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Illingworth House: 11 - Preparing To Serve

...The Keighworth mob, which had focussed on the great houses of their bosses during the strike, switched its attention once war was declared to the German butchers who had settled in the town years before. They went on the rampage again kicking in the shop windows in the middle of town, before marching up Black Lane again and wrecking what they could there...

War is declared, and mill master's son Abe Illingworth is called to the colours.

To read preceding chapters of John Waddington-Feather's novel please click on Illingworth House in the menu on this page.

Then at the beginning of August, 1914, war was declared. The Keighworth Masters' Federation caved in and Abe Illingworth and his father had to go along with the rest of the employers. Skilled workers were in short supply, and the strike ended immediately the workers' wage demands were met.

Joe was also grudgingly reinstated by his boss as men and masters worked together for the first time in months for the war effort. From then on, industry geared up rapidly as the country switched more and more to
armaments. Reservists were called up and Abe Illingworth and Henry Johnson were posted to France.

The tension and chaos caused by the strike left Abe Illingworth exhausted, both as an employer and as a magistrate. The Keighworth mob, which had focussed on the great houses of their bosses during the strike, switched its attention once war was declared to the German butchers who had settled in the town years before. They went on the rampage again kicking in the shop windows in the middle of town, before marching up Black Lane again and wrecking what they could there.

It made Sir Luke ill and to make matters worse, when he learned his son and butler had been called up in the T.A., he had a slight stroke. His son went to his bedside the night before he left for France. His father was ashen and spoke in a low voice. "Who's going to do your job while you're away?" he gasped. "I'm worried, Abe. Worried sick."

"Oh, you'll manage, Dad. Denton's a very capable manager. So is Mary Calow," Abe replied, trying to put a bright face on it.

The old man smiled grimly. "She's nobbut a lass," he replied, lapsing into dialect. "What does she know about running mills?"

"She's been with us eight years now, Dad," said Abe. "She knows as much about the business as Denton.. .as myself for that matter. Things'll tick over till I return. The war will be over by Christmas anyway."

His father said nothing for some moments, then, "Aye, an' them damned unionists'll take advantage of us meanwhile. They're already asking for more brass."

"As long as we've full order books, they're bound to ask for more, Dad. Everything's going up. You can't keep wages down. Not now, but it'll be a different tale when things become slack again," said Abe.

His father looked tired so Abe didn't stay long. He wasn't looking forward to telling Mary Calow he'd received his calling-up papers, but when he arrived at the office he told her straight away. Her face crumpled and she held him close. "What'll I do if... ?" she left her question unfinished.

He held her gently and tried to calm her, stroking her hair. "Don't worry,' he said. "Nothing'll happen. I'll be back. We'll not be in the firing line, only on support duties for the regulars as likely as not. Bringing up supplies. I'll be back before the year's out. You'll see."

He continued holding her till there was a discreet knock on the door. Mary hurried to her desk, straightening her hair. He went to his own desk and called, "Come in."

Denton entered nodding and smiling. "Your father's just phoned, sir," he began. "He says you're joining the colours, sir. May I say how proud I am that you're to serve your country in its hour of need?"

Mary Calow glanced up. She was far from glad and her face showed it.

"Thank you," said Abe, who then went straight to the point. "We'll be relying on you, Denton, a great deal once I've gone. You'll be working closely with Miss Calow while I'm away for I don't think my father will be back at work for some weeks, but I know I can rely on you, Denton."

Denton gave another smile when Abe said he'd be well paid for his new responsibilities. "I'm honoured, sir," said the clerk. "Of course I'll do my best."

"Between you, you and Miss Calow should keep things running smoothly till I return."

"Of course, sir."

"You can start immediately, Denton. Got anybody in mind to take your place."

"Hardwick, sir. He's been with us years."

"Hardwick? Yes, he's your man. A steady chap."

They covered one or two other points then Abe told the senior clerk to move into his office after lunch when he'd sorted it out. He'd need to work closely with Mary Calow, and it would be better if they used the same office.

Denton, flushed with pride, said how grateful he was, bowing again as he left the office. He'd reached heights he'd never dreamed of.

When he'd gone, Abe got up and crossed to Mary Calow, leaning over her and kissing the nape of her neck. "Everything's going to be all right, darling," her whispered. "Trust me. You'll manage all right with Denton, and Father said to give you both a rise. He's seen what you're worth at long last."

Mary Calow gave a wry smile. "Worth? At long last..." she echoed, and looked down at her desk.

"Darling, I've arranged for us to have the weekend at Grasby," Abe continued, drawing her to him. "It'll be good to get away with you.. .away from all the nonsense going on in Keighworth. It'll be heaven to be with you.. .just you, darling. Just us."

She held him closer. Now that it seemed she might lose him, she loved him more than ever. She began weeping, and he dried her eyes, comforting her, telling her again not to worry and that he'd be back after a few months. Then they began preparing the office for Denton, and he busied himself removing papers from his desk.

He called in briefly at home, which still had a police guard at the gates. His wife was more neurotic than ever and his father more fussy. He was glad to drive out that evening away from it all, picking up Mary Calow at Skiproyd before driving to their hideaway at Grasby.

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