A nice hand with trifling details.


You have to remember that poets are merely human. Just because a man or woman is a great poet doesn’t mean that they don’t have limits. There are things we just cannot do.

As it is I do wonder at times whether our patrons realise this. There are times when I wake up in the middle of the night whimpering as my dreams replay various incidents from the past.

For example, let us look once more at the function I helped organise for Madam Dorca, her summer equinox celebration. In theory it was a simple task. Madam Dorca was methodical; she entertained on a rather grand scale, but only on the evening of an equinox or solstice. Thus her entertainments were fixtures within the social calendar. Invitations were much sought after, and it must be confessed that being known as somebody who helped to organise them enhanced my reputation.

Unfortunately the very popularity of the event led to problems. Madam wasn’t entirely in control of the guest list. Her husband, a senior usurer and a man with wide financial interests, tended to invite people as well. Given that he was paying for it, one could hardly cavil. Unfortunately the people he invited did not necessarily mix well with the people she invited.

On the afternoon of such an event it is normal for me to sit down with my Patron and discuss final details. On the day in question Madam and I ran through a list of things that would need checking. I made a few notes as we went along. Thus I would remember to ensure that her staff were keeping guest’s Sedan chair bearers sober, that Gal the Cart was scrubbed up properly so he was presentable. This was important because the celebratory trifle was made in a bowl so large it was decided that it would be drawn into the dining room at midnight on his pony cart.

Then Madam reached for another, smaller list, “Just a few more details that you’ll have to watch Tallis.”

I sat, pen poised, looking alert, competent and value for money.

Madam continued. “My husband has invited Waldier Quiddle.”

I nodded wisely. Waldier Quiddle was a wealthy man with considerable business interests.

“My husband was prevailed upon to invite Mister Quiddle’s current mistress.”

Again this I could understand. Business is business. “Is it still Deloria Hackenthorpe?”

“No.” Madam grimaced a little. “The position is now held by Volumptua Exthwaite.” It was obvious that Madam didn’t entirely approve.

“I thought Volumptu was in some way linked with Myran Charlbang.” Myran was another wealthy man of business, but one I rather liked, as he had a weakness for poetry and wasn’t ashamed to pander to his weaknesses.

“No, he seems to be rather under the thumb of his daughter. She was living on the family estates and has decided to come to Port Naain to look after her father.” Madam smiled a little slyly. “It appears that the daughter was shocked and the mistress had to go.”

“So Myran Charlbang will be accompanied by…?”

“His daughter, Mistress Charissa; Deloria is coming anyway because she was invited before she was superseded in Mister Quiddle’s affections.”

“I can see that relations might be strained between Deloria and Volumptua, I’ll do my best to keep them apart.”

“And Mistress Charissa has accused Volumptua of making off with jewellery that belonged to Charissa’s mother. So keep those two apart as well.”

I assumed an expression of absolute competence.


Initially I was a little on edge. In spite of this things seemed to go reasonably well. Volumptua arrived on the arm of Waldier Quiddle. He was swept up by Madam Dorca’s husband and went off to a small salon where gentlemen talked business. Volumptua, who had been expecting this, gravitated towards the Summer-house where I had arranged for a number of musicians and balladeers to perform throughout the course of the evening. It had the advantage that there was a lot of garden between it and the house so the rest of us couldn’t hear the singing.

When Deloria arrived I was on hand to meet her and steered her towards the Ballroom. I knew she was a keen dancer and would be happiest there.

Finally when Myran Charlbang arrived, he too was whisked off to the salon where business was discussed. His daughter was a little at a loss as she didn’t know anybody. I chatted to her and realised she was an enthusiastic cook. So I took her into the kitchen where one of the maids gave her a tour of the forthcoming meal. I also looked round for Gal the Cart. He had not yet arrived. I wasn’t too worried, there was plenty of time. Mistress Charissa was engaged in a discussion with cook over the trifle. The two of them were nibbling samples drawn from the base and pondering over whether it needed further fortification. Nearby two porters were heroically stirring a cauldron of custard and several more were frantically whipping cream in dolly tubs. I decided to leave them to it.

I continued my tour of the party. I spent ten minutes dropping spontaneous witticisms into conversations in the lesser withdrawing room. Then I made my way out to the summer-house. I exchanged pleasantries with sundry of the guests, noticed the stock of wine was looking low so sent one of the maids off to fetch another score of bottles, and was relieved to see that Volumptua was engaged in deep conversation with a young man who played the seven-holed ocarina. Everything was going splendidly so I returned to the ballroom where Deloria had just finished dancing. Not wishing her to go wandering off looking for refreshment I grabbed an empty glass, filled it from a bottle I’d acquired in my travels and passed it to her. She drank it gratefully and was then lured back into the whirl by another partner.

I went back to the kitchen. Charissa and the cook were testing fortified wines and arguing over which would be best. Judging by the bottles standing open around them, they’d tried a dozen. I did try to hasten the decision making but frankly both ladies were becoming fractious and I withdrew hastily from the discussion. Gal the Cart still hadn’t arrived so I sent one of the kitchen boys to run and find him. As he sped away I continued on my tour of the event. As I glanced over my shoulder it struck me that Charissa and the cook looked to be getting over their disagreements. Indeed they were almost leaning on each other, clinking their glasses together.

Everything seemed to be going well, in the Ballroom I arrived in time to refill Deloria’s glass before she plunged back into the dancing, and Volumptua was sitting among the musicians, playing the seven-holed ocarina with considerable skill and verve. I merely topped up glasses, exchanged the occasional quip and decided it would be safe to take time out to give my poetry reading in the greater withdrawing room. This went well, and for half an hour I was able to enjoy myself. I brought my performance to a halt when I saw a worried young kitchen boy standing at the door, trying to attract my attention. It appears that Gal the Cart had been found. There had been something of a contretemps on Ropewalk. He had been making his way to join us, his cart scrubbed and his pony decorated with ribbons, when a number of youths had started to mock him. Gal had responded in his own inimitable manner, driving the cart into the middle of them like some warrior of old on his chariot. Unfortunately the resulting fracas caused the collapse of a fruit stall, a respected hatter being thrust into a barrel of stinking fish, and the arrival of the Watch who had taken at least three dozen people into custody ‘to cool off.’

I hastened to the kitchen. I was met with the sight of the cook and Charissa, stripped to their shifts because of the heat, frantically stirring fruit and fruit liqueur into a large vat of jelly.

I bowed. “Ladies, I’m afraid Gal the Cart will not be coming.”

The cook leaned a little wearily against the side of the vat. She muttered something which I couldn’t quite catch. I leaned forward to hear what she had to say and recoiled from the smell of drink on her breath. Charissa focused on me. “Get the Sedan chair bearers to carry it in.”

Well it was a solution. I went out to the back, grabbed a dozen Sedan chair bearers and they hastily put together a frame on which we would stand the trifle so they could carry it. They took the frame into the kitchen and cook took over. Her plan was to place the trifle dish on the platform, assemble the trifle in the dish and then have it carried through. Given that the trifle dish was a tun the size of six barrels this seemed sensible. A lesser man might have worried about the amount the cook had had to drink, but frankly, and between ourselves, given their responsibilities most cooks take the occasional drink to steady their nerves.

I went back to the ballroom with the intention of making sure Deloria’s glass was well filled, only to discover that others had beaten me to it. She waved at me, gestured to a full glass, smiled and whirled away in the dance. In the Summer-house Volumptua was not merely sitting among the musicians, she was leading them in a weaving dance around the garden with many of the other guests dancing along. A quick check of the bottles indicated that the maid might have poured with a too liberal hand.

Still it was a fine warm evening so the garden was very pleasant, everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves, and everybody was happy. I continued on my round, I was still a little worried about what was happening in the kitchen. When I got there I merely peered round the door, there was a lot of shouting of orders and people scurrying backwards and forwards carrying bowls. It all seemed to be under control.

At this point Madam Dorca found me. It appeared that a group of her friends wanted to ask me some questions about my verse. Obviously I had to make my way to the Sunset Chamber. Here I must have spent half an hour talking to them, amusing them with witty asides and also encouraging their genuine interest in both the finest of arts and the greatest of its practitioners. Towards the end of this half hour I may have become a little strained, I could hear that something was happening outside. Eventually I tore myself away and escaped to the ballroom.

There I found Volumptua, ocarina in hand, conducting the musicians who were playing the tune for some wild dance from Uttermost Partann. There in the centre of the Ballroom, keeping perfect time with the music; was Deloria. She had discarded such clothing as was not absolutely necessary for decency and was dancing with amazing abandon. Around the hall perhaps two hundred guests were standing, clapping in time with the music and cheering Deloria on.

My first thought was that at least the two ladies were not at each others’ throats. Then the trifle was carried in. The Sedan chair bearers made their dignified entrance into the room. As they made their slow way towards the centre, Deloria started to dance around them, followed by Volumptua and a line of capering musicians, and then by many of the audience. I sank back into a chair feeling that Madam Dorca might not be entirely happy at what was happening. Then the bearers carefully placed their burden down and stepped away, and two figures burst out of the top of the trifle. As they clambered somewhat unsteadily over the side of the tun I could see that it was the cook and Charissa, who at some point seem to have discarded the rest of their garments. They joined the crowd cavorting around the tun.

Fortunately Madam Dorca was commendably philosophical about the whole thing. Her husband had congratulated her on the climax of the event, and was later heard to comment to a colleague, “Who needs a mistress when you have a wife like mine!”

I marshalled the maids and we discreetly started to tidy up. Sundry persons were diplomatically reintroduced to various articles of clothing that they had somehow misplaced. Some of these persons had to be bathed first. Trifle, especially good trifle, can be remarkably sticky and persistent.

Then we got people into their Sedan chairs and packed them off home. I must it was a source of some pride that I could report back to Madam Dorca that at least the Sedan chair bearers were still sober.


As an aside, it struck me that you might not realise that Tallis has produced a collection of anecdotes. More than a score of educational tales await you for a mere £0.99. Do not delay, avail yourself immediately of the opportunity to expand your knowledge. Future generations will thank you.


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