This is the last of Chapter 5. On Thursday, we'll have the first installment of Chapter 6.
Walter found Erich in one of the tenement courtyards, playing a game that involved bouncing a ball off the brick walls of the building and periodically rushing in to tag the wall itself. For a few moments he watched the game, until a shouting match suddenly broke out.
“I touched the wall first.”
“You did not,” Erich said. “You’re out.”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“I’m saying the ball hit the wall first, if you aren’t telling the truth that’s your own affair.”
Walter sensed that blows were about to fly and grabbed his brother by the collar. “Erich, I was looking for you.” Erich struggled but Walter held firm to his collar.
“What? You talk big and then get rescued by big brother?” the other boy demanded. “Stand up for yourself, coward.”
Erich made another lunge to get free, but Walter held onto him while fixing a stern eye on his antagonist. “Is that any way to talk in front of an adult, Herbert? Do I need to speak to your father about your respect for authority?” The father in question was free with his hand, towards both wife and children.
Herbert drew himself to attention. “No. I’m sorry, Herr Heuber.”
“I need Erich to come with me now. You two think about your differences over Sunday and if you need to fight it out go meet somewhere next week out of sight and fight it out like men. None of this scuffling in courtyards.”
He let go of Erich’s collar, and his brother straightened his jacket and gave Walter a resentful sidelong glance.
“All right, you two. Shake hands,” Walter ordered, determined that since he had been thrust into the role of arbitrator he would observe all the formalities.
The other boys gathered around to watch the adult-brokered peace. Erich and Herbert each took a step forward and cautiously shook hands.
“Good. Come on, Erich.” He led his younger brother away from the rest of the group. As they left the courtyard he could hear the ball begin to be bounced off the wall again.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Erich said, his shoulders hunched and his hands thrust deep in his pockets as he walked. “I could have taken him. And he was lying.”
“Well, take him later. I’m going to the Stadtschloss to see if the Kaiser addresses the crowd from the balcony tonight, and I thought you’d want to come.”
With the speed that still marked the thirteen-year-old as a boy rather than a youth, Erich’s sulky demeanor instantly fell away and a spring returned to his step. “We’re going to the Stadtschloss? Is there war news?”
“I heard the mobilization order an hour ago. I’ll have to leave first thing on Monday.”
“It’s war! It’s war! I knew it! When do you get your uniform?”
“Not till I get to the depot. I need to get back to Schneidemuhl, where the regiment is based.”
They continued on for some time this way, Erich peppering his brother with eager questions, Walter answering and basking in the admiration and excitement which was focused on him. At last they saw a street car which wasn’t already packed, heading towards the city center and climbed aboard.