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Illingworth House: 13 - Secret Knowledge

..."He was with that young woman, his secretary I think. I've seen her here at Sir Luke's soirees. Very pretty. Very," continued Mrs Sharp giving Rachel a knowing look.

Rachel coloured deeply. She'd said nothing as long as her husband's affair was kept well under wraps. Now it was in the open she found it difficult to handle and was angry. She was doubly hurt, being told by Emily Sharp, whom she'd never liked...

Abe Illingworth's affair with his secretary is no longer a secret.

To read earlier chapters of John Waddington-Feather's novel about the fortunes and misfortunes of a Yorkshire mill-owning family please click on Illingworth House in the menu on this page.

After the Monday coffee morning at Illingworth House, when all the other guests had gone, Emily Sharp hung back to tell Rachel about the chance meeting at Skiproyd. She'd been bursting to tell her all morning but, of course, couldn't say anything in front of the others. That would come later.

"Rachel, darling, I thought you ought to know that Alfred and I bumped into your husband in Skiproyd last Saturday morning," she said lowering her voice.

"Oh?" said Rachel, feigning surprise though she guessed what was coming.

"He was with that young woman, his secretary I think. I've seen her here at Sir Luke's soirees. Very pretty. Very," continued Mrs Sharp giving Rachel a knowing look.

Rachel coloured deeply. She'd said nothing as long as her husband's affair was kept well under wraps. Now it was in the open she found it difficult to handle and was angry. She was doubly hurt, being told by Emily Sharp, whom she'd never liked.

Mrs Sharp turned the knife a little more. "They were ... how shall I say? ...linked in very close and...."

She'd have gone on but Rachel cut her short. "I'm sure there's a perfectly innocent explanation," she said, but she knew the truth. Abe had told her he was going to Halifax with his unit for the weekend.

"I'm sure there is, but I just thought you ought to know, darling," said Mrs Sharp sweetly. "Thank you so much for a wonderful morning as usual, Rachel." Then she flashed a bright smile, pecked Rachel on the cheek and left triumphant.

Rachel stayed a while behind the closed door trying to collect herself, biting her lip. Then she went to confront her husband. It was time to get things straight. Abe had just finished packing and was enjoying a cigar in the lounge before he drove to Halifax.

He'd been playing in the nursery with his son while his wife entertained her coffee crew. He loved his son dearly, would miss him more than anything, even Mary Calow, when he left. He was sleeping now watched over by his nanny.

The way she entered the lounge white-faced warned Abe what was coming. She'd been told all by that wretched woman he'd met over the weekend in Skiproyd.

"You lied to me, Abe. You haven't been with your unit over the weekend. You've been away with that Calow woman," she cried, then burst into tears.

"And who's been telling tales out of school?" said Abe coolly. "Mrs Sharp?"

"Who else. She made me look a fool. She enjoyed telling me all about meeting you...with that woman," sobbed Rachel uncontrollably.

Abe went across to console her, but she shrugged him off and flung herself into a chair. He looked on tight-lipped and when she'd calmed down said, "Rachel, there's a great deal you and I should talk about before I leave. You've known what's been going on for some time. I don't deny it and I'm not sorry. I'm only sorry it should have all come out like this."

Then he paused before saying, "She gives me what you've never given me - love."

His wife caught her breath and glared across at him. "I gave you a son. And that's all you wanted from me!" she snapped back. "Nothing more, nothing less. I gave you all you asked."

"Yes, you did that, Rachel, but you never gave me love and you don't love me now. Let's be frank. I've given you everything you wanted. You're free to come and go as you wish. I've made no demands on you, and I tried to love you, Rachel, at first. I really did. But you've never responded. True?"

"I'm just made that way," she said brokenly. "I can't help it."

"I know... and neither can I," he said warmly. "We're both made very differently but let's not go into all that now. We are as we are. Now we've got to be honest. We can't go on pretending to ourselves we're somebody else even if we have to pretend to the rest out there."

They said nothing for some moments, each pulling back into their own thoughts. Rachel had stopped crying. She'd wept from humiliation, not hurt, and her tears soon dried up.

It was Abe who broke the silence. "You know I've tried to be discreet, as discreet as you. Oh, yes, long ago I realised your friendship with some of your girl friends was more than mere friendship, but I turned a blind eye. I couldn't handle it anyhow."

He paused and they both fell silent. Then she asked outright, "Do you want a divorce?"

"It needn't come to that if we act sensibly. A divorce is costly and it'll hurt your family as well as my father. You know that," he said, taking up his cigar again and drawing on it heavily. "We can remain married yet lead our separate lives. It's been done before. I'll make sure you get a good allowance. Will that suit?"

She stood up, brushing away the last of her tears. "Do what you will, Abe," she said firmly, "only don't let me be humiliated like this again." Then she left the room.

After that Abe Illingworth took good care to keep his affair with Mary Calow well away from public gaze. When he came on leave, they met in Grasby and only Johnson was privy to their meetings.

And only Johnson was privy to knowing about the child Mary Calow bore Abe Illingworth and put out for adoption years before. And Johnson's lips were sealed.

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