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1636: The Kremlin Games: Chapter Thirty Six
Last updated: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 23:23 EDT
A Dissertation on the Value
of Freedom and Security
“Those who give up their freedom for a little temporary security deserve neither freedom nor security and ultimately will lose both.” So goes an up-time quote. This humble writer doesn’t know whether that is true or not, but it is demonstrably true that the nation it comes from — founded on principles of freedom — grew to be one of the richest and most powerful in the world.
That nation had no greater resources than the Russia of its time. But it had a great deal more wealth. Why is that, I wonder? The question troubles my sleep at night.
The Time of Troubles is a weak name for what Russia went though at the beginning of this century. It has perhaps made us a bit timid, afraid of freedom. It’s so much easier when everyone knows their place and no one is allowed to argue or try something new. So much safer it seems. But I wonder, safe for how long?
Bandits are mostly gone from our roads and villages now. Surely that is a good thing. It seems worth a bit of freedom. What use, after all, is freedom to a man murdered by bandits? Is it worth, perhaps, the right of a serf to leave the lands of his lord? Some of those serfs might become bandits and make our roads unsafe yet again. Yet, why was this America, with its freedom, so rich? Where did its great wealth come from?
Much of it came from people leaving their work and striking out on their own. From people who left their homes and tried to do something that they had never done before. A man named Bell tried to find a way to make the deaf hear. Instead he found a way to send his voice and thousands of other voices thousands of miles along a wire. Another man, named Edison, hated transcribing the messages he received to send on. So he made a machine that did the job. This type of event happened again and again and made the land that the up-timers came from the richest in their world. Was it the freedom that did it? I think it may have been. For the same rule that prevents a serf from becoming a bandit also prevents him from becoming an inventor, or a merchant.
As I think of these things I can’t help but wonder if we are beggaring our children to buy a bit of security for ourselves. The history of Holy Mother Russia that was written in that other time saw the fading away of the Zemskiy Sobor. It is barely even mentioned in their records. How did we allow that to happen? Are we, perhaps, afraid of the responsibilities of voting for representatives we trust? How will Mother Russia compete with nations that have spent a bit of their security to buy a little freedom for themselves and their posterity?
The Flying Squirrel
Natasha set the pamphlet aside. What Russia was, she decided, depended a lot on how you looked at it. She had looked at it one way all her life, now she was looking again. “Aunt Sofia, what do you think of American democracy?”
The woman chuckled. She was tiny, four foot ten and weighed all of eighty pounds. Yet, when needed, she could put on such an expression of fierceness that boyars and bureau chiefs blanched. Fortunately, at the moment she didn’t have her game face on. Her eyes twinkled. “Bernie again or one of the pamphlets? I don’t know enough about it to have much of an opinion. From what I’ve heard, I cannot imagine it working, but obviously in some way it did. It must be different from what the Poles have that leaves their government so paralyzed.”
“Well, according to Bernie, women vote as well as men, peasants as well as princes.”
“I approve of the first and disapprove of the second. Peasants lack the knowledge of the wider world to understand the issues of a great nation. They lack the intellect for matters of state. Instead, they have low cunning.” The eyes laughed. “Of course, I am a woman of the nobility. Were I a man — and a peasant — I might have a different opinion.”
Natasha looked up at her smiling aunt with some irritation, then back down at the piles of papers on her worktable. She had two inboxes and two outboxes. One set was for what the Dacha was doing and what the nerd patrol wanted to do and her approval or disapproval of the same. The other had income and expenses for the Dacha and, for that matter, the rest of the Gorchakov estates. The pamphlet on the cost of freedom and security was an issue she didn’t have time for.
“I have another letter from Brandy.” Natasha changed the subject, setting down the pamphlet and picking up the letter.
“And what does she have to say?”
“Quite a lot. They are making electric crock-pots in Grantville now and she is sending me some.” Natasha scanned down the letter. “Well, well. It seems that Brandy is now working part-time for my brother. I wonder if I should warn her of his defects of personality or pray that she can cure them?”
Sofia gave her a suppressing look. “Warn her off. The political consequences could be difficult.”
“I was joking.” Natasha gave back the standard look of young women who are hearing silly advice from old women who don’t understand. “Brandy is doing research in the National Library of theirs. Finding answers to the questions we send them.”
“Perhaps.” Aunt Sofia didn’t sound convinced.
Natasha went back to her letter. “She repeats that we should stay away from lead-based makeup. And sends some cheat sheets on making white makeup without lead oxide. In Grantville, and to an extent in the rest of the New US, women can pursue any career that men can. A woman can be an artist, an engineer, a person of business. She mentions a group of young girls who have gotten rich investing in many and varied enterprises since the Ring of Fire and she, as a researcher in the library, makes quite a good living for herself. She goes on to say how rewarding the work is in ways other than financial. She, her work, is making the world a better place.” Natasha’s voice, in spite of her intent, had risen in tone and volume as she said that last.
Aunt Sofia lifted her arms and patted the air. “Calm, child, calm. Stop and think a moment. Women do the same in Russia. Not all calls to holy orders are calls to God. Quite a few are calls away from the restriction of the outside world.”
“But they don’t . . .”
Aunt Sofia was holding up her hand. “I understood what you meant,” Sofia said. “My point was that there was already an acceptable way to avoid the responsibilities of family. And how do these women live? They get jobs, just as your friend Brandy.”
Natasha nodded cautiously.
“And, Natasha, what do you do in the Dacha?”
Natasha stopped dead. What she did in the Dacha was run it. She used Vladimir’s authority as head of the family, but she ran the Dacha. Her authority there was pretty much unquestioned. “I wasn’t just thinking of me. Though I would like to see Grantville. Perhaps even live there for a time. I was thinking of all the other women of Russia.”
“Of course you were.” Aunt Sofia sounded doubtful. Then she laughed at Natasha’s expression. “But all the women of Russia can’t move to Grantville! What would the men do? Nor can we make Russia into a copy of Grantville, not without losing Russia and ourselves in the process. Quietly, calmly. Think each step through. Plan. You are a knyazhna, not a peasant. Consider the church, also. Think about what the church will have to say. If that doesn’t calm you down, consider how most of the women of Russia will react.”
Sofia held up her hand. “Consider,” she insisted again. “If a woman can be a soldier then a woman can be made to be a soldier. Yes? Would you have women of the boyar class working in the fields like peasant women? Would Madame Cherkaski agree to have her status based on her position in the bureaucracy? She can’t read, you know. And she heartily disapproves of those who can. It wasn’t the men of Russia who poisoned Mikhail’s first choice for a bride. Think about that. For now, at least, leave politics aside and concentrate on the Dacha.”
That was, Natasha knew, very good advice, though the pamphlet suggested that not everyone followed it. Natasha wondered again who the writer was. She remembered for a moment the joke about Boris and Natasha and the hunt for the moose and the flying squirrel.
Russia had flying squirrels. They were hunted for their fur and were elusive and hard to catch.
Sofia shook her head as she left Natasha to her work. The degree to which her brother had sheltered his children from the realities of Russian politics sometimes appalled her. The degree to which Natasha’s mother had shielded her from the reality of sexual relations appalled her even more. The girl knew nothing about the emotions involved. So little, in fact, that she failed to recognize her obvious — to Sofia — interest in Bernie. This wasn’t the first time Sofia had tried to get her niece to notice how she was reacting.
Natasha was always aware of Bernie. She was aware of him even when he wasn’t in the room. She listened to every casual comment and even though she clearly knew better, she gave those comments and beliefs considerably more weight than they deserved.
Why, Natasha didn’t even realize that she was envious of the various servant girls who saw to Bernie’s needs!
Not that Sofia wasn’t concerned by Vladimir’s interest in the Bates girl, but at least he had been encouraged to get a certain amount of practice, as were all men of his class in Russia. Natasha was most certainly a virgin and, because of her mother’s attitudes, Natasha had had very little even theoretical knowledge until she started corresponding with Brandy Bates. She was totally unprepared for the feelings Sofia could tell she was having for Bernie, which effectively prevented Sofia from being able to offer advice on how to deal with them.
The only good news here was that Bernie was also unaware of Natasha’ interest. Sofia hoped he continued to be unaware. The political consequences of Vladimir getting involved with an up-time woman would be bad. The political consequences of Natasha getting involved with an up-timer would be worse. Partly because Natasha was a woman, and partly because Bernie was right here in Russia.
Perhaps Sofia should encourage Natasha to visit the estates in Murom. Take that new steam barge downriver. That should keep her distracted. Sofia could only hope that the distraction wasn’t fatal, considering that the first boiler they made had blown up.
“It must have come from the Dacha!” Sheremetev roared at the patriarch. For most people roaring at Patriarch Filaret was a serious, sometimes fatal, mistake. Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev wasn’t most people. He was a cousin of the czar and one of the most powerful nobles in Russia.
“Do not shout at me, cousin,” Filaret snarled back. “It may have come from the Dacha or it may have come from the bureaus — not even necessarily the Grantville section. The same sort of thing is coming from Germany and Sweden. The up-timers’ founding fathers are often quoted.”
“Wherever it comes from, the writer, this Flying Squirrel, needs its pelt removed and publicly. We can’t allow this sort of rhetoric and you know it. After what that fool Zeppi did in Moscow last spring, anything attributed to an up-time source is given extra credence almost as though it were holy writ.”
“I know and that is the very reason we must tread carefully. Aside from offending the Gorchakovs, who have shown themselves both loyal and of considerable financial worth to the czar, a raid or attack on the Dacha would engender quite a bit of ill-feeling among the people. Further, I don’t want to give it that much credence.”
Sheremetev wasn’t satisfied but Filaret wouldn’t budge. The American had become a danger to Russia, Sheremetev thought as he left the meeting. It was time to consider removing that danger. Besides, without the Zeppi fellow, the Sheremetev clan would have a better chance of getting control of the up-timer knowledge away from the Gorchakov clan.
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