Pecking Order


By fringebenefits

Word count: 2606

Rating: G

Summary: Two friends help each other with the end-of-the-week chores.

Image credit: American Girl

Williamsburg, Virginia, October 1774

Ben laid out a sheet of paper, and prepared to write down a list of duties for the Friday evening weekly store cleaning as Edward Merriman had instructed him to do.  It was now two months into his apprenticeship, and he was starting to catch on to all of the different tasks that he would need to organize and delegate out.  

The first few tasks were obvious.  The floor would have to be totally cleared out and swept, the windows would need to be washed top to bottom, and stray candle wax would need to be chipped away and cleaned.  He jotted down these tasks and replaced the quill, tapping his fingers for a moment, then took it up a second later and added notes to clear out crates in the backroom that had gone brittle, and switch out the various arrays of decorative spices and jars that were arranged above the counter.  At this point, he found himself out of ideas.   

At that moment, Ben heard a noise at the door, and looked up to see Edward’s nine-year-old daughter standing in the doorway.  Felicity Merriman walked up to him with a smile and handed over a piece of rock candy.  He gratefully accepted it, and grinned in her direction.  “Does your mother know that you’ve escaped?”  It did seem a little bit late in the day for Felicity to be stopping by.

She laughed, “Mother knows by now that when she sends me out on errands, I must take all of the necessary detours!”  She looked over Ben’s shoulder and studied the list.  “What are you doing?”

Ben replaced the quill in its stand. “Your father asked me to write down the list of tasks that are done on Friday evenings to clean out the store.  Sadly, I can’t seem to remember most of them.”  

Felicity read what he had so far, then gave him a smug look.  “That is all you could come up with?”  

Ben smiled sheepishly.  “I think I am doing a fine job, considering I’ve only been here for two months.  You, on the other hand, how long have you been working here?  Would it be nine years?”

Felicity laughed and replied, “Ten years come April!”  She studied the list and thought for a moment.  “For starters, the safe box needs to be dusted out, and the flowers in the outdoor box need to be checked and weeded, if necessary.”  She thought for a moment more. “Oh!  You need to pull away the bags of flour from the backroom and get any that may have spilled, since it attracts cockroaches.”  

Ben frowned a moment and corrected her.  “I remembered that, see?”  He pointed to the line that referred to cleaning the floor in its entirety.  

“No, no, you actually have to pull each bag away from its place on the shelf, otherwise how would you be sure that it gets cleaned thoroughly?”  Felicity instructed, her voice taking on a slightly bossy edge.  

Ben raised an eyebrow at her tone, but still added it to the list.  He turned to her and smiled.  “Since you are here, you will be joining in with these tasks, right?  I think this last one would be ideal for you!”  

Felicity ignored his comment, and continued expanding the list.  “You also need to clean off the front steps.  Use a few buckets of water to wash away the dust, and that is probably sufficient.  Also, clear the cobwebs from the corners of the ceiling.”

Ben interrupted her.  “There are no cobwebs this time of year, and the front steps looked plenty clean.”  

Felicity arched an eyebrow at him.  “I noticed a few webs this evening, and you should still wash the front steps.”  She made an effort to take the quill, and Ben held it out of her reach in response.

“What about the poor spiders that live there?  Would you deprive them of a home?”  He knew that she had a sensitive spot for animals, and this would give her pause.

“No.”  Felicity shook her head.  “The webs I saw were completely empty and old.  You should pay better mind to things like this.”  

Ben sighed, feeling a slight hint of annoyance at the idea of being bossed around by a little bit of a girl.  He suppressed this feeling and gave her a teasing smile.  “I could have sworn that I was speaking with Nan right at this moment.”  Felicity made a face at this comment, then gave a slightly apologetic smile.  He looked down and studied the list of tasks in an effort to commit them to memory.  “It seems I still have a fair bit to learn,”  he admitted.  

Felicity grinned at him.  “Aye, you do.  There are a lot more things you must do, but perhaps you should figure them out on your own.  I should head on home.”

Ben looked up.  It wasn’t like Felicity to want to head home; usually Edward would have to instruct her to do so and it never went without some degree of protest.  “Leaving already?  I was under the impression that you would want to stay and attend to these.”  He gestured towards the items on the list and gave her a wide smile, hoping to convince her.  Truth be told, Friday cleaning was a bit of a drag and having Edward’s talkative daughter around would help pass the time.  

Felicity hesitated. “Well, Mother wants me to be home to occupy William while she and Rose prepare dinner….but I’m sure Nan will be happy to take that responsibility.”  She looked down at the list and studied it, then once again made a face.  “However, I do not enjoy Friday cleaning.  Distracting William is much more amusing.”  

Ben gestured to himself, and jokingly implored her, “But I also need to be distracted!”

Felicity looked at him with slightly narrowed eyes and tilted her head, as if she was thinking something over.  Finally she nodded and smiled.  “Okay, I’ll stay, but only because I feel like you need my help.”

“Excellent!”  Ben said, then gathered the list up and followed Felicity out of the counting room.  On the way they passed Edward, carrying the register to count out the sales of the day.  He patted Felicity on the head and agreed to let her stay no more than a half-hour.  Ben laid the list down on the counter, then turned to Felicity and gestured to a broom behind the counter.  “I’ll move everything away from the walls, and you sweep the dust towards the center.”

Felicity shook her head.  “You’ll want to get up on the ladder and wipe the dust and webs away from the corners of the ceiling first, because it will fall to the floor.  Then you can sweep it all away.”

Of course.  Ben pressed his lips together, now remembering the order which Edward was always so particular about.  He thought for a moment.  “Okay, I will climb up and get at the corners of the ceiling, and you should follow me with the broom.  Yes?”  He looked for her confirmation, but Felicity ignored the question altogether.  She was studying the jars of spices arranged above the counter.  

Ben tapped a foot to get her attention, and she turned around.  “I am trying to figure out which spices to display.  I know we always keep ginger root, cinnamon, and a few vanilla beans up front, but I think we should change out the others and display dried lavender, rose petals and…”  She thought for a moment. “Something green. What would that be?”  

“Bay leaves?” Ben suggested.  

Felicity considered it, then frowned slightly at him.  “Are they green enough?”  

“Enough to match the color of dried lavender and rose petals,” Ben countered, once again feeling a bit of annoyance at being bossed around.  

“Aye, I suppose so.”  Felicity agreed.  She reached up to collect the jars, then paused and looked over her shoulder.  “You had best get to work.  Otherwise we will be here all night.”  She nodded towards the ladder, then added, “Bring a damp cloth up with you; it will help remove the dust better.”  She turned back around and busied herself.

Ben couldn’t believe how this interaction had gone.  Why on Earth was Felicity suddenly sounding as bossy as Nan?  Was it only with the store that she acted this way?  No matter, he would just have to take charge again.

He spoke up.  “Now, wait just a minute.  I think we should attend to the dust around the room, then think about the displays.”  

Felicity rolled her eyes pointedly.  “Clearly, as I remove the jars, I will dust the shelves.”

Ben crossed his arms at his chest, failing to hide his annoyance this time.  “Felicity….” he started, not knowing what to say, yet hoping the look on his face would be enough.

Felicity grinned at him, seemingly nonplussed about his tone.  “Okay, okay, I understand.  How about I finish arranging the jars and you attend to the front steps?  Then we can work together as you specified on sweeping the floor.  How do you feel about that?”

Ben sighed, noting the manner in which she was speaking to him.  He had overheard both her and Nan use these same methods to calm William down on many occasions.  He pointed at her.  “Now see here!  I am the apprentice and you are supposed to be assisting me!  I will delegate all of the tasks.”  He made an effort to keep his voice even, as he was still appreciative of Felicity’s help and did not want to cause an argument.  

Luckily, Felicity seemed to once again take no offense.  Still wearing the same smile, she challenged him.  “You said yourself that you are still learning how to work in the store, and I have been here for nearly ten years.  For this reason, I think I should be the delegator.”

Ben conceded that Felicity had a good point.  She had helped him put the list together, and knew the best way to get all the tasks done efficiently so that they could finish quickly and leave for the evening.  Yet he made one last, almost-serious argument for his case.  “I still think you should listen to me.”

Felicity raised an eyebrow, “Oh?  Give me one good reason.”  She put her hands on her hips and gave him a challenging smile.

Ben gestured to himself.  “Because I’m older.  That is why.”  

Felicity grinned, simply stating, “No, you’re not.”

Ben was taken back at the absurdity of what she had just claimed.  “Beg pardon?  I’m fifteen.  Nearly sixteen come December!  You are but nine years old, no?  Clearly, I am older.”  He tilted his head towards her.  

A thoughtful look crossed over Felicity’s face.  “Sure, you have more years than me, but for some reason….”  She paused, furrowing her brow.  “I just don’t have any sense that you are older than me.”

Ben decided to figure out where this was coming from.  “Just why do you think you are older than me?”

Felicity did not directly answer his question.  “Is that how you convince your younger siblings to listen to you?  By saying that you are older?”

Ben shook his head.  “I don’t have any younger siblings.”  He suddenly got a bit of an idea as to what Felicity was getting at.  

Her face took on a bit of a somber tone.  “Not ever?”  

Ben sighed, feeling as though he was about to be bested in some way. “Not ever.  I am, and always have been the youngest in my family.”  It felt like a confession.

“I knew it, I knew it!”  Felicity crowed, her hands in the air.  

Ben smiled in spite of himself at her exuberance.  “How did you guess?”

Felicity shrugged, still grinning widely.  “I had an idea from your general manner.  What really convinced me was when you told me that you needed to be distracted, like William!  Tell me, did you hide behind your mother’s skirts like he does?”  She leaned towards him, her smile becoming mischievous in nature.  

Ben easily caught on to Felicity’s teasing and decided to bait her in return.  He held up his hands.  “Okay, okay, I don’t see what this little bit of information about my life has to do with delegating cleaning tasks.”  He once again gestured to himself.  “I have more years than you, and I am the apprentice.  So you have to listen to me.”  He pretended to think for a moment, then continued, “In fact, perhaps you should start thinking of me as an older brother.”  He smiled at her, making an effort to show as many teeth as possible.   

Felicity’s jaw dropped a bit with indignation.  “Understand one thing, Benjamin Davidson!” she retorted, pointing at him.  “You may have more years than me, but I am the eldest in this family.  Do you hear me?”

Ben decided to continue with the narrative, even though he knew he was risking getting kicked in the shins.  “Your mother and father told me that I should think of myself as a part of the family, so that means that you are practically now my younger sister.”  He nodded, crossing his arms at his chest.  

Felicity looked as though she had eaten a lemon.  “I will never have an older brother, no more than you can instantly get a younger sister!”  She started towards him.  

He put his hands up defensively, and decided against needling her again.  “Lissie, relax!  ‘Twas only a bit of fun!”

She paused and put her hands on her hips, frowning at him.  He realized that he may have taken his teasing a bit too far.  He smiled at her.  “Come now, you should be able to recognize and deal with teasing by a younger brother, even if it is not your own!”

“Oh, I recognize it just fine.”  She crossed her arms, and continued, “I’m just thinking of the wisest way to deal with it.”

At that moment, Edward Merriman came out from the counting room.  “Time’s up, Lissie.  Why don’t you run on home and help your mother?  Ben and I will be along shortly.”

“Yes, Father.”  Felicity grinned at him, then turned to Ben.  “It would be wise to take my advice about the cleaning.  And make it hasty!  It looks as though you’ve accomplished nothing.”

Edward looked around the room, then turned to Ben with a slightly disappointed look.  “My daughter seems to be correct. I hoped the two of you would have a good start on the cleaning already.”

Ben felt his face flush, and Felicity continued smiling.  Her father turned to her.  “This reflects on you as well, Lissie. I let you stay as long as you and Ben attended to the cleaning together, instead of having you help your mother out.”  The smile disappeared from her face, and a pink tinge appeared on her cheeks, as well.  Edward continued, “It seems as though the two of you don’t make the best team, after all.”  A stern look passed over his face, compelling them both to look down at their feet.  

After a moment, Edward sighed, “Off with you, Lissie!  Don’t keep your mother waiting any longer!”

“Aye,” Felicity said quietly, then walked to the door.  She opened it and was prepared to step through, but paused a moment and turned around.  She pointed at Ben, a smile growing on her face.  “Never forget, Benjamin, that I am the eldest in this family!”

She then turned and stepped out into the night, closing the door behind her.  



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