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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 97 - Like Something Out Of A Horror Film

...The racket subsided as those there saw him and only the gramophone blared on. Like Clemence, their eyes were riveted to John's face, fascinated yet revolted by what they saw...

Badly-injured fighter pilot John Illingworth brings Harry Clemence's rowdy party to a halt.

John Waddington-Feather continues his engrossing story which revolves around the troubles and achievments of a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

The party at Rosemary Nook was in full swing by the time he arrived. It was nearly midnight and he'd had a nightcap with his father before the old man had gone to bed. Then John left for the Clemences.

He needed the nightcap to bolster him, for he hated being stared at; worse still, the revulsion in others' eyes when they saw his face. But his hatred for Grimstone and Clemence was stronger. For what Grimstone had done to him and for what Clemence was doing to his father.

He heard the racket as soon as he turned the lane leading to their house. They had hired someone with the latest recording equipment and he had got it going full blast. Someone had opened a window to let in fresh air and not replaced the blackout. A beam of light slashed the lawn and he saw the guests inside, raving it up with lashings of booze. Roars of drunken laughter mingled with the music and made the din louder. These were the heydays of Keighworth. After the war it went into decline.

The drive and forecourt were packed with cars, which spilled into the lane outside. John left his car there, where he could leave early once he had done what he had to.

As he walked up the drive, the front door opened. Someone staggered out bawling, "Shut that bloody door, Jack! I don't want everyone to see me pissing!"

"What's wrong wi'f loo, Herbert?"

"Somebody's being sick in there. Harry told me to piss on t'lawn."

They both laughed and Jack shut the door. John waited till Herbert had finished then rang the bell. He had changed into civvies but they were ill-fitting because he had lost so much weight. He wore a soft trilby hat pulled well down over his brow and the collar of his mackintosh was over his chin. Once he rang the bell, he stepped back out of the light.

Clemence himself answered the door with a glass of beer in his hand,
blinking owlishly into the night. He couldn't see John at first and asked who was there. "You're not the police are you?" he said. "If you are, it's all right. We've got Inspector Williams inside."

John didn't reply but stepped into the arc of light around the door. It startled Clemence who drew back exclaiming, "Who the hell are you?"

"It's John...John Illingworth. Rosie asked me over," said John but Clemence didn't recognise his voice, it sound so strange and so he opened the door wider to get a better view. When he saw John his voice registered shock and it was all he could do to mumble, "Come in, lad. I didn't recognise thee at first. Long time no see, eh? Rosie did say yer were at home but she never told me yer were coming tonight."

John stepped inside taking off his hat and coat and handing them to Harry, who nearly dropped his beer when John turned round full-face. "Bloody hell!" he gasped and stood pole-axed for a moment before saying quickly, "I'm sorry, lad. I really am. I didn't recognise thee at first...." then he ran out of steam and shook visibly.

It didn't help when John gave one of his terrible smiles. It terrified Clemence who went to hang up John's hat and coat, telling John to go in and saying to someone to tell Rosie that her cousin John had arrived. "Tell her to stop what she's doing an' get here quick!" he ordered.

He tried to by-pass the lounge where most of his guests were and steer John into the kitchen, where Rosie had been making coffee. But John was not to be sidelined and turned into the crowded lounge. The racket subsided as those there saw him and only the gramophone blared on.
Like Clemence, their eyes were riveted to John's face, fascinated yet revolted by what they saw. Few there knew John and nobody spoke to him. Most began drifting into the next room. The tension became too much for Clemence, who shouted, "Turn that bloody gramophone down! I can hardly hear meself speak!"

The guy working the recording equipment shut it down altogether, and Clemence was left trying to make small-talk, till Grimstone came up
to them clutching a bottle of newly opened whisky. Someone had said John Illingworth had come, and Grimstone sneaked up behind him and slapped him hard on the back saying breezily, "Welcome home, lad. Back into the fold!" Then John turned.

The lawyer's grin vanished and his face stiffened. He was lost for words, but long practice made him hold out his hand and when John took it he wouldn't let go, till Grimstone had been made to have his fill of his face. When Grimstone finished speaking, like Clemence, he shook visibly. "I didn't realise you'd been so badly hurt, lad," said Grimstone. "It said in the paper only that you'd been injured. Nowt about what had happened. I'm right sorry. You must fair have been through it, lad. Have a drink."

The lawyer poured John a drink then moved on to other topics, babbling about what Keighworth was like in wartime and what everybody was doing. Things were hard in town, he said, what with the blackout and rationing and all that. The quicker the war was over, the better, then they could all get on with living again.

By the time he had talked himself level again, he was able to give his yellow grin, but he desperately wanted to get away from John. His face unnerved him. He re-filled his own glass and knocked it back, watching the other guests disappear one by one, leaving him to hold the fort with John.
Clemence saw them out, glad for any excuse to get out of the room and leave John Illingworth with Grimstone. When he had seen his guests off, he didn't return to the lounge but made a beeline for the kitchen. John's arrival had killed the party dead. The lawyer had his own let-out when John asked where Rosemary was.

"In the kitchen," he said quickly. "She went to make coffee just before you came." He gave a glance round the empty room and added limply, "But coffee won't be needed now, it seems." When John left him to go to the kitchen, Grimstone left, too, bolting for the door as fast as he could and letting himself out.

As John approached the kitchen, he heard an almighty row through the
closed door. Rosemary and her husband were going at it hammer and tongs, so John paused tactfully before he went in. "I don't care what you say, Rosie, you shouldn't have bloody well asked him!" Harry shouted.
"You should bloody well have known better when we had a house full of folks. Think how they felt, seeing him like that. They couldn't get away fast enough, an' I don't bloody well blame them. I feel like buggering off myself. You could bloody well have asked him when I wasn't here. You used to do in the past."

Rosemary said something John didn't catch, but whatever it was it angered her husband more and he ranted on, "Why didn't you tell me you'd asked him? But that's just like your bloody family. Keep things to themselves without considering anyone else. All you think about is yourselves. I nearly had a bloody fit when I saw him standing on the doorstep in the dark. He's like.. .he's like summat out of a horror film!"

John heard the sharp crack of a face being slapped and decided it was time he went in. As he opened the door Harry was about to retaliate and had raised his fist, but he drew back when he saw John. "Sorry if I've blundered into something I shouldn't," said John in his rasping, hollow voice and looked from one to the other.

Harry bit his lip. A red weal was spreading across one side of his face and he snarled, "An' I'm bloody sorry, too!" then strode angrily past his wife out of the kitchen. Left alone, John and Rosemary stood facing each other in silence. All anger drained from her face and she went white as she looked upon him. Then she flung herself across the kitchen into his arms, bursting into tears and crying, "Oh, John! John! My poor darling! Somebody should have told me! I didn't know."

He held her close till she had cried herself out, then looked tenderly at her at arm's length. Slowly, she lifted her head and looked at him again, as if hoping that what she had seen wasn't true; that there might be something of his old self left. But there wasn't, and she reached up and touched his face, then kissed him tenderly where his lips should have been.

He seated her at the table and poured them both some coffee. The house was quiet and nobody disturbed them. Outside, the last of the guests
were going, slamming their car doors and wishing Harry goodnight. There was none of his usual loud leave-taking and he would gladly have gone with them; when they had all gone he retired to the lounge to drink himself silly.


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