A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

“Nothing,” said Monica, and felt suddenly cold in the warm little room.

“Yes. If we have a male child, the Trust automatically ends. But till that time all the money goes to you. We had a child, you know — you didn’t? — well, we had a son, but he was born dead. It was a sore disappointment. Not wholly, or even mostly, because of the money but — you do understand, don’t you? We don’t hold ill-will against you. After all, it might have been somebody else — anybody with talent. But we’re chained to this house, which costs a terrible lot to keep up, even when the Trust undertakes to keep it in repair. And my husband is still only a lecturer, and even with Summer School fees, and what he can get by writing now and then for the radio, and so forth, we can’t keep our heads above water. We’re not merely broke; we’re terribly in debt. Now, of course Solly knows that the Trust has just made over $45,000 of surplus funds to you. — I hate saying this, but under other circumstances that would have been our money. I’m asking if you could let us have ten thousand, to tide us over?”

Monica looked, but could not speak.

“You see, we have hopes. We hope for another child. But suppose it isn’t a boy? Suppose there is never another boy? I don’t want to let myself talk about my mother-in-law, but it’s so cruel! If we could get free of the house, we might snap our fingers at the whole thing, but we can’t — at least we haven’t quite gone so far as to sacrifice all hopes in order to get out of this net. And meanwhile — you understand, don’t you, that I’m talking to you as a friend, and I’m not trying to wring your heart, really I’m not — I only want you to know how things are — our marriage is being twisted out of shape. Solly is a drudge, and I’m a baby-factory, bound to go on and on, until we have a son. It’s a horrible vengeance — because she hated me — because I took her son –”

Veronica was not a weeping woman, but her mute distress was more terrible to another woman than tears could be.

Oh God, — thought Monica, if only I had enough sense not to always tell everything I know! I’ve told Giles I’ve got $45,000, or close to it, when the funeral’s paid for, and that’s what he’ll be counting on. If I go back with less — I couldn’t explain it to him, ever. These people wouldn’t be real to him. Nothing’s real to him except the opera, and I’m real because I’ve been able to support him while he wrote it, and can help to pay to get it on.

But what can I tell Veronica? Tell her that an artistic venture demands every cent of this money, when she and her husband think of it as theirs? What could a plan like that mean to people who are in this sort of mess? Tell her my lover must have every penny I can get, like a tart giving her earnings to her pimp, for fear of a black eye? How real would Giles seem to them? What can I say?

The silence between them was more than either woman could bear, and it was Veronica who broke it.

“It would be a loan, of course, a matter of business — we wouldn’t dream of asking more than that. I mean, we’d have to arrange a rate of interest; we wouldn’t expect you to lose by it.”

Monica was frozen with discomfiture and pity, but she could not find anything to say. Veronica could not be silent, now; anything was better than silence. She continued:

“I know, of course, that what I’m asking you to do is quite illegal. Solly has tried to get loans out of the funds from Mr Snelgrove, and it can’t be done. If you let us have some money, we might all end in jail, I suppose. Or at best it would look terrible if anyone found out.”

Monica had to speak.

“I wouldn’t care how illegal it was, if I could help you,” said she. “I just can’t. There’s a very good reason — I swear to you that it’s a good reason — why I can’t, but at present I’m unable to explain it. I will explain as soon as I can, and as fully as possible. But you must believe that it isn’t greed, or stinginess, or because I don’t admire you and your husband very much, and want you to think well of me. But I can’t do it.”

“I thought that would be your answer,” said Veronica, without rancour; “Solly said you had spoken of a plan of some sort to the Trustees. But you see that I had to try, don’t you?”

The noise of the party mounted to them, and Solly came to fetch his wife and Monica. A quick glance told him what he most wanted to know, and he did not allow his obligatory high spirits, as host, to flag. To lose all hope is, in a way, to be free, and it often brings with it a lightening of mood. Downstairs they went, into a sea of compliments, of enthusiasm, of success.

Much later, as Monica lay in her bed, she thought of the party with satisfaction, and yet somewhat remotely. It had been the occasion for an outlet of the enthusiasm which her recital had evoked, and which had not expended itself in the applause at Fallen Hall. She had done her duty. She had tried at first to bring Dad into the circle of enthusiasm; he had appreciated her solicitude, but it was doubtful if he really knew any more about the affair than that Monny had, in some mysterious way, I made a hit with these big-bugs. It was not that he was stupid; he was dim, remote and, since the death of his wife, only partly alive. Aunt Ellen was quite different; it was not at all hard to find people for her to talk to; Cobbler had been very good to her. Alex and Kevin, astonishingly assured and competent at a party far above their accustomed welkin, had been kind about looking after Dad.

For Monica had not been able to do so. Everybody wanted to talk to her. One or two had liked Kubla Khan, and said so; some had spoken very kindly about the songs sung in memory of Mrs Gall. But Water Parted seemed to have impressed everybody.

Yet what strange things they found in it! “I wish I knew what was in your mind when you sang that!” Over and over again she heard that comment, differently phrased. Many, as soon as they had said it, gave her their notion of what the song had meant to her. A surprising number took it as a song of nostalgia for Canada, cherished by her during her exile abroad — an idea which had never entered her head. Some were convinced that it was a love-song.

What did it mean to her? It meant what Hiraeth meant to Ceinwen Griffiths — a longing for what was perhaps unattainable in this world, a longing for a fulfilment which was of the spirit and not of the flesh, but which was not specifically religious in its yearning. It meant her surge of feeling at the tomb of St Genevieve. It meant the aspiration toward that from which she drew her strength, and to which she returned when the concerns of daily life were set aside. It was the condition of being which lay beyond the Monica Gall who bossed Dad and Aunt Ellen into living together, who quarrelled and lost her dignity with her sister Alice, who spoke in honeyed words to the Bridgetower Trustees, who denied poor Veronica Bridgetower the money which might deliver her from a hateful bondage, who cheated and scraped for Giles Revelstoke, and endured all his whims in return for his absent-minded and occasional affection. It lay through, but beyond, the world of music to which she was now committed — the singer’s bondage which tonight had so plainly shown to be hers. It was the yearning which had been buried in the heart of her mother, denied and thwarted but there, forever alive and demanding. It was a yearning toward all the vast, inexplicable, irrational treasury from which her life drew whatever meaning and worth it possessed. It was the yearning for –? As Ceinwen’s song had said, not all the wise men in the world could ever tell her, but it would last until the end.


“I trust that you will not think that I have acted unwisely, but that is what has been done with the large sum of money which you made over to me in February. I hope that the enclosed reports will persuade you that it has been well spent.” Thus ran part of Monica’s letter to the Bridgetower Trustees, which Mr Snelgrove read to them at a meeting held in the following May.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson