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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 69 - "You And Illingworths Can Go To Hell''

...As Johnson cooked breakfast he chatted about non-consequential things, avoiding the real issues that were on both their minds. When he had finished, John said, "Henry, you must know I'm leaving for good. I can't go on living here after what's happened. You do understand?"...

John Illinghworth walks out of the family firm.

John Waddington-Feather continues his story which is set in a Yorkshire mill town.

Dawn was breaking when he got up and drew the curtains to take a last look at the view outside. The horizon was daubed crimson and the dale slowly came to life as the sun rose higher. A field newly shorn was the first to catch the light on the hillside opposite. There, yellow stooks of hay stood proud from the darkened field and began to gleam brightly. The garden below him was still in shadow and the long lawns were dark in dew.

He inhaled the fresh morning air through the open window, then picked up the case he had packed and went quietly downstairs. He met Johnson unexpectedly in his dressing gown, sipping tea in the kitchen. He also had had a sleepless night and had risen early.

He greeted John and asked if he wanted any breakfast. John was touched and apologised for his behaviour the previous evening, but the butler said not to worry and smiled wanly. Perhaps, of all people, Johnson understood him best and suffered most as a result.

He didn't ask where John was going, only begging him to eat something and not leave on an empty stomach. He took Johnson's advice and sat at the table. There was no sound from his father who was sleeping off his drink.

As Johnson cooked breakfast he chatted about non-consequential things, avoiding the real issues that were on both their minds. When he had finished, John said, "Henry, you must know I'm leaving for good. I can't go on living here after what's happened. You do understand?"

Johnson nodded but in his loyal way said, "Your father honestly didn't hear about Miss Greenwood till it was all too late, Master John. He took her death very badly."

"Yet he did nothing when he could have helped her," John replied tartly. Then more gently, "It's best if I leave, Henry. After what they did, I hate the lot of them!"

The butler made no comment, only asking where he was going. John said he didn't know, but he would contact him when he had sorted things out and get him to send on more of his clothes. Right now he just had to get away - from his father most of all, and he asked the butler to tell his father not to contact him. It would only make matters worse. Then he left, slipping out of the back door to his car. His father heard it start and went to the window, just in time to see John speed out of sight up the drive.

He went to a hotel he sometimes used near his flying-club and booked in for the night. The RAF recruiting officer was due at the club the next day and he had arranged to see him, to change his commission in the RAFVR to a permanent commission and begin a new career.

There was no problem for the RAF was crying out for pilots. Events had
taken a serious turn in Germany, which was re-arming like mad as the Nazis tightened their grip. Jews were being persecuted more and more and several of the Goldsteins' relatives had already been arrested and taken to holding camps. David and Sarah had cut short their honeymoon and returned, horrified at what they'd seen.

He met Sydney Goldstein at the clubhouse, the first time they'd met since his return. Sydney was shocked to hear of Helen's death. Nobody had told him anything. If he had only known she was ill, he would have done something about it. John opened up and told him everything: how he suspected his mail had been tampered with, Helen's illness and death, his family's apathy and how Mary Calow had taken in Helen and his son, whom he couldn't see, adopted by the Gibsons. Sydney was mortified and asked him to stay with him and Sarah till he left for Cranwell to begin his RAF training a week hence.

John made another visit before he left, to Oak Cottage. He learned that Mary Calow was there and that she came up most weekends with her husband to see their godchild. It was his only chance to find out the truth about Helen and he hoped she would listen to his side of the story and throw some light on the missing letters. But he received as cold a reception there as he did at the Gibsons.

Mary Calow didn't mince her words and told him bluntly what she thought of him and his father, the whole rotten family. She told him, too, what his father had done when Helen had said she was pregnant. She had been betrayed by his father and Helen by him, she said with venom.

He left the cottage broken-hearted. He had expected Mary Calow to show some sympathy in view of their past relationship, but no, she wanted nothing more to do with him. Later, he tried ringing her, but she hung up and all his letters went unanswered.

The RAF helped him through his grief but did nothing to take the iron from his soul. In many ways it satisfied a growing obsession for vengeance on his father and family, for he knew how much his father wanted him to be the next MD at Illingworths, how much he wanted him to enhance the family dynasty. He took malicious delight in returning to the office one day, after he had been given a regular commission, to tell his father what he had done. He had never contacted him since he left Illingworth House and had let his father stew, wondering where he was.

When he appeared at the office entrance he enjoyed the reaction of the doorman's face as he phoned up to his father. Sir Abe stopped what he was doing and told him to come up at once. John didn't hurry, walking slowly past the office Helen had worked in, then up the long flight of stairs. Without her, the place seemed dead. He met no one till he passed the general office where she had worked. A new clerk opened the door, but didn't recognise him, and left the door open just long enough for him to glimpse in. Another girl was sitting at Helen's desk and his face set hard.

Others there did recognise him and the entire office looked up to watch him pass as he climbed the stairs. Rumours had flown thick and furious while he'd been away, that he had broken off his engagement when he had learned Helen was pregnant. The spiteful Dorothy Simpson had started that one. But another, nearer the mark, was that he'd quit. His sudden appearance that day clinched that rumour and Harry Clemence had a clear run to the top.

When he reached the directors' landing, he walked slowly past the line of family portraits on the wall. It started with a primitive in oils painted by a jobbing painter of his great-great-grandfather. He couldn't write his name but he could count, and had founded the business in a small mill near Keighworth employing members of his own family at basic rates if he paid them at all. Before that, the Illingworths had been handloom weavers, carrying their lengths of cloth on their backs to sell at the Piece Hall at Halifax. Impoverished nobodies living in damp cottages on the moors.

The portraits skipped a couple of generations and next in line was his grandfather Luke, who had set up a chain of mills on both sides of the Pennines. There were others. Uncles and cousins who had gone their separate ways after marrying into fellow mill-masters' families. His own portrait was last in line, following his father's. It looked very new for he had been a director only two years. He paused before it and gave a twisted smile; then he wrenched it off the wall and ground it underfoot, alarming the secretary who came out of his father's office.

He walked straight into his father's office without knocking and found him standing by the window pretending to look out. He appeared calm and at ease, but the way he fiddled with his watch-chain said otherwise. They had had rows before, but John had always come back with his tail between his legs and had had to eat humble pie. His father had tut-tutted a bit, but then let things ride. He was never one to sulk with his son when he was in the saddle and in control.

He turned as John came in, standing in the self-assured, familiar attitude, his legs braced well apart and his thumbs dug deep in his waistcoat pockets. He put a broad smile on his face and said pleasantly enough, "Well, Jonty, it's good to see you back. I was getting quite worried about you after the other night. We'd both had too much to drink and acted daft, didn't we? You always come back when you've simmered down and come to your senses."

He laughed genially, but John didn't return his smile, nor did he apologise as he had always done before. His father took his thumbs out of his pockets and scratched his face nervously. There was nothing hangdog about him now, but a hard coldness.

"Yes," John began, "I've come to my senses. It's taken years, but I've come to my senses at long last." When his father offered him a chair, he ignored it. He spoke in a strange voice and looked his father in the eye all the time. That unnerved Sir Abe, who dropped his gaze and began shuffling papers on his desk.

He soon looked up though when John spoke again.

"I'm quitting, dad," he said baldly. "I'm through with the firm. You can announce it at the next directors' meeting. I've joined the RAF."

It took some moments for it to sink in and his father leaned heavily on the desk. "You've what?" he whispered.

"I can't make it any clearer, dad. After what's happened I'm finished here. I'm not coming back and I'm not returning home. I'm starting a new life in the air-force. It's what I've always wanted and I should have done it earlier."

"But...but this where you belong, Jonty! This where you've always belonged," his father blustered, panic-stricken. "It's what I've planned, what I've worked at for years, for you to take over. It's what I've always wanted for you."

John flushed angrily. "Yes, always what you wanted; never anyone else. Well, all that's done with now. I wanted to marry Helen, but you did your damnedest to stop us. No, don't interrupt. Sit down and bloody well listen to me for a change," he snarled as his father tried to speak.

His father obeyed and sat down slowly. "I'd probably have remained if Helen had lived," he continued. "We'd have married and our son would have had my name. I might have felt some sort of pride that he was going to work here one day with the rest of us. But Helen's dead and she took all that with her, the part of me that might have wanted to stay and build a life for us together. But when you let her die, you killed any love I had for this place - and you! So you and Illingworths can go to hell as far as I'm concerned!"

His voice had an iciness which chilled his father; his eyes, too, which never flinched, never altered their cold, level gaze. His father fell before it and was silent, forced to hear him out.

"At least we can be friends, Jonty," he said at length in a small hollow voice. "At least we can be that. Is there...is there nothing I can do to make you change your mind? I'll do anything.. .give you anything. All I have is yours." He had gone quite pale and gripped the arms of his chair. John shook his head. He felt no pity for the man before him. On the contrary, he enjoyed watching him suffer.

"I want nothing," John said. "What you should have done, what you should have given, you didn't." Then he turned and made for the door, where he paused. "I'll write to Henry and let him know the address he can send my things to, but don't you write for I shan't reply - just as my letters from Australia were never replied to!"

His father looked up. "You'll come home, Jonty, when you're on leave, won't you?" he asked brokenly. "You'll come home some time, won't
you?"

"I'll be in touch," was all he said. Then he turned on his heel and left the room.



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