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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 62 - Tearful Prayers

Helen has advanced tuberculosis, and Joe is shocked to see the decline in her health.

John Waddingtpn-Feather continues his deeply involving story set in a Yorkshire mill town. To read earlier chapters please clicxk on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

As for Helen, the doctor confirmed advanced tuberculosis, which grew worse daily. She became so weak that she needed permanent nursing and they moved her to the sanatorium above Ilkesworth to have her baby. The day she went to tell them she'd brought Helen back to Deneley, Mary Calow returned with Joe and Mary. They were shocked to see her so ill, Joe especially, for he hadn't seen her for some months.

The sisters had put her in a bedroom overlooking the garden where she could have plenty of light and fresh air. The house had been a weaver's cottage and mullioned windows stretched almost the length of the room. Helen lay propped on pillows and swathed in a woollen shawl. She was so frail, the double bed almost swallowed her. Beside it stood a small table with an enamel sputum mug and a bowl.

She was dozing when they went in. Her face, except for two spots of high colour on her cheeks, was deathly pale against the red shawl around her. She had combed her hair, but it still hung lank and wet with perspiration. Her arms and hands were wasted and looked brittle enough to snap. As he entered, Joe set his face to hide the shock of seeing her.

All the way there he had been worried about how he would cope and
what they would say. He had felt bad enough meeting the Calow sisters, who spoke posh and had taken Helen under their wing, but when he went to Helen's room and saw her, he was so distraught he made the excuse to leave for a while to collect himself.

Mary hurried immediately to the bedside and took Helen's thin hand. Helen opened her eyes and smiled weakly but a fit of coughing wracked her through and through, and she had to use the mug. Joe could only look on horrified. He had been through all this before and seen many die from T.B. He recognised at once how bad she was.

As the coughing became worse, he put his great arms round her and cuddled her as he did when she was child. "Helen, love, tha's going to be all reight. Tha's no need to worry. We're bahn to look after thee now," he managed to say, choking back his tears. He was on the other side of the bed from Mary and let her do all the talking for he was too choked up.

After a while, the atmosphere became too oppressive for him and he excused himself. He just had to be alone. He mumbled an excuse to the sisters, telling them he was going to stretch his legs and would be back shortly. His face said everything and they said they would have something to eat when he returned.
Once outside, he lit his pipe and strode to the end of the lane. Barely knowing where he was going, he turned at the open gate towards the village half a mile away and made for the church. He knew he could relieve his feelings there unseen and take comfort from prayer.

The church door was unlocked and he let himself in. Dusk was falling and it was dark, except for a few rays of sunlight which trickled in at the tiny west window. The bulk of the church was in shadow, which suited his mood. There were no windows in the aisles and only one small quatrefoil high on the east wall above the altar. Rows of dark, varnished pews added to the gloom and Joe sat on the back row, staring blankly at the altar for some time. Easter wasn't far off, but the altar frontal, pulpit and lectern were still draped heavily in Lenten purple.
Joe's was a simple, uncluttered faith, nurtured from boyhood at Trinity
Church, which he still attended. His faith had withstood the horrors of the trenches in the war and survived. It had taken him through every crisis, lifting him across whatever black abyss yawned landing him safely on the other side. He drew on it then as he tried to come to terms with what he had just seen, the finality of Helen's sickness.

He began to pray and a shaft of sunlight lit up the brass crucifix on the altar. His eyes fastened on it and he sat praying in silence as he gazed. Then, slowly at first, great sobs tore from him and tears began streaming down his face.
How long he wept he didn't know, for the timelessness of the church caught him up and poured in comfort. Gradually he calmed down and picked up the Prayer Book from the pew, turning to the psalms and reading Psalm 23 to himself. That done, he got up and wiped his face, walking back the way he had come through the growing dark.


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