Grantville gazette V



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The Minstrel Boy

John Zeek

 

Saturday morning, February 1634



"Well, that's that." Bill Frank lowered the hood of the new rail engine. "Though I have no idea how we're going to deliver it."

Hagen Filss, who had been handing him tools, responded, "Maybe when Sergeant Hatfield and Private Schultz get back they will know, Herr Frank."

Warrant Officer Frank looked over at the young soldier. "Hagen, first off you should remember that Mister Hatfield is no longer a sergeant, but a warrant officer. And second, there's nothing that says he's going to stop here in Grantville. He might go straight to Wismar to join the rest of the company." Then, seeing the lost look in Hagen's eyes, he added, "I know, son. You think you can talk him and Corporal Rau into taking you with them. Face it, Hagen. You're only seventeen years old. This war is going to last a while, so there's no sense in you rushing into it. You should have let the major send you to school."

"Herr Frank." Hagen drew himself to his full height. "I can read and write. I speak two languages and I know my numbers. What more does a soldier need to know? And I am a soldier."

Bill realized Hagen was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. It was hard to be the only regular from the train crew to be left behind. Hagen might be seventeen, but he was smaller than the average rail trooper. To top it off, Hagen had the type of face that was going to look boyish into his forties.

After studying Hagen for a while longer, Bill simply nodded his head. "Okay, Private Filss. As a soldier you should know enough to obey orders. And your orders were to work here at the company shop. Is that understood?"

"Ja, Herr Frank."

"Okay. I have a couple of errands for you to run. First I want you to run over to the communications office and have them send this message to the major."

"Ja, Herr Frank. Does that message contain my request to rejoin the train crew?"

Bill suppressed a sigh. "Yes, Private Filss, it includes your transfer request, but the main purpose is to tell her that this engine is ready to go. Second, I want you to go out to Henry Johnson's place and check with Dora Schultz about the coveralls."

"Is there anything else, Herr Frank?"

"Not today. When you finish with those errands you can have the rest of the day off. Relax, take a walk, talk to a pretty girl, or better yet take a pretty girl for a walk. I don't want to see you until quitting time this evening or, better yet, tomorrow morning."

Bill watched Hagen walk to the rack next to the door of the shop, take down his pistol belt and buckle it around his waist. He shook his head. It had taken a direct order to make Hagen hang his pistol on the rack when he was working in the shop. The boy still wore the circle of red cloth on his left sleeve that was the mark of the train crew and not the green square that the shop crew had decided on. Damn, Bill thought, it's going to break that boy's heart if he doesn't find a way to get back on a train crew.

 

Hagen followed the original test track from the engine shop on his way to the communications office. It was here that he had first seen a TacRail train. It was just the engine and one flat car, but he had stood and stared, amazed that it was moving without horses pulling it. His first friend, Jim Cooper, had explained it to him. Jim hadn't cared that Hagen was short and scrawny and too young. The first person to treat him as an equal, Jim had even convinced Sergeant Hatfield to allow him to enlist.



Thinking about Jim made him think about the other men of the crew. Sergeant Hatfield, who had taught him how to shoot, and Corporal Toeffel, who had sold him his first pistol; Private Schultz, who had trained him to be a brakeman. He missed them, even Corporal Rau, who had always teased him about his age, calling him "Der Bub," but had also showed him how to use a dagger in a fight and how to walk quietly.

Now they were all gone. Gone to war. Even Anton Busch, who was the closest to Hagen's age. No one had thought of leaving Anton or Jim behind, but Corporal Toeffel had ordered Hagen to stay and help in the engine shop. It wasn't fair. He was as good a rail trooper as the rest. Sergeant Hatfield had to take him.

With a jerk, Hagen realized he been so lost in thought that he had almost passed the building he needed and had to backtrack half a block to the front entrance.

Katharina Stuetzing was seated at the desk, acting as a receptionist. For some reason Hagen remembered Herr Frank's last comment about taking a pretty girl for a walk. Katharina definitely was a pretty girl, but just looking at her made Hagen blush and stammer. Besides, he still had the second errand to run.

"G-g-good morning, Private Stuetzing. I have a message from Herr Frank at the engine shop. Can it go out in this morning's radio traffic?"

"Ja, Private Filss. Give it to me and I will see that it goes to the radio room." Katharina smiled. Her smile just made Hagen blush all the more. And what was worse he knew he was blushing.

"Danke. Uh-uh . . ."

"Was there something else, Hagen?"

Hagen was stunned. She knew his name. He hadn't thought she even knew he existed. "Uh, has there been any news about Sergeant Hatfield's party and when they will be returning from Suhl?"

Katharina leaned across the desk and lowered her voice. "One of the radio operators told me that a message came in from Lieutenant Ivarsson. He and Herr Hatfield left Suhl two days ago. Where they are going and if they are coming here, she didn't know. I asked. I knew you wanted to know. After all, you've asked every day for the past week."

"Danke, Private Stuetzing."

"Hagen, you can call me Katharina."

Hearing her tell him to use her first name made Hagen blush even harder. He was barely able to say "Danke, Katharina," before he turned and walked into the closed door, giving his nose a rather nasty bump.

"Are you all right?" Katharina started to get up from behind the desk.

"I am fine." Hagen finally found the door knob. "I have to run more errands for Herr Frank." Hagen blushed even harder when he heard her laughter through the closed office door. Why? I am a trained soldier. I am ready to face men in battle. Why do I blush and lose my wits when I talk to a girl? Hagen straightened his shoulders and stood erect. A soldier should always walk proud.

 

Walking to the tram stop he thought about the changes he had seen in the short time he had been in Grantville. Even the tramway was new. The city had taken over the right-of-way cleared by the rail company and replaced the light portable track with permanent track. Now horse-drawn and motorized tramcars provided transportation into town from the outlying areas. When the car stopped, he pointed to the train crew patch on his shoulder to indicate he was on military business and should be allowed to ride free.



The driver waved Hagen to a seat as the car started to move. Looking up Hagen could see the notice painted on the front of the car over the driver's head. "Tramcar #4, Built by the 141st Rail Company" below the neatly printed notice was piece of paper with the names of the crew who had built it. Hagen was proud to see his own name at the bottom of the list. This was one of the last tramcars the old crew had built before the orders came sending them to Magdeburg.

Just as the tram was leaving town, Hagen's attention was caught by a sign beside the tracks:

 

Elizabeth's Railway,


Built by the 141st Railway Company, NUS Army.
We Build Them Anywhere—Wir bauen sie überall

 

The day they had put up that sign, General Jackson had just activated the company. The up-time sergeants, Hatfield, Plotz and Torbert, had insisted they needed to commemorate the occasion. First Sergeant Plotz had picked Hagen to break a bottle of beer on the tracks to mark the launching of the then new company. Hagen wanted to rejoin the company more than anything else in his life.



He was pulled out of his thoughts by the tram coming to a stop near the training camp for the Committee of Correspondence-raised regiment. The regiment was gone now, off to war along with the rail company, but apparently the camp was still being used. Hagen saw three people waiting for the tram. At first he thought they were soldiers, from their tie-dyed camouflage coats and rifles, but then he recognized Wendel and Gerd, Private Schultz's sons, and their cousin, Susanna Eckhardt. All three were in the Junior ROTC.

"Allo Wendel, allo Gerd, allo Suse," Hagen called. Then he had to return their salutes as they all saluted him. "Why are you saluting me? I am a private, no one salutes privates."

"We salute privates," Gerd answered. "We salute everyone in uniform."

"Ja," his older brother added. "Onkel Henry just finished a lesson in military courtesy, when we are in our ROTC uniforms we are to salute everyone in the military. Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, it doesn't matter."

"Oh, I see." In the back of his mind, Hagen was pleased. This was the first time he had been saluted. "Why the rifles? Is the ROTC doing guard duty now?"

"Nein, though we could. We had target practice on the rifle range in the training camp. " Suse sat down next to Hagen. "Want to see our targets?"

"She just wants to show off." Wendel seated himself on Hagen's other side. "Suse, Hagen knows you are the best shot in the family. Onkel Henry tells everyone."

Gerd sat down on the facing seat. "Not just in the family, but the best shot in the whole ROTC, though if we traded rifles I can come close to matching her."

Gerd's comment caused Hagen to look at Suse's rifle. Where both of the boys were carrying large bore muzzle loaders, Suse's rifle had a bore smaller than his little finger. It made sense. Wendel and Gerd both took after their father and were stocky with wide shoulders. Suse, while she was not a small girl, wasn't close to their size.

"Hagen," Suse asked, "when are you going to start going to school? I know Onkel Henry could have you made an assistant instructor for the Junior ROTC and you would still be in the army."

"Where did you hear I was going to go to school? I have been trying to get back to the train crew. Why would I want to go to school?"

"I heard Onkel Henry talking to Onkel Anse and Onkel Wili before they left for Suhl. They said Major Beth was going to offer you the chance to go to school here in Grantville."

It all became clear to Hagen. Onkel Henry was Henry Johnson, the instructor for the Junior ROTC program. Onkel Anse was Warrant Officer Hatfield and Onkel Wili was Private Schultz, Wendel and Gerd's father. Major Beth had to be Major Elizabeth Pitre, the commander of the 141st Rail Company. Major Pitre had offered to send him to school but he had turned her down, thinking he would be allowed to go with the company.

"I don't need to go to school. I know all a soldier needs to know already," Hagen answered.

"Oh, come on. There is always something new to learn," Wendel commented. "Besides, if you went to school you could finish up in two years with me and we could both go to OCS. Wouldn't it be better to be officers instead of privates?"

"Not me," Gerd interjected. "I am going to study mechanics and become a warrant officer like Onkel Anse."

"Hush, Gerd." Suse frowned at him. "We're talking about Hagen's future, not yours. Besides warrant officers are all people who know how to do something. You'll have to study a lot harder than you do now to become one." She turned to look at Hagen. "And you do need to finish school. There is a lot more than being a soldier. The war will not last forever. What will you do when it is over?"

"I am going to become an engine driver," Hagen asserted. "After the war is over I will work for the railroads they are building, and drive an engine hauling people and cargo. Besides your Onkel Henry says it is going to be a long war. I want to rejoin the train crew to help make it shorter."

"Well, we can talk about it later. Here is our stop." Suse signaled the driver to stop the tram.

"Where are you going?" Wendel asked when Hagen rose to join them.

"I am on my way to see your mother. I am supposed to pick up the coveralls she made."

The two Schultz boys walked on ahead toward the house, but Suse walked beside Hagen. "I hope you are not mad because I think you should go to school. But you should think about it."

"I am not mad, Suse. You're saying what you think. I just don't agree with you."

 

"Hello, Hagen. Are you getting enough to eat? You look skinnier every time I see you." Dora Schultz looked Hagen up and down. It reminded him of the way a mother would look at her child.



"Ja, Frau Schultz. I have been eating at the Thuringen Gardens."

"Bah, you should have come out here to eat and saved your money. With Wili and Anse gone, we have room at the table."

"Ja, you should stay for dinner," Suse said.

"Danke, Frau Schultz, Suse, but I have to take those coveralls back to the train shop before I can take time off."

"Tomorrow, then," Dora said in a tone that allowed no excuses. "Wili and Anse will be back tonight and we will have a big dinner tomorrow. Now come with me and I'll get the sample coveralls for you."

Hagen followed her toward the back of the house. "Frau Schultz, you said Private Schultz and Herr Hatfield would be home tonight. Are you sure?"

"Ja, Lieutenant Ivarsson came by to tell me just before you got here. They will be here sometime before nightfall."

Hagen felt a burst of hope. With a new engine that had to be delivered and Herr Hatfield coming back to Grantville tonight there was a good chance he could rejoin the train crew. Herr Hatfield was going to need help with the engine. "Are you sure it will be no problem if I come to dinner tomorrow? It sounds like you'll have a house full."

Dora turned to face him. "Hagen, with seven Kinder in the house, we always have a full house. Ursula and I like to cook and we like to see people eat what we cook. You will come to dinner and you will eat. Besides, he doesn't know it yet but Wili is now a corporal; the letter came today. So we will be celebrating. As the wife of a corporal, I order you to come to dinner."

"Yes, ma'am, Frau Corporal Schultz." Hagen smiled as he came to attention.

"Ach, you are teasing. Here are the samples for you to take to Herr Frank. Run fast and you can catch the tramcar on its return trip to town."

 

Hagen only took time for a quick wave to the Schultz boys and Suse before he headed for the tram tracks. The tram car was just visible as it made its way back to town. He had missed it. It was supposed to wait for ten minutes after going around the loop at the end of the line. And the driver was also supposed to top up the natural gas in the tram's fuel tank at the large tank there before heading back. That should have taken another ten minutes. Surely I wasn't in the house that long. Hagen started to trot back to town.



He had only taken a few steps when he heard a voice from behind. "Look, Anse, Wili. 'Der Bub' came out to meet us. But looks like he got bored and is going home."

Hagen stopped and turned around. Herr Hatfield, Corporal Rau, and Private Schultz were halfway down the slope that marked the edge of the Ring of Fire. Schultz and Hatfield were riding in a wagon and Rau was riding a horse just in front of them. Hagen felt his hopes rise. Here was his chance to return to the train crew, if he could just make them listen to him.

"Hello, Herr Hatfield, Corporal Rau," Hagen called. "And a special hello to Corporal Schultz. I just heard the news from your wife."

Hatfield slapped Schultz on the back. "There you go, Wili, you're a corporal. I bet Dora already has the stripes sewn on your coveralls."

The door of the house flew open and the entire Schultz family erupted from the house. Dora was in the lead, followed closely by the two Schultz daughters, Talle and Esther. Only politeness kept Gerd and Wendel from pushing their way to the front, but they were close behind.

Watching the reunion of the Schultz family, Hagen was happy for his friends, but was very aware that he was the odd man out. He was an only child and his mother and father had died in Badenberg, when it had been held by Hoffmann's mercenaries.

Rau dismounted and stepped up beside him. "Hagen, walk with me to take this horse over to the shed. We're just in the way here."

"I should be going back to the train shop. I was not really waiting on you. I was supposed to take these to Herr Frank." Hagen held up the package he carried.

"I'm glad to see Bill Frank has got you hard at work." Hatfield stepped up to them. "We're going to take the wagon in and unload it at the shop. So drop your package in the back and come on up to the house. We'll ride into town and you can help unload the toys we bought for the company. Wili can stay here with the family."

Hagen saluted and went to put his package in the wagon. He knew that when Hatfield said "toys" he had to mean weapons. Sure enough, the back of the wagon held a number of long bundles that had to be rifles or smoothbores. Seeing them piled in the wagon gave the thought of joining the rail company a new meaning. There was a good chance his friends would be fighting a war soon. Hagen became even more determined not to be left behind.

Hagen started to get in the back, but Hatfield waved him to the seat. "Come up here. I want you to drive. We've been taking turns pushing these nags the whole way from Suhl and I, for one, am tired of horses."

"Ja, let der Bub drive." Rau jumped up to sit on the tailgate.

Hatfield settled onto the seat. "Okay, Hagen. Now is as good a time as any for you to tell me what has been going on while we were away."

Hagen started to tell about the orders coming for the rail company to deploy to Magdeburg and then to Wismar. But Hatfield interrupted, "Skip that. We got a radio message from the major while we were in Suhl. What I want to know is what has happened since the company left."

So Hagen told him about the new engine and the two flat cars that the shop crew had ready to go. And about the delivery problem that Herr Frank foresaw developing.

Hatfield shook his head. "Delivery is no problem. We'll load them on a couple of flatcars and haul them to a barge. The barge will carry us to Magdeburg. They're the major's problem from there. What I really want to hear is what you have been doing. I know Major Pitre was going to talk to you about going to school. So why is Private Hagen Filss not following his major's wishes and going to school?"

"Uh, er, H-h-herr Hatfield, it was not an order. The major asked me if I wanted to go to school. When I said no, she said it was all right. I would not have disobeyed an order."

"You're lawyering me, son. You knew she wanted you to go to school. Would you have been willing if you knew I was the one who asked her to leave you behind to go to school? I might make it an order and if I do, you will go to school and you will work hard."

Hagen was stunned. He had thought that Herr Hatfield would be the one to save him from being left behind. His shoulders slumped, and he worked to hold back a sigh of disappointment.

"Sir, is that what you are going to do? Are you going to order me to go to school?"

"I don't know. Right now I think that it would be the best thing for you. Not just the best for you, but the best for TacRail. We need trained men, men who can become mechanics. You did a good job working with Jim Cooper, and now you have experience working for Bill Frank, so you seem to be the one to pick. After all, you'll be taking mostly classes in mechanics."

"All I did was hand Jim his tools, and all Herr Frank has me doing is running errands. Anyone could do what I do."

Hatfield reached over and took Hagen's sleeve between his fingers. "You're still wearing a rail crew patch. The rail crew needs trained mechanics. What am I going to do about you? If you go to school, I promise there will be a spot open for you with the company when you finish. Maybe with a nice promotion. How does that sound?"

"I am happy being a private. I feel like I am letting my friends down. I should be with them, not here safe in Grantville." Hagen tried very hard not to beg or sound like a child.

 

Hagen brought the wagon to a stop and Hatfield hopped down and went inside the building. He felt Rau moving up to stand behind him. "It's a hard road isn't it, young Filss? You have been getting a man's portion and now you think you are being asked to go back to being a child."



"Ja, but more than that. What if my friends need me? I should be doing something."

"And you feel that you might miss the great adventure of your life." Rau laughed. "I know, Bub. Remember I went for a soldier when I was about your age. Of course, the city fathers of Jena and the night watch helped make my choice for me." Rau patted Hagen's shoulder. "I'll talk to him; maybe I can convince Anse you should go."

"Thank you, Sergeant Rau."

"For that I will be at my most persuasive. I like the sound of Sergeant Rau. It looks like there are going to be three train crews, now that we have three engines. If I get a crew, I'll ask for you as a loader or brakeman."

"Thank you again, Sergeant."

"It is nothing. All you need is a little seasoning. Now head up, act proud, look like a soldier. Here comes Anse."

 

With all the men working it didn't take long to empty the wagon and fill the store room. When they were done Herr Frank locked the door and handed the key to Hatfield. "There you go. Don't lose that. If you do, we'll have to break the door down. That's the only key."



Hatfield stuck the key on the chain of his pocket watch. "Safe as a bank, I have never lost a key. Bill, why don't you and your wife come by the house tomorrow? Dora is having a special dinner to celebrate Wili's promotion to corporal."

"Sorry, but I'll have to turn you down. Our church is having a business meeting after services, and I have to attend since I'm on the trustees."

"Well, some other time, then." Hatfield pointed his finger at Hagen. "You will come to the dinner, Private Filss. Dora gave me special orders to make sure you were coming."

"Yes sir, Chief Hatfield." Hagen came to attention.

Hatfield wet his finger and drew an imaginary line in the air, "One point for remembering to call me chief." Then he turned and walked out of the shop.

"Filss, it's still two hours until quitting time. So get out of here. I gave you the day off." Herr Frank pointed at the door.

 

As Hagen was leaving the church the next morning, he was surprised to realize he had no idea what the sermon had been about. He had spent the entire service lost in thought over how he was going to convince Herr Hatfield not to send him to school. Sergeant Rau was his only hope.



As if thinking about him had conjured him, Hagen saw Rau waiting at the tram stop. Unlike Hagen, Rau was dressed in civilian clothing, rather a mixed style with blue jeans tucked into knee high boots of local manufacture. He had topped off his outfit with a long green coat, worn open to show the lace of his shirt collar that covered the top of his red vest.

Rau waved. "Ah, you make your appearance. Dora Schultz will not have to send us to hunt for der Bub. But you don't have to wear your uniform. This is just a dinner with friends, not an inspection."

Hagen thought about making an excuse, but decided that Rau would understand. "Sergeant, all I have to wear to dinner is my coveralls. All my clothing from before I joined the army is worn out."

"Not to worry, young Filss. Come on, here comes the tram."

 

Dinner at the Johnson house was interesting. With the four Schultz children, the three Eckhardt children and the four adults left in the household it was already a full table. Adding Hagen and Rau as guests made even the large Johnson dining room feel small.



After dinner Hagen sat for a while and talked with the Schultz and Eckhardt children. Then, getting bored with watching Henry Johnson's efforts to teach Gerd how to play chess, Hagen started to wonder where the railroaders had gone. He wandered into the kitchen where Suse, her mother Ursula, and Dora were just finishing the clean up.

"Hungry again, already? There is some chicken left and a little pie," Dora said.

"Nein, Danke. I could not eat another bite. I was just looking for Chief Hatfield."

Dora pointed out the back window of the kitchen. "He took Wili and Jochen Rau out to the garage. They are talking railroad business."

Hagen headed for the door. As he approached the open garage door he could hear the three men talking inside. What had to be the voice of Chief Hatfield said, "Okay, I don't know for sure what the major has planned, but if we bring her a complete crew to go with the new engine I bet she will keep it together."

"Ja," Hagen heard Sergeant Rau answer. "You will have an engine, Toeffel will have an engine and who will command the new one?"

"Shoot, Jochen," Hatfield answered, "she just made you a sergeant. Who do you think Major Beth will give the engine to?"

"Ja, Jochen, und I will pick from the best brakemen in the company to get you a chief brakeman," Wili rumbled.

Hagen was about to walk away. He didn't want to be accused of eavesdropping. But then he heard his name mentioned.

"I want Filss for one of my brakemen," Sergeant Rau said. "You know he is going to volunteer."

"Jochen, do you really want him? He's awful young," Hatfield answered.

"He was old enough for you to have Wili train him to be a brakeman."

"Yes, but . . ."

"Und he is a good brakeman, for someone his size," Wili interrupted. "If Jochen is going to have a lot of recruits he is going to need a trained man. I say take him with us."

"I still think he's too young. Would you say the same thing if he was one of your sons? Would you take Wendel?" Hatfield asked.

"Ja. I would watch over him, but Wendel I would let go to war if he was as trained as Filss."

"Anse, I was younger when I became a soldier," Rau added. "And I would bet Wili was even younger when he joined his village militia."

"Ja, fourteen. I was big as a boy," Schultz said.

There was a long pause and Hagen thought that was the end of the conversation. Then Hatfield spoke again. "Okay. I'll talk to Filss. But if he goes, I want him to stay with you. Wili, I'll want you to take good care of him."

Hagen started to back away from the door. There was a chance he might be allowed to join the company! He stumbled over the wood that was piled under the eaves of the garage. The noise caused Chief Hatfield to call from inside. "Who's there?"

"It is me, Chief."

"Come on in, Filss. We were just talking about you."

When Hagen entered the garage he discovered that the three were seated on stools around a stove. Each had a bottle of Herr Johnson's home brewed beer, and a small cooler was set nearby that had to contain more.

"Pull up a stool, Hagen. Grab a beer if you like. I want to talk to you," Hatfield said.

Hagen realized this was going to be like juggling one of the grenades Sergeant Rau was so fond of. If he said the wrong thing, Hatfield would order him stay and to go to school. "Chief Hatfield, I don't drink very much beer. I had two glasses at dinner. That's enough for me."

"Probably a wise choice. Hank's brew is not your usual small beer." Hatfield took a sip. "How long were you outside before I heard you?"

Hagen knew only total honesty would work. If he was caught lying, who knew what Hatfield would do to him? "Sir, I was there long enough to know the three of you were talking about me and if I was going with you to Magdeburg. I was not spying, but when I heard my name I had to listen."

Hatfield spoke to the other two men. "Guys, I want to talk to Filss in private. Do you mind stepping up to the house to give us some room? I think we've covered all the bases and we'll be ready to start work tomorrow." Wili and Jochen both made noises of consent and left the garage.

Hatfield turned to face Hagen. "Okay, Filss. I want you to answer a couple of questions and then I'm going to decide if you go with us or go to school. If you're not happy with my decision, I'll cut you loose and you can enlist in one of the regiments the CoC is raising."

Hagen got a lump in his throat at the thought of leaving TacRail. "Nein, Chief, I don't want to leave the railroad company. If I must go to school to stay, I will go to school. I am a rail trooper."

"Filss, why are you so set on going with us? It's going to be a long war. Why is it so important to you to get into it right now?"

Hagen sat and thought. Then he gave an almost honest answer. "Chief Hatfield, I want to do my part. My friends are all going to be in danger. I would feel like a coward, like I was letting them down if I was not with them."

Hatfield looked at him for a moment then asked, "Hagen, you lost your family when Hoffmann was in Badenburg didn't you? You know how war can be? Do you want to go to war because of that?"

"Not to get revenge or anything like that, but to prevent it from happening again. So yes, what happened to my family is one reason I joined the rail company to start with. Mostly, though, it is just wanting to help my friends. To do what I should be doing."

Hatfield leaned back against the workbench. "Son, if I sent you to school you would still be helping, maybe more than if I make you a brakeman right now. In a couple of years you'd be more valuable to TacRail than as a brakeman. You'd still be doing your part. Hagen, I wanted to send you to school to help you."

Hagen studied his boots for a moment. "Chief Hatfield, if you send me to school I will work hard, but I am not sure I would ever become a mechanic. But I am a brakeman now. Corporal Schultz has taught me a lot and I'll do a good job."

"Hagen, tell me the truth. How old are you really? I know you and Jim Cooper lied about your age when you joined up last year. I went along with it and I shouldn't have, but I felt sorry for you. And to be perfectly honest I needed an extra pair of hands. The major jumped me about you a couple of times, and I told her you were small for your age."

"I was seventeen last month. I was fifteen when I joined."

Hatfield stood up and walked around the garage. "Hagen, seventeen is too young to be thrown into what we might face. But if I leave you behind I'll feel like I am punishing you. If I take you will you promise to stay close to Wili or Jochen?"

"Ja. And I will do everything they say." Hagen could feel hope building inside him. Please let it happen, he prayed silently. Please.

Hatfield took another walk around the room. "Okay. Report to the shop Monday morning; you're going with us, so you might as well help plan the move. The major is going to skin my butt when she sees you, but I'm not leaving you behind." With that, Hatfield walked out the door and headed for the house.

Hagen watched him go. Then, in a voice only he could hear, he said, "Thank you, Onkel Anse. The rail company is my family. You, Wili, and Jochen are my Onkels. Jim Cooper is my brother. Thank you for letting me go with my family."

 




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