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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 67 - Joe Is Unforgiving

..."Tha just used that trip to Australia to get out of weddin' her. Tha got cowd feet but tha hadn't t' guts to tell us to our faces. Tha used her, then when tha'd had thi bit o' fun tha copped out and thi father sent thi to Australia leavin' her wi' a baby," snarled Joe....

Joe Gibson refuses to accept John Illingworth's assurance that he knew nothing of Helen's illness.

John Waddington-Feather continues his gripping story of the fortunes and misfortunes of a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

It was evening the next day when John Illingworth went to the Gibsons. He didn't come down to breakfast but waited till his father had gone to work. Then he spent the rest of the day making phone calls and arranging his personal affairs, before screwing up enough courage to face Joe. But the main reason he wanted to visit the Gibsons was to see his son. He desperately wanted to see him.

When he had sobered up, he had a rotten head and felt less confident about Joe, but the urge to see his son overcame his fear. He drove up and down Garlic Lane passing their house twice, but still couldn't bring himself to knock on the door. He had a splitting headache and his mind was in turmoil. He barely knew which way to turn and all he wanted to do was get away from his father.

At length, he drove to Albert Park nearby and parked his car. There were few people about as it was getting dark, and he wandered into the park, heading for the shelter near the bowling-green. Folk crossed and re-crossed the park from time to time, dim shapes in the gathering gloom, but none came near him and he was quite alone.

A cool breezed shivered through the long avenue of chestnut trees heavy with "cheggies" It had been a dry summer and dead leaves scuttered about his feet. As dew started falling the earth smelled pungent and damp. He had come that way a few times courting Helen and he gained comfort from the memory of her walking next to him, her head on his shoulder. She seemed beside him then, so close that he felt her presence as he walked to the shelter.

The swifts skirring above him as he entered the park, were replaced by bats flitting silently through the trees. He sat watching them in the twilight, his mind as restless as the bats above him. His grief mounted and he began to weep, repeating Helen's name over and over again with no one but the trees and foraging bats to hear him.

His mind raced, seeking answers to the questions which crowded upon him. Why hadn't she written? If she had, where were her letters? What had happened to those he had sent her? But above all, why hadn't his father told him she was dying? Why had there been such a conspiracy of silence by his family? And every answer pointed to his father and Grimstone. Somehow they were to blame and his hatred for them matched his grief for Helen.

By the time he left the shelter, it was dark. He didn't return to his car but climbed the perimeter wall into Ings Lane. Going that way would bring him quicker to the Gibsons' house and avoid parking down their street. His hair was clammy with dew and his face pale when he knocked on their door. To his relief, Mary answered and he explained that he had just arrived from abroad and heard the news about Helen. Might he come in and talk things over? There seemed to have been a terrible mix-up over his and Helen's mail.

She was taken aback by his appearance. He looked broken, ill, and she asked him in before she realised what she'd done. Only when he stepped through the door, did she think of Joe's reaction.

He sat, looking the picture of contentment, reading his paper quietly by the fire, the other side of which were some newly washed nappies drying. The room smelled of baby-soap and talcum, and near the fire was a small baby-bath which Mary had been about to empty. It didn't escape John's notice.

Joe put down his paper and looked up to see whom Mary had asked in. When he recognised who it was, he scowled angrily and stood up, clenching his fists and folding his huge arms across his breast, bracing his feet in front of the fire. Mary went to him and put her hand on his arm, but he shook her off and glared at John.

"I...I don't know how to begin," said John in a broken voice, looking from one to the other. "They've only just told me about Helen. Please believe me. I knew nothing. My family told me nothing till I arrived back from Australia yesterday."

He continued looking from one to the other, searching their faces for an answer. Mary believed him and her heart went out to him. She had always thought that there had been some unholy mix-up. But Joe was adamant. He remained by the fire, eyeing him with manifest disgust.

When he did speak, he spoke slowly and demanded how John could not know. He had broken his promises. He had copped out long before he had heard about her death. Helen herself had told them she had written to him but had received no replies.

"Tha just used that trip to Australia to get out of weddin' her. Tha got cowd feet but tha hadn't t' guts to tell us to our faces. Tha used her, then when tha'd had thi bit o' fun tha copped out and thi father sent thi to Australia leavin' her wi' a baby," snarled Joe.

John was too stunned to reply and stood, helpless, unable to believe what he was hearing.

"Ah think we'd better get things straight once an' for all," said Joe finally, and he measured each word, speaking with unusual fluency, as if he'd rehearsed what he said. "She'd ha' still been alive if she hand't ta'en up wi' thee an' if thi father had ta'en some interest at first, when she was poorly. Thee an' thine couldn't care less about her now, could they?"

"That's not true," John burst out. "That's not right at all, Mr Gibson. I came here tonight to find out the truth." He asked for a seat as he didn't feel well and Mary placed one for him. But Joe remained standing as John tried hard to explain; but he faltered, and the longer he continued, the more it appeared he was trying to excuse himself.

Joe heard him out in stony silence and was unimpressed. When John had finished, Joe spoke again in that slow measured way. "Tha'd better listen carefully, Illingworth," he begun, "for Ah'll not speak to thee again nor will tha come here. We don't want owt to do wi' thee an' thy kind, no more than thy lot wants owt to do wi' us.

Tell thi father that, will tha? If he couldn't be bothered wi' our poor Helen when she needed help, we can't be bothered wi' thee now. So let it be like that between us from now on." He paused a moment then said quietly but firmly, "Now Ah'll thank thee to leave this house."

"But Helen's baby!" cried John. "He's mine!"

"Thine'growled Joe. "Nay, tha'rt mistaken there. He's ours! Thy name isn't on his certificate. Only our Helen's. Ah had to collect it an' it says 'Father unknown' where thy name should be. Ah'm his father now - an' my wife's his mother. Now get out!"

Numbed, John got to his feet. He offered Joe his hand before he left, but Joe didn't move, standing with his arms across his breast till he'd gone through the door. Mary saw him out and tried to speak, but Joe ordered her back inside and John was left to find his own way into the street.

**

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

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