The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

Now is she in the very lists of love,

Her champion mounted for the hot encounter —

thought I when, after some discreet stage-management by Myrrha, I was properly placed and out of danger of committing an unnatural act. It was male vanity. I was seventeen, and it was the first time I had done this; it would have been clear to anyone but me that I was not leading the band. Very quickly it was over, and I was lying by Myrrha, pleased as Punch.

So we did more nice things, and after a while I was conscious that Myrrha was nudging and maneuvering me back into the position of advantage. Good God! I thought; do people do it twice at a time? Well, I was ready to learn, and well prepared for my lesson. Myrrha rather firmly gave the time for this movement of the symphony, and it was a finely rhythmic andante, as opposed to the lively vivace I had set before. She seemed to like it better, and I began to understand that there was more to this business than I had supposed. It seemed to improve her looks, though it had not occurred to me that they needed improvement. She looked younger, dewier, gentler. I had done that. I was pleased with myself in quite a new way.

More nice things. Quite a lot of talk, this time, and some scraps of Omar from Myrrha, who must have had him by heart. Then again the astonishing act, which took much longer, and this time it was Myrrha who decided that the third movement should be a scherzo. When it was over, I was ready for more talk. I liked the talking almost as much as the doing, and I was surprised when Myrrha showed a tendency to fall asleep. I don’t know how long she slept, but I may have dozed a little myself. Anyhow, I was in a deep reverie about the strangeness of life in general, when I felt her hand on my thigh. Again? I felt like Casanova, but as I had never read Casanova, and haven’t to this day, I suppose I should say I felt as a schoolboy might suppose Casanova to feel. But I was perfectly willing to oblige and soon ready. I have read since that the male creature is at the pinnacle of his sexual power at seventeen, and I was a well-set-up lad in excellent health.

If I am to keep up the similitude of the symphony, this movement was an allegro con spirito. Myrrha was a little rough, and I wondered who was the cannibal now? I was even slightly alarmed, because she seemed unaware of my presence just when I was most poignantly aware of being myself, and made noises that I thought out of character. She puffed. She grunted. Once or twice I swear she roared. We brought the symphony to a fine Beethovenian finish with a series of crashing chords. Then Myrrha went to sleep again.

So did I. But not before she did, and I was lost in wonderment.

I do not know how long it was until Myrrha woke, snapped on her bedside light, and said, “Good God, sweetie, it’s time you went home.” It was in that instant of sudden light that I saw her differently. I had not observed that her skin did not fit quite so tightly as it once had done, and there were some little puckers at the armpits and between the breasts. When she lay on her side her stomach hung down, slightly but perceptibly. And under the light of the lamp, which was so close, her hair had a metallic sheen. As she turned to kiss me, she drew one of her legs across mine, and it was like a rasp. I knew women shaved their legs, for I had seen Carol do it, but I did not know that this sandpaper effect was the result. I kissed her, but without making a big thing of it, dressed myself, and prepared to leave. What was I to say?

“Thanks for a wonderful evening, and everything,” I said.

“Bless you, darling,” said she. laughing. “Will you turn out the lights in the sitting-room as you go?” and with that she turned over, dragging most of the bed-clothes with her, and prepared to sleep again.

It was not a great distance back to the Ritz, and I walked through the snowy night, thinking deeply. So that was what sex was! I dropped into a little all-night place and had two bacon-and-egg sandwiches, two slices of their hot mince pie, and two cups of chocolate with whipped cream, for I found I was very hungry.

DR. VON HALLER: When did you realize that this ceremony of initiation was arranged between your father and Mrs. Martindale?

MYSELF: Father told me as we went back to Toronto in the train; but I didn’t realize it until I had a terrible row with Knopwood. What I mean is. Father didn’t say in so many words that it was an arranged thing, but I suppose he was proud of what he had done for me, and he gave some broad hints that I was too stupid to take. He said what a wonderful woman she was and what an accomplished amorist — that was a new word to me — and that if there were such a thing as a female swordsman, certainly Myrrha Martindale was one.

DR. VON HALLER: How did he bring up the subject?

MYSELF: He remarked that I was looking very pleased with myself, and that I must have enjoyed my evening with Myrrha. Well, I knew that you aren’t supposed to blab about these things, and anyhow she was Father’s friend and perhaps he felt tenderly toward her and might be hurt if he discovered she had fallen for me so quickly. So I simply said I had, and he said she could teach me a great deal, and I said yes, she was very well read, and he laughed and said that she could teach me a good deal that wasn’t to be found in books. Things that would be very helpful to me with my little Jewish piece. I was shocked to hear Judy called a “piece” because it isn’t a word you use about anybody you love or respect, and I tried to set him right about Judy and how marvellous she was and what very nice people her family were. It was then he became serious about never marrying a girl you met when you were very young. If you want fruit, take all you want, but don’t buy the tree,” he said. It hurt me to hear him talk that way when Judy was obviously in his mind, and then when he went on to talk about swordsmen I began to wonder for the first time if I knew everything there was to know about that word.

DR. VON HALLER: But did he say outright that he had arranged your adventure?

MYSELF: Never flatly. Never in so many words. But he talked about the wounding experiences young men often had learning about sex from prostitutes or getting mixed up with virgins, and said that the only good way was with an experienced older woman, and that I would bless Myrrha as long as I lived, and be grateful it had been managed so intelligently and pleasantly. That’s the way the French do it, he said.

DR. VON HALLER: Was Myrrha Martindale his mistress?

MYSELF: Oh, I don’t imagine so for a minute. Though he did leave some money for her in his will, and I know from things that came out later that he helped her with money from time to time. But if he ever had an affair with her, I’m sure it was because he loved her. It couldn’t have been a money thing.

DR. VON HALLER: Why not?

MYSELF: It would be sordid, and Father always had such style.

DR. VON HALLER: Have you ever read Voltaire’s Candide?

MYSELF: That was what Knopwood asked me. I hadn’t, and he explained that Candide was a simpleton who believed everything he was told. Knopwood was furious with Father. But he didn’t know Father, you see.

DR. VON HALLER: And you did?

MYSELF: I sometimes think I knew him better than anyone. Do you suggest I didn’t?

DR. VON HALLER: That is one of the things we are working to find out. Tell me about your row with Father Knopwood.

I suppose I brought it on because I went to see Knopwood a few days after returning to Toronto. I was in a confused state of mind. I didn’t regret anything about Myrrha; I was grateful to her, just as Father had said, though I thought I had noticed one or two things about her that had escaped him, or that he didn’t care about. Really they only meant that she wasn’t as young as Judy. But I was worried about my feelings toward Judy. I had gone to see her as soon as I could after returning from Montreal; she was ill — bad headache or something — and her father asked me to chat for a while. He was kind, but he was direct. Said he thought Judy and I should stop seeing each other so much, because we weren’t children any longer, and we might become involved in a way we would regret. I knew he meant he was afraid I might seduce her, so I told him I loved her, and would never do anything to hurt her, and respected her too much to get her into any kind of mess. Yes, he said, but there are times when good resolutions weaken, and there are also hurts that are not hurts of the flesh. Then he said something I could hardly believe; he said that he was not sure Judy might not weaken at some time when I was also weak, and then what would our compounded weakness lead to? I had assumed the man always led in these things, and when I said that to Dr. Wolff he smiled in what I can only describe as a Viennese 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