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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 65 - A Terrible Homecoming

...As he disembarked, John Illingworth was met by his father and cousin. Sir Abe couldn't face meeting him alone and asked Rosie to accompany him. Helen's sudden death had left him unnerved and he was numb with fear...

John returns from Australia and is informed that Helen has died.

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

The S.S. "Southern Cross" docked at Tilbury two days after Helen's funeral. As he disembarked, John Illingworth was met by his father and cousin. Sir Abe couldn't face meeting him alone and asked Rosie to accompany him. Helen's sudden death had left him unnerved and he was numb with fear.

He had considered attending her funeral, but ruled that out when he realised he would have to meet Joe. He couldn't do that. His pride wouldn't let him. He also considered sending a letter of condolence, but that came to nothing, too, and though he was wracked with guilt, his pride was stronger. He was frightened to meet his son alone and when he asked Rosemary to go with him she was overjoyed. Helen's death had removed the greatest obstacle between her and her cousin.

As the liner berthed, John, standing on deck, saw his father and Rosemary in the sea of faces below. She had seen him and was waving a red headscarf madly, but his father stood still and unsmiling. When John had a closer look, he saw he was also very pale and drawn. He searched feverishly for Helen, but couldn't see her and his heart sank.

Leaving Grimstone behind, he hurried down the gangway to meet his father and immediately he saw him he knew something was radically wrong. There was none of the exuberance his father showed when they met after an absence; none of the bonhomie. By contrast, Grimstone came behind him waving madly at Sir Abe and Rosemary, grinning as if nothing had happened. The distance John put between himself and the lawyer didn't go unnoticed by Sir Abe, who sensed something had happened and went cold wondering if his son had found him out.

He went forward hesitantly to meet John, while Grimstone struggled down the gangplank. For the first time in his life, he was lost for words and dreaded breaking the news he had to give, yet only he could do it. He caught Grimstone's eye while he was still some distance off and gave him such a deadly look that the grin left the lawyer's face at once. Rosemary had ordered a cab and stood by it still waving and it was there when he had Rosemary by him, that Sir Abe broke the news.

After their initial embrace, he bit his lip and coughed. His throat had gone dry and he couldn't speak. John glanced at Rosemary, who had stopped smiling and stood by her uncle. Something had happened to Helen, that was clear and he asked desperately, "Where's Helen? Mary Calow wired me she was ill. What's it all about?" His father said nothing for a moment, his face working painfully before he said in a hoarse whisper, "She's...she's very ill indeed." Then he wiped his moustache free of the perspiration which had run off his face, and taking John by the arm, hurried him to the cab.

Meanwhile, Rosemary had said not a word, leaving it all to her uncle. She didn't rush to kiss him as she would have dome normally, but pecked him on the cheek and stayed the other side of the uncle holding onto his arm. Grimstone had caught them up and walked a pace behind, saying nothing. Then he asked Rosemary if Helen was all right, but as they reached the cab, Sir Abe turned to him and said bleakly, "She's dead!"

John halted and stared stock-still at his father. "Dead?" he echoed. "Helen, dead?"

Sir Abe almost pushed him through the open door of the cab. He had turned ashen and could hardly speak, but managed, "Get into the cab, Jonty, and I'll tell you everything on the way to the station. We can't talk here."

John sat in the back between his father and cousin and the lawyer used the tip-up seat. Rosemary grasped John's hand and held it tight throughout the ride as Sir Abe tried to explain what had happened in a low voice. Occasionally, Rosemary took up the tale when Sir Abe was too moved to continue.

He spoke of Helen's consumption and pregnancy, which had taken him by surprise. He said nothing of their final meeting at work nor the hassle she had had. He didn't mention either that he had not visited her in hospital or attended her funeral. That all came out later, at the family dinner he had arranged the same evening.

Sir Abe had originally fixed it to celebrate John's homecoming. Now he was relying on it to boost his failing nerve. Many guests had been invited but Helen's death changed everything and there were just the immediate members of his family: his sister Victoria, Rosemary and Harry Clemence and, of course, Simon Grimstone. He couldn't do without him at all costs.

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