Thela Drane was very much the baby of the family. This can often mean the child is particularly spoiled and cosseted. In the case of the Drane family it has to be admitted that Taffetia had never been the most domineering mother. As her older children seemed to get on perfectly well without their mother ordering them about, she became even less controlling, so by the time Thela arrived on the scene, parental control consisted of an expectation that you would turn up for meals.
As a small pudgy toddler, Thela had always jigged about gracelessly to any tune that was played. As she grew older she inveigled Taffetia into paying for dancing lessons. This wasn’t enough. By the time she was fourteen, Thela was climbing out of her bedroom window after the family had retired to bed and would make her way as quietly as possible to the end of the street, where her current swain would await.
The current swain, normally a worldly-wise sixteen year old apprentice with a draught horse he’d borrowed from his employer, with or without the employer’s permission. He would help her up onto the horse behind him and they would ride across the city to one of the less respectable dancehalls.
Then, not long before dawn, Thela would climb back into her bedroom and collapse into bed, hoping to get an hour or so sleep before her mother woke her for breakfast.
Even when she had a job the pattern continued much as before. However now, a little older and with pretensions to being an adult, Thela no longer sneaked back into the house. She worked in Falan Geer’s pie shop. This was an excellent establishment with an excellent reputation for a decent pie at a reasonable price.
To be fair, she had no aching desire to spend her life making and selling pies. She worked there because Falan Geer was a good employer who paid a fair wage. But more importantly he was convenient to several different dance halls. He also had a relaxed attitude to her working hours. If she was happy to work late and clean up on the evenings when there wasn’t a dance, he was happy to let her leave early to get ready on the nights when there was one.
Now as you can imagine, Thela as a young woman fell in and out of love, had wild passionate affairs and equally emotional partings, drank too much and generally did what young women do. She wept regularly on the ample bosom of Madam Geer who treated her as an older sister to her own daughter Tintle.
Now Thela was a little older than me, and it must be admitted that she was by far my favourite cousin. Indeed when I decided to leave Miser Mumster and become a full time poet, she not merely encouraged me; she tried to find me work.
Her attempts were not entirely successful. The set she was involved in were all enthusiastic dancers, the spoken word didn’t really speak to them. Still they had parents and more than one of them used me as a way of repairing a breach with their family. They would come down to breakfast one morning and say, in hushed tones, “Mother dear, I have found the absolutely most perfect poet for your next soiree.”
Some mothers were so gullible, or so keen to join their erring offspring in mending the breach that they would take a note of my name, and in due course I would be summoned to perform. I still have patrons who met me first through this somewhat unlikely route.
Thela also felt that I must learn to dance properly. This was not unreasonable. At many social events a spare man who can dance well and does not attempt to seduce your guests is worth his weight in gold. So I would try to go dancing with Thela at least once a week. Looking back they were good nights. Thela loved dancing; she was there for the dance, not to acquire a dancing partner. Thus those young men who did set their caps at her soon learned that there was no point in being jealous. She might accept their invitation to attend a dance, and would indeed dance with them. But she would also accept invitations to dance from others as well.
I remember one occasion very well. I was due to collect Thela and together we would go to a dance. It was at the Boot maker’s hall if I remember aright. Now on this occasion Falan Geer was feeling unwell and Thela had insisted he go to bed and promised to finish off before she went to the dance. So I pitched in and helped her by washing the great pots in which the meat was stewed.
Now one reason Falan Geer’s pies were so excellent is that he didn’t carry anything over to the next day. Everything cooked, all the meat, all the pastry, was made into pies and was there to sell. If a pie didn’t sell then it would be eaten that night anyway.
To be fair the family did tend to assume they’d be eating meat pie for their supper. When I arrived to collect Thela, Falan would always ask me, “Have you dined yet, Tallis?” Before I could properly answer a meat pie would be pushed across the counter to me. But there were others who Falan also quietly fed. Pies would be put aside for two widowed sisters who lived across the street. Three street children who slept in his yard would always get a pie each every night, and some bread and cheese in the morning. Even when you’d finished tidying up, it could take half an hour just making sure the right people got the spare pies.
On this night we went out to the back and there were only two children there?
Thela asked, “Where’s Manni?”
“Where? What’s wrong.”
“Dunno where. She were attacked.”
It took us two hours to find her, another hour to get her to Mord Filch. Mord was a doctor who would treat somebody first and then not worry too much whether he got paid or not.
We walked back to Falan Geer’s pie shop; it was far too late to go to the dance. Thela was silent the whole way. Finally she said, “Something has to be done for girls like Manni. It’s bad for all the children, it’s even worse for the girl children.”
I thought briefly, “The temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity has a soup kitchen and takes in a lot of girl children as temple dancers.”
She brightened at that. “I’ll see them tomorrow when I get time.”
It was the following week when I next called for Thela. Falan was cleaning up the shop.
“Is Thela ready?”
He grinned at me. “Here, take this.”
He passed me a metal dish of cooked meat, meant for pies but never used. I looked at it and confess I must have looked a little bemused. “Take it down to the temple of Aea, the Chastity one. There’s a soup kitchen.”
“I know there’s a soup kitchen.”
“Good, then you know where to take it.”
I shrugged, and carried the dish across town to the soup kitchen. There, wearing the robe of a novice temple dancer was Thela. Manni was sitting near her, eating enthusiastically from the bowl on her lap.
I passed Thela the bowl. She smiled and kissed me on the cheek. “I’ve got a job now where I can dance any time I want.”
I smiled at her; there isn’t a lot you can say to anybody who is as happy as Thela. But then she always was my favourite cousin.
And now the hard sell!
OK so perhaps the not so hard sell. It’s just that we have come to the end of a blog tour which peered into the lives of Garrat Drane, and his lady wife Taffetia Drane. We have met their various offspring, delightful people and pillars of the community. Or perhaps not.
But actually the purpose of this tour is to draw your attention to the fact that a new book has been published. ‘Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat.’
Rather than a collection of his anecdotes, this is indeed an ‘adventure’ as Tallis ventures forth from the city of Port Naain. Questions are asked that may even be answered, why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.
Treat yourself; you know you’re worth it!