The Taylorville Pearl
Baron Pine and Countess Hennigan were careening thru the mean streets of Taylorville searching for the Hogskull Tavern. The Baron spotted the tavern and yelled at his mules, “Whoa, you mangy critters. Whenever I’m near a tavern, I develop a bodacious thirst.”
The stable boy ran out and grabbed the mules. “Yes sir, how can I help you?” He sniggered a bit. “What do you want? We got a nice young maiden out in the barn.” He watched as the Countess alighted from the stagecoach. He held one hand to shield his voice. “We got a nice old man out in the barn for her.” He started giggling and stomping his feet.
The Baron snapped his whip, making a feeble sound. “Boy, what’s your name? Do you even know your name?”
“It’s Cash. Everybody calls me Cash because I never have any.” He giggled and wiped his nose on his coat sleeve.
The Baron glanced at the Countess. “A dismal place, but the mules are tired. I want a dark ale as long as my arm. There must be good food, drinks and decent rooms in this Inn.”
The Countess strode to the door. “They better have oysters. I want a dozen raw on the half shell for starters. Then another dozen steamed to perfection. I’ll wash them down with a quart of Taylorville’s best ale.”
The baron placed the whip back in its socket. “Any decent vacant rooms here, boy?”
Cash put his thumb against one nostril and blew hard. A large wad of snot landed close to the Baron’s foot. Cash giggled a bit. “That nice young woman out in the barn, she’ll do anything for a dollar.”
Baron Pine stroked his beard for a second. “A dollar you say. What do you get out of this transaction?”
“I get to watch.” He held out his hand. “One dollar in advance. It’s a dollar and a quarter at the barn.”
The Baron flipped a nickel in the air for Cash to catch. “Feed and rub the mules down. Make sure they have oats and corn instead of plain alfalfa.” He walked to the door and turned around. Cash was still staring at the nickel. “Make sure you sweep the coach out. The Countess is very demanding.” He yanked open the heavy door and stepped into the main room. The smell of unwashed bodies, burnt animal fat and stable smells assailed his nose. He shook his head once and ignored the smells. He sat down with his back to the table and waited. A plump woman entered, wiping her face on her apron and walked to the Baron. The baron lifted his right foot and the woman straddled it, facing away from the Baron. She began pulling his boot off. The Baron placed his left foot on her ample rear and pushed. After much grunting and swearing the boot came off. She quickly straddled the left foot and pulled. The Baron used his bare toes to dig into her rear and pushed hard. She threw the boot near the fireplace.
She wiped her hands on her apron again. “Now what can we do for you and the lady.”
“We’d like two rooms.” The countess eyed the woman’s dirty hands and clothing. “Clean ones too.”
The baron patted on her rear end. “What’s your name? You are an awful good looking wench to be working here.”
“Thank you, sir. My name be Joanna. Sweet Joanna they call me.”
“I don’t care what the local boys call you,” the Countess said. “We want two clean rooms. Do you understand?”
Joanna nodded her head. “Yes ma’am, I understand. But we only have one room. Can’t you two spend the night together?”
The countess slammed her hand on the table. “No, the Baron is my brother-in-law. I’m married to his brother. Now do you understand. We want two rooms.”
“It has a big double bed. Both of you can easily sleep on it without bothering the other.” She began giggling when the Baron pinched her rear.
“What ails you girl? Are you afflicted? What do you think I am? A tramp that would sleep with her husband’s brother?” She watched Joanna giggling and wiggling her rear end. “What else do you have?”
Joanna composed herself and slapped the baron’s hand away. “One of you will have to sleep in the barn. It has nice clean fresh hay.”
The Countess nodded and looked at the Baron. “You’ll just have to sleep in the barn tonite. It’s probably softer and cleaner than the room.” She hesitated a few moments. “How much is the room?”
Joanna held up two fingers. “Two dollars.”
“I suppose the barn is cheaper. What is it? One dollar?”
Joanna began to giggle. “It’s two dollars, too.”
The countess wrinkled her nose. “How can that be? Nobody wants to sleep in a barn.”
Joanna winked at the Baron. “The barn does have certain advantages.” She moved away from the Baron. “What would you like for dinner tonight?”
“We want a two dozen oysters on the half-shell first and then another two dozen steamed for beginners. What is the main course?”
“Canvasback duck and turnips.” She stopped, hearing a commotion outside. “It’s the weekly stagecoach, bringing mail, supplies, news and an occasional passenger. I wonder if we have another guest.”
A small woman entered, walked to Joanna and stood there with hands on hips. “Where’s the help around here? My chest is lying outside in the dirt. The coachman threw it down from the very top of the coach. If anything is broken, I’ll just cry.”
Joanna went to the back door and stuck her head out. She screamed at the top of her lungs. “Cash! Cash! Get your sorry ass in here. Get down from the barn loft and bring the luggage in from the coach.” She returned to the table and stood next to the Baron. “Now what can I do for you, ma’am?”
The woman drew herself up to her full height of four foot, eleven inches. “What do you think I want? It’s evening time. I’m hungry, tired and cold. Therefore, I want dinner and a room. I’m on my way to Cape Charles to see my husband. I haven’t seen him for one whole year.”
“Tough titty. I got the only room and you ain’t sleeping with me.” The Countess pointed at the door. “You’ll have to sleep outside in the barn.”
The Baron pushed Joanna away to see the newcomer.
“What! You expect me to sleep in a barn with the chickens, goats and God only knows what else. I am the Duchess of Dorchester. My husband, the Duke, is very influential with the new government in Washington.”
The Countess looked at Joanna. “Don’t even think about giving my room to that little twit. My husband is the Count of Crisfield and is a confidant of George Washington.”
Everyone stopped talking and looked at the opening door. Cash shuffled in with a huge chest on his back.
“Where does this go? It must weight a ton.”
The Baron and Countess spoke at the same time. “To the barn with it.”
Cash let it slide from his back, making no effort to break it fall. It crashed with a resounding thump and fell on its side. He stomped the floor a few times and kept slapping his thigh. Finally, he stopped and looked at Joanna. “Where do you want this trunk?”
Joanna didn’t look at the Duchess. “To the barn and for God’s sake, be easy on it. Don’t let the hogs be rubbing against it.”
The Duchess put her hand on her forehead and wailed at the ceiling. “I can’t stand it. How can I be treated this way?”
Cash danced another short jig. “It’s going to be a hot time in the old barn tonight.”
The Duchess pointed her finger at Cash dragging the chest out the door. “Is he going to be in the barn?” She put her hand to her head again and spoke in the same wailing tone. “Oh, I feel faint. I need a brandy. Quick.”
“Make that three brandies.” The Baron held up three fingers for emphasis. “Make it snappy. This poor lady is in distress.” He quickly walked to the Duchess. He took her other hand. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from that sex fiend. I’ll sleep in the barn also.”
She snatched her hand back. “Help, call the sheriff. I’m being attacked right here in Taylorville. Wait until my husband hears about this outrage.”
“I’m just trying to help.” The Baron took her hand again.
“He’s touching me again.” She looked at Joanna. “Isn’t there anyone here who will help a poor defenseless woman? I want to report this man to the sheriff.”
Baron Pine dropped her hand and retreated to his seat at the table. “My God, woman. I was just trying to help you.”
The Duchess of Dorchester shook her head in sorrow. “What is this new country coming to? I have to sleep in a barn with the animals and total strangers.” She reached out to Joanna. “Can you vouch for this man?” She pointed a quavering finger at the Baron. “That he’s not a sex maniac, pervert or a thief?”
Joanna looked from the Baron to the Countess and back to the Duchess, shaking her head the whole time. “He’s traveling with her and she claims he’s her brother-in-law. You can’t tell about people these days. There are a lot of British spies and sympathizers on the Shore. They may be loyal to that crazy King George.”
The Countess of Crisfield shook her head. “We are loyal Americans. My husband was with Washington at the battle of Smith Island.” She tried to keep a sneer from forming, but failed.
The Baron put one foot on the bench. Four toes and the heel were showing. “I served with General Lynch and the Assateague Beach Boys. We chased the British out of Chincoteague, Quinby and Temperanceville.” He paused and wiggled his toes. “We couldn’t even get a pint of corn whisky there.” He gave a sloppy military salute. “Baron Pine, at your service, Ma’am.”
The Duchess of Dorchester nodded and gave a weak smile. “My husband,” she placed her hand over her heart, “served under Col. Beau Boston on the wild frontier of Princess Anne. He said they were all heathens and Tories over there.” She turned, spit on the floor and gave a one finger hex sign. “I feel better already, staying with such a heroic crew.” She pointed at Joanna. “Hurry up with those three brandies.”
Joanna went to a cupboard, got four mis-matched cups and a clay jug with a corncob for a stopper. She carefully wiped out the cups with her apron and set them in front of customers. She removed the corn cob, ran her finger in the neck and then poured an inch and a quarter of clear fluid into the four cups. “This is my neighbor’s best brandy. He just ran it off last week.” She sniffed her cup. “Smells good.”
The Baron ran his cup under his nose a few times. “A delightful aroma. I think I detect apples and pears. What else?”
“The apples and pears were thrown into the mash near the end. They were half rotten and no one wanted them. The best taste is the hickory nuts that he picked up in the hog pen. A nice touch.” She sniffed one last time, gulped it down and walked into the kitchen.
The Duchess peered at the clear liquid. “Do you think it’s safe to drink?”
The Baron held his cup up while nodding his head. “Here’s to a fruitful and pleasant stay here and a safe journey tomorrow.”
The two women nodded briefly and gulped the drinks down.
The women went into coughing spasms, sweat form on their foreheads, tears came to their eyes and their cheeks became red.
Thirty seconds later, the duchess set her cup on the table. “That was excellent. The best brandy I’ve had since I was in New York’s wine country.”
The Countess nodded her head. “I haven’t had any that good since I left Dames Quarter. But right now I want a dozen oysters on the half shell with a nice cold ale to wash them down. How does that sound?” She looked at the two nodding heads. “Innkeeper,” she yelled and beating the empty cup on the table. She waited a few seconds until Joanna stuck her head into the dining area. “We want three dozen prime oysters on the half-shell and three glasses of your best ale. None of this trash your neighbor made using hickory nuts from the hog pen. We want some of that good stuff brewed in Boston by old Samuel Adams.”
Joanna went into the yard and walked a few steps toward the barn. “Cash,” she yelled at the top to her lungs. “Get your lazy ass down from the loft and shuck three dozen oysters for our guest. Be quick about it if you want a tip.”
Cash appeared in the barn loft door pulling an overall’s strap over his shoulder. “I’ll get right on it. Three dozen of our best oysters.”
Joanna rolled her eyes and returned to the kitchen. She rinsed out three mugs and filled them with her one and only ale. She used her rear to open the door and then she set the ales on the table. “Here we are. Three of the best ales we have here at the Hogskull Tavern. Cash is opening your oysters right now.”
Ten minutes later, Cash came in with three wooden trays of oysters. He placed them in front of the three people and danced a few steps. “Here they are. In the Chincoteague Bay this morning and in your belly tonite.” He giggled and slapped his thigh.
The Baron flipped a nickel to Cash. “Get another three dozen and have Joanna steam them.”
Cash studied the nickel and then shuffled out of the room.
The Countess waited until the door closed. “I think our boy Cash was dropped on his head one time too many.” She slurped down two oysters in quick order. “Damm, they are delicious. I just hope Cash washed his hands. God knows what he’s been doing out in the barn.”
After each had eaten six oysters, the Baron banged his empty mug on the table. “Innkeeper, three more of your finest ale. It really hits the spot on this cold December night.”
The waited until Joanna brought three ales before eating more oysters. They were down to their last two oysters when the Duchess paused. She worked her jaws and lips and then removed something from her mouth. “I think I have a pearl.” A large black object was in the palm of her hand. She put it back in her mouth and cleaned it with her tongue. She took it out and held it up to the oil lamp. “It is. It’s a beautiful large black pearl. It’s the biggest pearl I’ve ever seen.” She let it roll around in her palm showing its perfect roundness and flawless surface. “It’s beautiful.”
The Countess’ face hardened and her eyes narrowed. She held out her hand. “Give it to me. It’s mine. I bought the oysters so give it to me.” She snapped her fingers and extended her palm farther.
The Duchess pushed back from the table. “What did you say? You want me to give you my pearl?” She clinched her hand into a tight fist. “Fat chance. It’s my pearl. It was in my oyster. I’m going to keep it.”
The Baron stood up from the table and extended his hand. “I think you should let me hold the pearl until the rightful owner is established.” He smiled broadly and kept nodding his head.
The Duchess stepped behind her chair. “Have you lost your fucking mind? You want me to give you, a perfect stranger, my pearl to keep until its ownership is established?”
The Baron walked a few steps around to the end of the table. He flexed his shoulders, his smile disappearing. “I may have to use a little gentle persuasion. That pearl will perfectly match my school tie.”
“Neither of you idiots is getting the pearl.” The Countess picked up a kitchen knife from the table. She started around the table with the knife in one hand and the other hand extended, palm up.
“Innkeeper,” the Duchess screamed. “Help! These fucking assholes are trying to kill me and steal my pearl. Help!”
An evil smile formed on the Countess’ face. “Did you hear what she called us? That’s enough reason for me to beat the living shit out of her.”
The Duchess had her mouth open to scream again, when the kitchen door flew open. Joanna stood there with Cash peering over her shoulder.
“What in the hell is going on in here? Who’s getting killed?” Joanna walked to the end of the table between the Duchess and the Countess.
“She has my pearl from my oysters and won’t give it to me.” The Countess used the knife to point at the Duchess. “The little twit called us vulgar names and won’t give me my pearl. I want it now.” She kept pointing with the knife.
Joanna thought for a few seconds and held out her hand. “Anything found in the tavern belongs to the tavern and that’s me. Give me the pearl and that will put everybody out of their misery. Hand it over.”
“Another fucking asshole.” The Duchess backed up a few more steps. “None of you Tory bastards is getting my pearl. My husband will bring this incident up with General Washington.”
“Now she is being insulting.” The Baron began walking slowly toward the Duchess. “Once I have the pearl safely in my pocket, I’ll turn her over my knee and teach her some manners.” He grinned widely. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Duchess opened her fist and looked at the beautiful black pearl. In one swift motion, she brought her hand to her mouth and swallowed.
The Countess froze in her tracks. “Did you see what that lunatic just did? The thief swallowed my beautiful black pearl.”
“Damm,” Joanna said.
“Damm,” the Baron said
“Holy Smoke,” Cash said, slapping his thigh and doing a few dance steps. “What’s going to happen to it now?”
The Baron went back a few steps and fell into his chair. “I don’t believe it. This fake Duchess swallowed my pearl. It’s gone. Her stomach will completely digest it. There won’t be anything but a black turd.”
The Countess threw the knife on the table and went back to her chair. “My pearl is gone. I can’t believe it.” She looked at the Baron. “How long do you think it will take to go through her?”
The Baron wrinkled his forehead. “She’s a little woman. I’d say one day, maybe a day and a half. Two days at the most.”
The Countess smacked her palm on the table making the oyster shells rattle. “Bring us two ales. None for that sorry twit. Bring those steamed oysters. I’ll take eighteen and the Baron will take eighteen. The sorry twit is not getting anything to drink or eat from me.”
The Duchess looked at the ceiling for thirty seconds before returning her gaze to Joanna. “Bring me another dozen oysters. Make sure they are unopened. I want Cash to open them at my table.” She stared at the ceiling again. “Bring me another of your best brandy.”
Five minutes later, Cash set two trays of steamed oysters on the table. He glanced at the Duchess. “I’ll be right back in a minute with yours.” He stomped his feet a few times and hurried into the kitchen.
The Countess took a long swallow of her ale. She set the glass down hard on the table. “Did you see that sorry idiot look down her nose at us?” She made no attempt to lower her voice. “She had her nose stuck so high in the air, she would drown if it was raining.”
The Baron nodded and kept on eating the steamed oysters. He washed the twelfth oyster down with a huge swallow of ale. “What are you going to do if she finds another pearl?” He spit a tiny bit of shell onto the floor.
Her face darkened as Cash came in with a heap of oysters in a wooden bowl. He positioned himself so that the Baron and Duchess would have a clear view of the oyster shucking. In a few seconds, he tossed the top shell on the floor and gave the bottom half to the Duchess. She gave a loud slurp and sucked it down.
“Did you see her suck that oyster down.” The Countess watched Cash give the Duchess another oyster. “I hope she chokes. I’ll do an autopsy and get my pearl back.”
On the fifth oyster, she frowned and chewed gently. She put her hand to her mouth and held something between thumb and forefinger. “Look Cash, another pearl. But it’s little and ugly, absolutely worthless.” She flipped something to the dark corner of the room.
Cash beat on his thigh with the oyster knife and gave a short giggle. “I didn’t quite get my eye on it but we are lucky tonight.” He quickly opened another oyster and handed it to the Duchess.”
The Countess leaned back in disbelief watching her eat another oyster. “She’s a lying bag of shit. That weren’t no pearl. It was a damm piece of shell. She’s just trying to fool us.”
Cash kept shucking and giggling. Finally he shucked the last oyster and handed it to the Duchess. The Duchess inspected it carefully and then in a quick motion she loudly slurped it down.
The Duchess leaned back and rubbed her stomach. “Those were mighty tasty, Mr. Cash. Here a dime for your good work.” She stood and stretched. “I’m full and tired. I think I’ll turn in.” She held out her hand. “Will you escort me to the barn? I don’t want to get lost in the moonlight.”
Cash did five seconds of soft shoe shuffle on the dirty floor. Then he opened the door and the Duchess followed him outside.
“Did you see her wiggle her hips going out the door?” The countess slammed her empty glass on the table and yelled for Joanna. “Innkeeper, bring us two more ales and the evening meal.”
Joanna stuck her head in from the kitchen. “It’ll be ready in five minutes.”
“Whoa,” the Countess yelled before Joanna could return to the kitchen. “Who is out in the barn other than that lowlife?” She pointed at the empty table and mound of oyster shells.
Joanna stared at the shells for a moment and then looked at the Baron. “Not a soul. The barn is completely empty except for the Duchess.” She smiled broadly at the Baron.
After dinner, the Baron lit a long black cigar and blew a cloud of blue smoke toward the ceiling. “I think I’ll turn in after this cigar. Who knows what adventures are waiting out in the barn?” He stopped as two blue clad soldiers entered.
“Innkeeper, two shots of your best brandy for your revolutionary soldiers.” The taller one nodded at Joanna. “The brandy first and then directions to Berlin. We are in a hurry. We have some food for the garrison stationed there.” The soldiers watched Joanna pour the drinks and downed them in a second. They followed Joanna outside for directions.
Twenty minutes later, the Baron threw the cigar butt on the floor and ground it out with his bare heel. He grinned at the Countess. “I think I’ll turn in. We got a hard day of riding tomorrow.” He wiped his sweaty palms on the coattail. “I think I can find the barn. I don’t need an escort.” He strode out the door carrying his boots under his arm while the Countess walked to her room.
The next morning the Baron walked slowly into the Inn for an early breakfast. The Countess was already having a cup of coffee.
He sat opposite her and held his head. “I’m tired. I don’t know if we can make it to Crisfield by nightfall. We may have to stay over in Princess Anne.”
“What were you doing out in the barn?” She hesitated and grinned widely. “Did you get together with that little thief?” She glanced around the empty room and still lowered her voice. “How was she? I hope you screwed the living hell out of her. I want to see her crawl in here for breakfast.”
“She was hot to trot. Every time I was ready to go to sleep, she wanted to go again. At four o’clock this morning she woke me up and was ready to go. She couldn’t get enough.” He smiled and leaned back as Joanna set a hot cup of coffee on the table. He took a quick sip and waved his hand in dismissal at Joanna. He frowned as Joanna stood there with her hand outstretched, palm up. “We’ll pay for breakfast before we leave. I want three eggs, over hard and four rashers of bacon.” Joanna stood there with her hand out. “What in the hell do you want?”
“Three dollars. You owe the woman three dollars.” Joanna grinned widely and winked. “The woman said you want to go all night. There was no satisfying you. You were like a bull in rut. So it will be three dollars now. She has to leave.”
“I thought it was free. Why should I pay for something free?” He paused for a few seconds. “How about one dollar and we call everything square?”
“It’s three dollars or her brothers will break both of your kneecaps among other things. Three dollars, right now.”
“Pay the woman. You enjoyed the little twit.” The countess grinned. “Just chalk it up as a bad investment.”
The Baron reluctantly peeled off three dollars and handed them to Joanna. “Tell her I’m very disappointed. I was in love.” He laughed and slapped the table.
An older snaggle-toothed woman came in and served the Countess a platter of eggs and scrapple. Joanna handed her the three dollars. She smiled, giggled and nodded at the Baron.
The Baron frowned as the small woman went into the kitchen. “Why did you give that old woman my three dollars?”
A perplexed look appeared on Joanna face. “What do you mean? That is who you were with in the barn last night.”
“Her!” The Baron stood. “I was with the Duchess all night in the barn.”
Joanna kept shaking her head. “What ever gave you that idea? The Duchess left with the two soldiers before you ever went to the barn.”
The Baron collapsed to his bench and the Countess began to laugh.
4462 Finished first draft on Monday, August 07, 2006. 4470