The Guilded Age

MORE! Politically Incorrect Bedtime Stories for Young Conservatives.

In continuing with the positive response for my story on How the Wheel Was Invented, I’ve done some more story-telling.  Again in the style of a children’s fable, I took on another current subject in the media:  The Orwellian-named “Employee Free Choice Act” and the effect of unions on society.

This one is longer than most diaries you’ll read here, so once again:  Sit down with the kids, get some milk and cookies, and enjoy!

– – –

Bertrand Verne was born to poverty in the town of Leerbeek. At the age of six, he went to work for the town Miller, who milled wheat and other grains to make flour for the local bakers. His job was to collect the flour that came out of the mill stones, bag it, and take it to the store room.

He was different from the other children, even in his own house. Though he worked twelve hour days six days a week, he spent his every free moment learning. At nine he had taught himself to read well enough that the Miller allowed Bertrand to borrow books from his library. At eleven, Bertrand understood science, mechanics and processes so well that he developed a new bagging system that allowed the mill to operate more consistently. Over time, Bertrand developed more improvements that allowed the mill to sell more flour at lower prices than the Miller’s competitor.

Though he was grateful for the greater responsibility, teaching and generous pay of the Miller, Bertrand wanted more for himself. When he was sixteen, he bade goodbye to his family, his friends and the Miller. He decided to set off for Bazuel, a small village far away. Bazuel was growing rapidly because gold had recently been discovered in the hills nearby. Bertrand had learned that the village had no flour mill but large wheat and rye fields between it and the nearby town of Ors. Equally important, the town had a swiftly-moving creek running through it that could power his mill.

“Good luck to you, my son,” his aging mother said. “You have done wonderful things, and I am sure you will do many more!”

“Thank you, mother,” Bertrand said and kissed her. “I will send money back when I have it.”

“You have done so much for me, my son,” she replied. “Your hard work and dedication has allowed your brother to begin his studies as an apprentice with the doctor. The money you brought home and shared with us clothed your sisters and kept our bellies full. I wish for you everything your heart desires!”

“My only desire,” Bertrand told her, “is to make people’s lives better. The money is nice, but it’s not important. Everyone at the mill is living a better life now because of my improvements. The employees are paid better, the flour is cheaper, and the Miller can spend time with his family instead of staying at the mill all day. That is my goal, mother: To build a life for myself where I can have my own family to love, as you did.”

So Bertrand borrowed some money from the Miller and took his life savings with him on the three day journey to Bazuel. He bought a small plot of land next to a waterfall on the creek and began the difficult and expensive task of building his mill. It would have three water wheels pushing six mill stones. Unlike the mill in Leerbeek, this one would be built with all of Bertrand’s improvements from the first design. This way he could make sure the mill produced large quantities of high-quality, low-cost flour. Bertrand also decided that his mill would be a bridge, which would allow the people of Bazuel to cross the creek safely, and he if he got permission from the village elders he could charge a small fee to anyone who used his bridge to transport goods.

The mill spanned the creek on four stone bases. Between each base and its neighbor was a water wheel into which the waterfall poured. These turned on an axle that, by a series of gears and shafts, drove two millstones. On top of the four bases was the mill itself. The grain was stored on the east side, near the farms between it and Ors. The finished flour was stored on the west side, where the village of Bazuel was, and the millstones were located between.

It took nearly a year and cost Bertrand almost all of his money to build his mill. It had cost more to build than he had anticipated so at first he could not pay anyone to work for him. This meant he could only operate one mill stone at a time, and at reduced capacity. He worked sixteen hour days, literally burning the midnight oil, to produce his high-quality flour, delivering it himself in the early morning to the town’s bakeries. After six months like this, he had saved enough money that he felt he could hire a few workers to help him operate his mill. He found three men who had tried their hand at gold mining, but found no success or simply did not wish to work in the dangerous conditions. Two of them turned out to be dependable, hard-working men, but one named Emile was lazy and did not work hard.

Despite the difficulties of the gold mines, Bertrand had trouble finding workers. He had no choice but to keep Emile even though the man was surly and his work was poor. Bertrand paid good wages for a miller, but the men in the mines, which were own by the Duke, were paid better. Fortunately, the number of people coming to Bazuel was too great for the mines themselves, so over time Bertrand was able to find more men to work in his mill. Soon, he had paid off the loan from the Miller. When the mill reached full capacity it had thirty employees loading, grinding, bagging, stacking and delivering his flour. He had even gained permission from the village elders and the Duke to charge a fee of just one centime for a horse rider or two centimes for a cart of goods to use his bridge. He allowed pedestrians to use it for free.

“My word, you’ve done a phenomenal job, Bertrand.”

The voice was familiar to him. Whose was it? Bertrand turned and saw the silhouette of a man in his doorway. “Who are you?” he asked.

“Only three years since you left my employ, and you’ve already forgotten your old friend!”

Bertrand stood and ran to embrace the Miller.

“Good friend!” he cried, “has it been so long? I hadn’t realized!” With that, he hugged the Miller and kissed each cheek.

“What are you doing here, my friend?” Bertrand asked him.

“I sold my mill, Bertrand, and at a handsome profit!” the Miller told him. “I’ve made enough to retire. My youngest son and I are making a pilgrimage to Rome, and Bazuel is… almost along the way.”

“I’m so glad you are here,” exclaimed Bertrand. “Would you like to see what your mentoring and generosity have built?”

“Certainly!” cried the Miller. “Let us see your mill!”

Bertrand began to show the Miller his bridge mill. First they toured the bridge, built into the side of the mill itself. The mill was stone but the bridge was made of wood planks laid across square-hewn logs that also supported one of the floors of the mill inside. Bertrand had wanted to make the bridge stone for durability but it would have been too expensive. “Now, I could afford it, but it’s too late.”

Next, they explored the water wheels, which were of Bertrand’s own design. They were broad and had angled vanes to take greater advantage of the creek’s power. Next, they toured the mill itself with its six millstones. Each had three workers loading, bagging and stacking, with one man managing the grinding process itself. “I’ve specialized each task,” Bertrand told the Miller. “Each man has a specific duty, instead of everyone doing multiple tasks. I can train them faster they do their task better than if they each do multiple tasks.”

“What if someone falls ill or gets hurt?” the Miller asked him.

“Few of my workers get hurt,” said Bertrand. “They know their tasks so well that they rarely make mistakes. I’ve also made sure every man has a basic understanding of all the jobs, so that if someone does get sick the mill can keep going.”

“Brilliant!” said the Miller. “If only you’d done that for me, I might have retired sooner!”

“I make quite a lot of money here,” said Bertrand. “Almost one thousand Florins each month.”

“One thousand Florins? That is nothing! You can’t possibly be paying for all of this at one thousand Florins-“

“Profit,” stated Bertrand.

“One thousand Florins,” stammered the Miller, “Profit? Each month? I just sold my mill for ten thousand Florins! Mon Dieu! This is amazing, my friend!”

Bertrand laughed, but then he saw Emile leaning against a wall, his millstone stopped.

“Emile,” Bertrand went over to him. “Why is your team stopped?”

“Stone’s broken,” replied Emile.

Bertrand waited for him to elaborate, but when Emile said nothing more, Bertrand asked, “How is it broken?”

“Don’t know.”

Frustrated, Bertrand asked him, “Where is your team?”

“Fixing it, I suppose,” Emile said, now visibly annoyed by Bertrand’s questions.

“You mean you don’t know?”


“What happened?”

Emile looked at Bertrand like he was crazy, then, “The stupid wheel just stopped turning! How should I know?”

Bertrand turned back to the Miller. “I am sorry, my friend. I must take care of this.”

“That is fine,” the Miller replied. “My son is surely waiting for me back at the Inn with our supper. We will be leaving in the morning, so I will bid you adieu.”

“Thank you, my friend,” said Bertrand. “I am so glad to have seen you again.”

The Miller left; Bertrand gave Emile a glance, and then he went in search of the problem with the millstone. He discovered that one of the stones in the wall of the mill had fallen, crushing one of the cogs that transferred the power from the water mill to the millstone. Worse, the whole wall was collapsing and other walls were showing similar wear. Bertrand’s bridge was falling down.

“How is this possible?!” asked Bertrand to the air.

“Did you use Free Masons to lay these stones?” asked one of his workers, named Eugene.

“What is a Free Mason?” Bertrand asked him.

“My brother, Gaston, helped build the Duke’s castle,” replied Eugene. “The mason who designed it was a Free Mason. Gaston learned that many years ago the masons formed a trade guild. The guild made sure of a few things. First, that the masons would be paid fair wages for their talents. Second, being a member of the Free Masons means that you guarantee a certain quality. Lastly, they make sure that if, say, a vassal cheats one of them, no member of the guild will ever work for that vassal again.”

“So if the man who directed construction of my mill had been a mason, I’d have been guaranteed a better building?”

“Quality is very important to them,” replied Eugene. “Without it, their guild is meaningless.”

“Strike the workers,” Bertrand said. “Send them home for the day. We have work to do.”

So Bertrand and Eugene put up braces to keep the walls from collapsing, fixed the broken cog, and went about finding a Free Mason. Eventually, he found one named Lucas. After inspecting the mill the mason reported that he could repair the mill, but it would cost Bertrand six thousand Florins.

“The whole place cost me five thousand Florins to build! How can it cost so much?”

“Your mill was built poorly,” replied the mason, looking up at the damage. “I’m going to have to fix the mistakes that were made, right down to the foundations. It is expensive and will take several months, but soon your mill will be as solid as the Duke’s own castle.”

“I don’t need it that solid,” replied Bertrand. “I don’t need it to withstand an army. Just the creek.”

“That is even harder than an army,” stated the mason. “An army is nothing compared to the power of nature.” The mason sighed. “I understand your feelings, but we Free Masons guarantee a certain minimum quality. No one else does that. If I lower my price, I must sacrifice the quality. If someone were to learn that I did not uphold that standard, the guild and its members would suffer.”

“I understand,” replied Bertrand. “I suppose I have little choice, and I have the money. When can you start?”

“My team will be here in the morning. I’m going to have to hire some local labor. Each of the four bases of your mill will take about one month to repair and the mill itself another two months.”

The damage was worse than the mason had thought. Repairing the mill took a full nine months, during which time Bertrand’s mill operated at reduced capacity. Two more mills both smaller than Bertrand’s opened in the rapidly growing village. They offered cheap, low-quality flour. Bertrand’s was still the best and most preferred, but as the town’s population grew and grew the other mills took some of his sales by offering the flour for less money. During the construction Bertrand barely broke even, and afterward his mill profited only three hundred Florins each month. He had to reduce his prices just to sell enough.

Meanwhile Emile had got to thinking. He had learned of the Free Masons and how much Bertrand was earning each month. Bertrand had recently begun construction of a grand manor house north of the village which would cost another one thousand Florins. Emile and the other workers were paid enough that most owned their own house, but none was a grand manor. While they were paid better than nearly anyone in the village, the men in the mines were still paid more.

“The Boss is cheating us!” said Bertrand at the local saloon, where he and some of the workers had gathered after work. “He pays us slave wages and expects us to work ten hours a day, six days a week! He builds a grand manor while we live in poor little hovels! We risk our lives in that mill and he profits!”

“Quiet down, Emile,” said Rene, another worker. “You’re paid two Florins a day. Only the miners earn more, and they die by the dozens when the mines cave-in. No one has been hurt in our mill since before your millstone broke.”

“We’ve been lucky!” cried Emile. “It’s only a matter of time, and then what? One of us gets hurt, or killed, and all we have is our meager savings!”

“You just bought a horse. If you get hurt, you could sell it,” said another worker.

“Sell my horse? How can you be so unfeeling? That is my horse!” Emile exclaimed. “Why should I have to sell it if I get hurt? Why should my wife have to sell it if I die?”

“The Boss paid for Thibault’s family when he lost his thumb. Then he taught Thibault to keep his books.”

“He’ll do no such thing for me,” said Emile. “He’s had it in for me ever since I started working for him.”

“Then why are you still here?” asked Rene. “Surely he’d have found another worker to replace you.”

“He wants to seem generous,” replied Emile. “Like the time he donated the money to build the church. He’ll not get rid of me until he has an excuse. I say we don’t give him the chance.”

“How do you suggest we do that?” someone asked.

“We form a guild, like the Free Masons,” Emile replied. “They get better pay, protection, and special treatment, and all the must do is ensure the job is done right.”

Emile could see he wasn’t convincing the others. “Think of it,” he said, “we get better pay. We could work fewer hours. Protection if we get hurt. All we have to do is stick together.”

Now Emile could see some of the men coming around. “All we have to do is stick together,” he said again. “If we get what we want, and we keep working, same as always. If we don’t, we stop working.”

“Stop working?” asked Rene. “How will we be paid?”

Emile had anticipated this question. “We’ll have to prepare for that. We’ll each contribute to a fund, half a Florin each week. We’ll have to wait until the fund is built up, but in time we’ll be able to stop working with no loss of pay. And since we’ll be asking for better pay, we’ll make back our investment in the fund. We could last longer if we’re willing to take less pay.”

That evening, the workers developed their idea for the guild, working out the details. They would not do anything until the fund could pay each of them for two full weeks at full salary. Only those who contributed could receive money from the fund. When the time came, they would ask Bertrand for shorter hours, higher pay, and for him to contribute to their fund. Over the following weeks, twenty two of the thirty workers at the mill joined with Emile. Rene and Eugene were not among them.

A year later, with Bazuel continuing to grow (nearly five thousand residents), Bertrand’s profits were up. He was now earning a profit of five hundred Florins each month. He was operating at full capacity but making less money on each bag of flour he sold than when he had first opened his mill. Still, times were better.

One day as Bertrand and Thibault were going over the books, Emile and three other workers came in to Bertrand’s office.

“Can I help you,” Bertrand asked the group.

“We are the Miller’s Guild,” replied Emile. “We want better pay, shorter hours, and we want you to contribute to an worker safety fund.”

Bertrand stood in place, flabbergasted. “This is not amusing,” he stated. “Get back to work.”

“We’re not joking,” said Emile. “We want to be paid as much as the miners, we want to work eight hour days, and you must contribute to our employee fund.”

“What if I say no?” asked Bertrand.

“Then we strike the day. We strike every day until you give in to our demands.”

Bertrand couldn’t believe what was happening. He was paying these men better than anyone in town except the miners, who risked their lives every day in the mines. They worked only ten hours a day, two hours less than anyone else.

“You’re already paid well. You work fewer hours than anyone in town. My business is finally starting to be really profitable again, and you want more pay?”

“We want equal pay to the miners.”

Bertrand thought for a minute. “Look, I pay you each twelve Florins each week. The miners earn fifteen Florins each week. If I paid all thirty of you an additional three Florins each week, that’s 90 Florins. In a month, that’s 360 Florins! That’s a huge amount of money! And if you’re working two hours less each day, then I’m making one-fifth less flour. Well, there go most of my profits!”

“You fat cat!” exclaimed Emile. “Your greed is unconscionable. We risk our lives in your mill, and you insult us with talk of profits!”

“No one has ever died in my mill,” retorted Bertrand.

“Two workers died last week in Roland Clemenceau’s mill!”

“That’s his mill,” said Bertrand. “He makes his flour the old-fashioned way. It’s more dangerous than my way. He also pays his workers a lot less than I pay you.”

“That’s not the point,” said Emile.

“Get back to work,” Bertrand commanded. “Or start looking for new jobs.”

“Get rid of us,” replied Emile, “and twenty two of us will strike.”

Bertrand stopped cold. “Twenty two of you?”

“Yes. Twenty two joined our guild.”

“And the other eight?”

“Did not.”

Bertrand thought for a moment. He could train new workers, but it would take time. If the eight who had not joined the guild stayed, it would be easier. If not, it would take a long time to get back to full production. He would lose money for the first time. He would probably lose money if they struck, no matter what. Then he had an idea.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Bertrand. “We’ll go to the Duke. If he says I should pay you more, then I will. If not, you’ll continue to work, at the rates I pay you.”

Emile considered for a moment. Bertrand could on his own go to the Duke and have him force them to work. He hadn’t considered that when they’d first put the guild together.

“Very well,” said Emile. “We’ll talk to the Duke.”

The Duke’s castle was immaculate and huge. It covered three whole acres, built at the top of a cliff overlooking a river valley. High turrets crowned in conical roofs with high stone walls, covered in white stucco overlooked a huge green courtyard. It had cost the Duke over one hundred thousand Florins and took four full years to build. In the center was the Keep, with its Grand Hall, where the Duke kept his court.

After being announced, Bertrand and Emile approached the Duke. They explained their situation, and the Duke considered for a moment.

“You say this job is dangerous?” the Duke asked Emile.

“Very,” replied Emile. “Two men died last week in another mill in town.”

“That mill and my mill are not the same, Your Highness,” interjected Bertrand. “My mill is safer. We’ve never had a death, and only one serious accident.”

“What happened?” asked the Duke.

“One of my men’s hands was crushed under a millstone. He lost his thumb. He now keeps my books.”

The Duke considered a few more moments. This young man was becoming fantastically wealthy at a very young age. His success and money posed a threat to the Duke’s power. After all, money could raise an army. Money could buy influence in the court. More than one revolution in history had been funded by the merchant class. This guild, acting just like the one that helped build the Duke’s castle, could slow Bertrand’s advance to great wealth maintain the balance of power in the Duchy.

“I have decided,” stated the Duke, “that your guild is right. While fifteen Florins is clearly too much, I think one Florin each week for each worker should be enough. And a weekly contribution to this employee fund seems reasonable, perhaps twenty Florins? Yes, that’s about right.”

The Duke considered further. There were some dangerous precedents he did not wish to set for his own workers. “As for the eight hour work day, well… This seems silly to me. I’ve never known such generous work hours. Even the ten hours a day that you work seems very generous to me. I think you should each be happy with this.”

Bertrand was livid, but could not say so. This was, after all, the Duke. Emile was not happy, but they would get some of what they wanted. Given time, they could get more.

“One more thing, my dear Duke,” said Emile.

“What is it? My time is valuable.”

“There were eight who did not join our guild,” Emile explained. “We are now benefiting from our creation of this guild. Those men did nothing to help us. They have no loyalty, and should lose their jobs.”

“Wait just a minute!” exclaimed Bertrand. “Some of those men are my best workers! I can’t lose them!”

“A compromise, then,” said the Duke. “If they join the guild, they can keep their jobs. If not, they must leave the mill.”

Bertrand was astounded, but the Duke had spoken. His word was now law. There was nothing he could do to change it. He would have to deal with the situation as it stood.

Several weeks passed. Bertrand studied his mill carefully, looking for ways to make up the difference in revenue. He considered raising his fee to cross the bridge, but a quick poll of the town elders determined that would not be permitted. The bridge was too important, they said, to raise the toll. Bertrand argued that because the bridge was so important, its maintenance was paramount and an increase in the toll was justified, but the elders did not agree.

Bertrand thought more and more. He found more ways to squeeze profit from his mill. Refusing to compromise on quality, Bertrand was stuck on some points. He would not use fillers, like one of his competitors, nor would he lower his standards on the grain he bought, as both of his competitors did. He figured out methods of loading more grain into the mill stones without sacrificing flour, making the stones last longer, even selling the flour to bakeries and inns that required the best quality in other towns and villages nearby. It was making a difference, but Bertrand’s profits were still much lower than they had been.

As winter approached, the price of grain always increased. Millers stocked up their stores for the coming cold months, when grain would not be available. The fall harvest was the last grain to be had for more than six months, when the winter wheat crop became available. This squeezed Bertrand’s profits further. The harvest had not been as good as the previous year. Grain was scarcer, and high-quality grain fetched an exorbitant price. Profits were always low this time of year, but this year was worse. Bertrand lost money for the first time.

He knew it was temporary, but the idea wearied Bertrand. The stress of the situation was getting to him. One day, he decided to take a stroll in the countryside and enjoy his prerogative as owner. He sat under the trees, now losing their leaves after having changed to brilliant colors of red, yellow and orange. The brilliant blue sky had no clouds to obscure the crystal-clear blue. Bertrand moved to a clearing where he sat for hours, staring at the trees, the creek, and the animals and birds that passed by.

Finally, Bertrand decided that he should return to the mill. When he arrived, he found that some of his workers had continued their duties without his presence or direction. Their mills were pouring out flour just as before. Two mills, however, had stopped operating. One was tended by Eugene, one by Emile.

“What’s going on here?” Bertrand asked the two of them.

“My mill has cracked,” replied Eugene. “It needs to be replaced.”

Bertrand inspected the stone and indeed it had cracked all the way through. Eugene should have noticed it and informed Bertrand, but he had been on his foray into the woods.

“Very well, we’ll replace it,” stated Bertrand. “Now Emile, what has happened to your mill?”

Emile looked at Bertrand. “The spindle splintered.”

Bertrand thought for a moment. The spindle was a minor part, but it would need to be replaced for the mill to operate properly. “How long has it been?”

“Two hours,” replied Emile.

“Two hours?” cried Bertrand. “Your mill has been down because of a spindle for two hours?”

“What do you want me to do about it?” asked Emile. “It’s broken.”

Bertrand was aghast. The spindle was easy to replace. A child could do it so long as he could lift it. Remove four pegs, pull the old spindle out, replace it with the new spindle, and pound the pegs back into place. It was simple and the parts were on site in the mill.

“Why didn’t you and your team replace the spindle?” asked Bertrand.

“We decided to do it tomorrow,” Emile replied. “I sent my team home. Only stayed to tell you, and I’ve been waiting quite awhile, mind you.”

“You sent—“ Bertrand stammered. His mill was losing money, and this buffoon had sent home his team after deciding to hold off a simple repair for a whole after noon and night.

“Emile, leave my mill and never come back,” Bertrand commanded. “Leave and never let me see you again!”

“No,” said Emile.

“No?” Bertrand said, unbelieving at the gall of the man standing before him. NO?! How dare you say no to me? This is my mill!” Bertrand turned. “Eugene, we can’t replace your stone today. You and your team will replace the spindle and take over this mill for the rest of the day. Rene, you will take over Eugene’s mill once it is fixed.”

“You can’t do that!” said Emile, interrupting.

“I can remove you from my employ if it suits me,” stated Bertrand. “You have been a surly and lazy worker for as long as I have employed your labors. You forced me to embrace your guild. I should never have promoted you to lead your mill, and now I am correcting my mistake.”

“If you send me away, I’ll take my guild with me. There is plenty of work to be had in Bazuel.”

“None that pays so generously as me,” replied Bertrand. “Unless you wish to work in the mines. Now, get out.”

“Very well,” said Emile. “Will my guild come with me?”

There was hesitation, but after a few moments some of the workers begane to follow Emile.

“If you leave now, don’t come back,” said Bertrand. “I don’t tolerate betrayal.”

More hesitation. In all, eight walked out with Emile, leaving Bertrand with just twenty one workers, barely enough to operate four mills.

“Alright, we’ve wasted enough time today,” said Bertrand. “Back to work.”

Days later, one of his customers informed Bertrand that he didn’t use flour with filler.

“What are you talking about?” Bertrand asked. “My flour is the highest quality! I refuse to compromise on such things!”

“I have reliable information,” replied that baker, “that you have been using filler ever since the poor harvest. I’ve chosen to use flour from a mill in Ors. I trust their quality.”

Within a few weeks, several more of Bertrand’s customers came to him with wild claims, from filler in his flour to body parts being ground up in his mills. A few had been told that Bertrand, still a bachelor, consorted with prostitutes or worse, with other men. Some customers he calmed and reassured while others he could not. Bertrand’s revenues were shrinking, his profits falling again. Eventually, someone informed Bertrand of what he suspected: Emile, unable to find work, was spreading rumors about Bertrand and his mill around town.

Soon, Bertrand was losing money. He was forced to shut down two of his mills and let go of the four workers he’d hired since Emile left. Eventually, it was too much. Bertrand had lost more than twenty percent of his business, his profits were sagging. He called Rene, Eugene and Thibault into his office.

“Gentlemen, I cannot continue like this,” Bertrand said. “I can’t keep the mill open. It costs too much to operate, and my customers are leaving because of Emile.”

“What will you do?” asked Rene.

“You are my three most trusted and valuable employees,” replied Bertrand. “I want you to come with me. I will start a new mill in a new village.” Bertrand pulled out a map. “A new vein of silver has been discovered near the village of La Bresse. A fast-moving creek runs through it. I can rebuild this mill there.”

“What about another guild?” asked Eugene. “Won’t someone try again?”

“Perhaps,” said Bertrand. “But this time, I’ll be prepared, and the Duke there is a very different man than the Duke here. A friend of mine sent word that he is very protective of those who pay him taxes. He won’t be so quick to support men like Emile.”

After several hours, the four men agreed on a course of action. Thibault would manage the mill in Bazuel in Bertrand’s place until the new mill could be built. Eugene would handle the daily operations of the mill itself. Bertrand would go to La Bresse to build the new mill. Rene would go with him to help him choose good workers while weeding out ones who might be inclined to start trouble.

It was a smaller mill but Bertrand, always tinkering, had figured out more improvements. His new mill would have just four mill stones and could operate with just twenty men but be just as productive as the mill in Bazuel. After just six months of construction, Bertrand’s new mill was ready to operate. He sent word to Thibault, who settled the accounts. Bertrand then sold the mill to a man who had brought his family from the south.

Bertrand’s original mill never regained its old profitability. Unable to turn a sufficient profit to keep interested, the new owner closed the mill. It would stand for decades, but eventually the stones and timbers collapsed from disuse, blocking the stream for a time. Hundreds of years later, it would be the subject of an archeological thesis, and then its pieces would be removed from the stream to make way for a modern bridge.

Emile did not fare as well. He moved from job to job, but was dismissed each time. Eventually he was left destitute. He died a broken man, penniless and homeless. Some of the men who left with him became productive workers; others did not.

Bertrand ran his new mill with renewed vigor, but with Thibault, Eugene and Rene, he could spend less time at his mill. He’d made a small fortune and could afford to take the time off. Eventually, he met a beautiful and sweet young woman named Anna, the daughter of one of the village elders. They married, and she bore him two boys and two girls. In time, Bertrand himself became one of the town elders. Bertrand’s new mill would operate for over a century before technology and time finally caught up with it and his great-great-grandson replaced the mill bridge with a more modern design.