1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 03:
She spent some time thereafter restlessly moving about the house, doing her own investigations. She spent a fair amount of that time in the several toilets and bathrooms scattered through the huge dwelling, testing their various devices and taking what comfort she could from them.
Which was considerable, actually. Newly designed and built, the house had modern plumbing. Rebecca had grown up with seventeenth century sanitation facilities, and was certainly capable of managing with such. She’d been doing so again for the past two years, after all. But her stay in Grantville had spoiled her in that regard.
Fortunately, it had done the same thing for every down-timer who passed through the up-time American town. By now, there was a flourishing new industry in central Europe and the Low Countries producing the wherewithal for modern plumbing. The same industries were beginning to appear in France, Italy and Poland, if not yet in Spain and England.
The adoption of those new techniques was especially rapid in the Germanies and Bohemia. That was partly because the industries involved were further developed there. But another important factor was the stance of the Committees of Correspondence, who were more prominent in those areas than they were elsewhere in Europe. The CoCs were firmly convinced — adamant, it would be better to say — that proper sanitation ran a very close second to godliness, and they matched deed to word. The rapidly spreading network of credit unions which was fostered by the CoCs in lower class communities always extended low-interest loans for any sanitation project. And in cities like Magdeburg where they were powerful, the CoCs maintained patrols which were quite prepared to use forceful means to put a stop to unsanitary practices.
There were still towns in the Germanies where people emptied their chamber pots in street gutters as a matter of course. Magdeburg was not one of them. Doing so would certainly result in a public harangue; persisting in the practice would just as certainly lead to a beating.
There were people who denounced the CoCs for that practice, but Rebecca was not one of them. Such people were usually either down-time reactionaries or up-time liberals. The reactionaries were against anything connected to the Ring of Fire. Their objection was not to beatings — they were generally all in favor of that practice, applied to lower class folk — but to the cause involved and the persons engaged in it.
As for the up-time liberals, Rebecca understood their qualms. But they’d never lived through a major episode of disease, except the few who’d been in the western Germanies during the recent epidemic. That had been simply diphtheria, not cholera or typhus or plague, but it had been bad enough. It was quite noticeable that those up-timers who’d survived the experience were not given to wincing at the CoC methods of sanitation enforcement. Better some bruised feelings and even bruised flesh to bodies being carted off by the hundreds, or sometimes thousands.
She then spent some time watching the small horde of children playing with electricity. Within limits, of course. She let them switch the lights on and off in the various rooms, as long as they were reasonably gentle in the process and didn’t overdo it. Like most technology patterned on up-time design and theory but constructed using down-time methods and materials, the switches were sturdy things. Still, they could be broken if they were over-stressed, and — again, like almost everything of that nature — they were rather costly. The light bulbs were even more expensive.
She kept them away from the computer. In fact, she kept the door to that room locked. But she allowed them to plug in and operate Michael’s battered old up-time toaster in the kitchen. Every child present — there were no fewer than nine participating in the project — got to make and eat his or her own slices of toast.
The toast was on the crumbly side. Down-time bread was much tastier than the up-time varieties which were by now long gone, to no one’s regret other than some up-timers themselves. But it didn’t slice as cleanly or evenly, probably because it lacked what up-timers called “additives” and down-timers called low-grade poisons.
But the children didn’t care. They’d never had toast before, leaving aside some baked flatbreads. They were quite taken by the stuff.
Their interest faded soon enough, though. There were greater thrills in store. It wasn’t long before the children were racing down to the basement to start up the mansion’s sure and certain center of attraction. For them, anyway.
The toy electric train set. Michael had brought it home just two days ago and finished setting it up last night.
It was one of the very first models produced by the recently launched Fassbinder-Lionel company, from the firm’s factory right here in Magdeburg. Completely down-time in construction, albeit obviously based on up-time models. The toy train sets were still fiendishly expensive. As yet, the market was purely a luxury one whose clientele consisted of noblemen and wealthy merchants, manufacturers and bankers.
The only reason Rebecca’s husband had been able to afford it was because he’d gotten it for free. The company could just as easily have been named Fassbinder-Stearns, given that Michael was one of the company’s two partners, along with Heinrich Fassbinder. He’d insisted on the name Lionel instead of his own, though. For the sake of tradition, he claimed. Rebecca suspected it was more because Michael saw no reason to stir up charges of conflict of interest any more than was necessary.
In truth, there wasn’t any in this instance. An army general — even a prime minister, as he’d once been — would have precious little occasion to favor the fortunes of a toy train company. But there were other areas in which Michael’s financial dealings were grayer in nature.
This very mansion, for one. They’d only been able to buy the house because of a loan extended to them by some wealthy members of the far-flung Abrabanel family to which Rebecca herself belonged. True, the loan was secured — but the collateral was the royalties that were expected to come in two or three years from the sales of Rebecca’s book on current political developments.
Which, she hadn’t started writing yet. And whose royalties would depend on enforcement of the copyright legislation passed by the USE’s parliament so recently the ink was barely dry on the bill sent up to the new prime minister for his signature.
Wilhelm Wettin had signed it readily enough. Whatever other disputes his Crown Loyalists had with Michael and Rebecca’s party, they’d agreed that establishing up-time style copyright was a good idea. Still, no one really knew yet how well or easily the new laws could be enforced. There might be wholesale piracy, in which case those royalties would be mostly a chimera.
Not that the Abrabanels who’d extended the loan would care that much. The reason they’d made the loan was political, not economic. Whether or not they ever saw the money paid back, they had a keen interest in seeing to it that the leaders of the July Fourth party stayed alive and well. Their own prosperity, even possibly their very survival, might depend on it.
To be sure, no one thought the new prime minister was himself an anti-Semite, much less a rabid one. Wettin was an eminently civilized man. But it remained to be seen how well he controlled the political forces he’d help to set in motion. The Abrabanels, like many people, thought his control was shaky — and there were people and groups under the umbrella called “the Crown Loyalist party” who were quite certainly anti-Semites.
Rebecca hadn’t hesitated at accepting the loan. She understood the political logic quite well. But she also knew — so did Michael—that there would inevitably be charges of conflict of interest. Especially if it became known that the man who’d arranged the loan was none other than Francisco Nasi, himself a member of the Abrabanel clan and Michael’s former head of security and espionage.
Fortunately, Francisco was superbly adept at keeping his doings out of the limelight. And, who was to say? If the copyright laws held up, there might in fact be a large income derived from her book. There would be keen interest in it, certainly. Even if the market was restricted to CoC members and sympathizers, that would be a lot of books sold.
Rebecca let the children play with the train set for a full hour. Her magnanimity had a cold purpose to it. The toy train sets, Michael had told her, were much like the train sets his father and grandfather had played with. That was to say, not very concerned with the fussbudget latter-day up-time obsession with child safety.
“There’s no way in hell to play with these trains,” he’d said, “without getting an electric shock from time to time. No real harm done — and it teaches kids to respect electricity.”
So it proved. Only two of the children got shocked, as it turned out — one of them being her own daughter Sepharad, who promptly wailed as loudly as you could ask for. But within an hour, all of the children were being much more careful than they’d been with the toaster or the light switches.
The mission was accomplished. And now she had no further reason to procrastinate. It was time to start writing the book.
Fortunately, she wouldn’t have to put up with the troubles and travails of quill pens and ink bottles. Rebecca loved her computer.
The title came easily and readily:
An Examination of the Current Political Situation in the Germanies and Europe
She stared at the title. She had no trouble imagining the caustic remarks her husband would have made, had he seen it.
“Why don’t you just put a damn footnote in the title while you’re at it?” he’d jeer. “Just to make sure and certain everyone understands this is an eye-glazing tract of no conceivable interest to anyone except scholars like you.”
After a while, she sighed and suppressed her natural instincts. In this, as in many if not all things, Michael Stearns was correct. So, she deleted the title and, after a few more seconds of consideration, came up with another and more suitable one.
The Road Forward: A Call to Action