Old enough to know better

Obviously no tale about behaviour this petty could have originated in Port Naain. In point of fact I came across it in Avitas one year when I was spending a season there. I was both remarkably successful in Avitas at the time, and I had a dark suspicion that memories in Port Naain had not yet faded.

But it was in Avitas that I came upon Seldon Veracity. He was a lawyer’s clerk of considerable antiquity. Of such considerable antiquity that he was no longer employed as such, but he felt that the chambers would have collapsed utterly were he not to attend to keep things in order, so he still spent a considerable amount of time there.

He did stop me in the street at one point to berate me about my standard of dress. I pointed out that I was a poet, not an undertaker, and I dressed to meet the expectations of my patrons (who tend to be ladies with a fine eye for colour and style) and felt no particular need to pander to the whims of elderly busybodies. Normally I would be less brusque but he had caught me at a bad time on a busy day, as I was crossing the town at a jog, committing several poems to memory so they could be delivered ‘spontaneously’ if need be. Thus he wasn’t just wasting time, he was breaking my concentration.

He informed me sternly that, ‘I am the chief clerk of Fortmattan, Cheespar, and Grand. I am not used to being spoken to in this fashion.’

I merely tipped my hat, congratulated him on his managing to savour new experiences at his obviously advanced age, and left.

When I arrived at the event I was attending, my patron, Madam Balfallan, commented I seemed a little put out. I described my trip across town and her husband, who was also listening, laughed uproariously.

“It is obvious, Tallis, that you have met the redoubtable Seldon Veracity.”
“I have? He is so obvious?”

“He is. Fortmattan, Cheespar, and Grand have not been in partnership for some years. Cheadle Grand retired years ago and his place in the partnership was taken by his granddaughter, an up and coming young lawyer, called Sophie, but as she is married she has decided that she is Sophie Maughold, rather than Sophie Grand. Old Seldon cannot cope with a women in the law and he steadfastly refuses to accept her existence. Indeed when he is in the office he tries to get her good cases passed on to others, and when he sits drinking small beer with his cronies he tells them she isn’t a lawyer, that she’s been reported to the Avitas Lawyers Circle as an imposter, and that he knows for a fact she is to be tarred and feathered and driven out of the town.”
“And people put up with it?”
“Well if you go to the Wig and Pen, they drink in his every word. At least as long as he’s buying. It was originally a bar where lawyers were in the habit of taking lunch. Indeed when I started out in trade, it was known that if you hadn’t a lawyer and needed one, the Wig and Pen was an excellent place to start looking. Now, it’s a lot of elderly nobodies practicing obsolete rituals with great seriousness, because they have nothing else to do.”

Later that evening my host thought to introduce me to Sophie Maughold and her husband.

“Tallis, this is Sophie Maughold of Fortmattan, Cheespar, and Maughold. Sophie, this is Tallis Steelyard, a poet from Port Naain.”

Sophie allowed me to kiss her hand. “Tallis, whilst I have you, my husband and I must pick your brains. I have been asked by Tildus Thallawell to take up a partnership in his firm in Port Naain. I am pondering it, but wondered about the man himself.”

What could I say? I am not a close acquaintance of the man, but I have met him, worked a little with him and I genuinely respect him; for all that he is as mad as the the whims of elderly busybodies. He is so well regarded by the rest of his profession that no other lawyer would boast that they were the best lawyer in Port Naain. I remember one did say that whilst not the best, he was perhaps the most reasonable lawyer in the city. Within days he received a letter from Thallawell commenting that he had great hopes of him, and that one day he was sure he would aspire to the eccentricity necessary to be a truly great lawyer.

But in reality, old Thallawell doesn’t suffer fools, and if he had a high enough opinion of Sophie to make her this offer, she had to be very good.

Anyway, she took him up on the offer and prepared to move to Port Naain. But clearly Seldon Veracity got to hear of it. It so happened that I had been invited by somebody to dine with them in the Wig and Pen (If you can ignore the clientele which is easily done as they delight in snubbing the stranger), the bar does do a good pie and the beer is better than acceptable. So I was present when Seldon Veracity burst it. He saw his cronies seated at their usual table and announced to them in a loud voice that Sophie Maughold was fleeing the town under the cover of darkness and was going to end up living a life of idleness, debauchery and vice in Port Naain. His friends actually ordered more drink and drank toasts to Veracity’s success in getting rid of her.

It was therefore a little unfortunate for him that next day she came into the office to collect various papers and to ensure that a number of trials would be covered by others. Her first question was, “Why has my name been removed from the door.”

Given that I’d seen an elderly but hooded figure struggling to unscrew the plaque in the middle of the night I could have guessed at the right answer. As it was Seldon went round telling everybody (even people who’d never asked and weren’t sure what was going on) that it hadn’t been him. I’m surprised he didn’t say that ‘a big boy did it and ran off.’

Still when the partners and staff gathered to share a final drink with Sophie and to raise a glass to her success, Seldon was at his most emollient. He stood up with a glass in his hand, and said that Sophie had been not a bad lawyer when she’d been with them, and he had been delighted to guide her and work with her. He then went on to expound at length about how much excellent work he’d done for the partnership and what an all-round fine chap he was. One of the partners commented later that Seldon cannot take a sedan chair because he spends so much time telling the bearers how wonderful he is, they charge him double.


Should you wish to know more of like in Port Naain

As a reviewer commented, “Tallis Steelyard: A Guide for Writers, and Other Stories by Jim Webster is as advertised, a collection of stories with different themes. I will look at only a few of the twenty-six tales. The School for Assassins under the title Tidying Up Loose Ends is remarkable in its tone. In some areas of Tallis Steelyard World, purposeful and planned killing is accepted; it is the casual acceptance portrayed in the story that I find worthy of attention. There are several sections on writing (per the title). Tallis will comment on the associated functions of publishing and promotion. If you are a writer, an avid reader, a reviewer, a publisher, or a person who attends events for the free food and drink, these sections are not to be missed. Readers may find themselves portrayed in one of the groups. The section on writers who write about writing for fun, profit, and financial independence will stick in my mind for a long time. Webster uses humor rather than a direct assault on the commission of scams by charlatans. I believe the author is holding back on “saying what he really thinks.”

The unsurpassed beauty of Tallis Steelyard creations is the elegant language used with precision to separate the occasional absurd from the daily mundane then remixing to produce entertaining stories. I like to select favorite quotes because there is no better way to illustrate what I find to be a unique writing style. This five-star collection reminds me of a quote from a film (possibly paraphrased). “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never quite know what you are going to get.” (Attributed to F. Gump). Readers will find literary candy of many varieties in this “guide.”

The importance of getting home under your own steam ***** Readers might guess by this story’s title that there is alcohol involved. True, but it was Bongo’s birthday. The passing of years brought Bongo to maudlin reflection on a boring life. Tallis and company decided that if Bongo could be transported home on a palanquin carried by a score of naked harlots, at least the birthday party would be a point of interest in Bongo’s otherwise humdrum life.

I will point out one feature of why Tallis Steelyard stories are great. Look at the word “naked;” it is OK to free associate. Then “By the time the wine was finished I was somehow surrounded by nearly three dozen young women dressed much as nature had intended.” (Kindle location 53). Further interesting imagery comes to mind. The narrator is not vulgar or offensive and does not employ “shock” terminology to describe weird situations. Bongo’s wife was not offended; readers should follow her example.

Not perhaps the best location ***** Sneal, a wandering merchant spent a day traveling on his way home through the unfamiliar countryside in the hope of discovering new markets for his goods. He ended the first day by spending the night at an inn located in a tree. After traveling the next day, the same thing happened. Same inn, same customers, same barmaid. The third day was a repeat of the earlier two. Finally, he arrived home. How did this happen? Cue the scary music. What happened when he recounted his adventure to Tallis?

The frantic scribblings of a novelist ***** This chapter is the first of several observations related to the lives of a novelist or a poet. Tallis offers contrasts as he pities the unfortunate novelist. Poets are superior in their social lives and sufficiency of income. Tallis said so. This section and the following five sections explore the world of writing. Quotes that stick in my mind follow.

There in Black and White ***** One of my pet peeves is discovering that after I download a Kindle book, 20% of it is devoted to promotion. Tallis points this out with “There is a feeling amongst publishers that the reader doesn’t really want the book they’ve purchased, but instead in point of fact wishes to peruse an assortment of other books that the publisher has available. Pictures of these and even sample chapters can in extreme cases double the size of the book.” (Kindle location 181).

Learning from others ***** Writing books from the comfort of home while in any state of dress and personal hygiene imaginable can bring instant and immense wealth. All one must do is follow the advice of proven authors. Tallis looks at the advisors as “a community of writers writing books about how to sell books that were bought largely by people who were interested in writing books about selling books.” (Kindle location 244).

Nobody does it like that anymore ***** Tallis does not dismiss time tested good advice. Departing from tongue-in-cheek humor, Tallis notes, “Writing is just another craft like joinery or metalwork, the more you do it, the better you get.” (Kindle location 271).

The uncompromising principles of the successful writer ***** Tallis consults a printer to find out the kind of literature that sells best. “This is what feeds the press Tallis my boy, cheap stories of forbidden vampire love, or demon love, or love with a score of fantastical, imaginary, or hopefully extinct creatures. (Kindle location 331).

A distinct shortage of assets ***** Many authors assure readers that reviews are vital to an author’s success. How can an author get reviews quickly? Tallis would “ instruct (the printer’s) domestic staff and secretary to write glowing reviews of his work under false names” (Kindle location 401).

Subsequent stories address other topics as Tallis leaves the subject of writing out of fear of appearing maudlin. Any would-be writers should continue reading the rest of this collection to pull themselves out of any depression caused by an examination of prospects for fame and riches in their chosen profession.

At the end of this Tallis Steelyard set of musings, I am left with only one question not addressed in this examination of the world of writers. Why does an author choose to sell a novel for USD 1.26?”

18 thoughts on “Old enough to know better

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