Leaven of Malice – Salterton Trilogy 02 by Robertson Davies

“That is one hell of a thing to say.”

“Yeah, ain’t it though!”

“Yes, it is! If I wanted to throw my legs around I could get men to look at me too. The way George looks at you sometimes, it makes me creep!”

“I’ll bet it does.”

“All right, if you’re proud of that kind of thing.”

“George is still living right here with me, and glad to, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“And so he ought. You’re a wonderful housekeeper. I give you that.”

“That’s only part of what I am.”

“Oh, you both of you make so much of that! Still, it hasn’t brought you any children.”

“Ede, that’s a dirty, lousy thing to say, even between sisters!”

“Well, who threw Bob Little up to me a minute ago? I may not have a husband, but I’ve got my child, and I’d a lot sooner it was that way than the other way.” And Ede knitted ostentatiously.

“You’re a liar but I forgive you,” said Kitten good-naturedly. “Listen, why don’t you start looking around?”

“I’m not interested, thank you very much.”

“Well then, get interested. Earl’s going to need a daddy. If you don’t think much of George, get a man of your own to bring up the boy.”

“I can manage Earl without any man.”

“All right. Go on wishing old Baldy Ridley would take a tumble to you. And I’ll bet you wouldn’t wait for any ring if he did either.”

“That’s a fine thing to say about your own flesh and blood.”

“Ede, you got more refinement than sense; that’s what’s wrong with you.”

“I’ve got a child to think of; I can’t just let myself go.”

“Oh, so I’ve let myself go, have I? I can get into clothes you can’t even touch.”

“I meant mentally. Living with George you’ve just sunk to his level. You’ve just become George’s Thing, if you want to know what I really think! Just his Thing!”

Kitten was unable to reply to this, for she had thrown herself backward in her chair and was kicking her feet vigorously in the air in order to dry her nail-varnish. It was at this moment that the front door opened and George and Mr Higgin walked in, followed by a stranger.

“Looka there!” shouted George, and seizing one of his wife’s feet he nipped her playfully on the big toe with his front teeth. “What I always say, kid, you’re good enough to eat!”

“Georgie, lemme down! Georgie!” squealed Kitten, and after a great deal of bare leg and frilly panties had been displayed, and after George had pretended to strum on her leg as upon a guitar, he did let her down, and she made a great show of modesty, tucking her feet up under her.

“What a pleasant homecoming,” said Mr Higgin, laughing delight­edly, his bright eyes missing nothing of Kitten’s display. “You would have been proud of George, Kitten, indeed you would. He was quite the hit of the smoker, wasn’t he, Mr Rumball?”

“Uh-huh,” said Rumball, without much enthusiasm.

“Meet m’friend Henry Rumball,” said George; “Hank, meet the wife. Meet Ede. Siddown. Getcha drink.”

“Don’t bother, Mr Morphew,” said Rumball. “I’ll have to go in just a minute, anyway.”

“Hank’s a reporter,” said George. “Gonna write us all up in The Bellman, aintcha, Henry?”

“I can’t promise anything,” said Rumball. “I only dropped in to see Mr Higgin; Mr Shillito insisted that I should. It wasn’t a regular assignment, you know. I only came to see if there was anything about Mr Higgin I might work up into a feature story. There won’t be any report of the smoker.”

“No report of the smoker?” said George, greatly indignant. “And why not? Ain’t we boys at the club subscribers? Ain’t we got any rights? Listen, son, just tell me one thing; you’ve heard about the freedom of the Press?”

“Sure, sure,” said Rumball uneasily.

“OK then, why don’t the smoker get a write-up?”

“Well, it was a private performance, Mr Morphew.”

“You’re damn right it was private. So what were you doing there, sticking your nose into it?”

“Well, as I said, Mr Shillito asked me to go to see what Mr Higgin was doing, and to see if I could write something about it.”

“Now lookit,” said George pugnaciously, “about this freedom of the Press. That means the club has as much right to a plug in the paper as anybody, don’t it? And if not, just kindly tell me why not, will ya? Just explain.”

“Don’t get excited, George,” said Higgin. “It was a private show. And a very good thing too. Oh, if you could have seen George!” He giggled rapturously.

“I was good, wasn’t I?” said George, restored to good humour. He was not entirely drunk, but he was in a variable mood, and there were traces of greasepaint on his face.

“You were sensational,” said Mr Higgin, giggling again.

“What’d you sing, Georgie?” asked Kitten, who had surveyed all of this with complacency.

“The ones I practised,” said George, then winked at Higgin and went off into a fit of laughter so great that he fell into his wife’s chair. When they had sorted themselves out, he was sitting in the chair and Kitten was in his lap, her coral toes hanging over the arm.

“Oh, but it was the encores,” said Mr Higgin, bubbling with mirth. “That was where he really had them, eh, Mr Rumball?”

“Yes, I guess it was,” said Rumball.

” ‘I’ll be up ‘er flue next week,’ ” sang George, loudly, and collapsed in laughter.

“What?” cried Kitten, who had caught the infection and was laughing herself, without knowing why.

“It’s his song,” said Higgin, wiping his eyes. “He sings it in the character of a chimney-sweep. It’s all about his work, you see, and that’s the refrain — ‘I’ll be up ‘er flue next week” — and the meanings people seem to see in it, you’d never think! What we in the profession call the double entendre,” he said to Edith, feeling that she should be included in the gaiety, if possible on a higher level of culture than the others. But Ede merely snorted.

“I’d like to get along now, if that’s all right?” said Rumball.

“Yes, of course. You wanted to see my press-cutting book. I’ll get it at once,” said Higgin, and trotted up the stairs.

“I’ll expect to see something in the paper about the show tonight,” said George, in a loud, bantering tone. “We got some influence, you know. Ede here’s got influence on The Bellman, ain’t that right, Ede?”

“George, that’ll do,” said Edith, with dignity.

” ‘I’ll be up ‘er flue next week,’ ” sang George, sotto voce, and pinched Kitten from below. She slapped him playfully and they scuffled under the embarrassed eyes of Mr Rumball until Bevill Higgin came downstairs, carrying a large press-cutting book.

“Here it is,” said he. “A complete record of my career, with photo­graphs, clippings, programmes — all dated and arranged in proper order. You will be very careful with it, won’t you? All my life I have been methodical. I cannot bear to part with any of my little clippings from the past. A few may be loose in the book. When you have done with it, if you will give me a call, I’ll pick it up at The Bellman offices myself. Please, please be careful. This is my life,” he said, patting the volume with a wistful charm which no one but Edith fully appreciated.

“Yes, I’ll be careful,” said Rumball, and then, nervously to the others, “well, good night, everybody.”

“Remember, we got influence!” shouted George, as the door closed behind the reporter.

“Do you really think you’ll get a write-up?” asked Edith very seriously when, a little later, they had all been accommodated with glasses of rye from the bottle which Georgie produced from his bundle of costumes. “It would be wonderful publicity, Bev — bring you all kinds of pupils.”

“I have hopes,” said Mr Higgin demurely. “My friend Mr Shillito is, so to speak, editor emeritus of the newspaper; I have been given to understand that he carries very great influence — very great. He thinks something should be done. Of course, that young man will write his critique on what he finds in my cuttings-book. Tonight’s work was not my best line, of course.”

“Oh yes it was,” said George, “that’s the stuff the public wants. You got to give the public what it wants. And it wants the heart sniff and the funny stuff. This arty stuff is all baloney.”

“Listen to who’s talking,” said Edith.

“Yeah? Well, if you’d heard how I went over tonight you’d change your tune, Ede. Bev says I got talent and I guess tonight I proved it, eh, Bev?”

“Oh, no doubt about it,” said Mr Higgin, and giggled again. “You ladies should have heard him. Or no — perhaps you shouldn’t have heard him. But for a male audience it was a treat, really it was.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson