I accordingly attached myself to a squad of infantry, with whom I spent a couple of days and nights. I had come to a certain town, and could find no room in the place where I could sleep. The hotels were crammed, and even in the shops men were billeted to sleep on and under the counters, as also in every garret and archway in the place.
Finally, I went to the station and asked the stationmaster if I could sleep in a railway carriage. He informed me that all these were filled with troops; but one of the railway men who came from the signal-box a short way down the line took pity on me, and told me if I liked there was his cabin, which I could share with his brother, who was a corporal, and his squad of men, and that I might find room to lie down there.
I gladly climbed the steps into the signal-box, and was made welcome by the corporal and his men in sharing their supplies, and after supper and a chat I bedded down amongst them.
It was interesting to see how conscientiously this little party did its work. At every hour during the night the corporal went out and inspected his sentry, just as if on active service, and patrols were frequent and reports handed in, although no officer ever came near the place.
During the next two days we had plenty of experience of marching and counter-marching, firing and charging; but going along in the rear of the immense mass of troops one soon realised what enormous wastage there is in stragglers, and especially those with sore feet. So much so was this the case that wagons came along, picked up the sore-footed men, and carried them back to the railway, where every evening a special train was in attendance to convey them back to their garrison.
A few that were missed out by this operation on the field were collected into their field hospitals, and thus the numbers shown every day to the general staff of men admitted to hospital for sore feet was very small indeed compared with the number that were actually put out of action from that cause.
It was soon quite evident that my friend the Montenegrin had not spat without reason, and that the Bosnians were no harder in their feet than the other nationalities in that variegated army.
I had a very strong fellow feeling for the Austrian army and its officers. They were so very much like our own, but far more amateurish in their knowledge and methods of leading; as old-fashioned as the hills, and liable to make mistakes at every turn.
The only one who seemed to realise this was the aged Emperor himself, and when he came flying along it was very like the Duke of Cambridge at his best with a thunderstorm raging.
The army was then commanded by Arch-Dukes, aged men as a rule, and all intensely nervous as to what the Emperor would think of them when he came along. One could tell when he was coming by watching the feathers in their helmets. An Arch-Duke would look very brave in all his war paint, but if you watched the green feather above him closely you might notice it trembling with a distinct shiver when the Emperor was anywhere in the neighbourhood.