A Gin Revival
Chapter 4 – Naught Quite The Truth
If you haven’t yet read the other chapters, please start here – Chapter 1.
José Martin stepped off the ship onto the West India Docks in East London. He had a small carry case and a map. With little to no English, José Martin only knew to find the Oxford Market.
After a number of hours walking the newly paved streets and taking a slow carriage past Christopher Wren’s impressive St Paul’s Cathedral, José Martin arrived at the market as the stalls were shutting down and closing up.
He walked between the stall holders presenting a picture of his Abigail and asking “Do you know?” in his best broken English. Many kept pointing him to the west side of the market.
As he looked about, unsure of the language, the weird foods, curious fashions and stray kids hanging about the market, he saw a woman closing down Applegate’s vegetable stand with familiar dark locks.
“Hola mi hermosa hija”
As she turned, her eyes filled with tears.
“Pappa!” Abigail held her father sharing kisses and a tight embrace.
She cleaned up the store, then led her father walking arm in arm back to her bedsit in Holborn to refresh. As they walked, José Martin told Abigail about her son. About Pedro. And about how he wanted her home.
With her father in town, Abigail was interested to try an alehouse. The type she always walked past, or saw men stumble out of at different times of the day. But there was no possible way, Abigail, as a single woman, could visit without a trusted male in attendance.
They walked into The Ship Tavern to a crowded room of men all staring in one direction – directly at Abigail.
They found a quaint table amongst the bustle and noise and looked at each other a little startled. The chaos around them was quite different to the bodegas they knew at home.
A large bosomed woman pushed her way through the crowd of men, and cried “What’ll it be?”
After a long pause, Abigail looked at the woman with questioning, wide eyes “Two ales por favor?”
“Ah Spanish is ya? Two ales it is.”
With two pints of dark, warm ale, José Martin and Abigail tried their best to enjoy this English moment. They sipped on this strange tepid tipple but their minds were both drifting to thoughts of a large gin and tonic on the porch in the afternoon sun of home. When their host returned, to find they had barely consumed a third of their ales, she queried “Not for you? Then what’ll it be? Wine?”
“Gin? Y el alimento?” José queried while gesturing with his pursed fingers to mouth to indicate food.
“Aye! You can have corn beef with potato, beef steak with egg and potato or beef sausages with potato.”
A look of dread overwhelmed them both as Abigail interpreted the menu for her father. After six months in London, Abigail had managed to keep elements of her Spanish diet with access to market vegetables, seafood and off-cuts of meat as the markets closed each day. This was the first time she had the opportunity to really know the English diet. Without knowing any better they both resigned to the corn beef with potato and looked forward to a refreshing glass of gin.
Alas, the gin was served straight without any hint of a garnish. As they did their best to eat and drink what was given to them, they struggled to find words to share the moment. A Catholic priest who had noticed them arrive, made his way to their table. He had clearly had a few pints of ale at the bar but his nature was jolly and welcoming.
“Not your type of fodder?” he asked.
“The English do like the more simple things in life. I for one enjoyed the trappings of the French in my time there, but it is here that I am needed.”
“You are safe here my friends. You ever have any trouble with your faith in our God, you find me or Mr O’Connor here. The Ship Tavern is a home for the Roman Catholic.”
Father McKenzie gave comfort to José Martin in this instance, finding him a room at the Tavern for the duration of his stay and a sense of protection for his daughter. What José Martin was really here to do was to convince Abigail to return, but if she didn’t, he now had trust someone was there to look out for her. They talked with Father McKenzie for a few good hours before Abigail bid them good night, as her father put her in a carriage to return home.
All night, thinking of the terrible food and drink they had endured at The Ship Tavern, she dreamed of her first taste of the Seville orange Pedro had brought to her. She decided the very next morning on her early walk to work, something had to change.
In the afternoon, José Martin waited for his daughter to meet him at the tavern, expecting her to arrive after work. But she did not. He returned to her bedsit to find she was not there. He caught a carriage back to the market to find she was not there either.
Distressed, he returned to The Ship Tavern where Father McKenzie led him by the arm to the bar and bought him a pint. It was sometime after dark, when Abigail returned to find her father. She pleaded with the men at the door to let her in, pushing past their advances to where she found her pappa and the priest downing yet another ale. José Martin was learning to like this warm English brown beer.
“Pappa, Padre, let me take these ales from you and order us three gins!”
As the gins arrived, Abigail brought forth from her apron pockets, a large, single orange and a glass medicine bottle.
“My dear, what are you seeking to do? Cure us of our ails?!” proclaimed the priest clearly bewildered.
But a sly smile came across the face of José Martin, as together they mixed the gin with the medicinal tonic, Abigail sliced the orange with her small vegetable knife she had brought from the market stall.
José Martin presented a glass to Father McKenzie and gestured him to drink. In unison, the three of them sipped and sipped some more, before sharing a collective sigh of satisfaction. Father McKenzie was simply astounded by the flavour sensation of this new drink and began to share the taste with all of those around him. Abigail and José Martin became the toast of the tavern, with many admiring Abigail for more than just her stunning mediterranean looks.
With that, Abigail told her father she would not be returning with him, but rather she had secured a consignment of tonic from her friend at the Port of London and her afternoon at the docks had led her to find a number of trading partners ready to source her desired Seville oranges.
Four years passed and Abigail’s orange and tonic stand at the Oxford Market had become a sensation. She now employed six women selling oranges to inns and taverns, carrying baskets through the boroughs and helping her to receive a steady shipment of oranges coming into port, which she personally selected and sorted the best from the worst of the oranges onboard.
The lines to Abigail’s extended out onto the street every day. London had been transformed by this exotic fruit and the tonic, which was always thought as a medicinal drink for British soldiers in India. Her customers were aristocrats and domestic servants, traders and professionals, working people and even the clergy.
Father McKenzie was a frequent visitor to Abigail’s market stand where he came to share a prayer and tell her about his new sport trying to find potential suitors for her at The Ship Tavern, who equally loved a gin and tonic with a wedge of orange. She enjoyed the happy banter Father McKenzie brought to her day and the reassurance he provided.
It was during one of these happy visits, when Father McKenzie was telling her about a young British soldier he was drinking with the night before, when a young boy approached the stand. Abigail smiled at him, as she filled a woman’s basket with oranges and six bottles of tonic. She quickly took a second look and her heart dropped. Abigail looked up and met the eyes of Pedro. Pedro, her lover, her heart and her agony.
Pedro picked up their son, young José and reached for Abigail’s hand.
“Come with us Abigail, come with us.”
She looked longingly at Pedro. Then she took in everything she had built. She held the hand of Father McKenzie, and dropped to her knees.
“Dios mio, dios mio” she prayed as she kissed the orange she held in her hand and wept.
The End (for now).