Rebecca returns with our drinks. She passes them around, but she holds one for herself. “Gentlemen, what are we toasting?”
Alfred turns to her with a smile. “Thank you, Rebecca.” He scans Rebecca and me with a nod. “Here’s to children doing better than we anticipated.” All three of us clink our glasses together. Rebecca drains her glass and walks back to the bar. The guy at the bar makes no sign of seeing her return. He just continues talking to Ralph about business.
Alfred takes a big gulp from his new mug and eyes the guy at the bar. At just that moment, the last guy at the bar turns sideways in his stool. “Thanks, Ralph. Looks like I won’t be closing you down tonight. We’ll see you tomorrow. Here’s what I owe.” The man lays some money on the bar.
Ralph nods at the last man and swipes the money from the bar. The man paces to the door and out into the cold. Now, Alfred and I have the place to ourselves with Ralph and Rebecca still lingering of course. The grate on the fireplace catches some embers that shoot out when the logs collapse. Even the wooden tables look like they have quit for the night in the dim firelight.
Alfred leans across the table after finishing his new beer. “Though such growth is not all great.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Growth rarely happens smoothly. What’s going on?”
Alfred settles back in his chair. “Well, there is still the rivalry between Catherine and Joseph.”
I blink. “Of course, those two have tried to one up each other since day one, right?”
Alfred nods. “Yeah, that is true. Now they have some real things to fight with. Who will have the best farm? Who will grow the most stuff? It all becomes a competition for who will win.”
“Of course, it does. This is the way those two have been since you first told me about them. Do you remember Catherine’s first birthday?”
Alfred laughs. “I had almost forgotten about that. Papa found a great little dress for Catherine, but Joseph got wind of the dress. Even at three years old, Joseph couldn’t let such a gift go. He carried every toy he had into the birthday party with him as Catherine was opening her one gift.”
I laugh too. “Yeah, that was a great story.”
“But now there are others involved with these spats. The farm has gotten so big that they are trading with everyone. They send produce to every market that you know of and probably some you don’t. We are shipping some of everything we grow somewhere. So now, the competition extends to who can have the best deal and meet the demands. Each sibling will dedicate a portion of one field to growing something from the other just in case the other has to ask for some help with the trade deal.”
I shake my head. “I don’t imagine that happens very often.”
“You would be correct. I have to make such requests look like my own idea. I have to appear like I am going behind the other’s back in order to ask for such a thing. It becomes tedious. Some days I would just like them to come together.”
“Sure, that would likely smooth the process. Who knows they might even become more successful?”
Alfred takes another gulp from the old beer. “It could happen that way. Another problem now is all the helpers that come in. These folks hear about us in the market, so they come to see who is producing such great stuff. They don’t know our traditions, and each worker the one sibling gets becomes another competition. Catherine and Joseph will add workers just because the other does. This doesn’t mean that there is work for the person to do. Just that there is another person out there.”
“Well, that does complicate matters. Are the workers crowding one another as much as the plants do?”
“On occasion, yes. Plus, the workers from each farm talk to one another. They discuss what goes on in each farm. On the one hand, this could be a great exchange of information. This could help both farms make sure that they are performing at the best level. On the other, this feeds the competition, right? Neither sibling wants to use an idea from the other farm. If they did, they might have to recognize the other sibling as having a good idea. You know that’s not going to work because each sibling has to win. Their farm has to be the best.”
I narrow my eyes and rub my chin. “All right, hold on a moment. Is there still the one Burbanks’ farm that Papa created, or are there now two Burbanks’ farms? Have things divided so much?”