The Observer

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Grantville

Thursday, March 15, 1635

 

Barbara Kellarmännin stood at the bus stop in the Brethren settlement. This time of year, any frequently-trampled ground was both muddy and slushy, so she had chosen a firm spot a short distance away from her fellow students. She wore a thick coat over her dress and skorts underneath it as well as a heavy black bonnet. March was not as bitter as January or February, but it was still cold.

The bus was a little late this morning, and Barbara passed the time studying the other Brethren students. Rahel Klaassenin was a year younger than she was. Blonde hair peeked out from under her bonnet, a shade lighter than and almost as long as Barbara's own. Many down-timers, including Barbara herself, were short and thin compared to up-timers. But Rahel was particularly tiny. She must have gotten even less food than we did, Barbara reflected. She cringed inwardly. Her family had had it hard enough, fleeing to a new city whenever someone decided to persecute Anabaptists.

Rahel's brother Hans was short and thin, too. But that wasn't how Barbara thought of him. Hans was intense to the point that it overwhelmed any merely physical description in her mind. Kat and Marta thought so, too—or, at least they did now, after Barbara had pointed it out to them. She had never asked Hans directly, but she knew why he was like that. Hans was nineteen years old, a year older than the up-timers' usual age at high school graduation, and he was a junior. But Hans was not . . . slow—that was the approved up-time word. He had just gotten a late start. The same was true of Joe Engelsberg and Georg Meisner—and no one at Calvert High cared about it, except the Club 250 crowd. Georg was working for the Grantville Police as a crime scene technician while he finished the last classes he needed to graduate. Joe worked, too, and had begun studying with Brethren pastors.

But being older bothered Hans. He put a lot of pressure on himself to do well in school. And he did. Kat Meisner and Horst Felke got higher grades in the languages, but Hans was not far behind them. He was not far behind Daniel Pastorius and Jason Cheng in the sciences, either. Hans might not be the number one student in any single subject, but he was probably third or fourth in every one of them and ranked in the top five in their class. Any of us would be quite happy to have your grades, Barbara thought.

The Klaassens were Stäbler Täufer, staff-bearing Anabaptists—the pacifist faction. So were the Kellarmanns and the Engelsbergs. The Meisners were pacifists, too, but they did not count since they still attended First Baptist, the up-time congregation. Being a pacifist put some pressure on the boys. That probably drives Hans to succeed even harder, Barbara thought.

She turned her attention to two other boys. Wulff Thiessen was Hans' opposite. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and looked like he could handle himself. And being a Schwertler Täufer, a sword-bearing Baptist, he had no objection to doing so. That was why, in Barbara's opinion, he had only ever had to do so twice in Grantville. First, a down-timer had picked a fight with him, and Wulff had given him a solid beating. Then some time later, he and Acton Burchard had beaten each other to a pulp. Fighting was wrong, of course, but somehow, Barbara could not be upset with anyone who had put Acton on the floor a couple times.

Jakob Ewert, on the other hand, was dark-haired, compact, and a smart mouth. He always had something to say, and it was frequently more cutting than clever. Barbara did not appreciate it at all. It tended to give those Catholics and Lutherans and Calvinists who were looking for trouble something they could hold over all the Brethren. At the same time, she could understand why a brother might not want to mince words with people like that.

Barbara shook her head. She knew Rahel, Hans, Wulff, Jakob, and herself pretty well. She knew she was thinking about them instead of thinking about someone else who was harder to figure out.

She had met Otto Brenner . . . nine months ago now. He worked for Neustatter's European Security Services. Otto was . . . plain. Medium-length brown hair, brown eyes, average height for a down-timer, just all-round average. If he substituted a flat hat for NESS's trademark yellow neckerchief, he would look just like a brother. Now, where did I get that idea? Barbara asked herself. Otto was Neustatter's invisible man, the one who could blend in.

But yesterday he had chosen not to blend in. He had peppered the girls in the Bibelgesellschaft with questions about why so many pastors—Pastor Holz in particular—were preaching about following the rules, as her friend Nona Dobbs had put it. Barbara had just sat there in stunned amazement that Otto was asking these questions while Nona, who was experiencing her own frustration with an over-emphasis on rules, explained that pastors ought to preach the grace and love of God.

The bus finally arrived, and Nona followed the others aboard.

"Barbara!" Kat and Marta scooted over, and Barbara squeezed in next to them. Even though the trams carried most of the non-students these days, the school buses were still crowded. You were supposed to sit three to a seat if you could fit.

They exchanged Guten Tags, and Barbara sat back to listen as the other two girls quickly fell into shop talk. Kat Meisnerin was into biblical manuscripts and textual criticism, while Marta Engelsbergin's interest was church history. This morning's subject was Athanasius—the early church father from Alexandria, not Magister Kircher, the Catholic priest over at St. Mary's. Barbara half-listened while her eyes swept across the other occupants of the bus. Hans was looking stoic, Wulff was looking confident, and she could not see either Rahel or Jakob over the seats. She heard some of the younger boys behind her discussing how the polizei had used one of the buses during the Croat Raid. There were pew-pew noises.

Barbara shuddered. Most of what she remembered from the day of the Croat Raid was being crowded into classrooms on the second floor of the high school as gunfire sounded outside. Crowdedness, fear, and a horrible screeching sound as the teachers pushed metal filing cabinets down the hall to barricade the top of the stairs. Then the loudest noise she had ever heard when the gunfight for the stairs began. It seemed to go on and on. Rumors that teachers had been shot and which ones. Then four sharp cracks from the stairs and nothing. Fear and rumors had redoubled until they heard cheering.

"Barbara!"

She blinked. Kat was trying to get her attention.

"Oh! What?"

"Do you think we could write a tract about Athanasius?" Katharina asked.

"Of course you could," Barbara told her.

Marta had a concerned look on her face. "We were trying to figure out how to pay for the printing. But you have something on your mind."

"Oh, it is nothing."

"Give," Marta coaxed.

"Really, it is nothing," she insisted.

"Barbara, we called your name three times." Kat's tone was gentle. "I poked you."

Barbara felt her eyes widen. "Really?"

"Really."

Barbara sighed. Her friends were not going to let her not talk about it.

"I heard the boys behind us talking about the Croat Raid. It made me remember."

Kat gave her a quick hug.  "I do not like remembering it, either."

"I do not like being scared," Barbara stated.

"You? Scared?" Marta leaned forward to see past Kat. "You went to the Bibelgesellschaft meeting with the University of Jena just a couple months after the religious riot there. And then you went to the meeting with the University of Erfurt soon after that Pentecostal service was attacked. You are brave."

"I was scared then, too."

"But you did it anyway."

Barbara thought about that. True, those two trips had been, if not dangerous, certainly not safe. But NESS had been there to protect them.

"Are you okay?" Marta asked.

"Ja."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Barbara thought about it. "Nein." Maybe with someone from NESS. I wonder what Miss Schäubin would think if I asked her? Or Otto? Marta shook her head. Nein, she was not going to blurt that out to Otto.

She realized her friends were studying her carefully and changed the subject. "So, paying for the tract . . ."

"I certainly cannot afford it," Marta stated. "I do not think I should ask my parents for the money."

"Most of what I earn at work pays for my glasses," Kat stated.

"So, we will have to earn the money," Barbara pointed out. She thought for a moment. "We are library researchers."

"So are almost all juniors and seniors."

"But we could do research for clients."

"When?"

Marta's question was simply practical. Barbara thought about it. They could do research between school dismissal and the late bus, but no more than a couple days a week. It would cut into their homework time, because once they got home, chores still needed to be done—and if they came home on the late bus, any outdoor chores would end up getting done in the dark. Barbara gave the dreaded answer. "Saturdays."

She giggled as both Kat and Marta made faces. Their families had all been in Grantville for at least three years now. It was amusing how quickly they had adapted to the up-time notion of a five-day school week. Early on, there had been proposals to have schools on Saturdays. Most up-timers' reactions had been pointed, concise, and often included words many of them tried to avoid in mixed company. The bluntest responses had come from the teachers themselves. So, Saturdays were available if the girls wanted to use them for research.

"Why not?" Kat asked. "We are all going to university, are we not? We will be doing research and writing papers. This will be good practice."

Barbara proceeded cautiously. "You two are going to university. I . . . am not sure."

Marta smiled. "Are you still deciding what you want to be when you grow up?"

Barbara laughed at the up-time expression. "Ja."

"We are almost to school," Kat pointed out. "Do you want to sign out of homeroom after announcements and go to the library? We could find out if there is demand for more researchers."

"Good idea."

****

Barbara stopped at her locker, hung up her coat, exchanged her black bonnet for a white head covering, and made sure she had her textbooks for first, second, and third periods. She would stop at her locker again between Social Studies and Latin to pick up the books for the rest of her morning classes. She had a few minutes to socialize before first bell at 7:55 sent everyone drifting toward homerooms. Homerooms were alphabetical; Kellarmännin and Meisnerin put her and Kat in the same one, while Marta Engelsbergin was a couple classrooms down the hall.

Second bell rang at 8:00 sharp, and the last few students scurried to their seats. Miss Zibarth dinged the small bell on her desk, and the class quieted down. It wasn't silent. The Class of '36 rarely achieved silence. A couple minutes later, Barbara heard the telltale click of the public-address system, followed by the voice of one of the seniors from the Civics class.

"Please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance." Most of the class stood up and put right hands over hearts. JROTC cadets and Scouts saluted instead, when in uniform. Today the Scouts were; they met after school on Thursdays. Students from other countries and other provinces stood silently, arms at their sides. Lately, the Schwertler Täufer had begun doing the same, while the Stäbler Täufer and the Mennonites remained seated.

After a pause, the student started them off: "I pledge allegiance . . ."

Barbara remained still. That was simply respectful. Occasionally someone decided to have a problem with the fact that Brethren did not swear oaths, but Herr Principal Saluzzo always came down like a ton of bricks when that happened. Herr Principal Saluzzo firmly believed that such events were teachable moments, and his corrective actions leaned heavily toward essays and class presentations. By now, just about every student in the high school had heard at least a couple speeches about the up-time Supreme Court case originating right here in West Virginia, West Virginia Board of Education vs Barnette. The short version was that students with religious objections to the pledge could remain seated—and, no fooling, that was that.

After the pledge, the rest of the class sat back down, and a couple minutes of near-silence passed until the public-address system clicked on again for the morning announcements. Barbara listened carefully for any announcements that applied to her. She noted that the baseball team was beginning practice soon. Baseball games were fun to watch. So much of it was what the up-timers called a mental game. Plus, she could people-watch. Barbara enjoyed that.

As soon as announcements were over, she and Kat joined the students lining up at Miss Zibarth's desk to sign out. You could not just wander the halls, but the State Library was an approved destination. They waited for Marta to sign out of her homeroom, then hurried down the hall.

Mrs. Parker was right outside the door of the State Library, talking to the security guard. Barbara and Kat exchanged glances. If the head security guard was here . . . Sometimes things happened in the library.

Evidently, Mrs. Parker noticed. "Go right in, girls. Nothing but a shift swap on the schedule," she explained in Amideutsch.

"Dank." Barbara thanked her in the same language. It was good to know there were not any problems.

The State Library was always crowded, and this morning was no exception. But Kat was able to catch the attention of Meg Matowski, the Grantville Research Center's scheduler.

"What can I help you with, girls?" she asked.

"Do you need any more researchers?" Kat asked in return.

"Always." Mrs. Matowski paused. "Are you looking to earn some spending money? That's usually why high school students ask."

"Ja. We would like to write a tract about Athanasius of Alexandria and need to pay for the printing," Marta explained.

Barbara saw Mrs. Matowski blink. Clearly, that was not the answer she had been expecting. But she recovered quickly.

"Does it have to be a tract? What about a biographic paper here on file?"

"Oh!" Marta exclaimed. "We did not think of that."

"Talk it over. Figure out who your audience is," Mrs. Matowski advised them. "But—can we use more researchers? Definitely. When are you available?"

"Saturdays."

Another blink. "You must really want to print this. All right—Saturdays. It will be crowded, and if you start a research project—"

"Finish it," they chorused.

Mrs. Matowski gave a firm nod. "See you then."

The bell rang, and the girls hurried off to English class. After they slid into their seats, Kat observed, "You look like you are doing better, Barbara."

"Oh. I like surprising people."

That drew blank looks from both Kat and Marta. "Who did you surprise?" Marta asked.

"Mrs. Matowski." Seeing no sign of comprehension on their faces, Barbara explained. "She was surprised we are willing to work on Saturdays to pay for printing a tract. It was not something she expected."

"Oh. She was?"

"I could tell from the way she blinked."

"I did not notice," Kat confessed. "You see much more than I do," she added slowly.

****

 

Monday, March 19, 1635

 

On Monday morning, Barbara spared the other students at her bus stop no more than a glance. Nor did she dwell on the girls' first Saturday of researching. They now knew a little bit more about various chemical processes, but the highlight had definitely been trying to persuade a supposedly learned man that the periodic table of the elements was real. Kat had been on the verge of calling the Brethren settlement and asking her brother Georg to come down to the high school and talk some sense into their client. But she had sighed, explained Rutherford, Thomson, and Bohr's work one more time, and arranged for him to meet with their chemistry teacher Mrs. Selluci later this week.

Instead, Barbara was replaying what she had heard about the church services yesterday. When the bus stopped, she hurried up the steps and quickly located Marta and Kat.

"What happened at church yesterday? I heard NESS came. Was it all of them? Were Astrid and Otto asking the same questions as they did Wednesday?" Barbara stopped when she ran out of breath, and only then realized that her friends were staring at her in surprise.

"They came right after you and your family left," Marta told her. "They stayed for the Stäbler Täufer service. Neustatter, Astrid, Hjalmar, Otto, and Karl."

"Then they came to the German afternoon service at First Baptist," Kat added. "They were following up on the purpose of the law and whether it is still in effect." She paused. "Well, I think Otto was following up on that. Georg asked Astrid out."

"Otto is still asking questions? We should talk to him," Barbara declared.

"And you say we have one-track minds!" Marta exclaimed.

"What?" Barbara asked.

"My brother took Astrid Schäubin to dinner," Kat explained. "Well, to the firing range and then dinner."

Barbara's mouth dropped open. "They are courting?"

"It appears so."

Barbara noted that Kat was smiling. Gut. Barbara liked Astrid, and now that she thought about it, Georg and Astrid . . . ja, she had not been looking for it before, but thinking back, she should have seen it coming. "You approve. Your parents?"

"They are not sure what to think. Astrid was wearing a gun."

"Oh." Barbara could certainly see how that could be a problem. "And they went on a date to the range . . ."

Kat was still smiling.

"What?"

"You usually notice these things before we do," Kat told her.

Marta nodded vigorously.

"I was . . . thinking about something." Even as she said it, Barbara knew that sounded lame.

"Do tell," Marta coaxed.

"Otto. He is . . . I wonder why he is asking the questions he is."

"Do you like him?" It seemed to Barbara that Marta had asked the question slowly and carefully.

"Do not start," Barbara told her. "He was talking to Nona."

She saw Marta and Kat exchange glances. Barbara knew that Kat was not going to press any further. She was sensitive to being teased about the three boys who liked her. But Marta . . .

But Marta simply said, "Talk to Nona first, by all means."

****

The bus pulled up in front of Calvert High School, and the students filed off. As they passed under the weather awning, many students slapped one of the supports with an open hand. Barbara watched Kat grimace, followed her line of sight, and saw Kat's brother Georg smack one of the supports.

"You are concerned how Astrid will influence Georg, even though you like her," Barbara stated.

Kat gave her a smile. Once they were inside, she asked, "Was it that obvious?"

"Everyone except us pacifists hits the awning poles that Jeff Higgins knocked over when he lined up the buses to try to protect the school from the Croats. Georg has been hitting the poles for months now, but you frowned at it today. You said that Astrid carries a gun even though we all know that. So, you are worried about Astrid's beliefs about violence influencing Georg."

Kat frowned briefly. "I thought Hans Richter knocked the poles down."

"Nein, it was Jeff Higgins just before the battle. Hans arrived at the height of the battle."

"Oh. Huh."

Barbara was pleased that she had been able to distract Kat. It did not fix her concern, of course, but it gave her something to think about—always the best way to set Kat at ease.


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