Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
Chapter Twenty Nine
"Well, well, here we are at last. Come in, come in, my lads." Mr. English stood back from the door and waived them in. "Well, I must say, living out on the frontier doesn't seem to have hurt you any." He stepped back and looked them up and down. "If anything it's made you even more handsome. Toughened you up a bit, too, I'd venture. And now, who might these gentlemen be?"
J.J. introduced Ah Man, who bowed, and Catlan, who seemed to have been struck dumb. His eyes kept moving from the ormolu clock to the patterned tin ceiling to the crystal shaded gas sconces on the walls. It was obvious that he'd never in his life even imagined anything like Mr. English's foyer.
now, we received your letter, of course, and have put aside the room you
occupied when last you were with us, just as you requested. We also have a
lovely room, on the front, for your, uh, companions." He looked at
He opened the big book on the desk and handed the quill to J.J.
"You may register for all, if you wish, and then Luther will see you to your quarters."
J.J. wrote all of their names in the book. He had to smile to himself when he realized that he had written 'Luke Williams' without even thinking about it. They were so much a part of each other that it seemed only natural that they share a name, too.
Luther came in to help Mr. English locate the room keys. "Nice to have you back, gentlemen," he said as he took several of the bags. "Please, come this way." He led them up the stairs to the second floor. Luke smiled as he noticed Catlen's eyes widen as they passed the Cupid on the newel post; he was sure he had done the same thing when he first saw it.
"If you'll wait just a moment," Luther said to J.J., "I will show your companions their quarters which are just here." He opened one of the doors and indicated that Ah Man and Catlan were to enter.
A moment later Ah Man reappeared in the hall. He bowed deeply to J.J. and then to Luke. "I cannot sleep there." He bowed again.
Luther appeared in the doorway. "Is something wrong, Sir?"
"Yes, is there something wrong with the room?" Luke peered in the doorway.
"I sleep in hallway or kitchen. Not in room." J.J. recognized the note of finality in Ah Man's voice; argument, he knew, would be fruitless.
"But Ah Man," Luke began and then gave up when he saw J.J. shake his head.
"Is something wrong? Is the room unsatisfactory?" Mr. English came hurrying down the hall.
"No, the room is fine," J.J. said, walking Mr. English a few steps back down the hallway. "It's just that, well, Ah Man has always slept in a hall or in the kitchen. He says he cannot sleep in that..."
Mr. English nodded his head. "I understand completely. It's the nature of these Chinese servants. They have such a rigid sense of what is proper and what is not. Had I known... But of course your letter was unclear as to the status of your traveling companions. I naturally assumed... Well, never mind. Let me see..." He thought for a moment and then nodded to himself.
is a room just off the kitchen which your man may find to be satisfactory. It
belonged to our servant until just lately when he left us to return to
J.J. nodded. "I'm sure he would prefer that. Thank you." He turned to go back to the others but Mr. English took his arm and stopped him.
"Would the young man prefer to be close to his mentor? If so, we could also offer him a room downstairs, one somewhat more stylish than your servant's, of course. It belonged to Luther before he, ah, moved to my larger quarters."
"He'd like that very much I'm sure," J.J. said, thinking that it would be good for Ah Man and Cat to be close together. They could offer each other comfort.
Once shown the room off the kitchen, Ah Man grudgingly agreed that he would sleep in it. J.J. was pretty sure he would sleep on the floor, rolled up in a blanket, rather than on the bed but there was nothing to be done about that.
room assigned to Catlan was rather less Spartan than that to be occupied by
With Ah Man and Catlan taken care of, Luke and J.J. went to their own room where Luther had run a bath for them and Mr. English had sent up heavy crystal glasses of a very fine whiskey. Dinner would be at seven, Luther said, and they would not be disturbed until then. After three days of traveling and sleeping in cramped spaces with Ah Man and Catlan, Luke and J.J. were happy to have a little time just for themselves.
Three hours later, thoroughly refreshed, they went downstairs where they found three other gentlemen sitting in the drawing room, sipping drinks and conversing. One of the men they immediately recognized; it was Mr. Alesandro, who had given them the card of introduction to Mr. Gentry.
Mr. Alesandro rose and hugged each of them as they came through the door. He then introduced them to the other two men in the room, Mr. Ketchum and his traveling companion, Mr. Wolff.
"Do join us in a drink. Perhaps a little wine?" Mr. Ketchum stepped to the fireplace and pulled on an embroidered rope. A moment later Luke and J.J. were very surprised to see Catlan enter, carrying a silver tray with a wine bottle and glasses on it. Without a word he offered each of them a glass and then proceeded to pour the wine, spilling only a drop or two on Luke's trousers.
When Catlan had left the room, Mr. Wolff said, "The boy is new here, I believe. Shows great promise though, don't you agree?"
Both Luke and J.J. agreed that he did show promise and then Luke excused himself for a moment. When he returned he looked at J.J. and shrugged his shoulders. "It's chicken for supper. The kind you don't butcher at the table."
J.J. took a sip of his wine. "I suppose we might have known."
Mr. Alesandro gave J.J. a questioning look.
"It's a dish my brother and I like very much," Luke said by way of explanation. "We just didn't expect to have it again quite so soon."
It proved to be quite an interesting meal. To begin with, both Mr. English and Luther were seated at the table, Mr. English at the head, Luther at the foot. Then, the meal was served by Catlan who, they both had to admit, managed it without a single mishap. Even Mr. English began to relax by the time the appetizer had been cleared and the main course of chicken and vegetables was served.
"Well," Mr. English said once the main course had been sampled and approved by all, "we owe this meal to these young gentlemen," he nodded towards Luke and J.J. "It is their man who is commanding the kitchen, and their young charge acting as waiter."
J.J. smiled at the slight emphasis on 'commanding'. It was no wonder Mr. English was sitting at the head of the table, he had probably been banished from his own kitchen.
The meal ended with a rich, steamed custard served with a sauce of finely chopped apricots which had been stewed in brandy. "We would be forever in your debt, Mr. English, if you would teach Ah Man the secret of this custard."
"No need, Mr. Williams, no need. He watched me quite carefully. I'm sure he will be able to produce it in the future with no trouble at all."
After the meal J.J. went to the kitchen and asked if he could help with cleaning up but Ah Man wouldn't hear of it. He was quickly sent back to the drawing room to join the others for coffee and brandy, which Mr. English served himself.
"It must be difficult, loosing your cook on such short notice," Mr. Ketchum said, offering his packet of small cigars to the rest.
no, it wasn't short notice. The man was getting quite old, you see, and wanted
for some time to go back to his family in
"You had better watch out, Mr. Williams," Mr. Ketchum said, holding a match out to J.J., "or Mr. English will be stealing your cook from you."
English laughed. "No, no, we shall not be luring Mr. Williams' servant
away from him. Far from it. You see," he paused
to light his own cigar, "we plan to close our little hotel on the first
day of January. I am determined to take Luther on his grand tour before I am
too old and then, I think, we shall settle down in
"But what will happen to the hotel?" Luke felt wave of excitement, just as he had when they decided to go to Devil's Shaft, just as he had when J.J. said he wanted to buy Mrs. Brown's.
"It will be no more," he spread his hands. "Unless of course you wish to purchase it. I believe you have a lodging house of some sort out on the frontier, do you not?"
"We did," J.J. answered, unable to look at Luke. "We've just sold it."
English looked carefully from one to the other of them. "Are you perhaps
looking for an opportunity here in
They each nodded, still unable to look and each other.
"Then we shall talk in the morning," he said briskly picking up the brandy decanter and offering it around.
"Oh, no more for us," Mr. Wolff said, "we're going to go out for a bit, perhaps stop in at one of the clubs."
"Then you must try Mr. Baker's. I shall give you a card of introduction." Mr. English opened a small desk, dipped a quill, and wrote on one of his cards which he handed to Mr. Ketchum. "That should gain you admission."
"I believe I will stay in tonight," Mr. Alesandro said, helping himself to the brandy. "I see you have several of the local papers there and I always enjoy reading them. Don't get anything like that down our way."
J.J. and Luke said their good nights before going down to the kitchen to see just what was going on. They found Luther already there, showing Cat how to properly slice cheese and arrange it in a pretty pattern on a serving plate. "It's for Mr. Alesandro," he said, carefully polishing an apple. "He's quite fond of cheese and fruit with his brandy and papers."
When it was ready, Catlan carefully put the plate on a tray and happily trotted off to serve it.
Both men immediately recognized the look on Ah Man's face, the same look he'd had that afternoon when he wouldn't stay in the room upstairs. There was only one approach.
"That was a fine supper, Ah Man," Luke said, as they both bowed to him. "Thank you."
Ah Man's expression softened a little and he bowed to them. "Very nice kitchen, make work short. Easy."
"I'll come down in the morning..."
"No. Mr. Luther say we make breakfast. You sleep." He dismissed them with a wave of the hand. "Good night."
Upstairs, in their room, they undressed in silence and then stood, on opposite sides of the bed, looking at each other.
"You want it, J.J.?"
"You think we have enough money?"
"Don't know. Maybe. We'll see tomorrow."
They got into the bed, meeting in the middle. J.J. laid his head on Luke's shoulder and idly pushed his fingers through the mat of hair on his chest.
After a moment, Luke began to chuckle. "Do you suppose they're down there somewhere, lying in bed together like we are?"
"I don't know," J.J. said thoughtfully. "You mean like we are now, worrying over the hotel, or," he moved his hand lower, "like we're going to be very shortly?"
"Both," he said against J.J. lips. "I want to buy it from men as happy as we are."