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Anna ran for all she was worth as the mercenaries chased her, fleeing her father's farm with no destination in mind except away. Two of the mercenaries followed her, shouting as she ran for her life and virtue. She didn't notice the change in the landscape until she ran over the edge of a small cliff and collided with a strange man.
Another scream ripped from her throat as she looked around. Strange men in strange black clothes were all around her, surrounding her and the man she had collided with. She looked down and saw some sort of medal on his chest. That medal proclaimed him the leader, and her fear redoubled as she imagined the punishment he would inflict for her seeming attack upon his person. Again instinct sent her surging to her feet and running away, down the hill and across a stream that shouldn't be there.
Behind her she heard the boom, boom of two arquebuses being fired in rapid succession, followed by several sharp cracks that sounded like pitch-bubbles snapping in the hearth. She didn't look back. If the new men were fighting Tilly's bastards, all the better. It gave her more time to escape and hide.
George Blanton was spending his Sunday in the same way he had spent every Sunday for over twenty years: watching sports on TV. It didn't matter what sport was on. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, horse races, car races, even golf: if it was a sport, he watched it. He was watching his favorite "all sports" channel when the world suddenly went white. Tremendous thunder roared through his house, making his ears ring.
George sat stunned as the world around him returned to normal, except that the TV was off. Looking at the clock, he saw that the second hand had stopped. Power failure? he asked himself, nodding as he saw that even the VCR's incessantly flashing clock was blank. Yep, power failure. Shit. But what was that flash and boom? Standing, he walked to the pantry and opened the breaker panel. A quick inspection showed that nothing was tripped, and the tattletale on his incoming power was off. It was the line again.
Anger and disappointment roiled in his belly, making him clench his teeth. He had been complaining for more than a year about the lines into his farm, and the power company still hadn't done anything. Walking over to the window, he looked outside as he angrily picked up the phone. He knew the number by heart, and started dialing before he noticed that there was no dial tone either. Power and phone? Lovely. Well, he had a solution to one of his problems. Dave's generator was already hooked up and ready to start. Slamming the phone back onto the hook, he stomped out to the back porch, turning the main breaker off as he passed the pantry.
He paused before starting the generator to say a quick prayer for his son, Dave. Dave had gotten divorced a few years after George and Mary had retired and moved to the farm. The place was big: fifty acres of pasture and a ten-acre garden that Mary had adored, and the farmhouse had six bedrooms. There had been more than enough room for their only child to join them.
That was before Mary had gotten sick. She had played it down, refusing to go to a doctor. She had sworn that it was just her misspent youth catching up to her. Three months later she was gone. Cancer had taken the love of his life.
Dave had taken his mother's death hard. He'd been working at the mine, bringing home decent wages, but he had become eccentric. That's what his friends called it; George called it bonkers. Dave had decided that the end of civilization was near, and had begun hoarding things: guns, ammo, food, water purifiers, survival books, assorted other weapons, and clothing. And booze. The hayloft out in the barn was packed with his stuffcheap department store footlockers full of it.
The union contract had allowed Dave to list his parents as his beneficiaries, rather than his ex-wife, and George had become financially independent on the same night that he'd lost his will to live. Dave had been driving home after drinking with his buddies, and had died when his truck hit a tree.
George shook off his momentary grief. Mary had been gone for seven years, and Dave for three. The generator had been one of Dave's better ideas. It was a good one, commercial quality, and it was tied directly into the house. So long as the main breaker was off, it would power the house and barn. The flick of a switch turned George's power back on.
George went back in to watch TV again, dismissing the flash and thunder as figments of his imagination. He was drifting these days, and figured that he had drifted off in a doze until something happened to wake him up. Probably whatever it was that knocked out the phone and electricity.
He spent fifteen minutes fiddling with the satellite receiver, but couldn't locate a signal. Now he was really getting mad. Sports had become the only thing that he looked forward to anymore. Stomping over to the phone, he grabbed it to check for a dial tone, but it was still dead. Then a flicker of movement drew his attention outside. Someone had just run into his barn.
His eyes narrowed even further. He didn't like his neighbors. They knew it, and didn't like him either. None of the kids in the area even cut across his land any more. He had seen to that by having a few of them arrested for trespassing. Now someone was in his barn.
His anger at the power company transferred to whoever was out there, but now it had become a quiet fury that bore little resemblance to his earlier boisterous rage. He walked silently out of his door and crossed the yard. The barn doors were open wide, and his Dodge Ram pickup was sitting right where he had left it. Looking around, he couldn't spot anyone, so he yelled, "Who's in here? This is private property! Get out!" Nothing moved. Then he heard a scraping sound from the loft, and something that sounded like a stifled sob.
"Come down from there!" he shouted, but there was no response. Climbing the ladder, he carefully looked around. He didn't want to be surprised and lose his grip. When he didn't see anyone, he climbed the rest of the way up into the loft. There was a trail of sorts in the dust that had blown in since the last time he had been up there, and he followed it to the back corner. As he drew near, he saw a flicker of movement. Moving closer, he grabbed the top locker in the stack that whoever was up there was hiding behind, and pulled it toward him.
A shriek pierced his ears as he spotted the disheveled young girl in the dirty dress. She was plainly terrified, and he quickly backed away. It didn't do much good. She continued to shriek as he held his hands over his ears. "Stop that noise!" he roared, almost drowning out the girl's shrieks.
Something about his shout silenced the girl. When his ears were no longer being assaulted, he took a step forward, but she shouted, "Nein! Nein! Geh weg! Geh weg!" George stopped. He didn't understand everything that she said, but he understood "Nein! Nein!" Anyone who had ever seen a WWII movie knew what that meant. "No! No!" In German.
German? What the hell?
George looked at the girl for a moment, and then started to put two and two together. Power and phone dead. Loud noise. Messy, frightened girl who speaks German hiding in his barn. Nodding to himself, he figured out exactly what had happened. A car or busload of German tourists had crashed and taken out a telephone pole.
Now that he knew what was going on, he calmed down. Looking at her, he saw that her dress was torn and she was covered with dirt. Well, that explained some of her fear. She'd probably heard all sorts of horror stories about the sexual habits of hillbillies. Chuckling to himself, he looked around. There were a few things in the loft that weren't part of Dave's hoard, and a box of them was right where he needed it to be. Opening the box, he brought out the old bathrobe that Mary had given him one Christmas. He hated the thing, but it was from her, so . . .
He walked back over to the girl and tried to hand it to her, but she shrank away from him, still frightened. George was getting annoyed now and stepped back to glare at her for a moment before sighing deeply. Take it easy, you old fool. She's frightened and doesn't understand, he silently said to himself before deciding on a plan. He put the robe on to show her what it was, and almost cursed when it stopped short of closing with six inches of his belly still exposed. Mary had given him the robe a long time ago. Taking it off, he again tried to hand it to the girl, but she still cried out when he stepped closer. He finally gave up and threw it at her.
"There. Put it on or don't, I don't care. Come down to the house when you feel like it." He pointed over to the house as he spoke, but the girl just sat there staring at him. He decided to try some of the pidgin German that he had picked up from the movies and said, "Comen see to da housen, ya?" The girl still just stared at him, so he gave up and left.
George returned to the house and tried the phone again. Still dead. Taking a deep breath, he looked around. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Looking back out at the barn, he nodded to himself. That girl came from somewhere. The power and phone were out for some reason. That left only one thing to do: drive to town.
The keys to his truck were hanging near the door. That had been Mary's idea when they first moved here, to hang the vehicle keys by the door like her parents had done. Now there were only two sets hanging there: the truck and the tractor. Grabbing the truck keys, he left, carefully locking the door behind him. No telling if anyone else was going to follow the girl to his farm.
He got into the truck and started it, then looked up at the loft. There was no sign of the girl, so he backed out and headed to town. He drove slowly, watching for pedestrians or any sign of a wreck, but there was still nothing out of the ordinary. He made the turn off of his road and headed toward town, but slowed and stopped in the middle of the road as his mind finally registered the countryside. There was something very wrong with what he was seeing. There was supposed to be a hill off to his left, but it wasn't there. A column of smoke was rising into the air off to the south, but there should have been trees in the way.
Cautiously driving on, he kept his eyes open for any other signs of trouble. He made it into town and found people milling about, lining the streets. Whatever the problem was, it was widespread.
An old woman in her Sunday dress waved him down and immediately climbed into the truck. "George, take me out to Jimmy's house. I have to get to the children."
"Beth, what the hell's going on here? I don't have power or phones at my place, and there's a little girl in my barn shouting German at me."
"I don't know, George. No one does. But the word we got was that Dan Frost has been shot, and there's lunatics on the loose with antique rifles, shooting at whatever moves. Now, move, damn it! I have to get to the children." Elizabeth glared at George as he put his truck in gear.
"All right, Beth, all right. If there isn't any help here in town I may as well go home, too. Damn, I wish I knew what was going on around here." He started driving back out the way that he had come, then slammed on the brakes. Looking closely at Elizabeth, he lifted one eyebrow. "You said the police chief has been shot? Who's in charge, that fool Dreeson?"
"Drive, George. No, not Henry Dreeson. Mike Stearns has taken charge. Dan deputized him and the UMWA before he passed out. Now go. You said that there's a girl in your barn? Ken Hobbs said a girl ran over the side of some cliff and collided with Dan just before he was shot. The men that shot Dan was chasin' her. That might be her. It happened out your way. I'm surprised that you didn't hear any gunshots."
"Men were chasing her? With antique rifles? God Almighty! That would explain why she's so afraid, but why's she shouting in German? And it still doesn't explain where she's from." He shrugged. "As to hearing anything, I've got the generator going. It's quieter than most, but it's still noisy as a lawn mower. Can't hear much over it if I'm close." George drove on, thinking about what he was going to do when he got home. Men with antique guns running around shooting folks. A girl in a torn dress in his barn. He almost missed the turn into Jim Reardon's place, but managed to make it without getting off of the gravel.
Elizabeth gave him a sour look, but didn't say anything until he stopped in front of the house. "Go home, George, and lock your doors. And get out a shotgun. Just ain't safe 'round here right now." She hurried up the steps and was met by Jim's wife. Once the door had closed behind them, he drove off.
George pulled into the barn and climbed out of the truck, carefully locking it behind him. It was the first time that he had ever locked his truck at home. He started to climb the ladder to the loft, but decided that he should listen to Beth and get a gun first, so he turned toward the house.
The doors were still closed and locked, and there were no broken windows. Unlocking the door, he started to put the keys back on the hook, then thought better of it and put them into his pocket instead. Then he went to his gun cabinet.
The guns were mostly sporting rifles and light shotguns, but not all of them. Nestled inconspicuously in the corner was the M-14 that Dave had been so proud of. Antiques my ass, he thought as he quickly loaded the rifle. Then he went to the barn again.
At first he couldn't find the girl, then he heard her on the other side of the loft. Walking carefully over to her, he smiled and held his hands open out to the sides. "Young lady, you don't need to be afraid. I'm not going to hurt you. What's your name? I'm George. George Blanton." He patted himself on the chest and said his name several more times, just like in the movies. The girl continued to stare at him.
"Are you hungry?" he suddenly asked, desperately trying to get some reaction out of her. He took a step forward and reached out his hand.
The girl shrank away from him, shouting, "Fass mich nicht an!" She was trying to crowd herself farther into the corner, and her eyes were so wide that he could see the whites all around.
He still didn't understand what she was saying, but the way that she was acting made her meaning clear. She was still frightened. "Okay, I'll just stay over here," George replied softly, taking a step back. "Are you hungry?" he asked, pantomiming eating. The girl didn't say anything, but she swallowed and licked her lips. George nodded and backed away.
The footlockers in the loft were all labeled, and he picked one marked ready to eat. In it he found vacuum-packed beef jerky, crackers that might still be edible, and an assortment of Army MREs. Where Dave had gotten them, he had never asked. And after asking to try one once, he had never asked that again either. Sheesh! The things they feed to soldiers. Grabbing some jerky strips, he turned back to the girl. She was watching him intently, and he tossed two strips to her.
She picked them up and looked at them with wide eyes and a confused expression on her face. George cleared his throat to get her attention, and, when she looked up, tore one of the packages open and took a bite of the jerky. Or at least he tried. The tough meat gave his dentures a real workout.
The girl looked carefully at the package in her hand, then followed George's example. The plastic clearly confused her, but it was when she took a bite of the meat that she finally showed some sign of life. The first piece disappeared in seconds, and the second quickly followed. And after a few moments she had the reaction that George had been waiting for. She began swallowing and trying to clear her throat. Whatever else you wanted to say about jerky, it was dry as a bone.
George smiled and waved for her to follow him as he climbed down from the loft. There was a sink in the barn, and he always kept a cup or two handy. Now he made a big show of getting something to drink as the girl watched over the edge of the loft.
She finally gathered her courage and her skirts and climbed down, nervously watching over her shoulder to make sure that George didn't try anything while her back was turned. Once her bare feet were on the ground, she carefully walked toward him. George put an old coffee mug on the side of the sink and left the water running as he stepped back.
The girl came forward cautiously, watching George all of the time. When she reached the sink, she picked up the old red and white checked mug and looked it over carefully, then got some water. She seemed to find the running water fascinating, and trailed her fingers through it as she drank. After three mugs of water, she put the cup down.
George was watching her carefully, and moved over to the side of the barn, staying in her field of vision, and picked up a scrap of cloth. He tossed it to her, but she just caught it and stood there. He pantomimed washing his face, and she dropped the cloth and backed away. Then her eyes opened wide and she looked past him down the road.
George spun around, unslinging the rifle and bringing it up to his shoulder fairly quickly. Scanning the area carefully, he turned back when there was a sound behind him. He glanced back just in time to see her disappear into the loft again.
George was torn between anger and amusement, but the amusement won out in the end. "Why, you little scamp! You suckered me," he said, turning his face up toward the loft. A chuckle rumbled in his chest, and he felt himself grinning. Girls: born to deceive. Shaking his head, he went to the house and left her to her own devices for a while. The jerky had awakened his appetite, and he intended to deal with it properly.
His mother had taught him to cook when he was a child so that he could help with his brothers and sisters. During his more than seventy years he had almost always cooked. Not everything, mind you. It had been part of Mary's pride that she held a job and kept up her household as well, but there were times when she had needed his help. When Dave had been born he had been given a choice of cook or change diapers, so he had immediately gone to the kitchen. Now that Mary and Dave were both gone, he tended to himself. And his unasked-for guest.
He thought about the girl as he rummaged around in his pantry. She looked to be about fourteen, maybe a little older. Wracking his brain for a moment, he finally remembered what Dave had eaten most when he was a teenager: macaroni and cheese. Fortunately, he had a ready supply and years of experience fixing it. He quickly filled a pan with water, salted it lightly, and set it on the stove to boil. Then he grabbed a box of mac-and-cheese and a measuring cup.
He caught himself humming a merry tune as he worked, and paused to wonder why he was so happy. When he finally realized what he was so happy about, he had to stop and sit down. He had been lonely for so long, and he had always driven off everyone who tried to befriend him. Now a stranger, a frightened little girl, was forcing her company on him. And he loved it.
The hiss of water splattering over the rim of the pot brought him back into the real world, and he quickly added the noodles to the water and prepared the rest of the fixin's. Ten minutes later he had a pot of prime teenager chow ready to go.
Two bowls balanced nicely on top of the pot, and he grabbed two spoons and a serving spoon. No sense in being a barbarian about things. Then he returned to the barn and stopped in his tracks. How was he supposed to get the food up to the loft? An idea occurred to him immediately. Setting down his burden, he walked over and grabbed his stepladder. Setting it up beside the loft ladder, he put the pot on top, climbed halfway up the loft ladder, then reached down and put the pot up on the loft floor. Then he climbed the rest of the way up.
The girl was peeking out from behind a stack of footlockers as he heaved himself up the last step. "Well, there you are," he said, slightly out of breath. "You could have helped a little, you know." He bent over and picked up the pan and bowls, groaning a little as he straightened back up. "And don't you dare giggle." He glared at the girl, and she immediately vanished.
George spent a few minutes arranging a picnic area. Two stacked footlockers made a table, and two more, one on each side, made benches. Then he placed the bowls and served the mac-and-cheese. "Come on," he said gently, waving to the pair of eyes that was peeking at him over a pile of lockers. She came forward shyly, like a kitten, and he swore to himself that if she'd had whiskers they would've been twitching. George sat with his hands in his lap, waiting. When she was seated across from him, he bowed his head and said Grace. He really didn't care if she joined him or not. He had been saying Grace and a lonely prayer for Mary and Dave for years. When he looked up, she was sitting with her head bowed, her lips moving silently. Then she crossed herself and looked up into his eyes. "Ladies first," George said softly, indicating that she should take a bowl.
The girl looked at him, then slowly took the bowl that was closer to her. He nodded and took the other bowl. She waited until he had taken a few bites before she started eating, but she was done long before he was. He smiled as he remembered that Dave had been much the same at that age. She was all but licking the bowl, and kept glancing at the pot, so he chuckled and waved for her to help herself. There wasn't much left, but it was gone entirely before he finished his. They sat there staring at one another for a few moments, and she seemed about to say something when there was the sound of a car horn honking on his road, coming closer by the minute. She was up and hiding in a flash, and George felt his annoyance growing again. Damn it all, the girl was acting like she had never heard a horn before.
Leaving the dishes where they were, he climbed down and waited at the tailgate of his pickup. A sedan soon pulled to a dusty stop in front of him, and Beth Reardon climbed out. "George, is that girl still here?"
"Yes. I was just about to get her talking when you drove in, honking like a flock of geese."
"Harrumph! Not likely. George, Jimmy just came back from the high school. Seems that there was more trouble than we thought." She quickly related the story of the firefight at the farm. "That girl the miners rescued claims that we're in Germany, Year of Our Lord 1631."
George stared at her for a moment, then looked back over his shoulder. "Bullshit." WHACK! He stared at Elizabeth as if she had grown horns and rubbed the suddenly sore spot on his chest.
"Don't you curse on the Sabbath, George Blanton." Elizabeth glared at him, and he felt surprisingly contrite. "Haven't you ever read any time travel stories?"
George eased away from her a little. "When I was younger, and didn't know any better. In the fifties. Even TV has given up on real time travel."
"Well, TV didn't come up with this, George. Those men who were chasing her raped her Ma and damn near killed her Pa. She doesn't speak German by accident, and she doesn't speak English at all. And she's never seen anything like us before." Elizabeth stopped talking and looked up into the barn. Sure enough, there was a dirty face with wide eyes staring down at her.
Walking over to where she was just below the girl, she held out her hand. "Come down, child. You're safe here." Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a book. George looked over her shoulder and saw that it was a English-German dictionary. Looking up words as she spoke, she said, "Kommen," flipped a few pages, "Unten," flip flip, "Mädchen." "Come down, girl."
The girl had set straight up when Elizabeth spoke, and looked confused. Elizabeth pointed to the girl, then to the ground at her feet and repeated the three German words. "Kommen unten, mädchen."
The girl was looking perplexed, but she climbed down the ladder. She shyly stepped up to Elizabeth and said, "Wer sind sie?"
That was the first calm thing that George had heard her say, and he almost knocked Elizabeth down reaching for the dictionary. "What'd she say?"
"Hold your horses, George," Elizabeth snapped. "Let me look. Ver sind zee." She looked, but couldn't find the word "ver." Then she looked at the pronunciation guide. "W is pronounced V. Wer, translates as 'Who.' Sind translates as 'are.' Zee translates assee. Ocean or Sea. That can't be right. Let's try sea. Nope, that ain't it either. Sei. Looks like 'be.' Sie could be 'she,' 'them,' or 'they.' Who are they?" George and Elizabeth looked at one another and shrugged.
"How about 'Who are you?'" George suggested, and Elizabeth nodded.
"As good a question as any." Turning to the girl, she patted her chest. "Elizabeth. Elizabeth." Then she turned to George and patted his chest. "George. George." Looking at the book, she flipped a few pages. "Was. Was? Oh, I forgot. Vas," flip, "ist," flip, "euer," flip, "name. Was ist euer name, mädchen?"
"Anna. Ich heisse Anna."
"Glory be," George muttered as he rolled his eyes toward the sky. "Her name is Anna." Looking at Elizabeth, he grinned. "Ask her where she's from."
During the next hour they learned that she was from, "over there." The men who were chasing her were, "mercenary pigs." If they had caught her she would have been, "raped and killed." George grew angry at that and looked back toward the south. Then the girl whispered something to Elizabeth that he didn't catch.
"What did she say?"
Elizabeth started to open the dictionary to look it up, but stopped. She hadn't raised three daughters and ten granddaughters without seeing that facial expression and posture hundreds of times. "George, get out."
"Because there are some things that a gentleman leaves a lady to do in private." Elizabeth glared at him and he backed away.
"Well, all right, you don't have to get nasty about it," he muttered as he walked away. "Bossy females."
Elizabeth knew the Blanton farm well. She and Mary had spent many an afternoon in the garden complaining about their menfolk. She knew exactly where the toilet in the barn was, and she quickly led Anna to it. She had banished George because the toilet stall was just that: a horse stall with a toilet in it. It had been built that way because there was normally only one, or at most two people in the barn at any given time. And since it was mostly men, they usually had their backs to the rest of the barn anyway.
Anna looked at the white porcelain fixture with a mixture of awe and confusion written clearly across her face. Elizabeth almost laughed. "What did you expect, a board with a hole in it over a hole in the ground?" It didn't bother her at all that Anna couldn't understand her. She walked forward and lifted her skirt, then took care of her own needs first. Then she flushed the toilet and waved Anna toward it.
The girl was clearly unsure, but also clearly about to burst. The feel of the smooth, cool plastic seat was a surprise from the look on her face. When she was done, she pushed the handle and watched the water swirl away. Her eyes were wide as she turned back to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth had been busy with the dictionary while Anna had been occupied, and said, "Kommen mit mir." She hoped that it really meant, "Come with me." From Anna's reaction, it did, and the two of them walked up to the house. George opened the door as they climbed the steps and ushered them through, closing and locking the door behind them. "Phone's working, Beth."
"Oh, good. I have to call Jimmy." Elizabeth quickly grabbed the phone and called her son. She related the details of what they had found out about the girl, chattering a mile a minute.
George glanced over and saw the girl watching Elizabeth talk on the phone. The look on her face said clearly enough what she was thinking. Mad. She was trapped by people who were totally mad. It was more than he could stand, and he burst out laughing. That earned him an even more troubled look from Anna, and a reprimand from Beth.
"George, what's gotten into you?"
"Her," he gasped, waving at Anna. "The look on her face, seeing you talking to yourself like a loony."
"I was not talking to myself, George Blanton." Elizabeth planted her fists on her hips and glared at him while he continued laughing.
"She doesn't know that. She really doesn't know that Jim was on the other end of the phone. She was just standing there, watching you have a conversation with no one. I swear, she was about to run back out of the house."
Elizabeth stopped snapping at George and looked at Anna. Sure enough, Anna looked like she was about to run away. Quickly grabbing her dictionary, Elizabeth looked up some words. "That; das. Is; ist. Our; unser. Way; weg. To; zu. Speak: oh, this is better. To speak to; ansprechen. Someone; irgendeiner. Far away; weit weg."
Anna looked at her as if she had grown horns.
"That book ain't going to do us much good for explaining things like phones or radio or TV. The girl doesn't have the background to understand. Hell, Beth, you and I both remember when TV first came out. Movies in the home. What a wonder, and we had had radio all our lives. If what you tell me is true, then she doesn't know what radio is or even that sound propagates in waves. If you showed her, she would probably think it was a demon." He paused and smiled. "Been known to think of the phone as a demon myself now and again."
Elizabeth gave him a sour look, but nodded. "Kommen mit mir, Anna," she said softly. She led Anna into the kitchen and flipped on the light. Anna's reaction to that was almost comical, but Elizabeth didn't laugh. "Sit," she commanded, waving toward a chair, and Anna obeyed. George suspected that Anna hadn't understood the word, but had understood the gesture.
Over the next hour Elizabeth tried to explain a little of what they knew, fumbling through the dictionary over and over again when Anna clearly didn't understand what she meant. It was only the ringing of the phone that finally distracted her.
George answered the phone while Elizabeth and Anna looked at him. After saying "hello," George just nodded and occasionally grunted his agreement with whoever was on the other end. Then he hung up.
"Beth, that was Jim. He wants you to stay here tonight."
"Why didn't you let me talk to him?" Elizabeth asked angrily.
George stopped and looked puzzled for a moment, then shrugged. "Didn't think to. Anyway, I agree with his reasoning. It's getting dark, and he doesn't want you to drive home alone. I'd like you to stay and help with Anna. She seems to have taken a shine to you."
Elizabeth nodded and said, "All right." Then she looked at Anna. "The first thing that we need to do is to get you cleaned up." Nodding sharply once, she stood and grabbed Anna's hand, and led her to the bathroom.
What followed would forever be a mystery to George. There was a lot of shouting in German, more shouting in English, some splashing and banging, and finally silence. The door opened a crack and Elizabeth looked out. Her hair looked like she had been in a tornado. She was splattered with water, and there were flecks of soap foam liberally dispersed around her face. And her dress was in her hand with a wad of other clothes. "Go wash and dry these, George, and get us some robes."
George raised an eyebrow, but took the bundle. Robes? The only robe that he had was his own. He got to thinking and went to the linen closet. No robes, but there were those huge bath sheets that Dave had gotten. They would have to do. He handed them to Elizabeth and went to the laundry room.
Anna's clothes felt like linen and wool, and he wondered which cycle he should use. Then he looked closer and shrugged. Her dress was already badly torn. Beth's dress was good cotton, so he just threw them all in together and pressed start.
Anna and Elizabeth were sitting in the living room when he came back. Elizabeth was brushing her hair and looking smug. Anna was pouting and looked as angry as a wet kitten. George wisely kept his mouth shut.
He looked at the TV and the satellite receiver and shrugged. No sports tonight. Or maybe ever again, for that matter. He sighed and looked at the video collection on the shelves to his left. He looked at Anna and Elizabeth, then back to the tapes, and nodded to himself. They needed a distraction, and so did he. And he knew just what he wanted to see.
Anna sat up straight when the TV came on and looked startled and frightened when the pictures started flickering across its face, and then mesmerized when the movie began. The Sound of Music rang through the house, and Anna seemed to be fascinated by it in spite of the language difference. She listened to the singing and hummed along, much to George's annoyance. She gasped when the wonders of another world were displayed for her. And fell asleep on the couch before the second tape.
George and Elizabeth noticed and shared a smile. When the washing machine buzzed, Elizabeth went to put the clothes in the dryer. And when the dryer buzzed near the end of the second tape, she smiled and waited until the end before getting up. "That was nice, George," she said as she went to get her clothes.
George nodded and turned off the TV and VCR and put the tapes away. Anna was curled up like a kitten on the couch, and was showing far more leg than he could ignore. She was a pretty little thing, and just thinking of what had almost happened to her made his blood boil. There was a quilt over the back of the couch, and he gently pulled it over her, tucking her in carefully to avoid waking her.
Elizabeth said good night and headed to the guest room while George made sure the doors were locked and the generator had plenty of fuel. Then he went to his room, propping the M-14 beside his bed.
Morning was heralded by the arrival of Jim Reardon and his family. All seven of them. Anna stared as the group of lunatics swarmed around her asking questions, clearly not understanding what was happening. Elizabeth's bellow was rewarded by total silence.
"Marge, Lizzy, Melody, fix something to eat. Jimmy, sit down. You boys go perch somewhere. Honestly, you have no manners."
George was standing by the stairs, watching with wide eyes as Elizabeth corralled her herd. Once things had settled down, he went to the kitchen. The tattletale on his incoming line was on, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Going to the porch, he shut down the generator, then switched on the main breaker. The lights flickered a little, but hardly anyone noticed. They were all focused on Anna, who was still seated on the couch, wrapped in the quilt.
"Beth, I think the boys and I ought to excuse ourselves while you women see to Anna. If I'm not mistaken, that's her towel there on the floor."
Elizabeth looked startled for a moment, then embarrassed. "Boys, outside. Right now."
There wasn't even one objection to her order and George was soon out at the barn with Jimmy, Jim III, Bill and Alex.
Jimmy looked at him as he leaned against the truck. "George, what have you heard?"
"Only what you and Beth have told me."
Jimmy nodded and propped himself against the door. "That's about all anyone knows right now. Dad's history books hardly mention this era. It wasn't one of his interests. The encyclopedia says that we're smack-dab in the center of the Thirty Years War." He paused when Melody ran out of the house, opened the trunk of the car, then ran back inside. "Mom said that Anna's dress was torn, so we brought some of the girls' stuff with us. She looks to be about Mel's size. Anyway, the teachers are researching what they can. All we know is that there are a bunch of mercenaries led by someone called Count Tilly raping and pillaging their way across Europe. And we are in their path." Jimmy paused for a moment, then cleared his throat. "Uh, George, do you still have Dave's stash?"
George nodded. "Up in the loft. Why?"
"We may need it."
Elizabeth shouted from the porch, stopping their conversation as she called them back into the house. George almost didn't recognize Anna at first. She was dressed in a modest blue dress that he had seen Melody wear to church a few times, and her hair had been brushed out and tied up in a simple ponytail. Little Jim, Bill and Alex immediately went silent, but their wide eyes said volumes. Volumes that their mother and grandmother could read immediately.
"Boys, go set the table," Elizabeth ordered, and they reluctantly obeyed, looking back at the pretty girl until the kitchen wall got in the way.
George really couldn't blame the boys. She was a beautiful girl, a stranger, and fit right in between them in age. As the old saying went, "I saw her first." He felt a chuckle building and finally let it loose.
Jimmy looked at him and grinned. "Yeah."
Elizabeth almost snarled at them both. "That's enough. Anna, come here," she commanded, waving to her side, and Anna obeyed. "After we eat, we have to go to the high school and see how her parents are doing. Marge says that her father is in bad shape."
Jimmy looked around. "It's going to be a tight fit in the car."
"I can take the boys with me in the truck, Jim."
"That'll be fine," Elizabeth agreed, and the boys immediately got excited.
"I call shotgun," Bill immediately shouted, and there ensued a fast and furious argument which George ended with a shouted, "Shaddup!"
Everyone looked at him with wide eyes. "Little Jim has shotgun. Literally. Jim, grab the Ithica 12-gauge out of the cabinet. I've got the M-14. Jimmy, you and Marge grab a gun too. If we're driving around these parts, we're going armed."
Jimmy looked at him and nodded. "We've got two 12-gauges in the car."
George looked at him and nodded, not needing to say anything else. Melody came out of the kitchen just then and announced that breakfast was ready. Soon everyone was eating, sitting at the little table or standing in the kitchen, and Anna was timidly trying the strange food but apparently liking what she tried.
The boys did the dishes automatically, just like at home, and soon they were sorting themselves out in the vehicles. Bill and Alex were wedged tightly between George and Little Jim in the truck seat, but it wasn't too crowded. The two younger boys together weren't as wide as George, and Little Jim wasn't much bigger than his little brothers. Anna was wedged into the back seat of the Reardon's car between Elizabeth and Melody, with Jimmy and Marge bracketing Lizzy in the front.
Jimmy led off, with George close behind them. It was a fair drive to the school, and George was watching everything as they passed. Everything seemed to be normal, except there were hills missing from the distance.
Mike Stearns and a beautiful woman with dark hair met them at the school. Elizabeth had explained where they were going to Anna, and she immediately looked around. "Wo ist Mutti? Wo ist mein Vater?"
The woman with Mike smiled and said, "Komm' mit," then took Anna by the hand and led her into the school, talking every step of the way. George and the Reardons followed along in their wake, with Mike bringing up the rear.
In the makeshift hospital, Anna was led to her father first. The dark-haired woman explained what the doctor said, and comforted her as the seriousness of his situation became clear. Then they led her to her mother.
Anna spoke, but the woman on the cot hardly noticed. Then Anna cried, and collapsed, begging her mother to look at her, to speak to her. Finally, the woman on the cot seemed to realize who was there and burst into tears. She grabbed Anna in a fierce hug, crying and talking all the while.
George and the others stayed back, giving them as much time and privacy as they could. Finally Anna's mother pushed her away as she drifted off to sleep. Anna sat on the floor, staring at her mother, until Elizabeth went and collected her and led her from the room.
Mike Stearns was waiting for them when they came out. "Mr. Blanton, thank you for taking care of her. None of us had any idea where she went after she knocked Dan down and ran off. We'll see if we can find a place for her to stay until her parents are ready to go home."
George looked at Anna, then at Elizabeth, and back to Mike. "She has a place to stay, Mike. And her mother, too, when she's ready."
"I thought you liked living alone, George," Elizabeth said softly. "That you didn't want any company."
"I thought so too, Beth. But I guess that I was wrong." Smiling at Anna, he held out his hand. "Kommen, Anna. Let's go home."
The drive back to George's farm was silent. Neither of them could speak the other's language beyond a few words.
Anna didn't want to risk annoying the old man. She was getting a sense of him, of his personality. He wasn't really a mean old man. He was just set in his ways. That, at least, she understood. Grandfather Steffan was like that about some things. He had his own ways, and no one could change him. That thought steadied her.
She looked out at the scenery as it sped by, amazed by how fast they seemed to be going, and how smooth the ride was. The farm wagon was nothing like this. Soon they were driving into the barn.
George opened his door and got out, but Anna just sat staring at the door.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Expect me to open the door for you like you were some lady?" he asked harshly.
Anna looked at him in confusion. She didn't understand him, and she couldn't see how to open the door.
The expression on her face finally registered, and George sighed. "Here, like this," he said, tapping on the door and pulling the handle.
Anna watched him carefully, then tried it. There was a click, but nothing happened. George said, "Push," and she looked to see him pushing the door with his other hand. Her hand came up and the door opened. She turned a radiant smile on him that stopped George in his tracks as she climbed out. She followed the example that the Reardons had set at the school and pushed the door closed behind her, then walked around the truck and stood waiting for him.
"All right, Anna, let's go inside and get you settled," George said, motioning toward the house. Anna walked beside him, watching him closely as he brought out the bundle of keys. Once the two were inside, George was at a loss as to what he should do. Elizabeth had taken her dictionary with her, and the five or six German words that he knew just weren't enough.
George finally sighed and shook his head. "What did you do that for, Blanton? Take on a foundling that you can't even talk to." He looked at Anna and saw her puzzled expression, and smiled. "Don't mind me, Anna. I've been the only person that listens to me for years. Living alone can do that." He smiled and saw her smile in return.
"Well, the first thing to do is get you settled in a room. The only rooms with beds are mine, the guest room that Beth used and . . . and Dave's room." He paused as a wave of grief and sadness washed over him. "I think Dave's room has been empty long enough," he said softly to himself. To Anna, he simply said, "Kommen."
Dave's room was at the far end of the house. That had been Mary's idea, to give him some privacy from his parents' prying ears. After all, he had been thirty-three when he had moved back in with them. And a handsome man as well, if the women that he attracted were any indication. He had kept his affairs light and quiet during the years that he had been there, and seldom woke his parents late at night.
The room was musty and dusty. George hadn't really kept it up after Dave's death. He hadn't really cleaned it after Dave's death. Now he sighed deeply.
"This place needs a through cleaning." Looking at Anna, he said, "Stay here," and motioned with both hands for her to stay while he went back downstairs to the laundry room.
Window cleaner, furniture polish, and a roll of paper towels were handy in a cupboard, and he returned to find Anna exactly where he had left her. "Anna, it's time to clean this mess up." Handing her the window cleaner, he tore off a paper towel, then laughed at her startled expression. "Here you go. Start on the windows."
Anna just looked at him, then at the strange bottle and stranger cloth in her hands.
George was almost annoyed again, but caught himself. Of course she's confused. Did they even have window cleaner or spray bottles here? Gently taking the bottle from her, he led her to the window and showed her how it worked. Her surprise gave way to an almost comical joy as he demonstrated how to wipe the windows, then handed her back the bottle. He watched as she cleaned the next window before returning to his own task.
The bookshelves in Dave's room were mostly full, and George absentmindedly glanced at the titles as he dusted. Gunsmithing, cabinet making, herbal medicine, how-to encyclopedias, explosives . . . Explosives? What the hell was Dave doing with a book about explosives? The Anarchist's Cookbook? Yikes. Dave really had been bonkers. He was just finishing the fifth shelf when he became aware of Anna standing at his side.
"Done are you? Well, let's move on then. The bathroom next." Dave's room shared a bathroom with the next room over. That had been another reason that he had been given this room. George led Anna to the bathroom and opened the door, then quickly shut it. Dave's collection of magazines was still there. Turning to Anna, he motioned toward the bed. "Let's make up the bed instead."
George simply stripped the bed by grabbing comforter, blanket and sheets all at once and pulling. Anna stared as the good quilted mattress was revealed, and George grinned.
"Never seen anything like that before, have you?" he asked rhetorically. He knew that she hadn't, and that she couldn't understand him anyway. "Let's get these washing, and get fresh linen." He turned and left the room, pausing only once to look back and jerk his head in an effort to get her to follow.
The laundry room was big by most standards. It had a large-capacity washer and dryer, along with a large, three-by-eight foot table for folding clothes. That had been installed at Mary's insistence. Three of the four walls had cabinets mounted on them, and George grabbed a bottle of liquid laundry detergent from the one above the washer.
"Comforter first," he said over his shoulder to a curious Anna. "I have sheets and blankets enough, but no more comforters." He stuffed the comforter into the washer and turned on the water, smiling at Anna's surprise. "You may think I'm crazy, Anna, but this beats the hell out of a washtub." He added a capful of detergent and led her back out into the house.
"This is the linen closet," he said as he opened a door. Shelves of neatly folded sheets, pillowcases, towels and blankets were arrayed in order from top to bottom. He grabbed a set of sheets and matching pillowcases and handed them to Anna. Then he grabbed a bright yellow blanket and headed back upstairs with Anna in tow.
Anna was delighted with the sheets, and her surprise at seeing the way the fitted sheet wrapped the mattress was enough to make George chuckle. He started to spread the blanket, but stopped and motioned for Anna to do it. When her fingers encountered the velvety material of the blanket she stopped and rubbed her cheek on it in sensuous pleasure.
George used her fascination with the blanket as an opportunity to slip into the bathroom and pick up Dave's "collection." The boy had had some . . . strange tastes. Things that his mother and father never would have dreamed of. But he had been an adult, and could make his own decisions. Quickly bundling the magazines together, he went into the next room and stashed them in a convenient box.
Anna had finished the bed, even the pillowcases, by the time he returned. She was standing with her hands clasped in front of her and her eyes lowered as he walked up to her. "Smart girl. Saw me take the others off and figured it out yourself. Now we can clean the bathroom." Waving for her to follow, he led the way back and handed her the window cleaner again. He tapped the mirror, counter, window, and shower. The toilet bowl was dry after so long, and he flushed once to get it filled again. Rust-colored water flowed down fitfully, and he flushed three more times to get it to clear up. The bowl, however, was still badly stained.
Sighing, George headed back down to the laundry room cupboards. Even the best toilet-bowl cleaner on the market was going to have trouble with that mess. Anna was still working when he returned and came over to watch curiously as he poured the crystals into the bowl. She reached out to touch the foam as the crystals began their task, but George caught her wrist. "Not a good idea, Anna. That stuff burns."
The two continued cleaning for an hour more before George was satisfied. "Well, Anna, your room is ready. And I'm ready for lunch." He smiled and walked out of the room with Anna following close behind.
Like many of his neighbors, George ran his stove, water heater, dryer and furnace on gas from under his own land. The wellhead and compressor were out in the barn. The old O'Keefe & Merritt range in the kitchen was left over from the first occupants of the house, and he and Mary had loved it. All done up in white enamel, it was sturdy, simple to use, and heavy as hell. It had real pilot lights, none of those fancy piezoelectric igniters. Four burners shared the top with a built-in griddle. The oven was side-by-side with a broiler below, and there were drawers for storage below them. A back plate was behind the burners, and built-in salt and pepper shakers bracketed a clock at the top of it. There was also a cover that folded down over the burners and griddle or folded up into a shelf.
George considered Anna for a moment, then shrugged. She was already suffering from culture shock, and a little more was inevitable. George had traveled all over the world when he was in the Navy. He had been stationed in nine states in his six years, but only one of them had made a lasting impression on him. California. Specifically, California cuisine. California cuisine was a mix of so many different ethnic bases that it couldn't rightly be called anything else.
"Anna, have you ever had a burrito?" he asked, grinning. He went to the refrigerator and grabbed a pound of ground chuck, some sharp cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. Smiling at Anna's intensely curious stare, he put everything on the table except the meat, then went to the stove. His old cast-iron frying pan was on a hook beside the stove and he put it on the stove beside a burner. "Watch this, kiddo," he said with a smile, then turned the burner on.
Anna jumped back when the blue flames erupted into being, then came forward. She extended her hand slowly toward the flames, and pulled back when she felt the heat. Her questioning gaze made George chuckle again.
"You'll learn soon enough." He put the pan over the flames and dumped the meat into it. An assortment of large wooden spoons was in a drawer beside the stove, and he used one to break the lump of meat up and stir it around as the pan heated. Motioning Anna forward, he pulled a hot pad from the rack and wrapped it around the handle. "You take over here," he said, stepping back and handing her the spoon. "I'll cut up the rest of the stuff." He smiled and went to the table where he had left everything. He brought over a small cutting board and was soon slicing and dicing away. He glanced back at Anna, then quickly stood and moved to her side. "Stir it, girl, don't let it burn." He grabbed the hand that held the spoon and stirred the meat, turning it to get it browning evenly. "Keep stirring," he instructed, stepping back as Anna complied.
George quickly chopped the lettuce and onion and sliced the cheese and tomatoes, then turned back to the stove. "Time for salt and pepper," he said softly. He lightly salted the meat and then grabbed the pepper, but hesitated. He liked his meat peppery hot, but both Mary and Dave had accused him of trying to kill them. Sighing, he lightly peppered the meat. He could always add more to his own later. He took the spoon from Anna and stirred it some more, then shut off the burner and moved the pan over to the griddle and propped it up on the spoon to drain the meat.
Anna had taken advantage of his momentary distraction and picked up the salt and pepper shakers. Salt she knew, of course, but the pepper was something that she didn't recognize. George turned around in time to see her make a huge mistake, but not soon enough to stop her from making it. Not being able to identify the gray powder by sight, she lifted the pepper to her nose and sniffed.
Anna's eyes began to water as she was wracked by a series of intense sneezes that almost lifted her from her feet. George managed to catch the pepper shaker before it hit the floor, but there was nothing that he could do for Anna except let nature run its course. After about twenty rapid-fire sneezes she got control of herself and gave George such a bewildered look that he had to laugh. That earned him an all too eloquent glare.
"Don't sniff things that you can't identify, Anna," he finally managed to say as he gasped for breath. He put the pepper on the table and waved her to a seat on the other side. There was a Ziploc bag of large flour tortillas beside the stove and he placed two on each of the plates that he had laid out. Then he put on some cheese and onions, layered on a little meat, and added the lettuce and tomatoes. He almost added more pepper, but Anna's reaction was still making him chuckle, so he let it be. Placing a plate in front of Anna, he took his to the opposite chair and sat down. Clearing his throat to get her attention, he showed her how to roll the tortilla and picked one up, then began eating.
Anna copied George, and soon found that, whatever else could be said about her host, he was a good cook. The meat had a bite that she identified after a few moments as pepper. So that's what the gray powder is, she thought to herself. She kept looking at George, glancing up when he moved to see if he wanted her to do anything. The dark-haired woman at the place where her parents were being helped had said that these people had many strange customs, but that they were good people. She was finally beginning to really believe it.
After they had eaten, George introduced her to the concept of a dishwasher.
The two spent the rest of the day trying to work out some signals that they both could understand. George was astute enough that he could read her body language in many cases, like when lunch caught up with her and she needed to use the toilet, but didn't know how to excuse herself. He sent her on her way and busied himself with his video collection. The only thing that he had that was in German was the subtitled version of Das Boot. She might understand the language, but what she would think of a U-boat and the war he didn't even want to consider.
He wanted something light and happy. Something that could bridge the language barrier. Something like a slow smile crossed his face as he found the tape that he wanted. Language would still be hard, but the situation would be something that she could relate to. Hell, she might even know the story.
Errol Flynn swung across the screen, his green hunter's tights and feathered hat displayed in brilliant Technicolor green. Anna clapped her hands as the wondrous story unfolded, occasionally shouting at the actors when she could see what they didn't. George sat back and relaxed. Far from being frightened by the movie, Anna seemed to be enthralled. The story of Robin Hood was, after all, set in medieval England, a land not that much different than medieval Germany.
After the movie, George led Anna back to the kitchen. He spoke over his shoulder while he started dinner. "I hope that you don't mind a light dinner, Anna. I don't usually eat much late in the day. Gives me indigestion no matter what it is." He had been washing two large russet potatoes as he spoke and then walked over to the microwave oven. He poked each potato with a fork several times and placed them on a paper towel, then turned the oven on for twelve minutes.
Anna looked carefully at the glowing box with the tubers in it, then looked at George. "Was ist?" she asked, and he was surprised to realize that he understood her.
"That is a microwave oven, Anna. It cooks food using radio waves to excite the water molecules in the foodoh, what am I saying? You don't understand any of it. Just wait until they're done and you'll see." George smiled and patted her on the shoulder as he walked back into the other room.
Anna followed him, wondering what wonders he was going to reveal to her next. What he revealed was a tendency to sit quietly while his dinner cooked. He sat in a glider-rocker and looked out the window as the sun set in the wrong place.
He began to speak softly, more to himself than to her. Anna realized that he was talking to her about her parents, but didn't understand what he was saying. She thought that it was probably something about getting rid of her, or keeping her as his servant. After all, he was a rich man with a huge mansion, yet he didn't have servants. Just look at the room that he had had her clean. That was obviously meant for someone special. Especially that wonderfully soft and smooth blanket. She could only imagine royalty sleeping under something like that.
A bell chimed from the kitchen and George immediately went to get the potatoes. Anna, as always, trailed right behind him. He pointed to the cupboard to the left of the sink and said. "Get two plates," while he checked the tenderness of the potatoes with a fork. They were done, and done just right. Anna handed him two plates and he used the fork to lift a potato onto each, then handed one to Anna and nodded toward the table.
Anna stared suspiciously at the steaming brown tuber on her plate while George got the butter from the refrigerator. She watched even closer when he used his fork to open it up, and quickly followed his example. She found the white interior to be just as hot as it looked, and sucked a burnt finger as she glared at it.
George chuckled and buttered his potato before sliding the butter over to Anna. She watched as he spread the butter and salted his potato before eating, and she copied him. Like just about everything else, she found the potato delicious.
When they had finished eating, George allowed Anna to see to the dishes herself, smiling encouragingly as she rinsed the plates and loaded them into the dishwasher. It was getting late and he had decided that even if she wasn't tired, they were going to bed.
He pantomimed going to sleep by putting his hands together and laying his head on them with his eyes closed, and she nodded her understanding. She immediately went to the couch that she had slept on the night before, but George caught her elbow before she could lie down. "Upstairs, Anna. Your room."
Anna looked at him with questions and uncertainty clear in her face, and he guided her to the stairs. Her breath came just a little quicker as he led her up the stairs, but seemed to ease a little when they walked past his room. She was shocked when he opened the door of the room that they had cleaned and said, "Your room, Anna. For as long as you stay."
Anna looked at him with wide eyes. George was tired and getting irritated, so he put a hand in the small of her back and pushed her into the room. "You, sleep, there," he said, pantomiming by pointing at her, putting his hands under his head, then pointing at the bed. Then he turned out the lights and closed the door, muttering under his breath the whole time.
Anna waited until she heard the door down the hall shut, then turned the lights back on. She looked around the room, warily checking every corner, before walking over to the bed. She touched the wonderful blanket again, trailing her fingers across it, and a deep sigh escaped her lips. It was so soft, and so much too fine for her. Could George really mean for her to stay here, to sleep in this soft bed under that wondrous blanket?
A tear, unbidden and unwanted, trickled down her cheek. It was all too much. How could she be here? She was a poor girl, a farmer's daughter, yet here she stood in a room fit for a lady, beside a bed fit for a queen. She finally took a long, shuddering breath and nodded to herself. Ever-fickle fortune had smiled upon her when she hid in that barn. She would not examine her good fortune too closely, just in case it was illusion.
Quickly slipping out of the dress that she had all but been forced into that morning, she used the amazing toilet and scrubbed her teeth with a finger at the sink before turning out the lights once again and slipping between the smooth sheets on the heavenly soft mattress, under that oh-so-wonderful blanket. Sleep came as she smiled softly, content to let God watch over her.
George awoke early and contemplated his situation. Here he was, a grumpy old man, with a teenage girl as a houseguest. That was how he had decided to look at it. She was his guest, not an interloper.
He rose quietly and got dressed. His clothes were old and worn, but he doubted that Anna would comment on his fashion sense, or lack thereof. Thinking of her, he again shook his head. The first thing to do was to get her up and dressed, then go see her parents. He was unsure of exactly how badly her mother had been hurt, beyond the horror of the gang rape. Maybe he could talk to the doctor. Doctor Adams hadn't been his doctor, but that fellow and his associates were elsewhere. That was another thing that he had to start worrying about. His own health was not the best, and there was going to be a shortage of his medications unless another source could be found.
George shook it off and said, "First things first, old man." He finished dressing and walked down the hall, but Anna's door opened before he reached it. "Up early, are you? That's good. Let's go see your parents first and talk to the doctor." Anna obviously didn't understand him, but nodded when he finished talking and followed him downstairs and out the door.
George opened the truck door for her, making sure that she saw how it was done. Once he was seated, he had a few moments of trouble convincing her to buckle up, and finally just reached over her and strapped her in himself while she just looked startled.
The ride to the high school was quiet. Normally George listened to a country station on the radio, but that station wasn't on the air here, so he left it off. Anna, of course, didn't know what she was missing.
When they arrived at the school, Anna immediately took off toward the clinic. George strolled slowly behind her, looking around as he walked. The place was busy. People who hadn't had anything to do with high school in decades were coming and going from every direction. He walked to the clinic and found Anna seated on the floor beside her mother's bed.
The two were talking rapidly in German. Anna kept nodding her head while her mother kept shaking hers. When Anna noticed him, she stood and grabbed his hand, dragging him to the side of the bed and talking a mile a minute again.
The woman on the bed fixed George with a bleak stare. There was something in her eyes that he couldn't describe, and was pretty sure he wouldn't like if he could. She whispered something to Anna, and the girl took his hand.
"Anna is safe with me, ma'am. I don't mess with children." A movement at the corner of his vision caused him to turn away, and he found himself facing a strange black man in a white doctor's coat.
"Mr. Blanton, I presume," the doctor said with a smile. "I'm James Nichols. My daughter and I were in town for the wedding, and got caught here."
"Wedding?" George asked.
"Uh-huh. Rita Stearns and Tom Simpson."
"Didn't hear about it. How is she?" he asked, looking down at Anna's mother.
"As well as can be expected under the circumstances. Physically, she only has some scrapes, bruises and two broken ribs. Mentally . . . mentally she's fragile. Seeing the men who did it to her dead may have helped a little, but she's still a rape victim. She also saw what happened to her husband, and that can't help." Doctor Nichols walked away, motioning for George to follow.
"He lost a lot of blood before we got to him. That, plus the shock and other things that were done to him makes me wonder how he survived. He's going to be in danger for quite a while, and he's in for a long recovery."
George nodded his understanding. "I have plenty of room at my place when they're ready to go. Anna is settling in, but I wish I spoke German or she spoke English. It's hard to not be able to understand one another."
"Learn German, Mr. Blanton," Doctor Nichols instructed. "From what I've been hearing, there aren't many people in this area that speak English."
George gave him an intense look. "What have you heard? I've just been getting bits and pieces."
Doctor Nichols gave George a quick verbal sketch of their predicament. "So, here we are, a bunch of Americans in southern Germany. Unless some bright boy comes up with a miracle, we don't have anywhere else to go, and no way to get there."
George shook his head slowly back and forth, then returned to Anna and her mother. "I'm going to go talk to some people, Anna. You stay here, okay? Stay here with your mother." George motioned with both hands for Anna to remain where she was, then walked away.
Doctor Adams was also at the clinic, and George asked to see him in private. The doctor nodded and led the way to an empty classroom. "Yes, Mr. Blanton, what can I do for you?"
"Well, Doc, I don't know. I'm on several medications, but the ones that worry me are the blood thinners and blood pressure meds. What's going to happen when I run out?"
Doctor Adams rubbed his chin as he considered his answer. "This is something that we've already run into. One of the people that was rescued yesterdayday before yesterday?time goes so fast sometimes. Anyway, one of the people that was rescued was having a heart attack at the time. Doctor Nichols managed to stabilize him, but we don't have the facilities to handle that sort of thing. I'm afraid that you and the rest of our elderly are in for a rough time. We can manage some control of your blood pressure with diet, and aspirin can be substituted for your blood thinners to some extent. I hate to say it, but you're in trouble."
George gave Doctor Adams a sour look. "That's not the answer that I wanted to hear."
Doctor Adams simply shrugged. "It isn't the answer that I wanted to give, but it's the best I've got right now."
George nodded and went to collect Anna. She was sitting beside her mother's bed, holding her hand as she slept. She looked up when George arrived and stood, tucking her mother's hand gently under the blanket. George simply nodded and walked away, and Anna followed him.
The walk out to the truck was silent as each of them considered their situation. George was watching Anna carefully, and the girl was watching the floor beneath her feet. She glanced up and caught him watching her and smiled a sad little smile. Seeing that, George smiled in return and patted her shoulder.
Boys and girls who he assumed were students were rushing about the school, moving chairs and desks from room to room with seeming purpose. A woman passed by and George stopped her to ask what was going on.
"It's for the meeting tomorrow. Weren't you informed?" the woman asked, looking at him closely. "I don't recognize you, or this young lady. Were you just passing through?"
George gave the woman a sour look. "No, I live here. Name's George Blanton. I live out south of town. This girl here is Anna. Don't know her last name. She's from that farm where the miners rescued the family."
The woman was nodding as she listened. "Now I know who you are. Well, there's a meeting for all residents who care to attend here in the auditorium tomorrow morning. That's when the science types are going to announce what they have found out about how we got here, and how to get back."
George nodded and led Anna outside and put her in the truck. "Well, Anna," he said as he got in, "I think that we need to go see Beth and Jimmy." Anna's expression brightened at the mention of Beth's name, and he chuckled. "I'm going to get that dictionary so we can communicate better."
Little Jim was out front when George and Anna drove up, and he hurried inside to announce their arrival. Elizabeth and Marge met them on the porch and took them inside. "Beth, I need to borrow that dictionary of yours."
"Talking to her is harder than you expected, isn't it, George?" Elizabeth asked as she walked across the living room.
"Yep. There are a lot of concepts that I just don't know how to convey to her."
"Well, such as who we are and where we're from. America doesn't even seem to register as a country to her."
Elizabeth stopped and looked over her shoulder at him. "If what we're hearing is true, America isn't a country yet, George. Just some English and Spanish colonies in the new world. I don't even know if they call it North America yet."
That stopped George in his tracks. "Not even America yet? Oh, God in Heaven, how could I have forgotten that?"
"Because it hasn't really sunk in yet. You know it in your head, but you don't really know it in your heart."
"No, you're probably right. I keep expecting something to happen, something that will make everything the way it was. It's almost like . . . it's almost like when Mary died." George looked at the floor and slowly shook his head.
Elizabeth nodded and stepped closer, putting her hand on his arm. "And when Jim died. I know. It's surreal now. We're still in shock. But the reality is going to set in soon enough."
George nodded. "They're having a meeting about it tomorrow at the high school."
"Jimmy told us," Elizabeth said softly. "He was talking to Mr. Ferrara, Lizzy's science teacher. He doesn't think that there's any way to get back."
George nodded and looked at Anna, but she was gone. He whipped his head around, scanning the room, but there was no sign of the girl. Marge saw his look and smiled. "She's with Liz and Mel. I think that they're trying on dresses in their room."
George sighed. He didn't have the experience for handling Anna. Not really. Dave had been his only child, and boys were easier than girls. "Well, since we're alone now, I have a favor to ask."
"Ask away," Elizabeth answered.
"Well, Anna is a teenager. I'm sure her mother took care of the basics, but, well, things have changed. I'm just not comfortable with the idea of trying to discuss it with her."
"Well . . . her period," George answered somewhat sheepishly. He had been married for over thirty-five years, but that was part of Mary's life that he hadn't intruded on.
Elizabeth shook her head. "Men. Jim never wanted anything to do with the girls when they were going through puberty either. I'll take care of it. Or we will." She glanced at Marge and received a nod of agreement.
"Thank you. It's just something that I never wanted to learn anything about."
Elizabeth led George into the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee. "She's a pretty girl, George. You may have other problems as well."
"How so?" George was seated at the kitchen table and accepted the cup that Elizabeth handed him.
"You saw how the boys reacted to her."
"Oh, no! Not my problem. That's for her daddy to deal with."
Elizabeth reached over and touched his hand. "He may not be able to, George. The doctors aren't sure that he'll make it. That leaves you so long as she's living under your roof."
George looked startled for a moment, then shrugged. "We'll deal with that when the time comes. I'm hoping to get her mother home with us soon. Ken Hobbs said that their farm is still standing, but it's damaged pretty badly. It'll take a lot of work to get it livable again. Besides, I really don't think that she should be on her own for a while. I can take care of all of us with Dave's stash."
Elizabeth nodded. "We talked about that last night. Dave's guns and stuff may be needed. We may have to defend ourselves against one of the largest armies in history."
George closed his eyes for a moment. "There's more than guns up there, Beth. Lots more."
"Keep it there for now, George. That stash may be your salvation."
George chuckled and shook his head. "If Dave was here he'd probably be crowing like a spring rooster about being right."
Anna reappeared in a different dress and a smile a mile wide. Melody and Lizzy were grinning just as hard, and occasionally giggling. Melody finally had to say it. "Anna thinks Jim is cute."
George immediately put his head in his hand and just said, "Oh, lord."
Marge laughed and shook her head. "Are you ready to negotiate a dowry, George?"
George gaped at her while the rest of the women laughed, including Anna. Then Elizabeth and Marge gathered all of the girls and went toward the back of the house.
George walked outside and watched the boys as they did their chores around the farm. They had apparently been allowed to skip school. That made sense to George. Not much point in going to school when there weren't going to be any classes.
It was more than an hour later when the women reappeared, and Anna walked over to George's side with a slightly dazed expression. Elizabeth was shaking her head, but she had an amused smile on her face. "She'll be all right, George. She's just a little shocked by us."
"Oh, gee, can't imagine why," George said sarcastically. "Come along, Anna. Let's go home." Turning back to Elizabeth, he gave her a little bow. "Ladies, I thank you. I'm going to see about bringing her mother home after the meeting tomorrow. I may need some more help."
"We're only a phone call away, George," Elizabeth answered, smiling at both of them.
George and Anna spent another quiet night, each lost in thoughts of their own. In the morning they returned to the school to find Anna's mother sitting up and sipping tea. Anna immediately dropped to her knees and started talking. George didn't understand a word of it, but her tone was joyous and light. Then she stood and motioned George forward. "George, diese Frau ist meine Mutti, Tilda Braun."
George was more surprised that he understood her meaning than the introduction. He shook off his surprise and bowed deeply at the waist, then said, "I am pleased to meet you, Missus Braun." He was also surprised to find that he had not learned Anna's last name until now.
Tilda looked at him with her haunted eyes, but there was something more in them than there had been. Surprise warred with fear and despair, and there was just a glimmer of what could be hope. "You ist gut, good man, George. Tank, thank you," she said in halting English, much to George and Anna's surprise.
"You are welcome. I wish I had that book." He smiled at Anna and Tilda, then shrugged. "When you are ready, we will take you home. You have a room of your own for as long as you need it." He smiled, hoping that she understood, then nodded at Anna. "You stay here, Anna. I'm going to the meeting, and I'll be back for you when it's done." He smiled and motioned for Anna to stay where she was, then turned and left. Anna and Tilda's voices were a constant buzz of strange words behind him as he walked away.
The meeting in the gymnasium was not the tedious affair that George had feared. The information was mostly a rehash of what he already knew. They were stuck in 1631 Germany. It was spring. There was a huge war raging around them. And some ass from out of town thought that they ought to chase Anna and her people away. George was on his feet, shouting at the top of his lungs as John Simpson referred to his little Anna as a disease carrier. He hadn't been this angry sincewell, he couldn't remember when he had ever been this angry.
Mike Stearns took the podium next and expressed his own displeasure with Simpson's comments, and George felt his admiration of the boy growing. Damn it all, now he understood why Dave had thought the world of Mike's leadership abilities. And of Mike as a person. The boy had what it took to lead a mob of hillbillies like these.
When the vote came, George added his voice to those for Mike and his agenda. Screw that stuffed suit. His kind had been why George had retired at age fifty-five, even though he could have continued on for another eight years. The stuffed suits had driven him out.
George left the gym with a definite feeling of unease, but a sense of purpose as well. Stuck here and on their own, he knew one thing for certain: they needed to plant crops. Food, as it had been pointed out, was going to be a priority. No arable land could be left fallow, and he hadwell, he had Mary's garden. He hadn't planted it in years since her death, but it was good land. Maybe better now for having been left alone for a while.
George returned to the clinic and found both Anna and Tilda ready to go. Doctor Adams was there as well, slowly shaking his head. "Mr. Blanton, I'm glad to see you. It seems that my patient wants to leave."
"Already?" George asked, looking at Tilda.
"I go. Not gut to Aufenthault, to stay. Go zu Hause. Go home." Tilda nodded sharply at her last remark and stood.
"Well, home is my house for now. I'm sure Anna has told you that you have a place with me. Your house is . . . damaged." George looked away, saddened by the memories that were going to be part of that house for years to come.
Anna and her mother shared a sharp exchange of words, with Anna stamping her foot and saying something that needed no translation. George interrupted, earning a nasty glare from both of them.
"If you want to go back to your farm, I'll take you, but I really think that you'd be better off with me."
Again Tilda looked him in the eye and said, "Go zu Hause."
George sighed and nodded, then led the way out of the clinic and school with a loudly chattering Anna and Tilda right behind him. At the truck it took all of Anna's powers of persuasion to get her mother into the cab and belted in. Tilda still took the ride in white-knuckled silence with an indescribable expression on her face.
The end of the road was where the three first saw the true extent of the Ring of Fire. The cliff had crumbled due to the traffic over it that first day, but it was still a mighty testimony that something tremendous had happened. George let Anna help her mother up the bank while he struggled up on his own. His balance was hampered by the M-14 in his hands, but there was nothing that could have convinced him not to take it.
At the farm they saw the evidence of the firefight and its aftermath. The house stood, but the interior was a wreck. A fly-infested stain near the barn told of spilled blood. George stood outside, scanning the area carefully while the two women searched the house.
Anna was the first to come out, her face tear-streaked and puffy. Tilda was not far behind. Her eyes were bleak with despair. All that they'd had was ruined, ravaged by the same men who had ravished her. Now she looked at George with pleading in her eyes. With the farm so thoroughly despoiled, they had only one hope.
George smiled sadly and put an arm around Anna and said, "Kommen." He added a little pressure and turned back the way they had come, leading them back toward the home that awaited them.
George spent most of the next day convincing Tilda and Anna that he was not making servants of them. It was an uphill battle. Tilda was just not willing to accept that good fortune had finally come her way.
George left the two women alone in the house while he checked out the tractor. It was a good little John Deere utility tractor that had been modified to run on natural gas. That plus the farm implements that were rusting beside the barn were his main concern. He and Mary had purchased the tractor new when they had bought the farm, and had bought all of the attachments that they could afford to go with it. Harrow, plow, mower, reaper, loader and backhoe attachments were a hefty investment, but one that had paid off more than once.
He made several trips into town to buy penetrating oil, motor oil, hydraulic fluid and seed. The seed was the most important purchase. It was going fast now that the people of Grantville had awakened to their plight. Food, the emergency committee had decreed, was among their top priorities. The army was the top priority, and George graciously donated most of Dave's weapons and ammunition to the cause, only keeping the M-14 and a shotgun for his own use. And the Colt Python .357 magnum that was nestled under his mattress. That was a gun that no one knew about, and he intended to keep it that way.
Once Anna and Tilda understood that he was going to plant, they joined in wholeheartedly. George looked up from his work on the tractor to see the two women walking the field pulling weeds. He tried to stop them, but all he got for his trouble was a lecture in German and broken English about the state of his field and their duty to help. He finally gave up and concentrated on fixing the recalcitrant tractor.
When George finally got everything working, he hooked up the harrow and pulled it into the field. Anna and Tilda stood in openmouthed amazement as he plowed the weeds and old plants under, leaving behind bare earth when he was done. Where they had taken a half a day to clear less than an acre, George did all ten in just a few hours.
He smiled as he drove back to the barn. Tilda was a good woman, but just a touch on the stubborn side. She and Anna were waiting for him at the barn and he used the hydraulics to detach the harrow before shutting off the tractor. Once he climbed down he faced off with Tilda. "You see?" he asked, smiling slightly. When Tilda answered with one sharp nod, he smiled and continued with his work. He took the opportunity to fuel the tractor up, topping-off both of the gas bottles before moving on.
George's next task was to attach the plow. It was only a four-row plow, but it would take care of the garden in just a few more hours. Tilda and Anna walked the field behind him, amazed at how easily he was able to plow, and pleased by how rich the soil was. By nightfall, the field was ready to plant.
George and Tilda sat at the kitchen table with the dictionary late into the night, trying to find a way to discuss their living arrangement. Tilda was absolutely convinced that she and Anna should share a servant's room, and George was just as convinced that each of them should have their own room. After all, he repeatedly pointed out, her husband would eventually join them. Every time he said that he saw hope flicker and die in her eyes. Tilda was convinced that her husband was never leaving the clinic except in a box. George and Tilda finally decided that each was the most stubborn person that the other had ever met. Tilda slept with Anna while George shook his head in despair.
Another week passed before the emergency committee contacted George again.
Three men drove up to George's house in a battered old pickup with a natural gas tank in the bed. They parked at the bottom of the steps and got out, but only one of them climbed the steps. He didn't get a chance to knock.
George opened the door and stood facing his visitor through the screen door. "Hi, Willie Ray. What's up?"
The man looked at him uncertainly. "George, the emergency committee put me in charge of food production. I see you've already started your plot, but we need that tractor of yours working pretty much nonstop, not just sitting in your barn until you need it."
George stared at Willie Ray for a moment, then crossed his arms over his chest. "You're not taking my tractor."
Willie Ray took in the stubborn set of George's face and tried again. "George, we've got to"
"You're not taking my tractor," George said sternly, interrupting Willie Ray. "Have you given the emergency committee your tractor?"
"Well, no, but . . ."
"No buts, Willie Ray," George snarled. "I'll fight you if you try. You should know I didn't give the army all my guns. I gave them everything I could do without. All my son's stuff. All his guns, ammo, and supplies. I need that tractor for myself and my guests."
Willie Ray was puzzled for a moment, then seemed to remember about Anna and her family. "Well, we still need that tractor producing. If you won't give it up, you'll have to run it yourself."
"I can do that," George agreed with a single nod.
Willie Ray nodded back. "Good. We've been contacting everyone who has any land at all and making arrangements to get crops planted. We'll be contacting you when we need your equipment."
George said, "That'll do," and watched Willie Ray leave with his helpers.
"That'll do. George Blanton, you're a fool," George said aloud as he drove the tractor to yet another job. "Should'a known I'd get stuck plowing every backyard garden in the county."
The emergency committee had convinced just about everyone in Grantville to plant what land they had, but that wasn't really all that much. The real farmers, like Willie Ray and a few others, who had larger tractors and plows were off in the German countryside in well-armed groups making sure that every farm in the immediate vicinity of the Ring of Fire was planted.
George's destination today was the Reardon house. They only had five acres, but they were going to plant every inch of it that they could. Jimmy came out of the house as he pulled up.
"George, how are you?" he asked, smiling broadly.
"Sick and tired of plowing," George answered.
Jimmy laughed. "Then why don't you climb down and let me handle it for a while. Mom wants to talk to you anyway."
George left the tractor idling as he climbed stiffly down. "Thank you, Jim. Times like this I wish I'd let Willie Ray take the damn thing."
Jimmy laughed again and agilely climbed up to the seat, then drove into his yard and started plowing.
George sighed and limped up to the door, rubbing his back with one hand as he did. The suspension on the tractor just wasn't meant to be sat on for days on end. His knock was immediately answered by Elizabeth.
"Come in, George," she said, stepping aside. "What can I get for you?"
"Some strong muscles and a few new vertebrae, if you have them on hand," George answered with a little laugh. "If not, then I guess some iced tea will have to do."
Elizabeth smiled and guided him to a chair, then went to get some drinks. She returned to find him seated with his legs stretched out. "Here you are. Let me get you a footstool." She nudged a padded footstool over to him and he carefully put his feet up on it. "You look tired, George."
"I am tired, Beth. Tilda and Anna are taking care of my garden without me since I'm always out and about. The good news is that it shouldn't go on much longer. We'll have every bit of arable land planted by the end of the month, and then I can relax a little."
Elizabeth nodded. "I was over to see them yesterday. We've been going through the girls' things and we had some more dresses for them."
George nodded and looked out the window to where Jimmy was plowing. "I heard. Tilda is finally adjusting to the situation and starting to really take charge. I haven't had to actually do anything except run the plow for a week. She's doing everything."
"She's worried about her husband. And you," Elizabeth said softly. "She told me that you were overdoing it."
"I'm not overdoing it, Beth. I'm just doing what I can to keep what's mine."
Elizabeth frowned, but nodded. "Just don't kill yourself, George. Those people need you."
"I know, Beth. And you know what? It's a good feeling. A very good feeling."
George's health problems were a secret that he carefully kept from Anna and Tilda. He made regular trips into town, riding the tractor since the gas for his truck had been siphoned off by that pirate Stearns and his men for the army. Doctor Adams kept track of his blood pressure and coagulation factors, substituting one medicine or another when his prescribed medications ran out.
Anna's father hovered near death for weeks. The damage that had been done to him was slow to heal, but eventually it did, and George was introduced to Jurgen Braun.
Jurgen listened in silence to what his wife and daughter had to say about the man who had taken them in. He was reluctant to stay in George's house, fearing the debt that his family was accumulating with the obviously rich man, but found that he had little choice in the matter. He was free of the doctors, but still so weak that he could hardly stand on his own.
The planting was done long before Jurgen joined them. Seedlings were sprouting and George joined Tilda and Anna in the fields, hand weeding the tender young plants. It was a chore for George's back, and as often as not he spent his evenings cuddled up with a heating pad.
Jurgen was in the guest room that George had tried to get Tilda into, and Tilda had finally moved in with him. That still left just three of the six bedrooms occupied, and George soon had other boarders as well.
After the Battle of Badenburg, or the Battle of the Crapper as it was irreverently called, he was joined by four more families, and Anna moved in with her parents. The men who joined George and the Brauns were all farmers who had been pressed into service with Tilly's mercenaries. The women were their families and camp followers. George shook his head at that, but kept his peace. Strange times made for strange arrangements. The big farmhouse that George and Mary had rattled around in started to seem mighty small with eleven adults and thirteen children crowding it.
George's pastureland was also pressed into service. The army had captured horses and oxen along with the men, and an assortment of other farm animals that ranged from chickens to goats and pigs. The chickens were scrawny things compared to the birds that had come through the Ring of Fire with the Americans. The pigs and goats were, well, pigs and goats. George's new boarders quickly cobbled together pens and a chicken coop from supplies that had been lying around the barn since before George and Mary had bought the place.
The barn was cleared of its decades-long accumulation of junk, often yielding odd treasures. The people who had owned the farm before George and Mary had been real farmers. Buried among the clutter and junk were farm implements that the Germans understood. Good steel shovels. Steel rakes and hoes. A scythe with a broken handle. Old tack, with its leather brittle from age and neglect. The men and women tsk-ed at the state of George's tools, but kept their mouths closed. Tilda and Anna had told them of the wonderful machine that could plow a whole field in half a day. If George could let good tools rust this way, it must be a wonderful machine indeed.
The Brauns' farm was also being tended now that there were enough hands to tend it, and soon George found himself not being allowed to do anything but drive the tractor. It was still his chore because he was the only one who knew how all of the attachments worked, but the men and women who were living in his house insisted that it was more than he should have to do. After all, he was their host, and they saw it as their duty to tend to his lands while they lived under his roof. He was also just about the oldest person that any of them had ever met, and they were genuinely concerned about him.
The newcomers found George every bit as strange as Anna had in the beginning, and Anna took great pleasure in showing them all of the modern conveniences that George's home had to offer.
George and the Reardons learned bits and pieces of the German language as the year progressed, and the Germans learned English as well, so that by fall and the harvest the babble in George's house would confuse just about anyone. Still, they communicated well enough, and George found himself relegated more and more to the roll of Grandfather to All.
Little Jim was serving with the army now, and it was a source of constant worry for all of the Reardons and for one German girl in particular. Anna had a crush on Little Jim, and waited impatiently for his visits. Little Jim, fortunately, had just as big a crush on her and visited as often as he could. This made for some interesting times as the two negotiated. It didn't help that Jim's sisters, mother and grandmother were all on Anna's side.
The time finally came as winter gripped the land that Little Jim, all six feet three inches of him, came hemming and hawing to stand in front of Jurgen Braun.
"Well, Mister Braun, I, well, I would like to have Anna's hand in marriage," he finally managed to say, swallowing hard to fight down his nervousness.
Jurgen looked at Jim closely and shook his head. "Anna ist too younk. She ist only sechzehn. Zixteen. And you, younk man. You are but a boy. Too younk. You haff no land or trade off you own."
Little Jim looked at Jurgen with evident confusion. "Sir, I'm eighteen. I'm legally a man now, and I'm old enough for the army. And as for a trade, I've been working for Uncle Ollie in his machine shop off and on for years. The only reason that I wasn't working there this year was that he didn't have enough business to keep me busy. But now, with him starting to talk about making cannons and rifled muskets, he's going to have more business than he can handle."
Jurgen looked at Jim carefully. The boy was big enough, obviously strong, and even good looking in an overfed, American way. And he was financially well off. His father's eldest son, he would have land of his own one day.
There was a flicker of sadness at that last thought. His son, born when Anna was three, hadn't lived through his first year, and Tilda hadn't quickened again in spite of all of their prayers and efforts. To have this boy as his son, even by marriageit was a thing worth considering. But still, was he really interested in Anna, or did he wish to marry her to acquire more lands for himself? After all, Anna was his only child, and would one day inherit the farm. There was one way to find out. "You unterstand, younk man, dat Anna hass no mitgift."
Jim was perplexed by the German word. He had never heard it before, but Grandma Beth quickly looked it up and showed him the page in the dictionary. "If you mean dowry, yes sir, I understand. It don't bother me none. We can live with my parents until I can get a place of my own."
Tilda looked at Jim as if she were measuring him for a coffin. "Anna ist a goot girl. Sturdy and strong. She vill make goot wife for ju, even if she ist too younk and comes wit no lands yet."
"Missus Braun, you've got a lovely daughter, and when the time comes I'm sure that we'll have as much land as we'll need. As I said, I'll probably be working in Uncle Ollie's machine shop rather than farming anyway, so land isn't a big issue for me."
Elizabeth entered into the negotiations in earnest now that Little Jim had gotten things rolling. "Jurgen, Tilda, Little Jim is a fine young man. He is a skilled machinist, and has been working during his summers since he was twelve. That's quite a while by our standards. And please remember that we have different assumptions about when it is proper to marry."
She looked at Little Jim with a definite frown on her face. "Sixteen is too young, by most standards. Well, today's standards. I was sixteen when I married your grandfather. He was nineteen then. But that makes no difference as far as these two are concerned." She looked smiled at Little Jim. "What makes a difference to me is that they seem to be truly in love. They can wait a bit before the actual ceremony, but I, and his parents, wouldn't be against an engagement." She looked in the dictionary and came up with the German word for betrothal. "A verlobung."
Jurgen and Tilda consulted quietly for a few moments before Jurgen answered. "Ve ist not in goot times. Dis var ist not to end zoon. Ze school, they say it ist many years to come before it ist end. But ve are Americans now. Ve vill liff like Americans, ja? Zo we decide. She may be verlobung. Engage. But not to marry until she ist achtzehn. Eighteen."
Tilda continued at her husband's nod. "Anna ist not rich girl, but not beggar. In tee years ahead she vill make her mitgift. She vill not come to altar vith empty hands."
Elizabeth nodded and stepped aside to let Little Jim speak again. "Mister Braun, I am willing to accept these conditions. As a token, I offer Anna this ring. It's Grandma's engagement ring that Grandpa gave her." He smiled broadly at Elizabeth, then at Anna.
Anna stepped forward at her father's nod, and Little Jim went to one knee. "Anna, will you marry me?"
Anna looked confused for a moment. "I haf already say yes."
George smiled at her. "It's kind of tradition, Anna. He proposes on one knee and you say yes, then he gives you the engagement ring. That makes it official."
Anna looked slightly confused, but said, "Yes, my Jim, I vill marry you." Jim put his grandmother's ring on the ring finger of her left hand, then stood and took her gently into his arms.
Elizabeth and George stood to the side, smiling at the scene. She smiled at the proud smile on his face and patted his arm, then went to hug her grandson and his future bride.
George continued to secretly see Doctor Adams as his health, once propped up by modern medicine, continued to decline. As the medications that were stocked in the town pharmacies ran out, herbal remedies were tried. But as the winter wore on, even the herbs could not control his blood pressure.
George awoke in the middle of the night. He was gripped by a crushing pain that was driving the breath from his chest as he struggled to reach the few nitroglycerin pills that Doctor Adams had managed to find for him. They were there on the nightstand, he could see them, but they were out of reach. The pain eased slightly as his sight dimmed, and he managed to whisper one word with his last breath. "Mary."
Anna found George the next morning. With the cold weather they had all taken to sleeping in late, snuggling under blankets until the sun was well above the horizon. George was usually the last one up, but when he hadn't appeared by ten she went to find him.
"George? Ist you goink to sleep all day?" she asked playfully. Then she saw his face. There wasn't anything obviously wrong, but she knew before she touched his cool cheek. A choked sob escaped her lips as she backed away, and she finally turned to scream, "MUTTI!" before she collapsed beside his bed.
Tilda and everyone else in the house crowded into George's room. The old man looked so peaceful, but there was no question about his death. One of the elder boys was sent to town to inform the authorities, and soon Doctor Adams and Chief Frost were driving up in a natural-gas-powered police cruiser.
Doctor Adams looked at George and took his pulse for form's sake, but he knew it was far too late. "He went quietly," the doctor said, as he noted the pills still on the nightstand. "He has been expecting something like this. Ever since his medications ran out he has known that he was living on borrowed time."
Dan nodded. "He told me, and swore me to secrecy. He didn't want anyone fussing over him. Now I'll have to tell everyone. Did he tell you who was to see to his affairs?"
The doctor nodded. "I am. He didn't have much of a will, and I brought it with me. We wrote it up about three months ago when the last of the blood thinners ran out. Here." The doctor handed over a single sheet of paper, notarized and witnessed as was proper, and the chief read the single sentence.
"I, George Armstrong Blanton, being of sound mind and failing health, upon my death do bequeath all of my worldly belongings to my adopted granddaughter, Anna Braun."
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