Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 455
Five days before new year's eve, Claude got Angelina, her students, Sonia and her son back to Anna Farmstead in Anfiston. The world of Faslan didn't really celebrate new year's day itself, but new year's celebrations were more or less the equivalent. The three days before the arrival of the new year was akin to Lunar New Year. It was a time for relaxing, visiting friends and relatives, and going to the shrines to pray for a better year.
The obedient Marcus was much to Claude's liking. He was his first son, though illegitimate he may be. He bore the same family name as Sonia and would grow up to inherit her and Liboyd's legacy. Compared to his two little bear cubs at home, Marcus was the model good child. Even Angelina was full of praises for him, especially when it came to his talent in magic, which was about Angelina's level.
If possible, Claude wanted to spend new year's with Sonia and her son in the farmstead for new year's eve, but this year wouldn't do, as Claude's family had just moved out of Weyblon Manor into Ferd Manor, which Claude had built. It would be the first new year's eve they'd be spending in their new home, so he naturally had to be there. If he wasn't mistaken, he would also be expecting lots of visitors, so he had to play the good host at home.
He really didn't have a choice. The higher his rank and position was, the more freedoms he had to give up, especially for networking with all sorts of people. He looked wantingly at Sonia and her child, unwilling to bid them goodbye, as he took Angelina to the new manor to see his wife, children and mother.
Ferd Manor was built in the new villa residential area near Lake Lanu, the most luxurious place there was. There used to be a small stone hill there, but the hill was flattened as the citizens of Lanu chipped it down gradually for building material. When Lanu was being renovated into a city, the planner saw what remained of the hill and decided to transplant a couple of tall trees there regardless of the cost to make a peaceful luxury living space.
Through the flat and wide carriageway, Claude and the rest quickly arrived at Ferd Manor. It was built near the lake as his family loved the view there. The architect made an exquisite little walkway that led to the lake and even built a small pier there where two small, wooden boats were docked.
The snowhound, now half a man tall, excitedly circled around Claude and sniffed his pants nonstop. Angelina's eyes glowed at the sight of the dog before calling out to him affectionately by its name, 'Little Snowball'. The snowhound immediately ran towards her and abandoned Claude to himself. On the other hand, a few small dogs with black and white fur barked at Claude, as if they were trying to prevent this two-legged invader from encroaching on their territory.
They were the children between Pluto, the snowhound, and a black, female hunting dog Weyblon brought. Claude had read about them in Kefnie's letters. She had wanted to get another snowhound to be Pluto's match, yet Pluto never fancied any of them and even prevented them from entering the manor.
But when Weyblon went hare hunting with his dog and ran into Kefnie, who was walking Pluto, he stopped to greet her, only to notice Pluto circling the black hunting dog nonstop while shaking its tail. It even tried to stop Weyblon from taking the dog away. He smiled and left the dog behind, after which it soon bore seven pups with white-and-black fur.
It all happened while Claude was at the frontlines, which Kefnie's letters informed him about. But even after the war, he was all too busy dealing with the aftermath. Now, he was treated by the seven pups as a complete stranger. He found the little ones quite endearing, so he squatted down to toy with them a little. It didn't take long before they completely forgot that he was a stranger and happily fooled around with him.
"Wow, little Snowball, are these your children? They're too cute!" Angelina squealed and dashed past Claude before hugging two of the pups in her arms to play with them.
After stroking the excited snowhound on the head, he stood up, nodded a greeting to Butler Alek and said, "Prepare some hot water. I need to take a bath. Then, make some food for my guards."
"Yes, Master. The hot water will be ready soon. Madam and the two young masters are taking a nap. Shall I wake them?" Alek said, leading the way.
"There's no need. Just send some food to my study. By the way, Alek, I have a large chest in the carriage I need taken to my study."
After taking a refreshing, warm bath, Claude went to his study. There was a luxurious food tray in front of his desk. He took two pieces of white bread and sandwiched some venison in between before munching it down. He had missed lunch on the way back and felt quite starved.
In the chest placed on the ground was the cigarette-rolling machine Angelina invented with Claude's guidance. Back in his old world when he went clubbing with his boss, he saw one antique cigarette roller in one of those clubs. It was said to have come from Nanyang Brothers Tobacco. The club would also let their guests make their own cigarettes with that antique machine.
After filling his stomach, he went over the candidates he could put in charge of the cigarette sales as he sipped his red tea. He didn't really care whether it was bad for health to smoke cigarettes. In this age, smoking was luxury spending. Only people with a certain level of spending power could enjoy it. Not to mention, tobacco was a good substance to keep one awake, which was ideal for herbalists to prescribe for dizziness or lack of appetite.
How would Myjack do? No, his career was developing well in the military. After the evaluation, he would be promoted to colonel, and in time, a general. As for Bloweyk, he definitely wouldn't be willing to retire from the force. Angelina wouldn't have time, given how she was occupied teaching her students to ensure House Ferd had a secret magic unit. Sonia was busy running Blackstone Arms Factory.
Claude wasn't just going to let someone else take over a business this profitable, so Weyblon and the rest were out of the question. It was a business that would amass mountains of wealth for House Ferd. Claude was confident that with his status, he could monopolise this killer business all by himself. However, he needed to find the right person to execute it first.
During dinner, his mother began yammering at Angelina. She said that even though the snowhound already had seven pups, Angelina didn't give birth even once after being married to Myjack for years and even asked the two of them to go to the apothecary to get checked so it wouldn't drag on.
Angelina shot Claude a frustrated look. He immediately recognised that this was the reason she was less and less keen on returning home. However, he shrugged helplessly. It wasn't within his authority to do anything about this.
Kefnie, on the other hand, offered a huge hand. She brought up Bloweyk's marriage to divert the topic. Claude could easily see the kind of trouble Bloweyk and Myjack would be in when they came a few days later. One would be hurried to join marriage meetings while the other would be forced to impregnate his wife by his mother-in-law.
After dinner, Claude took Kefnie, Alek and the first servant of the household, the retired Kester, to his study.
"Alek, I recall that your eldest son, Swenson, is already 31. Has he learned butlery from you?" Claude asked.
"Yes, Master. I left the stable and the kitchen of the manor in his hands to train his management skills. Did he cause any trouble?" Alek asked worriedly.
"No, he's done well. However, I will be taking you off your post to let your son take charge."
The butler's face paled immediately. "Master, I'm only 53 this year. I can work a decade or so more. Swenson doesn't have enough experience either and he'll overlook many things if he becomes the head butler now..."
"Apologies, Alek, you misunderstood me. I'm not trying to fire you." He stretched his hand out to calm him down. He had forgotten that Alek bore the trauma of being chased out by the third-generation descendant of the count he served, which made him extremely sensitive to this.
"You've become one of the most trusted people in this household, Alek. I've taken note of your loyalty and great service. You're one of us now, so I would never kick you out," Claude consoled. Seeing him calm down, he nodded and continued.
"I'm letting Swenson take over because I have something even more important I need you to do. It is something House Ferd's fate depends on for centuries to come. I can't see any candidate more fitting than you."
He pointed at the chest in the study. "Corporal Kester, please take the thing inside the chest out."
Kester opened the chest and lifted the machine onto the desk.
"The rest of you should come too." He waited for Kefnie, Kester and Alek to gather around the desk. "This is a cigarette roller. Anna invented it to roll cigarettes. I know you aren't aware of what a cigarette is yet, but you'll understand after I explain it.
"The small wooden box here is for storing tobacco leaves. There's a switch here that causes some of the leaves to fall down there, just enough for one roll. This thin paper is cigarette paper. We'll put this paper here and apply some glue to the ends of the paper. Then, we push the lever to let the leaves fall down to the centre of the paper. Now, we'll turn this valve here. Look at how the paper gets rolled up automatically. Let go of the valve and it opens back up with the cigarette rolled up."
He picked the cigarette up. "Now, I'm sure you want to know what this is for. Corporal Kester, you like to use a smoking pipe, right? Have a taste of this cigarette. By the way, I have a smoking tip here. Put the cigarette roll inside the tip and light up the other end. Take a huff."
Kester soon felt the high of the nicotine rush. "Master, this is far more convenient than using a pipe. The tobacco scent is also deep and wonderful. It's rather addictive."
By now, Kefnie and Alek knew what he was getting at. She asked, "Claude, you want Alek to run this cigarette business?"
"Yes. It will become the biggest source of wealth for our household. Don't look down on cigarettes. Think about it: if this becomes a regular military supply, even if one sells for only one penny, 100 thousand soldiers consuming one each day would net us quite a lot of money. Those who like it can easily smoke 30 of these a day. There are 365 days in a year. Think about the kind of profits we'll make!"
Kefnie and Alek shuddered involuntarily. They could only imagine the kind of profits that awaited them, and that was only with them marketing to the military. If it was marketed to civilians as well, the profits would be much higher. Kester, however, wasn't really good with numbers, nor could he read. So, he merely enjoyed his cigarette alone.
"H-how many cigarettes can one machine make in a day?" Kefnie asked.
"Anna estimated that a fast learner can make ten a minute at least, so we'll have 600 an hour. With a workday of ten hours a day, we'll be able to make five thousand, or even double if the operator is practised enough."
Eight-hour workdays with two-day breaks during the weekends didn't exist in this world. Normal privately employed people had to work 12 hours a day. Only skilled workers were given better treatment, though they still had to work around ten hours.
Sonia had wanted to get the workers at Blackstone Arms Factory to work through the night, even, perhaps with two sets of workers in shifts. Thankfully, Claude told her that lengthening the work time too much would decrease productivity instead. He managed to convince her to hire three batches of workers to alternate through their shifts instead, since they were going to expand the factory anyway, making him the softest and most caring boss there was.
"I have the designs for the machine which you can get others to make." He picked up his briefcase and took out a folder with the blueprints and a plan.
"Master, I feel a little dizzy after finishing it."
He seemed to be suffering from nicotine poisoning. Kester usually only smoked a pinch of leaves from his pipe, instead of enough for a whole cigarette.
"The leaves have been refined by Anna, Kester. One puff is about as strong as one smoke from your pipe. Taking tens of puffs at once will obviously be a little too much. Just lie down and you'll be fine." He only meant for Kester to give it a try, not for him to finish the whole thing.
He tapped on the plan and said, "There are five tobacco recipes which Anna came up with through her experiments. There's one that doesn't taste as heavy, which is fit for women, and four others ranging from highest to lowest quality. We can produce those five types. The highest-quality ones can be used to make cigars, just like that, handmade. The green bark paper has to be specially made to differentiate it from normal cigarettes. But it must be sold at a high price as a luxury product.
"The other four can be used to make cigarettes of 20 per pack, priced differently. The ones made with tobacco flakes taste the heaviest and are the cheapest, with the smallest profit margin. But this product will go for high-volume production. I trust it will be popular among the general public. As for the other three, some herbs can be mixed in to dilute the taste of tobacco to give them some other fragrance. The recipes are all written down, so follow them accordingly."
Alek received the plan from Claude, excited. "Master... Are... are you really going to let me be in charge of this?"
Claude nodded. "Of course. You're the most trusted in our household. This business will make or break our prosperity for the century to come. Who but you is fit for it?"
"Master, Madam, I will live up to your expectations the best I can without disappointing you," Alek said, resolved.
"Kefnie, how much money do we have at home?" Claude asked.
"Around 34 thousand crowns."
"I'll transfer 70 thousand to you tomorrow when I go to the bank. We'll invest 100 thousand crowns in the business. I'll leave you in charge of finances while Butler Alek will take care of production. You'll be the one that makes all the decisions on finances. Kester, I'll leave the safety of the factories to you. By the way, what's the old man Zakrassen doing nowadays?"
Zakrassen was the old ambassador Tyrrsim's viceroy sent to persuade Claude to join their side, only to be slapped by Gum and tied up before being sent back to Tyrrsim. After the three colonies were absorbed into the theatre, the old man hurriedly switched sides. He also contributed to the eviction of the nikancha from the three colonies.
When Claude raided Tyrrsim, he promoted the old man to a public official post so that he would have a stable job. Little did he know that the old man didn't have any real skills at all, save for his sweet-talking mouth. He wasn't able to stay in his position for long before he quit and joined Claude. As he was a great talker and Claude's mother enjoyed his company, Claude allowed him to stay as a house guest. It wasn't like he couldn't afford it.
"Master, Zakrassen is teaching the first young master how to play chess nowadays," Alek replied.
"How could Tesoray be patient enough to learn? You might as well just tell me he's merely Tesoray's playmate. Get Zakrassen to report to you tomorrow. He's a smooth talker, so have him go to Aduras to buy tobacco. By the way, I recall there being quite a lot of tobacco in the warehouses of Port Cobius. Have Zakrassen seek out General Skri and ask whether the theatre would be willing to sell them."
"Yes, Master. I will ask him to do so tomorrow."
Claude waved and said, "There's no need to rush. Start after new year's eve. You should enjoy the holidays too."