A Tall Ship Tale #44: Sofa, So Good

The series by Paul de Anguera continues, though this is more complicated than many because the help of the patrons at alt.callahans (a wonderful Usenet virtual bar) is requested. Such help, of course, is not always on topic. I have indicated this participation with brackets.

(Thanks to Liquor of alt.callahans for technical assistance.)

The First Mate finished the tale of the Russian cabinetmaker and glanced around the throne room. Sir Hillary and Kernel Sanders had taken advantage of the distraction to work their way close to the dais. Queen Pharaoh Dei was beckoning to her Captain of the guard. Near one of the nodding peacock-feather fans, a feline blonde figure was talking. The First Mate realized that it was Rita Hentrack, cryptologist and now thief, dictating to the supposed hotel clerk. As she spoke she toyed with the strap of an elaborate camera which hung from her shapely neck. His gold pince-nez glittered in the torchlight as he took notes in a lacy, decorative script.

Now the Captain was returning to the guards. Sir Hillary gestured desperately at the First Mate. All their fates hung on his story-telling skills! He drew a deep breath and began “Once there was a brothel…”

Once there was a brothel in Fox River Grove which was going out of business. Not, as one might suppose, because of trouble with the sheriff, for he was one of its most loyal customers. No, the madame was simply retiring, or so she claimed; though rumor had it she had booked passage to San Francisco for herself and her favorite girls.

At any rate, the house’s fabulous (or, as the town’s womenfolk supposed, garish) furnishings were being sold off. Farmers from miles around came to the sale in hopes of securing a cut glass mirror or a plush love seat to brighten their homesteads (the elegant canopied beds had long been spoken for). Farmer Giles and his wife Martha pulled up their buckboard in the front yard. An enterprising lad who had come to watch the fun took the reins and led the horses to the hitching post by the watering trough. The horses eyed the trough dubiously.

“Say, lad!” Giles called out. “Want to earn your supper tonight? I’m going to need a hand in a minute here.” The young man followed him under the gingerbread eaves and up to the grand porch. Giles paused and looked back at his wagon, where Martha sat watching with cold disapproval. “You see, lad, it was all I could do to explain to her how I heard about the sale, and how I knew the way to the bawdy-house! There’s no way she’d come up here or touch anything, let alone help me carry it.”

They stepped inside, and the man’s eye fell on an elegant couch. It was made in the French style, with bright crimson cushions and gilded, claw-footed woodwork How alluring the house’s flounced and painted ladies must have been when they posed upon it — ladies who, as the saying went, were “No better than they should be!” Giles peered at the seat’s underside and prodded its upholstery with a callused hand. It really was a well- made chair, but how would such jarring hues seem in Martha’s severe Presbyterian parlor? He resolved to find out.

As they carried the couch into the yard, Giles glanced < > hopefully at Martha < > …

The First Mate coughed and sneezed and wiped his streaming eyes, while the Queen drummed her fingers impatiently. But he simply could not speak any more. With a rattle of swords and spears, the guards got to their feet. The picture panned to Sir Hillary, who had worked his way to one side of the throne.

“Callahanians!” Sir Hillary whispered hoarsely as his anxious face filled the screen. “We need your help! Save us from the Queen’s wrath by finishing the story!” The guards leveled their spears and moved toward the sailors.

[LIN KA-MING (Magus Firecow of alt.callahans) commented, “This chair ain’t heavy, it’s from a brothel.”]

[Paul de Anguera replied, “No sib-LIN rivalry here, it seems.”]

[Then, Bill Wright takes up the tale.]

Bill climbs through the X-Window. On the other side, he is dressed as a seaman. After a nervous glance at the guards, he picks up the tale where the First Mate left off. “So Giles turned to his wife and said…..

“Martha, dearest,” said Giles, “Wouldn’t this sofa brighten our parlor?”

Martha considered the sofa without moving from where she sat on the buckboard.

“Yes,” she replied, “it might. Of course, we would need to replace the upholstery. Who knows what diseases and vapors are breeding in those cushions. Surely the springs are damaged as well, considering the… umm, all the bouncing that the… umm, customers have inflicted on them. So we’ll need to replace the springs. I expect that the wooden frame has been soaked clear through with spilled liquor. Giles, you -know- that I can’t tolerate the stench of liquor….. Yes, with a few repairs, the sofa will do very well in our parlor.”

“But my dearest,” said Giles, “if we do all that, we might as well buy a new sofa!”

“Yes, Giles, we might.”

“I see…. well, I must return to the fields. The south 40 needs plowing.” Giles climbed back onto the buckboard. Martha put her arm through his, offered him a pleasant but purposeful smile, and Giles flicked the horse’s reins. “Move on, old friend.”

At midnight, Giles returned to the bawdy house, loaded the sofa onto his buckboard, and left $15 underneath the door along with an unsigned note that said simply: “Thank you.”

The next day, Giles set about building a new barn on his farm. He had been promising to do this for several years, and Martha was pleased that her husband appeared to bear no grudge about the sofa. What Martha didn’t know, of course, was that Giles intended to conceal the crimson sofa in the new barn’s hayloft. Giles would have his private refuge. The hayloft ladder would be extremely difficult to climb, especially if the climber happened to be wearing skirts.

As the years passed, Giles spent many hours in his hayloft refuge. I must confess, dear Listener, that I don’t know what Giles did or thought during those solitary hours. Giles was a decent man, but he had no children. That is all I know. Were they hours of fantasy? Were they hours of sweet remembrance? … of days when the brothel offered pleasure to any man with coin in his pocket (and occasionally to a lonely man whose pockets were empty)? I simply do not know.

But one day, a traveling salesman visited the farm. As is typical of all traveling salesman, the fellow had no place to sleep. He asked Martha if he could sleep in the barn.

The next morning, Giles asked the traveling salesman if he had slept comfortably.

“Not at first,” answered the salesman, “but then I went up into the hayloft, and I found a sofa up there. So I slept on it. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” mumbled Giles.

“…But” continued the salesman, “there was hair on those beautiful crimson cushions. Very soft, fine hair, not the sort of hair you’d expect to find in a barn. Mrs. Giles, do you have a brush that I might use to remove the hair from my clothes?”

Neither Giles, nor Martha said a word, but each of them knew.

Giles and Martha lived out their lives in Fox River Grove. Martha died first, and Giles fell on a pitchfork several months later. Giles’ death was particularly gruesome because he fell out of the hayloft for no apparent reason and landed on a pitchfork that happened to be lying on the ground. It was purely circumstance, of course. This sort of thing happens on farms.

“So!” said Sailor Bill, “The moral of the story is obvious. I doubt that I need to explain it.”

“Wait!” said Sir Hillary. “Just in case one or two of us don’t understand, please say it out loud. Just in case.”

With a shrug of his shoulders, Bill said, “Very well. BEWARE OF TRAVELING SALESMEN WHO SLEEP ON WHORE’S HAIR SOFAS.”

Mike [Callahan, the proprietor of alt.callahans] leaned his back against the bar and looked thoughtfully up at the screen. The Queen’s forces hesitated to ponder these gibes. Now that they were softened up, he thought he’d best drive the nail home. He cleared his throat and finished the story:

As they carried the couch into the yard, Giles glanced hopefully at Martha, who had remained sitting sternly upright on the wagon seat all this time. He searched for a gleam of passion or at least tolerant amusement at this eye-catching addition to her parlor, but it was not to be. She scowled and hollered across the yard,

“That’s a whore’s sofa! Different color!”

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