Callin Dorg was an unlikely rebel. He was, in effect, that happy creature, the financially secure poet. A fortunate inheritance left him the proud owner of a rather pleasant house in the Merchant quarter. The financial acumen of three generations of his forebears had ensured he was supported by sound investments, and the restraint of his mother meant that these riches were not diluted by being passed down to a horde of covetous siblings. So whilst not wealthy, he was at least secure. With a modicum of care his investments would support him in modest comfort.
Add to this good fortune the undisputed facts that he was at least an adequate poet, was possessed of a not unpleasing countenance, and had a witty and warm disposition.
This is not to say that his was a life which passed serenely and without incident. Part of his inheritance was a substantial interest in the Bracket Street Mill. Thus he was drawn into the debate about how the mill should be powered in future.
At the time the mill was powered by a score of great wheels. The mill paid a score of wheel-masters to supply the labourers who would walk in these wheels. Each wheel-master was paid not by the numbers employed, but by the power produced. As a rule of thumb, twenty sturdy workmen would produce as much power as fourscore debauched drunkards. Into the wheel house every morning flocked countless of the sad and almost destitute to earn their daily bread.
The issue that was put to the shareholders was whether the mill should replace these wheels with steam engines, which would apparently be more efficient. This would lead to shareholders being paid more substantial dividends. At a packed annual general meeting, Callin spoke with passion about the duty the shareholders had to provide for the poor, the impoverished, the unskilled, the drunken or the merely idle. He quoted noted medical practitioners who stated with absolute confidence that a brisk walk was a capital tonic for reviving the members and keeping disease at bay. He asked, rhetorically, what would happen to those cast on the scrap heap? Many of them were persons of little or no education, unskilled, uncultured, who would surely fall further into destitution were they abandoned by a beneficent employer.
He was ably seconded by an actuary retained independently by a number of the shareholders. This worthy demonstrated conclusively that whilst there might indeed be savings to be made by substituting coal burning steam engines for numerous walkers, when one took into account the cost of coal, the expense of care and maintenance of these machines, the hire of skilled engineers to man them, and then spread both depreciation and the capital cost of fitting them over a twenty year period, it was obvious that retaining the great wheels was by far the better financial move.
Both the actuary and Callin were cheered to the echo by the shareholders and indeed, after the vote went in favour of retaining the wheels, they were carried shoulder high into the banqueting hall by their grateful partisans and were toasted many times at the grand dinner which traditionally follows the AGM.
Yet in spite of everything in his favour, there were dark clouds on his horizon. He remained single but not from choice. It appears that eligible young ladies would assess him and discuss him with their mother. After all what young lady doesn’t avail herself of the wise advice of an older woman? Mothers would gently steer daughters away from Callin with phrases such as, “I doubt that his resources would stretch so far as to providing a decent dress allowance,’ and, ‘his prospects are really very limited. There is no obvious chance of advancement.’ I overheard them talking from time to time and the accepted wisdom was that Callin would at some point in the future marry a governess or a young woman earning her own living working in a usurer’s office. Certainly the feeling was that in Callin, the gentility of the Dorg family was fading visibly.
I’m not sure what caused him to rebel against his fate. Did some lady perhaps reject his suit? All I know is that he turned up one morning with a note appointing me as joint guardian of what remained of his estate. Then later that day he joined an expedition to the fabled and probably lost northern city of Gorodas. He boarded a renovated hulk crewed by those from the Warrens and Sump so desperate that they would risk death to provide a marginally better chance in life for their children.
I got a letter back from him perhaps four years later. The letter itself had taken a year to arrive. After terrible hardships they had run what was left of the boat up the beach at Gorodas. The handful of local inhabitants welcomed them and the fabric of the boat they used to repair ruined houses and make them habitable. According to Callin, when the weather is cold he is an ice fisherman, cutting holes in the sea ice to fish through. When the thaw comes he becomes a farmer, ploughing, sowing and harvesting in their brief summer. It seems he is married, settled and has no thought of returning to Port Naain. Apparently the one thing he misses is the sugar fancies one can purchase at the Foredeck Rooms.
Now between ourselves there are many respectable reasons why a poet should leave Port Naain. Some of them demand that the leaving be done at night, at speed, and often in disguise. But the purpose of leaving is to allow one to return in triumph a few months later. Disappear for any longer in this city and they’ve not merely forgotten the reason you had to flee, they’ve forgotten you entirely.
Just to remind you that another volume of the anecdotes of Tallis Steelyard has been published. Containing some work that has never appeared on the blog, this is ;-
Tallis Steelyard. The Monster of Bell-Wether Gardens and other stories.
Now indeed there are three volumes available for your delectation and delight.