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Birdie's Farm

Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett


Part I
June, 1631

"Birdie" Newhouse stood on his back porch and looked over his farm. Looked over, in fact, what was left of his farm. The farm was a little chunk of Appalachian valley, which was abruptly cut off by a German granite wall. The farm had been about half again as big before the Ring of Fire, but even then it hadn't been big enough to make a real living.

Out to one side of the remainder of the farm, there was a little bit of field that you could plow, if you were real careful about the contouring. Most of his farm, though, consisted of skinny trees holding on to the hillside for dear life. A dry creek ran through the middle of the property. The creek was going to stay dry, unfortunately. The German land on the other side of the cliff tilted the wrong way to feed the creek.

Birdie's eyes lost some of their worry as he again noticed the wellhead for the natural gas well on his land. He was more thankful every day that he had gone ahead and converted his equipment to work on natural gas. Willie Ray Hudson had made that suggestion several years ago. Birdie was glad he had listened.

Birdie had everything a man needed to make a real farm. There was a tractor, a plow, the works. He even had some livestock, chickens and a couple of hogs.

Buy much to his disgust, Birdie simply didn't have enough land. Even worse, the little bit of land that the Ring of Fire had left him was mortgaged to the Grantville Bank. There was plenty of land on the other side of the cliff created by the Ring of Fire, including a village about a mile beyond it. It wasn't much of a village, according to Birdie's sons Haskell and Trent, who'd been patrolling the area with the UMWA guys. But they said the land was good.

"Birdie," his wife called, interrupting his thoughts, "staring at that wall won't undo the Ring of Fire. Come inside. It's time for dinner."

"Be right in, Mary Lee," Birdie answered, all the while thinking, There's land on the other side of the Ring Wall, if only I can get it.

"What do you think Mr. Walker will say?" Mary Lee asked as he was sitting down to dinner. When she was worried about something she couldn't just leave it alone, she had to talk about whatever it was.

"Don't know. Coleman's a decent enough sort but he's still a banker. The Ring of Fire took a third of our land. From where he's sitting, that means we have two-thirds the collateral for our loan. On the other hand, there's a fair bit of property that the bank is gonna get, chunks of land where the owners were outside the ring. Anyway, I think he'd rather extend the loan if he can see his way clear to do it. Maybe he'll give us six months to work something out."

"And what will we have in six months that we don't have now?"

"Well, I've been giving that some thought while I was staring at that damn wall. Maybe, just maybe, I have a solution." He then refused to say another word on the matter, much to Mary Lee's dismay. Birdie loved teasing her like that. It still worked, even after almost thirty years.


Birdie had an appointment with Coleman Walker, but didn't get to talk to him. Coleman was busy trying to set up some kind of money changing business for the Emergency Committee. Instead, Edgar came out to meet him, and escorted him to an office, chattering all the way.

"You know, Mr. Newhouse," Edgar said, "here at the bank, we know that the farmers are going to be really important to the success of Grantville. There's been a lot of talk about that. The Emergency Committee got involved and asked, well, demanded, to tell the truth about it, that the bank put a hiatus on calling in any farm loans for at least a year. Mr. Walker agreed to it, right smartly, too."

Birdie thought that was something of a miracle, all by itself. Getting Coleman Walker to agree to anything "right smartly" hadn't ever happened in Birdie's experience.

"Don't get me wrong, Edgar," Birdie responded, "Coleman's always been a good sort. But, there's got to be a catch in there, somewhere. Spit it out."

"I don't know all the details, Mr. Newhouse. Mr. Walker talked to Mike and Willie Ray, as well as J. D. Richards and some other teachers from the tech school. It seems that the problem, well, one of the problems, is the stock of seeds we have here. We don't have enough improved crop seeds. And there's something about hybrid seeds not breeding true. And even if they did, there still isn't enough."

Edgar's explanation wasn't any too clear, but Birdie got the gist of it. Willie Ray might have to ask the farmers to do things that weren't that profitable in the short run. Things like building up seed stock. Birdie, like many farmers, bought seed every year, instead of saving his own. Saving your own seed hadn't made much sense uptime.

"What it boils down to, is the bank is going to cut all the farmers some slack. Considering the circumstances, what with the Ring of Fire and all, we're giving you a year to get caught up."

Birdie was pretty sure that Edgar wasn't telling him everything. Bankers always acted like it was their own money you were asking them for.

"Suppose I need some more money? Bank gonna be good for that? There's a lot that needs doing, and it ain't getting done for nothing."

"We might loan you more money, Mr. Newhouse. If Willie Ray agrees that what you need it for is important to the town, it's more than likely that you'll get what you need."

All this support came as a bit of a surprise to Birdie. Grantville had never been farming country. The hills were just too steep and the valleys too narrow. The focus had always been on industry of some sort, natural gas, coal mines, even the toilet factory. Just before the Ring of Fire, a fiber optics plant was being built. Farmers had never been a big part of the local economy.

* * *

"Poor bastards," Willie Ray remarked when he and Birdie reached Birdie's tractor. Willie Ray had been introducing Birdie to the local farmers. The introduction had been accomplished with gestures, for the most part, with a few badly accented words of German thrown in here and there.

"What happened to them?" Birdie asked.

"From what I gather, Sundremda, that's this little village here, used to have fifteen farming families plus a few folks who had houses and gardens in the village but weren't farmers. There was a blacksmith, a carpenter, and the like. This last year has been rough though. Now there are six farming families and four of those families are part-time farmers. Halbbauer the Germans call 'em. `Half farmers,' that would be in English."

Birdie knew what that was like. He regularly had to work odd jobs to keep the farm going.

"They also lost a bunch of their livestock," Willie Ray continued, "which made getting in this year's crop just about impossible. Some of it was lost to the mercenaries that hit the place a few months back, and some to Remda, a little town that way, a ways, where they ran when the village got hit.

"Ernst, that fella you shook hands with, called it theft when I was out here before with Miss Abrabanel to translate. From what I understand the folk in Remda are saying they took the stock for rent and fines. Then, some bug came up about the same time, and quite a few folks died. So everyone's blaming everyone else and there are law suits goin' both ways. Meanwhile, the folks in Remda seem to figure possession is nine points of the law, so they're holdin' the stock till everything's settled. I'm guessing they're also holdin' the oxen to force the Sundremda villagers to settle their way.

"You clear on what's needed?" Willie Ray asked when he had finished his explanation.

Birdie nodded. He and Willie Ray had walked the fields with Ernst and defined what was needed where. Willie Ray headed back to town and Birdie got to work harvesting and thinking. His farm was just over the Ring Wall, less than a mile away. If he could cut some sort of gap in the Ring Wall this would be the perfect farm for him. He didn't want to put anyone out of their homes but it looked like they needed him as much as he needed the land. Maybe he could buy this place or most of it anyway. Once he got done here he'd go see if Willie Ray would support him with the bank.


July, 1631

Willie Ray had agreed that buying a farm outside the Ring of Fire and near Birdie's place, what was left of it, was a good idea. However; he didn't know much of anything about how Birdie would go about buying a farm here. Birdie had talked to Mackay, who had recommended one of his troops who spoke English and German and knew a bit about farming.

Danny McTavish was willing enough to act as translator and guide, for a fair payment. Fair payment, in McTavish's eyes, was five one-liter plastic soda bottles, complete with their lids, and a gutting knife. Birdie threw dinner into the deal, so they could eat while they talked over the plan. Birdie liked McTavish, anyway. The scruffy Scot sure could use some dental work, but he spoke German and knew the area fairly well.

"Won't work, what you're saying," McTavish said. "You won't be able to buy a farm for the working. Farmers around here are mostly tenants. They don't own their farms the way you uptimers do."

"I didn't really expect them to," Birdie answered. "I was just glad to find out that things aren't as bad as I thought they would be. I never paid much attention to history, back in school. I figured that just because they didn't own their farms, there was no reason I couldn't buy one though."

"You understand, I'm no expert." Danny tugged his goatee, apparently to help organize his thoughts. "You don't exactly buy land here, at least not to use it yourself. What you do is rent a piece of a farming village. Along with the rent you pay, you get some specific rights, all of them written down proper, in the contract. You get a house, or the right to build a house. You get the right to gather or cut a given amount of firewood, and to pasture so many head of cattle or sheep or whatever. It's all specified in the contract. Finally, you get a strip of field to plant.

"Mostly you lease a piece of land for ninety-nine years or three generations, whichever comes first. Now, you don't always go to the laird for this. The laird might have sold off some part, or all of the rents. When that's happened, and I'm told it happens most of the time, there might be a whole bunch of different people, and each one of them owns a part of the rent."

"What does the lord own after he's sold the rents?" Birdie asked "Mining rights?"

"Mining rights belong to the ruler. The laird never had those. Timber rights, probably. Maybe hunting rights. It could be. It depends on how he sold the rents. Sometimes, a laird would even give the rents to someone, like as a dowry or for the support of a relative. Sometimes, all that's left to the laird is the right to control who cuts down how much of the forest. Or, other times, he might have nothing much. It could just be a leftover from when the `von Somewheres' really were lairds with rights and duties to the folk under them. Back when only a `von Somewhere' could own land and owning land meant you were a noble. Maybe back then you couldn't sell your land and still have `von' in front of your name." Danny shrugged. "The truth is I don't know why it's that way. But, I've talked to a lot of farmers since I came here with Captain Mackay, and that seems to be the way it is."

"Do we have to track down everyone that owns a part of the rent if we want to rent a farm in one of the villages around here?"

"If lots of people own a piece of the rent, they generally hire someone to handle the rental. You have to deal with who ever that is, and it's usually a lawyer. The Germanies are a lawyer's paradise."

"What about just going to the guy that owns the land and buying it?" Mary Lee asked.

Danny was shaking his head. "Even if he hasn't sold the rents, the village is probably rented. If you bought the land, you would be the new laird, but the rent contracts would still be there. You couldn't use the land yourself. All you could do is collect the rents. If he's sold the rents, I don't think you'd be buying more than a piece of paper, or maybe hunting rights. If you want to farm, you pretty much have to rent a farm in a village. Then, after you got the rent worked out with the landlord, you have to be approved by the Gemeinde."

"The Ge . . . Gem . . . the what?" Birdie asked.

"The Gemeinde," Danny explained, pronouncing the word carefully. "All the people who rent land in a village get together to decide what to do and when to do it. I've heard Mr. Hudson say it's sort of a village co-op. Everyone plows, plants, and reaps together, and your `strip' is your share of the profits. They're usually a bit careful, the Gemeinde, about who they let rent the farms. Can't really blame them for it, I suppose. You wouldn't want to share the load with someone who wouldn't pull their share, now would you?

"The Gemeinde has a right to refuse someone if they can find a reason for it. Usually, they use `moral turpitude' of some sort. Mostly, the only people they allow to buy in to a village are someone they know, relatives or friends of people that already lived there. What with the war, and all that sort of thing, people are being a bit less particular about who they take on, lately. You'd have to have the animals to plow your fields, and you'd have to have the start-up money."

Come to think of it, the farmers around here are a bit more independent than I would have guessed, Birdie thought. Kind of interdependent, too. He sat quietly and considered all this new information for a while and tried to apply it to what he already knew. The farmers in the area had turned out to be different from what he would have expected from his vague memories of high school history classes. They were a lot more like American farmers than the downtrodden serfs he'd thought they'd be, in most ways. The one big difference, which McTavish had just explained, was that seventeenth-century German farmers worked and thought in collective terms, where uptime American farmers were used to operating as individuals.

That meant . . .

Sundremda had about two thousand acres of land but only about three hundred and fifty or so acres were cropland. The rest of the land was forest for firewood and building needs, a carp pond and more grazing land than the village really needed.

The important thing, though, was that Sundremda was missing most of its tenant farmers. So, maybe he could buy the place, or at least buy that part of it that wasn't rented to anyone. Maybe he could buy the rents, and pay himself. He might even be able to get some of the fallow fields as cropland. If he could arrange it, he would have over two hundred acres, maybe even three hundred acres. He would also have grazing rights, rights to a big share of the wood in the forest, as well as rights to the fish in the little pond the village had set up.

Birdie didn't want to just rent his tractor, or his services, he wanted to buy into the village. By preference, he wanted to own his own land. If he couldn't do that, he'd try to buy the rents. At a minimum, he wanted to have a fair say in what got planted where and when. He wanted a vote in how things went down. Now, if he could just figure a way to do it.

* * *

"Mary Lee!" Birdie yelled. "Where are you, woman?"

A muffled "Down here" led Birdie to the basement steps, where he heard Mary Lee clattering around. He descended, carefully. The light never had been that great down here.

"What are you doing?" he asked, when he saw Mary Lee was counting things, then writing something on a tablet of paper.

"Taking an inventory."

"Taking an inventory of what? And why? This stuff has been around for years. It's mostly junk."

Mary Lee looked up from her counting with an annoyed expression on her face. "Junk like that old tractor of yours? Junk like those plastic bottles that are bringing about fifteen dollars each? There's no such thing as junk anymore, Birdie, in case you haven't noticed. Even rusty nails are better than no nails at all. There's no telling what we've got in this basement, not to mention what's in the attic. If stuff like plastic soda bottles can bring in that much money, we might get rich from this room. If you don't want to help me here, go do your own inventory."

Mary Lee had been a bit testy lately, to Birdie's way of thinking. Still, she might have a point. He left her to her business and went to do his own inventory.


Birdie came up with a fair amount of stuff with his inventory. He had more than some of his fellow uptime farmers, but not as much as others. There was quite a lot of junk that simply hadn't been worth the cost of repairing uptime, but turned out to be irreplaceable down-time.

With the help of Willie Ray and Danny McTavish, Birdie was able to gauge the down-time value of his stuff pretty well. It was a little frightening, in a way, the number of things that had a value ten or even a hundred times what it had been before. It really gave Birdie an appreciation of mass production. Mary Lee was right about the plastic coke bottles he had given Danny. They were selling for five to fifteen bucks apiece and the knife would sell for about a hundred bucks.

The real money was in the machinery, though. Birdie had two tractors, one that worked, and one that didn't. The one that didn't work wouldn't have been worth repairing uptime. It was over fifty years old and had been sitting in one of his sheds for the last twenty of those years. Now, though, if the engine could be repaired, it was worth the cost of repair and more. Each of his tractors was worth as much as his truncated farm.

There was also the family car, which used gasoline, the farm truck that used natural gas from his well, and two junk cars. Birdie still didn't know exactly what Mary Lee had found in the house. They had lived in this house for over twenty years, raised two children here, and rarely threw anything away. That was about standard, for a West Virginia farm.


Ernst Bachmeier looked at the men before him. The two uptimers he recognized. One was Willie Ray, who had bought the village's crops while the crops were still in the field, and the other was Birdie, who had come out with his tractor and harvested those crops. The Scottish mercenary who was doing the translating made Ernst nervous.

Nervous or not, Ernst dragged his mind back to what the Scot was saying. "Herr Newhouse is a farmer, but a part of his farm was left uptime by the Ring of Fire. He has the tools and equipment to support a farm much larger than he has now, and the skills of an uptime farmer. What he doesn't have is the land to farm, or the knowledge of local conditions."

"With his tractor he would be a great help, and the village needs more people, but we don't have the houses rebuilt," Ernst replied.

"His house is less than two miles from here. He says he can cut a way through the Ring Wall that will let him bring the tractor and other equipment back and forth." There was a short discussion between the Scot and the uptimers, and then the Scot continued. "He does want to build a house in the village, and he wants to make something called a `septic system,' so that he can have indoor plumbing, but that need not be done this year."

"In that case, it would be very good if he leased a farm in the village. I just wish we could find four more farmers to do the same." Ernst was a bit concerned about getting all the land rented.

"Well, actually, what he would like to do if he can is buy the land rather than rent it. Who owns the village?"

"Until January, the owner was Ludwig von Gleichen-Tonna, the count of Gleichen, but he died without issue and the ownership is in question. Herr Junker is running things because he holds the Lehen on the village. He got the Lehen from his mother. She was the illegitimate daughter of an uncle of Anna Agnes of Hohenlohe-Weikersheim, who was married to the brother of the count of Gleichen. Anna Agnes of Hohenlohe-Weikersheim is also the niece of William the Silent."

Birdie wondered who William the Silent was. Someone important, obviously.

Ernst was tempted by gossip and yielded to temptation. "They say Lady Anna Agnes bought her cousin a marriage using the leases on Sundremda and some other villages. Herr Junker's mama, she was high strung."

Ernst wasn't really sure about these people from the future buying his village. True, the uptimers had been fair, so far, but how would they treat the villagers if they owned the village? Would they have any need for tenants?

He decided to evade the problem, for the moment. "I really don't know who you would see about buying part of the village."

The soldier talked again to the uptimers then asked about buying the leases.

"That would be Herr Junker, but I doubt he would sell. He sets great store by the villages. They were his mama's dowry."

The soldier didn't bother to consult before asking: "Is he the one to see about renting the parts of the village that aren't rented now as well?"

"Yes. But, I have a question. We do more than plow, sew, and reap. Does Herr Newhouse have tools and machines that will do the other work the village needs?"

There was more discussion back and forth between the Scot and the uptimers.

"Some of it, yes," the Scot finally said. "For the rest, he believes the village could support more nonfarming families to help with the other work. Also, the Ring of Fire means that many things that would have to have been made locally can now be bought in Grantville. Brooms and such things could be bought, instead of being made here. Also, people can be hired as needed from Grantville."

Ernst considered that for a while then nodded. "He should talk to Herr Junker then."

More discussion took place. Then with a wink: "He also wanted to find out the rents. Herr Newhouse prefers not to bargain blind."

Ernst wasn't supposed to be in charge and he knew it. Mercenaries had hit the village a few weeks before the Ring of Fire and he had been sent off to Remda, while others had tried to delay the mercenaries. The delay had worked, but at a high cost. Most of the delaying force was dead. The village had been burned to the ground, and any animal they had been unable to evacuate or hide had either been butchered or taken by the mercenaries. Two days after their victory, the mercenaries had left, and the survivors had returned soon after that.

Ernst was convinced that the sickness that had afflicted the survivors was a result of their stay in Remda. During the next two weeks, disease had killed almost half the survivors.

Ernst had the village's contracts with Herr Junker and the records of who was owed what. He knew about The Battle of the Crapper and believed it would be good to be connected to people who could defend the village. Still, Ernst was a bit nervous about the uptimers. He did show them the record books and helped to explain what each clause meant, but he didn't tell them everything. For instance, he didn't mention what Herr Junker had said about offering new tenants a break on the rent. The break would only be good for a few years, just to help the tenants to get started.

"Claus Junker is a good Lehen holder. He is knowledgeable and reasonable about the rent, but he is stuffy. His mother was of noble blood even if she was born on the wrong side of the blanket. He expects to be treated like a von Somewhere. We humor him, and he treats us well."

The Scot laughed. "That could be a problem. These uptimers have enough trouble treating a real noble like a noble. I don't know how they'd do with someone who just thinks he's a noble." Then the Scot turned to the uptimers to explain his comment.


"I don't suppose you could explain what `Lehen' means, can you?" Birdie asked McTavish.

"Nah," McTavish answered. "It's not always the same thing. Sometimes the holder of the Lehen has the right to collect rents, but the laird has the right to do all the bossing around of the folk. Other times, the holder of the Lehen does all the bossing. Sometimes the laird still lives in the district, and can put a stop to problems. Sometimes, he only comes to hunt. 'Tis verra confusing."

"Are you saying that I could rent this farm, and some joker could still come and tell me how to do my business?"

"I'm not sure. Might be." McTavish grinned. "Reckon it'll be fun finding out, won't it?"

* * *

"They have no concept of their place in the world." Claus Junker complained again.

His wife Clara, though in basic agreement, had heard it all before.

With the uptimers' proven knowledge and ability, they should have been acting like nobility. Instead, they permitted the marriage of a camp follower to one of their young men. That support was a slap in the face for all the nobility.

Claus felt this slap especially keenly because he wasn't quite noble. His mother had been of noble blood but his father was no more than a wealthy merchant. His parents hadn't had a very happy marriage. His father had married because that's what his family wanted. His mother had felt that she was being married beneath her station and had virtually been forced by her family to accept the marriage. It hadn't taken long before both had become convinced that each had gotten the worst of the deal. The result was that Claus' mother had focused on her pedigree, clouded as it was, and impressed her son with his rank and the noble blood of his ancestry. He had been her pet, and had not gotten along with his father.

Clara had known all this for years. She was the daughter of another wealthy property owner. Her marriage to Claus, while more romantic than his parents' marriage had been, had still had a significant mercantile component.

Sometimes Clara felt that Claus' emotions got in the way of his normal good sense. Areas like his unreasonable rejection of certain offers from certain uptimers. Not to mention the way he objected when she ventured to offer an opinion on his business ventures. Clara had been raised to be the wife of a man of business like her father and brother, the social half of the equation and a help in business matters. Claus was all right with the social part but less comfortable than her family with the business part.

She manipulated Claus subtly, which didn't come naturally to her. Still, she had had a lot of practice over the years. "Yes, Husband, but we must still deal with them, like it or not. They have the force of arms to coerce our compliance. Besides, they don't seem to have the subtlety of nobles. With care, these uptimers should be easy enough to manipulate to our profit."

"And how, my dear wife, do we profit by the loss of our lands? The Ring of Fire took land that had been in my mother's family for over a hundred years and replaced it with this West Virginia. The Ring of Fire left people that will not recognize my claim or pay my rents. How does that profit us? Now, to add insult to injury, this Newhouse person calmly informs me that he would like the rest of Sundremda to add to what he's already living on."

"All these things haven't been decided, not yet. The uptimers talked about reasonable compensation when they met with the council," Clara answered. "Besides, it's all the more reason to do business with them. Doing business offers the opportunity to regain at least a part of what we have lost. If we refuse to talk to them or deal with them, how can we persuade them that our claims are truly just?" This isn't going very well, Clara thought as she spoke.

The paper Claus was waving about as he talked was the problem. The paper contained an offer to buy both the land and rents for five farming plots in the village of Sundremda. Herr Newhouse wanted to gain clear title to the land if he could. He offered what Clara considered a fair price for it. If that wasn't possible he wanted to buy, for less money, the rents for the same five farming plots. Failing that, in turn, he offered to rent the five plots for a lot less money.

It was clear that Mr. Newhouse wanted to actually farm the land, whether as owner, Lehen holder or tenant. The offer was for far more land than would normally be used by a single farming family, and it included provisions to treat the "tractor" as a replacement for several teams of horses. How did one judge the value of a tractor? If tractors were as good as the reports suggested, perhaps it could replace several teams of horses.

The offer was a godsend for the Junker family. The village farms would be fully rented and that would be a windfall. The Junkers had expected to lose most of the rent this year and probably next year as well. This farmer, Mr. Newhouse, had done his homework. He was offering what the other farmers in the village paid, maybe a little less, but that was understandable, given the circumstances.

Claus' problem with the offer was that it came from Mr. Newhouse. Mr. Newhouse's farm within the Ring of Fire was on land that would have been part of Sundremda, if the Ring of Fire had not happened. To Claus, it seemed the Ring of Fire had deposited squatters. Worse, they were squatters who then refused to pay his lawfully due rent. The fact that the land that was there now was worth considerably more than the bit of forest that had been there before only made it worse.

"Very well, then. We will see if we can profit from these rich uptimers." As Claus sat down and began to write, Clara shook her head and retreated. You could only push Claus so far before he snapped back hard. At least he would respond, and perhaps he was even accepting the offer.


The letter to the lawyer representing Birdie Newhouse was polite enough.

"Please inform Herr Newhouse that there is no one available at this time from whom he could purchase the property in question. Further, I will not consider the sale of the rents in question because they are an inheritance from my noble mother and have great sentimental value. Finally, the Ring of Fire has caused an unfortunate loss in revenues by removing lands owned by my family for generations. Herr Newhouse is now living on some of that land. Due to this loss, I will be forced to charge higher rents to new tenants than had previously been my policy. Surely, with the greater efficiencies of his mechanical arts, he can afford these higher rents."

The letter went on to suggest a rent four times as high as Birdie's original offer.

The letter came at a bad time. Birdie was having some problems of his own. The old tractor was high on the repair list because farming equipment came right after military needs, but that didn't change the cost of the repairs. The tractor was going to have to be taken completely apart and several parts would have to be especially machined before the tractor would work again. The tractor would also need to be converted to the use of natural gas. The cost of repairing the old tractor left Birdie stuck between a rock and a hard place.

If he had the old tractor fixed and then sold it to the grange Willie Ray was setting up, he might break even on the deal. To make any profit from selling a tractor, he was going to have to sell the newer tractor. Birdie would have to sell the tractor with the enclosed cab, heat, air conditioning, tape deck, and more horse power. Birdie loved that tractor.

So, when the lawyer from Badenburg brought Claus Junker's counter offer, Birdie was quick to suggest that Claus Junker depart to have intimate relations with an aquatic avian that quacks. This, in the cruder form that Birdie used, was Birdie's favorite expletive phrase, and was also the main reason he was called Birdie. Well, his given name, Larkin, might have had something to do with it, too.

After refusing Junker's counteroffer, Birdie then proceeded to go looking for better deals. The news was not great. It turned out that buying land mostly amounted to buying it three times. First, you had to buy the land, then you had to buy any Lehen that existed on the rents, and finally you wound up buying out the contracts with the tenant farmers. This didn't just mean three price tags. It meant getting lots of people to agree. All the people involved knew that one holdout could blow the deal. It took lots of money or lots of clout or both. Birdie imagined that it was something like putting together a big real-estate deal uptime. Just renting he could do. He could lease four or five sections and end up with about the same amount of land to farm, but those sections were spread out among two or three villages. Birdie wasn't the only uptime farmer looking for land.

When the few farmers in the area realized that they needed to grow more than hay for their horses or corn for moonshine, and especially after Willie Ray—that duckfucker—had gone around pointing out the benefits of renting land, most of them started looking for better land to farm outside the Ring of Fire.


"Larkin Newhouse, if you slam one more cabinet door, I'm going to throw this frying pan at you!" Mary Lee snapped. "Yes, I know you're mad, the whole world knows it. They can hear you slamming doors all the way to Paris. Knock it off."

Birdie started to say something, then thought better of it. It was kind of hard to make Mary Lee mad, but it could be done. Right now, after discovering that both daughters-in-law and all five grandchildren were going to have to move in, Mary Lee was a bit short-tempered herself. Love all the grandkids or not, it would make for a crowded household. Birdie knew it would be an adjustment, but rents in Grantville had skyrocketed. The boys, Heather, and Karin needed their help.

"I'm sorry, Mary Lee. I'm just . . . well; I don't know what I am, anymore. What a mess this is."

Mary Lee's face softened a bit at his apology. "I know. I really do," she said. "But tearing the cabinets off the walls isn't going to help. Go outside and kick something if you have to, go build something, anything. Just get out of the house and quit driving me crazy, will you?"

As Birdie complied with her "request," Mary Lee heard a soft snicker. McTavish had shown up again this morning, looking like a lost pup. You almost had to invite someone who looked that sad to breakfast, didn't you?

"It's a hard thing, Missus, a hard thing, to want something so bad and not be able to do it."

"True, Mr. McTavish, very true. And it's just about time to see if something can be done. I'm going to need your help. Are you free tomorrow?" Mary Lee asked.

"Might be. For a small consideration."

"And just what kind of `small consideration' did you have in mind, Mr. McTavish?"

"It's a bit fond I am, of your cooking, Missus. There's a plan you have, and I'm thinking I know what it is. We'll be going to Badenburg, will we not? I'll be helping you and I'll be keeping my mouth shut about it, if you like. That is, I'll do it in exchange for an open invitation to your table, whenever it is that I'm here."


Mary Lee decided it was time to take matters into her own hands. Men had a tendency to get, well, masculine. They stood on their pride and kept things from getting done. The next day, she told Birdie that she had some shopping to do. This was literally true, since she was shopping. She just didn't mention that she was shopping for land and doing it in Badenburg. She took Danny with her to translate, and caught the bus into Grantville. There she hired transport to Badenburg, and went to see Mrs. Junker.

"You'll be wanting to act the lady with this one, Missus," McTavish suggested. "You'll be needing to treat me as they treat their own servants."

When he explained what that meant, Mary just shrugged and went along with his suggestion. She wasn't going to the Junkers to convert them to civilized behavior, after all. She was going to see them to get the best price she could on land. Mary Lee had no particular objection to painting her belly button blue, if that's what it took.

She wore a calf-length paisley skirt, along with high-top boots, and a faux-silk blouse which was actually made of irreplaceable Dacron. The Dacron probably made the blouse cost more than silk. In the time since the Ring of Fire, Mary Lee had learned that patterned cloth was either not to be had, or expensive as all get out. She had picked her outfit carefully. She also wore her fanciest wrist watch. In short, her outfit screamed status.

Mary Lee and Danny waited in the front room for about fifteen minutes before Mrs. Junker arrived, obviously wearing her best outfit. She introduced herself as "Clara Kunze, Frau Junker." Danny translated. Conversation was slow and stilted at first, especially with the delays for translation.

"It is a lovely fabric you are wearing, Frau Newhouse," Clara remarked. "Very colorful."

"This old thing?" Mary responded. "I'm afraid I've had it for ages. It's just so practical to wear here. I find that some of the uptime clothing causes comments here in Badenburg. I don't care for public notice."

"Do you come to Badenburg often? I understood that you have a house to keep. Perhaps you have servants who take care of these things for you?"

"Oh, servants aren't really necessary. The machines we have, many of them make housekeeping much simpler."

The women continued to speak of clothing and furnishings, of servants and laborsaving devices. Each woman was getting a feel for the other, and gradually getting used to the translation time. Eventually, Clara said, "I understand that it's not your fault, but the event that you call the Ring of Fire took much of our lands. Isn't it reasonable for us to expect some compensation?"

"Perhaps that is true. But suppose we were to claim the part of our property that extended out beyond the Ring of Fire? I can show you on a map just how far our land extended. Would that be reasonable? Do you think we should have a claim to your land? Before the Ring of Fire I could step out my door and walk onto land that was mine, but now that land is yours.

"We've lost a whole world. All our friends and relations that were beyond the Ring of Fire are gone, along with all our properties outside the Ring of Fire. I sympathize with your loss. I really do. But I think the best compromise, the fairest thing, is to leave it the way God set it."

Mary could see that Clara didn't much care for her counter claim.


"I think so. I know we couldn't have done it. I guess it could be a natural thing that we don't understand, but to my mind, that still means God did it, or at least allowed it."

The conversation shifted back to safer topics for a while. "I have heard of a thing I do not understand. Perhaps you could enlighten me," Clara said. "What is this thing called a microwave oven?"

"It's another of those labor saving devices, like the washing machine. You can use a microwave to quickly warm food, even to cook it, if you wish. I never really use mine much. I use it to heat cups of water for tea, mostly. They are very convenient, though, for a lot of people."

"And this ice cream I hear of, it is made how?"

"It's a mixture of cream, milk, eggs, sugar and flavorings, perhaps chocolate or strawberries. They are mixed together and frozen. It's quite delicious. My favorite was always butter pecan. Perhaps I'll be able to introduce you to ice cream, someday."

After a time Mary brought up the leasing of farms in Sundremda, or possibly not in Sundremda. Clara suggested that Grantville and its new dollars might cause inflation. "It's new money; how are we to know if it will be worth anything next year?"

Mary had no better answer for that than Clara had had for Mary's point. "I'm not saying you have to take payment in U.S. money. It's what we have, but we can go to the bank and change it."

By the end of their chat, the women had the basics of an agreement worked out. Now, the only trouble would be selling that agreement to their respective husbands.


Neither husband was thrilled with the compromise worked out by their wives.

"I do not trust them, Clara," Claus said, in a worried tone. "They tried to take advantage of you. It is not proper for married women to be involved in matters of business. That is what you have husbands for."

Claus knew Clara was familiar with business, but there was a proper way of doing things. The uptimers didn't seem to respect tradition or custom at all. They seemed to have no standards or morals. It would have been different if Clara had been a widow. Widows had to manage their business affairs. Somehow that thought didn't make him one bit more comfortable with the situation.

"We merely spoke, Claus," Clara answered calmly. "It is true, is it not, that the rents will be welcome? When Frau Newhouse suggested this, I agreed to speak to you, but I did not make an agreement further than that."


"You offered him how much?" Birdie grumped. "Are you out of your mind?" Birdie didn't like the compromise because he felt Mary Lee had been taken to the cleaners. In a way, she had been, but, on the other hand, by uptime standards the rent was actually low.

"Not yet, but I'm going to be. Between you stomping around, grumbling and griping, and having seven more people in this house," Mary grumped back, "I'll be out of my mind within the month. Do it or don't do it, whichever you want. But I warn you, something has to change, or I'm going to go screaming off into the sunset someday."


In any case the ladies had put a deal on the table. It was a deal that their husbands could live with. Of course, the husbands had to stir the pot a bit. They almost managed to dump the deal a couple of times before they had everything worked out to their satisfaction.

Rent would be paid in local down-time currency at Claus' insistence. There was a provision to adjust the rent based on the average price of half a dozen products. Birdie Newhouse would gain the right to farm two hundred and eighty acres. Fifty of those acres lay fallow this year. He would also have the right to build a house and was allowed to cut sufficient wood to build a two-story farmhouse, a barn and a silo. In addition, he had rights to a certain number of cords of firewood each year. He had the rights to a certain number of animals of varying types, so many fish from the pond each year, and so on. It was all very detailed and specific.

The first year's rent and proof that he had the wherewithal to plow the fields and so on would be required. It had taken a demonstration to convince Junker to count his tractor. His tractor could plow all of the village's fields in less than a week. That was part of the problem. The whole darn village of Sundremda was a single smallish farm by uptime standards. In fact, it was a smallish farm with quite a bit too much pasture in place of crop-producing fields. There was also a lot of forest, to produce the firewood the village needed. It wasn't like West Virginia, where the trees were holding the hillside in place and you couldn't plow anyway with your tractor riding forty-five degrees off plumb. That sort of plowing was plumb dangerous.

If you judged the deal by the contracts of the other Sundremda farmers, the rent Birdie paid should have been worth three hundred and thirty acres, six houses, four times as much firewood as allowed, as well as pasturage for twice as many animals, and twice as many fish.

If Birdie had been a down-time farmer, working with down-time tools, he would have had to hire so many people to help get the crop in that there would be no way he could have paid the rent. If he had been a down-time farmer with refurbished nineteenth-century gear, it would still have been a tough go. As it was, he had a working tractor with several attachments. Birdie's biggest problem was that he would have preferred to have more cropland. He would still be supplementing his income by renting out his tractor to the other farmers in Sundremda, as well as to other local villages.


"I can't believe the rents they're getting," Edgar Zanewicz commented, with a shake of his head.

"Are the evil landlords ripping off the peasants again?" Marlon Pridmore was sipping a cup of the thin soup that had inadequately replaced coffee, while the two loan officers took a break.

"Nope, just the opposite. Birdie Newhouse was just in here wondering about how he was gonna pay the rent on that farming village he's trying to rent from some fella in Badenburg. Turns out he'll be paying less than half of what renting the same sort of farm would cost uptime. And that's with us lowballing the dollar to get it accepted."

"Maybe it's the difference in labor costs? Or productivity?"

"I don't know. It must be something."

They hadn't heard Mr. Walker come in, but they heard him close the door to the break room.

"Quietly, gentlemen." He held a finger to his lips "Shhh! And yes, it is because of differences in labor costs and productivity. Mostly the labor costs, I'll admit. When someone rents a piece of land, the rent has to come out of what's left over after the people working the land have produced enough for their living expenses. Even if those people wear rags and live on the edge of starvation, they still have living expenses. If ten or twenty acres have to provide for a family of four, there's going to be less left to pay the rent than there is if two hundred acres are providing for the same four people.

"You can only get so many bushels of wheat from an acre of land, no matter how many people are working it. After the wheat is sold, and the expenses are paid, including the living expenses, any money that's left over is profit for either the farmer or the landlord. The farming villages are really just farms that need a whole village to farm them, so those farms need to support a whole village rather than a family. When that many people are being supported by one farm, it means that there's less money available to pay the rent."

"Fine, but what's the big secret?" Edgar asked.

"Mostly, the secret is how high uptime rents were. Also, to an extent, just how much less labor is needed by uptime farming methods. All that extra profit can go to several places. It can go to the local landlords to make them richer, it can go to our farmers, or it can go towards bringing down the price of a loaf of bread. I would prefer that those profits go toward bringing down the price of bread. After that I'd like to see them in the pockets of farmers. Making a bunch of down-time landlords rich is right at the bottom of my priority list. I'd be really happy if those landlords didn't realize just how much more the land is worth when it needs fewer people to work it. At the very least, I'd rather they didn't realize it until after they've signed some of these three generation or ninety-nine year contracts. So would Willie Ray, the Mayor, Huddy Colburn, and Thurman Jennings. So, don't go mouthing off about what I've just told you, understand?"


"So, dear, what's the verdict?" Mary Lee asked, with hope in her voice.

"Good news and bad news, just like always," Birdie answered. "Good news is we can pay down the bank loan and get caught up on that. We'll have enough to live on, and pay his damned rent, too, the duckfucker."

"Larkin," Mary Lee responded, this time with a warning in her voice. She never had cared for that particular use of the language.

"Sorry, ma'am." Birdie grinned. He just loved to set her off. "Problem is we've got to cut the slot in that cliff. It's going to cost a bundle. Between that and a few other things that just have to be done, there's not going to be enough left to build a house this winter. Sorry, hon. I know you really wanted it."

Mary Lee's face fell for a moment, but then she shrugged and put the best face on it that she could. "Oh, well, I guess I'm starting to get used to it. I do kind of miss the days when it was just you and me around the place, though. We'll build another house when we can."

Between the sale of the newer tractor and his pay for helping to bring in this year's crop from Sundremda, Birdie would have enough money to pay down the bank loan, pay the first year's rent, have enough to live on, and still be able to make some improvements. Building a house where the mercenaries had burned an old one down would have to wait.


"Fire in the hole!" screamed Johan Jorgen. There was a boom and a bit more of the rock that made up the ring wall was loosened. The explosion didn't cause the ring wall to blow out, or send rocks flying around, at least not much. The wall was simply fractured into smaller pieces which made it easier to move.

"How long are we going to have to look at that pile of rocks?" Mary Lee asked.

"It's gonna take a good long while to get it all moved to Sundremda, even if it's only a couple of miles away," Birdie answered. "There's a mason who's going to come to the village, just because of all this rock. He'll do all the work of making the stone ready for floors and half walls."

"There's an awful lot of it, isn't there?"

"Yep," Birdie agreed, "It ought to make good building material. It's here, it's free, and it's ours. Might as well use it."

Most of those pieces would be shifted to Sundremda. The shifting would happen over the next several months, by means of Birdie's truck, and later the pieces would be used as construction material. The wall had to be removed, anyway, since they had to make a gap for the tractor. Birdie felt that they might as well use the remnants of the wall for something.

There was months of hard labor ahead of them, but Birdie was in a good mood. He was finally getting something done, and he finally had a real farm to look forward to.


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