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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 41

...The great clock at the foot of the stairs made the only sound, fracturing the silence with monstrous ticks which seemed to count the seconds away of the life above...

The life of Sir Abe Illingworth, head of a Yorkshire mill-owning dynasty, is fast ebbing away.

John Waddington-Feather continues his unforgettable novel.

As Rosemary improved, her daughter grew steadily worse. John wrote to Ann telling her of Miriam and how they'd been meeting in Oxford. They were growing closer as their friendship blossomed, but he said nothing of that. He felt strangely at odds with himself, loving Ann as he did yet drawing closer to Miriam.

Rosemary never saw her husband again after he brought his woman to live at Rosemary Nook, but Ann had a final showdown when she went to collect her things and her mother's jewellery. She was watched like a hawk by Millicent Gainsford, who'd been through her mother's jewellery box. Rosemary had been given a brooch by John Illingworth not long before that final leave-taking on the moors. It was set with diamonds in the shape of RAF wings and she treasured it. Millie watched her take it from the box.

"That's mine," she lied, leaning against the doorpost. She'd worn it several times and taken a fancy to it. "It was a present from a boyfriend during the war." Ann ignored her and put the brooch in her case along with the box. Millie walked across and seized the strap of Ann's bag. "I said that's mine!" she repeated.

"Take your hands away," hissed Ann, and pulled the bag free, before storming from the room with Millie in her wake loudly demanding the brooch. Harry Clemence heard the commotion and met them along the corridor, asking what the fuss was all about. Millie told him, but he knew all about the brooch and hated it. Anything that reminded him of John Illingworth he hated.

"I shouldn't worry about that, love," he said. "It's nowt to get upset about. I'll buy you one ten times better than that." Then he turned to Ann and said maliciously, "If you find owt else John Illingworth gave your mother, take it. Owt that's left'll be chucked out!" In her haste to get out, Ann overlooked some snaps of John Illingworth, including that one taken by the boulder on Rivock Edge. Clemence kept his word. He enjoyed tearing them up before throwing them on the fire. Ann went back to Sir Abe at Illingworth House and never saw Harry Clemence again.

It wasn't long after that Sir Abe had another stroke - this time fatal. Ann's telegram was awaiting John when he returned to his depot. He made arrangements at once to go on leave and phoned Johnson, who confirmed Sir Abe was sinking fast, so when John arrived in Keighworth he went straight to Illingworth House.

The butler met him at the door grim-faced. "Thank goodness you've come, Master John," he said. "Your grandfather's been asking for you all day."

Johnson looked worn out and John noticed his hand shaking as he took his greatcoat.

"How's Ann?" he asked.

"Exhausted," said the butler. "She's resting now."

"And her mother?"

"Recovering slowly. She's a deal better than when you saw her last and can walk a little now. We haven't said anything about Sir Abe to her."

The butler led him straight to Sir Abe's room. The air seemed heavy and they mounted the stairs in silence. The great clock at the foot of the stairs made the only sound, fracturing the silence with monstrous ticks which seemed to count the seconds away of the life above. Climbing the stairs seemed an eternity and the atmosphere grew closer as they approached the death-room.

When they entered, a night-nurse sat near the bed knitting. A nightlight next the bed was the only means of light and the bed stood in shadow. On it the dying man lay, propped by pillows and his silvery mane of hair caught in the dim light. It gave him an ethereal look, like a patriarch in one of Blake's paintings. Only his craggy features showed any sign of life, which was draining away fast.

As John went in, he noticed photographs of his father and himself by the bed. He paused a moment and took a deep breath before crossing to hold his grandfather's hand, which lay on the coverlet. It was gaunt and thin and looked disproportionately large to the rest of his body. He fidgeted with the hem of his sheet and John noticed how the thin veins webbed across it like a faded map. They striated his temples, too, where the skin looked so tight it seemed it must tear, he'd lost so much weight.

"Grandfather," he whispered, sitting close. There was no response, so he squeezed the old man's hand and said again, "Grandfather, it's me... Jonty."

Sir Abe's eyelids flickered and he'd stared uncertainly a moment trying to focus. Then John felt his hand grip his feebly and he gave a faint smile.

"You made it then, Jonty," he croaked. "Lucky for you I can't move fast else I'd have gone hours ago!" He joked even in death. He said nothing for some time then suddenly opened his eyes wide and startled John by saying, "Jonty, I've seen your father. He's about here somewhere. He spoke to me just a moment ago. He was with your mother. Tell them I won't be long."

He gripped his grandson's hand again then sank back, closing his eyes and falling into his final sleep. He didn't speak again and his breathing became shallower. Then he ceased breathing altogether and the nurse came over. She felt his pulse, then shook her head and started to settle him down and lay him out. As she went about her task, she said, "He's been delirious all day, sir. I shouldn't take any notice of what he said just now. He's been talking about his son for days and someone called Helen."

John nodded dumbly, but he felt that his grandfather had spoken true. He'd been so sure of what he said. Johnson stood by helplessly and as there was nothing further they could do, he suggested they leave the nurse to get on with her work while they retired downstairs. The nurse would call them when she'd done.

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