A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

There was the evidence also of Mr Phanuel Tuke that the magazine Lantern was in financial straits.

Taken with a romantic predisposition this added up to a story of a gifted young man who felt that the world had scorned him and who had taken his own life in a period of depression. But on the other hand, there had been equally strong evidence that Giles Revelstoke had loyal friends, that his latest and most ambitious work had been received with acclaim on the continent, and by Britain’s foremost musical journalist had been mentioned as “of the same great family as Mozart’s Magic Flute, one of the serenely wise creations which form the crown of beauty in music”. A conductor of world fame — Sir Benedict Domdaniel again — had said that Giles Revelstoke was a composer of unquestionable genius who was just beginning to come into his mature productive period. Therefore, before they blotted the dose of such a life with the stain of a suicide verdict, let the jury reflect that while it may have been possible, and indeed seemed probable, that Giles Revelstoke meant to take his life, he had not in fact done so; the gas supply had failed, and had it not been for the unlucky fact that he had suffocated before fully waking he would not have died. Under the circumstances the Coroner recommended a verdict of death by misadventure.

The jury were not of a romantic turn of mind. They were, with two or three exceptions, elderly, poor men who hung about in Horseferry Road with the hope of being called for duty on coroner’s juries, counting the few shillings they received as a pleasant windfall to add to their pensions. After a brief drag at their pipes in the retiring-room they shuffled back into court, and gave the Coroner the verdict for which he had asked.

And so it was pronounced. The Coroner, who did not get a distinguished audience every day, and who liked to give a cultured twist to his duties when he could, had passed the time while the jury were conferring, scraping in the ashes of his mind for a live coal. And, from some long-ago popular article about Schubert, he produced one which flamed quite brightly for the moment.

“By the death of Giles Adrian Revelstoke,” said he, “music loses a rich treasure, but even fairer hopes.”

Good, kindly man, he almost wished that he had not said it, for so many of his hearers wept.


Ideally, important things should happen late, as the climax of the day, but the inquest took place in the morning, and from its close until bedtime all was slow, torturing diminution for Monica.

There was luncheon with Stanhope Aspinwall, who sought her out when the court adjourned, asked the favour of her company and bore her off to the ladies’ annex of his distinguished club. He was a short, bald man, one of the dwindling army of pince-nez wearers, precise in speech, and clearly burdened with guilt.

“If I had for one instant supposed,” he said as they took coffee, “that my comments on his conducting — fully justified, I firmly insist — might have put such a dreadful thought in his head nothing could have induced me to publish them in that form. For there was asperity; I admit to asperity. He had pestered me with letters — such letters as nothing would induce me to show to anyone, though I have kept them — and my personal feeling toward him was cool, though certainly not hostile. But for his talent — let us be honest, and say genius — I had nothing but admiration. I say this to you because you have become associated with his work in the mind of the public, and I expect that you will be even more so in future. Of course it is foolish for me to link myself even in my own mind with this tragedy, but I do so. How can I do otherwise, foolish or not? Those letters — who would not have resented them? I admit to you freely that this will be a dreadful lesson to me. Asperity: asperity is the bosom-sin of the critic.”

The afternoon papers had not, all things considered, much to say about the inquest. The worst comment was headed —


“My Knickers”: Lush Model

Another one dug up the fact that Giles had been a regular visitor to the prison where Odingsels was serving his time, and spoke sternly of highbrow filth and Lantern. But Revelstoke was not likely to be known to most of their readers and they had rottener fish to fry.

Mrs Merry insisted on a long heart-to-heart with Monica, wearing an exaggerated version of her usual expression of anguished distinc­tion. “Her haemorrhoidal rictus”, Giles had called it, and the phrase recurred to Monica again and again, spoken in Giles’ voice, as the landlady talked.

“I shall never forget the night that he and Sir Benedict played for me,” said Mrs Merry; “a moment to be cherished in memory, now alas, in sorrow. It was his kindness which won one.” She talked for a satisfactory hour, revising her memory of the past in the light of the present.

Monica found that she had to give Bun Eccles a scratch dinner in her flat. He clung to her, and he would talk of nothing but Giles. He had brought a bottle of whisky, of which he drank all but one tot, and it was only by showing great firmness that she kept him from passing out.

“What stonkers me, Monny, is that it was gas.” This was the burden of his cry. “Poor old Giles, to go by the gas route. Because I’d hocussed his meter, you see, Monny. Made it give more than it wanted to for a bob. And if I hadn’t done that, there mightn’t have been enough to do for him, see? Maybe if it had conked as little as five minutes sooner — Jesus God, drowning in his own puke like that, poor old chap! I killed him, Monny. No, it’s no use saying I didn’t. Maybe I didn’t in law, but I did in fact, and I’ll always have to live with that. God knows what it’ll do to me. It’s not so tough for you, Monny — no, no, I don’t mean you’re not hurt like us all, and worse than anybody. But you’ve nothing to reproach yourself with. You were always wonderful to him. Yes, yes, you were the only one. Old Perse was bellowing like a heifer in court today, because her old Dad had been giving her the gears. She gave Giles that piece of old Aspinwall’s; shouldn’t have done it, of course, but who was to know? Now she’s saying she killed the only man she loved, or who really loved her. Aw, but Perse was just a recreation to Giles; he knew what she was. Anybody could butter Perse’s bun, and he knew it. But you were true to him, so you haven’t anything to regret. And you’re game, Monny. Game as Ned Kelly, and you’ll get on your feet again. Wish I thought I’d do the same. You brought him life, Monny, and me, with my meddling, I greased the skids for him. How am I going to face that, every morning of my life? Poor old Giles. The best of chaps.”

At last she got rid of Bun, and when he was gone she wished him back. For what was she to do now? She had not opened her letters for several days, and she turned to them to avoid the horror of thought.

Only three were other than bills and circulars. The McCorkills, in the kindest terms, offered her the refuge of Beaver Lodge, if she wanted it; if she wanted to be alone, said Meg McCorkill, that was how it would be; they hadn’t seen anything of her for a long time, but if she needed them, she had only to say the word.

The second letter was from Humphrey Cobbler. Had anybody troubled to tell her, he asked, that Veronica Bridgetower was preg­nant? The child was expected late in December or early in January. He was sure she did not know, and it was none of his business, but if the Bridgetower Trust did not see fit to warn her that, in a few months, she might be displaced as beneficiary of that money, he thought it pretty shabby. And where could he get copies of some of Giles Revelstoke’s songs? Was there a chance that he could get his hands on a score of The Discoverie of Witchcraft? He had been asked, out of the blue, to do something for a special programme of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and he wanted to make their eyes pop. Or ears pop. Or whatever popped when you got a musical surprise. Any use writing direct to Revelstoke himself? He wished her well in Venice and was hers with love.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson