Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
sky was clear and the air was warm, just the sort of morning John Williams
liked to spend in town, doing a few errands and passing the time of day with
whomever he might find doing the same thing. John had grown up in
He rode Byron, the horse he thought of as belonging just to him. Somehow he felt a kinship with Byron and made it a point to look after him, often giving him a little extra feed or a second lump of sugar. Byron, for his part, was never out of sorts and happily carried John wherever he wanted to go.
They stopped in front of Mitchell's hardware store, near the water trough, and John climbed down from the saddle, tossing the reins over a rail and patting the horse's muzzle. "Now you just stay here, Byron. I won't be very long."
Byron didn't actually care how long his master was going to be gone. He was in the shade with a good clean water trough within easy reach and many interesting humans on the street to watch. A bit of sugar or a carrot would have been appreciated but then, a horse can't have everything he wants all the time, can he? He watched unconcernedly as his master entered the building in front of him.
"Mornin' John," a tall, heavily mustached man called from behind a counter in the back where he was assisting a heavy set woman to select a lamp chimney. "Be with you directly."
"Take your time, Carl. Mornin' Miz Greystone." He tipped his hat to the large woman and went to admire the hand tools in the glass display cabinet.
A few minutes later the lady left with her chosen lamp chimney carefully tied up in a package and the proprietor came over. "What can I do for you this morning, John?"
"Just thought I'd stop in to see if those special bolts had come in, Carl. The ones for my milk cart."
"I know the ones you mean." He scratched his head in thought. "They should be here this morning, soon as the freight wagon gets here from Port Harford." He pulled out his gold watch and snapped it open. "Should've been here by now but young Jim, he took sick last night and so Sam had to go down by himself. Should be along directly, though."
"Carl, you done a piece of magic right here in front of me," John said, nodding at the front window. "Here comes Sam now." Sure enough, a large wagon had just pulled up in front of the store.
"Well, soon's we get it unloaded, we'll find those bolts of yours. If you don't mind waitin' a bit."
"Don't mind it at all," John said. "Gives me time to get on over to Harden's and see about some thread Mrs. Williams wants."
When he came back a half hour later, a small package of thread carefully tucked away in his pocket, the men had the wagon half unloaded. The absent young Jim, he noted, had been replaced with a wiry, dark haired lad. He caught Sam's eye and nodded.
"Mornin' Mr. Williams." Sam left the wagon and stepped up on the boardwalk. He took off his hat and mopped his brow with his kerchief. "Too warm for early June, don't you think?"
"Not unless you have to work in it, Sam," he chuckled, looking over at the wagon. "Who's the new boy?"
Sam took out tobacco and rolling papers. "Name's Luke. Found him out on the road. Traded him a ride into town for help with the unloadin'." Sam struck a match and lit his smoke. "Hell of a good worker; good company on the ride in, too."
John looked at the boy again. "He lookin' for work hereabouts?"
Sam blew out a plume of smoke. "I reckon he is. Orphan boy or some such. Been on the road a while I gather." He suddenly brightened. "You wouldn't be thinkin' of maybe givin' him a job, would you, Mr. Williams? I know the boy sure would be appreciative."
"We'll see, Sam. We'll see."
Sam took the bull by the horns and called out to the boy. "Hey, Luke, let it be for now and come on over here." Luke abandoned the box he was wrestling out of the wagon and stepped up on the boardwalk. Sam introduced him to John Williams then went inside the store and yelled for Carl to come help with the unloading.
"I understand you might be looking for work around here, Luke."
"Oh, yes sir. I am." He looked around at the street and the neat buildings lining either side of it. "It's a pretty town. I think I might like it here."
John sat down on the bench just under the store windows and indicated the place beside him. "How do you come to be in this town, son?"
Luke started as he always did when someone called him son. "Well, sir, Sam there, he offered me a ride if I would..."
"No, no. I mean how did you happen to be out on the road at all? Where are you coming from?"
looked down at his dusty boots. "Well, I guess you could say I was coming
"I know the place. That where your people are?"
"Ain't got any people, sir." Luke stared harder at his boots. "Just me."
"No one?" John found it distressing, the boy adrift in the world, with no family at all.
"As I said, sir."
"How old are you, Luke?"
"Came with my folks. My ma, she took sick and
passed on when we was in
"Hard for a boy that age, losin' his mother." John's impulse was to reach out, offer comfort to the boy. "And your pa? What about him?"
stood up and seemed about to walk away but he just went over to the horse
tethered at the rail and rubbed his muzzle for a moment. Then he went back and
sat beside John again. "I promised myself I wouldn't ever lie about my pa
again." He looked up at John. "My pa, he's a preacher down in
John stood and stuck out his hand. Luke jumped up and took it with a firm grip. "Tell you what, Luke. You finish your obligation to Sam and then come up to the Old Adobe. Ask anyone, they'll point out the way. We have supper at six, straight up." He looked Luke up and down. "You got another pair of britches son? Clean ones, I mean. Mrs. Williams is a bit particular about being clean at her table."
Luke's face fell. "I do have another pair sir, but worse than these. There's been no place to wash..."
"I see the picture." He thought for a moment and then pointed across the street. "See that establishment over there, the dry goods store?" Luke nodded. "Well, when Sam finishes with you, you go over there and tell the store keeper to give you a pair of britches to fit. And a shirt, too. Tell him it's on my account. Now you better get back to your work. Oh, and tell Mr. Mitchell inside you can bring my bolts along with you, should he find them."
was almost when Luke walked up the
lane to the Williams farm. He had his small bundle of possessions tied up and
slung on his back in a canvas pack that a man on the road from
"Dickens! Dickens, come here," she called to the dog. Then, seeing that a meeting had already taken place: "He really is friendly. Just makes a lot of noise, that's all."
Luke was squatting down, scratching the dog's ears and avoiding the wet tongue which sought to return the favor. He stood and pulled off his hat. "Yes, ma'am, I see that." The dog, sensing that the scratching was over for now, slipped back into its occupation of guard and went to stand by the woman.
"I was just feeding the chickens." She indicated a large pail of cracked corn. "You must be the boy my husband told me would be along this afternoon."
"Yes, ma'am. Luke." He indicated the package he carried. "I brought his goods from Mr. Mitchell's."
"Well, just set your things down and I'll go find Mr. Williams." She went into the house and then paused, watching the boy through a window.
Luke carefully set the package on the porch step and then shrugged off the canvas pack and put it beside the package. Saying something to the dog that she couldn't hear, he picked up the feed pail and began calling to the chickens, throwing the feed to them. The dog went happily along, tail wagging, careful not to chase the chickens.
John was working in the little orchard on the west side of the house. "The boy Luke is here." She smiled at her husband. "I thought you said he was a scruffy thing, perhaps a bit grimy."
He took her by the arm. "Now don't you mind, Louisa. I think we can get his face and hands scrubbed before supper."
"No need, unless you plan to throw him in with the pigs. He's clean as any of our boys after their Saturday baths. He's also feeding the chickens for me."
"I said he's a worker. But why'd you ask him to feed the chickens? I thought you liked doin' that yourself." He put down his knife and wrapped a length of cotton cloth gently around the graft he had just made.
"I didn't ask. When I came to find you he just picked up the feed pail and went to work."
John finished tying the cloth. "Well, we'll have him stay for a day or so, see how he works out."
"He'll be fine." She smiled again. "He has an excellent recommendation."
John gave her a puzzled look.
"Dickens. He took to the boy immediately."
"Well." John laughed, "That is about as high a recommendation as you can get, I guess. Dickens is the best judge of people I ever did know."
They found Luke in the barnyard, finished with the chickens. He was helping Dickens to get a drink from the horse trough in front of the corral.
"That dog has plenty of water sources, boy. You needn't lift him up there if he's thirsty."
Luke put the Dickens back on the ground. "No, sir, I know. But he seemed particular to want a drink from the horse trough. I didn't mean no harm, sir."
"Any harm." It just slipped out. Louisa would never dream of correcting anyone but one of her own children.
He turned to her, "Beg pardon, ma'am?"
Well, she thought, the seed's planted. Might as well water it. "It's 'I didn't mean any harm,' not 'I didn't mean no harm.' We always strive for correct speech here."
"Yes, ma'am." He repeated the correct phrase several times under his breath, moving his lips, emphasizing 'any'. "I'll not do it again."
"Good." She tousled his hair. "Now you go along with Mr. Williams and he'll show you where to put your things."
They went to the hay barn where John had cleared out a corner and made a comfortable straw pallet for Luke to sleep on. Two blankets covered the straw with another folded on the floor.
"You best use these, Luke. Give your own blanket a rest."
"Thank you, sir. And thank you for the britches and shirt. Mr. Green, the storekeeper, he said to tell you they aren't the very cheapest he has but they're the sturdiest and should last for a very long time. I hope you don't mind they aren't the cheapest but Mr. Green wouldn't let me take the others..."
"No, Luke, Mr. Green was quite right in giving you these. The cheapest is often not the most economical." He stood back and looked the boy over. "You're much cleaner than I saw this morning."
"Yes, sir. Well, I bought a bit of soap and a fellow sittin' on the boardwalk was kind enough to direct me to a little creek where I could have a bath." He looked down at his boots. "I didn't want to wear those new britches lest I was clean, too."
Mr. Williams put his hand on Luke's shoulder. "That was right smart of you, son." He felt the boy stiffen, but let it pass as he thought he knew the reason. "Now let's us get over to the house. I'm sure whoever's settin' the table would be happy of some help."
J.J. was setting the table and he was indeed happy to have some help. He showed Luke how to lay a proper place setting and where the table things were kept. During it all, the two kept up a lively conversation.
"I believe this properly to be female work," J.J. said, arranging the napkins at the top of each place, "but, as ma is the only female here, I guess we men have to help out every so often."
Louisa smiled to herself as she stirred carrots into the stew and listened to the boys' conversation. Life would have been very different for these boys had their sisters lived. There had been two: Wilma, born a year after Eliot and dead of fever in her third year, and another, never named because she died even as she was born.
Those had been hard times for Louisa, and for John, but they had endured them, becoming stronger and closer. She taught the boys to cook a little, and to sew on a button, and to keep their rooms, because she knew it was good for them to know, like reading, not because she pined for her lost girls. John understood this, that it made the boys stronger and more self reliant and he stood behind her, seeing to it that the boys took those lessons as seriously as they did learning to ride or to care for the cows.
The table set, J.J. and Luke went to find the rest of the family and tell them it was time to wash for supper.
To be continued.
Comments, suggestions or criticisms always appreciated and always answered.