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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 13

Young John Illingworth is a surprise caller at the Clemences house - and Ann makes him more than welcome.

John Waddington-Feather continues his epic tale of the fortunes and misfortunes of an ill-assorted Yorkshire mill family. To read earlier episodes of the story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

There was an almighty row between Ann and her mother after that party. Rosemary insisted Ann never see John again, but of course that only made her more determined than ever and she continued writing to him unknown to her mother. Meeting him again after all those years had fired to life something which had long lay dormant. It wouldn't be denied not even though Rosemary had set her face against it.

And fate brought them together the very next day, for John had taken a vac. job on the Christmas post, and he was delivering in the area where the Clemences lived. Laurel Crescent followed a contour of the hillside, and Rosemary Nook, the Clemences' huge bungalow, was on the corner. It had a longish drive so that those inside had a good view of anyone approaching. Ann was waiting for the Christmas mail and saw John before he arrived, and as he walked up the drive she rushed to the door.

He'd almost finished his round and was cold and hungry, looking forward to catching the bus back to town for his lunch. He'd no idea Ann lived there and was surprised when she came to the door. "Johnnie! You poor thing," she exclaimed. "You look frozen through!" He handed her the mail and she took his hand, drawing him inside. There they stood not knowing what to say. Then she kissed him on the cheek and said she'd make him a hot drink.

He hesitated. What would her mother say? And he had to be back in town for another delivery that afternoon. "Please, Johnnie," she pleaded. "Mummy's gone out for lunch and I can run you back to town in the car. We'll make up for the time we missed out on last night. You don't know what it means to me seeing you again."

He didn't need asking twice and he joined her in the kitchen. She turned and faced him once they were safely out of sight and kissed him passionately before she began preparing the food. "It's so much cosier here even if it is a bit cramped," she said, her whole face aglow.

"Cramped!" he thought. She didn't know what cramped was. You could have put the whole of their house down Prospect Street into that kitchen.
When the meal was ready they chatted non-stop as they ate, never taking their eyes off each. He wanted to know what her mother had said, for he dreaded losing Ann. He guessed the sort of questions her mother had asked after she caught them together, but was relieved she still had no idea they were writing to each other. It had been an agony wondering if Rosemary Clemence had put the dampers on their romance.

"Mummy said I was never to see you again, Johnnie. Ever," she said quietly. "She was so unreasonable and we had a frightful row. I'm not a kid any more and I told her so. I said I loved you and she went berserk. I've never seen her like that before and I don't understand why. It's almost as if...as if there's something I know nothing about. Something she's hiding from me."

She glanced across at him as if he might give her an answer, but he was lost. He only sensed from the look on Rosemary's face all was not as it should be and it wasn't to do with his being brought up down Garlic Lane. He knew that from her face.

"What if she comes back and catches me here?" he asked. He'd been worried about that the moment he set foot in the house. "Aren't we pushing it a bit?"

"She won't come back," she said brightly. "She's at her bridge club and wild horses wouldn't drag her from that. You've come on the right day."

She was at the cooker with her back towards him and he let his eyes wander freely over her firm rounded buttocks and legs. She turned as she'd done the previous night and caught him unawares, and she smiled again that satisfied smile, as he lifted his eyes to hers.

They moved into the lounge for coffee. It was natural for her, the done thing. But they didn't drink coffee down Prospect Street. Only cheap
tea. And that was taken with the meal. Nothing followed only the washing-up. She lit a glass percolator which were all the rage at the time, then began loading an expensive silver tray with china coffee cups. She did it easily, practised and confident. They'd schooled her well in Switzerland. Her style contrasted with John Greenwood, still clumsy and lacking self-confidence despite all his grandfather's efforts. He'd stuck out like a sore thumb the previous evening when it came to chit-chat and knowing what to do. If Ann hadn't been there he'd have been lost.

The lounge was filled with expensive pieces of art nouveau given as wedding presents to her parents over twenty years before. Three ostentatious cabinets groaned with cut-glass and silverware worth a bomb. Decorating the mantelpiece and sideboards were Copenhagen china figurines and more silverware; pride of place given to silver cups and their attendant photos showing off Harry Clemence's prowess at tennis in his younger days. Other silver cups and a beautiful miniature silver tennis racquet on an ebony plinth were testimony to Rosemary's tennis playing, too. She'd been a cracker at sport and Ann inherited her talent.

A thick Persian carpet ran the length of the room and the curtains matched the upholstery. No expense had been spared furnishing Rosemary Nook. In one corner of the room stood a grand piano, which Ann and her mother played, for there was long tradition of music in the Illingworth family. John's father had been a good pianist and his grandfather, old Luke, had founded the Keighworth Musical Festival a century before.

As John looked round the room, a photograph of his father caught his eye. It was a copy of that in his grandfather's lounge, taken in the 1930s when Flight Lieutenant John Illingworth had been air-attache to the embassy in Prague. There were several other snaps of him about the place and he'd clearly been a great favourite with someone there.

One of him was as a youngster about John Greenwood's age. Ann saw him looking at it and picked it up to let him see it closer. It was taken on the moors not far from Rosemary Nook, before the house was built.

His father was posing by a huge boulder called Robin Hood's Stone, which John could see from his room at Illingworth House. As a boy he'd hiked there often and it was still a favourite spot of his. It seemed strange to see his father sitting there so casually, an upper-crustian version of himself.

"My father has quite a fan-club here," he remarked, nodding at the other photographs.

"You sound cynical," said Ann.

"Not at all," he replied. "Only there are so many photographs of him about the place."

Ann came across and held his hand. "Mummy was quite sweet on him till..."

"Till what?" he asked.

"Till he fell in love with your mother and...well you know the rest. Mummy married daddy on the rebound but still talks a lot about him. Seeing you as he once was has triggered a lot of memories. Perhaps that's why she can't handle it. Like Uncle Abe, she never got over his death... especially when daddy and her drifted apart. Oh, yes, Johnnie. I'm well aware of that."

"I'm sorry," was all John could muster. She shrugged her shoulders and said she'd realised it for years. But John had never known Rosemary Clemence was keen on his father. Aunt Mary had said nothing of that and he was intrigued to know how Ann knew so much about his father, with none of the embarrassment there was at home.

"There was a whole lot of stuff happened before I was born I know nothing about," he said. "All I know was that he was out of the country when my mother died. Some jiggery-pokery happened that kept him from knowing my mother was dying till it was too late. I've never got to the bottom of that."

Ann sipped her coffee. She knew more than he did, but not enough. "The Illingworths never wanted them to marry and somehow kept your father in the dark. When he found out he fell apart and left the firm to join the RAF. It was months before he spoke to any of the family again, including his own father. By that time mummy was married, but she was still in love with him. Always has been. Still is."

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