Authors: Michael Innes
Tags: #Hare Sitting Up
‘Tax fiddle of some kind? I don’t like that sort. But I suppose we can’t send him away.’
‘Certainly we can’t.’ Miss Grimstone was indignant. ‘Those arrangements are perfectly legal and proper. Nobody is obliged to regulate his monetary affairs so as positively to attract taxation. And if people have to educate each other’s children in order
to attract it, that is the mere folly of government. And Mr Clwyd is most distinguished. He has a small white beard.’
‘Bother his beard. It’s probably a fake, like his expense account. And he’s just waiting? I certainly made no appointment with him.’
‘People do sometimes remember hearing of the school when motoring past, and call in. That’s how we got Lord Scattergood’s boy.’
‘Bother Lord Scattergood’s boy. This Clywd has come by car?’
‘A Rolls, Mr Juniper. And with a chauffeur. The man has taken it round to the kitchens and is being given tea. Mr Clwyd himself declined.’
‘Well, I suppose I must show him round, and so forth. Has he been waiting long?’
‘Less than twenty minutes. I rang through to the station and made sure you had come off the train. And now I must be getting back to next term’s bills.’
Miss Grimstone turned away and hobbled into her office. Juniper paused for a moment to collect himself. Splaine Croft was far from crying out for pupils. So he didn’t feel at all like a spider luring the bearded Clwyd into his parlour. This fact made him all the more civil to his visitor when he walked into the study and encountered him. ‘Mr Clwyd?’ he said politely.
Mr Clwyd, who had been reading
, rose and bowed. ‘Mr Juniper?’
‘Yes. And I’m so sorry I wasn’t in when you called. Do you smoke?’ And Juniper pushed forward a cigarette box.
‘Thank you, no.’ Mr Clwyd was a person of gravity. He possessed a searching but inoffensive gaze which he directed upon Juniper with unabashed frankness. ‘I apologize for coming in out of the blue.’
‘Not at all.’ Juniper, feeling it fair to answer scrutiny with scrutiny, took a good straight look at Clwyd. The beard was a beautifully trimmed affair. At the same time it was in some obscure way ever so faintly unexpected. Apart from this, Juniper’s impression was entirely favourable. He felt he knew at once what sort of parent or grandparent Clwyd would be. He wouldn’t be a pest, but he would expect a good deal. Nor would he waste time in seeing that he got it. He might be – at a guess – chairman of one of the joint stock banks. He had a timetable for today and every other day, and he had the art of conducting in apparent leisure interviews which he knew would in fact end in twelve or in twenty-five minutes’ time. Juniper decided to cut out any remarks about the weather.
‘How can I help you?’ he asked. It was the association with banking that prompted him to this form of words. His own bank manager said just that.
‘You can show me your cricket field.’
‘Why – certainly.’ Juniper rose, greatly surprised. He knew that there were prospective parents capable of beginning their investigations decidedly on the athletic side, but it hadn’t struck him that Mr Clwyd – who so clearly belonged if not to the intellectual at least to the managerial classes – might be one of them. ‘We can go out by this window. There’s a sett of badgers in the corner over by Splaine Wood, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. And as for the pitch – well, it’s not too bad. I’ve got a very reasonable groundsman now, I’m glad to say.’
With this and other professional patter, Juniper led the way into the open air. Mr Clwyd was seriously attentive – but less, Juniper felt, to the substance of the information he was receiving than to the manner in which it was being offered to him. Clwyd walked with deliberation; he carried an umbrella and gloves; he wore a bowler hat not very well accommodated to a summer afternoon in the country. But, despite all this, there was again the impression that he was very little disposed to waste time. He might almost have been in a hurry – and in a hurry to size Juniper up. Juniper didn’t reflect that his awareness of this in his visitor was the consequence of a not wholly common acuteness of perception in himself. And although there was something in the situation that made him indefinably uneasy, he nevertheless continued with what he privately called sales talk – and still on the assumption that Mr Clwyd was chiefly, or even exclusively, interested in games. They had beaten their chief rivals, Merton House, handsomely this year. And next year it looked as if they were going to have a really promising slow bowler.
Mr Clwyd gave these remarks his attention until they reached the actual pitch. He even prodded the pitch in a considering way with his umbrella. Then he spoke again for the first time since they had left the study.
‘Mr Juniper, my name isn’t Clwyd. Nor is this my beard. I’m not sure you haven’t guessed as much.’
Juniper was sufficiently perturbed to come abruptly to a halt. And at this the man who was not Mr Clwyd came to a halt too, raised his umbrella and pointed it towards the nearer horizon. He might have been engaged in some polite topographical inquiry.
‘I’m afraid I don’t understand you, sir.’ Juniper spoke with a proper stiffness. He was quite sure that his visitor wasn’t mad, and he saw no occasion for tenderness. ‘Are we not wasting each other’s time?’
‘I propose to waste as little time as possible. Mr Juniper, I have asked you to bring me out to your cricket field because it is a spot where we quite certainly can’t be overheard.’ The visitor paused, made a half turn, and this time pointed with the same air of courteous interest to a nearby spinney. ‘It’s most unlikely that we are being watched, but you will have to forgive this professional pantomime, all the same.’
‘Do I understand that you are an actor, sir?’ It was in as chilly a tone as he could manage that Juniper asked this question. He was beginning to feel angry – angry and, he had to admit to himself, alarmed. It was the same alarm – to be more frank, it was the same acute private anxiety – that had welled up into consciousness during his railway journey.
‘No, not an actor.’ The man who had called himself Clwyd was looking at Juniper steadily. ‘I am a policeman,’ he said. ‘My name is Appleby.’
Standing by the worn crease, with the ferrule of his incongruously urban umbrella thrusting inquisitively at the cavity left by a leg stump, Appleby continued to eye his host with a steady glance. Would
Juniper, he was wondering, have what it would take? The question was decidedly that.
Appleby?’ the pitch of Juniper’s voice had shot up queerly. He was plainly startled.
‘Yes. It’s odd that you should have heard of me.’
‘Surely no odder than this pantomime, as you call it. May I ask why you have presented yourself in this fashion at Splaine Croft?’
So far, so good, Appleby thought. He’s a strung-up type, and already he has something on his mind. But he doesn’t take things lying down. If he thought me a little younger than I am, he’d be quite ready to turn me out. Except that he guesses something, really. I think he guesses.
Aloud, he said: ‘In this fashion? It’s a fair question, certainly. The answer, Mr Juniper, is that it absolutely mustn’t be suspected that either Scotland Yard or any of the security services has contacted you. As for why I’m here at all – well, I’m afraid that involves rather bad news. Or worrying news, anyway.’
‘Is it about my–?’ Juniper checked himself, and appeared to articulate with difficulty. ‘Is it about my brother?’
‘I am sorry to say it is. Your brother has vanished.’
For a moment it seemed to Appleby that Juniper was completely at sea – as if he had suddenly been addressed in a language unknown to him. ‘Disappeared?’ When at length he spoke his voice was oddly mechanical. ‘Howard
? It’s not possible.’
‘It is possible, and it has happened.’ Appleby was now uncompromisingly brisk. ‘No doubt the news is a shock, but you have to face it. Professor Juniper walked out of his laboratory at noon on Wednesday. That’s three days ago. And he hasn’t been seen since.’
‘But surely it’s not – not necessarily sinister? Mayn’t there be some mistake? Howard’s gone to a conference, and failed to leave word. Something like that. There are a hundred possible explanations.’
‘Mr Juniper, why has this news been such a shock to you?’
Juniper had started unconsciously to walk down the length of the cricket pitch, and Appleby was keeping up with him. But now he halted, and the two men faced each other.
‘A shock to me? Well, of course – if it’s true.’
‘Isn’t there something more to it than that? Doesn’t this come, Mr Juniper, as – well, something you’ve feared for a long time?’
‘That Howard might’ – Juniper hesitated – ‘might cut and run? And in a way that sets the head of Scotland Yard on his heels? For that’s what you are, aren’t you?’
‘Something of the sort, Mr Juniper. And, if you want to know the size of the thing, I may say that I am dealing with the matter on the direct instructions of the Prime Minister. Your brother is decidedly among the people who mustn’t disappear – not for twelve hours, let alone seventy-two. To put it quite simply, there’s a headline we just can’t afford to see in the newspapers.’
‘A headline?’ Juniper seemed merely bewildered again.
Top Secret Scientist Missing.
Something like that.’
‘Of course, I know that Howard’s at the top. And I know what his work is. It was all – it was all in my head this afternoon.’
‘This afternoon?’ Appleby spoke sharply.
‘No, no – it’s nothing relevant. Just because of what some young people were discussing.’ With a great effort, Juniper seemed to pull himself together. ‘Why do you think I have been anxious about Howard? Am I supposed to have been suspecting that he might bolt to Russia? Or merely that he might go mad?’
‘Merely that he might go mad.’
Juniper took a deep breath. ‘You’re frank,’ he said. ‘I’ll try to be too.’
‘Thank you. And madness – real madness – need have nothing to do with it. Indeed, it’s rather unlikely. But serious nervous breakdown is another matter. Professor Juniper probably works under considerable pressure–’
‘Considerable pressure be damned!’ Juniper’s promise of frankness realized itself abruptly in sudden and surprising passion. ‘You know what Howard has been drawn into, as well as I do. If he has gone mad, I don’t blame him. Perhaps it’s the best thing he can do. And I say be damned to you all. Be damned to your Prime Minister and his Cabinet, and be damned to their opposite numbers in every corner of the globe. And be damned to you and me for suffering them. The guilt’s immeasurable.
‘You’re not your brother’s keeper.’
But Juniper took a deep breath. It was, Appleby thought, as if something that had been bottled up in this quiet schoolmaster was bursting out in sustained vehemence. ‘Yes, I am. At that level we’re all each other’s keeper. And we’re all what the journalists call guilty men. Howard is an honest scientist. He has the misfortune to be also a very good one – in his own line, the best of his age. And devoted, dedicated. Perhaps only I know the sheer toil that has gone to his achievement. And what happens? He is persuaded, on his conscience, to apply himself to devising defence against bacteriological warfare. What does that mean? It means – it means what I was telling some young people only this morning. It means straight out thinking on the means of waging that warfare. Isn’t that so?’
‘It is undoubtedly so – God help us all.’ Appleby gave his answer soberly. ‘Perhaps those aren’t the official terms. But the fact is just that. Preparation for defence, and preparation for attack: one can’t pass the finest blade between them. And if the thing has driven your brother mad, I’m with you in every damn. The question is, though, just what, as practical men, can we do about the existing situation? May we go on to consider that?’
There was a pause. Appleby had been studying his man as he spoke. And his conclusions encouraged him. This Juniper, too, looked as if he had devotion and dedication in him. He wasn’t, perhaps, a strong man. But he would put up a stiff fight against his own weakness. And that, it seemed to Appleby, was pretty well the definition of courage. He decided to plunge with Miles Juniper.
‘But what is the existing situation?’ Juniper was entirely controlled again. ‘You say that Howard has vanished, and you suggest it may be a matter of a serious nervous breakdown. I’ve heard of that sort of thing happening – with or without complete loss of memory going along with it. There’s some technical term for it.’
‘Fugue, I think. It may be simply hysterical. In that case it usually doesn’t last long; the chap may get back on an even keel without treatment, and it may never happen again. On the other hand, it may be a symptom of something more serious blowing up. It’s clear that previous history is important. So, if your brother doesn’t turn up at once, we shall want you to tell all you know about him – about his health and personality and so on – to the experts.’
Juniper nodded. ‘I can see that – of course. And I’ll do all I can. I only wish you’d brought those experts along.’
‘I rather have it in mind to get you to them.’
‘Good. I’m ready. There’s not much doing here at the moment. And of course I’d come at once even if there was.’ Juniper paused. ‘But it’s still only one hypothesis, isn’t it?’
‘This of sudden nervous illness? Certainly it is.’ Appleby was now striding across the cricket field, with Juniper keeping pace with him. ‘There are other possibilities we have to think of. Serious accident, for instance, in some exceptional circumstances that delay identification. And it’s true that, with a man like your brother, my people in London think in terms of the ports and airfields at once. You won’t judge me offensive if I say that we have already been hard at work on any background that might suggest
sort of cut and run. And I see no evidence whatever that–’
‘That Howard has nipped off with his bugs to Moscow?’ Juniper spoke without resentment; it was clear that he was merely amused. ‘Or, better perhaps, to some nasty small country that can’t afford anything more spectacular? No, Sir John’ – Juniper was serious again – ‘there’s nothing in that particular nightmare, as far as Howard’s concerned. We can cut it out. So would you mind telling me more of the facts – and what you propose?’