The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

I changed my mind about that later. The law gives every accused man his chance, and there must be those who do for him what he cannot do for himself; I was one of these. But I was always aware that I stood very near to the power of evil when I undertook the cases that brought me the greatest part of my reputation. I was a highly skilled, highly paid, and cunning mercenary in a fight which was as old as man and greater than man. I have consciously played the Devil’s Advocate and I must say I have enjoyed it. I like the Struggle, and I had better admit that I like the moral danger. I am like a man who has built his house on the lip of a volcano. Until the volcano claims me I live, in a sense, heroically.

DR. VON HALLER: Good. I was wondering when he would make his appearance.

MYSELF: Whom are we talking about now?

DR. VON HALLER: The hero who lives on the lip of the volcano. We have talked of many aspects of your inner life, and we have identified them by such names as Shadow, Anima, and so on. But one has been seen only in a negative aspect, and he is the man you show to the outer world, the man in whose character you appear in court and before your acquaintances. He has a name, too. We call him the Persona, which means, as you know, the actor’s mask. This man on the edge of the volcano, this saturnine lawyer-wizard who snatches people out of the jaws of destruction, is your Persona. You must enjoy playing the role very much.


DR. VON HALLER: Good. You would not have admitted that a few months ago, when you first sat in that chair. Then you were all for imposing him on me as your truest self.

MYSELF: I’m not sure that he isn’t.

DR. VON HALLER: Oh. come. We all create an outward self with which to face the world, and some people come to believe that is what they truly are. So they people the world with doctors who are nothing outside the consulting-room, and judges who are nothing when they are not in court, and businessmen who wither with boredom when they have to retire from business, and teachers who are forever teaching. That is why they are such poor specimens when they are caught without their masks on. They have lived chiefly through the Persona. But you are not such a fool, or you would not be here. Everybody needs his mask, and the only intentional impostors are those whose mask is one of a man with nothing to conceal. We all have much to conceal, and we must conceal it for our soul’s good. Even your Wizard, your mighty Pargetter, was not all Wizard. Did you ever find some chink in his armour?

MYSELF: Yes, and it was a shock. He died without a will. A lawyer who dies without a will is one of the jokes of the profession.

DR. VON HALLER: Ah, but making a will is not part of a Persona; it is, for most of us, an hour when we look our mortality directly in the face. If he did not want to do that, it is sad, but do you really think it diminishes Pargetter? It lessens him as the perfect lawyer, certainly, but he must have been something more than that, and a portion of that something else had a natural, pathetic fear of death. He had built his Persona so carefully and so handsomely that you took it for the whole man; and it must be said that you might not have learned so much from him if you had seen him more fully; young people love such absolutes. But your own Persona seems to be a very fine one. Surely it was built as a work of art?

MYSELF: Of art, and of necessity. The pressures under which I came to live were such that I needed something to keep people at bay. And so I built what I must say I have always thought of as my public character, my professional manner, but which you want me to call a Persona. I needed armour. You see — this is not an easy thing for me to say, even to someone who listens professionally to what is usually unspeakable — women began to throw out their lures for me. I would have been a good catch. I came of a well-known family; I had money; I was at the start of a career of a kind that some women find as attractive as that of a film actor. DR. VON HALLER: And why were you so unresponsive? Anything to do with Myrrha Martindale?

MYSELF: That wore off, after a time. I had come to hate the fact that I had been initiated into the world of physical sex in something Father had stage-managed. It wasn’t sex itself, but Father’s proprietorial way with it, and with me. I was young and neither physically cold nor morally austere, but even when the urge and the opportunity were greatest I wanted no more of it. It seemed like following in the swordsman’s footsteps, and I wanted none of that. But I might have married if Father had not gone before me, even there.

DR. VON HALLER: This was the second marriage, to Denyse?

MYSELF: Yes, when I was twenty-nine. I had passed my third year in Pittstown with Diarmuid, and was thinking it was time to be moving, for one does not become a first-rank criminal lawyer in a town where criminals are few and of modest ambition. One day a letter came from Father; would I meet Caroline for dinner at the family house in Toronto, as he had something of great importance to tell us? Since getting into politics Father had not dwindled in self-esteem, I can assure you, and this was in what painters call his later manner. So up to Toronto I went on the appointed day, and the other guests at dinner were Caroline and Beesty. Caroline had married Beeston Bastable the year before, and it had done her a lot of good; he was no Adonis, running rather to fat, but he was a fellow of what I can only call a sweet disposition, and after Caroline had tormented and jeered at him long enough she discovered she loved him, and that was that. But Father was not there. Only a letter, to be read while we were having coffee. I wondered what it could be, and so did Beesty, but Caroline jumped to it at once, and of course she was right. The letter was rather a floundering and pompous piece of work, but it boiled down to the fact that he was going to marry again and hoped we would approve and love the lady as much as he did, and as much as she deserved. There was a tribute in it to Mother, rather stiffly worded. Stuff about how he could never be happy in this new marriage unless we approved. And, finally, the name of the lady herself. It was Denyse Hornick. Of course we knew who she was. She ran a good-sized travel agency of her own, and was prominent in politics, on the women’s side.

DR. VON HALLER: A women’s liberationist?

MYSELF: Not in any extreme way. An intelligent, moderate, but determined and successful advocate of equality for women under the law, and in business and professional life. We knew she had attached herself to Father’s personal group of supporters during his not very fortunate post-war political career. None of us had ever met her. But we met her that night because Father brought her home at about half-past nine to introduce her. It wasn’t an easy situation.

DR. VON HALLER: He seems to have managed it rather heavy-handedly.

MYSELF: Yes, and I suppose it was immature of me, but it galled me to see him so youthful and gallant toward her when they came in, like a boy bringing his girl home to run the gauntlet of the family. After all, he was sixty. And she was modest and sweet and deferential like a girl of seventeen, though she was in fact a hefty forty-one. I don’t mean fat-hefty, but a psychological heavy-weight, a woman of obvious self-confidence and importance in her sphere, so that these milkmaid airs were a grotesque fancy dress. Of course we did the decent thing, and Beesty bustled around and prepared drinks with the modesty proper to an in-law at a somewhat tense family affair, and eventually everybody had kissed Denyse and the farce of seeking our approval had been played out. An hour later Denyse had so far thrown aside her role as milkmaid that when I showed some signs of getting drunk she said, “Now only one more tiny one, baa-lamb, or you’ll hate yourself in the morning.” I knew at that moment I couldn’t Stand Denyse, and that one more very serious thing had come between me and Father.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson