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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 28

John Illingworth tells his grandfather that he has ended a relationship with Ann.

John Waddington-Feather continues his memorable tale of the fortunes and misfortunes of the Illingworths, a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

When he left Rosemary Nook, John couldn't face meeting Joe and Mary. He just wanted to be alone, to begin sorting himself out and begin making the mask he had to wear before his aunt and uncle and grandfather.
He hurried past Prospect Street and drifted into Holy Trinity Church half-way up the lane. The gates were open and he turned in on impulse. He'd known the place from childhood and the familiar smell of raftered dust and pew polish met him as he went in. There was a faded draught curtain just inside the entrance which he wrestled with as he secured the great door behind him. Once it was shut he paused and absorbed the tranquillity.

Motes drifted haphazardly in the sunbeams streaming through the huge west window. There was no stained glass inside the church except for a small window near the door. So it was pure sunlight which came in and made the dust dance.

He looked slowly around and found comfort from the familiar objects around him: the font, the rows of empty pews, the brass lectern and oaken pulpit, the mahogany screen and the choir stalls beyond; finally the wooden altar rails polished smooth by generations seeking grace before the altar itself with its heavy candlesticks and brass crucifix reflecting the sun. Though made from this world their power came from another, and it was from this world he wanted to escape.

He walked slowly down the main aisle to the pew where his mother used to sit and which his aunt still occupied each Sunday. As he sat down wave on wave of emotion surfaced uncontrollably and he began sobbing, crying over and over again, "Oh, God! God! why have you let this happen. What have you done to us?" Anger and hurt all swuthering out together as the darkness deepened with the massing thunder clouds outside.

A loud thunderclap brought him to his senses. The storm had broken and he sat listening to the rain siling down on the roof, watching the lightning stab through and through the nave, lighting up the brass cross in its fierce light.

The storm didn't last long, clearing as evening set in. Shadows were already creeping along the side aisles, so that the sun caught only the upper half of the chancel through a row of lancets. There was no east window which had been bricked up and plastered. Inside was a Victorian painting of Golgotha with Christ looking down from his cross at the congregation. His golden halo caught the last of the light and lit up, fading as night fell.

When John returned home the evening meal was a gloomy business. They were tensed up about his departure the next day, and the three of them talked in a stilted way. For two generations enlisting had been a harrowing experience down Prospect Street and its consequences remained. There were widows and unmarried sweethearts from both wars still alive.
After the meal John walked to Utworth to see his grandfather. He was dozing in his study when he arrived. He spent more and more of the day dozing and John stayed for some time with the butler in the kitchen, till his grandfather was awake.

He was glad of someone to talk to for many questions needed answering after what Rosemary had confessed, questions about his father. Johnson would know the answers if anyone did.

The butler sensed something was up. He thought it might be to do with John's joining up. His grandfather had been urging him for some time to join his old regiment, where he still had pull. Family connections still
meant much in the army. But John would have none of it. Keighworth was full of elderly bores from both wars who clung to their old ranks, and those who waffled most had usually seen least action. The wars were the highlight of their dreary lives, the only time any of them had been abroad, and they still acted as if they were in the army.

It surprised Johnson when he asked outright about his father's affair with Rosemary Clemence. The butler tried to back off. But John wouldn't be fobbed off.

"I want the truth, Henry," he said. "For God's sake, I'm not a child now. I'm old enough to take it."

The butler pulled a pipe from the rack he kept and slowly filled it from his pouch and lit up. "Who's been telling tales out of school?" he asked warily, puffing at his pipe.

"Never mind who," said John. "I'd rather the truth came from you than anyone else."

Johnson lay down his pipe and sighed. "Your grandfather and Master John had some almighty rows over Mrs Clemence," he began, avoiding John's eye and talking to his pipe. "Sir Abe did his best to end the affair and was told to mind his own business, but your father never took her seriously. To be honest, he used her, if you'll pardon the expression, and she encouraged him. She was madly in love with him and always had been.
She married Harry Clemence, God knows why, in a fit of jealousy when your mother came on the scene. Clemence had hung around Rosemary for years and got what he wanted when she married him, money, status and all that, for he came up from nothing. And that's still obvious. But when your mother died, your father went to pieces and it was then Rosemary stepped in, letting him cry on her shoulder so to speak, and more. At last she'd got what she always wanted."

Henry Johnson went on at some length confirming all that Rosemary had said earlier, but he'd clearly no idea John Illingworth was Ann's father. He took another pipe from his rack and lit it before he finished. He wasn't enjoying at all what he had to tell.

"Their affair lasted till he went into the war. By that time he didn't give a damn for anyone except you. You meant everything to him for your aunt arranged to let him see you and I believe he gave her money to bring you up. Joe, of course, knew nothing of this till later. You know what Joe's like. I felt sorry for your father then. He was like a lost soul, hating his father, hating the Clemences, hating everyone except you and the Gibsons."

Johnson would have gone on longer, but Sir Abe rang for his whisky and John followed him into the study. The old man's face lit up as soon as he saw him and he began talking about John's holiday abroad, curious about his relationship with Ann. "You'll miss her when you go into the army, eh? I hear you all had a good holiday together. How is she?" he quizzed.

"She's all right as far as I know," he answered, avoiding his grandfather's eye and sipping the drink Johnson had poured. There was a pause as the butler filled Sir Abe's glass, then left the room. "You're seeing her regularly?" asked Sir Abe, casually.

John surprised him by saying coldly, "I shan't be seeing her again," and the tone of his voice made his grandfather look up.

"Something happened?" he asked.

"You know how it is, grandfather. Yes, something's happened and it's all over between us. I shan't be seeing her again, leastways not like I have been doing."

The old man sensed the pain in the young man's voice and dropped the subject. He also had been young once. He chatted about the army, telling him he'd enjoy it if he threw himself into it and kept his cool. He was in a chatty mood and John let him ramble on. It was good for both of them and he himself didn't feel like talking. Most of all he was relieved his grandfather didn't know what he'd learned that day. It would have finished him. The old man didn't deserve visiting any more with his dead son's sins.

John stayed at Illingworth House till after midnight before he went home. He deliberately stayed on late to make sure Joe and Mary had gone to bed for he couldn't face them. They'd got themselves all tensed up about his departure and he was glad he was leaving Keighworth. The army at least would give him a fresh start.

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