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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 8 – The Very Long Walk Home

Helen, on her way home after being offered at Illingworths, the famous Bradford textile firm, is accosted by the oily Simon Grimstone.

John Waddington-Feather continues his Yorkshire-based novel.

The bus seemed to go slower the nearer it got to Keighworth. Hints of countryside began to appear. The valley opened into farmland, hill farms which clung to the valley sides. Dried out wall-lined fields swept to the moors. On the crest, huge boulders hung in the haze. A solitary bird of prey drifted over the skyline on the thermals then swung back out of sight across the moors.

The air looked clean up there, but nearer the town it turned yellow in the haze. The foundries were firing, and Joe, a moulder, would be sweating it out in the inferno where he worked. Helen’s sister would already be at home, waiting anxiously for her news.

At long last the bus reached Keighworth and squealed to a stop outside Albert Park. Helen got off, glad to be out in the open air at last. There was a slight breeze and she held up her face to let it cool.

As she paused, she realised someone else had alighted with her, the man who had tried to attract her attention on the bus. She glanced quickly at him then, despite the heat, set off at a quick pace across the park.

Her glance jogged her memory. Now that she could see him better, she remembered who he was. Simon Grimstone, a young lawyer from Fieldhouses, the other side of the railway from Garlic Lane; the side where the middle-class lived. He was unmarried and lived with parents. His dad was a money-lender, among other things, and owned most of the next street to Helen's.
He had a mean reputation, as hard as nails when it came to money. For years she had seen him collecting rents on Fridays. Seen him bringing in the bailiffs to turn folk out of their homes, when the rent was overdue. There was no messing with old Grimstone. When he was younger, Simon Grimstone had helped his dad rent-collecting and that's where Helen had seen him.

He looked older now but was still thin and pale. The skin stretched tight across his cheekbones, giving him a skullish look. He'd a mouth full of large yellow teeth which flashed into easy smiles, if you could call them smiles. His black hair was plastered down with Brylcream, but a stray lock had slithered over his forehead in the heat and hung below his bowler.

Although it was hot, he wore his lawyer's suit, an expensive one, for Grimstone was a bit of a dandy and fancied himself. He fancied women, too - after himself, that is. For Grimstone looked after number one first and foremost.

Helen heard him draw closer. He'd long legs and soon caught her up, though she'd begun to hurry, almost run. Why, she didn't really know, but there was something about him she instinctively disliked - and feared, something which made her want to get away from him.

When he drew alongside, she received the full benefit of that toothy smile. Like her, he was perspiring freely and reeked of body odour despite some expensive after-shave lotion he wore. As he drew level, he took out a silk handkerchief from his breast pocket and mopped his brow, raising his hat with the other hand.
"Good afternoon," he began. "It's jolly warm, isn't it?"

As he spoke he let his eyes drop on her bare shoulders, then beyond for the merest second. It was long enough; long enough for Helen. The ‘jolly warm’ bit was meant to impress, but that had the same effect as his glance. He drawled his vowels like southerners, which made him sound affected. And his appearance matched his speech. Though he dressed expensively, he didn't look smart. He looked slick.

"You don't know me, but I'm Simon Grimstone," he began. He had a deep oily voice. "I noticed you outside the office at Illingworths. I was there on business."

Helen gave him a cold, "Oh?" but he prattled on.
"I'm at Leaches, the solicitors in town. We're Illingworths' solicitors. I was there on business," he said again adjusting his tie. Then added, "I'm a partner, you know," in case Helen might have thought him a mere clerk. He didn't say he was only a junior partner. His dad had bought him into the practice the month before.

"Oh?" Helen said again coldly.

Annoyance drifted across his face a moment, but the practised grin soon returned. He asked her name, falling into step alongside Helen; walking so close his sleeve occasionally caught her bare arm. He began questioning her, wanted to know why she was there. Then how she'd got on with Miss Calow.

Helen got the impression he didn't like Mary Calow, but he made much of his knowing the big names at Illingworths, especially young John Illingworth, the boss's son.

She let slip she'd met him, but didn't say how.

Grimstone glanced quickly across when she mentioned his name. He was all ears at once, but Helen dried up. She wasn't going to let Grimstone know. He seemed to know too much about her already, too much about everyone.

He asked where she lived. She told him, and it was the tight way he said, "Really!" that irritated. The way he said it confirmed what she'd already guessed. It said what he thought about Garlic Lane and those who lived there. It said he was a snob.

He continued talking about himself and name-dropping till they reached the park gates. There, they parted and she was glad. He had a way of letting his watery eyes trickle over her, which gave her the creeps. And that constant touching of her arm was too often to be accidental. Grimstone was a great toucher she discovered.

The walk took only a few minutes but it seemed an age. She had never disliked anyone so intensely in so short a time. Grimstone had that effect on people. They either hated him or fell under his spell. They were never indifferent.

"Well, Helen," he said as they went through the gates. "You don't mind me calling you Helen, do you? After all, we're going to see more of each other, I feel sure. I go to Bradford often. If ever you want a lift, let me know. I usually drive down to Bradford, but my car's in dock today. Lucky for me it was. I'd never have met you, and we've had quite a chat, haven't we, Helen? See you again, eh?"

She smiled politely, but said nothing. He raised his hat and lowered his eyes again to her blouse. She felt it peel from her and drew the open neck close. Then, after a curt goodbye, she turned sharply into a side-street and left him leering after her. She didn't look back. She felt his eyes on her all the way down the street. Despite the heat she shivered.

She certainly wouldn't be asking that one for a lift. That was for sure!

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