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Ch. 3 - The Prophet in Our Midst

The Eminent Authority looked around at the little group
of us seated about him at the club. He was telling us,
or beginning to tell us, about the outcome of the war.
It was a thing we wanted to know. We were listening
attentively. We felt that we were "getting something."

"I doubt very much," he said, "whether Downing Street
realizes the enormous power which the Quai d'Orsay has
over the Yildiz Kiosk."

"So do I," I said, "what is it?"

But he hardly noticed the interruption.

"You've got to remember," he went on, "that, from the
point of view of the Yildiz, the Wilhelmstrasse is just
a thing of yesterday."

"Quite so," I said.

"Of course," he added, "the Ballplatz is quite different."

"Altogether different," I admitted.

"And mind you," he said, "the Ballplatz itself can be
largely moved from the Quirinal through the Vatican."

"Why of course it can," I agreed, with as much relief in
my tone as I could put into it. After all, what simpler
way of moving the Ballplatz than that?

The Eminent Authority took another sip at his tea, and
looked round at us through his spectacles.

It was I who was taking on myself to do most of the
answering, because it was I who had brought him there
and invited the other men to meet him. "He's coming round
at five," I had said, "do come and have a cup of tea and
meet him. He knows more about the European situation and
the probable solution than any other man living." Naturally
they came gladly. They wanted to know--as everybody wants
to know--how the war will end. They were just ordinary
plain men like myself.

I could see that they were a little mystified, perhaps
disappointed. They would have liked, just as I would, to
ask a few plain questions, such as, can the Italians
knock the stuff out of the Austrians? Are the Rumanians
getting licked or not? How many submarines has Germany
got, anyway? Such questions, in fact, as we are accustomed
to put up to one another every day at lunch and to answer
out of the morning paper. As it was, we didn't seem to
be getting anywhere.

No one spoke. The silence began to be even a little
uncomfortable. It was broken by my friend Rapley, who is
in wholesale hardware and who has all the intellectual
bravery that goes with it. He asked the Authority straight
out the question that we all wanted to put.

"Just what do you mean by the Ballplatz? What is the
Ballplatz?"

The Authority smiled an engaging smile.

"Precisely," he said, "I see your drift exactly. You say
what _is_ the Ballplatz? I reply quite frankly that it
is almost impossible to answer. Probably one could best
define it as the driving power behind the Ausgleich."

"I see," said Rapley.

"Though the plain fact is that ever since the Herzegovinian
embroglio the Ballplatz is little more than a counterpoise
to the Wilhelmstrasse."

"Ah!" said Rapley.

"Indeed, as everybody knows, the whole relationship of
the Ballplatz with the Nevski Prospekt has emanated from
the Wilhelmstrasse."

This was a thing which personally I had _not_ known. But
I said nothing. Neither did the other men. They continued
smoking, looking as innocent as they could.

"Don't misunderstand me," said the Authority, "when I
speak of the Nevski Prospekt. I am not referring in any
way to the Tsarskoe Selo."

"No, no," we all agreed.

"No doubt there were, as we see it plainly now, under
currents in all directions from the Tsarskoe Selo."

We all seemed to suggest by our attitude that these
undercurrents were sucking at our very feet.

"But the Tsarskoe Selo," said the Authority, "is now
definitely eliminated."

We were glad of that; we shifted our feet back into
attitudes of ease.

I felt that it was time to ask a leading question.

"Do you think," I said, "that Germany will be broken up
by the war?"

"You mean Germany in what sense? Are you thinking of
Preuszenthum? Are yon referring to Junkerismus?"

"No," I said, quite truthfully, "neither of them."

"Ah," said the Authority, "I see; you mean Germany as a
Souverantat embodied in a Reichsland."

"That's it," I said.

"Then it's rather hard," said the Eminent Authority, "to
answer your question in plain terms. But I'll try. One
thing, of course, is _absolutely_ certain, Mittel-Europa
goes overboard."

"It does, eh?"

"Oh, yes, absolutely. This is the end of Mittel-Europa.
I mean to say--here we've had Mittel-Europa, that is,
the Mittel-Europa _idea_, as a sort of fantasmus in front
of Teutonism ever since Koniggratz."

The Authority looked all round us in that searching way
he had. We all tried to look like men seeing a fantasmus
and disgusted at it.

"So you see," he went on, "Mittel-Europa is done with."

"I suppose it is," I said. I didn't know just whether to
speak with regret or not. I heard Rapley murmur, "I guess
so."

"And there is not a doubt," continued the Authority, "that
when Mittel-Europa goes, Grossdeutschthum goes with it."

"Oh, sure to," we all murmured.

"Well, then, there you are--what is the result for Germany
--why the thing's as plain as a pikestaff--in fact you're
driven to it by the sheer logic of the situation--there
is only _one_ outcome--"

The Authority was speaking very deliberately. He even
paused at this point and lighted a cigarette, while we
all listened breathlessly. We felt that we had got the
thing to a focus at last.

"Only one outcome--a Staatenbund."

"Great heavens," I said, "not a Staatenbund!"

"Undoubtedly," said the Authority, puffing quietly at
his cigarette, as if personally he wouldn't lift a finger
to stop the Staatenbund if he could, "that's the end of
it, a Staatenbund. In other words, we are back where we
were before the Vienna Congress!"

At this he chuckled heartily to himself: so the rest of
us laughed too: the thing was _too_ absurd. But the
Authority, who was a man of nice distinctions and genuinely
anxious to instruct us, was evidently afraid that he had
overstated things a little.

"Mind you," he said, "there'll be _something_
left--certainly the Zollverein and either the Ausgleich
or something very like it."

All of the men gave a sort of sigh of relief. It was
certainly something to have at least a sort of resemblance
or appearance of the Ausgleich among us. We felt that we
were getting on. One could see that a number of the men
were on the brink of asking questions.

"What about Rumania," asked Nelles--he is a banker and
interested in government bonds--"is this the end of it?"

"No," said the Authority, "it's not the end of Rumania,
but it _is_ the end of Rumanian Irridentismus."

That settled Nelles.

"What about the Turks?" asked Rapley.

"The Turks, or rather, I suppose it would be more proper
to say, the Osmanli, as that is no doubt what you mean?"
Rapley nodded. "Well, speaking personally, I should say
that there's no difficulty in a permanent settlement in
that quarter. If I were drawing up the terms of a treaty
of peace meant to be really lasting I should lay down
three absolute bases; the rest needn't matter"--the
Authority paused a moment and then proceeded to count
off the three conditions of peace on his fingers--"These
would be, first, the evacuation of the Sandjak; second,
an international guarantee for the Capitulations; and
third, for internal matters, an arrangement along the
lines of the original firman of Midhat Pasha."

A murmur of complete satisfaction went round the group.

"I don't say," continued the Eminent Authority, "that
there wouldn't be other minor matters to adjust; but they
would be a mere detail. You ask me, for instance, for a
_milice_, or at least a gendarmerie, in the Albanian
hinterland; very good, I grant it you at once. You retain,
if you like, you abolish the Cypriotic suzerainty of the
Porte--all right. These are matters of indifference."

We all assumed a look of utter indifference.

"But what about the Dardanelles? Would you have them
fixed so that ships could go through, or not?" asked
Rapley.

He is a plain man, not easily put down and liking a plain
answer. He got it.

"The Dardanelles," said the Authority, "could easily be
denationalized under a quadrilateral guarantee to be made
a pars materia of the pactum foederis."

"That ought to hold them," I murmured.

The Authority felt now that he had pretty well settled
the map of Europe. He rose and shook hands with us all
around very cordially. We did not try to detain him. We
felt that time like his was too valuable to be wasted on
things like us.

"Well, I tell you," said Rapley, as we settled back into
our chairs when the Great Authority had gone, "my own
opinion, boys, is that the United States and England can
trim Germany and Austria any day in the week and twice
on Sunday."

After which somebody else said:

"I wonder how many of these submarines Germany has,
anyway?"

And then we drifted back into the humbler kind of war
talk that we have been carrying on for three years.

But later, as we walked home together, Rapley said to me:

"That fellow threw a lot of light on things in Europe,
didn't he?"

And I answered:

"Yes."

What liars we all are!

Stephen Leacock