Opening of “The Schneebelis Go to America” (Working [or not working] title)

Currant Jelly

“Verena!” Hans Kaspar called through the open door. Inside, he saw Verena and Katarina, the kitchen maid, making jelly. It bubbled in the copper kettle like liquid rubies.

Hearing his voice, Verena’s heart filled the sky. “I will be right back.” She handed the wooden spoon to Katarina. Hans Kaspar stood in the shade of the apple tree, a traveling bag over his shoulder.

“Come with me,” he said. “Now.” He reached for her hand and pulled her close.

“We’re in the middle of making jelly.”

“Jelly?” Hans Kaspar sighed in exasperation. “Verena.” he looked into her blue eyes. “I’ve missed you so much, and — JELLY?”

“Come help us. We’re about to pour it.”

Hans Kaspar followed her, ducking to escape a head-banging on the low lintel. He was useful. He was strong and tall enough to lift the copper kettle high and pour the boiling liquid into the jars.

When they were finished tying oiled paper to the top of each small jar, Hans Kaspar took Verena’s hand and led her outside.“I brought you something.” He held out a linen packet tied with string. “Open it.”

“What…?”

“Open it.”

Verena untied the string. Inside was a shift made of linen so fine she could almost see through it. It was edged in subtle cutwork that had come from Bruges. It laced up the back with a blue ribbon.

“Hans Kaspar. It’s beautiful. Where did you…?” Verena blushed.

“A customer paid me with that lace. I had the linen left from a shirt I made for someone or another.”

It was an intimate gift, saying many things that had not been spoken between them. Verena did not know what to think. He’d thought of her, imagined her wearing this, made it. She held the fine linen to her cheek, feeling deeply happy and deeply confused at the same time.

He took her hand and held it to his chest. “Come with me now, Verena. There’s a meeting in the forest, half a dozen or so people who are also interested in going America. It won’t be long. Then we can go to my rooms.”

Verena’s heart sank. Hans Kaspar had been gone for six months. He’d traveled with his brothers, Othmar and Kleinhans, to help them settle in the Alsace, the first stepping stone to their great plan of life in America. They planned to emigrate within the year. America was Hans Kaspar’s obsession, but he was not ready, not financially, and not yet settled in his heart, so he had come home. Verena let go of his hand.

“Verena!”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Hans Kaspar, if you come by, and I am home.” She handed him the shift and turned toward the house.

“Verena, you are unfair,” he called after her, grabbing her arm. “I do not say I’m going to America, but I have pamphlets and letters for those who are. And this is yours.” He put the package back into in her hands.

She shook her arm loose from his grip, but she took the linen blouse with her.

Love-making

Hans Kaspar lifted Verena’s long, brown hair and kissed the back of her neck. He found her hand, entwined his fingers with hers and pulled her down beside him. She sighed deeply in the warmth of love returned.

He held her close on the narrow bed in the cubby in his room upstairs from the tailor shop. “Would you, Verena? Would you come with me to America?”

Shaken from the warmth of their intimacy, she sat up.

“Verena, please! If you truly love me, you would want us to share this adventure. Our children growing up in a new world, free to worship and to live as they please. We could be happy there, Verena.”

“How can you think that I could leave my father, Hans Kaspar?”

“He can come with us.”

“He is old, Hans Kaspar. He would not survive the voyage. We might not survive the voyage. Why can’t we be happy HERE?”

“If you would but read the words of Mr. Penn.” William Penn’s promise of religious freedom and land appealed to these people who — for six generations — had been hounded, imprisoned, killed; their property taken.

“I have read those promises. We all have. Father says if something seems too good to be true then it is too good to be true. How is risking your life that way better than taking your chances here? Your father is rich. You have a trade. With your brothers in America, you will be the only son still in Affoltern. Your father will need you.”

“Maybe you just need to think about it.”

“I have thought about it.” Verena sat on the edge of the bed.

“Let’s not think talk about it now. Come to sleep, my love,” he said, reaching for her. “Now we have each other, and we are alone.”

But for Verena the bed had grown cold.

Hans Kaspar had not even twenty-four hours for her and only her. She blinked away tears of frustration. Her beautiful linen shift, untied at the top, the remaining deshabille from their night together.

“Next time I’ll make you one that’s easier for you,” said Hans Kaspar in a soft voice, gently joking as he tied the laces himself.

Verena opened the curtain.

“Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“I thought you understood.”

Understanding is not enough,” she thought, pulling her shawl close around her.

“See you later?” he called out as Verena closed the door behind her.

“Not if I can help it,” she thought.

She ran down the stairs and stepped outside into the low fog of early morning. She was soon out of the village, on the road toward home.

Though the ash, alder and linden were still in summer green. The mist swirling from the hollows promised autumn. A pile of rocks overgrown with vines, all that remained of a long-fallen castle wall, marked her turning. The road led to her father’s half-timber farm house on a hilltop that dropped into a wide meadow, a barn and corral.

Verena hoped the long walk through the forest to the farm would soothe her aching heart, but anger had sped her along, and she’d had no chance to think. The sun broke in earnest against the horizon.

She sat down on the pile of rubble, took off her cap, and shook her hair loose in the breeze. The bottom of her skirt was soaked in dew. She picked up a loose stone and threw it at the rotting trunk of a fallen linden tree. “Who would care for my father? There is no one else. Hans Kaspar asks too much. He should stay here, care for his father and make a home with me. Why does he think America will fix anything?”

You have nothing left with which to persuade him,” whispered her heart.

“Oh why did I not hear him the first time?” she said, throwing another rock.

You did not want to,” said the same small voice.

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