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Illingworth House: Chance Child,Part Two - 4

...John smiled, then whispered, "Sir Abe Illingworth's expecting me."

"I know," said the other in his deep voice. Then he too, smiled and said, "Step this way, Master John." His smile broadened as if he was enjoying a private joke and he stood back to let the boy pass...

Young John Illingworth pays his first visit to Illingworth House to meet his grandfather.

John Waddington-Feather continues his epic tale concerning a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

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

In most houses you can hear when the doorbell rings but Illingworth House was so huge you heard nothing. Only when the butler answered the door did you know the bell worked. John Greenwood jabbed the bell, then waited. Nothing happened so he jabbed it again and began looking at his distorted reflection in the highly polished brass door handle.

As he stared, he began pulling faces, but was caught on the hop when the door suddenly opened and he was left staring at a healthy well dressed paunch. He lifted his eyes and was surprised to see someone he'd known all his life, but never known where he worked. He was Henry Johnson, who sang in the choir with Uncle Joe and had courted a woman down Garlic Lane for years. He was above medium height, going bald and had a rubbery face, severe one minute and clownish the next. He was immaculately turned out and spoke with great dignity, in a rich Yorkshire accent. In short, he was Sir Abe's confidante and butler.

John smiled, then whispered, "Sir Abe Illingworth's expecting me."

"I know," said the other in his deep voice. Then he too, smiled and said, "Step this way, Master John." His smile broadened as if he was enjoying a private joke and he stood back to let the boy pass.

As he walked by, the butler relieved him of his cap and put it on a table in the entrance hall, where the youngster stood overwhelmed. The corridor before him seemed to go on for ever. Everything about the place was monumental and his heart sank as he followed Johnson down the corridor.
They turned the corner into another long corridor hung with family portraits, one of which was a young man in RAF uniform. John looked at the face and sensed at once it was his father. He wanted to stop and look closer but the butler walked on until they reached a heavy mahogany door with brass handles like the one outside. Here Johnson stopped, knocked lightly, then inclined his head to listen. Someone inside bade him enter.

"Master John, sir," the butler announced grandly. He smiled at whoever was inside, bowed slightly, then retired closing the doors behind him.

Standing by the French windows at the other end of the room was a man with his back to the light, so that all John saw of him at first was his silhouette. As the stranger didn't speak, he remained awkwardly just inside the room while the man opposite examined him closely, looking over his face intently, as if searching for something there.

They stood for some moments sizing each other up, till at length the man coughed huskily and broke the silence with, "So, you're our John's lad. Come here and let's have a proper look at you. I'm your grandfather."

John regarded him closely, too. His grandfather was in his early seventies, though he looked younger. He'd a mane of silver hair and a thick moustache, which gave him a military air, an air of authority, a man not to be trifled with. He was tall and spare with granite features and his eyes, like the boy's before him, were piercing blue.

His dress was impeccable, as you'd expect from a worsted mill-master. Across a comfortable waistcoat stretched a thick gold chain from which dangled a variety of Masonic fobs. He stood with his thumbs in the pockets of this waistcoat, his feet braced firmly apart as he watched his grandson cross the room.

His long legs made him look immense to the boy, who was little higher than the watch-chain across his middle, and who saw the chain rise and fall quickly as waves of deep emotion swept through the old man. John Greenwood caught him unprepared when he suddenly looked up into his face and saw his grandfather wiping the corners of his eyes. His lips, too, trembled and he had to bite them to bring them under control.

John extended his hand, as his aunt had taught him. The old man smiled and took it, cupping it gently in both his own. "So, you're our John's lad," he said again before turning the boy's face to the light, surveying it closely before turning abruptly and biting his lip again.

He walked down the room to a grand piano, on which stood a photograph in a silver frame. It was the RAF officer whose portrait John had noticed in the corridor on the way in. Sir Abe handed it to his grandson who looked at it closely. "Is this my father, sir?" he asked.

"Aye," the old man whispered.

The boy handed back the silver frame and pulled out the faded snapshot of his mother from the locket Grimstone had brought. "This is my mother. Have you no photo of her?" he asked innocently. Sir Abe looked at it and faltered. Then he handed it back, and for the first time his eye couldn't meet John Greenwood's.

"No. We have no photo of your mother. Perhaps one day we'll have one done and put it by your dad's," said Sir Abe lamely, then he motioned the boy to a settee near the window where he could see him better and sat beside him. "Mr Grimstone made it clear why I wanted to see you, John, I hope," he began.

"He said you wanted to speak to me about my future.. .and get to know me, sir," John replied.

"Well, then let's start by you calling me grandfather, eh?" said Sir Abe. "And stop calling me sir."

"Yes, sir...I mean grandfather," his grandson answered, though he found it strange calling him grandfather at first but it pleased the old man immensely and he smiled broadly.

"What do you want to do when you leave school, John?" he asked next. He was never one for beating about the bush and came at once to what was in his mind.

"I want to go to university," John replied. "Not into business?" said his grandfather. "No," said John firmly. "I want to be a teacher."

"A teacher!" the old man echoed, raising his bushy eyebrows. "But... but there's no money in teaching! I want you to run my mills one day, John. I do really. You don't have to go to university to do that and you'll make a darned sight more money running Illingworths Mills than you will in a classroom." Sir Abe was going to go on but he had the gumption to notice how his grandson had coloured and he dropped the subject quickly. "But there's plenty of time to talk about your future," he said hurriedly. "You get your schooling done first, lad, then we'll see what's what." Then he asked, "You happy at school, John?"

"Yes, grandfather."

"You wouldn't like to go away to school. To board, like your father did?"

The last thing at the age of twelve John Greenwood wanted to do was to leave home. Grimstone had tried that tack and got nowhere. Neither did his grandfather.

"No," said John firmly again, "I don't. I'm very happy at the grammar school. All my friends are there and I don't want to leave my aunt and uncle."

Piqued, Sir Abe bit his lip. He'd never been contradicted by a twelve year-old before, but the boy knew his own mind and the old man backed off. All he said was, "You're probably right, m'boy. Yes. You're probably right."

He began to move towards the door when he stopped and began rubbing his chest vigorously. Alarmed, his grandson asked if he was all right.

"It's nothing, m'boy," he gasped and hung grimly on his grandson's shoulder. "It'll pass. I get these do's from time to time. I was going to show you your father's old room, but I'll let Johnson take you while I have a rest."

He pushed a bell-button nearby and the butler came at once. John could tell he was worried as soon as Johnson saw the colour of Sir Abe's face. He said something to him which John couldn't catch, and made the old man lie down full length on the couch. Then his grandfather said, "Show the lad our John's room, Henry. It's his now. Then take him round the rest of the house. It'll be all his one day." Then he lay back on the settee and closed his eyes.


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