A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

Pastor Beamis was right; the Galls were not great talkers. Nor, it was soon clear, were they among those who eagerly embrace good fortune. They thought it might be nice if their daughter had a chance to study music abroad, but in the depths of their hearts it was a matter of indifference to them. The Pastor supplied all the enthusiasm. He talked a great deal about the opportunities a singer enjoyed to do the Lord’s work, by uplifting people and turning their minds to the finer things of life; in his own work he had been able to observe the splendid harvest of souls which could be reaped through the Ministry of Music. He pleaded eloquently with the Galls not to deny their daughter the chance that was being offered to her to be a force for good in the world. It was at this point that Solly thought it necessary to correct the balance of power.

“We haven’t made up our minds about Miss Gall, you know,” said he. “We have considered her application carefully, and this interview is merely to find out more about her. None of us has heard her sing; she may not be the person we are looking for at all.”

“You haven’t heard her on the Heart and Hope?” said Beamis. He was very merry about this. “You folks must be late risers. Certainly is nice to be some people! Our little programme enjoys a very high raring locally, you know. And of course we tape it and broadcast it from seven other stations, beside the local one. It’s by far the biggest religious independent in the province — barring metropolitan city broadcasts, of course. Manny’s voice is known — and loved, as I can show letters to prove — by close to twenty thousand daily listeners.” .

“What is she paid for that work?” asked Miss Puss.

“The Heart and Hope is not a paid quartet. We merely announce that we are unpaid on the air, and freewill offerings come in by every mail. Silver coins — O, it would touch your heart, some of them — and dollar bills and quite a few fives and tens. The law forbids us to ask for money on the air, but it comes, all the same. And every cent goes into the Tabernacle treasury.”

“You are the treasurer?” said the Dean, who could not resist it.

“I take care of the financial end, and of course the books are open to inspection by any of our members, any time they choose to see them.” Pastor Beamis fixed the Dean with a grimace in which brotherly love, transparent honesty and sorrow were mingled.

“You have some other work, then?” said Solly to Monica.

“She’s a clerk at the plant where her Dad works,” said Beamis. “In the Costing Department, Monny did very well in Commercial at High. But you’re wrong when you say you haven’t heard Monny; she sang at your dear Mother’s funeral. A lovely little Classic — My Task — sweet thing. And did you realize that Monny had never seen or heard of it until eighteen hours before she went on the air — sorry, before the sad occasion? Mr Cobbler brought it to her the night before; she ran through it a coupla times with him; sang it perfectly at three the next afternoon. Monny’s quite a little trouper. Get up anything at short notice and turn in a fine performance. Not many singers can do that. You’ve heard her, and you didn’t even notice!” Pastor Beamis laughed chidingly.

“Our attention was elsewhere,” said Miss Puss, and the Pastor’s rubber face immediately assumed an expression of understanding and condolence; but he was not abashed, which was what she had hoped for.

“I think we should hear Miss Gall now,” said Solly. “I’ll ask Mr Cobbler to come in.”


“Well?” said Solly to the executors, when at last Beamis had herded his charges out of the house and disappeared, still talking, down the walk. “What did you think of her?”

“There is no question in my mind that she is a very nice girl,” said the Dean. “It seemed to me that she handled herself modestly and with dignity in a difficult situation. But whether she is the girl we are looking for is very much an open question. I’m not impressed by her parents, or by that man, who seems to be a dominating influence in her life — if I may make such a remark without being accused of Phariseeism,” he added, cocking an eye at Solly.

“I suppose it’s ability, rather than character, that we’re looking for,” said Solly, avoiding the glance and looking at Snelgrove.

“Are they ever found apart?” said the lawyer.

“Very often, in the arts, I believe. Are we going to hold it against the girl that her parents are stupid and dominated by a quack evangelist? I thought she seemed intelligent and pleasant. If she can really profit by the kind of training we are able to give her — I should say, that we can pay for — isn’t that the main thing?”

“Unless you believe that the girl is a genius, and so beyond the usual rules of probability, you must certainly take these other things into account,” said the Dean. “You can educate her beyond her parents, and make her into something that they might not recognize, but you will not really raise her very far. You can polish and mount a pebble, but it remains a pebble. I do not blame the girl, of whom I know no more than the rest of you, but it is plain that she is being exploited by that creature Beamis; she sings in his quartet, which consists other­wise of his own family, and which I happen to know coins money. If she were a person of real character — more character than her parents, for instance — would she put up with that?”

“She’s only twenty, Mr Dean,” said Solly, “and, saving your rever­ence, it is not easy for a very young person to rebel against a clergyman who has full parental support. It seems to me that her voice is the real clue to the problem. What did you think of it?”

“I really can’t say,” said the Dean. “I was so embarrassed by the things she sang. I don’t pretend to a deeply informed taste in music, but really –!”

“I can’t quite agree,” said Miss Puss, who had sat in uncharacteristic silence since the Galls left. “I was greatly moved by her singing of Tosti’s Good-Bye! — a song I have not heard in many, many years. I suppose I am the only person here who recalls that it was the favourite ballad of Queen Victoria. Unfashionable now, possibly, but truly touching. Once, many years ago, I heard Melba sing it. And, do you know, this girl reminded me uncannily of Melba? Did you feel that?”

She had turned to Snelgrove. He had never heard Melba, but he knew she had been intensely patriotic during the First Great War, and was therefore an artist of the highest rank, so he frowned in a critical fashion and replied, “Not quite Melba, perhaps, but I felt there was a smack of Clara Butt.”

This remark set Miss Puss and the lawyer off in a competition of recalling all the great singers they had heard, and as neither had wide experience this quickly became all the great singers they had heard of, whose names they brought up with apparent casualness; they did not say they had heard these queens of song, but they were not unwilling that others should think so; in charity it may be assumed that they had heard them on the gramophone. The names of Emma Eames, Amelita Galli-Curci, Geraldine Farrar, Louise Homer, Luisa Tetrazzini and Ernestine Schumann-Heink were used very freely, and startling comparisons drawn, without much regard for whether these ladies had been sopranos or contraltos. This cultivated pow-wow did much to raise the spirits of Miss Puss and Mr Snelgrove, and to give them, for the first time, a sense that they were patrons of art and fountains of culture. When the lawyer had scored heavily by dragging in “our great Canadian diva, Madame Albani, whom I was once lucky enough to hear in Montreal” Solly thought that this had gone far enough.

“Perhaps we should return to the present day and hear what the one expert among us thinks of Monica Gall’s voice,” said he. Cobbler, who had remained at the piano, dug vigorously into his hair with his fingers, until it stood on end like the wool of a Hottentot. Then he fixed the executors with his bright black eyes.

“Nice voice,” said he. “Nice tone; well-placed, really, considering that she’s had no training at all. But that’s the trouble, you see: maybe we’ve heard all there is. Maybe nothing further would come, how­ever much you trained it. Oh, that’s not quite fair; it would be bound to develop a little bit, but who can say how much? Promising, probably. But how can you tell? We didn’t really hear enough.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson