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

What the hell is all this?

It’s the new psychology. Ask Froats. — Now I’ll make a deal with you, John —

Just a few dollars to tide me over —

All right, but I said a deal, and here it is. Stop wearing that outfit. You disgust me, parading around as a man in God’s service when you’re in no service but your own — or perhaps the Devil’s. I’ll give you a suit, and you’ve got to wear it, or no money and not one crumb of help from me.

We looked over my suits. I had in mind one that was becoming a little tight, but Parlabane, by what course of argument I can’t recall, walked off with one of my best ones — a smart clerical grey, though not of clerical cut. And a couple of very good shirts, and a couple of dark ties, and some socks, and a few handkerchiefs, and even an almost new pair of shoes.

You’ve certainly put on weight, he said, as he preened in front of the mirror. But I’m handy with the needle; I can take a reef or two in this.

At last he was going, so — sheer weakness — I gave him one drink.

How you’ve changed, he said. You know, you used to be a soft touch. We seem to have changed roles. You, the pious youth, have become as hard as nails: I, the unbeliever, have tried to become a priest. Has your faith been so eroded by your life?

Strengthened, I should say.

But when you recite the Creed, do you really mean what you say?

Every word. But the change is that I also believe a great many other things that aren’t in the Creed. It’s shorthand, you know. Just what’s necessary. But I don’t live merely by what is necessary. If you are determined on the religious life, you have to toughen up your mind. You have to let it be a thoroughfare for all thoughts, and among them you must make choices. You remember what Goethe said — that he’d never heard of a crime he could not imagine himself committing? If you cling frantically to the good, how are you to find out what the good really is?

I see. — Do you know anything about a girl called Theotoky?

She’s a student of mine. Yes.

I see something of her. She’s Hollier’s soror mystica, did you know? And as I’m his famulus — though he’s doing his damnedest to shake me — I see her quite often. A real scrotum-stirring beauty.

I know nothing about that.

But Hollier does, I think.

Meaning what?

I thought you might have heard something.

Not a word.

Well, I must go. Sorry you’ve become such a bad priest, Sim.

Remember what I said about the habit.

Oh, come on — just now and then. I like to lecture my mature students in it.

Be careful. I could make things difficult for you.

With the bishop? He wouldn’t care.

Not with the bishop. With the R.C.M.P. You’ve got a record, remember.

I bloody well have not!

Not official. Just a few notes in a file, perhaps. But if I catch you in that fancy-dress again, I’ll grass on you, Brother John.

He opened his mouth, then shut it. He had learned something after all; he had learned not to have an answer for everything.

He finished his drink, and after a longing look at the bottle, which I ignored, he went. But there was a pathetic appeal at the door which cost me fifty dollars. And he took his monk’s robe, bundled up and tied with its own girdle.

Second Paradise IV


Mamusia struck me as hard as she could on the cheek with the flat of her hand. It was a rough blow, but perhaps I staggered a little more than was fully justified, and whimpered and appeared to be about to fall to the floor. She rushed towards me and pushed her face as near as possible to mine, hissing fury and garlic.

Poshrat! she screamed again, and spat in my face. This was a scene we had played many times in our life together, my Mother and I, and I knew better than to try to wipe away the spittle. It was something that had to be endured, and in the end it would probably work out as I wished.

To tell him that! To chatter to your gadjo professor about the bomari! You hate me! You want to destroy me! Oh, I know how you despise me, how you are ashamed of me, how you want to ruin me! You grudge me the work by which I earn my poor living! You wish me dead! But do you think I have lived so long that I’m to be trampled and ruined by a poshrat slut, and my secrets torn away from me! I’ll kill you! I’ll come in the night and stab you as you sleep! Don’t glare at me with your bold eyes, or I’ll blind you with a needle! [I was not glaring, but this was a favourite threat.] Oh, that I should be cursed with you! The fine lady, the gadjo’s whore — that must be it — you’re his whore, are you? And you want to bring him here to spy on me! May the Baby Jesus tear you with a great iron hook!

On and on she raved, enjoying herself immensely; I knew that in the end she would rave herself into a good temper, and then there would be endearments, and a cold wet poultice of mint for my burning face, and a snort of Yerko’s fierce plum brandy, and she would play the bosh and sing to me and her affection would be as high-pitched as her wrath. Nothing for me to do but play my part, that of the broken, repentant daughter, supposedly living in the sunshine or shade of a Mother’s affection.

Nobody could say my life lacked variety. At the University I was Miss Theotoky, a valued graduate student somewhat above the rest because I was one of the select group of Research Assistants, a girl with friends and a quiet, secure place in the academic hierarchy, with professors who had marked me as one who might some day join their own Druid circle. At home I was Maria, one of the Kalderash, the Lovari, but not quite, because my Father had not been of this ancient and proud strain, but a gadjo — and therefore, when my Mother was displeased with me, she used the offensive word poshrat, which means half-breed. Everything that was wrong with me, in her eyes, came of being a poshrat. Nobody was to blame for this but herself, but it would not have been tactful to say so when she was angry.

I was half Gypsy, and since my Father died the half some­times seemed in my Mother’s estimation to amount to three-quarters, or even seven-eighths. I knew she loved me deeply, but like any deep love there were times when it was a burden, and its demands cruel. To live with my Mother meant living accord­ing to her beliefs, which were in almost every way at odds with what I had learned elsewhere. It had been different when my Father was alive, because he could control her, not by shouting or domination — that was her way — but by the extraordinary force of his noble character.

He was a very great man, and since his death when I was sixteen I had been looking for him, or something like him, among all the men I met. I believe that psychiatrists explain such a search as mine to troubled girls as though it were a deep secret the girls could never have uncovered for themselves, but I had always known it; I wanted my Father, I wanted to find a man who was his equal in bravery and wisdom and warmth of love, and once or twice, briefly, I thought I had found him in Clement Hollier. Wisdom I knew he possessed; if it were called for I was sure he would have bravery; warmth of love was what I wanted to arouse in him, but I knew it would never do to thrust myself at him. I must serve; I must let my love be seen in humility and sacrifice; I must let him discover me. As indeed I thought he had, that April day on the sofa. I was not yet disappointed, but I was beginning to be just a little frenzied. When would he show himself the successor to my beloved Tadeusz, to my dear Father?

Can I be a modern girl, if I acknowledge such thoughts? I must be modern: I live now. But like everybody else, as Hollier says, I live in a muddle of eras, and some of my ideas belong to today, and some to an ancient past, and some to periods of time that seem more relevant to my parents than to me. If I could sort them and control them I might know better where I stand, but when I most want to be contemporary the Past keeps pushing in, and when I long for the Past (like when I wish Tadeusz had not died, and were with me now to guide and explain and help me to find where I belong in life) the Present cannot be pushed away. When I hear girls I know longing to be what they call liberated, and when I hear others rejoicing in what they think of as libera­tion, I feel a fool, because I simply do not know where I stand.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson