Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
At a there was a knock at their door. J.J., who had already washed and was buttoning up his jeans while he watched Luke at the shaving mirror, went to answer. Ah Man bowed and entered, carrying a small tray with two mugs of coffee. J.J. returned the bow.
"You like sugar, milk?" Ah Man asked, handing them the coffee. When they both shook their heads he smiled. "Good. Now you hurry. Almost six."
"Thank you, Ah Man," J.J. said, tasting the coffee. It was very good. Ah Man smiled at his obvious pleasure and left, closing the door silently behind him.
When they went into the dining room for breakfast they were surprised to find Mr. Gentry there, talking with several of the other residents. "Well, good morning Luke, J.J.," he said, waiving them to their places. "I see you got safely back from the Devil's Heart. No trouble?"
was shocked at the way Mr. Gentry looked, his lips and the flesh under his eyes
all swollen and puffy. The man's cheeks were red and chapped looking, almost as
though they had been scrubbed with a stiff, wiry brush, and his eyes looked
hazy, as though he hadn't slept much. At first J.J. thought he might have
fallen into a patch of poison oak but then it occurred to him that this was
just the way he and Luke often times looked. He wondered again how they had
gotten away with it, back in
Luke made the same observation and leaned over to J.J. "Well, what do you know," he said, very softly, and then grinned at Mr. Gentry.
Ah Man brought in a platter of griddle cakes and placed it in the middle of the table. It was soon joined with a bowel of savory hash and a plate of boiled eggs. Everyone reached for the food at once.
"Where's Mrs. Brown," Luke asked the man sitting across from him, as the man helped himself to three of the eggs.
The man laughed. "Her? You'll never see her at breakfast. Hell, she never even wakes up until nine or ten when the Chink takes coffee and burned bread in to her."
Ah Man reappeared with pitchers of syrup and a couple of slabs of butter for the griddle cakes. When he had put these down he went around and made sure everyone's cup was filled with coffee.
The men ate steadily but, unlike at the evening meal, also carried on a lively conversation. The man across from Luke introduced himself as Burt and asked if he planned to work at the mine.
"Yes, if they'll have me," Luke answered, pouring syrup on his hash. "Can you tell me where I go to see about it?"
"Sure," Burt said. "Better, you just come along with me after breakfast. I'm in pretty good with the foreman, maybe I can help you out a bit."
"Well thank you," Luke said. "I'd be much obliged by that."
Next to Luke, J.J. was enjoying the griddle cakes and talking with the man at the end of the table, a tall, good looking fellow who had introduced himself as Robin Bernard. He was dressed a cut better than most of the others, with tight, gray twill trousers and a blue cotton shirt which had been pressed and had creases down the sleeves. When J.J. asked him if he worked up at the mine too, Robin just laughed.
"Not me, lad. No sir, you don't find me down in the bowels of the earth, hacking away with a pick axe." He helped himself to another griddle cake. "I wait until the gold's been dug and washed clean before I put my hands on it." He buttered his griddle cake and poured some of the warm syrup on it, letting J.J. puzzle over what he had said.
A number of possibilities ran through J.J.'s mind but none of them seemed to fit the man so he just shrugged his shoulders.
"Well," Robin smiled, "what I mean is that just now I spin the roulette wheel over at the Tall Pine. Deal a bit of vingt-et-un, too, when things are slow." He laughed again when he saw that J.J. still didn't understand. "Games of chance, lad. I'm the one who runs the game and takes your money. Look, you come over to the Tall Pine one of these mornings and I'll show you the games, how they work. Won't cost you hardly a bit."
"Maybe I will. I've never seen gambling, except for poker."
"Oh, we have that, too. Got one game that's been running continuous since 1871, or so they say."
A slender faced older man with neatly clipped whiskers laughed. "Stay away from that game, young man. They'll take your shirt. He rose and held out his hand. "Ivan Kalnikov, at your service."
J.J. could have sworn the man clicked his heels together. "J.J. Williams," he said shaking Mr. Kalnikov's hand, "and that's my brother, Luke." Luke stood and shook Mr. Kalnikov's hand and they all returned to their breakfasts.
J.J. was very impressed. He'd never met a Russian before, much less a rich one.
The miners, Burt, Ivan, and three or four others, pushed away from the table. "Come on, Luke, if you're coming. They don't cotton to us being late."
Luke quickly explained to J.J. where he was going and then left with the men, heading for the mine.
"Looks like Mrs. Brown's agrees with you, J.J. You going to be settling in here for a while?" Mr. Gentry asked, leaning back so Ah Man could clear his place.
"Oh, yes sir. I think we'll like it here just fine."
"Well then, if your mind's made up, you come along with me and we'll bring your trunks back in the wagon. Save you and Luke a heap of carrying. Gotta get going, though. I have a long ways to travel before sun down."
They thanked Ah Man for the meal and walked down to Sutton's Stables. Ina met them at the gate, waging her tail and barking her greetings.
Dusty, J.J. observed with a smile, had had a run in with the same stand of poison oak that Mr. Gentry had. He even seemed to be walking a bit more carefully than he had the day before. He had, however, taken good care of the horses and set about hitching up the team. When he was finished he carefully placed a soft pillow on the driver's seat. "Thought you might need that," he said to Mr. Gentry with a grin.
J.J. paid for the one night's storage of the trunks and he and Mr. Gentry took them back to Mrs. Brown's where Ah Man helped with getting them up the stairs. When they were done, Mr. Gentry shook J.J.'s hand and took his leave, saying he would be back in five or six weeks.
dug a couple of things out of his trunk and then went in search of
"Mr. J.J. You need?"
J.J. bowed back. "Please Ah Man, go back to your tea. I just wanted to ask you something. Is there a bakery in Devil's Shaft?"
"What is 'bakery'?"
"You know, where you buy bread and cakes and things."
"Madam make cakes," Ah Man said with just a hint of a grimace. "But rolls come from Mr. Wilde, down by bridge." He pointed the direction.
"Is that the only place to buy bread?"
Ah Man considered for a moment, then nodded. "You want bread? We have," he said, taking a step towards the pantry.
"No, Ah Man, no. I want to find work there."
"You make bread? Cakes?"
"Yes, I'm a master baker," he said proudly.
"You show madam?"
J.J. laughed. "No, Ah Man, I don't think that would be a good idea, at least not just now. Maybe later."
Ah Man was still for a moment, obviously calculating. Then he smiled. "Later. Yes."
J.J. thanked him, made a quick bow and left, hoping Ah Man wasn't going to get him involved in something he didn't want to be involved in.
Mr. Wilde's bakery was not difficult to find, being situated on the opposite side of Bridge Street, little more than a block down, toward the creek. Wilde's Bake Shop was housed in a small, two story wooden building squeezed in between a feed store and a small wood yard. Beyond that were a couple of empty looking buildings and then the bridge over the creek. Across the street was what looked like a warehouse and which proclaimed itself to be Guill's Wholesale Liquor and Provisions Company.
J.J. entered the bakery. The smells of yeast, flour and hot metal ovens brought a sudden flood of memories and he stopped for a moment, his eyes closed, breathing deeply.
J.J. pushed his memories aside and gave his attention to the heavy set man behind the counter.
"Yes sir. I'm looking for Mr. Wilde."
"And just what is your business with him, if I might ask?"
"I'm looking for work," J.J. said. "I'm a baker."
The man's eyes narrowed. "You are, are you?" He was obviously skeptical.
"Yes, sir," J.J. said, pulling out the letter Mr. Tomasini had given him. He carefully unfolded it and placed it on the counter in front of the man.
The man pulled a pair of little, square glasses out of his breast pocket, polished them on a corner of his apron and settled them low on his nose. Then he picked up the paper and studied it for several minutes.
"Says here you're a Master Baker."
"How old are you, boy?" He lowered the paper and fixed J.J. with a hard stare.
"Be eighteen this July."
The man--it was Mr. Wilde, just as J.J. had thought--took him into the back and quizzed him on the names and uses of various utensils and ingredients. He was well pleased with the results, so well pleased in fact that half an hour later J.J. was up to his elbows in flour, making dinner rolls.
was only on trial, of course, but Mr. Wilde said that if it worked out he would
be disposed to have J.J. work for at least several months. Mr. Wilde had a
notion to make a trip back to
"You'll find it different here, I expect," Mr. Wilde said as they kneaded batches of dough. "Most folks here buy in the afternoon, for the evening meal. In the East, where I learned this trade, you had to have bread ready at five, six in the morning. Here, they don't seem to care or they make it themselves. But for the evening meal they want fancy rolls. Especially the boarding houses and the hotel. I expect they want rolls," he chuckled, "so if anything's left they can pass it off as fresh the next day."
In the afternoon, after most of the actual baking was done, J.J. helped with the selling. He even made up an order for Ah Man who gave no sign of recognition except for a quick smile as the rolls were put in his canvas bag, already loaded with vegetables from the grocers.
When he got back to Mrs. Brown's at that evening, J.J. found Luke already in their room, sitting at the tiny desk, figuring on a pad. He looked up as J.J. came in.
"You already started work?" he asked, looking J.J. up and down. "Well, you beat me by a full day, I guess." He crossed the room, taking J.J. in his arms and nuzzling at him. "You sure do smell good, like fresh yeast bread."
"You got a job at the mine?"
"Yes, sir!" He stepped back, flexing
his muscles. "You see before you a genuine
J.J. gave him a kiss. "As a matter of fact I do but it'll have to be after supper. she said. Sharp."
They talked while J.J. washed. Luke told him about his job interview which consisted of being taken out to the mine yard and being told to pull a filled ore car. The foreman told him, "if you can do it you got the job. If you can't you're wasting my time." Luke had pulled it all the way across the yard.
"Won't it be frightening, down there under the ground?"
Luke laughed and shook his head. "Burt says it is. But I won't be down in the mine very much of the time. Seems they needed a helper in the machine shop worse than they needed a man with a pick-axe so they put me in there." He handed J.J. a towel to dry his face.
"Well, that's good," J.J. said, applying a nail brush to his soapy hands. "You're good with mechanical things."
"I guess so. At least I like fooling around with them," Luke said, as J.J. dried his hands and began combing his hair. "Had to go buy some special clothes, though. The shop foreman sent me down to Mr. Donaldson's general store to get outfitted." He held things up as he described them. "Hard canvas pants. So hard you can't sit down in them for the first two weeks. Rubber boots, said to keep your feet dry. And with steel in them so's you don't loose any toes when you drop things on them. A duck coat, too, with two pockets out, one pocket in. Don't need it now but I will come Fall and Winter and they go up in price then. So Mr. Donaldson said."
"I'm glad I don't need stuff like this for my work," J.J. said, feeling the stiff trousers. "All I need is clean hands and a cap to keep the flour out of my hair. Must have cost a lot."
Luke sobered. "Yea, it did. Almost a week's pay." He walked over to the ledger book he had been writing in. "I get $3.50 a day, which is more than some, because I'm stronger, the foreman said, and that comes out to twenty one dollars a week. I figure if we're careful we can save out five, six dollars a week."
"More," J.J. said. He explained the arrangement he had with Mr. Wilde. "The way he talked this afternoon, I'm pretty certain he's already decided to go to Philadelphia so I'll have the job for at least three or four months. Maybe permanently when he sees what good bread I can make." J.J. already had plans for introducing what he now thought of as Tomasini Rolls. "Perhaps we will find our fortune here," he said with a grin. "Now come on, we better get downstairs if we want to eat."
"Wait," Luke said, picking up his pencil. "How much did it cost for the storage of the trunks?"
"Fifty cents. Mr. Stilton didn't like to charge so much but said if he didn't people would all the time be putting stuff in and taking it out and taking up all Dusty's time." He laughed. "You should have seen Dusty, Luke. He was worse even than Mr. Gentry."
Luke grinned and made a notation of the storage fee in his ledger. "Seems there's more like us than we know, doesn't it, J.J."
The evening meal was much the same as it had been the night before. Ah Man served each dish to Mrs. Brown first, then put it on the table for the rest of the diners. There was no conversation past "pass the rolls" and "is there more potatoes". The meal ended with a sticky mass which Mrs. Brown passed off as a pudding. J.J. ranked it several rungs below horse mucilage but ate it anyway so as not to offend her.
After supper, J.J. found some of the writing paper his mother had given him--along with an admonition that it was to be used--and went into the parlor to compose a letter home. Luke followed him with a copy of The Standard that he had found on the hall table.
An hour or so later, as J.J. was finishing up his letter, Mrs. Brown came in with her embroidery and sat in the chair next to Luke, to share the light. Once settled in, her needle threaded with bright red floss and the handkerchief she was working on fixed firmly in a hoop, she said, looking from one to the other of them, "We shall have tea."
At that moment Ah Man appeared in the doorway carrying a tray. "Tea, Madam," he said, with a slight bow. He set the tray on the lamp table, bowed again and silently left, closing the door.
Mrs. Brown filled the cups, passing one to Luke. J.J. sealed his letter, rose and accepted his cup, taking a place on the settee. Luke dutifully folded his paper and set it aside, recognizing that Mrs. Brown intended conversation.
"Please, help yourselves to the cakes," she indicated a small plate containing what looked to be under-baked balls of pasty dough, "I made them myself, just today."
"Oh, no thank you, ma'am" J.J. said, sipping his tea. "I'm still filled with that pudding at supper. I'm sure I couldn't eat a thing more."
"Me, too," Luke said.
"Nonsense," she said, holding out the plate. "I've never seen men of your age who weren't hungry all the time. Now come on, don't be bashful."
"Yes ma'am. Thank you." J.J. went to the plate and selected the smallest of the dough balls. He put it on his saucer where he hoped it would remain unnoticed. Luke did the same.
She asked them how they liked Devil's Shaft and how they were getting on. She seemed genuinely pleased when she learned that they both had found work but shook her head at Luke going to work in the mine.
"It's hard, grinding work, you know. My first husband was a miner and the mine killed him." She shook her head again. "Well, at least you will be above ground, out of the tunnels. That is a blessing."
Ah Man entered and cleared away the tea things, making no comment about the uneaten cakes hidden on their saucers, behind the cups.
"And your second husband?" J.J. hoped he wasn't being forward but he really was interested.
She smiled. "Mr. Brown? He was a gambling man. Not like Mr. Bernard who works for the saloons and gets only what they might pay him. No, Mr. Brown played cards for himself and made a good living at it, too. He kept me in a fine style," she held up her left hand so that the stones on her fingers glinted and sparkled in the lamp light, "until he came down with the fever and died. I always said, if he hadn't left that game that night--this was in the winter of '76, when we had such a terrible blizzard--if he had just stayed in the saloon, by the stove, instead of trying to find his way home, he'd be alive today."
"That's sad," Luke said, "loosing him like that."
"It was," she said. "It was hard for me but at least he died happy. He did so love the turn of a card. And he was always honest. No man could ever say he was cheated by Mr. Brown. No man."
"What happened after?" J.J. asked. "How did you get along?"
of course Mr. Brown never let me do much of anything except keep the house for
him but he did teach me a lot about how the cards work--just to entertain me,
you understand, he never intended that I would use what he taught me. That was in
wasn't really much to tell. J.J. said that they had grown tired of
Mrs. Brown immediately decided that they had left home because of some sort of predicament, probably one involving a girl. She'd seen it before, young men sent out to the mining camps to gain their adulthood and, incidentally, to solve a serious problem developing at home. She wondered which of them had been involved with the girl and how far it had gotten.
then, tell me about your family," she said, trying a new tack. "Have
you brothers and sisters down there in
"Two brothers, no sisters," Luke replied. He wondered where this was going.
"And your parents? What are they like?"
They attempted to describe Louisa and John and life at the Old Adobe. All the while they were talking something kept gnawing at J.J. Finally it came to him.
"Did you say you won Ah Man?" he suddenly blurted out. "Like some sort of slave or something?"
She smiled and decided that she wasn't going to find out much more about them this evening. "You might say. Except, of course, that I pay him and, as far as I'm concerned, he could walk away any time he wanted to. You see, Ah Man was servant to an old prospector called Stumble. He had that name because he was drunk all the time and often had trouble getting his feet right. At any rate, Stumble got into a game he shouldn't have and when he had nothing else he threw Ah Man's name into the pot. Stumble lost and I won."
"But how could you..."
"I didn't. I took what money there was in the pot and never gave another thought to it. Then, late that night, there came a knock on the door to my cabin. I called out to whoever it was and told them to go away, still not thinking of Stumble's bet. In the morning, when I stepped outside, there was An Man along with everything he owned. He'd built a little fire and was brewing tea in a Chinese pot. He bowed to me like he does, and that was that; he wouldn't leave. He said Stumble told him I'd won him fair and square, and so he was mine." She held her needle work closer to the light, studying it critically.
J.J. and Luke were fascinated. They'd never heard of such a thing.
Mrs. Brown, satisfied with her work, continued. "I tracked down Stumble in one of the saloons and told him I didn't want the Chinese but Stumble was adamant. Said he couldn't take him back if he wanted to after he'd told Ah Man he'd been won. That race is very loyal and duty is very important to them so the man was mine unless I put him up in another poker game and lost him. I couldn't do that of course, it just didn't seem right to me, so there it was, I had a Chinese servant. But I do say," she began to put her needle work away in its bag, "he is a very hard worker. I couldn't run this place if I didn't have him to do some of the cooking and the cleaning and all.
"Well, good night, gentlemen," she said, rising from her chair. "I have enjoyed your company and I hope you don't think me too talkative." She opened the door. "Don't forget now, breakfast is at six. Oh, and you can give your letter to Ah Man for mailing but don't forget to give him two pennies for the postage along with it."
The Old Adobe
were all so pleased to have your letter telling us about your trip. Thank you
for being so prompt. It is always a worry--especially to a mother--when ones so
dear to us embark on such a long and unfamiliar journey. It must have been
quite exciting, seeing a city such as
You know, when I was a young girl I would have been most glad to make a trip such as you and Luke have. I would like to have seen some of the wonders of the world although, of course, I wouldn't trade such for the joys I now have.
I was quite interested in your description of the Chinese gentleman who serves you in the boarding house. I am not acquainted with their custom of bowing but I think it sounds rather courtly. I did once see a Chinese, a man passing through town many years ago, but he was not allowed to stop, even to replenish his rations. I always thought that wrong though of course my father would never have allowed me to express such an opinion aloud. I will be quite interested in what you have to say about this man in the future. There are a number of Chinese up in the hills working on the rail road now but we seldom see them in town.
must also write more about the hotel in
The weather has turned warm here, and it seems that every fruit tree on the place is in bloom. You would be amazed to see the peach trees since your father grafted them. We have one tree which is blooming red, white and two different shades of pink, all at the same time. It is quite unique and several men from town have made it a special point to come and see it. Your father is quite pleased with himself over it.
We have had great success with Mr. Acres, the man your father and brother hired to help out. His work is far superior to that Mr. Rodale who, you will remember, was here just before you left. I still can't understand why that man disappeared so unexpectedly, but I suppose that there are some men who are simply unreliable and have no proper sense of obligation to their employer. Mr. Acres, on the other hand, is always pleasant and anxious to help out. I believe you would find him likable.
Tom seems quite happy at the bank and is working very hard to convince Mr. Chase of the advantage of changing some of the procedures they use. I'm quite sure I don't understand it all but his ideas sound quite advanced.
Millicent is radiant and so very anxious for her first child. I am certain that she will make a fine mother, as your brother will make a fine father.
We all miss you both and send you our love. Eliot has asked me to send along the enclosed note. Be careful, both of you and remember the virtues of caution.
Sent with love.
Dear J.J. and Luke,
I hope you are getting along well and won't have any trouble finding work. Please be careful.
writing to thank you Luke for the money you left behind, covering Mr. Rodale's
Ma has written all the news.
We miss you both.
To be continued.
Comments, suggestions or criticisms always appreciated and always answered.