Just Good Friends

Walgrim Towe was a clerk in a large usurer’s office. He was, in spite of his unprepossessing appearance, a happily married man, husband of a wife he adored, and father of five delightful children. His one foible was that he liked to sit, drink one glass of aniseed flavoured spirit (and not a large glass) and smoke one tube of lichen. As an aside, smoking lichen in tubes probably dates him. It was all the rage amongst a certain wild set perhaps thirty years ago. Most smoke their lichen in a pipe, or allow it to stand in a bottle of spirit for a month or two and then sip the spirit. But Walgrim, loyal to the foibles of his youth, clung to his tubes.

What set him apart was that he wanted to drink and smoke in absolute silence, and this is difficult to come by. Fortunately he had an accomplice. Milli Varmon. Milli had worked in The Old Smoke since she was tall enough to see over the tables. Now, somewhat older, somewhat wiser, married with two children of her own, she ran the back bar of the Old Smoke.

At some point Walgrim had said something about quiet, probably through gritted teeth, and Milli had sympathised with him. She too treasured quiet. So she had a quiet word with the owner. He was amenable. So for half an hour, the back bar was officially an oasis of silence and Walgrim and Milli would sit in companionable silence. The only time they exchanged a word was when Walgrim proffered one of his tubes, and Milli took one with thanks.
His drink drunk, his tube smoked, Walgrim would eventually rise, nod politely to Milli who would also stand. She would get back to work, refreshed by her quiet time, and Walgrim would return home and throw himself into supper, games and bedtime stories.

Walgrim was wise, he mentioned Milli to his lady wife. She discovered Milli’s two children were both younger than hers, so she would give Walgrim bundles of clothes to pass down. Milli, discovering that Madam Towe was partial to a particular tonic wine, ensured that Walgrim could purchase it from their stocks at a considerable discount from the normal price. All in all, entirely civilised.

Now somehow word got out. Apparently there are others who are partial to peace and quiet. Patrons would ask, politely, if they were allowed to sit in the back bar. They were allowed in on probation and once accepted, their place was kept for them and their drink already poured. Indeed during the magical half hour, even patrons in the main bar would tend to try and mute their conversations. It has to be mentioned that a high proportion of the patrons were women. Many of them would arrive an hour or so early and read quietly, putting their books away for the half hour lest the turning of the pages disturbed their fellows.

It was some years later that Milli and the other employees were called in by the owner who explained that he was going to sell. He felt that he had got to an age when it would make sense if he did more fishing and less working. This set Milli thinking. Indeed as Walgrim was leaving after finishing his drink, she told him, and shared her fears that a new management might not be as sympathetic.

Walgrim went home and discussed the matter with his wife. Next day when he went to work, he asked for time to discuss matters with his employer, Granthan Driftwrack, son and successor to Tarran Driftwrack. That evening as he arrived at the back bar of The Old Smoke he silently placed a note on every table, next to the waiting glass.

As he stood up to leave, one of the other patrons raised a hand as if asking permission to speak. Milli nodded to him and somewhat hoarsely he asked, “I’ve read your note, I like the idea of us buying the Old Smoke. How much do you want?”

Walgrim explained the price the owner was looking for and explained that Granthan Driftwrack was willing to advance a proportion of the money if they couldn’t raise it all. He didn’t name a figure for each of them, but anybody looking round the bar and counting heads could work that out for themselves.

Next evening, as the back bar started to fill prior to the silence, the only noise was the chink of coin as people dropped their bags of money on Walgrim’s table. By the time Walgrim arrived home to his wife and family, he was chairman of a board of shareholders who now owned the Old Smoke, outright.

Of course nothing really changed. Milli moved up to manage the whole establishment but still spent her half hour in the back bar. Indeed the new management formalised the quiet policy, and whilst the back bar was the only part that had total silence, the rest of the establishment was quiet. Indeed I have spent time in rowdier libraries. Yet as always, somebody has to object.

This time it was the musicians. Whilst I wouldn’t say they made a good living playing in ale houses and similar, it was at least a living, and there was a not unreasonable fear that other establishments might go the way of the Old Smoke, by popular demand. Thus they complained that the Old Smoke had violated the terms of its licence, as it was licenced for the sale of alcohol in all its forms, the sale and smoking of such lichens as are not specifically prohibited by law, and the provision of entertainment and dancing. The Sinecurists appointed a magistrate to pronounce on the matter. As is their wont when faced with this sort of issue, they appointed Chard Hunit, performance poet, mad genius, and occasional magistrate.

I made a point of being at the hearing. I wasn’t a regular at the Old Smoke but rather cherished it. When we were all assembled, Chard Hunit entered. The robes of a Magistrate in Port Naain are impressive. Especially when worn by someone with the figure for them. Chard was tall. The shoulder length hair that he wore with a headband framed his gaunt face making him look like some warrior prince from ancient legend. The long black samite robe flapped about his heels as he walked, the stiffened shoulder guards of black leather exaggerated his physique and the metal hobnails in his calf length black boots rang out. He sat, bold upright, in the curial chair and gestured for the first witnesses.

To be fair, the musicians as the principle protagonists, rather spoiled their case. It would have gone better for them had they formed a united front, but you know how it is with musicians. They range from the unworldly to those who are far too worldly for their own good, and form more mutually antagonistic cliques than poets can manage. And each clique holds the other groups in the sort of contempt that even the writers of literary novels struggle to match. It didn’t help that one attempted to put his evidence in song.

There were others who were wary of the Old Smoke, but to be fair to them, they didn’t mind what the Old Smoke did, they didn’t want anybody else doing it. There I could sympathise. We need places for merry banter, impromptu drollery, and even, Aea help us, song.

Then the defence was called. The first witness was Lancet Foredeck. I was surprised by this, after all he’s a performance poet and I couldn’t see how he could fit in. But he praised the Old Smoke to the skies. He described the half hour, but portrayed it as living theatre, performance at its finest. He’d obviously been there more often than I had because he captured the poses, the way that the slowly moving of the evening ight played with the shadows. When he finished, Chard stood up, strode to the witness box and clutched Lancet to him, proclaiming that he could die secure in the knowledge that the city still had great performance poets to follow in his footsteps. He had feared his art was doomed but now knew it would live on and even flourish.

That rather brought the proceedings to an end. Chard returned to his chair and announced he had come to his decision. Whilst it is the inalienable right of a working man, or anybody else for that matter, to sing, dance, get falling over drunk and make an exhibition of themselves before being dragged off by the watch, it is not a duty. So whilst he agreed that the city didn’t need the Old Smoke to become a model for its drinking establishments, he decreed that the Old Smoke had the right to follow the road it was taking.

Apparently next day, Milli brought in cake for everyone. It was sponge cake so nobody need fear inadvertently making a noise as they ate it.


Should you wish to know more about Port Naain


As a reviewer commented, “Benor tackles various mysteries in this collection of stories. From a lady who wants to search for her missing husband (who doesn’t want to be found!) to vetting suitors for young ladies, he is ever helpful to the fairer sex. He also takes on sleeping in a haunted house. And, as they say, much more. Those of us who loves these tales of life in Port Naain feel we are putting on comfy slippers and a cardy to relax in the presence of favourite people. I loved it!”

23 thoughts on “Just Good Friends

    1. We’ve not been too bad, we’re in the west. The photo below shows (if it appears) a picture taken some time back and one in the last week. As you can see a lot of the west of the country is still green. It’s been dry and a hot summer, but for us, not bad
      As usual, if it’s bad in the South East, the BBC melts down and claims the country is in crisis 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  1. That drink in the picture is surely Absinthe, my libation of choice? A quiet 30 minutes and a glass of that nectar is the best way to wind down, I have no doubt.
    If only my wife would allow me to open the bottle I have in the cupboard. I promised her I would have just one glass of it, but for some reason she didn’t believe me.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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