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Reminiscences of an English Cadet in the Justrian Service.
PART III. The annual muster of our regiment was held that year on the plains of Villafranca ; but on this occasion only our regiment was present, so that our manæuvres were, as it were, performed en famille. No other branch of the service was present, not even the general pilot-fish of a caralı regiment, a rocket-battery. The quarters of our division were in Valeggio, on the Mincio, and General Schönberger commanded our brigade. He had formerly commanded a regiment of hussars, and though he was of course always in our camp, he only took an active part with us on grand days. He was an excellent officer, an admirable linguist and horseman, and a most genial and kind-hearted gentleman. He had not forgotten that “ young blood will have its way ;” and so far from making his rule oppressive to us, he entered heartily into our amusements and jokes, was deaf to things he was not intended to hear, and blind to little matters best left unseen, without ever loosening the strict discipline which was the ruie of the service. It was at Valeggio that I first became acquainted with Field-Marshal Benedek, for whom I quickly learned, in common with the rest of my comrades, to entertain feelings of respect and affection which, up to this day, have remained unchanged. He was on very intimate terms with General Schönberger, and often came over to the camp to visit his friend. This is hardly the place to enter on the defence of Benedek : the indictment was long since drawn up against him; but I do not thick one officer or one soldier of Austria felt that his love and confidence in him were affected a straw's breadth by the disastrous issue of the late war. When, at the time of his being despatched against Prussia, he observed to the Emperor, “ Your Majesty, I am no strategist," he did himself less than justice: he was, and is, a most able, brave, and sagacious commander, and unwearied in his attention to the comforts and welfare of his mon. A Protestant in religion and a Hungarian by birth, with troops under him drawn from every nation in the Empire, he yet possessed their confidence absolutely ; and this in itself is a great merit. The numerous grave and never-ending difficulties against which he had to contend will never, in all probability, be made known, still less will the Prussians erer willingly admit how largely they were indebted to their vast and perfect system of espionage for their rapid success ; but it is my own conviction that if the secret history of that war, especially in the beginning, were unfolded, Benedek would be considered as great a general as Todtleben was commonly supposed to be after the Crimea : the one had to bear the blame really due alike to those who commanded him and to those whom
he endeavoured to command, whereas the other reaped the exclusive credit which ought in justice to have been shared by others. After the war with Prussia had commenced I had an opportunity of conversing with an Austrian officer, who had been an old comrade of mine in the Jagers, and he said,_" Whichever way matters go this time, we are convinced that Te are in good hands, for Benedek is our commander-in-chief, and he is a man of action, and no boaster.” The least intelligent and reliable portion of the Austrian army was committed to his care, and he was sent to fight on ground with which he was but little if at all acquainted; whereas the line of the Italian battle-fields was as well known to him as his playground is to a schoolboy. Moreover, the troops kept in Italy were chiefly Germans, and were the very flower of our army; they were intelligent, brave, steady soldiers, dogged fighters, hating bitterly the Prussians, and adoring Benedek. Yet these men were reserved, in order to win for the Archduke Albert an easy victory. It was a terrible mistake to send the best army against the least formidable foe; for, whatever the qualities of the Italians may be, they can bear no sort of comparison with the Prussians as soldiers. The self-indulgent, dilatory conduct of Count Clam - Gallas is & matter of notoriety. Others were equally to blame ; and I have heard that some of these haughty aristocrats openly reproached Benedek with being an innkeeper's son, and on that ground declined to obey orders. “ What could Benedek do," the people vaguely asked, " when those others would not go where they were told ? " Yet even after defeat, his last action was that of a gentleman of chivalrous honour and noble heart, for he begged of the Emperor that others should not suffer, but that he alone should bear the burden of ruin and disaster, so that the prestige and credit of the Austrian army should be saved, if that might still be.
At the time when I first saw him he was comparatively a young man, not very tall, but well and compactly built. His features were handsome and regular, with that sharp, high, clear-cut outline so characteristic of Hungarian birth ; but his eye was singularly piercing, so that when he looked at you you were bound to look at him, and felt an instantaneous trust and confidence in him. He was an infantry officer, and we paid him the best compliment which it was in our power to give when we exclaimed, as we often did, “ What a sad thing that he is not a cavalry general.” He was very good-natured, too. I remember an incident illustrative of this , which is not, I hope, too ludicrous to relate. While we were at
our amusement was chiefly riding, but often our work was so arduous that our horses were too tired for us to use them, consequently We often patronized donkeys, which happened to be plentiful in the neighbourhood. These we hired, and mounted in any absurd fashion which occurred to us; and then a number of us would meet at a given spot, and set forth to have an excursion or to visit the officers on distant outpost duty, where we were sure of a warm welcome and jovial entertainment. On one of these occasions we mustered about twenty, all mounted on donkeys, and we agreed that we would give our General the favour of a
risit. We formed into a column four abreast, and a captain, who was skilful in performing calls on the bugle, was elected to command the squadron. Some of us wore hunting-caps, and our whips and sticks were adorned with flowers and greens, or with bunches of vegetables to be used in the fashion of a flail; one had a long pole with a cloth attached to it, he was our standard-bearer—and we carried our various weapons, as if they were our swords, in our right hands, while in the left we held ou reins in military fashion. We first performed a few manæuvres and evolutions not to be found in the regulation book, and then proceeded gallantly on our road. We had not got very far before we descried amid a cloud of dust a body of horsemen, and the word was passed, “ Da Benedek kommt,"_" Benedek is coming,”—and this he was certainly doing, at a swing gallop. There was a general sensation, but our captain ordered, “ Attention, form in troop, right wheel, halt, fours about, front!' —and there we stood, in double lines, at the side of the road. He then got his noble beast into some kind of pace, and reported to the General and his staff that a detachment, consisting of twenty officers on donkeys, awaited his commands. Benedek entered into the joke, accepted the report, and requested the captain to order his detachment to defile before him in a gallop and in single file, which order was promptly given and obeyed. Luckily we most of us wore spurs, but we must have looked sufficiently ridiculous; and Benedek hailed us with roars of laughter as we defiled before him, especially when one very long-legged subaltern came on, who, in his zeal to obey his instructions, literally both carried his donkey and galloped for him. Meanwhile, our captain was on the left side of the General, sounding the bugle-call for attack with all the strength of his lungs, in order, as he said, to give spirit to the donkeys, and more effect to the whole performance. Having defiled, we drew up a little further on across the road, and awaited further commands. Benedek then rode up to us, and after expressing his admiration of the style in which we executed our evolution, and thanking us for the amusement we had afforded him, he maliciously requested us, as we were all going the same way, to gallop along by his side as a guard of honour. We set off with the best intentions, as hard as we could induce our long-eared steeds to go; but the pace was too severe, and we rapidly tailed off. Benedek turned in his saddle, waved his hand, and shouted out to us that he would announce our coming to the General, in order that he might not be too much surprised at the advancing procession, and so saying disappeared.
Shortly after this I was transferred to a squadron of the first division. My new captain was a dear good old fellow, and senior of the regiment. Though he was just then much depressed in spirits, owing to the recent loss of his wife, to whom he had been tenderly attached, he never threv cold water on any of our diversions. My brother officers were garhearted, excellent comrades, and we all pulled together, in every sense of the word. Our second captain, who had a marvellous imagination for invating schemes for amusement, was always the ringleader in any
adventure of the kind, and he watched over the safety and welfare of “his children," as he called us, with the care and indulgence of a father. We were to be quartered at Cremona, which was at that time considered as a frontier town to a foreign country. On the opposite side of the Po were the ducal states of Parma, which, notwithstanding their occupation by Austrian troops, still maintained their own little army, both civil and military.
One of the things we liked best while stationed at Cremona was to get a short leave of absence to go to Piacenza; and that fair city well deserved its name, for it was, in truth, a city of pleasures and delights. My first visit there really arose from my having nothing else to do. One evening the opera was, for some reason or other, closed at Cremona, and we found the café somewhat dull. The captain second in command, to whom I have alluded, lived in the same quarters as myself; I had given up my rooms to our servants, and we shared everything together. “Was thun wir ? Komm mit, gehen wir zu Hause "" What shall we do? Come, let us go home")-he said to me. I consented, for I saw he had something in his head, and as we walked together, he asked, “ Bist Du im Piacenza gewesen, Englander ?"-" Wert thou ever in Piacenza, Englishman ?") I replied in the negative. “So ?” he answered, and then told me that there was an opera there, and that we could go to Piacenza, and be back in time for morning parade. It was then 7 P.M., and there were twentyfire good miles to ride and the same distance to return, but the idea of the adventure charmed me, and in less than ten minutes we were in our saddles, preparing for une nuit blanche. My friend knew the road well, and after a little more than two hours and a half of hard galloping we entered the city, stabled our horses, which, contrary to our fears, were not too much knocked up to take kindly to their food, and finding the principal café empty we turned our steps at once to the opera. At the door we discovered at the same instant that we had neither of us so much as a single kreutzer in our pockets, and could not, of course, obtain seats. We walked round the building, trusting to light on some of our comrades, and while doing so perceived a small door, which we pushed open. It led, apparently, to the lower regions, and we determined to explore a little. We groped our way cautiously along several damp, dark passages, always descending somewhat, until at length we became aware that we were under the stage, for at a distance we could see a light, and a pair of legs, which We felt sure belonged to the prompter, while above we heard the crash of music and the applause of the audience. They were performing the opera of Robert Devereux. Just then I stumbled, and came with a dreadful clanking of sword and spur to the ground. We stood silently for a little, but by the profound quiet around us, and the sound of the singers' voices, and the answering murmur of the spectators, we concluded that we were alone in this subterranean region. "Stay, Englander," said my friend. “' I know exactly where we are now, and there is a passage by which we could enter the pit easily if only the attention of every one could be diverted for the moment. An idea comes to me, which we will quickly execute. Draw thy sword, and follow me softly." We proceeded cautiously until we arrived at the aforesaid pair of legs, on each side of which we arranged ourselves. Then my friend pricked the leg nearest to him gently with his sword point, which produced from above a curious yell, not at all in harmony with the music. I caught a glimpse of an arm descending on the opposite side, and to counteract the movement, I also, with the utmost delicacy, pricked the leg next to me. This caused another screech, and ! tremendous scuffling, as of many feet rushing to and fro over the boards. Now or never, we thought, and immediately applied our swords' points to both legs at the same instant. The prompter uttered an unearthly scream, greatly resembling that of a wild cat; the legs flew upwards, out of the reach of our persecution ; the tumult above redoubled ; and we hastis decamped, ran along one of the little passages which communicated with the boxes, with which my friend was acquainted, and having entered perfectly unnoticed, we walked with an innocent and unconcerned air to the place reserved for the officers. We could not help being diverted with the scene which presented itself. The whole theatre was in a state of excitement and uproar, such as only those who know the easily moved, impetuous, effervescent nature of the Italians, can understand. The orchestra was dumb; at least half of the people from the pit and lower boxes had leapt upon the stage; the actors, every employé about the place, and all the ladies of the corps de ballet, in full costume, had likewise rushed thither. In the middle of them the prompter was hopping about, with both his hands applied to the calves of his legs; every one was lating, shouting, and asking what was the matter. Some imagined the man was attacked by a sudden fit of madness and would have laid violent hands on him, and to elude their kindly grasp he crouched, dired
, and darted here and there in the oddest conceivable way, screaming out as he did so that il diavolo was below, and calling on all the saints to help and aid him. When comparative calm was restored a rigid search was made below, but, of course, nothing was discovered ; his legs were stripped and carefully examined in the presence of the gendarmes, but as there were neither wounds nor blood, and only one little scratch, which, I beg to say, was not on the leg which fate had given into my care, the assault was generally supposed to have been made by some playful kitten which had endeavoured to ascend to the upper regions by using the prompter's legs for a ladder, and no further inquiry was made. That night we joyously with our brother oficers, but mindful of the consequences which we had formerly sustained by babbling tongues, we kept our little adventure rigidly to ourselves, and long before break of dawn we were on ou horses, riding hard to reach Cremona before morning parade. The General and his wife had been present at the performance in question. He was good enough frequently to invite me to dine at his house, and has more than once asked me if I ever saw anything more extraordinary than the prompter's debut. “He shot on to the stage like an arrow from a bow, and made as much confusion among us as a bomb-shell,” he said. To