1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS — snippet 19


1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 19:





            There wasn’t any more chaos or racket than was customary in a grade school, but it was seven o’clock in the evening rather than the middle of the day. Keith Pilcher paused in the corridor. There were tutoring sessions in the library; after-care in the gym, and some group was holding a meeting in the cafeteria. There were third-quarter parent-teacher conferences going on in some of the classrooms; in the art room, there were high school girls conducting craft projects for the children whose parents had to bring them along to the conferences because they couldn’t find, or couldn’t afford, sitters. There were no pipe cleaners; no one was manufacturing crayons yet; but the paper mill in Badenburg now collected the water with which the Stones’ dye works cleaned out its pots. Colored construction paper had made a comeback and there was plenty of glue.


            Maxine’s classroom was at the far end. She had left for school before dawn this morning; he had dropped the kids off on his way to work an hour later. Now she was leading a whole squadron of middle-aged German women in… “You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out, you put your left foot in and then you shake it all about.” Traditional methods of teaching foreign languages had been sacrificed to Grantville’s acute need. People learned to speak English painfully slowly when presented with books and rules; they learned English, at least enough to function on a daily basis, remarkably fast when put through nursery rhymes, simple songs, children’s games, and other group activities in which any one person’s occasional mistakes were neither apparent nor humiliating. “And that’s what it’s all about.” Maxine finished dancing the hokey-pokey, saw Keith at the door, tossed her shocking pink plastic whistle to Dionne Huffman, and said, “take it from here.”


            Dionne looked like she still had enough energy to keep going for a couple more hours. She washed the whistle with soap and water at the sink, shook off the excess, said, “All right, everybody,” and popped it into her mouth. Its shriek quieted the room. “I’m a little teapot …” The class was back into shape in less than five minutes.


            Keith shook his head as he draped his arm around Maxine’s shoulder. Unlike Dionne, he thought, his wife looked worn out. They passed through after-care, collected Megan and Joshua, and headed for home. He had stopped at Cora’s to pick up something for supper; starting to cook a meal “from scratch” at eight in the evening was not a bright idea when people had to be up by five or six the next morning. Cora was into creative cooking again, but at least it wasn’t zucchini quesadillas. It was some kind of whole-grain barley salad with bits and pieces of vegetables in it, marinaded in oil and vinegar. Weird; not bad, though, with the rye bread from the bakery. Cora’s results varied.


            The kids went to bed right after supper. They got their homework done in after-care, these days. Keith cleared off the dishes; there were rarely any leftovers to worry about. Maxine was still sitting at the table; he walked up behind her and she lifted her head, resting it against the buckle of his belt. He looked down. Maxine had hated it when her favorite “autumn copper” hair coloring had run out and she had discovered that the hair under it wasn’t just the plain mousy brown that it had been when she started using the tint back in high school, but had gone at least half gray. Keith didn’t mind; he thought that Max looked fine this way. Thelma had given it a cut that was sort of short and perky. That was the best that he could describe it. She was too skinny, though. She’d always been thin, but now she was way too thin. Probably because she danced the hokey-pokey with German housewives for three hours after school every day. She didn’t need what was coming next.


            “Max,” he said. “Ollie’s sending me on that trip.”


            She turned, buried her face in his stomach, and moaned.


            “Hey, honey, it’s to your credit, ‘cause you made me go and sing German nursery rhymes night after night.”


            Maxine moaned again.


            “We’ve got to have more iron. We’ve got to. For guns; for rail; for all the other stuff that will help us hold against the League of Ostend. Every machine shop, up-time and down-time, needs more steel than it’s getting, and it doesn’t matter how much steel-producing capacity we build up unless we have the raw material for the mills. The mines around here are producing just about as much ore as they can, as fast as they can, with the technology we’ve been able to give them so far. We’ve got to get some of the old mines that were destroyed in the war back into production, and that means the Upper Palatinate. That’s where the next nearest chance to get our hands on more iron is. At least, the nearest that’s pretty securely inside the USE.”


            Maxine squeezed her arms around his substantial waistline.


            “Come on, honey. It’s just a business trip. We have a lot of stuff to offer them. Pumps and stationary steam engines to run the pumps. A bit of explosive to open the closed shafts. Improved rail design for the carts, to bring it out faster. I won’t be running into any trouble.”




            Ed Piazza started for home, saw who was on the bench outside his office, and grinned. “Leopold. I didn’t know that you were in town.”


            “I wasn’t until this afternoon,” Leopold Cavriani answered, leaping up to shake hands. “Be flattered; this is my second stop. The first was to entrust my oldest daughter to the Reverend Wiley and his wife. Idelette is sixteen, now. This spring and summer, she will learn your language and ways; the next two years, she will go to school. Then, if all is well, she will train in the office of a businessman. Probably with Count August von Sommersburg’s factor. The count has a permanent office here in Grantville, now. His factor has been among you Grantvillers long enough that he is willing to have a daughter of a business partner as one of his apprentices. At least, he says so now. If he does not say so then, why, we shall be flexible.” He grinned himself.


            Flexible. Flexible could be the Cavriani motto, Ed mused. Aloud, he asked, “So what is our friend the noble concrete bandit up to now?” Sommersburg was not only making a mint from the slate quarries that he owned on the Schwarza river above Grantville, but was also up to his neck in cement, concrete, and related construction projects in Magdeburg.


            “Diversification,” said Cavriani happily. “Quite a lovely word. I like it almost as much as ‘facilitator.’”


            “Diversification into…?”


            “Mining,” said Cavriani. “Mines involve moving so much rock, you know. The count is financing one of your entrepreneurs in an effort to obtain more iron supplies from the Upper Palatinate. That will involve a lot of rock, of course. The count hopes to develop ways in which to make a profit from the by-products of a mining enterprise. By-products that the miners themselves find uninteresting. Waste products.”


            “‘Waste’ products that down-time miners find uninteresting, but that might, just possibly, find a market in up-time technology.”


            “Possibly, just possibly.”


            “Well,” Ed said, “come on home with me for dinner. I’m sure Annabelle can find something extra to put on the table.”


            As they went down the stairs, Ed asked casually, “Which entrepreneur”?


            “Ollie Reardon. He is far too busy to go to the Upper Palatinate himself, of course. He will be sending one of his trusted co-workers. A man named Keith Pilcher. I haven’t met him yet. I’m looking forward to the trip. We will be stopping in Nürnberg to pick up my son Marc. He is coming with us. This should be an excellent chance to give him his first real experience in negotiations. A routine matter, to be sure, but he will have a chance to meet some influential people, both up-time and down-time. And the Upper Palatinate seems to be settling down very nicely under Duke Ernst. He can get a first-hand view of how rapidly we can hope for economic reconstruction to proceed once a region is no longer a war zone.”




            “Bernadette,” Maxine Pilcher asked, cornering the juvenile officer in a booth at Cora’s during lunch. “What is this all about?”


            Bernadette looked at the newspaper. Maxine’s attention was fixed on a legal notice which stated that Mrs. Veronica Dreeson had appeared before Judge Maurice Tito with a petition for the legal emancipation of her granddaughter, Miss Anna Elisabetha Richter.


            “What is that woman up to now?”


            “Don’t hope for scandal,” Bernadette answered. Grantville had been considerably enlivened for the past three years by occasional flare-ups when the divergent educational philosophies of Ronnie Dreeson and Maxine Pilcher came into conflict. “It’s no Hardesty-type case. I’d call it a bit risky, but it’s perfectly prosaic and she probably knows the girl better than anyone else does. Annalise is going to be running the St. Veronica’s schools this spring and summer.”


            “Annalise is what? Seventeen?”


            “She just had her seventeenth birthday. Last week, in fact. Ronnie petitioned to have her emancipated so that she can make binding contracts. And she’s providing Annalise with a full power-of-attorney to handle all of her affairs while she’s gone.”


            “Gone where? And why not Henry?”


            “As they headed out of the courtroom after Maurice granted the petition, I heard Ronnie say, ‘ask Henry if you have any questions, but remember that he’s a very busy man, so don’t bother him unless you have to.’ Which is, I presume, why Henry isn’t being stuck with the schools. On top of everything else that he has to do.”


            “But,” Maxine asked, “where is Ronnie going? For so long, anyway? I know that she travels around to visit her ‘schools.’ They’re springing up all over the place, like mushrooms.” She grimaced. “Or toadstools.” She grinned. “Toad-schools. But she could visit them all and still come back to town, in between. Magdeburg is the farthest away.”


            “She’ll be gone much longer this time. Not day trips, not week trips. She’s heading off to the Upper Palatinate to see whether she can get anything from her first husband’s estate. There are a whole batch of Grantville people with business there this spring, plus the Voice of America is sending back a batch of newly trained down-time radio operators to Duke Ernst and Mary Simpson is going. There’s no reason to expect any trouble, of course, but Admiral Simpson and Mayor Dreeson apparently thought that it would be better for the ladies to travel with some military escort. And, of course, Ollie was just as happy to include….”


            Bernadette had been about to add, “Keith and Mr. Cavriani.” And to ask, “hasn’t Keith mentioned it to you.”


            Clearly, he hadn’t. Bernadette realized why.


            “Ooooooh, nooooooo,” Maxine howled. “Keith is not traveling with that woman.”


About Eric Flint

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