This took far longer than I expected, in part because it is fairly long, but it completes Chapter 14. Jozef enjoys a weekend of partridge shooting with his new found relatives and perhaps finds love.
I'm going to take a game try at finishing by the end of the calendar year. The total length is now 192,000 words. That leaves me another 40-50,000 to write over the next seven weeks. More to come soon! Next up, Philomene.
Veszprém, Austria-Hungary. October 6th, 1914. As Jozef rode away from his uncle’s country house, it had seemed clear that an epoch had passed in his life. Things would not be the same. He knew his mother now, in a way that he had not through all the years of living with her. And he knew himself: the son of a kept woman and an unknown father. And yet, for all that he had lost a hopeful vision of himself as an heir and nobleman, in Henrik and the baron he had a real family of a sort that he had never experienced before.
Yet the post at Veszprém and the training squadron within it went on exactly as before. Rittmeister Koell put them through riding exercises and on Wednesday night they rode out into the hills beyond the town and laid their blanket rolls beneath the stars, pickets standing watches throughout the night as if they were in danger of being attacked by enemy patrols.
One week slipped into another. The newspapers became vaguer and the rumors worse. Peter Kardos received word from home that his older brother, a leutnant in the 7th Hussars, had been wounded in Poland. Jozef received a cache of five letters from Friedrich, written throughout the latter half of August, which had somehow become tangled in the mails and arrived all at once.
Serbia was a hell hole, Friedrich told him. They had won a battle -- a skirmish really -- and driven the enemy cavalry into the hills. But even as the hussars patrolled and screened the infantry, finding no large units to fight, snipers picked off individual men. Wells were poisoned. The civilians spied for the army and killed soldiers when they could. They’d had to burn several villages to the ground and hang every Serb they could lay their hands on, man or woman, but even so the depredations continued. Now orders had come for them to entrain for Poland. The hussars hated to see the Slavs get away with their insolence, but at least the hussars would be escaping from this godforsaken country.
It was on the last day of September, with these and other hints trickling in of how the war effort was going, that the eight cadets had sat down together in the cafe after morning exercises and each written letters to the commission board asking to be placed in active duty regiments for the remainder of their training.
They walked down to the post together and sent the letters off, then betook themselves to the bar to seal their efforts with alcohol. They drank toasts to each other, to the war, to the army, to the emperor. Yet when the afternoon of patriotic carousing had passed, the routine seized hold of them again and they had to form up after dinner for another night sleeping on the uncomfortable ground. However similar the rocks and lumps beneath their bedrolls might be to those felt by men on active duty, that shared discomfort did not diminish their resentment at having to spend the evening in the chill open air rather than in their lodgings. It might be noble to suffer on the field of battle for the emperor, but to do so in training for Rittmeister Koell, even as he rode back to the ample arms of Madame Deák, was not to be borne.
The mails were running slow, both the chaos of war logistics and the vastly increased load of letters moving to and from the fronts taking their toll upon them, but the cadets estimated that at the longest it would take three days for their letters to reach Vienna and as long again for replies to come back. No doubt the staff was busy, but how could youthful ardor be ignored when the need for men was so great? Surely replies would come quickly with orders assigning them to active duty units.
Jozef’s heart surged when, on the sixth day, he asked the concierge if any letters had come for him and the old man said, “Yes, one did come for you. A military courier brought it down from the castle.”
Where would he be sent? To Poland? To Serbia? He hoped desperately for Poland. Against the Russians there was a chance of real battle, cavalry against cavalry. What were the Serbs but a pack of bandits hiding in the mountains?
“Here you go.” The concierge handed him a small blue envelope, and with a disappointment that gripped his stomach like a tightening fist Jozef immediately recognized it as addressed in his uncle’s precise hand.
He was invited to spend another weekend at the country house. The pheasants were in season, and if they were to put down enough birds for the winter, another shooter would be most welcome. Besides Magda had returned with the children, and she had brought with her a younger sister and another guest. Altogether it would be a lively party, and Jozef must come and meet more of the family.
Orders for the front would have been more welcome, but after that first disappointment Jozef found it impossible not to look forward eagerly to the chance to see his uncles again and meet more of his family. When he conveyed the baron’s compliments to Rittmeister Koell it was easy enough to get permission to attend, and he passed the two days until Friday in happy anticipation despite the continued lack of response to his petition for a posting to the front.
Standing on the edge of the groove
4 hours ago