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Illingworth House: 5 - A Challenge

Mill master's son Abe discovers that rugby league comes before romance in the latest chapter of Illingworth House by John Waddington-Feather.

He slept soundly, so soundly it was well after nine before he turned in for work. By that time his father had been in the office over two hours working hard with Denton through a pile of mail before strolling to the general office to see how they were getting on. Later that day he'd drop in at one of his mills, always unannounced, to make sure they, too, were grinding away. If a single loom was idle he wanted to know why.

He gave his son the rough end of his tongue when he turned up. "Baby or no baby, you should be here on time!" he said. "If I can do it, so can you. Remember, if you slacken, the hands slacken and you'll be in queer street before you know where you are, my boy!"

As the old man continued to scold his son, Denton kept his head down, smiling quietly to himself. He didn't get on all that well with the boss's son and liked to see him put in his place, but when Abe came over to collect his mail, he looked up and smiled ingratiatingly, "Congratulations, sir. I hope Mrs Illingworth is doing well."

Embarrassed at being dressed down before the senior clerk, Abe replied rather curtly, "She's doing fine, Denton, thank you." and left his father's office for his own along the corridor.

His irritation left him at once when he opened the door. Across the room Mary Calow was typing at her desk. In the sunlight pouring through the window on her hair and neck she looked radiant. He closed the door and hurried over to her. "Congratulations, Abe. A son, Denton said," she said, standing to greet him, but before she could say more, he took her in his arms and embraced her passionately.

She broke free, glancing at the door. "Be careful, Abe. Your father could walk in any minute. You know what he's like."

"I don't give a damn," he replied. "I've had a whigging from him for coming late and just now the old man can go whistle." He paused and drank in her face. "Thank God you're here, Mary. Life would be damned near intolerable without you."

"You got my note, Abe?"

"Yes, but Johnson almost forgot to give it me in all the palaver going on at home yesterday. My wife had a bad time," he added as an afterthought. "It took longer than we thought."

She'd returned to her desk and he remained standing drinking her in. Then he went over and leaned over her. Her neck lay bare under her rich head of hair. He reached down, put his hands gently on her shoulders and kissed her throat, feeling her thrill beneath his kiss. The colour rushed to her face and she looked more beautiful than ever.

"We'll never get the mail done if you start that," she smiled, looking across at him coquettishly as he sat behind his desk.

He smiled back then shuffled through the letters on his desk. He pulled out one he'd been expecting and opened it, a smile of satisfaction spreading over his face.

"Good news, Abe?" asked Mary.

"My appointment as magistrate has come through," he said.

"Then you'll be quite a somebody in town now. Quite a somebody, Abe," said Mary with a touch of irony in her voice. But Abe didn't pick it up. She was often too sharp for him.

He flashed another smile then skimmed through the rest of his mail, dictating solidly till lunchtime. Mary would type them in time for the afternoon post and by then he'd be back at home catching up with some sleep. But before he left he asked if she could meet him at their usual rendezvous in the Dales that weekend.

"I've promised Dad I'll go with him to the cup-tie. I said I'd go..."

"Why?" asked Abe petulantly.

"Because I want to," she replied, firmly.

"And I take second place to a rugby game?" he said sulkily.

She went across to him and brushed his shoulders before kissing him lightly on the cheek. "I'm not your wife," she said quietly. "So I please myself what I do, Abe. Remember that. I love you more than I can say, but when Keighworth is playing in a cup-tie at home, even love must go begging. In any case, since mother died, Dad is lonely. He relies on me."

Then she said casually as she returned to her desk. "Why don't you come to the game, Abe? We could meet afterwards... in the bar...then we could drive up to Grasby later together."

"You serious?" he asked.

"I dare you, Abe," she challenged, looking him straight in the eye.

"I might just do that, Mary. Though God knows why. It's not my scene at all. But if you really want me to..." he said, and because he was so much in love with her he dutifully turned up at the game the following Saturday.

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