Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
Chapter Twenty Three
"No, no, Catlan, that's too thin. Cut it like this," J.J. took the knife out of the boy's hand and sliced several pieces off the loaf of bread. "See, the slices should be thick, like that." Catlan compared J.J.'s slices to his own.
"But you get more if you do it my way."
J.J. laughed and held the two slices out on his hands. "That's true but look, if you were paying six bits for your lunch, which slice would you want?"
Catlan immediately took the thicker slice. "This one," he said, taking a bite. "Can I have some jam on it?"
Ah Man gently took the bread out of Catlan's hands and handed him the knife. "Work first. Then jam." He put the bread slice on a plate and put that on a shelf, out of Catlan's reach.
The hall clock struck eleven and Ah Man, leaving Catlan to J.J.'s tending, went outside to light the charcoal in the big, wheeled brazier Mr. Ferris, the blacksmith, had made for them. Later, when they took the food they had prepared up to the mine, the charcoal fire would serve to keep a huge pot of beef stew hot. The stew, which they'd made fresh that morning, had been simmering on the cook stove in the kitchen since just after breakfast and cold as it was, the men up at the mine would be grateful for it come time for their meal.
They had begun to make the mid-day meals soon after Luke and J.J. had bought the boarding house. At first, of course, it had been for Luke who hated the poor quality and ill prepared food sold by the old man up on the ridge but once the others saw the kind of thing Luke had for his mid-day meal they started hounding J.J. to make extra and serve them, too. In the end J.J. had offered to fill any lunch bucket for six bits and every man in the boarding house took him up on it.
Word got around the mine then, and it wasn't very long before some of the other miners were asking if J.J. would make a meal for them, too. Now, over seventy mid-day meals came out of the Williams Brothers' kitchen.
At first J.J. and Ah Man had been able to handle the preparation but then, as winter came on and more and more men wanted a meal, it became obvious that they needed help. Since Luke had long thought that the work up at the machine shop was too heavy for the boy Catlan, he suggested that J.J. hire him to help out. Catlan was very proud to have been asked and more than a little relieved to find a way out of the machine shop; he started the very next day.
Of course, Catlan missed working beside Luke, who had been a kind of hero to him, but he quickly came to admire J.J. and did everything he could to be like him. He even started combing his hair the way J.J. combed his and declared to any who would listen that he was going to be a baker, just like J.J.
Around the end of October, when the weather turned cold, J.J. decided that the men should have something hot at mid-day but he wasn't sure just how to get it to them. Ah Man had come up with the idea of a large brazier on wheels that could be pulled up to the mine by a mule. There, hot food could be ladled out into the bowls from the lunch buckets just as the men came to collect them.
J.J. talked the idea over with Mr. Ferris, the blacksmith. They discussed the idea for a couple of hours and then Mr. Ferris set to work. Two days later the brazier was finished. Ah Man was delighted with it, both because it had been his idea and because it showed how much J.J. believed in him. The very next day the miners had a hot mid-day meal.
"Sir," Ah Man said, coming back into the kitchen, "the wheel-stove is ready." Ah Man always addressed J.J. as 'Sir' whenever Catlan was within earshot and insisted Catlan address him in the same way. He felt it nurtured respect on the part of the boy.
The two men wrestled the kettle of hot stew out to the two wheeled cart and set it in place over the charcoal fire. Catlan followed with the first of the seventy odd lunch buckets which fit in special racks built along the side of the cart. Each bucket had already been filled with buttered bread, a hard boiled egg and a sweet pastry filled with fruit. The hot stew would round out the meal.
"Hey, Dusty. Right on time." J.J. hurried to help Dusty hitch the mule to the cart. Luke had thought they ought to buy a mule of their own but J.J. said no, it was better to pay Mr. Stilton for the use of one of his. That way, Dusty took care of the animal, fed it and groomed it and, if it got sick or injured, Mr. Stilton supplied another one.
"Ummm. Smells good, J.J. What've we got today."
"Beef stew. Ah Man's special recipe."
"Oh, man, I can hardly wait." Part of the cost of the mule was paid in meals for Dusty and Mr. Stilton. "Be sure you save me a good portion, now." Dusty checked the mule's collar and bridle one last time and then set off back to the stables. He would be back to collect the mule -- and his meal -- as soon as they returned from the mine.
led the mule up
They managed to serve the men in a remarkably short time owing to the fact that all the lunch buckets were marked so the men could recognize their own and that Ah Man would not put up with any pushing or other unsuitable behavior. Each man grabbed his bucket in turn, dropped his six bits into a pail under Ah Man's watchful eye, and quickly held out the bowl for a ladle full of stew.
When all the men had been served, Luke sought out J.J. and took him aside. "How come I got two eggs in my bucket?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye. He often found an extra egg or wedge of pastry in his meal.
J.J. raised an eyebrow. "Don't know. Maybe Ah Man thinks you're looking a bit puny?"
laughed. "That'll be the day, that's for sure. Look, J.J., I've spent the
whole morning tearing out that little boiler they use in the reducing shed. We
got another one, ten times bigger, coming up from
"Luke, that's perfect." J.J. got a far away look in his eyes. "Perfect. Show me. I'll talk to Dusty and see if Mr. Stilton has a wagon we can use to get it down."
That evening, after supper, Luke and J.J. surveyed the little bathroom off the kitchen.
"We'll have to push out both those walls and double, maybe triple the size of the room." J.J. paced off the floor dimensions. "The boiler can go over there against the wall. It'll serve to keep the room warm as well as heat the water. We can even stack wood along that far wall so it will stay dry and we won't have to go outside to get it."
Luke nodded. "Good. We'll need a big door, there, so we can get the wood in." He paused, looking around the damp little room. "Can we do it, J.J.? Can we afford it?"
J.J. nodded. "I think so. We can do a lot of the work ourselves and I can trade meals for the pipe work. We've almost paid for the meal cart with profits already so, even after Ah Man's part, there'll be some extra money from that soon."
The agreement J.J. had with Ah Man was that, in return for his extra work on the mid-day meals, half the money, after all the expenses were paid, would be his. Ah Man had no clear idea what he would do with the money but agreed anyway, knowing J.J. would not be happy unless he did.
"Then let's do it."
The Old Adobe
Dear J.J. and Luke,
We were all quite pleased at your news. Owning—and running—a boarding house, while a large responsibility for two men as young as the two of you are, will certainly add to your store of experience and will offer you some security as well. At least you will always know that no one will bring his brother into the business to take away your position. I also think you were most fortunate that the former owner could see her way clear to accept your offer to buy. Your brother Tom, however, is quite anxious over whatever financial arrangements you might have made in order to consummate the purchase. I am enclosing his note to you but I wish it to be quite clear that I told him that I considered none of this to be his business. You may answer him as you wish.
I must admit that I was quite taken back when you mentioned that you were not permitted to speak at the supper table. I would have thought that any woman would wish conversation at her table—assuming, of course, that such conversation is gentle and polite. I have always believed that good conversation serves to make a good meal better. I'm sure that the men are much happier now although without the natural influence of a woman at your table, you must be careful to guide any conversation into calm and gentle paths.
Christmas is Saturday and we are all looking forward to it greatly. I'm sure Portia will not know what to make of all the fuss but will nonetheless enjoy it in her own way. Millicent is anxious that we all gather at Lilac Cottage for the holiday dinner. She seems quite intent on it so, of course, we will. I am reminded of last Christmas when Millicent was so eager for us to have our dinner at Lilac Cottage -- and the news she had for us then. I do hope it is not the same this year. It is too soon after Portia for Millicent to carry another child. However, if the Lord so wills, so will it be.
I must close, there is so much to be done before Saturday. I hope you will have a very happy Christmas and want you to know that all of us here will have you with us in our thoughts and prayers.
Dear J.J. and Luke,
I was surprised to hear of your purchase of the boarding house you live in. How did you manage with the bank since neither of you have any experience in operating this kind of enterprise? Perhaps things are done differently out there but I fear you must be paying a very high rate for the money.
If you will let me know the details of purchase and your loan with the bank perhaps I will be able to help you renegotiate to a more favorable rate.
To be continued.
Comments, suggestions or criticisms always appreciated and always answered.