Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
In the morning, at the breakfast table, both Mr. Ketchum and Mr. Wolff had a slightly puffy look about them and red, scraped cheeks. Both Luke and J.J. recognized it as the look they had seen on Mr. Gentry that first morning in Devil's Shaft. They passed a smile between them that said just what sort of place is Mr. Baker's? No one else at the table seemed to take notice.
After breakfast Mr. Ketchum and Mr. Wolff excused themselves saying they'd had a very late night and now required a morning's nap. Mr. Alessandro went off to his business appointment, mentioning that he'd be away most of the day but looked forward to a dinner as fine as that of the night before.
Luther appeared with a fresh pot of coffee and invited Luke and J.J. to accompany him to Mr. English's little office, just off the hallway. The office, like the rest of the hotel, reflected Mr. English's excellent taste and opulent furnishings. The walls were painted a very light gray and hung with various paintings in heavy gold frames. The desk was not large but seemed well suited to Mr. English, who sat behind it.
"Well, well, my young friends. Please, sit down and Luther here will give us coffee and some of those delightful little cookies your man was kind enough to prepare for us." Luke was surprised to see that the cookies were the same as those J.J. had made several times in Devil's Shaft. When he caught his eye J.J. simply gave a slight shrug of his shoulders.
Luther distributed cups and small plates for the cookies. As he poured the coffee both Luke and J.J. noted that there were four of everything. Evidentially Luther was to be part of whatever discussion was to take place.
Mr. English took a sip of his coffee and smiled at Luther. "Lovely, my boy. Thank you." Looking over the rim of his cup he addressed both Luke and J.J. "I wonder if you have had time to think about our little discussion last night?"
Luke nodded. "But we're not sure we'd know how to run a place such as this." He gestured, taking in the office and, by implication, the entire hotel.
Mr. English put down his cup, rested his chin on his hands and looked at them, holding the eyes of each for just a moment. Then he cleared his throat. "I doubt you'd have any trouble with that. I have to tell you that after you retired last night Luther and I had a word or two with Mr. Alesandro. As you know, he is quite, ah... quite friendly with Mr. Gentry and it seems that Mr. Gentry is quite taken at the way you improved your lodging house in Devil's Shaft. He was especially taken with the bathing facilities you established. This place," he gestured just as Luke had, "is a bit different from your establishment in Devil's Shaft but no, you would have no trouble with it. So you see..."
"What he is trying to say," Luther cut in, "is that we have quite determined that you shall have the place. After all, we were simply going to close it, sell the building and be done with it."
J.J. took a deep breath. "But the furnishings..."
Luther looked to Mr. English who nodded. "I have
convinced Dwight, that is, Mr. English, that we will
have no use of hotel furnishings in
Mr. English sighed. "Luther is, of course, quite correct. These things shall stay."
"How much?" Luke asked. "How much do you intend to sell for?"
Mr. English looked at Luther and received a nod. "Six thousand five hundred dollars."
J.J. let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding.
"Yes, yes," Mr. English hurried on, "I know it's a great deal of money. But I'm sure we can work something out, some plan of payment perhaps. Or..."
Luke held up his hand. "No, I don't think..." He looked at J.J. and was rewarded with a grin. He started again. "I, that is, we, think that is a very fair price and, once the details are worked out, one we will be prepared to pay."
Mr. English rose from his chair and looked from Luke to J.J. and back. "I think then, young sirs, that we have an agreement."
There were hand shakes all around and then, to Luke and J.J.'s surprise, a tight hug and a brief kiss from both Mr. English and Luther.
Later, just after lunch, Luke and J.J. took Ah Man and Catlan into Catlan's room and told them the news, asking each of them if they approved and would be willing to help run the hotel. Both replied that they would.
"It'll be very hard work for a while," J.J. said. "I'm not sure how we'll keep up with all there will be to do."
Cat spoke up. "Can we keep Manuel and Jose? That would make it easier."
Luke cocked his head. "Who are Manuel and Jose?"
Cat grinned. He still loved knowing things the others didn't. But before he could speak Ah Man cut in. "Foreign man. And boy. They make beds, clean rooms."
"I wonder why we haven't..."
"Work in morning. You busy with owners."
Catlan spoke up, glancing at Ah Man to make sure it was all right. "They're very nice, sir. Jose's older than me, a little, and Manual is his uncle, I think. You'll like them."
J.J. smiled. "Well, I can see you've made friends with them already."
"Of course they'll stay," Luke said, "as long as Ah Man approves of them and the work they do." He bowed to Ah Man who looked pleased and nodded his approval.
The discussions of what stayed and what would go with Mr. English and Luther went well. Both Luke and J.J. quickly realized that Mr. English valued Luther's opinion quite highly and almost always deferred to him.
It was decided that Luke and J.J. would officially become the owners of the hotel on the very first day of January but that Mr. English and Luther would stay on for that month and teach Luke and J.J. all they could about running the hotel. Mr. English and Luther would move into one of the hotel's rooms so Luke and J.J. could have the owner's room. It was also decided that Luke and J.J. would go to San Luis Obispo for Christmas. It had been more than three years and both of them were anxious to see the family again. In the interests of time—and comfort—Luke decided they should make the journey by the overnight boat rather than spend two days sitting up on a train and stage coach. J.J. agreed, secretly wondering what it would be like, sleeping with Luke on a boat.
Both Luke and J.J. were excited at the prospect of seeing the family again. They embarked on several shopping trips to find just the right gift for each person. In this they were guided by Mr. English who pointed then to the best, but not the most expensive, shops in The City.
Along with the shopping and packing, Luke and J.J. were also busy learning how the hotel was run. Mr. English taught them how to keep the register and showed them the cards he kept on each guest, listing their room and food preferences, other guests they had referred to the hotel and places they had been referred to. "We rarely accept a new guest who does not come with a letter of referral from a guest whom we know. We do not, of course, advertise." This last word was said with some distaste.
Before Jose and his uncle Manual were spoken to and asked to stay Luther took Luke aside and said, "They are very good workers and are... well, they are as you and your brother are, as Mr. English and I are." At Luke's raised eyebrow he said, "I understand that it is sometimes done in their country although liaisons such as theirs seldom last more than a year or two. Theirs, I believe, is of four years or more. As such they are well suited to the hotel."
Manual spoke for the both of them when he accepted Luke and J.J.'s offer saying that they had been concerned when Mr. English said the hotel was to be closed because they much preferred working together. They promised to work hard and give Luke and J.J. all the help they could.
Finally, shopping done, presents wrapped—mainly by Ah Man who seemed to have a knack for it—and clothes packed, it was time to go down to the landing and board the Avila, bound for Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. They were assigned a private cabin, a very small room with a tiny window, called a porthole, a washstand and a narrow bed.
Once they were away and passed the cliffs of the
"Let's just go to bed," Luke said, touching J.J. on the arm.
They did, but they didn't get much sleep. The motion of the boat along with remembering their promise to Eliot conspired to keep them very excited.
When they put in to Port Hereford they were met by the
stage which took them into town. As they were the only passengers for
In town, at the stage stop, they were met by John and by Dickens, who recognized them immediately and seemed to loose all control of his tail. While Dickens was lavishing one with licks of affection John was hugging the other.
"Well," he said, holding J.J. at arms length, "it would seem that life on the frontier agrees with you. You too," he said, turning to Luke. "You've both grown some. Now let's get your things in the wagon. Your mother will be waiting."
On the drive out to the Old Adobe Luke, who was holding Dickens in his lap, asked, "How is it that ole Dickens here isn't up to the farm, guarding the chickens?"
John chuckled. "Well, it seems a young pup wandered into the yard a year or so ago and Dickens kind of took a fancy to him. He showed that pup the ropes and now, I guess, he thinks he can get away from his duties now and again. He's taken quite a liking for riding in the wagon with me."
"What's the pup called?" J.J. asked.
"Well, your mother wanted to call him Sir Walter Raleigh but that was too much of a mouthful and pretty quick it was just Walter. He seems happy enough with it."
Sure enough, as they pulled up to the house a large red dog raced out to greet them, followed at a more sedate pace by Louisa.
"Well, you are both looking just fine!" she said as J.J. folded her into a hug. "My boys have grown into men."
J.J. handed her off to Luke who hugged her and said, "Mom, you haven't changed a bit. Pretty as ever."
"Oh, now, I've never been one to be pretty," she said, but the twinkle in her eye told them how pleased she was. "Now come along, you must be hungry after your journey."
They sat down to a meal of roast chicken, vegetables, gravy and biscuits. "We're all so anxious to hear about your life in Devil's Shaft but perhaps you should save the most of it for supper when Eliot and Millicent will be here with the children. Otherwise you'll just have to tell it all over again."
J.J. caught Luke's eye and Luke gave him a slight nod. They'd keep their big news for the evening meal.
They spent the afternoon helping John with some repairs in the barn. "Where's the man you hired to help out, what was his name?"
John looked up from the harness he was mending. "Acres,
Jed Acres. He's over to
"I guess he's a better worker than that Mr. Rodale," J.J. said to no one in particular.
"Yeah, he is." John stood, looking at Luke and J.J. "We don't speak of Mr. Rodale much." He suddenly smiled. "It's not right to speak ill of the dead so we'll all just drop the subject." He took a couple of steps and gathered both boys into a hug. "We're just glad you're safe and here with us." Luke could have sworn he saw a tear forming in the corner of John's eye.
The reunion with Eliot and Millicent was a joyful one. Eliot hugged Luke and J.J. and, while Millicent was hugging J.J. he held Luke at arm's length and looked at him. "You sure have grown, Luke. You look good." He lowered his voice. "And I guess you and J.J. are still pretty thick."
Luke grinned and nodded. "Thicker than ever."
Eliot held his eye for a moment and then hugged him again. "I'm right proud to have you as a brother, Luke. And I trust you to... well to keep him happy."
"What are you two men talking about so seriously?" Millicent said, taking Luke into her own warm hug. "Now I want to hear all about Devil's Shaft."
The children, Luke thought, were remarkably well behaved. Portia sat up at the table and seemed to be taking it all in, the food, the conversation and the warmth of her family around her. Ned, named after Millicent's grandfather, was too little to know much of what was going on but he, too, seemed to be enjoying himself.
Over a light dessert of Louisa's spiced peaches and some sugar cookies Millicent had made, J.J. and Luke took turns explaining about the snow and cold and heat and dust of Devil's Shaft, bringing them up to their main news.
"So with all of that," J.J. grinned at Luke, "we decided to sell the boarding house and leave Devil's Shaft."
"Well," Luke added, "we had some very good luck come our way also. There was a man who decided he just had to have the place. So we sold it to him."
At this Tom perked up. "If you want to invest what money is left after the mortgage is paid perhaps the bank can help you find a place for it."
Louisa perked up as well. "And will you come back here?"
J.J. caught Eliot's eye and smiled at him, telling him
it was going to be okay. Then he rose and went to his mother, kissing her
lightly on the cheek. "No, Ma. Not here. But back in
Luke looked up, taking in all the adults at the table. "That was some more good luck. The hotel—the one where we stayed when we went to Devil's Shaft—was going to be closed and we were able to persuade the owners to sell it to us."
Tom's ears pricked up with anticipation. Later he was to be disappointed to learn that there was to be no mortgage that the bank might underwrite.
"A hotel in
Luke nodded to J.J. who said with some pride, "It'll be The Williams Brothers' Hotel for Gentlemen."
Eliot looked at Tom and shrugged. "A good name. After all Luke's been like a brother for so long he might as well be called that."
The next morning, after helping John with the milking and then eating one of Louisa's hearty breakfasts, Luke and J.J. set off to town to see a few people. Dickens had seemed to want to go with them until he figured out that they were going to walk instead of taking the wagon. Then he wisely decided on a nap near the stove.
The first stop was the bakery, so J.J. might pay his respects to Mr. Tomassini. When they entered the bakery J.J. had a sudden feeling that he'd never left. The smell of flour overlaid with the scent of vanilla and cinnamon took him back to his first day as an apprentice baker and he felt elated, just as he had then.
"My boy! My boy, you are a sight for sore eyes indeed." Mr. Tomassini swept J.J. into a bear hug before holding him at arms length and studying him for a moment. "Well, you've grown up but you're the same J.J. Well, except for the various smudges of flour and cake coloring you always wore."
J.J. grinned. "And you're the same too, Sir. And from what I can tell, so are the cinnamon rolls which are just about to come out of the oven."
"The very same," Mr. Tomassini agreed, turning to Luke and hugging him. "Did you fellows get rich up there in the gold fields?"
"Well, not exactly," Luke said. "But we came out okay, right J.J?"
Mr. Tomassini waived them towards the back of the shop.
"We'll have some coffee and rolls," he said, "and you can meet
Clyde turned out to be a pretty good copy of J.J. when he'd been an apprentice except that he was black haired, had dark eyes and was an inch or so taller than J.J. It was quickly evident that he was in awe of J.J. and Luke wondered just what tales Mr. Tomassini had told him.
They spent a pleasant hour over coffee
and rolls while Luke and J.J, mostly J.J, told them about their adventures
in Devil's Shaft. When they took their leave
Mr. Tomassini cut him off. "Better get back and check on
those little cakes,
A few minutes later, walking down
J.J. grinned. "He does that. I remember when I first
started with him he had all these stories about the apprentice before me, how
good he was and how obedient and quick he was. He said he knew I couldn't be as
good as that fellow but he would try me out anyway. I fell for it and did
everything I could to be better than him." He paused, thinking and then smiled.
"I guess it worked. I hope it works on
Their next stop was at Mr. Clifford's jewelry store. Mr. Clifford was delighted to see them. He pulled J.J. into a hug and then did the same with Luke. "Look at you boys. You've grown up. The frontier must have been good to you. You must tell us all about it." He looked again at Luke and recognized the chain around his neck.
"So you've still got it!" He glanced at J.J. "Your friend here worked very hard for that."
At that moment a tall man with brown hair and green eyes stepped through the doorway to the back room. "Michael, where are the..." He looked at Luke and J.J. and smiled. "And who might these young men be?"
Mr. Clifford led them over to the man. "Robert, these are J.J. and Luke. I told you about them, going off to that gold town up in the Sierras and all."
Robert smiled at them. "Oh yes, I remember. You sent them to Mr. English's didn't you?"
"He did," J.J. said. "It was wonderful."
"Yes," Luke chimed in, "it's the nicest place we've ever seen."
Mr. Clifford frowned a little. "It was nice, wasn't it? But I fear that Mr. English has given it up. Not that I blame him, but he's worked very hard to build up that establishment and now... Well now he's closing it."
J.J. smiled. "Yes, he and Luther are going to travel the world"
Robert looked up. "You saw him? When?"
And so the story came out, much to the amazement of both
Mr. Clifford and Robert. They had greatly enjoyed their stays at Mr. English's
and were very pleased when J.J. and Luke said they were going to keep the hotel
as it was. Before they left they had promised Mr. Clifford and his friend
Robert that their favorite room would be available to them in April when they
planned to visit
Walking back to the Old Adobe J.J. said, "I sure hope we can run the hotel as well as Mr. English and Luther have done. I would hate to disappoint any of the guests, especially Mr. Clifford and his friend."
Luke put his arm around J.J's shoulders for a moment. "Of course we can. We can do anything we want, the two of us together."
J.J. smiled and touched Luke's hand. "Yes, we can. Together."
The next day was Christmas Eve and both the Old Adobe and Lilac Cottage were busy with preparations for the holiday. It had been decided that Christmas eve dinner would be had at Lilac Cottage and Christmas day would be spent at the larger Old Adobe. Millicent and Louisa worked well together and had decided to help each other with the meals, first at Lilac Cottage and then, on Christmas, at the Old Adobe. The men were relegated to fetching things and, most importantly, staying out of the way.
Eliot took complete charge of the children, playing with them, making sure they were dry and fresh, and keeping them occupied. Both Luke and J.J. watched him with some awe.
"He sure does take to those little ones," Luke said wistfully. "They'll grow up well loved and they'll know it."
"Yes, he's happier about being a father than most anything. Well, except for being husband to Millicent," J.J. replied. "He seems pretty happy about that, too."
Luke nodded and smiled at J.J, sending him an unspoken message. J.J. caught it and sent back one of his own.
Christmas Eve supper at Lilac Cottage was excellent. Millicent and Louisa had prepared a smoked ham along with root vegetables and small potatoes roasted in the oven. Millicent's father was there of course, and had brought along a light, fruity wine as a special treat.
After supper the children were put to bed and the rest
of the family, except for Mr. Chase, who was going to remain with the children,
went to services at the
The ladies of the church had decorated it with evergreens, red candles and white ribbons, making it quite festive. The hymns were joyous, the choir in fine voice and the sermon mercifully short. Afterward the Reverend Shaffner came to offer greetings to the family.
"I thought that was you," he said including both Luke and J.J. "Have you come back to us after your great adventure?"
J.J. smiled and said, "Only for Christmas, Sir. Then we
will return to our new home in
At the Reverend's questioning look Louisa offered, "They have taken on the responsibility of a hotel there." She shrugged. "Well, it's closer than Devil's Shaft. Perhaps we shall see more of them in the future."
"Ah," the Reverend said, "
"Of course you may," Louisa said, before the boys had a chance to answer. "Please come any time. Perhaps for dinner on Saturday?"
"I should be delighted," the Reverend said, looking at J.J. and Luke. "I am most anxious to hear of your experiences in Devil's Shaft."
Later, riding home in the buggy, Louisa smiled at J.J. "Don't worry, it won't be too bad. We shall have the children over, to give Eliot and Millicent some time alone. They will keep the good Reverend occupied."
The rest of Christmas Eve was devoted to decorating the Christmas tree and arranging the presents under it. When it was all done it looked very pretty with it's shiny foil ornaments, strings of popcorn and fancy iced cookies that J.J. had made specially for it. Louisa, of course, would not allow candles on the tree so Eliot had fashioned several lamps with reflectors in the chimneys. They were placed on tables near enough to make the tree sparkle with reflected light but far enough away from it's branches to minimize the danger of fire.
When everything was done to her satisfaction Louisa made her good-night's and retired, leaving the men, John, Tom, J.J. and Luke, to sit in the kitchen by the stove, sipping a bit of the good whiskey John kept for special occasions and reminiscing about Christmases past.
Later, upstairs in bed, they stretched their promise to Eliot far enough to let them sleep spoon fashion, J.J. wrapped securely in Luke's arms. Since J.J. refused to sleep in anything but his skin, Luke had taken the precaution of keeping his union suit on. He missed the soft feel of J.J's skin but knew he couldn't take the risk. They slept fitfully.
Christmas morning dawned clear, bright and cold. After chores the entire family sat down to a breakfast of eggs, sausage, fried potatoes and biscuits. The meal was completed with a persimmon pie, a family tradition. Afterward everyone helped with clearing the table and washing the dishes while Eliot and John watched the children.
"You know," John said to Eliot, "it has always been my feeling that this part of Christmas is really for the children."
"You're right about that, Sir. It was great fun when we were little, hardly able to wait for the day and wonderin' what toy there might be for us under the tree." He looked up at his dad and smiled. "Even when times were thin, there was always a toy under the tree for each of us. I don't think we knew what that meant then but we do now. Thank you Sir, for making us such happy children."
John lifted Ned into his lap and smiled at Eliot. "It's what all parents strive to do, I believe. Just as you do." He looked down at Ned and stroked his hair. "You got a good father, Ned. He'll make you happy if only you let him."
Louisa, standing quietly in the doorway, wiped away a little moisture at her eye. It was a beautiful scene to behold she thought, her husband, her son and her grandson, sitting together in such peace and..." Her thoughts were brought up short,
"Gram, Gram!" Portia ran from her father and clutched Louisa's skirt. "When can we have the presents? When?"
"Soon, my pretty one," she said, scooping Portia into her arms. "Come, we shall gather the others."
Soon the whole family was in the parlor, around the tree. The gifts for the children were, of course, the first to be given. Besides diapers for Ned and hair ribbons for Portia, there was a wooden train for Ned, which he could push along the floor and later, when he was more steady on his feet, pull behind him. For Portia a doll with a porcelain head and a pretty dress. There was also a set of blocks for both of them.
The gifts J.J. and Luke brought from
The boys received many thoughtful gifts as well, including a bed quilt made by Louisa and small, hand colored drawings of Portia and Ned made by Millicent. They were very appreciative.
Time passed quickly and two days later Luke and J.J.
found themselves back on the little steam ship, bound for
This is the last chapter of Luke and J.J.—at least for a while. I find that I need to get on to some other things that have been running loose in my head for a time and I need to get them on paper. I'm not sure, though, that I can completely abandon the boys, and I think there will be new chapters—just not right away.
Thank you all for your encouragement, ideas and good fellowship. I'm awed by the number of people who followed the adventures of Luke and J.J. and told me how much they liked them.
Next, I think, will be another look at Some Guys, my little
Hugs to you all.