A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

Miss Puss was particularly pleased by the whole notion of the recital. Indeed, she revealed a romantic strain in her character which the others had not suspected, but which came out clearly at a meeting held, with Monica present, to discuss all the details of the great affair.

“There is a point which I wish to raise,” said Miss Puss, positively blushing, “which may seem — I hardly know how to phrase it — fanciful to you gentlemen, and which may at first seem strange to our protégée, Miss Gall. It has long been the custom of singers, when embarking upon their careers, to choose a name for professional use — a nom de guerre. The instances of Melba and Nordica arise at once to mind; Melba was Helen Mitchell — an honourable but scarcely inspir­ing title — and Nordica was Lillian Norton. Nor must we forget our own dear Marie Lajeunesse, which we shall certainly not do if we think of her as Madame Albani. They chose names, you see, which were remarkable for euphony, and ease of recollection. Mind you, I do not say that a name with a certain, well, asperity about it is a barrier to success. Who has forgotten Minnie Hauk? Well — I put it to you, Minnie Hauk! But the exception in this case strengthens the rule. Consider the great Yendik — born Kidney! Well, you will have gathered by now what I am driving at. Our dear Monica — (Monica’s eyes opened to their uttermost to learn that she was dear to Miss Puss, but she was becoming inured to surprises) – has a lovely Christian name. But Gall? A name honoured in Ireland, certainly, but is it quite the thing for the concert platform? Can one imagine it on posters, programmes? Can we be of assistance in finding something more suitable — more euphonious and easily memorable? I confess that I have pondered over this matter a good deal during the past few days, and what I want to suggest” — and here Miss Puss positively glowed –“is that the forthcoming recital would be a most suitable place for the assumption of a new name. And the name I propose — a name compounded of parts of Monica and Gall, a sort of anagram — is Gallica.”

Up from the depths of Monica’s memory floated the name of Monique Gallo; how long ago that was — more than two years! How she had changed.

“It is wonderfully kind of you, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness,” said she, “but I think, all things considered, I had better keep my own name. You see, I have sung twice for the B B C as Monica Gall, and I have sung at Wigmore Hall in a recital of new work by Giles Revelstoke, which attracted a good deal of attention. I have sung for Sir Benedict under my own name, as well; so perhaps it would be a mistake to change it now, just when it is beginning to be known.”

How oily I am getting, she thought. That sounded just like Giles imitating somebody he despised.

Aunt Puss was quick to swallow her words.

“I had no desire to seem arbitrary or intrusive,” said she; “I only wished to draw attention to a recognized professional custom.”

“I think it is a custom which is falling into disuse,” said Solly.

“That may not be entirely a good thing,” said the Dean. “A career in art must often mean great changes in personality — much abandoned in the past, and much learned. I’ve sometimes thought we might all be the better for taking new names when we discover our vocations.” He looked kindly at Miss Puss, who was flustered and cast down. One of the few flashes of romance in her life had been quenched.

Poor old chook, thought Monica. She wants to make something; she wants to create, and Gallica would be in some measure her creation. She would be particularly nice to Miss Puss when the meeting was over, to salve the wound.

It was at this meeting that Monica was told of the substantial sum of money which the Trust had on hand, and which was legally hers. It was Mr Snelgrove who explained it to her, and when he reached the point where he had to say that she could have it and do as she pleased with it he could hardly bring the words to his lips. As a lawyer he knew what the position was, and in that capacity he had been urging the Trust to get the money off its hands; but Mr Snelgrove was also a man — a dry, conservative, stuffily prudent, snobbish old man — and the thought of turning over so much money to a girl of very common background, who might commit the Lord only knew what follies with it, deeply shocked him. Nor was he without heart; the sight of young Solomon Bridgetower sitting in what ought to be his own house, looking as though he had bitten a lemon, while this strange girl was given money which might have been his, hurt Mr Snelgrove’s sense of justice — which a life devoted to the practice of the law had not wholly eroded away. But at last Mr Snelgrove was done with his humming and hawing, and his meaning was clear.

“Of course I am very much surprised,” said Monica, “and more than ever grateful to the late Mrs Bridgetower. You need have no fear that the money will be wasted, or frittered away in trivial spending. Indeed, I can tell you now that I should not dream of using it for purely personal benefit. With your approval, I should like to use a small part of it — a few hundred dollars — to settle my mother’s funeral expenses. I shall pay it back as soon as I am able, out of my own earnings. The remainder will be used exclusively for musical purposes of which I shall give you a full account when the time comes.”

She spoke soberly, but her heart was singing. From the minute she understood the drift of Mr Snelgrove’s harangue, she knew precisely what she was going to do with that money. It would be more than enough to close the gap between what the Association for English Opera could afford to spend in producing The Golden Asse, and what was necessary to do the job properly, and with a decent margin for unexpected needs. She would now be able to make it possible for Giles to take a giant step in his career, and she could do it decently, without robbery, padding of expenses, and selling second-hand clothes. Like many people when they suddenly get their own way, she saw the hand of God in it. But she was not so lost to discretion as to talk of her plan to the Trust, until she actually had the money.

The Trustees were somewhat surprised, and the Dean at least was relieved, that she did not take the news of her windfall in a frivolous or greedy spirit. They badly wanted to know what she was going to do, but pride forbade them to ask. So they passed on to a discussion of the invitations to the Bridgetower Recital. For of course it was to be an invitation affair, and they meant to get the utmost possible glory out of it for themselves. Glory was all that they stood to get from the Bridgetower Trust, and having parted, though vicariously, with $45,000 they badly felt the need of something in return.


The period during which Monica was preparing herself for the recital was enlivened for the whole British Commonwealth, and several millions of interested people in the USA, by what was known as the Odingsels Obscenity Scandal. Odo Odingsels, described to Monica’s astonishment and private amusement as “a fashionable Mayfair photographer”, was arrested on charges of selling, at very high prices and to a small but constant clientele, indecent photographs of men and women highly placed in society and politics. The nature of these photographs, the newspapers said, was of an obscenity to astonish the most hardened libertine, for not merely were they filthy in themselves but they brought into disrepute people for whom the whole world had the utmost respect and affection. The man Odingsels was plainly a criminal lunatic of horrifying depravity; employing models sufficiently like his subjects (though as a usual thing younger and more pleasingly formed) he put the heads of the victims on them by brilliant photographic trickery, employing photo­graphs purchased from news agencies and portrait photographers. The newspapers dwelt with well-simulated horror on the lifelike and astonishing effects which this perverse combination of artistry and technique produced. The Old Bailey had been cleared while the jury examined the monster’s work, and the Judge had admonished them to secrecy. Nevertheless, it was said on sufficient authority that European Royalty, British Royalty, the White House — nay, the very Vatican itself — were spattered.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson