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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 18

...He paused for breath when they reached the landing and stood gazing at the faded portraits there. The founder was there old Amos, then at intervals came the rest, all with the same craggy features hardened by trade. Rock-faced the lot, chiselled by producing in the cheapest markets and selling in the dearest. Hardened by grinding down employees and trampling on rivals. In the end they were bankrupt in business and soul alike....

Sir Abe Illingworth pays his last visit to his mill.

John Waddington-Feather continues his engrossing tale concerning the fortunes and misfortunes of a Yorkshire mill-owning family. To read earlier episodes please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

When they arrived, Johnson drew up outside the looming offices and let them out before parking round the back. For years Sir Abe had his own parking lot there, but now it was filled with Clemence's white Rolls, and the butler had to slot in where he could.

There was no one to greet them, no doorman, nor even a caretaker, for the staff was already being run down. The brass nameplate by the door was green with verdigree and the doors were locked. Sir Abe fumbled for some time with his key-ring and they were frozen through by the time they got in. Once inside, the old man detached the key he'd used and looked at it for some moments. Then he pushed it back into the lock and left it. "Shan't want that again," he muttered, then straightened his back and walked on.

John stared about him. It was the first time he'd been there, though he'd heard his grandfather talk about it often. The clerks' offices, separated from the entrance hall by a glass partition, were empty and silent, stripped of their machines and desks, except for one solitary booth in the corner where the remaining typist worked alone. "Your mother used to work in there," he mumbled in a shame-faced way, nodding at the room the other side of the dirty glass partition.

There'd been no attempt to modernise the place, which clung to the past. It was heavy with mahogany and brasswork. The drab paintwork and decor were Victorian and the place would have had a preservation order placed on it had it survived a couple of more years. But it didn't.
The carpet was badly worn on the stairs, which they climbed slowly to the directors' landing. All the way up Sir Abe spoke of past events and the vanished glory of the Illingworth empire, gone like so many others in the textile trade.

He paused for breath when they reached the landing and stood gazing at the faded portraits there. The founder was there old Amos, then at intervals came the rest, all with the same craggy features hardened by trade. Rock-faced the lot, chiselled by producing in the cheapest markets and selling in the dearest. Hardened by grinding down employees and trampling on rivals. In the end they were bankrupt in business and soul alike.

The very last portrait in the line was different from the rest. The eyes were cunning enough, but the face was flabby and the mouth weak despite the flashy smile. It lacked the Puritanism of the rest. It was Harry Clemence. Sir Abe glanced at it contemptuously a moment, then grunted, "He didn't waste much time getting himself in line, did he?" Clemence's name was under the portrait and also on the door of his office on a plastic tab. Sir Abe gave it the merest glance then walked in unannounced.

Both the Clemences were standing in front of the high Victorian fireplace. They were deep in conversation, but shut up immediately Sir Abe and John came in, looking surprised and scowling when they saw John. Harry quickly put on a welcoming smile for the old man, ignoring John completely, but he didn't budge from the fireplace and kept his hands thrust deep in his pockets. He nodded at the chair they kept for visitors and invited Sir Abe to sit in it, which he did, John standing beside him.

"Good morning, Uncle Abe," he began brightly. "You made it then. We'd begun to give you up. Terrible weather, isn't it? It took me an' Rodney t'best part of an hour to get here. It were still dark then. Not much better now, is it?"

Sir Abe let him ramble on, staring icily at him and Rodney. They stood opposite hogging the fire, their hands deep in their pockets jingling their loose change and going up on their toes from time to time like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. At length Harry ran out of steam and said in a small voice, "I got Miss Heaton to collect your stuff, Uncle Abe, ready for you to take away. It's all over there." He nodded to a desk the other end of the room filled with personal odds and ends, John Illingworth's photo among them.

"Y'know, you needn't have bothered turning out a day like this, uncle. Rosie an' me thought of having a bit of a do at our place to mark your retirement next month. You could have collected it then, or I could have sent somebody over with it," said Harry. Rodney said nothing throughout, and there fell such a silence it became oppressive and the Clemences jingled their change even more.

At length, Sir Abe said, "You've wasted no time moving in here, Clemence." giving him such a sour look the day was sweet by comparison.

"Don't believe in wasting time," said Clemence brusquely. "I wouldn't be in the position I am to day if I were a waster." And he gave a hearty laugh, which his son echoed.

Sir Abe ignored him and began taking papers from his briefcase, taking such a long time the tension began to mount again. Rodney prodded the fire noisily and his father began looking at his watch, then stared out of the window.

"You never did have much finesse, did you?" said Sir Abe, his head down fiddling in his case.

"Pardon?" said Harry, bringing his gaze back quickly from the window.

"I said you never did have much finesse," repeated the old man louder. "There's such a thing as etiquette, but you were never one for that."

Clemence began to bridle. "I do things my way an' you do things yours!" he said tartly. He sensed he was being made look a fool in front of John and he didn't like it. "Bringing him here isn't exactly the right way of going about things, is it?" he said sarcastically. "Not when there's business to discuss."

"You've got your lad, Clemence, and I've got mine. And I know who's the better...by far."

Clemence began to bluster. "There's no need to be bloody personal!" he shouted. "If you're going to start that caper, I could say a great deal about him. Let's keep to the point an' get done. I've a lot of work to get through this morning an' I don't want to stand here arguing the bloody toss over things that don't concern me. There some papers to sign so that all's straight before you leave."

"I'm not signing anything, Clemence," said Sir Abe bleakly. "It's you who has to do the signing. I want you to witness this." He pulled out a paper from his case and handed it to Clemence. He read it then glared at John, so choked with rage he was barely audible.

"I can't sign this!" he hissed. "D'you realise what you're doing?"

John was in the dark and only later did he find out his grandfather had asked Clemence to witness the transfer of all his shares in the business to himself, when he was twenty one later that year. Clemence flung the document back at Sir Abe, who said with slight smile, "So you don't want to sign?"

"Like hell!" snarled the other. "If it's your idea of a joke, I don't think much of it. You're off your head!"

"The joke's on you, Clemence," Sir Abe replied coolly. "You might have some headaches at your AGMs in future if you don't treat this lad with more respect. With those shares behind him you'll have to handle him carefully."

As it was it proved an empty threat. John Greenwood never got a single share. Grimstone saw to that.

Having riled Clemence, Sir Abe went to the desk where his few things were stacked. He signed the receipts for them then handed the photo of his son to John. "Take this Jonty," he said quietly. "If your dad had been alive, Clemence wouldn't be standing there so cocky now. But my John had guts. He died for his country."

It touched Clemence on the raw. It was well known in Keighworth he'd run for cover when war broke out and got himself exempted from military service. Grimstone, another dodger, had helped him in that, too. Enraged he took his hands from his pockets and waved his fist at Sir Abe.

"Damn you! Damn you!" he yelled. "If you're going to bring all that up, you can talk to the bloody wall! Your lad wasn't so full of guts when he put that lad's mother in the family way and pissed off to Australia, was he? He didn't show much guts then - nor you!"

It silenced Sir Abe who bit his lip. He'd no answer to that and Clemence knew it. He made no reply but looked calmly out of the window and said casually, "I see the fog's lifting. It's time we were off." He rose slowly from his chair as John helped him up and threw the papers he brought with him on Clemence's desk. "I'm sorry you wouldn't sign the transfer," he said, "but Grimstone'll see to it."

Then they left the room. Sir Abe never met Harry or Rodney Clemence again. But John Greenwood was fated to meet Rodney Clemence later that year when he went to do his National Service in the army.

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