A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

The third letter was the one from George Medwall which had been waiting for her when she returned from Venice. It read:

Dear Monica;

This is not an easy letter to write, because I am not sure there was ever anything definite between us. Still and all, I had definite ideas that I wanted to marry you, and maybe you got some idea of that kind from something I said. But we have not had a chance to talk for a long time what with your mother’s death when you were last home and being very busy with the concert. The fact is if there was ever anything like an engagement between us or even a firm understanding I am asking you now to release me from it as if you do I am going to ask another girl as I am in a position to do so now. You know her. She is Teresa Rook whom you will remember as Mr Holterman’s secretary and a crackerjack in her job. It is plain now and has been for quite a while that our paths have separated, but there is no reason why we can not be friends. I am not saying a word to Tessie till I hear from you which I hope will be as soon as convenient.

Your sincere friend


Her first feeling was one of surprise that George should ever have thought it possible that she might marry him. This gave way at once to shame at such snobbery, and a recollection that she had once had fuzzy, but real, designs on George. But it did seem queer now, and there was no use pretending. Had not George said to her many times, during the period of their intimacy, “Get wise to yourself, Monny; you have to get wise to yourself, or you’re everybody’s stooge.” Since those days she had been trying to get wise to herself.

Of course she remembered Tessie Rook; she was just made for George; together they would go far, and George would probably end up as president of the CAA, a towering figure in the allied worlds of sandpaper and glue. She sat down to write a generous reply at once, and tears which she had not been able to weep in the coroner’s court poured out now, pretending to be tears of happiness, as she thought of good old George and that sweet Tessie.

But in the end this diversion was at an end, and Monica was left with no course but to face the fact that Giles Revelstoke had not been dead when she took her letter from his hand, and that if she had thought more of him and less of herself he need not have died at all. By her selfishness and littleness of spirit she had killed him.


In describing Domdaniel as Giles Revelstoke’s musical and literary executor the Coroner was premature; but it was Sir Benedict’s desire to act in that capacity, and he lost no time in showing his fitness for it. Giles left no will. When Griffith Hopkin-Griffiths arrived at the Tite Street flat, late on the day that the body was discovered, it was to find Sir Benedict virtually in charge; with great tact he undertook to have Giles’ belongings packed and sent to Wales; from that it was no great step to secure permission to take care of his manuscripts until their fate was decided. It was not many days until a great music publishing house showed interest in acquiring at least some of them.

In the period immediately following Giles’ death it might have appeared that Sir Benedict used Monica without proper regard for her feelings. He insisted that she pack all the dead man’s clothing and books and arrange for their removal; she found that she had to sell the furniture, which was of small value, to a dealer in the King’s Road; she had to arrange for the removal of all the rubbish which comprised the files and business apparatus of Lantern. Mrs Klein needed her flat, and it had to be cleared. Tuke and Tooley had nowhere to house the wreckage of the magazine; Raikes Brothers certainly did not want it. As Monica could not bring herself to get rid of it, she put it in storage, in her own name.

Thus she was in and out of the flat a dozen times a day, arranging for the sale of things which had grown dear to her, including the very bed in which she had so often lain with him. But nothing was worse than the making of a rough catalogue of his music, which she prepared under Domdaniel’s direction. Thin, pale and silent, she did as she was bidden.

When the great house of Bachofen began to show interest in the music, it took Mrs Hopkin-Griffiths surprisingly little time to arrange for Sir Benedict to have full power to deal with them. The daily papers had taken small interest in Giles’ death, but the important Sunday papers carried long articles and many letters about him, and within three weeks England was given to understand that she had lost a man of consequence. The first person to see the possibility of this situation was Phanuel Tuke, who arranged with a publisher to bring out a collection of Giles’ Lantern articles, prefaced with an appreciative essay by himself; for this purpose he wanted the Lantern files, and was greatly vexed with Monica because they were already in storage, and Miss Tooley was put to the trouble of doing her master’s drudgery in the British Museum.

It was a shrewd move on the part of the music publishers to put themselves behind the promotion of a Commemorative Concert of Giles’ work; it would serve as a test of his possible popularity. Sir Benedict was holding out against their offer to buy some of the publication rights; he wanted them to buy all. They were willing to bide their time. Meanwhile they were ready to spend something to see how much Giles was potentially worth.

The announcement of the concert, to take place in late November, was productive of more interest than the publishers had thought possible in their most sanguine dreams. Among musical people there was a sudden vogue for Giles Revelstoke, much of it attributable to Stanhope Aspinwall, whose two commemorative articles, published on successive Sundays in the Argus, set off the enthusiasm of lesser men. Not that Aspinwall was wholly commendatory; the faults which he had found in Giles’ work while he was alive were still censured — but his virtues were praised much more generously. The change in emphasis, though carefully engineered, was noteworthy and effective.

“Believe me, Monny, if you want to attract real, serious attention to your work, you can’t beat being dead,” said Bun Eccles. He had several sketches of Giles and reproduction rights were selling well. “I’ve half a mind to try it myself, one of these days. Let ’em think they drove me to it by neglect. Trouble is, how are you going to cash in when you’re dead?”

Sir Benedict was organizing the concert, and the first artist he secured for it was Monica. Speaking for the publishers, he was able to propose the highest fee she had ever been offered in her brief career.

“But am I the right person?” she asked. “My name won’t draw anybody into the hall. Why not Evelyn Burnaby?”

“She’ll be there, as well,” said Domdaniel. “A good deal of Giles’ latest and best stuff was written for you, and that’s very good publicity, discreetly used.”

Monica did not like that suggestion, and said so.

“We’ll have lots of time for fine feelings afterward,” said he. “Our job right now is to get the best and showiest hearing possible for Giles’ work. He taught you some of the things you’ll sing; they’re built into your voice, precisely as he wanted them. Don’t fuss.”

“I hate to have my personal relationship with him exploited.”

“It’s your artistic relationship with him that’s being exploited — if that’s what you want to call it. Years after Trafalgar, Lady Hamilton used to go to concerts where Braham was billed to sing The Death of Nelson, and at a telling moment in the song she would faint noisily and have to be carried out. I’m not asking you to do anything like that. I’m asking you to make known the authentic voice of Giles Revelstoke — because that’s what you are — and to begin the establishment of an unquestioned tradition about the performance of some of his best work. You ought to be damned thankful you’re in a position to do it. The fact that you were his mistress is trivial. If that’s what’s troubling you, for God’s sake go back to Pumpkin Centre or wherever it is you came from, and set up shop as a teacher. Now, make up your mind, and don’t waste my time.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson