Mystery Mondays welcomes back Tallis Steelyard.
It may be that you might not realise that Tallis Steelyard has just produced his second book of stories and anecdotes. This is book, ‘Tallis Steelyard, a harsh winter, and other stories,’ is available from the first of June.
The Blurb is: More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Includes the unexpurgated account of the Mudfold and Cockeren feud, the dangers inherent in light music, and how Tallis first met and wooed Shena.
The book is available to all discerning readers at £0.99 from
Tallis does have a blog, it is apparently de rigueur now for all writers. It is available at
And here is a little snippet from the man himself, fitting the Mystery theme:
The Mystery of Dash Blont and why he left the city in such a hurry.
It isn’t often that the Hostess at a function rises to her feet and very kindly says that she hopes that the gentlemen will remove their jackets because the hall is a little hot. But in this case the Hostess was entirely correct. The hall, lit by several thousand candles on the tables and packed with people, was sweltering. The candles were there because some fool thought it created a more romantic ambiance than just using the oil lamps hanging high above us.
The meal was held in the great basilica of the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity. Gickens the publishers had hired all three parallel halls. The halls are separated only by lines of columns, and together they seat over a thousand people. The occasion was the annual dinner to celebrate the publishing of the Port Naain Annual Poetry Yearbook and tickets were all sold out at twenty-five vintenars a head. Obviously I hadn’t paid that sort of money! I was one of the real poets who were there to give an aura of authenticity. Everybody else was either an aspiring poet who’d paid to have their work included in the yearbook, or else was a spouse, lover, or sycophant clinging to the skirts or coat tails of an aspiring poet.
But soon virtually all the men were sitting in their shirt sleeves whilst the ladies for once could console themselves that they were the more practically dressed. Indeed there is much to be said for a low cut garment supporting ample embonpoint on an evening like that. The more flesh exposed to the night air, the better. In my case I’d barely got comfortable before I was summoned. I was in the west parallel hall and had to walk to the central hall where I would present yearbooks to the ten most promising new contributors. In reality this is normally a signal for people to leave their tables and circulate a little. Those who are to be awarded anything are seated on tables at the front of the central hall and are largely oblivious to the fact that everybody else seems to be ignoring them.
I did my bit, and frankly I feel I was both gracious and encouraging. The deed done I was about to head back to my seat when I was summoned to another table. One of my patrons was seated there with her party. When I arrived at her side she quizzed me as to whether any of the new poets were worth inviting to a soiree; and I promised, without any real expectation of success, to investigate the matter. I left her and before I had made ten strides I was stopped again, another patron, and after her I bumped into a friend, and before I could bid him goodbye a third patron noticed me and waved me over. Finally, noticing that people were starting to drift away, I made my way to the table and grabbed my coat. Before I could put it on, I was approached by one of those to whom I’d presented a yearbook. She was obviously encouraged by my words and wished to thank me.
To be honest she was one of the best of a mediocre year. Her work was solid and pedestrian but with encouragement she would improve. Indeed she had an agreeable disposition and a good voice which were to her advantage. On top of this she was attractive in a way that other women do not find challenging. They were not going to suspect her of trying to make off with their husband or son. It struck me she was the perfect choice to introduce to the first patron who’d approached me. So with my coat over my arm I led her to that worthy’s table, introduced them and left them comparing diaries. Secure in the knowledge that it had been a decent evening and I’d made the most of it, I was almost whistling as I walked out into the street.
Indeed it was a fine summer’s evening and the air was still warm, so I carried my coat the whole way home. It was only when I hung it up to put it away that I suddenly had my suspicions. It looked in remarkably good condition. With a growing sense of unease I slipped it on. It fitted well, indeed better than it should. Not only that but it was virtually new and of excellent quality. My coat, a hand-me-down from the husband of a patron, was frankly a little small for me. This one wasn’t mine. Hastily I went through the pockets to see if I could identify the owner. The first thing I found was an engraved card holder. The name on the front was Dash Blont. I knew him and got on with him quite well. But then I’m male and he was something of a professional ladies’ man. Over the years I’d heard him described harshly by my patrons and their friends, the terms, lecher, libertine, and philanderer had all been used, as had the words, cheater, rake, and seducer. Inside the card holder was a fine selection of ladies’ visiting cards and similar.
I continued to search the pockets and in the breast pocket found a letter. Knowing no shame I unfolded it and read it. It was from a young lady who had accepted his invitation to an assignation.
I passed it to Shena, my lady wife, and she read it. Her expression was hard when she looked up from the page. “Who is this Alluria?”
I opened the case of cards and shuffled through them before passing her one. “Alluria Wardon. I know the girl, or at least I know the family. They’re nice people and I don’t think the girl can be older than sixteen.”
“And Blont is older than you!” Shena said this with such vehemence I almost felt I had to stick up for him.
“Which isn’t all that old.” I could have added that I was the same age as she was and she always struck me as remarkably youthful but somehow I felt it wasn’t quite the time.
“So what are you going to do about it?” Shena asked me.
I re-read the letter. “It says tomorrow evening her parents will be out. He is to arrive at dusk and that there will be a light on in her room.” I read on, “It even tells him where the ladder is kept.”
“Then I leave the matter entirely in your hands Tallis.” Her tone of voice indicated the matter was closed.
I lay awake a little while trying to put together a plan. By the time I fell asleep I had one.
Next morning at breakfast I opened negotiations. “I have a plan, and it’s a good one.”
“Excellent, I knew I could rely on you Tallis.” Shena smiled at me and suddenly the whole day brightened.
I turned to Mutt, our ten year old lodger. “And I’ll need your assistance as well Mutt.” Then to forestall his demands for money I added, “With you helping we can make a success of this, and we might even make money out of it.”
Mutt looked undecided. “Yeah but…”
Shena looked at him. Where I would have said something, Shena just looked at him. He squirmed and definitely gave the impression he felt she was cheating but eventually said, “Yeah.”
I have him a list of places I wanted him to visit and people I wanted him to talk to. The expression on his face changed slowly from grudging acceptance to something approaching pleasure. When he noticed me watching he hastily looked sulky again. “I better get on with it then.”
I had a busy morning; I had a performance to plan for the following afternoon. If you want to get it right, a spontaneous presentation takes a lot of preparation. Mutt returned about midday, looking pleased with himself. Indeed he was pleased enough to unbend a little and admit that he was rather looking forward to the afternoon.
Having dined, I pocketed what coin Shena felt we could spare for this enterprise and set off. I knew Blont of old, and he tended to lunch at the Lubbergate Tavern. Still I’d had Mutt check as part of his morning duties. Blont was there, sitting at table, a wine glass in one hand. I went in, got a glass and purchased a bottle and went to sit with Blont. Before he could say anything I poured wine into his empty glass.
“The drink is one me Dash. I would like to pick your brains, discreetly.”
He sipped the wine and nodded his approval, “A good vintage with decent body.”
Given that one of Mutt’s tasks was to have the landlord cut the wine with plum brandy, I’m not surprised it had body. I took a sip and decided that it was actually rather good.
“I wondered if you could tell me anything about Madam Conslet?” Given he’d had one of her cards I felt it was pretty certain he knew her.
He leaned back in his seat and took another sip of the wine. “Wondering if she’s patron material Tallis?”
I nodded my agreement, and he proceeded to give a dispassionate analysis of Madam Conslet. This produced a discussion which lasted for most of the bottle. Indeed once I’d got him talking the problem would be getting him to stop. He finished with one lady and moved to the next, and at one point I had to stop him because he was talking faster than I could take notes. I called for a second bottle, and then a third.
As he talked I studied him. He was indeed immaculately turned out. This struck me as unfair, in that the coat he was wearing was even better than the one I had acquired. Nobody needs two coats that good. But as I looked closer I could tell that there was a hint of make-up around his face and I began to suspect that his hair might be dyed. As Shena said, he was older than me and perhaps it was beginning to show.
As I emptied the third bottle into Blont’s glass I glanced towards the door. I could see Mutt’s face peering in. I nodded and relaxed back into my seat. As Blont raised his glass to drain it, in through the door walked a giant of a man, a walking wall of scar tissue and muscle. He looked round and roared, “Where’s Blont, where’s the bastard as betrayed my daughter!”
Blont looked round frantically. I can only assume that somewhere in his past was a lady who could have such a father. “I’ve got to get out of here Tallis.”
Immediately I sprang to my feet. “Quick, stick with me, I know a way.”
I lead him up the stairs, leaving the shouting and roaring behind. I led him out of a window onto a lean-to roof and from there along a narrow plank to another lean-to. This one had a skylight in it. I opened the skylight and swung down through it. Indeed I overswung, just to make damned sure I didn’t land on the trapdoor directly below the skylight. “Quick, down here.”
Rather clumsily Blont followed me.
I raised my voice to make sure he could hear me, “Aim at the trapdoor below you, I landed on it.”
Blont tried to look down as he swung. This combined with the effects of the drink ensured that he got his swing wrong and when he dropped he hit the trapdoor with all the grace of a sack of anvils, crashing through it into the cess pit. As he broke the crust the stench was almost overwhelming. Mutt had spent a fair portion of the morning cutting most of the way through the planks of that trapdoor; I hoped he was gratified by the results.
Hastily I reached for the broom that was standing in the corner and used that to poke about in the contents. Finally I found Blont and he grasped the other end of the broom. Mutt made himself visible at this point and together we managed to pull the man out. He lay gasping on the floor. At this point a woman appeared.
“What’s going on here?”
Blont turned to me, “Who’s she?”
“I’m the proprietor of this fine establishment I’ll have you know.”
Blont struggled to his feet. “You run a cess pit?” There was a note of drunken incredulity in his voice.
“No, this is The House of Forbidden Pleasures.”
“A brothel!” Again the note of incredulity.
I decided to take charge. “Madam, my friend here has had to flee and has inadvertently fallen in your cess pit; could we prevail upon you to let us have somewhere for him to wash.”
She looked at him. “I’ll have them drag a bath into the yard and you can fill it with water from the trough.”
We walked out into the yard and a wooden barrel was produced. I was handed a bucket with which to fill it. I looked at Blont. “I suppose you better get undressed.”
He looked round the yard, “Here?”
“It’s a bordello; I don’t suppose you’ll be the first.”
He stripped off and as he stood there naked I emptied a couple of buckets over him and then he climbed into the barrel. The madam returned with a block of soap for him. As he scrubbed himself down I roughly washed his garments in the bucket. I was quite amused to discover there was a corset among them.
As I washed the trousers I quietly extracted the purse from the pocket, hopefully this would cover my investment.
Blont, looking older with the hair on his temples a distinguished grey climbed, dripping, out of the barrel. “My clothes will never dry in time!”
I looked at them. “It’ll take three washes to remove the stench.”
“So what do I wear?”
“It’s a bordello; they always have clothes left by previous clients.”
And so it proved. We managed to outfit him quite reasonably. In return for his corset the madam proved him with a selection of clothing that almost fitted. Admittedly it wasn’t fashionable, and personally I felt the colours were brash and the cut of the garments tasteless. Not only that but the britches were too loose, there was no belt and the jacket was too tight. But still one cannot have everything.
As he stood there in his new finery I did a final test, stood behind him and sniffed. “I’m sorry, but you still stink.”
I turned to the madam, “Have you anything….”
She was getting into the spirit of things, grinned at me and departed. She returned minutes later with a large bottle of cheap perfume and proceeded to douse him with it. She sniffed him appreciatively then suddenly hugged him and gave him a big slobbery kiss. “Oh it makes you irresistible.”
He broke free and fled, leaving her laughing in the middle of the courtyard. I left Mutt to collect the clothes (and especially the shoes, I needed a new pair and I was sure they’d fit.) whilst I followed Blont.
I caught up with him and led him into the nearest bar and placed a glass of plum brandy in front of him. “Drink it, you need it.”
He grasped it, raised it to his mouth and drank it off in one. He coughed and put the glass down. “I feel better for that Tallis. Now to get home, get changed and get to my rendezvous. If I’m quick I can still make it.”
I nodded. “If you follow me I know a short cut through Dilbrook. You’ll make it.”
If he’d been sober he’d probably not had agreed to my suggestion. As it was he quite brightened up and when I set off at a jog he kept up quite well. Especially given he had his hands in his pockets to keep his britches up and was wearing mismatched shoes. All I needed now was for Widow Handwill to do her part.
We were well up the Mill Brook when I realised that the good Widow had done me proud. We dropped over the bank and suddenly found ourselves in the midst of two or three score ladies. The Widow had organised an impromptu picnic and nature ramble and had invited everybody. She told me later that if anybody had tried to cry off, she’d merely whispered in their ear that, “Trust me; you’ll kick yourself if you don’t come.”
Inevitably one of the ladies cried, “Look it’s Tallis, and who’s that with him.”
When the answer came I recognised the Widow’s voice. “Heavens, it’s Dash Blont.”
“Isn’t he looking old?”
“And his clothes…”
Of course they all crowded round him and to be fair to him he tried to be gallant, he really tried. But the cheap scent, the lingering smell of cess pit, the ridiculous amount of low-priced plum brandy he’d drunk all conspired against him. I think it was the need to hitch up his britches repeatedly that broke him. Suddenly he just turned and fled, and Port Naain saw him no more.
Were Tallis less busy he’d doubtless remember to thank me, Jim Webster, for the efforts I make on his behalf. But you know what it is with someone like Tallis who is constantly in demand. So I just get on with writing his stuff down for him and from time to time making collections of his wit, wisdom and jumbled musings available for a grateful public.
Tallis does have a blog, it is apparently de rigueur now for all writers. It is available at
Riding in on his coattails I’ll merely mention that my own books can be seen at Jim Webster’s Amazon page