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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 12

Young John Illingworth makes a new friend at Sir Abe's party, then he realises his true feelings for Ann.

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

Rodney Clemence had fulfilled the promise of his youth and grew up a loud-mouthed boor like his dad. When he left school, he joined his father, groomed to take over the management of one of his dad's mills near Bradford. John hadn't seen him for some time and was surprised to see how like his father he'd become. They were two peas in a pod, overweight, florid and loud. Rodney had just become engaged and spent the night parading his fiancee round the company. They were wellmatched, social climbers and money graspers both.

He was in the group John joined as he entered the lounge looking for his grandfather. He didn't see him at first but recognised an acquaintance
at university, a dark-haired quietly spoken open-faced young man who sometimes played rugby in the same team. His name was David Goldstein.
He saw John and came forward to greet him. It broke the ice at once and John joined the group he was with. They were getting on fine till Rodney Clemence elbowed in and overheard David asking how John was connected with Ann Clemence. Clemence button-holed him and drew him to one side out of John's hearing. John saw him colour then turn away from Clemence abruptly.

"I didn't know you were Sir Abe's grandson," he said, when he came back.

"My old man and he have known each other for years. And his son was my dad's best friend. I never knew he had a son..."

It was John Greenwood's turn to colour. "I'm sorry," said David. "I hope I haven't embarrassed you."

"My mother died before they could marry. It's a long story," said John helplessly.

The other took John by the arm and said, "Come on. Let's have a drink. We'll talk about that some time else. I just about remember your dad. When I was a kid, he used to take me for walks."

They made their way to the bar in the next room, which was crowded and in the crush they came face to face with Rosemary Clemence. She stopped and stared, going quite pale when she saw them, giving John that uncanny look she'd begun to give. She started fiddling with her necklace and stammered, "I feel I know you. Is it David Goldstein?"

"Yes," he replied.

"I knew your father," she said with a catch in her voice.

"Then you'd know John's, too. My dad and he were great pals," said David.

She was forced to speak to John then and looked at him closely, and for the first time ever, tenderly. "I know," she said quietly, "John Illingworth was my cousin." Then she seemed lost for words. An awkward silence followed and she regarded them both closely, then she mumbled she had to go and left them abruptly.

When she'd gone they continued to the bar. "Your father visited our place often," said David. "My mother thought the world of him, but she never mentioned he had a son. I'm sorry if I embarrassed you back there."

John told him not to worry. No one would have been embarrassed but for Clemence putting his oar in, but it had no effect and that night was the beginning of a deep and lasting friendship between David and John. David told him much about his father he didn't knew: how he and David's father had been at school together; how they'd been in the same flying club and raised hell when in the air; how they'd both been killed in the RAF during the war.

Still chatting they took their drinks to a quiet corner of the lounge, but had barely settled down when someone sidled up and said loudly, "Well I never! It's John Greenwood?" It was Simon Grimstone, who pushed between them holding out his limp damp hand. He had the same yellow teeth and his eyes if anything were colder and more watery. His hair was well plastered down, but he'd abandoned dyeing it. It had gone grey and he looked more washed out than ever. The skin seemed to have shrunk about his face and when he thrust it between them they were startled.

"This is a surprise," he continued. "My, how you've grown! You must be over six foot, eh? Quite the man about town now like your father." He let his eyes rove over John and before John could say anything he went on, "I've heard a lot about you from your grandfather. He often talks about you. He's quite proud of you, y'know, and I can see why now." He took a pace backwards to get a better view. "You do take after your father, a real Illingworth."

Grimstone had had too much to drink already and became maudlin. "Pity your dad had to go so young. They say the best allus go first." The lawyer had been a draft-dodger but he was always fulsome in his praise of those who'd seen active service.

Then he turned to David and John introduced him. Grimstone looked surprised and fiddled with his collar, glancing in the window at his reflection. He was lost momentarily for words like Rosemary, and it didn't go unnoticed. "So your father was Sydney Goldstein," he said at length. "I knew him an' all. We were about your age when we knocked about together before the war - your dad, Harry and Rosemary Clemence, me and a lot of others. But the war changed all that. Life was never the same afterwards. But my motto is: 'Enjoy yourselves while you can.' You're only young once, an' when you get to my age you realise you're running out of years."

He laughed and patted them on the shoulder before saying, "Well, it's been nice meeting you. I wish I was your age again. I'd give the young lasses the run-around! By God, I would! The older you get, the nicer women become, especially the young 'uns." He squeezed John's arm again then left, making a beeline for Rosemary Clemence. Harry Clemence was already drunk and later had to be carted home by Rodney. Grimstone stayed the rest of the night escorting her and she left in his car.

Having been introduced to David's grandfather his mother and two aunts, John left him with them and wandered off looking for Ann. He found her surrounded by admirers and his heart beat madly. She was more beautiful, far more beautiful, than ever he'd expected, and he stood drinking her in.
Someone left the crowd surrounding her and their eyes met. She smiled, unsure at first, then blushed deeply as recognition dawned, and she hurried across to meet him.

"Why, it's Johnnie!" she exclaimed, and she flung her arms round him and kissed him impulsively as she'd done the first time they'd met, only
there was more to her kissing now. Then she took his hand and led him back to the circle of admirers, introducing him to each in turn, but never releasing his hand.

At the first opportunity she broke free and they slipped away to the great conservatory where they'd played as children before her mother stopped them meeting. The place was all glass and cast-iron, solidly Victorian and made to last. Sir Abe had inherited it from his father, a keen gardener like himself, and he in turn had added to the vast collection of exotic plants and herbs.

As they left the lounge the air became heavy with scent. Dark green ferns formed the back-drop to a startling collection of flowers. A vine trailed the length of the roof dripping blue grapes and in the middle was a small fountain feeding a pond afloat with lilies.

Once they'd closed the doors they were in their own world, the world they'd built over the years since childhood. She took his hand leading him to a small fountain at the other end of the conservatory. They couldn't be seen there and the lighting was subdued. It brought out the warmth of her skin and the fine contours of her face. More nubile contours were heightened by the tight-fitting dress she wore. It clung to her voluptuously and John drank his fill again.

She turned suddenly and caught him wolfing. She smiled a soft satisfied smile, a smile that said she'd waited years for this moment and it gave him the come-on. He plucked a flower, a red flaming thing and presented it to her. She braided it in her hair and sighed, "I can't believe we're together at last. You're just how I dreamed you would be, Johnnie."

Her eyes never left him as she leaned against a pillar, letting him come close till their bodies touched. He slipped his hand into the small of her back and drew her closer. She lifted her face and he saw the superb curve of her throat as she closed her eyes and offered him her lips. They kissed for the first time since childhood, only now they were no longer kids.

"That was worth waiting for, Johnnie," she murmured as they drew apart. She ran her hand over his lapel, then traced his jaw-line before kissing him lightly again. There was no need for words. Their eyes said everything. Distance and the time they'd been apart were as nothing. Each knew exactly how the other felt from the moment they'd met.

He pulled her close to embrace her again but she laughed impishly and wriggled away, taking his hand to continue their stroll. Something deep began working in them that night; something that had been there from the start but neither understood till later.

But their bliss was short-lived. The doors were suddenly flung open and the noise from the party outside burst in. A woman's voice called, "Ann? Are you there?" It was her mother, clearly expecting her daughter to be with someone else, not John. "Uncle Abe wants to make the toast, darling," she called.

The couple emerged shamefaced hand in hand taking her unawares. John never forgot the look on her face as she saw them. It wasn't one of anger, as he'd expected, but horror. She put her hand to her mouth, then bit her lip saying in a choked voice, "Oh, no!" Then, more firmly, "I thought you were with Robin. Please come at once!"

With that strange look on her face she continued looking at their joined hands till they let them drift apart. Ann broke the tension with, "We were just looking at Uncle Abe's new plants, mummy."

It sounded pretty feeble but it was better than nothing. Anything to break that awful tension. John remained silent, but the look on her mother's face disturbed him. He'd learned to read faces well and Mrs Clemence's face held more than mere surprise at catching them together.


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