Hans Breitmann paddled across the deck in his pink pyjamas, a cup of tea in one hand and a cheroot in the other, when the steamer was sweltering down the coast on her way to Singapur. He drank beer all day and all night, and played a game called ‘Scairt’ with three compatriots.
‘I haf washed,’ said he in a voice of thunder, ‘but dere is no use washing on these hell-seas. Look at me–I am still all wet and schweatin’. It is der tea dot makes me so. Boy, bring me Bilsener on ice.’
‘You will die if you drink beer before breakfast,’ said one man. ‘Beer is the worst thing in the world for–‘
‘Ya, I know–der liver. I haf no liver, und I shall not die. At least I will not die obon dese benny sdeamers dot haf no beer fit to trink. If I should haf died, I will haf don so a hoondert dimes before now–in Shermany, in New York, in Japon, in Assam, und all over der inside bans of South Amerique. Also in Shamaica should I hat died or in Siam, but I am here; und der are my orchits dot I have drafelled all the vorld round to find.’
He pointed towards the wheel, where, in two rough wooden boxes, lay a mass of shrivelled vegetation, supposed by all the ship to represent Assam orchids of fabulous value.
Now, orchids do not grow in the main streets of towns, and Hans Breitmann had gone far to get his. There was nothing that he had not collected that year, from king-crabs to white kangaroos.
‘Lisden now,’ said he, after he had been speaking for not much more than ten minutes without a pause; ‘Lisden und I will dell you a sdory to show how bad und worse it is to go gollectin’ und belief vot anoder fool haf said. Dis was in Uraguay which was in Amerique–North or Sout’ you would not know–und I was hoontin’ orchits und aferydings else dot I could back in my kanasters–dot is drafelling sbecimen-gaces. Dere vas den mit me anoder man–Reingelder, dot vas his name–und he vas hoontin’ also but only coral-snakes–joost Uraguay coral-snakes–aferykind you could imagine. I dell you a coral-snake is a peauty–all red und white like coral dot has been gestrung in bands upon der neck of a girl. Dere is one snake howefer dot we who gollect know ash der Sherman Flag, pecause id is red und plack und white, joost like a sausage mit druffles. Reingelder he was naturalist–goot man–goot trinker–better as me! “By Gott,” said Reingelder, “I will get a Sherman Flag snake or I will die.” Und we toorned all Uraguay upside-behint all pecause of dot Sherman Flag.
‘Von day when we was in none knows where–shwingin’ in our hummocks among der woods, oop comes a natif woman mit a Sherman Flag in a bickle- bottle–my bickle-bottle–und we both fell from our hummocks flat ubon our pot–what you call stomach–mit shoy at dis thing. Now I was gollectin’ orchits also, und I knowed dot der idee of life to Reingelder vas dis Sherman Flag. Derefore I bicked myselfs oop und I said, “Reingelder, dot is YOUR find.”–“Heart’s true friend, dou art a goot man,” said Reingelder, und mit dot he obens der bickle-bottle, und der natif woman she shqueals: “Herr Gott! It will bite.” I said–pecause in Uraguay a man must be careful of der insects–“Reingelder, shpifligate her in der alcohol und den she will be all right.”–“Nein,” said Reingelder, “I will der shnake alife examine. Dere is no fear. Der coral-shnakes are mitout shting-apparatus brofided.” Boot I looked at her het, und she vas der het of a boison-shnake–der true viper cranium, narrow und contract. “It is not goot,” said I, “she may bite und den–we are tree hoondert mile from aferywheres. Broduce der alcohol und bickle him alife.” Reingelder he had him in his hand–grawlin’ und grawlin’ as slow as a woorm und dwice as guiet. “Nonsense,” says Reingelder. “Yates haf said dot not von of der coral-shnakes haf der sack of boison.” Yates vas der crate authorite ubon der reptilia of Sout’ Amerique. He haf written a book. You do not know, of course, but he vas a crate authorite.
‘I gum my eye upon der Sherman Flag, grawlin’ und grawlin’ in Reingelder’s fist, und der het vas not der het of innocence. “Mein Gott,” I said. “It is you dot will get der sack–der sack from dis life here pelow!”
‘”Den you may haf der shnake,” says Reingelder, pattin’ it ubon her het. “See now, I will show you vat Yates haf written!”
‘Uud mit dot he went indo his dent, unt brung out his big book of Yates; der Sherman Flag grawlin’ in his fist. “Yates haf said,” said Reingelder, und he throwed oben der book in der fork of his fist und read der passage, proofin’ conglusivement dot nefer coral-shnake bite vas boison. Den he shut der book mit a bang, und dot shqueeze der Sherman Flag, und she nip once und dwice.
‘”Der liddle fool he haf bit me,” says Reingelder.
‘Dese things was before we know apout der permanganat-potash injection. I was discomfordable.
‘”Die oop der arm, Reingelder,” said I, “und trink whisky ontil you can no more trink.”
‘”Trink ten tousand tevils! I will go to dinner,” said Reingelder, und he put her afay und it vas very red mit emotion.
‘We lifed upon soup, horse-flesh, und beans for dinner, but before we vas eaten der soup, Reingelder he haf hold of his arm und cry, “It is genumben to der clavicle. I am a dead man; und Yates he haf lied in brint!”
‘I dell you it vas most sad, for der symbtoms dot came vas all dose of strychnine. He vas doubled into big knots, und den undoubled, und den redoubled mooch worse dan pefore, und he frothed. I vas mit him, saying, “Reingelder, dost dou know me?” but he himself, der inward gonsciousness part, was peyond knowledge, und so I know he vas not in bain. Den he wrop himself oop in von dremendous knot und den he died–all alone mit me in Uraguay. I was sorry, for I lofed Reingelder, und I puried him, und den I took der coral-shnake–dot Sherman Flag–so bad und dreacherous und I bickled him alife.
‘So I got him: und so I lost Reingelder.’