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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 37

...Two of the men tried to stop him but he shrugged them off and continued going for John, who stood his ground and eyed Clough warily as he circled round him. Suddenly he lunged at John's face. John stood back, caught his wrist again and ducked under his arm contorting Clough's arm.,,

Paratrooper John Illingworth is well able to take care of himself when Robin Clough attacks him.

John Waddington-Feather continues his brilliant novel which follows the troubled lives of the Illingworths, a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

As had been arranged he went to pick her up later that evening. He'd borrowed his father's old car and by the time he arrived the party was in full swing and he had to park in the road. He heard the racket as soon as he left his car. He'd no intention of going inside and hoped Ann would be ready to leave but he needn't have worried himself on that score. She'd been packed some time and was waiting in her room.

The din became louder as he walked up the drive and rang the bell. No one answered. Music and loud laughter blared down the hallway, so he rang the bell again and heard someone blundering to the door. It was Vicky Ackroyd, tipsy and giggling. She opened the door and stared at him as he asked for Ann.

He never understood why, but she suddenly started laughing like crazy before disappearing and slamming the door in his face. He waited a moment and was on the point of ringing again when Rodney Clemence appeared with a couple of his pals, drunk like him with beer glasses in their hands. One of them shouted to someone behind them that there was a sorting out job to be done and more of Rodney's pals crowded to the door.

"I thought I told you to stay away, Greenwood," he shouted at John. "Fuck off, you cheeky bugger, before you get thumped!"

John ignored him and asked a girl who looked reasonably sober to tell Ann he'd arrived. She went away leaving him with Clemence who went on mouthing him and telling him he'd be sorted out if he didn't fuck off.

Then Robin Clough elbowed his way through, drunk like the rest. He stood swaying on the doorstep and slurred, "If anyone's taking Ann anywhere, it's me! Now fuck off, Greenwood!"

John could see Ann struggling to get past with her bags and went to help her. As he pushed Clemence to one side, Clough lurched forward and tried to grab him, but John was now a trained paratrooper. He caught Clough's wrist and sent him sprawling. He fell heavily, but climbed to his feet looking surprised. Then he lunged at John again. John stood back, kicking Clough's feet from under him and kneeling on top of him as he hit the ground, ramming his arm up his back and making him yell in pain.

Thinking he'd had enough John stood up and began to go into the hallway for Ann. He turned when he heard Clough smash his beer glass and rush at him with the handle. A girl screamed and Clemence asked him to stop, but Clough ignored them. He was crazy drunk.

"I'll fucking show you!" he screamed. "I'll fucking scar you for life, Greenwood!"

Two of the men tried to stop him but he shrugged them off and continued going for John, who stood his ground and eyed Clough warily as he circled round him. Suddenly he lunged at John's face. John stood back, caught his wrist again and ducked under his arm contorting Clough's arm. There was a sharp crack as his collar bone snapped and the handle smashed on the ground.

Clough fell back clutching his shoulder and moaning in pain, his arm hanging limply at his side. Rodney Clemence went to help him inside and the crowd parted to let Harry Clemence himself come through. He tried to calm things down and shouted to let Ann past, but when John threatened to call the police he ate humble pie.

"Nay, lad, there's no need for that. Don't take it so seriously. It were only a bit o' fun. He didn't mean owt. Let's forget about it. After all, it's Christmas. Why don't you come in an' have a drink?" he said.

By now Ann appeared carrying her suitcase. She was tight-lipped and hurried to John while Clemence was still drivelling on about Christmas and John not calling the police. John took her case, then they turned their backs on Harry Clemence and walked to the car.

They said nothing about the fight to his grandfather, but they did tell him about Clemence's woman. Sir Abe insisted Ann stay with him, and from that time on Illingworth House became her home. Sir Abe put a brave face on the whole business. It upset him greatly when they mentioned Rosemary and her impending divorce for he'd grown noticeably frailer and John had to arm him everywhere. He was soon exhausted and went to bed early that night, leaving Ann, John and the butler to go to Midnight Mass at Trinity Church.

Aunt Mary had saved them places in her pew, while Henry Johnson went to join Uncle Joe in the choir. A Christmas tree hung heavy with tinsel and baubles, sheltering a crib in one corner of the sanctuary. As they entered the packed church, the sidesmen handed them prayer books and carol sheets before ushering them to their pew. It was all familiar and the expectancy intensified the nearer it drew to midnight. As they settled down, the organ stopped playing and the choir processed in by candlelight singing, "Away in a Manger" and the service began.

The sermon over, the priest moved smoothly into the heart of the whole thing, consecrating the bread and wine, which he began distributing to the long line of faithful filing to the altar rails, John and Ann kneeling together to receive Communion.

The service ended with the singing of the great carol, "Christians awake! Salute the happy morn!" as priest and choir processed back to the vestry. That done, and the wishing of Merry Christmases began all round as folk left the church. Johnson met them outside with the car to take Ann home. Joe, too, was there and kissed Ann gently on the cheek as he gave her one of his great hugs and wished her a happy Christmas. The gulf between him and the Illingworths had been bridged at last.


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