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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 42

...Johnson stood discreetly in the background, looking intently at the man he'd served all his life. Then he left tight-lipped with the nurse. When he'd gone, Ann leaned forward to kiss the dead man's brow, weeping quietly...

John Waddington-Feather continues his gripping story of the Illingworths, a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

John badly needed a drink. He felt faint and the disinfected room was claustrophobic. He was glad to get away and eat the snack Johnson prepared, for he'd eaten nothing since leaving camp. Johnson poured him a stiff whisky, which he finished at one go. The butler replenished his glass and poured a drink for himself as they sat chatting. After a few minutes, Ann came down and Johnson tactfully withdrew, returning upstairs to see if the nurse needed help. As soon as he'd gone Ann threw herself into John's arms. He held her tightly she felt so frail now, then he kissed her brow and sat her beside him as he ate. Her eyes held an unearthly brightness and they never left him throughout the meal.

She wanted to know how Oxford had gone, how Miriam and Rebecca were. David had been to see her briefly before he went into the RAF and cheered her immensely. Later, he'd sent her a card from the air-station where he was training to be a pilot.

She had other news. The Fraud Squad were combing through the books of Harry Clemence's insurance company. John asked if Grimstone was involved, but true to form he'd pulled out of the business before the police got wind it was going wrong and was living abroad, leaving Harry Clemence facing the music. Transactions had been suspended and the whole pack of Keighworth upper-crustians who'd invested in it were howling for Clemence's blood. She was interrupted by Johnson, who said simply that the nurse had almost done and they could go up to see him now.

The nurse was packing her bag as they entered the bedroom. She'd turned up the lights and moved the photographs by his bed out of the way to the dressing table. There was another photo there John hadn't seen in the half-light earlier. It was an enlarged snap of John's mother, Helen Greenwood, standing by his father at the seaside. It had been taken by a photographer at Scarborough before the war. John had never seen it for his grandfather had kept it locked away. Johnson said he'd asked for it to be brought to his bedroom earlier in the week.

Sir Abe looked very much as they'd left him except the cold mask of death was already settling on his face. He looked peaceful, as if still sleeping, with his hands now turning white folded neatly on top of the coverlet. While they stood looking on, the nurse finished tidying him up and combed his hair.

Johnson stood discreetly in the background, looking intently at the man he'd served all his life. Then he left tight-lipped with the nurse. When he'd gone, Ann leaned forward to kiss the dead man's brow, weeping quietly. John stood by, holding her hand tightly, but as her tears began to flow more freely he put his arms around her. Between sobs she told all Sir Abe had done for her and her mother, how much he'd come to mean to her and John comforted her as best he could, his eyes never leaving the still figure on the bed. She'd calmed down by the time the undertakers arrived and Johnson suggested they go back to the kitchen where he made fresh tea.

By now it was late and Ann insisted John go home, though he offered to stay the night. Mary and Joe would be waiting for him and they needed him now as much as anyone. Johnson offered to run him home but he preferred to walk. The night air would do him good, he said.

It freshened him enough to stay up talking till the early hours with his aunt and uncle, for Aunt Mary wanted to chat, wanted to hear all that had happened. She could be tactless at times and when she asked if Sir Abe had left John anything, Joe soon put her in her place. "It's no business o' thine, woman!" he growled, and glanced across at John embarrassed. John said he he'd no idea and what's more he didn't care. But he cared all right when Simon Grimstone appeared out of the blue to read the will after the funeral the following week. He hadn't been seen in Keighworth for months.


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