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Authors: Philip Wylie

Corpses at indian stone

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Corpses at Indian Stones

by Philip Wylie

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POPULAR LIBRARY EDITION

Copyright, 1943, by Philip Wylie

Published by arrangement with Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc.

Holt, Rinehart & Winston edition published February, 1943

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. All Rights ReservedCHAPTER 1

At the curb of a New York side street--a once fashionable street now dowdy and ostentatious--stood a vintage limousine. It was a well-preserved automobile and its chauffeur had the look of one who had driven carriages in his younger days. He was assisting a thin colored girl in the placement of luggage. They were particular about the chore--as if the owner of the car had an eagle eye for error.

It was a lovely afternoon, balmy and clear. Passers-by, had they stopped to examine the pieces of baggage, could have guessed something about the two people on the verge of departure; but passers-by on that street seldom stopped to examine anything, for most of them lived in bland, contented retrospect. One guess, if such a guess had been made, would have been correct: the bulge and fustiness of brassbound portmanteaus and hatboxes described old-fashioned gentility--and a lady. The other guess--would have been difficult. That section of baggage consisted of a mélange: wooden boxes, steel trunks, peculiar cases--battered and labeled thickly by hotel porters in far places-together with a solitary, brand-new leather suitcase on which were burned the initials "A. T. P." A man, without doubt, but what kind, would have been impossible to say.

A white door opened under a baroque fanlight and two people emerged--and a cosmic female voice said, "Well, Aggie, we're off! You can't imagine how happy this makes me!" The owner of the voice, a huge woman whose costly, outmoded clothes immediately marked her as the owner of the limousine, inspected it before she moved far enough forward to allow the exit of the man behind her. She went right on talking--this time to her chauffeur: "Windle! For the love of heaven, where's yourmemory?We've been voyaging in that jalopy for years and youknowthe portmanteaus go on top in the rack and the spare tire cover must be tied or the snaps will blow loose!"

Windle whispered to the colored maid, "No fooling, Chillie, she was born to be a major! She could spot a tarnished button in a cavalry charge!" His tone was affectionate rather than bitter. Servants, like all the rest of the world, loved Sarah Plum.

The man who appeared behind Sarah Plum would have been classed as "rabbity"

by most persons of his age and social station. He wore a beard--a wispish Vandyke--but, instead of making his appearance "distinguished", it served to suggest that his chin was doubtless "weak". His hair, a bleached henna in color, grew casually on his overlarge skull. He was not under average height, but gave the impression of being so; he was not thin, either, but he looked thin, because his cheeks were somewhat gaunt, and his posture, which was as relaxed as his walk was indifferent, gave the impression of debility.

A close observer of Agamemnon Telemachus Plum might have perceived that his shambling movements were executed smoothly. Anybody who gripped his shoulder would have been in for a shock. But Aggie's voice was dry and fading, and his interest seemingly of a flagging sort, so nobody noticed him carefully and nobody at all gripped his shoulder. People who met him usually thought he was wizened, and went away with the notion that he wore glasses--which he did not. His brown eyes, in the presence of company, were usually averted or downcast and always partially concealed by long lashes and tangled brows. He was the "professor type", and the fact that he actually was a professor of anthropology, an archaeologist, and something of a hobbyist in vertebrate paleontology by no means diminished the illusion that he was a misty man and a social loss. If people had bothered to guess, they would have decided he was about forty-five years old. And if they had noticed the faint series of parallel. scars at the nape of his neck, they would have thought he had been operated on for a bad lymph node. Again, he suggested that species of man who has minor glands which require removal--and not the sort upon whom plastic surgeons have labored to erase traces of a gorilla bite, incurred while rescuing an African native with no better weapon than a spading fork.

Aggie Plum came out on the street behind his aunt, muttering like a drugged frog.

"Deuce of an idea," he was saying. "Hate crowds. Hate summer resorts. Hate society.

Hate cocktail parties. Hate picnics. Hate old women rocking on the front porches. Hate fuddy-duddies who remember you when you were knee-high to a grasshopper. Hate the whole damned idiot business!"

His aunt, who knew perfectly well the tenor of his words, said, "Aggie, get in the car! Ofcourseyou'll have a delightful time!"

She put a foot on the running board and the limousine leaned to receive her.

Aggie deposited himself lightly at her side. Windle put the car in gear. The motor settled to a roaring purr which was inefficient and noncontemporary. It carried the four passengers into the natty traffic on Fifth Avenue, through the June greenery of Central Park, and out to the roaring riverside, where other New Yorkers were pouring themselves north toward the mountains.

For half an hour, neither Aggie nor his aunt said a syllable. He smoked his pipe.

At length, she spoke. "I've got a sore throat!"

Aggie brightened. "I'll tell Windle to turn around--!"

"You'll do nothing of the sort! I've spent ten years and more trying to get you out of that mildewed museum for a summer with me. I know perfectly well you'll escape if we stop for a flat tire. I'd go on through to Indian Stones if I had double pneumonia!"

The professor's luminous glance contained affection and humor--but he was careful not to let his aunt see that. "Anyway, I'm not giving up the museum. That's for winter. Classes and the lab. I'm giving up a trip with Grubb--he's the Britisher--to Patagorua--"

"Grubb," said Sarah. "What a marvelous name for an archaeologist! You know, you need a vacation! You're starving for one. You're seedy. I'll bet you haven't played--or relaxed--or taken a girl to a dance--for a decade."

Aggie folded his hands into a "church and steeple." He rested an elbow on the arm-perch in the car and put the points of his forefingers under his chin. "I'm glad you brought that up," he said musingly. "Ever since I got that mandatory letter, I thought you had my mating possibilities in mind. The last of the Plums! I suppose you have something in the nature of a female in mind for me?"

"I have," Sarah answered serenely.

Aggie was startled. "You can't be serious? I was joking'"

The ponderous woman nodded. "You're getting on, Agamemnon. Thirty-six, isn't it?"

"Thirty-four."

"Yes. Exactly. You're becoming quite desiccated. Quite. You're too old to be running off to all comers of the world digging up bones. To me, there's nothing exciting about a defunct tiger's teeth. You really must stay at home long enough to raise a family; You need a wife--"

"Granting I'm going to raise a family, yes. A wife, under such circumstances, would be the usual thing."

"I'm not fooling, Aggie--"

"Neither am I!" Professor Plum's tone was remarkably firm. "Look, Sarah. I am spending this summer with you because I love and adore you. Nevertheless, I deplore every idea that runs through your pretty gray head. It is a beehive of meddlesome inspiration. I am a bachelor. I was born to be one. I will stay with you only on condition that you do not force upon me a single member of the other sex. Your matrimonial-agency reputation is appalling! You should have been a fight promoter. And you never married yourself, so you're a doddering hypocrite. Who is the girl?"

"Beth Calder," said Sarah.

"Calder," Aggie repeated. "Out of the frying pan into the Calderon. I Calder but she didn't come. No good. Look. Whoever this Beth is, I will have none of her. In my mind's eyes, I can see her. A woman with aniline-auburn hair. A golf-and tennis-playing woman, with the voice of a macaw and a capacity for cocktails that would humiliate a steel salesman. A woman whose chief aim is to get into the lobby of a theater on opening night in a dress that will make several couturiers hang themselves. Phooie. Faugh."

"You wouldn't remember her," Sarah continued, unabashed. "You were--let me see--twelve?--the last time you went to Indian Stones. Beth is about--twenty-six-now.

That would make her four years old at the time--"

"I remember the name of Calder vaguely," he said. "And with some sort of shady connotation. What, I forget. As for a female Calder child, my association with infants at the age of twelve having been limited, I do not remember her at all. Thank the Lord."

"Jim Calder--Beth's father--ran away with George Davis's wife. There was a frightful scandal. And they didn't divorce and remarry. Mrs. Davis apparently found that Jim was no bargain--even when compared to cold-blooded Georgie--so she simply settled in California. Left Calder, and also her husband and her daughter, to shift for themselves."

"Delightful," said Aggie. "And you want me to marry into this shambles?"

"Beth is a charming young woman."

"So was Lucrezia Borgia," Aggie replied. "I am going to read and rest and meditate this summer, Sarah. I intend to write a monograph on the subject of preglacial animal migrations over the Aleutian Islands. I may do a paper for a friend of mine about the egg-laying monotremes. Otherwise, I shall have no active life. If you import into your cottage, which I remember and love, so much as one skirted creature--if you give me one welcoming party--if you make one single effort to sneak me into the social life of that pestilential colony--I shall pack my books, my specimens, and my trophies--and scram, as my Juniors say."

"Beth's a brunette," his aunt answered. ''The fever-giving kind. " Aggie's response was in Latin. From the sound of it, Sarah was glad that he did not trouble himself to translate.

The antique automobile bumbled along through the countryside. Afternoon was replaced by early evening. In a town far to the north, they stopped for dinner. Nothing more was said anent the matchmaking proclivities of Sarah Plum. Her nephew regaled her with a tale of certain events and customs which he had observed among the fire-worshiping natives'of a place called, as nearly as she could catch it, Galumbaloola.

The turn-off for Indian Stones was marked by a sign made of birch logs--a sign that had been there for twenty-two years--or a replica of the old sign. Birch rots pretty fast, Aggie thought, so it was probably a replacement. Nevertheless, it filled him with nostalgia, which surprised him, because his summers at the resort had been lonely. Sarah had done her best to compensate for his mother, who had died at the time of his birth, and his father, who had survived her by seven years. But nobody can make up for such destitution.

Route 665, where Windle swung the car, had been black--and tarry in the summer. Now it was cement. But the Indian Stones road was still unpaved. Hard gravel rained on the fenders. Mudguards, they'd called them in those days . . .

The luminous dial on his wrist pointed to ten o'clock. The car began winding and climbing; the air was fragrant with the scent of pine and a subliminal smell of near-by fresh water. They passed the Waite house and the Calder house--rambling, big, rustic, dimly familiar. They swung into the straight stretch between Upper and Lower Lake, past the first and last holes of the golf course and the clubhouse. Its rococo roof-jumble rose weirdly against the stars. Dr. Plum remembered the rooms in it, and the cellars under it, where he and some other kids had played pirate and Count of Monte Cristo--cellars of a hotel which had burned down. They'd built the club on the old foundations. And the date on the clubhouse, in scroll woodwork above the fieldstone supporting the porch, was 1885. There had been people-well-to-do people-at Indian Stones for many generations.

The road forked and forked again. Headlights touched calm water and swung away. They were nearing the drive of "Rainbow Lodge." Every house here was a "lodge."

He turned toward his aunt.

"I'm awake," Sarah said. "I've been watching you watch." She spoke with some difficulty.

"Your sore throat's worse!" he said.

"Nonsense! It's not a sore throat, anyway. Not exactly. My jaws feel stiff, that's all."

"We'll get you inside, Sarah." There was affection and worry in his tone. "Then--

if you like--I'll go for Dr. Davis. He's up here now, I suppose?"

"Of course. We've all been coming on the twentieth--for generations. Your father did. Our father did before him. George is here-but I don't need a doctor. I need a little rest

--that's all. I've worried myself sick for fear you'd refuse to summer with me--at the last moment. This is just let-down."

Aggie reached over and took her firm, large hand. He squeezed it. "You're a honey, Sarah! Woozy-brained--but your heart's all right." Lights glimmered through the trees. The car turned into a foliated tunnel. Sarah's cottage was the size of a summer hotel. On its front porch, beside the porte-cochère, stood old John, the butler who had been in Sarah's service a quarter of a century before, when Aggie was a noisy young master of the place.

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