Authors: Michael Innes
Tags: #Appleby Talks Again
Appleby Talks Again
First published in 1956
© Michael Innes Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1956-2010
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: 0755120825 EAN: 9780755120826
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.
“You’re sure it’s uninhabited?” Sir John Appleby peered ahead rather apprehensively as the car moved slowly over the uneven track. “There isn’t a resident squire? The Pooles are one of those families that have entirely evaporated from the English scene?”
“How inquiring you turn when we have a small job of trespass on hand.” Lady Appleby pressed firmly on the accelerator. “I don’t know why even an eminent policeman need be so law-abiding. As for the Pooles, I believe there are plenty of them.”
“But not here? Look out for that cow.”
“Not here. I don’t know that Water Poole ought to be called uninhabited. That, to my mind, suggests ruins and generations of emptiness. But I understand that it’s certainly unoccupied and beginning to tumble to pieces. You’ll see for yourself.”
“You mean we’re to go
“Of course. That’s always the real fun. There’ll be a window.”
Appleby groaned. “Judith my dear, I foresee it all. Indeed, it has happened again and again. We break in. We cover ourselves with dust and cobweb. We twist our ankles in rotting floorboards. And then the man comes.”
“We hear him approaching with a sinister limp. He is simply some cottager told off to keep an eye on the place. But we are petrified. You are even more terror-struck than I am. Your bravado deserts you. Out of compassion for your pitiable condition, I consent to our hiding in a cupboard. And there the man finds us.”
“I never heard such rot. Such a thing has never happened to us. Or only once.”
“I rattle my small change loudly in my pocket and assume an air of jaunty patronage. The good old man–”
“That’s what he is. The good old man fails to hear the half-crowns. He is unaware of my manner, which I myself distinguish with piercing clarity as indistinguishable from that of numerous petty criminals of my acquaintance. But he does recognise both your accent and your clothes as virtually identical with those of the late squire’s dear old mother–”
“I think you’re abominable.”
“And so – in a humiliating sort of way – all is well, and we are shown round and offered a lot of inaccurate antiquarian information. As we leave, I give the good old man five shillings. He touches his hat respectfully – to you.”
“Then that’s all right.” Judith Appleby slowed down to avoid another cow. “It looks to me as if there has been a car along here already today.”
“I’d say there have been several.” Appleby picked up a map. “And that’s odd, for this certainly leads to the manor house and no further. And it’s curious, by the way, that a place of some apparent consequence should never have run to a better approach.”
“It may have been less primitive at one time. And, of course, they always had the river.” Judith pointed to a line of poplars in the middle distance. “It’s quite navigable from here to where it joins the Thames, and probably some of their heavy stuff used to come and go by water. But one of the fascinating things about Water Poole, I gather, is just its remarkable isolation. There’s really nothing for miles… And there it is.”
They had swung round a clump of beech trees still in their freshest green, and now the venerable Elizabethan house was directly in front of them. Involuntarily, they both exclaimed in dismay. Water Poole was a larger place than they had expected, and much more nearly ruinous. Approaching from this aspect, one might have supposed some labour of demolition to be in progress – had one not become aware at the same time of absolute solitude and silence.
The ground-plan of the building appeared to be the familiar Tudor H. And one of the end pavilions – it must in fact have constituted a stack of handsome rooms – had come down in a mass of rubble which spread far across the derelict open courtyard before them. Already the tumbled stone and plaster was in part overgrown with hemlock and thistle. And high up, incongruously reminiscent of bomb damage in a London square, they could see a single slice of an augustly panelled apartment, with swallows nesting under the narrow strip of ceiling that remained to it. Elsewhere the long grey façade, which for centuries had faced this empty landscape with a mellow confidence, was flaked and cracked and crumbling round gaping windows and below a broken balustrade. It had been a noble dwelling – and now its whole appearance was so forlorn and disgraced that Appleby had the feeling of having committed an unseemly intrusion. Even the hum of the car seemed an impertinence. The same impression must have come to Judith, for she slipped out of gear and switched off the engine. They glided forward silently into the embracing silence of the place. It was like a physical medium receiving them and covering them, as if they had been swimmers plunging without a ripple into a deep still lake.
“Somebody told me it was occupied during the war – shared by two families.” Unconsciously Judith had lowered her voice, as one might do in the presence of some meditating sage. “But it looks far too ruinous for that.”
“There’s plenty of it, and matters mayn’t be so bad on the other side.”
“But they’ve plainly let it go. Nobody is hoping ever to bring it to life again.” Judith stopped the car and they got out. “It’s enormous. And that’s made it too stiff a commitment for whatever Pooles remain.”
Appleby nodded. “Certainly it’s on the large side. Indeed, it’s more like one of the showplaces put up by Elizabeth’s great courtiers than a run-of-the-mill manor house. Who are these Pooles?”
“An old family, I believe, taking their name from this part of the shire, and giving it to the house when they built it. They met disaster in the Civil War; a father and two sons all killed at Naseby. Now, I imagine, they are impoverished, and quite insignificant as well. Shall we go ahead?” Judith, as she asked this question, was already in vigorous forward motion.
“There will be no harm in walking round the gardens.” Appleby put forward this proposition not very hopefully. “But undoubtedly it lays us open to misconception.”
“We might be taken for thieves?” Judith was amused. “I don’t see much that we could make away with.”
“There’s probably thousands of pounds’ worth of lead on the roof.” Appleby stopped suddenly. “I wonder if somebody
been after that? The ground suggests a good deal of recent coming and going. Or perhaps people help themselves to loads of that rubble. It could be useful in all sorts of ways. We’ll go round the house and down to the river.”
For some seconds they walked on without speaking. Even in the clear light and gentle warmth of this early morning in June there was something insistently depressing about Water Poole in its last long agony. They climbed by insecure and treacherous steps to a mouldering terrace fast disappearing under a lush growth of summer weeds. They passed between the side of the house and a large formal garden which was now mere wilderness. And presently they came to the river frontage. “Why,” Judith exclaimed, “it
better – ever so much better. It’s almost cheerful.”