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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 41 - Helen And Mary Are Reunited

Mary goes to Bradford in search of her estranged sister Helen.

John Waddington-Feather continues his engrossing story which is set in a Yorkshire mill town.

To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

For some time, the Gibsons heard nothing from Helen. She was angry, but she was also guilt-ridden and couldn't face Joe. After she had gone, the Gibsons' life felt empty and Joe bitterly regretted losing his temper. The only bright spot on the horizon was that he heard nothing from Abe Illingworth, and grudgingly he respected his son for not pushing charges. If he had, Joe knew he hadn't a leg to stand on.

He moped about the house, not having even the distraction of work to take his mind off Helen's leaving, spending most of his time at his hen-pen or allotment. Often, he would go for long walks to keep out of his wife's way. She missed her sister dreadfully and he knew he was the cause. He desperately hoped Helen would come back, but she never did. Nothing was ever said between Joe and Mary but he felt her unspoken words. She had always taken her sister's side in the little tiffs which sprang up, as they do in every family, and Joe had always given in. But this time he couldn't.

As the days went by and they heard no news, Mary became worried and finally went to Bradford to find her sister and persuade her to return home. She had a cold reception when they met, not only from Helen but also from Mrs Simpson, who made a point of telling her how happy Helen was, living with them. That hurt Mary deeply. The Simpsons living in a stylish part of the city weighed heavily on Mary, too, and she dreaded going there for she was always made to feel her place.

Mrs Gwendoline D'arcy Simpson had one of those high-pitched Home Counties voices, which seemed to come from a ventriloquist's dummy, for her upper lip never moved when she was speaking. She had picked up her accent at a cheap boarding school which her parents had sent her to, for they worked abroad in the colonial service. She was a hard-faced woman with a practised smile which she turned on and off like a light. She had been married thirty years, before her husband did the dirty on her and died, before they could move back down south. He had been assistant manager at a small provincial bank in Bradford, so was thought of as being middling way up the social ladder and Mrs Simpson had made every effort to stay there. She was very choosy whom she had as friends and whom she had as paying guests.

While her husband had been alive they had employed two servants, but after his death they had had to go and a daily help came in their place. In that part of the house where she entertained guests, it was tolerably clean, but it was a large house and the upper reaches were decidedly grubby. Grubbiest of all, were the two tiny rooms she rented to paying guests, the old servants' quarters.

When alive, her husband had left her comfortably well off, because he'd handled all the cash, but when he'd gone, money flowed like water from her account and she was always short of cash. What she didn't spend on clothes, she spent on jewellery and expensive knick-knacks. She gave her friends expensive presents to keep up appearances and shopped in the most expensive stores. Her daughter's salary and the rents from paying guests went some way to making up the shortfall. But paying guests didn't stay over long in their garrets and were difficult to replace. The rooms were vacant when Helen arrived on her doorstep so she was welcomed with open arms.

It was she who answered the door on Mary Gibson's first visit. Neither expected the other to be quite what they were. Mrs Simpson somehow imagined Mary would be an older version of Helen: educated, quiet, well-dressed if rather plain, and Mary had anticipated meeting a typical northern landlady, warm, familiar and homely. Both were wrong.

Immediately Mary introduced herself, she was met with that telling "Oh!" with a supercilious look to match, before she was invited to wait in the porch alongside the umbrellas and galoshes. Mrs Simpson stepped inside and Mary heard her calling to Helen upstairs. Then, she was left alone and wasn't acknowledged again by Mrs Simpson beyond a patronising smile as they passed in the corridor.

When she saw her, Helen flung herself into her sister's arms and embraced her warmly, hugging her, as she led the way back to her room. Both were near to tears but held them back till they reached the garret. Mrs Simpson stood curiously in the entrance to her drawing room, watching them all the way up.

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