1024 Words

Delible Ink on Paper

M. Stanley Bubien

"I did not want this," I told my Chancellor, proffering the "Danger of War" declaration I had presently signed; no more than spidery letters, delible ink on paper, something so fragile that it could be easily frayed, torn, burned even; and yet it fully prefigured an inevitability, preparing our armies for mobilization.

"Ah, Majesty," he replied, accepting the order for the Admiralty. "Yesterday, you howled your anger at the Russians. Called your very own cousin Nicholas the most unrepeatable of names! It seems to me that the evening's passing has left you overly cooled. May I reiterate once again that this is most certainly for the best."

"Humph," I waved off my previous day's rage with a sweep of my good arm. "And how, pray tell, will this be for the best?"

"On so many occasions, I have heard you, yourself, declare your intention to achieve a 'Place in the Sun' for the German peoples."

"Of course," I agreed, matter-of-factly. "As Kaiser, I have striven for this noble goal."

"Ah, but all that remains of Europe are places of shade." He waved the document before me. "This, however, changes so much. It opens so many possibilities. First, against those uncivilized Slavs. And also, as you certainly need no reminding, the Eastern occupied territories of those nameless Poles."

I hunched silently within my seat, my great teak desk before me, spanning forward, extending sidewards in its girth, immovable, save by the strength of five men, in its mass. I always sought a measure of potency leaning upon this desk, for the strength of its ancient trunk held me up and sustained me at times. Oft considered the most powerful man in Europe, this desk, more than anything else---territories, armies, navies---allowed me the luxury to believe as much once or twice during my rule. Just as now, it seemed the only thing solid enough to prop these pages, the weightiest the world has ever known, which I had scattered upon it over the last several days.

"I hate the Slavs, though it is a sin to say so, it is most certainly the truth." And with that confession, I brought myself to my feet, and strode around the desk, advanced to the open part of the room, and paced with boots thumping firmly upon the flooring, while in contrast, the medals upon my uniform rattled lightly.

"All men are sinners," the Chancellor informed me, as his eyes followed my progress, to and fro, about the chamber. "That much we both know. But to hate those who deserve your hatred? I am not convinced that such a thing is evil."

I halted, turned fully on him, and cocked my head. "Be that as it may, I believe it was these feelings, in part, that motivated me to agree to your declaration of support for Emperor Joseph and Austria-Hungary."

"Well," the Chancellor began in a slightly contradictory tone, "I must point out that the Emperor has been a mighty ally for quite a number of years."

I exhaled and nodded. "Certainly."

"And in the tradition of our Teutonic ancestors, we are honor-bound to adhere to that agreement. And you have been informed that the Austrian army has already began their invasion of Serbia."

"Yes, of course," I said, gesturing toward the page in my Chancellor's hand, "and with the Russian army moving as well, I realize the necessity of this."

He broke into a grin. "You should also realize that this is merely a beginning. Once we have taken our place in the sun, you shall no longer be known as Kaiser."

My eyebrows furled. "Oh?"

"Leading the German peoples to victory, certainly many will refer to you as one of legend; even, I must say, as a god!"

I thrust myself forward, threw a clenched fist toward his projecting nose, and, index finger extended, I cried, "Fool! Get out! Take that damnable order and leave." Unabashed, he complied to my command with a bow. He retreated, and the door creaked wide, and he twisted slightly, and as he stepped through, I called afterward, slightly less gruffly, "pray, my friend. Pray that it goes no further than this. For if England enters this struggle alongside Russia, I will then be at war with both my cousin and nephew."

He hesitated, grasped the jamb, arched his neck slightly.

I knew his thought, knew the words he would speak, so surely I could speak them myself. "Go!" I ordered, halting his response, and driving him finally from my presence.

"A god," I shook my head, "humph, damnable fool!"

And with that I glanced upon my desk the papers, in reality, a small pile, emblazoned with various official seals, spun of such delicate pulp, yet again I fully realized that only this teak masterwork could prop such a burden. For, in the two days that they had flooded across my desk, I had come to know them, memorize them, and, above all, despise them.

But it was one in particular, a Serbian document, a reply---a full capitulation, no less---to the most formidable, and absolutely absurd, demand imposed by the Austrian state upon her enemy. I lifted it lightly between fingertips, and it flopped slightly as I studied it.

"Fool," I had called my Chancellor. But surely that was my designation, for this document, sent to Austria-Hungary several weeks ago, had been completely ignored by myself until day before yesterday. And there, in the margins, in an ink so delible, were words that I should have written not two nights ago, but twenty. "A great moral victory for Vienna; but with it every reason for war is removed---" Unable to read any further, I allowed the page to drop to the floor.

"God," my Chancellor had called me. And yet, alone in my office, before my great teak desk, I considered also the statement I had halted him from speaking in his departure. For, as he well knew, today I was totally powerless; war would soon rage across our land, and there was not one single thing that I, the Kaiser of Germany, could do to stop it.

Copyright ©1999 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.

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February, 1999
Issue #34

1024 Words