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Illingworth House: 12 - A Chance Meeting

...The week before he left, Abe took Mary Calow to their hideaway at Grasby. As always, she took the train to Skiproyd where he met her incognito at a restaurant. She looked more radiant than ever in a new summer dress, which set off her face and complexion exactly. He sported white flannels and blazer. The last time he'd wear them for years...

Abe and Mary share a weekend together in the Yorkshire Dales before he goes off to war - but a chance meeting means their affair will now become public knowledge.

John Waddington-Feather continues his novel concerning the fortunes of a mill-owning family.

The declaration of war produced a new mood across Europe. Jingoism and nationalism ran riot fanning flames of hatred on both sides of the Channel. Men flocked to join up, and in Keighworth the mills and factories increased their output of weapons and munitions, made more and more by women as the war progressed.

The strike in Keighworth was forgotten, and Joe was involved in reorganising his foundry and fellow workers' jobs. Wages were raised at once and Joe was able to pay off his fine. He was able, too, to rent his own house from Jabez Grimstone, who'd done very well out of the strike at his pawnshop. He did even better as the war went on, raising rents and building more cheap houses.

About this time, Mary's mother became chronically ill, which meant Mary had to help her more with the adopted child. The baby was two and spent as much time at Mary and Joe's home as her mother's. As time went on, Mary and Joe became well off compared with what they'd been before the war. Her wages and Joe's almost doubled and they were supremely happy - but not for long.

As the war dragged on beyond Christmas the jingoism intensified, and Joe was shunned when more and more men joined up. The situation grew worse when it became clear he was earning far more than the volunteers and conscripts. Army pay was a pittance compared with civilian wages, yet the pressure to draft more and more men into the forces increased as the war went on.

They began shouting at Joe in the street till he felt like a scab. The crunch came in 1916 when someone sent him a white feather. For Joe that was the last straw.

But as Joe's reputation sank, that of men who were in the army went up. They were heroes in the eyes of their families and friends, and among them were Abe Illingworth and Henry Johnson. Before their company left for France they were feted by the mayor and corporation and given a heroes' reception as they marched down the main street headed by the regimental band all the way to the station, which was smothered in union flags and bunting.

The week before he left, Abe took Mary Calow to their hideaway at Grasby. As always, she took the train to Skiproyd where he met her incognito at a restaurant. She looked more radiant than ever in a new summer dress, which set off her face and complexion exactly. He sported white flannels and blazer. The last time he'd wear them for years.

They took their usual table, hidden behind a bank of flowers and ferns, which a string trio played in front of. There he broke the news that his orders had arrived to report for duty and he'd be leaving the next week. This would be their last weekend together for months. She bit her lip and the bright light left her eyes. She could only manage, "Oh, so quick?" and fell silent.

"I haven't told my wife or father yet," he said, holding her hand across the table. "It'll change things at home and I'm not looking forward to it. Johnson will be leaving, too, and there'll be all that to sort out."

It was to be more complicated than he expected and it was left to Mary Calow to do the sorting out as the labour market shrunk dramatically. Sir Luke and Rachel Illingworth couldn't cope. Their world also changed overnight and things were never the same again either at home or at work.

When they'd finished their meal, Abe and Mary strolled down the High Street back to his car. The street was crowded for it was market day and stalls filled the length of it, spilling over onto the pavement. They sold everything from lengths of cloth to knick-knacks and foodstuff. A jewellery stall caught Mary's eye and they wandered over. Most of it was cheap stuff, but a beautifully crafted locket took her fancy and she bought it. She kept Abe's miniature in it throughout the war and for a long time afterwards.

It was while they were at the stall that an upper-crustian woman's voice behind them said, "It's Mr Illingworth, isn't it?" Abe turned at once and instinctively raised his hat to a stocky middle-aged woman expensively over-dressed. By her side was her husband, who raised his boater to Abe. Neither of them acknowledged Mary and wandered off quickly after exchanging pleasantries.

"Damn! She's one of Rachel's coffee morning crowd," said Abe when they'd gone. "It'll be all round Keighworth by the time we get back."

It dampened their weekend for Abe knew he'd have to face the music when he returned home. Rachel's whole life revolved around her girlie clubs, coffee mornings and bridge. She hired a nanny to look after her son and when he was old enough, he was packed off to prep school.

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