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,
"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
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
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
"A justifiable experiment," David affirmed stoutly. "And it took
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
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
"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.