The Idol of Stone
by L. P. V. Johnson
IAN SCOTT spent all of his days, except Sundays, in the Cathedral. He was one of the builders. Man and boy, he had hewed at the great stone blocks and had seen the Cathedral rise. As an apprentice, he had shaped the stones. Then he became a dresser and finally a carver. He was best at gargoyles. Sooner or later his fellow workers would see in the grotesque gargoyle features the caricatured lineaments of one of themselves or of a canon, or even of the bishop himself. Ian gloated over his gargoyles. They were personal touches that gave him feelings of intimacy and identity with the great and everlasting structure.
In time, he came to carve the great stone that was to be set under the massive relief of the crucified Christ. In an elaborate monogram he carved the letters I-H-S. These, he learned from a canon, were the first letters in the Greek word for Jesus. As he chipped out the H, the idea came to him to make this his middle initial; in his mind he became Ian H. Scott as surely as if he had been so christened and so entered at the registry office.
Often of a moonlit evening, after a spell at the public house, he would come back to the unfinished Cathedral. He would go to the scene of his current daytime labor and sit himself down on a block of stone – a motionless, compact figure with a stoniness of its own. There he contemplated the component blocks of the structure which he, himself, had fashioned. His thoughts flitted from the past and present to dwell in the future. When his hands had been long dead, their imperishable mark would still be on the enduring stones. He wondered if some goodly person in a remote time would notice his work and be reminded of his long-dead hands.
Always, before leaving the Cathedral, he would go to the north aisle of the nave and stand back from the moonlit stone that bore the entwined I-H-S – his work, his initials. Personal, imperishable memorial!
Sometimes these evening visits were on special occasions: the night before his marriage; the night after his only child, an infant son, had died; the night of the accident that had made his wife an invalid; and the night of his fiftieth birthday. He contemplated both life and death in this place. Life was a short, precarious interval between two inscrutable oblivions: a struggling, momentary forestalling of death; a moment of being and then oblivion – except for his imperishable stones.
One Christmas Eve, Ian Scott sat on a block of grey stone in an unfinished chapel. He had never come on this night before. It was quite late, for he had seen his indisposed wife to bed and had chatted with a neighbor before the bright, mild night had drawn him to the Cathedral.
The tower bells stroked the quarter before midnight, hollow in their reverberations. They disturbed his sombre contemplation, and he made his way slowly round the great building, stopping at last in the place where his initials were carved. His very name in stone for all posterity to see! Stone was the earth itself. One’s being in mind and flesh lived out its moment and was no more. But an imprint in stone would last forever.
He happened to raise his eyes from the carved initials. Only rarely did he glance at the crucified figure, for it was an interloper, extraneous to his thoughts. Yet it was a fine piece of carving, and the moonlight did something to it. The head was serene in the soft light and softer shadow. Strange, Ian thought, but the face seemed almost alive. It was compassionate.
The bells stroked off the midnight hour. Was there a note of jubilation in their overtones? The sounds died away and all was silent. Then a wailing cry came from some distant part of the Cathedral. A shiver ran up Ian’s back and raised the hair on his head. He started to leave, then stopped to listen. The cry came again, a gurgling choking sound. It seemed to come from the great west door, and he made his way there.
Under the great arch at the top of the steps he found an elongated bundle with a piece of paper pinned upon it. He stopped to read, by matchlight, the scrawl of writing:
This is my son. I give him back to God. May he forgive me. And He have mercy on my soul.
It was five years to the day when Ian Scott next chose to visit the Cathedral. It was a moonlit night. He came through streets bright with Christmas lights – and he brought the little boy.
They went to an incompleted chapel in the now nearly-finished Cathedral. The builder showed his latest stone carving to the boy. Then they sauntered to the north aisle of the nave. There they lifted up earnest faces to the moonlit features of the sculptured Christ. Ian H. Scott pointed to the stone at the foot of the relief.
“Years ago,” he said, “I carved those letters: I, H, and S. They are the first letters of Christ’s name, and also of your names, Ian Hamish Scott.”
“You did them before I was born?” asked the child.
“You named me to fit the letters?”
“Yes, my son. I thought, then, that it would be a very good thing to have your name in stone, stone that I worked with my own hands. Stone lasts forever, you know.”
“But stone is so hard and cold, father.”
“Yes, Ian, so hard – and so very cold!” Old Ian’s voice broke. He picked up his little son and held him close.
The Green Thumb of Dudley Phipps
by L. P. V. Johnson
IT WAS on a fine morning in early May that Dudley Phipps, the blackmailer, first thought of himself as a gardener. The idea amused him and gave a fillip to his self-satisfaction. He had been smoking an after-breakfast cigarette on the little south balcony of his Bournemouth flat, thinking how devilishly clever he was. Then the vista of beautiful gardens intruded itself and the horticultural analogy flashed into his mind.
There was a kind of crop rotation in his little garden of victims, and it brought in a harvest every quarter. There was Lady Briston, the ex-dancer, and the compromising photograph. This was his spring harvest, in March. A discreet rendezvous garnered in three hundred pounds. Miss Whittley, the detective-story writer, yielded the summer harvest. It came as cash in the mails in mid-June – with a request for a receipt. Eccentric woman, Miss Whittley, but dependable. Her continuing good reputation was well worth the five hundred pounds. Autumn harvest came from Bertis Hollis, an acquaintance of the time when he had worked for a living. This was his original bit of cultivation (a matter of manslaughter), and originally had been good for an occasional handover of a few pounds. But Bertie had struck it rich in the football pools and now responded to an annual postal reminder (sent out touchingly in September on the anniversary of the crime) in the amount of another five hundred pounds. Finally, for the winter harvest, there was young Lord Radcliffe and the aftermath of his very indiscreet Paignton affair. Only two hundred to be garnered here, for this vine was hardly a thriving one.
Of course, he could no longer include Mrs. Blackburn. She hadn’t been able to take it. Destroyed herself, poor woman.
Phipps blew a smoke ring at the balcony ceiling as though he were exhaling his inward satisfaction. There was a right way to do everything: the intelligent way, his way. It was a very reasonable and restrained cultural method that he practiced on his cultivated varieties – never forcing too fast, never pruning too heavily. Mrs. Blackburn? Well, those things were bound to happen. He mused for a moment on his very commendable restraint. He had been tempted. There had been visions of a Jaguar to replace the old sports car, and of a sea-going launch instead of the hired boats. But when you need more fruit, you don’t force the old trees, you add new ones to your orchard. He was always on the alert for such additions, and the stratagems of entanglement acted as bracing spices in his soft life.
A good and patient gardener, he. And Bournemouth a fertile ground: wealth and the abandonment to good-time living would, under his cultivation, bring forth their fruits in their season.
Miss Whittley’s remittance arrived by mail promptly on the 15th of June together with the usual receipt to be signed and the stamped self addressed envelope for his convenience. There was a smile of infinite superiority on Phipp’s face as he marked the receipt with an X and put it in the envelope which he sealed and mailed.
Dudley Phipps was all smiles when he banked the money. He was still smiling when he got into his car and started off to pick up his girl friend for a day at the beach. But he was grim-faced by the time he turned into the overcliff drive, and he blanked out at the lookout turn.
The police had to use an electric cutting torch to extricate Phipp’s body from the wreckage that lay on the promenade in front of the beach bungalows.
The inquest was held as a matter of form, and the inevitable verdict brought in: death by misadventure.
Miss Whittley lived in her ancestral home in Exeter and wrote in a detached studio in the garden. The studio walls were lined perforce with bookshelves and filing cabinets, for Miss Whittley’s detective, Barnhouse, was fanatically thorough in his methods and encyclopedic in his knowledge, and he demanded authenticity in all things.
Miss Whittley sat primly at her writing table precisely flipping over the pages of a handwritten manuscript. She found the page she sought and paused to read it.
“… devilish combination,” said Barnhouse. “A poison so deadly in such small amounts, and defying detection in post-mortem tests.”
“You’re not quite right on the second point, Barnhouse,” said the professor of forensic medicine. “Although the symptoms would not normally lead to suspicion of poisoning, the presence of the alkaloid itself is not difficult to establish, at least qualitatively. It is easily extracted from body tissue. And the extract, dried to a powder, burns with a very distinctive greenish flame….”
Miss Whittley put the manuscript aside. For a moment she looked very earnestly at a photograph of her dearest friend, the late Mrs. Blackburn. Then she opened the table drawer and drew out a square of paper. It was the envelope returned to her by Phipps. Holding it gingerly by one corner, she snapped her cigarette lighter and applied the flame to the lower corner. She watched it burn. A smile of infinite superiority grew on her face as the flame reached the upper part of the envelope and licked, as Phipps had done, at the sealing flap. Then the flame flared up and ran along the flap, leaving a sputtering trail of greenish light.
Hand set in Goudy’s Deepdene; display type is Goudy Hand Tooled. Text stock is Warren’s Olde Style, 60 lb. Edited and published by Jake Warner who printed 460 copies on a Vandercook proof press; the cover was done on a 10×15 C&P.
The Boxwood Press
Greenbelt, MD 20770