A war ends … And another begins
The Confederacy lies in ruins, while those who survived struggle to
rebuild homes and lives!
Celia Hayes Books and More
The Harvesting brings the saga of the Becker and Richter families in the Texas Hill Country to a triumphant conclusion in this final volume of the Adelsverein Trilogy.
The war is over and the soldiers return home, to take up the old lifes … if they can. The end of the Civil War has left the South broken and defeated. Too many young men are dead, too many families destroyed, homes left wrecked and desolate. And yet there is hope in the ashes, for Hansi Richter and his daughter Anna, for the widowed Magda Becker, her son Dolph and his cousin Peter Vining—all who have the strength, the heart and the courage to begin building their lives again … and to dare to venture the first steps on a new path..
A path of silver and gold, a bold new adventure into the wilderness … yet the malice of an old enemy still haunts Dolph Becker, and the constant terror of raids by Comanche Indians may yet destroy Hansi Richter’s family, and the sanity of his wife.
Adelsverein: The Harvesting – the story of a family, building a life, a future … and building America..
Prelude: A Time of Portents and Wonders
The rain continued all of that afternoon and into the evening, falling from dreary and sunless skies. It wrapped the world in a shroud of grey, flattening piles of fallen leaves into sodden masses and pattering on the roof of the mansion on Turner Street—sometimes lightly and sometimes in a full-throated roar—as the gutter downspouts spurted like fountains. The world outside was in shadow, in more ways than one, as was the downstairs parlor where Magda Vogel Becker dozed in the largest armchair as she waited for her youngest daughter to return home. The mantel clock chimed a musical half past, and Magda’s eyes opened. Mouse, the fat little Peke, was sleeping on the footstool by her feet with his blunt muzzle dropped across her ankle. He started awake.
“Half-past eleven, Mauschen,” the old woman remarked, disapprovingly. “She’s very late tonight.” The little dog merely yawned, stretching luxuriously, before regarding her with bulging eyes liquid with adoration, then laying his head across her ankle again. “It’s just as well I sent the cook home. It’s not as if we are helpless without servants! She will want something to eat, even if she will not admit it at first. Health, Mauschen, it’s a precious thing ….”
Magda sighed; here she was, ninety-five years of age and waiting up, hovering like a mother hen over Lottie, the youngest and last of her chicks; and that chick being a woman in her fifties and a grandmother to boot! Ruthlessly she evicted Mouse from his position on the footstool. Setting her feet to the floor, she rose and moved to the largest window, drawing the heavy curtains aside.
Outside the rain poured down with increasing vigor, casting a halo of silver around the street lamp opposite. The wind tossed the dark branches of the oak trees in the garden across the way. Along Turner Street there were a few lights burning in upstairs windows— doubtless those households in which someone lay ill of the influenza. This was a dreadful epidemic, coming as a bolt of thunder out of nowhere.
Magda regarded the lights, knowing very well what was going on in those rooms. Behind every window was a sickroom, sickrooms where someone labored to breathe and someone else watched tirelessly, while the wings of the angel of death whispered in the darkest corners. Magda knew this very well for she had often tended the sick and dying herself, during her own life. There had been such ravages of sickness when she was a girl and a young woman. It had been confidently assumed such things had been banished, defeated, driven back into the shadows by such great advances in medicine. Her own younger brother, Johann, was a doctor and had talked proudly of such miraculous advances. No more did thousands die ugly deaths from cholera, from the yellow fever, from agues and diphtheria, since science and medicine had entered the fray. And yet now they seemed as powerless as they had ever been before—so many stricken so suddenly that the hospitals overflowed. Her daughter had volunteered to nurse at the Army camp, for there were many young soldiers fallen—not by bullet or shell, but to something which had seemed at first to be nothing more than the grippe.
Magda would have volunteered herself. “I have often tended the sick,” she had insisted to her daughter and son-in-law, “and I have already had the grippe this year. I am not made of spun glass.” But Lottie instantly forbade her to even contemplate such a thing. And perhaps she was right to do so, for Magda walked with a cane most days and could not lift and carry anything heavier than Mouse’s food dish.
There were lights at the end of the street, a pair of lights that flickered as they moved, accompanied by the roar of an engine; one of those new-fangled motor cars. Magda watched with interest as it came down Turner Street, slowing to a stop before the window where she waited for Lottie to return. “A noisy thing, “she remarked to Mouse, “noisier than horses, but not quite so prone to run away … and certainly not as much of a mess.”
Lottie’s husband was thinking of buying one. Magda’s younger son, Samuel, had bought a Hudson Touring car eight or nine years before, a marvelous thing with padded seats as comfortable as a leather sofa in a gentleman’s study. Once, Samuel had taken her, Lottie, Lottie’s children and his own—all crammed in together—to an exhibition of a flying machine. It was a gossamer thing of wires and delicate wings of canvas stretched over an intricate framework of wood; a tiny, fragile machine, lifting off the ground, soaring like a bird and circling the oval parade ground at Fort Sam Houston, to the wonder of the crowds watching underneath. “Fancy that, Mama!” Samuel had cried. “Heavier than air, and powered by an engine—what will they think of next!” Such marvels and wonders as this new century had brought—and such horrors, also!
Magda could hardly bear to read the news in the papers. It seemed that even those tiny, fragile airplanes had become instruments of war. She found it disheartening to see the evidence that her new country and her old one were deadly enemies in a battle to the death. Her grandsons and great-grandsons went eagerly to the war, little recalling that those enemies they were so eager to slaughter were their cousins, their second cousins, those grandsons and great-grandsons of the friends and kin that her family had left behind when first they departed their ancestral village of Albeck on a bright autumn day over seventy years before. All that time, Germany had still been home in their minds, “the old country.” Truly they had come a long, long way from Albeck, farther than Magda had even comprehended when she and Hansi and her sister Liesel had arrived. And her new country had been torn by a dreadful war, one part pitted against the other. War was nothing new to Magda Vogel Becker, who had lived for most of a century.
A woman emerged from the back of the automobile, a woman in a long pale coat, holding an umbrella over her head. Her face could not be seen for the darkness, the rain, and the distance from the window where Magda watched, but there was no need for that; a woman knew her own child. The automobile rolled away, setting a tidal wave of muddy water splashing over the sidewalk. The woman hurried up the sidewalk towards the porte-cochere and around the side of the mansion. A moment or two later, the sound of a door opening and shutting echoed in the hall outside the parlor.
“Lottchen … don’t forget to bar the door,” Magda called from the parlor. There was the sound of a heavy latch falling into place, and a few seconds later, Magda’s daughter Lottie appeared in the doorway.
“Honestly, Mama, you were sitting up waiting for me, with the door unbarred?” Lottie had shed her coat and umbrella in the hallway, and now began unpinning her hat and motoring veil. She was a tall and fair woman, whose pale-blond hair was fading imperceptibly from the color of ripe wheat into white.
“I had Mauschen and … other means to defend myself,” Magda answered. “You look tired, my dear little duckling. How bad was it today?”
Magda’s daughter let her hat and veils fall onto a chair by the parlor door, and dropped into the chair nearest the fire, pressing her hands to her face.
“Dreadful, Mama,” she answered at last. “They are so ill. Our best, and strongest and bravest young men, and yet . . . they die, and nothing can be done for them! They suffer so, Mama. One of Onkel Johann’s old friends is the senior surgeon. He tells me that they drown, from this dreadful plague. They drown on dry land, as their lungs fill up with fluids, in a matter of hours. None of his colleagues can find a reason why. All we can offer to them is to tend and comfort them in their last hours.”
“And hold their hands,” Magda nodded, acknowledging in sad resignation. “At the end, perhaps that is all we can offer. To know there is someone near, who cares for them . . .”
“And to write a letter to their mothers,” Lottie added. “That is why I am so late, Mama, I was writing letters. It would mean something, I think, that their mothers hear something of their last moments, and be reassured that they were tended as lovingly as they would have been in the bosom of their own families.”
“One does what one can,” Magda offered dryly. “And I assume that, such have been the miracles of this age, even in an emergency as this, I presume the hospital is tidy and adequate to the needs of the sick?”
“It is, Mama.” Lottie smiled sadly. “It offers every suitable convenience but that of a sure and certain cure. Every other comfort than that!”
“That is good.” Magda nodded. “At least, you have something! For your cousin told me once or twice of his experiences in hospital. They had no drugs at all, when they cut off his arm. And nothing could be done at all for him, but that—”
“Oh, Mama,” Lottie gasped, “Cousin Peter—but that was so long ago!”
“No, “Magda shook her head, “it was not that long ago at all. A mere blink of time, to me!”