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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 49 - Sir Abe Plots With Simon Grimstone

Sir Abe and the sly lawyer Simon Grimstone hatch a plot to end John Illingworth's relationship with Helen.

To read earlier chapters of John Waddington-Feather's intriguing story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

It was a dismal evening Simon Grimstone drove through, on his way to Illingworth House. He'd had a long day at the office but he never tired, not when he could scent good money in the air. His bony face looked keenly through the windscreen of his car, as he crawled through a dense Keighworth fog, but his eyes were alight with the prospect of reward and doing something he revelled in, the dirty work of others.

He went straight from work, for he had another call to make that night, Rosemary Nook, where he went often as a guest of Rosemary and Harry, good friends and he was lawyer to them both. He could do no wrong in Rosemary's eyes after the way he had got rid of Major Kingham-Jones. He and Harry Clemence had always been close and he had been instrumental in getting Harry started on the social ladder in Keighworth. And as the years went by, they became even closer. So did he and Rosemary.

Rosemary valued his friendship because he kept his ear close to the ground in Keighworth and picked up all the tittle-tattle. There wasn't much scandal Grimstone missed in town, but he kept his mouth shut tight and let others do the talking. When he did speak, he always said enough to give the impression he knew more than he did, and his words meant more to his listeners than he implied, as he meant they should. He had many friends in Keighworth; many enemies, too, and they caught up with him in the end.

The lawyer relished his visits to Illingworth House. Its affluence and taste fed his envy and fired his insatiable greed. It was the sort of house he'd set his sights on very early in life. As a boy, he had looked from his bedroom window in comfortable Keighworfh, one of the same houses Joe had passed on his way to Utworth, and stared enviously at the ridge of trees which divided the upper-class from the middle-class. Beyond that ridge, was Black Lane and the great houses of the rich. He wanted a house in Black Lane one day and had set his heart on it. He hungered after wealth with a hunger that gnawed at him throughout life, even when he became wealthy. Once he'd gained a foothold in Illingworth House, he coveted it and schemed how to possess it all day and he very nearly succeeded.

He had envied the Illingworths from the time he had been articled to their family lawyers and had to deal with their affairs. And as much as their wealth, he envied them their power, the clout they had in the town and county. Money spoke loud in Keighworth and if you had it, you were respected by the likes of Grimstone, who was determined to be respected himself one day. Most of all, he envied John Illingworth, who would one day inherit the house along with his father's title. It was an envy he shared with Harry Clemence and both of them secretly despised John for the privilege and wealth he'd been born into. He'd never had to fight his way to the top like them. He'd never had to grovel. Grimstone considered this each time he passed the gates to Illingworth House and drove up the drive.

When Grimstone arrived, he parked his car and hurried in out of the fog, clutching his briefcase and nodding cursorily at Johnson who opened the door for him and then led him to the study-cum-library. Sir Abe was seated behind the great oak desk which he'd sat behind when Joe had come to see him. It stood at one end of the study alongside a George the Third mahogany secretaire, which held his files. Grimstone envied him that, too, and the beautifully carved davenport he used when he consulted a reference book. Being a tall man with a bad back, Sir Abe stood frequently to read.

Grimstone glanced around before going to shake Sir Abe's hand. The lawyer revelled in the opulence of the room, drinking in greedily its furniture and fittings. No expense had been spared furnishing the library, which had a richly worked ceiling in Italian stucco. There were also Italianate pilasters at intervals round the room, framing recesses which held marble busts of great writers and composers, for the Illingworths had always been patrons of the arts. A thick, Persian carpet deadened all sound, like the velvet, heavy drapes, which were drawn to keep out the night.

The library was lit in the previous century by huge candelabra dripping with cut-glass pendants; but electric lighting had replaced the candleholders at the turn of the century. That candelabra never ceased to impress Grimstone with its vaunting of wealth and its glitter.

"Ah, Grimstone," said Sir Abe, extending his hand as the butler showed him in.

"You're early." He beckoned him to the chair alongside his own behind the desk.

"A raw night," he said. "Care for something to keep out the cold. Whisky? Brandy?"

Grimstone inclined his head and gave his servile smile. "No thank you, sir," he replied. "Perhaps later, when we've finished our business."

"Sensible fellow," beamed Sir Abe, and drew his chair closer to the desk.

Grimstone hugged his briefcase on his knees till the time came for him to extract some papers. Then he and Sir Abe got down the serious business of finalising matters for the impending trip to Australia. They were hard at it a couple of hours, then Sir Abe rang for Johnson to bring in the drinks trolley and pour them a whisky.

When he'd gone, Sir Abe toasted to their success, then said casually. "There's another bit of business I want you to do for me, Grimstone." The lawyer glanced up. He suspected what was coming. "This girl our John's got himself tangled up with. I'm not at all happy about it. What do you make of it?"

The lawyer gave a sly smile. He knew the answer Illingworth wanted, but played his cards carefully.

"A ticklish business, Sir Abe. Not quite the match we expected, eh? It's not for me to pass comment but I would have thought she's not his sort, not really his class. And I'm not the only one to think so."

He paused, sampling his whisky and watching the face of the man by him. Then he continued, "I thought at first it was one of John's...how shall I put it...one of John's passing fancies. But now he's got himself engaged, he's in deep, Sir Abe."

"Exactly!" exclaimed the other, leaning across. "You've hit it dead on, Grimstone, and it'll be a disaster if he isn't pulled out, and quick. The girl's neither his sort nor mine. She just wouldn't fit in here at all, you understand?"

"Indeed I do, sir," said Grimstone, relishing the situation more and more.

"No way do I want my family tied to hers. By God, it's unthinkable.. .that fellow Gibson tied to us. He's the last person I want as family. If John marries her, I don't know how I'll cope," said Sir Abe, and shuddered at the thought. Then he pulled a bundle of letters from his secretaire. Some were typed, others handwritten. "I've samples of her handwriting here and the machine she uses at work. She'll use that machine when she's writing to him while he's away or she'll write direct. Look at them carefully, Grimstone. Do you see what I'm driving at?"

He glanced sharply at the lawyer then tossed him the bundle. Grimstone examined the letters closely a moment, but passed no comment.

"They tell me you're expert at calligraphy. Quite a dab hand at copying other people's handwriting."

"Who's been telling you that, sir?" asked Grimstone with a light laugh.

"Oh, I have my informants. I keep a closer eye on you than you think, Grimstone," said Sir Abe affably.

"I'm sure you do, sir," laughed Grimstone. "A wise man should always keep a canny eye on his lawyer." Then he held one of the letters closer to the light to see it better. "It's very strong handwriting for a woman. Very distinctive. Handwriting tells you a great deal about a person's character. That's what's always interested me about it." He spoke more to himself than the man opposite and sipped his whisky.

"I don't want to know her character," said Sir Abe irritably. "I want rid of her! There's a lot in it for you, if this damned engagement falls through, Grimstone. Be sure of that. And you'll have my eternal thanks."

Grimstone put his glass down and remarked, "I'll see what I can do, sir. But, of course, John must never get a whisper of what we've said tonight."

"Of course. You have my word," said Sir Abe, reaching across to shake his hand.

Grimstone stood up to leave and said, "I'll keep you informed, sir, of all that goes on. With any luck the whole affair of Helen Greenwood will have fizzled out before we return."

Sir Abe watched him put the letters away and said, "Make sure you get rid of her letters when they arrive, Grimstone. If one reached John, it would be one too many. You might have a word with the woman she lodges with and see about intercepting John's letters at this end. O.K.? But whatever you do, cover your tracks. If ever our John finds out, he'll never forgive me - or you."

"Rest assured, sir. Letters often go astray when you're travelling abroad. It happened to me when I was last in Australia," said Grimstone. "By the time we return, it'll be all over and with a little bit of luck, she'll have picked up with someone else over here. John's been taking her out partying and I'll see about getting her invited to a few with that girl she lodges with, while he's away."

"I damn well hope you're right," said Sir Abe, pouring them both another whisky. When he handed Grimstone his, the lawyer raised his glass. "To success, sir, in every way."

Illingworth raised his glass and said, "If it comes off, Grimstone, you'll be worth a pound or two more. I'll see to that, and our John'll thank us one day, when he comes to his senses."

The lawyer inclined his head, then sipped his whisky, looking hard into his glass as if he read something there. The whisky warmed him, but the thought that he was about to cut John Illingworth down to size, warmed him more.

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