Birthday Blues banner

Magdeburg, 30 October 1634

 

Hartmann looked at the sign in Fraktur:

BBBsgn

He had heard of the shop from Linus Becker, his assistant at the training facility. They had come up to Magdeburg from Suhl and opened their shop here less than a mile from the Army base outside the city of Magdeburg.

He walked into a room empty except for glass display cases, and his attention was caught by a rifle hung on the wall. A man came from the back at the bell.

“Ah, Sergeant, welcome! I am Franz Schönebeck, co-owner of Schönebeck and Wulff firearms.” Unbidden, the shopkeeper lifted the rifle down. “That is our newest model. Everyone looks at it first.” The shopkeeper moved his hand, the trigger guard swept forward, the block dropping, and he passed it over for inspection.

Hartmann had thought the rifle he held was yet another knockoff of the Cardinal which had been based on the Sharps rifle of Civil War fame until he examined the breech and saw it was deeper than those weapons.  It was heavier too; around the same weight as an old arquebus. “This is beautiful.”

“Yes it is.” Schönebeck took it back. “This weapon is different from the one it is modeled after in many ways. The same caliber, but up to eighty grains powder and the new cartridges.” Schönebeck held up a bronze-ended paper cartridge. “At the moment we only have the paper cartridge, but will have full metal cartridges in a few weeks.” He saw the child-like light in Hartmann’s eyes. “Want to fire it?” At Hartmann’s nod, he opened the small walk-through and took him into the back.

Another man was at a table, and he looked up before offering the pistol he was working on. “He might like this as well.”

Hartmann took the heavy pistol, noticing the large holes in the cylinder. Much larger than the H&K revolvers he had seen. At his curious look, the workman grinned. “A companion piece. It fires a .52 caliber bullet, forty grains of powder, the same bullet as the rifle so you only need the one bullet mold for both. We do offer molds for the three standard bullet weights used in the weapon, and all will fit both the pistol and the rifle. If you have two or more additional cylinders, you can fire, drop it out, load the next, and keep shooting.” The workman held up a cylinder with caps already set on the nipples, moving it back and forth like a man teasing a pet. “Come on, you know you want to,” the workman added in a wheedling tone.

Hartmann took the weapon back, removed the pin and cylinder, then set the loaded cylinder back, and reinserted the restraining pin. The hammer moved back smoothly, almost like sliding on ice. He gently lowered it. “Yes. Do you have more cylinders ready Herr . . . ?”

“Lüdecke Wulff, at your service.” Wulff held out three preloaded cylinders.

BBtrgtThe workshop opened on a small shooting range; maybe twenty-five yards deep. Schönebeck set the rifle down with a wooden box of ten cartridges. He pulled a lever, and a target about half-way down the range came up. Hartmann set down the extra cylinders, and aimed the pistol. He cocked it, then gently squeezed the trigger. The gun slammed back, his arm going up until it was aimed almost straight up. “The trigger is a bit stiff.”

“It will loosen up after about thirty rounds. We can also stone the sear to make it break more smoothly.”

Hartmann nodded absently, then emptied the revolver. He caught the pin, popped out the cylinder, and loaded another before emptying it as well. Twelve rounds in about thirty seconds.

“I like it.” He set the weapon down, then opened the breech on the rifle. The box had red lines drawn between the cartridges.

Schönebeck touched each line as he spoke. “All use the same cartridge. The first three are sixty grains of powder, the next four seventy grain, the last three eighty grain.” Schönebeck dropped the closer target, revealing the back wall, then pulled another lever, raising a more distant target.

Hartmann loaded one of the sixty-grain charges and closed the breech. He aimed, then gently pulled the trigger. It fired, and a hole sprouted near the center of the man-shaped target. He opened the breech, slid in one of the seventy rounds, and fired again. This bullet hit a little higher, perhaps a finger’s width. “More powder, so the bullet does not fall as far.” Hartmann nodded, loading one of the eighties. Again the bullet hit higher. Less bullet drop. “I would like a longer range to test how well it does. How much for both?”

Schönebeck looked at him for a moment, then named a price. Hartmann didn’t flinch. Thanks to prize money from his previous years, and his savings that had been invested by his late wife in OPM, he had enough to buy them both. But he wanted the newer model of the rifle. “Notify me when you have the metal cartridge model of the rifle available. Next month you say?”

“Yes, sergeant. Perhaps sooner.”

“I will be back.”

****

            “He’s leaving,” Becker commented. He looked at Luftmann who was with him. “Follow him back to the training base. I will check with you.” Once the man had run off, Becker walked over to the shop.

Schönebeck smiled as this man entered. This man was smaller, slimmer, but also in a USE uniform. “Well?”

Schönebeck held up the rifle Hartmann had used. “He liked both this and the matching pistol.”

Linus Becker gave a small predatory grin. “Excellent.”

****

            Hartmann passed through the gate of the camp, marching toward the Third Regiment’s orderly room. He looked around, wondering where Becker had gotten to, then sighed, sitting at his table to check the reports. Instead of having each company recruit on its own, Regiment had ordered that all new recruits would go through the same training together, and be reassigned to fill in the gaps caused the spring before.

So instead of having to train twenty men, Hartmann as the senior sergeant of the regiment was looking at training just over one hundred who would be arriving the next day. A barracks in the Regiment’s ‘street’ had already been chosen, and hopefully Becker had seen to it.

“Small beer, sergeant?” He looked up at Becker, who slid a mug across toward him.

“Think of the devil. Have you checked the barracks as I told you?”

“Yes, sergeant. I made sure the fourth company left it suitably grubby.” Becker sipped his own beer. “If I remember correctly tomorrow is your birthday.”

Hartmann growled, “I do not celebrate such things. No matter how much store the up-timers put into it. I have recruit indoctrination, then guard duty tomorrow evening, and there will be no talk of it in the company. Is that clear?”

“Of course it is.” Becker smiled irrepressibly. A good thing he had made all their plans before that order was given.

 

31 October 1634, 6:00 AM

 

Richard checked his uniform one last time. One thing that had impressed him when he had trained with the up-timers was the attitude he should have as the training sergeant. In all his years before arriving in Grantville, he had been used to even his superiors dressed catch as catch can. But he had been told that a sergeant should look every inch a soldier, and Hartmann had taken it to heart.

The day was bright and clear. The sergeant marched across to the barracks where the new trainees were sleeping. Becker winked, then motioned to Luftmann and Gross. “I think it is about time, sergeant?”

“By all means. Roust them out.” He walked a short distance away with the barracks to his back. Behind him he heard pounding, screaming, and the sound of a lot of men who had thought they would be spending a lot more time asleep.

“Stand there!” Becker screamed. Hartmann knew they were grabbing the four tallest, making them start the ranks as they shouted at the others to form the files. Someone cried out in pain, and he made a note. They weren’t supposed to use too much brutality. “Attention! That means stand up straight, hands even with your trouser seams! You sorry lot are the worst I have ever seen! Now speak up when I call your names.”

Hartmann stood patiently until he heard Becker behind him. “Sergeant, company ready. But we have three men who are not on this list.”

Hartmann turned. The men were in lines, looking at him with fear and confusion in their eyes. Hartmann smiled. Some returned it; they would learn. “Good morning, men. I am Sergeant Hartmann, and for my sins I am in charge of your training.

“You are joining the Third Regiment of the Second Brigade of the First USE Division. The Wolverine Regiment. A name given after our first action when we helped smash the French army at Ahrensbök. We expect to add more honors to our standard, and you men, if you prove worthy, will earn them. You will meet my standards, or I will send you home bloody.” He motioned to Becker and the two men with him. “These men were like you a year ago. They thought, as you no doubt do, that I am exaggerating. They know better. You will learn that I speak only the truth.

“You have one hour to eat before you are marched over to the quartermaster to be issued your equipment. Since you were all no doubt raised in barns and pigsties, first you will clean that barracks we graciously allowed you to sleep in. You have twenty minutes allotted for this. I will inspect it before you are marched over to the mess hall. Any additional time you need to spend cleaning it further will be deducted from the meal time. I for one do not care if you eat at all. Gross, Luftmann, get to it!”

As the two chosen men harried them into motion, Becker handed him the clipboard with three names written at the bottom. The sergeant noted them. “I will check the names with personnel while they are getting their issue.” Hartmann pinned the clipboard to his side with an arm as he filled his pipe.

“Were we that bad when you first saw us?” Becker asked.

He waited until the pipe was going well, blowing out some smoke. “Becker, you were worse. At least I have the full training time, so they might survive it.”

 

7:30 AM

 

The three extra men had not been recorded at Regiment or Brigade so Hartmann walked up the steps into Division headquarters. He had seen confused messes before so this was nothing new.

He reached the personnel office when he heard angry voices. “I was sent to find if these men—”

“I do not care who sent you, woman, get out of my office!”

“It would take just a moment—”

“Get. Out!”

Hartmann pushed the door open. Sergeant Dieffenbacher, a thin sparrow-like man was trying to loom over the young woman facing him. Hard to do if she is taller, but he was trying. “My father sent me—”

“I do not care who your father is, woman! Get out or I will throw you out!” Dieffenbacher glared at the door. “Hartmann, you are supposed to knock.”

“You probably would not have heard me, Hansel.”

Dieffenbacher snarled. “Do not. Call me. Hansel!”

“If you are going to act like a child, I will call you what I please.” He looked at the woman, and nodded. “Frau Schlesier.”

“You know this woman?”

“I should. She is the stepdaughter of my regimental commander, Colonel Ludendorf.”

“He married a Silesian?” Dieffenbacher’s tone suggested something obscene.

“About ten years ago, yes. Since you do not care who her father is, I suggest you run smartly over to the regimental area and tell him not to send his daughter on such an errand.”

“Do not tell me what to do!”

Hartmann tapped his sleeve. “Since I am senior to you, it is sometimes my job to tell you what to do. So help the woman first, then we can deal with my business.”

Dieffenbacher snatched the paper from the woman’s hand. When he read the first name Hartman interrupted him, reading the two others on his own list.

“So that is where they ended up!” she caroled triumphantly. “Men who have already volunteered for existing regiments have been showing up all day. They have been trying to find these three since they entered the base yesterday!”

“I will send them along.” Hartmann looked at Dieffenbacher. “Now if you had just been polite and helped the woman, we would have not had to deal with this scene, Hansel.” He stepped outside, closing the door, and had walked only a few feet when the door opened then closed, followed by something hitting the wall.

“What a horrid little man.”

He turned, looking back at the woman. “He is the big frog in the small pond, Frau Schlesier. But he forgot the most important point in life.”

“How so?”

” ‘She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast

May not deal in doubt or pity—must not swerve for fact or jest.

These be purely male diversions—not in these her honour dwells—

She the Other Law we live by, is that Law and nothing else,’ ” Hartmann quoted in English.

He paused. ” ‘The Female of the Species,’ by an up-time poet named Rudyard Kipling.”

She looked as if she understood something. “Ah, so you are the other fan of Kipling my father speaks of.” He nodded. “Are you going back to the regimental area?” He nodded again. “May I walk with you?” He motioned, and she walked alongside him.

 

9:00 AM

 

Becker marched the men back to the barracks. Each was now in feldgrau and behind them was a cart loaded with footlockers. “Company halt!” He walked to the front of the column. “Each of you will take your footlocker and set it at the end of your bunk. Once you have done this, you will unpack it onto your bed. Then I will show you how to fold and stow the gear. I do not care how your maiden aunt thought clothes were to be folded—you are in the army! We do it our own way. After that, we will go to the even harder version of it—how to pack it for the field in a knapsack. Perhaps with you lot, we will finish before dinner. However, I am not sure you are that smart.” He glanced to the side and saw the sergeant coming.

“Now fall out! Move those footlockers! Luftmann, Gross, make sure they move like they have a purpose!” Becker turned, marching toward Hartmann.

“So the up-timers allow women in their National Guard?” The girl asked as he approached.

“Yes, the best shot I have ever seen among them was a woman,” Hartmann replied. “There are a number of positions where a woman can do the job as well as a man. Technically all of our camp followers are now registered contractors under army command.”

“You mean . . .”

“No, that is something they do of their own will. I mean cooking and laundry. There are also midwives attached to the hospital units, and soon, I am told, perhaps even nurses, who are medical personnel attending the wounded rather than servants.”

“I can cook, but for hundreds! That I think is not for me. What about doing Sergeant Dieffenbacher’s job?”

Hartmann stopped. “He made you that angry?”

“Oh, he made me angry, I will admit. But I can balance the household accounts, know what to select if I go to market, and have a good hand when I write. Father allowed me to be educated in things beyond what I would need when I am married.”

“I do not know how much the USE will take from the up-timers’ example. Perhaps you should discuss this further with your father.” Without looking to the side, he asked, “How are they doing so far, Becker?”

“Totally confused. But that is to be expected.”

Feldwebel Becker, Frau Schlesier. And before your thoughts run into the midden, she is Colonel Ludendorf’s daughter. Frau Schlesier, Linus Becker.”

“Aloyse,” she added, extending her hand.

Becker took it as if it were a delicate blossom. “Enchanted.”

Hartmann broke into the touching scene like an axe falling. “The three extra men were for a new unit. We will have to find out whether they are merely stupid or were misdirected. Frau Schlesier, we have work to do.” He gave her a nod, jerked his head for Becker to follow, and walked away, then noticed Becker was not beside him.

“It was nice to meet you, Frau Schlesier.”

Ah, young love. “Becker!”

“My master’s voice. Good day, Frau Schlesier.”

She watched as the young man jogged toward the sergeant and fell into step. She smiled gently. “Yes indeed, Linus. And your sergeant has given me food for thought.”

 

3:00 PM

 

BBfldwblThe men finally staggered to a stop. “Right face!” They turned, facing their tormenter. Hartmann sighed, clasped his hands behind his back, and rocked heel to toe. “You are the most pathetic group I have ever seen marching. And since I have been a soldier for half my life, that is not an honor. Feldwebel Becker is going to take over, and he will march you until he is satisfied. Do not consider this a blessing. He has become somewhat strict after I beat it into him.”

Becker marched over. “All right, you sorry lot, we will do this until I am satisfied. We will not stop for meals unless you please me, and that will include breakfast if you are as slow as you have been!” He snarled. “And I like my dinner and breakfast on time! So you best buckle down! Left face! Forward at the quickstep, march! Kohler! Watch the men on either side! If you are not moving the same foot in time, I will make you wish you were born a girl!”

Hartmann watched them for a moment, then turned to head to his quarters. Actually they were shaping up nicely for a first day. But the up-timers had taught him that giving praise too early would make them slack off.

He paused to arm himself, buckling on his sword belt and hanging one of his wheel locks on the opposite side. He put on his cap, then marched to the regimental headquarters.

“Sergeant!” He turned, then snapped to attention. Colonel Ludendorf came up on his horse, stopping a few feet away. “Minor change in plans. You are going to be the divisional sergeant of the guard tonight. Sergeant Strombeck of the First Battalion will be there for the regiment.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sergeant, I have known you long enough to know when you are displeased. Indulge me.”

“My men have found out today is my birthday. Knowing them, I shudder to think what they might do if I am not watching for it. It was just before my birthday that County Tilly slaughtered my father and brother, and caused my mother’s death that night. My younger brother died on my birthday as we were headed for White Mountain, where I lost my sister as well.”

“Ah.” Ludendorf eased his mount. “I will inform Strombeck to watch out for any surprises they might plan. Oh, I hear you saw my daughter this morning?”

“I did, sir. She has grown a lot since I saw her last.”

“In a few months she will be eighteen, and according to her, she wants to join the army.”

“Times change, sir.”

“Yes.” Ludendorf looked across the camp. “I never thought they would change to this extent, Sergeant. To have men fighting to defend their homes instead of for pay and loot. Staying true to your land and oath rather than going where the money is. I like those changes, but more will come that neither of us like.” He shook himself as if waking. “As for Aloyse, I have a favor to ask. I told her you spent almost three years in the up-timer’s National Guard. No one knows better how they deal with women in their army.”

“I have promised to speak up for her, but I expect something from her. I will ask that a study be commissioned, but only if she writes a position report. With your help, she might deliver it.”

 

3:45 PM

 

Thanks to the change in post, Hartmann had to jog part of the way. He entered headquarters and went to the sergeant’s guardroom. Sergeant Kreis of the Black Boar Regiment stood at his approach. “I am glad you arrived. I only heard a moment ago that you were my relief, Sergeant Hartmann.”

“Call me Richard. After all, you are now a sergeant, Eric,” chided the younger man.

“Yes I am. But you are senior. So until I am more comfortable, perhaps I will call you merely Sergeant?”

“Please yourself.”

Kreis went through what had been happening during the day and what was expected during the evening to come. Once Hartmann was fully apprised he nodded. “Sergeant, I relieve you.”

The junior sergeant gave a nod in return. “I stand relieved.”

The young man marched away, and Hartmann was now in charge. He nodded to the feldwebel who had just taken over from the earlier watch, then went out.

Even with a larger area, it was simple. He knew where the guard posts were supposed to be even at the divisional level and was making sure everyone had been relieved on time. Unlike him and the officer of the watch, the men would be relieved every four hours to assure they did not get bored or slipshod. That meant the second half of their watch would be in the guardroom relaxing while the others stood their posts.

Most sergeants left taking the men to their posts to their feldwebel, but Hartmann had always taken the first draft of replacements himself. That way he would see the lay of the land and where there might be problems. Some places needed better security even in a secure camp. He gathered the men, inspected them, and led them out along the perimeter. Once his guard had been set, he returned to the office.

He arranged the list of people expected, including sutlers and camp followers, made notes of the areas in the city that might need to have men sent if the MPs needed help—the thousand and one things that happened every day or night that might be a headache for the watch standers.

“Pay special attention to anything going to the Third Regiment tonight,” Hartmann told the guard on the gate. “When the cat is away, as the old saying goes.” That last done, he returned to the guardroom.

A lieutenant he didn’t know was talking to the feldwebel. The man was about the same age as Hartmann, late twenties. His uniform was crisp and looked tailored. “You are?”

“Hartmann, Lieutenant.”

“Ah. The man reached out, grasping Hartmann’s hand. “I have heard a lot about you! I am Lieutenant Wilhelm Jurgens. I am a new First Lieutenant of the Silver Fox regiment.”

“It is nice to meet you, sir.”

“Now, let us go over what is expected tonight.”

 

5:00 PM

 

“We are ready, Linus.” Maggie Rourke, the unofficial commanding officer of the Third Regiment’s camp followers looked over the dozen trays the other women had prepared.

“Great.” Becker walked over to the front window. “No, bad.”

“What?” she asked.

He motioned her over, pointing at the side of one of the barracks. A figure was standing there, scanning the regimental street. She looked “Strombeck.”

“Yes. Duty sergeant of the guard for our regiment. Want to bet he has been told by Hartmann to watch us very closely?”

Maggie gave him a grin. “Trust in feminine wiles, feller-me-lad.” She turned. “Women, I need some volunteers to keep a sergeant occupied.”

 

6:00 PM

 

“Sergeant Hartmann?”

He glanced over from where he had stepped outside to smoke his pipe. “Frau Schlesier.” She came up to him, almost bouncing on her toes. “May I help you?”

“Yes, if you would.”

“I have to go back to the office, if you will accompany me?” She fell into step beside him. Having seen Kohler learn to march, he was satisfied that she already knew left from right.

“I spoke to my father about joining the army.”

“He told me, Frau Schlesier, and asked me to help. When you write this report, you are trying to convince men to agree. You can do this as a young girl to a man, or a friend to a friend. But if you do it either of those ways, you will lose.”

She nodded. “After our talk I spent several hours speaking with the up-timers in the USE Army, and found out what positions they allowed to be filled in their time. Did you know the commanding officer of TacRail is not only a woman, but was commissioned an MP officer before the Ring of Fire?” He nodded. “Father told me that I could go into the field the next time the regiment deploys and help him with his correspondence, but I do not wish to be some pampered little girl safe in headquarters. I want to serve our country like any other soldier.”

Hartmann stopped, turning to face the girl. “Headquarters is safer than the line, I will admit. But I have seen them captured and torched before. Do you think for a moment that one of our enemies would say, ‘Oh, she is some officer’s daughter’ and pass you by to rape some camp follower in your stead? Your life will be on the line, young woman, just like the women who work with us, remember that. That is why I made sure the regiment’s camp followers knew how to load and fire a rifle in an emergency.”

Her reply was perfectly that of an officer’s daughter. “I realize that, sergeant. I am not asking that I replace some man in the line, even if the up-time women would. I mean maybe in a clerical position or perhaps radio operator. I am thinking of when the war with Brandenburg and Saxony begins. Men who are sitting here in camp or at headquarters can be sent if women like me can take their place. Such a project must start somewhere.

“Father said you have spent a great deal of time among the up-timers in their National Guard. So you know how they think. He has offered to ask that a study be commissioned, and that begins with a position report.”

“So, you wish me to write this for you?” He asked in disbelief.

“Of course not. My father’s attitude about me wanting things is that I must always have a good logical reason why he should allow it. He said that is more important if I am to convince the Army! So I am to write the report. All I wish from you is what points I must address.” She grinned impishly. “I think those who read it will assume some man wrote it. So when they complain he can say, ‘My daughter, a woman, wrote it!’ ”

“If there is anything you need from home, I would suggest you go and get it now. This will probably take the rest of my watch.” She held up the bag she carried. He shook his head with a grin, and led her the rest of the way to his office, pointing her to a chair.

“First you must look at the reasons they would not wish to have women in the army. There was a film I saw in Grantville named GI Jane where one of the actors, a Moor, commented that his father had wanted to be a gunner on a warship, but was relegated to being a cook because they claimed his entire race had bad night vision. So think of every excuse they might come up with and be prepared to refute it. The only one you can safely ignore is that it has not been done. Strength, intelligence, willingness to do the job, and stamina.

“Strength is a given. I could easily pick you up without straining myself, but you would not be able to return the favor.”

“Neither could Dieffenbacher.”

“Agreed. So do not claim a woman is as strong. As for intelligence, that is something that you must already have, and they would have to prove that the average man is not as smart. Willingness? As the up-timers say, ‘A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.’ ”

“Ah, their habit of paraphrasing.”

“Exactly. So address their issues first. As you have pointed out, you could work in personnel, quartermaster, and payroll if you were a man. But you have to prove to them that a woman can.” He considered what else to suggest when one of the guards came in.

“I expect you to get to work on that.” He walked out, talking with the young soldier.

Aloyse sighed. She had hoped being a friend would work. But she found having him treat her like someone he expected work from was more satisfying. She opened her bag and took out her small teapot and the jar of tea. She looked out the door at the feldwebel at the desk. “Could you help me?”

“If I can, Frau. . .”

“Schlesier. My father is Colonel Ludendorf, and he wants a report from me. Is there a stove I can heat some tea on?”

“Yes.” He stood, hands running down his uniform, probably hoping he hadn’t made a mess at dinner. “Here, I will get the water.”

“No, please, merely show me.”

 

6:30 PM

 

Becker felt like Sisyphus in his torments. He had to arrange distraction after distraction. One he used immediately was relocating the party to the barracks where the new company was. But they still had to get the drinks in and rolling barrels through the street would definitely be noticed.

He went to the feldwebel of the two adjoining battalions and arranged a barrel-rolling contest. Perhaps that would do it.

 

7:00 PM

 

“What do you think, Sergeant?” Hartmann motioned to the men he was speaking to, then walked over, reading the report as it stood. He made some suggestions about additional changes he had thought of. Without demur, she sat and began noting where to insert them before beginning again.

 

7:30 PM

 

“And what do I have here?” A voice asked.

Linus tried to stop the barrel. But since he weighed less than a third of what it did, he felt his feet digging in. “Scheisse!” Becker snarled. Sergeant Strombeck was too much like Hartmann! He had been ready to move the beer, but the sergeant of the guard was watching! He had done everything he could to distract the man, but the bastard was too good!

Strombeck crossed his arms, tapping his toe. “Well, Becker. Try to tell me a lie.”

Becker snarled. Yes, he was a sergeant, but really! “We wanted to give our sergeant a surprise birthday!” he screamed.

Strombeck merely looked at him. Then leaned forward. “Why not tell me and ask for my silence?” Becker flinched back. “I never knew when my birthday was. I was left on the doorstep of an abbey right in the middle of a plague the day after the clerk fell ill, so there was no date of when I arrived. It wasn’t until I was old enough to understand that they just gave me a birthday. So the sergeant knows what his birthday is. I will help.” He motioned. “Finish moving the beer!”

Becker looked after him then at his partner in crime. “All we did to keep him occupied wasted?” He asked, aghast.

“I think you are always trying to be too sneaky, Linus.” Michel Hamner commented drily.

It took only minutes to finish moving the barrels, and Becker looked over the preparations.

“And how do we assure Hartmann comes here before midnight?” Gross asked.

Becker looked at him, then at the other faces expecting him to pull this off as well. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Oaf!”

 

10:30 PM

 

“How is it coming?” Hartmann asked. He had been in and out every few minutes. The second shift had been marched out, and he expected it to slow down a bit. He had gotten messages from men in his company about coming by for their usual CoC chat, but he refused. He knew it was for something else and couldn’t be bothered.

Aloyse sipped her tea, and handed over the report. “It is still rough, but I can work on it a little more if you do not mind.”

He took it, reading silently. “Well-thought out. The arguments are cogent. A pity you cannot type.”

“Type?”

“We have one of the newly-made typewriters in the radio room. If you could type, you could smooth out the wording, and put it in a clearly legible format.”

A guard stuck his head in. “Sergeant? There is a woman at the gate who was going to your regimental area. I brought her here instead.”

“Good. Bring her in.” Hartmann was not sure what they might have planned. Becker had giggled about a film he had seen where a naval officer had thought a woman assigned to his submarine was really a stripper. Having seen a film himself about a woman who worked in what was called striptease, he would put nothing past Becker!

The guard returned, and Hartmann immediately leaped to his feet feeling contrite. “Frau Kaufmann! You were heading to the regiment?”

The wife of the innkeeper of Der Barmherzige Samariter, the Good Samaritan, walked up and hugged him. “I came to see you, Richard.” She held up something swathed in a napkin. “We know how much you like our pork pies, so the girls made one for you. For your birthday.”

“You should not have,” he said, looking at the bundle in her hands.

“You may not celebrate the day, Richard. But we do every time we remember the Sack.” She looked at Aloyse. “Richard saved my twin girls and me from rape and worse when the city was sacked by Count Tilly. We owe him a debt we can never repay.”

Hartmann took the still warm pan and opened the napkin. There was a box sitting atop the crust. “What is this?”

“Your wife bought that not long after she arrived here in Magdeburg. She told me that she was going to give it to you on this day. Since she is no more, I felt the least I could do is deliver it in her stead.”

Aloyse had never seen such a look of loss on someone’s face. Hartmann sat, holding the box as if afraid to open it. Then his fingers moved, and the lid fell back. He looked for a long moment, then lifted out a pipe. The bowl was not clay, rather it was of a white stone. He turned it, and she saw a tear run down his cheek. She bent closer, looking at the smiling woman’s face that made up the front of the bowl. Her head was back as if laughing at a joke, eyes slitted in amusement. Her hair formed a foaming mass that would be caressed by the smoker as he held it.

“The model is beautiful.” she whispered.

“Yes, she was. It is my wife’s face. She had heard of a stone found in the Ottoman Empire that sometimes floats in the Black Sea. It is called meerschaum. The up-timers had smoking pipes carved of it in an antique shop in Grantville, though according to their encyclopedias, it will not be used for pipe smoking for another century.” He took a folded scrap of paper from the formed rest, opening it. “So I will always be with you, my love, wherever you are,” he read in a soft voice.

Aloyse jumped as Frau Kaufmann touched her arm, moving her to the door, closing it. “Let us leave him for a time, young one.”

“His wife? When he visited my father after they returned this year he never spoke of her around me.”

“You know he was sent to Ahrensbök after he trained the company he leads? When he left she was alive and great with child.” Frau Kaufmann looked away. “She died along with the baby the same day they reached Segeberg. He did not come home then or write. In fact we thought for months that he might have died in that battle. She meant so much to him. When he came home, it was as if his heart had been ripped out. He has mourned her ever since.”

Aloyse started toward the door, but Frau Kaufmann stopped her. “He will never heal if we keep reminding him of his loss.”

Hartmann looked up as the door opened, Aloyse was carrying a tray, with a teapot and two cups. “Here. Just what you need, Sergeant.” He looked at her in quiet amusement as she poured and handed him a cup. “My one vice, mint tea. I asked, and Frau Kaufmann thought it would go well with the pie. I must see about that typewriter.” She bustled back out.

He breathed in the mint vapor, then sipped it. Instead of cutting into the pie, he filled the new pipe, puffing it to light.

 

11:00 PM

 

Becker looked up as Frau Kaufmann entered the barracks. “Did you tell him? Is he coming?”

She shook her head. “He has the guards watching for your attempts.” Everyone groaned.

Becker began pacing rapidly. “What about Aloyse?” he asked.

“Who?”

“The colonel’s daughter! I spoke to her right before she headed for headquarters, to try to keep the sergeant occupied for a few hours until we were ready.”

“If she is who I think, she has kept him occupied too well. They are deep into some report the girl is writing for her father.”

Becker grabbed his own hair and tried to pull it out. “What can I do now!”

 

11:20 PM

 

“He is not coming,” Becker commented glumly.

“Of course not, you silly bitch,” Sergeant Strombeck replied. Becker spun. They had done so much! The camp followers had made a cake and snacks, Becker and Hamner had bought in beer and cider, and the bastard was ignoring them?

“You do not get it.” Strombeck sighed. “All he has to do is not come back to the area until after his watch. If he is not here before midnight, your party fails.”

Becker growled, “I will not give up!”

Strombeck grinned. “Did you know if a group shouts ‘rhubarb’ without timing it so it is merely a shout, it sounds like an angry crowd?”

Becker looked at him, then pointed at some of his men. “Shout ‘rhubarb!’ ” As the men did so, Becker waited, and shouted the same after about half of the word. It did sound like an argument! “So we need you as part of it.”

“What do you think he will do if there is a riot here, and I went in without ending it?” Strombeck asked.

 

11:30 PM

 

Hartmann closed the cover on his watch. There was no more time for any surprise party. He sighed in satisfaction. Just another half hour—

“Sergeant of the Guard!” He leaped up and was running at the call. A guard stood outside the door to the building, looking around as if he expected an attack any moment. “Sergeant! We have a report of a riot in the camp!”

“Get the MPs here. Now!” Half a dozen men with MP brassards came up at the double time, another feldwebel leading them. “You men, with me!” Hartmann charged into the camp.

It was only about four hundred yards to the regimental street. As they jogged past, other men who were still up looked curious. They were within fifty yards when he could hear shouting. The barracks where his new trainees were assigned was fully lit, and men were shouting inside. A number of people, some from his own company, were standing about.

“Where is Sergeant Strombeck?” he demanded.

“He went in, and if anything the shouting grew louder, Sergeant.”

Hartmann snarled, then charged forward, the MPs following. He yanked the door open. “What the hell do you think you are doing!”

The men inside fell silent. Hartmann had enough time to see that it wasn’t the recruit company; it was his own who had filled the room along with a dozen camp followers. Then in one voice from before and behind they shouted, “Happy Birthday, Sergeant!”

BBbrmgHe stared around, shocked as his men came to him in a crowd. Hands slapped him on the back as women hugged him. A barrel of beer had been placed where the first bunk should have been, and Becker handed him a foaming mug. “Drink with us, please!”

“I told you not to do anything like this,” Hartmann growled.

“Is it not good I had arranged it all before you gave me that order? And moved it to these barracks rather than our own?” Becker asked. “Now come, Sergeant Hartmann, drink with us to celebrate the day!”

“You damn fools, I am still on duty!”

“Sergeant Hartmann?” He turned. A sergeant he had seen but not met was at the door. “Sergeant Franz, your relief. Is there anything I should know?”

“My entire company is made up of sneaky bastards!”

“A given, Sergeant,” the young man said with a grin. “Sergeant, I relieve you!”

Hartmann wanted to scream, to yell, to break furniture and heads. Instead, he began to laugh helplessly. He completed the ritual, then took the beer.

 

12:00 Midnight

“We hoped you would like it,” Hamner said. Hartmann looked at the beautiful rifle he had held the day before and at the pistol that had come with it. There was a box, and he opened it, taking out the slim case of a full metal cartridge. “Why that sneaky bastard.”

“He lied, Sergeant,” Becker said, sipping his beer. “But in a good cause.”

“I hate you all,” Hartmann snarled, then lifted the rifle. “But thank you all for this.”

The men came by, slapping his shoulder and shaking his hand. Hartmann picked up his beer, sipping it.

“Sergeant!” He looked up as Aloyse walked across the room. There were wolf whistles, and someone shouted, “Kiss her!”

“Kiss the colonel’s daughter? For shame, men.” Hartmann offered a tankard, and she sipped it delicately. “How is the report going?”

“That young feldwebel in the guardroom helped me by typing it up. He said it is easy to learn, and I decided to add the skill as something a woman may learn to become a soldier in the rear echelon. My father came by as it was being finished, and he said it was well-written, and he will deliver it to General Knyphausen tomorrow as a suggestion.”

“So one day you might be in uniform.” Hartmann smiled. “And Sergeant Dieffenbacher is out of a job?”

“I don’t think so.” She watched, waiting until he began to drink. “After this evening, I think it is your job I am after.”

His grinned then reached into his tunic, handing her his well-thumbed copy of Kipling’s collected works.

” ‘If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too.’ ”

He tilted his tankard against hers. “You will need this, then.”