As a temple warden I get to listen to a lot of sermons. Unkind individuals have been known to comment that I, in point of fact, sleep through a lot of sermons but I would dispute this. If I have the ability to enter into a state of higher spiritual awareness, untroubled by the clutter of normal life and removed from the hectic nonsense of the day, then surely I am giving the preacher even more of my attention than the person who sits, apparently rapt, but is in fact frantically trying to work out how to make one small joint go between nine people, given she has just spontaneously invited several of the congregation to dinner.

But still, I have always made a point of listening assiduously to Maljie when she has the opportunity to preach. This isn’t something that happens often, and normally it is more her giving moral advice to the assembled mendicants. It is always useful to listen to these talks. I have occasionally learned things, sometimes to my advantage. But also one can have a quiet word with them afterwards explaining that whilst Maljie may have laid out a good strategy for somebody who has a host of corporate bullies at her beck and call; I personally would not advocate it to anybody with lesser resources.

Still, I was privileged to hear one of her talks. She had taken as her text the story about the maiden who opened the chest, only for all the troubles of the world to fly out of it. She then added that she could specifically relate to this story because she had had a somewhat similar situation herself, and stressed that the last thing to come out of the chest was Hope, which made everything bearable.

Now, purely by chance, I happen to know the full story of Maljie and the chest. It dates from an earlier period in her life when she was still involved, in some measure, in the business of usury. I was about to say, ’the sordid business of usury, but realise that it doesn’t have to be sleazy and disreputable. Still, in all candour, once one has heard enough to Maljie’s tales, one tends to assume the sordid.

It appears that the avarice of usurers of which Maljie was a both distinguished and decorative member had inadvertently drawn upon themselves the vengeful attentions of a forensic accountant. This is never wise, and Grattan Vorwit was known for his persistence and his attention to detail. Hence amongst the members of the avarice there was a distinct nervousness. Not that any of them would admit to having done anything immoral or unethical, but these things can be very subjective and unkind people often persist in seeing things in the worst possible light.

It was Maljie who decided to take direct action to see what was going on. She would infiltrate the household of Grattan Vorwit. Now this wasn’t particularly difficult. Attractive young ladies never lack for invitations, and an attractive young lady with a wide circle of acquaintance will often find herself in a position to pick and choose.

Thus it was not difficult for Maljie to be invited. She dressed appropriately for the occasion and mingled with the other guests. At an appropriate point she would slip away and investigate.
Now we are reliant for what happened next on Maljie’s recollections, but also the painting of no less an artist than Andeal Willnoton Quillabin. Apparently he heard Maljie’s tale not long after the event and proceeded to produce a painting based on her story.

Now here I must say that I am not entirely convinced by the painting. That a forensic accountant should keep his most private papers in a locked chest on a pillar by a stream in a wood does strike me as somewhat unlikely. Still, accountants do not necessarily think the same way as we lesser folk, and it may be that this location is the perfect safe storage space for all your files. After all, who would think to look there? But on that part of the painting I remain agnostic.

But one thing Andeal painted to perfection was Maljie and the dress. You might ask whether a wise woman would go investigating wearing a dress which seems to suggest that a wardrobe malfunction is only a matter of time. (And not a particularly long time.) I have discussed this with people who are far more experienced in these matters than I. They have shown surprising unanimity in their responses. Indeed several have pointed out to me that wearing a dress which appears to be merely one cough from at least theoretical embarrassment does enable a lady to distract attention from any number of other failings. I was given the names of any number of ladies who sing (but shouldn’t) or act (but cannot) and by giving careful thought to the fragility of their dress, manage to carry things off with considerable aplomb. Indeed they apparently win more fervent applause than those who merely sing or act competently.

Obviously this is not the only technique available. I have known ladies who pride themselves in the excellence of their underpinnings (even to the extent of carrying the business card of their stay-maker to share with friends and acquaintances.) Thus, fully rigged and as magnificent and as terrible as a great warship under full sail, they sally forth, their broadsides metaphorically double-shotted; a sight of awe and wonder.

This is not to say that a lady is doomed to one approach throughout her life. I have known many who in their younger days took naturally to the wardrobe malfunction technique. Yet now, older and wiser, they evoke nothing but reverent admiration as they advance under full sail.

Still, I digress. It seems that, wherever it was hidden, Maljie found the chest she was looking for. She opened it (which I suspect was no mean feat in itself) and peered within. She started working her way through the various documents it contained.

There was one which immediately gave her pause. It appeared that one of the avarice she was a party to, Unctuous Baldwen, had been involved in what she regarded as most unethical behaviour. The individual in question had been in receipt of money to invest. The investor was a lordling for Uttermost Partann, and before agreements could be finalised, the lordling had been overthrown and perished. Unctuous Baldwen had not even made the usual futile attempt to contact next of kin, instead he had quietly invested the money on his own behalf without even informing his colleagues! Maljie was shocked at such unethical behaviour.

She continued down the heap, alighting on a document which mentioned Philias Neeve. This apparently depraved individual was the formal leader of their avarice. Now it appeared that he was being actively lured away from them. Not only that but under the influence of ladies of negotiable affection (in all candour the term is not entirely correct. Very little was negotiable, there was a comprehensive series of fixed tariffs) Philias was forwarding to their rivals (whom he was intent on joining) information of potentially lucrative leads. Leads he should have been sharing with his current colleagues.

Maljie was now getting more and more agitated. The final straw came when she discovered that Annat Clodmal, their cleaner, was taking money from five different avarices to forward the contents of the waste paper bins she was supposed to empty. Indeed Maljie was further incensed when she realised that Annat appeared to be earning more than she was, and on top of that, her employers paid for her working outfit.

In desperation Maljie dug deeper in the box, finally emptying it. She was about to give the whole thing up as a bad job, but then as she ran her fingers across the bottom of the box, it opened to reveal a slim file. Almost greedily she opened it and read.

Now she knew that Grattan Vorwit’s family lived out in the country. When they came into town they stayed with her sister. Grattan rented two rooms on the ground floor of a town house on Ropewalk. One was his office, one was where he lived during the week. But here were the deeds to that very building. Along with invoices from boiler makers and sundry metal workers. There was also a spare key. Maljie pocketed the key (metaphorically pocketed, as a lady’s garments traditionally lack pockets forcing even the most proper into strange expedients.) Grattan obviously had a dark secret.

It was later that night when she entered Grattan Vorwit’s office. There were blinds over the upstairs windows but some light escaped. It was obvious that there were people in the upper rooms. She let herself in through the main door and tiptoed upstairs. She could hear laughter and a hum of talk. Finally she eased open the door and looked into the room. There, taking up most of the large room, was a steam railway. Small engines no larger than a house cat, drew any number of coaches along metal rails, through artfully crafted scenery. She casually made her way, as silent as a ghost across the room and looked through the other door. The railway continued. Perhaps half a dozen men, one of them she recognised as Grattan, were engrossed, inspecting the innards of an engine. This was obviously his dark secret.

It was then that she had her moment of realisation. Her hopes were not in vain. She was wise enough to realise that one uses what fate sends you however unpromising it might appear. She stepped into the room with the steam train enthusiasts, at the same time allowing her face to assume an expression of barely simulated delight. “Why gentlemen, this is truly amazing. You are all to be warmly congratulated.”

As Maljie said afterwards, a lady may be used to being admired, but when six middle aged men gaze at you with expressions of total adoration, it can take some getting used to. Still, not only did she widen her circle of acquaintance, but to the best of my knowledge, she has never since been bothered by unkind questioning from forensic accountants.


Should you want to discover more of Port Naain


As a reviewer commented, “

Tallis Steelyard: A Guide for Writers, and Other Stories by Jim Webster is as advertised, a collection of stories with different themes. I will look at only a few of the twenty-six tales. The School for Assassins under the title Tidying Up Loose Ends is remarkable in its tone. In some areas of Tallis Steelyard World, purposeful and planned killing is accepted; it is the casual acceptance portrayed in the story that I find worthy of attention. There are several sections on writing (per the title). Tallis will comment on the associated functions of publishing and promotion. If you are a writer, an avid reader, a reviewer, a publisher, or a person who attends events for the free food and drink, these sections are not to be missed. Readers may find themselves portrayed in one of the groups. The section on writers who write about writing for fun, profit, and financial independence will stick in my mind for a long time. Webster uses humor rather than a direct assault on the commission of scams by charlatans. I believe the author is holding back on “saying what he really thinks.”

The unsurpassed beauty of Tallis Steelyard creations is the elegant language used with precision to separate the occasional absurd from the daily mundane then remixing to produce entertaining stories. I like to select favorite quotes because there is no better way to illustrate what I find to be a unique writing style. This five-star collection reminds me of a quote from a film (possibly paraphrased). “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never quite know what you are going to get.” (Attributed to F. Gump). Readers will find literary candy of many varieties in this “guide.”

The importance of getting home under your own steam ***** Readers might guess by this story’s title that there is alcohol involved. True, but it was Bongo’s birthday. The passing of years brought Bongo to maudlin reflection on a boring life. Tallis and company decided that if Bongo could be transported home on a palanquin carried by a score of naked harlots, at least the birthday party would be a point of interest in Bongo’s otherwise humdrum life.

I will point out one feature of why Tallis Steelyard stories are great. Look at the word “naked;” it is OK to free associate. Then “By the time the wine was finished I was somehow surrounded by nearly three dozen young women dressed much as nature had intended.” (Kindle location 53). Further interesting imagery comes to mind. The narrator is not vulgar or offensive and does not employ “shock” terminology to describe weird situations. Bongo’s wife was not offended; readers should follow her example.

Not perhaps the best location ***** Sneal, a wandering merchant spent a day traveling on his way home through the unfamiliar countryside in the hope of discovering new markets for his goods. He ended the first day by spending the night at an inn located in a tree. After traveling the next day, the same thing happened. Same inn, same customers, same barmaid. The third day was a repeat of the earlier two. Finally, he arrived home. How did this happen? Cue the scary music. What happened when he recounted his adventure to Tallis?

The frantic scribblings of a novelist ***** This chapter is the first of several observations related to the lives of a novelist or a poet. Tallis offers contrasts as he pities the unfortunate novelist. Poets are superior in their social lives and sufficiency of income. Tallis said so. This section and the following five sections explore the world of writing. Quotes that stick in my mind follow.

There in Black and White ***** One of my pet peeves is discovering that after I download a Kindle book, 20% of it is devoted to promotion. Tallis points this out with “There is a feeling amongst publishers that the reader doesn’t really want the book they’ve purchased, but instead in point of fact wishes to peruse an assortment of other books that the publisher has available. Pictures of these and even sample chapters can in extreme cases double the size of the book.” (Kindle location 181).

Learning from others ***** Writing books from the comfort of home while in any state of dress and personal hygiene imaginable can bring instant and immense wealth. All one must do is follow the advice of proven authors. Tallis looks at the advisors as “a community of writers writing books about how to sell books that were bought largely by people who were interested in writing books about selling books.” (Kindle location 244).

Nobody does it like that anymore ***** Tallis does not dismiss time tested good advice. Departing from tongue-in-cheek humor, Tallis notes, “Writing is just another craft like joinery or metalwork, the more you do it, the better you get.” (Kindle location 271).

The uncompromising principles of the successful writer ***** Tallis consults a printer to find out the kind of literature that sells best. “This is what feeds the press Tallis my boy, cheap stories of forbidden vampire love, or demon love, or love with a score of fantastical, imaginary, or hopefully extinct creatures. (Kindle location 331).

A distinct shortage of assets ***** Many authors assure readers that reviews are vital to an author’s success. How can an author get reviews quickly? Tallis would “ instruct (the printer’s) domestic staff and secretary to write glowing reviews of his work under false names” (Kindle location 401).

Subsequent stories address other topics as Tallis leaves the subject of writing out of fear of appearing maudlin. Any would-be writers should continue reading the rest of this collection to pull themselves out of any depression caused by an examination of prospects for fame and riches in their chosen profession.

At the end of this Tallis Steelyard set of musings, I am left with only one question not addressed in this examination of the world of writers. Why does an author choose to sell a novel for USD 1.26?”

20 thoughts on “Hope

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