On Wednesday morning David was in an office in the city. He sat forward on the edge of his chair, and from time to time he took out his handkerchief and wiped his face or polished his glasses, quite unconscious of either action. He was in his best suit, with the tie Lucy had given him for Christmas.
Across from him, barricaded behind a great mahogany desk, sat a small man with keen eyes and a neat brown beard. On the desk were a spotless blotter, an inkstand of silver and a pen. Nothing else. The terrible order of the place had at first rather oppressed David.
The small man was answering a question.
“Rather on the contrary, I should say. The stronger the character the greater the smash.”
David pondered this.
“I've read all you've written on the subject,” he said finally. “Especially since the war.”
The psycho-analyst put his finger tips together, judicially. “Yes. The war bore me out,” he observed with a certain complacence. “It added a great deal to our literature, too, although some of the positions are not well taken. Van Alston, for instance—”
“You have said, I think, that every man has a breaking point.”
“Absolutely. All of us. We can go just so far. Where the mind is strong and very sound we can go further than when it is not. Some men, for instance, lead lives that would break you or me. Was there—was there such a history in this case?”
“Yes.” Doctor David's voice was reluctant.
“The mind is a strange thing,” went on the little man, musingly. “It has its censors, that go off duty during sleep. Our sternest and often unconscious repressions pass them then, and emerge in the form of dreams. But of course you know all that. Dream symbolism. Does the person in this case dream? That would be interesting, perhaps important.”
“I don't know,” David said unhappily.
“The walling off, you say, followed a shock?”
“Shock and serious illness.”
“Was there fear with the shock?”
David hesitated. “Yes,” he said finally. “Very great fear, I believe.”
Doctor Lauler glanced quickly at David and then looked away.
“I see,” he nodded. “Of course the walling off of a part of the past—you said a part—?”
“Practically all of it. I'll tell you about that later. What about the walling off?”
“It is generally the result of what we call the protective mechanism of fear. Back of most of these cases lies fear. Not cowardice, but perhaps we might say the limit of endurance. Fear is a complex, of course. Dislike, in a small way, has the same reaction. We are apt to forget the names of persons we dislike. But if you have been reading on the subject—”
“I've been studying it for ten years.”
“Ten years! Do you mean that this condition has persisted for ten years?”
David moistened his dry lips. “Yes,” he admitted. “It might not have done so, but the—the person who made this experiment used suggestion. The patient was very ill, and weak. It was desirable that he should not identify himself with his past. The loss of memory of the period immediately preceding was complete, but of course, gradually, the cloud began to lift over the earlier periods. It was there that suggestion was used, so that such memories as came back were,—well, the patient adapted them to fit what he was told.”
Again Doctor Lauler shot a swift glance at David, and looked away.
“An interesting experiment,” he commented. “It must have taken courage.”
“A justifiable experiment,” David affirmed stoutly. “And it took courage. Yes.”
David got up and reached for his hat. Then he braced himself for the real purpose of his visit.
“What I have been wondering about,” he said, very carefully, “is this: this mechanism of fear, this wall—how strong is it?”
“It's like a dam, I take it. It holds back certain memories, like a floodgate. Is anything likely to break it down?”
“Possibly something intimately connected with the forgotten period might do it. I don't know, Livingstone. We've only commenced to dig into the mind, and we have many theories and a few established facts. For instance, the primal instincts—”
He talked on, with David nodding now and then in apparent understanding, but with his thoughts far away. He knew the theories; a good many of them he considered poppycock. Dreams might come from the subconscious mind, but a good many of them came from the stomach. They might be safety valves for the mind, but also they might be rarebit. He didn't want dreams; what he wanted was facts. Facts and hope.
The office attendant came in. She was as tidy as the desk, as obsessed by order, as wooden. She placed a pad before the small man and withdrew. He rose.
“Let me know if I can be of any further assistance, Doctor,” he said. “And I'll be glad to see your patient at any time. I'd like the record for my files.”
“Thank you,” David said. He stood fingering his hat.
“I suppose there's nothing to do? The dam will either break, or it won't.”
“That's about it. Of course since the conditions that produced the setting up of the defensive machinery were unhappy, I'd say that happiness will play a large part in the situation. That happiness and a normal occupation will do a great deal to maintain the status quo. Of course I would advise no return to the unhappy environment, and no shocks. Nothing, in other words, to break down the wall.”
Outside, in the corridor, David remembered to put on his hat. Happiness and a normal occupation, yes. But no shock.
Nevertheless, he felt vaguely comforted, and as though it had helped to bring the situation out into the open and discuss it. He had carried his burden alone for ten years, or with only the additional weight of Lucy's apprehensions. He wandered out into the city streets, and found himself, some time later, at the railway station, without remembering how he got there.
Across from the station was a large billboard, and on it the name of Beverly Carlysle and her play, “The Valley.” He stood for some time and looked at it, before he went in to buy his ticket. Not until he was in the train did he realize that he had forgotten to get his lunch.
He attended to his work that evening as usual, but he felt very tired, and Lucy, going in at nine o'clock, found him dozing in his chair, his collar half choking him and his face deeply suffused. She wakened him and then, sitting down across from him, joined him in the vigil that was to last until they heard the car outside.
She had brought in her sewing, and David pretended to read. Now and then he looked at his watch.
At midnight they heard the car go in, and the slamming of the stable door, followed by Dick's footsteps on the walk outside. Lucy was very pale, and the hands that held her sewing twitched nervously. Suddenly she stood up and put a hand on David's shoulder.
Dick was whistling on the kitchen porch.