A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

Monica had never known Sir Benedict in this mood, and it did not take her long to decide that she would do as she was told. Amy Neilson had been right; she was not a big person; she must be obedient to her betters.

Still, the idea was hateful to her, and when she told Sir Benedict of her decision he knew it, and softened a little.

“There’s a necessary element of showmanship in every performing artist, however great or however sensitive,” said he, “and without it they’re not worth a damn. As long as you have it under control, it’s quite all right. Don’t fuss; I’ll see you through.”

Don’t fuss. But it wasn’t fussing; it was terror barely kept under control. Terror that, while cataloguing Giles’ music, she might throw herself on the floor and howl like a dog. Terror that, when she haggled with a secondhand dealer about Giles’ bed-clothes, she might wrap the counterpane about her and rush shrieking into the King’s Road, like widowed Hecuba. Terror that, when she saw a policeman, she might cry, “I killed him,” and put out her wrists for the handcuffs.

She knew very well that she would not do any of these things. They were not things she would do but rather things which, from time to time she wanted to do. She was astonished at her own capacity to suffer inwardly, to give way to excesses of grief and panic, and at the same time to present a stoical front to the world. Three times she dreamed that Giles came to her, his eyes ablaze, his mouth distorted with rage, and menaced her with a bloody knife. But although this dream paralysed her with terror, its after-effect was life-enhancing, and she woke moist, panting and stirred to the depths of her being. Her mirror told her the strange news that such dreams were becom­ing. “Get wise to yourself, Monny,” said George Medwall; she felt that she had never been farther from self-knowledge in her life, though self-possession never deserted her.

Nevertheless, her nervous exhaustion could not be wholly con­cealed. Molloy was well aware of it, for she worked with him every day, in preparation for the concert, and he was unsparing. Since the incident of the Vic-Wells ball his attitude toward her had changed; he was less eager to impress, he was more diffident and yet more intimate; he demanded more and hectored less. She had quite lost her fear of him, and they were good friends.

“You’re riding for a fall,” said he, one October day after a particu­larly rigorous hour. “You want a vacation the worst way. Mind, you’ll be all right for the concert; I guarantee!. But after that, I wouldn’t want to be answerable. Get away t’hell out o’ this for a while. Go back to Canada, why don’t you? Then come back and start afresh. You’re on the quicks of your nerves now, and that can’t last. Sit down for a while and I’ll get Norah to give us all some tea.”

A few days later it was Sir Benedict who suggested a holiday. “I’d thought about Canada for Christmas,” she said. “Some friends of mine are having a crisis in their lives, and I’d like to be there.” And then, greatly to his astonishment, she told him about Solly and Veronica Bridgetower, and the curious condition which governed the existence of the Bridgetower Trust. “So you see how it is,” she concluded; “if they have a son — and I truly hope they will — it will be the end of all this for me. My good luck has depended on their bad luck, and ever since I found out about it, I’ve felt like the most horrible kind of gold-digger. If it hadn’t been for The Golden Asse I couldn’t have gone on. I’m glad I did, but that’s all over now, and I want to behave decently, if there’s any way of doing so.”

Thus it was that, with Sir Benedict’s permission, and some arrange­ments with Boykin, she found herself in Cockspur Street a few days later, booking a steamship passage for the last week in November. As she filled out applications, her gaze travelled upward to a poster which urged settlers to come to Canada at once. Radiating health and goodwill like a red-hot stove, a young man in shirt-sleeves stood in a field of wheat, his bronzed face split with a dazzling grin. I suppose he represents my country, thought Monica, though I’ve never met anybody like that in my life. Odd that he should be so young, and that I feel so old.

Before the week of the concert, there was a duty which could not be shirked; she must go to Neuadd Goch, and present an account of what she had been doing to Giles’ mother. She longed to get out of it. She would have done anything to avoid it. But Domdaniel could not go, and there was no one else. So, in a dreary wet week she went, and found herself once again in the familiar house though not, she thanked Heaven, in the bedroom she had occupied before.

Mrs Hopkin-Griffiths was more business-like than Monica had expected. She understood everything; she accepted the few pounds which had been realized by the sale of Giles’ odds and ends without shame; she signed the papers which needed signing. It took about an hour.

“Thank you, my dear,” she said when it was all done. “I’m sure you know how grateful Griff and I are for all of this. I’m sure it must have been hateful — all the selling and arranging and ridding-out. I couldn’t have faced it, and Griff hates London so much. You and Sir Benedict have been perfectly wonderful. Funny — I’ve always been the kind of person that people do things for. I wonder why? I wish there were something we could do for you. Of course, it was always so extra­ordinary about you being Giles’ pupil; he never had any others, you know; and turning up like that at Christmas. It seemed a sort of fated thing — but I suppose that’s silly, really.”

“You will be coming to London for the concert, won’t you?”

“Dear, will you think me utterly dreadful if I say that I won’t be? I honestly don’t think I could face it. No, I shall stay right here. The funeral was too awful. I don’t know how I got through it.”.

“Certainly for those who knew him, a concert of his music, at this time, may be very moving.”

“Do you think so? Perhaps. I couldn’t say. You see, I don’t really know anything about Giles’ music. I really knew nothing of that side of him. Was his opera really terribly good?”

“Stanhope Aspinwall keeps relating it to The Magic Flute.”

“Really? Is that very good? Griff and I never saw it, you know. Is it likely to be done again, ever? When it was on in London Griff was seedy and we simply didn’t feel up to the journey at that time. And then when it was done in Venice, we had already been to Baden, where we’ve gone for years — really I don’t think I could face the winter without it — and what with the extra expense, and the time it was done, and everything, we simply didn’t make it. Of course I reproach myself now. But whaf s done’s done, eh? — Would you like to see his grave?”

Monica had determined that she would not go back to London without visiting Giles’ grave, but she did not want to do so with Dolly Hopkin-Griffiths. But there was nothing for it but to do as she was asked, and so they set off on foot.

The churchyard at Llanavon was a pretty one in summer, but in the early days of November it was dank and cold, and the dripping yews were at their gloomiest. The mound beneath which Giles lay had been sodded, but had not subsided to the level of the ground and as yet there was no marker; but he lay in the influence, so to speak, of a large Celtic cross which was dedicated to the memory of the Hopkin-Griffiths family. It was an early Victorian cross, ugly but strong, and the sight of it raised Monica’s spirits; it was so solid, it must surely last forever. She was glad that Giles lay there among all those red-faced Welsh squires, with open countryside beyond the churchyard walls; it stilled a deep feeling which had troubled her that he was some­where, agonized, confined and alone. This was, she well knew, a pagan concept of death, but she had not until this time been able to subdue it.

Mrs Hopkin-Griffiths prayed briefly, and wept a little, but she had no power to remain silent for long. “I come every day, unless the weather is simply dreadful,” said she. “Guilt, I suppose. You see, my dear, I have a terrible feeling that I failed Giles. Can it have been about marrying Griff? But Griff was as good to Giles as Giles would let him be — and I felt I had a right to happiness, you know. But children judge so harshly. I loved him very much, and he surely knew that. But I’ve always been such a selfish woman, and silly, too — yes, don’t deny it, dear, out of politeness. I don’t know why it all went wrong. I’ve argued with myself about it so much, and Griff has been quite wonderful about reassuring me. But all the same, I come back to the feeling that if I hadn’t failed him — whenever or however it was — Giles wouldn’t be here now. Griff won’t let me say it, but I’ll say it to you, dear: I sometimes feel I killed Giles.”

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86

Categories: Davies, Robertson