Murther & Walking Spirits by Robertson Davies

“I don’t really see what it has to do with you.”

“Do you not? I suppose this is something you’ve picked up from the English up at the Castle. They don’t know what family is. My own brother!”


“Who do you suppose thinks of that? You, whose father was baptized through water and the Holy Spirit by a man who had served John Wesley himself.”

“There’s a bastard in the Wesley family now, did you know? Was that the Holy Spirit, do you suppose? I’ve no bastards, that I know of.”

“That will do! You’ve a girl’s death on your con­science.”

“A misfortune, certainly. She brought it on herself, Sam. I couldn’t get rid of her. Couldn’t get enough, she couldn’t. I never forced her. A nice enough girl, but a bit of a fool.”

“God forgive you, you heartless villain! But that’s enough of that. What are you going to do?”

“Well, I must say Mr. Addy hasn’t been as understanding as I would have expected a gentleman to be, and so I’ve been turned off. I suppose I’ll find something hereabouts.”

“You will not! You’ll get out of this town and out of this borough.”

“If that’s the way you see it. I suppose with some help I could go elsewhere. I thought that’s what you wanted to see me about.”

“Oh, so you’ve come for money? What’s become of the money our Dad left you?”

“You’d never understand, Sam. Sometimes we play for pretty high stakes in the company I’ve been keeping.”


“Sam, if there’s gambling among the guests, there’ll be gambling among the servants. A matter of pride, almost, to keep up the tone of society. I’ve never been lucky with the cards or the dice.”

“And you expect me to bail you out, is it?”

“Now look, Sam; let’s drop all this Chapel talk and come to the horses. When our Dad died, you got the busi­ness, as well as half the money, isn’t it?”

“And I got the care, and I got our Mam — your Mam more than mine, look you — and I’ve had to graft hard to make what I have grow with the times.”

“Oh, we all know about that. Do you know, Sam, that they talk about you at the Castle? Listen — I’ve even heard his lordship himself say to an unlucky player, ‘Perhaps you could arrange a loan with our Mayor; he’s a very warm man,’ A joke, of course, but a joke with truth behind it. Everybody knows about you, and the railways, and the shops. You could buy and sell one or more of our county gentry, I dare say. So don’t come it over me about money. I’m prepared to listen to reason.”

“And what’s reason today, boyo? You’ve a plan, I can tell. Let’s stop all this foolery. What will you take to get out and never be seen here again?”

“Of course, I’ve been thinking of my future. Now, Sam, it would suit me very well to have a little public house. Lots of us, when we leave service, go into the public line.”

“A pub, is it? What pub? I can see in your eye that you have a pub in mind.”

“As luck has it, there’s a very nice pub down the road a few miles. Enough miles to suit you, I think. You’ve heard of The Aleppo Merchant, at Carno? It can be had.”

“The Aleppo Merchant? That’s no pub! That’s a country hotel, and quite a fancy one. And a fancy price, I’ll be bound.”

“It takes a few guests. For the fishing, you know. A very decent little place.”

“How much?”

“Ah, now we’re talking. The Aleppo Merchant, and a little over to settle some of my debts, and a trifle to see me set up there would run you — Oh, call it twenty-five hun­dred.”

“Twenty — five — hundred — pounds!”

“Better make it guineas, while you’re at it. When we play at the Castle, we always make it guineas.”

“That’s more than three times what you had from our Dad!”

“Money has lost value, as I’m sure you know. I’m being as conservative as I can.”

“Yes — Conservative — you rotten, evil Tory turncoat! Conservative is what you are — a Tory. Oh, if our Mam knew of this!”

“Don’t tell her, Sam. You’ve always taken very good care of our Mam, bless her old heart. I give you that.”

Samuel has turned grey in the face, for reasons he knows, but which are happily unknown to Thomas. Wearily — he puts it on a little, for he is a Welshman, and such domestic histrionics come readily to him — Samuel sits at the Mayor’s desk, and takes a cheque-book from a locked drawer, and in his careful, round, tradesman’s hand he draws a cheque, and tosses it across to his brother.

“Thanks, Sam. Good of you, I’m sure. I’ll draw this in the morning, if that’s convenient.”

It is convenient. Indeed, it is desirable. If the Mayor has to buy off his profligate brother, he has no insuperable objection to Trallwm knowing about it, and banks are leaky, however much they pretend otherwise. Trallwm will know that he has done the painful, but handsome, thing. It will do no harm whatever to his reputation. The story will have a slightly different colour than Samuel puts on it, for the bankers know — as Samuel does not — that Thomas has a very nice little nest-egg; his inheritance intact, and the avails of twenty years of bowing and keeping his mouth shut. These are cynical considerations, but very human, and I, the looker-on, understand them perfectly.

“Thanks, Sam. Done like a brother. And now — good friends, is it?”

Thomas has risen, and holds out his hand to the Mayor. The Mayor is reluctant to take it.

“You won’t let me go without a handshake, Sam. Blood’s thicker than water.”

Among the Welsh it certainly is. Thick as tar. Samuel grasps his brother’s hand, and it is from his eyes that the tears begin to flow.

Thomas carefully folds the cheque into his pocket-book and goes, with the soft tread of a footman.


The Mayor sits long at his table. He needs no Bible to fuel his reflections, for Holy Writ is deep in his flesh and bone.”The wicked are like the trou­bled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” Isaiah said it all. But did not John say: “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

A clincher, that one. Oh, hard — hard to be a Christian in such a puzzling world. For God, who made the world, and his Son, seem to have been at odds on many important points.

Samuel’s pride is that of a successful Radical politician, and a man of growing substance. He owns not only his profitable tailor’s shop, but a fine farm, called Gungrog Hall. It is not a “hall” in the sense that the homes of the county gentry are “halls,” but it is much above a tradesman’s resi­dence, and he owns it outright; he is no man’s tenant. It is here that he indulges a lifelong interest in fine horses, which may also be fast horses, and a man who owns fast horses likes to see them win races.

Horse-racing, however, is for men whose knowledge and subtlety is of a different order from that of a successful tradesman, and Samuel has the tendency of wealthy men to think that he knows other men’s trades as well as he knows his own. Is a man who enters a fine horse in local races — sometimes as far distant as Shrewsbury — to refuse to back his own horse, and back it substantially? Betting is, of course, dead against Wesleyan principle, and Samuel is discreet in his betting, but bet he does, because he convinces himself that it is not gambling, but a particular sort of investment. And who is a better judge of a horse’s ability than the man who has bred it from excellent stock, and seen it trained by Jockey Jones, who is now in his employ?

Jockey Jones is not a Wesleyan. He is not anything of that sort. He was bred and his character was formed up a Trallwm shut, and his favourite place of resort is a local slum called, appropriately, Puzzle Square. Jockey Jones does very well out of the races by taking care that Samuel’s horses do not win, or win only enough to divert suspicion. So Samuel loses and loses, and in time Gungrog Hall is heavily and secretly mortgaged to discreet men in Shrewsbury, and Samuel turns too often to the Mansion House and to brandy and seltzer. His friends there know well enough that Jockey Jones is a scoundrel, but they have all the discretion — if that is what you like to call it — of the Welsh, and they say nothing to Samuel. Nor would he thank them if they did. So they whisper that the Mayor is getting into deep water.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson