Grantville

Summer, 1637

The train from Jena was crowded, but Martin hardly noticed the people around him as they flowed out of the station and into the amazing wonderland from the future. Martin had thought he was used to the rush of changes that had come with the up-timers.  After all, it had been more than six years!  But his little town of Eilenburg was in Saxony, and until spring of last year he had never even seen an up-timer.  The fall of Dresden and overthrow of the Elector had shown him what change really was—change that was like a dam bursting, a dam he hadn't realized was there.  But the flood had brought prosperity and plenty, not destruction.

Martin chided himself for woolgathering, and tried to orient himself in this strange city without walls. He walked toward what he hoped was the center of town.

In a place where everything was strange it was hard to determine which thing shouted loudest of its strangeness. The houses were too far apart. There were too many windows, and they were far too big. The houses were too short—how could people stay warm in a sprawling low house with only one chimney in the center? What were the streets made of, and how did they make them?

The wires strung from poles would have been a greater mystery, but a kindly person on the train had explained them. "Radio" remained an enigma, however, even though he had seen and even listened to a crystal set. Then, of course, there were the things he had been told that were probably not true, and Martin only hoped he wouldn't make a fool of himself believing some of the things he had been told.

In the meantime, he realized, he was near the famous Thuringen Gardens, and it was close enough to lunchtime that he could justify stopping long enough for a meal.  Perhaps when his errand was done he could take time to be a mere tourist, but what harm would it do to stop for a meal at one of the most popular tourist attractions in Grantville?

The Thuringen Gardens at noon on a weekday was nowhere nearly as rowdy or lively as it was on a Friday night, but it was loud and busy enough for a humble pastor with a turn for poetry.  He was shown to a table in a large and crowded room, and ordered a small beer while he studied the “menu card” printed in English and German.  Martin was bemused at the idea of a tavern offering its customers a choice of food items, instead of whatever was cooked that day.

He was reading the German description of that day's “special” when a voice came from nearby.  “Mind if I join you?  If I wait for a table I'll be late getting back.”

Martin gestured a welcome to the stranger standing before him. He was disappointed not to be sharing a table with an up-timer, but at least the form of German the stranger spoke was close enough to his own to be easily intelligible.

"I'm Hans. Are you new in town?"

"Yes; just visiting, though. I hope to come back sometime and show my wife around."

The waitress returned with Martin's beer.

"Small beer for me, too, bitte, and I'll have the special," Hans said quickly. He smiled at Martin. "If you're in a hurry, the special is not only cheaper, it's faster than choosing something else."

A "hamburger"? Martin hesitated for only a moment. The description in the menu had been vague but not completely discouraging. "Very well, I will have that too."

"They're very popular," Hans assured him. "The Americans mostly eat them with this red sauce here, and the yellow sauce." He pointed out the bottles on the table. "Don't use the red sauce in this smaller bottle unless you like eating fire."

Martin nodded his thanks. Hans went on, "Best to get your bearings before you bring the family into Grantville. It's no more dangerous than any other town, of course—in some ways much safer, except to your wallet. You'll want to know how to steer the wife to things you can afford." He grinned wryly. 

Martin thought about bringing Christine to see Grantville and perhaps buy something pretty.  It was a charming idea, and she certainly deserved the treat.  "So you're an old Grantville hand, then?"

"I guess so. We've been here a little over a year, since Saxony opened up. Father wanted some business contacts here amongst the up-timers."

"Saxony! I am also from Saxony, in Eilenburg."

"Well, then, I've no need to explain to you that we need to catch up with the folk in Thuringia-Franconia! The old Elector held the entire region back."

Martin nodded soberly, thinking of the wasted opportunities and needless deaths of the past few years. His own church had finally gotten the last of its refugee families resettled into new homes and lives. The up-timers had come none too soon. John George was not widely mourned.

". . . and Father hopes to bring some new methods and materials into the business. Fortunately, my older brother is more bookish than I am and willing to study the science and math. He's taking a correspondence course in mathematics! Voice of America is broadcasting the lectures once a week."

The waitress returned with their food and fresh drinks. Martin was surprised at how quickly it was ready, but Hans answered his raised eyebrow before Martin could ask.

“The items for each day's special are cooked in advance.  They have to be efficient, you see?  Everyone in Grantville is rich compared to back home, but there's a price for it.  The Americans call it ‘hustle.’  Or their other phrase, ‘you snooze, you lose.’  You can't sit back and keep doing things the old way, someone else will come up with a better idea and before you can blink, you're eating their dust!”

While he spoke Hans briskly dressed his hamburger with yellow sauce and the red sauce from the large bottle, making a puddle of the latter in the center of his "Freedom Fries." Martin copied him, taking a cautious taste of the hamburger. It wasn't quite what he had imagined, but it tasted good. He was pleased to see that the Americans also took their largest meal at lunchtime; it made them feel less alien. The two men applied themselves to their food, and even Hans was mostly silent during the rest of their meal.

When they had finished, Hans claimed the receipt and left a paper bill weighted down with his beer mug. When Martin demurred, Hans insisted. "After you let me sit at your table and yammer at you during your lunch, it would be rude of me not to pay. Besides, it was nice to hear speech from home. This Amideutsch is easier than learning English, but I still have to think too hard before I talk."

Martin chuckled. "Very well, but I insist on paying the . . ." He struggled to remember the advice he had been given about service in taverns or taxis. "The tip," he said firmly. He found a coin in his pocket that was the right proportion to the banknote, and set it carefully on the table. He followed Hans out, weaving a path between tables filled with businessmen, shoppers, families and tourists.  "Thank you again for lunch, and making me feel more welcome here.  Before you go, could you point me toward the Leahy Medical Center?"

Hans gestured down the street.  "I would walk you there, but my office is in the other direction."  He gave Martin directions, shook hands with him, and strode quickly away.  Martin went his own way, not quite so fast.

****

There was a soft knock at the door.  "Enter," Gary Lambert called, without looking up from his paperwork.  Like many up-timers, he had far more to do than he could finish in a day, and saved time whenever he could.

Instead of one of the hospital's department heads, a stranger entered, a down-timer older than himself and soberly dressed.  "Herr Lambert? My name is Martin Rinkart, of Eilenburg, and I have come on an errand from the burghers and guildmasters of the town."

Gary rose and reached across his desk to shake hands with his visitor, and gestured to a chair.  "How may I help you?"

Martin refused the chair.  "I know you are a busy man, Herr Lambert, and do not wish to take up much of your time.  I am only here to express the gratitude of our town for the help that has come to us this past year.  Ever since the Elector fell, we have found out what good neighbors Grantville is made of!  For the first time since the war began my wife and I do not have our home filled with refugees, nor must I beg for assistance for them. Instead the countryside has farms and villages filled again and plenty of work for the asking. 

"Because somewhere in your books it was written that there was plague in Saxony in 1637, teams of volunteers came in last year with DDT and chloramphenicol," he pronounced the unfamiliar words carefully, "and then the rat-catchers came in, and the sanitary inspectors.  The town has never been so clean and healthy!  Not a single case of plague was in the town this year.  And so when the burghers and guildmasters looked for someone who would be available to take our thanks to the good people of Grantville, why, I am the only one of them who has less work to do than last year, so they asked me."

Gary smiled bemusedly.  "But why thank me?  I didn't go to Saxony.  I should think the rat-catchers and sanitary inspectors would deserve your thanks more than me."

"Oh, but we did, Herr Lambert!  We thanked everyone who came to Eilenburg.  But then last month it occurred to me that there would be no DDT for killing the rat fleas, no chloramphenicol for healing the sick, without the people of Grantville. We would thank every up-timer personally if we could, but we chose you, Herr Lambert, because you are the administrator of this medical center, and thus had to find the materials to send us without running short for your patients here." 

Martin reached into his satchel and pulled out a wooden plaque, carved to show two hands clasping in friendship, with “With thanks and friendship, to the people of Grantville, from your brothers in Eilenburg, for you have been brothers to us” engraved on a metal rectangle inset below.  He held out the plaque to Lambert, who took it as gently as if it were a baby.  "Without you and others like you, our town would have been overwhelmed with plague.  Who knows how many would have died, how many would have been left to grieve, how many children would have been orphaned and impoverished?  A plaque is nothing, Herr Lambert, compared to the gift you have given us."

Gary cleared his throat.  "You were more than welcome, Herr Rinkart. After all, stopping plague in Eilenburg was in our interests as well . . ." He froze suddenly, then set the the plaque down on his desk.  "Eilenburg?" he murmured, searching through his bookcase.  Was it here? Yes, it was! He practically snatched the book off the shelf and began flipping through it.  "Yes, here you are.  It says you are the only pastor who was left during the height of the plague . . ." Gary faltered.  "You said . . . your wife . . . ?"

"She is at home, Herr Lambert.  I hope to persuade her to visit Grantville in the future.  What is wrong?"

"Nothing, now." Gary replied.  He took a deep breath, trying to dismiss the sudden swooping sick feeling that reminded him so poignantly of his first realization that he would never see his wife Sheila again.  It felt strange to think of it, but he had been married to Anna Catherina longer than to Sheila. "Nothing now, Herr Rinkart, but in the other world we came from, the plague was very bad.  Apparently you were officiating at forty or more funerals every day."  He looked directly into Martin's face. "Including that of your wife."

Martin sat down, but held up his hand to stop Gary from coming over to assist him.  "I am all right, Herr Lambert.  I have had many years to realize that your people are from another world. It is just the first time that I have contemplated that there was another me in that world. How he must have suffered!  I was grateful when I came here, but more grateful now, to be delivered from that ordeal."

"And you have thanked me, Herr Rinkart. But truly, none of this would have happened without the Ring of Fire.  It is God who deserves your thanks more than us."

"Oh, I have, Herr Lambert!  We have given prayers of thanksgiving every Sunday, along with prayers for the well-being of all the up-timers."  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small leather notebook, and opened it to the place marked with a tattered ribbon.  "And among my other scribblings, I have written this."

Gary took the notebook.  On the open page was a poem, written in Fraktur, which Gary still found hard to decipher.  The top line said “Nun Danket Alle Gott.”  There were several verses, complete with scribbled corrections and edits.

"I have to write it out more cleanly, of course, but I hope to have it published.  If you know of any place I should send it, I would appreciate the suggestion."

Gary looked at Martin, then back at his bookshelf; his eyes rested on the Lutheran Hymnal, and smiled widely.  “But you already have, Herr Rinkart.”  He went to the shelf and held the book in his hands, slowly turning the pages until he found the page he was seeking.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Gary wondered how close the up-time English translation was to the lyrics Rinkart still held in his hand.  The German pastor was looking over his shoulder, moving his lips silently as he worked through the English.  Gary wondered if Rinkart's ability to read English was better than his own ability to read Fraktur.  The pastor looked up ruefully.  "It would be too much to ask for your book to have the same words that I have written in this world. "

"If the butterfly effect is right, they aren't the same." Gary gave Martin a searching look.  "Does it really matter?"

"Maybe.  The words written by that other me were a better expression of faith than mine.  He wrote of light in the midst of darkness.  I wrote of light when dawn was breaking. He was a stronger man than I am, perhaps stronger than I will ever be."

"Strong because he had to be." Gary frowned down at the floor, then looked up. "When we came here, I lost everything—my home, my job, my family,  the whole world.  All I had was my faith. I had to be strong because I didn't have a choice—and the words that your other self wrote were a great comfort.  But I didn't have to see my loved ones die to get that strength."  He gave his guest a wry smile.  "You may have to accept being thankful in place of being stronger."

Martin smiled back. "That will have to be enough." He turned to leave,  then stopped.  "Perhaps you can suggest a gift  I can bring back to Christine?  Something pretty,  but not too expensive."

Gary looked at the pile of papers on his desk.  They would, alas, still be there in the morning.  "I think I should come with you.  Have you ever heard the expression 'tourist trap'? A native guide is definitely a good idea."

"You are the second person today to give me such a warning.  I will abide by your wisdom in the matter of shopping.  And perhaps we shall stop by a publisher; there are many more verses in my notebook."

Gary followed Martin out the door.

****

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore

****