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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 44

...He threw the stick into the tarn. "Don't, Ann," he pleaded and pulled her closer, as she began sobbing, sobs which were breaking his own heart and tearing him apart. He held her till she'd calmed down and only the wind soughed around them, bearing the lonely cries of the gulls across the tarn....

Following the death of the head of the Illingworth dynasty, young John Illingworth and Ann go for a sad walk.

John Waddington-Feather continues his gripping novel involving the lives of a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

John returned to Illingworth House after breakfast the next day. Ann was still asleep but Johnson was tidying away the last trappings of death in his grandfather's bedroom now the body had gone. The place still reeked of disinfectant but all the bottles and nursing aids had disappeared. He stayed a while with the butler for the old man wanted to talk. A great gap in his life had suddenly appeared with the death of Sir Abe. He spoke about the past, his war service with Sir Abe and the good times between the wars before John Illingworth had left home. He mentioned the great happiness John himself had brought the old man when he made the House his second home. But he said nothing about the bad times.

And as Johnson talked about the past and went about his business, John looked out of the window over the lawns and up to the moors. The land was being cuffed by a north-easter, which scragged the trees and roared down the chimney. Clouds scudded low, heavy with sleet, and the whole house outside seemed tormented by the wind. But inside, the heavy stillness of the previous night was there yet. It imposed its own rules for they both spoke and moved quietly, as if the house was waiting for the clock in the hall to pronounce doomwatch.

There was no heir, no successor now to the Illingworth dynasty. Indeed, there was nothing to succeed to. Even the old offices in Bradford had gone and a glass and concrete prestrosity put up in their place, for Bradford was gutting itself, knocking down its Victorian masterpieces and replacing them with what looked like concrete bunkers. There was no hint that Illingworths had ever been. Clemence had sold the lot and the last thing he did before leaving was to destroy the row of family portraits hanging in the corridor outside his office.

While John was staring out of the window Ann came in and suggested they go for a walk. Both of them felt the need of fresh air and she was already dressed for walking, well wrapped up against the weather. John put on his overcoat and scarf and they set off up Black Lane for the track at the top which led to Keighworth Tarn a couple of miles away.

As they left the house she had to cling to him the gale was so strong. It howled in their faces making conversation impossible till they reached the shelter of the high stone walls flanking the track. They spoke of the past as they walked. John had visited his godmother, Mary Calow, while in London. She was a widow now crippled with arthritis and housebound, living with her younger sister since her husband died.

She'd told him much about their father and events before the war. She also talked about when she'd visited John Illingworth in hospital after he'd been shot down and badly burned. He'd be seeing her again and would tell her of Sir Abe's death. He knew she'd been his grandfather's mistress. Joe had told him that but he'd never mentioned it to Ann, who scarcely knew her.

When they reached the tarn, they rested in a shelter overlooking the icy stretch of water. Ann was exhausted so they walked no further, staying there till she'd recovered, watching the water whipped by the wind and the smoke from the farmhouse the other side streaking across the sky. Not far away a flock of gulls rode out the wind head on, taking off and riding it a moment before settling on the tarn again.

They watched them in silence. Ever since he'd arrived back John had been expecting her to ask if he'd found another girl, but when she did ask she caught him unawares. They were huddled close to keep warm, just as they'd been so often in the past. Happy simply to be in each other's company. When she put the question to him he blushed and looked away. Then she asked if he was seeing Miriam again. She'd read his face. "One day you must tell Miriam about us," she said quietly. "She must be very puzzled - why we suddenly broke off our engagement, why we changed." Miriam also had asked him the same thing and he hadn't answered her either. He'd let her go on thinking he was still in love with Ann, and so he was, but not like before.

"If you insist," he replied. "But when? When shall I tell her everything? I can't just blurt it out."

"When I'm..." for one terrible moment he thought she was going to say, "When I'm dead" but she continued. "When I'm out of mind, out of your heart. When you're quite sure you love her."

"Ann," he burst out angrily, "what do you mean? You hurt me when you speak like that. You'll always be in my heart."

She gave a sad smile and gazed across the water into the distance.

"Promise me, when the time is right you'll tell her everything. Miriam will understand." He picked up a stick and began doodling with it in the gravel. He'd no reply. How she guessed he was beginning to love Miriam he didn't know, but she was right. Miriam was beginning to work a profound change in him.

"Time cheated us, Johnnie," she said in a hollow voice. "It let us grow up with a dream, then played us false. Just when the dream was coming true, it faded."

He threw the stick into the tarn. "Don't, Ann," he pleaded and pulled her closer, as she began sobbing, sobs which were breaking his own heart and tearing him apart. He held her till she'd calmed down and only the wind soughed around them, bearing the lonely cries of the gulls across the tarn. As dusk fell, the wind dropped and they walked slowly back to Illingworth House which stood empty and still.

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