Today, it is our turn to tell you all about Jim Webster’s two new books!
We have always been a fan of his stories and we have been blessed with a new one, The Bait Digger, just for this post!
If any of you haven’t had the pleasure of Jim’s wonderful stories, now would be the time to start. You won’t be disappointed…
The Bait Digger
It often surprises me how people manage to make a living in this city. Take, for example, Esmielle Parthong. She sells bait, both bait-balls and worms. The bait balls she makes herself. She uses a little old bread that she gets from a bakery for the cost of taking it away. This she moistens with a little water, and mixes in some old cheese rind that the grocer is left with. This is all chopped up with some fish guts if she has them, mixed well, then squeezed into small pellets and allowed to almost dry. Apparently, she has customers who swear by them. But mostly she sells worms. Thus we will see her down on the Old Esplanade most days, sometimes twice a day, depending upon the tide. The shore-combers accept her. Whilst she digs more deeply in pursuit of her worms than they do in their searches, she works methodically across the shore. Thus anybody can search ahead of her if they want. Thus it is generally felt that if she did find anything, nobody could claim that she had taken it out of their area by stealth.
Once she has dug her worms, she will take them to the fish market down off the far end of the Old Esplanade. She doesn’t have a stall there, she merely stands with two buckets, one with bait-balls, one containing worms. She will always appear to be in conversation with a stallholder so that the stewards might think she was a customer rather than a trader. How many of the stewards are fooled is a moot point. Still, I think most of them accepted she was trying to make a living on small margins and allowed themselves to be convinced by her act. Most of her customers are amateur fishermen, and she maintains a good name amongst them for the freshness of her bait. Indeed it was not unknown for a gentleman fisherman to send a maid or manservant down to the market to buy bait. Later in the day, she will make her way round the city, dropping off orders she has from her regular clients.
If there is anything left over at the end of the day, she will drop it off what is left with a neighbour, Adlan Shack, who is a long-line fisherman. He always needs bait for his hooks. Most of the long-line folk use the guts of the fish they have just caught to bait the line, but Adlan always claims that a variety of bait produced a variety of fish. He never actually paid for the bait, but he always drops a couple of nice fish off for Esmielle and her two young daughters as payment. It has to be admitted that they eat a lot of fish. She managed to get her daughters into one of the cheaper dame schools. Again their fees were paid through barter. In the evenings, Esmielle does some carpentry. Her father was a carpenter. He taught her the basics of the trade and when he died, she inherited his tools. Thus to pay her daughter’s fees, she will go in and mend desks and chairs. She was married at one time. Her husband was a drunkard, and apparently, she threw him out when he wanted to sell her father’s tools to pay for drink. I met her because she knows my lady wife, Shena. But also if the tide is right, she will drop into the old dried grape and carpet warehouse which serves as a hall for the Society of Minor Poets and avail herself of our, ‘all day breakfast.’
Admittedly its normally just porridge made from whatever grain we can salvage but it is good ballast for time spent out on the estuary in all weathers. But perhaps more importantly she will come when we put on our entertainments, and will sit there, almost visibly absorbing poetry. It is obvious that she loves poetry, and indeed I have tried to get her to attend some of the small informal poetry societies I perform for. These are not wealthy people meeting in fine houses, instead they are normally just a handful of ladies gathered in one of their numbers’ kitchen. She would enjoy it, and they would like her, but she always claims she is too busy. Still I was chatting to her one day and was discussing her business. I confess that I am one of those people who just has to understand how these things work, (perhaps a legacy of my apprenticeship with Miser Mumster) and her business fascinated me. It seemed to work because she is a genuinely pleasant person, and this disarms people. I never met anybody who didn’t like her. Perhaps my interest got her to open up more than she usually did, because we got into a somewhat detailed discussion on various baits.
I asked why she didn’t offer a wider range. She thought for a while and then commented, “After my husband disappeared, I did offer maggots for a while, but frankly they are more trouble than they’re worth and the smell seems to linger everywhere.”
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.