Dunstable July, 1862
On Tuesdays, dinner stopped early at the pub. The kitchen crews finished cleaning and were free to take off. Jolene switched to working the front and started helping her husband behind the bar. Peter took off his apron and said his good byes having a wife a home. Candace come up to Jason and said “stick around. Some off us will be getting off shortly. We’ll have a drink and celebrate your first week.”
He wasn’t expected at home so soon so he sat down at the end of the bar. Jolene pulled a pint for him and said “The first one is on the house.” The diners were almost gone now. Rob was clearing tables in the main room. There was a table with a couple who enjoying desert but was finished otherwise. Another table was still drinking and had been for a while. Kimberly was managing to keep them happy, but the effects of the alcohol were starting to show. John was done as well and sat down next to Jason and ordered a pint. “Cheers, and welcome to the Pig and Cow”, John said raising his glass.
“Thanks, isn’t that your table?” Jason said pointing to the couple.
“They’ve paid and left a proper tip. I’ll watch to make sure they don’t want more but I’ve done me duty.” He said nodding to the table. He turned to Jason, “It’s not a proper welcome until you’ve had a pint or two and we can’t properly welcome you if you don’t stay. So assume you are going to stay.”
“Might as well. Besides – I’m thinking of a mechanism to make hot water on demand. I’d like to ask Stephan what he thinks. “
“Such the working boy. Relax. You’re off duty. This isn’t class; you’re not graded in here.”
Jason smiled into his beer and thought that one is always graded. Not everybody knows it or knows the subject, but one is always being graded. “You all have been great help. I am sure I would be totally lost without help.”
John whispered conspiratorially, “Here’s the trick. It is enlightened self-interest. A) If you trip over your feet, we don’t get clean dishes. B) If you leave, we have to find other pour soul to scrub our mess or C) I go back to bus-boy; Rob goes back to dishes; and we are all shorthanded. You might be low man on the totem pole, but if you shrug, we all shiver. Now drink up you boring sot and tell me about Jason McNeill”.
Jason grimaced. He was never much good at the pub scene at University. Sure, he and his mates could talk, but they were classmates: they shared classes, demonic professors, and hellacious homework. Then there were the girls pined for and games lost to rival schools. What was the common ground here?
“Cor. You are an odd one. All right Uncle John will start slow. Where do you live?”
“I live on a farm outside of town. And if you talk to me like that again, you will wear this beer.” Jason said in a good natured tone, but there was enough heat in it to say he meant it.
“So Mr. Friendly does have a limit. Good. I prefer limits. What kind of farm? A big one?”
“It’s a dairy farm. We’ve 20 head. Milk, butter, cheese. Stephan and Jolene buy a lot of our butter and cheese. The milk goes to market. “
“How many hands to help?”
“My uncle and aunt, myself, Bob Wilkens. Larry does handy man work and delivers milk to the market. “
John paused mid drink. “You help on the farm too?”
Jason felt a bit defensive. “Well , I have to. Uncle and Aunt need the help and farming isn’t what it used to be”
“No, No. I am impressed. When do you sleep? Never mind…dumb question”
“When I get home” Jason grumbled. “What about you? How did you end up here?”
“Me. Oh it’s complicated. I’d been on the road awhile. I was doing odd jobs when Stephan offered me a regular job here.”
“You were on the road because…”
“As I said it’s complicated.”
“Oh come on old boy. Fair’s fair. I spilled a bit of my life spill a bit of yours”
“Jason, leave him be”, Stephan said from down the bar and nodded at John. “He’s got his life now and we all best leave it at that.”
John nodded at Stephan and then shrugged at Jason, “I have a room attached and do odd jobs for Stephan and Jolene: the occasional handyman and fetching job. Without getting into messy details, Stephan offered me a place to stay and a job after a bit of a row in another town. “
“And that’s aught he has to say about it.” Stephan gruffly said looking sternly at John.
“Good lord it makes me think you have buried bodies somewhere,” Jason said
At that moment, Kimberly shouted, “Last time. Hands off” and slapped away the hands of a patron at a table. Stephan looked in her direction then he nodded to John who nudged Jason. Stephan head around the bar, while Jason and John followed.
“Is there a problem, Ms. Kimberly?”, Stephan asked somberly while staring at the three young men. All three were smartly dressed with fancy embroidered vests and tailored jackets. Jason and John flanked him.
The young man in the center said, “Ease up a bit old man. We were just joshing a bit with your barmaid. Not need to get all severe with us.” He was short, of typical build and wore a bright blue paisley vest and gold chain across his belly slurred his words just a bit. His black hair was pomaded straight back. He tried looking reasonable, but mostly looked lecherous. On his right side, a taller stockier young man wore a bowler and had a handlebar mustache. His expression had a dull look about him. On the left side, the man was thinner and his mustache was a trimmed line above his lip. The thin man’s pants were striped and the vest was a bright blue with subtle patterns. He looked intently at Jason as if he knew him. Jason was staring back and realized who he was looking at and clenched his fists.
“Kimberly? A bit of jostling? ” Stephan asked.
“Chester there was copping a feel every time I stopped by the table. I got tired of it,” Kimberly said in protest.
“It was just a bit of fun. No harm intended bird, ” Chester tried to sound calming.
“Gentlemen, your tab is now due. Kimberly, finish out their bill. They will be leaving presently. The lads and I will make sure their needs are attended to.”
The thin man on the left, blurted out of nowhere “Jason, Jason McNeil. Fancy you here. I see Stephan has you working. I’m glad you found a career. What is it? Bartending? Cooking? No… Jolene is particular…You’re dishwashing of course. So much practice back at University. Living up to your potential I see”
“Findley Brown, I see you and your pretty boys haven’t improved manners after leaving University. I suppose at least here you don’t have to worry about passing classes. However did you pass your third class honors? Did Chester here help you?,” nodding to the standing man in the middle, “or did you seek the truly astounding academic skills of Cedric?”, waving at the large man on the right who grunted unintelligibly ”Did you use some of your trust to pay off some poor invigilator? I swear I think you had problems in sums when we were boys. “Jason put his finger to his chin as if considering a problem. “ I suppose one can’t really expect someone of your learning capabilities to understand basic politeness.” Jason then leaned in. “But then you never had to because Daddy always made things right. “
“Why Jason, do I detect jealousy? The school charity case couldn’t find a proper job?”
Jason tightened his fingers at the dig.
Findley continued, “Ah of course not. All the firsts in the world, and what do you have: a job as a dishwasher in a second rate bar in a third rate town. Your parents were failures and I see you’ve inherited their poor sense.”
Jason grabbed one of the steins of beer and threw it at Findley. Findley stood up quickly sputtering. His slightly drunk mates stood up as well. John stepped around and clinched his fists.
“Enough” roared Stephan. “You three will pay your bill and leave. Jason go back to bar and I will deal with you presently.”
“Deal with him? You should fire him” protested Findley.
Jason suddenly panicked realizing that could quite likely happen. Stephan looked up at the ceiling.
“Mr. Brown. Did hear I you correctly ‘second rate bar in a third rate town’? If it weren’t a waste of good beer, I might provide a second coat. You will pay now and you will leave or I will call a constable and we’ll all sort this out at the station.”
“My father will…”
“Findley Brown. Everyone town knows who you are. Your father knows me and he knows I run a respectable establishment. I’ll not have you scrabbling my staff. Your father is an upright man. So if I told him someone was treating Kimberly, his favorite barmaid, poorly, I would expect him to most upset. Your bill is due Mr. Brown. And I believe you owe a proper tip”
“Your dishwasher just drenched me with beer”
“Pay your bill and we’ll call it even then. Your business is finished here”
Stephan leaned over and pulled Findley’s wet vest over so that he could whisper something in his ear. Findley’s expression took the strangest sequence going from outrage to shock to horror and back to outrage.
“Pay your bill. Leave my staff alone and naught more. I have respectable folk in this establishment and I have no need for hooligans who think this is a ‘second-rate’ bar.”
“Lads pay up now. We’re leaving .O’Doul’s has better beer anyway.”
Stephan snorted and watched at the crumpled bills landed on the table. The three moved quickly to the door stumbling a bit on the steps.
“What did you tell him?” John asked. “He looked positively pale.”
“Naught you need to know. Let’s just say a bartender holds a great many secrets”.
Stephan looked at Jason and said “You. Kitchen. Now”
“Stephan give him a break. You said yourself …”
“John. Shut up and drink your beer or you will be next”
Jason looked down; shoulders slumped, and headed into the kitchen through the swinging doors. Despite what Stephan said, he was doomed to be fired. Great. Aunt will just say he should stay on the farm. Oh, how he hated Findley and all the rich prats of the world. It doesn’t seem to matter what he did: nothing was ever good enough. His parents should have been famous and they were lost and dead because of some mistake they made and now consigned to obscurity. He was left with cleaning dishes.
Stephan came in and hung up his apron. He sat in a chair and looked over at Jason.
“I think tossing the beer was a mite rash. Don’t you think” he said quietly.
“He shouldn’t have insulted my parents.” Jason’s voice seemed plaintive.
“Aye. He shouldn’t have. And he did. He was baiting you and you rose like a fine trout. Lad, you should know better than that. Now he knows how to twist the knife. Do ye think he won’t do it at every opportunity now?”
Jason turned around and faced the sink. Tears were burning. If Stephan was going fire him, why didn’t he just do it? Jason knew he was better at this. How did Findley push his buttons so easily? He banged his hands on the sink as if it were the source of his frustration.
“Ye were doing so well. When I was your age, I’d ‘ve cracked him after the dishwashing nugget. You came back right at him. You know you hit quite well – he lashed out at you and your parents.”
“He’s right though. All I’ve got for the firsts is debt. And it is a tidy bit of debt for a dishwasher”
“Oh I know you’re better than this job. Findley knows it too. Findley knows you’re better than him and that is what he really hates. You’re better than 10 of his lot. Your time will come lad and when it does, I hope to see the look on Findley’s face. You’ve made the working folk of the town proud. Now don’t go messing it up by tangling with that worthless sot of a mayors’ son.”
Jason looked up at the cement splash block. It was already dry from the evening dishes.
“You have the oddest way of firing somebody.”
Stephan laughed loudly. “You are a tool. I was going to toss him out anyway. Please don’t drench the customers again, but come along lad. I’ll pour you a pint for the one you wasted on that bloated fraud”
Jason sniffed a bit; wiped his eyes and continued to stare at the sink. “I don’t know. I am not that festive at the moment”
“I won’t take no for an answer. I’ll not let that nob stop our celebration. Now I’ll give you a moment to straighten yourself out and join us. But if you sneak out the back door, there will be cold food at lunch tomorrow and I will have Jolene double her dish count for you. “
“All Right. All right. Give me a moment and I’ll come back out. “
Stephan closed the portal to the dining room and went through the swinging doors. Jason continued to stare at the clean dishes. He took a dish and stared at it: so carefully cleaned and dried; stacked with the rest and ready for serving. He looked around the room. Was this his lot in life: dishwashing to be promoted to bus boy and on up the restaurant ladder? If he didn’t do something with all that training soon, he would go crazy. He leaned over the sink and ran the pump briefly and washed his face. He grabbed a towel and dried himself. After making a couple of faces just to clear up his puffy eyes, he headed out the door.
The whole crew (at least those that remained) were lined up on the bar nursing their drinks. The dining room had cleared all the way out in the ruckus. Stephanie passed some orders, “Rob, stack those dishes quickly from those two. Kimberly your tabs are covered for the night. First round is on the house for crew”
Stephan pulled more pints for Jolene, John, Candace, Kimberly, Rob, Stephanie and finally Jason. Stephan shoved it in his direction down the glass-like surface of the granite bar. “Here you go lad. Don’t going wasting my fine beer again. Cheers – to our new dishwasher and engineer – Jason McNeill”
“Here, Here” came the acclaims. Jason was a little surprised at the second note. Maybe he COULD convince Stephan to sponsor a project or two. Getting something to heat water automatically would be great for the dishwashing station. He cheered a bit at the thought and took a long pull from the beer. While he was drinking Kimberly picked the spot next to Jason. She wore a calf length plaid skirt and white linen blouse. Normally the blouse would be buttoned and a red string tie, but she had removed the tie and loosened the collar. Kimberly was the identical twin of Candace. Both had long brown hair. He had learned that Kimberly kept hers loose in a pony-tail while Candace used a braid. Both had brown eyes and a bit of a tan from outdoors, although he had no idea where that came from.
“Thanks for fending off the punters,” Kimberly
“I think it was mostly Stephen. I just dirtied Findley’s suit and got everyone riled up. Whatever Stephan said is what cleared them out. “
Candace sat down on the other side of Jason and said, “I liked the beer though. Wish I had done it,” she said. Jason snorted. Kimberly continued “Was the famous mayor’s son all that bad in University? “
“He was a pain to go to school with here and he really came into his own at University.”
“No old school love lost there,” she commented.
“University is open to all and I made it. But when you get there, the same rules here apply there. High born and those with money get the cream and the rest of us make due. Findley’s dad made sure he had a job no matter how incompetent Findley might be. If there are only so many jobs and a lot of those are reserved. Well, if you aren’t rich or well born, you better be good. And I wasn’t top of the heap. Findley couldn’t figure his way out of a paper bag with a pair of scissors, but Daddy makes sure he has a job in some building firm. “
Kimberly commented, “I like his father, but Findley seems to believe the town owes him for the being the mayor’s son. This isn’t the first time he and his chums have been arses. I’ve asked Stephan to ban him, but I guess the mayor has prevented it. “
“Well, he’ll either avoid here because of me or he’ll come here more often to torment me,” Jason said somewhat bitterly.
“He really gets to you, ” Candace said. Kimberly turned her attention to John who had sat next to her on the other side.
Jason shrugged and declined to agree with the obvious. He decided to be sociable and changed the subject.
“So how did you end up here?” he asked Candace.
“I finished up school two years after you. (You know we were all quite proud of our farm boy heading to University). Mum has the fabric, notions and dress making shop. Anyway, I wasn’t any good at sewing so working in me mum’s shop wouldn’t work. I asked if I could wait tables. Stephan had me bus tables for a bit. Kimberly came on a bit after me – I think she was a bit tired of mum. Stephan hired her and started her as a food server and assistant in the kitchen. After a month, we both got some time as servers on heavy nights. Stephanie thought having us as serving maids might be a bit of novelty to liven the place up. We play the game occasionally wearing the same clothes and trading tables and orders. “
“My aunt loves your mum’s store. I think she’d do sewing and needle point all the time if weren’t for the farm. How is the shop holding up?”
“When the parts factory opened, there were managers and the hours weren’t so long, there was more time for off time activities. Winters are pretty dull here as you know, so the fabrics and notions portion has grown quite a bit. The women have wanted to look more like London so they want more fancy dresses so mum has hired two seamstresses to keep up with demand. She’s practically a factory on her own. Dad is busier than ever with his machine repair business and the factory. I think he could use some help, but don’t tell Stephan I said that”, she smiled conspiratorially.
“I am grateful for the job here and will stick it out. I even have some ideas I’d like to try if I can get Stephan’s permission and a bit of backing. “
“Well aren’t you the bright boy. Stephan’s not really the ‘new ideas’ type. Try Jolene or Stephanie first if you can. He’s putty in their hands. Anyway I get the impression you adapt pretty quickly though.”
“Really? What makes you say that?” he asked.
Candace counted off, “One – you’re working class – farm bred even. But you succeed in school over all the dandies from the town. Two, you head off to college with enough donations to pay for a single semester only and you still manage to complete your degrees. “
“With hardly stellar grades”
Candace continued, “You made it without a name or money. Few can say that. Three, you come back with no job. Instead of curling up or settling for farming, you take a job in town. Sure it’s dishwashing, but you decided. Again, most people would have done one of the first two. “
“Of course, I have enough debt that – let’s see: rent and board to aunt and uncle, pay with tips from here…” Jason made a show of calculating the figures in his head. “With current interest rate payments, I shall be debt free at the age of 85.” Kimberly snorted her beer half laughing and half in amazement. Jason continued, “There is no savings in that calculation, so there will be no pension and I shall have to continue to work.” He considered his hands speculatively “Do you think my hands will still have that soft touch after all those dishes?” He took a long drink and finished his ale. “Stephan, another please for a penniless soul.”
“This one will be the last one on the house, ya insolvent lush. And ye’ll pay in advance from now on.”
Kimberly laughed and coughed more. “Good Lord” gasping, “Is it really that expensive?”
“Yes. My freshman year, there were perhaps 20 of us working class types. I know because we were housed together in one dorm floor. By my graduation, there were only 6 of us left to graduate. I had to go to school and do homework and then hold down a job to pay for room and board and books. The load got to be too much for some. Others…well they offended the wrong teacher or brat. In one case, a parent died and they had to go back to work the business.”
“Criminy, I had no idea.”
“Yeah well. I try not dwell on some things. I don’t regret going to University. I learned an incredible amount. It’s hard to explain the things that go on. It was so alive; things were being discovered and made; and it was hard work I didn’t notice.”
“So Findley represents everything bad, hence the tetchiness.”
“If I am being honest, he is the face of my adversity. He earned a bit of rancor all by himself, mind you. I swear he thought I was his personal valet for the first week. At least until some more senior lads corrected him firmly. “ Jason smiled briefly at the thought. “Then he just avoided me when he could. Professors might pair us since we were from the same town. That stopped in the second year.”
“Mr. Mayor’s son didn’t like the association with a working type?”
“More like, I didn’t like doing his work”
“Imagine my surprise. “
“Enough of that prig. What do you do when you aren’t serving drinks?”
“I like to sew even if I am not good enough for Mum’s shop. I also like a good walk in the country. And there is always a round of darts.”
“Darts? You realize you’re talking to Tavingstock Pub Dart’s champion 2 years running? “
“Hah. You University boys believe everything gets better with classes. Prepared to suffer defeat and the hands of a county lass.”
Candace quickly found a proper set of darts and set up a round. Kimberly and John joined on the sides cheering on their respective genders. Rob finished cleaning the last of the tables, grabbed a beer and joined the growing crowd. Stephan, Jolene and Stephanie conversed over the day’s business until Jolene shooed Stephanie over to the game. Stephanie had a glass a wine and seemed a bit awkward, but Kimberly joshed with her and she was soon harassing Jason at his efforts. The earlier altercation faded away as laughter and shouts filled the evening.