Authors: Michael Innes
Tags: #A Change of Heir
A Change of Heir
First published in 1966
© Michael Innes Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1966-2010
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: 0755120892 EAN: 9780755120895
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.
PROLOGUE IN SOUTH KENSINGTON
ON HER MAJESTY’S SERVICE
The buff-coloured card lay forbiddingly on George Gadberry’s sketchy breakfast-table. Although well accustomed to the receipt of these vexatious applications, Gadberry still felt a little frightened – as well as alerted and wary – whenever he received one. They represented a side of life that he wasn’t, somehow, terribly good at. Why, he asked himself as he eyed this particular specimen, shouldn’t
be ‘official paid’? There would be some sense in that. The theatrical profession was of inestimable benefit to the cultural life of the community, but it was undeniably overcrowded. One did the devil of a lot of ‘resting’, as it was ironically called. He himself had been taking this dubious kind of ease longer than he cared to count. There had been that delusive success in
and really quite a lot of money. Then there had been a couple of flops, followed by nothing at all. Now here he was. Yes, he ought certainly to be ‘official paid’, whether working or not. You could bet that the chap who sent out these nasty little missives was. Probably he got through the job in a couple of mornings weekly, and put in the rest of his office hours at dominoes or some equally squalid recreation.
Gadberry walked over to the window and surveyed some of South London’s chimney pots. The prospect – urban, yet detectably autumnal – presented nothing to fortify or inspire. He went back to the table and flicked the card over on its other side. It was pretty well the same hue, he noticed, as the stains on the cloth provided by Mrs Lapin. He let his eye, for a start, travel only round its periphery. Bottom right, it said in very small print:
Wt 43085/M6195 WH & S 712/21.
Bottom left, it was snappier and the print bolder:
Top left – for he was going round clockwise – it said, rather uninventively:
hm inspector of taxes
Top right had:
please quote 16288d
Gadberry found himself speculating about that ‘D’. He guessed it was pretty special to himself. Perhaps it stood for
. More probably it stood for
. Unless, indeed, it was rather technical, in which case the word might be
. He was a drifter rather than a dodger, he supposed. It was the less active occupation.
Suddenly very depressed, Gadberry allowed himself to drift – for it was precisely that – round the room. Mrs Lapin, he reflected, must at one time have taken a vigorous interest in the graphic arts. Where her walls weren’t clothed with framed photographs of theatrical celebrities (all with the appearance of bearing exuberant signatures) they displayed sepia-toned reproductions of masterpieces of Victorian painting. Mrs Lapin’s favourite themes were romantic courtship and rural seclusion. In several of the pictures these were resourcefully combined. But for some years Mrs Lapin’s aesthetic responses seemed to have been in eclipse, for all these pleasing scenes were so dusty and fly-blown that their finer points were inaccessible to inspection.
Gadberry peered gloomily at the largest of the pictures. It represented a gentleman in eighteenth-century costume making a proposal of marriage to a young gentlewoman. He had chosen, suitably enough, a walled garden for the enterprise, and he had brought a whole pack of hounds with him to support him in his suit. The sagacious creatures were sniffing peacefully at the hollyhocks. The young gentlewoman was sniffing bashfully at a rose. Finding no encouragement in this, Gadberry had recourse to another of the arts. He whistled the first eight notes of the Fifth Symphony. He squared his shoulders, twice repeated this musical performance, and walked back to the table.
HM Inspector of Taxes requests an
early reply to his communication of 23.11.64
That was all – and to the uninitiate it mightn’t have seemed alarming. But George Gadberry knew his onions. He picked up the card distastefully from the table and placed it on a plate from which he had lately consumed a disagreeable species of porridge. He set a match to it, and watched the good work. As the card curled and blackened and the thin flame died away, Gadberry spoke aloud to the solitude of his attic room.
‘It stinks,’ he murmured. ‘And I am ready to depart.’
He went over to the rickety wardrobe and lifted down his suitcase. It was disgracefully dusty, so he hauled one of Mrs Lapin’s sheets from his unmade bed and cleaned it up a bit with that. He wouldn’t be sleeping in this room again.
Of course – he told himself as he packed – it isn’t actually a chap at all that sends out these beastly things. It’s a kind of low-grade computer. (No doubt it plays dominoes, just the same.) That’s why it can be defeated simply by keeping on moving on. This had been explained to him by persons more skilled in these matters than he was himself. The machine is untiring but it can’t speed up. You can always keep just ahead of it. You can do this even while owning a sequence of those ‘permanent addresses’ necessary for the receipt of National Assistance. He had never, as it happened, had a go at National Assistance; it was obviously a confusing sort of business – and moreover his bourgeois ancestry left him obstinately persuaded that such a means of subsistence was – unless one was senile or otherwise incapable – a bit shaming, after all. He preferred a little money picked up from time to time in honest menial employment. Not, of course, that
was honest. He still had his bourgeois pride, but his bourgeois honesty was a luxury he’d been obliged to scrap – to scrap, that was to say, in various petty directions. It was very horrid. He didn’t like it at all. But that was where the tides of society had, so to speak, drifted him. For example, he quite liked old Ma Lapin. He was sorry that circumstances made it impossible for him to take a formal leave of her. But circumstances, in the shape of ten days’ board and lodging, unfortunately did. He’d go downstairs in his socks.
George Gadberry began on the Fifth Symphony again, but this time he stopped after the three little pips at the beginning. Sometimes he wondered if he was imagining things. About the low-grade computer, that was to say. Perhaps if he faced it he’d find that it wasn’t disposed to bite really hard. It’s only concern with him could be with the substantial dollop that had come in during the run of
The Rubbish Dump
, and that was now a depressingly long time ago. Perhaps the machine was anxious to make contact only to murmur something about a bad debt and calling it a day. He himself had almost certainly mismanaged the whole affair. More successful members of his profession, he knew, solved these small troubles by going in for a ploy known as a theatrical bankruptcy. Perhaps he’d gone wrong in not fixing himself something quite modest in that line.