I realise that it might not be a fashionable view. Indeed I know some people who would disagree vehemently with me on this. They will boast of their wide circle of acquaintance, and the fact that should they want a decision making in their favour in high places, they merely have to drop a hint into the ear of the right person. Yet I would suggest that if you don’t know what’s going on, you can drop all the hints you want, you’ll never achieve the result you desire.
It was the interesting affair of Doughty Voile which illustrates this best. Doughty comes from one of the small villages east of here, along the Paraeba river. Doughty’s parents came from the city of Oiphallarian, which is even further east. His parents abandoned city life, (for unexplained reasons) and settled to the life of peasant cultivators. The area was isolated, hence Doughty grew up speaking with a pronounced Oiphallarian accent. Indeed perhaps their only visitors were people from the city who would stay with them. They would sojourn for some time and spend most of it inside. Often they spent it in bed being treated for various injuries. Doughty truly had a nice knack at sewing up knife wounds.
But apart from these occasional highlights, life was quiet. Doughty worked hard, but was a great reader. He seems to have read everything that crossed his path. Apparently he used to sail out in his skiff to meet the steamers. He’d trade fresh vegetables with the purser for books.
His big chance came when a new visitor arrived from Oiphallarian. Rather than seeking accommodation with the Voile family, this individual had taken a cottage in the village and Doughty got to know him. Apparently the visitor, one Montain Calm, was in the book trade. He worked for a publishing house in the city. Ostensibly he had been sent to reconnoitre Port Naain with a view to exploring the literary possibilities. Not only was he to search out new writing talent, but there was also the possibility of forming partnerships with local publishers, or having books written in Oiphallarian printed locally by Port Naain printers. To be honest, Montain wasn’t particularly keen on heading further west. His real aim was to linger in the village with his mistress for a month or two. He would then return to Oiphallarian explaining that he’d explored the opportunities and there weren’t any.
Doughty pondered this and a day or so later, casually mentioned, as if in passing, that he had to go to Port Naain anyway, and would Montain like him to check things out for him whilst he was there. It would give his report to his superiors a degree of verisimilitude if he could mention a few contacts by name. Montain thought briefly and agreed it would be an excellent idea, and even gave Doughty a few vintenars to buy himself a drink or two with whilst he was in the city.
Doughty next had to work out how he was going to get to Port Naain. He had virtually no cash, and what he had, he felt he’d need when he got there. So he decided to just sail down river in his skiff and if the worst came to the worst he could always sleep in it as well. So with a change of clothing, and his father’s business suit which Doughty had recently grown into, he set off.
It was entirely fortuitous that he stumbled upon me. He drifted past the wharfs of the city, temporarily unmanned by the sheer size of the place. When he got to Fellmonger’s Wharf he contemplated tying up, but there was no wharf space available. To be fair that is normally the case. Boats and barges are tied up seven deep on Fellmonger’s Wharf. It’s a residential wharf, and our wharf-rat, Marson, likes it well stacked. It ensures he’s got plenty of tenants and those nearest the wharf will struggle to skip without paying the rent.
Doughty passed onwards and arrived at the Old Esplanade. The tide was in and there were a few loafers waiting for it to turn. So he paddled close to the shore and after some thought he asked if anybody could direct him to, “A literary gentleman.”
It must be confessed that on the Old Esplanade I am well known, even if it is only as Shena’s husband. Hence, it was my name he was given. Not only that but they gave him directions as how to get to our barge.
Thus it was as I was meditating in the sunshine, contemplating my muse, I was rudely awakened as his skiff scraped alongside. I welcomed him aboard and he told me his story. Let us be candid, he was obviously not a senior agent for a major publishing house. He lacked the arrogance. He lacked the belief in his own divine right to succeed that one finds in such people. To be frank, if he was in publishing I would have placed him as a literary agent who made a poor living touting his finds to small independent publishing houses.
After an hour and a glass or two, I got the entire truth out of him and it was then I made my decision. I liked him. He was a decent enough young man and remarkably well read. Thus I spent the rest of the afternoon coaching him. By the time Shena arrived home, Doughty was almost convincing. So she joined me in my work and by the time we retired for the night, he could discuss business with businessmen and literature with writers. All that needed to be done was to arrange a few introductions.
Thus under the name of Montain Calm, Doughty was launched on Port Naain literary society. He was a considerable success. When introduced to writers he was measured. If he hadn’t read their work he’d read similar. He was happy to discuss their current projects and showed a genuine interest in work they had close to completion. If he had a failing, it was that he didn’t have a large budget for entertaining. In all candour that was one area where I couldn’t help him. But we discovered that people were so keen to speak to him that they insisted on paying for his drinks.
Having caused a stir amongst the writers, we moved on to the printers and publishers. They pleaded with him to dine with them. Had he been a person with fewer moral standards he could doubtless have walked away, his pockets jingling from the bribes they wanted to slip him. As it was he amassed crate after crate of samples. I honestly believe he had acquired a copy of every book published in Port Naain in the previous decade!
Once writers saw the publishers wining and dining Doughty they redoubled their own efforts. It was now obvious that he was the man who held their fortunes in the palm of his hand. The poor chap was virtually besieged. He made an unfortunate strategic error. In a desperate effort to calm people down, he let it be known that there was no point in negotiating details. This was because his employers were sending their legal representative out to join him in a couple of weeks and this person would draw up the contracts.
In one way this worked. The writing community could see that there was no point in worrying him with details. Unfortunately each writer also decided that they ought to use this period of grace to win Doughty over to their side, so that when the lawyer appeared, they would be the first in the queue and would be signed up on good terms before the money ran out.
In the next week, eight lady writers of some merit invited him to picnic with them and took the opportunity to propose what might be described as, ‘an informal marital arrangement.’ At the same time, other writers would invite him out, ‘for a convivial evening.’ On several occasions the convivial evening barely finished in time for him to join a lady for the lunchtime picnic.
Finally I had to step in. The social whirl had become manic. As he said to me, it wasn’t waking up and thinking, “Where am I,” that told him it was time to stop. It was when he turned over in bed, looked at the individuals who appeared to be sharing it with him, and asked, “And who the hell are they?”
Apparently on one occasion he was only spared embarrassment because the lady’s maid had the habit of sewing name tapes into her mistress’s clothes so that they were easily identified by the laundry.
At very short notice I got him a passage on a barge heading east. Given his personal effects included eleven crates of books and nearly as many of rather good wine, there was no way he could get them all in the skiff.
Just for the sake of completeness I shall tell the rest of the tale. It seems that after resting at home for a month, Doughty went through the books he’d been given and gathered together any duplicates. Then on board his trusty skiff he sailed to Oiphallarian. Here he passed himself off as a representative of a number of leading Port Naain publishing houses. This deception was aided by the fact that he knew the Port Naain publishing scene intimately. (In some cases too intimately for comfort.)
He passed through the Oiphallarian literary scene dispensing his duplicate copies as samples, and in return collected numerous books in return. Wiser this time, he accepted gifts other than the occasional crate of wine, and when he finally decided it was time to flee, he had the money to buy passage on a steamer.
“And what,” I hear you mutter under your breath, “did Tallis get out of this entirely discreditable episode?” ……………………………………………….
Today is the final day of the blog tour, to see the rest of the blog click the link below and you’ll find yourself at the blog of Mary, a fine writer.