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, February 20, 2018

Chapter 4-3

This section ends Chapter Four and our time with Jozef for now.

Prerau, Moravia. June 14th, 1915. “Major, I believe there’s something wrong with the tracking of the requisitions.”

The officers were milling about on Monday morning as the enlisted men from the Major’s detail got the civilians in order to begin the second day of the requisition fair.

“Eh? What’s the trouble, m’boy?” asked the major, puffing to get a new cigar lit.

“I went to the stables last night to look in on a particularly choice mount I’d requisitioned for the regiment. I remember them painting the requisition number on his flank. Yet when I found the horse with that number in the stables, it was a completely different horse. Perhaps some horses were double numbered, or the clerks are covering for some mistake, but this was definitely not the horse I had chosen.”

The major shrugged. “Easy to misremember a number, and hard to find one horse among a crowd. I wouldn’t let it trouble you. The men are very practiced in these fairs, and the horses will all arrive in the end. Best not to worry yourself and to concentrate upon finding more good horses to round out your quota today.”

Before Jozef could ask any more questions, the major turned away went to join another knot of officers. Jozef felt a moment’s wash of frustration as he watched his receding back in its crisp dress uniform which was little changed in the last fifty years since the wars against Napoleon III and Wilhelm I. It was natural enough this old man would not remember which was horse was which, would assume that everything could be smoothed over by the clerks who managed his books and thus his whole operation. Perhaps that was the explanation. Men with the poor wages of enlisted men had been given the power over hundreds of valuable horses because their commanding officer was too old to bother himself with details, and so of course the temptation might become too great to take the odd horse here or there, take his beautiful black hunter and substitute for it a common gray cart horse. Still, if the major could not be bothered to investigate the issue, there were surely others who could.

He was thus surprised that when he managed to draw Rittmeister Hofer aside during a pause in the morning’s fair, he got little more interest than from the major. “Doubtless you just confused the numbers, von Revay. A day full of horses followed up by good champagne is hardly a spur to precise memory. It’ll all sort out in the end.”

It wasn’t until lunch that Jozef found a ready audience for his concerns in Rittmeister Korzeniowski.

“How many horses do you believe are missing?”

“I don’t know. There was just the one that I was looking for. If it is indeed some scheme to make off with the better horses, we need to check more.”

The Polish officer drew a little notebook from the breast pocket of his uniform tunic. “There I think I can help you.” He turned a few pages and then held it out for Jozef’s inspection. Neatly listed out were all the horses that Korzeniowski had chosen, with a note of both the requisition number and the appearance of the animal. ‘263 Chestnut Mare, 281 Bay Gelding,’ and so forth. More than forty were listed, with a line drawn between Saturday’s choices and today’s. “The little stars mark particularly choice mounts,” Korzeniowski explained. “If there’s some sort of scheme afoot, those are the ones we should check first.”

And so after the requisition fair wound to its close for the day at three in the afternoon, while the rest of the officers returned to the hotel for some pre-dinner refreshment, Rittmeister Korzeniowski stayed behind with Jozef. The requisitioned horses now filled two of the long stable buildings.

Jozef led the way to the stable he had visited the night before, which contained the horses that had been requisitioned on the first day. It took time to find each horse listed in Korzeniowski’s book among the quietly milling herd of animals. It soon became clear that Jozef’s experience with his black hunter was by no means unique. Nine of the horses Korzeniowski had selected on the first day were gone, including all but one of the ones he had marked with a star, each replaced another horse that was older or heavier than he had chosen.

“This must truly be my lucky horse,” Korzeniowski said, rubbing the nose of the dappled mare which was the only remaining of his choice picks. “It was a farm lad leading her through. Perhaps that’s why the others didn’t give him a full look. Nothing grand about the owner, but the horse I could see was a very fine one. Even so I almost let him go. I could see the hope building in that farm boy’s eyes. He loved that horse, that much I could tell, and had seen its potential and given it every care.” He paused to drop a kiss on the horse’s forehead. “You won’t have nearly such a pleasant life in the cavalry, poor creature. But any trooper who gets you will love you. And Poland needs you.” He scratched the horse gently behind the ears and then turned it loose to mill among others. “Wretched, isn’t it, how war turns honorable men into thieves. And yet we honorable thieves must track down the common thief who is making off with the horses that we have lawfully taken.”

Jozef shrugged. This uncomfortable view of the requisition had not occurred to him prior to that moment. “It’s hardly theft. They supply service pays the owners for the horses we take.”

“And yet the ‘official value’ they receive is rather less than a really good mount is worth. Perhaps the ones who have poor horses taken come out ahead from a financial point of view. But even then, the money doesn’t make up for a beloved animal raised from birth.”

For a moment this seemed very close to putting blame on them for taking these animals away to an unhappy end, until its corollary occured. “But wait, we’re not doing anything but take the horses where we ourselves are going. If we have to go face danger and deprivation while these farmers and merchants stay safely at home, is it wrong for us to take the horses we need in our work?”

“Wrong? Of course not. We don’t ask anything of these beasts that we don’t ask of ourselves. And after all, I did pick the horse in the end, tender feelings aside. That farm boy may spend some sad days here in the peaceful countryside, but if his horse keeps a trooper alive and brings him to the place he’s needed in battle, he will have done a better thing than all the civilians here will ever do.”

Next they visited the second building in which the horses requisitioned that day were housed. Here the results were different. Every one of the animals Korzeniowski had selected was there.

“This certainly confirms your theory” he said.

Jozef nodded. “Whatever happened to the horses chosen on Saturday, nothing similar has yet occurred with today’s batch. Now perhaps it was only a one time occurance. But if not-- Well, I should think it will happen soon. And I aim to find out who is responsible if it does.”

They sought out Sergeant Egger and Jozef explained their concerns. “And so I want you to put a watch on the buildings, particularly the one in which the mounts chosen today are housed. You must find somewhere out of sight. It may be the supply Major’s men who are orchestrating this little theft, and I don’t want them to know that they are being watched.”

“Of course, sir. I’ll find a pair of observation posts and set men to two hour watches.”

“Very good, Sergeant. I’ll seek you out when I get back from the opera tonight, and you can tell me what you’ve observed.”


Jozef was eager to tell Zita about his afternoon’s detective work, but she declined his invitation to skip the evening’s performance of “Martha” and find a quiet place to talk instead.

“Surely you’ve seen it before,” he objected.

“Well of course, and sung it too. But I haven’t seen Sophie sing it, and if I’m to be any sort of success in the company I can’t be seen to skip others performances all the time.”

And so they spent the evening watching the adventures of Lady Harriet pretending to be a simple country maid and causing consternation among the farmers who hired her. Only at the intermission was Jozef able to draw Zita away to a quiet place and tell her about the mystery of the vanished horses.

“What do you think is happening to the horses?”

“I presume they’re being sold. Yet another form of war profiteering, but this one is being perpetrated by soldiers themselves.”

“It does seem at times that venality is the human condition.”

The tone with which she said this reminded him of the difficulties she herself had faced. “Have you had any more troubles with the company manager, or the hotel owner?”

“No. Well, not exactly. Herr Goss did say that I must remember I am a member of the company, and responsible for the company’s success and reputation. And then he said that a singer can’t afford to lay favorites unless the man is willing to support her. ‘She must make all her public feel welcome,’ he said. But he didn’t say anything about the dressing room specifically, and tomorrow night when I perform again I shall make sure that I have all my things hidden away behind the screen before I begin to change. The public may feel welcome in the theater, but not in my dressing room.”

After the second half of the performance -- with Lady Harriet restored to her rustic lover, who proved in fact to be an orphan of noble stock -- all repaired again to the hotel to toast the actors and the evening. Jozef, however, eager to discover what his men might have seen while guarding the stables, made his excuses and slipped away. Rittmeister Hofer was among the revelers, and although Jozef briefly considered confiding in him, it seemed better after the brush-off that he had received that morning to wait until he had clear proof.

Proof, however, was not something which the guards could yet offer. When Jozef spoke with Sergeant Egger he was assured that no one suspicious had entered the stables.

“Did anyone come?”

“Well, the stable hands, of course, to give the evening feed and water. And the major visited twice with some well dressed gentlemen, but I’m sure he was only checking to be sure that all was done well.”

Could the major himself be somehow involved in the scheme? The idea that a commissioned officer, even one in the supply services, would violate his honor thus was shocking. And yet, perhaps that would explain the too quick brush-off which Jozef had received in telling the major his concerns that morning.

“Should I keep the shifts of guards going through the night, sir, or shall I let them go to bed?” Sergeant Egger asked.

It would be difficult to see much once the strings of lights between the fairground buildings were turned off. And yet, surely the movement of half a dozen or more horses would be visible even on a dark night.

“Yes, keep them at it, Sergeant. Let me know in the morning if there is more to report.”

Jozef rose early in order to find out if the guards had seen any suspicious activity overnight. It was, however, a tired and frustrated Sergeant Egger who greeted him.

“Nothing, sir. I did the rounds to make sure the men weren’t falling asleep, but no one approached the stables all night. The stable hands arrived about an hour ago, but they’re just giving the animals feed and water. We’ve seen no horses led out of the buildings.”

Nothing. Perhaps the thief dared strike only once. Or perhaps the next theft would come while they were looking at today’s horses. The men might be annoyed at being kept on a seemingly pointless duty watching stables that were already guarded. On the other hand, there was only this last day and the requisition fair would be over. As pointless tasks went, this was safer than many that had been asked of them, and there were ways of compensating them.

“Keep the watches going through today and tonight,” he told the Sergeant. “However, the men may have a double liquor ration for the day, and I’ll speak to the fair manager about opening the carousel to them again tonight once the fair is over.”

“That will be most appreciated, sir. And if I may say, it does as well to give the men some activity during dull periods like this. Otherwise you’ll have half of the down with drunkenness this week and venereal disease the next.”

It was still two hours before the day’s requisition fair would begin. The morning sunlight was bright and the air still comfortably cool, and so Jozef walked towards the two long stable buildings where the requisitioned horses were housed. The stable hands the sergeant had mentioned were moving around the buildings. As Jozef watched, a wagon piled four high with bales of hay arrived. Men with pitchforks followed it through the big barn doors to unload the hay and load it into the feeding troughs for the horses.

The horse remained the most reliable form of mobility on the battlefield. Gone perhaps were the noble sabre charges beloved by painters a hundred years before, but as the Uhlans had shown time and again across the plains of Russian Poland, their mounted companies could easily cover fifty miles a day and still arrive fresh to fight a skirmish or secure a position. Trains could provide similar or even greater speed, but they were restricted to their ribbons of iron track, where were few and far between as the army approached the vast expanses of the Russian Empire. The new automobiles served a similar purpose without requiring track but were of little use on the unpaved rural roads that led eastward, much less across open country.

Yet with the horse’s speed and versatility came its need for large quantities of feed -- about ten kilos per day to keep a horse active and in good condition. A man, by comparison, needed only a single kilo of rations to march and fight. While the Uhlans could range far and fast from the rail lines thatt brought supplies to the troops, it was impossible to graze long enough or requisition enough quality feed from the local peasants to keep cavalry operational without a constant stream of carts bearing bales of hay and sacks of oats moving from the rail lines to where the regiment was deployed.

Each of the eight squadrons in the regiment had an official strength of two hundred horses and thus required two thousand kilos a day of feed. Each of these buildings contained more than that, so the provisions required were significant. But what of the missing horses? They knew of at least ten, but that was only between Rittmeister Korzeniowski’s requisitions and Jozef’s black hunter. How many other prime horses were also missing? Twenty? Perhaps even forty horses? Those horses too would need their share of food, and in all likelihood it would take enough to feed them that it would hardly be an invisible task.

Jozef watched the stable hands coming and going. There were no uniformed men among them. If the Major were indeed the one behind the missing horses, would he have used the same stable hands to care for the other horses, assuming they were even still nearby? And how carefully would he have instructed them in secrecy? If these were local laborers, perhaps to them one military uniform would look much like another. And yet he had spoken of the missing horse with the major the day before. Perhaps he would have warned them against speaking to Jozef in particular.

There was no way to find out but to throw the dice and see if luck served him well. Glancing down to be sure that all in his dress uniform was correct to what would have been the major’s satisfaction, Jozef approached the stable hands at a purposeful gate. The overseer, a heavy man whose bristly mustache was tending towards gray, stepped away from the others and took off his cap as he greeted him.

“Good morning, sir. Nearly finished with the feeding and watering, sir.”

“Very good. I’ll be seeing Major von Brenner in just a little while and hope to give him a good report of your work. Would you be so kind as to show me around?”

“Of course.”

The overseer led Jozef through both stables, where the feed and water troughs were indeed full.

“All very satisfactory,” Jozef pronounced. “And the other horses?” He leaned in slightly. “The special ones?”

“Oh, they were fed first of all, sir.”

He had gone so far. This was not the time for caution. “Show me.”

There was uncertainty in the overseer’s expression; his gaze shifted back and force and he ran his tongue over his lips. Anything but complete confidence now could be fatal.

“Come on,” said Jozef, and started walking. It was a guess, though an informed once since most of the other fairground buildings lay in the direction towards which he started.

“Of course, sir,” the overseer said, overcoming his doubts and hurrying to take the lead.

The building he let Jozef to was smaller than the other stables, and located at the far end of the fairground, well away from the track. Rather than one big open space it was broken into a row of stalls down each side, each one just big enough for one horse. Walking down the central aisle, looking into stalls on either side, Jozef quickly found the black hunter he had picked out. The requisition number had been washed off its haunch. Only a few faint traces of white paint remained. But otherwise the animal seemed well and satisfied with its lot, chewing quietly at the feed in its box.

Examining the other horses, there were at least some that had been among the ones chosen by Rittmeister Korzeniowski as well as several dozen other clearly superior mounts. All of these had also had their requisition numbers scrubbed away. Other animals still had numbers clearly painted on their hindquarters, but these were the sort of undistinguished riding and cart horses that the major had been requisitioning. Were these, perhaps, the horses that would be used to replace the better requisitions from the second and third day, just as many of the best from the first had already been moved here and replaced with middling animals?

“All to your satisfaction, sir?” asked the overseer, hanging at Jozef’s elbow.

“Yes indeed. I’m sure the major will be most pleased. And now I thank you for your time and will not take up any more of it.” The ruse had worked as well as, perhaps better than, he had any right to expect. There was no point in pushing it further.

The overseer assured him effusively that it was no trouble at all, but he seemed relieved as he led them quickly back across the fairgrounds to the stables where he men were at work.

“Will you be by again this evening, or perhaps tomorrow morning?” the overseer inquired before they parted.

“Who’s to say? I go or come as ordered. But I can see you have everything well in hand, so there’s nothing to fear,” Jozef assured him.


As soon as he was able to find a chance to step aside together in privacy, Jozef told Rittmeister Korzeniowski about his discovery.

“So our good host is running this little game, is he?” the Polish officer said. “What am I expected to do, I wonder? Find that my requisitions have all been replaced with nags and cart horses and say nothing? That seems a bit of a hole in the plan. But I suppose with him managing the paperwork there would be nothing but my word that these weren’t the horses I’d selected myself. Yes, that must be the plan. I’d come back with claims of how I’d requisitioned these wonderful horses, and when they all proved to be disappointments it would be, ‘Who are you to believe, the officer who was swilling champagne behind the lines for a three days while picking the animals or the paperwork drawn up with precision by the supply service.’ Indeed, once I lay it out that way, perhaps I would keep my mouth closed once it all came to it. What would be the point? I suppose if I must admit it, it is something of a brilliant little scam.”

“But what should we do about it?”

‘You say the good horses are still quartered on the fairgrounds. I’ve a fair mind to gather my enlisted men tomorrow morning, come in with weapons out and simply collect the horses that I originally selected. Board the supply train on schedule and who’s to stop me? Filing a complaint over my behavior would raise too many questions, and I can’t see that they’ve made any provision for one of us realizing what’s going on before we’re safely back with our units.”

“But shouldn’t we do something to end all this scheming? It’s a disgrace that an officer is selling horses needed by the army for profit.”

“A noble sentiment, but how are we to stop it?”

“Couldn’t we file some sort of complaint?”

“With whom?”

“Well--” Jozef hesitated. The very idea that there was no recourse against such corruption seemed offensive. “I don’t know. But perhaps if I tell Rittmeister Hofer he will know how to do something.”

“As I see it, the more people you tell, the more chance that the Major hears of it and moves the stolen horses somewhere safer.”

“He’s an officer in my own regiment.”

“You’ve made the discovery, so I suppose it’s your own affair,” Korzeniowski conceded. “But if you were to ask me I’d advise you to tell no one else unless you know absolutely that he cannot be compromised. You and I are both rather low in the pecking order, I because of the Legion and you because you’re a reservist junior officer and not even staying at the hotel with the others. Not to mention that I imagine the others resent the dalliance you’re enjoying with that young soprano. Oh, never mind,” he amended as Jozef objected to this last. “I’m sure the lady’s as pure as the driven snow if you insist upon it, but the others can hardly be expected to know that and you behave like a man who’s keeping a sweetmeat to himself. My point is that it may well be that the Major is acting with the knowledge of other officers and has already greased the skids with them, while you and I are playing detective because we haven’t been deemed worthy to include in the circle of mutual favors.”

“Perhaps,” Jozef admitted. “But remember my position. I am not in command; Rittmeister Hofer is. If I’m to get back our horses, I must tell him.”

Korzeniowski shrugged. I can hardly forbid you, as you’re the one who has done the work to trace our missing horses. But the end of it all is that my prime mounts are moved somewhere else so that I can’t retrieve them, I promise to resent you from atop my shaggy cart horse for months to come.”


The Polish officer’s concern gave Jozef sufficient pause that he kept his secret to himself throughout the afternoon, but no other solution was forthcoming. If he was to get back the stolen horses, he must take the enlisted men to the other stable, free them, and then bring the back on the military train with the other mounts. There was no way to do this without Rittmeister Hofer’s agreement, and so getting his agreement must be the next step.

Jozef resolved to approach him after the evening’s performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor”.

“A word, if I may, sir.”

“Certainly, certainly. What, tired of your little nightingale, or has she merely not come down from her perch yet?”

“I hope to see Miss Nosek later, thank you.” He could not allow himself to be dismissive to a superior officer, but surely he did not need to allow himself to be a figure of fun. “I have something to report to you, sir.”

“What’s that?”

“I think that there’s some fraud being carried out with the requisitions.”

The rittmeister’s expression became grave. He put an arm around Jozef’s shoulders and led him off to a corner of the room where they could speak without any interruption or risk of being overheard. “And why do you think that?”

Jozef described his investigation and discovery of the missing horses in detail, leaving out only the involvement of Rittmeister Korzeniowski, out of respect for the Polish officer’s fear that discussing the theft with others might prevent him from stealing back his own horses.

“All the missing horses were in the other stable, sir. And from what I could draw from the overseer, I think that the Major is aware of the deception, perhaps even organizing it.”

Rittmeister Hofer exhaled a gusty sigh and scratched at the back of his head thoughtfully. “It’s a serious business, von Revay. A very serious business. To think that an officer of his age and experience would stoop to such corruption.”

“Sir, I don’t suggest this lightly, but I have seen the horses and talked to the workmen.”

The rittmeister dismissed the protest with a wave of his hand. “I know. I know. I don’t doubt you at all. I only mean to say that this will need to be handled with discretion. It’s not just a matter of assuring that we get our requisitioned animals and bring justice to the profiteers, we must also protect the honor of the army, indeed the emperor himself, whose commission each officer holds. I’m glad you came to me.”

Relief swept Jozef. “Then you can deal with the situation?”

“Indeed. I’ll deal with it,” Rittmeister Hofer promised with a grim look. “But you must leave it to me to manage it properly. Not a word to anyone else, let we lose the element of surprise, eh? Can you promise me that? Not one word. Carry on as if you knew nothing about it, and I’ll see that all is resolved to our satisfaction.”

Jozef promised that he would do as instructed.

“Here’s what we shall do, eh? The military supply train for Galicia leaves at three tomorrow. I’ll deal with this situation, and see that we get our mounts back. Sergeant Egger and the men will have their orders and will get the horses loaded up. And you must go with them and see that everything makes it to the regiment without delay. Once I’ve sorted things in the morning, I will catch the noon train for Vienna. There I can deal with this matter through proper channels and see that all justice is done. And after that I’ll return to meet you and the regiment. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” To be entrusted with bringing the requisitions back to the regiment showed the trust that Hofer placed in him, and that the rittmeister was taking the matter to Vienna proved that he took it with the utmost seriousness.

“Very good. And remember: Not one word.”

Zita was late coming to the restaurant, and when she did so it was with a forbidding look.

“You sounded wonderful tonight!” said Jozef, hoping that their evening had not been ruined before it began by another unwelcome dressing room visit from the Opera company manager.

“It went well,” Zita agreed, in a tone of no great enthusiasm. “Tell me something. Who among your fellow officers there is the major you told me about, the man who runs the requisition fairs?”

Jozef pointed out the silver-haired major.

“I thought so.” She stood looking at him for a moment with a fixed and unfriendly gaze which could all too easily be noticed.

“Would you like to sit down?” Jozef indicated one of the small tables at the periphery of the room. “I could order you some dinner.”

“I think I’d like to go somewhere else,” she replied. “Somewhere we can talk without attracting everyone’s gaze. And then I can tell you a thing or two I believe you’ll be interested to hear.”

There was determination, perhaps even controlled anger, rather than any sort of allure in her words. Nonetheless his curiosity was strong. There was no real obligation to remain in the restaurant with the others. On previous nights, after all, they had usually kept to their own table.

“Let’s go, then,” he said. “There’s nothing to keep us here, and we can decide where to go as we walk.”

The summer twilight was fading into full night, and there was no moon to light the sky. Zita began to speak as they walked the street from the Hotel Grande towards the more modest one in which she and most of the other members of the opera company were lodged. This darkness clothed their conversation in a veil of privacy. Even as Jozef looked over he could see only the pale outlines of her face against the glow of lighted windows.

“I received visitors in my changing room again, tonight,” said Zita. “There was no knock when the door opened. I was behind my screen, changing from the costume into my own dress. I heard the company manager say, ‘Thank you gentlemen, I’m sure that Miss Nosek will be happy to receive you.’ There was the clink of coins, and then I heard the tread of two men coming into the room. The door shut behind them. Do you see? He took money in return for sending them into my room. Really, he has no shame at all. This company is little better than a burlesque.”

“I’m sorry.”

“But after the last time I was prepared. I had taken all my things behind the screen, so I had no need to come out and no intention of giving them the satisfaction of noticing their presence. I stayed behind my screen and continued dressing. From the other side I could hear the shifting of feet, as if they were unsettled that I had not acknowledged their entrance. Then they began to talk. Perhaps they imagined they were speaking too discretely to be understood, and they would have been right if you had not told me about your little mystery with the missing horses. With that context, I soon realized what they were talking about, and I think I can tell you how there scheme works. And it serves them right, both for how they treated me and their profiteering,” she added.

“They didn’t…” Jozef paused, unsure of the word to apply in front of the lady herself for what the troopers at times so casually spoke of in regards to enemy civilians.


The sound of shock in her voice made him regret the question. “I’m sorry. You said you learned about their horse scheme?”

“Yes, the one man, whom you identified for me before we left as the major, spoke of horse owners visiting him and putting down deposits. The other officer was asking when he would get the rest of his money. He was eager to invest the money in a manufacturing project that his future brother in law was organizing. He said that if he could prove his solvency that way, he would at last be able to marry the rich widow he had been pursuing. They had some rather knowing talk about her. But from all they said, the horse scheme seems to work this way: At the requisition fair, many of the horses chosen belong to wealthy men. The major tells them that they can have their horses back if they will pay a fee to exchange another horse for theirs. They give him half immediately. Then, when the horses are shipped off to the army, it’s the substitute horses that go instead of theirs. The owners pay the second half of their fee when they get their horses back, and along with them they get a certificate good for one year, saying the horses were found unsuitable for military use. Then the major shares the money with the other officers who were in on the scheme. In this case, because the other officer was so urgent for his money the major agreed to advance the money right away, in return for the major getting a larger share.”

This explained the replacement of many of the best horses with ones of lesser quality, and even the Polish officer’s one horse that had been unscathed -- he had described it as belonging to a farm boy, clearly someone not able to buy back his requisitioned horse. How many officers were in on this corrupt arrangement? Clearly not his own rittmeister, nor the Polish officer. Were all the others, or just some chosen few?

“I learned all this while listening from behind my screen. I was in no hurry, since I did not intend to come out until they went away. They must indeed have run out of patience, because as I was sitting and lacing up my boots, I heard a sound above me. The other officer, not the major, was standing right at the screen, looking over it at me. I demanded to know what he was doing, but he just smiled and said, ‘Your voice is very good, but if you are to become a star you must learn to appreciate your public’s adoration.’ Then he tossed a coin over the screen to me and added, ‘And they will adore. That’s a dancer’s leg you’ve got there.’ As I say, I had been lacing up my boots, but you may be sure that covered myself up the moment I heard his voice. The cheek and indecency! I told him he was no gentleman, but he only laughed and turned away. He and the major left the room directly. Perhaps he thought he’d put me in my place very nicely with his remarks and that coin he tossed me, but I knew that I had understood much more of what they said than they imagined and that I could come straight to you with it.”

“Who was the second officer?” Jozef asked. “What did he look like?”

“Tall. With dark hair and a mustache.” It was a description which would fit most of the officers. “I would know him if I saw him again,” she added.

So now the structure of the horse scheme was clear, but he still did not know the major’s accomplices.

“Will you be able to stop them and expose their corruption?” Zita asked. She had stopped and stood facing him. This, it was clear, was what would wipe away her own humiliation, that it would serve to bring the downfall of the men who had treated her thus.

“Yes. We will,” Jozef promised, and was rewarded with a look of gratitude.


Jozef was on the railroad platform early to see Rittmeister Hofer onto the noon train to Vienna.

“I’ve already sent notice to the regiment informing them that I shall follow you by several days,” Hofer said. “Once I have dealt with all of this corruption.”

“And the horses, sir?”

“Already dealt with. No fears there. Sergeant Egger and his men will have the horses loaded safely on the livestock cars of the military train. All you need do is find yourself a nice berth and enjoy the ride back to the regiment.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’ve been a great help in all this. Thank you, Leutnant. And remember, not a word of all these machinations. I’ll resolve them myself with all due discretion.”

The train whistle sounded and Rittmeister Hofer stepped up into the carriage. Jozef saluted, but the older officer never turned to see or return it. Then with a squealing of metal wheels on metal track and a cloud of steam, the train chuffed and churned out of the station.

Walking back down the platform towards the street, Jozef saw Zita waiting for him. They’d agreed to spend his last few free hours before the military train taking a walk together, but now her expression was not the cheerful welcome he had hoped for.

“That officer you were speaking to,” she said. “Is that your rittmeister?”

“Yes. That’s Rittmeister Hofer.”

“I recognize him. He is the officer who treated me so humiliatingly in my changing room.”

“It was Rittmeister Hofer who was with the major in your room?” The evidence which before had pointed to one reality now shifted to point to another, but the change was so sudden that Jozef felt the need to ask questions while seeking his new equilibrium.


“And is that the officer involved in the scheme and already making plans to invest his earnings.”

“Yes, I told you.”

“He’s played me for a fool. Come on.”


“To see if we can play him for one.”

His first stop was the hotel, but there he found that Rittmeister Korzeniowski had already left.

“You might try the fairground, sir,” offered the porter. “The Polish officer said that he was going to collect his horses.”

And if Korzeniowski had already retaken his stolen horses by force, the major and the others would already be put on guard and it would be impossible for Jozef to do the same without risking violence.

Jozef turned to Zita. “I’d wanted to take that walk with you. But I may already be too late. And if I’m not, I’ll have no free time before the train leaves.” It was on that walk he had intended to find the right way to say goodbye, perhaps a way that would create a way to see her again, perhaps even find at last a way to advance their relations beyond friendship.

“It’s not the same, but I could walk with you.”

It wasn’t the same, but it did at least leave open the chance that in their last few hours together something might happen. “Of course. If you won’t find it boring.”

“What are you going to do?”

Jozef glanced around. They had regained the street outside the hotel. There was no one nearby. “I’m going to try to steal back the stolen horses.”

“That doesn’t sound boring.”

“Well come along then.”

At the fairgrounds they found much activity already in motion. Sergeant Egger was already organizing the men in lining up the horses for the 7th Uhlans.

“Did the Rittmeister speak to you about the horses this morning, Sergeant?” Jozef asked. If Hofer had given the sergeant orders or even drawn him into the horse scheme, it might be impossible to use him in regaining the stolen horses.

“No, sir. Are there new instructions?”

Relieved, Jozef asked for a half dozen men and set off for the other stable building. There he found Rittmeister Korzeniowski’s men in dispute with the stable hands.

Recognizing Jozef from the previous day, the overseer of the stable hands turned to him for support and complained of Korzeniowski’s actions at length. “I’ve had no orders to allow removal of these horses,” he concluded.

“I’m sorry about the orders, but the rittmeister is quite right,” Jozef assured him. “My men need to remove several of the horses as well.”

Doubt was obvious in the overseer’s face. “The major’s orders were that no horses are to be taken from this stable for any reason.”

“Clearly he should have sent you orders independently,” Jozef replied, trying hard to project the breezy confidence of one with no thought be being disobeyed. “Unfortunately, everything’s at odds today with the supply trains loading. It must have been overlooked. If you don’t find my word sufficient, I encourage you to send word to the major. But don’t delay me and the rittmeister here while you make up your mind.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, sir.”

“Of course not. You’re only doing your duty. I would expect nothing less.”

“Very well, sir. I’ll send a messenger.”

How much time would that give them? Twenty minutes at the least, perhaps half an hour, before the messenger could find the major, explain the situation, and return with a denial. By that time, they must be finished and well away. In a look Rittmeister Korzeniowski seemed to acknowledge the same thing. They both set to moving through the stalls and pointing out the horses that had originally been among their requisitions. The enlisted men led the selected animals out into the open.

Three horses were as many as a man could manage, even well behaved animals led by the halter. Luckily, Jozef had only fourteen animals that his six men had to manage. The Poles had rather more to handle, and so Jozef ordered his men to help lead a few of theirs as well. They went straight to the train station. Sergeant Egger was still organizing the bulk of the Uhlan’s horse requisitions at the other stables, but Jozef wanted to take no risk of the major or some other higher ranking officer who was privy to the horse scheme arriving and taking back these horses while they were still on the fairgrounds. If there was to be a confrontation over the horses, let it be in public at the train station.

The military train which would take their horses east into Galicia and Russian Poland was already in the station. Workers were loading coal onto the fuel bins and bales of hay into the livestock cars. Jozef attempted to have their horses loaded, but the logistics officer in command of the train was adamant that no horses be loaded until the entire contingent of horses for the Uhlans and the Polish Legion were present. This meant that they were standing with their horses in the freight yard when the major appeared.

“My boy,” the major said, ignoring Korzeniowski and addressing himself to Jozef. “There seems to be some sort of confusion. These horses aren’t among your requisitions. Yours are all marked on the hindquarters with their requisition numbers.”

Jozef was about to return an indignant contradiction to this when he saw Rittmeister Korzeniowski raise his hand. The Pole had the advantage of age and experience, if he wanted to take the lead, he surely had his reasons. Jozef inclined his head to the other officer.

“Sir,” said Rittmeister Korzeniowski. “I hardly know how to tell you, because I know that you will be as shocked and outraged as I was. Indeed, surely more so, because you have for so long had the honor of the Imperial-Royal service as your guiding star.” He paused and the two men eyed each other. Zita and Jozef looked on in silence, waiting to see what the Polish officer would say. “These are in fact among the horses we requisitioned. I took careful note of the description of each horse that I spoke for, and these were among the ones I chose. However, someone -- a man with neither honor nor wit -- has attempted to enact a vulgar fraud upon all of us: you, sir, most of all. He has taken the best of the horses we requisitioned and substituted animals quite unsuitable for cavalry. I think it very likely that perpetrator has done this out of a base desire for profiteering. If I erred in not coming to you immediately, it was only because like you my first desire is to preserve the honor of the army. I couldn’t bear for word of this disgrace to spread. And so I did what I could do quietly, took back the horses which had been stolen from the empire’s cause and brought them here to be loaded along with the others. Perhaps you’ll see a better course I should have followed, but at the very least you will see that my motives were the same as yours would have been.”

Jozef had been ready for a confrontation, for raised voices, perhaps even for his men and the Major’s facing each other down with rifles leveled. Instead, the silence stretched on for a moment as the major and the Pole faced each other. Then the major bowed. “You’ve done me a great service in handling this matter with such discretion. Be assured that I will make every effort to find out who has stained the honor of the army with this venal ploy.”

The major turned and left.

“How did you know that would work?” Jozef asked.

Korzeniowski shrugged. “I didn’t. But it seemed worth the attempt before things came to threats or shooting.”

“Still,” said Zita. “He must see that you know him to be at the center of it all.”

“Indeed. He wouldn’t have let us go so easily if he hadn’t seen that as what it was: a threat to expose his scheme.”

“Then he must be thinking about how you uncovered it. And as I was standing next to you, it will hardly be difficult for him to put the pieces together.”

“You, dear lady?” Rittmeister Korzeniowski asked. “Surely it is Leutnant von Revay and I who have cause to fear the major’s subtle wrath. I imagine he has bought his share of ears on the general staff.”

“But it was in my room that the major and Rittmeister Hofer were discussing their scheme. I immediately told Jozef. Surely he will put it all together.”

Korzeniowski’s eyebrows had shot up at the words ‘my room’ but a firm shake of the head from Jozef prevented him from saying anything out loud. Instead he took a reassuring route, “I don’t in any way want to diminish your service in all this, but surely von Revay discovered a great deal on his own and he is an officer. I wouldn’t say that the major doesn’t notice you, for as I’m sure you’re aware we men cannot help noticing a woman of your looks, but even as the major looks at you he may not see you when it comes to thinking about who discovered his scheme.”

For a long moment Zita was silent, her lips compressed into a line. Then, at last, “I want to leave. I’ve had nothing but humiliation from the manager of this company, and I don’t want to wait and see what retribution he and the major may take against me if they discover my role in this.”

“Where would you go?” asked Jozef. She could not stay with him once he returned to the regiment. At most, he could manage a brief tryst in some town along the way, if only that was what she wanted.

“Home at first,” she said, with a matter of factness that made it clear she had not been contemplating the sort of departure Jozef had for a moment allowed himself to imagine. “Perhaps without patronage it was foolish of me to attempt a stage career. This sort of company is worse than nothing. With my Vienna training I could teach. There are rich parents who would pay well enough for a Vienna trained singing teacher, even a young one. Churches won’t take a woman soloist, but I will find things. And I’d be with my family again. Yes, home.”

So there was to be no tryst, but perhaps at least one last chance to do something together. “If you want to leave now, why not come on the train with us? You could take you at least as far as Olmütz, and then you could catch a civilian train home.”

Rittmeister Korzeniowski leaned in close to Jozef and said in a low voice, “No women are allowed on the military trains. There have been scandalous incidents, and a regulation was issued by the general staff.”

Jozef shrugged. To show that he could brush the rule aside would add to the dashing impression he wanted to leave Zita with, so he replied in a voice that could be easily overheard. “We’re already stealing our horses back under from under the major’s nose. Are we going to let a regulation stop us? And don’t forget, Zita helped uncover the horse fraud. That makes her a comrade of sorts, and we owe her the chance to get away from here before she suffers any retribution.”

“How?” asked Korzeniowski, but now with a smile.

An answer sprang fully formed into Jozef’s imagination. “Why not have her dressed as a soldier?” She was an opera singer, after all. Disguise was a staple of light opera.

Korzeniowski laughed and shook his head.

“What, you don’t think it would work?”

“Oh, I suppose it would work well enough, though Miss Nosek would make too slim and pretty a boy to be safe in the army. Still, with officers for chaperones…” He leaned close to whisper in Jozef’s ear. “I’ll allow it, friend. But you had better get a great deal out of that girl for all the trouble you’re putting us to.”

To protest this implication would only draw Zita’s attention to it and decrease the possibility -- already small, though Jozef could not resist allowing his imagination to dwell on it -- that during the train journey she might succumb to a moment of passion with him before leaving. So rather than argue, Jozef ignored the Pole’s suggestion and with his help sent Zita off with a uniform and a pair of soldiers to carry her luggage. By the time the rest of the horses had arrived from the fairgrounds and been loaded on the livestock cars, the officers had been joined by a short and slight non-commissioned officer with boyishly smooth cheeks and an Uhlan’s czapka which sat high on his head due to the quantity of hair bundled under it.

This non-commissioned officer seemed strangely familiar with the Uhlan leutnant and the Reittmeister from the Polish Legion. Indeed, as the train pulled away from the station, close observers might have noticed the arm of the leutnant wrapped around the waist of the non commissioned officer. This did not attract the attention of the logistics officer, however, who completed his inspection of the train without complaint or comment. Nothing so shocking as a woman was discovered aboard.


The military train steamed its way northwest to Olmütz. There it would change tracks onto the main line which would take them all the way to the Galica and on into Russian Poland. There too, Zita would need to leave the train, dressed respectably as a woman, and board a civilian train which would take her south to her family in Auspitz.

Rittmeister Korzeniowski secured a private compartment in which this miraculous transformation from Uhlan to opera singer could take place, had her luggage placed in it, and whispered to Jozef with a knowing look, “I hope she makes it worthwhile for you.”

Whether Zita sensed this expectation or some perfect innocence guided her, Jozef could never decide when looking back. Whatever the reason, she stopped outside the private compartment and turned serious eyes upon him. Her features seemed all the more strongly feminine for being framed by the Uhlan uniform and czapka.

“I want to thank you. I’ve seen these last few days how for many men an opera singer is a thing to be enjoyed. But you, at every turn, have been kind and thoughtful. You’ve treated me as a person in her own right rather than a toy or trophy. I know that once I’m back in my own clothes I’ll have to remain out of sight until we reach the station and I can slip off the train without getting you in trouble. So I wanted to be sure to thank you first, even if I make a strange show of it in this uniform.”

She leaned forward, taking him by the shoulders to bring him down to her height, and planted a quick, glancing kiss upon his cheek. Not the passionate embrace he had for a moment envisioned, but a sisterly brush of the lips. Then, before he could pull her close into something more, she turned away and the door of the private compartment closed behind her.

It was very nearly the last time that he saw her. She did indeed slip off the train unobtrusively at the station in Olmütz, drawing no attention from the logistics officers and military police. But even as he and Korzeniowski went to oversee the feeding of the horses in the livestock cars, Jozef saw her as a distance as she hurried down the platform. He stopped and watched until she disappeared among the crowd.

Disappearing to where? To the continuation of a life which had stretched on before this few days -- though in the moment it had seemed longer -- where they had intersected. Now her life would continue on its own trajectory and Jozef on his. She was no more a side character in is life and than he in hers. Was it the fact that she had wanted nothing from him other than to be known for who she was that gave this sense of knowing only a small part of a greater story? Turning back to the far longer time he had spent with Klara, she seemed a more easily contained episode in his life. But then, she had not desired to let him see into the rest of her life. She had offered a set portion of herself, for her pleasure and for his, but no more. Zita offered less and more, and as she disappeared among the crowd left him wondering how her story would continue, and whether his own would intersect with it again.


In peacetime it would have been a single afternoon’s train journey from Olmütz to the 7th Uhlans’ camp near Sandomierz, and yet the tangle of wartime logistics made it nearly a two day journey, with long hours spent with the train sitting on railroad sidings while other trains with higher priority steamed past.

Jozef spent this time composing a detailed report for the regimental commander, Oberst von Bruenner, detailing the horse stealing scheme, Rittmeister Hofer’s participation in it, and Jozef’s own efforts to foil the scheme and deliver the horses which had originally been requisitioned for the regiment.

It was a task which seemed to require some diplomacy. Too much reticence and he might not receive proper credit for his actions. Too much braggadocio and he might not be believed. The finished report was, he believed, a master work of balance. He submitted it to the Oberst as soon as he arrived.

And yet it was three long days before he was at last called into von Bruenner’s tent. During that time he had experienced plenty of doubts as to whether the balance of the report had been as good as he had believed. These doubts seemed confirmed by the dour expression with which the Oberst greeted him.

“Leutnant von Revay.” The commanding officer turned the three words into a sigh.

Jozef remained rigidly at attention. Whatever he had done wrong, he would find out soon enough without asking, and strict formality was the only holding action he could offer. “Yes, sir?”

“You are a diligent and resourceful young man. That would be good, if you had the honor of the regiment and the army in mind rather than your own advancement.”


“I have just received confirmation that Rittmeister Hofer’s request to be posted to an infantry regiment has been accepted. The staff understands his desire to serve where experienced officers are most needed. And since he is no longer a part of this regiment, there is no need for me to take official notice of this very indiscreet report which you wrote.”

Jozef chose to remain silent.

“You’re not a regular officer, von Revay. And perhaps in the professional army to which the rest of us have dedicated our lives, you are not cut out to be. Do you even understand what you have done?”

It was clear that he was not going to be allowed to remain silent at this, so Jozef grated out a, “No, sir.”

“You have brought disgrace upon this regiment, leutnant, by making it known to all and sundry that one of its officers is a horse thief. A disgrace that I was only able to fend off by sending a long serving officer off to the infantry. Eh? Did you think of that? Did you think of how it would reflect upon this regiment when you wrote down all of these things? Did it never occur to you that you could pass up whatever glory you hoped to gain by the exposure and instead let your own company commander know in confidence what had happened? You had already assured that we got the right horses. That was good work and done with sufficient discretion that I admit to wondering if it was all yours. The Polish rittmeister perhaps?”

“He guided me, sir.”

“Yes, I thought so. And he seems to think well of you, as I find, which solves the problem that you present.”

“I’m sorry. What problem, sir?”

“The problem that no company commander will want to be assigned a leutnant who just had another rittmeister sent down to the infantry by his indiscretion.”

And so the work which had seemed to do him so much credit instead made him unwanted by every unit in the regiment. How could doing the right thing for the army be considered so wrong? But the Oberst was still speaking.

“Fortunately I’ve been asked to assign a liaison officer to deal with these Polish legionnaires. It’s a damned useless and thankless task, but this rittmeister with too many letters in his name seems to have taken a liking to you and hints that you’d be welcome as a choice, so I’m happy enough to oblige. Perhaps the Poles can teach you some discretion before it’s all over.”

The change was too sudden for Jozef to know yet what his feeling should be. The wild miscalculation of his report, this new assignment to the Polish Legion. “Is that all, sir?”

“Yes, yes.” Oberst von Bruenner waved him away. “You’ll receive a set of written orders shortly. Then it’s off to the Poles and be damned with you.”

I feel that I'm doing you, dear reader, no great favors by producing so slowly at this time. In an effort to get some freshness to move forward faster in the future, I'm going to take a short break from working on Volume Two, and instead return to a novel I wrote nearly five years ago, a lighter piece dealing with family, business, and Chinese manufacturing. I want to get that novel into publication ready order and hopefully when I return I'll be able to move this project forward much faster for you.