There are all sorts of trades, some better thought of than others. Take jewellers for example, highly skilled and respectable. Except of course for the ones who aren’t. It was Mythrin Calpon who made the less respectable part of the trade her own.
She never really served her time as such, but she worked for old Buffer Dizzoon. He had a jeweller’s shop, made some things, repaired even more, and had quite a good name. But when he died, his widow had to sell, and Mythrin found herself out of work.
There was no way she could have bought the business out. All she managed to buy, very reasonable, was a bag of cheap, almost gold, rings that old Buffer had never got round to doing anything with. Buffer’s widow also gave her the tools she’d used doing basic repairs. So, unable to afford even a stall on the fringe of a market, she took to going from house to house doing jewellery repairs as the owner watched. Surprisingly this was a reasonably popular service, most ladies would have bits and pieces of things that they’d never got round to doing anything about. So Mythrin would fix them.
Also as she got to know the lady of the house, she’d also get to know the staff who lived in, and she allowed word to go round that she had rings at a reasonable price. So the gardener or coachman who had put off declaring his undying love because of the lack of a ring, found that excuse whisked away from him. Her stock of rings diminished steadily, especially as Mythrin would, as part of the service, ensure it fitted the finger of the lady in question.
But then she was quietly approached by a maid. This young lady produced a rather nice piece of jewellery. Apparently it had been her grandmothers, and the young lady wanted to sell it. The purpose of the sale was to provide the capital to allow her and her intended to set up a pie stall. Mythrin appraised the piece. It was nice, but horribly unfashionable. Mythrin suspected it might have been an heirloom when the grandmother received it. But there was a chink of light. It was probably worth more with the stones removed from their setting, and the metal melted down. She explained this and made a cash offer. The maid accepted it, and Mythrin took the piece home with her. That night she ‘unmade’ it and the following day she took the stones to a jeweller she knew would appreciate them. By the time she had disposed of the various bits, she discovered she’d turned a reasonable profit. She let it be known that this was a service she was happy to provide, and indeed over the weeks following, other pieces came forward.
But there was a difficulty. How can you tell whether the piece you’re offered was a genuine heirloom the maid’s family had clung to, or just something the maid had found at the bottom of her mistress’s second jewellery box and assumed wouldn’t be missed? Mythrin realised that she could never be sure, but on the other hand, because she was breaking pieces up, it was unlikely anything could be traced back to her.
The next stage was when, inevitably, a feloniously inclined maid mentioned the service Mythrin offered to her larcenously inclined gentleman admirer. Mythrin was offered pieces that were obviously acquired illicitly. Matters were compounded by the fact that the criminal expected merely a tenth of the true value. This is what a true fence would offer. Mythrin inadvertently offered a fifth and still made a larger profit that she’d expected. Word discreetly passed through the criminal community and suddenly Mythrin found business booming. Clearly she is a thoughtful lady and decided that she really ought to specialise. She decided upon pearls. Her thinking was logical. They are less individual that stones. Not only that, but she could re-string them herself. This meant she could sell them for the full price. Indeed let us be honest with ourselves, she loved pearls and had a feel for them. When pearls came in, she would separate them and then carefully sort them. Then as her stock built up she started producing something to sell. She sold a lot of sensibly priced necklaces, such as a young husband might buy his wife on the birth of their first child. But slowly her stock of superlative pearls grew and she started to sell really nice pieces.
Here she was inadvertently helped by Madam Fison. Madam loved pearls. Madam was also a lady with a husband and three gentleman admirers who knew of this love and tended to pander to it. Because Mythrin was selling some very nice work, most of it ended up being purchased for Madam Fison.
Inevitably there were complications. Firstly Madam Fison appreciated really good pearls. Mythrin struggled to acquire enough of the appropriate quality to enable her husband and admirers to keep her supplied with presents. Obviously she could buy pearls but decided not to. Let us be honest with each other here, she was making so much money selling on mis-acquired pearls, she couldn’t face the drop of income. Indeed you are entitled to wonder whether she wasn’t getting greedy.
But even as she struggled to provide the ropes of pearls Madam Fison felt entitled to demand from her admirers, Madam Fison provided her with a lifeline. If you knew the lady, you would have noticed that Madam had expensive tastes and not merely in pearls. Her debts to her dressmaker were an order of magnitude larger than her dress allowance. Now she could have raised the matter with her husband, but felt this might deter him from purchasing pearls.
Thus when her dressmaker grew truculent, Madam Fison paid her out of the money set aside for the wine merchant. The wine merchant was paid from the money initially meant to pay the butcher, and I’m sure you can see how matters progressed. Madam Fison found herself shuffling an increasing debt. It was then she had a brainwave. She would pawn a rope of pearls, and who better to approach than Mythrin Calpon?
So Mythrin loaned her a sum of money and then broke the rope up and reassembled the pearls into a necklace that one of Madam’s admirers, Young Beenchkin, purchased to give her. But I don’t want you to think that Mythrin was being reckless. She documented the string of pearls that she had broken up and what is more, saved the catches. So when six months later Madam Fison redeemed the pearls, Mythrin could rebuild the string with the original catches. Given that Madam Fison redeemed the pearls by the simple expedient of pawning another necklace with her, Mythrin had plenty of pearls to work with.
If Madam Fison had been as organised as Mythrin, matters could have proceeded perfectly amicably for years. The problem arose when Madam Fison was caught, in a very compromising position, with one of her admirers. In this case Callus Tallow, of happy memory. I suppose you have to look on the bright side, it wasn’t her husband who stumbled upon the embarrassed couple, it was another of the admirers, Woodend Frummenstal.
At the time I remember being surprised that Madam’s lovers didn’t know about each other, but obviously they didn’t. Both were furious to learn about the existence of the other. There was an almighty row, and both men demanded their pearls back. Given that the alternative could involve them approaching her husband to demand restitution, Madam Fison would have hurled the pearls in their faces with a cry of ‘Good riddance.’ Unfortunately she couldn’t remember exactly who had given her which set of pearls. Not only that but she had a dark suspicion that they had been pawned with Mythrin.
So Mythrin got a frantic note asking for the urgent return of the pearls, with a promise of cash as soon as it could be raised. But inevitably the pearls had already been repurposed and were now in the presence of the gentlemen admirers who were now most unlikely to give them to Madam Fison. At her wits end, Mythrin scraped together what pearls she had, assembled them in an appropriate fashion and sent them, well wrapped, to Madam Fison. This lady summoned her two ex-admirers, belatedly hurled the pearls at them and had them ejected from her premises.
Now, imagine that you are one of these two gentlemen. You suddenly have a surplus of pearls, and obviously need to turn them into cash. Callus Tallow appeared at Mythrin’s door and asked if she would buy the pearls back. She contemplated the pathetic necklace in front of her and with a sense of deep, almost spiritual pain, paid him almost what he had paid her for the excellent set he had purchased. This one transaction ate deep into her savings.
Unfortunately Woodend Frummenstal was less trusting. Perhaps he felt particularly betrayed? He suspected Mythrin might be reluctant to pay what he considered a proper price. So he took the pearls to another jeweller to get what he felt would be an unbiased valuation. The jeweller examined the pearls, pointed out that they were, in all honesty, a very mediocre collection, and offered him a tenth of what he’d expected. He jumped to the obvious conclusion, that Madam Fison had kept his good pearls and had foisted him off with rubbish.
Furious, he stormed into Madam Fison’s house as she dined with her husband and demanded his pearls back. Of course the whole sordid business came out and matters became distinctly unpleasant. Madam’s husband decided that somebody in his household ought to behave honourably and visited Mythrin to collect the pearls that had been pawned so that he could return everything. Mythrin handed him the pearls she had just purchased from the other admirer. She explained that she would have to go to her usurer and collect the other sets, explaining they were held there for safe storage. Master Fison was happy with her explanation and left, taking the pearls with him.
Sorrowfully, Mythrin packed up what she could carry in a single valise and disappeared. I met her in Oiphallarian the last time I was there. She’d gone back to working from house to house, repairing jewellery and selling cheap rings to the bashful swains of kitchen maids. When I met her she showed me a brooch that a maid had sold her. It was crude, probably nomad work. Mythrin was sure she could take it apart and make a profit selling the bits to respectable jewellers.
It did occur to me that you might wish to learn more about Port Naain
When he is asked to oversee the performance of the celebrated ‘Ten Speeches’, Tallis Steelyard realises that his unique gifts as a poet have finally been recognised. He may now truly call himself the leading poet of his generation.
Then the past comes back to haunt him, and his immediate future involves too much time in the saddle, being asked to die in a blue silk dress, blackmail and the abuse of unregulated intoxicants. All this is set in delightful countryside as he is invited to be poet in residence at a lichen festival.
As a reviewer commented, “What’s a poet to do when one of his lady patrons is being blackmailed and his own life may be at risk due to his actions in defending another from attack some time in the past.
How are both these events connected?
Well – read this tale and find out – trust me, it’ll be time well spent.”