Chapter Eighteen: The Tavern
The Inn of the Half-Hearted Angel
a novel manuscript
by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky
“What will it be today, my friend?” asked Barley, as Professor Mutton entered the tavern several hours later.
“Greetings, Barley! A glorious day for a bit of discourse and a sip of Angel nectar,” bellowed the Professor good-naturedly.
“I see you are in fine form this afternoon, Matty,” Tobias called out from a table near the bar. “And none the worse for losing our debate this morning. Join me. I’ll stand you a gin fizz.”
“I agree to nothing but the drink, sir!” Professor Mutton rejoined. Everyone in the room laughed. He shook hands with Tobias and sat across from the bookseller and began ruminating. The tavern returned to a comfortable clink and murmur as the men drank in companionable silence.
A sudden bustle coming from the hall caught everyone’s attention. Mrs. Mother entered the room carrying a steaming tray of cross-buns.
The Professor’s eyes gleamed at her presence. Everyone else was staring at the sweet glaze crosses decorating the honey-brown buns.
The room filled with anticipation.
“Now, these are not for any of you,” she admonished. “I am bringing them to Pastor Crane for his visitors’ repast. His table, I am told, is full this evening.”
“Allow me to get the door, madam.” The Professor jumped to his feet, nearly toppling his drink. “Shall I accompany you on your journey? Perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to slay a fearsome dragon or two along the way—”
“No need, thank you,” Mrs. Mother countered brusquely as she bumped open the tavern door with her meaty hip and disappeared before the Professor could insist.
Barley noticed his friend’s downtrodden look. “Another fizz, Matty?”
“Thank you, no, my friend,” he replied. “I remain, alas, a one-fizz fellow.” Barley and Tobias exchanged looks. “I could, however, use a puff and ponder. You see, I am considering penning a treatise on the salubrious effects of rainwater on a duck’s tail in the scientifically crucial month of April. Tobias, I thank you for the uplifting glass of spirits. Gentleman…” he gestured to the room and, bowing, exited.
Through a tavern window Barley watched the Professor pause at the bottom of the steps and turn his head to the right. He seemed about to move in that direction—the same path that Mrs. Mother had taken—but stopped himself.
Matthias Mutton was clearly agitated. He pulled a long pipe from one of his myriad pockets, and a small tube from another. After carefully pouring a measure of thick glistening liquid into the bowl of the pipe, he capped the tube and returned it to a pocket.
Barley watched the Professor sigh. He could almost feel his friend’s shoulders rise and fall as a deep exhale of disappointment joined the vibrant fall air. The Professor put the pipe to his lips, took in another breath and exhaled again, this time more gently but with precision. A long even stream of iridescent bubbles ascended from the bowl of the pipe. They rose in the air like hope and rode away on back of the October breeze. Barley was aware that unlike his scientific contemporaries the Professor did not believe in the healthful benefits of tobacco; he said that the bubbles induced serenity.
The shimmering orbs caught the attention of a passing group of children. Barley could hear their squeals of delight through the tavern window.
“Again, Professor Mutton!” they appealed, running toward him. “They’re so pretty! More bubbles, please!”
Barley watched the side of Matthias’s face, which had been drawn down, rise up as the pink-cheeked children surrounded him.
“Very well, my young friends,” he replied gravely, as if granting a great favor.
Barley knew otherwise. This was a joy to the childless Matthias.
Professor Mutton puffed slowly and several enormous bubbles labored up from the bowl of his pipe. The children began to dance about him, laughing and poking at the thick, fat bubbles with outstretched fingers.
The Professor then shot a long line of tiny bubbles high into the air. The bubbles coasted off on the breeze. Delighted, the children shrieked and chased the train of bubbles as they drifted down the thoroughfare. The Professor’s shoulders bounced. Barley could feel his friend’s laughter and he watched him stroll off in the opposite direction.
“My friend, I think you really were meant to be content,” Barley murmured.
He considered life outside the tavern window a while longer. It was a bright afternoon on the brink of brisk autumn. The children were gone. So was the Professor. Occasionally, a glimmering stream of bubbles sashayed past.