BOOK DETAILS

Das Amerikanische

Das Amerikanische

by Jean Winstead

ISBN: 9781430302087

Publisher Lulu.com

Published in Literature & Fiction/Contemporary

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Sample Chapter


Chapter One

The Arrival

Hubert stepped closer to the rail of the ship. The excited whispers of other passengers buzzed in his ears. They were all atwitter with the gossip about Castle Garden, New York, and what they could expect to happen there. Hubert himself was a little apprehensive. The captain had explained the evening before that the immigrants would be going ashore at Castle Garden and would undergo an inspection before being allowed to set foot on America itself. Since the captain's German was very broken and the passengers had little English, no one was sure if the message came through correctly. Hence, they were all nervous about what the day would bring.

Looking west at the haze on the horizon and the tiny tendrils of what appeared to be smoke, Hubert was sure they would arrive before dark. The wind had been steady and strong for the last two days and the ship was making good progress over the gray swells of the ocean. Despite the confinement and rather stale food of the voyage, Hubert was content with his trip. It had been mild and uneventful, more monotonous than exciting. He had been prepared for a much more arduous journey, as the letters he'd seen from previous immigrants had been filled with warnings of storms and seasickness and bad water and delays. Since Hubert felt himself to be a hale and hearty sort of fellow and in God's good graces, he was more sanguine about this bold step than had been some others. Thinking about his fellow passengers on the ship to America, Hubert had to smile. Many of them, like himself, had never left Bavaria or Prussia before setting out on this trip. Jon Haider, for instance, a sallow, gaunt fellow, with stringy hair and beard and not much education had prayed loudly on the day the whales were sighted. Jon had been sure they were monsters come to punish them all for leaving home. Such foolishness! Most of the other emigrants were family groups, setting out to make a new life for themselves. Not all of them seemed suited for the rigors of a new land, but then, Hubert himself was apprehensive.

Thinking about the passengers, Hubert was reminded of another family, the matron of which was looking his way. They had an eligible niece traveling with them who had eyed him with sparkling eyes.

"Hubert", called Frau Schwartz, "can you see the shore? You have better eyes than most."

Hubert turned with a sigh from the railing. "Nein, Frau", he said, leaning over her plump form seated on a stool near the forecastle. Hubert had a soft spot in his heart for mothers of young children, especially on a long adventure such as this. Frau Schwartz had been more cheerful than most through the malaise of her children and their frequent whining over confinement to the small area on deck that had been set aside for the passengers to take fresh air. Hubert wondered where the Schwartz's were headed, but he felt it was impolite to ask, and, unlike the other immigrants, they never talked about their destination. Instead they dwelt at length about the prosperous holding they had left behind. Herr Schwartz was inclined to monopolize all conversation once he began on the topic of home. Hubert felt there was something too forced in all this talk of what the Schwartzes had left. After all, if things had been so good, why were they migrating? As for himself, the lure of free land, where one would not have to face conscription, was all the incentive he needed to pack up for America. When the pastor at home read the letters from the fledgling church in America, inviting Germans to emigrate, Hubert knew he had to go. The letters spoke of fertile land, free for the clearing; a countryside not unlike Germany itself; and a territory whose name, Minnesota, glided easily over the tongue. It was hard to leave parents, siblings and cousins, but Hubert was certain he would be returning in a year or two for a bride, and, perhaps by that time, he could persuade others from his hamlet to join him in America. The price of the voyage was difficult to raise, but a hardworking, thrifty fellow could do it, with a little settling in money to boot. Hubert patted his pocket. Ya, the money was still safely stitched into his pocket.

"So, Hubert, how long do you think it will be before we can set foot on dry land again?" Frau Schwartz seemed to believe Hubert had some special talent in judging time and distance.

Instead of attempting an answer, Hubert just shrugged and walked toward the aft rail to see how much of a wake the ship was leaving. The wake was long and strong, a good sign. The ship was speeding happily toward shore. Ah yes, it would not be long now.

Frau Schwartz watched Hubert from her seat on the deck. Her children were restless and needed constant reminding not to leave the relatively safe area assigned to the passengers for their constitutionals. She had grave doubts about this emigrating but kept them to herself. A cheerful face and a steady hand had served her well in her married life and she would not change her demeanor now. Besides, Herr Schwartz was firmly in command of all major decisions and did not take kindly to being questioned. She was already missing her comfortable home and familiar surroundings. God alone knew what they would be living in when they arrived at their destination. Mostly, though, she was fearful of the natives who were described as fearsome heathens who would gladly kill anyone they came across. Her husband dismissed these stories, saying they were great exaggerations. He was more concerned with the politics of this new country, said to be in a heated debate over slavery. Politics did not concern her. She was sure that wherever they went, there would be many more immediate concerns to worry about.

Now that Hubert Deutsch, he was an interesting person and one that gave her much to mull over. Unlike most of the immigrants, Herr Deutsch was traveling alone, no wife or children to help him settle into this new land. Hilda Schwartz wondered why such a stalwart fellow would be all alone. He was quiet, too. Her own husband was given to loud talk and bluster and it was pleasant to be in the presence of a man who said little. She hoped they would be going to the same place, though Herr Schwartz had said little about their ultimate destination, and Herr Deutsch had said nothing at all.

Hubert took his watch from his pocket. Midday was fast approaching, and there was an empty space in his belly that demanded to be filled. He hoped there was still some pickled herring left. A bite of herring and a hardtack roll would satisfy his hunger nicely. He turned from the ship's railing and looked for the ship's cabin boy to see if he was signaling the noonday meal. Instead of the cabin boy, he found himself facing Father Werner, who looked disheveled but cheerful. Father Werner often looked harassed and tired. He had taken on the role of doctor as well as spiritual adviser on this crowded ship and had many people to tend to.

"I hear we are near to port, Hubert." said the priest eagerly. "How long do you think it will be?"

Hubert grimaced in irritation as he tried to find a way to answer that would not commit himself. "I think we may arrive by nightfall, Father," he said slowly, "but I am really only guessing. The captain should have a more reliable answer."

The priest peered at Hubert intently. "The captain is hard to understand and does not like to be bothered with questions, Hubert." The words came quietly from the thin man, his black cassock bunched up around his waist and his hands clasped tightly at his belt. "I ask you because I trust your common sense and your knowledge of how nature works. I am hoping that we will be traveling companions when we arrive at the new world. I understand you will be going to the Minnesota Territory, also?" The priest waited, an inquiring look on his face.

Hubert thought a minute and then smiled. "Father, I too am hoping for familiar faces to be traveling with me. They say the distance from New York to this Minnesota is great. One must travel by boat much of the way. Will you be ministering to our German immigrants, Father?" Hubert felt compelled to ask, because he knew there were missionaries who came to America to serve the natives, and who were, therefore, usually out of reach of the people who came to settle.

"I am here to start a church at the request of the Archbishop, Hubert." The priest said thoughtfully, "There are many Germans coming to this territory of Minnesota who have no one to administer the sacraments. So I, too, am an immigrant. If all the Germans on this boat went to one place, it would form a large community that would be in great need of a priest."

At this, both Hubert and Father Werner turned toward the railing to gaze silently at the far horizon, each lost in his own thoughts. There were deepening shadows on the horizon now, and the approach of a landmass seemed more and more sure. Both men were conscious of the infinite possibilities that this wide new world offered, but were sobered at the same time by the dangers and uncertainties that lay ahead. Each had only the haziest picture of the land they were approaching and steeled themselves to face whatever lay ahead. There were differences, though, in how each prepared himself for the challenges. Father Werner relied on prayer and trust in his fellow man to see him through. Hubert relied more on his common sense and resolve though he did not hesitate to let God into the picture.

The clanging of the ship's bell brought them both back to the realities of the moment. The captain stood on the foredeck with a sheaf of papers in his hand. In his broken German he began to talk of the nearness of shore and what preparations the immigrants needed to make to leave the ship. Immediately a buzz of excitement pulsed through the crowd. Low voices began a murmuring throughout the assemblage and the captain raised his voice to be heard. Finally, in exasperation, he announced that there was food ready below decks and the women and children should line up first to be fed.

Hubert's estimate was seconded by the captain's words. He, too, felt they would land by nightfall. As he waited to be allowed to go below decks, Hubert took mental stock of his few possessions. He was grateful that he would not have to wait for baggage to be unloaded. All that he had fit in a small trunk and could easily be carried ashore on his shoulders. Meanwhile, he could stay out of the chaos that would reign below while everyone tried to reclaim their goods and repack for disembarking. He touched his hidden stash of money once again, hoping once more that it would be enough to get him to Minnesota. He would have to be very careful to make it last.

The food was very meager when Hubert made it to the cook's gallery, but there were a couple of herring and a small chunk of very hard bread. This would most likely be the last meal on board the ship. Surely, no one would be sad at that news. The land in Minnesota was said to be rich and yielded good crops and there were deer and hare and wild birds for the hunting. There should be no danger of starvation.

Hubert pushed through the milling passengers and made his way to his bunk below decks. As he passed a bevy of young people, several eyes turned his way, including a pair of very blue ones under a tumble of brown curls.

"Guten tag, Herr Deutsch!" The greeting hung in the air between him and the blue eyes.

Hubert nodded his head in greeting and tried to reach for his trunk, but there were too many bodies in the way. His face reddened as he realized he would have to make conversation with the winsome young woman before him. He spoke softly in German, mumbling a bit as he asked after her family. He was being polite, as he had only shortly before seen her aunt, Frau Schwartz, above on deck with the young members of her brood. "I am taking my things up on deck to be ready to go ashore, Fraulein." He turned again and this time managed to pull his small trunk from below the three-tiered bunks.

"Are we so close to America then?"

Hubert looked again at that beguiling face, and realized he would soon be away from the innuendos of Herr Schwartz as regarded himself and this young woman, Trudi, who was ripe for marriage. Hubert was one of only a few unattached men on this ship and had been the object of many a father's speculation, but this young woman was the only one who had openly flirted with him. He found her to be irritating and enticing at the same time, but mostly she made him uncomfortable as he was not in a position to marry. One had to have a means of making a living before courting, and he had no idea how long it might be before he could take on the responsibilities of a family. He was twenty-six and owned nothing but the few coins and possessions he carried with him. He answered Trudi as he had the priest.

"We will most likely make landfall before dark, Fraulein." He hoisted his trunk onto his shoulder and slipped by the busy people gathering their belongings. Once on deck he looked for a good place to wait and then sat on his wooden trunk and pulled the worn pamphlet from his pocket. The pamphlet spoke in glowing terms of the prospects for immigrants in the Territory of Minnesota. He studied the words about the many lakes, rivers and rich bottom land with thick forests to provide material for houses. He had read all of this many times before, but would it still be the same? The pamphlet was at least three years old and was only showing the positive side of emigrating. Well, he thought with a sigh, he would soon find out.

The sun had moved before the ship and was beginning its downward journey to the Western horizon, when a sailor called out "Land-Ho" and everyone on deck rushed toward the bow to catch a first glimpse of their destination. Not much could yet be seen, only an increasingly thick line on the horizon with some irregularity and still that hint of smoke. What could be seen was enough to spur several of the passengers into action, however. Packing increased in urgency. Mothers sought their children and gathered them together to be admonished about their behavior when the ship docked. The sailors scurried about their tasks to be ready to furl sails and unload cargo. Birds began to appear, and the children called out to them and to each other, trying to recognize any that might be like those at home in Germany.

Cologne had been a busy place when they assembled to take ship for America. The old buildings had seemed to lean toward the stone piers as if they too would like to emigrate. Most of the passengers had seen the ocean for the first time, coming as they did from Bavaria and Prussia, two of the states of the newly established German Confederation. The wharves and business places had been a confusing jumble of hawkers, sailors, carts and horses, passengers and officials.

When they sighted Castle Garden and the ship dropped anchor, everyone could see that this Castle Garden was not very like what they had left. It was what appeared to be an isolated fortress, rather forlorn and neglected looking, with no sign of activity. The shore of the mainland and Castle Garden was still a boat ride away. With the ship anchored in the bay, longboats ferried the immigrants to the sand at the foot of the fortress battery, where they were urged up the shore to the stone wall that had provided shelter for the cannons and men who would defend the coastline. They were then ushered into the building that had formed the main fortress. This stone building seemed forbidding and massive, but once inside it did have a small hint of the battlements of cities and castles at home in Germany, and, being somewhat familiar, was not so threatening. The furnishings were comprised of a few benches and desks. There were men in uniform, whose role was somewhat of a mystery. Here they were told to wait.

Some of the women began to be frightened, feeling like they had been brought to a jail instead of a new freedom. Once the sailors had brought all of the immigrants and their belongings to the castle, a man stepped into the middle of the large hall and began to speak in a very loud voice in passable German. He assured them that they would not have to wait many more than the four or so hours they had already been waiting, and that they should sleep for the rest of the night as best they could and the authorities would be back in the morning to finish processing them for entry into the United States.

The next morning some kind ladies came with bread and coffee and milk, and, while it was not a feast, it did ease some of the hunger that was gnawing at them all. The crying children especially had need of the milk since they had not eaten or drunk anything since noon of the day before. Mr. Loud Voice asked them to form lines at the desks to be processed for entry into the United States of America.

(Continues...)

Excerpted from "Das Amerikanische" by Jean Winstead. Copyright © 0 by Jean Winstead. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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