Grantville, Early Spring 1636

“I got a letter today from Wolmirstedt. They wanted me to know that Otto Schmidt died. His shop is sitting empty. They are asking if we’re coming back. And, they want to know what we’re going to do about Anna,” Arnulf Meier announced to his family, and everyone else at the dinner table.

The dining room table seated all ten members, eleven counting the baby, of the three families who shared the house when they were all there at once, which they usually were at supper time. Everyone except Madde and the baby had jobs. Not that Madde didn’t work. She had a baby to take care of, plus she kept the common areas of the house and cooked most of the meals for all three families.

All four of the boys worked full-time, or part-time before and after school, in the old mine they, along with Officer Lyndon Johnson of the Grantville police department, leased from the government. They still had not gotten around to mentioning to their parents just how much money they had in the bank from selling the large stash of aged moonshine they had originally found in the mine where they now grew mushrooms, aged cheese, and processed copper for wire. Nor had they ever mentioned what they were doing with that money in the way of investments and business start-ups.

Herr Meier looked at his eldest son Paulus. “You remember Anna. When you were apprenticed to Herr Schmidt we assumed you would one day marry her. She was his only living child so you would eventually take over the shop. You couldn’t take over the shop now even if you wanted. You aren’t a shoemaker, and you have no interest in being one. And even if you were and even if you did, you aren’t old enough.

“But that still leaves Anna. On the one hand, there never was a formal betrothal agreement. So we have no legal obligation to see the two of you married. And, her dowry is a shoemaker’s shop which doesn’t have enough business to make a living and isn’t going to, the way things are. This means, she doesn’t really have any other prospects.

“On the other hand—” Arnulf looked at his oldest son. “—the letter made it clear that some people there are still assuming you will marry Anna. The letter also made it clear that some people there feel we have some obligation to take care of the girl. Which, I suppose we do. As much as there was a shoemaker’s guild in Wolmirstedt, we are what is left of it.

“So, Paulus, what are you going to do about Anna?”

Paulus looked back at his father. The blank look on the boy’s face caused Arnulf to suppress a smile. He knew he had caught his son in an unguarded moment. He was sure his son’s face completely and exactly reflected the boy’s state of mind. It looked like the thought of marrying Anna, or anyone else at this time, for that matter, was, to his son, a completely unparsed sentence. Arnulf felt certain that, regardless of what things were like here in Grantville, the boy was still used to the idea of men getting married around thirty to women around twenty.

Shortly Paulus spoke, “Father, that is not for me to say!”

Arnulf worked hard at keeping a smirk off of his face. “Son, you can’t have it both ways. When I suggested you help me out in the shop and finish learning the trade, you told me you were over eighteen and therefore an adult. You told me you’ve got a good job working in Officer Johnson’s mine with the mushrooms and the cheese. You said that as long as you’re paying your share of the rent and expenses, which I have to admit is true for both you and your brother, I don’t have anything to say about how you spend your time or your money. I am still trying to figure out how Ebert managed to apply the same logic to stay out of the shop. He isn’t eighteen yet. But, now you want to turn around and tell me you are too young to take on an adult’s responsibility when it comes to dealing with the hard questions of life. Well, make up your mind. Are you an adult or aren’t you?”

Arnulf continued with a solid demeanor and a straight face. “You’re legally an adult only because we are in Grantville. Anywhere else in the civilized world, you would be right. It would not be for you to say. But, here in Grantville, up-timers see nothing wrong with a boy getting married as soon as he’s out of high school as long as he can make a living. You’re out of high school. You’ve got a good job in Officer Johnson’s cheese mine. You can afford to support a wife and kids.”

Herr Meier lost the fight at keeping a straight countenance. His face glowed with a smirk like a pig with a secret stash of apples. The three men at the table had figured out, at least in general, what their sons were up to, even if they had no idea just how much money the boys were worth or just how many different businesses they were shareholders in or how much property they owned (besides the house they all lived in), or even where exactly the money had come from in the first place. The boys were paying a reasonable amount of money every week to the support of the families and the three families were enjoying what they all considered to be a very comfortable standard of living. So Herr Meier and the other two fathers had agreed amongst themselves to sit back and wait for the boys to bring it up. But, since he could put his son in an uncomfortable spot without breaking the secret, it amused Herr Meier to do so.

“So there it is.” Arnulf recapped the pertinent facts, “Anna is probably assuming you are going to marry her someday. Wolmirstedt is assuming we will take responsibility for the girl, even if there never was a formal betrothal. So! What are you going to do about Anna?”

****

Paulus blinked. As he thought about it he realized, somewhere, not far from where his id hid from his ego, he still assumed he would one day marry Anna Schmidt. This was perhaps part of the reason why dating was not something he had taken an interest in, no matter how many girls threw themselves at him. He was a plain-looking fellow, and no one had been particularly interested in him before he went into business. Now he assumed it was his money they were interested in. This was a perfectly reasonable reason for them to be interested in him, when one looked at it logically. But, now that he dragged his unexamined thoughts into the light of day, he found that his logic had been corrupted by up-time romantic thought. On the one hand, if they didn’t want anything to do with him before, he didn’t want anything to do with them now. On the other hand, in another unlit crack or cranny, one that had not been corrupted by Grantville’s improbable and improper ways, dating was courting, and he was ten years away from being old enough to have a family of his own and therefore he had no reason to be courting anyone, not to mention the expense of doing so. These were the first assumptions he looked at. His second thoughts were of Anna herself. He hadn’t seen her in over five years. His father had collected him from Herr Schmidt’s shop on his way out of town. Herr Schmidt had decided to stay and hide and thought his apprentice should stay with him. Paulus tried to conjure an idea of what she might look like now. He couldn’t get past the picture of a scrawny redheaded lass standing under her mother’s hand, while his father and her father yelled at each other.

Still, the idea that she would one day be his wife was, upon reflection, just as comfortable in the light of day as it was lurking in the dark shadows. His father was absolutely right. He was more than capable of supporting a wife and family. His father had no idea just how true that was. When they had found the stash of aged moonshine they did not tell their parents because they feared their parents would take the money and use it to leave Grantville. Instead they invested it. Now, after all this time, telling them would be difficult.

Paulus blinked again. “If we are going to play this by Grantville rules, and apparently we are or you would be telling me what to do instead of asking, then Anna will have something to say about it. I suppose I ought to go find out.”

His father nodded. “I suppose you should.”

“But, even by Grantville rules, we’d have to wait. She’s not sixteen yet,” Paulus said.

“She can get married at fifteen, with parental consent,” his brother Ebert pointed out.

Paulus turned to Ebert. “Well, we can’t burn that bridge until we get there. If she says yes, we can find her a place to stay here in town and she can work in the mushrooms if she can’t find something else, while we work out the details. If she doesn’t say yes, then we will see if a stay in Grantville might not change her mind.”

Ebert smirked, “What’s the point of asking her if you’re not going to accept her ans—”

The words, “Shut up Ebert,” were accompanied by an elbow in the ribs.

Magdeburg, early spring 1636

Some days Anna could turn her mind off and think of nothing but cutting shoe parts out of the hide in front of her. It made the twelve-hour workday go faster. And some days she couldn’t. This was one of those days.

The millwright and the mechanic were assembling a stamping press for cutting uppers like the one already in use for cutting the soles. They might not get as many units out of a hide as they did when they cut them by hand, since they’d be cutting several hides at once, but the savings on labor would make up for the loss on the materials. Besides, they were getting a good price, a very good price, on scrap leather. Once they’d chopped it into tiny bits, the gunsmiths were using it for bluing barrels and they could sell all they had. The cutters and the kids tracing the patterns for the cutters to cut had been told not to worry. “No one is going to lose their job. We’ll still be cutting the odd sizes by hand and some of you will move up to other jobs because output will go up.”

Her mind went back to the days in Wolmirstedt, when she was a little girl and she had a mother and a father and knew she would one day marry her father’s apprentice and keep the house while he kept the shop. Then came Tilly’s men. Paulus’ father took him and fled. Momma got sick and died that first winter when there was so very little to eat. Her father caught a fever and died just a few months ago.

There was no one to take over the shoemaker’s shop. Where there had once been two shoemakers in town before Tilly’s men, now the town was about one-fourth of the size it had been before and there wasn’t enough business in Wolmirstedt to keep even a single shoemaker busy. It didn’t help that the people could buy shoes out of the Wish Book cheaper than her father could make them. With no one to run the shop, Anna moved to Magdeburg and got a job in one of the shoe mills. It was either that or starve. The town council told her they couldn’t support another charity case.

Anna’s thoughts went from worrying about the future to dreaming the impossible dream, Adolf’s dream. Before she met Adolf, she dreamed Paulus’ family would return to Wolmirstedt, that they would take her in and she would, in due time, marry him and he would run the shop in Wolmirstedt. Now it was a different dream.

Adolf, his sister, and his mother lived in the same two room apartment she did, along with sixteen other people. He had almost been a journeyman before Tilly’s men came through. He was sure he could make a living in Wolmirstedt if he could get one of the heavy machines for sewing the uppers onto the soles like he was running now, and one of the light machines for sewing uppers. He had in mind a style of shoe not found in the Wish Book. He’d seen it in a used clothing store. It was from Grantville and it was a baker’s shoe, called a loafer. It was suitable for a townsman who didn’t want to wear the heavy work boot like the ones the mill was making for the army, and sure didn’t want to wear a wooden shoe like a peasant. He’d have to cart them to market in Magdeburg or somewhere else not run by the guilds. And if anyone ever opened a mill making them, he might be out of business. Still, Adolf had a dream and she and her father’s shop were now part of it. When she couldn’t turn her mind off, the dream was often the only thing she had to keep her going.

Anna heard voices. One was the plant manager. He was escorting someone through the mill. This meant some bigwig, usually a shoe buyer, sometimes a shareholder. But the bigwig was too young to be a shoe buyer. He was little more than a lad of a boy; he was very plainly dressed to be someone important like a shareholder and yet his voice was oddly, distantly, familiar.

“You can see we are nearly done assembling the new stamping press for cutting uppers. We are expecting a fifteen percent increase in production once the new press is on line. And over here is the old cutting area.”

Anna took a second look at the bigwig. Her mouth fell open. “Paulus?” Her hand flew to her mouth. But it was already too late. The name was out. The plant manager turned to look at her with a frown on his face. The idea of someone on the floor addressing one of his guests greatly annoyed him. His people should be concentrating on their work. They shouldn’t even notice he was there.

****

Paulus stopped and stared. No one would call the girl beautiful. But no one would call her ugly either. Mostly she was clearly Anna and that was comfortable.

“Anna?” Paulus answered. “I was just in Wolmirstedt looking for you. They said you’d gone to Magdeburg.”

“How did you ever know to look here?”

“I didn’t and I didn’t think I’d ever find you. So I wasn’t even looking. But since I was passing through town I thought I’d see how things were going in the shoe plants.” He couldn’t help doing a little bragging. “Having stockholders dropping in for a look around from time to time is supposed to be good for keeping the management on their toes.”

“You’re a stockholder?” Anna could see that the shop manager was starting to fidget on top of turning red in the face. “I’ve need to get back to work.”

“No you don’t.” Paulus said. “You need to quit.”

Quit? I can’t do that! I need this job!”

The plant manager spoke up, “Herr Meier, I would hate to see her quit. She is a good worker. She is on the list for trainees for the new press.”

Paulus ignored the plant manager and said to Anna, “No you don’t.”

“Yes I do! How will I pay my room and board?”

“Anna, you’re fourteen. You’re too young to be working full-time in a shoe mill.”

“Paulus, there are lots of people younger than me working here.”

“Yes, but they’re not wards of the Wolmirstedt Shoemaker’s Guild.”

“There isn’t such a thing as a Wolmirstedt Shoemaker’s Guild.”

“Well, there was. It was your father and my father and your father was the guild master. So I guess my father is now. It really doesn’t matter. When my father finds out you’re working in a shoe mill, he’ll put a stop to it. You can’t work here if you’re going to school in Grantville where my parents can keep an eye on you. So you can quit now and come to Grantville with me. Or you can wait and make my father come and get you. You don’t want to make him do that! He won’t ask you to quit. He’ll tell you to. Then if you don’t he’ll have them fire you.”

****

Several thoughts and emotions flashed through Anna’s mind pretty much at the same time. First was the old dream. The Meier family would not be returning to Wolmirstedt; but, they would take her in and take her to Grantville. They would take care of her, even send her to school, and in due time, she would marry Paulus. This caused her to smile in relief. Secondly she did not want to make Herr Meier angry. This thought linked into the unhappy memories of her own father in a drunken rage as he was so often towards the end. This caused her to wince in remembered pain and grief. Then came the new dream, Adolf’s dream. Now the dream would not happen. This thought brought sadness and with the sadness came guilt. For Adolf’s dream to work, they needed the shop in Wolmirstedt plus what she could add to the family’s savings. How could she turn her back on her new family? She now shared one of the big beds in the apartment with Adolf, his mother and his sister. It was cheaper than renting a cot. When the nightmares came, Adolf’s mother would snuggle her and whisper comforting words and prayers in her ear.

When Anna’s mind and face settled down what remained was resolve tinged with sadness. “Paulus, I can’t. I’m going back home to Wolmirstedt just as soon as we save up enough money.”

****

Shock fought with puzzlement for dominance in Paulus’ mind. He’d never really considered the possibility that Anna would say anything but yes. “Anna, we need to talk about this.

“Herr Wiesel,” Paulus asked the plant manager, “would you be kind enough to give her the rest of the day off?”

“Paulus, they’ll dock me.”

“I’d object if they didn’t!” he said. “Don’t worry, I’ll cover it. Go get your coat and meet me in the office. We’ll go to an early lunch.”

“But, who will do her job?” The manager objected. “We’re barely keeping up as it is. I’ll end up sending some people home early when we run out of uppers and we’ll miss our production goal for the day.” He knew he had a winning argument because Paulus had been asking rather critically about missed production goals.

Anna turned back to cutting uppers with a vengeance and was steadfastly ignoring him.

Recognizing defeat Paulus said, “Anna, I’ll be here at the end of the day.”

Back in the office, Herr Wiesel asked, “If you don’t mind my asking, what is your interest in our Anna?”

“I was her father’s apprentice. I’m going to marry her.”

“Oh? I thought she had an understanding with Adolf.”

“What? Who?”

Now her reaction started to make since. The startlement transformed into anger. Anna had other plans. But, Anna is mine! How dare she? But the anger gave way to reason. Well? Why not? We never were formally betrothed. I wasn’t there when she needed me. The reason which replaced the anger slid into acceptance. The acceptance became relief. I don’t have to look after her. She is going to marry someone else. The relief became sadness. The death of a lifelong expectation was still a death and while it was not a devastating loss it still needed to be grieved. In his grief he thought of three girls in Grantville, each prettier than Anna, who had flirted or at least tried to flirt with him. Still, Anna was his. Am I just going to let this fellow Adolf steal her?

The manager answered Paulus’ question, “Adolf Braun, he’s one of our machine operators. He’s been trying to raise a loan to buy a sewing machine to go into business. They won’t sell him the sewing machines on installments because he isn’t a master, so they don’t consider him qualified. If he can manage to get a loan, the rent would be cheaper out of town. So he’s been talking to Anna about her father’s empty shop and his family has been saving their money.”

“But, he can’t compete with a mill.” Paulus said.

“He doesn’t want to. He wants to make a town shoe instead of a work boot. He wants to buy cut soles and whole hides and his other supplies from us and then he wants to sell his shoes out of our retail store here in town. You remember, we originally opened it to have someplace to sell the seconds we can’t send to the army. We’re selling out of seconds and we’re getting a good rate for firsts going out the door too.”

“Would the scheme work?”

“When we get the new press for uppers up and running, we’re going to have to cut more soles than we can cut in a twelve-hour shift. So we’re planning on opening up a partial night-shift just for running the sole press. If we do that, then we could run enough extra soles to let some go off site. The more soles we cut, the more scrap we can cut up into tiny little bits and from what we’re getting for them we could quite possibly turn a small profit from cutting up whole hides. As for the rest of the supplies, the more we buy the better. Even after we charge him a handling fee, we can still sell to him at a better price than he can get anywhere else and it all helps our bottom line. But that would be a matter of policy and I’d have to kick it over to the board.”

Paulus smiled. “I don’t think it will be a problem as long as you’re sure it will be profitable.”

“If he pays cash for the supplies and we take his shoes on consignment I don’t know why it wouldn’t be.”

“Well, my father is making a lady’s high-heeled dress shoe that is selling well in a dress shop in Grantville. Do you think your retail store would be interested in taking some on consignment?” If they were and his father decided to do it, then, he would have to take on an apprentice or hire help. He might try insisting that Ebert do it and that could cause all kind of problems. Maybe he shouldn’t even bring it up. It would mean more money but sometimes there are other things, like domestic tranquility, that need to be considered.

The manager smiled. “Considering who’s asking . . .”

“Yes, I see your point,” Paulus said. “Just one more thing, well, two actually. First, would this Adolf be good for her? And by that I mean good to her.”

“Yes. Adolf is a fine young man. He takes good care of his mother and his sister.”

“Well, I guess the real question in my mind is whether or not this Adolf is up to it.”

“If I had the money I’d loan it to him. He’s a hard worker, he’s level-headed, I have absolutely no doubt he’d make it work.”

But still, Anna was his! The relief shifted back into anger and the anger became resolve. He found his answer in a favorite phrase he’d picked up off a Grantviller who bought so many of their fresh mushrooms, The answer isn’t no, it’s hell no! Dammit, Anna was his!

****

By quitting time Paulus had calmed down and was prepared to admit that he had no claim on Anna and that he would let her go her own way if that was what she wanted. Still, he was waiting for Anna outside the employee door at quitting time. She was nearly the last to leave. When she came out she was with three other people. The girl, about his own age, was pretty, and was clearly the younger model of the older woman. The male was presumably Adolf. The four of them stood together in a way that somehow said “family.” Even in the light of his resolve to let things alone, Paulus found this, for some reason, to be disconcertingly annoying and sighed.

“Anna? Over here.” Paulus called. The four of them stopped and spoke briefly. The mother gave Anna a peck on the cheek before sending her off. It was obvious to Paulus that she was concerned. Adolf started to follow Anna. But he stopped when his mother laid a hand on his arm.

“Where would you like to eat?” Paulus asked Anna.

“I’ve heard a lot about Grantville Ribs with french-fried potatoes and coleslaw,” Anna said.

“You’ve never tried them?”

“We get our meals with the rent. Sometimes it’s not very good. More than once dinner has been a big tub of apple peels she’d bought out the back door of some eatery that was making apple pies or something. She just sets the tub down in the middle of the table and everybody digs in. We eat a lot of dumplings, but the meals come with the rent so we don’t eat out.”

“Well, let’s go find ourselves some ribs then.” Paulus led her into the office.

“Hey, Herr Wiesel, who has the best ribs in town?” Paulus asked.

“Carry out or eat in?” Wiesel asked.

“Eat in I think. It’s a little too cold for a picnic.”

“Cheap or fancy?” Wiesel asked.

This left Paulus in a bit of a dilemma. He wanted to say “the cheapest,” but he didn’t want to look chintzy in front of Anna. He settled on saying, “The best ribs. I’ll happily eat at some place cheaper if the food is better.”

Herr Wiesel gave him directions and they headed out into the cold.

Anna didn’t say anything until they were seated and Paulus had placed the order. They had been shown to a table back by the kitchen and Anna was very conscious of her shabby clothes. Paulus’ coat was new, but he had the only coat she could see in the restaurant that had plain leather buttons.

Finally she asked, “Paulus, do you really own part of the shoe mill?”

“Well, I own a quarter of the McAdams Mining Company. And it owns twenty percent of the mill you worked in, along with twenty percent of several other things.”

“How did you end up owning part of a mining company?”

“It took a lot of hard work, and then we had some very good luck that landed us with a nest egg. After that it took a lot of common sense, and even more hard work and yes, it is true, even more good luck.”

A very anxious Anna didn’t press him for a better answer. Instead she asked, “You said the mill I worked in? Are you really going to have me fired?”

“No, but, unless you tell me to take a hike, you really are going to have to quit. I think you should go to Grantville and enroll in school where my parents can keep an eye on you, and then we will get married if you want to when you’re old enough. So you’ll have some time to make up your mind. I don’t think you should stay in Magdeburg alone.”

“I’m not alone. And besides, I don’t want to stay in Magdeburg and I don’t want to go to Grantville. I want to go back to Wolmirstedt,” Anna said almost in tears.

He knew for certain what her answer would be but he was, somehow, still, hoping he was wrong so he said, “But there’s no one to run the shop and the shop can’t make a living.”

“Adolf can.”

“Adolf Braun?” Paulus asked.

“Yes. Adolf thinks he can make it work if he can get a loan for the sewing machines. He’s a journeyman, almost one, anyway. If he can’t get a loan, we’re saving up to buy one,” Anna whispered.

“We?” Paulus asked.

“His family and I. They’ve been good to me since I got to Magdeburg. Adolf’s mother looks after me.

“Momma died four years ago and Poppa took to drinking when things got bad and that made it worse of course. At first when he got drunk he’d beat me. Later, when he was drunk almost all the time he—” Anna had tears running down her face and didn’t finish saying what it was her father did when he was drunk.

“So you feel like you’re part of a family and you want to take them back to Wolmirstedt and try running the shop.”

“Yes, but Adolf can’t get a loan. The Wolmirstedt town council won’t or can’t help. It would be easier if Adolf had his master’s papers but he doesn’t. If he had them, the machine sellers would sell to us on installments since we have a shop. But their guild-lines require the buyer to be a master, if you want to buy on time.”

“Okay, Anna.” Paulus found himself, once again angry. At Wolmirstedt for not taking care of her, at Anna’s mother for dying and her father for being a jerk, at Adolf and his family for stealing Anna’s affections which he thought should be his, at Tilly for turning the world upside down and at the world for letting it happen. He found himself wanting to tell her that what she wanted did not matter, she was coming to Grantville. But it was plain that wouldn’t work. “If you want to go back to Wolmirstedt, then I guess it’s time we talked to Adolf and see about making it happen.”

“Do you think you can?”

“Probably, but I need to talk to Adolf.

“The ribs are here. You rip them off the rack and gnaw them off the bone. The only thing you need the fork for is the coleslaw.”

A bit later Paulus asked, “How are the ribs?”

“Good,” Anna answered.

“Do you remember the time when—” Paulus wandered off into happier times and kept up the chatter all the way through supper, including a rather fancy desert.

As he helped her on with her coat he said, “Let’s get you home and I’ll talk to Adolf.”

“Can you get him a loan?”

“Probably not. But the mining company should be willing to go into a partnership with you and front the startup cost. I’ll have to go back to Grantville and talk to my brother and our partners, but I don’t think there will be a problem. It’s just another start-up company and it has a good business plan with what should be a better than average return as long as Adolf is willing to work it.”

“Oh, Adolf is a good worker. He figures with the sewing machines he can keep ahead of his sister and me cutting out the uppers. Then his mother can take care of the house. Eventually we’ll get married, I’ll take over running the house from his mother and maybe he can get an apprentice or two.”

They never got to the apartment. Adolf was waiting for them in the street outside the restaurant. Despite his mother’s wishes, he’d followed them there and waited for them through the meal.

“Anna, is everything alright?” Adolf demanded as soon as he saw her.

Paulus read the hostility and worry written plainly on the man’s face. But mostly he took note of the club the man had managed to come up with somewhere along the way. It was in the fellow’s hand, hanging against his leg, half-concealed.

“Adolf, this is Paulus. I told you he used to be my father’s apprentice and he owns part of the mill. He’s going to help us get set-up in business.”

“Why?” Adolf barked belligerently, locking eyes with Paulus.

“Because Anna is an old friend. Because my father feels our family has an obligation toward her and I agree.” He didn’t say, Because it is the first step in a plan to get Anna away from you.

“Paulus can get us the sewing machines,” Anna said.

“You can?” a conflicted Adolf replied.

“Yes,” Paulus said, “but understand. We’re not talking about a loan. We’re going to want fifty-one percent of the business. You will run it, we’ll help with set up and marketing. You can pay yourself, your sister and Anna the same wages you’re making now but we’re going to take half the profits.”

“Is that fair?” Anna asked.

“I think it is.” Paulus nodded. “You’re living on wages now, aren’t you? This way, you get your living and a nice incentive program, half of the profits. If you don’t make it work you can come to Grantville and he can go back to the mill and we can sell the machines.”

A surprised Adolf spoke up, “Half of a business is better than none, Anna. At the rate we’re going it could take us years to save up the money. If your friend will help us get the loan then I guess we will do it on his terms.”

“Adolf? What’s that?” she meant the club. “What are you going to do with it?”

“Nothing! Not anymore. But with his telling you that you had to quit and if you didn’t he’d get you fired, well, I wanted to talk some sense into him and I thought I might need it to help get him to see things our way.”

****

The next day Paulus returned to the office of the shoe mill. “Herr Wiesel? You said you would loan Adolf Braun the money if you had it. Will you stand by that?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you can get the money, will you loan it to him?”

“Where would I get that kind of money?

“Borrow it and lend it to him at a higher rate of interest, or buy a percentage of the business. If you’re sure he can make it work it should be safe enough.”

“Who would loan me that kind of money?”

“I think it could be arranged.”

****

Back in Grantville, Paulus and Peter had a chat with the other two partners at lunch time at the high school.

“Look,” Paulus said. “Yes, it’s too far away for us to keep an eye on it. And I still agree that normally we shouldn’t invest more than five percent in anything we can’t keep an eye on. But, this is different and it’s got a better than average business plan. Yes, we’re buying a twenty-six percent share instead of the usual twenty percent share or fifty-one percent share, and we’re making a loan to the shop manager in Magdeburg so he can buy a twenty-five percent share, but he’s putting his money where his mouth is and is willing to sign for an unsecured loan. Which, really, it isn’t. With his job, he’s good for it if the business fails. The main expense will be the sewing machines and they’re durable goods with a good resale value. The mill is getting new machines and the shop is buying used ones. So the risk isn’t that high and it’s spread three ways.”

“So this is just business?” Ebert asked, “Nothing personal?”

“We do owe her something, Ebert. At least, Papa thinks we do. This way she’s not just a dead expense to our family.”

“And that’s all?” Ebert asked.

“What else would it be?” Paulus asked.

Ebert smirked.

“Shut up, Ebert,” Paulus responded.

“Sounds good to me.” Peter said.

Ludwig nodded. “It’s not that much money and it’s not that big of a gamble and Paulus really wants it, so I figure if we go along with it he owes us one, especially if it goes bust.”

At this last thought Paulus’ countenance darkened.

“It’s settled,” Peter said. “Let’s go get the ball rolling.”

“I didn’t say I agreed,” Paulus said.

“Well?” Peter asked.

“Are you sure this is just business?” Ebert asked his brother.

Paulus just glared at him.

“Actually, it is a good business plan,” Ebert said. “I can see us doing a lot of these partnerships between the mill and struggling shops. I’ve only got one thing to say.”

“What?” Ludwig asked.

Ebert got a shit-eating grin on his face and in a singsong voice associated with a grade school playground he said, “Paulus has a girlfriend. Paulus has a girlfr—”

“Shut up Ebert!” a flushing Paulus demanded rather more adamantly than usual.

****

That night over dinner, Paulus’ father asked, “Where’s Anna? Did you leave her in Wolmirstedt?”

“No. She wasn’t there. But she found me in Magdeburg. She is working in one of the shoe factories.”

“And you left her there?”

“I offered to bring her to Grantville but she’d rather go home. She’s found a journeyman who thinks he can make the shop in Wolmirstedt work if he can get a couple of sewing machines. The plant manager thought he could too.”

“And you think he can get someone to give a loan to a journeyman?”

Paulus, not wanting to admit that he and his partners had the money to make it happen, lied by telling a half-truth. “The plant manager is going to arrange things. They will get the machines and their supplies through the mill and sell their finished product in the mill’s outlet store.”

Herr Meier wanted to know, “Is she going to marry this journeyman?”

“Maybe, in time. She’s still too young to get married. But, he’s taking his mother and his sister to Wolmirstedt with him to help make the shop work, so it’s all right. And I promised that if they sent Anna to enroll in the accounting program at the high school here in Grantville next fall so she can learn how to run the business, we’d look after her and find her a part-time job and a place to stay she could afford.”

“Yeah, right,” Ebert said. “She’s coming to Grantville to learn to run the business.”

Paulus blushed a very deep red and pushed an elbow, rather harder than usual, into his brother’s ribs.

“Ouch! Hey, that hurt,” Ebert objected.

“Shut up, Ebert!”

****