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Authors: Michael Innes

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Sheiks and Adders

BOOK: Sheiks and Adders
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Copyright & Information

Sheiks and Adders

 

First published in 1982

© Michael Innes Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1982-2011

 

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 2011 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: 0755121139   EAN: 9780755121137

 

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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www.houseofstratus.com

 

 

About the Author

 

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
Florio's
translation of
Montaigne's Essays
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.

 

 

1

John Appleby, although a knight, would not have thought of himself as one likely to turn knight-errant. And certainly not in his years of retirement, during which a sedentary habit had been gaining on him. This became a topic of conversation one afternoon, when a new neighbour had paid a call on the Applebys. His name was McIlwraith, and he too had recently retired – after, it seemed, a variegated academic career. As a young man he had put in a long spell as Professor of Romance Languages in Tehran or some such place, and during this odd assignment had built himself up as a somewhat old-fashioned polyglot philologist, producing a number of dictionaries of one sort and another – all of them single-handed in the heroic manner exemplified by Dr Johnson. Back in an English university, he had become up-to-date again in some fashionable field of linguistics. But his talk turned out to be still distinctly on the lexicographical side.

‘How do I occupy my time?’ Appleby repeated. (For Professor McIlwraith was a sharply inquiring man.) ‘Well, I’ve learnt to prune Judith’s roses to her satisfaction–’

‘Nearly always to her satisfaction,’ Judith Appleby interrupted. ‘And I’m fairly pernickety, I suppose. John is careful, but takes his time.’

‘I’d guess you were exigent, Lady Appleby,’ Professor McIlwraith said. ‘But are you Scotch as well?’

‘Certainly not.’ It was plain that Judith disapproved of this idea. ‘What should put such a thing in your head?’

‘“Pernickety” is a word I heard most frequently when I was a boy in Aberdeen. It belongs to an interesting group of Scots words which the English owe to literary men of Scottish nationality active down here in the later nineteenth century.’

‘How very interesting,’ Judith said politely. ‘But John wants to tell you all the other things he does.’

‘The rough,’ Appleby said. ‘I may modestly claim that I do the rough. The aged Hoobin, a gardener long in the service of my wife’s family, becomes more and more deeply what he calls a perusing man. His studies, which occupy virtually his entire working day, take place in the potting shed. Hoobin is a true scholar.’

‘Dear me – how very gratifying. And what is Hoobin’s particular field of scholarship? As a whole, the labouring classes nowadays lack the spirit of self-improvement, do they not?’

‘I am afraid so. And Hoobin’s application is to the
Daily Mirror
. His nephew Solo, on the other hand, whom we retain to assist the good old man, as yet lacks the equipment to peruse anything. It may be an almost entirely fortunate circumstance. What is regrettable about Solo is that he is hardly ever awake. Did we not know him to have been bred on the property, we might suppose him to have come into the world at Mr Wardle’s Dingley Dell.’

‘Is Solo actually a fat boy?’

‘He is almost a skeleton, although Judith is constantly giving instructions that he be plumped out.’

‘It seems unfortunate, Sir John, that you should have to exert yourself out of doors in default of the proper services of this uncle and nephew.’

‘It’s healthy,’ Judith said.

‘That is what I have to bear in mind.’ Appleby offered his guest a serious and indeed solemn look. ‘Of course, pruning the roses is prickly rather than physically oppressive labour, and I take care never to do it from my wheelchair. But I also mow the grass, and as there’s rather a lot of that I’m afraid it’s on a sit-down affair called a rider. I trundle along on it, feeling rather like an American playing golf. However, I do at least run the errands on my own feet.’

‘Now, just what is an errand?’ Professor McIlwraith asked (perhaps momentarily forgetting that he was not conducting a seminar – or perhaps by way of getting back to ground on which he could be sure he wasn’t being made fun of). ‘Would it be a matter of bearing an instruction or commission on some other person’s behalf?’

‘It would be shopping, chiefly.’

‘Ah, yes!’ Professor McIlwraith was delighted. ‘Do you know that in my native city–’

‘Aberdeen?’ Judith asked encouragingly.

‘Yes, Aberdeen. When I was a boy, and shopping was in question, I would be sent out “to do the messages”. And a message boy didn’t carry messages; he delivered goods. “Have you any messages?” meant essentially “Is there anything you want me to buy?” I doubt whether in England the question would be understood in that sense. Unless, of course, in the presence of some strong contextual suggestion. But quite as interesting as “errand”, I think you will agree, is “errant”. Originally one is so described simply if one is travelling or wandering. But eventually the word comes to imply something like “deviating from the straight and narrow path”, and thus acquires an opprobrious connotation.’

‘So that if one is errant nowadays,’ Appleby said, ‘one is aberrant.’

‘Excellently put, Sir John. How fascinating those very simple aspects of semasiology can be.’

‘Yes, indeed.’ Judith had to supply the civil acquiescence that her husband had been a little slow in coming forward with. ‘But consider knight-errants – or is it knights-errant? They didn’t have a straight and narrow path to deviate from. They’d simply be meandering through forests and places, and something would bump up against them and they’d cope with it.’

‘Not a bad sort of life,’ Appleby said. ‘Full of surprises and calls for quick action.’

‘Well, yes.’ Judith glanced curiously at her husband, perhaps reflecting that the pruning of rose bushes seldom called for quite that. And then Professor McIlwraith was off again.

‘“Meander” is notable, is it not?’ he asked. ‘The river is, of course, in Phrygia – or Anatolia, as we might now say. The use of the word attributively occurs in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, and in English is first definitely so employed by Sir Thomas Browne.’

‘What about “maunder”?’ Appleby inquired – apparently without malicious intention. ‘Maundering is a kind of verbal meandering. Perhaps there was a River Maunder in Phrygia too.’

‘I think not,’ Professor McIlwraith said comfortably. ‘“Maunder” is probably purely imitative in etymology, like “shoo” and “boohoo”.’

‘And “fee-faw-fum”,’ Appleby offered gravely.

‘Ah!’ The Applebys’ guest appeared to be much struck by this. ‘“Fee-faw-fum”,’ he repeated appreciatively. ‘Yes, indeed. “Fee-faw-fum”. Do you know? I am inclined to hazard that “fee-faw-fum” defies philology.’

‘It’s a kind of gloat,’ Judith said. ‘A malign ejaculation.’

‘Admirably expressed, Lady Appleby.’ Professor McIlwraith got to his feet, and was suddenly a polite old gentleman aware that the time allotted to a first and formal call was over. ‘A most delightful chat,’ he said. ‘We have shared enthusiasms, have we not? We must indulge them from time to time.’

Sir John Appleby conducted Professor McIlwraith down the drive of Long Dream Manor, and detained him for some further minutes in order to inquire into various points of comfort in his new house. Then he shook hands and retraced his steps – a shade gloomily, as may befall a man conscious of being so
désoeuvré
as to have filled in time talking a good deal of nonsense. A detour took him past the potting shed, where he suffered the further discomfiture of observing Hoobin deeply involved in his habitual labour. But Hoobin lowered his paper as his employer approached.

BOOK: Sheiks and Adders
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