Eric Flint: Grantville Gazette. Volume XX

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Eric Flint


Grantville Gazette. Volume XX

By Hook or By Crook


Victoria L'Ecuyer

Hamburg, January 1633

Someone grabbed Annabet Nutsch and covered her eyes. "Guess who!"

Annabet stiffened. She recognized the voice and jabbed her elbow into her brother's ribs. "Grow up, Johann." She wrestled free and shook her finger at the tall, gangly young man with light brown shaggy hair. "You should be in Jena doing your journeyman's work." She tucked her blonde hair back under the cap he knocked askew.

"And you should be a housewife with a child on leading strings." He grinned at her, green eyes filled with mischief. "Look at this and tell me what you think."

Annabet shoved her baby brother out of the way. "I'm working."

"Just take a look!".

Annabet snorted. "Fine. A quick look, then you have to leave. My mistress is not an understanding woman." She dumped an armload of clothes in a wash tub and shoved them in the soapy water. "Rinse the linens, Wilhelmina, while I deal with my brother," she told the young maid who was helping her. Annabet took Johann's arm and towed him to a corner where they could talk unheard. "What is it?"

"American lace." Johann grinned.

Annabet looked at the long, narrow band of lace. It was made of very fine yarn that was twisted and tangled in a regular fashion. It should have looked ugly, but it didn't. "This is nothing I have seen before." She stretched it flat to better see the stitches.

"It's from the future. I learned how to make this from an American woman in Grantville," Johann said. "She had this lace everywhere! It was on her tables and chairs and on the bottom of her curtains." He reached in and pulled out a ball of string and a fist full of hooks. They were all a different size and none bigger than a thin tree branch. "I whittled these for you. They are called crochet hooks." He reached into his bag again and pulled out a handful of papers with sketches and strange lettering. "Here are instructions. I cannot read the English, but I can tell what each step means. The lady I bought these from could barely speak German, let alone write it. I will need your help translating this."

"Johann, you know I don't read English!"

"But you do know what women call things." Johann grinned. "The lady taught me how to crochet. If I do what each picture shows, you can tell me how to write instructions." He sent her a pleading look when she remained silent. He rifled through his sketches and found one with a simple lace edging on the collar. "Look. She said you can make a collar like this in three days. Lace edging for sleeves would take maybe a day. Two, if you're slow. A collar as wide as your hand is long would take a week. Three at the very most. I can engrave the pictures easily. Now that I have a press, I can set the instructions and print the patterns myself."

Annabet scowled. She had heard her father carrying on about her brother's new press and his Committee and their dreams for revolution. She agreed with her father's skepticism. It sounded too good to be true. But this… She took the paper with the design. Johann was a good artist and his sketch was clear. The collar was simple, almost plain, but it was still lace. Annabet was torn. The American lace sounded like a get rich quick scheme, but this was lace. The wealthy matron who employed her as a maid of all work only had it on her very best clothes. "I will look at this. Tonight." Annabet stuffed the paper and all the rest back in his bag. "Don't assume I will fall in with your plans. Now go before Frau Koch sees you.".

Johann hesitated, possibly to argue and wheedle her into loafing, but Annabet knew she was pushing her good luck by letting him stay as long as she had. She shoved him out the door.


***

Annabet met her brother when he came home from the tavern that afternoon. She watched in satisfaction as their mother grabbed his ear and twisted it.

"Ow!" He fell to his knees when the pressure increased. "I'm sorry. Whatever it was I did, I'm sorry!"

"Not as sorry as you will be when Papa gets home," Annabet told him. "Frau Koch isn't going to renew my contract when it expires. And it expires real soon! She said it was because I had suspicious young men visiting me. When I told her you were my brother she didn't care. I shouldn't have been wasting my time and her money talking to you." Her fists curled. She wanted to twist his ear, too. And pinch and slap and kick and pummel him black and blue. She took a deep breath instead.

She needed the coin. She had spent all of her money on supplies to make things for her dower chest. As long as it was taking Gottfried to save up his mercenary's pay, she was certain that it would be her money that would allow them to get married. When he managed to return. His occasional notes with vague promises had stopped coming. She was worried he was spending all he had earned. "I keep hearing how your Committee of Correspondence encourages women to be as free as men. Not that I believed it.

"Unfortunately for me, it looks like I will be finding out sooner instead of later. I am your first committee member here in Hamburg whether I like it or not. You will print lace patterns before you print anything else. I will sell them for you and you will pay me the same as you would any other shop help."


***

That night, Annabet frowned as she watched her brother crochet. He was clumsy and slow. She doubted his claim of a lace collar in three days. Annabet turned to the pictures that gave instruction and scowled at them.

Sighing at herself as much as at him, she began to follow the pictures in the instructions, squinting, muttering to herself as she went. Johann offered advice and additional coaching, hindering as much as helping. After some time, a few shushings, and a kick to Johann's shin, Annabet mastered the basic stitches. Before too much longer, she was making a row of loops and picots on top of a simple filet crochet band that looked like a long, thin ladder.

"Hmphf." She finished her lace cuff and put it next to the hem of her sleeve. "It's like knitting, but not." Annabet started a second cuff. Now that she knew what she was doing, it went much faster. She could do a collar in three days, even if her brother couldn't. "Johann, you may not be an idiot after all."

He grinned. "Then you can help me write the instructions for the patterns? And make lots of lace to display? "

"Yes." She scowled. "But if my eyes cross because of it, I will beat you. You may be bigger, but I'm still older."

Johann laughed. "By the time I finish setting up my printing press, I will have two things to print! A broadsheet for the Committees and a lace pattern for women." He rolled up his project and went to his sister. "I'll be rich!"

Annabet frowned. "If you don't get a broken head first. Those who are in charge will not like this. The people who owe favors to them will like it even less. You know that the city leaders aren't at all sure about those crazy Americans. Plus, you've never run a printing press before!"

He waved her concerns aside and got paper from his pack. "Describe the first picture. How many chain stitches did it take to go around your arm?"


***

A week later, Annabet walked into her brother's shop on the outskirts of Hamburg. The bell over the door, missing its clapper, tonked when the door hit it. Johann yelped, brandishing a tool. She frowned at him before she set her basket down and straightened her lace collar. She removed her shawl, now trimmed with lace, and tucked it into the basket. "Why are you so jumpy? Who has been here?"

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