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Pilgrimage of Grace

Written by Virginia DeMarce


(You can buy a Cora's Coffee mug and more at the 1632 Café Press Store

"They're not taking what happened in Suhl last January out on Johnny Lee's family because they can't. His dad's been dead for thirty years. His mother wasn't from around here to start with and she moved back to Ohio after a while. Mary Fern–that's his sister, you probably never met her–married one of the Collins boys after she graduated from college and last I heard, they were living in Michigan. You could ask Sandra, I suppose, or Gayleen or Robyn or Samantha, where Ricky and Mary Fern were living, but I don't see what good it would do. It wouldn't bring her back to Grantville to take some of the heat off Kamala."

Cora Ennis plopped five cups of coffee down on the table at the City Hall Café and Coffee House, which had only had "and Coffee House" added since the Nasi family had succeeded in importing coffee beans, while she talked. Before the Ring of Fire, it had been a plain sandwich shop. "But anyway, I think it's a shame. Johnny Lee Horton wasn't the most popular teacher at the high school. Maybe he was the least popular one, but he wasn't the worst one. He made the kids learn the stuff, and he commuted to Fairmont State for years to get his master's in math education, all at his own expense. If you ask me, they should have left him at the school teaching. But they wanted to assign him to Greg Ferrara's 'Manhattan Project' and that meant he had to go into the army, and they couldn't get along, Greg and Johnny Lee, which anyone who knew the two of them could have told Mike Stearns ahead of time."

"Cora," Ned Paxton started a little reproachfully.

The interruption wasn't enough to stop her. "But by then he was in the army and the army, even our little army that we've put together since the Ring of Fire, is like that story they taught us in school about the kid who stuck his hand in a jar and picked up so many marbles he couldn't get it out again, but was too stubborn to let go of some of them and his hand rotted off or some such. I knew there was a moral to that story. Maybe that's why it was in the book in he first place. So instead of discharging Johnny Lee, Frank Jackson sent him off to Suhl to pretend to be a soldier, which certainly wasn't any of Kamala's doing."

She turned her head toward P.H. Johnson. "And that's what I was talking about to start with, Henry. I know you covered up what those boys were doing to Shaun at the pool on Memorial Day weekend. Don't blame you for wanting to avoid publicity. No point in making a bad situation worse. They were just kids themselves, and at least you and your JROTC put a stop to that." Cora wiped a little coffee that she had spilled on her hand off on the towel she was wearing as an apron.

Victor Saluzzo picked up the pitcher of milk and poured until his cup was thoroughly whitened. "I got here late. Can you go back to the beginning?"

Cora tossed her head. "I've got other tables to serve. The rest of them can tell you. Let Henry do it." She stalked off.

Saluzzo raised his eyebrows, looking at P.H. Johnson. "There's another brush fire?"

Before Johnson could answer, Kyle Fleming shook his head. "No more than there's been for the last six months. We've been getting an earful from Cora this afternoon because Anse Hatfield was Henry's son-in-law and I'm chairman of the math department, I guess. Though once Johnny Lee quit to work on development, he wasn't my responsibility any longer, and I hardly know his wife. She's a nurse, not a teacher. Lori says that she's pleasant enough, but she must be around twenty years younger than we are, Lori and I. It's not as if we ever socialized with them, and she never had anything in common with Karyn Sue."

Saluzzo nodded in agreement. Kyle and Lori Fleming's only child had barely scraped through high school. They hadn't even tried sending the girl to college. Not that that it kept her from being a loving daughter and a devoted wife and mother. Or a good aide at Heather Beckworth's day care center. Karyn Sue was just a little . . . dim . . . and everyone who had ever taught her knew it. Even in Lake Wobegon, Karyn Sue wouldn't have managed to be "above average."

He thought for a moment. "Kamala was in the class between John and Joe. They'd have known her, if they hadn't been left up-time. Kay's three or four years too old; Jim and Vicki are way too young."

Leota Grover picked up her cup. "Our kids were too young for us to really get to know her, too. Susan was the same year as her little brother Jimmy. Plus, they're both up-time, like John and Joe. Kamala wasn't a problem student, though. Far from it. Finished high school; worked her way through college, got married, had a couple of kids. No problems, aside from the fact that her family resented a little bit that she went all the way through college. RN to Celina's CNA. Well, they resented a lot that Johnny Lee made a big deal about having a master's degree. He sure was a blowhard. That's hardly something we can dispose of, though."

"It's not her family that's the problem," Fleming said. "Except, I guess, that their attitude isn't helping."

"Super-patriots, according to Cora," Ned Paxton said. "The rest of the Dunns. Jimmy's in the army and Jerry Hilton feels guilty that because he's an operator at the waste water plant, he's 'essential' and wasn't included when Mike Stearns made his call for 'every able-bodied man who can be spared.'"

Saluzzo looked across the table. "What was Cora talking about, Henry? In regard to Memorial Day?"

P.H. Johnson banged his cane on the floor. "You know what happened in Suhl back in January. Horton was there as the NUS military liaison to the Swedish garrison that wasn't quite supposed to be in the city. The Swedes had put it there before Suhl joined the NUS, with 'protracted' negotiations for its removal. What that meant was that it was still there, months after it should have been gone. What Pat, my son, said to Anse about him was that Horton was dumber than Bruno Felder, the Germany captain of the mercenaries who made up the Swedish garrison, and a hothead. But not lazy, which was actually too bad, considering the way things were there. He was constantly quarreling with the locals, especially with the Suhl militia captain, and usually over things that didn't really matter.

"Ivarsson, the Swedish lieutenant who went along, told Anse that the Swedes hadn't authorized Felder's actions. In confidence, Anse told me that Ivarsson promised that the Swedes would stand aside, whatever he and Noelle Murphy did under the extraordinary powers that Stearns had sent with her, and wouldn't think of criticizing after the fact. And they haven't.

"Horton got involved, along with that Pomeranian captain von Dantz who had been attached to Anse's group by the Swedish commander in Grantville. They wanted to make a fancy statement by attacking the gun makers who were trading with the enemy. Noelle said they had to defend the gun manufacturers because there aren't actually laws against it in this day and age. And, hell, my son Pat is a partner with one of the gun makers who were doing it. So Horton and von Dantz and Felder's mercenaries attacked. Anse and his posse and the gun makers and their Jaeger fought back. Horton got himself killed in the street fight. Yelling that he was the 'ranking American' in Suhl and saying that maybe Noelle's papers were forged."

He decided not to include something else that Anse had told him. That Anse had specifically told one of Blumroder's Jaeger that if shooting started, he wanted Horton dead. Right here and now, that would be a complicating factor. He thought the only people who knew that were Anse and the Jaeger, Noelle Murphy, Frank Jackson, Mike Stearns, and himself. And he wasn't supposed to know.

"Well, the army decided to present the incident in Suhl as a mutiny against duly constituted authority, so that's how it went into the papers here. Nobody's ever told Kamala anything different, as far as I know, and all she's done is sort of try to hunker down and keep on doing her job. That Memorial Day thing. Friday afternoon, I had my JROTC out drilling on the field by the community center when we saw some activity over by the pool. They'd filled it, but it wasn't going to open until Sunday. I thought it was just a bunch of kids and figured I'd let it go when we heard somebody yelling for help. When we got over there, seven or eight boys from the middle school had Shaun Horton–the kid's only six years old, for God's sake–stripped down to his underwear and were trying to make him 'walk the plank' off the high diving board into the pool. Jeering about mutineers and how to treat them. Too many pirate movies."

He nodded at Ned Paxton. "We handled it though the school, and have all the boys in summer school on disciplinary probation, with supervised community service. Ned, Archie Clinter, me, and the families. The boys involved are going to know better than to try any stunt like it again. I told my JROTC group to keep their mouths shut, but I guess someone has said something, since Cora knows. And once Cora knows something, the whole town does."

"The kids know," Kyle Fleming said. "The kids at the middle school, at least. Karyn Sue's boy told me about it a couple of weeks ago. He's in the same class as a couple of the offenders. Eleven- and twelve-year-olds."

Paxton sipped his coffee. "I wasn't happy with that, but as far as I know, it was the worst. There's nothing else going on that the police could do anything about. Little jabs about Johnny Lee. Mouth darts tossed toward Kamala at work at the extended care center. Toward the kids in school and out of school."

"Especially out of school, now," Leota Grover said. "And a lot of it's still in that middle school age group. Cora's all riled up because Shae's quit Girl Scouts. She's thirteen and has been in since she was a Brownie. She was going to be the Brownie leader's assistant next fall, but a couple of the mothers objected. Bad influence on the kiddies to have a traitor's daughter in a position of responsibility. You know the drill."

Victor nodded. "Evangeline Walker said something to Viola. Lolly Aossey is really upset about Shae. She's been preaching that 'Be a sister to every Girl Scout' is part of the Girl Scout Law, just as a starting point. But since both Lolly and Christie Penzey are leading the geology field camp again, there's precious little they can do over the rest of summer."

Leota grinned. "Plus, Jim and Lolly just found out that Lolly's in for a lovely few months of non-stop morning-noon-and-night sickness. Susannah Shipley dropped the diagnosis on them last week."

"She's not?" Cora was wandering by with refills. "At her age!"

"So much for keeping it under wraps for a couple more months." Victor Saluzzo's tone was very dry. "But as for Shae, I hadn't realized that there was anything more to it than a little tempest in a teapot with the Scouts. Maybe someone ought to talk to Archie Clinter again."

Fleming snorted. "The real problem is that it's not dying down. If anything, it's escalating, and has been for six months. It's gotten bad enough that Alice Clements talked to Price Ellis. Families are worrying whether Johnny Lee's wife should be kept on as head nurse at Prichard's. God, what the hell do they expect her to do? Poison the old ladies? Kamala's worked there at the extended care center since before the Ring of Fire. She started the same year Johnny Lee took the job at the high school. She didn't want to be driving to Fairmont, much less Morgantown, and working shifts, with kids at home. Ellis gives her a pretty regular, reliable, schedule. And just where do they think that he can pluck another registered nurse from? Out of thin air?"

* * *

Leota Grover laid her cards down on the table. "Isn't there anything you can do, Frank, to make people be kinder to Kamala and the kids? Just a little more . . . gracious . . . I guess?"

He shook his head. "Hell, it's not that I don't give a shit. But there's other stuff involved."

"Which you're not going to tell me about, because I'm not in the army. Got it. Don't think you're getting off scot-free, though. I'm going to send Henry to talk to you."

* * *

Frank Jackson leaned back in his chair. "The shittiest part of it is that if I'd been there, I'd have probably had more sympathy with what Horton and von Dantz were doing than with what Anse and Noelle did. The guns that Blumroder and his cohorts–our noble fellow-citizens of the New United States in its constituent city of Suhl–have sold to high bidders who aren't us will most likely be used to shoot holes in our soldiers one of these days."

Frank stood up, his hands crossed behind his back. "But in spite of that. I'm the general of this piss-poor army, and the worst thing that I can do is not back up civilian control. Not back up the rule of law. The fact is that according to the laws, Blumroder could do what he did."

P.H. Johnson nodded. "I know. Even my own son Pat was looking the other way. He said as much in one of his letters to me."

Frank started pacing. "Mike authorized Anse and Noelle. They did what they had to. Horton and von Dantz were being a couple of cowboys leading a lynch mob, the way Anse saw it. A real nasty lynch mob. Not to mention that Horton had pretty much just sat on his hands until von Dantz got to Suhl, so he was probably letting himself be used. As far as the army is concerned, Horton was killed while resisting lawful orders and that's got to be an end to it. I'm not going to have my guys, when they get into a shooting situation, worrying about whether I'm going to back them up. Or not back them up."

"Where does this get us?"

"I'm not going to make some sort of mealy-mouthed announcement that says, 'It wasn't all black and white. There were at least ten different shades of gray and Johnny Lee Horton was somewhere in the middle.' When you get right down to it, he resisted lawful orders, he was shot while leading a mutiny, and the New United States has its first traitor. There's not a damn thing I can do to soften what Kamala and her kids are going through. Not without making things worse for the country."

* * *

"So, in the long run, according to Johnson, Frank sees it as unavoidable collateral damage." Kyle Fleming put his knife down on his plate. "Not that those are words that Frank would use."

Karyn Sue looked at her father. "What do those words mean, Daddy?"

Lori thought a moment. She had thirty-five years of experience in interpreting the verbal universe to her daughter. "Those words say that sometimes when you do what you have to do, somebody else gets hurt. A bystander. Somebody on the sidelines. And you can't help it."

Karyn Sue frowned. "Mr. Jackson isn't going to do anything?"

Kyle nodded. "That's right."

"No," Karyn Sue said. "That's wrong. Shae and Shaun aren't even grown up. Shaun used to come to Toddler Haven for day care, after Johnny Lee and Kamala moved back to Grantville. He was in my group for two years before he started kindergarten. Do you know what I think?"

"What?" Lori asked.

"I think that people are just being plain mean. And you're all letting them get away with it. It I let the kids in my group get away with picking on someone like that, Heather would fire me. I know she would. And she'd be right to do it."

* * *

"The sickest part of it all," Ned Paxton said the next day, "is that they're both right. Frank and Karyn Sue."

P.H. Johnson nodded. "And there's not a damned thing that we can do."

Cora plopped five cups of coffee down on the table. "Except that you haven't heard what Karyn Sue did. This morning."

Kyle Fleming looked at her. Warily.

Cora grinned. "She marched every single kid in her Toddler Haven group over to Prichard's Extended Care, all holding hands like a row of little ducklings as they paraded down the street, and asked the receptionist to call Kamala down to the lobby. And then she had every single one of the kids hug her."

Victor Saluzzo started to smile.

"While Karyn Sue told every adult standing around, in plain and simple words, that it was because people were being mean to Mrs. Horton."

Saluzzo's smile faded.

"Not that most people are likely to take what she did seriously." Cora looked at Kyle Fleming a little apologetically.

"I know," he sighed. "They can always claim that Karyn Sue didn't understand because she's . . . like that old Christmas song Granny used to sing in the days before we all got politically correct. 'Johnny wants a pair of skates, Susy wants a dolly. Nellie wants a story book; she thinks dolls are folly. As for me, my little brain isn't very bright. Choose for me, old Santa Claus, what you think is right.' The gossips aren't likely to take Karyn Sue's notion of what's right very seriously. I'm sure her intentions were good, but maybe she's just made things worse."

* * *

"I just wanted to thank you." Kamala Horton stared at the phone. She'd been crying for two hours before she managed get her voice enough under control enough to pick it up and call Karyn Sue McDougal. "But . . . but I don't think you ought to do it again. Gary's in the army and you don't want to be getting your husband in trouble. I know he's up at the oil field in Wietze and you might think that's far enough away, but. . . . Karyn Sue, honey, the head guy up at the oil field is Quentin Underwood. I don't think that he'd be very . . . understanding . . . if he got it into his head that Gary was a sympathizer to what Johnny Lee did. Or something like that."

There was a pause at the other end of the line. Then, "It doesn't have anything to do with Gary. Or with what Johnny Lee did. It's about the way people are treating you and Shae and Shaun."

Kamala bit her upper lip. "Talk to your mom and dad, Karyn Sue. You don't want people to start treating Michael and Allyson the way they're treating Shae and Shaun. Believe me on this. You don't want them to do that."

"I don't think that they would. Do you?"

Kamala didn't know quite what to answer. Then she decided that she had to be honest. "Yeah, I do. Right now, I do think they would."

Karyn Sue laughed. "Boy, do you ever need another hug."

"Yeah," Kamala said. "I could use one. Believe me. And thanks again. But . . . maybe you had better just stay out of it. That's as fair as I can be to you. To Gary and your kids. And your folks. I don't want to make things worse by sucking other people–good people–down into my troubles."

* * *

"It's not as if I have a choice," Kamala said to Alice Clements. "Up-time, if something like this happened, I could move. Get a recommendation from Price, take the kids, and find a job in some other town. Some other state, where nobody would ever have heard about it. But the way things, are, with the Ring of Fire, I'm stuck in Grantville. Even if they do get this medical school in Jena going, nobody's invited me to be part of it, and what's the point in going to Jena. The NUS army has people there, too. I expect that they'd be sure to let everyone know about Johnny Lee." She laughed a little. "So we'd be in the same kind of situation, just without modern plumbing. I guess I'm just grateful that Price isn't going to fire me. And if you're the one who persuaded him not to–which has to have been hard for you to do, with Jack volunteering to go back into the navy and go all the way up to Wismar to pilot one of those boats–I owe you a lot of thanks."

"Maybe it will die down over time."

Kamala shook her head. "I'm not counting on it. Everybody pretty much knows that the king of Sweden is winding up to a shooting war with the League of Ostend this fall. That'll mean patriotism and heroism and everything of the sort. People in town who aren't heroes and aren't ever going to be heroes will take it out by coming down on Shae and Shaun."

"And on you."

"Well, on me, too. But I'm the adult here." Kamala picked up a pen from the blotting pad on Alice's desk and twisted it in her fingers. "Since you're the business manager here at Prichard, I'll warn you now. Fair and square. If things ever develop in such a way that someone does offer me a real job out of town, someplace where there aren't any NUS soldiers to badmouth us, I'll take it. Plumbing or not. So fast you won't even see the blur as I go by. And it won't matter much to me who makes the offer."

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