A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

“Diane’s young,” said Monica, trying to think of words of comfort for these exiles. “You won’t have to worry about her; she’s so pretty; I don’t know when I’ve seen such a pretty complexion. There’s some­thing good that England has given her; all the children here have a lovely high colour.”

“Yeah, and they’ve got broken veins in their cheeks by the time they’re thirty,” said Meg, who was so plainly resolved not to take comfort in anything that Monica decided not to try again.

After the conversation had passed through an embittered dis­cussion of the scandalous price of fruit in England — “Didja ever try to buy a peach in Fortnum and Mason’s? Half-a-crown each, and taste like wet kleenex! We bring everything in from home” — the McCorkills turned their attention to what Monica was doing in this desperate land. To her surprise, they did not assert that she could have learned to sing just as well in Canada; when she told them about Sir Benedict Domdaniel, and about Murtagh Molloy and his insistence that she should be able to call up the memory of any emotion at will (she did not tell them about making love to a chair) they were impressed, and said what luck it was that she should have a chance to study with such people. In the realm of the unknown they were quite happy to acknowledge English, or European, supremacy: it was in the things which touched their daily life that they were impossible to please. It came to Monica suddenly, in the midst of a tirade about the utter impossibility of eating English bread — they baked their own, though it was a nuisance — that the McCorkills’ vast disrelish for England meant no more than that they were uprooted, afraid, and desperately homesick. It was not a very remarkable flash of insight, but she was only twenty-one, not at all accustomed to knowing things about people which they had not fully recognized themselves, and it did much to soothe her self-esteem, which had been badly bruised during her five months in London.

Monica was not, in fact, accustomed to thinking anything which was contrary to the opinion of any older person with whom she was talking, and it was the McCorkills who first made this adult luxury possible to her. Thus it was that, when Lorne had walked her back to the Underground Station — “You should never walk around in this city by yourself at night. Do you ever look at the Sunday papers? God, the things that go on! And even ministers in awful cases! Wouldn’t it just rot your socks, though?” — she was in high spirits and very well pleased with herself. She had enjoyed the accustomed food, and the cleanliness, and the genuine kindness and warmth of heart which Lorne and Meg had shown her, but she did not feel in the least committed, on that account, to acceptance of their opinions. A Thirteener upbringing had until now denied her the delights of social hypocrisy, and these came with a special sweetness. She had even let the McCorkills think that she would join them at some future meeting of a Canadian Club of which they were members — “Hard to keep it going, though; so many people seem to lose interest, or they get mixed up with people who live here, and don’t seem to want to get together with their own folks” — though she was determined in her heart that she was not going to spend another evening talking about English dirt and wondering why the English could never learn to make coffee. This new freedom to say one thing and think another came to Monica all the more sweetly for coming late, and she liked the McCorkills all the better for not feeling it necessary to agree with them in her heart.

During her long ride back to Earl’s Court on the Underground she felt happier than at any time since leaving home. The warmth of the late spring night and the beauty of the city were hidden from her as she sped through the earth in the rattling tube, but she felt them in her heart. If it was to be a fight between England and Canada for the love of Monica Gall, she knew that England would win. Some of the folk songs that she had latterly been studying with Molloy were so powerfully present in her mind that she had to sing them under her breath, unheard by the other passengers because of the noise of the train.

William Taylor was a brisk young sailor,

He was courting a lady fair —

William Taylor had probably eaten a lot of fish that had been exposed to the air on marble slabs, too, but it had not apparently diminished his joy in life.

As I went out one May morning,

One May morning betime,

I met a maid, from home had strayed,

Just as the sun did shine.

This maid unquestionably had one of those superb strawberries-and-cream complexions which degenerated into broken veins after she was thirty, but at the time dealt with in the song she was breathing a wonderful, fresh muhd, and that was what really mattered.

From the Underground Station Monica walked slowly to Courtfield Gardens, happy in the moonlight and without a thought for the clerical rapists who might lurk in every areaway.

How gloriously the sun doth shine,

How pleasant is the air,

I’d rather rest on a true love’s breast

Than any other where.

Thus sang Monica, and when two men returning from a pub called “very nice” from the other side of the street, she waved her hand to them, feeling neither shy nor frightened. It was the first time, since coming to England, that she had sung simply because she was happy. She was not thinking of George Medwall. He came into her mind once, but she dismissed him. He would not do here. He was not a McCorkill, but he did not fit into the new world which she had decided to make her own.


At the end of June a report was forwarded to the Trustees of the Bridgetower estate by Jodrell and Stanhope, as follows:

In re the Bridgetower Beneficiary

Dear Sirs and Madam:

As reported to you in our communication of January 3 the beneficiary of the Bridgetower Trust, Miss Monica Gall, is comfortably lodged at 23 Courtfield Gardens, SW5. In reply to the specific inquiry of Miss Laura Pottinger, Miss Gall is visited on the first business day of each month by our Mr Boykin, who reports that the landlady, Mrs Merry, says that Miss Gall has at no time entertained a visitor in her quarters other than a Miss Margaret Stamper, a student at the Slade School of Art. If it is thought necessary to appoint a moral guardian for Miss Gall, we cannot undertake such duties, though we will approach Sir Benedict Domdaniel in this matter if so instructed by you.

Attached is a report on Miss Gall’s musical studies from Sir Benedict Domdaniel (Encl. 1) and also a statement of disbursements made by us on your behalf (Encl. 2). Assuring you of our advice and service at all times,

Yours truly,

Miles Peter Andrews

(For Jodrell and Stanhope

Plough Court

Fetter Lane London EC4)

The first enclosure may be given in full:

To the Bridgetower Trustees Salterton, Ontario, Canada.


Since your protégée, Monica Gall, came to England to work with me, I have seen her twice. On the first occasion I heard her sing, and was frankly not as impressed with her possibilities as I was when I heard her in Toronto. The voice was very muffled and somewhat lifeless. Therefore I sent her to a first-rate coach, Mr Murtagh Molloy, who has been working with her several days a week since then, and who has been able to do a good deal with her. I heard her again about a week ago, and her voice is at last beginning to declare itself.

It is a good soprano — promises to be really good — but is somewhat “veiled” or “covered” — Humphrey Cobbler can explain these terms to you — for a little more than an octave in the lower part. But the range is a fine one, from b below middle C to g’.

However, as you are well aware, there is more to singing than the pos­session of a pleasant tone and a big range. The voice must be interesting, and this is a matter of brains, or temperament, or both, and so far Miss Gall, though a nice girl, has not shown anything out of the ordinary in either of these departments. Perhaps her biggest handicap, as I believe I said to you before, is that she has virtually no general cultivation, and though she seems to have some imagination, she has had nothing with which to nourish it.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson