Murther & Walking Spirits by Robertson Davies


“Just hold on a minute. Do you know what a ghost is? Trace it back far enough into the old languages where it began, and it means fury, or anger. You must make peace with Gil’s ghost as best you can. And now, Mr. Going, I’m sure you won’t want to thank me, so I suppose that is all we have to say to one another. Don’t forget your stick. Don’t ever forget your stick. A good-night to you.”


— What a mess of mixed motives!

— Were yours simpler?

— I see it differently now.

— Of course.

— All those people in the films — how confused they were.

— One feels for them.

— Pity?

— No. Pity implies a kind of superiority.

— Compassion, then?

— Compassion is still a thing of high-to-low.

— What, then?

— Love, perhaps?

— I think I’m coming to that, but I’ve always shied off from that sort of love. So often it means something limp and greasy, like an old dollar bill.

— People do shy off from strong feeling. It’s one of the dangers of civilized life.

— I’d never thought about those earlier ones. Didn’t know them, for the most part.

— You know them now.

— Sad. Funny. Often trivial.

— I don’t think you should say trivial.

— Sorry. No. They fought the hero-fight with whatever they had. That can’t be trivial.

— Not when you look at the whole life.

— I wish I’d fought the hero-fight more consciously.

— Of course. And you wouldn’t say you’d been trivial, would you?

— Is it for me to say?

— Who else?

— Self-judgement, you mean?

— What else?

— You’re very sententious. Who are you?

— Oh, Gil — you know me.

— My mother. You must be my mother.

— Must? Why must I?

— Those films. All on the father’s side. Had my mother noth­ing to do with the making of me? Where was she?

— You might better ask, where wasn’t she?

— Nowhere to be seen. Not a shadow of her.

–Everywhere to be felt. The way you observed. The irony you brought to what you saw. All hers. Inescapably.

— Then who are you? You say I know you. Have I forgotten?

— Remember what McWearie said about the woman in the man?

— So that’s who you are!

— None other.

— Like in the old morality plays my father used to teach? Are you my Good Deeds? No? Well then, should I call you Lady Soul? Don’t laugh. Must I be more up-to-date? Are you my Anima?

— Oh, Gil, when will you stop naming everything? That is just a way of pushing it aside, of putting it in a prison. Just accept what I am. Don’t label me. Am I a stranger?

— Not now that I see you. A dear companion.

— Of course. Always a companion. Thank you for “dear.”

— And you’ve come to take me away?

— Where should I take you? I’m no cleverer than you are. What do you mean by “away”?

— I don’t know.

— And I don’t know, either. We’ll find out.

— Is this part of the hero-fight?

— Perhaps.

— And you’ll fight with me?

— Yes, my dear, but need it be a struggle?

— It always was.

— Perhaps not now. Shall we begin with acceptance?

— But for the moment —

— No moments here. Only Now.

Robertson Davies has had three successive careers: first as an actor with the Old Vie Company in England; then as publisher of the Peterborough, Ontario, Examiner, and most recently as a university professor and first master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, from which he retired in 1981. He has over thirty books to his credit, among them several volumes of plays, as well as collections of essays, speeches, and belles lettres. As a novelist he has gained fame especially for his Deptford Trilogy — Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders — for the Salterton Trilogy — Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, and A Mixture of Frailties — and for the Cornish Trilogy — The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, and The Lyre of Orpheus. His acclaimed novel, Murther & Walking Spirits, is also available in Penguin. Mr. Davies’ latest novel, The Cunning Man, published in 1995, became an instant national bestseller. He was the first Canadian to become an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada and honorary fellow of Balliol, and he has received honorary degrees from Oxford, from Trinity College Dublin, from the University of Wales, and from Toronto and McGill, as well as twenty-one other Canadian and U.S. universi­ties. He and his wife now divide their time between homes in Toronto and in Caledon, Ontario.

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