To read the novel in start-to-finish order, click the Volume Two link and consult the Table of Contents links at the bottom of the page.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chapter 5-3

Friday, July 31st. Walter arrived in the workers’ room at six-forty and found it already bustling. He was not the only one who had had the idea of arriving early in order to see the headlines. There were knots of people scattered around the room, each crowded around a newspaper. Walter looked around for people he knew.

Strange how in such a short time -- what had it been, ten days, perhaps? -- new routines had grown up around the endless need for news. Already the crisis seemed to have become a constant. Get up early, eat while walking to the Cycleworks, see and discuss the headlines with the other workers. The normalcy made it seem as if it would go on and on, and that itself was in a sense a comfort because it meant that war would never actually come.

Kurt was sitting atop one of the tables, a short stemmed pipe clamped between his teeth, holding up a paper and reading snatches from it. Walter drew closer to that group and scanned the headline: “RUSSIA MOBILIZES, Government Demands Russia Stand Down”

“Russia claims that it’s only a partial mobilization along the Austrian border,” Kurt said. “The Kaiser and the Tsar both say they want peace.”

“What do they mean partial mobilization?” one of the onlookers asked. “Are they mobilizing or aren’t they?”

Kurt shrugged. “Doesn’t say. The Chancellor demands that they fully cancel the mobilization.”

“Are they attacking Austria?”

“It just says mobilizing.”

“God, what’s wrong with these Russians? Do they want a war?”

Kurt continued to read, summarize and answer questions until the bell rang for the shift to start, when he knocked out his pipe, folded the paper, and headed rapidly for the production line. The groups broke up as well and workers drifted to their stations, though talk continued on the floor.

When Walter reached his station he found a folded piece of paper with his name on it waiting for him. He opened it and read the brief instruction, “Come see me immediately. Meyer.” He folded the paper up, shoved it into his pocket, and headed back across the floor to the iron stair. With others just starting to settle down to work this drew more notice than usual, and one acquaintance at the enameling station shouted, “How’d you get in trouble this early, Walter?”

Meyer was sorting mail at his desk, tearing open letters, scanning them, and then dropped them into different baskets.

“I got your note, Herr Meyer.”

“Good. Sit down. I have something I want to discuss with you.”

Walter sat, and Meyer continued to sort until he had worked through his stack of mail. Then he lined the baskets up neatly on the left side of his desk and turned his attention to Walter.

“I have a form here that I want you to sign.” He pushed a piece of paper with large, official looking, Gothic lettering across the top. “It’s a request for exemption from reserve service due to essential war work. Most of my men here were never selected to serve their two years active duty -- the army doesn’t want a bunch of socialist agitators any more than I do -- so they don’t have anything to worry about unless the Landsturm is called up. More’s the pity. Marching every day under the orders of a good sergeant would make them realize how good they have it here. You, on the other hand, are still active reserve. If there’s a mobilization order, which judging by the papers could happen any day, you’d likely be called up immediately. And you I don’t want to lose. I’ve talked to a friend in the Ministry of War, and he says that if I have you file the appropriate paperwork, even if it’s not processed in time you can simply not show up at mobilization and once the paperwork clears your exemption will be granted. But we need to get it filed now. We can’t wait till you’re already called up, or I’ll have to let you go and then try to get you sent back. So,” he nudged the paper close to Walter. “Fill it out: Your depot. Your regiment. Your Company. Your name and military identification number. Sign at the bottom, and I’ll get it filed and stamped today so that whatever happens we’re in the right.”

Walter tried to skim the block of legal text filling the top half of the form as Meyer spoke but found it impenetrable to his half attention. The excuse seemed an attractive prospect. Certainly, the memories of his two years in uniform were not particularly fond, especially the chronic shortage of food which could only be made up by begging his mother to send packages from home. And yet there was something about Meyer’s assumption that he would apply for the exemption, that he was Meyer’s man rather than the Kaiser’s, which sat poorly with him. Just as the Brandenburg Gate had stood above the peace march three days before, huge and indifferent to the protest of the workers passing below it, there was at least some sense in which the army and the empire was something which stood above and aloof from the divide between management and workers, between Meyer and the Ehrlichmanns.

Ever since the offer of the foreman job people had been demanding that he take sides. Side with Meyer or side with Paul. A future with more responsibility and better pay, or a future in which he had a chance with Berta. Perhaps this other, higher road provided a way to satisfy all of these. Earn responsibility and leadership. Satisfy his mother’s desire for a more respectable occupation. Excel in a way that Berta could still find attractive. What would Berta think of a soldier? Or with a little time, and luck, perhaps a sergeant?

And this paper Meyer was pushing towards him meant turning away from that higher allegiance and taking Meyer’s side in the smaller conflict between bosses and organizers. If only there were more time to think it all out.

“Do you think there really will be war?” he asked. “Or that they’ll call up the reserves?”

“Who knows? I think it’s just as likely it will all blow over. But if so, there’s still no harm in getting this filed. Why have the possibility of being called up hanging over you? You’re not just an East Prussian village boy anymore. You’ll be managing a manufacturing line. That’s important work. They can always get peasants to carry rifles.”

“Protecting the Fatherland is important work.”

Meyer flushed slightly, and Walter realized this last must have sounded as if he were questioning the owner’s patriotism. “Of course it is! But see here: They’ll have five million men carrying rifles if they mobilize the reserves. How many of those men can build a folding bicycle? If war comes that test order for two hundred bicycles will turn into orders for thousands. We’ll run shifts around the clock. Think what a bicycle trooper can do compared to an infantry man on foot! He could cover sixty miles a day instead of twenty. If you want to serve the Kaiser, you’ll do it better here.”

“I understand that, but-” From what came after that there could be no return. He hesitated on the brink.

“But what? There’s no call even to be discussing this. Sign the form, I’ll have it filed, and there’s an end to it. It would be foolishness for you to be marching with an infantry regiment -- marching on foot -- when you could be building bicycles which will help move the army into the future.”

“Sir… Sir, I don’t want to sign the form. I don’t want to shirk from service.”

“It’s not shirking, boy, any more than I’m shirking.”

“I know. But if I’m called up, I want to serve.”

Meyer got up from his desk, and Walter stood as well. He shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot as Meyer paced to the far side of the office and back, his hands behind his back, coming to a stop just a pace away from Walter.

“My boy, I’ve seen quite a future for you here. I want to do everything I can for you. But I don’t run a charity. If you run off to the army just as I’m getting busy with this new line, I can’t hold that job open for you.”

He paced away, letting that thought sink in. As he walked, one large hand reached up to ruffle his short-cropped fringe of steel grey hair which ran from ear to ear. When he turned back to Walter it was with a sigh.

“I respect your feelings, and I’d never fire a man for wanting to serve the Fatherland. So if there’s no mobilization, no harm done. But if you won’t sign this, and you are called up, I’ll have to choose another man as foreman. What happens when you come back? Even if there is a war, it won’t be long. Six months from now you’ll be back and I can’t fire whoever I hire to fill this foreman’s job. And if I’ve had to staff up for war work, I may be letting people go, not hiring. Even your old job won’t be there. Are you prepared for that? Now think about it.” He paced back to the desk and picked up the form. “Think about it, Heuber. Think about your mother and your future and the chance you build bicycles. Wouldn’t it be better just to sign the form and stay here?”

It was impossible for Walter to forget the experience of his first month in Berlin, walking from one factory office to another, at each greeted with the angry and suspicious gaze with which people protected themselves against those they were about to do an ill turn. “No, there are no jobs here.” And the silent accusation: Why do you need one? What is wrong with you that you are looking for work?

Was that the future he was choosing?

He met Herr Meyer’s gaze, and for a moment that possibility of being back at the beginning, unwanted, unemployed, was more terrifying than any vague idea of battle or death. His resolve wavered, but as it did so the fear gave him a label to apply to it.

Was he to stay and work for Meyer because he was afraid? Too much of a coward to answer the call of Kaiser and Fatherland?

He squared his shoulders and told himself this too was a test of courage that it was necessary to pass. “I understand sir. But if I’m called up I believe that I should serve.”

Meyer dropped the form into one of the baskets on his desk. “Well. All right then.” He returned to his chair and sat down.

“Perhaps there won’t be any mobilization,” Walter ventured, unsure whether at this point he hoped for that or not. With Berta despising him if he became a foreman, and Meyer mistrusting him because he had not chosen him above the army, surely it would be simpler to put on the grey uniform and spiked leather helmet of a soldier again and march away from all this.

“Maybe not. Maybe not.” Meyer waved him away. “Off you go, Heuber. You change your mind, come and see me. Otherwise, we’ll have to see what the news brings. I said that I won’t penalize you if nothing comes of this, and I’m a man of my word.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’m disappointed, young man. But… Well, there’s duty. Perhaps it’s for the best. We shall see.”

He turned back to his work, and Walter left the office. Outside the routine of the factory lines had fallen into place, oblivious to the drama taking place in the small office above. Walter, however, remained distracted and shaken. At the end of an hour he was behind his usual rate, causing Kurt to stop by and demand to know what was slowing him down. “Sorry. No excuse. I’ll do better.”

Kurt harumphed. “Half the line seems to be musing about war instead of work this morning. Get your mind out of war and back on welding.”

“Yes, sir.”

***

The evening editions were out as Walter and Paul left the Cycleworks that night. RUSSIA CONTINUES MOBILIZATION: Government Declares ‘Threatening Danger of War’

“Do you still think the international workers will stop it?” Walter asked.

Paul shrugged. “Russia won’t go to war without France’s support, and France has the next largest Socialist party after ours. There’s hope. I think the army is just trying to scare us. Fear gives them power.”

“They don’t seem far from starting an actual war.”

“Even if they do, it won’t go anywhere. They can wage war, but we can wage general strike.”

For a moment, Walter imagined being stuck on a stopped train, full of soldiers but abandoned by the train crew, without supplies. What would they do? March on? Walk home? Starve?

“Could be rough on the soldiers,” he said. “Being left without supplies or transportation.”

“It’s better than being shot at for the benefit of the militarists,” Paul replied. “The generals might be disappointed, but I bet the soldiers would rather be short of supplies than be in battle.”

They’d neared the streetcar stop, where a number of other workers from the Cycleworks and other nearby factories already stood waiting.

“What do you think?” asked Paul. “Do you want to go to Steiber tonight?”

Walter had been planning to, already had the taste of Steiber lager hovering, half tasted, on his tongue. But at the moment he was asked he realized that he didn’t feel like spending the evening out, at least not with Paul.

“I need to head home tonight. I’ll pick up something from a street cart to have with Erich.”

Paul shrugged. “Good idea. Berta’s always telling me I spend too much money at the beer halls anyway.” He slapped Walter on the shoulder. “See you in the morning.”

“Goodnight,” Walter said, as Paul climbed aboard the crowded streetcar. Normally spending time with Paul left him feeling energized. The man had excitement and purpose to spare, even when the topic was one on which Walter wasn’t sure he agreed with him. Now, though, the blithe talk of general strike leaving the soldiers trapped and hungry for their own good touched off in his stomach the same gaping hollowness which had for a moment invaded it with Meyer’s warning that answering the call up could lead to the endless, humiliating search for work again.

As the streetcar moved away, its wheels rumbling over the tracks and its electrical contacts sparking and crackling on the wires overhead, Walter found himself for a moment standing in isolation on the otherwise crowded street, yet in the isolation felt less alone.

The wider city seemed to come into focus. The factories, hulking brick figures behind their iron-gated yards, smoke stacks releasing their columns of smoke into the evening haze. Tenements with their ordered ranks of windows, floor on floor. Shop windows and street sellers. And the press of people who brought this panorama of industry to life. Men and women hurrying up and down the street. Trucks and carts rumbling over the wide, cobbled street. The squawk of car horns and the cheerful ting-ting of a bicycle bell. Across the street, down by the white stone columns of the post office he could see two distinctive figures in long grey coats, their spiked leather helmets making them instantly recognizable.

Like the classical edifice of the large post office building itself they were an intrusion from a higher plane, the empire made manifest in the world of factories and street sellers. Walter stood and watched them until they disappeared into the post office, wondering if he would indeed be called from this world into that one, and if so what would follow.

The two figures gone, the everyday and its requirements closed in again. He set off down the street towards home.

Walter arrived back in the tenement and set two neatly wrapped bundles from a hot sandwich cart down on the table, greasy stains and the smell of meat and melted cheese seeping through the butcher paper. Erich quickly pushed away his magazine.

“I didn’t think you’d be home so soon!”

“Well, here’s a surprise for you then. Is there any bottled beer left?”

“Two. I didn’t have one when I got home from school.”

“Well, have one now, then.”

Walter popped the tops off two bottles and for a moment they were both silent, sipping the foam off the bottles before they overflowed.

“How was your day at the factory?” Erich had unwrapped his sandwich and felt some form of gratitude was due as he inhaled the wafting aromas of the generously piled sandwich.

The question caught Walter mid-bite. He held a finger up as he swallowed and then wiped his chin. “I had a difficult conversation with Herr Meyer. He wanted me to file for an exemption so that if there’s a war I would stay at the factory instead of being called up.”

“Oh.” Erich looked down at the sandwich as if it were the wages of treason.

“I told him that I wouldn’t sign it. If I’m called up, I’ll serve the Fatherland.”

A smile flashed back onto Erich’s face and his gaze bounced back up to meet Walter’s. “You stood up to the owner of the whole factory and said you’d rather to be a soldier?”

“Well, I said that if I’m called up I’ll go.”

“Walter, you’re a hero!”

After Herr Meyer’s dark predictions of unemployment and Paul’s talk of starving the armies into peace, this unalloyed praise, no matter how naive, was a precious encouragement. Erich continued, on saying he hoped that there would be a war and expressing his confidence that his older brother’s intelligence and bravery would be immediately recognized. Walter knew this mix of adventure story cliches spiced with schoolboy confidence could have little to do with the future, but at the moment he could have hugged his younger brother for the feelings of pride and relief that his words gave him.

***

Saturday, August 1st. When Walter came down the tenement stairs the next morning, he found Paul standing in the street with a copy of the Worker’s Daily News.

“I didn’t expect to see you here.” His voice was slightly muffled by the piece of bread he’d come down stairs eating. Since he’d shifted his routine to coming into the Cycleworks earlier, the two had met less frequently in the mornings.

“They’ve killed Jaures!” Paul exclaimed, shaking the paper at Walter.

“Who?” Walter set off down the street. Whatever workers’ hero it was whose death had outraged Paul, he still wanted to get to the workers’ room in time to hear any news of impending war before the bell sounded.

“Jean Jaures.” Paul fell into step beside him. “Only important Socialist leader in France. One of the most important in the world. And those goddamned reactionaries have shot him, shot him in cold blood while he was eating dinner!”

They were walking down the street together, Paul still half reading his newspaper. He seemed to be giving at best half attention to where he was walking, but those going the other way parted in front of them rather than be bowled over by the excited young man with his paper.

“You know I don’t read the party papers, Paul.” There was as yet no distinct break with his life of the past two years, but already the workers’ politics he had spent time listening to Paul explain seemed part of an older world. “Break it down for us children among the masses. What happened?”

Paul charged ahead, impervious to any sarcasm in this. “Jaures saw that everything was moving towards war. He said he was going to write a denunciation of the militarists which would be a new, international J’Accuse. He went to dinner with his supporters to discuss the pamphlet. And, while he was there in the cafe, he was assassinated. These militarists shot him. Here, read all about it!” He folded the newspaper and shoved it into Walter’s hands. “My God, if there was someone I could fight right now! You see what this means?” Walter didn’t reply immediately but Paul did not seem to need a response. “The French have gone nationalist. They don’t care about the workers anymore. And they’re going to use the Russian tyranny to crush Socialism in Germany as well.”

“So France wants to destroy us and has allied with Russia?”

Paul nodded vigorously.

“Isn’t that what everyone has been saying for the last week?” Was war unimaginable up until the moment that some Socialist leader off in France got killed? Paul’s anti-war principles had not overly impressed Walter up until this point, but he had at least believed that they were based on something more than the threat of war simply not having touched his own concerns yet.

“No, this is different. This is so much worse. France has been the light. We may have the biggest Socialist party now, but France has been fighting autocracy since their revolution. They beheaded their king! That’s revolution. And that country, the one country that should have been seeking the peace of international workers in union against oppression, is now shooting the Socialists and getting ready to unleash the Russians against us. Germany will have to fight if Socialism is going to survive.”

“Weren’t you telling me yesterday that there would be a general strike that would stop the railroads and the supplies in order to end a war? Is that off now?”


“No. I mean, the principle still applies. But, if we wage a general strike while the French workers support the war, all we’ll do is cripple our own country and allow foreign nationalists to wipe out the best hope for workers’ advancement here in Germany.”

“So if workers need to defend their own country in order to protect their unions and their political parties, I don’t understand how socialism leads to pacifism.” Paul’s world seemed so laden with the jargon of ideology, Walter had always assumed there must be complex laws of which he did not know that made the whole system work. Now, of a sudden, it seemed possible the entire thing was a childish miscalculation.

“Because workers have no desire for war! No profiteering, no nationality. The natural state of the worker is peace with other workers, the only struggle is against oppression. But if everything that workers have accomplished is in danger of being wiped out by tyranny… We may need to allow war in order to preserve Socialism in Germany, if every other country has turned its back on the workers.”

“So, if there is a mobilization, would you say that German soldiers are protecting workers? And that workers should support them?”

“With the French and the Russians both out to crush us? Yes. Neutrality in the face of this kind of militarism and barbarism would not be pacifism, it would be an act of war.”

They were approaching the factory gates, but Walter was no longer rushing ahead. A satisfying scene was playing out in his mind, in which Berta praised him for marching off to the protect the German workers.

***

The final bell clanged at four-thirty, but Walter kept working for another ten minutes until the frame he had been working on was complete. Then, at last, he put his work area in order, taking a last look at everything before slinging the completed frame over one shoulder and carrying it over to the rack by the enameling station. The boys were moving around the production floor with their big push-brooms when he hung it in place with the clang and stepped back: the last bicycle frame he would build on the one line. Monday he would be working on the new line for the folding bicycles.

He took one last look around, expecting that he should feel something more at this moment, but the factory looked as it always did when activity had wound down, leaving only a large and grubby building inhabited by lines of quiet machinery. With a sigh he headed for the workers room, where his cap and coat were some of the last ones still hanging on the rows of pegs.

Paul, Willi and several other workers were lingering just outside the factory gates, eating sandwiches from a food cart.

“The Kaiser addressed the crowd outside the Stadtschloss last night,” Willi said, as Walter joined the group. “Said the sword of war was being forced into his hand. Do you want to go down there tonight and see if he gives another speech?”

“The Kaiser is a figurehead,” said one of the wheelmakers.

“Not if there’s a war, he isn’t. Then it’s the Reichstag that becomes the figurehead.”

“These foreigners are turning back the clock fifty years by driving us into war. We should be getting rid of kings.”

Walter bought himself a sandwich and listened, half interested, to the discussion. It was the workers’ party, he was now convinced, that was along for the ride. All this complicated talk about solidarity and the future masked a basic lack of power. He resolved that whatever the rest of the group decided he would go down to the Stadtschloss and see if the Kaiser spoke to the crowds again.

He continued to listen with half an ear to the political arguments while eating his sandwich, but he had allowed his gaze to wander, watching the crowd and the vehicles down the street. In the distance there was a chorus of shrill car honks and horns, and a crowd seemed to be thickening. He ceased to follow the political conversation at all and as two horsemen appeared, mounted Guardsmen with plumed brass helmets and polished breastplates which caught the westering sun. They guided their horses down the street at a trot, and a crowd followed with them.

They came to a halt in front of the post office, and there was a flash as one of them raised a bugle and blew a call. The crowd that had been following them gathered around, and it grew rapidly as passers on the street and workers coming out of the factories joined it to see what the meaning of the spectacle was.

“There are two horse guards making an announcement down by the post office. Let’s go see what it is,” Paul said, interrupting the group’s political discussion, as a second bugle call rang down the street.

They joined the crowd as the horseman blew a third blast on his bugle. The crowd grew and jostled, spilling out into the street, where some cars honked at it and drove around, and others stopped in order to see what the commotion was about.

As people jostled and pushed around him, Walter felt almost alone among the sea of people. For Paul and the others this would be news, but if this was an announcement of mobilization or war, for him it would mean far more. He felt excitement rising and pressing in his chest and realized that he desperately hoped that these days of waiting and uncertainty were coming to an end, that it was in fact war. Whatever it held for him personally, war would bring clarity.

The second of the horse guards, without a bugle and with the gold braiding of an officer on his shoulder, consulted his wrist watch, an intrusion of modernity contrasting with his blue uniform tunic, white trousers, and the shining brass of his plumed helmet and cuirass breastplate. Then he stood up in his stirrups and projecting his voice across the suddenly quieted crowd announced, “His Imperial and Royal Majesty Kaiser Wilhelm II has today ordered a full mobilization of the Imperial German Army beginning on Sunday, August 2nd. All leaves for active duty troops are hereby cancelled. All active reservists are to report to their depots. The classes of 1911, 1910, 1909, 1908 and 1907 are to report to depot no later than August 4th. Those in the first levy of the Landwehr are to make themselves ready for imminent call up. Notices will be posted at all public buildings as soon as possible.”

For a moment after he was finished speaking there was silence. Then from somewhere began a cheer, which was picked up and echoed until the crowd seemed to shake with it. Walter realized that he was not only shouting but jumping up, waving his cap in the air. The energy of the crowd seemed to flow through him like an outside power that enlivened and half controlled him, and somehow it was utterly intoxicating.

The second horse guard gave another bugle blast, and then the two horsemen nudged their mounts forward, parting the crowd before them. They had a list of buildings to give their announcement before. The crowd began rapidly to disperse.

Walter didn’t see where the other men from the Cycleworks went, but he hardly cared. His mind was already racing forward. At the depot by August fourth. What was it, six or seven hours by train from Berlin back east to his old depot? And the trains would be crowded. He would need to leave Monday, first thing. That hadn’t just been his last bicycle frame on the old line. Perhaps it was his last bicycle frame ever. One day before he left. What did he need to do in that time? At least tomorrow was Sunday. Not that work mattered now. Perhaps he could see Berta before he left. What would she think? Paul had changed on the topic. Surely she would be proud of him. Perhaps even…

He was walking down the street, in the direction of home, and in his mind variations on the parting with Berta played out. Would she promise to write? Cling to him? Should he take hold of her and kiss her?

A slim figure in a white blouse and dark skirt. He realized that he had stopped in front of a shop window, in which a wooden mannequin was dressed in the same colors he had last seen Berta wearing. Arrayed elsewhere in the shop window were a variety of feminine objects: hats, scarves, soaps, mirrors, and glass cases containing lockets and other jewelry. He could buy something to give Berta when he saw her tomorrow.

He reached for the shop door, then hesitated, looking up and down the street, suddenly feeling a consciousness of walking into a women’s shop. People continued up and down the street, seemingly unaware of the step that he was preparing to take. He pushed the door open and heard a bell cheerfully jangle as he went in.

The shop was small and dimly lit. It was only a few steps from the door to the counter, which was a waist-high glass display case in which all manner of strange and dainty products were displayed.

A young woman stepped out from the back room to the counter in answer to the jangling bell and smiled at him.

“What can I do for you?”

She seemed to look him up and down, and Walter became acutely conscious that his clothes made him obviously a worker from one of the nearby factories. What did she think of him? Could he even afford anything here? Instinctively he reached into his pocket and felt his wallet. Since his increase in wages it had been getting gradually thicker, as he didn’t trust his money anywhere but on him. With this week’s pay, which had been given out at the midday break, there must be… almost sixty Marks. He didn’t need to save for the bicycle now. Surely there must be enough to buy something.

The shop girl was looking at him questioningly, her head slightly to one side and a hesitant smile on her lips. Her pale hair was piled on top of her head, held in place by a pair of combs decorated in mother of pearl, and a locket was pinned at the throat of her high-necked blue dress. He realized that he’d never seen Berta wear any kind of jewelry.

“They’ve just announced mobilization of the army,” he said, finding his words, awkwardly. The questioning look did not leave the woman’s face. “I need to leave for the army on Monday, and I wanted to--” Describing what he wanted seemed suddenly difficult, almost indecent. “There’s a woman. My friend’s sister. I want to buy her… something.”

“You want to buy a farewell present for a lady friend of yours?” Her questioning look was replaced by a smile, and suddenly Walter became sure this was the right thing to do.

“Yes. Something, you know, to remember.”

“Of course! Well, we have a great many things. What kind of thing were you looking for? We have perfume. It is…,” her tone turned apologetic, “It is French perfume. Perhaps not that. Silk handkerchiefs. Handkerchiefs are always welcome. Or we have jewelry. Lockets, necklaces, ear rings, combs. What does she like to wear?”

Walter’s eyes were again drawn to the shop girl’s own jewelry. Giving Berta something beautiful that she would wear seemed the perfect idea.

“I don’t think she has any, but I was thinking, perhaps something like those,” and he pointed to the combs in her own hair.

“Combs? That’s a very good idea. We have a lot of designs over here.” She led him to a section of the glass counter. “All kinds. How much were you thinking you might spend?”

Walter tried to spy some price without being seen, but none were in evidence. He tried to think how much he would need to leave with Mother. Army pay was lower than what he’d made at the factory, and during his two years service it had also been slow to start.

“I think I could spend up to twenty marks,” he said. “Is that enough?”

“Oh, we have some very nice things you could get. Let me see.” She leaned down and examined the contents of the case. “Ah, this would be very nice.”

She pulled out a pair of combs, shining silver tracery with three small garnets set in each one. “These are thirty Marks, but very nice. Silver plated. I think your friend would be very happy to wear these and think of you while you are gone.”

He left with the silver and garnet combs, wrapped in a small flat package of white tissue paper, tucked in the inner pocket of his coat, where he could feel them bump gently against his chest as he walked.


Read the next installment.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Chapter 5-2


Tuesday, July 28th. The air was already sticky with humid warmth as Walter hurried to the Cycleworks on Tuesday morning. Sunday, as they had been returning from their hiking trip, it had begun to rain, soaking them as they trudged back to the rural rail station. The rain had continued Monday, and Walter had wished angrily that the sun would return. Now it had, but the combination of wet and warmth was far more oppressive than the rain had been.

The newsboys were out in force in the streets, calling the day’s headline, “Serbia Offers Partial Capitulation!” With the mounting international crisis, and rumors of war now increasing daily, the news sheets were doing a brisk business: morning, afternoon and evening editions all had their readerships.

“Have you heard the latest?” were the first words Walter heard as he entered the workers room at the Cycleworks and hung his coat and cap on one of the forest of pegs.

“I saw the headline this morning was that Serbia agreed to Austria’s ultimatum.”

“Does that mean it’s all over? Danger past?”

“Not yet. They didn’t accept every demand. We have to see if the partial agreement is enough.”

“Austria ought to be satisfied with this. How much more do they expect?”

A week before there had been no talk of Austria and Serbia and world affairs. Now it was a source of commonality between friends and strangers alike. What’s the news? Have you heard? The crisis provided the first topic on all occasions, and like any other topic which draws all those in a large city together -- whether a sports championship or a natural disaster -- this shared experience provided a sort of closeness which was itself an attraction. Fear drove the interest, fear that war would break out. And yet, the excitement of the crisis was such that people did not quite want it to end.

The workers room hummed with news and speculation until at seven the starting bell sent everyone scurrying for their assigned places. Then the day became like any other, ruled by the rhythm of the assembly process.

Walter was at his station, welding the stays of a frame into place, when Kurt approached him.

“Meyer wants you. In his office.”

Walter went up the now familiar metal staircase to find Meyer waving a piece of paper.

“I’ve got it. At least this war scare is good for something. I’ve got the first order.”

“For the bicycles, sir?”

“Yes. Two hundred bicycles, payment upon delivery. I was half afraid the actual order would never come through -- anything relating to the government is so slow -- so I’d been holding off delivery of the new machinery until I had the first purchase order in hand, but here it is.”

Walter realized this meant both that he would soon have the satisfaction of actually running the line, and also that the weeks of hiding the promotion from Paul and Berta would come to a necessary end. Each time he tried to broach the topic with Berta he was convinced that from her, at least, he could win an admission that the job would be good for him and for the workers under him -- perhaps even some hint that she admired the ability which had brought the offer to him. Yet each time this satisfaction eluded. Now he would have to simply admit the facts, and perhaps in the end that was for the best. Surely once she saw he had the job but had not himself changed…

Meyer was looking at him, expecting some sort of answer. He realized that, wrapped in his own thoughts, he had lost track of the owner’s words.

“I’m looking forward to starting the new duties,” he said, assuming this must be close enough to the point to serve.

“Good. Good. Monday it is, then. We’ll be getting the first machinery delivered and you can help set up the line. I expect you to know every detail of this line and be able to work every part. It’s more complicated than most, with the folding frame. That’s why I need a foreman who is mechanically inclined, even if you don’t have experience in management.”

“I am grateful for the chance, sir.”

“You can have up to four men off the existing lines, and I’ll advertise to hire another four. I can’t have all the best workers going to this or the commercial lines will suffer. At least this is government work and we can take our time about it if you need some learning time.”

Walter nodded, though sure in his own mind that Meyer did not, in fact, consider slowness while learning acceptable. He would figure it out. He would not be marked down a failure from the start.

“Give Kurt a list of the names by Thursday. So long as he doesn’t have any objections, you can have your pick.”

“Thank you.”

“Now so long as we don’t actually have a war… My God, that would be all kinds of trouble. Chrome comes from overseas. And the seat leather from Russia. Prices would be up on everything. Still. Mustn’t borrow trouble. Today’s problems today, and there’ve been worse scares before now but no war since I was a child.”

***

The noon headlines the newsboys were hawking in the street screamed, “WAR PANIC! STOCKS COLLAPSE! Britain recalls navy to prepare for war!”

“There’s the joke for you,” Paul said, as the two of them loitered in the street eating the lunch they had bought from a food cart. “The capitalists try to start a war so they can profiteer, and they end up losing money instead.”

“Maybe they don’t want a war either, then,” Walter ventured.

Paul snorted. “Some of them may not anymore, though I bet the really rich ones knew about this crash before it happened and found a way to make money on it. But the industrialists and financiers are still pigs at the war trough, you can be sure of that. They’re all slavering to make money on weapons and munitions. There’s even a rumor going around that old Meyer got his grubby hands on some sort of a military contract.”

Walter looked away towards the newsboy and said nothing, hoping that it looked as if he were trying to see the headlines more clearly. Before Paul could continue on the subject they were joined by several other men, including Willi.

“Paul! Have you heard there’s an anti-war march planned tonight?”

“No. When? Where?”

“Eight o’clock, from the Reichstag to the Stadtschloss.”

“I’ll go straight there after work. You too, Walter, right?”

“Well… I suppose. Yes, I’ll come.” Walter had no deep interest in a march, but then, “And Berta?” he asked. “Will she come, do you think?”

“Of course! Everyone will be there. This is our chance to show the militarists the power of the worker!”

***

When the final bell sounded at 7:30, Walter put his station in order quickly and met Paul outside the factory gates. Together they caught a street car, which with several transfers allowed them to make their way in from the factories and tenements of their north-eastern part of the city to the very center.

By the time the streetcar neared the Friedrichstrasse railroad station it was packed and full of the smells of tobacco smoke, grease, and sweat, as workers who had spent their hot, humid day in workshops and factories stood pressed shoulder to shoulder, those who could not reach the handrails held up by the pressure of others around them. At the Friedrichstrasse they all poured out, leaving the streetcar almost empty, and joined the milling crowd making its way towards the Reichstag.

The crowd was already large by the time they reached the Konigsplatz, the big open square facing the Reichstag. A speaker was standing on the Bismarck memorial and addressing the crowd. From the way he was moving his arms and body Walter was sure he must be shouting, but it was impossible to draw close enough to hear what he was saying. The crowd was noisy. With more people arriving constantly, there was always someone coming up and asking those already there what was happening, who was speaking, and when the march would get moving. Some people were shouting names, looking for people they had expected to meet or had become separated from. A few food sellers and newsboys worked the outside of the crowd, calling their wares and adding to the din. Walter quickly realized that although Berta might well be there, if they met it would be a matter of utter chance. The crowd was far too large to be sure of meeting any one person.

Walter could see the distant speaker gesturing with his arms, as if the crowd were a giant orchestra. The indistinct noise of shouts and talking began to resolve into a single, wave-like voice: a surge of noise, then quiet, then another louder surge, then a deeper quiet. As more and more of the crowd joined in, the distant speaker because audible between the surges.

“Who are we?”

“THE WORLD’S WORKERS!”

“Will we allow our sweat and toil to build weapons and to carry troops to the slaughter?”

“NO!”

“Will we allow ourselves to be drawn into the tempest of war by Austrian militarism?”

“NO!”

“Do we desire war with our fellow workers in France and Russia?”

“NO!”

“What do we ask of our Kaiser?”

“Peace!”

This last response, it seemed, was not as immediately obvious to much of the crowd and the response was ragged. The speaker asked it of them several more times until the word PEACE boomed forth from the whole crowd with the ferocity of a battle cry. Walter had not been joining in the responses, though he could hear Paul’s voice shouting them out. However, this repeating of the one word, louder each time until the crowd seemed to sway with the strength of putting forth the cry, had an intoxicating effect. Walter could feel the shout from thousands of voices, which seemed to echo right down into his chest.

Then the speaker struck up the Internationale and the whole crowd joined in. At the south side of the Konigsplatz people had begun to move, marching towards the Brandenburg Gate. The crowd was large enough that the leading members of it were passing under the massive columns of the gate and into the broad Unter den Linden before those where Paul and Walter stood began to move. By then, the Internationale was in its second run through, and some of the marchers had given up on signing and returned to walking quietly among themselves.

As they neared the Brandenburg Gate, with the protest stretching out far before and behind them, Walter craned his neck to see the winged figure of Victory, holding her standard in one hand and the reigns of the four horses pulling her chariot in the other. He was seldom in this part of the city, with its monuments and public buildings. The crowd, the largest that Walter had ever seen of people gathered to a single purpose, seemed an awe inspiring sight on its own, but the monumental columns of the Brandenburg Gate were impressive in another, more solid fashion. Watching the march file through the Gate, it seemed clear that even these ten or twenty thousand people were a small thing in comparison to the official weight of the empire. This crowd was larger than any formation of soldiers Walter has seen in one place during his two years service, but then, how many other regiments were there? And how many other divisions? Did it, in the end, matter to the empire at all what these few thousands of Berlin workers thought about the prospect of war?

As the march made its way down the Unter den Linden, Walter allowed himself to drift a little way from Paul in the crowd. He could still see his friend, and did not want to become separated completely lest he be unable to find him again in the press of people, but by letting a few others come in between them he felt more able to spend his time looking around at the ornate stone facades of the public buildings on either side.

The crowd was still gathering size, with men flowing in from side streets to join the march, but although it was one of the widest boulevards in the city, the layout of the Unter den Linden, with its double row of trees shading a wide pedestrian walkway in the middle, and wide cobbled roadways on either side for vehicles, naturally broke up the marchers, with some advancing down the pedestrian way while others walked in the roadways on either side, or on the sidewalks beyond those.

At last, the trees and the central pedestrian way ended at the monument to Frederick the Great, and the crowd flowed together into a single mass which filled the street from side to side. Up on the left he could see a surge and snarl in the flow of the march. The University of Berlin formed a horseshoe of pale grey stone buildings on the north side of the street, and in the open square formed by that horseshoe a crowd of students, wearing straw boaters in contrast to the workmen’s caps of the marchers, was gathered. One student stood on the pedestal of a statue in front of the square and harangued the crowd as it passed.

“You demand peace as if it is Germany that wants war. Is it not our enemies that have trapped us in a ring of iron? The French threaten us from the West, and their barbarian hirelings the Russians threaten us from the East. Do you think they will give us peace? Will you sit on your hands and say ‘Peace! Peace!’ when there are Russian Cossacks riding through Prussia burning our homes and assaulting our mothers and sisters? Will you stand by while the Asiatic horde defiles our Fatherland?”

Walter could not tell which side made the first move, but at this point someone threw a punch and the crowd of students rushed forward towards the marchers. The fight was near him. He was pushed back and then forwards as people struggled to get into the fray or away from it, but he himself was out of reach of what was happening. People surged back and forth. He saw a student staggering back away towards the college, blood streaming down his face from a wound in his scalp. There were more shouts and he saw students and workers both begin to throw stones, glass bottles, anything they could lay their hands on.

Then the whole forward progress of the march ceased, and he could hear shouting from up ahead. He struggled to see what was going on, and over the heads of the crowd he recognized the spiked helmets and blue tunics of several mounted policemen. They were wielding wooden batons, their arms rising and falling as they scattered the marchers before them with blows that fell upon heads and shoulders. The students saw what was happening as well and cheered to see that the workers were getting their due. With shouts of “Hail Kaiser” and “For the Fatherland” they threw themselves with redoubled effort into the melee. The crowd of marchers began to melt away into side streets.

Walter pushed his way over to Paul’s side and grabbed his friend by the shoulder.

“Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

Paul shook him off. “No! They can’t do this. We have as much right to march to the Kaiser’s palace and express our feelings as any other Germans. We’re not a tyranny.”

“The police are breaking up the rally, and I don’t intend to get cracked on the head.”

“That’s coward’s talk. We should fight back.”

Walter pointed out the fruitlessness of fighting back without no weapons against mounted police with batons, not to mention sabres and carbines. At last, Paul relented, and the two joined the other groups of workers who slipped away via side streets.

***

When Walter arrived home that night, Frau Heuber had already left for her evening charwoman work, and Erich was sitting at the table reading a copy of The Good Comrade, a magazine specializing in illustrated adventure stories for boys.

“Did you already eat?” Walter asked, as he hung his coat and hat by the door.

Erich nodded with the muteness of the absorbed thirteen-year-old.

“I’m sorry to be so late.”

“I traded with Robert to get this copy. It’s from last year, but it could be taking place right now. Look!” He held up the cover, which showed a sandy-haired boy pointing out the way for two handsomely square-jawed army officers. “The Lost Dispatch Book!” read the title. “It has French and Russian spies,” explained Erich. “I wish I could be a soldier. If there’s a war, do you think you’ll get to go?”

Walter shrugged, and with the question realized that he had never seriously considered the crisis leading to any kind of military action serious enough to involve him. “I don’t know. It would depend whether the reserves were called up. I’m only two years out, so I suppose if anyone gets called up I will.”

“Do you think they will? Will you be angry if the reserves don’t get to fight?”

Walter spread butter over a thick slice of heavy, dark bread and levered the cap off a bottle of beer, which immediately began to foam, the tepid beer which had been sitting in the tenement all day unable to hold its carbonation. Walter swore and sucked foam away until the bottle ceased overflowing, then took his dinner to the table.

“The army wasn’t much like your adventure stories. We spent most our time cleaning: making our beds just the way the sergeant liked them, polishing our boots and our buttons till they shone, scrubbing the barrack floors, cleaning and oiling the rifles. Other than that we marched.”

“But that was in peacetime. This is war! Listen:

‘Leutnant Muller let Johann follow him as he inspected the men, each standing by his neatly made bed with his carefully organized pack on top of it.

‘Why do they have to spend so much time being neat?” Johann asked. ‘Those are the same things my mother makes me do at home.’

The handsome, officer smiled kindly. ‘These men know that in battle their lives may depend on obeying every order precisely and doing every job right. They are proud to learn this discipline for the Fatherland.’

“So you see, all that neatness is important. I’m going to start folding my blankets neatly every morning so that I’ll be ready to be a disciplined soldier.”

“Well, I’m sure Mother will like that.”

When Walter lay down to go to sleep, Erich was still sitting up, reading his magazine. That bit Erich had read him had been so comically earnest it was hard to imagine that even at thirteen the story didn’t seem contrived. But then, perhaps the army was at least something it was possible to be earnest about. Did anyone write inspiring adventure stories about factory foremen?

***

The next morning was sunny again, though less humid than the day before. As he walked to the Cycleworks, Walter was trying to decide whether he should tell Paul that he’d accepted the job, or simply wait for him to find out. He passed a newsboy in the street whose paper screamed in large block letters, “AUSTRIA DECLARES WAR ON SERBIA!” This one more step in the unfolding crisis seemed to provide no answer to the question of whether his own country would be drawn into a war.

Far away to the south and east, Austrian gunboats on the Danube began to shell Belgrade that morning.



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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Scheduling

I think I'm finally mostly over it, but having been sick for the last week I got seriously behind on novel writing. As a result, there's not an installment going up today. I will have an installment up Monday.

Since the next two Thursdays are Christmas and New Years, I'm going to be skipping those days as well. So, expect posts on Monday. Dec. 22, Monday, Dec. 29 and then the regular schedule resuming in the first week of January with installment on both Jan. 5 and Jan 8.

This hasn't been a NaNoWriMo, so I haven't been posting numbers, but the novel as it stands thus far is at 41k words. My goal is to hit 50k before New Years.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chapter 5-1

Berlin. July 25th, 1914 The Cycleworks, like many more desirable employers, had a shorter work day on Saturdays, reducing the usual eleven hours to only eight. This had allowed Paul and Berta’s weekend excursion to catch the 6:10 local. The third class carriages were packed, forcing the group to disperse and find seats in ones and twos. Walter was squeezed onto one of the wooden benches next to two farm wives returning from a day of marketing. They eyed him suspiciously as he sat down next to them and settled his knapsack between his feet. When he showed no immediate signs of trying to snatch their purses, however, they returned to discussing the prices for eggs, poultry and feed, and exchanging anecdotes about the regular sellers and buyers at the market.

After a long wail from the train’s whistle, it began to chuff up to speed. Buildings slid by outside the windows. There were two more stations before the local cleared the city, and then stops slowed to every fifteen or twenty minutes. With each stop the benches thinned out. Trees and fields and steep-roofed farmhouses slid by outside with a speed that was fascinating to watch. With stops every block or two, the streetcars never much exceeded a running pace, but with four or more miles between stops Walter guessed that the local at times neared twenty miles an hour. He wished he could get forward into the engine and see the crew at work, managing machinery so much more powerful than anything he touched in the factory. The engine powering the locomotive was doubtless larger than the one which powered all the drive belts in the factory, and the power was all poured into moving the big steel wheels.

The shadows were lengthening when they pulled into yet another rural station, and Berta stood up and led the way out of the railroad carriage. The eleven of them, seven men and four women, assembled on the covered platform with their packs on their backs. Then Paul and Berta led the way down the road past the church, whose clock showed the time as just after eight o’clock, leaving them with an hour and a half of daylight on the late July evening. The cobbled roads gave way to dirt, and they were walking among fields. Harvest was still some weeks away, and fields of oats or barley, gradually turning golden brown, alternated with others filled with long rows of leafy-topped turnips or sugar beets.

Fields which had flashed picturesquely by the train passed much more slowly and more tediously on foot, and it wasn’t long before one of the men pointed out that their packs would be lighter if they stopped and ate first and then hiked afterwards.

“After eating you won’t want to walk anymore,” Berta predicted. “Think how good those sausages and bottled beer will taste in an hour or two. Besides, there’s nowhere to stop here and it would get dark. About four miles up the road there are some large farms which let weekend hikers stay. That’s where we’ll have dinner and spend the night.”

The announcement of four more miles walking raised several complaints.

“It will pass quickly,” Berta promised. “We can sing while we hike. That will pass the time.”

This led to a discussion of what to sing, which was cut short when Willi, a huge man who worked in the warehouse and the Cycleworks, and who was also the organizer of the Workers Chorale, which met twice a week to practice for an hour after work and gave concerts on holidays, began to lead The Internationale:

Stand up, damned of the Earth
Stand up, prisoners of starvation!
Reason thunders in its volcano
This is the eruption of the end.
Make a clean sweep of the oppressors!
Enslaved masses, rise up, rise up!

Walter knew the song in somewhat the same fashion which he knew the hymns which he heard on the occasions when his mother decided the family should go to church. Asked to write down the words, he would have been at a loss, but he could follow along with a sort of wordless hum and then come in strong with the last word of each line. Several of the others seemed to be much like Walter in their knowledge and ability which they brought to the song, but Paul and Berta and a few others joined in strongly enough that Willi could depart from the melody at times to provide little flourishes in his rich bass voice.

After the last chorus of how the Internationale would be the human race, Willi led off on Die Wacht am Rhein. When they had rolled through five stanzas of promising the Rhine that it would remain as German as their hearts, Paul remarked a little caustically that when the Internationale really was the whole human race there’d be no need for this chest thumping nationalism, but Willi shrugged the criticism off.

“I can’t help that it’s a good song. Maybe we can get some clever fellow like you to write better words for it. How about ‘The Watch on the Boiler Line’. That could be a good workers’ song. The steam, the steam, the steam is fine; to fill our pipes and power the line!” he belted out in deep notes which made the words more ludicrous.

“Oh fine, joke away. Next you’ll have us singing hymns.”

Willi shrugged good naturedly. “I don’t have to believe in any big boss up in the sky to sing a good hymn. I always put one of those first in the holiday concerts so the authorities think we aren’t dangerous.”

“Can we sing ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’?” asked one of the women.

By way of reply, Willi began belting it out, and after the first few lines everyone else joined in as well, except Paul who folded his arms and glowered at the dirt road as the hiked along, tight lipped but unable to avoid stepping in time to the singing.

This was followed by several more hymns and folk songs. Willi’s repertoire was clearly large, but the number of songs that all of them knew was limited, and the group gradually became strung out along the road with fewer and fewer singing along.

Berta was in the lead, and Walter, who for some time had found himself watching her silhouette as he walked behind her, took the opportunity to catch up and fall into step next to her. She looked over and gave him a quick smile as he came even with her, but she made no effort to begin conversation and seemed focused on the fields around them and the lines of trees that divided them. The singing behind them became more quiet, and Walter struggled in his mind for some good way of beginning a conversation.

“This was a wonderful idea. It’s so pretty out here, with fresh air. I don’t know how long it is since I’ve gone for a long walk outside the city.” As soon as he said this he realized that the last time he’d walked this long along rural roads, he’s been wearing a field gray uniform and listening to the barked orders of the sergeants during his two years service, but he felt that was not the right memory to bring up with Berta.

This gained a smile from her. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I tell Paul that this kind of thing, worker fellowship, is just as important as formal organizing. One of the ways they keep us an oppressed and child-like class is by keeping the men in the beer halls at night, and the women fearing their men. That way they take money from us and destroy our social relations as well. If religion is the opium of the people it’s only because alcohol is already the alcohol of the people.”

This line of thinking made Walter intensely aware of the two half liter bottles of beer that were in his pack, but he knew that Paul had two as well and said nothing.

“Whereas out here,” she continued, spreading her arms as she walked and encompassing the whole of the scenery. “The professionals and the middle classes go out here on holiday as if they own it, but what are farmers but another kind of workers? These fields are more of our world than the bourgeois world.”

“I’d rather be here than in some smoky beer hall where the owner looks at me like I might break something,” Walter said, thinking this last would make the sentiment particularly acceptable.

“Exactly.” She drew in a long breath and let it out in a kind of happy sigh. Something about this sigh made Walter look over at her, her round cheeked face and blonde hair streaked with brown pulled back in a bun, and then turn away, afraid that by looking at her he somehow gave away what he thought when seeing her.

They walked in silence for a few minutes.

“I still have the choice of whether to take that foreman’s job at the Cycleworks,” said Walter at last, consciously keeping his eyes on the road ahead. The promotion had been much on his mind the last few weeks. He had received his first week of higher pay, and he had stayed late after work several days to look at Herr Meyer’s diagrams for the new line that would be arriving. As yet, however, the new line had not yet been completed. His foreman duties had not yet started, and so he had taken the easy road of not telling Paul that he had accepted Herr Meyer’s offer. Yet something about the afternoon and Berta’s tone of voice made him think that he could convince her that accepting the offer would be the right thing to do. Perhaps she would even be impressed by the sort of man who would make a good foreman: a worker’s foreman, not a boss.

“They’re tempting you, Walter.” She fixed an earnest gaze on him for a moment, and he was forced to look away.

“But if I accepted, with the higher pay, my mother could stop working as a night charwoman as well as teaching her music lessons. And surely… Surely workers need a good foreman. A workers’ foreman instead of some fool who wants to lord it over them all.”

She shook her head. “You’re trying to convince yourself, Walter, but you know it’s wrong. This is precisely the lie they tell us, that we need bosses. But the need for bosses is an illusion. Have you ever read about ants or bees? They are the hardest working creatures and they build intricate cities while caring for each other, but they have no need for bosses, for parasites who live off the work of others and do none themselves.”

“No, you’re wrong. I remember reading about ant colonies, and they have a queen. Surely a queen is even more what you oppose than a foreman.”

“Certainly, but to call it a ‘queen’ is to paint it with human colors. The queen of an ant colony is simply another worker. Her work is to lay eggs to make the next generation. She’s nothing like the capitalists and aristocrats and politicians in a human society.”

“Well, maybe. But we’re not insects, after all. Humans have always had rulers. And if we’re going to have rulers, isn’t it better to have good ones? If all the good people hold themselves apart and refuse to participate, it’ll be only the bullies and scoundrels who take the jobs as leaders and foremen.”

“But the past is not the future, Walter.” It was the third time she had used his name, and it made him look over to meet her eyes. He was conscious that if Paul had argued with him this long he would have found an excuse to change the subject or end the conversation. Her softer voice was no less earnest than her brother’s, but it made him want to agree with her. “Haven’t scientists learned that not so long ago our ancestors were dumb brutes who did not even walk upright? If man used to be a solitary brute, he is becoming a social creature. That change is brought about by the development of our modern cities and factories. As this change becomes complete we are becoming like the bees: a society of workers. There will no longer be any need for bosses or rulers of any kind. And as society completes this evolution, those who have tried to set themselves up in these positions will be seen as the parasites that they are and cast down from their pedestals.”

***

The sun was beginning to set when they reached a farm: a large, white-walled farmhouse with a steep wood shingled roof, surrounded by several outbuildings and haystacks. The group approached the farmhouse, and Paul and Berta spoke to the middle aged man who came out to speak to them. The conversation appeared to become increasingly animated, and at last the brother and sister returned to the rest of the group.

“He says he doesn’t like the look of us. He only lets church groups stay,” said Berta.

Paul added something under his breath, then shrugged and said in a normal voice. “Can’t be helped. There are several farms near here that the hiking association said allow people to stay. Let’s go find the next one before it gets dark.”

Fifteen minutes later, just after the sun had disappeared behind the horizon but while the sky was still light, they came upon another farm and this time found much better luck. The farmer’s wife offered that the women could come in and stay in a spare room in the farmhouse for the night, and in return for splitting some wood the farmer said they were welcome to build a fire in the open yard near the barn.

By the time it was fully dark they were sitting around the fire passing around sausages, cheese, rolls, and for dessert a large bar of chocolate from which everyone broke off pieces until it was gone. Willi led another round of singing and then several took turns telling ghost stories. It was almost midnight when Berta stood up from the circle and announced that it was time that the women retired to the farmhouse to sleep.

As soon as the women were gone, as if by unspoken agreement the topic had been held back until it could be broached in strictly masculine company, a man named Ernst asked, “What do you think of this news in the papers? Will Russia attack?”

Pipes were lit, more bottled beer was taken out of packs, and the topic was discussed from all sides.

“Why should Russia attack us just because the Austrians punish the Serbs?”

“But they say that if Russia attacks Austria, we will defend them.”

“That’s precisely why Russia won’t attack. They don’t want a war with us.”

They may not want a war with us, but you can bet their army and their industrialists want a war. And so do ours. They won’t have to do the dying, after all.”

“Of course the generals and the industrialists want war,” said Paul. “But they won’t get it. We’ve passed the point where there could be a European War. It won’t happen.”

This drew several objections. “What do you mean there can’t be a war?”

“Just that. Think about it: The Kaiser declares war against Russia. What’s the first thing that they do? They ship millions of soldiers east on trains, and they tell the factories to start turning out guns and shells. But who does that put in charge?”

“The army.”

“No, the workers. The trains only run if the railroad workers shovel coal and load cargo. The factories only produce arms if the workers agree to make them. But why should the workers agree to fight fellow workers in another country? The kings and emperors still appear to rule Europe, but it’s really the workers in charge. There won’t be a war unless we allow it. And we won’t.”

“What’s this they’re saying about France attacking us? Why would they do that?”

“Because they have a treaty with Russia,” Willi said. “The papers say if we fight Russia, then France attacks us from the other side.”

“The papers are trash,” Paul assured. “France has the biggest Socialist movement in the world after ours. If there’s one country we’re safe from, it’s them. I’m telling you: we’ve passed the point where there can be a major war in Europe. The generals and the crowned heads know it, and they’re afraid. If they tried to start a war, they would just bring down the revolution on their necks now instead of later.”

They continued to argue the question until the beer was finished and the fire burned low. Then at last, they retired to the barn and laid blankets down on the hay to make their beds.



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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chapter 4-4


Jozef had been standing on the sidewalk just a few moments, blinking in the early morning sunlight, when he heard the growl of an approaching car and Friedrich’s grey Austro-Daimler Prinz Heinrich pulled up in front of him. Friedrich, with motoring goggles providing a stark contrast to his uniform coat and shako, sat in the the front seat next to his driver. The two seconds were sitting in the back and Jozef climbed in next to them. It was a snug fit. The Prinz Heinrich was narrower than other models, and the bullet-shaped back meant that the second row of seats had less legroom as well. However, the two seater version of the same car had set a race track record of ninety-two miles an hour, and Friedrich had immediately determined to have one, whatever inconveniences might come with it.

They attempted no such speeds as they rolled along the cobbled Vienna streets that early morning. They crossed the Danube Canal and drove southeast along tree-lined roads between the canal and the river. The car was forced to slow even further when the driver suddenly turned off the paved road and guided the car gingerly along a dirt track. Large trees loomed on either side of the track, making it a dim tunnel with walls and roof of foliage and shadow. Only small specks of sky were visible through the branches which met overhead. Later in the day, or on a different errand, this might have seemed a cool, woodland shelter from the summer sun, but now it looked a gloomy place from which night had not yet released its grip. As the car jounced slowly over roots and ruts in the track, Jozef had time to wonder in what kind of dark, Wagnerian place the duel would be held. Perhaps an abandoned graveyard. It looked like a proper place for death. Then light appeared at the end of the track and as quickly as darkness had descended they emerged into a clearing where the sun shone down brightly on dewy grass. It was an open space a hundred yards wide and several hundred long, screened in all directions by the surrounding trees.

Another car and a horse-drawn carriage already waited there. Friedrich’s driver pulled the Prinz Heinrich to a stop some distance away from the other two vehicles and turned off the engine.

Rittmeister Granar opened his door and stepped down. “Oberleutnant, let us go meet the other seconds.”

The two seconds walked off, leaving dark footprints in the shimmering dew. A moment later two officers in the distinctive brass helmets of the Dragoons stepped down from the carriage and approached to meet them in the middle of the clearing.

There was the scratch of a match and Jozef turned to see Friedrich lighting a cigar. “Do you want one?” he asked Jozef. “It will take them a while.”

Jozef shook his head. The aftereffects of the previous night had left his head sore and his stomach unsettled.

“You went to sleep. That was your mistake. Stay awake and the body remains in the will’s custody.”

“I’m glad you’re able to. When I woke up this morning, I was worried that you would feel the way that I do.”

Friedrich closed his eyes and blew out a long slow plume of smoke. An automobile could be heard approaching. “Ah, here she comes.” Friedrich opened his eyes and pointed.

Two cars pulled slowly into the clearing. One pulled up a dozen feet from Friedrich’s and stopped. A man in the back seat lifted his hat to them, but Friedrich’s attention was on the other car, which skirted the edge of the clearing and stopped some distance away. It was a dark Mercedes double phaeton with the roof up and the side curtains down, obscuring any view of whoever was sitting in the row behind the driver.

“Minna,” said Friedrich. “I told my father’s driver to come and wait in front of the flat where she could see the car. I thought she’d come.” He turned and gave Jozef a half smile, only the right side of his mouth quircking up under his mustache. “About half concern for my well being, I should think. And half hatred of the idea of someone else coming to tell her if something happened to me.”

The man in the nearby car lifted his hat to them again and Jozef lifted his hat in return. “Who is that?” he asked Friedrich.

“Surgeon,” explained Friedrich. “Each of us brings his own surgeon.”

In the center of the clearing, Rittmeister Granar and one of the Dragoon officers were standing back to back. They began to walk away from each other in slow, even strides. Jozef could just hear them counting off, “One, two, three…” At ten they both stopped, drew their swords, and stabbed them into the ground. Then they resumed pacing and counting again, “Eleven, twelve...” At twenty-five they stopped and each unbuckled his sword belt and laid his scabbard out on the ground, perpendicular to the path he had just trodden through the grass.

“It’s time,” said Friedrich. “Come on.”

Together they walked towards where Rittmeister Granar and Friedrich’s other second were standing together, next to the scabbard that lay on the grass. From the other side, Oberleutnant Manz stepped down from his carriage and approached his seconds.

“Do you approve the ground?” Rittmeister Granar asked.

Friedrich stood with his right foot just short of the scabbard which marked the starting line and looked up and down the trodden line towards his opponent. The seconds had laid out the line to run from north to south, so that neither duelist would be looking into the sun. He nodded.

“There is a last minute request,” Rittmeister Granar said. “They would like to use percussion cap pistols, not your cartridge pistols.”

Friedrich drew on the cigar for a moment, looking off towards the horizon.

“Are they good, rifled pistols? Not some ludicrous thing from his grandfather’s day?”

“They’re nearly as good as yours. Custom made in 1911 according to the stamps, by a good gunsmith.”

Friedrich nodded. “All right. I demand first pick.”

“Of course.”

Rittmeister Granar left them by the starting line and crossed back to consult with his opposite number. A soldier servant brought a small wooden table and a flat wooden box from the carriage, and the seconds set this up a few paces to one side of the path they had paced out. Here, with great deliberation, they loaded the pistols, each checking the other’s work at each stage. One measured powder, the other inspected the measure, then it was poured into the first pistol. Then the other measured. Bullets were inspected, then rammed home. Percussion caps were placed. The work was checked and rechecked. Muzzle loading pistols had been obsolete for fifty years, and cartridge ammunition, mass produced by precise but impersonal machines in some factory far away, was both more reliable and more precisely measured in its composition than this old ritual of mutual inspection. However, the ricontre was from start to finish a matter of ritual, and it was common for duelists to insist upon hand measured powder and hand loaded pistols.

When the loading of the pistols was complete, the seconds approached the center point of the firing line and beckoned for the two opponents to approach. When Friedrich reached them he was offered the first choice of pistols. He hefted each, sighted down them, and then picked one. Then they turned and offered the remaining pistol to Oberleutnant Manz. He too practiced sighting along it, then nodded.

Next Rittmeister Granar turned to Friedrich. “Leutnant von Goldfaden, will you apologize to Oberleutnant Manz and end this dispute before it results in blood?”

“I will not. But if he will apologize, I will accept his apology.”

Oberleutnant Manz was then approached by his second who made the same ritual request and received the same reply.

“Very well,” Rittmeister said. “I will now read the protocols for the encounter.”

Manz’s second handed him the folded piece of paper and Granar, unfolding it, began to read. “Upon my word, you will both withdraw to the starting line. When you are both in place, we will begin to count off the paces. You will advance one pace upon each count. You may fire at any point up until you reach the ten pace mark delineated by the swords. Once you reach that mark, you may advance no closer and you must fire by the count of three or you forfeit your shot and your honor. If one of you chooses to fire first, and the other survives, you are required to continue advancing with each count until you reach the ten pace mark, and you are then required to present yourself until the count of three.” He paused a moment. The air was thick with solemnity. “Do either of you have any questions?”

“No.”

“I do not.”

“Very well then. All observers are to take five paces back from the line of fire. Gentlemen, proceed to the starting line.”

There was no counting for this retreat, but both officers, long accustomed to parade ground maneuver, unconsciously moved in step as they walked to the starting lines. They stood and faced each other, fifty yards apart. Each man stood straight, his body slightly angled with the right shoulder forward and his pistol pointed skyward at shoulder height.

“Are you ready, gentlemen?” Rittmeister Granar called the question in a loud, carrying voice.

The two figures were seen to nod, slowly and clearly, almost a bow.

“One,” the two seconds called out together.

Each man took a step forward, leading with his right foot, then drawing the rest of his body forward, so that at all times he was ready to extend his arm and fire.

“Two.”

The colors were brilliant in the morning sun. Polished black boots. Brilliant red trousers. Pale blue coats. White belts and gold braid. The sun glistened off the polished brass of Oberleutnant Manz’s helmet.

“Three.”

The seconds were allowing a moment between each count, a far slower tempo than a parade step or a even a church procession. Slower even than a funeral march.

“Four.”

The connection to a funeral march suggested itself, and at last it smote Jozef: Someone is going to die in this place, in this sunlight, during this slow-counted advance. All of the ceremony in some sense masked the true and vital thing that was to be done here. Kill or be killed. He tried to think if it would be somehow better or more honest if this ritual were stripped away and killing were reduced to its most essential, most brutal nature. Or did this ritual add to the effect? With the rush and urgency held at bay, this was a contest strictly of the will. He tried to imagine what it would take to advance slowly, calmly, ready to lower the pistol with steady hand and smoothly squeeze the trigger. Would a tearing, pounding fight equal this in testing what truly made a man, will against will, courage against courage?

“Nine.”

The duelists were nearing the swords now. He could see both without turning his head from side to side.

“Ten.”

Oberleutnant Manz extended his right hand, his left still tucked behind his back, and sighted along the leveled barrel of his pistol. Friedrich stood completely still, thirty paces away. The silence seemed to scream for a moment, as the seconds held their count for the shot that was clearly about to come. Then the report boomed through the air, a small cloud of smoke spitting forth from Oberleutnant Manz’s pistol. Friedrich staggered slightly, then returned to a fully upright stance.

The seconds resumed their counting.

“Eleven.”

Oberleutnant Manz raised his now empty pistol back up to the ready position and advanced a step upon the command. Jozef strained to see where Friedrich had been hit. At first he could not tell, but now he could see a darkening stain on the left side of his uniform coat, just below the shoulder.

“Twelve.”

The pistol which Oberleutnant Manz held pointed skyward gave a tremble. There was sweat glistening on his forehead. Both men had begun the advance knowing the other could shoot at any time, but now Manz knew both that he had failed to stop his opponent, and that his opponent could choose his own time to shoot at him. Yet he continued to advance on command, controlling himself as rigorously as he could. And Friedrich, his uniform coat slowly staining darker with blood, advanced calmly towards him as the seconds continued to count down.

“Fifteen.”

The duelists were at the swords now. Friedrich’s pistol was still pointed up, at the ready.

“One,” called the seconds, and the pistol moved slowly out and leveled in Friedrich’s hand. “Two.” Jozef could see his friend’s left eye close as he sighted along the barrel.

Another boom. Smoke belched forth from Friedrich’s pistol as it kicked up in his hand. And with a speed that seemed at once fast and agonizingly slow Oberleutnant Manz’s head snapped up and back, then his whole body fell backwards, thrown back by the momentum which the half inch sphere of lead had imparted to his head as it smashed through his face just below the left eye. The black powder used by the muzzle-loading pistols burned more slowly than the modern, smokeless powder, sending the heavy ball more slowly than a smaller, modern cartridge bullet would have traveled. Having spent its force in smashing through the Oberleutnant’s cheekbone, sending fragments of skull as well as the ball itself careening through the brain tissue, the ball lacked the force to break out again through the back of the skull and instead bounced destructively until it came to rest.

The surgeon who had come to attend on Oberleutnant Manz rushed from his car, and his seconds hurried forward as well. None were in time to see any sign of consciousness from the fallen dragoon.

Friedrich lowered his pistol, until his hand hung at his side. He watched the three men gathered around his fallen opponent, then turned away and walked toward his own seconds and Jozef. This movement on his part seemed to release them from the feelings which had at first kept them rooted in place, and they hurried to him.

“Are you all right?” asked Jozef, and immediately felt foolish for asking the question of someone who had just been wounded.

“It’s nothing,” said Friedrich. He handed the pistol to Rittmeister Granar. “See that that gets back to them. The set will be part of his effects.”

“I will. Here’s your surgeon. Go get that wound seen to.”

Friedrich reached his right hand up to touch the blood on his coat. Then the surgeon arrived with them.

“All right. Let’s see, let’s see. Nothing too bad. Come with me, sir.” He led Friedrich back away towards the cars. Jozef heard the sound of an engine starting and saw the Mercedes phaeton with its curtains down make a turn and drive away, back towards the road. Evidently Minna had seen all that she needed to see.

Without thinking why, Jozef followed Rittmeister Granar over to the table where the pistols had been loaded. There they set the empty pistol, the barrel near the muzzle still streaked with sooty powder residue, down on the wooden case in which Oberleutnant Manz had brought the matched pair. Jozef’s eyes were drawn to the group standing a dozen paces away. In the grass somewhere, perhaps still in the fallen dragoon’s hand, must be the other pistol that matched this one. He recalled the instant before the shot, the set tense look of the man standing still, exposing himself to a shot he knew was coming and might kill him, and wondered if he had that kind of courage. And yet what had it bought the man?

Friedrich was standing, half leaning against the surgeon’s car, his coat and shirt off and his left arm held up in the air as the doctor probed with some tool at a gash the length of a hand in his chest.

“Will he be all right?” Jozef asked. He was experiencing a strange cacophony of feelings which he was unable to sort out: revulsion at the death he had just seen and his friend’s wound, respect for the ritual of courage and honor he had just seen played our, fear that Friedrich would prove to be badly wounded, yet somehow most of all a sort of rushing exultation at the sheer intensity of the morning’s experiences.

“He’ll be fine.” Rittmeister Granar sounded confident. “The ball didn’t lodge in him, just sheared through some flesh and kept on going. He’ll patch up quickly enough this time.”

“What do you mean ‘this time’?”

The Rittmeister sighed. “I’ve fought more than a dozen duels in my time. Over women. Over insults. Over rank. Each time, the offense ended with the duel, whether it ended with a death or a wound. The young leutnant, on the other hand… His grudge isn’t against one insult. It’s against the world That’s a man determined to hold back the tide or batter himself to death trying. I’ll be surprised if he lives to be thirty.”


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Monday, December 8, 2014

Chapter 4-3

Before they parted for the night, Friedrich asked Jozef to call on him early the next morning. As a non-officer, Jozef could not serve as a second, but since he was a witness to the confrontation he must come and attest to the insult which made the duel necessary.

The flat was still when Jozef left his rooms the next morning. Lisette was never an early riser. The door which led to her bedroom and sitting room usually remained closed until ten or eleven o’clock in the morning, when she rang the bell for her breakfast and the morning’s letters to be brought in. Jozef’s own habits were not as late rising as his mother’s, but even so he felt tired and rumpled as he issued forth onto the street before eight o’clock, blinking in the summer morning sunlight at the crowds that seemed far too awake and busy for what seemed to him a very early hour.

Friedrich’s flat, when he arrived, was a contrast to his own: bright and bustling with activity. A soldier servant was serving out small cups of coffee. Friedrich and another officer sat together at the breakfast table, leaning over a document they were drawing up and consulting several others. The third officer stood behind, leaning against the wall. All three officers were polished and crisp in their uniforms, contrasting starkly with Jozef’s grey summer suit and straw boater. The outfit that would have looked athletic and casual at the student cafe here was weak, almost effeminate.

“So you’re the witness?” asked the officer lounging against the wall. Rittmeister Istvan Granar was an experienced duelist who frequently stood as second and advisor to officers in Friedrich’s regiment in their affairs of honor. His greying mustache and the heavy creases around his grey-blue eyes gave him a demeanor of intensity, and there was clearly no regard for this little civilian in his gaze.

Friedrich looked up from his work with the other, younger officer. “This is Jozef von Revay. He is a good friend, and he stood with me when I was insulted last night.”

The Rittmeister made a sound that sounded half a cough, half a clearing of his throat. “Well, come on, young man. You’d best tell me all about it before the other party’s seconds arrive.” He pulled out a pair of chairs. “Would you like coffee? You look like you’re not used to morning hours.”

There was something very like a smile beneath the fierce mustache, and Jozef found himself less awkward and daunted. He accepted a cup of coffee from the soldier servant and recounted the previous night’s events, with frequent interruptions for Rittmeister Graner’s questions.

Just before nine o’clock two dragoon officers arrived at the door, one of whom Jozef recognized as one of the officers from the night before, and declared themselves as the seconds for Oberleutnant Manz. The two sets of seconds saluted each other and solemnly exchanged visiting cards, then set a time to meet and discuss the particulars of the duel.

The number and the extent of the formalities was a surprise to Jozef. Most of the morning was spent drawing up a detailed protocol which Friedrich’s seconds would propose to those of Oberleutnant Manz and discussing which of the elements in the protocol they would be prepared to compromise on.

Jozef had seen, once, one of the strange, fixed position sword duels conducted by the dueling fraternities: Two students wearing heavy padding on their chests and necks and metal mesh goggles over their eyes exchanging slashes and parries while their feet remained rooted to the ground, until a long red slash was made on one of their cheeks to general cheering from the crowd. The exercise had struck him as ludicrous in its artificiality. There was no bravery, no true life, to be found in an encounter that was more a ritual than a struggle. Here, it seemed, the fight would be all too real, but the preparations seemed to have all the formality of a business contract and a court function rolled into one.

As a non-officer, he was on the sidelines for much of the morning, but as he and the two seconds were preparing to leave Friedrich briefly took his hands. “I know this is not part of your world, Jozef, but thank you. I appreciate your coming and supporting me in this. And if you’re willing to come on the morning, I would be honored at your presence.”

Jozef returned his friend’s grasp. “I’ll be there.”

***

After many negotiations between the seconds, the duel had at last been set to take place a week after the original affront: at six thirty in the morning on the first Monday in July. Jozef had found his alarm clock and planned to set it to make sure he was ready when Friedrich’s car called for him shortly before six. He had determined that he would go to bed early, and was already in his pajamas on Sunday, July 5th, when there was a knock at the door of the flat. His mother was still out, and her maid had taken the opportunity to enjoy an unofficial evening off, so he threw his dressing gown on over his pajamas and answered the door.

The porter was on the landing. The old man looked distinctly flushed. Though it was in an unimpeachable neighborhood, the building lacked an elevator, and the porter had evidently just climbed the three flights of stairs in a hurry.

“There is a telephone call for you, sir.”

Jozef followed him back down the stairs to the porter’s office, put the cone of the instrument to his ear, and spoke into the horn.

“This is Herr von Revay.”

“Jozef!” said a voice which was recognizably Friedrich’s over the electric crackling of the connection. “Are you still awake?”

It was impossible to hear tone clearly over the line. It sounded as if Friedrich was shouting, and the nonsensical question suggested that he had been drinking. “Yes,” replied Jozef.

“Good! Good, I didn’t want to wake you. Do you want to come by my flat for a drink?”

Jozef glanced at the clock. It was just before eleven o’clock.

“I’d be happy to, but don’t you need to be fresh in the morning.”

“The secret,” Friedrich confided, “is to treat it with casual contempt, like a morning inspection. Look the future in the eye and it won’t dare look back at you. Come on!”

“I’ll be there.”

Back in his room, Jozef dressed as quickly as he could -- in evening dress, in case Friedrich wanted to go out. He stood before the mirror fumbling with the knot of his white bow tie, until with the third try it came out even. He stood for a moment longer, looking at himself in the mirror, and thought of how plain his civilian suit looked. The greys and blacks and whites of civilian clothes seemed to underline the colorlessness of the life he had chosen. That he had drifted into. That his mother had chosen.

Why was he not a man? Why was he living in a world without color, without danger, without blood? Wasn’t blood what carried life throughout the body? No wonder those who dealt in it seemed more alive.

In the street he hailed a taxi, and within a few minutes he was at Friedrich’s flat. The soldier servant opened the door and let him in. Cigar smoke hung in the air and the sound of discordant pieces of piano music carried in from the next room.

Friedrich sat at the upright piano in the sitting room, a cigar clenched between his teeth, a bottle of champagne and a half filled glass sitting on the music shelf.

“Jozef! I had the bottles of 1899 opened. Come have some of this.” He struck up a spirited rendition of the Radetsky March, then after a few bars dropped the lower portion in order to reach for his glass with his left hand while continuing to play with his right until he finished with an emphatic pound of the keys.

“This is the second bottle,” he said, refilling his glass and then holding the bottle out to his friend. “Minna has locked herself in her room. My intention is to live largely tonight. So we can either get drunk or visit a brothel. Which do you prefer? Or why not both?”

Jozef retrieved a glass from the sideboard and poured himself a glass, trying to gauge from Friedrich’s appearance how persuadable he was at this point in his evening. “We can’t go to a brothel when Minna’s locked herself in her room because she’s upset at you risking your life.” He hesitated, then added, “What if something were to happen to you tomorrow?”

Friedrich shrugged. “I’m not the first man who’s kept Minna, and I’m unlikely to be the last.” He broke into the Merry Widow Waltz for a moment.

“But it’s not right. If anything, you should go to her. She must want you to.”

“You’re such a romantic, Jozef. You probably need a little more time among the flesh markets to cure you of that. You have had a woman, haven’t you?”

“Well. Of course.” Discussing the matter was mortifying, yet the way the question was asked, it seemed that refusing to answer would be to surrender his manhood. “I’ve been to Madam Roth’s.”

Before beginning at the university, several of his set of school friends had proposed this venture into adult masculinity. With their savings jingling in their pockets they had set off to the establishment, which all had known by repute but none had visited before. They had sat, with the other men, in the garishly over-decorated sitting room -- thick-piled but clearly somewhat worn rugs on the floors, the couches all upholstered in pink patterned silk and overstuffed to obscenity, lampstands in the form of gilded classical nudes holding up electric lamps on their shoulders like water jars -- and made conversation with the prostitutes, some formally, some coarsely. Gradually, each man had slipped away with a woman of his choosing, until Jozef only had been left, unsure of how to begin that which he had come for, and his feeling of furtive shame heightened by the surroundings. A woman whom he had seen go off with a heavy man with white side whiskers just after their arrival re-entered the sitting room and approached him.

“And what about you? Don’t you want some?”

He had, and taking him back to a room she had provided it to him in a workmanlike fashion. But walking home, alone, through the gaslit streets his feelings had been a mixture, both satisfaction and revulsion. And for weeks afterward that lingering revulsion had left him checking for signs of the diseases which schoolboy rumor told in gruesome detail could be contracted in such places.

“Madam Roth’s?” Friedrich demanded. “You’re lucky you didn’t come down with some kind of pox. You see, this is where Herr Freud understands us all so well. Sexual insecurity. We, all of us, do these things, but do we talk of them? No! That would destroy the purity of our society. And so rather than tell a young man where he ought to go as he embarks on manhood, we leave perfectly decent people like you to wander into a slovenly rut-house like Madame Roth’s. And what does that leave you thinking?”

Friedrich paused, stared hard at his glass for a few moments, then drained it.

“I’m sorry. I’m at the pontificating stage. We’d best get past it. Max!” he added in a bellow. “Max!”

The soldier servant entered.

“Bring in another bottle.” Max nodded and went out. “I wasn’t thinking of any place of that kind,” he continued in a normal tone. “Only the best, my friend. Establishments that have a private back staircase for times when members of the court need to make a discreet visit without any prying eyes seeing them. But all right. No courtesans, if that’s your preference. We’ll have another bottle or two. Drink up. You’ve barely started.”

When Jozef arrived back in his room, he stood for a moment contemplated the alarm clock. It was a quarter after two and despite the quantity he had drunk he felt curiously clear-headed. There had been no taxis on the street when he issued from Friedrich’s flat shortly before two, and so he had been forced to walk the mile and a half home through the crisp summer night.

It seemed hardly worth going to sleep for three hours, but he set the clock and laid himself down, hoping the Friedrich, at least, would wake with a clear head and a steady hand.



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