Properly brought up

Madam Celeria Haren had been properly brought up. She had, in her youth, attended Dame Ralash’s school for ‘young maidens of humble family up to the age of thirteen.’ Thus and so, this is how she had entered my life. She was a generation older than my lady wife, but when Shena had decided to become a Mud Jobber, she needed some funds. Dame Ralash had no hesitation. She ran a beady mental eye down the list of ‘old girls’ she had committed to memory and after barely a moment’s thought commended Shena to Madam Haren.

Now it so happened that Madam Haren was married to Master Thalwittle Haren, who was a minor partner of the usurer Sinian Var. Sinian Var, was, in his day, reputed to be the wealthiest usurer in Port Naain. He had very few clerks, those who were at all competent were promoted to junior partners. The work was the same, the hours were as long, and the remuneration, if anything, was more uncertain. But if you pulled off a good piece of work, you saw the benefit in your account book, and there was a small annual bonus for partners which was worth having. Madam Haren arranged for her husband to lend Shena his annual bonus.

Within the year, Shena had paid the money back, but had remained on good terms with both Celeria and Thalwittle, as they insisted she call them. Indeed I think she benefited much from their wise advice and guidance over the years. Indeed when I married Shena they treated me much as one might treat a vaguely disreputable son-in-law who you hope your daughter can ‘make something of.’

Madam Haren was widowed comparatively young, I doubt she was much over fifty. She commented that the ladies of her family struggled to keep their men alive, her own father had died at much the same age. Yet on her fiftieth birthday, Madam Haren, accompanied by her two daughters with their own daughters in tow, collected Madam Haren’s mother and went as a clan to visit Madam Haren’s grandmother who was well into her nineties and still remarkably hale. (She insisted on hale, anybody using the term ‘spry’ would get a walking stick applied firmly to any part of their anatomy within easy reach.)
Madam Haren’s problem was that whilst her husband had not left her destitute, she was not well off. Even when married she had been careful, I was occasionally called in to help with a small party of a dozen couples. Madam would be her own cook, her luxury was ‘a lady who does’ who came in three days a week to clean, and a maid she shared with her mother and grandmother. (This maid was a remarkable young woman who effectively oversaw three households with brisk efficiency, as well as being married with children of her own. Indeed the children were regularly put to work at various domestic tasks.)

When widowed, Madam Haren needed employment. But what? Fortunately she was rescued by Sinian Varm. He was not a sociable individual, but had always felt duty bound to support his partners. So when Madam Haren invited him to the small affairs she organised, he would turn up and make a few self-deprecating remarks about his lack of small talk. He would share a glass with the company, toast them with a second glass, wishing them all good health, and would then quietly leave, letting the guests get on with their evening.

But when his son, Sinian Var the younger, joined the business, he pointed out that they would entertain more. Indeed he intimated that the business might even have to develop a ‘more outgoing image.’ Old Sinian suggested they hire Madam Haren, and his son, who had no more social graces than his father, jumped at the idea. So Madam Haren found herself gainfully employed.

Part of her job involved keeping the diaries for father and son, ensuring they saw the people they needed to see as well as just the people who needed to see them. Every week they would have a modest meal for perhaps a dozen people for business discussions. Every month they would have a much wider gathering which would involve a buffet and even dancing. At this point Madam summoned me and to an extent I was at her right hand during this period.

What people forgot was that Madam Haren was busy. There were grandmother duties as she helped her daughters. But also she was constantly being called upon to help her own mother and grandmother. A lady in her seventies can, with very little encouragement, get into more trouble, more quickly, than even the most headstrong teenaged daughter. I have seen it, I vouch for it. I put it down to greater experience. So on one occasion, Madam and I are supervising a ball of modest size, when the maid’s youngest son appeared. “Mam sez you got to do something about Gramma.”

Without hesitation, Madam turned to me, “Could you deal with this please Tallis.”
I followed the boy to where the Grandmother had had an argument with two sedan chair bearers. One had fled and the other was cowering in his own chair, desperately trying to keep the doors closed as Grandmother circled watchfully, waiting for an opening. I hailed her, asked about a recipe she had for rum truffle. Immediately she turned her mind to important matters and we made our way back to her house where she wrote down the recipe for me. (And most excellent it is as well.)

Then there was the occasion where Madam sent me to deal with her mother. Apparently the lady had been insulted by a petty Partannese lordling at a ball and had returned home early, and was demanding vengeance. As I jogged through the streets to her house I saw the great mercenary captain, Pardo Fuen, just taking a stroll. I explained my problem and asked for his assistance. Together we called upon the mother and gravely listened to her complaint. I deferred to Pardo as the professional. He laid out a scheme where he would take a force of five hundred lances (these were proper lances, each had a man at arms, a second, lesser man at arms, a squire who could also fight on horseback in the third rank if need be, as well as a crossbowman and a spearman who would guard the camp.) plus several companies of infantry. He laid it all out for us, the rapid approach marches, the screening forces to keep enemy reinforcements at bay, then the swift escalade before the enemy even knew our forces were in the area. Pardo virtually guaranteed that the villain would be dangling from his own gallows within a month, and all for less than five thousand alars.

Mother blanched at this, and Pardo then offered an alternative. He could detail one of his men at arms to have a quiet word with this uncouth lout and deal with the matter both swiftly, and more importantly, free. Mother jumped at this option and Pardo bowed and promised to expedite matters. I have no idea what was said, but three days later a wagon pulled up outside mother’s house and she was presented with a well written letter of apology, a huge bouquet of flowers, and a butt of excellent wine. She sent a nice letter back to the gentleman and a further letter to Pardo thanking him for whatever it was he had done.

But back to Madam Haren. It got to the stage that whilst Sinian Var was a most generous employer, she was contemplating asking him to put me on the payroll. Just as she was Sinian Var’s personal assistant, I was virtually hers. Luckily the Vars, father and son, were also finding things a bit hectic. They summoned Madam and me to a meeting. Actually it was a relaxed evening meal over which we chatted about this and that, the idea being that after the meal we would adjourn to one of the small side rooms for a quiet chat over coffee during which we would plan the next few months. We sat down in comfortable armchairs, and an hour later the head waiter awoke us by coughing politely. At this point the meeting was resumed and it was agreed that the social programme would be brusquely curtailed. Still Madam Haren retained her position supervising their diaries, and I was occasionally summoned to look after her mother or grandmother. I would get a note, “Tallis, please keep that blasted woman out of my hair, if only for an evening.”


Should you wish to know more about the activities of Tallis Steelyard

As a reviewer commented, “

When unavoidable circumstances meet with unfortunate events, as Tallis Steelyard could no doubt tell you, the only option is to run like hell.

However for Tallis that meant winding up on a flatboat being towed behind a steamer. His adventures include a contribution to opera, absconding with religious tomes, a friendly – if at times rather dangerous – rivalry with the crew of another flatboat, being the judge of a local flower show, nomad attacks, a well-educated mule and a mysterious ancient cult.

Jim Webster is one of those authors who makes me wish for a louder voice so more might hear about and discover his works. They are simply wonderful.

There is nothing quite like a Tallis Steelyard adventure. It has pathos, humour, danger and a uniquely engaging, secret, unidentifiable ingredient all of its own which Mr Webster must keep as close to his chest as Coca-Cola.

So if you have never been introduced to Tallis Steelyard before, this is a great place to meet him. If you know him well and have yet to take his boating adventure then delay no longer.

Either way, this is a wonderful book that will surely delight you.”

17 thoughts on “Properly brought up

  1. A ‘Mud-Jobber’. That career interests me. Currently, I walk Ollie in the mud every day, free of charge to anyone. I am now wondering if I could turn my own version of ‘Mud-Jobbng’ into gainful employment. There is no doubt concerning my credentials, and my extensive experience is plain for all in Beetley to see. (And to wonder at.)
    I eagerly await your advice.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The mud-jobber acts as a broker for the shore-combers. The shore-comber presents to the mud-jobber what they have found in the estuary that day and the mud-jobber will assess the value, trying to work out who they can sell it on to, and will offer the shore-comber a price based on this. As you can imagine it is a skilled operation. Should Ollie present you with a bit of wood found in the mud, you would have to assess it, decide that it rather than merely being firewood, it had a certain shapeliness and would attract a higher bid from an artist looking for natural materials
      There is a career there for the person with the eye for it

      Liked by 1 person

      1. But the basic principles hold good, I’m sure that between you and Ollie you could find enough bizarre rubbish to supply an entire artist’s colony


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