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

— You didn’t know I was a cook? Learned it in jail during one of my periods as a trusty; there was a pretty good course for inmates who wanted a trade that would lead them towards an honest life. I had a little gift in that direction — the cooking, I mean, not the life.

— One of my jobs was to bake some of the special little confectioneries needed for the evening’s entertainment. Grass brownies we called them in jail, but Urky didn’t like low expres­sions. That meant cutting up some marijuana so that it was fine enough but not too fine, and mixing a delicate batter so that the cookies could be baked quickly, without killing the goodness of the grass. Also, I had to be sure there was enough of the old Canadian Black to make a pot of Texas Tea, and this might involve a visit to a Dutch Mill, where I was known, but not too well known.

— Why was I known there? I don’t want to embarrass you, my dears, but you were so unrelentingly stingy towards me that I had to pick up a little money by telling curious friends — police­men, I believe they were — who was selling Aunt Mary, and Aunt Hazel, and even jollybeans. I suppose in my own small way I was a double agent in the drug world, which is not pretty but can be modestly rewarding. Every time I dropped into a Dutch Mill I had a tiny frisson lest the boys should have rumbled me, which could have been embarrassing and indeed dangerous, be­cause those boys were very irritable. But they never found me out, and now they never will.

— Where was Urky, while I was so busy in his kitchen? Lunch­ing sparely but elegantly at his club, going to a foreign film, and finally having a jolly good sweat at a sauna. L’apres-midi d’un gentleman-scholar.

— I saw nothing of him until he returned in time to dress for dinner. I had laid out his clothes, including his silk socks turned halfway inside out, so that he could put them on with the greatest ease, and his evening shoes which had to be gleaming, and the insteps polished as highly as the toes. (Urky said you knew a gentleman that way; no decent valet would allow his master to have soiled insteps.) By this time I had changed into my own first costume, which was a houseman’s outfit, with a snowy shirt and a mess-jacket starched till it was almost like the icing on a wedding-cake. (I did the washing on Wednesdays, when he was busy teaching the impressionable young, like you, Maria.)

— Sherry before dinner set things going. Sherry is a good drink, but the way Urky sucked it was more like fellatio than drinking; he smacked and relished it with his beautifully shined shoes stuck towards the fire, which I had laid, and which it was my job to keep burning brightly during the evening.

— ‘The McVarish is served,’ I said, and Urky strolled to the table and set about the fish. He would never hear of soup; low, for some reason. I said. ‘The McVarish is served’ with a Highland accent. I don’t know quite what character in Urky’s imagination I was bodying forth, but I think it may have been some faithful clansman who had followed Urky to the wars as his personal servant, and was now back with the laird in private life.

— He never spoke to me. Nodded when he wanted a plate removed, nodded when I offered the decanter of claret for his inspection, nodded when he had gobbled up as much as he wanted of the gâteau and it was time for the walnuts and port. Nodded when I brought the coffee and fine old whisky in a quaich. I played the self-effacing servant pretty well; stood behind his chair as he ate, so that he couldn’t see me munching mouthfuls I had snatched of the food he had not eaten — though that was little enough. Urky was close about food; not much in the way of crumbs from the rich man’s table.

— This was the first part of the evening, after which Urky retired to his bedroom and I cleared away and washed up and set the stage for the second act.

— By half past nine or thereabout I had washed up, changed into my second costume, and made things ready. I tiptoed into Urky’s bedroom, drew back the covers and exposed Urky, stark naked and a pretty pink from his sauna, lying on his turn. Very carefully I parted his buttocks and — aha! are you expecting something spicy to happen? A bit of the old Brown Eye? You think I may be about to give Urky the keister-stab? No such low jail­bird tricks for the fastidious Urky, I assure you. No; I gently and carefully inserted into his rectum what I thought of as ‘the deck’, because it looked rather like a small pack of cards; it was a piece of pink velvet ribbon, two inches wide and ten feet long, folded back and forth on itself so that it formed a package about two inches square, and four inches thick; a length of two or three inches was left hanging out. Urky did not move or seem to notice, as I tiptoed out again.

— I had rearranged the living-room so that two chairs were before the fire; for Urky, one of those old-fashioned deck-chairs made of teak that used to be seen on CPR liners, which I had filled with cushions and a steamer-rug in the McVarish tartan; for me a low chair of the sort that used to be called a ‘lady’s chair’, without arms; between the chairs I placed a low tea-table with cups and saucers, and the marijuana tea in a pot covered with a knitted cosy, made in the shape of a comical old woman. I set the record-player going and put on Urky’s entrance music; it was a precious old seventy-eight of Sir Harry Lauder singing ‘Roamin’ in the Gloamin’. I wore a baggy old woman’s dress (bad style that, but I really did look like an old bag, so let it stand) and a straggly grey wig. I must have looked like one of the witches in Macbeth. When Urky came in, wearing a long silk dressing-gown and slippers, I was ready to make my curtsy.

— This was the build-up for the ceremony that Urky called The Two Old Edinburgh Ladies.

— Innocent fun, in comparison with some parties at which I have assisted, but kinky in the naughty-nursery style that ap­pealed to Urky. We assumed Edinburgh accents for this game; I hadn’t much notion what an Edinburgh accent was, but I copied Urky, and screwed up my mouth and spoke as if I were sucking a peppermint, and he seemed satisfied with my efforts.

— We assumed names, too, and here it becomes rather com­plicated, for the names were Mistress Masham (that was me) and Mistress Morley. You get it? Probably not. Know then that Masham was the name of the Queen Anne’s confidante, and Morley was the name the Queen assumed when she chatted in­formally with her toady, and drank brandy out of a china cup, calling it her ‘cold tea’. What this pair had to with Edinburgh or with Urky you must not ask, because I don’t know, but in the world of fantasy the greatest freedom is allowed.

Darcourt’s eye had run ahead of his reading, and he was embarrassed. Do you really want me to go on? he said. Of course we did.

— It was his fantasy, not mine, and it wasn’t easy to improvise conversation to puff it out, and the burden was on me. What Urky liked was scandalous University gossip, offered on my part as if unwillingly and prudishly, as we sipped the marijuana tea and nibbled the marijuana cookies (I tried once or twice to get Urky to advance towards something a little more adventurous — a little acid on a sugar cube, or the teeniest jab with the monkey-pump — but he is what we call a chipper, flirting with drugs but scared to go very far. A Laodicean of vice.) So what kind of thing did I provide for him? Here is a sample that may interest you.

MRS. MORELY: And what do you hear of that sweet girl Miss Theotoky, Mistress Masham, my dear?

MRS MASHAM: Och, she keeps up with her studies, the poor lamb.

MRS. MORELY: The poor lamb — and why the poor lamb, Mis­tress Masham?

MRS MASHAM: Heaven defend us, Mistress Morley, my dear, how you take a poor body up! I meant nothing — nothing at all. Only that I hope she may not be falling into dissolute ways.

MRS. MORELY: But how could that be, when she has good Brother John to give her advice? Brother John, that best of holy men. Put aside your knitting, dear friend, and speak plainly.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson