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Delia Ruggles Higgins was five foot nine, whipcord thin, and a self-described packrat. As of the Ring of Fire, she was fifty-nine and had been a widow for seven years. She had graying hair and black eyes. She figured she had "gracefully surrendered the things of youth." Not without regret, but with what she hoped was grace.
These days she ran the storage lot that had been her living with her late husband Ray, and still was now that he was gone. For the last four years she had also managed her daughter Ramona, who had a true knack for picking Mr. Wrong. Ramona and her boys David and Donny had moved back in with her a few months after Donny's dad had dumped her and gone back to his wife. David was small for his age, skinny with brown hair. Delia was expecting a growth spurt anytime now. Donny was thin too, but his growth spurt was still probably some years away.
Ramona did most of the routine work at the storage lot, and since the house was next door, Delia was available if something came up that Ramona couldn't handle. Which happened all too often. She took after her father physically. She was plump and short with light brown hair and pale blue eyes.
Delia had a big doll collection. It was not, she would cheerfully acknowledge, a great doll collection. It was almost entirely cheap plastic dolls bought at the Goodwill in Fairmont, the local thrift shops, and Valuemart, whenever they had something cheap. She had, for example, five Michael Jordan dolls: three ten-inch ones, and two eighteen-inch ones she had found still in the box at a clearance sale. She had lots of fashion dolls, Barbies, Sandies and others. Some she had posed with members of the Enterprise crew. She liked Star Trek. There were also baby dolls, and Santas, which you could get really cheap right after Christmas.
It wasn't, with the exception of a few gifts, an expensive collection, but it was a big one, collected over the last twenty years or so. Ray had not commented when she started collecting dolls. He just shook his head and from then on bought her dolls for Christmas, birthdays, and whenever the mood struck. She used her grandmother's old Singer sewing machine to make doll clothing and to repair and fit people clothing she got at Goodwill and other thrift stores in the area.
She gardened quite a bit, growing both vegetables and flowers. She grew vegetables in the back yard, which was larger than the front by a considerable margin. Not enough for a truck garden, but enough to add fresh fruit and vegetables to the larder in spring and summer. The front yard was devoted to flowers. They were just for fun. She had roses and daffodils, and a variety of others. She had even planted flowerbeds outside the mobile home that served as an office for the storage lot.
Then came the Ring of Fire. Delia came home from the town meeting three days after the Ring of Fire in a state of shock, which was replacing her previous state of denial. She had not believed the rumors. In spite of everything, she had not wanted to believe the stories. Now they were confirmed.
She still had the storage lot, but it wasn't the steady income it had been. The circumstances had changed. She had no idea how the change would affect the storage rental business. Hell, with Mike Stearns running things, we might get nationalized, she thought half seriously. Delia had never been fond of unions, or union bosses. There was some money in the bankthough what, if anything, it was worth now, she had no idea. Things had been tight before the disaster. Now?
She looked over at her daughter. Ramona was not taking things well. Then again, Ramona never had taken changes well, not even as a child. Right now she was going though the pantry, picking things up and putting them down, with little rhyme or reason. David, Ramona's elder son, was doing better. He had taken his younger brother Donny to their room as soon as they got home, but David had been better than his mother in emergencies, even when he was ten. Delia sighed.
The house had clearly needed cleaning, and it helped keep Ramona busy. Delia made an inventory of everything they found. About the only exceptional things in the house were her dolls and the sheer amount of unfinished sewing. She had obviously gotten behind in her sewing.
Then there was The Storage Lot. About three acres of their five acre lot were devoted to the collection of used metal shipping containers that made up the storage lot. Before the Ring of Fire it had provided the family with a living. Three quarters of the containers had been rented, about half of them to people outside the Ring of Fire. Since the Ring of Fire, though, she was left with only a third of the containers rentedand things were only getting worse as people emptied their containers for items to sell to the merchants in Rudolstadt and Badenburg.
There were two ways of looking at the property in the storage containers rented by people outside the Ring of Fire. One theory was that it now belonged to her, since it was on her land and in her containers. The other was that it belonged to Grantville, like the land that was owned by people outside the Ring of Fire.
Delia was not sure which way the powers-that-be would come down on the issue. She understood that they might feel that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. She even agreed, in theory, but she had Ramona and the boys to consider. So, for now, she was keeping a fairly low profile, trying to figure out which way things were going to go. She had not opened any of the containers that were rented by people left behind because if she waited till their rent was overdue she would have up-time legal precedent on her side. Meanwhile, her income had gone down by over fifty percent, and any gain represented by the stuff in the containers was both iffy and short term.
They needed another source of income. There was all the old clothing, quite a bit in the sewing room, and still more in a storage container. One good thing about owning a storage lot: you generally had a place to put your stuff. It was the perfect job for a pack rat, Delia thought, grinning reminiscently. She would look into repairing and selling some of the old clothing.
Dinner that night was venison steaks, well done, with salad, both bought at the grocery store for about what beef steaks and salad would have cost before the Ring of Fire. The venison was cheaper than the beef would have been, but the salad was more expensive. Bread for the moment was priced through the roof. The table was set with a silver plate candelabra and light for dinner was provided by candles rather then light bulbs, not to make dinner more romantic, but because the Wendells had figured out that light bulbs were going to be expensive and hard to replace. Still it lent an elegance to the family dinner. At the head of the table sat Fletcher Wendell, a tall gangly man with dark brown hair and hornrimmed glasses. He was not a particularly handsome man but his face was rendered charming by animation. Across from him sat his wife Judy, statuesque rather than gangly, with mahogany hair and blue eyes. Recessive genes had played in making their daughters. Sarah was a carrottop with rather too many freckles distracting from the evenness of her features. Which left Judy the Younger, twelve and so pretty as to border on the beautiful. Rich auburn hair and a pale complexion with only the lightest sprinkling of freckles.
Judy the Younger asked: "Mom, Hayley says that money is worth more now than it was before the Ring of Fire, but Vicky says it's not worth anything cuz there ain't no United States no more. So who's right?"
Judy the Elder stalled while she thought about her daughter's question. "Because, not 'cuz,' dear. And 'isn't,' not ain't."
Fletcher Wendell came to his wife's rescue, sort of. "Back before the Ring of Fire, there was a bank in Washington that had a bunch of fairies with magic wands. They made new money when they were happy, and made it disappear when they were sad. Apparently, when the Ring of Fire happened, one of those fairies was in town, and it now resides in the Grantville bank."
"Daaad!" Judy the Younger complained, while her older sister Sarah smirked.
"I take it," said Daaad, "that you don't believe in Federal Reserve Fairies? That's just the problem, don't you see? Neither do the down-timers, at least not yet. Part of my new job with the finance subcommittee is to keep the Federal Reserve Fairies happy. Another part is to convince the Germans and all the other down-timers that they are real, because they perform a very important function and it only works really well if most people believe in them."
Judy the Younger looked disgusted. Sarah didn't even try to hide her smirk. Judy the Elder was moderately successful at disguising her laugh with a cough, then she gave Fletcher the "look." At which point Fletcher held up his hands in mock surrender.
"All right, I surrender," he said, which no one believed for a moment.
Judy the Elder gave her husband one more severe look then spoke again. "Your father's subcommittee recommended to the cabinet that they declare that money on deposit in the bank and the credit union is still there, that debts owed to people or institutions inside the Ring of Fire are still valid, but debts or accounts in places left up-time are gone. Just common sense, but some people argued about it. Some wanted accounts in other banks honored. Sort of transferred to the local bank. Others wanted all debts to the bank erased."
Fletcher grimaced. "Well . . . pretty muchexcept there's still a big argument about mortgages. People who owe their mortgage to the local bank are raising a fuss because they think they're being discriminated against. They think the out-of-area mortgages should be assumed by the new government. Truth to tell, they've got a pointand Lord knows the government could use the money."
Judy the Elder plowed on. "Leave that aside, for the moment. Right now, wages paid by the city government or the emergency committee are being kept the same as they were before the Ring of Fire. Dan Frost is still paid the same. The coal miners are getting paid according to their pre-Ring of Fire contract, as are the people at the power plant. The difference is that now the emergency committee, which is receiving the income from coal sales and electric bills, is paying them. As will whatever government follows it. Unless it divests itself of the businesses. What that does is provide a stable point in the money supply which, hopefully, will help keep the money from increasing or decreasing in value too quickly, but no one wants wage and price freezes to last any longer or be any more widespread than absolutely necessary. So the owner of the grocery store sets the prices at the grocery store, with suggestions by the emergency committee. Now back to your question, how much is a dollar worth? If you're talking about paying the electric bill, or the house payment, it's worth exactly what it was worth before the Ring of Fire. If you're talking about buying groceries, it's fairly close to what it was before. For a Barbie doll, it's worth a lot less, because no one is making Barbie dolls any more, and the down-timers are buying them up. So take care of your Barbies, they are going to be worth a lot one day."
"Ah, but the down-timers don't have any money," Fletcher put in with a grin. "At least, not American money. So right now, everyone is trying to figure out how much of our money their money is worth, and vici verci. Which is where the Federal Reserve Fair" Fletcher paused, casting an overdone look of meek submission at his wife. "Ah, the bank comes in."
"Oh, go ahead Fletcher," Judy the Elder put in, with an equally overdone, long-suffering sigh. "You won't be satisfied till you've run those poor fairies into the ground."
"Not at all. I'm very fond of the Federal Reserve Fairies. They do the kind of magic we need done." He smiled cheerfully at his daughters. "The thing about the Fed Fairies is they hate it when prices go up too fast. It makes them very sad, and they wave their magic wands, and make the bank have less money. Then the bank charges more interest when it loans out what money it does have. What makes the Fed Fairies really happy, is when prices stay the same, or go down. When that happens, they can't help themselves, they just have to wave their magic wands to make more money. As a matter of fact, they look into their crystal balls to see what the prices will be like months or even years in the future, and wave their magic wands in response to what they see. At least they did before the Ring of Fire. I think the crystal ball must have gotten bumped or something cuz the predictions we're hearing at the subcommittee meetings are bouncing all over the place. So one of the things we're working on is trying to determine the 'real' value of all the goods and services within the Ring of Fire, measured in up-time money, so we can help the Fed Fairies figure out which way to wave their wands."
His face grew comically lugubrious. "Now, when people don't believe in the Fed Fairies, they have to come up with some other explanation for where the money comes from. Like, 'The Government.' The problem is, governments always need money, and if they can make it themselves, well, people are afraid they will. And that they will keep on making more of it until it takes thousands of dollars to buy a ham sandwich. So, an important part of my new job is to convince the down-timers that Mike Stearns can't just make more money whenever he wants to. That, instead of the government making the decisions, the Fed Fairies will decide how much American money there is, so they can trust American money to hold its value."
Sarah was always happy to play along with her father's teasing of her little sister. "How are you going to make the fairies happy so they will make more money and we can all be rich?"
"The more stuff there is to buy, the more money you can have without the prices going up too much. We brought quite a bit of stuff with us through the Ring of Fire, but to make the Fed Fairies really happy, we need to find stuff that we can make here."
The rest of the evening was spent in discussion of production and levels of usage. In spite of the dry subject matter, or perhaps because it isn't quite so dry as most people think when presented right, it was an enjoyable conversation, and even Judy the Younger had fun.
David Bartley had a crush on Sarah Wendell; which he of course, would never admit to. This was bad enough. What made it worse, was that Sarah had a crush on Brent Partow; which, of course, she would never admit to. Brent and his twin brother Trent were David's best friends, and had been since his family moved to Grantville in ninety-six.
Brent didn't have a crush on Sarah. He was the second largest boy in the ninth grade. He was interested in football, all things mechanical, and recently all things military. Girls, as Girls, had been creeping into his awareness, but only creeping, and the Ring of Fire had pushed them back several steps. He was good looking, and enthusiastic in his interests, willing to share them with others and listen to their views, so far without regard to their gender. Which may explain Sarah's crush.
His brother Trent, the largest boy in the ninth grade by about a millimeter and maybe a half a pound, acted as a governor for his exuberant fascinations. Brent would come up with a plan to make or do something, and Trent would come up with all the reasons it wouldn't work. Then they would argue it out, using David, and lately Sarah, to act as referee and deciding vote.
The upshot of all these social interconnections was that the four hung out together, and talked about football, all things mechanical, and recently, all things military. All things military focused on the Ring of Fire, and the changes it had and would bring about.
Where the kids sat, near a small creek, the buildings of Grantville were hidden by steep tree-topped hills, as well as quite a bit of the sky. "Flat," around here, meant any angle less than thirty degrees. If there wasn't a building right next to you, it seemed as though you were in virgin forest never touched by men.
Sarah was talking about her dad's new job at the finance subcommittee, and its importance to all things military. "Dad says that we're going to be in trouble if we don't come up with stuff to trade with the Germans."
Trent argued almost by reflex. "We have plenty to trade, TV and radio, cars and microwaves. All sorts of stuff." It was, after all, obvious that people from the end of the twentieth century must be rich in comparison to people of the first half of the seventeenth.
Sarah was not impressed. "Can you build a TV? What about a TV station? My Dad says 'We have to buy food, and we are gonna keep right on needing food.' We're not gonna keep having TVs and so on to sell. Once they're sold, they're gone."
Sarah, an astute observer might note, was a bit pedantic on the subject of My Dad Said. She might have a crush on Brent, but she loved and respected her father. That last part, had he known it, would have come as quite a shock to Fletcher Wendell. He was convinced that his daughter's youthful admiration had gone the way of the dodo a year and a half hence.
Before the Ring of Fire, that youthful admiration had indeed been on the decline. When his job disappeared with the Ring of Fire, Sarah was naturally concerned with how that would affect her. This entailed a certain amount of resentment; youthful admiration had gone almost comatose. What use after all, is an insurance salesman in the Dark Ages? Then, with his new job with the finance subcommittee, Fletcher Wendell suddenly had an important role in the survival of Grantville. His older daughter's admiration for Dad had popped right out of its sickbed as if it had never even been asleep. Which fact she had gone to some length to hideadmiration for one's dad being damaging to fourteen-year-old dignity.
"There're things we can build," David said, "We have the machine shops." This comment had less to do with defending Trent, than the fact that David, for all intents and purposes, didn't have a dad and sort of resented Sarah's harping on hers.
"What?" Sarah asked.
Alas, David had no ready answer, so he had to make do with a disgruntled shrug and a vague "Lots of stuff." Not nearly impressive enough. Shortly after that the gathering broke up and the kids went home.
David was bothered by that shrug, and the lack of knowledge it represented, much more than anyone else in the group. Partly that was because it's always less pleasant to taste your foot than to see someone put theirs in their mouth. But mostly it was because the grim reality of Sarah's comments hit a bit closer to home for him than for the others. He remembered some bad times from before they moved back to Grantville after "Uncle" Donovan left. David's world had come apart before, and it showed all the signs of doing so again. There was a sort of directionless tension in the air. As if the grownups around him knew something had to be done, but didn't really know what. And there were major money concerns, always a bad sign. Worse, unlike last time, it seemed to cover the whole town, not just his family.
David started actively looking for something to make. Something for people to spend their energy on. Something that would bring in money. Something, anything, to make the uncertainty go away.
Brent Partow spent the night thinking about what Sarah had said as well. He wasn't worried, he was interested. Brent spent his life in search of the next interesting thing to do. To Brent, Sarah's concerns about saleable products simply meant a fun game of what can we build? By the next day he had a plan. He talked it over with Trent, who only had minor objections. Trent was afraid that if the grownups found out they might like the idea. Which, of course, meant they would take the thing over, put it in a class, suck all the fun out of it, and turn it into work. Trent was also afraid that if the grownups found out they might be displeased. Which, of course, meant they would forbid the kids the game, and just to make sure, assign them something boring to do. So his sole restriction was: no grownups.
David was the first to arrive. Then Brent and Trent arrived together. By the time Sarah got there, the issue was decided.
Sarah, feeling somewhat left out, initially scoffed at the plan. But then David pointed out that, if what her father said was true, it was their duty to Grantville to do something. That ended that. David was a dedicated and marginally astute observer of Sarah Wendell.
So the four began their search for the right thing to make. First they compiled lists of things. Guns, airplanes, hovercraft, cars, electric engines, nails, pliers . . .
The lists got very long because Brent had declared that the first winner would be the person who came up with the most possibilities, whether they turned out to be possible or not. So the first list included such practical and easy to make things as phasers, space shuttles, nuclear submarines, and cruise missiles. Each of which was greeted with raspberries and giggles, but each of which gained the originator a point marked down by Trent. A number of the suggestions that were to eventually be made by one or another group of up-timers were greeted with the above accolade. After about an hour the kids were starting to get a little bored. Trent's suggestion that they adjourn, and each make a separate list over the next couple of days, met with general approval.
Sarah won by fifteen entries. There was some debate as to whether all her entries were indeed separate items. In a number of cases she had included the final item along with several component parts. Among the four lists there were close to a thousand separate items. If you eliminated duplicates, there were still over five hundred. When you eliminated the utterly impossible, matter transmitters and the like, there were still over three hundred.
Then they tried to eliminate the impractical. But what makes the difference between practical and impractical? That is not so easy a thing to determine, and each kid came at the question from a different angle. To Brent and Trent it was still very much a game, so their version of practical had more to do with interesting than anything else. Sarah imagined presenting her parents with a list of things that could be sold and gaining their respect, so her version paid much attention to what would be saleable. David was the only one who was actually looking for something that would make a good investment for his family. His problem was, he really wasn't sure what that meant.
All in all, the whole thing was a lot of fun. Some thingsnails, for examplewere eliminated when Sarah informed them someone else was already working on them. The finance subcommittee was apparently keeping track of that sort of thing. Other things, such as airplanes, were marked as practical but not for them. A number of things were marked as practical for them; but they didn't stop at the first of these, since they had agreed to go through the whole list.
Then they reached the sewing machine. Brent, who had little interest in sewing, proclaimed that it was impractical because it needed an electric motorand they had already determined that for them, the electric motor was impractical.
David remembered his grandmother's old Singer and that it had been converted from treadle power. This was not actually true, merely a family rumor, but David didn't know that. So he pointed out that a sewing machine did not need an electric motor, which was true.
Sarah, who recognized the root motive of Brent's rejection of the sewing machinesexism, pure and simplenaturally took a firm position in favor of the sewing machine.
Poor Trent didn't know which way to turn. Arguing with Brent was dear to his heart, as was tearing down impossible schemes, but sewing machines were for girls.
"They're too complicated," he claimed, "we could never make one from an encyclopedia entry. We would need a design or a model or something."
"We have one!" David was well pleased to be on Sarah's side against Brent. "At least my grandma has one, and it's old. It was converted from treadle or pedal power to electric sometime, but all they did was put on an electric motor to replace the pedals."
What are you going to do when faced with such intransigence? You just have to show them. Trent and Brent were going to show that it could not be done. David and Sarah, that it could.
Delia was sewing when the kids arrived. She had been sewing quite a bit lately. She had worked out a deal with the Valuemart, and she had been patching, hemming, and seaming ever since. It was now providing a fair chunk of the family income. Still, she was pleased enough to hear the pounding hooves of a herd of teens to take a break. Such herds had been in short supply since the Ring of Fire.
She was a bit surprised when the kids wanted to look at her old Singer. Kids took an interest in the oddest things. She showed it off readily enough. She was rather proud of it; almost a hundred years old, and still worked well.
Brent was converted. There were all sorts of gadgets and doohickeys, and neat ways of doing things. Figuring out what did what and why, and what they could make, and what they could replace with something else would be loads of fun.
Trent resisted for a while, but not long. A sewing machine really is a neat piece of equipment.
As Delia watched David at the dining room table, his dark eyes studying some papers with an intensity rarely lavished on schoolwork, she thought about the incursion of the small herd of teens. David was up to something, she could tell.
She remembered a phone call she had gotten four years ago, from a ten-year-old David, explaining the hitherto unknown facts that Ramona had lost her job two months before, that they were about to be thrown out of their apartment, and there was no food in it anyway.
"Could we come live with you Grandma? Mom can help you out with the storage lot."
"Where is your mother?" Delia has asked.
"She's out looking for work. 'Cept she ain't. She goes to the park and sits." David hastened to add: "She looked at first, she really did. But Mom don't like it when things don't work. After a while she just quits."
They had worked it out between them. It was mostly David's plan. She had called that night and asked if Ramona could come home and work at the storage lot, to give her a bit more time with her garden.
It had been a while after they got back to Grantville before David had gone back to being just a kid. There had been a certain watchfulness about him. A waiting for the other shoe to drop, so he could catch it before things got even more busted. The watchfulness had slowly faded. Ramona had never been aware of it. Any more than she had ever known about the plot to bring them home. But Delia remembered that watchfulness, and it was back. Subtler than before, more calculating, but there. David had decided that he needed to save his world again, and was trying to figure out how.
This time Delia would not wait for a phone call.
She finished dressing the Barbie in her version of a 1630's peasant outfit. "David, come give me a hand in the garden. I just remembered some lifting I need you to do for me."
Delia kept a compost heap for her garden. This occasionally involved David, Donny or Ramona with a wheelbarrow. In this instance, it made a good excuse to get David alone for a quiet talk.
David, deep in the process of determining which parts of a sewing machine might best be made by a 1630's blacksmith, grumbled a bit; but did as he was told.
It took all of five minutes, and more importantly a promise not to interfere without good reason, to get David talking. This didn't reflect a lack of honor on David's part, but trust in his grandmother. Once he started talking it took a couple of hours for him to run down. During those two hours, Delia was again reminded that kids understand more and listen more than people generally gave them credit for. Or than they want credit for, mostly.
The economics of the Ring of Fire were made clear. Well, a little clearer. She learned about Brent and Trent's talent for making things, how they worked off one another. She learned about Sarah's understanding of money, and the financial situation of Grantville as a whole, and how Delia's family's situation was a smaller version of the same thing. That they had lots of capital in the form of goods, but nothing to invest it in. That what were needed were products that they could make the machines to make. David had to explain that part twice to make it clear. He used the sewing machine as an example.
"It works like this, Grandma. We have a sewing machine. If we sell it, it's gone. Mr. Marcantonio's machine shop could make sewing machines if we didn't need it to make other stuff, but eventually it's going to have breakdowns, and it won't be able to make sewing machines any more. Especially if all it's making is sewing machine parts and not machine shop parts to keep the machine shop running. But if Mr. Marcantonio's shop makes some machines that make sewing machine parts, then when those machines break down we have some place to go to get more of them. Every step away from just taking what we have and selling it costs more, but means it takes longer for us to run out of stuff to sell. The machines that make the sewing machine parts don't have to be as complicated as those in Mr. Marcantonio's shop, because they don't need to be as flexible. 'Almost tools,' Brent says."
Sarah Wendell and the Partow twins made a new friend that evening; their parents, even more so. Delia was impressed by the kids and the parents who had given them the knowledge they had.
She was also impressed with David. She promised not to interfere unless asked, but made him promise to ask for her help if needed. She added her vote to the sewing machine because it was a machine itself, so in a way it added yet another level to the levels he had talked about. She gave permission to disassemble her Singer if it was needed. She also promised backing if the kids came up with a plan that they convinced her could work.
"We'll find the money to do it, David. You and your friends come up with a plan that has a good shot of working and I'll find the money."
David Bartley went to bed that night at peace with the world. For the first time since the town meeting after the Ring of Fire, his stomach didn't bother him at all.
That is, until he remembered that grownups weren't to be involved. How was he going to tell the others? He had to tell them. Grandma could help a lot.
David had admitted his breach of confidence three days before. After being shunned for a day and a half, he had been invited conditionally to rejoin the group. They wanted to know what his grandmother had said, and they wanted assurances that she would not call in their parents or try to take over the project. He had provided the assurances, and added that she thought the sewing machine was a good idea.
After much enjoyable debate, they had narrowed the list of things down. The sewing machine was now top of the list because they had permission to take apart the Singer. Before that it had been fairly low on the list because of its complexity.
Besides, Sarah had noticed a trend. Sewing machines were renting as fast as people could find them, and the price was going up. After some obscure conversation with her parents she had realized that meant there was a ready market for a fairly large number of sewing machines. Brent had thought of several places where a single machine could make up to three or four parts. You would make a bunch of one part, then change an attached tool and make another kind of part. If they could get a good start, they would be ahead of local competitors.
Trent felt it would be better in the long run to make separate machines for each part. "You're making them too complicated Brent, you always do." Lots of really fun arguments in the offing.
The sewing machine was starting to look like a really good product, if they could build itand just maybe they could. They had an incomplete list of the parts involved, most of which could be produced manually, and now they were in a position to get a complete parts list.
The Great Sewing Machine Disassembly took most of the morning and reassembly was scheduled for the afternoon. Since Delia was now in on the secret and Ramona and Donny were at the storage lot, the kids could talk freely about what they were actually doing.
The sewing machine was carefully disassembled. As each part was removed it was placed on an old sheet spread on the floor. Its outline was traced on the sheet and it was numbered. Trent made a list describing each part and where it came from. Sarah had brought a digital camera from home.
Each step in the process was explained to Delia, which added to the fun. There is something very gratifying in explaining something to a grownup when you're fourteen and in charge of it. It remains gratifying, of course, only so long as the grownup listens and does not try to take over. Delia listened. Delia offered no more than words of encouragement and the occasional leading question. In this way Delia managed to get her suggestions listened to. Not many were needed. Brent and Trent were knowledgeable, and Trent was meticulous. A born bean counter, Delia thought, but carefully did not say.
A part would come off the sewing machine and be placed on the sheet. While Trent recorded its function, Brent would suggest ways it might be made, with only a little regard for how practical those ways might be.
When Sarah got bored with the mechanics Delia engaged her in discussions of salability versus cost. This involved several repetitions of "My Dad said" and some of "My Mom said" as well. All of which Delia listened to with unfeigned interest. She was noting the differences between David's version and Sarah's. Sarah's version had more detail and quite a bit more references to what the finance subcommittee was doing. They were working to establish American money as an accepted local currency with surprisingly good success.
Surprising because American dollars, being paper, did not at first appear to be worth anything. But the down-timers were familiar with several forms of monetary notes. Sarah wasn't familiar with all of the mechanisms the down-timers used to transfer value through paper notes, but she had been told that they did, especially for large sums. The tricky part was, what was backing the American dollar? It was not gold or silver in a vault somewhere, but a calculation of goods and services. The Germans, at least some of them, saw the potential value of such a system. But they also saw how the system could be abused, and their experience had not taught them to have faith in governments. On the up side, Grantville had a lot of stuff the down-timers wanted to buy, and there was nowhere else for them to get it. Unfortunately, too much of that stuff was irreplaceable. It wasn't stuff made in Grantville, but stuff bought from elsewhere up-time.
David took his own notes on the various subjects, trying to follow both conversations. His notes were a bit chaotic, but then again, so was the situation. David was beginning to develop something approaching a management style. It consisted of finding out as much as he could about everything he could, and then keeping his trap shut till there was a deadlock, or bottleneck of some sort, and giving credit for the idea to someone else. "Brent suggested," "Sarah said" or "Trent said"sometimes even "Grandma said." David did his best to properly attribute credit, but sometimes he got it wrong. Sometimes there was no one to attribute the idea to. In those cases David fibbed. He went ahead and attributed it to the person he figured most likely to have said it if he hadn't.
It was getting close to noon and David, as the least essential person, was assigned to make lunch. No hardship. David liked to cook. They had some jars of homemade spaghetti sauce in the icebox and plenty for a salad in the garden. Delia called the parents and arranged for the gang to have lunch with Delia and family.
Lunch was a quiet meal. The kids didn't want to add to the list of who was in the know, and for now, neither did Delia. Ramona was unwilling or unable to admit that David could think for himself. To the extent it was possible, Ramona handled the fact of her children growing up by ignoring it. As soon as the sewing machine project came out into the open, Ramona was going to have to face some things.
After lunch they went back to it. The sewing machine was going back together with only a little trouble, but it meant a lot to Delia and each sticking screw bothered her. So she concentrated on continuing her conversation with Sarah.
About three that afternoon, Delia brought the whole question of whether this was a game or for real to a head.
"How do you form a company, Sarah?" she asked. "When Ray set up the storage lot all it amounted to was registering at the county courthouse and getting a tax number. But the county courthouse is three hundred years away in another universe. So how do we do it in the here and now?"
Somewhat to the surprise of the group, each member had decided that they really wanted to do this. Most of the hesitation had been the belief that they would not be allowed tothat the project would be declared frivolous, and they would be told not to waste time. Or that it would be declared too important to be left in the hands of children, and taken away from them.
Brent and Trent wanted to do it because really making sewing machines offered a more concrete outlet for their creative urges. Sarah, because this was the sort of thing that Grantville needed. David and Delia, because the family needed a source of steady income and neither had that much confidence in the longterm outlook of the storage lot. It was running at a loss at the moment and might well go broke within the next year or so. A storage container is, in its way, a luxuryand one that people apparently could not afford, at least for now.
"To form a company," Sarah said, after they got back to the question, "is pretty standard. I think. I'd have to check with Mom, but I think it's just a contract between someone and the government, or several people and the government. That is what the registering Mr. Higgins did at the county courthouse was. A corporation is more complex. I don't know which we need but I can find out. What we need to do, is work out how much everyone is putting in, in labor and money. Then figure out who owns how much of the company and register it that way. The thing is, this is going to take a lot of money."
At that point every one got quiet. The kids because they didn't have any money to speak of; Delia, because she wanted the kids to realize that they really weren't in a position to just build the sewing machines in their back yard, that the game was starting to get real. Delia wanted to give them a chance to back away without losing face. So she waited a bit, to let it sink in, watching.
Then, liking what she saw: "How much money?"
"I don't know. Mom says that it's a law of nature that every thing costs more and takes longer than you expect."
"We have around a hundred parts," Trent interjected. "Some can be hand-made, some will take special tools, and some will take machines. Some must be finely tooled. I have the numbers right here."
"But that doesn't tell us what we need to know," Sarah pointed out. "At least, not all of it. How long will it a take a blacksmith to make a part, how much will it cost? The only real way to find out is to go find a blacksmith and ask him, and you know some are gonna lie, and others are gonna get it wrong, because they think it needs fancy work, or because they don't understand how precise it needs to be. So the only real way to find out for sure how much it will cost to make a sewing machine part, is to make one. Actually, to make several. Until then we're guessing."
"Well, a guess is better than nothing," said Delia. "What if we go through Trent's list one item at a time and make our best guess at the cost of each item?"
The rest of the afternoon, as Brent put the sewing machine back together, the others went though the list of parts and guessed.
When they were getting ready to go home Delia asked: "Have you kids looked at the museum on Elm Street?"
This was met with blank looks. Then Trent hit his head. "Oh. I remember, they have lots of old sewing machines."
The light came on. They had all been there on school trips. On your mark. Get set . . .
Delia held up a hand. "Not tonight. You're expected at home. We'll work something out tomorrow."
That's the trouble with grownupsthey don't understand urgency.
Ramona was at the lot, but Donny was home, wanting to get in on whatever the older kids were doing. So when the twins and Sarah arrived there was a certain amount of awkwardness. Which brought up the problem of keeping this a secret. Delia suggested that David take Donny into the kitchen and make everyone a snack. In other, unsaid words, keep him occupied for a little while. Donny understood the words left unsaid, but a look from Grandma was enough; he went, grumbling.
Once Donny was out of the room, Delia got right to the point. "Keeping this a secret won't work much longer. Donny already knows something is up. If we want to create a company to make sewing machines. Is that what we want?"
Delia waited, looking at each of the three in turn and received their nods of confirmation. "Well, that isn't something that can be kept from your parents, and even if I could, I wouldn't." Not without a really good reason, anyway, she thought to herself. "Up to now, it's been a game. The first step to making it real is to bring your parents into it. I can talk to your parents, if you like. Or you can talk to them and I'll give what support I can. How do you want to handle this?"
Sarah had never been all that concerned about her parents' reaction anyway, so she was in favor of full disclosure. Though she offered the warning that "Mom and Dad will probably make us include Judy."
"Oh no! Rachel!" moaned Trent, referring to their ten-year-old sister.
"Naw," countered his twin brother. "She's been following Heidi around since the Ring of Fire. Heidi might be a problem though. She's pretty pissed."
Brent paused with a nervous glance at Mrs. Higgins. Delia looked back with a raised eyebrow.
"Uh, upset with guys right now," Brent continued. "Might try to get back by horning in."
Brent was referring to their older sister, who was sixteenbut, in the twins' opinion, not at all sweet. Heidi had just gotten her driver's license, and suddenly there was no gas for the car. A pretty blond girl with a good figure, she had expected the boys in school to be mooning over her this year, but the Ring of Fire had focused almost the entire male teen population of Grantville on matters martial. It had all come as an unwelcome shock to Heidi. She was a bit self-centered.
"Maybe. Mom's got her number, but might stick us with her just to get her out of her hair. Which," Trent continued, "is why I'm worried about Rachel. Mom has a lot to do right now, and she is worried about Caleb." The twins' older brother had gone into the newly formed Grantville Army the day after graduating high school. "So we are liable to get Rachel and Heidi, whether they want in or not."
There was a glum silence for a moment, as the kids worried about the prospective interlopers. On the other hand, with the adult backing that Mrs. Higgins had offered to provide, it seemed less likely that the project would be either taken over or cancelled by adults.
Sarah nodded and with dignity made the formal request. "Both my parents are at work right now. Let me talk to them this evening, but if they could call you tonight, Mrs. Higgins, it would probably help."
"Dad's at work, but Mom's home. Maybe we should call her now?" suggested Brent. At Delia's nod, he headed for the phone. There was some discussion, then Delia was called to the phone. More discussion followed while the kids looked on, ending with: "Thanks, we'll see you tomorrow night."
"Boys," Delia said as she hung up the phone, "your mother, and probably your father if he can get away, will be here for dinner tomorrow. I imagine you'll be grilled tonight. If you would care for a little wisdom from the ancient, I suggest you don't try to promote the project but simply answer questions as calmly as possible." The boys nodded respectfully. This confirmation of her status as ancient, while not unexpected, wasn't particularly comforting.
"Sarah, I hope your parents will be able to come too. I think it would be a good idea if we all got together and talked things through before going much further." David and Donny returned with a snack tray.
"Meanwhile why don't you four take Donny and go to the museum. Spend the day, take notes, and explain what is going on to Donny. Take the snacks with you."
Telling Ramona about the sewing machine project was much less difficult than Delia had imagined. Ramona was, after all, the one who had been presiding over the emptying of supply containers. She knew things weren't going well for the lot, and she understood that the Ring of Fire had changed things. What she didn't understand was how things had changed, or what she was expected to do about it. Her biggest concernterror reallywas that as an adult she would be put in charge of something. That Mom was still in charge came as quite a relief.
The Partows had, over some strong objections, left Rachel at home with Heidi. The Wendells had brought Judy the Younger. While there was some discussion of the sewing machine project over dinner, it wasn't till after dinner that the pitch got made.
"You four," said Delia, grinning, "take Donny and Judy into the sewing room, so your parents and I can talk about you behind your backs."
The kids retreated at speed. Which impressed their parents.
It can be uncomfortable, but still gratifying, to have a casual acquaintance spend a couple of hours telling you how great your kids are, and how much they respect you, complete with quotes of things you have said to them while convinced they weren't listening.
Uncomfortable, because it's really easy to remember changing diapersthey make an impression, after alland forget some of the changes the intervening years have made. They sneak up on you. Are my kids really that bright, hard working, and mature, and why didn't I know about it? Gratifying, because you want to believe they really are what you raised them to be, and it's nice when someone else tells you that you did a good job. With teenagers, it's especially nice when you find out that they actually listen to you.
At least Fletcher and Judy Wendell and Kent and Sylvia Partow found it so, probably because of those concrete examples from Delia:
"I never understood how the federal reserve worked till I heard Sarah's discussion of the Fed Fairies."
"My family has owned that Singer since before I was born. I have repaired it countless times, and I have learned more about the how and the why of its inner workings in the last few days than I had learned in the preceding fifty-nine years, mostly from Brent and Trent. I've watched Brent sketch out a machine to build a part of the Singerone that I am sure will workand then seen Trent tear apart the design and add or change details that make it work better. It's been a privilege to watch the kids work."
For the next four days, as the parents had time to look them over, the kids showed their parts of the proposal to their parents.
Kent Partow, a tallish heavyset man with sandy brown hair and brown eyes, was impressed by the work and the skill his twin sons had put into the designs. He told them so, briefly: "Basically a good job, boys."
He then spent the rest of the four days when not busy at work or sleeping telling them in detail each and every place where their designs fell short. The focus of his criticisms didn't have much to do with things that would actually keep the designs from working. He readily admitted there weren't many of those. No, he dealt with ways that their designs made extra work for the person making the machine, or the person who would be using it.
Mr. and Mrs. Wendell lavished their praise rather more generously, almost uncomfortably so. Certainly enough to produce resentment in Judy the Younger. Well, more resentment. The real focus of Judy's resentment was that she wasn't getting to play.
They did suggest several small changes, and one monster.
The monster was this: Normally, in a project like this, you would make your estimate and add say, twenty percent for the unforeseen. In this case, because of the fluidity of the situation, and the large number of unknowns, they suggested a fudge factor of one hundred to two hundred percent of the original estimate.
They met again for a formal presentation of the whole package. David was the primary presenter.
"The first and most important point, I guess, is that we're not trying to just build sewing machines, not anymore. That's sort of what we started out with. But Sarah pretty much put paid to that notion even before we were firmly settled on sewing machines. What we want to build is a company that will build sewing machines. The company will have two major branches. Outsourcing for parts that can be made by the down-time craftsmen, and a factory that will have an internal technological level somewhere between 1850 and 1920. With a few gadgets from later.
"We decided on outsourcing rather than hiring down-time workers . . ."
And they were off. Over the next three hours David went through the organizational chart, cost analysis, machines and tools needed, potential market, the works. He called upon Sarah, Brent and Trent as needed, to explain details and answer questions.
Their parents were genuinely impressed. The Wendells had seen the money end, but not really the technical end. The Partows had seen the technical end, but not the money end. And neither had seen how it all fit together. There was room in the plan for mistakes, and ways to handle it if things went wrong.
While the Wendells and the Partows had jobs, they didn't have much in the way of available capital. Both their houses were primarily owned by the bank, and regardless of the kids' good work, it had to be acknowledged that this was a risky venture.
They would allow their kids to participate, but could offer little more than that. Delia had been prepared for that response and was willing to support the project. She would attempt to get a loan. Fletcher Wendell would support the loan to the extent he could, but he could not offer too much hope.
David was sitting at the dinner table. "They're going to fight a battle, Grandma," he said, "Not ten miles from here. At that nearby town called Badenburg."
"Well, are you upset or pleased?" Delia wasn't criticizing, she was just helping him figure it out. It was one of the things about Grandma that David liked. She let him feel about things the way he felt about them, not the way he was "supposed" to feel about them.
"I don't really know." He gave the matter some thought. "I figure, the battle itself will be a cakewalk, and it's kind of exciting. What it means, though, that bugs me some. We're in the middle of a war! I worry about Mom. She's not good at tough situations."
Delia suddenly realized that he was right. War! With refugees, armies and bandits, and generally desperate people. "These are the times that try men's morals," when the rules get forgotten. They had a house full of things of value and a storage rental lot with lots of steel containers. People would want what was in the containersfor that matter, they would want the containers for the steel. How could she have gone a month without realizing it?
Before the Ring of Fire, Grantville had been a low crime area. They had been able to get by with a chain link fence and a padlock. But now the value of much that was in those storage buildings had gone up immeasurably, and as for crime, they might as well be in the Wild West, or next door to a crack house. It had been pure dumb luck that they had not already been looted and Ramona killed in the bargain.
Or so it seemed to Delia. In fact, the luck had a large modicum of fear in it. To the people outside the Ring of Fire, it was a matter of dangerous and unknown powers. Who knew what might be protecting the storage lot, or any other property inside the Ring of Fire for that matter.
Almost, Delia rushed out to find guards right then, but not quite. Today wasn't the day to go out hunting new employees, not on the day of the battle. Not when she had no way to pay them. Della worried the problem the rest of the day.
Up to now the storage lot had been a reliable source of income. A small source, true, but it had very little in the way of expenses attached to it. The lot was paid off when Ray died, and the only bills were electric, telephone, and taxes once a year, but with a guard or guards, that would change. With most of the containers not rented, it would cost more every month than she got in rent. Still, there was really no choice.
For once even Heidi was quiet. Everyone was quiet. Caleb would be in a battle today. Brent tried to work on the gearing for the sewing machine, but he couldn't keep his mind focused. It kept veering off to the battle. Logic said that it would be an easy victory. The good guys even had a machine gun, but people would be shooting at his brother, and Brent's traitorous mind seemed insistent on pulling up every nasty thing he had ever said to, or thought about Caleb, and wishing he could take them back. Brent looked at his twin. Trent was probably doing the same thing, only more so. Trent worried more.
Dan Frost was not expecting Delia Higgins to appear in his office the day after a battle; when he spotted her, his first thought was to wonder how she had heard about Jeff proposing to the German girl. She hadn't, and Dan did not enlighten her. It really wasn't her business and he wasn't sure how she would take the news.
Delia wanted to know about hiring a security guard. It turned out that the battle had finally brought home to her just how dangerous the situation was. Dan had reached the same conclusion over a month ago, while he recovered from a gunshot wound. Experience is a hell of a teacher.
What Dan desperately needed was more officers, but every business that had someone to take care of the small stuff, and to call his people for the big stuff, would take a little of the pressure off his over-stretched police force. Providing they could tell the difference, something he was not at all confident about. Still, even a presence could sometimes stop trouble before it started. After a little consideration, he found he was in favor of the idea.
Delia was concerned about the cost and figured that a down-timer might work cheaper. But she didn't want to hire someone to rob her storage lot, and since she didn't speak German, she would like someone that had at least a little English. She wondered if he had any suggestions?
Dan asked for a few days to look around and see what he could find.
Johan Kipper had been scared before each and every battle he had ever fought, and there had been many, but this was different. For one thing, this was after the battle, and he wasn't waiting to fight, he was waiting to be judged. He was to be judged by a camp follower. He didn't know the Gretchen girl well. Hardly at all, but she was the one to judge him, and that was scary. Johan was not a very good man and he knew it. He was a mean drunk and he knew that too.
There weren't many people who were held in more contempt than soldiers, but camp followers were. They had been the only safe outlet for the anger he felt at the way his life had turned out. At least they had seemed to be. Johan was scared now, in a way that he had never been scared before.
What made Johan a little different than some of his fellow soldiers was that he realized what scared him. Not that he would be treated unfairly, but that he would be treated as he deserved.
He had started out as a soldier forty years ago at the age of fifteen. Absolutely sure he would become a captain. Ten years later, he had hoped to become a sergeant. Now, he didn't even want to be a soldier any more, but he didn't know anything else. His family had been in service. Servants to a wealthy merchant in Amsterdam. He had run off to be a soldier.
Johan was fifty-four years old, and spoke a smattering of half a dozen languages. He was five feet six inches tall, had graying brown hair and six teeth, four uppers and two lowers. He had the typical pockmarks that denoted a survivor of smallpox, a scar running down the left side of his face, and he was tired. Tired of fighting, tired of killing, and scared of dying.
He was surprised that he wasn't one of the ones that got his picture on a piece of paper and told to get out of the USA. He was less surprised, almost comforted, by the lecture he got about getting drunk and hitting people. The lecture amounted to "Don't Do It. We can always take another picture if we need to."
When offered a place in the army he respectfully declined. When asked what he was qualified to do he said he had been in service once. He had to explain what he meant. "My family were servants in Amsterdam." He was assigned to a labor gang.
Sarah knew it was bad news as soon as her parents came through the door. Her father had talked to the bank. No loan would be forthcoming. He wanted her to know that he was very proud of the work she and the others had done. That it was a good proposal, and probably would have been granted if they were older. Even with Delia as the primary applicant, just the fact that the kids were involved had killed it. He apologized for not being able to really push it. He was in a tough situation. Her being his daughter made it harder for him to argue for something she was involved in.
It all just sort of rolled over her. She understood the words. Her parents had tried to prepare her for the probability that the loan application would be rejected, and she had thought they had succeeded. In a way, it wasn't the loan being rejected that shocked her so much. It was that it mattered. That was what she hadn't been prepared for. How very, very, much it mattered, and not just to her.
The hardest thing was knowing how it would affect the others. In the last month she had gotten to know them better than in years of friendship, and she had been able to read a bit between the lines. The four of them had all been more worried about the Ring of Fire and what it meant than they had let on. Doing this, something that would help make Grantville self-sustaining, had helped. That was the hardest thing about being a kid, especially in a situation like this, not being able to really help. No! It was being able to help but not being allowed to.
She had been expecting the call. Nothing ever goes the easy way. She had hoped, but not really expected, that the loan would come through. She still wasn't sure about the storage containers. She wasn't sure how the emergency committee would come down. At this point, she wasn't even sure how she would come down. She might just decide to give whatever was in them to Grantville, but they weren't her only resource.
Most people didn't really understand about her doll collection. They assumed it was much more important to her than it really was. She collected dolls because she liked to, no more or less than that. There were a few, gifts and memories, that were important to her. But mostly they were just nice to have and fiddle with, now and then.
Important? Important was David working on something rather than casting about like a rat in a maze with no exit. Seeing excitement rather than desperation in his eyes, and the eyes of the other kids as well. Important was keeping the promise that she had made when she told him that, if they came up with a workable plan, she would find the money.
Important was the kids not feeling helpless. Delia knew helpless. She remembered when she had realized that Ramona would never be quite so bright as the other kids. Not retarded, no, but not as bright as she should have been.
Dolls weren't important.
Of course Delia was lying to herself. She really did care about her dolls, and it really would hurt to give them up. Just not as much as she cared about other things. So maybe it wasn't a lie. Or if it was, it was a good lie.
Still she had no notion of how to go about selling them.
The parade was great fun. It let them all forget, for a little while, that the loan had been rejected. The wedding was less fun, but not bad. David, Donny, Ramona and Delia were on the Higgins' side of the wedding, along with Delia's parents. They were probably Jeff Higgins' closest relatives down-time, second cousins twice removed, or something like that. David never could get it quite straight. One thing he never would have expected was cousin Jeff turning out to be a hero. Or getting the girl. And boy, what a girl he had gotten.
Dan Frost had taken Delia Higgins' request to heart, and not just for her. He now had a list of twenty or so potential security guards. None were what he really wanted, but the best candidates were either going into the armed forces or police training. These would be the equivalent of night watchmen. His primary consideration was that they not be thieves. None of these had that reputation. And three of them had at least a little bit of English.
Well, Delia had asked first, and she wanted someone with at least some English. He'd suggest Johan Kipper, since he had the most English. From the report he was honest enough, and decent enough, unless drunk.
Johan Kipper was literally cap in hand when he was introduced to Delia Higgins. A gray woolen cap, with a short baseball cap style bill. The "Police Chief"a title that seem to mean a commander of constabularyhad told him of the job. It was a dream job for an old soldier. Not much labor, just walking a post. The police chief had also told him a little of his prospective employer.
"I don't want to hear you've caused Mrs. Higgins any trouble. She's a nice lady, and will treat you right. I expect you to show her respect."
To Dan Frost "lady" was just a polite way of referring to a female. To Johan, "Lady" referred to a person of rank. Johan wanted this job.
Delia Higgins had expected a local, not a soldier in the invading army. The interview was uncomfortable for her.
Delia was looking for more than a night watchman. She needed a link to this time and place. She needed someone who could help her find a buyer for the dolls. Johan's appearance bothered her. First, because by any modern standard he was a remarkably ugly man. Mostly that was because of his bad teeth and the pockmarks. By the standards of his time, he was the low end of average. Second, because part of what she needed was someone who could speak to the down-timers for her. She hired him, but she wasn't happy about it.
The agreement was maintenance and one hundred dollars a month. Really poor pay, but all Delia felt she could afford. As for the job, Johan would live in the "office," and he would be expected to make at least four walking inspections of the lot each night. There would be occasional errands for him to run. Long hours but light work.
For Johan, the interview was much worse. She asked her questions. He answered them in his somewhat broken English. She asked more questions, seeking clarification. This woman looked at him, really looked. She didn't examine him like he was a horse or a dog she was thinking of buying. She really saw him. She acknowledged him like he was a real person. Complex, capable of thought. Like he had value. She was, as the English might say: "Neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat." He could not find a place in his world where she belonged. What made it worse, almost intolerably worse, was that he fully realized that it was her world that mattered now, not his. And if he couldn't even find where she fit, how was he to find where he fit?
She had, as far as he could see, the wealth and power of a prosperous townswoman, but she did not act right. She didn't scorn. Johan was not a stupid man. He had understood better than most what the arrival of a town from the future meant. He realized that the rules had changed. That these people could do things that no one else could do.
For instance, despite the fact that she seemed apologetic about it, the "maintenance" turned out to be much more than Johan expected. To Delia Higgins, "maintenance" included her paying for his health and dental care. It also included uniforms for work and at least some clothing for off work. It included eating as well as any member of her family did, and his own room, and a bathroom, because they had never removed the bathroom fittings from the home"mobile home," they called it, whatever that meantthat acted as an office.
Johan was not an evil man, though he often thought he was. For fifty-four years, with one exception, he had kept his place. Knowing full well that stepping out of it could mean his death. That is a lot of habit. The thing about chains is they're secure. They're safe. You get used to them. Then you get to depend on them. Johan had worn the chains of lower-class existence his whole life. He didn't know how to walk without their weight.
David wasn't favorably impressed by the new night watchman Grandma had hired, and he wasn't sure he trusted the man around his mother. So he watched him for half the morning. Why not? The bank had refused the loan. What else was there to do?
David had seen toughs before. When they had lived in Richmond, it had not been in a good part of town. He knew that they were just people. Some had even been friendly in a strange way. Sort of the way a lion will lie down with a lamb, as long as he's not hungry. This guy was a bit on the scary side, but there was something about him. A deference David had never seen before. At least not directed at him. David realized that the night watchman, Johan, was afraid of him. Not physically afraid, but concerned about the problems David might cause him.
It made David wonder how to act. He didn't consider, not seriously anyway, picking on the guy, but it made talking to him seem a less dangerous undertaking. They talked most of the afternoon.
They talked about battles and captains, about work and honor. When it slipped out David almost missed it's importance. "Ye don't act right, ye up-timers," Johan said. Then seemed embarrassed by the lapse.
"How should we act?" asked David.
"Ye don't act yer proper place!" Johan said, then apparently tried to take it back. "Sorry Master David, I spoke out of turn."
But David had an inkling, just an inkling, of what was wrong. With authority he replied, "No. You've said too much, or not enough, and this may be something we need to know."
He watched as Johan fumbled with the words. "Like I said, sir. Ye don't act yer place. One minute ye're one thing and the next another. Ye talk like a banker, or a merchant, or a lord or craftsman, or, oh, I don't know. Ye talk to me the same way ye'd talk to yer president."
David almost popped out with: "Sure, you both work for us." But he didn't, because it wouldn't help. Instead he asked: "How should we act? If you were hired by a lord or a merchant, how would they act?"
David listened as Johan talked about how the nobility, and nobility wannabes, acted toward servants and hired hands in general. There were a lot of things, and when you put them all together they amounted to the most calculated, demeaning, rudeness David had ever heard of in his life. He knew damn well he could never act that way, nor could anyone in Grantville. Well almost no one.
All of which left David in a real quandary, because he had picked up something else in that lecture on proper behavior for the upper classes. Johan didn't just expect him to act that way. Johan wanted him to act that way. Any other behavior on his part felt like a trap. David wondered why anyone would treat someone else that way. And when the answer came to him it was such a surprise that it popped right out of his mouth. "God. They must be terrified of you."
Johan looked at him like he was a dangerous lunatic. Like he might pull a shotgun out of his pants pocket and start shooting. David cracked up. He laughed till he had tears running down his face. Then he laughed some more. All the while Johan was looking more and more upset. Finally David got himself more or less under control. And he apologized. "I'm sorry, Johan, but your face. Looking at me like I was crazy."
David was laughing because, for the first time since he had met Johan he was not afraid of him. He had the key, the approach that would let Johan live among them, and not be a bomb waiting to go off. He didn't know why, but he was sure. Six words spoken clearly and honestly. "I am not afraid of you." David said it clearly, honestly and without the least trace of fear. "I don't have to trap you into doing something that would be an excuse to punish you. I don't need to make you weak, to feel strong, or safe. That's why we act the way we do, Johan! The way that seems so wrong to you. Because we are not afraid. Not the way these German lords are, and because we are not afraid of you, you don't have to be afraid of us.
"Here is how you should act around us. Do your job as well as you can. State your views freely. If you think I am doing something wrong, say so. I may, or may not, follow your advice, but I won't punish you for giving it. I promise you that. Can you do that, Johan? If you can, you will have a place here. For as long as we can make one for you."
David Bartley bought himself a man with those words. An old dog that wanted to learn a new trick. Or if he couldn't learn it, at least to be around it. He wanted to be unafraid like Master David; so very unafraid that he could be kind.
After Master David left Johan thought about the afternoon. Of course he had known he was being watched from the beginning, he had approved of the fact. At least they weren't stupid. After a while the young master had seemed to calm a bit. Johan wasn't sure why. They talked for a while and Johan actually started to like the boy. That was when he'd put his foot in it. You don't tell a lord that he's not acting right. Not if you don't want to lose your place. The lad had not been offended, though, just curious, and he had acted the proper young lord. Insisting that Johan tell it all. His blue eyes firm yet kind.
"I am not afraid of you," the young master had said, and Johan had had to believe. And the lords are. As he thought about it, Johan believed that too.
Business was picking up at the storage lot since the Battle of the Crapper. Perhaps the hiring of Johan had been lucky.
Johan had had four years of schooling, but nothing beyond that. His family was not wealthy enough for more. From school he had been placed in service to be taught the role of a footman. He had found the position stifling. At fifteen, after a beating he felt he didn't deserve, he had run off to be a soldier. The soldier's life had not turned out to be the path to advancement he had expected. For forty years, Johan had marched and fought in battles all over Europe. Then he had run into Grantville, and the Higgins clan. He had been adopted, unofficially, unconsciously, but adopted all the same. Once David had broken the ice, he brought Donny into the process.
Donny had found himself a part-time teacher, and part-time student of Johan. In the subjects of reading and writing English, and speaking German respectively. Comic books were used, as were other books. It was fun, but had limited results.
That afternoon Johan was talking with some of the other survivors from the ill-fated attempt to take Badenburg. Unlike Johan, most of them had joined the American Army. They had spent the last fifteen minutes telling him how good life was in the American Army with its shotguns.
Johan was having none of it. "Not me, boys, I'm too old for the army life. Besides, I have it better than you lot. Mrs. Higgins made me two new sets of clothes, and bought me underwear with elastic." If he was in a place even a little less public he would have taken down his pants and shown them. He almost did anyway. He was proud of his new clothing. Instead he focused on the clothing he could decently display. "And see my new shoes. I have another pair at home, and three pair of pants and four shirts. I've money for a pint when I want one, good food, and Mrs. Higgins has engaged to get me new teeth, at her expense, mind." Which she had.
Delia Higgins had found Johan's appearance to wander between frightening, disgusting and pitiful, depending on the light. So she had set out to rectify it as best she could. First, she put together some uniforms, so at least he would look like a security guard, rather than a bum. The state of Johan's mouth was one of the more objectionable things about his appearance. So the teeth were next on her list. There was nothing she could do about the pockmarks.
For some time the mood among those that had an interest in the Higgins Sewing Machine Company had been subdued. Some work had gotten done, but not much; for a little while the game had become real, and now it lacked appeal as a game.
The news was not all bad. The Battle of the Crapper had been something of a turning point. People were pouring into Grantville and now every nook that had held someone's gear but could house people was needed for housing. People still needed to store their stuff, though. So the luxury of the storage containers had become a necessity again, and every container available was rented.
Which in turn brought to a head the question of the containers whose renters were in another universe. Delia was feeling just a bit guilty about having sat on contents of the storage containers. In the days just following the Ring of Fire, she, like everyone, had been frightened. Her response had been effectively to hide and hope no one noticed what she had. In doing so, she could have left something in the storage containers that Grantville desperately needed; something that might have made the difference between life and death for the up-timers.
The storage containers were opened, and their contents sorted. It turned out that there was little or nothing in them that wasn't duplicated elsewhere. Those contents that were seriously needed by the emergency committee were turned over freely, to ease Delia's guilty conscience. Most of the rest went to the Valuemart on consignment. A few things were kept, but mostly it brought in some cash, quite a bit of cash, and freed up a third of the containers for renting. It was in the middle of this process that Johan brought them the merchant, Federico Vespucci.
David had discussed what was going on with Johan. What sewing machines were, and why they were so important, both to Grantville, and to his familyand how the lack of a bank loan had probably killed their plan to make sewing machines.
Delia had talked to him too, about the need to find a way to sell her dolls. Johan had put two and two together. He had figured out the reason for selling the dolls. He wasn't sure he approved, not that it was his place to approve or disapprove. Still, that much wealth put into the hands of children . . .
It seemed unwise. On the other hand, there were just the children and two women in the household. Perhaps David and his friends were the best chance they had.
Delia explained that she was looking for a merchant. One that would give her a good price on some of her dolls, but wasn't sure how to find one. Johan knew how to find merchants, and how to deal with them. He had, on several occasions, been dog robber for this or that officer. He could bargain fairly well, especially when he was doing it for someone else.
It took him a week to find the right merchant. Federico Vespucci was getting ready to return to Venice. He had risked the war to come to Badenburg for reasons he preferred not to discuss. He had arrived weeks after the Ring of Fire, and he was desperate to be the first merchant to sell products from Grantville in Venice, so he wanted to buy quickly, and be on his way. Best of all, Vespucci did not speak English. The up-timers were wizards at any number of things, but bargaining, in Johan's view, was not among them.
Well, not his up-timers anyway. Johan was starting to take a somewhat proprietary view of Mistress Delia, Mistress Ramona, and young Masters David and Donny. They knew a tremendous amount to be sure, but they weren't really, well, worldly. Which, he thought, made quite a bit of sense, since they weren't from his world. Having come from a magical future.
Thus, they lacked the simple understanding that all merchants are thieves. It was purely certain that any merchant that had an opportunity to talk directly to them would rob them blind, talking them into selling their valuables for a pittance.
While it might not have been true of all up-timers, Johan was right about his up-timers. They rented their storage containers for a set monthly fee. Bought their groceries at the store where you either bought, or didn't, but didn't haggle over the price. They hadn't even haggled much when buying their car. All in all, they had virtually no experience in the art of the haggle, and haggling is not one of those things you can learn from a book.
Federico had come to dinner to discuss the possibility of buying some of the items that might be had from the storage lot. Then he had seen the dolls. Dolls everywhere. In the living room there was a set of shelves covering an entire wall full of dolls, and they weren't the only ones.
The dolls were unique, with their poseable limbs and inset hair, and made of something called "plastic" which Federico was sure could not be duplicated, even in far off China. Even to approximate them would be the work of a skilled artist working for months using ivory or the finest porcelain.
"And unfortunately, not for sale. Now about the furniture in the storage containers." So Johan said.
Federico was no fool. He knew full well that the storage containers with their furniture, even the fancy comfortable mattresses, were little more than a come-on, a way to get him here to see the dolls. He knew that the scoundrel who had attached himself to these up-timers was a cad and a thief. That he was going to be robbed blind. Federico knew all that, and it didn't matter a bit.
Federico fought the good fight. He was a merchant after all, and a good one.
How did he know that plastic was so hard to make?
They brought out the encyclopedia and read him the passages about the industrial processes involved in making plastic. Which didn't matter, since the dolls were not for sale.
He would need proof that they were authentic up-time dolls.
They could provide certificates of authentication, proof that they not only came from Grantville, but from the personal collection of Delia Ruggles Higgins. Of course, the dolls weren't for sale.
All in all, with Johan's deliberate mistranslations and Delia's enthusiastic discussion of her dolls, it had the making of a remarkably shrewd sales technique.
All of which wouldn't have worked at all, except Federico knew perfectly well what would happen when he reached Venice with the dolls. There would be a bidding war, and the dolls would be shipped to royal courts, wealthy merchants, and everything in between, from one end of the world to the other. All at exorbitant prices. Some, a very few, would actually end up as the prized toy of a very wealthy child. Most would end up in various collectors' collections of rare and valuable knickknacks.
It wasn't quite enough. Federico left that night with no commitments made.
That might have been the end of it. Not hardly. Johan would have found something. If nothing else, they would have offered a few more dolls. That was what Federico was expecting. Or failing that, Federico would have gone back and made the deal anyway. In spite of the urgent letters he had for delivery in Venice, he was not leaving Grantville without those dolls. But a deal under the current conditions would have meant bad blood. Real resentment, the kind of anger that means the person you're dealing with never wants to deal with you again, and warns their friends away. Says words like "thief" and "miser," not with a half-joking half-respectful tone, but with real intent.
In any event it wasn't necessary. Two weeks earlier, David had given Johan an old Playboy. It had happened at the end of a discussion of the fairer sex, in which young lad and old man had agreed that girls were complex and confusing, but sure nice to look at. He figured that the old guy would use it for the same thing he did; to read the articles, of course.
This was still the age when the quality of art was determined primarily by how closely it reflected reality. The photographs in a Playboy magazine looked quite real indeed, just somewhat, ah, more, than nature usually provides. This gave the pictures a certain amount of added artistic value. Johan had noted this, and on the morning of the sixteenth, had shown the Playboy to Master Vespucci, with the explanation that there were some forms of art that proper Christian ladies didn't appreciate. It was a deal closer. It saved everyone's pride. Several additional images were agreed on and things were settled. Master Vespucci would get his dolls and get to keep his pride. Lady Higgins would be spoken of with respect, and even her scoundrel of a servant, as someone who knew how things worked.
Little did they know, but with Delia's full knowledge, Ray Higgins had been a long time subscriber to Playboy. She had been no more upset about Ray's Playboys than he had been about her dolls. Well, she didn't buy him Playboys, but she did no more than shake her head. In one of the storage containers that was reserved for family use, there was a collection of Playboys going back almost to the first issue. Alas, the blockages of communication between the generations and the genders hid this knowledge from those most able to use it. The Playboys continued to gather dust.
The final deal was made. A consignment of selected dolls, all sizes and types, each with a signed and sealed certificate of authenticity, and undisclosed sundries, were exchanged for a rather large sum of money. In fact, most of the money that Master Vespucci had available to him in Thuringia. The things he'd been planning to buy in Badenburg would just have to find another buyer. The sundries were David's Playboys, all twenty-four of them. And fifty really raunchy color photos downloaded from the internet up-time, that he had used the last of his color ink to print.
Delia got to keep most of her dolls, at least for now. They had asked the bank to loan them rather more money than the sales realized. Almost twice as much in fact. They had asked the bank for the total amount they had estimated plus the hundred percent fudge factor that Mrs. Wendell had suggested. Now, that fudge factor was gone. Federico Vespucci had paid them little more than the minimum they thought they would need. They would have sold more dolls, but Federico Vespucci hadn't had any more money to spend. It was enough to start.
David didn't know whether to laugh or cry over the sale of the dolls. There was a tremendous sense of relief that they would, probably, be able to build the sewing machine factory. On the other hand, Grandma's dolls! Even if it wasn't the whole collection, or even the largest part of the collection, still, Grandma's dolls! And she was effectively committing the rest of the collection, on an as-needed basis. How do you respond when the queen gives you the crown jewels for your wild ass gamble? You can't say: "No thanks, ma'am, it's not worth it."
The others, especially Sarah, felt somewhat the same. Sarah, being a girl, had gotten the tour of the dolls in a bit more detail than the guys. She knew that Mrs. Higgins could tell you precisely where and when she had gotten most of the dolls in her collection. Even if it was just "We were in the Goodwill, and there was the cutest little three-year-old there that day. With her mother's permission, I bought her a baby doll, and these I got for me." They weren't just dolls, they were memories. How do you repay someone who sells their memories to invest in your dream?
The sale of the dolls had been finalized. Now the company was legally formed. Since all the start-up capital had come from Delia's dolls, the kids insisted that a majority share go to Delia. Brent, Trent, Sarah, and David each got ten percent, Delia got the rest. Delia turned around and gave Ramona and Dalton five percent each, and her grandchildren David, Donny, Milton, Mark, and Mindy, two percent each. Which meant that David ended up with twelve percent. She also gave Jeff and Gretchen five percent as a belated wedding present. Finally, for his help in finding the buyer for her dolls and negotiating the deal, she gave Johan five percent.
The gifts of shares were not entirely acts of generosity. They were also acts of politics. Dalton and Ramona had never gotten along. Dalton had felt, with some justification, that Ramona got more support from his parents than he did, and resented it. So Delia tried consciously to be somewhat even handed. She also wanted more people to have at least some interest in the success of the sewing machine company. Especially in the case of Jeff and Gretchen. She had figured out that Jeff and Gretchen were playing a much more active part in the political structure of Grantville than she was. Delia almost gave some to her parents, who were retired and living in Grantville, but after the ragging they gave her over the whole project, she didn't. Instead, she gave it to Johan. She had realized he was a valuable resource for them all, and wanted to tie his loyalty to the family in a material way.
There was one other reason for the gifts that Delia thought long and hard about. She figured the thing most likely to kill the company was if the kids gave up on it, and the thing most likely to make them give up, was if they felt they had lost control. That their decisions, their actions, didn't matter. She explained it to the kids as soon as she got them alone. "You know and I know that it's unlikely any of the others will ever vote their shares," she said. "Maybe Johan, but he'll probably vote the way David tells him to.
"I remember the concern you all had, that the grownups would take it away. Well, we won't. As of now, the four of you can outvote me, and nobody can outvote you, without me on their side. This was your project in the beginning and it still is. I want that clear in your minds. You kids thought it up, you did the work, and more importantly, you will still be doing the work. If it is going to work, you're the ones that will make it work. If it's going to fail, well, that's you too." Delia grinned a very nasty grin. "Scary ain't it?" She softened a bit. "I'll be here if you need advice. So will your parents. But this is yours.
Trust can be a heavy load, but it can strengthen even as it weighs you down.
Delia, on balance, liked Sarah's lectures; they had passion. Sarah had just delivered one on the whooshing noise the down-timer money made as it disappeared into Grantville's economy. After the kids left, Delia called the Wendells and asked. She got confirmation, complete with bells and whistles. Judy Wendell said, "If the up-timers don't start spending money pretty soon we're going to end up doing to this economy what the iceberg did to the Titanic."
"But we are spending money! Lots of it. Everyone is worried that we won't have enough to buy food."
"That's food," was Judy Wendell's response. "And while food is more of the local economy than it was up-time, it's still less than half of the total. We're not sure yet how much less, but so far, all our revisions have been down. Most people here aren't full-time farmers, and a lot of the farmers aren't growing food crops. It's the other things where we're hurting the economy. Hardware, clothing, luxuries, and services. We have more and better of most of them, especially the luxuries. Which really suck up the money."
"The dolls you just sold are an excellent example. You cleaned out that Federico Vespucci fellow. Every bit of the money that he was going to spend in the surrounding towns went into the sewing machine company's bank account and most of it is still there. Don't get me wrong, Delia, I am thankful for the faith you have shown in the kids. More thankful than I can say. I agree that the sewing machine project has a fair chance of success, and will be valuable to Grantville and, well, the whole world, whether it works or not. Still, that money, and most of the money that has come from selling off the contents of the up-time renters' storage containers, is sitting in your bank account. Then there is everyone else. The local down-time townspeople are coming to see and buying. Merchants are doing the same, but from farther afield. Money is flowing into Grantville, and for the most part it's staying right here. If it's here, it's not paying craftsmen in Badenburg for their labor and skill.
"We need the down-timers to accept up-time money, because we need to be cash rich enough to spend our money on luxuries and investments. That's not going to happen till we are sure there is enough to spend on necessities. A big part of that is getting the down-timersand more than a few up-timersto treat up-time money as real money. There must be enough extra money in the system to make up for the time between when we sell something and when we buy something."
Delia had gone out and hired another guard. Then a few days later she added Dieter, who was accompanied by his wife or perhaps girlfriend. Delia wasn't sure and didn't ask. Her name was Liesel. She had been with him as a camp follower when he was a soldier in Tilly's army and the relationship had held firm. The other new guard was a refugee. Johan had been moved up to guard captain, and was available to the Higgins Sewing Machine Company as German speaking chief bargainer.
Fitting everyone in was a hassle. The mobile home used for an office was a one bedroom. Its living room was used as the office, and until the Ring of Fire the bedroom had been used to store padlocks and dollies and other equipment. The bedroom had been cleared out when Johan was hired. The equipment had been moved into a storage shed. But the living room was still needed as an office during the day. It was also where the guards slept. Three men and one woman in one bedroom was less than comfortable. So Johan had moved into the sewing room in the main house. They had strung up a blanket to give a semblance of privacy, and Ramona had tried to keep the noise down in the office while the guards were sleeping.
The discussions had not been the only reason for the hires. One guard was not enough. People need time off. With the increased crime, Delia figured she needed at least two guards, preferably three. Then there was the fact that setting up the HSMC would, unavoidably, require doing business with people outside the Ring of Fire, and she wanted someone reliable with the kids when they were out there. So Johan, and occasionally one of the other guards, would be needed to accompany the kids. This way, she could provide the kids with Johan's help without charging them for it. The kids were getting to be something of a pain about not taking any more of Delia's money than they absolutely had to.
As for Liesel, she had put herself to work in the house, after checking with Johan to find the location of mops and other cleaning tools. Delia had, after some resistance, given up and put her on the payroll. It wasn't as if she would miss doing the housework; and, truth be told, the house had never been so clean.
It still wasn't all that much of a payroll. All four Higgins employees worked for room, board and clothing, plus a very low salary, more of an allowance really. Oddly enough, they seemed to think her quite generous.
Delia had decided to raise the rates on the storage containers. She called up her renters with the bad news. Explaining that, with the change in circumstances, she had needed to hire added security. She lost a few customers, but by now she had a waiting list.
Johan watched quietly as young Master Brent went on, again, telling the blacksmith what the part did and why. "It's really just a lever," Brent said, "but it's clever how it works. This end rests against a rotating cam that makes one complete rotation every two stitches. The cam has a varying radius. As the cam rotates, the short end of the level is moved in and out. That moves the long end of the lever up and down, pulling the thread or loosening it as needed to make the stitch. So it's very important that each end of the lever is the right length and while the major stresses are vertical it needs enough depth to avoid bending. The model and the forms provide you with a system of measuring tools to tell how well the part is within specifications." Then Brent looked at Johan to translate.
Johan did, sort of, his way. "See the pattern drawn on the board with the nails in it?" The board was a piece of one-by-eight about a foot long that Brent and Trent had made. He waited for the nod. Then took the wooden model and placed in on the nails where it fell easily to cover the internal line and leave the external line exposed. He wiggled it. The inside line remained hidden. The outside line remained in view, as there wasn't much wiggle room.
"See the way it covers the inside line and doesn't cover the outside line? This model would pass the first test if it was iron."
He removed the model from the nails and slid it through a slot in the wood. "It's thin enough it would pass the second test." He then tried to slip it through another slot but it wouldn't go. "It's thick enough it would pass the third test. The fourth test is a weight test. But if it's good iron and it passes these it should pass the last as well. So that's the deal. Each one of these that passes the tests, we'll pay you. If it doesn't pass, we don't buy it."
Then the bargaining began in earnest. It took a while, but Johan got a good price. Not quite so good as he wanted, but better than he really expected. With the craftsman's warning, "Mind, all my other work will come first."
And so it went. Over the following days they visited craft shops of several sorts. They ordered finished parts where they could, and blanks where the techniques of the early seventeenth century weren't up to the task. The blanks would be finished by the machines they had designed.
Dave would soon see the truth for himself. Kent had been bragging on his boys for weeks now. To hear him tell it, he'd fathered Orville and Wilbur Wright as twins. Dave returned the favor by teasing him about being a doting dad. Still, it was a fairly new situation. Before the Ring of Fire, Kent had been alternately pleased and worried about how his kids would turn out. Then, when Caleb had gone into the army, Kent's pride had quadrupled, and most of the worry about how he would turn out had been replaced with worry about him getting hurt.
The real change had happened with Brent and Trent. About a month ago, he had started going on about his twin mechanical geniuses. Practical pragmatic mechanical geniuses, with a plan to build a sewing machine factory, and even somewhat about their friends Sarah and David. Mostly Sarah. In Kent's estimation, David Bartley's major claim to fame was having the right friends. Though he liked the boy's grandmother, Delia Higgins.
Dave had gotten chapter and verse on the idiocy of bankers when the bank loan fell through. Then a week ago, when Delia Higgins had sold the dolls, Kent had conceded that David also had the right grandmother, and offered an almost grudging acknowledgement that Trent and Brent's loyalty to their less competent friend was returned.
The thing that impressed Dave Marcantonio, though, was that the kids got together and insisted that Delia receive the lion's share of the company. Good kids, even if he doubted that they were the mechanical geniuses their father claimed.
The designs were pretty good; not real good, but not bad. At one point, when he pointed out a place where their designs would need two parts where one slightly more complex part would do for both they gave Kent a look and Kent blushed. Dave had known Kent Partow for years. They were best friends. He knew and even shared Kent's preference for simpler machining jobs. Too darn many people added bells and whistles where they weren't needed, but sometimes Kent took it too far. It wasn't hard for Dave to figure out that Kent had made them change it. He didn't laugh in front of the kids, but Kent was in for some teasing later.
The designs were really quite good, Dave realized, as he continued to examine them. There were a number of places where they managed to have several of the production machines use common parts. And some places where the machines were basically modular. The power transfer for three of the seven machines were effectively the same structure, so with some adjustment, if one machine broke then another could be refitted to take its place. That was a fine bit of work. They hadn't been too ambitious either. The machines were simple, designed to do one or two things and that was it. The thing that had fooled him was that, good or not, they were somewhat amateurish. Not that they were sloppy, but the kids didn't know the tricks of the trade. They didn't know how to make their designs immediately clear. These took more study before you got a real feel for what they were doing.
Okay. Maybe they were mechanical geniuses. At the least, they were clever kids that thought things through. Which was a hell of a lot more than he would expect from a couple of high school freshmen. He figured someone had had an influence on them. Partly Kent, but someone else too. These designs had been gone over before. By someone practical.
Good designs or not, it was still going to cost. He looked at the kids and remembered why he hadn't had any. Let someone else tell the charming little monsters "no." He gave them his best guess as to cost. Told them it was a guess. Made sure that they understood that since the Ring of Fire, defense and power came first. That they were at the back of a fairly long line and it was a safe bet that other projects would come along and cut in front of them.
He told them that they would have to come up with the iron and steel for the parts. Finally: "I'll have to charge you as we go. Let me look at the designs, for a week or so, and see if there is anything I can do to make them cheaper to make."
They took it well. They thanked him and said the week was fine. They had been expecting it to be worse, but Dave, not being as well known as the other two professional shops in town, hadn't been getting quite so flooded with work. Besides, he was discounting his price. Kent was his best friend, after all.
Dave had spent the evening a week ago looking at the kids' plans. Then, with a strong feeling he was missing something, he had gone to bed. He had slept poorly that night, but the next morning he had it. The reason he hadn't gotten it at first was that it was not an improvement in the machine, not from the kids' point of view. What it was, was an adaptation of one of the kids' machines to do one of the common jobs he used the computer lathe for. It would only do that job, and it wouldn't do it as fast or as well. But if he built the late-nineteenth century style cam and lever lathe the kids had designed, and used it where he could, it would probably add more than a year to the life of the fancy rig.
He spent the next several days trying to figure out what to do about it. In one sense, it was the kid's design, but in another sense it wasn't. None of these designs were really original to the kids. They were adaptations of designs found in books, or even adapted from sections of the sewing machines themselves, just as his was an adaptation of theirs. There weren't any patent laws, so there wasn't any legal reason why he shouldn't just go ahead and build his machine. What if he did the right thing and the kids got greedy? They had reason enough. They had to be desperate for money to get their sewing machine company going. Then he thought about the fact that the kids had gotten together and insisted that Delia Higgins get the lion's share of the sewing machine company. The kids weren't thieves and Dave Marcantonio was no thief either. Never mind facing their dad. If he ripped off a bunch of kids, he wouldn't be able to face himself.
When the kids came in he told them about several minor changes that he had made that would make their production machines a bit easier to build. Then he told them about the adaptation of their machine he was thinking of building. He offered to build the first two machines basically for free, in exchange for the right to use their designs as the basis for production machines to add to his shop. They would still have to provide the metal blanks, but he would machine them for free. They agreed. It would save them a bundle.
Actually they did more than agree. Brent and Trent asked to see the designs for the new machine and offered to help in any way they could. They loved that he liked their designs well enough to use them.
Karl Schmidt was a substantial fellow, like his father before him. He was fifty-two and had been recently widowed. He owned a foundry in Badenburg. It was a smallish foundry, with a smithy attached, where they made door hinges, wagon parts, and other things of iron, mostly for local use. He had four surviving children: his son Adolph, a twenty-two year old journeyman blacksmith, and three teenage daughters, Gertrude, Hilda and Marie.
He had known of the Ring of Fire almost from the beginning. At first, it had been a strange and frightening thing, surrounded by dark stories of magic and witchcraft; then miracles, as the stories of who they actually were got around. A whole town full of people from the future, surely God's handiwork. Yet they didn't claim to be angels or saints. Why would God go to the trouble of sending a town from the future if it was filled with normal people? There had been several sermons around then, about the angels that visited Lot in Sodom without announcing their angelic status. Some of the priests had pointed out, that if an angel didn't have to tell you that he was an angel, then certainly a demon or devil didn't have to tell you he was a devil.
It was an enigma. Karl did not like enigmas. They troubled his sleep. His solution at first, was to keep his distance. Then stories about what Tilly's men were doing at a farm outside of Rudolstadt, and more significantly, what happened to them, got around. The ease with which the out-of-timers killed was terrifying. Rumor had it that it had only taken a few of them, half a dozen at most, to kill dozens of solders. Yet the same rumor said that they had done it to save the farmer and that they had, in spite of the fact that he had been nailed to a barn door and was the next best thing to dead when they got there. Some stories said he was dead. Karl didn't believe that, but how much could be believed? Some people visited Grantville, but Karl was not one of them. A few people from Grantville visited Badenburg. Karl didn't meet them, though he could have.
Karl was a slow fellow. Not in the sense of slow witted, he was really quite bright, but he liked to take his time and think things through. Meanwhile he had business to see to.
Adolph, Karl's son, was not quite so substantial a fellow as his father. From what Adolph could tell, his father thought him quite flighty. In fact Adolph was fairly substantial and becoming more so every year. He was a journeyman smith, and ran the smithy part of the business.
Adolph's latest worry had to do with Grantville, and it wasn't the least bit spiritual. Several merchants and more farmers who had been expected to spend their money in Badenburg had instead spent it in Grantville. A number of potential customers from Grantville had taken the attitude that "Grantville dollars are as good as anyone else's money and probably better." In short, business was bad.
Upon receiving his son's complaints, Karl had sought out what contacts might be made with people either from Grantville or people that knew Grantville. He was directed to Uriel Abrabanel, a wealthy Jew he had done business with before. Uriel was, it turned out, surprisingly, no, shockingly well connected with the Grantville elite. His niece was engaged to be married to the leader of Grantville. Karl considered himself a worldly man, and not a bit prejudiced. He, like everyone, knew that Jews cared for money above all else. That most of them were usurers. Karl was an educated man. He knew that those stories about them eating babies, poisoning towns, or bringing on plague were probably nonsense. The Abrabanels were known to be of a good family as Jews counted such things. But still, the leader of what was now perhaps the most powerful town in the area was engaged to a Jew.
Uriel Abrabanel greeted Karl on the ground floor of his two-story home. It was a fairly pleasant room, with a large casement window for light. There were several bookcases along the walls, and comfortable seats for guests.
His guest was apparently not comfortable, but Uriel doubted that it was because of the chair. In Uriel's estimation, Karl Schmidt was a fairly standard local man of business. His prejudice against Jews was about the standard: enough to keep him from socializing, but not enough to keep him from doing business. Nor did he significantly overcharge, which had to be taken in his favor. Still, it cannot be said that Uriel was overly concerned over any shock to the fellow's system that might occur upon learning of Rebecca's upcoming marriage, and all that it implied.
On the other hand, there was no reason to end a generally good working relationship by rubbing Karl's nose in it. Perhaps a more general explanation was needed.
"From what I understand, the future nation from which Grantville comes has some markedly different customs. Religious tolerance is expected. Their attitudes on that and a number of other issues have come as something of a shock to any number of people. For instance, their women dress in what we would consider an immodest manner. This should not be taken as license to show them any lack of respect. That mistake could be very dangerous. They are somewhat casual in their mode of address. They apparently mean no offense by this, it is just their way. I suspect that it is an outgrowth of their attitude toward rank. They are the most aggressively democratic people I have ever encountered."
Master Schmidt was not stupid, and if he liked to think things through, it did not mean that he could not see the writing on the wall if it were writ large enough. To Karl Schmidt this was writing in letters ten feet tall. Uriel Abrabanel's social and political situation was now significantly above his. For all intents and purposes, the man's niece was about to marry into royalty. This United States looked to be something that might grow.
Yet here he was talking to Karl Schmidt just as he had when, as a good Christian, Karl's social position had been the higher. Karl quietly congratulated himself on his temperate and unbiased attitude toward Jews. He really did.
The discussion of the Americans continued. Their technology, and their money. Master Abrabanel expressed solid confidence in both. Occasionally in the course of the conversation, Karl noticed that his attitude toward Master Abrabanel bordered on the deferential. Well that was only proper, considering the change in circumstances.
They talked of business within the Ring of Fire. Karl mentioned that a child, apprentice age, accompanied by a man who was apparently a family retainer, had approached his son with a proposal to make certain parts for something called sewing machines. The deal had fallen through because they preferred to deal in American dollars. They hadn't actually insisted, but had explained that using local coinage meant they had to go to the bank and get it. They expected a reduction in cost to cover the trouble.
Master Abrabanel could not be of much help in terms of the specific business. He had seen sewing machines in Grantville, but he was unaware of any company making them. On the matter of the money, he had had several conversations with members of the Grantville finance committee on the subject of how they intended to maintain consistency in the value of American dollars. Their arguments were clear and persuasive.
Master Abrabanel then expressed a willingness to accept American dollars, just as he would several other currencies, in payment of debts or for goods. Even to exchange them for other currencies. For a reasonable fee.
Karl left Master Abrabanel in a thoughtful mood. His prejudice said that a Jew would not risk money on the basis of an emotional connection. Which, given Master Abrabanel's expressed confidence, made the American dollars seem more sound.
It had been an unpleasant roundabout trip to the Higgins estate. It was an unusually hot day, and Karl Schmidt was not a good rider. He didn't like to ride. He also didn't like going around in circles, and the Ring of Fire had produced a ring of cliffs facing in or facing out all around itself, with only a few places where it was easy to pass. All this was bad enough, but the things he had seen en route were worse. It was one thing to talk about people from the future, even to consider what powers they might have gained. But to see a road that wide and that flat, and put it together with what they called the "APCs" . . .
These people were rich almost beyond measure. The civilian APCs parked along the way really brought it home. The civilian APCs weren't a special case, they were the norm for these people. Their money worked, that was easy enough to see. The question this left Karl Schmidt with was whether his money was good anymore. Karl was not the first to ask that question.
The Higgins estate itself was divided into two parts. One was fenced with a kind of heavy gauge wire fence held up with what appeared to be metal bars. Along the top were strands of a different wire with spikes on it. There was a gate made in a similar manner that was open, and a smallish boxlike building next to the gate that looked like it might be made of painted metal, or perhaps the plastic he had heard about. Farther back, he could see rows of really small buildings: flat topped boxes set side by side, each no larger than a largish outhouse. They too might be made of metal, or perhaps plastic.
The other section had a more familiar, but still somewhat strange house on it. They appeared to have built out, rather than up. It was a single story, with an attic that he wouldn't put a servant in. The roof was flatter than it should have been. From the extension of road that led to the large door, and the APC parked in front of it, one section of the house was for storing APCs. Why wasn't the APC in the room that was clearly designed for it? Was there another APC in it, or was it being used for something else?
There were too many windows and those windows were too large. The more he looked, the stranger it got. The place was short, no more than ten feet from the ground to the eaves. On a day like today, with no airspace, it must be stifling in there. They seemed no more concerned with winter than summer. He could see no chimney, just a little pipe sticking out of the roof.
He sat his horse for a little while, mopped his brow, and thought it out. He finally decided that, since this was a matter of business, he should go to what appeared to be the business part of the estate.
Ramona Higgins had, after her initial start, let the whole Ring of Fire mess sort of slide by. She was fairly good at that, having had quite a bit of practice. Her way of dealing with a world full of complexities that she couldn't quite manage had always been to let them slide by while concentrating on those matters she could handle. Her self-image had never been all that strong, and it was primarily based on what others wanted from her. She wasn't lazy, just easily confused. If what people wanted from her was something Ramona could readily supply, she felt good about herself and liked the person. If not, she felt bad about herself and didn't. The exceptions to that unconscious rule were few and far between: her mother and her sons were about all. But Mom and the boys went to some trouble not to ask things of her she could not readily provide.
From her mid-teens, in addition to a willingness to work hard at anything that didn't confuse her, the other thing that Ramona could provide was sex. She had a tendency to like guys better than girls. She was a moderately attractive woman in her late thirties. There were some lines, but not all that many, nor all that deep. Her figure, by modern standards, floated between lush and overweight. She fully filled her bra, her hair was sandy brown or dirty blond depending on who you asked, and the lighting at the moment. She had good teeth, no pockmarks, and clear light blue eyes.
In short, by the standards of the sixteen-thirties, she was stunningly attractive.
Karl was stunned, not just by her, but also by the environment. When he entered the mobile home that served as an office, it was cool. Karl had never experienced air-conditioning. What was actually Ramona's nervousness at dealing with a down-timer, seemed to him the very epitome of feminine modesty and deferential courtesy. Everything seemed almost magical in nature. He had wandered into a fairy tale, complete with fairy princess. With some difficulty, because he spoke only limited English and she spoke virtually no German, it was determined that the Higgins Sewing Machine Company was handled by her mother; assisted, so Ramona chose to see it, by her son. The place he needed was the main house.
Karl did something then that the solid staid man hadn't done since he was in his twenties. He kissed a lady's hand. She blushed quite prettily.
Karl was not a particularly handsome man, but he was big and strong, and had a certain presence. At least it seemed that way to Ramona. Perhaps it was the unlikely combination of the big, almost ugly man, the polite formality, and the kissing of her hand, but he seemed quite charming.
Karl didn't seem all that charming to Delia. Since the Ring of Fire, strange large men on horseback were not calculated to make her comfortable. Still, when it was made clear that this had to do with the sewing machines, she called Johan. David and Donny were with Brent and Trent, at Dave Marcantonio's shop, while Sarah was watching her little sister at home. So it was left to Delia, with the help of Johan, to deal with Karl.
Her attitude remained reserved. Partly it was because Karl Schmidt seemed wrong to her: shifty and hard at the same time. She didn't realize it, but in a number of important ways he seemed, and was, much like Quinton Underwood, and more than a little like Delia Higgins. They talked about the sewing machine factory. Karl picked up on the what's and the why's of it all more readily than she had. Not the mechanics, since he got to see the sewing machine working but not disassembled; still, he got the part about machines to make machines quite readily.
What he didn't get, was why they had to wait for the kids. It seemed to Karl that it was an excuse, a tool to manipulate him, probably to lower his prices.
It was some days later before a deal was made. The deal was made because the Schmidt family had the best shop for what the kids wanted. Not the only one, but the best. By the time the deal was made Karl was less sure that the kids were a ruse. They actually seemed to know what they were talking about.
David Bartley, the proud uncle, watched Brent, Trent, their father, and Mr. Marcantonionew daddies allgathered around at the birth of their machines. Triplets, but not quite identical. David, as was appropriate for an uncle, was pleased, but not totally enraptured by the appropriate number of fingers and toes, or in this case gears, levers and cutting blades. Donny, on the other hand, was thrilled to be included.
The machines worked, but like many babies were just a bit cranky. There were places where the gears stuck, just a bit. It was hoped that with use they would smooth out. It would take some skill to use them. Not so much as Mr. Marcantonio had, nor so much as the down-time smiths had. These were finishing machines that took a blank provided by a down-time smith or foundry, and fined them up. Trent and Brent would be using them first, and for the moment they would stay in a corner of Mr. Marcantonio's shop.
After the initial burst of activity, things slowed to a snail's pace as more urgent jobs claimed more and more of Dave Marcantonio's time. He was fitting in parts of their machines wherever he could, but he didn't have a lot of slack time. They were doing a lot better with the down-time contractors, in spite of the fact that they had to watch every cent, and bargain prices generally don't go with fast delivery.
Still, money-wise they were doing better than expected. Mr. Marcantonio had the blanks he needed to make the next four of the production machines, and at about two-thirds of what they had expected to pay. They also had a small but respectable stock of down-timer made sewing machine parts, at better prices than expected. Partly this was due to Johan's bargaining skills, but mostly it was because the down-time shops had been losing a lot of their normal business to the up-time shops, and they badly needed the work.
Sarah, and especially her parents, were worried about the situation. One of the dangers of introducing a lot of new products into an economy is that it can cause deflation that leads to a depression. Some of the merchants and many of the farming villages around the Ring of Fire were accepting American money, but not all of them. Without the American money, the sudden influx of goods and services could end up ruining everyone within fifty miles of the Ring of Fire.
Which was why they were getting their parts for such low prices. The craft shops in the area were desperate for business, any business. The HSMC's money was buying more than it should have been.
"It's still good," said Brent, as they fiddled with one of the five partially completed sewing machines, "it's only about an eighth of an inch shallow."
"I don't know," said Trent. "If the catcher is an eighth of an inch off the other way it'll jam." The catcher was the twins' term for a device that hooked the thread and pulled it around the bobbin every other stitch. Unfortunately, several of the parts to the bobbin assembly were still waiting on finishing machines to come out of Mr. Marcantonio's shop. So, while the needles went up and down, and the "thread puller" pulled the thread at the right time as far as the boys could tell, they were still some distance from actually sewing a single stitch.
"Hey, Brent. Do you really own a company?"
"What are you taking this year?"
"What's this shit about you owning a company?"
"Yea, they make sewing machines so they can have cloths for their dollies."
"Except, they ain't actually made no sewing machines yet, and I hear they never will."
"I don't know. I heard that Mr. Marcantonio said that they designed good machines, and that some of them are going to be used in shop class." Which was the first Brent had heard about that.
The first day as a sophomore in high school is supposed to be different from the first day as a freshman. Well, this was certainly different. People who would not talk to lowly freshmen when they were sophomores and juniors, now as juniors and seniors, seemed quite willing to talk to lowly sophomores, at least if those sophomores owned a company. Others seemed to resent them for not staying in their place.
Then there were their classmates.
A significant percentage thought the whole thing was ridiculous. That Delia and the kids were wasting valuable resources that Grantville needed for other things. That they would never build a working sewing machine, and even if they did, why weren't they using the money for something that mattered? Like weapons or reapers?
"I'll tell you why," said one would-be wit. "Because no one would let the Bill Gates wannabes mess with something that mattered."
Sarah almost got in a fight over that one. "Baby Gates" was the first, but not the most popular of the nicknames the four got. The "Sewing Circle" was the favorite. Then there was the rather convoluted "Barbershop quartet," based on the notion that they were four would-be "singers."
They found a similar range of attitudes, mostly without the name calling, among the teachers. Some were enthusiastic, some concerned, and some sarcastic.
All in all, the change in status made it a difficult and confusing first day, to be followed by a difficult and confusing first week. All of the "Sewing Circle" had some heavy-duty adjustments to make. Over the summer they had been less involved in high school stuff than most of the kids in Grantville. They had after all, been rather busy.
"This too shall pass," and it did. There was altogether too much going on for any but the most obsessive to keep up the teasing for long. It rapidly became just one more thing among many that the sophomores in Grantville High concerned themselves with. There were discussions about the army, about the future of Grantville, and about the German immigrants. Then there were the German students. Who had their own attitudes and beliefs.
The German students were, for the first few weeks, reluctant to put themselves forward. Partly this was because of the language barrier, but not entirely. They also felt a status difference. The up-timers were rich, with rich parents, and the down-timers were refugees. Don't give offense, study hard, and make friends. These instructions, often contradictory in practice, were impressed on the down-timer kids by their parents, all too often using a belt or a rod to reinforce the point.
Their attitude toward the "Sewing Circle" was somewhat different. To them, the important point was not whether the sewing machine company would actually succeed. That wasn't unimportant, but the really important point was that the "Sewing Circle" had parents who could afford to start them in a business. Granted, all the up-timers were rich, but there's rich, and then there's rich.
Since Delia Higgins was the backer of the enterprise, this attitude focused on David.
Short and skinny for his age, David Bartley had never been one of the popular kids among the up-timers. Mostly, he still wasn't. But among the down-timers he was very popularespecially with the down-timer girls.
The down-time girls took a pragmatic view of romance. David, Brent and Trentbut especially Davidlooked like they might be wealthy enough to marry years before most other boys in school. Not that the girls were looking to marry right away, but the period between puberty and satisfaction was uncomfortably long for a tailor's daughter.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, David didn't really know how to handle the situation.
There were extra guests for dinner at Delia Higgins' house the night of the first TV broadcast. Ramona had invited Karl Schmidt and his family. They had been seeing each other since mid-August. Not every day, but once a week or so, Karl would bring in a load of parts and Ramona would take the afternoon off.
Delia was slightly concerned. David wasn't, not anymore. Acculturation works both ways and it works faster on kids. Johan had been acculturating David right along. Besides, it wasn't that much of a jump really, just putting it in terms appropriate to the time. David had had a conversation with Master Schmidt. Ramona Higgins was a lady of high station, with a family that would take it very badly if she were treated with a lack of respect. Normally such comments from a boy just turned fifteen might be ignored. In this case, however, Johan was sitting a few feet away cleaning a double-barreled shotgun and adding translation and mistranslation as needed. Besides, in the discussions about the sewing machine parts, David had gotten to know Karl a little bit. He was bigoted, but no more than most, and he wasn't a user, unlike some of his mom's previous men.
Karl had not been insulted, or particularly frightened. Just cautioned. After all, Young Master Bartley had not told him to stop seeing Ramona, simply to treat her with respect. It reaffirmed her status, without closing the door in his face. To Karl, the surprising thing was that the door was not closed. David had managed to come off like a young baron allowing a commoner to court his mother because that's what his mother wanted.
Karl knew that David was not titled. He also knew that the President of Grantville was not titled. Titles didn't matter here, power mattered. If Karl played his cards right, he might well be accepted into this new informal nobility, and his family with him.
He had treated her with respect. Perhaps a bit more respect than Ramona really wanted. Certainly enough respect that he had swept her off her feet. Hence the dinner invitation. She wanted to meet his family. She wanted her family to meet his family, and she wanted everything to go well. She had fussed all day.
Normally dinner at the Higgins house was informal. The "servants" ate with the family. Not this time. Liesel would have none of it, and neither would Johan. There would be guests. Liesel would serve, Johan would get the door. Liesel was quite fond of Ramona, in a subservient materialistic sort of way. They would make a good impression.
They did, actually. The servants provided the comfort of familiarity. The food was rich, and excitingly varied. Something called "Orange Jell-O" for dessert. The house was a glory of technological innovation. These days, lamps were used in the Higgins house and light bulbs were hoarded; but for tonight, the lights were switched on. The cassette recorder provided a large selection of music in various styles. The doll collection managed to surpass its reputation. Not an easy thing to do, for it had grown in the telling.
Finally, there was the welcoming attitude. The Schmidt family found them quite condescending, in the old meaning of the word. They had clearly stepped down from their position of rank to make their guests comfortable. They hadn't, of course, but it seemed that way to the Schmidt family.
Dinner discussion started on the sewing machine company, but wandered far afield, to technology, customs, economics, schooling, fashion and culture. Ramona was somewhat successful in including the Schmidt girls in the conversation. Adolph was particularly interested in the electric lights, and as he learned of them, in the other electronic devices.
Dinner ended, as all things must, and it was time for the show. The television was turned on in time to see the hostess sitting down, but they missed the kiss. It didn't matter much, since of his family only Karl had ever seen TV before.
Rebecca was a wow! For the Schmidt family, it was suddenly like they knew her. Beautiful and gracious, looking them right in the eye, explaining the circumstances within the Ring of Fire, speaking of rationing, but that no one would go hungry. Her comments about Americans needing lots of meat to cook brought an extra delight; tonight's dinner had been rich in meat.
The Buster Keaton movie was a marvel. Made more marvelous for the Higgins clan by the Schmidt clan's wonder. Then Rebecca came back on. She discussed briefly the production projects, not mentioning the sewing machine project. It had for the most part fallen below adult radar. Then she began to discuss the military situation.
"I am Jewish, as you know," she said. But the Schmidt family hadn't known, except for Karl, and not even he had really thought about it. This Royal Lady, with the steady eye, and commanding presence, was a Jew. Well, no wonder she was engaged to the leader of the Americans, Jew or not. This was Uriel Abrabanel's niece, and there was a family resemblance now that he looked for it. Karl's prejudice took another hit that night. It was a fairly big hit, but prejudice takes a lot of chipping away.
Rebecca was still talking, still looking them in the eye. That same sense of involvement that had made Marie Schmidt warn Buster Keaton of impending doom now held Delia and her family silent. Rebecca Abrabanel was not a lady you challenged to her face. By the time the show was over the Jewish princess had more converts to her cause. Tentative converts true, uncertain of what the cause was. Even more uncertain of their place in this new world of magic and miracles, but converts none the less.
They had talked around it after they got back from the Higgins house. In fact the visit had dominated conversation for several days. They called so much into question, these Americans. They offered so much, but at a price. It was a strange price, and the Schmidt family wasn't sure they could pay it.
Almost, it was a devil's bargain: wealth, power, even glory of a kind, for giving up some certainties. Beliefs are a bit like the soul. They aren't material, they can't be pointed to, but they are part of what makes us what we are. You can't just decide to give them up either, they stick around even when you know better. The Schmidt family didn't think it through like that. Certainly not in those terms. Instead they had an uneasy feeling, like they were about to step off a precipice. Scared and excited. What they talked about by turns, were the marvels and the outrages.
"Music coming out of a box."
"A Jewish woman talking publicly of politics."
"Light at the flick of a switch."
"Dresses above the knee."
"Becky, seemed honest?"
"I've spent my life learning the trade of a smith. I know the making of tools, and little boys are to tell me how to make things."
"No, Adolph, not how to make thingsjust what things they will buy."
"To be paid for with pieces of paper?"
It went on, but the Schmidts were pragmatic people. So much to be gained.
The course of business building did not go as smoothly as the dinner with the Schmidts.
"The ceramic cases are deforming," said Trent. "We should have thought of it before. When you make ceramics, you're heating them to the edge of melting and keeping them there for hours. They become plastic at that heat and deform from their own weight."
"Are we going to have to go to wood or cast iron then?" asked Brent.
"That will add a bunch of money per machine. Cast iron is more expensive than clay, and we've already spent a bundle on the ceramic casings. That's money down the drain. Are you sure we can't make them work? Sarah is not going to be happy."
"I don't know enough about ceramics to be sure of anything, that's the problem," Brent admitted. "How much vibration can they take? Will the wood separators really work? Can we redesign the molds so as to compensate for the deformation?"
On the upside of the ledger, they were only one part away from having finished sewing machines. Mr. Marcantonio said he would have the machine to produce that part ready in a couple of days. On the downside, they were going to have to find somewhere for a factory and they were perilously close to brokepast broke if you included the money that Mr. Marcantonio had said they could wait a while to pay.
The Higgins Sewing Machine Company had been using three storage containers to store parts and blanks. The production machines made by Dave Marcantonio's shop were still in his shop, so to make and finish parts using them, they went there. Final assembly had been moved to the Higgins' garage. This had saved quite a bit in rent, but was far from convenient. Now that would have to change. For one thing, Mr. Marcantonio was being crowded out of his shop. He really didn't have room for all their production machines.
So, with regret, he had insisted that they find somewhere else to set up. He was feeling a bit guilty over throwing them out, and as he was very busy and not at all short of cash, he was willing to wait on payment for the last of the machines.
Which had led to this meeting of the "Sewing Circle." (The kids had adopted the nickname as their own.)
"Grantville is out, till we've sold some sewing machines or gotten more capital from somewhere," Sarah pronounced. "The rents are too high."
"We may be able to use a couple of the storage containers for a while," said David.
"Maybe so, but what we really need is a factory," said Trent. "Over seventy-five percent of our parts are still hand-made. There are a lot of machines that we could make that would decrease the cost of production if we had the money and the room."
"Some of the subcontractors have been asking about buying into the company lately," said David. "It seems some of the other business have started offering profit-sharing and stock options. We don't have any profits to share yet, but some of our suppliers figure we will."
David was thinking mainly of Karl Schmidt. Other suppliers had shown interest, but Mr. Schmidt seemed a bit obsessive. At first he had thought that Mr. Schmidt was cultivating him for his mother's sake; there was probably some of that in it, but that wasn't all of it.
"So have some of the guys from the shop class," added Brent.
"I think we should consider incorporation." Sarah picked up her book bag and removed a notebook. Then handed David, who was closest, a typewritten sheet. "Read it and pass it on. What it is," she said to the others, "is an outline of how I think we could incorporate. We set it up with a couple of hundred thousand shares. The first hundred thousand would be for the original owners. So we would each have ten thousand except for money bags here."
She pointed to David, who buffed his fingernails on his coat and tried to look important. He managed to look silly, which was probably better for all concerned. "Who would have twelve thousand, and Mrs. Higgins would have thirty thousand and so on."
"The other hundred thousand would be owned by the corporation. Which could sell it to raise extra money. Even at a dollar a share, even if we only sell a third of the shares, that's a lot of money."
"What about control?" asked Trent.
"We would probably keep it," said Sarah. "Probably. Let me ask you something though. Why is control important?"
"So the grownups won't take it away from us," said Trent automatically.
"No. What are the grownups going to do? Buy up control so they can stop making sewing machines?"
"Tell us 'Thanks, but we're running things now. Go play with your toys.'"
"Right, and pay us each five percent of the profit," Sarah answered. "David six percent and Mrs. Higgins fifteen percent. Altogether, with everybody, it's fifty percent. It might be worth it to someone, but it's not real likely. I figure we'll probably sell half the hundred thousand shares. Which would still leave us and Mrs. Higgins with more of the stock than any other group, but even if we do lose control, we'll probably get rich from it. So, if they want to tell us to go play with our toys, they are gonna have to buy us some really nice toys.
"There's another reason we should incorporate, or at least, change it to a limited liability company," she continued. "The way we set it up at first we are liable for any debts or damages. What if we get sued? It wouldn't be so bad for us, we don't have much, but what about Mrs. Higgins? One of the things a corporation does, is limit the debt to corporate assets. That would mean they couldn't take the storage lot, or Mrs. Higgins' dolls as payment for the company's debts."
They spent the rest of the lunch hour talking about corporate structure.
They had removed some of the production machines to the storage lot as a stopgap measure. Mr. Marcantonio had finished the last production machine they absolutely had to have, and they now had parts for several sewing machines. They had spent the entire time from when school let out trying to assemble one. Now it was dinner time, and they still didn't have a working sewing machine.
It was the same trouble they had been having from the beginning. Tolerances. The machined parts were acting as a centerline and the handmade parts could only vary from it so far. Mostly they fell within the limits, but if one part was off a little one way and another part was off in another way the combination meant that the sewing machine didn't work. So they had to go through the parts, find ones that were off in complementary ways and fit them together. It was a painstaking and occasionally painful process. Replete with skinned knuckles, banged fingers and frustration.
It worked. Five months of hard work, two afternoons, and about fifteen minutes of final assembly, and they had a sewing machine. The important thing was, in another couple of days they would have another; sewing machine production had finally started.
It was time to celebrate. There was a six pack of Coca-Cola that had been sitting in the Higgins pantry since the Ring of Fire and their icebox for the last week. It was about to get drunk.
Trent took over from Brent, and sewed another line of stitches down the folded rag. He then carefully removed it from the machine. From the garage they danced through the kitchen, startling Liesel, and into the living room. They danced around Delia, waving the sewn rag like the flag of a defeated foe, and in a way it was.
David and Johan were in Rudolstadt talking with a supplier, and Sarah was watching Judy the Younger again. Sarah's work could be done at home, and Judy the Younger was proving to be more of a help than the expected hindrance. Which surprised Sarah to no end.
A phone call informed Sarah of the good news. She would call her parents. Other phone calls followed, to Mr. Marcantonio and Mr. Partow, to Mrs. Partow, to anyone in any way involved that could be reached by phone. Brent took the sewn cloth to show Ramona and the guards. By now there were ways to fairly rapidly get messages to people in Badenburg, Rudolstadt, and other nearby towns. It cost a few dollars and you had to know precisely where the person was. If you had a phone you could have the message which started with the local phone company charged to your phone bill. Which is precisely what Ramona did. She had realized that Karl was interested in the sewing machine project, and Karl was a responsible business man. He would know what to do.
David would have to wait until he got back from Rudolstadt to learn about the completed sewing machine.
By the time David got home, the party was in full swing. Most of the Grantville residents that were in any way involved with the sewing machine project were there. So was Karl Schmidt and his family, and a couple of other suppliers from Badenburg. They had come to see what their parts had made.
The guests circulated between the house proper and the garage. Delia had been the first to actually make something with the sewing machine. She professed to like her Singer better, hiding her pride in the accomplishment. She wasn't really fooling anyone, but the hillbilly version of the stiff upper lip had its rules. Liesel didn't make any such attempt. Liesel was not completely sure she trusted electricity. This could be used anywhere. All the guests had tried it, with Brent and Trent hovering nervously over them.
The Schmidt girls were entranced. Had they had their way, Higgins sewing machine model A serial number One would have been sold then and there. They did not have their way, however. Higgins A1 would never be soldthough in future years, some collectors would offer truly exorbitant sums trying to buy it.
Karl was, in his staid stolid way, rather entranced himself. He had seen the Singer work. He had known this was coming, but he had not seen the look on his youngest daughter's face when something that would have taken her hours and would still not be done to her sisters' satisfaction was done neatly and evenly, in less than a minute.
There was definitely a market, but how were the tailors going to react? There were none present today. There were guild rules and there were laws about who could make clothes, but no rules about using machines to make clothing. Not yet, anyway. Karl got to meet several people he had wanted to meet for some time. The Wendells, and Dave Marcantonio especially. He needed to know things before he decided what to do.
Food had been cooked, and brought by guests. There was not nearly enough Coca-Cola for all the guests, so it stayed in the fridge. Beer and Kool-Aid were available though. Conversation flowed. Problems were brought up. The cost of the sewing machines was still very high. The value of the company had jumped sharply from what it had been just the day before. Legal questions about children running a company, that had seemed less important when it was a hobby in all but name, were asked. Where would sewing machines be sold? How would they be sold? Sarah Wendell held forth on the subjects of dealerships and "rent with an option to buy."
David Bartley wandered around the party, getting more and more worried as time went on. Aside from Mr. and Mrs. Wendell, there were some other members of the finance committee, and they were busy questioning whether children should be allowed to manage such a potentially valuable export. Mr. Schmidt was asking about the possibility of buying production machines from Mr. Marcantonio. Was he planning on going into competition with them? With the completion of the first working sewing machine, they had reappeared on adult radar, and were in real danger of being shot out of the sky. For their own good, of course.
David didn't trust the motives of those that expressed doubts children could run a company. It seemed to him that many of them were searching for ways to jump onto the gravy train now it looked like it was going to pull out of the station and actually go somewhere. Others appeared to resent their success in the face of adult wisdom.
Sarah had bad news. "I've been checking into the laws regarding corporations. It is illegal in West Virginia for minors to be on the board of a corporation."
"But we're not in West Virginia," insisted Brent. "We're in Germany." He knew better, he was just upset.
"It doesn't matter." Sarah shook her head. "Grantville corporate law is West Virginia corporate law without so much as a period changed. Maybe we should forget about incorporating."
"Maybe not," said David. That moved everyone's stares from Sarah to him. "I was listening to some of the people at the party yesterday. They were worried about leaving the Higgins Sewing Machine Company in our hands. When we actually built a sewing machine, some of the grownups that were never too keen on the kids running a company started paying attention again. Incorporation may be a way to satisfy them, without having them take over. Sarah, are there any other jobs in a corporation that a minor can't hold, like say Chief Engineer, CEO, CFO, any of that stuff?"
"I don't think so. In fact there almost can't be. What jobs there are in a corporation changes from corporation to corporation. How could they make it illegal when all the corporation had to do to get around the law is change the name of the job?"
"Is there a law against a minor owning stock or voting stock?"
"Not owning, I'm pretty sure. Voting I don't know. I think it would be like other stuff kids own. Their parents could probably veto their selling it, and vote the stock for them, or maybe not. It could be something determined in the corporation's bylaws. I can probably find out."
"We can incorporate and select the people on the board of directors, and the people that don't like the idea of kids running a company can look and see that the board of directors is made up of responsible grownups. 'We ain't running things, just doing our jobs the way the board tells us to'." David grinned. "Of course, since the four of us and Grandma hold the biggest chunk of stock, we elect the board. Which will be Grandma, and a few other people. Maybe Mr. Marcantonio, and maybe your parents?"
"I don't know," mused Trent, a bit dubiously. "Mom and Dad are all right, but they take their responsibilities really seriously. So far, they have looked at this as your Grandma's company, with us helping out. We get the occasional lecture about listening to Mrs. Higgins, and the great opportunity she is giving us. I think they have sort of assumed she has been making the decisions right along."
"It's the same with my parents," said Sarah. "There may even be some truth to it. She lets us make the decisions, but she is sorta there. You do the same thing, David. When we get into a fight, you start bringing up stuff that we've forgotten then. I don't know, we're agreeing again, and we have a plan."
This came as a revelation to David. He hadn't realized the others knew what he was doing, and he hadn't realized that Grandma was doing the same thing. He wasn't sure he liked it.
Brent looked at David and started laughing. Then Trent and Sarah joined him. All this time, David had thought he was getting away with something, and all the time, the others had been letting him do it. "Anyway," David said as much to change the subject as anything, "now that we have a sewing machine, what do we do with it? And the next one, and the one after that. How do we sell them?"
"Rent with an option to buy," said Sarah. "Layaway, and in-store credit, first in nearby towns, then through dealerships. If someone wants to pay cash up front we'll take it, but I don't expect that to happen often. They are just too expensive. I figure we're gonna have to charge about four months wages for a journeyman tailor for each machine, or more. I don't think we'll sell many in Grantville. The big plus for our sewing machines is they don't need electricity, that's no big deal here."
"What about the laws restricting who can sew what?" asked Trent.
"Not our problem. If someone wants to buy or rent one, we assume that they are only going to use it to sew in legal ways. Stupid laws anyway."
"I don't know," said David. Then, seeing Sarah's look, he held up his hands before him; fingers in the sign of the Cross, as if to ward off a vampire. "Not about the 'stupid law' part. About the 'not our problem' part. I figure the tailors' guilds will do everything they can to make it our problem. Making clothing is big business. It employs a lot of people. Some of them are going to lose their jobs. A lot of them, actually. As best as I can tell, it seems to take about a man-week to make one set of clothing. Most of that six-day week is spent just sewing the seams. That is one tailor fully employed for every fifty-two men. For one suit of clothes per-year per-man. It's less than that, but that's because most people don't get a new set of clothing every year. More like every two or three years. I've been talking to some of the German girls."
That announcement brought "woo hoos" from the guys and a haughty sniff from Sarah.
"About their hope chests," corrected David, which only made it worse. "About the sewing in their hope chests."
David tried again to get the conversation back on track. "That's mostly what's in them, you know. Clothing, blankets, bed linen, sewn stuff that they take years making, and it's not because cloth is so expensive. Well, not mostly. Mostly, it's because it takes years to sew the stuff. The women will love the sewing machines, but the tailors won't. Have any of you guys had a run-in with Hans Jorgensen?"
That bought the guffaws to a halt.
They had indeed had run-ins with Hans. In most ways, Hans was a standard down-timer kid trying his best to assimilate, but Hans hated sewing machines and sewing machine makers. It was a fairly convenient hate. He had no direct contact with sewing machines and there were only four sewing machine makers in Grantville, all teenagers. His father was a master tailor who was now reduced to working in the labor gangs because there was not enough work in the tailor shops. Why wasn't there enough work in the tailor shops? Because the Americans had sewing machines, and aside from fitting and finishing, they didn't need tailors. Clothing, for the moment, cost less in Grantville than it did anywhere else in Europe. The difference between the cost of the fabric in a suit of clothing and the price a tailor could get for a finished suit of clothing was not enough to pay for the labor of the tailornot without a sewing machine, and Hans' father didn't have one. Also, as the cost of sewing had gone down, the demand for new cloth had gone up and so had its price.
"I know, Hans is an a-hole," David continued, "but I feel a bit sorry for him. He was an apprentice tailor before his village got trashed, worked for his father. They get to the haven of Grantville, and find out that all the sewing machines are rented, and no one is hiring tailors. His dad is in a general labor gang, and Hans goes to school, and what is everyone in school talking about? A bunch of kids making sure that he will never be able to do the work his dad had taught him to do.
"Now that we're up and running, housewives all over Germany will bless the name of Higgins, but tailors will hate our guts. I figure that there is about one tailor for every two hundred people in Germany, and right now, every one of them is needed. Once the sewing machine becomes common, it will be one tailor for every thousand or less. So, in towns where the tailors' guild is strong, we're liable to see laws against sewing machines."
Delia had talked to Dave Marcantonio and Fletcher Wendell, and been lectured by Quinton Underwood. The storage lot was a real waste of resources. Ray had insisted on shed-sized steel containers instead of sheds when they had set up the storage lot. They were more expensive, but with the thick enamel paint they were a maintenance dream. They were also made of great big corrugated steel plates an eighth-inch thick. Grantville needed the steel.
No one was going to just seize them, true. Quinton Underwood gave the impression he'd like to, but that was just Quinton being his usual bossy self. Delia would be paid, and paid a fair pricemore than they had originally paid for them. Plenty to put in wooden sheds and make up for the lost rent. They wouldn't force her to sell if she didn't want to. But they were right, Grantville needed the metal.
They were right about something else, too. Grantville didn't really need rows of little sheds for people to store their excess junk. What was really needed was industrial warehousing, big buildings, where raw materials could be stored for later use, and finished products for later sale. The amount of space that Dave and Fletcher were talking about would cost more than storage sheds to build, a lot more, but it would be worth more, too. To her and to Grantville.
It meant the rest of the dolls, or at least most of them, and maybe a bank loan to cover the difference. Fletcher said she could probably get a bank loan to cover the whole thing, but the monthly payment would be a killer. She would be much more likely to go broke if anything went wrong. Besides, Dan Frost had talked to her about the danger of keeping her dolls in the house when everyone knew she had the collection.
Delia knew it was the best course, but the dolls were committed. She had promised them to the kids if they were needed, and they might be yet, in spite of the fact that they were in production now. She almost dropped the idea without mentioning it. But Fletcher Wendell would probably tell Sarah and Dave would tell Kent, who would tell Brent and Trent. She hadn't asked anyone to keep the discussions secret. If she didn't bring it up, the kids would worry about it.
"You've all heard about the storage containers?"
The kids nodded. Delia told them about the possible warehouse, and what it would cost to build. Significantly more than had been invested in the sewing machine company. How long it would take. The rest of the winter and most of the spring. Even if she got use of some of the construction equipment. She told them that she could probably get a loan to cover the whole amount, but the more she could put in up front, the better it would work. "But don't worry, I won't use the dolls, they are promised to you."
Brent, Trent and David looked at Sarah. Sarah was the CFO, and incorporating was her plan.
"Dad likes to quote 'If' by Rudyard Kipling," Sarah said, "The line that goes: 'If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss.' Then Mom says: 'If you do that I'll divorce you. Even if you win. Diversify!'''
Sarah shook her head. "We all have to gamble now. Since the Ring of Fire, everything we do, every decision we make is a gamble. Maybe they always were and we just didn't notice it before. But we don't have to gamble dumb. Risking it all on one turn of pitch and toss may be very manly. But it's not real smart. We women," she continued with a haughty look at the boys, "say things like 'never put all your eggs in one basket.' The sewing machine company is one basket. It's a good one, I think, but it's only one. The warehouse is another. You've already put some of your dolls in Higgins Sewing Machine Co. Now it's time to put some in Higgins Warehousing Co."
Sarah gave Delia an almost pleading look. "But Mrs. Higgins, please keep some for you. Besides," she continued in a much more practical tone, "the way things worked out, it will be very hard for us to go bankrupt. If we had gotten the loan, then defaulted, the bank could have taken everything we had, but since we didn't get the loan, the sewing machine parts, the production machines we have so far, and one down-time made sewing machine are ours. We have no outstanding debt. Well, except for the money we owe Mr. Marcantonio for the last production machine. We have a plan for that though, and for some other stuff that has come up.
"We think we should turn the company into a corporation. If we convert to a public corporation, with say two hundred thousand shares, we'd take a hundred thousand of them to represent present ownership, and then gradually sell off some of the other hundred thousand as needed. Even at just a dollar or two a share, we should raise enough to handle any problems that come up. Also, I am pretty sure Mr. Marcantonio will be happy to take payment in shares for the last production machine he made.
"Every new part and every new production machine is that much more value the company itself has. So we can use the work we have already done, and the equipment we already have, to get more financing through a corporate loan secured with stock or the sale of stock. We're in a much better position to do that now than we were when we started. Now we can show people working machines, and an inventory of parts."
"What about the possibility of losing control?" Delia wanted to know.
"We've talked about that," said David. "Early on, the thought of losing control really bothered us. We figured that if we showed it to an adult, they would pat us on the head and then ignore us. Or treat it like it wasn't real. Like it was a school project or something. Part of it was that we weren't really sure that it was anything more than a pipe dream. We were afraid that even if it could work, we couldn't get anyone to believe that it would work."
"But you believed in us," said Brent, "and now it's not a pipe dream."
Sarah chimed in. "Between your shares, Johan's, and ours, we would have seventy-seven thousand shares. Even if everyone else that owns a part of the company now voted for the takeover, which they won't, they would still need to buy fifty-four thousand shares. That is a lot of money, and if they spend that much, they will still be leaving us"Sarah waved to indicate that us include Delia"and Johan thirty-eight point five percent of the net profit on the business, while they would be doing all the work."
"But if eventually someone is willing to put up that much money to take control," said Trent, "let them have it. With our shares, we'll be able to raise the money to start another company making something else."
What Trent didn't say, but everyone understood, was that, having started one successful company, the kids would be listened to when and if they decided they wanted to start another.
"Besides there are people that want to buy stock," said David. "Suppliers from the towns around Grantville and kids at school."
There were four tailor shops left in Badenburg. There had been eight before the Ring of Fire, and they had employed sixty-seven people between them, including apprentices. The four that were left were the best and most prosperous, and now, including apprentices, they only employed twenty-three people. It was ridiculously easy for people from Badenburg and the other towns within a day's walk of the Ring of Fire to go to Grantville to buy cheaper clothing. Which is precisely what they had been doing. Several of the tailors from the surrounding towns had moved into Grantville seeking other work. Others had moved away, with a less than glowing view of Grantville.
The tailors' guild in Badenburg heard of the completion of the first locally made sewing machine the day of its completion. They hadn't been at the party, but others had, and they had been told. They called a meeting of guild members, but they could not decide what to do. If they outlawed sewing machines, all it would do was encourage people to go to Grantville to get their clothing. Assuming they could get the town council to agree to it at all, which was not likely. Badenburg's security was now dependent on the Americans in Grantville.
Sewing machines would come into Badenburg, they would do much of the tailor's work, so most of the tailors would be out of jobs. A few would actually do better, the ones who owned the shops that got sewing machines. They would make more profit on their clothing than they ever had. For the rest, it was move away, or find another job. In the middle of a war, where could they go? They couldn't afford to move when they had nowhere to go. There was work in Grantville, but it wouldn't be in the craft they had worked in for years.
Not all members of the tailors' guild were willing to accept that. There was talk of direct action. Of destroying any sewing machine sold in Badenburg and the shop of the buyer. Only talk, however; offending Grantville by destroying its products wouldn't do any good and might well do tremendous harm. No one had forgotten the Battle of the Crapper, nor had they forgotten what Ernst Hoffman and his soldiers had done to Badenburg before the Americans had stopped them. What would the Americans do if offended?
After the meeting had ended, Bruno Schroeder, Guild Master for the tailors' guild in Badenburg, visited Karl Schmidt. Karl had been a long time friend. At the same time, Bruno knew that Karl was providing parts for the sewing machine company. They had discussed it casually a couple of months ago. Karl had mentioned that the company attempting to make the sewing machines was run by children. Bruno had assumed that they were unlikely to succeed. At the time, Karl had not been all that confident in their success either. Bruno wanted to know what Karl thought now that the first sewing machine had been completed. Would they get better at it? Would they eventually be able to turn out a sewing machine a month?
Bruno was a tailor, and a high-end tailor at that, not a manufacturer. He realized that the sewing machine makers had had some set up work to do on the first sewing machine, but Bruno was an artist. Making the second set of clothing was not all that much faster than the first. The same pattern could be used, and you now had experience on the individual's fit, but the time savings were minimal. More important than that, Bruno Schroeder did not realize how quickly the Higgins Sewing Machine Company could make sewing machines because he did not want to. He had closed his eyes and put his hands over his ears. He had come to Karl hoping desperately that he could continue to do so. He couldn't.
When he explained his question, Karl looked at him as if he were an imbecile. Not for long, it took Karl only a moment to get his face back under control, but that look was a shock. Bruno was politically and economically astute, the master of his guild and a political power in his town. It had been a good twenty years since anyone had looked at him that way.
"They will have another sewing machine complete in less than a week," said Karl, as gently as he could. "Then it will get faster. There will be occasional slowdowns, especially at first, but over all it will get faster. Till there is a sewing machine for everyone who wants one, and can afford one."
For Bruno it did not mean that he had to go out of business. A lot of tailors would, but not necessarily Bruno. He had the money to buy a sewing machine; he could remain in business. What it did mean, was that the basis for his political power was dying. His guild was dying. There would be fewer tailors in the future, fewer guild members. As its numbers decreased, so too would its power. Much of the time-consuming work of tailoring would be done by the new machines. People who had worked all their lives to learn a trade would have to start over, and to the best of Bruno's knowledge, no one was taking on fifty-year-old apprentices. Nor was his concern just for the political power, he also cared about the members of his guild.
Bruno Schroeder had heard that a sewing machine had been sold to the last of the tailor shops in Rudolstadt. There was not much he could do about it and he understood the reasons. With Rudolstadt even closer to Grantville, and a smaller town, it had been hit harder by the new competition. Warner Rudolen had to be hurting. Still, Bruno wanted to see how it was working out. What Warner thought.
What Warner thought, was that he might just stay in business after all. Grantville was becoming a very crowded town. Not everyone wanted to go there. Now he could sell clothing for as little and sometimes less than they sold for in Grantville, and some of his customers had come back. He was saving on cloth because, with sewing so cheap, he cut using up-time patterns. He showed Bruno what he meant. Generally a pair of pants was cut in two sections, one for each leg, which meant you only had to sew the inner seam. But that meant the sections were shaped in such a way that more of the cloth was wasted. The up-timers cut the cloth in four sections, two for each leg, which saved on cloth, but meant more sewing. With the sewing machine he could do it the up-timer way and get an extra pair of pants out of a bolt of cloth.
He didn't have enough work, though. Not nearly enough. He could take a customer's measurements and have a full set of clothing for them the same day. He could do that by himself, and he didn't get a customer a day. He was encouraging his younger apprentices and journeyman to look for work in other trades. Without the sewing machine he would be looking for another trade.
That was when Bruno Schroeder really realized that he could not win a fight against the sewing machine. Tailors would buy them no matter what he did.
Bruno discussed it with the rest of the Tailors' Guild. They agreed they didn't have much choice. He then asked Karl to provide him with an introduction to the sewing machine makers. When he met Delia Higgins, he knew that even the last bit he had been hoping for would not be forthcoming. They would not agree to limit their sales to members of the tailors' guild. All that was left was to be first in line to buy one. The Higgins Sewing Machine Company got five orders that day. More than they had the machines in stock to fill. After Bruno left, they wondered why he had given in so easily.
Suddenly it occurred to David that they had been looking at it from the wrong angle. They had all read about the riot that had ruined Barthélemy Thimmonier, the Frenchman who had built the first recorded sewing machine. They had assumed that the rioting tailors who had burned him out and almost killed him had objected to sewing machines. But he now realized that things were more complicated than that.
Barthélemy Thimmonier hadn't been a sewing machine manufacturer, he had been a tailor. Well, a clothing manufacturer. When he built sewing machines, he didn't sell them, he used them. Suddenly other tailors were losing work to Barthélemy Thimmonier, and when he wouldn't sell them the means to compete, of course they were mad. They weren't mad at him for making the machines, they were mad at him for hogging the machines. That was the difference between him and Singer. Anyone who wanted one and could pony up the cash could buy a Singer sewing machine, but only Thimmonier could have a Thimmonier. If there was one business that the Higgins Sewing Machine Corporation must never enter into, it was the manufacturing of clothing. That way, if the tailors rioted, it would be against someone's tailor shop. Sweatshop more likely.
They had been worrying about Barthélemy Thimmonier from the beginning, afraid of ending up the victims of an ignorant mob. But Thimmonier wasn't the victim of an ignorant mob, he was the victim of an informed mob. A mob he had made himself because of the way he chose to make his money. If he had sold sewing machines he would have gotten rich; instead he was burned out, nearly killed, and finally died a pauper.
The papers of incorporation had been filed and approved. The production of the first few sewing machines had made it a reasonable move, and apparently no one had looked real closely at the bylaws. At least, no one had commented on the clause that allowed minor children twelve or older to vote their own shares.
The first stockholders' meeting of the new Higgins Sewing Machine Corporation was held in the Higgins' living room. Delia Higgins was voted chairwoman of the board. Dave Marcantonio accepted two thousand shares of stock as payment for the last production machine and was promptly voted onto the board. So was Johan Kipper.
Sarah presented her plans for selling sewing machines. Brent, the plans for several new machines which would decrease the per-unit cost of production, with several interruptions from Trent. David was mostly silent, until the end.
Then he brought up the problem. No money. After they had built the first working sewing machine they had averaged two a week. They had now made five including A1, but they were going to have to stop assembling them for a while to make room in the garage to make new parts. They had sold one sewing machine to a tailor shop in Rudolstadt that had been trying to get someone to convert an up-time machine to treadle power for more than a month. They had had to use Sarah's "rent with an option to buy" plan because the shop could simply not afford to buy it outright. It would be paid off over the next year. It was probable that Mr. Schmidt would buy one for his family sometime soon. But he would probably not pay cash either. The sewing machines were just too expensive for that. Count Guenther of Rudolstadt looked to be interested in buying one and he would probably pay cash.
They had started out looking at storefront property, way too expensive. They had gradually lowered their expectations. They were now looking for a barn somewhere they could rent. As their machines didn't use electricity, the motors adding too much to the cost for the company to afford them, they had considered renting some place in one of the surrounding towns. Their problem was the complex laws about who could and couldn't do what in towns in central Germany looked likely to defeat them.
They were going to sell some stock, but how much? Mr. Marcantonio's two thousand shares had cleared HSMC's only debt but didn't put any money in the kitty. Sarah's little sister Judy the Younger wanted in and was prepared to pay for the privilege. She had six Barbie dolls and was willing to part with five of them. They were still arguing over how many shares that would buy. Judy the Younger wanted it to be based on the price in Venice. Sarah was pushing for the price paid by Master Vespucci.
Judy the Younger had a plan. Judy did not have her sister's economic talent, nor did she know nearly so much about business. In most measurable ways, Judy was not so bright as her studious elder sister.
But Judy was persuasive. While Sarah had focused on, well, money, Judy had focused on people skills. She had loads of friends and somehow, magically, people often ended up doing precisely what she wanted, even her parents and sister. No one, not even Judy, was sure how it happened. She genuinely liked people, even her older sister. She laughed when she was supposed to laugh and even whined when she was supposed to whine. There are times when you're supposed to, since it makes people think they've gotten away with something. You just have to be careful not to keep it up too long. There were times when Sarah made that part difficult.
Judy's plan was amorphous, not really thought out yet. It just seemed to her that it would be great for everyone if the kids at school were stockholders in the Higgins Sewing Machine Corporation. After all, that's what Sarah said corporations were for. To let people that didn't have enough money to start a company get a piece of someone else's, and to let the corporation get enough money to expand.
Everybody wins, everybody's happy, and Judy is the one who arranged it. So everybody is happy with Judy. When Sarah had first mentioned the possibility, Judy had talked about it with some friends. There were a few select eighth graders in Grantville's middle school who had known about the incorporation before even Trent, Brent or David. They called themselves the "Barbie Consortium," but only among themselves. They weren't totally sure what consortium meant, but it sure sounded cool. There were only seven of them, but they were the most popular girls in the eighth grade. It was really quite convenient that just at the age when they were ready to give up their dolls, the dolls had suddenly become very valuable. Judy had told them of their dolls' increased value back in June.
Most of them had hidden their dolls away to escape parental embargoes on sales. All but Vicky Emerson, that is. She had sold hers. That had almost killed the "Barbie Consortium," since it had taken all Judy's persuasiveness to keep the other girls from following Vicky's example, but she had prevailed. When Mrs. Higgins had sold her dolls for so much, Judy had been vindicated. She had full control of the consortium.
Well, not control. Judy never went for control. Judy went for Influence.
Now was the time. Higgins Sewing Machines was going public. They were having the first stockholders' meeting tonight. Which was why Judy was over at Hayley's house. Only three of the "Barbie Consortium" were present but there was still much whispering and giggling. Hayley's mom did not take much notice, comfortably convinced it was about the standard things. Well, some of it was.
Karl Schmidt did not have a plan. He had two plans, and hadn't decided which of them to implement. The first plan, to copy the tools and machines of the Higgins Sewing Machine Corporation and start making his own, had several drawbacks. While Karl had more and better connections outside the Ring of Fire, and in a sense more money, the kids had better connections inside the Ring of Fire, and a head start. They also had, in a sense, Ramona.
Karl really liked Ramona Higgins. Maybe he even loved her. He was no Romeo and he wasn't fourteen so there was no question of abandoning his name and house, but if he could avoid it he would prefer not to hurt her. He would also prefer not to get in a fight with David, not with Johan and his shotgun in the background, although Karl was fairly confident that guns would not come into play over this. If it had been his only option he would have done it. He had even been preparing the ground to do so until a fairly short while ago.
Granted all his preparation so far had been dual use. Not all the machines and tools useful in making the parts of a sewing machine required up-time equipment to make. Forms and tools could be made that in turn could make the production of parts easier and cheaper. Karl Schmidt was quite familiar with tricks of his trade as practiced by the craftsmen of his time, and for the last two months he had been picking up what he could of up-time notions. The combination was useful. By now he was producing most of the parts he sold to the Higgins Sewing Machine Corporation at a good profit.
The second plan had been little more than a wish. He wished that he could get into the sewing machine business without upsetting Ramona. He even wished he could do it without going into competition with a bunch of kids. Kids that he had come to like. Until recently there had seemed no way to do it, but maybe now there was. Ramona didn't know that much about stock corporations, and neither did Karl, but Uriel Abrabanel did. Karl had learned enough to understand two things. You voted your stock by how much you had, and you did not actually have to own more than half the stock to gain control. You just needed to get a majority to support you.
The incorporation had done something else. It had decreased the chances of competing with them. As they sold stock, they would gain money. Which would eliminate one of his advantages.
The stock had sold fairly well. So far they had sold a bit over seventeen thousand shares. Enough for them to rent a wagon shed out on Flat Run Road, and move all the production machines into it. They had gotten their production back up to two days per machine.
One thing David found interesting and a little frightening was Sarah's little sister Judy. She had bought over eight thousand shares, for herself and some of her school friends. He had been peripherally involved because Johan had been asked to find a merchant and help with the negotiating. Johan had asked David who had in turn checked with the Wendells. Only to learn that Judy did indeed have her parents' permission to sell dolls and buy stock. They had even suggested that she ask for Johan's help. He had also learned that Judy had five dolls that she was willing to sell. He had passed on the permission but not the number to Johan.
When he got the report on the deal from Johan he realized that he probably should have passed on the number of dolls. Judy and her friends had had twenty-seven dolls, a Barbie hairstyling head and a few other toys. Johan was impressed with the girls. Aside from translating, they hadn't needed any help. Sad little eyes, crying not quite crocodile tears over having to give up their dolls. Johan's biggest trouble had been keeping a straight face. The merchant hadn't had a chance. The "Barbie Consortium," as they called themselves, had gotten an even better price than Delia had. They had then turned around and spent most of the money on stock in Higgins Sewing Machine Corporation.
Since this was precisely what Johan had been told they had permission to do, he hadn't even thought about it. Acting as an officer of the company he had just taken their money and issued the stock. Besides, they all had parental consent forms signed by their parents. True the parental consent forms didn't specify the number of shares, but then none of the parental consent forms did. It was a detail Sarah, the boys, and her parents had just failed to think would ever be significant. None of the other minors buying shares had ever bought more than a handful.
The rest of the sales to minors had totaled only a couple of thousand shares. They had done better with their down-time suppliers who had bought most of the rest. Only a few shares had been bought by up-time adults.
They needed money from the sale of stock because they weren't selling their sewing machines for cash on the barrel head. Nearly every machine they sold was effectively a loan they made to the buyer. They would get their money back plus some, but not anytime soon. The problem was the bank. Sarah had planned on selling the loans to the bank at a discount, using the contract as collateral for a loan. It was a fairly standard practice up-time, but the bank of Grantville wanted a bigger cut than Sarah wanted to give. So until they worked it out, they weren't receiving nearly as much per machine up front as it cost to make it.
"The bank caved; well, mostly anyway." Sarah went on to explain the deal she had reached with the bank, which bored Brent almost to tears. The important point was that they would get paid for the sewing machines when they sold them. That meant they could hire people to do the assembly and make and finish the parts so he and Trent wouldn't have to do it anymore. Figuring out how to make a sewing machine was great fun, even making the first one was fun, but by the time you have made several it's just plain work and boring work at that.
"Look, sir," said Brent excitedly to Samuel Abrabanel, "the neat thing about a sewing machine, well, one of the neat things, is that it's all structured around a two stitch cycle. One complete rotation of the power wheel is two stitches. At any point around in the spin of the power wheel the other parts are all in the same place they would be at the same point in the next rotation. Pretty much all that's in there are cams, levers and a few gears. Then a set of parts that actually do the sewing based on the position of the levers.
"The parts we make ourselves are the parts that would be really hard to make with standard seventeenth-century tools. The other parts we contract out to people like that guy Johan got in the fight with the other day."
"It wasn't a fight, Master Brent," Johan said severely. "It was bargaining." Looking at Samuel Abrabanel: "Begging your pardon, sir, these up-timers have no notion of bargaining. If they weren't so rich they'd all be penniless by now."
Johan shook his head. "It isn't just the kids. All the up-timers are like children in a way."
"Trent and I," said Sarah, with a look at Johan, "have worked it out as well as we could. We figure that making a sewing machine with seventeenth-century techniques could probably be done, but it's just barely within the techniques the very best of your craftsmen have. It would take, we guess, something over five thousand man hours."
"I know that's a lot," Trent interrupted, "but imagine just two parts, each part has dozens of places where they have to fit with the other in exactly the right way. Now add another part and another and they all have to fit together. It's a lot of delicate filing and shaping, and you can't separate the work having one master make one part and another make another. No matter how good they are the parts won't fit.
"With our machines doing the tricky time-consuming parts, we have that down to, we think, around two hundred man hours. The reason it's 'we think' and not 'we know,' is because we really don't know for sure how long it takes the contractors to make the parts we farm out. All we know for sure is how much we are being charged, and we're guessing the hours from that. When you figure labor at eight dollars an hour and add in the cost of materials, it costs us about four thousand dollars to make a sewing machine. Three thousand of that is contracted parts and blanks, another two hundred or so is putting all the pieces together and testing the machine. The rest, the key to producing them at something approaching an affordable price, is the machines you see around you."
"It's very interesting," said Samuel Abrabanel, "but why did you ask me to come here? Are you looking for a loan or an investor?"
"No, sir, not really," said Sarah. "We do sell stock and if you would like to buy some we'll be happy to sell you some, but that's not why we wanted to show you this. What we are really looking for is a distributor. We can sell a few hundred sewing machines locally. To people that come here to buy them, but as production increases we will need to establish markets in other places. To do that we need stores where people can see our sewing machines and try them out before they buy one. We're not quite ready to do that yet but we wanted to offer you the option while you were in town."
Samuel Abrabanel, as was his habit, made no commitments then. But Sarah wasn't expecting any.
Karl Schmidt had come to dinner again. This time, he had brought his whole family. He was probably going to formally ask for Mom's hand in marriage. David didn't really mind. He had been getting along with Karl better the last few months, and Mom seemed happier than she had been in years. From the look on his face Adolph was probably expecting it too.
Officially they were celebrating the sale of the fiftieth sewing machine, which had happened the previous week. They were making a profit on the sewing machines now, but not enough of one. It would take them years at this rate just for the investments Delia and others had made to be paid back.
Karl said, "I would like to talk to you all about a proposal I have. I have already spoken of it to Ramona and Madam Higgins, but without your agreement they will not agree."
Karl hesitated; then: "I wish to take over the Higgins Sewing Machine Corporation. I will put in my foundry to pay for fifty thousand shares of stock. I wish to wed Ramona, and with the wedding, I will control her stock. Together with Mrs. Higgins, I would control over fifty percent of the outstanding stock. If you all agree, she has agreed to give me her support."
"Hear me out," Karl demanded, apparently unaware that no one was in any hurry to interrupt. "You four have done a tremendous thing. Four children have started a company that may someday be worth more than some kingdoms. You have brought wealth into the world, but starting a company is not the same thing as running it. Already there are others interested in producing sewing machines. So there will be competition and alternatives.
"Even if you do everything right, you will be at a disadvantage because people will not want to deal with children if they can deal with an adult. Others will find it easier to buy iron and other materials. People will say 'do you want to trust a sewing machine that was made by children having a lark? Or would you rather have one made by mature men of consequence.' Besides, you have schooling yet to complete, so you will not be able to pay the company the attention it needs."
Karl talked on. He talked about potential problems, he talked about what he would like to do, how he wanted to make the company grow. David looked at his mother to find her looking at him. Her eyes begged him not to kill this. She was almost in tears, afraid of what he would do. He looked at Grandma as she caught his eye, looked at Ramona, then at Karl, and nodded. He looked to Sarah, she saw him looking at her and gave a slight shrug.
Brent and Trent were looking rebellious and betrayed. David caught their eyes and mouthed the word "wait." David turned his attention back to Karl, and the business part of the proposal. It was fair. The foundry was worth more than twenty-five percent of the company when you included Karl's connections with suppliers and customers, and both would increase in worth with the merger. He looked at Adolph, who looked like he had bitten a lemon. Apparently he did not approve.
Karl was running down now. Not quite sure how to finish. Wanting to come up with something to convince the kids. David looked back at Grandma. Karl would take being interrupted by her better.
Delia picked up the signal. "Perhaps we should give the kids a chance to talk it over?" she suggested. "Why don't you four go out in the garden and talk it out."
The kids headed for the garden.
They talked it out. Brent and Trent wanted to say no at first. It wasn't that they found the prospect of running a sewing machine company all that exciting. It wasn't.
"Oh, I don't know," said Trent, "I just hate the idea of losing."
"What makes you think you're losing?" David asked. "You're gonna be rich, and Karl's gonna do most of the work to make you that way. You never wanted to be the CEO anyway."
"What about you?" Brent asked "You did want to be the CEO. Don't try to deny it. We were gonna be the chief engineers, Sarah was the chief financial officer and you were gonna be the CEO. The wheeler-dealer. So how come?"
David looked at the ground. He moved a rock with his toe. Then he said quietly: "Mom. She loves the guy and I think he loves her in his way. He'll treat her right."
Then, because mush is not an appropriate emotional state for a fifteen year old boy or a captain of industry: "Besides, it's a good deal. The foundry will really increase production once it's upgraded a bit."
Sarah didn't buy the last part for a moment. Oh it was true enough, but it wasn't what had decided David, and she knew it. David was doing it for his mother. She wouldn't have fought it after that, even if she had cared, but the truth was she didn't much care. She was more concerned now with other things.
Brent and Trent were arguing as usual when David and Sarah arrived. "I tell you we don't need electricity to make it work," said Brent.
"Maybe not for that, but what is really needed is a household electrical plant."
"What's up?" asked Sarah.
"Huh?" said Brent. "Oh, we got to looking at that list. You know, the one we made up last year, before we decided on the sewing machines. A bunch of stuff on it that seemed impractical at the time might be doable after all. I think a pedal-powered washing machine would be good."
"But what we really need is a home or small business power plant," said Trent. "It opens the way for everything from toasters to TV."
Brent and Trent were off into their argument again. David and Sarah drifted off a ways.
"We're still kids," Sarah pointed out. "The bank probably still won't give us a loan, and I don't want Mrs. Higgins to sell any more dolls."
"True," said David. "But now we have the stock in HSMC, and it's really gone up since Karl took over. I think he was right about the problems people have with kids running businesses. What we need are fronts. People that will nominally be in charge, and won't scare investors away. Uh, Sarah, you wanna go out sometime?"
It just sort of slipped out when he wasn't looking. He had planned and replanned how he was going to ask her out. Then before he realized what was happening, he had opened his mouth and out it popped. That half smile, and the twinkle in her eyes as they figured ways and means of financing the terrible twin's new project. It just happened.
It took Sarah a few moments to assimilate the sudden change in conversational direction. Once upon a time, back when she had been focused on Brent, she had been sort of vaguely aware that David was interested in her. But as they worked together on the sewing machine company she had gradually gotten over her crush on Brent. She had forgotten about David's interest. Apparently he hadn't.
Pretty constant guy, David; not exactly boring, either.
While Sarah was thinking it over, David was sinking into the grim certainty that he had put his foot in it.
Here it comes, he was sure, the dreaded words: can't we just be friends?
"Okay," said Sarah. "When?"
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