Martin Schmidt paused, his spoon barely touching the stew. His stomach would have him attack the stew bowl like a starving wolf but his mind held him back. Carefully, he took one spoonful and then put his spoon down. A sip of beer helped but his hand shook slightly. Reminding himself he was a man, not a wolf, he looked at his host before taking a second spoonful.
"Eat up, boy. When you've finished there will be time enough to talk." Herr Glauber beamed across the table. "Here, Adolf, fetch another pitcher of beer and get me another ham sandwich." The older of the two boys beside Herr Glauber shoved his chair back and got up with a grin and a glance at the crowded bar of the Thuringen Gardens.
"Yes, Papa. Heinrich, more stew or a sandwich?" Adolf asked his younger brother.
"Sandwich, please," Heinrich replied. The boy drained his mug with a gulp and belched loudly. "And hurry back with the beer."
"Manners, son, manners!" Herr Glauber clouted the youngster on the shoulder. "Your mother didn't raise you without manners."
"No, Papa." Heinrich sat up straight, tucked his folded hands in his lap and assumed a pious expression, or what would have been one save for the crossed eyes.
"Brat. I'm surprised I don't beat you daily." Herr Glauber's stern expression slipped and he reached over to ruffle his son's hair. "You must excuse the boy. Since his mother's death . . . Go ahead and eat, Young Schmidt. It does no good to talk business on an empty stomach."
Martin, chewing a bit of tough meat from the last of the stew, contemplated his host. Herr Glauber did not have the look of a man who missed many meals. A closer look showed the lines and loose flesh common to those who have lost a great deal of weight quickly. No, his host, while not starving now, had seen hunger recently. Martin carefully fished a bit of gristle out of his teeth and took a mouthful of beer to wash down the stew. Just as he opened his mouth to speak Adolf reappeared with two large pitchers clutched to his chest and a plate of sandwiches balanced precariously atop the pitchers.
"Here, Young Schmidt, take a couple of sandwiches for later. Young men are always hungry." Herr Glauber shoved the plate toward Martin and out of the grasping hands of Heinrich.
"Thank you, sir. Thank you very much for the meal," Martin said. He hurriedly selected a pair of sandwiches and carefully wrapped them in his handkerchief.
"See, Heinrich? Our guest is polite, as you should be. He is full of questions but instead of spewing them at me like bees circling a hive he waits. I've the right of it, don't I, Schmidt? You're as full of questions as my boy is of mischief." Herman Glauber grinned across the table.
"Yes, sir. I am," was all Martin could manage. His thoughts tangled and knotted and he couldn't fashion them into a coherent question.
"First, we have never met before yet I invite you to share a meal with my family. Why should I do so? Secondly, I am a Master Carpenter, you are a blacksmith. In fact, you claim you are a journeyman blacksmith and the masters of your craft deny you the title."
A sick feeling welled up from Martin's stomach. He was a journeyman—but one without papers to prove his claim. Or tools, or friends, or anyone who could say, "Yes, I know Martin Schmidt is a journeyman blacksmith." Slumping down in the chair, he ducked his head to hide the shameful flush.
"Ah, boy, don't hang your head." Glauber's voice was gentle. "I didn't invite you here to shame you. You are hardly the only journeyman to arrive in Grantville without his papers. Old Hubner denied your claim so he could charge the Americans a journeyman's wages for your work while giving you an apprentice's wages. Some of the others are doing the same."
"I . . . I thought that might be so. He was within his rights to deny me my rank. I have no proof." Martin's voice trailed off as his thoughts twisted again to the beginning of the week when he had accused Master Blacksmith Hans Hubner of just such an action. In the space of ten minutes he had listened to a lecture on the sin of claiming rank he did not hold, been fired from his job without pay, and informed that no other blacksmith in or around Grantville would employ him even as a sweep. So it had proved. Named as a malcontent and troublemaker, Martin had found no one was willing to hire him. "I thought my work would show . . . " With a helpless shrug Martin sat, waiting for the lecture he was certain would come from this Master.
"Adolf, our guest's stein is empty. Refill it. Journeyman Schmidt, those last sets of hinges you made were for one of my jobs. I've seen poorer work from the hand of a master. You, my boy, arrived in Grantville too late or too early. Too late because Hubner and his cronies gobbled up the smithing jobs and control who is hired. This they can do because so few of the Americans speak German. Had you been hiding in the hills when first this town appeared, you might be one of them. Six months, or maybe a year from now, there will be too many jobs for the masters to control. Too many jobs and too many of the Americans will speak German for Hubner's tricks to work. Adolf, my stein is now empty and so is this pitcher." Fishing a handful of coins and some paper money out of a pocket, the older man shoved them at his son and waved him off. Pulling the remaining pitcher over, Glauber filled his stein. Beside him Heinrich was giggling. Every time Herr Glauber had mentioned Master Blacksmith Hubner, Heinrich had puffed out his cheeks and sucked in his lips, in a nearly perfect parody of Herr Hubner.
Heinrich Glauber grinned widely and winked at Martin. Finding himself smiling back, Martin also felt his stomach settling. Perhaps there was some truth to Herr Glauber's words. "Sir, it may be so. However, my intemperate words have put me out of work."
Herr Glauber nodded in agreement. "Yes, son, they have. But your words caused your American bosses to look into the way wages are paid out. If they did not completely understand your words they did understand their point. Master Blacksmith Hans Hubner no longer distributes the pay to his underlings. That alone has gained you friends among many of the journeymen—not that they dare show their regard openly."
"Oh!" this information startled Martin. It did explain why he had found his pocketknife tucked into his boots the morning before. He'd been whittling kindling and had left it beside the forge when Master Hubner had called him from the shop.
"Adolf tells me you are in his English class and that you are doing very well. That is good, very good. Heinrich, go tell your brother he was to fetch more beer, not chat with the barmaids." Glauber remained silent until the boy had left the table. Then he reached over to his tool belt which rested on the extra chair and with a thud threw a hammer in front of Martin. "Journeyman Schmidt, can you make one of these?" Glauber asked in a challenging manner, his face serious.