Madam Alena was, at the time, my oldest patron. A petite slender lady with short cropped white hair; she would from time to time summon me to her home to entertain a group of her acquaintances These were never events of great formality, more gatherings of friends who’d grown old together and knew each other too well for airs and graces.
They would ask me for gossip from the city, or reviews of plays being performed at the time, or whether a particular concert had been a success. Occasionally and the end of the afternoon (because they rarely met in the evening) I would be despatched to discover what had happened to a maid who had worked for one of them years ago, or to see whether the grandson of one of their gentlemen admirers sixty years ago was shaping up to be the fine figure of a man his grandfather was. I would report back on this at our next meeting.
Looking back, I realise now that had I been a mere thirty years older I would have classed Madam Alena as a friend. But I was young then and the fifty or sixty years difference in our ages was to me an insurmountable barrier. But I admired her immensely, and always felt she regarded me as an extra great-nephew. Certainly she gave Shena and I a nice present when we were married, in that she quietly paid off my few debts so we could start married life on an even footing. Looking at it in the cold light of day, I suspect that my debts were less than her daughter spent on clothes in a month, but to me at the time they seemed an immense burden.
Eventually she reached an age where it was considered unwise of her to continue living in her own establishment, and at her daughter’s insistence moved in with her and her son-in-law. Her daughter didn’t approve of me. I felt that she begrudged any money that her mother might slip my way, although to be fair, it might merely be that she worried that my company might make her mother over-tired.
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