Murther & Walking Spirits by Robertson Davies

He thought that was great till one day Mr. Yeigh turned on him and said, “Jeering at High Art leaves High Art untouched, Mr. Gould, but it shows up the quality of the mocker,” and Gould just shrivelled up like a leaf. Everybody respected Mr. Yeigh. That Christmas he gave me Les Misérables with a nice inscription. He knew I had a leaning toward a really good book. I’ve read it, oh I guess five times. Beats St. Elmo into a cocked hat. Reality! That’s what Victor Hugo had. Reality. He knew the human heart. Gould! Oh he thought he was a card! That day he brought the chocolates to the office and treated all the girls. They were cubes of soap he’d had coated at Alf Tremayne’s Candy Kitchen. But girls were a curiosity in an office in those days, and we had to put up with a lot. I wanted to get out of it. To get married. Not just to get out of it. I wanted some romance in my life. Carry wasn’t the only one who had art in her. I could sing. Haven’t sung for years. Asthma. From Pa, I suppose. Worse now than when I was young. We all have poor lungs. But I love a good song. De Gogorza —

Could I but come to thee once,

But once only,

As you sit, so sad and lonely

With your head on your arm

So weary-hearted —

What a voice! Rich baritone. Heard him sing that in recital. But every time he left the stage he strutted out ahead of his accompanist, and she was a woman! A gentleman would have let her go first. But he was an artist, of course, a Great I Am, and I suppose you have to make allowances for that.

Could I but come to thee

When night is falling

In the old sweet way

Just coming at your calling

And like an angel bending down above you

To breathe into your ear

“I love you —

I loooove you.”

I suppose the man had died before they were married. De Gogorza sang it almost like a ghost, soft and mysterious and very tender. Before they were married. Like poor Min. Not that Homer Hall could sing a note. Tin ear. Does Min ever hear a ghost like that? Don’t suppose so for a minute. No imagination. I was always the one with the imagination. But what could I do with it? Three girls, left with Ma, after they dragged Pa away to the Poor Farm. Making a show of himself in the street, right up to the end. You don’t keep your Ma as she’s been used to on imagination. I wrote some poetry. No good, I suppose. After I married Rhodri I even wrote stuff for his first paper. For the Christmas Issue. How we worked over that! I don’t suppose the subscribers gave a continental whether they had a Christmas Issue or not but Rhodri was determined they should have one. He was proud, and wanted to show ’em. And he did. He’s done well. Rich, now. I wish Ma could have seen. She never had any time for him, and I know he didn’t like her, though he never said so to me. I give him that. Proud! And how he could sing!

I fear no foe except the glamour

Of the eyes I long to see;

I am here, love, without armour —

Strike, and captive make of me!

Used to sing that at concerts, looking straight at me. All I could do not to blush. He used to talk stuff like that to me even after we were married. Welsh blarney, of course. I never let myself set too much store by it. But it brought warmth into a cold life. My life. Why cold? If I knew. Ma and Pa, I suppose, but it’s disloyal to think so. Talked that way right up to that awful row we had. Was I to blame? He never under­stood. There has to be some reality, say what you like. Not all romance. That old music-hall song he used to sing —

It ain’t all lavender

Don’t you think it is

There’s fish and there’s corduroy trousis!

Well, it’s all done now, but things have never been the same since that awful row. A marriage is for keeps, and I was always loyal. Never mind about the other. Is he loyal? Sometimes I wonder. That woman who comes to him at the office, and whines about the hard luck she’s had in her marriage. Well, if she married a jackass, whose fault is that? She picked him. Complaining to another man isn’t loyal. She got a bad house over her head. Let her live in it, I say. Of course he makes fun of her when he tells me about it, but that could be to cover up something. I know he lends her money. And those others. Think they’re high-flyers because their husbands are profes­sors or in the Army or some such nonsense. Haven’t enough to do to keep them warm. I’ve heard them boast about their “affairs” as they call them, though I wonder just how far the affair went. All that hugging and kissing at Christmas parties. Enough to make you throw up.”How we apples swim, quoth the . . .” That’s an old one. Ma beat me when I was four because I used language I heard around the blacksmith shop. . . . Does he get up to any of that when I don’t see? He’s always had a way with women, though underneath I know how shy he is. A lot of women don’t think a man can be shy unless he’s a fool, but I know better. Sometimes the shy ones get into the biggest messes. . . . . God, sometimes I burn with hate, and the worst of it is I don’t know who I’m hating. But I hate till it gives me a headache, and now I can’t even get out into the garden and take it out on the weeds. Is it imagination? That’s been my curse — imagination. Sometimes it nearly kills me. I sit here and I imagine things that disgust me, sometimes. Where does all that awful stuff come from? Is it being a woman? A woman with imagination and nothing to use it on but hate and suspicion? Hate is a poison, and once it gets thoroughly into your system there’s nothing to be done but to hate till you’re sick and exhausted. Hate is an addiction. Brocky’s doing a course in psychology. Do you suppose they ever tell them that? Brocky gets his imagination from me, though he thinks he gets it from his dad. As a girl, I tried to write. Poetry, but it was never the real thing. Forced. But I felt something real. His dad was never a writer — except for news­papers, and he was good at that. Political. Editorials that he used to say were dripping with blood. Did he get that from his uncle? Old John Jethro Jenkins? He could write and he wrote letters to the papers that blistered the government, for what­ever good it did. Which was nix. An old blowhard. How Auntie Polly respected that man! “Malvina you mustn’t con­tradict the Master,” she’d say, whenever I couldn’t put up with his rubbish. The Master! Master of that house, which was mortgaged to the hilt, and falling to pieces from neglect! The fire black out and there he’d sit in bed with his overcoat and hat on reading the encyclopaedia! I know Rhodri helped him, on the q.t. Thought I didn’t know. Well, blood’s thicker than water. With the Welsh it’s thicker than tar. I wish it was thicker between me and Brocky. My son! Gets his imagination from me, I know. Could I have been a writer? A woman Victor Hugo? What went wrong? What’s gone wrong, all down the line? I liked being a working-girl. My own money. Not to do what I pleased with, of course. Had to go to Pa and Ma as long as Pa was around, after he went smash. Ma needed it even more when he was out of the way. Never mind. It was my money, and I made it myself. What money have I got now? Stacks of it, but it’s really Rhodri’s. I have nothing to do with it. Of course I’m a director of a couple of his companies, but what’s that? Sometimes he puts a paper in front of me and says, “Sign there –. . . You don’t know it but you were at a direc­tors’ meeting this morning.” He means it kindly. Doesn’t want to give me trouble. But that’s the kind of trouble I’d really like. Always hated keeping house, and when we were poor sometimes I’d find I was crying while I swept the floor. Not now. Haven’t swept anything in years. Have to make those foreigners do it. They’re all right, I suppose. You can trust them, and they keep a pretty good house. Not the old style, of course. Not the Dutch style. Not Ma’s style. Clean out the keyholes once a week with an oiled feather. That was Ma’s style, and she saw we did it. Of course she couldn’t do much, except make the odd pot of tea. After Pa went to the Poor Farm she lost all heart for any kind of household work. Said her powers had completely gone. . . . Who looks after that house in Wales, I wonder, now that I can’t get over and see to it? Never could get any decent help there. Not just for the sum­mer months. Farm girls and old cooks like gypsies. And dirty! They hated it when I used to go into the kitchen when they didn’t expect me, and caught them all sitting around drinking strong tea and stuffing themselves with bread and jam and gossiping. But it was my house, wasn’t it?. . . No, it never was. It was Rhodri’s house. It was Wales to him. Cold, wet country even in June. Never took to the people. Gasbags. And insin­cere. You never knew what they were saying about you behind your back. County gentry! Down on their luck, most of ’em. And the people in the town were worse. He’d sit in some dirty tinsmith’s shop, because he’d known the tinsmith when they were boys, and chew the rag and thresh old straw, while I sat outside in the car, getting one of my headaches. And then next minute it’d be the county. La-di-da till you couldn’t bear it! How we apples swim! A headache, then my asthma. Might as well admit it, I hate Wales and the hold it has on him. Those women he meets. Gigglers. And he likes to giggle with them. Like that Julia. A giggler. I’d like to get her by that long hair of hers and give it a good yank! I’ve got to stop this, and go to bed, or I’ll make myself sick. Oh hate — hate! The poison of my life, and the worst is that I’m not stupid enough not to recognize it! There’s no medicine for hate, and that’s what my imagination has turned to. … I’ve read six pages of St. Elmo and haven’t taken in a word. Am I getting simple? No, by gum, I’m not, though sometimes Rhodri treats me as if I were. I can see what’s in front of me. I can see Brocky looking at me, when I try to talk some reality to him. I suppose I’m an ignorant old woman, in his eyes. But I still know more Latin than he does, even if I never finished High School and had to do that secre­tarial course. Pitman’s Shorthand. I can write it still, and some­times I leave little notes to myself around the place, to show Brocky I can write something he can’t read. Mr. Yeigh said I was the best shorthand writer he’d ever employed. And that was where my imagination went, I guess. Reality took over. Now it’s all gone to seed and dreams. I think things happened that I’ve read in books. Like this book. St. Elmo.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson