The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

“Just a very rough shot at something the College of Heralds would laugh at, but I couldn’t help myself,” he said. “The description in our lingo would be ‘Gules within a bordure wavy or, the Angel of the Annunciation bearing in her dexter hand a sailing-ship of three masts and in her sinister an apple.’ In other words, there’s Mary the Angel with the ship she went to Canada on, and a good old Gloucester cider apple, on a red background with a wiggly golden border around the shield. Sorry about the wavy border; it means bastardy, but you don’t have to tell everybody. Then here’s the crest: “a fox Statant guardant within his jaws a sugar cane,

all proper.” It’s the Staunton crest, but slightly changed for your purposes, and the sugar cane says where you got your lolly from, which good heraldry often does. The motto, you see, is De forte egressa est dulcedo — “Out of the strong came forth sweetness” — from the Book of Judges, and couldn’t be neater, really. And look here — you see I’ve given the fox a rather saucy privy member, just as a hint at your father’s prowess in that direction. How do you like it?”

“You called it something,” said I; “a trifle of something?”

“Oh, anitergium,” said Adrian. “It’s just one of those Middle Latin terms I like to use for fun. It means a trifle, a sketch, something disposable. Well, actually the monks used it for the throw-outs from the scriptorium which they used for bum-wipe.”

I hated to hurt his feelings, but Pargetter always said that hard things should be said as briefly as possible.

“It’s bum-wipe, all right,” I said. “Father won’t have that.”

“Oh, most certainly not. I never meant that he should. The College of Heralds would have to prepare you legitimate arms, and I don’t suppose it would be anything like this.”

“I don’t mean the anitergium.” I said. “I mean the whole story.”

“But Davey! You told me yourself your father said you were probably bastards. He must have a sturdy sense of humour.”

“He has,” I said, “but I doubt if it extends to this. However, I’ll try it.”

I did. And I was right. His letter in reply was cold and brief. “People talk jokingly about being bastards, but the reality is something different. Remember that I am in politics now and you can imagine the fun my opponents would have. Let us drop the whole thing. Pay off Pledger-Brown and tell him to keep his trap shut.”

And that, for a while, was that.


I suppose nobody nowadays gets through a university without some flirtation with politics, and quite a few lasting marriages result. I had my spell of socialism, but it was measles rather than scarlet fever, and I soon recovered; as a student of law, I was aware that in our time whatever a man’s political convictions may be he lives under a socialist system. Furthermore, I knew that my concern for mankind disposed me toward individuals rather than masses, and as Pargetter was pushing me toward work in the courts, and especially toward criminal law, I was increasingly interested in a class of society for which no political party has any use. There was, Pargetter said, somewhat less than five per cent of society which could fittingly be called the criminal class. That five per cent were my constituents.

I got my First Class in law at Oxford, and was in time called to the Bar in London, but I had always intended to practise in Canada, and this involved me in three more years of work. Canadian law, though rooted in English law, is not precisely the same, and the differences, and a certain amount of professional protectionism, made it necessary for me to qualify all over again. It was not hard. I was already pretty good and was able to do the Canadian work with time to spare for other reading. Like many well-qualified professional men I knew very little but my job, and Pargetter was very severe on that kind of ignorance. ” ‘If practice be the whole that he is taught, practice must also be the whole that he will ever know,’ ” he would quote from Blackstone. So I read a lot of history, as my schoolwork with Ramsay had given me a turn in that direction, and quite a few great classical works which have formed the minds of men for generations, and of which I retain nothing but a vague sense of how long they were and how clever people must be who liked them. What I really liked was poetry, and I read a lot of it.

It was during this time, too, that I became financially independent of my father. He had been making a man of me, so far as a tight check on my expenditures would do it; his training was effective, too, for I am a close man with money to this day, and have never come near to spending my income, or that part of it taxation allows me to keep. My personal fortune began quite unexpectedly when I war twenty-one.

Grandfather Staunton had not approved of Father, who had become what the old man called a “high-flyer”, and although he left him a part of his estate, he left half of it to Caroline, in trust. To me he left what Father regarded as a joke legacy, in the form of five hundred acres of land in Northern Ontario, which he had bought as a speculation when it was rumoured that there was coal up there. Coal there may have been, but as there was no economically sane way of getting it down to places where it could be sold, the land lay idle. Nobody had ever seen it, and it was assumed that it was a wilderness of rock and scrub trees. Grandfather’s executor, which was a large trust company, did nothing about this land until my majority, and then suggested that I sell it to a company which had offered to buy it for a hundred dollars an acre; there was fifty thousand dollars to be picked up for nothing, so to speak, and they advised me to take it.

I was stubborn. If the land was worthless, why did anyone want to pay a hundred dollars an acre for it? I had a hunch that I might as well see it before parting with it, so I set off to look at my inheritance. I am no woodsman, and it was a miserable journey from the nearest train-stop to my property, but I did it by canoe, in the company of a morose guide, and was frightened out of my wits by the desolation, the dangers of canoeing in some very rough water, and the apparent untrustworthiness of my companion. But after a couple of days we were on my land, and as I tramped around it I found that there were other people on it, too, and that they were unmistakably drilling for minerals. They were embarrassed, and I became thoughtful, for they had no authority to be doing what they were doing. Back in Toronto I made a fuss with the trust company, who knew nothing about the drillers, and I made something more than a fuss to the mining company. So after some legal huffing and puffing, and giving them the Pargetter treatment, I disposed of my northern land at a thousand dollars an acre, which would have been dirt cheap if there had been a mine. But there was nothing there, or not enough. I emerged from this adventure with half a million dollars. A nice, round sum surely never foreseen by Grandfather Staunton.

Father was not pleased, because the trust company who had been so casual about my affairs was one of which he was a director, and at one point I had threatened to sue them for mismanagement, which he considered unfilial. But I stuck to my guns, and when it was all over asked him if he would like me to move out of the family house. But he urged me to stay. It was large, and he was lonely when his political career allowed him to be there, and so I stayed where I was and thus came once again under the eye of Netty.

Netty was the survivor of an endless train of servants. She had never been given the title of housekeeper, but she was the Black Pope of the domestic staff, never frankly tattling but always hinting or wearing the unmistakable air of someone who could say a great deal if asked. With no children to look after, she had become almost a valet to Father, cleaning his clothes and washing and ironing his shirts, which she declared nobody else could do to his complete satisfaction.

When I had finished my Canadian legal studies I gave offence to Father once again, for he had always assumed that I would be content to have him find a place for me in the Alpha Corporation. But that was not at all my plan; I wanted to practise as a criminal lawyer. Pargetter, with whom I kept in constant touch (though he never raised me to the level of one of his long-distance chess opponents) urged me to get some general practice first, and preferably in a small place. “You will see more of human nature, and get a greater variety of experience, in three years in a country town than you will get in five years with a big firm in a city,” he wrote. So once again I returned, not to Deptford, but to the nearby county town, a place of about sixty thousand people, called Pittstown. I easily got a place in the law office of Diarmuid Mahaffey, whose father had once been the lawyer in Deptford and with whom there was a family connection.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson