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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 72 - A Great Weight Is Lifted

John Illingworth finally gets to hold his son.

John Waddington-Feather continues the turbulent story of a patriarchal Yorkshire mill-owning family.

They walked back to the seat he had left. It stood by a tall yew that offered them some shade from the bright sun and there they sat for some time chatting, Mary rocking the push-chair till the baby was asleep. They were an odd couple: she, a mill-worker dressed in cheap Sunday best and broad spoken; he, groomed impeccably in a costly suit, with the clipped speech of the officer caste. Yet both were inextricably linked through the baby sleeping in the chair before them.

It was so peaceful; a warm autumnal afternoon with air heavy with dead leaves. Already the ground was littered and they blanketed Helen's grave, scuttering along the path each time the wind caught them, brightening the sombre earth with their reds and yellows. Somewhere a gardener was burning sweepings and the smell of wood-smoke added its homely flavour to the air. The distant town was silent and all was quiet except for the piping of a robin, which hopped among the leaves looking for grubs, adding his own scrap of colour to theirs.

Mary's giving him his child to hold bridged a great gulf between them and was the beginning of a healing, so that the pair sat for some time chatting about the baby and other things. John asked after Joe. He was keeping well, she said, but still out of work. Fatherhood suited him and kept him occupied so that his old depression had gone. They both felt at ease and talked freely about Helen, John explaining more fully this time about the missing letters and how he didn't know of her death till it was too late. He never mentioned his father or family, but Mary guessed they had had something to do with it, and when he had done, she believed him.

Before they parted, he asked how the baby was being provided for. He was being diplomatic for he didn't want to upset her, knowing how proud she and Joe were. They wouldn't accept charity and Joe had refused point-black to accept any money from Abe Illingworth. They'd had a letter from Grimstone saying that an allowance could be arranged if they would call at his office. They never did. John was surprised for he knew nothing about it, of course. His dealings with Grimstone were long dead. But he learned Mary Calow contributed to his son's upkeep and frequently bought him clothes.

"Ah could ha' done wi' that money thi father offered," Mary admitted, looking at him from under her hat. "There's three maaths now to feed, but tha knaws what me husband's like. He hates thi father an' won't have owt from him if it's t' last thing he does."

John laid his hand gently on hers. "You must always tell me if you need anything. Promise me, Mary? It's not charity. It's my responsibility," he said. He pulled out his wallet and gave her a note. "Joe need know nothing about this. It's for my son," he said quietly, and each time he met her after that, he gave her money.

When it was time to go, he made her promise she would come again. They would keep in contact through Henry Johnson. Joe never went to the grave. It brought back too many bitter memories, so they could meet there safely each time he came on leave.

They stood up and he stooped for a final look at his son. The baby had woken and caught his finger as he reached to stroke his cheek, gripping it tightly and smiling at him. When he let go, they walked together to the cemetery gates, she, leaving him there to return to Prospect Street, he, going the other way to Illingworth House, for the first time in months.

"Tha knaws he's called John after thee," said Mary as they walked along. "An' his middle name's Joseph. Helen specially asked we name him John."
He bit his lip. If she had lived, the baby would have been theirs. Now it belonged to neither. He was the un-named father on its birth-certificate and her name was on her gravestone.

They parted at the gates and went their separate ways. He walked slowly all the way back, deep in thought. Meeting Mary and holding his son had lifted a great weight and given him a new focus in life. In the few precious minutes he had held his son, he had held Helen, too. He was at peace with himself. Something inside him had come back to life.

**

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

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