Home, Sweet Home

Frankfurt am Main, March 1633

Martin Wackernagel drew up his horse, first looking back at the route he had just completed and then forward toward the walls of Frankfurt am Main.

Via regia. Die Reichsstraße. There would never be anything to equal the Imperial Road. Sure, if you wanted to be prosaic, it was just one more trade route, a commercial connection between the great cities of Frankfurt and Leipzig and their fairs. It had been for centuries.

But it was more than that. He hoped that it always would be. Merchants, teamsters, journeymen looking for a new place to demonstrate their existing skills and acquire new ones. Crowned heads, princes of the church, pilgrims on their way to the great shrine of St. James of Compostella, Santiago, in Spain. Victorious soldiers who had triumphed and beaten soldiers in retreat. Unemployed soldiers looking for work, entertainers looking for audiences, peddlers, and beggars. Sometimes it was hard to tell them apart, but they all used the road.

Martin loved the road. He had been riding it as a private messenger for fifteen years, ever since he finished the apprenticeship that his father had forced on him and refused to go ahead and become a journeyman in the trade. Not that he had anything against Uncle Reichhard. He had been a good master, but he was a belt-maker. Belts were necessary, of course, but not very interesting.

So, then and now, he carried messages from Frankfurt to Erfurt via Hanau, Langenselbold, Gelnhausen, Wächtersbach, Soden and Salmünster, Steinau an der Straße, Schlüchtern, Neuhof, Fulda, Hünfeld, Vacha, Eisenach, and Gotha to Erfurt; then back again. Sometimes he had covered the further stretch to Weimar, Naumburg and Leipzig if there was no one available in Erfurt to pick up the rest of the run, but Frankfurt to Erfurt was his regular route. Or had been, until he started adding the leg that took him to the new city of Grantville, which sent out a truly amazing amount of correspondence.

He knew that all of this caused his mother a lot of distress. She recited with some frequency—every time he got back to Frankfurt, in fact—a lament that she was beginning to wonder if he would ever settle down and get married.

It wasn't as if, being a widow, she needed him to marry and make a home for her. She lived very comfortably with his older sister Merga and her husband Crispin Neumann. She just wanted him to settle down and marry. No special need for it—just a want.

She just could not understand why he loved the road so much.

Good Lord, Mutti, he thought. Do you suppose you could let it go just this once?

Mechanical Ingenuity

Bonn, Archdiocese of Cologne, March 1633

Arno Vignelli had something to sell. Of course. He was an Italian engineer. Most engineers were Italian. They made incredibly ingenious machines in Italy. Italians produced clever devices and then crudely set out to make their fortunes by selling them to that portion of Europe's population that lived north of the Alps.

Evrard Holmann's job, at the moment, included investment in new technology on behalf of Duke Ferdinand of Bavaria, Archbishop of Cologne. He shuffled through the papers on his desk. The man now standing in his office was the student of someone famous. Holman shuffled again. He had the information here somewhere, he was sure. He moved the pile in front of him to the side and snagged another one which should have the letter of introduction. Vignelli had also been to Grantville. He had built this particular device on the basis of something he had observed there.

Vignelli ignored Holman's paper shuffling and went on running through his spiel. "Then, at this 'museum,' I saw the machines which lie at the basis of my new invention."

"Museum?" Holmann raised his eyebrows at the unfamiliar term.

"It is, ah, like a cabinet of curiosities, but the size of a building. It is devoted to the history of the region where this Grantville came from. And since it was a region where people used many various and different technical devices, it is full of them. That is where I saw the 'mimeograph.'"

"They let you come and examine this freely, with no restrictions?"

"Well, not freely. There is a charge to visit the 'museum,' but it is really a quite small one. I could afford to return for several days in a row. They had a placard posted that indicated the costs. The fee is reduced for visits by groups of school children. Otherwise, as to 'with no restrictions,' yes. There were guards, but to prevent damage and theft. Not to prevent visitors from examining the exhibits closely."

"Very well. Go on."

"I saw this 'mimeograph.' It is not a press. It works on a very different basis, using 'stencils.' I thought that I could make one. With enough time and money and workmen. It would be difficult and very expensive to make, with much hand-fitting of metal parts, especially teeth, and the need for several springs, but it could be done."


"If I had tried to copy the 'mimeograph.' There was a lever to partly open the 'drum' so that it could grasp the 'stencil' for example. If the grasping foot did not come together precisely, the stencil would be torn loose and ruined. Many other complications. But I did not copy it. There was another machine, a 'hectograph' it was called. Much simpler, but calling for more complicated inks. I thought—if there were some way to combine these. That was when I saw the 'washing machine.' More precisely, when I saw the 'wringer' attached to the washing machine." Vignelli smiled.


"Two wooden rollers, fastened together and cranked by gears. The laundress feeds the wet clothing through them. The movement of the turning rollers moves the cloth through them; the pressure of the two rollers forces the water out of the cloth much more effectively than it can be wrung out by hand."

Holmann nodded. He could visualize how that worked.

"So," Vignelli beamed. "I thought. Take a tray, like the 'hectograph.' Run it through two rollers, one above and one below, as if feeding the cloth. But how to ink it? One more day, two more days, I came back and looked at them again and again. Then, on the third day, when I came in, I looked at the counter where the girl who took the fee I paid was standing. She gave me a receipt. She 'stamped' the date on it, with a mechanical device. It is quite delightful, and simple. I will have to make one some time."

"You are wandering from the point."

"Not really. To get the ink on the stamp, which transferred it to the receipt, she had a little tray, with a pad in it. Not something alchemical. Just a cloth pad inside the little metal tray, soaked with ordinary printer's ink. Boiled linseed oil and carbon black. She had that in a bottle. There was a hinged lid, so the pad could be closed at night so the ink did not dry out. When I asked her, she showed me how to ink the pad, just using a swab and letting it sink in. And then I knew. The hectograph tray, the inked pad—a thin silk covering is best, but fine linen such as is woven for ladies' handkerchiefs and collars will do—the stencil, the piece of paper on top of the stencil, another waxed sheet to protect the rollers from becoming inky, the whole thing moving back and forth between the two rollers of the 'wringer' until the paper is inked. Simple. Cheap. Anyone could make one—any decent craftsman, at least. It was like a divine revelation."

"Show me," Holmann said. "Archbishop Ferdinand invests in results, not concepts."

"See," Vignelli said after he had finished the first demonstration. "The operator can release or tighten the tension on the rollers. He can make a second pass if the ink is getting dry and the paper does not become dark enough the first time."

"I don't think that I believed you," Holmann said. "But it is clear. How many of these machines do you have available?"

"I have already completed ten. At least, my shop had completed ten at the time I began this journey and that was several weeks ago. I have five more almost finished and my assistants are in the workshop even as I talk to you here. I sold two—well, received orders for two—in Frankfurt on my way to Cologne. The eight available, I can deliver as fast as the parts can be transported, unless, of course, my head assistant, who left for Vienna the same day that I started north, has received orders there."

"Tell me about the 'stencils.'"

"They are not durable. You cannot print a large number of copies from a single stencil. The best ones that I have made, waxed silk, allow a hundred pages, perhaps. With good fortune, if the stencil does not wrinkle. Waxed paper will not make more than twenty-five copies, usually, before it begins to deteriorate."

"That doesn't sound good," Holmann complained.

Vignelli suspected that a skilled operator could get many more copies from a stencil—perhaps as many as a hundred from a paper stencil and a thousand from a silk one. But not all operators were skilled and presenting inflated claims to the dukes of Bavaria tended to have permanently fatal consequences for the businessman who presented them. The archbishop was a younger brother of Duke Maximilian. Much better that he should perhaps receive a happy surprise rather than an unhappy one.

"But think. They are simple, even if not durable. Once a traditional print shop somewhere—such as in Cologne—has created the form for cutting the stencil, it can make as many stencils as may be needed. If the shop producing the pamphlet or placard will need to make five hundred copies, then make five stencils. Make a couple to spare. They aren't that expensive. If you want the item copied in ten different towns, if it should be the case that the archbishop has bought ten of these copying devices, then make ten stencils. They are lightweight and easy to distribute. Why, they can even be sent through the mail, properly protected and packed."

"Better, but . . . "

"At need, it is even possible to make a stencil without a print shop. Just to copy words from a manuscript."


"It is best done for large placards, but this way." Vignelli opened a box and tumbled a batch of multi-colored letters on the table. "The up-timers use the Latin letter forms as we prefer them in Italy, not the German Fraktur. These, I understand, were for children in their earliest years, so they are large. Such a treasure, but possibly not surprising. I was highly gratified to discover how many Italians reside in this Grantville. The letters had magnets in the back and could be arranged and rearranged on a magnetic board. I have removed the magnets, of course, for safe-keeping. They are in my shop."

"Which is where?"

"I have established myself in Bolzano. Bozen, you may call it, in the Tirol. The duchess has created a very favorable business climate."

"No wonder. The regent, Duke Leopold's widow, is a Medici," Holmann griped. "Damned family of Italian pawnbrokers, even if they have clawed their way up to Grand Dukes of Tuscany and given two queens to France."

"Not to mention a couple of popes," Vignelli answered mildly. "Let me show you how to use these letters to make a stencil. Of course, any craftsman can make such letters from thin wood. There is no need for them to be of this up-time material."

"You just carry them around to impress potential customers, then?"

"Of course. Now. First draw around them on the piece of paper you intend for your stencil. Then cut them out with a razor blade, quite carefully. Only then wax the paper. Otherwise, no matter how careful a craftsman may be, the wax cracks and the ink seeps through. If the wax does not coat the stencil completely, the paper remains permeable to the ink. We are experimenting with hand-stenciling smaller letters by pricking the paper with a needle, but . . . "

Holmann had made up his mind. "Hold that for my workman," he said. "You can explain the rest of it to him. The archbishop will take four of your machines. Is it possible to deliver them, ah, inconspicuously?"

"Certainly," Vignelli said. "They are easy to assemble and I have prepared a sheet of directions. When they are disassembled, no guard at a town gate will give them a second glance. If there were a need for easier passage through tolls and customs or other inspections, the parts can even be shipped separately."

"A need?"

"If, for example, there were some need for the archbishop to ensure the preparation of literature in such a city as Magdeburg, or if a partisan of the emperor who is residing in Nuernberg might need discreet access to a way to provide information to the people. I call it," Vignelli said proudly, "a 'duplicating machine.'"

News of the Day

Frankfurt am Main, March 1633

Martin delivered the bags he was carrying, saw to the stabling of his horse, and picked up the latest newspaper, fresh off the presses. Originally it had appeared weekly, but it came out twice a week now. You could buy it in every post office in Europe, of course, even those outside the CPE, but you got it first in Frankfurt, since that was where it was printed.

He stood there, looking absent-mindedly at the sales rack.

There were a lot of other newspapers, of course. You could buy those at the Frankfurt post office, too. Nuernberg, Augsburg, and Leipzig. Berlin, even. Since the beginning, since the day a baby avisa grew up to be a regularly circulated commercial newsletter, post offices and newspapers had gone together. Before the war, there had been four or five real newspapers—not just occasional broadsides—in the Germanies, all weeklies. Five years ago, there were a dozen. Before the war, all of them together had printed perhaps five hundred copies per week. Five years ago, perhaps five thousand copies per week. Now, since the Ring of Fire—especially since the main theater of war with its plundering and marauding armies had moved away from the central cities of the Germanies—there were probably two dozen weekly papers and a half dozen that appeared more than once a week. Twelve thousand issues per week, perhaps.

The rumor was that the new paper in Magdeburg might try to publish daily. He had picked up that gossip, as well as a newspaper, in Erfurt. Gossip was still usually a bit ahead of the printed news, especially when it came to things that might affect your job, so he dropped it into his conversation with Max Leimbacher who ran the newspaper concession. Someday, Max would return the favor. Then he headed for home.


Martin tossed the local paper on the table in his brother-in-law's print shop. "Saved you a trip," he said to the general direction of the back room and sang out a vendor's call. "All the latest news, guaranteed fresh. Notice, relation, and timely information concerning what has happened and occurred in Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, England, France, Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Poland, and Silesia, with items from Rome, Venice, and Vienna. Antwerp, Amsterdam, Cologne, Frankfort, Prague, and Linz, et cetera." He tossed the Erfurt paper, and any others he had collected on his route, onto the table after it. The men sitting around picked them up. That was the way it went with newspapers. They went to city councils, to monasteries, to subscription clubs in small towns, and even to village taverns. Well, occasionally to village pastors who tempted their parishioners to more diligent attendance at the weekly sermon by the bribe of getting to read the newspaper afterwards, but more often to village taverns. And, of course, to schools and libraries. Most Latin schools expected their students to keep up with the current news.

One of the men started to read the items in the Frankfurt paper aloud. Not that the others couldn't read, of course, but if someone read aloud, everyone else could join in the discussion.

The Frankfurt paper, as was now usual in the CPE, had the Roman god Mercury in the woodcut in the header. Personally, Martin preferred it to the Thurn and Taxis logo, which showed a regular courier from the imperial postal system, wearing an armband, riding a well-fed horse which he could change at each post-house, blowing a horn and overhauling a hang-dog private messenger on a worn-out nag.

Martin thought defensively that he was not hang-dog and he took good care of his horse. One of the up-timers in Fulda, the young soldier named Garand whom he had met at Barracktown while turning over some things to Sergeant Hartke's formidable wife, the Dane named Dagmar, had explained a joke to him, caused by a person saying, "I resemble that statement" rather than "I resent that statement." Martin felt strongly that he did not resemble the Thurn and Taxis statement about private couriers.

Merga, who doubled as the saleslady, came thumping forward from behind the counter to hug him. Merga was not only settled down but settling down. Much of the settling was landing on her thighs, which, as she laughed, were safely hidden under her skirts and petticoats, but some of it was also arriving in the vicinity of her chin and waistline. Crispin had been a good provider and she was starting to show it.

"Go upstairs and talk to Mutti," she said as she let loose of him. "Her rheumatism has been bad. She hasn't been down in the shop for a week."

Martin groaned. If Mutti had been sitting upstairs by herself for a week, thinking, rather than down in the shop working, where things happened that distracted her, he was going to get the whole drama, from prologue to epilogue.

No use putting it off.


After a few days home in Frankfurt, Martin started to realize that he might be forced to settle down whether he wanted to or not. Now wouldn't that make Mutti happy. The minute he did, she would start on the marriage end of the theme.

"I never wanted to be a mail carrier for the imperial postal system," he said to Crispin. As if Crispin didn't already know, but sometimes it was a comfort to be able to complain. "I don't want to be a courier for the Swedes. Or for the CPE, the way things are developing."

"Why don't you just keep riding on your own, then?"

"I'm not sure that I can. It will be one thing if they let the private messenger system die out naturally. It will be a lot different if the reformed CPE post offices attack the private couriers, physically, by force, the way they attacked the municipal messengers who worked for the city of Cologne, back when the Thurn and Taxis post office was set up there."

"Yes," Crispin agreed. "If the new CPE post office system turns out to be anything like the way the Thurn and Taxis run the imperial post, it won't appreciate competition. A monopoly is a monopoly, after all."

"If I have to work for the postmaster, being nothing but one little cog on a huge set of gears grinding away to move the mail all over the CPE, what kind of a job is that? What would be the joy in that?" Martin lamented to Crispin. "Riding back and forth, at top speed, over the same stretch of road, day in and day out? Never seeing anything but the inside of the postal station. If that happens, I might as well have stayed in Frankfurt and made belts for Uncle Reichhard."

"You don't have to ride a short route. Frankfurt is certainly one of the largest officia in the Germanies, if it isn't the biggest of all by now. It's not just a station for changing horses; it receives the mail, re-sorts it, distributes it out to a half-dozen different routes. If you could get on here, in central . . . ?"

"I don't want to, Crispin. I just don't. I want to be on the road. A man might as well be stuck in Frankfurt making belts as stuck in Frankfurt sorting mail."


That evening Martin sat on his bed. No use wasting the candle; he blew it out.

Thinking. Reminding himself of all the reasons why he didn't want to do what Crispin so clearly thought was the sensible thing.

For a century, already, the imperial postal system had emphasized speed and efficiency. "Public, regular, reliable, and rapid" as the advertisements read. Most post routes ran once a week—a few of the busier ones twice. The ideal span from one post stop to the next—from the perspective of a horse, at least—was from eight to ten miles (a mile being, of course, a quite variable concept from place to place). In the real world, where budgets were a factor, the routes of the imperial post, governed by the terms of a 1597 imperial proclamation, had post houses every fifteen miles or so where the rider handed the bags over to a new messenger and fresh horse. The rider stayed there overnight, picked up a set of bags that came in from somewhere else, and went back where he came from.

This distance was so set that people referred to it as "una posta." The main route from Rome to Brussels had ninety-six post stations; the one from Antwerp to Nürnberg not quite so many. Customers could buy printed schedules and maps of the routes, as well as fee schedules, at any post office. They were posted on placards in the offices, as well.

The point was that the businessmen in any town could rely on the regular arrival of the postal courier, blowing his horn to announce that he was there. It was scheduled. "Mail day" structured the life of the towns that had post offices. Learned men, merchants, bureaucrats, clergy, and ordinary people had all become accustomed to being able to send out their correspondence on time, carried by someone whose actual job was to get it where it was supposed to go.

The imperial post and the Swedish field post were built on the assumption that horses and riders could maintain the desired speed for only a limited distance without damaging their future usefulness. Wearing out a horse was fine for emergencies, when speed was of the essence. The military field post that van den Birghden ran out of Frankfurt for the Swedes now could get a message from Frankfurt to Hamburg in five days. Reliably. On the Imperial Road as far as Eisenach. Five days for two hundred fifty miles; twenty post stops where the letter was passed off from one horse and rider pair to the next. And a lot of tenacious negotiation between the postmaster and the rulers of all the various territories along the way to get the routes established and the stations set up, but now the mail left each city regularly, twice a week, in addition to the special letters that were carried by Swedish dragoons. Der Postschwede, people called those men. The "mail Swede."

That was an amazing achievement. Martin could see why a Swedish general might want to get a message from Frankfurt to Hamburg fast. Once it got to Hamburg, after all, it could go out to Stockholm by boat. Although now, with the famous up-timer radio, maybe they could transmit the essence of the matter that way and let the post riders proceed at a more reasonable pace. But a lot of urgent things still had to be on paper—documents with signatures and seals, bank drafts, commissions for military officers.

If there wasn't any emergency, however, it was a bad idea to wear out a good horse. Martin admitted that changing horses at a postal station was all right. A fresh horse was a good thing for any courier. But changing riders did not appeal to him. He wanted to keep going.


"Oh well," he said to Crispin over breakfast, "I'm riding out again this morning, so I won't have to worry about it for a couple of weeks."

"Do I need to smile nicely at your future bride while you're gone?" Merga asked.

Martin shook his head. "I'm escaping free and clear one more time. Mutti had a little list, but I managed to avoid meeting any of her candidates."

He jogged off toward the livery stable. Merga shook her head as she watched him go. Marty was nearly thirty-five, after all. It was time for him to think of settling down.

On the Road Again

Gelnhausen, late March 1633

Martin Wackernagel's mother had often predicted that the boy's curiosity would be the death of him. She had predicted it regularly, frequently, all the years that he was growing up. She still predicted it.

So far, it hadn't been. It was still with him, though. It caused him to try to learn everything he could find out about the towns and cities through which he rode along the Imperial Road.

Coming up from the valley of the Main River, through Hanau and Isenburg territory, he reached Gelnhausen. According to the histories, in another world—a world in which Gustavus Adolphus had been killed in November 1632—Gelnhausen, in the summer of 1634, had been so devastated and destroyed by raiding Croats sent by the imperials, that it became uninhabitable and uninhabited for a time.

In this spring of 1633, with the king of Sweden alive, the town sat here, safely tucked within the well-defended borders of the Confederated Principalities of Europe—the CPE. Martin's mouth quirked. Ambitious name, that—Confederated Medium and Small Principalities of North and Central Germany would be more accurate. Nonetheless, the trial Croat raid sent toward the miraculously arrived city of Grantville the previous fall had been so effectively turned back by the king of Sweden that it now seemed unlikely that the emperor's commanders would try any such large-scale razzia into the valleys of the Werra, the Main, and the Kinzig, even if they could place their light cavalry in a position to begin one. Martin wondered if any of Gelnhausen's city fathers had studied the up-timers' records and realized their good fortune.

In that other world, there had been a boy of eleven or twelve years old whose name was Johann Jakob Christoffel Grimmelshausen. He had grown up to write a novel, perhaps the most famous one written about these wars. Martin had asked, unobtrusively. Yes, the boy was here. What would he write now, if not the Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus? Would he write anything? It was as if all the foundations of the world were melting under him, Martin thought sometimes, and he could not predict the shape they would take when they became solid again.

One thing that he could still rely on in Gelnhausen was that David Kronberg would be hanging around the post office. David had been hanging around the post office for the past ten years—maybe a bit more. Whenever the mail came in, no matter what frantic efforts his parents made to keep him away, he managed to elude them. David did not care if it was a Thurn and Taxis imperial post rider or a Swedish dragoon or a private courier such as Martin himself. He loved the post office. He wanted to know what was in the news; he wanted to know the gossip.

Kronberg. Or Kronenberger, depending upon the mood of the clerk recording the event in question. Or David ben Abraham. He was a son of parents who were prominent members of the Jewish community in this small imperial city. It wasn't a ghetto, really—not a separate miniature town within a town such as existed in Frankfurt. A neighborhood. Distinctive, but a neighborhood.

Martin, curious as always, had asked questions. There had been a Jewish synagogue in Gelnhausen for at least three hundred years. The current building was fairly new, built only thirty or so years ago. David's uncle, a man named Meier, had worked on it. He was now a builder in Frankfurt. Curious, Martin had looked him up; had even gotten to know him, in a way. It was easier for him than it would be for most Gentiles. His brother-in-law Crispin's grandfather had been a convert. Convert, as the Lutherans saw it; apostate, as the Jews saw it. But Crispin still knew people in Frankfurt's ghetto—he had been able to direct Martin to Meier Kronberg, Meir zum Schwan.

Unlike Meier, David's parents had not left Gelnhausen for the big city of Frankfurt. They would not leave Gelnhausen; would not think about having their son leave Gelnhausen. They definitely did not want to think about their son becoming a postal courier. Even in the atmosphere of the new CPE, Aberlin Kronberg, otherwise known as Aberlin ben Naphtali and Aberlin zur Lilie, and his wife Bessle Zons were having a lot of trouble thinking new thoughts about employment opportunities for their son.

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff