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Illingworth House: 46 – Second Thoughts

Sir Abe Illingworth is interested in a lady of title – until he discovers the limitations of her conversation.

John Waddington-Feather continues his story of the scheming and intrigues of a Yorkshire mill owning family.

Had Mary Calow known why Sir Abe went by himself to visit the Rimingtons and their widowed sister the other side of the county so regularly that autumn, she would have left him immediately.

He told her he was going shooting, for the pheasant season had started. She had no interest in either pheasants or the Rimingtons, whom she found crushing bores. She knew Sir Abe was a good shot and had shot game all his life, and it seemed natural for him to indulge his passion for shooting when invited to Rimmington Castle.

He enjoyed himself immensely, but the widowed sister was the main reason he drove across the county so often and it was she he wanted to bag.

Lady Constance d'Arcy had married her brother-in-law's neighbour and owned the estate next to his. By any account she would have been a good catch. She may not have been as good-looking as she was once, she may not have been as bright as Sir Abe would have wished, but she could still pass muster on a dark night, and she was childless, which was a great asset.

But her greatest asset was her wealth. Adding her land and title to his mills and wealth would have put Sir Abe at the top of the pile.

More. Her brother-in-law, Lord Rimington, was a personal friend of the Prime Minister who doled out titles like cards with the right encouragement. If Sir Abe could land Lady Constance, he could play at being the squire the rest of his life and leave the running of the mills to his son and junior directors.

Rimington Castle was in the East Riding, where the gentry lived in their rolling acres. It stood foursquare in vast parkland mottled with farms and adjoining it was the d'Arcy family estate. The castle had originally been built by the Normans and still had a ruined keep from that time, but most of it had been built in the eighteenth century.

It was a huge place, whose upkeep was now beyond the income of its owners. So was the home of Lady Constance next door. She lived in impoverished grandeur, and a marriage to Sir Abe would have suited them both. She had rank. He the wealth.

When he began visiting the Rimingtons, the lines of fortune fell nicely for him. Lady Constance flirted like mad, and the Rimington's daughter was keen on his son.

But as time wore on a serious drawback appeared. Neither Lady Constance nor her niece was endowed with much intelligence. Indeed, Lady Constance had that about her which reminded him of his dead half-brother, and when he made discreet enquiries he discovered, in fact, that she came from an in-bred family with the odd one locked discreetly away as Timothy had been.

Moreover, Lord Rimington and his sister-in-law had pushed their resources to the limit to maintain their lifestyles. They were slowly sinking under heavy debts. Sir Abe began to have second thoughts.

He knew he would lose Mary Calow at once if he remarried. Marrying off his son was one thing. Marrying himself quite another. Mary Calow wouldn't play the mistress through a second marriage as she had done through his first. If she left him, with her would go what love he had ever had.

The final day of the shooting party clinched it. He was seated next to Constance d'Arcy at dinner. She was a short dumpy woman whose hair was going prematurely grey. She had given it the full blue rinse and her lips and cheeks the full red rub.

She wore an expensive dress which floated diaphanously around her, a pink concoction more suited to a fairy godmother in pantomime. She dripped jewels, which reflected the blueness of her hair and made her a walking rainbow. Sir Abe wasn't impressed. His ardour went into permanent decline that night.

Whenever she spoke she opened her eyes wide and flirted unashamedly, nipping his knee under the table and his arm over it. It embarrassed him and her conversation bored him to tears. All she spoke about was the price of dresses and she was going to Paris the next week to re-stock her wardrobe for the winter round of parties. She did so hope Sir Abe would come to them. On and on she went till by the end of the evening he was glad to retire to the billiard room and amuse himself there.

The next day he went home. He never mentioned Lady Constance to Mary Calow, but he did confide he was trying to pair off his son with Eleanor Rimington.


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