Authors: Michael Innes
Tags: #Appleby Plays Chicken
Appleby Plays Chicken
First published in 1957
© Michael Innes Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1957-2010
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The right of Michael Innes to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.
This edition published in 2010 by House of Stratus, an imprint of
Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,
Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.
Typeset by House of Stratus.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.
ISBN: 0755120809 EAN: 9780755120802
This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author's imagination.
Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.
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Michael Innes is the pseudonym of John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, who was born in Edinburgh in 1906. His father was Director of Education and as was fitting the young Stewart attended Edinburgh Academy before going up to Oriel, Oxford where he obtained a first class degree in English.
After a short interlude travelling with AJP Taylor in Austria, he embarked on an edition of
and also took up a post teaching English at Leeds University.
By 1935 he was married, Professor of English at the University of Adelaide in Australia, and had completed his first detective novel,
Death at the President’s Lodging
. This was an immediate success and part of a long running series centred on his character Inspector Appleby. A second novel, Hamlet Revenge, soon followed and overall he managed over fifty under the Innes banner during his career.
After returning to the UK in 1946 he took up a post with Queen’s University, Belfast before finally settling as Tutor in English at Christ Church, Oxford. His writing continued and he published a series of novels under his own name, along with short stories and some major academic contributions, including a major section on modern writers for the
Oxford History of English Literature
Whilst not wanting to leave his beloved Oxford permanently, he managed to fit in to his busy schedule a visiting Professorship at the University of Washington and was also honoured by other Universities in the UK.
His wife Margaret, whom he had met and married whilst at Leeds in 1932, had practised medicine in Australia and later in Oxford, died in 1979. They had five children, one of whom (Angus) is also a writer. Stewart himself died in November 1994 in a nursing home in Surrey.
One doesn’t expect excitement on a reading party. That’s not the idea at all. A group of young men facing their final examinations within a year; a tutor, ambitious for his charges or merely amiable, prepared to spend part of his vacation in their company; comfortable quarters in some quiet country place, with hills that can be climbed or antiquities that can be inspected in the course of a long afternoon: these are the essentials. In the morning the young men pore over their texts, carefully underlining every third or fourth sentence, or pausing to copy whole paragraphs into bulging notebooks. Their tutor, who knows these to be virtually useless labours, is invisible in his room; he is writing a book which he knows to be virtually useless too. In the evening the young men debate, argue, quarrel. At one moment they will be following with complete concentration some mild man with a flair for coherent discourse; at another they will be shouting insults at each other – having differing opinions on the limits of empiricism, or the principle of individuation, or the lesson of history being that there is no lesson of history. Their tutor, who regards this as the valuable part of the day’s work, smokes a pipe, drinks burgundy (activities expected of him), and expertly sees to it that the hubbub goes on till midnight. It can be quite good fun. But it is
And, of course, it all has rather an old world flavour. Reading parties were much more the go in our grandfathers’ time than now. The modern undergraduate is for the most part constrained in his vacations to go quietly home and batten on his parents – or he may get a job as a bus conductor in Bournemouth or as a waiter in one of Mr Butlin’s cheery camps. The reading party is a bit of a period piece. Villagers, while indifferent to American tourists, Scandinavian hitch-hikers, and whole busloads of their own urban compatriots, are inclined to stare at a reading party, for they find the young men and their preceptor hard to make out. So one comes to feel that one ought to have whiskers, or an enormous moustache and protuberant Edwardian eyes, and be dressed in a Norfolk jacket and a high stiff collar. At least one supposes oneself – comfortably or uncomfortably – to be out of the world, and one doesn’t remotely expect the world to come at one. Least of all does one expect it to put on a turn in which violent and mysterious events transact themselves against a background progressively revealed as likely to involve perturbation and crisis in high places.
But all this – or, to be accurate, rather more than all this – happened at Nymph Monachorum.
Who was she, and how did the monks behave with her? There are a good many place names scattered around Dartmoor that lend themselves very nicely to flights of linguistic fancy about the nymph. Inwardleigh, Shebbear, Birch, Zeal, Laughter, Gerrydown, Cowsic, Childe’s Tomb, Mole’s Chamber, Little Mis Tor, Quintin’s Man: these, and others not to be recorded, were built into the young lady’s saga. Timothy Dumble, whose fresh-faced innocence would have warmed the heart of a Sunday School teacher, was particularly resourceful at this endless game; it was he who found Chipshop, and who worked Cookworthy and Sheepwash into a single scandalous couplet. All this was fun too, and old Pettifor, although he didn’t himself compose limericks and the like, adjudicated upon their merits unperturbed. It was clearly a matter of pride with him never to bat an eyelid when his young men took this particular line. Presumably he had great faith in the salubrity of anything that indicated a lively mind.
This Rabelaisian vein was in any case only intermittent. If the young men hadn’t been capable of a good deal of seriousness they wouldn’t have been on Pettifor’s reading party at all. And Nymph Monachorum had presumably been chosen – by Pettifor himself – on more solid ground than that of its charming and enigmatic name. Pettifor was a bit of an archaeologist, and this was his part of the country; he was understood to have a brother in some sort of squirarchal condition not far off. Anyway, everyone agreed that the George was an admirable pub. If it was on the expensive side it yet provided notable value for money – and it did somehow happen that Pettifor’s young men were never exactly breadline boys. The other people who came – and they weren’t a throng – came for the most part to fish; they had the appearance of being City men, Army men, Medical men – even of being rather distinguished men from time to time. But they were nearly all elderly men, and Pettifor’s youths hadn’t much to do with them. There was, it is true, a Colonel Farquharson, a sad man who hung around in a tongue-tied, sinister way and was too free with offers of drinks. And now for a couple of days there had been Dr Faircloth, who was at once more conversible and more correct. He talked barrows and dolmens with Pettifor, and appeared to have a large hazy recollection of what Pettifor’s young men referred to as their ‘set books’. Timothy Dumble declared that Dr Faircloth was a retired clergyman of ample means, and somebody else made the triumphant discovery that he expected to be joined by a daughter in a day or two. There was a good deal of speculation about Miss Faircloth. No doubt if and when she turned up everybody would become entirely proper in their references to her. But until then she offered the same scope for imagination as did the Nymph.
Not that Miss Faircloth didn’t have rivals. The George provided the academic party with a sort of common room in a large well-warmed loft; and, in intermittent attendance upon them there, several local girls and two Italian ones. These tripped about with hot buttered toast and jugs of draught cider at appropriate hours of the day; and in the evening they could be encountered in corridors dispensing hot water bottles. Pettifor’s young men, whose knowledge of girls was roughly equivalent to their knowledge of outer space, flirted cautiously with these agreeable attendants, and discussed with inexhaustible sagacity the differences of national temperament they revealed.
A fortnight – the second fortnight in March – had passed in this pleasant but quite uneventful fashion. It was the first week of April that was another matter. And its drama – its violent and unaccountable drama – was preceded by a sort of curtain raiser on All Fools’ Day. This has little to do with what followed – at least not so far as any obvious chain of cause and effect was concerned. Possibly however it did significantly condition David Henchman’s state of mind. David, that is to say, might not have acted quite as he did on some later occasions but for the rather absurd and uncomfortable episode in Timothy Dumble’s car. The reader will be in a position to form his own opinion on this later.
It began with a discussion about Yanks and English. Leon Kryder, a Rhodes Scholar from Princeton, was more interested in this topic than in that of the Devon and Italian girls. He combined a large admiration for English institutions with a sober determination to exhibit those of his own country in a justly favourable light. Corresponding strengths, corresponding weaknesses: that was Leon’s line. He was two or three years older than his companions, who regarded him with a wholesome awe masked beneath endless outrageous banter. To his patient and objective sociology they opposed extravagant statements based upon their devoted frequentation of American films in the cinemas of Oxford. On this particular evening Timothy had been moved to define the United States as the land of mixed-up kids. Leon Kryder had replied with an exposition of the greater burden of conformity to socially sanctioned behaviour patterns that American adolescents have to bear. Although the individual has a great deal of freedom, it is only freedom to enjoy the same sort of freedom as everybody else of that age and that group.