The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

“Then there was a bundle for ‘my dear daughter, Caroline’ which was to be hers outright and without conditions — because Beesty could have choked on a fishbone at his club any day and Caroline remarried at once and Father wouldn’t have batted an eye.

“Then there was a really large capital sum in trust ‘for my dear grandchildren, Caroline Elizabeth and Boyd Staunton Bastable, portions to be allotted per stirpes to any legitimate children of my son Edward David Staunton from the day of their birth.’ There it was, you see.”

“Your father was disappointed that you had no children?”

“Certainly that is how he would have expected it to be interpreted. But didn’t you notice that I was simply his son, when all the others were his dear this and dear that? Very significant, in something carefully prepared by Father. It would be nearer the truth to say he was angry because I wouldn’t marry — wouldn’t have anything to do with women at all.”

“I see. And why is that?”

“It’s a very long and complicated story.”

“Yes. It usually is.”

“I’m not a homosexual, if that’s what you are suggesting.”

“I am not suggesting that. If there were easy and quick answers, psychiatry would not be very hard work.”

“My father was extremely fond of women.”

“Are you fond of women?”

“I have a very high regard for women.”

“That is not what I asked.”

“I like them well enough.”

“Well enough for what?”

“To get along pleasantly with them. I know a lot of women.”

“Have you any women friends?”

“Well — in a way. They aren’t usually interested in the things I like to talk about.” “I see. Have you ever been in love?”

“In love? Oh, certainly.”

“Deeply in love?”


“Have you had sexual intercourse with women?”

“With a woman.”

“When last?”

“It would be — let me think for a moment — December 26, 1945.”

“A very lawyer-like answer. But — nearly twenty-three years ago. How old were you?”


“Was it with the person with whom you were deeply in love?”

“No, no; certainly not!”

“With a prostitute?”

“Certainly not.”

“We seem to be approaching a painful area. Your answers are very brief, and not up to your usual standard of phrasing.”

“I am answering all your questions, I think.”

“Yes, but your very full flow of explanation and detail has dried up. And our hour is drying up, as well. So there is just time to tell you that next day we should take another course. Until now we have been clearing the ground, so to speak. I have been trying to discover what kind of man you are, and I hope you have been discovering something of what I am, as well. We are not really launched on analysis, because I have said little and really have not helped you at all. If we are to go on — and the time is very close when you must make that decision — we shall have to go deeper, and if that works, we shall then go deeper still, but we shall not continue in this extemporaneous way. Just before you go, do you think that by leaving you nothing in his will except this possibility of money for your children, your father was punishing you — that in his own terms he was telling you he didn’t love you?”


“And you care whether he loved you or not?”

“Must it be called love?”

“It was your own word.”

“It’s a very emotional term. I cared whether he thought I was a worthy person — a man — a proper person to be his son.”

“Isn’t that love?”

“Love between father and son isn’t something that comes into society nowadays. I mean, the estimate a man makes of his son is in masculine terms. This business of love between father and son sounds like something in the Bible.”

“The patterns of human feeling do not change as much as many people suppose. King David’s estimate of his rebellious son Absalom was certainly in masculine terms. But I suppose you recall David’s lament when Absalom was slain?”

“I have been called Absalom before, and it isn’t a comparison I like.”

“Very well. There is no point in straining an historical comparison. But do you think your father might have meant something more than scoring a final blow in the contest between you when he arranged his will as he did?”

“He was an extremely direct man in most things, but in personal relationships he was subtle. He knew the will would be studied by many people and that they would know he had left me obligations suitable to a lawyer but nothing that recognized me as his child. Many of these people would know also that he had had great hopes of me at one time, and had named me after his hero, who had been Prince of Wales when I was born, and that therefore something had gone wrong and I had been a disappointment. It was a way of driving a wedge between me and Caroline, and it was a way of giving Denyse a stick to beat me with. We had had some scenes about this marriage and woman business, and I would never give in and I would never say why. But he knew why. And this was his last word on the subject: spite me if you dare; live a barren man and a eunuch; but don’t think of yourself as my son. That’s what it meant.”

“How much does it mean to you to think of yourself as his son?”

“The alternative doesn’t greatly attract me.”

“What alternative is that?”

“To think that I am Dunstan Ramsay’s son.”

“The friend? The man who was grinning at the funeral?”

“Yes. It has been hinted. By Netty. And Netty might just have known what she was talking about.”

“I see. Well, we shall certainly have much to talk about when next we meet. But now I must ask you to give way to my next patient.”

I never saw these next patients or the ones who had been with the doctor before me because her room had two doors, one from the waiting-room but the other giving directly into the corridor. I was glad of this arrangement, for as I left I must have looked very queer. What had I been saying?


“Let me see; we had reached Friday in your bad week, had we not? Tell me about Friday.”

“At ten o’clock, the beginning of the banking day, George Inglebright and I had to meet two men from the Treasury Department in the vault of the bank to go through my father”s safety-deposit box. When somebody dies, you know, all his accounts are frozen and all his money goes into a kind of limbo until the tax people have had a full accounting of it. It’s a queer situation because all of a sudden what has been secret becomes public business, and people you’ve never seen before outrank you in places where you have thought yourself important. Inglebright had warned me to be very quiet with the tax men. He’s a senior man in my father’s firm of lawyers, and of course he knows the ropes, but it was new to me.

“The tax men were unremarkable fellows, but I found it embarrassing to be locked up in one of the bank’s little cubbyholes with them while we counted what was in the safety-deposit box. Not that I counted; I watched. They warned me not to touch anything, which annoyed me because it suggested I might snatch a bundle of brightly coloured stock certificates and make a run for it. What was in the box was purely personal, not related to Alpha or any of the companies my father controlled. It wasn’t as personal as I feared, however; I’ve heard stories of safety-deposit boxes with locks of hair, and baby shoes, and women’s garters, and God knows what in them. But there was nothing of that sort. Only shares and bonds amounting to a very large amount, which the tax men counted and inventoried carefully.

“One of the things that bothered me was that these men, obviously not paid much, were cataloguing what was in itself a considerable fortune: what did they think? Were they envious? Did they hate me? Were they glorying in their authority? Were they conscious of putting down the mighty from their seat and exalting the humble and meek? They looked crusty and non-committal, but what was going on in their heads?

“It took most of the morning and I had nothing whatever to do but watch, which I found exhausting because of the reflections it provoked. It was the kind of situation that leads one to trite philosophizing: here is what remains of a very large part of a life’s effort — that kind of thing. Now and then I thought about the chairmanship of Castor, and a phrase I hadn’t heard since my law-student days came into my head and wouldn’t be driven out. Damnosa hereditas; a ruinous inheritance. It’s a phrase from Roman Law; comes in Gaius’s Institutes, and means exactly what it says. Castor could very well be that to me because it is big already, and with what will come into it from my father’s estate it will be a very large charitable foundation even by American standards, and being the head of it will devour time and energy and could very well be the end of the kind of career I have tried to make for myself. Damnosa hereditas. Did he mean it that way? Probably not. One must assume the best. Still —

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Categories: Davies, Robertson