Wilton Stillwater wasn’t the sort of person you’d immediately accuse of being a puking, ill-minded, fustilarian. He was, in his own eyes, a man of impeccable honesty who always paid his bills. Eventually. So he was somewhat irritated when Struan Cruet, the grocer, paid a small boy to follow him round shouting a variety of insults after him.
On the other hand, I can rather see where Cruet was coming from. Stillwater owed him money, yet paid his bills, in full, every five weeks. The problem is that Cruet sent a bill out every four weeks and had initially been entirely happy when Stillwater seemed to be so prompt with his payments. It only eventually dawned upon him that, actually, for every five bills he sent out, Stillwater had only paid four and after three years there was a considerable amount of money outstanding.
I, as a poet, know the standard of living to which I aspire, and attempt to achieve it. Obviously there are times where patrons are remiss in sending me money, or even in offering me work, and the flow of funds, never exactly a torrent, dries up to a trickle. Well I can hardly be expected to go without eating, or sharing a glass of wine with my friends, just because others have failed in their duty.
But with Stillwater he seemed to avoid paying his bills as a matter of policy. It wasn’t that he hadn’t got the money, it was simply that he would put the money on deposit, or invest it in some money making scheme. Thus when he finally got round to paying you, he could keep the return that his investment had made.
Some debts were older than others. Hence he purchased a suit from Sakes. This he bought to get married in. He finally paid for it when he needed it altering so he could wear it to marry the second Madam Stillwater. Given that he and the first Madam Stillwater had had five children, you can see that he hadn’t actually rushed into handing over the money. Indeed the only reason he paid at all was that Sakes held the suit to ransom, refusing to hand it over, or even do any work on it, until he had been paid in full for the purchase, and in advance for the alterations.
This incident aside, it has to be admitted that Stillwater wasn’t often outwitted.
Dame Readle, who ran the dame school Stillwater’s children attended was perhaps the worst hit. At the end of the first year she asked where the money was, and by the end of the third year she was threatening to expel the children, on a weekly basis. Yet when she finally managed to catch up with Stillwater, he merely pointed out that she was educating the children, she was not educating him, thus it was only proper than she approached the children for money. Indeed he pointed out that for the last three years he had been teaching her several valuable life lessons. Thus it had occurred to him that she ought to be paying him. Finally Dame Readle had to be happy with a promise that the children would pay the debt back out of the money they earned once they started work.
Perhaps inadvertently, it was the children who were the cause of Stillwater’s schemes coming to an end. For Madam Stillwater’s first confinement, husband and wife decided to approach Mord Filch who provided a midwife and generally remained in the background. Still he was on hand and maintained a watching brief. The midwife was entirely competent and the mother blessed by nature with a physique well suited to childbirth. Mord Filch’s role in the whole process was dropping round after the birth to check up on things and to congratulate mother on such a beautiful baby. Still the midwife needed paying and by the time Mord Filch had got round to sending the bill (he was somewhat lax in these matters,) Madam Stillwater was once again expecting. So it seemed not unreasonable to pay for both together after the second baby was born. Again due to delays on both sides, when the bill arrived, Stillwater wrote back asking whether there shouldn’t be a discount for quantity, and whether he could expect to get three for the price of two? Finally Mord agreed to four for the price of three.
When the fifth child arrived the midwife stepped in and refused point blank to do anything until the money was paid in advance. Her implacable stance collapsed when Madam went into labour and Stillwater disappeared. The midwife sent Stillwater a note telling him that he wasn’t getting his wife and child back until he’d paid the bill for her services. Stillwater, calculating the savings that would ensue from not having meet the day to day expenses of wife and child, never bothered to answer the letter.
Finally after three weeks, Madam Stillwell, exasperated beyond measure, went home to her mother and sent her husband a note which effectively stated that she was resigning from the role and dignity of being his wife and would like back the funds she brought to the marriage. Wise to her soon to be ex-husband’s little ways, she asked the court not merely to dissolve her marriage, but also to instruct Stillwell to pay her the money.
The court took cognisance of her request and instructed Marisol and Chesini Clogchipper, forensic accountants, to investigate the financial affairs of Wilton Stillwater. They reported back, laying before the court the whole sordid picture. The court was unanimous. Wilton Stillwater had arrogated to himself the privileges of late payment properly pertaining to the public purse. He was instructed, firmly, to cease this behaviour. The court also pointed out to Madam Stillwell that she had been happy enough to benefit from her ex-husband’s business practices whilst she was married to him, so complaining about them now seemed a touch hypocritical. Hence she would merely be added to the end of the list of his creditors once she had divorced him. Given that during this somewhat lengthy legal process Stillwater had already married the second Madam Stillwater, he did attempt to appeal the court’s decision on the grounds that the cost of maintaining his current wife must surely be sacrosanct and should not be counted as his income for the purposes of calculating how much he could afford to pay back his first wife.
Instead the court repaid all the debts from court funds and told Stillwater that he was now in debt to the court and that the court would charge interest on this loan. This would be calculated at the rate of six percent, per month, compounded. Stillwater paid off the lot within the first month but the experience broke him. He was never the man he had been. He couldn’t get over the fact that a policy, considered entirely normal when carried out by the public authorities, should be considered immoral when put into effect by a private citizen for their own benefit.
And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.
So here I am again with another blog tour. I’ve released two collections of short stories from Tallis and if you’ve enjoyed the one you just read, you’ll almost certainly enjoy these.
So what have Tallis and I got for you?
Well first there’s, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A guide for writers, and other stories.’ The book that all writers who want to know how to promote and sell their books will have to read. Sit at the feet of the master as Tallis passes on the techniques which he has tried and perfected over the years. As well as this you’ll have music and decorum, lessons in the importance of getting home under your own steam, and brass knuckles for a lady. How can you resist, all this for a mere 99p.
Then we have, ‘Tallis Steelyard. Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories.’ Now is your chance to see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education.
So come on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.