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Feather's Miscellany: Abe Illingworth’s Premonition

John Waddington-Feather reintroduces us to Abe Illingworth, one if the major characters in his Illingworth House trilogy of novels which follows the lives of a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

Abe Illingworth was now very elderly and confused. Events of the past few months had made him at once uneasy yet at peace. One matter worried him greatly. He’d weathered all the upset at the family firm, Illingworth and sons, the great mill dynasty of which he was the last. It had collapsed, but he’d come to terms with that and the subsequent selling off of its assets by the Judas, Harry Clemence, who’d betrayed him. Clemence was his erstwhile manager whom he’d trusted implicitly. He’d wormed his way into the Illingworth family and married Abe’s niece, Rosemary, then left her and set up home with the fancy woman he’d been having an affair with for years. Now there’d be no more Illingworths, whose portraits hung in a long row on the wall of the corridor where the directors had their offices. All that was gone, yet old Abe had reconciled himself to it.

He saw now his folly at putting that dynasty before all else throughout his life. It had well nigh killed him with grief when his only child, John, was killed as a pilot in the war, flying on patrol over Belgium. He’d turned to his grandson for comfort and with the fond hope he’d take over the firm, but John Greenwod despised everything Abe Illingworth was once obsessed with: the mills, the dynasty, wealth and power. He wanted none of that and had opted to teach. Teach! To be a mere schoolmaster! And that had upset Abe at first, but gradually he saw sense and what a fool he’d been. His grandson was right.

John Greenwood was illegitimate, a ‘chance-child’ in the local dialect, born out of wedlock to two passionate lovers, John Illingworth and Helen Greenwood. She’d worked as a typist at the head office in Bradford and John Illingworth had fallen madly in love with her and wanted to marry her. But his father would have none of it.

When they became engaged against his will, Abe Illingworth had resorted to subterfuge to break the engagement. He’d packed off John to Australia and sent the family lawyer, Simon Grimstone, with him; ostensibly to clear up legal matters in the firm’s branch at Sydney, but in reality he was there to break up the engagement. Grimstone had intercepted all John’s mail in Sydney and then lied to him that his fiancée was two-timing him back home and had met someone else.

There was no truth in it, of course, and Helen Greenwood had become desperate in the weeks John was away when she’d had no letters from him; desperate because she was pregnant and ill, so ill she died before his return having given birth to a son, John Greenwood.

When John Illingworth returned to England and learned the truth, he was at once heart-broken, almost insane with grief. Furious he quit both his home and the family business and joined the RAF as a pilot, ignoring all Abe Illingworth’s pleas to return. His death in action in 1945 near the end of the war almost finished his father, who grieved deeply. In fact, he’d have wasted away had he not remembered the son John had fathered, the grandson he’d ignored till now.

He was a boy of twelve and had been raised by Helen’s sister, Mary and her husband, Joe Gibson, who had no children of their own. Joe Gibson and Abe Illingworth had been implacable enemies in the past, but Abe had eaten humble pie and begged Joe to let his grandson come and see him. He was all he had left, apart from his niece, Rosemary, and her daughter Ann, and it was Ann who troubled old Abe now.
She was living with him at Illingworth House having left her father and his tally woman at her old home. Her mother, too, never went back, but went to live with her uncle after she left the nursing home she’d entered when she’d suffered a stroke some months before. Abe had always been fond of his niece but had been puzzled when his grandson had begun courting her daughter, Ann, then suddenly finished with her. John had never said why. They seemed as fond as ever, yet every time he brought up the subject with Rosemary about the broken romance, she clammed up. Were they hiding something from him?

He’d taken more and more to wandering to the cemetery at the bottom end of Utworth, visiting the graves of relatives and old friends, but always ending up at the vast family mausoleum of the Illingworths, built by his grandfather. It cost a fortune to build and vaunted the family wealth in death as in life. It towered over the graves around it, many the graves of their workers. In the mausoleum were the remains of his grandparents and parents; also his wife and brother who’d died many years before, all securely battened down in the vault below the entrance and huge lead dome above.
He had to pass the plain grave and headstone of Helen Greenwood on his way there. He’d ignored it for years, but now he always paused, guilt-ridden, and remembered his shameful treatment of her, how he’d let her die penniless in the sanitorium at Ilkesworth, how he’d shut out his grandson from his life – until his own son had been killed and left him bereft.

He was ashamed now for his past arrogance and stupidity. He was over eighty and very frail. He knew he’d not got long to live and was pulled more often to the family mausoleum and the past.

He’d once hoped beyond hope that his grandson, John Greenwood, would go into the family firm, but no, he’d gone his own way and gone to university to become a teacher. He could see now it had all been for the best. The family business had collapsed but it hadn’t affected his grandson at all. For that he was grateful and at peace.

He stopped at John’s mother’s grave and begged her forgiveness. He stood staring intently at it some minutes, then looked up. Something had caught his attention. The sun was setting across the cemetery, so he shaded his eyes to see better. He thought he saw two figures ahead – his son John and Helen! It couldn’t be. John was buried in Belgium in a military graveyard. Helen’s grave was before him. He was imagining things.

He wiped his eyes and looked again. Sure enough, they were walking hand in hand away from him and he hurried after them, but even as he walked towards them, they turned a moment, waved, then faded from sight.

He wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. His mind was playing tricks. He’d thought so much about John and Helen recently that he was beginning to imagine they were alive.
Dusk fell rapidly as he reached the mausoleum and walked slowly up the steps. To his surprise the great bronze doors were open and he entered. The air was decidedly chillier inside and the floor had been opened where they lowered the coffins into the vault below after the funeral service in church. From those black depths he heard workmen moving about, hurrying, it seemed, to finish their work before nightfall.
He remembered peering into that black hole over the years at family funerals, seeing generations of Illingworths lowered to their final resting place down there: his grandparents, parents, his brother and sister – and his wife of a loveless marriage. But even as he peered down the work ceased and the mausoleum fell silent. He called out, asking what the workmen were doing, but received no reply. He assumed they’d packed up and gone home through the back entrance.
He also left and as he passed the cemetery superintendent’s office at the gate, he asked what the workmen had been doing in the Illingworth Mausoleum. The superintendent looked puzzled and thumbed through his work-sheets. “I don’t know, sir. There must be some mistake,” he answered. “There’s no record here of any work being carried out.” He shot a glance across at the old man before him, a glance which said he clearly thought Abe Illingworth was doting, so Abe wished him goodnight and hurried back home.

Later that night, when his niece’s daughter, Ann, left her room to have dinner with him, she found him lying on the floor. She shouted to Henry, the butler, who helped get the old man to bed before calling the doctor. He diagnosed what they all suspected. Abe had had a massive stroke and two days later he died.

Ann sent a telegram to his grandson, John, then serving in the army doing his National Service and he came home at once in time for Abe’s funeral, a civic funeral. Members of Abe’s old regiment with whom he’d fought in World War One bore his flag-covered coffin followed by John, Ann and Rosemary, his only relatives. Behind them came the mayor and fellow Councillors, military officers and members of his Masonic Lodge, slowly wending their way in a long procession to the Illingworth Mausoleum in Keighworth Cemetery.

As they huddled together staring into the gaping hole through which Abe’s coffin was lowered, they saw the cadaverous gravediggers Abe himself had seen suddenly appear from the gloom and take him away – the same men he himself had heard preparing the vault for him but a few days before.

John Waddington-Feather ©

(To read more about Abe Illingworth’s life and times, see the trilogy of novels: “Illingworth House”; “Chance Child 1” and “Chance Child 2” published privately by Feather Books and available on www.waddysweb.freeuk.com)


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