The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

–From the Brazen Head.

It was a handsome piece, and on the back was engraved, “Time is. . . Time was. . . Time is past,” which is perfectly reasonable if you like inscribed watches, and of course these were the words she and Eisengrim used to introduce their Brazen Head illusion. I knew that, between us, it meant the mystery and immemorial age of the cave. I was embarrassed.

–I had no idea there was to be an exchange of gifts. I’m terribly sorry, but I haven’t anything for anyone.

–Don’t think of it. It is just as one feels. You see, dear Ramsay has not worried about gifts either.

–But I have. I have my gifts here. I wanted to wait till everyone was present before giving mine.

Ramsay produced a paper bag from under the table and solemnly handed us each a large gingerbread bear. They were handsome bears, standing on their hind legs and each holding a log of wood.

–These are the real St. Gall bears; the shops are full of them at this time of year.

Eisengrim nibbled at his bear experimentally.

–Yes, they are made like the bear which is the city crest, or totem, aren’t they?

–Indeed, they are images of the veritable bear of St. Gall himself. You know the legend. Early in the seventh century an Irish monk. Callus, came to this part of the world to convert the wild mountaineers. They were bear-worshippers, I believe. He made his hermitage in a cave near where the present city stands, and preached and prayed. But he was so very much a holy man, and so far above merely creatural considerations, that he needed a servant or a friend to help him. Where would he find one? Now it so happened that Callus’s cave had another inhabitant, a large bear. And Callus, who was extremely long-headed, made a deal with the bear. If the bear would bring him wood for his fire, he would give the bear bread to eat. And so it was. And this excellent gingerbread — I hope I may say it is excellent without seeming to praise my own gift — reminds us even today that if we are really wise, we will make a working arrangement with the bear that lives with us, because otherwise we shall starve or perhaps be eaten by the bear. You see, like every tale of a saint it has a moral, and the moral is my Christmas gift to you, Davey, you poor Canadian bear-choker, and to you, Magnus, you enchanting fraud, and to you, my dearest Liesl, though you don’t need it: cherish your bear, and your bear will feed your fire.

Later: For a walk with Ramsay. It was not long after three o’clock, but already in the mountains sunset was well advanced. He cannot walk far with his lame leg, but he went a few hundred yards, toward a precipice; a low stone wall warned us not to go too near, for the drop was steep toward a valley and some little farmsteads. Talked to him about the decision Liesl wants me to make and asked his advice.

–Liesl likes pushing people to extremes. Are you a man for extremes, Davey? I don’t think I can help you. Or can I? You still have that stone. . . You know, the one that was found in Boy’s mouth?

I took it out of my pocket and handed it to him.

–I can do this for you, anyhow, Davey.

He raised his arm high, and with a snap of the wrist threw it far down into the valley. In that instant it was possible to see that he had once been a boy. We both watched until the little speck could no longer be seen against the valley dusk.

–There. At least that’s that. Pray God it didn’t hit anybody.

We turned back toward Sorgenfrei, walking in companionable silence. My thoughts were on the dream I dreamed the night before I first confronted Dr. von Haller. It was splendidly clear in my recollection. I had left my enclosed, ordered, respected life. Yes. And I had ventured into unknown country, where archaeological digging was in progress. Yes, I had attempted to go down the circular staircase inside the strange, deceptive hut — so wretched on the outside and so rich within — and my desire had been thwarted by trivial fellows who behaved as if I had no right there. Yes. But as I thought about it, the dream changed; the two young men were no longer at the stairhead, and I was free to go down if I pleased. And I did please, for I sensed that there was treasure down there. I was filled with happiness, and I knew this was what I wanted most.

I was walking with Ramsay, I was fully aware of everything about me, and yet it was the dream that was most real to me. The strange woman, the gypsy who spoke so compellingly yet incomprehensibly — where was she? In my waking dream I looked out of the door of the hut, and there she was, walking toward me; to join me, I knew. Who was she? “Every country gets the foreigners it deserves.” The words which I had thought so foolish still lingered in my mind. They meant something more important than I could yet understand, and I struggled for an explanation. Was I going down the staircase to a strange land? Was I, then, to be a stranger there? But how could I be foreign in the place where my treasure lay? Surely I was native there, however long I had been absent?

Across the uneven ground the woman came, with a light step. Nearer and nearer, but still I could not see whether her face was that of Liesl or Johanna.

Then Ramsay spoke, and the dream, or vision or whatever it was, lost its compelling quality. But I know that not later than tomorrow I must know what face the woman wore, and which woman is to be my guide to the treasure that is mine.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson