Leaven of Malice – Salterton Trilogy 02 by Robertson Davies

“Yes, we did that,” said Ridley. “In fact, I think we’ve even gained a little, in some quarters. Vambrace was positively human when he said good-bye. He had the decency to say that a misunderstanding might happen to anyone.”

“So he might,” said Marryat. “When I think how he carried on in here just a week ago –!”

“Yes, but it was more than old Snelgrove saw fit to do.”

“A fine monkey he made of himself! Well, I’ve got some things to do.” And Mr Marryat went.

But as he left the room another figure, who had been lurking outside the door, slipped into the editor’s office. It was Mr Swithin Shillito.

“Chief,” said he, “what can I say?”

“I really don’t know, Mr Shillito. Perhaps it would be best to say nothing.”

“No, no; I feel that much of what has happened is my fault. After all, I introduced Higgin to you. Had it not been for that, all this trouble might have been spared. I’ve many faults; I don’t have to be told that. Perhaps when I am gone it will be said that a foolish generosity was one of them. I wanted to do the poor chap a bit of good. Loyalty to a fellow Britisher, you know. But I realize that in the Craft there can only be one loyalty — to one’s paper, and of course to its Chief. I’m in the wrong. I admit it, freely and even gladly. At my age I can still admit that I am often foolish. But not small, I think. No, not small.”

“Please do not feel it necessary to accuse yourself,” said Ridley. “Anybody can make a mistake, and yours was undoubtedly a gen­erous one. But as we are together, Mr Shillito, I shall take this chance of telling you that the publisher has raised the matter of your retirement. No, please do not protest; Mr Warboys will not hear of you being tied to the daily routine any longer, and I am in complete agreement with him. Confidentially he is organizing a banquet in your honour, and you are too old a hand at these things not to realize that such a tribute will involve a presentation, as well. I understand that it is to be a full-dress affair, with the Mayor present, and some representative journalists from other cities. It will take place between Christmas and the New Year. You will want to prepare a speech, I am sure, and I suggest that a valedictory article, in your own characteristic style, would be welcome.”

It was the sack. But it was a silken sack, lined with ermine, and the Old Mess knew it, and responded accordingly. He spoke of generos­ity, of long ties, of his hope that The Bellman would call upon him whenever he could be of use, of his high regard for Mr Warboys, and his admiration for the Chief.

“I had hoped,” said he, in conclusion, “that I might remain in harness until next Convocation. It would have been a keen pleasure to me to write an editorial on the occasion of your honorary degree.”

“To be quite frank,” said Ridley, “I’d rather not have a degree. For a working editor it might prove an embarrassment. When the time comes for me to retire — well, the University might like to do some­thing for me then. But I’ve thought this matter over very carefully, and if I’m offered one now, I shall decline, with thanks. I’d be grateful if you would pass that information on to people who might be interested — to Mrs Roger Warboys, for instance.”

“You may depend on me,” said Mr Shillito, and turned to go.

“And Swithin,” said Ridley, recalling him. It was the first time in their years of association that he had used the old man’s first name, and he was somewhat surprised to find how gently it came off his tongue. “I didn’t want to show that receipt slip to the lawyers, for a reason that will interest you. It was signed, you know, with a false name.” He handed the slip to the old man. The name written, very clearly across the bottom, was Swithin Shillito. There was a pause while the old man took it in, and then, “I should have known that fellow wasn’t a sahib,” said Mr Shillito, with dignity, and walked out of the office.

Ridley sat down at his desk. The afternoon was almost gone, and he did not feel in the mood for work, but it was too early for him to go home. What would he do at home? He would call Mrs Fielding later and angle for an invitation to dinner. Meanwhile, he savoured the poignant sweetness of renunciation. How painfully, how exhaustingly, he had desired a doctorate. Now, for the past eighteen hours, he had known that he did not need this honour to silence the voice of his inner guilt. He was a man released from bondage.

Silently Miss Green entered, and laid a copy of the afternoon’s edition of The Bellman on his desk. The editor picked it up and idly leafed through it. Truly, It is a barber’s chair, that fits all buttocks. . . Now that this hubbub was over he might find a few hours in which to prepare his Wadsworth Lecture; he was more determined than ever to make it a distinguished piece of work. . . The pin buttock. . . Poor Mrs Little, poor Constant Reader, who had come to him that morning even before he was out of bed, trembling with her great news about Bevill Higgin, destroying her idol, and Blubadub’s Ugga Bev, in order that The Bellman might be vindicated. Indeed, for a moment he had almost suspected that she had some personal feeling toward himself. . . The quatch buttock. . . That boy Rumball must be given a rise. He had shown a lot of gumption by discovering that receipt. Loyalty was a great quality in a reporter — but no, he was thinking like the Old Mess. . . The brawn buttock. . . Professor Vambrace was not a man that he could ever like but, as an editor cannot allow himself the luxury of many friends, so he must also be careful not to use his power unjustly, and pursue enmities beyond the grave. Quickly, Ridley opened a locked drawer of his desk and took out the emended obituary of Walter Vambrace which he had prepared in anger the week before. To restore it to its original form was confidential work, too confidential even for the close-mouthed Miss Green; he would do it himself before he left his office. As he slipped a piece of paper into his typewriter to do so, his telephone rang. Was Miss Green not there, to take the call? After three rings, he lifted the receiver himself.

“Yes?. . . Yes, I see. . . Yes, of course I shall be very happy to do so. . . But may I ask if you are quite certain that there will be no objection from either family?. . . You can guarantee that? By tomorrow morn­ing?. . . And you will speak to the Dean at once?. . . Well, in that case, would you both be able to come to my office some time tomorrow in order to sign the order? You will understand my caution, I am sure. . . And may I offer my congratulations?. . . Oh, very kind of you to say so. . . Good-bye.” Turning back to his machine he typed, slowly and precisely:

Professor and Mrs Walter Vambrace are pleased to announce the engagement of their daughter, Pearl Veronica, to Solomon Bridgetower, Esq., son of Mrs Bridgetower and the late Professor Solomon Bridgetower of this city. Marriage to take place in St Nicholas’ Cathedral at a date to be announced later.

In red pencil he wrote beneath this: To be set, but not inserted until I OK the copy.

He looked at it for some time, and then he wrote again: Debit the cost of this advertisement to me personally.

Face? No, no; he felt that it was the least that he could do.

Robertson Davies, novelist, playwright, literary critic and essayist, was born in 1913 in Thamesville, Ontario. He was educated at Queen’s University and. Balliol College, Oxford. While at Oxford he became interested in the theatre and from 1938 until 1940 he was a teacher and actor at the Old Vic in London; he has subsequently written a number of plays. He returned to Canada in 1940 where he was literary editor of Saturday Review, an arts, politics and current affairs journal, until 1942 when he became editor and later publisher of the Peter­borough Examiner. Several of his books including The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks and The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks had their origins in an editorial column. In 1962 he was appointed Professor of English at the University of Toronto, and in 1963 was appointed the first Master of the University’s Massey College. He retired in 1981 but remains Master Emeritus and Professor Emeritus. He holds honorary doctorates from many Canadian universities and has received numerous awards for his work, including the Governor-General’s Award for The Manticore in 1973. But it is as a writer of fiction that Robertson Davies has achieved international recognition with The Deptford Trilogy (Penguin), composed of Fifth Business, The Manticore and World of Wonders. His other books include One Half of Robertson Davies, The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies, Robertson Davies — The Well-Tempered Critic, High Spirits and The Rebel Angels (Penguin).

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