There are various stories which try and explain why Maljie left the lucrative world of usury. Some claim that she had attracted the envy of lesser minds who had combined to bring her down. Some stories claim that she made a fortune and retired to enjoy it. Yet other tales claim that she was tempted by new horizons, (one of these stories hints that she applied for the vacant position of hangman but was turned down for excessive enthusiasm). The one unifying factor in all these stories is that they are, without exception, wrong.
That is not to say there may not be an element of truth in some of them, indeed one or two almost seem to stumble upon the truth before somehow veering into wild hyperbole. But given that the world seems to enjoy immensely speculating as to exactly why Maljie changed careers, it strikes me that it would be a genuinely unkind action on my part to provide the final and definitive answer to a question incautious folk have been asking for the last two or more decades.
Let it be accepted that Malie abandoned the dark world of finance, and allowed the fickle winds of fate to blow her hither and yon until she ended up as being the individual responsible for deciding whether inmates could be released from Port Naain’s insane asylum.
The Insane Asylum in Port Naain is a truly spectacular building. A steep-sided pyramid, all eight floors are colonnaded. There are promenades around the outside of the colonnades, from which one gains access to the heart of the building. The colonnades themselves are festooned with flowers, which hang down in curtains whilst streams of water flow down and round the walkways, meeting to form a ceremonial moat around the building. People have been known to sit up all night to ensure that they catch the first rays of the sun striking the building.
Of the inmates, those in the upper levels with families to pay for their board do well enough. Those further down who have useful skills, be it the idiot savant who is hired for a day by the usurer, or the cheerful but simple chap who delights in walking all day on the treadmill, can manage to fund what little sustenance they need. They get by and sometimes even recover. There are various ‘medical gentlemen’ who whilst not formally attached to the asylum, will visit regularly and take an interest in the treatment of patients. Sometimes the treatments actually work. The most difficult cases, where there is neither finance nor hope, are banished to the cellars. There things are different. Snarling beings are chained to walls, constantly straining and testing their fetters. Others lie on the floor and perish in the pools of their own tears.
Maljie accepted the responsibility for overseeing those who were claimed to be ‘cured’ or at least ‘cured enough’ to release. Because of the nature of her role, she didn’t have an office within the asylum, but instead worked from a two-person sedan chair. This had the advantage of enough space to write notes, whilst the bearers could obviously carry her and her client. Also the bearers of the double chair were strong enough to carry a client, loaded down with chains, back to the asylum when the attempt to reintroduce them to society failed.
It has to be said that numerous people have questioned Maljie’s qualifications for doing this job. I’ve overheard several discussions on the topic. Her defenders point out that in the world of usury she came across madness (on the part of both some who attempted to borrow, and some desirous of lending) often enough to be able to recognise it and estimate the degree.
Other defenders point out that during the course of many years in usury she had been lied to by experts. Thus she was ideally placed to judge whether the inmate was trying to pull the wool over her eyes.
Still it has to be said that it was not easy. She would regularly retire to a quiet spot in the shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm as she tried to grapple with the moral predicaments her new role threw up. One example of the sort of thing she had to deal with would be the case of Salventia Grast. This lady was living in some state in the upper levels, and the doctor treating her pronounced her cured.
Maljie investigated the case. It appeared that Salventia Grast had been married to Unster Grast, but by all accounts had come to feel that she had married somebody who was never going to amount to anything. Although Unster was a partner in an association of lawyers, he was always ‘the steady one.’ You’d hear people saying, “Unster is a safe pair of hands.” He got the dull cases that just needed careful guiding. Not for him courtroom flamboyance or carefully contrived drama. Thus whilst his income was entirely respectable, it was never going to keep Salventia Grast to a standard she felt she deserved to become accustomed to.
Thus Salventia looked around and took as a lover the darling of the courtroom, Basset Smyt. In due course, realising that Unster was never going to voluntarily step aside to make way for his scheduled replacement, Unster died in an unfortunate accident.
The unfortunate accident occurred when his sedan chair exploded on the Ropewalk with such violence that it killed him, the two chairmen, two bystanders and injured a score of other people. Unfortunately for Salventia, Unster had loyal friends who sprang into action. When it was discovered that Basset Smyt had been seen purchasing Nodrak’s No. 4 blasting wax for unspecified uses around his estate, the law sprang into action. Unfortunately for Smyt the law was too slow, and the lynch mob caught him first.
Salventia was lucky, she managed to make it to the asylum and soon convinced the authorities there that she was a Sinecurist, (and therefore wealthy) and quite mad. Whilst the courts investigated the case, a doctor from the asylum was happy to testify to her insanity and she was committed to his care. Salventia was fortunate in that she had managed to convince Smyt to put a large sum of money in trust for her, and the income from this trust was used to pay for her care. Thus she had an excellent room, fine food and wines, and could send out to purchase books and similar.
After a year or two it is obvious that the lifestyle started to pall. So cautiously she started negotiations, through trusted intermediaries, with Unster’s family and friends. Thanks to the money in the trust, and the fact that were she to be declared sane, the rest of Basset Smyt’s estate would devolve upon her, she could afford to be generous. Within a matter of months she had bought off those who initially wanted her dead.
It was then that she made her recovery.
Maljie’s hands were, metaphorically at least, tied. The medical authority which had declared her insane now pronounced her sane. Indeed there was an element of crowing about the success of the techniques used to treat the patient. Maljie had to assess the situation and decide how Salventia should be reintroduced to society. After some thought Maljie drew up a regime of medical checks and monitoring lest Salventia’s insanity returned. Then she ordered a sedan chair, escorted Salventia to in and wished her every happiness in her new life.
Salventia had barely travelled half the distance to the house she had acquired from Basset Smyt’s estate before her sedan chair exploded. Fortunately in this case the chairmen had noticed something and had not merely escaped from the blast area but had also cleared away any innocent bystanders. The only person to die was Salventia herself who had not been able to vacate the chair in time.
Actually this led to a discussion in the letters columns of various newssheets. Some correspondents pointed out that women’s fashions were leaving them vulnerable to accidents. One gentleman pointed out that had Salventia dressed as his grandmother used to, she could have escaped the blast. Another correspondent retorted that had Salventia been dressed as her grandmother used to, she could have withstood the blast, so firm was her corsetry and hosiery. Then there was a subset of correspondents who blamed it on footwear, claiming that nobody ever died who wore sensible shoes. Eventually the discussion came to an end when another correspondent pointed out that to the best of his knowledge, dying in exploding sedan chairs was a comparatively rare occurrence and so one could hardly expect ladies to dress appropriately. Still he admitted that if there were more cases a foresighted lady might well consider her options. Personally in this case he favoured sensible shoes and walking. Or perhaps riding? He pointed out that from his admittedly limited observations, horses rarely exploded.
Finally an elderly lady handed herself over to the authorities. She was the mother of the two sedan chairmen who had been killed in the blast that killed Unster Grast. She confessed to blowing up Salventia’s chair with Nodrak’s No. 4 blasting wax. When the officer questioning her asked where she had acquired the blasting wax from she merely replied, “I used my feminine wiles.”
He decided not to follow up that line of inquiry.
Obviously she had to appear before the courts, and the judge listened to her story with considerable sympathy. In his summing up he commented that there was too much of this sort of thing and an example had to be made. Thus he sentenced her to be indentured to the Houses of Licentiousness. The indenture was set at one vintenar which she could expect to pay off in less than a week, but which he paid off in person in the court room. He also suggested that a proportion of the late Basset Smyt’s estate be used to set up a fund to provide financial assistance to aged widows with no family to support them in their old age.
All in all it seems to have been settled very sensibly. I personally felt the judge had shown our justice system at its best.
The law fudges.
Honour is encompassed.
Strangely, about a hundred yards from where Salventia’s chair exploded, in one of the lesser used alleys, I found a steel hoop. I’d seen the like before, it’s one they use to drop over a sedan chair to stop the occupant leaving. I know a couple of chairmen who use them if they think their passenger might be tempted to run away without paying. The Watch use them as well if they’re escorting a prisoner. From memory I think the asylum used to have them as well.
This one was blackened and a bit buckled.
It may be that you have never met Maljie, but now, available in paperback or ebook formats there is
As a reviewer commented, “This author has created a rich world, filled with interesting characters – of whom Maljie is one of the most colourful. Her life and adventures are presented though the gossip of the poet Tallis Steelyard who has a sharp eye and a sharper tongue. Reminiscent somewhat of Pepys’ diaries about the small and large events of London, Tallis is a better writer. And why is Mr Webster dangerous – too much of my money is being spent on his books.”