A smooth voyage brought us in view of the towers of Ostend at sunrise. Standing with my father on deck, and gazing on this fringe of the grand romantic Continent, I remembered our old travels, and felt myself bound to him indissolubly, ashamed of my recent critical probings of his character. My boy’s love for him returned in full force. I was sufficiently cognizant of his history to know that he kept his head erect, lighted by the fire of his robust heart in the thick of overhanging natal clouds. As the way is with men when they are too happy to be sentimental, I chattered of anything but my feelings.
’What a capital idea that was of yours to bring down old Alphonse to Dipwell! You should have heard old John Thresher and Mark Sweetwinter and the others grumbling at the interference of “French frogs;” with their beef, though Alphonse vowed he only ordered the ox to be turned faster, and he dressed their potatoes in six different ways. I doubt if Dipwell has composed itself yet. You know I sat for president in their tent while the beef went its first round; and Alphonse was in an awful hurry to drag me into what he called the royal tent. By the way, you should have hauled the standard down at sunset.’
‘Not when the son had not come down among us,’ said my father, smiling.
’Well, I forgot to tell you about Alphonse. By the way, we’ll have him in our service. There was he plucking at me: “Monsieur Henri-Richie, Monsieur Henri-Richie! mille complimens . . . et les potages, Monsieur!—a la Camerani, a la tortue, aux petits pois . . . c’est en vrai artiste que j’ai su tout retarder jusqu’au dernier moment . . . . Monsieur! cher Monsieur Henri-Richie, je vous en supplie, laissez-la, ces planteurs de choux.” And John Thresher, as spokesman for the rest: “Master Harry, we beg to say, in my name, we can’t masticate comfortably while we’ve got a notion Mr. Frenchman he ’s present here to play his Frenchified tricks with our plain wholesome dishes. Our opinion is, he don’t know beef from hedgehog; and let him trim ’em, and egg ’em,’ and bread-crumb ’em, and pound the mess all his might, and then tak’ and roll ‘em into balls, we say we wun’t, for we can’t make English muscle out o’ that.”—And Alphonse, quite indifferent to the vulgar: “He! mais pensez donc au Papa, Monsieur Henri-Richie, sans doute il a une sante de fer: mais encore faut-il lui menager le suc gastrique, pancreatique . . . ."’
‘Ay, ay!’ laughed my father; ‘what sets you thinking of Alphonse?’
‘I suppose because I shall have to be speaking French in an hour.’
‘German, Richie, German.’
‘But these Belgians speak French.’
’Such French as it is. You will, however, be engaged in a German conversation first, I suspect.’
‘Very well, I’ll stumble on. I don’t much like it.’
’In six hours from this second of time, Richie, boy, I undertake to warrant you fonder of the German tongue than of any other spoken language.’