Murther & Walking Spirits by Robertson Davies

“Thank you, Mr. Potter. And what do these trifles come to, can you tell?”

“They come to six hundred and forty-six guineas, eleven shillings and ninepence, Mrs. Gage. I thought it better to get this money into gold.”

“I thought you would be exact. And how may I put hands on this six hundred and forty-six guineas, eleven shil­lings and ninepence?”

“It would relieve my mind greatly if you would take them out of our vaults as soon as you can, for the tax men are demanding another accounting and if it is not precise — well, Vae victis it will be.”

“Carry them off with me this instant?”

“You could not do better. Shall I have them made ready? A trusted person will do it in a very short time.”

So, while the trusted person is doing it, Anna and Mr. Potter entertain each other very agreeably by abusing the Whigs and the conquerors, and assuring one another that “The World turn’d upside down” is the only tune for the times.

At last the trusted person taps at the door, and enters with a large leather bag. He puts it on Mr. Potter’s table and leaves without a word, but perhaps the wrinkles of his coat-tails might be interpreted as a wink. When Anna tries to lift it she finds so much weight in a small bag unwieldy, so Mr. Potter arranges that she shall go home in a coach, and that the trusted person shall carry the duplicitous bag for her.

He does not think it proper to ask for a receipt for the bag. Too much attention to the details of business can be as bad as too little.


Dinner that afternoon at the house on John Street is an exciting affair, and the manners of the dancing-school, and of parental instruction, suffer because of it.

“Hurrah! When do we set out?” Roger wants to know.

“Not until spring. Christmas has not yet come and we shall need all the time until Easter to prepare. For we are not running away, my dears. We are making a considered journey. We are going to visit your Uncle Gus in Canada. We must choose what we will take with us, and we must prepare for hardship. But whatever can be done by care and planning must be done, and not a word to anyone.”

“But people are going all the time, madam. Last week the Bertrams went to Jamaica, with a mass of things.”

“Yes, and when their ship dropped its pilot in the har­bour the American revenue people took every trunk and bale, and the Bertrams will reach Jamaica with nothing but what they stand up in.”

“Parson Willoughby went, and nobody bothered him.”

“We don’t know that for a certainty. Leaving the har­bour is not the same as arriving with all your packages. For anything we know, the Willoughbys may have been stripped to the skin before they reached Halifax.”

“I should be glad to see that.”

“Roger! Let me hear no more of that!”

“Do the servants know?” asks Elizabeth.”I shall tell them at the proper time, but they are not coming with us.”

“Not even Emmeline?” says Elizabeth, looking very downcast.

“Canada is not a climate for black people,” says Anna.”And James is almost a cripple now, so he would be a hin­drance on our journey.”

“A hindrance on our journey,” says Elizabeth, reflec­tively. And then — “So there will be nobody to turn down our beds?”

“What beds?” says Roger.”Do you suppose we shall have beds on this journey? Miss Ninnyhammer!”

“Do not speak to your sister like that, Roger.”

“But she is being stupid. This is going to be an adven­ture. Nobody has beds on an adventure. Lizzie had better wear some of my clothes.”

“Oh Roger! Whatever for?” says Elizabeth.

“To protect your virtue, Miss,” says Roger.”We shall meet Indians and Whigs and God knows what in the forests. You had better cut your hair, too.” Elizabeth screams.

“Roger, what sort of journey do you think we are under­taking?” says Anna.

“We are escaping. We are fleeing. Abiit, excessit, evasit, erupit!” Roger is shouting, flown with the spirit of adventure and with all the masculine zest for Latin — in this case wildly unsuitable to number and gender.

“If we travel in that spirit I doubt if we shall get past Spuyten Duyvil,” says Anna.”No, Roger, no. All must be as orderly and as ordinary as it can be made. I have thought carefully. We cannot go by wagon and packhorse. Travellers by land have to pass too many turnpikes and inquisitive people. We must travel on the water.”

“Hurrah! I shall paddle!”

“You will not. I shall paddle.”

“Have you ever paddled in your life, madam?” says Roger with heavy sarcasm.

“No, but I do not suppose it is beyond me.”

“Well, God be praised, I can paddle.”

“You may paddle as well. You are a strong boy. I must say now, a strong young man.”

Roger is appeased.”Well, I shall carry the pistols,” says he. His father’s pistols have long been in his envious eye.

“I think I had better carry the pistols, and they will be very well concealed,” says Anna.

Elizabeth has been thinking, and not happily.

“Moeder, you spoke of hindrances on the journey,” she says now, in a very small voice.”Have you thought at all about Hannah?”

“I have. Hannah shall be your care, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth bursts into tears.


A care Hannah is certain to be. Poor wretch, not yet quite eleven years old, she suffers dreadfully with her teeth. She can eat only the softest foods, and has not yet been promoted to the adults’ table because of her unpleasing habit of chewing whatever juice she can from her meat, and placing the grey, unswallowed lumps on the side of her plate. Because she eats so little, her growth is stunted and she looks like a child of six, and a poor child at that. Because of her misery she has already a marked kyphosis, which Anna will not hear called a hunched back; it will vanish, she is sure, once Hannah has been delivered from the grief of her teeth. But when will that be? Dentists are few in New York, but Hannah has been taken to one of them, whose resort was to make room for her incoming teeth by screwing out a few of her baby teeth with an instrument called a pelican, as Hannah screamed with a force extraordinary in so small a creature. Hannah is a living, breathing toothache and it seems that nothing can be done for her. In addition to her teeth, and probably because of them, she suffers from what the physician calls catarrh of the ears, and a noisome yellow mess leaks out onto the bandages that the devoted Emmeline changes every day. Hannah seems marked for deafness, and is already a child whom Anna finds it difficult to love. Elizabeth, who has a tender heart, pities her, but Hannah does not respond well to pity. She is hateful, and pulls Elizabeth’s beautiful auburn hair and screams against the fate that has made her ugly and a little bundle of pain.

Roger calls her Little Nuisance, and Elizabeth is sharp with him about this, although in everything else she wor­ships her daring, healthy, handsome brother.

No doubt about it, Hannah will be a care.


What I next see in the formal, elegant parlour of the house on John Street appears so farcical that I wonder if the director of this film — whoever he may be — is having a joke with me. For I still accept it as a film. What else can I do?

There is Anna, that woman of impeccable propriety of manner, kneeling on the chaise longue and in her hands she holds a wooden paddle with which she strikes to right and left at imaginary water.

“No, madam, no! First the stroke, long and free, and at the end the J-shaped turn. But not too much! You will have us into the river bank if you do it like that! Let me show you again. See — like this — long and easy and not too fast, then the J just as you come to the end of your reach. Again. Better but not good yet. Again.”

Roger is teaching his mother to paddle a canoe, and like many boys given authority over an adult, he is apt to be tyrannous. Anna is puffing from the unaccustomed effort, and her legs are growing numb from kneeling. But Roger assures her that she must kneel; there will be no sitting in the canoe; there must be hours, and hours, and hours of kneeling, and there is nothing for it but to accustom herself to the position, and the effort, and what she feels to be the indignity.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, is lying face downward on a stool, which supports her stomach but leaves the rest of her body free. As if galvanized, she strikes out with arms and legs, like a frog.

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 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74

Categories: Davies, Robertson