Sailing Upwind

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Late September 1633

 

"Sally, did Mr. Pridmore say where he was going?" Reva leaned toward the young receptionist, to keep the conversation a little more private. Reva worried about Marlon. He hadn't been eating or sleeping well for the last week. Just like he had last September, he'd gotten moody and irritated. And today, instead of finishing work, he just stood up and walked out of his office.

"No, Miz Pridmore. When he didn't see you, he told me to tell you he was feeling poorly, and then got his coat and left."

"Yeah. I guess he's got the flu, just like last year." Reva went back to her station behind the teller window. No use going after him. I might as well finish work.

****

"You sitting here moping again?" Reva came into the living room to hang her coat in the closet. While lights were on in other parts of the house, he was sitting alone in the dark. "I swear, you're gonna wear me out with your sour moods this time of year."

Marlon grumbled, "Tomorrow is October first. This weekend would be the beginning of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. And I let Hilde down again."

"I know. I heard it all last year. Same old story. You were gonna help him get the money for an airship, and then you weren't there to hand it over. Nothing new. I thought you were over this."

She waited for him to respond, and when he didn't she continued. "I've worked at that bank with you for more than twenty years, and put up with your moods here at home. But you don't have an excuse to sit here and feel sorry for yourself. You don't need to be in here moping like this, Marlon Pridmore. Life goes on."

He glared at her. It was an old argument. "Reva, you just don't understand. I gave them my word and I failed. I've been adjusting, but when it starts to get to fall weather like this rain, it makes me long for the things we used to do. You enjoyed that balloon fiesta as much as I did, and you know it."

"Now, don't pull me into this mess, old man. Yes, I liked going to Albuquerque just fine. But that was then, this is now. We can't go back, and that's that."

He stood up and started walking toward the kitchen. "I'm going out to the barn. Don't wait up." He walked out the back door, hands shoved into his pockets.

****

Marlon sat out in the dark barn, drinking kirshwasser in memory of Hilde, mourning the loss of his friend once again. Marlon and Reva had both grown up in Grantville and most of their family still lived in the area. They had never had children, so there were no grandchildren left up-time. Now all that Marlon missed from West Virginia, besides getting a new computer once in a while, was Hilde and balloons.

Hilde and Marlon had planned to get some investors, including a loan from Marlon's bank, and buy the envelope and basket for a thermal airship. This wasn't just any balloon; it was a hot air blimp that could be steered against the wind. It was going to be their entry in the Gatineau Challenge, a thermal airship race with the prize of half a million dollars.

Reva found him in the barn later that night. She stepped under the single bare light bulb and put her hands on her hips. "Okay, I've had it!"

"You just don't understand! I gave my word I'd be there, and there's no way I can get there now."

"Listen here, Marlon Pridmore. You need to stop this pity party of yours, and go build yourself a balloon. You can do it. There ain't anyone here down-time that knows more about it than you do. But it ain't gonna happen with you out here drinking brandy, and feeling sorry . . . "

Marlon interrupted. "What did you say?"

"I said you need to stop this pity party . . . "

"No. The part about the balloon."

Reva stopped glaring, and laughed. "Swordfish, you're an idiot. What you miss isn't that silly airship project you set up in Leipzig. You miss spending time with balloonists. You miss flying. I just think that if you want a balloon so bad, there isn't anyone around here that knows more about building one than you, now is there?"

Marlon thought for a moment. He'd never considered building his own airship. Up-time, it was much easier and safer to have a professional company sew the envelope out of high tech materials, and just gather the money together to buy it. He took another sip of the brandy, then looked at his glass. He couldn't seem to remember why he was sitting out in this damp barn drinking in the first place.

Reva shook her head, then hurried back into the house. He sat for a moment more, then stood and ambled over to an old dresser at the back of the barn. He had always used it for plans and notes and such. Maybe there was still some of that graph paper in one of the drawers.

****

"Herr Pridmore, have you been out here all night?"

"Hmm? Is that you Bernard? What time is it?"

"It is just before dawn, time for me to milk the cows. Can't you hear them calling me?"

"Oh, yes, so I can. Well, don't let me stop you." Marlon was busily drawing diagrams, figuring volume, referring to old ballooning magazines that had been stashed in the bottom drawer of his dresser.

Bernard Brenner, with his wife Agnes and his fifteen year old daughter, Hanna, had come to town as refugees in 1631. Bernard had been a distiller of cherry wine before the war destroyed his village. Now the Brenner family was woven in as part of the Pridmore family. By now, Bernard was accustomed to Marlon's eccentricities, like becoming obsessed with an idea, and forgetting to eat or sleep.

Marlon looked up from the paper. "Bernard, what do you know about cloth? I think I have a new project that you can help me with."

****

It was late in the day when Marlon and Bernard came back from the barn. Agnes had peeked at them several times that day, and even taken lunch out when they didn't show any sign of stopping to eat.

"Reva, I think we can do it. Sure, Bernard and I have to do some more research, and it's anyone's guess what it's going to cost, but I think we can get the cloth we need and somehow make it hold hot air.

"Well, I kind of thought there would be a way. I'm sure that you can find someone either here in town or up in Magdeburg that can give you price estimates and such."

"That's what I'm thinking, hon. Look at these here figures, and tell me, do you think we can afford to do this? You know what we have, and what we need to keep going. What do you think?"

Reva sat down at the kitchen table and spread out the papers that Marlon handed her. Together they looked over the figures and diagrams. "Well, Marlon. I guess it depends on what you're willing to give up. You're probably going to have to sell some things. And it isn't going to happen all at once. We're going to have to take some time to raise some money. But I can see us doing this over the next couple of years. That is, if you're willing to give up some of your other toys and projects."

Marlon grinned like a ten-year-old boy who had caught his first fish. He pulled Reva to her feet and swept her into a big hug. "Sweetpea, we can sell whatever you say to get this done."

April, 1635

 

It took almost two years, but finally it was coming together. The gondola, woven from wicker, was complete, and the last shipment of Indian muslin had been delivered. So this morning, Marlon and Bernard were busily working on their toy. Marlon was in the yard stirring a huge vat of brown smelly stuff.

"What is in that stuff?" asked Bernard.

"This, Bernard, is a modern miracle. It is a conglomeration of lacquer, gum Arabic, turpentine, and resin. It's gonna keep the hot air where it belongs."

"So you say, Herr Pridmore. But how do we get it on the envelope?"

"I'm glad you asked that, Bernard. We're going to soak each and every piece of cloth in this stuff and let it dry. Local weather wizards say we have about a week of clear weather, so we've got to jump on this."

"Oh, I see. Hmm. I think I've something to do in town . . . "

"No, you don't. You're my helper, and this is what you're helping with. Reva already bailed out on me, said she'd rather boil soap. Can you imagine that?"

Bernard looked as though he, too, would rather stir stinking soap over a hot fire than drag fifty foot lengths of cloth through the vat and lay them out to dry. But there was no escape.

"Don't worry. I got more help coming. You remember them boy scouts over at the Methodist church? One of the boys won't let me alone with questions about hot air balloons. The Council has agreed to allow him to work on a hot air balloon merit badge, and named me as the local expert. He and about ten of his friends are headed over to learn how to build a balloon. With all those hands, and youthful enthusiasm, we should be able to get through this today."

The boy scouts arrived in good time, and all set to work with a will. The weather was fine and warm, and while it was uncomfortable standing by the fire, the breeze helped. By the end of the day, the muslin was coated, and drying on every bush and clothes line in sight. Marlon, Bernard, and eleven boy scouts were coated with gummy brown stuff from head to toe.

September, 1635

 

Ulrich Schwarz frequently felt like he wasn't a good choice for leadership of a scout troop. He had never been a boy scout, and wasn't always comfortable with all the customs of the troop. The boys knew much more about the requirements and the confusing paperwork for these merit badges. He had been methodically working through his first-class qualification, sharing one of the books they had for the group of new scouts.

He liked the idea of Boy Scouts. It really was a good idea to have training for young boys, and the uniforms and mottos were certainly uplifting. But he still didn't feel comfortable as the authority.

"Herr Schwarz, have you ever read Tom Sawyer?" The question brought Ulrich back to reality.

"No, I do not read English so good, yet. Do you like it?"

Fritz Metzger and J. D. Cunningham were bent over a book, trying to read it together. "Yeah. I think it's great," said J.D. He was an up-timer, and seemed inseparable from his friend Fritz. "See, there is this boy named Tom, and he's got a friend called Huck. And they go on adventures, and get into a lot of trouble."

Ulrich wasn't sure how advisable it was to give these boys a book about more trouble. They were well capable of finding their own.

"Boys, it is time to put the book aside. We must start our troop meeting." Ulrich watched as almost twenty boys ranging from ages eleven to fifteen settled into chairs. The meeting was held in a classroom at the Methodist church, and it was the first time that Ulrich had to run the meeting. Between the colds and flu that were going around, he was the only adult available today.

After the opening flag ceremony, and recitation of the motto, Ulrich nodded to Levi Carstairs, the oldest boy. Levi stood and walked to the front, carrying a small pocket notebook.

"Before we get to today's activities, I want to remind you about the Orienteering Hike we've got this weekend. We have permission to set up the course in the hunting preserve of the dukes of Saxe-Weimar on the northeast of town. It's only a couple of miles away. How many of you need this for first class qualifications?"

Only the two youngest raised their hands. Levi nodded, and then looked at Ulrich. "Herr Schwarz is going with the Tenderfoots, so you two make sure you take good care of him. Mrs. Moss wouldn't take it too well if you let her handy-man get lost."

"No, and neither would my platoon sergeant." Ulrich had been sworn into the army when he turned eighteen and was very proud of his rank of Private First Class. If only it was as easy to get a promotion in the scouts.

Levi looked sternly at the boys. "Now for the rest of you. We will meet here at the church on Saturday morning. Remember to be on time!"

****

Everything for the balloon was ready. Reva and Agnes had worked hard to get the enormous envelope sewn together. It was a good thing that Reva owned one very good sewing machine, and the other older one she had kept after upgrading.

Bernard and Marlon were in the barn, gathering bits and pieces. Marlon grinned and asked his friend, "Where is Hanna today? She was up so early."

"She went with some of the girls from school. I don't know exactly what their plans are, but they have chaperones along. Agnes is with her. That soldier, Ulrich Schwarz, has been showing a little too much interest in her lately, and Agnes decided to put a stop to 'accidental meetings.'"

Marlon straightened from where he was laying out all his brand new instrumentation. "I think I've met that young man. He stays over there with Geneva Moss, doesn't he? I heard he was helping supervise a boy scout troop. Those boys get a mite rambunctious now and again. Ulrich seems to have a steady hand with them, without losing his temper. Good practice for him, I'd say."

"Ah, Marlon. You just don't understand. You don't have a daughter who is approaching womanhood. When I see all the young men in town follow her with their eyes, I just want to knock their heads together."

Marlon smiled, and crouched to the ground. Along with the instruments he had built for the airship, he laid out the hand-held radio that he and Reva had used on chase crews over the years. And Reva insisted that he add in the first-aid kit he had carried in his car for a couple of years.

"Herr Pridmore, those instruments are amazing. Do you think they will work?"

Marlon smiled, and nodded. "Yes, I think they will. I've done all the tests on them that I can think of. Now we just need the field test.

****

Saturday morning arrived with clearing skies, which calmed one of Ulrich's fears. He had done maneuvers with the army in the rain, but he really didn't relish the thought of dealing with the boys in that weather.

Levi whistled for quiet, and stood on a stump that was there just for that purpose. "Okay, everybody. This hike today is for Orienteering. I want everyone to remember that as scouts, we leave a site better than we found it. We don't disturb the trees or animals, and only pick up deadwood if we need it. We want the duke to be glad he let us use his preserve again. And make sure that everyone stays with their group. Safety first, you know.

"Now, who has a compass?" Five of them held up their hands. Ulrich did also. "Right. There are seventeen of us here this morning. Let's break up into three- or four-man groups, and share the compasses. And we have a small prize for the first team that finishes the course and returns with the flag. Here are your instructions."

The boys sorted themselves into groups, and Ulrich found himself with Fritz and J.D. Fritz said, "Herr Scoutmeister, I have your compass, and a canteen. J.D. can carry lunch for us, and we will let you be in charge of the instructions. Is that okay?"

"Ja. That is good. We can trade later, so J.D. learns to use the compass also."

Levi held up his whistle and shouted to be heard over the tumult. "Everybody ready? On your marks! Get set! Go!" He blew a mighty blast on the whistle.

Like racehorses responding to the trumpet, the boys took off at a run. It had begun.

****

Marlon and Bernard spread the envelope out flat on the grass. Flattened, the envelope was more than one hundred fifty feet long, and sixty feet wide, and weighed four hundred fifty pounds. This airship was a monster! It had a gondola that would seat three and mounted two forty-horsepower ducted fan engines (robbed from two defunct dirt bikes). The frame had an inverted "V" tail. Lift was provided from a set of internal burners that blew hot air inside the sealed envelope. The gondola was hung from curtain catenaries.

"Bernard, the difference between this beast and a regular hot air balloon is the engines. If we didn't have them and the vector fans, we would be subject to the whim of the wind."

Bernard nodded as he listened to Marlon, but truly it didn't make much sense to him. He hadn't seen a "regular hot air balloon" to compare to this one. It would just have to wait until they got it up in the air.

****

Ulrich shook his head as he tried to make sense of the directions. They had been walking for two hours, and had not found point M, which was the second to last mark on the map before the flag. It had not been as long between any of the other locations, and he was sure that they were lost. It also didn't help that none of them had been here for other scout activities.

"J.D., hand me the map again." Ulrich had already examined it not five minutes before, and this time didn't change anything. They were still lost. He didn't recognize any of the landmarks.

Fritz held up the compass once again. "I think we have come too far north and not far enough east. What should we do?"


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