1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 49:



Chapter 26


Occasio Rarissima



Amberg, the Upper Palatinate


            Veronica sat in her room in the Schloss, looking out the window and tapping her fingers on the table. She had just finished breakfast, eating by herself, and reading the newspapers. It was old news, of course, by the time it reached Amberg. A week old, at least; more often two weeks old. Not that it would benefit her a great deal to have more recent news. She wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.


            Useless, useless. Of no use to anyone. Everybody else was busy. Useless old woman, shunted to the sidelines. Useless old woman, bossed around by the husband of that idiotic woman Maxine. Useless old woman, told what she could and could not do by the father of those two ungovernable children. He had it right, that old man in the Bible. Vanitas, vanitas. Everything was useless. She was useless.


            She not only couldn’t help others; she couldn’t even help herself. Elias was busy; Rastetter’s office closed. Useless, useless.


            Until she got the wonderful idea.


            What did they need next, in order to file suit for the rest of Johann Stephan’s property? They needed affidavits from several people in Grafenwöhr. Since none had arrived at Rastetter’s office, even though she knew that he had requested them using all the proper forms, and since everybody else in the city of Amberg was too focused on the diphtheria epidemic to pursue the matter, that was something she could do. She could go to Grafenwöhr and get the affidavits herself, or at least find out why they hadn’t arrived. Kilian being the kind of man he was, she wouldn’t put it past him to be either intimidating or suborning the witnesses, or both, or worse.


            Things looked different, once she had made up her mind. She packed a few essentials into the trusty and capacious canvas tote bag that had served her so well since her arrival in Grantville three years before, put on her sturdiest boots, and marched down the stairs. On her way to the gate, she stopped at a shop and bought a walking stick; at another and bought some bread and sausage. It wasn’t as if it were far to Grafenwöhr; less than twenty-five miles, with a decent road to travel. It was a nice summer day, early in June. She was starting early and she could easily reach the town before dark.


            And it was her home town. She had relatives there—relatives besides her detestable brother-in-law Kilian Richter. Her own family. Schusters and Kleins; Herders and Rothwilds. None of her brothers or sisters were there; she had written long ago to find out. Two nieces, Jakobaea’s daughters, Magdalena and Margaretha. No one knew what had become of Hans Florian and his wife; they had left already in 1623. Casimir had died in Bayreuth in 1629. The family believed that his widow had still been alive a year later, and some of the children. Hanna Schreiner, Matthias’ sister, had remarried last year to Wilhelm Bastl.


            The Rothwilds were almost all fine people. Oddly, the only one who had gone to the bad, just about as far to the bad as a man could go, was Johann Stephan’s own nephew, Johann, his sister Sara’s son. He had gone all the way to the bad long before the war started. He wouldn’t be around, though. The Grafenwöhr authorities had exiled him for good and sufficient reasons. She was surprised that they had not hanged him.


            Sara’s daughter, Magdalena, had been Wilhelm Bastl’s first wife. Cousins. The comfort of kin. She wouldn’t run into any trouble on a visit to her own home town.


            She did leave a note. She put it under Mary’s hair brush.




            Afra the chambermaid noticed that Frau Dreeson was carrying the bulging tote bag. It bulged much more than it usually did when Frau Dreeson left the Schloss to talk to her lawyer. She quickly checked the room to see what the old lady had taken. More than just papers. She slipped out the side entrance and followed the old woman, saw her buy the walking stick, saw which gate she left by, and ran to Augustin Arndt. More accurately, she had intended to run, but she wasn’t feeling very well this morning. She had a bad sore throat, and it was getting worse. So she walked, but she did get to Arndt’s office. For one thing, she believed in earning her money honestly. For another, her family had worked for the landgraves of Leuchtenberg for a long, long, time. Since the days of her father’s grandfather, at least. The landgrave was her lord.




            Arndt was feeling uneasy. Really uneasy. He wasn’t sure, any more, just what Kilian Richter’s limits were, and Richter had threatened him about revealing that … mess. He wasn’t, thank goodness, dependant upon Richter, but he thought that he had better keep an eye on the old woman. He didn’t want any fatalities—any more fatalities, at least. He could justify a billing to Richter for having Veronica Dreeson watched, especially if he didn’t explain that in his own mind the observation was for the purpose of trying to tell whether his employer might be planning something that was not at all prudent.


            Maybe he could kill two birds with one stone. Even three birds. It was always nice to have three different clients paying for the same investigation. It improved his profit margin quite a bit.


            He sent a note to a couple of men working in Amberg, Leuchtenberg loyalists like the chambermaid Afra Forst. Valentin Forst was the woman’s cousin and Emmeram Becker was also from Pfreimd. He sent them instructions and money for expenses.


            Follow the Dreeson woman to Grafenwöhr. Keep an eye on what she does and who she contacts. Keep me informed. Also, while you’re there, see old Karl Hanf the cooper about ore barrels—he is trying to overcharge; see the barge builder Wilhelm Bastl about an order that he hasn’t completed (specifics from Herr Troeschler enclosed with this note). I’ll pay you at the usual rate.


            There was no need to tell them that neither of those tasks was a job commissioned by the landgrave. That would have been a lie. If the two men got the impression, however, that the landgrave took an interest in Frau Dreeson and that Troeschler’s delayed deliveries were interfering with the landgrave’s interests, well, that would not be a problem. Those two were zealous Catholics. They always worked hardest when they thought they were serving Landgrave Wilhelm Georg.


            After all, Arndt assured himself, he had been sending reports on Frau Dreeson to the landgrave and no one had told him to stop. Not that the landgrave had directly asked for them, but a man had to do something to keep earning his retainer. Arndt had no way of knowing, any more than Forst and Becker did, that nothing was of interest to the landgrave any longer and that the steward’s remittances were just a standing order.




            By early evening, Afra really was not feeling well at all. The head housekeeper at the Schloss noticed and sent her to the hospital.




            Hand assumed that Frau Dreeson was having supper in her room. This did not surprise him. Those who had never had diphtheria were eating separately from those involved with the sick, on Duke Ernst’s orders. He found Böcler rather tedious as a conversational companion himself. The young man would probably footnote a funeral sermon and attach notarized copies of the original documents on which he based his statements about the dates upon which the deceased had been baptized and confirmed.


            Hand resigned himself to listening to a discourse on neo-Latin poetry. A quite extended one. It appeared that several of Böcler’s friends practiced the art. Harsdörffer in Nürnberg. There was also Balde, right here in Amberg.


            Hand perked up. “The Jesuit? The one running the hospital?”


            “Yes, that one. Did you know that he was asked to write a new prelude for the play that will be performed for Duke Maximilian’s wedding?”


            It took only the most minimal display of interest to encourage Böcler; his latest information dump was off and running.



Grafenwöhr, the Upper Palatinate


            It was good to be home. Very good to be home.


            Veronica’s arrival in Grafenwöhr caused a lot of excitement. For a change, not because she was Hans Richter’s grandmother, but because she was one of the many who had been lost and was now found. Grafenwöhr had lost a third of its people in the past decade, and it did not expect to find many of them. Each one was a small miracle.


            Especially one who brought news from the larger world outside. She was staying with her nieces, Magdalena and Margaretha Herder. Who, in turn, kept house for their stepfather, Karl Hanf, and Jakobaea’s two boys, their half-brothers. Barbara had died as a baby, of course. Jakobaea and the two youngest children had died during the horrible Schreckensjahr of 1621, when Mansfeld’s armies came through the Upper Palatinate. In private, the girls told her that they had no expectation that Hanf, the old skinflint, would ever dower them. Magdalena was nearly thirty; Margaretha a year and a half younger. They made the best of it. Anything they might have had coming from their own father had vanished in the confusion of the war and occupation.


            “Damned Bavarians,” Veronica snorted. She settled in to talk about Grantville. Gretchen and Jeff. Annalise.


            Hans, of course. They wanted to hear about Hans. And airplanes. Magdeburg. The little Princess Kristina. Veronica had actually seen her? With her own eyes? What did she look like?


            Nürnberg? She had come through Nürnberg? She had actually seen Margaretha, Hanna, and Clara to talk to? Tell us about their children. Is Matthias well? You mean that Elias is actually with you, in Amberg? Is he planning to come up?


             The entire town of Grafenwöhr was buzzing with excitement.




            There were some exceptions. Forst and Becker, Augustin Arndt’s two agents, found it very, very dull in Grafenwöhr. They didn’t ask Hanf and Bastl the questions themselves, of course—just delivered Arndt’s message about Troeschler to a local lawyer and let him ask the questions. They needed to be inconspicuous, if they were to find out what lay behind the answers. Hanf protested that his charges were accurate. Bastl had a thousand excuses why Troeschler’s barges were not finished. Business as usual.


            Neither of them could understand why the landgrave would be interested in any of this, but since Arndt had deliberately omitted to explain to them that Troeschler’s problems were distinct from those of Landgrave Wilhelm Georg, they had, just as Arndt hoped, gained the impression that there was a connection. And they were loyal Leuchtenberger. If their lord wanted to know, they would do their best to find out.


            They also had to manufacture reasons to keep hanging around to watch Frau Dreeson for the landgrave, they thought, so they started to take an even deeper look into the manufacture of barges and barrels than they ordinarily would have done. After a couple of days, they took jobs as casual laborers at Bastl’s barge-yard, which allowed them to spend a fair amount of time talking to some of the local boatmen.




            It was a lovely visit, of course. But it wasn’t getting her any farther in seeing about the affidavits. On the third day, Veronica went to the city clerk’s office. Young Nicolas Moser was very cooperative, just as Rastetter had assured her that he would be. Very informative, as well.


            On the fifth day, she called on her brother-in-law Kilian, wearing her very best Abbess of Quedlinburg face. He did not seem excessively pleased by her presence. His wife hardly spoke; part of the time, she appeared to doze off. She didn’t even ask about her relatives in Nürnberg, which was odd, considering that her brother Lorenz was Hanna Richter’s husband and the third of Veronica’s stepsons-in-law. She must have known that Veronica had seen them. In spite of her dereliction of interest, Veronica brought her up to date conscientiously.


            Their daughter Dorothea sat, her hands folded in her lap. She didn’t say a word. The boy, Hermann, was seventeen; a big young oaf. Oaf was the proper word. The youngest of the three children who survived, another boy, was a boarding student at the Jesuit collegium in Amberg and was being kept isolated with the other boarders because of the epidemic.


            Veronica was very satisfied with how well she had controlled her tongue. She did mention a couple of her thoughts about intimidation and suborning of witnesses, along with the legal penalties for such activities. Just in passing, of course. Also that she was finding her research at city hall very rewarding, indicating that since her lawyer, Hieronymus Rastetter, and Elias Brechbuhl had laid the foundation with their work in Amberg, she had a clear idea of what to look for and was not wasting her time. She let him know that she would be resuming it the next morning. In another two or three days, she should have found everything that the lawyer needed. It had been a pleasure to combine work with a family visit.


            It was nice to see Kilian squirm. Veronica was not even a little bit ashamed of herself. He sold Johann Stephan’s print shop, didn’t he? Not to mention some of the things that she had found here. Elias would be very interested.