Things Could Be Worse

In the years that follow the Ring of Fire, Pastor Kastenmeyer copes with Stiefelite Lutheran heretics, Flacian Lutheran ultra-orthodox, and the strange new up-time world of shorts, blue jeans, and unknown religious denominations. His struggles and travails have a surprisingly revolutionary impact on seventeenth-century Lutheranism—perhaps to no one’s greater surprise than the pastor himself.



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The Ring of Fire that transported the town of Grantville from West Virginia in the year 2000 to the region of Thuringia in the middle of Europe in the year 1631 produced an enormous cascade of changes in world history. Some of those changes were big, others were huge—and some were more modest in scale. Modest, at the least, to the universe, if not necessarily to those immediately affected. Count Ludwig Guenther of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt builds a Lutheran church on his own land, not far from Grantville, and calls in a Saxon pastor of a Phillipist bent to serve the Lutheran refugee population of the area. Shortly thereafter, in April 1634, the pastor’s older daughter meets and elopes with a Catholic up-timer, which prompts Kastenmayer to get Lutheran girls to marry unchurched up-timers and thereby recruit them into the parish. In the years that follow, Pastor Kastenmeyer copes with both existing ecclesio-political strands of down-time religion (from Stiefelite Lutheran heretics to Flacian Lutheran ultra-orthodox) and the strange new up-time world of shorts, blue jeans, and unknown religious denominations. His struggles and travails have a surprisingly revolutionary impact on seventeenth-century Lutheranism—perhaps to no one’s greater surprise than the pastor himself.

April, 1635

Ludwig Kastenmayer would never forget the day. April 11, 1634, by the reckoning of these up-timers, who had adopted the pope’s calendar. The day that one of them had stolen his daughter. It was the worst thing that had happened to him since Count Ludwig Guenther assigned him to the new parish of St. Martin’s in the Fields after the Rudolstadt Colloquy.

The man should not even have been in Grantville. He was an officer in the military of the New United States and should have been in Erfurt, where he was assigned.

Jonas—Jonas Justus Muselius, the youngest teacher at the Lutheran elementary school attached to the church and a friend of several of the up-timers—had said that he was on “R and R.” Even after Jonas had explained it to him, Pastor Kastenmayer found it peculiar. There was far more to do in Erfurt than in Grantville. Theological lectures by guest professors. Organ concerts. Choral performances. Sermons by visiting pastors. The man should have stayed in Erfurt for his holiday. Erfurt was a magnificent city. He had greatly enjoyed all four of his visits there.

That man should not have come to Grantville and, within less than two weeks, seen Andrea on the street, walked up to her, introduced himself, persuaded her to accompany him to a public restaurant for a meal, and—married her!—six weeks before the end of the school term at Countess Katharina the Heroic School next to St. Martin’s, leaving Maria Blandina to manage all of the youngest children by herself. Still, there were only eighty-three of them, after all. There had been little reason for her to complain so bitterly.

Barbaric, this idea that couples could marry in three days’ time and without the consent of the parents. Especially when anyone who thought about it should have realized that the parents would not consent. The man was—well, ultimately, to put it plainly—


At least he hadn’t insisted that Andrea convert to his church. That would have been the final embarrassment. Nonetheless, it had been difficult to explain to the consistory in Rudolstadt. Extremely difficult, to say the least. Better yet, they had not married in the Grantville Catholic church. Pastor Kastenmayer had derived some minimal satisfaction from discovering that St. Mary’s forbade such an absurdity as manifestly disastrous mixed-confessional matrimony on three days’ notice, even if the civil laws did not. They had married before the mayor at the Rathaus, the man saying casually (Pastor Kastenmayer had heard second hand; he had not been there in person) that they “could get the religious stuff sorted out when they had time.”

Additionally, Salome, his second wife, suggested that it was his own fault for not having arranged marriages for the daughters of his first marriage in a more timely manner. Indeed, she had commented that it would not be entirely surprising if Maria Blandina chose an equally unsuitable spouse. She hadn’t quite said that the girls were both self-centered young snips with pretty faces…not—quite. It would not have been true, and she was fair-minded.

Pastor Kastenmayer had duly sounded out Jonas about Maria Blandina. It would have been quite suitable; the father of young Muselius had been his second wife’s half-brother. But he had received a courteous refusal. Too bad. God had blessed Pastor Kastenmayer greatly—five children from his first wife, all surviving (and the two oldest earning salaries, one as a city clerk and one as a junior pastor, which was also a great blessing). Eight children from his second wife, seven surviving. And, ah, of all those, currently, three sets of board, room, and tuition at the university in Jena; two sets of board, room, and tuition at the Latin school in Rudolstadt, and two boys still not old enough for Countess Katharina the Heroic. All on the salary of a parish pastor, with a bit of tutoring here and there. Salome had recently informed him that they were to be blessed again. I am supposed to find a dowry for Maria Blandina where? he asked himself. He sighed gloomily and considered lengthening his morning prayers.

But Jonas, although refusing the offer of a wife, had suggested an alternative. What he called a “payback.”

Jonas felt responsible for the remainder of the village he had led into Grantville. A few old people, a couple of young mothers, and quite a few children. Well, some of the children had been adolescents in 1631, and most of the adolescents had been girls. The older boys had stayed behind with their fathers to fight the delaying action against the mercenaries from Badenburg. The boys lay dead with their fathers, in a mass grave next to the burned-out church. Now, in 1634, the older girls were becoming—at least at the ages the up-timers considered suitable—marriageable. Also without dowries. The arable lands of Quittelsdorf had been removed to West Virginia, Herr Gary Lambert had told Jonas. At least, that was the up-timers’ best guess as to where God had chosen to put their fields. God moved in most mysterious ways. If they had not fled from the mercenaries, they too, presumably, would have been removed to West Virginia. It had been a good day to work in the fields.

“So,” Jonas had said, “if the Habsburgs can do it”—he quoted the proverb about “happy Austria” waging matrimony rather than war, in Latin, of course—“then so can we. We must ask ‘die Krausin’.” Margaretha Krause, widowed with three children, had gone into service as housekeeper and cook for a middle-aged American whose wife had been left up-time and shortly thereafter had married him.

Before the construction of St. Martin’s in the Fields, be it known. Pastor Kastenmayer had had nothing to do with it. The man was not Lutheran. On the other hand, he was a skilled artisan with a regular position, owned a house, and did not interfere with her church attendance. He had allowed her to have their daughter baptized Lutheran at St. Martin’s. Things could be worse.

“But,” Pastor Kastenmayer had protested, “I do observe the truth that the different churches and their pastors of this Grantville appear to survive in this parity arrangement without excessive conflict. But still—if we try to pluck away their members, that will certainly cause offense. Count Ludwig Guenther does not wish to cause offense. They are his allies. He is part of their confederation.”

Jonas cocked his head to the side a little. “More than a third of these up-timers belong to no church at all.”

“You mean that they do not enforce attendance?”

“No. People who do not belong to any of the churches in the town. They are not only not Lutherans. They are not even heretics.” The honest sense of scandal that had enveloped Jonas when he first discovered this was still plain to be heard in his voice. “But, anyway. We steal their men, but we don’t steal them from any of their churches. How can the other pastors complain if we convert the heathen?”

From the perspective of his sixty-five years, the first forty-five of them spent among the feuding theologians of Saxony, Pastor Kastenmayer predicted grimly, “They’ll find a way.”

But it had been irresistible. He called upon “die Krausin,” now known to the Grantville public as Mrs. Burton Vandiver. He did not overreach. The weapon that God had forged to his hand consisted of, after all, a dozen quite ordinary village girls, even though they had been given two or three years more schooling in Grantville. His requirements were basic. He needed a list of up-time marriage candidates: his only limits were “no constant drunkards, no brawlers, no lazy louts who will expect their wives to support them.”

One more year. Palm Sunday, 1635. Harvest time coming in the spring. He smiled upon his congregation from the pulpit. “Today we welcome into fellowship through the rite of adult confirmation Herr Ryan Baker, Herr Derek Blount, Herr James Anthony Fritz, Herr Mitch Hobbs, Herr Michael Lewis Jenkins, Herr Errol Mercer, Herr Roland Worley….”

The men stood in front of him, closely shaved, their hair cut short with the exception of Herr Mercer, who had grown his to a respectable length for an adult man since leaving the army, wearing “neckties” and, most of them, the semi-stunned expression of guys who have not fully analyzed the process by which they got themselves into their current situation.

According to Herr Lambert, the “neckties” were a good omen, indicating that the men were taking their oaths seriously.

The girls of vanished Quittelsdorf had done well in the service of their Lord. Indeed, one was also betrothed to the stepson of “die Krausin,” but that young man, like his father, was a church member elsewhere; another was betrothed to a colleague of Ryan Baker, but that man also belonged to an up-time church. Still, he had seven. “Seven at one blow,” he thought, as the story of the brave little tailor flitted through his mind. Four of the Quittelsdorf girls, prompted by Jonas, had even made their chosen husbands go back to school and get the magic “GED” before they agreed to marry. Jonas was, after all, not merely a school teacher, but their own former teacher, from their lost village; they listened to him. Pastor Kastenmayer proceeded through the liturgy in a dignified manner, but part of his mind was on other things.

Ryan Baker and Meg Heunisch
May, 1634

Ryan Baker had gotten out of the army—stupid amount of paperwork involved with that, it turned out—and gone for a beer. Where he had found the girl. Magdalena. He called her Meg—Magdalena didn’t come off his tongue well. Four hours later, he asked a little doubtfully, “Don’t you need to go home, or something? Won’t somebody be worried if you don’t turn up? What about your mom and dad?”

She wasn’t any more than five feet tall, if that. Narrow little shoulders; flat little chest; tiny little waist; a bit more in the way of hips, but not a lot. Now she crossed her arms on the table, put her chin on them, looked at the mug of beer he had bought her, and said, “Dead.”

“Ah? Dead?”

“Father dead. I was little girl. Had stepfather. Dead when the soldiers came. Had brother. Dead when the soldiers came. Mother bigger than me. Strong. Worked hard. Stayed to fight the soldiers. Brave. Dead.” She picked up the beer mug.

It was dawning on Ryan that there might be situations in the world worse than the one in which he found himself. He had never been particularly fond of Dayna Shockley, who had already been his stepmother for ten years as of the Ring of Fire. It wasn’t that she was awful, but if Dad hadn’t married her, he would never have talked to the woman. But his mother was left up-time, so there hadn’t been much option except to move in with Dad and Dayna after the Ring of Fire until he finished high school.

He graduated in 1633, did his basic and one year in the full-time military, and really, really, didn’t want to move back in with Dad and Dayna now that he was getting out and had a job as a trainee at the Grantville-Rudolstadt-Saalfeld Railroad and Tramway Corporation.

Meg was continuing. “Things maybe worse. Have little sister. Half-sister. Still alive. Lives with me. No—lives with Maria. I live with Maria. Maria is stepsister. All live in “refugee housing” with Maria’s aunt. She is alive, too. She has two daughters still alive.”

She lifted her chin. “Things maybe worse. If everybody else dead, much worse.”

Ryan admired her for being so upbeat about it all.

“Maria’s aunt not worry where I am. Too much work, too many girls, too busy. I am the end one to worry about.”

Ryan put his arm about her shoulders, in what he intended to be a friendly and comforting manner. She cuddled her head against his neck. Her light brown hair was slick and smooth. He realized that he had a key to Mitch Hobbs’ parents’ empty house.

The next morning, she was quite friendly and cheerful. Which was good, all things considered. She’d been a virgin, and she might have gone all tearful on him. Instead, she climbed out of bed, fixed porridge, and said, “I go to work.”


“Kitchen at Cora’s. Peel vegetables. Peel fruits. Peel, wash, peel, scrub. Peel more.” Her hands moved descriptively.

“Ah.” Ryan paused. What next? “Ah, what time do you get off?”

“When done. Cora pays overtime.” Meg beamed brightly.

“Ah. I’ll be off first, then. If I come pick you up….”

He stopped rather awkwardly.

“We could go see Maria’s aunt. Give her this address. Tell her where you’re living now.”

He wasn’t one hundred percent sure of that, but he was pretty sure that Mitch wouldn’t mind having him rent a couple of rooms. The upstairs in the Hobbs house had two bedrooms that you got to on a really narrow and steep staircase. Mitch probably wouldn’t be using them after he got out. There was only one bath, and it was downstairs, but at least there was a bath. Some rent would help pay Mitch’s taxes. And Meg would be a really good reason not to move back in with Dad and Dayna. Once Dayna found out.

He thought he’d tell Dad first. Maybe let Dad tell Dayna. When he wasn’t there.

September, 1634

Maria Krause looked at her stepsister with exasperation. “You’re urping in the morning because you’re pregnant, that’s what.”

Meg nodded quite cheerfully. “Ja, okay.”

“You’re pregnant and you are not married.”

“I told Ryan. He says we’ll go to the Rathaus and get married right away. It’s all okay.” Meg was not about to admit to her stepsister that she had been happily surprised by her boyfriend’s reaction to the news.

Walpurga Hercher said, “No!” Forcefully.

Maria looked at her reproachfully. “No? She is lucky that she will not be suffering for what she has done. Why not?”

“Because it won’t help Teacher Muselius’ project. Pastor Kastenmayer’s project. Magdalena is one of us. We must make our husbands Lutheran for them. If Magdalena marries Ryan at the city hall, it won’t help.”

Maria’s answer would have been better placed in the barnyard.

“She can always fall back on City Hall if he won’t go along with it,” Walpurga conceded.


Ryan was startled to discover that although Meg was (when not morning sick) as friendly, cheerful, and pleasant as ever, she didn’t jump at the prospect of immediate marriage. Meg, truth to tell, would have preferred to jump at it, but she found Walpurga Hercher rather intimidating. So she said, “Want to marry by Pastor. See Teacher Muselius. You be Lutheran.”

It was weird, really. Hugh Lowe, the big boss at work, had thought it was a good idea to see this Teacher Muselius. “You might as well find out what you’re letting yourself in for, kid. Besides, they outnumber us. They’re most of our customers. It can’t hurt us to have an in with them, when we’re looking for workers and supplies.”

April, 1635

Ryan had quickly come to the conclusion that Pastor Kastenmayer moved through life at a stately pace. The confirmation instructions had been excruciatingly step-by-step. It looked like this wedding was going to be a prime example of what Hugh called just-in-time scheduling. Meg was so little, to start with. As the months went by, there had seemed to be more and more baby, with less and less Meg to go around it, like she was shrinking. He’d had the marriage license for three weeks, just in case she started popping before today. And he’d called the mayor, who had agreed to run over to the hospital and marry them off before the kid showed up, in an emergency.

He stood in the front of St. Martin’s, his mind wandering as the liturgy flowed over him.

Dad and Dayna were here for the confirmation and wedding. Well, Dad came and dragged Dayna with him. They never went to church. Plus his sister Sam, who never went to church either. Plus Dayna’s two kids. Plus, somehow, Dayna’s ex, LeVan Jessup, and his wife, who was German and went to church here, plus her kid and their kid. Teacher Muselius had been glad to see them. He’d led them to one of the front pews; introduced them to several officers of the congregation.

If it’s a little girl, Meg says she wants to name the kid for her mom. Heroically dead in the defense of Quittelsdorf and all that. Ottilia? What do you call a kid named Ottilia? Ottie, nah. Tillie, well, maybe.

At least she wants to call a boy after her brother, not her dad. David’s better than Hermann any day. David’s a sort of nice name….

Things could be a lot worse.

Derek Blount and Ursula Krause
May, 1634

The circle around the Vandiver kitchen table looked at Margaretha’s list. “Die Krausin” had outdone herself. Pastor Kastenmayer had expected her to select one up-time man per girl and start to arrange marriages. Two years of marriage to an up-timer had taught her that this would not work. She had a list with twice as many men as there were girls from Quittelsdorf. This had not been hard, even limiting herself to heathen men who were of a social class that might be expected to marry undowered girls such as these. Quittelsdorf had never been the largest of villages. By stretching the definition of “marriageable” from seventeen to thirty-five and including a widow, plus Rahel’s stepsister who was not even from Quittelsdorf, her list of potential brides was still less than a dozen.

Ursel Krause was standing behind Margaretha, looking over her shoulder. Ursel’s little sister Else, the youngest of them all, was standing on the other side of the table, looking mulish. There was a stubborn streak in Ursula and Elisabetha Krause. Of course, their mother was born Elisabetha Hercher. There was a stubborn streak in the Hercher family as a whole.

“I,” Else said, “will not do it.”

“You,” said Margaretha, “have the best chance of all. You have had almost three years of school here. You speak English best. And,” she paused to evaluate the possibilities, “you are prettiest.”

In the words of the Lutheran catechism, “this was most certainly true.” No voice rose to dispute this assessment. Else Krause had curly auburn hair and a set of teeth that a princess would envy. She also, thanks to the Grantville Chapter of the Red Cross, had a toothbrush and baking soda with which she cared for them.

Plus, Else, and Ursel, of course, since they were sisters, still had a mother to watch after her. “Die Hercherin” watched her own daughters a perceptible degree more carefully than she watched her husband’s nieces, assorted more distant cousins, and the other girls who had fallen into her care since the day that Quittelsdorf burned to the ground and its fields disappeared. And she had let her own daughters stay in the up-time schools the longest. Too long, maybe.

“I know the one I want,” said Else, “and he is not on your list, because he is not a heathen. A heretic, yes, but not a heathen. If I need to become a heretic to marry him, I will. Pastor Kastenmayer must do without me. That is final.”

It turned out to be final.

Ursel, from behind Margaretha, reached down and put her finger on the list. She wasn’t as pretty as Else—hair more a reddish brown than auburn, and straight; body a little less well proportioned; nose a little less perfectly suited to the face on which it found itself. “I know him,” she said. “At least, I already know who he is. If I can have that one, I will do it. If not, not. I will not take a second choice from this list.”

That turned out to be final, also. There was a really stubborn streak in the Herchers, and “die Hercherin” had passed it on to her daughters in full.

But, perhaps, it was not only that Hercher streak. Barbara Conrath, only three months older than Else Krause, also with a living mother, also with three years of school in Grantville since the Ring of Fire, said, “Not me, either.” Then she grinned at Margaretha, making full use of her innocent round face, wrinkling her pug nose, and making dimples. “I get Benton. I know he’s not on your list. ‘Sorry, Pastor Kastenmayer,’ and all that sort of thing. I’ll make Benton go back to school and get his GED before I agree to marry him, though. Promise. Schwiegermutter.” She threw her arms around die Krausin.

Margaretha was startled. Barbel would be a fine daughter-in-law, certainly. In eight or ten years. But the look in the girl’s eye indicated that she was not announcing long-range plans. And her stepson was not on the list because he, like her own husband, was already a member of an up-time church.

She sighed. This was not going to be as simple as Pastor Kastenmayer expected.


Ursel Krause worked at the Freedom Arches. Not because of any commitment to the Committee of Correspondence’s ideology nor, in fact, because she had even the slightest interest in it. She had applied for jobs in several inns and taverns. She picked this one because she liked the idea of staying behind a counter where the customers couldn’t grope the rear end of the waitress. That was worth doing without “tips.” Her mother had agreed.

Every morning she watched Derek Blount come in, get his breakfast, look up forlornly at the blank, black, screen in one corner where there was nothing on TV at this hour, reluctantly pick up the newspaper, and try to struggle his way through the front page. Finally, she realized that he had as hard a time reading it as she did. But??? He was an up-timer. He spoke English, after all. Why couldn’t he read it?

Since she was still taking ESOL classes in the evening—that was why she worked the shift at the Freedom Arches that began at five o’clock in the morning—after several weeks of smiling at him (real smiles, not simply the “here’s your order” smile), duly authorized by Pastor Kastenmayer and die Krausin, she asked him for help with her English….

June, 1634

By this time, of course, Magdalena Heunisch was living with Ryan Baker, so they would have met one another, anyway. As Ursel explained to Derek, “We are not all just from the same village. We are all cousins, somehow. I am not related to Meg, really. She is sort of out on the far end. But I am related to her little half-sister, Anna. On the Krause side of the family. Anna is my first cousin. So we are connected. And Mrs. Vandiver is my aunt on the Krause side, so her children are my cousins, too. And Lisbet and Walpurga are her first husband’s nieces. Plus, they’re my cousins on the Hercher side. Their dad was my mom’s brother.” She paused for breath.

Derek had followed this discourse without the slightest trouble. He thought that it was kind of nice. After all, lots of people in Grantville were one another’s cousins, too. The town had been around for a long time. In addition to his brother Donnie and the two German boys his parents had adopted after the Battle of the Crapper, he had one first cousin on the Blount side who came through the Ring of Fire, and three on the Stewart side. Plus, Stew and Lesley had three kids; Cherilyn and Bob had one, plus, now, two German orphans they had adopted after the battle at Badenburg. Plus, he supposed, Pam’s kids would get married one of these days. They were both working down at USE Steel toward Saalfeld and both dating a couple of Frenchies they had met there—Walloons, they called themselves.

That didn’t count the Blount and Stewart cousins who had been left up-time.

Derek found it hard to imagine a world without cousins and family picnics. It was really nice that Ursel had a bunch of cousins, too. It sort of gave folks something in common. If you ran out of other things, you could always talk about what your cousins were doing. Especially what they had done that they shouldn’t. Like Meg moving in with Ryan Baker.

That was where this conversation had started. Ursel’s mom didn’t approve. At all. Derek somehow figured that he could forget about lucking out the way Ryan had. At least, with Ursel. And, right now, he was dating Ursel. Which sort of meant that he could forget about…. He had a suspicion that he’d been given a message.

July, 1634

Derek drew a picture on the Formica table with his finger. He’d dropped by the Freedom Arches to see Ursel on her lunch break. He was out of the army now. Since yesterday. He’d been supposed to get out in May, with the other guys, but they’d asked him to stay a couple more months. He’d said okay, but that meant that he’d missed getting on the crews when the road work opened up in the spring. He’d have to go see Mickey Simmons, he guessed, he explained to Ursel. Mickey was doing the training for the Department of Transportation now. See if someone had dropped out. See if he could get on. Road work was about all he was good for, out of the army. Not having a diploma. And it paid pretty good.

“Why did you drop out? Doesn’t your family go to school? When they could?”

Derek looked a little uncomfortable. “Actually, Dad does have a high school diploma. And he wasn’t real happy about it when Donnie dropped out first, and then me.”

“Well, why did you?” To Ursel, the question seemed reasonable enough. Her view of school was that it had been easier than work, any day. She had been glad, when they first came to Grantville, that the people had sent her back to school. And that her mother had let her go. This would not have been necessary. She had already been sixteen, old enough to leave school by Grantville’s laws, and her family had needed money, certainly. And it had been not the regular classes for the up-time students her age, so she had not met many of them. But still.

“School is great.” Ursel’s endorsement of school was unrestrained. That was why she kept taking the classes three evenings each week. “If I could, I would go to school forever and ever and ever.” She threw out her arms, as if embracing the whole Grantville school system at once.

“Ursel, first of all, you’ve got to understand. One thing, Dad’s always had a job. He’s never been unemployed, not once. But jobs are sort of scarce around here, so we moved a lot when I was growing up. Not a long ways, but from Grantville to Fairmont, to Shinnston, then back to Fairmont, then over to Clarksburg for a while, then back to Grantville. May have been a couple more in there, but I remember those. So Donnie and me—we changed schools every time. Every time, the classes were doing something that wasn’t exactly what we’d been doing before.”

He looked down. “I can’t read, Ursel. Not really. I can make out some words, but not to sit down and read something all the way through. So I couldn’t catch up when we moved. If I stayed in a class long enough, I could pick up what the teacher said and do pretty good in the class discussions. Good enough to squeak by, even if I bombed every test. Which I did. But it got harder and harder. I was flunking junior year flat. So I quit.”

“Dad? Well, he couldn’t really say much about it—not too much—without upsetting Mom. She’s a dropout, too, see. And we were no good in school, Donnie and me. We’re no good.”

He went back to drawing on the Formica, not looking at her. “You ought to forget about me, Ursel. Take yourself back to school. Go all the way. Be a teacher. You could, you know. Then you could be in school “forever and ever and ever.” Forget about me. I’m a loser.”

July, 1634

Derek sighed. He should never have mentioned teaching to Ursel. Never.

She had not forgotten about him. She had announced, “If I have learned it, you can learn it. The same way.”

She had kept every damn work sheet from the remedial-and-ESOL program at the middle school. Every damn one of them. He wondered where she had found to put them, given how crowded the refugee housing was. She said that she had tied them in a bundle with string and hung them from a wooden hook that she nailed to the ceiling.

After a day working road construction for twelve hours, a guy didn’t want to go to school. But a guy did want to see Ursel. And, on the nights she didn’t go to class, there she was. Waiting at the Freedom Arches. With work sheets.

And, after the first week, with other stuff. On her lunch break, she had marched over to the police department, found Mel Richards, who had been her first teacher here in Grantville, and somehow got a whole set of lesson plans.

Then after the second week, she was waiting there with Mel. Mel was the child protection officer now, but she still had that teacherly look in her eye. And a stack of stuff. “Look, Derek, I didn’t get that degree in special education for nothing. It’s just diagnostics. We’re going to find out what’s the problem. It’s likely a learning disability, since Donnie has it, too, Ursel tells me. Bring him tomorrow, if he’ll come.”

Donnie came. Partly because he had this thing for Britney Yardley, and she had a high school diploma plus a VoTech course. She was assistant to the lab technician at the methanol plant. He didn’t think that a loser was in her plans. But mainly because they were meeting at the Freedom Arches. He had promised himself, the day he dropped out, that he was never going to go inside a school building again. He could handle talking to a teacher, but no way was he going back to school.

Mel Richards could live with that. There were a lot of people around who had had a bad experience with school. She had a little talk with Andy Yost and the Grantville Committee of Correspondence.

October, 1634

It wasn’t a school. No way. It was an extra room, added onto the Freedom Arches. No school desks, no teacher’s desk, no looming shelves full of threatening books. You could bring in your food; bring in your drinks. No schedules. Regular tables and benches. Everybody did his own thing, when he had the time. Mel came in the evenings, after work, and wandered around, apparently sort of aimlessly. She’d sit down a few minutes, first at this table, then at that one.

Ursel practically lived at the Freedom Arches, now, except for the three afternoons and nights she went to school. From five in the morning till two in the afternoon, she dished up food. From three in the afternoon until the place closed at midnight, she dished up work sheets. And happiness. Since the day that Quittelsdorf died, her brothers Hans and Conrad along with it, she had never been so happy.

Until Walpurga Hercher reminded her sternly that she was supposed to be turning Derek Blount into a Lutheran, not teaching him to read his own language.

That night, she cried herself to sleep. When Derek came in for breakfast the next morning, her eyes were still bright red. She was so miserable. He could see it. “Hey, Ursel, what’s wrong?” He’d never seen her like this.

Ursel looked at the morning manager, said, “Deal with it,” came out into the restaurant part, threw herself into Derek’s arms, and in the middle of many more tears, told him. Pastor Kastenmayer and die Krausin’s list and Teacher Muselius and catching husbands to make them Lutheran and all of it. It was a full confession. Ursel was spilling a really big bag of beans. Derek was glad that he had on his flannel shirt. It was a lot more absorbent than a cotton tee would have been. A tee would have been drenched and once this was over he had to go back out into the chilly October wind and build a road.

Ursel cried herself out.

Derek said, “Aw, kid. Tell you what. Bring me this Shorter Catechism thingie. If I can read it now, I’ll go talk to your teacher guy.”

He could read it. Sort of. Not without Ursel’s help, but he could read it.

The best thing, though, after he talked to the teacher guy, was that he found out that he wasn’t really expected to read it. To memorize it, but not necessarily to read it. It would be fine if Ursel read it out loud to him and he memorized it that way.

Ursel reading out loud was almost as good as TV.

April, 1635

So here he was, about to be confirmed and married. With all his family watching. Not just Mom and Dad, but Donnie and Britney, too. Britney wasn’t a church member anywhere, either. Plus all the cousins. Pastor Kastenmayer and the teacher had been real interested in talking about cousins—that Cherilyn didn’t go to church, and Bob had been brought up Catholic, but he had lapsed. Lapsed Catholics sort of appealed to Pastor Kastenmayer, it seemed. He thought that lapsing was a good thing for a Catholic to do. The pastor seemed willing to live with the fact that Mom’s sisters were Presbyterian, and Mom was the only one who had dropped out of the Presbyterian church because Dad wouldn’t go with her.

Teacher Muselius was standing there, a little to the side, watching the whole pew full of people. He looked more like a cat about to pounce than anything else Derek could think of.

Derek didn’t think that reading was ever going to be his thing, but Mickey had promised him a promotion once he finished his GED. That meant that Ursel could go back to school full time after they were married.

Ursel would make a great teacher, some day.

They could have lots of picnics and family reunions, with all the cousins there. Their kids would have lots of cousins. On both sides of the family. He hadn’t been exactly wild about the Ring of Fire, but things could have turned out a lot worse.


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