The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

DR. VON HALLER: Yes? A little more, please.

MYSELF: It’s not a part of my life I take pride in. Now and then I would gum-shoe around the house when Tiger was there, just to see that everything was on the level.

DR. VON HALLER: And was it?

MYSELF: No. There was a lot of prolonged kissing, and once I caught them on the sofa, and Carol’s skirt was practically over her head, and, Tiger was snorting and puffing, and it was what Netty would call a scene.

DR. VON HALLER: Did you intervene?

MYSELF: No. I didn’t quite do that, but I was as mad as hell, and went upstairs and walked around over their heads and then took another peep, and they had straightened up.

DR. VON HALLER: Were you jealous of your sister?

MYSELF: She was just a kid. She oughtn’t to have known about that kind of thing. And I couldn’t trust Tiger to understand that the greater responsibility was his. And Carol was as hot as a Quebec heater anyhow.

DR. VON HALLER: What did you say to Tiger?

MYSELF: That’s where the shame of the thing comes in. I didn’t say anything to him. I was pretty strong; I got over all that nonsense about being frail by the time I was twelve; but Tiger was a football tough, and he could have killed me.

DR. VON HALLER: Should you not have been prepared to fight for Father Knopwood’s principles?

MYSELF: Knopwood prepared Carol for Confirmation; she knew what his principles were as well as I did. But she laughed at him and referred to him as my “ghostly father”. And Tiger had no principles, and still hasn’t. He’s ended up as a public-relations man in one of Father’s companies.

DR. VON HALLER: So what was perfectly all right for you and Judy was not all right for Tiger and Carol?

MYSELF: I loved Judy.

DR. VON HALLER: And you had no sofa-scenes?

MYSELF: Yes — but not often. The Wolffs lived in an apartment, you see, and though it was a big one there was always somebody going or coming.

DR. VON HALLER: In fact, they kept their daughter on a short string?

MYSELF: Yes, but you wouldn’t think of it that way. They were such charming people. A kind of person I’d never met before. Dr. Wolff was a surgeon, but you’d never know it from his conversation. Art and music and the theatre were his great interests. And politics. He was the first man I ever met who was interested in politics without being a partisan of some kind. He was even cool about Zionism. He actually had good words for Mackenzie King; he admired King’s political astuteness. He weighed the war news as nobody else did, that I knew, and even when the Allies were having setbacks near the end, he was perfectly certain the end was near. He and Professor Schwarz, who was his brother-in-law, had seen things clearly enough to leave Austria in 1932. There was a sophistication in that house that was a continual refreshment to me. Not painted on, you know, but rising from within.

DR. VON HALLER: And they kept their daughter on a short string?

MYSELF: I suppose so. But I was never aware of the string.

DR. VON HALLER: And there were some tempestuous scenes between you?

MYSELF: Whenever it was possible, I suppose.

DR. VON HALLER: To which she consented without being sure that she loved you?

MYSELF: But I loved her. She was being kind to me because I loved her.

DR. VON HALLER: Wasn’t Carol being kind to Tiger?

MYSELF: Carol was being kind to herself.

DR. VON HALLER: But Judy wasn’t being kind to herself?

MYSELF: You won’t persuade me that the two things were the same.

DR. VON HALLER: But what would Mr. Justice Staunton say if these two young couples were brought before him? Would he make a distinction? If Father Knopwood were to appear as a special witness, would he make a distinction?

MYSELF: Knopwood was the soul of charity.

DR. VON HALLER: Which you are not? Well, don’t answer now. Charity is the last lesson we learn. That is why so much of the charity we show people is retrospective. Think it over and we shall talk about it later. Tell me more about your wonderful year.

It was wonderful because the war was ending. Wonderful because Father was able to get home for a weekend now and then. Wonderful because I found my profession. Wonderful because he raised my allowance, because of Judy.

That began badly. One day he told Caroline he wanted to see her in his office. She thought it was about Tiger, and was in a sweat for fear Netty had squealed. Only Supreme Court cases took place in Father’s office. But he just wanted to know why she had been spending so much money. Miss Macmanaway, the secretary, advanced Caroline money as she needed it, without question, but of course she kept an account for Father. Caroline had been advancing me the money I needed to take Judy to films and concerts and plays, and to lunch now and then. I think Caroline thought it kept me quiet about Tiger, and I suppose she was right. But when Father wanted to know how she had been getting through about twenty-five dollars a week, apart from her accounts for clothes and oddments, she lost her nerve and said she had been giving money to me. Why? He takes this girl out, and you know what he’s like when he can’t have his own way. Carol warned me to look out for storms.

There was no storm. Father was amused, after he had scared me for a few minutes. He liked the idea that I had a girl. Raised my allowance to seven dollars and fifty cents a week, which was a fortune after my miserable weekly dollar for so long. Said he had forgotten I was growing up and had particular needs.

I was so relieved and grateful and charmed by him — because he was really the most charming man I have ever known, in a sunny, open way which was quite different from the Wolffs’ complex, baroque charm — that I told him a lot about Judy. Oddly enough, like Knopwood, he warned me about Jewish girls; very strictly guarded on the level of people like the Wolffs. Why didn’t I look a little lower down? I didn’t understand that. Why would I want a girl who was less than Judy, when not only she, but all her family, had such distinction? I knew Father liked distinguished people. But he didn’t make any reply to that.

So things were very much easier, and I was out of Carol’s financial clutch.


Summer came, and the war had ended, in Europe, on May 7.

I went to camp for the last time. Every year Caroline and I were sent to excellent camps, and I liked mine. It was not huge, it had a sensible program instead of one of those fake-Indian nightmares, and we had a fair amount of freedom. I had grown to know a lot of the boys there, and met them from year to year, though not otherwise because few of them were from Colborne College.

There was one fellow who particularly interested me because he was in so many ways unlike myself. He seemed to have extraordinary dash. He never looked ahead and never counted the cost. His name was Bill Unsworth.

I went to camp willingly enough because Judy’s parents were taking her to California. Professor Schwarz was going there to give some special lectures at Cal Tech and other places, and the Wolffs went along to see what was to be seen. Mrs. Wolff said it was time Judy saw something of the world, before she went to Europe to school. I did not grasp the full significance of that, but thought the end of the war must have something to do with it.

Camp was all very well, but I was growing too old for it, and Bill Unsworth was already too old, though he was a little younger than I. When the camp season finished, about the middle of August, he asked me and two other boys to go with him to a summer place his parents owned which was in the same district, for a few days before we returned to Toronto. It was pleasant enough, but we had had all the boating and swimming we wanted for one summer, and we were bored. Bill suggested that we look for some fun.

None of us had any idea what he had in mind, but he was certain we would like it, and enjoyed being mysterious. We drove some distance — twenty miles or so — down country roads, and then he stopped the car and said we would walk the rest of the way.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65

Categories: Davies, Robertson