1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 43:
“Well, go in, why don’t you?” Eric Krenz had his arms crossed, his hands tucked into the folds of his heavy coat. “It’s cold, Thorsten. I always hated January even before an up-timer told me we’re in the middle of what they call ‘the Little Ice Age.’”
Thorsten was very cold himself, it being one of those clear-skied days in mid-winter when everything seemed to turn to ice. But he still wasn’t ready to take the last few steps to reach the entrance to the settlement house. Mostly—so he told himself, anyway—because the settlement house was actually a large and impressive-looking monastery. The oldest surviving structure in the city, in fact, founded centuries ago.
The Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen, as it had formerly been known. The literal translation into English was “the Monastery of Our Loving Women,” but it was actually a convent dedicated to the Virgin Mary—and it was still referred to as such by Magdeburg’s more devout inhabitants, who cast a skeptical eye on the new activities to which the ancient building was being put today. The Lutherans, perhaps oddly, even more than the Catholics from whom the monastery had been seized after Gustav Adolf established his control of the city and began rebuilding it from the devastation left by Tilly’s army in 1631.
But perhaps that was not so odd. There weren’t that many Catholics in Magdeburg, which had been the center of Lutheranism in Germany since the previous century. Or, at least, not many who made a point of it. Feelings could still run high about the horrible massacre, which had happened less than three years earlier. Since the emperor had allowed the Catholics to retain the small cathedral of San Sebastian not far from the huge Lutheran Dom, and his soldiery—the CoC, still more so—kept the religious peace in the city, Thorsten imagined the city’s Catholics were inclined not to make a fuss about the former Kloster.
“Thorsten, I’m freezing. And we’ve only got a one-day leave. Either shit or get off the pot. If you can’t work up the nerve to see the Americaness again, then”—Eric snatched a hand from beneath his coat and pointed to the north; then stuck it right back—“there’s a nice warm tavern not two blocks away.”
A tavern sounded… very tempting. Warm, good beer—and most of all, a familiar and comfortable situation. As opposed to marching into a monastery-become-peculiar-charity-project, where lurked a young female who intimidated Thorsten almost as much as she attracted him.
In the end, the decision was made for him. The big door to the settlement house opened and Caroline herself emerged. With the same incredible smile on her face that Thorsten vividly remembered.
Did more than remember, actually. In the weeks since he’d last seen her, he’d used the memory of that smile to fend off the image of Robert Stiteler being slaughtered. That worked very well, he’d found. He was having fewer and fewer nightmares and flashbacks as time went on.
“Do you always make a habit of this?” she asked him cheerfully.
Peering out the same frosted window through which Caroline had first spotted Thorsten Engler standing outside, Maureen Grady smiled almost as widely as Caroline. “Well, this is shaping up nicely. I am so fond of men who aren’t always cocksure about everything.”
Anna Sophia, the dowager countess of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, half-rose from her seat near the window and looked out also. “Is that the young man you mentioned to me last week?”
Her nineteen-year-old niece-in-law Emelie, born a countess of Oldenberg-Delmenhorst but the new countess of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt since her marriage the previous summer, rose from her chair and came to the window also. “Nice-enough looking fellow, I will say that. But are you sure he’s suitable for our precious Caroline?”
Maureen started to say something, but broke off in a half-choked laugh when she spotted the expression on the face of the older countess. Anna Sophia was looking very prim and proper indeed. Much the way a middle-aged and eminently respectable lady reacts to something unmentionable being spoken aloud in public. Silence, that somehow still manages to exude wordless disapproval.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Maureen said, when she recovered. “The dowager countess is none too pleased about it, mind you. But I checked with my contacts in the Committee of Correspondence.”
Emelie glanced at Anna Sophia and smiled. “Your very extensive contacts in the CoC.”
“Well, yes. In this instance, I checked with Gunther himself. Then, after hearing his story, I had my husband ask around in the navy yard. If anyone has anything bad to say about Thorsten Engler, they’re keeping very quiet about it.”
“As if anyone could hide anything from those people, with their spies in every house,” the dowager countess said stiffly. “I do not approve, Maureen. I say it again. No good will come of this.”
She didn’t add mark my words, but she might as well have.
Her niece-in-law resumed her seat. “Oh, stop it, Anna Sophia. We’ve had no trouble with the CoC at all. What really upsets you is that our work depends so heavily on them.”
“We should be relying on the churches,” the older countess insisted. She and her niece-in-law shared the same birthday, June 15, but they were thirty years apart in age—and at least that far removed in some of their social attitudes.
Maureen slouched back in her chair with her elbows on the armrests, and steepled her fingers. Then, gazing at Anna Sophia over the fingertips, said: “I will be glad to, Countess—as soon as you can find me more than three churches in the city whose pastors or priests don’t insist on imposing doctrinal qualifications on our clients. I will add that the only one of those three churches which carries any weight is—brace yourself—the Catholic church.”
Anna Sophia’s lips tightened but she said nothing. If she had, Maureen suspected, the words she’d have said would also have been: Those people. With perhaps even more disapproval in her tone than when she used those people to refer to the Committees of Correspondence. Like most upper class Lutherans in the USE—young Emelie being one of the exceptions—the dowager countess of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt viewed the recent upsurge of the Catholic church in Magdeburg with great alarm.
By what insidious devices had the miserable papists come to wield so much influence over the masses in central Germany? Until very recently, a bastion of Lutheran orthodoxy?
In public, they usually ascribed the phenomenon to the well-known deviousness and cunning of the Jesuits, “the damned Jesuits” being a handy catch-all explanation for Lutherans of their class. Or they ascribed it to the supposedly massive immigration of uneducated Catholics into the burgeoning capital city. But Maureen wondered how much they really believed that themselves. The great majority of immigrants into Magdeburg came from Protestant areas of Germany and Europe, not Catholic ones. And while the reputation of the Jesuits was well-deserved in some respects, the near-magical powers ascribed to them by their enemies was just plain silly.
No, the explanation was far simpler, and required no formula to explain beyond the well-tried and ancient one. As usually happens with powers-that-be, the Lutheran establishment in central and northern Germany—laity and churches alike—had gotten fat, self-centered and complacent. And more than a little selfish. The headway made by the Catholic church was no more mysterious than the headway Protestant churches had made against Catholicism in the Latin America of the world Maureen had left behind in the Ring of Fire.
But there was no point in raking this old argument over the coals again. Anna Sophia was one of a dozen important figures in the Lutheran establishment in Germany—which, in this area, was essentially identical with the political establishment—who’d been willing to serve as public sponsors for the settlement house. With no lesser a person than the Queen of Sweden herself as the figurehead—and her very energetic seven-year-old daughter as a frequent and enthusiastic visitor.
For Maureen Grady’s purposes, that was plenty good enough. Emelie was the only one of the “Elles,” as Caroline called them—“Eminent Lutheran Ladies”—who had a get-your-hands-dirty involvement in the daily work of the settlement house, anyway. Whether as a matter of personal temperament or simply because she was by far the youngest of the Elles, being still a teenager, Emelie had no trouble working with either the CoC or the Catholic church in Magdeburg.
In any event, it was time to break off the gossip session. The door was opening and Caroline was ushering the Engler fellow into the room.