The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

“It is not a fact, except insofar as all coincidences are facts. You met a woman in your Dream, and I am a woman. But not necessarily that woman. I assure you it is nothing uncommon for a new patient to have an important and revealing dream before treatment begins — before he has met his doctor. We always ask, just in case. But an anticipatory dream containing an unknown fact is a rarity. Still, we need not pursue it now. There will be time for that later.”

“Will there be any later? If I understand the dream, I cannot make head or tail of the gypsy woman with the incomprehensible conversation, and go back to my familiar world. What do you deduce from that?”

“Dreams do not foretell the future. They reveal states of mind in which the future may be implicit. Your state of mind at present is very much that of a man who wants no conversation with incomprehensible women. But your state of mind may change. Don’t you think so?”

“I really don’t know. Frankly, it seems to me that this meeting has been a dogfight, a grappling for advantage. Would the treatment go on like this?”

“For a time, perhaps. But it could not achieve anything on that level. Now — our hour is nearly over, so I must cut some corners and speak frankly. If I am to help you, you will have to speak to me from your best self, honestly and with trust; if you continue to speak always from your inferior, suspicious self, trying to catch me out in some charlatanism, I shall not be able to do anything for you, and in a few sessions you will break off your treatment. Perhaps that is what you want to do now. We have one minute, Mr. Staunton. Shall I see you at our next appointment, or not? Please do not think I shall be offended if you decide not to continue, for there are many patients who wish to see me, and if you knew them they would assure you that I am no charlatan, but a serious experienced doctor. Which is it to be?”

I have always hated being put on the spot. I was very angry. But as I reached for my hat, I saw that my hand was shaking, and she saw it, too. Something had to be done about that tremor.

“I shall come at the appointed time,” I said.

“Good. Five minutes before your hour, if you please. I keep a very close schedule.”

And there I was, out in the street, furious with myself, and Dr. von Haller. But in a quiet corner of my mind I was not displeased that I should be seeing her again.


Two days passed before my next appointment, during which I changed my mind several times, but when the hour came, I was there. I had chewed over everything that had been said and had thought of a number of good things that I would have said myself if I had thought of them at the proper time. The fact that the doctor was a woman had put me out more than I cared to admit. I have my own reasons for not liking to be instructed by a woman, and by no means all of them are associated with that intolerable old afreet Netty Quelch, who has ridden me with whip and spur for as long as I can remember. Nor did I like the dream-interpretation

game, which contradicted every rule of evidence known to me; the discovery of truth is one of the principal functions of the law, to which I have given the best that is in me; is truth to be found in the vapours of dreams? Nor had I liked the doctor’s brusque manner of telling me to make up my mind, not to waste her time, and to be punctual. I had been made to feel like a stupid witness, which is as ridiculous an estimate of my character as anybody could contrive. But I would not retreat before Dr. Johanna von Haller without at least one return engagement, and perhaps more than that.

A directory had told me her name was Johanna. Beyond that, and that she was a Prof. Dr. med. und spezialarzt fur Psychiatrie, I could find out nothing about her.

Ah well, there was the tremor of my hand. No sense in making a lot of that. Nerves, and no wonder. But was it not because of my nerves I had come to Zurich?

This time we did not meet in the sitting-room but in Dr. von Haller’s study, which was rather dark and filled with books, and a few pieces of modern statuary that looked pretty good, though I could not examine them closely. Also, there was a piece of old stained glass suspended in the window, which was fine in itself, but displeased me because it seemed affected. Prominent on the desk was a signed photograph of Dr. Jung himself. Dr. von Haller did not sit behind the desk, but in a chair near my own; I knew this trick, which is supposed to inspire confidence because it sets aside the natural barrier — the desk of the professional person. I had my eye on the doctor this time, and did not mean to let her get away with anything.

She was all smiles.

“No dogfight this time, I hope, Mr. Staunton?”

“I hope not. But it is entirely up to you.”

“Entirely? Very well. Before we go further, the report has come from the clinic. You seem to be in depleted general health and a little — nervous, shall we say? What used to be called neurasthenic. And some neuritic pain. Rather underweight. Occasional marked tremor of the hands.”

“Recently, yes. I have been under great stress.”

“Never before?”

“Now and then, when my professional work was heavy.”

“How much have you had to drink this morning?”

“A good sharp snort for breakfast, and another before coming here.”

“Is that usual?”

“It is what I usually take on a day when I am to appear in court.”

“Do you regard this as appearing in court?”

“Certainly not. But as I have already told you several times, I have been under heavy stress, and that is my way of coping with stress. Doubtless you think it a bad way. I think otherwise.”

“I am sure you know all the objections to excessive use of alcohol?”

“I could give you an excellent temperance lecture right now. Indeed, I am a firm believer in temperance for the kind of people who benefit from temperance. I am not one of them. Temperance is a middle-class virtue, and it is not my fate. On the contrary, I am rich and in our time wealth takes a man out of the middle class, unless he made all the money himself. I am the third generation of money in my family. To be rich is to be a special kind of person. Are you rich?”

“By no means.”

“Quick to deny it, I observe. Yet you seem to live in a good professional style, which would be riches to most people in the world. Well — I am rich, though not so rich as people imagine. If you are rich you have to discover your own truths and make a great many of your own rules. The middle-class ethic will not serve you, and if you devote yourself to it, it will trip you up and make a fool of you.”

“What do you mean by rich?”

“I mean good hard coin. Doctor. I don’t mean the riches of the mind or the wealth of the spirit, or any of that pompous crap. I mean money. Specifically, I count a man rich if he has an annual income of over a hundred thousand dollars before taxes. If he has that he has plenty of other evidences of wealth, as well. I have considerably more than a hundred thousand a year, and I make much of it by being at the top of my profession, which is the law. I am what used to be called ‘an eminent advocate.’ And if being rich and being an eminent advocate also requires a drink before breakfast, I am prepared to pay the price. But to assure you that I am not wholly unmindful of my grandparents, who hated liquor as the prime work of the Devil, I always have my first Drink of the day with a raw egg in it. That is my breakfast.”

“How much in a day?”

“Call it a bottle, more or less. More at present, because as I keep telling you, I have been under stress.”

“What made you think you needed an analyst, instead of a cure for alcoholics?”

“Because I do not think of myself as an alcoholic. To be an alcoholic is a middle-class predicament. My reputation in the country where I live is such that I would cut an absurd figure in Alcoholics Anonymous; if a couple of the brethren came to minister to me, they would be afraid of me; anyhow I don’t go on the rampage or pass out or make a notable jackass of myself — I just drink a good deal and talk rather frankly. If I were to go out with another A.A. to cope with some fellow who was on the bottle, the sight of me would terrify him; he would think he had done something dreadful in his cups, and that I was his lawyer and the police were coming with the wagon. Nor would I be any good in group therapy; I took a look at that, once; I am not an intellectual snob, Doctor — at least, that is my story at present — but group therapy is too chummy for me. I lack the confessional spirit; I prefer to encourage it in others, preferably when they are in the witness-box. No, I am not an alcoholic, for alcoholism is not my disease, but my symptom.”

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