The danger of losing one’s shirt


I have noticed over the years that young ladies who are brought up with a litter of older brothers tend to exhibit certain masculine traits. Prominent among them are a casual attitude to mindless violence and the ability to rapidly come up with a scathing riposte when they feel they are being mocked.
Girls with younger brothers rarely gain these mannerisms. They tend to exhibit gravitas, elegance, and associate with adults rather than their brawling siblings. Similarly if there are two or more sisters, they can combine to crush their male siblings with words of lofty contempt. It is the girl on her own with nothing but older brothers whose bearing and behaviour are changed.

Maljie didn’t have older brothers, or none that she knew off. Given her mother’s forgetfulness there was always the possibility that one or more might appear. But notional brothers, only theoretically present, do not offer the same learning opportunities as real ones. Fortunately for her, fate, and the Dame school she was reduced to attending, offered her something similar.

It must be confessed that the school was a little rough, especially when compared to Madam Frothwhissal’s Academy for Young Ladies which she had attended in the days of her mother’s prosperity. One also has to remember that Maljie was predisposed to assume that the only person who would look after Maljie’s welfare was Maljie. At the time, her father, (or her mother’s acting husband, I can no longer remember whether the two roles were held by the same person) was in the habit of shooting at her with a crossbow.

Now let us be fair. It wasn’t a full-sized military crossbow. After all it is unwise to use these inside a house. If you miss the target the quarrel can easily pass through two or three internal walls and even if it doesn’t hit a servant, there is still the issue of redecorating. No, Maljie was targeted by a smaller hunting crossbow, the sort of thing that will kill a dart at fifty paces. Also, in the interests of objectivity this was the sort of thing her father did when he was drunk, angry, or bored. In his better moments he would, in all likelihood, never have bothered.
Also it has to be said that she was never essentially hit by any of the quarrels fired at her. Obviously it says a lot for her reflexes and deftness, but it speaks volumes for her father’s incompetence. Still Maljie felt that something had to be done. Thus one day when she found herself alone in the house she replaced the crossbow nut with a cylinder of iron of the same diameter. Thus whenever anybody tried to fire the crossbow at her, they spent so much time struggling to cock it, she had disappeared.

Still, her upbringing guaranteed that Maljie had a certain direct attitude to solving relational problems. One morning, walking into school, one much taller boy said something insulting as she walked past. Instinctively she struck upwards and caught him under the chin, lifting him off his feet. The authorities were in two minds about this. The elderly ladies who ran the school were not enamoured of personal violence. On the other hand, when they heard from a third party what the boy had actually called Maljie, they felt that her response had been entirely reasonable.

Unfortunately the next day matters came to a head. Playing a game of rag football with some other girls, one goaded Maljie to the extent that Maljie slammed her against the wall of the school yard. Unfortunately (or perhaps, when one stops to think about it, fortunately) the wall was somewhat decayed. Maljie inadvertently succeeded in smashing her opponent through the wall leaving her sprawled on a pile of rubble in the street.

The headmistress summoned Maljie to her office and proceeded to remonstrate with the recalcitrant young lady. Alas it was obvious that Maljie felt entirely justified. She pointed out that if the finger of blame was to be pointed at anybody, the guilty individual was surely the person responsible for building maintenance. The headmistress tried one last approach. “Maljie, if you don’t learn to control your temper, somebody could get killed.”

It was at this point the lady had an epiphany. She had had, in her comparative youth, a gentleman admirer. They were still in touch, and relations between them were entirely amicable. This in and of itself is doubtless a pleasant enough revelation, but I sense you are beginning to wonder why I raise the point. The gentleman admirer was an enforcer for Old Murgaton the usurer. Indeed Murgaton was not merely a usurer, he was the head of an avarice of usurers. The headmistress described Maljie to her admirer and wondered if he could find a place for her. The elderly enforcer asked to meet Maljie and one seeing her, had no doubts. Her combination of elegant deportment, exquisite manners (especially for somebody engaged in usury) and capacity of sudden extreme violence meant she was the ideal recruit. He foresaw a golden future for her, whether as an enforcer, a bodyguard, or even a personal assistant for a senior manager.

Maljie was invited to the office for an interview. Purely by chance she was interviewed, not by one of the junior partners, but by Murgaton himself. The old man assumed that she was applying for a job as a clerk and asked her the appropriate questions. It was soon obvious that she had a fine grasp of accountancy and business practice and on that basis he hired her.

Maljie blossomed. She had a nose for fiscal irregularities and could assess the value of a set of accounts very rapidly. Not only that but those clients who assumed that they could intimidate a poor defenceless young woman who was alone with them in their office learned rapidly the small worth of their assumptions. Maljie was swiftly promoted, and soon became a very senior clerk indeed. In fact she was tasked with training other clerks.

In time, clerks trained by Maljie became much sought after. Other usurers sought them out. They gained a reputation as tough men who knew the business. Indeed within the commercial world of Port Naain they were known as ‘Maljie’s Boys.’

Maljie herself made her mark. At one gathering of senior usurers and their people, one worthy addressed the assembly. He started his remarks, “Gentlemen, we are….”
Nobody knows what he was going to say, it was drowned out by Maljie’s comment, “My God, I’m not here.”

On another occasion, an award dinner of some sort, it was decided that they would impose a dress code. Apparently on previous occasions younger usurers, fearing trouble, had been known to turn up in half-armour. On other occasions, the fashionably attired had arrived, wearing flounced tunics with leg of mutton sleeves, or wearing cravats and matching cummerbunds. In the interests of good taste and peaceful coexistence the organisers decreed that the dress code was shirt and tie.

Maljie turned up wearing a shirt and tie. Apparently she was wearing only a shirt and tie. Whilst the shirt was a long gentleman’s shirt, the sort that tucks well into your britches and you can sit upon, it wasn’t long enough to disguise the fact she wasn’t also wearing a proper set of lady’s drawers, the sort which are tied at the knee.

You must not think that her rapid rise within her chosen profession won her nothing but friends. But her reputation ensured that she could normally hope for a least formal courtesy. Still there were occasions, even in usury, when a certain informality reigns. It was at one celebratory dinner where Maljie was seated at one table, and one of her detractors was seated at another. As the evening went on, the detractor drank more than was wise, and his remarks grew louder. Maljie ignored them, after all he was drunk. Then at one point, as he leaned back in his seat, she slipped her foot under the chair leg, tipping it over and dumping him on the floor. She left not long after, but thought no more about the incident until the following morning when she saw him arrive at work. He was battered and bruised. Apparently when he tried to leave, ‘Maljie’s boys’, who had been listening to his comments with growing irritation, ‘had a word with him.’

I am not sure whether I have mentioned that Maljie had a husband? To be honest his very existence is peripheral to this tale. Indeed he is relevant only in that Maljie had just separated from him and was intending to divorce him. To be honest I’ve always taken this decision on her part as an example of how essentially civilised she is. After all, she was willing to face the expense of the divorce courts. Many couples in the same position will instead take the cheaper but informal route of competitive assassination.

Still, Maljie felt that under the circumstances, when she attended the seventieth birthday party of Old Murgaton, she ought to make a special effort. She didn’t want the world to think that she was in any way diminished by her situation. Thus she entered the party in an eye-catching long black dress of supreme elegance. As she was announced the hum of conversation stilled as everybody turned to look at her. From one side, somebody asked, in a loud voice, “Maljie, are you hunting for a man?”
This remark produced absolute silence. Maljie looked lazily around the room and answered, “If I can find a man.”

At this point Old Murgaton stepped forward, offered his arm and claimed her as his partner for the evening. As he said to her quietly, it was the only way he could think of that ensured the tranquillity of the evening


Should you be short of something to read, I’ve just started a blog tour and Tallis Steelyard stories will be appearing on a number of truly fine blogs over the next fortnight. Below is the list so you know where to find them.

Chris Graham


A fine residence. 14th July
GD Deckard

Writers’ coop A man who doesn’t pay his bills never lacks for correspondence 15th July
Ritu Bhathal


Be careful what you pretend to be 16th July
Willow Willers


Call yourself a writer 17th July
Colleen Chesebro Every last penny 18th July
Robbie Cheadle


It all comes out in the wash 19th July
Sue Vincent noteworthy 20th July
Stevie Turner


Oblige 21th July
Annette Rochelle Aben


Performance art 22th July
Lynn Hallbrooks




The alternative career of Dilkerton Thallawell. 23th July
Jaye The automated caricordia of Darset Dweel. 24th July
Ashlynn  Waterstone The dark machinations of Flontwell Direfountain. 25th July
suzanne joshi


Thoroughly married 26th July
Ken Gierke


Water under the bridge 27th July
MT McGuire Who you know, not what you know 28th July


13 thoughts on “The danger of losing one’s shirt

  1. I always tell people, i feel like I’m super old. I come from a time when young ladies knew how to conduct themselves, they had grace and strength and acted more like ladies than boys.
    This was a good read

    Liked by 1 person

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