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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 66 - Losing A Son

...John looked round at them savagely. "And her son... my son? Has any of you been to see him?" he asked, his voiced thick with drink.

The silence dropped again like a dead weight and John lay down his napkin. The more they'd tried to excuse themselves, the more they fanned his anger. He looked his father squarely in the eyes and hissed, "So you did nothing to help her, not one of you. Is that what you're trying to tell me?"...

John Illingworth and his father Sir Abe reach a parting of the ways.

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

During the train journey to Keighworth, John had been too stunned to ask questions about Helen's sickness and death. Rosemary and his father did most of the talking and Grimstone added his penn'orth when necessary. He soon sized up the situation and did his best to bolster Sir Abe. After all, that's what he was paid for. But the real questioning began in earnest that night at Illingworth House.

There were many questions to be asked and, as he asked them, John drank more and more. He began by telling them Helen's letters had all gone astray and asked them why. There was no response. All Grimstone could do was shrug his shoulders and look pained.

Sir Abe was evasive. He knew nothing about Helen once she had left the firm. How could he possibly know when she didn't communicate with him? But he had no excuse ready when his son complained bitterly that not once had he referred to Helen nor her leaving in all the letters he had sent him. The longer the evening wore on, the more John smelled a rat.

Rosemary tried to get her uncle off the hook by suggesting Helen may not have written at all, and Aunt Victoria had the gall to say that young girls were notoriously bad letter-writers, yet the profusion of her own daughter's letters to John gave the lie to that. Grimstone said nothing, only listening in grim silence like Harry Clemence across the table.

When John asked why Mary Calow had had to look after Helen and not his own family, they fell silent. Rosemary hung her head and her mother said angrily that she couldn't see what it had to do with her. Helen had family of her own who should have taken her in. She had barely known the girl and didn't know that she'd been ill. She had read her obituary in the paper and that was the first she knew about it. Rosemary lied that she had also had known nothing about it until her uncle told her. Then John turned to his father.

"You know, Jonty, I was never much good at talking to her," he stammered. "I was put on the spot from the start and I admit I didn't handle it well. In retrospect, it's easy to see where you go wrong. Nobody knows that better than I do now. It was difficult to speak with her at work. You know what they're like there for pecking-orders, and I couldn't visit her at her lodgings, could I? Still less her folk down Prospect Street. They were the last people I wanted to see. Once she had left our office it was out of my hands," he concluded lamely. He opened his hands pleading, "We simply lost contact. That's all there is."

When he had done, there was a deathly silence. All eyes were on John to see how he would react. He sat sullen and silent, staring into the wineglass, which he had filled and re-filled all night. The silence weighed heavy, too heavy for Sir Abe who continued in a small voice, "I was powerless to help. I simply didn't know where she was till Mary Calow phoned me and said she was in hospital."

Then he dried up and the silence fell again.

Rosemary was next to break it. "Be reasonable, John," she simpered. "Uncle Abe did all he could, and in all fairness Helen didn't help herself. She was.. .she was so withdrawn."

John looked round at them savagely. "And her son... my son? Has any of you been to see him?" he asked, his voiced thick with drink.

The silence dropped again like a dead weight and John lay down his napkin. The more they'd tried to excuse themselves, the more they fanned his anger. He looked his father squarely in the eyes and hissed, "So you did nothing to help her, not one of you. Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

He looked round the table and nobody met his eye, till his father burst out, "I've had enough of this, John. Good God, what did you expect us to do? You know how matters stood before you left. I was against your meeting her from the start and when she left, that was that. Her family made no effort to tell me what was happening. Nobody did. I'm not psychic!"

"It was you who should bloody well have contacted them!" retorted John savagely. "But no. You were all too damned proud to do that, your arses too firmly stuck on the family high-horse to deign to do that!" He stood up, beside himself with rage, waving his fist at his father.

Harry Clemence thought he was going to strike him and tried to intervene, but he was pushed roughly away and told to sit down. Then he and the rest had to sit and take it while John raged on and on about them and their treatment of Helen.

Finally, Victoria got up, red in the face and strode haughtily from the room, saying she wasn't going to listen to any more of his insults. She told him he'd had too much to drink and ought to go to bed. One by one the others followed suit, Grimstone last, having said not a word, wishing Sir Abe goodnight and saying he would see him later then, nodding at John, he left the room.

His father stayed on, watching his son drink moodily. His own glass was untouched and Sir Abe looked ill. His worst fear was being played out before him and he knew he was losing his son.

"I'm sorry, dreadfully sorry, Jonty," he said at length in a broken voice. "More sorry than ever you'll realise. I didn't want it all to end like this. I didn't want Helen to die. Believe me, Jonty, I was shocked to hear she'd died."

John looked balefully across at him. "And my son.. .your grandson?" he blurted out." What's going to happen to him now? He would have been living here with Helen still alive but for you. The truth is, you don't give a shit for anyone but yourself and you never have done.

The sodding family name is all that counts in your piddling book and I only count because I'm next in line to fly the jolly old family flag. Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do, you old fart, seeing you haven't got the guts to do it yourself. I'm going to apologise to the Gibsons tomorrow for the filthy way Helen was treated. Joe Gibson is worth ten of you any day. You aren't fit to black his boots! He'll tell me the truth about Helen."

He stood up to leave, unsteady on his feet, throwing down his napkin, which knocked over his unfinished glass of wine. His father could only watch, pale-faced and helpless, as the wine trickled across the white cloth in a spreading, red stain. He made no further attempt to speak to his son and things were never the same between them.

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