Dunstable, July 1862
Jason sat at his work bench in his room putting the finish touches on his draft. The boiler would bring in hot water into the kitchen on a continuous basis. The design was simple: cool water in one end flowed through a set of tubes. A set of burners under the tubes heated the water as it flowed. A tank assembly fed the flow. He hoped that water might get near boiling if he got the tubes small enough. The brass casing would transfer heat quickly. The faucet fixture would have to be special ordered, but the local smith could handle most of the metal work. He spread some sand on the draft to dry the ink and then brushed it off. He started rolling the draft up. From the other room, he heard his Aunt. “Jason I still see light in the room. You need to sleep. Tomorrow we’re making cheese and I need you rested. “
“Yes Aunt. I’m just finishing up a draft. It’s done and I will turn in now.” He tied up the roll and set it under the bed.
“You shouldn’t be wasting your time on that. We have real work to do”, his Aunt said sharply. Before he could answer, his Uncle called out, “Mary, I’ve said leave him be on his engineering. It harms nothing and he gets his work done”. At that point, he Aunt countered with some argument he had stopped listening to. He looked at the roll with the diagrams he would show Stephan. It was hard not to agree with the immensely practical and stodgy woman. What had four years gotten him except a mountain of debt? He wished she wasn’t gloating when she said he needed real work. There were plenty of titled and rich ones who could find work in mechanisms and designing, but none for him. His Aunt seemed perfectly happy with her lot and she was annoyed he wasn’t happy with his. It was as if wanting to better himself was at her expense. He knew she resented his mother and how she was always “putting on airs.” With his parents gone, she seemed determined to prevent that flaw in him. He must have had enough of his mother embedded in him that the effort was futile. He was a success in grammar school and got an invitation to University. His leaving for University was punctuated with multiple versions of “Mark my words…this will come to nothing.” His Uncle tried to be encouraging and supportive in his way, but his Aunt was a force of nature. He sighed a bit and placed the hollow tube with the drafts under his bed. Perhaps if he did something for the farm, she could see it was worth something.
The following morning he heard a knock on the door. “Time to get up.” He rose and checked the rolled draft again. At the basin, he splashed water on his face. He changed into his farm work clothes and headed downstairs. Each morning four people had to milk the cows. There were the three of them plus Tom, the handy man. The four stations allowed the 24 cows to milked in a bit over an hour. He had suggested the current layout and raised platforms for the cows in his second year. The job was a bit easier with less bending over. Once the cows got used to the odd position, they were perfectly content with their oats three feet higher. The double paddock layout would finally pay for itself in about two more years with the additional cows. To hear his Aunt, he would have bankrupted her. His Uncle saw the idea and found a bank willing to loan. The increased productivity happened as he had predicted.
Jason didn’t necessarily mind milking the cows. He was gentle and some cows seemed to be “regulars” at his station. His fingers undulated up and down filling the bucket. The cows were chewing on alfalfa and oats as he did his work. He thought he saw his Aunt leave a bit early. No matter – sometimes people had to go. Nature can be like that. A friendly Jersey cow arrived and he set her for milking. She would get her own container as her milk was creamier.
After finishing, he headed to the back of the barn. There was a pump shower. He shed his shirt and washed down shivering. He could hear his Uncle arguing with Aunt again. That happened occasionally, but rarely in the morning and it seemed very loud. He finished washing and headed to the house by way of the kitchen. As walked in, his Aunt told him “hurry down, I’ve some bangers to go with the eggs.” His Uncle glared at her but said nothing. He replied, “it smells good…I won’t be a tick”
He headed to his room and pulled on his restaurant work clothes. He glanced down to the base of the bed. The rolled draft wasn’t there. That was odd. He kneeled down and looked under the bed. There was his traveling case from University. He opened it, but it was empty save for the cedar chips to prevent moths. He looked around the room. He pushed the rolls in the bucket and checked each one. His panic rose. He quickly buttoned his shirt and headed out without putting his suspenders on.
“Pardon me. Have you seen a roll of paper? It was under my bed and it has gone missing.” His Aunt said nothing and tended the sausage.
“Tell him Mary. He asked. “ His Uncle said, sounding very tense and angry.
“Be quiet” his Aunt snapped.
“Tell me what?” Jason asked. His Aunt continued to tend the sausages silently.
“If ye don’t, I will.” His Uncle said sharply.
“You stay out of this. It’s for the best.” His Aunt replied just as sharply.
“What’s for the best? Where is my draft? I was going to show Stephan that. He knows more about boilers and I want some advice. “
His Uncle moved to the hearth with some tongs and looked at fire. Jason followed his gaze. There was ash that was long and dark. It might have been a roll before it was consumed. He walked to the fire place and stared at the ash. His eyes closed and he let out a long and keening wail “No…nOOOOo…”.
His Uncle stared at the fire and laid a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry lad. I really am. I thought she would come around. I didn’t think she’d go this far. “
Jason batted away his Uncle’s hand. His voice hoarse, he said “I did everything you asked me. I never complained. That was the one thing of mine I’ve done since I came back.”
He Aunt turned and finally spoke. “It’s for your own good.”
Jason tried to compose himself and wiped his eyes. “You don’t decide what is good for me anymore,” he snarled. “I worked on that for days. That was mine.”
“Nothing would have come of it. You’ve got a place here. You don’t need to go inventing stuff.” Her voice challenged him to disagree.
His Uncle stared at the fire looking more helpless than ever. “I’m sorry son. What was it going to be?”
Jason shuddered a bit as he explained, “It was a design for an automatic water heater. I was going to show it to Stephan for some help. I was tired of cold water baths. If it worked well, it would help the restaurant. “
“Automating water heating? How did you supply the heat? “, his Uncle asked sounding genuinely interested.
“Gas. I’m not sure how we would have gotten it out here,” Jason said through sniffles. He stared at the fire. “It was a first design. I was thinking of using it to heat the house or the barn, but that was too big to start.”
His Aunt, frustrated at being ignored snapped, “Hush both of you. There will be no more that invention in my house. Such things killed my sister – your mother and I’ll have none of it now. You’ll be a fine farmer and thank me later.”
Jason closed his eyes as if that would make controlling his voice easier. “That was mine. You had no right.”
“I had every right. Your mother made the same things. Did she stop at door bells and well buckets? No and she’s dead because of it.”
The control Jason has gained started to slip. The work had been an attempt to keep his skills and she had burned it. If keeping him from making his mother’s mistakes made it right, it wasn’t working for him. “I have worked your farm without protest. I didn’t ask for any money to go to University. I come back and do one thing you don’t approve of and this is what happens.”
His Aunt protested. “You owe us.”
Jason exploded “Be quiet. I owe you nothing. Nothing at all. I’ve paid my debt. I can do things you won’t imagine. I will not be limited by fear anymore.”
“What are you saying?” His Aunt’s voice started to take a pleading tone.
“I am leaving. I don’t belong here. This all just proves it.”
His Uncle finally spoke. “I warned you Mary. “
“You can’t leave. Who will work the farm?” His Aunt sounded desperate now.
“Hire somebody. I don’t care anymore. I am not sure I ever did.” He said, sounding tired.
“You’ll rot as a dishwasher.”
Jason paused and closed his eyes. The spite in those words hurt more than he expected. “Maybe. But at least people there aren’t afraid of me. You burnt it like it was so much kindling. You’ve never appreciated my ideas, my experiments, my intelligence. Others do and others will. I won’t stay here to supply you with some sort of retirement and go along to assuage your fears. “
“You owe us. You can’t leave.” The pitch of the words rose made them sound more like pleas than demands.
“We took you in. We raised you. We could have left you in an orphanage.”
“Mary !” shouted his Uncle.
“If he leaves, that’s money lost taking care of him, “ her bitterness and frustration rising high.
“I won’t hear it. Jason she doesn’t mean it. She’s just scared,” his Uncle protested.
“No you won’t.” She shouted at Jason and surged towards him. His burly Uncle wrapped her up from behind and the both of them were crying.
“Go lad. Pack up. We’ll be ok.”
Jason ran to his room and grabbed the valise from under the bed and threw it on top. He filled it with clothes. The books from school wouldn’t fit. He put a picture of his mother and father in the case. He grabbed his school satchel and filled it with his lab coat and drafting tools as best he could. Tears filled his eyes in frustration, anger, loss. The noise of his guardians seemed to have ceased. With his case and satchel he poked his head out. His Uncle was staring at the fire again, but his Aunt was gone.
“Are ye packed?”
“Mostly. I couldn’t find a place for my books or drawings. “
“Show me. We’ll find a safe place for them. I can bring ‘em when you’ve settled.”
Jason started to tear up again – he hadn’t thought about where he would stay or what it would be like to not have a place to call home. He composed himself and each grabbed a good size stack of books. Jason followed his Uncle out to the workshop. The books were placed on a shelf and his Uncle carefully locked the door. “You’re Aunt isn’t herself at the moment. I’ll walk to town with you if you’ll have the company.”
“I think I would like that. “
His Uncle took the case and he took the satchel and they started down the road.
After a bit, Jason commented “I’m sorry if Aunt Mary feels like I am abandoning you. I am grateful you took me in, but…”
His Uncle looked a bit sad and replied “Lad. I’m sorry I didn’t do more for you. I should have done more and I let you down.”
“Listen for a bit, and maybe you’ll understand your Aunt a bit. Your Mum was brilliant. Easily the smartest woman I met. And, until I met your father, I might have said the smartest person. She knew everything, absorbed everything. She could explain about things I didn’t know existed. Your grandparents…maybe they were overwhelmed or maybe they were just plain proud. But they doted on her and favored her (at least in my eyes). I know you idolize your parents so understand the next part is going to be a bit hard to hear.”
Jason walked for a bit. “I guess Mum was hard to get along with.”
“She was smart and knew it and made sure everyone including her sister knew it. Your Aunt grew up idolizing your Mom, but she was never as bright or good with the numbers. The good teachers tried to get her to be herself. But, mostly your Mum just seemed to let your Aunt know she didn’t quite measure up. And, frankly, your grandparents didn’t help by giving your mother extra schooling and your Aunt extra chores. At some point, a person can only hear ‘you aren’t smart’ so often before they believe it.”
Jason was silent as he heard the story. Then he said “I’ve met people like both of them. I’ve tried not to be ‘too smart’”
“Jason, we worked you hard and we didn’t help with the University. But we cared for you. We taught you to believe in yourself and to care about others. I’m right proud you’re smart and still don’t take yourself too seriously. Your Dad was grounded that way. He was good at taking the edges off your Mom. In fact, your Mom and your Aunt were sort of speaking before the accident. I never knew where your Dad came from, he just sort of appeared and he was the only one who could match your Mum’s intellect. He poked a hole or two in her head. After the dust settled, they were courting. I think it was that or she was planning his demise. Aye it was rough at the beginning, but they were made for one another.”
“In the meantime, I started courting your Aunt. I spent a bit of time convincing her that I was serious. I spent another bit of time convincing her that she was smart in her own right. I think that is still going on. I know it’s hard to see right now, but she is a beautiful woman when she is working with animals or making the cheese. The animals seem content around her and things just seem to happen right. “
Jason remained quiet after these revelations. They walked along the rutted road past another set of fences. “What happened in the accident?”
“Nobody rightly knows. Your father had been working with acids and metals. Your mother was assisting him. Seems they had a way to trap electricity, although I don’t know or understand the stuff. You might understand it. But a good deal of gas had been built up. There was a spark and an explosion. I heard it blew out windows for blocks. I don’t think anyone found anything remaining of either after the fire. ‘Twas a sad mystery. Both of them were said to be careful, but this was new so who can say?”
“As you know, your Aunt and me had been trying for years to have kids. There were none. You were only two years old. It wasn’t hard to take you in. Your Aunt was shocked by the accident. She and your Mum had started to talk again. Your mother – Martha, was more respectful to Mary. I wouldn’t have anything else and your father, Sean wouldn’t either. So when the accident happened, it hit Mary hard. She blamed all that schooling for making Martha careless and filling her head with foolish ideas. We cared about you, but she got a bit protective. I tried to fix that. A boy’s got to get in scrapes and you needed to know the world wasn’t safe.“
“You going to University…well it was like your Mum all over again. Everyone saying how smart you were. You being gone at University while we worked here at the farm. And then you come back with fantastical ideas that disrupt things. I could see it was really all good, but I just couldn’t get her to see reason. She loves you Jason. It hasn’t shown for a bit, but she does.”
“Am I allowed to be angry?” Jason asked a bit bitterly.
“Of course lad. Of course. If she had done that to my work, I’d have had a fit too. And it wasn’t right how she never noticed the good things you did. I am hoping she’ll see the error of her ways. If she does, I am hoping you can find a way to forgive her. “
“I won’t go back. I can’t.”
“You don’t belong on a farm, boy. You should be building things; discovering like your parents. All I ask is you don’t forget that not everyone see things like you do and be gentle with us folk who don’t. “
“Right now all I seemed destined for is dishwashing.”
“Oh that’s just now. Stephan knows you’ll be so much more. I’ve seen you work. I know how smart you are and I know how hard you work. With those two traits, nothing will stop you.”
Jason snorted, “Well there is this small matter of housing at the moment.”
His Uncle chuckled, “Moved into problem solving all ready. That’s why you’ll go far and that’s why you’ll annoy everyone around you. Let’s see what Stephan has before you despair.”
“Uncle. I am sorry I haven’t given you your due. I forget that you really were there for me. I know things I wouldn’t have known otherwise. When life is hard, I guess I make this fantasy about how much better things would have been with Mom and Dad. I don’t know that really. And I do know that what I had was a home of love even if I didn’t notice it.”
“Aye, kids don’t really…not until they leave.” His Uncle choked a little on the last words and was quiet. They continued walking into town. Occasionally they spoke about the cows, and fences and anything but his mother or Aunt. They arrived at the door of the Pig and Cow. His Uncle rapped firmly. Jolene opened the door and saw Jason.
“You’re here early. “
“Well, that’s me, mostly Jolene,” his Uncle offered.
“Patrick, how are you?”
“Getting by. Jason has decided to strike out on his own. He could use a room until he finds a place for himself? Do you have any space?”
“Come on in. I’ll ask Stephan. “
The two entered the pub. Stephanie was hunched over some menus and Jason sat down at table with her. “Can I help?” he asked.
“How neat is your handwriting?” she replied.
“Neat enough. I suppose no one has complained in a while. “
She handed him a list. “Can you chalk that on the boards for tonight?”
“I think I can handle that.” He said good naturedly.
The special was haddock in a cream sauce with dill. There was also country chicken with rice. There was the pub standard – steak and kidney pie. And there was ham with potatoes and fall vegetables. He wrote out the words to the two dishes as neatly as he could and added their prices. Then he added a bit of flourish. Next to the haddock dish, he drew a fish with a top hat. Next to the county chicken, he added a cartoon chicken with a farmer’s hat and coveralls. The steak and kidney pie got a steer looking out with a bit of clover in his mouth and a racer hat and scarf. The pig got a pork pie hat of course.
“How’s that?” Jason asked with a touch of pride.
“Interesting. I didn’t know you sketched. “ She looked over the sandwich board appraising it and find it acceptable.
“It was a handy skill to acquire in Engineering. I traded an art student for some lessons in return for some help in math homework. I needed to be able to draw objects fairly quickly sometimes and there are short cuts. “
“Well it’s cute and that’s ok for a Tuesday. I am not sure the Thursday or Friday crowd will appreciate it. They’re a bit more… manly.” Stephanie suggested
“I can do a manly chicken. Wait that didn’t come out right.” Jason stuttered and Stephanie giggled. The two continued to talk as Jolene, Stephan and his Uncle huddled. It made Jason feel a bit inadequate for a moment. He wasn’t doing his own work. But his Uncle and Stephan seem to understand each other in a way Jason wasn’t privy to. After a bit, the three came over.
Stephan started “Well lad, we have a spare room on the ground floor. It’s off the storage behind the kitchen. It ‘taint much, but it has a bed and furniture. There’ll be room and board and some rules as well. Dishwasher’s pay isn’t that good from what I hear so I expect you may be a while before you can lodge elsewhere. “
Jolene started, “That won’t be a problem. I may have a few extra tasks if you’re here early and that will go towards your rent. “
Jason felt relieved. “Thank you. It was rather sudden and I don’t know where I would have stayed. “
Stephan chuckled. “Don’t thank me too soundly. I expect some work from you as well. I understand you’ve been telling people about these grand ideas for this and that. Well, I expect to see a few of those ideas as well. You’ll be doing some designing with me each day. “
Jolene grabbed him by the arm and hustled him away, “I get you first no matter what he says. I’ll show you to the room. You’ll probably need some bedding.” His Uncle called out, “I’ll see to that Jolene. I have some more of the lad’s stuff that needs to join him. “
“Aunt Mary will…”
“Mary will complain. But the sheets are a small matter. We’ll see you started right.”
Jason turned back to his Uncle and started to tear up again. The three of them were never affectionate – at least not that he remembered. He strode over and offered his hand. His Uncle took it and pulled him into a bear hug. “You’ve made me proud son. Your Aunt will come around. Remember what I said.” And then let him go and pulled out a kerchief. “Stephan, I swear this place is too smoky, my eyes are watering now. You’ve got to stop people smoking in here.” Jolene led Jason away again to his room. As they left, he left heard Stephan say, “It was bound to happen, he’s too much like his Mum.”
His Uncle replied glumly, “I know and Mary does too in her heart. He’s a fine lad. He deserved better.”
It was a bit smaller than his room at the farm and had a single bed in the middle. But it was well appointed. There was a two drawer dresser to one side with a wash basin. There was even a desk with a lamp.
Jason could here Stephan commenting, “In my experience, sometimes one can get better than the world offers. Ah enough wool gathering. Jolene will see to the boy. Now is it too early in the day for you to do some quality management on my winter brew? “