Ein feste Burg, Episode 15

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Chapter 24: Make the Deaf Hear and the Mute Speak

The North Sea off Husum, Nordfriesland

November 1634

Lorenz Melffsen looked over the water, his tears flowing. "Are you sure," he asked the captain of the fishing boat. "That this is the place where Morsum was?"

The old man shrugged. They had come here at high tide. The salt water, no longer impeded by a dam, now flooded the whole area twice a day. At low tide, the grass plains, where cattle had grazed, would emerge out of the water again, filled with mud, and dying from the salt water. The first vigorous flooding, when the dam broke during the storm, had taken all of the houses of Morsum away, including the small church.

"It really doesn't matter," his wife Helena said, hugging him around his waist, "if this is the place or one mile off. They all died somewhere near here."

EFB-E-15-nrdstrndHer parents had lived in Eesbüll, another one of the twenty villages on the island of Strand, which no longer existed. A few survivors had made it onto one of the three Halligen, which had barely survived the flooding. He could see some land to the west; Pellworm most likely. But everyone else and everything else was gone.

It was only because Lorenz had been in Tönning on the mainland with his wife and daughter, delivering an altarpiece he had carved, that they weren't dead, too. He took a deep breath. "What is it worth to be a survivor, when all the people you once knew are dead? Our house is gone, even the land where it stood. All my tools, all that fine wood, all my unfinished work . . ."

"Stop whining," Helena scolded him, her voice harsh. "We have survived. We are unharmed. We can start again."

Lorenz looked in her red, tear-stained eyes. Does she even believe what she just said?


January 1635

"This will be your empire, Sonia." Christine, landgravine of Hesse-Kassel, the wife of Johann Ernst of Saxe-Eisenach, opened a heavy double door.

Sonia Burke looked around doubtingly. The "empire" consisted of a number of rooms in one of the buildings belonging to the Jagdschloss. One of those buildings that had stood empty for three decades, since the duke had left Marksuhl after his first wife's death in 1596.

Sonia sniffed.

"We had these rooms whitewashed last summer," Christine said, "but the windows have been closed for the last three months."

"It's not too bad," Sonia said, looking around. "At least it's warm."

"There's a large ceramic oven in the cellar. It was state of the art in the late-sixteenth century. The heat is distributed through brick pipes."

"Okay, no danger of the children burning themselves. How many children will I have to care for?"

"How many can you manage? There are about fifty between three and six in Marksuhl."

"Oops." Sonia looked around again. "That's too much for a beginning. The rooms are large enough, but with me as the only kindergarten teacher . . ."

"There are some mothers willing to help."

In fact, Sonia was not really sure that she could manage that. Basically she had no experience at being a kindergarten teacher at all. When Ruben Nasi had hired her, she had taken the opportunity to get herself, and especially Bryant, out of Grantville, out of their depression after Kaylee Joy’s death, with a vengeance.

Fortunately, Erica Masaniello had lent her some books on the basics.

"That doesn't matter. You want to have a real kindergarten, not a storage facility for kids. We'll need material, toys, books, instruments . . ."

"Instruments? Do you want to teach them the violin?"

Sonia laughed. "Not really. Simple instruments to learn rhythm and sound. Xylophones, drums, pipes, that type. In the old timeline they were designed by a German composer named Orff."

"Well," Christine said, smiling. "If you don't need violins or grand pianos, it should be within our budget."

"Nevertheless, they need to be ordered and built. That takes time. And I don't think anybody makes child-safe toys at the moment."

Christine frowned. "What makes the normal toys unsafe?"

"Wood with splinters, metal with rust, poisonous paint colors. . . . Do you want me to continue?"

Christine lifted her hands in defense. "Okay, okay, I'm convinced. How many children then?"

"Let's start with ten or so of the oldest children. We can take more if everything runs well."

Until I’ve at least read more of those books.

Kindergarten Marksuhl

February 1635

"What?" Sonia Burke blurted out, her eyes examining Elisabeth Gigenagel who stood in front of her.

On one hand, Elisabeth knew what Ms. Burke was seeing. A girl in her early teens, too small and too lean for up-timer standards, barely more than a child. On the other hand . . .

"I want to become a kindergarten teacher, Frau Burke," Elisabeth repeated. "I want you to take me as your apprentice."

Since she had heard of an up-timer woman coming to Marksuhl to be the head of a "pre-school" for little children, Elisabeth had only one thought all day, and only one dream at night.

"Are you telling me you want to volunteer?"

Elisabeth had read that term already. It meant working for a short time to just get a taste for that specific job, so one could later decide. But Elisabeth had already made up her mind.

"No," she said firmly, shaking her head. "I want to start a real apprenticeship."

"How old are you?"

"Fourteen. That's more than old enough for an apprenticeship. My brother Bartholomäus started at the age of twelve. He's eighteen now, and on his journeyman tour through Germany. He can become a master soon, perhaps in one or two years.

"That is what I want to do, too."

Elisabeth blushed when she saw the scrutinizing gaze of the woman. There is no reason to blush, girl. Your request is absolutely viable. Then she tried to look very confident.

Sonia laughed. "Don't look at me like that. My son Cory is three, and he's better at it than you are."

Elisabeth blushed again. How could it be that people always thought she was defiant, when she only tried to act like a grown-up?

"I can't take you as apprentice. I'm not a master."

"That doesn't matter. Master certificates are overrated." Please don't tell Papa I said that. "Call me an employee, if you have problems with the term apprentice."

"I don't have money to pay you a wage."

"Hogwash!" Elisabeth was very proud to have learned some up-time phrases. Especially if they made the up-timer woman smile. "You don't need to pay me. Apprentices don't expect to get money. You don't even have to feed me. I can easily walk home for the night."

"Are your parents well-off?"

Elisabeth hesitated. What exactly would the up-timer woman consider "well-off?"

"If you want to work for me, you must tell me the truth. Always."

Perhaps she only wanted to know more about Elisabeth's situation and reasons?

"Papa came here from Eisenach last year. He's a Messerschmied and Schwertfeger." She saw Sonia's puzzlement. "He makes knives and swords. Um—he made swords before you Grantvillers came here. Afterward, everybody wanted to have one of these fireguns instead, so his business—um—went south. There are two other knife makers in Eisenach, who are older than Papa.

"I attended the Winkelschule in Eisenach for six years, but then I had to leave. Last year he heard about the governor's offer to finance joint ventures in Marksuhl. So he paired up with Valentin Mock, a master carpenter, and now they make silverware up-time style."

Before the up-timers' arrival, forks weren't really widespread, but now nobody dared to spoil his fingers during a meal.

Elisabeth shrugged. "He doesn't tell much about his business, but he offered to send me to the newly founded Mädchengymnasium in Eisenach in summer. That would cost him for a room and food and a chaperone. So, yes, I think his business is succeeding. Mock & Gigenagel Silverware sells well."

"And why don't you want to go to that school? There's so much to learn."

"I can read and write. Not only books, but even my brother's scrawl. I can add, subtract, multiply, and divide. I even had one year of geometry. I speak French and Latin. And I'm learning up-time English. That's more than enough knowledge for a girl."

Elisabeth saw Sonia shaking her head. Let's throw something more into the bargain.

"During the last years, I earned money by—um—babysitting in the neighborhood. I love little children. Becoming a kindergarten teacher is the best work I can think of."

Unconsciously she cocked her head. Was that laid on too thick?

"Well," Sonia said laughing. "If you want to do it right, you will have to learn more."

Elisabeth nodded eagerly.

"I don't know if the books you need to learn from are already translated into German."

"I can read English," Elisabeth said. At least more or less. "I'm a quick learner. Challenge me, Frau Burke."

Sonia sighed. "Okay," she said. "I'll give you a try. You'll be on probation for one month, then we'll talk again."

Oh, thank you, great God, I've done it. I hope I don't faint now.

April 1635

Elisabeth was on her way home after another tiring day in the kindergarten. When she passed her father's shop, she stopped. There were some people standing there she hadn't met before. A haggard man, perhaps not very old, but his face furrowed by lines of worry. A haggard woman, looking tired, her clothes tattered. A girl, three or four years old, looking around with bright eyes and smiling.

The man was talking to Elisabeth's father, his voice soft, his stance subservient. Newcomers, Elisabeth decided, looking for a job. Many of them had arrived in Marksuhl since the winter started turning in to spring.

Then she remembered that she was late, and quickly went into their house to help her mother prepare the dinner.


"The new man isn't bad," Elisabeth's father said two days later at the dinner table. "He claims that he's a master wood carver, but he has no papers to prove it."

"How can that be?" Elisabeth's mother said.

"He says that he has lost his home and family during last year's flood near the North Sea. His wife and daughter are the only survivors."

"And you don't believe him, Papa?"

He grinned. "He works for a journeyman's wage. Why should I pay him more than that?"

Because it is unfair. But that wasn't something a daughter could tell her father. Especially because "fairness" was a completely new concept in this world.

Perhaps he had seen Elisabeth's frown. His face became serious. "If he is as good as he says, I can give him a bonus. But he can't read, and he only knows the numbers up to twenty. I can't simply give him a design and expect him to produce the handles for a cutlery set on his own. So I need someone else to make a template for him.

"His wife is working well, too, but she can't read either." He shrugged. "I'm not stupid, dear daughter. I know exactly what you're thinking."


Later that evening, Elisabeth was reading the book she had brought home. It was about the "normal" development of children, and what to do to find out if a child was or was not "within normal parameters" in their development.

The book presented a number of different methods, one by using a "computer program" on a "companion CD," another with a "multiple choice quiz" on "forms" to be ordered with a mail address in "New York, N.Y." Elisabeth didn't understand many of these terms, but she copied them into her notebook to ask Sonia about. She was rather sure that a letter addressed to "New York, N.Y." wouldn't reach its target soon.

EFB-E-15-cwBut on the next page was a picture of another test. It consisted of a number of wooden blocks in different shapes, and a wooden box looking like a cow, with holes in the same shapes as the blocks. The blocks were painted in different bright colors.

Elisabeth jumped up, and ran down the stairs, the book in her hand.

Her father was sitting at the western window to catch the last rays of sunlight, working on some calculations on a large sheet of paper. Elisabeth knew that he hated nothing more than to be disturbed when working with numbers. So she waited until he drew a line under the last number and straightened, his face showing satisfaction.


He looked to her. "Yes, my dear?"

Elisabeth stepped over and perched herself on her father's lap. "Can you make this?" she said, pointing at the picture in the book.

"That's wood, not steel," he said.

"I mean, can you have this made in your shop? Can you ask Herr Mock?"

"What is this? A toy?"

How could she explain an intelligence test to her father? Better not.

"Yes, it's for the kindergarten. Please, Papa!"

"Valentin is too busy at the moment. But you can ask Lorenz."

"Lorenz? Is that the new man's name?"

"Lorenz Melffsen, yes. But you have to pay for it. I won't make an exception."

No problem. Sonia had insisted on paying Elisabeth a wage. It wasn't much, but it should be enough to pay for this box.


"It doesn't have to be so colorful," Elisabeth explained to Lorenz Melffsen. "But do you see the edges? They need to be rounded."

"Hmmm," the man answered.

"And each block must be small enough to fit through one of the holes, but large enough not to fit through one of the others. Do you understand that?"

Lorenz pointed to the top of the box. "That lid must be removable," he said in a crisp dialect. "So it can be opened, and the blocks taken out again."

Elisabeth tried to hide her surprise. She always thought that people who couldn't read or write were somehow dull, but Lorenz seemed to be different.

"And the surface must be smooth," a female voice said over Elisabeth's shoulder. The dialect told her that this had to be Lorenz's wife.

"Yes," Elisabeth said. "Frau—um—"

"Meinstorfin. But call me Helena, Fräulein Gigenagel, we're not nobility."

"But I'm not nobility either. So you must call me Elisabeth."

"A nice name," Helena said softly. "My older sister's name was Elisabeth, too."

"Is she—?"

"Dead? Yes. All our family is dead. Drowned in the great flood."

"I'm sorry."

A long pause followed. Elisabeth didn't know what to say. Then she suddenly saw the little girl sitting in a corner of the shop, playing with some wood shavings.

"Is that your daughter?"

"Yes, her name is Edda. She's five."

"Isn't the shop too dangerous for the child?"

Helena shrugged. "We have no money. We're lucky that your father has work to do for us both. We can't leave her home alone."

"I can take her with me to the kindergarten instead."

"What is that? A garden for children? What if it starts to rain?"

Elisabeth shook her head. "We've got a roof over our head. It's an English word."

"How much will it cost?"

"Nothing," Elisabeth said firmly. "It's financed by the governor."

That wasn't exactly true, because the employees were paid from the tax income of Marksuhl's businesses, and the governor only let them have the rooms for free, but Elisabeth didn't want to make it more complex than it was.


"Sonia?" Elisabeth said. She always had to bring herself to use the first name of her boss. But the up-timer woman wanted it that way.

"Yes, Beth?"

"I brought a little girl with me. Her name is Edda. She's the daughter of some of my father's employees. Her parents are both working, and she hasn't any siblings or other family. Can she stay here?"

The kindergarten hosted twenty children at the moment. Elisabeth knew that Sonia originally wanted to take only ten, but somehow the smaller brothers and sisters of the ten had suddenly appeared, too.

Sonia sighed. Then she waved her hand. "No problem. How old is she?"

"The parents say she's five, but she's very little for her age."



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