A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

“Then why did you not ask to hear more?” said Snelgrove. He liked an expert to behave like an expert, and not temporize.

“We could have listened to her for another hour without learning anything more than we did. Her music was terrible. I knew how things stood as soon as she opened her portfolio; it was jampacked with that awful cheap music printed on grey paper. All tripe. Good-Bye! was her star piece; I suppose Beamis thinks it’s a classic. So it is, in the musical hell he and the Heart and Hope Quartet inhabit. To find out what her voice is really like, you’d have to work with her for a few months — increase her range, give her something to sing that would show what she could do, and generally explore the possibilities.”

“That’s not very helpful,” said Miss Puss.

“I’m afraid it isn’t. But it’s honest. There’s one thing to be said in the girl’s favour. She’s stood out against some very bad musical influences; her only teacher, I understand, is an aunt who plays the piano a little. And the Beamis association is abominable; couldn’t imagine anything more calculated to wreck a voice and debauch a singer’s taste. Yet, the fact is that the girl sings with a good deal of taste and a nice feeling for the words, considering the stuff she’s singing. It must be native to her, though where she gets it I can’t imagine. You’re dead right, Miss Pottinger; she really did tear off old Good-Bye! with quite a sense of style, and it’s not the easiest song in the world. There may be something there, if you want to dig for it.”

“We haven’t any time for digging,” said Solly. “We’re desperate; the income on something like a million dollars has to be spent on somebody, beginning not later than next December 23. Can’t we get some clearer opinion than what you’ve said?”

“Not from me,” said Cobbler. “I can’t square a flat Yes or No with my professional honesty; if I say she’s no good I may be wronging you and the girl, and if I say she’s a wonder the odds are just as strong that I am wrong. Certainly, if it were a question of some lessons with me, I’d say go ahead. I’d be happy to get such a pupil. But you are going to spend such a lot of money; you’ve got to show big results or look silly. If you want another opinion, I know where you can get one.”


“Next month Sir Benedict Domdaniel is conducting two concerts in Toronto, on his way back from Australia and the States. He’ll be there for ten days or so, rehearsing. If you like, I’ll write to his agent and ask if he’ll hear the girl, and give you his word on her.”

The effect of this was an even greater tonic to Miss Puss and Snelgrove than the mention of Melba had been. This was culture indeed — to enlist the opinion of one of the greatest conductors in the world who was also — this weighed heavily — a British knight! Why were they trifling with a cathedral organist when such distinction lay within their grasp? Condescendingly, as people used to hob-nobbing with gifted knights, they asked Cobbler to make the necessary arrangements, and of course to inquire, tactfully, what Sir Benedict’s fee would be for such an interview.

It had not occurred to them to offer Cobbler any fee whatever.


The pattern upon which the Bridgetower Trust was to operate had already established itself before the Trust was officially in being — for Snelgrove made it very clear that until the probate of Mrs Bridgetower’s will the Trust had no funds, and a trust without funds was a mockery. The pattern was a simple one: nothing could be done without prolonged discussion, in which Miss Puss and Solly were certain to be opposed, with the Dean trying to keep peace and advocate common sense, and Snelgrove making all the trouble poss­ible to an expert who has great influence but no vote. The seemingly simple matter of getting Monica Gall away to Toronto for an interview with Sir Benedict Domdaniel became, in their hands, an elaborate and vexatious manoeuvre.

The Dean thought that the Trust should pay her fare on the train, but need not necessarily pay for her meals while she was absent. Snelgrove said that as the Trust had no funds, it could not pay for anything. Solly pointed out that the Trust had already spent money, which Snelgrove’s firm had advanced, on repairing drains in the Bridgetower house. Snelgrove countered by saying that he could justify such an expenditure before a court, but he could not justify spending any money on a candidate for the Trust’s bounty who might prove, in the end, to be unsuccessful. Miss Puss felt that it was undesirable to encourage Monica to hope for success by paying her fare, but that the Trust ought to pay the fare of an older woman who would accompany her to Toronto, as a chaperone. The Trust would be in a very bad position, she pointed out, if any harm befell Monica while she was on a journey to a large city, undertaken at the request of the Trust. She was herself prepared to go with the girl, and to remain with her during her interview with the great man; Monica had shown herself to be a poor talker, and somebody who was not awed by greatness should certainly be on hand to see that her chances were not spoiled by sheer social ineptitude. Solly, out of spite, agreed, but said that if anybody went with Monica it should certainly be an accompanist, and recommended Cobbler for that task; his wife, Veronica, would be prepared to drive the two of them to Toronto in their car, and serve as moral watchdog; the Trust could defray the expenses of the motor trip and still be money ahead. It took an evening of wrangling to reach a deadlock on this question.

Another evening was consumed in haggling about Sir Benedict Domdaniel’s fee. His agent had written to Cobbler saying that the great man could see Miss Gall, and would send a written opinion to the Trust, and that his charge for an audition would be two hundred and fifty dollars. Miss Puss was outraged, and spoke to Cobbler as though he himself had demanded this shocking sum; he replied, with spirit, that men like Domdaniel asked big fees for auditions simply in order that they should not be plagued by people who were not serious; he added some ill-considered words about amateurs, which gave deep offence. Snelgrove refused utterly to advance money for such a purpose. And so, after a very long and heated argument, it was decided that if Monica Gall herself could raise Domdaniel’s fee, and her own journey-money, she could risk it on her chances. The Trust asked Cobbler to put this proposal to her, and he refused flatly to do it, adding with heat that if the Trust meant to be cheap, he was not going to be the goat for them. In the end, Snelgrove was instructed to offer her this unique opportunity to invest in her own future, by letter. The Trust was somewhat astonished to receive a reply, by return of post, in which Monica said that she would be glad to pay her own expenses, and thanked them for the chance. It was a very good letter, typed and expressed in the dry language of business, and it made Solly and the Dean, at least, feel that Monica had not revealed the best side of herself at the earlier interview.


The date of Monica’s meeting with Sir Benedict Domdaniel was set for November the first. On the fifth of the month Cobbler received the following letter, which he read aloud that evening to the assembled Trust.

Dear Humphrey Cobbler:

It was good to hear from you again. I recall with pleasure working with you during the Three Choirs Festival of 1937, and I hope that all goes well with you here.

Now, about your protégée, Miss Monica Gall. I had meant to give her an hour, at most, but as she has probably told you, we worked for nearly three. It took quite a time to get at her, for somebody — I believe she said one of the lady members of your Trust — had filled her full of nonsense about how to behave herself with me. She began by singing the two Handel songs you had hastily primed her with, but they told very little, as you can imagine. Then she sang Tosti’s Good-Bye! which I had honestly never expected to hear sung seriously again on this earth, and did quite well with it. I asked her if she knew The Lost Chord, meaning to be facetious, and she shamed me by pulling a tattered copy out of her satchel and singing it quite seriously and nicely. Then she sang a lot of trash which is apparently in her wireless repertoire.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86

Categories: Davies, Robertson