« Passion | Main | Marx, Lenin, And The Underclass »

Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 25

..."I'm not gonna beat about the bush," she slurred." I've got something to tell you...both of you." Her hand was shaking as she lit a cigarette and she drew heavily on it, watching the smoke drift to the ceiling as if searching for help there. "There's something you oughter know before all this goes too far, an' it's gone far enough as it is." She glanced at Ann's engagement ring and then looked blankly at them both...

Ann Clemence and John Illingworth learn a fateful truth.

John Waddington-Feather continues his must-read saga of the fortunes and misfortunes of a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

When they returned to England, they'd a week left before John went into the forces. They broke the news of their engagement to their families as soon as they'd bought the ring. John told Joe and Mary the day before he left for the army. He'd expected Joe to be moody but was surprised when Joe congratulated him. He'd been deeply moved when John told his uncle and aunt all about the memorial to John Illingworth in the Hautes Fanges and he suspected that had drawn the sting.

The reaction of Rosemary was very different. Harry Clemence was away on business and didn't find out till later. He wasn't told everything even then. Rosemary had gone berserk when told of the engagement, then went strangely quiet. She wanted to see John Greenwood and Ann together. It was absolutely critical she saw them, she said, but would say no more till John came.

Before he left for the army they'd arranged to meet at the great stone above Ruddledene, the one John had played under as a boy and the one his father had posed by for the photo on Rosemary's mantelpiece. Over the town the haze was so heavy it mingled with the smoke to produce a sticky brew. The sun never broke through all day but poured down like glue.

Ann arrived before him and as he clambered from the road through the ferns she ran to meet him. She was pale and agitated. As they went to the rock she poured it all out. She told him how her mother had reacted when she discovered they'd been on holiday together and were engaged. "She insisted we could never marry. It was out of the question," she said.

By now they'd reached the rock and sat in staring bleakly at the haze over Keighworth. She leaned forward picking angrily at the grass at their feet. Then she turned suddenly. "There's something odd. Something to do with your father, she said, which she wants to tell you about, Johnnie. She wouldn't tell me alone. It had to be when you were present, she said, and she'll tell us when we go back."

"She's never thought I was good enough," he snorted. "Being illegitimate and coming from down Garlic Lane. Now she wants to tell me to my face."

"No, Johnnie, it isn't that, I'm sure. There's something else." "What else can there be?" he asked.

"We'll find out when we meet her," she replied, and held him close. Then she said firmly, "I'll never give you up, Johnnie, whatever she says. In two years' time you'll be out of the army and I'll be free to do what I want. We can marry then whatever they say."

They didn't return to Rosemary Nook at once. Rosemary's reaction, though predictable, had been strange and they wanted to put off meeting her as long as possible, so they took another way back, walking along the canal through woodland to Ruddledene, where it was cooler. They were alone for much of the way, for commercial traffic had ceased and leisure barges were still some years away.

By the time they reached Rosemary Nook, her mother was drunk. She'd been tippling ever since Ann left nearly two hours earlier. They found her slouched in a chair with a near empty gin bottle and some tonic bottles on the table before her. She'd spilled some drink and was mopping it up as they entered. The room reeked of the stuff.

"Oh, it's you," she slurred. "Sit down. I wanna talk with you." Her eyes met John's but she couldn't hold them and switched to the chair she'd pointed to. He ignored her and joined Ann on the settee, holding her hand tightly.

"I'm not gonna beat about the bush," she slurred." I've got something to tell you...both of you." Her hand was shaking as she lit a cigarette and she drew heavily on it, watching the smoke drift to the ceiling as if searching for help there. "There's something you oughter know before all this goes too far, an' it's gone far enough as it is." She glanced at Ann's engagement ring and then looked blankly at them both.

"For God's sake what are you trying to tell us?" Ann blurted out. "Let's get it over and done with!"

Neither of them forgot the tortured look on her face. All anger had gone. She looked old and broken and said very slowly in a whisper, "You have the same father...John Illingworth. You're as near as dammit to being brother and sister."

"What!" exclaimed Ann.

"You're John Illingworth's daughter," she repeated. Then she looked at John, "And you're his son. God knows how hard I tried to keep you apart but you wouldn't listen. I should have told you years ago," she ended lamely and began swigging her drink. Ann, white with rage, stood up and knocked the glass from her mother's hand, shattering it against the wall.

"Stop drinking that muck and listen!" she hissed. "You owe us an explanation. We want to get married. Is this some rotten lie to stop us?"

Her mother was dazed, stupefied by drink and stunned by her daughter's action. She looked blankly at them a moment, then drew on her cigarette.
"It's no lie. Look at yourselves. Look in the mirror. Has it never dawned on you both how alike you are? You've both more of John Illingworth in you than either me or Helen Greenwood."

She crumpled like the cigarette she stubbed out, and began weeping. Between huge sobs it all came out: the sordid mess she'd made of her life; how she'd been desperately in love with her cousin for years; then after being rejected, marrying Harry Clemence out of spite. She'd never loved Clemence but he'd served her purpose and she his. He wed her to get on and she him to spite John Illingworth in some perverse way. Her marriage had been a loveless and arid affair from the start and Rodney was its product. Shortly after Rodney had been born they'd gone their separate ways.

When Helen Greenwood died, Rosemary had thrown herself at her cousin again, catching him on the rebound when he was beside himself with grief and bitterness. He'd laid her long and lustily in a promiscuous affair, using her in revenge for what she and the rest of the family had done. She became pregnant and Ann was born, but she let everyone believe she was Harry Clemence's daughter.

"John Illingworth never really loved me. Not like he loved your mother," she said. She was maudlin now and beginning to wallow in self-pity. "It was your mother he really loved and when she died he didn't care what happened, to either himself or me or anyone else. There were times when it seemed he simply wanted to die.. .to be with her again."

It enraged John. "You're nothing but a whore!" he exclaimed. "Anybody's lay!" His mind was blazing and he didn't care what he said. All those years of insult, all the poisoned remarks and patronising piffle flooded into his mind; as well as the brush-off he'd been given by her husband and their set. He spelled out just what pain she and her family caused: their betrayal of his father; the rejection of his mother when she needed them most, and by the time he'd done Rosemary was hugging herself and moaning, staring blankly before her.

Ann sat by still shocked and silent. All colour had gone from her face. She felt empty inside, dead. Her whole life had collapsed and her mother repulsed her, so much so that when Rosemary held out her hand looking for comfort, Ann clung closer to John.

"Help me! Help me, Ann," she wailed. "What have I done?"

"Shut up, you bitch!" Ann snarled. "Leave us alone!" Then she clung to John weeping on his shoulder.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.