April 1635, The rectory, St. Martin's in the Fields. South of Rudolstadt

Yesterday I helped Stepmama turn Papa's old Geneva gown. We unpicked the seams, darned threads to reinforce the worst worn spots and re-dyed the fabric before hand sewing it back together, with what was formerly the inside now out. With a new detachable linen clerical collar, Papa will be set for another year or two.

Today I walked to the stationery store to purchase school supplies for tomorrow. When I got to the dress shop, I stopped to have a look at the dresses displayed in the window. There was one there, my favorite. Ever since it first appeared in the window I had stopped to admire it. If nobody was looking, I would position myself so my reflection appeared as if I was wearing it. I would have loved to buy it, but with eight children, including me, still dependent on poor Papa, there is not the money for such fripperies. My new dress would be something made over from what Stepmama could find in the poor box.

Today, though, I suffered a shock. My beautiful dress was being taken from the window. I watched through the window in horror. Elisabeth Schwentzel, a girl my age, tried it on. It didn't suit her at all. But she bought it just the same.

Struggling to hold back the tears, I walked away. It wasn't fair. Why should Elisabeth have my dress? She was nothing more than a maid in one of Rudolstadt's hotels, and her father a laborer at the sawmill. But he earns more than Papa, even with all of Papa's learning. And the banns have been read for Elisabeth's upcoming marriage to a young man working at the steel mill.

Things haven't been the same since Andrea ran off to marry her up-timer. Before my sister eloped, we at least had each other when we taught the young boys and girls at Countess Katharina's, the parish school. It's been a year since Andrea eloped with Tony Chabert. In that time the parish hasn't found a replacement for her. They are too tight with their money. Andrea hadn't been paid any more than I am, of course. Daughters are considered a benefit of employing a parish pastor. Now I face eighty-three five- and six-year-old children every day on my own and I will continue to do so until I marry—if I ever do. Today in school I caught myself sighing heavily over my situation, before turning my attention back to what the children were doing. I don't think I'll ever get married. Who would have a woman of few looks and little dowry? Even Papa has given up on me, and he's the man who found up-timer husbands for seven of his congregation in less than twelve months.

****

Herr Doctor Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz gave the image in the mirror a final searching look. A final brush with the clothes brush, a hat to cover his head, and he was ready. Briefcase in hand, Phillip walked to the hotel where a conference room had been booked for this meeting. It wasn't that he expected any problems with the women from Kubiak Country Industries, but with the up-timer females it helped to be prepared.

When he first started working with the Kubiak Country ladies, Phillip thought, he had been too timid. He hadn't been used to being around women, especially not forceful up-timer women. He had let them talk him into all sorts of irrelevant distractions from his research. But this time he intended to be firm. At last it appeared he would be able to start on his greatest project, his investigation into the invigoration of the Quinta Essentia of the Human Humors. The stumbling block had been the aluminum members for the pyramid. Faceted gems had been easy in comparison. But a couple of charming men had come visiting. They had obviously attended one of his seminars and knew of his interest in aluminum. They were offering preferential access to the new metal when they started producing it. However, they needed to raise money before they could extract the necessary ores. Phillip hoped to convince the Kubiak Country ladies to invest in the company they were planning to set up.

****

Phillip was reasonably happy with the way the meeting had gone. The ladies hadn't even had some new recipe for a product they just had to have. They had listened intently when he had described the aluminum company and how he wanted to invest in it. Just like properly behaved women they had promised to come back after they talked with their husbands.

There was a bookshop he just had to visit, and his favorite glass blower had sent him a letter advising him that he had some new scientific glassware to demonstrate. Phillip walked down the main street, a bounce to his step. All was well with his world.

****

Tasha Kubiak stalked around the room. "I don't like it. Does anybody know anything about making aluminum?"

"Well, I don't. And I reckon that's what these con artists are banking on. Their story sounds convincing, and the prospectus looks pretty with all of the color pictures and all those pretty graphs and tables. I think the whole thing stinks." Belle looked around the conference room to see if any of the other Kubiak Country ladies disagreed.

Tracy Kubiak stood up. The driving force behind the formation of Kubiak Country Industries, what she said carried a lot of weight, so she had to be careful what she said. "We have a problem." The other ladies dutifully nodded their heads. That, they agreed with. "On the one hand, we don't want to alienate Dr Phil. We can't just say 'no you can't invest in this aluminum company.' On the other hand, we don't want to commit funds if it is a fraud. It might be a perfectly legitimate company. The proprietors may be able to deliver what they claim."

"But you don't believe it, Mama?"

Tracy smiled at her adopted daughter. At nineteen, barely a dozen years her junior, Richelle and her daughter, Leyna, had been living with Tracy and her husband for the better part of four years. In that time Richelle had become her second in command in both Grantville Canvas and Outdoor and Kubiak Country Industries. "No. I don't believe it. It sounds too good. It targets Dr Phil too well. And the prospectus is too much flash without enough substance."

"Is there anything we can do to distract Dr Phil?"

Mary Rose Onofrio's question was met by the silence it deserved. Dr Gribbleflotz had been talking about his aluminum pyramid every chance he got for the better part of three years. In that time his dream of an aluminum pyramid with its strategically placed faceted gems had survived dozens of alternative lines of research. What could possibly distract the man from the greatness he expected to realize through investigating the Quinta Essentia of the Human Humors?

****

He couldn't be sure how it happened. One moment he was walking around a peasant woman with funny white marks on the back of her drab skirt and bodice. The next, he was sent sprawling. He suddenly found himself on the ground; his arms wrapped around the woman, the contents of her basket scattered around them. There was the sound of laughter and running feet. For a moment Phillip's mind was blank. It felt so natural, the warm body wrapped in his arms. With a start he realized what was happening. This was a young woman, and he steered clear of young women. Or more precisely, they seemed to steer clear of him. Phillip couldn't remember the last time he had cuddled or been cuddled by anyone. Hastily he released her. He couldn't meet her eyes and turned to look elsewhere. Loose papers being scattered by a gentle breeze caught his attention.

"Oh!"

It was the sound of suppressed horror. Phillip had made similar utterances after dropping precious books and paper. Scrambling around on his hands and knees, he started to collect papers before they scattered too far. He turned to pass the papers he had collected to the woman. Their heads crashed together. Stunned, he jerked back. She also had reared back from the contact. A moment later Phillip turned away from her gaze and hastened to his feet.

He helped her to her feet. "Are you all right, Fräulein?"

"Yes, thank you, sir. Those children, someone should teach them better manners. Oh dear."

Phillip watched the young woman reach down for a waxed paper parcel that had been ground into the pavement by someone's boots. When she opened it he could see the squashed remains of what had probably been intended as her midday meal. At the thought of food, Phillip realized it had been a while since he last ate.

"Fräulein, it would please me if you would join me over lunch." The young woman appeared on the point of refusing when he heard deep rumblings. Phillip had known hunger, and he understood pride, besides, he was curious about her. He had noticed the books and papers he had helped retrieve. Judging by the quality of the penmanship on the papers, she was an educated woman.

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff