Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Royal Flash - Chapter 2

Flashman is out and doing what he does best in the second chapter of Royal Flash, having fun with his well heeled male companions and doing so whilst spending his someone else's money (in this case that of his father-in-law Morrison, courtesy of his doting and seemingly clueless wife Elspeth). Harry and his cronies have gone up the country to watch a boxing match and have a drunken weekend, when one of the cronies turns up with Bismarck in tow.

Bismarck and Flashman renew acquaintances and it’s obvious that the Prussian nobleman has not forgotten how the Englishman stole his carriage and date not so long ago. The sniping starts almost immediately. In the presence of friends and at home, it’s hard for Bismarck to really score points off Flashman, he’s a war hero and he’s got a credibility that Bismarck lacks.

Hostilities between the two reaches boiling point after a steeplechase. Flashman isn’t just a naturally gifted rider, he’s extremely proud of it and rarely ever beaten. Bismarck manages to do so in the steeplechase. Flashman contends that he won the race because he neglected to give way as he should have. It’s rather a moot point, because steeplechasing really didn’t have any rules, and it’s highly amusing to see a cheat like Flashman get some of his own medicine and then howl about it.

It’s rare that any one gets the better of Harry Flashman without paying dearly for it, and Otto von Bismarck is no exception. They attend a boxing match and while Bismarck appears to enjoy the spectacle he compares it unfavourably on every score with ‘schlagering’ (schlagers being the swords Prussians preferred to duel with). Seeing an opportunity Harry dives in and starts to goad Bismarck. Harry often talks about his 4 talents, but he never mentions the 5th, and that’s the ability to start a fight. In that respect Harry reminds of the Asterix villain Tortuous Convovulus from Asterix and the Roman Agent. They could both start a fight in an empty room.

Harry keeps needling until he manages to get former bare knuckle boxing champion turned member of the gentry; John Gully to take on Bismarck in an exhibition of skilled ‘milling’ as boxing was known then. It ends better than Flashman could ever have hoped for with Bismarck bloodied and battered by the ageing former champion. Gully is another of those extraordinary footnote people in history that George MacDonald Fraser kept turning up in the books. It’s not the first or the last time Flashman mentions boxing, he’s not much good at it himself, but he enjoys watching it, and even mentions that he was in attendance in 1882 for a match in the US involving the legendary John L. Sullivan. Exactly why he was there I don’t think has ever been covered in the books that were published. I suspect Fraser himself was appreciative of boxing, particularly the history of the sport. He wrote a book called Black Ajax, about a former slave from the US trying to become a champion in the British circuit of the late 18th century. Harry’s father Buck Flashman makes a cameo in the book.

One interesting thing about Bismarck and Harry in this chapter is that Bismarck is positive that he’s met or seen Flashman before, but as Harry has never visited what would become Germany and this is the Prussian’s first visit to England this seems unlikely. Their paths couldn’t have crossed on the subcontinent or in Afghanistan either as Bismarck was never there. Flashman sees it as being of little import, but it vexes Bismarck and Harry should take greater note of it as it will have a major bearing on his future. Not to mention that he’s number one on Bismarck’s people to be revenged upon list after the run in with Gully.

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