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Chapter 42

Mike started his speech by going straight to the point.

"There's only one issue in this campaign. Forget all the blather about at-large election. And why is Simpson so worked up about what he calls the 'principle' of residential election, anyway? Back in the old days, what with his globe-trotting and his villa in Spain and his penthouse in London, I'm sure he never cast anything except absentee ballots."

The large crowd in the Gardens laughed. Mike waved his hand, as if brushing aside an insect.

"But that's all a red herring. The only thing Simpson really cares about is the same thing I care about—the franchise." Again, he made that brushing motion with his hand. "Oh, sure, there's other stuff. Lots of it. Our refugee policy, our economic policy, our foreign policy—you name it, and Simpson and I are on opposite ends. But all that's for later. This election is for delegates to the constitutional convention. The convention won't be deciding matters of policy. It will settle something far more important, which is simple. Who decides in the first place? Whatever policy is implemented, by whatever person or party—who gets to decide which person or party holds office? That's the franchise, and the franchise is ultimate power. And that's the issue. The only issue."

Mike turned from the microphone and glanced at Rebecca, standing toward one side of the stage. She came forward, holding two documents in her hand, and passed them to Mike.

The first document which Mike held up was a few pages, stapled together.

"This is our proposed constitution." He nodded toward a group sitting at a nearby table. "Ed, Melissa, James and Willie Ray drew it up, and the emergency committee as a whole approved it."

A call went up from one of the tables in the back. "Underwood, too?"

Mike nodded. "Yes. Quentin's running for delegate based on this proposal."

A little murmur went up from the crowd. More than a little, actually. The news of Underwood's allegiance was significant, and everyone knew it. In times past, as manager of the largest working mine in the area, Quentin had been the proverbial "big man in town." The biggest, in truth. Unlike many of the town's businessmen, Underwood was not an independent proprietor. But his actual power and influence had been far greater. No locally owned small business in Grantville had had anything like the payroll of the mine, nor the purchasing power of its manager.

Some of the UMWA members in the tavern were not exactly thrilled by the news. They were more accustomed to seeing Underwood on the other side of a picket line. But none of them were stupid, and all of them were accustomed to thinking in tactical terms. First things first. Better the manager—home-grown boy, comes down to it—than that stinking out-of-town miserable CEO son of a—

Harry Lefferts summed it up: "Bet Simpson's dick turned into a pickle when he heard that."

His packed table erupted in laughter. "That leaves him all the little old ladies and the used car dealers." More laughter. "Oh, yeah—I forgot. I hear the temperance people are backing him one hundred percent, too." Uproarious laughter now. The town's alcohol consumption, never low, had reached epic proportions with the massive influx of German refugees. "Temperance," for seventeenth-century Germans, meant no beer with breakfast.

On the stage, Mike was continuing. He held up the other document Rebecca had given him. It constituted a very thick bundle.

"And these are the amendments demanded by Simpson and his crowd." His expression exuded sarcasm. "If you can use the word 'amendments' to refer to something four times longer than what they're supposedly amending. Their delegates are running on this proposal—because it is a different constitution altogether. You want to know what it is? Really? It's a Jim Crow constitution, that's what."

He began thumbing through the sheets and reading portions of the amendments. "'Absolute command of English, ascertained by duly appointed election boards . . . includes satisfactory literacy, ascertained by the same boards.'" Mike scanned down; chuckled. "This one's my favorite: 'aspirants for voting rights must demonstrate a sound knowledge of American history, to the satisfaction—'"

He dropped the sheets onto the floor, as if they were unclean. "I'm sure I couldn't pass those tests—not given by the kind of 'boards' Simpson has in mind. Jim Crow boards, that's all they'd be." He grinned. "I imagine they'd even flunk Rebecca."

"Yeah?" demanded Lefferts in a booming voice. The young miner rose—well, staggered—to his feet. "Put Simpson on Becky's talk show then! Let's all watch her clean his fucking smartass clock!"

The tavern erupted with laughter and applause. For weeks, Rebecca's thrice-weekly roundtable discussion had been the most popular of all the TV shows. Hands down.

"She offered!" came a woman's voice. The crowd craned their necks. At a table near the side, Janice Ambler stood up. "She offered—eight times," repeated the TV station's manager. "Simpson turned her down."

On the side of the stage, Rebecca was hanging her head in embarrassment. Then, hearing the loud cheer which went up in the tavern—and continued, and continued—she force herself to raise it. She was learning, slowly, not to assume an automatic pose of modesty when her prodigious intellect was publicly praised. But she was still unaccustomed to such praise, after all these months. So she was unable to control the flush in her cheeks. Fortunately, with her dark complexion, the involuntarily reaction went largely unnoticed.


Lennox spotted it, of course, as did Rebecca's relatives. Her father sipped his beer complacently. Lennox grunted. "Did I mention they was daft? Praisin' female brains in pooblic!" He guzzled his own beer. " 'T'will all end badly—mark my words."

Mike was giving a peroration now, but Lennox's words drove over it at his own table. "Ye can ignore t'is portion o' t'speech, lads. 'Tis a lot o' silly business 'boot t'grand tradition o' West Virginians an' how they seceded from a sorry lot o' aristocratic secessionists when t'slave-owning bastids attempted to undermine t'will o' America's 'onest an' stalwart yeomanry—"

His summary made no more sense to the Jewish diplomats at the table than what they could grasp of Mike's own speech. But if they missed the specifics of the thing, they did not fail to grasp the essence of it.

"The man is serious about this," muttered Moses. His eyes roamed the huge room, scanning the crowd packed everywhere. For all their easy intermingling, Moses could easily distinguish the Americans from the Germans, and both from the Scots. Others were unknown to him. A small party of men at one table, acting very ill at ease, he found impossible to place.

"Mennonites," whispered Balthazar. "A few hundred of them arrived just two weeks ago. The Americans gave them a grant of unused land in the foothills. Those are their elders."

"Deadly serious," stated Lennox. He wiped beer from his lips. The gesture carried an unmistakable aura of satisfaction. "T'man's daft, lads, but make no mistake 'boot one t'ing. He is a faery, right an' true."

"Will he win this contest?" asked Samuel.

Lennox gave him a cold gaze. "Didna ye hear me? A faery, I said."


At the same moment, if in a different way, Underwood and Henry Dreeson had come to the same conclusion.

Leaving the Chamber of Commerce meeting, Underwood remarked: "That went better than I'd expected."

Dreeson smiled. "Not me, Quentin."

The former-and-still mine manager eyed him skeptically. "I know that bunch, Henry. They're about as conservative as dinosaurs. Hell, they even make me look like a wild-eyed radical."

The town's mayor shook his head. "That's not fair, Quentin. Dinosaurs are extinct, and that's one thing those boys don't intend to be."

They came out onto the street, and took a moment to button up their jackets. November had come in chillier than they were accustomed to.

Dreeson looked up and down the street. "Look at it, Quentin. Notice anything different?"

"Sure! The street's packed with people. Business is booming." Underwood glanced up at the row of old, multistory brick buildings lining both sides of Grantville's small downtown "main drag."

"I can remember when half of those buildings were vacant," he mused. But the statement was accompanied by a scowl. "Still—the place is a lot rowdier, too. Dan and his deputies are really earning their keep now. He told me the other day he's starting to feel like Wyatt Earp or Bat Masterson, trying to keep a Wild West boom town under control."

But Dreeson's eyes were elsewhere. He was watching a small mob of children romping through the street. With only an occasional bus coming through, Grantville's streets had become pedestrian avenues.

"I was thinking about the kids," he said softly. "It broke my heart, Quentin. All those years, in this town I was born in, grew up in, and love so much. Plan to die in. Seeing so many of the young people leave, like they do—did—all over Appalachia."

The elderly mayor drew in a deep breath. The cold autumn air seemed to invigorate him. "Damn and blast Simpson and all his Cassandra screeching." Dreeson nodded back toward the building they had just emerged from. "Sure, they're nervous. Nervous as hell. But they'll back us up. Business is booming, even if it is crude. And the kids are back. In droves."

* * *

Two other people, walking down a different street, were also finding the chill air invigorating. Or, perhaps, it was simply their own company.

"It won't be easy, Alex," said Julie. She stopped at a corner and turned to him. Her hands were tucked into the pockets of the jacket she had put on as they left the tavern. Julie's expression was severe, in the excessive manner of a girl trying to be a mature woman. "I don't need another twitchy boyfriend."

The Scotsman's freckled face was twisted by a wry smile. "I trust you'll allow me the occasional lapse?"

Taking Julie's chuckle for an affirmative, the smile became much less wry. "I'm not a boy, Julie, despite my looks. I've seen more ruin and destruction in my life than I care to think about. I think it gives a man—me, at least—a certain perspective."

The smile vanished, replaced by his own excessively severe expression. "For my part, you must understand that I am sworn to the service of the king of Sweden. No matter what you may have heard about mercenaries, I take that oath seriously. So—"

Julie took her right hand out of the pocket and placed fingertips on his lips. " 'Nough. I understand. You don't need a fretting female. You'll be gone a lot, and may never come back."

He took her hand in his own and kissed the fingertips. Then, taking them gently away: "Not willingly. But mine is a risky profession. No way around that."

They set off again, now walking hand in hand. Julie's steps, as always, had a certain bounce to them. More than usual, perhaps.

"You'll allow me the occasional lapse?" she asked.


Her first lapse came less than two minutes later.

"Tomorrow?" she exclaimed.

Mackay shook his head. The expression combined regret, apology—and stubbornness.

"I must, Julie. I was in Jena when the king passed through Thuringia, so I was unable to report. I can delay no longer. Gustav Adolf has established a temporary headquarters in Würzburg. But I don't know how long he'll be there. He's moving very fast, while the imperialists are still off balance. So I must be off—"

"Tomorrow!" she wailed.


If the horde of children who burst around the corner and swarmed past them some time later thought there was anything odd about two people embracing in public, they gave no sign of it.

Probably not. They saw a lot of that, these days.



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