#Birthday story: The Clothier
Everything has its antithesis. Even disagreeable old men:
Evening was coming on, the delicate amber glow of afternoon was dying off, giving way to the ascendancy of sobering hues. The parishioners who had festooned the streets before were all gonehome to their much needed cenations, the traders and merchants were stacking their wares and rolling up their blankets for the day, but the taverns and dinning halls that ornamented every corner were rife with prandial hordes, as eager to eat and drink together as they were to discuss the day’s business. The entrance to the Black Market across the way, however, spoke a different conviction, and where the streets were silent in one quarter, the narrow lanes of the other were garlanded with gamemasters and nightshades, gallivanting about the rough lanes in quest of anyone in want of a pleasant evening. The wealth of enjoyments that the Black Market had to offer drew as many parishioners as it repelled, and the high revel of taverns and teahouses rivaled the galaday of street gambling and smoking parlours. They only glanced at the Black Market as they walked passed, spectating the dalliances of a five minute aquaintence and the bitter losses of those who trifled with odds weighed against them, Danaco amused by the scene and still in blithesome speculation over how the vestry was allowed to operate between the two opposing quarters, and they turned into the marchant’s row, the space they had occupied hours before taken up by a snakecharmer, and the merchants adjascent retreated to the nearby terrace, where they could spend their earnings on Lucentian chairo and delicate cakes without being disturbed by lingering clients.
A few textile merchants were still sitting at their stalls, and the clothier who had led the captain to Manochei was still at her pulpit, standing behind her table and going a long piece of needlework as the captain approached.
“Ah, you again,” said she, looking up and putting her work aside. “See you found your way back here.”
“I always return when there is a welcoming face to greet me, inpala dola,” said Danaco, with a gallant bow. “A sad reunion for you, however, for this time I bring you no business and you divulge no secrets.”
The corners of the old woman’s mouth curled, and her wrines deepened. “I got a few, if you got the right currency.”
“You have me there, inpala dola. I have nothing about me, save a few coins and a treasure or two I brought with me from the ship, and I have only a giant and a Bartleby at hand, both of which are worth ever so much more than what your wares might fetch you, the former being a stray I discovered wandering the wharf --”
“Hullo,” Rannig chimed, wiggling his fingers at the old woman.
“—and the other I plucked from a teahouse in Marridon. Worthless to those who are too insipid to revel in his cerebral debates, but funds of enjoyment to those who would be educated and have their feelings abused.”
Bartleby gave a dry Ha! as he shuffled by, and the clothier spied him with a sly smile.
“Heh!” she rasped. “Don’t look like much. The giant’d be worth a secret or two, but the old goblin ain’t worth a heron’s eye. Might be something to the Thellisian circus.”
Here was a wink, and Bartleby, upon hearing himself thus addressed, stopped and turned back to say, “Quiet, you lampshade. Go make better use of yourself, scraping down the lace-muttons across the way instead of lurking behind stall like a scavenger. And if you crack your lips again to say the word goblin in reference to me, I am going to show you the meaning of the word in Marridonian Dictionary of Modern Common and beat you with it.”
“You see, inpala dola?” said Danaco. “Did not I tell you he was endearing? My old friend is ready to die of love for your sake. Do not make him wait long for your answer.”
“Heh! Well, I’m ready to marry him,” the old woman cackled.
Bartleby’s nose flared, and he tugged his hat over his ears. “Dying alone is the only thing you’ll be doing, you dessicated facket. You brandish a scandalous wreck of denstry, and your lower Livanese drawl is enough to kill anybody listening. Rs have no business being rolled that far, and if you continue to prolong them unmercifully as you do, I will write out the letter phonetically on a piece of paper, and every time you dare utter that shamble of a pronunciation, I will take that paper and force between your teeth, to keep your tongue from attacking the roof of your mouth.”
“Guarenteed methods of proper speech, inpala dola, from the aegis of Modern Common himself,” said Danaco, inclining his head.
The old woman feigned a courtsy and simpered to herself. “Glad I got such a celebrated mentor.”
Bartleby humphed and stamped away, proclaiming that anyone with half a mind could understand where the boundaries of Rs lay—but they would draw them out and abuse them as if for life-- but as she must be taught proper elocution and how better to manage the teeming civilization of periodontal hordes swarming her teeth, there was very little that someone of his mental prowess could do to improve her merits.
“You must excuse my old friend, inpala dola,” said Danaco, when Bartleby was gone further down the row. He has had a frightful upset in having his home broken into, and he is always quarrelsome when out of humour. Depredation always looks well on him, as his fractiousness is always a source of delight to me, but something in the way of comforting food shall quiet him, and then you may affront him all you like without fear of reproach.”
“I like men a bit bothered,” said the old woman, smiling. “Shows they got something that riles them. Makes the old ones more exciting.”
“Inpala dola, you are a treasure,” Danaco professed. “Tell me you sould like to sail with me, and I shall marry you and Bartleby directly. Then he should be in a passion all the rest of his life. Amusement for me, and torment to everybody else, I know, and he should give his library entire to have Rannig throw you overboard.”
“Heh, well, lucky for him I don’t like being at sea. I like where I am just fine.”
“Of course. I should join you behind your stall if only to be close to the tatti-pratti man forever.” Danaco moved farther down the lane. “His wares call me, inpala dola, and as I prefer the comforts of the sea, you will be very good and excuse me while I become a gulist before retiring to my ship.”
The captain bowed his goodbyes, Rannig gave a hardy wave, and as they went off to the end of the row, the old woman sat down and took up her needlework, marking her place in the pattern with a quiet glee, wondering how long it should be before the captain return with a currency to make her disclose her every secret.