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Illingworth House: 4 - Spartan Beauty

...She spent two years in the main office, then at eighteen she blossomed suddenly into womanhood, caught Abe Illingworth's eye and became his personal secretary. It was inevitable they should fall in love. Though almost twice her age he looked much younger. He'd a mane of blond hair and blue attractive eyes. He was tall and strikingly handsome and in her eyes he was a gentleman. He came from another class, the upper-crustians. He spoke nicely, had polished manners and charmed her from the start...

John Waddington-Feather continues his story of the Illingworths, a wealthy mill-owning family. To read earlier chapters of this novel please click on Illingworth House in the menu on this page.

Mary Calow was the youngest by some years in the pool of typists at the head office of Illingworth's Mills Ltd. At eighteen she shone like a light among the others, dull dowdy spinsters the lot of them, fighting off middle-age but losing the battle on all fronts.

What marked out Mary Calow from the rest was her spartan beauty. She wore no makeup, dressed simply, and backcombed her rich auburn hair austerely. But there was nothing spartan about her face; intelligence lit up her whole face and shone from her serious grey eyes. Her figure spoke for itself.

She was well read and could hold her own with any man in conversation. Even Harry Denton, the chief clerk, treated her with respect. In a later age, she'd have gone to university, but as it was, she'd left the girls' grammar school at fifteen, spent a year at a commercial college then went straight to Illingworth's. She was the best commodity they possessed.

She spent two years in the main office, then at eighteen she blossomed suddenly into womanhood, caught Abe Illingworth's eye and became his personal secretary. It was inevitable they should fall in love. Though almost twice her age he looked much younger. He'd a mane of blond hair and blue attractive eyes. He was tall and strikingly handsome and in her eyes he was a gentleman. He came from another class, the upper-crustians. He spoke nicely, had polished manners and charmed her from the start.

He danced attention on her and as a woman she responded strongly. A response he'd never had from his wife and as a result their marriage had quickly died the death.

Rachel lacked verve and the love he craved. She was a coffee morning prattler, empty-headed to the point of embarrassment when they dined out. She'd been to a girls' boarding school abroad where they'd taught her all the social graces, but not how to love, not how to fire a man and fulfil him. She much rather preferred the company of women, especially younger women now she was approaching middle-age.

She'd never wanted a family, but knew where her duty lay and after five years gave her husband a son. After that, she became more frigid than ever and went her own way.

Abe began to look elsewhere and just at the right time, he found in Mary Calow the woman he'd yearned for. They shared many interests: music, literature and the family business, which Mary was thrust into from the start. They sang together in the Bradford Choral Society and Abe was an accomplished pianist. His family was very musical and his grandfather had sponsored the Illingworth Musical Festival in Keighworth.

Old Sir Luke was musical, too, and still had a fine bass voice and held regular soirees at his home. Sometimes Mary Calow sang there, accompanied by Abe, but there was never any hint of their affair. They kept it well under wraps. Abe was discretion itself and even his father suspected nothing - until years later.

Rachel soon cottoned on, however but held her tongue. As long as she could lead the life she enjoyed, her coffee mornings and regular trips to London to see her friends, her gossipy social rounds and shopping expeditions, she let him go his way and she went hers. It made life easier - and sweeter - for them both.

Also unlike Rachel, Mary Calow was an active sportswoman: tennis, swimming and oddly enough she enjoyed watching rugby. Not the amateur code Abe had played in his younger days, but the new working-class professional game - rugby league. She was an ardent fan of Keighworth and since her teens had spent many Saturdays on the terraces with her father cheering them on.

Henry Johnson was also a rugby league fan and that's how he came to be the go-between for Mary and her boss, passing their letters to each other when Abe was away on business. He recognised early on there was more to their relationship than met the eye. She was more than Abe's very competent secretary. She was competent in other ways.

Oh yes, Johnson was shrewd, but he was also discreet. He arranged lodgings for them under assumed names when they began to spend the odd weekend together up the Dales, so that their affair went on quietly for years unnoticed.

When Abe had pocketed the note Mary had sent, he popped into his wife's room to say goodnight. The nurse rose as he went in. He told her to sit and tip-toed over to his son. Like his mother, he was sleeping peacefully. Abe stroked his face gently, looked at him tenderly a while and said he'd pop in before he went to work. Then he retired to his own room and before getting into bed burned the letter Johnson had passed on to him.

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