Previously . . .
In 1628 Matthias Ehrenhardt was orphaned at the age of fourteen, when his family home in the small village of Vehra burned to the ground. To have any sort of future, he was forced to leave his Heimat, the place where he grew up and truly belonged, and go live with his aunt Grete Ehrenhardt and her husband, Berthold Felbers, a businessman and political leader in Eisenach.
By 1634 Matthias has completed Latin secondary school and his first year at university, with the intention of studying law. During a visit to his old friends and relatives around Vehra, he informs Dora and her father Thomas Hammel that he has changed his career plans with Uncle Berthold's agreement, and he is now on his way to Magdeburg to pursue chemical engineering at the new Imperial College of Science, Engineering, and Technology.
It becomes clear during the conversation that Matthias and Dora hope to eventually marry, when they can both afford to. Thomas has no confidence that this new profession he doesn't understand will bring Matthias financial success, though he wishes him well. Thomas forbids betrothal until Matthias proves himself in the world. He knew the world was changing around him; now he sees some of it.
In Magdeburg he shares a cramped lodging in a rooming house in the industrial district west of the wall with Germund, a mechanical engineering student from a shipbuilding family in southern Norway.
Meanwhile, the Hammel family's situation has improved. Thomas had never been able to acquire a position as a master smith with a shop in a guild town; now he is appointed Adelmeister smith at the new flax mill in Sömmerda, where Count August von Sommersburg is a major investor. The water-driven mill is being equipped with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century textile machinery, as rapidly as it can be recreated. He obtains a position for Dora in the mill office, a much better opportunity to build her dowry than domestic service.
Classes begin at Imperial Tech. The new college is stuffed into odd crannies of the Latin school building in the old city, a monastery in previous centuries. The down-timers among the student body need to catch up to the up-timer high school graduates in mathematics; the up-timers need to learn Latin. His first day brings the start of an algebra course, taught in German by Lennon Washaw. He is able to begin class work in chemistry simultaneously, since that doesn't rely on advanced math.
Matthias and Germund help each other keep up.
At the mill, Thomas is suddenly confronted with a modern engine lathe, owned by Hannes Dirck Bosboom, the civil engineer in charge of building the mill and bringing it into operation. Bosboom's mechanic, Gregorius Hochuli, was supposed to install the lathe and use it to make and modify mechanical parts as needed to get the mill up and running, but he staggered into the mill race blind-drunk and drowned. Thomas does the best he can with no manuals and no experience with precision machine tools. He gets it to work, but not well.
Meanwhile, Georg and Friedrich Fritsche, owners of a blacksmith shop a few miles from Erfurt in Bischleben, are getting inquiries from the nearby army supply depot and new businesses for metal parts they can't make by traditional methods at any reasonable cost or production rate. Friedrich goes to Grantville to investigate whether it's true that the shops there could do the work, if they weren't overloaded with orders. He returns with Karl Reichert, one of the new machinists trained at Nat Davis' shop. Karl advises them that their water power could run a small machine shop. They decide to make the investment, and they hire Karl to run it and teach them the new methods. For the first time in his career, Karl finds himself with nobody to go to for advice. He must find his own solutions.
In Episode Two . . .
Imperial Tech's chemistry department under the leadership of Allen Dailey acquires a bankrupt laundry outside the city wall and remodels it into a temporary teaching lab. The apparatus is sparse and somewhat temperamental at first, but the students begin getting vital hands-on experience.
Dora gains respect and additional responsibilities at the flax mill, along with a wage increase. Her dowry grows faster.
Karl Reichert attends the wedding in Sömmerda of his friend Fritz Wedemann from his early days in Grantville. During a break in the dancing at the reception, he overhears Thomas Hammel describing his difficulties using Hannes Bosboom's lathe. He offers his help, and teaches Thomas and Dora the correct way to install and set up the machine. His kindness impresses the Hammel family, coming as they do from a village where kindness and compassion were a central part of the local culture. Dora's lively intelligence appeals to him.
By the end of the term, the chemistry students are ready to try analyzing samples. Raimund Treck, from a mining family in the Harz mountains, proposes to analyze a metal sample from his second cousin's mine, instead of a standard teaching sample from lab stock. Professor Dailey allows it, but asks Matthias if he would like to work on the same sample, so that there will be an independent analysis for comparison. Matthias agrees. It's nominally a copper ore, but they find sulfur, some silver, traces of gold, and several other elements.
Raimund proposes to Matthias that they start a venture during summer vacation to extract the silver and gold from the smelted copper using electrochemistry. It seems simple. Matthias is torn between independent study at home in Eisenach to shorten the time to earn his degree, versus trying for early profits from separating the precious metals. He's becoming concerned that he might not be able to demonstrate to Thomas Hammel that he can earn a decent living as a chemical engineer by the time Dora accumulates her dowry. He dithers, then decides to take the risk. Raimund persuades Jupp Fimbel, an Imperial Tech student in electrical trades, to join them.
Through the summer the three partners encounter and overcome one difficulty after another, sinking more and more time and money into the business. By August they have a shop in the village of Gräfenstuhl, and a steady source of electricity from the generator at a mill run by Gerd Hartmann and his wife Marta Seidelin. And the process is working. They get their first revenue from the sale in the Mansfeld markets of a cartload of high-purity copper. Then more problems show up. They solve them, but the chemistry grows more complex, and the work of maintaining the line increases. But there's income.
In Sömmerda the flax mill is running into machine repair problems they can't handle with just a lathe and a drill press, and then Bosboom moves on to his next project and takes his machine tools with him. The mill begins sending work to the relatively nearby Fritsche Brothers shop. Thomas and Dora go there several times to handle the arrangements and consult with Karl on the technical issues.
September comes, and Matthias faces a decision. Return to college at the start of the fall term and push on for his degree, or put his efforts into ramping up production at the electrolytic refining shop. Matthias agonizes, then stays.
Dora is getting concerned that Matthias' few letters are all about the business and the technical progress, with nothing personal in them, and he hasn't visited in close to a year. Thomas understands that the problems and the hard work are weighing on his mind, and just hopes Matthias hasn't made a mistake.
By now enough anode residue has accumulated from copper purification to begin working on silver separation. They run into a new series of technical problems, practical difficulties, theft losses, and minor injuries. One by one, they find answers at the cost of time and money.
Personal notes are starting to find their way into the correspondence between the Fritsche Brothers machine shop and the Sömmerda mill. Some of Karl's stories set the Hammel family laughing.
Early in December Matthias and Jupp are anxiously hovering over a benchtop silver separation apparatus, watching the cathode to see if anything plates out. Something shows up, and Matthias begins methodically varying test conditions and taking notes on the results.
But a freight wagon is expected to pass in a short while, and Jupp goes outside to stack their stock of purified copper for shipment to market. He slips on a muddy patch, and falls on a sharp piece of metal sticking out of the ground—a piece of a broken farm tool, perhaps. He gets a puncture wound in his left calf. Matthias cleans and bandages the injury and advises Jupp to take it easy until it heals. But by dawn Jupp is in pain, and the area around the injury is tender, red, swollen, and hot to the touch. Jupp's moaning wakes Matthias, who immediately recognizes that the wound has gone septic and Jupp is in mortal danger. His best chance is to get to the new hospital in Magdeburg as fast as possible. Matthias sends Raimund to wake up village carter Oswald Weckesser to rush Jupp to the railroad station at Kloster Mansfeld.
Jupp's condition deteriorates visibly during the short ride to town. Matthias runs ahead to buy the tickets, jumping the line at the window and appealing to the station agent to do anything possible to make sure he and Jupp get on the next train, due in a few minutes. While Matthias goes back to assist Jupp and Weckesser, the through train arrives. The agent runs up to conductor Karl Alpendorf on the platform and explains what's happening. Alpendorf recognizes that this is a dire emergency, and makes the decision on his own authority to hold the train and incur the resulting disruption of rail traffic up the line. When Jupp arrives a few minutes later on Weckesser's horse, Alpendorf rushes him and Matthias aboard, and hands the telegraph operator a message to the division dispatcher as the train begins to roll.
In Episode Three . . .
The faraway dispatcher responds to the emergency. He holds a southbound freight at Stassfurt so Karl Alpendorf's passenger train won't be sidetracked further south for it to pass. He brings Magdeburg Memorial Hospital into the stream of telegraph messages; along with the new train order waiting for Karl at Hettstedt is
SEND PATIENT NAME AND SYMPTOMS
S D HUNSAKER
Karl directs Matthias to write the reply. He has a train to run.
Jupp's lower leg turns darker and the pain grows worse.
At Aschersleben there is another message from the hospital.
RECLINE X SUPPORT AFFECTED LIMB HIGHER THAN HEART X GIVE FLUIDS X
Karl finds Jupp a place next to one of the coal stoves to lie on the floor, and he and the passengers do what they can to make him comfortable.
Karl cuts short the breakfast stop at Stassfurt to make up some time. Now Jupp's leg is turning an ugly bronze color, and something is seeping into the bandage. His pain is worse. Karl would run the train faster if the track could stand it, but it can't. The station agent at Salbke saves two minutes by manning a door.
As the train approaches Magdeburg, Matthias asks Karl whether there are carriages for hire at the station, or any other way to bring Jupp the rest of the way to the hospital. Karl tells him it won't be necessary; the dispatcher and the hospital have made arrangements. He's been ordered to make a special stop at the nearest street crossing.
A horse-drawn ambulance is waiting. EMTs Ernst Boch and Janusz Lewicki come aboard with a stretcher and pick Jupp as gently as they can. Jupp screams at the first touch.
As they come through the front door of the hospital, Nurse Susie Hunsaker is ready and waiting. She begins the examination, and recognizes gangrene as soon as she has the leg exposed. She sends for the on-call surgical team, high-dose IV antibiotics, and Doctor Vittorio Di Benedetti, the hospital's expert on infected wounds. As they wheel Jupp into the operating room, the discussion turns to the cost of all the treatment. Jupp signs a statement permitting Matthias to use his lab skills to manage the IV apparatus, so that the hospital won't have to provide a technician round the clock for the next week.
Matthias writes to Dora with the unhappy news that the long-awaited Christmas visit to Sömmerda and Eisenach is no longer possible. He must stay in Magdeburg to help care for Jupp until his treatment is finished, and the medical expenses will swallow up the partnership's income for months to come—there is nothing to spare for travel expenses.
He writes to Aunt Grete, and mentions in passing that work on extracting silver must stop until the business can afford it once again.
For the next week Matthias works the night shift, regulating Jupp's IV apparatus while healing proceeds, saving the cost of covering that period with a hospital employee. He receives a small fee for periodically recording the vital signs of other surgical patients, but nevertheless the bill mounts rapidly. Meanwhile he studies the procedures for the physical therapy he'll be helping with later. One morning at the end of his shift he brings a letter to the mailroom, and finds it open. The clerk sees his name on the return address, and gives him a letter that came in two days earlier, forwarded from Raimund at the shop. It's from Dora, telling him how much she's looking forward to his visit. Has his letter reached her by now? Should he send a telegram?
A more philosophical letter arrives from Aunt Grete, praising his loyalty to his partner, and asking for the details of the refining process. She's thinking of investing in the business, if a small infusion of capital would get them through the experimental stage and into extracting silver and gold.
The course of IV antibiotics reaches an end, and Matthias no longer needs to spend long hours by Jupp's bedside. Susie suggests that he coordinate the craftsmen needed to design and build the ankle brace Jupp will need because of the amount of muscle mass he's lost, saving the cost of someone else doing it.
After a few more days, Jupp is able to stand, and moves to outpatient status for a couple more weeks. He and Matthias stay with Germund to save money.
Finally, the hospital's work is done, leaving a heavy debt. Matthias and Jupp are able to return to Gräfenstuhl and Raimund, to take stock and begin the long recovery from all that's happened. They go to work, shipping product, making process improvements, and keeping up Jupp's physical therapy. After a month or so a letter from Dora arrives. Matthias nerves himself to open it, not knowing what to expect. But Dora is understanding. And sad.
In Sömmerda, Karl Reichert arrives for a meeting at the flax mill with Thomas Hammel, the mill's factor Christian Folte, and the head of textile crafts Siegmund Pels. The management is happy with the machine work Karl has done for them, and they're disappointed with their machinery supplier's progress. They want Karl to help them develop a flax spinning machine by making mechanical parts to try out. He suggests building a test bed that can be rapidly reconfigured to test ideas as they develop them, rather than attempting to build a whole machine without knowing in advance what will work. A look passes between him and Dora as lunch is delivered to the conference room. Thomas invites him home for supper. It's a pleasant evening.
In Gräfenstuhl, the partners discuss Aunt Grete's offer. She will finance the development of the silver extraction step if they file incorporation papers and issue shares to her. They take her up on it. Once again, the experimental work gets underway, encountering problems and solving them one by one. They begin depositing refined silver cathodes to the company account at the bank in Mansfeld, paying the current bills, and slowly paying off the hospital.
Then the spring rains come, stopping traffic on the roads while the mud lasts. When the wagons can move again, the ford is gone. Washed away. Wagons can't get across the river, isolating the villages to the west from freight service. There's a ford at a new place, but there's no road there. All the shops and mines are cut off, with bills to pay and no revenue.
Karl is coming to Sömmerda more often now, to deliver experimental parts and observe the tests. He and Dora are seeing more of each other.
Erhard Faulstich, the Amtmann for the Mansfeld stift, calls a general meeting of the residents and masters cut off by the washed-out ford to decide on a course of action. He barely manages to keep order and achieve a consensus. It's Raimund's suggestion that is agreed on for lack of a better solution: make plans for a permanent stone bridge where the road is, but throw up a rude and crude wooden one as fast as possible, to last until the permanent bridge is ready. The project will be financed by a temporary special tax, to be paid in money or in labor building the bridge. Raimund and Matthias contribute labor.
Inevitably, the payments to the hospital fall behind schedule. Raimund starts worrying that if word gets around that they're not paying their bills, the whole business could collapse. On the recommendation of one of his relatives, they secure a business loan from the Hamburg banking firm Schickelgruber und Muntz, to tide them over until they can bring in raw copper and ship refined metals in quantity again. While the bridge work continues, Matthias starts experimental work on the gold extraction step, which involves considerably more chemistry.
And finally the temporary bridge is able to carry wagons, while the workers are still putting on the finishing touches. Raimund tries to arrange a shipment, only to be told that every wagon on the road has its eastbound runs booked for the next week, as every business is trying to ship its backlog at once. One of the wagoners offers a westbound load in three or four days. Jupp says take it, so they can at least get some raw material into the tanks again.
Episode Four . . .
Every wheelbarrow in the village was already in use. But they had copper in the cells again. Everything was running hot; Jupp had pushed up the current density as high as they could get away with, just trying to get anode slime as fast as they could generate it without stirring up the electrolyte and shorting everything out. They had to distill water just to keep up with the evaporation. The copper that was plating-out looked like a mess. They took turns watching the line like hawks. Two days. They shut down and started filtering and drying. Back into the cells with the electrolyte, and on line again. At least electricity was one thing they had no shortage of.
Raimund melted down the dried sludge into anodes—thin ones, they were. They started up the silver cell line. A day later they had silver cathodes and more sludge to process. Raimund made more anodes. The secondary sludge from the silver line went into a spare jar for later attention.
"Well, is it enough, do you think?" Matthias slid the weights back and forth on the scale until it balanced. Another wagon rolled past in the street. They still couldn't get a load of copper out eastbound.
"Looks like it."
"All right, let's wrap it up. I'll take the silver straight to the train station and send it off express, and it ought to get there tomorrow."
"It better. The loan payment was due weeks ago. Let's take the line back down to normal. I'm going back to trying for a sample of chloroauric acid. We've got a reasonable amount of secondary sludge to experiment with."
The counting house of Schickelgruber und MuntzHamburg
"Express package from Mansfeld. Sign here, please."
"All right, thank you." Scribble. Alois Krug looked at the label. From those new clients. It must have something to do with the loan. He opened it. Lumpy little metal plates with rounded corners and edges? The invoice said silver, and didn't say anything about what content of silver, just silver. They looked like silver. Not coin, or USE banknotes, or a bank draft, or even a telegraph money order? How odd! He took it in to the senior partner's room. "Herr Schickelgruber, would you take a look at this? What do you think?"
Schickelgruber looked at the papers, looked at the package, looked close at one of the plates, and weighed it in his hand. "Hmmph. For one thing, I think it's over a month late. As quick and easy as moving money has become, this could mean they're stringing us along, so it might be very fortunate that we put some limits into that contract. For another thing, the first question is whether it's any good. For all I know, it could be a thin jacket of silver hammered around a slab of lead. Weigh them, and I'll take one around the corner for a fast assay."