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1635 The Dreeson Incident: Chapter Twenty Nine

       Last updated: Friday, November 14, 2008 01:23 EST




    The plane banked and came down neatly on the landing field just outside the edge of the Ring of Fire.

    The walls weren’t as smooth and sharp as they had been in the spring of 1631. Where there was soil above the rock, they were starting to erode.

    "I still don’t like using a government plane for what’s really a private trip," Mike Stearns groused.

    "Travel is dangerous for babies," came his wife Becky’s firm response. "Baruch is barely two and I am still nursing. It is a miracle that they didn’t catch something deadly on the trip from Amsterdam to Magdeburg. It will be a miracle if they don’t catch something deadly on this trip."

    "Gustav ordered a plane to bring us to Magdeburg, too. What are they likely to catch, spending a couple of hours in the air with their parents and one pilot, that they might not catch at home? It’s not as if you were dragging them around on wagons and barges for weeks. Or even on a truck for a couple of days, stopping at inns at night."

    The plane taxied to a stop. Chocks. Steps. A government truck.

    "Damn, I hate these perks of office," Mike said. "They’re bound to come back and bite us on the campaign trail. No matter what Gustavus Adolphus says about down-time standards being different, I’m not a down-timer, so Wettin’s propagandists will be all over me for using government resources for personal trips. And not just Wettin’s people. Some of our own, like Joe Stull, when he hears about it. There’s just no ‘give’ to that man."

    A couple of young men from the ground crew scrambled into the plane and started unloading.



    "The next time," Woody said to Emil. "The next time, you fly them. Okay, I know the calculations. Two babies weigh a lot less than one adult, so we can transport four people plus the pilot when it’s the prime ministerial family. But it’s not just two babies. It’s two babies and all that gear. And ear problems, so there I am, flying the whole way with one of them whining and the other one squalling. Next time . . ."



    Opa had explained all about it. Sepharad’s daddy was bringing her mommy this time. With a brother for her to play with, and a new baby.

    She believed it, but that was very different from seeing it.

    Daddy came to Grantville every couple of months. Sometimes oftener. Sephie knew him. She adored him. He came and when he came, he was hers.

    She knew he was coming.

    She was waiting by the door. Opa told her when he saw the plane coming. He took her out in the yard to watch. She knew that after the plane landed, Daddy would come.

    He did.

    With a strange woman, whose hand was resting on his elbow. He was holding the hand of a little boy about her size. Carrying a baby against his chest. Bringing them into her house.

    Sephie knew how to handle this. It was a time for courage. Bravery. Spunk, Daddy called it. He told her on every visit that she was a little girl with a lot of spunk.

    This was not a moment to hide behind her grandfather.

    Sephie marched out onto the front steps and said it plainly.

    "You can take them back, now."



    "It’s her age," Balthazar said to his devastated daughter. "The books of the up-timers call it ‘the terrible twos.’"



    "There’s an acronym for the way Sephie’s behaving today," Mike said to Balthasar. "Or, at least, there was up-time. But I don’t think that Becky needs to know what it was."

    Grantville, Dreeson Household

    Veronica stood at the train station. Henry had decided to wait at home, since it would be nearly supper time when the train got in. The early dark of winter was closing down already. The wind was chilly and his hip was aching.

    Annalise waited next to her, holding Will by the hand; Nicol on the other side, holding his other hand. Thea had decided to wait at home, too. Which made sense. The girl was as big as a house by now.

    All the children came down, cold evening or no cold evening. Martha was seventeen now, the same age as Annalise. The oldest, the most damaged by the war. A good girl. She was holding Joey, wrapped up as warmly as they could wrap him, in her arms.

    Hans Balthasar - the up-time children called him "Baldy," partly from his name and partly from the scar on his scalp, she supposed. He didn’t seem to mind the nickname. He left school this year and took an apprenticeship at the Kudzu Werke. Henry and Nicol talked to the owners; they would see to it that he learned enough to make him into a good craftsman.

    Karl and Otto, who’d been ten and nine years old at the Battle of the Crapper. Now they were teenagers, stretching out tall. Sue and Chris, also both with up-time nicknames. Little Johann was long since back with his own family in Jena; the rest of the family hardly ever saw him.

    The train was late. Of course, the train would be late. The first time they had seen Gretchen and Jeff in nearly two years and the wonderful, splendid, industrial, rapid, so-great-a-modern-improvement train was late.

    How late? She stomped over to the stationmaster’s office for what seemed like the tenth time, but in fact was only the fourth.

    "Fifteen minutes? That’s what you said a half hour ago."

    She stomped back to the waiting group.

    No matter how cold it was, she almost begrudged the fact that this time, in fact, the stationmaster was right.



    They jumped off together. Of course Gretchen would not wait for someone to hand her down. Annalise let go of Will’s hand and ran forward. Veronica waited; then greeted them with, "It’s a miracle you are not both dead like Hans, the things you have done. This is your cousin Dorothea’s husband, from back home."

    Nicol came forward, leading Will. He was four, now. Nicol and Thea had spent a lot of time explaining to him that his Mutti and Vati were coming to visit him. Tall for his age, blond, blue-eyed, serious. Before Gretchen could kneel down to hug him, he reached up and solemnly shook her hand. And said, "I am very pleased to meet you."

    Jeff laughed, but Gretchen gasped.

    At least, Veronica thought, they wouldn’t be able to find fault with his manners.

    Martha came up with Joey. He turned away from the strangers, burying his face in her neck. "He’s cold," she said apologetically. "He doesn’t want to put his face out in the wind."

    The others, old enough to remember, wanted hugs.



    After dinner, warm and fed, Joey was happy enough to play with the visitors. Until bedtime. When Jeff started to pick him up, he yelled for Martha. She took him and started upstairs. Gretchen got up to come along. Then he yelled for Thea. Until he got Thea.

    Jeff and Gretchen sat down at the supper table again.

    "He’s just a baby," Will said. "You can’t expect him to be polite, yet."

    Will was very nice about letting Jeff and Gretchen help Annalise put him to bed.

    "Joey’ll start warming up to you in a few days," Henry remarked while the womenfolk were upstairs seeing to baths and bedtime stories for the rest of the bunch.

    Jeff looked up, startled. "Didn’t Gretchen tell you? We can’t stay that long. We’ve been on the train all day. I only have a four day pass and we’ll need another whole day to get back to Magdeburg. Two days. That’s all we have. I have to get back to work and she has to hit the campaign trail again."



    "Until the election," Veronica said. "Until the election, and no longer."

    "There is no way we can move everyone to Magdeburg." Gretchen shook her head. "Rents are out of this world. We’re living in two rooms. We can’t afford a house with room for eight more. Nine more, if you’re intending to throw Annalise out, too."

    "Gretchen, don’t be . . ." Jeff put his hands out, palms up. "You can see for yourself that Henry’s a lot more feeble than he was when we left for Paris."

    Part of the problem was that Gretchen could. See it, that was. Which made her a little sharp tongued.

    "Well, don’t say that in front of him," Veronica said tartly. "He knows it, but he doesn’t have to know that other people notice. And of course I am not intending to throw Annalise out. She’s going to college."

    "We can’t take them all back with us. Not now. Not at Christmas."

    Veronica grimaced. "Not as far as the eye can see, perhaps?"



    "We can probably hang on here a while longer," Henry said to Jeff. "Just letting things ride. But not forever. That’s the simple truth of it. I know it and Ronnie knows it. I’m watching a lot of my contemporaries, couple by couple or one by one, get to the point where they have to give up their houses and go into assisted living. Extended care, if something really goes wrong. The longer Gretchen procrastinates, the crankier Ronnie is going to get about it. She’s younger than I am by quite a few years, but this is one thing where you have to make your decisions on the basis of the ‘weaker vessel,’ No matter what the Bible says, this time it’s not the woman."

    Jeff shifted in his chair. "If Gretchen’s grandma thinks that she’s short on cash, she ought to look at our budget. Being a political organizer has its rewards, I guess, but they don’t come in the form of money. What do they call them? ‘Psychic compensation?’ Something like that. In Paris and Amsterdam, we were living on the embassy’s dime. We had to pay for our clothes and stuff, which we covered out of my army salary - whenever that got delivered through the siege lines; we had to borrow a lot - but Becky provided our room and food. Covered the travel expenses, too. That’s gone now. We’re on our own, and while I’m at least getting my army pay regularly now, the fact is that the pay sucks. After the election, Henry. I’ll try to get something organized so we can take the kids with us after the election. That’s the best I can do. And, honestly, Gretchen hadn’t let me know that Ronnie was so upset."



    "- college tuition. And that’s just for Annalise. Martha’s only a year behind her in school; Henry’s already paying for Hans Balthasar. You should leave him here, at least, and not take him away from his master. They’ll let him board. Then four more who are between fourteen and twelve now, three of them boys. To be apprenticed or kept in school." Nicol shook his head. "Honestly, Jeff. What was Gretchen thinking?"

    "When she adopted them? That, with any luck, she could keep them alive. In a way, this argument’s showing me, better than anything else could, how far we’ve come in how short a time. The day I met Gretchen, even the day I married her, she wasn’t thinking about schools and apprenticeships for these kids. She just hoped she could find food for them, one day at a time. Talk about a ‘revolution of rising expectations.’ The problem is that our income isn’t keeping pace. Especially since they’re so bunched up in age, except for Will and Joey. If it was just Will and Joey, we’d have a break, another twelve or fifteen years for me to get promotions and raises before we had to worry about paying college tuition."



    "- Quedlinburg, if I can just find the tuition."

    "Quedlinburg isn’t the only choice, Oma," Annalise said. "I know you like the abbess, but there’s the new university in Prague, too."

    "It’s a lot longer way to travel." Veronica looked stern. "Who knows what Wallenstein will get up to next? And they don’t have dormitories. Quedlinburg does. Supervised dormitories. Plus, Mrs. Nelson is teaching there. You know her. She used to be at the middle school here."

    "I know Mrs. Roth, too, and she’s in Prague. And other Grantvillers. We could find someplace for me to stay, if I went there. Anyway, by the time I graduate, they should have the new women’s college in Franconia started up, too. The one that Bernadette Adducci is founding. I think I might like it better."

    "Why?" Gretchen asked.

    "Well, it’s in the SoTF. And it’s Catholic. Quedlinburg is Lutheran."

    "Saint Elisabeth’s won’t be a state college," Veronica pointed out. "The tuition isn’t going to be any cheaper than Quedlinburg. And they won’t have dormitories ready next year."

    Gretchen was prepared to ignore the dormitory issue, though it was obviously near and dear to her grandmother’s heart. "Do you mean to say you would choose a school because . . . because . . . because of a confessional allegiance?"

    "Well, not just that. No, don’t go all hostile and CoC on me. I’m not a bigot. Idelette Cavriani is my best friend, and she’s a Calvinist. But I’m Catholic, Gretchen. You can believe whatever you like. Or not believe anything, as you choose. But I am a Catholic. It makes a difference to me."

    Veronica looked her grimly. "Quedlinburg. If I can find the tuition, of course."



    Some one walked up quietly and sat down on the floor next to his recliner. Henry lifted his head and blinked a couple of times to clear his eyes.

    "Henry . . ."

    "Yep. Evenin’, Martha."

    She did that sometimes. Just came and sat there, like she needed a little company.

    "I’m sorry if I’m disturbing you."

    "No, no. Just resting my eyes for a bit. You’re always welcome."



    She put one hand on the arm of his chair. "Do I have to go? If they take the others?"

    "Of course not, Margie. Sorry, I mean Martha. You’re always welcome to stay here."

    "I owe Gretchen so much. I ought to be willing to go, whenever she wants me to, and help her with the younger ones. But I want to finish high school here. I want to learn to be a librarian, like Missy Jenkins and Pam Hardesty. Mrs. Bolender says I can, if I do well in school this year and next. I help Ms. Fielder at the public library, already. I don’t want to go off wandering to every place in Europe that needs a Committee of Correspondence organized."

    "Don’t blame you. I was glad to get home myself, this fall."

    "It seems so selfish of me."

    "Just because she pretty much saved your life, and your sanity, that doesn’t mean you owe her unpaid nannydom forever and a day. Which is what it would amount to."


    She sat there quietly for a few more minutes.

    "Do I have to say so, right now?"

    "Naw. Leave it till Jeff and Gretchen actually make some move to take the kids. To be perfectly honest, I’ll be awfully surprised if they turn up the week after the election and say they’re all set to go with the rest of them."



    "- couldn’t believe what Annalise said. And that Thea! Cousin or not, she has the brains of a peahen."

    "C’mon Gretchen," Jeff said. "Settle down and go to sleep. We’ve got blessings to be thankful for."

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