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"Signors," said the chief cook, "it is on a beautiful and sublime affair that I have assembled you here to-day. It concerns an increase of the fame and triumphs we have so many times gained over our diplomatic rivals, and an increase of the laurels we have won in the sacred realms of our art! I propose to prepare a banquet for to-morrow, and for that I require your support and aid, gentlemen. For what is the use of ever so good a plan of battle of a commander-in- chief, if his troops fail in courage and skill to carry out the plan of their general? Gentlemen, I doubt not your courage or skill! You will contend for the sake of the fame we have acquired and hitherto enjoyed without dispute, for the sake of the fame which the French cuisine has enjoyed for centuries, and which must be preserved until the end of all things! You will stand by me, gentlemen, in the praiseworthy effort to acquire new glory for France, by showing these little Austrian princes and these gentlemen diplomatists what wonderful things the French art of cookery can bring to pass. The plan is devised and sketched, and all that is now required is its execution. If this great work succeeds, then, gentlemen, you may feel assured of my eternal gratitude--a gratitude which I will prove to you by leaving all the remains of the dinner to your free use and sole benefit! Here is the plan, hasten to the work; I have assigned to each one the part he is to take in its accomplishment. Hasten, therefore! I, however, by way of exception, will myself go to the market to-day and make the necessary purchases. On such an important occasion, no one, however highly placed, must decline labor and the faithful performance of duty. I go, therefore, and six of the kitchen-boys may follow me with their baskets."
Thus speaking, the chief cook, Signor Gianettino, took his hat and gold-headed cane to go to the market. Six kitchen-boys, armed with large baskets, followed him at a respectful distance.
At the great vegetable and fish-market of Rome there was to-day a very unusual and extraordinary life and movement. There was a crowd and tumult, a roaring and screaming, a shouting and laughing, such as had not been heard for a long time. It was partly in consequence of the fact that the whole diplomatic corps had been for some days agitated with preparations for entertainments in honor of the Archduke Ferdinand, who had come to Rome to see the wonders of the holy city, and who could hardly find time and leisure for the festivities offered him. But for the tradesmen and dealers, for the country people in the vicinity of Rome, this presence of the Austrian prince was a happy circumstance; for these banquets and festivals scattered money among the people, and the dealers and honest country people could fearlessly raise their prices, as they were sure of a sale for their commodities. The cooks and servants of the diplomatists and cardinals were seen running hither and thither in busy haste, everywhere selecting the best, everywhere buying and cheapening.
But in one place in the market there was to-day an especial liveliness and activity among the crowd, and to that spot Signor Gianettino bent his steps. He had seen the cook of the Spanish ambassador, the Duke of Grimaldi, among those collected there, and as this cook was one of his bitterest enemies and opponents, Signor Gianettino resolved to watch him, and, if possible, to play him a trick. He therefore cautiously mingled with the crowd, and made a sign to his followers to keep at a distance from him.
It was certainly a very important affair with which the Spanish cook Don Bempo was occupied, as it concerned the purchase of a fish that a countryman had brought to the city, of such a monstrous size and weight that the like had never been seen there. It was the most remarkable specimen with which the Roman fish-market had ever been honored. But the lucky fisherman was fully aware of the extraordinary beauty of his fish, and in his arrogant pride demanded twenty ducats for it.
That was what troubled Don Bempo. Twenty ducats for one single fish, and the major-domo of the Spanish ambassador had urged upon him the most stringent economy; but he had, indeed, at the same time urged upon him to provide everything as splendid as possible for the banquet which the Duke of Grimaldi was to give in honor of the Archduke Ferdinand; indeed, he had with an anxious sigh commanded him to outdo if possible the next day's feast of Cardinal Bernis, and to provide yet rarer and more costly viands than the French cook.
That was what Don Bempo was now considering, and what made him waver in his first determination not to buy the fish.
There was only this one gigantic fish in the market; and, if he bought it, Signor Gianettino, his enemy, of course, could not possess it; the triumph of the day would then inure to the Spanish embassy, and Don Bempo would come off conqueror. That was indeed a very desirable object, but--twenty ducats was still an enormous price, and was not at all reconcilable with the recommended economy.
At any rate he dared not buy the fish without first consulting the major-domo of the duke.
"You will not, then, sell this fish for twelve ducats?" asked Don Bempo, just as Gianettino had unnoticedly approached. "Reflect, man, twelve ducats are a fortune--it is a princely payment!"
The fisherman contemptuously shook his head. "Rather than sell it for twelve ducats I would eat it myself," said he, "and invite my friends, these good Romans, as guests! Go, go, sublime Spanish Don, and buy gudgeons for your pair of miserable ducats! Such a fish as this is too dear for you; you Spanish gentlemen should buy gudgeons!"
"Bravo! bravo!" cried the laughing spectators. "Gudgeons for the Spanish gentlemen with high-nosed faces and empty pockets!"
Don Bempo blushed with anger and wounded pride. "I shall unquestionably buy this fish," said he, "for nothing is too dear for my master when the honor of our nation is to be upheld. But you must allow me time to go home and get the money from the major-domo. Keep the fish, therefore, so long, and I will return with the twenty ducats for it."
And majestically Don Bempo made himself a path through the crowd, which laughingly stepped aside for him, shouting: "Gudgeons for the Spanish gentleman! Viva Don Bempo, who pays twenty ducats for a fish!"
"He will certainly not come back," said the fisherman, shaking his head.
"He goes to buy gudgeons!" cried another.
"What will you bet that he returns to buy the fish?" said a third.
"He will not buy it!" interposed a fourth. "These Spaniards have no money; they are poor devils!"
"Who dares say that?" shrieked another, and now suddenly followed one of those quarrels which are so quickly excited on the least occasion among the passionate people of the south. There was much rage, abuse, and noise. How flashed the eyes, how shook the fists, what threats resounded there!
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The Daughter of an Empress -by- Louise Muhlbach