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Authors: Elizabeth Daly

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BOOK: Any Shape or Form
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“Vega,” said Johnny Redfield, “let me present Henry Gamadge. Abigail Ryder's cousin, you know.”

Vega's smile was benevolent, and she held out her hand graciously, even mincingly. The refined gesture went oddly with the stare of the pale eyes and the slightly mad effect of the fillet and the robe. But they, of course, might be ritual—appropriate to somebody's idea of a cult of the sun.

Redfield said: “Gamadge is here by the happiest chance, Aunt. In these difficult times he doesn't look in on us often.”

“I'm delighted to meet Miss Ryder's nephew,” said Vega. “Or cousin—cousin, of course. Have you met my stepchildren?”

Gamadge said he hadn't as yet had the pleasure. “Cora, this is Mr. Gamadge, Mr. Gamadge, David Malcolm.”

Gamadge exchanged bows with the young Malcolms, and shook hands with Drummond. Chairs were pulled up; Gamadge found himself between the sun worshiper and Redfield. The twins sat quietly, shoulder to shoulder, gazing at Vega with a kind of innocent wonder; but Gamadge had seldom seen two people who looked more alert and wary.

“Did you know that it's our first meeting, Mr. Gamadge?” asked Vega, swinging a sandaled foot. “Our very first! These dear children have been living abroad, you know, or did live abroad until the war drove them home three years ago. And I have been living very quietly in Pasadena; more and more I hate to leave my peaceful,
sun-drenched
home! And when the rains do come, I go to the desert. But it couldn't go on forever, you know—our not coming together. Now it's all going to be different. We shall meet often. If I'm able I shall come East every summer.”

“Able?” protested Redfield. “Of course you'll be able.”

“I mean if I'm still on earth in this shape,” said Vega, smiling brightly at him. “In this vesture of decay, you know.”

Cora Malcolm was leaning forward, her hands clasped around her crossed knee, her eyes fixed on the speaker. Her brother's hand was along the back of the settee. He tapped her shoulder lightly, as he said in the low, unaccented monotone that both the twins affected: “I don't quite follow the trend of the idea, Mrs. Malcolm.”

“Vega, my dearest boy. Call me Vega.”

“I must remember. What I mean is, we should expect to find the old symbols—of fertility, of revival—in any cult of the sun. What dies in the autumn comes up in the spring. But slowly, if surely! Gradually and chemically.”

“Or botanically,” said Cora.

“Or botanically. But you almost seem to imply, Mrs. Malcolm—excuse me, I can't get used to it yet—that in your case you expect the translation to be immediate, quasi-miraculous. The quite different symbolism of the butterfly and the cocoon.”

“I do mean that,” said Vega, complacently. Though Redfield moved in his chair, and even Walter Drummond shuffled his feet, she had not seemed to notice that she was being made fun of. “I do mean it,” she repeated. “But you mustn't inquire too closely into the mysteries, dear boy. You wouldn't understand.”

Redfield said gaily: “Dearest Aunt, I preferred the stars! The stars were confusing enough, but at least seemed to be definite about what was going to happen to us.”

“I really prefer Calvin to the stars,” said David Malcolm, his dark eyes turning to Redfield. “I'd rather be predestined by Calvin than by the stars.”

“But the stars,” said Cora, “let us alone after we die. Don't they?”

Vega wore an expression vague but tolerant. Gamadge wondered why she put up with the twins, why they risked losing the increase in their allowance by their recklessness. Or had they gauged, as they thought, her silliness, and decided that open mockery would be safe? Looking again at that cold, canny face, he was more than ever certain that its owner was credulous—even perhaps a little crazy—on one subject and one alone. Like those big business men.

And he reflected that there might be something to account for her patience with the twins, something more rational than a bewitched preoccupation with the mysteries of a sun cult. Vega might be suffering from a guilty conscience where the young Malcolms were concerned. She really might have influenced her husband against them when he made his will. She might have read something in the stars—or the sun—which told her to make amends. In that case she wouldn't allow her stepchildren's rudeness to dissuade her from giving them money.

He remarked, in the tone of one who brings matters to a plane where everybody must feel at home: “I never did think that Casca was entirely right when he snubbed Brutus about the stars.”

“And who, pray,” asked Vega, smilingly, “was Casca?”

“Pay no attention to him,” said Redfield, “or to David either. They're both showing off. Why not? David is a prodigy who hasn't had a chance to express himself creatively yet; and as for Gamadge, what can you expect of an intelligence so perverse that its owner can only refer to his son and heir as a sky-blue bassinet?”

David Malcolm, with a faint indication of distaste for this domestic reminder, said that it surely couldn't be showing off on Mr. Gamadge's part to allude to anything so obvious as
Julius Caesar.

“I owe you one,” said Gamadge, smiling at him.

“But Casca isn't obvious to me,” declared Vega.

“Just a friend of dear Brutus',” Malcolm told her, “informing him that man is master of his fate.”

“I hate to seem pedantic,” said Gamadge, “but I must point out that Casca qualified his statement. He only said that men are at
some time
masters of their fate.”

David Malcolm grinned. “Now we're even,” he said.

“Er—not quite.”

Vega looked bewildered.

Miss Ryder and Mrs. Drummond approached the circle, chairs were rearranged. Abigail addressed Redfield accusingly:

“Johnny, you've lost a tree out of your boundary hedge.”

“Don't remind me, Abby! It went in February. Some blight.”

“Did you know,” she continued, and the oblique approach to her subject amused Gamadge very much, “that people can see right across the lawn and right into your rose garden?”

“Can they? I didn't realize that the gap was in a straight line from the archway. And why should I mind their seeing in?”

“No reason why, if you don't mind giving them a shock.”

“Shock?”

“Johnny, what is that horrid wooden image you've put up there?”

“Oh!” Redfield glanced at Vega, who looked complacent. “You had a glimpse of our little monster, had you?”

“Let's make them guess what it is,” said Vega, swinging her foot until the sandal hung from one toe. “And guess where it came from.”

“I guess that it once held something in its hands,” said Gamadge.

“It held a lyre, Mr. Gamadge!” Vega was delighted with him. “At least Johnny and I are sure it held a lyre. Now there's a clue for you!”

“Wait a minute.” Gamadge smiled at her. “Did
you
make Johnny put the thing up?”

“Of course I did.”

“And your favorite star is now our own star—the sun. Is it a figure of Apollo?”

“Of course! Didn't you see the rays on his head?”

“Well, I never saw a wooden image of Apollo before in all my life.”

“And why,” asked David Malcolm in his tired monotone, “why Apollo in a rose garden?”

“Apollo Smintheus,” said Gamadge. “And by the look on your face, Mr. Malcolm, I think that now we
are
even.”

“We are. I don't know Apollo in that role, whatever it may be.”

“Destroyer of field mice.” Gamadge turned to accept another cocktail from Alice, and another canape.

Vega clapped her hands. “Johnny!” she exclaimed, and gave a little screech of delight. “Do you hear? Our Apollo protects the garden!”

“Splendid,” said Johnny.

“Do anything about Japanese beetles?” mumbled Walter Drummond. “If so, might lend him to us.”

“I wouldn't let Johnny lend him to anybody,” cried Vega.

“We need him here,” agreed Johnny. “Especially if he does do anything about Japanese beetles. Does he, Gamadge?”

“Not that I know of,” replied Gamadge. “Field mice, just field mice.”

David Malcolm showed amusement. He turned to his sister. “This really seems to be a nice man, Cora,” he said. “A very nice man.”

Johnny burst out laughing. “Ever so nice, Dave,' he chuckled. “And the soul of urbanity, too—unless he's crossed. When he's crossed, he's poison.”

“Well, really!” said Miss Ryder. “I don't flatter people. I
never
flatter my own relations; but I must say that a more foolishly good-natured creature than Henry Gamadge I don't believe exists on earth.”

“Thank you, Abby,” said Gamadge, in a meek voice.

“I agree with you, Abigail; we find him so,” said Johnny. “But then we haven't committed any crimes.”

“I thought Mr. Gamadge liked crimes,” said Malcolm, in a tone of faint surprise.

Cora said: “We thought he took only an academic interest in them. Oh dear. Does he live to avenge them? Then he can't be so nice after all.”

“Once in a while a crime hits me the wrong way,” said Gamadge diffidently. “I've had a little luck with some of those.”

“And we never knew you were a practicing private policeman!” Malcolm sighed.

Miss Ryder, very cross at all this, turned abruptly to the guest of honor: “Where did your sun god come from, Mrs. Malcolm?”

“You'd never, never guess! Would she, Johnny?”

“Never, never. Tell her.”

“It came off a bandwagon!”

“A bandwagon?”

“A circus wagon.”

“Well, I'll be hanged.” Gamadge was amused. “That ought to take the blight off for you, Abby.”

“It partly does,” admitted Miss Ryder. “But where on earth did you find the circus wagon?”

“Well, as a matter of fact I only found that relic of it,” said Redfield. “Many years ago, in a farmer's barn. I was looking for some seasoned pine I heard he had there, and in a corner, propped up among wagon wheels and old metal, was the god. It seems that a little traveling circus came to grief in that vicinity, in the Eighties, and disintegrated where it stood. The Apollo had been gilt and painted, and the farmer's father rescued it. Well he rather fascinated me; I saw him with his lyre in his hands, you know, tottering along in all his splendor, drawn by six white, caparisoned horses, to the strains of the calliope. In fact he may have been
on
the calliope. Well: he was now battered, in eclipse; but I couldn't resist him. I brought him home and stored him in the lumber room off the garage. I had had some vague idea of putting him up in the kitchen garden, among the sunflowers; but when my aunt here caught sight of him—she was on a tour of inspection, viewing the old domain and all its improvements—nothing would satisfy her but to establish him among the roses.”

“I still think that was a mistake,” said Miss Ryder “but I'm glad to find that it was only a mistake, and that you haven't gone crazy.”

Cora Malcolm remarked that such a figure was a period piece, and that she'd rather like to see it.

“Has a little effect of something dug up, I must admit,” confessed Redfield, “and I haven't promised my dear Aunt Josephine—Vega—to keep it where it is forever. I'll store it after she goes, and trot it out again when she comes back.”

“You prefer a few field mice,” said David Malcolm, and his eyes, as they left Redfield's face, rested for a moment, and for the first time, on Blanche Drummond's. Then they moved away.

She had been looking at the fire. Now she said, as if with an effort, “You'd all love the Apollo if he were an archaic ruin from Crete. Just because he's representational—” Her voice died.

“Archaic!” said Vega. “That reminds me. Where did you put that little antique thing I have for Cora, Johnny?” And as Redfield got up and went over to a Chinese cabinet, she continued, smiling at Cora Malcolm: “Just a souvenir, dear child. Something that was your great-grandmother's.”

The twins, polite and attentive, sat looking at her inquiringly. Redfield, frowning a little, poked about in a drawer of the cabinet and returned with a small package done up in tissue paper. Vega took it from him, unwrapped it, and held up a big, heart-shaped gold brooch. Its surface, heavily embossed, was convex; and on the raised center of the heart five little stones were arranged like the petals of a flower. An almost microscopic diamond sent forth a tiny ray where the petals met.

“Did you ever see it, Cora?” Vega was looking at it fondly.

“No, I can't say that I ever did.”

“I thought you probably hadn't. It was with the rest of the family jewelry, and when your mother took you abroad to live she didn't of course take the old things; and at that time you were so very young. Your father”—she glanced down at the old-fashioned diamond ornament on her breast—“gave me the boxful when we were married. Of course you'll have everything when I'm gone, but I thought it would be nice for you to have this now. A token, you know.” She smiled at Cora. “It was your great-grandmother's—the Highlander. Her first husband was English, and he got this for her in London when they were engaged. There's a little secret to it. Your father showed it to me—see if
you
can find it.”

Cora accepted the brooch, said that Mrs. Malcolm was very kind, and with her brother's assistance examined it. The secret was easily found; a little door, neatly contrived on the back of the ornament, disclosed when opened a fragment of something brown and faded under glass.

“Your great-grandfather's hair, of course,” said Vega, “and that makes it a locket. Such exquisite workmanship! Do you see the little diamond in the center of the flower?”

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