1635: THE DREESON INCIDENT – snippet 17:



Vacha, on the Reichsstrasse


            His driver was slowing down and the car behind, the one with the soldiers riding in it, was pulling around, ahead of them. Henry looked more closely. There were a half-dozen men hanging around the little guardhouse. Those weren’t kids interested in looking at cars.

            Wackernagel cussed something in German. Must have been a good one, because Henry hadn’t ever heard it before.

            “It’s a divided town,” the driver said. “The crossing’s always been a bone of contention between the abbots of Fulda—that’s the SoTF now—and the landgraves of Hesse-Kassel, so they say. But I know for damn sure that our people cleared this motorcade with their people in advance.”

            “But Hesse-Kassel is in the USE. Verdammt!” One of the reasons Cunz Kastenmayer said he was glad that he’d gone into law rather than theology, aside from the money he expected to earn, was that he was free to indulge in the occasional profanity. If not in his father’s hearing. “And don’t think that Wilhelm V isn’t making the most of it. Think how much extra acreage he grabbed for himself last spring, all the way over to the Rhine. Under color of doing a good deed for Gustav.”

            Henry understood them, which he felt pretty good about, considering that when the Ring of Fire happened, his German had been limited to the title of Auf Wiedersehn, Sweetheart. “California was in the United States of America too, up-time. That didn’t stop them from searching cars crossing into the state and telling people they couldn’t bring in any fresh fruits or vegetables.”

            The driver looked at him, surprised.

            “I don’t care what they tell you in citizenship class. We weren’t perfect. No country ever has been. No country ever will be. The thing to aim at is to get it as good as you can for as many of your people as you can. We had as many arrogant assholes up-time as you have down-time. We just made a little more effort to get a grip on them, most of the time.”

            Kastenmayer nodded. “The greatest happiness of the greatest number,” he said in English. “We covered that in the history of political philosophy class I took last year.”

            Henry nodded. “I hadn’t ever heard it put quite that way. But it pretty much sums up the idea.”

            The two sets of soldiers were still arguing. But it looked like it was going to turn into a paper war rather than a shooting war.

            “Can you walk a quarter of one of your up-time miles?” Wackernagel asked. “I know a family here. I stay with them overnight every trip. It’s cheaper than a room in the inn. We can go over there and get something to drink. The street’s wide enough that when they finish up with this”—he leaned his head in the direction of the disputing-the-right-of-way critters—“the driver can bring the car down and pick you up. He can turn around using the alley.”

            Henry nodded. “Sounds good to me. I can make it that far. I make it that far from the house to City Hall and back home every day, still. The hip’s going bad, but I don’t want all the rest of my joints to stiffen up, too. Counterproductive.”

            He smiled a little. That had been one of his daughter Margie’s words, too.

            Hesse-Kassel’s head honcho yelled something when they opened the car doors. He had an accent Henry had never heard before, thick enough to cut with a knife. Not one word in four came through. That seemed to happen every time he started to think he had a handle on the language, finally. Wackernagel yelled back in the same lingo. Whatever he said, the Hessian soldiers let them walk away without any more fuss.

            But they’d already held the drivers up for a couple of hours, splitting hairs. Trying to featherbed by arguing that even if an ATF didn’t need to hitch up extra horses from the Hessian teamsters to help it handle these hills, they were still obliged to pay the mandatory fee for the extra team of horses. Which, since there were two ATVs, meant that they owed the fee for two teams.

            Which meant that even if they left right now, which it sure didn’t look like they were going to, they wouldn’t be able to reach Fulda before dark. So they might as well plan to stay the night in Vacha. Nobody in his right mind would try to drive through these hill roads with nothing but headlights to see by.

            Henry intended to have Wes file an official complaint with the landgrave once they got to Fulda. He wasn’t a man to let himself be pushed around.

            And it wasn’t just him they were trying to push around. Hesse-Kassel was a Crown Loyalist, really close to Wettin, and he was insulting the SoTF. Just to see if they’d let him get away with it, probably. He wasn’t exactly farting in the face of Mike Stearns in person, but that’s what this kind of idiocy amounted to.

            Hesse-Kassel’s nose was probably out of joint because Mary Simpson and Ronnie had gotten so much publicity in the newspapers this summer while they were kiting around Bavaria with the Austrian archduchess. Which amounted to publicity for the SoTF.

            Wackernagel said they could all spend the night at this family’s house, where he stayed, but it would be crowded. Henry could have a bed, but he and Cunz, the drivers, and the soldiers would have to sleep on the floor.

            A couple of hours before dark, though, three companies of orange-uniformed men on horses, led by Derek Utt himself, showed up in Vacha. The Fulda Barracks Regiment was thoroughly spooked by what had happened to the civilian administrators and doubly determined that it wasn’t going to happen again. They’d been camping five miles or so outside of town all week and kept a couple of lookouts in an inn on the Fulda side of the town.

            The lookouts had spotted the problem. One of them had slipped out, picked up his horse from a farmer’s stall, and gone down to collect the whole troop.

            Sergeant Hartke was now having a few words with Hesse-Kassel’s border guards.

            Derek moved Henry from the outside picnic table in the friendly woman’s yard over to an inside parlor in the Fulda-side inn where the scouts had been staying.

            Wackernagel said he’d spend the night at the house like usual and meet them at the ATVs in the morning.

            Henry nodded. He supposed the woman counted on having the income from her regular customers and Wackernagel knew it. She had three little kids, that he’d seen.

            That night he didn’t just have the three soldiers from Grantville staying at the same motel with him. These roadside inns were really motels, when you came right down to it. He had two orange-colored guards inside his room and a couple more standing outside his door all night.

            He felt a little bit ashamed that he’d kicked up such a big fuss when Piazza insisted on sending the second ATV. Utt seemed to take the problem seriously. Real seriously.