I have always been of the opinion that we should leave matters of state to the wise, as opposed to the merely strident or muscular. Indeed as I fail to fall into any of these three categories I feel that I am an unbiased observer whose opinion should count for much.
But the question has to be asked, who exactly are the wise and how do we recognise them. I suppose the second question that would have to be asked is, ‘if they are wise, why would they want to waste their time dealing with matters of state?’
But I suppose I do my best to ensure we have a new generation of wise people coming forward to take up the burden. I lecture occasionally at the University here in Port Naain. A position which can hardly be described as lucrative as I am paid directly by those whom I have the severely mitigated pleasure to lecture.
Now it so happened that I had to go to the university. Over the previous few months I’d acquired a number of academic gowns which had been discarded under circumstances I am not at liberty to divulge. Still Shena said she could use the material so I would collect them from my office (a cupboard on a side corridor).
Mutt announced that as he’d never really been into the university buildings he’d like to go, and Shena agreed that he could accompany me, provided he wore something moderately respectable. So in second hand cut-down trousers and jacket, Mutt accompanied me. Shena did raise the issue of shoes but Mutt could tell that this was one battle he could win. “Not wearing them out, just got them, they’re almost new.”
With that definitive statement on household economy we left, with me carrying a carpet bag to carry the gowns in.
It was a fine morning, cold but bright, the streets were busy but not packed and the city had a generally sociable air. Both of us nodded to acquaintances and generally agreed it was a pleasant day for a walk.
As we entered that part of the city where various university buildings tended to be concentrated Mutt grew quiet. It wasn’t an area he was too familiar with. Finally we arrived at the Offices and Grand Refectory. I led Mutt through the corridors until we came to my cupboard and I stowed the gowns in my bag. Mutt said brightly, “Now for something to eat?”
Now the Grand Refectory isn’t cheap but it is quite good, so in theory I was amenable to this suggestion. I led Mutt towards the Refectory and had almost reached it when somebody shouted my name. I turned to see Illus Wheelburn, one of my more promising students.
“Ah Illus, good to see you.”
“You going to eat, Tallis?”
I hesitated slightly before answering, but Illus is from a wealthy family, so it was unlikely he was about to try and get a meal out of me.
“We thought of it.”
“Then I must introduce you to Professor Quern.”
He led us in, Mutt hanging back slightly, and took us to where three tables had been pushed together. A short fat man wearing Pince-nez was holding forth to a mixture of students and lesser academics who all appeared to be hanging on his every word. I was introduced, and can consider myself honoured in that he halted his diatribe long enough to acknowledge me.
I noticed that at the end of the table there was a young man wearing the robe of a charity scholar. As I expected there was a space left between him and the other students so I sat down next to him. He nodded shyly and I was about to speak to him when Professor Quern raised his voice.
“Hey you, boy.”
Various people looked round, but Quern continued, “You, the scruffy one in his grandfather’s jacket, yes you.”
Mutt looked at him, he was irrationally proud of the jacket which he felt lent him the trappings of maturity. “What me?”
“Yes you boy, go to the counter and fetch me some wine.”
Shrugging Mutt walked to the counter. At the Refectory one just went along the counter, collected what you wanted, showed it to the clerk sitting at the end of the counter who noted it down against your account. Mutt picked up a bottle and raised it for Quern to see. He then looked at the clerk and pointed at Quern. The clerk had been watching Mutt with some disfavour, but seeing him acknowledged by the great Professor Quern, nodded more affably to Mutt. Seeing Quern was once more engaged in his harangue, Mutt collected four bottles, showed them to the clerk, and then walked to our table. Three bottles he quietly placed on the floor next to my bag, and one bottle he handed to Quern who grunted and passed it for the student on his right to open.
The charity scholar whispered to me, “Before your boy came, that was what I had to do.”
Mutt had rejoined us. He stared the charity scholar in the eye and fiercely said, “Then watch and learn.”
He walked back to the counter, served himself a large bowl of game stew, cut a good slice of fresh bread and spread it with a generous portion of butter. He nodded to the clerk, gesturing to Quern with his thumb. The clerk noted it down to Quern’s account and then turned to deal with a party of students who had just served themselves and wanted to book things down.
Mutt returned to my side and sat on the floor between the charity scholar and I, eating his stew. It smelled excellent, and I prodded Mutt with my foot. “Courtesy demands that you help your friends.”
I nudged him again. “Two bowls, with bread.”
He finished his meal and disappeared, to return a minute later with two bowls and a loaf and butter dish. The charity scholar and I set about making short work of stew. It was indeed excellent, rich, thick, with plenty of meat and a purely nominal quantity of vegetables. Quern bellowed for Mutt to get more wine so Mutt disappeared. Only to return a few minutes later with another three bottles which joined the previous three he’d already stored in my bag, cunningly wrapped in academic gowns so they didn’t clink.
Whilst eating I was listening to Quern. He was propounding a theory that only the educated could be trusted to run anything, as they were the most intelligent and the only ones to be trusted not to allow their passions to rule their heads. He spoke eloquently and there was even a smattering of applause from the other diners when he finished. He raised his glass to accept the applause, discovered it was empty and bellowed for Mutt. Mutt scampered to the counter and collected more bottles. Leaving the spare three with me he went back and collected a tray of individual fruit pies. These he took around the table, offering them to all present, and then deposited the last half dozen by the bag before taking the empty tray back.
The charity scholar had been watching Mutt in action with obvious awe. As he watched Mutt, I studied him. Tired, drawn and thin, here was somebody struggling to get that qualification that might mean the difference between a junior post in a lawyer’s office and work as a jobbing labourer. The next time Mutt returned I whispered in his ear, “Our friend here needs a bag.”
Mutt returned with a nondescript carpet bag somewhat similar to mine. “It were lying about, I left the books in a pile where I found it.”
Quern called for more wine, so Mutt had to leave us, but he continued his foraging at Quern’s expense and ten minutes later the charity scholar had in his bag cold tongue, cold mott ham, cold roast horrocks, pickled gherkins, pickled onions, potted meat, fresh bread, butter, two bottles of wine and six bottles of beer.
The scholar looked at me and then at Quern. Quern was still in full flow, his monologue punctuated only by cries for Mutt to fetch him this or that. The young scholar stood up, pulled his grey gown around him and picked up the bag. “I suppose I’d better be going.”
“Always wise when Mutt is caught up in a project,” I replied. Staggering a little under the weight of the bag he made his way out and disappeared from our sight. Cautiously I tried picking up my bag. It was still possible to carry it one handed but might not be for long if Mutt wasn’t reined in. I slipped a fruit pie into my pocket for later and picked up the bag. Mutt suddenly appeared next to me, also carrying a bag. Turning to Professor Quern I bowed. He waved vaguely to acknowledge my departure.
We left the University premises and made our slow and somewhat over-burdened way home. We’d reached the trailing edge of the merchant quarter when we passed a tea house that Shena is rather partial to. They sell little sugar fancies that Mutt absolutely adores. I felt that he’d had a busy morning and might appreciate some little treat. As we entered the place I looked around, apart from us and the motherly lady behind the counter it was empty. I ordered a glass of delicately flavoured sweet tisane for myself, a mug of strong coffee for Mutt, who spent too much time in the company of Benor Dorfinngil, and a plate of sugar fancies.
We sat down at a small table against the wall and savoured our drinks. “What’s in your bag Mutt?”
“I got my people to feed.” He sounded a little defensive, but I’ve met Mutt’s people, a collection of urchins who regard him as being, to some extent, their leader.
“After here, I’ll go see them.”
I nodded. Any further comment I might have made was lost as suddenly the place filled up with very young women. The tea shop went from having Mutt and I sitting companionably together surrounded by empty tables to every table being occupied and every chair being full. The air was filled with excited chatter. Then I realised, all the girls in service, maids of various sorts, shop girls and others, traditionally got one afternoon off a week and it was obviously this afternoon. I turned to mention this to Mutt, only to discover he’d disappeared, taking with him his bag, his mug and the plate of fancies. I resisted the temptation to check that he wasn’t sitting under the table, when a young woman addressed me.
“Excuse me, is this seat available?”
“I think so, it appears my friend has deserted me.”
She sat down, “He wouldn’t be a boy of about ten, with a heavy bag, juggling a mug and plate?”
“That’s him; I’m surprised you noticed him.”
“I’ve got brothers.”
At this point I had a chance to look at her more closely, she was attractive but older than the others who were crowding into the tea room. Then she was joined by another young woman who was perhaps a similar age to the crowd, somewhere between fourteen and seventeen.
I could see the family resemblance between the two. Close enough for them to be sisters or perhaps mother and daughter. Indeed in some families, disgrace has been avoided when the latter can pass as the former.
She answered my unspoken question, “My younger sister, she’s just starting out in service.”
The younger girl nodded to me, placed a tray on the table and disappeared back into the throng to misappropriate a chair.
Cautiously, because courtesy can be misinterpreted, I said, “Let me introduce myself, I’m Tallis Steelyard, poet.”
She smiled at me, “I’m Elanoise, and have recently been taken on as House Keeper for Mistress Kitti.”
Mistress Kitti I knew, she was an occasional patron. She was also the owner of an establishment where a lady could go and have her hair done, get a massage and enjoy numerous other small treatments that help boost a lady’s self esteem. She also worked very long hours and never had a lot of money. I suspected that Elanoise might be called the House Keeper, but she was also cook, upstairs maid, downstairs maid, kitchen porter, boots and butler.
So I asked after her mistress, and asked for my best wishes to be passed on. Younger sister appeared in triumph bearing a chair and joined us. I was introduced and we indulged in general conversation for a while.
Finally Elanoise stood up. “I must go, Mistress wanted me to try and find some reasonably priced wine, we’re almost out.”
I stood up as well. “I might possibly be able to help you with that. I have been given some wine by a friend that he wants me to dispose of.”
I held up the bag. “I’ve just collected it and was pondering what to do with it.”
She was interested but wary. “What have you got?”
The embarrassing thing is that I hadn’t the faintest idea. I placed the bag on the table and carefully opened it. At the top were a number of loaves and some cold meat and pickle. Hastily I improvised, “I also had some shopping to do.”
I carefully placed my ‘shopping’ on the table and unwrapped the wine. Elanoise looked at the labels, “They’re all ‘The Hill.’ Your friend had good taste.”
“Indeed, ‘Charmer’s Enclosure’.”
She looked at the bottles, “So how much? We don’t normally drink wine of this quality.”
I don’t normally drink wine of this quality either. So I said, “Just pay what you usually pay.”
She looked undecided. “That’s awfully generous.”
“My friend is, to a fault.”
She was obviously coming to a decision, so I added, “And I’ll carry them home for you.”
So I carried the bottles to Mistress Kitti’s. Mistress Kitti was in the kitchen when I arrived and greeted me warmly. She regarded the wine with mixed awe and delight, and in the end found twenty-four vintenars for me. With these jingling in my pocket I walked home carrying a much lighter bag.
When I arrived I found Shena talking to a young girl. She curtseyed to me and I recognised her as Valerin, one of Mutt’s ‘People’. She held up a plate and mug which I recognised had come from the tea shop. “Mutt told me to wash them then take them back.”
Such honest regard for the property of others was new for Mutt and I started to silently congratulate myself that my example was beginning to wear off on him.
“He said as how they’ll give me something for returning them and I might even get a cake or two.”
That, admittedly, was more like Mutt.
“Oh and he said that he wouldn’t be back tonight on account of being busy.”
Again this didn’t surprise me. After a busy morning he’d be paying off debts and building up more favours.
“An he said that he’d expect you to get at least twenty vintenars for the wine.”
She nodded. “Yes, he said he felt he could leave poetry and wine to you, no point keeping a dog and barking yourself.”