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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 7

Rosemary Clemence is annoyed to hear that young John Illingworth is to be given the run of Illingworth House.

John Waddington-Feather continues his epic tale set in a Yorkshire mill town. To read earlier episodes please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

As Sir Abe began to raise his voice, Johnson ushered the children quickly through the door, but not before they'd heard what he said. If the butler hadn't had the three children to look after, his ear would have been glued to the keyhole.

When they arrived at the kitchen, the butler started preparing their snack and Ann Clemence climbed onto the stool next to John Greenwood.

"Hello," she said friendly enough, but was interrupted by her brother.

"Don't talk to him," he said. "He's common and mummy's told you before never to speak with common boys."

But his sister ignored him and continued, "I never knew I had a cousin. Which side of the family are you on - mummy's or daddy's?"

"I'm not sure," replied John awkwardly and dried up. But she prattled on asking all about him, while her brother sulked at the other side of the kitchen till Johnson brought the food, carrying in the drinks and biscuits on a large tray. When food appeared, he joined the other two and tried to grab a biscuit, but the butler caught his wrist.

"Girls first," he said firmly. "Where's your manners?"

He couldn't have checked the boy elsewhere, but the kitchen was his domain and he wasn't standing for any nonsense there.

"Let go!" squealed Rodney. "You're hurting me! I'll tell mummy."

The butler's chin went out and he tightened his grip as Rodney struggled to break free. "Don't speak to me like that, young man, or you'll get your backside warmed. Let your sister and Master John have their pick, then you can have one. There's plenty to go round."

The girl took her time choosing to rile her brother more. "Rodney's greedy," she said. "He's always been greedy. That's why he's so fat!" At this Rodney began blubbing. "And he's such a cry-baby," his sister continued mercilessly, passing the biscuits under his nose to John.

When John and Ann had taken a biscuit, the butler released Rodney, who fled from the room howling. "You'll see he'll bring mummy back with him. She'll be furious. She always takes Rodney's side."

Moments later, Rosemary Clemence appeared flushed and angry with Rodney in her wake. "What's all this?" she demanded. "Just look at my son's wrist! What have you been doing?"

"Teaching him his manners, Mrs Clemence," said the butler calmly. He knew Sir Abe would back him up. "He tried to grab the biscuits before I'd got them to table. I merely held him back else he'd have had the lot on the floor."

Rosemary stubbed her cigarette in the sink and was going to have another go at Johnson, when her daughter said, "Mummy, Mr Johnson's right. Rodney was grabbing and you've told him he mustn't grab. He was grabbing, wasn't he, John?" she said appealing to John by her side.

It was the last straw. "Be quiet, Ann," said her mother, giving John a spiteful glance. "It's nothing to do with him!" At this point Sir Abe entered. He'd overheard everything.

"Henry's right," he said. "It's about time Rodney learned his manners and I won't have him acting like that here. Now do you want a biscuit or don't you, Rodney? If you do, take one nicely." Rodney was still snivelling, but his belly was bigger than his pride and he took a biscuit.

"Now sit down and eat it nicely," said his mother, stroking his hair. "And if you've finished, Ann, you can go out and play." She was trying to get her daughter away from John Greenwood, but as Ann got down from her stool, she asked him to go with her. Her mother stood helpless and could only watch them go out together, while Rodney stayed scoffing the rest of the biscuits as his mother and Sir Abe went back to the lounge.

Once outside, John and Ann strolled to a swing on the lawn, she kept asking about him and where he lived. She wondered why they hadn't met before, and he'd no answer to that. He dreaded having to tell her truths he'd only just found out himself.

By now she was on the swing moving backwards and forth, never taking her eyes off him. She was fascinated by him and he began to feel embarrassed by her awkward questions and also by the way she looked at him. She asked him where he lived.

"Prospect Street. Down Garlic Lane," he said shamefaced.

"Oh," was all she said, and swung on the swing pondering what he'd said. Then as an after-thought almost she added casually, "Then you must be poor." She didn't say this vindictively. It was said in all innocence.

"Not as poor as some who live down Garlic Lane," he replied, trying to put on a brave face.

"Then you must go to school in Keighworth," she said next. "The boys' grammar school," he answered, not without pride.

"You must be clever. Rodney tried for a place there but couldn't pass the exam," she said.

Then without warning she skipped off the swing and kissed him on the cheek. "I think you're great, standing up to Rodney and mummy the way you did!" He blushed and she began laughing. It pleased her to see him blush and it pleased him to be kissed by her, though he didn't know why. It was the first time he'd been kissed by a girl - and her almost a stranger! But it sealed their friendship and from that time they got on like wildfire.

Her mother had been watching them like a hawk from the lounge window while she spoke with her uncle. When she saw Ann kiss him, she opened the French windows at once and called Ann in. She'd been trying in vain to get Sir Abe to change his mind, but the more she tried the more resolute he remained to give John Greenwood the run of his house.

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