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

Why was this dreadful rookery never condemned by the city’s inspectors of such places? Yerko knew what to do. You cannot bribe an inspector; everybody knows that. But inspectors are not well paid, or they think they aren’t, and they and their wives all want things like dish-washers, or power-mowers, or air-conditioners which Yerko was able to secure for them at wholesale prices; he had connections with the manufactur­ing world from his days with Tadeusz. He was obliging to the inspectors, and not only did he see that the goods were delivered direct from the factory, he somehow arranged that no bill, even for the wholesale price, was ever rendered. And as every­body knows, a little friendliness goes a long way in the world of the gadje.

Where did I fit into this? Yerko and Mamusia agreed that it would be folly to keep a whole room for a girl who was away all day at the University, and I could easily sleep on Mamusia’s sofa. I was a young woman of substantial independent means and there was nothing in the world to prevent me from taking an apartment of my own, answerable to nobody but myself, far from the stink of senile dogs and unwashed old people, and out of earshot of the distressing cries that came through the wall when Mr. Vitrac had a bad dream. Nothing in the world but love and loyalty. Because, agonizing though it often was to live with Mamusia, and tedious as I found the company of Yerko, who was rarely sober, I loved them both and if I deserted them, I thought, what might not happen to them?


The visit of my wise man was soon arranged; he could come on the third day from my asking him. My Mother says will you come to tea, I said, prompted by I cannot say what madness. Did this expression conjure up in his mind some fragrant old soul in a Rosedale house, pouring delicate China tea into thin, rare cups? But in this, as in all social dealings with Hollier, I seemed to lose my head. About academic things I could talk to him sensibly enough but on anything suggesting a personal relationship, however ordinary, I was a fool.

For both of us, the transformation in Parlabane was astonish­ing. Gone was the monk’s robe, and with it had gone the theatri­cally monkish demeanour. He looked almost smart, in a good grey suit. It seemed to have been made for a somewhat taller and stouter man; there was not quite enough room in the shoulders, and there was more than he needed in the waistcoat; to keep the trousers from dragging at his heels he wore them braced up to the last possible inch. But his sober tie and clean shirt, the white handkerchief tucked in his breast pocket, were all that could be asked of any tidy academic.

Best of all, he had stopped grumbling about the poor pay he got for teaching in Extension. I asked him if he had found some way of increasing his income.

I’m looking into one or two things, he said, and I’ve found avenues around the University that may lead to something that will tide me over until I get an advance on my novel.

Novel? This was unexpected.

It’s rather a big thing, he said, and needs some touching up. But it’s in a condition to be seen. When I’ve done a little more work on it I’m going to ask Clem to take a look at it, and advise me about publishing.

This was the first I had heard about Hollier as an authority on novels. Surprise must have shown in my face.

Clem will understand it better than most people. It’s not just a best-seller sort of thing, you see. It’s the real roman philosophique, and I want some informed people to give me their opinion before I hand it over to the publisher.

Oh, you have a publisher? I said.

No, not yet; that’s one of the things I want advice about. Which publisher should it be? I don’t want it to get into the wrong hands, and have the wrong sort of promotion.

This was a new Parlabane, an innocent, hopeful Parlabane. Women are supposed, from time to time, to see the men they know as little boys. I think that is unjust, but certainly as Parla­bane cocked his head at me and talked of his novel, I had a sudden perception of a little boy in that battered, blurred face.


Since I first met him at McVarish’s cocktail party, Arthur Cornish had asked me to have dinner with him three times, and I had gone twice. He was a change from the men I met at the University, who were either married, or of that group called not the marrying kind , or young academics who wanted a listener as they talked about themselves and their careers. The first time Arthur talked about food, and politics, and travel, and seemed not to have any personal revelations that couldn’t wait. Nor did he seem to think that feeding me put me in his debt in any way at all. He was almost impersonal, but nice, and liked me to talk at least half the time; so I talked about food, and politics, and travel, without really knowing much about any of them. But he had the gift of creating an easy evening, and that was a novelty.

Let’s do this again, he said as he dropped me at One Hundred and Twenty Walnut Street, after that first dinner. I hate eating alone.

Surely you know lots of people, I said. He was obviously well off; he drove a modest but expensive car. I supposed young men of means must know lots of girls.

Not girls as beautiful as you, he said, but not in a way that suggested it was going to lead to further compliments, or any of that grappling which some men think is fair exchange for a meal.

I refuse to pretend that I don’t like being told that I am beautiful. It is a fact, and though I would rather be the way I am than ugly, I don’t pay much attention to it. Sooner or later almost all the men I know make some comment about it. So I decided that this pleasant, rather cool young man thought I was ornamental, and it was satisfactory to be seen in a restaurant with me, and that was a fair deal. I liked him better for being rich: he liked me better for being beautiful. Reasonable enough.

When I refused his second invitation, because I had to go to a special lecture, I thought that would be the end of it. But he asked me a third time, to dine and go to a symphony concert, and that surprised me a little, because he said nothing about music the first time we were alone together.

We went to a good restaurant, but not to one of the showy ones, and it was clear from the table we were given that Arthur was known there. It was a very good meal, from quite a different world of the imagination than the offerings of The Rude Plenty. I had made some effort about clothes, and did what I could to look well, and was prepared for another bout of food, politics, and travel, but he surprised me by talking about music. He seemed to have almost a patron’s attitude towards it, which reminded me that he was the nephew of Francis Cornish. It was about his uncle he talked now.

Uncle Frank has left his collection of musical manuscripts to the University; I wish he had left them to me. I’d like to do something in that line myself. Of course it’s not difficult to buy manuscripts from modern composers, and I do a little in that way. But I would have liked to have his early things; there’s a beauty about them — about the manuscript itself — that the modern works don’t have. A lot of the early composers wrote the most exquisite musical hands. Had to, so that the copyist didn’t get into trouble. But they also took pride in them.

You mean you like the manuscript better than the music?

No, but there is a quiet beauty about a really fine original manuscript that is like nothing else. People buy manuscripts of authors and get great satisfaction from them, quite apart from any bibliographical interest they may have. Why not music? A Mendelssohn manuscript is wholly Mendelssohnian — precise, beautiful, just the tiniest bit conventional, and sensitive without being weak. It speaks of the man. And Berlioz! Fiery spirit, but splendidly legible, and dotted all over with directions in his handwriting, which is that of a man who was both a Romantic and the possessor of a thoroughgoing classical education. Bach — manuscript of a man who had to be careful with his ruled paper, which cost money he didn’t want to spend. Beethoven — scribble, scribble, scribble. It’s something of the man. My Uncle had some nice Liszt things, and I wish I had them. We’re going to hear Liszt tonight. Egressy is playing the last three Hungarian Rhapsodies.

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