Read Hare Sitting Up Online

Authors: Michael Innes

Tags: #Hare Sitting Up

Hare Sitting Up (19 page)

Intent on a fast trip, Cudworth made one of his few interruptions. ‘A little loosely phrased, that one,’ he said. ‘But we follow you.’

‘Thank you. Well, the reason that Howard impersonating Miles impersonating Howard cheered up on the following day must have been because he had discovered that nothing particularly deadly was, in fact, missing.’ Appleby glanced at Clandon. ‘Would that fit?’

‘As well as anything else in this nightmare. But we don’t yet know why the brothers should change identities in the first place, or why Miles while impersonating Howard should disappear, or why Howard impersonating Miles impersonating Howard should also disappear, or why Lord Ailsworth should have anything to do with it, or where this fellow, What’s-his-name–’

‘Grindrod.’

‘Or where Grindrod comes into the story at all. And you haven’t told us, Appleby, what really set you on this extraordinary line of elucidation – if it
is
elucidation – in the first place.’

‘Consider this. The boys at Splaine Croft believe that their headmaster, although in various ways an admirable person, particularly with a cricket ball, is an ambitious man, disappointed and a bit messed up. Boys are commonly acute in discerning a matter of fact of that sort, although they may go quite astray in assigning reasons for it. Add the point that Miles Juniper is
vain
. It was my wife who got hold of that. He is an entirely obscure schoolmaster, and not particularly wealthy. But his house contains an oil portrait and a bronze bust of Miles Juniper which between them must have cost two or three thousand pounds. That’s not normal, surely. The man’s neurotic. And he has one quite freakish symptom which his famous and successful brother Howard occasionally allows him to indulge. Just that of
being
Howard.’

Clandon used his handkerchief again. ‘It’s devilishly plausible, I must say.’

‘And vice versa?’ Cudworth asked.

Appleby took a moment to consider the bearing of this Latinism. ‘Well, yes. It would be my guess that Howard is the stronger and more stable, as well as the more talented, brother. I felt a basic strength in him, at our first meeting.’

‘When supposing him to be Miles,’ Cudworth said, rather unnecessarily.

‘Quite so. And when he was supposing me to be somebody called Clwyd.’ Appleby suddenly laughed aloud. ‘It must have tickled him – wouldn’t you say? – finding himself visited by somebody pretending to be somebody else. But to get back to what I was saying. Howard is the stronger and more stable – but like many strong and stable people, he probably pushes himself well up to his nervous limit. The little comedy of retreating for a few days from time to time into the obscurely beneficent rôle of a prep-school master was no doubt a pleasure to him. So it
is
probably vice versa, as Cudworth says: there’s a mutual satisfaction in the manoeuvre. Of course in psychological terms there is no doubt a good deal more to it than that. A compulsive neurosis, established on the basis of nursery pranks. It’s a wonderful subject for investigation.’

Clandon gave his rumbling laugh. ‘Always supposing it isn’t moonshine, my dear chap. But you haven’t yet really told us what set you on all this.’

‘Something extremely simple. There was a point during my first interview with Howard impersonating Miles – at Splaine, that is to say – at which Howard nearly betrayed himself. He began to say “Is it about Miles?” And then he checked himself, and managed to make it “Is it about my brother?” instead. But the thing, as I’ve said, had been just perceptible to the ear – and it hung on my ear, so to speak, without finding the way into my mind. Much later, when the common noun “miles” turned up in Howard’s conversation on a telephone line, the perception just prickled at me again. And then, a good deal later again, it suddenly got through. The man I had unquestioningly taken to be Miles Juniper, and whom I had
asked
to be Howard Juniper,
was
Howard Juniper. Unless I was achieving a quite false recollection, there could be no other explanation.’

Clandon looked dubious. ‘What,’ he asked, ‘about that psychopathology of everyday life stuff? Ending a letter with “I hope you are still dead” when you ought to be writing “I hope you are still in your customary rude health”. Wouldn’t something of that sort cover Miles calling Howard Miles? Freud has a lot to say about such slips of the tongue. And, after all, you are hard at work putting the brothers Juniper into some sort of psychopathological category anyway. Twins nipping into each other’s jobs. Pity they’re not married. You can imagine all sorts of high jinks–’

Cudworth blew an unnecessary blast on his horn. He was a man, Appleby knew, who deprecated coarse pleasantries. ‘Supposing,’ Cudworth said, ‘that this extraordinary substitution really took place, and that the disappearances have been successively of Miles impersonating Howard and of Howard impersonating Miles impersonating Howard, how does Lord Ailsworth come in? And how does Grindrod come in? If your theory is correct, sir, Grindrod didn’t do what I was suggesting he did. He didn’t, that is, detect that Howard was really Miles. Because Howard wasn’t Miles. Howard was Howard, although
we
thought him Miles.’ Cudworth paused in exasperation. ‘It’s almost impossible to keep all this straight as one talks. But I’m asking about Lord Ailsworth and Grindrod. Who have they believed to be who?’

‘In short,’ Clandon demanded, ‘what the devil is it all about?’

Appleby glanced at his watch. ‘I hope,’ he said, ‘that we shall have all the answers by lunchtime.’

 

 

Part Three

Juniper and Juniper

 

 

 

1

Miles Juniper looked up from the bench on which he was slumped and recognized his brother. ‘Look out!’ he cried. But it was too late. The stout door had slammed to and the bolts slid into place. The footsteps of Lord Ailsworth could be heard descending to ground level at leisure. He was resting on his labours for the time being.

Howard Juniper was not unduly alarmed. He ought not to have let this happen. Knowing and suspecting what he did, he ought decidedly to have been more on his guard. But he was clear that he wasn’t going to take Lord Ailsworth seriously. Miles, no doubt, had done so. And Lord Ailsworth, thus encouraged in melodrama, had kept the outrageous nonsense up for days.

Howard looked about him coolly. Having found Miles – a Miles whom a glance showed to be unhurt although sulky and frightened – his anxieties abruptly diminished. ‘Remote – isn’t it?’ he said almost casually. It was the manner he always found useful in coping with Miles.

‘Of course it’s remote.’ Miles sat up and stared at his brother – at once resentfully and with enormous relief. ‘Nobody’s allowed near this tower except the old imbecile himself. He has maps and things upstairs, which is his excuse for keeping it all locked up. There’s another and smaller tower for his assistants.’

‘So I gathered. Have you tried shouting?’

‘Of course I’ve tried shouting.’

But not very hard, Howard thought. Miles always has lacked pertinacity. Aloud, he said cheerfully: ‘Let’s shout together. That will be twice the racket.’

‘I don’t think we’d better. He might come back in a rage and blow our brains out.’

‘Rubbish, Miles. He’s an irresponsible old lunatic, clearly enough. But I see not the slightest reason to suppose him homicidal.’

‘Don’t you, indeed?’ Miles seemed to find this very funny. He laughed in a sharp hysterical way his brother didn’t care for. ‘Ailsworth’s ambition, if you want to know, is simply to be the champion homicide of all time. That’s what this is about.’

‘Well, well – think of that.’ Howard was determinedly amused. ‘I find that decidedly helpful. It introduces sense in the affair. A madman’s sense of course. But that’s better than none. As summer quarters, I find this quite snug. Rugs, I see. But doesn’t he provide his guest rooms with books?’

‘Funny, aren’t you?’

Howard couldn’t remember a time when Miles, in his feeble spells, hadn’t been in the habit of coming out with that bitter question. Of course Miles was by no means always feeble. It was just something that came on him. ‘And sanitation?’ he asked.

Miles pointed to a small trapdoor in the floor. ‘All mod cons,’ he said with a sudden grin. ‘And there’s another trapdoor up there.’ He pointed to the stout wooden ceiling. ‘That’s the map room. He lowers food down. Brings it in a basket, along with watercress for his favourite birds. And talks and talks – through that hole.’

‘Very odd, indeed.’ Howard sat down with an air of placid comfort on a bench. ‘I’m afraid, you know, that after this we’ll have to drop it.’

‘Drop it?’

‘Brothers through the Looking-Glass. It doesn’t square with my confounded job nowadays. Mind you, Miles, I like being Miles Juniper now and then. I like Splaine. I like the boys. But I don’t like’ – Howard’s voice stiffened – ‘the risk that you may be doing something injudicious. Why the dickens did you come down here?’

‘Well, I like that!’ Miles was furious. ‘I’ve gathered enough from that old fool to know that you came down here when you were pretending to be in Edinburgh. And birds, after all, have always been
my
thing. When Ailsworth rang me up at your lab – rang
you
up, as he thought – and asked me to run down for a day, I naturally came like a shot. How was I to know I was to be kidnapped and shut up like a blasted duck in a coop?’

‘All right. That’s fair enough. But didn’t you confess, when he locked you up like this, that you aren’t Howard Juniper?’

‘Of course I did. But he wouldn’t believe a word of it. The old imbecile has far too much self-conceit to be willing to admit that he’s snared the wrong bird. It was only when he gathered a good deal about us from some visitor–’

‘John Appleby.’

‘Who’s he?’

‘Top man at Scotland Yard. But go on.’

‘It was only then that Ailsworth came, I suppose, to think there might be something in my story. What he did then, I don’t know.’

‘What he’d have done at once, of course, if he weren’t crazy. He rang up the labs and asked whether Professor Juniper was there. When he got an affirmative answer, he asked to be put through to me. He told me he was looking after you down here in circumstances of some embarrassment. I didn’t believe him.’

Miles flushed. ‘Didn’t you? I’d have thought you would. You’re always having absurd anxieties about me, aren’t you?’

Howard made no direct reply to this. ‘I didn’t believe him because I happened to know he is given to some very queer romancing. When I ran into him down here myself we had a little conversation in the local pub. Quite a lot of conversation, as a matter of fact, and I told him a certain amount about my own job. But I certainly didn’t tell him some crazy stuff about planning an expedition to – or rather a raid on – the island of Ardray that he afterwards attributed to me. So I knew Lord Ailsworth wasn’t exactly reliable. Still, I realized I must come down and see what he was talking about. I’d have been more cautious, no doubt, and not landed myself in this ridiculous situation with you’ – and Howard nodded contemptuously towards the bolted door of the tower – ‘if I hadn’t been a bit distracted by something else.’

‘Something else? What was that?’

Again Howard Juniper made no reply. ‘I think,’ he said, ‘you have more to tell me than I have to tell you. Just what is in this old person’s mind?’

Miles shrugged his shoulders, ‘It varies from visit to visit. I can’t understand how such a crazy dotard hasn’t been locked up.’

With his constant impulse to bolster Miles’ morale, Howard laughed easily. ‘So far, he appears rather to be by way of doing the locking up himself. But what are his various modest proposals?’

‘Sometimes it’s the Chinese. Sometimes it’s the Russians. And sometimes it’s the whole lot. A world empty of people – thanks to your bugs and his birds. An expert knowledge of migration as a key to quick results.’

‘A world empty of people?’ Howard Juniper frowned. ‘It reminds me of something. Of a queer sort of prologue to this insanity.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Oh, it was only some conversation in a railway compartment.’ Howard was silent for a moment. ‘It’s impressive,’ he said.

Miles got up from his bench and prowled about their little prison. ‘What do you mean – impressive?’ he demanded.

‘That a madman and his fantasies should be so perfectly symbolical of the whole drive of civilization today.’

Miles Juniper nodded. ‘Yes, yes – I see that.’ He felt in a pocket and fished out a packet of cigarettes. ‘The old idiot chucks down a regular supply of these. Have one?’

‘Not at the moment, thanks. We’d better address ourselves to packing up and leaving. And without scandal, my dear chap. That’s been the snag all along. From the moment this policeman Appleby presented himself at Splaine Croft – in circumstances of absurd theatricality, incidentally – and solemnly announced to me that Howard Juniper had disappeared, what I’ve done has been governed by the necessity of avoiding any public exposure of this queer habit of ours. No doubt we’ve contrived to see Brothers through the Looking-Glass as just fun. But the world would see it as a craziness quite comparable with that of our present host. It would finish me as a worker in a responsible research position. It would finish your school. My consciousness of all that, along with my real fears about what might actually have happened to you, my dear chap, have made this rather a trying week. Not, of course’ – Howard added hastily – ‘as trying as your experience in this tower.’

‘I’m all for packing up and leaving. In fact’ – Miles spoke with a sarcasm that was affectionate rather than hostile – ‘it’s a matter to which I’ve been giving some thought. Only the precise means of walking out eludes me.’

‘It’s no good simply telling this old man to stop being silly?’

‘That was my own first line.’ Miles was now perfectly reasonable. ‘I supposed the thing to be a passing vagary of Ailsworth’s, and that firmness and good humour would ensure that it blew over fairly quickly. But it isn’t so. The old boy has this
idée fixe
, and a great deal of pertinacity.’

Other books

The Opposite of Love by Sarah Lynn Scheerger
Death by Scones by Jennifer Fischetto
A Distant Dream by Evans, Pamela