A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

“But it’s lunatic,” cried Monica, in exasperation; “I don’t suppose Aspinwall really gives a damn.”

“I know what I’m talking about,” said Revelstoke, and as he seemed about to close himself up in his unapproachable character again, she let that matter drop.

Of course this conversation led at last to the pokey bedroom, where Monica, for the first time in her life, really enjoyed what passed — enjoyed it not because it gave pleasure to Giles, or because it was a sign that she held some place in his life, or because it was a proof of her freedom, but because it gave pleasure to herself, and because it was herself, and not Persis, to whom he had confided his great news. It was plain enough that Giles needed her.

He should need her more. Monica conceived a great plan. She would find the money which should make possible the writing of The Golden Asse.


Her first proposal was that she should go to Sir Benedict, and ask him to lend Giles enough money to keep him going for a year. Giles vetoed this plan at once; his attitude toward Domdaniel was an unpredict­able mingling of admiration for his great gifts as a conductor, and contempt for his success. “I’m not going to give it to him to say that he made it possible for me to write anything,” said he; “if I’m to have a patron it won’t be Brummagem Benny.” And from this position he would not budge. It was pride, and Monica admired him for it, though she could not have analysed it.

Nevertheless, if she could not go to Domdaniel, Monica’s list of possible patrons was at an end. She knew no moneyed people. She confided her trouble to Bun Eccles, as they sat in The Willing Horse.

“Why don’t you finance it yourself?” he asked.

“Me?” said Monica, incredulous.

“Well, Monny, you know your own affairs best, but you look to me like a pretty flush type.”

“Oh, Bun, I’m a church mouse. I’ve always been poor. I mean, Dad had to leave school at sixteen, and we’ve always just managed, you know. All I’ve got now is this scholarship thing.”

“It seems to amount to a good deal. You’ve got some pretty expensive clothes, Monny, and all kinds of costly junk in that flat at Ma Merry’s. Are you sure you’re really poor, or are you just one of those people who assume that they’re poor? Have you ever gone without a meal? Ever had less than two pair of shoes? I have, often, but I don’t consider myself poor. I mean, I’m not telling you what you should do. I’m just asking. But the menagerie thinks you’re rolling.”

It took Monica a full two days to comprehend this, but in the end she was forced to admit to herself that she was not really poor — was, indeed, very well situated. She had all her bills paid; she could buy things on tick; she got five hundred a year, now, as pin-money. The idea was breath-taking; she did not want to be well-off — that was something one said of people against whom one felt an honest working man’s grudge. People who had more than enough money (with a few splendid exceptions like Domdaniel) were for that very reason morally suspect. But at last she accepted the reality of her situation.

Once again she sought Eccles’ advice, and then began such a complication of chicanery as Monica had never dreamed possible. Eccles had a genius for the finance of desperation, and assuming that she wanted as much money as possible, he gave himself a free hand. Within a week he had sold her expensive radiogramophone and her collection of records. (“They are going to Mr Revelstoke’s for a time,” she explained to Mrs Merry, and the landlady was impressed.) He sold some of her personal luggage, including the fitted case which she had been given by the Thirteeners; it was gone before she realized what was happening. He persuaded her to dispose of quite a large part of her wardrobe. He even got ninepence for War and Peace, which had been unopened for fifteen months. All this was done in an ecstasy of haggling and what he called “flogging”.

“This clothes caper is absolutely endless, Monny,” he explained. “We can go on and on. You buy a few smart things every month, charge ’em, wear ’em once and turn ’em over to me. I flog ’em. Good for eight or ten quid. These lawyers aren’t going to snoop through your cupboard. Go right ahead till they squawk.”

Well, thought Monica, Sir Benedict said they wanted me to spend more money.

She had a few pounds in hand, left from the money she had received for her visit to Paris. Eccles pounced on it.

“You can save a lot on food,” said he, “and you’d better let me have a look at your gas-meter. Those things eat shillings. There’s a little jigger inside that controls how much you get for a bob; I’ll just bring over a tool I have, and put yours right. I don’t doubt Ma Merry’s been swindling you; the only fair thing is to make an adjustment right now. Pity you don’t have your own electric light meter; I’ve a sweet little trick with a magnet that does wonders with one of those. Still, can’t be helped. Oh, you’d be amazed what money you can raise when you know how!”

Monica was indeed amazed, and the uneasiness she felt was shouted down by her pleasure in being able to put a substantial sum of money — nearly two hundred pounds — in Giles Revelstoke’s hand. He was delighted.

“You’re keeping me!” he shouted.

“No, no; it’s a loan, or an investment, or something like that. You mustn’t mind.”

“But I don’t mind. I love it. I’ve never been kept by a woman before.”

The situation seemed to gratify something perverse to him. He knew how Monica came by the money, and he delighted in calling it “her immoral earnings”. But she very soon discovered that it had been a mistake to give him the money, for he had no idea of how to keep it, or use it sparingly. He did not want things for himself, particularly, but he gave Raikes Bros, another fifty pounds on the Lantern account, and he gave a party for the menagerie, to whom he confided, as the best joke in the world, that he was now Monica’s kept man. Monica was so torn between shame and exultation that, for the first time in her life, her digestion troubled her. All the better, said Bun Eccles; she’d want less to eat.

The menagerie thought it all wonderful, and Tuke and Tooley courted Monica embarrassingly, seeing in her the saviour of Lantern. It was true that Miss Tooley, who kept Tuke (but in a sublimated, disciple-like way), made a few veiled references to the iniquity of diverting trust funds: and it was also true that Tuke, who was deeply hurt because he was not to make the libretto of The Golden Asse (which Giles was adapting himself) was a little bitter about artists who sold themselves for money. Persis was jealous, because she could not afford to keep Giles; it would have been such a sell for her straight-laced parents if they had discovered that she kept a man. But she shut up when Eccles suggested to her that she might try her luck on Piccadilly, and put her earnings into the general fund. Though there were under-currents, it was accepted among them that Monica was a heroine.

Eccles had no money, but he gave his talent to the acquirement and husbanding of anything that Monica could lay her hands on. There was only one source of income which he ruled out.

Odingsels approached Monica one evening, and sitting beside her, so that his unpleasant head was very close to hers, said: “If you really want money, I can always pay you for work — though I can’t afford to contribute anything for nothing. But I do figure studies — the nude, you know — oh, nothing unpleasant and very well thought of by judges; the right models are always a problem, and it so happens that you have an excellent figure, of just the sort I require. You know me, Monica, and I am sure you have no silly ideas about such things. I could run to ten guineas a sitting, and I could make use of you quite often.”

Monica was willing; after all, if Persis could take off her clothes for Odingsels, so could she. But Eccles was firm.

“No you don’t,” said he.

“But he says it’s not dirty pictures. And it’s ten guineas a time. I don’t mind. Why, Bun, you know you employ models yourself. What’s the fuss?”

“Monny, some day that fellow is going to be in very bad trouble. And when he is, you don’t even want to know about him, see? Now don’t argue. You’re not going to do it.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson