Chapter 1

March 1917

Daniel Ehrlich noticed her because most young women in the town of Opulence, Kansas, would not care to be seen loitering around Heinze’s drugstore on a Friday evening. Monday through Thursday, yes—she might be buying face cream, powders, aspirin, or hair pomade. With (and sometimes without) a doctor’s prescription, she could also purchase various tonics and elixirs said to fortify, soothe, mitigate, and stimulate. But everyone knew about the other potations Heinze sold—in a dank cellar to working men with their pay envelopes in their pockets, after a long dry week. And everyone knew that Heinze obligingly paid a monthly fine for providing “intoxicants,” and that it pretty much covered the mayor’s salary.
The girl looked familiar, and she looked uneasy. She fidgeted in an over-large coat against the late March chill, folding back the sleeves that hung beyond her knuckles. She peered up and down the street, her small, pale face tight, as though whoever she might be waiting for wasn’t someone she really wanted to see.
Daniel was closing up shop. His mother had gone home early. He drew the curtain behind the display window and watched. An older man approached the drugstore, and Daniel was surprised to see the girl speak to him. The man shrugged and went inside. A moment later he stuck his head out, shaking it, then disappeared again. She resumed her pacing.
Where did Daniel know her from? Most likely she’d been a customer in the shop. Yes, now he remembered. His mother had laid out bolts of cloth: cloth for girls’ skirts, she’d asked for. She’d hesitated over the blue serge but settled on the cheaper gingham. Eight yards, and his mother threw in the remnant yard and a half off the bolt without letting on. O’Brien, that was the name. Edna? Elaine? No, Eleanor. He’d filed the bill afterward.
Eleanor O’Brien suddenly focused her gaze and intercepted a handsome young man at the curb. He didn’t look especially happy to see her either. He stood sullenly in front of her, his creamy cheeks flushed, his full mouth pouting. They argued, she with arms folded, he with fists jammed deep into the pockets of his dusty yellow coat. He tried to walk past her; she got in his way, her face getting harder as his grew redder.
Two men rounded the corner and glanced, then grinned at them, and the handsome young man grew angrier. He yanked an envelope from his coat pocket, snatched out several bills, and all but threw them at her. Then he took hold of her shoulders, spun her around, and shoved her away before plunging through the drugstore doorway.
Maybe he hadn’t meant to push her so hard. Maybe she tripped, caught her foot in the hem of the long coat. But when Daniel got to her she was still on all fours, scrabbling for the scattered bills with skinned palms.
He planted his boot on a dollar bill and picked it up. “Are you hurt?” he asked, offering a hand she did not take.
She scrambled up, wincing. “No, thank you, I’m fine.” She shook her hands, blowing on the raw places as she gingerly tested an ankle.
“Are you sure? Those scrapes should be cleaned up.”
“I’ll be fine when I get home,” she said.
“Look, that fellow, should I call someone?”
She scowled. “That’s my brother, Robbie. No, I got as much as I was going to get from him before he went downstairs there.” She glared at the door of the drugstore, then sighed. “Where’s Miss Carry Nation when you need her?”
“Arguing with Saint Peter about communion wine, probably. But I may have an axe in the storeroom you could borrow.”
She looked at him with surprise, then smiled a little.
“I’m Daniel Ehrlich—Ehrlich’s Dry Goods and Notions.” He tilted his head toward the shop. “I think you’re Miss O’Brien?”
“Yes, and you probably know how much we owe you too, don’t you?”
“Dollar fifty for the gingham.”
“I thought it was two dollars—twenty-five cents a yard?”
“My mother gives a discount when the spirit moves her. Can I see you home, or…”
Miss O’Brien carefully brushed and pocketed the gritty bills they had gathered. “Thank you, Mr. Ehrlich, but no. I’m fine, really. You’ve been very kind, but I’ve got sisters and parents waiting for supper, so I’ll be on my way.”
She strode away, and her dad, the old horse-shoer Jack O’Brien, might have noticed a slight lameness in her gait. Daniel did not. He thought she walked like a lion.

Chapter 2

Abigail Ehrlich was settled at the dining table with tea and the newspaper when Daniel arrived. It always made him feel safely at home, the day done, when his mother had unpinned her thick braid, hung up the crisp shirtwaist of the proper lady merchant, and changed into one of his father’s plain white collarless shirts and a pair of old black trousers, worn soft from many washings. His parents had sometimes joked about how alike they were in size.
“You’re a bit late,” she said, glancing up over her spectacles. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes, fine,” he said. He hung up his coat and hat. “Is there soup?”
Abigail nodded. “Just warmed up from yesterday.”
“It’s even better the second day,” he said cheerfully. He cut a couple of slabs of bread in the kitchen, filled two bowls, and carried them in. “I ran into Eleanor O’Brien as I was leaving.”
Abigail looked up. “I didn’t know you knew her.”
“I don’t really… I just remembered her from the shop. I don’t think she was in school with me.”
“Irish Catholic family. St. Leonard’s, not the public school, I expect.” Abigail shook her head. “Poor thing.”
“Why poor thing?”
“Stairstep kids, mother worn to a frazzle. Her dad used to be a good blacksmith—worked for all those Brits out at the Victoria settlement, shoeing their fancy thoroughbreds and hunters, before it all went under. Before you were born. Times are harder for them now that more people got cars and tractors, and he just gets by with farm horses. She told me the Myrdals’ big old Percheron stepped on his foot a while ago, smashed it good—he’s still not back to working like he used to.”
Daniel smiled. “You stand down there and sell people cloth and buttons and walking sticks…how do you find out so much about them?”
Abigail shrugged. “They talk, I listen, I make sympathetic noises. I hear a bit from one person, then someone else tells me the same story a different way. You just get to hear things.”
Daniel mopped up soup with a bread crust. “There’s a brother, isn’t there? Doesn’t he help out?”
His mother sighed. “Robert. Spends more time and money downstairs at Heinze’s than is good for anyone.”
“Does he do smithy work too?”
Abigail snorted. “Used to. He hated it, and the horses wouldn’t stand for him either. Treecie Feist told me once that their mare was fidgeting and fussing with Robbie, and the boy picked up a hammer and slammed the horse in the ribs three times. Leo took his mare home and told Jack that boy would never touch his horses again. To his credit, Jack had had enough by then and threw Robbie out of the forge for good. I think he works over at the grain mill these days.”
Daniel paused, then asked, “And Eleanor? How does she manage?”
Abigail eyed him. “She helps out her mama—there are four more girls after her. She’s good with a needle, and she’ll help people with spring cleaning, nursing sick folks, whatever. Not everybody’s keen on the Irish around here, but people know her dad, and she’s a good, smart, hard worker, so she makes do.”
They ate their soup. Daniel cleared away the dishes. When he came back into the room, Abigail was tapping the folded newspaper on the table.
“Danny,” she said, “it looks like they’re going to declare war on Germany.”
He slumped into an armchair. “I thought we were staying out of it.”
She shook her head grimly. “I voted for Wilson last fall because he said we would. But he’s changed his mind. Danny, have you thought about…about what you’ll do?”
“What I’ll do? We’ve already got an army and a navy, don’t we?”
“They say they’ll need a million men.”
Daniel exhaled. “I don’t have to be one of them.”
“What if they start calling men up? You’re twenty-two, you’re not married, I can take care of myself with the shop. You’d be prime…”
“Prime cannon fodder?”
She nodded. “Your father…”
His father, Thomas Ehrlich. A shrewd businessman, he had made his way down from Topeka and set up a general mercantile store in Opulence, specializing in high-quality dry goods. Married a local girl. The joke went that the Quakers came to Kansas to do good, and did very well indeed. Thomas Ehrlich had been raised a Quaker, but, once settled farther away from the Quaker communities up north, he’d shifted quietly to his wife’s Lutheran church without much angst. Daniel vaguely remembered a pregnancy that had ended in blood and sorrow.
Then, one day when Daniel was eleven, the thick artery in his father’s abdomen had exploded; he’d died within minutes. And since then, for half his life, it had just been Daniel’s mother and him. She had taken over running the shop with aplomb and judgment; he helped out, kept the books, filed the receipts, unloaded the trucks, and wrote up the orders as his mother advised. It worked.
But that spring, the future didn’t look so good.

Chapter 3

April 1917

Abigail was right. One week later, on Good Friday, the United States declared war on Germany. The call went out for 500,000 men to join up; the entire National Guard was to be mustered. An incendiary telegram from the German foreign secretary to the German ambassador in Mexico, suggesting aid and the reward of “lost territory” if the Mexicans would invade the United States, already had American people furious. Now the march had begun, no matter what the Mexicans did or didn’t agree to do.
On Easter Sunday, Daniel and Abigail ambled the three blocks to their church. The weather was mild. People gathered in clots around the doors of the upright, white church, murmuring, speculating, shaking their heads. It isn’t our war, is it, really? What is it really about, anyway? Should we be sending our men—our sons, our husbands—overseas for this? What about the planting and harvesting? We have family over there. Our parents were born in Hesse; they still have cousins there. What if our son meets one of them and… No, doesn’t bear thinking about. I mean, we’re Americans here, of course we are! But is this really our fight? Still, they sank the Lusitania, remember? Who’s to say where they’ll stop? If they need our help to put an end to this, then maybe we need to step up and go. We don’t want the Kaiser’s soldiers on our doorsteps, do we? And they say there are German submarines in the Gulf already!
The congregation straggled into the pews, ill at ease and attentive. There was a vase of lilies at the altar. The choir warbled the usual first hymn of Easter Sunday. What would Pastor Krause have to say about it all?
Daniel listened carefully. But Pastor Krause opened a booklet on the podium and read out the same Easter sermon he had given every year since Daniel could remember. About the miracle of the Resurrection, the assurance of life eternal after death, and faith in the almighty power of our Lord, which meant we shouldn’t worry, the death of the body was only the gateway to life everlasting.
Then the choir sang again, and they all straggled out, shaking the pastor’s narrow, clammy hand one by one.
“I can’t believe it,” Daniel said. “I can’t believe he said absolutely nothing!”
“Maybe what he did say was appropriate,” his mother ventured. “About not fearing death. In the face of a war, isn’t that a…a hopeful message?”
“But not even to say the word? Not even ‘in the challenging times before us, in the threat of violence and war’… For heaven’s sake, something is actually happening here!”
Abigail was silent.
Daniel stopped walking and stared at his shoes. “I know I didn’t pay attention, and it may never have even come up, since I was just a boy. But Papa had beliefs, ideas, questions to be asked about wars and fighting. Isn’t that so?”
“Yes, he did. It seemed very simple to him: war is evil. The commandment says ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ period.” Abigail paused before their house, her eyes turned unseeing to the freshly greening lilac by the gate. She pronounced slowly: “All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world. The spirit of Christ will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.”
“Is that what he said?” Daniel asked.
“Two hundred and fifty years ago, a Quaker woman stood before the King of England and said it. They have not forgotten.”
Daniel sighed. “What about Pastor Krause, then? What do the Lutherans think?”
Abigail pondered. “You should ask him. But we’re a lot of Germans here, Danny, not Quakers. Even you can remember when the newspaper had four pages in English and four in German.”
Daniel smiled. “Yes, and Papa could read the German pages, with those big thick letters. I asked him to tell me what it said once, and he read me a few sentences in a deep voice, then laughed and said, ‘Just the same old Scheiße!’”
Abigail tried to look shocked. “He thought you wouldn’t know what that meant.”
“I didn’t…then.”
Abigail unlatched the gate. “Talk to Pastor Krause. He can explain it better than I can.”
“I’m going to walk a bit,” said Daniel. “I need to think.”
His mother kissed his cheek. “Go walk. Go think. We’ll eat when you get back.”
He loosened his tie, unbuttoned his waistcoat in the spring sun, and paced east. After crossing the main street, he turned up another block and sat down in the little park, with its empty bandshell, across from the big sandstone church of St. Leonard. He brooded. He didn’t want to join up, he didn’t want to fight. He knew hardly anything about this war—why it had started, what it was for. And yes, he was afraid. He didn’t want to be cold and far away and scared to death, or dead. Or maimed. Or forced to kill someone else.
The bells of the big church clanged and startled him. The mass was over, and people streamed out, chattering and fluttering and calling out and laughing. The Lutherans had been jittery, anxious, fidgeting; these Catholics looked purposeful, confident, assured.
Perhaps reassured? The priest, a lean, jovial man, stood at the doors, sharing a joke here, a handshake there, directing and herding his people down the broad steps. In his black garb, with white about the throat, he reminded Daniel of a Scotch collie he’d seen once working sheep at the fair. This flock seemed calm under his eye, knowing where they were going and how to get there.
And there was Eleanor O’Brien among them, with two younger girls in tow, scanning the crowd, apparently looking for someone. Daniel got up and crossed the street.
“Miss O’Brien?”
She smiled and tugged the girls behind her. “Mr. Ehrlich! A pleasure to see you. How do you come to be loitering with this bunch? Happy Easter!”
“And to you. And these young ladies?”
“Oh, they’re nobody,” she teased.
The girls, the older one perhaps sixteen, the younger one eleven or twelve, giggled.
“This is Lucy and Barbara. Girls, this is Mr. Ehrlich—he and his mother run the nice shop where I got the makings for your skirts.”
The older girl tried to look demure and grown up; the younger pulled Eleanor’s sleeve and said, “Nell! We have to go home and help Mother get the dinner ready.”
“Go on, then, I’ll be right along.”
They bustled away.
“How was your service?” Daniel asked. “Those bells are really something.”
“It’s the biggest holiday of all for us,” she said. “You should see the lilies and the palms and banners and bunting inside!”
“Yes, it’s a bit more subdued on our side,” he said. “One vase of lilies, and the same sermon every year. Even this one.”
She frowned. “Even this…?”
“Can I ask you something? Did your priest talk to you about the war? Did he say anything about it? Our pastor—I was amazed that he didn’t say a word about it. And I’m trying to work out what to think, what might happen, what I might have to do.”
She thought for a moment. “Well, our services are different. There’s more…more ritual. Certain prayers, certain music, special for the holiday, and the priest’s homily is usually pretty short. We do bells and pomp and circumstance, not so much preaching from the pulpit. But he did read us the Cardinal’s statement from the newspapers—did you see that?”
Daniel shook his head.
“Here, let’s go ask him.” She tucked her hand in his arm and loped up the church steps to the priest.
“Eleanor, my dear! Who are you bringing into my presence?”
She laughed. “Father Stark, this is my friend Daniel Ehrlich.” She affected a loud whisper: “I’m afraid he’s a Lutheran.”
The priest smiled and patted Daniel’s shoulder. “A bit thinner gruel over there,” he said. “Any time you want a dose of something thicker and stronger, come on by.”
“He said his pastor didn’t say anything about the war,” Eleanor went on. “I told him you’d read us the Cardinal’s statement.”
“My friend,” said the priest to Daniel, “you first must know that the Cardinal is essentially our boss here in the U.S. It’s his job to tell us how the Church sees various things, what to expect and what to do about them. Now, Cardinal Gibbons was trying at first to encourage peace negotiations, to put an end to the fighting over there. But now…” His sharp, smile-creased face fell into sober planes, and he groped in a pocket beneath his robe and produced a strip of newsprint. “Let me see…here. He counsels us that ‘In the present emergency it behooves every American citizen to do his duty, and to uphold the hands of the President and the Legislative department in the solemn obligations that confront us. The primary duty of a citizen is loyalty to country.’ Then he says that Congress serves as the Lord’s representatives here, and whatever they decide, it’s the citizen’s duty to obey. Is that what you wanted to know?”
“Sort of,” said Daniel.
“We Catholics have never been afraid of a fight,” said the priest proudly. “And there is such a thing as a ‘just war.’ Sometimes, when peace has failed, one must pick up the sword and fight for good and righteous causes.”
“Is this one of them, do you think?” asked Daniel.
The priest’s eyebrows rose. Perhaps he had not expected the question. “That’s a bit too complicated for standing on the steps… Perhaps another day? Ah, Robert! One of our stalwarts.”
Eleanor’s brother had come up behind her. His gleaming curls had been oiled flat, and his suit had been brushed, but his shoes had not. He nodded curtly at the priest. “Nell, Mother is waiting,” he said. He didn’t look at Daniel.
“Robbie!” said Eleanor. “This is Daniel Ehrlich, from the dry goods store. We met the other day when I bought from them. Daniel, my brother Robbie.”
Daniel offered a hand. Robert appeared to consider whether it was worth taking his own hand out of his pocket, but eventually he did so. “Mr. Urr-lick?” he muttered. “German, I bet.”
“My grandparents were born in Germany. My mother was born here in Opulence, my father in Pennsylvania.”
“You a friend?” growled Robbie.
“I hope so.”
Eleanor’s eyes widened. “You’re not a Quaker, are you?”
Daniel said only, “My father was.”
Robbie turned away. “We need to go now,” he barked over his shoulder at Eleanor.
She flushed and looked annoyed. “Thank you, Father. Happy Easter and blessings to you.”
Daniel followed her at a trot down the steps, and at the bottom she turned to him. “Happy Easter,” she said sadly. “I guess. I’m sorry about him.”
Daniel shrugged. “Not your fault.”
“I keep wishing he’d find himself a nice girl, hoping it would make him happy. Or happier. But…”
“That’s a lot to put on her,” said Daniel, then wished he hadn’t.
Eleanor sighed. “Anyway, the girls don’t seem to like him much.” She glanced at her brother’s retreating back. “And I don’t blame them.” She shrugged. “It was good to run into you. Give my regards to your mother.”
“I will,” said Daniel.
He watched as she padded off with that slow, soft-footed stride, the sun on her tawny hair, coming loose in the breeze.
When he got home, he found Abigail peeling carrots in the kitchen. The chicken was crackling in the oven.
“I was thinking,” he said, “maybe I’d ask Eleanor O’Brien to come for Sunday dinner sometime.”
Without looking up, Abigail replied, “That would be lovely.” She pushed back a stray hair with her wrist. “I left an address on the table for you. It’s an old friend of your father’s. I don’t think you ever met him—he was from the days before your father came to Opulence.”
“A friend with a small or a capital F?”
She smiled. “Both. You might want to write to him with your questions. I don’t know if he’s still there, but you could try.”
Daniel perused the slip of paper with his mother’s small, neat writing on it. “Tonganoxie.” He wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it, but he didn’t need to. “Thanks,” he said. “I may do that.”

Author’s Statement

Good Friday, 1917: the United States declares war on Germany. In the small town of Opulence, Kansas, home to many German immigrants, Daniel Ehrlich must register for conscription in a war he does not want to fight. The townspeople struggle with their loyalties, their patriotism, and their heritage. German lineage invites suspicion and retaliation; families are riven between American-born sons and foreign-born parents.
Daniel, son of a Quaker father, chooses to claim Conscientious Objector status: to many, he is therefore a “slacker,” a “coward,” a “yellowback.” The military denies his exemption and sends him into the lions’ dens of Camp Funston and Fort Leavenworth, where Hutterites, Mennonites, Quakers, Socialists, and other proponents of pacifism are incarcerated and abused.
As the President begins to send American men to the killing fields in Europe, he is also confronted by the determined women of the suffrage movement. Kansas women had been voting since 1912, but for some, nothing short of a right to vote for all American women was enough. Daniel’s friend Eleanor O’Brien is among them. With both the Silent Sentinels, standing day by day in all weathers outside the White House, and the protesting suffragists who were arrested, beaten, and force-fed in prison, she joins the forces of justice for women, at a time when no one wants to hear about it. While Daniel suffers at Leavenworth for what he has refused to do, Eleanor learns the steep price of what she has chosen to do.
ALL BLOODY PRINCIPLES brings to life the impossible choices that men and women must make in an era of war, resistance, strife, and resolve: How do I decide? What guides my choice? What is the cost to myself, my family, my community, my nation? And what different kinds of courage must be called on to survive?
It was a crude handbill that first captured me, one of thousands that had been scattered by riders on horseback firing pistols on the main street of my own small town in Kansas, one spring night in 1918: Join the Night Riders! German spies, German sympathizers, and dirty slackers… We are now among you, there is no neutral ground… You can expect a visit from us! It led me deep into the outrage and drama of conscientious objectors during the Great War, contemporary with the battle for women’s rights, all swirling through the flyover state. How could I not tell this story?

Julie Stielstra divides her time between the Chicago area and rural Kansas. Her short fiction has been published in Zahir Tales, Potomac Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Plains Review, The Examined Life Journal, and by Wordrunner eChapbooks. Minerva Rising Press named her historical novella Pilgrim the winner of their 2016 novella contest. In 2021 her novel Opulence, Kansas from Meadowlark Press won gold-medal awards for Young Adult Fiction from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association and the High Plains Book Awards, and received the 2022 Donald J. and Bertha Coffin Award for Fiction from the Kansas Authors Club. She blogs on animals, books, writing, the prairie, and whatever else takes her fancy at

Embark, Issue 18, April 2023