Tuesday, January 20, 2015
The Great War, Vol 1, Chapter 7-1
Vienna. July 25th, 1914. “Is Mother up yet?”
Elsa -- who occupied an amorphous role in the household which included lady’s maid, general light work, and his mother’s companion -- shook her head as she set the coffee pot down next to Jozef. “She did not sleep well last night. I don’t think she will be up before eleven.”
Jozef nodded and unfolded the paper: GOVERNMENT AWAITS SERBIAN RESPONSE TO ULTIMATUM.
“What did Mother have you bring in for breakfast?” he asked.
“Fruit. I think she was already feeling poorly last night, and she said she wanted nothing but fruit. Would you like some?”
Jozef shook his head and settled down to read the paper instead. If mother was likely to get up around eleven he had an hour to spend, and once he had talked to her he could get a pastry when he met the other fraternity men at the coffee house.
It had been an absolute rule of the household for as long as Jozef could remember that Mother’s half of the flat was never to be entered until she rang for Elsa and asked for her breakfast and mail to be brought in. The layout of the flat lent itself to such privacy. The main door led, through a small passage with a coat closet and hatrack, into the drawing room. From there a hall led back to the dining room, and behind a door the hall continued in more utilitarian style to the kitchen, Elsa’s bedroom, and other rooms into which Jozef and Lisette seldom ventured. To the right and left off the hall between drawing room and dining room opened two doors, one leading into Lisette’s sitting room and bedroom, the other leading into Jozef’s. Even as a little child, the arrangement had been thus, with Nurse having her room set up in the sitting room outside his bedroom. As a child this distance had at times brought heartbreak. Memories of such things had faded into the obscurity of childhood, but there had been times when the three or four-year-old Jozef had cried himself to sleep, wailing that he didn’t want Nurse, he wanted Mother. Lisette, however, had always been firm. From the time she went to bed until the time she rang her morning bell, she was not to be disturbed under any circumstances.
Now, as an adult, he much enjoyed the privacy of the arrangement. Each little suite even had its own back staircase, should one wish to go in and out without going through the main rooms, a feature which he had found useful on occasion when returning home the worse for drink.
Today, however, he had something that he particularly wanted to discuss with Mother, and so their mutual pact of privacy necessitated that he wait until the bell rang. In the meantime, he read the conditions to which the perfidious Serbs would have to agree if they were to avoid punishment for their obvious complicity in the assassination. They would not, of course. If the Serbs were capable of anything other than self destructive defiance they would not have reached this point. But it would be better if it was a sure thing. How many times had some half compromise been accepted to paper the attacks against the empire, and now they were practically the joke of Europe. If only they had simply declared war and not left a loophole of this ultimatum which might allow the bureaucrats and the diplomatists to wriggle their way out of taking any real action yet again.
At last, Elsa passed through the dining room carrying Lisette’s breakfast tray. Jozef waited a few minutes, finishing his cup of coffee and the article he had been reading and then went to see his mother.
Lisette was sitting in her bed, propped and surrounded by pillows, in a kimono-style dressing gown with a black background decorated by a print of huge white and red flowers. Her breakfast tray was set over her lap, and she was carefully cutting a plum with a fruit knife.
Jozef waited for his mother to provide some acknowledgement of his presence, but she gave none. Having removed the pit of the plum and cut the flesh into wedges, she took a sip of tea and began to eat the wedges one at a time with a little fork.
As if sensing that she would not like what he had to say, Lisette remained focused on her breakfast tray, alternating between slices of plum and sips of tea. Jozef resolved to plunge on regardless of her response.
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