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"Only eels; especially when they have been skinned alive," I whispered; " everything else he can eat, only try him."
"Well, well! yes, he cannot eat eels; I knew that; the English never eat eels, never."
So went on that tremendous meal; and at every dish at which the least hesitation was made, the unfortunate host murmured at my ear: "I knew it; I knew he could not eat his dinner; no, that could not be;" while all the time the greatest, as well as the least man in the company, was giving abundant proof that he could do just what the host said he could not do.
It really pained me to think that the good man should not have the reward he sought for, in having the excellent things for which he had spent money and labour, receive the commendation he thought due to them. I did all I could to make up for the deficiencies of others; but after two or three dozen of black bottles had been brought up from the cellar, which was believed to be the best of the country, opened, delicately sipped, and put away as not to be tasted, the only advice he obtained was, "Change your cellar."
I was very near getting angry at all this, when the question was asked me, "What do you think that thing covered up there on the table is?"
I thought a little, and then recollecting that a betrothal had lately taken place in the family, I said, "Perhaps a bride's-cake."
"A bride's-cake! now, I think itis a steam-boat."
"Our ideas are entirely dissimilar."
'' What do you think it is," asked the distinguished foreigner, turning to his right hand. "I think you have seen it before."
"Yes, I was here six months ago, and saw it then. I agree with your conjecture."
Conjectures were ended by the advance of an old toast-master from the end of the table; holding a glass of wine in his hand, he stood opposite to our host, and began a speech. I concluded naturally, that its object was to announce the arrival in their country of the great man at the head of the table, to set forth his praise, and drink his health. But when the whole company rose up, up rose that great man also, holding his glass ready, and prepared to do honour to the toast; his face was perfectly composed, yet I was sure the tears were in his eyes.
"He is going to drink his ownhealth!" Ithought to myself, but, at the moment, the toast-master uttered the name of Herr Y., and with a tragic air, extending his hand, snatched off the muslin drapery, and displayed—what only a few of us saw now for the first time—a small French clock, (manufactured in Norway,) from the pendulum of which swung a very small steam-boat. And almost simultaneously the tall young lady went round the table and laid on each plate, empty ones of course, a lithographic sketch of the mysterious clock, bearing underneath an inscription, importing that it was presented to Herr Y., in honour of his merits in having first set up a steam-boat on a Norwegian lake.
I heard some sounds, not far removed from sobs, beside me, and saw the object of this tribute with tears running fast down his face.
"They are so grateful to me," he murmured; "they feel what I have done for the country, but they are too good. They gave me a snuffbox before; they gave me this clock six months ago, but it was not presented to me till now."
I looked to the head of the table, for I felt it had been my lot always to mistake the object of honour for whom this entertainment was really designed. First I had fancied it was myself; then another "distinguished foreigner;'' now I found it was the worthy host himself. The face I looked at at the head of the table was quite unintelligible to me. It was perfectly composed, but tears— actually tears—were fast flowing from the eyes. If there could be such a thing as internal laughter, one might be perplexed to know from which of two or three emotions these tears flowed forth. But there was no appearance of a smile, not the least indication of a laugh.
"He weeps !" I whispered to our host. "I am glad of it; I am glad he has such good feelings," he sobbed. "Yes, they are all so good against me; they see now what I have done for the country."
The health of the distinguished foreigner was now really drank. He returned thanks in the best manner, by setting aside his own merits and extolling those of his host, styling him a " hero," and saying he had only to follow his example, &c., &c And then he sat down and dried his eyes; and our host did the same, murmuring—
"I am glad to see it; I am glad he has such good feelings."
The real meaning of all this was at last made plain to me. Good Herr Y., it seemed, occupied in his country the position which many other great men had once occupied in other lands—that is to say, he had lived before his time. At the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, he had not only attempted to do, but actually done, things in Norway that no one had done before, and which, therefore, no one believed ought to be done. He had brought a steamboat, in pieces, overland for forty-six English miles, and put it up on the lake, which had, until that time, been traversed only by sailing ones. For such a substitution Herr Y. was deemed as mad as poor De Caus, the steam projector, was nearly three hundred years ago. Every one, he says, except his wife, thought him mad. That was, indeed, an admirable exception. That noble woman encouraged his patriotic zeal, and now his country had reaped for more than twenty years its benefits. The steam-boat was on the lake, and the steam-boat prospered; but Herr Y. had not yet reaped the harvest of his fame. In all progressive times, it usually happens that the first projector, or mover, falls to the rear; is surpassed and eclipsed by his successors. Some natures take that position passively, satisfied to see the good they aimed at being done, without striving for the honour of doing it; these, however, are the exceptions, not the rule; and good Herr Y. inclined to follow the rule.