It has to be said that I may not have mentioned Anald in these jottings of mine. Indeed until Sue Vincent jogged my memory I’d entirely forgotten the incident. Anald was perhaps one of the finest cozeners I have ever had dealings with. A person of immense charm, he had spent nearly twenty years separating the folk of Port Naain and the more civilised parts of Partaan from their hard earned silver. This he did by getting them to purchase elixirs that would leave them younger, more beautiful, more charming, or just richer. Admittedly in the case of the last proud boast it is difficult to see how merely drinking a potion could achieve this, but when Anald explained it, it made perfect sense.
But two decades of this lifestyle had tired him. I remember bumping into him in ‘The Wallop’ on Rotten Staithe where the old canal runs into the river.
He bought me a tankard of ‘Weary Packman’, a thin pale beer, somewhat bitter and acid. He put his half empty glass down and gestured at it contemptuously, “The story of my life?”
Immediately I was on my guard. “When did you ever work as a packman?”
“No it’s just I’m weary of travelling when all it buys me is bad beer.”
This was an unusually approach from him, so I decided to encourage him. “So what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to try the north, perhaps find somewhere to settle down. Somebody might need a clerk or a letter writer.”
We left it at that, as his suggested course of action seemed so unlikely that I couldn’t think of anything to add. But he was serious in his intent.
Now I am forced to report the story as I was told it by Anald after the event. He is not perhaps the most reliable of witnesses but where possible I have had the story confirmed by others.
The day after he met me he put his plan into action and set off north out of the city. He made his way around the villages and isolated farms, places he’d never been in his life before. Here he left off selling potions and patent medicines and instead he passed himself off as an itinerant clerk. He never starved but he didn’t exactly thrive. On the other hand he did fall in love.
The lady on whom his eye rested was Boonie, a milk maid. She was perhaps thirty, bonnie enough and she allowed him to court her. Given that during the process she probably had to feed him as well, I suspect that Anald felt that his love was in some measure reciprocated.
Still, a month after he first set eyes upon her, they were married and he acquired both a wife and, thanks to the generosity of her employer, service as the estate scribe. Now I do feel that Anald was genuinely intent of settling down. For the first time in his life he was honestly employed and nobody was hunting for him. Unfortunately the worm in his apple was Boonie. She felt that life must hold out for options than remaining as a milk maid. She listened to Anald’s occasional reminiscences with a degree of envy and decided to start working on him. In her terms she’d spent her life in the same village milking the same small herd of horrocks for the same employer and she wanted something different.
Anald proved resistant. He was genuinely happy. Still I suspect the feeling grew on him that his lady wife wasn’t. Yet he didn’t want to go back to his old ways, if he was to travel he’d like to do it honestly. Again Boonie was ready for him. She had inherited from her mother a cure and general pick-me-up for the horrocks. She suggested they could travel selling that. With her experience of the animal and his ability to sell, what could go wrong?
So they sank their small savings into a cart and a considerable number of bottles of Boonie’s Panacea and set off.
Now for a month of so they did well enough. They had to produce more elixir. This wasn’t difficult; it was basically a mixture of water, salt, fish-oil and enough molasses to ensure the horrocks would drink the damned stuff. But you cannot keep going back to the same places. Either they’ve still got some of your elixir in stock and don’t need more, or have decided it didn’t work, which also guarantees you will have difficulty in selling them more. So Anald and Boonie had to keep moving. This finally brought them to the outskirts of Port Naain, or at least the villages which cluster around its northern fringes.
Here they ran into a problem. The shortage of horrocks meant there were less people who might buy the product. Boonie wasn’t put out by this, not for a minute. She pointed out that fish-oil in the diet makes the coat of the horrocks glossy, and inevitably it would also do this should they prevail on women to drink it. Anald thought it over and agreed. After all, the product was most unlikely to actually do anybody harm, and in many cases it might even do them some good.
It has to be said this was a tougher market than selling tonic for horrocks. Still they took a stall at the edge of the Summer Market and tried their best. Things were going slowly until Boonie had a moment of inspiration and pointed out that her hair was long and glossy because she also used Boonie’s Panacea. This provoked interest but it also motivated some ribald comments because Boonie kept her hair trimmed short. When one ‘gentleman’ challenged her over this she smiled shyly and told him that if he purchased a bottle, she’d let him see how long and silky soft her hair really was.
He immediately purchased a bottle and she took him to the closed off store at the back of the booth. Thinking that purchasing a bottle provided the purchaser with a ticket to some form of erotic encounter customers immediately started buying and Anald was quite run off his feet.
Back in the booth, Boonie told her ‘gentleman’ to kneel in front of her, and when he did; she struck him on the side of the head with the bottle and proceeded to go through his pockets before rolling him behind a table. She’d then shyly open the door and ask the next person in the queue to step forward.
Eventually Anald had sold the remains of their stock and wondering what Boonie was up to, peered into the back of the booth. There were already a dozen men heaped up behind the table and the first was starting to come round. Anald didn’t hesitate, he grabbed Boonie, leapt into the cart and left the Summer Market at a fair lick.
Now the thing about the cozener’s trade is that you make sure you only really hurt their pride. You try to make sure that when you’re out of sight people forget you. Unfortunately Boonie was no chit of a girl and when she clouted somebody on the head with a bottle, it hurt. In one case the man died of his injuries. The hunt was on for them.
With a week they had been captured and hauled before a judge in Port Naain. He sentenced them to indentured servitude in the Houses of Licentiousness. The name of this establishment is an example of Port Naain humour. In this establishment indentured labourers sift through the eggs of shore clams in the great tanks, sorting male and female for immediate consumption or further growth. The work is wet and cold and the hours are long. The pay is low and by anybody’s reckoning it would take Anald and Boonie two centuries to pay of their indenture.
Anald had been there for a year before I got the news. I dropped in to see him and listened to his sad story. He hadn’t seen his wife since the trial as the labourers are even more strictly segregated by gender than are the shore clam eggs. I did some research of my own and discovered she’d escaped six months previously and had headed south into Partaan with two other women who’d escaped with her.
For a week or two I pondered the situation and then came to a decision. The Superintendent was the husband of a patron of mine. I bumped into him at a social event, casually asked after three ladies who I knew he had had ‘relations’ with and within twenty minutes we’d reached an understanding. Anald ‘died’ administratively and I helped him climb out over the back wall and away.
Frankly I think had all been too much for him. He retired to the Monastery of the Order of Illuminated Seditionists. As they aren’t allowed to talk, there was no chance of any of them involving him in any more madcap schemes.
For further news from Tallis Steelyard try
Tallis Steelyard and the sedan chair caper
As a reviewer commented, “I find there’s nothing better on a cold wet day, than to sit indoors, near a warm fire/radiator, with a hot coffee, some biscuits/cake and one of Jim Webster’s books. So that’s what I’ve done today, with this particular book.
I find the plots intriguing, the characters endearing (even the ‘bad/evil’ ones) and the storytelling style relaxing.
The various threads in the stories are always neatly tied up and the endings invariably satisfactory.”