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Illingworth House: 18 - John And Rosemary

While Abe Illingworth is at the war front, his son and niece enjoy childhood games on an idyllic Dales farm

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

In the weeks his son had been away, Sir Luke had come to respect Mary Calow greatly. She'd a good business head and ran the firm efficiently. She was as respected by the staff - feared by some of them - as much as himself, and he valued that greatly, too. She'd keep things going till Abe came back. And as more senior staff were conscripted into the army over the next three years, he came to rely on her even more.

Perhaps most of all, he valued her support at home with his grandson. His mother had abandoned him to a succession of nannies, and as a result, Mary Calow was the one stabilising influence in his life, closer to him than his own mother. He took the place of the illegitimate child she'd handed over for adoption years before, the daughter she still pined for.

She spent much time at Illingworth House, where she had her own flat to stay in overnight when she and Sir Luke were working late, or when little John was ill and needed nursing. She also took the old man's other grandchild under her wing, Rosemary Braithwaite, born five years after John in 1913.

Victoria, Sir Luke's daughter, had been married off in 1910 to Samuel Braithwaite, a mill-master's son. Unlike Abe's marriage, it was happy, but Victoria, although a loving mother, was feckless and gave the child her head, so that she grew up spoilt and impetuous.

Sam Braithwaite had joined up about the same time as Abe and was fighting on the opposite flank some miles up the line. While he'd been in training, Victoria had gone down to London, living with a relative and meeting Sam at weekends before he was drafted to Belgium. She continued her visits after he'd left and spent more and more time in the capital, socialising with her friends and generally living it up.

Neglected by their mothers and brought up together at Illingworth House, John Illingworth and Rosemary Braithwaite were like siblings. She idolised him and her idolising never ceased. It became something more when they grew up.

At weekends, Mary Calow sometimes took them to a farm Sir Luke owned on the hillside behind Illingworth House near Keighworth Tarn. He also owned another farm, part of an estate he'd bought years before across the valley looking up to Rivock Edge, but Mary never took them there for it held a dreadful secret.

They ran wild on Tarn Farm, romping across the moors and making dens in the barn where they'd play for hours. Mary enjoyed going up there, too, getting away from the office and dirty city where she was working longer hours.

She had her own cottage in the countryside between Keighworth and Bingworth where she lived with her sister, but only occasionally did she manage a weekend there now. Her life revolved round her work, for the Illingworth empire was geared full stretch to the war effort, producing uniforms for the troops and shell-cloth for munitions.

As she grew up, Rosemary became wilder and it almost cost her her life. One February Mary took her and John skating on the Tarn next to the farmhouse. John was eight and had been given a pair of skates by his grandfather, who instructed his farm tenant to teach John how to skate, while Mary and little Rosemary watched from the side. The Tarn was packed with skaters and round the edge hot-potato sellers did a brisk trade at their braziers.

A part of the Tarn hadn't frozen over completely and there were warning notices telling the skaters to keep away. Watching her cousin skating, Rosemary became more and more impatient, tugging away at Mary's hand and throwing a tantrum because she wanted to go on the ice with John.

To distract her, Mary took her to a brazier to eat a potato and warm John's overcoat for it was almost time to leave. But Rosemary took her chance while Mary was turned the other way and ran onto the ice - just where it was thinnest. There was an horrendous crack and in she went, screaming and struggling till she passed out in the freezing water.

John saw what had happened and rushed to edge of the ice, lying full length while his skating instructor held his legs as he clutched at Rosemary's coat. Other men ran for ladders from the farm, and she'd have slipped under the ice had not John held grimly on till a ladder arrived and she was pulled to safety.

He became quite a hero in the local press, but Rosemary was not allowed out for weeks and sulked at home. It set the pattern for the rest of their lives - John growing up a daredevil, handsome youth, and Rosemary a beautiful, utterly spoiled, self-willed young woman.


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