A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

She pondered for another day on the subject, turning it over and over, until at last self-doubt, masquerading as self-respect, made her write a letter.

Dearest Giles,

After thinking for a long time about what you said on Thursday night, I am sure we had better break off, and not see each other again — at least not for a long time. Of course I didn’t take what you said at its face value, because I knew how angry and hurt you were. But you hurt me very much. Just the fact that you knew so well how to hurt me makes me think that you had been turning some of those things over in your mind, and when you were angry, they came out.

What I have felt about you has been plain, I think. I could have said some of it, if you had wanted that, but I tried to show it in other ways. You once told me that when you loved me you would say so, and as you have never said it I know that you don’t, and Thursday night even with all the anger left out, makes me fear that you could very easily despise me. So I won’t come for any more lessons, and perhaps after a while when I don’t feel about you as I do now, we will be able to meet again, quite ordinarily.

Please understand what I am trying to say. I could give everything for you, even self-respect and wanting to be a really good singer and all that, if you wanted me to. But you don’t, and I won’t go on forcing it on you. But as I can’t stay with you and be a doormat, I have decided to leave you and do the best I can on my own. I love you, and I always shall, but you don’t want love. So God bless you (though I know how you hate people to say that) and I will ask Bun to pick up my things from Tite Street.


It was not in the least like any of the letters she wanted to write — the splendidly haughty one, the moving unaffected one, the poetic one fit for an anthology of great love-letters — but she had neither the heart nor the talent for literary flights. She sent it off to the Tite Street flat, and concluded her engagement in Venice in deep distress of mind. Even the great reception which The Golden Asse was given at its last performance, and the good notices she had from all the critics, and the flowers from some unknown music-lover, and the eloquent farewell of Signor Petri, had no power to ease her inward hurt. She changed her plans for a holiday in Italy, and a visit to Amy Neilson, and returned to London as fast as the airways could take her.


Monica had not long been in her flat in Courtfield Gardens before Mrs Merry appeared.

“I’ve brought you a few letters which came during the past two or three days,” said she. They were dull; one with a Canadian stamp, addressed in George Medwall’s careful hand, was on top.

“There were no messages,” said Mrs Merry. “Mr Revelstoke tele­phoned yesterday to know when you would be home, and as I had had your telegram I said you’d be back this evening.”

Was Giles anxious to see her, then? He had been too sure of her devotion to show any concern about her goings and comings before. Did he feel that he should unsay the cruel things he had said in Venice? But cruel things cannot be unsaid; they may be forgiven, and Monica was ready to forgive, but she was certain that she would not forget. She unpacked because it gave her something to do — some­thing which would keep her in her flat. But all the time she wanted to go to Tite Street. She must not do so, for her letter had been plain; she had broken with Giles. Apparently he had received her letter, and he wanted her; otherwise why that unaccustomed inquiry? Did he think he knew her so well that he could be sure she would run to him as soon as she came back to London? Then he did not know her at all. Desperately as she loved him, she had some pride; she must preserve her self-respect, as Sir Benedict said.

But suppose he were lonely and hurt? The bad performance of The Golden Asse had ravaged him as only she knew. It was all very well for Sir Benedict and Petri to say that it had not been disastrously bad; they meant only that the audience had not hissed — or had only hissed once. To Giles anything below the high mark of achievement which he set for himself was disaster. What had Ripon called him, in mockery? A Satanic genius? True, for he was proud as Lucifer. But he had not Lucifer’s self-sufficiency. She knew that, better than anyone else in the world. For although he would not tell her how much he needed her tenderness and understanding, she could feel it. And feeling his need, could she withhold herself from him? Was she not, in this realm, more knowledgeable than he? Was she not one of the Eros-men, and had not Domdaniel called her a fellow-artist? Should she not have a spirit above personal hurts? Should she not be ashamed to withhold her presence and her comfort from Giles as a means of revenge?

Yes, what she was doing was revenge — a tortured, unworthy passion which fouled her love. What she was doing was all those things he hated, and rightly. It was provincial. It was common. It was probably colonial and Saltertonian and Non-conformist and typically American and lower-middle-class and non-U and all the other things he taunted her with being, in his impatient desire that she should be, like himself, a true artist who looked at the world with level and open eyes.

It had been a little after nine o’clock when she reached Courtfield Gardens from the air terminal. It was half-past eleven when she climbed the stairs in Tite Street.


The house had a Sunday night stillness, and the tiny globes which Mrs Klein used to light the stairs exaggerated the chapel-like gloom of its Ruskin Gothic. On the second flight, which led to Giles’ top floor, the cat Pyewacket was sitting; he miaouled when Monica stooped to stroke him, and ran upward ahead of her. The door at the top of the stair was closed.

She remembered that earlier time when she had returned from a journey to find Giles in bed with Persis; the door had not been closed then. Did this show some greater degree of caution? But suppose Persis were again with him? Did it really make any difference to the consuming fact that she loved him, and could not live apart from him, and must therefore endure anything from him? If Persis were there, she would have to accept it, and drudge for Persis as she drudged for Giles. The abjection of her love was complete.

The door was locked. She had a key — the only key other than Giles’ own, and he had given it to her not in order that she might have free access to the flat, but because he was always losing his own key, and wanted another in safe keeping in case he should at some time find himself locked out. She unlocked the door and pushed it open. It moved heavily, for a blanket lay on the floor against it.

She had meant to call “Giles” — but the gas stifled the name in her throat and she retreated down the stairs, choking and gasping. Pyewacket, who had rushed through the door ahead of her, dashed out of the flat and down the stairs, spitting and snarling.

Get help? No; go in. She crumpled her scarf over her mouth and nose, and ran through the living room to the windows, which were closed but not fastened, and opened easily. Was it safe to turn on a light? She knew nothing of gas. Would it ignite? Would there be an explosion? Where was Giles?

Giles lay on the floor, in pyjamas and dressing-gown. In a score of films which Monica had seen, the discoverer of someone in such a position ran to them at once, felt the pulse, listened to the heart, stared into the face. But she was so frightened that she shrank against the windows, to get air and to be as far as possible from him. It was some time before she found courage to creep forward (why? did she fear to waken him?) and look at his face in the very little light which came through the windows. His skin was dark; it seemed to her that it was black. His lips were parted, and he did not breathe. She should take his pulse. But she dared not touch him. He was dead, and she was afraid of his body.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson