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

Perhaps Maria is doing it for Hollier; she seems to be very much under his spell.

Did I hear the name of Maria? said McVarish, joining us. That marvellous creature pops up everywhere. By the way, I hope you didn’t think I was being too familiar with her presence this afternoon? But ever since I spotted that little Venus among your uncle’s bits and pieces I have been obsessed by its resem­blance to her, and now I’ve had it home and studied it in detail I’m even more delighted. I shall have her always near me — tying her sandal, so innocently, as if she were quite alone. If you ever want a reminder, Arthur, do come to my place. She’s very fond of you, you know.

What makes you think so? said Arthur.

Because I know a lot about what she thinks. A friend of mine whom you don’t know, I believe — a most amusing creature called Parlabane — knows her intimately. He devils for Hollier — calls himself Hollier’s famulus, which is delightful — and so he sees a lot of Maria, who works in Hollier’s rooms. They have great old chats, and Maria tells him everything. Not directly, I gather, but Parlabane is an old hand at reading between lines. And though of course Hollier is her great enthusiasm, she likes you a lot. As who wouldn’t, my dear boy.

He touched Arthur lightly on the sleeve, as he had touched me before this evening. Urky is a great toucher.

You mustn’t imagine I’m trying to muscle in, he went on, although Maria comes to my lectures and sits in the front row. Which gives me immense pleasure, because students are not, on the whole, decorative, and I can’t resist decorative women. I adore women, you know. Unlike Rabelais, but very much like Sir Thomas Urquhart, I think. And he moved on to say good night to the Warden.

Sir Thomas Urquhart? said Arthur. Oh, yes, the translator. I’m beginning to hate the sound of his name.

If you know Urky, you get a good deal of Sir Thomas, I said. Then I added, spitefully I admit but Urky maddened me: If you look him up in the dictionary of biography, you will find that it is widely agreed that Sir Thomas was crazy with conceit.

Arthur said nothing, but he winked. Then he too moved off to take leave of the Warden, and I remembered that as Sub-Warden I ought to call a taxi for Mrs. Skeldergate. And when that had been done I hurried up to my rooms over the gate, to note down, in The New Aubrey, what I had heard during the evening. How they chirped over their cups.


I was beginning to dread The New Aubrey. What I had begun as a portrait of the University, drawn from the life, was be­coming altogether too much like a personal diary, and a con­fessional diary of the embarrassing sort. Not nearly enough about other people; far too much about Simon Darcourt.

I don’t drink much, and what I drink doesn’t affect me, but I had a feeling after our Guest Night that I wasn’t myself in a way that a few glasses of wine, taken between six o’clock and ten, could hardly explain. I had finished a day that ought to have been enjoyable; some good work done in the morning, the completion of the Cornish business in the afternoon, and the acquisition of two first-rate Beerbohms that had never been published, and thus were very much my own and a sop to that desire for solitary possession which collectors know so well; Guest Night, which had gone well, and the Cornish executors entertained at my own expense. But I was melancholy.

A man with a theological training ought to know how to deal with that. A little probing brought the cause to light. It was Maria.

She was a first-rate student, and she was a girl of great per­sonal charm. Nothing unusual there. But she played far too large a part in my thoughts. As I looked at her, and listened to her in class, I was troubled by what I knew about her and Clement Hollier; the fact that he had once had her on his wretched old sofa was not pleasing, but it was the kind of thing that happens and there is no use making a fuss over it — especially as Hollier had seemed to be in the state of lowered perception at the time that Roberta Burns had so briskly described. But Hollier thought she was in love with him, and that troubled me. Whatever for? Of course he was a fine scholar, but surely she wasn’t such a pinhead as to fall for an attribute of a man who was in so many other ways wholly unsuitable. He was handsome, if you like craggy, gloomy men who look as if they were haunted, or perhaps prey to acid indigestion. But, apart from his scholarship, Hollier was manifestly an ass.

No, Darcourt, that is unjust. He is a man of deep feeling; look how loyal he is to that miserable no-hoper John Parlabane. Damn Parlabane! He had been prattling to McVarish about Maria, and when Urky said reading between the lines it was obvious that they had both been speculating in the wholly un­justified way men of unpleasant character speculate about women.

Fond of Arthur Cornish, indeed! No, Very fond had been his expression. More exaggeration. But was it? Why had she dragged Arthur Cornish into her conversation with me, when we were talking about medieval musical notation? Something about his uncle’s collection, but had that been relevant? I know well enough how people in love drag the name of the loved one into every conversation, simply to utter that magical word, to savour it on the tongue.

The trouble with you, Darcourt, is that you are allowing this girl to obsess you.

More inner tumult, upon which I tried to impose some of the theological stricture I had learned as a method of examining conscience.

The trouble with you, Darcourt, is that you are falling in love with Maria Magdalena Theotoky. What a name! Mary Magdalene, the woman with seven devils; and Theotoky, the divine motherhood of Mary. Of course people do carry the most extraordinary names, but what a contradiction! It was the con­tradiction that would not give me any peace.

Oh, fathead! Oh, jackass! Oh, triple-turned goof!

How far can absurdity carry a supposedly sane man? You, a stoutish, middle-aged priest. . . but not a priest of a church that denies marriage to its priests, remember that. . . shut up, who said anything about marriage?. . . it was in your mind and the link between love and marriage marks you forever as a bourgeois and a creature from the past, as well. . . get back to your point. How far can absurdity carry a supposedly sane man? You have a successful career, and your way of life is comfortable. . . but lonely. . . who will smooth the pillow when you lie at the hour of death?. . . are you seriously expecting that superb creature to slide you into the grave? How far can absurdity carry a supposedly sane man? What have you to offer her? Devotion. Pooh, she can expect devotion from scores of men — handsome, young rich me, like Arthur Cornish. He must love her; remember the way he resented Urky’s references to her this afternoon, and again not an hour ago? What chance have you against him? Or Hand­some Clem? You are a fool, Darcourt.

Of course I could love her hopelessly. There has been a good deal of that sort of thing throughout the ages. Since the time Roberta Burns speaks of, when our hairy ancestors gave up biting their women and throwing them the bones after they had finished their uncooked feast. A good deal of hopeless love has saddened mankind since the Idealist and the Sex-Hobbyist became different aspects of the same, infatuated human creature.

An Idealist I certainly was. But a Sex-Hobbyist? I am not a wholly inexperienced creature but it has been some little time. . . and I can’t really say I’ve missed it much. But Maria is young and in the flower of her beauty. Adoration and amusing talk wouldn’t be enough for her.

Oh, God, how did I ever get into this?


That was where I was, however. Deep in love with one of my students, a situation in which a professor must appear as either a knave or a fool. For the weeks to come I did the best I could: I never addressed Maria except in class; I was over-scrupulous in valuing her work, but as it was admirable that didn’t make much difference. I was determined to keep my folly bottled up.

It was a blow to my resolve, but a mighty fire in my heart, therefore, when she lingered after the last lecture before Christ­mas, and said, shyly: Professor Darcourt, is there any chance that you could come to my Mother’s house for dinner on Boxing Day? We’d be so happy if you could.

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