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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 62

...The time was right. "Will you marry me, Miriam?" he asked.

"With all my heart," she whispered, searching for his lips...

John Waddington-Feather concludes his wonderfully satisying trilogy of novels about the fortunes and misfortunes of the Illingworths, a Yorkshire dynasty.

A week later she left for Coventry where John had taken up a teaching post. She accompanied him on a school trip to the cathedral, before they returned to Brighton for the holidays; and as they wandered round the blitzed medieval church adjoining the cathedral, they stopped in front of the stone altar built from the blackened debris of the incendiary raid during the war. The bronze effigy of the first bishop had survived that attack and stood nearby on top of his tomb. Teachers and youngsters crowded round it and one of them pointed to his mitre.

Around the hat-band was a row of tiny swastikas, which puzzled the boy. The burnt- out church had been bombed by Nazi planes bearing the same emblem. Why then were there swastikas on the bishop's mitre? John explained that it was an ancient symbol of hope and new life long before the Nazis collared it. And he told him about the mysterious Swastika Stone on the moors where he'd been brought up.

When the group moved on with the other teachers, John stayed behind a while to rest his leg. Miriam waited for him some way off, looking at the altar and its cross made from burnt beams. The scorched ruins behind threw her body into relief, heightening her figure in the warm sunlight. She turned and saw him looking at her. There was nobody about so she walked over to him smiling, standing on tip-toe to kiss him. Then hand in hand, they walked down the steps from the broken church into the new cathedral to catch up the others; strolling to the nave where Sutherland's towering tapestry on the east wall confronted them, the Christ in Glory, the Jew who offered his life and love to the whole world.

By the time they'd gone down the long nave, he was limping badly again, so they rested in one of the side chapels. They'd barely spoken all the way down the nave, over-awed by the sheer beauty of the place and showered by colour from the high windows. An organist began playing Bach's great Fugue and Toccata in G, filling the whole cathedral with sound.

The time was right. "Will you marry me, Miriam?" he asked.

"With all my heart," she whispered, searching for his lips.

They remained locked in each other's embrace till they heard footsteps approaching. Then they got up and went to find the others, walking into the heart of the cathedral, past the Chapel of Christ with its crown of thorns; on beyond the Baptistry and its rugged font; behind the main altar into the Lady Chapel, where finally they stood before the great tapestry hanging high above them to the roof. By then the past was behind them and they'd the whole of their future to share.



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