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The Clockwork automaton of Thannial Jett

Rather than his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with one gripping adventure. A tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility.
Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society?

Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.

 As with Sue Vincent, I am honoured to open the Tallis’ tour of the blogosphere to promote his new book of a gripping adventure. Episodes published here:

Tuesday 13th,  Lady Edan’s Fan – Anita Dawes and Jaye Marie

Wednesday 14th The Picture of Unter Judd – Annette Rochelle Aben

Thursday 15th The clockwork automaton of Thannial Jett – Bridges Burning

Friday 16th The commode of Falan Birling – Musings On Life & Experience

Finishing on Saturday 17th with The Luck of Bedag Keep – Chris the Story Reading Ape 

Tallis Steelyard and the Sedan chair caper

The Clockwork automaton of Thannial Jett

It has always been assumed that I share the fashionable contempt for mime artists. Frankly I don’t. Indeed I’ve worked with them and once they can bring themselves to get over the ‘trapped in an invisible box’ routine, they can be useful partners. Look at their advantages. Unlike musicians and others I could mention, they are, almost by definition, silent. Not only that but whilst they can be somewhat distracting at times, compared to the lascivious gyrations of some dancers, they are staid and uninteresting.
Finally they are often so pathetically grateful to get any sort of paying work at all, that they can be trusted to follow instructions with almost dog-like devotion to the detail.
Now I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse Virgilio, another of Madam Jeen Snellflort’s gentlemen adventurers of being a mime artist, but it must be said he had studied the art and was modestly accomplished in it. When not following his art, or doing whatever gentlemen adventurers are supposed to do when not actually adventuring, he earned an extremely modest living as an assistant clerk of works to the drains department. This organisation might need some explanation. Some parts of the city do have drains, and of course
the Sump has to be flushed. So there is a small permanent staff of workmen who do the maintenance. Whichever Sinecurist picks up the bill for the department is expected to send their household staff to assist if matters get particularly fraught.
Fate, or his own inspired choice, had given Virgilio the task of acquiring the clockwork automaton of Thannial Jett for Madam Jeen. He spent some time in reconnaissance. Every three days Thannial Jett had his automaton perform in Cross-pein Hammer Square just outside Thacker’s Yard. The automaton, man sized, would arrive in a crate. The crate would initially be screened by a curtain which surrounded it completely, Finally when a crowd had gathered, the curtain was whisked away and the crate was opened to allow the crowd to see the automaton sitting writing at a desk. After a couple of minutes it would put down the pen, stand up and walk out of the crate and perform a range of exercises as if loosening up after being seated for too long.
Finally as the clockwork ran down and the automaton started to move more slowly, Jett would gently catch it. Virgilio noted that at this point Jett always pressed a stud on the neck, which seemed to release any remaining tension in the spring for the automaton always relaxed totally at this point.
Merely acquiring the device wasn’t enough for Virgilio. He wanted to make sure that there was no investigation that might lead to difficult questions being asked. He needed a substitution rather than just a removal.  His first thought was to just produce a crate and substitute his crate for the automaton and crate. This he discarded on the grounds of weight. There was no way he could have lifted it on his own.
He then pondered briefly breaking into Jett’s premises, removing the automaton and taking its place in the crate. This idea he also discarded when casual conversation with one of Jett’s assistants revealed that the automaton was wound up just before it left the premises. The key was pushed unto a hole concealed between the buttocks.
Finally Virgilio hit upon his plan and made his preparations. Firstly, like every assistant clerk of works since the beginning of time, he habitually added the signatures of his superiors to all the work sheets. Hence he invented an entirely new project, ‘The New Drain.’ The first steps in creating the New Drain were to dig six inspection hatches in Cross-pein Hammer Square. These he marked out on the ground and two of the gangs proceeded to dig them, line them with brick, fit ladders, and fit the cast iron hatch covers.
To be fair the gangs did question their work. Normally when you dig a new inspection hatch you dig down six or seven feet until you hit the drain, and that done you work from there. Virgilio’s explanation that this time it had been decided to install the inspection hatches first and then have the drain dug to join them later struck them as typical of the sort of bright ideas you get from university trained civil engineers.
On the day that he had decided to act, Virgilio arrived at the square very early. He was wearing white satin breeches, red jacket, a wig, and a considerable amount of makeup smeared on his face. He opened the inspection hatch he felt most likely to be nearest the crate when it arrived and climbed down the ladder, replacing the hatch cover after him. He then waited in silence until finally Thannial Jett and his assistants arrived. Virgilio
could hear them stamping about and when everything went quiet he carefully lifted the hatch cover and peered out. He was near the crate and better still, the curtain stopped people from seeing him. He hastily clambered out, opened the back of the crate, pulled out the automaton, pressing the stud on its neck to relax it. He then gently lowered it down the inspection hatch, carefully replacing the hatch cover when he was done. Then he wiggled into the crate, pulling the back closed after him, and took his place on the
seat.
He was barely seated there when there was some sort of commotion outside, perhaps the curtain being removed. Then suddenly the front of the case was opened and Virgilio was on display. Mimicking the movements of the automaton he wrote briefly then stood up. Here his training as a mime came into its own. He was apparently very convincing as an automaton, having got the device’s jerky movements off pat.  As far as I can discover, Virgilio is one of those people who tries not to ‘over-plan.’ Up until this point he was not entirely sure how he would end the performance. After all the minute Jett caught hold of him at the end of the performance he’d realise that this was no automaton. Fortunately chance left an opening for him. A small child had wiggled through to the front of the crowd and was watching the performance with scepticism. Finally when Virgilio’s callisthenics brought him near, the child reached out and grabbed Virgilio’s leg.
“Hey, it ain’t real, it’s a man.”
Virgilio didn’t hesitate, he spotted a gap in the crowd and broke free from the grasp and fled through the gap and away. Behind him he could hear shouts as people demanded their money back from Jett and denounced him as a fraud.
When it came to recovering the automaton, Virgilio’s plans had been suitably vague. He had initially intended to go with a handcart and collect it at night. Unfortunately in Port Naain, moving about at night with a handcart merely draws attention to your activities. There is a feeling that no honest man ever trundled a handcart through the streets in the hours of darkness.
But having handled the automaton he came up with a simpler plan. He removed all the makeup and waited until evening. Then, dressed in his own clothes and carrying a cloak he made his way to Cross-pein Hammer Square. When nobody was about he hauled the automaton out of the inspection hatch, threw a cloak round its shoulders and placed the automaton’s arm over his
shoulder. Then, singing raucously like a drunken student trying to get his even drunker friend to bed, he weaved his noisy way home. Next morning, with the automaton bundled in canvas, he pushed it on a handcart to Madam Jeen Snellflort’s abode and she took care of things from then on.
Thannial Jett avoided being charged for fraud, but was instead charged with common assault when he attacked a bystander with the automaton’s key, knocked him down and promised to ‘wind him up.’ The nameless collector who had acquired the automaton was delighted. The knowledge she gained from studying her acquisition pushed forward her own researches. The gratitude was tangible enough to be expressed in the form of three small freehold properties generously donated to the sanatorium.

The clockwork automaton of Thannial Jett_

 

Awakened and Enlightened ..Guest Post by Tallis Steelyard

HEAR YE! HEAR YE! 

Did I not promise you of great things to come?  I told you that I would be part of a team that would present fiction in a new way.  I am installment eight.  You know that little kid near the end of the line, costume on and ready to hit the stage and delight you.  Then the IT gremlins came out to play and put a halt to things at about installment four or five, so just to get the you in the mood I started posting from the beginning the installments.  Well! Gremlins conquered and we are ready to rock. So I am posting my part YEA! and below that I will have the links to the foregoing.

Visit Jim for more and more and more

Awakened and enlightened

Awakened and Enlightened

I decided it was time I made my way back towards home. One thing repeated exile teaches a poet is humility. Disappear to avoid the results of some unfortunate understanding and it doesn’t take long for people to either forget you or to shift the blame onto some other poor beggar who didn’t absent themselves so briskly. Hence I was sadly confident that my return to Port Naain would evocate little reaction.

I headed south to Port Naain, working my way down the coast. This is an area I know better and even have friends I can call upon. It was one of these friends who is largely responsible for my meeting up with the Venerable Order of the Awakened and Enlightened Siblings.

We lingered too long over breakfast, so that it made sense to take an early lunch, and it wasn’t until early afternoon that I finally set off. Thus I was still seven or eight miles short of my destination when I decided I really ought to look for somewhere to stay for the night. The first place I saw after making that decision was a sprawling old mansion set back from the road. It seemed in good repair, there were plenty of lights showing at the windows and by the gate was a sign announcing to the weary traveller that this was the monastery of the Awakened and Enlightened Siblings and that travellers were welcome to stay.

Thus encouraged I walked up the drive and pulled the bell pull by the main door. A middle aged lady in a long robe admitted me and led me through to a reception room where she proceeded to ask me various questions; the usual things, name, occupation, reasons for travelling. I admit to a degree of caution, as I felt it might not be entirely wise to go bandying about the name of Tallis Steelyard. So I merely said I was Torris Blurt, gave my profession as ‘clerk’ and said that I was travelling to Port Naain to seek employment.

I was shown to a small sparsely furnished room. All it contained was a sawdust stuffed mattress on the floor, but this was accompanied by what appeared to be an adequate number of blankets. There was a hand-pump in the yard for washing, and when ready I was encouraged to visit the guests’ dining room.

It seems that I was the only guest. So as I ate I had the undivided attention of the guest master who proceeded to expound the teachings of his order.

Their beliefs appear simple enough. That once one reaches a certain level of wisdom one realises that man is the only god man needs. This is called ‘the awakening.’ Once somebody is awakened they realise that it is the duty of the awakened to guide and govern the rest of the population who so obviously are incapable of governing themselves. These masses are known as the sleepers. But the awakened also realise that even they are not yet ready to govern, so they purify themselves by a strict diet, celibacy and abstaining from alcohol. Success in purification takes the initiate to the highest level when they become enlightened. It is to the enlightened that the populace should look for leadership and guidance.

Judging by the meal I ate, a dish of beans cooked in water, and served with some coarse bread; the recommended diet for the awakened or the masses was unlikely to include such things as meat. On the other hand I did get a glass of beer to drink. It was thin and sour and I recognised it instantly. It was ‘Abbot’s Ale’, sold by many taverns and inns in Port Naain. Even by the undemanding standards set by Port Naain brewers, it was bad.

So I tentatively asked the guest master about the ale. He held up a glass of the pale yellow liquid. “It serves two purposes. Firstly sales help to fund our order, so that we might continue our good work. Secondly and perhaps most importantly, those who drink this will not be drinking stronger drink, so it reduces drunkenness and encourages teetotalism. It is indeed fortunate that we sell such a lot of it.”

With that he poured me a glass of a fruit cordial. “This is what we encourage folk to drink instead and we supply it very cheaply to those places that take the ale.”

The fruit cordial was pleasant enough, but again I recognised it. In the sort of bar where folk drink ‘Abbot’s Ale’ it is customary for the person purchasing it to ask for their glass to be ‘fortified.’ The vendor would fill the tankard three-quarters full of the ale and then top it up with a mix of half fruit cordial and half cheap spirit. The resultant drink is, it must be admitted, considerably more pleasant than the straight ale, but one is advised not to drink too much of it. Opinions differ as to how much is ‘too much’. Personally I’d suggest the sensible limit is less than a full glass. I have known people drink it to excess and not merely lose any memories of that evening, but of the following three or four days as well.

The talk then drifted delicately to the topic of donations. I cheerfully pulled out my purse and poured a small quantity of low denomination copper onto the table. The one ‘silver’ coin contained so much lead it had bent and I gently straightened it out again. Given the whole heap wasn’t worth much more than the value of a glass of beer, he gracefully declined. I assume he thought I had more money secreted about my person, but he was mistaken. As befits a poet, my penury was entirely authentic.

He encouraged me to contemplate joining the awakened. He pointed out that only the wise and properly educated could govern the populace properly, and the masses could only benefit with members of the order guiding them. After all, with us to lead them by example into lives of frugality and sobriety the world would be a better place. Then as I grew in wisdom and understanding, I would inevitably rise to join the enlightened.

I said I would sleep on it, and made my way to my room. To be fair the mattress was not uncomfortable, and there were enough blankets so I slept tolerably well. Unfortunately I awoke early feeling distinctly hungry and was unable to get back to sleep. So I dressed and went down to the dining room. It struck me that I might find the makings of an early breakfast and then I could be on my way. The dining room was empty and there was no sign of anybody in the kitchen. I was a little surprised, but it wasn’t until I looked out of a window and saw the false dawn that I realised how early it was. I continued to drift through rooms like a particularly peckish ghost, until I came upon a short corridor I’d never noticed previously. I walked down it and opened the door at the far end. This led into a dining room rather more elegantly appointed than the one I had eaten in the previous evening. Was this perhaps for the enlightened?

There was a door off the dining room which led to a separate kitchen and a substantial pantry. Here I was indeed enlightened. I returned to my room, collected my cloak and the trusty wicker fishing creel which had served me so faithfully as a pack and made my way once more to the pantry. There I nibbled on honey-cooked sausages whilst contemplating my possible breakfast. In the end I took more sausages, several slices of cold roast ham, some bread which I sliced and buttered thickly to save time later, a honey comb and two bottles of a rather fine white wine. I also acquired a quantity of black pudding and bacon which I could offer as my contribution to the meal should I stop at some peasant household that night.

I slipped quietly out of the window, closing it gently after me and made my way back to the road. It did strike me that within the order, it was obvious that abstinence from alcohol and decent food was only a requirement for those lesser beings. These were rules that the enlightened were wise enough to set aside for themselves. Whether the rules set aside by those who adjudge themselves wise also included celibacy is a question I am afraid I cannot answer.

At this point it seems pertinent to mention that the story of Tallis’s escapades continues on other blogs. They will be reblogged in what may one day be accepted by biographers as the chronologically correct order on his own blog. Thus and so you can easily follow his gripping adventures.

 Also, as an aside, the reason for this whole performance, (aside for being ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’) is that another volume of his anecdotes has been published. Containing some work that has never appeared on the blog, this is ;-

 Tallis Steelyard. The Monster of Bell-Wether Gardens and other stories.

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Steelyard-Monster-Bell-Wether-Gardens-stories-ebook/dp/B075DG5JJ6/

 

https://www.amazon.com/Steelyard-Monster-Bell-Wether-Gardens-stories-ebook/dp/B075DG5JJ6/

AND PREVIOUS LINKS TO BEGINNING CHAPTERS

https://scvincent.com/2017/09/24/guest-poet-and-raconteur-tallis-steelyard-a-family-saga/
https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2017/09/17/playing-the-game-guest-post-by-tallis-steelyard/
https://addandsomuchmore.com/2017/09/18/of-kings-and-kindness/https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/the-spice-of-life/

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/the-spice-of-life/

https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/questions-happily-unanswered-tallis-steelyard/

https://jenanita01.com/2017/09/25/the-monster-of-bell-wether-gardens-and-other-stories-by-jim-webster-short-stories/

https://patriciaruthsusan.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/if-a-tree-falls-and/