The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

We struck into some pretty rough country, for this was Muskoka and it is rocky and covered with scrub which is hard to break through. After about half an hour we came to a pretty summer house on a small lake; it was a fussy place, with a little rock garden around it — gardens come hard in Muskoka — and a lot of verandah furniture that looked as if it had been kept in good condition by fussy people.

“Who lives here?” asked Jerry Wood.

“I don’t know their names,” said Bill. “But I do know they aren’t here. Trip to the Maritimes. I heard it at the store.”

“Well — did they say we could use the place?”

“No. They didn’t say we could use the place.”

“It’s locked,” said Don McQuilly, who was the fourth of our group.

“The kind of locks you open by spitting on them,” said Bill Unsworth.

“Are you going to break a lock?”

“Yes, Donny, I am going to break a lock.”

“But what for?”

“To get inside. What else?”

“But wait a minute. What do you want to get inside for?”

“To see what they’ve got in there, and smash it to buggery,” said Bill.

“But why?”

“Because that’s the way I feel. Haven’t you ever wanted to wreck a house?”

“My grandfather’s a judge,” said McQuilly. “I have to watch my step.”

“I don’t see your grandfather anywhere around,” said Bill, sweeping the landscape with eyes shaded by his hand like a pirate in a movie.

We had an argument about it. McQuilly was against going ahead, but Jerry Wood thought it might be fun to get in and turn a few things upside down. I was divided in my opinion, as usual. I was sick of camp discipline; but I was by nature law-abiding. I had often wondered what it would be like to wreck something; but on the other hand I had a strong conviction that if I did anything wrong I would certainly be caught. But no boy likes to lose face in the eyes of a leader, and Bill Unsworth was a leader, of a sort. His sardonic smile as we haggled was worth pages of wordy argument. In the end we decided to go ahead, I for one feeling that I could put on the brakes any time I liked.

The lock needed rather more than spitting on, but Bill had brought some tools, which surprised and rather shocked us. We got in after a few minutes. The house was even more fussy inside than the outside had promised. It was a holiday place, but everything about it suggested elderly people.

“The first move in a job like this,” Bill said, “is to see if they’ve got any booze.”

They had none, and this made them enemies, in Bill’s eyes. They must have hidden it, which was sneaky and deserved punishment. He began to turn out cupboards and storage places, pulling everything onto the floor. We others didn’t want to seem poor-spirited, so we kicked it around a little. Our lack of zeal angered the leader.

“You make me puke!” he shouted and grabbed a mirror from the wall. It was round, and had a frame made of that plaster stuff twisted into flowers that used to be called barbola. He lifted it high above his head, and smashed it down on the back of a chair. Shattered glass flew everywhere.

“Hey, look out!” shouted Jerry. “You’ll kill somebody.”

“I’ll kill you all,” yelled Bill, and swore for three or four minutes, calling us every dirty name he could think of for being so chicken-hearted. When people talk about “leadership quality” I often think of Bill Unsworth; he had it. And like many people who have it, he could make you do things you didn’t want to do by a kind of cunning urgency. We were ashamed before him. Here he was, a bold adventurer, who had put himself out to include us — lily-livered wretches — in a daring, dangerous, highly illegal exploit, and all we could do was worry about being hurt! We plucked up our spirits and swore and shouted filthy words, and set to work to wreck the house.

Our appetite for destruction grew with feeding. I started gingerly, pulling some books out of a case, but soon I was tearing out pages by handfuls and throwing them around. Jerry got a knife and ripped the stuffing out of the mattresses. He threw feathers from sofa cushions. McQuilly, driven by some dark Scottish urge, found a crowbar and reduced wooden things to splinters. And Bill was like a fury, smashing, overturning, and tearing. But I noticed that he kept back some things and put them in a neat heap on the dining-room table, which he forbade us to break. They were photographs.

The old people must have had a large family, and there were pictures of young people and wedding groups and what were clearly grandchildren everywhere. When at last we had done as much damage as we could, the pile on the table was a large one.

“Now for the finishing touch,” said Bill. “And this is going to be all mine.”

He jumped up on the table, stripped down his trousers, and squatted over the photographs. Clearly he meant to defecate on them, but such things cannot always be commanded, and so for several minutes we stood and stared at him as he grunted and swore and strained and at last managed what he wanted, right on the family photographs.

How long it took I cannot tell, but they were critical moments in my life. For as he struggled, red-faced and pop-eyed, and as he appeared at last with a great stool dangling from his apelike rump, I regained my senses and said to myself, not “What am I doing here?” but “Why is he doing that?” The destruction was simply a prelude to this. It is a dirty, animal act of defiance and protest against — well, against what? He doesn’t even know who these people are. There is no spite in him against individuals who have injured him. Is he protesting against order, against property, against privacy? No; there is nothing intellectual, nothing rooted in principle — even the principle of anarchy — in what he is doing. So far as I can judge — and I must remember that I am his accomplice in all but this, his final outrage — he is simply being as evil as his strong will and deficient imagination will permit. He is possessed, and what possesses him is Evil.”

I was startled out of my reflection by Bill shouting for something with which to wipe himself.

“Wipe on your shirt-tail, you dirty pig,” said McQuilly. “It’d be like you.”

The room stank, and we left at once. Bill Unsworth last, looking smaller, meaner, and depleted, but certainly not repentant.

We went back to the car in extremely bad temper. Nobody spoke on the way to the Unsworths’ place, and the next day Wood, McQuilly, and I took the only train home to Toronto. We did not speak of what we had done, and have never done so since.

On the long journey from Muskoka back to Toronto I had plenty of time to think, and I made my resolve then to be a lawyer. I was against people like Bill Unsworth, or who were possessed as he was. I was against whatever it was that possessed him, and I thought the law was the best way of making my opposition effective.


It was a surprise that brought no pleasure when I discovered that I was in love with Dr. von Haller.

For many weeks I had been seeing her on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and was always aware of changes in my attitude toward her. In the beginning, indifference; she was my physician, and though I was not such a fool as to think she could help me without my cooperation I assumed that there would be limits to that; I would answer questions and provide information to the best of my ability, but I assumed without thinking that some reticences would be left me. Her request for regular reports on my dreams I did not take very seriously, though I did my best to comply and even reached a point where I was likely to wake after a dream and make notes on it before sleeping again. But the idea of dreams as a key to anything very serious in my case or any other was still strange and, I suppose, unwelcome. Netty had set no Store by Dreams, and the training of a Netty is not quickly set aside.

In time, however, quite a big dossier of dreams accumulated, which the doctor filed, and of which I kept copies. I had taken rooms in Zurich; a small service flat, looking out on a courtyard, did me very well; meals with wine could be taken at the table d’hote, and I found after a time that the wine was enough, with a nightcap of whisky, just so that I should not forget what it tasted like. I was fully occupied, for the doctor gave me plenty of homework. Making up my notes for my next appointment took far more time than I had expected — quite as much as preparing a case for court — because my problem was to get the tone right; with Johanna von Haller I was arguing not for victory, but for truth. It was hard work, and I took to napping after lunch, a thing I had never done before. I walked, and came to know Zurich fairly well — certainly well enough to understand that my knowledge was still that of a visitor and a stranger. I took to the museums; even more, I took to the churches, and sometimes sat for long spells in the Grossmunster, looking at the splendid modern windows. And all the time I was thinking, remembering, reliving; what I was engaged on with Dr. von Haller (which I suppose must be called an analysis, though it was nothing like what I had ever imagined an analysis to be) possessed me utterly.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson