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Robertson Davies, The Cornish Trilogy

"Parlabane is back."


"Hadn't you heard? Parlabane is back."

"Oh my God!"

I hurried on down the long corridor, through chattering students and gossiping faculty members, and again I overheard it, as another pair of professors met.

"You haven't heard about Parlabane, I suppose?"

"No. What should I have heard?"

"He's back."

"Not here?"

"Yes. In the college."

"Not staying, I hope?"

"Who's to say? With Parlabane, anyhow."

This was what I wanted. It was something to say to Hollier when we met after nearly four months apart. At that last meeting he had become my lover, or so I was vain enough to think. Certainly he had become, agonizingly, the man I loved. All through the summer vacation I had fretted and fussed and hoped for a postcard from wherever he might be in Europe, but he was not a man to write postcards. Not a man to say very much, either, in a personal way. But he could be excited; he could give way to feeling. On that day in early May, when he had told me about the latest development in his work, and I -- so eager to serve him, to gain his gratitude and perhaps even his love -- did an inexcusable thing and betrayed the secret of the bomari to him, he seemed lifted quite outside himself, and it was then he took me in his arms and put me on that horrible old sofa in his office, and had me amid a great deal of confusion of clothing, creaking of springs, and peripheral anxiety lest somebody should come in. That was when we had parted, he embarrassed and I overcome with astonishment and devotion, and now I was to face him again. I needed an opening remark.

So -- up the two winding flights of stairs, which the high ceilings in St. John's made rather more like three flights. Why was I hurrying? Was I so eager to see him? No, I wanted that, of course, but I dreaded it as well. How does one greet one's professor, one's thesis director, whom one loves and who has had one on his old sofa, and whom one hopes may love one in return? It was a sign of my mental state that I was thinking of myself as 'one', which meant that my English was become stiff and formal. There I was, out of breath, on the landing where there were no rooms but his, and on the study door was his tattered old hand-written sign saying 'Professor Hollier is in; knock and enter'. So I did, and there he was at his table looking like Dante if Dante had had better upper teeth, or perhaps like Savonarola if Savonarola had been handsomer. Stumbling -- a little light-headed -- I rattled out my scrap of news.

"Parlabane is back."

The effect was more than I had reckoned for. He straightened in his chair, and although his mouth did not open, his jaw slackened and his face had that look of intentness that I loved even more than his smile, which was not his best expression.

"Did you say that Parlabane was here?"

"That's what they're all saying in the main hall."

"Great God! How awful!"

"Why awful? Who's Parlabane?"

"I dare say you'll find out soon enough.-- Have you had a good summer? Done any work?"

(Robertson Davies, The Cornish trilogy, 1 The rebel angels, New York: Penguin Books, 1992, p. 3-5)


Last updated 24.11.99
Burkhard Leuschner