Chapter XV. East Of Lemberg - Through Austria-Hungary to the Galician Front
We left Nagybiesce in the evening, climbed that night through the high Tatras, stopped in the morning at Kaschau long enough for coffee and a sight of the old cathedral, rolled on down through the country of robber barons' castles and Tokay wine, and came at length, in the evening, to Munkacs and the foot of the high Carpathians.
This was close to the southernmost point the Russians touched when they came pouring down through the Carpathian passes, and one of the places in the long line where Germans and Austro-Hungarians joined forces in the spring to drive them back again. Munkacs is where the painter Munkacsy came from. It was down to Munkacs, through Silesia and the Tatras, that the troop-trains came in April while snow was still deep in the Carpathians. Now it was a feeding-station for fresh troops going up and wounded and prisoners coming down.
The officers in charge had no notion we were coming, but no sooner heard we were strangers in Hungary than we must come in, not only to dinner, but to dine with them at their table. We had red-hot stuffed paprika pods, Liptauer cheese mixed salmon-pink with paprika, and these and other things washed down with beer and cataracts of hospitable talk. Some one whispering that a bit of cheese might come in handy in the breakfastless, cholera-infested country, into which we were going that night, they insisted we must take, not merely a slice, but a chunk as big as a small trunk. We looked at the soup-kitchen, where they could feed two thousand a day, and tasted the soup. We saw the dressing-station and a few wounded waiting there, and all on such a breeze of talk and eloquent explanation that you might have thought you had stepped back into a century when suspicion and worry and nerves were unknown.
The Hungarians are like that - along with their indolence and romantic melancholy - lively and hospitable and credulous with strangers. Nearly all of them are good talkers and by sheer fervor and conviction can make almost any phrase resemble an idea and a real idea as good as a play. Hungarians are useful when trenches must be taken by storm, just as the sober Tyrolean mountaineers are better for sharp-shooting and slow resistance.
One of the interesting things about the Austro-Hungarian army, as well, of course, as an inevitable weakness, is the variety of races and temperaments hidden under these blue-gray uniforms - Hungarians, Austrians, Croatians, Slovaks, Czechs. Things in universal use, like post-cards and paper money, often have their words printed in nine languages, and an Austro-Hungarian officer may have to know three or four in order to give the necessary orders to his men. And his men cannot fight for the fatherland as the Germans do; they must rally round a more or less abstract idea of nationality. And one of the surprises of the war, doubtless, to many people, has been that its strain, instead of disintegrating, appears to have beaten this loose mass together.
At the table that evening was a middle-aged officer and his aid on their way to a new detail at the front. They were simple and soldier-like and, after the flashing bosoms of the sedentary hinterland, it was pleasant to see these men, who had been on active service since the beginning, without a single medal. The younger Hungarian was one of those slumbering daredevils who combine a compact, rugged shape - strong wrists, hair low on the forehead - with the soft voice and shy manners of a girl. He spoke a little German and English in the slow, almost plaintive Hungarian cadence, but all we could get out of him about the war was that it had made him so tired - so 'mude'. He had gone to school in Zurich but could not tell our Swiss lieutenant the name of his teacher - he couldn't remember anything, any more, he said, with his plaintive smile. He had a little factory in Budapest and had gone back on furlough to see that things were ship-shape, but it was no use, he couldn't tell them what to do when he got there. Common enough, our captain guide observed. He had been in the fighting along the San until invalided back to the Presse-Quartier, and there were times, then, he said, when for days it was hard for him to remember his own name.
We climbed up into the mountains in the night and he had us up at daylight to look down from creaking, six-story timber bridges built by the Austro-Hungarian engineers to replace the steel railroad bridges blown up by the Russians. We passed a tunnel or two, a big stockade full of Russian prisoners milling round in their brown overcoats, and down from the pass into the village of Skole. Here we were to climb the near-by heights of Ostry, which the Hungarians of the Corps Hoffmann stormed in April when the snow was still on the ground, and "orientiren" ourselves a bit about this Carpathian fighting.