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1636: The Kremlin Games: Chapter Sixteen
Last updated: Sunday, April 1, 2012 18:00 EDT
“Good morning, Bernie,” Anya said with a flirtatious smile as she brought in a pitcher of hot water and a washing bowl. Indoor plumbing was a possibility now that the snow was melting. Still, it would probably be midsummer before it became a reality. So it was chamber pots and maids to empty them. The fact that Anya was willing to do more than empty chamber pots was both a lot of fun and kind of upsetting.
Bernie found the whole class situation in Russia strange and upsetting. More so than he’d thought he would. Bernie had discovered that he really didn’t like serfdom. Somewhere deep down inside of him was a belief in the basic rights of people and seeing those rights ignored angered him.
The whole issue of serfdom was more complicated than he would have thought, too. He himself was off to the side of the class system somewhere around the upper end of the service nobility and the lower end of the upper nobility. He was a hired foreigner, which would normally put him in or just below the service nobility. But Bernie was special. He had actually and demonstrably experienced a miracle. He was here in this time because God had personally put him here. Of more practical importance, what he could do was absolutely unique in Russia.
Bernie wasn’t sure how it had happened. Maybe Boris, maybe one of the letters that Vladimir had sent, in any case the word had been given. Anya had told him about it. The majordomo of the Dacha had picked servant girls for attractiveness and had made clear that keeping Bernie happy was a job requirement. Anya also told him that there was some real competition to get the jobs.
That job requirement bothered Bernie. At the same time, he was a young man with hormones flooding his system. If a pretty girl found opportunity in his bed, that was fine with him. His attitude was hypocritical as hell and he knew it. He was suddenly a bit more understanding of the whole Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemmings thing. There’s a profound truth there somewhere, Bernie thought as he watched the sway of Anya’s breasts. If it’s be honest and don’t get laid or be a hypocrite and get laid, then a hypocrite most guys will be.
Bernie had spent the first months at the Dacha getting to know the staff and learning Russian through total immersion. He was getting better at Russian and beginning to know the players.
There were the philosophers/scientists, mostly the low end of the upper nobility because they were the ones who could afford an education, but with a fair number of the service nobility and more than a few monks and priests. Then there were the craftsmen; they were mostly of the Streltzi class. The Streltzi’s duty to the czar was to guard the cities, so, unlike the service nobility, they weren’t granted much in the way of lands but got the right to engage in crafts and trade. Then there were the servants. These were mostly serfs from the Gorchakov estates. About half of them had been at the Dacha before the Ring of Fire. The rest were shipped in to support the additional staff. A few servants had been hired from Moscow and were at the low end of the Streltzi class, basically peasants not tied to the land.
At the center of it all was Bernie and the books. Mostly Bernie so far, because Vladimir was still setting up the processes to get the books copied and sent to Russia. While a number of books were sent with Bernie and Boris, there were none that were Russia-focused. They were books and parts of books that had been copied because others wanted them.
“You know what’s planned for today?” Bernie asked Anya as he washed his face then headed for the chamber pot.
“It’s the scraper,” Anya said. “It’s a clear day and they want to see how it works.”
The Fresno Scrapers left Filip Pavlovich Tupikov wondering what they really needed Bernie for. It wasn’t that he was unhelpful. “Yes, da,” Bernie said. “The handles let you control the depth of the cut. Push down for a shallower cut, let them rise just a bit for a deeper cut.”
“How deep can you cut?” Petr Stefanovich asked.
“It depends on the ground,” Bernie explained. “If you loosen the earth with a drag board, you can usually cut a couple of inches. You get a feel for it with practice. You start to notice when the scraper is pushing up hard. Then you have to push down and shallow the cut.”
Filip translated. Bernie had indeed been of help to the blacksmith and carpenters in making an iron reinforced wooden version of the scraper. That wasn’t the reason Filip wondered why they needed Bernie. Filip had seen the design for the scraper, the drag board and a couple of other pieces of road construction equipment. They were all quite clear. Written and drawn to make it easy for a village smith and carpenter.
The horses, small steppe ponies, were hitched and Filip followed along as Bernie demonstrated. A cut about half an inch deep grew quickly to a length of about twenty feet.
“Whoa.” Bernie pulled the horses up. He turned to Petr. “You want to give it a try?”
Petr Stefanovich took Bernie’s place. At first the scraper slid along the ground. “Lift the handles.” Bernie gave directions as Filip translated. Filip stepped between Bernie and Petr Stefanovich to see. Petr Stefanovich lifted the handles about three inches.
“Gently!” Bernie shouted. The next thing Filip Pavlovich Tupikov knew he was being jerked back by his collar. He saw a blur.
He turned on the uppity outlander but Bernie wasn’t there. He was checking on Petr Stefanovich, who was holding his arm and looking surprised. The scraper was turned over and the ponies were looking back in confusion.
“Look, man.” Bernie’s voice was harsh. “This stuff is heavy equipment even if it’s run by horses, not a motor. Gentle does it, especially at first, until you get to know it. I don’t give a damn how big you are, you’re not stronger than two horses working together with leverage on their side.” Bernie took a deep breath. “You empty the bucket by lifting the handle, too. As you just demonstrated.” Then Bernie turned to Filip Pavlovich, eyes flashing. “That was pretty dammed stupid for a guy who thinks he’s smart. The handles on the scraper are like the end of a lever. You just came within an inch of getting your head busted, big time.”
Filip Pavlovich looked at the scraper, remembered the blur and decided that perhaps Bernie wasn’t totally useless after all. Even if he was rude. Filip went ahead and translated Bernie’s speech for Petr Stefanovich.
Bernie wasn’t sure whether to be elated or scared to death. He had just repeated, almost word for word, the two lectures he had received the first day he worked with the scraper after he joined the road crew. The combination of his wrenched arms and the fear in the supervisor’s eyes had impressed the lecture on him. Petr Stefanovich was a big mother, and proud of it. Bernie should have figured that he would push it, but he hadn’t. Worse, Bernie hadn’t even considered that Filip Pavlovich, the Russian nerd, would stick his head in the way of the handles. Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to him that someone could get killed using the stuff he helped the Russians build.
“Look, guys. This stuff can be dangerous. I guess most of the stuff we brought back in the Ring of Fire can be dangerous, even the medicine.” Filip was looking at him funny and Bernie sort of ran out of steam, not really knowing how to say what he wanted to say. He really didn’t want to be responsible for getting someone killed.
“I understand, Bernie. You came to help us, not to get people killed. It’s all right. People get killed using shovels to smooth a road or dig a canal, too. Believe me, this will help.”
As soon as the test was finished, Filip informed Natasha and sent a message to the Grantville desk in Moscow. So much he was supposed to do. He also sent one to his cousin who worked in the bureau of roads. That, he did on his own.
The Grantville desk had been pretty much in limbo since Boris had left for Grantville. It was known that Boris would be taking over the Grantville desk when he got back, so not much of anything was being done till they had a boss to blame it on. Put more kindly, they didn’t know what to do. Especially, they didn’t have a clue what to do with information coming out of the Dacha. It wasn’t, after all, coming from Grantville, not directly. So, like several other items, it got tossed on Boris’ unused desk to await his return.
Natasha, on the other hand, knew what to do. She sent letters to several potential customers about the new device that could be seen at the Dacha. Among others, the letters went out to the main bureau of roads and several of the local bureaus of roads, the ones for various cities and districts. In part because of Filip’s letter to his cousin, Natasha’s letters were accepted with less reservation than they might otherwise have been.
Still, things have to go through channels. It was some weeks before they could arrange for a viewing of the scraper and the drag board. In the meantime, both devices had been put to use. The primary purpose of that use was to familiarize the crews with the equipment. But the still small dacha team also wanted to show off.
Yuri Mikhailovich was in charge of assigning crews to specific roads in the area around Moscow. Yuri pulled up, staring at a ridge in the road — path rather — he was riding on. About a hundred yards from the dacha, the road suddenly rose about six inches and became quite smooth. Much smoother than Yuri would have expected of a good road crew. There were bare sections on either side, where an inch or two of top soil had been scrapped away, clearly where the new surface of the road had come from. Slowly, Yuri approached the road. When he reached the road he climbed down and examined the new road. Evaluating.
Yuri climbed back onto his pony and proceeded to the Dacha. Looking for the scraper but not finding it.
One of the kitchen boys came and fetched Natasha. She met Filip Pavlovich, with Bernie in tow, on the way to the door. Filip identified his cousin Yuri while he was getting back on his horse.
“Come, come.” Filip Pavlovich waved at his cousin. Rather pompously, Natasha thought. Then led the way around back, where the scraper was in use.
Natasha and Bernie let Filip do the explaining. In Bernie’s case, it was because his Russian still wasn’t good enough. Natasha wanted to see how Filip would present the equipment.
The drag board was just a board with spikes sticking out the bottom. It was used to cut the ground and loosen the soil. In combination with the scraper, two men and four small Russian ponies could do a phenomenal amount of work — more than twenty men with shovels could accomplish.
As they turned the corner and could see behind the main house, Filip’s cousin Yuri stopped and stared.
“You see?” Filip Pavlovich waved at the project. “You see what can be accomplished?”
The trench was about seventeen feet, just under three scrapers, wide. It was a hundred feet long and about three feet deep, not including the mounds on either side of it. It had ramps on either end which allowed the horses to get in and out of the trench, which the team pulling the scraper was doing now.
“It will take planning for proper use.” Filip Pavlovich waved at it again. “With that planning, a team can cut a six foot wide trench at a rate of approximately one mile in four hours in this sort of soil. The trench will be approximately two inches deep. The second pass is actually slightly faster than the first because the ground is smoother. Three teams could do the same but with the trench seventeen feet wide. Or a six-foot-wide trench, six inches deep, could be cut. As the depth of the cut deepens, it gets harder to do, of course. You need a ramp about every hundred feet.”
Yuri nodded, still watching the scraper as it dumped a load along the side of the trench. It had climbed the ramp then gone around to the side of the trench to dump the load. He finally pulled his eyes away from the scraper and looked at Filip Pavlovich. “I am impressed with the scraper, Filip Pavlovich. Considering your comments about planning, why didn’t you take your own advice and plan the placement of this trench to serve some purpose? You could have made a fish pond if nothing else.” There was a grin in Yuri’s voice that indicated he was getting back at Filip for his pompous presentation. If so, Natasha couldn’t really blame him.
Natasha had found herself twitting Filip on more than one occasion. Filip was what might be thought of as an intellectual snob. On the other hand she knew that Yuri was of higher rank in the bureaus and, according to Filip, had a tendency to lecture.
Filip Pavlovich sighed, and Natasha tried not to laugh as he explained, “It’s for the tile field, part of the plumbing system. See the notch half way down the trench? That will be dug deeper for the septic tank.”
“What’s a plumbing system?” Yuri Asked.
“As I said, why didn’t you do something useful?”
“We are making something useful,” Natasha spoke up. “I have it on good authority that much of the disease we suffer from in spring is caused by the thawing of frozen human waste.”
Yuri froze. He’d forgotten that he and his cousin had an observer from a high house, Natasha thought sardonically.
“Bernie, as yet, has little Russian.” Natasha waved at him. “But we have pamphlets from Grantville that he has helped us translate. Disease travels from human waste to water to its next victims. Not all diseases, but enough to explain the sickness that comes to Moscow every spring. In general, this process is well-documented, though not in regard to Moscow.” Natasha smiled to take a little of the sting out of her words. “Bernie’s great concern over the indoor plumbing has, I fear, less to do with protection from disease than it does for comfort.”
Filip Pavlovich sighed again, more real this time. “Toilets and showers are his constant obsession. When I first saw the design I thought it would take months. Now it seems we will see it begin to work in a few more days.”
“So we are presented with a useful device that is to be used for expensive doodads?” Yuri sneered.
“Not entirely.” Filip Pavlovich’s admission was a bit grudging. “In spite of Bernie’s obsession with what he calls decadent civilization . . .” He threw a glance at Bernie, who grinned. “The princess is right. Sanitation is an essential part of preventing the spread of disease. It is a complicated field and I have not studied it deeply yet.”
Natasha was trying not to grin, both because she was intrigued by the idea of decadent civilization and what you might be able to do in what Bernie called a hot tub, and because she was finding the notion of doing those things with Bernie increasingly interesting, even attractive. Bernie was as different from the men she’d known in Russia as she imagined a bathroom was from an outhouse.
That was Filip. Natasha had let her attention wander from the business at hand. Again.
“Sorry, Filip. What did you say?”
“We were speaking of sanitation.”
Natasha jerked her mind back to the subject of the scrapers. Filip Pavlovich’s admission meant that there was another use for scrapers which in turn meant that the scrapers were still more valuable. “Oh. Yes. Sanitation and the involvement of the scraper in removing waste. A very useful application.”
Yuri didn’t manage to hide his scowl, and looked at his cousin rather than at Natasha. “What else have you got?”
Filip Pavlovich shrugged. “There is a report on something called ‘macadam style road construction.’ We haven’t finished translating it yet. It seems to make for good roads that handle the winter freezing well.”
New roads and canals would make trade easier and safer. And with the introduction of a monetary system, there would be better opportunities for trade within Russia.
Natasha smiled as Filip explained. “We used the road out front to practice road work, and then we used this to test its use in digging canals.”
“Canals?” Natasha heard the apprehension in Yuri’s voice though Filip Pavlovich apparently missed it.
“The scraper works by scraping a thin layer of soil then putting it somewhere else. By going over the same stretch again and again you can go a little deeper with every pass.” Filip Pavlovich waved at the trench. “Roads, leach fields, canals, even cellars. Anything where large amounts of earth need to be moved.”
The underchief of roads gave his cousin a sharp look, which Filip Pavlovich appeared totally unaware of. The bureaus of canals and river transport were constantly in competition with roads for resources of all sorts. The families that controlled the bureaus disliked each other intensely. The bidding war has begun, Natasha thought.
And so it had. Not, of course, without interference from Filaret. While Natasha’s family owned the patents on the scraper so, by agreement, did the government. That meant, as Filaret interpreted it, that if the bureau of roads wanted to manufacture their own scrapers, they had a perfect right to. Natasha didn’t disagree with that interpretation. Of course, the bureau of roads wasn’t really set up to manufacture scrapers. Unfortunately, neither was the Dacha. The Dacha was a research facility, not a manufactory. Worse, they were entering the farming season. For the next six months, the large majority of people in Russia would be working to get grain into the ground, then taking care of the plants and harvesting. The time for making came in winter. What blacksmithing was done in summer was emergency fixes.
“But these are emergency fixes,” Yuri insisted. “Every one of these frees up ten men for farm work while still allowing the road work to be done. And we are going to need the roads in good order come harvest time.”
Natasha completely agreed with Yuri’s assessment. “But there is the matter of payment. The blacksmiths and carpenters involved in making the scrapers must be paid. The time taken away from their normal work will also delay the repair of tools used in planting and harvesting. If our family estates are to be used in producing scrapers for the rest of Russia, the family must be compensated for the loss of skilled labor.
“If, on the other hand, you wish to send out plans to the villages and estates all over Russia telling them that they must put aside useful work in order to make a strange new gadget that the bureau of roads wishes them to employ . . .” Natasha shrugged. “I wish you the best of luck, but don’t hold us responsible for the results. Say rather, lack of results, you are likely to achieve.”
“Yes, I know, Princess. But how are we supposed to pay for it? We are provided labor for repairing the roads, not money.”
So it went. Roads and canals, as well as private organizations, monasteries and land owners all arguing over how to get scrapers without either paying for them or having to pull their already overworked smiths off the necessary jobs they were doing. It wasn’t that people were trying to cheat Natasha’s family. Not entirely. Mostly it was simply that the equipment was needed and the money to pay for it wasn’t there. The Boyar Duma and the Assembly of the Land were still arguing over the fine points of the new Czar’s Bank and the new money it would issue. The money was not yet issued. And how were people to pay for scrapers without money?
Still, it worked out over that first summer in the same ragged way that such things often work out. Some scrapers were made on the Gorchakov lands by Gorchakov smiths who worked in what was in effect a factory, making the parts and assembling them. These were produced with less time and less effort than the ones where a smith in a village had to work out everything from the instruction sets, and work on the scraper in between his other work. Those who had the cash bought the Gorchakov scrapers, which, aside from everything else, were generally better made because the people making them quickly gained practice.
But not nearly as many scrapers were made as were needed. The scrapers made a difference, but over all that summer the difference was minor. In the spots where there were plenty of scrapers, however, the difference was phenomenal. For instance, the road work that the Gorchakov were required to supply and which generally took several hundred men working for over a month, in 1632 took fifty men working for two weeks. The rest of that labor draft was available for other Gorchakov projects and the Dacha provided them several. All of that took time to happen.
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