It was Estini Clogwain who got me involved in this mad quest. She was a charming young woman, she made gloves, bespoke, for private clients. I would occasionally see her when in the presence of a common patron. By unspoken agreement I always made a point of commenting favourable about her gloves to anybody who asked, and I know for a fact she recommended me as a safe pair of hands for anybody wishing to organise an entertainment.
But I was a little surprised when I got home to the barge one evening to find her sobbing on Shena’s shoulder. I did the sensible thing and made coffee and waited for the ladies to involve me in the conversation. Eventually the reason for her presence was vouchsafed to me. She had a
brother, somewhat older, who had been courting the younger Mistress Yarbattle. He had disappeared. She had had no word from him save a letter some time ago saying that he had signed on a ship to the west and would never return.
She had been shocked by that, after all, few glovers make that sort of career change. She had been even more shocked when she got another message from him merely a week ago saying that he was dying from some illness he’d succumbed to out there. Enclosed in the packet was their father’s pocket watch.
Now they weren’t wealthy people, their father had been a whittawer, but was known for the quality of his saddles. He encouraged his children to aim for quality and was proud of what they were doing. Both brother and sister had a considerable following amongst those with money who appreciated quality. Now I barely knew the Yarbattle family, but when a young lady with eyes glistening with tears pleads for your help, what fool of a poet can resist?
The Yarbattle house is high about Nightbell, looking out over the Ocean. It was an early summer’s evening by the time I arrived. When I knocked, a maid admitted me and showed me through to a very pleasant parlour with a balcony looking out over the sea. Sitting in a chair, reading, was a lady who was perhaps not as young as she had been. On the balcony was a younger lady who was staring out over the sea and who never deigned to acknowledge my
I was greeted courteously by the older of the two ladies and when the maid had left, the lady asked my business. I explained about Estini Clogwain and her missing brother.
“Ah, Erasmas Clogwain.”
As she said the words I would have sworn I saw the young woman on the balcony stiffen slightly.
“A sad story but for the sister’s sake I think you deserve to hear it. You must know that there were once three of us. The oldest sister, Olina, the middle sister, Marta, which is me, and the youngest of us, little Irianna. We lived together after our parents died, and frankly it was a mistake. We were not happy. Olina was a lady who wished to control everybody. She couldn’t have driven off suitors more rapidly if she’d hired bullies to track them down and beat them up.” Marta paused, “Although I’m certain she did actually do that in one case. Finally Irianna met Erasmas when she ordered a pair of gloves. They met in great secrecy, I’ve never known a pair of gloves need so many fittings. Indeed without going into too many details, they became lovers.”
She sighed. “Then Olina found out and she was furious. She discovered the two lovers as they lay together in a folly in our garden overlooking the sea. There was apparently a flaming row, Irianna claimed she was pregnant. Olian responded by swearing she would drown the child at birth. She banned Erasmas from our house and promised to have him killed. Irianna, distraught, threw herself from the cliff into the sea and drowned.
Olina stormed into the kitchen where I was making our evening meal.” Here she smiled in a somewhat embarrassed manner. “We can afford a maid but not a cook.”
She glanced at the figure on the balcony, but elicited no response. “Olina told me what had happened, and was working out what to sell to pay the fee for an assassin to kill Erasmas. I told her she was a fool and we argued, furiously. Then she had a fit and died. I didn’t know what to do but the maid went and found Erasmas and we wrapped the body in a shroud, set it in cement and next day we hired a boat and dropped my sister’s body overboard.”
I sat stunned by what I’d heard. Then the figure on the balcony turned to face us. “And she rolls backwards and forwards on the sea bed in her stony shroud. The kitchen knife in her vitals traps her there. And I go down and mock her. Then soon, my Erasmas will come and we will leave here and be together again.” With that she turned back and continued looking out over
the sea. Even as I stared at her, she faded slowly from my view.
Marta nodded slowly as if in agreement with her younger sister’s pronouncement. “It is not an edifying story you have to tell young Estini. Still I will do what I can. When my sister leaves I will sell the house and leave the city. I have no future here, nor any desire to remain.”
She didn’t dismiss me, she merely picked up her book and recommenced reading. I rose quietly, bowed and made my own way out of the house. It was a year later that the maid from the Yarbattle household appeared at the barge. She handed me a small purse. “The house is sold. Give this to Estini Clogwain.”
With that she turned and made her way back into the city. I opened the purse gingerly. Inside there was a piece of paper. When I opened that, perhaps a score of small gold coins nestled securely in it. On the piece of the paper were written the words, “Love who you want, and for what it’s worth, you have my blessing.”
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that I’ve just published two more collections of stories.
The first, available on kindle, is
‘Tallis Steelyard, preparing the ground, and other stories.’
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Meet a
vengeful Lady Bountiful, an artist who smokes only the finest hallucinogenic
lichens, and wonder at the audacity of the rogue who attempts to drown a
poet! Indeed after reading this book you may never look at young boys and
their dogs, onions, lumberjacks or usurers in quite the same way again.
A book that plumbs the depths of degradation, from murder to folk dancing,
from the theft of pastry cooks to the playing of a bladder pipe in public.
The second, available on Kindle or as a paperback, is
‘Maljie. Just one thing after another.’
Once more Tallis Steelyard chronicles the life of Maljie, a lady of his
acquaintance. Discover the wonders of the Hermeneutic Catherine Wheel,
marvel at the use of eye-watering quantities of hot spices. We have bell
ringers, pop-up book shops, exploding sedan chairs, jobbing builders,
literary criticism, horse theft and a revolutionary mob. We also discover
what happens when a maiden, riding a white palfrey led by a dwarf, appears
on the scene.
There are fourteen installments in Tallis Steelyards current blog tour, each
guest blog linked below is as entertaining as the next.
A free lunch
A gaol break
No accounting for taste
A poetic inheritance
All perfectly respectable
Bearing all before them
Not really a living
Only the truth?
The bait digger
Three sisters (this installment)
We could just elope