The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

“Whoever put the stone in his mouth.”

“Oh, come, Mr. Staunton, nobody could put that stone in a man’s mouth against his will without breaking his teeth and creating great evidence of violence. I have tried it. Have you? No, I thought you hadn’t. Your father must have put it there himself.”


“Perhaps somebody told him to do it. Somebody he could not or did not wish to disobey.”

“Ridiculous. Nobody could make Father do anything he didn’t want to do.”

“Perhaps he wanted to do this. Perhaps he wanted to die. People do, you know.”

“He loved life. He was the most vital person I have ever known.”

“Even after your stepmother had murdered him psychologically?” I was losing ground. This was humiliating. I am a fine cross-examiner and yet here I was, caught off balance time and again by this woman doctor. Well, the remedy lay in my own hands.

“I don’t think this line of discussion profitable, or likely to lead to anything that could help me,” I said. “If you will be good enough to tell me your fee for the consultation, we shall close it now.”

“As you wish,” said Dr. von Haller. “But I should tell you that many people do not like the first consultation and want to run away. But they come back. You are a man of more than ordinary intelligence. Wouldn’t it simplify things if you skipped the preliminary flight and continued? I am sure you are much too reasonable to have expected this kind of treatment to be painless. It is always difficult in the beginning for everyone, and especially people of your general type.”

“So you have typed me already?”

“I beg your pardon; it would be impertinent to pretend anything of the kind. I meant only that intelligent people of wealth, who are used to having their own way, are often hostile and prickly at the beginning of analytical treatment.”

“So you suggest that I bite the bullet and go on.”

“Go on, certainly. But let us have no bullet-biting. I think you have bitten too many bullets recently. Suppose we proceed a little more gently.”

“Do you consider it gentle to imply that my father killed himself when I tell you he was murdered?”

“I was telling you only what was most discreetly implied in the news report. I am sure you have heard the implication before. And I know how unwelcome such an implication usually is. But let us change our ground. Do you dream much?”

“Ah, so we have reached dreams already? No, I don’t dream much. Or perhaps I should say that I don’t pay much attention to the dreams I have.”

“Have you had any dreams lately? Since you decided to come to Zurich? Since you arrived?” Should I tell her? Well, this was costing me money. I might as well have the full show, whatever it might be.

“Yes. I had a dream last night.”


“Quite a vivid dream, for me. Usually my dreams are just scraps — fragmentary things that don’t linger. This was of quite a different order.”

“Was it in colour?”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, it was full of colour.”

“And what was the general tone of the dream? I mean, did you enjoy it? Was it pleasant?”

“Pleasant. Yes, I would say it was pleasant.”

“Tell me what you dreamed.”

“I was in a building that was familiar, though it was nowhere known to me. But it was somehow associated with me, and I was somebody of importance there. Perhaps I should say I was surrounded by a building, because it was like a college — like some of the colleges at Oxford — and I was hurrying through the quadrangle because I was leaving by the back gate. As I went under the arch of the gate two men on duty there — porters, or policemen, functionaries and guardians of some kind — saluted me and smiled as if they knew me, and I waved to them. Then I was in a street. Not a Canadian street. Much more like a street in some pretty town in England or in Europe; you know, with trees on either side and very pleasant buildings like houses, though there seemed to be one or two shops, and a bus with people on it passed by me. But I was hurrying because I was going somewhere, and I turned quickly to the left and walked out into the country. I was on a road, with the town behind me, and I seemed to be walking beside a field in which I could see excavations going on, and I knew that some ruins were being turned up. I went through the field to the little makeshift hut that was the centre of the archaeological work — because I knew that was what it was — and went in the door. The hut was very different inside from what I had expected, because as I said it looked like a temporary shelter for tools and plans and things of that kind, but inside it was Gothic; the ceiling was low, but beautifully groined in stone, and the whole affair was a stone structure. There were a couple of young men in there, commonplace-looking fellows in their twenties, I would say, who were talking at the top of what I knew was a circular staircase that led down into the earth. I wanted to go down, and I asked these fellows to let me pass, but they wouldn’t listen, and though they didn’t speak to me and kept on talking to one another, I could tell that they thought I was simply a nosey intruder, and had no right to go down, and probably didn’t want to go down in any serious way. So I left the hut, and walked to the road, and turned back towards the town, when I met a woman. She was a strange person, like a gypsy, but not a dressed-up showy gypsy; she wore old-fashioned, ragged clothes that seemed to have been faded by sun and rain, and she had on a wide-brimmed, battered black velvet hat with some gaudy feathers in it. She seemed to have something important to say to me, and kept pestering me, but I couldn’t understand anything she said. She spoke in a foreign language; Romany, I presumed. She wasn’t begging, but she wanted something, all the same. I thought, ‘Well, well; every country gets the foreigners it deserves’ — which is a stupid remark, when you analyse it. But I had a sense that time was running short, so I hurried back to town, turned sharp to the right, this time, and almost ran into the college gate. One of the guardians called to me, ‘You can just make it, sir. You won’t be fined this time.’ And next thing I knew I was sitting at the head of a table in my barrister’s robes, presiding over a meeting. And that was it.”

“A very good dream. Perhaps you are a better dreamer than you think.”

“Are you going to tell me that it means something?”

“All dreams mean something.”

“For Joseph and Pharaoh, or Pilate’s wife, perhaps. You will have to work very hard to convince me that they mean anything here and now.”

“I am sure I shall have to work hard. But just for the moment, tell me without thinking too carefully about it if you recognized any of the people in your dream.” “Nobody.”

“Do you think they might be people you have not yet seen? Or had not seen yesterday?”

“Doctor von Haller, you are the only person I have seen whom I did not know yesterday.”

“I thought that might be so. Could I have been anybody in your dream?”

“You are going too fast for me. Are you suggesting that I could have dreamed of you before I knew you?”

“That would certainly seem absurd, wouldn’t it? Still — I asked if I could have been anybody in your dream?”

“There was nobody in the dream who could possibly have been you. Unless you are hinting that you were the incomprehensible gypsy. And you won’t get me to swallow that.”

“I am sure nobody could get a very able lawyer like you to swallow anything that was ridiculous, Mr. Staunton. But it is odd, don’t you think, that you should dream of meeting a female figure of a sort quite outside your experience, who was trying to tell you something important that you couldn’t understand, and didn’t want to understand, because you were so eager to get back to your enclosed, pleasant surroundings, and your barrister’s robes, and presiding over something?”

“Doctor von Haller, I have no wish to be rude, but I think you are spinning an ingenious interpretation out of nothing. You must know that until I came here today I had no idea that J. von Haller was a woman. So even if I had dreamed of coming to an analyst in this very fanciful way, I couldn’t have got that fact right, could I?”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson