A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

“These affairs don’t do,” said she. “Particularly not with girls of your temperament. Their tendency is always to harden you, and what would you be like if you were hardened? You’d be very much like your mother, my dear. Oh, different in externals, I’m sure, but very much like her. And in spite of all the nice loyal things you’ve said to me about her from time to time, I don’t think that will answer. What was it you said he told you — that you had no sense of humour? Lucky for him. A woman with a sense of humour would never have taken up with him in the first place. He sounds an impossible person. Oh, a genius, perhaps. Benedict is always discovering geniuses; it’s a craze with him; he’s terribly humble about not being a composer himself, and he’s always exaggerating the talent of young men who show promise. But suppose Giles Revelstoke is a genius? Geniuses are not people to make a woman happy. The best he could do for you would be to marry you and make a drudge of you. No, you’ve done the right thing. Get over him as fast as you can.”

“But perhaps that’s what I’m for — to drudge for somebody far above me. I’m nothing very much, and I know it.”

“Benedict says you can become a very good singer. That’s some­thing. Let me be very frank, dear. You’re not what I call a big person. It’s not just being young, it’s a matter of quality. You’ve got a fair amount of toughness, but essentially you’re delicate and sensitive. You must preserve that. It’s true you have no sense of humour, but very few women have. You should be glad of it. It’s not nearly such a nice or important quality as silly people make out. Wit and high spirits and a sense of fun — yes, they’re wonderful things. But a sense of humour — a real one — is a rarity and can be utter hell. Because it’s immoral, you know, in the real sense of the word: I mean, it makes its own laws; and it possesses the person who has it like a demon. Fools talk about it as though it were the same thing as a sense of balance, but believe me, it’s not. It’s a sense of anarchy, and a sense of chaos. Thank God it’s rare.”

“Maybe what Giles has is a sense of humour.”

“You may be right. He sounds like it. But my advice to you, dear, is to get yourself out of this before you’re hurt worse than you are — which isn’t nearly as badly as you think, I dare say. It isn’t sleeping with a man that makes you a tramp; that’s probably healthy, like tennis or yoghourt. But it’s having your feelings hurt until they scar over that makes you coarse and ugly. You’re not the temperament to survive that sort of thing.”

And thus the pattern of Monica’s Easter in Paris was set. She was getting over Revelstoke. Amy did not refer to the matter again, but she kept Monica busy with French conversation, French literature, shopping, and visits to plays and sights. And Monica, who was beginning to recognize the chameleon strain in her nature, seemed most of the time to fit very well into the stimulating, pleasant, sensible atmosphere which Amy created.

But in her inmost heart she was hurt and puzzled by the failure of all her advisers to comprehend anything of her feelings. They seemed to know what was expedient, and self-preservative, and what would lead to happiness when she was fifty, but they appeared to have no comprehension at all of what it was like to be Monica Gall in love with Giles Revelstoke. Even Ripon, who was not more than a year or so older than herself, could marshal all the facts and make a judgement about them, but not even Domdaniel could grasp the irrationalities of the situation. Must one live always by balancing fact against fact? Had the irrational side of life no right to be lived? The answer did not have to be formed; the irrational things rose overwhelmingly from their deeps whenever she was not strenuously bending her mind to some matter of immediate concern.

Did she want to be a singer? She had been assured so often that it lay within her power to be one, but not since she left Canada had anyone thought of asking if that were truly her desire. What was it, after all, to be a public performer of any kind? One morning, when Amy was busy elsewhere, Monica strayed into the museum of the Opera to pass the time. She had been there before, but under Amy’s firmly enthusiastic guidance; she had been told to marvel, and she had obediently marvelled. But now, alone, she looked about her. How dreary it was! So many pompous busts of Gounod; Gounod’s real immortality was through the wall, on the great stage. But here was the monocle of someone called Diaghilev; Amy had said some­thing about him, but who was he, and what had he done? Where was his immortality? And these pianos of the great — how small they seemed; they bore about them a suggestion that they must have been played by very small men. And these worn-out ballet shoes to which names, presumably great, were attached — was this trash all that the darlings of the public left behind them? There were things here which had belonged to great singers, bits of costume and pitiful, dingy stage jewellery. This was what remained of people who had breathed the muhd as she could hardly hope to breathe it; was this worth the struggle? Would it not be better to be Revelstoke’s drudge and his trull, contributing thereby to something which might live when they both were dead?

She brought herself near to tears with these gloomy broodings. She looked out of a window across the Rue Auber, where a sign caught her eye; it said “Canada Furs”, and suddenly she was sick with longing for the cold, clean, remorseless land of her birth. Why had she ever come away, to get herself into this mess?

Luncheon raised her spirits, and she was a little surprised to discern that what she had really been thinking about, and longing for, was immortality — and a vain, earthly immortality at that, the very kind of thing which the Thirteeners (who were in no great danger of attaining it) condemned so strongly.

Ah, the Thirteeners! After that shaking hour in the Sheldonian, when she had sung her seven bars, and felt herself sealed of the seal of Bach, she could no longer be one of them. But what, then, was she? A whirligig, like Domdaniel, who confessed that he took the colour of whatever work he was engaged on at the moment? But that was unjust to a man whom the world called great, and who was certainly the greatest man in every way that she had ever met. It was, indeed, a moral judgement. And what was it that Domdaniel had said to her, on that drive from Oxford, concerning her own harsh judgement on herself? — “Moral judgements belong to God, and it is part of God’s mercy that we do not have to undertake that heavy part of His work, even when the judgement concerns ourselves.” But wasn’t that just gas? If you didn’t make moral judgements, what were you? Well, of course Domdaniel said that you were an adult human being, and as such ought to have some clear notion of what you were doing with your life. Clarity, always clarity. The more she puzzled, the less clear anything became.

Reflection, even on these somewhat elementary lines, was hard work for Monica, and it made her very hungry. After her lunch, she continued her wandering through familiar tourist sights, putting in time until she should meet Amy again, and return to St Cloud. Her wanderings took her to the Panthéon.

A vivid imagination is not of great use in the Pantheon, unless one knows much of the earthly history of the great ones who lie buried there, and can summon splendid visions of them to warm the grey, courteous unfriendliness of its barren stones. In spite of Amy’s cramming, Voltaire was not a living name to Monica, nor was Balzac, or any of the others who gave the place meaning, and everywhere the bleak, naked horror of enthroned Reason was ghastly palpable. Within five minutes she had left the place, and wandered on a few paces into the church of St Étienne du Mont.

All she knew of this church was that it possessed a remarkable rood-screen which Amy, stuffing her charges with culture like Strasbourg geese, had insisted that she see and admire. And there it was, its two lovely staircases twining upward toward a balcony surrounding the High Altar; Monica, as upon her first visit, longed to climb one of them and look down into the church; she yearned, for no reason that she could define, to see that balcony filled with singing, trumpeting, viol-playing angels. She sat down in a corner, and stared, trying to see what existed only in her imagination.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86

Categories: Davies, Robertson