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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 15

John Illingworth and Ann meet secretly on the stark Yorkshire moors, there to pursue romance.

John Waddington-Feather continues his absorbing tale of a mill-owning dynasty. To read earlier episodes please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

Ann and John continued to meet secretly on the moors above her home . Up there, away from the prying valley and their families they felt free, free to draw closer and revel in each other's company undisturbed. The stark moorland with its few stunted trees and black mosses, empty except for the uncurious sheep and wildlife, went about its own business and left them to theirs. Up there they were free beings at one with the wind and all about them.

They met throughout that winter and then through a long hot summer, which cracked the peat and turned the landscape brown, making the huge rocks glimmer and jump in the heat. There were no gentle hedges up there to parcel out the land, only bleak grey stone walls which veined the moors, adding their own stretching solitude to the wilderness. When the rain did come it hurtled from the sky, bursting in deluges to transform the land. Becks roared madly down the hillsides, brown and brackish, tamed only when they reached the valley and poured into the river.

When it rained, the weather brewed its own brand of malice, catching them unawares and lashing them as they trudged sodden through the heather, seeking shelter where they could under the walls or in shepherds' huts, so chilled they clung to each other for warmth. Then John loved her most, stroking her streaming face and hair, as they drank in each other's kisses, lost in the passion of love.

Across the moor from Keighworth, on the Ilkesworth side, was an ancient boulder on which Stone Age man had carved arcane signs. One, far bigger than the rest, was a swastika, carved millennia before the Nazis adopted it as their vile logo. Cup and ring symbols were also carved in the nearby rocks, and in places on the moor, the same ancient people had hauled from goodness knows where huge monoliths and set them in circles. For what reason no one knew, but to stand inside them was in itself weird.

Once when Ann and John were at the Swastika Stone a thunderstorm broke. When the sky turned suddenly dark and the wind blew up, they raced hand in hand for a nearby shelter, flurries of sleet pelting them all the way. The wretched sheep had already begun to hug the shelter of the walls, a sure sign of snow.

They arrived breathless, stopping under the low doorway and shaking off the wet from their coats. Outside the wind gathered force, tearing through the crippled trees and ripping out tufts of dead heather.

"We made it just in time!" gasped Ann, pushing back a lock of wet hair from her forehead. They huddled close to keep warm, watching the storm through the empty doorway. A blinding streak of lightning slashed across the boulder before them followed by a deafening crack of thunder, making them jump and hold each other closer.

Then, for seconds at a time the lightning continued to dance about the rock like some demon, highlighting the ancient signs with incredible clarity. They looked on stunned and blinded by the flashes, until, as suddenly as it had stared, the storm passed, leaving behind it an acrid smell of sulphur. They were too stunned to speak for a while. They'd experienced something they didn't understand; some force trying to drive them apart.

John spoke first shakily, for the storm had put the fear of God into him. Indeed, he'd been praying. Any moment, he thought, the lightning would hit the hut they were in and finish them off. He stared at the writing on the rock ands said hoarsely, "What happened? I thought any minute the lightning was going to strike!" But her eyes were riveted on the great boulder. She was pale and shivering and John pulled her close and kissed her.

When she spoke she was more composed. "No one will believe us," she said. "What did it all mean? I was terrified."

It was so quiet now they could hardly believe it had happened. The sleet had stopped and only wind soughed in the pine trees nearby; quite unlike the demented thing which had howled all about them moments before.

"We ought to be getting back before it starts again," said John. "If we're late and your mother finds out..." but she cut him short, telling him to stop worrying about her mother. She could handle her. They rarely mentioned her now, not after John had seen her with Grimstone. He'd mentioned it to Ann, but she knew her mother was having an affair with him. It wasn't the first one, she said; so casually it surprised him.

On the way back they spoke little. The storm had made such an impression it seemed a premonition, but of what they didn't know. There'd been something about it, something mystical in it, which reached into their innermost beings.

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