Etude, Part 2

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It was evening, and Johann and his brothers had just stepped into The Green Horse. He was chewing the last of a piece of sausage he had bought from a street vendor who had been about to close for the evening. His hand was greasy, so he wiped it on the seat of his trousers.

“Johann! Over here!”

He could see Marla standing at the end of a table and waving at him. He waved back, but stopped first at the tavern keeper’s bar to acquire mugs of beer for himself and Christoph and Heinrich. Once they were all suitably equipped, he led the way toward Marla’s table.

In addition to the musicians of Marla’s immediate circle, several other friends were there. Johann’s heart seemed to skip a beat when he saw Staci Matowski and her friend Casey.

e-p2-sqncpThe two young women were wearing usual up-timer garb: trousers, rather snug-fitting sweaters, and caps that looked something like Staci’s baseball team cap only covered with many rows of small reflecting things that bounced light from the lamps and candles into Johann’s eyes. They had to be some form of sequin, he decided, albeit a bit smaller than he had ever seen before, and certainly more concentrated in quantity, since he could not see a bit of the bare fabric of the cap underneath them.. Staci’s hat was a dark blue, and Casey’s was a brilliant red. Both were reflecting flashes of light around the interior of the tavern as they turned their heads in conversation and laughter. Staci’s hair had grown out some since the short cut she had gotten several weeks ago, but it was still rather short, which left a fringe of the hair sticking out from the bottom edge of the hat.

Staci was sitting sideways on the end of a bench, left foot on the bench and arms wrapped around her left knee as she looked across the table at Casey and laughed at something her friend was saying. She was wearing a shoe much like a slipper which left the top of the foot mostly bare, since she wore no sock or hose on the foot. Johann’s first thought was that the shoe was a bit impractical for the season. His second came as he stopped and tilted his head in the realization that there was a large mark on the top of her foot.

“Hi, Johann.” Staci had looked around and seen him standing there. She caught the direction of his gaze. “Like my tat?”

“Your what?”

“My tattoo.” She lifted her foot up and angled it so that the light shown across the top of her instep. “See? It’s a rose, and the stem runs up and circles above my ankle like a bracelet or anklet.”

In the better light, Johann could see the artwork involved for what it was—a rather nice rendition of a scarlet rosebud, with a green stem complete with thorns that twined up the top of her foot until it reached her ankle and then circled her leg as she had described. The small shapely foot and slender ankle did stir him a bit.

“Interesting artwork,” he said. “Do a lot of you up-timers have those?”

“Some,” Staci said. “Don’t people do tattoos in the here and now?”

“I think religious pilgrims may sometimes get some kind of symbol or icon when they do achieve a pilgrimage,” he said. “And of course, sailors and soldiers seem to have a lot of them. But the regular folk, no, not that I’ve seen.”

Staci shrugged. “Same with us. Lots of military folks, lots of biker types, and some other side groups of society, but not a lot of the regular folks. This was actually my eighteenth birthday present to myself, and I caught hell from Mom and my grandma about it.” Johann raised his eyebrows at that, and Staci laughed. “Oh, for different reasons. Mom had a practical concern about it showing through any dance outfit I might wear. Dancers are in white and pastels so much that just wouldn’t cover something so dark. I had to prove to her that there are stage makeups and creams that are opaque enough to cover it. Once she saw that, she was okay with it.”

“And your grandmother?” Johann asked.

“I had to pull Reverend Jones in on that one,” Staci replied. “Like a lot of older church folks, she thought that the Bible teaches that tattoos are sinful because of one verse in the Bible somewhere in Leviticus. He was able to explain to her that the verse was specifically talking about the Jews not practicing pagan rituals about worshipping the dead, so that if the tattoo doesn’t match up with pagan worship, it’s okay from that standpoint. Then he told her that since we’re not Jewish, we’re not bound by that commandment anyway, especially since the Jerusalem council in Acts clarified that non-Jews are not bound by the Jewish law.” She grinned again. “I’m not sure that she really believed him, but she quit muttering about it, anyway.”

“It is a nice piece of artwork,” Johann said, eyeing her foot again and admiring its smallness and slenderness.

“Yeah, I had to go all the way to Morgantown to find a guy who was good enough to do it.” She shrugged as she dropped the foot back to the bench. “Cost me a pretty penny, too, but it was worth it.”

“So does someone in Grantville not do tattoos? Is that why you traveled?”

“No one I trusted back then,” Staci said. “I wanted to make sure that whoever did it was a good artist and kept his needles and equipment clean. I figured I was going to be living with whatever I did for a long time, so I wanted it to be good art, and I didn’t want to pick up an infection from it.”

“Needles?” Christoph asked, eyebrows raised.

“They use small gauge needles to inject the color into your flesh,” Staci said with a moue of distaste.

“That must have hurt.” Christoph again.

“Not really.”

Casey turned back toward the group. “It hurt like a big dog. Don’t let her kid you.”

“Did not.”

“Did so,” Casey retorted. “I was there, listening to every whimper you made, and holding hands with you until you about crushed mine. Watching you deal with it is one reason why I never got one.”

Staci shrugged again. “Well, maybe it hurt a little. Tattooist said that it would probably hurt more there than if I’d done something on my arm because the tissue was so thin and there were so many nerves. But I wanted it on my foot.”

Johann shook his head. “Does anyone in Grantville do it now?”

She shrugged again. “There are a few folks doing it. But I’ve got the one I wanted, so I haven’t been thinking about it much.” Staci pivoted and put her foot on the floor. “Have a seat . . . and who’s that with you?”

Johann sat down and slid over. “My brothers, Christoph and Heinrich.”

“Hi, guys,” Staci said with a smile. “Sit down . . . I think there’s room.”

The two brothers nodded at Staci and returned her smile. Christoph took the end of the bench by Johann, and Heinrich sat on the other side of the table by Casey.

“Are you guys into music, too?” Casey asked.

All three of the brothers laughed. “We are Bachs,” Christoph said. “Of course we are , , , how did you say it . . . ‘into music.’ ”

“There are Bachs scattered all through Thuringia,” Johann continued. “And everywhere you find us, we are mostly involved with music. There may be one or two who aren’t, but I do not know of them if there are.”

“Wow,” Staci said. “So you could make an all-Bach orchestra if you were all in one place.”

“And a choir as well,” Heinrich said with a grin.

“That’s cool,” Casey said. “My mom would have been thrilled at that kind of thing. So, Johann, did you ever figure out if you are related to Johann Sebastian Bach?”

At that moment, Marla stood and moved to the piano that stood against one wall of the tavern, followed by Franz and her friends. Johann quickly pointed to himself, “Great-uncle,” to Heinrich, “Great-uncle,” to Christoph, “Grandfather. Later.”

Casey and Staci both nodded, and everyone turned their eyes to where the musicians were assembling.

“Good evening, everyone,” Marla announced. The room was mostly full by now, and there was a rumbled response of various forms of greetings. “Glad you’re here,” she continued. “We’re going to have some fun tonight, so hang on and let’s get started.” With that, she sat down on the piano bench and placed her hands on the keys.

“Play some soul music, sistuh,” a voice drawled from the back of the room.

Marla spun on the bench with a surprised look, which was replaced by perhaps the biggest grin Johann had ever seen. “Nissa? Nissa Pritchard, is that you?”

“Ain’t nobody else, child,” came the response in a resonant voice that came from a Moorish woman dressed in up-timer clothing who made her way through the crowd.

Marla jumped to her feet and met the other woman at the edge of the front table line. They embraced in a strong hug, then stood back. The other woman’s grin was as large as Marla’s, and her white teeth shown in the midst of her dark face. Johann judged her to be of rather mature years—there were wrinkles on her face—but as with many of the up-timers, he hesitated to judge her by down-timers’ standards. Best he could do was guess that she was over forty. Her face was strong, and that combined with her short curly kinky hair gave her an exotic appearance for the middle of Germany. Everyone knew of Dr. Nichols and his daughter Sharon who had come back with Grantville in the Ring of Fire, but this was the first that Johann had heard that there had been anyone else of their race among the up-timers.

“It’s good to see you, Nissa,” Marla said. “I’ve missed seeing you.”

“That goes both ways, you know,” the older woman said with a laugh.

“What are you doing here, anyway?”

“Oh, Mayor Gericke brought me and Claude and a couple of the other power plant team guys up here to talk about building a big power plant in Magdeburg.”

“Cool.” Marla’s eyebrows popped up, and her eyes gave an additional gleam. “Say, did you bring that mouth harp with you?”

e-p2-mthrgnNissa laughed and slipped a hand into an inside jacket pocket to bring out something that shone in the lamplight with a brassy golden gleam. “Now would I be anywhere without this?”

“Great!” Marla enthused. She grabbed Nissa by the arm and dragged her over by the piano, where she looked around at Franz and the other musicians. “Sorry, boys, there’s been a change in plans.” She dropped onto the bench, and looked out at the room with another big grin. “Okay, folks, hold onto your hats. This is going to be like nothing you’ve heard before. Tonight we’re going to be doing some Southern music.”

Johann was confused. Southern music? Swiss? Venetian? Roman? What did she mean?

Casey turned back to the brothers and murmured, “Southern up-timer music. It’s good, but it’s probably pretty different from what you’re used to.”

Marla played a few dissonant sounding chords, then looked up at Nissa. “What key are you doing Steamroller Blues in this month?”

Those white teeth flashed again in Nissa’s dark face. “Key of G sounds good to me.”

What followed was an astonishing potpourri of some of the most unusual music Johann had ever heard. He was dumbfounded from beginning to end; when he looked at his brothers, they seemed to be even more astonished than he was.

It was one song after another, frequently with no breaks at all between them as Marla would play two or three transition chords to move from one to another. And they were all music that just gripped him, even as he struggled to assimilate what he was hearing. The rhythms were frequently so syncopated that he had trouble feeling the beat. The harmonies were frequently so dissonant that at times he almost lost the key feeling. Yet there was a power to the music, whether fast or slow, that just reached out and transfixed him.

Song followed song: Steamroller Blues, Crossroad Blues, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Rockin’ Chair Blues, Down By the River, Miss Brown to You, Go Down Moses, Preaching Blues, and on and on. Most of them were sung by Nissa with additional lines on what Marla called a harmonica, but Marla sang a few, and added descants to a couple of others.

Johann was almost exhausted by the time he felt they might be drawing toward a conclusion. They pulled into a slow-moving song where Marla took the lead. Cry Me a River was saddening in most ways, and the room grew quiet by the end. That was followed by Nissa doing one called God Bless the Child that the CoC members in the room seemed to appreciate, based on the thumps of fists on the table and boots on the floor when it concluded.

“Yeeoowww!” Marla almost screamed out as she stood up and knocked her bench over backwards, startling Johann and most of the room. She started hammering the piano keyboard in an almost berserk manner, a very heavy syncopation, with both hands moving almost independently, bringing them to a point where she was repeating the same chord rapidly. Then she opened her mouth and began singing a song about some boy who lived in the woods down by New Orleans, wherever that was. Nissa was playing the harmonica along with her, and the other musicians were falling into place as they began to pick up the harmonies.

They arrived at the chorus, which involved heavy chord repetition and syncopation again, and very simple words, repeating “Go!”, and ending with “Johnny B. Goode.”

Nissa took the second verse, they cycled through the chorus again, and Marla took the third and last verse. When they hit the chorus again, Nissa took the lead with Marla singing a descant over the top. The chorus was repeated a number of times, until they reached a place where Marla held the last word out for an extended time while she took the chords through another transition run into a final song. Nissa gave a short laugh when the chords resolved into the final pattern, but turned and faced toward the crowd to belt out the final song.

 

 

Oh, when the saints go marching in

Oh, when the saints go marching in

Oh, Lord I want to be in that number

When the saints go marching in

 

They cycled through a number of verses before returning to the original. By now everyone in the room understood the melody, and they started singing along with the words as that verse was repeated over and over again. Fists were beating on tables, boots were stomping on the floor. Even as he sang along with the others, Johann kind of wondered if the tavern building could withstand much of this. He found he didn’t care. A glance out of the corner of his eye showed that Christoph and Heinrich were standing alongside him and singing at the top of their lungs as well.

 

 

Oh, when the saints go marching in

Oh, when the saints go marching in

Oh, Lord I want to be in that number

When the saints go marching in

 

Marla brought the song to a crashing conclusion with bravura keyboard work up and down the black and white keys. When she took her hands off the keys and straightened, the room burst into applause, and Nissa grabbed her in a big hug. The two of them embraced, then stood together side by side, arms over each other’s shoulders, almost panting as they laughed together.

Johann found he envied them . . . at least a little. He greatly enjoyed making music, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever had a time like this one, where he commanded such an outpouring of sound and energy and gathered the focused attention of so many people at once. That didn’t reduce the pace or strength at which he beat his hands together, though.

The din finally dwindled as Marla and her friends, including Nissa and a large up-timer, settled at the other end of the table. As the rest of the room sat back and the bar servers began scurrying around picking up empty mugs and replacing them with full ones, Johann and those at his end of the table just looked at each other, almost worn out with what they had just witnessed and been a part of.

“Wow,” Staci said. “I’d kind of forgotten just how much energy Marla can pack into a performance.”

“You mean she does that a lot?” Johann asked.

“It doesn’t come through quite as strongly in her classical performances,” Staci said.

“Classical?” That from Christoph.

“Her serious stuff,” Casey said. “What she does with and for Mary Simpson and the Royal Arts League. It’s a different style of music, one more directly connected with the court music of this time.”

“And the new stuff that Master Carissimi and Master Schütz write, too,” Staci said. “I just wish they’d write a ballet or two.”

“Your mom still wants to stage the old standards,” Casey said.

“I know,” Staci replied, “and I get that. I don’t want to see them fade away, either. They’re too important for dancers. But I think we need some new stuff, too.”

“Ballet? Is that not something in France?” Heinrich asked.

“Sort of,” Staci said, her mouth quirking for a moment. “But what we do is very different. It does involve a lot of dancing, a lot of very structured and choreographed movement by sometimes a lot of people.”

“Dancing?”

Casey leaned forward. “Staci’s mom was a professional dancer for a little while. Then she started teaching dancing to students. Since the Ring fell, she’s been teaching a lot of people, including a few daughters of Adel families.” She shrugged. “It’s really good physical exercise and conditioning, and it requires some real discipline to practice and develop.”

“So do you do this ballet?” Heinrich asked.

Casey smiled. “Yep. You see before you Mrs. Matowski’s two most experienced female dancers.”

“I thought you were teachers,” Christoph said.

“We’re teachers to support ourselves, to buy bread and the occasional mug of beer or glass of wine,” Staci replied. “But speaking for myself, I live to dance. I want to keep up-time dance alive, and when I can’t dance any longer, I want to teach it so it will live on.”

There was a moment of silence after that, then Casey said, “Well, we need to call it a night. School starts pretty early in the morning.”

“Right,” Staci agreed.

The two young women stood up, stepping over the benches and putting on their jackets after they got untangled from the furniture. Johann stood as well.

“Good night, Johann,” Staci said with a smile and a touch to his arm. “Nice to meet you, Christoph and Heinrich. I’m sure we’ll see you again some time.”

“G’night,” Casey said.

“Good night,” the Bach brothers chorused, and the two young women walked off together.

Johann sat back down. The three brothers looked at each other, and in unison picked up their mugs and drained the remaining contents. They stood, and Johann waved toward the other end of the table.

“You calling it a night, Johann?” Marla called out.

“Work to do tomorrow,” he replied with a shrug.

Farewells were called back and forth, and Johann led his brothers out of the tavern. Once on the street, they flanked him as they moved down the street. It was late enough that there were no heavy wagons out, and only a periodic carriage or cab to contest them for the roadway. Hands in pockets, they walked along.

“How was your baptism in up-timer music?” Johann asked with a chuckle.

“That was an immersion, not a simple baptism,” Christoph said. “Is it all like that? The up-timer music, I mean?”

“Surely not,” Heinrich said from Johann’s other side. “The Bach music we heard certainly wasn’t.”

“No, it’s not all like that,” Johann said. “But you have to remember that Old Bach lived and wrote seventy to one hundred and twenty years from now. But there was another two hundred plus years of musical development and changes after him. And a good many of the changes were apparently due to the influence of aboriginal and tribal music from all over the world, but especially southern Africa. Those influenced richer, darker harmonies and much more complex rhythms. But they take some getting used to.” He chuckled again.

“Be honest, now,” Heinrich protested. “You have not listened to that much of it, have you?”

“No,” Johann admitted. “And I cannot say that I like a lot of what I have heard. But I have been told that familiarity will breed at least tolerance, if not a certain taste.” He shrugged and held out his hands to each side, palms up. “The same miracle that brought us Old Bach also brought us the blues. We will have to learn from both, I believe. But our call is to preserve and spread abroad our Bach heritage.”

“Agreed,” Christoph said, and Heinrich threw in an affirmative grunt.

They were another half a block down the street toward the rooming house when Christoph said, “You are thirty years old, Johann.”

“As of last November 26th, yes, I am. What of it?”

“She looks like a child. They both do. Is she really a teacher, or does she just tend children not much younger than herself?”

“Part of that is because Fräulein Staci is small—short, that is, and slender. The French word petite applies. And part of it is because she was raised in the up-time, with their abundance of good food and excellent medical care. Like most up-time women, she looks younger than she really is. No plague scars, either. But she’s probably older than the two of you.”

“What?” Heinrich exclaimed. “She cannot be that. Can she?” He sounded almost insulted from his august age of nineteen. Christoph was frowning a little, obviously thinking there was no way that Staci was older than he was.

Johann chuckled, taking a bit of pleasure from being able to puncture their pomposity. “I believe she is twenty-two. Frau Marla is a few months younger. I do not know about Fräulein Casey, but she is probably about the same age.”

“I’m twenty-two,” Christoph protested.

“Staci’s birthday is in February,” Johann said with a grin.

Christoph muttered as it was proven she was indeed older. The two younger brothers mulled that over as they walked.

“That is hard to believe,” Christoph said at last, “but I must take your word for it. And it would explain their control and manners. But even so, even if we give her those years, that’s a bit young to marry, is it not?”

“Not that much,” Johann said. “Not by our standards, even, and definitely not by theirs. It was not uncommon in the up-time for up-timers to marry as young as eighteen, and sometimes even earlier. And it still is today.”

“So at twenty-two Fräulein Staci is perhaps a bit ripe by their standards?”

Johann chuckled again. “Perhaps. But they tend to not think that way.”

More steps in silence as his brothers mulled things over.

“She is pretty,” Heinrich offered, “certainly much more so than Herr Hoffmann’s daughter Barbara. But . . .”

“But what?”

“A dancer? One who performs in front of people? What would Mother have said?”

And that, Johann knew, was a question that he had to deal with.

The rest of the walk was made in silence.

****

Over the next several weeks, the two major concerns in Johann’s life progressed in parallel. Christoph and Heinrich rapidly became as familiar with the building plans as he was, and before long were on a first name basis with the construction crew, especially the carpenters and electrical workers, and most especially the cabinet makers who were doing the fine and detail work for the organ works. Christoph had begun to take over the monitoring of that work, which freed up some of Johann’s time to begin working with the carpenters on the exact placement of the pipe ranks and the routing of the air pipes from the primary wind chest to the smaller reservoirs behind the keyboard console and from the keyboard console to the ranks of pipes.

Heinrich, meanwhile, had become an unofficial almost-apprentice to Master Luder. He was spending much of his time at the whitesmith’s operation, watching the preparing and pouring of the sheet tin and the work to shape the sheets into the pipes. After a few false starts, the whitesmith had recalled the knack of shaping the voicing openings of the pipes, and true to their agreement, the night of the day that Johann had passed the first pipe had been a night of celebration at The Green Horse. Johann still remembered the head he had had the next morning.

So the organ was progressing well. His courting of Staci Matowski was progressing . . . or at least, he thought it was. Staci would meet with him once or twice a week, always in the company of others. She appeared to be enjoying his company . . . at least, she laughed a lot when they were together. But there were no signs that she was encouraging his courtship.

Of course, she was an up-timer. Her understanding of courtship was probably different than his. He wasn’t sure he knew what signs she would give.

The conversation he’d had with Franz Sylwester floated through Johann’s mind for perhaps the umpteenth time, to use one of Staci’s phrases. Give her equality, equitability, and trust. Listen to her. Well, perhaps he needed to give her that opportunity.

And so it was, in the third week of April, that Johann delivered himself to the front steps of the Duchess Elisabeth Sofie Secondary School for Girls late in the Wednesday afternoon. He looked up at the front of the elaborate townhouse that currently housed the school, plus provided rooms for some of the teachers, and shook his head. Such grandeur, compared to the rooming house he was living in; for that matter, compared to the house in Wechmar he had spent most of his childhood in.

He shrugged, opened the door, and entered. As it happened, Lady Beth Haygood was moving down the hallway toward him, papers in hand.

“Herr Bach,” she said in surprise. “Are you here to see me?”

“No, Frau Haygood,” he said. “At least, not this time.” They met fairly frequently to review the progress of the organ construction, so it was an easy assumption to make. “Actually, I would like to have a few words with Fräulein Matowski. Is . . . does . . . would she have time to see me now?”

Lady Beth looked at the up-time watch on her arm and smiled. “The teaching day is about over. She should be free in a few minutes. I’ll send a note up to her room to tell her you’re waiting on her. Why don’t you have a seat in the parlor?” She gestured to a wide doorway behind Johann.

He took her advice and entered the parlor room. Looking around, it was very rich, in a restrained sort of way. The walls were paneled in rich wood—he looked closer, even going so far as to touch one of the walls, and verified that it was a very nice walnut. Caryatid figures stood around the room against the walls, with paintings on the walls between them and smaller statues on rich stands scattered among some very elaborate furniture.

Johann didn’t dare sit down in the room, for fear that some dirt on his clothing would besmirch the fine fabrics on the furniture. He simply stood in the center of the room in the only clear spot, and turned slowly, taking in everything, and wondering how even up-timers could take this for granted. Then his gaze was drawn to the ceiling, where an incredible plaster expanse was painted with a bucolic scene of a group of women and children in a garden. The skill of the painter took his breath.

He didn’t know how long he stood gazing up, enraptured, before, “Johann?”

Johann turned back toward the fancy archway through which he had entered. Staci stood there, so slight, so small in a skirt and a tailored shirt, hands clasped in front of her, with a slight smile on her face. Her head was slightly tilted as she gazed at him. And for that moment, just that one timeless moment, Johann wanted to do nothing more than enfold her and take her into himself forever. The intensity of the feeling almost frightened him.

“Johann?” she said again.

“Umm,” he began, then had to stop and clear his throat. He looked around. “How can you live and work with this?” he said

“Easy,” Staci said. “My room isn’t nearly this fancy, and my classroom just has plain tables and chairs in it. This is the fancy room for the important people to sit in.” She grinned, and it transformed her face from heart-shaped beauty to gamine in that instant. “Lady Beth must like you. She usually uses this room to receive people that she wants to impress.”

“Oh, I am impressed,” Johann muttered. “So impressed I am afraid to touch anything.”

“You’ve never been in a patron’s home before?”

“I have never had a patron like this.” He shook himself. “And that has nothing to do with why I’m here.”

Staci’s grin flashed again. “So why are you here?”

“Umm,” Johann took a deep breath, “to ask you to join me at Walcha’s Coffee House tomorrow evening for an evening of conversation, and . . .” he reached into an inner pocket of his jacket, “to bring you this.” He handed her a book.

“What’s this?” Staci took it, but didn’t open it like he had expected her to.

“A book,” he said with a bit of a grin of his own.

“I can see that.” She lightly slapped his arm with the book. “What kind of book?”

“Poetry, actually.”

With that, she folded it within her arms against her breast. She looked at him for a moment, head tilted again, hazel eyes gleaming above her solemn mouth.

“Yes.”

Johann looked at her, startled for a moment. “Yes?”

“Yes, I’d like to spend tomorrow evening with you at Walcha’s Coffee House.” Her smile this time was somehow soft, with a sweet light that almost seemed to enfold her like a halo.

“Umm . . .” Johann was beginning to hate that sound, and it had come out of his mouth a lot tonight. For someone with his self-confidence, that was more than a bit unsettling. “Thank you.”

He felt a smile grow on his face to match hers, and they stood there for a moment sharing the moment.

“Staci?” Casey appeared in the doorway. “Oh . . . I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were here, Johann.”

The moment was broken, and Johann gathered himself. “It is of no moment, Fräulein Casey. I must leave now anyway.” He turned to Staci. “Tomorrow evening, then? About this time?”

Staci looked at her watch. “A bit later, perhaps. How about six o’clock?”

Johann bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment. “I will arrive then.”

Staci held a hand out, and Johann took it in his not to shake, but simply to hold and press for a moment. Then he nodded to Casey and took his leave.

****

“What was that all about?” Casey asked.

Staci continued to gaze at where Johann had left her field of view. “I have a date tomorrow night.”

“A date? What do you mean, a date?”

“I have been invited to an evening of conversation with Johann Bach at Walcha’s Coffee House tomorrow evening at six o’clock.”

“Pfffpt!” Casey uttered, followed immediately by, “Ow!” as Staci slapped her arm much harder with her new book than she had slapped Johann.

“Seriously?” Casey said, rubbing her arm.

“Seriously.”

“I dunno about that guy,” Casey muttered. “Conversation. Geez.”

“Actually, I think I’m going to like it,” Staci said.

Casey had the wisdom to not say anything more as she was still rubbing her arm.

Staci folded her book back to her breast and left the room, the small soft smile returning to her lips as she trod the stairs toward their room.

****

The next morning, after their usual stop at Frau Zenzi’s, the three Bach brothers were walking down the Kristinstrasse chewing on their morning bread.

“Oh,” Heinrich said suddenly. “I forgot to tell you last night. Master Luder wants to see you today.”

“What about?” Johann said after he swallowed the bite he’d been chewing.

“Don’t know. He didn’t say.”

“Well, did he look mad, or sad, or serious, or happy?”

Heinrich had a mouthful of bread at that point, and it took a bit for him to get it chewed up. “More serious than anything,” he finally said. “Not mad, anyway.”

“Something about the pipes?”

Heinrich shook his head. “No, when he was working on the pipes was the only time that he didn’t look serious.”

“Hmm,” Johann muttered. “Wonder what he has on his mind. Tell him I will come by before noon.”

Heinrich nodded.

And it was a moment before noon when Johann stepped through the doorway into Master Luder’s forge. The master was bent over something with his journeyman. The young man looked up, saw Johann standing by the doorway, and murmured something to his master. Master Luder looked up in turn, saw Johann and held up a finger. Johann nodded that he would wait a moment, and the master returned to his conversation with the journeyman. Before long, they both straightened, the master clapped his journeyman on the shoulder, then turned and stepped toward Johann.

“Master Bach.”

“Master Luder.”

The whitesmith was not smiling. Johann grew concerned at the seriousness of his expression. Master Luder slapped his heavy gloves on a shelf, took his jacket from the nearby peg, and said, “Come. We need to talk, and it needs beer.”

Johann smiled to himself as he followed the whitesmith out of the forge. For Master Luder, most conversations seemed to need beer.

It wasn’t long before they were seated at a table in a corner of The Green Horse and Master Luder was taking a long pull at his large flagon of beer.

“Working in the heat of the forge gives you a thirst,” Luder said.

“I can see that,” Johann replied after taking a smaller sip of his own flagon. “Heinrich said you wanted to see me? I hope he hasn’t been any trouble.”

“No,” Luder said, waving a hand in the air. “He is actually proving to be of at least a little bit of help, which is useful, since my apprentice broke his leg a few weeks ago and isn’t up to doing the work yet.” The whitesmith looked down to where his large blunt-fingered hands were wrapped around his flagon on the table, then looked back up again to face Johann squarely. “We have a problem . . .or rather, you have a problem that will affect the work I am doing for you.”

Johann leaned back on his stool. “And that is?”

“You remember how I told you that it looked like they were going to bring in Ludwig Compenius to rebuild the organ in the Dom, the one that Pappenheim gutted?”

Johann nodded.

“Well, they struck a deal, and it will happen. Compenius is in Magdeburg this week, examining the Dom and assessing the damage. He will probably go back to Erfurt while he thinks things over and determines what his plans will be, but it will not be long before he returns to begin the work.” Luder picked his flagon up and took another pull of its contents.

Johann considered that. “So we are going to be competing for the same resources, most likely?”

Luder gave a firm nod. “I expect the prices for the partially refined tin ore from the Ore Mountains to rise. We have not been buying enough yet to cause the demand to rise greatly and prices to jump. But if he starts buying as well, especially in large quantities, that could change. But it is not just the tin ore. He is also trying to line up the local smiths to work on his project.”

“He approached you already?”

“He did indeed, yesterday afternoon. I told him I had already given my word to work for you. I don’t think he was happy about it, but he was polite in his leave-taking.”

“But the other smiths that you were going to use to make the sheets—they are not bound to us, are they?”

Luder shook his head. “I had talked to them, but without binding them with money or a project, they can accept his work. And if he demands they work for him exclusively, as long as he pays for that, they will do so.”

Johann frowned and crossed his arms, considering what he had been told. This could be a real complication to his plans. After a moment, he unfolded his arms and leaned forward. “First, buy up as much ore as you can get—if that nudges the prices up a little, we will just have to live with that. I would rather make sure we have the ore than worry about paying a bit more for it. If you do not have room to store it all, I think we can find a place in the opera house grounds to store it. We may have to throw up a shed or get some barrels or something, but we will find a way.

“Second, try to get one of the others to commit to my project. If it takes money, as long as what they want is not totally outside of reason, pay it or promise it, and I will have it covered by the opera house project.”

“You can do that?” Luder’s eyebrows rose.

“I think I can,” Johann said. “I need to talk to Frau Haygood soon, though.”

Luder shrugged. “I will do my best. How well I succeed will depend a lot on how quickly Master Compenius is moving, and how much silver he is willing to lay out right now.”

“Understood,” Johann said. “Do your best, though. And let me know immediately if anything else changes.”

“That I can do.” Luder picked up his flagon and finished off his beer, setting the empty flagon down with a definite thump. “And now, I must get back to the forge. Regardless of what else happens, I still have a lot of work to do.”

The whitesmith strode off, whistling tunelessly enough that Johann was wincing until he was out of earshot. Johann remained at the table staring at a half-full flagon of beer, thoughts awhirl. He really didn’t need this complication right now. He had hoped that the rebuilding of the Dom organ would be delayed by some kind of bureaucratic issue or some kind of disagreement among the pastors. After all, that kind of thing happened with fairly great regularity. But of course, something like that would never happen when he would derive some benefit from it.

“God,” Johann muttered with a quick upward look, “it would be nice if You would at least slow them down a little bit.”

There was no answer—not that Johann was expecting one.

He finished off his flagon of beer and headed out the door himself.

****

Driven by a sudden urge, Johann walked to the cathedral, which lay in the very southern end of Old Magdeburg facing Hans Richter Plaza and just inside the southern walls of the Altstadt, the old city. He could have hired a cab to take him, but the early afternoon was nice with a cloudless sky and a very light breeze, and there was enough traffic that a cab wouldn’t have saved him a lot of time. Besides, it gave him some time to think.

e-p2-dmOne of the western doors into the nave of the cathedral was open when he approached, so he walked on in. It was his first time in the cathedral, the Dom as everyone referred to it, although the formal name was Dom zu Magdeburg St. Mauritius und Katharina. Once inside, he had to stop and gaze around.

The Dom was the largest cathedral in the eastern Germanies. From where Johann stood, he could see down the length of the building over 350 feet to the presbytery at the eastern end of the building. Looking up, he could see the vaulted ceilings which rose over 100 feet above the floor. He drank in the sight. It was an impressive building, despite the damage that he could see in various locations where some of Tilly’s soldiers had made off with some type of valuable.

As Johann stood and absorbed the experience of the cathedral, he gradually became aware of others talking.

“. . . Gustav appointed Fürst Ludwig von Anhalt-Cöthen to be the administrator of the archbishopric’s properties. The Swede now claims to own the Erzstift of Magdeburg, and of course we are in no position to gainsay him.” The speaker’s voice was nasal and penetrating, even at low volume.

“Does the Fürst not provide for Magdeburg’s needs, then?” The second speaker’s voice was a bit rough.

“He does,” the first speaker replied, “but he keeps the purse strings tight and only allows one project at a time. The churches of St. Nikolai and St. Katherina were destroyed totally, and the church of St. Sebastian was badly damaged in the fire set by Tilly’s vandals. The Fürst has placed a higher priority on getting at least the major repairs done to St. Sebastian before it collapses.”

“One perhaps cannot blame him for that.”

“In other circumstances, I would agree,” the first speaker said stiffly. “But to put that ahead of restoring the cathedral was a mistake, I believe.”

“Regardless, those repairs must be mostly done if he is advancing the funds for the organ restoration.”

At that, Johann turned and faced toward where two men were standing together staring up at where the organ had previously stood in the western end of the cathedral. It was obvious where it had been, as there was this hideous gap in the wall where the pipe ranks should have stood. There was no screen, no grill, no façade of false pipes, only a huge opening in the plasterwork that had been laid over the stone. Johann could dimly see what appeared to be some wooden pipes back in the darkness of the recess of the pipe chamber, but he couldn’t see clearly. It did look like many of those were leaning or had even been knocked off their fittings.

A sudden flare of rage shot through Johann. Now he understood the Magdeburgers’ hatred for Tilly, and even more for Pappenheim, who had been left to command the garrison of the city after Tilly’s troops had sacked it. It was Pappenheim who had ordered the sale of the metal from the cathedral, which had resulted in the gutting of the organ. Johann now understood that hatred at a very visceral level.

One of the men was dressed in rather fine black clothing and was holding a large Bible in one hand. Obviously that was the minister.

The other was a stocky man dressed in sober clothing. He was facing slightly toward Johann, which allowed Johann to view his profile and recognize him as Ludwig Compenius, the youngest of the current generation of the organ-building Compenius family. He was also the only one of the family that Johann had met, having had the opportunity to speak with Ludwig when he had left his position in Naumburg and relocated to Erfurt, at least temporarily.

Compenius must have caught sight of Johann out of the corner of his eye, for he turned his head to face him, which in turn caused the pastor to turn and see who the organ builder was looking at.

“Herr . . . Bach, is it not?” Compenius’ brow wrinkled a bit as he strove for recall.

“Yes, Master Compenius. Johann Bach.”

“We had a pleasant conversation over a bottle of wine a couple of years ago, I believe.”

“I am flattered that you remember me,” Johann said. And that was the truth. Master Compenius, for all that he was only a bit older than Johann himself, had an enviable reputation and was renowned throughout Germany as being “one of those Compeniuses.” The fact that he recalled a conversation from almost two years ago provided a bit of encouragement and ego lift to Johann.

The organ builder chuckled. “Of course, if I had realized that you were going to become a competitor, I might not have been so freely spoken in our conversation.”

“Competitor?” the pastor interjected, looking confused.

“Ah, Herr Bach, have you met Magister Matthias Decennius, the Caplan im Dom?” Compenius said.

The pastor was the head pastor for the cathedral, then, which in essence made him the head pastor in Magdeburg. This was not an unimportant man in the city, Johann thought. Even Mayor Gericke walked with some care around Decennius, word of whose uncertain temper had reached even Johann.

“I am honored to meet you, Magister Decennius,” Johann said with a slight bow.

“And this is Herr Johann Bach,” Compenius concluded, “a member of the widespread clan of Bach musicians, a performer of some skill, I believe, and now a designer and builder of organs.”

Decennius said nothing, simply nodded. Johann decided that was acceptable to him. He had no desire to get crosswise with the pastor.

“At that time I had no idea myself that I would,” Johann confessed. “Become a competitor, I mean. But after I came to Magdeburg, and the Arts League sent out the proposal for the new organ, I thought there was nothing to be lost by making an offer. I was very surprised to find out that I had been awarded the contract.”

Compenius chuckled again. “Herr Bach, you should never be surprised to find you’ve won a contract. You should be gratified.”

“I shall endeavor to do so, Master Compenius.”

The two men shared a grin before Compenius looked back up at the ravaged pipe loft. “The vandals were thorough, I will give them that,” the master builder said.

“Unfortunately,” Johann agreed.

“Well, the scale of the theft actually does help in one respect,” Compenius said. “Since they took everything down to bare wood, it will actually make it easier to design and build new ranks.” He shrugged. “It will still be an awful lot of work, and rerunning the air feed pipes will be almost as large a challenge.”

“They took those as well?” Johann said, astounded.

Compenius nodded. “At least part of them, the parts that were easiest to reach.”

“I begin to understand why Pappenheim’s name drives people in Magdeburg to blasphemy.”

“Indeed.”

Decennius had frowned at the mention of blasphemy, but forbore speaking at the moment.

Compenius continued to stare up at the organ loft, fingering the beard on his chin as he did so. “Herr Bach,” he said as he moved his head slowly from side to side, obviously scanning the entire structure, “I have heard tell that there is music from the future in Grantville by a Bach.”

“Correct,” Johann said. “Actually, there is music by three or four Bachs, but most of it is by one Bach, the greatest of them, one Johann Sebastian Bach.”

“The greatest of Bachs?” Compenius said.

Johann shrugged. “He would have been born fifty years from now, in 1685, and would have lived a very full life, dying in 1750. And he wrote . . . would have written . . . some of the greatest music ever composed.”

“Greater than our best?” Decennius said. “Greater than Praetorius or Schütz? I doubt that.”

“Magister, a few weeks ago I told someone that if music was a religion, Johann Sebastian Bach would have been its chief apostle, Peter and Paul together.” The caplan seemed to swell up. “I have reconsidered the notion. I now think the man would be the chief saint . . . or better yet, the archangel.”

“He was that good?” Compenius said.

“Master Compenius, he was so good I weep at the beauty of his music, and I despair of ever approaching his skill and craft and art.”

“You hear that, Magister Decennius?” Compenius said. “That is the judgment of a Bach, and one who is not the least among them.”

“His judgment verges on blasphemy,” the caplan muttered, turning his head away.

“Of course it does,” Compenius said after a snort. “He is a musician. That goes without saying.”

There was a moment of silence, then Compenius looked up at the pipe loft again and heaved his shoulders in a big sigh. “Well, there is no help for it but that I must climb up there and examine what little remains. I cannot assess the damage from down here. Good day to you, Herr Bach. We will meet again, I am certain.” The organ builder nodded at Johann, then looked to the pastor. “Magister Decennius, the door to the loft, if you would.”

Johann watched as the two men crossed to a door barely visible in the side wall of the end of the nave and disappeared through it. He shook his head, looked around the nave once more and up toward the vaulted ceiling, then made his way out the doors he had entered through.

Well, he thought, that hadn’t gone as poorly as it could have. But it was clear that while Master Compenius respected the Bach family as a whole, he had no reason to be accommodating to them or to Johann in particular. And Johann doubted that he would be. So his instructions to Master Luder would stand. But he needed to have a conversation with Lady Beth Haygood now. And at this hour of the day—he glanced at the position of the sun—she was probably at the school, so that was where he headed.

 

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About David Carrico

David 2013-03-03 small

David Carrico made his first professional SF sale to The Grantville Gazette e-magazine in 2004. His stories have also appeared in the Grantville Gazette and Ring of Fire anthologies from Baen Books and in Jim Baen’s Universe e-magazine. Baen Books has published a story collection by David entitled 1635: Music and Murder, and two novels written in collaboration with Eric Flint: 1636: The Devil’s Opera, and The Span of Empire, which was nominated for the 2017 Dragon Award for Best Military SF or Fantasy novel. David is currently working on a solo project.

3 thoughts on “Etude, Part 2

  1. Lorraine Rovig

    “Time Trader” by Andre Norton was in the high school library–my first SF. David, I think you for continuing my addiction to SF with your marvelous stories of What If in music.

  2. wiley coyote

    So.
    Not a musician nor an Audience,
    I So Love these Tastes of how Civilization in the (“Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy”-Peter H. Wilson ) CHANGE YEARS could have been marvelously turned, INCLUDING TOILETS AND SANITATION! But, That people, PEOPLE, as was sung in “DEVIL’S OPERA”, could have tempered and changed Fredrick’s Iron and Bismarck’s Realist Politik, into something Better!
    Most of All! Great Writing, Polting, and CHARACTERIZATIONS!!!
    APPLAUSE!!! Wc

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