Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
The Fall and Winter seasons passed far too quickly for Louisa. So quickly, in fact, that by May she began to wonder if something was wrong with her; perhaps she was loosing touch with the world the way old Mrs. Bernard had in those difficult last months before she died. Busy as she was, though, she didn't have much time to brood on the subject of her possible senility.
Christmas had come and gone as the joyous season it was meant to be. There had been caroling, both at the church and, one bright, cold night, through the town. All of the Williams' had participated, bundled up in their warmest coats and gloves and singing for all they were worth. Luke, especially, enjoyed the evening, feeling warmed by the companionship of the other families who participated and in the love of what he had come to think of as his own family.
The celebration of Christmas culminated in a fine feast, this year shared with Mr. Chase and Millicent, Eliot's fiancee. It had been a most happy meal and brought many complements to the cooks along with over-full stomachs to the men who sought afterward to remedy that condition with a small glass of whiskey sipped in the parlor, in front of the fire. A little later, when Louisa and Millicent joined them, they sang some more and then Mr. Chase and Millicent recited a long Christmas poem which was a part of their holiday tradition. All the Williams' were charmed by the poem, except for Tom who seemed to have some trouble with concentration.
January turned exceptionally cold and it was all J.J. and Luke could do to keep a proper supply of fire wood cut for the stove and fireplace. It was worse for the Widow Noyes who was dependent on the kindness of others to keep her wood box filled; one or another of the Williams' men made it a point to visit her each day and make sure she was warm enough and had enough wood cut to last the night. Eliot was especially good about this and about seeing that the few animals she had left were fed and cared for as well.
While not helpless, it was becoming clear to the Widow Noyes that she was not going to be able to maintain the farm for very much longer. The house was falling into some disrepair and, though everyone in the community was always kind and willing, she didn't like to be always asking for help. Then too, the livestock was growing old--two of her three cows were no longer giving milk--and needed to be replaced. But it took the January cold snap and the special kindness shown her by Eliot Williams to bring her to action.
On February third, the first day warm enough for her to venture into town, the Widow Noyes put on her heaviest coat and her nicest hat and went to visit Mr. Chase at the bank. This took no little courage on her part since she'd never been on the inside of a bank in her life and certainly had never discussed personal finances with anyone, not even her late husband. But it was necessary and, if nothing else, the Widow Noyes was a practical woman and would never shrink from that which was necessary.
Mr. Chase could not have been more solicitous. He immediately put her at ease and listened carefully to everything she had to say. When she was finished he called to the head clerk to bring them some tea. While they waited he tented his fingers and looked thoughtfully at her.
The plan Mrs. Noyes had outlined was well thought out. She wished to sell her farm and move to a small, and more easily maintained, house in town. She knew that she was going to have to live off the proceeds of the sale of the farm although she had put aside some money over the years which would serve to supplement those proceeds. The most interesting part of her plan, at least to Mr. Chase, was that she had already decided to whom she wished to sell the farm.
the tea had been brought and served, Mr. Chase cleared his throat. "I believe
you will have no difficulty in finding a suitable house here in town, Mrs.
Noyes. In fact, I know of a small cottage over on
The bank guarantee was more than Mrs. Noyes had hoped for and she took it as a good omen. She was also sure that Eliot would, in the end, be her buyer, especially as his future father-in-law was recommending the transaction to him. She knew, from small things Louisa had said, that he had put aside quite a bit of the wages he had earned while at the lumber camp.
It was important to her that Eliot be the buyer of her place, not only because she knew he would make it into a first class farm again, but also because she knew he loved the land and would be happy there. He was also a very kind person and she felt towards him as she would a son, had she had one. She left the bank quite satisfied.
Not many days after the Widow Noyes visited Mr. Chase at the bank, Mr. Chase made a visit of his own, paying a Sunday afternoon call on John and Louisa. As a widower--Mrs. Chase had been gone more than ten years--Mr. Chase had unhesitatingly taken on the responsibility of raising Millicent alone and had done quite a creditable job of it. But a wedding, that was something else again.
As he told them, the impending wedding loomed over him like a dark cloud. Not the marriage itself, he hastened to add, of that he was greatly pleased, but the ceremony itself completely dismayed him. He was simply not prepared to oversee any such undertaking. Louisa smiled to herself at this--after all, the man owned and ran a good sized bank yet found himself unable to cope with a simple thing like a wedding. She glanced over at her husband and, on his nod, restored Mr. Chase's ease immediately:
"Mr. Chase, I would be most happy to handle the wedding details. Not only would I enjoy doing so but it would also give me a fine opportunity to get to know my future daughter-in-law."
Mr. Chase breathed a sigh of relief. He would, of course, pay for everything but he would leave all the details up to Louisa's discretion. It was a perfect arrangement, and suited both parties well. Mr. Chaise could put the details out of his mind and Louisa could stage a wedding, something she'd thought she'd never have the opportunity to do.
Eliot, too, found time passing all too quickly. By mid-March the purchase of the Noyes farm had been completed with Eliot making a good down payment and signing a note promising to pay Mrs. Noyes a certain amount each quarter for the next eight years. Actually, Eliot had been quite surprised at the low price the Widow Noyes had asked for the property although when he looked at the house and barn with the critical eye of a prospective owner he had been a little dismayed at the state of disrepair the buildings had fallen into. There was a great deal of work to be done before June when he would bring Millicent to the house as its mistress.
Eliot's down payment had been sufficient to allow the Widow Noyes to purchase,
outright, the little cottage on
From that day to the day of his wedding there was not to be an idle moment for Eliot. The roof of the house needed extensive repair and when that was done he found portions of the floor had rotted from the rain leaking in. Of course the whole of the interior had to be painted and papered; fortunately Millicent turned out to be a woman of decision and so colors and patterns were chosen quickly and with taste.
The house was called Lilac Cottage for the many fragrant and colorful shrubs which had been planted all around it. Those shrubs had not been well tended for several years, however, and several days had to be spent thinning and pruning. J.J. was a great help in this endeavor and found that he truly liked working in the soil. When he was through with the lilacs he went on, with Luke's help, to lay out and prepare a large vegetable garden which pleased Millicent greatly. Her father's house had space for only the smallest of gardens and could not support many flowers along with the vegetables. The idea of a large plot where she could have an abundance of both delighted her.
As he worked on his house, Eliot quickly came to realize just how happy he was to be beginning this new stage of his life. He looked forward with great pleasure to setting up housekeeping with Millicent and, as soon as seemly, beginning a family. He looked forward to raising their children perhaps most of all.
Time was passing quickly for J.J., too, as Eliot realized one night towards the end of May. It was a bit after when he came in, having spent the evening with several of the young men he had gone to school with. When he slipped into his room he found J.J. still up, sitting in his nightshirt reading a novel he'd found at Mr. Caughlan's news and book store. It was not a novel of which his mother would approve.
"Hey, J.J., whatcha readin' so late?" There was a tinge of whiskey on Eliot's breath.
"Just a book." J.J. held it out so Eliot could see the cover.
"Well, well, little brother, so it's that, is it? My advice to you," he reached out and tousled J.J.'s hair, "is to be sure Ma doesn't find it. She'll take it away and say you're too young to be reading that sort of thing." He fell silent, thinking as he undressed. Finally he said, "But you're not, are you? Too young? Seventeen last July..." He went to the wash bowl and splashed water on his face. "Pa had a talk with you yet?"
J.J. looked blank.
"I didn't think so. He's not much for talkin', even when he should." He crossed the room and took the book out of J.J.'s hands. "Come on, little brother, into bed. It's time we had one of our brother to brother talks." He put out the lamp and they got into bed, propping themselves up on their pillows.
J.J. realized what was coming and he was glad of it. The book, along with some things he had heard from some of the boys in town had raised a number of questions in his mind. "We gonna' talk about... Well, about sex?"
"That was kind of my intention. Unless you'd rather talk about the state of the nation's politics." Eliot smiled into the darkness as he sensed his brother shake his head. "Well, where to begin? With you, I guess. I've noticed, on Saturday nights, how you're turning into a man. I suppose by now you've discovered how good it feels, playing with yourself." He could almost feel the heat as J.J.'s cheeks reddened.
"Well, uh... I..." J.J. stammered.
"That's all right. I know you have; I can smell it sometimes, in the room, if I come in late."
J.J. screwed up his courage. "Is it really bad for you to do, Eliot? In school once I heard some boys talking about it and they said it did terrible things to you."
you know, when I was your age or perhaps a little younger, I asked Uncle Robert
about it when he was here on a visit once." Robert was Louisa's brother
and barely six years older than Eliot. He lived in
J.J. sucked in his breath.
"But then he got this kind of grin on his face and said that he did it pretty regular and you know how well he sees. Never seems to miss a thing." He smiled to himself as J.J. let out the breath he had been holding. "And it doesn't make you crazy or grow hair on your palms, either." He held his hands out in the dark. "Leastwise, mine are pretty clear."
"You do it, too?" J.J. had suspected as much but had never been sure.
Eliot chuckled. "Of course I do. Everyone does if he doesn't have a woman to take care of his needs." He paused for a moment. "I don't suppose you've been with a woman yet."
"Oh, no. I don't think I'd know how."
"Yes you would. It comes naturally, like breathing or sleeping." He sighed. "I guess I've been derelict in my duty as older brother, not gettin' you to a good, clean woman for your first time. I guess now Tom'll have to see to it since I can't go to those places after I'm married and that's Sunday."
"Did you see to Tom's first time?"
he chuckled. "Tom was way ahead of me." Eliot thought for a moment.
"I never told this to anyone, J.J., and don't you ever dare tell it to
Tom." He sensed J.J.'s nod in the dark. "My
first time was at Miss Calb's place, down on
When he couldn't stand it any longer J.J. said, "Well?"
"Could you? Were you?"
"Yea, when I put my mind to it I guess I could out last him. Least ways that's what they told me. As to bein' built, I guess it's about a dead heat, 'tween me and Tom." He laughed. "But wait 'till they get sight of you. They'll forget all about me and Tom."
J.J., like every other male in the world, given the opportunity, had made comparisons. He didn't think he was any bigger than his brothers and said so.
"Not that way," Eliot chuckled. "We're all well matched, taking a bath. But up and hard, you've got a real edge on me. Tom, too, if the girls weren't joshin' me."
J.J. blushed again. "When..."
"Coming in sometimes, this spring. You weren't always covered up." Sensing J.J.'s embarrassment, he quickly added, "it's no matter, bein' seen in that state. Hell, up at the lumber camp I guess everyone saw everyone that way one time or another. It happens, 'specially when you're gettin' up in the morning or if you haven't been with a woman for a long time and don't relive yourself regular."
He caught J.J.'s interest again. "Must be difficult living in the lumber camp, especially if you're used to being with women a lot."
Eliot shrugged. "You get used to it. And they work you awful hard all the time so you mostly don't miss it. And when you do, you do something about it."
"You mean you relieve yourself, like with your hand."
"Yea. Sometimes when you climb into your bunk at night you can hear it all around you, real quiet like. And a few go off with each other, help each other out."
That almost took J.J.'s breath away. "What... What do you mean?"
"Oh, you know, J.J. Some men'll do it with other men, especially when there aren't any women around. Some men even prefer to do it with other men, though I can't think why. Anyway, there's always a few men around any camp, ready to help out another man with his needs."
This was almost more than J.J. could take in. He had never imagined that there were other men...
"Did you..." J.J. wasn't sure he could ask.
"No. Tried it once but it wasn't to my liking. Real likable son-of- a-bitch but it just didn't feel right, somehow. But I guess it's all right for those that like it." Sleep was beginning to gnaw at Eliot's brain. "What else do you want to know about, little brother?"
J.J. was so overwhelmed with what he had heard that he couldn't answer.
"You gone to sleep, J.J.?" Eliot yawned. When no answer was forthcoming he slid down into the bed and rolled onto his belly. "Hope I wasn't boring you..." His breathing became heavy with sleep.
J.J. continued to sit up, staring off into the darkness, trying to digest all that Eliot had said. He'd about decided that the thing for him to do was to go to a lumber camp and seek out... What? He didn't know for sure. And the trouble was, Luke was here. Luke? How did Luke fit into this? He finally fell into a fitful sleep, strange images and ideas playing tag in his brain.
At first light he was up, giving the chickens their morning ration of corn and cleaning out the rabbit cages. He tried to keep his mind a blank but seeing Luke cross to the dairy barn brought a flood of images, catching him by surprise. Two different parts of him seemed to be fighting each other, leaving him confused and distracted.
When he had finished his chores, he washed up and went into the kitchen to offer whatever help he could in getting breakfast on the table.
"Here," his mother said, handing him a mug of coffee, "I think you need this." She looked closely at him. "Are you feeling all right? You look pale, worn out." She put her hand to his forehead, testing his temperature.
"No, ma'am. I'm fine. Didn't sleep too well is all. Perhaps something I ate." Seeing a look of dismay forming on Louisa's face he quickly added, "probably too many of those little cakes I made. They were pretty spicy for eating late at night."
By the time the rest of the family was gathered for breakfast, J.J. had managed to push the warring factions in his brain out of consciousness. Thinking about it wasn't going to do any good, he decided, so it would just have to resolve itself as best it could.
Over breakfast Eliot asked if any of the boys could spare the time to give him a hand over at Lilac Cottage. He was getting a little anxious that he wouldn't finish the painting and decorating in time to move in with his new bride on Sunday. His father offered some time as did Luke.
"You're one lucky man," Mr. Williams said. "Not many young couples can boast of starting out with a farm and a house all ready for them."
"Yes, but it's going to take a lot of hard work to keep up with paying Mrs. Noyes. I thank you again, sir," he nodded at his father, "for the gift of those two cows. They may well make the difference."
"Well," his mother said, "I think it was a fine thing Mr. Chase did, arranging for the widow Noyes to have that nice little house in town."
"Yea," Tom chimed in, "I guess it's pretty handy having the owner of the bank as your father-in-law."
Eliot was aware of the advantages, but he was also aware of certain disadvantages. A dollar short or a day late and his father-in-law would be having a talk with him, questioning his ability to properly support and care for Millicent. That aside, he was very happy for the way things had worked out to the advantage of all concerned.
While the men went off to work on Eliot's new home, Louisa attended to readying her own house for the wedding, just three days away.
To be continued.
Comments, suggestions or criticisms always appreciated and always answered.