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

You’ll go to Africa and shoot lions.

No; I’ll think you’ve made a terrible mistake.

You think well of yourself, don’t you?

Yes, and I think well of you — better of you than of anybody. These are liberated days, Maria; I don’t have to crawl and whine and pretend I can’t live without you. I can, and if I must, I’ll do it. But I can live so much better with you, and you can live so much better with me, that it’s stupid to play games about it.

You’re a very cool customer, Arthur.


You don’t know much about me.

Yes, I do.

You don’t know my mother, or my Uncle Yerko.

Give me a chance to meet them.

My mother is a shop-lifter.

Why? She’s got lots of money.

How do you know?

In a business like mine there are ways of finding out. You aren’t badly off yourself. But your mother is something more than a shop-lifter; you see, I know that, too. She’s by way of being famous among my musical friends. In such a person the shop-lifting is an eccentricity, like the collections of pornography some famous conductors are known to possess. Call it a hobby. But must I point out that I’m not proposing to marry your mother?

Arthur, you’re very cool, but there are things you don’t know. Comes of having no family, I suppose.

Where did you get the idea I have no family?

You told me yourself.

I told you I had no parents I could remember clearly. But family — I have platoons of family, and though most of them are dead, yet in me they are alive.

Do you really think that?

Indeed I do, and I find it very satisfying. You told me you hadn’t much use for heredity, though how you reconcile that with rummaging around in the past, as you do with Clement Hollier, I can’t imagine. If the past doesn’t count, why bother with it?

Well — I think I said more than I meant.

That’s what I suspected. You wanted to brush aside your Gypsy past.

I’ve thought more carefully about that.

So you should. You can’t get rid of it, and if you deny it, you must expect it to revenge itself on you.

My God, Arthur, you talk exactly like my mother!

Glad to hear it.

Then don’t be, because what sounds all right from her sounds ridiculous from you. Arthur, did anybody ever tell you that you have a pronounced didactic streak?

Bossy, would you call it?


A touch of the know-it-all?


No. Nobody’s ever hinted at any such thing. Decisive and strongly intuitive, are the expressions they use, when they are choosing their words carefully.

I wonder what my mother would say about you?

Generous recognition of a fellow-spirit, I should guess.

I wouldn’t count on it. But about this heredity business — have you thought about it seriously? Girls grow to be very like their mothers, you know.

What better could a man ask than to be married to a phuri dai; now, how long do you suppose it might take you to make up your mind?

I’ve made it up. I’ll marry you.

Some confusion and kissing. After a while —

I like a woman who can make quick decisions.

It was when you called me fathead. I’ve never been called that before. Flattering things like Sophia, and unflattering things like irreverent cunt, but never fathead.

That was friendly talk.

Then what you said about being friends settled it. I’ve never had a real friend. Rebel Angels, and such like, but nobody ever offered me friendship. That’s irresistible.

The New Aubrey VI

I will not marry couples with whom I have had no previous dis­cussion; I insist on finding out what they think marriage is, and what they suppose they are doing. In part this is self-preservative caution; I will not become involved with people who want to write their own wedding service, devising fancy vows for their own use, and substituting hogwash from Kahlil Gibran or some trendy shaman for the words of the Prayer Book. On the other hand, I am ready to make excisions for people who find the wording of the marriage service a little too rugged for their modern concepts. I am fussy about music and will permit no O Promise Me or Because God Made Thee Mine ; I discourage the wedding march by Mendelssohn, which is theatre music, and the other one from Lohengrin, which was a prelude to a notably unsuccessful marriage. I do not regard myself as a picturesque adjunct to a folk ceremony performed by people who have no scrap of religious belief, though I do not require orthodoxy, because I have unorthodox reservations of my own.

I was startled, therefore, by the orthodoxy insisted on by Arthur Cornish and Maria. Startled, and somewhat alarmed, for in my experience too much orthodoxy can lead to trouble; a decent measure of come-and-go is more enduring.

My interview with Arthur and Maria took place in my rooms in Ploughwright before dinner on the Monday preceding their wedding. Maria arrived early, which pleased me, because I wanted some private talk with her.

Does Arthur know about you and Hollier?

Oh yes, I told him all about that, and we’ve agreed it doesn’t count.

What do you mean by count?

It means that as far as we are concerned I’m still a virgin.

But Maria, it isn’t usual nowadays for the virginity of the bride to be an important issue. Love, trust, and seriousness of intention are what really count.

Don’t forget that I am part Gypsy, Simon, and it counts for Gypsies. The value of virginity depends on whose it is; for trivial people, it is no doubt trivial.

Then what have you told him? That you had your fingers crossed?

I hadn’t expected you to be frivolous, Simon.

I’m not frivolous. I just want to be sure you aren’t kidding yourselves. It doesn’t matter to me, but if it matters to you, I’d like to be sure you know what you are doing. What really matters is whether you have got Hollier completely out of your system.

Not completely. Of course I love him still, and as Arthur is giving me the Gryphius Portfolio for a wedding present I’ll certainly be working on it with Hollier. But he’s a Rebel Angel, like you, and I love him as I love you, Simon dear, though of course you’re a priest and he’s a sort of wizard, which makes all the difference.


Wizards don’t count. Merlin, and Klingsor and all those were incapable of human love and usually impotent as well.

What a pity Abelard and Heloise didn’t know that.

Yes. They got themselves into a terrible muddle. If Heloise had been more clear-headed she’d have seen that Abelard was a frightful nerd in human relationships. Of course, she was only seventeen. Those letters! But let’s forget about them: Hollier has led me to some recognition of what wisdom and scholarship are, and that’s what matters, not a tiny stumble on the path. You’ve shown me as much as I am able to understand at present about the generosity and pleasure of scholarship. So I love you both. But Arthur is different, and what I bring to Arthur is untouched by any other man.


Arthur says the physical act of love is a metaphor for a spiritual encounter. That certainly was so with Hollier. What­ever I felt about it, he was ashamed of himself right away.

I hadn’t realized Arthur was such a philosopher about these things.

Arthur has some amazing ideas.

So have you. I thought you were in flight from all the Gypsy part of your heritage.

So I was till I met Parlabane, but his talk about the need to recognize your root and your crown as of equal importance has made me understand that my Gypsy part is inescapable. It has to be recognized, because if it isn’t it will plague me all my life as a canker at the root. We’re doing a lot of Gypsy things —

Maria, be careful; I want to be the priest at your wedding, but I’ll have nothing to do with cutting wrists and mingling blood, or waving bloody napkins to show that you have been deflowered, or anything of that sort. I thought you wanted a Christian marriage.

Don’t worry, there’ll be none of that. But Yerko is taking himself very seriously as a substitute for my Father; as my Mother’s brother he’s far more important, really, in Gypsy life. Yerko has demanded, and received, a purchase-price from Arthur, in gold. And Yerko has ceremonially accepted Arthur as a phral — you know, a gadjo who has married a Gypsy, and who is regarded as a brother, though of course not as a Gypsy. And Mamusia has given us the bread and salt; she breaks a nice crusty roll and salts it and gives us each half and we eat it while she says that we shall be faithful until we tire of bread and salt.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson