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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part 2 - 36

Ann learns that Harry Clemence is divorcing her mother.

John Waddington-Feather continues his gripping tale of the Illingworths, a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

Rebecca was helping David's mother with the meal when they arrived home. John hadn't seen her since their holiday the previous summer and was apprehensive. However, she soon put him at ease and made no mention of Ann till they were alone. Then she asked after Ann, and he explained she'd been ill, so had her mother, and how Harry Clemence had left his wife leaving only Ann to look after her. He said nothing about their broken engagement till she asked the question he'd been dreading.

"John," she began carefully, "what's happened between you and Ann? You both seemed so happy last summer."

"We still see each other," he began bleakly. "We still write."

"No more than that?"

"No more than that. We're still good friends." His face betrayed his real feelings and Rebecca got off the subject at once.

"I'm sorry," was all she said. "I shouldn't have asked. I hope Ann soon gets better and I must see her."

Then he asked after Miriam and learned her folks were retiring to Hove, only a bus ride from his camp. She said she was sure Miriam would like to see him again and gave him her address, and over Christmas he began writing to her.

*

Christmas Eve began disastrously for Ann. She felt ill all the day before and still felt rotten when Rodney's fiancee and the rest of them took over the house to get it ready for the party. She took to her room and stayed there till evening when John collected her. Late in the afternoon her father called her down.

She was hit by the smell of strong expensive perfume as she went into the lounge. She was soon to find out why, but her father was by himself and smelled of whisky. By the tone of his voice she knew she was in for something. "Ann," he began abruptly, "I think it's time you an' me did some straight talking."

"About what?" she asked.

"About you. You an' that Greenwood lad. You know what I think about him. I don't like him and I don't like you seein' him."

"You've made your point," she replied tartly. "So I don't want to hear any more."

"All right, lass, 'ave it your own way," he said. "I shan't say owt else, except one thing. He's not to come 'ere again. Understand? He's caused enough bother already an' I don't want him spoiling this party by turning up. O.K.?"

"He certainly won't do that!" she said firmly. "He's coming to pick me up tonight to take me to Uncle Abe's, but he won't come in. Not with your lot here."

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "I've never understood why you fancied him and not Robin Clough. His family's well loaded and he's a handsome chap. He still fancies you, y'know. He won't like it at all when he sees you trailing off with that lad. Why don't you stop at home an' enjoy yourself?"

She didn't reply, but gave him a withering look and was about to return to her room when he stopped her with, "There's summat else you should know."

There was something in his voice which made her turn. "Yes? What is it?"

"Me an' your mother."

"What about mummy?"

"We're separating...for good. I've had a letter from her solicitor this morning. I've arranged for all her stuff to go into storage because..." he faltered.

"Because what?" asked Ann.

"Let's not beat about the bush, lass. You've known I've had another girlfriend for years, just as your mother's had her flings. Well, now your mother's gone, Millie's moving in here with me. She's in the kitchen if you want to meet her. She's been helping with the cookin' all afternoon an'wants to met you. To be friends. Get off to a right start."

Ann stood shocked a moment, then whispered, "You might have had the decency to wait till I left."

She turned to go, but Millicent Gainsford came in and blocked her way. She stood in the doorway smiling, a cigarette dangling from her lips. She was a big-boned blousy woman, much bigger than Harry Clemence, but matching him in brashness and vulgarity. She was expensively dressed in a garish way and her hair was piled up on her head in a blue rinse hair-do. On her arms she wore a collection of gold bangles and a weighty pair of gold earrings. Her podgy fingers were studded with rings and her nails were painted scarlet. She'd been attractive once but was now well past her sell-by date.

"Hello, love," she said in a thick Lancashire accent. "I'm Millie."

"She'll be staying here from now on, Ann," said Harry lamely. "There's not much point in running two homes when one'll do."

Ann ignored him and looked Millie up and down. Millie didn't drop her gaze but stared back insolently, triumphantly, then walked over to Harry and linked in possessively. "I wish you joy of him," was all Ann could muster before stalking past them to begin packing for when John came to collect her.

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