A Bolt of the Blue

Bedroom of master tailor Wilhelm Bruckner

Köthen, capital of Anhalt-Köthen, Brandenburg

Monday, May 5, 1636

Her husband’s grip on Tilda’s hand was as weak as a baby’s.

“Tilda,” Willi said, even as he grimaced in pain, “Ich . . . liebe . . .

Willi never finished the sentence.

For over a minute, neither husband nor wife moved. Willi remained still because that was now his nature; Tilda Gundlachin remained still because she was thinking hard.

Tilda pulled her hand free of Willi’s, kissed him on the lips, and murmured, “I love you, too. Already I miss you.” She wiped the tears off her face, then she set her steps for the stairs.

She walked down the steps and walked through the tailor shop, headed for the outside door. But with her hand on the door lever, she stopped and turned toward the shop’s journeyman tailor—

—who held a pair of scissors in his hand, but he was looking at Tilda’s face, not the cloth on the table.

“Pray for your future, Caspar,” Tilda said. “Your life is about to change. Mine, too.”

Caspar nodded, then asked, “What will happen to the Higgins?”

“Ah, that is the question, isn’t it? The Köthen Tailor Guild would love to pass on the sewing machine to some deserving master tailor. Such as you, perhaps. Or my next husband.” Tilda frowned at that.

Tilda sighed and continued, “Unless Wilhelm has hidden a bag of gold upstairs, the Abrabanels will probably get the sewing machine. The Köthen Tailor Guild didn’t sign that contract, Wilhelm did, but the contract has outlived him.”

With those words, Tilda walked out of the tailor shop.

She returned a half-hour later. She told Caspar, “You and I will meet with the full guild at seven this evening. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? But for your own good, stay sober.”

Hall of the Köthen Tailor Guild

That evening

Master Villwock looked around the room. “So it is agreed, Master Wieland will give the eulogy? . . . Moving along, to mourn the passing of Master Bruckner, his shop will be closed for one week. Journeyman Fürnberg, step forward.”

Caspar stepped forward. To Tilda, the young man looked as excited as if lightning had struck him.

Master Villwock continued, “You have one week to create or to complete a masterwork—”

Caspar gasped. “But that’s not nearly—”

“Master Bruckner’s shop has three apprentices, does it not?” At Caspar’s nervous nod, Master Villwock continued, “We are aware that one week is not much time, so you may command the services of the three apprentices.”

“Thank you,” Caspar said.

Master Villwock held up his hand in a don’t thank me yet gesture. “Part of your test is how well you direct these boys. Understood?”

Caspar gulped; commanding apprentice Josef would be a challenge. Then Caspar asked, “When will you come to judge my masterwork?”

“Your masterwork will be judged at sundown, a week from today. The judges will be Master Cranach and Master Zimmermann, because they do not know you well. Displease either of them, and you will not be elevated to master.”

“I’m surprised that you won’t be judging my masterwork, Master Villwock.”

“That is because if either Master Cranach or Master Zimmermann blackballs you, then I will elevate my own journeyman to master, he will take over Master Bruckner’s shop, and you will be under his direction. But if I do elevate Steinacher, I will have no man say that I favored him and cheated you.”

“I will make the most of my week, then,” Caspar said.

“I am sure that you will,” Master Villwock replied.

Master Villwock shifted his gaze to Tilda. “Master Bruckner’s death presents a new problem for this guild. He has died in debt, has he not, because he bought the sewing machine?”

“A problem my Sophia is spared,” said onlooker Master Becker, “because I refuse to buy one of those unholy contraptions.”

Tilda gave him a haughty stare. “Fifteen years from now, you will be shivering outside City Hall, begging for bread crusts. Poor Sophia will shiver and beg right next to you.”

“That’s a fine tongue you have, future wife,” onlooker Master Pfeiffer said. “Maybe I won’t marry you after all.”

Master Tailor Matthias Pfeiffer was a widower, so theoretically he was a suitable match for Tilda. On the other hand, he reeked awfully.

Now the smelly man added, “Or perhaps I won’t give you a dowry, beyond paying off Wilhelm’s sewing machine.”

“Oh, am I marrying you, Matthias?” Tilda said. “This is news to me.”

“Well, figure it. What are your choices? Me, or whatever young master takes over Wilhelm’s shop. Simon Steinacher is a stripling whom you barely know. Caspar Fürnberg is in the prime of life, and him you know too well—there would be scandal if you married him. So, it’s obvious: I’m the best choice.”

Tilda glanced over at the young men just mentioned. Journeyman Steinacher was blushing, and Caspar looked amused.

Tilda looked again at Matthias Pfeiffer. “I have a fourth choice. Both my sister Louisa and I married master tailors from out of town, which is how I came here to Köthen. Somewhere out there is a tailor who lacks a wife and a sewing machine.”

“I have no plans to marry you,” said onlooker Master Griebel. “My Susanna might object.” The crowd laughed at this. Griebel continued, “But I’d be willing to buy the sewing machine from you.”

“For how much?” Tilda asked.

Griebel replied, “It’s used now, and some of its gear teeth are worn. Taking all that into account, I’ll pay . . . ”

Tilda heard his price, then answered, “Oh, I get it. You just made another joke.” Some in the crowd laughed again—Master Griebel wasn’t among them.

Tilda looked at all the masters and journeymen who were present. “But what if I sell off the sewing machine for a joke amount, as Master Griebel suggests? Then I have neither enough money to pay off the remaining loan, nor the sewing machine that the loan was for. So what do I tell the Abrabanel Bank?”

“What do you tell them?” Griebel repeated. “You tell those baby-eaters to write off your loan, if they want to stay healthy and rich.”

“If Jews are so bad,” Tilda said sweetly, “then why did the Prince of Germany marry one?—”

“Because he’s an up-timer, and up-timers are crazy,” Griebel murmured.

Tilda said, “In any case, Wilhelm made a promise to pay, and I will keep his promise. Else Wilhelm will look down from heaven and be disappointed in me.”

Tilda looked around the room again. “None of you masters buys cloth from only one seller, or even three sellers. You seek out as many sellers as you can find, then you make the best deal. I see three potential husbands in this room, but I will ask my sister to help me find more. She lives in Grantville now, and up-timers know almost everything.”

****

Once Caspar escorted Tilda back home, Tilda asked Caspar to escort her to the telegraph office. Tilda wanted to send a telegram to Louisa without delay.

During the walk, Caspar asked, “So your sister in Grantville, what’s she like?”

“Well, Louisa is a very different person than when I saw her last, which was the day after her wedding. Being a tailor’s wife is very different than being a tailor’s daughter. Then the war came to her town, and she became in one day a widow and a war refugee.”

“That’s rough,” Caspar said.

“Eventually Louisa wound up in the Grantville Refugee Center. Less than a year after that, she married again, to a man she met there. He was a blacksmith, and is now a machinist.”

“She didn’t marry a tailor?” Caspar asked.

Tilda shrugged. “She met only one refugee master tailor, who didn’t suit her.”

“I suppose all the up-time tailors were married,” Caspar said.

“Grantville doesn’t have any up-time tailors. I don’t understand this, but Louisa swears it’s true.”

“So what’s a ‘machinist’?” Caspar asked.

“Louisa has tried to explain it, but I don’t understand what she writes. Best I can figure out, a machinist is what a blacksmith turns into after nearly four hundred years.”

They heard the telegraph station before they saw it, the usch-usch-usch of a little windmill atop the building that somehow made the telegraph and the electric lights work. Tilda felt a girlish excitement: Soon she would see actual electric light bulbs in action, and she would discover for herself whether their light never flickered.

A half-hour later, Caspar was escorting Tilda home. The telegram had cost money that Tilda couldn’t spare, but this telegram had to be sent—

LOUISA GUNDLACH VERH. TÖPFFER

211 OAK STREET, GRANTVILLE, SOTF

WILLI IS DEAD.

WE OWE MUCH MONEY FOR HIGGINS.

GUILD EXPECTS I MARRY TAILOR IN KÖTHEN.

I WANT OTHER CANDIDATES.

PLEASE USE GRANTVILLE MAGIC, FIND WIDOWER TAILORS.

Bruckner Tailor Shop, Köthen

Tuesday, May 6, 1636

Tilda received a reply telegram from Louisa the next morning. She was surprised to get a reply from her sister so soon. Tilda was knocked flat when she read Louisa’s reply—

DO NOT MARRY YET, COME LIVE WITH US.

HERR MILLER (LANDLORD) AND CHRISTIAN SAY OKAY.

SEWING MACHINE NEEDED HERE.

YOU REGRET FOR LIFE IF YOU SAY NO.

Tilda was distracted during Willi’s funeral, thinking about Louisa’s telegram and how to answer it.

The biggest sticking point for Tilda was something that Louisa had written in a letter in 1634—

I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Eisleben, but if I do, I won’t see it the same. Every day in Grantville, I question some idea that I’d always been sure of. Grantville does that to you, without trying to.

Tilda wasn’t sure she wanted to get her head changed.

But by late afternoon, Tilda again was visiting the telegraph office. Her telegram to Louisa began with one American word—

YES.

—the rest of the telegram spelled out details.

Bruckner Tailor Shop, Köthen

Wednesday, May 7, 1636

“Don’t worry, Frau Gundlachin,” the blacksmith told her, “your sewing machine will be taken apart with great care.”

The morning after Tilda telegrammed that she would move to Grantville, she hired a master blacksmith to dismantle the sewing machine, and hired a master carpenter to crate it up. Because she was the widow of another master artisan, they promised her prompt service, as professional courtesy.

The work was indeed done that same day. But this didn’t mean that the masters themselves did the work.

A journeyman blacksmith did the actual dismantling, because this was only journeyman-level work. Likewise, a journeyman carpenter built the crate around the dismantled sewing machine. In each case, the master had to come “inspect” the journeyman’s work, and this drove the price up.

When Louisa had written from Grantville that up-timers “hated” guilds, Tilda had thought it strange—like hating safflowers, or beer steins. But now, paying out money that she couldn’t afford, to get expertise that wasn’t used, Tilda understood the up-timers’ dislike.

Bruckner Tailor Shop, Köthen

Early Thursday morning, May 8, 1636

Tilda had been forced to rent a wagon and horse, in order to haul her goods to Halle; the Köthen Tailor Guild would not pay for that. But the guild did hire a wagon driver. Shortly after sunrise, that hired man pounded on her door.

“Are you Frau Bruckner? I’m Bradthuhn. We need to go now.”

Bradthuhn, Caspar, and all three apprentices loaded Tilda’s Higgins and her other worldly possessions into the wagon. Tilda noticed that already in the wagon, folded and piled in a corner, were several blankets. She was puzzled who had put the blankets there, and what they were there for.

“Goodbye, Caspar. Good luck with your masterwork,” Tilda said, through tear-filled eyes. “I’m sure you’ll make a great master tailor.”

Tilda looked at fourteen-year-old Josef. “Josef, the tailor guild expects, and I expect, for you to help Caspar with his masterwork. If he fails the test because of you, you will not enjoy your life afterward. Right, Caspar?”

Caspar’s reply was to growl like a troll at wide-eyed Josef.

Tilda hugged Caspar goodbye (which undoubtedly scandalized the neighbors), then curtsied to the apprentices (even as the boys bowed to her). Tilda climbed into the wagon, then she and Bradthuhn departed for Halle.

She twisted around in the wagon seat, watching as Caspar, the apprentices, and the Bruckner Tailor Shop shrank in the distance. Bradthuhn turned a corner, and Tilda lost sight of that part of her life.

Tilda turned around to face forward then; she sighed. Bradthuhn glanced at her, but said nothing.

After a minute of silence between them, Tilda asked, “Why is it you here, Herr Bradthuhn? Why did the tailor guild hire you?”

“Because I’m an ex-mercenary,” he said, then said nothing more.

After ten more minutes together, Tilda had learned only one thing more about Herr Bradthuhn: that he spent words like they were gold.

South of Köthen

Thursday, May 8, 1636, mid-morning

The wagon was moving through the countryside now, passing between farms. Tilda and Bradthuhn hadn’t talked much.

Tilda recalled another trip to the countryside, long ago. She and Willi hadn’t used a horse; they’d walked away from the tailor shop. She and Willi had been married a year then, and in that year she’d developed true affection for her arranged-marriage husband.

Sometime during their trip to the countryside, Tilda and Willi had wandered over to a haystack—in particular, to the side of the haystack that the farmhouse couldn’t see.

Sometime after that, Tilda had screamed—loudly enough to upset the birds nearby. Both Tilda and Willi had smiled for the rest of the day—Willi’s smile had been smug.

Now in the wagon with Bradthuhn, Tilda started laughing at the memory of squawking birds—but then she started to sniffle.

Oh, I miss Willi so much!

Just as he had done early that morning, Bradthuhn looked at Tilda but said nothing.

Teacher’s Lounge, Grantville High School

First Lunch, Thursday, May 8, 1636

Up-timer art teacher Stephanie Turski was listening as Dwight Thomas told an interesting story—

” . . . Had this great idea: We take up a collection, buy the Mayflower, tow it to Lübeck, and make a floating museum out of it. But it turns out, I’m thirteen years too late.”

“Why? What happened?” Stephanie asked. “Somebody sank it? Lost in a storm?”

Dwight looked around at his listeners. “You all ready for this? In 1622 the Mayflower‘s captain died, and in 1623, they tore the ship apart for scrap lumber. Somewhere in England right now, there’s a barn that used to be the Mayflower.”

Drama teacher Shackerley Marmion shook his head. “I do ‘get it’ not. Yon Dissenters”—Pilgrims—”in 1620 were not the first royal colony. So wherefore be the Mayflower so beloved of you Americans?”

Biology teacher Tony Mastroianni replied, “Because aboard ship they wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact. That’s the great-grandpappy of the USA’s Constitution.”

Dwight nodded. “The Mayflower Compact was signed by all free adult males, and they pledged to obey laws made by majority rule. Which was good, because the location of the Plymouth colony was technically illegal, and so some colonists had been claiming they were no longer bound by laws of the crown.”

Shackerley nodded. “So this doth explain the novel what be in the town library, concerning the wife of the Mayflower captain.”

Stephanie said, “I don’t know what book you mean, darlin’. But then, all sorts of strange books have been donated to the libraries in the last five years.”

He replied, “But ’twas a ‘bestseller’! It doth so claim upon the front cover. The Mayflower Madame. Truly, doth none of you know it?”

Shackerley’s words resulted in complete silence. Embarrassed silence. Tony cleared his throat and said, “Um, it’s Madam, not Madame. That book was written by a woman who was a member of the Mayflower Society, who also ran a brothel in New York City.”

English teacher Leah McDougal gave everyone a secretive smile. “Know what I heard? I believe it, too. Geri Kinney tried to check out that very book, Mayflower Madam—”

“Oh please,” French teacher Nicole Hawkins said. “Geri Kinney read books? When did this start?”

Leah said, “It’s the only book she ever tried to check out from the library, the story goes, and that part I believe a hundred percent! Of course, when she asked to check out the book, Marietta or one of them told her, ‘We don’t lend out books anymore.’ ”

Shackerley asked, “Geri Kinney, who be—”

Gilchrist O’Quigley, chemistry lab assistant, replied, “Geri Kinney was the only lady of easy virtue amongst up-timers. She was murdered in Jena, six months afore thou didst leave England.”

Stephanie slapped the tabletop. “Can we please change the subject away from that whore? Would y’all please talk about anything else?”

Everyone stared at her. Because Stephanie Turski being less than cheerful was like Cora Ennis refusing to share gossip—theoretically possible, but nobody ever expected to see it.

Elaine Onofrio squeezed Stephanie’s hand. She alone understood why Stephanie had blown up like that.

Art Class, Grantville High School

Right after Final Bell, Thursday, May 8, 1636

Stephanie was cleaning brushes at the sink when she heard a knock at her open door. Then she heard—

“Good afternoon, fair Stephanie. Art thou encumbred for the nonce, or hast thou moments free to aim hither thy shell-pink ears and jewel-sparkled eyes?”

“Hm, speaks Elizabethan,” Stephanie said to the brushes. “Speaks flowery Elizabethan. Speaks flowery Elizabethan to an almost-fossil who’s nine years older than he is. Who at GHS could this possibly be?” Then she called over her shoulder, “Give me thirty seconds, Shack darlin’.”

Roughly thirty seconds later, Stephanie nodded at the brushes, then turned toward her classroom door. Standing just inside the classroom was Shackerley Marmion, the GHS drama teacher for over a year now. But he was also in Grantville encyclopedias as a playwright, and Shackerley was writing new plays in Grantville. Standing next to him was a blond teen down-timer girl.

By May 1636, all the “bottle blondes” had run out of bottles. If this girl had blond hair in 1636, it was the real deal.

The other thing that Stephanie noticed about the teen: She was as tall as Stephanie herself was. This made the girl a rarity.

Now Shackerley made a sweeping gesture, using both hands, to refer to the girl towering over him—

“Dear Stephanie, this be Frida Löfström, who will play Barbie Trenchard in Our American Neighbours. She be her of whom I spake last week, who will anon require thy most generous loan of thine own long-limbed raiment, for unto seeming her part. For alas, our school stage be as short of coin as any troop of players beyond the sphere-shaped cliffs of Grantville. Alas redux, Frida here is like unto a giantess, e’en amongst daughters of the future.”

Which translated to: This down-time Swedish girl is going to play an up-time girl, so she has to look the part, but we can’t afford to commission a costume for her, and the dress rehearsal is only days away, so there’s only one person on the planet who will have up-time clothing that will fit this tall girl, so PLEASE help us out.

Stephanie smiled at Frida, who replied by starting a curtsy, aborting the curtsy, then sticking out her hand. “I am pleased to meet you, Ms. Turski.”

“Oh please, sweetie! ‘Ms.’ is for Melissa Mailey, not me. If you’re going to wear my clothes, call me ‘Stephanie’ after hours.”

Stephanie added, “Hope you don’t mind blue.” She patted her hair, whose factory-original color had been chestnut. “Blue looked good with my hair, back in the day.”

“Oh, not problem!” Frida exclaimed. “Blue clothing go with yellow hair, make Swedish colors. I am Swedish, I look Swedish on stage. Tusen tack!”

“Don’t thank me yet. Whatever I find for you will probably be really out of fashion—1988 or even earlier. I got rid of a lot of clothes newer than that in 1997.”

“Indeed?” said Shackerley. “Mayhap therein doth lurk a tale?”

Shackerley looked like he was trying to connect 1997 and Geri Kinney.

“Not a big deal, darlin’,” Stephanie said to him with a smile. “But now I’ve got two stomachs on legs who are waiting impatiently for me at home. Frida, sweetie, don’t you worry. I’ll have you looking good on that stage.

“Unless you nick yourself shaving,” Stephanie added, smiling mischievously at Frida. “You think everything about being an up-timer is wonderful? Sweetie, you’ll need to shave your legs before every performance—and you and I have more leg to shave.”

Frida walked out of the art classroom laughing, and Shack said nothing more about 1997 before he left with Frida. It seemed that he believed Stephanie’s downplay of that year.

But Stephanie had lied to Shackerley Marmion. The year 1997 had been an awful time for her.

Grantville, West Virginia

October, 1995

Larry Turski walked in the front door grinning. “Hey, Steph, guess what Kyle announced today?”

Stephanie’s husband Larry was the service manager at Wilson Ford in Fairmont. Kyle Hamilton owned the dealership.

“Good news, darlin’?” Stephanie asked.

“Yeah, you could say so. Rob Herndon—he’s the sales manager—is going to some Chevy dealership in Morgantown. Which means his slot is open in two weeks. Kyle said today he was gonna promote somebody inside, and I’m sure I’m his man.”

“Who else is up for sales manager besides you?”

“Eric, Brad, and”—Larry shrugged dismissively—”somebody named Maria, supposed to be our second-best closer.”

Stephanie shook her head. “Remind me—”

“Maria Whatzername, only reason she’s a candidate is because Rob Herndon recommended her for promotion, instead of Johnny. But no way is Kyle gonna give the sales manager job to a woman, especially when this means pissing off our number-one closer. Eric Clarke is the finance and insurance manager. Gets a happy tingle whenever he picks up a calculator. No way is Kyle giving the sales manager job to a nerd. Brad Ferris is the body shop manager. He’s always clowning around during manager meeting. He’s no worry either.”

” ‘Clowning around’?” Stephanie said. “Was he the guy who wore the elf costume, last Christmas party?”

“Yeah, and maybe I should remind Kyle of that. Brad looked ridiculous.”

Stephanie didn’t reply to that, but she started to worry.

Christmas 1994, a drunk used-car salesman named Herb had been using every sleazy argument he could think of, to talk thirty-one-year-old Stephanie into walking out to the dark back porch with him. Stephanie had been considering unladylike options when Brad the Elf had walked up. Thirty seconds and two well-chosen jokes later, Brad the Elf had rescued Stephanie from her wolf and was escorting her back to her husband—

But Larry, so far as Stephanie could tell, had never noticed anything wrong.

Ten months after that Christmas party, Stephanie caressed Larry’s face and said, “I’m sure you’ll be the one Kyle picks, Larry darlin’.”

Lying is a form of acting. Stephanie had acted in six plays in high school, three plays in college, and one scene in an unreleased movie; so in October 1995, she could convincingly lie to her husband.

December, 1995

Larry had not gotten the promotion. Brad Ferris had been sales manager at Wilson Ford for over a month.

When Larry walked in the front door, Stephanie greeted him with a cheery “How was your day, darlin’?”

“Sucky, totally sucky. Mark was out sick again, the customers were idiots, and Kyle embarrassed me in manager meeting.”

“Oh?”

“Fearless Leader has this rule that if a car needs repair or body work over a thousand bucks, we’re supposed to notify the sales manager so he can try and sell the customer a new car.”

“Gotcha. So . . . ?”

“This morning, Boss Kyle said in front of all the other managers that Joe Bob”—the body shop manager—”was doing his part, but I haven’t called Brad once in the past month. Jeez, Kyle even said, ‘Remember, Larry, we’re all team players here.’ ”

Stephanie bit her lip. “Is that true? What Kyle said?”

“Jeez, Steph, I got work to do! And if Brad needs me to pass on sales leads to him, he’s not much of a sales manager, is he?”

Hearing Larry’s words, Stephanie worried.

May, 1996

When Stephanie came home from school, what she saw in the driveway puzzled her.

First of all, seeing anything at all in the driveway was a surprise. Larry wasn’t due home till 5:30 at the earliest, and 6:00 was his usual time home.

Secondly, the truck wasn’t the shiny blue F-150 demo that Larry usually drove. The truck in the driveway looked like it had been driven to Guatemala and back.

Stephanie found Larry watching cartoons with four-year-old Seth and twenty-month-old Aaron. The boys were enjoying the cartoons, but Larry’s face was wooden.

Larry picked up Aaron and moved the boy off Daddy’s lap to the floor. “I need to talk to Mommy,” Larry told his son. Larry walked into the kitchen, Stephanie following.

“Where’s the demo? In for repairs?” Stephanie said. Smiling, she added, “Not to worry, I hear the service manager—”

“Kyle took the demo back. I used part of my severance to pay cash for this 1988 piece of shit.”

Stephanie gasped. “What happened?”

That morning, Larry explained, once again he’d belittled Brad Ferris in manager meeting. But this time, Kyle had spoken up—

“Larry, four people went up for that promotion. Brad got it. Eric didn’t get it, but he still works fine with Brad. Maria Signorelli didn’t get it either, but she works fine with Brad. You? You’ve been on Brad’s case nonstop since November. Trouble is, every time you talk like Brad is an idiot, you’re saying I’m an idiot too, because I picked him. I’m tired of manager meeting giving me a bellyache. Larry, you’re fired.”

Now in the Turskis’ kitchen, Larry ranted for several minutes more. The gist was: He himself was totally blameless.

Stephanie thought this was the most awful day of her life.

A few days later, when Larry got a job in Grantville, working for Jay Barlow’s Subaru dealership, Stephanie thought that life had gotten a little better.

Grantville, SoTF

Thursday, May 8, 1636

Once Stephanie got home from the high school, she discovered that thirteen-year-old Seth was listening to music in his room, and ten-year-old Aaron was out playing a ball game with friends.

She came into Seth’s room and asked, “How was your day, darlin’? Everything okay?” When he nodded, she said, “I want to look for some stuff in the attic, then I’ll start dinner.” Seth gave her a thumb-up.

Once Stephanie climbed stairs to the attic, finding 1980s-era blue clothing was not the problem. Sorry about the mothball smell, sweetie! Stephanie thought at Frida. Nope, the big, huge, humongous problem in the attic for Stephanie was not to think about the red footlocker.

A red footlocker that had waited patiently in the attic since November, 1997.

Stephanie in 1636 glared at the footlocker, mentally ordering it back to West Virginia. But the footlocker stayed where it was.

Then she thought, You’re being childish. It’s only a bunch of dumb cloth. It was high time she moved past that part of her life.

Stephanie walked to the footlocker, squatted down, unsnapped the latches, and lifted the lid.

****

What was inside the footlocker in 1636 was the same as what Stephanie had put there in 1997: four sewing patterns, each to make a denim jacket for someone in the Turski family; four more sewing patterns, each to make denim pants for someone in the Turski family; snaps; and zippers.

At the top of the pile was three-year-old Aaron’s denim jacket, half-complete: shoulders, back, and one sleeve. This was as far as Stephanie’s grand and glorious sewing project had progressed.

At the bottom of the footlocker, neatly folded, were sixteen yards of denim. Stephanie had bought all that back when she’d been a naive fool.

Wait, hold on, stop the train, Stephanie thought. I have sixteen yards of uncut denim? In 1636?

Stephanie slammed the lid shut, latched the latches and, grabbing the footlocker by one of its end handles, dragged it to the attic stairs. With a few bumps and thumps, she got the footlocker downstairs and into the bedroom hallway.

Seth came out of his own bedroom then. “Hey, Mom, what’s going on?”

Without waiting for Stephanie’s permission, he unsnapped the latches on the footlocker and threw open the lid. “Whoa, there’s like a ton of blue-jeans cloth in here!”

“Yeah, it’s a sewing project I’d just started in ’97. I was working on it both to cheer up your father, and because money was tight that year.”

“Hold on, how was sewing clothes supposed to cheer Dad up?” Meanwhile, Seth was taking things out of the footlocker and looking at them.

“He was working at the Dollar Store and we were paying the bills only with the money I was bringing in. Then he was saying, ‘I’m not a man anymore, I can’t provide for my family.’ And the sewing was my way of saying, ‘You’re my husband, and you’re man enough for me to do wifey things for you.’ ”

“The Dollar Store, I never understood that. Why was Dad working there when he moved out? What happened to his job at Barlow Subaru?”

“That’s a long story, darlin’.”

Seth held up a piece of thin brown pattern-paper. It had been cut into a strip only two inches wide. “Um, Mom, I don’t know much about sewing, but this isn’t supposed to be like this.”

“That’s for either your father’s denim jacket or his denim pants. At the time, I was mad at him.”

“Why? What did he do?”

Stephanie sighed. “That’s another long story. In the meantime, help me carry this downstairs.”

****

Minutes later, Stephanie and Seth were drinking G-rated apple cider in the kitchen.

Seth asked, “So Mom, why’d you cut up all of Dad’s patterns? And stop work on his project?”

“Darlin’, don’t you have homework to work on?”

“C’mon, Mom, give me something. You don’t usually get pissed at stuff.” Seth smiled and added, “Even when Aaron deserves it.”

She raised an eyebrow. “While you are a perfect angel?”

“Will you spill it, yes or no? No smokescreen.”

“Fine. I bought the denim, I bought the patterns, and started with Aaron’s jacket, since that was small and simple.”

“The good part, Mom, the good part.”

“Elaine Onofrio told me I’d done something wrong, and I’d need to do Aaron’s jacket over. Before I could remember to buy more denim in Fairmont, your father did something really, really stupid. Which is when I threw him out and filed for divorce. Of course, I quit working on the sewing project then.”

“What did Dad do stupid?”

“Nuh-uh, I’m pleading Mom Privilege. But looking back from years later, I see that your father was never himself after Barlow fired him.”

Seth’s eyes went wide. “Jay Barlow fired Dad? I thought Dad quit Barlow Subaru.”

“No, Seth. Larry was definitely fired.”

“Poor Dad,” Seth said. “That is so sucky, you know? This explains a lot about Dad in his last months with us.”

Stephanie looked at her son like he were a flying monkey. How does Larry getting fired by Barlow justify him at the swimming hole with that teenybopper Goth whore Geri Kinney?

****

“We’re rich!” Aaron said at dinner. “Or, we’re gonna be rich, Mom, after you sell all that denim.”

“Maybe we’re rich, darlin’,” Stephanie said. “I haven’t figured out who to sell it to, or where to sell it.”

Seth grinned. “That should be ‘whom to sell it to,’ Mom. Miss MacDougal says so.”

Stephanie stuck out her tongue at her smart-aleck son, then said, “I don’t know what to do, and I don’t think there’s anyone who can advise me. One thing’s for sure, I don’t want to blow this.”

“I know what to do,” said Aaron. “Send a telegram to Princess Kristina. She’d pay top dollar for all of it.”

“That’s an idea,” Stephanie replied. “But she probably has lots of fancy clothes already. Shouldn’t somebody else get a shot?”

“I ask just one thing, Mom,” Seth said. “Don’t sell it to any merchant from Venice. The guy who bought those Barbies is set for life!”

****

A few minutes later, Seth looked at his younger brother and said, “I learned something bad today. Remember how we always wondered why Dad quit Barlow Subaru to go work at the Dollar Store? Turns out, Dad didn’t quit, he got fired.”

Aaron asked, “Who fired Dad? Jay Barlow? Or someone else?”

Stephanie said, “Barlow himself, count on it.”

“That’s one more reason the Hungarian guy did the world a favor,” Aaron said. Aaron’s right hand wielded an imaginary sword to cut the hand off an imaginary Jay Barlow, then to slice his throat.

“So what happened, Mom?” Seth asked. “Why did Jay Barlow fire Dad?”

“Well, the day after getting fired from Wilson Ford, your—”

“Hold on, Dad got fired from a second job?” Seth said.

“Where’s Wilson Ford?” Aaron asked.

“Wilson Ford is in Fairmont, darlin’. Seth, your father got fired from Wilson Ford before he got fired from Barlow Subaru.”

“Gotcha. Now back to the story.”

“Anyway, the day after getting fired from Wilson Ford, Larry went straight to Lou Prickett Ford. But Chad Jenkins couldn’t offer Larry a thing, except for floor sales.”

Dratten das,” Seth replied, which was Amideutsch for “drat.”

“Maybe, maybe not, darlin’,” Stephanie replied. “Nowadays, Chad and Chip are fine men—lots to admire in those two. But back in the twentieth century, Chip the son was a blowhard who thought he was God’s gift. I believe a man bears responsibility for how his son turns out, and besides being a bad father, Chad was a booby prize all on his own. If he was selling you a car, he’d rip out your lungs and then sell them back to you while you were trying to breathe.”

“What about moms?” Aaron asked. “Are moms to blame for how their sons grow up?”

“As much as dads are,” Stephanie said. Then she gave Aaron a big smile and said, “So I’m very relieved how fine you and Seth are turning out.”

Seth gave her a thumb-up, but then he said, “Okay, so Dad couldn’t get a job he liked at Prickett Ford. So then what happened?”

“Next he went to Trumble Buick-GMC, because they had the biggest lot in Grantville. Again nothing, except for the ‘opportunity’ to be a car salesman. Lowe’s Chevrolet? Zilch. Then Larry talked to Jay Barlow.”

“Who gave Dad a job.”

Stephanie rocked her hand. “Barlow didn’t have any opening for a manager, he said, but he did have an opening for a service writer. He told Larry he was going to do him ‘a favor.’ Barlow would pay Larry the same commission as the other service writers, plus pay Larry a quarter an hour in bonus.”

Seth looked puzzled. “That wasn’t a good thing?”

“At first we thought so. Then Larry realized that Barlow Subaru wasn’t getting much business, so their service center wasn’t getting much business. Mainly because people in Grantville weren’t hot for foreign cars. But add to that, everyone had heard Barlow was a slimeball. Turned out, they were right.”

“How so? What did he do to Dad?”

“Barlow had booze in his office. When he got drunk, he’d pick fights with his employees, screaming at them in front of other people.”

“What a turkey,” Aaron said.

“He sure was. Anyway, two months after Larry started there, Cyril Fodor up and quit. ‘Bernard and I are starting up Fodor Brothers Auto Fix and Body’ is what he told most people, but ‘It’s either quit now, or wear an orange jumpsuit for half my life’ is what he told Larry. When Cyril left, Larry became service manager in all but name. This was in July of ’96.”

“Barlow didn’t give Dad a promotion officially?” Seth asked. “That’s sucky.”

“Nope, Barlow didn’t give Larry the title, or bump his pay. At first Larry gritted his teeth and said nothing. He had to.”

Aaron said, “Sweet guy. I heard Noelle Stull tell somebody at Saint Mary’s, Jay Barlow intended to shoot her down like a dog.”

Stephanie nodded. “He probably expected she’d stand there and let him shoot her. When the Hungarian guy said no, Barlow probably planned to shoot him too—with the Hungarian guy letting him, of course.”

Aaron’s smile was bloodthirsty. “Things turned out different for ol’ Barlow, didn’t they?” Aaron started humming “Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts.”

Stephanie nodded. “Let that be a lesson to you, darlin’. When you act nasty to people, not everyone has to take it. And there’s always someone better than you at acting nasty, if you make him want to.”

Seth said, “Get to the nasty part. Dad getting fired.”

“Larry worked at Barlow Subaru for eight months, and was unofficial service manager for six of those. Then in January of 1997, he was shooting the breeze with a car salesman about why they were selling so few cars. Barlow Subaru was actually selling more used cars than new Subarus. The salesman was blaming Subaru of America, and their ad agency, and ‘nervous Nellies in Grantville,’ yada-yada-yada. Larry said, ‘No, the problem is, the whole town knows our boss is a crook.’ ”

“Wow! Dad really said that about Jay Barlow? At work?”

“Well, yeah. There was a rumor for years that Gil Kinney was stealing cars and chopping them for parts, and Barlow was fencing the parts.”

“Probably true, considering how Gil Kinney died,” Seth said. Sometime in May 1634, Kinney had been buried in a shallow grave in Bavaria. He’d been stabbed eight times.

Stephanie continued, “Your dad said Barlow was a crook, and somehow word got back to Barlow. The next day, your father got fired again—second time in eight months. Larry getting fired from Barlow Subaru kicked off the Year of Hell.”

Seth did the math. “Dad got fired in January ’97, and in November ’97, a week before Thanksgiving, Dad moved out. So that time in between, it was hell for you?”

“Big-time hell, you bet.”

Seth asked, “How does Geri Kinney fit in with this?”

Stephanie gasped. It was the question she never wanted to answer from one of her sons. Carefully she said, “Why do you mention that name?”

“Mom, you know Geri Kinney?” Aaron asked. Aaron would have heard about her from all the news coverage of two years ago.

“Some things on the news aren’t intended for children, Aaron,” Stephanie said. “You’re too young to know about her.”

” ‘You’re evading the question, darlin’,’ ” Seth said, throwing Stephanie’s own Mom-words back at her.

“Y’all both have uneaten cabbage on your plates,” Stephanie replied.

Halle, SoTF

Thursday evening, May 8, 1636

The Halle Tailor Guild arranged for Tilda to spend the night with Master Tailor Fieker and his family. As for the wagon, its cargo, and Bradthuhn—

“You go inside, Frau Gundlachin,” Bradthuhn said. “I’ll sleep here in the wagon.”

Indeed, Bradthuhn was volunteering to sleep in the wagon, with the horse hobbled in front of Fieker’s Tailor Shop. That’s what the blankets were for, it turned out.

Tilda was horrified. “Sleep in the wagon? You’re not a dog, you’re a man!”

Of course, they both knew that Tilda couldn’t afford to put the wagon and horse in a stable for the night, much less pay to put Bradthuhn in an inn.

Bradthuhn looked down at her from the bed of the wagon; he shrugged. “I’ve slept in worse places. At least it’s dry.”

Bradthuhn would be sharing the wagon bed with the crated Higgins. Tilda pointed to it and said, “Shouldn’t we bring this inside, so you can sleep more comfortably? Besides, if the sewing machine gets stolen, I’m ruined.”

Bradthuhn said flatly, “To steal this, they’ll have to sneak past me. Nobody will steal from you.” His eyes were dead when he said that.

Tilda gave up then, thanked him, and went inside.

Of course, Tilda’s sewing machine quickly became the dinner topic—

Master Tailor Fieker said, “I’ll buy a Higgins when the price is reasonable. Right now, the price is robbery.”

“What’s ‘reasonable’?” Tilda asked. “I’m told that some parts can be made only with up-time machines.”

Frau Fieker replied, “That’s what those greedy up-timer children have told their salesmen to tell you. Even if that’s true, the price can be cheaper, I’m sure. Tailors like your Wilhelm who buy a Higgins, they’re being squeezed by those children.”

The Fieker children’s attitude was opposite to their parents’. Both boys and girls hit Tilda with a blizzard of technical questions about the sewing machine, and the children closely examined Tilda’s machine-sewn dress.

Halle

Friday morning, May 9, 1636

Bradthuhn and the wagon took Tilda to the Halle train station. Bradthuhn and a train-station worker unloaded the wagon, and carried everything to the “Baggage and Freight Check.”

Tilda then smiled at Bradthuhn, and gave him heartfelt thanks for all his help. He grunted, and walked back to the wagon.

A minute later, Tilda gasped. “That much?”

Tilda nearly choked when she learned the cost of getting herself, the sewing machine, and her other worldly goods to Grantville.

As Tilda waited for the train, she thought, I wonder, does Grantville has a cathedral that I can sit and beg in front of?

Deep in thought, Tilda barely noticed the two up-timers, even though they were the first up-timers she’d ever seen. The up-timers were a man and a woman, and they were each wearing the blue pants that Tilda had heard tailors discuss so much.

Teacher’s Lounge, Grantville High School

First Lunch, Friday, May 9, 1636

Shackerley Marmion was already at the table when Stephanie walked in, carrying a cloth shopping bag. Stephanie stopped by Shack and said, “Here you go, darlin’. As promised.” From the shopping bag, Stephanie removed two folded-up blue garments and put them on the table.

“Wherefore two?” Shack asked. “She can but one wear upon the stage.”

“The top one’s a gift. A WVU Mountaineers sweatshirt, blue-and-yellow. She’ll like that. Actually, they’re both gifts, since I can’t fit in this blue dress anymore.”

Stephanie took her seat at the table and dumped out the rest of the shopping bag’s contents, her lunch, as Shack unfolded the sweatshirt and looked at it.

“What doth mean Mountaineers?”

“That’s poet talk, Shack,” said Tony Mastroianni. “The classy way to say hillbillies.”

Everyone smiled at that, then Stephanie said, “Guess what else I found when I was in my attic yesterday.”

Stephanie explained about finding the footlocker with the denim in it.

Nicole Hawkins asked, “So why’d you stop? You sewed half of one denim jacket, then you quit the whole shebang. Why?”

Stephanie blushed. “Well, I screwed up. I sewed that much, and then Elaine here, um, asked me, ‘So how’d you wash all that denim? Cut it into pieces and wash everything in the bathtub, or hang it lengthwise on a clothesline and blast it with the garden hose? What is it, twenty yards?’ I said, ‘Eighteen yards, and I’ve used two up. Why would I wash it?’ ”

“Shrinkage?” said Tony Mastroianni.

“Bingo, that’s what Elaine said,” said Stephanie. “Duh! Then Elaine said, ‘Plus, if you sew it without washing first, the seams might pucker when you do wash it.’ I decided, next time I was in Fairmont, I’d go to the fabric store and buy two more yards of denim. For a while I didn’t have the free time to buy those two yards, then personal stuff happened. When the drama was over, I’d lost all interest in the project.”

Elaine Onofrio reached over and squeezed Stephanie’s hand.

Art Class, Grantville High School

An hour later

The end-of-period bell rang, and the students rushed out of class. Janice Ambler walked in, as fast as her sixty-one years would let her.

“Is it true?” Janice asked Stephanie. “You have no-kidding, for-real denim at your house?”

“Uh-huh, sixteen yards,” Stephanie said. “Why, sweetie? You have a rich uncle who’s hunkerin’ to buy it?”

“No, I want to film it! Can we bring a video camera to your house after school?”

Stephanie thought this would lead to her house getting burglarized. She replied, “How about I go home and get it, bring it back here, and you video me here in the art classroom? All that dark blue will look great with all the greens, yellows, and reds here.”

Janice laughed. “Not to mention, the hot-pink heart that someone painted on the wall! Okay, after school, we’ll come here to the art room and wait for you to return with the denim.” With those words, Janice left.

By now, the classroom was half-full with the next period’s class. Elisabeth Hahn asked, “Are you doing something with television now, Teacher Turski?”

“Yes, sweetie, I’m going to be on television. On the news!”

Elisabeth’s eyes went wide.

****

Hours later, school was over, but child art prodigy Mary Timm was in the art classroom when Stephanie returned with the blue cloth. The down-timer child got drafted to help demonstrate how much blue cloth Stephanie owned for the TV camera.

Folded in half, the denim ran from one corner of the classroom almost to the opposite corner, making a dark-blue road that was five feet wide.

Grantville Train Station

Friday evening, May 9, 1636

Tilda was amazed. In the old days, it would have taken two or three days of torturous travel to go the sixty miles from Halle to a place near Rudolstadt. Yet here she was, with departure and arrival on the same day, and it wasn’t even sundown yet. Trains are wonderful, she decided.

Tilda stepped off the train and thought, I hope I’ll still recognize Louisa—

“Tilda! Tilda! Over here!” a smiling, plump woman yelled.

Sometime during the years after her first wedding, Louisa had become a hugger. Tilda got squeezed by her sister, then Tilda was introduced to Louisa’s second husband. Christian had a trimmed beard and a ready smile.

Hanging back were two up-timer men. Louisa introduced the older man as Ken Miller, Tilda’s new landlord. Herr Miller introduced the limping, blue-eyed man with him as “Jimmy.”

The Turski residence

Friday night

Every Friday night, Stephanie hosted “Dinner And A Movie” for a mixture of up-timers and down-timers.

Sometimes Stephanie showed deep, meaningful award-winning dramas that explored the human condition, like Casablanca, The Godfather, Shakespeare In Love, or Das Boot, so that Stephanie could put her Masters in Film to good use—

—and sometimes she showed schlock like Animal House, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Reefer Madness, or Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Food was potluck, with everyone bringing a dish. Jacqueline Pascal always brought potato chips. Tonight’s guests had just gone through the kitchen, loaded up a dinner plate, and returned to their seat. But rather than sit in the chair, everyone stood waiting for Stephanie to sit down. This part of the seventeenth century, Stephanie liked a lot.

No sooner had Stephanie put her plate on the table, than her son Seth cleared his throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, Herren und Damen, before we eat, I ask you to please watch something on the TV.”

And indeed, Seth walked away from the dinner table and into the living room, where he picked up the VCR remote and fast-forwarded through the news to the part about Stephanie. “That’s Mary Timm!” Jacqueline Pascal exclaimed.

Dinner was delayed while Seth played the videotape. Dinner was further delayed when everyone begged Stephanie to show them her denim.

All the down-timers exclaimed at how stiff and thick the unused denim was, and what a rich dark blue was its color.

“What are your plans for it?” Balthazar Abrabanel asked.

Before Stephanie could reply, Shackerley Marmion did: “If ’twere mine own, I would gather up a great multitude in the car park of the Freedom Arches—”

“Shack, darlin’,” Stephanie said with a smile, “the term is parking lot, not car park.”

“For you up-timers, aye. But we of England must needs save the language of England-Future,” Shack replied.

Shack bowed to Stephanie, while sporting a grin, and continued, “I would gather up a great multitude in the car park of yon Freedom Arches, then hold an auction. Can ye imagine—kings, earls, and Grafen made to bid against CoC ‘rabble’? Ah, ‘twould be entertainment!”

The residence of Kenneth and Lynn Miller and Tenants

Friday night

For Tilda, shock followed shock during this, her first evening in Grantville.

It started in the kitchen. Tilda didn’t see one thing she recognized or knew how to work, though sister Louisa and Barbara Silberbach, the other tenant wife, were clearly familiar with the marvels here. Tilda wound up chopping up potatoes and a huge chunk of beef, unable to help more than that.

Tilda’s next shock was about who else was working a knife. Cooking was women’s work, so of course neither Christian Töpffer nor Andreas Silberbach were helping in the kitchen. But Herr Miller, Tilda’s landlord, stood two feet away from her, chopping onions.

Seeing her questioning look, he explained, “Lynn and I made a deal a long time ago. If I want chopped onions in the beef stew, I have to pay the price.” Indeed, Herr Miller’s eyes were red and weeping.

Tilda’s next shock came when everyone was seated at the table and was about to eat. Herr Miller explained to Tilda that grace was said in English, then German, the prayer rotated every night, and tonight was his night and Barbara Silberbach’s night to say grace. Tilda was still marveling at a woman leading a family prayer, when Barbara Silberbach said “Amen”—

—then she and Andreas crossed themselves.

Louisa laughed at Tilda’s expression. “My sister, we aren’t in Eisleben anymore,” Louisa said.

After dinner, the women cleaned up the dishes. This, no man helped with. After Frau Miller started the marvelous dishwasher, Herr Miller told Tilda, “I’m about to watch the news now. You’re welcome to watch too, if you want.”

Tilda had no idea what Herr Miller was talking about, but Louisa pulled on her arm. “Come on, you’ll love it. You’ll find out what’s going on everywhere.”

Indeed, Tilda learned about events that had happened not weeks ago, or even days ago, but earlier that day—

” . . . In Paris, the crisis continues. Sources inside the Louvre . . . ”

” . . . Magdeburg today has cloudy skies, and has received half an inch of rain so far. Magdeburg’s high temperature today was 61 degrees Fahrenheit; the low temperature was 46 degrees Fahrenheit . . . .”

” . . . The Sackers were down by two runs when Lucas Peetz slammed a triple in the ninth inning on bases loaded, bringing three runners home. Final score: Magdeburg Sackers eight, Jena Wizards seven . . . .”

It all was fascinating to Tilda, but it didn’t affect her own life in any way. That is, until the news show was almost over, then she saw—

“And finally, if there’s one way to spot an up-timer in a crowd, it’s because they all love to wear blue jeans. Blue jeans were made of denim cloth, and yesterday up-timer Stephanie Turski found a lot of unused denim in her attic . . . .”

Tilda was amazed at what a rich, dark blue the cloth was.

“As you can see from these pictures,” the news announcer continued, “Stephanie Turski has sixteen yards of unused denim. She says she plans to sell it, as soon as she figures out how.”

****

As Herr Miller made the black box and the picture box go dark, he said, “I can’t tell you how much I miss real blue jeans! That blue cloth from Italy just isn’t the same, and it’s darned expensive. Want to know what’s funny, in a sad way?”

“What?” Tilda asked.

“You’ve surely heard of Gretchen Richter.” At Tilda’s nod, he continued, “She and her younger sister and her grandmother, and a bunch of children that Gretchen was caring for, came here. I’m not sure when, but a month, around then, after the Ring of Fire. As refugees, they were all wearing rags.”

Tilda shuddered openmouthed, imagining in horrible detail, herself wearing rags.

Herr Miller continued, “Melissa Mailey, back then she was a teacher at the high school, decided that these people deserved better, so she took them all to Valuemart. Valuemart sells used clothes.”

“You should talk to them,” Louisa said to Tilda. “I’m sure they need someone who knows how to mend clothes.”

Herr Miller continued, “So Melissa Mailey, on a schoolteacher’s salary, bought clothing for Gretchen, her younger sister, and all the little kids. I’m not sure about the grandmother. Anyway, the blue jeans and sneakers that Gretchen Richter loves to wear? Melissa bought her those, and because they were used, Melissa paid almost nothing for them.”

Frau Miller said, “I should have bought them out then. But I didn’t think of it till much later.”

Herr Miller sighed. “Ms. Mailey buying clothes for everyone, this was before Grantville got famous. But now? Every rich visitor to Grantville runs straight to Valuemart to buy up-time clothing as a keepsake. You know what that’s done to the prices.”

“Up-time clothes are so expensive now,” Frau Miller said, “that Higgins-made clothing is actually cheaper.” She sounded offended.

Andreas Silberbach laughed. “Tilda, there’s one thing you need to know as a tailor’s wife in Grantville. Up-timers say that new clothes are so expensive? Well, to us down-timers, clothing in Grantville is a steal!”

“Really?” Tilda said worriedly. “What makes it so cheap?” Cheap clothing meant cheap earnings; cheap earnings meant she couldn’t make payments on the sewing machine.

Louisa said, “Everyone who sews here has a Higgins. If you hand-sew, you starve. Then the up-timers won’t let you charge them the old guild prices, because up-timers know you’re not doing as much work as before you got the sewing machine.”

“So what prices did the tailor guild here finally settle on?”

Herr Miller shook his head. “This rule that guilds have, ‘No master may undersell another master’? We call this ‘price-fixing,’ and it’s very illegal here.”

“So how do I know what to charge?” Tilda asked.

“Here, you charge the customer the cheapest amount you can live on, and if that’s cheaper than what Johann charges, Johann can’t make you raise your price. But Johann can then offer something you don’t, for free.”

Tilda looked at Louisa and shuddered. “Wow, masters having to fight like beasts in a cage. When you wrote that up-timers hate guilds, you weren’t kidding.”

Herr Miller snorted. “Ask me sometime about the so-called ‘Light-Bulb Maker Guild’ that somebody tried to start. Right now, my main supplier is a master blacksmith named Christof Bettinger—”

“He’s Mennonite,” Louisa added.

“—and the reason he gets most of my business is not because he makes better hinges, but because he doesn’t charge me 1630 prices.”

Tilda looked at Louisa, heartsick. “Why did you tell me to come here? I’ll need to work like a packhorse, just to keep from begging!”

“For a while, yes,” Louisa said. “But don’t you remember what you yourself wrote me? Ten or fifteen years from now, you’ll be sipping wine, while all the hand-sew tailors will be the ones begging.”

“Not to mention, dear,” Frau Miller said, “as soon as you learn how to make up-time clothing, you’ll have three thousand potential customers.”

“Damned straight!” Herr Miller said. “No way will I ever wear a doublet and lace collar.”

“No lace collar?” Tilda said. “Then how can people tell you’re prosperous?”

“My sister, you’re missing the point,” Louisa said.

“Why come here?” Louisa’s husband Christian asked rhetorically. “Why work here? Because in Grantville, any of us down-timers can hope to be the next Hermann Glauber.”

“Who’s Hermann Glauber?” Tilda asked.

Christian and Herr Miller took turns telling the story. Herr Miller finished with ” . . . I’ll bet Vellie Rae didn’t think twice before she said yes. Far as she was concerned, she was getting her shed cleaned out for free. But now, Vellie Rae and Jim are still struggling, while Hermann Glauber is rich. Because he saw the value in the ‘rusty junk’ in that kudzu-covered shed, when nobody else did.”

The “half-bed” was narrow and uncomfortable, but that wasn’t why Tilda had trouble falling asleep that night. She’d been given so much to think about.

Across the street from “Ich ❤ Meine Higgins”

Deborah, SoTF

Saturday morning, May 10, 1636

Tilda knew the store was built post-ROF, because it had a bunch of little windows facing the street, instead of one big window. Painted in letters big enough to need several windows was “WE HAVE ZIPPERS!”

Herr Miller had worn a “jacket” with a zipper in it when he’d gone out to fetch the newspaper that morning, so Tilda knew what a zipper was. It was indeed a good thing that the metal miracles were being sold in her century, Tilda decided.

Tilda crossed the street and opened the store’s front door. A fist-sized bell that was mounted at the inside top of the door, rang then.

The next thing to hit Tilda’s senses was the colors! She saw bolts of wool and linen cloth, in an eyeball-shock of colors. Not only was there cloth in solid colors that Tilda had never seen before, but she also saw gingham and plaid cloth made by weaving dyed threads. By a sign, “For Sonny,” she saw a bolt of white linen that had blue airplanes printed on it. By another sign, “Girl Camouflage,” was a bolt of linen that was tie-dyed in a bright pink that Tilda had never expected to see in cloth.

“Good morning, I’m Katharina Heller, the owner. May I help you?” a woman asked Tilda. Her calf-length skirt and her unaccented German told Tilda that Katharina was another down-timer, but her down-time-patterned blouse was made of green gingham. Oddly, the blouse’s sleeves were sewn to the doublet, instead of being detachable.

Tilda replied, “Yes, I hope you can help me. I just arrived in town yesterday, along with my own sewing machine. I’m told you match people who need sewing, up with freelance seamstresses and tailors? I’m a tailor’s widow.”

“You got here yesterday? That’s a problem. Do you know how to sew buttons and buttonholes?”

“Um . . . no. I’m not even sure what a ‘buttonhole’ is. The Higgins manual talks about them, but we didn’t understand that part.”

Katharina went behind the counter, and then brought forth the Higgins manual, an up-time woman’s blouse, a scrap of cloth, and three wood disks, each with two holes drilled in them. She then walked Tilda over to the chained-down Higgins machine in the store, and explained for fifteen minutes how to sew on buttons, which was easy, and make buttonholes, which was much more tricky.

” . . . never done it before, I suggest you buy a yard of cloth and some buttons, and practice making buttonholes. We have wood buttons and new-time plastic buttons, but since this is practice, buy the wood buttons. Made from wood growing inside the Ring of Fire, they’re much cheaper. Up-timers prefer the ‘disk’ shape—what I’m using now—but mushroom-shape buttons are cheapest of all.”

Tilda went to the bin marked “Scrap cloth—prices as marked,” chose a half-yard of orange linen, and was in the process of paying for it (plus four wood buttons) when the store’s front-door bell rang.

“Good morning,” a woman’s voice said in American-accented German.

“I’ll be with you in a minute, Frau Up-timer,” Katharina said.

“Wow, I haven’t been to a place like this in centuries,” the up-timer woman murmured behind Tilda’s back. Then she laughed. “Literally.”

Seconds later, Tilda had finished her purchase, and had turned around to leave. She gasped when she saw the newcomer for the first time. “You’re Stephanie Turski!”

“Who?” Katharina asked.

“She found sixteen yards of blue-jeans cloth in her house,” Tilda explained. “She was on television news last night.”

“Funny you should mention that, liebchen,” Stephanie said, walking up to the counter. She opened her purse, stuck her hand in, and came out holding a lot of dark-blue five-inch cloth squares.

“These are for decoration,” Stephanie said, sliding them across the counter to flabbergasted Katharina. “Give them away or sell them, I don’t care. I ask only, limit three to a customer.”

“You’re giving these to me?” Katharina said. “But they’re denim. They’re priceless!”

Stephanie shook her head. “This is scrap. I can’t sell it, and I can’t use it to dress my boys or myself. Why not let others enjoy it?”

“Why are you doing this?” Tilda asked. “Selling most of the denim, giving the rest away? You bought the cloth to make clothing, so why not make it?”

The up-timer woman sighed. “I bought the cloth to please my husband. Then when he was gone, looking at this brought back too many bad memories. Now, enough time has passed, but I still don’t want it around.”

Tilda laid her hand atop Stephanie’s hand. “I understand. My own husband passed on, less than a week ago. I miss him so much.”

“No, it’s not like—you don’t understand.”

“You’re right. Your husband’s grave is left up-time; I can’t imagine what that’s like. I’m so sorry for you.”

Stephanie now was staring at Tilda. “Your own husband died less than a week ago, and you’re trying to comfort me? Wow.”

Then Stephanie blinked, and asked, “How did you get here? To the store? I didn’t notice a horse or a bicycle out front.”

Tilda said, “I don’t have a horse. What’s a bicycle?”

Katharina said, “She got here yesterday. She is ein Nubie.”

“So you’re here only one day and you’re out by yourself, running errands?” Stephanie said to Tilda. “Liebchen, that is no fun, and having to walk only makes it worse. Come with me, and I’ll drive you wherever you need to go.”

Tilda politely declined the offer, but Stephanie was insistent. So Tilda got into Stephanie’s car, after Stephanie showed her how to open the door.

After Stephanie made the car roar and vibrate, but before she made it roll, she sighed and looked sideways at Tilda. “I need to be honest with you. Yes, my husband Larry was gone by the Ring of Fire. But he didn’t die. He had sex with a prostitute, the town gossip tipped me off, I caught him, I kicked him out of the house, and I divorced him. This was, hm . . . two and a half years before the Ring of Fire.”

“I’m so sorry,” Tilda said.

“Don’t be. These last few days, I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, for what I lost before the Ring fell. Yet you’ve lost far more than me, and are you moping? No.”

With those words, Stephanie worked her hands and feet, and the car began to move.

“Where do you need to go now?” Stephanie asked.

“I really need to go to the Valu—um, Valu . . . ”

“To Valuemart?” Stephanie said. “Gotcha.”

A minute later, Tilda looked over at Stephanie and said, “You’re frowning. Is something wrong?”

Stephanie said, “No, I’m just reliving an unhappy memory, sorry.”

Grantville, West Virginia

November, 1997

When Larry walked into the living room, he saw the boys watching TV, and Stephanie at her easel. She was painting a cute-looking kitten with a ball of yarn, hopefully to sell at a flea market that weekend.

“How was the Dollar Store today, darlin’?” Stephanie asked.

Larry shrugged. “Like any other day: morons, assholes, and fat cows. Anything interesting in the mail?” By which he meant job offers.

Stephanie shook her head. “Nothing you’ll want to read.”

Larry punched the headrest of the recliner, before collapsing into it like a felled tree.

Only a few seconds later, Larry yelled, “SETH! TURN THAT GODDAMN TV DOWN! I CAN’T HEAR MYSELF THINK!”

Seth quickly remoted the volume down. “Sorry, Daddy.”

Larry sat there, glaring at the TV. Five minutes later, he suddenly jumped to his feet. He dug his truck-keys out of his pocket and announced, “I’m going for a drive.”

As soon as Stephanie couldn’t hear Larry’s truck anymore, she put down her paintbrush and went to the kitchen phone. “Hey, Elaine, can you watch my kids for a little bit? There’s something I need to do . . . I ran into Cora Ennis at Grantville Cable today, and she told me something alarming. That is, if I can believe her.”

****

Three days later, Stephanie gathered up her good-little-wifey sewing project and dumped everything into a newly bought footlocker. When she dragged the footlocker up the attic stairs, it made lots of noise. She was okay with that.

Valuemart used-goods store

Grantville, SoTF

Saturday morning, May 10, 1636

Tilda and Stephanie walked into the store, and Stephanie asked, “Do you want to register your name first, or shop first?”

“Um, I think I should work before I play.”

“Follow me, then.”

Stephanie used her long legs to stride over to a woman who was standing behind a glass counter. Tilda had to hurry in order to keep up with long-legged Stephanie.

They stood behind a down-time woman who had a pile of up-time garments on the scratched-glass counter. The up-timer woman in her forties who stood behind the counter, was checking each garment for a color-marked paper square that had a number on it, and then tapping on a little box that showed lots of numbers on its face. The up-timer woman finished her tapping and announced, “That will be three gulden, five pfennig.”

“But this clothing is worn!” the German woman said. “Look here, this seam is pulling apart—”

The up-timer gave the down-timer the same “smile” that Tilda gave drunks. Then the up-timer pointed to the sign behind her that said (in four languages), “OUR PRICES ARE AS LOW AS WE CAN MAKE THEM. PLEASE DO NOT BEG OR TRY TO BARGAIN.”

The up-timer woman said, “Three gulden, five pfennig, please.”

The down-timer woman muttered, but paid in full.

After the would-be bargainer left, the up-timer woman and Stephanie talked in relaxed English. Since Tilda couldn’t listen in, she was free to notice—

Gretchen Richter.

Or rather, a photograph of Gretchen Richter, clipped from a newspaper, and fastened somehow to the underside of the glass counter.

In the photograph, a big-breasted blonde who was wearing white-cloth shoes, jeans, and an up-time printed shirt, was speaking to an attentive crowd of poor people. Someone at Valuemart had captioned the clipping in German, using huge letters, as “ALL HER CLOTHES WERE BOUGHT HERE.”

Then Stephanie switched to German: “Becky, this is Tilda Gundlach, married name Bruckner. She has her own Higgins, and she wants to be on the on-call list when you need repair work done. Tilda, this is Miss Becky Fisher, who manages Valuemart.”

“Do you know how to sew buttons?” Miss Fisher asked Tilda.

“Not yet, but I’m going to learn,” Tilda said. “I bought some buttons and cloth today, to practice on.”

“I see.” Miss Fisher clearly didn’t believe Tilda.

“It’s God’s truth,” Stephanie said. “She had everything on the counter and was paying for it when I met her.”

“Other than buttons, what experience do you have at sewing up-time clothing?” Miss Fisher asked Tilda.

Tilda sighed. “None at all. I—”

“I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

Stephanie said something wheedling in English. Miss Fisher replied, annoyed, and tapped the BITTE NICHT BETTELN ODER SCHACHERN part of the sign. Stephanie said something lengthy in reply; Miss Fisher blinked.

Miss Fisher said to Tilda, “You’re a tailor’s widow? And you’ve been here only since yesterday?”

“I’m a tailor’s daughter too, if it matters.”

“You befriended an up-timer in only one day?”

“It seems so, yes.”

Miss Fisher pulled out a piece of thick, stiff paper and registered Tilda as an official Valuemart repair seamstress. Tilda needed Stephanie’s help to fill out the card; Tilda didn’t know her address yet, and she had no idea what Herr Miller’s telephone number was.

****

With business done, and Miss Fisher looking relaxed, Stephanie tapped the glass above Gretchen Richter’s photo. “Who would think that a used-clothing store in Grantville could claim a famous customer?”

Tilda said, “But she wasn’t famous then. In fact, I heard she came into the store wearing rags.”

Miss Fisher gave Tilda a puzzled look. “No, Gretchen came into the store wearing a white terry-cloth bathrobe. Not something a woman would want to be seen in, but the bathrobe looked brand new.”

Tilda said, ” ‘Terry cloth’? I don’t know—”

Stephanie said to Tilda, “Terry cloth is what bath towels are made from.” Then Stephanie said to Miss Fisher, “You were here that day? You saw Gretchen Richter in this store?”

Miss Fisher nodded. “The door opened, and Ms. Mailey walked in, acting as confident and important that day as if she was carrying a message from President Clinton. But walking shoulder-to-shoulder next to her, just as confident, just as important, was this barefoot honey-blonde in a white terry-cloth bathrobe.”

” ‘Confident.’ That sounds like Gretchen Richter,” Tilda said.

Stephanie nodded. “One of the reasons she’s a hero to lots of high-school kids. She’ll tell a king to go to hell.”

Miss Fisher continued, “So they both walked in. Ms. Mailey kept going, but the blonde in the bathrobe stopped dead. She turned around, looked toward the door, and said, ‘Ihr alle, kommt.’ Only then did another blond girl, a bunch of children, and an old woman walk in. They also were barefoot and wearing bathrobes. They were nervous, though the old woman hid it by acting grumpy. But the first barefoot blond woman in a bathrobe, she strode around Valuemart like she owned it.”

“Wow,” Tilda and Stephanie both said.

Miss Fisher said, “It was only after she’d been in the store several minutes, did I notice, Sheesh, she looks like a porn star! Except she really, really needed a mani-pedi that day!”

It took several minutes for Stephanie and Miss Fisher to explain those last remarks. Afterward, blushing Tilda wished they hadn’t bothered.

Miss Fisher finished with, “So before the world ever heard of Gretchen Richter, three days before Grantville ever saw Gretchen Richter, I was watching Hillary Clinton crossed with Anna Nicole Smith and wondering, Who is this woman?”

****

Stephanie and Tilda said their goodbyes to Miss Fisher, then they turned around to face the store.

Stephanie sighed. “The thing I miss the most from up-time is going clothes-shopping with my girlfriends. I swear, the only things better were chocolate and sex.”

“Really?” Tilda said.

Stephanie waved her arm around. “Take a good look: This is the only place on the planet where I can do clothes-shopping now.” She sighed again. “But it’s used clothes here, not new—not even close to being as much fun.”

Tilda was trying to think through Stephanie’s statements. “Up-time, you bought new clothes just like you bought food at a market? Buying blue jeans was like buying a chicken, ‘I’ll take that one there’?”

“Uh-huh. Except I didn’t take my girlfriends along when I went to buy chicken.”

“So seamstresses made clothes for you without being paid in advance, hoping you’d buy their clothes and they’d be paid later? Some of them might starve, don’t you care? That’s so unfair to them!”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Stephanie said. “The seamstresses themselves wouldn’t starve, they’d always find work. But the clothing designers and factories who hired them, I guess some of them went bust up-time, sure.”

Then Stephanie frowned. “But so what? Am I a queen, with buckets of money to spend? I’m a single mother paying hard-earned money to all these clothing designers—don’t I get a say? Why should I spend extra money that I can’t afford, just so my dressmakers can eat goose instead of chicken?”

“That’s callous, Stephanie,” Tilda said. At the moment, being a starving clothing-maker was more than theoretical for her.

The two women frowned at each other. Then Stephanie said, “Let me show you what’s here at Valuemart.”

The used clothing was in three sections.

The smallest section was for “down-time” clothing—seventeenth-century dyes, seventeenth-century styles, and all hand-sewn.

At the moment, nobody was shopping there.

Tilda went straight there—not to buy, but to compare. How often did she get to compare her Willi’s work to that of seamstresses and other tailors? Whereas Stephanie acted as if she were about to clean out a stable.

Tilda examined a pair of mustard-yellow breeches. She decided that her Willi had done much better stitching. She told Stephanie as much.

“What was he like, Willi?” Stephanie asked. “As a man?”

“Kind. He was kind. When Caspar or one of the apprentices had a birthday, Willi gave them a half-day off, and bought them a strudel. He raised his voice only occasionally, and then only with our apprentice Josef, who was a trial. Lots of times Willi came in the kitchen while I was preparing dinner, and told me about his day. Before he bought the Higgins, we discussed it and discussed it. When Matthias Pfeiffer teased Willi about that, Willi just smiled and said, `I’m lucky to have a wise wife.’ ”

By now, Tilda was sniffling. Without saying a word, Stephanie hugged her.

The middle section was for “new-time” clothing—down-time styles, but the clothes were machine-sewn and colored with up-time dyes.

Tilda saw a young Frau in her twenties considering a skirt that was “true red”; Tilda wondered where the young wife was thinking of wearing it.

The “new-time” section also included up-time-copied clothing that was colored with up-time dyes and was machine-sewn; but was made from seventeenth-century wool, linen, or hemp. All of the hemp clothing was intended for workmen or young boys.

The featured attraction, however, was the racks from which up-time clothing hung on triangular wires. Tilda noticed Stephanie acting perkier as soon as they went to that section.

Besides Stephanie and Tilda, almost every customer in the store was in the “up-time” section.

Tilda saw a teenage German girl hold up a small-hipped denim skirt and gaze at it with a thoughtful air. Besides the skirt’s scandalous shortness (a foot and a half separated waistline and hem), the other notable thing about the skirt was that it had a white kitten’s face showing on the front. Even more oddly, the kitten had one ear half-hidden behind a pink hair bow.

Tilda tried to figure out what message got sent to the up-time world by a very short skirt with an übercute girl-kitten on it. She shook her head; she couldn’t begin to guess.

As Tilda looked through the up-time clothing, one thing jumped out at her. “Stephanie, tell me, why does every top I see—whether made for man, woman, or child—have the sleeves sewn on? Why aren’t they detachable?”

Stephanie shook her head, confused. “Why do you want detachable sleeves?”

Tilda pointed to her own left sleeve, which was attached to the left side of her doublet with eyelets and lacing. “So you can wear the same clothing all year. Sleeves attached when it’s cold; sleeves off when it’s hot.”

“Wear the same outfit in both February and August?” Stephanie said. She shuddered. “Tilda, liebchen, why would I want to wear wool in the summer, or cotton in the winter? Wear winter colors in July? Ugh.”

****

Stephanie then tried to teach Tilda about up-time fashion. Some things Tilda didn’t understand, but these parts she understood very well—

Up-time women who were affluent or fashion-conscious bought clothes for every season. Most up-time women couldn’t or wouldn’t do that, but every adult up-time thought it keinhirnische (Amideutsch: obvious) that they own a cold-weather wardrobe and a hot-weather wardrobe.

Tilda realized that when clothing was as cheap as clothing was up-time, having a hot-weather and a cold-weather wardrobe made sense.

Up-time homes were well heated, so there was no need for winter petticoats. Summertime petticoats hadn’t been fashionable for fifty years; only the oldest up-time women had ever worn a petticoat.

What shocked Tilda to her core was when she learned that there were only a few times in an up-time woman’s life when she visited a dressmaker. Almost all her clothing was “ready to wear,” mass-produced beforehand.

Tilda’s second big shock: Up-time women had no interest in embroidery. Even up-time, embroidery was breath-choking expensive; if an up-time woman wanted clothing that showed an ornate pattern, she bought a garment made of cloth that had an ornate pattern printed-in. Stephanie showed Tilda the cloth design called “paisley,” known down-time as India Teardrops, and Tilda’s brain melted at the thought of embroidering that.

****

Stephanie, meanwhile, had grabbed a “t-shirt” that had six flags printed on it, and now was holding it against Tilda. Stephanie said, “Here, try this on, I think it’ll look good with your skin color.”

Tilda looked at the price-paper and gasped. “I can’t afford this.”

“Tilda, liebchen, shopping isn’t about trying on only what you can afford. It’s about two women doing something together they enjoy. Over there’s the dressing room.” When Tilda still hesitated, Stephanie said, “Please?”

Ten minutes later, Tilda stepped out of the dressing room. When she saw Stephanie, she laughed. “It’s squeezing me! Not hard, but it’s squeezing me. Especially at . . . ”

Two young men also had realized where the t-shirt was squeezing Tilda. She quit talking and started blushing.

Stephanie guided Tilda over to a mirror. What a strange image she made, Tilda thought, with a down-time German skirt and an up-time t-shirt. Willi would smile if he saw me now, she thought.

Tilda said to Stephanie, “You chose well. This pink color flatters my skin.”

Stephanie smiled.

When Tilda came out of the dressing room, Stephanie was waiting with a pair of flower-print pants. “I think these will fit you. Try them on.”

Stephanie was wrong: The pants were too big in the seat and the legs were too long. But Tilda loved how one button and a zipper let her fasten the pants in only seconds.

After Stephanie had taken a look at the flower-pants, Tilda changed back into her own clothes. Then she told the up-timer, “Now it’s your turn.”

Tilda frog-marched Stephanie back to the “Down-time clothing” section.

They wound up dressing Stephanie in a calf-length down-time skirt. Except that on long-legged Stephanie, the skirt wasn’t calf-length at all.

Meanwhile, with the down-time skirt, Stephanie had walked from the dressing room wearing a fat man’s t-shirt in white. Besides the shirt being way too big to fit well, the white t-shirt clashed with the off-white of the down-time skirt.

“I think the skirt shrank in the wash,” Stephanie said, deadpan.

Tilda couldn’t help it: She started laughing at how ridiculous Stephanie looked. But rather than get angry or offended, Stephanie walked around the store, letting every down-timer see for him- or herself what Tilda found so funny.

A few minutes later, after Stephanie had changed back into her own clothes, she asked Tilda, “Isn’t this enjoyable?”

“Oh, it is, it is,” Tilda said. “I could do this with you all day.” Tilda laughed; “Especially if I had the money to spend.”

****

Tilda realized what she’d just said.

How fun would it be for Tilda, a woman not rich, if she could buy clothing of different weights, colors, and moods, as easily as walking through an orchard picking apples? Along with her girlfriends, everyone in the group doing the same thing?

Going to the dressmaker with your girlfriends didn’t come close.

Once down-time women get a taste of shopping for clothes like this, they won’t be able to walk away, Tilda realized.

Tilda gestured toward the up-time clothing and said to Stephanie, “Sometime soon, someone will bring back ready-to-wear, but made for German women. That ‘someone’ will get rich.”

“Don’t forget up-time women,” Stephanie said.

Then Stephanie smiled at Tilda. “Are you proposing a partnership, liebchen? What a great idea!”

“Huh? What?”

Stephanie was grinning now. “You know what down-time women like to wear, and I know up-time women. You know more about running a sewing business, while I have a good sense of color and design.”

“That’s all true, but what—?”

“You and I will make a bundle, and make our sisters look good along the way.”

Tilda was flabbergasted. “You and I make ready-to-wear? I didn’t mean us doing . . . ”

Then Tilda realized, Stephanie is right. I can make ready-to-wear clothing with her, and unless we’re boneheads, she and I can’t fail. But on the other hand . . .

Tilda said, “Do you know what’s not in your telephone book? An up-time tailor shop. In your world, ready-to-wear wiped the tailors out.”

Stephanie paused a second, then shrugged. “I never noticed before, but you’re right. Oh well, too bad for the tailors. But you and I, making ready-to-wear—will this happen, or not?”

Tilda Gundlachin verheiraten Bruckner, a tailor’s daughter and a tailor’s widow, after a long silence said—

“Yes, let’s do this.”

****

Tilda and Stephanie formed a partnership to make a ready-to-wear women’s-clothing company, Up & Down Clothing.

They raised money by raffling off Stephanie’s denim. Five lucky winners would win a chance to have “authentic” blue jeans, each with zipper and copper rivets, that were tailor-made for him or her.

By the day of the drawing, Stephanie had sold a ridiculous number of raffle tickets. During the month that tickets were on sale, it became normal for someone from the Abrabanel Bank to buy twenty tickets on behalf of some Adel, then an hour later, someone from the Bank of Grantville to buy thirty tickets for someone else.

With one week still to go, Stephanie joked that she’d need a wine vat to hold all the tickets when she did the drawing.

No up-timer won the drawing. A greengrocer’s wife—and CoC member—in Magdeburg, an ex-Bavarian coal miner in Grantville, a young Frenchman on his Grand Tour, a Niederadel daughter, and a Hochadel daughter each got new jeans.

Tilda and Stephanie sewed two and a half pairs of jeans apiece. All five winners were satisfied with the fit of their new clothing. Afterward, the denim scraps got donated to the Historical Museum.

As the partners walked out of the Museum, Stephanie remarked, “Other than my sons, the denim was my only remaining link to Larry. Now it’s gone. Hurray!”

Tilda only nodded, having no idea what to say.

After the denim-adventure was all over, Tilda and Stephanie started to make skorts. Lots and lots of skorts.

When they were done, they had blue-gingham skorts and green-gingham skorts in girl’s sizes, and in women’s sizes from young junior to fuller-sized women’s. Petite sizes were well represented, because down-timer women were short by the standards that Stephanie and Tilda were using; but Stephanie made sure that tall women weren’t overlooked.

Tilda and Stephanie reserved a meeting room at the Higgins Hotel, and announced that the first new-time ready-to-wear clothing would be sold there on Saturday, August 2. That announcement got a lot of publicity—doubly so when Delia Higgins announced that she would put her electric Singer sewing machine on display during the skort sale.

Friday, August 1, Stephanie and Tilda carried boxes and boxes of skorts into the Higgins Hotel meeting room, as carpenters made temporary dressing rooms.

Early Saturday, the meeting room opened its doors, and instantly filled with women and girls. Even tall Frida Löfström came. Frida was promptly led to a blue-gingham skort that, she soon told the room, fit her perfectly.

Keeping the customers cheerful all day Saturday were two temporary assistants, Maria and Martina, who took each customer’s measurements and explained to her about the sizing charts. Tilda had been obliged Friday night to teach Martina and Maria the tricks of working a tape measure—neither girl knew much about dressmaking or tailoring—but on Saturday, the two down-timer high school girls were stylish and outgoing. Each girl had rare beauty, so she looked great in her skort. Stephanie had hired well.

By afternoon on Saturday, Tilda noticed, women were shopping in packs. Some of those afternoon customers were morning customers who had left and then had returned with girlfriends.

Whenever Tilda glanced over at Delia Higgins, she was beaming like a proud grandmother.

Late on Saturday, when finally Hotel Security moved the last shopper out of the meeting room, only three skorts remained unsold, and those were in oddball sizes.

That’s when Tilda Gundlach quit worrying about making payments on her Higgins.

****

 

 

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