Hamburg, January 1633
Someone grabbed Annabet Nutsch and covered her eyes. “Guess who!”
Annabet stiffened. She recognized the voice and jabbed her elbow into her brother’s ribs. “Grow up, Johann.” She wrestled free and shook her finger at the tall, gangly young man with light brown shaggy hair. “You should be in Jena doing your journeyman’s work.” She tucked her blonde hair back under the cap he knocked askew.
“And you should be a housewife with a child on leading strings.” He grinned at her, green eyes filled with mischief. “Look at this and tell me what you think.”
Annabet shoved her baby brother out of the way. “I’m working.”
“Just take a look!”.
Annabet snorted. “Fine. A quick look, then you have to leave. My mistress is not an understanding woman.” She dumped an armload of clothes in a wash tub and shoved them in the soapy water. “Rinse the linens, Wilhelmina, while I deal with my brother,” she told the young maid who was helping her. Annabet took Johann’s arm and towed him to a corner where they could talk unheard. “What is it?”
“American lace.” Johann grinned.
Annabet looked at the long, narrow band of lace. It was made of very fine yarn that was twisted and tangled in a regular fashion. It should have looked ugly, but it didn’t. “This is nothing I have seen before.” She stretched it flat to better see the stitches.
“It’s from the future. I learned how to make this from an American woman in Grantville,” Johann said. “She had this lace everywhere! It was on her tables and chairs and on the bottom of her curtains.” He reached in and pulled out a ball of string and a fist full of hooks. They were all a different size and none bigger than a thin tree branch. “I whittled these for you. They are called crochet hooks.” He reached into his bag again and pulled out a handful of papers with sketches and strange lettering. “Here are instructions. I cannot read the English, but I can tell what each step means. The lady I bought these from could barely speak German, let alone write it. I will need your help translating this.”
“Johann, you know I don’t read English!”
“But you do know what women call things.” Johann grinned. “The lady taught me how to crochet. If I do what each picture shows, you can tell me how to write instructions.” He sent her a pleading look when she remained silent. He rifled through his sketches and found one with a simple lace edging on the collar. “Look. She said you can make a collar like this in three days. Lace edging for sleeves would take maybe a day. Two, if you’re slow. A collar as wide as your hand is long would take a week. Three at the very most. I can engrave the pictures easily. Now that I have a press, I can set the instructions and print the patterns myself.”
Annabet scowled. She had heard her father carrying on about her brother’s new press and his Committee and their dreams for revolution. She agreed with her father’s skepticism. It sounded too good to be true. But this . . . She took the paper with the design. Johann was a good artist and his sketch was clear. The collar was simple, almost plain, but it was still lace. Annabet was torn. The American lace sounded like a get rich quick scheme, but this was lace. The wealthy matron who employed her as a maid of all work only had it on her very best clothes. “I will look at this. Tonight.” Annabet stuffed the paper and all the rest back in his bag. “Don’t assume I will fall in with your plans. Now go before Frau Koch sees you.” .
Johann hesitated, possibly to argue and wheedle her into loafing, but Annabet knew she was pushing her good luck by letting him stay as long as she had. She shoved him out the door.
* * *
Annabet met her brother when he came home from the tavern that afternoon. She watched in satisfaction as their mother grabbed his ear and twisted it.
“Ow!” He fell to his knees when the pressure increased. “I’m sorry. Whatever it was I did, I’m sorry!”
“Not as sorry as you will be when Papa gets home,” Annabet told him. “Frau Koch isn’t going to renew my contract when it expires. And it expires real soon! She said it was because I had suspicious young men visiting me. When I told her you were my brother she didn’t care. I shouldn’t have been wasting my time and her money talking to you.” Her fists curled. She wanted to twist his ear, too. And pinch and slap and kick and pummel him black and blue. She took a deep breath instead.
She needed the coin. She had spent all of her money on supplies to make things for her dower chest. As long as it was taking Gottfried to save up his mercenary’s pay, she was certain that it would be her money that would allow them to get married. When he managed to return. His occasional notes with vague promises had stopped coming. She was worried he was spending all he had earned. “I keep hearing how your Committee of Correspondence encourages women to be as free as men. Not that I believed it.
“Unfortunately for me, it looks like I will be finding out sooner instead of later. I am your first committee member here in Hamburg whether I like it or not. You will print lace patterns before you print anything else. I will sell them for you and you will pay me the same as you would any other shop help.”
* * *
That night, Annabet frowned as she watched her brother crochet. He was clumsy and slow. She doubted his claim of a lace collar in three days. Annabet turned to the pictures that gave instruction and scowled at them.
Sighing at herself as much as at him, she began to follow the pictures in the instructions, squinting, muttering to herself as she went. Johann offered advice and additional coaching, hindering as much as helping. After some time, a few shushings, and a kick to Johann’s shin, Annabet mastered the basic stitches. Before too much longer, she was making a row of loops and picots on top of a simple filet crochet band that looked like a long, thin ladder.
“Hmphf.” She finished her lace cuff and put it next to the hem of her sleeve. “It’s like knitting, but not.” Annabet started a second cuff. Now that she knew what she was doing, it went much faster. She could do a collar in three days, even if her brother couldn’t. “Johann, you may not be an idiot after all.”
He grinned. “Then you can help me write the instructions for the patterns? And make lots of lace to display? ”
“Yes.” She scowled. “But if my eyes cross because of it, I will beat you. You may be bigger, but I’m still older.”
Johann laughed. “By the time I finish setting up my printing press, I will have two things to print! A broadsheet for the Committees and a lace pattern for women.” He rolled up his project and went to his sister. “I’ll be rich!”
Annabet frowned. “If you don’t get a broken head first. Those who are in charge will not like this. The people who owe favors to them will like it even less. You know that the city leaders aren’t at all sure about those crazy Americans. Plus, you’ve never run a printing press before!”
He waved her concerns aside and got paper from his pack. “Describe the first picture. How many chain stitches did it take to go around your arm?”
* * *
A week later, Annabet walked into her brother’s shop on the outskirts of Hamburg. The bell over the door, missing its clapper, tonked when the door hit it. Johann yelped, brandishing a tool. She frowned at him before she set her basket down and straightened her lace collar. She removed her shawl, now trimmed with lace, and tucked it into the basket. “Why are you so jumpy? Who has been here?”
“Annabet. What are you doing here?”
She noticed his evasion, but let it slide in favor or more important things. “You need to have your landlord fix the bell and that broken window. This shop may be cheap because it’s on the edge of town, but that’s no reason for it to be shabby and in bad repair.” Annabet looked around, spotted what she was looking for and crossed to the shelves. “I’m getting more patterns. All the women I know want one of each, even though they complain mightily about how hard it is to read them. I ran out.” She reached in her pocket and pulled out a small purse. “Here’s the money left over after I ordered more hooks. The patterns sell better if I have them.
“And do something about the printing. The ink is too blotchy; the lines are too close together.” She squinted at the example in her hand. “Make the spaces between the words wider, too.” She went back to the stacks of paper.
A bit desperate, Johann took the money and her elbow. “I’ll bring some home tonight.” He started to drag her to the door.
Annabet shook him off. “What did you do? These pages are all tumbled.” She pulled more off the shelf. “These are crumpled.” She slapped his hand when he grabbed her. “Johann, what happened? Who’s been here?”
“Nothing.” Johann couldn’t meet her eyes. “It was an accident,” he lied.
She put her fists on her hips and glared at him. “What kind of accident?”
“I stumbled and hit the shelf. It fell.” He met her eyes, finally. “Go home, Annabet. I’ll bring the patterns tonight.”
She recognized that look. “You are lying.” Annabet narrowed her eyes. “Did someone from the city council come here?”
Johann grabbed sheaves of patterns and put them in her basket. “If you want the patterns now, you’ll have to sort them yourself.” He shoved a second stack in her basket then grabbed her arm in a fierce grip and dragged her to the door. “Go. Home. Annabet.”
* * *
The next morning, Annabet answered the door to her parents’ house and found her best friend, Bertha, hand in hand with Karl, Bertha’s fiancé. “You’re back! This is wonderful! Where’s Gottfried? You went to war together. Did you get separated?” She went to hug him, then stopped. His face was solemn and Bertha was teary-eyed. “What’s wrong?”
“May we come in?” Karl asked.
Annabet lost her smile. She stepped back and held the door open.
She showed them to chairs. Karl dragged his hat off his head, crumpling it in his big fists. He looked at Bertha in desperation, but she was crying.
Annabet hid her fists in the folds of her skirt and took a deep breath. “Gottfried’s dead.” She said it for him.
Karl nodded. Bertha dried her face and got up to put her arms around Annabet.
Annabet just stood there staring through the wall. “I had hoped he was whoring and too embarrassed to tell me he spent all his pay.” She heard Karl clear his throat and focused on him.
“Gottfried was killed at . . .” He stopped when Annabet shook her head.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “He’s dead. What good is he to me now?” Annabet was aware of Bertha and Karl communicating with grimaces and head jerks, but ignored them.
Karl eventually left. Bertha stayed long enough for Annabet’s mother to return from the market. After a whispered conversation, Bertha left as well. Annabet let her mother guide her to a chair, but ignored her fussing in favor of staring out the window.
Annabet shrugged off her mother’s urging to lie down. She did move, though, to a corner, where she stared at a half-finished cuff made of lace shells instead. It hurt to see what she couldn’t have.
* * *
Johann clattered in that evening and crouched at her feet. He frowned at her expression. “Why the face? I brought you more patterns. One of them is new.”
She started keening.
She curled into a ball. “Go away.”
He swore. “Why are you crying? Did someone hurt you?” When she didn’t answer, he shook her. “Who?”
“Gottfried.” She blew her nose.
Annabet stared at him, confused. “No, not the mayor’s enforcer.” She scrubbed her face. “My betrothed, Gottfried Mueller. He’s dead. Now I’ll never get married!”
Annabet twisted her handkerchief. “How do soldiers usually die? In a battle. Somewhere.” She ignored the tears rolling down her face. “Almost six months gone.”
“Why so long to get the news?”
“Gottfried could barely read and didn’t see the point in writing. He only did it because I made him.” Annabet started sobbing again. “Karl didn’t know how to put the news in a letter to Bertha, so he waited until he came back.”
Johann put his arms around Annabet. He rested his forehead on her hair. “Is Bertha the one who used to pinch my cheeks?”
Annabet nodded and bawled. “She said she wanted a child just like you. I don’t know why.”
After a while, she pulled back and wiped her face with the sodden cloth. Johan dug out his handkerchief, and the light fell across his face.
Annabet grabbed his chin. “Why do you have a black eye?”
“I ran into someone,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. What did Mama and Papa say about the news?”
* * *
A few days later, the door to Johann’s shop was locked.
“Are you certain he’s here?” Bertha asked. She kept one eye on the half-shuttered windows in the nearby shops, and wrinkled her nose at a pile of garbage scenting the air with more than a hint of rot.
“Yes,” Annabet replied. “He spends all of his time here or at the tavern talking about the Committees of Correspondence.” She pounded on the door. “Johann! Open up!”
“I don’t think he’s here,” Bertha said. “I don’t think we should be here, either. This isn’t a very good part of town.”
Annabet huffed and knocked on the door again. “Johann!”
The door jerked open and stopped partway. Johann blocked the opening. “What?”
Annabet pushed on the door. “What were you doing?”
Johann pushed back. “Working,” he said. “Go away.”
Annabet pushed harder. “Open the door.”
Johann glared. “No.”
Her eyes narrowed. When Johann didn’t back down, Annabet demanded, “What is wrong with you?”
“Nothing.” He shoved his jaw out in the stubborn expression that Annabet recognized all too well.
“We’ll see about that.” Annabet threw her weight on the door. “Bertha, don’t just stand there! Help me.”
Bertha added her weight. Johann held them off for a moment but ended up slipping back a step or two.
Johann gave up. “Stop.”
Annabet squinted with suspicion, but stopped. Johann shoved something aside and opened the door.
Annabet stepped over the threshold, then stopped. Bertha followed, trying to peer around her. The shop was covered with spilled ink and scattered papers.
Annabet picked up a ruined pattern. “What happened?”
Johann kicked at a pile of ink-splattered paper. “A group of men from the city council.” He shrugged and surveyed his shop. “They ruined all my paper and spilled the ink then left me with a warning.”
“Be glad they didn’t do more,” Bertha said. “They normally break heads.”
Annabet paused her prodding of the nearest mess and looked up at him. “What kind of warning?”
“Get out of the Committee or suffer the consequences.”
Annabet snorted and started to pick up papers. “What did you expect?”
“Not this. I expected other journeymen and apprentices to join me.” He sighed. “I hoped they would help me spread democracy.”
Annabet clucked. “Always the dreamer.”
Johann kept silent and continued cleaning. The women followed suit, at least until it came time to mop up the ink.
“Do you have enough money to buy more supplies?” Annabet asked.
His gaze slid away then he forced it back. “No,” Johann said. “That is what part of the mess is from. I fought to save what I had.”
Bertha sniffed. “He’s ruined.”
Annabet sent her an angry look. “That’s very helpful of you.” She considered the blotches on the floor. “Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will think more clearly. Today, we will clean this up.”
Johann crossed his arms, trying to look as forbidding as their father. “No. You will stay out of this!”
Annabet just looked at him. “You are not Papa to order me around. You are not my betrothed, either. You are just my baby brother, and you need help.” A tear slid out of the corner of her eye. “I need something to work toward, something to hope for.” She took a deep breath. “Please?”
Johann swore. “Fine.” He uncrossed his arms and went back to work.
Bertha just patted him on the shoulder as she went to look for a mop. “You’re a good boy. Stupid, but good.”
* * *
Annabet met Johann when he came home the next night. He had no more bruises, but he did have a fresh scowl. He slammed the door behind him.
“What’s wrong, now?” she asked.
He kicked a chair. “No one will give me paper or ink on credit. I have nothing to print on.”
“You will.” Annabet took the heavy purse she’d been carrying all day out of her apron pocket. “I want to go into business with you. I want to be a full partner and not just your clerk.”
“What do you mean?”
“I sold all the linens from my dowry chest,” she said. “One of the cooks where Bertha works is fumbled-fingered when it comes to fancy work. But she’s thrifty and has plenty of coin instead. She’s also in love, and her sweetheart just made master. He’s ready to marry, and her dower chest was half empty. I emptied mine and filled hers for a good price. That, added to the money I earned working for Frau Koch . . .” She grinned while he gawped. “I will buy the paper and ink and give you half for your Committees of Correspondence. You will use the rest to print patterns for me.”
Johann stared at her. “Why?”
Annabet’s mouth pinched. “I grieve less for Gottfried than I do for the house we would have had and the children. All the men my age are either betrothed or married. I don’t want to wait for a young one to earn enough to take a wife. That leaves widowers with children.” She shrugged. “It’s not my first choice, but I’m tired of being considered a child when I’m not.
“I will have a better chance of getting married quickly if I have money rather than goods.” She held out her arms, fingering the hems of her sleeves. “With this American lace, I will look wealthy. By selling your patterns and making my own, I will be wealthy.” She looked at her brother then picked up a pamphlet. “I read your Rights of Man and Common Sense. It’s starting to make sense.” She dared him with a glare of her own. “Will you deny me the same chances because I am a woman?”
Johann closed his mouth and swallowed. “No.” He looked at her then began to grin. He grabbed her in a hug. “We will change Hamburg!”
Annabet snorted. “We’ll try.”
* * *
“Annabet, where are we going?” Bertha asked the next evening.
“To check on Johann’s shop while he is traveling.” Annabet met a drunkard’s leer with a glower. “He managed to buy supplies, despite the council’s orders that the paper and ink sellers were not to do business with him.”
“That’s to be expected.” Bertha watched the street while Annabet wrestled with the key. “They like money, too. So why are you checking on his shop?”
“Johann is like a new mother with her first baby. He is afraid something will happen to his press while he is gone. He had to go to Grantville to buy more lace patterns.” She shoved the door open. “He is hoping to bring back double what he did last time.”
Once inside, Bertha looked around. “I expected more mess.”
Annabet lifted the canvas sheet covering her brother’s machine. “No one has broken the press. Yet.”
“Give them time.”
Annabet settled on a stool by the window and pulled out her latest crochet project.
“What are you doing?”
“You’ve seen me crochet.”
Bertha tapped her toe. “Why are you doing it here?”
“I promised Johann I would watch his shop.” She looked up and saw her friend’s expression. “No, I am not getting soft headed. If the city council’s thugs come with hammers and pry bars, I won’t get in their way. I’ll just offer to sell their wives and sweethearts my lace.” She tipped her basket to show off the tidy bundles of crocheted edgings.
Bertha regarded Annabet for several minutes then dragged a bench into the light and pulled out her spinning. “I didn’t know foolishness was contagious.”
* * *
Three days later, Annabet looked up to see a very large man with a crowbar and ink-stained hands blocking the door. Two men with cudgels stood behind him.
“Is the printer here?”
Annabet realized that talking bravado was different from facing down thugs. She lowered her work to her lap wishing Bertha, anyone, was with her. “No.”
The crowbar-wielding man looked at the sheet-covered press before examining her. “Where is he?”
“Halfway to Grantville.”
“When is he coming back?”
“I don’t know,” Annabet said.
The city council’s enforcers muttered back and forth between themselves, then left. The remaining man stepped in and closed the door. “When did he leave?”
Annabet looked him in the eye and lied. “Two weeks ago.”
The man frowned at her. The door swung open and hit the stranger in the back. He spun to face his attacker.
“Annabet! Annabet, you must help me.” Wilhelmina dodged around the man. “How do I fix this?” She thrust a knitted object at Annabet. “It’s all matted.” The maid that followed her looked frightened. She skittered her way past him.
Annabet glanced at the scarf. “You scrubbed it in hot water, didn’t you?”
“My little sister smeared jam on the end. How else . . .” Wilhelmina broke off and bit her lip.
Annabet sighed. “Once wool is fullered into felt, you can’t undo it. Scrub the whole thing until it’s even. Then when it’s . . .”
“Quiet,” the man bellowed. “Is this a print shop or a sewing circle?”
“Neither. It’s a crocheting circle,” Annabet told him. “And a lace shop.” She shook out her work before folding it and tucking it into her basket. “You may as well sit. I won’t have time to speak with you until I help these girls with their problems.” Ignoring him and his dumbfounded expression, she turned back to back to Wilhelmina. “Fuller the whole length. Dry it, then bring it back. Close your mouth, child. You look like a fish.”
Wilhelmina, glancing from the man, who was still standing, to Annabet and back, did as she was told, then babbled and shoved her friend forward. Tongue-tied, the girl just thrust a wad of string at Annabet.
Annabet rolled her eyes. She untangled the project and found a misshapen lace collar. She smoothed it out on her lap, examining the design. “You are decreasing here and here.” She pointed at the mistakes. “Do not do that. When you get to the end of each row, chain three, turn it around, then continue the pattern. You must always chain up to the next row.” She handed it back. “Rip it out and start over.” She scowled at the girl’s moan. “Don’t argue. You’ll never get wed with that in your dower chest.”
“But I followed the instructions!” The maid dug in her bag and pulled out a battered piece of paper. “Here.”
Annabet read the paper and sighed. She pulled another one out of her basket and checked her notes. “You must have bought an early pattern. Johann fixed that mistake when he printed it the second time.” Annabet exchanged the bad pattern for a good one then shooed the girls off. She turned back to the stranger and made a point of straightening her elaborate lace cuffs and smoothing her apron which was edged with wide bands of more lace.
“Is there something you want?”
“That printing press.”
Annabet gave the man a second, closer look. He had ink-stained clothes and looked old enough to be a master. If so, he was one of the young ones.
“It belongs to my brother,” Annabet said. “I’m not allowed to sell it.”
“Are you allowed to talk about the Committees of Correspondence?”
Annabet considered the man a third time. From the age and amount of stains on his clothes, she thought he was married to a lazy wife—if he was married at all. She started toying with her crochet hook.
“Who is your master?”
“Friend to the mayor and uncle to Gottfried?”
The journeyman printer sneered, but nodded. “My name is Paul Klaussen. Herr
Groenenbach is too lazy to want to train a new apprentice and too cheap to let me do it for him.” His sneer turned into a snarl. “But he’s more than willing to buy his friends on the council round after round of beer.” He bit off the rest of what he was going to say.
Annabet stared at the crumpled, nearly illegible pattern in her basket while she twirled the hook in her fingers. Then she considered Klaussen one last time. She read his sullen expression easily. Her dead fiancé wore that same look often before he ran off to be a mercenary.
“My brother, Johann, left for Grantville four days ago. I don’t know how long it will take him to walk there, buy patterns, and walk back. I don’t even know that I trust the Americans when they say they want equality for all.
“I do know this. The Committee of Correspondence has given me work when no one else would.”
“Then we will speak of work.” He sat down next to her and shoved the pry bar under the bench. “Show me the pattern your brother messed up.”
* * *
Five days later, Karl entered the shop. He trailed Bertha and carried a short bench over his shoulder with one hand and held a tall, narrow table with the other. Two youngish maids took them with a glad cry. The small cluster of women rearranged themselves and reapportioned the lamps, each one trying for the best light.
“Klaussen is not lying to you,” Karl told Annabet. He took a seat close to Bertha and accepted a batch of narrow wooden rods from her. He began whittling them into hooks.
“So we have a printer who knows how to print.” Annabet waited for the excited whispers to die down. “We still have to deal with the Groenenbachs and the city council. If they suspect anything, we will still lose the press.”
Bertha, searching through her bag for her misplaced hook, said, “So hide it.”
* * *
Two weeks later, the door to the shop slammed open again. Gottfried Groenenbach swaggered in backed by five bravos. “Where’s the printer?”
Twelve women scrambled to keep their lights from being blown out by the wind gusting in. Annabet ordered him to shut the door. “Were you raised in a barn?”
She had the pleasure of seeing him gape at the freshly painted walls. Racks of spindles, knitting needles, crochet hooks and sewing scissors were on the wall opposite the door. There were bundles of prepared fiber waiting to be spun. Stiff paper bobbins that held various kinds of crocheted lace filled in any gaps. It was a craft woman’s dream and a bully boy’s ultimate confusion.
“Well, were you?” Annabet demanded.
“This is a print shop!”
The women tittered. The bravos shifted uneasily.
“Does this look like a print shop?” Annabet asked.
Gottfried looked around and tromped through the assembled maids.
The women drew their feet back and pulled their skirts out of his path, much like they would do for a filthy, snarling mongrel.
“You’re up to something,” he said.
“Yes,” Annabet agreed. “I am up to teaching crochet. Would you like to learn? I charge by the hour.”
Gottfried snarled at the sniggerer by the door. He gave the shop one last glare then stomped out.
Bertha, who sat by the window, watched the council’s enforcers leave. “They’re gone.”
Paul opened the hidden door to the back room. “You were right, Annabet. Fresh paint does cover up the smell of ink.” He sat in the space cleared for him and continued to read aloud the latest news from the Committees of Correspondence.
* * *
Johann returned a week later. Tired and dirty, he looked from Bertha to Annabet with the biggest smile he could muster. “I have more patterns.” He started to say more, but the door opened. Two girls walked in, followed moments later by two more. He looked around, confused at the changes. “Annabet, what’s going on?”
The girls ignored him. They moved a bench into the light then sat out tapers in simple clay holders on one of a handful of tall stools. The women opened their work baskets and made themselves at home. One sent him a quick glance. The other frowned at a lacy circle.
“I’m giving crochet lessons. Not everyone can make sense of the instructions.” Annabet shooed him off.
“In my shop!?” he asked in a near-bellow.
“Don’t yell,” Bertha said. “You weren’t here. And it’s her shop as much as yours now.”
Annabet sighed. “It kept your precious printing press together. We hid it in the back. And watching for an attack is not that different from waiting for someone to return from war. Hand work makes the time pass.” She turned to her students then had to rap one of them on her head to get her attention back on the lesson. “A double crochet stitch there, not a treble, Wilhelmina.”
Bertha made a rude sound. “Who is going to suspect a lace shop, Johann? We’re just girls, after all. No Committee here.” She put on a dumb look, then laughed at his expression. “Don’t worry. Everyone here is a member of the Committee. Annabet makes Karl and Paul check to make sure no new members are spies for the city council”
“Who is Paul?” Johann asked.
“Paul Klaussen. Who happens to be a real printer,” Annabet said. “He’s as excitable about the Committees as you are.”
Johann made a face at her, then went to check the printing press for damage. Not finding any, he collected his pack and crouched beside Annabet. “I found something else while I was gone.”
She looked at him with suspicion. “What is it this time?”
He handed her a hank of fine wool thread. “A peddler was selling this. I thought you might like the color. It’s a thank you gift for helping me. Not that I expected this much help.”
Bertha leaned closer. “What an odd shade of pink.”
Annabet squinted at the label wrapped around the yarn. “‘Brillo’s Best,'” she read aloud. “‘Common Wool for the Common Man. Color: Mauve. Product of Lothlorien Farbenwerks.'” She fingered the wool. “What kind of name is ‘Lothlorien’?”
Bertha took it from her. “What kind word is mauve?” she grimaced. “Scratchy. I’ve seen better wool.” She passed it on.
“But the color!” one girl cooed. “So pretty.”
“How much will you pay me for it?” Annabet asked.
Johann squawked, outraged.
She glanced over at him. “I agree with Bertha. If I am going to work with wool, it has to be softer than that.”
The girl named a price and dug for coins. Johann blinked and held his tongue when the other two young maids also offered to buy the yarn at the same price. By the time the women were ready to leave, he was left with an empty pack and a bemused expression.
As he and Annabet walked home, he finally spoke. “They paid more than I did.”
“So when you go for more patterns, buy more Brillo’s Best.”
* * *
The next evening, Annabet watched Johann and Paul circle each other like strange dogs, ruffs raised and ready to snarl.
“This shop is not a bone,” she said. “One of you can’t print and the other can’t draw. My lace patterns need both. So does the Committee.”
When they didn’t leave off the posturing she stepped between them and shoved Johann toward the door to the printing room. “Show Paul your letters from the Committee. Tell him about Grantville, too, while you’re at it. I want you out of my hair until the women come. Three or four of them said they will be bringing their sweethearts.”
They turned to her in unison. “How do you know?” Johann asked.
“Women talk in the market place as much as men gossip in the tavern.” When they just stood there, she assigned sweeping and dusting.
Both men balked and headed for the press room. All three kept busy getting ready for that evening’s Committee meeting. Sixteen women and girls, not counting Bertha, showed up. Half of them brought their sweethearts. Some brought hampers in addition to work bags. Others brought flasks and before long it was share and share alike.
People were reduced to sitting on the floor, and Karl eyed the walls and muttered about benches. Bertha told him to save his carpentry work for a shop in a better part of town.
Annabet stood by the door, brow wrinkled as she listened to Karl describe his experiences with the Americans to the newest Committee members. Crochet hooks flew while women grilled Johann about Grantville ladies. She glanced over when Paul joined her.
“Bertha is right. We should move the shop. We would get more business.”
Annabet shook her head. “We don’t have enough money saved to rent a better place. Plus, looking too prosperous will get us more attention from the city’s councilmen than is safe right now. If Groenenbach comes by with his bully boys, we can say this is a gathering of friends and get away with it.
Paul thought about it then grunted an assent. He called the meeting to order.
* * *
A week and a half later, Paul hauled Johann into the family parlor and laid him on the floor in front of the hearth.
“Where did you find him?” Annabet asked. She reached for the medicines and cloths she had arranged and rearranged while she waited. Her mother came in and helped Annabet tend Johann, stitching him up where necessary.
“In an alley,” Paul said. “On the way back from the shop. Groenenbach and his henchmen had just finished the beating and were getting ready to use knives. I bribed some drunks to go down the alley so Groenenbach wouldn’t linger. Karl and your father went to the taverns Johann visits. I paid an urchin to find them with the news.”
Annabet and her mother worked while Paul kept checking doors and windows.
“He can’t stay here,” Annabet said. “They’ll kill him.” She looked at Paul. “They’ll kill you, too.”
Paul crouched next to her. “So send him to Grantville for more lace patterns. He’s a journeyman. Let him journey. I’ll just pretend to court you.”
Annabet glared at him.
“My master has no daughters and his wife is dead. His sons are apprenticed to other trades. I’ve been looking for my own wife. I don’t see why it can’t be you as well as another.” He met her frown with a calm look. “It makes a good story and keeps you safe as well. Or do you think Gottfried Groenenbach won’t beat women? Or worse.”
“Listen to the man, Annabet,” her mother said.
* * *
Two weeks later Karl and Bertha slipped into the shop. For once, Bertha carried everything, leaving Karl unhindered. He peered into the dark before closing the door. Annabet sent them a questioning look from across the crowded room.
“Gottfried Groenenbach has been asking questions about me and Paul,” Karl said. “Someone saw Paul help Johann and reported it to the city council.”
Paul swore. “Did they follow you?”
“I think so,” Karl said.
“A strange man has been lurking in the neighborhood, too,” Bertha added. “I thought I saw him on our way here.”
Annabet grabbed spindles off the wall and bundles of unspun fibers from bins. She pulled the Committee of Correspondence’s pamphlets from the hands of the women and filled them with supplies.
“Spin,” she ordered. “Don’t gape. Work.”
Next, Annabet pointed at the new members and the males with nothing in their hands. “You, you and you, go to the press room. Karl, stay put. We know they saw you walk in. You will spend the evening telling war stories to Paul and the other men who are making something. We women will talk of spinning and lace.”
Everyone stared at her. She grabbed the ear of a young apprentice and hauled him to his feet.
Everyone obeyed. The room rearranged and formed a scene like a cross between a family’s gathering room and a well-lit tavern. The conversation was stilted. People kept looking at the windows. When the door didn’t slam open right away, the Committee relaxed and conversation became more general. The apprentice cracked open the hidden door and begged a couple more lamps for the back room so they could read easier.
Paul grabbed Annabet as she paced among the benches and made her sit beside him. He shoved her work basket in her hands. Annabet muttered under her breath, but took out her latest project—a curtain, like the one her brother told her about.
The door slammed open. People jumped. Gottfried Groenenbach and his wrecking crew armed with cudgels swaggered in. Everyone drew back.
“Plotting revolution?” he asked.
Annabet held the lace panel up to the light to judge her progress. “Making frillies.” She switched her gaze to the enforcer. “Gossiping. Female things.”
“And you, Herr Klaussen?”
Paul met Groenenbach’s look, then took a pull from his flask. “I am the only non-betrothed rooster in a room full of hens. Who needs revolution when there are women running loose?”
Groenenbach looked around again. “Why these women?”
Paul smiled and tugged on Annabet’s lace-edged cap. “I like my pullets to have fine feathers.” He grunted when Annabet’s elbow connected with his ribs. “And be full of spice. I will be a master some day so I might as well start looking for a wife sooner rather than later.”
Groenenbach sneered at that. He and his men tromped through the women, kicking over baskets and upending work bags, searching. They loomed over the men, Karl in particular.
Karl ignored them and kept sanding his latest crochet hook.
Not finding anything but patterns and simple tools, Groenenbach menaced the group for a bit then left.
* * *
Johann stepped inside the door of the Nutsch family parlor almost three weeks later. He growled and dropped his pack.
Annabet frowned at him. “What is wrong with you?”
Johann pointed at Paul. “What is he doing here?”
“Talking about the Committees of Correspondence.”
Paul merely drank from his mug. “I’m also courting your sister.”
Annabet swatted him. She had learned Paul liked to tease people. He especially liked to tease her. “He is keeping up the charade we agreed on.”
“No one only visits their sweetheart at their shop,” Paul added.
Johann just looked at him with suspicion.
Paul smiled. “How many patterns did you bring back? More and more women want American lace. Annabet can’t make her own patterns fast enough.”
“Lots. The lady let me copy a whole book this time.” Johann opened his pack and took a thick sheaf of paper out before tossing several rollags of mauve wool to Annabet.
“They had no spun wool,” Johann told her. “I did manage to convince the owner of Lothlorien Faberwerks that all women know how to spin. All they wanted were the new colors.” He pulled out more bundles of unspun wool. These were smaller and in a variety of vivid, nearly eye-searing colors Annabet had never seen before. “He got excited and talked into some device. Then he sold me all the samples my bag would hold and asked that I tell him what the women liked best.” Next he pulled out more paper.
“Are those the patterns?” Paul asked.
Johann grinned. “Oh, no. We have much work to do. While I was in Grantville, there were many stories being told about Brillo the Ram.” He nodded when Annabet raised her eyebrows in a question and pointed at the wool piled in her lap. “That Brillo, yes. If Brillo were a man and not a ram, he would be leading the Committees of Correspondence.
“I collected all the stories I could since I think they will be very popular here. I also started sketching illustrations for them. I think I could make them into books for children. Listen.” He read Schade, Brillo! Schade! aloud to them. “It’s never too early to start teaching people about freedom.”
Annabet and Paul exchanged looks. Annabet blushed and fingered the wool in her lap. “The earlier the better,” she said. She straightened her shoulders. “It is our duty to instruct children how to be good adults. If we should ever have them.”
Paul smiled at her and raised his mug in a toast.
Annabet blushed and went back to her hand work.
Paul stopped teasing her, for the time being, and looked at Johann. “Show me your sketches then read us the next story.”
* * *