Grantville, October 1634

“I love October’s bright blue weather.” The Reverend Mary Ellen Jones stood on the rectory porch, just breathing, and almost regretted it when she saw her next appointment walking down the street. It wasn’t as bright and as blue in Thuringia as it had been in West Virginia, but on a good day, it was good enough. More than good enough. Winter would start in earnest any day now. Each nice day was a divine blessing. It wasn’t, however, an excuse for neglecting her duties.

“Thank you for coming in, Clara,” she said. “I do realize that you and Wes already got married in Fulda, but since he asked my husband for a Methodist ceremony in addition to the civil one, Simon feels that we should go through the premarital counseling procedure with you.”

“That is fine.” Clara Bachmeierin, now the wife of Wes Jenkins, smiled cheerfully. “You can hardly ask me more questions than Andrea’s lawyer did. Or have me fill out more affidavits swearing on oath that we really meant to do it—to get married, that is.”

Mary Ellen looked at her client. Client. She was a counselor today, not a minister. Clara was not a parishioner, not a Methodist, at least not yet.

She tried to prepare thoroughly for these sessions. Increasingly, since the Ring of Fire, they were divided in two. It had become quite clear that the down-time brides chosen by up-time Methodist men were usually far more willing to speak frankly to her than to her husband. She thought briefly of Kortney Pence’s description of the utterly cold fish that Clara’s first husband had apparently been, realizing reluctantly that she would have to ask whether this background was, er, inhibiting Clara’s ability to respond to her second husband. Postponing that task, she started marching through the other sections of the manual. The status of marriage in civil law . . . that would be a good starting point.

“I think that I understand the legal theory behind your marriage,” she said. “However, West Virginia law did not have anything comparable, so if you could give me the background from your perspective . . . “

“Then we were married,” Clara finished up. “And after that . . . “

Mary Ellen reminded herself that the seventeenth century did not do euphemisms. It just didn’t. Maybe, somewhere in Germany, there was someone who understood what a euphemism was, at least as a literary device. She would ask that nice Lutheran minister, Herr Meyfarth, who was also a poet, if he came to town again. The people she had met, though . . . Maybe in her spare time, between two o’clock and four o’clock in the morning, she could establish the Grantville Society for the Care and Feeding of Polite Euphemisms. Maybe . . . maybe she was a little delirious.

“That’s fine,” she said. “I don’t need the details.”

“Have you ever thought about how much skin people have?” Clara asked. “Somehow, in all that I imagined doing after I married Wesley some day, I imagined doing those things while Wesley was wearing a nightshirt and I was wearing a shift. But Wesley was sitting on the cot while he took his shoes off and he said that it was not just narrow, meant for one person to sleep on, but also tippy, so we had better slide the straw pallet onto the floor if we did not want to fall out of bed. So we did and I stood there, at one end of it. He came to me and took my shift off. He folded it up neatly and put it on the cot. Then he held me, just the way he had done when we danced at Christmas. It is really rather surprising to find out all at once how much skin there is on a person’s body.”

“Ah.” Mary Ellen swallowed hard.

“And after . . . You never met my first husband Caspar. He was dead before the Ring of Fire happened. But he was older and, I think now, he perhaps did not really want a wife, even after he agreed that his mother should find him one because she was not really well and could no longer keep house for him. He always kept his own room, with his things around him. And went back there, to sleep. It was a little lonely, sometimes.”

“I can understand that.” Mary Ellen would happily have strangled the late Caspar Stade, if he weren’t already dead.

“So, after . . . I said to Wesley, ‘Bitte, geh’ doch nicht weg. Bleib’ bei mir.‘ So foolish. We were locked in a pantry that was not very big at all. Where could he have gone? But I couldn’t help it.”

Grasping at her memorized counseling routines for sustenance, Mary Ellen asked, “Was Wes, ah, responsive to your concerns?”

“He said, ‘You couldn’t pry me away with a crowbar.'”

In spite of herself, Mary Ellen smiled.

“So then we went to sleep. I was rather embarrassed the next morning,” Clara said. “I waked—woke—up feeling . . . ” She paused and searched for a word. “Feeling . . . unsure. Thinking that I had perhaps been more than a little crazy when I made our marriage the night before, when Wesley had not asked me. Especially since nobody had come back to torture us, so perhaps there had been no emergency to justify what I did.”

“He hadn’t asked you?” This was news to Mary Ellen.

“Not with words. With his eyes, he asked me the first time we met each other. It was strange. I was by the window. He was on the other side of the room, by the mantel. Everyone was standing up during the meeting because the cleaners had taken all of the furniture out of the conference room so they could mop and polish the floor. Sun came through the window and reflected from his spectacles, but I could see his eyes. With his eyes he said, ‘I admire you. I want you. Come.’ and with his mouth he said, ‘Brief me.’ With my mouth, I answered about the political problems of the abbot of Fulda and with my mind I thinked—thought—that I do not want to die before I have married this man. It was very strange, I assure you. As if I were in two different worlds at once.”

“I, ah, yes. Well, I’m sure that it must have been.”

Mary Ellen told herself not to sputter. She grasped the arm of her chair tightly. For the hundredth time at least since the Ring of Fire she reminded herself that seventeenth-century Germany was before the nineteenth century. That people in the here and now casually said the kinds of things that the Victorians had been at such pains to exile from parlor conversation. That talking to down-timers was like talking to the kind of late twentieth century young people who gathered in singles bars or populated bad television shows. That, if cultural historians had realized this, the Victorian era would never have gotten such a bad rep. The modern civilized world had owed those bowdlerizers a lot. As she forced herself to relax, Clara went right on talking.

“As I said, he had not asked me, even though his hands had also already said things to me that his mouth did not, every time he helped me mount my horse, or get down from the pony cart. So. I thought that maybe he would be angry. Instead, though, he said that he had waked—woken—up a lot of mornings dreaming that I was in bed with him. He said that it was much better to have me really there than just dreaming about it. Then he explained how much better it was. Mostly, though, his German lessons did not have words to talk abut these things and my English vocabulary lessons did not have the right words, either. We had no reliable basis for a detailed discussion of what we were trying to discuss just then. So he showed me. ‘Explanatory gestures,’ he said. We had a lot of explanatory gestures. And he said that he wished that he had a second set of hands.”

All Mary Ellen managed to do was nod. She was proud of having managed this. It was preferable, she thought, to strangling where she sat.

“It was very comforting to know that Wesley had no regrets about being married to me.” Clara paused. “My husband allayed my concerns entirely. It was also enjoyable. I felt much better after he explained how he felt.”

Mary Ellen turned bright red by the time Clara finished explaining the precise sequence of events that had made her feel much better. “I’m sure,” she said, searching for some suitably neutral comment, “that your happiness pleases Wes.”

“It seems to,” Clara answered with obvious satisfaction. “He says to me that I am ‘just a cuddly little bundle of sexiness.’ He finds this good.”

Mary Ellen managed to transform her reaction to this unexpected insight into the nature of the Jenkins marital relationship into a discreet cough. No matter what Clara’s first marriage had been like, it was pretty clear that lingering inhibitions would be way down toward the bottom of any listing of her potential matrimonial pitfalls.

“I think that we can probably skip over the rest of the chapter in the counseling manual that provides advice on the importance of expressing physical affection in a Christian marriage,” she commented dryly. “Ah, what differences between you do you think might cause problems in your relationship?”

Clara cocked her head a little to one side. “Wesley is much more orderly than I am. That is a difference. I found that out right away. However, all I have to do is be more orderly myself, so I do not see that it will be a problem. When I waked—woke—up the second time the morning after we married, I wiggled away and shaked—shook—my leg that had been at the bottom of the pile of legs and my arm that had been under Wesley’s head being a pillow until they were not numb any more. Then I saw that all his clothes were neat, so I quickly picked up all three petticoats I had dropped on the floor the night before and folded them up. Also my bodice and skirt and jeans in a pile. And found the pieces of hempcloth which the soldiers had used to tie us up and folded them next to the pitcher, for us to use to wash with, if Wesley thought we could spare some of the water. And I found my shoes and stockings and put them by the jeans. That was while I was looking under the cot to see if there was any vessel that we could use as a chamber pot.”

I will not giggle, Mary Ellen thought. Not even hysterically. A slight gurgle emerged from her throat.

Clara looked at her seriously. “After a certain length of time has passed, no matter what is going on in life otherwise, a person is more interested in chamber pots than almost anything else.”

Thinking back on several family visits to county fairs and similar outdoor events, Mary Ellen had to agree that this assessment was reasonable. She nodded.

“There was one there. We guessed later that Ritter von Schlitz had been hiding in that room, himself, after he escaped from the administration’s custody, and had provided for his own comforts. Wesley was still snoring—his snores are very nice, soft and smooth—so I used it. Then I sat down on the pallet next to him and said my morning prayers until he woke up. The pantry was orderly by then, and I have made myself stay orderly ever since because I know that it will please him, even though it is not always easy.”

“Is orderliness the only difference you have observed?”

“Well, there is another one. Wesley told me that he mostly says his prayers when he has a necktie on. But he doesn’t mind now that I say my prayers in bed ‘naked as a jaybird’ if I feel like it, so I don’t think it will be a problem, either. I pointed out to him that God should not mind. God sees everything, so surely it doesn’t matter to him if I am wearing clothes. He could look right through them if he wanted to, after all.”

“That is a very . . . interesting . . . practical application of the doctrine of divine omniscience,” Mary Ellen said. Personally, being a Methodist herself, she could fully understand Wes’ belief that the deity was best encountered on Sunday morning while appropriately dressed. “Are there any other significant differences?”

“No.”

“Let’s move on to the section that covers planning for children, then.”

“I do not think we need to plan, except to arrange for Mrs. Kortney Pence to come and serve as my midwife, because I am almost certain that I am going to have a baby. But I have not told Wesley yet, because I want to be absolutely sure.”

“You have missed a period?”

“Two.” Clara beamed.

Mary Ellen mentally counted on her fingers the space of time from August to October and ended the counseling session ahead of schedule. Then she phoned Kortney, who attributed the whole sequence of events to pheromones.

“If Clara was ovulating at the very moment that this torturer threatened to pull Wes’ nuts off,” Kortney put it crudely, as Mary Ellen winced, “which it sounds like she must have been, then it’s no wonder that she went a bit off the deep end, considering how patiently she had been waiting for him to make another move since that Christmas party last year. Honestly, Mary Ellen, the way they were dancing, none of the rest of us would have been really surprised if he had hauled her into the cloak room and shut the door then and there, leaving the rest of us to eat the leftover hors d’oeuvres.”

Kortney giggled. “But he managed to let loose of her and deliver her back to Mom, who points out that ‘chaperone’ was not included in her job description when she went to Fulda. I said that it was probably under ‘such other duties as may from time to time be assigned.’ Anyway, according to Mom, he just kept on hovering, while every month Clara edged a bit nearer to menopause and cried herself quietly to sleep.”

A sound came over the phone. Mary Ellen thought that it was probably Kortney tapping her fingers on her desk. Then the voice resumed.

“She is down-time, Mary Ellen. Barrenness is still a stigma, here in 1634. She wants children so bad you can’t believe it. I admit that my explanation still leaves the deeper question of why her subconscious decided to broadcast the pheromones on a tight beam specifically at Wes Jenkins unexplained, but you’re the minister, so that’s your problem. I’m just a nurse. She wants children passionately, she wants them specifically from Wes, and when push came to shove, she did whatever was necessary for her to have them, I expect. That’s just the way it is.”

“Oh,” Mary Ellen said. “Well, then. Thanks, Kortney.”

****

“Did you finish your half of the marriage counseling session?” the Reverend Simon Jones asked.

“More or less. When you’re doing counseling with a widower and widow who already ‘married themselves to each other’ a couple of months ago, a lot of the usual content seems a bit superfluous. Or irrelevant.”

“And may we in good conscience extend them an ecclesiastical blessing, do you think?”

Mary Ellen looked at her husband, thinking that his tone of voice was not entirely ironic.

“Clara is perfectly willing to be nice and kind to her stepdaughters and their children. She was very anxious to assure me of that. Also that even though there was no prenuptial contract, she would never try to gain any unfair financial advantage for her own children, should she be fortunate enough to bear any. Lots of other stuff, equally conscientious.”

“None of which had any bearing on the crucial issue of whether she loves Wes Jenkins or just considers him a ‘good catch.’ Although I did ask him if she has been demanding and he said not.”

“Oh, Simon, don’t be such a grump. She does love him. She loved him for a long time before they married one another, according to all reports from Fulda. Andrea Hill told Kortney that it was perfectly obvious to anyone who bothered to look that they were quite taken with each other at first sight. The whole Grantville delegation over there has been trying to cheer them on for nearly a year.”

“Um, why? Not that Wes isn’t a very fine person and all that, but . . . “

“Leave it in the unexplored gray area that exists somewhere between her brain and her reproductive hormones, Simon. She not only loves him—she thinks that he is a wonderful man and also an outstanding lover, which is somewhat different.” She shook her head as a vision of Wes Jenkins’ metal-rimmed glasses, long, narrow face, and prominent nose passed through her head. “Although, to some extent, I do have to share your sense of wonder.”

Then she looked up. “Speaking of reproductive hormones . . . Did you ask him what his reaction would be if they happened to start a family? Another family, for Wes?”

“Sure. It’s something we’re supposed to cover. He looked a little startled, but he just said that he had survived diapers, baby food, and squabbling toddlers once already without going berserk, so he supposed he would manage to again if they showed up this time around. Well, he also said that he wouldn’t have deliberately gone out and picked a young widow with two kids as his second wife the way Ed Monroe did down in Suhl, to maximize his chances, so to speak, after Diana and their two girls were left up-time. But he’s not against the idea in principle.”

Mary Ellen leaned forward and poured her husband another cup of tea. “Why are you so worried about this particular marriage?”

“I suppose that it’s because Wes is so very much in love with her. Which he clearly is, in spite of the fact that the most I could get out of him was the rather stiff statement that ‘at the very least, a man owes it to his wife to tell her that he appreciates her, every now and then.’ He doesn’t think that her first husband was very affectionate. Um, even though Clara was a widow and everything that went with it, Wes doesn’t think that she had ever actually been kissed, at least not more than a peck on the cheek, which, as he put it, ‘sort of has to make you wonder, considering how well she took to it after a little practice.'”

Mary Ellen mentally added a second garrote to the late Caspar Stade’s neck, just to make sure he stayed dead.

Simon picked up his cup. “Do you know—I still sort of miss dunking tea bags up and down. Sassafras isn’t quite the same. I wonder if real tea in tea bags will come back during our lifetimes?”

“Who knows? And considering what I got for selling my little aluminum tea balls to the girl who is running Morris Roth’s jewelry store for him, we certainly couldn’t afford to keep those just for the sake of having a comforting little ‘dunk it up and down’ routine when we’re feeling nervous.” She gave her husband and colleague a look which said plainly that he should get to the point.

“And he’s still more than a little bemused by the whole thing. Not that he has any doubts, but . . . In my session, I acquired the information that in the midst of abduction, threatened torture, and impromptu, do-it-yourself matrimony, Wes made sure that the shirt he took off, being the only one he had, was neatly hanging from the back of the only chair in the room where they were imprisoned, with his slacks carefully folded on the seat, putting his glasses in their case on top of them, before he moved on to the next stage. What kind of impression would that make on a new bride? A bride who’s quite a bit younger?”

“Well, this is Wes Jenkins, of course. The same Wes we have all known and loved at First Methodist for years. Not some generic hunk on a romance novel cover. Will you please relax, Simon? I keep trying to tell you that Clara loves him just the way he is. This very thing actually came up under ‘differences that might become problems.’ She noticed almost at once that Wes is very neat. A lot neater than she is naturally inclined to be, apparently. The way she reacted is that she resolved to become more orderly herself, so the difference would not become a problem.”

“That’s . . . an admirable reaction. I guess.”

“Simon, you’re being downright obstructionist about this. I hate to say it, but you are.”

“So what do you think?”

“For one thing, he told her that she is beautiful and that he loves her, which she clearly regards as a level of exuberant demonstrativeness putting him somewhere up there with Sir Lancelot dramatically galloping in on a white charger to rescue Guinevere from trial by ordeal.” Mary Ellen waved both hands in the air. “Marry them. Put his conscience at rest. If you don’t, I will.”

“Would that shake Clara up?”

“Not any more.”

“All right. I’ll do it.” He got up. “I guess I had better get down to the school board meeting.”

“Have a good evening.”

Mary Ellen gave him a kiss that was considerably more than a peck on the cheek and sat back down to finish her own tea, wondering how long premarital counseling would survive contact with seventeenth-century culture. Thinking that there were some things that no minister (male) really needed to know about the members of his congregation, because it would just cause embarrassment to both parties. She laughed to herself. On the basis of Clara’s report, when Wes undertook to “tell his wife that he appreciated her, every now and then,” his definition was considerably more expansive than he had indicated to Simon or she had thought it was appropriate to repeat.

She shook her head over the nature of humanity. Outdoors, the wind was picking up. She decided that another cup of tea, sassafras or not, would be just the thing. Tomorrow morning, it would be winter.

****