haf no liver, und I shall not die. At least I
will not die obon dese benny sdeamers dot haf no beer fit to trink. If I
should haf died, I will haf don so a hoondert dimes before now--in
Shermany, in New York, in Japon, in Assam, und all over der inside bans
of South Amerique. Also in Shamaica should I hat died or in Siam, but I
am here; und der are my orchits dot I have drafelled all the vorld round
to find.'

He pointed towards the wheel, where, in two rough wooden boxes, lay a
mass of shrivelled vegetation, supposed by all the ship to represent
Assam orchids of fabulous value.

Now, orchids do not grow in the main streets of towns, and Hans
Breitmann had gone far to get his. There was nothing that he had not
collected that year, from king-crabs to white kangaroos.

'Lisden now,' said he, after he had been speaking for not much more than
ten minutes without a pause; 'Lisden und I will dell you a sdory to show
how bad und worse it is to go gollectin' und belief vot anoder fool haf
said. Dis was in Uraguay which was in Amerique--North or Sout' you would
not know--und I was hoontin' orchits und aferydings else dot I could
back in my kanasters--dot is drafelling sbecimen-gaces. Dere vas den mit
me anoder man--Reingelder, dot vas his name--und he vas hoontin' also
but only coral-snakes--joost Uraguay coral-snakes--aferykind you could
imagine. I dell you a coral-snake is a peauty--all red und white like
coral dot has been gestrung in bands upon der neck of a girl. Dere is
one snake howefer dot we who gollect know ash der Sherman Flag, pecause
id is red und plack und white, joost like a sausage mit druffles.
Reingelder he was naturalist--goot man--goot trinker--better as me! "By
Gott," said Reingelder, "I will get a Sherman Flag snake or I will die."
Und we toorned all Uraguay upside-behint all pecause of dot Sherman
Flag.

'Von day when we was in none knows where--shwingin' in our hummocks
among der woods, oop comes a natif woman mit a Sherman Flag in a bickle-
bottle--my bickle-bottle--und we both fell from our hummocks flat ubon
our pot--what you call stomach--mit shoy at dis thing. Now I was
gollectin' orchits also, und I knowed dot der idee of life to Reingelder
vas dis Sherman Flag. Derefore I bicked myselfs oop und I said,
"Reingelder, dot is YOUR find."--"Heart's true friend, dou art a goot
man," said Reingelder, und mit dot he obens der bickle-bottle, und der
natif woman she shqueals: "Herr Gott! It will bite." I said--pecause in
Uraguay a man must be careful of der insects--"Reingelder, shpifligate
her in der alcohol und den she will be all right."--"Nein," said
Reingelder, "I will der shnake alife examine. Dere is no fear. Der
coral-shnakes are mitout shting-apparatus brofided." Boot I looked at
her het, und she vas der het of a boison-shnake--der true viper cranium,
narrow und contract. "It is not goot," said I, "she may bite und den--we
are tree hoondert mile from aferywheres. Broduce der alcohol und bickle
him alife." Reingelder he had him in his hand--grawlin' und grawlin' as
slow as a woorm und dwice as guiet. "Nonsense," says Reingelder. "Yates
haf said dot not von of der coral-shnakes haf der sack of boison." Yates
vas der crate authorite ubon der reptilia of Sout' Amerique. He haf
written a book. You do not know, of course, but he vas a crate
authorite.

'I gum my eye upon der Sherman Flag, grawlin' und grawlin' in
Reingelder's fist, und der het vas not der het of innocence. "Mein
Gott," I said. "It is you dot will get der sack--der sack from dis life
here pelow!"

'"Den you may haf der shnake," says Reingelder, pattin' it ubon her het.
"See now, I will show you vat Yates haf written!"

'Uud mit dot he went indo his dent, unt brung out his big book of Yates;
der Sherman Flag grawlin' in his fist. "Yates haf said," said
Reingelder, und he throwed oben der book in der fork of his fist und
read der passage, proofin' conglusivement dot nefer coral-shnake bite
vas boison. Den he shut der book mit a bang, und dot shqueeze der
Sherman Flag, und she nip once und dwice.

'"Der liddle fool he haf bit me," says Reingelder.

'Dese things was before we know apout der permanganat-potash injection.
I was discomfordable.

'"Die oop der arm, Reingelder," said I, "und trink whisky ontil you can
no more trink."

'"Trink ten tousand tevils! I will go to dinner," said Reingelder, und
he put her afay und it vas very red mit emotion.

'We lifed upon soup, horse-flesh, und beans for dinner, but before we
vas eaten der soup, Reingelder he haf hold of his arm und cry, "It is
genumben to der clavicle. I am a dead man; und Yates he haf lied in
brint!"

'I dell you it vas most sad, for der symbtoms dot came vas all dose of
strychnine. He vas doubled into big knots, und den undoubled, und den
redoubled mooch worse dan pefore, und he frothed. I vas mit him, saying,
"Reingelder, dost dou know me?" but he himself, der inward gonsciousness
part, was peyond knowledge, und so I know he vas not in bain. Den he
wrop himself oop in von dremendous knot und den he died--all alone mit
me in Uraguay. I was sorry, for I lofed Reingelder, und I puried him,
und den I took der coral-shnake--dot Sherman Flag--so bad und
dreacherous und I bickled him alife.

'So I got him: und so I lost Reingelder.'

Rudyard Kipling