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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 2

...Mary pulled out a chair for her nephew, but remained standing by his side. John knew something was up for her hand tightened on his shoulder as she spoke. And she was trying to speak 'proper' like the lawyer, but soon lapsed into dialect when she became angry.

John stared at the stranger but could glean nothing. Grimstone's face was a mask, a skull-like mask, reminding the lad of Gestapo leads he'd seen in war films...

Young John at last hears the names of his father and grandfather.

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

To read earlier episodes please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

Mary Gibson wore an old dress and pinafore for she'd been summoned from the mill to meet Grimstone. She smelled strongly of weft and the lawyer kept his distance. He smelled of after-shave and Brylcream, and was expensively turned out in a black suit and black heavy overcoat. He'd a private access to clothing coupons and never dressed cheaply even at the height of the war.

Mary pulled out a chair for her nephew, but remained standing by his side. John knew something was up for her hand tightened on his shoulder as she spoke. And she was trying to speak 'proper' like the lawyer, but soon lapsed into dialect when she became angry.

John stared at the stranger but could glean nothing. Grimstone's face was a mask, a skull-like mask, reminding the lad of Gestapo leads he'd seen in war films. His cold lifeless eyes drifted over John's face but never settled on it; nor could he look him in the eye. He became more repulsive the more John Greenwood looked at him, for his large yellow teeth seemed too big for his mouth and burst through it in smiles at once patronising and sneering.

He'd dyed his hair where it was going grey and slicked it back. He smoothed it all the time so that his cuff was oily with Brylcream, and that habit of looking in the mirror made him effeminate. His black briefcase lay on the table and a document lay by it.

Mary broke the silence the boy's entrance had caused. "This is Mr Grimstone, John. He's a lawyer. He's come...he's come to tell thee summat," she said with a catch in her voice. She was tense and pale and John sensed her panic. Grimstone's face betrayed nothing. One real smile instead of those weasel flashes of yellow teeth would have put both the lad and his aunt at ease, but Grimstone was never one for putting people at ease.

"Your aunt says you don't know who your father is, boy. Is that so?" he said abruptly.

"Yes, sir," he stammered, blushing violently.

"You've no idea at all?" he continued, relishing the lad's discomfort.

"No," John whispered. He knew little about his mother. Nothing about his father for Joe hadn't got round to telling him. But he knew there was something strange about his birth for he had his mother's surname, and once when he'd asked why, they'd fobbed him off with some excuse and he never asked again.

He was a choirboy at the local church where he'd been baptised and once he'd sneaked into the vicar's vestry when no one was about and peeked into the register. There was no mention of his father's name, only his mother's, Joe and Mary's, and his godparents, Mary Calow and her husband.

He knew then for certain there was a mystery about his parents, which had brought sudden silences in company whenever his mother was mentioned. He'd always assumed his father was dead, but he learned that day from Grimstone he was illegitimate, a chance-child and his father had died only recently.

"It's right then what you say," growled the lawyer. "I'd have thought you'd have told him by now. He's old enough to understand and you've been collecting the allowance with him long enough from our office. Why didn't you tell him who was keeping him?" Mary Gibson flushed and bit her lip. Her eyes flashed angrily but she said nothing. "You've made it very awkward for me having to tell him now."

That finished Mary. As the lawyer cleared his throat and bit his forefinger prior to speaking again, she burst out fiercely in dialect. "Ah can't see owt to be proud on tellin' 'im his mam an' dad weren't wed! P'raps thou'll mak a better job on it nah!"

Patches of red appeared on Grimstone's cheeks. He wasn't used to being spoken to like that, but he ignored her outburst. He had work to finish first and he had to humour her. He picked up the document he'd been reading and adjusted his tie in the mirror.

"That may be as it may," he said calmly enough, though his cold eyes spit hate at Mary. "I'm here representing the boy's grandfather, and I shall put it to him whether or not he wishes to take up Sir Abe's offer."

He turned his watery eyes on John Greenwood briefly to see what effect the word 'grandfather' had on him, tightening his lips over those great teeth and observing John closely. Then he began slowly, "I've been asked to tell you who your father is. He's Squadron Leader John Illingworth, the son of Sir Abe Illingworth. You've heard of him? He's a governor at your school." John nodded and the colour swept into his face. "I'm sorry to have to tell you that your father has recently been killed in action. He was a pilot in the RAF. One of the best and a great friend of mine. He was your grandfather's only child and now Sir Abe wants to bring you up, give you the chances your father would have given you had he been alive. You understand? He'd very much like to meet you and you can live at his house in Utworth if you want to. He's very rich, you know, willing to pay..."

He got no further, for Mary burst out, "If tha thinks we can be bowt by his brass, tha's another think comin', mister! Owd Illingworth's niwer done owt afore for us, an' we don't want his brass now!"

Grimstone realised at once he'd made a gaff and almost grovelled attempting to pacify her. He'd been well paid for this trip by Sir Abe and he knew he had to succeed. There'd be more money coming his way if he did. He tried another tack. He asked Mary to consider her nephew's future, his education.

"I'm sorry, Mrs Gibson," he began. "I didn't put that as well as I might have done." He dropped his voice to a sanctimonious pitch and looked suitably crestfallen. "This is a golden opportunity for the boy. Are you
going to sacrifice his future for past mistakes? He's a bright lad, a very bright lad by all accounts, and he'll go far with his grandfather's help. His future is what we must consider above all, Mrs Gibson. Not the past."

His voice had a hypnotic effect and she quietened down. In her heart of hearts she knew he was right, but she said nothing and in the long silence which followed, the ticks of the clock on the mantelpiece grew louder and louder. Mary's grip on John's shoulder grew tighter and he glanced up at her. She'd lost her high colour and had gone quite pale.

The lawyer strolled across to the window and stared out, letting the silence weigh on her, for he knew what answer she'd give. The other two heard his heavy breathing as he stared dully across the street and smoothed down his hair for the umpteenth time. The curtain at the house opposite fluttered then closed as the spinsters were caught peeking across the street. Grimstone smiled quietly to himself.

When Mary had recovered sufficiently, she spoke not to Grimstone, but to her nephew. "Tha's heard what he's said, John. Does tha want to go?" she asked sadly.

He held her hand, for the skull-faced lawyer had turned and was looking keenly at him. He bit his lip then said, "I want to stay here, auntie. I don't want to leave Joe and yourself - ever!"

Mary breathed freely again. "There!" she said triumphantly. "Tha has it frae his own lips. Blood's thicker ner water. Tha ought to knaw that. Tell it to owd Illingworth."

It threw Grimstone, who fiddled with his tie and chewed his forefinger. He was desperate, yet he flashed his yellow smile. "You're quite right, Mrs Gibson. Blood is thicker than water. Surely you'll allow the boy to see his grandfather, his own flesh and blood, now and again? Sir Abe dearly wants to see the lad now that he's lost his own son, his only child. He's nobody now but the lad by your side."

He continued the smooth-talk, playing on the old man's grief and loneliness, till in the end Mary agreed to let the boy visit him and the lawyer sighed with relief. He smiled at her, but as he turned gave John Greenwood a snaky look. He'd been made to grovel and Grimstone was good at that if need be, but he hated those he grovelled to.

Before he left, he asked Mary to sign a receipt. It was for some personal effects Sir Abe had instructed him to give her. They'd belonged to his son and among them was the locket with Helen Greenwood's photo in. When Grimstone left and John had gone to do his homework, she opened the packet and was moved to tears. She was still looking at the photo when her husband Joe came in from work.

He was a huge man and filled their tiny living room. He reeked of the foundry as she reeked of the mill, adding to the pungent flavour of the room. Having greeted her he made for the scullery to take off his overalls and work-shirt, hanging them behind the door and stripping himself to the waist to scrub up. The smell of the workplace was replaced with the tang of carbolic soap and much scrubbing and blowing, and while he was washing, Mary told him about Grimstone's visit. Then she set out his tea and called John down.

Her husband came into the living room clad in a clean shirt and pair of trousers and his slippers, sitting at table next to his nephew. "So Abe Illingworth's taken an interest in ahr John at long last," he said in his slow deliberate way, casting a sideways glance at John Greenwood.

"T'lawyer said t' owd man wanted him ower at his place, but John said he wouldn't leave us," she replied. "He's taken his lad's death very badly." Joe grunted and began his tea, ramming a great chunk of meat pie into his mouth and chewing fiercely.

Mary let him eat. Both of them were watched anxiously by their nephew. The boy had learned from his aunt all that business between his uncle and grandfather before he was born. He wondered how Joe would take the news now. "T'lawyer said owd Illingworth were very sorry for all that happened in the past. He wants bygones to be bygones now his lad's dead. He's got nobody else, only ahr John," Mary continued.

"It follows," Joe said and fell silent. He didn't want to say much in front of the boy, but he did agree to let him see Sir Abe. He owed it to John Illingworth, he said.

They both made a good deal more fuss over their nephew that night and he heard them talking long after he'd gone to bed, which was unusual for his aunt and uncle. His mind was racing for he'd heard a great deal about Sir Abe Illingworth one way or another. He was a school governor for starters and sat with all the big-wigs at Speech Day each year. He'd even had a prize presented to him by the old man and had wondered then why he stared so at him. Now, it turned out he was his grandfather! One part of him was curious and wanted to see him, but the other part was frightened to death.

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