Murther & Walking Spirits by Robertson Davies

In your silk pyjama

Go and tell Mama

You will be happy with me —

My little Japanee!

And “Cohen On The Telephone” – we laughed. …”I vant a carpINter to mend de shutter that hangs on the side of mine house, because de vind come, and de shutter clutter.” Clever, real clever, taking off the Jew. Homer was clever, too. He included a record of hymns for Ma, and that sort of made her hesitate to condemn the phonograph, because it sang “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Life’s Railway to Heaven.”. . .

Keep your hand upon the throttle,

And your eye upon the rail.

Ma liked anything that was religious. We used to joke about it. She’d sit in the parlour window, all Sunday afternoon, so’s people could see her, with her specs on and her Bible in her hand, and then she’d doze off. But of course she was really religious. I guess. . . . She said I oughtn’t to take such an expen­sive gift as the phonograph. Said I was making myself cheap. Keep your hand upon the throttle. But Homer got round her. Said as we were engaged it was really for our future home. Not that it ever got there. We couldn’t marry until his mother went. It would have killed her. Or so she gave out. I don’t think so. She was as tough as old boots. But anyhow, Homer had to believe her. She was his mother. And of course at last she did die, and we were ready to get married till Ma said — with tears in her eyes, and it was the only time I ever saw Ma cry — “I’d hoped you would have waited till I was gone.” That clinched it, of course. We couldn’t wait for old Mrs. Hall to die and then marry right in Ma’s face, the way Viney did. So we waited and Ma certainly took her time. But she went at last — not that I ever wished for it, nobody could say I did — and then Homer got pneumonia before the year of mourning for Ma was out, and he died, and that was that. He left me everything, but not the business, of course. His cousins saw to that. I’ve got his cuff­links and watch-chain still, and I guess they’d better go to Brocky when I’m gone. Never mind; Homer’s few hundred set me up in business for myself. The Home of The Hat Beautiful. Everybody said it was a wonderful name. And I knew the business. Hadn’t I been buyer for Ogilvie’s for years and for your straws and your felts and your feathers and your Bohe­mian ornaments — cherries, little apples, flowers of all kinds –there weren’t many who could beat me. Creative, they call it now. That was what I was; creative. An artiste of the hat. . . . Damn cars! As soon as they got popular, and everybody had to have one, and women started to drive, and girls wanted to drive with the top down and the wind blowing, that was Good-bye, Hat! Of course the older women went on wearing hats, but time took care of that. I’d put a hat in the window that anybody would be proud to wear, but unless somebody wanted to wear it to a wedding, or maybe a funeral if it was a crushed velvet, let’s say, there my hat would stay for weeks. Got under my skin, and my trouble got worse. I had to turn to Rhodri for extra capital, and why not? Wasn’t he my brother-in-law? He came through, in the end, but not warmly, it must be said. I suppose Viney made him. She knows how to get what she wants and Rhodri’s weak, under all that bluster. Weak, and I’m not afraid of him. Not a particle. He’s done well. I grant you that. But he’s had the luck, and not everybody does. How did Viney get him? That was a mystery, but some of the girls said she caught him on the bounce, from that Elsie Hare. He was too proud to be jilted. Always thought of himself as a great one with the girls. He had a kind of a come-hither combined with a touch-me-not look about him that was like catnip to some of ’em. Still is. And Viney’s jealous, don’t try to tell me any different. She’s still jealous and there’s women around this city who would grab at him. And maybe they do. Some of those women in that Drama Group, as they call it, always wanting him to be in plays. Luckily he’s too busy for much of that. And what parts could he take, anyway? Old men. He’d not thank you to be asked to play an old man. But wouldn’t surprise me if. . . Dresses younger than his age. And what he spends on clothes the Lord only knows. I’ve always been poor, and when you’re poor you see life from underneath and you notice things other people miss. I’ve tried. I’ve certainly tried. But nothing seemed to work, and I lost heart and more money from Rhodri couldn’t do anything against cars and flappers who didn’t know what a hat was. Young de’il-and-go-flickets! What would people have said in my day if we’d carried on like that? Rolled stockings! And the War hardly over! Like this Julia. Oh, Brocky doesn’t kid me. Not on your life! I see that look in his eyes when I’m not supposed to see anything. . . . Viney’s beginning to nod. She’ll want to go upstairs soon. Maybe I’d better go and heat the milk. Hope those ugly foreigners are out of the kitchen. They look at me as if they’d like to kill me. . . . But I’d like to find the King’s moustache first. What was it we used to say? A kiss without a moustache is like an egg without salt.


MALVINA: (She is reading St. Elmo by Augusta Jane Evans; below her reading is music; a song, “Could I,” as sung by Emilia de Gogorza on a Victor Red Seal Record; further below, her brooding.)

Glad to see St. Elmo again. Down under all that trash of Rhodri’s out in the end room. Min found it. What was she doing rummaging around out there? Snooping. A snooper even when she was a young one. Must be fifty years. Bought it after I saw the play. Ida Van Cortland. Most elegant woman I ever saw. That last scene, where St. Elmo says: “Is Edna Earl more righteous than the Lord she worships?” — then that pause, and she looks him in the face and says — “Never was more implicit faith, more devoted affection, given any human being than I now give you, Mr. Murray; you are my first and my last and my only love.” People don’t talk like that any more. But you see the reality. Yes sirree! Brocky laughed when he saw me reading St. Elmo. But I’ve read more books in my life than he has, though he’s going through them fast enough. I know that the heart of a book isn’t just what you get from the language. Not that I suppose they care a particle for the heart of anything at the university. All head; no heart. They sneer at Les Misérable now. Well, let them better it, I say. Music, too. That stuff he buys and plays. Not a tune any­where. Some of the songs are good. That one he played that made Min cry. She thought I didn’t see, but I did. Thinking of Homer, I suppose. Min’s had hard luck. Her trouble, to begin with. I saw her yesterday when she had one of those spells at the table. She thought nobody saw, but I saw. Petit mal the doctor calls it now. Used to say epilepsy, but that’s grand mal now. I wish she wouldn’t lock the bathroom door when she goes in. Might have a seizure right there on the seat, and how would we get at her? But you can’t break an old maid of that habit. Old maid. I was the only one of us three to get married. Consumption was the great fear. We’ve all got poor lungs. Min didn’t have the gimp to outface old Mrs. Hall, and poor Carry was the real breadwinner after Pa went smash and I married. Ma never really forgave me, even when I sent her money on the q.t. Poor Carry. She could play the piano like a professional. Might have been a professional, with better luck. She’d rip through that “Grande Paraphrase de Concert sur le Faust de Gounod” so your eyes would blink. Wonder­ful waltz tune in that. Ed Gould used to sing words to it —

“I can sing like a nightingale,

My notes are clear and bright.”

“You don’t mean like a nightingale,

You mean like a gale in the night.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson