Sorry to be late in the evening. It was a really busy day at work.
The Cafe Sperl stands at the confluence of the Gumpendorferstrasse and the Lehargasse, a block away from the Theater an der Wien and two from the Hoffburg. The two streets come together at an acute angle, and nestled into that angle is a four story building of yellow stone with stone pediments above the upper storey windows and large red and white striped awnings over the cafe windows on the ground floor.
It was just after ten thirty when Jozef entered the cafe, following a walk through the mild June evening. The coffee house was a blaze of electric light, making the dark wood chairs and tables cast reflections on the polished wood floor. The theaters were not yet out, and so the tables were only half full. Leutnant Friedrich Haas von Goldfaden was easy to spot. He had taken one of the best tables, situated before a window, with a view both out into the street and back into the room, and he was magnificent in his Hussar’s uniform: pale blue tunic heavily ornamented with gold braid, red trousers, polished black boots. His shako sat on the table before him, and his sabre was pulled upright to lean against the chair, so that it would not block the walkway behind him. He sat with his legs crossed and leaning back in his chair as he gazed out the window.
Jozef felt a poor contrast in his black and white evening dress. He and Friedrich were within months of the same age, but Friedrich was taller and broader, and he sported a thick, black mustache in true cavalry style, which Jozef silently envied because he knew that he was not able to produce a similar growth.
The one sense in which Friedrich did not look a typical cavalry officer was that he was, to a city used to determining by eye the finer points of ethnicity, obviously a Jew. The good looking sort of Jew, such observers would have been quick to assure. He had thick black hair, a slight cleft in his strong chin, and brown eyes, but clearly a Jew, and thus not someone normally to be seen in the uniform on an Imperial Hussar. His father, Samuel Haas, had made a fortune in textiles whose full extent was the subject of much speculation. He had invested this fortune in a brilliant mansion just off the Ringstrasse, in good matches for his three daughters, in a cavalry commission for Friedrich, his second son, and in a title of nobility for the family.
There was a simple logic in the sale of nobility. The Imperial-Royal house was always in need of money, and there were many among the wealthy who were in need of some sense of legitimacy. A title of nobility cost nothing to produce, and yet provided great value to those who bought them. Samuel Haas had made the exchange with pride, and in selecting the title which would be appended to his name and that of his sons, chose one which reflected his pride in the means by which he had earned his wealth, von Goldfaden: golden thread. Those who had, by the turning of fortune’s wheel, been born with titles considered such an obviously invented one to be a source of amusement rather than dignity, but Samuel himself was unshaken in his pride and so his sons were left to negotiate the troubled waters of status in the way they thought best.
With one booted foot, Friedrich pushed out a chair for Jozef, who sat down.
“How were the opening acts?” Jozef asked.