If Stillitoe Cloudwiller had been freer with his cash none of this would have happened. The problem with Stillitoe is that he always had to have a bargain. He was notorious for always haggling. Indeed it was obvious that he treasured his reputation, and would haggle when haggling wasn’t necessary.
I remember on one occasion, Gumption Silvernant promised me that he would pay for the printing of two hundred copies of a book of my poetry, but only if I could get Stillitoe Cloudwiller to purchase five copies at the full price.
Now I realise that Gumption Silvernant is a notorious miser but he is not without honour. If he gives his word (and you’ll not catch him giving anything else,) he sticks to it.
So I went to Stillitoe and asked him to buy five copies at full price. I explained the situation. He was sympathetic, but pointed out that he didn’t have enough people who he felt deserved having poetry thrust upon them.
I went away and did some complex calculations. It turns out that if Gumption Silvernant did pay for the printing, I could afford to give Stillitoe his five copies. So I returned to him, explained that he merely had to pay for his five at full price and within a few weeks I’d be able to return his money in its entirety. Alas he was obdurate. His reputation for haggling meant more to him than the advancement of literature.
Thus having shown you what manner of man Stillitoe Cloudwiller was, you will now understand how he came to design the aquatic tripod. Every day he would travel on the Roskadil ferry, from his home on the south bank of the Paraeba Estuary to his offices in Port Naain proper. Like many who do likewise he purchased a brass token which was sewn into his hat, thus he could travel on the ferry without paying because he’d paid in advance for the full year.
Now it so happens that when the token ‘ran out’ and it was time to purchase another, he tried to haggle the price down. The clerk behind the desk was obdurate, Stillitoe grew heated, and voices were raised. When the manager ventured out of his office to see what the fuss was about, it was to hear Stillitoe say, with some vehemence, “I’ll walk dry-shod across the estuary rather than pay that!”
The manager immediately remarked, “Do that and I’ll give you a new brass token as a gift.”
Stillitoe summoned blacksmiths and artisans of all sorts and finally they produced the aquatic tripod. It had three flat disks which together had enough buoyancy to bear the weight of a large man. There was a saddle to sit on, a little rudder on the front for steering and stirrups for the feet. The cunning part was where the blacksmiths had welded plates to the bottom of the stirrups which acted like paddles. So when the rider in the aquatic tripod walked forward, the paddles served to propel him or her in the chosen direction.
On the day Stillitoe had chosen for the grand unveiling of his project the tide was high as the morning ferry set off from Roskadil. The ferry is on a continuous rope, powered by the crew pulling the rope and thus is not perhaps the fastest of vessels. Hence Stillitoe was not merely able to keep pace with it; eventually he overtook it and left it behind.
At the far side he was waiting for the manager when the ferry docked, and pointed out that he had indeed walked dry-shod across the estuary. The manager was willing to concede his point, but only so far. Not unreasonably the manager raised the issue of the return journey. A ferry goes in both directions, so far the aquatic tripod had only proved its mettle when travelling north.
Stillitoe was somewhat contemptuous of this line of argument, deeming it the merest sophistry but finding the manager unwilling to budge from his position, merely announced that he would return that evening to travel back on his contrivance.
What Stillitoe had forgotten but the manager had remembered, was that the tide comes in and out. If Stillitoe wanted to embark on his aquatic tripod he would first have to carry it out over a mile of so of mud, something that was almost impossible for one man on his own.
Here Stillitoe realised he had been outwitted, and fell into discussion with the manager. It was eventually agreed that Stillitoe had won half the argument so should get half a year’s free travel.
This would have left the tripod sitting unloved and abandoned. To be fair this was Port Naain, he merely had to put a sign on the contrivance saying it was available to purchase for a modest sum and it would have been stolen before dawn. This would save him worrying about disposal. Yet as Stillitoe penned his notice, Nashorn Delbie appeared on the scene. He had witnessed the morning crossing and wished to purchase the tripod. A price was rapidly agreed, money changed hands and it is Delbie whose career we must now follow.
An enthusiastic fisherman as well as a partner in a much respected legal fraternity, Delbie went home for his rods and returned at high tide. He mounted the contrivance and paddled out to start fishing. And it is at this point that we realise Delbie might be a respected lawyer but he was not necessarily as on the ball as he should have been.
It was a beautiful sun-kissed evening. He took advantage of the late high tide to paddle out and start to fish. Out in the middle of the estuary, in a world of his own, he passed a happy hour or two. The fishing allowed him to relax. He could set aside the cares of the world, the difficult court cases he was working on, and could simply exist in the moment. It was only as the gathering gloom reminded him that he was supposed to be returning home to Madam Delbie that he started to take notice of his situation.
His situation was not good. He had inadvertently strayed into the central channel of the Paraeba River and this was carrying him out to sea. Obviously he tried paddling but frankly this was to no avail. He waved and shouted but by this point it was so dark nobody could see him. Aboard his aquatic tripod he passed out onto the Western Ocean.
Next morning, cold, hungry and thirsty, the incoming tide, combined with a breeze coming out of the west, brought him back up the estuary once more. He used his rod as a mast and his coat he took off and with it fashioned a makeshift sail. Hence he came ashore at the Old Esplanade under his own power and this did at least allow him to retain his dignity.
His lady wife, who had ‘enjoyed’ a sleepless night, was overjoyed to see him, but was somewhat less happy when he insisted he had learned his lesson and would now anchor his aquatic tripod when fishing.
This he did, with some success, for a week or more as the weather remained pleasant. Unfortunately one evening his tripod was ‘clipped’ by a run-away stone barge and floundered. To be honest it says a lot for the skill of the artisans Stillitoe Cloudwiller had hired to make the thing in the first place. If something is clipped by a stone barge, that something suffers, whether it is another boat, a wharf, or even a continent. That the tripod merely floundered, pitching Delbie into the water, is in its way a tribute to the calibre of the workmanship.
Delbie swam ashore and somewhat disconsolately made his way home. Next morning as the tide went out; a small group of shore combers retrieved both the aquatic tripod and its anchor. There was some discussion on the Old Esplanade as they debated the merits of returning it to Delbie for the salvage money, or alternatively cashing it in with Dannal who had the scrap yard at the end of Chandler’s Way.
Shena finally convinced them that they would not be losers if they cashed it in for scrap. This they did, and were reasonable pleased with the amount Dannal paid them. After all it was decent steel and weighed well.
They were even more pleased when Madam Delbie arrived on the Esplanade with a large hamper for the finders to share.
Should you be interested in discovering more about the advances in technology seen in Port Naain and its environs, you might well enjoy
As one reviewer commented, “Runaway Poet, Flat Boat Sailor, Master Gunner, Flower Arranging Judge, Adventurer and Escort of a beautiful young Lady, are only a few of the skills exhibited by Tallis Steelyard in this extraordinary story.
In my opinion, the world and characters from Jim Webster’s mind would make a wonderful TV series, starting with this one.”