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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 9

Joe Gibson pays a most satisfactory visit to lawyer Grimstone's office.

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

The day Joe joined this dismal line he stood grim-faced and embarrassed. He'd worked himself into a lather and was spoiling for a fight before he even set foot in the place. Whenever his wife or John spoke to him, he answered only in curt monosyllables. Mary was dreading this visit. So was Joe in a very different way. She kept glancing nervously sideways at him the more they shuffled up the queue to the front.

When she saw him come through the door, one of the typists looked up and stared. She giggled and nudged the girl in front with a ruler, and she in turn looked round up to stare at Joe. That didn't help at all. Joe glared silly women back to work and turned his full scowl on the counter clerk, who began to pick at his wart.

"Mrs Gibson," he called softly, when their turn came, but it was Joe who went forward to the counter. The clerk lit a cigarette and smiled weakly.

"Ah've come about t'allowance for John Greenwood," said Joe bluntly. "Ah want it stoppin'."

"Stopping!" echoed the clerk.

"Aye. Stoppin', " Joe said firmly.

The clerk looked nonplussed and took out his fag, flicked off the ash, then plugged it back into the corner of his mouth. His watery eyes wandered to the ceiling and the cobwebs there before coming back to Joe, who gave him such a foul look, the clerk inadvertently inhaled and went into it a fit of coughing.

When he'd done, he leaned forward and said hoarsely, "I'm afraid you'll have to see Mr Grimstone if you want it stopping. He's very busy at present, and you'll have to make an appointment. Could you come back in about an hour? He may be free to see you then, Mr Gibson."

"Come back! After we've stood 'ere all bloody morning!" bellowed Joe. " Like hell Ah will! Grimstone sees me now or not at all. Thee tell him Ah want to see him right now, an' that Ah want John's allowance stopped!"

Joe brought down his great fist on the counter with a thump that made the clerk jump back.

The silence became more intense than ever, as the clerk closed his ledger and shot out. They heard him pitter-pattering up the stairs and after what seemed ages, he minced back. His wart was bleeding badly and he dabbed it with his handkerchief as he bobbed round the door.

The typists and the ledger clerk stopped what they were doing and looked up all ears. "Would you come this way, please, Mr Gibson?" the chief clerk said quietly, and the Gibsons followed him back up the stairs to Grimstone's office. He stopped outside the door and tapped lightly. A voice the other side told them to enter and the clerk motioned them through, nodding deferentially as Joe passed.

Grimstone was standing near the window against the light. His back was towards them as they went in and his bony hands were clasped tightly behind him. He had a terrible habit of cracking his knuckles, which he was doing as they entered.

The room smelled of musty papers and the lawyer's Brylcream. The one dirty window looked onto the back of the Town Hall across a narrow passage, so narrow they could hear a toilet flushing somewhere the other side. But although Grimstone's office was dingy, there was nothing out of place, no clutter, no books or papers strewn around. Even the wastepaper basket was empty. He always gave the impression that everything he did had been carefully considered, so that nothing he threw away could be used in evidence against him.

His desk, his filing cabinets, the bookcase along one wall were all tightly closed. Everything was fastened and nothing was more tightly buttoned up than Grimstone himself. He turned icy-eyed and didn't as much as wish them "Good morning", simply dropping his hand in the direction of three bamboo chairs in front of his desk. Joe's creaked fearfully as he put his two hundred and fifty odd pounds on it and shifted his weight from time to time. Mary sat like a mouse beside him. John stayed close to her, wide-eyed.

"I'm extremely busy, Mr Gibson," Grimstone began irritably, "but since what you've come about involves Sir Abe Illingworth..."

He got no further. "Sod Illingworth!" Joe snarled. "Ah've come about us...not 'im!" Ah want that 'lowance stoppin' - right away. Understand?"

The lawyer nodded. Those flecks of red appeared on his cheeks and he flashed a snaky glance at John as he straightened his tie. There was a mirror on the wall behind the Gibsons and he spent most of the time talking to that and smoothing his hair.

"I've never been asked to stop a paternity allowance," he began icily. ''It's generally the other way round."

"Well, there i'nt no other way now. We don't want it an' that's flat," said Joe.

Grimstone had had dealings with Joe during the war and been bested. He played him carefully now. He knew John Greenwood might be stopped visiting his grandfather if he pushed Joe too far and Sir Abe was too valued a client for that to happen.

"We can arrange for it to be sent by post, Mr Gibson, if that would help," he said hopefully.

"Ah want it stopped," Joe insisted.

Grimstone cracked his knuckles and bit his forefinger. "Well," he replied with a sneer, "if you want to throw good money away..."

Joe stood up, towering above the lawyer, who took a pace back. Mary laid a hand on Joe's arm and began to say something, but Joe brushed her off and told her to shut up. Then he turned back to Grimstone and said bitterly, "Look, mister, that were never good money we were paid, an' tha knows it. It had to be taken when times were bad. But times are different now an' we doan't need it. Tell owd Illingworth that, will tha, an' let it sink in? We doan't need 'is brass!"

The lawyer pursed his lips. "I'll inform Sir Abe if that's what you wish," was all he said, and he was white with rage. He pressed a bell on his desk and his clerk re-appeared. Grimstone nodded curtly at the door and the clerk stood back to let the Gibsons out. Joe gave a final glare and they went down to the main office in silence. They hadn't been with Grimstone more than five minutes.

Of course, Sir Abe was furious when Grimstone told him, but he was helpless. He never broached the subject with his grandson, but it underlined the point Joe wanted to make. He had to handle Joe with kid gloves from then on. He had to eat humble pie while Joe looked on.

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