The sanctity of marriage

The sanctity of marriage

Some years ago the Reed Thatchers’ Friendly Society found itself with a small surfeit of funds. Rather than merely spend it on a splendid dinner for the society officers, it was decided to spend the money on something of civic value. Indeed when I stop to think it about it, it must have been a considerable number of years ago.
Still after much pondering they decided that various notorious ginnels and alleys, infamous as the haunts of footpads, muggers, barkers, and crimps, would be rendered safer for the public if they were illuminated. So they paid to have lanterns set high up so that they would illuminate as much as possible. But obviously a lantern is no use without being topped up with oil and its wick trimmed. So they looked around for responsible persons who could take on the task. There wasn’t enough money to in reality pay a salary for the task, but the feeling was that if they paid each person enough to cover the expenses of looking after one lantern in the first year or so, looking after the lantern would become a habit.

It was decided to place one in Fogay’s Gill in the Merchant Quarter, and that part of the task completed, the Friendly Society advertised for somebody to maintain it. Blaggart Wildthrum stepped forward to undertake the task, explaining that he worked in the area so it would be no problem for him to keep an eye on the lantern. This entirely satisfied the official and Wildthrum was paid the cash lump sum and the lantern was placed in his charge.

Now it has to be admitted that Blaggart Wildthrum told no lies. He did work in Fogay’s Gill. He was the resident footpad. So the lantern remained resolutely unlit. Whether anybody complained about it, I don’t know, but certainly nothing was done. And then, in the middle of one night, the Watch were summoned to the Gill. There, sprawled on the paving slabs under the unlit lantern was the body of Blaggart Wildthrum.

The watchman who was first to the scene, a young man called Keaf who, though new to his profession, was no fool. He kept his back to the wall and his lantern raised lest there be an ambush. But he still managed to ascertain that the victim had been struck down from behind, ‘by a blunt instrument.’ Indeed he even retrieved the instrument. It was a sturdy wooden rolling pin than had been used with great force.

The dawn brought with it Sergeant Maggon and a requisitioned dung cart. The dead man was hoisted (with some semblance of dignity) into the cart and the watchman and sergeant followed it back to the Watch building.

“So who done it, Sarge?”

“By the weapon, a woman. Given he was a notorious philanderer, I’d say it was his wife.”
“So what do we do now then Sarge?”

“Book him in, mark her down as the culprit and mark the case closed.”
“You want somebody to bring her in for questioning and whatever. Sarge.”
“You out of your mind, lad. If it were proven to be her, we’d have to pay her a reward or something. Best thing Blaggart here ever did was go and get himself killed.”

Back at the yard Maggon gave his report to the captain.
“So,” mused the captain, “a domestic?”


“Well it’s not the place of officialdom to violate the sanctity of marriage. Mark her down in the book as the killer, but say nothing or she’ll be round for the reward money.”




To be fair to Madam Wildthrum, when she heard about not merely the death of her husband but the fact that she was assumed to have killed him, she did turn up at the office, but not to demand the reward money.

She slapped the Captain’s desk with the palm of her hand. “What wid me an ‘onest woman, and you lot accusing me of doing ‘im in.”

The Captain tried to get to the bottom of her annoyance. “Didn’t you do it?”

“No, an I got an alibi. I were entertaining a gentleman admirer an he’ll vouch for me.” She might have had her doubts because she added firmly, “If he knows what’s good fer ‘im.”

She rallied, “Not but what I ain’t got a right to do ‘im in. Out at all hours o’ the day or night, spending ‘is immoral earnings on some damned floosy when he ought to be spending ‘is money on his lawful wife. Or at least the woman as has lived wi’ ‘im for twenty years.”

The Captain felt that perhaps the law ought to be heard at this point. “So who did kill him?”

“Aea alone knows, could a bin any one out a six.”

The Captain persisted. “But could you give us a clue as to which one?”

“Aye, it’ll be the hussy as comes to claim the reward money.”




Apparently nobody ever did. As Maggon commented, they could hardly advertise. If folk knew there was a reward, there’d be no end of a queue. The problem was that Madam Wildthrum had rather spoiled things for them. The case couldn’t be closed because suddenly they didn’t even have a suspect.

Finally they got round it when they pulled in Galwin Kneewright. They pointed out to him that if he confessed, whilst he wouldn’t get the reward, they wouldn’t charge him with the murder. Not only that but if he was willing to assist the Watch in this matter, then they’d almost certainly find themselves looking with a more benign eye upon the fourteen charges of affray that had been lodged against him. Indeed old Maggon pointed out that, seen in a certain light, fourteen charges did seem to indicate somebody was getting things out of proportion. Galwin Kneewright immediately confessed to the killing of Blaggart Wildthrum. He stated in his defence that he believed the man to be a rogue about his business and had attempted to arrest him, but Wildthrum had resisted arrest.

So basically everything ended as well as expected. Except of course for the lantern in Fogay’s Gill. To the best of my knowledge it’s still never been lit.


Should you wish to know more of Port Naain, the following is available in paperback or ebook


Once more Tallis Steelyard chronicles the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. Discover the wonders of the Hermeneutic Catherine Wheel, marvel at the use of eye-watering quantities of hot spices. We have bell ringers, pop-up book shops, exploding sedan chairs, jobbing builders, literary criticism, horse theft and a revolutionary mob.We also discover what happens when a maiden, riding a white palfrey led by a dwarf, appears on the scene.

10 thoughts on “The sanctity of marriage

    1. The problem is that the Reed Thatchers’ Friendly Society only had the money for that one payment 😦
      Should such an opportunity arise again I’ll bear you in mind 😉


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