blogging, book promotion, humor, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

A cosy dinner for three

– by Jim Webster

+++I suppose that in one way, poets and painters have one specific thing in common. We sketch out the original work, then we work away at it until it is mostly finished. Finally comes the endless tweaking to get it just right. So if I mention that Julatine Sypent can be something of a perfectionist you can imagine that this latter part of the process takes some time.
+++This isn’t something that ordinarily matters. A twee cottage isn’t going to get bored if you sit painting it for a full week. On the other hand when he moved to portraits, some sitters grew restive. Still it wasn’t as if Julatine hid this aspect of his personality. Nobody who hired him to paint them could claim that it came as a surprise. Everybody in society knew that if you wanted your likeness painted by Julatine, you emptied your diary for a full week.
+++Yet outside the circle of well-heeled patrons of the arts Julatine’s foibles were not really known. Obviously this isn’t normally going to be a problem as those less well monetarily endowed aren’t the people who tend to commission him. Yet late one morning he was in the Silk Merchant’s Repose. This is one of the better taverns, the food is excellent and the company tends to be polite. Not only that, but the owner, Omartan, aspires to keep improving it.
+++Julatine was dining alone and sitting at the table across from him was Bolfinch and the two Millan sisters, Winny and Saleni. If I remember aright Bolfinch was courting Winny and Saleni had come along as a chaperone. Or perhaps it was the other way about? Or perhaps he was courting both with nobody quite sure who was chaperoning whom?
+++Still Julatine was immediately captivated by the scene and sketched it hastily on in a notepad. Then he summoned Omartan and offered to paint the scene for him, pointing out that such a vision of attractive young ladies, good food, and good fellowship would inevitably encourage people to come to his establishment. A price was agreed and then Julatine approached the three diners. With the prospect of a free lunch next day they agreed to return, and promised to wear the same outfits.
+++Next morning found Julatine with easel in place and all his impedimenta around him. The diners took their seats and began eating. Julatine blocked everything out and after a mere three hours pronounced himself well pleased with the result. He instructed everybody to be back in their places next day at the usual time.
It has to be admitted that Winny and Saleni abandoned Bolfinch and fled home. This was to ensure that they had time to wash and try their clothes so they would be at their best tomorrow when Julatine had promised he would start painting in the detail. Bolfinch went late to work, and moaned to his colleagues about the problems caused when an artist gets involved in your courtship.
+++Next day the trio were back in place. But unfortunately word had got round. Thus Silk Merchant’s Repose was crowded. Julatine was incensed, all those people standing in the way meant that the light was wrong. Indeed so crowded was it that when he reached out to put some more brown on his brush, he found himself painting with onion gravy he’d inadvertently acquired from the plate of a diner who had cleared himself a space by the simple expedient of pushing Julatine’s paints off the table. For Julatine this was the last straw.
+++Omartan, the owner, knew nothing of this. He was working upstairs in his office. Now even there he could keep his finger on the pulse of affairs below him. A raised voice, angry shouting, the crash of crockery, would all have him downstairs in an instant. But all was quiet. It was only after a while he realised it was too quiet. He stood up and opened the door of his office. Instead of the low hum of conversation and diners concentrated mainly on eating, interspersed with the occasional scraping of a chair or perhaps the slightly louder tones of somebody ordering their meal, there were no sounds at all.
+++Omartan made his way cautiously downstairs to discover his establishment empty save for Julatine and his three sitters. It appears that Julatine had noticed Chesit Quince amongst the spectators. So Julatine had paid him to empty the place and keep it empty. Given that Chesit can carry an anvil under one arm and has stopped runaway horse teams dead in their tracks, this he achieved with no difficulty at all.
+++Omartan could take no more. He demanded that Julatine let customers in so he could continue to run his business. Julatine at this point got on his high horse, accused Omartan of being a gore-bellied gut-gripping hedgemott with no artistic sensitivities. He told him to finish his own painting, grabbed his assorted equipment and stormed out.
+++That evening Ingenious Trool dropped in for a meal, heard the story, and offered to take the painting home and finish it. It was he who added the three diners in the background purely from his imagination. Thus one of them is Lancet and one of them is me. The third, a bearded gentleman apparently asking the clean shaven Lancet for a loan is Sinian Var, reputed to be the wealthiest usurer in Port Naain. Trool also painted the expression of the face of Bolfinch. (The latter admitted later that Trool had caught his emotions perfectly) He also added the cat, which folk felt was a stroke of genius. Omartan was overjoyed, paid Trool with a number of excellent free meals and everybody was happy.
+++Save of course for Julatine, who when he heard his painting had been finished, had his lawyers (the Beenchkin partnership) sue Trool for stealing his painting. Beenchkin sent Trool a bill for one hundred alars to compensate their client. Trool had never possessed a tenth of that sum, so merely offered them the picture back in compensation. The Beenchkin clerk replied frostily that the picture was barely worth a hundred vintenars, never mind a hundred alars. They wanted their money. Unfortunately for them, this letter came into the hands of Julatine who was mortified to see the low value placed on his work. Outraged, he hired a lawyer from the Zare family to sue the Beenchkins. Finding themselves sued by their own client the Beenchkins countersued.
+++At this point Julatine acted with real genius. He approached the court and pointed out that as he was suing lawyers he demanded a blind bench. This term needs some explaining. Because there is a fear amongst the laity that when lawyers are being sued by the laity, magistrates (also lawyers of a sort) might be intimidated into supporting their own kind rather than giving a fair hearing to the lay person who is paying for it all. Thus a ‘blind bench’ is empowered. Three magistrates sit, but they sit behind a screen so that nobody will ever know who gave judgement. Lawyers hate this. If you think magistrates can be capricious when the world is watching them, just imagine how they act when they have anonymity. Julatine was awarded his blind bench. Immediately Beenchkin and Zare both settled out of court, paying large sums to both Julatine and Trool on the understanding that nobody would ever talk about the incident ever again.
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Should you wish to know more about Port Naain and Tallis Steelyard you might fancy reading Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-Playing-other-stories-ebook/dp/B07PV1N7XZ/

https://www.amazon.com/Tallis-Steelyard-Playing-other-stories-ebook/dp/B07PV1N7XZ/

As one reviewer commented, “Another great collection of short stories about Port Naain poet Tallis Steelyard. This is the second collection I’ve read, and I enjoyed it as much as the first one – if not more so. The individual stories are amusing, and a little quirky, and well suited for a quick read to disconnect from reality after a long day.
Heartily recommended.”

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book promotion, humor, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Just keep knocking

 – by Jim Webster

Have you noticed how there are people who never get the attention they deserve? Obviously it can work both ways. I know one or two people who really ought to come to the attention of the hangman, or perhaps that of a philanthropic assassin wishing to square his account with society. But there are also perfectly decent people who get overlooked or even ignored, often from the paltriest of reasons.

Take Morn Willit. A young man, handsome enough, intelligent, courteous and kind. Not only that but he had prospects. There again, there were unfortunate disadvantages as well. Firstly he was painfully shy. So shy that his two sisters feared he’d never pluck up the courage to speak to an eligible young lady, never mind ask her out to dine with him. Secondly he walked with a pronounced limp, from the time when a Partannese mace had smashed his leg.

Morn signed on as a squire with Lord Cartin’s company and in due season rose to become a man-at-arms. It has to be admitted that his shyness wasn’t a problem. Wearing a helmet with a full-face visor it didn’t matter whether he blushed or not, and anyway it wasn’t as if he was ever formally introduced to any to the Partannese brigands he was hired to fight. Unfortunately during his second season in Partann a backhanded blow with a mace smashed his calf. The surgeon started the operation by cutting away the heavy riding boot, shook his head sadly and did his best to mend what some other fool had marred.

Say what you want about Lord Cartin but he looks after his people. With his weak leg, Morn might be able to ride but he would never be able to fight as a man-at-arms. But Lord Cartin found him another job. He was to assist the Grand Provost in Port Naain.

Every time a ship sails or a company marches, sundry provosts and similar scour the bars and bordellos of Port Naain looking for men who have overstayed their leave. The role of the Grand Provost was to ensure that is an up-to-date list of these establishments which were known to be frequented by people of this class. Thus the busy ship’s captain didn’t have to scour the entire city, he merely handed his boatswain a list of suitable establishments and told him to get on with it. To be fair these establishments tend to cluster in certain areas. Bordellos and other establishments outside those areas probably try to serve a more distinguished clientele.

Morn’s job was to deal with problems that inevitably arose, when a boatswain who didn’t know Port Naain tackled the wrong bordello, or fighting arose because crewmen had decided that they no longer fancied a seafaring career.

This now brings us to Lucila. A rather pretty young woman, intelligent and determined to make her way in the world. Her grandmother died leaving Lucila a reasonable legacy. She pondered and then purchased a large house just off the Ropewalk. She had spent wisely, she got a lot of house for her money. Indeed she still had enough money left to renovate it a little. Then she rented out individual rooms to respectable young women who were working in the shops and businesses round and about. She was very insistent on them being respectable because she didn’t want the house to get a bad reputation with people treating it as a bordello.

This is rather ironic as whilst it had stood empty for some time, previously it had been a bordello. Thus it was on the Grand Provost’s list of bordellos in the Ropewalk area. Now this needn’t have been a problem. Except that Lucila and her tenants had been ensconced in their new home for no more than a few months when trouble struck. There was a tremendous hammering on the door at about midnight. By the time Lucila had managed to get a dressing gown thrown over her nightdress and got to the top of the stairs the hammering had stopped. This was because whoever was hammering had lost patience and had smashed the door in. Standing in her hallway on the shattered remains of her front door was an ensign and three crossbowmen. They were searching for defaulters from a condottiere company that was to march south next morning.
To be honest, at this point I must confess I feel a degree of sympathy for the ensign. He is expecting a bordello. He looks round and peering over the banisters at the top of the stairs is a growing number of young women in their night attire. In his defence I insist he was never less than polite. Not only that but after very few minutes he realised that whilst these ladies were in night attire, it was not ‘that’ sort of night attire. Finally he accepted their assurance that this was not the bordello he was looking for and he retired to continue his quest. Being the gentleman that he was, he left a crossbowman on the door to ensure that they didn’t have any other unwanted visitors.

Obviously this is the sort of problem Morn was paid to deal with. He rode up to the house next morning and inspected the damage. His sense of duty ensured that he was brisk and business-like and managed to cope with the terrors of dealing with Lucila and her tenants. He listened to their story, apologised profusely and then he and Lucila went to purchase a suitable door. Obviously as a gentleman he couldn’t ride whilst she walked at his horse’s head. And because he was lame, Lucila wasn’t going to let him walk whilst she rode. And equally it would have been fatuous to both walk with the horse coming along as a chaperone. So Morn climbed up onto the horse and Lucila sat behind him with her arms around his waist to help her stay on. A door was purchased, and the carpenter promised to fit it that very morning. So Morn and Lucila rode back to await his arrival. Lucila felt pleased to offer Morn coffee, and he drank it and chatted happily. His shyness seemed to have abated somewhat, but perhaps it’s impossible to be shy with somebody who has spent half the morning with her arms around your waist? The door fitted to everybody’s satisfaction, Morn left, taking the crossbowman with him. For the record, Lucila stood in her doorway and waved him off.

That, I suppose, would have been that. Save for the fact that three weeks later, Lucila was once more awakened by her front door crashing onto the hall floor. There were the usual somewhat tense discussions and next morning Morn arrived. Over coffee, matters were resolved, a new door was purchased and fitted. Before he left, Morn promised that he would see what he could do to stop these assaults on her property. Alas Lucila lost four more doors before the visitations finally ceased. Mind you, Morn and Lucila had been married for over a year before Morn admitted to her that he could have corrected the Grand Provost’s list after the first occasion. It was just that he couldn’t think of any other way he might get to meet her.

Tallis Steelyard
Should you wish to learn more of the world of Tallis Steelyard, you could do worse than read, “Tallis Steelyard, shower me with gold, and other stories.”
https://www.amazon.com/Tallis-Steelyard-shower-other-stories-ebook/dp/B01MRQFSGF/

As a reviewer commented, “This is a great collection of quirky little tales which are a spin-off from a series featuring Benor Dorffingil. Tallis is his friend, landlord, drinking companion and a jobbing poet. There are some lovely phrases used in here, as you would expect from a wordsmith like Tallis, who presents us with his pragmatic take on life. It’s an example of what happens when a minor character takes the reins and gallops off on his own. A great little book.”

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book promotion, Flash Fiction, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Jim Webster, Guest Author

“Gentlemen behaving badly”
 – by Jim Webster

The blame for this whole sad episode I lay most firmly at the feet of Mutya Ardlevice, daughter of Calthrop Ardlevice. Old Calthrop himself was a usurer, a man of substance, one of the wealthiest and most respected men of business in Port Naain. He was universally known as Ballplein from his habit of messing about with mechanical contraptions in his leisure time. The name came from his bald pate being considered remarkably similar to the hammer he tended to carry. His wife, known to everybody, (including, apparently, her husband) as Madam Ardlevice, was a patron of mine.

Young Mistress Mutya was a delightful child who grew up to become an attractive young woman. The presence of two younger brothers ensured that she was prized rather than spoiled. As is the way, she had many close friends amongst the young ladies of her age and they tended to meet socially on a regular basis.

One summer, they formed a picnic club. They would chose a location and meet there for a picnic. There was safety in numbers and whilst all you would see was the young ladies, just out of sight but still in earshot were domestic staff with ponies, traps and hampers. To be fair I merely heard about these events as the ladies entertained themselves and could fill a pleasant afternoon with convivial gossip and good fellowship. They did not feel the need for the services of a poet.

They made a rule for themselves that their picnics would be ‘ladies only.’ Whilst at any given time a number of them could boast gentlemen admirers, it was felt that they needed a space in which they could relax. Not only that but it meant that they had a forum where, should it be necessary, the failings of someone outwith their fellowship could be discussed in confidence. So the unreasonable demands of mothers, the financial constraints imposed by fathers, and the inane activities of brothers all got a proper airing.

These are doubtless reasonable, even proper subjects for discussion. Yet Mistress Mutya took things to another level when she discussed a young gentleman called Crisanto. It appears that this individual had caught Mutya’s eye and she was disposed to smile upon him. Crisanto seemed to be flattered by this attention, but seemed to be a most inconstant admirer. She had no evidence of him paying court to other ladies, but he seemed to struggle to ‘fit her in’ and she could go for days without hearing from him.

This got other young ladies pondering the issue. Finally one of them, Sissi Clearsmith, who was ‘walking out’ with Bromar Heel, rather smugly drew the attention of the meeting to the fact that Bromar was always charming and attentive. The meeting took heart from this. This inattentiveness wasn’t a universal failing. There were gentlemen out there who could behave properly.

Once this was accepted by the meeting, the discussion moved on to what should be done about it? Some sort of corrective action was obviously called for. The problem is, what should this action be? On this note the picnic ended but the young women agreed that they would ponder, and suggest remedies when they met the following week.

Unfortunately Sissi Clearsmith decided to discuss the matter with Bromar Heel. The problem she faced was not that he was unwilling to dance attendance upon her, but that she had great difficulty finding excuses to go and meet him. It might help if I were to explain that there are two opinions about Bromar Heel. A fair number of ladies consider him to be charming, personable, and excellent company. A lesser number of ladies and virtually all men regard him as a cad and dastard. Indeed I have known men with no female relatives whatsoever who will still instinctively reach for their horsewhip in his presence. Sissi’s father could not say the man’s name without spitting. It was only because her mother rather liked the young man that Sissi could get to meet him at all.

When Sissi brought her problem to Bromar Heel, he did not hesitate. “Any man so discourteous as to ignore the wishes of a lady deserves to be taught a strong lesson. A flogging is too good for him.”
To be fair to Bromar, when you have been threatened with as many floggings as he had, the temptation to get your revenge must be overwhelming. Unfortunately whereas an older or wiser lady would have disregarded his comments, Sissi hung on his every word and reported them verbatim to her confederates when they held the next picnic.

Again here I find myself wondering at the unfortunate combination of circumstances. Whilst this collection of young ladies might lack experience of the world, they were not to be treated lightly. Their parents were successful people, prone to take decisions and act decisively. These weren’t the daughters of a decayed aristocracy. These were the daughters of men and women who had made the most of their advantages and had worked hard to get where they were. I have noticed that this sort of thing can rub off on their offspring.

So Sissi made her suggestion, it was generally agreed and various of those present put forward names of young men whom they felt were in need of correction. Mutya was deputised to arrange matters, and the ladies all chipped in a sum so that there was a budget for the project. Mutya’s childhood nurse, now retired, was the sister of an elderly enforcer, Brag Three-Teeth. Mutya merely dropped in on the old lady and finding the Brag present, gave him the list of names and the money to go with it.

Here Mutya was lucky. Provided you aren’t fussy about your instruments it is remarkably cheap to get somebody killed in Port Naain. Admittedly at the cheaper end of the market one has to deal with drunken psychopaths who will probably kill the wrong person. Still when Brag looked at the names and the sum of money he had been given, he realised that he could hire competent assassins. At this point he decided that for Mutya’s sake he would instead merely hire ruffians to administer a beating. This took a mere third of the budget and the money saved would keep his sister and him in some comfort through the next winter.

Now it may be he had been too economical.  Had he paid somebody who had enough good hard lads to deal with everybody on the list on the same day, then matters would doubtless have gone much as he expected. Unfortunately he gave the job to Young Maggins. This doubtless capable individual was starting out for himself. No longer satisfied to just wield a truncheon at somebody else’s direction, he had decided to put together a team of his own and to tender for contracts directly. I confess I can see where Brag was coming from. We ought to encourage those just starting out in business. But in this case, whilst Maggins was conscientiously working through the list, there was only him and three lads. The list was going to take him a couple of weeks. So inevitably word got round. Young men, realising that a friend of theirs had been beaten up by hired professionals, would take more care. Indeed they made a point of going round in groups. Soon, rather than administering a perfunctory beating, Maggins found he was forced to fight pitched battles. Others got drawn in, and generally things got out of hand and over budget. Finally when one brawl had brought Ropewalk to a standstill the Watch took an interest. Maggins, his leg in plaster and with his head aching abominably, confessed that it was Brag Three-teeth who had given him the work. But because Brag had been sadly loose-mouthed, Maggins also mentioned Mutya.

Here the watch was discreet and efficient. Rather than go through the proper procedures, they merely raised the matter with Madam Ardlevice. As I was present, helping to organise Madam’s Summer Ball, I was retained by Madam as a witness. Mutya was summoned to her mother’s presence, and on being questioned, candidly explained how the situation had arisen. Madam, to my surprise, was more exasperated than angry.

“Mutya my girl, would you describe your father as a good father?”

Somewhat surprised at this line of questioning, Mutya loyally answered in the affirmative.

“So Mutya, would you say he is ever attentive, constantly dancing attendance on my, and pandering to my every whim?”

Here one could see Mutya’s instinctive loyalty to her much loved father battling with her innate honesty. “No.”

“For as long as I’ve known him, your father has had a fascination with mechanisms. Indeed when we were courting there were times when I realised that he hadn’t time for a lady-friend and his beloved steam engines, and I loathed those little engines because of it.”
I could see from Mutya’s face that she both followed her mother’s argument and agreed with it. Madam continued. “But when I became the wife, I realised I loved those little engines for exactly the same reason. He still hasn’t time for lady friends and steam engines.”

Here the slow dawning of realisation was visible on Mutya’s face. “You mean….”

“Yes, no woman in Port Naain has a more loyal or obliging husband than I.”

With this Mutya was silent and I could see her mother watching her. It was obvious to me at least that the older woman was struggling to remain stern-faced.

“Do your brothers have hobbies?”

Mutya looked up. “Yes.” Then with a note of distaste she added, “Their rooms are filled with stuffed animals or insects pinned to cards.”

“All men have interests they follow assiduously throughout their lives. They are by nature collectors. But you will notice some men seem to avoid this, and instead they will be charming and attentive and ladies find them excellent company.”

Cautiously Mutya said, “I have noticed this. I assumed it to be a norm from which other men had fallen.”

“No Mutya, they are merely men whose hobby is women. Have you ever known a collector whose collection stopped with one specimen?”

Swimming for profit and pleasure  Tallis Steelyard, Deep waters, and other stories

Jim’s Amazon author’s page:
https://www.amazon.com/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I?

 

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