Fifth Business – The Deptford Trilogy #1 by Robertson Davies

Paul, to her, was still a child, a lost boy — lost a distance of time ago that was both great and small — and to be recovered just as he had run away. Not that she really thought he had run away; surely he had been enticed, by evil people who knew what a great treasure he was; they had stolen him to be cruel, to rob a mother of her child and a child of his mother. Of such malignity she could form no clear picture, but sometimes she spoke of gypsies; gypsies have carried the burden of the irrational dreads of stay-at-homes for many hundreds of years. I had written a passage in my life of Eisengrim in which he spent some of his youth among gypsies, and as I listened to Mrs. Dempster now I was ashamed of it.

If I knew where Paul was, why had I not brought him? What had I done to recover him? Had he been ill used? How could I tell her that I had news of Paul if I havered and temporized and would neither bring her child to her or take her to him?

In vain I told her that Paul was now over forty, that he travelled much, that he had a demanding career in which he was not his own master, that he would surely visit Canada at some time not now very far in the future. I said that he sent his love — which was a lie, for he had never said anything of the kind — and that he wanted to provide her with comfort and security. She was so excited, and so unlike herself, that I was shaken and even said that Paul was maintaining her in the hospital, which God knows was untrue, and proved to be another mistake.

To say that a child was keeping her in a hospital was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard. So that was it? The hospital was an elaborately disguised prison where she was held to keep her from her son! She knew well enough who was her jailer. I was the man. Dunstan Ramsay, who pretended to be a friend, was a snake-in-the-grass, an enemy, an undoubted agent of those dark forces who had torn Paul from her.

She rushed at me and tried to scratch my eyes. I was at a great disadvantage, for I was alarmed and unnerved by the storm I had caused, and also my reverence for Mrs. Dempster was so great that I could not bear to be rough with her. Fortunately — though it scared the wits out of me at the moment — she began to scream, and a nurse came on the run, and between us we soon had her powerless. But what followed was a half-hour of confusion, during which I explained to a doctor what the trouble was, and Mrs. Dempster was put to bed under what they called light restraint — straps — with an injection of something to quiet her .

When I called the hospital the next day the report was a bad one. It grew worse during the week, and in time I had to face the fact that I seemed to have turned Mrs. Dempster from a woman who was simple and nothing worse, into a woman who knew there was a plot to deprive her of her little son, and that I was its agent. She was under restraint now, and it was inadvisable that I should visit her. But I did go once, driven by guilt, and though I did not see her, her window was pointed out to me, and it was in the wing where the windows are barred.


Thus I lost, for a time, one of the fixed stars in my universe, and as I had brought about this great change in Mrs. Dempster’s condition by my own stupidity I felt much depressed by it. But I suffered another loss — or at least a marked change — when Boy Staunton married for the second time, and I did not meet with the approval of his wife.

During the war Boy acquired a taste for what he believed to be politics. He had been elected in easy circumstances, for he was a Conservative, and in their plan for a coalition Cabinet the Liberals had not nominated anybody to oppose him. But in the years when he had great power he forgot that he had been elected by acclamation and came somehow to think of himself as a politician — no, a statesman — with a formidable following among the voters. He had all the delusions of the political amateur, and after the war was over he insisted that he detected an undertone, which grew in some parts of the country to a positive clamour, that he should become leader of the Conservative party as fast as possible and deliver the people of Canada from their ignominious thralldom to the Liberals. He had another delusion of the political novice: he was going to apply “sound business principles” to government and thereby give it a fine new gloss.

So he attempted to become Conservative leader, but as he was a newcomer he had no chance of doing so. It seemed to me that everything about Boy was wrong for politics: he was very rich and could not understand that very rich men are not loved by the majority; he was handsome, and handsome men are not popular in politics, even with women; he had no political friends and could not understand why they were necessary.

In spite of his handicaps he was elected once, when a by-election opened a Parliamentary seat traditionally Conservative. The voters remembered his services during the war and gave him a majority of less than a thousand. But he made a number of silly speeches in the Commons, which caused a few newspapers to say that he was an authoritarian; then he abused the newspapers in the Commons, and they made him smart for it. Boy had no idea what a mark he presented to jealous or temperamentally derisive people. However, he gained some supporters, and among them was Denyse Homick.

She was a power in the world of women. She had been in the W.R.N.S. during the war and had risen from the ranks to be a lieutenant commander and a very capable one. After the war she had established a small travel agency and made it a big one. She liked what Boy stood for in politics, and after a few meetings she liked Boy personally. I must not read into her actions motives of which I can have no knowledge, but it looked to me as if she decided that she would marry him and make him think it was his own idea.

Boy had always been fond of the sexual pleasure women could give him, but I doubt if he ever knew much about women as people, and certainly a determined and clever woman like Denyse was something outside his experience. He was drawn to her at first because she was prominent in two or three groups that worked for a larger feminine influence in public affairs, and thus could influence a large number of votes. Soon he discovered that she understood his political ideas better than anybody else, and he paid her a compliment typical of himself by assuring everybody that she had a masculine mind.

The by-election gave him a couple of years in Parliament before a general election came along to test his real strength. By that time any public gratitude for what he had done as a war organizer had been forgotten, the Conservative party found him an embarrassment because he was apt to criticize the party leader in public, the Liberals naturally wanted to defeat him, and the newspapers were out to get him. It was a dreadful campaign on his part, for he lost his head, bullied his electors when he should have wooed them, and got into a wrangle with a large newspaper, which he threatened to sue for libel. He was defeated on election day so decisively that it was obviously a personal rather than a political rejection.

He made an unforgettable appearance on television as soon as his defeat had been conceded. “How do you feel about the result in your riding, Mr. Staunton?” asked the interviewer, expecting something crisp, but not what he got. “I feel exactly like Lazarus,” said Boy, “licked by the dogs!”

The whole country laughed about it, and the newspaper he thought had libelled him read him a pompous little editorial lecture about the nature of democracy. But there were those who were faithful, and Denyse was at the top of that list.

In the course of time the press tired of baiting him, and there were a few editorials regretting that so much obvious ability was not being used for the public good. But it was no use. Boy was through with politics and turned back to sugar, and everything sugar could be made to do, with new resolve.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson