I thought about delaying this chapter further too. But apparently I was making the lot of you twitch rather, and it was catching. So with love and affection to all of you, here is the conclusion. Many thanks to anyone who has read and/or reviewed, followed and favourited this story. It's not the last we'll see of this universe, so keep your eyes peeled, but for this story, we are at the end.

Ingleside was under snow, the thick, downy kind that must surely hinder travelling. And it hadn't stopped! The air was hushed and heavy with the noiseless tumble of it in glad, silent flurries. At the window of the Ingleside Parlour, Anne Blythe folded her knees under her chin and wished on the snowflakes as they fell. She could all but smell them in their crispness, just discernible through the blue-green aroma of the becandled spruce, and the bitter holly stalks on the mantle. Would they never come?

Susan bustled into the room, arms laden with silverware, and Anne left the window to join her in last-minute polishing, waving away that woman's protestations and the metallic smell of the polish with a smile.

The clattering brought Gilbert to them; he poked his head into the parlour and inquired, needlessly, Anne felt, if anyone had arrived yet. He was trying and failing not to sound over-eager.

'Only us, dearest,' said Anne, and smiled at him. Gilbert shook his head, I should have known better writ large on his face. Then, brightening, he said, 'A dollar says they have to come in on the milk-train, what do you say, Anne-girl?'

Susan muttered something darkly about Popery being catching, because good Presbyterians didn't lay bets, and gave old Mrs Blythe's silver teapot an especially vicious swipe with her cloth; Romishness had become a sore point. No one noticed.

Anne betook her silver to the window seat, the better to work and observe the comings and goings of her garden. The smell of the polish was less there, overpowered by the bitterness of the holly wreathing Gog and Magog and the resin of the spruce. They would already be a diminished party; Una and Carl had sent apologies to say there was no way of leaving Yarmouth, home of what Anne had begun to consider Una's Mission School as much as Jo's, the way Phil's letters raved of her work.

'Cost of travel as much as the weather, I shouldn't wonder,' Gilbert had murmured on the Merediths going, and had laughed heartily along with the others when a parcel arrived in their stead, heavy with Una's famous Christmas Cake, a tin of shortbread and a collection of entombed grasshoppers whose inclusion in the bounty Rosemary Meredith felt sure had not been intentional. 'Not by Una, anyway,' John had said with a smile that proved infectious.

'Any sign of them?' asked Gilbert, coming and joining Anne at the window. He let fall a cotton-wrap quilt around her, thereby preserving the impression that he had not wandered into the parlour purely to wait the coming of his children. Anne shook her head.

'None. Dearest, remind me why we aren't going to meet them?'

'Because, Anne-girl,' said Gilbert reasonably, 'we'd end by running a ferry service between Ingleside and the station. It would take ages and we'd almost certainly be out when some of them arrived. Besides, at this stage the Kingsport Contingent would never all fit in the automobile. This is much better.'

'I'll take your word for it,' said Anne, but she continued doubtful sounding.

Presently the white expanse of virgin landscape was broken by the trundling of a cart up the road and the sound of harness bells on the lane.

'They're here!' cried a jubilant Anne, and rushed out of the parlour and through the front door, four o'clock teaspoon still in hand, Gilbert's 'Who's here?' quite lost to her.

It was no matter. He followed her out in time to assist Nan down off the carriage stoop, chiefly by lifting Mandy out of her arms. Her little gingery eyebrows were flecked with snow. He kissed it away, and looked up in time to see his daughter followed by a small dark person with owlish grey eyes and little Miri in her arms.

'Mouse,' he said, and grinned as he pulled her and her burden briskly into a one-armed hug. 'It's taken entirely too long to get you here.'

'That's just what I said,' said Nan as she moved to reclaim Mandy. Dutifully Gilbert capitulated in favour of assisting Jerry and Peter with the luggage.

'Was it a very long journey, darling?' came Anne's voice back to him over the wind. Nan made her some answer, but by then they had turned inward, a little threefold knot and were heading towards Ingleside and the Applewood fire, no doubt to the relief of Susan, standing staunchly in the doorway, the better to whisk the little girls out of the cold and into the warm.

Inside, cheeks were pressed, hands assessed for cold, and the rosebud china, vintage Marilla Cuthbert, was carried out in state to the parlour while everyone talked over each other. No sooner had they sat down when a horn blared under the window, setting off a gush of tears and tremulous weeping from the twins and sending Anne out the door like a whirlwind again, armed this time with a teacup. Poppy's eyes, Gilbert saw, had widened owlishly.

'Fords,' said Gilbert to her. 'Ten to one they've done that purely to terrify Susan.' For indeed, Susan now stood clutching little Mandy to her chest like a talisman, looking for all the world as if she had seen a ghost. The first part of this supposition was subsequently borne out by the silvery laughter of one Leslie Ford in the hall, and the appearance of little Rilla in the parlour, green cloche in hand. Said she when Gilbert's eyebrows sailed upwards at the sight of it, 'It wasn't nearly so extravagant as the last one. And there isn't a war on now – and anyway, it was an early Christmas gift, wasn't it?' This last in the direction of Ken, who only grinned his answer.

'I've always liked that shade of green,' he said, stretching out leisurely in Gilbert's usual armchair, 'Especially on you, Rilla-my-Rilla. And I never got to see you wear it when the war was on. The indulgence,' with a nod Gilbert-ward, 'is all mine, I assure you.'

Gilbert shook his head. Nan, who had been pacing the floor with Miri, now sat down Turk-fashion next to the Moses baskets and, assisted by Susan, reinstalled her children thence.

In the ensuing interval, Leslie had taken the teapot hostage and was now to be seen pouring out to her family while Susan wailed horrors at the thought of guests serving themselves. That Gilbert did not laugh owed chiefly to an inrush of cold air and a war-whoop announcing the incoming party as Jem's. Confirmation followed in the shape of an almighty wail from little Christopher, exhausted from a day spent in travelling and declining to sleep.

'He doesn't like trains at all,' said Faith, flinging herself, coat, hat, child and all, onto the sofa at Gilbert's elbow. She looked at once exhausted and golden as ever. 'Much too noisy apparently. And Mama had the nerve to do absolutely nothing about it.'

'He was fine,' said Kitty, settling at her feet, 'until the train started. I reckon he likes them all right, just stationary.'

'Give him here,' said Gilbert, reaching for the warm, writhing bundle of limbs that was his grandson. 'I'll see if I can't explain about how he has to take that one up with his Uncle Bruce over an appointment with girning water.'

'You are a saint,' said Faith, which proclamation elicited a sniff from Susan.

'I should have said those were my province, not yours,' came Mara's voice from the parlour door and thereafter chaos descended as several things happened at once. Chief of these was the temporary halting of the excursion of grandfather and grandson to the study for girning water. Instead Gilbert abruptly turned back to the latest arrivals, arms still full of recalcitrant Christopher and attempted to sweep the both newcomers into a hug at once. He was hindered in the first instance by a bustling Susan, who flew at the pair of them and all but lifted hats and coats from their person, so that Gilbert succeeded only in squeezing assorted shoulders and that imperfectly. Anne had done better, somehow getting Shirley into her arms and was in the process, so Gilbert surmised, of crushing him from the ribs upwards.

'You came back!' she said with satisfaction, even as the exclamation rippled round the room in chorus.

'Of course we came back,' said Shirley, managing to sound indignant and breathless at once. Gilbert opened his mouth to say he knew not what; that this was far from obvious; that they hadn't expected it; to ask why, for the sake of familial nerves, hand no one written a letter. Perhaps even to risk asking how long they had them for. He said none of these things, instead closing his mouth again, dumbstruck. Words were insufficient to the occasion, see further Susan, bobbing and clucking with approval, her eyes suspiciously moist.

Di then appeared in the parlour doorway and Gilbert pulled her tight into a hug.

'We've missed you,' he said, meaning it for all of them. He stood for a moment with Di in his arms and Christopher pressed between them, taking stock of his family. 'Where,' he said, as Di tucked her head under his chin, 'is Teddy?'

'Gone to family for Christmas,' said Kitty, from where she sat cross-legged on the floor, fondling an elderly Dog Monday's ears. 'He sends apologies and Christmas greetings.'

Thereafter, Di rang for the Merediths to come up, and Gilbert went finally for the girning water. Jem settled the question of the milk train such that Anne parted gladly with a dollar, all while Faith soothed her son. Jerry stoked the fire and Susan, with mixed results, attempted to serve a civilised tea, while Shirley – results equally mixed – strove to reassure her that at no point had anyone resolved to leave the country everlastingly, and what had given her that idea in the first place?

'Is that true?' asked Gilbert of Mara, and she laughed.

'After a fashion. We did think on it – and came back. I promised Mouse once, you know, that I wouldn't ever go away.'

'I'd never have held you to it,' said Poppy, even as she laid a glossy dark head on Mara's shoulder. 'Not over this.'

Gilbert only shook his head. 'Thank God for Mouse and her promises,' all he said.

Assam spice mingled with Christmas greenery as Gilbert sat down opposite Kitty to a round of chess. Nearby, Di and Mara eked out the much-neglected Othello board from under the coffee-table, and Jims and Bruce, assisted by Peter, set to work on the building of an elaborate train set around the feet of unsuspecting adults, even as cups of tea grew cold around them. Una's Christmas Cake with its cinnamon and cloves savour and shortbread, buttery and rich as ever, was duly brought out – notably minus the wizened grasshopper collection – and passed 'round by Rosemary. Nan and her mother fell to talking what could have been children but Gilbert suspected was writing. Poppy and Leslie Ford worshipped dutifully at the altar of the Meredith twins, while Owen sat down at Anne's feet, confirming writing as the subject of the hour with her. When Gilbert next looked across the table, Kitty had landed him in an improbable check, and Mara had lured the teapot away from Susan the better to minister to neglected teacups. Di emerged from the kitchen armed with a fresh pot of hot water. Jerry took Kitty's side in the chess game and John Gilbert's. It was, in short, as jostling, merry and bright a Christmas holiday as anyone could wish.

This impression was corrected late Christmas afternoon. Santa had duly been and gone, with a kiss for Mrs Blythe and a burden of Christmas offerings that stacked higher than the children receiving them were tall. Jims worried a little that Dr Blythe had missed meeting Father Christmas when everyone else had, but was suitably assuaged by the combination of maple candy, a clementine and what was pronounced a 'famous' chemistry set.

They were at dinner, awash in competing smells of roast goose, creamy potatoes, tomato and gravy sauces, and the golden crispness of Yorkshire pudding, when the door rattled on the latch, proclaiming still more company. 'I'll get it,' said Kitty, who at the far end of the table had easiest access to the door. Susan began to protest, but Kitty, slightly built and quick-moving, eeled out of the room ahead of her.

Squeals shortly emanated from the hall, and then the abominable snowman stepped into the dining room.

'You said,' said Kitty excitably, 'that you couldn't get away!' She was all but bouncing on the balls of her feet in credible imitation of Dachshund Tuesday.

'I guess I stuck the holiday out as long as I reasonably could, Kitten,' said Teddy, cuffing the back of her dark head as Faith pulled him fiercely into a hug. That this covered her good dress in snow she did not appear to register. 'I thought,' this to the crown of Faith's head, 'it was probably better the little boys remember me being there without bloodshed, you know?'

'Well,' said Faith, deigning to let him go, 'We're glad to have you.'

Jem snared a hug of his own while Anne went for a chair, Susan for another place setting, and space was made between Jerry and Poppy for one more person. The table resettled into something approximating order, the air full of the chatter of dishware, the burbling of the children, the mingled scents of greens, meats and pastry, and the clamour of myriad cross-currents of conversation.

Gilbert leaned back in his chair and catching Anne's eyes, green in the winter sunlight, spared a Blythe smile for her, equal parts mischief and humour. This was something like. Impossible not to look around the table and see in it the thing Walter had so long ago prophesied, the world they would build, sure in foundation and waxing stronger by the day. More than that, it was the realisation of an old dream he and Anne had been used to conjure for the children ever since House of Dreams days; one spackled with laughter and founded on friendships, thick in well-wishes and happiness. Quite how they had got there seemed unsayable; it seemed as yesterday Gilbert had held a gurgling Jem in his arms and promised him the world. But here they were; elbows knocking, eyes sparkling, Susan's plum pudding suffering woeful neglect in the name of fellowship and family. It made for a grand scene, table leaves stretched to groaning point, the laughter of old friends, his children with their arms around sweethearts and their children in their arms.

Whatever had happened along the way, the war, the crosses and losses, it was enough that Gilbert could look at them now– Anne too – and say with conviction as they had so often said in yesteryear, God's in his heaven, and all's right with the world.