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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 58

John Illingworth and a seriously-ill Ann pay a nostalgic visit to her old home.

John Waddington-Feather continues his saga involving a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

He left hospital and convalesced at Mary Calow's cottage over winter, where Miriam visited him regularly and his aunt and uncle came to stay. When his leg was sufficiently healed they went for long walks in the Sussex countryside near the cottage. Often they strolled along the cliffs, watching the changing seascape and the never-ending lines of ships moving up the Channel. Sometimes Miriam and John drove to the quaint smugglers' villages along the coast or inland to the Ashdown Forest, where he'd done field training in the Intelligence Corps, drinking in the sweet smell of pines and heathland. And they'd call in at Owen Kent's and had tea, but all the time he knew he'd have to go back north and see Ann, for time was running out for her.

When he'd recovered enough he went home, staying at Illingworth House. When it was fine, he took Ann to their old haunts, driving her to Robin Hood's Stone where they sat chatting about the past. Finally they went to the Swastika Stone. Managing the walk there from the car was about as far as both of them could go, even with a stick; and it was during their last visit to the Stone she became desperately ill and had to be rushed home.
It had been a hot summer's day and they'd driven up to the Stone from Keighworth, passing Ann's old home, Rosemary Nook, en route. It shocked them to see it going under the demolisher's hammer. Millicent Gainsford had sold it to a developer when she left Harry Clemence, who was still in prison. Where the tennis court had been there were already going up a couple of new 'executive style houses', more pretentious even than Rosemary Nook, and the orchard had been grubbed out to make room for more. It was lunch time and the workmen were taking their break.

"Johnnie," Ann said, " let's look round, for old time's sake." He hesitated, but she insisted and he pulled over. Together they walked up what was left of the drive. Builder's rubble lay everywhere and they had to go carefully. Where the house had stood a cement lorry was idling away waiting to spew out its contents as foundations for a new house.

They'd cannibalised the bricks and slates and stacked them to one side, but the rest of the house was levelled. They were taking apart the patio wall, which had once overlooked the orchard and the old pond in front of it had been filled in. Lying half-buried among the rubble was a stone frog. Ann saw it and went across to retrieve it.

"Do you think they'd mind if I took this as a keepsake?" she asked.

Two workmen were reading newspapers inside the cab of their lorry. John went up to them and explained who they were, slipping the men a fiver. Then he returned to Ann. "It's OK," he said. "We can take what we want."

"This'll be enough," she replied smiling, and rubbed the grime off the frog's face. John asked why she wanted the frog. There was nothing special about it. In fact, it looked kitschish.

"It reminds me of you," she laughed. He looked puzzled. "Millions of years ago when we were young, you were my prince. I imagined you'd been changed into this frog, like the prince in the fairy tale."

He hadn't seen her laugh so for weeks. For a minute, she was her old self, sparkling and smiling. "I hope I was better looking than that," he said, taking her arm to walk back to the car.

"You were. You came to life on the night of my coming-out party. You were my Prince Charming that night. Remember?"

"Could I ever forget?" he said, bitterly.

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