1635: THE DREESON INCIDENT – snippet 15:
“A welcoming parade,” Andrea Hill said. “We’ve got Wes and Clara back.” She waved toward the head of the table. “Henry’s coming. We ought to put on the biggest parade this town’s ever seen. Kids from the schools. Captain Wiegand and his city militia. The whole Fulda Barracks Regiment.”
Orville Beattie shook his head. “It won’t fly, Andrea. We’ve got Wes and Clara back, but the Stift is missing its abbot and we don’t even know where he is or if he’s still alive. ‘Hearts and minds’ stuff. We’ve got to do something more subdued. We can’t ignore the way the monks have got to be feeling.”
Mark Early scratched his chin. “Maybe Henry could review the militia and the regiment out at Barracktown.”
“Not a bad idea,” Derek Utt said. “That way, we can pretty well secure the perimeter while Henry’s up on the reviewing stand. Not that I’m expecting the farmers to try anything. The Ram Rebellion never really got violent over here, the way it did at Miltitz, and anyway, they’re on our side. But we haven’t caught the kidnappers and we don’t know if the guys who hauled Schweinsberg away were the only ones that the archbishop of Cologne sent into our territory.”
“Did he send them because he’s archbishop of Cologne or did he send them because he’s the brother of the duke of Bavaria?” Harlan Stull asked.
“I’m not even sure he could separate those two things in his own mind.” Clara frowned. “If he wasn’t Maximilian’s brother, he wouldn’t be an archbishop.”
Wes took his glasses off and started to polish them with his handkerchief. “Is he in any position to do anything after the Essen War?”
“He’s on the run,” Derek conceded. “Or, at least, out of Bonn and lurking somewhere over on the other side of the Rhine. But if we’ve still got some of the guys he hired running around loose… And I don’t know that we don’t. It doesn’t seem likely, but I can’t be sure. A closed perimeter looks good to me.”
“Make sure there’s a chair for him on the reviewing stand. George Chehab says Henry’s having problems with that hip again.”
Derek nodded. “Sure. He can go through the new school building, too, while he’s out at Barracktown. The roof is on, now, and there’s glass in the windows. We can set up the lunch in the larger schoolroom. He can eat with the teachers. We’ve hired a second teacher for next year.”
“That’s that, then,” Wes said, putting his glasses back on. “How are you planning to get Henry out to all the small towns and villages, Orville?”
“What is it about men whose wives have just had babies that makes them look insufferably smug and oh-so-pleased with themselves?” mused Ed Piazza. “I mean, it’s not as if the man did anything except get his rocks off months ago.”
Mike Stearns’ grin never wavered. “And you didn’t?”
“Oh, sure,” said Ed. “I’m just quoting my wife’s none-too-admiring words addressed at me, back when.”
Francisco Nasi, the only single man in the trio, shook his head. “I’m simply glad that Rebecca is well. And the girl also.”
“What are you going to name her?” asked Ed.
“Kathleen,” said Mike. “We decided that a long time ago. In fact, it was supposed to have been the name we gave Sephie, except we decided in the end that ‘Sepharad’ would be better for our first child.”
The term Sepharad was the word used by Europe’s Sephardic Jews to refer to the Iberian homeland from which they had been driven almost two centuries earlier. As always, Nasi was struck by the name, used as the name of a child—and, still more so, by the complexities of the gentile father who had chosen that name. Complexities which had, in the end, produced something as simple and clear-cut as Nasi’s own firm allegiance to the man.
But it was a complex world, after all. And there was always this, too—working for Michael Stearns was invariably an interesting experience. Sometimes, even an exhilarating one.
“Kathleen,” said Ed, rolling the name. “After a relative?”
Mike’s grin got a bit crooked. “Uh, no. It was my ex-fianceé’s name.”
Ed looked a bit startled. Nasi, who knew the story, said: “The woman who died in the car crash. In California.”
Ed was still looking startled. “And Becky didn’t mind?”
“It was her suggestion, in fact,” said Mike.
That led Francisco to reflect on the complexities of the woman Rebecca Abrabanel. With some regrets, even. Had she not married Mike Stearns, she might have wound up marrying Francisco himself.
Possibly. That had been his family’s plan, at least. But what was done, was done, and Nasi was not a man given to fretting over the past.
Speaking of which—complexities, that is…
“Is it possible to speak to her?” he asked. “Or is she maintaining seclusion?”
Mike’s grin got very crooked, now. “Yeah, sure. We’ll have to manage something discreet, though. Becky maintains most of the rituals and customs, but not all of them, especially the ones she thinks are—her words, not mine—‘stupid and pointless leftovers from tribal pastoralism.’ But she tries not to rub anybody’s nose in it.”
Nasi chuckled. “Especially in Amsterdam, whose rabbis are notoriously rigid.”
“’Reactionary scoundrels,’ is the phrase Becky herself uses to describe them.” Mike shrugged. “She doesn’t care at all what they think. Still, most Jews in the city are religiously very conservative, if not always politically, and she doesn’t see any point in needlessly irritating them. So, although she’s not maintaining the forty days of seclusion, she’s not flaunting the fact either. Come by our place tonight, after dark.”
Nasi nodded. Mike cocked his head quizzically.
“What do you need to talk to her about? If it’s something personal, of course, you can ignore the question.”
“No, it’s political,” said Ed. “And you should be part of the discussion anyway. The problem is with Becky’s seat in the SoTF Congress. She’s been gone for a long time, Mike. Is she planning to come back to Grantville? If so, we’ll figure on running her again as the candidate of the Fourth of July Party. But, if she’s not coming back—or not coming back soon—we really need to run somebody else. We just can’t keep that seat held for somebody in absentia.”
Mike scratched his jaw. “Yeah, I understand. Becky and I have talked about it, but—what with this and that and this and that—”
“It’s been a hectic few months,” Ed said, chuckling.
“—we never came to any conclusions. And, yes, I can see where it’d be a problem for the party in Thuringia.”
“We’ll be by tonight, then. In the meantime…” Ed winced. “I suppose we may as well go see Gretchen.”
Mike frowned. “What’s the problem? She’s not hard to talk to—at least, if you can pry yourself through the small mob of CoCers who are usually surrounding her.” He glanced at his watch. “And, this time of day, that’s where you’ll usually find her. At the CoC headquarters downtown.”
“Well… this is a personal matter. Henry Dreeson asked us to talk to her while we were here. He’s wondering—and he’s getting pretty damn dyspeptic about it—when Gretchen’s planning to come home and start taking care of that mob of kids of hers. She’s been gone just as long as Becky, you know.”
“Oh.” Now, Mike made a face. “Yeah. Good luck. The old saw comes to mind. ‘Better you than me.’”
That made his grin re-appear.
“That’s really a pretty disgusting grin,” Ed observed.
In the event, though, Gretchen wasn’t belligerent. In fact, she looked downright shame-faced when Ed finished passing on the message from Henry.
“Well, yes, I know. But… we’ve been very busy…” She made a fluttery sort of gesture, very out of character for Gretchen. “The struggle against reaction…”
Ed just waited. Under the circumstances, that seemed the wisest course.
Eventually, Gretchen stopped muttering and mumbling about the needs of the struggle and started muttering and mumbling noises on the subject of returning to Grantville. After a couple of minutes or so, Ed decided he could excavate enough of those vague phrases to mollify Henry.
For a while, anyway. But, by then, all sorts of things might happen. The newly-arrived cousin might turn into the reincarnation of Mary Poppins or… Whazzername, the great governess played by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. The one who wound up marrying von Trump. Von Trapp?
Or, horses might learn to sing. Or, Gretchen might actually tear herself away from the struggle against reaction and the forces of darkness long enough to come home to Grantville and do something with that gaggle of kids.
Who was to say? All Ed had agreed to do was pass on the message. Which, he’d done.
“I’ll tell Henry,” he said stoutly.