A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

Molloy started. “Norah!” said he.

“Myself,” said the purple domino. “Did you think you’d given me the slip, my fine wee fella? Come on now, and don’t trouble Miss Gall anymore.”

Molloy got unsteadily to his feet, helped by Monica. The purple domino, hands on hips, offered no assistance. He was a sorry figure, for one side of his moustache was gone, and the paint on his eyebrows had run down his face in streaks. Without a word to Monica he went through the door.

“You’d better not come for any more lessons till you hear from me,” said the purple domino. “He won’t be himself for a few days. Och, these artists! You’d better be married to a barometer; up and down, up and down all the time.”

“Are you Mrs Molloy?”

“I am. And I’ve no word of blame for you, my girl, though I advise you to watch your step in future with himself. He can’t resist a good pupil; wants to run away with ’em all. But I’ve always kept him respectable, and please God I always will. Which isn’t light work, in the line we’re all in. But it’s lose that, and lose all.”

And such is the power of anything which is said with a sufficient show of certainty that Monica, who was robbing her benefactors to maintain her lover, nodded solemnly in agreement as the door of the box closed behind the purple domino.


“I am entirely agreed that Miss Gall should come home if this family crisis demands it,” said Miss Pottinger, “but you have not yet fully convinced me that it is the duty of the Bridgetower Trust to pay her expenses.”

The other trustees groaned in spirit. During the three years of the Trust’s existence Miss Puss, contentious by nature, had grown even more insupportable. She fancied herself in the role of a keen woman of business, husbanding money which these foolish men would have squandered; she demanded elaborate and repetitive explanations of the obvious; she made notes in a little book while the others were speaking, thereby missing much of the point of what was said; she pawed through all the bills and lawyer’s statements, demanding explanations and comparing costs with some standard of expenditure adopted by herself in her youth, and now invalid. Although she was believed to be nearly eighty, she had an appetite for committee-work which exhausted Solly, the Dean and Mr Snelgrove. They all, in their various ways, hated her.

It was half-past ten, and the Bridgetower house, now so meagrely heated by Solly, was growing colder; since half-past eight they had been chewing away at a single decision. Mr Snelgrove decided to allow himself the luxury of a calculated loss of temper.

“Let me repeat once more that I fully realize that I am merely the solicitor and legal adviser of this Trust,” said he, “but I urge you with all the force at my command to seize this opportunity of spending some of the Trust money. If it is not done willingly, you may find yourselves compelled to do it unwillingly. I have told you repeatedly that the Public Trustee is disturbed by the way in which your funds are accumulating. Unless you want an investigation, and all the disagreeable circumstances which will come with it, you had better snatch at this chance to spend two or three thousand dollars. Miss Gall’s mother is reported to be seriously ill; she fears that she may die, and she wants to see her daughter. If she dies, and it comes out that you have denied her daughter the means of visiting her, you will not like what people will say. You will not like it at all.”

“Has Miss Gall no funds in hand?” demanded Miss Puss. “She has received a very substantial allowance, and of late her expenditures have been remarkably heavy — far heavier than can be justified by a student life. I have said that she may come home for a time, so far as I am concerned. But we are empowered under the will of the late Louisa Hansen Bridgetower — whose memory seems to be growing very misty in your minds — only to spend money on her artistic education. Can this jaunt be justified on those grounds? That is what I want to know.”

“Personally I do not care the toss of a button whether the journey is educational or not,” said Srielgrove. “But you had better understand this: Mrs Bridgetower left, when all charges were paid, rather more than a million dollars to this Trust. As invested, that brings in roughly $31,000 a year to be spent on this wretched girl, after all taxes on income and property are paid; spend as she will, and reckoning my own expenses and those of my London colleagues, and the money for travel abroad, and the fees of the teachers, there is still about $45,000 of unspent money in our funds, to which we have no right. The Public Trustee wants to know when we are going to spend it, and he wants it spent as soon as possible.”

“Whose money is it?” asked Solly, a light in his eye.

“It is Monica Gall’s money,” said Snelgrove, “and the sooner we get it off our hands the better I shall like it.”

“You are surely not suggesting that we give it to her in a lump sum,” said Miss Pottinger. “We are instructed to educate the girl, not to debauch her.”

“Must we suppose that she would use the money foolishly?” said Dean Knapp. “I have seen little of her, but what I saw, and the reports from Sir Benedict, certainly do not suggest that she is an imprudent girl. With some guidance by us such a sum might be put aside by her for future expenses incidental to her career. Everyone knows of cases in which a little money in hand has tided people over difficult times, and greatly smoothed their way.”

“It is not a little money,” said Miss Puss. “It is a great deal of money. Certainly it would never occur to me to call it a small sum. Of course, I have always had to manage rather carefully.”

This was a hint at the $3,500 a year which the Dean’s wife received from her father’s estate, a sum which, added to the Dean’s stipend, was supposed to make the Knapps unbecomingly worldly. Miss Pottinger, who had lived on inherited money all her life, was a positive socialist about the inherited money of other people.

“Big or little, I wish I had it,” said Solly. He looked shabby and sharp; his hair wanted cutting, and his grey flannel trousers wanted press­ing. He could have afforded to make himself tidy, but tidiness did not accord with the character of Wronged Son which he now played regularly at the meetings of the Trustees. “Still, I agree that it is quite a lump to throw into her lap all at once. Surely this could have been foreseen? Why haven’t we made it over to her, or banked it for her, every quarter? Isn’t this rather late in the day to tell us about it?”

Mr Snelgrove looked at Solly for a little time before he spoke, choosing his words.

“The delay was my fault, Solomon,” said he. “I had some hopes, as you had yourself, that this Trust would not be of long duration. When we all heard the good news that you and Veronica were expecting a child, I said nothing about the matter, because I thought it might all be adjusted more agreeably when that child was born, and the Trust perhaps ended by that event. I accept any blame there may be. My intention was of the best.”

The Dean, always tactful, struck in.

“I suggest that we wire Miss Gall to come home at once, to relieve her mother’s mind. When she is here we can talk to her and make some arrangement which will satisfy the Public Trustee. And of course the Trust should bear all expenses.”

Thus it was decided, for even Miss Puss quaked at the bogy of the Public Trustee.


Through the long night which divided Canada from England, Monica was carried fifteen thousand feet above the ocean in the humming Limbo of a luxury aircraft. Mr Boykin had brought the word to Courtfield Gardens: “Your mother is seriously ill, and the Bridgetower Trustees think you had better go home for a time. I’ve made all arrangements, and everything is in this envelope. Can you be at the terminus tonight at six-thirty? Good. Now, you really mustn’t dis­tress yourself.” Mrs Merry, whom Mr Boykin had fearfully enlisted as his ally in delivering this news, also urged Monica not to distress herself. As they seemed to expect it, she did her best to be somewhat distressed, and the thought of leaving Revelstoke gave her the necessary fuel for a show of concern. But she had no feeling of reality concerning the news about her mother. None of the Galls ever thought seriously about sickness or health, and death was a theo­logical, rather than a physical, fact to them. Ma was ill. Well, Ma was always up and down but the strength of her spirit, in elation or depression, remained constant. She would find Ma depressed, no doubt, and in bed, but she would persuade Ma to feel better again, as she had done so often before. What might seem to be serious illness to outsiders was a different thing when you knew Ma.

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