I'm going to give myself a week to get the next installment done. This will be 7-3 and has a fair amount of stuff going on in it. It'll go up on Thursday, January 29th. After that, we'll start Chapter 8 which returns to Natalie.
During the next few days Jozef busied himself with preparations. His fraternity comrades were openly jealous that he had a set of orders and was having uniforms fitted and buying equipment while they still waited for their medical exams. Konstantin had discussed the possibility of deserting from his infantry enlistment and signing up as a cavalry cadet under a false name, but of course there was no staff officer to assist in executing such a desperate plan.
Money problems loomed. Jozef’s usual allowance was enough for the pastimes of a university student, so long as he did not indulge in gambling or the more expensive sort of women, but it was very short indeed when it came to buying the full uniforms and equipment of a cavalry cadet. A reserve officer’s pay was enough to cover such things, but he would not be a reserve officer for at least several months. A cadet’s pay was nominal and even that would not begin until after he reported for duty and was officially enrolled.
He had expected that Mother would be reconciled to his decision once the first shock was past, but she consistently refused to acknowledge any discussion of his impending departure or his need to pay for his kit, either maintaining a blank stare while he spoke to her or replying with questions as to how university lectures were going.
In the end he dodged the problem by purchasing all his supplies on account and giving his mother’s name and address for the bill.
Given the discomforts of home, it was all the more attractive to spend any time not engaged in errands at either the coffee house or the beer hall. With the rest of Vienna, he consumed the newspapers, the rumors, and the discussion of both.
The government had declared Serbia’s partial acceptance of the ultimatum’s terms to be unacceptable, and the army had been mobilized, but no declaration of war or other concrete action had followed. Was the rogue state to the south to be punished for its part in the assassination of the Archduke, for its constant attempts to undermine the dual monarchy, or was this to become yet another in the long string of embarrassments which were summed up in that one shameful phrase: decline?
For a brief time -- in an empire of two kingdoms, twelve nationalities and fifty-two million souls -- it had seemed that there was an essential unity of anger and of willingness to fight the threat, a unity of sympathy and purpose so unusual in this none-too-hopeful empire that many found themselves ready to give it another chance, to discover a forgotten patriotism. Even those opposed to war found themselves intoxicated with the sense that all were to be forged into one glowing whole, their divisions and selfishness refined away by the fires of war. Strangers spoke to each other in the streets, and neighbors who had never more than shrugged at each other when passing in the lift now shook hands and spoke with excited looks. Have you heard anything? Will it be today? What will you do?
And yet before that purpose and unity could be turned into action, it seemed liable to be stillborn through the inaction so familiar and frustrating to all. All waited and read and debated, hoping for and fearing the news that war had at last made real the feelings of the last weeks.
On the evening of Tuesday, July 28th, the answer at last came. War had been declared. War with Serbia. Next day, the first shots of the war were fired. Austrian river monitors, squat ironclads, low in the water, with guns sticking out of round turrets, steamed down the Danube and the Saba, which separated Serbia and its capital from Austria-Hungary, and shelled Belgrade.
It was as the shells were falling in Belgrade, the war still too young to have made it into the morning papers, that Lisette came into the dining room well before her usual late hour, catching Jozef before he could make his silent escape to the coffee house for a morning of reading the news and discussing it with his friends.
“Jozef, good morning! I’m so glad to see you before you leave for the day.”
“Good morning, Mother,” Jozef replied, waiting to see what form his mother’s attack would take. Had she received the bill for his uniform tailoring or his equipage already? Would she refuse to pay? He had hoped that none of the bills would arrive until after he was safely away in training. Let her settle out whether to acknowledge his enlistment or endanger her credit.
Fortnightly Book, April 30
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