Saturday morning, February 1634
"Well, that's that." Bill Frank lowered the hood of the new rail engine. "Though I have no idea how we're going to deliver it."
Hagen Filss, who had been handing him tools, responded, "Maybe when Sergeant Hatfield and Private Schultz get back they will know, Herr Frank."
Warrant Officer Frank looked over at the young soldier. "Hagen, first off you should remember that Mister Hatfield is no longer a sergeant, but a warrant officer. And second, there's nothing that says he's going to stop here in Grantville. He might go straight to Wismar to join the rest of the company." Then, seeing the lost look in Hagen's eyes, he added, "I know, son. You think you can talk him and Corporal Rau into taking you with them. Face it, Hagen. You're only seventeen years old. This war is going to last a while, so there's no sense in you rushing into it. You should have let the major send you to school."
"Herr Frank." Hagen drew himself to his full height. "I can read and write. I speak two languages and I know my numbers. What more does a soldier need to know? And I am a soldier."
Bill realized Hagen was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. It was hard to be the only regular from the train crew to be left behind. Hagen might be seventeen, but he was smaller than the average rail trooper. To top it off, Hagen had the type of face that was going to look boyish into his forties.
After studying Hagen for a while longer, Bill simply nodded his head. "Okay, Private Filss. As a soldier you should know enough to obey orders. And your orders were to work here at the company shop. Is that understood?"
"Ja, Herr Frank."
"Okay. I have a couple of errands for you to run. First I want you to run over to the communications office and have them send this message to the major."
"Ja, Herr Frank. Does that message contain my request to rejoin the train crew?"
Bill suppressed a sigh. "Yes, Private Filss, it includes your transfer request, but the main purpose is to tell her that this engine is ready to go. Second, I want you to go out to Henry Johnson's place and check with Dora Schultz about the coveralls."
"Is there anything else, Herr Frank?"
"Not today. When you finish with those errands you can have the rest of the day off. Relax, take a walk, talk to a pretty girl, or better yet take a pretty girl for a walk. I don't want to see you until quitting time this evening or, better yet, tomorrow morning."
Bill watched Hagen walk to the rack next to the door of the shop, take down his pistol belt and buckle it around his waist. He shook his head. It had taken a direct order to make Hagen hang his pistol on the rack when he was working in the shop. The boy still wore the circle of red cloth on his left sleeve that was the mark of the train crew and not the green square that the shop crew had decided on. Damn, Bill thought, it's going to break that boy's heart if he doesn't find a way to get back on a train crew.
Hagen followed the original test track from the engine shop on his way to the communications office. It was here that he had first seen a TacRail train. It was just the engine and one flat car, but he had stood and stared, amazed that it was moving without horses pulling it. His first friend, Jim Cooper, had explained it to him. Jim, who hadn't cared that Hagen was short and scrawny and too young. The first person to treat him as an equal, Jim had even convinced Sergeant Hatfield to allow him to enlist.
Thinking about Jim made him think about the other men of the crew. Sergeant Hatfield who had taught him how to shoot and Corporal Toeffel who had sold him his first pistol; Private Schultz, who had trained him to be a brakeman. He missed them, even Corporal Rau, who had always teased him about his age, calling him "Der Bub," but had also showed him how to use a dagger in a fight and how to walk quietly.
Now they were all gone. Gone to war, even Anton Busch, who was the closest to Hagen's age. No one had even thought of leaving Anton or Jim behind. But Corporal Toeffel had ordered Hagen to stay and help in the engine shop. It wasn't fair. He was as good a rail trooper as the rest. Sergeant Hatfield had to take him.
With a jerk, Hagen realized he been so lost in thought that he had almost passed the building he needed and had to back track half a block to the front entrance.
Katharina Stuetzing was seated at the desk, acting as a receptionist. For some reason Hagen remembered Herr Frank's last comment about taking a pretty girl for a walk. Katharina definitely was a pretty girl, but just looking at her made Hagen blush and stammer. Besides, he still had the second errand to run.
"G-g-good morning Private Stuetzing. I have a message from Herr Frank at the engine shop. Can it go out in this morning's radio traffic?"
"Ja, Private Filss. Give it to me and I will see that it goes to the radio room." Katharina smiled. Her smile just made Hagen blush all the more. And what was worse he knew he was blushing.
"Danke. Uh-uh . . . "
"Was there something else, Hagen?"
Hagen was stunned. She knew his name. He hadn't thought she even knew he existed. "Uh, has there been any news about Sergeant Hatfield's party and when they will be returning from Suhl?"
Katharina leaned across the desk and lowered her voice. "One of the radio operators told me that a message came in from Lieutenant Ivarsson. He and Herr Hatfield left Suhl two days ago. Where they are going and if they are coming here, she didn't know. I asked. I knew you wanted to know. After all, you've asked every day for the past week."
"Danke, Private Stuetzing."
"Hagen, you can call me Katharina."
Hearing her tell him to use her first name, made Hagen blush even harder. He was barely able to say "Danke, Katharina," before he turned and walked into the closed door, giving his nose a rather nasty bump.
"Are you all right?" Katharina started to get up from behind the desk.
"I am fine." Hagen finally found the door knob. "I have to run more errands for Herr Frank." Hagen blushed even harder when he heard her laughter through the closed office door. Why? I am a trained soldier. I am ready to face men in battle. Why do I blush and lose my wits when I talk to a girl? Hagen straightened his shoulders and stood erect. A soldier should always walk proud.
Walking to the tram stop he thought about the changes he had seen in the short time he had been in Grantville. Even the tramway was new. The city had taken over the right of way cleared by the rail company and replaced the light portable track with permanent track. Now horse-drawn and motorized tramcars provided transportation into town from the outlying areas. When the car stopped, he pointed to the train crew patch on his shoulder to indicate he was on military business and should be allowed to ride free.
The driver waved Hagen to a seat as the car started to move. Looking up Hagen could see the notice painted on the front of the car over the driver's head, "Tramcar #4, Built by the 141st Rail Company." Below the neatly printed notice was piece of paper with the names of the crew who had built it. Hagen was proud to see his own name at the bottom of the list. This was one of the last tramcars the old crew had built before the orders came sending them to Magdeburg.
Just as the tram was leaving town, Hagen's attention was caught by a sign beside the tracks:
Built by the 141st Railway Company, NUS Army.
We Build Them Anywhere—Wir bauen sie überall
The day they had put up that sign, General Jackson had just activated the company. The up-time sergeants, Hatfield, Plotz and Torbert, had insisted they needed to commemorate the occasion. First Sergeant Plotz had picked Hagen to break a bottle of beer on the tracks to mark the launching of the then new company. Hagen wanted to rejoin the company more than anything else in his life.
We're really sorry, but this is only available to up-to-date paid subscribers.
If you're not already a subscriber you need to know that our columns and editorials are free, along with a few other items, but almost all stories and all downloads are paid only.
- The Grantville Gazette Staff