Dunstable Train Station – Jason
Jason slouched in the seat as the train rumbled into Dunstable proper. He had been in contact with Dunstable since he left February and Candace had promised a surprise for him when he arrived. But this was another aspect of relationships that he had not yet experienced and certainly hadn’t mastered. Millicent said he needed to make a proper good bye. Yes, it was possible, even likely that he would be back in two years with the new drives. But a lot can happen in two years and there would be no cables or letters keep the ties going. And, she insisted, he must make a proper goodbye to his foster parents. The others in the group were given the same task or exempted because of a lack of kin (Michael, Felicity and Liam). Millicent looked at Jason sternly and said, “There is Candace. There is Stephan and Jolene. And regardless, of your Aunt’s mistakes, there is your Uncle deserves better from you…but I am not from around here so perhaps I am mistaken.” Rachael had made her good-bye earlier. Eleanor and Simone were managing the process carefully but staying on the ship. John had flatly refused saying, “I made my goodbye when I left in the middle of the night. That man has nothing to say that I want to hear.” Michael and Felicity had no one left in their family. Liam was spending extra time with Betsy. Millicent added to Jason, “You family owns a farm…Betsy could retire to green fields and fresh fruit.” So Jason was shamed into saying goodbye properly.
Candace had said there would be a surprise. He had expected her and possible one of the other pub folk to be at the station. As the train rolled into the station, he was taken aback by the crowd on the platform. Never had he been greeted in such a fashion. The entire pub crew was present. Even Edward Wayland was there cheering as the trained screeched to a stop. Everyone stood under a large canvas banner saying “Bon Voyage, Jason”. All were waving at the train and when he was spotted the waving grew wilder and the noise louder. Standing in the middle in light dress was Candace, bright and beautiful and pregnant.
Dunstable Train Station – Findley Brown
Findley’s face burned in anger and disgust as the carriage rolled passed the absurd banner and rude crowd. McNeill, local farm boy, gets a hero’s welcome while Findley Brown, mayor’s son, was be met by a lone servant at the end of the platform. Not even his father had come. He climbed out of the carriage and headed towards the servant and, thankfully, away from the noisy rabble pounding the back of the perturbing Jason McNeill. An old family retainer waited with no expression. He gave his bag to Bertrand Grey and asked “Where’s Pater, Bertie.”
Bertrand’s face squinched a bit and then he said, “At the factory, I imagine Mr. Brown.”
Findley frowned and said, “I sent a cable about my arrival.”
Grey shuffled a bit and then moved towards the street and said, “and a fine thing you did Mr. Brown so I could meet you,” puffing a bit under the load of the luggage and the walk.
Findley said sharply, “But no message from my father?”
Grey looked a bit pained as if he had a bit of gas saying, “Only that there was a large order at the factory and he would be home quite late. That you should take supper without him.”
Findley stopped. The comment hit him in the stomach. He clenched his fists and then said, “Take my things back…to the house. If Pater will be late, then so will I. I shall be looking up some old friends.”
Grey loaded the bag into the carriage, brushed his hands and said, “And when will sir be returning home?”
Findley closed his eyes and then laughed, “Home? Right…funny that…” Findley shook himself and turned to face Bertrand Grey and said, “I expect to be quite late…you needn’t worry about me…someone else has told me to mind my manners while I am abroad.”
Dunstable Train Station – Jason
Jason hugged Candace tightly said, “You never said anything in your letters.” He was being pounded on the shoulders. His chest and stomach tightened in a thousand emotions.
Candace said into his ear, “I didn’t know if you were coming back…I felt like …well confused and you sounded very busy in travel and such.”
Jason said, “You could have written something…”
Candace closed her eyes and buried her head in his shoulder and said, “I’m ok. Mum and Da’ had kittens but they’ve come around. Stephan and Jolene are keeping me on. As for the rest of the town…well …I’m hardly the first.”
Jason stuttered, “But…”
Candace opened her eyes, smiled, and thumped his chest, “Shush. Let’s discuss this at the pub. Enjoy the celebration.” She then turned him around and he was enveloped in a big hug by Stephan. Stephan clapped him hard on the shoulder and said, “Stop wool gathering boy. Let’s get off the platform and to the pub.”
O’Doul’s Pub – Findley Brown
Chester and Cedric met Findley at the pub late in the afternoon. Chester was working at his father’s factory and helped manage an assembly line. Cedric was a draftsman at an airship and machine parts manufactory. He was excited about the opportunities. It was all Findley could do to keep from yawning. John Smith had saved him from this fate as he would have surely followed his fathers’ footsteps by attending meetings and currying investors. He took a long drink and hailed a waitress for another. She took the order from a respectable distance. Findley hinted he was interested in more, but she ignored his advances. He pursed his lips in annoyance. No matter. He would be back in London soon where he had more freedom.
He leaned back and listed to Chester and Cedric prattle on about work schedules and difficult bosses. When his drink arrived, he lifted his glass and said, “To a new order.” Cedric and Chester looked at him oddly, but they raised their glasses and said, “A new order?” Findley leaned in and said in a low voice, “Gentleman, there are changes coming soon. Changes like you’ve never seen and can’t imagine.”
Chester sat back and said, “Sure Findley. Things have been changing for years.”
Findley smiled at the condescension. He really had been gone for a long time. He said, “These changes will wipe away the weak minded, soft, mollycoddling, fools who run things now. I am talking about real power.”
Cedric raised his eyebrows and said, “Findley old boy, you are sounding a bit off tonight. What did you catch on that trip to the tropics?”
Findley laughed and said, “Tropics…” he sneered, “You have no idea. I’ll show you something outside.” They arranged to keep their table. The waitress looked annoyed, but they had been paying and more drinks were promised. Findley took them to a nearby alley way. He said, “See that crate there? Watch.” The two looked skeptical, but did as Findley asked. Findley pulled out a beam weapon he had borrowed from Smith’s armory. London was a dangerous place and he needed protection. Smith might have objected if he asked. Winifred helped him make it ook like he took a standard pistol. The strange weapon had a button rather than a trigger. He set a dial and pointed it a wooden crate 50 yard down the alley and pushed the button. The wooden crate started to glow and then burst into flame.
Cedric exclaimed, “Shit” while Chester said, “What the hell?”
Findley held the small weapon in his hands and said, “Imagine having a dozen of these…or a hundred. Don’t stop at the number. An army armed with this and the like.”
Chester said in a low voice, “The army would rule England.”
Findley said in a condescending tone he had heard, “Not just England, Chessie…and the army is coming and more. “ He put his arm around both the men and said, “Now, you can be on the welcoming committee if you help me a bit.”
Cedric looked at the crate and then said, “I’ll all ears Brownie. I’m all ears.”
The Pig and Cow – Jason
Jason, Candace, Edward Wayland and Stephan sat at a table while everyone else scurried about during the early dinner. Jason and Candace held hands under the table. Stephan rumbled, “You and your parents are changing the rules it seems. Sean never was good at following rules either.”
Jason grinned, “We aren’t changing them as much as we are playing a new game. Even with these devices, I will still be gone awhile. It won’t be sixty years. But if things go well, I might be back in less than a year.”
Stephan said, “Lad, you be careful. Millicent is naïve if she thinks a few upstarts from an unknown planet are going to sway those fossilized turds about ‘Faster Than Light’ travel.”
Jason shrugged, “I don’t think Millicent is naïve about anything. But this is the only option we’ve got left if Smith is even half right. So …’nothing ventured…nothing gained’”
Stephan said, “While you’re quoting Shakespeare, just remember the Russian proverb ‘the tallest blade of grass gets cut first.’ You better have an exit planned before you walk into that room.”
Candace finally hissed, “Stop it. Jason’s here then I find he’s leaving for good. Now he’s leaving but he’ll be back but after a year or more. It’s bad enough being on this roller coaster without your dire predictions, Stephan. Can we just send him off with well wishes and hope he is successful?”
There was silence at the table and then Edward Wayland said, “You’re right Candace. We should be thanking Jason and asking about his trek across the solar system.”
Jason eyed Edward and asked, “Why are you still here? Surely you could get a job in London.”
Edward said, “I am finding the fresh air and healthy food reviving. Besides, I’ve taken a job at Brown’s factory managing the assembly operations and lines. Chester Carter works under me or more like under someone who works under me. I am getting to work directly with Clarence Brown. The man is remarkable. I can’t figure out how he spawned Findley.”
Candace said, “Mix up at the maternity ward?”
Jason said, “My Aunt always swore he was a changeling.”
Stephan said, “I’m sticking with his nanny dropping him on his head. The plus side to this whole matter is he will be long gone and hopefully,” he rapped on the wood table, “never to return.” The others raised their glasses and said, “Here, Here”
Brown Manor – Findley
Findley banged on the door. It was very late, or rather it was very early. No matter. Those damn servants should be opening the door anytime they are summoned. Finally, Bertrand Grey opened the door and apologized with a tired tone, “Pardon the wait Mister Brown. Mayor Brown had just sent us off for the night.”
Findley sniffed, “Just like my father…is the old man up?”
Bertrand hesitated for a moment and said, “He’s in the smoking room. He said wasn’t too be disturbed.”
Findley took off his hat and gloves, handed them to the old man and said, “Nonsense, he’ll be seeing me.”
Bertrand said, “Then shall I be announcing you?” the tone saying he would rather do anything but.
Findley said, “I think I shall surprise him. Brush the hat before you put it away, but I’ve no further need of your services.” Findley tossed the coat on the stair bannister. He could hear Bertrand lock the door and sigh as he picked up the coat and headed into the house.
Findley entered the smoking room boldly using both doors. His father had a snifter of cognac and was staring at the fire. At Findley’s entrance to the room his father snapped, “So late. You could have taken along a key and let yourself in without bothering the staff.”
Findley closed the doors and counted to get his temper back just like Smith had taught. Findley headed for the liquor cabinet talking as he walked. “It’s their job. It gives the servants purpose.” He made himself a generous pour of the brandy even though he was still a bit tipsy.
His father said, “You hardly need that much. I can tell that from here. You’ve been drinking all night. Why bother me?”
Findley sat down across a low table from his father and took a sip and said, “I sent a cable saying when I would arrive. Yet you find urgent work at the factory. I am about to leave for months, possibly years and you can’t free yourself for dinner?”
His father remained quiet and took a sip of his own drink. He spoke apropos of nothing, “I supply hardware to a cabinet maker in London.”
Findley sighed. His father supplied many people in London, he supposed there would be some point to this prattle so Findley simply acknowledged the comment and said, “Yes, I know.”
His father looked sideways at him and said, “Got a disturbing note. The cabinet maker returned the remaining money on the contract and even returned the left over stock. He even apologized. I lost a customer and a valuable business opportunity.”
Findley was beginning to understand the rambling. He remained quiet waiting for an opportunity to explain.
His father said, “Damn shame too. They make quality goods and are ramping up volume.” Findley remained mute. His father set his glass down and stared into the fire. “The owner explained why. “ He paused and said, “I would do the same in his position.”
Findley finally said, “Are you going to trust the word of some lower class foreigner over mine?”
There was a silence and then his father said, “I wish I could say I raised you so I would know to trust you. But I am ashamed to admit I can’t. Instead I’ll say I’ve cleaned up after you for years.” His father almost shouted, “Yes, I believe him.” Findley sputtered his protest, but Clarence continued, “Now you’ve cost me business and the respect of a man whose opinion I valued.”
Findley retorted loudly, “You coddle your servants. You worry about the sensibilities of some laborer. Hell…you worry about the good graces of a local Madame.”
His father’s eyes fixed on him as he hissed, “And you don’t. Your mother indulged you and let you believe the world revolved around you. I might have been able to correct that earlier and I didn’t. I regret that. I would apologize if I could.”
Findley sneered, “Apologize? You needn’t apologize to me.”
His father leaned back and said in a tired voice, “It wouldn’t be to you I apologized.” His father finished his drink and stood up. He looked at Findley and said, “I am through cleaning up your messes. I am finished with you sullying my name. I’ve talked to the barrister. You will get nothing when I die. I will be leaving the money to fund scholarships for indigents and working children to the University.”
Findley finally sputtered, “You…you can’t do that…you… you old fool. I am about to do something beyond your imagination. And now you get squeamish over some working class doxie?”
His father headed to the door and said, “I don’t care what you are about to do. I might have once, but no longer.”
Findley winced at the words.
His father continued, “I have nothing more to say to you other than leave here in the morning. Take your things and leave. You crossed a line, Findley, and I wash my hands of you.” He set the glass on the liquor cabinet and stared at it for moment. There was a sadness in his eyes as if he were seeing it for the last time. Without facing Findley he said, “Do not disturb the staff further. Find your own way to bed,” and he left the room.
The words struck like a blow to the stomach. Findley stared at the fire and soon found his face was wet. He heard the heavy steps as his father retreated to his bedroom. Findley shouted a guttural “No!” and threw his glass into the fire. No one came in the room. He gave another guttural “Noooo” and overthrew the sitting table in a crash. No one came as he broke vases and furniture shouting. And no one came when he finally sat amidst the wreckage, sobbing.
The farmhouse, outside of Dunstable – Jason
The walk from town seemed longer than he remembered. He had asked Candace to come along for personal support as well for the practical matter of her being pregnant with his child. It was late afternoon when they arrived. The smell of a mutton stew wafted through the door. Candace said cheerfully, “That smells good.”
Jason said, “Aunt always did cook well. But I’m not sure whether we will be staying.”
Candace smiled, “I am.”
Jason took a deep breath and knocked on the door. After a bit, the door opened to show his Uncle Patrick. Patrick stared for a moment and the slowly wrapped Jason up in a big hug. Finally he said, “Oh lad. Wasn’t sure I was going to see you again.” The voice was hoarse.
Jason’s own eyes were clouded as he said, “wasn’t sure myself.”
His uncle pulled back and looked at him and said, “Stephan said you were gone for good.”
Jason shuffled a bit and said, “He was probably right when he told you. Things are a bit different now.” Candace poked him from behind. He looked up and said, “You know Candace Miller.”
Patrick smiled and said, “Of course. You always get my order right.” He looked at her swelling and then frowned for a moment and looked at Jason. Jason smiled meekly and raised his palms upward. He said, “I didn’t know.”
His uncle said sharply, “I won’t have that. I explained things fine. My God boy. You lived on a farm.” He crossed his arms and then sighed and shook his head and said, “Never mind that. Where are my manners? Come on in. The both of you. Mary! We’ll need more settings.”
From the kitchen there was a shout, “Patrick, don’t you dare. The house isn’t clean.”
Jason smiled at the repartee. His uncle looked at Jason and winked and said, “Doesn’t matter.” Patrick smiled broadly and said, “Trust me…it doesn’t matter. He’s seen it worse.” Patrick opened the front door wider and waved the two in.
Candace said into his ear, “I was right. We do get to eat.”
Jason hissed back, “Still not sure.”
Patrick disappeared into the kitchen and left the two alone in the sitting room. Jason looked around and shrugged a little. He gave a little tour to make conversation, “I would do my homework here…the light was better. And in winter, Aunt Mary would stay here by the heater carding the wool…until we could find a factory to do it.” He heard his Aunt complain in the kitchen, “I can’t leave the stove now. The stew’s bubbling and the biscuits will be done in just a minute.” Then he saw his uncle pulling her into the sitting room. When she saw Jason she stopped. He face changed expression from annoyance to something else he couldn’t quite place. Her eyes softened for a moment and she bit her lower lip. Then she turned quickly thumping Patrick on the chest soundly saying hoarsely, “Old fool. I need to finish dinner.” And then she scurried into the kitchen.
His uncle looked at Jason and shrugged. Jason asked quietly, “Are we staying?”
His uncle scratched his head and said, “She didn’t throw you out…I’ll set the table for four just to make sure.”
Jason sighed and figured it was probably the best that could be hoped for. He squeezed Candace’s hand and then continued the tour pointing out books or various knick knacks. Finally his uncle opened the kitchen and waved them in. The table was set with four bowls of stew, biscuits and greens with drinks around. His aunt had taken her usual space at one end of the table. His uncle helped Candace to a place next to his aunt. Jason was placed opposite his aunt. That was a change. His uncle was now sitting next to his aunt. His aunt stared at him with narrow eyes but said nothing. After a bit, his uncle started a conversation about the cows but his aunt shushed him saying “Jason has no interest in that now. He’s all London fine.”
His uncle pleaded, “Mary, please.” Candace stepped in and started, “My mother thinks the new fabrics for summer will make some fine blouses. The material is light and washes easily.”
His aunt’s face contorted a bit grimacing and then saying slowly, “Don’t know if I need new fancy clothes. But the sitting room windows needs a bit of brightening.” Jason sighed a bit easier as light conversation started. He ate his stew silently as Candace and Mary talked about fabrics, buttons, stitching, needle size and other matters of sewing. Finally everyone had finished. Jason got up and quietly cleaned the table. His aunt snapped, “Why did you come back?”
Jason started the dishes but didn’t look back. He said, “I am going to be gone for a long time. It may be a couple of years and I will be very far away.”
His aunt said harshly, “and you’re leaving her like this?”
Jason turned to protest, but Candace put her hand on Mary’s arm and said, “He has to Mrs. Porter. He simply has to. I don’t know the full of it, but I know Stephen is wringing his hands and the new lad, Edward, says Jason’s a right genius. That he and his crew are doing things no one else can..”
His aunt turned to him and said, “Chasing trouble …just like your parents.”
Jason crossed his arms and said, “I’m going to bring them back.”
Mary snarled, “They won’t be back. They’re dead…from snooping too much.”
Jason snapped back, “I’ve been told otherwise…” His aunt’s mouth opened and then closed. He filled in quickly, “You are more right than you know to say they were snooping too much. I’ve been told they’ve been taken far away and some people are very unhappy with their research.”
Mary lifted her chin in triumph saying, “See…chasing trouble.”
Jason said, “But they are alive and I am going to get them back.” She stayed silent. She looked at the table. He could see her eyes water a bit. He started on the dishes again.
Finally she said in a shuddering voice, “The cows miss you. Won’t go in the stalls right and cheese doesn’t taste as good.”
Jason said quietly as he washed , “ I miss your stew. Jolene puts cream in hers. And too many vegetables.”
His aunt said, sniffing, “Those water heaters are the talk o’ the town. Can’t see the fuss.” Even with his back turned, he could sense a smile in the voice. A life time of backwards praise let him know she had noticed.
He replied conversationally, “When I get back, I expect I could do another one even better.” He looked around and saw a free wall and pointed with his chin, “It would fit there.”
His uncle said, “We don’t’ have a gas line and we still pump the water.”
Jason finished the pot and picked up a towel and said, “There are solutions to those.” He looked at his aunt and said, “A hot bath after the last milking on a cold rainy night could feel good.”
His aunt crossed her arms and said, “Tain’t natural.” He saw Candace and Uncle Patrick tense. Six months ago he would have retorted all the ways she used new things. But he held his tongue. He dried a third plate and waited.
His aunt looked away and said, “But my bones are getting tired these days. Might be nice to warm up occasionally.” The tension left the room. She straightened up and said, “How long are you going to be gone. Someone else might offer me a water heater.”
Jason looked at Patrick and said, “You will tell about that conversation when it happens, won’t you?”
His uncle looked at his aunt and then at Jason said, “I shall write it down. I won’t miss a word.”
Jason continued, “To be honest, I don’t know. Travel will go faster, but I don’t know how things will turn out on the other end. I expect at least six months, but it could be as much as two years. And that is me just guessing.”
His aunt looked at Candace and said, “I don’t think she is going to last the six months.”
Candace flushed and said, “Mum’s not happy, but she is going to help. Kimberly and da’ will as well. I’ve got the job at the pub and they’ve promised to keep me on. And Jason’s left a good sum to take care of us that should last until he’s back.”
His aunt scowled saying, “Money’s not going to help when the little one has the colic.” She folded her arms and said, “and you mother’s got a business to run. Bring the little ‘un around on occasion and give your mum a break. Seems we’ll have to fill in while he’s gone larking off.”
Jason said quietly, “Thank you.”
His aunt said sharply, “Shame on you for leaving a lass in that state.”
Jason sputtered, but Candace said, “He didn’t know. Besides, he will be doing things we can’t imagine. He’ll be meeting important people. He will be doing so much more than washing dishes and making water heaters.”
Jason said firmly, “and I will be back.”
His aunt sighed and then crossed her arms, “Nothing wrong milking cows. Perfectly good honest labor.”
Jason tried to stay calm as he said, “I know…and it fills the day. But I know I can do more. I know we can do more…we working folk…and I intend to show everyone just how much we honest working types can do.”
There was a bit of quiet and Jason dried the last dish. His aunt said, “But you’re coming back?”
He moved closer to Candace and put an arm around her and said, “I’ve got a reason or two. Sean…Da’ found happiness here and he saw more than I am going to. I think I can find happiness here. But I have to go too.” He paused and said, “Won’t be much point in staying if things aren’t safe and I have to try to make things right.”
His aunt said, “Sean was a good man. More curiosity than sense, but he was a good man. Always treated me right.” She reached for his hand and said, “He would be proud.” She looked away and said hoarsely, “Just come back. You’re all we’ve got left.”
Jason got on a knee and looked his aunt in the eye and said, “I’ll be back. Please take care of Candace and little one. Let em’ know who their da’ was. Show ‘em how to milk and how collect eggs.”
His aunt pulled him, “You come back sooner and tell ‘em yourself boy.”
It was late and his aunt would not have them walk home. A woman in Candace’s condition should not be out in the cold and dark. Jason’s room and bed were small, but they didn’t seem to mind.