Bagging-Bag-Girl-Banner

Spring 1637, Kymi

 

Aappo and Wenzel Borschnitz were having a second beer. Aappo was buying. “Wenzel, you need to get married.”

Wenzel looked sour. “I’m not old enough.”

“How old is old enough?”

“Thirty, thirty-five?”

Aappo set the bait. “And why is this?”

“A man needs to be established. He must be able to support a wife and a family. He needs to . . . Shit!”

Aappo smirked when the trap snapped shut. “Exactly. You have a secure job. You are one of only a score of men in the whole world who can do what you do. Ten years from now there may be a thousand head paper-machine tenders. You will be a senior master. And if you ask, the countess will likely sell you a plot of land on which to build a house. I know for sure that she will lease it to you. I have seen the map. My family’s duplex is on one of a dozen lots set aside for senior staff. That means you. Buy the lot, build a house, raid the bag line for a comely lass and get married.”

“Why?” Wenzel scrambled for a life line.

“Because you can. Because you should. Because the count has applied for a town charter. If you want on the town council, and you do, you need a prominent position, a house, and a wife.”

Wenzel, seeking to avoid a clearly forgone conclusion, asked, “Why do I want to be on the town council? It’s a lot of unpaid work.”

“Do you want a town run by a bunch of old men who will do things just like everywhere else? Or do you want a council which asks ‘why not’ instead ‘why’? We don’t need a franchise limit to guild masters and rich merchants more interested in keeping themselves fat and on top than anything else. We want universal suffrage, equal protection under the law, a town where a man has a chance of getting ahead and a council ready to help him instead of one doing everything it can to keep it from happening. We need you and me, and every other young man who can qualify, on that council to see things are done the way they should be instead of the way they are everywhere else.”

Aappo could see Wenzel coming around so he pushed on. “Do you think a bunch of old men are going to pass a law requiring new housing to have flush plumbing and running water? I can hear it now: ‘Flush plumbing? What a waste! We’ve never done it that way before. Our fathers never had flush plumbing and they did all right. It isn’t worth the expense.’ ‘A sewer system? Do you have any idea just how much that will cost? We don’t need it!’ Forget the fact that every other child dies before its fifth birthday.

“Do you want to see things change or not?”

“Well . . .” A proud German resolutely faced defeat. “When you put it that way . . .”

“Right. Get yourself up to the manor house and talk to Kristiina about buying a lot and then talk to Tuomas Manunpoika about building a house. Then go raid the bag line.”

“Why?” Having lost one battle did not mean Wenzel would roll over and play dead. “They’re working girls. I should find someone with a dowry.”

“Listen, you idiot. First, if you go looking for a dowry, it will take too long. Her family will think you are not old enough. Second, can you convince them that being a head paper-machine tender is the equivalent of being a guild master? It’s not going to happen.

“Third, you don’t need a dowry. She doesn’t have to help set up a home. You’re making enough to handle that. Someone with a dowry has expectations. Your family will have to negotiate a contract with her family. You don’t have a family. They will want to know your family background. You don’t want to talk about it. A bag girl doesn’t care. She’s going to be happy marrying well. And to a bag girl, well means you can support her children without her keeping her job to make ends meet, not are you noble or from a well-off merchant family. Her family isn’t going to make a fuss, after all th—”

Wenzel waved his hand in the air in front of Aappo’s face to stop the onslaught, “Okay, all right, enough already. Quit piling on the shit. I get your point. Besides, there are some very good-looking lasses working the bag line.”

Aappo nodded in agreement. “Outside of a few old baggers, most of them are young and many are good-looking.”

“Okay. I’ll go see Kristiina right after work tomorrow.”

****

BtBG-bgsPiitu glanced at the brown paper she was wrapping around a mold to make sure the glue was in the right place. After the first month on the bag line, a glance was all it took. The rest was by feel and almost automatic. Just as automatic was the gossiping. She’d learned that quickly. She looked back up to see what was going on and commented, “That’s the third time this week that Master Wenzel has wandered through the bag shop. What is going on?”

Riitta replied, “He’s shopping.”

“For bags?”

Riitta looked disgusted, an expression well-polished by frequent use. “No, you idiot. He’s looking for a bagger.”

“A bagger? Why? Is there a job open in the paper mill? They said they were going to open some more jobs for women soon and the mill pays better than this.”

“Piitu, you silly cow, you really are an idiot. He’s looking for a wife.”

“No way,” Piitu said.

Riitta huffed. “Yes, he is. It’s what Master Vernon did. Before he married, he was in here once a day. Master Aappo too. Master Wenzel is building a house, so he needs a wife.”

Piitu expressed her continued skepticism. “He’s too young to marry.”

Riitta huffed again. “You really are a silly lass from a big town, aren’t you? Out in the country he’s plenty old enough to marry, especially if he’s going to inherit a farm. You bet he wants to be married—just to have it all. He’s tired of sleeping alone.”

Piitu could feel her blush.

Riitta huffed yet again. But, then, Riitta huffed a lot. It was her way of expressing disdain for the world, or at least the idiots who inhabited it. She continued, “He wants a council seat when the count gets around to appointing a council.”

“Maybe, yes.” Piitu conceded one point but continued to argue another. “But why would he want a bag girl?”

Riitta sighed this time instead of huffing. A huff is disdain; a sigh expresses exasperation, “Think about it. Master Vernon married an old bag lady. Master Aappo married her daughter. Blacksmith Paavo, the mechanic who makes repairs, married a bag girl. Martin was betrothed when he got here or he’d be looking for a bag girl. It’s fashionable to marry bag girls. Why do you think Brigitta is working here when she doesn’t have too? She’s hoping to catch herself a miller.”

Piitu just didn’t see it. “He’s a head paper-miller. He’ll want someone with a dowry and connections.”

“Why?” Riitta did not wait for an answer, “They won’t need help setting up. Connections? He’s got more than enough. He’s chums with Master Aappo, who will be the chief miller when Master Vernon is gone. The lady countess knows Wenzel by name. She’s let him have a lot set aside for top managers. That’s what Master Wenzel is, a top manager. A bag girl is all he needs.

“Master McCabe will approve, so Lady von Houwaldt will approve. That means Her Grace, the countess, will also. Besides, connected people just don’t get it.”

Piitu didn’t get it either. So she asked, “Get what?”

Riitta let out an even longer sigh. “The millers run mills and mills are going to be all there is before too much longer. The paper maker’s guilds are dead; they just haven’t figured it out yet. Well, some of them haven’t, anyway. The ones who tried to burn the mills down could see it. Martin saw it. That’s why he’s here.”

“What about Martin?” Piitu asked.

“Didn’t you know? He was a journeyman set to take over an established shop when the old master died. He left it all to come here to train as a miller.”

A shocked Piitu said, “No, not possible!

“It’s true. Devil take me if it isn’t.”

Piitu shook her head in disapproval. “Better not let the pastor find out you were talking that way. He could admonish you from the pulpit.”

“Who’s going to tell him? You?”

A very serious Piitu replied, “I mean it, Riitta. You need to watch it. You know how strict he is.”

Riitta wasn’t paying the least bit of attention, “Look, he’s stopping to talk to that snooty wench Katriina.”

“I don’t think Katriina is snooty.”

“I guess you are right. It’s her mother who’s a snooty, blind, rheumatic, old witch. I really shouldn’t blame Katriina. It goes with being dirt poor and born to gentlefolk.”

Piitu shifted from halfway paying attention to mild shock. “What makes you think Katriina is gentry?”

“Her brother is an armed guard at the mill, isn’t he?”

“Who?”

“Antti Martinpoika.”

This was something new. “She’s Antti’s sister?”

“Yes, though few know it.”

Still Piitu was puzzled. “His being a guard makes them noble?”

“No, silly. Being noble makes him a guard. Guards are trained with weapons. So there are some men the count sent from Germany. The rest are locals with training. The only locals with training are noblemen. To let a daughter work here means they cannot subsist otherwise. So they’re of noble birth and they’re dirt poor. We’ve got a pile of them in this part of the country.” Jealously, Riitta said, “That’s the only reason he’s interested in Katriina. He’s getting a noble wife.”

Piitu, still skeptical said, “You sound like it’s a foregone conclusion.”

“Look at the way they look at each other.”

Piitu agreed. “Maybe you’re right.”

“Of course, I’m right. I’m always right. If she wasn’t noble, he wouldn’t be interested. The girl would blow away in a mild breeze. He ought to be looking at a girl with some meat on her bones.”

Piitu smirked. “You mean like you?”

“He could do worse,” Riitta said. “If you ask me, he is.”

****

“Äiti,” Squire Antti Martinpoika called out to his mother as he walked into the one-room apartment she shared with her daughter. Katriina qualified for a mill worker’s apartment instead of dorm space since she had a dependent mother. The old bat’s vision was severely impaired—some would say she was blind. The apartments were four to a log building, with a shared central wash/bathroom.

“I have the most wonderful news. Wenzel, one of the new head paper-millers is building a house and will be getting married as soon as it is ready. You will never guess who he is thinking of marrying. He’s got his eye on my old maid sister.”

“I absolutely forbid it!” his mother screamed at the top of her lungs.

Antti was shocked. “Äiti? Why? He is a good man. He has a good job. He would take good care of her. Besides she’s twenty-three. Anybody looking is going to ask what’s wrong with her that she’s not already married.”

“No! Never!! I will rather see her a spinster before I let her marry a miller! He is not her equal by birth. Our family is descended from the brave warrior Rålandh, who was already a dubbed knight when he came to serve the castellans of Viipuri.” The enraged mother turned the direction of her ire. “Your uncle is squatting on your father’s half of your Grandfather Husu’s manor. It is rightfully yours. May your father’s brother rot in hell, for he has usurped your birthright. In another month you will be twenty-one and you can get it back. Have you forgotten who you are and what your heritage is?”

“Äiti,” her son said in a soothing tone, hoping she would calm down, “calling that little dinky farm a manor is like calling a rowboat a ship. The whole farm is barely enough to support one family. Half of it is not a living. If we try, both families will go hungry. Our noble cousins in the village often go hungry in the winter. Half a farm isn’t worth getting back. My uncle is welcome to it.”

Shocked, angry, and hurt, she said, “Nonsense! It is your patrimony. Our family has been noble for six generations.”

“Äiti,” Antti said, much more quietly than his mother, “you and I both know Rålandh was a wastrel and a drunk. That evil-tongued old harpy, Pukkila’s aunt, tells anyone who will listen. Rålandh had a son who didn’t live long enough to amount to anything. His daughter married the village headman in Husula. She ended up with everything Rålandh had, except his title which could not pass to a woman. Everything included no land at all. She got any looted trash and trinkets left when he drank himself to death.”

“Not a word of it is true. That whore Kerttuli Jussintytär wanted to marry your grandfather. But another girl had a better dowry. Then nobody wanted to marry Kerttuli because she lost her virtue to your grandfather.”

“I am the proud descendant of the Husula, a great chieftain of the Karelians. He and his compatriots fought the Ryss, and he held his land. That is something to be proud of. Rålandh was a drunk. Kerttuli isn’t the only person who says so. You know the story was around long before she was. I know my roots. I don’t need to put on airs, claiming to be something I’m not.”

As is often the case when something is questionable, the old lady spoke even more passionately, “They’re trash. No one should listen to them. They’ve hated us for decades, ever since they usurped our assart in the forest and we reclaimed it four generations ago. They made it up!”

“They claim we stole theirs. It doesn’t matter. If Rålandh was a wastrel or a saint doesn’t matter either.”

Changing the topic, seeking to gain the high ground with kind words in a pleasant tone, she said, “My son, you resemble my side of the family. You are nothing like your father’s brother.” The old woman reverted to her haughty stand. “You are part of a proud family. Your uncle in Poland is a wealthy knight.”

“I’ve never seen this Polish uncle and, never will, unless I can get into the army—then I might see him across the battle line. Face reality, Äiti. This family is destitute and if we insist we are somehow better because of our ancestors, we will die destitute . . . and soon. The only thing keeping us alive is our own labor.”

Adamantly and with certainty, she said, “My daughter will not marry some commoner craftsman!”

“Who is she going to marry without a dowry? She is too old for men of our rank. Master Wenzel doesn’t want a child bride. He wants the life Master Vernon has. Wenzel wants a grown woman, an equal to share the responsibilities.”

“I will not approve,” the nobly-born Anna Antintytär Stöder pontificated.

“I will.”

“You have no say in the matter, you disobedient pup. He will have to ask her legal guardian and you can guess what her uncle will say.”

Antti smiled. “Shortly, I will be twenty-one. I will be her guardian before the house is finished. He will wait. Even if you complain to the priest, it will do you no good. If Wenzel asks—and he may not as it is a changing world—he might just marry her without asking. But if he does ask, I will say yes.”

“You will turn your back on all that is yours?”

“We have already. I am working for wages. Katriina is working for wages. Just how noble are we?”

“No!”

Yes! And while we are at it, I might as well tell you I’ve signed up for classes to learn to read and write and do math. Then, if I can find the money, I can purchase a commission in the army. If not, I will train to be a miller.”

His mother was shocked and devastated. Her next words were barely audible. “You can’t. We could never keep it quiet. Your current position is proper to your birth. You are in armed service of the countess of Visingsborg. It is fitting and proper to receive your upkeep from your liege lord. Soon you will be promoted to higher ranks. But you cannot ever lower yourself to be a miller.”

“I don’t care. I am tired of being poor. Master Martin will be part-owner in a mill in just a few years. I can do as well. In the Germanies it is now a law, you can work without losing your rank. I am not going to marry well. I am not going to advance in service because I can’t read. I want more out of life than freezing in the winter in some shack with a fire in the middle of the floor and going hungry if the hunting is bad.”

****

The countess sent Antti Martinpoika off to Viipuri for several days on some business. As Katriina left to work her shift, she equipped her old mother with enough money for the daily necessities. Any mill dollars she gave her mother were all one-dollar denomination. Anna could not always see the difference. The coins she could tell apart, of course.

The frail Anna stopped at the bakery counter. The smell of baking bread conjured memories of better times when she could bake her own bread, in her own oven, under her own roof. Before Anna could ask for a half a loaf of bread, the blur that was the counter assistant said, “Madam, congratulations. I hear Master Wenzel is going to ask to marry Katriina.”

“If that disgusting upstart of a bull ever lays a hand on my daughter I will cut his balls off and turn him into a steer. I am sure that my daughter has no interest or intention of marrying such a worthless piece of human waste. He has not asked and if he does, the answer will be no!” A very upset Anna Stöder left without her bread.

Shortly her scathing words—in ever-exaggerated versions—made the rounds. If the gossip failed to find its way into even a single dark corner of the mill community, someone should have informed the church, for surely a miracle happened in Kymi.

A great many people were amused with the old woman publicly referring to one of the mill managers as shit and proposing to castrate him. After all, pretty much everyone agreed that some of the mill management were stuffed shirts. But she said it where everybody could hear, and there were many who wondered why she picked on Wenzel. He was one of the managers who had not let the job go to his head.

Of all the people in town, Katriina alone did not hear of it. No friend would tell her such a thing and Katriina’s enemies were few and far between.

****

“Look!” when Piitu did not respond Riita said, “Hey! Piitu, look. Just like yesterday and the day before, Wenzel is stopping to talk to half a dozen girls like he did before he settled on Katriina. I bet you the wedding is off. What else could it be, after all? Maybe I should tell her what her mother said?” Riita smiled the smile of a jackal watching a dying antelope. “No, I think not. It’s more amusing to leave her in the dark.”

Piitu kept an eye on Wenzel. When he left without speaking to Katriina, she finally said, “Maybe you’re right. I mean, about the wedding being called off.”

“Of course, I’m right. I’m always right. See, Katriina is going to the bathroom. You watch. When she comes back her eyes will be red. It’s good to see Wenzel has come to his senses.”

“You’re wrong. Katriina is a good match for Wenzel. It is not her fault if her Äiti is an old horror.”

“You’re right. It is not her fault she is the daughter of an old whore.”

“That is not what I said, and you know it!”

****

“Katrina?” Anna asked, “You’re home early. Did the line break down like the last time?”

“No, Äiti, I came home sick.”

“Sick?” a very worried mother asked. “What is the matter? Do you have a fever? Is it cramps?”

“No, Äiti, I could not stop crying and I didn’t want the others to see me.”

“Crying? Are you injured?”

“No, Äiti.”

“Then what is the matter?” She did not stop for an answer, but was off to her next, scatter-brained thought. “Who cares what peasants think? You shouldn’t be working there any way.”

“No, Äiti, we should be living in a grand manor, wearing silk and fine linens with servants to cut up our food for us. Äiti, you know full well I have to work. We can not live here if I do not, and we cannot live on what Antii makes. We have sold everything salable, including my bride’s chest and what we could not sell of it, we’ve used because we had nothing else. What is left besides Antii’s sword and hunting weapons?

“I have no dowry, I do not even have the chest full of linens any peasant would bring to a marriage. We have nothing.”

“You still should not be working outside the home. It might be acceptable for you to work for the countess if you were part of her household. But you are doing work she has hired peasants to do. It is not right that you’re making silly paper bags.”

“We should instead beg? Or just go off in the woods and die?”

“I said you could work in the countess’ household.”

“And where would you live? In the barracks with Antii?”

Her mother looked away with tears running down her cheeks, yet she said, “You still haven’t told me why you were crying.”

“Wenzel came through the plant again and did not even so much as greet me. I thought we had an understanding. I thought he didn’t care if I brought nothing with me to the marriage. But he has stopped talking to me and I have no idea why.”

“Good,” her mother said with some pleasure. “You had no business talking to, much less wanting to marry, such an upstart. He is not suitable. If he does not ask, I do not have to tell him no.”

Katriina broke into tears. There was only the one room which she shared with her mother. She ran out the door to seek somewhere private to cry alone.

****

Having returned from Viipuri , before he was through stabling the horse. Antii heard the whole tale, including that Katriina had no idea as to the what or the why of it. He stalked out of the stables, with blood in his eye, to look for Wenzel.

Antii found him doing paper work in the absent plant manager’s office for mill number two. And, why not? It was the manager’s paperwork, after all.

Wenzel acknowledged his presence diffidently. “What can I do for you, Antii?”

Antii closed the door behind him. “Could you at least have the decency to break things off with Katriina instead of just leaving her hanging. She thought you and she had an understanding. In the old days I would have sought you out and settled this with swords if you were noble.”

“Hey, I wanted to marry her, I still do, but your mother . . .”

“My mother has nothing to say about it.”

An offended Wenzel replied, rather more sharply than he’d planned to. “Your mother had plenty to say about it!”

“My mother is a sad, tired, old lady with delusions of grandeur, who is not long for this world.”

“Antii,” Wenzel, pleading to be understood, “it’s not like I was looking for a roll in the hay. I want to marry her!”

“Our mother knows she cannot provide for her daughter. Sometimes, though, she’s living in a dream where things are what she wants them to be. If she lets Katriina marry below her station it will be one more failure.”

“If she feels your sister must marry a noble, I can’t help you,” Wenzel said dryly.

“The years since our father died have been very hard on her. I am not sure she is completely sane. If you can, you should overlook her.”

Wenzel spoke a plain and hard truth. “That will not be an easy thing to do. She has publicly refused to even consider me as a suitor for Katriina.”

Antii forged ahead. “If Katriina approves, then I will too. It will be perfectly legal when I’m twenty-one, and I will be in a matter of days. Talk to Katriina. If she hasn’t changed her mind, you can both still have what you want.”

Wenzel shook his head. “Would your mother even condescend to live under my roof? Could you imagine what kind of hell she could raise?”

“Yes, I can. And, yes, the only thing Katriina comes with is a mother who will be a burden and a trial. If that is more than you can bear, my sister will understand. There are times she is almost more than we can put up with, and she’s our mother. But at least have the decency to talk to Katriina and tell her so.”

Wenzel sighed and nodded.

“On the other hand,” Antii spoke in defense of his family, “if you really want to marry my sister, when our mother sees how well you provide for her daughter she will come around.”

Wenzel looked skeptical.

“Look,” Antii said. “I know she’s a pain in the ass. And I know she looks worthless. When she has the wherewithal to cook with, no one is better. Even half-blind I’ve seen her make a good meal out of what should have been thrown out. And she’s good with kids, especially babies.”

Wenzel’s expression did not change. Yet, somewhere in the back of his mind a memory, buried in his half-forgotten past, something started tickling his conscious thoughts.

“If you don’t want to get involved, I can’t say I blame you. But, talk to Katriina and tell her.”

The vague recollection of something Wenzel heard a few weeks earlier finished fighting its way to the surface. The countess expressed disappointment at the quality and availability of certain foods. She was particularly loquacious about the lack of local-color cuisine. “I suppose it’s my own fault really. We’ve hired several local undercooks. But every time we do, the head cook is so obnoxious to them that we can’t keep one more than a few days. I don’t know what to do. The old dear has been with my husband for just forever.” The countess chuckled. “When we married, she resented me greatly. I think if I hadn’t been his wife and noble she would have tried to run me off.”

Several gears turned, a bell rang, and an idea dropped into the “out box.” Wenzel smiled; a plan was hatched.

****

Two days later he asked Kristiina von Houwaldt, the countess’s business manager, if he could accompany her to sit with the Countess Marketta. Scant hours later he found himself enjoying tea with the countess.

After detailed reports on matters of business, Wenzel screwed up his courage and said, “My Lady Countess, with your gracious approval, I will shortly be married. Yet I am worried, though, about my future mother-in-law.”

“As you should be. Mothers-in-law can be quite troublesome. Of course, they can also be a great blessing. What seems to be your concern, my dear boy?”

“Your Grace, I am perfectly willing to provide for her. The problem is finding something to occupy her time. Her children tell me it is feeling useless which grieves her. You see, she is nearly blind and they are impoverished nobility.”

“Ah. You are the suitor in the recent drama.” She was too polite to call it what it really was: a farcical, tragic, comedy. “I overheard some gossip amongst the servants last week. How come I have not met this noblewoman with all of these ladies’ gatherings and other events I have organized during these years in exile?”

Kristiina von Houwaldt took a turn. “I heard we had a noble widow hiding in the village.”

Wenzel put in a word. “She is ashamed of her circumstances. She’s in poor health and half-blind. But it doesn’t stop her from baking. I’ve shared some truly amazing treats she’s made for Katriina. My fiancée says the small pastries are nothing compared to what she does with fish and game.”

“So . . .” the countess said aloud.

Kristiina could almost read her employer’s mind. “This is someone with an understanding of the local cuisine. And she is noble, so my old cook would have to listen. That actually has possibilities.”

“Young man, I am pleased the ugly rumors about you and your future mother-in-law are completely overblown. They must be, as nicely as you have spoken of her. I once knew a fellow who said, ‘The devil is a woman. I know, because, I married her daughter.’ ”

Kristiina laughed because it was her employer’s joke. Wenzel laughed because he actually thought it was funny and probably true.

The countess said to Lady von Houwaldt, “Kristiina, dear. I want you to remain for a private chat.”

Wenzel understood this as his cue and made his goodbyes, happily leaving a seed which might grow into the answer to his problem.

When he was gone, the countess said, “Kristiina, find out whose daughter and whose widow this woman is. She may really be of gentle birth as they reckon such things locally.”

“Of course. I’ll put someone on in the morning.”

“Good. She might be an answer to a prayer. I’ve thought I should not use your time to assist me in meeting with my less-important guests. There are some people I simply must entertain. And, actually, I do enjoy meeting most of them. Still this does not mean you should have to waste your time when you have more important things to do. But, you know how it is. I really must have a companion for such things. Certainly I do not want an impostor. If she is at all suitable, I could use her on such occasions. And it will be a bonus if she really can make the cook listen to some advice about the local cuisine.”

Kristiina replied, “It would be good if someone else occupies some of the old harridan’s time. I am sure that is why Wenzel brought it up.”

“An old harridan? Surely you are being unkind.”

“Perhaps. But I happen to know what she actually did say in the bakery about the marriage. The woman has a sharp tongue.”

****

Katriina came home from work to find her mother weeping.

When asked why she was in tears she answered, “There is an invitation to have tea with the countess. I cannot go in rags and yet I have nothing else.”

Katriina looked at the invitation. “Mother, there is time to have new clothes made.”

“We haven’t the money.”

“Your future son-in-law told me—”

“I do not have a future son-in-law!”

“Yes, you do. Get used to the idea. Apparently he heard this might be coming. He knew you would not go. It is important to you and it is important to him. He has left money with the seamstress to pay for a complete outfit, and with the cobbler also.”

“We cannot take his money.”

“We can and we will. Besides, he has told me that this invitation is about the marriage. Furthermore, he led me to understand that if you do not accept the invitation, a summons will follow.”

 

Three weeks later

 

“Kristiina, you will not believe how well it went. The woman is an absolute marvel. She has the cook eating out of her hand. The idea of a lady, even a local one—and the locals aren’t really ladies as far as the cook is concerned—but the idea that a lady would spend time in her kitchen and treat her almost like an equal . . . honestly, in all these years, I’ve never seen my husband’s old cook so happy.”

Kristiina gently steered the countess back to what she started to say. “So the meeting with the bailiff went well?”

The countess stopped to gather her thoughts. “Yes. It all went very well indeed. We received the king’s bailiff. The unpleasant man who has been harrying my peasants. I really do think being a crown employee has gone to his head.”

Kristiina prompted the countess yet again. “What happened exactly?”

The countess blinked. “Oh. Before the audience, I chatted with Anna. I told her all the complaints I have received. All the accusations of what wrongful things he has done to various people. And I told Anna that I would see nothing wrong if she happens to pose a question to the man about each of those items. Actually, we almost practiced the lines like a script.”

Kristiina von Houwaldt had a smile in her face.

The countess continued, “Oh, the poor bailiff. I actually feel sorry for him. Of course, I had ordered the doorman to instruct the guest as to what protocols politeness required of him. He was to greet both of us as ‘gracious ladies.’ Me first, of course, but then also Anna Stöder.

“It would have helped if he had paid better attention to the instructions about style of address. I introduced our Anna to him, daughter of the late nobleman Antti Stöder, lord of the manor of Pyölinmäki, widow of the late noble knight Martti of the Husu.

“Well, he was, shall we say, inattentive. I got the impression that he didn’t think the local nobility mattered.

“Anna was superb. She was cold as ice and sharper than wind-blown sleet. While sticking to my script almost word for word, and while being technically polite, she tore the poor man to pieces. I mean it. She flayed him alive. When she was done skinning the fellow, the man’s bones didn’t even smell of meat any more. He was actually squirming in the chair.

“I had to chime in from time to time with, ‘Anna, it really couldn’t have been that bad, or ‘surely the bailiff, didn’t do such a thing.’

“Do you remember the movie we saw in Grantville? The police did the ‘good cop, bad cop routine.’ I absolutely had to play the good cop. It was almost unfair of me to turn her loose on him.

“Anna made the man grasp that the locals were almost ready to take their complaints to the king’s government. Then she did break my script. She told him the locals might not wait. They had been known to take things into their own hands. If he didn’t come down off of his high horse and treat the local nobility properly, they might exercise the old right of high justice and take him off of his horse themselves one dark and stormy night. ‘Of course, if they do,’ she told him, ‘they will leave you in a gallows tree when your horse has moved on.’

“I then talked more kindly to him than Anna had. He was relieved to find me willing to defend him a bit in some issues. I am sure there will be fewer harangues in the future. Without a doubt, the man will be much more reasonable from now on. It was marvelously well-done.

“Anna is much better at displaying haughtiness than peace-loving me. She reduced the poor fellow to a stammering little boy. Trust me. I shall not let such a talent go to waste. Now and then, there are people who really should be horse-whipped. I can’t do that of course, more is the pity. So, now I can have Anna and her tongue fulfill much the same function.

“I can confidently receive the new customs officer who has repeatedly requested an audience. He has been complaining about past irregularities in paying ‘dues’ and what the crown has coming to it. I gather he has made the lives of some of our burghers quite miserable. Well, he has a thing or two coming. As soon as I know what lines to feed to Anna, I will turn her loose on the poor man and watch him squirm too. After that I don’t think we will have any unnecessary problems with the fellow. I know we won’t with the bailiff.”

Kristiina giggled at the countess’s delight and asked, “I still wonder why you invited the old horror to live in the new manor?”

“Well, really, Christian charity requires me to extend my care to widows and the sick. It’s not like she doesn’t deserve her upkeep here. My authority is increased by being accompanied by another lady. This is precisely why wives and daughters of reigning princes have a court, small or large. It is simply unthinkable to receive guests without a companion present for a lady in my position.

“Lady Stöder is going to sit somewhere almost all her days. To be seated on a sofa here is no burden to her. She is nearly blind. It is easier that she resides here, has her meals here, and is taken care of by my staff, rather than walk to and from her home.”

Kristiina smiled. “I’m sure this is much more than Wenzel was hoping for when he brought this to your attention. You have effectively taken his mother-in-law out of his house and off his hands.”

The countess smiled back. “It really is no problem. She is going to be quite useful from time to time, and, yes, Wenzel shall be eternally grateful. That too will be useful.”

****

Antti Martinpoika sat in the eatery, nursing a beer, making it last, waiting for Wenzel to make his nightly appearance. He was not disappointed.

“Wenzel,” Antii called out when his prospective brother-in-law came through the door. “Come have a seat. I’ll let you buy me a beer. And if I am really generous, I will let you buy me something to eat.”

After the two of them had their noses in the foam and the mugs were back on the table, the young armsman said jovially, “Now it’s time you tell what sort of family you come from and what can you offer to my sister.”

Wenzel moved to the latter part. “I want to make her life secure. And she does not need to have a job any longer.”

Antii said, “Here a daughter’s dowry is usually limited to movables. And we expect that the future husband promises a proper dower. You know, the morning gift. Sort of a pension, if the husband dies and the widow needs a livelihood.” Antii, more than a bit uncomfortable, looked embarrassed, but it really did have to be hashed out, and it was his job to do it. “Though, at present, there’s no liquid assets I can assign as dowry.”

Wenzel replied, “I don’t care about that. She does not need any dowry. I will provide for her needs.”

What Wenzel said was understood and expected. Yet the young armsman’s family honor was at stake. He could not let his sister go to the altar with nothing but the clothes on her back. “I have given this a great deal of thought. You see, my family has something which has some value. But it’s not actually in our possession at the moment. However, there is a very good likelihood a judge will adjudicate in our favor. I’m talking about my share of my grandfather’s land. Actually, it’s my mother’s share until she dies, or at least theoretically the use of it is as a dower right. It’s not a sufficient livelihood for a family. If it was, we would be there now instead of here. My father pretty much made his living hunting and trapping and being an occasional armsman for first one and then another, as the opportunity presented itself.”

“Wow. Land. Are you talking about making me a landowner?”

Antii was pleased that Wenzel seemed genuinely impressed. “Well, only technically. But yes, that is what I am talking about.”

The lightheartedness fled from Antii’s voice. “You see, I am entitled to half of my grandfather’s farm. The whole farm isn’t enough to support a family, so my uncle needs the use of the whole thing. And it’s a day’s ride from here. So you would never get any use out of the farm. But you would legally be a landowner, for what it’s worth. I’d be a landless knight, but so what? In reality, I am already.

“If I want to take possession of half of the farm, I will have to go to court. Our uncle really does need the whole thing to come close to feeding his family, so he will fight the case tooth and toenail. But if we were to approach him with the promise to never take possession as long as he or his heirs are living there, I think he will see his way clear to sign off on the title to my half. Especially if we explain it will be given in dower to my sister when she marries a rich German master miller.

“And if he doesn’t, then we go to court. When we win, though, I will still expect you to leave him the use of the whole farm. But, yes, you would then be a landowner. I hear that means a lot to you Germans.”

“Go to court? I don’t know, Antii I have no experience about courts in this country.”

“You don’t need it. Uncle Niiles will sign off. If he doesn’t, you have Von Houwaldt and the countess who are on friendly terms with Lawspeaker Brahe and Judge Vilken, who now and then see the countess over wine or Vernon’s cocktails.” Everything from up-time or from Grantville or even from Germany, if it was new, was being blamed on Vernon, whether he had anything to do with it or not. “And they undoubtedly know the other judges.”

“You and Katriina do not need the grain fields. But the woodlands are extensive, even if they’re not good for anything but trees and rocks and hunting. You could build a hunting lodge on your own land. There is the hunting shack we moved into when father died. I was supposed to take care of us by hunting. Uncle Niiles knew I couldn’t do it. If he had thought I could, we could have stayed on the farm. But we were no longer welcome to our place in the house because we couldn’t pay our way and the farm would not support both his family and ours. It was a hard thing sending us out into the woods to starve. But what else could he do if he didn’t want his children to starve too?

“Where the shack is would a fine place for a proper rich man’s county home and the bragging rights should be worth something.”

BtBG-grlAntii put his nose back into the mug. When he set it down he switched gears and continued. “Think of it. If there were someone you wanted to impress, you could say, ‘You really must come out to the lodge sometime and do a little shooting with me. It’s just a few hundred acres. It’s not much but it is ours. The land belonged to my wife’s father. He was a knight, you know.’ And then you can modestly downplay your connection to the grand Finnish nobility.”

“Antii, are you sure you want to give up your birthright to the land? I’ll make more than enough to keep us in style. Surely,” Wenzel continued, “you understand these mill companies will need a steadily increasing amount of wood, in years to come. Right now forestland is worthless for anything but hunting, but not for much longer.”

Antii screwed up his courage. “Let’s talk about another matter. What do you propose as properties to secure my sister for widowhood?”

Wenzel was a little shocked and a bit annoyed. He thought this was all settled. They were getting married and she would be his wife and that was all there was to it. Now it seemed there was something he overlooked. “At the moment, I do not own much. But the company has a pension system started.”

“What if this company has difficulties and the monies kept on books as pension funds, are no longer there?”

Wenzel shrugged. “Who can know the future?”

“So, how will you provide for my sister?”

This was becoming more than a bit annoying. Antii knew his situation, and Katriina was more than happy with it. “There is my salary, which will keep us nicely.”

“What if you die and the pension fund is lost? After all it is no more than ink on paper.”

“I don’t much care for all this talk of my dying.”

A solemn Finn looked across the table at an annoyed German. Antii said, “I understand. I fully expect to come hunting with you from time to time for years to come. But this must be settled, particularly if children are forthcoming. Most likely the pension fund of the company will survive until children are grown. But still, contingency plans need to be in place.” Antii looked sour. Still the lime was on the plate and the plate needed to be addressed. “So, we still need an agreement about the morning gift?”

In complete frustration at the need to state the obvious, Wenzel said, “I guess the only real thing I hold currently, is the house I am having built next door to Vernon’s.”

“Good. Any children not withstanding, my sister, if widowed, would hold a townhouse and some woodlands. If you build a lodge, she can live in one and rent out the other, and—though I don’t like to mention it—she can go back to the bag line if she must. Between the house, the lodge and the woodlands, she should be able to feed and clothe any children left to her if you give her children and then leave her widowed.”

Antii sighed with the completion of an uncomfortable job. “Then it is settled. Katriina will bring a deed to half of a farm and the actual use of our share of the woodland. You will give her the town house and the lodge in dower. All that remains is to get it properly written up, so there is no misunderstanding. If something should happen, Kateriina does not need to deal with claims by your family from Germany.

“Now there is the other point. You have said nothing about your family.”

This was something Wenzel was not at all ready to talk about. So he brought up something else. “If you give up your father’s inheritance, what will be left to you? Even if she brings no dowry, I will see to it she has clear possession of the town house for the rest of her life before it passes to our heirs.”

“No. She needs a dowry and this is all we have to give. I shall be fine. I will learn to read. I will make a life as an officer in the army. But, Wenzel, you have again skirted around telling anything about where you come from.”

“Antii, I no longer have a family. An army came through our town. It doesn’t matter which one. When they left, every roof was burned. Everything else . . . if they couldn’t take it, they broke it. The only people still alive were stolen or fled or hidden. I ended up in Grantville where I found work as a researcher, having been a printer. When Vernon wrote home with a question about bleach, I got the assignment. When I read about a papermaking machine I decided to bring him the answer in person and ask for a job.” While all of this was true it left out several important facts.

“Is that all you’re going to say?”

“Pretty much.”

“My friend, what aren’t you telling me?”

“Can you keep a secret?”

“Yes.”

Wenzel smiled. “So can I. What you need to know is that I will treat your sister well. If that is not enough, I am sorry. But it is the only answer you are going to get.”

 

Summer 1637

 

On the day of the wedding, the countess was looking over the preparations for the second feast in the new ballroom before scurrying off to the early festivities.

“Weddings always bring back memories,” lisped the noble countess to her sidekick, Kristiina, “and makes new ones. I love to arrange parties. This will be one of our best ever.”

Kristiina, her mind on business as it so often was, said, “This could certainly explode the demand for our building services. The expense of this shindig could more than be recouped if a mere handful of wealthy families order a new house from us or even just a flush plumbing upgrade. And you managed to invite hundreds of wealthy families. I’ll chalk the whole cost up to promotional and good will value.”

The countess smiled. “Katriina is a perfect pretext. She’s a distant cousin of just about everybody. Her mother was very pleased when she signed one hundred and twelve letters starting with ‘dear cousin.’ ”

Kristiina smiled because she could not have cared less. “Ours are the only men in the area who have experience making up-time buildings. After this people will be ordering renovations and new buildings. We will profit handsomely.”

The slightly tipsy countess continued as if she had not heard a word Kristiina said about business, “It’s good, Kristiina.”

Before Kristiina could respond, without so much as a pause really, the countess said, “But enough of this gossip. We need to get going. They will wait on us, of course, but still we should not keep them waiting. And Kristiina, do try to enjoy the party and think of something besides business.”

****

The soon-to-be brothers-in-law looked over the preparations for the first act of the four-act wedding. Antii grimaced. “This should have been in our home and at our expense.”

“That tiny one-room apartment wouldn’t hold it. Shoot, when you let the bed down off the wall, there is hardly room to turn around.” The groom exaggerated, but not by much. “So it only made sense to have the pre-ceremony party here in the ballroom of the old manor, and the post-wedding feast in the ballroom of the new manor since every noble in half of Finland is a relative and coming. It lets the countess show off her new home to some people who haven’t seen it yet.”

Antii, swallowed hard. “It should be our expense wherever it happens. I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.”

“No, you won’t. I’m covering this.” Wenzel waved a hand at the feast. There was plenty of everything even if none of it was fancy. The countess is covering what I should be paying for. So since I’m not paying her back, there is no need for you to pay me back. Besides, with your mother on her staff now, without a regular salary, just maintenance and found, you can figure the second feast as found and that means your mother is paying for it.” Wenzel sighed. “Even with only having to pay for the pre-ceremony party, I am glad it’s customary for this one to be dry. If I had to cover the bar tab, I’d have had to borrow money from somewhere.”

Antii smiled. “I hadn’t thought of things that way. Yes, this is part of taking care of a retainer.” The smile broadened. “It’s not exactly dry. At least half of the young bucks, and old ones too, will have a bottle in their boot. Not that plenty of ladies won’t be hiding one also.

“When we’re done here we’ll walk to the chapel and then to the new ballroom,” Wenzel said. “I wish we could have held the second feast in the new house. But I forgot I needed furniture when I built it and didn’t leave any money for it in the budget. Besides, it wouldn’t hold this party any more than your sister’s apartment would have. Thankfully the countess’s kindness is extending to nuptials under her roof.”

“She is being very kind,” Antii said.

“Yes, but remember, now we owe her big time. So I can’t move on to my own mill without feeling guilty. And she’s getting the chance to impress the hell out of a hell of a lot of the local nobility with the second feast. I never dreamed Kat had such a large family.”

****

BtBG-wddngThe feast got a bit rowdy. But when the ceremony started everybody quieted down. Antti gave the bride away, with the traditional words, “half of your bed, locks and keys of your household, lawful third of all movables you possess or come to possess,” confirmed by the bridegroom repeating those same words as an oath.

The morning gift was given by the bridegroom was enumerated and with following sort of stipulations: “If God’s will is such that Master Wenzel, the husband, deceases before his wife Domina Katriina, then the entire morning gift belongs to Katriina by full right of possession, and after her, passes to her children.”

As they walked to the chapel for the wedding mass, Vernon’s wife translated and explained the Finnish ceremony for him.

“But I did not give you a morning gift,” Vernon said.

His wife smiled. “Yes you did. You told your son he could have the house and everything in Grantville. You said, I’d be getting everything in Kymi. You told him, ‘It’s a lot more than you’re getting, but if you and your wife had your way about it I’d be dead or dying in an old folks home.’

“Besides,” she said, “you insisted on a joint title to the house and you had to tell the clerk how to draw such a thing up. And this is different.” Her voice held a hint of awe. “She’s a noble.”

“Noble?” Vernon asked loudly enough that he drew the attention of those around him. “What in the Lord’s name does that have to do with anything? Until I landed here and now, I never laid eyes on one. Since then, I ain’t hardly met any that were worth the powder it would take to blow them away. Shoot. Nobles are like lawyers. Ninety-five percent of them give the rest a bad name. Being noble’s worth about as much as a good pair of shoes. If you’ve got a lick of sense you’ll go with the shoes, you’ll get more use out of them.”

****

The use of the ballrooms and the use of the staff, not to mention the food and drink, were a gift from the countess. Her obvious approval was an even greater gift.

“Shit,” Wenzel said to his brother-in-law sitting next to him at the table, “this shindig is something else. I’m glad your mother is covering it.” A great deal of Vernon’s vocabulary was finding its way into the culture of the mill. Between Finnish, German dialects, and English, it was turning into a dialect in its own right.

“Yes,” Antii said, “you can’t say the countess doesn’t do right by her own. Besides, when this is over, no one is going to complain about Katriina marrying below her station. Not even our mother.”

When the second feast was over and the serious drinking was well underway, Vernon’s wife stood up from the table and told her husband, “Vernon, come on.”

“Where are we going?”

“We’re taking the newlyweds upstairs to bed.”

“Are we staying for the night?”

“Husband! Whatever gave you that idea? You are so strange sometimes. It’s just to tuck them in, and we are standing in for Wenzel’s family so we needs must see to them to bed.” Her English was good but it still slipped a bit now and then. “Did you watch in Grantville?”

Vernon laughed. “No, of course not. Was a time we might have had a shivaree, but we didn’t tuck them into bed.”

“A shivering?” Her English had some holes in it. “What if they got married in the summer?”

Vernon laughed, “A shivaree. You throw a party outside the house or at least outside the bedroom and you made so much noise all night long that they couldn’t possibly go to sleep even if they wanted to. It was just an excuse to party all night.”

The last to leave was the bride’s mother. She kissed her daughter on the cheek, and said to the husband, “You be good to my little girl and make her happy.”

****