A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

“Who climbed and clawed and lickspittled and backstabbed his way to the top. Your hero, I suppose. A realist.”

“Now Monny, don’t go in for that stuff about everybody who’s a success being a bastard. That’s for failures of sixty; not for kids of twenty.”

“My Dad, George Medwall, is not a failure.”

“Monny, you’re crazy. I wasn’t talking about your Dad. But I will, as you seem to have him on the brain. If your Dad and your Mother are your ideals in life, don’t take this money they’re offering you to go away and study; stay right where you are. You’ve got all you want in life; stick with it.”

“You leave my family out of this! You talk like that awful old Miss Pottinger; you’d think she found me frozen to the bottom of a garbage can after a long winter. I’m proud of my family. Proud!”

“Sure; sure.”

“And don’t treat me like a fool. Don’t take that soothing tone. You make me sick, with your superior ways. What have you got to be superior about?”

“Monny, this doesn’t make any sense.”

“Yes it does. Now let me tell you something, and don’t ever forget it, George, because I mean every word. If there’s one thing I hate in this world, it’s ingratitude and disloyalty. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to make me disloyal and ungrateful. This sudden good luck isn’t going to make a fool of me.”

“Nothing could make a fool of you, Monny. But don’t call it luck. People only get chances if they’re ready for them. It’s not luck. It’s character.”

“Loyalty’s character, and so is decency. So don’t talk realism to me if it just means being sniffy about my family and friends. I know them a lot better than you do. What makes you think you have a right to talk to me like this?”

Here was George’s golden opening, but his realism did not extend far enough to reveal it to him. So he took it as a rebuke, and they walked the length of the boiler building in uneasy silence. George did not know what he should do, but he decided that it might help if he ate a small — a very small — portion of crow.

“I guess I’ve said too much. If you want to disinvite me to your party, Monny, go ahead.”

“If my family gives you such a pain, perhaps that would be best,” said Monica, hoping furiously that he would urge her to relent. But George had a terrible trick of believing that people always meant what they said. And at this unlucky moment, the one o’clock whistle blew.

“I guess I’d better say good-bye, then,” said George; “since I’m not to see you tomorrow night.”

“Good-bye, George,” said Monica, giving him her hand; “and lots of luck.”

And thus she parted from the only man whom she had ever been disposed to consider as a suitor. Though George was grieved, he did his afternoon’s work with his accustomed thoroughness, but Monica spoiled several important sheets of figures, and if she had not been leaving anyway her boss would have spoken sharply to her.


At supper that night, Mrs Gall asked Monica, “bolt outright” as she herself would have described it, whether George Medwall was to be expected at the farewell party. When Monica said that he would not be there, and let it be thought that she had decided not to ask him, Ma Gall expressed great satisfaction.

“Glad you come to your senses at last about that fella,” said she. “Now you’re going away is a good time to break off with him. I never had any time for him myself, and your Dad’ll back me up on that.”

“Foreman at twenty-eight,” said Mr Gall. “Gone up like the rocket; he’ll come down like the stick.”

They continued their discussion of George for some time, congratu­lating their daughter on her astuteness in having seen through him — a fellow who set himself up to give lip to men old enough to be his father, and one who, by accepting a foreman’s job, had automatically removed himself from the jurisdiction of the union. Mr Gall was a great partisan of the union, which was a very quiet and conservative affair at the CA&A, but which he liked to think of as a bulwark against unimaginable tyrannies. George, being outside the union, was certainly not to be trusted; he had lined himself up with the bosses. Mr Gall knew all of these bosses personally, and was known by them, and on the human level, so to speak, he got on well with them and even liked them: but in another compartment of his mind they figured as faceless, bowelless, jackbooted tyrants, and he was pledged to thwart them in every possible way. George was on the wrong side of the fence.

For Mrs Gall, George summed up what she most feared in a young man who might become a son-in-law. He was not a Thirteener; he was not even a church-goer and felt no shame about saying so. He did not drink, he saved his money, and he was civil; she gave him all that. But there was in him a quality of ambition which disquieted her; it prevented him from being what she called likable. Furthermore, it had been clear during his two or three brief visits to the house that he thought of her only as Monica’s mother, and Mrs Gall thought of herself very much as a Character, with a capital letter. It was as a Character that she liked to meet the world, and young people especially.

Monica had heard all that she could bear about George’s short­comings by the time supper was over, so she quickly washed the dishes — it was her night — and got out of the house, saying that she was going to Aunt Ellen’s for a while. All the way there she re­proached herself for having managed her talk with George so badly, and thought of clever defences of his character which she could have opposed to her parents’ criticism — if she had dared. But it is never easy for children to defend their friends against disapproving parents.

Why had she flown out at George, turning everything he said to bitterness? It was not a lovers’ quarrel, for she and George were certainly not lovers. He had never even kissed her, though once or twice it had been a near thing. If she had known it, George’s realism was of the sort which says that a fellow does not kiss a girl unless he is serious about her; seriousness means an engagement, and he would not be engaged until he had enough money saved to marry; to kiss a girl to whom he could not offer marriage would be to trifle with her, not merely emotionally, but economically, and George’s whole moral system was rooted in his conception of economics. But George and Monica worked upon each other as only lovers are supposed to do; she had more than once detected beneath his words a criticism of her family, and that she would not tolerate.

It was her old problem of wanting to have her cake and eat it. She felt, and despised herself for feeling, critical of her father and mother, of her older sister Alice, of Pastor and Mrs Beamis and their son, Wesley, of the whole Thirteener connection, for everything about them ran contrary to her great dream of life. While it had remained a dream, impossible of realization, she had been able to keep that criticism in its place. She had prayed for strength against it, and now and then her prayer seemed to be answered. But this Bridgetower Trust business had upset her whole life. It had suddenly brought the dream out of the realm of the utterly impossible into the realm of the remotely possible. That afternoon with Sir Benedict Domdaniel had been at once the most elevating and releasing experience of her life, and at the same time ruinous to the balance which she had established between dream and reality. Since then criticism of her family and her circumstances had raged within her, and when George had hinted at what was so tumultuously present in her mind she had been unable to keep her head. It was as though he had read her intolerable, inadmissible thoughts, and dared to share them.

She would get advice from Aunt Ellen. After all, Aunt Ellen was responsible for much that was wrong with her.

Aunt Ellen was not at home, and she let herself into the little stucco cottage with the key which Aunt Ellen had given her years ago, when she was twelve. The tiny living-room was as neat as such a cluttered room could be. Monica switched on the lamp with the shade of pleated rose silk, and went at once to the bookshelves, from which she took a large, worn volume, and settled herself on the sofa with it.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson