It’s the Little Things

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Grantville

August, 1632

 

To one of the up-timers, it was just a ten-foot by ten-foot storage shed behind a house on one of the hills that surrounded the town of Grantville. It was now the home of Richard Hartmann, a sergeant in what they called their New United States Army. While smaller than the average hotel room in their vanished world, it was more than enough room for him. Marta Karcher paused, catching her breath, the heavy shoulder bag she carried was filled with several small pans. The couple had gotten into the habit of having dinner together three times a week, and she was bringing it when she heard cursing.

Marta knew Richard Hartmann was from Bohemia. But she never really understood what that meant unless he was angry. As anyone who knows more than one language, when he got angry, his mind returned to what he had been raised with, which in his case was Czech.

And now he was cursing in Czech loud enough to be heard through the wall of his shack. She didn’t understand a word, but he sounded . . . upset. She sighed, walking to the door and rapping on it. “—Ruka vice—Cože? What?”

“Richard?”

There was another muttered word, and the door swung open. Hartmann nodded, waving her in. There was a small table he had knocked together to the right of the door, and on the table a calico cat was laying on her back drooling, paws idly stroking at the air as she purred and growled. Underneath and around her were shreds of a green plant. To one side there lay a torn Ziploc bag, and what looked like a pair of eviscerated mice. Marta almost screamed, but something about the mice was wrong. She came over to the table, reaching out, then jerking her hand back as one of the paws struck out to block her.

“Leave her alone. She will be like this for a while.” Hartmann took the shoulder bag and moved to the opposite side of the door from the table to unload it on the counter. Marta came over, bumping him aside, and arranged the pans like a general marshaling her army. Hartmann smiled at her back, then went to the table. When he reached in this time, the cat deigned to allow him to pet her. “I should have never left that broth out last month. If I had not, she would be someone else’s problem. Is that not right, žárlivá žena?”

The cat merely lay limp as he rolled her aside and gently began to sweep the dried herbs from her fur and the table.

“What does that mean? Is it her name?”

Hartmann chuckled. “Her name is just Kočka, cat. I called her a jealous wife. Have you noticed that if we are at the table, she must always use my lap? Or sit on the table so she can snatch butter to lick?” He picked up the bag and put the loose herbs atop it, nodding thank you as Marta handed him another. Once it was sealed, he put it in his pocket, then picked up the cloth mice.

“Why did you bring catnip into the house if you knew she would act that way?”

“I was told at the store that only half of all cats are affected by it. As for why, the store was out of tobacco, and I am told it can be smoked.”

She shook her head, serving up the stew and fresh bread. Her man was strange. But how hard could it be to buy him some tobacco?

****

It was harder than Marta thought. The grocery store had sold tobacco, so had the drug store, according to Amy, the teenager who was the cashier. “When people figured we were going to run out, there was a run on all kinds of tobacco.” She waved at the empty metal rack behind her. There were empty slots about three inches wide with tags for the brands that had been there. “We sold out in a couple of days. Sorry.”

Marta sighed. “Thank you.” She walked to the door, then stopped. She craned to the side.

Amy watched her curiously. “Ma’am?”

“There is something on the floor behind the rack.”

“Huh?” The girl came around the counter, and Marta pointed. “A couple of boxes. Wait a minute.” She hurried to the back of the store and returned with an older man. “This lady wanted some tobacco, Mr. Little, but we haven’t got any. But lookie right there.”

The man looked, then shook his head. “Get me a yardstick, Amy.” The girl hustled into the back, then returned with the item. Little tried to hook the thing they were looking at, then shook his head. “Too far.” He walked around behind the counter. “I need a hammer.”

Working carefully, he pulled the front plate off the rack and bent down. “Son of a bitch.” He felt around on the counter, found the yardstick, and turned back to what he was doing. A moment later, he stood three dusty boxes and a plastic pouch in his hands. “That kid who worked for me back in ’98 was always knocking stuff off the top of the shelf where we kept the pouches of pipe tobacco. But he usually did it on this side, not behind it.” He set them down. “Well, ma’am, we have tobacco left. But it’s old, probably stale.” He sighed. “Here.”

“How much, Herr Little?” Marta took out her purse.

“Don’t worry about it. Like I said, probably stale anyway.”

“After all you had to do to get it for me, I insist.”

Little sighed. “Ring them up at half price, Amy.” He tapped the pouch. “Tell him this should be first. Those pouches are just folded, not sealed.”

“Thank you.” She hurried out, holding her precious purchases. The pouch had a drawing of a sailing ship on it; the boxes were two different brands. Half and Half, and Mixture 79.

She was considering which to give to Richard first when her eyes saw an old up-timer sitting in a wheelchair at a table working on a carving. Curious, she walked closer. The object was a small disc, and the knife he was using tiny. Some lens on a strap around his head were in front of his eyes.

“It’s not polite to stare.” He flipped up the lens and looked up. His German was like a breath of home.

“I am sorry. I just saw you working on that. Your German is excellent.”

“Should be. This,” he waved at the world around him, “is just a trip down memory lane for me. I learned my German back in the nineteen forties.” He lifted the disc, and carefully peeled away a portion. “A German POW camp in Thalia, Virginia, Camp Ashby.” He saw her confusion. “We were at war with Germany then. I was guarding guys from the Afrika Korps and spent the whole war there. One of the prisoners was a college student who wanted to learn better English, and I taught him English as he taught me German. I think he was from Halle.”

“I am from Halle!”

He grinned holding out his hand. “Alexander McIntire.” He waved toward the building behind him. “and here is my hell away from home.”

She took his hand. “Marta Karcher.” She looked at the sign, but she didn’t read English very well. “Bowers—”

“Bowers Assisted Living Center. It’s where you go when all you have left to do in life is, you know, stop living.”

“That is a sad thought, Herr McIntire.”

He shrugged, selecting one of the array of small knives on the table, then flipping the lens back down. “Well think of it this way, I’m eighty-one, been married to the same woman for over sixty years, raised four kids, and we’re both still alive because three of them won’t let us go.”

“Three? What of the last one?”

“Evelyn is over there in the Manning Center.” He motioned across the street and further down. “She is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It makes you forget, like you’re senile. It’s worse when you’re only in your fifties. On a good day, she remembers us, but she hasn’t had a lot of good days since the medications ran out.”

“Mary Sue has it worse. Arthritis bad enough that it hurts to dress or walk. Not that it stops her. She’s a stubborn old broad. I just have no teeth left in my head, losing what little hair I have left, left hip replaced with a steel bar after it broke a couple of years before we ended up here and I have problems a gentleman doesn’t discuss with a lady. The biggest problem I have is boredom, which is why I do this.”

For several moments, he carved on the delicate piece. Then he took the magnifier off. Picking up a magnifying glass, he handed the piece and glass to her. “What do you think?”

Marta looked at the cameo in wonder. The white stone had been carved into a delicate half-profile face of a woman. “It is beautiful.”

“For Evie. She’ll be like a child at Christmas, and, at least, will remember her mother’s face better.”

Marta gave it back. Alexander reached into a pocket and pulled out another work of art. It was a pipe of some yellowed stone with a black mouthpiece that he stuck into his mouth. The bowl had been carved with a snarling ItKT-wlfwolf’s head. For a moment he patted his pockets, then sighed, taking it back out. “One problem I have is my memory these days. Been out of tobacco for almost a year, but I still carry this damn thing just in case I miraculously find some.” He handed it to Marta. “Some of my other work. Used to sell them at the tobacco shops and the local reenactments before the Ring of Fire.”

Marta looked at the carving. She could almost see the fire in the animal’s eyes, picture it lunging out of the bowl at her. She handed it back and opened the shoulder bag. “Miracles are for the big things, Herr McIntire. The little ones are something people can do,” she spread the array of tobacco out. “I bought these for my fiancé. Will one of them do?”

“I thought all of the tobacco was sold,” he picked up the one with a sailing ship. “Borkum Riff. Haven’t had that in a coon’s age.”

“These had been knocked down behind a shelf in the drug store. But I was told that one would be stale.”

She reached out, but he jerked it away as if playing keep away with a child. “I liked it back then. How much do you want for it?”

She cocked her head. “You wished for tobacco, I had it.” She shrugged. “Do you think an act of kindness is something that expects payment?”

“Not the way God works, little girl.” He peeled back the tape, opening it and sniffed. “Bourbon blend, that takes me back.” He rubbed some of the flakes. “Dry, but beggars can’t be choosers. Besides, all I need is a strainer and a pot of boiling water to moisten it up again.” He began to load the small bowl. Then he patted his pockets again and came out with a brass tube. “My dad’s old trench lighter. Lit my first smoke when I was fifteen with it. Now I can light this one.”

“Papa!” His head spun, and he put his hands in his lap defensively as a stout woman stormed toward him. She stood glaring at him. “Gimme.” She began berating him in English, but the old man raised his hand.

“Not polite to use another language around guests, Bonnie. You may be fifty, but you’re still young enough that I can tan your hide.” He looked at Marta. “My other daughter; the rude one, Bonnie. This is Marta Karcher, who gave me this tobacco, so mind your manners.”

“Charmed,” she said, though her thunderous look belied the statement. “You know it’s bad for you, Papa!”

“At my age so is living. Do you see a major hospital anywhere around here the last few years? When it’s my time, I die. It has always been that simple.” He lifted the pipe and lighter, igniting the tobacco. “So let me have some fun with the time I have left.” He blew smoke at her, causing her to retreat. “Nice young lady gives me a gift, and you have to ruin the Hallmark moment whining about me dying. I fall over tomorrow, you can say I told you so, just won’t be here to listen.”

The older woman seemed to deflate. “All right. But when that’s gone, no more. Hear me?”

“Yes, mother,” Alexander replied. Bonnie huffed, glared at Marta again, then stalked off.

“I am sure she’s the one who hid my tobacco when we first moved in here.” He jerked his thumb at the geriatric home. “Both of her brothers were miners before the Ring of Fire, and she always worried about black lung. Me, I worked at the mine as a driver, so never had that problem.”

A short while later, their conversation was interrupted when an orderly came to take Alexander back to the assisted care center for dinner. By then she had learned three different ways to remoisten the tobacco she had.

It was a short walk to work, and she arrived in plenty of time for her shift. Richard came in to tell her he was being sent to Suhl. That night as he slept, she left the tobacco for him to find.

****

After Richard had left, Marta found herself at loose ends. She would go to his shack to feed Kočka, who seemed to accept her, but that never took long. She spent time talking to Alexander and met his wife and sons. The old man was sinking into depression. He’d had half a dozen of his cameo blanks when the Ring of Fire occurred, but the one he had done for his daughter had been the last.

Up-timers were so stupid sometimes! In a typical village, everyone had something to do. The children would weed the fields, gather herbs, collect dead wood, and in the right season, find nuts, mushrooms, and fruit in the forests. The adults cooked, helped with the gathering of edible plants, weaving, for them the list was endless. And the aged? They would do everything that can be done sitting down.

But up-timers? They gathered their aged in homes. Paid others to watch and care for them, and only visited when they were in the mood. Oh, they had some things they still did, but it was all for their amusement, and usually not productive. That she had decided was why Alexander was bored. Sure he could play one of the games they had, read, listen to music, or watch television at night. But he wanted to use his hands, not sit doing nothing, to his mind. So she went in search of something to carve.

A few days later she came back to the Bowers facility, her bag stretching from the weight.

“Good day, Herr McIntire, Frau McIntire!”

“How many times have I told you, friends call me Alex?” He was smoking his pipe, sitting beside Mary Sue, a woman who reminded Marta of a sparrow, thin and flighty when she talked. “Someone says Mr. McIntire to me, and I look for my daddy, God rest his soul.”

“Ignore the old coot, Marta. Up-time they ain’t raised kids right in decades, so they are too familiar. Never taught them to respect their elders. Nice to hear old-time manners from young mouths. Any word from your young man?”

“I know the men arrived in Suhl two days ago, so they are busy.” At Mary Sue’s raised eyebrow Marta shrugged. “I work at the Gardens, and I listen. Men talk.”

“Loose lips sink ships.” At Marta’s confused look he just shook his head. “Old saying from the war I fought in.”

“Fought?” Mary Sue asked snidely. “Most you fought during the war was at the EM club on a Saturday night.”

“Thursday night. I was off Thursdays.”

ItKT-hksKnowing how they would bicker though it reminded her more of jays squabbling, Marta put the bag on the table and began to empty it. Newly-made knitting needles and crochet hooks from Kacere Knitware Kompany, yarn, and string to go with them followed by embroidery thread from Lothlorien Farbenwerk. “We find people with things to do will never get bored,” Marta told them. “You said some of the women wanted to learn to knit and crochet, but the up-time tools are rare. I found a place that makes them. I found women who were making yarn among those who have come since and bought that. And for you, my friend—” she pulled out the last of her treasure.

Fantastisches Plastik had supplied a small pile of casein discs layered in three colors. She had found the last of the knife blades (called X-Acto) at the hardware store and a stone to sharpen them. If nothing else, she could teach him or one of his grandchildren how to keep them sharp as long as possible. Most materials were too hard for the small blades, so she also found a set of gouges used for wood carving at a garage sale. When she told the woman running it that it was for a patient at Bowers, she got a good price rather than the usual what the market will bear as a down-timer.

“You are too kind to us, Marta,” Mary Sue murmured. “I will spread these around. Some of the resident women have wished for replacements.”

“Oh I am not kind,” she replied impishly. “My grandmother used to make quilts and knitted sweaters. She would sell the quilts or sweaters.” She sighed. “Though the last quilt she made was taken by soldiers before she died. If there is a market for them here . . .”

“For quilts and warm clothes in the middle of a little ice age?” Mary Sue laughed. “And made by up-timers?”

“That was my thought. I have heard of the expense of your care here and in the other two centers. Those who can work can supply money for that.”

“Then we’ll have to spread it around to them as well,” Alexander said. He nudged the discs, “And I think you liked that cameo I was making when we met. So you want me to do those as well? But who would buy them?”

“Honestly, Alexander,” Marta said tartly, “have you seen what the adel have been paying for those ‘Flintstone’ glasses? These are made of plastic, something we have never seen before, and while there are older cameos, most were made in Italy and Rome. None in Germany that I have seen or heard of. So yours will be made in Germany, of something unique, and made by you.”

He nodded, feeling the material. “At least, it’s the soft kind from when I was a kid before they made it harder. Should carve well.”

Sumner Day came out of the building to stand nearby. “Lunchtime, people.”

Marta stood. “I will push his chair if you will push hers.” They got them into the building and to the dining room.

“Join us, Marta,” Alexander said, waving.

“No, thank you,” Marta replied. “I must go to the Talkirche in Schwarzenberg.”

“But isn’t the Schlosskirche closer?” someone asked. Marta looked up. A man stood there, smiling gently at her.

“You haven’t met. Reverend Wiley, this is Marta Karcher, Marta, Reverend Enoch Wiley. He’s the minister of our church, the Free Independent Presbyterian Church.”

“Presbyterian. That is a Calvinist sect, is it not?” He nodded. “I must ask the pastor a question. However, the one in the Schlosskirche is very narrow-minded. I wish an answer that does not automatically condemn.”

“From what I know of this time, it might be hard,” Wiley commented. “But perhaps I can help.”

Marta looked down at her hands, clutching the bag. “It is about the man I am seeing, to whom I am affianced. He never speaks of God or prays that I know of. I do know from talks we have had that he thinks God actively hates him.”

“Why does he think that?” Wiley pulled out a chair to sit, then leaned forward.

“When the war began, his family farm was attacked by some of Tilly’s men. His father and older brother slaughtered. His mother raped and died from it that night, and his younger brother died of illness on the march to White Mountain. Worse yet, he died on Richard’s birthday. Then, as he fought his first battle, his sister died.

“He became a soldier in the hopes that his brother and sister would get better care. You know how camp followers are treated.” He nodded. “Instead, he was left alone, and now with blood on his hands. But he feels God took away his family for other reasons, and that he was left alive to suffer. I do not think the priest who was with the army then helped.”

Wiley leaned back. “The terms I would use to explain his actions weren’t coined in this era. Does he feel God is evil and doing this out of spite? Or hate God for this?”

She looked up shocked. “Oh, no! Richard believes in God. He accepts that God exists and believes he is good. He just feels that perhaps God does not care for him.”

“Ah. In the late nineteenth century they coined two words. The first doesn’t apply, which is dystheism, the idea that God is evil. The other, misotheism, means that God for one reason or another harbors animosity to someone on Earth.”

“Odysseus.” The orderly putting down the meals for the residents commented.

“Excuse me, Adina?” Wiley looked up.

Caught in the crosshairs, she rallied. “Well he was the guy who thought of the Trojan horse, wasn’t he? Spent ten years fighting Troy, then ten years getting home because one of the gods was mad at him?”

“I thought that was Ulysses. They made a movie about him with Kirk Douglas,” Alexander said.

“Same guy,” Wiley corrected him. “The Romans pretty much stole the Greek gods, filed off the serial numbers, and claimed them.”

Adina grinned. “Douglas is way too old for me, Reverend. But I had a thing for Armand Assante.” She pushed her small cart to the next table.

Wiley shook his head, then turned to Marta again. “Is your man a Lutheran?”

“No, Herr Wiley. He is a Catholic.”

“Then give me a few days. I’ll talk to Father Mazarre over at the Catholic Church and see what he can do.”

“Thank you.” She stood and left.

****

The Croat raid began as sheer terror for Marta. The ending was, at first, joyous that they had survived, then backbreaking as the necessary cleanup began. Anyone still alive that showed the slightest resistance was shot out of hand, as were any horses that had been too severely injured. Then came the grisly task of moving the bodies of both. Where possible, they moved the wounded first, but with so many bodies jammed in such a small area, it wasn’t always possible. A pair of flatbed trucks had been brought along with an engine hoist to lift the large carcasses. Pickups were carrying the pitiful remnants of the enemy charge away as quickly as they could be gathered.

Marta had offered to help and been assigned to gather gear, saddle rolls, bags, and tack as well as to loosen saddle girths for removal when the dead horses were taken for slaughter. If their rider was dead, the gear went into one pickup truck; the gear of those few still alive went in another.

She lifted an armful of saddle rolls and walked to the truck holding the dead men’s gear. There was a tinkling sound, and she looked down. A clay pipe. One of the bundles was only partly tied, a bullet had cut the other thong. A pouch of some soft leather fell out on top of the broken pipe, and she bent to pick it up. She looked at the leaves inside it and smelled it. Tobacco? Where would they have gotten tobacco? She put the pouch in her apron pocket and forgot about it. After her shift, she trudged over to the library to ask.

She had known tobacco came from the New World, and those who had been smoking before it ran out had waxed lyrical on the tons of it produced annually. Even their state of West Virginia had grown it, but Marion County had not. There was some grown in Spain and France, but it was also grown in Egypt, Syria, Greece, the Balkans which she found had included Croatia—the home of the Raiders, and Turkey, all within the Ottoman Empire.

Heartened, she began her search for a closer supply.

****

A few days after the Croat raid, Marta came to the center with a man in tow. Alexander was working on a cameo of Marilyn Monroe from Some Like it Hot, so he was alone for the moment. He looked up and hastily hid it. “Alexander, this is Richard Hartmann. Richard, this is Alexander McIntire. While you were gone, I have been spending time visiting him and his wife here.”

“Herr McIntire.”

“Like I told her, friends call me Alex though she is always so formal.” He extended his hand, and the young man took it. “Strong grip. She says you are a sergeant?”

“Yes, Alexander. I am usually a training sergeant, but we needed the reserves in Suhl, so I am assigned there at the moment.”

“Oh, a DI, eh? It means drill instructor. I won’t hold it against you. If you’re assigned there, what are you doing here?”

“I arranged to be sent to collect more ammunition. I felt if I came, and asked her swiftly enough, Marta would marry me.”

“And I said yes!” Marta reached into the tote bag and pulled out the form. “We were married at the courthouse as soon as we got this!”

Alexander grinned. “And ruined our fun in the process,” At Marta’s confusion, he added, “No big wedding, no reception; no cake! You know Mary Sue would have been hip deep in making it with any warning at all.”

“I am sorry, Alexander.”

“Don’t be. Just when he comes home, you can have a proper wedding in a church with all of your friends to see it.”

Hartmann glowered. “I do not see the reason for it. Force one of us to convert? Tell Marta even if she does not, the children must be raised Catholic? I will not have it.”

Alexander saw the pain in the man’s eyes. “Well first off, there isn’t a Lutheran church in town, second Father Mazzare over at St Mary’s would understand that, and third, it isn’t against the law for people of different faiths to marry here in Grantville. How much time do you have before you head back?”

“A little more than an hour. I have time to stop by the bank to put our accounts together, and take Marta to the shack with her key, so she can move her things in.”

“Then you had best hustle. Wait a minute.” Alexander looked around, “Andy! Get your butt over here!” The orderly looked up and walked over rapidly. “Quick as you can, get my digital camera, and bring it here. Scoot!”

A few moments later, Alexander had four shots of the couple. One together, another with just Hartmann, and two of Marta. For the last, he asked Hartmann to make her laugh, and caught a beautiful picture, her head back, mouth open a little as she laughed, with her eyes slitted.

As they walked away, Alexander waved to Andy again. “I know Ms. Douglas has a printer and computer. See if she can make me prints of these small enough for these.” He looked at the casein discs. All of them were two layers of a cream color with a dark almost black in the center. It would look better in blue.”Andy!”

****

Marta clung to her husband, her husband! His arm was around her shoulders, their hips bumping. She stopped as he looked at the door to his shack. “What is that?”

‘That’ was a small panel attached to the bottom of the wall beside the door. The walls were just plywood over two-by-fours which he had filled with wattle and daub inside for insulation. “Oh, it is the cat door.”

“You put in a door for Kočka?” he asked confused.

“Well yes. Did you enjoy letting her out every night? I can ask Alexander’s son to reseal it. But it will begin to get cold, and she might die.”

He looked down, smiling gently. “You have such a kind heart, and I admit I have grown rather fond of . . .” his voice died as the door opened. There, right in his path, was a decapitated squirrel. Marta gasped as he caught the corpse by the tail, and flung it into the woods. He came back, stepped in, and stopped again. The two unopened boxes of tobacco had been gnawed open, and Hartmann could see the ripped pouches. He looked around, saw the cat who was blandly cleaning herself. “You, you, Žárlivá žena!” He roared as Marta burst into laughter. Kočka ignored him, flirting her tail before vanishing into the woods. “Marta, blast it, this is not funny!”

She hugged him. “Yes it is. We will have two women in our house, my love. Deal with it,” She looked up with a small smile. “How much time do we have before you must go?”

He looked at the sun. “About thirty minutes.”

She dragged him inside. “Then I hope you are willing to be a little late.”

****

The driver noticed the big smile on the faces of both of the people heading toward him and shook his head. Some people had all the luck. Hartmann stopped at the side, kissing his wife deeply. “Do try to pick up what tobacco the little one didn’t waste.”

“I will, Richard.” Marta suddenly gasped, digging into the pocket of her apron. “Here. To hold you over.” She pressed the pouch into his hand. “Something good came out of the raid, at least.”

 

Grantville

Late September, 1632

 

Richard Hartmann walked into the Thuringen Gardens. He looked around but didn’t see Marta. He tapped one of the women carrying a tray of beers. “Pardon, is Marta off today?”

“Marta? Oh, she quit last month.”

“Quit?”

“Yes, sergeant. She got a job at the Bowers Center—” The woman spun and unleashed a torrent of invective at a patron. “She would not wish you to come in and see what this schwein just did if it were her.”

Hartmann smiled, then grabbed the man by the scruff of the neck, frogmarching him to the door, and threw him into the street. “You mean that?” he asked.

****

Marta didn’t really understand the game, but Bingo seemed to be very popular. The biggest problem she had with it was English-speakers used different sounds for the letters. She turned the basket and reached in picking up a ball. “Bay 15, Bee 15.” The residents merely marked their cards silently. She rolled the basket again, taking the second ball. She looked up as she began to speak, “Oh—Richard!” She charged around the table, running across the dining hall to leap into his arms.

For a long moment, there was silence. Then a querulous voice asked, “What was that number again?”

Betsy O’Connor took over as caller because Marta refused to let go of her husband. They went up the hill from the town, and the instant they were out of sight, she showed exactly how much she had missed him.

****

Marta purred as she hugged her husband, one leg across him. Her fingers ran across his chest, making him squirm. “May I ask a question?”

Hartmann looked down at her head. “Of course.”

She looked up. “How many women have you been with before me?” He looked at her confused. “It is just, you are so . . . satisfying to me. I hope I am not prying.”

“Oh.” He moved his arm from behind her head, both hands palm up on his chest, and one by one, he raised a finger. She watched when he went to ten, then began on twenty. Her eyes widen when he went to thirty, then began of numbers higher than that when Hartmann began to laugh.

“Oh, you!” She sat up slapping his chest. “The truth! Or I will—I will never speak to you again!”

I am sorry.” He replied. “It was just seeing your eyes grow wider every time I started again. It is four—”

“Four what? Fourteen? Forty? Four hundred?” She leaned up, “Mein Gott! Four thousand?”

Hartmann touched her face. “Four women before you, between when I was sixteen and now.”

“In truth?” she demanded.

“I was never a typical soldier. I was always quiet, gentle with children and women, and polite.” He looked wistful. “I never considered women as something to use and discard. They chose to be with me and taught me how to please a woman before I pleased myself.”

“Will I ever meet any of them?” Marta asked.

Hartmann’s face became sad. “All were women I met in winter quarters. I checked when we returned through the towns and cities where they lived. None of them are still alive.”

The phone rang, and she leaned up.

“A phone? When did I get a phone?” He asked.

She sat up. As she did her breasts rubbed his face, and he lost track of what was happening for a moment. “Since I had one installed,” She caught the receiver. “Hallo?” She plumped up her pillow, sitting up a little, which removed her body from his face. She listened, then looked at Hartmann. “Richard, Reverend Doctor Wiley spoke to the Catholic priest, Father Mazzare. He wishes to speak to you.”

Richard lay back. “And if I do not wish to speak to him?”

She looked at the phone in her hand. “I spoke to him after you left to return to Suhl. He told me to tell you this, ‘I will not condemn you for marrying the girl. I merely wish to discuss your belief that God hates you.’ ”

He thought about it. “Well, soon enough he will use force. Let us go now to get it over with.”

****

Enoch Wiley saw the man and worried a bit at his expression. Marta introduced them, and while polite, his face was still hard. He made idle small talk, and while Marta replied, Hartmann was merely a mannequin moving along with them. They got to St Mary’s and instead of going into the church or the rectory, he led them to the back. Father Mazzare was busy at his hobby, which was working on cars. Or at least he thought those were the Father’s legs that stuck out from below the engine compartment.

“Larry?”

“Oh, Enoch, give me a moment, this nut is tight—there!” There was a splashing sound, and Mazzare slid out on the mechanic’s board, setting down the wrench he was using. “We have to wait for the oil to drain.” He wiped his greasy hands on a rag. “Hello again, Marta. This is your young man?” She introduced them, and Mazzare went to a small container, scooping out a small portion of hand cleaner. “Give me a moment, son. We have to be careful about wasting the hand cleaner. They aren’t making more of it yet.” He rubbed the spoonful into his hands, then wiped them again with another, cleaner rag. Then he turned and offered his hand, which Hartmann ignored.

“I came to listen to your words, Vater. I do not expect them to help.”

“Richard.”

He looked down at Marta.

“At least do him and me the courtesy of listening.”

He sighed and nodded.

“I was alarmed when I heard you thought God hated you. May I ask why you think so?” Hartmann looked down at Marta.

“Oh, she didn’t tell me why you do, only that you believe it. Reverend Wiley also told me nothing.”

“Everything in my life the last eleven years has taught me it must be true.”

Mazzare cocked his head. “Everything?” At Hartmann’s nod, he motioned for them to sit. “Please, sit down, Sergeant. Talk to me.”

“Why? The last priest who spoke to me of it was not helpful,”

Mazzare’s face asked the question.

“When my sister died, one of the priests with the army said the requiem for her. When I asked why she had died after all I did to keep her alive, he told me God had taken my family from me and placed them in purgatory so that I would focus on killing every Protestant I met to free them; that they would escape only when either I died or every last Protestant did.”

Mazzare shook his head. “Please, sit down, Sergeant.” Hartmann did so, but he was sitting almost at attention. “I know how the Church is in this time, but if I had been there, I would have chastised the man, not you. Do you honestly think God is that cold-blooded? To take a child? To use their souls like hostages to demand your worship?”

“God is what the priests say He is. But if you listen long enough, He is not loving, but brutal and cares more about money than souls and sometimes He loves to see us in pain.”

“Do you believe that?”

“From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Hartmann shrugged, “I honestly do not think God cares about the property the Lutherans seized. Or the money the Church has lost because of it. It is not what my father taught me as a boy. But ask any Heilig Vater, and they seem to think God counts coins above a man’s life.”

“Not every priest, my son. Do you know what we called this war up-time?”

Hartmann shook his head.

“The Thirty Years War. It ended in our history in sixteen forty-eight, and if you wish to know who won it, no one did. It cost eight million lives—over a quarter of the population of what we called Germany. Most of them civilians; just people who wanted to be left alone to worship as they wished.

“Yet it did more than that. It caused a deep anger in the people who did the most dying, the people of the Germanies. It caused the rise and fall of an empire that wanted to strike back at the world, and when it fell twenty years later, a new nation tried again. That cost not a mere eight million. Combined, it cost almost a hundred million.” Mazzare listened, then motioned. “The oil is drained. I have to pull the filter, then put the plug back in so we can change it.” He motioned, “Come, I will work with my hands, and you will talk.”

After putting the plug back in, Mazzare bent over the engine. “What are you going to do now that the war is over at least for a time?”

“Me that ‘ave been what I’ve been—Me that ‘ave gone where I’ve gone—Me that ‘ave seen what I’ve seen—’Ow can I ever take on with awful old England again?” he quoted.

“Ah, Kipling. It is odd that you would have heard of him.”

“Thank Dudley Do-Right.”

Mazzare chuckled, setting down the used filter and taking out the new one. “Then you are going to stay in the Army?”

Hartmann shrugged. “It is the only skill I have, Father.”

“I understand. Hand me that bottle, please.” Hartmann looked around, then handed him the bottle of oil. “God does not hate us. People die, and God does know when they will. But He doesn’t take them to be vindictive. It is all part of His plan, and we poor humans cannot know the whole of that plan unless we were ourselves gods.”

“Then He should be clearer,” Hartmann snapped.

“That is why I am here, Sergeant.” Mazzare motioned for another bottle. “I regret that the church did not think your family worthy of their attention, and the least I can do is try in my own small way to make up for that. If you like, I can do a requiem mass for your family and pray that they have gone to heaven.”

“Thank you, Father.” He reached for his wallet.

“What are you doing?”

“I would pay for it.”

Mazzare shook his head. “After what that priest did, I think the church owes you. But I would ask for something from you.”

“Oh?” Hartmann’s face went blank again.

“Enoch tells me the old-timers at the Bowers facility were a bit upset that you didn’t have a church wedding and reception. Would you allow me to perform the ceremony?”

“Only if I am allowed to pay for that, Father.”

****

Karen Reading looked at the woman. Marta fit the term petite, less than an inch over five feet tall and built to match. She wasn’t sure she had a dress small enough to fit without serious alteration. Usually, women came with others their own age. But Marta’s attendants were a minimum of twice her age, and a couple older than that.

“So it’s a military wedding?” she asked. Karen had enough information on weddings done by the up-time Army or Navy, but they were seriously too modern for what she had to deal with. Wait a minute . . . “Your man is a sergeant, right?”

“Yes, Frau Reading.”

“Call me Karen, we’re going to have to work too hard for the next couple of days for you to be formal. Give me a minute.” She bustled back to her office. Ollie Reardon had a slew of reenactment uniforms. She dialed. “Hello, Debbie. Ollie has a sergeant’s uniform from the First West Virginia, right? Fifth? It’s all good. Could I borrow it for a wedding? Ask him, please. Thanks, you’re a lifesaver!” She hung up, then went through her list. Diane Jackson sometimes dressed for the reenactments. She dialed.

“Hello, Diane. If I remember correctly, you have a ball dress from the Civil War reenactments? Yes, the cream and green. Could I rent it from you? Outstanding! I’m sending one of my girls over there. You’re a love!”

She returned to the main room. “All right, we’re golden.”

“Do we have everything?” Barbara Reed asked. “You know the rhyme, ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.’ ”

“Took care of the old.” Mary Sue opened the book on her lap. She peeled back the plastic cover on her book of memories and took the old garter out. “I kept this from when I caught it back before Alex and I were married. If the elastic is no good, we can rig ties.”

“Something new?” Barbara asked.

Mary Sue grinned. “Oh, you haven’t seen Alex’s present for Marta!”

“And the dress belongs to Diane, so it’s borrowed,” Karen commented.

“And blue?” Mary Sue asked.

“Ollie’s uniform.”

“Ah,” the up-timer women said. Marta had no clue why they were satisfied.

 

Grantville

Early October, 1632

 

The crowd moved into St. Mary’s. Most of them were elderly. Dozens of descendants had been dragooned into moving people who needed either a steadying arm or someone to push a wheelchair.

Marta was not amused. She loved the dress, and she had hugged Alexander when he gave her the choker with the cameo of her and Richard. But the heels! She and Alexander were waiting for the musical cue. “Alexander, I will kill myself walking in these shoes!”

“Don’t worry, little one,” Alex commented. “I offered to walk you down the aisle so you can use my wheelchair for support.”

“What am I supposed to do afterward, Alexander?” She whined, “When I am on his arm instead of your chair?”

“Ask him to bend down and talk to me first.”

“All right.” Marta wasn’t sure it would help.

Suddenly Alexander stiffened. “The bride’s processional!”

The door opened. Ahead of her— her eyes locked on Richard. He was in a blue uniform with three wide gold stripes on each arm. He looked as if he were stunned by her dress.

The wheelchair helped. She had to walk slowly, and that helped her stay steady. The music started over, but no one else seemed worried. Richard stepped down, taking her hand. “Speak with Alexander, please!” she whispered. Her husband bent down, listened for a moment then nodded. He held her hand tightly under his forearm. She leaned down, kissing the old man on the cheek. Richard brought her up the step as Alex rolled his chair back to where Mary Sue waited.

She held onto Richard’s arm through the ceremony, like and yet unlike what she had seen during her life. But she listened. Father Mazzare had used the ceremony he was used to, not what either of the participants remembered. He did not use Latin. Instead, he used the German he had learned since the Ring of Fire.

But it was beautiful. Richard looked into her eyes as he spoke his own vows, and she repeated her own with joy. Then the Father had told them to kiss, and she lifted to tiptoe. She had known she was married before, but suddenly she realized she was.

Now she heard a different music, and Richard held her arm tightly as they walked down the aisle. Her feet hurt, and the first thing she would do is get rid of these damn shoes! They reached the door, and outside a voice shouted, “Center Face!” One of Richard’s students, now a newly made sergeant himself, then shouted, “Arch Sabers!” Six swords gleamed as they were drawn, then formed an arch before them.

“Richard?” She whispered.

“Walk forward, my love.” They came down the steps, under the arch as birdseed fell about them.

“Swords, to!” Behind them the arch vanished as the men sheathed them, then the men came forward to shake Richard’s hand.

He smiled, but as the one who had given the commands shook his hand, Marta heard Richard tell him, “Greif, we WILL discuss this later.”

****

ItKT-tnk“So there I was in the Ardennes. Most of the squad were either dead or had run away from the Nazis when I ran outta ammo for my BAR. I was scrounging around the bodies for more when this Tiger tank came over the hill right in front of me, his eighty-eight aimed right between my eyes.” John Aloysius O’Malley puffed on his pipe.

Marta smiled as Richard did what he was supposed to do. “So what did you do?”

The old man looked him straight in the eye. “Well I always wanted to play professional baseball, so quick as a wink I jumped up, and using my BAR as a baseball bat was just in time to hit the shell up into a high lob. It came down, landed on the engine compartment and exploded, killing the Tiger.”

“Ah” was all Richard said.

Alex laughed. “Pay up, John. He didn’t say your story was bullshit or laugh.”

O’Malley reached into his pocket, pulling out his wallet, and peeling a dollar out to hand to the older man.

“So tell him the true story about that tank.”

“There really was a tank?”

“Yep. Johnnie here was a member of the Eighty-Second Airborne Division. They were in Bastogne and held the Germans until relieved.”

O’Malley shrugged. “A German tank was rolling on my position, so I rolled aside as he came over it. I stuck a grenade in the tread on the right side, and it blew the tread off. Then I jumped up on the back deck, and as the tank commander opened his hatch, I shot him, and dropped another down, and sat on the hatch until it blew.”

“He got a DSC for that,” Alex commented. “Distinguished Service Cross. The second highest medal you can get in the Army.”

“Then why did you not merely tell me that?” Richard asked.

“My version is more fun.”

“Ah.”

“Bout time for your wedding dance, kids,” Alex reached into his pocket and handed a small box to Hartmann. “Then the wedding gifts. This one, I held out instead of putting it with the others.”

Hartmann opened it carefully. Inside the cardboard was an up-timer pocket watch with a cover. When he pressed the button it opened, and he stopped breathing. A cameo had been set in the cover. It was Marta, her hand cupping her chin. “I do not know what to say, Alexander.”

“Say thank you, and go out there and dance.”

“Thank you.”

“Must I put on those torture shoes again?” Marta asked.

“Just do it barefoot, kid. No one’s going to complain.”

****

Alexander looked at the shape before him. It looked like a block of white material, with a hole drilled in the top, and another with a bent pipe stem attached. At the moment, he didn’t have any orders for cameos, so he could start on this. With a gentle hand, he began carving the meerschaum. Occasionally he looked up at the couple now opening presents at the far table and smiled at the cheering from the residents of the home. Maybe he’d have it done before Christmas. As they headed toward the table again, he hid it. Well, not if they kept interrupting him.

 

Magdeburg

August, 1633

 

“I do not understand why we are bothering,” one of the lieutenants complained. “Worrying about the accuracy of matchlocks? They are like guessing where a raindrop will fall!”

Colonel Marcus Ludendorf who was to take command of the CPE’s Third Regiment merely shook his head. He had once been as young and stupid as the man talking. But eleven years of war had taught him better. If these new weapons, these SRG rifles, were as good as advertised, the young fool would wish he had kept his mouth shut. Of course, to paraphrase a comment one of the up-timers had made about a similar diatribe, “ignorance is skin deep, but plain stupid goes to the bone.”

A young man in the blue of the NUS Army came out, marching half a dozen men. His stripes, which the NUS used to designate enlisted ranks, said he was a sergeant. He halted them facing down the field, then with a command turned them to face the targets. He stopped in front of the officers who would be commanding the regiment, turned to face them and snapped to attention, saluting. “Mein Herren, I am Sergeant Hartmann of the NUS Army. The men behind me were chosen from my trainees to demonstrate the weapons your men will be issued. Greif!” One of the men took a half step back and held out his weapon.

“This is based on the P53 rifle used by the Army of England between 1853 and 1889. The only difference is these are modified to accept a flintlock mechanism rather than a percussion cap.” He went over the specifics of the weapon, a five hundred and thirty-grain bullet driven by sixty-eight grains of powder, with a maximum range between nine hundred and one thousand two hundred and fifty yards. He handed it back to the junior sergeant.

“Before we begin; anyone who has fired a rifle except for the twenty-two rifles I trained you with, raise your hands!” Only three came up counting Hartmann’s. “Any who have fired this model of weapon, raise your hand!” He smiled when only two, his own and Greif’s, came up. “Sergeant Greif is the one in charge of rifle training. The rest are trainees from his newest class. Sergeant, volley fire commands, range two hundred yards!”

Greif turned, and step by step took the men through loading. There was a bellow of sound and smoke as six rifles went off together. Then Hartmann led the officers down to see the bullet holes in the targets.

“Why bother?” The same lieutenant shrugged. “The fools would waste their powder; powder I would have to pay for!”

“Lieutenant, you have been told a number of times that the weapons will be issued and powder supplied by the Emperor’s supply officers,” Ludendorf replied, his tone acid.

“Still a waste.”

“When ‘arf of your bullets fly wide in the ditch, Don’t call your Martini a cross-eyed old bitch; She’s human as you are—you treat her as sich, An’ she’ll fight for the young British soldier. Fight, fight, fight for the soldier,” Hartmann intoned. At the glare from the lieutenant, Hartmann added, “in my experience with training almost anyone can learn to shoot.”

“Your experience.” The lieutenant sneered. “As if you have had time to learn.”

ItKT-whtmntnHartmann’s face went cold. “My first battle, Sir, was at White Mountain when I was fourteen.”

“Which unit?” Ludendorf asked.

“The Black Company of Pikes under Count Tilly.”

“So you have fought how many years?”

“I served every year since under Count Tilly until the Battle of the Crapper near Badenburg two years ago when the up-timers broke the Red Hand.”

“As did I until Breitenfeld,” Ludendorf commented, glancing at the noble-born young man, “between us, Lieutenant, we have been at war longer than you have been alive.”

The young man snorted but didn’t speak again.

As they mounted to ride to their units, Ludendorf motioned. “Your comment about weapons sounded as if you knew of what you speak, Sergeant.”

Hartmann took the book from his pocket. It was an up-time paperback. “A poet of the time when this weapon was used, Colonel.” Ludendorf looked at it. He didn’t read English that well, and the modern typeface made it harder. “If you leave your name with General Jackson, I will make sure you get a copy of it.”

 

Grantville

October, 1633

 

Richard Hartmann walked up to the shed, opening the door. On the table a terracotta pot had been turned upside down over a candle, and the room was nice and warm. Marta sat at the table, reading a letter. “Evening, love. Happy anniversary.”

She stood, kissing him, then waved the paper. “Wonderful news, Richard.” At his expression, she pushed him into a chair, sitting on his lap.

“Why are you so happy?”

For a long moment, she said nothing. “When you put my name on the bank account, I spoke to OPM. I know how hard it is to get tobacco, so I invested about half of the money in stocks. The Higgins Sewing Machine Company, the IBM company that is making typewriters, and in getting tobacco shipped here. So this is my anniversary present to you.” Then she showed him the paper.

He looked at the numbers. If he was reading it correctly, she had increased their savings by at least one half. “We are worth how much?”

“That is not the best.” She showed him a package. A sergeant with a rifle in the blue uniform now standard for the NUS Army, with the logo Sergeant’s Choice and the words Balkan Sobranie Tobacco beneath.

“What is this?”

“This is how the tobacco is going to be packaged. They are making thick paper that will be waterproofed, and when people go into the grocery stores, the drugstores, or the new tobacco shop, this is what they will see.”

He smiled, then opened his own pouch. The shawl was delicate, Angora wool. He draped it around her shoulders.

 

Grantville

Christmas, 1633

 

Marta walked up to the Leahy Medical Center and notified the desk clerk that she had arrived. After some tests, she was ushered into a room. The table looked like a torture device, but she had put up with it before. The doctor, the Moor, examined her, then made some notes.

“I don’t need the blood tests, Marta,” he commented, “you are definitely at least six weeks pregnant.”

Marta felt cold. If the doctor were correct, it would mean she had conceived around Richard’s birthday. If she told him, he would be worried that whatever curse he was under would strike yet again.

The doctor was busy with the medical file. “I am worried about your hips. You are not really in the best shape to have children,” He looked up, seeing the worry in her eyes, “but if you have the child at a good hospital, here or Magdeburg, you should be all right.”

She sighed in relief. She straightened her clothes, thanked the doctor, and returned to their home. She hugged Kočka, but her mood didn’t improve. She could not tell him; he would worry, and she knew it would make it more dangerous for him.

The door opened, and Richard came in, shaking the snow from his hat and greatcoat. “My love.”

She was alarmed. “What, Richard?”

He sighed. She knew him too well. “General Jackson was asked to supply training sergeants for the CoC regiments. I have been assigned.” He took her hand before she turned away, “My love, it is a billet that allows me to take you with me.”

She searched his face. “As the up-time Bible says, ‘wither thou goest,’ my love.”

“Good. I must leave right after New Year’s, but I wish you to be there in Magdeburg as soon as I can find a place for you to stay.”

“What of Kočka?” On the floor the cat looked up from her litter of four kittens.

“I have spoken with the landlady. She promised to feed her until we return.”

“Good.”

 

Grantville

January, 1634

 

Marta arrived at the Bowers facility. “Is Frau Sims in, Constance?”

“Yeah, she is, Marta. Can I ask why?”

“First, Richard is being sent to Magdeburg to help the CPE Army,” she paused, “And I went to the medical center last month. I am pregnant.”

“Oh, wow!” The receptionist leaped up, came around the desk, and picked the smaller woman up in a bear hug. “I’ll let Ruth Ann know.”

The meeting was short. Everyone would miss Marta, and she should say her goodbyes while she had the time. Marta was worried about them. Five of the residents had died either late in the last year, or in the week since New Year’s. She was worried about Alexander McIntire. He had seemed to lose heart when John O’Malley had died two weeks before and had aged rapidly.

He was working on something, and started to put it away, then seemed to change his mind. She looked at the object. It looked something like his pipe, but was a pristine white, and looked as if it needed work.

“Alexander.” She kissed him on the cheek. “What are you working on?”

“I wanted to finish it last year after the wedding; then before Christmas, but you know how it is.” He coughed. She was worried about it. Some of those who had died had caught what the up-timers called the flu, and it sounded as if Alexander had caught it. He held it out, and she took it.

The bowl and stem were unfinished, but the front was. Her breath caught when she saw her own face, laughing in pleasure. “Alexander, it is beautiful.”

“Will be when I am done.” He took it back.

“Alexander, please.” She touched his hand. “I am worried about your health.”

He sighed. “Like I told Bonnie the day we met. I’m going to die sooner or later. My ticket was punched the day I was born, with a death certificate attached.” He took out his pipe, and she pushed him out onto the porch. “I am going to die sooner or later. These days sooner seems to be a better bet.” He lit it, coughing, but gamely sucked smoke into his mouth.

“Before we came here, I had seen the world change more than you can imagine. We went from airplanes not much behind what Jesse Wood designed to ones that could fly across the oceans between continents or flying into space. We went from guns with ranges not much better than what they have now to missiles that could kill you eight thousand miles away. Went from newspapers and radios like you know from us to communications where I could have spoken to someone in Russia or Japan by picking up my phone.

“Now we’re back in time, and a lot of what could keep me alive was left up there. But I would not have lived much longer anyway. So let go, Marta. Remember all we have had, and when you see this—” He held up the pipe he was carving. “—remember that I spent my last days and hours making sure your Richard had something to remember too.”

 

May 1, 1634

 

Marta came down the stairs. One of the twin daughters of Frau Kaufmann ran over to help her down. Marta nodded to her in thanks, walking toward a table. The other daughter brought her a bowl of porridge with meat and spices. She ate it slowly, savoring the taste. Richard was off to wherever he had been sent, and she was worried about him, but her hand touched her abdomen. We will be here to greet him when he comes back.

A messenger came in. “I am looking for Frau Karcher?”

“Here.”

The man came over, setting a package perhaps five inches long by three wide. “From Grantville to you, Frau Karcher.”

She signed the receipt, then opened it.

The pipe was in a box with a velvet-fitted frame, and she lifted it out. Her own face looked at her, and she smiled. Then she picked up the paper that had been in the box.

“Marta, I am sad to say Alexander went into a coma the day he finished this for you and died three days later. Remember that as he had said, he did what he wished to do to the end.

“Mary Sue.”

Marta cried. She remembered that gentle old man and could almost see him working so hard to deliver this to her. “Marta?” She looked up as Frau Margareta Kaufmann approached. She held up the note silently, and they cried together.

Margareta wiped her eyes. “We must send it to him,” she said.

Marta caught her hand. “No, my friend. When our child breathes her or his first breath, when he has proof that God does love him, I wish to see his face.” She looked at the pipe, then asked for a piece of paper. “So I will always be with you, my love, wherever you are.” She folded it and put it in the box. “When we meet, or your birthday,” she whispered.

****

9 thoughts on “It’s the Little Things

  1. Charles Grimm

    “Same guy,” Wiley corrected him. “The Romans pretty much stole the Greek fods, filed off the serial numbers, and claimed them.”

    You might want to change “fods” to “gods”

    Great story!
    CG

  2. Paul Jacobs

    Your pacing and set-up is pro quality, IMO. I’m glad to see that there will be a follow on to this. I would be VERY BUMMED if the fetus doesn’t make it!!!!

  3. Colin Kay

    I liked it but I’m worried that I liked Johnny Zeek’s chacter who got to the same point when the author up and died on us.

    You will begin fitness training at once, d’y hear there?

  4. wiley coyote

    What a Wonderful, Real, Hillbilly Soldier Story!
    Yes, I know that there is a tragic ending, but after all, isn’t most of life tragic?
    The Details of the Day!

    Wonderful Story!
    Wc

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