A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

Sometimes she had to fight hard against panic. Should she confide in Meg McCorkill? Yes, but confide what? That she was afraid that money was cutting her off from serious work and the people who might be her friends? How silly it seemed when put into words! That the English winter, which was now beginning, filled her with dread? That pegging away at French and German made her feel like a schoolgirl, without a schoolgirl’s resilience against the boredom of study? Meg would have a ready and immediate remedy for both those ills — frequent visits to Beaver Lodge. But three months in Paris, and the English spring, had put a barrier between her and the raw simplicities of Beaver Lodge which seemed to her to be insurmountable.

Of course she had Molloy’s unfailing method of summoning and controlling emotion. She had only to breathe a happy and confident muhd, and serenity and confidence would certainly follow. But it didn’t work. She determinedly set about it on two occasions, and both ended in crying fits. Real heaviness of heart could not be budged by such imaginative effort.


Relief came suddenly. One day, at the end of a lesson in which Molloy was particularly exacting, he said: “Sir Ben wants to hear you tomorrow, and he’s coming here. So be on your best behaviour and do me credit.”

Half an hour of the next day’s lesson had passed before Sir Benedict Domdaniel appeared; in Monica’s eyes he seemed more elegant than ever against the background of Molloy’s shabby teaching-room, and beside the stubby figure of the Irishman. He heard her sing some of her folksongs, and declined Molloy’s earnest request that she be allowed to recite some passages of Shakespeare for him.

“Done much about scales, Murtagh?”

“Not yet, Ben, but I’m goin’ to get at them right away. She’s ready for a good grind on exercises. But you know my way; the exercises must be linked with some real music, or you’ll get nothing but a technical voice. But now the voice is warmed up, I can see where we’re goin’.”

“You’ve done a good job. Better voice than I thought it might be.” He smiled at Monica. “Are you pleased with yourself?”

“I can’t say,” said she. “You must be the judge.”

“Yes, but you know that you sing better than when you came here, don’t you?”

“It feels better; I didn’t know I had such a big range.”

“Your voice is beginning to declare itself. Some technical work will make it very useful. But at present you haven’t much to say with it, have you? And that’s really what I’ve come about; it’s time you went to another coach.”

“Leave Mr Molloy!”

“Oh no, not at all. He’ll continue the work on your voice, make it agile and strong and give you a sound technical equipment. But I think you ought to go to another man to learn something about music generally, broaden your musical experience. You don’t want to be just a singer; well — you must learn something more than singing.”

“Aw, now, Ben, I’ll give her all o’ that she can take,” said Molloy; “I’ve started her already on some Shakespeare, and if you’d only let her show you what she can do, you’d get the surprise of your life. Come on, give him the Seven Ages –”

“Murtagh, I don’t want to hear the Seven Ages or anything else. I know exactly what I want her to do, and if you’ll listen –”

“Ben, some day you’ll insult me once too often. Are you suggesting that I’m not capable of giving this girl a good cultural training? Is that what you mean? Because if so –”

“You’re the best voice-builder in London. I tell you that, and don’t forget I got my training with old Garcia, and I know what I’m saying. Isn’t that enough for you?”

“You want to snatch a promising pupil away from me and give her to God knows what charlatan –”

“She’s not your pupil; she’s my pupil, and I’m responsible to the What’s-Its-Name Foundation for her. I’m doing the best I can for her. That’s why I sent her to you in the first place, Murtagh, and if you weren’t so damned stubborn you’d know it. And I’m not taking her from you; I just want to send her to Revelstoke for some coaching in things you probably haven’t time for.”

“What in the name o’ God are you sending her to Revelstoke for?”

“Excellent reasons, my dear Murtagh; excellent reasons. Let’s say that it’s to broaden her musical experience, and leave it there.”

“It’ll do that. That fellow’s worthless, Ben, and you know it.”

“On the contrary. I have been working on some of his things for my series of contemporary music broadcasts, and he has been most helpful. And I’ll tell you more: he’s one of the best of our younger composers.”

“Ha! Quite the little genius.”

“Yes, quite the little genius.”

“But an impossible fellow to get on with.”

“Exactly what he says about you, so it’s a draw. Now you mustn’t take away the character of Monica’s new teacher before she’s even seen him, Murtagh, so shut up. And it’s no good shouting any more, because I’ve settled everything. Monica, tomorrow at four o’clock you are to call on Mr Giles Revelstoke; he lives at 32 Tite Street — on the top floor. He’ll be expecting you, and he’ll undertake some general musical training for you. And that’s what you need.”

After a little further pacification of Molloy, Sir Benedict carried Monica off in his car, and went some distance out of his way to leave her at Courtfield Gardens. As they were parting, he said: “By the way, I made rather a bloomer last time we were talking; I re-read the letter from the lawyers afterward, and I don’t think I should have told you that we had to spend more money on you. Apparently you’re not supposed to know, though I don’t really see how it’s to be kept from you. I’m a terrible chatterer — my little vice. Anyhow, it’s not my business to fall in with lawyers’ schemes like that. It’s a fact; more money must be spent. That’s why I feel we can afford Revelstoke now. You’ll like him. Delightful chap.”


Thirty-two Tite Street was a gloomy house across the road from a large Infirmary, from whose windows came an unceasing sound which Monica at first thought was the weeping of baby chicks, but which she later learned was the crying of infants in the nurseries. A rack of cards in the hall told her that Giles Revelstoke was on the top floor, and she was about to press the bell beneath his name when she heard someone coming down the stairs very rapidly and noisily, shouting “Sorree, sorree” in a loud voice. It was a very tall young man with tousled hair, who arrived beside her as her finger was poised to push.

“You want Giles?” said the young man. “Don’t ring; don’t dream of ringing; you’ll cut him to the heart if you ring. Go right up, and right in without knocking, and if you don’t see him about give a cooee. Most informal fellow in the world. Hurry up, old girl; up you go –”

Monica had dressed herself elegantly for this first meeting,with her new teacher, and had worked up a sense of the dignity of the occasion. She did not want to burst upon him without all the proper formalities. But the tall young man was not to be gainsaid, so she went up two flights of long dark stairs, and found a door at the top which opened into what was plainly a studio, an extremely crowded and untidy room furnished with a large work table and an upright piano, and beyond that nothing recognizable as furniture, but with heaps of books, papers and music piled on the floor and all the other flat surfaces. The only pleasing thing about the room, apart from a large black cat asleep on the piano top, was a dormer window set in the sloping roof which gave a view, through chimneypots, toward the Thames.

Should she sit down? But where? She stood for a few minutes, then picked her way through the debris on the floor to the window and looked out of it for a while. But she was disturbed by the sense that she was in somebody else’s room. She must not make free. But where was Mr Revelstoke? Had he forgotten that she was to come at four? The tousled young man had said that he was at home. This was quite unlike a visit to Molloy, who was as punctual as the clock, or to Sir Benedict, whose valet was always at hand to take her at once to the great man. What had Molloy called Revelstoke? “Quite the little genius”. This looked like a genius’s room. But how to inform the genius of her presence?

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Categories: Davies, Robertson