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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 10 – The Obliging Toad

...His eyes were large, bulbous. They earned him the nickname Toad in the general office downstairs, where he was decidedly unpopular. Light with his superiors, he was heavy on those under him.

He'd once had a good head of dark hair, but it was starting to go grey, so he dyed it. He had to comb it carefully, too, to hide the bald patch spreading across his crown....

Harry Clemence, the Toad, offers to be a tennis partner as a stand-in for the boss’s son.

John Waddington-Feather continues his story of the fortunes of a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

John left his dad studying the files and went to his own office along the corridor. He shared it with Harry Clemence, some years older than himself.

Clemence was new to the firm but already regarded the office as his own. He treated John Illingworth with respect. After all, he was the boss's son. But he'd more experience than young Illingworth and was streetwise, for he'd come up from the bottom. He'd learned early on life how to grovel, but he'd also learned how to call the shots on his way to the top. And because Clemence had come up the hard way, he knew when and what shots to call. He played his cards always close to his chest.

John told Clemence about the new girl he had just met. He was full of her. And he let slip she came from Keighworth. Clemence looked up from his desk and grinned. "You don't let the grass grow under your feet, do you?" he said. "She hasn't been in the place two minutes."

He took off his heavy-framed glasses and breathed on them, then wiped them carefully before replacing them. "But watch it, lad," he said more seriously. "You know what happened last time. And this lass lives on your doorstep. Never pays you to mucky that." Then he bent his head over his desk and continued writing.

John went to his on the other side of the room and looked out of the window. He couldn't concentrate long and found his work less and less interesting. Clemence did the real work in their office and was quietly taking over the reins. But John didn't mind. His heart wasn't in the place.

While John's back was turned, Clemence looked up. A half-smile played around his lips. He mentioned John's cousin had phoned. "Rosemary wants you to partner her at the tennis club tonight. It's the preliminaries of the mixed doubles. She's mad keen to win, y' know."

John grunted. She was mad keen on him more like. He knew her game through and through. She was besotted with him.
"Crafty witch!" he said. "She's trying it on. What did you tell her, Harry?"

"Nowt. I said you were busy. You'd ring back."

John frowned. "It gets embarrassing at times," he said irritably. "She never lets go. I'd have thought she'd have grown out of it by now." He toyed with the paper opener on his desk a moment, then said," You free tonight, Harry?"

"Could be," replied Clemence casually, and continued writing.

There was a pause, then John said, "I say, Harry, do me a favour. You partner her tonight. Get her off my back. You rather like her, don't you?"

Clemence grinned. "She's good fun is Rosie. Aye. I rather like her, as you say. She's got a lot about her."

John Illingworth laughed. His mind was still full of the girl he'd just met. "Well, that's settled, Harry," he exclaimed. "I'll make some excuse for not turning up and say you're my stand-in. You're not a bad player, y' know."

He sounded patronising but didn't mean it. Clemence grinned again and said thanks. He was short and thickset and regarded the world from a heavy face. His eyes were large, bulbous. They earned him the nickname Toad in the general office downstairs, where he was decidedly unpopular. Light with his superiors, he was heavy on those under him.

He'd once had a good head of dark hair, but it was starting to go grey, so he dyed it. He had to comb it carefully, too, to hide the bald patch spreading across his crown.

He'd come up from nowt, but was determined at all costs to be summat, and so far he'd succeeded. Ever since he'd left the local tech and followed his father into Illingworths, he'd worked hard to get to the top and had licked every boot within reach. He wasn't called Toad for nothing.

He was a blunt no-nonsense man, with no finesse. A man who stuck to facts with little imagination but what he had was used to get on, always to get on, no matter whom he trod on. He had come to be regarded as solid, dependable, by Sir Abe. And there was no doubting he was good at his job. He lived for his work - and for himself.

Sir Abe had promoted him the year before to oversee his son, to teach John the tricks of the trade and groom him to take over. But Clemence soon discovered young Illingworth had no heart in the business. He liked the good life too much. And he liked his women. He didn't have any business flare like his dad, and he had no drive like Clemence.

But he had that which both his dad and Clemence lacked, elan, and because of that Clemence clung determinedly to John Illingworth's coat-tails.

John Illingworth had introduced him to the right people. He had learned to play golf and tennis. Learned to make small-talk of sorts. And on the quiet, he had begun taking elocution lessons to rid himself of his accent. He never did get rid of it, but he did manage to sand down the edges a bit.

As a result, he was accepted by the upper-class in Keighworth, where he'd gone to live when he managed one of Illingworths subsidiary mills, lodging at first with a respectable widow, who mothered him and taught him some social graces and so forth.
He owed Mrs Laycock much more than his rent.

"Why don't you simply tell Rosie you're working late, John?" he said at length. "Tell her you're busy with this Australian business. It's true. You won't be fibbing. I'll back you up. So will Grimstone. He said he was going to the club tonight."

John brightened. "Of course," he said. "That's it and I'll tell her you'll partner her. She's played with you before and you know her style, Harry."

Harry Clemence knew Rosie's style all right. He'd studied it well for some time. Ever since he'd gone to Keighworth. It would be fine by him. "Anything to stop Rosie feeling put out," he said, smiling broadly. He was smiling even more when he met her later at the tennis club.

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