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Authors: Elizabeth Daly

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BOOK: Any Shape or Form
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Cora said she saw the little diamond. “And all the petals a different color. But why have three red ones?”

“One's dark red,” said her brother, “and one's light red, and one's pink. Or pinkish. A tourmaline?”

“A tourmaline,” repeated Cora. “And a ruby, I suppose, and an emerald and a garnet, and an amethyst. It's lovely. Thank you so much, Mrs. Malcolm,” said Cora, glancing at the big cluster on Vega's breast.

The brooch was passed from hand to hand, and at last Cora took it from Gamadge's fingers and pinned it on the left-hand lapel of her coat.

“It's not the value,” said Vega, looking incredibly smug, “it's the sentiment.”

“A token,” agreed Cora, in her low and expressionless voice.

Gamadge, looking at the pin, opened his mouth, closed it, and then sat with the slightly vacant air of one who has swallowed a remark.

Johnny got up. “It's just a trifle warm,” he said. “I'll open the terrace doors.” He went out into the hall, and presently a cool breeze brought with it into the living room a cawing of crows. “Confound those wretched birds,” he said, coming back. “They've moved in on me this fall. George kept them down.”

“I must confess,” said Gamadge, “that there's nothing I like better than the cawing of crows on an autumn day; except the conversation of katydids. Both are pests; make something of that, if you like, somebody.”

“What I make of it,” said David Malcolm, “is that a perfect world would be lacking in delight.”

A crow answered another from the depths of the garden. “Hang it, they're in the orchard,” said Johnny.

David Malcolm murmured: “Oh for a rook rifle.”

Johnny looked at him hopefully. “My boy,
would
you? There's an excellent substitute for a rook rifle in the cupboard under the stairs, a Winchester twenty-two. It was father's—you remember it, Vega? Always hanging ready in the hall in case someone sighted a chipmunk or a hawk, or heard a crow?”

“I remember,” said Vega.

“And the ammunition's in the drawer of the hall table. But it's only a one-shot, David. Take several.”

Malcolm went into the hall. A fine figure of a young man, after whom Vega gazed fondly. “He doesn't look as if he'd ever been wounded!” she declared.

“It was principally a head wound,” said Cora. “His leg's all right now.”

Malcolm returned, a shining brown rifle in his hands. “They don't make them any better,” he said. “Anybody want to come down with me and try a shot at a crow?”

Blanche Drummond rose. She said: “I'll come,” and walked across the room to him.

After a moment's pause Malcolm said: “All right. Anybody else?”

Nobody stirred. They went out into the hall together; and Walter Drummond was the only person in the room who did not watch them go.

“Your wife is really the most beautiful creature, Mr. Drummond,” said Vega. “Quite dazzling. What did they call them in the old days in England? Professional beauties. I'm sure that they would have stood on chairs to see her. And the photographs in the shopwindows! Once I
saw
Mrs. Langtry. Lady Something then, and rather a stately ruin; but still going strong.”

Her high laugh came on a perfect crescendo of cawing from the orchard, and in the ensuing silence the little clock on the mantel chimed musically and struck five.

CHAPTER THREE
Afternoon Stroll

R
EDFIELD WAS NOT
one to sit helpless while an awkward pause prolonged itself. He said briskly: “Why don't we all stretch our legs? Stroll around the place? There's nothing to see in the gardens, of course, but there are a few things to pick, and Alice wants flowers for the house. I ought to collect some marigolds. How about it, Abby? Will you keep me company in the cutting garden?”

“I'll walk down with you, Johnny,” said Abigail, getting up, “but I won't watch you cut marigolds. I hate the things. I hate the way they smell, and I hate that particular yellow.”

“But they're such a sacred flower,” protested Vega sentimentally.

“Let the Hindus hang them on the cows,” said Abigail. “I'll take a walk around the Loop.”

“Splendid. Just let me get my basket and the shears.” Redfield and Abigail went out into the hall.

The others had risen. They stood irresolute for a few moments, until Walter Drummond said in his hesitating way: “We might help Redfield out, Miss Malcolm. I've got my pocketknife; what about going down and trying to find something? Zinnias? Cosmos?”

Cora Malcolm rose; a slim, strong figure, with dark hair cut short and thickly waved on her small head. “I'd like some exercise,” she said. “I was thinking of croquet.”

Johnny put his head in at the doorway. “By all means, Cora, if you can find partners. But the light will be fading. Don't forget the floodlamps in that tree in the orchard.” He laughed. “I don't suppose anybody wants a swim!”

A chorus of protest answered him. He went off to join Abigail; Cora Malcolm and Drummond followed.

Vega glanced at Gamadge with amusement. “Well!” she said. “The Drummonds seem to have preempted my stepchildren.”

“All very friendly,” replied Gamadge, also smiling.

“And you've been left to take care of me. Shall we take a stroll too, Mr. Gamadge?”

“By all means. You must take me down to the shrine.”

“The shrine? Oh, of course.” She got up, shook out the flaring skirts of her robe, adjusted the yellow wreath, and walked beside him out to the terrace. Here she paused. “What a day! And to think that on such a day David is going to try to kill a living creature! I don't approve of any living creature being killed.”

“Except by sunstroke?” asked Gamadge, and instantly regretted the question. He had no wish to make fun of anybody's religion, and it was just possible that the being at his side might actually entertain feelings of personal veneration for the sun. But she corrected him with such tolerance as she might have learned from her divinity, who shines impartially on the enthusiast and the skeptic:

“I meant killed by human beings, Mr. Gamadge. That interferes with the System. But natural deaths—they're part of the System; sunstroke, cyclones, earthquakes—if you understand?”

Gamadge said that he thought he did.

“And all this”—Vega threw back her head and lifted her arms to the sky with an air of proprietorship—“and all this”—she lowered the embrace to include her surroundings—”it's part of the System too.”

“With a little landscaping superimposed,” said Gamadge.

But from the terrace little of the landscaped grounds could be seen; they were hidden by the great wall of evergreens and birches that rose twenty feet away to conceal the rockery. To the left of the terrace, shrubbery masked the boundary fence and hedge that cut the property off from the lane which Gamadge and Miss Ryder had climbed that afternoon; to the right, shrubbery and trees—among them several enormous oaks—hid the parallel hedge and fence that divided the grounds of Idlers from the woods. Near the hedge on that side, not far from the southwest corner of the rockery, there was a little pavilion; and a gate in the hedge behind it led to a narrow path or trail which ran between woods and fence parallel to the lawn. The pavilion had once been a summer-house, and was nicely ceiled and walled; now it was called the tool house; but it contained, besides garden implements, garden games—an archery set and a croquet set, and markers for clock-golf.

The lower slopes beyond the rockery were a succession of rectangles, running all the way from hedge to hedge, and themselves divided by six-foot hedges; they were connected by arches and wicket gates. First came a wide lawn, on the south side of which a rose garden, shut off by rustic posts and rose-vines, backed against the woods. Just below the rose garden on that side a wicket gate led from the lawn to outer precincts, a clearing in the woods where the trail from the tool house ended. This whole outer property, which included the greenhouse and the kitchen gardens, was encircled by the woods and by a wellkept road called the Loop; which provided the inmates of Idlers with an easy half-hour walk when they didn't care for rough hiking.

Below the lawn came the flower garden, which had a gate leading to the Loop; and below the flower garden was the orchard. Farthest down of all, in a wilder region, a swimming pool had been constructed from the old duck pond, and had a dam and a waterfall.

The rose garden could be approached through the rockery or around it on the south; but Vega preferred the rockery. Her sandals clip-clopped down the terrace steps, and when she and Gamadge had crossed the turf to the rockery path they clip-clopped again on the flags.

The rockery smelled damply sweet; it was deeply in shadow from the towering evergreens, and it had a stream and two cascades and pools. The second and larger of these, called the rock pool, was surrounded by a low wall. The path circled it.

As the two arrived at the rock pool, a crow cawed. Presently there was the crack of the rifle.

“Wonder if he got it,” said Gamadge, stopping beside a big birch.

“I hope not,” simpered Vega. “But don't tell Johnny I said so!”

They went on down stone steps, through a kind of tunnel formed by the trees and the shrubbery, and out on the lower lawn. Nobody was in sight. The rose garden, diagonally to their right, was now no more than a green square against the darker green of the woods behind it, but the vines, though blossom-less, were still thick enough to form a screen impenetrable to sight. Even the wide, arched entrance was encroached upon by the hanging shoots, and by the branches that had grown out, unpruned, on both sides.

“Such a mass of color it was,” said Vega, “not long ago.”

A crow cawed, and the rifle cracked. Vega looked toward the arch that led into the flower garden below.

“I wonder if Cora and Mr. Drummond will find something down there,” she said, “to reward them for their trouble.”

Gamadge did not reply. There was complete silence now, except for the little sawing sound of the crickets. The breeze had fallen, shadows were lengthening, but the sun was still bright above the trees behind Idlers.

They entered the rose garden. All its paths were turfed, and a turf border ran between the outer beds and the trellis. There was a rustic bench in each corner; under the one to the left of the wooden statue lay a gardener's flat basket. It contained a pair of garden gloves and a weeding spud.

“That Wilson boy,” complained Vega, “is always leaving his things about.” They had arrived at the end of the middle path, and she stood in front of the image and smiled at Gamadge. “Well, here he is, Mr. Gamadge. Isn't he lovely?”

Gamadge looked at the god. The rounded base of the statue was broken, and the thing was supported—a little askew—by means of two pea sticks that ran from the middle of its back through the hedge and fence, down into the undergrowth beyond. Its outstretched hands were fingerless, half its raised left foot was gone, and except for the suggestion of a rudimentary nose and half a lip, it was faceless. Blackened where it had been gilded, worm-eaten and rain-sodden, its short tunic falling back from a knee that had weathered to a leprous gray, it did indeed look like something that had once been alive, and was now dead and exhumed.

“Lovely,” said Gamadge.

“And isn't that a ray on his head?”

“Perhaps. At any rate, god or no god, he has his grove.”

“His grove?”

Gamadge nodded towards the dark woods beyond the hedge. “They always had groves. The gods, you know.”

“Did they? Then I must tell Johnny how right I was to insist on putting my Apollo here. And I shall certainly offer him some marigolds. Why should the Hindus have all the marigolds?”

David Malcolm's cool voice spoke from the archway: “I can offer him something he'll like better than marigolds, Mrs. Malcolm.”

He stood there with Blanche Drummond, his rifle under his arm and two dead crows hanging from the fingers of his other hand; in that light, and against the green of the leaves, they looked like blocks of onyx.

“Good gracious, my dearest boy,” cried Vega, “take those dreadful things away.”

“But he'd like them. The Greeks were very tough very late, Mrs. Malcolm. Later than you think.” He stood smiling, the crows swinging by their feet from his brown fingers. “And after all, if Apollo, did destroy field mice—”

“Take them right away!”

Blanche said gaily: “We're going to hang them up beside the gate out there, so they won't dare to come in from the woods.”

Malcolm was studying the wooden statue. Now he said: “I don't believe he's a god after all. He's probably Orpheus. Orpheus would be right for a bandwagon, and he had a cult, too—and what a cult! The Orphic mysteries—now they
were
something.” He advanced, took the rifle from under his arm, and dropped it, butt down, within the outstretched arms. “Take care of it, old boy,” he said, propping it against the broken foot, “it's loaded.”

Gamadge said: “He may be Apollo; if so he oughtn't to have anything dangerous to play with. Surely you remember Hyacinthus?”

“And what happened to
him
?” asked Vega.

“Most unfortunate accident. He and Apollo were playing quoits—the discus, you know—and Apollo cast the discus in the wrong direction. It clove the young man's skull to the brain.” Gamadge added firmly: “Interpreted by myth-breakers as sunstroke.”

Vega looked pleased and scholarly.

“Well, the old boy doesn't know anything about guns,” said Malcolm, “so I'll risk it.”

He stepped across a rose-bed, pushed vines out of his way, and disappeared through the east wall of the trellis.

Blanche Drummond stood looking after him, and Gamadge wondered if it could really be Blanche who stood there so at a loss. He asked: “Did you account for one of those birds of prey, Blanche?”

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