I have always had a passion for the subtle language of the fan, often a lady’s most formidable weapon. In this instance, it was enough to bring the inimitable Tallis, a poet of some renown, to my domain. Every once in a while you come across a writer whose work instantly appeals. Perhaps it is the use of language and how it is shaped, perhaps the subtle humour or the nonchalance with which a fully formed world springs from their pen. Let me introduce you to my guest…
Requested to perform by a lady.
Yes indeed, it is I, Tallis Steelyard who takes the liberty of laying these few simple words before you.
When a lady but flutters her fan, I am instantly there by her side to provide her with my wit, my wisdom and my verse.
And I’ll have less of the knowing smiles and sly glances; I am a poet, not a troubadour. Let others venture into the bedroom, Tallis Steelyard restricts himself to the literary salon.
Mind you, it has to be said that not everybody seems to realise this, and in my youth I intermittently ran into problems in this area. I remember one dire occasion when I thought all was lost. As you might realise the life of a jobbing poet is the quest for a reliable patron, or perhaps, if I might use the term, a stable of reliable patrons. Hence one responds politely to any request to perform your verses.
Now it happened that I had won rapturous applause for a rendition of one of my little offerings at the Hanchkillian residence. Old Mistress Hanchkillian was my patron then, a great lady; you won’t see her like again. But there was a group of young ladies in attendance; some at least were her granddaughters. I returned to my seat, gratified by the reception, and one of them slipped me a note. I opened it and it was innocent enough.
“Master Steelyard, would it be possible for you to perform at my residence in front of an exclusive audience. Is tomorrow afternoon possible?”
I glanced up to see the young lady smiling at me across the room and I nodded to show that it was. She smiled at me and mouthed ‘Thank-you’. I gave the matter no more thought until I got home that evening.
As we ate our evening meal I mentioned that I had work for tomorrow. Shena my lady wife expressed interest and Benor asked to see the note. For a young man he was remarkably cynical.
“Tallis, are you sure this isn’t an assignation?”
Mutt nudged me, (Mutt was about ten at the time, he worked for Shena.) “Benor worried you’re muscling in on his territory.”
I adopted a high tone. “I trust that my honour is not being impugned here.”
Well damn me but Benor patted me on the arm in an almost fatherly manner. “Tallis, I have no doubts at all about your loyalty, and I don’t suppose Shena has, but it is entirely possible that this young woman has entirely the wrong idea.”
Well I confess now that I sulked for the rest of the meal. Finally Shena suggested that I have Mutt accompany me. Well I pointed out that was ludicrous. Mutt has the sort of presence that hangs round a literary salon like a stale fart. So Shena promised to have him washed and presentable, and he wouldn’t come in, but linger outside watching through the window.
So there we left it. After a very light lunch, composed mainly of the last of the bread dunked in some old wine to soften it, Mutt and I set off. When we got to the door Mutt just disappeared from plain sight. I thought I caught a hint of his shadow by a pillar but I dismissed him from mind.
Much to my surprise, at my knock it was my patron, a young lady by the name of Suzaine, who opened the door.
“Ah, Tallis, delighted you could make it. Come in, I’m afraid the maid has taken the afternoon off, she had to go and see her aged mother who’s taken a funny turn.”
She ushered me into the withdrawing room and gestured to a chair where I obediently seated myself. I noted that whilst there were several other chairs, there was only one occasional table with a bowl of nibbles and two glasses of wine. Hesitantly I asked, “When are you expecting the rest of your guests.”
She brushed this question off with an airy wave of one hand. “Oh they’re not coming, struck down by a complicated mixture of tummy bugs and what-have-you, they’ve all sent their tearful apologies so you’ll just have to be satisfied with performing for little me.”
It was then she said something about how warm the weather was for the time of year. I was about to say something, when she started loosening my cravat. Desperately I looked around for some sort of help but I couldn’t see out of the window so could hardly gesture to young Mutt. Anyway she slipped back demurely into her seat and asked me if I would like to give her a verse. So obviously I shot to my feet and paced the room proclaiming something I keep prepared. I glanced out of the window as I passed but the street was empty.
There was no help there, I was alone. I glanced at Suzaine and noticed she was sitting like so with her arms resting demurely on her lap. The problem was that her blouse was styled somewhat low, and her forearms were subtlety pushing inwards and upwards, emphasising her embonpoint. I continued to declaim, and she took and started to eat one of the nibbles. They were little slugs, stuffed with almonds and honey roasted. I can never taste one without thinking of this whole episode. Then half a slug broke off and dropped down her cleavage, disappearing from sight. She made a few delicate attempts to remove it and then sighed.
“It’s no good Tallis, you’ve got longer fingers than me, you’ll have to remove it. It’s starting to itch.”
With this she stood up and approached me.
At that point there was a knocking on the door, she froze, and then made to ignore it, but the knocking continued. In tones of barely disguised frustration she said, “I’d better go and see who that is.”
She swept out of the room and I followed, hoping that I might get a chance to make my excuses and leave. When she opened the door there was Shena with Mutt holding her hand, and on the far side of the road, Benor, laughing like an idiot.
It was Shena who spoke first. “I’m sorry to bother you in the middle of a soiree, but I’m afraid I need to speak to my husband.”
Suzaine backed away from the door, “I suppose you’d better come in.” She led Shena into the room and I escorted Shena to a chair and then sat down with Shena between me and Suzaine.
“It’s a terrible bore for you,” Shena said sadly, “But I had to come because Tallis forgot to leave me any money to go shopping with.”
This was news to me, if Shena was dependent on my earnings we’d have starved years ago. Suzaine muttered something but her heart wasn’t in it. She was watching with horrified awe as Mutt disposed of the bowl of honey roasted slugs.
As an aside, have you noticed this, women seem to go through a blind spot in their twenties and thirties when they forget how much a growing boy can eat. I suppose they’ve forgotten what their brothers were like, and they’ve not yet got sons to remind them.
But anyway I had to feel around in my pockets and of course I hadn’t a dreg on me. I displayed empty pockets to Shena and she fairly sobbed. Then she turned to Suzaine, still sobbing.
“Oh I’m sorry to be like this, it’s just that the twins are both teething, and I’ve left their older sisters looking after them whilst the other two try their luck at fishing off the wharf.”
Suzaine turned her gaze from Mutt to Shena. “How many children have you got?” The horror in her voice was almost tangible.
“Including Mutt here, eight.”
“You know what it’s like with some men,” Shena explained, “Tallis only has to take his shoes off for me to fall pregnant again. That’s probably why I’m so tearful at the moment.”
Hastily Suzaine went across to her little bag that was perched on one of the chairs. “Here,” she rooted through the bag and produced a purse and proceeded to empty it onto Shena’s lap. “You take this.”
I gently helped Shena to her feet. “I think I better accompany her, in her tearful moods you never know what she’s going to do. She might make an exhibition of herself.” I had to get that dig in; I’d still not got over being the father of eight imaginary children!
“Oh yes,” said Shena, almost gleefully, “I once took a knife to that wicked woman in Dilbrook.”
“Yes, yes dear,” I ushered her gently out into the street leaving Mutt to close the door afterwards. Arm in arm like an elderly married couple we walked down the street, taking the first right to get out of sight of the house.
As we walked I hissed, “Eight children!”
Shena giggled, “Benor coached me, I thought I was very convincing.”
From behind us Mutt said, “Have to do it again, looks to pay better than poetry.”
As usual when I attempted to clip his ear I missed.
But yes, what was I saying before I wandered off into reverie. Yes, that’s it. I was asked to mention books. I could point out that there is a slim volume of my own verses available, ‘Lambent Dreams‘ available for a mere 99p.
But I was also prodded to mention that there is a series of short stories available which chronicle the escapades of our youth. Admittedly they seem to be mainly written with Benor in mind, you’ll learn a little of the life of a poet but it’s mainly climbing in and out of windows and suchlike. Oh and unpleasant people threatening me with cold steel, which seems to happen far too much when Benor gets me involved in solving his detective mysteries.
There’s ‘Flotsam or Jetsam‘ and the latest is ‘A Much Arranged Marriage‘
Apparently I’m supposed to send a picture. Well there’s one of me on my blog at https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/
It’s a fair likeness. Obviously I’m a little older, there’s probably a touch more grey, but it suits well enough
After that I thought I might get a word in edgeways.
I’m Jim Webster and I suppose I might be regarded as at least partially responsible for Tallis and others.
I’m the author of four fantasy novels set in the Land of the Three Seas plus a number of longish short stories (20,000 words) or thereabouts.
The novels are available in paperback (and make perfect Christmas presents) as well as in e-book format
Just to see what I’ve done, which includes SF as well here’s my Amazon Page:
But anyway Tallis seems to have used up most of our joint allowance of space, so I’ll shut up and wish you all the compliments of the season.
Jim Webster describes himself as “Too old to play computer games and too young to watch daytime television… To make a living I sort of farm, sort of write and sort of help out where I’m wanted. I suppose one day I’ll grow up and do something properly ”
He is “probably fifty something, his tastes in music are eclectic, and his dress sense is rarely discussed in polite society. In spite of this he has a wife and three daughters.”