A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

“Oh, come; sooner than that, surely,” said Tuke.

“Giles is a slow worker. This piece has been on the stocks for a good eighteen months, to my knowledge. He spends so much time on other things.” Odingsels cast a leer at Persis.

“Too true,” said she. “He has far more than his share to do on Lantern and of course he has to waste his energies teaching, and doing musical odd jobs, to keep the pot boiling.”

“He isn’t the only one on Lantern who has personal work to attend to,” said Miss Tooley. “If you are insinuating that Fanny and I don’t pull our weight, I’d like to say that you should be the last person to criticize; you do nothing at all, except provide occasional cups of indifferent tea. And of course keep your eye peeled for cracks in the ceiling.”

“Now girls, stow that,” said Bun Eccles. “We all know what Odo meant; he meant Giles spends a lot of time playing bunny-in-the-hay with you, Perse, but maybe that’s why he writes good music. Why don’t you look at it that way, and be happy?” He raised his glass of beer toward Persis, and drank to her.

“If he doesn’t want to teach, I don’t suppose he has to,” said Monica. “And if I take up his time being taught, I certainly save it getting the Lantern accounts out of tangles.”

“Oh, we know you’re quite the little woman of business,” said Persis. “But unfortunately he can’t give up teaching; he has to have the money. If that tight-fisted old mother of his would give him whatever you pay him for lessons, he wouldn’t need to bother.”

“Doesn’t he have family money?” said Tuke.

“He’s got a tiny income from some money his father left him directly. Otherwise not a bean. His mother’s terribly rich; she could easily let him have a very good allowance. She lives someplace in Wales, in a tremendous house, with every luxury, and now and then she sends him a few quid, for birthdays, or something. It’s a shame people like that can’t die, and let their money do some good. But no, she thinks not having anything will make him get a steady job. I suppose she sees him leading the municipal orchestra at Torquay, or someplace. Mothers! I think the most disgusting and immoral relationship is between mothers and sons — no, on second thoughts, between fathers and daughters. The old ones just want to eat the young ones up.”

Persis knit her dark brows and looked very beautiful, brooding on the psychological horror of Mrs Hopkin-Griffiths and Admiral Sir Percy Kinwellmarshe.

“It is of course utterly unrealistic to suppose that reputations in literature are made overnight,” said Tuke, who had been brooding on Odingsels’ hard words. “One despises egotism, of course, but one instances oneself; one can give Giles a few years, and one is perhaps more engagé, but one has certainly not been overwhelmed with recognition. As for music being, au fond, more serious than letters, well — one feels perhaps that those who are committed to an art are the best judges of its limits.”

“Better judges than technicians, however capable,” said Miss Tooley, bridling. Everybody knew that when Tuke began to refer to himself as “one” Bridget would do battle for him. “Particularly when their own stuff appears so seldom.”

“My best work is for connoisseurs of really imaginative photo­graphy,” said Odingsels, grinning. “I don’t have to publish to get recognition.”

The menagerie was working up for one of its periodical ugly fights, but at this point Monica brought in another plate of sandwiches, and Bun Eccles went the rounds with more beer. The greedy could say no more while this lasted, and Tuke, who had a gift for talking and earing without missing a chew or a syllable, gained a great advantage. He proceeded to contrast the powers of music and poetry, being scrupu­lously fair, but, as he knew very little about music, not especially enlightening, though extremely strong on sensibility.

Monica went back to her bedroom, where she made the sand­wiches, to be sure that the supply should not fail; she knew that when Revelstoke was not present, the menagerie could only be controlled by heavy sedation with food and alcohol. They quarrelled aston­ishingly, and about things which she rarely understood in detail, though she knew by her native good sense that jealousy lay at the root of it. Every time an issue of Lantern appeared there was one of these pow-wows, and the pattern was fixed; Tuke was offended by Odingsels, and Miss Tooley and Odingsels fought bitterly; Eccles, who was thoroughly a painter, and bored by men of words, lost patience with them all, and got drunk; Persis Kinwellmarshe asserted that there would be no Lantern without Revelstoke, and was called whore for her pains by Bridget; Revelstoke laughed and cursed at them all. At last Mrs Klein would appear and complain that her other lodgers were discommoded by the noise, and Odingsels would make her cry. On one occasion Monica could bear it no more, and took Mrs Klein’s part; to her astonishment her display of temper put them all in great good humour, and improved her position in the group. After one of these brawls, which she found tiresome and exhausting, but which they seemed to enjoy, Revelstoke would marshal the Lantern forces again and work would proceed once more in its ill-organized, imperfectly understood fashion.

But Revelstoke was not at hand now, to keep all their bad-tempered egotism in check. And Monica was afraid that Mrs Merry would not take the attitude of Mrs Klein, who always managed to say, at some point in her complaints — “I’m full of sympasy for ze artist; I am grateful to have ze artist under my roof” — a protestation invariably greeted by Odingsels with a shout of “Halt die Schnauze!” Mrs Merry was not full of sympathy for anyone, except perhaps herself, and would certainly complain of any noise to Mr Boykin on his monthly visit with the rent. Monica wished heartily that she had not asked them to listen to Giles’ broadcast on her receiving-set.

Yet it had seemed such a chance to get in with them, to strengthen her position. She was not so simple as to think that she had no place in the Lantern group; the finances of the magazine, such as they were, were understood by her alone, and Raikes Brothers had of late shown a tendency to call her when they wanted a decision about anything. She had been in the happy position of having two pounds ten to lend to Tuke on an occasion when he needed that sum very badly, and Revelstoke himself had been her champion a few weeks later, and had compelled the poet to pay back the ten shillings, which was all he could afford. She had a place, but it was the bottom place. And here it was six weeks after that encounter in the bathroom at Neuadd Goch, since when he had not so much as kissed her!

Why? Why could he not see that she loved him? She was not a ninny; she did not sigh and lallygag like Juliet; she put herself heart and soul into the business of Lantern, and although it could not be said that its position was any better than before, it was certainly clearer. She managed to get his attention for fifteen minutes one day and explained the whole financial situation to him. He had been bored, and had told her in a huff that if people hadn’t enough wit to appreciate Lantern, he could do nothing about it. He wrote for the bloody magazine, didn’t he? What more did she expect him to do? Hawk it on street-corners? But Monica would not believe that this expressed his true feeling; if he was really committed to the publica­tion — and he was — he must desire its financial success; it was axiomatic. So she troubled him no more about it, and plunged into even more discouraging talks with Raikes Brothers, who were begin­ning to want something on account.

Not that she expected to win him by a flashing display of business method; she was not so foolish as that. But what better approach had she, what more effective way of showing that anything she had in the way of skills or talents was at his command? Her heart was full of love, but externally she remained neat, silent, and perhaps a little too quick at producing pencils and pieces of paper; once or twice she sensed that it is convenient, but perhaps not wholly romantic, to be the person to whom everyone turns for a clean bit of india-rubber. She could not hope to be useful to him musically; was she not his pupil? How, then, could she serve except with the typewriter and the account-book, in the use of which she was more expert than anyone else in the group? She wanted desperately to be one of the menagerie. She tried to swear, but it was a failure. She could not use filthy words, as Persis did; a Thirteener upbringing and, she felt, a native fastidi­ousness, prevented her; she had also a grudging recognition that what suited the opulent sluttishness of Persis did not appear so well in her. However, she sought to liven up her conversation with a few bloodies until one day she caught Odingsels’ ironic eye on her, felt deeply foolish, and tried no more.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson