The Tale of Toti


I WORKED my way forward througn the shifting crowd of people gathered in front of the little postcard shop in the Via Nazionale, and presently reached a position from which the window-display was visible. In the centre of the window was a neutral-tinted drawing of a Bersagliere charging over the tumbled sandbags of what had once been the parapet of a trench; and all around were rows and piles of postcard reproductions of the larger original. It was only when I drew near that I saw that the soldier had but one leg, and that the object which he was represented as throwing in the direction of the retreating enemy was a crutch.

Then I understood why the people around me were giving voice to such exclamations as ‘Gamba sola!' ‘Mutilato!’ ‘Poverino!’ ' Fantastical ’ and the like; but how it was that Italy was in such straits for men as to have to employ one-legged ones in the front line was not so clear. I bought one of the cards and found on the reverse the following paragraph in Italian, evidently an order accompanying the award of a medal of valor: —


Volunteered despite the loss through accident of his left leg; after rendering important services on Hill 70 (east of Selz) during the military engagements of April, he took part in the battle of August 6, which resulted in the capture of Hill 85 (east of Monfalcone), fearlessly advancing on the intrenched enemy although twice wounded. Mortally struck by a third bullet, with heroic exaltation be hurled his crutch at the enemy and died, kissing his helmet, with a stoicism worthy of his superbly Italian soul.

(Monfalcone, August 6, 1916; gold medal awarded, motu proprio, by His Majesty the King.)

Toti — the name had a familiar sound, and I even seemed to connect it with a one-legged man. But where? As the grappling-hooks of my memory were still dragging vainly for the fugitive recollection when I returned to my hotel, I sought the omniscient concierge, on the chance of uncovering a clue.

‘Who was Enrico Toti, the one-legged Bersagliere who was awarded the Gold Medal for valor?’ I asked; ‘and tell me also, while you are about it, if it is really true that Italy has used up her men so fast that she has to recruit from the mutilati.’

The concierge looked at me with the same hurt expression that had come into his face when I asked him — not without reason, I thought — if the telephone system of Rome was really a contemporary of the Coliseum.

Of course the Italian government did n’t recruit Enrico Toti, and of course Enrico Toti went and volunteered. And of course they told him he could be of no use in the army, and then — being Enrico Toti — of course he went and joined the army willy-nilly. The concierge was surprised I had never heard about him.

‘But I think I have heard something about him, somewhere or other,’ I said; ‘ tell me who he was and what he did.’

’I only know what the papers have printed,’ he said; ‘for though Toti was a familiar figure in his own part of Rome, — he was a Trasteverino, — it was a part that I never had occasion to go to. He lost one of his legs — in a railway accident, I believe—when he was about twenty; and yet, so strong was he in spirit and in what was left of his body, that he went right on with his life just as if nothing had happened. He had won quite a reputation in a number of branches of sport before his accident, notably in bicycling, swimming, and boxing. He still continued to ride his bicycle (though not to race, of course), and in the water he is said actually to have won a number of medals— in contests with some of the best swimmers of Rome — in spite of his lost leg. And though he was no longer able to box, his arms became so strong that he could tear in half two packs of cards. Four or five years ago he started on a tour of the world on his bicycle, and actually did manage to kick his machine through most of the countries of Europe, before he got into some kind of trouble with the Austrian authorities in Vienna and was sent back to Italy. After a few months in Rome, he again became restless, and this time went to Egypt, with the idea of cycling to the Cape through the heart of Africa. He started — ’

‘ Egypt! ’—‘ Cape-to-Cairo! ’ — ‘ One-legged Italian cyclist! ’ — at last I had ‘connected up’ my train of memory. I was looking from the cool, awninged deck of a Nile stern-wheeler. To the right rose the lotus-crowned columns of the Temple of Philæ, reflected in the impounded waters of the lake backed up behind the wall of the great dam at Assouan; to the left were brownblack rock hills of Upper Egypt, radiating in fluttering scarves of pulsing air the beating rays of the mid-afternoon sun. Across the face of the desert range was the gash of a road — and up this were creeping three figures which my glass revealed to be men plodding beside pushed bicycles. Two of the figures moved evenly and naturally, if a little weariedly; but the third — the leader, who was setting a by no means leisurely pace — bobbed and swayed with the unmistakable action of the vigorous cripple vaulting along on crutches.

The fluent streaming of the mirage dimmed the detail of the image in my binoculars as the leader of the little party bobbed up into silhouette against the sky-line, and I felt rather than saw the resolute set of a pair of powerful shoulders, which not even the ‘hump’ given them by the crutches, or the loom of a bulky pack, could quite conceal. He waited a few moments for his companions, — settling himself on his bicycle (propped up, apparently, by one of the crutches), — then shoved off and coasted out of sight where the track dipped toward the desert valley beyond.

That was my first — and indeed my last and only — glimpse of Enrico Toti, the one-legged Italian cyclist of whom I had been hearing ever since I arrived in Egypt a fortnight before.

‘He is one of the most astonishing characters I have ever met,’ an official of the Egyptian State Railways said to me one day in Cairo. ‘He is brimming with confidence, burning with enthusiasm; more the kind of type you might imagine the early martyrs were, than a common globe-trotting vagabond. He does n’t seem to care in the least for money, — beyond enough to live on, — and, with one leg and empty pockets, he is setting off as coolly for the Cape, via the deserts and jungles of tropical Africa, as I would start for home by the P. & O. Keep your eye open for him, as you ’ll doubtless overtake him somewhere along your way to Khartum. Take my word for it, he’s a chap you ’ll find well worth talking to.'

Toti had gathered seven recruits — all on bicycles — for his Cairo-to-theCape pilgrimage when he finally pedaled out past the Pyramids and off along the ribbon of macadam that leads up the Nile. At Luxor — for the roads grew soft as the metaling grew patchier — I heard of them as five; and out of Assouan only three had ridden away the night before on the burned desert track that winds up toward the barrage and Shellal. Two of them — as I learned afterwards — dropped out on the way across Upper Egypt, and it was only a famished Italian with one leg who pushed doggedly on to the Sudan border, where a kind but inexorable British official deemed it his duty to turn back a penniless cripple from a desert which even Kitchener — pushing to avenge Gordon — had refused to lead his army across before a railway had been built.

The lone pilgrim had taken the disappointment in very good part, so they told me at Atabara; but had promptly countered with a demand for ‘compensation’ in the form of permission to swim back to Cairo by the Nile. With the current, he had urged, he could easily make from forty to fifty miles in a ten-hour day; while as for crocodiles, he was sure his remaining leg was far too tough to tempt even the hungriest silurian. Besides, one good kick with that same leg —

‘He really seemed a good deal put out,’ the commissioner had told me, ‘because we would not undertake to ship his bicycle and let him go ahead with the mad idea.’ 1

1 I was inclined at the time to take this story with a grain of salt, but have recently seen a postcard from Toti to his mother, stating that he had this very plan in mind. — THE AUTHOR. And now, it appeared, this stouthearted cripple had just died, the most spectacular and acclaimed of Italian war heroes. Surely, if there was any way of getting the facts, an account of the way it had come about would be worth writing for the world outside of Italy. I resolved at once to make the attempt, and now, after four months, I have at least the skeleton of the record complete. My search began with a visit to a humble fourth-floor flat in a tenement near where the Porta Maggiore pierces the wall of Old Rome, and ended in a dugout amid the rocks of the shell-battered Carso.


In the days to come, the tourist in Rome, when visiting Porta Maggiore, will have something more interesting to see in that rather squalid quarter than the oven-like tomb of Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, ‘baker to the State ’ in the ancient days of the Roman Republic; for to-day, almost in the shadow of that remnant of the Claudian aqueduct rises a large, modern building wherein, until recently, lived a man of as humble origin as the millionaire baker of a past age, but of more heroic stature.

I confess that, as we climbed the whitewashed, drearily hygienic stairs of this model workmen’s tenement I felt a doubt as to whether we were really on the track of such a romantic figure as Enrico Toti. But the name was on the door of the fourth flat back; and in the somewhat gaudy salottino into which we were ceremoniously ushered was the single-pedal bicycle of the one-legged Bersagliere; there, too, was the crutch with the sharp lancehead stuck in it, which he used to drag around on his night-prowlings on the bloody Carso, in search of adventures with the enemy.

Even this evidence, however, was somehow not convincing; neither were the medals, the diplomas, and the newspaper clippings regarding the thousand and one adventures of this singular and happy rover, which the father wished particularly that we should see. Surely all this, I thought, is not the stuff out of which was moulded that heroic soul, that daring spirit, and that almost Franciscan sweetness which blended so strikingly in Enrico Toti.

I turned rather hopelessly to the old mother.

‘ What sort of a boy was he when he was little? ’ I asked. And the somewhat bent figure in black, which had remained in the background while the men of the family were occupying the centre of that modest stage, looked intently at me, hesitating an instant before answering.

Then the tenderest smile crossed her brown face, with a real flicker of mischievousness in it, as she said slowly, ‘He was — he was, my dear signore, — well, what you might call a most vivacious boy!’

And then I knew that we were at last on the golden trail of romance.

‘He had a new idea every day, or planned a different adventure,’ she went on; but instantly, as if a little remorseful, she explained, ‘Ah! but such a good boy, and so attached to his family!’

I did not dare ask her how it came to pass that, devoted as he was to his home, he went to sea at fourteen, enlisting in the Italian navy, and roamed the ocean spaces for nine years, hoping to measure himself with some terrible pirate crew in strange, far-away waters, as he finally did in a naval engagement in the Red Sea, of which he has left, us a delightfully breezy account in his travel-notes.

I did not dare ask this, but the eyes of that mother were reading clearly through my silence.

‘Do you know why he tried to run away from his ship?’ she asked me as if we had been speaking of his long naval career. ‘He and his chum had planned to swim to land, work their way to Tierra del Fuego, and bring the light of civilization to the savages there.’

Even she smiled as we followed her gaze to the wall opposite, where hung a crayon portrait of Enrico as a gentleeyed sailor of His Majesty’s Navy.

‘I have a good photograph of him — somewhere,’ she said, as she went unerringly to that ‘somewhere,’ which she knew as exactly as she knew everything else relating to her son, and produced a group-photograph of the crew of the old cruiser Emanuele Filiberto for our admiration. She searched for her Enrico on the picture, which she held upside down.

‘I can’t see very well in this light,’she explained, as she passed the picture to me; ‘ but you can pick him out easily; he is the little boy sitting close to a big cannon.’

We talked of a hundred things about the boy, especially of his restless desire to try his hand at everything — at writing and drawing, at carving and cabinet-making, at electricity, mechanics, and chemistry.

‘And he was a pretty good hand at painting,’ commented the father, as he spread before us water-colors and oil canvases of Madonnas, seascapes, and African scenes.

‘But as an artist,’ observed the mother, with the same mischievous flicker in her eyes, ‘ he liked best to paint his pictures upside down; it was a different way of doing from the method of other painters.’

‘When he was hurt,’ I said, ‘when the locomotive ran him down and — and cut off his leg — after he pulled through and came home — was he — depressed ? ’

The father sententiously interjected,

‘He could not die; his country needed him.’

‘The railroad had sent a casket for his burial,’ commented the other male member of the family, who felt very seriously his role of official historian of his heroic brother-in-law, ‘so certain was everybody that he would die. But a glorious destiny — ’

‘Ah! he was very blue and very sad when he came home!’ sighed the little mother.

‘No! No!’ argued the more monumentally inclined father. ‘It was like his other accident, when he was wiring the halls of the exposition buildings at Macerata and got a shock from a short circuit which knocked him down a twenty-foot scaffolding.’

‘They closed the Exposition in his honor,’ the mother readily granted.

‘As a sign of respect for his death,’ corrected the family historian; ‘but after three hours of artificial respiration he came around and was back on his work in a few days.’

‘He was reserved for a greater destiny!’ concluded the father.

‘And he did so enjoy that Exposition!’ came softly from his better half.

I do not know what made me do it, and especially what made me do it with the certainty that she would not misunderstand my act, but I took her hard-worked hand very gently in both my own and said smilingly, ‘Signora, it is useless, of course, to ask whether your son had any fault — ’

She looked at me so seriously that it lulled the smile I had scared up, as she replied, ‘Oh, he had one fault, one bad and persistent fault!’

I felt indescribably ashamed at my villainy in making the mother disclose the clay feet of this idol of a nation at war.

‘A persistent fault!’ I queried, frightened at the thought of seeing the skeleton in the family closet.

‘Yes,’ replied the mother, gravely, ‘I could never make him go to bed early and sleep as long as he should! ’

’Two hours a night were often quite enough for him,’ the father explained.

‘He read works on philosophy,’ added the historian, ‘and thought out his inventions.’

‘Don’t you want to see his patents?’ asked the father; and as we looked over the various devices of Enrico Toti’s insatiable inventiveness, we wondered what truly helpful contrivances might have been evolved by that quick, sensitive brain if better disciplined and more fully schooled.

‘I think he liked this best of all.’

It was the mother who was calling our attention to a photograph showing Toti working a combination tricycle and aeroplane of his own devising.

‘He could make it fly at will,’ explained the father.

‘To be exact,’ corrected the historian, ‘at the imperfect stage at which he left his invention, it could only rise a few inches for a few seconds.’

‘But that was enough for him to skim over the little streams he met in his long, solitary travels,’ retorted the mother a trifle aggressively.

‘Mountains were no obstacle to him, anyway,’ the father commented, as he showed us a long rope with a mountaineer’s hook at each end. ‘He always carried this with him on his bicycle trips about the world; and when a rocky ledge tempted him as a short cut to the top of a hill, he’d cast this rope up till it caught, and then pull himself up by it instead of going around by the road.’

‘You no doubt realize,’ urged the family historian, ‘that his inventive faculty was many-sided —’

‘He was going to make us rich on this!’ said the mother, with a sad little smile.

It was the advertisement of a partnership between her son and another happy soul for the manufacture and sale of a wonderful washing-powder which her Enrico had worked out chemically. Perhaps the thought of her hard-worked hands had made him dream of it in the restless snatches of his disobedient nights!

It was at her own suggestion that we went to what had been Enrico Toti’s bedroom. ‘You must see his books,’proudly said this woman who could not read. ‘Those on the upper shelf he bought when he was a boy; on the lower are those he got after the accident which cost him his leg.’

Even without such physical division, one could easily have guessed which beckoned his blithe spirit in the years of his physical perfection, and out of which he drew for strength in his brave adversity. Homer’s Odyssey looked big and joyous on the upper shelf, and Plutarch’s Lives, and a treatise on The Rights of Nature and the Rights of Man. But it was from the lower shelf of neatly kept volumes that his indomitable spirit seemed to ring out. Smiles’s Will is Power, and Character and Duty by the same author; and, in close, upright formation, How to Succeed, in Life, Arise, Take up Thy Bed, and The Art of Renewing One’s Soul and Body.

Both upper and lower shelves contained the works of poets and books of adventure; but while the upper included burning visions of loveliness, such as D’Annunzio’s Laudi, the lower ones held such as might tend to stimulate the delicacy of the imagination, like Carducci’s Odes.

We see here, then, how the accident which had crippled Toti’s strong body seemed to have added a new and inspiring zest to life. Success with such a handicap would now mean more than ordinary success. What he had read, what he had visioned, and what he had dreamed, shaped themselves through his adversity into a definite plan of life, and into a workable ideal; he could be an example unto men, an example of that self-will and self-strength to which all men could attain, since he, who was heavily handicapped, had achieved them wholly from within.

Thus we find him traveling on his one-pedal bicycle in Europe and in Africa, starting often without money, paying his way by exhibitions of athletic feats or by drawing and painting pictures with lightning strokes, or, as he loved best, upside down. We find him in Russia, in Holland, and in the far North, where a conscienceless German impresario robs him of all his little sav - ings. Perhaps, in the letter he wrote home describing his loss, — a letter so pathetic that it made the mother cry even to-day at the mere remembrance of it, — we may find the seeds of that burning resentment and indignation against the lack of the sense of fair play in the Teutons, which later germinates into a throbbing hatred for the Tedeschi, who held unredeemed Italy in bondage.

Yet neither this incident, nor more significant ones, such as the refusal of the Austrian authorities to allow him to pedal through Vienna unless he removed the flaming tri-colored sash he wore over his bicycle jacket, to display his nationality — not even this incident, which cut short his trip, as he refused to submit to the Austrian demands, could for long depress his roving, glad spirits.

Indeed, this sense of example grew, with time, into almost an apostleship; the lovable egoism of his ardent nature turned, more and more, into as ardent altruism.

Thus, in a railroad men’s union, where political machinations are driving a good man out of office, he goes to the rescue of right against might with a carefully prepared address in which philosophic and social theories blend with a burning indignation. ‘The defense of truth,’ he tells his opponents, ‘is the task of the just; to aspire to its triumph is the duty of the strong.’

The young, especially, appeal to his apostleship, the young with the handicaps of poverty. For them he writes a little book telling how ‘the world needs men who are strong and know how to endure,’ taking his motif from Bacon’s dictum that ‘man hath not the full consciousness of his powers until he tries, thinks and wills.’

Wishing to add example to precept, he gathered about him the boys of the neighborhood, the down-and-outs and the loafers of the streets, and started a toy industry for them.

Then came the war, and one thought, one supreme thought, possessed the restless soul of Enrico Toti: to avenge the Italian martyrs of Austrian oppression, and to raise the Italian tricolor on the historic San Giusto at Trieste.

It was the mother who gave us the picture of what happened.

‘Even when Enrico applied, he knew they would refuse a cripple on general principles; so he promptly bought himself the uniform of a private in the Italian artillery, loaded his wheel with seventy kilos of everything imaginable, carefully tucked away an Italian flag under his coat, and — addio!’

‘This,’ he once allowed himself to explain, as he pointed to his crutch, ‘has never taken courage from me; now I should look upon it with horror if it deprived me of the chance to fight.’

It was due to the sympathetic intuition of the Duke of Aosta, to whom Enrico Toti managed to present himself, that he was finally allowed regularly to enlist as a cyclist in the dashing Bersaglieri corps, and was assigned to the Lower Isonzo sector.

‘And then,’ as his mother said when she showed us his letters from the front, ‘then life really began.’

As the men chosen for an attack file before his avid eyes, he writes, ‘All walk forth with the pride of having been called to go under fire to avenge the martyrs who generously gave their life-blood for the loveliest and the highest of all ideals — the greatness of Italy!’ In his watches on the Lower Isonzo he gazes on Trieste, near but still enslaved, ‘Trieste, white and mystic in the sunlight, beauteous and desired! My thoughts turn again and again to her and I look and look — tremblingly.’

‘When I see one of my companions obliged to do sentry-duty while suffering from physical weariness,’ I find in a letter full of human compassion, ‘ I smile so as to hide my own weariness, and take his place with my spirit, somehow, all aglow. Then through my mind seems to unfold all the history of Italy, and my heart goes forth to her heroes and her martyrs, and nothing, nothing seems too hard to endure.’

News comes of the martyrdom of Cesare Battisti, the Irredento, whom Austria captured and hanged as a common criminal. Toti’s long-simmering hatred breaks forth furiously, and he intensifies his propaganda along every imaginable line. To friends who cannot fight he writes, urging them to subscribe to the war loans. ‘War is carried on with money,’ he tells them, ‘and this time we must win at any cost and no matter what the sacrifice.’ To his parents, who urge him not to expose himself unnecessarily to danger, he defiantly replies, ‘Those who love us should think only that for the honor of their country men die with the serenity of saints, happy to immolate themselves to an ideal which humanity has always cherished.’ And to all he knows, to friends and to soldiers, he passes on the warcry, ’Fuori i Barbari! Fuori i Barbari! ’ —Out with the Barbarians!

Fortune soon smiles on him. Easter Day sees him not only a soldier of Italy, but wounded in her holy cause. ‘Wounded but not daunted!’ he writes to his mother; and in five days he is back on the fighting-line. ‘ I am stronger than ever,’ he explains; ’I have ceased to know what fatigue means. All the hardships of the trenches seem as nothing when ‘Savoja!’ sounds, and we throw ourselves upon the enemy, wresting from him, bit by bit, the land which is Italy’s.’

‘I feel like a little Napoleon,’ he informs his mother, with bubbling boyishness, ‘but a Napoleon useful to his country.’ Avanti! avanti! rings through his letters now. ‘My next note I shall mail you from Gorizia. Peace is certain. My railroad pass will be useless, as it will be a quicker trip home from Trieste by boat!’

It is coming, it is coming, the day of days! ‘My daring shall conquer over the cunning of the enemy. . . . I shall hold my post with the last life-throb of my being. I shall be a light and a warning to all who dare speak of human cowardice and fear. And when I come home, there will be a medal pinned to my breast; even if only a bronze medal, it will be worth bringing to you.’

Two days afterwards, when he fell, thrice wounded, dying with a gesture which will become legendary, it was the King himself, Commander-in-Chief of all the armies of fighting Italy, who decreed to Enrico Toti the highest military honor for valor on the field of battle.

The gold medal is shining in its case before us on the crowded table of the ugly salottino.

‘When the general pinned it to my breast,’ explains the father, ‘I cried aloud, “My son only performed his duty. Viva l’Italia!”

‘The vast crowd at the ceremony,’ added the family historian, ‘took up the cry; it reverberated all over the park.’

But she who had loved him best, plucking the little red-white-and-green flag he had carried, — riddled and blood-stained, — and kissing it with the fervor of an ardent girl, cried out in brave anguish, ‘I don’t feel that he is dead! I don’t feel that he is dead!’


I met many who could tell the story of that fantastic final charge with fine dramatic effect. One distinguished officer, who has done notable work in removing irreplaceable objects of art from the danger zone, put a poker through the plate-glass mirror of the sala di ricevimento of the hotel at G—, when showing me how the crutch was thrown; but in the end, it always transpired that the version had come to them third-hand or fourth-hand. Of the trench-mates of the hero I encountered none, and hope had run low, when it appeared that the last afternoon of my visit to the Isonzo Front was to be spent in going to a certain exposed sector where not much could be done in the way of inquiring after comrades of Toti.

But I reckoned without a certain watchful enemy artillery-observer, who evidently resented the careless way in which three figures were sauntering along a stretch of road which he had ranged to the last inch. One does not stand on ceremony on the stony Carso, when the progressive approach of shellbursts gives fair warning that the enemy has deemed the interruption of one’s promenade worth the expenditure of a few hundred pounds of T.N.T. Luckily, the Carso (far more dangerous though it is than any of the other fronts) provides its own antidote; for that rocky plateau is pitted with natural sink-holes, called dolinas, the partial protection afforded by which becomes complete when the caverns opening from them have been converted into roomy dugouts.

Into the nearest one of these natural ‘funk-holes’ the three men, no longer sauntering, — I was one of them, — scampered at the first outburst of firing as the rabbit dives in the whins. A score or more Bersaglieri, who had been at work consolidating this particular dolina, had taken refuge before us, and among these, an officer told us presently, were several who had served with Enrico Toti in the lines beyond Monfalcone. It was that one of these men who knew the hero best who, sitting on a ledge with his knee pressed close against my own, spoke of such things as would come most readily to mind in the twenty-minute interval during which we waited for the shell-shower to blow over.

‘I should not say that I knew Enrico Toti well,’ he replied in answer to one of my first questions; ‘he was a friend of everyone, but hardly an intimate of any, not even of those who slept and worked with him. He was, naturally, very much of a privileged character, — with both men and officers, — and yet he never took advantage of it. His relation with us was more like that of an elder brother, — or, I might even say, of a very stern father, — than a comrade. He was always talking to us about our country and our duty to it, and to complain of work, or hardship, or danger in his hearing was to come in for a good scolding.

‘ It was very amusing to see the great pride that he took in the green plumes which marked him as a Bersagliere. The hat he wore when he came to us had been bought in a second-hand shop, and the feathers were worn and motheaten down to faded dirty stubs. But after a while he got a new set of plumes, and these he wove together so that they could be taken off in a bunch and attached to his trench-helmet. He never missed a chance to add a new feather to the lot, and, as he took great care of them and never threw any away, it rapidly grew into a regular mop. He had twice as many plumes as any one else, and he insisted on wearing them at all times, even when they were a trouble and a danger to him. Of course, he was wearing them on the day of his last fight, and they say that he picked them up and put them on his head again before advancing, after each of the first two bullets struck him. I did n’t see him do that (though a man usually does lose his elmetto when he is hard hit); but I did see him lying with his face buried in his plumes in the bottom of the last trench we took.

‘In spite of the lost leg, he was a better soldier than any two-legged man among us. He was a first-class sharpshooter, could dig himself in with the best of us, and at crawling out at night, for scouting and wire-cutting, there was no one to compare with him. His determination, especially in carrying out some task that had been set for him, was almost terrible. I remember particularly one night when he volunteered to go alone and cut out a sectionentanglement, so that it could be grappled and dragged away for a raiding-party at daybreak. He was gone so long that another man was sent out to find him. After a while they both crept back together. Toti’s face was streaming blood from cuts about the mouth. Soon it came out that he had snapped off one of the handles of his wire-cutter, and rather than come back without completing his job, had been trying, not to bite the wire in two, though I have no doubt he would have tried to do that if there had been no other way, but to work the broken cutter by holding the stub of the handle in the viselike grip of his powerful teeth. He claimed to have been actually making some headway.

‘He had made one of his crutches into a sort of bayonet, by putting a long sharp lance or spike of steel in the end; but I don’t think he ever had a chance to use it.'

Unfortunately (for my story) the crash and jolt of the Austrian arrivées died away at about this juncture, and, with only enough time left to reach our motor before dark, we had to be getting on our way. My last question was put as, blinking in the daylight, we straightened up outside the dugout.

‘You were near Toti when he fell, I believe,’ I said; ‘did you hear him shout “ Viva l’Italia!” as the papers say he did?’

‘I was in the bottom of the captured trench,’ was the reply, ‘and had just missed a jab with my bayonet at an Austrian climbing out on the other side when Toti toppled over the parapet. I have heard since that he was shouting encouragement to those around him and cheering for the King and for Italy all the way, even after he got his first two wounds; but all I have any recollection of hearing was “Fuori i Barbari!” I am sure that that was what he was shouting when he threw away his gruccia. It must have been covered up by a shell-burst, for we only found the one which he held on to when he fell.’

‘Was he quite dead when you reached him?' I asked; ‘did you hear him say anything?’

‘Not quite dead, but very near it,’ was the answer. ‘His face was a terrible thing to see as he fell, all twisted with fury as he cursed the Tedeschi; but it was quite peaceful when I turned him over, and his lips were moving.’

‘And could you make out what he was saying?' I cut in eagerly.

‘It was something about his mother, I think. It seemed to me as if he said, “Baccia alla mamma.”

That was the one thing which, most of all, I had wanted to verify; for the little old mother, with a tear trickling crookedly down a seam of her parchment-brown face, had told me that this was the message that had been sent to her in Rome. She was showing me a bundle of Enrico’s cards, postmarked from a hundred towns and cities between Lapland and the Sudan, and on each of them the terse, inclusive message had ended with ‘Kisses to mamma.’

‘So, of course,’ she had said, ‘that would be his message from the battlefield, too.’

  1. Written in collaboration with Lewis R. Freeman.