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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 99 - Jolly On

...But in Keighworth John became a recluse. He had no friends there and spent most of his time at home, reading in the library or sitting alone in the conservatory musing on the past and Helen. At other times he would go walking by himself on the moors and it was while he was walking across the escarpment above Ilkesworth near the Swastika Stone that he and Rosemary met for the last time...

John Illingworth and Rosemary have a sad parting of the ways.

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

Within weeks he was flying again. The war was nearing its close and there was little action over Britain. Rockets, not bombers, were the danger, and when he was fit enough he commanded a Mosquito squadron locating and bombing rocket-launching sites in mainland Europe.

He visited Sarah Goldstein and her son after Rosemary had told them what to expect, and was relieved when they accepted him despite his ghastly face. They resumed their old walks and romps whenever he came on leave, often accompanied by the boy's grandfather and two maiden aunts. All of them found great comfort reminiscing about Sydney and the good times before the war. Ruth and Rebecca still lived with their father and never married, doting on their nephew as their own son.

But in Keighworth John became a recluse. He had no friends there and spent most of his time at home, reading in the library or sitting alone in the conservatory musing on the past and Helen. At other times he would go walking by himself on the moors and it was while he was walking across the escarpment above Ilkesworth near the Swastika Stone that he and Rosemary met for the last time.

He had gone on leave early in 1945 and had been on a long walk on the moors between Keighworth and Ilkesworth. By chance he met Rosemary, who had driven up there to cool off after yet another row with her husband. Though John saw her several times at Illingworth House (which had almost become second home to her) he never visited Rosemary Nook, nor did he ever see Clemence or Grimstone again. They avoided him like the plague.

She had driven there for the afternoon with her children and their nanny to get away from her husband who had been drinking hard and turned nasty. Their son Rodney was now eleven and his sister seven. Both were spoiled rotten and fought like cat and dog all the time. The boy was very like his father and the girl, like Rosemary, unmistakably an Illingworth. She was a beautiful girl and would be a real stunner like her mother when she grew up. It was equally clear that the boy would be like his father for he was loud-mouthed and devious; an overweight, obnoxious brat.

Before they met, John had walked down to the Stone and sat there thinking of the times when Helen and he had been there. Across the valley was the sanatorium where she had died and his son had been born. He lit a cigarette and let his mind drift back; those early rendez-vous at that dingy cafe behind the office; their courtship on the moors the other side of town; that final weekend together at the coast. It all came back as he sat there looking across the valley, drinking in the scene.

The day was cloudless; one of those frosty, crystal-clear days towards the end of February, when the sun was finding new life. Daylight was drawing out and with it the first signs of spring. Back home snowdrops were whiting the borders, emblems of Epiphany and new light which honed razor sharp on the black moors behind him. Below, the valley bustled mute. No noise reached him up there as he watched the tiny strings of traffic moving like ants. A bus crawled to Adley trailing its convoy of cars. On the hillside opposite, cars winked in the bright sun, and about him, the moors were already expectant with life ready to burst at the growing sun's touch.

When the light began to fade he made his way back to his car. Dusk would be well set by the time he reached Keighworth and he had another call to make that night before he went off leave. He didn't want to be late for that.
When he had almost reached where he'd left his car, he noticed a second car there, Rosemary's. She'd recognised his car and had decided to wait for him while the nanny took the children for a short walk. She was reading a magazine but when she saw him, she got out and hurried down the track to meet him.

Her face was alight and she said brightly, "Surprise! Surprise!" but something in her voice told him all was not right and he sensed she was putting on a brave face. He had heard from his father that Harry Clemence had been giving her a rough time, and when he asked if she was all right, she poured it all out. "I just had to get away from him," she began. "He's on the bottle again. He started first thing this morning."

John noticed a bruise on her cheek. Harry had struck her in a drunken temper, she said, but when John said she ought to leave him she replied shamefacedly there was too much at stake. Somehow he'd collared most of her money and there was the children's education to think of. No, she couldn't leave him. "He'll be asleep when we get back," she ended," and be as nice as ninepence - till the next time."

John took her hand. She needed support as much as he did. It was like old times as children, when they had gone up the farmland behind Illingworth House, walking hand in hand, innocent and free of any cares. The bright light caught her hair blowing in the wind. She was still very attractive and had kept her figure, unlike her husband who had gone badly to seed. Only the heavy make-up she used jarred. He had once told her it was out of character. She was beautiful enough without it, but she had laughed it off.
She didn't laugh much now and her make-up hid her age and the lines her marriage had engraved. Though she and Clemence led separate lives, he knew how to put the knife in when he wanted and revelled in humiliating her whenever he could.

Their conversation turned to what would happen after the war, now drawing to its close; but like his father, she dreaded every time he went back off leave and resumed flying. "Thank God it will soon be all over," she said. Then, "I wonder what we'll all do when it's finally finished. So much has changed since it began."

He shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose we'll jolly on much as before -those of us who are left," he said.

The way he said that chilled her. He and his father were all she really had left since her mother died. Her life would be devastated if anything happened to him, and Sir Abe's would simply fall apart.

"There isn't much left for some of us to jolly on with," she replied, and there was no mistaking the bitterness in her voice. He glanced quickly across at her and she could have bitten out her tongue. She had been thinking of herself, not him. "I didn't mean it like that, John," she said
hurriedly. "I was referring to life in general. Life for me. It will be empty once the nursing goes. You still have your career. All I have are the kids - and Harry."

"You will find something," was all he said and they walked in silence, pausing when they reached an old stone cross that served as a waymark.

They turned and had a final look across the moors in all their dark splendour. He had a faraway look in his eyes and glancing up at him, she thought how handsome he still was. She walked on his good side, the side they had patched up, and for an instant she saw him as he had once been and a great warmth filled her heart. He looked down and caught the wistful look in her eyes and instinctively put his arm round her shoulders for the rest of the way, she chatting about the past, trying to cheer herself up.

"We can never go back. Life isn't like that," he said at length. "We must always look to the future." She realised he wasn't speaking about their past but a more universal one. He had never spoken like that and she knew then how greatly he had changed.

But there was till something left of his old self. Where outwardly he had been badly scarred, inwardly he had healed after the trauma of Helen's death. He was at peace with himself and all the old bitterness and hate had gone. Above all, she was grateful for that. He had turned the other way when she glanced up again and the sad wreck of his face presented itself; yet his words were beautiful and gave her much comfort, much hope. She remembered them the rest of her life.

As they reached their cars, they were greeted by her children, who came running towards them, but drew up when they saw their mother was with someone, a stranger. The boy stared at John sulkily, but the girl curiously. Rosemary told them to come and meet him for she'd talked about him often.

Rodney, the boy, remained aloof, scowling and staring at John's face. The little girl danced up and gave him a kiss. Her brother turned and got into the car with the nanny when Rosemary asked him again to meet John. She sighed then turned to face John. In a few moments they would have to part. She held him close and whispered in a broken voice, "Goodbye, Johnnie." And he saw she was weeping.

"Goodbye, Rosie," he whispered back and kissed her brow.

She brushed away her tears and smiled. "You will write," she said. "Your letters mean so much to me."

"Of course," he replied, as they drew apart. "Take care of yourself - and dad."

She nodded and got into the car, waving at him as she swung it round. Her daughter, too, waved vigorously from the back till they were well down the road. She reminded him of little Miriam in Prague, the day he took her to the station, and he waved till they out of sight.

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