I suppose it was Ansi Tweelmore who was the inadvertent ‘spark’ that ignited this particular movement. She wished to abscond with her lover. In preparation for this she had been quietly defrauding her employer of a considerable quantity of cash. Finally she had sold the house in which she lived with her husband and children. This specific financial transaction had the potential to be particularly embarrassing as they were merely tenants. She intended to cover her traces by leaving a trail of chaos behind her.
It must be said that I know a number of people who seem to follow a similar policy. Take my friend Lancet Foredecks. As a performance artist he seems to pass casually through life, shielded from retribution by the pandemonium he can leave in his wake. Still, Ansi Tweelmore was more calculating in her planning and when comparing her to Lancet, this may have been her downfall. Perhaps, if you intend to produce chaos, the results are better if you cause it by inattention rather than careful planning? Admittedly spontaneity works better when well planned, but it may be that disorder thrives on casual neglect?
Some days before she intended to depart, she had a glazier replace one of the lights in her divided windows. The house had the affectation of diagonal glazing bars, so each of the lights was diamond shaped. She provided the glazier with a pane that was designed to act like a lens. They were marginally popular at one time. With a normal divided window the reflection appears to dance subtly as you pass. With the lens, that particular light gave you an element of magnification. On the morning she left, she placed an ornamental glass globe filled with water on the table. Next to the bowl she left a pile of dark coloured darning.
Her planning initially went well, her husband assumed that she’d just left early for her job working for one of the major usurers. He went off to work, unloading boats at Stonecutter Wharf. He took the children to their dame school on his way.
Ansi’s plan failed by pure chance. Tiggatha, ‘the woman who does,’ came in a day early because she’d taken on another lady to clean for. By the time she arrived in the front parlour the pile of darning was smouldering. She acted with brisk efficiency. She put the smouldering cloth in the sink, emptied the globe over them and left it on the sideboard with a brief note to her employer explaining what she had done and why.
Master Tweelmore had the children read the note to him when he got home. As he struggled to work out what his wife had been thinking of. His bemusement was increased by the arrival of a posse of senior clerks from his wife’s office, and a rather pompous gentleman who claimed to be the proud owner of the house Tweelmore was living in.
All in all the story rather caught the public imagination. There was something of a hue and cry but when it was obvious that Ansi had disappeared, the usurer and the cheated purchaser did what one does in these circumstances. They posted a bounty for the return of the money (with a small bonus for the return of the criminal) and sat back to await results.
Yet Balshat Crany, inventor and man of science, had read of Ansi’s attempt to burn her house down with growing interest. Now obviously the focusing power of a glass lens has been known to savants for centuries. Indeed even using one lens to focus the rays onto a smaller secondary lens had been shown to increase the heat produced. “But,” mused Balshat, “How much heat could you get?”
For Balshat, there was only one thing to do. He must experiment. He started comparatively small, with something resembling an inverted telescope, but then went for larger and large lenses. Indeed he may have got carried away in his research because he discovered that various sorts of glass had different properties. Indeed he started experimenting with lenses made up of several components. But eventually he was ready with his lenses. He had his artisans build an appropriate carriage to hold them, and after a few days practicing in private, he decided to bring out his apparatus and exhibit its abilities in public.
The demonstration was most impressive. He was able to melt iron.
Immediately it caused something of a sensation. Whilst his apparatus was not cheap, to an iron founder, the cost was almost derisory. Similarly rather than needing scores of men shovelling, one gentleman in a decent jacket could do the work. Not only that, but the metal gained no extra impurities, indeed there was some discussion as to whether it was in point of fact purer than it had been before it was melted by the lenses.
It took an afternoon’s rain to damp their ardour. After all, how many days of bright sunshine do we have in Port Naain? Traditional methods worked when it was raining, or even at night. So whilst Balshat Crany wasn’t carried shoulder high as the saviour of the industry, he did sell several of his mechanisms. Most of the manufacturers wanted one tucked away in a quiet corner of the yard, to be brought out on the right day for the special jobs.
When Balshat had been doing his demonstration, Melton Renam had chanced to pass and he stopped to watch, fascinated. Melton wasn’t a metal worker, he was a cook and was generally considered to be pre-eminent in the city. Whilst he had no interest in melting iron, it struck him that this was a source of heat which would cook food without the risk of smoke and smuts adding strange overtones to the flavour. After the demonstration he sought out Balshat and the two men talked. Melton left Balshat’s workshop dragging behind him a far smaller version of the mechanism.
This he set up by the open window of his kitchen. Fortunately it faced south. For some weeks he experimented. Whilst roasts turned on a spit were less than satisfactory, anything that had to be boiled or stewed worked very well. I chatted to one of his kitchen porters. They were unsure what to make of it all. Most kitchens are ridiculously hot places, filled with steam and even smoke. Yet thanks to the source of heat and the open window, if you worked in Melton’s experimental kitchen, you had to wear another jacket otherwise you would feel the cold.
Eventually Melton was ready for the launch. Cunningly he launched his new, ‘pure food’ menu for diners to sample as they sat in a marquee one beautiful summer afternoon. Given that it was Melton cooking, the food was guaranteed to be excellent anyway. The new method he was using certainly didn’t detract from the flavours. It was considered a success.
Immediately other, lesser, cooks would follow where one of the greats had led. Balshat did very well, selling considerable numbers of his middle sized apparatus. Indeed some of my patrons purchased one. I well remember drinking infusions in the garden of one lady who had boiled the water using a ‘Balshat Crany Patented Kettle.’ It was quite a talking point. Indeed the fact she was still using it many years later shows not merely the excellence of construction but that the contrivance worked well in the garden when the weather was fine.
For cooks the results were less satisfactory. It was eventually realised that Malton Renam had spotted the best way forward with the mechanism. Every summer various establishments will offer a ‘pure food’ banquet, taken on their lawns. For lesser cooks, their ‘Crany Cooker’ was merely another reason for them serving up food that was tepid, barely cooked, and overpriced.
But whilst Balshat Crany had done surprisingly well out of the whole episode, what about Ansi Tweelmore?
In Partann, the bounty hunters, (Malis and Gevaise Meng, a married couple whose aura of polite respectability meant they achieved a high level of success) arrived at a bad time for Ansi and her paramour. Ansi’s horse had gone lame and in a fit of stupidity, the paramour had attempted to steal a replacement horse from an Urlan matron. This lady was taking a much longed for hunting trip on her own to celebrate the fact that her almost grownup children were now off her hands. She took his head with a casual stroke that proved that she hadn’t lost her edge over the years.
Ansi, keen to avoid the same fate, claimed that she was the dead man’s prisoner. In a fit of misguided inspiration she claimed she was the wife of a farmer who lived in a squalid cottage they had recently passed. The Urlan matron, Nina Vectkin, courteously restored the expensively dressed Ansi to her bemused husband and his equally bemused wife. It was at this point that Malis and Gevaise Meng arrived on the scene. Ansi dashed into the single ill-furnished room and looked round for somewhere to hide. The room was so small that the bed (a box bed with a heather mattress) took up nearly a third of the space. She hastily threw off her clothes and jumped into bed, claiming that the shock of her ordeal left her unable to face visitors. Nina Vectkin gathered up the clothes and presented them to the Mengs. She also gave them the money she had recovered from the paramour whose head was already dangling from her saddle.
Thus the money, minus the recovery fee, was returned to those who had been cheated. As for Nina Vectkin, she spent the rest of the summer and autumn hunting in the area. This allowed Nina to keeping eye on Ansi as she went about her farm work, wearing the hand-me-down clothes given her by the senior wife. As the first snows fell, and Ansi showed definite signs of pregnancy, Nina rode east over the Aphices for home.
For those who may have underestimated the technical competence of the good folk of Port Naain, this book might make enlightening reading!
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As a reviewer commented, “
Maljie and Tallis start by taking action to protect their incumbent from being involuntarily removed from her post in order to serve the ambitions of Battass Droom. They then have to go on to protect each other from being elected Patriarch, which is, by definition, a job best done by somebody who does NOT want the appointment.
The efforts to achieve their aims become steadily more and more tortuous, including an attempt to delay a key meeting by employing such diverse methods as elaborate food poisoning and a trebuchet with an unusual payload, a race against time involving a one way balloon ride and having, temporarily, two Patriarchs (or are they non-Patriarchs?) with too much time on their hands.
Along the way, Jim takes delight in lampooning bureaucracy and its devotees, with some jaw-dropping moments that challenge the way things work. What would be non sequiturs anywhere else are hilariously believable in Port Naain and make you consider “real life” in a new light.
Do NOT read this book anywhere that full volume belly laughs are not socially acceptable.”