The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

“Without too much wriggling, I was able to look about me. The congregation was taking it with that stuporous receptivity which is common to Canadians awash in oratory. The man from the Prime Minister’s department, sitting beside the almost identical man from the Secretary of State’s department; the people from the provincial government; the civic officials; the Headmaster of Colborne School; the phalanx of rich business associates; not one of them looked as if he were about to leap up and shout. ‘It’s a God-damned lie; his lifelong motto wasn’t En Dieu ma foy but En moi-meme ma foy and that was his tragedy.’ I don’t suppose they knew. I don’t suppose that even if they knew, they cared. Few of them could have explained the difference between the two faiths.

“My eye fell on one man who could have done it. Old Dunstan Ramsay, my father’s lifelong friend and my old schoolmaster, was there, not in one of the best seats — Denyse can’t stand him — but near a stained-glass window through which a patch of ruby light fell on his handsome ravaged old mug, and he looked like a devil hot from hell. He didn’t know I was looking, and at one point, when Woodiwiss was saying En Dieu ma foy for the sixth or seventh time, he grinned and made that snapping motion with his mouth that some people have who wear ill-fitting false teeth.

“Is this hour nearly finished, by the way? I feel wretched.”

“I am sure you do. Have you told anyone else about the death-mask?”


“That was very good of you.”

“Did I hear you correctly? I thought you analysts never expressed opinions.”

“You will hear me express many opinions as we get deeper in. It is the Freudians who are so reserved. You have your schedule of appointments? No doubts about coming next time?”



Back again, after two days’ respite. No: respite is not the word. I did not dread my appointment with Dr. von Haller, as one might dread a painful or depleting treatment of the physical kind. But my nature is a retentive, secretive one, and all this revelation went against the grain. At the same time, it was an enormous relief. But after all, what was there in it? Was it anything more than Confession, as Father Knopwood had explained it when I was confirmed? Penitence, Pardon, and Peace? Was I paying Dr. von Haller thirty dollars an hour for something the Church gave away, with Salvation thrown in for good measure? I had tried Confession in my very young days. Father Knopwood had not insisted that I kneel in a little box, while he listened behind a screen; he had modern ways, and he sat behind me, just out of sight, while I strove to describe my boyish sins. Of course I knelt while he gave me Absolution. But I had always left the two or three sessions when I tried that feeling a fool. Nevertheless, despite our eventual quarrel, I wouldn’t knock Knopwood now, even to myself; he had been a good friend to me at a difficult time in my life — one of the succession of difficult times in my life — and if I had not been able to continue in his way, others had. Dr. von Haller now — had it something to do with her being a woman? Whatever it was, I looked forward to my next hour with her in a state of mind I could not clarify, but which was not wholly disagreeable.

“Let me see; we had finished your father’s funeral. Or had we finished? Does anything else occur to you that you think significant?”

“No. After the Bishop’s sermon, or eulogy or whatever it was, everything seemed to be much what one might have expected. He had so irrevocably transposed the whole thing into a key of fantasy, with his rhapsodizing on that irrelevant motto, that I went through the business at the cemetery without any real feeling, except wonderment. Then perhaps of the funeral people a hundred and seventy trooped back to the house for a final drink — a lot of drinking seems to go on at funerals — and stayed for a fork lunch, and when that was over I knew that all my time of grace had run out and I must get on with the job of the will.

“Beesty would have been glad to help me, I know, and Denyse was aching to see it, but she wasn’t in a position to bargain with me after the horrors of the morning. So I picked up copies for everybody concerned from my father’s solicitors, who were well known to me, and took them to my own office for a careful inspection. I knew I would be cross-examined by several people, and I wanted to have all the facts at my finger-tips before any family discussion.

“It was almost an anti-climax. There was nothing in the will I had not foreseen, in outline if not in detail. There was a great deal about his business interests, which were extensive, but as they boiled down to shares in a single controlling firm called Alpha Corporation it was easy, and his lawyers and the Alpha lawyers would navigate their way through all of that. There were no extensive personal or charity bequests, because he left the greatest part of his Alpha holdings to the Castor Foundation.

“That’s a family affair, a charitable foundation that makes grants to a variety of good, or apparently good, causes. Such things are extremely popular with rich families in North America. Ours had a peculiar history, but it isn’t important just now. Briefly, Grandfather Staunton set it up as a fund to assist temperance movements. But he left some loose ends, and he couldn’t resist some fancy wording about “assisting the public weal,” so when father took it over he gently eased all the preachers off the board and put a lot more money into it. Consequence: we now support the arts and the social sciences, in all their lunatic profusion. The name is odd. Means ‘beaver’ of course, and so it has Canadian relevance; but it also means a special type of sugar — do you know the expression castor-sugar, the kind that goes in shakers? — and my father’s money was made in part from sugar. He began in sugar. The name was suggested years ago as a joke by my father’s friend Dunstan Ramsay; but Father liked it, and used it when he created the Foundation. Or, rather, when he changed it from the peculiar thing it was when Grandfather Staunton left it.

“This large bequest to Castor ensured the continuance of all his charities and patronages. I was pleased, but not surprised, that he had given a strong hint in the will that he expected me to succeed him as Chairman of Castor. I already had a place on its Board. It’s a very small Board — as small as the law will permit. So by this single act he had made me a man of importance in the world of benefactions, which is one of the very few remaining worlds where the rich are allowed to say what shall be done with the bulk of their money.

“But there was a flick of the whip for me in the latter part of the will, where the personal bequests were detailed.

“I told you that I am a rich man. I should say that I have a good deal of money, caused, if not intended, by a bequest from my grandfather, and I make a large income as a lawyer. But compared with my father I am inconsiderable — just ‘well-to-do’, which was the phrase he used to dismiss people who were well above the poverty line but cut no figure in the important world of money. First-class surgeons and top lawyers and some architects were well-to-do, but they manipulated nothing and generated nothing in the world where my father trod like a king.

“So I wasn’t looking for my bequest as something that would greatly change my way of life or deliver me from care. No, I wanted to know what my father had done about me in his will because I knew it would be the measure of what he thought of me as a man, and as his son. He obviously thought I could handle money, or he wouldn’t have tipped me for the chairmanship of Castor. But what part of his money — and you must understand money meant his esteem and his love — did he think I was worth?

“Denyse was left very well off, but she got no capital — just a walloping good income for life or — this was Father speaking again — so long as she remained his widow. I am sure he thought he was protecting her against fortune-hunters; but he was also keeping fortune-hunters from getting their hands on anything that was, or had been, his.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson