A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

It did not occur to her until this minute to turn off the gas-fire which hissed a foot or two from his head. Now she did so, walking around the body in a wide circle because she dared not reach across it to the gas-tap. And as she knelt by the grate she saw that in each of his hands was a piece of paper. In one of these she recognized her letter.

Was it her first thought that she had driven him to take his life? It was not. Her first thought was that if that letter were found, she would be accused of having done so.

Danger dispersed her panic. She must behave sensibly now, or God knew what would happen to her. She retreated to the window again, and made her plan.

Thank Heaven she was wearing gloves! Monica was not a great reader of detective fiction, but she knew that dreadful retributive magic could be worked with fingerprints. With luck, nobody need know that she had ever been in the flat. Less fearful than before (but still fearing that he might wake and blast her with some sarcasm, as he had done at times when he woke from sleep to find her looking into his beloved face) she went to the body, and gently drew the letter from the right-hand fingers. It was not difficult. With it safely in the pocket of her coat, she looked quickly through the flat. A few of Persis’ undergarments were, as usual, hanging wetly above the bath — Leave them? Yes. Let Perse look out for herself. Then she crept back into the living-room and closed the windows as they had been before.

The other paper? Without a light she could not tell what it was, but it was a long clipping from a newspaper. Well, there could be no harm to her in that. Without a farewell glance at the black face Monica turned on the gas once again, tip-toed to the door, closed and locked it, and went as quietly as she could down the stairs. The blanket could not be pulled back into place, but that could not be helped. Pyewacket was at the street door, and she and the cat went out together into Tite Street. The squalling of babies in the hospital over the way was audible almost until she reached the Embankment. It was now twenty-five minutes to twelve.

She did not stay there long. Mist was rising from the river, and the Embankment was cold and inhospitable. Nevertheless, there were people there: lovers soddenly embracing, hands groping beneath their mackintoshes; a man and woman in middle age, talking passionately in some unknown language; one of London’s inassimilable poor, filthily bearded and rustling from the newspapers which were stuffed in the legs of his trousers. Monica walked slowly, trying to think, but repeating: Giles is dead; he wanted them to think I drove him to it; he wanted to get me into trouble; he loved me; he didn’t love me; he wanted to spite me; he did it from despair; he did it for revenge; he hated me. It led nowhere.

A policeman passed and re-passed her. “Anything wrong, miss?” said he.

“No; nothing thanks.”

“Waiting for anyone?”


“Well, if I may suggest it, miss, if you’ve seen all you want to see of the river, it might be a good idea to go home. Would you like me to get you a cab?”

“Thank you; that would be very kind.”

Why a cab? She was well-dressed, and wearing gloves. Amy always said that a lady should never appear on the street without gloves. How providential it was, sometimes, to know the ropes of ladyhood.


The coroner was that fortunate creature, a man really happy in his work. He delivered his summing-up to the jury with a professional flourish and a sense of style which, without being in any way unseemly, showed a degree of satisfaction.

They had heard the evidence, said the Coroner, and he hoped that they had heeded his two or three adjurations to mark it well, for it was of a complexity not common in such investigations. The body of Giles Adrian Revelstoke had been identified by Mr Griffith Hopkin-Griffiths of Neuadd Goch, Llanavon, his step-father; who had also testified that his stepson was thirty-four years old and so far as he knew had been in good health. The body had been discovered at half-past nine on the morning of September 29 by his landlady, Mrs Maria Augusta Klein, and his pupil, Miss Monica Gall. Miss Gall, who acted as a secretary and amanuensis to Mr Revelstoke, had arrived to do some work on the magazine Lantern, of which Mr Revelstoke was one of the editors, and had found the door of his flat locked — an unusual circumstance. She had called Mrs Klein, who assured her that Mr Revelstoke was at home, and accompanied her to the door of his flat. After repeated loud knocking, Miss Gall had opened the door at Mrs Klein’s suggestion, using a key which, as a member of the Lantern staff, she had with her. They found Mr Revelstoke dead on the floor, with some evidences of a paroxysm, and had called the police.

The evidence of the police was that there was a strong smell of coal gas in the room, that the windows were closed, and that a blanket had apparently been used to block the crack under the main doorway. The police pathologist had testified, however, that death was not caused by gas, but by suffocation. Although the tap of the gas-fire was turned on when the police arrived, no gas was coming through and examina­tion of the meter — one of the familiar shilling-in-the-slot meters –showed that it had run out at a time which could not be determined. It appeared, therefore, that Mr Revelstoke had been overcome with gas, and that when the gas in the room began to disperse — for the windows did not give a tight seal to the room — he had partly recovered. Nausea from the gas had caused him to regurgitate a considerable quantity of vomitus into his mouth and in his partly-conscious state he had been unable to free himself from it; the heavy, snoring breathing characteristic of certain stages of gas poisoning had caused him to draw a quantity of vomitus into his lungs, which had brought about death by suffocation. The opinion of the pathologist was that this had happened six or seven hours before he was discovered, which was to say at some time between two and three in the morning.

A verdict of suicide would certainly occur to the jury, but they must weigh the following considerations very heavily against it. The evi­dence of Miss Persis Kinwellmarshe (present in the court with her father, Rear-Admiral Sir Percy Kinwellmarshe) and another associate in the Lantern work was that she had seen the dead man after his return from Venice, and that he had appeared to be in his usual spirits, sardonic but cheerful. She had prepared a picnic supper which they had shared on the night of Sunday, September 28. Mr Revelstoke had spoken then in his usual amusingly unrestrained fashion of a critique of his opera The Golden Asse, written by Stanhope Aspinwall of the Sunday Argus, which she had brought to him. This was the newspaper clipping which had been found in the dead man’s hand; she had received it from Mr Phanuel Tuke, a co-editor of Lantern, who had thought that Mr Revelstoke would like to have it. The dead man had laughed at Mr Aspinwall’s critical pretensions.

Mr Stanhope Aspinwall, the respected music critic, had given evidence that he had never known Mr Revelstoke personally, though he had once sat in front of him at a concert, and had received two or three very abusively-worded letters from him. Therefore there could be no question of enmity between these men. The critique found with the body referred to the revised version of the composer’s opera which Mr Aspinwall had travelled to Venice to see within the past fortnight; he had seen it twice, and some part of his review had been devoted to a comparison between the opera as conducted by the composer, and by Sir Benedict Domdaniel. He had said that Mr Revelstoke was a thoroughly incompetent conductor, and in that capacity was the worst enemy of his own genius as a composer. The intention of the review was favourable, and certainly it must be considered so by an unprejudiced reader.

There was the evidence, however, of John Macarthur Eccles, the other friend who had visited him on Sunday night, that Mr Revelstoke was extremely sensitive to criticism, although he pre­tended to hardihood respecting it. There was the evidence, also, of Sir Benedict Domdaniel, the dead man’s musical and literary executor, that Mr Revelstoke had been under unusual strain during the revision of The Golden Asse, which had brought on exaggerated alternations of melancholy and defiant high spirits, and that Mr Revelstoke had left Venice abruptly after being told by Sir Benedict and the manager of the Fenice opera house that he could not conduct his opera there again.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson