Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 17

AUSTRIANS AND PRUSSIANS


Desbarolles says in his book on Germany:

"It is impossible to talk for three minutes with an Austrian without wishing to shake hands with him. It is impossible to talk for three minutes with a Prussian without longing to quarrel with him."

Does this difference in the two organizations spring from temperament, education, or the degree of latitude? We cannot say; but it is a fact that along the whole way from Ostrow to Oderburg, we know when we have left Austria and entered Prussia by the way in which the porters bang the carriage doors. This double impression is particularly evident at Frankfort, a town of gentle manners, cultivated habits, and amateur bankers; the country of Goethe has appreciated this difference between the extreme civilization of Vienna and the rough Protestant shell of Berlin.

We have seen the different demonstrations of feeling at the departure of the two garrisons; the people of Frankfort not having the least doubt of the result of the war, and believing, after the conclusions of the Diet, in the superiority of the Austrian arms, which would be aided by all the little States of the Confederation. They had not cared to put the least restraint on the manifestation of their feelings; they allowed the Prussians to depart like vanquished enemies whom they would never see again, and they had, on the contrary, feted the Austrians like victorious brothers, for whom if they had had the time, they would have made triumphal arches.

The good burgomaster's drawing-room, where we have introduced our readers, was at noon on June 12th an exact and complete specimen of all the other drawing-rooms of the town, whatever the origin, country or religion of the inhabitants might chance to be.

Thus, while Helen, with whose grief all sympathized, wept, keeping her face buried in the cushions, and her good grandmother left the window to sit beside her and hide her somewhat from view, Councillor Fischer, editor of the "Post Zeitung," was writing on a corner of the table, an article in which he compared with undisguised antipathy and sympathy, the departure of the Prussians to a nocturnal flight, and that of the Austrians to a triumphal leave-taking.

In front of the fireplace, the Senator von Bernus, one of the most distinguished men in Frankfort, by ability, education, and birth, was talking with his colleague, Doctor Speltz, Chief of Police, who, owing to the position which he held, was always well informed. A slight difference rather than a discussion had arisen between them. Herr Doctor Speltz did not completely agree with the opinion of the majority of the town's people as to the certain victory of the Austrians. His private information, as Chief of Police, was of the kind which may be relied on, and which is obtained, not to help the opinions of others, but to form one's own, and it represented the Prussian troops as full of enthusiasm, admirably armed, and burning with desire for battle. Their two generals, Frederick Charles of Prussia and the Crown Prince, were both able to command and to execute, and their rapidity and courage no one could doubt.

"But," observed Herr von Bernus, "Austria has an excellent army which is animated with an equal spirit; it was beaten at Palestro, at Magenta, and at Solferino, it is true, but by the French, who also beat the Prussians at Jena."

"My dear von Bernus," replied Speltz, "it is a far cry from the Prussians of Jena to the Prussians of to-day; the miserable state into which the Emperor Napoleon reduced them, by only allowing them to put forty thousand men under arms for six years, was the providential cause of their strength; for with this reduced army the officers and administrators could superintend the smallest details and bring them as near as possible to perfection. From this has grown the Landwehr."

"Well," said von Bernus, "if the Prussians have the Landwehr, the Austrians have the Landsturm; all the Austrian population will rise in arms."

"Yes, if the first battles are unsuccessful; yes, if there is a chance that by rising they can repel the Prussians. But three-quarters of the Prussian army are armed with needle guns which fire eight or ten shots a minute. The time is past when, as said Marshal Saxe, the rifle is only the handle of the bayonet; and of whom did he say that? Was it not the French, a fiery and warlike nation, not methodical and military like the Austrians. You know, mein Gott, victory is an entirely moral question; to inspire the enemy with an unaccountable fear is the secret. Generally, when two regiments meet, one of them runs without having ever come to grips with the enemy. If the new guns, with which the Prussians are armed, do their work, I am very much afraid that the terror in Austria will be so great that the Landsturm, from Koenigsgratz to Trieste, from Salzburg to Pest, will not raise a man."

"Psst!... my dear friend, you have named the real stumbling block; if the Hungarians were with us, my hope would be a conviction. The Hungarians are the nerve of the Austrian army, and one can say of them what the ancient Romans said of the Marsi; 'What are we to do, either against the Marsi or without the Marsi?' But the Hungarians will not fight until they have their separate government, their constitution, and their three ministers, and they are right. For one hundred and fifty years Hungary has been promised that constitution, it has been given and withdrawn again, and now Hungary is angry; but the emperor has only one word to say, one signature to write, and the whole nation would rise for him. Then the Szozat would be heard, and in three days they would have a hundred thousand men under arms."

"What is the Szozat?" asked a big man, who kept a whole window to himself, and whose expansive face testified to great commercial prosperity. He was, indeed, the first wine merchant of Frankfort, Hermann Mumm.

"The Szozat," said Fischer, still writing his article, "is the Hungarian Marseillaise by the poet Voeroesmarti. What the deuce are you doing there, Fellner?" he added, lifting his glasses to his forehead and looking at the burgomaster, who was playing with his two youngest children.

"I am doing something much more important than your article, councillor, I am making a village, of which Master Edward is to be the baron, with some houses I got in a box from Nuremburg."

"What does baron mean?" asked the child.

"That is a difficult question. To be a baron is much and it is nothing. It is much if you are called 'Montmorency.' It is nothing if you are called 'Rothschild.'" And he went back seriously to his village.

"It is said," went on von Bernus to Doctor Speltz, taking up the conversation where they had left it before Hermann Mumm's interruption, "that the Emperor of Austria has named General Benedek as General in Chief with all powers."

"The nomination was discussed in the council and signed yesterday."

"Do you know him?"

"Yes."

"It seems to me a good choice."

"May God grant it."

"Benedek is a self-made man, he has won every step sword in hand. The army will love him better than it would love an archduke made field-marshal by right of birth."

"You will laugh at me, von Bernus, and will say I am a bad republican. Very well, I would rather have an archduke than this self-made man as you call him. Yes, if all our officers were self-made men, it would be admirable, because, if none knew how to command, they would at least know how to obey: as it is, our officers are nobles, who are officers by position or by favour. They will not obey, or will only obey such a commander unwillingly. Further, you know, I have the misfortune to be a fatalist, and to believe in the influence of the stars. General Benedek is a Saturnian. May Austria escape his fatal influence! He may have patience in a first loss, resolution against a second perhaps; but in a third he will lose his head and be good for nothing.

"Also, do you not see that there cannot be two equally Great Powers in Germany. Germany, with Prussia in the north, and Austria in the south, has two heads like the Imperial Eagle. Now, he who has two heads has not even one. Last winter I was at Vienna on New Year's Day. Always, on January 1st a new standard is raised on the fortress. The Standard for 1866 was displayed at six in the morning. A moment afterwards a furious storm, such as I have seldom seen, came from the north, the Standard was torn, and the rent cut off the two heads of the Eagle. Austria will lose her supremacy both in Italy and Germany."

A profound gloom as of painful foreboding seemed to have spread over the company. The only person unaffected was "Baron" Edward, who, while anxiously considering as to in which corner of his village he should put the belfry, had fallen fast asleep.

Herr Fellner rang three times, and a beautiful peasant from Baden, answering the signal, came in and took the child. She was carrying him away asleep in her arms, when Herr Fellner, wishing to change the subject, motioned to the company.

"Listen!" he said, and putting his hand on the nurse's shoulder. "Linda," he said, "sing us that song with which the Baden mothers sing their children to sleep." Then, turning to the others he said: "Gentlemen, listen to this song, which is still sung low in the Duchy of Baden. Perhaps, in a few days, the time may have come to sing it aloud. Linda learnt it from her mother, who sang it over her brother's cradle. Their father was shot by the Prussians in 1848. Now Linda, sing as your mother sang."

Linda put her foot on a chair, holding the child in her arms as if she were pressing it to her breast and covering it with her body. Then, with anxious eyes, in a low and trembling voice, she sang:


Sleep soft, my child, without a cry,
For hark! the Prussian passeth by.
The Prussian slew thy father dear
And robbed thy mother of gold and gear
The Prussian he will close thine eye.

Sleep soft, my child, without a cry,
For hark! the Prussian passeth by.

All bloody is the Prussian's hand
It closes on our dying land.
So must we all lie still and dumb
As doth thy father in his tomb.

Sleep soft, my child, without a cry,
For hark! the Prussian passeth by.

God knows how many a weary day
We wait the dawning of that ray
Those blessed radiance shall restore
Our liberty to us once more.

Sleep soft, my child, without a cry,
For hark! the Prussian passeth by.

But when that longed for hour shall come,
However narrow be his tomb,
His foes within that grave so deep
Shall share for aye thy father's sleep.

Then shout, my child, shout loud and high,
The Prussian in his grave doth lie.


The nurse had sung this song with such expression, that a shudder passed over the hearts of those who listened, and none thought of applauding. She went out with the child in a profound silence.

Only Helen murmured in her grandmother's ear: "Alas! alas! Prussia means Frederic, and Austria means Karl!"

Alexandre Dumas pere