A NEW play was recently produced at the principal theatre of Vienna, which illustrates the notions of Scotchmen which obtain currency and credence among the Germans. The scene is laid in St. Petersburgh; the real hero is a little animal, known to dog-fanciers as a Scotch terrier; but the nominal chief character is a banker from Glasgow, named Sutherland. He had failed in his native place, but in Russia he becomes a great man, for he was the favorite money-dealer of the Empress Catherine.
We all know the strength of a Scotch constitution, but we also know the severity of a St. Petersburgh winter: yet Mr. Sutherland presents him to his audience, amidst the frozen scenery of that ice-bound city, in what is believed abroad to be the regular everyday costume of a citizen of Glasgow; namely, a kilt, jack-boots, and a cocked hat, with a small grove of funeral feathers. Mr. Sutherland, despite his scanty nether costume, appears to be in excellent health and spirits. He has thriven so well in the world that, in accordance with a tolerably correct estimate of the Caledonian national character, his relations at home begin to pay court to him, and to send him presents. One indulges him with the hero of the piece: the small, ugly, irate, snuffy quadruped before mentioned. The banker takes it with a good-humored “Pish!” little dreaming of the important part the little wretch is destined to play. He had scarcely received the gift when the Empress passes by, sees the dog, and desires to possess it, while the grateful Sutherland is too glad to be able to gratify a royal caprice at so light a cost.
She, in the fervency of her gratitude, named the dog after the donor — a great compliment.
Alas! one day, the dog, who had eaten too plentifully of zoobrême (chicken stewed with truffles), was seized with apoplexy and died; though not without suspicion of having been poisoned by the prime minister, a piece of whose leg he had digested the day before. The Empress sighed far more over the loss of her dog, than she would have done for that of the minister. The one might have been easily replaced: she knew at least twenty waiting open-mouthed for the vacancy. But who could replace her four-footed friend! — she mourns him as a loss utterly irreparable. She orders the greatest mark of affectionate respect it is possible to show to be performed on the dead terrier.
The scene changes; it is night. The fortunate banker is seated at dessert, after an excellent dinner of “mutton rosbif,” and “hot-a-meale pour-ridges, and patatas,” indispensable to a North Briton; his legs are crossed, his feet rest upon a monstrous fender, which he takes care to inform us he has received from England, as he sits sipping his “sherri port bier,” and soliloquizing pleasantly over the various chances of his life. He is just about to finish his evening with some “croc,” the English name for the pleasant invention of Admiral Grogram; his servant enters, to announce that the chief executioner with a file of soldiers have just dropped in, to say a word on a matter of business from the Empress.26
The awful functionary, on stalking into the room, exclaimed, “I am come —”
“Well, I see you are, “replied the banker, trying to be facetious, but feeling like a man with a sudden attack of ague.
“By command of the Empress!”
“Long may she live!” ejaculates Sutherland, heartily.
“It is really a very delicate affair,” says the executioner; who, like the French Samson, is a humane man; “and I do not know how to break it to you.”
“Oh, pray, don’t hesitate. What would you like to take?” asked the banker, spilling the grog he tried to hand to the horrid functionary, from sheer fright.
The Envoy shakes his head grimly. “It is what we must all come to some day,” he adds, after a short pause.
“What is? In Heaven’s name do not keep me longer in suspense!” cries the banker, his very visible knees knocking together with agonizing rapidity.
“I have been sent,” answers the awful messenger; again he stops — looks compassionately at his destined victim.
“By the Empress —”
“To have you —”
“Stuffed!” said the Executioner mournfully.
The banker shrieked.
“Stuffed!” repeats the man, laconically, pointing to a bird in a glass case, to prevent there being any mistake in Sutherland’s mind as to the nature of the operation he is about to be called on to undergo.
The Executioner now lays his hand significantly on poor Sutherland’s collar, and looks into his face, as if to inquire if he had any particular or peculiar fancy as to the mode in which he would like to go through the preparatory operation of being killed.
“I have brought the straw,” he says, “and two assistants are without. The Empress can not wait; and we have not got your measure for the glass case yet.”
The banker looks the very picture of abject misery; but Britons, in foreign comedies, are always ready to buy every thing, and the banker had lived long enough in Russia to know the value of a bribe. He therefore offers one so considerable, that his grim visitor is touched, and endeavors to lull his sense of duty to sleep by a sophistry.
“I was told, indeed, to have you stuffed,” he reasons, “and got ready for the Empress; but nothing was said about time; so I don’t mind giving you half an hour if you can satisfy these gentlemen — and he turns to his associates.
It is briefly done. The banker pays like a man whose life depends on his liberality — we suppose several millions — for the Executioner remarks that he can not forget that a groom in England frequently receives several thousands sterling a year; this is a very prevalent idea among the Frankish and Teutonic nations of the Continent. We once heard a Spanish general assert, in a large assembly, that the usual pay of an English ensign was five hundred pounds a month, an idea doubtless derived from some Iberian dramatist; and therefore a public functionary like the Executioner must be remunerated proportionably higher. The enormous pecuniary sacrifice gets for Sutherland some half-hour’s respite; which he wisely uses by flying to the British ambassador, Sir Bifstik, and awaits the result with great anguish.
Sir Bifstik goes to the Empress. He is admitted. He asks if Her Majesty be aware of the position of a British subject named Sutherland?
“Excellent man,” says Her Majesty, “No! What is it?”
Sir Bifstik bows low at the tones of the imperial voice, and now begins to explain himself with something more than diplomatic haste; thinking, perhaps, that already the fatal straw may be filling the banker’s members.
Imperial Catherine does not, of course, consider the putting to death of a mere Scotch banker, and making him in reality what some of his brethren are sometimes called figuratively — a man of straw — worth this fuss; and sets the ambassador down in her mind as a person of wild republican ideas, who ought to be recalled as soon as possible by his government, and placed under proper surveillance; but, nevertheless, she causes some inquiries to be made, and learns that it is in consequence of her having ordered “Sutherland” to be stuffed that he is probably then undergoing that operation.
Sir Bifstik expresses such horror and consternation at this intelligence, that the Empress believe his mind to be disordered.
“What possible consequence can the accidental stuffing of a Scotch banker be to you, milor?” she saith.
“The ac-ci-den-t-al stuff-ings of a Scotcher Bankers!” in a German idiom not generally used by our nobility, gasps Sir Bifstik, mechanically, with pale lips and bristling hair.
“Take him away! He is mad!” screams the Empress, thinking that no sane person could be concerned about such a trifling affair, and in another moment the most sacred of international laws would have been violated (on the stage), and Great Britain insulted by profane hands being laid on the person of her ambassador, when all at once a light breaks over the mind of Her Majesty — the recalling of something forgotten. She exclaims, with a Russian nonchalance quite cheering to behold, “Oh, I remember; now it is easily explained. My poor little dog (I had forgotten him too) died yesterday, and I wished his body to be preserved. Cher chien! His name was the same as that of the banker, I think. Alas that cruel Death should take my dog!”
“But Mr. Sutherland has, perhaps, already been murdered!” gasps the ambassador, 27 “P\pray that your Majesty will lose no time in having him released, should he be still alive!”
“Ah, true! I never thought of that,” returns the Empress.
The order is finally issued, and Sutherland rescued, just as the Executioner, grown angry at his unreasonable remonstrances, resolved to delay no longer in executing the Imperial commands. To put the coup-de-grace on the comic agony of the poor banker, his immense red crop of hair has, in that half hour of frightful uncertainty, turned white as snow!”
* From Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume II, Number VII, December, 1850; Harper & Bros; New York; 1906; pp. 25-27.