Not everybody is lucky enough to discover their vocation immediately. Whereas I was obviously doomed to be a great poet, others often vacillate between any number of options. Indeed some people don’t so much discover their calling as have it thrust upon them.
Hindle Walbarrow is perhaps a good example of just how life can lead a chap down strange paths. Indeed, just to recount the story of Hindle, I have had to lead you, gentle reader, down many strange byways. Still let us now turn our beneficent gaze upon young Hindle and his career. In spite of total apathy on the part of his mother, and total absence on the part of whoever performed the duties of becoming his father, Hindle was a pleasant youth. Indeed it might be said that he brought himself up well. He discovered early on that he had a facility for numbers. In happier circumstances he might have earned good money calculating the odds for one of the better bookmakers. As he was he found a place in the employ of the House of Bumblewin. His role was that of a ‘computer’. He and several others would sit at their desks doing the intricate mathematical calculations necessary to create a compound interest table. Indeed he advanced so far that he was allowed to calculate the various results resulting from the various levels of impost.
Given that he was not keen to return to the bosom of his family (such as it was) at the end of the working day, he looked around for accommodation. Here his general decency came to his aid. Whereas clerks would often consider themselves a cut above those lesser beings who didn’t turn up to work wearing a cravat and shiny shoes, Hindle would cheerfully talk to anybody. So he was on excellent terms with the caretaker and was doted upon by the two elderly ladies who pushed a trolley laden with beverages around the offices. Even the grand individual who stood at the front door in frock coat and tall hat to welcome (or otherwise) visitors was known to unbend so much as to wink at Hindle as he entered.
It was the caretaker who told Hindle that the night caretaker had passed away and a replacement was sought. The night caretaker had a quiet room at the back of the usurers’ offices where he slept, stored the miscellaneous impedimenta of the caretaker’s trade, and generally did whatever cooking, washing and personal grooming as he considered necessary. Hindle, with the caretaker’s support, applied for the job.
The problem is that Bumblewins are not keen on their clerks doing other jobs at night. So Hindle had to affect a disguise. After some thought he ruffled his hair, rubbing a little chalk into his beard and temples to ‘age’ him, and appeared at the interview in the ordinary long trousers and tunic of a simple working man. Given his references (from the caretaker) he was immediately offered the job.
So during the evening when nobody was about, Hindle would clean and tidy the offices, and next morning, dressed as himself, he would turn up to work as a computer.
Misfortune struck when Bumblewins discovered they could hire an idiot savant from the Insane Asylum for less than the cost of a single computer. Indeed he could easily replace all five. Within hours of this discovery being made, Hindle was told he was no longer an employee. It was indeed lucky that he still had his night caretaker’s job. The money was derisory but he did have a room and all the coal he could burn on his stove. So next morning when he awoke he pondered his future. It was as he looked at his face in the mirror (he still wore his night caretaker’s face and hair) he realised that he did indeed look like a man well into middle years who had had a rough life. As he stared at the face he was irresistibly reminded of some of the beggars he had met. But begging is not for everybody in Port Naain. They have a powerful guild and may Aea have mercy on anybody begging without guild affiliation.
Then it occurred to him. Mendicant monks are not beggars, thus may collect alms without offending the guild. He would become a mendicant.
This he did, picking up the robes from one of the second hand clothes stores. But whilst he could dress the part, could he ‘be’ the part? Dredging his memory for stories it seemed to him that mendicants ought to be wise. After all they were monks who had renounced everything in the quest for something or the other. So how to be wise?
Then he had a moment of revelation. If he talked little but dropped deep and meaningful aphorisms into the conversation, people could well think of him as wise. As an aside I would suggest that the easy route to wisdom is through saying little and listening more. Still, in the guise of Hindle Walbarrow, he visited Alen Gaetz Books, Port Naain’s leading second hand bookshop, and looked for inspiration. He was lucky. Apparently there was a table that was being held level by the use of books that nobody wanted. Yet that very morning, somebody had purchased one of the books. It was. ‘The art of the carpenter with illustrations for the edification of the discerning.’ The substantial volume was hastily removed from under one table leg but this mean that another table leg was now too high. It had been held steady thanks to the use of ‘Trastin Leer’s fourth volume of collected Literary Aphorisms.’ This volume had to be removed as well. It had been placed on the table just as Hindle arrived. He saw it and bought it.
Now this book had one considerable advantage over similar volumes. Its contents were largely unknown. After all, virtually nobody had read it. Hindle took it back to his humble abode and studied it closely, memorising those phrases he felt fitted best with his quasi-theologian status.
Now one thing I’ve noticed about beggars is that some present an attractive personality and seem to do well. Others merely sit silent, slumped over their bowl and appear to ignore the world which responds by largely ignoring them. Hindle took the first course, although obviously he didn’t in point of fact beg. He would merely stand at the side of the street, make eye contact with some passer-by and once they’d seen him he would greet them courteously and gift them a suitably uplifting aphorism.
The technique worked well. The passer-by, feeling he had already received something, felt obliged to respond financially. Not only that but the donor seemed to feel that he wasn’t merely giving money to the shiftless and idle, but to a person of considerable spiritual wisdom. Given that Hindle had few expenses, and was often given food by generous citizens of our fair city, he discovered that he was slowly accumulating funds. Eventually he realised that it would be wise to place these safely with a usurer.
So he washed and combed his hair and beard, put on his business suit, walked into Bumblewins and deposited the money in his account. He would then slip back into his room when nobody was watching and once more adopt the persona of the night caretaker. Next morning he would check his disorderly hair and beard were suitably distressed with grey, don his mendicant’s garb and go out to work.
It has to be admitted that he grew less than comfortable with his situation. Sometimes people would ask which order he was with, and he’d mumble something about it being one of the lesser ones dedicated to poverty and the poor. Others would ask what he was collecting for, and he found that answering, ‘the poor,’ seemed to satisfy them. He did notice clerics from other, presumably genuine orders, eyeing him from time to time but none of them approached him.
At the same time he noticed the vagrants who were not guild-accredited beggars. Some were people whom you could assume had temporarily fallen into extreme penury. They were still hale enough and would soon find some sort of employment and could work their way back up to a modest sufficiency. But there were the others. Some were old and were growing frail, some had injuries but nothing obvious enough to win them a coveted guild membership. Finally there were those who lived in a reality of their own, disconnected to ours. They would drift through life muttering to themselves or would even stop and shake a fist at an oppressor no one else could see. These could never find work and would never elicit a charitable response compassionate enough to provide them the refuge they needed.
As time passed, Hindle discovered that these, the fallen poor, came to recognise him. Perhaps because he wasn’t a member of the beggars’ guild, or from one of the better known orders, they seemed to accept him as one of themselves. He shared his bread with them, tried to find medical help for those who would benefit, but all the while he pondered their plight.
Then one afternoon, scrubbed and dressed in his persona as Hindle Walbarrow, he was depositing money into his account when one of the junior partners approached him.
“Ah, Hindle, the man I wanted to see. One of our clerks brought to my attention that you’ve obviously got yourself into a decent line of business. I wondered if you might be interested in a business loan to help you expand?”
Hindle confessed that he hadn’t considered it, but promised faithfully to think it over. Then he left the offices in a state of total perplexity. He knew he was good at his craft, but he hadn’t realised quite how good he obviously was. Could he expand? He could hardly take on more staff. The religious establishment is happy to accept that individuals feel called to the mendicant life without the need of formal religion. Indeed that is often the way religions are revitalised. If he took on fellow mendicants, even if he could find any as competent as him, it was inevitable that he would receive a visit from a pleasant young priestess who would quiz him gently and suggest that it was time he formalised matters. She wouldn’t tell him which order to affiliate to, but she would expect him to start down that path. If he ignored her then the next visit would come from a less pleasant priest accompanied by a couple of burly lay brethren who would be rather more persistent in their demands. Similarly he could hardly present the fallen poor to the usurers as his business partners needing the loan. It was as he tried to sleep that night that the plan finally fell into place. He would become a mendicant order. He wouldn’t go out to recruit, but he would now fund raise. His order would seek to provide a refuge for those on the street who had none.
He couldn’t imagine a usurer wanting to invest money in the project, but still, it was a project and gave him something to get his teeth into. As he lay there he realised he had just been drifting, now at last, he had a goal.
Should you wish to know more about Port Naain
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Includes the unexpurgated account of the Mudfold and Cockeren feud, the dangers inherent in light music, and how Tallis first met and wooed Shena.
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!”