The pickpocket thought he had spotted an easy mark.
First of all, he could tell from the fellow's clothing that he was a foreigner. So he wouldn't get the same kind of help if he raised a hue and cry that a citizen would.
Secondly, he was at the fair selling paintings. Artists were notoriously oblivious to the mundane aspects of life, like eating . . . or not getting their purses lifted. Of course, there probably wasn't a lot in that purse, but you couldn't have everything your own way.
Finally, he was distracted, talking to an extremely pretty girl. Tall, blonde and buxom. For that matter, she was doing a pretty good job of distracting bystanders, that might otherwise notice a cutpurse.
The pickpocket was having trouble staying focused himself.
He worked with the ebb and flow of the crowd, sidling closer without making his path obvious. He waited . . . then made his move.
The pickpocket should, perhaps, have paid closer attention to the subject matter of the paintings. They were detailed and realistic looking depictions of life in the New World. Including such subjects as Indian raids.
The painter whirled and caught the pickpocket's wrist. A wrist which was, unfortunately, attached to a thievish hand whose fingers were at that very moment gripping the painter's purse. It was, to be blunt, the very worst moment to have one's wrist grabbed and placed on public display . . . .
"Naughty, naughty," the painter, Felix Gruenfeld, said. His voice was relaxed, but his fingers weren't.
The blonde took in the scene and reacted in a less elegant but more practical way. "Help! Thief!"
The bystanders surged forward, eager to aid the damsel in distress, and tackled the unfortunate thief. They accepted the damsel's thanks, and then handed the criminal off to the market guards. He would probably be hanged before the fair was over.
If her helpers were disappointed to learn that the purse was the painter's, not hers, and that she was the painter's wife, at least they were too polite to say so.
"That was deftly done," said his wife, Birgit Wegenerin.
"Thank you," said Felix. "There are advantages to living several years in the wilds of America. And making friends with the Indians. They taught me how to sneak up on an animal, or a person, and how, um, to not get sneaked up upon. What's the up-time term? 'Situational awareness,' I think."
"Comes in handy in chess, too," said Birgit. "Too many players focus on their own attack, without minding where their opponents' pieces are marching."
Felix wasn't surprised by the chess reference. Birgit was from Stroebeck, the "Chess Village." Where girls as well as boys learned to play at a young age. And where a suitor had to play a village champion if he wanted to marry a Stroebeck maiden.
Felix had been such a suitor once. He was clobbered in the first match, but went to Grantville, learned up-time chess theory, and returned for a rematch. At which he won her hand.
They had just driven a wagon, loaded with Felix' sketches and paintings, to the Free Imperial City of Nuernberg, one hundred seventeen miles south of Grantville. They had arrived in time for St. Egidius' Day, September 1. While the town was Protestant now, and didn't celebrate saint's days in the Catholic manner, that day was still the beginning of a three week fair of international proportions. Felix's artwork had sold well. Well enough, obviously, for his purse to attract the attentions of a pickpocket.
The swordsman stood on a barrel, a sword in one hand, parrying dagger in the other. He mimed dueling, then placed the point of the dagger at his throat, as he aimed the sword skyward. After pausing for effect, he somersaulted off the barrel.
The swordsman, now at ground level, held up the dagger; the crowd could see that he hadn't lost a drop of blood. They applauded, and the performer took a bow.
"I wouldn't want to try that trick," Felix said. "Not even with a paintbrush in place of the poniard."
"I wouldn't want you to."
"So, now what, Birgit? Listen to some pipers? Go bowling on Haller meadow? Watch a crossbow match on Schutt Island?"
"I think we should pack up now so we can leave for Solnhofen first thing in the morning."
The village of Solnhofen lay forty miles south of Nuernberg.
Felix frowned. "There's no rush. Perhaps I'll sell a few more paintings."
"You already said that was unlikely. That at best you might sell a few at the very end, to the bargain hunters that offer half-price, or less, in the hope the seller doesn't want to transport his merchandise back home."
"That's true. I suppose."
"So waiting around Nuernberg just costs us money in rent that could be better spent on starting up the new printmaking business."
The problem with painting, as he had told her in the early days of their courtship, was that it took so long to do each piece. And if one was popular, it took equally long to make a duplicate. Sketching was fast, but didn't command the same prices as paintings. If you thought the art could sell many copies, you could prepare a copperplate engraving, and make prints. But engraving a plate was much more time-consuming than painting.
Birgit was a practical sort of girl and, once he took her back with him to Grantville, she started asking the up-timers questions. Lots of questions. And the answers were the other reason they were in Nuernberg. She had persuaded Felix to try to duplicate lithography. Lithography was reputed to have many advantages, not least of which was that it was much cheaper, easier and faster to print drawings by lithography than by copperplate engraving.
"I'd feel more comfortable about lithography if, you know, we weren't the first."
"We aren't the first. The first was Alois Senefelder in 1796, old time line. The encyclopedia said so." Her tone was reverent.
"You know what I mean. First in this time line. Books are all well and good, but you don't learn to paint from books, and you don't learn smithing from books, so why should we expect to be able to learn lithography from books? I'd be a lot more comfortable with this scheme of yours—"
"If even one of the up-timer art teachers were an expert with it . . . ." His voice trailed off.
Birgit took a deep breath, and expelled it slowly. "Felix. If there was already an expert around, then it wouldn't be as promising a proposition. We would have competitors. They would run up the price of the limestone. Or worse, persuade the Solnhofeners to give them an 'exclusive.'" Solnhofen's fine-grained limestone was Senefelder's original "litho"—stone. And was still used by printmakers two centuries later. The stones could hold fine detail and, unlike a copperplate, a Solnhofen stone could be ground and re-used to print a new design.
"If Solnhofeners were still quarrying limestone two centuries after Senefelder, then surely there's plenty of it to go around."
"Sure. But we want to get the choicest pieces at the best price. And we want to be the first on the market with lithographs, so the other artists are playing, um, 'catch-up.'"
"Still, it's a risk."
"Living is a risk. War, famine, and pestilence all around us, despite the up-time inventions. You already did what you could to bring down the risk. You read all the book entries. You sat down with all the art teachers, and found out what they remembered about lithography from their printmaking classes in art school. Eleanor gave you some tips that weren't in the books, as I recall."
Birgit glared at Felix. "I did not ride in a wagon for over a hundred miles just to watch you sell paintings in a square in Nuernberg. I could have stayed in Grantville and been productive. I could have gone to the library, and visited friends who have TV and air conditioning. I could have eaten ice cream every day. I didn't have to come here with you, husband."
Felix's up-time friends had told him how they had visualized German women before the Ring of Fire. Either wearing a "dirndl" and carrying a beer mug in each hand, smiling, or wearing a horned helmet and carrying a long spear, frowning. Birgit definitely fit the second image at this point. A Valkyrie, a chooser of the slain.
Felix decided that discretion might be the better part of valor. On the other hand, he did have his male dignity to consider.
"We'll leave. In two days. That will give me one day to dispose of some of the paintings. Give us more room for the limestone."
Birgit nodded curtly. "Fine. I'm taking a walk. I need to calm down."
Birgit strode off, turned the corner. After a few blocks, she stopped at a bakery and bought a Lebkuchen, a honey cake. When you're feeling down, eat a sweet, she figured.
As she munched, she thought about the complications of married life. Felix is a kind man, and funny, and a fine artist, but, really! He just hasn't learned that you have to put money to work if you want to make money. You have to learn to take a calculated risk.
Felix complains about how hard it is for painters financially, but doesn't want to do anything about it. And he knows that I have more of a head for business than he does, but he won't let me do so. Even though he grew up in Holland where "she-merchants" are taken for granted.
Or he agrees, then gets cold feet. That's worse than just saying "no" in the first place.
She made her way back in the Haupmarkt, where they had been arguing an hour or so earlier. Felix was gone. Back at the inn, she supposed. Packing. Painting. Sulking, perhaps.
Birgit strode over to the Schoner Brunnen fountain. It looked like a miniature cathedral, with a spire
She took hold of the famous golden ring. What had people told her?
"Turn the gold ring thrice; wish granted in a trice."
She turned it, three times, and stepped back.
"Bah!" she exclaimed. A passerby gave her a curious glance. As if you could just need to wish for something, and it would happen.
As soon as Birgit was out of sight, Felix started walking back toward the inn.
Birgit's smart, but she's lived such a sheltered life, up to now, he thought. Birgit had never been rich, but she had never had to miss a meal because she couldn't afford one. Felix had. Even before the siege of Amsterdam.
The Guild of Saint Luke's in Amsterdam wouldn't have elevated Felix to mastery if they hadn't thought there was room for him. But art isn't like bread, or smith work. It's a luxury, not a necessity. If times are bad, then even master painters starve.
Felix kicked a stone down the road, watched it skitter over the cobbles. When he met Birgit, all his worldly goods were in Amsterdam, the Spanish siege line rendering them as inaccessible as if they were in the New World he had once visited.
The newspapers in Nuernberg had just announced the peace treaty between the United States of Europe and the Netherlands. That meant the siege was over, Felix supposed. It didn't mean that his paintings, and other possessions, had survived the siege. They could have been stolen. Or burnt. If so, his resources were limited to the little he had accumulated in Grantville.
And now I have Birgit to support, too. It can only be a matter of time, considering how long and how often I've been bedding her, before we have a child as well. Then I'll have three mouths to support. On just a painter's brush.
A pack of children came running around the corner, laughing; Felix stepped out of their way, and watched them for a moment.
Birgit's father, Felix knew, thought he was just a vagabond. Within a week of the engagement, old Hans Wegener had second thoughts and started trying to talk Birgit into breaking it off. Prudently, Felix got her out of Stroebeck right away, before she, too, changed her mind. But that meant taking her to Grantville before Felix was entirely confident that he could support her.
To start over in Grantville, I had to buy brushes, paints, canvas, and an easel. I had to rent a room that had good light. And rent, even outside the Ring, is astronomical.
He recognized an approaching citizen as one who had purchased a "Battle of Wismar." It was a good seller in Magdeburg; the heroic Hans dive bombing the Lossen. He hadn't been sure that it would do as well here, so far from the sea, but the gamble of bringing a few had paid off well. Felix greeted the customer.
He suddenly thought of what he might do about the remaining paintings. He turned down a side street and went off to visit a fellow guildsman, a Nueremberger who came to Grantville from time to time and had bunked down in Felix's garret. Felix left the paintings with him. His friend promised to try to sell them in Felix's absence, for a commission, of course.
Painting isn't like a regular job, Felix mused as he stepped back into the street. You don't get a weekly paycheck. It takes time to paint and it takes time to figure out what paintings would sell. And when the work is commissioned, you can wait a long time to actually get paid.
Someone like Rubens, with high level patronage, can take risks. But I can't, can I? Just because the up-timers in their own time and place knew how to do something, doesn't mean that it can be duplicated here and now. Look at the microwave oven disaster!
Felix had thought about working more for the Geological Survey. Full time, not just contract illustrations. But then he realized that if he did, he would hardly have time to paint.
What would my life be like without Art?
What would it be like without Birgit?
Felix hoped that this new lithography venture would work. For both their sakes.
Felix and Birgit went to bed quickly, without their usual banter. The next day, they talked, but a bit stiffly, confining themselves to minutiae like "how's your stew?" and "I wish it would stop raining."
The appointed day of departure, fortunately, was more pleasant; the morning sun warmed the stones of the Frauentor, the Ladies' Gate, and sparkled on the dancing waters of the Pegnitz as they steered their wagon southeast, along its northern bank.
The sun also seemed to have a warming effect on the couple's mood; after a while they spoke, at first haltingly, then with greater animation, about the people streaming past them and what their business in the city might be.
They arrived in Schwabach, their first stop, a little after lunch time. After eating, Felix and Birgit wandered up to the Church of Saint John. It was Lutheran, of course; it was here in Schwabach that the Schwabacher font, used to print Martin Luther's first German bible, had been designed.
Felix pointed out to her the altar carved by Veit Stoss. "You know the story about him?"
Birgit shook her head.
"He was a master of the arts—wood carving, sculpture, painting, and engraving. He was also a forger. He was caught and sentenced to death. The Prince-Bishop of Wurzburg pleaded that his life be spared, and at the last moment the Rath decided that his talents were so great that it would be sacrilegious to execute him. So they branded him on both cheeks, and threw him into prison for a few years. Eventually, the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian the First, granted him a full pardon."
"What did he forge?" asked Birgit.
"Some kind of promissory note. Not another artist's painting, if that's what you were thinking."
After looking at a few paintings, they sauntered out, and blinked as their eyes re-adjusted to the bright sunlight. "Okay, now it's my turn," Birgit said. "We have a look at the needle factory."
"It's for another of my . . . schemes . . . ."
"No problem," he said hurriedly. "Take your time, I'll do some sketching."
They spent some minutes there, and Birgit ended up buying a few needles. Not for sewing or knitting on her own account, however.
"I had a very interesting chat with Sarah Wendell before we left Grantville. The Higgins Sewing Machine Factory would like to find a better source for needles than the one it is using now. Someone read in an encyclopedia that Schwabach was the, what was the phrase?" She wrinkled her eyes. "The 'chief seat of needle manufacture in Bavaria.'"
"Well, that was the question no one in Grantville knew the answer to. But when we got to Nuernberg, I asked around, and they told me that a needle factory was established here last year. And HSMC will pay me for the information I collected, thank you very much. Enough so that we can certainly spend the night at the inn."