Appleby at Allington

Appleby at Allington by Michael Innes

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Authors: Michael Innes
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these Clamtrees miss him quickly?’
    ‘I’d reckon not.’ Mr Goodcoal, although his mind seemed marked by no great rapidity of movement, was beginning to look surprised. ‘Knockdown gets a bit of work here and a bit of work there, you see, and there will be times when he thinks a barn a good enough place to sleep in. And they do say his trouble waxes and wanes with the moon.’
    ‘Rather a lonely fellow, and with this obsession with electricity?’
    ‘Just that. Neither father, mother or brother that any ever heard of.’
    ‘Perhaps that’s just as well, Mr Goodcoal. Because I’m afraid poor Leofranc Knockdown is dead.’
    ‘I suppose we can pack up now?’ Appleby asked hopefully. It was half-an-hour later, and he had succeeded in finding his wife.
    ‘Good gracious, no!’ Judith gave every appearance of registering shock. ‘It wouldn’t do at all.’
    ‘That old woman went away.’
    ‘That’s quite different. People who declare fêtes and sales and bazaars open always clear out early. It’s part of the ritual.’
    ‘Bother the ritual. I’ve discharged my mission.’
    ‘What do you mean – your mission?’
    ‘You know perfectly well what I mean. You dragged me over here to poke officiously into the great gazebo mystery. Well, I’ve poked – and naturally it’s a mystery no longer. I’ve just got to find your friend Tommy Pride’ – Appleby said this with considerable satisfaction – ‘in order to offer him a helpful word, and after that we can find Wilfred Osborne and clear out.’
    ‘John – you mean you know who the dead man was, and how he came to be killed?’
    ‘Yes, of course. He was the only thing he could be – as I saw clearly enough. A poor fellow who was mad about every sort of electrical gadgetry, but in a dim-witted – actually a mentally subnormal – way. He climbed into the wretched affair to glut himself with gaping, actually got to crawling around, and was unlucky enough to be killed instantaneously on the high-voltage part of the affair. He has no near relations, I’m glad to say.’
    ‘I thought it must be something like that.’
    ‘You did nothing of the kind. Or at least you didn’t say you did.’ Appleby was looking at his wife balefully. ‘In fact, you as good as announced that this fellow Allington had contrived some fiendish sort of murder.’
    ‘That was only a hypothesis.’ Judith appeared to feel that this dismissed the matter. ‘But, talking of Mr Allington, he’s had old Mrs Junkin keep you a meringue.’
    ‘I haven’t the slightest yearning for one of old Mrs Junkin’s meringues.’
    ‘Perhaps that’s just as well.’ Judith was glancing over her shoulder. ‘There’s a long queue now, and you couldn’t very well jump it. Mr Scrape’s first session must be over. Yes, they’re still coming out of the marquee. But there will be more Bingo in half-an-hour. That’s when we’ll go.’
    ‘Bingo! Do you mean to say that the Reverend Mr Scrape’s gambling hell is nothing but a Bingo palace?’
    ‘Of course. But he’s said to be fearfully good at it, and quite to live for it from year to year. For one thing, it’s the only occasion on which he sees crowded rows of his parishioners in front of him. And there’s a strong ritual element in it, after all. You’ll see when we go. We’ll take Wilfred too.’
    ‘Judith, I will not sit under this dissolute priest for the purpose–’
    ‘Do be quiet, John. Here is Mr Scrape coming to talk to us.’
    Mr Scrape advanced upon the Applebys, cordially smiling and energetically mopping his brow. He was a cleric of the stringy sort, such as one scarcely expects to drip at every pore. But it was this that he seemed to be doing. It would be very hot inside the marquee, and the deep Anglican calm which must characterize his common sacerdotal occasions was probably a poor preparation for the altogether more exigent patter required of him upon this red-letter day of his year. Now that he had emerged into

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