A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

It was his idea, for instance, that the executors should always meet in the Bridgetower house. Snelgrove had read the will there, to satisfy his sense of drama; Solly contrived that the executors should meet there, arguing that, as the house was the property of the trust, the trustees should make use of it for their official deliberations. This gave him a certain advantage, for while it was true that the house was part of the trust, it was also his dwelling, and he played the role of host there. Miss Puss was first to recognize the implications of this, and she took her revenge at that second meeting, when she and Snelgrove were angry with Solly about the newspaper account of Mrs Bridgetower’s will.

Veronica had met her at the door, and welcomed her. “I think, dear, that it would be better if you were not present at the trustees’ meetings,” said Miss Puss.

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of coming into the meeting,” said Veronica; “If just wanted to help you with your coat.”

“I am sure you mean everything that is kind, dear,” said Miss Puss, “but we must avoid any appearance of impropriety. I say this both as an executor and a friend. I am sure you hear everything in good time, as it is.” Veronica retired to another room with a red face, and a sense that she had been presumptuous in a house which was now, apparently, even less her home than when her mother-in-law had been alive.

Solly had overheard this exchange, and he was angry. He had not much spirit when it came to fighting for himself, but he was ready to fight anyone for Veronica. Therefore he took it out of Miss Puss rather more than was necessary, in a quiet way, and stored up a consider­able quantity of resentment against her, to be worked off at his future convenience. If his mother had truly meant her will to make a man of him, it was working rapidly to make him a hard and bitter man. Laura Pottinger was his mother’s oldest friend, and as such she had domineered over him from boyhood. But he was strongly conscious of the fact that as he had grown up, she had grown old, and he meant to put her in her place over and over again, if that should be necessary, until she learned what her place was.

It was clear to him also that Mr Matthew Snelgrove would have to be dealt with, for the lawyer took the line that the three executors needed guidance, and he was their obvious guide. When he had at last been made to realize that he could not in any way call in the information which The Bellman had given out, he warned the execu­tors strictly against revealing any further terms of the will.

“I must tell you,” said Solly, “that Veronica and I have already had a talk with Ethel Colman and Doris Black. They have both been with the family a long time, and had a right to expect legacies. You know that there are legacies for them — when I have a son. We thought it right that they should know.”

“But that is exceedingly irregular,” said Snelgrove. “I am charged with the very difficult task of settling this large estate in a year; how am I to do so if my prerogatives are taken from me and information revealed and expectations raised before I have even had time to settle to the work?”

“The whole thing is irregular,” said Solly, “and Veronica and I feel that Ethel and Doris deserve any consideration we can give them. They have a right to know where they stand. We can’t possibly keep them both, or even one of them, on my salary. They must be free to take other jobs. And you might as well know that I offered to raise the money for their legacies myself, so that they could have them now. Otherwise we don’t know how long they may have to wait.”

“But if you have told them the conditions of the will, they are certain to talk,” said Snelgrove. “You know how things get around — even when nobody runs to the newspapers.”

“I know that you read my mother’s will on Christmas Eve to the four of us and that on Christmas Day quite a few people knew that I had been cut out of it,” said Solly. To his astonishment, and triumph, the other three all blushed in their various ways. “Certainly I didn’t tell anyone in that time.”

“If irresponsible talk is permitted, your Mother’s reputation may suffer,” said Miss Puss. “That ought to mean a great deal to you.”

“And so it does,” said Solly, “but I think that you will agree that my Mother has made it somewhat difficult to prevent hard things being said. People at Waverley have not stuck at saying she tricked them — led them to think they were to get a substantial sum, and then didn’t come through with it. You ought to know, Auntie Puss, that she didn’t care what anybody said, when she wanted things her own way.”

Miss Puss changed her tack. “I suppose it is inevitable, but I wish that you did not involve Veronica so much in these affairs. I suppose she sympathized with the servants without any regard for the reflection on dear Louisa.”

“Veronica is my wife, Miss Puss,” said Solly. “Mother often seemed to forget that, but there is no reason why anyone else should do so. She is in this as much as I am. I’ll tell her whatever I think proper — and that is everything.”

A fight seemed imminent, and Snelgrove intervened, choosing his point of pressure badly. “You have offered to pay Ethel and Doris legacies; what will you do for money? Have you insurance? Or savings?” He knew very well that Solly had neither.

“I have talked to my bank,” said Solly, with a smile. “They are very friendly, and are ready to lend me money on my expectations.”

“Be careful of borrowing on that security,” said Snelgrove. “You may involve yourself irretrievably. What if you never inherit?”

“You’ll excuse me if I am more optimistic about that than an older man might be,” said Solly. “I offered to get the banker a doctor’s certificate that I am — in good health; he very decently said I needn’t bother. I have a young and healthy wife. I assure you, Miss Puss and gentlemen, that I mean to inherit just as fast as I can.”

“Of course; of course,” said the Dean, and then blushed, realizing that his encouragement might be misinterpreted. He was extremely uncomfortable.

“My chief concern is that a proper regard be shown for dear Louisa’s wishes,” said Miss Puss, who had an ill-understood but powerful feeling that Solly was outraging his mother’s memory with indecent talk.

“Apparently she wished for a grandson,” said Solly, “and I am going to do everything in my power to gratify her.”

It was in this uncomfortable strain that the executors’ meetings continued. Solly called them whenever he thought it necessary. He summoned the Dean, Miss Puss and Snelgrove to tell them that Doris Black had decided to leave his employ, and that Ethel Colman meant to continue to live in the house as cook, on a reduced salary. She was already in receipt of the Old Age pension and meant to retire in another two or three years anyhow. She did not want to take another position at her time of life. Both the women had accepted his offer of a cash settlement of their legacies, and both were ready to sign a paper waiving any future claim on the estate. Snelgrove, groaning and protesting, was instructed to prepare such a paper and see it properly signed.

As he gained the commanding position among the executors, Solly developed quite a taste for meetings and schemes. He urged that they should lose no time in seeking out the beneficiary of Mrs Bridgetower’s trust. He overrode the objections of Snelgrove and Miss Puss, pointing out that the choice might be a difficult and time-taking one. After one meeting, which filled three and a half rancorous hours, he insisted that a vote be taken, giving vast offence to Snelgrove, who had a tongue but no vote. The Dean voted with Solly, and within a week a discreet notice appeared in the Bellman explaining what the trust would be empowered to do, and asking those who were interested to make application in writing to Matthew Snelgrove, solicitor to the Bridgetower Trust.

It was a major victory, but it was not achieved quickly. Three months of the precious year of grace had elapsed, and it was the beginning of April when the advertisement appeared.


Considering the care which the executors took in wording their advertisement, it was misinterpreted in a remarkable number of ways. It was clearly stated that the recipient of Mrs Bridgetower’s bounty must be female, not over twenty-one or under that age in December of the current year, and a resident of the city of Salterton. Nevertheless four young men proposed themselves; thirty-two appli­cants were over-age, one of them confessing to forty-six; they hailed from everywhere within the range of The Bellman’s circulation. It was made plain that the beneficiary must be a student of the fine arts, and these were defined as painting, sculpture, music, literature and architecture, and reasonable branches thereof. The applicants, who reached a total of eighty-seven, interpreted the word “reasonable” in a large and generous sense.

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