It is one thing to have a goal, it is entirely another thing to successfully achieve it. Hindle was wise enough to realise that. Still, next day, as he went about his daily round, he met a young woman. She was carrying a fiddle under one arm but didn’t seem to be going anywhere. He greeted her as he greeted everybody else, with an aphorism. In her case he greeted her with the words, “When I was young I told my mentor, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a musician.’ My mentor told me, “You’ll have to choose because you cannot do both.”
She smiled, a wide genuine smile that even reached her eyes. That’s where his problems started because he looked into her eyes and found himself drowning. Desperate to maintain a conversation he almost babbled. “I’m Hindle, the mendicant. I’m raising money to provide a refuge for those who have no other refuge. He half turned and saw, as he expected, Bog the Babbler. Bog followed him round for much of the day, Hindle had known hounds who couldn’t run to heel as faithfully. “Like Bog here.”
Bog glanced up vaguely at the mention of his name, muttered something and then sunk back down into his dark pit of apathy. The young woman looked at him, placed her fiddle under her chin and played a few notes. Bog stiffened slightly. She played a few notes, trills and a glissando. Bog turned to look at her. She broke into a folk tune, her fiddle lyrical. Bog smiled and when the music stopped he said, gravely. “I am Bog. I am a babbler.”
The fiddler bowed. “And I am Georgi.”
Quietly, Hindle said, “I have never known him speak before, not whole words.”
Georgi turned to look at Hindle, turning the full power of her eyes on him. “So why do you want to create a refuge, what is wrong with the Insane Asylum.”
Hindle heard himself say, “Because they are my people, I want to find them a home, not somewhere they will just fade and die.”
“Then, Master Mendicant, make ready your bucket.” With that she slipped off her shoes and struck up a jig. Playing and dancing she made her way down Ropewalk, with Hindle walking behind, her shoes thrust through his belt, (In Port Naain you do not leave your shoes unattended, even in a love story) rattling the bucket. Behind him lumbered Bog, and as they moved down the street others joined them. An elderly costermonger and his wife abandoned their stall to their sensible middle-aged daughter and twirled with cautious abandon. An elderly libertine took the arm of a Priestess of Aea in Her Aspect of the Personification of Chastity, a patrolling watchman found himself in the honest embrace of a lady of otherwise negotiable virtue. Hindle’s bucket grew heavy.
At last, Georgi stopped playing, the people smiled a little shyly at each other and slipped away into the crowd that had gathered around them.
Hindle looked with awe at his bucket. “Georgi, for the first time in my life I believe I might actually mange this.”
She smiled at him, “Then, Master Mendicant, follow your passion.” With that she whirled away and disappeared into the crowd.
Somewhat sadly, Hindle said, “I would love to but I don’t know where you live.”
Bog looked up from where he had seated himself on the floor. “She lives in Three Mills, where it meets Commercial and Dilbrook. Cobblestones lane, the house with three trees in the front garden.” With that he lapsed once more into melancholy.
Hindle carried the bucket of money back to his room and sat on his bed with his head in his hands. He first agonised about what excuse he could come up with for calling upon Georgi. It was the heels of her shoes digging into him that reminded him of their presence. His excuse handed to him, how should he present himself? His instinct was to dress as sprucely as possible. But on second thoughts she knew him as a mendicant so he really ought to appear as a mendicant. But he could be a somewhat tidier mendicant.
Let us be fair to Hindle here, he was scrupulously clean. He had even acquired a second set of robes of a similar shade of brown to the first and he wore them on alternate days. Every evening he would wash them and hang them up to dry. After all his trade depended upon potential donors regarding him with favour.
So he made his preparations. He first brushed some of the chalk out of his hair. Then he combed his hair and beard. He was ready. He had the excuse, he had made all his preparations, all he needed was the courage.
Thus an hour later he knocked on the appropriate door. A rather surprised maid pondered briefly and decided that well-scrubbed mendicants were probably safe in the hallway. Thus he stood, clutching the shoes like a talisman, and waited whilst the maid went to summon her mistress. Georgi appeared, saw her shoes, smiled and thanked him.
Hindle had considered the conversation, playing variants over and over in his head as he walked to the house. Far too many versions ended up with his being ushered back out into the night by a maid. He needed a hook, something to push the conversation on. He had finally settled on, “I’ve been considering your comment about, ‘follow your passion.’ Given a fondness for the fiddle as well as a determination to do something for my people, I wondered if I could impose upon you a little more. Is there any chance that you might play a time or two for us?”
At least that is how it has been reported to me. My own suspicion, confirmed in part by the maid, is that it was somewhat more stumbling and less fluent than that. Still Georgi suggested they retire to the parlour to discuss matters and asked the maid to bring some refreshments.
Now we have to consider things from Georgi’s point of view. She was a young woman who cherished enthusiasm. I can remember her spending an hour listening to a middle aged woman discussing her collection of brass toasting forks. And when I say she listened, she genuinely took it in. I suspect that even now, if you were to ask her about the topic, she could speak with some authority on the subject. She didn’t merely absorb the information thrown at her, she asked questions to elicit further revelations.
So in her presence, with her gentle prompting, Hindle’s genuine enthusiasm for his task blossomed. They talked for most of the evening, Georgi taking notes. Finally they had a three month programme of events planned out in draft and (perhaps more importantly from Hindle’s point of view) an agreement to meet in three days so Georgi could bring him up to date with her booking of venues and similar.
For the first, Georgi borrowed the old dried grape and carpet warehouse which serves as a hall for the Society of Minor Poets. She had us advertise the dance and when the evening came, we got a good crowd. Wiser than many, Georgi set a very modest entry charge. But then she knew her audience. After they had danced she appeared on the small stage and bid them all sit down and summoned Hindle to speak. He’d been primed and had mastered his maxims.
He looked around a room full of flushed, happy and hardworking people and said, “Nobody on their deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at work.”
There were heads nodding wisely at this, some people appeared thoughtful. Hindle glanced behind him, Bog, invited or uninvited, was of course there. Hindle gestured towards him. “In stories old beggars are always a witch or a prince in disguise. In Port Naain, the old beggars are just beggars who haven’t died yet.” Then after he let that sink in he said, “I’m raising money for somewhere for people like Bog here. He cannot hold down a job, he cannot even beg properly. But I’m not here to lecture you. If, when you leave, you want to give a bit more, then I’ll be near the door with my bucket. Otherwise you’re here to dance, to have fun, and perhaps even to fall in love.”
That produced smiles, some a little rueful. Finally he said, “Don’t worry about work tonight. A job is wonderful, but you can’t curl up next to it in bed on a cold night.”
With that he stepped down and Georgi and a couple more musicians she’d cajoled into performing took his place. As the dancers finally left they filled his bucket for him.
Georgi had organised a dance every two weeks for him and soon, neatly groomed in his business suit, he was depositing quite respectable sums of money with his usurer. Indeed he noticed an increase in his normal daily takings as more and more people recognised him and even crossed the road to make a contribution. It was six months into their joint project that Georgi announced that she’d managed to get them booked at the Sinecurists’ Charity Ball. Admittedly as prestigious functions go, it was a minor one, but still it was a sign that they were being taken seriously.
Georgi noticed that Hindle’s face went white and he sat down abruptly when she gave him the news.
Somewhat cautiously she asked, “Are you all right?”
He replied “Yes.” There was no real conviction in his tone.
“Hopefully, if we do well, we could get somebody offer to donate us an old property that they’re not sure what to do with.”
“That’s good.” Hindle sounded even less certain.
“All you’ve got to do is talk to them for ten or fifteen minutes about the project, conditions in the city, that sort of thing.”
“But Georgi, the longest speech I’ve ever given contained fewer than one hundred and fifty words.”
“But surely you were taught to preach when you did your theological training?”
In tones redolent with misery, Hindle replied, “Georgi, I never had any training. I was a usurer’s computer who lost his job and became a mendicant because it was the only way I could see to make a living.”
“Right, if I invest ten alars at five percent per annum, paid quarterly, and also pay in an alar a month, every month, how much money will be in my account after seven years?”
“One hundred and fifteen alars, six vintenars, and one hundred and twenty dregs.” He paused and added, “Before tax.”
Georgi looked at him with surprise. “But you didn’t write anything down”
“I would need paper were I to work out the tax as well.”
“Right, Hindle. There are only two kinds of good public speaker. The nervous and those who lie about not being nervous. Just stand up and talk.”
Georgi paused. “I’ll ask you questions.”
Gratefully Hindle said, “I think I can handle that.”
Georgi smiled at him. “Well it solves one little mystery. I was beginning to wonder how you managed to look a little younger every time we met.”
On the evening of the Charity Ball, Hindle walked round to Georgi’s house. One of the Sinecurists was sending her coach to collect them. Hindle had merely put on the robes that he washed yesterday. Georgi was more elegantly attired. As they made themselves comfortable in the coach, Hindle asked, “So what questions are you going to ask me?”
“I’ll tell you when I ask them. I don’t want you sounding rehearsed.”
Hindle replied, “But I want to get it right.”
“If you don’t know your destination, you cannot end up in the long place.”
Suspiciously Hindle said, “You’ve been reading books of aphorisms haven’t you.”
Georgi smiled sweetly at him, “The books you don’t read won’t come to your assistance in times of trial.”
At the Ball itself, much to Hindle’s surprise they were treated as the principle guests. Admittedly as they entered, they were introduced as Mistress Georgi Driggle and her mendicant, but Hindle had long schooled himself to humility. He lost track of the people they were introduced to. It was with some relief that he realised Georgi had as well. Still he felt he managed reasonably well. They were asked to lead off at the first dance and this they did with Georgi hissing instructions and at times actively steering him. Eventually they were summoned to the stage and Hindle was expected to say his piece. Georgi, as promised, asked questions, keeping them simple and letting him build up his confidence. Then she just turned to the audience and asked, “Has anybody else got any questions.”
There were one or two, mainly about the sort of property that they were looking for. Then Miser Gumption Silvernant stood up. “I’ve just been left a property in settlement of a debt of a hundred alars. It needs a little work but it’s yours for a rent of an alar a month.”
Georgi asked, “Where is it?”
“On the edge of Ropewalk, near the Warrens and the Sump but not in them.”
Hindle said, “If we take it and our project survives for six years before failing, you’ll get your building back and will have had seventy-two alars in rent. So assuming the building is in no worse condition than it is now, you’ve got one hundred and seventy-two alars. But if we pay you a hundred alars for it now, cash, then a man of your acumen will doubtless get at least ten percent on the money, so with compound interest in the same six years you’ll get back one hundred and seventy-seven alars and four vintenars. I suggest we just pay you the hundred cash and relieve you of the risk.”
The miser pulled a notebook and indelible pencil out of his pocket and started scribbling. After two minutes he put the notebook back. “Young man, I’m not sure whether your comment about the level of interest I’d get was meant as a compliment or an insult. I’ll take it a complement. Call upon me in my offices tomorrow morning, we’ll sign the paperwork, you can give me the money, and the building is yours.”
Brightly Georgi said in a loud voice. “Have we any generous offers from people for funds to renovate the building?”
All in all it took them four months to renovate the property. It took a further three months for Hindle to work up the courage to suggest to Georgi that she might consider marrying him. She had already purchased a suitable ring.
I confess that it is the only wedding I’ve ever been to where both bride and groom were barefoot and where the groom’s robes were longer than the bride’s dress.
This volume, slim but elegant, also contains a love story
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!”