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Illingworth House: 2 - Part Of A Business Arrangement

...From the start there'd been no love in their marriage. It had been entirely a marriage of convenience. Abe sought his love elsewhere and she knew it. An only child, she'd been part of a business arrangement between her father and Sir Luke. So had Abe, but it hadn't stopped him making his own arrangement, too...

But Abe manages to give his wife a peck on the cheek after she gives birth to a son.

John Waddington-Feather continues his saga of a Yorkshire mill- owning family.

He needn't have hurried. He could have stayed at work and returned later as usual, for when Sir Luke arrived home, his daughter-in-law, Rachel, was still struggling to unchild herself. She laboured well into the night till the grandfather clock at the foot of the great staircase leading to her bedroom struck one. Its chime boomed through the house, cracking the silence. Downstairs, the servants waited like their master for the Illingworth heir to appear. They spoke in whispers, expecting any minute the midwife to appear and say all was well.

But all was not well. Rachel Illingworth had been in labour all day. Her baby was big and in no hurry to make its appearance in the world. Her husband, Abe, had been pacing up and down the library for hours, trying to read then walking round and round the large garden; sometimes going to the door of the labour room to ask how things were; always the same answer from the midwife, a polite, "Nothing yet. The doctor's doing his best." Then the door was closed.

He'd no desire to go to his wife, to see the messiness of birth, and he wished it would soon be all over, so that life could get back to some sort of normality.

Approaching midnight, he went upstairs for the umpteenth time to ask how things were going. This time the doctor came to the door, perspiring and irritable, his shirt sleeves rolled up and minus collar and tie. Dr Cowie told him tactfully he was in the way. They were at a crucial point and he didn't want interrupting again, so Abe retired to the library with his father, sipping strong black coffee. Abe would have had something stronger, but his father was teetotal, dead against drink.

After his mother died, he'd had to smuggle his drink into the house when he'd moved in with his wife a couple of years before. Shortly before he'd moved in, his sister, Victoria, had married and left home and the old man, now very lonely, had asked Abe and Rachel to come and live in one wing of Illingworth House.

Since his wife's death Sir Luke had been cared for by a housekeeper, Mrs Johnson, whose husband had been butler for years. Their son had taken over the butler's role, and had recently become the family chauffeur, too. Abe and his father chatted about him as they made small talk in the library.

"Young Johnson seems to be making out," said Abe, who'd a soft spot for the new butler. Johnson was certainly not teetotal and kept mum about the drink Abe smuggled in; indeed, they shared the odd nip some nights after Sir Luke had gone to bed.

"Aye. He's doing well," said the old man. "A great help." There was a pause. Then he added, "His mother says he's joined the Yeomanry? So you'll be seeing him at the Drill Hall no doubt." Sir Luke wasn't pleased. He was anti all things military. He'd lost one son in the Boer War and had tried to argue Abe out of joining the new Territorial Army, but he enjoyed it and had it not been for his father, he'd have made the army his career. Sir Luke didn't press the point. Most of Abe's fellow officers were the sons of mill magnates. Good contacts. Good for business.

They made more small-talk, then, as his father began dozing, Abe said he'd get Johnson to fix them a bite and left his father asleep. There was more than a bite awaiting him in the kitchen, where the butler hid the whisky. He desperately needed a drink and invited Johnson to join him.

But they'd barely filled their glasses when the door opened and Dr Cowie entered. His smiling face heralded good news. "I was told you were in here, Mr Illingworth. Congratulations!" he said, extending his hand. "Your wife has given birth to a son!"

Abe told Johnson to pour the doctor a dram, then raced upstairs. The midwife had finished cleaning up and was handing the baby to his mother. Rachel looked worn out, and so white was she that it alarmed Abe. She was so weak she couldn't hold the child for long and passed it back to the midwife. She was drawn and her lank hair, drenched in sweat, was plastered across her brow. Her eyes were sunk and, but for her breathing, she could have been a corpse.

"He's a fine boy, " said the midwife, wrapping him in the crib next to Rachel's bed. "A big boy, too. All of ten pounds."

Abe leaned over the child and pulled back his blanket slightly to see his face. His eyes were tightly closed but he had a head of fine blond hair and a full face. A big sturdy lad, indeed. An Illingworth.

"Well done, Rachel," he whispered and pecked her on the cheek.

She opened her eyes a moment and then sank back into her pillows. She said nothing a while, then opened her eyes again and, not without some bitterness, said "Are you satisfied now, Abe? Believe me, there'll be no more after this." He nodded and pressed her hand, not with any affection but merely to acknowledge what she'd said.

From the start there'd been no love in their marriage. It had been entirely a marriage of convenience. Abe sought his love elsewhere and she knew it. An only child, she'd been part of a business arrangement between her father and Sir Luke. So had Abe, but it hadn't stopped him making his own arrangement, too.

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