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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 86 - Master John Returns Home

...John smiled wryly. His father hadn't changed. Still the same old diehard dad, but he was glad to be back. There was something about the old house which gave him new hope, gave him back the will to live. Strangest of all, he felt Helen's presence there. As if she, too, was waiting to welcome him home...

John, badly scarred after aerial combat, returns home to Illingworth House.

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

The day he returned, his father and Johnson collected him from the station. It was late November; a dreary fog-sodden day which wrapped itself round Keighworth and didn't let go all winter. It shocked the old butler when he saw him limp off the train onto the mist-swathed platform; a broken, stooping figure well wrapped up against the dismal weather. He had buttoned the collar of his greatcoat up to his ears to hide his scars and wrapped a blue muffler round the bottom part of his face. His hat was well pulled down and hid forehead and eyes.

Johnson went to pick up his luggage, which the porter deposited as he left the train and stood waiting at the far end of the platform. Sir Abe had primed Johnson what to expect and he put a brave face on it. He had seen terrible injuries in the first war, but he had been younger then and able to take it. Now, he was devastated when he saw how badly John was scarred.

"Good afternoon, Master John," he said brightly enough, though his heart sank. John extended his good hand to shake the butler's hand, but Johnson couldn't avoid looking at the clawlike form of the other. The livid discolouring of his hand and face revealed itself as his coat-sleeve slid up and he pulled down his muffler to speak. Then his father came forward and hugged him before bustling him back to the car.

"Quite like old times, Jonty," he said heartily, "when I used to meet you from school." His voice was full of bonhomie, but his heart was like lead, aching for the son he once knew. Nevertheless, he was genuinely overjoyed to have him home. He had become lonely, almost a recluse, and John noticed it at once.

Only when they reached Illingworth House and John took off his coat and hat was the full extent of his disfigurement seen. His hair was burnt off one side of his head and though the surgeons had tried to build up his nose with some success, his brow and ear had gone and his hands were badly scarred. Mercifully he'd regained full use of them, despite the clawing and he could see as well as ever. But his blue eyes had no joy in them, even when he told them he hoped to fly again when he went off leave.

They had barely arrived back when Rosemary rang. She had heard he was coming home and could she speak to him? It irritated Sir Abe who didn't disguise his displeasure. "What the hell does she want now?" he grumbled. "I wish she would stop pestering. She could have waited till you'd settled in."

John took the phone and she asked him how he was. "O.K." he answered. She said he sounded odd. Had he got a cold? No he hadn't, but he felt the cold coming north again from the south coast. She said they were throwing a party and insisted he came. She desperately wanted to see him again, for it was well over a year since they'd last met. He said he would think about it and give her a ring later. He was tired and wanted to rest. He had already decided he wouldn't go, but when she said Simon Grimstone would be there, he suddenly changed his mind.

His father said he would be like a fish out of water. There wouldn't be any servicemen there and Clemence had some rum friends. Now he had got his son home, Sir Abe wanted to keep him there. When he went out, he wanted to go with him, but no way would he go to the Clemences'. He wanted it to be like old times when he monopolised his son, before Harry Clemence came on the scene and married Rosie.

John smiled wryly. His father hadn't changed. Still the same old diehard dad, but he was glad to be back. There was something about the old house which gave him new hope, gave him back the will to live. Strangest of all, he felt Helen's presence there. As if she, too, was waiting to welcome him home.

He felt her presence most of all when he strolled round the conservatory, his father's pride and joy. He had courted her there when he had brought her home. It was exactly as he had left it and she seemed to be there too. While he was on leave, he sat there often, drinking in the warm tropical scents of the plants and its healing peace.

When the mist lifted, he got out his old car and drove to where nobody would stare at him, the moors where he and Helen had loved. He parked his car and walked the familiar path. The last time he had been there she had been at his side. He felt her there now and murmured her name softly, searching wildly round to see her running towards him through the heather.

A watery sun broke through as he reached the hollow where they had lain. The whole range of moorland lit up raked by long cloud shadows. A curlew rose and flew over trilling. The wind brushed against his face - and he knew she was there.

"Helen! Oh Helen!" he cried loudly lifting his face to the sky and letting the wind caress it more. "Helen, my darling! Come to me!" The curlew circled over him, then drifted away, settling nearby to watch him draw near the hollow.

He stood above it drinking in the scene, his mind racing with memories of her till he lost track of time and began to shiver. The sun was setting fast and the cold mist was already rolling back. It was time to go and reluctantly he turned and walked back, the curlew flying above him all the way back to the car.


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