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Fool's Gold

Steve Stroble

  Fool’s Gold

  Steve Stroble

  Fool’s Gold Copyright c 2016 by Stroble Family Trust. All rights reserved.

  Cover Design by James, 

  This book is a work of fiction. As such, it refers to some historical events and people. All other people, places, events, and situations are the product of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance of them to actual persons, living or dead, places, events, and situations is purely coincidental.

  “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1Timothy 6:10)

  “The lust for gold is a root of a whole lot more evil.” (Unknown miner, California, 1849)


  Thomas’ thirst began in his soul and stopped at his mouth and throat. His father, Helmut Schmidt, allowed him only one beer per meal, which for Thomas included breakfasts. So on Saturday nights he went to the nearby village’s Gasthaus away from his father and farm to at last fully sate his thirst with the beer that he loved. The following morning’s hangover would be treated with worship at church where the unrepentant like Thomas would doze off, only to awaken when a wife’s, mother’s, or sister’s elbow jabbed their ribs.

  Ludwig I ruled the Kingdom of Bavaria, homeland of the Schmidt family. Nostalgic, he brought back the old names for his kingdom’s regions, which delighted his older subjects. The younger ones though wanted the states of the German Confederation to become a nation, even if it meant a revolution. France and America had been transformed in the previous century. The elders and their offspring argued such matters as they drank. Words were spewed, and blows followed as the drunkest ones battled.

  “Ludwig is doing all he can to keep Prussia and Austria from dominating us.” The eldest one seated at the Gasthaus announced to anyone willing to listen.

  “But when do we get to choose who rules over us?” Thomas challenged him.

  “Bah! I was alive when France had their revolution. Where were you?” He eyed the lad suspiciously.

  “But you never even listen to me!”

  “If I had spoken to my father or anyone his age the way you speak, he would have beaten me or sent me away.”

  “My father is not here.” He clenched his fists.

  “Why are you so angry all of the time?”

  “Because here in the German Confederation each king rules their own little kingdom. Even Russia has only one czar.”

  The old man slammed his beer stein on the table. The resounding thud quieted all of those in the steamy, smoke-filled room. The most timid dropped his pipe and the spilled tobacco sent up a tiny cloud of smoke from the tabletop. No other conversation resumed until the old man and Thomas finished theirs.

  “I suppose we should let you rule Bavaria?”

  “I’m not saying…”

  “And where were you when Napoleon waged his war against us, Austria, Russia, England, and Spain?”

  The youth stared at the worn oak floorboards. Two knotholes reminded him of the old man’s eyes. A swirl of wood grain below the knotholes made a toothless grin. The imaginary face mocked him.

  “I fought against that monster and his armies.” The old man rose to his feet. “I saw too many brave Germans die.” He collapsed back into his chair. “At least Ludwig opposed Bavaria’s eventual alliance with Napoleon.”

  “But none of us want to be ruled by a Napoleon.”

  “My God in heaven!” The aged warrior lifted his stein in a mock toast. “Thank you for giving at least a little sense to this child. Do you know what spawned that monster?”


  “The French Revolution. All this talk of uniting all of the states of the German Confederation will end in disaster.” The veins bulged on his neck. “If you have your way and we become a nation instead of a confederation, who will rule us?”

  “Ludwig, I guess.”

  Once again the old man lifted his stein toward heaven. He then thrust it toward Thomas as if it were a weapon. “If we have to unite as a nation, let it be Ludwig.”

  Many voiced their endorsements.

  The most drunken one yelled the loudest. As usual he overflowed with the generosity of his drunkenness. “Long live Ludwig, future ruler of all Germany! Frederick, another beer for everyone here. On me of course.”

  The Gasthaus’ owner sighed with the weariness known by those who serve alcohol. To a multitude of his customers he was a confessor; for others, a surrogate friend, brother, father, or son, depending on the drinker’s missing relationship. Frederick had cleaned up too much blood and vomit during his 32 years at the Gasthaus. He no longer knew which was worse – the inevitable fights or sickness. But he was certain of one matter. He would not honor the request.

  “You haven’t even paid for your last beer and you expect me to do what you say? You are poor because you drink too much, swine.”

  The drunk rose to his feet to protest but immediately crumpled to the floor, which caused laughter that shook the room’s timbers. Frederick motioned to his two sons, who promptly carried the limp figure outside. They deposited him in back of the building, the established location for those who needed to become somewhat sober before finding their way home. By the time the sons returned inside, the old man had pulled out the worn money pouch that he always carried.

  “I will buy one drink for all of you if you promise it won’t make you join our friend outside.”

  Once again laughter, this time accompanied with cheers, echoed through the room. For the remainder of the night, the old man bared his soul. As his deepest fears spilled out a few nodded. Others walked away.

  “If we unite as a nation it will bring disaster to France and its allies. The wounds from what the French did to us are much too deep. They will never heal. As a nation we will do to the French what we did to the Romans when they marched into our land so long ago.” He placed the stein on the table and rose to leave.

  The youth had moved outside next to the one who had passed out. Thomas joined them because many of them were close to his age of 17. What interested him most of all were the girls from the village, especially Frederick’s daughter Anna. She worked for her father serving beer and wine. When she came outside to walk home he ran to her side and offered to accompany her. Before Anna could answer a rival forced his way past him, took her arm, and belittled the other suitor.

  “Come on, Anna. You will be safe with me. Thomas is a dumb head and will get you both lost.”

  The insult, coupled with a long night of drinking, fueled Thomas’ anger. He leapt at the one who had mocked him. They rolled to the ground. When they staggered to their feet they began trading punches. Stronger than his opponent, Thomas eventually landed a right hook that felled the rival. The blowhard smashed his head on a rock as he hit the ground. When he did not rise, one of his friends rushed to him and shook him. Then he noticed the pool of blood that was growing larger from the wound to the head of the motionless body.

  “You fool! You killed him! Someone get the village policeman. Hurry!”

  As beautiful as Anna was, Thomas was unwilling to go to prison for years in hope that she might wait for him. He bolted as quickly as the deer that he loved to hunt often had. Within ten minutes he was creeping through the gate toward the front door of his home. Because his father was 60 years old and had been working later than usual when Thomas had left for the evening he knew that Helmut was most likely fast asleep. Scenes of his family life played out in Thomas’ mind.

  “I go to the Gasthaus on Fridays because there are fewer people then and so less fights,” Helmut had said when turning down invitations to Saturday night merrymaking.

  For Helmut, drinking beer and wine was a way to escape the turmoil of running a farm that had been handed down from father to son for almost 400
years. A devout Catholic, he had abandoned religious norms by marrying a Lutheran, which had made him somewhat of an outcast to his family.

  “You should have married Katrina, instead.” Helmut’s mother had wailed this sad refrain until her dying day.

  Marrying outside of Catholicism was not as much an issue to Helmut’s father. “Marta’s family will always resent you for being a Catholic. Our family will always resent Marta, but at least you are both German. I can’t imagine if you had married an Italian or a Frenchwoman!”

  So Helmut and Marta endured the pious meddling that comes from those who are certain that they know what is best for others. His wife especially resented it. Marta tried to invoke her denomination’s founder but it did little to hide her anger.

  “If Martin Luther could take persecution from Rome, then I can stand your family.” She had informed Helmut again and again.

  “I wish God would make a place where people such as us could live in peace.” Helmut had dreamed aloud.

  “Mother is right, Helmut. You are only a dreamer. That is why you will never leave this farm.”

  Marta and Helmut’s five children, three sons and two daughters, mostly had ignored the strife. Of the five siblings, Thomas most of all, had inherited their father’s melancholy nature and took it to heart. This melancholy now made him fear the worst. He wondered if running away would at last sever him from his