Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 34
“Once they finish the training, you’ll be getting set-ups in other places. Breisach, Schwarzach, and the like. I have no idea how they could modify anything so fragile to make it mobile enough to take on campaign. I won’t think about that until somebody asks me. I’m already learning a lot about stuff I never expected to be working with. ‘Specialization’ just isn’t one of the down-timers’ watchwords.
“Right now, most of my time is spent with Faulhaber, the military engineer from Ulm, and with some of the native English-speakers on Bernhard’s staff who are busy turning what I explain in up-time technical English into words that the average down-timer can understand.
“I say ‘English-speakers’ deliberately, because only a few of them are actually from England, and most of those seem to come from just one county called Norfolk. One of the actual Englishmen, named Jacob Astley, is going to be in charge of setting up a geological survey for Burgundy. Like most of the guys close to Bernhard, he’s a professional soldier and fascinated with boomenstoff. Also, like a lot of the English and Scots we’ve met here, he’s been on the continent for years and has a German wife. In his case, there are also a half-dozen kids, who seem to get along great with Kamala and Carey’s offspring.
“He tells me that the Doubs, the river here, is the weirdest one he ever saw. It starts out heading north, makes a U-turn, and goes south. In the world of twists and turns, it manages to flow for nearly two-hundred-seventy miles but there aren’t even sixty miles as the crow flies between the source and where it runs into a bigger stream. That should give you some general idea of the landscape. It’s the one thing that makes a West Virginia girl feel right at home.
“William Baillie is a Scotsman and like Alec Mackay, born out of wedlock, so he went off to find his fortune in someone else’s army. His wife is Scottish, too. John Hurry is another Scot.
“Thomas Morgan is Welsh and doesn’t fit the pattern of the others He’s a scrawny little guy with a high-pitched voice and smokes a pipe. He tells me that he only spoke Welsh when he joined the army at age sixteen, even though his father counted as gentry. He speaks several languages now, but can barely sign his name. He’s supposed to be a ferocious fighter, though. When I go out to inspect things in the field, he’s in charge of the local ‘make sure Marcie stays alive’ squad. Me, with a bodyguard! Can you believe it?”
“Yesterday, there was a big announcement by von Ponikau that they’re going to start a new university here. Bernhard sent a charter and assigned some property as a starting endowment, with a long letter to be read in public about how education is important and he’s sorry now that he dropped out of Jena. Overall, from what I’ve seen so far, I’ve got to say that His Grand Dukeship has big plans–plans as big as his title.
“Look, be careful, will you. I heard about Mrs. Hill and Fred Pence and the others going over to volunteer, like Doctors without Borders or something. Makes it hard not to worry.”
“Andrea has plague,” Gus Szymanski said. “I don’t know how she caught it. I can’t even guess. I’m sure she was taking all the proper sanitary precautions and I haven’t been using her as a nurse. She’s been in the office ever since she got here, keeping records.”
“Chloramphenicol?” Fred Pence was married to Andrea Hill’s daughter Kortney.
“I’ve put her on a course of it. But, honestly, I’m not sure that I caught it fast enough. I’ve never seen a clinical case move along so fast, and I’ve seen a lot of them since I got to the lazarette here.”
“Oh, hell.” Fred stood up. “I guess I’ll go find some scraps for that miserable specimen of a kitten she took in. Move him over to my place.”
“Fred, too?” Gus sighed. This wasn’t the news he needed at what should be the end of the day.
“Yeah. We took him over to the lazarette.”
“Oh, hell. Who’s he been rooming with?”
“Johnny Furbee. Contrary to protocol, but they came over from Fulda at the same time and since the army’s short on billets…”
“Check Johnny out.”
“Both of them?” Matt Trelli’s voice was dull.
“Yeah, Johnny and Fred both.” Orville Beattie stared at the ground. “The bodies went out to the burial pit on this morning’s wagons, Gus said. It just about broke my heart to have to radio Grantville and give the news to Kortney about her husband, less than a week after she heard about her mother. And Johnny’s wife in Fulda–Antonia’s a down-timer and they lost their first baby. She’s expecting again. It’ll be hard on her.”
“Maybe this has contained it. Those three spent most of their off-time with one another. It could have been just one original contact for all three of them.”
“I damned well hope so. I think about Lisa–what she’s do if anything happened to me. I guess you worry about Marcie the same way.”
“Did you hear that Derek Utt is coming by this way instead of staying in Swabia until it’s clear for him to go back to Fulda?”
“No. Any special reason why?”
“Worried, I guess. Horn, the Augsburg garrison under the margrave of Baden, and one of Bernhard’s colonels–Kanoffski in Freiberg–are providing personnel to carry the burden of plague quarantine in Swabia. Utt’s checking out Germersheim on the way north. That’s where the first team of medics that we sent out from Fulda sent out has been working. They’re all down-timers from Buchenland, so you wouldn’t know them. We sent six, along with a whole company of volunteers that Sergeant Hartke picked from the Fulda Barracks Regiment.” Orville grabbed his hat off a tent pole. “Time to get back to work.”
“Sorry, Joel. I didn’t mean to snipe at you.” Derek Utt stretched his legs out. “The news you met me with just wasn’t the best. Andrea, Fred, Johnny. We’ve been working together at Fulda so long now that it’s more than a little like losing family.”
“Bad news is mostly what we have here at the oil field. Are things better further south?”
“The camp followers at Germersheim are settling in, a little. Squatting, I guess you would say. Fixing up the ruins. Digging in the old gardens with wooden spades. Trying to cobble together something that looks like a plow from boards, leather, and swords.”
“Literally beating their swords into plowshares?”
“Well, the blacksmiths and farriers were with the camp followers; the whole support staff for the dragoons. If we can get them through the summer, until such time as the people who used to live there come back and want their land, they’ll survive.” Derek jumped a little. “What’s that?”
Joel looked under the table. “That’s Claws. Andrea’s kitten that she took in when it started hanging around the camp here. Sickly, scrawny, half-grown cat. She quoted some folk song about ‘Take her out of pity’ that the Kingston Trio used to sing. The kitten turned out to be a boy, though. I figured he was so ugly that I’d better feed him, now that she’s gone, because he’ll never make it through life on his looks. Trelli says I’m crazy.”
“Maybe he’ll help keep the vermin down. How much of a problem are mice and rats? Is there enough DDT?”
“Joel’s in the lazarette,” Lawson Thompson reported to Derek Utt.
“Damn. He seemed fine a couple of days ago.”
“He isn’t now.”
“Let me go talk to Gus Szymanski.”
“He had a wife, you know,” Gus said.
“He died this morning.”
Derek shook his head. “Alice is expecting a baby, too. This is going to hit his parents hard.”
“That’s what’s so bad about fighting wars with young men,” Gus answered. “They leave young wives behind, and kids who need fathers. The powers that be ought to fight their wars with old farts like me as the cannon fodder. We might be slower, but wouldn’t be missed so much once we were gone.”
“You’re as much on the front lines as the rest of us, when it comes to this plague. More, in a lot of ways.”
“I don’t think that ‘qualm-y’ is actually a word,” Matt Trelli wrote to Marcie. “I think it’s ‘over scrupulous.’ Back when we were taking CCD classes from Mr. Piazza, he used to talk about scruples, remember. That it was one thing to be scrupulous and another to be over-scrupulous. The trick was being able to tell them apart.”