For a truly fine painter, it strikes me that Garl Furtling has been blamed for a number of improbable occurrences which in all candour were not his fault.
If you find this hard to believe I give you the example of ‘The bashful maiden.’ Garl painted the picture but left the face off so the lady in question couldn’t be identified. This apparently was the lady’s preference.
I thought it was a nice touch. It created an aura of mystery and far more people were interested in the work than otherwise. It has often occurred to me that old Garl is a poet at heart; he has a knack of making shrewd moves like this.
The problem is that he then had to travel to Avitas where a wealthy client was preparing to cover him in silver just to have her portrait painted. He probably assumed he’d be gone a month or so, but you know how it is? He was deluged with commissions. I remember him telling me that he’d never worked as hard as he did in Avitas; yet all the while Port Naain assumed he was merely caught up in what passes for a social whirl in the provinces.
To be fair to the folk of Avitas I think they handed over inordinate amounts of money and Garl was able to buy a small farm outside Port Naain on the strength of his earnings. Still, whatever the reason, Garl was not in Port Naain, and thus was not available to make definitive pronouncements about ‘The bashful maiden.’
Rumours did circulate as to the identity of the lady in the painting. More than one pillar of society hinted that it was actually her. Indeed even Mistress Bream got in the act, but given she wasn’t a day under eighty at the time, she did have the grace to confess that it was a picture Garl had painted of her a couple of decades before.
All in all, it was rather amusing, and between ourselves most people took it in good part. Whilst pretty well every society beauty eventually claimed that the picture was of her, they never argued or bickered over it. Claiming that you were ‘the bashful maiden’ was just one of the things a beauty had to do. You could no more be angry with a friend for also claiming it that you could be annoyed because like you she used Crème Céleste. (As an aside this is a mixture of rosewater, white wax, a small quantity of evaporated stallion’s water, spermaceti, and a dozen different nut oils. Everybody swears as to their blend of nut oil being the best.)
Then matters took an interesting turn. It appears that a letter was sent to the Port Naain Intelligencer purporting to come from Garl Furtling. The attribution is frankly suspect, the handwriting is no better than similar, although the seal is his. In this letter Garl claimed that in reality he’d painted a thirty-six year old dockworker called Futtan Brawn. In the letter Garl said that he’d asked Futtan to sit for him because he’d never seen a gentleman with skin and a complexion like it.
Obviously people descended upon the docks in an attempt to find Futtan Brawn, but anybody they asked told them that Futtan had fled both the city and his irate wife. Apparently this lady couldn’t cope with having a husband who not only had a better complexion than her, but wore her clothes more elegantly than she did.
One clue she did have for those questing for the truth. In the months before the picture was painted, Futtan had apparently purchased a considerable quantity of Thane Dreakson’s celebrated skin moisturiser. When Thane Dreakson was hunted down, he confessed that he did make a skin moisturiser. He made it to a recipe handed down to him by his great-grandmother, and it used a number of secret ingredients. Oh yes, and when pressed, he had sold some to Futtan Brawn, but assumed that the man was buying it for a wife, mistress, or perhaps even a widowed mother.
Thane’s quiet professionalism impressed everybody who spoke to him. Not for him the wild claims and antics of the mountebank. He was a simple man; an honest professional who was giving Port Naain a chance to buy Thane Dreakson’s celebrated skin moisturiser should they want to. He made no claims, but hardly needed to; Madame Brawn, deserted by her husband, was loudly bewailing her fate and would regularly sob, “If only I had used it rather than him.”
Sales of Thane Dreakson’s skin moisturiser soared. He remained the modest and unassuming professional that he had always been, yet in spite of this any number of clients would send anonymous letters to the Port Naain Intelligencer stating that they had started to use the cream and were most gratified by the results. Obviously they wished to remain anonymous because otherwise they would not be able to pass their youthful appearance off as being the result of a simple diet, an ascetic lifestyle, and good breeding.
Indeed his wealth appeared to embarrass him. Thus Thane announced publicly that given the volume of the moisturiser he was selling he was able to cut the price. This way nobody could accuse him of profiteering, and at the same time he would allow those ladies with constrained budgets to benefit. Indeed such was the new price that it was now a purchase even an upstairs maid could contemplate with equanimity. At this point he must have been selling cartloads of the stuff!
Mutt told me that somebody had said, within his hearing, that Garl Furtling had been seen on the road, making his way home from Avitas. What I discovered later was that Mutt had told Thane Dreakson before he told me. I suppose this was professional courtesy as Thane had apparently paid him a retainer to warn him of Garl’s arrival. By the time Garl did finally return to Port Naain society, Thane had sold his emporium for a respectable price. I never saw him again, but Mutt intimated that a man matching Thane’s description, accompanied by a lady who might well be the abandoned wife of Futtan Brawn; had been seen to board a paddle-steamer bound for Oiphallarian. I did wonder whether Mutt knew more than this, but frankly I decided I didn’t care enough to pay his prices. Still he let slip in an unguarded moment that nobody down at the docks could place Futtan Brawn. When asked, those who claimed to know him were vague as to his actual appearance or how long they had known him. Indeed, going by their descriptions, in the days before he had started using the moisturiser, Futtan Brawn looked a little like Thane Dreakson.
When Garl finally did arrive in the city, he was immensely amused by the whole business. This, a lot of people found irritating. What was even more irritating was that he was perfectly willing to name the bashful maiden. It was Emali Hartswheel, the daughter of a respectable costermonger. She had been fourteen at the time she had been painted.
This information managed to somehow irritate even more people and for a while Garl retired to the northern suburbs of the city. He stayed on the farm he had purchased with the money he made in Avitas.
Obviously, unlike some I tend to avoid making wild claims. Still it does occur to me that you might rather enjoy reading a collection of anecdotes from Tallis. Might I be so bold as to suggest;
Tallis Steelyard. The Festival, and other stories.
As one reviewer commented.
“Always entertaining. Reading Tallis Steelyard is like getting a letter from a friend who has moved to a foreign country and comments on the foibles of the local people. Jim has the ability to draw you into his world to be entertained and illuminated by another culture.