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CHAPTER II RESTHAM MANOR
The village of Restham—where I was born and brought up, and where later I sinned and suffered and repented—lay in a hollow in that long, low range of Kentish hills known as the North Downs. The road northwards was a steep ascent to the top of the hill, from whence one saw spread at one\'s feet the glorious panorama of the Weald of Kent. To a traveller coming down the hill the village seemed to lie in a sheltered and secluded valley. On the right of the slope was the rectory—a fine old white house, surrounded by a beautiful park and gardens. Then, lower down, was the village square, with its half-timbered inn and cottages, and its grand, twelfth-century church. I don\'t know that the church itself was different from most churches of its date, except in one particular: just outside the building itself, at the west end, was a vaulted passage leading from north to south, in the middle of which was a large window, from which one looked right up to the high altar. Opposite to this window and set in the walls of the passage was a stone brought, during one of the earlier Crusades, from Palestine. The pilgrims of the Middle Ages, in travelling from London to Canterbury, passed through Restham and along the vaulted passage, saying a prayer at the holy stone as they went by, and their countless fingers—as year by year and century by century they made the Sign of the Cross upon the stone—engraved the Symbol thereon, as if it had been carved by a chisel; and there it stands to this day, an indelible testimony to the faith of our fathers in the days that are gone.

The church stood on the east side of the village square; immediately beyond it the road turned sharp to the east towards Canterbury, leaving on its left the ruins of an archi-episcopal palace, and on the west side of the square the road turned equally sharply to the right towards Sevenoaks. On the south side of the square—exactly opposite the road which came down the hill—were the gates of Restham Manor House: heavy old oak gates, studded with huge iron nails, and set in a fine old wall of that rose-coloured brick which only the Tudors seemed able to manufacture. The house inside the walls was of the same brick, with stone mullioned windows and twisted chimneys, and was considered one of the most perfectly preserved specimens of Tudor architecture in Kent. The heavily-studded front door led straight into a great hall: a hall made beautiful by its carved-oak roof and chimney-piece, and its black-and-white marble floor, and comfortable by the numerous rugs and tapestries which my father and I had spent years in collecting. It was in this hall that Annabel and I chiefly lived and moved and had our being. Out of it, on the left of the huge fire-place, two steps and a door led up to the drawing-room—a typical "withdrawing-room" of the olden times; and on the right of the fire-place another door opened into a corridor, which in turn led to the dining-room, the library, the staircase, and finally to the kitchen department. Upstairs the whole front of the house was taken up by an oak-pannelled picture-gallery, from the windows of which one learned what a mistake one had made in imagining that Restham lay at the bottom of the hill; for below it the ground still sloped away and away, fading at last into the blue distance of the Weald of Kent.

Such was the spot which I had the happiness to call home, and which played its part—as I believe all natural surroundings do—in the formation of my character. Surely it was from the natural beauty around me from my birth that I derived my appreciation of—nay, rather my passion for—beauty in all its forms, and from the peculiar spiritual atmosphere of a place which pilgrim feet had trod for centuries, and on which pilgrim fingers had traced the Sign of the Cross, that I imbibed that pervading consciousness of the unseen world surrounding us, and that unquestioning acceptance of the phenomena which men call miracles, which have been the most powerful influences of my life, and which are as strong in me to-day as they were when I was a child.

It was in the oak-pannelled dining-room, which commanded a view of the sunny garden and of the blue distance beyond, that Annabel and I were sitting at breakfast the morning after Blathwayte had imparted to us his astounding news. Naturally we were discussing the absorbing theme. This intense interest in one\'s neighbours\' affairs may appear strange to dwellers in cities; but to any one who has lived in that day of small things in which is the epitome of village life it will seem the most natural thing in the world.

Annabel was looking particularly well that morning. She was always rather handsome, in a stately, sandy-haired, Queen Elizabethan sort of way; but our trip to Madeira had revived and refreshed her, and had elevated her always excellent health to a still higher degree of excellence. We were both tall, but Annabel was a far finer specimen of humanity than I was (another proof of the heinousness of my mistake in not insisting upon her being the son and me the daughter of the house of Kingsnorth), and while she had inherited my father\'s fair hair and ruddy complexion, I was dark and pale like my mother. I remember we once went to a fancy-dress ball at Canterbury as Queen Elizabeth and Charles the First, and our friends said we were exactly like the originals. How our friends knew this I am at a loss to imagine; but I give their opinion for what it is worth. If brown eyes and hair and a pointed brown beard constitute a resemblance to the ill-fated monarch and martyr, then I certainly could boast that resemblance; but I had neither been accused of losing my head nor of breaking my coronation oath—at least not at the time when this story begins.

"I cannot imagine how Arthur Blathwayte will manage with those Wildacre children," remarked Annabel; "he will have to come to me for advice. You see he has had no experience in bringing up young people."

"Neither have you, my dear, when it comes to that," I ventured to suggest.

"But I know all about it through being so long an active associate of the G.F.S. And, besides, I brought up you."

"I should advise you to go to the G.F.S. for a testimonial. I am no credit to you."

Annabel smiled indulgently; she had smiled at me indulgently all my forty-two years. "It will be rather a pleasant change to have some fresh young people to influence and educate; don\'t you think so, Reggie?"

"Heaven forbid!" I exclaimed. "I am expecting them to influence and educate me."

"How absurd! As if children of that age could teach a clever man like you anything!"

"But I expect them to teach me everything, Annabel; everything that I\'ve been too stupid and idle and lethargic to learn for myself."

The afterglow of Annabel\'s indulgent smile still lingered. "You do talk a lot of nonsense, Reggie!"

"What is nonsense to you is sense to me, and vice versa," I explained. "To me you appear to be uttering balderdash when you talk about the G.F.S. and the S.P.G., and the S.P.C.K., and seams, and stitches, and purling, and running, and felling; but to you these cabalistic signs embody the wisdom of the ages. And in the same way my wisdom is foolishness to you."

"I wish you\'d look over Green\'s bill for seeds this spring," said Annabel, foraging among her letters and throwing a rather dirty envelope at me; "I think he has charged too much for the new sweet peas I ordered."

I was not surprised at Annabel\'s sudden change of subject. I was accustomed to these alarms and excursions in her improving conversation. So I obediently raised the nurseryman\'s bill close to my short-sighted eyes. But before I had time to examine it, she began again: "It is very foolish of you to try your eyes in that way, Reggie! You really ought to wear glasses."

"I dislike wearing glasses."

"That\'s neither here nor there—what you like or dislike."

"Yes, it is, it\'s most decidedly here. If—like Cardinal Newman—\'I do not ask to see the distant scene,\' why, my dear Annabel, should you intrude it upon my notice?"

"It\'s simply vanity on your part; absurd vanity! You are so proud of the Winterford eyes that you don\'t like to hide them with glasses."

Annabel always talked of the Winterford eyes as if they were the only genuine brand of human eyes on the market, all other makes being but spurious imitations.

"It isn\'t vanity at all," I remonstrated; "quite the reverse. I abstain from eyeglasses not for the sake of my own good looks, but for the sake of the good looks of others. On the rare occasions when I do wear spectacles, I find people so much plainer than I have hitherto imagined them to be that Christian charity compels me to pluck off the offending super-members at once."

"And distant views," added Annabel; "think what you miss in distant views."

"I miss nothing," I firmly replied, "that had better not be missed. The glorious blue haze of the distance is mine, unmarred by the details that disfigure the foreground for persons like yourself."

"I can tell the time by a clock three or four miles off."

I shook my forefinger reprovingly. "Annabel, don\'t be boastful: remember boasting always goes before a fall. Moreover, what is the object of seeing the time by a clock three or four miles off? I\'d much rather not see it. I like to gaze at abstract beauty untrammelled by the temporary limitations of time and space."

"What age did he say they were?" asked Annabel after a moment\'s pause, as if the incident of the overcharged sweet peas had never interrupted our conversation.

I wilfully misunderstood her. "Time and space, do you mean? That, of course, depends upon the date at which you compute the creation of the world. According to certain authorities——"

"Oh, Reggie, how silly you are! You knew perfectly well what I was talking about."

"What you were not talking about, you mean; yes, of course I knew. A lifelong experience has taught me to follow unerringly the trapeze-like manoeuvres of your acrobatic conversation. Eighteen."

"Then they\'ll be leaving school soon."

"At once. The boy for Oxford and the girl for wherever girls go to when they grow up: Arcady, I believe, is the name of the place. But I, alas! have never been in Arcady, nor you either, Annabel, worse luck for us both!"

"I can\'t tell whether I\'ve been there or not. I\'ve travelled so much that I can\'t remember the names of half the places I\'ve been to. I don\'t see how anybody can, unless they make a rule of buying picture post-cards at all the places where they stay. I wish I\'d done this from the beginning, I went to so many interesting places with dear papa. But I don\'t think picture post-cards were so much used then as they are now." Annabel was the type of woman who loves to have a view of every hotel she stays at, and to mark with a cross her own bedroom window.

"I should have thought valentines rather than postcards would have supplied views of Arcady," I murmured.

"Yes; and isn\'t it rather interesting to see how as picture post-cards have come in, valentines have gone out? I think it is so instructive to note little things like that; they show the march of the times." Annabel always had a wonderful nose for instruction; she scented it miles off—and in such strange places, too. For her there was certainly no stone without its sermon, and no running brook without its book.

"Arthur and I were saying last night that you would have made a good Prime Minister or Archbishop of Canterbury," I remarked, gazing at her thoughtfully.

"How ridiculous you two boys are! Besides, I never heard of a woman filling either of those posts." Annabel was nothing if not literal, and I found her literalness very restful.

"A woman once became Pope of Rome," I said, "somewhere in the Middle Ages. At least there is a legend to that effect." I smiled and spoke most benignly. There is something very invigorating in being regarded as a boy when one is over forty.

But Annabel shook her head. "I could never have been a Pope on principle; I so disapprove of Roman Catholics. At least if I had been I should have turned Protestant."

"But you couldn\'t have done so at the time of which am speaking. Protestants weren\'t invented."

"Then I should have invented them," retorted the intrepid Annabel. And I felt sure that she would. She was quite capable of it.

"And I really don\'t see how Arthur will be able to manage them," she went on without a pause; "he isn\'t at all cut out for that sort of thing."

I resisted a temptation to ask why Arthur wasn\'t cut out for the proper management of Protestants, and replied: "He feels that himself; but he couldn\'t very well refuse when Wildacre asked him, and seemed so set on it, you see."

"Francis Wildacre was very attractive when he used to come and stay here more than twenty years ago," said Annabel. "He had \'such a way with him,\' as Ponty used to say." (Ponty was our old nurse.)

"And such a way with you, too, in those days," I hastened to add. "I used to think you were a little in love with him."

Annabel owned the soft impeachment without a blush: in spite of the fairness of her complexion, she was not of the blushing order. "I believe I was, in a young and foolish sort of way."

"That is the only sort of way in which anybody can be in love. Love that isn\'t young and foolish in its essence, is not love at all."

"Oh, Reggie, what nonsense! The sensible mutual attachment of older people is far more lasting."

"It may be lasting, but it isn\'t love. The charm of love is its divine folly."

"What a ridiculous idea! Supposing my divine folly, as you call it, had led me into marrying Francis Wildacre, where should I have been now, I should like to know? A widow with two tiresome young people to look after."

"But you are yearning to help Blathwayte to look after them, so why shouldn\'t you have helped Wildacre to look after them? I don\'t see where the difference comes in. And, besides, they mightn\'t have been there."

"I don\'t see any necessity to go into that," said Annabel, doing the heavy sister to perfection.

"Nor do I. But it was you who went into it, if you remember, not I. You dragged those young people into the discussion, so to speak, by the hair of their heads."

Annabel carried the war into the enemy\'s camp. "And where should you have been if I had married Francis Wildacre, I should like to know?" she asked triumphantly.

"Exactly where I am now. There was no talk of my marrying Wildacre."

"And all alone, with no one to look after you!"

"Pardon me, my dear Annabel, but you are confusing dates. I should have been all right now, because you would be a widow, and would be living here with me, and with a young niece and nephew to whom I should be devoted. Where I should have come short would have been in the intervening twenty years between your supposititious marriage with Wildacre and the present time."

Like all typical elder sisters, Annabel loved to be poked fun at by a younger brother. That she never saw the point of my feeble jokes in nowise lessened her admiration of them; her faith in their excellence was a perfect faith, being in truth the evidence of things not seen.

"I think you\'d have made a very nice uncle, Reggie. I\'ve noticed that good brothers make good uncles, just as good sons make good husbands. I think it is very interesting to notice little things like that."

"And instructive," I added; "you\'ve forgotten the instructiveness."

"And instructive, too, of course. All interesting things are more or less instructive."

"But not invariably in the most elevating kinds of knowledge," I murmured.

"And besides being such a kind uncle, you\'d have had a very good personal influence on young people." Annabel was very keen on what she called "personal influence"—a force which I myself consider is grossly over-rated. "For though you are sometimes very silly on the surface, Reggie, you have plenty of good sound sense underneath."

"You flatter me," I murmured.

"No, I don\'t; I never flatter people" (she never did). "But I think it encourages them to be told their good points sometimes. And now I come to think of it, you will not be wasted as an uncle altogether: you can behave as an uncle to these Wildacre children after all."

"Certainly; they will provide an admirable outlet for my avuncular energies." But I was pleased at the idea all the same. The role of an uncle had always had its attractiveness for me; it possessed a good deal of the charm of fatherhood with none of its soul-crushing responsibility. I felt I could never have started a son in life; but I should have enjoyed to take a nephew to the Zoo. Therefore this suggestion of Annabel\'s, that in the Wildacre children I should find a ready-made niece and nephew, filled me with distinct pleasure.

"I must go and see Cutler about them at once," said Annabel, rising from the breakfast-table (Cutler was our gardener); "I\'m sure they are not nearly as advanced as they were this time last year."

"About what? The Wildacres, do you mean?"

"The forget-me-nots, of course. How stupid you are!"

"But, my dear girl, you have never mentioned the forget-me-nots," I replied in self-defence.

"But I was thinking about them all the time. They seem to me very backward in that big bed on the lawn; I am sure he has not planted them half thickly enough. It is very annoying, as I do so love a mass of blue in contrast to the wallflowers. I\'m really dreadfully disappointed about this bed, it is usually so lovely, and extremely angry with Cutler. I don\'t know what to do about it. What should you do, Reggie?"

"I should knock Cutler down, and tell him that as he has made his bed so he must lie on it."

"Oh, Reggie, how ridiculous you are! As if people nowadays ever knocked their servants down as they used to do when they were slaves!"

"I really think your distress is premature," I said in a consoling voice; "it is early yet for forget-me-nots. They\'ll be all right when they begin to flower. The green sheet looks inadequate, I admit; but when it puts on its blue counterpane, that bed will be a dream."

But Annabel refused to be comforted. "The plants aren\'t sufficiently close together. I\'m going into the garden to see about them at once, and that iniquitous charge for sweet peas. But that is the worst of leaving bills so long unpaid, it tempts tradespeople to put prices on."

"Then why not pay sooner?"

"I always pay at once—the minute the bills come in. Do you think papa\'s daughter could ever sleep upon an unpaid bill? It is the tradespeople who won\'t send them in—just in order to run them up; but there is no throwing dust in my eyes! And if Arthur wants a little womanly advice about how to deal with them, especially the girl, he can always have it from me, and you can tell him so the next time you see him."

And before I could frame a suitable reply to this varied and voluminous remark, Annabel was out on the lawn and making a bee-line for the inadequate forget-me-nots.

As for myself, a sort of subconscious sex-sympathy caused me to shrink from hearing Annabel deliver her soul to Cutler with regard to these and the sweet peas; so I wended my way upstairs to the nursery of our childhood, where our old nurse, Ponting—called by the other servants Miss Ponting and by Annabel and me Ponty—still held sway, as she had done ever since Annabel was a baby.

Ponty came from the Midlands, and was what is known in her class of life as "a character." She had a great flow of language, unchecked by any pedantic tendency to verify her quotations, and she boasted an inexhaustible supply of legendary acquaintances, who served as modern instances to point her morals and adorn her tales. She was a connoisseur in, or rather a collector of, what she called "judgments," and (according to Ponty) her native place—an obscure village in the Midlands, Poppenhall by name—was a modern Sodom and Gomorrah. Possibly the inhabitants of Poppenhall—like the eight upon whom the tower of Siloam fell—were no worse than the majority of their contemporaries; but (again according to Ponty) they seemed to have been specially selected as warnings and examples to the rest of the world. For instance, our childhood was enlivened by the story of a boy at Poppenhall who swallowed a cherry-stone which grew into a cherry-tree in his inside, until finally the youth was choked by the cherries which clustered in his throat: this was to prevent any swallowing of cherry-stones on our part. And there was an equally improving legend of a Poppenhall girl who drank water out of the village stream, and thereby swallowed an eft which developed into an internal monster, whose head was always popping in and out of her mouth, thus spoiling both her conversation and her appearance: this was to prevent any consumption by my sister and myself of unfiltered and so unhallowed water.

"Well, Master Reggie," began Ponty, as soon as I entered the nursery (I was always Master Reggie to Ponty, just as I was always a boy to Annabel), "this is a piece of news I hear about the rector\'s adopting two children! It fairly took my breath away when Miss Annabel told me about it."

"I thought it would," I answered, sitting down on one of the comfortable chintz-covered chairs.

"It did; and I said to Miss Annabel, says I, \'No good can come of it, a flying in the face of Providence like that!\' I\'m surprised at the rector, and him a clergyman too," continued Ponty, as if the majority of rectors were not in Holy Orders.

"Come, come, Ponty," I exclaimed, "you are carrying matters a little too far. I see no flying in the face of Providence in the thing at all. Quite the contrary."

"That is all you know, Master Reggie; twisting things about till you don\'t know whether you are standing on your head or on your heels."

"Yes, I do know; neither at the present moment. I have you there, Ponty."

But my feeble attempts at humour were as much lost upon Ponty as they were upon Annabel. "I call it flying in the face of Providence to adopt children when you haven\'t got any," she persisted; "if the rector had been meant to have children he\'d have had them, without going and borrowing other folks\' leavings. That\'s what I say. I don\'t hold with adopting, I never did. Why, there was a woman at Poppenhall when I was a girl, who went and adopted a boy because she\'d no children of her own, and when he grew up he murdered her."

This was Ponty at her best. I began to enjoy myself.

"This is interesting," I exclaimed; "but why did he murder her?"

"A judgment on her, I suppose, for adopting him."

"A severe punishment for a kindly action," I remarked. "I hope the young Wildacres will not live to murder Mr. Blathwayte."

"I\'m sure I hope so too, but you never can tell with strangers. You don\'t know what\'s in them, as you might say, like you do with those that you\'ve had from their birth."

"And even those give shocks sometimes to their upbringers," I added, lighting a cigarette. "I know you don\'t mind my smoking, Ponty."

"Not for a moment, as far as I\'m concerned, Master Reggie; but for your own sake I doubt you smoke too much. I don\'t hold with making a chimney of your throat, I never did, it\'s agen nature."

"But think of the relief to my overstrained nerves, Ponty."

"Overstrained fiddlesticks, Master Reggie, if you\'d excuse my saying so! Why, what have you got to overstrain your nerves, I should like to know?"

"There\'s trouble in the forget-me-not bed," I answered solemnly.

Ponty\'s bright brown eyes twinkled. She and I had laughed together at Annabel ever since I could remember. "Oh, she\'s found it out, has she, Master Reggie? I knew there\'d be trouble when I saw Cutler planting them so far apart, but he wouldn\'t listen to me. The other servants are foolish not to take my advice, for I knew Miss Annabel before some of them were born or thought of. She must have her own way, and she must have it done in her own way, or there\'s no peace for anybody."

"That being the case, you see my urgent need for the soothing effects of tobacco."

But Ponty shook her head. "I should try and get soothed in some other way, if I was you, Master Reggie: say with a peppermint drop or an Albert biscuit. Why, there was once a man at Poppenhall when my father was a lad——"

"I knew there was," I murmured. I felt that there was a judgment impending, and I would not have missed it for worlds.

"Who smoked and smoked till his throat was all lined with soot, like a kitchen-chimney," continued Ponty; "and one day a spark went down his throat from his pipe and set fire to the soot, and he was burned to death in a few minutes. You see, the fire being inside him, no one could get at it to put it out."

"How very shocking! But why didn\'t the soot choke him before he had time to get it on fire? I should have thought an accumulation of soot in the throat was a most unwholesome thing, apart from the danger of fire."

"It was a judgment upon him, that\'s all I can say, and it isn\'t for us to dictate whether Providence shall punish evildoers by choking or by burning."

"Certainly not," I replied. "I am the last person to take it upon myself to dictate to Providence."

"But smoking or no smoking, it\'s a fair treat to see you and Miss Annabel at home again," said Ponty with a most gracious smile; "for when all\'s said and done the house don\'t seem like the house without you. For my part, I don\'t hold with so much gadding about; I never did; but you and Miss Annabel was always set on having your own way, and I doubt always will be."

"Set on having Annabel\'s way, you mean," I amended.

"Just so, Master Reggie; from the time you were a little boy Miss Annabel always made up your mind for you, and I doubt if she\'ll ever get out of the habit now. But it\'s a pity! For though I\'m the last to say a word against Miss Annabel, me having nursed her ever since she was a month old, and the most beautiful baby you ever saw, with a complexion like wax, still she\'s a bit too wilful, and you and your poor papa always having given way to her has made her worse. It doesn\'t do to be too self-willed."

"But I\'m not," I pleaded.

"No; more\'s the pity! It would be a sight better for Miss Annabel if you were. I don\'t hold with folks always getting their own way, especially women. I remember a well-to-do woman at Poppenhall when I was a girl who was that set on marrying a particular man as never was, and nothing else would do to content her. And they lived on at her house after they were married, her being a woman of means. He caught the fever from drinking the water out of her well, the well not having been cleaned out for years and most unhealthy, and died just a month after their wedding-day, which I hold was a judgment on her for being so set on marrying that particular man."

"But any other man might have got the fever from the insanitary well," I suggested.

"But no other man ever did. Which is a lesson to us all not to be too set on having our own way, nor to let other people be too set either. I doubt that trouble will come some day from your being so under the thumb of Miss Annabel; I do indeed; and I\'m sure I\'m sorry in my heart for Cutler when the things in the garden don\'t come exactly as she meant them to."

"I\'m sorry for him, too," I added. And I really was.

"No, I don\'t hold with folks as have beautiful houses spending half their time away from them. It isn\'t right to leave fine houses and beautiful furniture with only a lot of ignorant young housemaids to keep them all clean. It\'s agen nature. Of course I see after them to the best of my power, but I\'m not what I was, and they are more so. I remember a gentleman living near Poppenhall, when my father was a lad, who was always leaving his beautiful house with only servants to look after it, and spending months and months in foreign parts, and the consequence was that once when he was away the house was struck by lightning!"

"But I don\'t see what the difference his absence could make to the lightning," I ventured to suggest.

But Ponty would have none of my casuistry. "It made all the difference, Master Reggie; for the house was never struck as long as he was at home. It was just a judgment upon him for leaving it."

That was the charm of Ponty: she could always wriggle with grace and dignity out of her own statements. Had she only been a man this gift would assuredly have raised her to eminence in Parliament, and would have made her a shining ornament of any Ministry.

After a little more improving conversation with my old nurse I strolled downstairs and out of doors, where I found Annabel talking to a chastened Cutler by the forget-me-not bed.

"Come for a stroll round the garden," I said, slipping my arm into hers, "and let us see if the vine has flourished and the pomegranates have budded, as they did in the Song of Solomon."

"I don\'t see how we can do that," replied Annabel, "considering that it is too early for grapes, and we have no pomegranates. As a matter of fact, I don\'t believe pomegranates ever do grow in England. Do you know whether they do?"

"No, I don\'t, and I don\'t want to. I only know that vines and pomegranates and all the other glorious things of the Song of Songs seem to be in the air when spring begins. It is a Song of Spring."

"It always seems to me a very peculiar sort of song," remarked Annabel; "and I don\'t understand it and don\'t pretend to. I remember Uncle William once expounding it at prayers for the sake of the servants, but I doubt if they were much the wiser for his exposition. I know I wasn\'t."

"I should have been," I exclaimed fervently. "It must have been a liberal education to hear him. And to think that it was wasted upon you and the servants, when I—who alone could have appreciated it—was not there!"

"It wasn\'t only me and the servants: papa was there and Aunt Maria, and there were several people staying in the house."

"By the way, Ponty has delivered herself of a simply priceless judgment to-day," I said, and proceeded to retail to my sister the story of the man whose house was struck by lightning because he left it too much to servants.

Annabel laughed heartily. Then, after a moment\'s pause, she said: "But all the same, Reggie, I don\'t quite see what difference his being at home would have made."

I stood still in the garden path, and regarded my sister with profound admiration not unmixed with wonder. "Annabel," I exclaimed, "in your own particular way you are almost as priceless as Ponty!"

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