Leaven of Malice – Salterton Trilogy 02 by Robertson Davies

“I thought you had given up all that about the Bridgetowers?”

“And what made you think that, may I ask?”

“You’ve been in the Little Theatre with Solly for quite a while.”

“Solly? I had not known that you were on terms of familiarity with him.”

“Everybody calls him Solly.”

“Do you do so to his face?”

“No. Not exactly. But I don’t see him often.”

“That is as well.”

“But Father –”


“Well –”

“Yes, yes, yes. If you have something to say, say it.”

“I — well, I –”

“Come along, Pearl. What is it?”

“It’s hard to put it in words.”

“Then you are not ready to speak. What is clearly apprehended is capable of being clearly expressed. Think again. And I venture to say that when you have thought this matter over you will be in agreement with me.”

Pearl went to her bedroom, changed into a better frock, and made herself tidy. She was not skilled in presenting herself, and when she had made her best efforts she still looked somewhat tousled and distracted in her dress. As she dabbed at her face in front of her small mirror (which had a whorl in it) she worried about her failure to impress her father. How could she possibly tell him what she really felt? How could she tell him that such a lawsuit as he contemplated would harm, and perhaps ruin, her chances of ever marrying?

Because she had never been able to look at her parents from any distance, Pearl was unable to guess why they were as they were, but she knew that they would take in very bad part any suggestion from her that she was interested in marriage, or regarded her chances of marriage as an important factor in her life. She was certainly not clear on the subject herself. She had done nothing to attract any man, and men had shown little enough interest in her. She had no clear notion of what marriage would be like, or the kind of husband she wanted. But she had, deeply rooted in her nature, a feeling that she wanted a husband, and that if she did not get one, of some kind, at some time, her life would be incomplete. She was humble. She did not expect a Prince Charming, and she did not think that it would be easy to marry anybody. But she did not see any reason why, when girls no more attractive than herself were able to marry, she should not manage to do so.

She also knew that if there were a lawsuit, and her father said that she must appear in court, and look like a fool, that she would do so. She would protest, of course, but it was unthinkable that he should be disobeyed.

She would dearly have liked to go out without saying anything to her parents, but she knew that such a course was quite impossible. So when she had put on her coat she went to them.

“I don’t expect to be very late.”

“You are not going out?” The Professor looked at her with histrionic amazement.

“The Yarrows are having a party. They’ve asked me.”

“When did they ask you?”

“At least a week ago.”

“And, in the light of what has happened, you are going?”

“Well — why not, Father?”

“Why not? Pearl, are you utterly out of your mind? Here we are, facing a law action because your name has been publicly linked with that of the one man in Salterton, above all others, whom you should avoid, and you ask me why you should not appear in society! Have you no sense of fitness?”

“But Father, are we to keep ourselves locked up until the case is over? It will be months, probably.”

“Surely, the very night after this false notice appeared, you wish to keep out of sight?”

“Well, it isn’t my fault, really.”

“Has anyone questioned you about this matter?”

“Some of the girls at the Library congratulated me today.”

“And you told them the truth?”

“I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to do. I thought I should wait until you had thought it over. Father –”


“Couldn’t the newspaper just publish a retraction, or an apology, or something?”

“They utterly refuse to do so.”

“You asked them?”

“I gave them a written form of apology. They refused it. With insolence.”

“I think I’ll have to go. It will look awfully funny if I don’t.”

“You are determined?”

“Well — you see how it is, Father.”

“I see that you are determined not to be guided by me in this matter. You are your own mistress, I suppose.”

“Please don’t feel badly.”

“You are over twenty-one.”

“I really think I ought to go. I promised.”

“This is the spirit of the age, and of the New World, I suppose. I had hoped that as a family we would see one another through this.”

“Well, of course I’ll stay at home if you feel like that, Father.”

“No, no. Go. You want to go. Don’t stay at home and look at me reproachfully all night.”

And so, after a few more interchanges, Pearl went, feeling thoroughly ashamed of herself.

Waverley was a staid university. The establishment of a School of Journalism was being undertaken only after long debate and a con­siderable measure of opposition; as Professor Vambrace complained, there was still a Professor of Natural Philosophy attached to the Faculty of Arts who was also, in effect, the Dean of Science. But the University had a very active Chaplain, and as his work had become so heavy that he needed an assistant, his department had been enlarged in September by the inclusion of Norman Yarrow, PhD, whose first academic appointment it was.

Norman Yarrow was in his early thirties, and for two years after receiving his doctorate he had worked in the social service depart­ment of a large Canadian city. When he was invited to join the staff at Waverley he had been able to marry Yolande Spreewald, a young woman who was also in social service, as an assistant director of recreation.

It was agreed in the circle in which they moved that Norm Yarrow and Dutchy Spreewald were made for each other, and that they would be an invincible team. Norm was not, the social workers agreed, one of those nut psychologists. He did not appear to belong to any special school of psychology. He frankly admitted that he relied upon his own commonsense, rather than theory, to guide him in dealing with people who seemed to need psychological assistance. Confronted with somebody whose mental hygiene appeared to be defective, he first asked himself, “How does this guy deviate from what’s normal?” Having found that out, he knew how to proceed. He just had to jolly the fellow into a normal attitude, and that was that.

If anyone asked him how he knew what was normal, he would smile his slow, boyish smile, and explain that he was pretty normal himself — just an ordinary guy, really — and he took that as his guide. He was tall and well-built, and if his eyes were small, they were kindly and bright. If his hair had not become thin in his twenties, he might have been considered handsome. Worried women, and boys in their ‘teens, were attracted by him and found him reassuring. He put great faith in what he called The Personal Influence in Guidance. He was very popular with his colleagues on his own level, and it was unfortunate that he had attracted the jealousy of his immediate superior. It must have been jealousy, for why else would his superior have suggested that he seek another position? Jealousy of that kind is not normal, and Norm had lost no time in handing in his resignation and seeking an academic post at Waverley. After some sifting of applicants, and some disappointments, the Chaplain had given Norm a contract for a probationary year. Whereupon Norm had married Dutchy.

Dutchy was every bit as normal as he. She was a girl of abounding and restless energy, physically attractive in a muscular way, of whom it was said that “she made things go”. She was well suited to her work as a recreation director, for she was convinced that any sort of inactivity was evil, and that people who had worked all day needed to be guided into some sort of activity at night. She was immensely popular with people who agreed with this belief, and who acknowl­edged her superiority as a leader. She worked wonders with most children, and with amiable and submissive adults. Like everyone in her line of work she met with the occasional screwball who refused to be assimilated into the group; she directed such screwballs at once to Norm, who did what he could to jolly them into a more normal attitude. But her failures were few. Her work lay chiefly among people who were poor, without being in poverty, and among such people resistance to recreational programming and creative activities can usually be overcome.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson