The village of Lasnamae
Not far from Reval (modern Tallinn), Estonia
“What do you mean you are leaving!” Jaan screamed at the top of his lungs.
Martin did not cringe or look away. He smiled. Actually he smirked, and he chuckled just a little. Jaan’s rants and rages were no longer a significant factor in his life. His time as a journeyman was over. He lifted the bundle with his personal possessions. “Just what I said. Good-bye. I’m leaving.”
“But . . . it’s been arranged. The guild has agreed. You have agreed.”
At these words Martin’s smirk broadened.
“We have it all worked out,” Jaan said. “You will stay on and run the shop. We will take on a batch of new apprentices. I will leave the shop to you and when I die they will make you a master.”
“No thanks,” Martin said. “I don’t want to go broke and starve.”
“What are you talking about? This shop has made a good living for decades.”
“Yes, it has. But it’s over. Open your eyes, you foolish old man! In this modern day and age a papermaker’s shop is obsolete. Can’t you see that the guilds are finished! Finished! It is nothing but a good way to go broke. You can’t compete with the Kymi mills and there are going to be more and more of them every year. My family has arranged a bride for me and her family has arranged a job at the Kymi mill. I will learn to be a miller instead of a papermaker.”
“You can’t do this!” Jaan yelled turning red. “It has been arranged!”
“You can’t stop me. I’m a journeyman and I am free to leave.”
Martin smiled and listened as Jaan Rummu cursed and ranted with more volume than a windstorm and more color than a rainbow. Then the man picked up part of a broken frame from a paper screen and Martin quit smiling. “Yell and scream all you want, old man. But if you try to strike me I will hit you back. I am not your wife or an apprentice. Before I left I just wanted to say thanks for all the miserable years. Living here has been hell, especially since your wife died. She was the only redeeming thing about you. But I am through and I am out of here.”
“You won’t work in paper making ever again. The guild will stop you.”
“Just like they’ve stopped the Kymi mills?”
“They won’t be selling that paper in Reval.”
“Do you really think the papermaker guild is going to tell the printer’s guild that they are going to have to go out of business because they have to charge twice as much for a book since they can’t use the cheaper paper? Or are you expecting both guilds to tell people they can’t buy books from outside of town? If that was all there was to it, they might manage, at least for awhile. But do you really think the guild is going to tell Count Niels Brahe, the governor-general of Mainz, where his wife can and can’t sell her paper? I told you! The guilds are finished. Holding out town citizenship like a carrot to a donkey is just as finished, if only people would look!
“When I am ready to make paper, I will go wherever I need to go, someplace with a good water flow for the wheel, and deep water for the dock, and a plentiful supply of trees for the pulp. My new father-in-law is putting together a prospectus group. When I am trained as a miller they will be ready to build a mill and a village if they have to. What do I care about the guild? Its day is over. It is as close to being dead as you are, you nasty old goat. The mills are the future. Anyone but a blind, foolish idiot can see that. Your way of paper making, one sheet at a time, in a paper shop, is in the past. It’s dead or it will be when you are. I am moving forward into the future.”
“You ungrateful pup! If you had been my apprentice I would have kicked the crap out of you and taught you some respect.”
Martin laughed. “I saw you try that with your apprentices after your wife died. That is why you don’t have them anymore. Try it. Go ahead. If trying doesn’t kill you, I’ll leave you on the floor crying like a baby. I’m bigger and stronger than you are. I’m not your wife or some helpless child. I won’t put up with it.”
Jaan turned red. “I should . . . “
“You should what? Old man?”
“I should get my gun and put an end to your insolence once and for all.”
“You don’t have a gun. You borrow one for the militia musters.”
“I can buy another.”
“Yes, you can. But I won’t be here so you will have to find me.” Martin picked up his bundle.
“But . . . what am I going to do?”
“Frankly, I don’t know and I don’t care. You will probably keep making paper until you can’t sell it and then you will probably start drinking heavily again. I suspect that this time you will drink yourself to death. If it’s convenient I will come to the funeral and help carry you to your grave. But most likely I will still be in Kymi learning to be a miller. So, good-bye. I will look you up in hell, if I don’t manage to avoid it.”
The last words Martin heard as he walked out were, “I’m going to get a gun, I’m going to follow you to Kymi or wherever you go. When I get to Kymi I’m going to kill that damned foreigner who built the mills and then I’m going to kill you.”
Martin did not take it seriously. It was just another rant by a man much given to ranting. He was confident he had heard the last of Master Jaan Rummu’s voice.
A few months later
“What in hell do you mean you can’t buy my paper?” Jaan screamed at the top of his lungs.
“I can’t buy it because I can’t use it!” The printer yelled right back.
Jaan’s first blast of rage thinned out just a bit. Now he was only yelling at about half throttle, “Your grandfather bought paper from my master when I was a new apprentice. Your father bought my paper and complained for years that I wasn’t producing enough. I always told him I could make more, faster, if he wasn’t so picky about the quality.”
Jaan’s volume eased up a bit more. “What are you using? Is it that new paper from Kymi? Kymi paper is made out of wood pulp. The papermaker’s guild voted. They will not allow wood pulp paper to be sold in Reval. This is linen rag. It’s better. You can see that for yourself.”
The printer sighed. At least the old man wasn’t screaming any more. “Yes, Jaan, you are quite right. The papermakers’ guild voted to ban it. But, the printers’ guild voted to ignore the ban and Countess Anna Marketta Bielke’s salesman didn’t even bother to vote. He just stopped in and asked how much paper I wanted. The papermakers took the printers before the town council asking the council to enforce the ban on imported paper. The town council voted in favor of the printer’s guild after we pointed out that you couldn’t keep us fully supplied anyway, so we would have to import some paper or print fewer copies.
“Your paper is better quality paper. So what? Kymi paper is cheaper and it’s good enough. Look, if you’ll sell this lot to me at the Kymi price I’ll take it . . . ”
The printer watched the papermaker start to blow up and held up his hand to forestall Jaan’s explosive expression of outrage. ” . . . this time, because we had a long standing implied contract. I’ll set it aside, maybe some day I’ll do a print run of bibles or something special.
“But right now, I’ve got an open order that will keep me busy for the rest of the year and there will be more orders after that as long as I keep the price down and make my deliveries on time. The customer is perfectly happy with Kymi paper and won’t pay more for better. Kymi stock cost me half as much as I was paying you. The price I quoted the buyer reflects that. I’m not going to cut into my profit margin to buy better paper. I don’t need to. And, besides, I don’t have enough of a margin to do it.
“That’s my best and final offer. Take it or take your paper and get out. Either way, there is no point in you bringing me any more. I don’t want it, I can’t use it, and I won’t buy it.”
“I can get a better price than that across the street,” Jaan objected.
“No, you cannot. But if you want to try go ahead. He prints broad-sheets. He’s using something the countess’ salesman calls newsprint. I know for a fact that this is the best price you’re going to get anywhere in Reval. If you don’t believe me, go check. If you can find a better market, I’ll be happy to sell it back to you at cost.”
“But the guild has set the price for first quality linen rag paper at over twice what you want to pay me for it!”
The printer shrugged. “Take it or leave it. I really don’t care.”
“But at that price I can’t make a living. That isn’t enough to pay my rent and put food on the table. What am I supposed to do?”
“Not my problem,” the printer said. “I’ve got work to do. That’s the price. Take it and get out or get out and take your paper with you. Either way, I don’t care.”
“So, I’ve got to find a printer that wants to print Bibles.”
The young printer snorted. “Good luck. My new supplier told me it won’t be long before they would be coming out with a product line just for Bibles and such. He said it would be acid free, whatever that means, and he said it would be better than anything I’ve ever seen. Of course he’s exaggerating, but I’m sure it will be good enough and it’s sure to be cheaper than handmade paper.”
“I’m dead! I’m going to starve. I might as well buy a pistol and blow my brains out in style,” Jaan complained.
“You can do that or you can find some other way to make a living. I don’t care. You’re leaving now. Are you leaving with my coins or your paper? “
Just down the street Jaan approached the sign hanging over a door reading, “Grantville-Style Barbequed Ribs.” He’d been looking forward to a celebratory meal of “falling off the bone tender” ribs in a sweet and spicy tomato sauce with potatoes cut in strips and fried in hot grease. The little hole-in-the-wall shop had opened last year. Then it expanded to the left for a dining area and later to the right for more dining area. It was lunch time and the place was packed with a line waiting.
Jaan walked past. He did not want to wait. He had nothing to celebrate. What he really wanted was to get drunk. Farther down the street was the tavern where he had stopped for years to get a beer and a meal before heading home after having sold his paper. It was still there. Only two things had changed since he had last been there. One was the size of the crowd. The place was fuller than he had ever seen it. The other change was the menu.
“Jaan!” The jovial publican’s cheery greeting filled the air when the papermaker walked through the door. “I thought you’d died.” This might well be true and not just a social amenity, considering the papermaker’s age. “I haven’t seen you in ages. Where have you been?”
Jaan didn’t answer. His attention was caught by a sign hanging on the back wall. Grantville Barbequed Ribs sold here. “You’re cooking ribs now?”
“No. I send the boy down the alley for takeout,” the last word phrase was odd sounding being a translation of an Amideutsch word set. “We get priority service.” He did not mention the running tab and the volume discount. “And you get a better choice of side dishes, wines and beers and a quieter place to eat. You should try them. They really are as good as they’re touted as being.”
“I came here to get drunk.”
“Are you celebrating? The ribs are good for celebrating.”
“No. I have nothing to celebrate.”
“Oh, well if you’re looking to forget, one taste of these ribs and your troubles will flee from the pleasure.”
Jaan confided, “I’m thinking about buying a pistol and blowing my brains out.”
The publican didn’t even blink. “Well, that calls for a special last meal. You really do deserve to experience these barbequed ribs before you die. Have a seat, I’ll get you a draft of that dark beer you like and some fresh-from-the-oven bread while the boy fetches your meal.”
The publican set the beer and the bread on the table and then sat himself down also. “Now, what’s the problem? You look to be in good health. You are old but far from worn out. You’ve got your teeth, your eyes are clear, all four limbs are sound. You’re hale and you look hardy enough. What is this talk of blowing your brains out? Is your life really that bad?”
“I’m a papermaker. After a lifetime of buying everything I made, the printer down the street just told me he wouldn’t be buying any more of my paper. That damned mill in Kymi has put me out of business! The damned guild isn’t going to do anything about it. I’m too old to start over.”
“So you’re just going to give up and blow your brains out without even trying? What about the people who are depending on you? Are you just going to leave them to fend for themselves?”
Jaan snorted. “My wife died. The kids are dead or married and gone. Shoot, even the dog died. My last journeyman just walked out on me. Nobody is going to give an apprentice into my keeping at my age. I won’t live long enough to finish training them. I’m out of business. I might as well end it quick instead of starving to death.”
The publican nodded in understanding and agreement. He’d run the same equation recently and came up with very similar results. “Sometimes, life isn’t worth it anymore. That ribs place had me all but out of business. Even my old regular customers were going there instead.”
Jaan squirmed a bit in guilt.
“I don’t blame them. The food is damned good. Then one day, when I was standing in line . . . Yes, even I was eating there occasionally . . . I was thinking about burning the place down. I think I would have one moonless night if I had thought we could get the fire put out before my place burned too. I had pretty much decided that it didn’t matter if I burned out because I was out of business anyway. Then I heard someone complaining about not having anywhere to sit down. And someone else complained back to him about them having only small beer when he wanted wine and about the lack of bread. So I told them to get their ribs to go. The rib place, for a price, will wrap the ribs in paper so you can take them home. So I told these two fellows to get their ribs to go and come buy my wine and bread and sit down in peace and quiet.
“The next day I went down the alley and talked to the owner. Now I send the boy down the alley with the covered plates and he carries them back filled with hot ribs and French potatoes. They fill my orders first. Sometimes, when they are busy, you can actually get your ribs faster here than there. The owner’s happy because he’s got more seating and doesn’t have to pay for it. The customers are happy because they can sit down in peace and we’ve got a selection of beers and wines and side dishes the ribs place does not have. Why the owner even gave me the recipe for a cabbage salad called coleslaw that he said is supposed to go with the ribs and potatoes but he’s never had time to do anything with it. It’s one of my best selling items and some of the customers come here rather than there because I’ve got it and he doesn’t. I’m happy because business is good again. In truth, it has never been better. The only person who is unhappy is the boy who has to go out in the cold and the rain, but he should be happy about having a job at all.”
“I never thought that,” Jaan said, thoughtfully. “I could burn the print shop down. Better still, I could go to Kymi and burn the mill down. That would work. They’d rebuild but I’d be back in business for a year or two.”
“Haven’t you heard?” the publican asked. “Someone already tried to burn the Kymi mill.”
“No, I didn’t hear about it. If I can’t burn it down, I can still kill the foreigner who runs the mill and the worthless, lying, cheating, journeyman who walked out on me when I was going to give him the shop. It would only be justice. He’s stolen my livelihood after all.”
“Jaan, quit talking foolishness. Here’s your meal. See, I told you it was quicker here.”
“I wish to buy a pistol.”
The proprietor looked the customer over. The man was clearly not walking a straight line. The gunsmith shrugged. So the man was drunk. So what? He made and sold guns. There was no law against selling one to a drunk and drunks often forgot to bargain. “Certainly sir, do you want an old-fashioned wheel-lock? We have a nice selection of used ones, and I’ve got two new ones left. Or, would you prefer a new Grantville-style flintlock? Or better still, I can sell you a French-style cap-lock.”
“I don’t care about the lock. I just want to buy a pistol.”
“Sir, a gun consists of the lock, the stock, and the barrel. When you buy a gun you buy all three, already put together. Now here is a wheel-lock. These are the cheapest guns I’ve got in stock.” This was true. He could get a good bit more money for the others. “First you load a powder charge . . . ” He began his demonstration.
The old man started to say something, but the gunsmith didn’t want to listen to a drunk. “This is a Grantville-style flintlock. You charge the powder and the ball, prime the pan, cover it, cock the hammer and point the pistol, then you pull the trigger. If you kept the powder dry it goes off. This is most of what I am making these days.”
“I . . . ” the old drunk started.
The salesman kept talking. “I’ve got a few of the French percussion cap pistols. But the caps are expensive. I have to import them and they are hard to get. Still, of the three it’s the easiest to use and it’s also the most dependable. That is to say, it is the least likely to misfire and not go off. You don’t have to worry about your priming powder getting damp. It’s the simplest of the three to use. It is also the most expensive to buy and to use, but if you aren’t going to use the gun more than once or twice it’s the best . . . “
Jaan finally got his thick tongue around the words he was trying to get out and he interrupted the sales pitch. “I know which end of pistol goes clack snap and which end goes boom. Just sell me a damned pistol!”
The gunsmith handed Jaan the most expensive pistol in the shop and named a price.
As Jaan left, the proprietor smiled. He loved selling guns to drunks. You could sell them anything and at twice what they’d pay sober.
“This is it sir, Myllyla. If you need a drink there are several taverns in the village.” The sea captain addressed his passenger in German since that was the language the man used when he boarded. He took the elbow of the boat’s last passenger in his hand and headed the man toward the gang plank. The fellow was slow about getting off the boat. The captain wondered if the old man was addled, reluctant, just in the throes of being hung-over or, perhaps, all of the above. He had certainly been drunk enough when he booked passage and boarded. Then, too, wine was the only luggage he brought on board. It had been a storm-tossed journey. Being seasick is bad enough. Being seasick and hung-over is unspeakable.
“If you want to go back, we leave in the morning. But you will need to pay for another passage. You can get a room for tonight. I suggest the Lomailla Majatalo. Odd name that. The foreign millwright owns it; so I guess that explains the odd name.
“Although, why a ‘holiday’ suggests a place to sleep makes no sense to me. But he’s a foreigner and foreigners are strange, aren’t they? Anyway, they have a fine bath house, and flush plumbing. Do you know what that is? I didn’t the first time I stayed there. It’s a chamber pot that empties itself. The beds are clean and the food is good if you want something strange and new. I eat there when we are here. They’ve got French potatoes and Grantville ribs like that place in Reval. I like the ones in Reval better, but these are good. They’ve got a beef sandwich named after Hamburg which is not bad. There is an open-faced cheese sandwich named after that town in Italy with the leaning tower. My favorite is the dish of round noodles in a red sauce with balls of meat that isn’t named for anywhere at all. The beer is not bad either.”
The captain turned loose of the man’s elbow at the head of the off ramp. “That’s the Lomailla Majatalo there.” He pointed.
A still hung-over Jaan Rummu disembarked in the bustling riverside town whose dock thrust out into the waters of the Kymi River within sight of the mill complex. The mills had their own docks which were visible from the new town’s crowded and busy quay.
For want of a better idea, Jaan headed where he had been pointed. He could use a beer or three. Besides, now that he was on land and his head wasn’t spinning, Grantville ribs and French potatoes sounded better with each step.
Martin did a double take and turned pale.
Petteri asked, “What’s wrong?”
“That man!” Martin pointed at the disheveled graybeard ambling past on the other side of the street. “That is Jaan Rummu. He is the master I was a journeyman under.”
“What’s he doing in Myllyla?” Peter asked.
“You can be sure it’s nothing good.”
“Look at the way he’s walking. Sober, master Rummu only knows one speed and I had to half run to keep up with him. Sober he’s an asinine idiot . . . mostly, anyway. He has a wild temper. He will fly off the handle and yell and scream and throw things at you over anything, everything and nothing. You’d think the very sound of his voice would flay you alive. But two minutes later he would be over it, normally. But when he’d been drinking, look out. It doesn’t stop with yelling and screaming. After his wife died he lost his apprentices when their parents complained to the guild.”
Petteri looked at the back of the passing man. “Did you notice the bulge in his belt? He’s carrying a pistol. Maybe we should tell the town watch.”
“Shit!” Martin said. “He’s got a pistol? He’s here to kill me.“
“What makes you think that?”
“Because he said he was going to.”
“Why?” Petteri asked.
“He wanted me to stay on and take over the business. I told him I would, but then I changed my mind when I found out I could get a job here. I told him there was no future in a paper shop. I said I was coming here to learn the new way to make paper. He called me every name you could think of, and made all kinds of threats. The last one was that he was going to buy a pistol, then he was going to come to Kymi and he was going to kill me and Master McCabe. I laughed it off because I knew he was all bark. But now he’s here, with a pistol, and he’s been drinking. If he’s not drunk now, he will be shortly.”
“Did he really threaten to kill Master McCabe?”
“Look,” Petteri said. “He’s going into the Holiday. Let’s get back to the mill. We need to stop Master McCabe before he goes to lunch.”
Back at the mill they found Aappo, one of the first three millers Vernon had trained. He was also Vernon’s son-in-law since he married the daughter of Vernon’s new wife.
“Where is Master McCabe?” Martin asked.
“Gone to lunch.”
“We’ve got to stop him.”
“Why?” Aappo asked.
“My last master has a pistol and he’s waiting at the Holiday to kill him.”
“What?” Aappo asked. “Why?”
“Because he’s an angry old man with a violent temper. He’s lost everything. He’s blaming Master McCabe for stealing his livelihood. So he wants revenge.”
“You never mentioned it before!”
“I never thought he was serious before. But he’s here and he’s armed, just like he said. He’s capable of doing it, especially if he’s drunk.”
“Damn,” Aappo said. “Let’s go tell Jussi.”
Jussi Kallenpoika was part of Anna Marketta Bielke’s staff. After the first attempt to burn the mill down by disgruntled papermakers, the countess insisted on having part of her guard detachment headquartered in the mill complex. She wanted a regular presence in the mills.
Aappo pushed the door open and rushed into the middle of whatever was going on. Jussi was talking to a stranger who was sitting next to a travel bag.
“Aappo,” Jussi said, “this is Carl. The field marshal sent him to help out. He just got in.”
A normally polite Aappo ignored the introduction. “Jussi, Martin says there is an assassin waiting with a pistol at the Holiday Inn to kill Master Vernon. He knows the man. I think you should check it out.”
“After we hung the men who tried to burn down the mills and the one who attacked Hans, you would think the word would get around that it isn’t worth trying.”
“Hey, there are a lot of angry desperate men out there who don’t want the world to change,” Aappo said.
Oddly, Carl opened his bag and started digging to the bottom. He handed a box to Jussi who thought it was a strange time for Carl to give him a present. “The field marshal sent you this. I was going to present it formally at dinner with the men but you might want it now.” In the box was a double-barreled, break-action pistol and a box full of.410 brass and paper shotgun shells.
Jussi looked it over. “Let me get you a pistol out of the arms locker and we’ll go check out Martin’s assassin suspect.”
“No need. I’ve got one, too. Let’s go.”
The inn looked new, as a new inn should. But there was something odd about it. Jaan felt it but couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. The place was mostly empty. Jaan sat down. From a counter that separated the kitchen from the dining room a man called out in Finnish, “Can I help you?”
“What?” A startled Jaan replied while he was figuring out that the man had asked ‘Can I help you?’
“What do you want?” the Finn asked again.
Jaan understood him, mostly. “Olu,” he called out.
“Olut? Oh.” The publican switched to German. “You’re Estonian. Do you have the German?”
“Yes,” Jaan replied in the same tongue.
“One beer coming up.” He set a beer mug on the counter. “Here you are. Do you want to order food?”
“Where’s your bar maid?” Jaan asked.
“This is an American lunch counter. We don’t have bar maids. You place your order here. You pick your food up here, and you pay here. You’re encouraged to put your dirty dishes over there . . . ” He nodded toward a second window to the kitchen area. ” . . . when you’re done. If you leave them on the table, you are expected to leave some small change to pay for having the table cleared.”
“That’s American. Same thing, I guess. But, then, what’s crazier than making plywood, or paper bags, or paper by the ton?” The publican shrugged. “Hey, it’s a living isn’t it?”
“For you maybe,” Jaan said aloud. As he went to fetch his beer, he muttered, “Not for me, though.”
Then he asked, “Do you get a lot of Englishmen here, then?” while trying to decipher the menu.
“None I’ve ever noticed.”
“Then why in English?”
“That’s what they speak in Grantville so the American insisted. It’s his inn and his eatery, so we do things his way.
“He’s an old man, your age or older. Married himself a handsome widow and then built her a fine house up on the hill. But he didn’t want to walk home for lunch in the cold. And he didn’t want to teach his wife how to cook American dishes. He told me once that a man should never compare his second wife’s cooking to his first wife’s cooking. Nor should he ever tell his wife that her cooking was not what he was used to or what he wanted, or that it was not like his mother’s. So he decided to build an eatery, what he calls a lunch counter.
“But he wanted it with flush plumbing. Once he had that he figured shower baths were easy enough to put in. Then there was the unused second story, so he figured he might as well add sleeping rooms. At which point he had himself an inn. So he named it after his favorite inn from his home country, and here we are.
“The ribs will be a while yet, when your beer glass is empty bring it up for a free refill.”
The publican charged him for a third beer when he collected for the meal, before it left the counter. Jaan looked at the publican and asked, “What if I want something else? Why not wait until I’m finished?”
The man shrugged. “That’s the way the foreigner wants things done. Ask him about it when he comes in for lunch.”
The ship’s captain showed up and joined Jaan at his table. Jaan was licking the sauce off of his fingers before using his napkin. “You know, you’re wrong about the ones in Reval being better. I like them, but, these ribs are just as tender and the sauce here is just as sweet and not as spicy.”
“Well, it’s a matter of taste. I like spicy foods,” the boatman said.
A nondescript old man dressed like a prosperous craftsman walked in.
“Vernon,” the publican called out in a friendly way that is the stock and trade of a good barkeeper, “what will it be?”
“A cold one, Niiles. Ribs if they’re up, and spaghetti if they’re not. I can’t linger. I’ve got to get back. I need to be there while they’re laying out the third papermaking machine this afternoon.”
Vernon had answered the barkeep in Finnish so that was the language the captain used, “Is this the one that’s going to make the parchment paper for Bibles?”
“When it gets going.” Vernon said.
“I hear congratulations are in order,” the captain went on. “This third mill belongs to you.”
Vernon smiled. “Yes, it is. When the countess heard I wanted to get my own land and wanted start my own mill, she got busy and wrote some letters. I now own a thousand acres of prime forest upstream of here. But the countess insisted that I build the mill here in town. She made me a very good offer on the building that was already being built. She said she wanted to keep her expert close by.”
Then the old man switched to German and addressed the boatman as he sat down without an invitation like he owned the place or something, “Captain Frei, what news from Hamburg?”
“The new ship yard is coming along nicely. But then they have all of that stone that got blasted out of the old wall to work with. They have finished clearing the ruins on the wall. Just like when I talked to you last time, they are still debating whether or not to rebuild it. One side says they have to if they want to be safe and the other side is pointing out it didn’t help in the least and the ships and planes are only going to get bigger. It looks like the latter won because they’ve started to clear that section of the wall down to ground level. There is talk of clearing the whole thing and leaving the foundation as a road.”
Vernon nodded. “They are absolutely right. I saw it as I came past Hamburg. As a military defense that wall is next to useless. It’s more of a target than anything else.”
Niiles the publican called out, “It’s up, Vernon.”
When the old man came back he asked the captain, “Who is your friend?”
“This is Herr Rummu. He was a passenger from Reval.”
Vernon stuck out his hand. “Vernon McCabe. What brings you to Paperimyllynkyla?”
Jaan started working on twisting his ear around the half familiar sound.
Captain Frei spoke up, “Paperimyllynkylain Finnish, Paberiabrikkula in Estonian. He’s talking about Myllyla, the village. Myllylais short for Paperimyllynkyla. I guess Myllyla means something like mill-ville.”
“Oh,” Jaan said to the captain and then he answered Vernon, “I used to be a papermaker. I’ve come looking for the man who put me out business.”
“Oh, that’s me, and you’re late. Your letter said you’d be here last week.”
“Letter? I sent no letter. What I have to say cannot be said in a letter.”
“Then it was some other papermaker. It doesn’t matter. Can you match this?” Vernon handed him a paper napkin. Captain Frei and Jaan had cloth ones that could be washed and reused. The inn had an imported supply of paper napkins to put on Vernon’s trays because he owned the place, and he like it that way.
“What is this?” Jaan asked fingering the napkin.
“It’s tissue paper and not very good tissue paper at that. I’m importing it from Thuringia and it’s costing me a fortune. I’m trying to find someone who can make it for me here.”
“But you have a paper mill.”
“Two, three shortly, and both of them are busy twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, turning out printing paper. We’ve got a third one coming on line later this year and it’s for parchment after it’s run a stock of wrapping paper for the bag line.
“I don’t know a thing about running tissue paper. Besides, the market isn’t there for it. All I know is that it’s supposed to be tricky. I’ll leave that to the younger guys to figure out. Even if we knew how to make it, we would have to build another mill and it would be another year and a half before we could start running it. Besides, if we did build another mill, which we will, the orders for printing paper are probably going to be so much bigger it isn’t likely that mill could run paper towels, anyway. So it’s not going to happen even then.
“If you can make this, and it would be nice if you could make it softer and stronger. I can buy all you produce, as long as you don’t get greedy or carried away. Can you do it?”
“Yes, I can do it. It will take some time to get it right but I can do it.”
“Oh?” Vernon said, disappointed. “The fellow I was corresponding with claimed he was ready to run it. But he’s a week late and you’re here so let’s give it a shot. We can set you up in a research lab with an assistant or two and cover your time out of the product development budget. But if you aren’t here because of the letters, what did you want to see me about?”
“You said you had something to tell me that couldn’t be put in a letter?” Vernon prompted.
“Well, you put me out of business.”
“You came all this way to tell me that?”
“No. I figured I was going to starve to death this winter.” Jaan was pretty well through his third beer. It was a dark beer with a solid kick to it, not at all like the small beer Jaan had been, mostly, limiting himself to for the last few years. Small beer could be made from a second round of brewing, rather like reusing a tea bag. It was safe to drink when water wasn’t and it was pretty much impossible to get drunk on it. “In wine is truth,” the Romans said. The Dutch issued a ration of brandy before battle so the English called it “Dutch courage.” The beers had Jaan buzzed and feeling good. His next words were the reckless bald truth which, in a more sober, wiser, moment, would have never been spoken. But strong beer and sound reason do not long abide in the same mouth. “So I decided to burn your mills down.”
Captain Frei pushed himself back from the table so hard all three glasses spilled. The captain’s chair likewise toppled and the man fell over it trying to back up even farther. Vernon jumped to his feet when the cold beer landed in his lap. Jaan calmly finished his sentence. ” . . . and if I couldn’t manage that, I was going to shoot you for stealing my livelihood.
“But,” Jaan said, ” . . . you are going to hire me to make this—” He rubbed the napkin between his fingers. “—tissue paper. So I will not starve.” Jaan wondered why Vernon’s right arm was now tucked under his jacket, with his hand up under his left arm. The American looked rather uncomfortable, as if he was getting ready to run or fight. Jaan realized he needed to do something to defuse the tension. “If I’m not going to starve, I have no reason to shoot you. So I won’t need this.” Jaan handed his pistol to Vernon butt first. Vernon looked relieved when the pistol was in his hands.
“A cap-lock? From France?” Vernon asked, looking the pistol over.
“The silly little shiny hat-shaped things are from France. The pistol, though, was made by a gun maker in Reval. You wouldn’t believe what he charged me for a half handful of those French primers. The man truly has a silver tongue and a larcenous heart. He convinced me they were worth it.”
Vernon looked it over and started to hand it back and then thought better of it. He stood there looking at the mess and watched the captain gather himself and rise to his feet. The ship’s master was clearly unhurt, but his eyes were glued to the gun in the American’s hands as if it were a poisonous viper that would strike at him any second now.
“Relax, Captain,” Vernon said. “No one is going to shoot anybody.”
“You’re not going shoot anyone are you, Herr Rummu?” Vernon asked the Estonian papermaker.
Jaan shook his head. “With what?” he asked, and set his toppled glass upright. Fortunately it had been mostly empty anyway.
Vernon wiped halfheartedly and quite pointlessly at the soaked spot that was his entire belly and down to his knees. After a bit he called out, “Niiles? Pour me another cold one, please, and whatever these fellows are drinking. And dish up another plate of spaghetti for the captain while you’re at it. His is covered in beer. Then have someone grab a mop and clean up this mess.”
Gathering his plate in his off hand, Vernon said, “Fellows, why don’t we move to a clean table?”
Jaan called out, “Niiles, could you make mine a small beer please? That dark beer is damned fine, but it’s going to my head and that is not a good thing.”
Jussi and Carl walked in as a rather nervous Niiles was stepping back from putting the beers down at the new table. Yes, being a barmaid was not his job. But when the owner asks for a beer and his guest is talking about burning the mills down and shooting people, and he had the pistol to do so, it was not the time to stand on principle and tell his boss to come and get it, which he normally would have; since that was what he had been told to do. Niiles nodded to the guard.
Carl subconsciously equated foreigner with stranger. He recognized Captain Frei and Jaan Rummu from his boat ride to Finland, even though he couldn’t put a name to either of them. So that left the third man, the one with the pistol, as the obvious target. And, yes, there was something strange about him. He wasn’t dressed fancy, but he had that hard-to-describe but very real air of self-possession, an absolute assurance of worth, a cockiness, about him that some sorts have. Carl stepped to the side so he could shoot the armed man if it proved necessary, without putting anyone else at risk.
Looking at Vernon, Carl spoke in the trained-co-carry voice he used for official business. “Jaan Rummu, we have a complaint lodged against you of . . . “
Upon hearing his name at the top of Swedish sentence, Jaan said, “What?” He spoke Estonian and German. He could understand Finnish, sort of, but Swedish was even stranger to his ear than Finnish was.
Upon glimpsing the guards’ pistols, the German ship captain pushed back from the table and ducked to the floor, sending his chair flying and knocking the three beers over again. Vernon’s landed in his lap, again.
With a second lap full of cold beer, Vernon yelled, “Shit! What the . . . ” and stood up with the French pistol in his hand. He looked first at the German captain on the floor.
Jussi yelled at Carl, “No, you fool. That’s the chief miller.”
Vernon looked at the yelling guard, realized the French pistol was pointed at the guard who he recognized and then at Carl, who he didn’t. Furthermore, it was clear to Vernon that the man perceived it and him as an imminent threat. Vernon let go of the cap-lock and started ducking. The dropped cap-lock, half cocked, hit the table and discharged. A ball was later found high on the wall, almost to the ceiling.
Turning to his old friend, Carl asked, “What?” in the Swedish that was their first language, just as the dropped pistol went off.
His white-as-a-sheet friend answered in the same tongue. “That is the chief miller. It’s worth your life to hurt him!”
At these words, Carl’s face mirrored his old friend’s color.
“Holy shit!” Jaan yelled at the top of his lungs before the ringing in his ears cleared, realizing it was his pistol which almost made Vernon a target. Jaan turned a deep red that would have made a radish jealous and a pickled beet proud. A second later he stood up, grabbed at his chest, closed his eyes, gritted his teeth and crumpled back into the chair.
Looking at the man on the floor and more spilled beer to be cleaned up, Niiles said, “Good Lord, what a mess.”
Vernon went to the papermaker and tilted the man’s head back to make sure he was breathing. Then he fished an ancient square aspirin tin out of his pocket and pushed two of the white pills into the man’s mouth.
Jaan started to spit the bitter things out.
Vernon said, “Chew them!” in a command voice. Then he explained, “If you want to live, chew them. You are having a heart attack.” When Jaan was through chewing, Vernon put a much smaller white pill under his mouth and said, “Put that under your tongue and let it dissolve.
“Niiles, have someone fetch a stretcher. Do we have an empty room?”
“Three,” Niiles said.
“Put him in one. I’ll get a nurse in here to look after him.”
Vernon looked at the Guards. “What in hell, is going on? You could have killed me.” Looking at the man just off the boat, Vernon said, “I swear to heaven, he was trying to do just that. And you scared Jaan into a heart attack. He could die from it at his age. What am I talking about? For all I know I’ll have one any minute now. I really would like to live long enough to see my kid get christened.”
A mob was trying to push through the door to see what was going on. A member of the town watch was amongst them. Vernon looked at the watchman. He knew his face if not his name. “Keep those people out of here and have someone get a stretcher,” Vernon ordered.
“What are you doing here?” Vernon demanded of the guards.
“We had a report of another possible assassination attempt,” Carl answered.
“Oh, so you can speak German? Why weren’t you using it before?”
“But, sir, this is not Germany. It is part of Sweden. I don’t know Finnish yet.”
“So you almost shot me because I didn’t know Swedish!”
“No. I almost shot you because you were pointing a gun at me.”
“I wasn’t pointing a gun at you. You just happened to be standing were the gun was pointing!”
“Master Miller, please,” Jussi said. “You are not hurt. It was just a misunderstanding.”
“A misunderstanding? What did you think was going on?” Vernon asked.
Three days later
“If you are trying to be funny, I assure you that you are failing completely,” Martin told his boss.
Aappo, solemnly looked at Martin and said, “No. I am not trying to be funny. Vernon wants your old master to make toilet paper for him. I want you to help and then I want you to figure out how to run it on a mill. Someone is going to eventually, and it might as well be us.”
“Look, I had to put up with that grouchy old man for over . . . “
“Exactly! The man is grouchy. Worse, he’s given to fits of angry shouting, truly impressive threats, and he throws things. He’s scaring the help. They don’t know what to make of him. You are an expert on the topic. Vernon says he’s already had a mild heart attack. We want him to work out Vernon’s toilet paper before the next one kills him. You already know how to work with him, so you get the job. On the other hand, it will put you in the same circumstances I am in with Vernon. When Jaan dies, you will be the authority on toilet paper.
“Look, you get the title of a first assistant in product development, and that means a raise. And you get to work out how to run a new product. The other trainees don’t get that. I think Vernon is wrong. I think when we can run it on a mill there will be a market for it, and I think it will be a bigger market than printing paper. But Vernon says he doesn’t know anything about it and I can’t for the life of me figure out why he isn’t even interested in trying.”
Martin objected, “But I came to Kymi to get away from the yelling and the screaming and having things thrown at me. I left all that in the past.”
“Well, your past just caught up with you. You are the resident expert on Jaan Rummu, and he is now our expert on toilet paper and before very long that will be your title.”
“This is for shit!” Martin said, using one of the new phrases that were finding their way from the mouth of Vernon McCabe into the language and culture of the paper mills.
“Exactly!” Aappo agreed. “That is precisely what it is all about. And we need to make a line of paper to deal with it. It will make us all rich.”