1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 38
“I don’t like putting the family back in debt,” Stefan put in. “It’s too much like being a serf again.”
That clearly was what the argument had been about and Izabella understood. She had been living with these people all her life, and on the trip from old Ruzuka they had talked to her. She had learned their fears. To a Russian peasant, debt was a chain. A chain that tied them to the land and made them the property of whoever owned it. That was why everyone in New Ruzuka walked around with their chests puffed out. They owned their own land. They were their own people. They had taxes to pay, but no debt to tie them to the land.
“Czar Mikhail is forcing you to take on debt?”
“No. Anya says that it will be the company that will take on the debt. She says that the worst thing that could happen is that the bank would take the factory if the debt got too big.”
“Do you believe her?”
“Yes, I think I do.”
Izabella considered. She had money, even a lot of money by the standards of a Russian peasant village. What if she were to own the factory? “Do you think they would give me the loan? I mean, then I could hire Stefan to make the rocket nozzles, add in my money to make some different molds. You’re talking about using a drop hammer, right?”
Izabella looked over at them and Vera was shaking her head. “What’s wrong?”
“They’re offering the loan to Stefan because of his experience with the drop forge in Poltz and because he made a drop hammer in Old Ruzuka. Also because they sent a guy out to New Ruzuka to see how he had set up his drop hammer there as part of his shop . . .” Vera trailed off and Izabella realized that there was something else.
“It’s not wrong, Izabella. Not exactly. You were a big help on the trip and even in getting ready. But the truth is, we don’t want to work on your land or in your factory.”
Vera was trying to be fair, even gentle, but it was like a slap in the face. Izabella turned and ran — waddled — back to her wagon.
“I should go talk to her,” Vera said worriedly and started to follow. Stefan reached out and took her arm in his large hand. It was a gentle hold, but it might as well have been an iron cuff, so far as her being able to break free was concerned.
“Give her time,” Stefan said, “and talk to Father Yulian.”
“Part of the problem is that young Alexander is off at Kruglaya Mountain and nothing is really settled between the two of them,” Father Yulian explained.
And part of the problem, Stefan thought, is that she has your child in her belly. Father Yulian often gave excellent advice and his skill at dealing with people was phenomenal. He was also well-, if self-, educated. But he was quick to shift responsibility from himself to almost anyone else. Stefan couldn’t help but like the man, but he had little respect for him. On the other hand, Izabella didn’t seem any more anxious to marry Father Yulian than he was to marry her, so maybe it wasn’t quite as straightforward as it seemed.
“But, in truth, I don’t think that is the real issue. She doesn’t know her place in the world. She helped us out of bondage, risking her father’s wrath and even death. That was a brave and noble act. But in doing so she left behind her place and her certainty. She doesn’t know where she fits and when she tried to make a new place on the only terms she knew, you rejected her.”
“You think . . .” Vera began hotly, but Yulian held up his hand.
“No, I don’t. To an extent we all owe her for our present liberty, but that doesn’t mean she has the right to make us serfs again. You were right to reject her offer as it was offered, but she wasn’t offering nothing. Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t she offering to put up her money?”
“Yes, but she was going to own the company,” Vera said and Stefan nodded.
Yulian nodded. “That banker in Ufa, the one who studied up-time law in the Dacha and helped us set up the New Ruzuka corporation . . . he said something about ownership being as complicated up-time as in the here and now, just in different ways. Perhaps we could do something like the village corporation, with Izabella and even the rest of the village buying in. In any case, he is someone we should talk to about Izabella’s proposal. Perhaps we can find a kind of ownership that will suit us all.”
It wasn’t till later that Stefan realized that Father Yulian had managed right then to cut himself in on the deal. Everyone had gotten their share of land, but not everyone in the village was going to be a farmer. Stefan had his smithy, Anatoly had his carpentry shop, Father Yulian had his church and a school, and there were several other villagers who wouldn’t be farming. Even the ones who were farmers in farming season would be spending their winters weaving, assuming that they could get the thread. Stefan was paid in promissory notes for the tools and parts he built in his smithy. It was much the same for Anatoly. Father Yulian got a stipend for the church and the school. Next fall, when the crop came in, the New Ruzuka Corporation would make all those promissory notes good before paying dividends, along with the notes that the farmers would get for their work plowing and reaping. It had all taken a great deal of negotiation. It looked like the iron works was going to be just as confusing.
There were two more trips to Ufa to discuss the issues of ownership and control. One with just Father Yulian and Izabella and a second with Stefan, Vera, Dominika, Anatoly, Klara and Boris. Dominika and Boris, aside from their own investment, represented a bunch of the villagers who had scraped together what they could to add to the pot. Even all together it was less than Izabella was putting in, and she had managed to get a message to Alexander and gotten his authority to bring him into the deal. At the same time, Stefan’s and Anatoly’s skills were crucial to the endeavor. The way it worked out, no one would possess a clear majority of ownership. Izabella and Alexander would together have a plurality with twenty-five percent, but Stefan, Vera, Anatoly, and Father Yulian could match them. The added capital investment meant that they could get a bigger loan from the bank as well.
The new factory in Ufa would make venturi, but even while it was making them they would add in induction heating, steelmaking, and additional dies. Also, a woodworking shop, both to make parts for the factory and to make stuff to sell. They hired consultants from the Dacha immigrants.
They weren’t the only ones to hire Dacha immigrants as consultants.
Not every farmer in Russia wanted to be a farmer. That was especially true of former serfs. Farming had very low status in Russia in the seventeenth century. It was the occupation of serfs. There were exceptions to that and gradations, but in general a smith was higher status than a farmer. Almost anyone was of higher status than a farmer. Besides which, farming is heavy and uncertain work. Some of the escaped serfs that poured into Ufa were looking for land of their own, but by no means all. Most wanted some other form of work, work that paid them money with which to buy food. Factory work filled that niche, and the new farming equipment — new plows, new reapers, and so on — meant that they didn’t need as many farmers to grow a crop. So the switch from primarily farming to primarily industrial didn’t necessarily mean everyone starved.
It was a very good thing that for now at least they held the lower Volga and access to the farms along the lower Volga, and the fish from the Caspian Sea.