Part III

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Ralf’s last name was Whitehall, and Gilbert’s was O’Shea. Ralf had four children and died in the 1740s from gut-rot. He had one daughter and three sons. Two of the sons died in the Seven Year’s War, fighting in the mediterranean. His daughter married an ironsmith and bore him three hale children. Ralf’s only surviving son carried on the spice trade that Ralf had worked his whole life to get off the ground.

Gilbert died in 1690. Ralf never found out how, but that’s how it goes. All of a sudden, no more Gilbert. Ralf missed the times they had together, especially at Nando’s, but was able to take the spice skill and knowledge they had developed together and turn it into a sellable commodity. For someone who started at rough beginnings, Ralf ended his life in relative wealth, although had absolutely no political power and paid most of his surplus to the government in tax. He didn’t mind though, because he remembered when his da would have to give the entire harvest to the taxman and the taxman would throw him back the four or five worst bushels to feed the whole clan. So every gold coin that Ralf got to keep he kissed like it was the sweetest gift from God.

Ralf died though, like all the rest. But he would take his sons, when they were old enough to put on their nicer clothes and he thought they were up in their letters enough to hold a half-decent conversation without slobbering all over the place, to Nando’s, that special coffee-house where he and his old friend would waste away the stresses of the day when they could finally find a free hour. In his sons, Ralf tried to instill the importance of discussion, tried to show them how much they could learn about life and what was going on around them just by talking about things with each other. And what better place to do that then at a coffee-house?

Two of his sons died, but the coffee sessions had a profound impact on the third and youngest son, Peter. When Ralf died, Peter took over the Whitehall family spice trade -- Ralf’s life work. All counted, it was a small storefront, a crew, and a handful of ships.

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The year now is 1770, and Peter is a man old enough to have children of his own, even though he doesn’t -- he’s not even married. All his life, Ralf’s youngest son worked hard to develop his father’s spice trade further, take it past the small shop and turn it into something bigger. But with the colonies, with the whole world opening up and becoming a market for governments themselves to plunder -- the Whitehall family spice trade couldn't compete.

Sure, Peter was able to make a living, and a good one at that. But he wanted something greater. The taxes that the government took from him each month actually left him with very little to reinvest. He wanted something different, something that would set him apart. He thought back to those coffee-house sessions he remembered so fondly from his childhood and realized the commodity he had been overlooking this whole time.

Nando’s! Peter thought. On Charing Cross! I ‘ave to go see if it’s still there!”

The Whitehall storefront was on Rathbone Place over in Tottenham. It was a cold and dreary afternoon in London, and Peter grabbed his hat and raincoat from the rack. With a jangle of heavy keys, he locked the front door and swung the sign to “Closed.”

As Peter walked down Oxford Street to Charing Cross, the thick clouds that had been threatening rain all day finally burst. The rain fell suddenly and torrentially.

Peter did not know exactly where he was going -- he was relying on an old childhood memory in an ever-changing city. But he was sure it was on Charing Cross, and sure it was called Nando’s. He turned left onto Charing from Oxford Street and walked up a few blocks. Suddenly, through the smell of the rain, another familiar smell wafted up from the dregs of his memory. A rich, deep, earthy smell that cut through the wet and humid odor of raindrops on city dirt and cobble. The smell of hot coffee.

It was up the street and across. Peter could hardly see the sign through the rain, and the front of the building seemed like it had updated itself to keep with the times, but the name was still there -- “NANDO’S COFFEE-HOUSE” now done in vibrant stained glass. The entire front of the building was buttressed and elegant. Peter rushed across the street, careful to avoid the bustling carriages.

Peter pushed through the lovely oak doors into a wide parlour much emptier than the one he remember his father taking him and his brothers to all those years ago. People were scattered here and there, and mostly keeping to themselves and their own murmuring conversations. A man with all sorts of legal-looking papers spread before him was looking very serious, and another chap was sitting in a corner table swaying, talking to himself.

Peter wandered over to the counter, passing the cracked and worn bodies of the once-perfect stuffed French recliners. Peter remembered seeing big men, great men, sitting in these same chairs when he was a lad, looking like giants ready to conquer the world. As small as he was then, he always wanted to be one of those men, in their fancy clothing with their servants at their beck and call. He remembered hoping, in his heart of hearts, when he was grown, to be as big as they were. As powerful. He wanted to conquer.

But now, Peter thought, everything’s already conquered. And I just have my little spice shop.

When he got the counter, the oldest man Peter had ever seen hobbled over to him out of the swimming darkness and slowly looked up with rheumy, distant eyes.

“. . . ‘ello sonny . . . can I . . . can I get you . . . sumthing ?”

“Nando? Is that...is that really still you?”

The old man’s eyes brightened just slightly, like a wax candle quavering right before the wind blows it out. He didn’t say anything though -- just hobbled over to a giant metal cistern, dusty but now with elegant, ornate carvings on its body, and picked up a mug. With a gnarled hand he turned the spigot and there was that same violent eruption of steaming black liquid that Peter remembered from when he was a boy. He remembered the way his father would treat this as a ceremony of sorts; would greet Nando the same way he mingled with the pastor before and after service. Nando set the mug down on the dusty counter and hobbled back off into the darkness.

Peter sat down with his coffee. It wasn’t hard to find a table. Everything looked old and tired and worn out. Once the coffee had cooled Peter tried it, and realized that something essential was missing from the brew. Through his travels for the spice company, he had tried many different types and styles of coffee from across the different colonies, territories, and trade markets. But in the back of his mind, he always held Nando’s coffee to be the best. The magical standard. But the coffee he was drinking now -- it was missing some spark, some vital energy.

Something dawned on Peter at that moment, the warmth from the coffee seeping into his palms. Because of the long hours required for the spice trade and the constant travel necessary, Peter didn’t have a wife or any family. The spice trade never let him settle down, never let him stay in his home of London for any longer than a few weeks at a time.

Peter knew what had happened to Nando’s family. Peter knew Nando was alone, and had been that way for a very long time. Peter committed himself to something right then -- he left his coffee on the table and strode to the counter.

The old man hobbled out of the darkness, his milky eyes looking for a mug to refill. When they found no such mug, they looked up, shaky, at Peter.

“I have no family,” Peter said. “And neither do you.”

The old man, ever-so-slightly, shook his head.

“I own my father’s spice trade now. Do you remember? I want to join together with you. I have some gold -- I want to bring back your coffee-house. I have a crew and -- “

“You are . . . Ralf’s boy . . . yes ?”

“Yes! Yes, exactly Mr. Nando.”

“P . . . please . . . just . . . Nando. I . . . I can no longer . . .”

“I know! I know, Nando. I understand. That is why I want to help you. I want to start a Renaissance within these walls.”

“Oh . . . I . . . I just wanted . .  to have a place where people could talk. Will you . . . will you bring back the talking?”

“I will, Nando.” Peter said. “I promise.”

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Peter walked out of Nando’s that day with a new lease on life. The rain had cleared while they had their discussion, and while the sun still wasn’t out, at least it was drier.

Walking back up Charing Cross, Peter passed a newseller and, checking his coinpurse, decided to purchase a broadleaf called the Tatler with a particularly sensationalist headline that read : WILL VIOLENCE ERUPT IN THE AMERICAN COLONIES?

At his townhome up on Torrington Place, Peter read the rest of the article, which detailed the growing political unrest in the American colonies in response to the Crown increasing the duty and tax on them yet again. Peter thought of the tax that he had to pay on every grain of salt that he imported, or on every kernel of peppercorn. Maybe that’ll change when I get into the coffee business, Peter thought.

Probably not, he thought glumly.

For the first time in a long while, Peter thought about the political situation in England, and where he actually fit into it. His father had always told him about the “Glorious Revolution” and how it wonderfully freed British citizens. How “God would take care of all the rest”. But Peter didn’t feel free. He felt like a small little nobody.

Never before had Peter questioned the state. As a Protestant, he had absolute faith in God, and politicians were nothing but agents of God’s will. He hadn’t questioned the taxes that the Crown had levied on him, but now that the colonists in America were raising the issue, Peter couldn’t help but think that they did have a point. Why did the government get to tax him at will, when other, richer people were exempt? How come not everyone had to pay their fair share?

Peter went to his bedroom where he kept a trunk of things that he had gathered on his travels. One of the things he had held on to was a manuscript he had been given when he was in the New Haven colony.

“Second Treatise on Civil Government” it was called, and the chap who had given it to Peter had told him it was actually written by an English fellow -- a letters lecturer named Locke. Peter had always meant to read it, but had never gotten around to it.

But something at that moment compelled him, and he decided to open it.

And it made all the difference.

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Part III