It has to be said that I have had some unusual patrons in my time. Thus being a poet is often a rather fraught experience. One arrives to assist in a soiree and discovers that you are instead called upon to preside over an orgy, a brawl or even a séance.
But Madam S was one of the more interesting ladies. A quiet woman, seeking only peace and occasional solitude, she was constantly denied this by her husband and children. But as they do, her children left home, creating a small, brief, oasis of tranquillity before they started depositing grandchildren on her.
Her husband on the other hand took to spending more time at home as his work commitments eased (he was, in a rather grand way, a butcher, and his business was passing quietly into the hands of his son) and his love of building, tuning and playing barrel organs took over his life.
Then she had what might be called a lucky break. Her husband approached her with the suggestion that he travel to Meor to study under one of the great masters of the barrel organ. Given that he would struggle to get to Meor and back in a year, and the period of study could surely not be less than a year, she gladly encouraged him in this. Her previous hope had been that he fled the city in the company of a younger mistress, but barrel organs seem to have displaced amorous entanglements in his life and so this period of study was the best she could hope for.
Once she had granted her permission he left with all haste, fearing she might change her mind, and without announcing generally where he was going. So it was some weeks later when a friend asked Madam where her husband was. I was present at the time and was a little stunned when, apparently spontaneously, Madam replied calmly, “Oh I killed him.”
At this point it was obvious that her friend was merely talking for the joy of hearing her own voice and wasn’t registering anything anybody else said, because she just nodded, said “Delightful” and went on to talk about how her son was continuing to be a great success in the family usury business.
Initially Madam S may have said what she said because she realised her companion wasn’t listening and just wished to check this, but it is obvious that the idea grew on her. In the following weeks she started to drop subtle hints, sometimes in the presence of people who were listening. She never actually lied. if asked about her husband she would merely comment, “I trust he finds his final resting place comfortable.” On other occasions she would respond to the query by saying something apparently unrelated, for example, “He really ought to watch what he eats, he had a very delicate stomach,” or “Since he’s been gone I’ve never seen the mott fatten so easily.”
Occasionally her tale varied, when offering round some rather elegant little pastries she informed her guests that “My husband loved these, they were the last thing he ate before he moved on”. Wickedly she told them after all had taken one and most had started eating.
To other guests it was hinted that, “He was getting rather too plump, a perfect fit for the butcher’s slab. But probably too old to be properly tender and needing longer, slower cooking. Still if you warn customers in advance it’s most unfair if they come back and complain.”
In my presence she spoke only the truth, allowing people to draw the conclusions they wanted to. I confess I did wonder what the effect would be, and waited with interest to see what happened. The authorities showed scant interest, as there was no formal complaint; no cadaver sprawled in an unseemly manner in a public place.
The whole episode seemed to have passed her children by entirely, which is hardly surprising, the young are much too busy with their own lives to listen to the gossip of their parents’ generation, and anyway their father had told them of his plans.
But within the broad circle of ladies of a certain age, her tale spread. Indeed it spread amongst husbands as well, as wives informed them that Madam S had poisoned her husband, disposed of his body, and had ‘got away with it.’ I suspect that when this tale was recounted, it was told with the sub-text of ‘where one successfully treads, others are sure to follow.’
Indeed Madam S capitalised upon her reputation. Glupus Gareen died of a fit not long after eating his dinner, but when anybody talked about the sad incident in her presence, she merely commented that, “One never compromises client confidentiality.” This is entirely true but utterly irrelevant to the matter in hand, but was regarded by her confidents as further evidence of the long arm of Madam S.
It must be said that this had an effect on society, or at least that part of society that Madam S was part of. Husbands no longer maintained an extended dalliance with some younger woman, but instead either remained loyally at home, driving their wives to distraction with protestations of eternal felicity, or instead hastily curtailed their marriage and transferred their affections, person, and money to the premises of the younger woman.
But for Madam the results were almost entirely good. She was surrounded by a respectful circle of ladies who revelled in the implicit notoriety gained by consorting with her. Her soirees were quiet, almost sombre affairs where I would read a little poetry and then the ladies would sit in restful silence meditating upon it. The occasional brief interludes where cakes or cups of delicately scented infusions were passed round with oases of whispered gossip, shared to the secret delight of all parties.
Indeed so entrenched was her reputation as an assassin that even the return of her husband, hale, hearty, and pushing a barrel organ of his own most recent design, didn’t detract from it.
Indeed with her newfound self confidence she convinced her husband to rent a small house some distance away to use as a workshop for his activities. It was there that he spent much of his time with a rather attractive young woman who had followed him from Meor, happily tinkering and creating new and more intricate mechanisms. Whilst she continued to play hostess to her growing circle of acquaintance; to their great mutual satisfaction.