“Hey, Linus! Where is the sergeant?”
Becker sighed. The party had gone on until around two in the morning, and somewhere in that time, Hartmann had vanished. “Josef, does it look like I have been assigned to keep track of him?” He picked up the stack of plates, carrying them over to the tray that had held snacks, and was now filling up with dirty dishes. “If he felt the need for company, he could ask. Now take this tray to the women before I thump you.”
“Jawohl, Herr Wachtmeister!”
Becker looked toward the door. He didn’t even have to think about where his sergeant had gone. He knew. Poor bastard.
Snow had begun to fall, the graveyard becoming a white expanse in the early morning. One set of feet were walking through it, and they paused at the gravestone. Hartmann knelt, then sat, leaning on the stone, only it and death separated him from the people he loved the most. He set down the rifle, drew out his new pipe, and filled it. Then before he took out his lighter, he drew a flask from another inner pocket, pouring schnapps into a small glass he had dug into the soil in front of the stone.
“I love the present. I wish Alexander were still alive; I would have liked to thank him.” He sighed, looking up into the clouds. “I miss you.” He opened the flask, tapped the glass with it. “To us forever.”
Hartmann looked at the sign; Die graue Katze. He snorted. Because all cats are gray in the dark. Maybe there was a more stupid name for a whorehouse, but he couldn’t think of one. What in the hell was Hamner of all people doing here?
He pushed open the door. The inside was all warm wood, tapestries, and the smell of furniture polish. One man, built like an ox and looking about as bright, watched him. If he had begun chewing a cud, Hartmann would have turned and walked right back out.
“Welcome, Sergeant!” The woman who came into the hall was full-fleshed, with a wide open face and brilliant smile. “You I have not seen. Are you new to Magdeburg?”
“I have been here almost a year,” Hartmann replied. “I am looking for someone.”
“Everyone who graces our establishment is looking for someone, Sergeant. It is the nature of the business.”
He sighed. “Madam, I am looking for a man.” Even as he said, it, he knew he had stated it wrong.
The smile slipped. “Sergeant, we do not serve your kind here. However—”
She stopped as Hartmann raised his hand. “No. I am looking for a particular man. Wachtmeister Hamner, who told his friends he would be here.”
At the name, the woman’s smile returned. “Ah! Michel! I am sorry, Sergeant, we get all kinds of people coming here. I am Sophia, the proprietor.” She hooked her arm through his, and like a tugboat began to drag him. They passed into another room.
There were six women in the next room, all under-dressed to show off the wares. The women watched him with the same predatory air he had seen from wolves in winter, wondering how he might taste. The madam pulled him through, and the instant they reached the halfway point, the women ignored him as if he didn’t exist.
Down a hall, then to a door that led into a dining room. Instead of men and women enjoying a meal before their sport, a dozen boys and girls from around eleven to seventeen were seated heads down, writing. The woman motioned for silence. At the other end of the table, Hamner sat in uniform, glancing up, then at an hourglass before him. He stood, walking quietly to where his sergeant stood. “Just another few minutes please, Sergeant.”
Hamner returned to the end of the table, and as the last sand fell he spoke. “Pencils down. Pass the papers to this end, please.” Obediently the children did as instructed. “Now, go to your work. I will grade these tonight.” He motioned, and they stood, the lines of silent, attentive students suddenly becoming a swarm of giggling children as they fled.
“When I heard you were in a whorehouse this early in the evening, I imagined something else.”
Hamner blushed. “I am affianced, Sergeant, and she lives less than three blocks away. I will allow you to imagine what she would do.”
“So what you have been doing?”
“I made my living as a tutor before I joined the Army, Sergeant. Madam Schreiber had spoken to the CoC here in the capital, hoping to find someone who could help the older children who had no chance of an education so they would not fall too far behind. They are paying me a stipend per student.”
“Which he spends here on tea and snacks for the children,” the madam commented. “And once a week he teaches my girls how to speak and read other languages.”
“I don’t know how your new commanding officer will feel about that,” Hartmann said softly.
“Sergeant?” Hamner looked stunned. “You are going to kick me out of the company?”
“Nothing so harsh.” Hartmann pulled a folder from his tunic and passed it over. “You have been transferred to the Third Division.”
“Some of their regiments are still being organized. All of us from officers down to sergeants have been asked to recommend men to transfer.”
Hartmann smiled, but it was that gentle smile those who had known him for a while rarely saw. “As a sergeant, Michel. They may call it something else, but the top enlisted man in the company.”
Hamner clutched the folder to his chest. “I will try to follow your example.”
“Oh, I am not done with you yet.” Hartmann commented, hands behind his back, rocking heel to toe in what his noncoms had begun calling the sergeant’s training pose. “Since you are leaving, who would you suggest for a replacement?”
“Kohlner.” Hamner said instantly.
“Explain your choice.”
“Sometimes he is adamant that he is right, and it took time to teach him otherwise. However, he pays attention when he is instructed and asks good questions. If others are too slow to understand, he is willing to explain until the last trump, though after four or five times, he does get a bit upset.”
“Will he grow out of it?” Hartmann’s eyes bored into the younger man.
“In time,” Hamner grinned. “I did.”
“I agree.” Hartmann stuck out his hand. “Do me proud, Sergeant.” Hamner shook his hand. “Now I have to tell Becker he is going to Third Company. I wonder if he is as observant as you.”
“But first, we must celebrate!” The madam bustled out, then returned with a dusty bottle. She pulled the cork and poured. “Madeira wine, Sergeants.” She handed them the glasses, then lifted her own. “Would you decide the toast, Sergeant? Or shall I?”
Hartmann looked at the earnest face. “Absent friends.” He drained the glass, set it down, and left.
“Such a self-controlled man. He walked through the antechamber without leering even once! His wife must be proud.”
“She was.” At her look, he added, “She died days before Ahrensbök.”
The woman looked at the closed door. “There must be something we can do about that.”
Suddenly, it seemed, Hartmann was a prize catch for a dinner partner.
He’d had dinner with his lieutenant and of course Colonel Ludendorf, both with family. But considering his relationship with them, it would have been a surprise only because of his rank. But suddenly he was inundated with invitations even from civilians who would come up to him on the streets! He had gone to three before he saw the pattern.
All had an unmarried woman younger than him as his table partner. If asked from that point on, he merely said he was busy—which was true. The personal invitations stopped, but that wasn’t the end of it. Instead, there came letters.
Frankly, it was beginning to irritate him. He had one of the feldwebel from his company going through them and told him that if any of them mentioned “perhaps you would like to meet my sister-cousin-niece-good friend Frau Whatever-the-hell-her-name-was,” they would be set aside to use to start the fire in the orderly room after he dashed off a quick note saying he was busy. If someone slipped one in without the mentioned woman, he would arrive, stay a polite amount of time, make his apologies, and leave.
Worse yet, both the company and the training company had found out, and there was a lot of whispering that stopped when he was seen.
He was lucky about Christmas at least. One of the letters had been from Bobby Hollering to invite him to Grantville. By then almost all of the training for his present unit would be done.
Hartmann climbed down from the train. It was a wonder. A seven-day trip in less than two. He swung the scabbard of his rifle aside to allow those boarding for the return trip to Magdeburg to pass. Ahead was one of the horse-drawn carriages, and he whistled.
He stopped the cab at the bottom of the hill. While one of the cars the up-timers used could have taken the hill, a horse-drawn one would have struggled. He climbed it on foot with few problems.
The shack was still there, and he noticed the smoke rising from the small metal chimney. Had Kirsten and the others stayed this long? He was about to knock when he heard a plaintive meow. Kočka stood there, her paws on his boot, looking up at him.
“Kočka.” He knelt beside the door, her head pushing against his hand. But she kept walking toward the rear looking down the hill, meowing, then returning for more stroking. “You miss her, too.” he whispered. The cat allowed him to pick her up—a rare event—and he held her to his chest. Hartmann felt his eyes tear up, and he buried his face against her fur. “I cannot bring her back,” he whispered.
“Minuette? What is wrong this time?” The door opened, and Hartmann looked up. Kirsten stood there, the baby held against her hip. “Oh, Richard!” She stepped down, then hugged the man as he stood. She let him go, backing up. “Henri!”
Poirot looked out, then stepped down, hand out. “Please be welcome to enter our home,” he said in halting German.
The younger man smiled and ushered him in. The shack had been cozy with just Marta and Hartmann, well, and Kočka. But he got a glimpse of what could have been. One of the up-timers had made a hanging cradle for little Marta, with enough space for her to grow into for a year or more.
But with three adults, it was like being in a full closet.
Even crowded, Hartmann felt content, watching them both while sitting at the table with Henri perched on the edge of the bed sharing tea. Kirsten stood to go to the tea kettle, and for a moment, when she turned back with a teapot and cups, Hartmann saw himself watching Marta as he held his son, and she looked at him in happiness.
He shook his head. “Sorry, just letting my mind wander.”
Kirsten leaned across, touching his hand gently. “You saw her for a moment.”
“Yes, and our son.” He smiled sadly. “It was the most peaceful I have been since she died.”
“Well . . .” Henri tried to break the melancholy mood. “If you give us a day, you can have your home back again.”
“Nonsense. I am only in town for a few days. Stay here with my blessing. I will talk to the landlady and let her know.” Hartmann flinched when Kočka jumped up onto his lap.
“I see Minuette likes you. It had taken weeks before she accepted us.” She looked stricken. “But that is not her name, is it?”
“I always just called her Kočka, which is Czech for cat. You gave her a real name.” He smiled gently scratching her ears. “I also called her žárlivý žena, which is jealous wife. Does she still sit on the table and steal butter?” The grins they gave him were answer enough.
“I did not know you were here. I just came by to see her,” he said, stroking the cat the way she liked it. “So I will be on my way.”
“Wait!” Kirsten leaped up, went to a chest in the corner, and brought him back a book. He took it, and opened the cover. “Polyxandres: The Trip to the Future.”
“My master had it printed here first to assure you would get the very first copy,” Henri commented. He opened the book to a page entitled “The Ferocious Yet Gentle Warrior” bookmarked with a letter. “And he said farewell to you in his letter.”
“Did he at least stay long enough to see the railroad completed?”
“He left the town just after it had been announced. In fact, he probably rode it to Magdeburg on his way home.”
“And you stayed?” Hartmann asked gently.
Henri reached into his shirt and pulled out an oddly shaped cross. “Monsieur, I am a Huguenot. If this were seen in public in Catholic France, I could be dragged before the Inquisition.” He put it away. “I would like to stay alive.”
“And we could get married here, even if we are of different faiths,” Kirsten said. “Marta was christened in the Presbyterian church, so her soul is safe. Now Henri and I work for the library, translating books written in German into French and Danish.” She giggled. “We even think of future demand; when one of us is asked to translate, I read it, and as I do, I translate it into Danish, he into French. Then we tell the library so if anyone asks, the translation already exists, and we get royalties when they purchase it.”
Hartmann stood. “I must go.” The couple stood, and Hartmann reached out, gently rubbing the baby’s cheek. “Long life, little one.” Then he hugged the girl, shook hands with the man, and headed down the hill.
“I feel such sorrow for him, Kirsten whispered.
“He feels the pain, but will let no one know it is there,” Henri commented.
They looked to each other. “We cannot leave him in such pain,” Kirsten said.
His next stop was at the home of Bobby Hollering. Cassandra hugged him with their young son in her arms, which as an almost five-year-old, he protested at the top of his lungs. “Hush Bobby Hay, or you’ll get swatted.”
The child kept complaining loudly.
Hartmann knelt down, eyes even with the struggling boy until he had the child’s attention. “Stop that,” he said sharply. The boy shut up, and Hartmann continued in a tone of voice that can only be called You-Will-Obey. “Now I have some business to conduct with your father, and I see no reason I should have to shout because you want to scream. So we will make a contract, you and I. You will sit silent and obedient until my business is done, and afterward if you have behaved, and your parents agree, you can see this—” He lifted his shoulder to make the sheathed rifle bounce. “—in action.”
The boy considered and his wriggling stopped, then he tapped his mother’s arm. “I accept, Sergeant. Would you please put me down, Mama?” Cassie gave a bemused smile as she set him down. “May I escort you to my father, Sergeant?”
“Lead the way.”
As they headed toward the entrance to the garage, Cassie shook her head and chuckled. “I expected him to tan little Bobby Hay’s hide! It’s a pity his wife died—he would have made one hell of a father.”
“Hello, Richard.” Bobby Hollering leaped to his feet and shook his hand. Then he looked at his son standing quiet. “And that ain’t usual. Why did you stop caterwauling?”
“I had a discussion with the boy.” Hartmann looked down. “And he agreed to behave, at least as long as I am here.” The boy’s head bounced a nod like a bobble-headed doll.
“Pity you don’t live in town. You could start a military school, and he would be your first student. So, let me see her.”
Hartmann opened the flap on the doeskin case and drew out the rifle he had gotten as a birthday gift. Bobby took it, opened the breech and looked down the barrel. “What does she fire?”
“Fifty-two caliber, four hundred forty grain bullet, with a powder charge of eighty grains.”
“Workable. Though back in 1997 when they tested the Sharps rifle they found out that the heavier five hundred and fifty worked better for long range.” He went to a box against the wall. “I bought a Creedmoor Vernier sight for a friend in Fairmont. Of course, he got left up-time.” The gunsmith, like a wizard of legend, ignored him as he marked the stock of the rifle, drilled two holes, and anchored the long-range sight. “Looks like they just copied the Buffalo rifle cartridge. Sharps made a cartridge that could take up to one hundred grains. Means we can too. But no loads from them, right?” Hartmann nodded. “I have a reloading kit made up for the rifle. So that is not a problem.” He worked silently. An up-timer had commented once, “Never meddle in the affairs of a wizard,” and Hartmann understood it now.
Bobby Hollering turned around. “Now the rubber hits the road. We can shoot using their top load of eighty grains of powder. You will have to use it in combat to figure the difference with one hundred grains. That needs a decent range. I have permission from the city council, so I have a section of the ring wall as a backstop.” He looked down at his son, who was bouncing on his toes like someone preparing for a race. “Got something to say, squirt?”
“Sergeant Hartmann said I could see the rifle shooting!”
He looked at the boy, then at Hartmann. “Well, Richard? Bobbie Hay don’t lie unless it’s something he really wants.”
Hartmann smiled. “I did say that he could watch, with your permission.”
“Then get your winter gear, Boy! We’re goin’ into the snow!” The boy squealed with glee, running into the house. Bobby watched him. “You made his day, Richard.”
Hartmann watched him as well. “Can you load one round light so he can shoot it without being hurt?”
Bobby looked at him, then grinned. “Hand me one of yours. I’ll reload it afterward.” By the time the boy returned, the special cartridge was in his father’s pocket. The trio headed out to Bobby’s shooting range. There were targets from a hundred yards up to five hundred.
To someone who was not an aficionado, it was as interesting as watching paint dry. Hartmann would fire a round, Hollering would comment either up or down, check the wind, and give directions left or right. Hartmann would adjust the sight and fire again. Then Hollering would say, “Good enough,” and Hartmann would make a note of where the sight was set. They did it at every range from two hundred yards out to five hundred. After the third or fourth shot, Bobby Hay just paced back and forth grumbling.
Bobby Hollering nodded. “It’s all good, now.” He leaned away from the spotting scope, then glanced at his son. “Want to let him shoot one?”
Hartmann didn’t answer the man. “Robert.” He lifted the rifle and waggled it. “Want to fire it once?”
“It’s may I?” Hollering corrected, and the boy repeated obediently.
Hartmann had the boy kneel, using the sandbag rest. He lowered the long range sight; the round was only twenty grains of powder, less than half of the original Sharps rifle. He patiently walked the boy through it—rifle tight against the shoulder, aligning the sights, breathing, being gentle, and squeezing the trigger-
The gun fired. The bullet hit the one hundred yard target about two inches low, punctuated by Bobby Hay grumbling, “Owie!” over and over.
“Good enough for a first shot. I can teach you to improve that.”
“Now?” The boy was rubbing his shoulder, but had eyes seeing a future where he was as good a shot.
Hartmann chuckled, hefting the boy up into the air. “When you get older, perhaps” He poked the boy in the stomach causing him to giggle. “First, you need to get some more meat on your bones. A stiff wind would blow you away.”
“Airplane!” The boy cried.
Hartmann looked to the gunsmith, who told him how to do it. So for five minutes, he held the cheerfully screaming boy by one arm and leg, spinning in a circle.
“I don’t believe it.” Cassie said, putting her arms around Bobby from the back as they watched Hartmann splitting wood and Bobby Hay grabbing the pieces to carry to the stacked cordwood. “Most of the time I think Bobby Hay just puts up with people. But you should have seen it—him in the middle of one of his tantrums, and Hartmann just knelt down, gave him that sergeant look, used that sergeant voice of his and the boy just shut up.”
“He didn’t have to. After all, he was here for the sight and staying until just after Christmas, and that meant shooting. He just offered that if Bobby Hay behaved, he might get to take a shot. It seems he just treats a kid like a half-trained recruit and talks to them as if they were adults.” She looked wistful. “It’s a pity about his wife. He’d be a wonderful father.”
“Well, we do have the Christmas party.” Bobby looked down at her stiffened arms. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, my God. The presents!” She charged inside as Hartmann and the boy came up on the porch, setting down the last of the wood. Before Bobby could try to stop him, Hartmann was inside.
Cassie was digging frantically in the presents under the tree. She had grabbed out two, turned, and saw him watching her curiously. She looked at them, then dropped to her knees, crying silently.
“Cassandra? What is wrong?”
She looked at him, and if anything the waterworks went into overtime. The three men just looked at her. “Bobby Hay.”
“Get your mother a handkerchief.”
The boy ran off, returning with the item.
“I’m sorry, Richard.”
She held the gifts up helplessly. “I don’t buy Christmas presents at the end of the year like a lot of people. I see something I think they will like and pick it up.” She hiccuped, looking at him sadly. “I saw something m-Marta would have liked right after she left to join you, so I bought it. When I heard she was pregnant, I went over to the Bowers home, and Mary Sue knitted some things for . . .” She dropped the brightly wrapped packages and held her face in her hands as she cried.
Hartmann knelt, facing her. “And you thought I would be offended.” He took out the pipe Marta had sent literally from the grave. “But she sent me a birthday present. Why should you doing this bother me?”
“But you don’t keep poking at a wound!” She looked up as if seeing if he understood, then down again in her misery. “How can you heal from losing the woman you love, and the baby you never got to see if we won’t let you?”
Hartmann lifted her chin. “She is with me now.” He touched the bowl where Marta’s face still smiled at him. “She is part of me and will be, always.”
Cassie threw her arms around his neck and cried for his loss.
The family decided to go to the annual Christmas party, and while he didn’t feel in a holiday spirit, Hartmann went with them. The room was buzzing, and the most recent Santa was passing out presents. Unlike the second such event, the people understood better what the up-timers meant, so there were dolls, toy trucks carved out of wood, even large ones that looked like the APCs.
Cassie had spent several minutes huddled with some of the women. He shook his head. Would he have to put up with being the prize bull here as well?
Hartmann stood in the corner, watching the festivities as they cleared a space for dancing. The first song was something called the Tennessee Waltz.
Someone approached. One of the up-time women, he couldn’t remember her name.
“Don’t you dance, Sergeant?”
“And without a wife, you really have no partner.” She grinned, taking his hand. “Come on, there’s one dance that anyone can do. I will just do what she would have done if she were here.”
Bemused, he allowed her to pull him into the dance floor. She set his hands on her waist, resting her hands on his shoulders. Then she began to move, and he followed. It didn’t look like anything he had ever seen. “We call it elevator dancing.”
“Ah, you do it only on the elevators like they have at the Higgins?”
She chuckled. “No, it’s because you’re moving, but not going anywhere.” She paused, looking over her shoulder. “Damn.”
“Up-time when you want to dance with someone, but they are with a partner, you tap the one dancing to let them know you want to cut in.” She glared at the woman, then stepped aside. The other woman moved in, setting Hartmann’s hands on her more ample hips, and the dance continued.
This woman had barely gotten comfortable when she also flinched. Hartmann shook his head, eyes closed. “Ladies, if there is a slow dance, I will dance. But give each woman one dance unmolested, agreed?”
It seemed that the ‘get the poor sergeant married again’ bug had hit Grantville. All of the women he danced with had met him, and some had expressed attraction, but their actions were more to get him back in the habit of dealing with women. Except for fast songs (some of which he asked for once he found that they took requests) or when he went out to have a smoke or to join the men drinking, he spent the night dancing.
Christmas morning dawned over gently falling snow. Hartmann came down to find Bobby Hay waiting impatiently. “Why have you not attacked your objective?” he asked.
“We have rules for Christmas morning.” Bobby Hay shook his head making the face that said they had rules for everything. “Mama and Papa like to sleep in when they can. So the first rule is I have to wait until an adult is here. The second rule—” As he said that, a sudden strident ringing interrupted. “Papa forgot the alarm again!”
There was a sudden silence, and Bobby Hollering came down in his pajamas and slippers as he pulled on his robe. He yawned and waved absently at them on his way toward the kitchen.
Bobby looked back. “Thought you’d be up already.” He glanced at Hartmann. “You didn’t ask the sergeant for permission?”
“I was explaining the Christmas rules to him when the alarm went off.” The boy marched over to the tree, picking up a box, which he brought to Hartmann. “The second rule, everyone gets to open one present before you open any more.” Hartmann watched the obedient boy walk over and choose a present to hand to his father when he came out of the kitchen with a pot of tea and cups. He looked at the stairs plaintively, then went and got only one of his, which he attacked like a dieter faced with an unprotected cheesecake.
Hartmann opened his rather heavy one carefully and opened the box inside it. There was an up-time made powder flask with three narrow screw-on tubes, a box of primers, and a reloading kit.
“Made that up for you. The tubes—” He took the longest one, screwing it into the fitting on the flask, then with his thumb sealing it, flipped his wrist while pressing the spring valve at the bottom. He released it, turned it upright, and displayed the powder in the tube. “Automatically measures the right amount. Smallest one is for your pistol; largest for the load you’re using now. Added the fifty grain one in case you want to try it at ninety or a hundred; just use the forty with the fifty, or a double fifty. Try it in action then decide.” He pushed the valve, and the powder whispered back down into the flask.
The men sat quietly, talking. The boy hopped what looked like a Brillo doll around for the better part of an hour before Cassie came down. Before long the floor was covered in scattered paper, and as Cassie went to make breakfast, Bobby Hay obediently cleared away the mess.
Since he had orders, the next morning Hartmann packed the gifts, including the unopened ones, hugged Cassie, shook the hands of both men, and walked into the still falling snow. Bobby Hay watched him until he was out of sight.
Late December 1634
The snow was still falling when he arrived back in Magdeburg. Hartmann carried the bag and the rifle to his quarters, where he put down the weapon, took out the two presents, and walked to the graveyard. He poured libations, then carefully opened the one marked for the child. There was a knitted woolen blanket, a pair of booties, and a gown, all green. He smiled gently, then laid them on top of the grave. Then he opened Marta’s gift.
He looked at the royal blue angora wool shawl, letting it flow through his hands before wrapping it around the stone. “Merry Christmas, my love.”
He sat there for a long time, picturing a Christmas tree, Marta looking at her present, setting it around her shoulders then throwing herself into his arms. He missed her so much. Finally, he stood, walking back to the camp.
He spoke with the sentry for a moment, trading holiday greetings.
He glanced over at the heavyset woman walking toward him. For a moment, he wasn’t sure; then he recognized Brigadier Dortmunder’s wife. She came up and hand him an envelope. “My husband is having a party for the new year, just a few men he respects. You are invited to attend.”
He wanted to groan. Not again! “Frau—”
“No excuses! You will be there!” She turned and bustled off.
Hartmann looked at the envelope, then at the sentry. “Do you know where the brigadier is?”
“Just tell me.” Once he knew, he walked toward the division headquarters. At the moment, he felt like a boy trying to get one parent to contradict the other.
The brigadier looked up.”Sergeant?” Hartmann saluted, then held out the envelope.
Dortmunder looked at it, then sighed. “Sergeant, I spoke to my wife about you. She decided that such a brave man should have a better selection of eligible women than the merchants of this city can offer. So she arranged a brigade party for the new year, and you are one of the guests of honor.” He grimaced in disgust. “As is every unmarried officer.”
“Permission to speak freely, Sir?” The officer nodded. “I would rather not go to this party, Sir.”
“You and I both. I did not meet your wife, but mine could teach the emperor lessons in stubbornness.” The older man sighed. “We will have to survive the evening as we may.”
Hartmann left the office in a deep depression. Would they never leave him alone? He heard someone calling him, and looked over his shoulder. Luftmann, who had taken Becker’s place as wachtmeister was coming from the side.
“Sergeant! I was not sure you would be home in time. My family wanted to invite you to a new year’s party to meet—” The man stopped talking when Hartmann raised his hand in a gesture for silence.
“If they wished to introduce me to an unmarried woman, I am no longer amused.”
For a long moment, Luftmann merely looked at him. “Sergeant, my sister who is seven, wished to meet you. I have told her so much about you she almost considers you our older brother. She wished to meet you. I will tell them.”
Hartmann looked at the man for a long moment as a sudden thought came to him. If he did this, perhaps the women would stop bothering him. “I will go to your family home tonight instead. I wish to talk to this girl and your parents about my problem.”
New Year’s Eve, 1634
So at eight in the evening, the party began. Every wife of the officers of the Wolverine, the Black Boar, and the newly-formed Gray Wolf Regiments had brought women they felt would be suitable as possible wives for Hartmann and the five unmarried officers.
Those other unfortunates had already arrived and were jostled into proximity when the majordomo announced in an amused tone, “Sergeant Richard Hartmann and Frau Gerta Luftmann!”
The brigadier’s wife turned. The man no doubt had picked up some street beggar or harlot to make this a laughing stock. She spun, and her jaw dropped. Her husband began coughing to hide his urge to laugh.
Hartmann stood paused at the door to be introduced. Beside him stood a young girl, straight and tall, dressed in a nice middle-class dress, with her hand on the sergeant’s arm. They walked in the sudden silence, and the girl was obviously both elated and terrified. But she walked with him.
Conversations began again, but Hartmann ignored the crowd as he led the girl through, pausing to introduce her to his officers. He reached Colonel Ludendorf, who was grinning. “Colonel, may I introduce Gerta Luftmann?”
“Ah, your new wachtmeister‘s younger sister no doubt.”
The girl curtsied prettily.
“Yes. She wished to meet me, and since this was when her parents had invited me, I felt it was not fair to her to refuse.”
Ludendorf introduced his wife and daughter to the young girl who acknowledged each just as gravely. “Aloyse, Veronica, perhaps you could escort the young miss to the punchbowl. I wish to talk with the sergeant for a moment.”
The women took the girl in tow, leading her away.
“Now you have let the fox loose in the henhouse, Richard.”
Hartmann shrugged. “Until I am over Marta’s death, I see no need to look for another wife, Sir.”
Ludendorf looked around at all of the women glaring daggers at his subordinate. “You know there is supposed to be dancing. How will you handle that?”
“I only know one dance, what the up-timers call an elevator dance. Anyone who wishes to dance with me will have to learn it,” Hartmann said with a perfectly straight face.
“We will see how that works out. Some women will try to teach you.”
Henrietta Friedlund stormed toward the buffet, snatching up a plate. She had seen the sergeant from a distance several times and had been attracted to him. But he had been hard to approach, and never seemed to wish to go anywhere she could encounter him more openly. Honestly, it was as if he had no use for women at all!
She had just accepted a glass of wine when she heard a voice saying, “I met his wife a few times before her death.”
“You did? Please, tell us about her.”
Henrietta turned slightly and saw the girl Hartmann had brought, seated with Ludendorf’s wife and daughter. She was the center of half a dozen women, all of whom she knew had set their sights on the man. If being the focus of so many eyes bothered Gerta, you would not have been able to tell from her expression.
“My brother was one of the men of his unit who were always curious about the sergeant. They wondered why he lived in one of the inns rather than at the base. So they followed him one evening. They found that he had paid for the uniforms for the Wolverine camp followers out of his own pocket.”
“On a sergeant’s pay?”
“Oh he actually has quite a bit of money.”
The women leaned forward.
“When he was living in Grantville, his wife bought pipe tobacco there, and they have been selling it for over a year now. Anyway, my brother was impressed. His wife was staying there.” She sipped in the sudden awkward silence. “So Eric would go there. I asked, and he brought me, too. That was when I met Marta, but I did not meet the sergeant himself until yesterday.” She started to stand to fill her cup, but a servant silently handed her a full one.
“I liked her. She was gentle and polite. She treated the men like family, and me like a sister. When they marched, I was afraid for my brother. She comforted me, even though I knew she feared for her Richard as much. She told me we were all in God’s hands, and what must be would be.
“Then she died.”
The girl looked down. Every woman in the now much-expanded silence could hear the tears in her voice as she continued without raising her head.
“Eric told me they were at Segeburg right before Ahrensbök when Richard was told. How something seemed to have died inside him. But he had his duty to his men. He could not come home until they did. So he stayed, and the brave charge?” She looked up. “It was a man wanting to die to join his love. When he charged, his men could not let him die alone. They loved him—they loved her that much.” She began to cry again. “He still loves her. He visits her grave every day to talk to her as if he were just a man coming home from work. Some people in Grantville had bought presents for her and the baby before her death, and he draped the shawl they had given her over the stone. And the baby clothes, the blanket . . .” Veronica hugged the girl as she cried.
Henrietta looked at the small plate, then set it down. She looked at the other women, all with varying looks of embarrassment. We are like carrion crows over a battlefield, dropping on one corpse and trying the eyeballs. She looked at the sergeant, so composed, dealing with the officers who had surrounded him almost like a palisade to protect him. He deserves the time to heal. And by God, I for one will make sure he does.
While she didn’t know it, every one of those women had come to the same conclusion.
The dancing began, but Hartmann was left alone as he led her onto the floor. Other dancers gave them a wide berth so everyone could watch. She did dance that odd elevator dance with him, her eyes shining as if she were the guest of honor, and the chastened women watched the sad man doing his duty yet again.
Aloyse walked out as the first dance ended. “Richard, may I introduce Henrietta Friedlund of Quidlenburg? Henrietta, this is Richard Hartmann, the senior sergeant of the Wolverines.” They bowed to each other.
Henrietta knelt. “May I have your partner for one dance, my dear?”
Gerta looked to Hartmann. “Yes. But he has promised to dance with me again.”
Aloyse led her back to her seat.
“You are from Bohemia?” Hartmann nodded. “Some of us have been taking lessons in up-time dances at the Imperial School of Ballet here in Magdeburg. One dance we learned is an Austrian dance called the Ländler.”
“I do not know it.”
“Then with the permission of your partner, we will watch before we dance.” They stood side by side. As with most things introduced by the up-timers, some of the people embraced the dances, especially the waltz. After watching them dance it twice, Hartmann allowed himself to be brought onto the floor as they began another. Slowly, with a lot of confusion on his part, they were able to go through the dance. At one point, his face grew sad. She moved closer over their crossed arms; hands pressed together. “I do not mind if you see your wife in my place. She cannot be here, so imagine it is her,” she whispered.
Through the rest of the evening, Hartmann alternated, dancing with Gerta, then with another woman. In each case, they all admonished him that they were there to allow him the dream that it was Marta in their place. The one thing he noticed was that unlike the up-time Christmas party, no one broke in to take a dance away from another. By the fourth dance with an adult partner, they were able to teach him the interlocking arms portion of the Ländler, and everyone stood watching as he danced it with Gerta. They giggled when the arm gestures caused a lot of additional shifting because he was so much taller. When the girl began to nod off because of the late hour, Hartmann took his leave, carrying the sleeping girl.
Hartmann walked through the night with the girl wrapped in his greatcoat. It was snowing again, and he thought of what had happened. He paused at the sound of bells.
“What is it?”
He looked at the drowsy girl in his arms.
“It is the new year,” he told her.
The girl looked around, then leaned up to kiss him gently on the cheek. “Happy New Year, Richard.” Then she wrapped her arms around his neck and went back to sleep.
Hartmann looked at her with a gentle smile. For a moment, it was Marta he held, who had kissed him, and offered that greeting. Then he continued walking.