American novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner Newton Booth Tarkington has been heralded as one of the best authors of the 20th century. His work explored middle America and often romanticized the life of Midwesterners. In his story “Captain Schlotterwerz” published in 1918, two German-Americans living in Cincinnati venture to Mexico to escape the tense political environment in the U.S..
Published January 26, 1918
Miss Bertha Hitzel, of Cincinnati, reached the age of twenty-two upon the eleventh of May, 1915; and it was upon the afternoon of her birthday that for the first time in her life she saw her father pace the floor. Never before had she seen any agitation of his expressed so vividly; on the contrary, until the preceding year she had seldom known him to express emotion at all, and in her youthfulness she had sometimes doubted his capacity for much feeling. She could recall no hour of family stress that had caused him to weep, to become gesticulative or to lift his voice unusually. Even at the time of her mother’s death he had been quiet to the degree of apparent lethargy.
Characteristically a silent man, he was almost notorious for his silence. Everybody in Cincinnati knew old Fred Hitzel; at least there was a time when all the older business men either knew him or knew who he was. “Sleepy old Dutchman,” they said of him tolerantly, meaning that he was a sleepy old German. “Funny old cuss,” they said. “Never says anything he doesn’t just plain haf to — but he saws wood, just the same! Put away a good many dollars before he quit the wholesale grocery business — must be worth seven or eight hundred thousand, maybe a million. Always minded his own business, and square as a dollar. You’d think he was stingy, he’s so close with his talk; but he isn’t. Any good charity can get all it wants out of old Fred, and he’s always right there with a subscription for any public movement. A mighty good hearted old Dutchman he is; and a mighty good citizen too. Wish we had a lot more just like him!”
His daughter was his only child and they had a queer companionship. He had no children by his first wife; Bertha was by his second, whom he married when he was fifty-one; and the second Mrs. Hitzel died during the daughter’s fourteenth year, just as Bertha was beginning to develop into that kind of blond charmfulness which shows forth both delicate and robust; a high colored damsel whose color could always become instantly still higher. Her tendency was to be lively; and her father humored her sprightliness as she grew up by keeping out of the way so artfully that to her friends who came to the house he seemed to be merely a mythical propriety of Bertha’s.
But father and daughter were nevertheless closely sympathetic and devoted, and the daughter found nothing indifferent to herself in his habitual seeming to be a man half asleep. He would sit all of an evening, his long upper eyelids drooping so far that only a diamond chip of lamplight reflection beneath them showed that his eyes were really open — for him — and he would puff at the cigar, protruding between his mandarin’s mustache and his shovel beard, not more than twice in a quarter of an hour, yet never letting the light go out completely; and all the while he would speak not a word, though Bertha chattered gayly to him or read the newspaper aloud. Sometimes, at long intervals, he might make a faint hissing sound for comment or, when the news of the day was stirring, as at election times, he might grunt a little, not ungenially. Bertha would be pleased then to think that her reading had brought him to such a pitch of vociferation.
The change in old Fred Hitzel began to be apparent early in August, 1914; and its first symptoms surprised his daughter rather pleasantly; next, she was astonished without the pleasure; then she became troubled and increasingly apprehensive. He came home from his German club on the afternoon when it was known that the last of the forts at Liege had fallen and he dragged a chair to an open window, where he established himself, perspiring and breathing heavily under his fat. But Bertha came and closed the window.
“You’ll catch cold, papa,” she said. “Your face is all red in spots, and you better cool off with a fan before you sit in a draft. Here!” And she placed a palm leaf fan in his hand. “oughtn’t to have walked home in the sun.”
“I didn’t walked,”said Mr. Hitzel. “It was a trolley. You heert some noose?”
She nodded. “I bought an extra; there’re plenty extras these days!”
Her father put the fan down upon his lap and rubbed his hands; he was in great spirits. “Dose big guns!” he said. “By Cheemuny, dose big guns make a hole big as a couple houses! Badoom! Nutting in the worlt can stop dose big guns of the Cherman Army. Badoom! She goes off. Efer’ting got to fall down! By Cheemuny, I would like to hear dose big guns once yet!”
Bertha gave a little cry of protest and pretended to stop her ears. “I wouldn’t! I don’t care to be deaf for life, thank you! I don’t think you really would, either, papa.” She laughed. “You didn’t take an extra glass of Rhine wine down at the club, did you, papa?”
“One cless,” he said. “As utsual. Alwiss one cless. Takes me one hour. Chust. Why?”
“Because” — she laughed again — ”it just seemed to me I never saw you so excited.”
“It must be hearing about those big German guns, I guess. Look! You’re all flushed up, and don’t cool off at all.”
Old Fred’s flush deepened, in fact; and his drooping eyelids twitched as with the effort to curtain less of his vision. “Litsen, Bairta,” he said. “Putty soon, when the war gits finished, we should go to New York and hop on dat big Vaterland steamship and git off in Antvorp; maybe Calais. We rent us a ottomobile and go visit all dose battlevielts in Belchun; we go to Liege — all ofer — and we look and see for ourselfs what dose fine big guns of the Cherman Army done. I want to see dose big holes. I want to see it most in the work. Badoom! Such a — such a power!”
“Well, I declare!” his daughter cried.
“I declare, I don’t think I ever heard you talk so much before in my whole life!”
Old Fred chuckled. “Badoom!” he said. “I guess dat’s some talkin’, ain’t it? Dose big guns knows how to talk! Badoom! Hoopee!”
And this talkativeness of his, though coming so late in his life, proved to be not a mood but a vein. Almost every day he talked, and usually a little more than he had talked the day before — but not always with so much gusto as he had displayed concerning the great guns that reduced Liege. One afternoon he was indignant when Bertha quoted friends of hers who said that the German Army had no rightful business in Belgium.
“English lovers!” he said. “Look at a map once, what tellss you in miles. It ain’t no longer across Belchun from dat French Frontier to Chermany except about from here to Dayton. How can Chermany take such a chance once, and leaf such a place all open? Subbose dey done it: English Army and French Army can easy walk straight to Aix and Essen, and Chermany could git her heart stab, like in two minutes! Ach-o! Cherman Army knows too much for such a foolishness. What for you want to listen to talkings from Chonny Bulls?”
“No; they weren’t English lovers, papa,” Bertha said. “They were Americans, just as much as I am. It was over at the Thompson girls’, and there were some other people there too. They were all talking the same way, and I could hardly stand it; but I didn’t know what to say.”
“What to say!” he echoed. “I guess you could called ‘em a pile o’ Chonny Bulls, couldn’t you once? Stickin’ up for Queen Wictoria and turn-up pants legs because it’s raining in London!”
“No,” she said, thoughtful and troubled. “I don’t think they care anything particularly about the English, papa. At least, they didn’t seem to.”
“So? Well, what for they got to go talkin’ so big on the English site, please answer once!”
Bertha faltered. “Well, it was — most of it was about Louvain.”
“Louvain! I hear you!” he said. “Listen, Bairta! Who haf you got in Chermany?”
She did not understand. “You mean what do I know about Germany?”
“No!” he answered emphatically. “You don’t know nutting about Chermany. You can’t speak it, efen; not so good as six years olt you could once. I mean: Who belongs to you in Chermany? I mean relations. Name of ‘em is all you know: Ludwig, Gustave, Albrecht, Kurz. But your cousins chust de ramie — first cousins — my own sister Minna’s boys. Well, you seen her letters; you know what kind of chilten she’s got. Fine boys! Our own blut — closest kin we got. Peoble same as the best finest young men here in Cincinneti. Well, Albert and Gustave and Kurz is efer’one in the Cherman Army, and Louie is offizier, Cherman Navy. My own nephews, ain’t it? Well, we don’t know where each one keeps now, yet; maybe fightin’ dose Russishens; maybe marchin’ into Paris; maybe some of ‘em is at Louvain!
“Subbose it was Louvain — subbose Gustave or Kurz is one of dose Chermans of Louvain. You subbose one of dose boys do somet’ing wrong? No! If he hat to shoot and burn, it’s because he hat to, ain’t it? Well, whatefer Chermans was at Louvain, they are the same good boys as Minna’s boys, ain’t it? You hear Chonny Bull site of it, I tell you. You bedder wait and git your noose from Chermany, Bairta. From Chermany we git what is honest. From Chonny Bull all lies!”
But Bertha’s trouble was not altogether alleviated. “People talk just dreadfully,” she sighed. “Sometimes — why, sometimes you’d think, to hear them, it was almost a disgrace to be a German!”
“Keeb owt from ‘em!” her father returned testily. “Quit goin’ near ‘em. Me? I make no attention!”
Yet as the days went by he did make some attention. The criticisms of Germany that he heard indignantly repeated at his club worried him so much that he talked about them at considerable length after he got home; and there were times, as Bertha read the Enquirer to him, when he would angrily bid her throw the paper away. Finally, he stopped his subscription and got his news entirely from a paper printed in the German language. Nevertheless, he could not choose but hear and see a great deal that displeased and irritated him. There were a few members of his club — citizens of German descent — who sometimes expressed uneasiness concerning the right of Germany to be in Belgium; others repeated what was said about town and in various editorials about the Germans; and Bertha not infrequently was so distressed by what she heard among her friends that she appealed to him for substantiation of defenses she had made.
“Why, papa, you’d think I’d said something wrong!” she told him one evening. “And sometimes I almost get to thinking that they don’t like me anymore. Mary Thompson said she thought I ought to be in jail, just because I said the Kaiser always tried to do whatever he thought was right.”
Hitzel nodded. “Anyway, while Chermany is at war I guess we stick up for him. Kaisers I don’t care; my fotter was a shtrong Kaiser hater, and so am I. Nobody hates Kaisers worse — until the big war come. I don’t want no Kaisers nor Junkers — I am putty shtrong ratical, Bairta — but the Kaiser, he’s right for once yet, anyhow. Subbose he didn’t make no war when Chermany was attackdut; Chermany would been swallowed straight up by Cossacks and French. For once he’s right, yes. You subbose the Cherman peoble let him sit in his house and say nutting while Cossacks and French chasseurs go killing peoble all ofer Chermany? If Chermany is attackdut, Kaiser’s got to declare war; Kaiser’s got to fight, don’t he?”
“Mary Thompson said it was Germany that did the attacking, papa. She said the Kaiser — ”
But her father interrupted her with a short and sour laugh. “Fawty yearss peace,”he said. “Fawty yearss peace in Europe! Cherman peoble is peaceful peoble more as any peoble — but you got to let ‘em lif! Kaiser’s got no more to do makin’ war as anybody else in Chermany. You keep away from dose Mary Thompsons!”
But keeping away from the Mary Thompsons availed little; Bertha was not an ostrich, and if she had been one closing eyes and ears could not have kept her from the consciousness of what distressed her. The growing and intensifying disapproval of Germany was like a thickening of the very air, and the pressure of it grew heavier upon both daughter and father, so that old Hitzel began to lose flesh a little and Bertha worried about him. And when, upon the afternoon of her birthday — the eleventh of May, 1915 — he actually paced the floor, she was frightened.
“But, papa, you mustn’t let yourself get so excited. she begged him. “Let’s quit talking about all this killing and killing and killing. Oh, I get so tired of thinking about fighting! I want to think about this lovely wrist watch you gave me for my birthday. Come on; let’s talk about that, and don’t get so excited!”
“Don’t git so excidut!” he mocked her bitterly. “No! Chust sit down and smoke, and trink cless Rhine wine, maybe! Who’s goin’ to stop eckting some excidut, I guess not, efter I litsen by Otto Schultze sit in a clob and squeal he’s scairt to say how gled he is Lusitania got blowed up, because it would be goin’ to inchur his bissnuss I He wants whole clob to eckt a hippsicrit; p’tent we don’t feel no gladness about blowin’ up Lusitania!”
“I’m not glad, papa,” Bertha said. “It may be wrong, but I can’t be. All those poor people in the water — ”
“Chonny Bulls!” he cried. “Sittin’ on a million bullets for killin’ Cherman solchers! Chonny Bulls!”
“Oh, no! That’s the worst of it! There were over a hundred Americans, papa.”
“Americans!” he bitterly jibed. “You call dose people Americans? Chonny Bulls, I tell you; Chonny Bulls and English lovers! Where was it Lusitania is goin’ at? England! What bissnuss Americans got in Eng land? On a ship filt up to his neck all gunpowder and bullets to kill Chermans! Well, it seems to me if it’s any American bissnuss to cuss Chermans because Chermans blow up such a murder ship I must be goin’ gracy! Look here once, Bairta! i Your own cousin Louie — ain’t he in the Cherman Navy? He’s a submarine offizier, I don’t know. Subbose he should be, maybe he’s the feller blows up Lusitania! You t’ink it should be Louie who does somet’ing wrong? He’s a mudderer if it’s him, yes? I guess not!”
“Whoever it was, of course he only obeyed orders,” Bertha said gloomily.
“Well, whoefer gif him dose orders,” Hitzel cried, “ain’t he got right? By golly, I belief United States is all gracy except peoble descendut from Chermans. Chust litsen to ‘em! Look at hetlines in noosepapers; look at bulletin boarts! A feller can’t go nowhere; he can’t git away from it. Damn Chermans! Damn Chermans! Damn Chermans! You can’t git away from it nowhere! Chermansis mudderers! Chermans kills leetle bebbies! Chermans kills woman! coocify humanity! Nowhere you go you git away from all such English lies! Peoble chanche faces when they heppen to look at you, because maybe you got a Chermanlookin’ face! Bairta, I yoos to love my country, but by Gott I feel sometimes we can’t stay here no longer! It’s too much!”
She had begun to weep a little. “Papa, let’s do talk about something else! Can’t we talk about something else?” He paid no attention, but continued to waddle up and down the room at the best pace of which he was capable. “It’s too much!” he said, over and over.
The long “crisis” that followed the Lusitania’s anguish abated Mr. Hitzel’s agitations not at all; and having learned how to pace a floor he paced it more than once. He paced that floor whenever the newspapers gave evidence of one of those recurrent out bunts of American anger and disgust caused by the Germans’ of poison gas and liquid fire or by Zeppelin murders of noncombatants.
He paced it after the Germans in Belgium killed Edith Cavell; and he paced it when Bryce reports were published; and the accounts of the deportations into slavery were confessed by the Germans to be true; and he paced it when the Arabic was torpedoed; he walked more than two hours on that day when the President’s first Sussex note was published.
“Now,” he demanded of Bertha, “you tell me what your Mary Thompsons says now? Mary Thompsons want Wilson to git in a war, pickin’ on Chermany alwiss? You ask ‘em: What your Mary Thompsons says the United States should make a war because bullet factories don’t git quick rich enough, is it? What she says? “I don’t see her anymore,” Bertha told him, her sensitive color deepening. “For one thing — Well, I guess you heard about Francis; that’s Mary’s brother.”
Mr. Hitzel frowned. “Francis? It’s the tall feller our hired girls says they alwiss hat to be letting in the front door? Sendut all so much flowers and tee-a-ters? Him?” Bertha had grown pink indeed. “Yes,” she said. “I don’t see any of that crowd any more, papa, except just to speak to on the street sometimes; and we just barely speak, at that. I couldn’t go to their houses and listen to what they said — or else they’d all stop what they had been saying whenever I came round. I couldn’t stand it. Francis — Mary’s brother that we just spoke of — he’s gone to France, driving an ambulance. It kind of seems to me now as if probably they never, any of that crowd, did like me — not much, anyway; I guess maybe just because I was from Germans.”
“Hah!” Old Fred uttered a loud and bitter exclamation. “Yes; now you see it! Ain’t it so? Whoefer is from Chermans now is bat peoble, all dose Mary Thompsons says. Yoos to be comicks peoble, Chermans. Look in all olt comicks pabers — alwiss you see Chermans is jeckesses! Dummhets! Cherman fools was the choke part in funny shows! Alwiss make fun of Chermans; make fun of how Chermans speak English lengwitch; make fun of Cherman lengwitch; make fun of Cherman face and body; Chermans ain’t got no mannerss; ain’t got no sense; ain’t got nutting but stomachs! Alwiss the Chermans was nutting in this country but to laugh at ‘em! Why should it be, if ain’t because they chust disspise us? By Gott, they say, Chermans is clowns! Clowns; it’s what they yoos to call us! Now we are mudderers! It’s too much, I tell you! It’s too much! I am goin’ to git out of the country. It’s too much! It’s too much! It’s too much!”
“I guess you’re right,” Bertha said with quiet bitterness. “I never thought about it before the war, but it does look now as though they never liked anybody that was from Germans. I used to think they did — until the war; and they still do seem to like some people with German names and that take the English side. That crowd I went with, they always seemed to think the English and French side was the American side. Well, I don’t care what they think.”
“Look here, Bairta,” said old Fred sharply. “You litsen! When Mitster Francis Thompsons gits home again from French em’ulances, you don’t allow him in our house, you be careful. He don’t git to come here no more, you litsen!”
“No,” she said. “You needn’t be afraid about that, papa. We got into an argument, and he was through coming long before he left, anyway.”
“Well, he won’t git no chance to argue at you when he gits beck,”said her father. “I reckon we ain’t in the U. S. putty soon. It’s too much!”
Bertha was not troubled by his talk of departure from the country; she heard it too often to believe in it, and she told Evaline, their darky cook — who sometimes overheard things and grew nervous about her place — that this threat of Mr. Hitzel’s was just letting off steam. Bertha was entirely unable to imagine her father out of Cincinnati.
But in March of 1917 he became so definite in preparation as to have two excellent new trunks sent to the house; also he placed before Bertha the results of some correspondence which he had been conducting; whereupon Bertha, excited and distressed, went to consult her mother’s cousin, Robert Konig, in the “office” of his prosperous “Hardware Products Corporation.”
“Well, Bertha, it’s like this way with me,” said Mr. Konig. “I am for Germany when it’s a case of England fighting against Germany, and I wish our country would keep out of it. But it don’t look like that way now; I think we are going sure to fight Germany. And when it comes to that I ain’t on no German side, you bet! My two boys, they’ll enlist the first day it’s declared, both of ‘em; and if the United States Government wants me to go, too, I’ll say Yes’ quick. But your papa, now, it’s different. After never saying anything at all for seventy odd years, he’s got started to be a talker, and he’s talked pretty loud, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wouldn’t know how to keep his mouth shut any more. He talks too much, these days. Of course all his talk don’t amount to so much hot air, and it wouldn’t ever get two cents’ worth of influence, but people maybe wouldn’t think about that. It might be ugly times ahead, and he could easy get into trouble. After all, I wouldn’t worry, Bertha; it’s nice in the wintertime to take a trip south.”
“Take a trip south!” Bertha echoed. “Florida, yes! But Mexico — it’s horrible!”
“Oh, well, not all Mexico, probably,” her cousin said consolingly. “He wouldn’t take you where it’s in a bad condition. Where does he want to go? “It’s a little place, he says. I never heard of it; it’s called Lupos, and he’s been writing to a Mr. Helmholz that keeps the hotel there and says everything’s fine, he’s got rooms for us; and we should come down there.”
“Helmholz,” Mr. Konig repeated. “Yes; that should be Jake Helmholz that lived here once when he was a young man; he went to Mexico. He was Hilda’s nephew — your papa’s first wife’s nephew, Bertha.”
“Yes, that’s who it is, papa said.” Mr. Konig became reassuring.
“Oh, well, then, you see, I expect you’ll find everything nice then, down there, Bertha. You’ll be among relatives — almost the same — if your papa’s fixed it up to go and stay at a hotel Jake Helmholz runs. I guess I shouldn’t make any more objections if it’s goin’ to be like that, Bertha. You won’t be near any revolutions, and I expect it’ll be a good thing for your papa. He’s too excited. Down there he can cuss Wilson as much as he pleases. Let him go and get it out of his system; he better cool off a little.”
Bertha happened to remember the form of this final bit of advice a month later as she unpacked her trunk in Jacob Helmholz’s hotel in Lupos; and she laughed ruefully. Lupos, physically, was no place wherein to cool off in mid-April. The squat town, seen through the square windows of her room, wavered in a white heat. Over the top of a long chalky wall she could see a mule’s ears slowly ambulating in a fog of bluish dust, and she made out a great peaked hat accompanying these ears through the dust; but nothing else alive seemed to move in the Luposine world except an unseen rooster’s throat which, as if wound up by the heat, sent at almost symmetrical intervals a long cock-a-doodle into the still furnace of the air; the hottest sound, Bertha thought, that she had ever heard — hotter even than the sound of August locusts in Cincinnati trees.
She found the exertion of unpacking difficult, yet did not regret that she had declined the help of a chambermaid. “I’m sure she’s an Indian!” she explained to her father. “It scared me just to look at her, and I wouldn’t be able to stand an Indian waiting on me — never!”
He laughed and told her she must get used to the customs of the place. “Besites,” he said, “it ain’t so much we might see a couple Injuns around the house, maybe; it don’t interfere, not so’s a person got to notice. What makes me notice, it’s how Jake Helmholz has got putty near a Cherman hotel out here so fur away. It beats efer’ t’ing! Pilsner on ice! From an ice plant like a little steamship’s got. Cherman mottas downstairs on walls: Wer liebt nicht Wein, Weib and — He’s got a lot of ‘em! He fixes us efening dinner in a putty garden he’s got. It’s maybe hot now, but bineby she coolss off fine. Jake, he says we’d be supp’iced; got to sleep under blankets after dark, she cools off so fine!”
Old Fred was more cheerful than his daughter had known him to be for a long, long time; and though her timid heart was oppressed by the strange place and by strange thoughts concerning it, she felt a moment’s gladness that they had come.
“Jake Helmholz is a cholly feller,”Mr. Hitzel went on, chuckling. “He gits along good down here. Says Villa ain’t nefer come in hundert and finfty miles. He ain’t afrait of Villa, besites. He seen him once; he shook hants nice, he said. Dinnertime, Jake Helmholz he’s got a fine supp’ice to show us, he says.”
“You mean something he’s having cooked for us for dinner as a surprise, papa?”
“No; he gits us a Cherman dinner, he says; but it ain’t a supp’ice to eat. He says You chust wait,” he says to me. “You’ll git a supp’ice for dinner. It’s goin’ to be the supp’ice of your life, he says; “but it ain’t nutting to eat,’ he says. “It’s goin’ to be a supp’ice for Miss Bairta, too, Jake says. “She’ll like it nice, too,” he says.” But Bertha did not care for surprises; she looked anxious. “I wish he wouldn’t have a surprise for us,” she said. “I’m afraid of finding one every minute anyhow, in the washbowl or somewhere. I know I’ll go crazy the first time I see a tarantula! “Oh, it ain’t goin’ to be no bug,” her father assured her. “Jake says it’s too fine a climate for much bugs; he ain’t nefer worry none about bugs. He says it’s a supp’ice we like so much it tickles us putty near dead!”
Bertha frowned involuntarily, wishing that her father had not used the word dead just then; she felt Mexico ominous round her, and even that intermittent cockcrow failed to reassure her as a homely and familiar sound. Mexico itself was surprising enough for her; even the appearance of her semirelative, the landlord Helmholz, had been a surprise to her, and she wished that he had not prepared anything additional. Her definite fear was that his idea might prove to be something barbaric and improper in the way of native dances; and she had a bad afternoon, not needing to go outside of her room to find it. But a little while after the sharp sunset the husk colored chambermaid brought in a lamp, and Mr. Hitzel followed, shouting wheezily. He had discovered the surprise.
“Hoopee!”he cried. “Come look! Bairta, come down! It’s here! Come down, see who!” He seized her wrist, hauling her with him, Bertha timorous and reluctant. “Come look! It’s here, settin’ at our dinner table; it’s all fixed in the garten waitin’. Hoopee! Hoopee!”
And having thus partly urged and partly led her down the stairs he halted her in the trellised entrance of Mr. Helmholz’ incongruous garden, a walled enclosure with a roof of black night. Half a dozen oil lamps left indeterminate yet definitely unfamiliar the shaping’s of foliage, scrawled in gargoyle shadows against the patched stucco walls; but one of the lamps stood upon a small table which had been set for three people to dine, and the light twinkled there reassuringly enough upon commonplace metal and china, and glossed amber streaks brightly up and down slender long bottles. It made too — not quite so reassuringly — a Rembrandt sketch of the two men who stood waiting there — little, ragged faced, burnt dry Helmholz, and a biggish young man in brown linen clothes with a sturdy figure under them. His face was large, yet made of shining and ruddy features rather small than large; he was ample yet compact; bulkily yet tightly muscular everywhere, suggesting nothing whatever of grace, nevertheless leaving to a stranger’s first glance no possibility to doubt his capacity for immense activity and resistance. Most of all he produced an impression of the stiffest sort of thickness; thickness seemed to be profoundly his great power. This strong young man was Mr. Helmholz’ surprise for Bertha and her father.
The latter could not get over it. “Supp’ice!” he cried, laughing loudly in his great pleasure. “I got a supp’ice for you and Miss Bairta,” he tells me. “Comes efening dinnertime you git a supp’ice,” Jake says. “Look, Bairta, what for a supp’ice he makes us! You nefer seen him before. Guess who it is. It’s Louie!”
“Louie?” she repeated vacantly.
“Louie Schlotterwerz!” her father shouted. “Your own cousin! Minna’s Ludwig! Y’efer see such a fine young feller? It’s Louie!”
Vociferating, he pulled her forward; but the new cousin met them halfway and kissed Bertha’s hand with an abrupt gallantry altogether matter of fact with him, but obviously confusing to Bertha. She found nothing better to do than to stare at her hand, thus saluted, and to put it behind her immediately after its release, whereupon there was more hilarity from her father.
“Look!” he cried. “She don’t know what to do! She don’t seen such manners from young fellers in Cincinneti; I should took her to Chermany long ago. Sit down! Sit down! We eat some, drink class Rhine wine and git acquainted.”
“Yes,” said Helmholz. “Eat good. You’ll find there’s worse places than Mexico to come for German dishes; it’ll surprise you. Canned United States soup you git, maybe, but afterworts is Wiener Schnitzel and all else German. And if you got obyeckshuns to the way my waiters look out for you, why, chust hit ‘em in the nose once, and send for me!”
He departed as the husk colored servitress and another like her set soup before his guests. Schlotterwerz had not yet spoken distinguishably, though he had murmured over Bertha’s hand and laughed heartily with his uncle. But his expression was amiable, and Bertha after glancing at him timidly began: “Do you — ” Then blushing even more than before she turned to her father. “Does he — does Cousin Ludwig speak English?”
Mr. Hitzel’s high good humor increased all the time, and having bestowed upon his nephew a buffet of approval across the little table — “Speak English?” he exclaimed. “Speaks it as good as me and you! He was four years in England, different times. Speaks English, French, Mexican — Spanish, you call it, I guess — I heert him speak it to Jakie Helmholz. Speaks all lengwitches. Cherman, Louie speaks it too fest.” Schlotterwerz laughed. “I’m afraid Uncle Fritz is rather vain, Cousin Bertha,” he said; and she was astonished to hear no detectable accent in his speech, though she said afterward that his English reminded her more of a Boston professor who had been one of her teachers in school than of anything else she could think of. “Your papa and I had a little talk before dinner, in German,” Schlotterwerz went on. “At least, we attempted it. Your papa had to stop frequently to think of words he had forgotten, and sometimes he found it necessary to ask me the meaning of an idiom which I introduced into our conversation. He assured me that you spoke German with difficulty, Cousin Bertha; but, if you permit me to say it, I think he finds himself more comfortable in the English tongue.”
Mr. Hitzel chuckled, not abashed; then he groaned. “No, I ain’t! A feller can’t remember half what his olt lengwitch is; yet all the same time he like to speak it, and maybe he gits so’s he can’t speak neither one if he don’t look out! Feller can hear plenty Cherman in Cincinneti.” His expression clouded with a reminiscence of pain. “Well, I tell you, Louie, I am gled to git away from there. I couldn’t stood the U. S. no longer. It’s too much! I couldn’t swaller it no longer!”
“I should think not,”Louie agreed sympathetically.
“Many others are like you, Uncle Fritz; they’re crossing the frontier every day. That’s part of my business here, as I mentioned.”
Old Fred nodded. “Louie tellss me he comes here about copper mines,” he said to Bertha; “for after the war bissnuss. Cherman gufment takes him off the navy a while once, and he’s come also to see if Chermans from the U. S. which comes in Mexico could git back home to fight for the olt country. Louie’s got plenty on his hants. You can see he’s a smart feller Bairta!”
“Yes, papa,” she said meekly; but her cousin laughed and changed the subject.
“How are things in your part of the States?” he asked. “Pretty bad?”
“So tough I couldn’t stood ‘em, ain’t I tolt you?” Mr. Hitzel responded with sudden vehemence. “It’s too much! I tell you I hat to hate to walk on the streets my own city! I tell you, the United States iss English lovers! I don’t want to go back in the U. S. long as I am a lifin’ man! The U. S. hates you if you are from Chermans. Yes, it’s so! If the U. S. is goin’ to hate me because I am from Chermans, well, by Gott, I can hate the U. S.!”
Bertha interposed: “Oh, no! Papa, you mustn’t say that.”
The old man set down the wineglass he was tremulously lifting to his lips and turned to her. “Why? Why I shouldn’t say it? Look once: Why did the U. S. commence from the beginning pickin’ on Chermany? And now why is it war against Chermany? Ammunitions! So Wall Street don’t git soaked for English bonds! So bullet makers keep on gittin’ quick rich. Why don’t I hate the U. S. because it kills million Chermans from U. S. bullets, when it was against the law all time to send bullets for the English to kill Chermans?”
“Ain’t it so, Louie?”
But the young man shook his head. He seemed a little amused by his uncle’s violent earnestness, and probably he was amused too by the old fellow’s interpretation of international law. “No, Uncle Fritz,” he said. “I think we may admit — between ourselves at least, and in Mexico — we may admit that the Yankees can hardly be blamed for selling munitions to anybody who can buy them.”
Mr. Hitzel sat dumfounded. “You don’t blame ‘em?” he cried. “You are Cherman offizier, and you don’t — ”
“Not at all,” said Schlotterwerz. “It’s what we should do ourselves under the same circumstances. We always have done so, in fact. Of course we take the opposite point of view diplomatically, but we have no real quarrel with the States upon the matter of munitions. All that is propaganda for the proletariat.” He laughed indulgently. “The proletariat takes enormous meals of propaganda; supplying the fodder is a great and expensive industry!”
Mr. Hitzel’s expression was that of a person altogether nonplused; he stared at this cool nephew of his, and said nothing. But Bertha had begun to feel less embarrassed than she had been at first, and she spoke with some assurance.
“What a beautiful thing it would be if nobody at all made bullets,” she said. “If there wasn’t any ammunition — why, then — ”
“Why, then,” said the foreign cousin, smiling, “we should again have to fight with clubs and axes.”
“Oh, no!” she said quickly. “I mean if there wouldn’t be any fighting at all.”
He interrupted her, laughing. “When is that state of the universe to arrive?”
“Oh, it could!” she protested earnestly.
“The people don’t really want to fight each other.”
“No; that is so, perhaps,” he assented. “Well, then, why couldn’t it happen that there wouldn’t ever be any more fighting?”
“Because,” said Schlotterwerz, “because though peoples might not fight, nations always will. Peoples must be kept nations, for one reason, so that they will fight.”
“Oh!” Bertha cried.
“Yes!” said her cousin emphatically;
He had grown serious. “If war dies, progress dies. War is the health of nations.”
“You mean war is good?” Bertha said incredulously.
“War is the best good!”
“You mean war when you have to fight to defend your country?’
“I mean war.”
She looked at him with wide eyes that comprehended only the simplest matters and comprehended the simplest with the most literal simplicity.
“But the corpses,” she said faintly. “Is it good for them?”
“What?” said her cousin, staring now in turn.
Bertha answered him. “War is killing people. Well, if you knew where the spirits went — the spirits that were in the corpses that get killed — if you knew for certain that they all went to heaven, and war would only be sending them to a good place — why, then perhaps you could say war is good. You can’t say it till you are certain that it is good for all the corpses.”
“Colossal!” the young officer exclaimed, vaguely annoyed. “Really, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m afraid it sounds like some nonsense you caught from Yankeedollarland. We must forget all that now, when you are going to be a good German. Myself, I speak of humanity. War is necessary for the progress of humanity. There can be no advance for humanity unless the most advanced nation leads it. To lead it the most advanced nation must conquer the others. To conquer them it must make war.”
“But the Germans!” Bertha cried.
“The Germans say they are the most advanced, but they claim they didn’t make the war. Papa had letters and letters from Germany, and they all said they were attacked. That’s what so much talk was about at home in Cincinnati. Up to the Lusitania the biggest question of all was about which side made the war.”
“They all made it,” said Schlotterwerz. “War was inevitable, and that nation was the cleverest which chose its own time for it and struck first.”
Bertha was dismayed. “But we always — always — ” She faltered. “We claimed that the war was forced on Germany by the English.”
“It was inevitable,” her cousin repeated. “It was coming. Those who did not know it were stupid. War is always going to come; and the most advanced nation will always be prepared for it. By such means it will first conquer, then rule all the others. Already we are preparing for the next war. Indeed, we are fighting this one, I may say, with a view to the next, and the peace we make will really be what one now calls ‘jockeying for position’ for the next war.
“Let us put aside all this talk of ‘Who began the war,’ and accusations and defenses in journalism and oratory; all this nonsense about international law, which doesn’t exist, and all the absurdities about mercy. Nature has no mercy; neither has the upward striving in man. Let us speak like adult people, frankly. We are three blood relations, in perfect sympathy. You have fled from the cowardly hypocrisy of the Yankees, and I am a German officer. Let us look only at the truth. What do we see? That life is war and war is the glory of life, and peace is part of war. In peace we work. It is work behind the lines, and though the guns may be quiet for the time, our frontiers are always our front lines. Look at the network of railways we had built in peace up to the Belgian, frontier. We were ready, you see. That is why we are winning. We shall be ready again and win again when the time comes, and again after that. The glorious future belongs all to Germany.”
Bertha had not much more than touched the food before her, though she had been hungry when they sat down; and now she stopped eating altogether, letting her hands drop into her lap; where they did not rest, however, for her fingers were clutched and unclutched nervously as she listened. Her father continued to eat, but not heartily; he drank more than he ate; he said nothing; and during momenta of silence his heavy breathing became audible. The young German was unaware that his talk produced any change in the emotional condition of his new found relatives; he talked on, eating almost vastly, himself, but drinking temperately.
He abandoned the great subject for a time, and told them of his mother and brothers, all in war work except Gustave, who, as the Hitzel’s knew, had been killed at the Somme. Finally, when Cousin Louie had eaten as much as he could he lit a cigar taken from an embroidered silk case which he carried, and offered one to his uncle. Old Fred did not lift his eyes; he shook his head and fumbled in one of his waistcoat pockets.
“No,” he said in a husky voice. “I smoke my own I brought from Cincinneti.”
“As you like,” Schlotterwerz returned.
“Mine come from Havana.” He laughed and added, “By secret express!”
“You ain’t tell us,” Mr. Hitzel said, his voice still husky — “you ain’t tell us yet how long you been in Mexico.”
“About fourteen months, looking out for the commercial future and doing my share to make the border interesting at the present time for those Yankees you hate so properly, Uncle Fritz.”
Hitzel seemed to ruminate feebly. “You know,” he said, “you know I didn’t heert from Minna since Feb’wary; she ain’t wrote me a letter. Say once, how do the Cherman people feel towards us that is from Chermans in the U. S. — the Cherman Americans.”
His nephew grunted. “What would you expect?” he inquired. “You, of course, are exempt; you have left the country in disgust, because you are a true German. But the people at home will never forgive the German Americans. It is felt that they could have kept America out of this war if they had been really loyal. It was expected of them; but they were cowardly, and they will lose by it when the test comes.”
“Test?” old Fred repeated vacantly. The nephew made a slight gesture with his right hand, to aid him in expressing the obviousness of what he said. “Call it the German test of the Monroe Doctrine. Freedom of the seas will give Germany control of the seas, of course. The Panama Canal will be internationalized, and the States will be weakened by their approaching war with Japan, which is inevitable. Then will come the test of the Monroe Doctrine! We have often approached it, but it will be a much better time when England is out of the way and the States have been exhausted by war with Japan.”
Bertha interposed: “Would England want to help the United States?”
“Not out of generosity,” Schlotterwerz laughed. “For her own interest — Canada.” He became jocularly condescending and employed a phrase which Bertha vaguely felt to be somewhat cumbersome and unnatural. “My fair cousin,” he said, “listen to some truth, my fair cousin. No nation ever acts with generosity. Every government encourages the proletariat to claim such virtues, but it has never been done and never will be done. See what the Yankees are claiming: They go to war ‘to make the world safe for democracy. One must laugh! They enter the war not for democracy; not to save France nor to save England; not to save international law! Neither is it to save Wall Street millionaires — though all that is excellent for the proletariat and brings splendid results. No, my fair cousin, the Yankees never did anything generous in their whole history; it isn’t in the blood. You are right to hate them, because they are selfish not from a glorious policy, like the great among the Germans, but out of the meanness of their crawling hearts. They went to war with us because they were afraid for their own precious skins, later!”
“I don’t believe it!” Bertha’s voice was suddenly sharp and loud, and the timid blushes had gone from her cheeks. She was pale, but brighter eyed than her father had ever seen her — brighter eyed than anybody had ever seen her. “I don’t believe it! We went to war because all that you’ve been saying has to be fought till it’s out of the world; I just now understand. “Oh!” she cried, “I just now understand why our American boys went to drive the ambulances in France, but not in Germany!”
Captain Schlotterwerz sat amazed, staring at her in an astonishment too great to permit his taking the cigar from his mouth for better enunciation. “We,” he echoed. “Now she says we’!” His gaze moved to her father. “She is a Yankee, she means. You hear what she says?” “Yes, I heert her,” said his uncle thickly. “Well, what — ”
Old Fred Hitzel rose to his feet and with a shaking hand pointed in what he believed to be the direction of the Atlantic Ocean. “What you subbose, you flubdubber?” he shouted. “Git back to Chermany! Git back to Chermany if you got any way to take you! Git back and try some more how long you can fool the Cherman people till you git ‘em to heng you up to a lemp post! Tomorrow me and Bairta starts home again for our own country. It’s Cincinneti, you bet you! We heert you! It’s too much! It’s too much! It’s too much!”
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