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Kymi Mills, Finland

 

“Sanna, the countess wants you at the clinic,” the line foreman said as he approached her station on the bag line between the two ovens used for drying the glue on the paper bags.

“Tiia? Did I hear you right?” Sanna asked, not even pausing in the process of closing the bottom of a brown paper grocery bag down onto the form and gluing it.

Tiia shrugged. “The countess sent for you.”

“Whatever for?” Sanna asked.

Tiia shrugged again. “How would I know? Go find out.”

Sanna headed to the door. As she put on her boots, she asked herself, What could the countess possibly want, and why at the clinic? If something had happened to Kaapo surely they would have said. Wouldn’t they? Even if Kaapo had been killed why would the countess be there? Why the clinic.

The wind was full of small sharp biting bits of ice picked up and blown sideways. As she bundled up her mind went back to her grandfather’s lap, a warm fire, and his tales of the old ways. This weather was his version of hell. “Before the Christian priests told them they were wrong that hell is full of fire and not howling winds and bitter cold. Of course,” her grandfather claimed, “the first people to hear this promptly asked, “How do we get there?”

At the clinic, she took off her boots between the two front doors. Inside she hung up her coat and warmed her hands at the parlor stove (there was radiant heat under the floor using waste heat from the mills, so the stove was mostly just for warming hands.) Then she was shown to the consultation room where the countess was waiting with an assistant and a nurse wearing a white uniform which told the world she was a Grantville-trained medical practitioner, not a wet nurse or a drudge. Sanna’s heart jumped. The countess sat bottle-feeding a baby. It was not hers. Her children were older.

The stout, if not plump, older woman looked up from the baby and without preamble said, “Sanna, you went back to work on the bag line after you lost your baby to the measles.” The way she said it you would have thought she knew that and hadn’t been told her name and story within the last hour. “Your husband works on the pipe line. Is this correct?”

Sanna nodded agreement. She had quit working when she became pregnant with her first child. She went back to work to get out of the apartment and away from the emptiness and the memories. The loss was tearing at her soul. Keeping busy helped keep her mind off of what was not there.

“Do you still want a family?”

What an odd question, Sanna thought. Children are a gift from the Lord, His to give or withhold. But then, to Sanna, the whole conversation was very odd. “We’re waiting to be blessed, your grace.”

“Please, call me Anna here. This is an informal situation.” The mill workers had been instructed that in an informal situation they were to address the Countess Anna Marketta Bielke, the absolute autocrat of their lives, as Anna because that was the countess’s wish.

Still it was not a comfortable thing for them to do.

“And your apartment already has the loft space conversion.” This was the critical point. Sanna and Kaapo had the only apartment with an unoccupied loft space in the village and this being the middle of the winter, the housing department of the mill complex wasn’t about to convert another one before late spring unless they absolutely had to.

TKO-grl“Sanna, there is something I want you to do for me. This morning a little girl, about four- or five-years old, was found huddled in a doorway, trying to stay out of the wind. She was skin and bones, she barely had enough clothes on to cover her, and certainly not enough to stay warm and she was carrying this baby . . .” The countess looked down at the child in her arms and a maternal glow washed over her face. “. . . whom she says is her sister.

“They were dropped off here in town by someone she absolutely refuses to name. All we’ve gotten out of her is that the baby’s name is Alli, hers is Anni; that Papa, Momma, and just recently Grand-momma are all dead. Either she doesn’t know the name of the village, or her father or mother’s family name, or she’s been warned not to say. Either way, we cannot return the children. If anyone wanted them they wouldn’t be here, and the only reason they wouldn’t be wanted is if they couldn’t feed them through the winter.” All of this was said while she looked at the infant in her arms.

At last she looked up. “Breaking them up is unthinkable, so we’ve got to find someplace for both of them to stay. I could hire a nanny and keep them up at the manor, but there are very good reasons why it would be better for them to be part of a normal family.

“So since you have the only ready, unoccupied, loft space available in the village, we . . .” By we she meant herself, assisted, informed and advised by her staff of course, as effectively the sole monarch of the mill complex, the mill town and a large chunk of land in the Kymi River valley. “. . . thought we would ask if you would take them. We will pay to outfit them and make a weekly allowance at the store and put you on the list for a share of the milk.”

Unless there was a surplus, which there wasn’t, you needed children in the house to get fresh milk. Enough summer grazing nearby was a problem which was being worked on, but it would probably never be a completely satisfactory answer.

“And there will be a quarterly allowance for clothing. Primary schooling is free and if they can qualify academically, there will be scholarship money for as far as they can go.”

She took the bottle out of the baby’s mouth. When she noticed Sanna looking at it she thumbed the nipple. When it bounced back the countess said, “It’s called rubber. A company in Grantville makes it out of milkweed extract which isn’t that easy to come by. So they don’t make a lot of it and it’s very expensive. We have a few here at the clinic as part of our medical supplies. When Alli is weaned, the clinic will want it back.

“If you think you’ll take them, we’ll bring Anni in so you can meet her.”

Sanna looked at the baby with that look of maternal longing that so many men, who are soon to be fathers or fathers again, have come to recognize and fear. “I will need to ask Kaapo.”

“Of course.” The countess turned to her assistant, “Send for Kaapo.”

****

“Kaapo, I’ve been thinking,” Ari said, stepping back from securing a ten-foot hardwood pipe blank into a lathe to be bored out.

“Did it hurt?” Kaapo asked throwing the lever to start the bit forward.

Ari got a half-sad, half-sour look on his face, “Why do you always ask that? Why should it hurt?”

“I don’t know. It’s what my father always asked if someone announced they’d been thinking. I guess it’s like muscles you don’t use much; they get sore when you do. So maybe thinking hurts if you don’t do much of it.”

“You mean you don’t think I think very much?”

“Well, when you do something you do all the time you don’t mention it like it’s something special. Nobody says ‘ I’ve been breathing a lot lately’, or ‘I’ve been talking a lot lately’, or ‘I’ve been working,’ unless it’s notable.”

“Unless you’re Ville,” Ari said. “If he ever did actually work, he would certainly tell you about it. Never mind,” Ari continued with a dismissive wave of his hand, “I’ve been thinking. We’re boring six-inch pipe; anything larger than that they’re making staves and strapping them with iron bands like barrels. Why can’t they make it out of plywood?”

“You’d still have to use iron to hold it together.”

“No. I mean, roll it up in a tube any size you want and glue it together at whatever thickness you want the tube wall. No seams to leak, and almost no wasted wood.”

“How would you clamp it while the glue dries? You can’t put it in a press.”

“Sure you can. You make an exterior mold in two halves and then you drive in a core tapered on one end.”

“That would work, I guess.”

“Well write it up and put it in the suggestion box.”

“You write it up,” Kaapo said in a light-hearted voice.

“Kaapo, you know I can’t write,” Ari answered if it were a serious suggestion.

“So? Why not? Go take the classes and learn.”

“Why?”

“So you can write up your harebrained schemes yourself instead of making me do it.”

“I didn’t hear you complaining when we got the bonus check last time.”

Kaapo didn’t have an answer to that one. One of his partner’s ideas did get picked up and they did get a nice pay out.

“Okay, tomorrow after work, we’ll get Sanna and Anna—” his wife and Ari’s girlfriend “—to meet us at the inn. They can chat while we hash out how to write it up. You buy the pizzas.”

“Hey? That isn’t fair. You’re getting half of the bonus,” Ari objected.

“I’ll buy the pizzas to celebrate when we get the bonus.”

Kaapo could see Ari was thinking about how to object to that and cut him off. “That’s fair, Ari. Unless, of course, you don’t think they’ll pick it up. If that’s the case, why bother writing it up?”

“I’ll buy.” Ari’s face went from sour to bright, “Anna loves pizza.”

****

The foreman came to their work station and motioned for Kaapo to move the lever that shifted the boring machine into reverse, clearing the half-bored hole. “Shut it down. Ari, go sand bowls. Kaapo, the countess and your wife are at the clinic. They want you over there right away.”

“Why? What happened?” a suddenly worried Ari demanded. The clinic did not invoke happy memories.

“You know as much as I do,” the foreman replied. “A messenger just brought the note and I told you everything it said.”

Kaapo started to take off his goggles. They were mandatory in the wood shop now and they were universally despised. They were made out of boiled leather with glass lenses protected by woven wire flip ups.

“Not until you’re off the floor, Kaapo,” the foreman admonished. Kaapo shrugged and left them on.

When he opened the door to the outside he retreated back to his assigned coat hook and shelf and put the goggles back on. The winter wind was blowing frozen sleet sideways. Out in the weather, with the wire guards flipped up the goggles actually made sense, not like on the shop floor.

When he got to the clinic he was directed to the consultation room where his wife was holding a baby and chatting with the countess who was saying, “. . . wish I could keep them myself in the manor but I had an aunt who tried that and it created some very serious problems that she never has been able to straighten out and never will be able to either, for that matter. The foundlings ended up resenting the difference between their place and her children’s, even though the boy went through the university and the girl was married off to the son of a very prosperous merchant family.

“And worse, very early on her children came to resent the competition for their mother’s attention. They were being raised by nannies and when he was grown one of them told me he felt like he and his sister were no better than something the cat dragged in because their mother had no more time for them than she did for what the cat actually did drag in.

“Besides there are bound to be more orphans and I can’t take them all in, now ca . . .” When she took note of him in the open door she stopped.

“Is this your husband, Sanna?”

“Yes, yo— Yes, Anna.”

“Kaapo, thank you for coming,” the countess said warmly and sincerely. “We have a situation here, and I need your help. Your wife is willing to take in a baby and her four-year-old sister. But she, quite rightly I think, feels that she needs your consent. I’ve already assured your wife we will see to it that the children will be no financial burden to you. It is simply a matter of whether or not you feel you can love someone else’s children.”

The countess took note of Kaapo looking around for the four-year-old and smiled understandingly.

“If you think you are willing to take on an instant family, we will bring the girl in and let you meet her. We didn’t want to talk about her as if she wasn’t here. And, we didn’t want her to go through a rejection if you don’t think you will say yes.”

Kaapo looked at his wife. She looked down at the babe in her arms and back up at her husband. She didn’t say a word. He knew that if he said no it would break her heart and she would grieve for the loss of this child, along with the loss of their own baby all over again. When she grieved, he would grieve with her, and he did not want to face that heartbreak again.

“Can we meet the four-year-old please?” Kaapo asked.

The little girl was freshly scrubbed and dressed in brand new clothes. The rags which wrapped her feet when she was found were replaced with the first shoes she had ever worn and she moved as if she found them uncomfortable.

She hid behind the nurse, clinging to the women’s skirts, barely peeking around her and then only occasionally.

“Sanna, Kaapo, this is Anni. Say hello Anni,” the nurse said.

Anni buried her face in the nurse’s long, soft, white skirts. After a bit she peeked out. Kaapo squatted down so they were close to head height to each other.

“Come here, Anni,” Kaapo said softly.

She buried her face again and the nurse pried her loose and moved her around front where the child backed as far into the nurse as possible. With a firm grip on each shoulder, the nurse slowly propelled the child forward.

Anni’s pinched face made her blue eyes seem huge. They were eyes a man could get lost in and Kaapo promptly did. As an adult male he was hardwired to love and protect little girls. He didn’t know why and didn’t care. They were giving him this one. This one was his! That was all he needed to know. “Come here, Anni.”

While the nurse held her, Kaapo placed both hands on her hair which had just been washed and combed for lice. “You are a very pretty little girl, Anni, did you know that?” This was not particularly true. Anni was particularly average. But then, as Jewish law wisely decrees, all brides are beautiful. The same applies to little girls. And with the words “Did you know that?” he held her head and kissed her on the forehead. “Would you like to come home with me and my wife? It’s a tight house, it’s got warm floors just like here, we’ve got an iron cook stove and running water. We’ve even got a glass window. And you’ll have the loft to yourself until your sister gets old enough to share it with you.”

Anni did not say a word or so much as close her eyes. She barely even blinked.

Kaapo looked over her head at the countess and said, “We’ll be going home now if that’s okay.” The mill language was heavily sprinkled with up-time English loan words by way of the up-timer they brought in to make the papermaking machines run.

The countess nodded. “Carry her to the store first. She’ll need a winter coat and boots and a sleeping gown and a second set of clothes. And see if she’ll pick out a toy. Get anything else she may need. The furniture shop will send over a loft set today.”

A loft set was two narrow and low cot-like beds with shallow drawers underneath and two small lampstands. The loft was not very large, after all. The steep roof was designed to shed snow and the loft conversion included a small gable for a smaller window so there was natural light in the loft. The countess had seen one of the early episodes of the story of the Ingalls family and their little house while in Grantville.

The countess spoke to the nurse, “Get the tooth brush you cleaned her teeth with; there’s no point in letting it go to waste.”

There was a small brush shop in one of the outlying villages. One family worked at it fulltime. He had given up being a half-farmer and ended up in Milltown. After working in the lumber yard as a stacker for several months, he petitioned the countess to advance him the money to set up a brush shop. She did, but she sent him back home to do it, as she did whenever possible. The mill town was growing out of control and winter industries were needed in the villages. Now the rest of the village made brushes part-time as off-season employment. Half of what they made were Grantville-style tooth brushes out of wood and boar’s bristles. There was an ongoing propaganda campaign to improve dental hygiene in the mill community. The countess bought all they made and there was a growing surplus stacking up. Come spring, when the shipping started up again, their sales agents would be looking for someplace to unload what the local community could not use.

Sanna and Kaapo exchanged glances. They would have to get toothbrushes and start using them if they were going to be insisting that Anni do so.

“I’m sorry, Anna. I am afraid I’ve thrown it away,” the nurse said. “It was used and I hadn’t thought of sending it home with the patient.”

The countess looked very stern. “Make a practice of doing so in the future. We do not have money to waste. My husband is continuously asking me when we are going to be turning a profit.”

This was not completely true. Her husband, who was serving as a military governor in Germany, was happy, at least for now. They were turning a modest profit as of last fall when the last ships were out loaded before the river froze over for the winter. Now they were stacking cut lumber, wooden pipe, and waterproof plywood and waiting for spring. Regular plywood was being warehoused inside a dry, if cold, building along with paper and paper products and a growing number of odds and ends, in weather-tight buildings. Anything left next fall would be shifted to warehouse space in various ports as far off as Venice, so the mills could start the winter with nothing on hand but floor space and food stuffs which would disappear as the floor space was needed.

The count was looking forward to the higher profits which would come when she stopped spending so heavily on infrastructure and new ventures. But a growing town needed so many things, and she loathed the very idea of importing anything that could be made locally. After all, part of the reason for opening the mills was to provide employment for the locals, but the town was being swamped. So like the brush shop, any industry that could be handled in a village was being set up out of town.

The countess found herself hoping that Anni and Alli would not be the first of a flood of foundlings. They would cope somehow, but the sooner winter industries could give some income and likewise some relief to the villages, the better.

“Kristiina, let’s take Anni shopping,” the countess said. Fortunately there was a covered walkway connecting the clinic and the general store.

Kristiina smoothly covered for the countess not knowing the manager’s name. And the store manager was happy; this was a buying spree and not a surprise inspection. Normally, someone always sent word ahead a few days in advance of an inspection.

“Two of those, three of these, two of that,” she directed. If the store had it in a size for Anni or Alli, it was ending up on the counter, and usually one and a spare. “Kristiina, we don’t have anything like that diaper bag we saw in Grantville. We need something like that.”

“Leather or cloth?” Kristiina asked.

“Get both and leave the buyer an option. I’d prefer leather, but I’ve got to remember that not everyone can afford the best of everything.

“Anni, dear, which dolly would you like?” There was a selection of locally made dolls and a few expensive ones imported from Germany. When the child did not respond the countess queried, “Anni, would you like a doll?”

The pinch-faced girl looked solemn and shook her head. Then she pointed to Alli. The countess smiled and said to the manager, “Make a note that Anni has credit for one of the German porcelain-faced dolls when she decides she is ready for one.”

Alli was wrapped in a soft linen blanket and then in a thick woolen one. There were six large paper bags, what Vernon, the Grantviller who made the paper machines run, called grocery-sized.

“Kaapo,” the countess said, “you can’t carry all this and Anni too. Go tell my driver to bring the sleigh from the clinic to the store. He can give you a ride home and then come back for us.”

The sleigh had a heated box with a glass window. There was an open one for better weather. The countess prowled the store while the sleigh was gone and came up with six new things to have the villages make and three more things she wanted imported to offer for sale.

****

The housing crew had finished installing the loft furniture by the end of the shift and had set the crib back down on the main floor in the process. When Ari and Anna showed up, Sanna was up the ladder with Anni, helping her put her new things away and get settled in.

“Kaapo? What happened? Is everything all right?” Ari demanded. Hanging his coat on a peg near the entry way. He left his boots between the two doors on his way in.

TKO-crbKaapo was leaning over the cradle which had been a gift from Ari when their child was born. He was singing softly to Alli while he rocked the cradle watching as the child drifted off to sleep.

“Shhh,” Kaapo said. “Softly, my friend. You will wake my new daughter, Alli. And I just got her to drift off.”

“Where did she come from?” Anna demanded softly.

“We don’t know. They were left in the street early this morning.”

“They?” Ari asked.

“Anni is up the ladder with Sanna getting settled in. Either Anni doesn’t know where she’s from or she won’t say.”

Anna climbed halfway up the ladder and looked into the loft. There was no room for a third person. With two people, and the new furniture in the loft over one half of the common bathroom that the four one-room apartments were built around and shared, the tiny loft space was full. Two apartments would never have a loft without a whole second story being added.

“So this is what the countess wanted, for you to take in orphans?”

“Anna, this is my daughter Anni,” Sanna said. “Say hello, Anni.” The little girl hid her face in Sanna’s hair.

“Hello, Anni,” Anna said. “Sanna, what are you going to do. You’re not in milk.”

Sanna smiled. “The countess has it arranged. Goat’s milk for Alli and cow’s milk for Anni will be delivered each morning. They dropped off a box to keep in the entry way between the doors so the milk does not freeze. There are two glass bottles with marvelous rubber nipples to feed Alli with. There is a special brush for washing the bottles and the bottles have to be scalded in boiling water before the milk is added. The nipples have to be, briefly, dropped into boiling water that is just off the stove, but they are a marvelous thing. A baby doesn’t have to suck on a rag in a bottle now if the mother is dry.

“You will have to stop by often and tell me what is going on with the bag line. I’ve a baby to care for so my days as a bagger are over.”

That night Kaapo nudged Sanna to wake her up. “Is Anni crying?”

Sanna listened for a bit. It was soft but the girl was indeed crying. “She must be burying her head in the pillow. It’s no wonder she’s crying after what she’s been through,” she said softly and then she called out a bit more loudly, “Anni. Why don’t you come here and help keep us warm.”

 

A bit over two months later

 

Kaapo, drying his hair, having just come back from one of the two showers in the shared bathroom, glanced up at the loft. “She’s still up there?”

“The smell will bring her down,” Sanna said stirring the pot.

“Hey, it was just once this week,” Kaapo noted.

Anni had ended up in their bed almost every night for the first month she had lived with them. Having gone to bed in the loft, when she had a bad dream she would come down, crawl over Sanna, get under the covers between them, and then snuggle up tight against Sanna.

“Yes, it’s getting better,” Kaapo’s wife agreed. Then she stopped making breakfast and headed to the bathroom.

“Kaapo,” a neighbor’s voice called out a minute later.

“What’s up, Lea?” Kaapo called back.

“Sanna’s sick,” Lea replied.

In the bathroom, Sanna was on her knees head down, holding her hair out of the way, as she barfed in one of the two stalls. Lea had just flushed the other one and was lingering to offer assistance if needed.

“Lea,” Kaapo asked, “can you watch the girls? I’m taking Sanna to the clinic.”

“Sure,” Lea said.

Sanna flushed the stool and staggered to one of the four copper lined sinks. Each apartment had its own sink by its door.

“That’s okay, Lea,” Sanna said, no more than just a bit strained. “We aren’t going to the clinic.”

“Yes, we are,” Kaapo said.

“No, we’re not. If we do you’ll be late to work.”

“We’re going. You might have the flu. It’s going around. They have aspirin. And it helps.”

“I don’t have the flu. I don’t have a fever. I don’t need aspirin.”

“Okay . . . then why are you sick?”

Sanna looked sheepish. “I missed my courses. Twice.”

“Your—” Kaapo stopped, looked blank, flashed through a very quick flicker of anger, and when he spoke again it was clear in his voice that he was more than a bit hurt. “When were you going to tell me?”

“When I was sure,” she said. “Now I’m sure. We’ll need a second crib.”

Kaapo smiled and hugged her. “I’ll get us on the list for a larger apartment.”

****