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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 58 - The End Of A Friendship

John Illingworth begins to hate the conniving lawyer Simon Grimstone, who has been intercepting Helen's letters.

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

The summer of 1933 was as bitter as the winter in Europe. At one end of the globe, cricket was in turmoil; at the other, the whole of Europe. In Australia, a cricket captain was at the centre of controversy. In Europe, Adolf Hitler and his thugs came to power.

The Bodyline Tour was watched by John Illingworth,who travelled to Adelaide to see the Australians battle with the English fast bowler, Larwood. Before the decade was out, he was fighting his own battle in the skies above Britain.
He returned to Sydney to finish his firm's business with Simon Grimstone, who was no sportsman and had stayed behind to enjoy the fleshpots of the big city. He also stayed in Sydney when John travelled up-country touring sheep stations before returning for the wool sales. But in all the weeks he'd been in Australia he'd received no word from Helen; now, he was nagged by a growing fear that she'd broken off their engagement. Grimstone had hinted at it early on in their visit and had never ceased to play on it.

It was his job to collect all the mail from England and he intercepted every letter Helen wrote, reading them carefully before destroying them. In one of them she mentioned her pregnancy and begged John to write to her, but the lawyer made sure John knew nothing about it and he compounded his rotten task by attempting to get John off with women of the Sydney set at the parties and barbies they attended.

One night he took John on a pub crawl with some friends, plying him with drink, and, when they were all boozed up, they went to a fun fair near Harbour Bridge. They were propositioned by some hookers and Grimstone took two in tow. "Stick with us," he told them, "and I'll see you're all right. My pal here is missing his woman back home and needs a bit of female company. I'll pay you well. Just make sure he's tucked up nicely in bed when you say goodnight, will you?"

They went on to a night club before Grimstone hired a cab to take them all back to his hotel. John was legless and as Grimstone paid the girls, he told one to see John into bed while he bedded the other. The next morning, John woke up with a headache to end all others. He'd little recollection of what had happened the previous night when they'd left the fun fair. None at all as to how he got back to his hotel. And he was completely mystified who the woman was fast asleep in his bed.

He sat up holding his head looking blankly at her for some time. Then he climbed out of bed and went for a glass of water. She stirred and called after him, "What's the matter, Johnnie? Is last night catching up?" Then she laughed and lit a cigarette.

He began to retch and dashed for the loo and locked himself him, puking into the basin. He heard the girl laughing again, but when he returned from the bathroom she'd gone. So had his wallet.

Grimstone was waiting for him at the breakfast table with a grin from ear to ear.

"By, John, you gave it some stick last night. How did you get on with the lass you picked up? Mine was a cracker!"

John didn't reply. He sat white-faced and silent, still trying to collect himself. He let the lawyer drivel on before he told him that he'd had his wallet stolen, and asked how the girl came to be in his bed. The waiter came with his breakfast but he couldn't face it and sipped water looking sourly at Grimstone as he went on and on about what had happened the previous night.

Grimstone liked his food and troughed into a huge breakfast, stopping only to add more detail about their night out. His horsey, yellow teeth crunched his cereal loudly then he tackled a plateful of eggs and bacon. John felt nauseated and looked away; and the more Grimstone went on, the more he felt disgusted with himself and the man before him.

John asked him again how the girl had got into his room. "Dunno," said Grimstone chomping away. "We picked them up somewhere along the line. One minute we were drinking with your pals from the cricket club, and the next you had this bird hanging on your arm. Then her pal came up and attached herself to me."

"I can't remember a thing," said John gloomily. "But not a word about this when we get home. I must have been crazy."

Grimstone laughed. "I don't know about that, but you were certainly stoned. Trust me, John, I shan't say a word. You know me. On duty's on duty, off duty's off. I shan't say a dickie. If a man can't enjoy himself now and again, it's a poor do." He took a huge bite from his slice of toast before asking, "By the way, how's Helen?"

John ran his hand through his hair and frowned. "I don't know," he said dismally. "I...I haven't heard a word from her since we arrived. You don't think something's happened, do you?" He glanced across the table, but Grimstone looked pan-faced. He licked his fingers clean before replying.

"You can never tell with women. They're fickle, the lot of'em. One minute they're all over you and the next..." He left his sentence unfinished and began sucking the crumbs from his teeth and easing them out with his finger. Then he slurped his tea.

He continued sipping his tea as he watched John closely, but John seemed absorbed in the paper. He wasn't reading but he didn't want to talk to the lawyer. He was too preoccupied with what Grimstone had just said.

John hid behind his paper and nothing more was said till Grimstone had finished his tea. He wiped his mouth noisily on his napkin, then tossed it on the table. "I shouldn't worry if I were you, John. Like you, she's probably having a bit of a fling before you come back. It's happened before. After all, she's young..." and he was about say more but recognised the warning signs as John threw down his paper. "Now don't get me wrong he added hurriedly. I'm not saying owt's happened, but Helen's a very pretty girl and had many admirers in Keighworth - me for one. She impressed me the very first time I saw her."

"She's not like that!" John said fiercely, his patience taken to the limit.

"Sorry," said Grimstone and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "I've heard that one before" but he knew his innuendo had struck home. He had sown many seeds of doubt over the past weeks, but the doubt he sowed in John Illingworth's mind that morning wasn't about Helen. John watched every move Grimstone made from that time on and their friendship died the death.

He never trusted him after that and almost blew the lawyer's cover one morning when he casually mentioned to the post-boy that he'd received six letters from England that day, an unusual number. "But there were seven, sir," said the boy. "I mentioned it to Mr Grimstone when he collected the mail. 'Seven for luck,' I said to him. I remember it distinctly, sir. Six were typed and the seventh was in a lady's hand I'd say," he added grinning.

He told Grimstone. "The lad must have made a mistake," said Grimstone quickly. "There were only six for you. The handwritten one was for me, from Rosie as a matter of fact. She asked me to pass on her love. I'm surprised she hasn't written to you before now. The office lad probably mistook it for yours, but I'll check my briefcase to make sure." He fiddled with his case a moment, making a great show of taking out all his papers one by one till the case was empty. Then he ran his hand inside and turned it upside down. "No. There's nothing there. You had all I picked up, John," he said and looked hurt, and to cover himself he added, "I'd rather you picked them up yourself, John, in the future. I don't want to be accused of losing any, especially any personal mail."

John was embarrassed as Grimstone intended he should be. "No, no, Simon. Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't dream of such a thing. Bring them over as usual. As you say, the post-boy must have been mistaken."

From then on Grimstone went each day very early to the office and took out Helen's letters himself before the clerk arrived, and a week later they set sail for England. They were three days out to sea when a telegram arrived for John from Mary Calow. It was very short and terse, telling him Helen was dangerously ill and asking why he hadn't replied to her letters. He never said anything to Grimstone but from that time on he hated him like poison and steered well clear, despite all the lawyer's efforts to appease him. By the time they docked, they were barely speaking to each other.

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