The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

When I woke, the game was over and some dreary war news was being broadcast. I had a headache. As I went upstairs I saw a light under Caroline’s door, and went in. She was in pyjamas, carefully painting her toe-nails red.

“You’d better not let Netty catch you at that.”

“Thank you for your invaluable, unsought advice. Netty is no longer a problem in my life.”

“What have you two been hatching up?”

“We have been reaching an understanding. Netty doesn’t fully comprehend it yet, but I do.”

“What about?”

“Dope! Weren’t you listening at dinner? No, you weren’t, of course. You were too busy Stuffing your face and guzzling booze to know what was happening.”

“I saw everything that happened. What didn’t I see? Don’t pretend to be so smart.”

“Netty opened up and made a few damaging admissions. That’s what happened.”

“I didn’t hear any damaging admissions. What are you talking about?”

“If you didn’t hear it was because you were drinking too much. Booze will be your downfall. Many a good man has gone to hell by the booze route, as Grandfather used to say. Didn’t you hear Netty admit that she loves Father?”

“What? She never said that!”

“Not in so many words. But it was plain enough.”

“Well! She certainly has a crust!”

“For loving Father? How refreshingly innocent you are! One of these days, if you remind me, I’ll give you my little talk about the relation of the sexes. It’s a lot more complicated than your low schoolboy mind can comprehend.”

“Oh, shut up! I’m older than you are. I know things you’ve never even heard of.”

“You probably mean about fairies. Old stuff, my poor boy!”

“Carol, I’m going to have to swat you.”

“Putting me to silence by brute strength? Okay, Tarzan. Then you’ll never hear the rest — which is also the best.”


“Do you acknowledge me as the superior mind?”

“No. What do you know that makes you so superior?”

“Just the shameful secret of your birth, that’s all.”


“I have every reason to believe that you are the son of Dunstan Ramsay.”


“You. Now I take a good look, in the light of my new information, you are quite a bit like him.”

“I am not! Listen, Carol, you just explain what you’ve said or I’ll kill you!”

“Lay a finger on me, dear brother, and I’ll clam up and leave you forever in torturing doubt.”

“Is that what Netty said?”

“Not in so many words. But you know my methods, Watson. Apply them. Now, attend very carefully. Daddy took Mummy away from Dunstan Ramsay and married her. Dunstan Ramsay went right on visiting this house as Trusted Friend. If you read more widely and intelligently you would know the role that Trusted Friend plays in all these affairs. Cast your mind back six years, to that awful Christmas. A quarrel. Daddy sweeps out in a rage. Ramsay remains. We are sent upstairs. Later we see Ramsay leave Mummy’s bedroom, where she is in her nightie. We hear her call out, ‘You don’t love me.’ A few hours later. Mummy tries to kill herself. You remember all that blood, that you couldn’t keep your mouth shut about. Daddy isn’t around home nearly so much after that, but Ramsay keeps coming. The obvious — the only — conclusion is that Daddy discovered Ramsay was Mummy’s lover and couldn’t bear it.”

“Carol, you turd! You utter, vile, maggoty, Stinking turd! How can you say that about Mother?”

“I don’t enjoy saying it, fathead. But Mummy was a very beautiful, attractive woman. Being rather in that line myself I understand the situation, and her feelings, as you never will. I know how passion drives people on. And I accept it. To know all is to forgive all.”

“You’ll never get me to believe it.”

“Don’t, then. I can’t help what you believe. But if you don’t believe that you certainly won’t believe what came of it.”


“What’s the good of my telling you, if you don’t want to hear?”

“You’ve got to tell me. You can’t just tell me part. I’m a member of this family too, you know. Come on. If you don’t I’ll get hold of Father next time he’s home and tell him what you just said.”

“No you won’t. That is one thing you will never do. Admit yourself to be Ramsay’s son! Daddy would probably disinherit you. You’d have to go and live with Ramsay. You’d be branded as a bastard, a love-child, a merry-begot –”

“Stop milking the dictionary, and tell me.”

“Okay. I am in a kindly mood, and I won’t torture you. Netty killed Mummy.”

I must have looked very queer, for Caroline dropped her Torquemada manner and went on.

“This is deduction, you understand, but deduction of a very superior kind. Consider: the orders were strict against Mummy getting a chill, so we must accept either that Mummy opened those windows herself or somebody else opened them, and the only person around who could have done it was Netty. If Mummy did it, she killed herself knowingly, and that would be suicide, and forgetting all that Netty so rightly calls Anglican guff are you ready to believe Mummy killed herself?”

“But why would Netty do it?”

“Love, dumb-bell. That tempest of passion of which you still know nothing. Netty loves Daddy. Netty has a very fierce, loyal nature. Mummy had deceived Daddy. Listen, do you know what she said to me, after we had left you hogging the wine? We talked a long time about Mummy, and she said, ‘Everything considered, I think your mother’s better out of it.’ ”

“But that isn’t admitting she killed anybody.”

“I am not simple. I put the question directly — or as directly as seemed possible in the rather emotional situation. I said, ‘Netty, tell me truly, who opened the windows? Netty, darling, I’ll never breathe it to a soul — did you do it, out of loyalty to Daddy?’ She gave me the very queerest look she’s ever given me — and there have been some dillies — and said, ‘Caroline don’t you ever breathe or hint any such terrible thing again!’ ”

“Well, then, there you have it. She said she didn’t.”

“She said no such thing! If she didn’t, who did? Things make sense, Davey. There is nothing without an explanation. And that is the only explanation possible. She didn’t say she hadn’t done it. She chose her words carefully.”

“God! What a mess.”

“But fascinating, don’t you think? We are children of a fated house.”

“Oh, bullshit! But look — you’ve jumped to a lot of conclusions. I mean, about us being Ramsay’s children –”

“About you being Ramsay’s child. I don’t come into that part.”

“Why me?”

“Well, look at me; I am unmistakably Boy Staunton’s daughter. Everybody says so. I look very much like him. Do you?”

“That doesn’t prove anything.”

“I can quite understand you don’t want to think so.”

“I think this is all something you’ve made up to amuse yourself. And I think it’s damn nasty — throwing dirt on Mother and making me out to be a bastard. And all this crap about love. What do you know about love? You’re just a kid! You haven’t even got your monthlies yet!”

“So what, Havelock Ellis? I’ve got my full quota of intelligence and that’s more than you can say.”

“Intelligence! You’re just a nasty-minded, mischief-making kid!”

“Oh, go and pee up a tree!” said my sister, who picked up a lot of coarse language at Bishop Cairncross’s.

I took my headache, which was now much worse, to my own room. I looked in the mirror. Caroline was crazy. There was nothing in my face to suggest Dunstan Ramsay. Or was there? If you put my beautiful mother and old Buggerlugs together, would you produce anything like me? Caroline had such certainty. Of course she was a greedy novel-reader and romancer, but she was no fool. I didn’t look in the least like my father, or the Stauntons, or the Cruikshanks. But?

I went to bed disheartened but could not sleep. I wanted something, and it took me a long time to admit to myself what I wanted. It was Felix. This was terrible. At my age, wanting a toy bear! It must be the drink. I would never touch a drop of that awful stuff again.

Next day, with elaborate casualness, I asked Netty what had happened to Felix.

“I threw him out years ago,” she said. “What would you want with an old thing like that? He’d only breed moths.”

DR. VON HALLER: Your sister sounds very interesting. Is she still like that?

MYSELF: In an adult way, yes, she is. A great manager. And quite a mischief-maker.

DR. VON HALLER: She sounds like a very advanced Feeling Type.

MYSELF: Was it Feeling to sow a doubt in my mind that I have never completely settled since?

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Categories: Davies, Robertson