A Mixture of Frailties – Salterton Trilogy 03 by Robertson Davies

Monica, who was utterly convinced that she had killed Giles herself, did what she could to dispel his mother’s unhappiness.

“You’re very kind, dear,” said Dolly; “although we haven’t really known you long, Griff and I both think of you as a very special friend. Indeed — I said we wanted to do something for you, and I don’t see why everything has to be so secret — you know those musical manuscripts of Giles’? Would you like one of them? Sir Benedict suggested it, really. He said that one of them was dedicated to you. Perhaps you’d like to have it. I don’t know whether it’s a proper gift or simply a piece of scrap. But I’m sure Giles must have been fond of you. I wish he’d been fonder of you, or somebody like you. We had hoped it would be Ceinwen, but she’s been engaged for months to a dentist in Rhyll; Griff likes him, because he’s descended from Brochwell Yscythrog, but I do wish he were a proper doctor, and not a dentist; but there it is; you can’t have everything. It would have made me very happy to see him settled, with somebody to look after him.”

That night, when they were going to bed, Dolly brought up the matter of the manuscript of Kubla Khan again. “I’ll write to Sir Benedict, and say you’re to have it,” said she. “And my dear, perhaps you’d like to have this as well.” She pressed something into Monica’s hand; when she reached her bedroom she looked, dreading that it might not, after all, be the thing she hoped it was. But she need not have feared. It was Giles’ ring.

In the mid-eighteenth century James Tassie made a great many beautiful copies of Greek gems; Giles’s ring was one of these — a green stone in which was engraved a figure of Orpheus bearing his lyre. The naked god was incised, and could be transferred to wax, as a seal. Giles had always worn it on the little finger of his left hand, but Monica slipped it on her fourth.

She left for London the following day, and although she desired it passionately, she could not arrange to make another visit to the churchyard without revealing the purpose of her walk to Dolly, and thereby getting her unwanted company. However, the train passed within sight of the church and the yews around it, and as it did so Monica was at the window of her carriage, the ring at her lips.


The night of the Commemorative Concert found Monica more ner­vous than ever before. She had been wretched all day, and Molloy, coming into the artists’ room very early himself, found her there before him, white and tense.

“Now see here, it’s time you learned proper concert behaviour, because you won’t always have me around to nursemaid you,” said he. “B’God you look like a picture o’ ‘Found Drowned’. You’ve been worse than cryin’ — you’ve been holdin’ in! We’re goin’ to do some work right this minute, m’lady.”

After ten minutes of bullying and cajolery he had restored her poise.

“Now you can breathe,” said he. “You’d breath enough before, but not usable; you were all puffed up with grief — chest locked, throat tight, all blown out like a frog. What’s got into you? Is it Giles?”

Of course she did not say that it was Giles; it took Molloy a few minutes to persuade her to admit it.

“Well, you can just forget about Giles till tonight’s work’s over. Yes, I said forget about him. It’s his memorial — I know that as well as yourself. If you’re going to do him proud you must think about yourself, not about him. Yes, yes; a public performer’s first duty is to himself, and unless he remembers that he can’t do his duty to the public. You must understand it rightly: cherish the art in yourself, not yourself in art, as the Russian fella says. That’s the pitfall; so many singers just have a lifelong love-affair with Number One, and they’ve no rivals, I can tell you! Cherishing the art in yourself is a very different class of thing.”

“But I’m so anxious to do well tonight, for Giles’ memory, I’ve let myself get into a state. I couldn’t help it. I’m sure you understand really, Murtagh. You’re only pretending to be cross.”

“Listen, girl, I know what you mean, and don’t think I’m not sympathetic. But I’ll tell you something about Giles; he was always an amachoor, as far as public performance went. Oh, a fine composer, I grant you. Some o’ that stuff’ll live, you mark my words. But as a performer, he was an amachoor, and I don’t just mean inexperienced; I mean he was the prey of all kinds o’ silly ideas; he couldn’t concentrate on the job — not in the right way. Genius — yes: discipline — not an idea of it. Now you’re a professional. You’ve got standards he didn’t know about and I’ve given you training he never had. So keep hold of yourself; you and the music are the important things for the next couple of hours.”

Thus enjoined, Monica comported herself very creditably. She sang Kubla Khan; she sang the soprano part in The Discoverie of Witchcraft; she sang with Amyas Palfreyman in the Potion and Metamorphosis Scenes from The Golden Asse. And, at the close of the concert, she joined Evelyn Burnaby and Palfreyman in Giles’ three-voice setting of the Dirge from Cymbeline. So great was the professional calm of concentration with which Molloy had pervaded her that she never faltered, and afterward, at the party in Domdaniel’s house she was praised by everybody. Molloy did not praise her, but when their eyes met, he winked a wink that was like the slamming of a door and that, so far as Monica was concerned, was praise indeed.

When the last guests were going, Domdaniel asked her to stay for a moment. “I’ll take you home,” said he, “but there are one or two things I want to talk about first. You’re away to Canada tomorrow night, aren’t you?”

It proved to be a long moment. When all but Monica had said goodnight, he kicked off his pumps, removed his evening coat and lay down on a sofa; she began to collect glasses and plates to take them to the kitchen.

“Leave that alone,” said Domdaniel; “Fred’ll take care of it in the morning.”

“I’ll empty these ash-trays; if they’re left, they’ll make the room smell.”

“Let it smell. Sit down. Or would you like to lie down? Take your shoes off.”

Monica was conscious now that she was very tired. So she did take her shoes off, and as she walked toward a couch across the room from him, Domdaniel laughed.

“Dance Micawber,” said he. “The first time I saw you I told you to take your shoes off, and you played Dance Micawber for me.”

Monica blushed; it was not pleasant to be reminded of her earlier simplicity.

“Rather a Dance Micawber we’ve been through tonight,” he con­tinued. “Thank God it’s out of the way; we’ve all done our duty for a while, and it’s a relief.”

“Did you think it went well?”

“Very well.”

“Were the people from Bachofen’s pleased? Will they go ahead with publication now?”

“Yes. They’ve known what they were going to do for a couple of weeks; the ticket-sale for tonight convinced them. They’ll bring out the whole of Giles’ stuff, taking eighteen months or a couple of years, probably, but making a good job of it.”

“Mrs Hopkin-Griffiths will be pleased. Do the royalties go to her?”

“Oh, certainly. For a woman who professes to know nothing of business or music, she’s remarkably astute. Well, good luck to her.”

“I suppose the royalties will amount to quite a big thing?”

“Impossible to say. We’ve done everything possible — filled Wigmore Hall for a concert of contemporary music, by a young composer, recently dead under circumstances which some people think romantic. That’s only six hundred people, but an important six hundred. It’ll keep the music from sinking out of sight and having to be painfully revived.”

“But the music itself — Mr Aspinwall has called the opera great. Do you think so?”

“I suspect Aspinwall of having a bad conscience about Giles. I don’t like to talk of greatness, because I’m never entirely sure what it means; Giles’ music is individual, melodious and I admire it very much. Haven’t I shown that?”

“Yes; I didn’t mean to be prying. It’s just that Mr Aspinwall has been so lavish with his praise for him. He even says Giles’ libretto for The Golden Asse is marvellous, and he was always complaining about Giles being literary at the expense of music. But he says now that it’s philosophical.”

“Yes, very funny, that, because nobody was less philosophical than Giles. Extraordinary how people sometimes create so much better than they live. The metamorphosis of physical man into spiritual man: a great theme. But though he could do it in art he couldn’t do it in life. Ah, well; the future of his music lies now with Bachofen and the gods. I’ve done my part for the present and I’m glad it’s over.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson