Smorgasbord Stories – A return to Tales from the Irish Garden – Winter: Chapter Five – The Dapperman by Sally Cronin

Yesterday The Queen and the court arrived from Spain and spent their first night in the in their new home under the old magnolia tree.

Winter – Chapter Five – The Dapperman – Sally Cronin

The next few days passed in a blur as Queen Filigree, Persephone and Narcissus and the rest of the court settled into their new quarters. Whilst the royal family had managed to bring a good selection of their regal attire on the goose transport, most of the other courtiers and servants had only managed to bring one change of clothing. Clearly this was going to be problem within a short space of time, despite the fact that a site for the new laundry had been found.

At the top of the new palace, next to the pigeon house, was a chamber with a steady supply of dripping rainwater through a gap in the roots. This fed a trough that flowed into large barrels, fashioned from fallen bark from the forest, and waterproofed with moss mixed with heated pine resin. The fairy engineers who had designed this system many years ago for the previous occupants, had also found discarded tin cans in the woods that had been carefully sliced in two lengthways, to provide excellent washing pots.

Since a palace full of smoke is not ideal, the kitchens were also on this level with chimney stacks from the ovens venting the workspace into the open air. Water would be taken from the barrels in large soup pots fashioned by the tinsmiths over the years. It would be heated over fires on a metal trivet alongside the carefully constructed brick ovens. The head laundress would then bring her assistants in to collect the hot water, pouring it into the two half tin cans. The first was for washing clothes with Soapwort, made from flowers collected from the garden, before being rinsed in the second vat of hot water.

Mangles were then used to remove the excess water, before the clothes and linens were set to dry on rods suspended from the ceiling in the warmth of the kitchen.

In Spain in the warm dry climate, the fairies had worn light clothing, and to be honest, some didn’t wear anything at all except for a strategically placed lily petal. But even though it was spring in the Emerald Island, it was very cold for these warm-blooded creatures, and they were now wearing several layers. The trouble was they had brought so little with them that they were now fighting amongst themselves over bits and pieces; quickly becoming threadbare and ragged.

The head laundress requested an audience with the chamberlain, who in turn approached her majesty with the problem. It so happened, that Queen Filigree had extended an invitation to the Storyteller, to join her and her courtiers for a celebration dinner, and it was to be this very night.

Her newly appointed head guardian duly arrived, shrunk to the appropriate size; dressed in his best suit and wearing patent leather dancing shoes. He bowed low to her majesty and then waved forward three wizened old fellows carrying a violin, flute and a lute.

‘Your gracious Majesty I would like to present a small gift towards this evening’s proceedings, since I know you were forced to leave your own stoned band behind.’ With that he pushed the trio in front of him.

‘These are the O’Reilly brothers, Liam, Herbert and Willie and they are here to entertain us through dinner and for dancing if you will permit them.’ He looked at the queen for approval.

Queen Filigree clapped her hands in delight, ordering that the band be brought some amber nectar from the royal beehive, and that they be positioned at the end of the ballroom. Having seen the three brothers happily seated on chairs on the bandstand, she led her honoured guest to the top table to sit at her right hand side. She introduced him to her daughters and they instantly fell under the charm of this eloquent raconteur. He in turn, starved of female company for many a year, twirled his fulsome moustache and made the most of the opportunity.

As they dipped into the first course of roasted cowslip tongues with crispy ants, Queen Filigree mentioned her current problem with the lack of clothing for the rest of the fairies in this much colder climate. The Storyteller listened attentively, and then going slightly against protocol, placed his hand on the forearm of her majesty.

‘I have just the man to help you your majesty and, if you will permit me, I shall make arrangements for him to call tomorrow with his staff of tailors. You will find no better person in the whole of the Emerald Island when it comes to creating attractive but robust clothing for both his elite customers and those who might have less to spend on a suit.’

With that little problem out of the way, the evening proceeded, and in the fashion of those who inhabit the Emerald Island, the Storyteller insisted that every courtier stand up and deliver a piece of verse, a song or a comical anecdote. This indeed was a strange custom, but as the amber nectar flowed, and the courses continued to tickle the palate, each of the queen’s inner circle stood up and delivered their party piece. There was much laughter and good natured ribbing of the participants and Queen Filigree became a little concerned as her own turn rapidly approached.

She stood up from the table and the rowdy crowd immediately went silent. She indicated their special guest and smiled to her audience. ‘Far be it for me to steal just one more moment of anticipation of our honoured guest’s own contribution.’ Pausing for effect she touched the shoulder of her companion. ‘Without further ado, I give you the fabled Storyteller, who I know is going to delight us all with one of his own stories.’

With a flourish of her hand she sat down and applauded as the Storyteller took to his feet.
He stood a little unsteadily for a moment as he adjusted to the amount of amber nectar he had imbibed, and then smiled at his audience.

‘Stop me if you have heard this one before!…’

The following day the Queen was partaking of a long soak in her rose-water scented bath, recovering from the night before. Her head seemed to be ringing in time with the dandelion clocks outside the entrance to the palace; reminding her that she must get her bell master to prevail upon them to only ring between the hours of nine in the morning and ten at night. But, overall she was very happy with her new palace and the surrounding gardens and forest were delightfully green. Since their arrival a week ago there had been an unseasonal dry period, but the local weather expert that had been provided by the Storyteller, warned that a wet front was coming in.

She rang a bluebell by the side of the bath, and her lady of the bath chamber, Brianna, popped in immediately with two large fluffy cottontail drying mitts they had managed to push into the last cases as they fled Spain. They were spun from the moulted underfur of specially bred rabbits, and were soft and absorbent. This reminded her majesty that she needed to start a new breeding programme with the male and female that had been sent ahead with the pigeons. She smiled to herself knowingly, as she surmised that the project might already be well underway.

Dried, dressed for the day and fortified with a glass of beetroot and fennel juice, Queen Filigree glided down to her state room to consult her advisors on the various plans in place to ensure their well-being in this new land. She walked in to find a fashion show in progress, and was taken aback by the lack of ceremony that accompanied her entrance. The cause for this kerfuffle was a little man in a black and green velvet jacket with a tape measure in one hand, and a cushion of gold pins in the other.

‘My dears, that is not the way to walk when wearing knickerbockers. Please stand up straight, knees parallel and toes pointing forward’. With that, the tiny man demonstrated the correct pace and posture to best show off the tweed trousers being modelled by half of the royal council.

Queen Filigree was not used to being ignored and clapped her hands to get the attention of the mannequins.

She regarded the startled faces that turned towards her, and was gratified to see that her chancellor had the grace to look embarrassed. Her advisors all rushed forward bowing and opening a path way to the throne, and the now mollified queen passed gracefully through.

Having seated herself she gestured to the little man and his tape measure to come forward.

‘And who, my fine man, would you be?’ she asked imperiously.

With an elegant bow, and a perfectly extended stockinged leg, the little man made his obeisance to the queen. He rose to stand in front of her with a delighted smile on his round and pink cheeked face.

‘Your Highnessnessness,’ He approached to the steps of the dais. ‘I am the Dapperman, and I have been sent by the Storyteller, with my assistants, to provide your court with the clothing that they will require for our unpredictable and unusually damp weather.’

He ushered forth his three assistants who in turn bent their knees to her majesty, and he introduced them as Leuan, Zane and Freddie. Over their arms they carried piles of brightly coloured clothing of all types, trousers, skirts and dresses with wonderfully tailored tweed jackets and coats.

‘You are welcome Dapperman, as are your assistants.’ Queen Filigree settled down and looked around the room before leaning forward to whisper ‘I am afraid, we do at this moment have limited resources, as our honeycomb banks are depleted until the hive can be rejuvenated by your spring flowers.’

The small man leant forward as far as protocol allowed and whispered back to her. ‘Your majesty, the Storyteller has covered all of this season’s clothes as a welcome gift to your court, and only asks that he be invited to more of your stupendous parties.’

Very relieved that the honey stores would not be depleted any further, the queen signalled for the fashion show to resume, and to summon all the servants that they might also be suitably attired. With a lively jig supplied by her borrowed trio of musicians, the O’Reilly Boys, the next few hours passed in a wonderful blaze of colour and style. Even the Queen retreated behind some discreetly placed shell screens to change into some very fetching tweed wear.

By the end of the day, all the residents of the kingdom, from the chief advisors to the lowliest kitchen maid, had been measured for a wardrobe of warm clothes, some more fashionable than others, but without exception, everyone would now own a pair of waterproof boots and a cape that would cover them from head to toe on rainy days.

The Dapperman appreciated that this was a rush job. He sent his assistants post haste back to his factory on the edge of the forest where a team of experienced seamstresses would whip up the unusually large order, working day and night. Their boss was a generous man and with a hefty advance from the storyteller in his pocket, he ordered Zane to order in some bottles of homemade ginger beer and some brack, the fruit loaf favoured in this neck of the woods.

With her court now due to receive their changes of clothing within a few days, her majesty requested the presence of the Dapperman in her private chambers to look over her diminished wardrobe, and of her daughters, that had been brought from Spain. Aware of the need for respect when measuring his royal patrons, the Dapperman requested that Lady Ellie hold the tape measure under his direction. In all honesty he was quite taken with this exotic creature with jet black hair and a slightly haughty air about her. Her eyes were the deepest green and he had to shake himself to come back to the task in hand.

Queen Filigree and the two princesses sat around a table and consulted the design on display and the swatches of silk and satin. The colours were slightly more muted than those that they were used to in the bright light of Spain, but they were delighted with the vibrancy of the imported silks from the orient. Many hours passed and the Dapperman held court as he sipped amber nectar and nibbled on buttered oatcakes. Seldom had he enjoyed such illustrious clients and he was going to enjoy throwing all his creativity and skill at the project.

As he left, many hours later, he did a little jig and flung his topper into the air. In his pocket was a small but beautifully formed ruby. The queen had been very grateful for the generosity of the Storyteller to her court, but wanted to bear the cost of her finery herself.

There would be something left over, after the new wardrobes had been designed and created, for some beautiful matching shoes for her majesty made from the imported cast-off skin of the slow worm. As the Dapperman skipped through the meadow, towards his factory, he also thought about the emerald linen that was left over from an order last spring that would match the eyes of the exotic Miss Ellie. A gift perhaps, in return for her services this evening, and perhaps it might lead to a thawing of her imperious nature.

©Sally Cronin 2018

I hope you have enjoyed and will join me next Saturday for more adventures in the magic garden.

My latest short story collection is Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet.

One of the recent reviews for the collection

Feb 22, 2021 Alex Craigie rated it five stars it was amazing
Until the pandemic struck, I only read full-length novels. I thought that short stories might be shallow and unsatisfying in comparison. When we went into lockdown, here was my chance to get on with some meaty reading. But I couldn’t. I’ve been restless and unfocussed and when Sally Cronin’s Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries was recommended to me I decided to give it a go. How wrong I’d been about short stories!
I loved this book. The sub heading of Sometimes bitter, Sometimes Sweet is apt as the stories covered a wide range of experiences and each one touched me in different ways. Sally Cronin understands people. Her descriptions of relationships will strike a chord with everyone who reads this collection.
The tone varies, which added to the pleasure for me: wry, humorous, sad, reflective, vengeful, sweet. Some of the characters I positively enjoyed disliking and it was immensely satisfying when they got their comeuppance, others squeezed my heart but I was never left without hope for them.
The plots were neat, too. The first in the book was delightful, very funny but also a touch macabre. Gaffer Tape managed to condense a whole novel of abuse into a few powerful pages with an ending that made me want to cheer. Animals feature in some of these tales and Sally’s love of creatures is evident in the closely observed behaviours and in their impact upon humans. The story about the badly treated guard dog was one of my favourites and left me moved by the innate goodness evident in most people.
Scattered like precious gems throughout the book are exquisite poems. These aren’t rambling sagas; they’re expertly crafted delights that follow strict rules such as the syllabic form of cinquains. The results are stunning in their ability to condense a world of meaning into a few considered words.
I’m a convert now and will be looking out for more collections of short stories by this amazing author.

Read the reviews and buy the collection: Amazon UK – And : Amazon US

You can find out about my other books and their most recent reviews: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2021

23 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Stories – A return to Tales from the Irish Garden – Winter: Chapter Five – The Dapperman by Sally Cronin

  1. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Weekly Round up – 14th – 20th March 2021 – Tom Jones, Egg Boxes, Poetry, Stories, Reviews and Funnies | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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