Veronica Mauer grasped her patchwork carpet bag with its precious contents in her right hand and supported her husband August with her left hand and arm. The months they had spent apart hadn’t dimmed August’s enthusiasm for all things steam and he had barely acknowledged her greeting before he had hurried to the train’s steam engine to explore its inner workings.
Then August began to shake and he vomited his sardine sandwich lunch alongside the train. Veronica took a towel from her carpetbag and handed it to him.“I will take you to the house that I rented for us. It is only a mile or so away,” she said.
A man in a black suit who resembled a crow wearing spectacles appeared as she picked up August’s large carpet bag and grasped her own more tightly.
“I am the port inspector. You must come with me so the doctor can examine you.”
“We must do no such thing,” Veronica told him firmly. “My husband is a chemist and he has an appointment at noon sharp with his employer. They have a carriage waiting for us outside. We must not be late. Come, August.”
Veronica took August by the arm and led him out of the train station. She felt August shaking against her arm, but he managed to walk alongside her and they made their way safely through the station and onto the wooden sidewalk in front. Veronica scanned the line of horses and buggies, searching for the Hoffmans, but they didn’t appear. She looked behind them and saw that the man in the black suit who resembled a crow wearing spectacles was following them.
She walked faster, pulling August with her. “He’s following us. We have to get to the safe house, August.”
They hurried down a narrow dusty road that stretched into the distance, the Detroit River on their right and thick woods on their left. Veronica heard August’s breathing grow more labored and he slowed his steps.
“The crow man is still following us!” Veronica whispered urgently. “August, hang on for a few more minutes.” If the crow man belonged to the Cholera Patrol, they would be deported and sent back to Germany where Kaiser Wilhelm’s men would track them down. Before they killed them for being revolutionaries, they would torture the secrets of the clocks and the elixir out of them. Veronica shivered and clasped August’s hand tighter. She shifted his carpet bag to her other hand and she clutched her own carpet bag so tightly that it dug into her palm.
August moaned and sank down in the middle of the dusty road. Glancing fearfully over her shoulder and still clutching the carpet bags, Veronica took hold of his leg and pulled him into the blackberry bushes alongside the road.
“Ouch!” August yelled, awakened momentarily from his stupor as his body connected with the thorns.
“Shh!! A wagon is coming,” Veronica whispered. She huddled next to August and pulled his body in a little more so that his boot would not stick out in the road. She touched the bottle of life saving elixir in her pocket and settled it in more firmly. Peering through the blackberry bushes from her hiding place, Veronica saw a brown and white spotted horse pulling a rough wooden wagon on a steel frame appear over the hill. A woman in a blue bonnet and shawl sat on the wagon seat, holding the horse’s reins steadily in her hands and man in a gray broadcloth suit and a purple paisley bowtie sat beside her. He was searching the road in front and alongside of the wagon with a pair of binoculars.
“I think the Hoffmans have found us and we have found the Hoffmans,”” Veronica told August.
The woman on the wagon seat said, “Whoa, Tilly,” and the horse and wagon came to a standstill. She jumped down from the wagon and Veronica could see that she wore short trousers under her full skirt. “She seems like one of the unsexed women that I have heard so much about”, Veronica thought. “I must get to know her.”
August moaned and Frau Hoffman heard him. She walked over to the edge of the blackberry bushes and pulled a branch aside. “Please come out,” she said to Veronica. Her clear green eyes locked with Veronica’s earnest blue eyes. “I will help you Frau Mauer and Herr Mauer as well. Get quickly into the wagon. The Cholera Patrol is not long behind us.”
Frau Hoffman grabbed August by the arm and after a moment’s hesitation, Veronica threaded her fingers through the carpetbags, grabbed his other arm and they hoisted him into the wagon. Herr Hoffman continued to sit on the wagon seat searching with his binoculars.
“Climb up quickly,” Frau Hoffman told Veronica as she jumped onto the wagon seat and slapped the reins over the horse’s back. “Go home, Tilly, stay on the River Road,” she said.
“Tilly tossed her head and the wagon lurched forward.
August moaned and tossed on his pallet on the wagon bed.
“Easy Tilly,” the Frau Hoffman said.
“Don’t gallop! You are jarring my binoculars,” the man said.
“I present to you my husband, Herr Hoffman, the chemist and mad scientist,” Frau Hoffman said. “He is presently the chemist at Vulcan Steel Company and he is presently rebuilding his laboratory.”
“What happened to his laboratory?” Veronica asked, although she knew the answer.
“One of his experiments fell out of control,” Frau Hoffman said.
Herr Hoffman laughed the hee, hee, hee, ho, ho, ho, of a mad scientist. “The experiment didn’t fall out of control, it exploded out of control,” he said.”But never fear, I’m working on another one and another one.”
“Yes, you’ve messed up my kitchen for the last week,” Frau Hoffman said. “Today you can mess about in your lab, finished or unfinished. I want to mess about in my kitchen alone.”
Veronica looked over her shoulder. “I think I see a cloud of dust behind us,” she said.
“Indeed it’s time to go,” Herr Hoffman said. He swung his binoculars across his wife’s nose with a flourish. “You do the honors, my dear.”
Frau Wendy Hoffman flicked the reins across Tilly’s neck and they galloped down the dusty River Road that followed the ribbon of the Detroit River. While the Frau Hoffman drove and Herr Hoffman twirled his binoculars, Veronica quickly pulled the bottle of elixir from the pocket of her cotton skirt and uncorked it. With steady hands she forced the bottle between August’s lips and tilted it so that the elixir would run down his throat. Maybe they would get away after all, Veronica thought with a surge of hope.
Then suddenly, at a junction where one road led to the left, another led right for a block and ended in the River and the dusty River Road twisted straight ahead, Frau Hoffman slowed Tilly to a stop. Four men on horses galloped in front of them, surrounding the wagon and making it impossible to move. Veronica clasped her carpet bag, ready to defend it and Albert to the last. Frau Hoffman stared at her husband as if challenging him to do something. Herr Hoffman twisted his binoculars and the wagon rose into the air and flew over the heads of the astonished men and horses.
August stirred beside her on the seat. “We must beat the clock,” he muttered.
“Never mind that now.” Veronica stroked his forehead. “You are going to get better, August.”
With Tilly’s feet still pawing the air, they flew over the dusty River Road for another mile until they reached a white house with green trim. A barn, also trimmed in green, stood on the river bank behind the house.
“Whoa,” the Frau Hoffman said and they settled gently down by the front steps of the white house. Herr Hoffman clambered out of the wagon, his binoculars hanging loosely around his neck. “I must have my luncheon and get back to my laboratory,” he said.
“It is laid out on the table,” Frau Hoffman said. “Fish, bread, and cheese and potatoes.”
Without a glance at the others, Heff Hoffman opened the back door and hurried into the house.
“How did you make the wagon fly?” Veronica asked Frau Hoffman as she unhitched Tilly.
“My husband the mad scientist made a small steam boiler that attaches to the underside of the wagon frame. You just put coals in the fuel box, water in the boiler, and Tilly and her riders are airborne.”
August moaned. “We must get him into the house,” Veronica said, ashamed that she had forgotten him for a moment in the intrigue of the flying horse and wagon.
The two women grabbed August’s arms and lifted him out of the wagon. They guided him up the steps and into the house and deposited him in the rocking chair in the kitchen. His arms hung limply over each side of the rocking chair and his body slumped to one side. Herr Hoffman sat at the table eating his lunch. His fork kept a strong steady beat from his plate to his mouth. He didn’t miss a beat.
The Black Forest Cuckoo clock hanging over the stove cuckooed twelve o’clock as Veronica dribbled another dose of elixir down her husband’s throat. The cuckoo clock jogged her memory and after she had finished wiping August’s lips she ran out to the wagon and grabbed her carpetbag and August’s too. She dragged them both into the house.
When Veronica got back into the kitchen with her carpet bag, August was sitting up straight in the rocking chair sipping a cup of black tea. He pointed to the clock above the stove.
“That cuckoo clock looks like a Black Forest clock. You brought it with you from Germany. Is that the one? ” he asked Frau Hoffman.
“I don’t know, but I hope it is,” Frau Hoffman said.
“We won’t know until we can examine it closely,” Veronica said.
“Here’s how it works,” Herr Hoffman said. “Ketterer in the Black Forest used two small bellows and pipes to develop the distinctive German cuckoo sound. He attached the pipes to the tops of two air driven bellows. These bellows make high and low pitched whistles that mimic the sound of the cuckoo bird. When the clock strikes each hour, the cuckoo clock’s iron weight and swinging pendulum turn the clock’s wheels. The cuckoo bird flies off his nest and the bellows send alternating puffs of air into each pipe, making the sound of the cuckoo. But I have never heard a cuckoo with such a large voice.”
Frau Hoffman smiled. Our cuckoo’s voice can be heard four blocks away and far out into the river,” she said proudly.
Veronica walked over to the clock and stretched up to touch it. “Can we take it down and examine it to see if it is the one?”
“We can and will,” Frau Hoffman said.
“There is yet another clock, you know,” Herr Hoffman said. “There is one at a public house in Birmingham.”
August smiled. “I know.I met John Inshaw and his clock at his pub.”
Veronica sighed, peeking at Herr Hoffman from the corner of her eye. “What does that have to do with anything?” she asked.
Herr Hoffman the mad scientist finally missed a beat. He even put down his fork with a clang.”John Inshaw is an engineer and he built a steam powered clock. He made a small boiler to make steam. The steam condensed into tiny drops of water that regularly fell on a plate and the plate powered the clock mechanism. He hung the clock above the door and his pub came to be known as the Steam Clock Tavern. It is a trick that is easily duplicated with Black Forest Clocks. Even as we speak I am working on the duplication.” He pointed to the Black Forest Cuckoo Clock hanging above the stove. “It will look something like that.”
Veronica sighed again. “Why is the clock experiment so important?” she asked her husband. “Why do you keep risking your life?”
“It is as important as Dr. Koch’s discovery of the shape of the comma bacteria that causes cholera and it can’t be the end until people start drinking fresh water from the Detroit River instead of using well water. Outhouses at odd locations on the low lay of the land contaminate the wells and cholera gets a firm foothold,” August told her.
“If people want to drink their own deaths let them! I don’t want you to die.”
August put his hand on Veronica’s arm, but she wasn’t comforted. Worry that he wouldn’t recover prickled at her like a thorn from the black berry bushes. “I will find the extra ingredient to make the elixir,” Veronica vowed to herself.
When the Cholera Patrol arrived twenty minutes later, August stood tall and steady in front of the Black Forest Cuckoo Clock hanging over the kitchen stove while his wife, Veronica sat eating a piece of bread and butter and Frau Hoffman washed dishes.
“It is good to meet you here,” August said to the Cholera Patrol.
The Cholera Patrol consisted of four men. Two men in white coats carried medical bags and Veronica surmised that they were doctors. Another man wore a Navy pea jacket and the other a clerical collar, a white shirt, and a black suit. One of the men in white coats, a tall man with a black beard, introduced himself. “I am Dr. Kincaide and I here to examine you for cholera,” he said.
Veronica laughed like she meant it and she did. “If he had cholera he would not be standing. He would be laid flat out on the settee moaning and vomiting, soiled by diarrhea plagued by dying.”
“We know your husband visited Germany last month and that Schoenwald had a cholera epidemic while he was there. We know that he came through the port of New York and did not receive a health certificate. We know that he traveled from New York to Wyandotte on the train and you and the Hoffmans picked him up there and brought him to Ecorse.”
“He isn’t sick,” Veronica said.
The doctor focused a stern glance on Frau Hoffman. You operate an underground railroad so to speak of people without certificates of health. You pick them up and nurse them back to health so they won’t be deported. In the meantime they infect other people with cholera. Do you deny any of this?”
“You charge immigrants $100 to issue them certificates of health, whether they are sick or well,” Frau Hoffman said.
I don’t deny that I went to Germany, but I do deny that I have cholera. Look at me!” August said. August stood on his tiptoes studying the automated cuckoo as it announced the twelve o’clock hour. He came down on his heels and peered down at the doctors, who were at least two feet shorter.
Herr Hoffman pushed his chair back from the table. “ I must get back to my work at the Vulcan Mill. I am trying to develop a steam cure for cholera, you know. And my assistant Albert here must come with me. His assistance is invaluable.” He beckoned to August.
The man in the Navy pea jacket spoke for the first and only time. “I thought his name is August.”
Herr Hoffman waved airily. “Albert, August. His name is Albert-August and I need him. He beckoned again. “Come.”
“Not so fast.”The doctor with the black beard thumped and prodded August. He straightened up after thumping August on each ankle. You seem to be hale and hearty enough. Go back to work,” he said.
The two scientists stalked out the door and in a few minutes, Veronica heard Tilly and the wagon pass the back porch and onto the River Road.
The doctor in the white coat with the scraggly brown whiskers fixed a stern glance on Frau Hoffman. “You and your husband carry immigrants from the train station to boats and houses so they don’t have to go through the port of Detroit or through Ohio. You are operation another Underground Railroad, this one for immigrants, not run away slaves.”
The man wearing the clerical collar addressed Veronica.. “So far this cholera epidemic has cost 250,000 European lives and at least 50,000 in America. Before it is over, the numbers will increase. We have to quarantine people who are sick so they won’t make others sick.”
“That’s an excuse to round up immigrants and deport them, unless they have money to pay you off,” Frau Hoffman told him.
“How can you live with yourself, smuggling in sick people to get everyone sick. You have killed many people.” The man in the clerical collar was shouting now.
“I have killed no one,” Frau Hoffman said. “Cholera kills and you quarantine sick people together so they can get sicker and die. You issue false certificates to both sick people and healthy people for money. You are the killers. She glared at the men in the white coats. How can you live with yourself?
“Our country is being overrun by hoards of poor immigrants. They take our jobs and give our people diseases. We have to send back as many of them as we can before they overwhelm us,” the minister in the clerical collar said.
Veronica drew herself up to her full five feet two inches. My husband and I are not poor. I am a nurse and he is a scientist. We made good money in Schonwald and we saved up enough to come to the United States. We are not stealing money from anyone!”
The doctor with the black beard scowled and hurried out the door. The doctor with the brown scraggly beard said, “We’ll be back soon, so keep a good watch.”
The Black Forest Cuckoo Clock hanging above the stove chirruped one o’clock as the Cholera Patrol banged the front door behind them.
“We need to hurry,” Veronica said. “I gave August the rest of the elixir. We need to make another batch right away in case he relapses.”
“Let us see if this is the correct clock. “Frau Hoffman took the Black Forest Cuckoo Clock down from its place above the kitchen stove. The two women opened the doors. Frau Hoffman peered into the top compartment of the clock. She jumped back, laughing. “It is probably my imagination, but I fancy I see the automaton cuckoo peering at me with one sleepy eye open as if to say, ‘it isn’t my time yet!’
Laughing with Frau Hoffman, Veronica pulled open the lower compartments of the clock. She had hoped to see copper pipes and tubing and a small boiler. She saw copper pipes and bellows, but no plates or small steam boiler. By now the automaton cuckoo had closed both eyes and gone back to sleep, but stirred uneasily as she stared at it.
“You can hang the clock back where it was,” Veronica told Frau Hoffman. “Frau Hoffman didn’t invent this Black Forest Cuckoo Clock correctly.”
While Frau Hoffman put the Black Forest Cuckoo Clock back above the stove, Veronica opened her satchel and took out bellows, wire, a small steam boiler, copper pipe, and a large tin plate. Last, she pulled out a cuckoo made out of what looked to her like silver. “A silver cuckoo! This must be quite valuable,” she said to Frau Hoffman.
“It’s a good luck charm, an amulet to ward off cholera. I’ve seen silver ladybugs too. The idea a lady bug will fly away with the illness.” Frau Hoffman said.
“A lady bug that says cuckoo might arose suspicions,” Veronica laughed, her fingers already busy threading copper pipes, and a fixing the plate and steam boiler. Frau Hoffman bent beside Veronica, her fingers equally busy and soon the Steam Cuckoo Clock stood on the kitchen table in front of them completely assembled from the top of the silver cuckoo to the tip of its pendulum.
“It must be right. We don’t have any parts left,” Frau Hoffman said.
“I’ll put some water in the boiler and coals in the firebox,” Veronica said, doing so as she spoke.
The two mad scientists watched as the clock stood silently as the water heated and then sprang into action. The silver cuckoo announced the half hour and retreated to acclimate to its new home and functions. Veronica pulled out the steam boiler and emptied the water from it into a pan waiting on the stove. She mixed a bottle of Masserat’s lime juice into the water from the Steam Cuckoo Clock and then put the concoction back into the boiler and put it back in the clock. By the time the steam silver cuckoo struck two o’clock, the elixir was ready to drink.
Veronica put a small amount of the elixir in a teaspoon and handed it to Frau Hoffman. “Taste it and see what you think,” she said.
Frau Hoffman swirled it around on her tongue. “It’s the best batch yet,” she said. “I’m glad you are going to be making it here instead of mailing it from Germany and England and I’m glad you brought the steam clock to make it.”
The Steam Cuckoo Clock hanging above the stove chimed two o’clock as Frau Hoffman and Veronica Mauer siphoned three large batches of elixir into bottles. They set the bottles of elixir on the windows sill to cool.
“Tonight we will ride to your house in the buggy and deliver our elixir to our neighbors,” Frau Hoffman said. “They will be glad to get it. But why won’t the formula work by just boiling water and lime juice on the stove?”
For the first time since she had arrived in America with her steam cuckoo clock, Veronica relaxed. “It’s something in the copper pipes or maybe something that the silver cuckoo does with the lime juice. I’m not sure what it is, but it works. Now I’ll have a supply for Albert- August- or anyone else that needs it,” she added hastily.
The Steam Cuckoo Clock hanging above the stove boomed three o’clock as four glasses of lime juice cordial stood in colored glasses on the kitchen table waiting for the Cholera Committee. As The two smiling mad scientists greeted them at the back door, Veronica made a mental note to buy more copper tubing for the clock works.
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