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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 60

..."Lift me. Lift me, Johnnie. Let me see out. Just once more," she gasped.
She couldn't see out of the window from her bed, so wrapping her in the coverlet, he took her in his arms and limped to the window, holding her swaddled against him to watch the sun fire the skyline over the moors. She clung to him and pulled his face to hers, smiling as she looked over the hillside, her eyes on fire with an unearthly brightness...

John Illingworth kisses Ann for the last time.

John Waddungton-Feather continues his profoundly-moving novel.

As he pulled into the drive, he sounded his horn and Johnson came out. A glance at Ann told him something was very wrong and he called for Edith his wife. "Get the doctor!" John shouted, and limped into the house carrying Ann with Edith, while Johnson went to the phone.

They got her to her room where Edith undressed her and put her to bed, awaiting the doctor. John joined the butler in the kitchen where Johnson fixed him a drink. Everything happened so quickly, but even before the doctor confirmed it, John knew she was dying.

"I've given her as much morphine as I dare," the doctor said, "and I've phoned for a nurse." He saw John rubbing his leg and asked how it was, turning the subject away from Ann.

John said it was improving. It gave him trouble when he overdid things and he had to take it easy. But it was coming along. They were making small-talk and they both knew it. It was Henry Johnson who came to the point. "How long will it be, doctor?" he asked straight out, pouring the doctor his drink.

The doctor took a sip of whisky and pursed his lips, keeping his eyes fixed on his glass all the time. "It won't be long," he said quietly. "The deterioration has accelerated, but she's in no pain."

He went on speaking but John didn't hear him. He felt detached, not part of the scenario being played out around him, and Johnson kept the small-talk going with the doctor, replenishing his glass at intervals, while John excused himself and limped into the conservatory. He wanted to be alone now that her death was imminent. Her dying was taking part of him with it.

He got comfort from the plants growing about him and the memories of past times in there. A rose, full budded, had been broken by someone passing. It hung by a thread, which he snapped. He sat down and held it deep in thought, so deep he didn't hear someone enter behind him till the door clicked to. He thought it was Johnson, but it was Rosemary.

She startled him she was so close, standing quite still and observing him.
He began to stand up, but she motioned him to remain seated and sat by him. She was quite composed; and sat ice-cold and erect by his side saying nothing till he spoke. She'd prepared herself for this and her grief had worked itself out long since. She betrayed no emotion, nor did she at Ann's funeral. As if she'd emptied herself of grief, then sealed the emptiness within.

She placed her hand on John's as he asked in a low voice, "How is she?"

"She's sleeping," she answered.

"Can I see her?" he asked.

She nodded, but continued holding his hand. Like Ann, she had beautiful hands, and a beautiful face still despite her illness. She wanted to tell him something and began hesitantly, "John.. John I want you to stay on here after Ann has gone. Don't leave me." She was pleading and her voice had dropped almost to a whisper. "You're all I have left."

"Rodney..." John began, but she cut him short.

"I meant of her.. .of him.. .your father. You're the son I should have had. You and Ann were his love-children. Both mine at the end."

He glanced at her quickly. Her voice was broken and he expected her to weep, but she didn't. She gave him a sad smile and he smiled back and gripped her hand. "Of course I'll stay," he said gently. Then still holding his hand she led him to Ann.

She was deathly pale and quite still, fast asleep. Had it not been for her shallow breathing she might have been dead already. She looked quite peaceful, but there had been a terrible transformation. Her eyes had sunk and her face was like a mask. John still carried the rose and he placed it by her bedside. He heard Rosemary catch her breath and turned, but she was as collected as ever. Perspiration mottled Ann's brow and he wiped it with a sponge before sitting by her bed.

Shortly before sunset Ann began to stir fitfully and woke up. There were only the two of them for her mother had gone downstairs for a snack. John said he'd eat later, but the truth was he'd no appetite. He daren't leave her now for she was going fast and her breathing had become more laboured. Her face held the weary acceptance of death and he bathed her face constantly, tormented by the relentless change as her life ebbed away.

She broke into spasms of coughing and he held her close. "Oh, Ann, Ann!" he sobbed after one awful spasm wracked her through and through. She opened her eyes and stared hard at him, finding it difficult to focus. Her voice was so low he could barely hear her.

"Lift me. Lift me, Johnnie. Let me see out. Just once more," she gasped.
She couldn't see out of the window from her bed, so wrapping her in the coverlet, he took her in his arms and limped to the window, holding her swaddled against him to watch the sun fire the skyline over the moors. She clung to him and pulled his face to hers, smiling as she looked over the hillside, her eyes on fire with an unearthly brightness. "Johnnie, Johnnie," she whispered. "They're all there...waiting... waiting. I'll be with them soon. You, too, one day, Johnnie. All of us together again."

She let her eyes wander round the room with such certainty he stared after her, but saw nothing. Yet he sensed the presence of others, for she nodded and smiled in a familiar way as if recognising someone. Then suddenly she gasped and went limp. He hurried to the bed and laid her down, covering her and calling her name, but there was no reply. She was dead.

He didn't weep. Like her mother, he felt only profound emptiness. He picked up the rose and laid it on her pillow by her head, kissing her for the last time. Then he rang the bell for the nurse and sat watching her grow cold.

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