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Authors: Elizabeth Daly

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“Very much. She's always wanted to be friends with them. She's offered them twice what they get now. They've always refused, but this summer they agreed to take it.”

“And what's softened their hearts at last?”

“Johnny. You know Johnny; he does so hate it when people don't get on. The first Mrs. Malcolm liked him, and so did the children; he'd met the whole family in Europe through his aunt, and then—wasn't it just like him?—he used to go and see the first wife in her sanitarium whenever he was abroad—which as you know was every spring—and he used to go and see the children in their schools. They never blamed
him;
he felt awfully about the will. Since they've been in this country he's seen a lot of them, and had them up here in the summers. He's worked on their sense of justice.”

“To themselves?” Gamadge was amused. He asked: “Do the young Malcolms perhaps find living expenses higher in this country than in France before the war?”

“If that has something to do with their making friends with the stepmother,” said Miss Ryder, “I shan't blame them at all. But Johnny says he's convinced them that his Aunt Josephine didn't influence old Mr. Malcolm when he made that will. He says she was dumbfounded.”

“Does she look like a good insurance risk, Abby?”

“Oh mercy, yes; she's wiry.”

“Her stepchildren will be middle-aged before they get their father's money. Very tough. What branch of the services,” asked Gamadge, “is young Malcolm in?”

“No branch. He was injured in France in nineteen-forty.”

“Fighting for his adopted country?”

“No; getting away.”

“Have you met the twins?”

“Several times. They've often been here in the summers since they came back.”

“What are they like?”

“Judge for yourself this afternoon. I can't quite make them out, myself. They're very clever and good-looking, but somehow—I don't quite know why—I always get the impression that they never mean what they say. They never seem serious; and without being ill-bred about it, they always seem to have some private joke with each other. Johnny says it's being twins; I don't know.” Miss Ryder rubbed her left ear. “I should think he'd be very nervous about the meeting this afternoon. I simply can't imagine them getting on with Mrs. Malcolm. She'd stun them.”

“Sensitive, are they? What do they do?”

“Do?”

“What have they been doing with themselves besides hating their stepmother?”

“I think they write.”

“Publish?”

“I don't suppose so, or Johnny would have said something. He thinks they're wonderful. The boy made a very unfortunate marriage in France. Johnny says they're both changed since they got home.”

“And you think they're warped and malicious? Or at least unamiable?”

“I make allowances. Their mother was a sick woman, and I think she was a neglected woman, and they were under her influence for years. And they've been living with rather disillusioned people, I think. They're polite enough, certainly to me, but I imagine that they rather despise us all.”

She paused. They had arrived at a fork in the road, where two signs hung from a post by ornamental brackets. The right-hand sign was simply inscribed with the name
Drummond.
The left-hand one said IDLERS.
J. M. Redfield.

“‘Idlers'!” said Miss Ryder crossly. “Imagine calling the old Redfield place Idlers! The natives pronounced it Iddlers from the first; they never did know what Johnny meant by it.”

“He meant what he said,” declared Gamadge, “and Idlers is an excellent name for it now. Then it was a farm; now it's a summer place to idle in.”

“Johnny thinks it's a great joke, their calling it Iddlers.”

“Johnny would.”

The left fork of the road wound under huge evergreens; pine needles lay thick on the sandy track, and the sky was no more than a ribbon of blue. Through dense trees on the left there was a glimpse of a house.

Gamadge and Miss Ryder passed a garage and a stone cottage on their right, and came out on a circular driveway; beyond it rose the unbroken line of the woods. The house, once a solid square of pinkish-drab native stone, now elongated by a north and a south wing, fronted the drive.

“Is Redfield painting much nowadays?” asked Gamadge, as they mounted the shallow doorstep. He was glancing to his right, where the studio occupied the whole of the south wing.

“Dabbling,” said Miss Ryder.

“Rather nice dabbling. All in black and white still?”

“I suppose so.”

“I never see him in New York.”

“He moves about so much. Did I tell you that he goes out to Pasadena every spring to see his Aunt Josephine?”

“No.”

“He says she lives such a secluded life there; she has a house with walled grounds, and she won't leave the place.”

“Sounds rather restful,” said Gamadge idly.

“I don't think she'd fit into ordinary society now.”

“Poor Redfield.”

“He really is fond of her, and quite worried about her now that she got rid of that Miss Gouch.”

“Miss Gouch?”

“The companion. Johnny says Miss Gouch was really an excellent person. Now the aunt will be alone, for a while at least, and Johnny doesn't like it. She's getting very queer, Henry.”

The door opened, and a nice-looking young colored girl in a wine-colored uniform and frilled apron smiled at them.

“How do you do, Alice?” asked Miss Ryder. “How's your mother?”

“She's fine, Miss Ryder, thank you. How do you do, Mr. Gamadge?”

“Nice to see you again, Alice.”

“Nice to see you, Mr. Gamadge. Please excuse the delay in answering the door.”

“Don't tell me you're short-handed,” smiled Gamadge.

“Yes, sir, we are. We only have Tilly Wirtz, and now Sam's gone too. Poor Mr. Redfield has to drive himself.”

“Oh Lord; poor Redfield.”

“Yes, sir. We have some nice little pears for you, Miss Ryder, if Mr. Gamadge will carry the basket down. You know George left for defense in the spring, and now we only have an occasional man in the gardens, and the Wilson boy. Of course they're not here on Sunday. It isn't the way it was when George lived over the garage.”

“It was kind of whoever thought of the pears at all,” said Miss Ryder. “Have them ready, and Mr. Gamadge will carry them home for me.”

They passed Alice and went into the hall; it extended through to glass doors that opened east on a terrace, and also on a fine view of trees, and sky. A delicate stairway rose on the right; it had been salvaged from some other statelier house to take the place of the enclosed flight which had once led up to the second story of the old Redfield farm.

Alice said with an apologetic glance at the empty copper jug on a side table: “We just don't get to do the flowers right any more, Miss Ryder, unless Mr. Redfield finds the time.”

“Don't blame you,” said Abigail.

“And we don't have as many flowers as we had when George was here. But Mr. Redfield says perhaps some of the folks will pick flowers this afternoon.”

“I can't. I have my rheumatism just now.”

“So has Mother.”

“Give her my sympathy.”

A slim man in his middle forties, short, baldish, with a neat moustache and bright hazel eyes, rushed from a doorway beyond the stairs. He seized Miss Ryder's hands. “Abby, I never see you now. Gamadge, my boy, I'm glad Abigail lured you up. But I'm disappointed not to see your wife with you.”

“Er,” said Gamadge. “She's still on Long Island hanging over the sky-blue bassinet.”

“Great heavens, how could I have forgotten?”

“Henry would be doing the same,” said Miss Ryder, “if he hadn't had a call of distress from me. I realized that I could never do my December tax installment without him; not to mention the thing that comes in March.”

“My God, can he do them? Can anybody? Well, thank goodness you're both here. I'm counting on you. Go in, Abby, do. Things seem to be getting a little sticky in there.”

“I thought they might be,” said Miss Ryder, and walked past the stairs and on into the living room.

Alice had lingered. She said: “Mr. Redfield, excuse me, but I think we're going to need some more of the Mount Gay.”

“Oh—do they like it? Good. Here's the key. You don't mind bringing it up, Alice? Thanks.” As she disappeared through an archway on the left, Redfield turned back to Gamadge. “I'm my own butler now, as you see; and I'm my own chauffeur, and getting to be my own gardener. Abby's told you what this occasion is, Gamadge, I suppose?”

“Something.”

CHAPTER TWO
A Token

R
EDFIELD WAS LOOKING
anxious. “The children are behaving pretty well,” he said. “Pretty well. But poor dear Aunt Josie—they hardly know how to take her. You'll help, Gamadge? You'll do your best? You won't mind humoring her? She'll ask you to call her Vega, you know; that's her astrological name.” He smiled. “You won't mind a flight to the stars? Into the Inane? I refer, of course, to the immensities of space.” His eyes glinted. “Just to keep her happy, you know. She's such a decent old thing.”

Gamadge said gravely that she had done well to choose as a patron a star of the first magnitude.

“Well, she sticks to the name; but I'm afraid that apart from sticking to the name she's rather deserted astrology. I'm afraid it's a sun cult now.”

“A what?”

“A sun cult.”

“I don't know about sun cults,” protested Gamadge. “I couldn't talk intelligently about sun cults.”

“Gamadge, my boy, you won't be called upon to talk intelligently about a damned thing. I can't keep up myself. But after all, it's all in the System, isn't it? Just humor her, old man.”

“Count on me.” Gamadge followed him into the living room.

It was a delightful room, long, high and bright, with double windows to the east and west. The front and back parlors of the old Redfield place had been thrown into one, and gaily papered and upholstered with Chinese birds and flowers. The best of the original mantelpieces had been set into the middle of the south wall, and a fire burned on the hearth.

There were six persons in the room, two on the west window seat and four around the fire; Gamadge, pausing in the doorway while Redfield snatched drink and food for him from Alice's tray, glanced at them all. The two at the window were his cousin Abigail and Mrs. Walter Drummond; the group that surrounded the hearth consisted of two young people on a settee, Walter Drummond in front of the fire on their left, and opposite them a figure that looked as though it might be dressed up for a fantastic part in a charade. Blanche Drummond, who if she were listening to Abby could certainly not have been attending to her, turned her head on its long and beautiful neck, smiled at Gamadge, and extended a hand in a long, creamy glove.

“Well, Henry,” she said.

“Well, Blanche.” He advanced to take the hand. “You're looking splendid. But have you ever looked less than splendid?”

She was thirty-five years old and didn't look it; tall, white-skinned, with bronze-golden hair and eyes the color, and with the brilliance, of the stone called cat's eye. In her woolen suit that had been dyed to simulate the tint of a dead leaf, with the bronze feather of her little hat drooping almost to one of her large gold-and-pearl earrings, she was a lady from the cover of an art-and-fashion magazine; she had such a lady's calm, resigned, distant look.

Blanche Drummond hardly every smiled, yet never looked serious; she looked blank. But was there a troubled expression in her face today, and had she aged a little? Gamadge thought so, and Abby's restraint when speaking of her had half prepared him for something of the kind.

Before she had replied to his compliment Johnny Redfield bustled up and dragged him away. “You mustn't talk to people you know yet, Gamadge; you must come and meet my aunt. Here's your cocktail and here's your sandwich.” His voice dropped. “I suggest that you swallow the cocktail
now;
then I'll bring you another.”

Gamadge, swallowing his cocktail, glanced again at the group in front of the fire. The two young Malcolms, side by side on their settee, had turned to look at him; and whether it was the identical quick motion of their dark heads, or the quizzical expression in their dark eyes, he couldn't for the life of him help thinking of two very intelligent monkeys. But they were both handsome, and certainly not ill-proportioned. The next moment they were simply an attractive young man and woman in tweeds, with clear olive complexions, low and broad foreheads, short, straight noses, and well-shaped chins. They had brown hands, with strong fingers. The young man, when he rose, showed himself to be medium tall, with wide shoulders. The girl seemed more delicately made.

Next to her, and leaning forward in his chair as if he had been listening or talking to her, sat Walter Drummond; tall, big and sandy, with a small sandy moustache, and wearing rough country tweeds. On the little table between them Walter's cigarette burned itself away in its glass dish. He looked up over his shoulder at Gamadge, and rose; but his blue eyes hardly seemed to recognize his old acquaintance.

Alone at the other end of the hearth sat the odd figure of the sun worshiper; a woman who would have looked shrewd, even rather hard and sharp, if it had not been for a grotesque costume and a wild and wandering eye. Gamadge had to remind himself that “big” business men consulted palmists, clairvoyants, and astrologers, in order to reconcile that Roman nose, thin mouth, and firm jaw, with the wreath of yellow artificial flowers on Vega's graying hair; with the yellow robe that hardly reached her bare ankles and was tied about her waist with a white cord obviously torn from a dressing gown; with the toeless and heelless beach sandals, yellow and blue, that could scarcely be said to cover her bare feet. There were rings on her fingers, and the left breast of the robe was decorated with a large diamond cluster, old-fashioned in design.

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