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Chapter 29

It may or may not have been July Fourth, depending on whom you asked. The division ran essentially along religious lines, but not entirely. The modern Gregorian calendar had been decreed by a papal bull in 1582, and was immediately adopted by Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. Within two years, most of the Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire had followed suit, along with those portions of the Low Countries still under Spanish control. The Swiss started the process in 1583, but stalled immediately—the new calendar would not be accepted in the entire country until 1812. And the Hungarians took it for their own in 1587.

Then . . . Nothing, for a century. The Protestant and Orthodox nations dug in their heels and stayed with the Julian calendar.

So, what day was it? Well, according to the Scots cavalrymen and the Protestants from Badenburg who had come for the celebration, it most certainly was not the Fourth of July. Preposterous! It was—

No matter. Grantville was an American town, and the Americans said it was the Fourth of July. And besides—

Everybody loves a parade!


As official parades go, it was utterly disorganized. Henry Dreeson had tried desperately to bring rhyme and reason to the marching order, but the mayor had been overwhelmed by events and enthusiasm. Events, in that everyone was too preoccupied with integrating the former Catholic prisoners into their new world. Enthusiasm, in that the high-school students had their own opinion on the proper order of things. Especially Julie Sims, who led the rebellion with verve and élan.

The town's mayor was one man, in his sixties. He lost.

Cheerleaders first.

When they heard the news, the Scotsmen were delighted. They were less delighted—downright disgruntled—when they discovered their own assigned place in the parade.

Tha' far back? We'll nae see nothin' o' those high-steppin' knees! Ridic'lous!

So, the first little fray in the marching order began. Calvinists all, the Scots cavalrymen knew that man was born in sin and they were bound and determined to prove it. A full third of them had left their place in the parade before it even started. The parade route being jammed full of people, the Scots rebels cheerfully trotted their mounts down the side streets and alleys until they found the proper vantage points from which to observe the parade. And why not? It wasn't as if their horses needed the exercise.

Despite his own avid desire to admire Julie's knees, Mackay tried to stop them. But Lennox bade him still.

"Be a' ease, laddie," he said serenely. "Parades are a silly business anyway, an' t'Americans dinna seem to care. Besides—" He gave Mackay a sarcastic flourish of the mustachioes. "Ye look downright silly, wavin' tha' thing around as if t'were a saber on ae battlefield. 'Tis drippin' on y'buff coat, by th'by."

Flushing, Mackay rescued his ice-cream cone in the only manner known to the sidereal universe. He went back to eating it. Perched on his warhorse, a ferocious brace of wheel-lock pistols at his side, the Scot commander made as unmartial a figure as possible.

"Marvelous stuff," he mumbled. "How do they—mumble—it?"

Lennox took that as a rhetorical question, so he didn't bother with a reply. He knew the answer, as it happened, because Willie Ray Hudson had shown him. Simple, really, as long as you could make the ice.

Lennox studied the marching order ahead of them, trying to gauge when the parade would lurch into motion. He couldn't see much of it, however. The huge coal-hauling vehicle ahead of him—the Americans called it an APC, with their peculiar obsession with acronyms—blocked most of his vision.

Armored personnel carrier! Wha' ae laugh! Lennox didn't bother to restrain his grin. The rear of the vehicle was open, and American soldiers were hauling German children aboard for the ride. A few of the bolder German adults followed, curiosity and parental concern overriding their apprehension.

Lennox's grin faded. A glance at his commander, still happily chewing on his ice cream, brought back worry. Lennox had spent many hours in Willie Ray's company, over the past few weeks. The dour middle-aged Scotsman and the cheerful old American farmer had taken a liking for each other.

Ice cream, yes. Willie Ray had shown him the large stock of flavorings still available in the markets. And we can tap the maple trees for sugar. The refined sugar's almost gone.

So was the grain, and the vegetables, and the meat, and the eggs. Even with rigorous rationing, the food stocked in the town's supermarkets had not lasted more than two months, just as their owners and managers had predicted. The small number of American farms which had come through the Ring of Fire could not possibly make up the difference. That had been true even before Grantville's population doubled, after the battle.

Lennox's mind veered aside, for a moment, snagged on another American eccentricity. They insisted on naming their battles.

That much Lennox could understand, even if the practice had fallen out of custom in his day. Most battles in the seventeenth century were sodden affairs. Bruising clashes between armies which collided almost accidentally as they marched across a ravaged landscape looking for food and shelter. No more worth naming than a dogfight in an alley.

But why call it the Battle o' the Crapper? He understood the reference, but not the reasoning. They were a quirky folk, the Americans. Lennox could think of no other nationality which would have found logic in naming a battle in honor of four girls in a shithouse.

He didn't understand the logic, quite. The edges of it, perhaps, and the grim humor which lurked somewhere inside. But not the heart of the thing. It was too contradictory, too—

American. Only a nation of commoners, he decided, each of whom thought like a nobleman, could find logic there. An ice-cream nation, confident that the grain and meat would be found.

Lennox didn't understand it, no. But he had already made his decision, so the incomprehension was moot. He had never encountered such confident people in his life, and confidence is the most contagious of all diseases.

The APC ahead of him lurched into gear.

"T'parade's startin', lad," he announced. Sourly: "It'd be ae fine thing if t'Scots commander c'd finish his ice cream 'fore he makes fools o' us all."

Mackay mumbled hasty agreement. But he did not relinquish the ice-cream cone until it had vanished, in the only suitable method known to the sidereal universe.


Ahead, somewhere in the middle of the parade, Mike and Rebecca walked hand in hand. They were more or less at the head of the UMWA contingent.

A flash of light drew his eye.

Rebecca smiled, and raised their clasped hands. "It's so beautiful, Michael. Where did you get it?"

Michael returned her smile with one of his own. "It's a secret," he replied. And it'll stay one, too, if Morris keeps his mouth shut.

Mike had intended to give Rebecca his mother's engagement ring. But it had been a paltry thing, in all truth, sentiment aside. When he brought it to Morris' shop for sizing, the town's jeweler had been aghast.

"For Rebecca? No way!"

Morris immediately made a beeline for the jewelry case which contained the finest rings in his collection. That case, as it happened, was the only one which still contained any jewelry. The Roths had turned over most of their stock to the town treasury weeks earlier. Roth Jewelry's gold and silver had provided the Americans with their first hard currency.

Morris opened the case and reached in. "I've got just the thing over here. Don't even think I need to size it."

Mike followed, scowling. "If it was good enough for my mother, I don't see why—"

Morris frowned. "Your mother was a fine woman, Mike Stearns. But—but—"

"Nothing but a coal miner's wife? Well, so what? I'm a coal miner."

"Yeah, but—" Still frowning, Morris shook his head. "Yeah, but."

Mike's irritation had vanished, then. He understood full well the meaning of that yeah, but. Understood it, and took pride in the knowing.

Yeah, but—she's also the closest thing this town's ever had to a princess.

There was something amusing in the thought. Rebecca's growing status in the town had precious little to do with heritage and "bloodline." True, the Abrabanels were ranked by Sephardim among their finest families. Finest of all, perhaps. But that meant little or nothing to Grantville's West Virginians. What they knew of the history of the Spanish Jews could have been inscribed on a pin.

Didn't matter. There was the romance of the thing!

And Dr. Abrabanel was becoming a familiar sight, taking his twice-daily walks through the town. Stopping, in his serene and courtly manner, to exchange a few words with every passerby. Everybody knew that he was a philosopher, and looked the part. Only philosopher in the history of the town, so far as anyone could remember. A princely gentleman, if you ever met one. A prince in exile is still a prince, especially when he has a beautiful daughter to prove it. So—

The high school's one-hundred-piece band was blaring away gleefully not far ahead of them. But the sound didn't disguise the cheers that went up as Mike and Rebecca ambled their way down the route.

Hey, look—it's Becky!


So, in its informal way, did a town of West Virginians complete their adoption of an informal princess. And if the Germans standing alongside them thought the matter strange—a Jewish princess?—they kept their mouths shut. They were beginning, just beginning, to settle into an unexpected new world. One thing they had already learned. Their American hosts were not given to formalities and stiff propriety. But they took their principles seriously. Seriously enough, at least, to shatter a tercio. And seriously enough, before accepting new members into their world, to require them to listen to a recitation. The Bill of Rights, the schoolteacher had called it, before she stumbled through the words in newly learned German.

The name, and the concept beneath it, was still a bit bizarre to those commoners. But only a bit. They were quite familiar, actually, with many of the basic principles of democracy. The Dutch and Venetian republics had been in existence for decades, and the Puritan revolution in England was on the horizon. They had simply never seen all those principles put together in one place, and then—this was the key—taken dead seriously.

Odd, that. New. But the Germans had found nothing new or odd or bizarre in the confidence of the elderly woman who recited the phrases. A duchess, sure enough, with the authority to match the appearance. And the armed retainers standing at her side, with those terrible rifles, ready to enforce the appearance.

Here and there, scattered through the crowd, German accents came to join the cheers.

Ey luk—ist Becky!


"They should be cheering you," whispered Rebecca, frowning. "And the UMWA."

Michael's smile widened. "Hell, no. I like it this way just fine."


By early afternoon, the "parade" had dissolved completely. The official contingents of the parade fell aside and became onlookers. Onlookers marched. Soon enough, the fearsome APCs were pressed into service as tourist buses, hauling packs of German and American children all over town. By noon, Grantville's two downtown taverns were packed to the gills, especially after Willie Ray brought in his newly made stock of moonshine. He'd even provided labels for the jars: "Revenoo-ers Rue." Business spilled out onto the streets.

At that point, six American entrepreneurs formed an on-the-spot partnership with four German ex-soldiers. A Scots cavalryman acted as interpreter and, by the end of the negotiations, had parlayed himself into the partnership as well.

Three of the Americans were farmers who, like Willie Ray, had their own stocks of miscellaneous home brew. The fourth American, Ernie Dobbs, was a beer-truck driver. By bad luck, he had been in Grantville making deliveries when the Ring of Fire occurred. Since there was no one to say otherwise, he had retained possession of the truck's stock of beer—which he now contributed as his capital investment. The remaining two Americans agreed to provide the necessary equipment—which consisted, in the main, of card tables and folding chairs.

The Germans, former tavern-keepers, provided the experienced personnel. By noontime, having expropriated the small park next to the town's community swimming pool by mysterious means, the "Thuringen Gardens" were open for business.

"Ey am t'bouncer," pronounced the Scotsman proudly, as he ushered the mob onto the grounds. But he spent most of his time pressed into service as a lifeguard, after the children demanded the pool be opened also.


Henry Dreeson alone, stubbornly faithful to his civic duty, completed the assigned route. But the mayor spent no more than five minutes, glowering at the gas station on the edge of town, before retracing his steps to join the festivities. He didn't even raise a ruckus over the gross violations of several city ordinances represented by the "Gardens." Not even after he saw the German barkeeps, true to their own traditions, start handing drinks to youngsters. Soft drinks only, of course. But as far as the Germans were concerned, beer was a soft drink.


The only people who did not participate in the parade, in any capacity, were the members of the wedding party. Which, by then, numbered well over a hundred people.

Most of them belonged to the bride's party. In addition to Gretchen's own "family" of a couple of dozen or so, there were Heinrich and his men, and their camp followers—say, fifty people all told.

Then, there were the "advisers." Melissa occupied pride of place in that coterie, along with the owner of the town's bridal store. Her name was Karen Reading. The rest of the "advisers," truth be told, were gofers. Melissa's high-school students, mostly, along with Karen's two daughters and four nieces.

Karen took care of all the bridal preparations. Melissa took care of bridal discipline.

A difficult task, that last. Gretchen was generally very cooperative, and she was positively ecstatic over her wedding dress. Even after Karen explained that it was "only on loan." The difficulty—the battle royal—revolved around one question only.

Melissa, for the hundredth time: "You are not getting married in sneakers."

Gretchen, sullen: "You people iss wahnsinnig." Surly: "Zat means—"

Melissa, snarling: "I know what the word means! I looked it up, after the tenth time you used it. Insane or not, you are still going to wear them."

Gretchen, glaring at her feet: "Zese sings iss torture."

Melissa, sighing: "I know. I don't approve of them personally, mind you. But—"

Gretchen, gloomy, muttering, trying a few steps: "I vill fall und break mein neck."

Melissa, gloomy, muttering, watching: "I'm a traitor. A quisling." Then, snarling to her "aides": "And where is Willie Ray Hudson, anyway?"

The chorus replied: "In town, getting drunk."

"Get him! Now!" The high-school girls sped from the scene, a flying squad in search of a rascal. Gretchen stumbled. Melissa scowled.

Muttered: "Great. Just great. A bride in high heels and a drunk to give her away. We'll never make it down the aisle."


The groom's party was far smaller. Larry Wild was the best man, and Eddie and Jimmy the ushers. Beyond that, there were a handful of other high school boys, acting as gofers for the Grand Old Man of the group—Dr. Nichols.

James admired Jeff's tuxedo. "Good fit."

Jeff flushed. "Come on, Dr. Nichols. It isn't, and you know it." He stared down at the outfit. The tuxedo rental company being now in a different universe, the expensive suits had become the town's collective property, available "on loan" for whoever needed them. "This one was Mike's, 'cause he was the biggest. Ms. Reading still had to let it out. I look like a fat penguin."

James grinned. "What is this? You're getting married today to the prettiest girl in town and you're worried about your weight?"

Jeff's flush deepened. So did the doctor's good humor.

"Relax, Jeff. In a few months, it'll be a moot point anyway. None of us are going to get through this winter with any extra body fat."

Jeff's personal worries were overridden by a general concern. "What do you think? Are we going to make it?"

James peered through one of the windows of Jeff's trailer, looking to the north. "I imagine so," he replied softly. "There's a lot of food out there if we can just manage to bring it in. The area's farmers had finished their sowing before the mercenaries arrived and scared everybody off the land. So—"

He shrugged. "The truth is, it's not actually that easy to starve to death. The biggest problem with a low-calorie diet is that it weakens people, and it's usually deficient in vitamins and minerals. Leaves you wide open for disease."

His good humor returned. "Fortunately, while we're getting very low on food and medicine and antibiotics, the town's pharmacies and supermarkets still have a big stock of vitamins and minerals. We're going to establish a rigorous program of dietary supplements. That should get us through this first winter." He made a face. "Not that we won't be getting sick of gruel and porridge."

James decided to change the subject. He inspected the interior of the trailer. "Looks like you've done a good job here."

Jeff was just as eager as the doctor to leave worrying behind. "We worked our asses off, these past four days. Had lots of help from a bunch of the other kids from school, too. You like it?"

James hesitated, before opting for honesty. "Like it? That's not exactly the word I'd use. You're going to be as crowded as a basket full of kittens. But I approve, even if it does look like the strangest architectural design in the world."

"It'll work," said Jeff defensively. He pointed to the door. "All three of them have been hooked together, with good insulation for the passages."

In times past, that door had opened to the outside world. Now, it connected to a new trailer which had been laboriously inserted between this one and Larry's, next door. The "new" trailer was actually an abandoned one, donated by its former owner. Most of the last few days had been taken up by turning the three trailers into an interconnected complex, cleaning the new trailer, and redesigning the living space. As soon as the wedding was over, Gretchen's entire family would be moving from their temporary quarters in the high school into the complex. Between them and Jeff's three friends, the place would truly be crowded. But everyone would have a place, and—

"You're happy about it," stated James. "All four of you."

Jeff smiled. The expression combined pleasure with sadness. "Yeah, I guess. We've—" He sighed. "It's been real hard, not having our families. And now we're going to have the biggest family in town."

Worry returned, in full force. "I just hope it works out okay. I know it's going to be hard for all of us, getting used to each other."

James studied him for a moment. "You worried about Gretchen? Think she'll be unhappy?"

Jeff shook his head. "Not really," he admitted. "I showed her the place yesterday, you know."

His thoughts fell aside. James grinned. "Gorgeous, ain't she?"

Jeff nodded happily. But his fretfulness returned within seconds. "You know what she said, the minute she stepped in? 'You are so rich.'

" 'Rich'!" he snorted. "Look at this place, Dr. Nichols. It's nothing but a trailer."

James reached up and placed his hand on the shoulder of the large boy—young man—standing before him. "Are you really worried about that 'gold digger' business?" he asked. "Myself, I think it's a lot of—"

"No, no. It's not that." Jeff hesitated. "I can understand why she'd think the way she does, coming from"—he waved his hand—"all that. It's just that—"

He lowered his head. The next words were sad, spoken in a whisper. "She doesn't love me, you know. I don't think she even knows what the word means. Not in the same way I do, anyway."


That very moment, as it happened, Melissa was discussing the same subject with Gretchen. When she finished her awkward, half-English/half-German explanation, Gretchen frowned.

"Zat iss für nobles," she protested.

Melissa sighed. Gretchen studied her intently. "But you sink ziss iss important? Fü—for Jeff?"

Melissa nodded. "It will matter to him more than anything, Gretchen. Trust me. As long as he thinks you love him, he'll be able to handle anything."

Not certain if her words had made any sense, Melissa tried to stumble through a German semitranslation. But Gretchen waved her down.

"I understand." The frown on her face cleared away. "Iss not a problem, zen. I vill vork at it. Very hard. I am a good vorker. Very—" She groped for the word, for a moment, before finding it. "Ja. Determined. Not lazy."

Melissa couldn't help laughing. And if some of her humor was rueful, most of it was not. "That you most certainly are, girl!"

She examined the young woman standing before her. "That you most certainly are," she repeated. Smiling, shaking her head: "You know what, Gretchen Richter-soon-to-be-Higgins? I do believe this is one marriage that's going to fly."

Melissa laughed again. " 'Work at it!' I like that!"



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