Here I am, back from Supanova Brisbane after meeting a whole tribe of most excellent readers and fellow Sundergirdians. How uplifting it was to speak to you all of whom I met - someone signed my book "you were more normal than I thought you would be," which I am choosing to receive as a compliment (maybe too normal?).
But alas, such happy times always end and here I am, returned in time for more Economous.
I now have a week to catch my breath before Supanova Adelaide - of which I am now a late inclusion \o/
PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION
Chapter 7 PART 2
Opportunity Unlooked For
So, in the unhealthy steadily summer-cooking gloom Economous slowly formulated a resolve to give up on the Moldwood, on Asthetica and fabulism and seek more certain employment in some duller – surer – line of trade.
Perhaps in another city? he considered with little enthusiasm. Doggenbrass, maybe…? Brandenbrass’ most immediate southern neighbour languishing in the shadow of the great city’s gravity likely possessed less opportunity … but at least it is not HERE. Here where all paths were thwarted and aspirations brought to nil.
The very morning – was is Luneday or Meerday? – he settled with uneasy certainty upon this sure, unhappy yet necessary answer, ascending footsteps shook with increasing violence upon the staircases up to the garret door.
The duffers have come for me! was his first wrenching terror, but he quickly caught hold of panic as he realised only one pair of feet was making the awkward climb. Bidbrindle knew the stairs too well to be so noisy, and Asthetica – even if she might condescend to pay a visit – would have been quieter yet, besides which, it was the wrong time of day for either of them.
It must be Scrivener-Sergeant […NAME…] , he realised with a dark twist of guilt in his gizzards.
Being paid a visit from a senior metrician of the local athy was and oft threatened consequence if a concometrist was know to be about but failed to bring their numrelogue its for requisite quarterly numrelogical examination. Scarcely avoiding a suspension last time, Economous had missed the year’s first review at the ……… Room in Pike Athenaeum – Brandenbrass own athy – for obvious reason. He glanced uncomfortably to the little stack of rent binding and frayed paper that was the vainly reconstituted remnant of his numrelogue lying where he had thrown it down more than three weeks gone. Drawing what he saw as he saw it had always seemed to him the best way to measure anything, and he had contended this successfully every time he took his number-book for inspection. Such fine argument was not going to help him here. So ready to claim the title as a defense in a fight, surely he could scarcely call himself a concometrist any more.
The inevitable knock fairly rattled the thick planks of his garret door, far firmer even than Bidbrindle in all his unwonted enthusiasm.
Easing the portal open a cautious crack, Economous fairly unravelled with relief: it was a stranger – a tall man clad in a frockcoat of strangely iridescent black and wearing a lofty black stovepipe hat and not at all like the cruel-faced officials in the archduke’s service. This the mysterious caller now swept off his crown and flourished as he bowed: a stiff bend at the middle like his hips were a hinge and an oddly jerking twist of the head. Under his silken coat, the caller seemed disconcertingly gaunt – Economous might have gone so far as to say malnourished. Yet he stood tall and steady enough as he straightened once more in the gloom of the landing before Economous garret door.
“Good morning… sir,” the visitor declared proudly. “My name is… Hoopstick. I am an agent for a great lady… of the northern realms of… the Undermeer.” Thin and breathy and strangely inflected.
Economous nodded a bow of his own in baffled reply.
“I hope that…” this Mister Hoopstick continued, “you do not… mind this intrusion upon… your civil privacy? Your grand knavery –” he spoke this word with a sour twist of mouth “– directed me here upon… my enquiries.” Here he paused and waited.
Roused by the silence from his fascination for the fellow’s stilted manners, Economous realised he was expected to respond. “Oh – not at all, sir. I have time.”
The awkward caller gave a thin and cryptic smile. “I… come to you, good sir, to… bring my mighty mistress’… compliments. Your fame as a… worthy pen, an … accurate delineator of physiognomy has… gone ahead of… you, even to my mistress’… ears. And now she seeks to offer to… you her patronage if…if you would but… come to her mighty halls in… Meerschaum’s borders and there… daub her imago.”
A great lady?
A mighty mistress!
Economous innards gave a happy leap. At last, he delighted inwardly, my labours are sprouting fruit! Word of his work at the gala of the Branden Rose must have made it all that way north.
Situated at on the northern lands beyond the dread Ichormeer, Meerschaum and the united realms of the Undermeer were at least a weeks journey or more to the north east. Yet two years of thwarted intent had made Economous ravenous for any chance no matter how slim or difficult and he readily accepted the offer.
“To which great lady in which great hall should I present myself?”
“My mistress lives… in necessary seclusion and does… not wish her name be… bandied abroad too… readily. Yet as a… token of her good… faith and my honour as… her messenger, allow me… to present this pledge… of our veracity.” With a staccato click of elbow and knuckles, the agent held out a purse made of the same shimmering dark material as his coat.
Taking the purse and peering within, the would-be fabulist beheld a golden glint – ten gold coins of alien denomination, larger by size and weight that the sou of the Soutlands or oscadril of the Haacobin empire. Economous almost dropped the payment in his shock; even the Branden Rose did not pay as richly!
“There is ten… times that awaiting you – and with it… other rewards – upon… your successful depiction of my mistress.”
Dumbfounded, Economous goggled at Mister Hoopstick who in his turn smiled a sunken-eyed – almost cadaverous – smile.
“I shall depart now,” the agent concluded, bowing another stilted, hinge-like beck, “and go… ahead of you… to report the good… news of your agreement. When you achieve… the haven of the stout… city of Knapphausen, wait… on me at the [………………] on [……………] Street, and I shall see you… escorted to my mistress’… residence.”
With that Mister Hoopstick turned and retreated down the shuddering stairs, leaving a flabberghasted Economous blinking stupidly in his garret doorway, the purse of wealth still open in his outstretched hand.
I have a patron…? he marvelled in shock, arm still reaching out.
“Uh, goodbye, sir,” Economous eventually collected himself enough to call down to departing messenger already halfway descended to the vestibule.
I have a patron! But darker clouds immediately threatened this glowinig prospect. Now, now, don’t tally your skins ‘til they’re skun, let’s await to see if all bears out well.
Economous shook his head as if to clear it.
He was not interested in sensible-seeming, joy-dampening, parent-voiced cautions: he had a patron! All roads had closed to bring him to this one shining opportunity. Was he in any other state of soul, he would likely have turned such a proposition down, but today at this moment he was ready, ready, ready!
Arriving with a supper for two of ox tongue poached in brine, a novelty he called sun-parched tomatoes and a thick stop of bread, Bidbrindle received the happy news with his usual gust. “A patron, by the Lots! A patron!” he exclaimed. “Ah, a patroness to be exact. When do you plan to go and leave us all bereft?”
“Tomorrow if possible, the day after if not.”
The violin-maker baulked. “I reckoned it would be prompt, but that seems a mite too prompt to me, m’boy. She-down-stairs” – by which he meant Madamine Grouse – “will not like it one knot. I have seen it before: she always demands a month’s written notice for such things.”
“Well, I will tell her and see,” Economous returned with the sudden confidence that comes from receiving excellent news. “On either hand, I am going.”
To this Bidbrindle gave one of his knowing shrugs and the two settled to silence of hungry eating.
“A body would reckon I ought be glad to lose so eligible a rival for the dear Asthetica’s attentions,” the older man said at last, becoming strangely glum as he looked up from his poached ox tongue clumsy. “But I am not, my good sir, not at all. Who now will I share these distant and impossible longings?”
“You are welcome to her, Mister Bid,” Economous said a little too carlessley. “I am done with this city and all in it – Oh! I do not mean you, sir!” he interupted himself at sight of Bidbrindle’s open dismay. “You have been a light here when much else is dark. I shall write you when I have achieved my glorious new position and invite you over to visit. Mayhap my new employer might have viols that new mending.” Silent and brooding for so long, Economous’ words fairly ran out from him.
Bidbrindle laughed brightly. “Yes yes! Here is hoping she does, good fellow! I could do with a summerscale excursion.”
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