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CARLO SEBASTIANI, THE AID-DE-CAMP.
CARLO SEBASTIANI was the son of an Italian colonel of engineers in the Imperial service. The Colonel had fall en in one of the Turkish campaigns, and left his son to the protection of the Imperial family. Intended for soldiership, he had been placed at the celebrated military school of Ratisbon, and was distinguished among his comrades by all the promise of a future Alexander. However, the glories of the academy in time grew tiresome to a dashing youth of eighteen, tall as a grenadier, able to tame a Hungarian horse, ready to hang himself for every pair of epaulets which he saw on the shoulders of the garrison-officers, and wearied to death with sketching eternal plans of imaginary fortifications, outmanoeuvring old Frederick and Daun in every battle of the Seven Years' War, and gazing in summer at castles in the clouds, and in winter making them in the fumes of his iron stove.
One lovely evening, at length, in June of the memorable year 1796, brought him other things. The commandant of the garrison was seen furiously riding, at the head of a group of aids-de-camp, from the gates of the city. His road lay by the foot of a hill, on which Carlo was lying with Schiller's Robbers in his hand, and, like Charles de Moor, was pouring out his sorrows and his soul to the most brilliant of all possible sunsets. The clatter of the horses' hoofs startled him from a reverie, in which he performed the part of the poetical robber with great success, and was deliberately considering, whether a life in the woods, pistol in hand, and the honour of commanding a troop of invincible heroes of the highway, was not the true definition of glory after all. The commandant had by this time reached the foot of the height, and, as its steepness brought the whole group to a walk, Carlo, who knew and was known by every body, was enabled to ask the news. "Plenty of both, my boy-good and bad," was the answer. "The French want a little more blood-letting, I suppose, and are said to be in motion. But we shall be ready for them, sharp as the scoundrels are." "Are they in force, general?"
"Oh! several hundred thousands, they tell our people, at the other side of the water. They are capital fellows for recruiting, as every body knows; and I think that they ought not to have let us off so cheap. Several millions would have sounded better; and I daresay that they will have them by the next report."
The group of the staff burst out into loud laughter; for no aid-de-camp is fit for his duty who does not laugh at his general's jokes.
"Pray, Carlo," asked the general in turn, "have you had any letters from Vienna? The news there is, that the Archduke Charles is likely to take the command of the Rhenish army; if so, we shall have warm work. He is not a man to wear gouty shoes."
The aids-de-camp burst out again into a laugh.
"No, gentlemen, nor to let any one else wear them."
The general said this in a tone of importance, more than enough to rebuke their previous familiarity; and the aids de camp, to a man, instantly stroked their yellow moustaches, and looked grave. The general now galloped down the descent, on his way to inspect some works building on the adjoining hills, and Carlo was left to himself.
But he could even read Schiller no more: a robber was made to be hanged, and Carlo felt himself made to be a generalissimo; the difference was considerable, and he decided against being the magnifico of a Bohemian
With a heart panting with a thousand undefined emotions, he hurried to his chamber, and there saw a couple of letters lying on his table. One was from the Countess Sebastiani, his mother, and the other from the office of the War Minister. It must be acknowledged that he tore open the minister's letter first. It was brief—a simple order for him to return from the school without loss of time. The letter from the countess was like a mother's letter-long, tender, and crowded with advice, precautions, and prospects, finishing with hopes that the war was at an end; the postscript saying, that having thus no further use for his military educa
tion, she had returned his commission to the Emperor, with a proposal that he should enter the career of diplomacy, in which she had some interest. The letter was explanatory to the full intent; but it was like an icebolt to him. It lowered him from the fever-heat of fame a hundred degrees below zero. If the Rhine had been then within any accessible distance, he would probably have finished his perplexity, by going to sup with the mermaids of the North Sea. He passed the night without closing his eyes. "What! he a diplomatist?―he to linger out the next dozen, or the next fifty years in learning to fold a despatch?-he to be the escort of all the old countesses of the minor courts of Germany, and vegetate into a thin figure of frivolity, on a pension of five hundred thalers ayear? No: better be blown from the mouth of a howitzer, or spiked on a French bayonet! If not a soldier, he would be nothing, but"-the Charles de Moor scheme hovered over his mind again,—" at all events," said he, "to Vienna I will not return. The world is wide. I shall not suffer myself to be laughed at by the whole circle of the palace. I can live in America by hunting buffaloes ;-I can live in Siberia by shooting black foxes-I can live in Africa by hunting for gold dust;-I can live in India by blackening my face and strangling some of the native Rajahs ;-but never will I return to Vienna.'
Having embodied those profound thoughts in the most eloquent language he could command, and satisfied himself that the countess must feel his letter to be demonstration itself, he sallied forth at twilight, with his purse and his walking-stick as his sole companions; and, not very conscious in which direction he was rushing, nor even very clear whether the hour was midnight or morning, he left Ratisbon behind him with a giant stride.
To a hero of eighteen, hunger and weariness are inconceivable ideas. But they will have their own way after all; and by daybreak, the sun, rising over one of the rich valleys which in dent the far-famed Black Forest, seem
ed to Carlo to melt him into the strangest imaginable propensity to slumber. He still struggled on; but the struggle became more difficult, and it was not till the same sun had reached
the opposite quarter, and was covering the forest and its hills with all the hues of a fine summer's evening, that he discovered his new position among mankind. He was lying on the ground, close to a circle of Austrian Hulans, who were eating, drinking, and making merry like true sons of the sabre. Carlo sprang on his feet, and felt for his purse and his Leipsic gold-mounted cane; but both had taken their leave. He approached the group to make his angry enquiries. They laughed at him, and invited him to take some of their bread and brandy as a means of bringing back his understanding. He was indignant, and would have fought the whole group, or the whole regiment; but he suddenly felt a sensation of intolerable hunger, and the feeling which tames elephants and lions, may be forgiven for taming a handsome hero not yet arrived at years of discretion. The scene ended by his being ordered by the corporal of the troop to mount behind one of his men, and proceed with them. This was rather a fall for the son of an Imperial colonel of engi neers, and a German countess. But, on second thoughts, what was the difference between him and the hardy and light-hearted savages round him? "If I am destined to be shot in the field," thought he, "I may as well save myself the trouble round the world for it. earn my bread, I may as well do it fighting for Austria, as fighting for the bronzed-faced chief of the Chactaws, or the black-muzzled Rajah of Nepaul.'
If I am to
His mind was made his profession was chosen for him a prodigious saving of that toil of the brains which troubles so much those who have to choose for themselves; and before night Carlo Sebastiani was a Hulan, and in the way to be a hero.
The corporal honoured him with his particular regard-approved of his style of sitting his horse,e, upon his inauguration, having been relieved from guarding the rear of his fellow trooper, and now having a charger to himself, and predicted, that by con ducting himself with due deference to his authority, and especiall by adopting his example, the showy recruit
might in time become even a corporal.
The regiment formed part of a
corps of observation posted
Rhine, in the neighbourhood of Kehl, to watch the enemy's movements. On their march through the superb country which borders the German side of the Upper Rhine, Carlo was in continual admiration of every thing round him the country, the camp, and the regiment. The buoyancy of youth, and the natural spirit of one born to be a soldier, if ever man was born to be any thing so preposterous, kept him in a state of perpetual excitement, new and perfectly astonishing to the phlegmatic Austrians. But the Corporal could understand him. This little bearer of authority had a story of his own; of which, however, he took good care not to develop more than the outlines, and even those outlines tolerably broken. But the rumour among the troop was, that he had formerly flourished as a village lawyer, where, having done something beyond even the latitudinarian limits of the professional conscience, he had provided for his safety by leaving his profession behind among the Vosges, leaving his character to take care of itself, and making a midnight voyage across the Rhine. What he had done subsequently, to bring him into the hands of the Rhenish police, who had transferred him into the hands of the Austrian recruiting-officers, remained among the undiscovered facts of history. But he was evidently a person age who, if the world had not seen him, had seen the world. He had at least seen Paris, which in those days was to have seen every thing that was worth seeing under the sun, whether for its oddity or its horror, desirable or detestable-to one-half of mankind a paradise, to the other half a pandemonium.
One evening, as Carlo was en vedette, gazing with a poetic eye at the rich expanse of islands which stud the noble river opposite Strasburg, and wishing for the pen and pencil of his quieter days, to transfer their splendid varieties of form and colour to his portfolio, the little corporal rode up to him, and, pointing to the steeples of the stately city, then glittering in the full radiance of eve, said, in a tone sufficiently expressive," There is France !"
"Well," said Carlo," and here is Germany; and, I think, a better country, a better people, and a better cause.' "Ay, ay, friend," said the cor
poral, casting his quick glance with something of a sneer at the enthusiast; "no doubt of it-all is as you say. But its good things are rather slow in reaching corporals and privates of the Hulans. It may all be very well for captains and colonels, dukes and princes; but the sky may fall before Germany drops a gold epaulet on the shoulders of either of us."
"We must earn them, then, with our swords," replied Carlo "No doubt!" observed the corporal, with a laugh. "But, however we may earn them, others get them; and some prince or prince's valet, some baron or baron's dog, is always sure to step in between men of honour and their reward." The corporal took out a purse tolerably filled, and amused himself with flinging it up and catching it in the air. Carlo was astonished.
"You are rich, corporal," said he; "what is your secret? One rixdollar comprehends the whole amount of my pay from the regimental chest, since I was robbed by your gallant comrades in the forest.
"Those who suffer themselves to want money, deserve to want it. I learned that maxim in Paris," said the corporal. "This purse, you may fairly believe, never came from the Emperor. The regimental chests have had more cobwebs than thalers in them those six months." The eyes of Carlo were fixed on him sternly; and the corporal adroitly changed the subject. "Have you heard," said he, "what was the cause of the firing at the other side this evening ?—it must be reported to the general immediately."
"Yes; a fisherman whom I stopped on his landing, just before you came up, told me that it was for the visit of the new commander-in-chief to the French outposts.
"And his name?" asked the cor poral, eagerly.
"The man was not perfectly sure, but he believed that it was Moreau." "Bravo, bravissimo!" exclaimed the corporal, with involuntary emphasis.
"Why, what difference can it make to us?" asked his hearer, in surprise.
"Why, none; except that, instead of Pichegru, whom the Directory have always feared as a royalist, and therefore thwarted, we have now op
posite to us Moreau, whom they perfectly trust, and whom, therefore, they will support with all their means. He has with him upwards of 80,000 of the best infantry and cavalry of France; and we shall have him on this side of the river within the next twenty-four hours."
"Indeed! Why, you are an extraordinary corporal; where did you get all this information?" asked Carlo, already suspecting this overflow of knowledge.
The corporal was astonished at his own candour; but he drew in dexterously. "They are the mere rumours of a French newspaper, which I saw yesterday in the coffeehouse at Kehl. But, though I am a German, that same Moreau was my schoolfellow. See the advantage of being in a service where a man's talents are thought more of than his family parchments. I'll wager my last schelling, that it would puzzle Moreau to tell who was his grandfather. My father, the descendant of a long line of honourable fools, had settled in Morlaix as a lawyer. Young Moreau was bred to the bar of Brittany. The Revolution came. He volunteered into the National Guard-showed his talents in drilling
them was taken into the movable column of the department-rose from the ranks, and became a general of division within three years; while I went on, like a respectable citizen, earning half-a-dozen francs a-day by a profession not an atom more peaceable, though clearly less profitable."
"And the end is, that now you are on different sides of the river, and on different sides of the question; and that you are a corporal of Hulans, while he is the general-in-chief of thegrand army of France," said Carlo, laughing.
march before me to the grand guard,” exclaimed the indignant hearer.
"Traitor! Ha, ha, ha!" burst out the corporal. "So you think me in earnest. The ruse was capital. I always take this way of trying my videttes. No harm can happen while we are a hundred or two miles off in the interior; let them be what they will. The nice point is, to know what they are when they come in sight of French smoke, and I may say, too, French louis d'ors. Farewell: I see you are a first-rate fellow, and I shall be sure to mention you to the colonel." He put spurs to his horse, and galloped forward.
The night was stormy, and Carlo, when he returned to his picket, and threw his wearied limbs on his straw, in the stables of one of the huge old palaces which then lined the banks of the Rhine, found himself unable to rest. France, the corp oral, Moreau, fields of battle, and sabres of honour, whirled round his mind with a feeling like that of giddiness. But in the intervals of one of the gusts, he heard something which left him undecided whether the noise was that of one of the small rivulets incessantly falling from the hills into the river, or the trampling of human feet. It passed; and he slept again, till in the dead of the night he was roused from his uneasy couch by the corporal, who came to tell him that the regiment were or dered instantly to mount, for the purpose of a reconnoissance
He rose, took his place in his troop; and the regiment, one of the finest in the service, moved forward on its pa trol. The storm increased to tropical violence, and nothing could be heard but the roar of the thunder and the crashing of the wind through the fo rest. Suddenly the corps came to a full stop, and the colonel galloped to the front to ascertain the cause. A large abatis of trees, apparently left in some former attempt to fortify the bank, wholly blocked up the road. I You will never do the general pause, the corporal vo lunteered his knowledge to lead them by a forest p ath. Carlo heard the offer, and the ev versation recurred to hi
"Exactly so," said the corporal; "but though the cards are unlucky, the game is not over yet. I may gain a point or two before the tables are empty." He turned to Carlo. "Now,
listen to a friend.
any thing in our service but get yourself shot; nor gain any thing but a ticket for an hospital. On the other hand, a rixdollar will hire a boat; mention my name at the opposite side, and may I be sent into the air from
stantly addressed the colonel, and told
him his suspicion that the
the mouth of a twelve-pounder, but I landed troops in that direction, and that
think you may yet be a general."
he had heard their movements an hour or two before. The corporal scoffed at
the idea as poltronery, and repeated his offer of guidance.
"Lead on, then," said the colonel; "and you, Hulan, leave your troop, and ride by me."
They moved forward, the corporal taking the lead. The night grew wilder, the defile more entangled, and Carlo more dissatisfied with the route. "The regiment will be lost," he whispered into the ear of the colonel. "The corporal is a villain.” "If he is, you are a fool to suppose that he can cheat me. Go, sir, to the rear," angrily said the colonel. "Not till I have seen what that thicket is made of," he murmured to himself; and in the act of wheeling round, made a plunge into a dense clump of forest copse, and fired his pistol. It was answered by a discharge of musketry which shook the whole regiment. They had evidently been betrayed into the midst of a strong column of the enemy. The colonel, a gallant old man, was thrown under his wounded horse; the fire continued heavy, and all was confusion. Of all confusions, that of cavalry is the most tremendous; horses galloping and plunging, men flung under their feet, pistols and carbines discharging at random in the mêlée, and, in the present instance, all this passing under a night as dark as Erebus, or illuminated only by the flashes of a rolling fire of musketry.
will be followed. Carlo, the private,
are brave, but no soldiers on earth are more suddenly shaken by a surprise; the column instantly burst asunder-every man sought his own safety; they evidently thought that the whole of the Austrian cavalry was upon themmuskets were flung away, and cannon abandoned; the dispersion was complete. The Hulans had now only to revenge themselves for the treachery which had so nearly been their ruin; the Corporal was called for in every direction, but he had sensibly managed his own retreat in the beginning of the affair. The pistol and sabre then played their part on the fugitives. War is a game, but one by no means to be played with foils. The Hulans were like wolf-hunters, with their prey in the trap. They lighted torches of the dry branches, and pricked the copse with their sabres. No operation could be more effectual; and prisoners made their appearance at every push. At If they had gone but a hundred length morning began to dawn, andthe yards deeper into the defile, not a man old colonel, recovered from his bruises, could have returned. As it was, the set the regiment in motion towards leading squadrons were able only to the camp. keep up a feeble fire, while the guns of formidable length, for between its the French brigade were beginning to leading troop and its rear, marched throw their grape from front to rear the remnant of three French demiof the whole. Carlo had been driven brigades-with all their losses, still back in the general crowd, and for a amounting to upwards of two thou while, like the rest, was nearly crushed sand men. They were received in the in the rout; but at length extricating camp with acclamations by the troops his horse and himself, he had a mo- drawn out in line. The old colonel, ment to look back upon the horrible one of the Lichtensteins, was proscene. But that moment was every nounced a hero worthy of the days of thing. He observed by the blaze of Maria Theresa, received an order, and the battalion that they had quitted the was made a major-general. Carlo had ambuscade and were pushing forward here an illustration of the corporal's into the open road. This decided scale of merit. His comrades, it is him. Thirty or forty of the Hulans were now all that were left in. any kind of order. He rode up to them."Comrades!" exclaimed he, "let every man who feels for the honour of the regiment follow me!"
In times of real danger, the man who never hesitates is the man who
The column was now of
true, drank his health, and laughed