A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

Monica protested, but she could not do so with much vigour. If she could rob the Trust for Revelstoke, why not for Ma? There was no answer to that question — not even such an answer as the uncomfort­able inner voice could give. But it was a bitter blow to her to discover, as she did very soon, that not only Alice, but Dad and Aunt Ellen, were looking to her to pay all the heavier costs of this occasion. It was not wholly that they wanted money; it was that her supposed possession of money made her, in their eyes, the head of the family. Not moral authority, or age, but hard cash was what decided the matter. She could never again be a child in her father’s house, because she had more money than he.

The funeral came, and passed. Eleven relatives from out of town arrived, and were fed; seven of them were given overnight lodging at the Gall house and at Aunt Ellen’s. They were all Gunleys, relatives of Mrs Gall, and like her they tended to be fat and sardonic. The night before the funeral they assembled for a family pow-pow, and Mr Gall and Alice, between them, gave a dramatic account of Mrs Gall’s last illness. Alice tried to weight the story a little by emphasizing the doctor’s assertion that Mrs Gall need not have died, and that Monica’s decision that she should not go to the hospital was the deciding factor. But she got nowhere with the Gunleys.

“Ada always liked her own way,” said Aunt Bessie Gunley; “stubborn as they come.”

“Yep; independent as a hog on ice,” agreed Noble Gunley, a second cousin in the hardware business.

They appeared to glory in Mrs Gall’s defiance of the entrenched powers of the medical world; she had died as she lived, a Gunley through and through.

Pastor Beamis did not extend himself at the funeral as much as he could have wished, but he respected the desire, put to him strongly by Alice and Monica in their different ways, for conservatism. He was conservative, by his lights. He prayed for the family, in turn and by name, and managed to give Almighty God an excellent capsule account of Monica’s high associations abroad. He spoke eloquently of the late Mrs Gall, informing a somewhat surprised group of listeners that she had been open-handed, devout, courageous, a lifelong lover of all that was beautiful (this tied in neatly with his prayerful reference to Monica) and a constant source of inspiration to himself in his pastoral work. Accompanied by Mrs Beamis on the piano, and his son Wesley on the vibraphone, he sang Swinging Through the Gates of the New Jerusalem. But by comparison with some of his more unbuttoned efforts, it was conservative.

Chuck Proby’s boss did not come, after all. He sent the head accountant, as the most suitable person to represent the august entity of The Bank at the funeral of the mother-in-law of a promising, but still junior, employee. The Bridgetower Trust was represented by Dean Knapp, who declined Pastor Beamis’ pressing invitation to sit on the platform, but who behaved himself beautifully, even when his sensibilities were most outraged, and spoke with real Christian kindness to the Gall family afterward.

Not that Alfred Gall noticed who spoke to him. The light which, however it may have appeared to the outside world, had been sufficient to fill his life, had gone out, and he was in darkness. All through the funeral he sat like a man carved in wood.

Alice wept copiously. She had a valuable talent for allowing her grief free play when it was most wanted, and suppressing it at need. But, certainly in her own estimation, at least, she wept in the same spirit as Dean Knapp prayed at her mother’s funeral — sincerely, but not as a Thirteener.

Monica lacked Alice’s ability to present her feelings suitably. She had wept for her mother at the time of her death. At the funeral she found herself lifted up by a wave of emotion which she knew to be optimistic, and which at first she thought was relief that the long ordeal was over at last. But as Beamis prayed, she heard the inner voice, speaking this time not as her mother or as Giles, but in a voice which might have been her own, and it said: You are free. You did your best for her, and now you are free. You will never have to worry about what you can tell her, or what would hurt her, again.


The day after the funeral Monica found herself in a disordered and neglected house which she was apparently expected to put in order, and keep indefinitely for her widowed father. It was plain that Alice meant to do nothing, and Aunt Ellen had her job. She made a beginning, and quickly tired of it. Doing domestic work for Revelstoke was one thing; this was a very different matter. Should she call in a cleaning-woman? No, that would be unwise on several counts. It would encourage the family to think that she had cash in hand, and in reality she was very short; she had left all she could spare with Revelstoke. It would also defer the time when some permanent arrangement was made for Mr Gall, and that was pressing; she wanted to get back to London as soon as she could. She must be diplomatic.

Her new position in the family, that of the moneyed daughter, made diplomacy easier than she had foreseen. It was so easy, indeed, to persuade her father to fall in with her suggestions that she was a little ashamed of herself, and of him. At a family council she made it clear that she must return to London; much depended on it, she said. She meant The Golden Asse, but did not say so. The family, assuming as people without money are wont to do, that all the affairs of moneyed people concern money, agreed. How was Dad going to manage? To everyone’s surprise, Dad himself had a plan; Alice and Chuck and little Donald should move in with him. Alice was quick to quash that proposal.

“Three generations in one house never works,” said she. “You see it everywhere. I think it’ll be far better if every tub stands on its own bottom.”

After much beating about the bush it was finally agreed that Miss Gall should give up her pretty little house, and move in with her brother. That was what Monica wanted; that was, indeed, what she had decided to arrange. But it hurt her, nevertheless, that Miss Gall had to be the sacrifice. Aunt Ellen was the only one of them who was not toadying to her because of her supposed riches; that good woman was simply and extravagantly proud of Monica because she was gaining a place in the world as a singer, and she would have laid her head on the executioner’s block without complaint, if thereby she could have advanced her niece’s career.

Still, now that Ma was dead, it was possible to confide more fully in Aunt Ellen, and Monica spent many nights in the pretty, crowded sitting-room of her aunt’s house, where she had learned her first lessons in music. She sang for Miss Gall; she sang Revelstoke’s songs to her, which Aunt Ellen did not really like, but which filled her with pride none the less. She sang the folk-songs and the songs in an older musical idiom which she had learned from Molloy, and these delighted the little woman. She said, quite truly, that she had never heard anything so fine before. And when Monica asked Aunt Ellen’s advice about her programme for the Bridgetower Recital, her cup was full and brimming over. This, at last, was the real musical life!

For there was to be a Bridgetower Recital. The members of the Trust had advanced the idea very delicately, fearing that Monica might be too prostrated with grief at the death of her mother to sing for some months. They were surprised, but gratified, by the resilience of her spirits. Yes, she said, she would be happy to sing for any audience they chose to assemble. Yes, she thought that Fallen Hall, at Waverley University, would be an excellent place for a recital. No, she was not in the least dubious about filling it with her voice; she had sung in the Sheldonian Theatre, and at Wigmore Hall, and size did not alarm her. Certainly, she would plan a programme in the course of a few days. The question of mourning? Well, would it not be possible to include in her programme a short group of songs of a devotional nature? She would like to do so, as a form of memorial to her mother. The Trust thought this most suitable and proper, and were delighted with her for thinking of it.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson