Grantville, February 1634

"No, no, no, no, no, no, n-o-o-o-o." Amber Higham threw both of her hands up in the air.

The class came to a stop.

"This unit worked last year. It worked like a charm. Why isn't it working this year?" She glared at her students. "So, tell me! We're using a down-time period play. We're using an up-time ripoff of the down-time play. Why aren't you getting the connection? Why, why, why?"

For someone who could be so cool when managing adult committees, when Amber was in full steam in the classroom, she tended to go for agony.

Nobody said anything. The couples standing in the middle of the floor looked at her with their mouths half open.

Finally, Michelle Matowski looked up from the piano. "Maybe last year you had boys who could carry a tune?"

"Yeah. Or dance." Kurt Washaw, the male half of one of the couples, stuck his thumbs in his pockets.

"This is just a class unit. I'm not putting you in costume. I'm not putting you on stage in front of people. I'm just trying to get you to see that what was 'then' up-time has connections to what is 'now' down-time."

"Who cares?" That was David Thornton, also a reluctant singer and dancer.

Amber ran her fingers through her gray-streaked hair. She thought that part of the problem was that Kurt and David, like Lorie Lee Carstairs in the back of the room and close to a half-dozen other of this year's up-time kids, had been left behind in Grantville to finish out the semester, parked with uncles and aunts or family friends, when their parents went off to do other things. Kurt's and Lorie Lee's folks were in Magdeburg; Dave's in Bamberg. In some ways, this year's class was having its growing-up even more disrupted by Grantville people starting to fission off into the rest of the United States of Europe than their older brothers and sisters had been by the Ring of Fire itself three years before.

None of which solved the problem. "Michelle, please take it again from the beginning."

The next try wasn't any better.

"Want a little help, Mistress Higham?"

She looked over at the open door. A couple of boys stood there. Fifteen or sixteen, maybe? She raised her eyebrows and beckoned them in. "You know me, but I don't think that I know you."

The taller boy nodded. "We just came from Master Saluzzo. Your headmaster. We are traveling with an English playwright who greatly admired our grandfather. We have been on the continent for some months—he is with the King's Men company, but concluded quite some time ago to travel and see what might be found. Since in the very nature of things, traveling players must earn their keep by playing, it took our little company some time to get this far."

The other boy picked up the narrative. "He has come to use the libraries here. After experiencing those 'some months' of our company, Master Massinger has decided that for as long as we remain here, we shall go to school, so he will not need to fret about what we may be doing while he pursues his studies. Particularly since many of the classes are taught in English. Particularly since the National Library is in this building, so he can escort us to it in the morning and ensure that we leave with him in the evening."

With immaculate timing, they traded off again. "Since our grandfather was an actor, Signor Saluzzo thought we might well enjoy the drama class. Most particularly since it has no 'prerequisites.' While he has found us to be far from lackwits, it appears that we are most sadly deficient in 'prerequisites,' at least as far as mathematics and natural philosophy are concerned. Nor does Master Massinger know how long we will be remaining, so the headmaster doubts the wisdom of trying to remedy the situation. So, mistress, aside from some more Latin, of course, which one's mentors always find to be an excellent thing, and the literature of France with Mistress Hawkins, since our French is already tolerable, we are at your service. In your service, indeed. Should you need a set painted, a costume created . . . "

The shorter boy broke in. " . . . a ditty sung, a few words smithed to fit a new scene, a female part played . . . " He stopped, looked over the class, grinned. "Not, it would appear, that you will be in need of that particular talent of mine, although unlike my brother I can still squeak a fine falsetto. Nonetheless, on our way down the 'corridor,' we heard your song." He sighed deeply. "Now, I am Tom. That one next to me is Dick. Had our parents produced yet another son, methinks that he likely would have been Harry, but I fear that we must borrow someone else."

Amber looked at them. Down-time English, obviously, from their accents. Slightly built, both of them. The taller couldn't be any more than five feet six. The other stood shorter by a couple of inches, but he also appeared to be younger, so he might still have a growth spurt. Straight hair, barely a couple of shades apart. For the taller, it was light brown; for the shorter, dark blond. Faces with small, neat features. There was no sign of any incipient jutting jaw. Neither would ever model as Conan the Barbarian. They should have looked like a couple of budding bank tellers, but . . . they didn't. With the cocky angle of their heads, the little banty rooster strut with which they walked, they looked more like budding . . . buccaneers? She could imagine them on the deck of one of Drake's ships, laughing as they chased a Spanish galleon.

Boys from a troop of traveling actors? Boys unafraid of the stage? Amber motioned them to the center of the room. "We have quite a few Harrys in this town, but not of an age to take sophomore drama."

A solemn nod. "Ah, yes. Harry Lefferts. We have heard of him."

Amber wished that they hadn't. "So . . . " She looked at the three couples who were still standing in the middle of the classroom.

Kurt and David sat down, leaving a down-time boy named Zacharias Schaupp to sing as "Harry." Lorie Lee shoved sheets of paper with the lyrics into the hands of the two new kids. They took a hasty look. Michelle played through the tune a single time. Juliana Ostertag started out on Cole Porter's interpretation of Bianca's dilemma, with Mikayla Tito backing her. Tom cut in with the line containing his own name. Dick did the same. One light—still very light—tenor. But Grantville's high school, thank goodness, was still in a position to put lapel mikes on its student performers at need. One fairly strong baritone. Good timing. The result wasn't a polished performance, but it was a performance rather than a struggle. A performance delivered with a glee that pulled the other students along. Amber grinned. The semester's prospects were looking up. These two boys, Zacharias . . . if she could just talk Lisa Beattie into letting Wolfgang Fischer off farm chores long enough to rehearse . . . Plans bubbled up in her mind.


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