Love & Chemistry

Sometimes it takes a lot of travel and a little chemistry to find love.

For down-timer Matthias Ehrenhardt it is certainly true. His life begins inauspiciously at the loss of his home and family but the plucky young man does not give up. Instead, he takes his chances at the new university to study engineering. Only one thing worries Matthias. He has loved the gentle Dora all his life and he suspects she loves him in return. But will her father let her wait for a penniless orphan who is dedicating himself to engineering? Up-timers may think highly of engineering but Dora’s father is not so sure.

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The education Matthias gets in engineering is almost as astounding as the one he gets living and studying with the Up-timer students.

Love and Chemistry is the story of one young man’s education in chemistry, life and love.

Henschleben
Late summer, 1634

Once again Sunday had come, and once again Dora’s father was waylaid on business as they left church. Dora smiled to herself. The way things were, a little unexpected business was nothing to complain of. And it gave her a little more time to get the cake ready to go into the Dutch oven.

She looked at it, and thought for a moment. Maybe if I slice one of the pears this way, and arrange the pieces around the edge . . . She really wanted something at least a little special for Matthias’s visit. It was so seldom they saw him the last few years. There was an ordinary stew for the mid-day dinner, already simmering on the hearth.

It was too bad Mama wasn’t back from visiting with Dora’s older sister Mathilde in Straussfurt yet, but with any luck she’d be home in time. The walk was short. But her absence meant Dora wouldn’t be bumping elbows as she worked, either. With only the one table for both working and eating, the kitchen wasn’t really cramped, but two people working there needed to be careful how they moved. All the rest of the ground floor was the smithy out front. The hearth and the forge shared the chimney in the inside wall, back to back. The smithy wasn’t any bigger than it needed to be, either.

With no forge work on the Sabbath, she’d left her cap on the chest upstairs. Her hair tumbled free to her shoulders as she worked.

Plenty of light was coming in through the open window. She hummed happily to herself, with half an ear for the birds twittering in the pear tree behind the house and the leaves stirring in the breeze.

That came to a sudden stop in a burst of raised voices, right outside in the kitchen garden. It was the last thing she expected to hear. She put down the pear she’d been peeling on the cutting board and hurried to throw open the side door, with the knife still in her hand.

“You astonish me, Matthias Ehrenhardt! I thought you had better sense. I would never have expected this from you!”

“Herr Hammel―”

She put one hand on the door frame, as she looked down at the two of them wide-eyed. “Papa, what is it?”

Her father was standing with his face jutting out toward Matthias and his hands on his hips. With his green coat carried over one arm, his blacksmith’s arms and shoulders showed even through the shirt. “Our young friend has just delivered the news that he proposes to forget all about finishing at the university and going on to study law. Instead, he is now to devote himself to alchemy at this new school nobody’s ever heard of!”

Matthias had grown into sturdy manhood in the last five years, nearly level with her father, but even so, he was almost recoiling before the force of Papa’s voice and stance. Dora had an instant to notice the unfamiliar style of the brown trousers he wore, that fell in a straight line from waistband to ankles. He got his tongue back. “For heaven’s sake, Herr Hammel, it’s chemical engineering, not alchemy! I’ve enrolled at the Imperial College of Science, Engineering, and Technology in Magdeburg. Uncle Berthold himself agrees that it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. The possibilities are breathtaking!”

Papa snorted. “The possibilities, the imagined possibilities―”

Dora started down the stairs. “Matthias―” Her apron strings snagged on the door handle and threw her off balance, then tore loose. With four uneven stone steps, no hand rail, and nothing for her foot to come down on, she pitched forward.

Matthias moved like lightning to get under her. He got there, but there was no time left to get his feet planted properly. Down he went on the damp dirt, with a cabbage underneath him and Dora on top. She remembered the knife at the last moment and tried to throw it aside.

Papa rushed in to pull her off Matthias and onto her feet. While she was still straightening up, he swung back to Matthias and seized him by the left arm, rolling him forward. “Careful, there! Your arm is cut. You don’t want to get dirt in it.” He bent down and paused. “This must be cleaned and bandaged. Dora, we need rags boiled in water. You remember the new pamphlet on caring for injuries, yes?”

“Boiled . . .?” She caught sight of a patch of blood, starting to spread high on the sleeve. “Oh! You’re hurt! I― I’ll build up the fire right away.  I know we have some clean rags.” She started back up the stairs, with one hand clutching her bruised shin.

“Good. This young paladin―” Papa gestured with his thumb “―has been wounded in your service, and it’s our Christian duty to tend to him.” He gave him a thin smile. “These other matters can wait, but we must speak of them afterward.” He reached down and picked the knife off the ground, before it could hurt someone else.

∞∞∞

Thomas Hammel gently helped Matthias off with his sleeveless doublet and then his shirt, uninjured arm first, and put aside everything in his mind but the task at hand. The slice was high on the left arm, a little over an inch long, but shallow enough not to need sewing—a good thing, since neither he nor his daughter had ever sewed living flesh. There was a little bleeding, but not so much as to demand the risk of touching the wound with unwashed hands.

Matthias sat down on the steps outside so that he wouldn’t drip blood on the floor while they waited for the boiled water and rags. The shirt rested in a bucket of cold water so the bloodstain wouldn’t set until they could deal with it. This wasn’t how Thomas had imagined the visit would go. For certain, their guest hadn’t either.

Finally, some of the boiled water was cool enough so Thomas could wash his hands and Matthias’s arm. With that done, Dora fished out a small scrap of cloth on a fork and waved it in the air to cool it, then dripped a little red wine on it. There were better disinfectants nowadays according to the first aid pamphlet they had, but this was what they had in the house, and promptness was important in cleaning an open wound. Thomas took it and gently wiped around the spot, and the injury itself. “I’m sorry if this stings, Matthias.”

Matthias hissed for a moment.

Thomas continued, “This should heal well, without much of a scar. You just need to keep it covered and clean until the flesh closes. Dora, it’s ready for the bandage now.”

She was already cooling a larger piece. He took it, folded it into a pad, and started to apply it to the cut.

“Papa, the honey. Here!” Dora was holding out the little blue crock to him.

Thomas blinked, then he remembered. The pamphlet had said honey was a good aid to healing. Again, there were better things nowadays, but at least they had this. He spread a few drops on the bandage and set it in place. “Here, Matthias, hold this.”

Dora pulled out a long, narrow strip from the pot. Thomas cooled it in the air, carefully wound it around the arm and the linen pad, and tied it off. He surveyed the result. “It seems satisfactory, Matthias. Let’s go in and make ourselves comfortable around the table. I’ll go find you something to wear until your shirt is washed and mended.”

∞∞∞

With the cake finally set on the coals to bake, Dora stood at one end of the table with a fresh bucket of water in front of her, working on the bloodstain with her thumbnail. Papa sat on the long side and Matthias was at the far end, each of them with a cup of small beer. Papa’s stained working shirt hung loose on Matthias, but it went over the bandage well enough. His other hand was wrapped around the spot, absent-mindedly massaging it.

Papa hadn’t shouted since that first outburst, but he was looking at Matthias with an intense air. It made her nervous. What was this all about? Finally he spoke. “Matthias, the time has come for some very plain speaking. It might be said that your plans should be no concern of ours, and we should have nothing to say about them?”

Matthias started to open his mouth. Papa held up a finger.

“I should not have shouted. But. We’ve always thought that one day you and Dora would wish to marry, yes? It’s never been said in so many words, but this has long been in the air?”

“Yes, Herr Hammel, now that you say so. I’ve never put it into words, but yes, I would wish that very much.”

“Yes, Papa! That would be . . . Yes.”

Papa nodded, twice, slowly. “And so now it has been put into words. Well, we are not living in a romantic fairy tale. Your virtues are undeniable, as you’ve proven once again. You would be good to Dora. But that is not enough, a family cannot live on air and dreams. I have always thought that with an education in the law there would never be any doubt that you could carry a man’s duty to earn a living and provide for a family. At least, with as much certainty as God ever grants us in this world. But now? The last thing I heard you say was that you are not just proposing to leave the university and enter this new and untried school, chartered by a new and untried emperor, you have already done it.”

Papa leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. “Look at me, Matthias. Here I am fifty-three years old. Maybe I don’t look it, because my hair is still brown and I keep my beard short because of the forge. But I’m as skilled a smith as there is, and still not a master with my own shop in a good town. I never found a town with a place open that they didn’t fill up with one of their own. Well, finally, by good fortune Count August has need of a smith at this new flax mill of his in Sömmerda. So, at least I am to be an Adelmeister as soon as we can pack up and move there. We will not live on the dregs of little jobs in the villages any more.

“But I want something better for Dora. When she marries, it must be to a man of proven ability to make a good living. Proven. I never doubted that you would, until now.”

Matthias half-rose out of his chair, with one hand on the table edge. “You doubt me now? You know me. We’ve known each other always.”

Papa sighed. “We knew you before the bad times came, and you had to go live with your aunt’s family off in Eisenach. But you were younger then. Do we know you now? How well? And this thing you now intend to study . . .”

“Chemical engineering, Herr Hammel . . .”

“We do not know it at all. You say it’s not the same as alchemy. Perhaps it will bring you success. Perhaps. We can pray that it does.” His fingers tapped a few times on the table. He sat back and looked up at Matthias’s face. “I do not mean to insult you, or usurp the advice of your aunt and uncle whose place it is to guide you. Do not think that I reject you as a suitor, a future suitor. I do know that you’re intelligent, honorable, and kind. That, at least, has never changed.” He paused again. Dora’s eyes were flicking back and forth between them. “That is worth a great deal. My daughter would accept no less, and neither would I.” His closed hand softly rapped the edge of the table. “But I am a father, and I have my responsibilities. If you are determined to follow this uncertain course of action to an unknowable outcome, I must not consent to a betrothal until you prove yourself in the world. You understand me?”

Matthias sat back down. He took a breath. “Yes, Herr Hammel. Of course. My love for Dora is the greatest part of why I do this! I can finish this curriculum and begin earning a living years sooner. I promise you―”

“Stop right there. You are in no position to promise anything, except that you will try your hardest.”

Dora looked into Matthias’s eyes, and reached across to touch his hand with her fingertips for just a moment. She swallowed. “I don’t know what to say, Matthias. Explain all this to us, will you? Can you? I need to understand what this trade is, what it means. But I will pray for your success, until we can be together.”

A hint of iron crept into her father’s voice. “No promises from you either, daughter. I, too, wish for this young man’s success, how could I not? But not all wishes come true, and some of life’s lessons come the hard way. Remember that, both of you.” His expression softened. “But nothing has to be decided now, nothing can be. It will be years yet before either of you can afford to marry. And now, maybe, we can talk of lighter things. You’ve grown up well, you look straight and strong for a scholar. How have your aunt and uncle been? Tell us what is happening in Eisenach. And then―” he looked up to Dora “―you can tell us of this new trade.”

Schallenburg
The following afternoon

The brief pause Matthias could afford amid the old Heimat, the little cluster of villages where he’d spent his earliest years, had been crowded with visits. Happy visits, mostly. Catching up with friends and relatives, hearing new stories, bringing out songs he hadn’t heard in years. Now, with the sun halfway down the sky, there was just time to spend a few hours with Benno Balsch and his family, who he’d missed the year before. And in the morning it would be time to return to Vehra and hoist his trunk aboard a freight wagon going north. It was just too bad Benno’s brothers wouldn’t be there tonight, but they were apprenticed too far away for that.

Matthias hardly noticed the ripening fields all around him during the hour-long walk over from Vehra.

His mind kept returning to everything that had happened the day before, most of all the things Dora’s father had said.

As he passed between the first houses lining the one main street, though, he suddenly realized that something wasn’t normal. Even in a village as tiny as Schallenburg, it was never this quiet in the daytime. Nothing was moving in the street but a couple of cats. He slowed to a stop, and looked around. Then the church bell rang several times. He could only see the top of the spire from where he stood, but he started to hear voices from that direction. In another moment people appeared in the street. One of them was Benno, coming his way.

Benno was half a head taller than Matthias, as he’d been three years earlier, but he’d gotten broader. Well, farm work would do that. So would the extra years. He had to be twenty-two by now. And he sported a blond mustache. But he was dressed for church, not work, in an unbuttoned pale yellow coat and breeches. The downcast way he walked left Matthias in no doubt what had happened. “Who was it, Benno?”

Benno abruptly straightened and hurried over in a few quick strides. “Matthias. You’re here.” He reached out to grasp Matthias by the shoulders. He took a couple of deep breaths. His eyes were watering. “It was Sybilla Rudigerin. And her baby.”

Matthias tipped his head to one side and looked off toward the tile roofs across the way, while he tried to think who that might be.

“Reimar’s wife. You never met her. She wasn’t from around here. It was terrible. The midwife tried everything she could think of, and couldn’t get the baby out. Nothing worked. I don’t know why, but it happens. It’s good to see you, but this is a sad time you’ve walked into.”

“Yes, yes, I’d better go see him and offer my condolences.”

“Tomorrow would be better, I think. It’s too much for him right now. They lost their first child a year ago, and now this.  Come home with me, you must be hungry. Mama and Papa will be along in a while. I’ll find you something to put in your stomach, and then we can talk while I milk the cow. Have you made any more new songs?”

“Nothing I’d want to sing in front of people just now, I’ll tell you that. And I don’t think I’d want to write about this.” He fell silent, while they followed the gentle curve of the street back toward the Balsch home.

Ten minutes later Benno led Matthias around behind the comfortable old house to where the cow was sheltered. It would have been pretentious to call it a barn. The cow shed was just about big enough for one medium-sized cow, with a thatched roof, crooked walls, and missing patches of plastering. She was a good-looking brown cow, though. Benno ducked a little as he went through the doorway, with a three-legged stool in one hand and a pail in the other. Even so, his cap brushed the lintel. Matthias stood outside on the bare dirt, out of reach of the tail, with a generous chunk of cheese in one hand.

Once Benno got the rhythm, he looked up over his shoulder. “So, you were in Eisenach when they had that big fight with the Spaniards, weren’t you? Did you meet any of the Americans? What did you think of them?”

“Not then, but later, when Uncle Berthold had business dealings with a few of them. Hmm, well, the first thing you notice is that most of them seem to be in fine health. No pockmarks, good straight teeth right into old age. It’s hard to tell how old any of them are. And they’re peaceful people, mostly. They insist on peace. They demand peace. And they’re ready to kill anybody who won’t give it to them.”

“Ha! Your turn of phrase?”

“Uncle Berthold’s. After what they did at the Wartburg to that Spanish army. But he’s happy with what they did to the road between Eisenach and Jena. Business has never been so good.” Matthias ran down. His eyes drifted off toward the trees along the river bank a couple hundred paces away. They’d gone wading there years ago, but this time of year it was almost dry.

After half a minute or so of silence, Benno looked up again. “You look like you’ve got something on your mind. Something bothering you, I’d say.”

Matthias snapped back into focus with a start. “Yes. Maybe. I’ve been thinking about what you told me when I came. About the funeral. I think perhaps I should take this as a sign, whether it was meant to be one or not.”

“A sign? How?”

“Benno, you know I visited our friends in Henschleben yesterday? Dora Hammelin and her parents?”

“I didn’t, but I can’t imagine you passing them by.”

“Well, it came out that she cares for me as much as I always have for her. God willing, we’ll marry when the time is right. When we can afford to start a household.”

“You’re betrothed? Congratulations.”

“No, her father won’t allow it, not until I show I can support a family. He wants me to prove myself first.” He spread his hands and shook his head. “Well, what argument could I possibly make against that? I suppose I must agree that Thomas Hammel is a sensible man. As far as he sees things. He got me to dithering right up to this minute about whether I ought to do what he thought I should, and turn back to studying law.”

“You’re not? What are you doing, then?”

“That’s one of the things I was going to tell you, and what happened today puts an end to my doubts. No, I’m going to study chemical engineering, as I intended. It’s one of the new professions. Then my work will be in Grantville, or Schwarza, or Saalfeld, and my wife will be right where she can reach the new midwives and doctors in Grantville and Jena. I tell you, it was all over the university last spring. The medical faculty at Jena has started teaching things nobody all the way back to Hippocrates ever knew. Women don’t die in childbirth there.” He pounded one fist into his other hand. “No, whatever Thomas Hammel says, and whatever happens, my wife won’t be put in the kind of danger poor Sibylla was. I won’t be the cause of that. I will make my career where she can be safe.”

“Is that true? We hear a lot of things, but . . .”

“Oh, yes, it’s true, and a lot more besides. I tell you, Benno, we can only guess at why God sent Grantville to us, but maybe this was one part of His plan. And I believe it would be very wrong to ignore this gift.” He took a couple of steps back and forth, while Benno finished milking. “I suppose He must have decided that if it was time for a miracle, it was time for a thundering big one.”

“Heh. I suppose it was. I hear it thundered when it happened.” He straightened up, picked up the pail and stool, and bumped into Matthias’s arm as he turned. “Whoops. What’s this under your shirt?”

“It’s a bandage.” Matthias’s mood eased, and he let an ironic grin creep onto his face. “Where Dora stabbed me.”

What??! That sweet girl? Tell me about it, while I go put this in the cellar to keep. Then we can lead this one―” he patted the cow “―back to pasture. And then you can tell me about your plans.”

Several days later

There was no mistaking the southwestern outskirts of Magdeburg as they rolled in at mid-day. It didn’t look anything like the towns and villages the wagon had passed through. It didn’t even look like Eisenach or Erfurt.

Matthias was perched up front beside Zacharias Kessel, the traveling merchant who owned the covered freight wagon. The old fellow wasn’t big, but he was strong. Friendly, too, if you didn’t try to impose on him. Formality had vanished by the second day on the road.

The new district reached out far beyond the old city walls. They couldn’t even see the walls from where they were, and the only things they could see beyond were the top of the cathedral and a slender latticework tower poking up into the overcast. A couple of red lights flashed intermittently on its side.

Most of the buildings they passed were perfectly ordinary timber-framed affairs. The completed ones were plastered over, and left white more often than not. Three or four stories seemed to be the most common, though some were lower and some were higher. There wasn’t a thatched roof in sight. It was probably forbidden. Here and there was a stone building, and a few constructed of brick. As they got further in, they passed one massive two-story monolith made of some drab grayish material he hadn’t seen before.  A heavy, slow hammering was coming out of it.

Everyone they passed seemed to have someplace to go and no time to waste getting there. But what was really different were the streets. They were not only wider than anything he’d seen before, they were mostly straight, and crossed at something close to right angles. At one place a crew of men was doing something in a trench dug straight through a crossing.

The horses were having an easy time with the roadway they were on. It was smooth and surfaced with packed stones. There were some smells, but then no city had ever been able to keep the streets completely clear of horse manure.

The buildings started to get closer together, and the streets got busier. Presently Kessel pulled up the horses. “Here you are, my young friend, safe and sound.” He pointed down the street, where a glimpse of the city wall showed between the building fronts. “Right there is the northwest gate of the Altstadt, like you asked. This is as close as I can bring you. From here I go to the navy yard to deliver my goods.”

“Thank you, Zacharias. It was good traveling with you.” And not too expensive. The fare had been reasonable enough. Sleeping on the cargo under the canvas canopy instead of at inns had saved some more money.

Matthias went around to unlatch the rear of the wagon and swing it down. He worked his trunk over the edge and lowered it to the ground. As he closed up the wagon again, Kessel called back, “A piece of advice. Don’t let that thing out of your sight. In fact, don’t let it out of arm’s reach until you get to your lodgings.”

“That bad?”

Kessel swung his free hand around at the people hurrying in every direction, dressed in every style Matthias had ever seen and a good many he hadn’t. “It’s a city, what would you expect? There are thieves everywhere. Good luck.”

“Thanks. And safe trip the rest of the way.” He waved, and Kessel flicked the reins. Matthias put on his coat for padding and left it unbuttoned. He knelt to get his arms into the straps, then pushed off with his hands against his knees to stand up under the weight. He shifted it around, trying for a comfortable fit. There really wasn’t one. The flat back of the plain wooden box pressed against his shoulder blades no matter what he did. But it was just a few hundred yards now.

He pulled the college’s pamphlet out of his trousers pocket and folded it open to the map. The words at the top of the page caught his eye. Welcome to Magdeburg.

Late afternoon

Germund put down his tools and answered the door. The fellow in the fifth floor hallway looked up at him with a friendly smile, and spoke in German-accented Latin. “Ave. Are you Germund Hockenoher?”

The newcomer looked decent enough at a quick first glance. About average size for a German of scholarly persuasion, and not used to heavy work by the look of his hands. The style of clothing he wore was getting more common on the streets of Magdeburg, not exactly like an up-time casual shirt and trousers, but well-fitting in a way that benefited from sewing machines. Muted brown and dark green. From common dyes, then.

Germund burst out laughing. “Ha! I am Germund, true enough! For the rest, when the bursar asked my surname, I said ‘ha’kke noe’. It means ‘don’t have any.’ Not something we have much need of at home. And he garbled it as Hockenoher, so that’s how it is in the college records. Without a doubt they’ll inscribe it in fine flourishes on my diploma. And you?”

“Well, then, well met, Germund! I am Matthias Ehrenhardt, from Eisenach. I read the card you posted in the bursar’s office.” He stuck out his hand for a Roman-style forearm clasp. Probably because they were speaking Latin.

Germund grinned through his beard and responded in kind. “Ah, then, you’re interested in sharing the room, such as it is? Well, come in and take a look.” He backed in and moved aside, and the newcomer followed him and looked all around. “It isn’t much, as you can see, but it’s cheap. For two, it will be cheaper. I take it you’re not swimming in silver, or you wouldn’t be looking this far west of the gate for a place to live. You don’t look like a starving scholar, though. I’ll be frank. The one thing I insist on if we room together is that you pay your share of the rent on time.” He laid down the small mallet in his hand and stood casually, with one hand resting on the table.

“Mmph. You come straight to the point, don’t you? Testing whether I’ll try to weasel or make excuses? My uncle is a merchant and city councilman, I’ve been been present for plenty of pointed talk about money. Well, I have enough for necessary expenses, but I know better than to waste any.” He looked around at the unadorned whitewashed walls, with interior framing showing through. “I suppose it must come cheap. This looks like not much more than a wide hallway, running from the door to that window. As big as you are, I think you might be able to reach your arms across the short way, without straining too hard. How would the two of us manage to sleep in here, and still have room for anything else?”

Germund chuckled. “You noticed, did you? Stated the problem right off. I made sure there was an answer to that, before posting that card. One of the shops around the corner sells a kind of bed on posts. You can get it with two beds, one above the other, or just the upper one so you can stand it above a table or cabinet. They called it a bunk bed. So you use the floor it stands on twice. We’d need another chair, too. Only one came with the table.” He reached out with one foot to point at a pile of boards in the middle of the floor. “Oh, and that won’t be in the way for long. It’s my travel trunk. I built it so I can take it apart and put it back together as a bookcase.”

“That’s clever, I’m impressed. Are you a carpenter, then? Studying one of the trades?”

“Not exactly. My family owns a small shipyard, so of course I know how to shape wood. It’s in Uddevala, on the fjord behind Orust in southern Norway, near the tip of Denmark. We’ve already had a couple of small navy contracts. But steam is coming, anybody can see that, so it was decided that I should come here and learn mechanical engineering. You?”

“Chemical engineering. About the same as mechanical engineering, but with a lot of practical chemistry besides. So many bottlenecks have to do with materials. I think I can make a real difference, there. And I should have all the work I want, once I learn to design the chemical factories to make them. Hardly anybody is doing it.”

“Sounds like a whole lot of study, but you could be right about that. Anyway, small as the rooms are in this place, there’s one thing you might not have noticed. Indoor plumbing, two floors below us. So it’s not quite as cheap as you’d think, but that’s all right with me.” A couple of loud clangs came through the open window. Matthias flinched for a moment. “Oh, don’t worry too much about the noise from the metal-working shop on the ground floor. They hardly ever work at night.”

Matthias glanced outside. “I hope not. What about meals?”

“Down the street. This is only a rooming house, not a boarding house. The neighborhood is full of cheap places to eat, where most of the apprentices and journeymen go. That’s better for us, anyway. There’s no telling what time of day any of us will finish classes.”

Matthias’s head was moving from side to side, peering. He took a step sideways, and stared at the wall just beneath the window. “What is that coil of rope doing there, tied to that ring?”

Germund chuckled again. “A specialty of the house, you could say. It’s for going out the window, if we ever have a fire. The city fire department insists. And it’s not tied, it’s eye-spliced. Much stronger. If you don’t know how to go down a rope, I can teach you.” He leaned back against the wall and folded his arms. “So, what do you think?”

Meanwhile, in Sömmerda

The two hours it took Thomas Hammel to walk over from Henschleben gave him plenty of time to fret. He couldn’t help musing on the irony of the lecture he’d delivered to Matthias Ehrenhardt just a few days earlier. Now here he was himself, one short step from walking into a situation full of unknowns. Well, it was time to resolve any lingering doubts one way or the other, before he uprooted his family from where they’d lived so many years and turned their lives in a new direction.

He found the count’s new flax mill easily enough. He’d only needed to follow the little power canal downstream from the dam. The building stood apart, not in the town itself. But it was like nothing he’d ever seen. The only normal thing about it was the timber frame construction and the tile roof. Otherwise it was long and narrow, laid out east-and-west, with rows of windows along both stories to let in the light. A palace might be laid out like that, but this was no palace. Instead of a wheel outside, the headrace ran into the shadows beneath one end.

As he came around the corner of the building, he caught sight of a stout man near the far end, of perhaps his own age. He was soberly dressed, though not wearing a coat. He had a light staff in one hand, pointing something out to a pair of masons. Judging by the style of the goatee and the broad-brimmed hat, that was probably the man Thomas was supposed to meet this morning, the Dutchman who’d planned the place.

He found a short staircase up to an open door and stepped inside to see what he could while he waited.

The inside was even further from his past experience than the outside. The whole lower floor was one long hall, with the morning sun coming in the south windows.  It was clear enough from one glance why the count’s factor wanted a smith here; there was more iron than he’d ever seen in one place. Even the shafts overhead were metal, and they ran the length of the building. There were rows of hulking enigmatic machines, some standing as high as his shoulders. The ones that were mostly wood were full of metal parts; others were iron-framed and painted in bright colors. Judging by all the still-empty space, the cluster of unopened wooden crates in one corner, and the unoccupied ground he’d seen outside, there was going to be a lot more of everything.

He turned at the sound of brisk footsteps coming up behind him. The man with the staff was reaching out his free hand. “Good morning, are you Herr Thomas Hammel? I am Hannes Dirck Bosboom, civil engineer. Welcome. You look somewhat taken aback by all this.”

Thomas shook the proffered hand. “So I am.” He paused a moment to organize his thoughts. “This—it looks like much more than the work of one smith. Or work for one smith. What is it you and the count’s factor desire me to do?”

“Ah. Most of these machines you see were made in the factories outside Grantville. But as we put them in place, there is always something that doesn’t fit right, some little thing nobody thought to order, some little part that was bent or broken by rough handling along the way. That calls for someone who can shape metal. I have an assistant, but there is much to do. And when all this is finished and we leave, there will still be much to do keeping it all in repair. And you have a reputation as an excellent smith.”

“I see. Yes, I can make things of iron, and fit them. What I don’t see is how I’m to know what is to be done. I’m not shy about my skills, but nothing in my experience is anything like what I see here.”

“Ah. Fear not. There are manuals.” Bosboom turned to the nearest machine, a waist-high affair, and handed Thomas a thin paper-bound book he took from its top. A woodcut of the machine graced the cover, above the words.

Semmack Model 2
Flax Breaker
Installation and Maintenance

Thomas looked at it in surprise. “Books? Aren’t there millwrights trained as apprentices to make these and keep them in order?”

“Ha! By the time anyone could finish an apprenticeship on these beauties, they would already be a thing of the past. So they come with manuals. And we get engineering drawings of the parts.”

What kind of drawings?”

“I will show you. Don’t worry about what you don’t know, just expect to do a lot of reading.”

Thomas’s head was starting to spin. “And how long will I need to do that to ready myself for this work?”

Bosboom laid his hand on the flax breaker, and laughed softly. “Oh, my new friend, we will be reading and learning the rest of our lives, until we retire to our firesides, and by that we shall be secure in our trades. This is not the time of our youth, when a craft master or a professor could teach a man all he needs for his whole life’s work. No, this is a new age.” He hit the machine a solid slap with the flat of his hand and gave Thomas a mischievous smile. “Welcome to the nineteenth century.”

Thomas stared at the spot where he’d struck for a moment, wondering whether the man was serious.

Monday morning
The Imperial College of Science, Engineering, and Technology

It had been a busy three days for Matthias.

Arriving in the city on Friday at mid-day had been none too soon. Finding a room within hours, and a roommate as congenial as Germund, had been a stroke of luck. The big blond Norwegian had made it much easier to get his trunk up the zigzagging staircase.

Saturday went mostly to a last concentrated study session before classes began, on Englisch für technische Studenten, by Wolbert Oberdorfer, instructor at the University of Jena. It had hardly been practical to do much with it in the jouncing freight wagon.

Sunday was for worship, and contemplation, and his first letters to Aunt Grete and Dora Hammelin.

Now here he was, at the college’s temporary home in the Altstadt. Everything about the institution was makeshift. The pamphlet was frank enough about that.

Lifetimes ago, the edifice had been an Augustinian monastery. Then, it had been put to use as the city’s Latin school for students bound for university. It hadn’t been altogether well-maintained, even in those days. Whoever had escaped Tilly’s marauders could have done nothing to stop the lead from being stripped off the roof. Now there was a crew of roofers clumping around overhead, doing their best to save the building before the damage from rain and snow could get any worse.

With the Latin school in operation once again, the college was jammed in like a poor relation wherever there was an empty spot. Or wherever a spot could be emptied.

A Latin recitation echoed down the second-floor corridor as Matthias found his way to class. He just had time to drop his books onto the table that took up the middle of the little lecture room, and slide a chair in under himself. If you could call it a lecture room. It had once been a monk’s austere cell. There was barely enough space for the half-dozen students to get in and out without tripping. There was interior plaster missing in places, probably where a chair had bumped the water-softened wall.

He took a quick look around at his new classmates. There were two red-bearded fellows about his own age and one man probably in his late twenties. Somewhat to his surprise, two were young women. One of them was short and rather broad-faced. A faint smile seemed to be her resting expression.

Before Matthias could introduce himself, an older man bustled in and took a seat under the chalk board opposite the doorway. He had to be an up-timer if the short haircut, clipped mustache, and the shirt of cotton instead of linen meant anything. He moved with the practiced and confident air common to teachers everywhere. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Lennon Washaw, and I’m happy to meet you all. Welcome to Algebra One, German section. You’re all where you want to be, right? Nobody here who’d rather take this course in English or Latin?”

Ja, Herr Washaw.” “Ja.” Matthias and a couple of the others nodded their heads.

“Good, good.” He smiled. “Now, before we get started, there are a couple of things that I need to make sure you all understand. I could talk for a half hour, but the main point is this:

“There’s a lot more riding on your success here than just your own careers. You’ve seen how much up-time technology has done to make people’s lives better and stop our land from being everybody else’s battleground. Well, if the nation doesn’t get more engineers and scientists with twentieth century knowledge very soon, it could all come to a stop. Way too few came through the Ring of Fire. The emperor is very worried. That’s why he chartered this college and got his staff to find us a place to meet.

“So. This college is going to go faster than any school or university you’ve ever seen in your lives. We’ll get to know each other better in the next few days, but I do know you’re the smartest and most determined students we could find. You can do it.

“But everyone gets stuck now and then. When it happens, come see me for help. That’s why I’m here. Or ask another student. Just don’t wait. Don’t let yourself fall behind. I want you all to pass this course. End of speech. Let’s get rolling.”

He slid his chair back and stood up, picking up a piece of chalk as he turned toward the blackboard. “Here’s what algebra is all about, and why we need it. Books open to chapter one?”

Matthias watched a right triangle take shape on the blackboard, with the sides marked A, B, and C. Was it all about to make sense? The idea of letters that stood for numbers whose size you didn’t know was just strange. And apparently all of engineering depended on that. Even geometry. But now there was someone to ask.

∞∞∞

When Matthias came downstairs to the school’s refectory at the end of that first morning’s chemistry lecture, he was almost overwhelmed by all he’d heard. Chemistry was the only science course that didn’t require algebra as a prerequisite. Considering his goals, he’d been advised to begin it immediately. And it was offered in German.

A trickle of the new knowledge had worked its way to Eisenach, but here it was a river. Elements and compounds. The atomic theory. The ancients had gotten so much wrong, but they’d tried to understand the world by reasoning alone. Well, it was their own seventeenth century that had given the world the philosophy of scientific experiment. The Englishman Francis Bacon had written of it even before the Ring of Fire, and then there was Galileo. There was so much to write home about, if he could find time for a couple of letters tonight.

He looked around the hall to orient himself. It was as timeworn as the rest of the building. If the walls had ever had any decoration, it was long gone. Now it was just bare stone and smoke-blackened ceiling beams. Judging by the pathways worn into the stone floor, it had seen many feet through the centuries.

Unlike the university he’d attended for a year, nobody waited on tables. There was a serving line at one end instead. It seemed to move fairly quickly. In a minute or so Matthias found himself carrying away a wooden tray with a bowl of fish stew, a bread roll, and a cup of the ubiquitous small beer. He looked around for a place to sit.

He saw a few Latin school students leaving, probably the last ones returning to class. Some of the tables were filling up now with the much smaller college contingent.

The first thing that struck him was that nobody wore academic dress. But there was a table where a couple of gray-uniformed young soldiers were just sitting down. They were clean-shaven, and had that up-time way of carrying themselves. It was a perfect chance to practice his English. He walked over to them. “Hello. May I join you?”

The one facing him looked up with a quick smile and made a gesture with his spoon that was probably some sort of welcome. “Sure. My name’s Dave Fritz. That’s Brent Little over there. You studying here?” For someone with a name like Fritz, he looked almost Italian, with dark curly hair and an olive-tinged complexion. Little was pale and a couple of fingers taller, with light brown hair.

“Yes, I’m starting on chemical engineering. My name is Matthias Ehrenhardt.”

“Oh, that sounds like fun. You get to play with boomenstoff?”

“Well, maybe, when they find a place they can put a laboratory. It’s all classrooms and books now, and a lot of it. What are you studying?” As he spoke, he was setting his tray down and sliding onto one end of the bench.

“Me? Surveying and mapping. I’ve got some of the high school math and I took drafting my second year, so the army decided to send me over here for a while. It beats digging latrines.”

Little sat back and laughed. “Yeah, a lot of things beat digging latrines. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that digging latrines beats. Like having to hide in one. And even that beats some things. But like you say, I’d rather be right here.” He patted the table next to his bowl.

Matthias must have had a puzzled look on his face. Fritz swallowed the bite of bread he had in his mouth and pointed a thumb at Little. “He’s talking about the Battle of the Crapper. You know about it, Matthias?”

“No.”

“Well, it’s a longer story than we can get through right now, but right after we landed here in Germany we had to fight off a big bunch of mercenaries near town. Gretchen Richter hid four little girls down in a latrine so they wouldn’t get raped or killed, or both, by whoever won. Could have happened anyway, but some of our guys were in the right spot to stop it. So it didn’t. And Brent’s right. Even if you’re in the shit, things could always be worse.”

Matthias was busily spooning up the soup while he listened. The college’s mid-day halt was sufficient for a simple meal, but no more than that.

Little snorted. “You’ve got a way with words, Dave. Couldn’t put it better myself.”

Fritz made a thumbs-up gesture. “Thanks. And what are you taking? If you said, I forgot.”

“Electronics technician course. I’m a radio operator anyway, so I put in for it. Somebody has to keep this junk we’ve got running. You wouldn’t believe . . .”

“Yeah, I probably would. They’ve got me helping out, teaching basic mechanical drawing. T-square and triangle, if you believe that. And they don’t have plastic to make see-through ones, either. Slows you down. Hey, Matthias, will I see you in class?”

“I don’t think so, not this term. All engineering students take mechanical drawing, but they say I need algebra first.  For now, I study mathematics and chemistry in the morning, and up-time English the whole afternoon. We must master it quickly. The second year’s books aren’t translated yet. Not many, they say. Of course, my Latin is good.”

“Hadn’t thought about that. Do you even need Latin here?”

Matthias rocked his hand. “It’s useful, sometimes. But the up-timer engineering students have to learn it. Not for science and engineering books, but for correspondence later on, maybe for papers they publish.”

Little’s mouth turned down for a moment. “Better them than me. German’s complicated enough.”

Dave Fritz laughed. “Whatever German turns out to be, five years from now!”

Matthias looked back at him, and smiled. “Hmm, yes. Doctor Luther would not be pleased. You up-timers are a corrupting influence.”

“Ain’t we, though!”

They all laughed, and got on with eating.

Sömmerda, a couple weeks later

Bosboom had had the foresight to put in a forge at one corner of the lower floor where there was a chimney. It wasn’t walled off yet, but that would have to be done soon. Soot and ashes in the air wouldn’t be a good thing in a place that made linen.

Thomas finished restoring the end of a grossly abused pry bar, and banked the fire. When he straightened up, one of the men came over.

“Forge work finished for the moment, Herr Hammel?  Herr Bosboom would like to see you. Over there.” He pointed.

Thomas nodded, and followed the workman to the other end of the mill.

“Ah, Herr Hammel, here it is.”

Thomas stared at the machine bolted to the bottom of one disassembled crate, and what had to be its base in the other. “This is what you meant by a lathe? I worked with lathes in my journeyman days, but nothing the least bit like this mountain of cast iron!” He spared hardly a glance for the collection of even more enigmatic objects that had been packed in with it, cushioned in oily rags. He straightened up and turned to look at the engineer. “So, Herr Bosboom, what are we supposed to do with all this?”

“We do what Hochuli was going to do, what else? Secure the stand to the mill floor good and solid, put it all back together, and bring a belt down from the overhead shaft. And stack his tool chests alongside the way he did at our last job site, so they’re within reach. We’re going to need this as soon as we have shaft power. There are always precision parts that have to be made or altered, when we’re bringing up a place like this. I know you could do it by hand, but we don’t have time for that.”

“Hmmph. I don’t see any manual in there with it, like all the other machines you ordered. I hope you’ve done this before.”

“No, Hochuli always did that. He was my mechanic. He knew how to set it up and work it.”

“Gregorius Hochuli, who lingered too long in the wine shop last night, and stumbled blind-drunk into the mill race? That Gregorius Hochuli? Who never even hinted at this―thing? My aching head!”

“Thomas, you’re a master smith. You’re a very smart man, I’ve seen what you’ve done already. Surely you can manage this.”

Surely? Are you just trying to butter me up? This thing has more gears than anything I’ve seen yet, and cranks and levers everywhere.” Thomas pointed with the pry bar he still held in his hand. “Look at this whole business in the middle! This is nothing like any lathe I’ve ever heard of. Well. Did he leave us any books? That would help.”

“I think so. I’ll look in his baggage later, but let’s see what’s in this big tool chest.” Bosboom started opening and closing drawers. Very little of what was in there made any sense to Thomas at first glance. The bottom drawer was deeper than the rest, and there among the strange gleaming tools rested a fat volume. Bosboom pulled it out and opened it to the title page. Marks Handbook.

Thomas looked over his shoulder to see. “Oh, wonderful. It’s in English. Why should I not have expected that?” He tossed the pry bar to the floor and threw up his hands. “You can count on me to cry at Hochuli’s funeral.”

The mill office

October

Dora Hammelin hung her coat on a peg by the head of the stairs and went to take her seat. The office area still had no partitions. It was just an open space at one end of the upper floor, stretching from one plain white outer wall to the other. The table they’d given her was no more than a pair of carpenter’s saw horses, topped with three loose planks that would soon be part of the building. It was in the middle of the space, which was just as well. Cold air came off the windows. Herr Bosboom and the builders had tables and papers all around too, but they weren’t there at the moment.

She sat down just as the bell rang for the start of the day. Her second day. A soft low-pitched rumble in the floor under her feet began, as the machinery started up.

Dora had a great deal to be happy about. The mill was running now, some of it, and Papa had found her a place here. Matthias would so pleased when her letter reached him. No more wearing out her hands and back in domestic service for meager pay and taking forever to save up a dowry. This was not what she had imagined doing at this time of her life. This was better. And she could live at home with Papa and Mama.

There was a slip of paper on the table.

Please see me. B. Pöhls,

She went around the end of the tall portable slate standing in front of the head clerk’s desk, where he kept a long list of things that needed attention. He, at least, had a proper desk and a couple of bookcases. At her approach, he dropped his pen into the inkwell and sat up straight. He was thirtyish, tall, cadaverous, and stooped. By the expression on his face, he looked for all the world like he was sampling a lemon, and fretting about whether the rest of the barrel would meet the approval of some demanding client. “I tell you this frankly, Dora, I’m not at all used to the idea of women clerks. But your father seems to have the factor’s ear, and so here you are. So. I will expect you to earn your pay.” He shook his finger. “There are no sinecures in the Sommersburg enterprises!”

“No, Herr Pöhls, of course not. No-one would imagine such a thing. I am a very good worker.”

Pöhls looked at her severely over his spectacles. “I hope you are a fast learner, as well. You put these invoices in proper order quickly enough yesterday, which is very well, but it’s unfortunate that you came knowing nothing of the Italian system of bookkeeping.” He sighed, stood, and took a thick volume from a high shelf. “Here, I’ll lend you this. Take good care of it and study it carefully. Come to me when you have questions, for you will. This is not easy to grasp. For now, you understand the purpose of a ledger and you can add, yes?”

“Yes, Herr Pöhls.”

“Good. I’m thankful for that.” He picked up a thick ledger book from the desk, opened it to a page marked by a slip of paper, and put his fingers on two of the columns. “Check these for errors against the invoices you just sorted, then total them, and do the same with the six following pages. Now, I must return to my own work.” Muttering something under his breath, he arranged a couple of stacks of paper to his satisfaction and reached for the pen again.

Dora picked up the ledger, the papers, and the textbook, and returned to her own table. Fussy, grumbling employers were no novelty. A grumbling employer in a clean office where the windows let in plenty of light and they paid on time was. If they wanted her to learn formal bookkeeping, then good enough, that’s what she would do.

She sat down again with the invoices at her left hand and the ledger at her right, turning them over one by one and deliberately moving her finger down the column. Pöhls wanted accuracy, not speed. The soft trembling of the floor faded from her mind. She hardly noticed when the rest of the office staff came up from a brief meeting on the main floor.

Fritsche Brothers smithy

Bischleben, Thuringia

November

Georg and Friedrich Fritsche were neat and well-organized master craftsmen. Just the same, clean was not possible in a shop where soot, sparks, oils, and metal chips were in the nature of the day’s work. The only benefit of plastering the ceiling overhead was to keep sparks off the wood. They kept a table for any papers they needed to handle downstairs, and put it under a small window as far away from the forge as they could. Debris still got there.

The window wasn’t bringing in any light to speak of this late in the year and this late in the day, though. The two burly men were peering at what the Erfurt army depot had sent them, with the aid of a couple of candle lanterns. It consisted of a folio-size drawing in an unfamiliar style and color, a “Request for Quote” with pages of legal verbiage, and a sample of a steel part.

Georg held it up in the lightly oiled rag protecting it from rust. “Friedrich, it’s ridiculous! For what they’re willing to pay? Absurd.”

“I don’t know, the piece looks simple enough.”

“Look again. You see what the finish is like, every place it isn’t left rough from the casting? Then look right here―” his finger stabbed down “―on this drawing they gave me, this ‘blueprint.’ You see these numbers next to the diameter? The army supply clerk explained what it means. They call that a tolerance. The thing has to slide in and work with no hand-fitting at all. It’s something to do with rapid repairs on the battlefield.”

Friedrich’s eye skipped from place to place on the drawing for a dozen heartbeats, then he put his finger on the spot again and looked up with a question on his face.

Georg looked right back. “You don’t believe it could mean what it says? I didn’t believe it either. Yes, it does have to be bored to within three thousandths of an inch of the exact diameter the drawing says, or they won’t accept it.” He tapped one finger on Friedrich’s leather apron for emphasis. “Not to mention, the rest of the tolerances aren’t much more forgiving. And they measure every one, too. He showed me their measuring tools. Exquisite.”

“Whoof.” Friedrich ran his fingers through his hair for a moment, looking away toward the far end of the shop a dozen paces away, where a single lamp burned above one of the benches. In his mind’s eye he saw the shop years ago, when they’d employed three journeymen and a couple of apprentices. The only sound now was the soft purr of the river just outside. He came back to the present. “Well, somebody made this one you brought for us to look at. We’re master smiths, Georg. If they could make one, so can we. Let me think on it for a day or so.”

Georg’s mouth tightened. “Ja, that’s another thing.” He picked up the sheaf of papers and flourished it. “They don’t want just one, they want fifty, and they want them in two weeks. And they claim the Grantville shops could do it, for the price he offered, if they weren’t all backed up down there.”

What? That is crazy. One of these things would be close to a week’s work, and that’s after we figure out how. We’d have to make some kind of special tools for a thing like this, before we could even start. Fifty, though?”

“And plenty more jobs like it, if we could take them. We’re a lot closer to the Erfurt army depot than the Grantville shops are. He said they’d love to send us the work.”

Friedrich stepped away and walked back and forth between the table and the nearest post supporting the upper floor, thinking. “Fifty of them, and more jobs like it. Wonderful. More work than the two of us could do alone, work enough for all the men we could take on. That’s what they tempt us with.” He blew out a breath, and looked at the beautifully finished steel part. “Grantville this, Grantville that. I tell you what, Georg. It’s time to find out whether that nest of sorcerers really can do something like this and make any money at it. Or is that pen pusher just trying to blow smoke in our eyes?”

Georg set the thing down in the box it had come in, and laughed. “And you want to go there and see with your own eyes, don’t you? I can see the look on your face.”

“What, shouldn’t I?”

Georg clapped his brother on the shoulder. “Well, one of us should. Two days, Friedrich, and we’ll have the order for spikes finished and sent off. Two days and we’ll have the time free. Why don’t you find us something to eat, while I douse the forge fire and sweep up?”

Ten days later

Though the fire was keeping the shop reasonably warm, Georg preferred to work with a pair of heavy gloves that came halfway up his forearms. Just in case. The end of the workpiece was glowing a nice cherry-red. Perfect. He chose a medium size cross-peen hammer, placed the piece just-so on the anvil, and brought down the hammer in a smooth, economical motion. With hardly any need for conscious thought, he advanced the bar and took aim for the next stroke.

The little bell on the door jingled, and a breeze blew in. A customer? Georg stayed his hand and looked up toward the street end of the shop. “Friedrich! Welcome back!” There was somebody else just coming in the door behind him. Georg started to put down the hammer.

“That’s all right, brother, strike while the iron is hot. We can talk in a minute. This is Karl Reichert. I’ll show him around meanwhile.”

“All right, then, this won’t take long.” Georg turned his eyes back to the work in front of him and resumed striking.

The piece was well on its way to becoming a hinge-half by the time it was too cool to shape further. Georg shoved it back in the forge and turned to look curiously at the young man examining the big power hammer. Clean-shaven, fairly short hair, maybe in his early twenties, and just average size. His clothes looked well-made and reasonably new, but they were clearly meant for working, not for impressing people with his importance. The shirt cuffs looked sweat-stained. Before he could speculate further, Friedrich started across the shop with the newcomer in tow. “Georg, Karl here is a machinist from Davis’s new shop in Schwarza. I’ve arranged for him to be here for a week to see what we have. He can look at some of the things we’re being asked to make, and tell us what he thinks might be sensible for us to take on. Karl, this is my brother Georg.”

“Pleased to meet you, Herr Fritsche.” The fellow had a firm handshake. Not like a smith’s, of course.

“So, you’re the master Friedrich wrote about? You look young for that.”

An amused smile crossed Reichert’s face. “I hear that a lot. No, there hasn’t been time yet for anyone who started after the Ring of Fire to master my trade. If Grantville had guilds, I’d probably be a middle-rank journeyman. My job is mostly to set up the machines for production runs and show the operators how to run them. I make whatever special tools are needed, and run the more complicated parts myself. And anything else the machine operators and junior machinists can’t handle.”

“You teach? That sounds like master’s work.”

“Someday, maybe. The old-timers, what few of them there are, have their hands full teaching us what they know, when they’re not doing the really tricky jobs. Some of them are trying to turn themselves into tool-and-die makers with nobody to go to for advice. We all have to stretch ourselves.

“Anyway, I can answer one question for you right now. You’ve got enough water power to run a small machine shop, if you don’t run the hammer at the same time. Otherwise you’d want to put in one of the new mill wheels and a better shaft system. So, would you like to show me what your customers are asking for?”

Georg nodded. “We certainly would.” He laid aside the bar he was working on, and stopped the bellows driving air into the forge. “This way.” He led the way to the table by the window, and the basket of papers that had come in.

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