Chapter One - The Manor House
-18 "And now the piece de resistance," the old Colonel announced, leading his guest into a sunlit garden. "What do you think, Mr Evans?" he enquired, waving his walking stick at the garden's centrepiece.
Drew Evans stepped forward and circled the white marble sculpture. Two life-size male and female figures stood face to face on a marble pedestal, their hands caressing each other's cheeks, their lips fused in a kiss.
"It's err, unusual, Colonel," Evans commented, making a note of the sculpture and its location. "Does it have a title?"
The Colonel chuckled and joined Evans beside the statues. "Adam and Eve. Not particularly original, I'll admit. I found the star-crossed lovers during a stint in the Middle East. The merchant who sold it to me swore the sculpture was a thousand years old." The Colonel chuckled again. "More like a hundred, I'd say. Still, she, um, they caught my eye and I thought they would look at home here in South Garden."
Evans made some more notes and took some photographs. The Colonel sidled up beside him and in a croaky, conspiratorial whisper added, "Regardless of its actual age, I find the subject quite moving. I fell in love with the sculpture the moment I saw it. Or, more precisely, the moment I saw her."
Evans stifled a smirk and, intent on humouring his old guest, asked, "What do you mean, Colonel?"
The Colonel straightened and in a louder, stronger voice replied, "I mean, Mr Evans, that she, that Eve, is the most beautiful representation of the female form I have ever seen. This fellow," the Colonel tapped the male statue with his walking stick, "is common, brutish. The craftsmanship is competent, but no more than that. More Alf than Adam. Whereas Eve," the Colonel lowered his walking stick and gazed up at the female statue, "is a goddess, sculptured by a loving, devoted genius."
Evans turned to face the statues so the Colonel couldn't see his smile. He reached out and ran a hand over the figures and was surprised to find the female figure's smooth lines contrasted with the male's coarser finish. There was something else different about them, too. The female statue was easier on the eye, more pleasing to look at, like the difference between beauty and ...
"So you think it's the work of two different craftsmen, Colonel?" Evans asked, dragging his hand and gaze away from the statues.
"Oh yes, definitely, Mr Evans. And another thing, I don't believe they're lovers." The Colonel waved his stick at the statues again. "Study their arms. See the taut tendons. There's a tension in their embrace. And look at their eyes. Do you see it, Mr Evans?"
Evans stared up at the blank recessed curves of the wide open eyes of the male and female statues. "I may be too old for that sort of stuff nowaday," the Colonel chuckled, "but when I was a younger man, lovers kissed with their eyes closed."
A bell rang out across the garden. "Ah, that will be Mrs Stubbs. If there's anything else you'd like to know about the Manor, Mr Evans, perhaps we can discuss it over one of her famous cream teas."
"Of course, Colonel," Evans replied with a generous smile, "though I think I have all the notes I need. You've been most helpful and informative."
"Good, I look forward to reading your piece in 'Country Estates and Gardens'. The old Manor can do with a spot of promotion. May help with our visitor numbers in the summer," the Colonel added brightly. "Anyway, let's bid these so-called lovers adieu and see what Mrs Stubbs has knocked up for us, shall we?"
The Colonel turned and limped towards the manor house. Evans followed, pausing at the edge of the garden for a farewell look at the statues and to take another photograph. The female figure was uncommonly beautiful and, even with her less desirable partner, Evans knew the sculpture was worth a tidy sum. He made a final note, slipped his notebook into his breast pocket and patted it.