As I look back I have done some strange things in my time but I feel that the haunting of Tildus Thallawell must be one of the strangest. In my defence I must insist it was not entirely my idea. Indeed Miser Mumster was the guiding light who conceived of the whole enterprise.
At the time, Tildus Thallawell was not the power in the legal world that he would become. He was merely a middle-aged lawyer with a fair reputation and his contemporaries generally agreed that he was the one to watch. On the other hand, Miser Mumster was already a man rich in years and experience. What is more, they lived close to each other in pleasant houses in the Merchant’s Quarter, not far from the Revenue Cutter Square Market.
Now this all happened several years after I had left Miser Mumster’s employ. Still it must be admitted I’d developed an affection for the old man and would always greet him if I saw him in the street. I firmly believe the affection was returned. One day he’d come into the office to hear me mimicking his voice, and rather than venting his righteous wrath by belting me round the back of the head with the flat of his hand, he merely commented that I had a fair gift and he would one day doubtless have a use for it.
Now it appears that Tildus Thallawell had had cause to borrow money from the miser. The problem came when he point blank refused to repay it. He produced an endless series of legal quibbles and it was obvious that if the Miser went to court to collect his money, he’d lose more in lawyers’ fees than he’d get back. Indeed it was entirely possible that Thallawell would procrastinate for so long that the older man would die before matters were resolved.
I think what convinced the miser that he needed to try something different was when Thallawell came into the office and offered to buy his debt off the miser, but for only one alar in every ten. After all, as he pointed out, the whole thing was so hedged about with legal quibbles it was virtually worthless anyway. The miser controlled himself with some difficulty, finally roaring that “I’ll get the bluidy money if I have to damned well haunt you.”
Now it has to be admitted that lesser men would have cracked and would have hired thugs to beat the money out of Thallawell. Indeed given the provocation, I cannot imagine anybody blaming the miser too much. He, on the other hand, took to thinking. Indeed when I saw him and greeted him politely he barely noticed me. Then he stopped, turned round and saw Lancet Foredeck and me.
“Ah, young Steelyard, and I believe that is young master Foredeck with you. I bid you both a good day.”
Then he paused briefly and asked, “Master Foredeck, are you still involved in this performance art business?”
When Lancet answered in the affirmative, the old man almost smiled. “Then I would be most grateful if you two young gentlemen would dine with me at home this evening.”
To be fair to the old man, he kept a good table, and his lady wife was a convivial soul and had started her working life as a cook. Thus she didn’t employ a cook, doing the work herself. That said, she did have at least two assistants and a kitchen porter. Still we dined well and the Miser quizzed Lancet about his work. Then as the evening wore on, our host introduced the reason for our invitation.
“Lancet, I have told that young rogue Thallawell that I intend to get my money even if I have to haunt him. It struck me that between you and Tallis, you have the skills to arrange a most effective haunting.”
To be fair to Lancet he didn’t blink. He merely commented, “One minor problem is that it’s normally only the dead who haunt people.”
“That is true,” the Miser replied. “I am willing to be temporarily dead, purely to give you the artistic verisimilitude you need.”
“I’ve got a sister who has an inn in one of the villages to the north of the city,” his wife added. “She’s always saying we never visit, so we’ll go there for a few days.”
Lancet asked, a little hesitantly, “And the budget?”
“Tell me what you need and I will arrange it.”
With that, Lancet pulled paper from his pocket and started scribbling notes. To be fair to Lancet, he is genuinely good at this sort of thing. The problem is, being a supremely good performance artist is on a par with having a dog which walks on its hind legs. Yes it’s a gift, but it’s not what you’d call art.
Anyway Lancet produced a list and the Miser glanced down it. He raised an eyebrow, and Lancet explained what various things were for. As his wife giggled, (and I came close to panic), the Miser tucked the list into his jacket pocket and promised that it would be done.
It was two nights later that Lancet and I were let into Thallawell’s house. We had with us a student friend of Lancet’s. This young man was a thin, almost cadaverous individual. He had more than a passing resemblance to Miser Mumster and when dressed in some of that gentleman’s clothes the similarity was indeed striking. Lancet had used theatrical makeup to make the young man look even more like the Miser. But he’d also left the exposed flesh looking very pale.
The gentleman who opened the door for us was one of the more accomplished of Port Naain’s criminal fraternity. It was generally agreed that no lock had ever beaten him. Technically this is true, although I know of one case where he finally hacked his way through it with an axe.
We tiptoed through the house. Lancet had been provided with a map, and also an approximate timetable. We knew that after he dined, Thallawell was in the habit of reading legal papers. During this time he would dictate his comments to his clerk, Jossop. We discovered that this dictation would continue right up until the time the lawyer finally climbed into bed.
We gave him half an hour to get to sleep, and I pushed open the door of the bedroom and in my best imitation of the Miser’s voice, I started softly calling Thallawell’s name. I was in no hurry, I started below the level of hearing and gradually got louder and louder until I could hear Thallawell sit up in bed.
“Is there anybody there?”
“Only me, Thallawell. I’ve come for my money.”
“What?” There was an element of incredulity in the lawyer’s voice.
“I’ve come for my money.”
Repeating that phrase I backed slowly away from the door. Thallawell leapt out of bed, and threw open the door. I was out of sight, and all he could see was the ghost of the miser. Actually he saw the student reflected in a mirror, but that small detail wouldn’t have been obvious to him. He would merely see a ghostly image. Then the ghostly image spoke. Or rather I did and the student mimed my words.
“Are you intent on following me, young Thallawell? There aren’t many who would want to go where I am going.”
With that our victim reeled back into his room and slammed the door. Lancet extinguished the light and the three of us departed as rapidly and as quietly as we could. Our criminal associate carefully locked the door behind us.
Next morning we waited until it was the time when Thallawell was in the habit of heading to work. Slowly we had eight mourners carry the open coffin of Miser Mumster on a bier past Thallawell’s house . As is done in many old fashioned families, the bier was carried low so that passers-by could see who the deceased was and therefore had an opportunity to pay their respects. To be fair to the old Miser, he had been willing to take his place in the coffin. As it was, our student pointed out that he was already made-up and might as well do it. Thus the Miser got to watch (discretely, from behind a curtain) his own body being carried in solemn state down the street. The expression on the face of Tildus Thallawell when he saw the corpse is one I have treasured for many years. Indeed if I close my eyes I can see it yet.
Obviously it didn’t stop there. Over the next four days I was remarkably busy. Lancet had me secreted in courtrooms and in the offices of lawyers whom Thallawell wished to consult. I was even hidden by a false ceiling in the privy at the Thallawell offices.
I confess that it wasn’t much of a speaking part. I merely had to whisper, barely loud enough to be heard, “Where’s my money, Thallawell, where’s my money.” Certainly when I did this in the privy, one might think to detect a certain laxative effect.
It took us four days, but on the fifth Tildus Thallawell arrived at the black-draped offices of the Miser Mumster and paid his debt in full.
On the sixth day the Miser stepped out of his house, breathed deeply of the morning air, and bid a cheery ‘Good Morning’ to his near neighbour as he walked to work.
As for Lancet and I, the Miser never actually paid us. On the other hand, the very next day a gentleman approached Lancet, expressing enthusiasm for Lancet’s latest scheme, and offering to provide the cash needed to back it. So now you know why each buoy marking the deep water channel up the estuary has a bell, and why the bells are all tuned to a different note. Apparently, and according to Lancet, as you travel down towards the sea, they play a tune of mournful farewell. On the other hand, as you travel up the channel towards Port Naain, the tune is a more cheerful one of welcome. To the best of my knowledge nobody else has ever commented on it.
As for me, within the next week, three ladies approached me. They explained that their husbands had recommended me to them as the obvious person to make their next significant occasion truly significant. The Miser’s client list is indeed extensive.
Should you want to know more about Miser Mumster
As a reviewer commented, “This is a collection of stories about Tallis which go to show that it’s not all drinking afternoon tea or partaking of soirees for a jobbing poet. We discover some of his early life, some of the society feuds he became entangle with, and the story of how he met his wife and acquired the boat on which they live. Great little tales!”