Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Mark and the Prussian Lieutenant


Mark liked to be taken around to real German places, and one day I escorted him to a Weinstube Unter den Linden, which had quite a reputation for liquid and other refreshments. The room we entered was full of lunchers; we sat down at a small side table that afforded a good look around. About fifteen feet ahead of us was a pier glass on the wall between two windows, and in front of it a table where an old man with his frau were eating the national dish with sausage trimmings. The old folks were enjoying themselves heartily, and, as Mark put it, "they ate so you can hear them a mile off, like Chicago millionaires."

Presently, a young lieutenant strode in, sword trailing, spurs jingling.

"Look at that," said Mark. "All the stupidity and maliciousness of his ancestors, male and female, for two hundred years back, is mirrored in his face."

The junior war lord stalked up the centre aisle, gave his cap to a bowing waiter, and stood up in front of the pier glass. Then he pulled a comb out of one pocket and a brush out of another, and began "currycombing himself," as Mark expressed it. Parting his hair all the way down to the neck, he brushed it sideways both ends—over the old people's sauerkraut and sausages. Mark kicked at me under the table and called me names for not going and knocking the fellow down.

"Don't you see, he's peppering those people's dinner with his dandruff," he said. Be a sport and go and kick him well, young fellow."

But I knew better. The lieutenant would have spitted me on the end of his sword before I could say Jack Robinson.

Gradually Mark's wrath melted away and he saw only the funny side of the affair. When the lieutenant had taken his seat at the table, he put one knee over the other and ordered his pea soup on the rough—that is, with the husks intact.

"Husks are filling, you know," said Mark, "or perhaps his stomach is full of chickens. Chicks like husks; that lieutenant is human, after all."

I thought we had seen enough and I encouraged him to go home.

"Oh, no," he said. "I am going to see this circus to the end. Presently that old woman will vomit when one of the lieutenant's bristles tickles her funny bone, and then she will spew all over his boots and pants. I am waiting for that."