More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Here Tallis tells the stories behind a series of paintings presented at an exhibition held in Port Naain. Discover the dangers of peasant dances, marvel at the duplicity of well brought up young ladies who mix with robber barons and prepare to be astounded at the wisdom of the goose girl.
I love these stories from Tallis Steelyard and the amazingly beautiful paintings that always accompany them.
This story, The Gnome, is the second story in this collection of stories about the art exhibition Tallis and his friends create for their friend, the artist Andeal Willnoton Quillabin. Who, in their opinion, was not as well regarded as they thought he should be.
The Gnome is the nickname for the artist’s muse, model and assistant. A very small woman, hence the nickname, but a force to be reckoned with…
The artist and Morri…
Not many people know why Morri was nicknamed The Little Gnome. Some thought it referred to her size and it‟s true that she‟s not the tallest of women, but if that was the reason, the name seemed a little harsh. Personally I always had a lot of time for her; there are not many women who have been the muse for two such different men.
It‟s been mentioned before that she was Andeal ‟s muse, model, and assistant. Indeed the whole exhibition had been planned with the idea of producing enough funds to enable Andeal to acquire a house. Hopefully it would be a suitable house, with such fripperies as glass in the windows; a house that would convince her to marry him.
But she had also been the muse of Rargan Grosset. Rargan was one of the handful of living poets that I ever looked up to when I was young. He was a lot older than me, perhaps forty years or more. But he was always generous with advice and praise, and what is more he was not too proud to feed a starving poetaster and many of us dined at his table over those years.
It always struck me as a little sad; Rargan had a body of really fine work. In his youth he had shown himself a master of Zeugma and had done truly wonderful things with the Triadic stepped line. Yet in later life, at the time when I first met him, the springs from which his verses flowed seemed to have dried up.
It was when his elderly housekeeper died that he advertised for a replacement, and Morri applied for the position. He took her in, assuming that she was another waif who needed rescuing, and fearing that if he didn‟t rescue her, she‟d fall into the hands of worse. As it was she rescued him. She didn‟t merely keep house for him, she took it upon herself to set his business affairs in order.
I have mentioned that he was generous. Not merely did he feed us, some borrowed money from him to fund artistic projects. One such was Dash Blont. Always a womaniser, at the time he saw that being a published poet would open doors to him. In his case predominantly bedroom doors, but still, I can understand his reasoning. Thus he borrowed a considerable sum from Rargan to publish his unspecified work of poetic genius. Personally I suspect that he borrowed as much as he did because he assumed that Rargan would die of old age before Dash was called upon to pay it back. The elderly find it easy to become creditors.
Having looked at Rargan‟s accounts, Morri decided that Rargan needed the money, so she would get the money back. She wrote gentle letters of reminder which Rargan signed. Dash Blont of course ignored them. She wrote stronger letters which Rargan didn‟t want to sign. It didn‟t matter, she signed them for him, but Dash Blont still ignored them. Finally she arrived at Dash Blont‟s house in person, sat down in his kitchen and explained that she‟d come to collect the money. She refused to leave until it was paid.
Dash tried everything. He tried charming her, flirting with her, cajoling her, but she merely kept carving a block of wood with a wickedly sharp knife.
He wooed her with fine wines and excellent food. She ate, drank, and continued carving.
Finally, after three days, Dash realised he was beaten. He could hardly invite some inamorata back to his house, lest she find Morri sitting in his kitchen and asked questions he wasn‟t really willing to answer. Not only that but he could hardly go out to the house of a lady friend, lest Morri wander from the kitchen and perhaps stumble upon his correspondence. Thus he offered to pay her all the cash he had, which was a third of the loan. Morri continued carving. She continued carving for the remaining two days that it took Dash to gather together the money. She left with the money, leaving Dash a sweet smile, and a wooden phallus. It was so finely carved that one could even see where it had been severed from the body.
After that word circulated, and Morri‟s gentle letters to creditors produced a veritable avalanche of currency, some even adding a nominal amount to cover interest charges.
Still there were others who needed chasing up. These were people who had promised to supply things and had never delivered. Rargan Grosset had business associates. For example rather than merely going to a printer and having his work printed, he‟d worked through publishers. One of them, Balor Finch, had published three of Rargan‟s books of poetry and whenever Rargan asked how the books were selling, Balor pulled a long face and explained that the market for poetry was depressed and the books were sitting on his shelves gathering dust and cobwebs.
At this point Morri came to me for advice. After all, you can see her reasoning; „Tallis is a published poet and an honest man. He will tell me what sales are like‟. Here I was in a quandary. My own sales remain such as would not cast doubt upon a writer‟s amateur status. On the other hand Rargan was one of the greats of our day. Not only that but since Morri had appeared on the scene he‟d got a new lease of life and was writing once more. Not only that, he was writing beautifully. I was sure that if anybody was selling poetry, it was Rargan Grosset.
So I asked for a little time and dropped in to Glicken‟s Printers. I knew they printed for Balor Finch. I asked for a few prices, as if costing out a work of mine own, and old Ardwok had the decency to give a young poet half an hour of his time. He went through all the costs, explaining the problem about short print runs and suchlike.
Finally I asked, “So how do folk like Rargan Grosset manage?”
Ardwok smiled. “Tallis lad, they manage because they sell steady away, and we‟ll print a thousand every year.”
With that information I returned to Morri and explained that it seemed that Rargan was indeed selling his work. Indeed if he was selling a thousand copies every year he was outselling most of the poets in the city.
It must have been a week later I met Morri in the street near Balor Finch‟s office. She was carrying a bag in one hand and her wood carving knife in the other. I walked with her for company and asked about the bag.
“Oh Balor Finch has done a hasty recalculation of sales and has paid Rargan everything he owes him.”
I was impressed; indeed I was almost rendered speechless. Finally I asked, “How did this come about?”
“Oh, after talking to you I went to see Ardwok Glicken. I just told him that Balor Finch was having trouble paying his bills and perhaps he was experiencing financial difficulties. Ardwok cancelled Finch‟s line of credit immediately. It was only by paying Rargan that Finch could convince Ardwok that he wasn’t about to go bankrupt and so Ardwok has allowed him a little credit.
It was at about this time Rargan was heard referring to Morri affectionately as “his little gnome.‟ I don‟t know anybody else who really used the name, although I know some who had much harsher names for her.
Me? I have always liked her; there is about her a freshness of attitude, a no- nonsense briskness. My lady wife Shena is, after a manner of speaking, her cousin, and I can see the resemblance.