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

This is very interesting, and you must not think too much of the outcome of what I am going to tell you until I am finished. This Four of Rods, now, means that something that is difficult for you now will be doubly difficult soon. . . And here, the Four of Cups — you are a great man for fours, Hollier — means that somebody, some third person close to you, is going to make great trouble for you and the person who is even nearer. . . Now here, where your fortune comes into the place of discussion, is the Three of Swords, and that means hatred, and you must be on your guard against it because whether somebody hates you or you hate somebody, it will make very bad trouble. . . But your fourth card is the Knave of Coins, and a Knave is a servant, somebody in a position to work for you, and who will send you a very important letter; how it will work with the hatred and the trouble I cannot tell. . . But here is your Great Trump, and that is the Moon, the changeable woman, and she tells of danger, so as you see the whole thing is very complicated and I dare not try to sort it out for you simply with these cards. So I shall ask you to choose one more card from Major Trumps, and we must all very earnestly desire that it will throw some light on what you have chosen here.

Was Hollier looking rather white? I know I was. I had ex­pected Mamusia to fake his fortune, which I had seen was a dark one, but she must have feared the cards too much to do that. If you cheat the cards, the cards will cheat you, and many a good fortune-teller has become a charlatan and a cheat in that way, and some have even become drunkards or killed themselves when they knew the cards had turned against them.

Hollier chose a card, and rather slowly laid it down. It was the Wheel of Fortune. Mamusia was delighted.

Aha, now we know! You have put it in front of me upside down, Hollier, so we see all the creatures turning on the wheel, and the Devil King is at the bottom and the top of the wheel is empty! So all your hard fortune will turn to good in the end, and you will triumph, though not without some severe losses. So be brave! Keep your courage and all will be well!

Thanks to the Bebby Jesus! said Yerko. I was sweating from fear. Professor, have a drink!

More apricot-brandy; by now I seemed to have lost my crown entirely and was living from my root. I suppose I was rather drunk, but so was everybody else, and it was a good drunken­ness. To work with the cards, Mamusia had kicked off her shoes, and I had done so too; barefoot Gypsy women. Quite how things developed next I don’t properly know, but Mamusia had her violin, and was playing Gypsy music, and I was lost in the heavily emotional contradictions between the lassu, so melancholy and indeed lachrymose, and the friska, which is the wild merriment of the Gypsies, but in the true, somewhat mad, and undoubtedly archaic style, and not in the sugary mode of such gadje confec­tioneries as Die Czardasfürstin . As Mamusia played a friska it was not the light of the campfire and the flashing teeth and swirling skirts of musical-comedy Gypsies that was evoked, but something old and enduring, something that banished the Uni­versity and the Ph.D. to a stuffy indoors, something of a time when people lived out of doors more than indoors, and took the calls of friends for auguries, and felt God about and all around them. This was Frank Innocence and Mirth.

Yerko fetched his cimbalom, which he had made himself; it hung from his neck by a cord, like a large tray, and he hammered so fast at the resounding strings that his sticks flashed like the whisk of a cook who is beating cream. At four o’clock in the afternoon, when this party was still a dark shadow on my future, I would have cringed from this music; now, when it was after eleven, I thrilled to it, and wished I had the courage to spring up and even in that crowded room to dance, slap a tambourine, and give myself to the moment.

The room could not contain us. Let’s serenade the house! Mamusia cried above the music, and that is what we did, parading up the stairs, singing, now. What we sang was one of the great Magyar songs, ‘Magasan repül a daru’, which is not a Christmas song, but a song of triumph and love. I took my two professors, one on each arm, and sang words for three, because Darcourt sang the tune in a very good voice, but only with la-la-la, whereas Hollier, who seemed to have lots of spirit but no ear, roared in a monotone, and yah-yah-yah was his syllable. When we came to

Akkor leszek kedves rózsám atied,

I kissed them both, because the occasion seemed to call for it. It occurred to me that in spite of what had happened between us, I had never kissed Hollier, nor had he kissed me, till that moment. But it was Darcourt who responded with passion, and his mouth was soft and sweet, whereas Hollier kissed me so hard he almost broke my teeth.

What did the house make of it? The poodles barked furiously. Mrs. Faiko remained invisible, but turned up the volume of her TV. Miss Gretser appeared in her nightdress, supported by Mrs. Schreyvogl, and they nodded and smiled appreciatively, and so did Mrs. Nowaczynski, who had been in the bathroom and made an appearance without teeth or wig that embarrassed her more than it did us. On the third floor Mr. Kostich looked out on the landing in his pyjamas, and smiled and said, Great! Very fine Madam, but Mr. Home burst out of his door in a fury, shouting, Jesus, isn’t anybody supposed to get any sleep around here?

Mamusia stopped playing, and gestured with her bow towards Mr. Home, who slept in his pyjama jacket only, so that his shrivelled and unpleasing privy parts were offered to our view. Mr. Home, she said, grandly; Mr. Home is a male nurse.

As if a button had been touched, Mr. Home screamed, Well I sure as hell ain’t a female nurse! Now stop that fucking row, willya, or I’ll beat the bejesus outa you all!

Yerko approached Mr. Home very softly. You not talk like that to my sister. You not talk dirty to my niece, who is a virgin. You not make ugly when we sing for Bebby Jesus. You shut up.

Mr. Home did not shut up. He shouted, You’re drunk, the whole bunch of you! Maybe it’s Christmas for you, but it’s a work day for me.

Yerko advanced upon Mr. Home, and nicked him sharply on the tip of his penis with one of the long, supple hammers of his cimbalom. Mr. Home danced and screamed, and I forgot to maintain my virginal character and laughed loud and long as we retreated down the stairs, where the poodles were still bark­ing. It came to me that Rabelais would have enjoyed this.

Mamusia remembered that she was appearing to my friends as a great lady. In a voice pitched to reach the ear of Mr. Home she explained, You must pay no attention. He is a man of low birth and I have him here out of pity.

Mr. Home’s rage could find no words, but he shouted inarticu­lately until we were back in Mamusia’s apartment.

That song we were singing, said Darcourt; the tune is familiar. Surely it comes in one of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhap­sodies?

Our music is much admired, said Mamusia. People steal it, which shows its value. This Liszt, this great musician, he steals from us all the time.

Mamusia, Liszt is long dead, I said, because the University girl was not wholly overcome in me and I did not want her to appear ignorant to Hollier.

Mamusia was not one to admit error. The truly great are never dead, she said, and Hollier shouted, Magnificently said, Madame!

Coffee! You have not yet had coffee, she said. Yerko, give the gentlemen cigars, while Maria and I prepare coffee.

When we returned to the living-room Hollier was looking on, as Darcourt was handling one of the Kings from the crèche; Yerko was explaining some detail of his work of ornamentation.

Here it is! True Kalderash coffee, black as revenge, strong as death, sweet as love! Maria, give this to Professor Hollier.

I took the cup, and handed it instead to Darcourt, because he was nearer. I thought I heard Mamusia draw her breath rather sharply, but I paid no heed to it. I was having a little trouble not to weave and stagger. Apricot brandy, in quantity, is terrible stuff.

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