, perhaps one of the foremost contemporary practitioners of the Cosy Mystery …
(Sarah Williams: 'How to Write Crime', published by Constable Robinson)
A MANAGING WOMAN
Is it a love story ? Is it a tale of good governance ? You decide… and let me know
Sister Matilda had a managing disposition. She was descended from a long line of managing women and she just couldn’t help it.
From the time she was fifteen just after her mother’s death, she managed her father, his household, his estate and the entire surrounding countryside. On her twenty-fifth birthday her father, like His Grace, King Henry, brought home a new bride; in this case a snippy slip of a thing of seventeen who produced a bouncing son and heir nine months to the wedding day.
Matilda had seen the writing on the wall and made her plans accordingly, waiting only to make sure her stepmother survived childbirth. Matilda was nothing if not practical. However, the stepmother was as tough and healthy as the step-daughter so Matilda took action.
“A nun?” Her father was surprised but relieved. There was no room for two strong-minded women in his household and protocol, not to mention his own sanity and peace of mind, demanded that his bride take precedence. There was little scope for a woman of Matilda’s talents at home now.
“A nun?” queried her aged Father Confessor. “But my child, have you the necessary humility for such a step?”
“Humility?” snapped Matilda, her eyes flashing indignantly. “Naturally I’m humble, Father. I am merely one of God’s creatures. Humility is no problem to me.”
The old man hid a smile. “Oh well,” he thought tolerantly. “Better for the child to exercise her abilities in a convent and perhaps find fulfilment as well as humility there, than to chafe at the bit at home, suffering the indignities of displacement.” In the end he said nothing, merely reserving to himself the secret pleasure of imagining the effect of Matilda on an enclosed community.
The effect Matilda had on her chosen enclosed community was not quite as devastating as the old man might have imagined. Conscious of her status as a mere postulant, lowest of the low in the convent’s hierarchy, Matilda kept her head down and her tongue between her teeth. Besides being practical and managing, Matilda was extremely intelligent and she knew that no good would come of interfering too soon.
Three years later Matilda was a chastened though still not humble woman. Her first convent was a wealthy foundation which could have offered plenty of scope for reorganisation had the Abbess and her officers actually wanted to be reorganised. They didn’t want that, however, preferring to wallow in a life of luxury and ease.
Matilda chafed unbearably.
“This place is a den of iniquity, where sinners wallow in idleness!” she fumed histrionically to her companion in the library one day. With typical bureaucratic lack of foresight the powers that be had put Matilda to work assisting with illuminating the Gospels. She was competent enough with a pen but having to sit for hours at the painstaking work, when the kitchens, the cellars, the still–room and the infirmary all cried out for her talents, was almost more than she could bear. She could have tolerated, even enjoyed, sorting out the convent’s accounts, but this fiddling, intricate work drove her mad.