A Marriage of Inconvenience


Zaandam, near Amsterdam, January 1634

Cornelius Hardebol looked down. Some thirty feet below he could see members of the mill workforce already starting to collect around the crumpled form of Anthonius de Plancken.

The master papermaker had fallen to his death, and Cornelius hadn’t even had to push him. That wasn’t to say he’d never thought about it. As a senior journeyman papermaker, the next step of his climb up the guild hierarchy was dependent on the guild declaring there was a vacancy for a new master, or by filling a dead man’s shoes.

Cornelius broke the last of the ice that had been preventing the fantail turning and swung out of the way as the blades of the small windmill started to rotate. Happy that the job he and Anthonius had started was successfully completed, he clambered down onto the stage that surrounded the windmill, and hastened over to the railing that surrounded the stage. He had hoped that Pieter Peeck’s shouted announcement that the master was dead hadn’t woken Anthonius’ wife. Unfortunately, just as he arrived at the rail, he saw Mevrouw Goverts appear. That meant there was no longer anything to gain by risking the fast way down. So instead of going over the rail and dropping to the ground, he took the stairs.

“It was an accident,” he heard Pieter Peeck explain to Anthonius’ wife. “I saw it all. Mijnheer Hardebol wasn’t even close to the master when he fell.”

Cornelius swore under his breath. Young master Peeck was going to be lucky to survive his apprenticeship. He grabbed the helpful individual by the scruff of his neck and hissed into his ear an instruction to “shut up” before pushing him back into the arms of the gathered apprentices.

“I was just saying that it was an accident,” Pieter protested.

Cornelius stared Pieter into abject silence before returning to more important matters. The widow was kneeling on the ground holding Anthonius’ head in her lap and crying enough to float an East Indiaman.

“Pieter, go and get the Schout. Tell him Master de Plancken has fallen to his death.” He paused a moment to stare straight at Pieter. He had a position in the CoC to maintain and he didn’t want any rumors started before he could talk to the Schout. “And that’s all you tell anybody, understood?” Pieter swallowed once, nodded, and hurried off.

They couldn’t move the body until the Schout gave permission, and they couldn’t leave it exposed to the elements and anybody who came calling, so he instructed Willem de Grauw to get a cargo cover. When the junior journeyman returned Cornelius gestured for the female household staff to escort Mevrouw Goverts into the house while he, Willem, and the apprentices spread the sheet of heavy canvas over the body. Then he sent everyone back inside while he waited beside his late employer and mentor for the Schout.

****

Tears continued to run down Lysbeth Goverts’ face as she stared through the window at her husband’s covered body. He’d been a good husband, and a good father to the girls. Yes, he might have been upset that Janneke hadn’t been the hoped for boy, but he hadn’t held that against her, or Janneke.

Now her friendly easy-going husband was dead. Why had the silly old fool insisted on going up with Cornelius Hardebol to free the fantail?

Later that day

“We’ll be all right for a while now, Cornelius,” Willem de Grauw called.

“I’ll see you later then,” Cornelius told the junior journeyman. Normally he wouldn’t leave the working mill in the master’s absence, but today the master wasn’t going to come back. He tidied up in the small workers’ bathroom before going in search of Lysbeth Goverts. As the senior journeyman he had first claim on the mill and the rank of master that went with it—if he could persuade the widow to marry him.

Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. He gathered his hair and tied it with a bit of ribbon before removing his work apron and donning his doublet. He was as clean as he could get. It was time to go calling.

“Yes?” the housemaid asked when he knocked at the door to the master’s house.

“I’ve come to speak to your mistress,” Cornelius explained.

“The master’s not cold and you’re around already,” Anneke Bellier said.

“It is my right,” he insisted.

Anneke sniffed inelegantly and guided Cornelius to a reception room. “Wait here. I’ll see if the mistress wants to talk to you.”

Cornelius couldn’t settle, so he wandered around the room. He was staring vacantly out a window when Anneke returned with a teary eyed Lysbeth.

He really wished she hadn’t been crying. It made what he had to do so much less palatable. However, the mill couldn’t continue for very long without someone with the authority to give orders.

Their eyes met, and Cornelius was the first to blink. “Mevrouw Goverts, I know you’ve just lost your husband, but the mill is without a master, and that situation can’t be allowed to continue for long.”

“And who do you suggest should take charge of the mill?” Lysbeth asked.

“Me.” Cornelius thumped his chest. “I should like to take over the running of the mill.”

“Very well, consider yourself in charge.”

“You know that isn’t what I meant, Mevrouw Goverts. The master is dead, and now there is a vacancy in the guild for a master. I want that position.”

“The only way you’ll become master of this mill is by marrying me,” Lysbeth said.

“That condition isn’t unexpected.” Actually, it was the normal way these things were handled. “I am prepared to marry you.”

“Well, I’m not prepared to marry you, so please leave.”

Cornelius studied Mevrouw Goverts. She looked shattered by her loss. “We’ll talk again when you’re not feeling so emotional.”

****

Lysbeth was still muttering to herself when Anneke returned from showing Cornelius out.

“Did you say something, mistress?”

“That man as good as said it would be a chore to marry me, but that he’d do it if that was what it took to take over my mill.”

Anneke glanced in the direction Cornelius had taken. “He’s being very honest.”

“There is such a thing as being too honest.”

“Would you rather he’d declared he’d been in love with you since he first saw you, but that . . . ”

Lysbeth glared the teenager into sniggering silence. Maybe she shouldn’t have let Anneke read her romantic novels. “Don’t you have some work you should be doing?”

That evening

“Mommy, Mommy, something’s wrong with Papa.”

The screaming penetrated Lysbeth’s fatigue. That was her four-year-old daughter screaming out, and it could only mean one thing. Lysbeth struggled to her feet and hurried to the room where the men had laid out Anthonius.

Little Maritje was trying to waken her papa, and becoming quite distressed that her papa wasn’t responding. Lysbeth put her arms around her daughter and pulled her away from the bed. “Papa’s gone to heaven, Maritje. God needed him.”

“But that’s Papa right there,” Maritje insisted.

Lysbeth lifted her daughter and carried her out of the room. She was met by the curious faces of the house staff and the apprentices who lived in the lower rooms of the house. Anneke had her arms around Lysbeth’s eldest daughter.

She placed Maritje in Anneke’s arms and immediately the three girls were entwined in a group hug. Then she turned her gaze on the apprentices. There were only the four of them of them, as the mill couldn’t support more.

“I’ll get Mijnheer Hardebol,” Pieter Peeck volunteered before hurrying off.

Lysbeth almost called Pieter back, but someone had to deal with Anthonius’ body while she comforted her children. Instead she sent the other apprentices off with the cook to eat, and then she sat down with Anneke and her daughters and gathered the three of them in her arms.

Minutes later firm footfalls penetrated Lysbeth’s misery. She looked up to see Cornelius enter the room with Pieter trailing behind him.

“Pieter here tells me you need some help?”

Was there a hint of smug male superiority in that face? Lysbeth mentally cursed male facial hair that hid so much. She sent Pieter off to eat before leading Cornelius to the room where her husband lay. “Maritje discovered Anthonius’ body.”

“So? She has to know her papa is dead some time.”

Lysbeth couldn’t believe the callousness of Cornelius’ words. “She’s only four years old.”

Cornelius shrugged. “Plenty of children lose parents at a younger age.”

“Maritje became very upset when she couldn’t wake her father,” she explained. “I’d like you to move Anthonius to somewhere the girls can’t stumble across him accidentally.”

“If you’d like to keep your children out of the way, I’ll use the back entrance.”

Lysbeth watched in horror as Cornelius rolled Anthonius up in the sheet and lifted him onto his shoulder. “You can’t carry Anthonius like that,” she hissed.

“Do you want the body moved or don’t you?”

It wasn’t much of a choice. Lysbeth nodded.

“Then stop creating obstacles.”

Lysbeth followed Cornelius to the back door and very nearly slammed it after him. How could the man be so insensitive?

Next day

After the day from hell Lysbeth hadn’t thought things could possibly get worse. She’d been wrong. First there had been the Schout. Jan Honckelboer had felt he had to explain why he didn’t think Cornelius had anything to do with Anthonius’ death. She tried to circumvent the explanation, as she’d never considered that possibility. However, Jan had been so engrossed in the sound of his own voice that nothing could stop him. Still, even Jan Honckelboer had to run out of things to say eventually, and she’d finally managed to get rid of him after not more than two hours. Then, just as she was showing the Schout out, the representatives from the guild council arrived. She let them in and led them to her office where she directed them into seats before settling in Anthonius’ chair on the other side of the desk. She knew what was coming, because she’d been in the same situation nearly ten years ago when she inherited her father’s mill.

“The mill needs a new master,” Lieven Steenwinckel informed her. “As the owner you have a choice. Either you sell the mill to someone acceptable to the guild . . . “

“I’m not selling my mill,” Lysbeth said. And it was her mill. It’d been hers since both her brothers died fighting the Spanish back in 1621. Initially she’d taken charge to save the mill for the time when her father would recover from the triple blow of losing her mother and brothers so close together, but he’d never recovered. Instead he’d just dwindled away, dying shortly before her eighteenth birthday.

“Your desire to keep such a profitable mill is perfectly understandable, Mevrouw Goverts. However, that leaves but one option open to you. Much as it distresses me to suggest it, you must marry a journeyman acceptable to the guild.”

Lysbeth clamped down hard on her tongue. Mijnheer Steenwinckel didn’t look very distressed at all. She took a moment to calm down. “And who might the guild consider acceptable?”

The lawyer held out a hand to his assistant, who promptly gave him a sheet of paper. Lieven placed the paper in front of him and adjusted his spectacles. “Of course you are free to select some other journeyman, but the guild would prefer that you pick one of the following.” He glanced down and read from the list. “Rut van Hooges, Cornelius Hardebol, and John Mason.”

Lieven took off his spectacles and stared intently at Lysbeth. “The council hopes that you will accept Cornelius Hardebol as he is highly placed with the Amsterdam CoC, and his elevation to the rank of guild master can only be beneficial to the council.”

“What about being beneficial to me?” Lysbeth demanded.

“The guild council will ensure that the contract that is drawn up adequately protects you and your children,” Lieven said.

“Like they did for Giertie Badie?” Lysbeth demanded, thinking of the poor woman who’d been virtually forced to marry Hendrick de Hooges.

Lieven looked blankly at Lysbeth and looked a question at his assistant. The man leaned over and whispered into Lieven’s ear. “Ah! That was before my time, Mevrouw Goverts. A most grossly mismanaged affair. There is no need to fear that you would lose the mill, Mevrouw Goverts, not when I write the contract.”

“Well, thank you for your time,” Lysbeth said without any attempt to lend the words credibility. “I’ll consider the names you’ve given me, and make my decision.”

“We can’t have the mill without a master for too long, so I’m afraid we must insist that you make a decision before the end of next week. Otherwise the guild will be forced to take action. To help speed things up I’ve already talked to our preferred candidates, and they’ve promised to talk to you as soon as possible,” Lieven said as he started to collect his papers. “I’m sure we can have this settled in no time at all.”

Lysbeth saw her unwelcome guests out and slumped into Anthonius’ chair and cursed him. Why did he have to go and die? It had taken her nearly seven of their ten years of marriage to get him properly trained, and now she was going to have to repeat the process with a new husband.

Later that day

“Mijnheer de Hooges was so angry, Mistress. I can’t tell you how happy I was when Mijnheer Hardebol called down from the stage,” Anneke Bellier said as she returned from seeing out Rut de Hooges.

Lysbeth looked up in horror, afraid that the disgruntled journeyman might have taken out his disappointment on little Anneke. “He didn’t hurt you?”

Anneke shook her head. “But if Mijnheer Hardebol hadn’t been there . . . “

The shudder that went through the maid’s petite frame reinforced Lysbeth’s belief that Rut, like his father before him, was prone to violence. “Well, there’s no way I’ll be marrying him.”

“Good.”

“Let’s hope John Mason is better.”

Anneke snorted. “Couldn’t be worse.”

“No,” Lysbeth agreed.

****

John Mason was a thirty-six year old journeyman. He’d been working at Master Swartwout’s mill since he returned from his journeyman’s journey ten years ago to be close to his aging parents. He was happy working under Master Swartwout, but he wasn’t one to let an opportunity go begging. And marriage to Master de Plancken’s widow was definitely an opportunity to advance up the guild hierarchy.

“Hello, Rut,” he called to the journeyman leaving Master de Plancken’s mill.

Rut pushed past, totally ignoring him. John watched the journeyman hurry off. Oh dear, it looked like Rut’s hopes had suffered a setback. John smiled smugly. That wasn’t going to happen to him. He knew he was the best man to take over the de Plancken mill, and persuading Lysbeth Goverts to marry him shouldn’t present any problem.

There was a young girl playing with a doll by a side door. John recognized Anthonius’ middle daughter and walked over to her. He crouched down so he was at her level. “Good afternoon, Mejuffrouw Maritje.”

Maritje de Plancken hugged her doll and smiled at John. “Hello.”

He gestured to the doll. “Who is your friend?”

“Esterken.”

John reached for the doll’s hand and bowed down to kiss it. “A pleasure to meet you, Mejuffrouw Esterken.”

He enjoyed the smile that appeared on Maritje’s face. Then he noticed a switch in the direction she was looking. He followed Maritje’s gaze to find Mevrouw Goverts watching. Slightly embarrassed at being caught playing with the young girl, he hastily stood. He dropped a slight bow of his head in greeting. “Mevrouw Goverts.”

“Mijnheer Mason. You’d best come in. Maritje, Mevrouw Willemse has something for you in the kitchen.”

Maritje waved to John before running off, and John waved back. “A most delightful young girl,” he commented.

“Yes, she is. How can I help you Mijnheer Mason?”

****

Lysbeth had been so hopeful when she’d seen John with Maritje. With Rut de Hooges already out of the running, she’d thought she’d discovered a viable alternative to Cornelius Hardebol. How wrong she’d been. At least she knew Cornelius was interested in the new technologies she and Anthonius had introduced to her mill over the years. John Mason, on the other hand, had definite views on the traditions of the craft. Those views including total resistance to the idea of giving a woman any say in what was done in her mill. That had been the last straw. She stood up, forcing John to do likewise. “It was very good of you to call, but I’m sure the rest of the men at your mill must be wondering what’s keeping you.”

She kept up a flood of idle chatter as she escorted John to the door. She stayed standing on the steps until John disappeared down the road. Then she turned and looked up. As expected, Cornelius Hardebol was there. She pointed a finger at him, then crooked it and gestured inside.

Late February1634

“Amen.”

Lysbeth smothered a sigh of relief. At last it was over, and now she could get up off her knees—such an inelegant position, especially with people watching. She waited for her new husband to get to his feet and help her up, and then they followed the minister to where the parish register was kept. They signed the register and waited for the minister and witnesses to sign. Now, officially, the business of their marriage was over, they could concentrate on the reason for the marriage—running her mill.

In addition to the mill workers, some sixty of her and Cornelius’ closest friends and business acquaintances had assembled in the guildhall for the reception. When she and Cornelius appeared they were already in place at the tables. A cheer went up for the happy couple, and Lysbeth allowed Cornelius to pull out her chair for her. Then the serious business of eating, drinking, and talking began.

****

“Congratulations, Lysbeth. You made a wise choice.”

“You really think so?” she asked hopefully. She still had doubts about what she’d done.

“Oh, definitely, I’ve heard Cornelius speak in CoC meetings, and he’s a real force for modernization,” Frederick van Dyke said. “With Cornelius in charge your mill will continue to be at the forefront of paper making technology.”

She glanced across the room to where Cornelius was talking to one of the merchants who dealt with their paper. Even though it was their wedding reception, she was still surprised that nobody she talked to had anything bad say about Cornelius, but then, they didn’t have to live with the callous and uncouth creature. At least he seemed capable of dealing with customers without giving them offense. Satisfied that her new husband was doing what he should to further the business, she turned back to Frederick. “How’s business? Is the siege causing you many problems?”

“Siege? What siege?” Frederick looked around at the tables set around the hall laden with food and fine wines. He gestured to include the whole hall. “Oh, you mean this siege?”

Lysbeth grinned. The current siege of Amsterdam was certainly unlike any she’d ever heard about. “Yes, this siege.”

“Business is doing well, too well, actually. I’ve got a strong catalog, but I’m having difficulty getting enough paper at a suitable price to meet demand. I don’t suppose . . . ” he looked at her hopefully.

Lysbeth regretfully shook her head. “I’m sorry, Frederick. We’d love to help you if we could, but we’re barely keeping up with demand for our fine white as it is.”

Frederick released a heavy sigh. “I was afraid of that. If only the other masters had been as forward thinking as Anthonius and Cornelius, I wouldn’t have this trouble getting paper.”

“If I hear of anyone who can help you, I’ll get in touch.”

“Thank you, and now I best stop monopolizing the bride.”

Lysbeth watched Frederick wend his way through the guests to the drinks table. She knew that his print shop’s line in romances was selling well—she had copies of all his books—but was it really doing that well?

****

Cornelius wanted to rip off the fine clothes he’d been forced to wear for the wedding and change into something more comfortable, but his opportunity to do that was still hours away. He took another sip of ale and surveyed the guests. There was a fair smattering of guild members and CoC people—although quite a few were members of both organizations. He searched the hall until he located his wife. She was talking to one of the cheap fiction publishers. Frederick van Dyke wasn’t someone she should be wasting her time with. Not when there were potential customers for the mill’s paper to cultivate.

“Dead man’s shoes, ay? How do they fit?”

Cornelius turned to the source of the question. Andries Calandrine wasn’t one of his favorite people. However, he was a customer for the mill’s paper, so he concealed his true feelings for Andries’ crudity. There was no way he was going to admit to Andries that the betrothal hadn’t been consummated, nor that the marriage wouldn’t be consummated until Lysbeth felt ready, so he lied. “None of your business.” The grin on his face left it up to Andries’ twisted imagination to fill in the blanks.

“You lucky bastard.”

“You would marry a widow nearly thirty years your senior,” Cornelius pointed out. Andries had married his widow nearly six years ago.

“How was I to know she came from a long-lived line? I expected her to pop off years ago, but no. She’s still going as strong as ever.” Andries gave a regretful sigh. “She’s going to outlive me, I just know it.”

Cornelius located Andries’ wife in the hall. Right now she was enjoying a discussion with one of Lysbeth’s friends. For a woman close to her sixtieth year, she did look remarkably healthy. “It could have been worse. There could have been a child hoping to take possession of the mill.”

“You mean, like the three girls you’ve been lumbered with?”

“I knew what I was taking on when I proposed to Lysbeth.”

“At least she’s young enough to give you a son. It’s going to be years and years before I can marry a woman young enough to give me one.”

A week later

The door to Cornelius’ office burst open and Pieter Peeck staggered in. “Master Hardebol, the mistress says you need to come immediately.”

Cornelius dropped the pen he was writing with, ruining the letter he’d been writing, and shot to his feet. “What’s wrong?” he demanded as he grabbed his coat and hurried after Pieter.

“The journeymen at Schepmoes’ mill have abandoned the apprentices.” There was true horror in Pieter’s voice when he said that.

Cornelius tried to remember who the journeymen in question could be. He had his coat on and the first button closed before his brain spewed out the names. Rut de Hooges and Arent Waldron. “Where are the journeymen now?”

Pieter shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know, Master Hardebol.”

Cornelius decided to save his breath and wait until he could talk to Lysbeth.

****

He found her in Master Schepmoes’ house administering first aid to a couple of the senior apprentices. “What happened?” he demanded.

“Sijmon and Jacob caught Rut and Arent stuffing Master Schepmoes’ remaining possessions into sacks and tried to stop them. They got beaten up for their trouble,” Lysbeth explained as she tied off a bandage around Sijmon’s head.

Cornelius looked around the room. There were signs someone had looted the house. “Is the rest of the house like this?”

Lysbeth tugged at a small boy and pushed him towards Cornelius. “This is Kaspar. He’ll show you around.”

The boy was young, probably no more than twelve or thirteen, but he also carried the signs of recent combat. He was hesitant about approaching Cornelius and glanced back appealingly at Lysbeth.

“It’s all right, Kaspar. Mijnheer Hardebol won’t hurt you.”

The boy looked Cornelius up and down, and looked back at Lysbeth in obvious disbelief.

“It’s true, Kaspar.” Lysbeth pushed him towards Cornelius. “Now, go and show my husband what the bad journeymen did.”

Cornelius held out a hand to Kaspar. “Come on, you’d better show me the damage.”

****

Cornelius had intended that last as just a throwaway jest, but he was soon shown to have spoken nothing but the truth. It wasn’t malicious damage he was finding. It was something much worse. Rut and his hanger-on had destroyed the fittings of the mill in their search for anything of value they could steal. There wasn’t a piece of easily accessible metal left in the mill. They’d even taken the brass wire mesh from the screens used to make paper. This was not going to be a quick fix. There was no way the mill could be put back into production without a lot of investment, and who in their right mind was going to invest in Schepmoes’ mill when the absent master would be the person to benefit when he returned from his voluntary exile?

He sent Kaspar to join his fellow apprentices and retired to the mill’s stage. He leaned on the railing and gazed into the distance. He had no idea what was to be done. Not for the mill, and especially not for the apprentices who were almost destitute. It was a matter for the guild, but he couldn’t see what it could possibly do.

“We can’t just let this mill stand idle,” Lysbeth said as she stepped up beside him.

He continued staring into the distance. “Nobody’s going to invest their money into Schepmoes’ mill.”

“That’s easily solved,” Lysbeth said.

That had him looking at his wife. “Do tell,” he invited.

“You buy the mill.”

Cornelius almost choked. “That’s impossible. A master can’t own more than one mill.”

“Why can’t a master run more than one mill?”

“Because he has to supervise the production,” Cornelius said, much in the way he’d instruct Pieter, the troublesome junior apprentice.

“You mean like Teunis Schepmoes has been so closely supervising paper production in his mill?”

That stymied Cornelius. Teunis wasn’t the only guild master to have abandoned Amsterdam in the face of the approaching Spanish, leaving their journeymen to keep their businesses running. It was a pretty hard argument to combat, so he tried a different tack. “Master Schepmoes’ mill isn’t for sale.”

“Neither was mine, but the guild would have taken it from me.”

“Not taken,” Cornelius said. “Forced you to sell. You own the mill. Just like Master Schepmoes still owns his mill.”

“Taken, forced to sell, what’s the difference?” Lysbeth asked.

“They would have paid you what it was worth,” Cornelius said.

Lysbeth smiled. “There you are then. Ask the guild to force a sale, and buy it for what it’s worth, which at the moment isn’t a lot.”

Cornelius shook his head. She just didn’t understand. “The guild can’t just force a master to sell his mill to someone else.” Oh, boy, the look on her face. If he ever wanted to really anger his wife, Cornelius knew he’d just discovered a way.

“But the guild could force me to sell?” she demanded.

“Because you aren’t a master papermaker,” Cornelius said. The fact that a woman could never be a master was perhaps something better left unsaid.

“The guild can still force Teunis to sell,” Lysbeth insisted.

“How?” Cornelius asked. “What legal justification could the guild possibly have to force a sale of Master Schepmoes’ mill?”

“How does breach of contract sound? Or how about the fact that the seven apprentices he abandoned are now a charge on the guild? Someone has to take them on and continue their training, but nobody’s going to take them on unless they get paid an apprenticeship fee.”

The sale of the mill would raise funds to allow the apprentices to purchase new apprenticeships, but that still left a question unanswered. “Why are you so insistent on buying Schepmoes’ mill?” Cornelius asked. “You already have one.”

“I’m not thinking of buying his mill. I’m thinking that you should buy it. You do want to own your own mill, don’t you?”

Cornelius swallowed. “Well, yes, but—”

“If you can’t afford it, I’ll even raise a mortgage on my mill for the difference.”

Cornelius stared at Lysbeth in disbelief. “You’re willing to risk your mill just to get me out of it?”

Lysbeth nodded. “Not that it’s that much of a risk. You are far too good a papermaker to fail—”

Cornelius smiled at hearing the first compliment he’d received from his wife.

“—especially when you’re risking all your own money.”

Cornelius winced. He should have expected a sting in the tail of any compliment from Lysbeth. Mind, it was good to see a smile on her face. There hadn’t been many of them since Anthonius died.

“The big question is can Mijnheer highly placed in the Amsterdam CoC Cornelius Janse Hardebol persuade the guild council to accept the idea?”

Cornelius thought of the problems involved in persuading the guild to do anything. Normally, there would be no chance of pulling off what Lysbeth was suggesting, but the situation in Amsterdam and Zaandam wasn’t normal. There was a war going on, and most of the guild masters who could be trusted to oppose the idea had gone into voluntary exile when the Spanish invaded. “If I buy Schepmoes mill, then I have total control, no matter how much you invest in it,” he insisted.

“Well . . . ” Lysbeth said hesitantly.

Cornelius placed a finger under Lysbeth’s chin and tilted her head until their eyes met. “Well, what?”

“I do think you should look at making cheaper paper in your mill,” Lysbeth said.

“What? Why should I go down market? I’m a maker of the finest quality papers.”

“Because I think there’s a large untapped market out there waiting. I spoke to Frederick van Dyke at the reception. He’s selling over two hundred books a day, and he says he could sell more if he could only get the paper.”

The crude numbers struck Cornelius as overly high. Nobody could sell that many books. Then he remembered what Frederick van Dyke was producing—romantic fiction printed on the cheapest possible paper. “Are you suggesting I should make paper for Frederic van Dykes’ two-bit trash?”

“Just because he priced them at two reals a copy doesn’t make them trash,” Lysbeth protested. “Have you ever read one of Frederick’s books?” she demanded.

“Of course not.” After all, he had standards. What would people think if they caught him reading one of van Dyke’s silly romantic novels?

“Then don’t knock them. And especially don’t mock the translations of the up-time contemporary romances. You could learn a lot about how businesses operated up-time.”

“Oh, sure.” Cornelius enjoyed the glare she sent his way after that comment. It helped that he knew she was an avid reader of the genre.

A week later, the Zaandam guildhall

There were four men, all masters with mills in Zaandam, sitting at the long table in front of Cornelius. Normally a decision on what happened in the papermakers’ guild would be heard by master papermakers, but there was only one other master papermaker still resident in Zaandam. To make a quorum the new Council of the Zaandam Combined Guilds was made up of the only guild masters, other than Anthonius, to have stayed behind in Zaandam when the Spanish invaded. Hopefully they felt the same contempt for the masters who ran as the journeymen and apprentices left behind felt. Seated behind him, listening, were a large number of the journeymen of the Zaandam guilds.

“Why do you think we, the Council of the Zaandam Combined Guilds, should order the forced sale of the paper mill belonging to Master Teunis Schepmoes?” Isaac Harmenszen of the sawmiller’s guild asked.

“Because he ran off, leaving his apprentices without proper supervision,” Cornelius said.

There were murmurings of disgust from the audience, but a hard glare from Isaac soon quieted the room. “That reflects poorly on Master Schepmoes, but he did leave them under the care of two journeymen.”

“And now those journeymen have also run away, leaving a mill that is unfit for operation, and the seven apprentices Master Schepmoes was supposed to be training are now a charge on the guild.” Cornelius passed his gaze along the line of guild masters sitting in judgment. “Unless there is someone willing to invest in Master Schepmoes’ mill, not only are those apprentices out of work, but so are the rag sorters and cutters who supplied his mill.”

“Why would anybody invest in Master Schepmoes’ mill?” Thomas Nunes of the papermaker’s guild asked. “As soon as he turns up they’d be out of pocket, with nothing to show for it.”

Cornelius smiled. Thomas’ comment couldn’t have been better timed if they’d arranged it. “Precisely,” Cornelius said. “Nobody is going to invest their hard-earned money into a mill they don’t own. That is why we need to force the sale.”

“Are we just talking about Master Schepmoes mill, or any mill where the master has gone into voluntary exile, leaving the journeymen to struggle on as best they can?” Thomas asked.

Cornelius was instantly on alert. It appeared Thomas might have expansionary hopes of his own. “I don’t see why any masterless mill someone suitably qualified wants to buy can’t be liable to forced sale.”

“But that could mean every master who abandoned Amsterdam as the Spanish attacked could lose his mill,” Mieuwes Evertsen, a spice miller, said.

Cornelius stared at Mieuwes. He hadn’t thought of it like that, but the sounds from behind him suggested the journeymen liked the idea of evicting the absent masters. Certainly there was little respect amongst the men for the wealthy guild masters who’d deserted them in the face of the enemy. “I don’t think anybody in this room would have a problem with that,” he said. He glanced over his shoulder at the collected journeymen. Every head he could see was nodding in agreement.

“But most mills have more than one journeyman. How do we decide who gets promoted to rank of master?” Thomas asked.

“What if the journeymen aren’t all promoted to master? Instead we just permit them to own all or part of a mill,” Isaac suggested.

“But ownership implies mastership, and you can’t have more than one master to a mill,” Dirck de Varden of the saw miller’s guild said.

“Why not?” Isaac asked. “For that matter, the last few months have clearly demonstrated that you don’t even need guild masters to run the mills. Otherwise industry in Zaandam would have ground to a halt shortly after the Spanish invaded.”

All chatter in the meeting hall ceased. Everybody felt that this was an important moment in the history of the Zaandam industrial zone. Cornelius glanced behind. Everybody was leaning forward in their seats so as not to miss what happened next. This meeting had moved a considerable distance from the original intent of permitting him to buy and run Schepmoes’ mill. He took a deep breath and slowly released it. “Gentlemen, it is obvious that there is considerable resentment aimed at the masters who abandoned us. Does any man here think we owe any of those guild masters anything?”

“No,” the crowd roared. The four masters before him nodded agreement with what he’d said.

“Then the council must decide that the mill of any absent master can be purchased by the journeymen working the mill. And because few individual journeymen will be able to afford to buy the mill, I suggest that the council also rule that mills can be owned by partnerships of guildsmen.”

There were roars of approval from behind him, and Isaac was forced to hammer his gravel against his desk for several minutes to restore order. Finally the room was quiet. “Thank you, Master Hardebol. However, you have drifted from the question before this council. You have given good reasons why Master Schepmoes’ mill should be put up for sale, and you have indicated your willingness to purchase it. The committee will now take a recess to discuss what we have heard and make a decision. This session is adjourned.” Isaac brought down his wooden mallet one last time before he and the other three members of the committee stood and walked out.

Cornelius was in limbo. He didn’t know what to do. How long would the committee take to make up its mind? He found a seat and collapsed into it.

****

Cornelius strode out of the guild hall brimming with confidence. He took a couple of steps to one side, to keep clear of the door, and checked the letter he’d been given. The guild had decided to put Master Schepmoes’ mill up for sale—to raise funds to cover the expense of resettling his abandoned apprentices—and as there were no journeymen currently employed at the mill, he had first refusal. He screwed up his nose at the bit that specified an independent valuer must be employed, at his expense, to determine fair value for the mill. However, he’d got everything he asked for. Now to give Lysbeth the good news.

He found her sound asleep in her favorite easy chair with her baby daughter snuggled up against her chest. He built up the fire and left the letter from the guild council where it would be the first thing she saw when she woke. He hoped that would be some time away, because Janneke had been keeping her awake and both of them were short of sleep. He found a blanket, gently placed it over the sleeping pair and quietly left the room.

****

Janneke’s slobbering finally woke Lysbeth. She noticed someone had covered them, and her first thought was it was nice of Anneke, but then she noticed the letter lying open beside her. She wanted to erupt out of the chair and jump for joy, but the quiet bundle lying contently against her chest persuaded her not to. Instead she slowly got to her feet and headed for the nursery where she put Janneke down. Then she went back for the letter and set out in search of her husband.

“You did it,” she squealed when she ran him to ground at the mill. Ignoring the interested stares of the journeymen and apprentices, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

There was a smug look on her husband’s face when he lowered her to the ground. “I thought you might be pleased.”

Lysbeth was sure her smile was just as smug as her husband’s. “When do you take over the mill?”

“Unofficially, I can start work immediately. Officially, I have to wait for the valuation to come in and the purchase contracts to be signed, but the council wants Schepmoes’ mill running and the apprentices back in training there as soon as possible.”

March 1634

Cornelius stood back and watched the shaft rotate. After three weeks of eighteen hour days and pints of blood and sweat, the mill was running again. He glanced over to where Christoffel Brunt, a recently promoted journeyman, was standing. He nodded once and a valve was opened to fill the rag-breaker tanks with water. The roller was lowered into the rising water and started threshing it.

“Some rag,” Cornelius called, and Christoffel dropped in several roughly cut squares of clean rag.

The current being generated by the spinning roller swept the rags toward the roller, and they were spewed out the other side. Cornelius grabbed one and checked it. The roller was still too high, so he screwed it down another couple of turns and waited for the next bit of rag to go under. He didn’t have long to wait. This time the roller had definitely scraped the fibers. A slight adjustment on the roller and Cornelius was happy. “We’ll leave it at that level for now. Right, fill the tank up.”

Cornelius left Christoffel to supervise the loading of rags into the rag-breaker tank and moved on to the next stage of the operation. It’d be several hours before the rag-breaker tank would be drained into the working vat, but it didn’t hurt to check everything was ready.

After a short tour Cornelius was convinced everything was ready and working properly. He wiped his forearm across his brow and leaned against the wall while he listened to the beautiful sound of the mill working. Lysbeth was going to be proud of him.

****

Lysbeth was waiting for him when he returned home from work that evening. “What’s production like?”

Cornelius sighed. Progress in this marriage was slow. “You could at least show some kind of welcome,” he protested.

Lysbeth stepped aside to let him into the house. “There’s a hot tub waiting.”

Cornelius smiled as he walked past Lysbeth. “That’s more like it.”

“Now, about the paper . . . “

He sighed again. She was like a dog at a bone sometimes. “We made almost ten reams today. By the end of the week we should be able to at least triple that.”

“Good. Enjoy your bath. I’ll hold dinner until you surface.”

Cornelius waved his thanks and made his way to the bathroom. It was a proper up-timer inspired bathroom, with hot and cold running water. This was no small hip bath that a man couldn’t stretch out in. The tub was over six feet long and deep enough to easily cover his aching shoulders. He quickly stripped off his clothes and slid into the hot water.

While he lay there he contemplated his marriage. He’d signed the contract Lysbeth had produced because it had been the easiest way to rise to the rank of master and have his own mill. Except it hadn’t been his mill, it’d been Lysbeth’s. He’d been chaffing at the strain of her constant supervision from the very first day. That was one reason he’d so enthusiastically grabbed the chance to take over Master Schepmoes’ mill. However, his wife did have some good ideas. Making paper for Frederick van Dyke had been one of them. Yes, on the business front, things were going reasonably well. Domestically, things weren’t going quite so well. Lysbeth still hadn’t invited him into her bed—the contract he’d so enthusiastically signed meant he had to wait for Lysbeth to make the first move—however, as he relaxed in the hot bath she’d had ready for him, he was convinced it was only a matter of time before that changed.

****

Cornelius crawled out of the tub and pulled the plug. While the tub drained he dried and dressed himself. He used his dirty towel to clean the inside of the tub before throwing it and his dirty clothes into the laundry basket. Then he headed for the lounge. There, in front of the fire, he settled into the leather easy chair he’d had made to his specifications and relaxed.

He’d barely closed his eyes when he was disturbed. “Story.”

He pried open one eye to see the source of his problem. Little Maritje was leaning over the arm of the chair waving a book at him. He closed his eye and settled back, hoping that if he ignored her she’d go away.

“Story,” Maritje insisted. The demand was accompanied by a prod in his ribs.

Cornelius opened his eyes to study the source of the disturbance. Maritje had the same firm chin as her mother, and was no doubt similarly self-willed. There was going to be no way of getting rid of the girl without reading her the story. With a heavy sigh Cornelius held out his hand for the book. A quick flick through revealed it was more pictures than word. Good, this shouldn’t take long.

Cornelius rattled through the story as quickly as he could and tried to hand it back. But Maritje was having none of it. “You didn’t speak like Brillo,” she complained.

He tried again. Maritje seemed happier, but not happy enough to leave. He read the story again and again. Each time he repeated the story Maritje crowded him more and more in his chair. He finished a rendition of The Further Adventures of Brillo that he was sure not even Anthonius could have rivaled, to find Maritje had missed most of the story. She was snuggled up against him with her thumb in her mouth, sound asleep.

Cornelius thought about moving her, but that was likely to waken her, and he didn’t want to go through the story again. So after gently removing her thumb from her mouth, he lay back and quickly fell asleep.

****

Lysbeth was busy writing a letter when Anneke disturbed her.

“Mistress, you must see this,” Anneke said, tugging firmly at her free arm.

Lysbeth resisted. “See what?”

“The master and Maritje.”

Lysbeth shot out of her chair and would have run to Maritje’s rescue but for Anneke’s restraining arm.

“Shhhh.” Anneke held a finger to her lips and led Lysbeth to the lounge.

Lysbeth heard Maritje demanding “story” and “again” as she reached the lounge. Surprisingly, she soon heard her husband’s resigned voice telling Maritje “just once more.” She stood in the doorway with Anneke beside her and listened to Cornelius read to Maritje. It wasn’t the rather dull monotone that Anthonius had used. Cornelius was entering into the true spirit of reading to a child, with sound effects and funny voices.

She noticed when Cornelius lost his audience and waited for Cornelius to notice that Maritje had fallen asleep, but he read the story with the same enthusiasm right to the end. Then, and only then, did he notice that Maritje had fallen asleep. She saw him adjust Maritje’s position sprawled over his chest and lie back in his chair. Seconds later, she was sure he was sound asleep.

Lysbeth entered the room and almost stood on a small body curled up beside the chair as she walked around it. So Cornelius had caught two of her daughters with his storytelling. She pointed to the form at her feet and gave the watching Anneke a wry grin. Was this the same callous monster who’d seen nothing wrong in Maritje stumbling upon her dead father?

Anneke joined Lysbeth while she gently woke Maria, and the three of them studied the sleeping beauties on the chair. Lysbeth gently lifted Maritje and carried her out of the room. “Bed for you too,” she told Maria before she headed for Maritje’s bedroom.

****

The apprentices had been fed and watered, and had retired to their room. The girls also had been put to bed. Lysbeth returned to the lounge to find Cornelius was still sound asleep in his chair. She placed the lamp she carried on the table beside the chair and studied the man she’d married. He was a real hard worker, this new husband of hers. That wasn’t to say that Anthonius hadn’t been a hard worker. She might have been a naïve eighteen year-old when she married him, but she’d never been so naïve that she’d have married a wastrel.

Still, Anthonius had been twenty-three years her senior, and even then he’d lacked the energy that Cornelius had in abundance. Yes, she’d made a good choice in her second husband. He was a hard worker, didn’t drink to excess, and it appeared, was good with children. It was with the comforting reassurance of that last thought that she allowed herself to remember what she’d seen when she’d checked Cornelius hadn’t fallen asleep in the bath. Yes, he was also in better physical condition than Anthonius.

She waited for the flush of color to recede before she approached Cornelius and nudged him gently until he woke.

Slowly he opened his eyes and stared at Lysbeth. Then he seemed to recognize her and settled back in his chair. “Yes?”

She reached down for his hand and tugged. Cornelius resisted, and their eyes met. She saw that Cornelius was as ready as she was. More, if the way he was slowly tugging her toward his lap was anything to judge by. She shook her head. She wanted comfort the first time with her new husband. She leaned back and pulled on his hand. “Bed.”

That was all it took. Cornelius erupted from his chair. It was only her grip on his hand that stopped her falling. Then she was lifted into Cornelius’ arms. He’d taken three steps before he stopped. The hall was dark.

“Take us back to the lamp and I’ll carry it,” Lysbeth suggested.

She got a gentle kiss for her trouble and soon they were heading up the stairs to her bedchamber.

****

Lysbeth snuggled her naked body up against the naked body of her husband. That had been so much better than it ever had been with Anthonius. She whispered into his ear, “We must do this more often.”

Unfortunately, some things didn’t change. Cornelius was sound asleep.

****

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