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

— Few murders have been undertaken to ensure the publication of a book; offhand, I can’t think of one, but as there may be some other instances I must speak with caution. People murder for other sorts of gain, or in passion. I do not even admit that I have polished off Urky for gain, because I shall reap no direct advantage — the advantage will all be the world’s, which will be persuaded by this rough means to give fair consideration to my book, and in the course of time the world will see how enor­mously it is the gainer. Which would you rather have, Maria — the great romance of François Rabelais, or a living, breathing, sniggering Urquhart McVarish? Indeed, I am providing Urky with a kind of immortality he could not aspire to if he died by what are called natural causes. (Not, of course, that I write in Rabelais’s vein, which I have always considered needlessly gross, but as a work of humanist learning my book is measurably finer than his.)

— Why Urky? Well, why not Urky? I need someone and he fills the bill because his taking-off will cause a stir, especially in the way I have managed it, without in any serious way depriving the world of a useful human creature. Besides, I have become impatient with his hoity-toity ways with me, as well as his stinginess. It is an oddity of people with unusual sexual tastes that they must enjoy them in the company of somebody whom they can patronize and look down on; I think Oscar Wilde really liked his grooms and messenger boys better than he ever liked aristocratic Bosie. There are men who like vulgar women, as well as women who prefer vulgar men; snobbery in sex has never been carefully investigated. But I, to whom Urky was what a dog is to a man, have grown tired of playing the gossiping old Edinburgh wifie, to be snubbed and put down by The McVarish. The worm turns: the parasite punishes.

— So, a few hours ago when the tedious charade of the Two Old Edinburgh Ladies had sniggered towards its close, I made a change in the script, which Urky at first saw as an ingenious variation designed for his pleasure. Oh, invaluable parasite!

— Imagine him, tied up and giggling like a schoolgirl as I lean closer and closer.

MRS MASHAM: Mistress Morley, my dear, you do giggle so! It can’t be good for you. I shall have to punish you, you naughty girlie. Look how you’ve disturbed your frock! I shall have to tie you up tight, my wee lassie, verra tight indeed. — But och! what a foolish giggler! Can ye not laugh a guid hearty laugh! Here, let me show you how. See, I am going to put this record on the machine; it’s Sir Harry Lauder singing ‘Stop Your Tickling, Jock’. — Now, listen how Sir Harry laughs; that’s a laugh, eh? A guid, hearty laugh? Come on, Mistress Morley, sing with me and Sir Harry:

I’m courtin’ a fairmer’s dochter,

She’s one o’ the fairest ever seen;

Her cheeks they are a rosy red,

And her age is just sweet seventeen —

I’ll just turn up the volume a bit to encourage you. And I’ll tickle you! Yes, I will! See, I’m coming at you to tickle you! — Och, do ye call that a laugh? I know what! Ordinary tickling will never do the job. Now watch: ye see I have here my knit­ting needles. If I juist insert this one up your great red nose, Mistress Morley, and wiggle it a wee bit to tickle the hairs, eh? Ticklish, eh? But still not enough; let’s put the other needle up the other hole in yer neb. See, when I wiggle them both how easy it is to laugh? Laugh right along with Sir Harry? Och, that’s not laughin’. That’s more like shriekin’. I’ll just push them in a wee bit further. No, no, it’s no good rollin’ yer een and greeting, Mistress Morley, my dear. — D’ye know, a great idea occurs to me! Juist suppose now — I’ll need some sort of a hammer — so juist suppose I take off my shoe, so. Then wi’ the heel o’t I gie the ends o’ the needles a sharp tap — one, two: But Mistress Morley, ye’re no longer laughin’. Only Sir Harry is laughin’.

— And indeed only Sir Harry was laughing, for Urky with two aluminium knitting-needles well up into his brain was quite quiet. Whether it was the needles, or fright, or heart failure, or all three, Urky was dead, or too close to it to make a sound.

— So — out of Mistress Masham’s old gown in a flash, set the repeating-device and turn up the volume on the record-player to the full, so that Sir Harry will go on singing his song and laugh­ing heartily until a neighbour phones the caretaker, and out of the flat, not forgetting my envelope. But no need to worry about fingerprints; I wanted to leave plenty of those, so that there would be no danger of anybody else stealing my murder.

— No fingerprints, however, on one little thing I removed from Urky’s apartment; he had it locked up in his desk and like so many vain people he had a simple faith in simple locks. You may open your gifts now, children. — Package Number One: yes, it’s the Gryphius Portfolio and it’s yours, my dears, to gloat over and keep for your own dear little selves. Especially those letters concealed in the back flap. Urky knew all about them, and he hinted about what he knew, underestimating my power to com­prehend, as he always did, the poor sap.

— The other package, the big one, is the complete typescript of my novel Be Not Another. I am writing to the papers, Clem, to tell them what I have told you here, and to say that you have my book, that it is rare and fine, and that applications from pub­lishers who hope to get it must be made to you. And there will be applications! Oh, indeed, there will be applications! Pub­lishers will fight to publish a murderer, when they had no time to spare for a philosopher. It’s a hot property, so make the toughest deal you can, dear Clem. Revenge me, dear old boy; roast ’em, squeeze ’em, gouge ’em for every possible dollar. And keep a sharp eye on the kind of publicity they give it; I have provided the material for a first-rate campaign — ‘The book a man murdered to place in your hands! — A great, misunderstood genius speaks to his times! — The philosopher-criminal bares his soul!’ — that’s the first line of fire, after which you’ll easily get some eminent critic to plump it all out with praise as the distilled essence of a mighty, ruined spirit.

— As for the monies accruing, I leave it to you to set up a handsome research fund at Spook, so that people like yourself can get some of the dibs to further their work. And I want it named the Parlabane Bounty, so that every pedant who wants a hand-out has to burn a tiny pinch of incense to my memory. You know how these things are managed. Don’t worry that Spook won’t take the money. The dear old coll. will sanctify my gift to its use, never fear.

— That’s all, I think. I hope you and Molly won’t come to quarrelling over the Gryphius. Because I mean it for both of you, and if either one tries to bag it all, or cheat the other out of her due — you, Clem, appear to me as the most likely to try a dirty trick — there will certainly be hell to pay, if I have any influence in hell.

— All that now remains is for me to put myself beyond the reach of the law. Not, let me assure you, because I fear it, but because I despise it. I could get a lot of interest in my book by hanging around, going to trial, and having my say from the dock. But you know what would happen in a modern court. Could I expect justice? Could I, who have planned a murder and killed a man in cold blood, expect to have my own life exacted as poetic justice (the only really satisfactory kind) demands? Not a chance! What a parade there would be of psychiatrists, eager to ‘explain’ me! They would assure the court that I was ‘insane’ because of course no man in his right mind ever wants revenge or personal advancement. People drunk with the cheap wine of compassion would assure one another that I was ‘sick’. But I’m not insane and I am in robust health, and I will not expose myself to the pity of my inferiors.

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