Seap Melthan was one of the greats. Let us not beat about the bush, few could match his vision and outstanding ability. He has left the city a number of works concomitant with his towering genius, including his house.
Unusually for an artist, Seap was a man who could make money. Some inevitably claimed that this meant he had ‘sold out’ and was just doing second rate work for third rate patrons. This is nonsense. He made money because he had a shrewd business mind. Also he inherited money and continued to play an active part in the family usury business all his life. Still however he made his money; I merely gaze in wonder at the results he achieved when he spent it.
For me his finest work is the ‘Grand Staircase.’ It all started with a dream. Seap work up one morning and announced to his lady wife that he’d dreamed of a spiral staircase. Down the staircase walked a long string of elegant young ladies wearing the most gorgeous long dresses.
Many wives would have used this as an opportunity to discuss their own dress allowance, but to be fair, Madam Meltnan merely nodded and asked what he was going to do about it. He mumbled something about ‘having to think about it’ and they left it at that.
It was perhaps a month later that he announced he was purchasing a house in Dilbrook that was in need of considerable remodelling, and he would bear his dream in mind whilst the work was in progress. Given that they had discussed getting somewhere away from the centre of the city, Madam Meltnan merely smiled and commented that it would be a project worthy of him and would hopefully keep him fully occupied.
The problem was that he envisaged a spiral staircase passing through at least three and ideally four floors. So obviously that had to be the minimum height of the house. To be fair to Seap he didn’t let little things like adding two new floors to a house bother him. After all a lot of work had to be done throughout the structure, so he merely rebuilt the load-bearing walls so they could cope.
But when he saw the height of the staircase he suddenly realised that there was another issue. It was one thing to see a long string of elegant young ladies processing down the staircase, but somehow they had to be got up there. It was obvious that they could not do it by merely using the staircase. Such a route would demand more exertion that can easily be combined with casual and carefree elegance. So what to do?
Well the obvious answer was to install a lift. Simple enough you might think, but Seap was a perfectionist. He didn’t want to spend hours shuttling young ladies up the building; he wanted them all there at once. Also he didn’t really want them to know that they were in a lift. He wanted them to process down the stairs, thinking initially that they were still on the ground floor. He felt the incongruity of the situation would add to the magical nature of the event. So he designed a lift.
Obviously he disguised it. The lift was a room large enough for three score young ladies to sit comfortably in their chairs listening to a small, but noisy, musical ensemble. The musicians had to be noisy to cover the sounds made by the lift rising slowly and stylishly to the top of the house.
When it came to powering the lift, Seap considered steam. After all he was a man at the leading edge of modern thought, how could he not consider steam? But in the end he decided against it as too noisy, smoky, smelly and unreliable. He fell back on the standard power source for Port Naain. He installed a huge treadmill; a wheel in which over a hundred people could walk round, powering the lift.
Eventually the whole thing was completed and a grand ball was held in lieu of the more conventional housewarming party. The guests arrived and were initially separated by age and gender. Thus each group was directed to the appropriate room. At the same time over a hundred comparatively stalwart indigents were led into the treadmill. In the lift, maids served fruit infusions as the musicians played. The indigents made their way around the treadmill, the lift rose and the only noise was the gentle clicking of the ratchet Seap had installed for safety purposes.
Finally the lift reached the top. Seap gathered the other guests into the ballroom and at the same time the young ladies were invited to leave their infusions and join the rest of the gathering. In the bowels of the house the steward ensured that the indigents were released from the wheel, fed and paid off.
Seap himself and the rest of his guests marvelled at the spectacle as nearly sixty attractive young ladies in floor length dresses swept elegantly down the stairs. As they descended a subtle change came over them. Those at the top chatted together in a carefree manner, but those further down who chanced to glance out of the windows or contemplated the staircase below them tended to fall into pensive silence. Everybody agreed that he had excelled himself.
That night, as he slept he dreamed that he crossed the broad Paraeba from Port Naain to Roskadil over a bridge of glass, utterly transparent and visible only as it glinted in the sunlight. His lady wife, on hearing the dream, acted promptly. She pointed out that he still hadn’t finished designing the tiling for the bathrooms in the new house, so there could be no new project until that was completed.
Oh yes, it’s about that book of Webster’s. You couldn’t just buy a copy could you. If he gets a few sales he might stop bothering me to promote the damned thing!
Fancy meeting you here.
More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.