« Summer Games | Main | EIGHT »

Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 53

...John told her of their discovery only days before, how Miriam still remembered that terrible day when her parents were dragged off and she was taken away to safety by John Illingworth. How he hid her in his apartment till she could be got away on the refugee train. And Mary Calow listened in silence, glancing occasionally at the photograph of him on the wall, clearly too moved to speak...

John Waddington-Feather continues his deeply moving story which spans the lives of three generations of a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

John's love for Miriam grew, but he was torn between two loves and when on leave divided his time between Keighworth and Brighton. He took Miriam to see his godmother, Mary Calow, who'd taken his mother in shortly before she died, looking after her like her own daughter. She was kind to his aunt and uncle, too, after her death, when they'd adopted John, and made sure they were never without the means to bring him up.

In middle-age, she'd married a financier, and moved to Sussex during the war when their London home was blitzed. She'd become an auxiliary nurse at a nearby orthopaedic hospital where injured aircrew with bad burns were treated. It was there she met John Illingworth after many years and been shocked to see him, shocked even more to learn the truth about him and Helen Greenwood, John's mother. Now she was in her sixties, and after her husband's death she'd moved to a smaller cottage near the coast, where her younger unmarried sister joined her from Yorkshire.

Its setting was idyllic and the cottage was built in traditional Sussex flint at the end of a narrow lane. Tall beeches sheltered the nearby village in winter, when sea gales howled over the coast, and in the centre of the village were an old rectory and the ruins of a medieval manor house, where doves still flew in and out of the dovecote.

John had told her about Sir Abe's death, but she remained unmoved; even though she'd been his mistress once and had had a baby girl by him. She'd told John this in confidence years before and somehow it was connected with his mother. Her baby had been taken from her at birth and adopted. She'd tried to track the baby down, but Sir Abe's lawyer had done his job well in covering the birth and she never found out where the baby had gone, though she had learned the baby girl was adopted by a Keighworth couple and was about the same age as Helen Greenwood.

There was a bitter family row over Helen Greenwood's death years later, for she'd been engaged to John Illingworth. John Illingworth had left home and joined the RAF as a result of it. It involved Rosemary Clemence, so John had said nothing to Mary about Ann, nothing about his love for her and what Rosemary had told him. Nor had he said anything to Miriam. He mentioned in passing that Rosemary was ill and separated from her husband. That didn't surprise Mary Calow. She'd long expected it. When he told her about Grimstone and his grandfather's will that didn't surprise her either.

But she was delighted when John brought Miriam to her cottage just before he was posted abroad. He' d mentioned her to Mary on a previous visit and as they drove up to her cottage, Mary came to the gate to meet them. She was lame now with arthritis and walked with a stick, but she'd lost none of her old vigour, nor had her sister. They were as lively as crickets. As they walked up the path to the house, she regarded Miriam closely with her piercing grey eyes.

Hollyhocks and old English rose bushes vied for space along the path, while flocks and marigold burgeoned in the borders. Her sister had been preparing tea and came to the door to greet them. Like Mary she'd aged and was a little white-haired woman. She'd set out the tea things in the summer house on the lawn round the back. Fruit trees overhung it heavy with apples and further back, plum trees were filling fast in the September sun.

They'd heard of Miriam's father, for Sir Samuel was a great patron of the arts in the county and they'd seen him at Glyndbourne. When Mary had lived in Yorkshire she'd been friendly with David Goldstein's mother and was interested to hear Miriam was to be bridesmaid at his and Rebecca's wedding.

The Calows had a photo of John Illingworth on the wall and when they went indoors, Miriam went over to it at once. "That's John's father," Mary explained.

"I know," she replied quietly and turned to John.

"There's something I ought to tell you, Mary," he said. "About Miriam and my father."

"Oh?"

"Did he ever mention what happened in Prague when he was there? My grandfather had a photo of him standing with a young girl on a railway platform in Prague. You may have seen it."

Mary paused. "No," she answered. "That was during the time I'd lost contact with him, but I knew he was in Prague, at the embassy as an attache of some sort. Your aunt told me. She said he ran foul of the Nazis and had to leave hurriedly. Nobody knew why, as he didn't talk about it. Only he mentioned to your aunt that he'd had a harrowing experience there."

"He helped a Jewish family, friends of the Goldsteins. Hid their daughter from the Gestapo till she could be got away," said John.

"It doesn't surprise me," Mary said quietly, looking harder at Miriam, as if she sensed what was coming. "He was like that."

Miriam pulled out the framed photo from her bag and handed it to Mary. She stared at it hard and long, then impulsively hugged Miriam. "You are that girl!" she whispered. "And he never said anything."

John told her of their discovery only days before, how Miriam still remembered that terrible day when her parents were dragged off and she was taken away to safety by John Illingworth. How he hid her in his apartment till she could be got away on the refugee train. And Mary Calow listened in silence, glancing occasionally at the photograph of him on the wall, clearly too moved to speak.

They'd stayed late and that was to be the last visit for some time to Westdene Cottage, for events moved rapidly, too rapidly for them all. The next day, without warning, John was flown abroad. He wasn't allowed to contact anyone, even his aunt and uncle. Miriam discovered he had gone, only when she tried to phone him. There was a black-out on all troop movements, they said. They were sorry but could release no details. It was high security and all she could do was wait for him to make contact when they'd cleared him.

Categories

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