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Illingworth House: 34 - Tread Carefully

Helen confesses to her sister that she is in love with John Illingworth.

To read earlier chapters of John Waddington-Feather's novel please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

They had finished their meal by the time she arrived home. She gave the usual excuse that she had been clearing back orders with Dorothy Simpson, her new friend at work. Joe was sitting by the fire smoking his pipe and reading the evening paper, which he put down as she came in. She went over and kissed him then returned to the table alongside her sister.

"We were getting' worried," said Joe. "Ah wish somehow tha could tell us when tha'rt bahn to be late home. It's becoming' ower reg'lar. Ah shan't like thee comin' home late once t'neets start drawin'in."

Helen went to collect her meal, which was being kept warm in the kitchen. As she passed Joe on the way back he noticed some bits of ling still clinging to her dress. He asked how they got there. She coloured and lied, "Dorothy and I caught the tram to Blackmoor top at lunch. We ate our sandwiches up there, it was so hot in Bradford."

Joe grunted and went back to his paper and pipe. She avoided his eye, but Joe said nothing. Mary said nothing either, yet, just then, she sensed something was up.

Helen didn't flush so unless something was up. She waited till Joe had gone, knowing it would all come out when they were alone. But not everything came out.

Helen ate her meal in silence, but when Joe had gone to his hen-pen, Mary took out her knitting and waited patiently for her sister to open up. Having finished eating, Helen cleared away her plate and poured herself a cup of tea. When she returned and sat down, Mary looked up, searching her sister's face. It was still flushed.

"I lied to Joe, sis," she confessed." I didn't stay late at the office. I was with John Illingworth. We've been seeing each other." She paused a moment to see what effect her words had on Mary. Her sister just nodded and went on knitting keeping her eyes firmly fixed on it. "We stop off at Drayshaw Moor on the way back after work, sis.. ."she faltered, waiting for Mary to say something. Her silence was beginning to grate.

Mary didn't stop knitting, but asked, "An' what am Ah to mak' o' that?"

"I love him," Helen whispered, and felt the blood rushing to her cheeks again.

Mary looked up. "An' him? Does he love thee?" "Yes," she replied. Then added lamely, "I think so."

Her sister sniffed, finished her row then switched needles. "Think so... that's no answer. Tha has to be sure, especially wi' his sort. He could be just leadin' thee on, using thee."

Helen felt a surge of anger. Her sister had touched on her worst fears and she had no answer. After John Illingworth had brought her home drunk, Mary had said more than once to leave him well alone, but she had ignored her. Now, she was head over heels in love with him and couldn't help herself.

"He's not!" she said warmly, but the catch in her voice betrayed what she really thought. "He wants to take me home, to meet his dad proper," she said. "He says he's serious about me and wants it to be all above board."

Her sister stopped knitting. The prospect of Helen wedding John Illingworth alarmed her. "If he's willing to go that far, he must be serious," she said. "Ah hope he is 'cos if he isn't I hate to think what Joe'll do to him."

"Joe needn't know, sis. Not just yet," Helen replied, drinking her tea and relieved she now had her sister to confide in. "Promise you won't tell him, sis."

Mary sighed and resumed her knitting. What Helen had just said, came like a bombshell and threw her into turmoil. Part of her was flattered young Ilingworth saw fit to court her sister, but another part was worried about the whole business. It was well known what Abe Illingworth had done to Mary Calow. Was history about to repeat itself? "Like father, like son," Joe had said that wretched day John had brought Helen home. Another silence fell while Helen sipped her tea and Mary knitted on, then Mary said, "Thall have to tread careful, Helen, an' don't for heaven's sake do owt daft. His sort don't think an' act like us. We have to pay for their mistakes an' Joe an' me couldn't bear it if tha were let down."

Helen kept her eyes on her teacup. Mary's advice had come too late and there was no going back. She got up and took her cup into the kitchen, but Mary read her like a book and feared for her. She remained in the kitchen for some time, talking to her sister over her shoulder as she washed up, and by the time she came back she'd recovered. Only in her own room, that night when she was by herself, did she give vent to her feelings and cried herself to sleep, quite unable to cope with the hot blind love and the cold feelings of shame and guilt inside her.


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