A ship of the firm Sanders Crossing Company, arrived at Georgetown Landing on the first day of August, 1834. Mr. Alfred Jingle studied this date distinctly, and celebrated it as his birthday thereafter. It was a matter of considerable weight in his mind.
The majority of Alf Jingle’s voyage-mates had found the journey a grueling and tiresome affair. Not Jingle. Employing his unusual and distinctive telegraphic diction, Jingle was known to describe the voyage in the most brief and peremptory detail, “Endless days upon the void. Short tempers. Sickness. Harrowing. Even Job. Most loyal and patient companion. Fierce. Unapproachable.”
For Jingle, every hour, every empty mile of ocean that separated him from England was a kind of gestation leading to a re-birth on a new continent. Jingle considered the Atlantic Ocean to be his own River Styx, and this singular journey to be a mortal crossing whereupon the old Alfred Jingle would die and fade from memory. I am no longer he that was.
During the final hours of the voyage, with Job Trotter at his side, Jingle stood vigilantly upon the decks of his forced emigration ship. The Sanders ship was a three-masted barque named The Fuster’s Revenge that had been built in Quebec to avoid timber taxes. Who or what The Fuster was, and how the ship was destined to achieved this vengeance was a common theme of discussion among crew and passengers. Like Cook’s Endeavour before her, at something better than 300 tons burthen, she was not a beautiful ship. But the deck was well-suited to the purpose of watching as the red and white stripes of Georgetown’s lighthouse grew larger and more distinct on the horizon. Following the several weeks of the crossing, Jingle’s gaunt and undernourished countenance was not unexpected. Certainly the other passengers were paler and thinner upon arrival than they were at departure. In actuality, Jingle’s countenance and demeanour had improved while crossing the Atlantic. The wear and fatigue on Jingle’s face told of an older, deeper and more profound period of wasting in of one of London’s debtors’ prisons. Strangely, Jingle appeared to draw an unusual vitality from the mere fact of having survived his ordeal. Jingle’s face was sharp and pale with sunken cheeks and darkened eye sockets. His eyes, however, radiated an impression of sharpness and attention – as though he were cataloging every person and object that fell within his vision.
During the voyage, he had been taciturn and watchfully withdrawn. His mood was not the misery of sea-sickness, indeed the ships officers and crew were astounded by his robust constitution during the crossing and joked that he should join their trade. Once, that is, he abandoned the weaker-stomached Job Trotter. Jingle’s mood, however, was something more deeply set than sea-sickness. And the jokes of the friendly and encouraging crew fell flat and unwelcomed by Jingle. Now, looking upon Georgetown Lighthouse, his eyes gathered impression upon impression as the Fuster’s Revenge approached land. His mood seemed to shift outward with every moment, as though each new breath and sight began to inflate or fill a vessel that had remained empty during the crossing.
“What are you starin’ at, Mr. Jingle,” it will be hours before you step foot at Georgetown. The wind and tide won’t put us in any quicker with the weight of your starin’ eyes! Though I don’t see as you are terribly worried about seeing land. You are as comfortable on this ship as an old hand,” came the unexpectedly high-pitched voice of the boatswain. Jingle turned to look upon the thickset and powerful man as he approached, but did not speak.
The boatswain was a powerfully-built man whose face was filled with cheerful cruelty. Most passengers and crew who happened to cross his path on the ship’s limited decks and passageways instinctively drew back. As though the boatswain might at any moment strike out with an un-speakable and friendly violence. Something in the contrast between the boatswain’s full, high voice and his lumpy, bear-like frame spoke of crushing power of rocky coastlines and smashing waves. In truth, the boatswain had, by long experience, pitched his voice to cut across any manner of wind and weather to reach a crewman at any station on his decks. Job Trotter, in whom Jingle had never witnessed the slightest fear, never approached the boatswain. Indeed, during the entire voyage, only Jingle and the ship’s captain were ever seen to show indifference to the boatswain’s good-natured and oppressive presence.
“Well,“ the boatswain continued as he rested his meaty fists on the ship’s rail, “do you know that the original lighthouse you are gawkin’ at was built some seventeen year ago? I been comin’ to this port since this ‘un we now see came up in thirty. I do love to see them stripes reachin’ into the sky. It feels like a home comin’. The people of Georgetown do love the lighthouse, but not as much as those it were built for. It’s a marvel for those who cross the ocean just once or many times over. I have stood in that same spot as you’re standin’ Mr. Jingle with just the same warm love in my heart as you’re feelin’ right now.”
Jingle turned a steady and blank expression to the boatswain throughout this rough and brief lecture. The steadiness of Jingle’s gaze amused and engaged the boatswain, who had long-become used to dread and down-cast eyes as his typical social encounter. Like other men who learned to measure a man’s steady gaze as his readiness for physical combat, the Boatswain considered Jingle’s steady gaze to be a signal of courage and ferocity. Like a fisher-cat, is Mr. Jingle. Whip thin and still ready to hand out a serving of hell.
The boatswain stood silently by Jingle’s shoulder for a moment gazing across the water to the town. Slowly he shifted his eyes to Jingle, “Silence and enigma, with you Mr. Jingle. Silence and enigma. I heard you a-callin’ the ocean a void to your friend Trotter. I believe you are a void-crosser even if you don’t know it,” here the boatswain lifted his hand in a gesture that was both welcoming and accusatory, “They say the sages go up into the mountains to take in their wisdom, Mr. Jingle. But there are them that need the depths and breadths of the sea to do the same. I don’t know but you’re one of us, Mr. Jingle. Silence and enigma, Mr. Jingle. That is the sea speaking to you. And perhaps through you as well.”
The boatswain gave Mr. Jingle another glance and snarled-out a shill chuckle before glancing briefly at Job Trotter, who had maintained a patient, downward-cast vigilance a few paces from Jingle, and finally up and down the deck, studying the work of the crew. Something caught his eye and he lumbered off, calling over his shoulder, “We’ll put in to port in a few hours, Mr. Jingle. Then we shall see what a man as thick and fearless as the ocean may do upon them wretched trees and mountains, hey?” The deck-crew cowered as the boatswain arrived in their midst.
It had been less than a decade since Demerara had been wrenched from its colonial founders by the current British occupiers. This was more than sufficient time for evidence of England’s damnable attitude of superiority to permeate Georgetown. But the sight of the continent also carried a wild, verdant un-English splendor. A jungle vision of freedom. Eventually, Jingle would learn that the name Demerara came from an ancient Arawak word meaning “river of the letter wood”, just as we would learn of the Arawak people themselves. A people long ago beaten down and subjected to earlier versions of European commerce, empire, enforced emigration and enforced subjugation. Jingle would learn of this and of other peoples and oppressions. During the voyage however, and even upon arrival, Jingle only knew Demerara as the name of the unknown place where his new and unexpected life would be lived, broken from the past as it was by the void and opportunity.
Once disembarked from the Sanders ship, Jingle’s first order of business was to attend the offices of the trading company that was to be his place of indenture for the next eighteen months. The offices, being located not far from the lighthouse, were easily and quickly found. The company’s office had a simple and temporary feel. The warehouse looked sturdy and the yard was busy with workers. As Jingle approached the trading company, with Job trailing his chosen master, he noted both the unusual muscular bulk of the men labouring in the yard as well as their taciturn expressions. Where the boatswain was a bear, these men were wolves. Demerera, thought Jingle, builds muscle and patience. The heat and humidity in Demerara was beyond anything he’d experienced in England, more than enough to test human endurance – physically and mentally.
They might have spared the trouble of hurrying to the company, as they were kept waiting half the day for the company supervisor, Mr. Robert Knott, to acknowledge their arrival and provide directions to lodging.
Knott’s office was sparsely provided with a large wooden desk. Behind the desk was a sturdy wooden chair without cushion or adornment. There were several cabinets and what appeared to be a large table for laying out maps or perhaps sacks of produce. There were no visitors’ chairs. Jingle exchanged brief conversation with Job but they soon fell quiet, almost in a doze upon their feet as they waited and felt the heat of Georgetown’s climate in their blood, and their gazes came to rest upon a single sheet of paper lain tidily in the centre of the desk.
“So, you’re my new apprentice are ye, what?” said Robert Knott, screwing up his face with contempt as he marched into the room, “Let’s have the letter.” Knott was a big man with a big startling voice which seemed to lend weight to each stomping step that brought him into the office. He wore a heavy but well-trimmed mustache and a light-coloured, wide-brimmed hat. His suit was a mercifully light-looking linen. Not the heavy woolen items upon Jingle’s and Trotter’s shoulders, which still seemed to carry the stitch and stench of England.
Clearly, Knott had previously received staffing assignments from England as he impatiently waved his right hand at the coat pocket where Jingle kept his letter. Knott frowned into Jingle’s eyes, took the letter when Jingle awkwardly took it from his pocket and finally, settled his gaze on the paper. Knott didn’t raise his eyes again for the duration of the interview. This habit of combined impatience and dismissal was one Jingle would learn to expect and despise from this, his new warden, “It says here you’re a particular acquaintance of our employer and I’m to ensure that you learn the trade from the ground up, what? And this other fellow, Trotter, is your companion and aide. And, I’m to pay you the standard rate less a certain amount for travel, accommodations and certain other expenses incurred, what? I suppose your acquaintanceship with our employer isn’t so particular that he’s paying your way, what?” This whole tirade was delivered in measured and drilling tones, each statement carrying a school-yard challenge. Job noted that the bustle in the yard had grown quiet, as though the workers had circled and were awaiting the outcome of the bosses challenges. The men knew the tone.
“Employer great kindness…. Not worthy…. Given my life… Particular generosity. Very,” Jingle said, conveying nothing of the sentiments and memories that had suddenly and unexpectedly crashed upon his consciousness in an overwhelming wave.
England is behind me, but this marginally coherent, broken-sentenced speech has crossed the ocean with me. I observe so many details, there is so much information to comprehend and communicate. All I can do is utter the broadest of facts. The complexity of all that I observe never leaves my lips – even as more revelations pour in. I see and know this desk, this room, this man standing before me – blackguard and bully that he is. It pours in. He is a vicious, sniffing brute and this room is intended to put us, to put everyone – even himself, ill at ease. This man is uncomfortable. His trousers and waistcoat are pale linen. The linen comforts him in this wild and heavy air. He offers comfort to not another soul. Job is listening and keeping his temper, taking his measure from me. Job has kept his temper for my sake, even when he might have lost it many times over. Job cut cut this man to a butchering, if he wished. Why has he chosen to be my servant? We’ve crossed an ocean. So much pours in! I receive only, even when I wish to convey. There is so much that might be conveyed, how do I separate and contain? I’ve crossed a blue and terrible void and I must cross another.
Knott gave the letter a fierce shake and bellowed fiercely in Jingle’s face, “In future, “yes sir” or “no sir” will be all that I will hear from you, what!”. Knott stared and sputtered with an intensity that threatened to turn the letter he held in his hands to ashes. Still, he refused to look upon Jingle and Trotter.
During this interaction, Job’s shoulders rolled away the tension that they had accumulated in the first moments of Knot’s entrance. The gesture went un-noticed by Knott. Barking dogs don’t bite. Job noted that the bustle of the yard took on a renewed vigour. Mr. Jingle knows an audience as well as any barkin’ dog; them that’s in the yard may take to their seats or they may take to the leash. Mr. Jingle will know. Bark, now, pup. Bark for Mr. Jingle and the them that’s in the yard.
Job was certain that Knott also took the measure of the renewed bustle of heavy labour grinding in from the yard before continuing in a snide but satisfied tone, “ Well, I don’t think I like you. Nor your companion and aide, neither. Why don’t you get out of my sight today, what? Tomorrow we’ll start your, “ and here Knott paused and allowed himself a sour and insulting smirk before continuing, “apprenticeship….. you might say. Perhaps we’ll continue to despise one another until you manage to complete your apprenticeship, “ once again a pause followed by a smirk, “ Yes, I know you as well as you know me, Mr. Jingle. Perhaps we shall avoid seeing one another as often as we are able, what?”
“Yes, sir…..Very,” Jingle replied.
“Yes. Very. Present that letter there,” Knott gestured to a scroll of paper that had been laying upon the desk, “to the landlord at the lodging-house. The letter will inform the landlord that your lodgings will be paid by the Trading Office, up to a certain fee. You may be as lavish as you wish, the fees will be deducted from your pay and whatever else you owe will be between you and the landlord, what? Your companion and aide will need to make do with what you provide. The Trading Office doesn’t pay for the companions and aides of apprentices, what?”
Trotter thought… Bark, puppy. Bark.
Jingle thought only… .I must communicate. I must cross this ocean.
“Yes, sir,” Jingle replied, containing himself to the two simple words and grinned his satisfaction with the achievement. Staring at the letter as he was, Knott missed an opportunity to be enraged. Trotter rarely missed any of Jingle’s performances and fluttered a hand in approval of what he mistakenly took to be an insolent attitude by Jingle. Grin at the barkin’ dog, Mr. Jingle, afore you put ‘im down.
“We start at six tomorrow morning. You shall not be late, what?” and with that Knott turned his back and took his big startling voice out into the noise of the yard. The entire interview had been conducted without smile, welcome or greeting. Jingle turned to Job and said simply, “What’s the work!”
And so, on my first day in my new home I paraphrased the first words I spoke in the company of Mr. Samuel Pickwick, Esquire. There is a volume attributed to Sam Pickwick and published only a few years ago wherein records and reports of some of my actions and sayings have been documented. These reports and records are, in some instances, completely accurate and in others they are essentially fabrications. The narrator and author, because it is a certainty Pickwick did not set those words down by his own hand, had his own motives in the telling. And perhaps some reputations to defend in the account. No worries or concerns for that author to make Alf Jingle appear to be little more than a clown!
I’m not upset, though. Many actors would be honoured to be remembered at all – even if as a caricature rather than for their character. But I have my own recollections to share and that may help to reveal something more than the bit of farce and fun you may have heard or read.
It’s not uncommon in the theatrical trade, from time to time, for an actor to be required to move about between roles. Some actors seem never to do anything but.
It was one of the times when I did not have a standing role. I was in the coach-yard of a small English town when I noted a local mob directing some heat toward some traveling gentlemen. Being somewhat familiar, both with local mobs and traveling gentlemen, I saw an opportunity to mollify the former while yielding service to the latter. I had some hope and expectation of reward to myself in the form of a meal or refreshments… a frequent, if impermanent, form of thanks by the wealthy.
“What’s the fun?’ I said with the tails of my green coat slightly flapping behind me. I bounded into the room with stage-craft energy and excitement. I have used these very words on countless occasions previously to great success. They are just the words to shift a simple crowd from anger to curiosity. “What’s the row” or “What’s the trouble” would only have inflamed their passions. “What’s the fun” is jovial and with my green coat flapping comically, I drew attention to myself. What’s more, my drama drew focus away from the gentlemen.
“Informers!’ shouted a great slew of the local fools. Informers of what, I hardly had any idea . Nor, I suspect, did they.
“We are not,” bellowed a great round man. Clearly he was the leader of the entourage and, therefore, my prime target.
“Ain’t you, though–ain’t you?’” I said imperiously to the fat man, studying his fine clothing and expensive boots. Clearly an outfit purchased by an inexperienced city gentleman for journeys in the wild English countryside!
I made a great show of elbowing and shoving my way to the gentlemen. Mr. Pickwick, himself. I was careful with my drama to avoid bruising the ribs or pride of any of the locals. The professional understands how to draw attention and avoid annoyance. Indeed, my over-blown gestures gave great warning of my every step and the crowd eagerly parted. They couldn’t wait for the next scene!
Soon I stood immediately before the great fat man and waited with exaggerated patience as he provided a hurried explanation of the situation. A typically meaningless brush of town mouse and country mouse, of course! With Pickwick and his fops as the town mice and some angry locals as, well, what they seemed to be.
“Come along, then,” I said with a serious and determined demeanour, dragging my well-fed town mouse by the elbow and blustering for all to hear, “Here, take your fare, and take yourself off to the waiting room.”
I turned to the crowd and began my telegraphic speech with each phrase accompanied by a comic, ironic or lewd gesture as I escorted the fat man through the crowd, “Respectable gentleman– know him well –none of your nonsense– this way, sir –where’s your friends?” and then understandingly and encouragingly for the gentleman and the traveler’s waiting-room minder “All a mistake, I see–never mind– accidents will happen–best regulated families–never say die– down upon your luck–Pull him up,” and finally confidentially in a stage whisper for all to hear, “Put that in his pipe— like the flavour –damned rascals.”
The gentleman’s foppish entourage followed close up on our heels and into the safety of the lounge, as I knew they would. The crowd that had been harassing them stayed outside the doors, as they well-knew they must. And eventually dispersed themselves to their country-mouse concerns.
Immediately upon entry to the waiting-room I shouted, “Here, waiter!” and gave the serving bell a violent shake, “glasses round–brandy-and-water, hot and strong, and sweet, and plenty,–eye damaged, Sir? Waiter! Raw beef-steak for the gentleman’s eye–nothing like raw beef-steak for a bruise, sir; cold lamp-post very good, but inconvenient–damned odd standing in the open street half an hour, with your eye against a lamp-post–eh,–very good– Ha! Ha!”
Within those few orchestrated moments, I had achieved several feats…I had saved these gentlemen from a beating by the punishing hands of the locals. I had gotten myself into the lounge. And I had provided some memorable showmanship for the crowd. They’d all have weeks of gossip and story-telling at the expense of these gentlemen. The crowd recognized my taunting gestures as insults to these city mice. The travelers saw that I had cheated the country mice of a chance to thrash things out.
Eying the rotund town mouse, I swallowed a half a pint of the brandy-and-water, and flung myself easily into a chair to observe the effect upon these gentlemen. They might still either brush me off or throw a thankful embrace of friendship around me. The entourage quickly fell to their thanks. Ha! Three of the four were won to my reward. But the heavy town mouse was scrutinizing my every thread and gesture.
As an actor, I knew how to convey an authoritative bearing. And I appeared taller than my average height due to studiously excellent posture and a trim build. My long dark hair often helped me fill a variety of roles when necessary. But a strolling actor, as I may fairly have been termed at that time, does not always present a pretty picture when traveling. I understood that during his inspection, the jolly town-mouse picked and annotated every detail of my attire and appearance. He was thinking that I was certainly not a gentleman. By my clothes and boots, I was also not a local common working may. By my actions and words, I was an enigma. My town-mouse would not know quite what to make of my attire….nor would most people outside of my profession.
An actor will save his best clothes for the stage and use his hardest garments for the hardest jobs. My green coat had once been a sharp attraction for a shorter man, but it retained the advantage of drama in cut and colour. Traveling across the countryside can be a dirty business, and this jacket, no longer useful for the stage, served well in street-dramas such as I had just participated in. My black trousers, however, would never have served in a performance as a gentleman on stage. As he studied me, I put on an expression of a fatigued, but still jaunty and impudent, man. A man in control of his circumstances and environment. In short, a man not embarrassed or cowed by his attire.
When the fat man’s entourage completed their thanks for my services, the town mouse indeed decided to, metaphorically speaking, wrap a warm arm of friendship and thanks around my person. Ha! I could sense that the evening’s meal had all but been well and fully purchased.
“Never mind,” I said, preventing my fat town mouse from completing his embrace of thanks and thereby drawing our relations to a close, “Said enough–no more; smart chap that cabman—handled his fives well; but if I’d been your friend in the green jemmy–damn me–punch his head,–‘cod I would,–pig’s whisper–pieman too,–no gammon.”
At just this instant, the coachman entered to announce that boarding for the coach was due.
“Commodore!” I said, with a slight and satisfied sigh, starting up, “my coach–place booked,–one outside–leave you to pay for the brandy-and-water,–want change for a five,–bad silver—Brummagem buttons–won’t do–no go—eh?
This was to be the test. If the town mouse paid the refreshment bill, I had already won my first reward of the evening.
Within moments, Pickwick and his entourage indicated that they too would be traveling on the coach (what else!?) and they would be pleased to share the ride with me so we might all sit together to pass the journey. We happily strolled as a company to the coach.
“Up with you,” I encouraged, helping the town mouse up to the roof.
“Any luggage, Sir?”, inquired the coachman of me. His arrogant tone quite genuinely surprised me. Usually coachmen will keep their tones to themselves.
“Who–I? Brown paper parcel here, that’s all,” I responded with a defensive tone that surprised me a second time. Recovering myself, I carried on, “other luggage gone by water–packing-cases, nailed up–big as houses–heavy, heavy, damned heavy,” and emphatically tucked my parcel, containing an extra shirt and handkerchief into my pocket. And so our journey as a company began in positive spirits and promise of a fine dinner, if only I could successfully engage and entertain these gentlemen along the route.
That is how I met the man who sent me on the Sanders Crossing Company’s enforced emigration ship.
A bit of fun.
Being still early afternoon, it seemed Jingle and Trotter would have their leisure to locate their lodgings and prepare for their new employment upon the next day. Georgetown, being only about a hundred thousand in population compared to Europe’s millions, it was no great difficulty to locate the lodgings. Walking to the door, they were greeted in the yard by a man whose voice was deep, informed and authoritative, “Mr. Jingle and his aide, Job Trotter. This is your lodging. You belong here.”
Jingle raised questioning eyebrows to Job. It seemed Georgetown was intent upon providing surprising entrances wherever they went, “Trading Office bustling. Warm greetings from employer. Find lodgings. Minutes to arrive, years to stay,” Jingle cried with stagecraft warmth and enthusiasm.
The man now looked at Jingle, first in surprise and then, finally, with an expression betokening a shared joke, “Warm greetings? Not from Knott,” here the man let a rolling laugh like rumbling thunder fill the air, “The only warm greeting a soul will get from that Knott is a warmed neck. You belong here now, just the same.”
After a moment’s pause, he continued, “Mr. Thomson, your landlord, is waiting for you in the parlour. You go in and see him. If I was in your position, I wouldn’t let him give you the big west window room. He’d be wanting the Trading Company, and by that I mean he’d be charging you, extra for it. That room will tire you and your wallet before you’ve had a chance to hate it in its own right. No, you take a north or east window where the breeze and the quiet can come in and you can learn to despise the lodging house at your leisure.”
Jingle took-in the man’s thin clothing and world-wise attitude slowly, “Wonderful advice. Cheerful fellow. Georgetown greetings. Promise and wonder. Never a mistake to travel. Confident of success. Job,” here Jingle looked at Job with a slow and approving nod.
The man laughed another deep-rooted laugh and said, “Go on in Alfred Jingle, and you, Job Trotter, and don’t take that big west window room. You’ll thank Benjamin in your time and manner.”
From the house, a voice called, “Benjamin, is that Mr. Jingle to arrange his rooms? Stop holding the man in the sweltering yard, he needs to rest and prepare for his apprenticeship tomorrow.”
Benjamin continued to laugh, “Into the pan, gentlemen. Into the pan.”
Jingle’s continued the ceaseless internal monologue and analysis that never seemed ripe for full communication in audible words….
The landlord knows this man, Benjamin, is ruining his game! Benjamin despises the landlord who is also his master. He has waited for our arrival. Or perhaps Benjamin, this man, has been ordered to speak to us this way. The landlord’s voice is strident and irritated. He did not order Benjamin to speak of these things. Thomson is not using stage irritation. We should heed Benjamin’s advice. This man’s advice is meant well. Does Benjamin know as well as he means? Job appreciates this man.
The laugh and even the smile left Benjamin’s face, “There is apprenticeship for men of all types and stations, here, Mr. Alfred Jingle. You belong here and you’ll thank me for good advice if you take it. If you don’t, well maybe my apprenticeship won’t be as long as yours. You won’t save a penny nor get a moment’s rest in the big west window room. Mr. Thomson, he’s a particular friend of Mr. Knott. You understand that, Mr. Jingle? A particular friend.”
“Very,” Jingle replied and nodded with a gesture of appreciation to Benjamin before taking the stairs to enter the lodging-house. Benjamin, or any casual observer, would not have indicated that any exchange by word or look had passed between Jingle and Trotter during the dialogue between the house’s servant and its newly-arrived tenant. Job merely followed Jingle up the stairs two paces behind his chosen leader.
Thomson, the landlord, stood in the doorway immediately to the right of the main entrance. The ceilings were high and clean. A great stairway dominated the entrance but there were several doors leading in several directions. All were closed, excepting the one whose opening Thomson occupied.
“Mr. Jingle. Do accept my apologies for Benjamin keeping you and your companion there in the sun. All full of news and gossip like a schoolgirl. How was your voyage? You must tell me the latest from London. But first, let me introduce myself, I am Morris Thomson, proprietor of this establishment,” and here Thomson held out his hand with a smile that spoke of his friendship for the masses. And for Jingle. A politician’s smile.
“Jingle. Alfred. Very,” Jingle replied.
“Yes. Please, Mr. Jingle take a seat and we can discuss your lodgings. I take it the Trading Office will be paying for your lodgings?” and here Thomson waited with an extended and expectant hand into which Jingle passed the letter from the Trading Office, “ Excellent. We can arrange something suiting your position at the Trading Office. Something comfortable and spacious for you and your aide. We have an excellent large room with a wide west-facing window. It is perfect for you and your companion. We will bill the Trading Office and you needn’t worry any further.”
Here Job spoke with a directness which seemed to carry a promise of threat, “Mr. Jingle can’t take any west rooms. He’s suffered too many setting suns already and needs to greet each day with the sun. Mr. Jingle needs an east or north facing room for that.”
Thomson let his thousand-friendship smile fade a moment as he looked at Job’s blunt and unreflecting face for a moment. He returned his beaming look to Jingle, “Of course we have rooms facing the north but they’re appropriate for a labouring man and certainly not for two apprenticing gentlemen such as yourselves. Hardly more than closets, really.”
“West room. Large. Comfortable. Man of importance. Welcoming affair. Costly! Deserving!” Jingle murmured to himself. He looked into Thomson’s eyes, “how much?”
Thomson’s smile regained some of it’s intensity, “You don’t need to worry about that, I’ll bill the Trading Office. No worries at all…”
Here Jingle intervened firmly, “ Long month. Prison. Terrible debts. Lessons learned. Deserving?”
Job took a half-step toward Thomson and grated through his teeth, “How much, then? Thomson!”
Thomson nodded a shrewd and intimidated smile, “Absolutely right, Mr. Jingle. Good for you. You are a wise man to demand the price of your comfort!” and finally Thomson quoted the lodgings weekly rates.
“West room. Large. Comfortable. Fits man of importance. Very. North room a closet. Spartan. Rough. Not half as good,” Jingle looked to Job, whose face remained blankly resolute. Perhaps for the thousandth time Jingle pondered the odd devotion which Job placed in him. In their time together, Job had been his accomplice, his companion and his defender. Job’s faith in Jingle was heavy and solid, though Jingle’s faith in himself had wasted to nothing over hungry months in a debtors’ prison. Hunger, poverty and want had consumed all that Jingle had hoped to be. In a moment, Jingle returned a gaze to Thomson which conveyed deep needs and hungers.
Thomson’s reply was immediate and enthusiastic, “Absolutely correct, Mr. Jingle. I couldn’t have said it better…not half as good,”
“Jingle and Job Trotter. North room,” Jingle said sadly but steadily to Thomson “One room. Not half the price. Trading Office pays first week – thereafter, we shall see what we shall see,” here Thomson let out a cough showing his surprise and scorn.
“Greet the sun,” Jingle continued, “A new life. Very.”
Mr. Thomson’s smile finally faded to a friendship of, at best, hundreds but the politician warmth never left his tone, “Certainly, Mr. Jingle. You know your needs. I can’t say I understand your motivation, but a north room it is.”
The remainder of their business with Mr. Thomson was completed within moments. Meal times were specified. Directions to the north room given. It was clear that Mr. Thomson’s friendship and smile, directed as they were by this time to mere dozens, was not to be deep. Jingle and Job were left to their own devices in the same high-ceilinged hall they entered. Job once again shouldered their two bags and they climbed the stairs. Jingle in the lead and Job followed with his strength and faith.
The designated north room might have been mistaken for a closet cut into the space beneath the final stairs to the attic spaces above. Mercifully, there was short, bowed window giving ventilation to the room. The sill was deep enough to accommodate several cushions and might have been a window seat at one time, though no cushions adorned the space when Jingle and Job found it. A kind of lumpy and rough bed was pushed against the length of the east wall. Peering into the room from the open doorway, Jingle and Job noted the sharply sloped ceiling, the carved wood of the stairs cutting drastically into the room on the room’s scuffed west wall. The narrow bit of floor between the bed and the open door.
Job noted the worn path on the cleanly polished boards between the west wall and the place on the bed where unknown previous occupants had sat wearily, “Eight.” He said.
Jingle gave him a questioning look with raised eyebrows, studying the door, “North Room?! Number Eight?!”
Job smiled and pointed to the floorboards and explained, “Eight boards. Doorway to bed there are eight boards.”
“Spartan Room,” Jingle stated enthusiastically and then ducking his head he stepped into the room. Job watched his English boots follow the warn path on the floorboards, “Watch our heads! A warrior’s rest.” Then tentatively, rolling the words out slowly as a swimmer might feel for the next step into an ocean, “Spartan warriors of antiquity. Merchant apprentices. Sugar apprentices labouring for merchant oppressors. Apprentices of all types and stations. Very.”
Jingle gave Job a confirming stare. Job noted, as Jingle lowered himself to a seated position on the bed that there were six and two-thirds boards from the tip of Jingle’s worn boot toe to the scuffed wall. Jingle sat in thought, still looking at the open doorway but no longer seeing Job. Job in turn let his gaze move around the bed closet, over the open doorway. A light breeze carrying salt air came through one of the open windows. Job noted that the room was at the end of the hallway. Two large and ornate doors occupied the space across the hall from Jingle’s door. Job eyed the space in the hallway, counting the floorboards carefully.
Without another word exchanged between them, Alfred Jingle lay upon the narrow bed with his gaze directed to the window. Job placed their small bags inside the door and pulled it almost closed. He then lowered himself to the floor with his back to the wall and his legs stretched before him, “I could follow this man to the death,” Job said.
Zensylvania Copyright © 2020-2022 by Eric Adriaans. All rights reserved.