Friday, January 6, 2012
Royal Flash - Chapter 6
Bismarck's nefarious plan and the real reason for fitting up Flashman come to light in chapter 6 of Royal Flash.
Flashman hasn't forgotten the beating he engineered John Gully to hand out to the Prussian, and neither has Bismarck, despite the intervening 4 years, and he knows the noble's presence doesn't bode well for him, but he predictably decides to bluster it out. It has no effect. He's on Bismarck's home turf and surrounded by 4 of his henchmen, all of whom look remarkably capable.
Bismarck then explains why he wants Flashman. Even then Bismarck was working towards building a German Empire. A lot of turning uniting the German states and turning Prussia into Germany hinged on the small provinces of Schelswig and Holstein. The states were nominally controlled by Denmark, but the population was largely German. This created the Schleswig-Holstein question. I was aware of the question before I read the book. It was something my wonderful 11th grade history teacher; Mr French, explained in Modern History. I don't know if any of the rest of the class even listened, or if any of them cared after the class or remembered it, but I was a bit of a history buff and it did interest me. I never understood it entirely and I doubt even Mr French did. Flashman explains it thus:
Nobody has ever got to the bottom of it - indeed Palmerston (British Prime Minister Palmerston, he was a sort of friend of Flashman's and one of the few politicians Harry actually seems to admire) once said that only three people understood it: one was Pam himself, and he had forgotten it, another was a famous statesman, and he was dead, and the third was a German professor, and he had gone mad thinking about it.
Considering how much Bismarck had to do with the question I would have thought he also understood it, possibly he's the famous statesman, although I would have thought Flashman would have just said so if that was the case.
Now what exactly does Captain Harry Flashman have to do with it all? There's a small duchy on the edge of Holstein called Strackenz (Strackenz does not exist, it's an entirely fictional place). If it were to erupt into unrest things could ruin Bismarck's plans. To that end he's managed to arrange for the marriage of the beautiful young Duchess Irma of Strackenz to the nephew of King Christian of Denmark, Prince Carl Gustaf, who is a Dane, according to Bismarck sympathetic to the Prussian's plans. Why does this concern Flashman? Flashman asked the same question.
When Bismarck had wondered why Flashman looked familiar four years previously it was because of Carl Gustaf. The Danish prince is a dead ringer for Flashman, There are only two significant differences, Carl Gustaf is bald and clean shaven and he bears two duelling scars on his face earned at Heidelberg. Bismarck refers to duelling as drinking from the soup plate of honour, in reference to bowl like hilt of the schalger blades used for duelling.
According to Bismarck, Carl Gustaf has contracted gonnorhea, and will not be able to marry the Duchess in the six weeks time that the wedding has been planned for. Flashman actually finds the concept of a royal contracting as he puts it 'a dose of the clap' highly amusing, which is very indicative of his character, although it did make me wonder why with all his partners Flashman himself never got venereal disease, I can't recall him ever mentioning it.
The six weeks gives Bismarck and his cohorts enough time to turn Flashman into Carl Gustaf, teach him the language, the prince's history and groom him physically as well as mentally. Flashman has a habit of scratching his rear end when thinking, as royalty do not 'claw at the their backsides' as Bersonin tells Harry. For someone who learns as many languages as Flashman does he has an interesting relationship with Danish. He learns it. but he doesn't like it and never thinks in it, which for Flashman is odd.
It is with the schlager scars that Bismarck has the most fun, this is his revenge on Harry for the boxing incident with Gully. One way or other other Harry will get scars. One way is to hold him down and have Kraftstein cut them into his face and the other is to face De Gautet, a master of the blade, and have him do it the honourable way. Flashman opts for the latter and actually manages to inflict a minor wound on the swordsman by breaking the rules and lunging after the second scar is inflicted. Strangely enough the whole incident only reinforces Harry's hero reputation amongst Bismarck and his henchmen.
Although Bismarck is offering 10,000 pounds for this service and claims that after marrying Irma they'll wait for a month or so and then perform a switch of Harry for the Carl Gustaf with no one any the wiser Flashman's been in too many of these sorts of situations to totally buy it. He knows what he'd do and he wouldn't honour the agreement. Sadly enough Flashman holds others up to his own scant moral code and he's very often correct.