Every so often somebody will make a comment and you’ll let it pass over your head. And then, half an hour later, as you cross a busy street, the full impact of the comment strikes you and you’re nearly run down by a brewer’s dray as you forget to concentrate on what is happening around you.
It was just that a lady of my acquaintance used the phrase, “The Orchidaceous Maljie.” I stopped in the middle of Ropewalk, saying to myself, “There has to be a story in that.” Then I had to dive to one side as a great dray horse pushed past me. Given I haven’t seen that lady much recently and have no doubt that I am unlikely to bump into her in the near future, thus I abandoned speculation and merely concentrated on avoiding a team of increasingly irate equines.
But then I felt called upon to visit Naldent Garrond. I have described him recently as one of Port Naain’s most successful serial philanderers. Admittedly it has always been a crowded field but I feel he held his place within it. Now interestingly I find most of his fellow womanisers a sad crowd. The greater number of them seem unable to pass a mirror without stopping to preen a little more. Still if it were not for them, makers of hair dye would face straitened times indeed. After all, there are only so many racehorses anybody needs to disguise and I have never yet met a lady who admitted to ever using it.
But Naldent was somehow different. I have sat in a bar with him and spent a pleasant evening. He is witty and well-read without being pretentiously erudite and can tell a good story without embarrassing anybody but himself. Indeed he never seemed to take himself too seriously.
I had not seen him about and was wondering what he was up to, when somebody told me that he was ill. When I asked ‘how ill,’ they just shook their head, tight lipped. So I decided to call upon him. He had rooms in a building in the Merchant Quarter. A small kitchen, a small bedroom with a single bed, and a small parlour, nicely furnished. By far the largest room was his study which also served as a library. I had once quizzed him about his accommodation. To put it tactfully it wasn’t the sort of place I would expect him to invite a lady back to. Admittedly I knew several ladies who would have been delighted to visit it, his library was good. But still they were not the sort he was normally seen cultivating.
When I raised the matter with him, he was almost cross.
“Tallis, I am, if nothing else, a man of good taste and discernment. I do not seduce shy young things with no place to call their own. If a lady is not willing to make the effort to invite me into the marital bed then frankly, we can never be more than friends.”
This time when I visited I could barely hear him answer my knock. He had made up a bed on the couch in his parlour and frankly looked distinctly ill. We chatted a while, but he was obviously tired so I made him a hot drink and left him with it. Anyway I mentioned him to Maljie when I was at the shrine. She too was concerned and promised she’d drop in to see him.
Next day I again dropped in on him and brought with me some hot soup I’d begged from a patron who remembered Naldent fondly. I sat with him and assisted him eat the soup and it seemed to help him. Certainly he seemed stronger and we sat talking for a while. He was reminiscing and I picked up the courage to ask how he had drifted into philandering. He paused.
“Tallis, do you know my brother?”
“Well Talbot is a collector.”
He most certainly was. He collected orchids. He had a nice house in quite large grounds. I would suspect that he had more space in his glasshouses than he had in the brick one he lived in. Indeed a lady living three houses away who was slightly allergic to orchids had eventually given up and moved house. I mean, I quite like orchids. But Talbot takes it to excess.
“I can see that Naldent.”
“Tallis, all men are collectors. It’s what we do. It’s built into us.”
Now frankly I’d never thought of that. So, thinking even as I spoke, I said, “All of us, Naldent. Even me?” I suppose I paused and he smiled weakly as he watched me thinking. Then I said, “Well I suppose I collect poems.”
“No Tallis. You write poems. You collect patrons. When was the last time you turned down somebody wanting to be a patron? No matter how unsuitable.”
“But I owe a duty to my muse.”
“Nonsense. Your muse! What in Aea’s name did your muse say when you accepted as a patron that illiterate clog dancer and his mates?”
“Well they wanted poetry and I gave them poetry.”
“Tallis, they wanted poetry because they couldn’t afford a musician and realised that the rhythms and cadences of poetry would give them something else to dance to.”
“It was a damned good night.”
“And how much did they pay you?”
“Well they were on their uppers as it was, but they bought me a beer every time somebody bought a round, and refused to let me buy one.” I smiled at the memory. “Yes, it was a good night.”
“As I said, my brother collects orchids, you collect patrons. I collect ladies. I collect for much the same reason as my brother collects orchids. I love them, I’m utterly entranced by them, and they are almost divine creatures. I cannot spend enough time in their company, just listening to them talk.”
“Well why not marry one?”
“What collector only ever collected one of anything?”
It was at this point that my memory, obviously jogged whilst I was thinking about something else, finally attracted my attention. “Naldent, that reminds me. I need to speak to your brother Talbot.”
“Don’t tell me, one of your patrons is having trouble with her orchids?”
“Well, I’ve recommended him to a number of them over the years. But no. Somebody described Maljie to me as orchidaceous. I thought I’d ask him if he’s any idea about what they meant by it.”
Naldent was almost dismissive. “It was me who first used that description of her. Talbot once asked me if I’d thought of marrying her. I gestured around his garden and told him, “She’s a beautiful orchid, allow her to grow in the wild. Keep her as a houseplant she’ll still be pretty but she’ll be awfully difficult to look after.”
I must admit that amused me. “You’ll be able to tell her that yourself soon. When I left the shrine she was brushing off her robes as a stipendiary maiden penitent. I think she’ll be on her way to give you the last rites.”
Naldent turned pale, then he leapt off his couch, grabbed a jacket from the back of the chair and fled. As he went out of the door I heard him shout, “Let yourself out, Tallis. The door will lock itself, I’ve got a key.”
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As a reviewer commented, “This author has created a rich world, filled with interesting characters – of whom Maljie is one of the most colourful. Her life and adventures are presented though the gossip of the poet Tallis Steelyard who has a sharp eye and a sharper tongue. Reminiscent somewhat of Pepys’ diaries about the small and large events of London, Tallis is a better writer. And why is Mr Webster dangerous – too much of my money is being spent on his books.”