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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 74 - Smoke And Fire

...He'd no small-talk, was unsociable and seemed a world away from the wild scenario around him. The other guests felt awkward in his company and drifted away from him till he stood alone, like a sour spectator at a play, watching all that went on with a jaundiced eye...

John Illingworth is a forbidding presence at Harry Clemence's party.

John Waddington-Feather continues his absorbing story about a Yorkshire mill-owning dynasty.

The party at Rosemary Nook was a rave, like all the others the Clemences threw. The tennis set John had known in the old days were all there, along with newcomers he didn't recognise; side-kicks of Harry, brash go-getters, struggling as he once had, to get to the top. Grimstone was there, too, with a young girl on tow, who worked in his office in Blackpool, but had come over to stay with him for the weekend. He and Harry Clemence had recently joined forces to deal in property down the Lancashire coast and were doing well. Neither Sir Abe nor Grimstone's law partners in Keighworth knew anything about it, nor did they for some time to come.

Clemence had done well most of all. He had worked hard to get to the top and he had licked innumerable boots and backsides. His business ventures and his love-affair blossomed together. His fancy woman called herself Millicent Gainsford, but she was born Edie Smith in a Rochdale back-street. She was a woman with much worldly experience and there had been a long tally of lovers before she met Clemence, whom she handled with great aplomb.

She had begun life as a spinner in a cotton mill, but she soon learned to spin finer yarns than cotton and migrated early on to Blackpool, which offered better prospects. There she picked up with an elderly owner of several boarding houses, who put her into rent-free rooms. She never went back to Rochdale.

She learned much from her elderly paramour and taught him a thing or two in return. He taught her how to handle brass and in time she accrued a sizeable amount of capital. Soft she was in some parts, which she put to good use, but she had a hard head and before long had set up her own boarding-house, taking in commercial travellers at special overnight rates. Within a couple of years she had gone into the hotel trade in a big way, and from there she never looked back.

Clemence got to know her at a trade fair in Blackpool, when he had booked in at her hotel. She graced the bar each night so it was inevitable that they would meet up. On subsequent visits he took her out and that's when he had been seen, just before John went to Australia. When Grimstone was introduced to her, the three of them went into partnership in the property market in a big way.

It worked well. She knew the West Coast and Blackpool and before long they owned a casino and a string of amusement arcades. One way or another, Clemence's businesses occupied more and more of his time till he had none left for his wife. They continued to live together but went their separate ways with no questions asked. Millicent gave Clemence all his creature comforts and he gave Rosemary a healthy allowance.

He was at ease with Millicent in a way he never was with Rosemary; still less her family. Millicent never lost her Rochdale accent or easy-going ways. There was no edge on her and never had been. She was Clemence's perfect match, and though she'd passed her sell-by date she was still worth a nibble.

On the other hand, Rosemary had belittled him from the start. She had kidded herself that she could turn him into something like her cousin when they married, but it soon became obvious that Harry would never change, so she consoled herself by making him look small. Clemence was thick-skinned and her barbs never stuck. At work, he beavered himself into a position where Sir Abe came to rely on him more and more, so that in a few years, he had Sir Abe and the other directors in his pocket. It irked them but the firm flourished and they said nothing.

He spent more time at Blackpool and Rosemary went where she felt wanted, where she felt loved. She had a string of lovers before her cousin returned, and when he did, she made a dead set at him that night at the party, a wild rip-roaring affair. Harry got so stoned that he had to be carried to bed. Even Grimstone got drunk and had to be poured into a taxi with the girl he had brought.

When he heard John Illingworth would be coming, he was thrown somewhat. He had been snubbed by him ever since that Australian business, but he was as oily as ever and tried to patch things up. Sir Abe and he were still very close, bonded by the missing letters and other deals Grimstone worked for the old man.

When John turned up, the lawyer smoothed his hair and slid across the room to speak to him. Now Grimstone always became familiar in drink. He was a great one for patting you as he spoke, even holding your hand and with John he was especially pally that night, as if nothing had happened between them.
"It's John!" he exclaimed, holding out his hand. "By, I'm right glad to see you, lad! Where've you been hiding yourself all this time?

John gave him a cold look and turned to someone else in the group. His snub was embarrassing to Rosemary, who got him away at once. She was puzzled and asked why he had been so rude to the lawyer. They had always seemed such good friends.

"Something personal, Rosie," was all he said, "and I've changed. We've all changed." She nodded. He had suddenly gone deep. There was a seriousness about him which wasn't there before, which she'd recognised the previous week when they'd met. He didn't fit into the party at all. He'd no small-talk, was unsociable and seemed a world away from the wild scenario around him. The other guests felt awkward in his company and drifted away from him till he stood alone, like a sour spectator at a play, watching all that went on with a jaundiced eye. Grimstone kept well away from him the rest of the night.

John swirled his whisky round his glass and knocked it back in one go before asking for another, and another. Rosemary stayed with him as he stood alone just looking on. She was worried about the amount he drank, but unlike her husband, he stayed sober. She loathed her husband when he got drunk - and he was drunk often.

He had already begun making a fool of himself, bawling away in the lounge and singing dirty songs. Then someone dared him squirt a soda bottle down a woman's front. Grimstone's woman got the benefit of that and they all thought it was hilarious. But he didn't know when to stop and when Grimstone told him to do it to Rosemary, he started yelling for her, gong from room to room followed by Grimstone and his gang.

She fled to John and, as Clemence lurched towards her singing, "Rosie, posie, puddin' an' pie, kissed her cousin an' made him cry! Rosie, old girl, I'm going to squirt your tits!" she slipped behind John and held him tight. Harry staggered towards her, blundering into furniture and knocking over a vase of flowers; but as he tried to get round John, John caught the bottle and wrenched it from him, turning it on Clemence and drenching him through.

The room went quiet. Clemence stood swaying and glaring at John, the soda dripping down his head and face. Then he turned and left the room grinning sheepishly, but the look he slid John was full of hate.

He was out some time while he cleaned himself up and changed his shirt, but when he returned he was as affable as ever and went to John to make his peace. "You're too big a bugger for me to tackle, Illingworth," he said, "But I don't mind. No offence taken. Just enjoy yourself with Rosie. You Illingworths allus know how to look after each other. You an' her 'ave to make up for lost time," he added with a wink. Then he moved on.

Rosemary and John left holding hands tightly. It didn't go unnoticed by Grimstone, who nudged Harry and nodded at the couple. "Where there's smoke there's allus fire," whispered the lawyer.

"Aye," said Clemence. "An' I hope it burns well. It's been smouldering long enough."

*

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

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