Once again, a little late, but I hope people will enjoy it.
Jozef returned to Vienna in order to try to secure a commission, and while he's there visits Friedrich who has been wounded in the war.
My plan is to have the concluding segment of Chapter 16 up before the New Year.
Vienna, Austria-Hungary. December 7th, 1914. The streets of Vienna were as busy as ever, busier because in addition to the usual crowds the sidewalks were full of soldiers. Officers in full dress uniforms walked in ones or twos, some in dress blue with shining brass buttons, others in formal white with red sashes and glittering medals. Common soldiers milled along in twos and threes or whole huddled groups, set off by their loosely fitting blue-grey tunics and black visored caps. Men who had never seen such broad streets and tall buildings before craned their necks this way and that, and clustered in confusion around the streetcar stops trying to read maps and schedules. On the beer halls and music halls the electric lights flashed and dazzled.
Street cars and busses added their bass rumble to the street noise. And in the background there was another, more unsettling sound. Voices from the shadows called, “Help a soldier of the Fatherland!” “Aid a wounded veteran!”, where men with missing arms or legs, wearing grubby army greatcoats against the cold, sat tucked against the walls of buildings and held out cups or cans to collect coins.
One of these men had been standing against the wall of the train station as Jozef first stepped out into the street. The beggar’s uniform tunic had no markings of unit or rank, but one leg of his blue-grey pants was pinned up empty. He held out a tin cup in which he jingled coins and called out to passersby.
Jozef hurried past, looking away.
The man gave off a reek, sensible even on the cold December evening: alcohol and sweat and grime. There were always beggars, hustlers, and street walkers in the busy parts of the city. With millions of men called up into uniform, there must be among those the wastrels, the alcoholics, the petty criminals. If this man had been injured in the last few months’ fighting, he must be on the streets because he was one of these. Surely the empire would not allow one of its honorable soldiers to be left without support after losing a limb in the service of his country.
And yet the presence of half a dozen such men near the train station, and the indifference of the passing crowds to them, was unsettling.
After a streetcar ride and a walk of several blocks, lugging his suitcase and wondering if it had been necessary to bring all of the things he had originally packed for the week at the Revay country house, Jozef reached his mother’s flat. The porter greeted him enthusiastically and asked if he was back in Vienna for long.
“Your mother will be glad to see you. She speaks of you all the time.”
“Is she in?”
“Yes. Do you want me to have the boy carry your bag up for you?”
Jozef considered the three flights of stairs and consented.
He paused when he reached the familiar door. The boy was still thumping his way up the last flight of stairs. How long had it been? Four months since he had gone out this door, still in civilian clothes, to catch the military train to Hungary and training. Did he still live here? Should he knock or simply let himself in with the key that he still carried in his pocket?
It was still his home. He took the key from his pocket and was about to put it to the lock when his uncle’s revelations about his mother suggested several possibilities to his mind. He knocked.
Elsa, his mother’s maid, opened the door.
“Oh, it’s you. Don’t you have a key?” she asked.
This seemed a rather cold way to greet a returning soldier. “It’s been a long time. I don’t know where it is,” Jozef lied.
“They’re not free to have made. If you’re back for a time, you’d better look for it.”
She turned and started back into the flat. The boy had reached the top of the stairs and set down the suitcase, then headed back down. Jozef looked back and forth, abandoned on both sides.
“Is Mother in?” he asked, taking the suitcase himself and carrying it into the flat.
“Of course she’s in.” Elsa was hurrying back towards his mother’s suite. “She’s getting ready to go out. She’s going to dinner at Baroness von Miko’s tonight, and she’s not ready yet.”
Jozef found Lisette sitting at her dressing table, where Elsa had returned to putting up her mistress’s hair.
“Why, Jozef!” cried Lizette, speaking to his image in the mirror over his dressing table, so that she would not disrupt Elsa’s work by turning her head. “So good to see you. It’s been a long time. And you never write.”