Fifth Business – The Deptford Trilogy #1 by Robertson Davies

I confided none of this to Diana, of course. She was intensely curious about my war experience, and I had no trouble at all in talking to her about it. But as I gave her my confidence and she gave me her sympathy, I was well aware that we were growing very close and that some day this would have to be reckoned with. I did not care. I was happy to be living at all, and lived only for the sweetness of the moment.

She was a romantic, and as I had never met a female romantic before it was a delight to me to explore her emotions. She wanted to know all about me, and I told her as honestly as I could; but as I was barely twenty, and a romantic myself, I know now that I lied in every word I uttered — lied not in fact but in emphasis, in colour, and in intention. She was entranced by the idea of life in Canada, and I made it entrancing. I even told her about Mrs. Dempster (though not that I was the cause of her distracted state) and felt let down that she did not respond very warmly. But when I told her about the little Madonna at Passchendaele and later as a visitor to my long coma, she was delighted and immediately gave it a conventionally religious significance, which, quite honestly, had never occurred to me. She returned to this theme again and again, and often I was reminded of the introduction to A Child’s Book of Saints and little W.V., for whom those stories had been told. Personally I had come to think of little W.V. as rather a little pill, but I now reserved my judgement, for Diana was little W.V. to the life, and I was all for Diana.

Gradually it broke in upon me that Diana had marked me for her own, and I was too much flattered to see what that might mean. A lot of the nurses in that hospital were girls of good family, and though they worked very hard and did full nursing duty they had some privileges that cannot have been common. Most of them lived nearby, and they were able to go home in their time off.

When Diana returned from these off-duty jaunts she spoke about her home and her parents, and they seemed to be people unlike parents as I knew them. Her father, Canon Marfleet, was a domestic chaplain at Windsor as well as a parish clergyman; I had little notion what a domestic chaplain might be, but I assumed he jawed the Royal Family about morals, just as the parsons jawed us at home. Her mother was an Honourable, though the Canon was not, which surprised me, and she had been born a De Blaquiere, which, as Diana pronounced it D’Blackyer, I did not get straight for some time. Because of the war the Marfleets were living very simply — only two servants and a gardener three times a week — and the Canon had followed royal example and forbidden alcoholic liquors in his household for the duration, except for a glass or two of port when he felt peaky. They restricted their daily bath-water to three inches, to save fuel for Our Cause; I had never in my life known anyone who bathed every day and assumed that the hospital daily bath was some sort of curative measure that would eventually cease.

Diana was a very educative experience. As she gradually took me over she began to correct me about some of my usages, which she thought quaint — not wrong, just quaint. Fortunately, because I had a good measure of Scots in my speech, we did not have the usual haggle of Old and New World couples about pronunciations, though she was hilarious about me calling a reel of cotton a spool of thread and assured me that pants were things one wore under trousers. But she made it clear that one tore bread, instead of cutting it neatly, and buttered it only in bites, which I thought a time-wasting affectation; she also stopped me from eating like a man who might not live until his next mouthful, a childhood habit that had been exaggerated in the trenches and that still overcomes me when I am nervous. I liked it. I was grateful. Besides, she did it with humour and charm; there was not a nagging breath in her.

Of course this did not happen all at once. It was some time after I woke from my coma before I could get out of bed, and quite a while after that before I could begin experimenting with the succession of artificial legs that came before my final one. I had to learn to walk with crutches, and because so many of my muscles, especially in the left arm, were scarred or reduced to very little, this took time and hurt. Diana saw me through it all. Literally, I leaned on her, and now and then I fell on her. She was a wonderful nurse.

When it was at last possible to do so she took me home, and I met the Canon and the Honourable. The best I can say about them is that they were worthy to be Diana’s parents. The Canon was a charming man, quite unlike any clergyman I had ever known, and even at the Sunday midday meal he never talked about religion. Like a good Presbyterian, I tried once or twice to pass him a compliment on his discourse at morning service and pursue its theme, but he wanted none of that. He wanted to talk about the war, and as he was well informed and a Lloyd George supporter it was not the usual hate session in which he invited me to engage; there must have been a lot like him in England, though you would never have known it from the peace we finally made. The Honourable was a wonder, not like a mother at all. She was a witty, frivolous woman of a beauty congruous with her age — about forty-seven, I suppose — and talked as if she hadn’t a brain in her head. But I was not deceived; she was what Diana would be at that age, and I liked every bit of it.

How my spirit expanded in the home of the Marfleets! To a man who had been where I had been it was glorious. I only hope I behaved myself and did not talk like a fool. But when I remember those days I remember the Canon and the Honourable and Diana and what I felt about them, but little of what I did or said.


The patchy quality of my recollection of this period is owing, I suppose, to the exhaustion of three years of war. I was out of it at last, and I was happy to take pleasure in security and cleanliness, without paying too close attention to what went on. Now and then it was possible to hear the guns in France; food was short but better than I had had in the trenches; the news came in ominous newspaper dispatches. Nevertheless I was happy and knew that for me, at least, the war was over. My plans were simple — to learn to walk with a crutch, and later with an artificial leg and a cane. Without being positively in love with Diana, I was beglamoured by her and flattered by her attention. I had fought my war and was resting.

We did win it at last, and there was a great hullabaloo in the hospital, and on the day after November 11th, Dr. Houneen got a car and drove me and another man who was fit for it, and Diana and another nurse, to London to see the fun. The rejoicing was a little too much like an infantry attack for my taste; I had not been in a crowd since I was wounded, and the noise and crush were very alarming to me. Indeed, I have never been much good at enduring noise and crush since late 1917. But I saw some of the excitement and a few things that shocked me; people, having been delivered from destruction, became horribly destructive themselves; people, having been delivered from license and riot, pawed and mauled and shouted dirty phrases in the streets. Nor am I in any position to talk; it was on the night of November 12, in a house in Eaton Square belonging to one of her De Blaquiere aunts, that I first slept with Diana, the aunt giving her assent by silence and discreet absence; to me at least there seemed something unseemly about the union of my scarred and maimed body with her unblemished beauty. Unseemly or not, it was my first experience of anything of the kind, for I had never been able to bring myself to make use of soldiers’ brothels or any of the casual company that was available to men in uniform. Diana was not a novice — the fiance who went down on the Aboukir, I suppose — and she initiated me most tenderly, for which I shall always be grateful. Thus we became lovers in the fullest sense, and for me the experience was an important step towards the completion of that manhood which had been thrust upon me so one-sidedly in the trenches.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66

Categories: Davies, Robertson