As you know, I shun controversy and do my best to live a quiet life. But I feel that I must take a stand over a painting by my good friend Housewater. I was not merely there when it happened; I actually appear on the painting and thus feel somewhat insulted by the brouhaha which has surrounded it.
It all started simply enough. Madam Valnian decided that she would hold a garden party. That summer was hot and anybody who was anybody (and had a suitably large garden) was entertaining outside. The Valnian gardens were extensive and contained an area of tastefully created woodland glades and pools. Thus Madam Valnian announced that the theme was ‘pastoral’ and guests were expected to dress appropriately.
Personally I have a bone to pick with sundry Bucolic poets! If they hadn’t all died from a mixture of diseases enzootic, prurient or merely drink related I would have had strong words with many of them. I have worked in rural environments, indeed I care pare the feet of orids as well as any. Our rustic hinterland bears no relation to the intoxicated daydreams of second rate poets.
Still they made the bed and I am the one who has to lie on it. Madam Valnian wanted pastoral and demanded a pastoral poet. She is a generous patron, loyal and kind and I hadn’t the heart to say no.
Shuns creatures apteral
But the damned things are everywhere, it’s natural!
I turned up and was provided with my costume and proceeded to play my part. To be fair the affair was relatively restrained. Madam herself and her cronies of a certain age may well have disported themselves in the formal fountains in front of the house, but it was done in good taste and with a nod to dignity.
The problems arose because Madam Valnian’s daughter Deliria had her own plans for the day. She invited a number of her own female acquaintances and arranged for my good friend Housewater to paint them. They removed themselves to one of the more secluded glades where there is an enchanting pool. There they entered the water and Housewater set up his easel.
Now for Housewater it was merely another task to be accomplished to the best of his ability. He was soon lost in his art. For his apprentice Malstron it was a far more difficult job. Firstly somebody had to go into the water with the young ladies, arrange their hair, get the blossoms placed just so, and generally ensure that everything was perfectly presented. These things do not just happen you know. I am familiar with no lady who can plunge into water and come up again, her hair perfectly arrayed.
Not only that but once this was done, his work was not over. The young ladies called for wine, and who was to get it? Obviously not Housewater who was clearly busy. So Malstron was sent for wine. Then he was sent to the buffet table for cakes. Then he had to go once more into the water to remove crumbs, and then he was sent for more wine.
The poor sap was simply overwhelmed by all the temptations placed so cruelly in front of him. Obviously as an artist’s apprentice, he had had a surfeit of desirable young ladies, naked or in a state of undress. Such things are a mere commonplace and don’t call for comment.
But the sight of a buffet table where you could eat as much as you wanted, and servants pouring out free wine with a generous hand were too much for him. After all as an artist’s apprentice, regular meals are far less common that scantily clad females.
It was all too much for him. His hunger overcame his reserve, and before he had completed his fourth trip to carry wine to Housewater and the nymphs, Malstron finally collapsed.
The fact that he was severely ill and then passed out through drink in the grand fountain where Madam Valnian and her closest friends were frolicking merely served to draw her attention to the matter.
I was summoned. I arrived as footmen were carrying Malston away and cleaning out the fountain. Madam was icy. I was given a message for her daughter and I was charged with delivering it, word perfect, as I had received it.
Thus Housewater caught the very moment when I delivered the message. The man is a genius. Look at the faces, the expressions as I passed on Madam’s message. “Deliria, your mother says that if you want any more white wine, you’ll have to collect it yourselves.”
Now, on the off-chance that you fancy reading some more of Tallis’s tales, they have been collected and are available from Amazon.
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