A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

With a view to remedying this difficulty I am packing her off to Miss Amy Neilson, who lives in St Cloud — an American lady who takes two or three girls into her house for coaching in history and literature, and shows them a good time in Paris — sights, shopping and whatnot. I have known Miss Neilson for many years and can vouch for her. Three months there should make a great difference to Monica; I have written to Amy, asking her to give special attention to the girl’s musical background, and have had a copy of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians sent there for that purpose. When she returns in the autumn we shall see what we shall see.

Murtagh Molloy, on whose judgement I place great reliance, says that Monica is young for her age and needs waking up. We shall see what can be done.

Yours sincerely,


Dean’s Yard

Westminster SW1

It was Enclosure 2 which startled the members of the Bridgetower Trust, assembled one hot July night to consider these communications.

“I must say they’re very cool about our money,” said Solly, who had been having trouble meeting some bills, and was sore on the subject.

“We may rely on Jodrell and Stanhope,” said Mr Snelgrove, sticking up for the profession.

“Perhaps we may, but what about Domdaniel?” said Solly. “He’s ‘packing her off’ for three months in France without so much as by-your-leave. Have we given him an absolutely free hand?”

“Yes, and look at this,” said Miss Puss, who had secured the itemized account as soon as Snelgrove had laid it down. “Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, forwarded from Bumpus to France — nine volumes, twenty-seven guineas — one hundred and fifty dollars! For books, of all things! Can’t she learn from anything less than that?”

“Not a hundred and fifty dollars, Miss Pottinger,” said Snelgrove; “you are forgetting the rate of exchange.”

“So far as I am concerned, a five-dollar bill and a pound note are the same thing,” said Miss Puss. “If there is any drop in the value of the pound, I am sure it is merely temporary.”

“And look what Domdaniel is paying himself,” said Solly. “He’s seen her twice, and he’s soaking us ten guineas a time. And this fellow Molloy — five lessons a week at three guineas each! Svengali would have been glad of such fees. We’ll have to protest. This is ridiculous.”

“We’re making a beggar on horseback of this girl,” said Miss Puss, “and she’ll ride to the Dee. Mark my words.”

It was Dean Knapp who undertook the ungrateful task of being the Voice of Reason.

“We must bear in mind that we are simply appointed to carry out the terms of the Trust,” said he, “and the income from your mother’s estate, Solomon, is very large. Indeed, if what is spent to maintain and instruct the girl during the next six months is no more than we shall have to pay to settle this statement, it will not disperse one-quarter of the total in a year. Have we any right to accumulate money?”

“We have no right to accumulate funds at all, except what might be dictated by common prudence,” said Mr Snelgrove. “Certainly we cannot withhold money. When Mrs Bridgetower made this will I tried to reason with her, but I am sure you all know how effective that would be. She was determined that her beneficiary should not be stinted.”

“Not stinted!” said Solly. “And here I am pushed to the very edge of my bank account to settle a bill for a hundred and thirty-two dollars for repairs to Mother’s old car, when I’ve already had to sell my own to get ready money! It’s intolerable!”

“It is the law,” said Mr Snelgrove. “We are not empowered to build up any large surplus. I fear that we shall have to tell Jodrell and Stanhope to spend more — and get Sir Benedict to spend more. Discreetly, of course. The girl need not actually know.”

“As I understand it, we have to spend the income on roughly a million dollars, which is invested in three and four per cents, and with taxes deductible,” said the Dean, and when Mr Snelgrove nodded, he looked for a time at the ceiling, and then spoke what was in all their minds. “More than any of us is ever likely to have for himself.”

“That is one of the difficulties of being a trustee,” said Mr Snelgrove; “that is why trustees often behave so strangely.”

That night Miss Puss was very severe with her old housekeeper, who had left a light burning needlessly, and Solly went to bed drunk, to Veronica’s great distress. Though the difficulties of their marriage had been many since they came under the Dead Hand of Mrs Bridgetower, this was something new.


“There you have it,” said Sir Benedict. “Orders from headquarters: we must spend more money. I must spend more on having you trained. You must spend more, presumably, on your way of living. The lawyers here are doubling your personal allowance.”

“O dear,” said Monica. “I wish they wouldn’t do that.”

“Why? Didn’t you learn anything about spending money in Paris? I particularly asked Amy to give you a few pointers about that.”

“She did. She was wonderful to me, and told me a lot about clothes and make-up and hair-dos and things. But, please, Sir Benedict, I don’t want to get involved in all that kind of thing. It’s not what I’m here for.”

“But apparently it is what you’re here for. These Bridgetower people want their money spent, and it’s your job to spend it. Most girls would jump at your chance.”

“No, no. I’m here to be trained as a singer — a musician, I hope –”

“Why the distinction?”

“Amy took three of us to a party in Paris that some musical people were giving, and a string quartet played, and afterward I was talking to them, and said I was training to be a musician, and when they found out I was a singer, they laughed. One of them said, ‘Music is a very nice hobby for a singer; it gives him a complete change from his profession’.”

“I know; musicians are full of jokes about singers. Justified, most of them. But we’ll try to make a musician of you, as well. What’s that to do with all this extra money which must be got rid of?”

“Well, I can’t escape a feeling that it will make it harder for me to do what I want to do. I mean — it seems to cushion life, somehow. It cuts you off from people, and experiences, and that’s just what I need. I found that out in Paris. Those girls at Amy’s; they were awfully nice, and I had a fine time, but they weren’t serious. They’re just dabblers — in the nicest possible way — but still dabblers. I’m serious. I want to be a professional. If possible I want to be an artist.”

“And you’re afraid having plenty of cash will cut you off from that?”

“Yes. Don’t you agree?”

“Look around you, I’m far from rich, but I’m pretty comfortable, and I take care to keep my fees high. But I’m rather widely regarded as an artist.”

“Of course. But you’ve made your way. You didn’t begin with all this.”

“My family were well-off; I was born with a very good weight of silver spoon in my mouth. In my student days I never missed a meal or wore a shabby suit, and I worked just as hard and agonized just as much as the fellows who hadn’t sixpence. All money can do for a musician is keep him from discomfort and worry about bills — and that’s a very good thing.”

“Those girls in Paris were all ambitious, until it meant real work. But they all knew they didn’t actually have to work, and that made all the difference.”

“Had they any talent?”

“I don’t know. But how do I know that I’ve any talent myself?”

“You don’t, but you’re industrious. Murtagh says you work like a black. But that has nothing to do with money. You really must shake off these fat-headed nineteenth-century notions you have about musicians being romantic characters who starve in garrets, doing immense moral good to the world through the medium of their art. Now look here: money alone can’t hurt you. If you’re a fool, or if you haven’t any talent, or not enough, it will influence the special way in which you go to the devil. Money is a thing you have to control; it must play the part in your life that you allot to it, and it must never become the star turn. But take it from me, too much money is less harmful than too little. Wealth tends to numb feeling and nibble at talent, but poverty coarsens feeling and chokes talent, and feeling and talent are the important things in your job and mine.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson