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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 63 - Shocked Into Guilt

Sir Abe Illingworth is told the shocking news that Helen is desperately ill.

John Waddington-Feather continues his dramatic tale revolving around the fortunes and misfortunes of a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

The womenfolk were downstairs waiting for him to start their meal. No one asked where he had been and Phyllis brought in the tea, cutting him a large slice of cake though he scarcely felt like eating. They chatted in the stilted way people do under stress, about the garden, the weather, the state of the country, anything but what was on all their minds, Helen.

But eventually, just before the taxi came to take them back home, they discussed Helen and what was to happen. They decided she should remain at Oak Cottage, but the next day, the doctor said it was imperative that she be moved to the sanatorium, where she could be nursed professionally. She remained there fading slowly till her child was born.

The Illingworths knew nothing of this, of course. Once she'd left the office, they had no more interest in her. That was that as far as Sir Abe was concerned, for he had convinced himself that the baby wasn't John's and the rest of the family washed their collective hands of her and went about their business as if nothing had happened, sure that John had broken off his engagement.

Rosemary Clemence was especially spiteful, saying that Helen had received her come-uppance as a cheap go-getter like the previous office-girl whom John had gone out with. She was sure she had been two-timing John and got herself pregnant, if, indeed she really was pregnant. She didn't look it, Sir Abe said, and none of them ever saw her again after Sir Abe bumped into her in the office. He was to regret bitterly what he said that day when the full story was unravelled to John.

Rosemary Clemence happened to be visiting her uncle the day Mary Calow rang to tell him Helen was dying. She hated having to contact him again but felt he ought to know. After all, he was the unborn child's grandfather.

Johnson took the call in the library. He had to tell her to hang on and went through to the lounge, where Rosemary was chatting with her uncle. Sir Abe looked up as he entered and asked if it was urgent. Johnson standing immediately behind Rosemary Clemence coughed tactfully and glanced down at her. Sir Abe took the hint and went to the door.

"Well?" he asked rather irritable when they were out of earshot. "It's Mrs Courtenay, sir.. .Mary Calow," whispered the butler.

His niece sat facing the mirror watching her uncle and Johnson, so she saw the change come over her uncle's face when the butler gave him his message, and she heard her uncle snap back, "What the blazes does she want ringing here?" before following the butler out.

When he picked up the phone, it seemed strange to hear her voice after all this time. For a moment he was strangely moved and had to get a grip on himself. He spoke tersely, never once asking after her, only telling her to be brief. He had business he wanted to get back to. But what she said stopped him in his tracks and chilled him. It made him dread the impending meeting with his son, soon to return from Australia.

"I don't know why your son hasn't written to his fiancee while he's been away," she began angrily, "but I think both you and he ought to know she's desperately ill! I know you know she's carrying his child, your grandchild, and I assume you've discussed that with him, though he doesn't seem to want to acknowledge the fact. She wrote almost daily to him while he's been away and she hasn't had so much as a line back. Are you aware of that?"

He was too shocked to feel angry and at length he asked in a tight voice, "Where is she?"

"In the sanatorium at Middlemoor, the maternity wing," she said icily, "in case you consider visiting her."

"May I ask who's paying? If it's you Mary, you'd better send the bill to me. I don't want our John bothering with all this when he gets back. He's got enough on his plate without all this to worry about."

There was an audible gasp at the other end of the line, then a cold level question, "When does your son get back?"

"Thursday week." There was no reply for a while and he asked if she were still there. When she said yes, he continued quickly, "I'd be grateful if you didn't contact him, Mary. I'll tell him myself about the girl. Let me know how things go, please. If I can help and all that. But on no account must John be involved. As far as I'm concerned, their relationship is dead."

His matter-of-fact, patronising voice and his desire to tidy up the whole business as quickly as possible infuriated her. Her final outburst before she slammed down the phone, did jerk him to reality.

"By Thursday week," she hissed, "Helen Greenwood may well be dead! Tell that to your son when he returns - but on no account let it upset him!"

He stood for some moments holding the receiver, not able to take in what she said at first. The burring phone brought him to his senses and he replaced it slowly. If the girl died before John got back.. .it was unthinkable! What could he say? How could he handle it?

He didn't know, but he knew what his son's reaction would be and it appalled him. He froze at the thought and stood looking bewildered through the window for some minutes, till a discreet knock at the door made him turn.

"Yes?" he said and pretended to shuffle through some papers on his desk to hide his face. It was Rosemary. She was leaving and had come to say goodbye. One glance was enough to tell her that he had had some bad news. She asked if he were all right.

"Yes, Rosie, yes. I'm all right," he stammered, running his hand through his hair. She lingered on and looked as if she might stay, so he said curtly, "Please go, Rosie. I've some urgent phone calls to make. Please go at once and see yourself out."

He didn't want her to know about Helen till he had had time to think things over. No way did he want to discuss the missing letters with her and tell her about Helen's condition. Once she'd gone, he sat heavily in his chair, with his head in his hands, sick with panic. The first pangs of guilt were beginning to have their effect, and he felt his heart racing at the dreadful prospect of having to greet his son with Mary Calow's news.

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