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Illingworth House: 28 - The Ladies' Man

...As her horse raced on, Mary tried to rein it in, but to no avail. It galloped alongside the major till the path began to narrow again. He suddenly realised they wouldn't make it riding together and reined in to let her pass, but too late.

Mary's horse lost its footing and fell, throwing Mary clear but rolling on under its own impetus into the heather at the edge of the quarry....

Major Kingham-Jones is the new man in Abe Illingworth's sister's life - and Abe has good reason to detest him.

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

In 1917 Mary Calow's father died. Her mother had died some years before, but her father never re-married and she had looked after him. After his death, she moved into a cottage with her only sister at Hainworth, in the countryside between Bradford and Keighworth.

It was well placed between Illingworths' offices in the middle of the city and Illingworth House at Keighworth. Far enough out of the village to be discreet, it served Abe Illingworth's purposes well. When Mary's sister was away visiting friends, which she often did, he would stay the weekend.

He had been allocated more staff to run the POW camp at Skiproyd, which freed him to see to his family business and sit on the bench in Keighworth. He also visited Mary more regularly.

They sometimes went riding together, hiring a couple of hacks from the village and trekking the bridlepaths across the moors on fine days to Hebden on the Lancashire border, where they had a meal before returning home. They were blissful days, alone together away from it all before returning to the daily grind the next day. But those days didn't last long.

Abe's sister had been widowed a year when she turned up with a major who had been showing her the bright lights of London. His name was Percy Kingham-Jones, a dapper little chap, very full of himself, and Victoria was besotted by him.

He came from some minor aristocratic family in the Home Counties. Once rich, he had blown in the loot his father had left and was penniless. He didn't tell Victoria that till they had married and by then he was head over heels in debt and plundering her as well.

Abe Illingworth disliked him from the start. To begin with, Major Kingham-Jones had seen no active service. He had got comfortably through the war at his regiment's headquarter in Aldershot, where he had been in charge of logistics. The war had drifted by, leaving him untouched and free to enjoy the capital's fleshpots and the pickings from the purveyors of food and goods who supplied his regiment.

When the war ended, Victoria married him and he left the army and went north to her first husband's family home, Ashworth House, a few miles up the Worth Valley from Keighworth.

While they were still courting, he often turned up there, drifting in and out of the better pubs and clubs in Keighworth. His southern drawl and affected ways took Keighworth's upper-crustians in at first - but not for long.

He wore an eyeglass and stared through it superciliously. Unless it happened to be at a shapely young woman. Then he stared rather differently, for he was a ladies' man through and through; but he was put firmly in his place when he tried his come-on act with Mary Calow, and he kept his distance from her from then on.

Matters came to a head between him and Abe Illingworth, when Victoria and the major joined Abe and Mary out riding one day. It was a glorious afternoon in late October. There had been a hint of frost overnight, but the morning was sunny and warm. The heather was coming into full bloom and drenched the morning with scent.

The dapper major was turned out immaculately right down to his silver spurs. He wore a brown bespoke hacking jacket, expensive riding boots and a cravat pinned with a gold fox's head brooch. And he was very, very full of himself.

When he and Victoria joined Abe and Mary at Mary's cottage, he rode alongside Mary chatting her up and going on about what a jolly fine day it was for riding. "Sends the blood to the right parts of the body, m'dear, eh?" he drawled, leering at her.

She gave an embarrassed smile. Abe tried to edge him away but the path was too narrow, for by this time they were riding along the edge of an old quarry not far from the village.

When the path widened, the major put his horse into a canter to draw level again with Mary. It was a reckless move and Abe warned him to slow up. The quarry fell away suddenly dropping two hundred feet. The path was deceptive, for heather and ling overhung the quarry edge.

The major ignored Abe's warning and continued to gallop alongside Mary, urging her to race him to the end of the track. Abe's anger turned to horror when Mary's horse suddenly bolted alongside the major, who was whooping for all he was worth. Abe could see she had lost control of her horse but was helpless.

As her horse raced on, Mary tried to rein it in, but to no avail. It galloped alongside the major till the path began to narrow again. He suddenly realised they wouldn't make it riding together and reined in to let her pass, but too late.

Mary's horse lost its footing and fell, throwing Mary clear but rolling on under its own impetus into the heather at the edge of the quarry. There it struggled to get to its feet, but there was no purchase and it slipped over the quarry edge neighing shrilly. Then a horrified silence broken by an ominous thud as the horse hit the quarry floor many feet below.

Shaken, Mary staggered to her feet and Abe leapt off his horse to help her. She was trembling and began to weep as he cradled her in his arms. Victoria came over covered with confusion and nervously asked how she was. Abe ignored her, holding Mary close, but when the major cantered back and tried to apologise, he got the full force of Abe's anger.

"Get away, you silly little bugger!" he hissed, raising his riding crop, and would have struck him had not Kingham-Jones backed off.

When Mary had calmed down, Abe put her on his horse and took her home, leaving Victoria and the major to find their own way back and answer for the dead horse. But the little major smoothtongued Victoria, saying it was as much Mary's fault for not controlling her horse and giving it its head.

Abe Illingworth never asked them to go riding with him again and avoided Kingham-Jones like the plague. He didn't even attend their wedding when the major and Victoria were married some months later and went to live permanently at Ashworth House.

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