The tale is freshly penned, the ink barely dry and the tale as yet unpublished… and it is with inordinate delight that I once again welcome that renowned, if impecunious poet of Port Naain, Tallis Steelyard, as my guest, with a cautionary tale on the unexpected dangers of patronage and the inadvisability of fishing for gold…
The Mudfold and Cockeren Feud
I may have intimated before that I have dealt with many patrons, ladies and gentlemen, and at times have had a number of patrons simultaneously. This is a truly admirable situation to find oneself in, except on those occasions when two patrons fall to arguing, and in some cases these arguments can reach the intensity of a feud.
As an example, nay as a dire warning of how bad things can get, I shall recount for you what I can remember of the Mudfold and Cockeren feud.
I had counted Madame Mudfold as a patron for over a year. I attended her soirées regularly and was a habitué of her residence. I would commend other poets, indeed I several times brought my friend Timpton Lumber to present some of his work, and he returned the favour, ensuring I was presented, to general acclaim, at the establishment of his patron, Madam Cockeren.
This happy state of affairs continued for some time. If I were at a loose end, I’d mention this in passing to Timpton and he’d arrange an invitation for me. Similarly if the gap between meals had stretched to alarming proportions for him, he would make this fact known and I would provide an invitation to the Mudfold residence and dining table. Fellow professionals are not necessarily in competition.
But then the two ladies fell out. For the life of me I cannot remember what it was over. But still I was asked sternly how I’d ever allowed myself to be duped into endorsing a purveyor of crude doggerel beloved by ‘that woman’. At the same time, Timpton was informed in no uncertain terms that while I was performing my crude rhymes for ‘that ill-educated hussy’ I would not be welcome in the Cockeren household. So we both consoled each other over a glass of wine, commenting that all good things come to an end.
Unfortunately Timpton then performed some of his verses at an event both ladies were attending. Unusually the verses were generally well received and Madam Cockeren then practically fawned over him, drawing upon herself some of the attention as patron. Madam Mudfold returned home furious and demanded that I write something which would ‘put that poetaster in his place’.
So the following day I presented for her the following little work:
It might not be my finest work. It is always difficult to judge these things, an attack must be indirect so that the patron recognises it and approves but the target allows it to wash over them unheeding. In this case my good friend Timpton Lumber was hardly going to be insulted. He saw me working on it at the Misanthropes Hall and even suggested a couple of the rhymes.
Unfortunately his patron, Mistress Cockeren was insulted for him. Obviously assuming that an ‘attack’ on her poet was an attack on her, she decided to counterattack. Timpton and I had rather assumed this. It was one reason I’d shown him the work and he’d suggested some of the rhymes. It gave him time to work on his reply in the same form. You see, competent professionals work together for the common good.
But unfortunately Mistress Cockeren decided to act first and consult her poet later when she could tell him of the result of her actions. One of her maids was being courted by Seel Twill, a petty criminal of such swaggering bravado that you would have thought him one of the leading swordsmen in Port Naain. He was hired to bring me to my senses!
Now I must digress for the sake of clarity. My lady wife, Shena, has a younger sister, Shalla, who has more children than any reasonable woman would happily contemplate. I came to the conclusion that she fell pregnant should her husband comment favourable on her cooking! Hence Shena and I would take it upon ourselves to provide a home and education for the oldest girl, Grisla. It’s not that Shalla was a bad mother, she wasn’t, her children were as well brought up as you could hope for. It’s just that she and her husband hadn’t the time or the money to look after them. So it was that Shena informed her sister Shalla that she was ‘adopting’ Grisla in the hope that the girl would grow up capable of earning her living with her legs crossed. Isn’t sisterly love a wonderful thing? So at the age of ten, Grisla came to live with us. She spent some time in the morning working with Shena, occasionally she would accompany me, but on four days a week, she would attend Dame Ralash’s school for ‘young maidens of humble family up to the age of thirteen.’
Dame Ralash was a stern lady who combined practicality and scholarship. The girls would turn up before lunch to prepare the meal that they would then eat. After everything was eaten and cleaned away they would be taught the basics of reading, writing, accountancy and other numerical skills. Dame Ralash had a reputation for looking after her girls. When a girl needed employment, Dame Ralash would contact one of her ex-pupils suggesting that the girl be taken on. Indeed her remit extended more widely still. Girls who had graduated from her school and found themselves to have inadvertently ‘fallen pregnant’ would take Dame Ralash with them when the subject needed to be introduced into conversation with the girl’s father. By placing Grisla with the good Dame, we did as much as we honestly could advance her education.
Now on this particular day, Grisla was accompanying me. One disadvantage of living on a barge is that keeping up a high standard of maintenance is somewhat more important than in a house. We had noticed that a couple of the belaying pins were showing their age. So I called in at Dangan’s the Chandlers, on the Ropewalk. I went in and was looking at the various belaying pins Dangan’s assistant placed on the counter for me. Grisla was just outside somewhere. Then suddenly into the shop bursts Seel Twill, rapier drawn, and making the most outrageous threats. He stamped his feet and adopted an exaggerated pose as if waiting for me to drawn my own rapier. Had I indeed possessed such a thing, it might well have been the time to draw it. As it is, as I was pondering what to do, Grisla came in silently through the still open door and stamped down hard with both feet on the back of his left knee.
Obviously Twill went down, and as he flailed ineffectually with his rapier I struck him on the side of the head with a borrowed belaying pin. I then removed his rapier, scabbard, belt, hat and cloak for resale later, as Grisla relieved him of his purse. I do so like to see initiative in the young. Unfortunately when she produced a small bladed knife and started trying to fish around in his mouth for gold teeth I was forced to reprimand her. No good ever comes of going down that route. Almost inevitably the filling comes out, you cannot catch it and the victim instinctively swallows it and can recover it later. If you wish to check the teeth you are advised to invest in a pair of tooth pliers so that the gold tooth is properly gripped when you remove it. Indeed some have achieved such dexterity in these matters they are asked by their friends to remove rotten or aching teeth. They have indeed travelled that short road from the frowned upon trade of the thoughtful and well equipped ruffian to the more lauded craft of tooth-puller and exodontist.
Now you might say that the situation had ended well. Unfortunately Seel Twill had not the wit he was born with. Rather than reporting that he had done what was expected of him, he instead claimed that he had been overwhelmed by a gang of delinquents. These savage individuals had, he claimed, been hired by Madam Mudfold to defend her cherished poet and in spite of his heroic efforts he had not been able overcome them. When asked exactly who this gang was, young Twill shook his head (gently) and said that all he knew was that it was ‘The Grisla’.
Madam Cockeren decided that she had been thwarted too often. She would look for somebody who could deal with the Grisla gang. At this point she consulted Timpton Lumber, and he, the fool, rather than trying to talk her out of it, recommended Wooden Tody. So Tody was approached and paid good money to gather together a bunch of ruffians. All this with the sole aim of teaching the Grisla gang a lesson. Well Tody started looking for the gang. As a well connected petty thug he probably knew most of them already, but this particular coterie was obviously new to him. He searched assiduously for some days yet in spite of his best efforts and his numerous contacts, he drew a blank. Indeed it might have all blown over because Tody was a hard man and if necessary he’d have told Madame Cockeren that Twill had been spinning her a finer romance than ever young Lumber had managed.
But then Tody’s patience was rewarded. It seems that one of Grisla’s classmates had heard that Tody was hunting a Grisla gang. Being an enterprising girl who wished for a little excitement in her life, and having heard from Grisla the full story (doubtless many times) this nameless friend sent a note to Tody saying that the Grisla Gang could be found at a certain house at a certain time. With no better option Tody got his scoundrels together and at the appropriate time burst into that house. Club in hand he crashed through a door to be confronted by Dame Ralash and a score of seemingly respectable young maidens.
I have heard the tale from several people peripherally involved and they agree on several things. Firstly all agree that there was no screaming; which I for one find most surprising. Girls of that age will scream for almost any reason, and the fact that they didn’t scream but sat in demure silence strikes me as remarkably suspicious.
The next thing that happened was that Dame Ralash, seeing what had erupted into her classroom did not hesitate. She snatched the heavy wooden rule off her desk (up onto this very moment used solely for drawing straight lines with chalk on the blackboard, an implement of torture only in that it involved geometry) and laid about her with the enthusiasm and power of an Urlan farrier sergeant.
And the final point of agreement is that Tody immediately grasped that he’d erred. Now whatever one says about Tody, and admittedly there is little good that can be said; Tody may be a bad man, but he’s not an evil one. He and his ruffians had launched their assault armed solely with clubs. Had the opposition drawn knives, doubtless Tody and his cohort would have produced knives, but he was there to administer a swift lesson to a bunch of rogues who might, next week, be partners with him in some new enterprise. He certainly wasn’t there to attack woman and children. So Tody turned and shouted ‘Out’ and led the retreat.
But here Tody was wiser than young Twill. Tody merely gave Madame Cockeren a brisk, indeed an economical account of how he’d done what she wanted. School girls and their teachers failed to feature at all in an otherwise convincing narrative. Madam Cockeren paid him in full and went about feeling that she had done her bit to put ‘that woman’ in her place. Madame Mudfold never even learned about the episode.
But I confess relations between Timpton Lumber and I grew strained over the matter.
To be continued…
Part Two on Friday 19th December
Tallis Steelyard, author of Lambent Dreams, (available for a mere 99p) is, ‘at least in part’, the responsibility of Cumbrian author Jim Webster.
Unlike Tallis who relies on the uncertain patronage of the denizens of Port Naain, Jim claims that in order to make a living he ‘sort of farms, sort of writes and sort of helps out where he’s wanted’. Sartorially and musically challenged, Jim is nevertheless married and has three daughters.
Jim is the author of four fantasy novels set in the Land of the Three Seas plus a number of longish short stories in both science fiction and fantasy genres.
Jim’s books are available in paperback (and make perfect Christmas presents) as well as in e-book format.