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Authors: Elizabeth Daly

Any Shape or Form

BOOK: Any Shape or Form
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Elizabeth Daly




Felony & Mayhem Press • New York

Something in a Garden

said Miss Ryder. “You can see it if you look through here.”

Gamadge, pretending interest—Miss Abigail Ryder was his only female relative and seventy years old—peered through the meshes of the seven-foot wire fence into greenery. He said: “I can't see a thing.”

Miss Ryder took hold of his arm and jerked him closer to her side: “Look where I'm looking.”

Gamadge could do so only by further reducing his own height. He bent, flattened his nose against the wire, and gazed earnestly through the gap in the inner hedge. He could now see across a broad lawn, through a trellised archway, and to the very end of an enclosed garden. After a moment he asked incredulously: “What on earth?”

Miss Ryder said triumphantly: “You tell me!”

“Can't tell you. Never saw anything like it.”

“Whatever it is, imagine Johnny Redfield putting it up in his rose garden!”

“Must be a curio. But even if it is, where's his celebrated taste we never hear the end of?”

“You're such a detective,” said Miss Ryder in a bantering tone; she was of the old school, and thought that younger generations ought to be kept in their place. “You're such a detective, I supposed you'd give one look at it and tell me exactly what it was.”

“In five minutes we can ask Redfield what it is. I don't know why you haven't asked him before.”

“I haven't seen him all summer—not since I caught my first glimpse of that horror on my way up to the other cocktail party; the one he gave for his aunt when she first came. And there was such a crowd at the house that it went out of my mind.”

“When was that?”

“The second Sunday in July. Mrs. Malcolm came at the end of June, I think.”

“You haven't seen Johnny Redfield since July? I thought you were always dropping in on each other.”

“We haven't the use of our cars now, and this hill is getting to be too much for me in warm weather, and Johnny never puts foot to the ground if he can help it. And I've been away myself most of the summer; only got back to the cottage the first of September.”

“Well, you're doing your duty today.” Gamadge removed his nose from the wire and dusted it off with his handkerchief. “You not only came, you dragged me. I don't particularly wish to meet Redfield's aunt from California.”

“He'll be so pleased to see you. And it's her farewell party, she's going next week. And it's a great occasion besides.”

“What great occasion?”

But his cousin was again peering through the gap in the hedge. She said: “Johnny always meant to have a fountain there at the end of the middle path; he thought of putting it in when he put in the other waterworks—the cascades and pools in the rockery. Just the place for a fountain; pipes came down from a spring in the woods and fed the old watering trough. It was where the rose garden is now, as I remember it, and the barns and carriage house where this lawn is, and the cow barns down below; the duck pond was turned into the swimming pool. The lawn and all the big maples were in front of the house—I loved the old Redfield place. I was here a great deal, when Johnny's parents were alive and he was in his gocart.”

“Why didn't he put a fountain in?”

“He wanted to pick one up in Europe.”

“But never found one he could comfortably carry?”

“He picked up a handsome iron urn and put it there. Why on earth should he have taken it away and put up that repulsive object? It wasn't there last summer. I never saw it until that day in July when I was walking up and noticed that a tree was gone from the hedge—I suppose it died in the cold spell last winter. Johnny probably couldn't get it replaced—you saw the condition
shrubbery's in! I stopped, and saw that I could look through; and there, among all the roses, stood that thing. And before I got over the shock a tree spoke to me.”

Gamadge looked down at her. “Are you getting whimsical at last, Cousin Ab?”

“It's those parrots. They're loose in the grounds all summer, and one of them was in that little mountain ash there. It gabbled something and laughed. I didn't wait to hear what it was trying to say, I can tell you! I made off up the hill.”

“I don't think you were much disturbed,” said Gamadge, “except by the looks of Johnny's new antique.”

“It would take more than a battered image and a disembodied voice to bother you.”

“But what can the thing be, Henry?”

Gamadge bent to peer again. “Well, it's pretty far off; but I can see that it represents a human figure, probably masculine, and less than life size. There's a suggestion of short classical drapery. The figure is mounted on a low, rounded base, and it's badly weathered and defaced.”

“Defaced? Mutilated! It
no face! And look at those stumps of hands out in front of it—clutching!”

“They're not clutching; they were holding something. Some emblem—a musical instrument or a cornucopia.”

“A wooden thing will simply rot away. If Johnny had to put up something ugly, he might have put up that hideous stone toad he brought back from Indo-China.”

“Wood,” said Gamadge. “Funny. One doesn't see garden gods and statuary made of wood. But a saint, now—an early Christian saint without its shrine? Convert from a Roman legion? It's wearing a short tunic, and I think high buskins. May have been painted of gilt. Or how about one of the more militant angels—wings gone, but something that might be the remains of a halo is sticking out of the head. Or a scriptural character? I've seen big wooden figures—Spanish—from those Christmas groups. What do you call them?”

Miss Ryder, tiring of these ruminations, jerked Gamadge's arm. She said: “You don't know any more about it than I do. Come along. Johnny said four o'clock.”

Gamadge obediently turned, and walked at her side along the grass border of the private lane. But he protested: “People always want me to guess at things, but they always get tired of the subject before I stop guessing.”

His cousin snatched at her hat as the wind caught it, and crammed it back on her head. She complained: “You

Gamadge, adapting his pace to hers, strolled beside her with his hands in his pockets. He was hatless and in tweeds, his head lifted gratefully to the gentle October breeze. His amiable features looked happy. He was seldom grave; one Macloud, a saturnine friend, had in fact been known under stress to ask him to take his grinning face out of there. But not even Macloud had ever found his laughter causeless or malign.

Looking now across the road, beyond the fence and hedge that bounded the higher property on the other side of the way, he asked idly how the Drummonds were.

Miss Ryder answered in a tone of restraint that they were quite well, so far as she knew, and that they would be at the party that afternoon.

Gamadge looked at her. “Anything more than usually wrong with them?”

“I don't know what you mean,” said Miss Ryder, who was sternly opposed to gossip.

“Well, I mean that I've never seen Blanche and Walter exchange a word or a look in the last five years.”

“You only see them at parties. In case you didn't know it, married persons are not supposed to talk privately in public, or stare at each other.”

“I stare at Clara a good deal. Come on; Abby; tell me: has Blanche worn him out at last?”

“Worn him out! Walter was always

“She'd wear me out in three days; beautiful as she is. I suppose I could last three days—looking at her.”

“If he didn't care for the type, he needn't have married her.”

“People like Walter Drummond always think the statue will some day come to life. But I should think the time would come when even Pygmalion would up with the mallet.”

“Walter Drummond,” said Miss Ryder, frowning, “isn't the kind to up with a mallet. I suppose you mean lose patience and go?”

“Lose patience and go—or something.” He strolled on, whistling softly; but glancing down at his cousin, and seeing that her cheerful face looked worried, he fished about for a change of subject.

“You said this party of Johnny Redfield's was a great occasion. Is he celebrating because he's getting rid of Aunt after having her with him from the second Sunday in July until the middle of October?”

“Johnny must be rather tired of entertaining her, I should think. She's very odd.”

“Is she?”

“Very. Johnny told me he was a little anxious about her making the trip back to California alone, she's so flighty now. He says she turned her companion off before she came, and is sick of them, and won't have another. I should think she's developed the flightiness since she's been a widow, though, because Johnny told me Mr. Archibald Malcolm was a most hardheaded, conventional old thing. He was from one of those Scotch-pioneer Canadian families; but he'd settled in America—in the Northwest—for a long time; was making money in lumber. He's been dead ten years; she's been living in Pasadena.”

“Plenty of time and opportunity to get flighty,” said Gamadge. “Did you know her here in the old days?”

“No, she wasn't here much; liked travel. It was in Europe that she met the Archibald Malcolms, some years before the first Mrs. Malcolm died. Johnny's aunt was quite middle-aged when she married the widower; she must be at least sixty now. She's never been East since she married, and she adores Pasadena. But Johnny managed to get her back at last.”

“How did he manage it?”

“She's meeting her stepchildren here today for the first time—David and Cora Malcolm.”

“Really! Why hasn't she met them before?”

“Because they wouldn't have anything to do with her. Their mother was ill for years before she died—tuberculosis—and in a Swiss sanitarium. They were put in Swiss schools when they were only seven or eight, to be near her. The father doesn't seem to have bothered much about them or about her, I must say. He was making money in Oregon, or wherever it was, and never went abroad to see them. Then she died, and he married Miss Josephine Redfield within the year. A very successful marriage, Johnny says, but he didn't live long to enjoy it. The children were about thirteen, then—at the time of the marriage, I mean—and they were so disagreeable about it that he allowed them to stay over there; in fact, they wouldn't come home. They've been there ever since until the war—first in Switzerland and then in schools in England, and after their father died they settled in France. Now they live together in an apartment in New York. Did I say they were twins?”

“No. They sound like young persons of determination.”

“People have never blamed them much for their attitude, though they've never blamed Johnny's Aunt Josephine either. And then this wretched old Archibald Malcolm died and left the children only small allowances, and all the rest of his money to their stepmother for life.”

“Whew. That
getting even with the offspring!”

“Well, yes; but I suppose he was furious because they were so disagreeable about his second marriage.

“Perhaps they'd got some idea from their mother, or injudicious friends, that Johnny's Aunt Josephine had worked on old Mr. Malcolm in advance—before the first wife died.”

“I never heard that anybody ever said that.”

“How much does the stepmother get per annum?”

“About fifty thousand, I believe.”

“And what happens when she dies?”

“Then it goes to the twins, share and share alike.”

“And she wants to meet them?” Gamadge pretended horror.

BOOK: Any Shape or Form
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