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

My mother has a very old Peke, said Hollier.

Well, you do that next time he fight. Show who’s master. — You got a horse?

Neither of the professors had a horse.

Too bad. I could tell you how to make any horse yours forever. I tell you anyway. Just whisper up his nose. What you whisper? Whisper your secret name — the name only you and your mother know. Right up his nose, both nose-holes. Yours forever. Leave anybody he living with when you do it, and follow you. Spit in my face if I lie.

You see my daughter’s hair is uncovered, said Mamusia to Darcourt. That means, you know, that she is without a husband — not even spoken for, though she has a wonderful dowry. And a good girl. Nobody lay a finger on her. Gypsy girls are very particular about that. No funny business, like these shameless gadji girls. What I have heard! You wouldn’t believe! No better than putani. But not Maria.

I am sure she is unmarried by her own choice, said Darcourt. Such a beauty!

Aha, you like the women, though you are a priest. Oh but yes, you priests marry like the Orthodox.

Not quite like the Orthodox. They may marry, but they must never hope to become bishops if they do. Our bishops are usually married men.

Much, much better! Keeps them out of scandals. You know what I mean, Mamusia scowled. Boysss!

Well, yes, I suppose so. But bishops have so much of other people’s scandals I don’t think they would care greatly for that sort of thing, even if they weren’t married.

Will you be a Bishop, Father Simon?

Very unlikely, I assure you.

You don’t know. You look just right for a Bishop. A Bishop should be a fine man, with a fine voice. Don’t you want to know?

Could you tell him? said Hollier.

Oh, he doesn’t care. And I could not tell him, not on a full stomach.

Cunning Mamusia! Slowly, but not too slowly, Hollier per­suaded her to look into the future. The apricot brandy had been going round the table and Hollier was more persuasive, Mam­usia more flirtatious, and Darcourt, though he protested, was anxious to see what would happen.

Bring the cards, Yerko, she said.

The cards were on the top of a cabinet, because nothing in the room was ever to rest higher than they, and Yerko lifted them down with proper reverence.

Maybe I should cover up Bebby Jesus?

Is Bebby Jesus a parrot, to be put under a cloth? Shame on you, brother! Anything I can see in the future, He knows already, said Mamusia.

Sister, I know what! You read the cards, and we tell Bebby Jesus it is a birthday gift to him, and that way there can be no trouble, you see.

That is an inspired thought, Yerko, said Darcourt. Offer up the splendid talent as a gift. I had not thought of that.

Everybody owes a gift to Bebby Jesus, said Yerko. Even kings. Look, here are the kings; I made the crowns myself. You know what they bring?

The first brings a gift of Gold, said Darcourt, turning towards the crèche.

Yes, Gold; and you must give my sister money — not much, maybe a quarter, or the cards will not fall right. But Gold was not all. The other kings bring Frank Innocence and Mirth.

Darcourt was startled, then delighted. That is very fine, Yerko; is it your own?

No, it is in the story. I saw it in New York. The kings say, We bring you Gold, Frank Innocence, and Mirth.

Sancta simplicitas, said Darcourt, raising his eyes to mine. If only there were more Mirth in the message He has left to us. We miss it sadly, in the world we have made. And Frank Innocence. Oh, Yerko, you dear man.

Was it just the apricot brandy, or had the room taken on a golden glow? The candles were burning down, and all the dishes except for plates of chocolates, nougat, and preserved fruits had been removed to the kitchen by me. These trifles were, Mamusia said, to seal up our stomachs, to signal to our digestions and guts, of whatever length, that there would be no more tonight.

Mamusia had opened the delicate box of tortoise-shell, and was preparing the cards. The Tarot pack is a beautiful thing, and her cards were fine ones, more than a century old.

I cannot do the full pack, she said. Not after what I have eaten. It must be the Five Cards.

Quickly she divided the pack into five smaller packs, and these were the Coins, the Rods, the Cups, and the Swords, set at four corners; in the centre was the pack containing the twenty-two Higher Arcanes.

Now we must be very serious, she said, and Darcourt sup­pressed his social smile. The money, please. He gave her a twenty-five-cent piece. Mamusia then covered her face for per­haps thirty seconds. Now, you must shuffle and choose a card from each pack, leaving the middle cards for last, and you must lay them out as I have done here.

So Darcourt did that, and when he had made his choice what we saw on the table was a pentalogy, which Mamusia read as follows: Your first card, which sets the tone for everything else, is the Queen of Rods, the dark, serious beautiful woman who is much in your thoughts. . . But next we have the Two of Cups and it comes in the place of the Contrariety; it means that in your love affair with the dark woman, one of you will make a difficulty. But don’t worry too much about that until we have looked at the rest. . . Ah, here is the Ace of Swords, so you will have a worrying time, much to rob you of your sleep. . . Then last of your enfolding four is the Five of Coins, and that means you will have a loss, but it will be far less than a greater gain that is coming your way. Now, all of these four are under the rule of the fifth card in the middle; it is your Great Trump, and it influences all that you have been told by the other cards. . . And yours is the Chariot; that is very good, because it means that everything else is under the protection of the Sun and what­ever happens will be for your great gain, although you may not see it until after you have had some hard times.

But you don’t see a mitre for me? A Bishop’s hat?

I have told you; a great gain. What it will be is whatever would look like a great gain to you. If that is a Bishop’s hat, perhaps that is what it will be. But unless I did the full pack, which takes at least an hour, I couldn’t come any nearer. And it is a very good destiny I have found for you, Father Simon, in return for this quarter, which isn’t even silver any more but some kind of government shoddy. You think about what I have said. This beautiful dark woman — if you want her the Chariot is on your side, and it could lead you to her.

But Madame Laoutaro, be frank with us; you attach meanings to these cards which I suppose are arbitrary. Whoever chooses them has the same fortune as myself. I am sure what you do is much more than a feat of memory.

Memory has not much to do with it. Of course the cards are of a certain meaning, but you must remember that there are seventy-eight of them, and how many combinations of five does that make? There are twenty-two of the Great Trumps alone, and they influence everything in the other four. Without the Chariot I would have given you a much less happy prospect.

But all this is under the cloak of time and fate. You are you — if you know who that is — and I am who I am, and what happens between us when I read the cards is not what will happen with anybody else. And this is the night after Christmas, and it is already nearly ten o’clock, and that makes a difference, too. Nothing is without meaning. Why am I reading your cards at this special time, when I have never seen you before? What brings us together? Chance? Don’t you believe it! There is no such thing. Nothing is without meaning; if it were, the world would dash to pieces.

You are not to be left out, dear Hollier. Let me shuffle the cards again, and then you shall make your choice, and we shall see what next year will bring.

Darcourt had been willing, but Hollier was eager and his face glowed. This was what he called the Wild Mind at work, and he was in the presence of a culture-fossil. He chose his cards; as Mamusia looked at them I saw her face darken, and I looked very carefully, because I know something of the cards and I wanted to see if she would tell the truth as it appeared, or sweeten it, or perhaps change it altogether. Because you have to be very careful at the Tarot, even if you are not reading the cards for money, and therefore in danger from the law. You must not be too explicit about the Death card, for instance; that ugly picture of the skeleton with a scythe reaping flowers, and human heads and limbs, should not be associated with the person who sits across the table from you, even though you see death plainly in his face; much better to say, A death of someone known to you may influence the future, and then perhaps the poor soul will jump at the thought of a legacy; or emancipation, if it is a woman whose marriage is hollow. But with Hollier she was honest, though she softened some of the blows.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson