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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 17

The once-mighty Sir Abe Illingworth has become a recluse, and his grandson John has become his only reason for living.

John Waddington-Feather continues his utterly absorbing tale of a Yorkshire mill-owningb dynasty. To read earlier episodes please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

He went straight from David's to Illingworth House, where he'd a deal of covering up to do. Sir Abe was over eighty and he worried over his grandson. The old man dropped more and more out of public life, spending nearly all his time at Illingworth House. In the end, he became a recluse and his grandson was his only reason for living. When he saw the state John was in he was shocked, but John managed to persuade him they were rugby injuries. He said nothing about Rodney Clemence.

Sir Abe had suffered a mild stroke and had stopped going to the office, which he'd attended daily till well into his seventies. And once he let go the reins there, Harry Clemence well and truly took over. Grimstone kept in the background, but it was he who prompted Clemence to sell out to a multi-national, before they both went to graze in pastures new.

Not long after John Greenwood was beaten up Sir Abe was eased off the board. After his stroke, Clemence persuaded the rest of the directors Sir Abe ought to go. He was too old for the job and it was essential he went if the bid from the multi-national were to succeed. There was a terrible row when Sir Abe found out and John was present at it. It was the first time also he met Rodney Clemence after the punch-up.

John had gone to see his grandfather and found him in his study browsing through old cuttings and photographs. His memory was going and he spent much time writing on the back of old photos, who were on them and where they were taken, before he forgot. Again and again he told John who was in the family album he'd compiled, making sure he knew he was part of the Illingworth clan and where he fitted in, making up for the years he'd disowned him.

It was the room in the whole house John liked best and spent hours reading in there. Oak-panelled throughout, bookshelves reached almost to the ceiling on three sides, where alcoves containing busts of Shakespeare, Milton, Dante and other masters separated the columns of books. The ceiling was magnificent, done by Italian craftsmen who'd created a riot of baroque scrolls and vine-leaves in plaster.

Heavy damask curtains hung from the high windows and deadened all sound like the thick Turkish carpet on the floor. Above, a cut-glass candelabra hung from the ceiling sprinkling light everywhere when it was lit. Originally it held only candles, but they'd been replaced long since with electric bulbs. There was a great oaken desk at which his grandfather worked and an escritoire on a stand where he worked stood up when his back was bad.

Sir Abe was at his desk when John entered. He'd been working at his album earlier but it was shut and in its stead were some papers on the desk. He seemed in good spirits, but John noticed his high colour and realised he was agitated. The papers on his desk he put carefully in his briefcase, along with his keys and some other bits and pieces from his office in Bradford.

As soon as John came in Sir Abe said he wanted him to accompany him to Bradford that morning. He was very mysterious about the whole business, but to humour him John said he'd go. "I thought the trip out would do us both good, Jonty," he said. "Johnson'll drive us over and we'll go out for lunch, somewhere up the Dales." He loved the Dales and the fare he ate and drank there.

He seemed very hearty, unusually so, and John felt the run-out would be fine. It was ages since his grandfather had left the house, and he also needed something to forget his injuries. His grandfather puzzled him by chuckling to himself, "Run out? Run out? That's just about it, Jonty." Then he told John to go and have coffee with Johnson while he packed his case.

John wandered into the kitchen where the butler was percolating coffee. He was getting old, too, and like his employer dwelt more and more in the past. He spoke about the past then, about the First World War in which he'd served Sir Abe as his servant. "When it broke out," he said with a chuckle, " We were in from the start at Mons and fought all the way to Ypres."

Johnson turned back to the coffee pot. He chattered more than ever that day about the past, as if he wanted John to know as much as possible.

"You were lucky to survive," said John, who'd been told about the Keighworth Pals Battalion from Joe, who'd lost many of his friends, too.

"Your grandfather and I were the only survivors in our company from the Ypres mess. I suppose that's why we've always stuck to each other, knowing that we're living on borrowed time." He went silent for a while, studiously wiping the cups he was going to pour coffee into. Then he continued, "We've had our ups and downs, and both of us would have done things differently if we had our time to do over again. But we haven't and folk will have to take us as we are. You understand, Master John?"

John didn't fully realise what he was driving at till much later, but before he could reply, Sir Abe rang to let them know he was ready. The fog was bad as Johnson got out the car and let it run for a minute or two to warm up. They drove through thick mist which the sun found it hard to penetrate, a weak soapey sun which had been plucking up courage all morning to face Bradford. But the mist never let up all the way for they followed the river.

By contrast the moors above were clear and the sun shone on another world up there, which they entered later. But in the valley it grew thicker, as if whole battalions of the stuff were on the move and marching down to Leeds. The folk they passed were ghosts with turned up collars and heads well down.

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