It was nearing six o’clock when Johann made his way to the Duchess Elisabeth Sofie Secondary School for Girls for the second time that day. He felt his neck and face where the barber had trimmed his beard and shaved his neck and cheeks to give a somewhat cleaner appearance. It all felt good. He checked his fingers. No traces of blood, so he hadn’t been cut or scraped by the razor, which was a good thing.
Johann’s earlier conversation with Frau Lady Beth had gone well. She understood the implications of having yet another project in town competing for scarce resources, especially one that competed for the same things needed for the organ. At the end of their conversation, Johann had the approval for what he had already told Master Luder to do.
That conversation had been relatively short, and he had left the school without seeing anyone else. The remainder of the afternoon had been divided between checking on the carpentry work at the construction site and working on learning the pieces he would need for the inaugural performance on the organ. He hadn’t determined the final selection of works yet, much less the sequence in which they would be performed, but he already knew the piece that would open the concert, and the piece that would conclude it: the Toccata and Fugue in D minor to open, and the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor to close. Those would not be quick pieces to learn, so he had begun the process already, working with the small clavier in his room. That would at least let him get the manual parts ingrained in his hands and arms.
Learning the pedal parts would require having access to an organ. Obviously the Dom was out of the question, but maybe one of the daughter churches still standing had a small organ that he could at least begin the learning on.
In any event, other than the pedals, Johann about had the Prelude portion of the D minor ready, and the Fugue was beginning to take shape. The Passacaglia, on the other hand, was still very rough. Johann chuckled. It could be worse. He could have decided on doing the entire Art of Fugue—all eighteen fugues and canons of it.
Even though he had thoroughly brushed off his jacket and pants before he left the rooming house, Johann still brushed off the front of his jacket with his hands, and took his hat off to make sure that it was clean before he opened the door and stepped into the school.
A young girl stuck her head out of the door of Lady Beth’s office for a moment, only to retract it immediately. This was followed by both Lady Beth and Staci stepping out of the office a moment later, both pulling on coats. For a moment, Johann was afraid that Lady Beth planned to come along, but then his common sense asserted itself when he remembered that she did not live in the school building as Staci and some of the other teachers did. She and her husband had a small town home of their own in the northern quarters of the Neustadt in the Old City not far from the school.
“Good night, Herr Bach,” Lady Beth said as she brushed by him. “Y’all have fun.”
Johann looked at Staci, who gave him her gamine grin. “No, she wasn’t being a chaperone,” she said. “We were just talking about an idea I had for teaching a unit on economics. I think we’re going to bring the Monopoly game into the class.”
“Shall we leave, then?” Johann said, gesturing toward the door.
Staci walked by him, and he followed her out the door and closed it behind them. “Is there someone still in the office?” he inquired as he moved up alongside her.
“Oh, yes,” Staci replied. “Whenever anyone is out, there will be one of the staff or the night porter waiting to let them back in and make sure they get home.”
“You do not let the girls out at night, do you?”
“Only for a reason approved by Frau Haygood, and only when accompanied by an adult member of the immediate family or by one of the teachers.” She sidestepped something in the roadway. “We do take the safety of the students pretty seriously.”
“That is good,” Johann said. “So, Monopoly?”
They made the turn onto the Gustavstrasse, which ran along the inside of the city wall in the Neustadt, and progressed south.
“It’s an up-timer board game,” Staci said. “There were several sets in Grantville when the Ring of Fire happened. It used to be very popular. I played it a lot with the family when I was a kid. Anyway, it can be used to teach some basic principles about owning property and handling money.”
“In school?” Johann hoped he didn’t sound too incredulous.
“Yes, even in a girls’ school,” Staci replied. “These girls are mostly from well-off families—major merchants, guildsmen, patricians, even some of the Niederadel. They will need to be grounded in the practical aspects of their families’ businesses or properties, if for no other reason than to keep someone from taking advantage of them.”
Johann nodded. He could see that. He remembered some of the things his mother had had to take control of after his father had died.
“So how is the organ building going?”
“Progressing well,” Johann said. He gave her the high points of where they were; the cabinetry progressing, the main wind chest completed. The air pipes between the main wind chest and the main console completed, and some of the pipes actually being produced.
By the time he completed that recital, they were stepping through the southwest gate of the Neustadt onto the ring road that circled the outside of Old Magdeburg. The road angled to the southwest for several yards, then intersected a major east/west street in front of Magdeburg Memorial Hospital, the up-time designed hospital that was being expanded. The two of them turned onto that street and headed west.
“And how is Frau Marla?” Johann asked. “I mean, as far as being . . .”
“Pregnant?” Staci responded. “She says she feels as big as a house, but that’s ridiculous, because she’s not that far along, and she hasn’t gained that much weight yet. Plus she’s been lucky enough that she hasn’t had much trouble with morning sickness. So all things considered, she’s a typical first-time mom, somewhat nervous, but seems to be doing okay. She’s still putting in her regular schedule as a teacher, anyway.”
“That’s good,” Johann said.
Walcha’s Coffee House was two blocks west of the hospital, he remembered. Johann had never been there before, though, so he was a bit relieved when he saw the shop’s sign, and he sped up his walking a bit. He held the door open for Staci and followed her inside.
The shop was larger on the inside than he’d expected; larger than the Green Horse tavern, even, which made it very sizable for a public space in Magdeburg. Standing inside the door, he saw several people whom he knew. He’d heard that the coffee house had become a favorite place for musicians and artists and people of letters, as well as those who liked to be seen with such. That did indeed seem to be the case, as he could see a fairly well-known writer and his friends at one table, and two or three of Frau Marla’s musician friends at another with some more players.
There was a small table with a couple of chairs to one side, against the wall. Staci looked up at him and pointed to it. “There?”
They made their way there, beating out another couple. Staci was able to slip through the crowd and the other seated patrons and plop down into one of the chairs just moments before the others could, which collected her a couple of serious frowns. Johann noted that that didn’t seem to bother her, as her gamine’s grin was back in place on her face when he took the other seat.
“You enjoyed that, I think,” Johann remarked with a bit of a smile of his own.
“Too right, I did,” Staci said.
At that moment one of the servers arrived at their table. “First time here?” the young woman asked.
“Yes,” Johann said.
“Well, then, tonight we have coffee, Dutch chocolate, and American chocolate. The American chocolate is a dollar more, because of the extra sugar in it. If you want something to nibble on as well, we have a few of the oatmeal cookies left, and I could probably find some bread and butter. We normally have more, but a bunch of the army officers came in earlier, and ate most everything we had prepared for the evening.”
“Coffee for me,” Johann said, “and two of the cookies.” He looked to Staci.
“The Dutch chocolate,” she ordered, “and I was hoping for a piece of the chocolate candy I’ve heard so much about.”
“Up-timer, are you?” the server asked. That should have been a rhetorical question, Johann thought with a suppressed snort. Staci’s unmistakably accented Amideutsch should have left no doubt in the server’s mind. At Staci’s nod, she smiled and said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
As the server bustled off, Staci looked to Johann and said, “So, I’ve met your brothers. You look to be older than they are.”
Johann nodded. “Eight years and some months older than Christoph, a couple of years more than that to Heinrich.”
“Eight years is a big gap.”
Johann shrugged. “One stillborn child, one winter birth that caught the croup and did not survive until spring.”
Johann could see the sadness on Staci’s face. Another mark of the up-timer, he thought, to be so affected by what was a part of life. He shrugged again. “It happens. It is a part of life for so many.”
“And your parents?”
“Papa died of the plague in 1626, and Mama died last year. She had pneumonia two winters ago, and never really was the same after that.”
Staci shook her head. “So you and your brothers are all that are left of your family?”
“Of the immediate family, yes.”
They both paused as the server appeared with a tray. Johann sat back a bit to allow the server to slide a cup of steaming coffee in front of him, and a saucer with two cookies. A moment later saw a cup with dark chocolate sitting in front of Staci, and another saucer with a slab of very dark something sitting on it beside her cup. Johann took up his cup and blew on the steaming liquid before taking a cautious sip of the hot liquid, watching as Staci took up her candy and nibbled on the corner, then closed her eyes as a most blissful expression crossed her face.
Staci opened her eyes. “Oh, that is heavenly. I have really missed chocolate.”
“You must have,” Johann said with a chuckle, “to order both the liquid and the solid form of it.”
Staci laughed. “No, I didn’t order the coffee because this late in the day if I drink coffee I’ll be up all night.”
“Coffee does that?”
“Oh, yeah.” Staci took a sip of her chocolate, and laughed again. “Actually, this might as well. Pretty strong chocolate . . . a lot of difference between this and what we knew up-time.”
She took another nibble of the candy. “So you said you and your brothers are all that is left of your immediate family. Some extended family, then?”
Johann swallowed the bite of cookie he had been chewing. “Oh, yes. We have cousins all over Thuringia.”
“That’s good. It’s nice to know you’re not alone.”
Johann nodded. He’d never thought of it like that. He’d always taken it for granted. “And what of you? What is your family like?”
“Mother and Father still living, and they moved to Magdeburg not too long ago. Older brother Joel serving with a State of Thuringia-Franconia National Guard force in Fulda. Younger sister Melanie works for Kelly Construction as an electrician on the opera house project, and youngest brother Joseph works as an apprentice for Kelly on the same project.”
“A family affair, then? I have met Fräulein Melanie, as it chances.”
“Well, almost,” Staci said with a smile. “And my roommate Casey Stevenson is getting ready to marry Carl Schockley, who’s the project manager for the opera house project for Kelly.”
“I have met Herr Schockley,” Johann said with a bit of a grimace. “I think he does not like me very much.”
“Oh, I think he likes you fine,” Staci replied. She took a sip of her chocolate, then continued, “He’s just afraid that you’re going to do something that will mess up the construction schedule.”
“And Fräulein Casey is a dancer?”
“Yep. One of Mom’s senior dancers, along with yours truly.”
It took Johann a moment to realize Staci meant herself.
“So, we don’t have anything quite like the dancing you do. What does it involve? Why do you like it?”
Johann picked up his coffee cup and settled back.
“Did you see the dance program in the July 4th program last year?” Staci asked. At Johann’s nod, she continued with, “Well…”
And from there the conversation wandered as conversations often do. Staci spent time telling Johann about dance. Her eyes sparkled, and her voice was very animated. From the gestures of her hands, Johann could see her passion about it, and from her descriptions he began to see that there was art to it—it wasn’t just bodies moving, it wasn’t just like people dancing at fairs and parties—there was a skill and a craft to the dance as Staci described it that was above and beyond what his people thought of as dance.
Johann didn’t know how much time passed as he watched Staci. His cookies were long gone when he checked on them, and he was working on his second cup of coffee. He didn’t care if he was awake all night. Any excuse to sit and watch the young woman across the table from him was fine with him. Cheeks flushed, broad smile, leaning forward to emphasize something she was saying—it was like he was falling into her eyes, drowning in her joy and zeal and passion.
Staci finally paused long enough to finish her cup of chocolate. She looked around as she did so, and her eyes opened wide. Johann glanced over his shoulder, only to discover that they were the only ones left in the coffee shop.
Staci put her cup back on the table with a thump, and pulled back her shirt cuff to reveal a watch. “Oh, no,” she said. “It’s after 9 o’clock. I need to get back to the school…I have an early day tomorrow.”
The server appeared at their table as Staci pushed her chair back. She had a small piece of paper which she used to wrap up the piece of candy which Staci had barely nibbled on, which she then presented to Staci with a flourish.
“Thank you,” Staci said with a smile. “It is really very good, and I would have eaten more of it, if someone,” she lowered her eyebrows at Johann, “hadn’t got me started talking.”
“Think nothing of it, ma’am,” the server replied, with the up-time courtesy. “We are used to that happening.”
“And I’m sorry we kept you so late,” Staci said with an apologetic expression on her face and a touch of her hand to the server’s arm.
“We stay open until the last customers leave,” the server said. “Georg says he wants people to feel comfortable here.” She gave a wicked grin. “Of course, there’s been a time or two where he was out sweeping the floor with a broom, too.”
“I bet!” Staci said with a laugh. “Anyway, thank you, and I’ll tell everyone that your chocolate to drink is wonderful and your chocolate candy is to die for!”
“That’s all we can ask,” the server responded with another smile. Johann had seen the price board when they entered the room, so when the server looked his way with one eyebrow raised, he passed her twenty dollars, folded so the bill numbers were visible. That was enough to cover their drinks and food and provide a gratuity in the up-time style. The server’s smile broadened just a bit, the bills disappeared with a deft move of her hand, and she gave a small bow to Johann.
“And you are?” Johann asked.
“Anna,” the server replied. “Georg is my husband.”
“We will be back,” Johann said.
“Thank you, and good evening to you,” Anna said as they turned to go.
“Good evening,” Staci said over her shoulder.
Johann preceded Staci out the door to make sure the way was clear, then held the door for her to step out of the coffee house. They started walking down the street together. The evening was quiet. There were a few other pedestrians in view on the street, but none were close by. The sky was clear; no clouds hid the stars, and the golden light of the crescent moon shone down on them from low in the eastern sky.
After a few steps, Johann was almost startled when he felt Staci’s hand slip onto his arm. He instinctively crooked his elbow, and felt her grasp settle and rest in that crook. They walked that way for a couple of minutes or so. He felt his chest tighten a bit.
“You shouldn’t have let me ramble on and on like that,” Staci said. “I did all the talking.”
Johann chuckled. “Fräulein Casey warned me some time back that you were all dancer.”
“She’s a fine one to talk,” Staci said with a snort. “She’s just as fixated on it as I am. But you still shouldn’t have let me monopolize the evening.”
“I enjoyed it,” Johann said.
After a moment, “So did I,” softly. A few more steps. “But next time, I get to ask the questions and you have to talk.”
“That is fair,” Johann conceded.
The rest of the walk to the townhouse the school was in passed by in silence. Johann could feel a grin on his face. He kept trying to suppress it, trying to be serious, but the happy feeling in his chest kept rising and making the corners of his mouth curl up. He kept his arm tight, feeling the presence of Staci’s hand pressed between his arm and his side.
All too soon they had arrived in front of the building. Johann walked Staci up the steps to the portico, where she removed her hand from his arm. It was a slow withdrawal, and Johann was certain that was an expression of a certain reluctance. That resonated with him, for he was certainly reluctant to have it release its contact with him.
They turned to face each other.
“I had a very good time tonight, Johann.” Staci had a smile on her face, and her eyes were bright in the lamplight. “Thank you for inviting me.”
“Thank you for accepting my invitation,” he replied. He started to raise a hand, but stopped with the movement barely begun.
Staci’s mouth quirked. “It does feel a bit odd, doesn’t it? You and me, I mean?” She held her hands out, and after a moment, Johann took them in his.
Her hands were of a scale to match the rest of her; slender, slight, and very fine-boned. He felt as if he were holding the wings of a dove in his hard long-fingered hands, and he forced himself to hold them gently, for all that he wanted to grasp them firmly.
“I . . .” Johann couldn’t settle on the right words. Strange, that, given how self-assured he usually was.
Staci freed one hand and lifted it to place the tip of her index finger against his lips. “Shh. We don’t need to say anything tonight. No great protestations or promises. Whatever we might have between us, let’s let it grow on its own, without forcing it.”
Johann reached up and recaptured the hand in his own. He looked at her for a long moment, head tilted slightly. “All right. We have some time, I think.”
“All the time we need,” Staci said with a warm smile, the moonlight glinting from her eyes. She squeezed his hands, then dropped them. “Thank you for tonight.” Johann opened the door for Staci, she laid a hand atop his for a moment, then slipped inside.
The door closed. Johann stared at it for a moment, then turned and moved down the steps to the street, where he turned and looked back up at the townhouse, where lights glimmered in a few of the upper windows. He was sure that one of them was Staci’s, and he felt nearer to her for a moment.
Sticking his hands in his jacket pockets, Johann turned and started back toward his rooming house. “God,” he muttered, “what kind of Escher are You making out of my life? When I am with her, I feel suspended between Heaven and Earth; yet when she is not near, I feel as if life is upside-down. What are You doing to me?”
The door clicked shut behind her. Staci sighed, and leaned back against it, arms wrapped around herself.
Wow. What an evening. It had been so mundane, on one level; just the two of them—well, mostly her—talking. Yet she had never talked like that before to anyone—not her mother, not Casey, not any of the male dancers she had known in the up-time. Certainly not any of the typical high school jocks who’d thought she was cute or that they’d make a good couple.
Johann didn’t know dancing, not like she did. She could tell that he hadn’t really grasped a lot of what she had talked about. But everything had registered with him. She could almost see things sink in with him, or into him. Nothing had bounced. No one had ever listened to her like that. No one. Not even her mother. And because of that, she had opened her heart, and poured out all her dreams and fantasies, and even her fears. And he had taken them in. All of them.
Staci didn’t know how long she stood there, but she became aware of a face staring at her from the door to the office. It was Casey, of course, waiting on her. When she saw that Staci had finally noticed her, she stepped out into the hallway.
Staci nodded. “Yeah. I think I am.”
“So how did it go? Give.” When Staci didn’t reply right away, Casey frowned and walked toward her. “Did he try something? Was he rude? Was he a jerk?”
“No, no,” Staci said after a hiccough of a laugh. “He was fine all night long. He was better than fine.”
There was a moment of long silence after that, before Casey said, “So what’s up, then? Is this it? Are you done with him? Are you going to see him again? Come on, tell me what’s going on in that pointed little head of yours.”
“I . . .” Staci took a deep breath. “I think . . .”
Another gap of silence. Casey advanced and placed her hands on her friend’s shoulders to give her a little shake. “Earth to Staci. Tune back in, girl.”
“I think he’s the one.” And with that a big smile broke out on Staci’s face. “I think he’s the one.”
Casey grinned at her, and shook her head. “You’ve got it bad, don’t you, girlfriend?”
June 2, 1635
Johann jerked back to awareness and looked to Christoph and Heinrich seated across the table from him. It had been a long day, and he had a lot on his mind. “What?”
Christoph snorted. “I have asked you three times now what the hold-up is in testing the wind connections through the console cabinet. I know we do not have the pipe ranks ready to go, but we could at least test it as far as the console, make sure that the keys and pedals will release air.”
“Compenius has hired away the whitesmith who did the first pipes for the run from the main wind chest to the smaller reservoirs behind the console,” Johann replied. “They do not connect correctly and need to be modified, but he now says he cannot promise he can work on them any time soon because of his commitment to Compenius.”
“In other words, he did shoddy work and now he is hiding behind Compenius to keep from having to fix it for nothing.”
“That is Master Luder’s guess,” Heinrich contributed. “And he is not half happy about it, either.”
“The good news, such as it is, is that we at least should not have to buy any more material for them,” Johann said. “The lead alloy in the pipes should be sufficient—they just need to be reformed.”
“Why do all the up-timers flinch whenever we talk about using lead pipes?” Christoph asked.
“That stupid game . . .Claw, or Flue, or something like that,” Johann said with a frown.
“Clue. And one of the murder weapons in the game is a lead pipe,” Heinrich said with a grin. “I like it.”
“You would,” Johann muttered. “But it is also because the up-time medical knowledge has proven that using lead to store water or food will taint the water and food and make people very ill, if not kill them. But we will just be pushing air through them, so there is no risk there. I already checked.”
Heinrich snapped his fingers, and Johann and Christoph both looked at him. “That is why the tavern keeper at The Chain was arrested the other day. He had been adding sugar of lead to his rotgut wine, saying that it helped the flavor of the wine. From what I heard, it couldn’t have hurt it. Anyway, apparently some people died, and somebody got the new Polizei department involved. Word is that the up-timers are involved with that, and one of them figured out what happened pretty quick.”
Johann’s eyes narrowed. “You stay away from that place. People who spend much time there usually get found floating face-down in The Big Ditch. I do not want to have to explain to Mama’s ghost how you came to die such a stupid death.”
Christoph choked from where he was taking a pull at his mug and sprayed beer across the table, fortunately missing Johann. They all laughed a bit, then flagged the server down to bring a bit of rag or towel to wipe the table down.
“You were saying?” Johann said with a look to Heinrich. “About the pipe fixes?”
“Master Luder says he thinks one of them can be bent slightly to bring it into alignment.” Heinrich shook his head. “I’m not sure, myself, but he says it can be done. The other long pipe needs to be shorter, so he thinks that will be a cut and solder job.”
Johann frowned. “As long as the pipes let the air pass, don’t leak, don’t burst, and fit the design, I don’t really care what he does to fix them. When does he think he can have them done?”
“That will depend on when he can come take the measurements. For the bending, a day or so after that. For the cut and solder, a day or so longer It’s not just the work, you understand. It’s also the testing for leaks. He said he’ll use water for that, so that will be an additional preparation he’ll have to make. If the worst happens and he has to start over, he can just melt them down and recreate them, but that would take a lot longer.”
Johann shrugged. “As long as he gets it done. Tell him we really need them done and installed by . . .” he thought for a moment, then looked to Christoph, “. . .next Wednesday?”
Christoph’s mouth quirked. He obviously wanted it sooner than that, but he acceded to Johann’s directive with a nod.
“You are spending more time with us and not with Staci,” Christoph commented. “Are you not progressing in your courting?”
Johann sighed. “Yes and no. I think we are continuing to draw closer together, but her dance company will be putting on a show next month as part of the July the 4th Arts Festival, and she has been very busy with rehearsals. She does some of the dancing and much of the teaching and . . . what was the word . . . coaching, that was it. And the rehearsals mostly happen after school.” He shrugged. “So I only get to see her during those moments when she is not involved either with the school or the dancing . . . which are not very many, at the moment.”
Christoph shook his head. “Sounds like Mama muttering about when Papa had to go off to do some special music.”
“This dancing, it is that special?” Heinrich asked.
Johann thought back to the show that was done in the previous year’s arts festival. “I guess it is. Certainly Frau Simpson and her backers in the Magdeburg Arts League think it is. They put up some pretty serious money last year to produce a show, and it was not one of the big shows that Staci talks about, but a number of smaller scenes that they strung together.”
“So you saw that?” Heinrich again.
Johann nodded. “I got to Magdeburg right before the festival, and just wandered around seeing things. The dance was done on an outdoor stage, so when I chanced upon it, I watched parts of it. It was . . . interesting.”
“You say that like Mama said Frau Schmidt’s bread was ‘interesting,’ ” Heinrich said with a grin.
“I did not know what I was watching,” Johann said, “and that was not why I had come to Magdeburg. I kept hearing that there was going to be some kind of big concert, so I kept looking for that.”
“And you found it?” Christoph asked.
“Indeed,” Johann responded. “I was able to act like I was a member of someone else’s party and slip into the palace. I stood in the back of the room and listened. It was . . . powerful.”
“I bet,” Heinrich said, with a bit of longing. “I want to hear the orchestra perform.”
“In a few weeks,” Johann said. “Patience.”
“So when will you see Staci again?” Christoph said.
“Her friend Casey is getting married in a few days, and she asked me to attend, partly so we could spend some time together. If nothing else, then.”
Johann drained his mug and stood. “I am going back to the room and getting some sleep. I have a long day scheduled tomorrow.”
June 7, 1635
Johann stood with a glass of wine in his hand. He should have taken the beer instead, but Staci had wanted wine so he had done the same. He looked down at her where she stood beside him. Her wine glass wasn’t any emptier than his was.
“The wine . . . ,” Johann muttered out of the side of his mouth.
“Just drink it,” Staci responded. “It was the best Carl and Casey could get.”
That, Johann could understand. Good wine was rare in the Germanies right now, although some of the winemaking areas were starting to produce again. That was hope for a few years from now, but at the moment good wines had to come from outside the region.
“So are Casey and Carl going on the . . . honey . . . month?”
“Honeymoon,” Staci said with a smile. “Honeymoon. And yes, they’re going to take a few days off and take the train back to Grantville and stay at the Higgins Hotel. They’ll catch up with family and friends, have some time by themselves, and then come back to Magdeburg.”
“Can you afford for them to be gone from the dance rehearsals that long?”
Staci quirked her mouth. “If you ask Mom, the answer is no, but she’s the biggest worrier on the planet. They both know their parts cold. What we’re mostly doing now is drilling the corps, the dancers that are the equivalent of a chorus. Those are younger girls, many of whom have not danced a big dance before, and most of the rest have only done the summer show last year or the Christmas show, so they don’t have a lot of experience.”
“So this year, it is this . . . Schwein Lake?”
Staci’s eyes got really big for a moment, then she busted out laughing. “Swine Lake! No, no, no . . . .” and she laughed some more. “It’s Swan Lake! Tell me that you didn’t just make that up.”
Johann shrugged. “Okay, I did not just make that up. Really, I did not. But I could not remember exactly the name, so I guessed.”
“Oh, but that’s so funny. And that is something that cropped up as a joke before. P.D.Q. Bach may have done something with that . . .or was it the Muppets . . .”
“P.D.Q. Bach?” That caught Johann’s attention. “Who is that? Or was that? Or whatever?”
Now Staci’s eye widened again, and this time her jaw dropped.
With that, she grabbed Johann by the arm and dragged him around the room until they finally ran down Marla and Franz who were standing talking to Lady Beth and Jere Haygood. Johann noted with some small jealousy that Franz had taken a stein of beer. He thought about setting the wine glass down somewhere to lose it and going after his own beer, but wasn’t sure he could manage that discreetly.
He did eye Marla, and noted that she did seem to have put on some weight, so the pregnancy was showing a bit. He hoped things were going well for her and Franz.
“Hi, Lady Beth, Mr. Haygood,” Staci said. “Marla! Johann hasn’t heard about P.D.Q. Bach! How could you not have told him about him?”
Wide grins appeared on everyone’s faces. Johann was now rather confused.
“Oh, you poor deprived soul!” Lady Beth exclaimed. She turned toward Marla. “Marla, how could you?”
Marla stood there, hand pressed to her mouth as if in horror, but Johann could see the corners of her lips curling up and the crinkles in the corners of her eyes as she struggled to suppress a laugh. A struggle that she lost after a couple of moments when Johann looked at her and raised his eyebrows. That in turn triggered laughter in the others, especially Franz Sylwester, so it was several more moments before the conversation could continue.
“You mean Marcus never told you about him?” Marla finally responded.
“No,” Johann said. “I think I would have remembered if he had.”
“Oh, you’d have remembered it,” Marla said after another chuckle. “Trust me on this, you would have remembered.”
There were firm head nods and sounds of agreement from the others in the group.
“I’m sorry,” Marla said. “I should have done this a long time ago, but the thought never occurred to me for some reason. I guess you were never around when he came up before. Tell you what . . . you come over to the house tomorrow night, and I’ll introduce you to the man properly. Staci, you come, too.”
Johann looked at Staci, and seeing her grin of anticipation, all he could do was nod in agreement.
“Wait . . . wait . . . ” Johann gasped from where he was sitting on the floor in front of the sofa in Franz and Marla’s parlor. “Please . . . no more. I am in pain.”
He had been laughing for most of the last couple of hours as Marla had played selection after selection from the P.D.Q. Bach albums. Toward the end, he had slid off the front of the couch as The Art of the Ground Round (S. 1.19/lb) had played, wrapping his arms around his ribs and howling. “But My Bonnie Lass, She Smelleth” from The Triumph of Thusnelda was the pièce de résistance that did him in, forcing him to stuff the corner of a pillow in his mouth to muffle his laughter.
“Oh . . . oh . . . ” Johann said as his breathing began to slow down. “That man is a genius.”
“Most up-time musicians thought so as well,” Marla said with a big grin on her face. “I only have a few of his albums, but Marcus has them all back in Grantville—or everything that had been done before the Ring of Fire, anyway—and he promised me he was going to leave them to me in his will. One of the things I really regret about the Ring falling is we have missed any new albums that might have been produced.” She took the CD out of her boom box and put it back in its case. “I haven’t been able to get Marcus to put any of this stuff on the priority publication list for the Grantville Music Trust yet.”
“Oh, that must happen,” Johann said. “I can tell I did not understand a lot of the humor because I do not understand enough about specific up-time music pieces or up-time English idiom yet, but still, from what I did understand, it was so funny. This has got to be published. And that supposed biography of P.D.Q. Bach has got to be published again. Musicians all over Europe will take this up. Patrons will never understand this, but musicians will petition to have Herr Peter Schickele in his persona of P.D.Q. Bach made a saint, even if he never lived or never lives in our time.
“Perhaps we can work together,” Johann ended.
“That might work,” Marla exclaimed. “You take one arm and I’ll take the other, and we’ll both twist.”
Johann held his hands up together and twisted them in opposite directions, exchanging a grin with Marla.
Staci slid off the front of the sofa where she’d been sitting to settle alongside Johann. Before he really realized what he was doing, he’d placed his arm around her shoulders. She nestled in beside him. That caused his eyes to widen a bit and his breath to quicken for a moment.
Johann didn’t move for the rest of the evening until it was time to leave.
July 1, 1635
“The wind chest tests are complete,” Christoph said. “The new fan works fine after Fräulein Matowski had the fan blades reworked and the seals around the fan channel reinforced.”
Fräulein Matowski? Staci? Johann thought. Then a light dawned. “Oh, you mean Fräulein Melanie.”
“Uh-huh. It is a bit confusing, having two of them around.”
“Right,” Johann said. “I assume the carpenters have resumed work on the cabinet case for the keyboards and for the pipe chambers.”
“Yes,” Christoph said. “But Old Georg says they are going to need to know the measurements for the keyboard and pedal assemblies soon.”
Johann made a note. “Right. That friend of Franz Sylwester’s, Friederich Braun, has come up from Grantville to work those for us. He had roughed them in in the Bledsoe & Riebeck workshops, and then accompanied them to Magdeburg. He got here a couple of days ago, and has been waiting for the opportunity to start putting them in the case. I will have him come in tomorrow so he can get with you and Georg and Georg.”
He turned to Heinrich. “Pipe production?”
“As of today,” the youngest Bach said, “one hundred and forty-seven pipes completed, thirty-six more ready for tuning, and nineteen roughed in.”
“And Master Luder is still working the lowest register pipes?”
Heinrich nodded. “He understands that getting them done first will speed things up later as he moves to the midrange and treble pipes. He will be able to get more pipes out of a single sheet of tin, and he’s gotten very good at bending the tin and sealing the edges. To the point where he is about to let the other whitesmith, Müller, out of their agreement. He says that he spends so much time going over Müller’s work and either fixing it or arguing with him about it that he can pretty much do the work himself as fast or faster. He also muttered something about it was obvious why Compenius hadn’t hired Müller for his work.”
“Any word on how the Compenius project is going?” Johann asked.
“I have not heard anything,” Christoph replied.
“Someone told Master Luder that they have finished clearing out and rebuilding the pipe loft, and the whitesmiths have started making pipes, but nothing more than that.”
“We still have not had that much conflict with him,” Johann mused. “I am glad about that, but also nervous.” He thought about it for a few moments longer, then shrugged. “Nothing says we have to get in each other’s way. We will see.”
He placed his pencil in its loop in his notebook and closed it. “You two are on your own tonight. There will be a small performance at the Duchess Elisabeth Sofie Secondary School for Girls tonight, involving Frau Marla and a few of her friends in something for the Arts League and the school. I suspect they are trying to raise money and using Frau Marla’s cachet to do it.”
“And we poor humble Bachs are not on the invitation list,” Christoph said with a mock frown. “Imagine that.”
“So how are you getting in?” Heinrich asked his oldest brother.
“Staci is part of the performance group and asked me to come along.”
“It is always who you know,” Christoph said with a smirk.
Johann looked at the two of them. “So stay out of trouble, all right?”
His brothers looked at each other, grinned, and looked back at him. He shook his head.
There was light applause as Marla led her group of performers into the great room of the townhouse. Of course, as great rooms go, it wasn’t huge, but there were easily twenty Adel and patricians seated in a crescent around a piano, leaving some space.
There were more people than that in the room, of course. There was one steward at a table with several bottles of wine and other comestibles, and there was a table laden with food in what the up-timers called “buffet-style,” with servants to serve the food and even deliver full plates as needed.
Marla and her friends were obviously experienced at this kind of affair, Johann noted. They gathered around the piano, Marla standing at the fore. She had her hands clasped before her.
“Good evening,” Marla began. “Thank you for coming tonight. We will be presenting a short program of up-timer music of the sorts that were called ‘popular’ prior to the Ring of Fire. We hope that you will find it enjoyable. For some of these songs, this will be the first time we have done them in Magdeburg.”
And with that, she settled on the seat at the piano, placed her hands on the keys, and the music began.
Johann didn’t recall a lot about the evening after it was done, other than the sheer mastery of the music as the musicians moved from song to song. A few of them stuck with him: Staci singing “Norwegian Wood,” Marla singing “Big Yellow Taxi,” Isaac and Rudolf doing a duet on “Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” and others.
In the middle of the evening, Marla stood up and moved around before the piano, where she was joined by Staci, Isaac, and Rudolf.
“And as a real change of pace, just so you’ll know that there were some really weird guys out there, here’s a bit of musical humor.” She looked directly at Johann where he stood in the back of the room and gave a quick grin. For a moment he was apprehensive, uncertain as to what was going to happen. Marla hummed a pitch, gathered the eyes of the other three, and gave a nod.
They broke into a rendition of “My Bonnie Lass, She Smelleth.” Johann had to bite the knuckle of his forefinger to keep from bursting out in wild laughter as they progressed through the verses detailing both the beauties and the shortcomings of the lass. When they hit the line about her sounding like a crow, he nearly drew blood trying to suppress his guffaws. As it was, at least one or two moans escaped him, which drew some sidelong looks from some of the servants.
The song was finished in a few minutes, and he sagged in relief. Marla returned to the piano keyboard, and the next couple of songs passed in a blur while he regained his composure. He straightened up and paid attention, though, when Marla said, “This is the next to the last song of the evening. It’s a superb song, with a rich reputation in the up-time. ”Hotel California,” two three four.”
What followed was a tour-de-force of syncopated rhythmic piano work, impassioned violin playing, especially in the long extended coda, and Marla’s surgically tuned voice bending tones and placing lyrics as if they were gemstones in a matrix. Despite himself, Johann was caught up in it, hunching forward and rocking back and forth as the currents of the song ebbed and flowed. When the coda died away, he was almost limp.
Marla stood again. “For the final piece, we are going to do something a bit different, perhaps more than you expected. Since one of the program events coming up in the next few days will be the ballet Swan Lake, we thought we would present one of the dancers doing something for you tonight. It won’t be ballet, and it will be rather different. Please give us a moment to prepare.” She looked toward the side door and nodded. A veritable procession responded to her nod.
First came a couple of male servants carrying a rolled-up carpet, which they took to the far side of the piano, set down, and unrolled. It extended far enough that Johann gained an insight as to why there weren’t more chairs in the room.
Those two men were followed by four very brawny men who were lugging in what appeared to be . . . a slab of metal? It was perhaps four feet wide by six or eight feet long, and from the way they were straining with it had to be very heavy, which meant it was thicker than he had at first assumed it would be. They carried it very carefully over to the carpet, lowered one edge down with great care to rest on the carpet just inside the front edge of the carpet itself, then lowered the back edge of the metal plate to rest on the carpet. There was a final soft thump as it settled into place.
The men exited, and Staci re-entered the room. Johann hadn’t even noticed she’d left. Her steps were very loud—much louder than normal, and she was followed by a musician Johann hadn’t seen before, carrying a viola da gamba. Two of the others stepped forward, holding flutes, to cluster behind Marla while Staci moved to stand behind the metal plate.
“This is a style of dancing you’ve not seen before,” Marla said. “It’s called tap dancing, for reasons that will be very evident in just a few moments. The song is “Take Five,” and I give you premier dancer Anastasia Matowski.”
Marla sat down and without further ado began playing a very unsettling rhythm, very syncopated; a pattern that repeated over and over. As she did so, Johann’s attention was drawn to Staci reaching to the left side of her waist, unfastening something, and swirling her skirt off to reveal her legs clothed in black hose that progressed to where they disappeared under an extremely brief garment which clad the bottom of her torso. It was as if her legs were nude, but painted black. He could hardly grasp what he was seeing.
By now the viola da gamba player had joined in, and was providing a ground of plucked notes over which Marla was now elaborating a bit. Johann finally pinned down what was unsettling him about the music: the meter was not 2, or 3, or 4—it was 5! No one wrote in 5, but this song had been.
That conundrum solved, his mind immediately fixated on the other thing that was unsettling him—Staci—just as the flutes joined the performance, which was apparently Staci’s cue to move.
Her petite figure erupted into an outpouring of rhythmic clicking from the shoes she was wearing on the metal plate. The sound was almost overpowering. In the back of his mind, Johann was astonished to hear that she was tapping her feet in very complex patterns that still fit into and flowed with the 5 meter, adding to the complexity of the music and making a true multi-sensory experience, one that he had never even considered was possible.
That astonishment lasted but a moment, though, for in the next moment Johann saw every man in his field of view tense up. The seated guests all twitched, heads turned toward Staci, and to a man they leaned forward at least a little bit. He glanced quickly at the servants who stood to one side of him by the tables, and saw the same tension in them, the same slight shift in posture. And there was no evading what they were all focused on, to a man.
Fräulein Staci Matowski dancing—but such dance—legs flashing, moving, kicking, swinging out from side to side, from front to back—legs so nearly nude that one could see the cords of muscle in them as she moved. There was no question what the others were fixated on.
For all that the back of Johann’s mind was growing increasingly uncomfortable with what he saw, the front of it was so wrapped up in visual presentation of the dance, in the movement of Staci’s body—in the sensuality of it—that his mind was overloaded. He felt as if his skull should be bulging, like a wineskin that had been overfilled.
The song finally came to an end. Johann knew that it couldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes, but it had felt to him as if it had lasted forever, with Staci up before the audience capering around and displaying herself. When Marla stood, the audience applauded, some louder than others. Johann, head spinning, slipped out the door of the great room.
Johann didn’t know what to think. He didn’t know how to feel. He wasn’t numb, but he felt as if he couldn’t move, respond, act. After a long moment, he wandered down the hall toward to front door to the school, wavering as he did so, bumping into first one wall and then the other until he finally walked through the doorway and down the steps to the street.
Outside, in the night air, the coolness seemed to help slow down the currents of his mind, reduce the churning of his thought. Johann stared straight up to see the spangling of stars on the black velvet of the sky. No moon was visible yet. But as his thoughts slowed down and returned to some sort of order under the starlight, something darker began to form, to grow in him.
“Johann! There you are!”
Staci’s voice sounded behind him as the door to the school opened, and the musicians all exited in a throng. Staci skipped down the steps ahead of them and almost bounced over to Johann and placed a hand on his arm. “Did you see me dance? What did you think?”
Johann shook her hand off and took a step back. Her smile disappeared into shock as her mouth dropped open. Before she could say anything, the darkness found its outlet.
“How could you?” Johann demanded in a hard tone that nonetheless shook. “How could you put yourself on display like that? You were practically naked, dancing like Salome in front of all those people, those men.” He heard his voice become vicious, and at just that moment he didn’t really care. “I thought you were an artist. I thought you danced for joy, for beauty, not for tawdry lascivious lust. You . . . you little hypocrite.”
Johann was surprised to find that his hands were fisted, clenched at his sides, as his breath poured in and out of him in torrents. At least the pressure inside was gone. But then he saw Staci’s face. Tears flowed in slow procession down her cheeks, her eyes looked bruised in the lamplight from the lamps by the door, and her cheeks looked sunken. She looked like a starveling, someone famine-struck, and it dawned on him that he had just taken from her the nourishment of her soul.
The tableau was still. Johann, Staci, and the musicians behind her all stood motionless for a long moment. Then Staci sighed.
“I’m . . . sorry you feel that way,” she said in a very quiet, almost dead tone. “You need to find your girlfriend somewhere else, I guess. Don’t bother calling.” She turned, took two steps, then turned back. “Oh, and I wouldn’t shave my legs for you if you were the last man on earth.”
She turned again, head high, and walked down the street. The musicians all flowed around Johann, avoiding contact with him, although Marla’s fulminating glance should have left him as a pile of charred bones in the street.
Johann stood in the dark, alone, empty.