1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 17
“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.