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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 50

"Please come as soon as you can, my darling. I need you desperately."

John Illingworth receives desperate news from his former girlfriend Ann.

John Waddington-Feather continues his gripping account of the lives of a Yorkshire mill-owning dynasty.

The next day a letter arrived for John. It was from Ann who was in London for further tests. "My dearest Johnnie," it began. "I don't know how to begin, but what I have to say will come as a shock to you. Advanced leukaemia has been diagnosed and there's little they can do..."

John read on, hardly taking in what he read and by the time he'd finished, his head was in a whirl. She would be in London for another day, then she was returning home. She desperately wanted to see him and gave her phone number. He rang immediately. Her voice was steady enough, but his failed him when he asked exactly what the consultant had said.

"I've only months to live," she said. "A year at the most. I haven't told mummy yet, Johnnie. Please come as soon as you can, my darling. I need you desperately."

He choked back his tears and said he'd go up first thing. They'd go out together, for a meal if she was up to it. Perhaps a show. Anything to take their minds off her illness. Then he put down the phone and walked into Mareton. He just had to be alone and get away from the camp.

Dusk was falling fast as he entered the church, which felt cold and damp. It was unheated and unlit so what light there was, was fading fast. Lenten purple added to the gloom: the lectern, the pulpit, the sanctuary and altar starved of their usual flowers looked doom-ridden.

Once in the church and clear of the world outside, John gave vent to the rage and despair boiling within him. He leaned his head on the pew in front, not to pray but to rage. "Oh, Ann, Ann!" he moaned. "Don't leave me!" Then his torrent of anger turned on God. Why had she to die on top of what had already happened? Just when they'd reconciled themselves to who they were and were trying to build new lives?

In his anger he picked up a prayer book and hurled it to the floor, so viciously its casing split. Then a light went on at the back of the church and he turned round. Silhouetted in the open door stood Owen Kent.

"Who's there?" he asked, shading his eyes with his hand as he tried to pierce the gloom. John's anger subsided at once.

"It's me, John Greenwood," he answered bleakly. His impassioned cries had caught the vicar's attention as he strolled home through the churchyard. He came down the aisle and asked what was the matter. Noticing the prayer book on the floor he stooped to pick it up.

"It's what we talked about before," John replied.


"She's dying," he said brokenly.

Owen Kent bit his lip and sat next to him. He'd no ready answer to comfort John, never had had when it came to the old problem of pain and grief. Only making John aware he was sharing his pain brought comfort. He invited John home again, listening as he poured it all out. By the time he'd finished they'd arrived at the house and went to the study. Owen looked tired and lit his pipe. He said nothing for a while. He was the sort of man who could use silence well and eventually he said, "I've no glib answer, John. All I can say is hang on, hang on to your faith and the knowledge that somehow it will all turn out right. As believers that's all we have: our faith and our love for each other."

John didn't go back to camp for his evening meal, but stayed with the Kents. They talked at length about John's past and about Miriam, too; about the snub he'd had at the Leffs. They felt sure Miriam would cope with that if she really loved him. He left them feeling more at peace with himself, but was dreading the meeting with Ann the next day.


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