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Captain Mansana - Chapter 2 Post by :sbeard Category :Long Stories Author :Bjornstjerne Bjornson Date :May 2012 Read :1169

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Captain Mansana - Chapter 2


By the scene which I had witnessed my memory was long haunted; but not so much by a recollection of the impressive part which the mother had played, as by the defiant countenance, the tall, muscular figure, and the athletic bearing, of the young officer of the Bersaglieri. I was curious to learn something of his history, and discovered, to my surprise, that it was the daring exploits of this son, which, by recalling attention to the father, were responsible for the tardy honours now accorded to the latter's memory. I felt I had struck upon something characteristically Italian. The father, the mother, the speeches, the procession, the beauties of the scene at the last ceremony in the graveyard, the watch-fires on the mountains--of all these not a word more was spoken. Until the moment that we separated in Rome itself, we were entertained with anecdotes concerning this officer of the Bersaglieri.

It seemed that as a boy he had served with Garibaldi, and had shown such promise that his father's friends had thought it worth while to send him to a military academy. As was the case with so many Italians in those days, he was entrusted with a command before he had passed his final examination; but as he speedily distinguished himself, he had not long to wait before obtaining his regular commission. One act of daring made his name known all over Italy, even before he had served in battle. He was out with a reconnoitring party, and chanced to be making his way, unaccompanied by any of his companions, to the summit of a wooded hill; when through the thicket, he saw a horse; then, catching sight of another, he drew nearer, and discovered a travelling carriage, and, finally, perceived a little group of persons--a lady and two servants--encamped in the long grass. He immediately recognised the lady; for, some days previously, she had driven up to the Italian advanced guard, and sought refuge from the enemy, of whom she professed great alarm. She had been allowed to pass through the lines; but instead of continuing her journey, she had evidently found her way back to this retreat by another route, and was now resting there with her attendants. The horses looked as if they had received severe treatment, and had been driven furiously all through the night; it was evident they could go no further without rest. All this Mansana took in at a glance.

It was a Sunday morning. The Italian troops were resting on the march; mass had just been celebrated, and the men were at breakfast, when the outposts suddenly saw young Mansana galloping towards them, carry a lady before him and with two riderless horses secured to his saddle-girth. The lady was a spy from the enemy's camp; her two attendants--officers of the enemy's force--were lying wounded in the forest. The lady was promptly recognised, and Mansana's "evviva" was echoed and re-echoed by a thousand voices. The camp was immediately broken up, as it was more than likely that the enemy was in dangerous proximity, and every one realised that the quick presence of mind of this Giuseppe Mansana alone had saved the whole vanguard from the trap prepared for them.

I have many more anecdotes to tell of him, but in order that they shall be properly appreciated, I must mention that he was universally considered the best fencer and gymnast in the army; on this point, I never, then or afterwards, heard more than one opinion.

Soon after the close of the war, while Mansana was quartered in Florence, a story was told, in one of the military _cafes_, of a certain Belgian officer, who, a couple of weeks previously, had been a frequent visitor to the place. It had been discovered that this officer was, in reality, in the Papal service, and that, on his return to Rome, he had amused himself and his comrades by giving insulting accounts of the Italian officers, whom, with few exceptions, he described as ignorant parade-puppets, chiefly distinguished for their childish vanity. This aroused great indignation amongst the officers of the garrison in Florence, and no sooner did young Mansana hear the tale than he straightway left the _cafe_, and applied to his colonel for leave of absence for six days. This being granted him, he went home, bought himself a suit of plain clothes, and started away, then and there, by the shortest route for Rome. Crossing the frontier where the woods were thickest, he found himself three days afterwards in the Papal capital, where, in the officers' _cafe on the Piazza Colonna, he quickly perceived his Belgian officer. He went up to him, and quietly asked him to come outside. He then gave him his name, and requested him to bring a friend, and follow to some place beyond the city gates, in order that the reputation of the Italian officers might be vindicated by a duel. Mansana's reliance on the honour of the Belgian left the latter no alternative; without delay he found a friend, and within three hours he was a dead man.

Young Mansana promptly set off on his return journey, through the forests, to Florence. He was careful not to mention where he had spent his period of leave; but the news travelled to Florence from Rome, and he was put under arrest for having left the town, and for having, besides, crossed the frontier without special permission. His brother officers celebrated his release by giving a banquet in his honour, and the king conferred on him a decoration.

Shortly after this he was stationed at Salerno. It was the duty of the troops to help in the suppression of the smuggling which was being vigorously carried on along the coast; and Mansana, going out one day in civilian dress, to obtain information, discovered at a certain hostelry that a ship, with smuggled goods on board, was lying in the offing, out of sight of land, but with evident intention of making for the shore under cover of night. He went home, changed his clothes, took with him two trusty followers, and as evening came on, rowed out from the shore in a small, light boat. I heard this story told and confirmed on the spot; I have heard it since from other sources, and I have subsequently seen confirmatory accounts in the newspapers; but, notwithstanding all this corroboration, it is still inconceivable to me how Mansana, with only his two men, could have succeeded in boarding the smuggler and compelling her crew of sixteen to obey his orders, and bring their vessel to anchor in the roadstead.

After the taking of Rome, in which, and in the inundations which occurred soon afterwards, Mansana specially distinguished himself, he was sitting one evening outside the very _cafe in which he had challenged the Belgian Papal officer. There he overheard some of his comrades, just returned from an entertainment, talking of a certain Hungarian. This gentleman had been drinking pretty freely, and, whilst under the influence of the insidious Italian wines, had boasted of the superiority of his compatriots; and on being courteously contradicted he had worked himself up to the assertion that one Hungarian would be a match for three Italians. The officers, listening to this tale of brag, all laughed with the exception of Giuseppe Mansana, who at once inquired where the Hungarian could be found? He asked the question in a tone of perfect unconcern, without even raising his eyes or taking his cigarette from his lips. He was told that the Hungarian had just been conducted home. Mansana rose to leave.

"Are you going?" they asked.

"Yes, of course," he replied.

"But you are surely not going to the Hungarian?" asked one of the officers good-humouredly.

But there was not much good-humour in Giuseppe Mansana.

"Where else should I be going?" he replied curtly, as he left the _cafe_.

His friends followed him in the vain hope of persuading him that a drunken man could not reasonably be called to account for everything he might say. But Mansana's only answer was: "Have no fear, I know how to take all that into consideration."

The Hungarian lived, as the Italians say, _primo piano_--that is, on the second floor, in a large house in Fratina. The first-floor windows of Italian town houses, are, as a rule, protected by iron bars. Swinging himself up by these, Mansana, in less than a minute, was standing on the balcony outside the Hungarian's room. Smashing one of the panes of glass, he opened the window and disappeared within. The striking of a light was the next thing visible to his companions below. What happened next they were never able to discover; they heard no further sound, and Mansana kept his own secret. All they knew was that after a few minutes, Mansana and the Hungarian--the latter in his shirt-sleeves--appeared upon the balcony; and the Hungarian, in excellent French, acknowledged that he had taken more wine than was good for him that evening, and apologised for what he had said; undoubtedly, an Italian was as good as a Hungarian any day. Mansana then descended the balcony in the same way as that by which he had gone up.

Anecdotes of every possible variety were showered upon us--anecdotes from the battlefield, the garrison, and society, including stories of athletic feats testifying to powers of endurance in running such as I have never heard equalled; but I think that those I have already selected present a sufficiently vivid picture of a man in whom the combination of presence of mind, courage, and high sense of honour, with bodily strength, energy and general dexterity, was likely to excite among his friends high expectations as to his future, even whilst giving them some cause for grave anxiety.

How it came about that, during the following winter and spring, Giuseppe Mansana engaged the attention of thousands of persons, including that of the present writer, will appear in the course of our story.

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Captain Mansana - Chapter 3 Captain Mansana - Chapter 3

Captain Mansana - Chapter 3
CHAPTER IIIAs Giuseppe Mansana followed his father's bones to their last resting-place, looking, even on that sad and solemn occasion, as though he would fain leap over the funeral-car, it was plain enough that he was under the spell of his first burning dream of love. Later on, in the course of that same evening, he took the train to Ancona his regiment was quartered. There lived the woman he loved, and nothing but the sight of her could assuage the fire of passion that flamed in his heart.Giuseppe Mansana was in love with a woman whose temperament was not

Captain Mansana - Chapter 1 Captain Mansana - Chapter 1

Captain Mansana - Chapter 1
CHAPTER II was on my way to Rome, and as I entered the train at Bologna, I bought some newspapers to read on my journey. An item of news from the capital, published in one of the Florence journals, immediately arrested my attention. It carried me back thirteen years, and brought to mind a former visit I had paid to Rome, and certain friends with whom I had lived in a little town in the vicinity, at the time when Rome was still under the Papal rule.The newspaper stated that the remains of the patriot Mansana had been exhumed from the