I confess to being constantly surprised as to the various hobbies that usurers take up as a form of relaxation. I have known one who made the barrels for barrel organs. I have known usurers who turned to fishing, poetry, adultery, and strong drink. Sometimes all of them in the same evening.
But Grievous Tap has perhaps the strangest, if only because it is so similar to how he spends his days. He will sit all day in his office, totting up columns of figures, cross-examining supplicants and smiling benevolently to those who come to make a deposit. He sits at a table piled high with papers, ledgers bound in hide, deeds to properties written on vellum. Rumour hints that some of the documents that pass across his desk are older than the city of Port Naain. Others claim that he holds the deeds to ‘desirable properties’ situated within demon realms.
During the evening he moves across his hallway to another room, lights a candle and settles down to work at a different pile of documents. Here he chronicles not financial transactions, but little acts of kindness. Apparently many years ago he saw one of his clients walking down the Ropewalk. It was a cobbler known locally as Thub. This was a man that Grievous Tap knew owned nothing but the clothes he stood up in. He knew this because the man had been in discussion with Grievous only that morning, trying to put together a package to enable him to take over his master’s cobbling business now the old man had died. This would allow him to have a roof over his head and would also enable him to propose to the girl he was courting. Grievous, looking at the figures, had been forced to say no. The client needed too much money, the business couldn’t have supported that level of borrowing. A usurer has to treat the money loaned to him as a sacred trust.
So when he saw young Thub pick a silver vintenar off the floor, Grievous felt a pang of pleasure at seeing the young man’s little triumph. At least he would eat that evening. As his client walked on his way rejoicing, Thub spotted two children huddled in a doorway. Without a word he slipped his new found wealth into the outstretched hand of one of the children and made his solitary way back to his sparse lodgings.
It was at that point that Grievous Tap swore that such deeds should not go unnoticed. Somehow, as a usurer, he felt that he was seeing a deposit being made on another ledger, and he felt that it was his role to make sure that that ledger was kept up to date.
Thus every night he will sit up with his other ledger, jotting down such unannounced acts of charity. I confess I was always wondered where he got his information. I would occasionally see something worthy of note. I would drop in to talk to him him, often on my way home from a function. So, for example, when I saw a lady in discussion with a slightly tearful maid, and despatch her to visit her ailing mother in the lady’s personal sedan chair, I would mention it. Similarly I’d see some young woman sitting, apparently entranced, as an older, lonelier, lady recounted a story heard so many times before. Grievous can enter the gift of time into his ledger, I’m not sure of the exact exchange rate for cash, but he seems to know.
But whenever I visited him, there was never anybody else about. But any time, day or night, when I passed his rooms, the candle burned brightly in his office. Indeed one night, late, I was perhaps a little maudlin. It struck me that the old man rarely got out much, I never saw him socialise, indeed I asked myself, ‘did he have any friends?’
So for no other reason that some unvoiced concern, I knocked on his door and let myself in. He was sitting, as always, at his ledger. As I entered the room he genuinely smiled at me over the pile of documents. “Why thank you, Tallis. I am quite well, but all the better for seeing you. Tell me, how is your lady wife.”
This before I had chance to utter a word.
I do wonder, he was writing even as he chatted to me, was my visit noted in his accounts? By mentioning it and perhaps in some way taking credit, have I caused it to be deleted? Who knows? Certainly not I.
But another thing I noticed. If you saw him at the end of the working day, or early in the evening, he would look old and worn out. Yet if you saw him early in the morning, he seemed younger, refreshed, reinvigorated.
Yet he is old, no doubt about it. Young Thub, the cobbler, was a silver-haired old man when I knew him in my youth. His grandchildren were my contemporaries. And through them I heard the tale of how Thub came to start in business. Not long after he had been turned down for a loan by Grievous Tap, he’d had a message saying that Master Tap had something that would be of interest to him. When he arrived at the office, old Grievous had produced a will. It had been left by an elderly maiden lady who had done business with Grievous all her life. In her will she left a portion of her estate to him, ‘to do with as you think best.’
Grievous explained that he thought it best to use these monies to enable Thub to buy the house and business he had been looking for. There were to be no ties or interest payments. Thub and his bride were merely to ensure that they provided shelter for the children on the street who could sleep in the shed which came with the house.
Thub, somewhat surprised, had accepted the terms of the deal and stuck to them. His wife not merely kept the shed clean, but every evening brought in hot water and made sure there were always blankets there. Without even discussing it, the couple had bread and cheese available for any child who tapped on their door, no matter what time of day or night. I always felt that Grievous Tap would smile quietly as he noted these details down in his ledger.
But one question I’ve never found an answer to. I suppose I could always ask Grievous Tap, he would doubtless give me an honest reply. Yet between ourselves, I’ve never worked up the courage to ask. Who is Grievous keeping this set of accounts for? To who will he finally hand them and what do they intend to do with them?
Now you might want to delve more deeply into life in Port Naain. Should you wish to chose Tallis as your guide then where to start?
A complete guide to the jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard is available at