— So, one last tiny joke. Everybody will assume that I have committed suicide. Well, if I have, let them prove it. But you, dear friends, shall know. I am going to dress myself now in my habit; then I shall lie down on my bed with my prayerbook at hand, and I shall inject into a vein in my foot — there are lots of them — a few cc.s of potassium; in thirty seconds I shall be dead, and that will just give me time, I trust, to drop the needle through a hole in the floor under Ma Mustard’s bedside carpet. Neat, don’t you think? I shall be encharnelled (good, romantic word) before anybody thinks to look under the carpet. Keep this under your hat. I should like to puzzle my old friends, the police. Their doctors are very unimaginative.
— However, should any snooper decide to dig me up, I make a final bequest under the provisions of the Human Tissue Gift Act of 1971. I leave my arsehole, and all necessary integument thereto appertaining, to the Faculty of Philosophy; let it be stretched upon a steel frame so that each New Year’s Day, the senior professor may blow through it, uttering a rich, fruity note, as my salute to the world of which I now take leave, in search of the Great Perhaps. My blessings on you both, my dears,
(sometime of the Society of the Sacred Mission)
When Darcourt had finished reading, Hollier was already deep in the letters from the back flap of the Gryphius; his face glowed, and when Darcourt spoke to him he seemed at first not to hear.
We ought to talk about that manuscript.
Yes, yes; but I’ll have to go through it carefully before I can say anything definite.
You mustn’t go through it. I know it’s exciting, and all that, but you must realize it isn’t yours.
I don’t follow you.
It’s stolen goods, you know.
McVarish stole it. Now we’ve got it back.
No. Not ‘we’. You have no right to it whatever. It belongs to the Cornish Estate, and it’s my job to see that it is returned to its owners.
Darcourt rose, and took the Gryphius Portfolio and the precious letters out of Hollier’s hands, folded it up in its original wrappings, and left the room.
The following ten days were sheer hell for me. First, there was all the worry about Hollier, who collapsed within a few minutes of Darcourt’s masterful recovery of the Gryphius Portfolio, and was in such a dreadful way that I feared he might die. I have often heard about people collapsing but what does it mean? In Hollier’s case it meant that I could not get him to speak, or apparently to hear, and his eyes were fixed on nothingness. He was cold to the touch. He sat crumpled up in an armchair, and kept turning his head slowly towards the left and back again, for all the world like a sturdied sheep; I could not shake him into attention, or get him to his feet. In my alarm I could not think of anything except to call Darcourt back, and in half an hour he reappeared, accompanied by a doctor friend who was, I afterwards learned, the same one who had been called to certify the death of Parlabane.
Dr. Greene pushed Hollier about, and tapped him under the knees, and listened to his heart, and waved his hand in front of his eyes, and eventually came up with a diagnosis of shock. Had Hollier had some severe setback? Yes, said Darcourt, a severe setback related to his research, quite unavoidable; I was impressed by Simon’s firmness, his refusal to budge an inch. Aha, said the doctor, he understood completely; such metaphysical ills sometimes came his way in his treatment of academics, who were a delicately balanced lot. But he had known old Clem since their days at Spook, and he was sure he would come round. Would need nursing and tender, loving care, however. So the two men heaved Hollier to his feet, and manhandled him into my small car, which was not really big enough for four people, one of whom was too ill to squeeze himself into a small space, and I drove to Hollier’s mother’s house in Rosedale — not very far from my own home.
It was not a place I would have chosen to provide tender, loving care. It was one of those houses stiff with Good Taste, and Mrs. Hollier, whom I had never met, was stiff with Good Taste too. I was left in the drawing-room — positively the palest, most devitalized room I have ever been in — while the men and Mrs. Hollier lugged the invalid upstairs; after a while an elderly housekeeper toiled upwards with what looked like a cup of bouillon; after an even longer while Darcourt, and Dr. Greene, and Mrs. Hollier returned and I was introduced as a student of the professor’s, and Mrs. Hollier gave me a look that could have etched glass, and nodded but did not speak. The doctor was talking reassuringly about a drop in blood pressure that was dramatic but not really alarming, and the necessity for rest, light diet, and detective stories when the patient seemed ready for them. He would keep in touch.
I felt very much out of things. Darcourt and Dr. Greene were the kind of Canadians who understood and could cope with such refrigerated souls as Mrs. Hollier. A Northern land and its Northern people can be brisk and bracing when faced with a metaphysical ill, but I was not of their kind. I had a disquieting feeling that, when Hollier was ill, this was the place where he belonged. However much an intellectual adventurer he might be, this cold home was his home.
That night, therefore, I told Mamusia everything, or as much as she would comprehend, because she insisted on seeing the situation from a point of view entirely of her own.
Of course he is cold and cannot speak, she said; the curse has been thrown back on him and he is looking inwards at his own evil. I told him. But would he listen? Oh, no! Not the great professor, not Mr. Modern! He thought he would be happy if he killed his enemy — because that is what he has done and don’t you try to tell me otherwise — but now he knows what it is to kill with hate. The knife, the gun — perhaps you can get away with it if you are made of coarse stuff. But a man like Hollier to kill with hate — he’s lucky he didn’t die at once.
But Mamusia, it was the other man — the monk — who killed Professor McVarish.
The monk was a sly one. A real bad man. I wish I had known him. Such people are rare. But the monk was just a tool, like a knife or a gun —
No, no, Mamusia, the monk had terrible hatred for McVarish! For Hollier, too —
Sure! All that hate slinking around, looking for a place to explode itself. To think Hollier wanted to pull me in such a mess! He is a fool, Maria. No husband for you. Lucky the Priest Simon drank the spiked coffee.
You won’t look at it as it really is.
Won’t I? Let me tell you, you fool, that my way is the way it really is: all the other stuff is just silly talk by people who don’t know anything about hate, or jealousy, or any of the things that rule their lives because they don’t accept them as realities, real force. Now you listen to me: I want your car keys.
What for? You can’t drive.
I don’t want to drive. And you shall not drive. Not for forty days. You are mixed up in this, you know. How much I can’t say, because I don’t believe you have told me the whole truth. But you are not going to drive any car for the next forty days. Not while those men can still reach you.
What men are you talking about?
McVarish and the monk. Don’t argue. Give me the keys.
So I did, pretending a reluctance I did not altogether feel. I did not want to figure in one of those accidents in which, the newspapers ambiguously report, a car goes out of control . Perhaps; but into whose control?
I was in great anxiety about what the newspapers would say. Had Parlabane written to them in the same unbuttoned spirit that he had written to me and Hollier? No: a joker in this as in everything, Parlabane had written his letter to us and delivered it by hand on the Saturday night after he had killed McVarish. The much-abbreviated accounts that he had written for the three Toronto papers and which were, I later learned, terrible muddles of crossing out and misused carbon copying, he had posted — but in a mailbox that was intended for overseas post only; upon each he had put a few details in his own hand, so that no paper received quite the same story. This confusion, and the fact that there was no postal delivery on Easter Monday, meant that the papers did not have their story until Thursday; the police, who had been sent a carbon and some further details, did not get their letter until Friday, such is the caprice of modern postal service. Therefore, the story of Urky’s taking-off appeared on the Monday as a report of an inexplicable murder, and at the weekend figured again with all the rich embroidery of Parlabane’s confession. God be praised, he had not named either me or Hollier in his accounts of the ceremonies — only as custodians of his great book. The police let it be known that they had information not granted to anyone else, and that they were not going to tell all they knew; great destruction among the drug-pushers was predicted by the press.