Leaven of Malice – Salterton Trilogy 02 by Robertson Davies

Bevill Higgin drew on his thin, mended cloth gloves, and went.

Professor Vambrace and Mr Snelgrove walked down the stairs a few steps behind the Dean.

“May I offer you a lift, Professor?” said the lawyer. “Fitzalan will be happy to drop you anywhere you want to go.”

“I prefer to walk, thank you.”

“An extraordinary business, that. I could have sworn Cobbler was the guilty party. It was on the tip of my tongue to accuse him directly. But of course, one learns to be cautious in our profession; I merely put it to him as a possibility. As for that other fellow — Beneath contempt. However, I am deeply indignant, Professor, on your behalf. Deeply indignant.”

They were on the pavement by this time. The Professor faced Mr Snelgrove, very much the cousin of Mourne and Derry.

“Your indignation, sir, is a purchasable commodity; it will be healed by tomorrow. Mine, I assure you, is made of more lasting stuff. Be good enough to send me your statement at your earliest convenience.”

The Professor walked away, leaving Mr Snelgrove gaping. But though the Professor had spoken of indignation, his head was high, and there was even a proud smile on his face. His daughter had been restored to him. He would talk to Pearl that evening. Yes — perhaps he would even talk to young Bridgetower. He had never really had anything personal against the boy.

As he overtook and passed the Dean, he raised his hat with a sweeping gesture. “An uncommonly fine day, Mr Dean,” said he; “we are having a wonderful autumn.”

Outside the offices of The Bellman Solly and Pearl were tucking themselves into the little English car when. Cobbler hurried up to them.

“Let me come with you,” said he.

“We’re going for a drive in the country. We’ll be glad to drop you at your house.”

“No, no; I don’t want to be dropped. I’ll go with you on your drive.”

“But we have several things to talk about.”

“I know you have. I’ll help you.”

“They’re private.”

“Not from me, surely? Not from your old friend? I’ll be a great help. Let me come along.”

“You won’t be a great help at all. Anyhow, you’ve got a cold. You want to go right back to bed.”

“Not a bit of it. I found that meeting most refreshing. You missed the cream of it, when old Snelgrove tried to put the finger on me; he thought I put that piece in the paper. The desire to think ill of me completely submerged his judgement. I led him on, I’m afraid. Very wrong of me, but utterly irresistible. I’ll have no trouble with him, for a while.”

“Cobbler, Miss Vambrace and I want to be alone. Can you under­stand that?”

“Worst thing in the world for you. You’ll brood, and upset each other. I’ll just hop in the back seat.”

He did so.

“I’m taking you straight home,” said Solly, pulling away from the curb.

“If you do, I’ll lean right out of the window and shout ‘Solly Bridgetower loves Pearl Vambrace’ over and over again, and the whole place will know. I warn you.”

“By God, I believe you would.”

“Of course I would. I want to go for a drive. My cold has reached that stage where it absolutely demands a drive. Let’s go out across the bridge.”

Solly turned a corner. They were passing the Deanery, and at that instant Miss Puss Pottinger was hastening up the steps. Thrusting all of the upper half of his body out of the window, Cobbler waved to her.

“Yoo-hoo, Miss Pottinger, looking for news? I’m free! Free! Not a stain on my character! Bye-bye!” He pulled himself back into the car. “I’d like to be a fly on the wall when the Dean talks to her,” said he. “The old boy is very hot on malice this afternoon; she won’t enjoy her sandwich and bit of seed-cake, I’ll bet.”

Until they were out of the city, Cobbler sat quietly in his place, and no one spoke. But as soon as they had crossed the river he hitched himself forward on the back seat, and thrust his smiling face between Solly and Pearl.

“Now,” he said, “let’s get down to business. When are you going to announce your engagement? Perhaps I should say, when are you going to confirm Higgin’s premature announcement? Listen, Bridgetower, what has he got his knife into you for?”

Briefly, Solly told him of his first encounter with Bevill Higgin.

“Well, well,” said the organist. “And he thought Miss Vambrace was Tessie Forgie. Now why, I wonder?”

“I think that she must have been sitting at my desk on my day off, and refused him library privileges, or something like that,” said Pearl. “She has a very short way with people she thinks don’t matter.”

“Remarkable! Obviously a very impetuous fellow. And full of conceit, I suppose. Thought he’d show you all that you couldn’t slight him. Poor bleeder! I’m sorry for him.”

“I could cheerfully kill him,” said Solly.

“Oh no! You’ll be grateful to him in a little while. And years from now, as you sit at the door of your rose-entwined cottage, with your grandchildren tumbling on the grass before you, you’ll be saying, ‘I wonder whatever became of Bevill Higgin, that fragrant old soul who brought us together.’ ”

“Listen, Cobbler,” said Solly; “get this through your head. We’re not even engaged. It seems remotely possible that we may be, but we’re not yet. We have a great deal to discuss, before we can contem­plate any such step. So will you please stop your nonsense? It’s embarrassing.”

“My dear children, I’m only trying to be helpful. Most couples who are going to get engaged think that they have a lot to talk over before they really do it. Utter waste of time. Forget all I said to you the other night about Miss Vambrace not being suitable, Solly. I was wrong. Now the scales have fallen from my eyes. Not only is the hand of Fate discernible in this affair; Fate has been leaving fingerprints all around the place ever since Higgin got his bright idea. Miss Vambrace — or may I call you Pearl? –”

“I’d rather you called me Veronica,” said she.

“How very wise. Much, much better. Well, Veronica, help me to bring this fellow to his senses. I’m sure that you, with your infinitely superior emotional grasp, see that this marriage is fated. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot of couples get engaged, and they could cut down their time by three-quarters if they would just stop talking and creating absolutely artificial difficulties once the thing was in the bag. You’ll enjoy being married, you know. You can help Solly with Heavysege.”

“Ah, but that’s one of the difficulties,” said Solly. “I’ve given Heavysege the heave-ho. I met Dr Sengreen this morning, quite by chance, and entirely on the spur of the moment I told him that I was putting Heavysege aside because I had something of my own, some­thing original, that I wanted to write. I told him I wanted to be a creator of Amcan, not one of its embalmers. I should have been more careful, I suppose, but Oh hell — But I can’t get married — not in fairness to Veronica — until I’ve written it, and it has proved either a success or a failure.”

“Nitwit!” said Cobbler. “Your first book won’t be a success. Don’t make marriage conditional on the success of a book, or your mother dying, or anything unlikely of that sort. Put first things first. Get married, and plunge into all the uproar of baby-raising, and loading yourself up with insurance and furniture and all the frowsy appur­tenances of domestic life, as soon as you can. You’ll survive. Millions do. And deep down under all the trash-heap of duty and respect­ability and routine you may, if you’re among the lucky ones, find a jewel of happiness. I know all about it, and I assure you on my sacred honour that it’s worth a try. Come on! You know how all this will end up. You’ll act on instinct anyhow; everybody does in the really important decisions of life. Why not get some fun out of it, and forget all the twaddle you’ll have to talk in order to make it seem reasonable, and prudent, and dull.”

They drove in silence for a time, and then Pearl turned her head toward Cobbler.

“I think you’re right,” said she. “And I hope you’ll always be our friend.”

For once, Cobbler said nothing, but for the rest of the drive he leaned back in his seat and sang very pleasantly, in an undertone.

When the conference broke up, Gloster Ridley was left alone with Mr Marryat.

“Well,” said the general manager, “I hope we’ve heard the last of that. The trouble you can get into in this business! And mostly because so many people take themselves so seriously. Still, we kept up face, eh?”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson