« Pennies, Pennies! | Main | The Hydrant Puzzlement »

Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 8

...The chief clerk, a middle-aged man, stood at the counter. He had a twitch in one eye and chain-smoked, lighting a fresh cigarette from the one he'd finished before stubbing it in a brimming ash-tray. He never quite stubbed out his fags and they'd burn away slowly making the air foul. He never smoked his cigarette once he'd lit it, but let it hang limply from the corner of his mouth, even when he spoke. When he did take a drag, he followed it with a hacking cough, spluttering smoke and spittle all over the counter...

Young John Illingworth recalled visiting solictor Simon Grimstone's Victorian office.

John Waddington-Feather continues his comeplling saga set in a Yorkshire mill town. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

The time came when Joe Gibson stopped the paternity allowance for his nephew. As long as John Illingworth was alive, he grudgingly allowed Mary to collect the money week by week from Simon Grimstone's office. Something akin to comradeship had sprung up between Joe and John Illingworth before John's untimely death. The dreadful scarring on his face and the pain he'd suffered after being betrayed over Helen moved Joe deeply.

But he detested his father, and after John Illingworth's death became jealous of the visits his nephew had begun making to Illingworth House. He feared most of all that the old man would somehow wean the boy away from him and Mary, and in a pique of jealousy about six months following that first visit, he had the paternity allowance stopped. It was his way of letting Sir Abe know that he was the boy's guardian and in the driving seat.

Mary had collected the allowance for years every Saturday from Grimstone's office, which lurked behind the Town Hall. The ground-floor windows of his office had been painted green, and on them was printed in florid golden letters, "Leach and Leach, Solicitors. Commissioners for Oaths." Old Leach and his brother Ted had long been dead and Grimstone had taken over the practice, but he never bothered changing the names on the window. The Leach brothers were well known in Keighworth and strangers to the town assumed Grimstone was one of them, till told otherwise. Not until later did he change the firm's name and by then the Leaches and their generation had faded into obscurity as Grimstone's star climbed high.

The offices had once been a private house built a century before in what was then a fashionable part of Keighworth. But as the town grew, the area ran down; yet not as far as it might have done. Accountants, solicitors, estate agents and the like moved in and converted the whole street into offices.

But little had been done to the place after the last family moved out. It had never been decorated since the day the Leaches took over, so that
grimy Victorian wallpaper heavy with cobwebs and dark secrets made the dingy rooms dingier. The reception area was dingiest of all, a hovel of a corridor, which led straight off the street.

Till he grew old enough to stay at home, John trailed there with his aunt each week as part of the Saturday routine. Inevitably there was a long queue hudged into the windy entrance hall, spilling sometimes into the street. However, once they'd shuffled to the reception room, they warmed up quickly in an over-heated office brown with cigarette smoke.

Round three sides of the room were wooden benches polished bright by rows of fat bums, which had slid along them for generations. They'd been there years, fixtures like the pudding faces which stared from the same dowdy headscarves week by week. Nearly all the women could have come from the same shapeless mould. The exception was a well blessed tart, who wore a perky hat to show she'd a bit more about her than the rest, and in a general way she had.

Facing them as they entered was a long counter separating them from the typists and clerks behind, packed into a box of an office working cheek by jowl. Three thick battered ledgers sat on the counter, and over them, when he was a small boy, John Greenwood could just see the heads of the typists, glancing at the queue inquisitively and tittering when the chief clerk went out.

At a high Victorian desk in front of the typists a young male clerk stood with a pen behind his ear. He'd dirty finger nails covered with ink and was always engrossed in a girlie magazine till he heard Grimstone coming down the steps. Then he'd slide the magazine into his desk, pluck the pen from his ear and drive away like mad.

The chief clerk, a middle-aged man, stood at the counter. He had a twitch in one eye and chain-smoked, lighting a fresh cigarette from the one he'd finished before stubbing it in a brimming ash-tray. He never quite stubbed out his fags and they'd burn away slowly making the air foul. He never smoked his cigarette once he'd lit it, but let it hang limply from the corner of his mouth, even when he spoke. When he did take a drag, he followed it with a hacking cough, spluttering smoke and spittle all over the counter.

He fascinated young John, for he'd a wart on the end of his chin, which he picked till it bled. Then he dabbed it till it dried up. He guarded his ledgers jealously, making each entry secretively before covering it up with blotting paper. When he'd finished with his ledgers for the day, he'd close them with a loud bang, startling the typists behind him.

They were all women in the queue, working-class and dowdy, any age between eighteen and sixty, each with the same world-weary air and cheap clothes. Some chatted to each other. Others sat in shamed silence. There were never any men in that queue till the day Joe showed up.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.