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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 43 - Buy Him Off

Joe confronts the great Sir Abe Illingworth in his own den.

John Waddington-Feather continues his gripping story a family intrigues in a Yorkshire mill town. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

Joe scrubbed himself till he shone and left Prospect Street in his Sunday suit, wearing his Guards tie. Before he left, Mary begged him to keep his temper. He said he would, but just then it was more like keeping his courage. He set great store by his tie, which gave him self-confidence. He had won his Military Medal fighting at the front with a Guards regiment, so he wore his tie with pride. It became the flag he marched behind, all the way to Illingworth House.

He set off at a brisk pace up the lane, where he was on home territory and full of confidence, greeting neighbours cheerily as they passed. However, by the time he had reached the church and turned into the lane that led to the railway crossing, a niggling worm of doubt had begun to weevil into his gut. The further he walked, the more doubtful he became. Should he really be going to beard the great Sir Abe in his own den?

The footbridge over the railway marked the boundary between Garlic Lane and Fieldhouses, where the middle-class lived. There, lived rising professionals, assistant bank managers, young doctors and the like, or retired tradesmen who had made their pile. People like Grimstone's father. Solid people, who lived on solid wealth, in solid houses. No one was out of work up there.

Once he'd crossed the footbridg, Joe was in alien territory. There weren't as many folk about and those he met didn't speak, so he walked ignored all the way through Fieldhouses up to the main road out of town. Walking along the main road for a mile or so, he crossed another boundary as he turned into Black lane at Utworth, that between the middle and upper-class, which sloped gently up the hillside to Illingworth House at the top.

By the time he had arrived at Black Lane, he was hot and dusty. The shine had long gone from his boots and his collar, uncomfortable from the start, was becoming crumpled. His nervousness had increased along with the heat, so that he was perspiring freely and glad to walk under the leafy avenue of trees, which stretched the length of the lane.

He was in the aristocratic heartland and the roar and rumble of traffic on the main road were left behind. Only a distant hum, when the wind was in the right direction, hinted at the town. Between Keighworth and its suburb of Utworth, rose a small wooded hill, which essentially blocked out all noise from the factories and mills.

On one side of Black Lane, were fields where a herd of cows grazed. The farm was at the top of the lane, well away from the houses. As Joe plodded on, the odd chauffeur-driven limousine slicked by, but he met no one on foot, except a servant exercising a poodle, and he was too engrossed watching the dog crap round the base of a tree, to acknowledge Joe.

In any case, Joe was lost in thought, rehearsing what he was going to say to Sir Abe and before he realised it, Illingworth House was upon him, standing proud in its acres of garden.

On its north side, the grounds opened to expansive views right across the Aire Valley to Rombalton Moor on the horizon. On its south side, the house was screened from the road by a row of conifers and thickets of rhododendrons clustering round the heavy, iron gates. The two stone pillars supporting the gates came upon him suddenly. Picked out in gold lettering, was carved "Illingworth House." The main gates were closed so Joe had to let himself in by the tradesmen's entrance adjacent. Once inside, he paused, mopped his brow and straightened his tie. Then, he shone his boots on the backs of his trousers.

A tangle of rhododendrons blocked out the light by the gates, but in the trees above, which caught the full glare of the sun, the birds were singing lustily. Joe heard only the crunch of his boots as he walked up the long, gravelled drive to the house.
When he turned a bend, the drive opened suddenly onto immaculate velvet lawns and magnificent gardens. Very different from the piddling patch of a garden under Joe's front window down Garlic Lane. Along the southern side of the house, a huge glass and cast-iron conservatory, stiff with exotic plants, winked back the sunlight. Beds of flowers hurled colour along the borders and in the middle of the lawn, a fountain sent a spume of water into the air from a naked bronze nymph. Other naked statues adorned the garden at intervals, holding aloft brimming flower baskets, the mellow sunlight catching their tight little buttocks and breasts, assaulting Joe's ingrained Puritanism. Like much else in the house they came from Italy and were unashamedly sensual in their display.

At the end of the drive, he reached a notice-board directing him to the tradesmen's entrance round the back of the house. Once there, he rang the bell and to his relief, his friend Henry Johnson appeared. The butler tried to butter him up.
"Sir Abe must think something of you, Joe," he said, standing by to let Joe go inside. "He's waiting for you in the library and only special guests are seen in there."

Joe didn't believe him and grunted. "Ah'm not lookin' forrard to seein' him" said Joe, "whatever he thinks o'me." Then, grim-faced, he followed Johnson out of the kitchen to the library.

Their walk took them along the hallway where the family portraits hung. It was thickly carpeted and a large, expensive, grandfather clock ticked solemnly at the foot of a wide staircase. The family portraits continued up the staircase, their stern eyes following Joe the entire length of the corridor, which he and the butler walked in silence.

At the end of it, they reached a high mahogany door. Johnson stopped and knocked gently. A voice beyond told him to come in and the butler opened the door and announced Joe. Then he withdrew, leaving Joe facing Sir Abe, who sat behind his desk.

They eyed each other a moment, then Sir Abe cleared his throat and said in a strained voice, "Well, Gibson. I'm glad you've come. We can talk man to man and find out where we stand, eh?" He was brusque and spoke as if he was clinching a business deal, making no attempt to put Joe at ease. He told Joe to sit the other side of the desk where a chair had been placed and both of them fiddled the whole time they spoke, Sir Abe with the gold pen on his desk and Joe with his cap.

The mill-master opened tartly with, "I wasn't pleased with the way you roughed up my son, Gibson. If it had been left to me, I'd have taken it further, but my son specifically asked me not to." Illingworth had to get that off his chest, for he couldn't begin without letting Joe know he was in the driving-seat.

Joe glared across the desk, his anger rising, but he heeded Mary's plea and kept his cool. "An what would thou ha' done, if she'd been thy daughter?" he said quietly.

Sir Abe coloured and looked at the floor, fiddling harder with his pen. He cleared his throat again and avoided Jo's eye when he looked up. "I'm not trying to excuse what happened. I'm not saying that what he.. .what they both did was right, Gibson. But there was no need to act the way you did. But enough of that. We're here now to sort out the business between my son and your girl, before it gets out of hand. You must understand, Gibson, I don't usually interfere in my son's affairs, but this is different and I want it settled amicably. I don't want any bad blood between you and myself affecting my son and your girl, you understand? So what do you propose doing?"

"If he's goin' to wed her, sir, the quicker the better, before owt happens. It don't look right the way things are now, her livin' away from home an' all that. People talk...." Joe began.

He got no further, for Sir Abe looked shocked.

"I think we're talking at cross-purposes, Gibson," he said sternly. "Let's get this straight. It's not their marriage I want to discuss. Just the opposite. It's about breaking off their relationship. If it's money the girl wants, I'm quite prepared to pay, within reason. I can also find her another job in another firm..."

It was Sir Abe's turn to be interrupted.

"But he's taken advantage of her!" exclaimed Joe, aghast. "He's got to wed her. It's.. .it's only right. It's gone too far."

Sir Abe hadn't expected this at all and was taken completely off-guard. He was speechless for a moment, then he lost his temper. "They can't possibly get married!" he cried. "The quicker they finish this ...this child's play, the better. There'll be less harm done all round. I was hoping you'd see things differently, Gibson."

Joe stood up, dumbfounded. He had trailed all the way to Illingworth House. He had swallowed his pride and agreed to talk to Illingworth man to man, yet here he was coming the high and mighty again. Not only that, he was wriggling out of his responsibilities, trying to get his son off the hook and leaving Helen in the lurch.
Sir Abe waited, half-hoping Joe had changed his mind, but his hopes were dashed as he regarded the figure before him. Joe had drawn himself up to his full height and looked him squarely in the eye. He no longer fumbled with his cap, but gripped it firmly in his two great fists. Sir Abe remained seated, tapping his pen again on his desk and not meeting Joe's steady gaze.

"If tha doesn't want thy son to wed ahr Helen, then there's no point in talking to you, maister. Ah thought Ah were talkin' to a gentleman, but Ah were sadly mistaken. Ah was hopin' your lad would do the decent thing and wed ahr lass, but thy sort don't know the meaning of the word 'decent' and never did."

Sir Abe sprung to his feet angrily. He and Joe were much of a height and he glared across the desk at him. Illingworth knew in his heart of hearts that he had demeaned himself with the cheap offer to buy off Helen, and Joe's home truths bit deep. He pressed a button on his desk and Johnson appeared.

"At least we both know where we now stand, Gibson. Johnson will show you out" he hissed, as the butler opened the door for Joe to leave. For his part, Joe said nothing, only giving Illingworth a look of contempt as he left the room to follow Johnson down the corridor outside.

He was too choked up to say anything to his friend except, "That bugger's like the rest of his lot. He thinks his lad's too good for ahr Helen. Ah should ha' known better than to come here."

Johnson offered him a drink to calm him down before he left, but Joe would have none of it. All he wanted to do was to get back home to Mary and tell her what had happened; tell her he had done his best, but been kicked in the teeth for it.

Illingworth stalked across to the window when Joe had gone, staring sullenly across the garden for some time. Then he returned to his desk and began drafting a letter to Simon Grimstone.
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Chapter Twenty One
Rosemary Braithwaite's wedding took Keighworth by surprise. There was no announcement and few invitations. Most surprised of all was Harry Clemence when she said she was pregnant. He was the first to know. Her mother was the last. Rosemary was seven months gone when she told her and hurried arrangements had to be made for the wedding. Only family were invited and it passed off quietly, and when it was all over, Harry couldn't believe his luck. He had made it, made it well and truly into Keighworth's upper-crust bracket. Two months later, his son Rodney was born.
His arrival coincided with his mother-in-law's divorce and the departure of Major Percy Kingham-Jones from their lives, thanks to Grimstone's efforts. The major went rapidly downhill and moved to Leeds when his credit and woman ran out on him in Harrogate. His good standing had long fallen in London which he still visited, sponging on chance acquaintances, till they also ran out. Then, he returned to the backend of Leeds.
He took a string of jobs there, playing on his rank and scraping a living as a rep for a wines and spirit retailer for some time, but he drank more than he sold and when he began fiddling the books, he was sacked. Eventually, he became a bookmaker's runner and then ran a second-hand shop.
Fanatically right-wing and anti-Jewish, he joined the British National Party and threw his lot in with Mosley. He strutted alongside his leader at all the fascist rallies in London, dressed in his black shirt and all the sickening regalia that went with it, ordering the bully boys around him into action whenever they met opposition. There was a large population of Jews in Leeds, who were baited by the major constantly, at marches he organised through their area.
His departure from Keighworth was greeted with relief, not least by Victoria, whose bank balance made a steady recovery. She bought another shop in Skiproyd, which Rosemary helped run after her baby was born. When she married, Rosemary came into a hefty legacy from her grandfather, which enabled her and Harry to set up home in style.
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