Leaven of Malice – Salterton Trilogy 02 by Robertson Davies

“The what field?”

“It’s a rich new vein of Amcan. We scholars are pegging out our claims in this new Yukon.”

“Please be serious. Ridley has behaved with dreadful discourtesy to Father. So far as I can see there’s only one way to appease Father, and that’s to find whoever put that notice in the paper.”

“And how are we going to do that?”

“Well, surely you have some ideas? Am I expected to do every­thing? All I can think of is that it must be somebody who knows us both.”

“Quite a wide field.”

“Not too wide when you think it must be somebody who knows us both and hates us both.”

“Oh, come, surely whoever it is only hates you. I’m just an insulting accessory to this business. Still, you’re right. Who can it be? What goblin of ignoble mind?”

“Heavysege again?”

“Quite right.”

“I think Father knows already.”


“He was being extremely mysterious and hinting a lot this evening.”

“Well, why didn’t you ask him?”

Pearl hesitated for a moment. “At present it isn’t very easy to ask him questions,” said she.

Solly thought he knew why, but this time he had tact enough not to refer to the happening of Wednesday night.

“If we could find out who it was,” said Pearl, “without asking Father, naturally, we might be able to do something. Perhaps even go to see the person.”

“Have you thought of calling your cousin Ronnie?”

“I did. I went out to a public phone, and called him. All he would say was that Mr Snelgrove knew, but wouldn’t tell him. He thinks there’s to be some kind of big pow-wow tomorrow at Snelgrove’s office at three.”

“If we’re to catch whoever it is first, we’ll have to be quick. Frankly, I don’t think we have much of a chance.”

“Oh, don’t be so defeatist! Don’t you want to get this settled?”

“Pearl, have you said your say?”

“Why yes, I suppose so. For the present, anyhow.”

“Weil, then, it’s my turn. So far as I’m concerned this affair is settled, in its most important aspect, already.”


“You mentioned Griselda this morning. I got this cable this after­noon.”

Solly brought a yellow cable form from his breast inside pocket, and gave it to Pearl, turning on the light on the dashboard of the car. She read:





“Oh, Solly,” said Pearl, in a stricken voice.

“Yes,” said Solly. “That’s the end of an old song.” And he switched off the light.

In the half-darkness Pearl stared at him. She had ceased to be a woman of the world. Her eyes filled with tears, and very slowly they brimmed over and ran down her cheeks.

Solly was wretched, for he thought his heart was broken. Very probably it was so, in the meaning which is usually attached to the phrase. Most hearts of any quality are broken on two or three occasions in a lifetime. They mend, of course, and are often stronger than before, but something of the essence of life is lost at every break. Still, hurt as he was, he could not see Pearl weep unmoved. He took her in his arms, and comforted her as well as he could, and for a time they were miserable together.

“I wouldn’t blame you if you threw me into that bay,” said Pearl, when she felt a little better, and had been accommodated with a clean handkerchief out of Solly’s breast pocket. “I’ve been a self-centred fool. I talked endlessly about myself and what this meant to me, and now you’ve lost Griselda. Everybody knows how much you loved her.”

“Yes,” said Solly, “I’m afraid I have been rather obvious for a couple of years. Well, I don’t care. I suppose it’s better to feel something and look a fool than to take damned good care to feel nothing, and be a fool.”

“Would it help if I wrote to her? I could explain everything.”

“No you couldn’t. This doesn’t really concern you. I knew some good friend would be quick to tell Griselda. They even went to the expense of a cable. I’m sure it was a relief to her. She never cared much about me, really. I’m certain that cable means every word it says, quite literally. She’d be happy to think I had stopped crying for the moon, and had taken up with somebody else. Sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

“Please don’t feel guilty,” said Pearl. “I said dreadful things to you. You must loathe me.”

“I don’t loathe anybody,” said Solly, “except myself.”

But Pearl was not to be denied self-abasement. “I’m not very good about other people’s feelings,” said she. And then, much more fully than she had ever been able to confide in Norman Yarrow, she told Solly about her life at home. About the division which her mother’s religiosity and her father’s agnosticism had made there. About the hard egotism, rising sometimes almost to the point of madness, which possessed him. About the life she led between them, torn this way and that, and cut off from young people, from ordinary pleasures, and with little before her save a continuance of this weary course, ending undoubtedly in the bitter role of the unmarried daughter who nurses both parents into the grave. She spoke without self-pity, but she spoke with point.

Solly was horrified. “My God,” said he. “It’s monstrous. Of course everybody knows you have a grim time in that house, but every­body’s always thought of it as a kind of joke. They’re horrible.”

Pearl shook her head. “No,” said she, “that isn’t it at all. They have done everything they have done out of love. They loved each other very much, and I think they still do, if they could hear one another, in their private worlds. And they loved me as much as they were able. They did the best for me that they could — the best they knew. Don’t try to persuade me to think differently now. It’s all I can bear at home now — more than I can bear for long, I know. But in spite of it all I love them very much.”

Solly’s heart, which had contracted and grown hard that afternoon, when he received Griselda’s cable, seemed to melt and beat freely now for the first time.

“I know what you mean,” said he. “It’s much the same with my mother. I’m tied to her apron strings. I’m a joke, I know. Griselda was very bitter about it once. But filial piety isn’t simply a foolish phrase. It’s a hard reality. Some people never seem to feel it. In happy families it is never put to any real test. But duty to parents is an obligation that some of us must recognize. However hellish parents may be, the duty is as real as the duty that exists in marriage. God, what a lot we hear about unhappy marriages, and how little we hear about unhappy sons and daughters. There’s no divorce for them. You’ve told me about your parents. Well — you know my mother. And that reminds me that it’s half-past ten, and she won’t go to sleep till I come home, and she needs sleep.”

Saying no more, he started the car and drove Pearl back to her door.

“Good night,” said she, and held out her hand to him.

Solly turned toward her. His face was set and white. But as their eyes met his expression softened, until he smiled.

” ‘Ah, lovely hellsnake, wilt thou stare at me?’ ” he whispered.

“Heavysege?” said Pearl.

He nodded, and for the second time that day they laughed together. Solly suddenly seized Pearl, and kissed her again and again. Then, once more he seemed to be angry.

“Damn it all,” said he, “haven’t you any name but Pearl?”

“I’ve got a sainf s name,” she said. “Veronica.”

“That’s a little better,” said Solly, and kissed her again.

“I must go in,” she said, struggling free.

“Yes,” said he, and this time the shadow of Wednesday night did not divide but united them.

Solly tiptoed up the stairs, but the light under his mother’s door was shining, as he knew it would be. He tapped and went in.

“You’re late, lovey,” said Mrs Bridgetower. Without her teeth, and with her thin long hair in a braid, she was both pitiable and terrible.

“Not really, Mother. It’s a little after eleven.”

“It always seems late when you’re out, dear,”

“Sorry. Now you must go to sleep.”

“Where were you, dear?”

“Just out, Mother.”

“Dearie, it hurts me so to be shut out of your confidence.”

“Oh, you know I haven’t been up to anything very terrible.”

“Dearie, I’m worried.”

“What about, Mother?”

“I’m worried that I’m going to lose my little boy.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson