Chapter 34 - The breakfast plan
On Jane’s monthly visits, the boys kept her informed of the activities they had undertaken since her last visit. She in turn, kept them up to date with how Ted and their grandparents were doing. Trying, where possible to find amusing little anecdotes. What the boys had come to love to hear about was the normality that now crept into their mother and Ted’s life. Her perseverance which had secured for her a good situation. One which could support her and her prospects were good, for this not only to continue, but to get better. They loved to hear about the hum-drum everyday events, the things they were now detached from. It gave them a sense of nostalgia, a warm feeling that triggered emotions of how things used to be, in those days when they had all been together as a family. Those days which were now beginning to shroud in the mists of time with each passing day.
It was the morning of her final visit to see Matt at the Seaman’s Mission Orphanage and as usual Jane busied herself with getting ready. She usually took Ted, who was always excited to see his brothers, he still didn’t understand fully why they were there, but had accepted the status quo. Always in admiration of their uniforms, he wished he could be with them and play with them. Making sure to always wear his sailor’s uniform when he knew they were going to visit his brothers and now that he could dress himself, he would be up before all the house. Getting dressed and racing into his mother to make sure she was also getting up. That morning however, Mrs Dunbar was already up and talking to Jane in the Kitchen.
‘It’s best if you leave Ted with us today, you’ll want to catch Mr Gregson if you can, you’re not to worry, we’ll make a picnic and take him down the beach.’
‘That’s so kind of you, but Ted will be awfully upset, he really looks forward to seeing the boys.’
‘You don’t worry about that, he’ll be just fine with me and Mr Dunbar, it’ll do us all good, we’ll just tell him that you have to see the man at the mission and if everything goes well his brothers will come home for a few days.’
It was all to no avail, the planning and the plotting had been overheard by Ted, who was standing in the entrance to the kitchen. His shoulders dropped as he began to sob, was it true, he wasn’t going to see his brothers today, the day he looked forward to above all others. They looked round hearing him in the doorway.
‘Oh dear, he’s heard every word we’ve been saying’ said Mrs Dunbar. Placing down her teacup and looking at Jane who stood up and went over to where Ted was standing, he wasn’t looking up but instead had his head bowed, his chin nearly resting on his chest as he sobbed gently. She knelt down in front of him and placed her hands on his shoulders.
‘Ted, I need to see Mr Gregson today, because I want to spend some time with Matt before he joins the army. I know you want to come with me and would be no bother, but I’ll need to go to the office, and well, I would need to speak to them, and it’s grown up talk. It’s best if you stayed here with Auntie Pat and Uncle Frank. They’re going to take you out, and buy you an ice cream cone at the beach, you know you like that.’ His little eyes gazed at her through their red rims his whole face reddened and puffed up with the tears.
‘But … But... I want to go with you,’ came the pitiful plea emanating from him.
‘It’ll be for the best, and when the boys come home you can all sleep in the same room and all play together just like you used to.’ He picked his chin off of his chest and looked at her the tears had stopped, though he gulped several times to finalize this.
‘Now who’s a brave little soldier?’ He stood and nodded; he couldn’t quite manage a smile yet.
‘Now you’ll be a good boy for your Auntie Pat, won’t you?’ He nodded again, as Mrs Dunbar stood up.
‘Of course, he will, and we’ll have such a good time.’ She walked over to him and stretched out her hand.
‘Come on now put those tears away we’re going to have breakfast and there’s a lot to do if we’re going to the beach! I know, why don’t we have some boiled eggs and soldiers.’ They all went back to the table and Ted waited, Mrs Dunbar moved to the range and poured some water from the kettle into a small milk pan placed on the range. After a couple of minutes, it began to boil and she placed several eggs in. Boiled eggs were one of Ted’s favourites and especially with slices of bread buttered then cut into long thin sections “soldiers” to dunk in his runny yolk.
It was an obvious trick to divert his attention, but one that invariably worked. As the eggs boiled she moved to the table picking up the bread knife and sticking it into the butter dish taking a rather generous knob of butter she spread it over the bread end before slicing the first slice, both her and Jane continued talking through the whole process, while Ted sat keenly awaiting his eggs, wondering how many soldiers he would have to dip in them.
As they talked Mrs Dunbar would stop slicing and buttering the bread at points to emphasize by use of gesturing with the knife her view. They steered round any areas they did not wish Ted to understand by the use of Woman’s intuition. There were several conversations that any casual observer would not have been able to follow but the women’s mannerisms and their hinting of the general context made it all too clear to them, with many instances of
“Well, you know what I mean?” Followed by the raised eyebrows and the dipped chin and several. “I don’t think I need to say anymore!” As well as several sentences where at certain points the speaker went quiet and mouthed words over Ted’s head and then the conversation started again.
The eggs were now ready and Ted having a good appetite was ready to start, two were placed in front of him in egg cups and a tea plate of soldiers. As he picked up his knife, he felt a force behind him it was Mrs Dunbar who had just placed the pan with hot water in the sink as she threw a tea towel around his neck to serve as a bib.
‘Now you just wait a moment before you start, I’m not having egg all down that lovely clean sailor suit of yours.’
He obliged, it was a small price to pay for boiled eggs and soldiers ‘Thank you Auntie.’
‘That’s alreet pet, now knock the head off one of them eggs with your knife.’ He obliged promptly, Jane used her knife and dipped its tip into the salt dish and lightly sprinkled a few grains onto his egg. It was not worth the risk of allowing him to salt his own, he could be rather heavy handed. Within seconds the soldiers were being dunked into the yolk, the yolk running down the side of the egg, all to soon he had butter, salt and egg over his fingers. He knew he should wipe them on the tea towel, but it was always worth the risk of licking them quickly, which he did.
On the stairs they could hear Mr Dunbar approaching he had as usual been downstairs sorting something or other out with the pub, and having both heard and smelt breakfast being prepared had decided that it was high time to proceed upstairs as he entered, he saw Ted tucking in.
‘By your’re first aren’t you Ted, is it a special day... Is it your birthday?’ enquired Mr Dunbar.
‘No Uncle Frank, Auntie Pat said I could cos... cos.’ He frowned as he stopped for a second, trying to remember why he had boiled eggs, he cast his eyes round the table and spotted a big jar that Auntie Pat had placed in the middle and continued.
‘And we’ve got strawberry jam as well!’ He trumpeted this emphatically, as if it was news of great importance. Mr Dunbar laughed heartily observing his wife’s gestures from behind the boy, he realised that he shouldn’t take the conversation any further. His wife walked over and poured him a cup of tea.
‘We’re going to take Ted to the beach after breakfast, I’ll pack a picnic for lunch.’ There was something afoot he knew this, but he also knew that it would concern Jane, and both Jane and his wife must not want Ted to be upset. He chose not to ask, his wife she would tell him when the time was right.
‘Why that’s a reet grand idea, it’s a lovely day and I could do with a cornet full of lovely ice cream.’ He smiled at her, Ted’s ears picked up as the words ice cream burnt into his mind, Mrs Dunbar laughed as she spoke.
‘I’m glad none of your regulars can hear you say that’. The situation was diffused, and breakfast continued with no fuss, after which Ted was assigned to Mr Dunbar, who was going to go to walk to Turpin’s corner shop and purchase a few items required for the picnic. He readily agreed to accompany Mr Dunbar, Turpin’s was an Aladdin’s cave to a small child and Ted knew, as small as he was, that with no ladies present, a sweat treat such as two ounces of barley twists or cough drops or perhaps Pontefract cakes were his for the asking. Jane bade them farewell, with the voice of Mrs Dunbar booming out of the kitchen after them.
‘Now you mind Frank Dunbar that, that child doesn’t come back sick, I know what you two are like, eyes bigger than your bellies.’ Mr Dunbar turned round with a big grin on his face and looking at Ted raised his voice so it could be heard by Mrs Dunbar.
‘Well, my dearest peach blossom, us men of the house are off out and if we want two ounces of pear drops or a quarter, we’ll have them.’ By now Ted was giggling merrily away at these comic confrontations.
Mr Dunbar now turned to Jane ’I’ll see you later Jane, he’ll be alright with us. She nodded in agreement with him and closed the door behind them.