Lightly edited.

Lightly edited

I would not have it said that Morpeth Pennywight was mad. A trifle eccentric perhaps but not actually mad. Certainly I never saw him foaming at the mouth and there are few reliable reports of him biting people. Well he once bit a purveyor of literary criticism but frankly that hardly counts.

Morpeth was an editor. He would take in the work of any writer, toil his methodical way through it and make his suggestions. He had any number of clients, after all Port Naain has many aspiring writers, many of whom need Morpeth’s services. Alas that those who need him most lack the humility to seek him out. But still, he isn’t an easy man to deal with.

His family had owned a large house on the edge of the Sump which backed on to the High Road. Indeed one room on the top floor could actually be accessed from the High Road. So Morpeth lived in that room and blocked the door which led from the room to the rest of the house. The other rooms were let out to tenants, who paid their rent weekly to a clerk sent by a usurer’s office which handled this side of the business for him.
Among the tenants, Morpeth was a half remembered legend. None of them had ever met him and most didn’t even realise his room existed. But he still maintained order in the house. If there was any untoward noise from the rest of the house, Morpeth would wait for it to die down, and then he would start to play his bugle.

Now it has to be admitted that that particular bugle wasn’t the finest of instruments. Morpeth had purchased it at a knock-down price from a junk shop. Until Morpeth showed interest the vendor had been considering selling it on for the scrap value of the metal. Still, whilst a consummate musician would have wept as he or she tried to coax pure notes from the battered instrument, as Morpeth couldn’t play it at all, the condition was irrelevant.

He would merely put the bugle to his lips and attempt to play it. The series of wails, farts and blurts this produced rang through the entire house. He would keep this up for an hour or more before deciding people should have learned their lesson. Should somebody not pay their rent when the clerk called, Morpeth had been known to play the bugle for some hours, until the tenants clubbed together and loaned the defaulter the money for the rent.

As an editor he refused to meet his clients. He would allow them to post their manuscript through a gap under his door, and if it was accompanied by a sufficiency of cash he would undertake to edit it. If, half way through the manuscript, he came to the conclusion the task he had undertaken was harder than he had assumed, he would merely added you to the list on the outside of his door. All it had was your name and the extra sum he felt he deserved.

To be fair, I know of at least two occasions where he passed the manuscript back and gave the money back as well. On one occasion he felt he had so enjoyed reading the work he didn’t deserve paying as well. On the other occasion he came to the conclusion that the manuscript was beyond editing. Indeed he commented that it was so dire that no amount of money would convince him to finish reading it.

Even when he did edit, the result might not be what the writer had hoped for. One lady submitted a romantic novel she had written. She got it back with the words, “Drop the romance and rewrite it as a tour of the gardens of Port Naain.” To be fair she took his advice and did exactly that. It sold quite well and certainly got her plenty of invitations by people who hoped their garden would appear in the second edition.

Obviously there were dissatisfied customers. They soon learned that hammering on the door drew no response. Indeed the door was formed from such heavy timbers that it is entirely likely Morpeth never heard the knocking. Indeed the timbers of the door were sometimes a problem. During excessively wet periods the door was prone to jamming as the timbers swelled. Under these circumstances Morpeth was reduced to lowering a basket out of the window on a piece of string. In the basket with be his shopping list and the name of his usurer.

One disgruntled client did wedge the door shut, trapping their editor inside. Morpeth as in no way inconvenienced. He added a footnote to his shopping list. The usurer had a clerk rattle lose change in the presence of street children and they proceeded to make the disgruntled client’s days an embarrassment and the nights a purgatory of incessant shrieks and screams. It took three days but eventually the client could stand no more and removed the wedges in the dead of night.

To be fair, Morpeth didn’t go out much. He wasn’t particularly sociable, although he would occasionally call in the Misanthropes and drink a glass of wine with people. He was easily recognised. He always wore breeches, but cut short a hand’s width above the knee and allowed to hang loose. Over this he had a jacket that had been cut long which no longer fastened properly. The whole assemblage was topped off by a night cap. He had several and always wore one, day or night.

My relationship with Morpeth is in point of fact quite good. He does not edit poetry. That I can understand. I remember discussing the issue with him. He picked up a sheet of my verse.

“Tallis, unless my pronunciation is off, the third and fifth lines rhyme in the first verse.”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“Then in the second verse, no lines rhyme.”

“Indeed you are correct in that as well.”
“Whilst in the third verse, the first and second lines rhyme, the third rhymes with the third in the first and second verses, and the fourth and fifth don’t rhyme with anything at all.”

“The fourth line rhymes with the page number. Although that is purely fortuitous.”

“But why?”

“Because that is how my muse led me.”

Morpeth nodded sagely. “Thus and so, I do not edit poetry. That way madness lies.”


Should you wish to learn more of Port Naain

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Meet a vengeful Lady Bountiful, an artist who smokes only the finest hallucinogenic lichens, and wonder at the audacity of the rogue who attempts to drown a poet! Indeed after reading this book you may never look at young boys and their dogs, onions, lumberjacks or usurers in quite the same way again.
A book that plumbs the depths of degradation, from murder to folk dancing, from the theft of pastry cooks to the playing of a bladder pipe in public.

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