The Rebel Angels. The Cornish Trilogy #1 by Robertson Davies

I don’t have pets.

Then you’re a teacher in a thousand. We all have pets. How can we avoid it? Some students are better and more appealing than others.


Clem, you’re very hot under the collar. Have another drink.

To my astonishment he seized the whisky bottle and poured himself three fingers and gulped it off in two swallows.

Clem, what’s chewing you? You’d better tell me.

I suppose it’s part of your job to hear confessions?

I haven’t done much of that since I left parish work. Never did much there, in fact. But I know how it’s done. And I know it’s not good practice to hear confessions from people you know socially. But if you want to tell me something informally, go ahead. And mum’s the word, of course.

I was afraid of this when I came here.

I’m not forcing you. Do as you please. But if I’m not your confessor I am your fellow-executor and I have a right to know what’s been going on with things I’m responsible for.

I have something to make up to Miss Theotoky. I’ve wronged her, gravely.


Took advantage of her.

Pinched some of her good work? That sounds more like McVarish than you, Clem.

No, no; something even more personal. I — I’ve had carnal knowledge of her.

Oh, for God’s sake! You sound like the Old Testament. You mean you’ve screwed her?

That is a distasteful expression.

I know, but how many tasteful expressions are there? I can’t say you’ve lain with her; maybe you didn’t. I can’t say you’ve had her, because she is still clearly in full possession of herself. ‘Had intercourse with her’ sounds like the police-court — or do they still say that ‘intimacy occurred’? What really happened?

It was last April —

A month crammed with incident, apparently.

Shut up and don’t be facetious. Simon, can’t you see how serious this is for me? I’ve behaved very wrongly. The relation­ship between master and pupil is a special one, a responsible one — you could say, a sacred one.

You could say that, right enough. But we all know what hap­pens in universities. Nice girls turn up, professors are human, and bingo! Sometimes it’s rough on the girl; sometimes it may be destructive to the professor, if some scheming little broad throws herself at him. You must make allowance for the Fall of Man, Clem. I doubt if Maria seduced you; she’s far too much in awe of you. So you must have seduced her. How?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. But what happened was that I was telling her about my work on the Filth Therapy of the Middle Ages, which had been going particularly well, and suddenly she told me something — something about her mother — that added another huge piece to the jigsaw puzzle of what I had been doing, and I was so excited by it — there was such an up­surge of splendid feeling, that before I knew what was happening, there we were, you see —

And Abelard and Heloise lived again for approximately ninety seconds. Or have you persisted?

No, certainly not. I’ve never spoken to her about it since.

Once. I see.

You can imagine how I felt at McVarish’s party when he was plaguing her about being a virgin.

But she handled that brilliantly, I thought. Was she a virgin?

Good God, how would I know?

There are sometimes indications. You’re a medievalist. You must know what they looked for.

You don’t suppose I looked, do you! Do you take me for a Peeping Tom?

I’m beginning to take you for a fool, Clem. Have you never had any experience of this sort of thing before?

Well, of course. One can hardly avoid it. The commercial thing, you know, twice when travelling. Years ago. And on a conference, once, a female colleague, for a couple of days. She talked incessantly. But this was a sort of daemonic seizure — I wasn’t myself.

Oh, yes you were; these daemonic seizures are the unadmitted elements in a lopsided life. So you’ve promised Maria the Rabelais manuscript to make it up to her? Is that it?

I must make reparation.

I don’t want to talk too much like a priest, Clem, but you really can’t do it like that. You think you’ve wronged a girl, and a handsome gift — in terms you both value greatly — will make everything right. But it won’t. The reparation must be on the same footing as the wrong.

You mean I ought to marry her?

I don’t imagine for a minute she’d have you.

I’m not so sure. She looks at me sometimes, in a certain way. I’m not a vain man, but you can’t mistake certain looks.

I suppose she’s fallen for you. Girls do fall for professors; I’ve been telling you about it. But don’t marry her; even if she is enough of a sap to say Yes; it would never work. You’d both be sick to death of it in two years. No, you stop fretting about Maria; she knows how to manage her life, and she’ll get over you. It’s yourself you need to put back on the rails. If there is any reparation, it must be made there.

But how? Oh, I suppose you mean a penance?

Good medieval thinking.

But what? I suppose I could give the College chapel a piece of silver.

Bad medieval thinking. A penance must cost you something that hurts.

Then what?

You really want it?

I do.

I’ll give you some tried and true penitential advice. Whom do you hate most in the world? If you had to name an enemy, who would it be?


I thought so. Then for your penitence go to McVarish and tell him what you have just told me.

You’re out of your mind!


It would kill me!

No, it wouldn’t.

He’d blat it all over.

Very likely.

I’d have to leave the University!

Hardly that. But you could wear a big red ‘A’ on the back of your raincoat for a year or so.

You’re not being serious!

Neither are you. Look here, Clem: you come to me and expect me to play the priest and coax me into prescribing a penance for you, and then you refuse it because it would hurt. You’re a real Protestant; your prayer is ‘O God, forgive me, but for God’s sake keep this under Your hat.’ You need a softer priest. Why don’t you try Parlabane; you’re keeping him, so he’s safely in your pocket. Go and confess to him.

Hollier rose. Good night, he said. I see I made a great mis­take in coming here.

Don’t be a goat, Clem. Sit down and have another drink.

He did — another great belt of Scotch. Do you know Par­labane? he said.

Not as well as you do. But when we were undergraduates I saw quite a bit of him. An attractive fellow, very funny. Then I lost track of him, but I thought we were still friends. I’ve been wondering when he would come to see me. I didn’t want to invite him; under the circumstances it might embarrass him.

Under what circumstances?

When we knew one another at Spook he made great fun of me for wanting to go into the Church. He was the Great Sceptic, you remember, and he couldn’t understand me believing in Christianity in the face of all reason, or what he would call reason. So I nearly fell out of my chair when I had a letter from him a few months ago, telling me that he was a monk in the Society of the Sacred Mission. Such turnabouts are common enough, especially with people in middle age, but I would never have expected it of Parlabane.

And he wanted to leave the Brotherhood.

Yes, that’s what he told me. Needed help, which I provided.

You mean you sent him money?

Yes. Five hundred dollars. I thought I’d better send it. If it did him any good it was charity towards him; if it didn’t it was a charity to the Sacred Mission. He wanted to get out.

That cost me five hundred, too.

I wonder if he sent out a circular letter. Anyhow I don’t want to seem to gloat over him, or to be asking about repayment.

Simon, that fellow is no damned good.

What’s he been up to?

Leeching and bumming and sornering. And wearing that monk’s outfit. And getting Maria into bad ways.

Is he pestering Maria? I thought he was a homo?

Nothing so simple. A homo is just unusual; I’ve known some who are unusually good people. Parlabane is a wicked man. That’s an old-fashioned term, but it fits.

But what’s he been doing to Maria?

They were thrown out of a students’ restaurant a few nights ago for shouting filthy songs, and they were seen fighting in the street afterwards. I’ve found him a job — a fill-in in Extension. I’ve told him he must find another place to live, but he just yields as if I were punching a half-filled balloon, and continues to hang around my rooms and make claims on Maria.

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