Saturday Story: September Shadows

From the alternate timeline of A Carpathian Campaign and the Cat universe.

Joschka von Hohen-Drachenburg studied the reading room of the University of Leuven, only half an ear tuned to the tour guide. He’d signed up for the tour more to escape forced conviviality with bureaucrats than because he enjoyed seeing old buildings. But something had begun raising his hackles. Something felt out of place in the large room, and he couldn’t quite decide what.

“ . . . And as you can see, the restoration is exact to the smallest detail,” the young guide said, sweeping his hand to take in the glowing wood and stonework of the ancient university library.

“No, it’s not,” Joschka blurted. He frowned and pointed, “There were steps there, in that corner, leading up to the first floor, and a door opposite them, there where the window is today.”

The university student frowned in turn, irritated at being interrupted. “I’m sorry sir, but you are mistaken. This is an exact restoration of the library as it was before the Germans destroyed it in September 1918. And if you will follow me, next we will see the special commemorative photography display.” He led the group past the corner Joschka had pointed to.

Joschka strolled over to where the staircase had once been. He looked up at the ceiling, studying the heavy beams. Indeed, he could see faint lines where something had been patched into the older wood. Satisfied, he caught up with the tour as they entered the smaller display room.

“Here you see the original section reserved for the most precious manuscripts, some of which dated to the time of Charlemagne,” the slightly-built guide intoned. “Prior to World War I, the university library at Leuven was considered one of the greatest intellectual treasures of Europe. Although the Germans ordered the facility destroyed, local citizens risked their lives to save some of the books from the fires, as these photographs show.”

Joschka rolled his eyes and snorted, but held his peace for the moment. Instead he studied one of the interior pictures of the old library. He bent over, nose to the glass, and found what he was looking for. “Ah, I did remember it correctly. Here’s the staircase leading up to the first floor and the special vaults.”

The guide glanced at the photo. “No, sir, that’s a person who walked through the exposure, in a different room.”

A third voice corrected him. “No, Jan, between 1850 and 1914 a staircase stood where the gentleman says it did.” Joschka and the guide looked up to see an older man with a brush of white hair and a staff badge standing behind the display case. “And the special vaults were on the first floor at that time. The most recent restoration closed those off when the building was updated for safety.”

“The vaults were behind a false wall, to discourage casual readers and borrowers,” Joschka added without thinking as he mentally patted himself on the back.

The archivist gave Joschka a shrewd look over the top of his wire-rim glasses. “How did you know that?”

Oh scheisse, Joschka cursed. Quick, cover story, cover story. “My wife’s great uncle served under Prince Mathias Wittelsbach-Starhemberg and was part of the group that rescued the books from the special vaults, plus as many others as they could carry.”

The guide turned pink. “No, that’s impossible. The people of Leuven saved the books. Everyone knows that! The Germans lit the fires, then watched the city burn.”

“And when everyone knows something, it is likely only half-right,” the archivist chided. “Prince Mathias was not Prussian, even if he was German.”

Joschka nodded. “His Highness and the German command had some, shall I say, minor philosophical differences over the most effective methods for pacifying territory. Or so I have been told,” he hurried to add. Which is probably why Mathias died during surgery to repair a botched amputation caused by infection while he was in the trenches, may God have mercy on his soul.

“You seem to know a great deal about the episode, sir.”

“My wife’s great uncle seemed to think that Prince Mathias’s actions had some special significance, although he also believed that you should only plant your garden during the waning moon, and make sausage with the waxing moon,” Joschka joked, trying to deflect further questions. “We heard the story at least once a year.”

“Ah.”

Another member of the tour approached with a question and Joschka slid away, putting two cases of photographs between himself and the archivist. I remember it very well, because if the prince had not acted, well, at the very least it would have handed the French a massive propaganda gift. And because Mathias sent me back with the books, which led to my being shifted to the Carpathian Front, then to the South Tyrol, thanks be to God.

 

One night in late May, 1914, the officers of a division of the Hapsburg Imperial Army uhlan cavalry entertained the officers of the Bavarian Regiment of the German Imperial Army’s cavalry. As the evening progressed, Prince Mathias Wittelsbach-Starhemberg, the second-in-command of the Bavarians, began watching Captain Joschka Kirschbaum. He watched too closely for the Austrian officer’s tastes, and Joschka tried to make himself invisible, doing everything short of sliding out of his seat and under the table or faking illness. As the Bavarian prince continued to study Joschka, he began to wonder what he’d done wrong, or if a challenge to a duel was in the offing. He hoped not. He’d hate to kill Emperor Franz Joseph’s cousin. Even if the prince was no more than a second cousin on the emperor’s mother’s side, such a thing could only hurt Joschka’s hopes for promotion. I do not want to spend the rest of my career in the Balkans watching sheep-thieves fight each other because there are no longer enough rich Turks to raid and massacre.

Finally, as the servants removed the dishes from the salad course in preparation for the final nuts and cheese, Joschka felt someone tapping on his mental shields. That’s odd. No one should be trying to contact me. Wary, he thinned his defenses just enough to respond. <<Yes?>>

<<Ah, so you are one of us.>> Joschka heard a smug satisfaction in the mind voice. Prince Mathias raised on eyebrow and his eyes shifted, from dark brown to a slit-pupiled green with brown flecks. He winked and the eyes reverted to human normal. <<Are you associated?>>

It took Joschka a moment to understand the question. <<Not at the moment, your highness.>> He’d avoided the Terran Houses thus far, and intended to continue avoiding them. If he was going to get into a fight, he preferred to start it himself, thank you.

Mathias nodded and turned his attention elsewhere. Joschka took a long drink from his beer mug and thanked his chosen deity that HalfDragons had much higher alcohol tolerances than humans did. Judging by his fellow officers’ mood, they’d decided to enjoy the evening and then spend their next two months paying off tonight’s alcohol bill.

Indeed, the next morning he encountered only the prince at the riding ring. Given that the colonel had been matching the lieutenants drink for drink, Joschka had felt confident that he and Prince Mathias would have the drill field to themselves. The other officers, Austrian and Bavarian, would not be stirring until well after sunrise barring a surprise of some sort or the barracks catching fire. Joschka shooed away the groom, mounted his horse and began working the gelding. He’d ridden smarter animals, but the unremarkable bay charger had a good heart and enough stamina to make up for his stupidity. Well, Joschka sighed as the beast shied yet again at a bird, it almost made up for his stupidity. “You see birds every day,” he reminded the horse under his breath.

“Has he met a peacock yet?” The prince called from across the ring, laughing at the show.

“No, your highness, and may the Lord keep him from ever doing so.”

Joschka heard more laughter and ignored it, concentrating on the horse.

A week later, Col. Leopold Silberman called him in. “Kirschbaum, it seems you made a most positive impression on his highness Prince Wittelsbach.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Silberman frowned and pulled on his cigar. “Too positive, in my estimation. He wants you transferred to his staff.”

The collar on Joschka’s uniform suddenly felt very tight, almost cutting off the blood trying to reach his brain.

“I see no reason not to approve the transfer, since General Koennen-Horák believes that it is worth our while to keep the Bavarians pleased with the Empire.” Silberman left the reasons unspoken: if the Hapsburgs could pry the Bavarians back out of the Prussian alliance, they’d reunite the Catholic parts of the Holy Roman Empire and strike a neat blow against the Hohenzollerns. “Here.” He pushed a packet of papers at Joschka.  “Report to the Prince at Fursten-Feldbrück. You may take your tack and that stupid bay gelding. The Prince has offered to cover the rail charges. Report to him next Tuesday.” Joschka glanced at the calendar on the wall—he had four days, not counting Sunday. He’d need all four.

 

The prince’s staff consisted of Bavarians, a few Austrians and Hungarians, and two more-or-less token Prussian officers. Mathias’s relative informality and relaxed leadership appeared to bother the Prussians to no end, keeping them uncertain and off balance. Joschka had survived a stint in Berlin in the 1880s and enjoyed their discomfort a touch more than he should have. He also discovered that the prince had not attended the Prussian Imperial Staff academy. Joschka shrugged to himself. Just because the Prince’s lunatic cousin worshipped at the feet of Kaiser Wilhelm and Helmut von Möltke didn’t mean the rest of the family had to. Joschka settled into the routine with commendable ease. He also enjoyed the mild high summer weather and scouting out potential hunting grounds around Fursten-Feldbrück.

One fine afternoon at the end of June he was supervising preparations for a combined arms drill when an orderly rushed up to him, startling the dumb bay gelding. “Captain Kirschbaum, Captain Kirschbaum,” the young man panted. “His highness needs to see you at once.”

First Joschka settled the horse. “Lt. Schmidt, continue as I have begun, and make certain that Nagel’s men know precisely when and where they are to go once the firing starts. I do not care to see a repeat of Monday’s disaster.” Nagel, eager for glory and utterly naive about modern warfare, had charged out as soon as the artillery began firing, “killing” 2/3 of his detachment.

“Yes, sir, Captain,” Schmidt promised.

Joschka pivoted his horse and rode straight to the prince’s headquarters tent. He swung out of the saddle, brushed off whatever dust he might have collected, and presented himself at the door. “Capt. Kirschbaum reporting.”

A servant led Joschka inside. He found the other staff officers waiting for him. “Good,” Mathias stated, almost as clipped as a Prussian. “It is with great regret I must inform you that his highness Archduke Franz Ferdinand died two days ago, killed by a Russian madman in Sarajevo.”

The world began spinning and Joschka forced himself to remember to breathe. Oh sweet blessed God. The history lessons he’d buried in his memory sprang back to life. Oh shit, that started a war. Will start a war, he corrected himself. He realized that the others were staring at him.

“May God have mercy on his soul,” Joschka managed to squeak, crossing himself. “And her highness?”

“Gravely wounded, but still alive, according to this,” Mathias held up a message page.

“Thanks be,” he breathed, and he and several others crossed themselves again.

“At present no orders have been issued for you,” Mathias swept his hand to indicate the Austro-Hungarians, “to return to the empire. I will have a mass said for the repose of the archduke’s soul tomorrow at eight AM. Colonel Windischmann, you have command beginning tomorrow afternoon. I will be attending the archduke’s funeral, of course.”

That night Joschka said a rosary for the dead imperial heir, more out of reflex than devotion. He knew Franz Ferdinand only by name and reputation. Joschka’s brushes with the Viennese court in the 1870s and 1880s, and a brief episode in 1898, had reminded him why he avoided politics and governing. Especially the formality of the imperial court, with its so-called Spanish manners. Even Empress Anna Marie couldn’t thaw her habitual, stiff husband, although, Joschka thought, battling her mother-in-law and raising five children probably took most of her energy. The empress Dowager had been . . . Formidable, Joschka chided himself, just say formidable and then only behind shields. He rose from his knees with a wince, put away his beads and fell asleep faster than he’d feared.

The next weeks blurred into a blend of chaos, collapsing diplomacy, and horses. The Hapsburgs declared war on the Serbian separatists, with Germany’s support. That angered the Russians, who threw their lot in with the Serbs. France warned Germany and the Austrians that if they initiated hostilities, France would respond. Joschka’s fellow officers snorted a little at the French threat, since everyone knew that the Frogs just wanted to try and steal Alsace and Lorraine from Germany. The archduchess died of her injuries and the emperor named his daughter Sophie’s husband Joseph Karl as heir, a choice acceptable to the rest of the family, since Joseph Karl already belonged to a collateral branch of the main family. To his growing dread, Joschka and the Bavarians received orders to move north and west, joining the enormous force of the Imperial German First Army mobilizing on the border of neutral Belgium instead of supporting Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria on the Franco-Alsatian border.

 

Nine days later, Prince Mathias stood beside his horse, watching the milling troops as they led the last of their animals out of the rail cars in the little station across the Rhine from Dusseldorf. At least they’d been able to load and unload without too many problems, Joschka sighed. Only one broken leg, a few cuts and bites, but no horses died during the long, jostling train ride. And the soldiers and their personal equipment had somehow, thanks be, stayed with the horses. Joschka’d had visions of getting to the western border only to find that their supplies went to Pomerania instead. He’d gotten his men sorted out with commendable speed and now they waited, ready to move as soon as they had orders. The main body of their supply wagons would catch up to the soldiers within a day or two since the Bavarian cavalry had been shackled to the German Infantry, slowing the horsemen down to a crawl.

Even so, Joschka didn’t like the tight feeling in the air. Too much depended on moving fast, which in turn required the neutral Belgians cooperation. If your plan requires the enemy’s cooperation, you might as well stay home, Joschka heard Col. Ingwe Adamski grumbling in his memory. Joschka snorted silently, adding, Because no plan ever goes as hoped, and only a very stupid or surprised enemy cooperates of their own free will. The group and army commanders reflected the German Imperial high command’s enthusiasm and eagerness. Prince Mathias apparently failed to catch their excitement. He’d grown quieter and more subdued, and Joschka picked up the feeling.

As they waited, Joschka felt a tap on his shields. <<Your highness?>>

<<You are not comfortable with our orders.>>

He considered how to answer and decided to be honest. <<No, your highness, I am not. We are to be through Eindhoven by the 18th and past Brussels by the 23rd? Today is the 17th. The Dutch and Belgians are not cooperating with the diplomats and I doubt they will roll over and show their bellies.>> He didn’t bother to mention his doubts about marching into Belgium before the French did. Everyone knew that the French would move first, likely by jumping into Belgium or (Joschka wagered) lunging for Alsace. Either way they’d have started the fighting.

<<Hmm,>> the prince replied. After some moments of silence, he replied, <<The Houses are not going to roll over, aside from, well, you know.>>

Joschka snorted. He knew very well. Even he knew that that particular group only acted if they could make money or in order to save their own skins.

The prince’s mind voice continued, <<I fear Cousin Willi is losing his temper, as are his generals. And that does not bode well for anyone in their way.>>

Now Joschka shrugged as best he could, patting the gelding’s neck. No one in the path of a large army fared well.

<<They seem to think that the Belgians and the primitives of West Africa are identical, to be treated alike. After all, a franc terieur and a Hottentot are equally barbarous.>>

That got Joschka’s full attention. The Imperial German administrators of German West Africa had left almost nothing of the original inhabitants to dispute their land claims, once the natives began rejecting German governance and attempts at infrastructure development. <<Will his majesty try to match the epithet the French have been using, calling us the Huns? That is unlikely to win his majesty any friends from the neutrals, your highness.>> Joschka still couldn’t bring himself to call Wilhelm “All Highest,” as the Prussians did, and he certainly was not going to call the King of Prussia “emperor.” Franz Josef Habsburg-Lorraine was the emperor.

Mathias turned and met Joschka’s eyes. <<He doesn’t want friends. He wants glory.>> The prince’s tone chilled Joschka to his marrow. Mathias nodded before raising his shields. Joschka did the same and returned to maintaining their pocket of order in the chaos of the make-shift rail depot.

An hour later, mounted and counted, the Bavarian uhlans rode out into the long August afternoon sun. Despite his foreboding Joschka enjoyed the sights and sounds as the sun glittered on bridle buckles, stirrup irons, and the cavalry riders’ arms and armor. The pennants on their lances fluttered a little in the hot air. A constant din of hooves on stone rose from the road as they traveled west and a little south. Mathias wanted to get as close to the border as he could, as quickly as possible. Once the French began the war, the Bavarians needed to capture two bridges before the Belgians tried anything foolish. As they passed farms and a few villages, the women, children and old men came out to wave and cheer. The two Prussian officers preened, taking the adulation as their due. Joschka concentrated on keeping the big dumb gelding calm and in formation. He’d decided that Col. Silbermann had let him take the beast as a form of unofficial punishment.

The next day confirmed Joschka’s hypothesis. Braun, as Joschka called the beast, lived down to his previous standards, spooking at a cow, of all things, and almost leaving Joschka sitting on his ass in the dust. Perversely, the big dumb gelding remained unruffled by the first rolling booms of artillery fire, well to their north. “Move out,” came the orders. Joschka and the other officers murmured among themselves, wondering where the French had crossed the border. Would they come north, or jump east into Alseis as everyone around Joschka hoped? Joschka could not remember any precise details, not that he tried very hard. Those days were long, long past, and the less he recalled, the fewer slips he might make.

“Once we cross the river, we are free to scout,” Prince Mathias announced. “No foraging, no chasing civilians.”

“What about the Belgian army?” someone called.

“They are in the south, trying to stop the French advance,” came the reply. Joschka caught an unspoken, “I believe” hanging at the end of the prince’s declaration and wondered. Prince Mathias did not radiate the enthusiasm the Prussians did. Braun chewed his bit and swished his tail at the flies.

Three days later Joschka’s and Prince Mathias’s unhappiness had grown considerably. The Belgians fought back. They fought from atop bicycles, they destroyed bridges despite repeated warnings not to, they tried to ambush the cavalry outriders from behind buildings or copses of trees. The senior officers had their hands full keeping the Bavarians from retaliating against civilians.

“Why not, sir,” one of the majors at last demanded of Prince Mathias. “The Prussians are cleaning out francs-tireurs from almost every village they pass. Even women have shot at them from hiding.”

The prince turned, slowly, straightening up from the map-covered table. “Even women?” Something in his quiet words raised the hair on Joschka’s neck and he wondered if it would be a good time to step outside the house the prince had commandeered and check on the men.

“So the Prussians say. They’ve had to shoot a dozen at least.”

“And how many men?”

“A few hundred, including priests. One of the couriers told me that his lieutenant said the priests we doing what they’d done during the French Revolution, acting as scouts and leading the opposition to our advance.” The major fidgeted a little, since he like most of the Bavarians was at least nominally Catholic.

Mathias crossed the room and stood a few centimeters from the major. “And you believe the courier?” Now Joschka was not the only one looking wistfully at the open door as the prince’s caressing tone shifted to white-hot steel. “You believe him?”

“I—Your highness—ah,” he spluttered. “I do not know, my lord general, sir.”

Every spine in the room snapped straight as the prince barked, “Do not.” Mathias looked around, meeting every pair of eyes. “The Prussians are going to cut their own throats. This is not southwest Africa. We are defending Belgium from French intrusion and maintain Belgian neutrality. If the soldiers fire on you, fire back. Do not shoot because you ‘hear a rumor’ or ‘someone thinks’ he heard or saw something. Is that clear?”

“Yes, my lord general!” the assembled officers chorused.

Mathias returned to studying the map, and Joschka wondered if the major needed a change of underdrawers. He would, if he’d been the fool who took the Prussians at their word.

The next day the Bavarians rode into the small city of Leuven. It resembled so many other towns Joschka had ridden or marched through, with tight-clustered houses and clean-swept stone streets. The stone steeple of the church rose over town, along with the peaked gables of the town hall and part of the old university. Joschka wondered if the stories about the beer from the brewery nearby were true. He needed a good beer after the heat of the day’s ride. Instead he growled silently as infantry in field-grey with the flashes of activated Reservists swept around the horses, glowering in turn at the few civilians brave or curious enough to venture onto the street.

Prince Mathias commandeered an inn, then insisted on paying a token sum. “You will be repaid by the Imperial German army for your contribution to the war.”

A babble of French erupted, and although he barely remembered any of that language, Joschka knew the unhappy tone. Mathias and several of the officers went still, one man paled, and a red flush began rising out of the prince’s high tunic collar. That is not a good omen, Joschka thought behind shields. I wonder if it has to do with all the Reservists swarming around?

It did. Col. Kleist listened to the translation of the innkeeper’s eruption later that evening and shook his head. “My lord general, they were efficient, I will say that much.”

Mathias raised his eyebrows at the understatement. “Indeed. One wonders if that efficiency accounts for the reports of foot soldiers seeing purple mules in the trees at the edge of the University?” The officers chuckled, but weakly.

<<You do not find it amusing?>> Mathias inquired of Joschka.

Joschka licked dry lips. <<Your highness, your pardon, but I fear the Reservists will be seeing francs-tireurs in the roof straw next. And we, that is, your personnel will be forced to deal with the results, my lord general.>>

<<You have seen such?>>

<<Not purple mules, but nervous soldiers drunk in the field? Yes, my lord general, I fear so.>>

Mathias gave Joschka a bland but curious look, then turned to answer a question without asking one of his own. Joschka relaxed as much as his collar and tunic allowed.

At noon the next day Joschka’s fears came true. Artillery had begun working over a Belgian strongpoint some kilometers away and the booming and cracks irritated Braun as much as Joschka dreaded they would, turning the patrol into a battle of wills. He promised to turn the gelding into glue and shoe leather if he did not settle down, not that it helped. Joschka and his men rode back into Leuven and Joschka’s irritation vanished, replaced by confusion. Reservists swarmed the streets, dragging men from the houses and forcing screaming women and terrified children out into the street, herding them at bayonet point. A sergeant had a man pinned against the white plastered wall of a house, demanding, “Where are they? Where are the francs-tireurs? Where are you hiding them?” Before Joschka could intervene or the man could answer, the sergeant fired. Crimson stained the wall as the body slid down onto the cobbles.

“What is this? What is going on?” Joschka called.

“Francs-tireurs, sir, just as we’d been warned. A man from one of the other platoons was shot and two more wounded and no one will tell us who.”

Joschka raised one hand, stilling the growl from behind him. “Who gave the orders to shoot the civilians?”

“They’re not civilians, sir, not once they take up arms. Violates every law of God and man.” Self-righteous fury practically radiated from the men on the ground, and Joschka knew better than to challenge them without a lot more men and information.

“I see.” With that he rode on. His patrol followed, and he heard the sound of something sliding out of leather. Joschka forced Braun around by force of arm and will, cutting the horse’s mouth. Sorry boy, he thought at the animal. “No. We have our orders,” he snarled. “Do not shoot unless you are shot at, especially not here and now. Do you want to be turned into a sieve by our own infantry?”

The Bavarian sergeant’s hand lifted from his pistol’s holster and returned to the reins.  “Sir, no sir,” several men called, giving the Reservists around them wary looks, and rightly so, Joschka thought.

“Come.”

He did not want to walk into the inn where Prince Mathias’s headquarters were, but Joschka made himself enter. He reversed his steps even faster and returned to the stables. He took his time inspecting Braun’s mouth and hoofs, then triple checking his tack for nicks and tears or worn places. The prince had calmed down and had stopped verbally eviscerating his victim before Joschka reported.

“Get every wagon you can commandeer, and every free man,” Mathias ordered.

“I do not believe that much oil and straw will be necessary, my lord general,” Major Johansson began.

Oil and straw? What? What are they—No! Oh shit, Leuven! No, I will not.

Joschka was not the only one to balk.

“No,” Prince Mathias said. The quiet words shook the officers as much as the pounding artillery had shaken the ground. “We are not burning anything. Not the city, not the library. We will not burn the library.” He raised one had before anyone could speak a word. “The infantry will destroy the building, yes. Not the books.”

“Your highness, your appreciation for historical relics is well known,” Col. Kleist began, “But we have our orders.” He held up a page and Joschka’s stomach churned as he realized what the High Command demanded.

“We will burn Leuven if we are forced to, but not the library. The books go back to Bavaria.”

Four hours later Joschka found himself supervising troopers and they carted armfuls of books out of the first floor of the ancient library and out into every cart, wagon, and transport that could be coerced into service. He heard firing from a few blocks away and winced. Mathias had warned his staff not to try to stop the infantry. The reservists had gone past reason, as far as Joschka could tell. Several of the reserve captains had harangued him already with tales they’d read in the papers as they waited at the border, reports of massacres of German troops by francs-tireurs.

Instead the cavalry chivvied women and children, any they could find, out toward the city gates. They also escorted the books and paintings out of the city. Mathias frowned at the rough handling, but speed counted more than care, at least now. The first threads of black had begun rising from roofs as the Reservists set fire to houses belonging to francs-tireurs. Another volley of gunfire turned Joschka’s stomach. They mayor, university chancellor, senior priest and others had already died, executed for hiding francs-tireurs and committing sabotage.

“Come,” Prince Mathias von Wittlesbach ordered at last. Joschka rode out behind him, not looking back. The whoosh of flames had begun to drown out the cries of the women as darkness covered the world. For once Joschka welcomed a night ride, away from the hungry red flames, away from the insanity of the Prussian Reservists.

 

A century later, General Joschka Graf von Hohen-Drachenburg shook off the clinging memory. He’d emerged from that atrocity with his honor, and that of his men, intact, but it had taken him a while to stop asking himself if he should have done more. No, he sighed, straightening up from his inspection of the old photos, Prince Mathias had done what he could, and Joschka had done the same. Sins of omission, sins of commission, they blurred together over time. And the High Command killed Mathias for it, not directly but they found a way. Even HalfDragons will die from blood loss after improperly done amputations. But if he had not sent those tens of thousands of books and papers back to Bavaria, and me with them, would I be here today? Likely no, given how hard the fighting had been in the east, and it paled compared to the man-devouring machine that had been the western front.

“Sir,” the older docent interrupted his thoughts.

“Hmm?”

“Would you be willing to give us an account of your in-law’s experience for our archive?”

Joschka thought about the question and all that it entailed. “I fear I do not feel comfortable trying to recall the details. I heard the story several times, but many years ago, and the gentleman never wrote it down to my knowledge. I can ask his son if he left anything in the family papers, if you would like.” No harm in making the offer, since he already knows the bones of the tale.

The docent looked disappointed but nodded. “If it is not too much trouble, sir.”

“I will see what I can do.” Joschka accepted the man’s card, finished looking around the library, and followed the group as they went to the next restored building listed on the tour pamphlet.

 

(C) 2016 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved.

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