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Illingworth House: 35 – Discovering Skeletons

Simon Grimstone is good at acting. He sometimes trod the boards at Keighworth's Little Theatre. A real lawyer whose smiles were reserved only for the rich or those with clout, he was obsessed with getting on, getting to the top, and he didn't care who he trampled on to get there, or who he sucked up to.

And Simon has discovered a secret concerning Abe Illingworth.

To read earlier chapters of John Waddington-Feather’s novel about life in a Yorkshire mill town please click on Illingworth House in the menu on this page.

When he grew up, Simon Grimstone outgrew his spotty-faced adolescence, but never his appetite for wealth. To it he added a newfound appetite, women, and that never left him either.

He wasn't much to look at, but he had a deep baritone voice, which fascinated some women. He was tall and willowy, pale faced with skin so paper tight across his skull it seemed it must tear. He had great yellow teeth, which flashed into view when he turned on his light-switch smile.

He was good at that. Good at acting for he sometimes trod the boards at Keighworth's Little Theatre. A real lawyer whose smiles were reserved only for the rich or those with clout, he was obsessed with getting on, getting to the top, and he didn't care who he trampled on to get there, or who he sucked up to.

When he left the grammar school, he was articled to the oldest firm of solicitors in Keighworth, Leach and Leach, run by two ageing bachelor brothers. Their offices stood behind the Town Hall in what had once been a row of well-to-do houses built towards the end of the nineteenth century for Keighworths swelling ranks of upper-crustians. When they grew richer they moved away to the outskirts of the town and built their great houses in acres of land at Utworth. Their former homes were snapped up by solicitors, accountants and the like and turned into offices.

The Leaches' offices were much as the original owners had left them. The bachelor brothers had never redecorated the premises, but simply moved in lock, stock and barrel when the old owners moved out. They'd painted the first-floor windows green to keep out prying eyes and in gold copperplate writing announced: "Leach and Leach. Solicitors. Commissioners for Oaths" and that was all.

The original chocolate painted entrance hall was still there. Faded like all else, and from it led what had once been a large living room, now partitioned into a waiting room and office. Hard wooden benches lined the waiting room, full on Saturday mornings when worn down women came to claim paternity allowances. Beyond, behind an intervening desk that ran from wall to wall containing one large ledger, a blotting pad and inkstand, was the office, a skimpy affair with three small desks for the typists and a clerk.

Simon Grimstone was given what had been a tiny box room upstairs, next to the main office, where the two brothers worked. But in his early years there he spent as much time down in the cellars which housed box upon box of Keighworth family secrets, sifting through them meticulously, rummaging through the murky secrets of past and present clients: wills, deeds, business deals and paternity orders, even the odd divorce file.

While still in his teens he had unearthed scores of skeletons from the family cupboards of the upper-crustians. He had read scores of private letters yellow with age, noting their contents and mentally registering them for future use. And by the time he had qualified as a full-blown solicitor in his twenties, he had Keighworth in his grasp. The upper-crustians handled him with kid gloves and the middle-crustians feared him. He could make or break anyone of note in Keighworth if he chose, and he wasn't even a freemason!

He quickly battened onto the Illingworths, for Leach and Leach had been their family lawyers for years. And in that dark, dank cellar where he spent much of his early years, he one day uncovered some correspondence referring to Abe Illingworth and a nursing home at Harrogate, correspondence relating to a baby farmed out for adoption. Though he worked hard to find out more about what had become of the baby, he never did discover what happened, nor did the father, Abe Illingworth. He washed his hands of the whole affair once he had paid old Ted Leach to cover up for him, and paid him well.

Grimstone once tried broaching the subject with old Leach, deviously, as was his way, saying he had had occasion to look into the Illingworth files and had come across this correspondence from a Harrogate nursing home and wondered what it was about.

He expected the old man to tittle-tattle, but he got short shrift. "You should not have been looking into that file, lad," barked the old man. "Keep away from it in future, else you'll be in very hot water! That business is long dead and buried. Understand?"

Grimstone looked suitably abashed and said he was sorry, but no sooner had the old man turned his back than it wasn't long before he was rummaging through the Illingworth files again when the brothers were out. The receipts and letters bugged him all his life and it might have changed the whole course of events for many people if he had found out about the child and where it was.

As he grew older he travelled to Leeds twice a week to study part-time in the Law Faculty, and unknown to the Leaches he began gambling on the property market from a cheap office in Headingley. He made quite a pile for himself in no time at all, snapping up at knockdown prices property the banks and building societies foreclosed on.

Then suddenly the bottom fell out of the housing market and he was in a mess, and so were the rest of them who had taken a stake in the gamble. He had persuaded John Illingworth to invest some money with him as well as John's friend, Sydney Goldstein, son of the old business friend of Sir Abe who had fought alongside him in the war. Grimstone's clandestine venture went well for them till the slump of the late 1920s hit them. Then they lost everything.

Worse still, the crash was compounded by Grimstone's having an affair with a young woman he had employed as his secretary. She was taken in by him in every sense and when the bubble burst, the scandal nearly finished him. A similar affair went sour on John Illingworth about the same time.

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