1635: THE DREESON INCIDENT – snippet 23:
Innumerable force of spirits armed
“There’s not a place to stay anywhere in Fulda.” Simon Jones’ voice was very glum. “One of those ‘no room at the inn’ situations. We should have thought ahead. It’s been in all the papers, after all. Henry Dreeson’s little motorcade arrived early this afternoon. All the bright lights and would-be bright lights of Buchenland County have crammed themselves into town.”
“Aw, shit.” Okay, that might not be elegant. But it was exactly how Ron Stone felt. They’d been riding up and down hills all day. “I’m pooped. What next? Any place to camp?”
“There’s not any place to hang by your fingernails, the way it looks. We’d better plan on going to the next village and hope someone has a spot. I sort of feel like we should try to say hello to Henry, but I don’t think we could get anywhere near him.”
“That probably means that his tour is a big success. I hope it is. You can say hello to him when he gets back to Grantville. To Ronnie and him both. Has anybody heard anything about the abbot yet?”
“Not a clue. Not one single everlovin’ clue.”
“Oh, well. Too bad we don’t have an ATV. We’d be getting home a lot sooner than we will riding these poor beaten-down rental horses.”
Gerry Stone just kept plodding along, not paying any real attention to the conversation. Artemisia Gentileschi and her daughter followed him, their heads drooping.
Suddenly, Ron pulled on the reins. His horse stopped, so everyone behind him stopped, too. They didn’t have much choice. “Just a minute.”
The Reverend Jones frowned slightly. He knew what happened when that gleam appeared in Ron’s eye. It wasn’t a new phenomenon. When Ron was in the lower grades, Jones had heard all about it from his brother David, who was principal of the elementary school. When Ron was in middle school… When Ron was in high school… And then, these last months in Venice and Rome, he’d seen the results for himself. He opened his mouth. “Whatever you’re thinking…”
“We’re not going on past Fulda, hoping to find an inn with space somewhere further along. It’s already late and we’re worn out, all of us. By the time we get around the city, the places on the other side will already be full with people coming from the other direction who know there won’t be places to stay in Fulda itself and pulled over early. Everybody turn around. We’ll backtrack a little.”
“We’ve already checked with every inn along here,” Simon protested.
“Yeah. That’s right. Follow me.”
“Barracktown?” Simon Jones exclaimed.
“It’s obvious, when you think about it. All those orange uniforms out guarding VIPs means a whole batch of empty bunks in the barracks.”
“Sure we can. You’re a preacher from Grantville.” He pointed his thumb. “She’s a famous artist from Italy.” He grinned. “The obligation of hospitality. Down-timers take it seriously. Just let me nose around and find someone I knew before we left for Venice last winter. Leave it to ‘Stone the Golden-Tongued’ or whatever some poet in a heroic epic might call me. If I didn’t learn anything else from Sandrart—actually, to be honest, I learned quite a bit from him—he really improved my schmooze quotient.”
“Hell, if that doesn’t look like an Old West general store! What’s it doing in Barracktown? Hold up, everyone.” Ron dismounted with something of a groan and tossed his reins to Gerry. He was back ten minutes later with a young down-time woman following him. With something of a flourish, he bowed to Jones. “We’re in luck. It’s the sutler’s cabin. The new guy remodeled. Everybody left in Barracktown seems to be shopping. Reverend Jones, may I have the privilege of presenting to you Antonia Kruger. She’s married to Sergeant Johnny Furbee, who goes to your church in Grantville.”
Antonia produced something that might have been a curtsey, if curtseys only involved a two-inch bob rather than a sweeping bend of the knees, and averred that she was honored by the privilege. She also took Signora Gentileschi and Signorina Constantia off to her own cabin, after having hauled a couple of half-grown boys out of the store, one to take the horses to the stables and the other to take the men to the barracks.
“Told you,” Ron said, as they tucked into ham sandwiches. “Piece of cake.”
Gerry looked at him. “It’s rye bread.”
“Y’know,” Mark Early remarked. “If Freiherr von Schlitz wasn’t in jail again for plotting against the government of the SoTF, he’d hate this. Absolutely hate it.”
Orville Beattie grinned. “Yup. Henry’s holding up real well. Rip-roarin’ job of stumping. God, what a stroke of luck that we managed to get Constantin Ableidinger to come at the same time. The newspapers are eating it up. ‘Handing on the torch’—ain’t that how the Magdeburg paper put it? I’ve got to say that Jason Waters in Frankfurt has been earning his keep, too.” He looked at the back of the wagon bed that Henry was standing on. “What do they call it—what the Kastenmayer boy is doing?
“I thought that was sign language.”
“They do it from one language to another, too. Gets the words out in the second language while the audience can still hang onto the tone of voice that the speaker was using when he said them in the first language.”
“Then when Henry gets tired, Ableidinger booms at them for a while.”
“We ought to get some great publicity when Henry goes down to Frankfurt to meet Ronnie.”
“If we don’t, Wes wasted a lot of money on flyers. Wackernagel wangled the printing contract for his brother-in-law. Jason Waters promised to get it into the Frankfurt papers. We’ll send a messenger down when the motorcade reaches Gelnhausen. We’re pacing ourselves. Mainz is going to radio through when Ronnie gets onto the Main barge there, so we can stage an impressive reunion.”
“Like, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume’?”
“Sort of. But I don’t think there were any reporters at that one.”
“At least one’s bound to have been there. It wouldn’t be so famous if someone hadn’t covered it.”
Wes Jenkins took his glasses off and put them safely on the nightstand. On your face or in the case, he recited under his breath. The optometrist had taught him that when he was six years old. Jim McNally would be proud of him for remembering it, he expected, but it was really sheer self-interest. He could get new frames down-time, if he had to. There were people in Grantville right now, jewelers’ journeymen, mainly, studying how to make hinges, so people didn’t have to wear those things that were expected to stick on the bridge of your nose by themselves, whatever they were called. But they wouldn’t be lightweight titanium.
He picked up the conversation again. “I’m worried about them both, Lenore and Chandra. Bryant Holloway was never the man I’d have picked for Lenore at all, not that I had anything to say about it at the time. And Nathan’s been so… standoffish, lately. Like for the past year, at least, from what I can pick up from her letters. They’re both out of town all the time. It’s hard on a young woman to have to bring up her children alone, to be mother and father both.”
“You can’t live their lives for them. Especially not at ten o’clock in the evening when you are in Fulda and they are in Grantville.” Clara slipped under the comforter. “Think about the good things. How well your idea for the speaking tour is working out.”
“I didn’t really expect people to be quite so impressed with Henry. After all, he’s just a small town mayor. Not some dramatic or charismatic political figure.”
She curled up and tucked her head under his chin. “That’s why he impresses them.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“The people who come to hear him are village and small town mayors and councilmen too, mostly. And their wives. Or ordinary people who aren’t even on the councils. Almost all of them. It’s important that he isn’t some remarkable and alien hero. What you would call a superman. He’s average size. Short and a little scrawny, for an up-timer, but average size for the seventeenth century. He isn’t as young as he used to be. He walks with a cane. He faces a lot of the same problems that they do, such as tight budgets and people who constantly complain to the point that there’s no pleasing them. He doesn’t pretend that he has all the answers. He just says that he does his best and keeps on trying.”
Wes snuggled her in a little closer and kissed the top of her ear.
“No, don’t distract me. I’m not done yet.”
“Finish up, then.”
“For people like these, Mike Stearns or Hans Richter may be an inspiration, yes. Constantin Ableidinger is an inspiration, too. But Mr. Dreeson is a comfort. They know, most of them, in their own hearts, that they will never be heroes. He shows them that they don’t have to be, to be good citizens. To be a valuable part of the USE that we’re trying to build.”
“I hear you.”
“He doesn’t glorify what he has done in Grantville. He doesn’t say anything about being part of a great miracle. He just talks about local government—says that he was mayor before the Ring of Fire and he’s kept on being mayor. Doing the same job to the best of his ability. Nothing fancy. Nothing new and special. The same man, doing the same job. That is what he shows them.”
“Sometimes, maybe, that’s all a man can do.”