The Austrians opened fire on Monte Santo. But the music still went on. The Marcia Reale was finished, but now in turn the Hymn of Garibaldi and the Hymn of Mameli, historic battle songs of Italian liberty, pealed forth to the stars, loud above the bursting of the shells. And many Italian eyes, from which the atrocious sufferings of this war had never yet drawn tears, wept with a proud, triumphant joy. And as the last notes died away upon the night air, a great storm of cheers broke forth afresh from the Italian lines. The moon was now riding high in the heavens, and every mountain top, seen from below, was outlined with a sharp-cut edge against the sky.
Four days after, not far from this same spot, General Capello, the Commander of the Italian Second Army, decorated with the Silver Medal for Valour some of the heroes of the great victory. Among these was a civilian, a man over military age. It was Toscanini, Italy’s most famous musical conductor. It was he who, charged with the organisation of concerts for the troops, had found himself in this sector of the Front when Monte Santo fell, and, hearing the news, had demanded and obtained permission to climb the conquered mountain. He reached the summit on the evening of the 26th and, by a strange chance, found his way among the rocks and the ruins of the convent, to the place where the band was playing. His presence had upon the musicians the same effect which the presence of a great General has upon faithful troops. They crowded round him, fired with a wild enthusiasm. Then Toscanini took command of what surely was one of the strangest concerts in the world, played in the moonlight, in an hour of glory, on a mountain top, which to the Italians had become an almost legendary name, to an audience of two contending Armies, amid the rattle of machine guns, the rumble of cannon, and the crashes of exploding shells.
* * * * *
“Our tricolour is waving from the summit of Monte Santo!”
If the souls of poets be immortal and know what still passes in this world, be sure that the soul of Swinburne sings again to-day, from hell or heaven, the Song of the Standard.
“This is thy banner, thy gonfalon,
fair in the front of thy fight.
Red from the hearts that were pierced for thee, white as thy
mountains are white,
Green as the spring of thy soul everlasting, whose life-blood is light.
Take to thy bosom thy banner, a fair bird fit for the nest,
Feathered for flight into sunrise or sunset, for eastward or west,
Fledged for the flight everlasting, but held yet warm to thy breast.
Gather it close to thee, song-bird or storm-bearer, eagle or dove,
Lift it to sunward, a beacon beneath to the beacon above,
Green as our hope in it, white as our faith in it, red as our love.”