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

MRS MASHAM: I fear good Brother John has lost all influence with her, Mistress Morley. If she has an adviser I doubt but it’s that fat priest Father Darcourt, may Heaven stand between her and his great belly.

MRS. MORELY: Preserve us, Mistress Masham, what do you mean by such hints?

MRS MASHAM: God send I suspect nobody wrongfully, Mistress Morley, but I have seen him looking after her with a verra moist eye, almost like a man enchanted.

MRS. MORELY: You make me tremble, ma’am! Does not her good mentor, Professor Hollier, do anything to keep her from harm?

MRS MASHAM: Och, Mistress Morley, ma’am, how should anyone of your known goodness understand the wickedness of men! I fear that same Hollier –!

MRS. MORELY: You are not going to speak any evil of him?

MRS MASHAM: Not unless the truth be evil, ma’am. But I fear he has —

MRS. MORELY: Another cup of tea! — Go on, I can bear the worst.

MRS MASHAM: I never said whoremaster! Mind, I never said it! Who’s to say he was not tempted? The girl — the Theotoky girl — I blush to say it — she’s no better than a wee besom! She can entice the finest of them! Have ye looked at her like­ness lately? That bronze figure now, that you had from poor Mr. Cornish —

— Then Urky looked at the bronze and — nothing personal, you understand, Molly, but simply in aid of Urky’s little game and in the line of duty as a parasite — I had previously put a dab of salad oil on the cleft of the mons, which is such a charming feature of that work, so that it seemed moist and inviting. An imaginative stroke, don’t you think? It threw Urky into a regular spasm, so that it was touch and go whether or not he might anticipate his Little Xmas, which was supposed to be held back for the topper of the evening.

— That was the object of this elaborate masquerade; to bring Urky very slowly to the boil. Dirty gossip and plenty of tea and cookies did the trick — the gossip to excite, the Mary Jane to hold back — with the pink ribbon as the fuse to his rocket.

— You two were not the only ones to cut a figure in these fantasies, but you were regular favourites. Urky had a weak hankering after you, Molly, and as for Clem, I liked to toy with him to please Urky, because though I fully understand and for­give, I was well aware that Clem felt he couldn’t drag me after his splendid career more than so much; one does what one can for old friends, but of course some must drop by the way. Clem did what he felt he could for me, but he was damn certain I wasn’t going to be allowed to be too much of a nuisance. So I had some fun with you two, but as you will discover, I have recom­pensed your real kindness in fullest measure, pressed down and running over.

— Another favourite figure in the ceremonies was Ozy Froats — always good for a giggle. There were lots of others; Urky’s vast spite could embrace them all. But it was only play, you know. The popular sex-manuals urge their readers to give spice to the old familiar act by building fantasies around it. Who would grudge Urky his pleasure, or blame me for ministering to it, when the role of parasite was the only one left to me? Not you, dear friends; certainly not you.

— Urky liked a good hour and a half of this sort of thing, during which his pleasure mounted, his laughter became harder to con­ceal under the role of Mrs. Morley. The lewd gossip pricked him on, while the Old Mary Jane held him back. As he talked and listened he worked his legs up in the deck-chair and his dressing-gown fell apart so that his bare bottom was to be seen. That was the cue for my culminating sequence, thus:

MRS MASHAM: Mistress Morley, ma’am, forgive the freedom in an old, though humble, friend, but your gown is disordered, ma’am.

MRS. MORELY: No, no, I’m sure.

MRS MASHAM: Yes, yes, I’m sure.

MRS. MORELY: It’s nothing. Don’t distress yourself, ma’am.

MRS MASHAM: But for your own good, ma’am, as a friend, ma’am, I shall be compelled to bind you, ma’am. Indeed I shall.

MRS. MORELY: Nay, nay, my good creature, you don’t know what you’re doing.

MRS MASHAM: That I do. It’s the Urquhart blood declaring itself. See — there’s old Sir Thomas himself looking down at you and laughing, the sly old Rabelaisian. He knows your nature may declare itself, and it’s for me to act to preserve you from shame before him. Bound you must be.

— Then I would produce some nice white sash-cord and bind Urky into the chair, just tight enough to give him the thrill of being under constraint, but not enough to hurt him. By this time he was well and truly sexually aroused. Not a pretty sight, but I was not supposed to notice. Instead —

MRS MASHAM: You must forgive me, ma’am. It’s a deeply personal thing, but I cannot help observing, ma’am — because of the disorder of your dress — that you have a wee thing

MRS. MORELY: A wee thing? You are bold, ma’am.

MRS MASHAM: Aye, a wee thing. I’ll go further — a wee pink tail. Yes, a wee pink tailie — I can see it, I can see it, I can see it —

MRS. MORELY: You must not peep!

MRS MASHAM: Aye, but I will peep! And I’ll — how my fingers itch — I’ll pull it —

MRS. MORELY: Creature, you dare not!

MRS MASHAM: I dare all! I’ll pull it, I’ll pull it, I’ll pull it —

— And when the tease was almost at its climax, I did pull it. Pulled Urky’s little tag of ribbon, and ran with it across the room so that it unfolded rapidly and softly and ticklishly inside him, and he reached what he called his Little Xmas.

— Then I ran to the kitchen and kept out of the way until Urky had freed himself from the easy bonds and retired to his bed­room. I cleaned up, put everything in order, and left, having picked up the envelope which he had left for me on the table by the door.

— It contained twenty-five dollars. Twenty-five measly bucks for a day that had started at six in the morning and never ended before one! Twenty-five lousy bucks for a man of my attainments to serve as cook, butler, drug supplier, coosie-packer, character actor, sex-tease, and scholarly parasite for nineteen hours! Once, when I hinted to Urky that it was sweated labour, he looked hurt, and said he had supposed I got as much fun out of it as he did! All that delicious exciting pretence! His egotism was phen­omenal in my experience, which has been great. If he hadn’t nosed out a few things I preferred not to have known, I would have squealed on him long ago. Now I no longer have to dread black­mail, for I speak from the threshold of eternity, my dears. Pray for Brother John. Necessity, not my will, consented. Until tonight, when I decided I had had enough. Even a buzzard some­times gags.

– Not that my decision was a sudden one; I do not make up my mind about important things in an instant. It is at least three weeks since I decided that the time had come for me to dis­appear as Brother John, the joke-monk, and to re-emerge as John Parlabane, author of one of the few unquestionably great novels of our time. For that is what Be Not Another is: the greatest and in time the most influential roman philosophique written by any­one since Goethe. And when I am not around to be punished and patronized and belittled by my inferiors that is how it will be seen. It is jealousy — yours, Clem, God forgive you, and that of many others — that stands in the way of the book; you know me and you know me in my inferior guise as a needy friend who has taken some wrong turnings in his life, and so has not made his way to the scholar’s safe harbour. You refuse to see me as what I truly am — a man of strongly individual nature, richly per­ceptive and an original moralist of the first order. I should not have been this if I had refused to get my shoes muddy, as you have done.

— As an original moralist I value a truly fine work of art above human life, including my own. To ensure the publication of my book and its recognition for what it is, I am ready to give my own life, but I recognize that such an act would attract little attention. In the eyes of the world I am nobody; if I am to get the attention that is my due, I must become somebody. What easier way than by taking another into the shadows with me? All the world loves a murderer.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson