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

Coffee. More coffee. Long, black cheroots with a tangy smell that could have been camel’s dung, so powerfully did it evoke the East. I tried to keep command of myself, but I knew my eyelids were falling, and I wondered if I could stay awake until the guests were gone.

At last they did go, and I went with them to the front door, where we kissed again, to end the party. It seemed to me that Darcourt took longer about it than his professor-uncle status quite justified, but after all he was not really old. He had a pleasant smell. I have always been conscious of how people smell, and that is something civilization does not encourage, and count­less advertisements tell us every day that it is not the proper thing to have a recognizably human smell at all. My crown ignores smells, but my root has a keen nose, and after the party my root was wholly in charge. Darcourt had a good smell, like a nice clean man. Hollier, on the other hand, had a slightly fusty smell, like the smell that comes from a trunk when it is opened after many years. Not a bad smell, but not an attractive smell. Perhaps it was the suit. I thought of this as I stood at the door for a moment, watching them walk away in the light snow, taking deep breaths of the sharp air.

When I went back to the flat, I heard Mamusia say to Yerko, in Romany, No, don’t drink that!

Why not? Coffee. Hollier didn’t drink his second cup.

Don’t drink it, I tell you.

Why not?

Because I say so.

Have you put something in it?


Of course. But what else?

Just a little of something special, for him.


It doesn’t matter.

You lie! What have you put in the professor’s cup? He’s my friend. You tell me or I’ll beat you.

Oh, if you must know — a little toasted appleseed.

Yes, and something else — Woman, you put your secret blood in this coffee!


You lie! What are you doing? Do you want Hollier to love you? You old fool! Wasn’t the dear Tadeusz husband enough for you?

Keep quiet. Maria will hear. Not my blood — her blood.

Jesus! — Oh, forgive me, Bebby Jesus! — Maria’s! How did you get it?

Those things — you know, those gadje things she pushes up herself every month. Squeeze one in the garlic squeezer, and — phtt — there you are. She wants Hollier. But she’s a fool. I gave her a cup for Hollier and she gave it to Darcourt! Now what do you think will happen? — And you put that cup down, because I won’t have incest in this house!

I rushed into the room, seized Mamusia by the big gold rings in her ears, and tried to throw her on the floor. But she grabbed my hair, and we clung together, like two stags with locked horns, dragging at each other and screaming at the tops of our voices. It was in Romany that I abused Mamusia- remembering terrible words I had forgotten I ever knew. We fell to the floor, and she thrust her face into mine and bit me very hard and painfully on the nose. I was trying, in all seriousness, to tear off her ears. More screams.

Yerko stood over us, shouting at the top of his voice: Irreve­rent cunts! What will Bebby Jesus think? And he kicked me with all his force in the rump, and Mamusia somewhere else that I could not know, because I was lying on the floor howl­ing with pain and fury from the very depths of my Gypsy root.

Far off, the poodles were barking.

The New Aubrey V

If I thought myself in love with Maria before Christmas, I was agonizingly certain of it by the beginning of the New Year. I do not use the word agonizingly without consideration; I was a man pulled apart. My diurnal man could come to terms with his situation; so long as the sun was in the sky I could bring reason to bear on my position, but as soon as night fell — and our nights are long in January — my nocturnal man took over and I was worse off than any schoolboy mooning over his first girl.

Worse, because I knew more, had a broader range of feeling to plague me, had seen more of the world, and knew what happens to a professor who falls in love with a student. Young love is supposed to be absorbing and intense and so I know it to be; as a youth I do not think I was ever out of love for more than a week at a time. But love is expected of the young. The glassy eye, the abstracted manner, the heavy sighs are sym­pathetically observed and indulgently interpreted by the world. But a man of forty-five has other fish to fry. He is thought to have dealt with that side of his nature, and to be settled in his role as husband and father, or satisfied bachelor, or philanderer, or homosexual, or whatever it may be, and to have his mind on other things. But love as I was experiencing it is a mighty consumer of energy and time; it is the primary emotion in the light of which all else is felt, and at my age it is intensified by a full twenty-five years of varied experience of the world, which gives it strength but does not soften it with philosophy or common sense.

I was like a man with a devouring disease, of which he cannot complain and for which he must expect no sympathy. That dinner party on Boxing Day had thrown my whole emotional and intellectual life out of kilter. What was Maria’s mother telling me when she read my fortune in the Tarot? Was she warning me off, with her talk of the Queen of Rods, and a difficult love affair with a dark woman? Had she guessed some­thing about me and Maria? Had Maria guessed something from my manner, and told her mother? Impossible; I had surely been discreet. Anyhow, what right had I to think that the old woman was faking? She appeared to be a charlatan if I compared her with other Rosedale mothers — Hollier’s, for instance, from whom nothing extraordinary was ever to be expected — but Madame Laoutaro was a phuri dai and not accountable in those terms. Nothing of that extraordinary evening was in the common run of my experience, and something deep inside me gave assur­ance that it was not just a night out with some displaced Gypsies, but an encounter of primordial weight and significance.

Not merely my own response to it, but Hollier’s, assured me that I had been living in a mode of feeling quite different from anything I had ever known. Hollier’s fortune was a dark one, and the intensity with which the phuri dai read his cards and he listened, had made me fear that something would be said which might better be left unsaid. If she were faking, she would certainly not have told him so much that was ominous. It is true that a Great Trump came to the rescue of both of us, but in Hollier’s case that was not until he had made a second choice. No, her work with the Tarot did not smell of charlatanism; like her necklace of Maria Theresa thalers, it was from a different world, but the ring was that of real gold.

So where did that leave me? With a forecast of a love affair in which somebody was to make a difficulty, and which would end happily, though I was to know both a loss and a gain. A love affair I most certainly had.

What an evening that had been! Every detail of it was clear to my mind, even to the queer garlicky aftertaste of the coffee. Clearest was Maria’s kiss. Would I ever kiss her again? Not, I was determined, unless I kissed her as an accepted lover.

To think of her kiss and to make my resolve at night had a fine romantic flourish about it: the same thoughts in the morning filled me with something like terror. It was humiliating to face the fact that my love had a hot head and cold feet. But that was the way of it; I wanted the sweets of love but I shrank from the responsibilities of love, and whatever the rules may be for a youth, that is impossible for a middle-aged man, and, what is more, a clergyman. My love had a Janus head; one face, the youthful face, looked backward towards all the pleasures of my earlier days, the joys of love sought and achieved, the kisses, embraces, and the bedding. But the other face, the elder face, looked towards the farce of the old bachelor who marries a young wife — because for me there could be nothing short of marriage. I would offer nothing dishonourable to Maria, and my priest­hood forbade any thought of the easy concubinage of the liberated young. But — marriage? Years ago I had put aside thought of any such thing, and it cost me little effort because at that time I did not want to marry anyone in particular, and had taken the view that a parish clergyman loses much if he lacks a wife, but gains more if he can give all his efforts to his work. Was I not too old to change? To confess oneself too old at forty-five to do something as natural as falling in love and getting married was to be old indeed. The more the youthful face of my Janus love sighed and pined, the sterner the look on its older face became.

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