Josef and the Lippizaners

Print Share

    A whistle sounded down the track as the early-morning, Vienna-bound train came into view. “Right on time!” Josef cried. He looked up at his sister with excited, sparkling eyes. “I can hardly believe it, Berta! At last I’m going to see the white stallions—the Lippizaners!”

    Ja (yes),” Berta said, but there was a worried look on her face. “You are young, Josef, to go to the city alone. And you are so often careless with your money.”

    Josef grinned. This was one time he could not afford to be careless! Before he could speak again, the train shuddered to a stop.

    Auf Wiedersehen (good-bye), Berta!” Josef swung aboard and found a compartment; it was empty except for a small girl in a bright red coat. He opened the window and waved to his sister, who waved her white handkerchief in farewell as long as the train was in sight.

    Josef closed the window and turned to the girl. “My sister thinks I’m too young to travel alone,” he said in German, smiling. “She’s afraid I will lose my money or give it away.” His smile faded when the girl gave a little choked sob. “Is— is something wrong?” he asked, anxiously.

    As Josef spoke, a tall, uniformed conductor entered the compartment. “She does not understand German, so she does not know what you are saying,” he explained.

    “She is American.”

    “Is she traveling alone?” Josef asked in surprise. “Ja, to Vienna. Her grandfather will meet her there,” the conductor replied. After the conductor left, Josef stole a glance at the girl. How young she is, he thought, and how frightened! “My name is Josef,” he said in careful English. “What is your name?”

    At the sound of the familiar words, the girl’s face brightened. “Margaret Taylor,” she said eagerly, then started speaking so rapidly that Josef threw up his hands.

    “Slowly, please!” he pleaded. “I have studied English only a short time.”

    Margaret started over and Josef understood. The girl went to a private school in Switzerland and was on her way to meet her grandfather, who was in Vienna on business. Mademoiselle Dumont, a teacher who had planned to travel with Margaret, had learned the night before that her mother was ill. “I told Mademoiselle I was not afraid to go alone,” Margaret continued, her voice catching in a sob, “but I am afraid. Maybe I won’t be able to find my grandfather. What will I do then?”

    Josef’s kind heart melted. “Do not be afraid, Liebchen (little one),” he said to comfort her. “I will help you find your grandfather.”

    Margaret turned to Josef, her eyes bright. “Oh, thank you!” she cried. “I will not be afraid with you for a friend.” After a moment she asked, “Do you live in Vienna, Josef?”

    “No,” he replied. “I am going there to see the Lippizan horses.”

    “The white horses that dance!” Margaret cried. “I have heard about them.”

    “Ja!” Josef’s eyes sparkled. He slid his hand into his pocket to make certain his purse was safe. In it were the Austrian schillings he had earned working in Herr Meyer’s grocery store every day after school. “It has taken me a long time to save enough money,” he said.

    “I will ask Grandfather to take me to see the Lippizaners, too,” Margaret said.

    “It is not expensive,” Josef explained, “not if you buy standing room in the second gallery, as I will do.”

    A whistle sounded, and the train pulled to a stop at a small station. A boy holding a tray of bottled drinks and crusty bun sandwiches tapped on the window. Margaret eyed the sandwiches longingly.

    “Are you hungry?” Josef asked.

    Margaret’s eyes clouded. “Mademoiselle forgot to leave me any money,” she said in a small voice.

    “I will buy us each a sandwich,” Josef said, and he opened the window. Margaret selected two ham sandwiches and two cherry-flavored drinks.

    Josef gulped when he heard the price. He took out his purse and carefully counted out the schillings. “Ach!” he exclaimed, shaking his head. “Food is expensive when one travels by train.”

    “My grandfather will pay you back,” Margaret said confidently, smiling at him.

    “I did not mean that!” Josef said, blushing. “I still have enough.” He placed his purse on the seat beside him in order to take the sandwich Margaret handed him.

    Margaret chattered away happily, and in no time at all—or so it seemed to Josef—the train stopped at the next station. A man selling china figurines came to the window. Margaret gave a cry of delight, opened the window, and picked up one of the figurines, a white Lippizan horse with a crimson-coated rider. “I want it, Josef. Please!” she pleaded.

    “It costs too much!” Josef protested when he heard the price.

    “Oh, please, Josef, Grandfather will pay you back,” Margaret insisted.

    Josef reluctantly paid for the figurine. Then he counted the coins he had left: fifty groschen—only half a schilling. “It is a good thing the next stop is Vienna,” he groaned.

    “Don’t worry,” said Margaret. “I told you Grandfather will pay you back.” She slipped the figurine into her pocket, snuggled down in her seat, and was soon fast asleep.

    When the train pulled into the Vienna station, Margaret’s eyes flew open. “Are we there?” she asked.

    Josef nodded. “Where is your luggage?”

    “Mademoiselle sent it ahead,” Margaret explained. She clung tightly to Josef’s hand as they stepped from the train onto the busy platform. Then she gave a sudden squeal of joy, broke away, and ran toward a tall gray-haired man who hugged her warmly. As Josef started toward them, a troop of uniformed schoolboys marched in front of him. When the boys had passed, Margaret and her grandfather had disappeared.

    They’ll be waiting for me inside, Josef decided. But they weren’t there. He searched the station and the platforms and then ran outside to where a line of taxis waited, but there was no sign of Margaret or her grandfather.

    Josef’s heart sank. How foolish he had been! How Berta would tease when she learned that he had spent his money on a little American girl who forgot all about him when she saw her grandfather. Josef smiled wryly. At least he had his return train ticket and enough money for trolley fare to the palace where the horses performed. I might get a glimpse of them in their stables, he thought.

    Josef got off the trolley and was walking toward the hippodrome (arena for horse shows) at the palace when a taxi screeched to a halt at the curb. The door flew open, and a streak of crimson dashed toward him.

    “Josef! Josef!” Margaret cried happily. After giving Josef a hug, she gave him a handful of schillings. “Here is the money I owe you.” Then she turned to face the tall man who had come to stand beside them. “I told you we would find him here.”

    “I’m Samuel Taylor, Margaret’s grandfather,” the man said, smiling. “I hope you will forgive my granddaughter. She was so happy to see me that for a while she forgot how kind you had been to her—”

    “We went back to the station, but you were gone,” Margaret interrupted. “Grandfather was very angry when I told him I had spent your money.”

    “I still am,” Mr. Taylor said, but his lips quirked a little.

    Margaret tugged at her grandfather’s sleeve. “Tell him, Grandfather!” she urged.

    “We would like you to be our guest at the performance of the Lippizaners today, Josef. I have seats for us in the royal box at the end of the great hall.”

    “Thank you, sir!” Josef cried, his eyes sparkling. Instead of standing in the second gallery, he would watch the Lippizaners from the box where the kings and queens of Europe sat.

    Margaret slipped her hand into Josef’s. “We’ll have just as much fun there as in the gallery!” she cried.

    “Indeed, we will!” Josef agreed and laughed aloud.

    [illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann