A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

They spent all day making their purchases, for the shilling rule had been made in a time when a shilling bought a bigger variety of possible gifts than it does now. But Ripon persuaded a bookseller and stationer to let him rummage among some old stock, and produced a wonderful variety of paper transfers, Victorian post-cards, and works of edification which had once been sold as Sabbath School prizes. And in an outfitter’s he got a dicky for ninepence, and an almost forgotten oddity — a washable “leather” collar — which he said would be just the thing for Mr Hopkin-Griffiths. Monica, who did not want to be outdone, turned up some cards of pretty old-fashioned buttons in a woolshop and, after much pondering, bought another copy of Welsh in a Week to give to Ripon, who had been mercilessly teased by their hosts and Ceinwen about his earlier adventures with that work. At mid-day Ripon took the two girls to lunch at The Bear, where they ate fat mutton with two veg. following it with prunes doused with a custard of chemical composition, and some surly cheese. But even this did not crush their spirits.

Driving back to Llanavon, Monica and Ripon agreed that it had been one of the happiest days they had ever known. Their protesta­tions of pleasure made Ceinwen shy at first, then effusive, and the drive ended in an atmosphere which a cruel observer might have described as maudlin, but which was in truth full of genuine, warm, though possibly facile feeling.

They rushed into the house in time for tea, hungry from the asperities of The Bear, and hungry too as only emotion can make one. Mrs Hopkin-Griffiths scampered out of the drawing-room to meet them.

“Oh darlings, it’s too, too wonderful. He’s been able to come! I never quite dared to hope but he’s here. Gilly’s come! It’s going to be a perfect Christmas!”

Swept forward by her excitement they burst into the room. There, before the fire, stood Giles Revelstoke.


That night, having made herself ready for bed; Monica went to the bathroom to clean her teeth, a maiden; in slightly less than fifteen minutes she returned to her room, her teeth clean, and a maiden no more.

There was only one bathroom at Neuadd Goch. It had formerly been a bedroom, and was a chamber of considerable size, in a corner of which was a very large and deep bath, encased in mahogany and standing on a dais; there was also a large and ornate marble basin, a full-length cheval-glass with candle-brackets, an armchair and a side chair, and a set of scales upon which it was possible to weigh oneself by sitting on a large, padded seat. There was a couch of the type familiar in the best-known picture of Madame Recamier, with one arm and a partial back. The two large windows were richly curtained to the floor. This splendid chamber was for ablutions only; the water closet was housed in mahogany splendour in a smaller room nearby: it had a bowl in the agreeable Willow pattern.

If Monica had not been a North American her fate might have been very different; in each bedroom was a washstand, with ewer and basin, and night and morning a copper pitcher of boiling water. But she had been accustomed all her life to clean her teeth in running water, and so she went to the bathroom in her dressing-gown, her toothbrush and a tube of paste in her hand. She would only be a minute, thought she, so she pushed the door around, but did not bolt it. It was not quite closed, and less than a minute later Giles Revelstoke, towel in hand and in his dressing-gown, pushed it open.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said he.

And then, because Monica looked so attractive with her hair brushed out, and her mouth foaming slightly with pink dentifrice, and because the lamplight in the bathroom was so charming, and because the couch was so conveniently at hand, and probably also because it was Christmas — because of so many elements so subtly combined, Monica returned to her bedroom in just under a quarter of an hour, much astonished and even more delighted.

As always when something important had happened, she wanted a time of quiet in which to think about it. But that was not to be hers just yet. As she was opening her door, a figure hastened to her side out of the darkness of the stairs. It was Ripon.

“Want to talk to you for a minute,” said he, and hurried into the room after her.

Monica’s bedroom was large, and as the electricity at Neuadd Goch — a private system — operated only on the ground floor, it was lit with a large oil lamp by the bed. She and Ripon were in a rich gloom, but it was plain that he was excited.

“You get into bed and keep warm,” he said. “I’ll sit here. Listen; Ripon the sleuth has done it again! I just got the lowdown on this whole situation from Ceinwen; she’s a bit put out that this chap Revelstoke has turned up — she was hoping against hope that he wouldn’t, and Mrs H.-G. was aching that he should. We’ve been misled by Mrs H.-G.; Ceinwen does not look on this Giles as Prince Charming. And do you know why? It’s a fantastic deal among the older generation. Ceinwen is to marry Revelstoke: Mrs H.-G. wants it because she is keen for him to settle down, live a quiet life in the country, and be a good boy. It appears that he isn’t a very good boy in London. She’s got quite a bit of money, you see, left her by her first husband, who was a stock-broker, of all things. And the Squire wants the marriage because he will then leave this house and estate to Ceinwen, on condition that they change their name from Revelstoke to Hopkin-Griffiths, thus continuing the name at Neuadd Goch. And Ceinwen’s father, Professor Griffiths, wants it because he wants her to have Neuadd Goch, which he thinks ought to be in his part of the family anyhow, and the marriage will make him retroactively county gentry, instead of just a well-known scholar. Did you ever hear anything like it?”

“No,” said Monica. “But surely it all depends on what Ceinwen and Giles want?” It was fortunate that it was dark in the room for it was the first time she had ever called him Giles, and she blushed deeply.

“Ah, that’s what you’d think, and what I’d think, but it’s not what these people think. And that’s what makes it fascinating. It’s like finding oneself in a Victorian novel. I’ve got to re-adjust all my thinking about the set-up here. You see, I had it all worked out on the Hamlet-theme; I asked myself why Mrs H.-G. was so wild to have her son come home, when there seemed to be so much doubt about it. I mean, nobody ever said he couldn’t come; they just said he mightn’t. Well — it was plain as a pike-staff. Revelstoke was a Hamlet-figure, unconsciously jealous of the Squire, identifying him­self strongly with the late Revelstoke, and bitter against his Ma. It sees itself, doesn’t it? I was crazy for him to come home, because I’ve never had a chance to observe a man in the Hamlet-situation at close quarters. But how wrong I was!”

“You certainly do see life in terms of literature, Johnny.”

“Well — just look at the fun I have! But now, you see, I’m bang in the middle of one of those terrific novels about Who Gets the Dibs; the next thing to be decided is — are we in a Jane Austen situation, or a Trollope situation?”

“Does it have to be one or the other?”

“But you can’t call it a modern situation?”

“Well, it’s happening now, isn’t it?”

“Only in a very limited sense. There are whole climates of thought and feeling which aren’t really modern; I can’t see a situation where two people are being pushed toward marriage in order to save family name, and family pride, as modern.”

“Go on; I bet it happens all the time.”

“You’re just being feminine and perverse. Anyhow, you said you felt in terms of music; I feel in terms of literature.”

“All right, then; where do we fit into the plot?”

“Frankly, I don’t see that you come into it at all, except as a fringe figure — Nice Girl for Christmas Purposes. But for myself — well, I don’t mind telling you that I go for Ceinwen in quite a big way.”

“So soon?”

“Don’t be naive. I have the feelings of a poet. There’s a remarkable quality about her, don’t you think? Sort of figure in a poem by Yeats? Or really more like one of those wonderful women in the poems of Dafydd ap Gwylim. You know that Welsh verse she recited to us the first day, when we were in Cwm Bau? That was Dafydd ap Gwylim. I asked her, and then I read up on him in the encyclopaedia. Wonder­ful, warm, infinitely fascinating women, full of passion yet teasingly chaste.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson