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

Hollier was not taking this well. As Mamusia talked his face grew darker and darker until it was the colour people mean when they say a face is black; it was bloody from within. Now he faced her, and all the reasonable, professorial manner with which he had been talking for the past hour was gone. He looked terrible as I had never seen him before, and his voice was choked with passion.

I am not frivolous. You cannot understand what I am, because you cannot know anything of intellectual passion —

Pride, Hollier, give it its real name.

Be silent! You have said all you have to say, which is No. Very well then, say no more. You may have it your own way. When I came here I probably did hope that somehow you might consent to use your powers for my sake. I took you for a phuri dai and a friend. Now I know how far your friendship goes, and I have revised my ideas about the extent of your wisdom. I am no worse off than when I came. Good afternoon.

Wait Hollier, wait! You do not understand what danger you are in! You have not understood what I have been saying! It is the feeling that is the power of the curse. If I say to What? My friend here feels very deeply about so-and-so; what will you do for him? I am only your messenger. To be the messenger I must have belief. You don’t need me for a curse; you have already cursed your enemy in your heart, and you have reached What? without me. Man, I fear you! I have seen terrible hate before, but never in a man so stupid about himself as you are.

Now you tell me I can do it without you?

Yes, because you have pushed me to it.

So, listen to me, Madame Laoutaro: you have done one great thing for me this afternoon. I know now that I have both feeling and belief! I believe! Yes — I believe!

Oh God, Hollier my friend, I am in great distress for you! Maria, drive the professor home — and be very careful how you drive!

I did not speak a word as I drove Hollier back to the gate of Spook. I had not spoken a word during his angry hour with Mamusia, though I was terrified by the awful feeling that mounted in that room, like a poison. What was there for me to say? As he got out of my car he slammed the door so hard I feared it might fall off.


The next day Hollier seemed calm, and said nothing to me about his row with Mamusia. Indeed, to judge from appearances, it affected him much less than it did me. I was being forced to come to new terms with myself. I had struggled hard for freedom from my Mother’s world, which I saw as a world of superstition, but I was being forced to a recognition that it was out of my power to be wholly free. Indeed, I was beginning to think more kindly about superstition than I had done since the time, when I was about twelve, when I first became aware of the ambiguous place it had in the world in which I lived.

Everybody I knew at school was terribly hard on superstition, but I had only to watch them to see that all of them had some irrational prejudice. And where was I to draw the line between the special veneration some of the nuns had for particular saints, and the tricks the girls played to find out if their boy-friends loved them? Why was it all right to bribe St. Anthony of Padua with a candle to find you the spectacles you had mislaid but not all right to bribe The Little Flower to keep Sister St. Dominic from finding out you hadn’t done your homework? I despised superstition as loudly as anyone, and practised it in private, as did all my friends. The mind of man is naturally religious, we were taught; it is also naturally superstitious, I discovered.

It was this duality of mind, I suppose, that drew me to Hollier’s work of uncovering evidence of past belief and sub­merged wisdom. Like so many students I was looking for some­thing that gave substance to the life I already possessed, or which it would be more honest to say, possessed me; I was happy and honoured to be his apprentice in this learned grubbing in the middens of supposedly outworn faith. Especially happy because it was recognized by the university as a scientific approach to cultural history.

But what was going on around me was getting uncomfortably near the bone of real superstition, or recognition that what I thought of as superstition might truly have some foundation in the processes of life. Long before Hollier told me he wanted me to take him to Mamusia again, I knew that what she had seen in the Tarot was manifesting itself in his life — and because in his, in mine as well. Growing difficulties and dissatisfaction with the way his work was going; the trouble-maker? — it was plain enough to me that Urquhart McVarish was the source of the disquiet and that Hollier’s response was hatred — real hatred and not just the antagonism that is common enough in academic life. In the old expression, he was Cain Raised to get his hands on the Gryphius portfolio; the fact that he knew very little about what was in the letters merely served to persuade him that they were of the uttermost importance. What new light he expected on Rabelais and Paracelsus I could not guess; he dropped hints about Gnosticism, or some sort of crypto-protestantism, or mystical alchemy, about herbal cures, or new insights into the link between soul and body that were counter­parts of the knowledge Ozy Froats was so patiently seeking. It seemed that he expected anything and everything if he could only get his hands on the letters that were tucked into the back flap of that leather portfolio. McVarish was thwarting him, and Cain was raised.

This at least had nothing to do with imagination. Urky was behaving in an intentionally irritating way, and betrayed that he knew what was in Hollier’s mind. When they met, as they some­times did at faculty meetings or more rarely on social occasions, he was likely to be affectionate, saying How’s the work going, Clem? Well, I hope? Run across anything in your special line lately? I suppose it’s impossible to put your hand on anything really new?

It was the sort of talk which, when it was said with one of Urky’s teasing smiles, was enough to make Hollier uncivil, and afterwards, when he was talking to me, furious and abusive.

He was angry because Darcourt would not accuse Urky to his face, and threaten to put the police on him, which I could see plainly was not something Darcourt could do on wobbly evi­dence. All Darcourt knew was that Urky seemed to have bor­rowed a manuscript from Cornish, which could not now be traced, and it takes more than that to spur one academic to set the cops on another. Hollier, by the time he demanded that I take him to Mamusia, had grown thinner and more saturnine; feeding on his obsession. Chawing his own maw, like that Dragon in the Faerie Queene.

When Hollier told Mamusia he did not recognize the Knave of Coins, the unjust servant, I could not believe my ears. Parlabane was worse than ever, and his demands for money, which had been occasional before Christmas, were now weekly and sometimes more than weekly. He said he needed money to pay for the typing of his novel, but I couldn’t believe it, for he would take anything from two dollars to fifty, and when he had sponged from Hollier he would come to me and demand further tribute.

When I say demand I mean it, because he was not an ordinary borrower; his words were civil enough but behind them I felt a threat, though what the threat might be I never found out — took care not to find out. He begged me with intensity, a suggestion that to refuse him would provoke more than just abuse; he seemed not far from violence. Would he have struck me? Yes, I know he would, and it would have been a terrible blow, for he was a very strong little man, and very angry, and I feared the anger even more than the pain.

So I kept up a modern woman’s pretence that I was acting from my own choice, however unwillingly; but not far below that I was simply a woman frightened by masculine strength and ferocity. He bullied money out of me, and I never reached the point of anger where I would rather run the risk of a blow than submit to further bullying.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77

Categories: Davies, Robertson