Authors: Elizabeth Daly
IN VOLUME 2
N WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON,
June fifth, 1940, the sun made one of its rare appearances during that cold, wet spring. It poured through the windows of Mr. Henry Gamadge's library, made him shift his typewriter, and persuaded him that summer had come at last, and that he needed a rest. The branches of the big ailanthus tree that screened him from the backs of the opposite houses were in full leaf; a pleasant smell came in on a warm breeze, reminding him that New York was a seaport; he sighed.
Theodore, his old colored servant, came in with a card on a tray.
“Lady to see you, Mr. Gamadge; she say she have no appointment, but Mrs. Harrison Barclay tell her you ain't stiff about things like that. I wanted to say you ain't stiff enough about anything.”
“The wonder is you didn't turn her away.” Gamadge took the card, and read what was on it.
“She ain't anybody to turn away, Mr. Gamadge. Nice lady, not as young as she was any more; came in a nice little car with a chow dog in it, young lady drivin'âyou don't see many young ladies like her around this town.”
“Glad you approve of the outfit. Quite a nice name on the card, too,” said Gamadge.
“You goin' to see this lady?”
“Of course I am. Nobody turns down a Vauregard.”
He got up and went along the hall to his bedroom at the front of the house. He freshened himself a trifle, gazing without interest into the mirror. It reflected a tallish, well-made figure in the process of being ruined by long stooping over manuscripts, and the rather colorless face of a man in his middle thirties. Its features were blunt, its expression amiable, and its eyes a hard green-gray.
He went downstairs to his office, which had once, in his parents' time, been a drawing room. It retained its marble chimney piece and its molded ceiling, but was now furnished with a steel filing cabinet and a roll-top desk, besides several comfortable chairs; and it was walled with reference books. A lady got out of one of the chairs.
“I'm in luck,” she said.
“I hope so, Miss Vauregard.” Gamadge's first impression of this member of an old and once important family was pleasant. Miss Vauregard was probably between fifty and sixty years of age, slim, straight-backed, with very dark eyes and hair, a sallow-ivory face, and an engaging smile. Her plain black suit had been cut by an excellent tailor, but not recently. It was a trifle out of date, even shabby, but she wore it with elegance. She began with a rush:
“I must warn you first, the whole thing is completely crazy; you may not want to have anything to do with it. I shouldn't blame you. You'll have to hear how silly it is before I even sit down. Perhaps you won't listen to another word.”
“That sounds ominous. Try me.” Gamadge smiled at her.
“Mr. Gamadge, do you believe in the fourth dimension?”
After a moment's pause, Gamadge replied calmly and with gravity:
“Do I believe in it as a mathematical speculation, Miss Vauregard?”
“No; I mean about people or things going into it, and then perhaps coming out again.”
“Oh. There was a lot of that kind of talk about twenty years ago. As a boy, I was fascinated. The proof would have to be watertight to convince me, Miss Vauregard.”
“I knew you'd say so. Uncle Imbrie is convinced, though; he thinks somebody went into the fourth dimension, and then came out again. We want you to take the case.”
“Is there a case?” Gamadge, studying her anxious face, concealed his amusement.
“Yes. It's a business matter. We want you to charge your usual fee.”
“But I'm not a detective, you know; I don't charge fees for detecting. It wouldn't be proper.”
“I know; but this case is in your line, really it is. When I tell you about it, you'll realize, as we do, that you are probably the only living soul who could help us out of this mess. I mean itâthe only one.”
“You can't be serious.”
“Indeed I am. You'll know what I mean in a moment if you decide to come to our rescue.”
“And send in a bill. All right, Miss Vauregard, I shall, if I find that I can do anything to help you. Make yourself comfortable, do. You look tired.” He pulled up a chair for her and sat down himself.
“I feel better already.” She sank back, and Gamadge offered her a cigarette. “No, thanks, not just now. Oh, what a relief to see what you're like! I might have trusted Lulu Barclayâshe's critical.”
“I'm much obliged to her,” said Gamadge, laughing.
“She said you were easy to talk to, besides. I know Uncle Imbrie will like you!”
“I'm to meet Mr. Imbrie Vauregard? I think I did, onceâvery casually. My father knew him a little, too.”
“That's the point! He knows all about you, and would like to see you again, and show you his books. I can take you there. He doesn't receive many people, now, he's so old.”
“I wasn't aware that Mr. Vauregard cared especially about books; he was looking at furniture when I met him at that auction.”
“But not buying any. He likes to look at furniture, and then go home and look at his, and decide that nothing anywhere else is so good. His interest in booksâhis booksâonly developed a few years ago, when he retired from business. He was a great sportsman, like most of the family, you know. Horses, mostly.”
“His business was real estate, wasn't it?”
“Yes, the Vauregard property. He managed to hang on to his share of it, which is more than any of the rest of us has done. Well, I talked to him about you, and he thought it would be nice for you to see the old Vauregard library, and tell him if it's worth a real catalogue. I don't believe it is; like everything else in the old house, its principal value is in having always been there.”
“I remember him as a perfectly charming old gentleman. How old is he, anyhow?”
“Is he really? I hope the dear old thing hasn't been getting himself into trouble connected with the fourth dimension in space?”
“He doesn't know it, but I'm afraid he hasâserious trouble.” Miss Vauregard's smile had vanished, and her clever face had fallen into aging lines of anxiety. Indeed, there was something almost of horror in the look she gave him. After a moment she said, more lightly: “You will think the whole thing is grotesque, and perhaps you'll laugh; but at least you won't tell! That's reason number three why you're our only hope. One: Uncle will be delighted to see you. Two: You know queer things about old books. Three: We can trust you.”
“Did Mrs. Barclay say so?” smiled Gamadge.
“I flatter myself that I can see that kind of thing for myself.”
“Dangerous conviction, but I hope justified in this case.”
“We don't dare to breathe a word to the police, and we couldn't possibly engage a private detective. It isn't only that we mind the publicity; but to be perfectly frank with you, Uncle would be very angry, and might cut us all out of his will. He isn't out of his mind, no matter what delusions he has; and he'd never forgive us for interfering, or meddling with his affairs behind his back. Do you think me very sordid?”
“Very sensible. I respect your candor.”
“But we can't see his money go to criminals.”
“I should hope not.”
“We must investigate.”
“By âwe,' I suppose you mean the rest of the family. Who are they?”
“Well, not many. You know who my sister is: Angela Morton. She married Tom Duncannon, five or six years ago, and retired from the stage; but she's Mrs. Morton still, to everybody but Tom.”
“Of course I know Mrs. Mortonâas a delightful actress.”
“The whole crowd of us live with her in her Seventy-fourth Street houseâshe takes care of us all: Dick Vauregard, my brother's only child; Clara Dawson, my nieceâher parents are dead, tooâand myself. Dick is twenty-six; he's a lawyer. Clara's twenty. They haven't any money of their own, and neither have I, now. Uncle Imbrie gives us allowancesâhe's a darling, so generous. He gave Dickie and Clara cars for Christmas. But of course he wouldn't have us living with him in that sacred old house, the one on Traders Row.”
“Never married, did he?”
“Uncle Imbrie married? Goodness, no!”
“Is it true that he's leaving the old Vauregard house to the city?”
“It's to be a museum, and he's endowing it.”
“Oldest in New York, isn't it?”
“One of the oldest. It was built in 1827, and it's just as it always was, inside; outside, too, for that matter, except that there are no grounds leftâonly the side passage and the back garden.”
“I've seen it, of course.”
“Most people have. How he does hate the sightseeing busses! Luckily for him, they can't actually get into Traders Row. They used to try, but it doesn't lead anywhere, and they could hardly turn around, and the cobblestones were too much for them. Very few cabs come in now.”
“That endowment business sounds as if your uncle had a considerable fortune to dispose of.”
“Practically all the Vauregard money that's left. The rest of us weren't businesslike, I'm afraid. Angela made a good deal during her great days on the stage, but she is not a saver. I don't know what she has now. Her expenses must be frightful, with that great house and all. Tom doesn't contribute much, I should thinkâhe's been unlucky in his plays lately. You know he's an actor.”
“Yes, indeed. I've often seen him.”
“Angela has always been perfectly wonderful. Girls in her circumstances didn't go on the stage much in the Nineties; but she took the bit in her teeth. Father was dead by that time, luckily for them both! Mother never did get over it. Angela was always so brave; I couldn't have done it. But then,” said Miss Vauregard, cheerfully, “I never could do anything. I'm perfectly useless. Ever since my money finally went, about 1932, I've simply hung on to poor Angie. I do odd jobs for her, run the house, take Clara aroundâthat sort of thing. I haven't the brains for real work of any sort.”
“I imagine most people would consider a job like yours real work, Miss Vauregard.”
“Well, I don't get fat on it, but it's not too much for me, yet. We go along quite happily, and Uncle Imbrie has promised us all his money when he dies. I do wish Angie had left well enough alone, and not suddenly had this horrid idea of going back on the stage.”
“Horrid? It sounds delightful. What a comedian she used to be!”
“That's just it, Mr. Gamadge; she's a comedian. But this theater groupâwhat do they call themselves? The Mermaid Groupâthey want to put on a most frightful old play,
The White Devil
“No!” Gamadge whistled. “That's exciting.”
“Oh, do you know it? They want Angela to play the womanâthe white devil. Did you ever hear anything soâ”
“Angela Morton as Vittoria Corombona! I hope I shall live to see it.”
“Don't say that, Mr. Gamadge! You can't remember the thing! I had to type out the part for Angie, so that she could study it while she was having her hair done, and being massaged, and so on. I can't type well at all, my typing is awful, but it's a tremendous secret, so she made me do it for her. I never read such a horrible play in my whole life, and I've read and seen a good many. Why do they say we're getting brutal in literature, Mr. Gamadge? As far as I can make outâof course I know nothing about the dramaâI should say we'd improved.”
“Have they done any more of the casting, if I may ask? Who's going to play the dukeâBrachiano?”
“The wretched creature who kills his wife in order to marry Vittoria? Angela wants Tom to play it.”
“Hm. Not quite the type, perhaps; rather modern. Still, I don't know.”
“Angela is working on Bridge, the director of the group. She insists on Tom.”
“What a comeback she's staging for herself! How far have the proceedings gone?”
“Not far at all, I'm glad to say. They can't find anybody with money to back them, and it's going to be very expensive. Angie can't possibly do it, Mr. Gamadge. She'll make such a fool of herselfâI can't bear it.”
“She's done some extremely dramatic plays in her day; I'm not at all sure she couldn't pull this off.”
“But she's sixty, Mr. Gamadge, and the play describes Vittoria as the most beautiful young creature in the world. I can't bear to have people laughing at her.”