Here at long last is the end. I hope it ties up enough ends to satisfy -I always meant to go on writing further narratives about these characters so I didn't want to tie everything up with a string at the last moment. Ten thousand times ten thousand thanks (and more besides) to those of you who have followed this story so faithfully through to the end - I know there's been rather a lot of it, and I hope it's been worth it.

In November a letter came to Ingleside from Leslie Ford, asking she and Owen could be put up for Christmas. If not, she added, she would trust to the post and send her key to the cottage at Four Winds to Rilla, provided she had the time and didn't mind going over the house before they came down.

Of course you must stay with us, Anne wrote back. It's a dear house, and I've missed an excuse to visit it, but it's an age since it has had people in it and it will be much too cold. There is a Delectable Mountain quilt (isn't that a marvellous name?) and the sparest of spare rooms waiting for you. Besides, I want you to stay. It's been such a gruesome and grey November that even the birches are gloomy. One of the children, Walter I believe, has been peeling the bark off of them for fairy-houses and they look positively wilted. Can trees wilt? Your coming will be a spot of brightness to rival the Bethlehem star. Write again and let me know when your train is due in.

Prompted by some impish impulse, Leslie did write again but omitted the train time, with the result that she arrived unexpected and unannounced at Ingleside. Susan was quite horrified at the lack of ceremony on hand to receive such a favourite guest, but Anne, as ever with Leslie, was too happy to mind.

'This is a proper Christmas treat,' Anne said when she opened the door on her friend of old. It was still newly the middle of December, and the house was askew because Gilbert had only that morning brought the Christmas tree in and it was dropping needles and branches both with a fury.

'Have I surprised you?' Leslie wanted to know as she followed Anne in out of the cold, eyes sparkling girlishly, motioning for Owen to follow so the door can be closed.

'I never did outgrow surprises, dearest' said Anne, eyes shining. She took coats and hats over her arm and while Owen lugged cases upstairs, moved with Leslie into the warmth of the Ingleside kitchen, which was how Susan became aware of what was happening at all.

'There's no sitting in the drawing room,' Anne said, almost apologetically, 'unless you are that rare person that takes spruce needles in your tea.'

'I'm sure I don't know,' said a disgruntled Susan, 'but I thought the doctor said it was a pine?'

'It's much too blue for that, Susan,' says Leslie happily, 'but one way or another, I'm afraid needles in tea are not a thing I stretch to.' Susan looked horrified at the mere thought.

'Well,' she said grandly, 'there have never been, are not and so help me never shall be, any pine needles in my tea,' saying which, Susan proceeded to fill the good, all-purpose farmhouse teapot with hot water and fetched down the Old Chelsea china from the larder.

'The good china is all packed away,' she said a little resentfully. 'We never have it out when we're expecting the boys.'

'Oh but I've always loved this pattern,' Leslie insisted, cradling the blue and white china in her hands. ' It makes me think of evenings at the house of dreams. Are they pheasants, Anne or ducks? They have such long tails I can never decide*.'

'Ducks, I think,' said Anne meditatively, studying her own teacup closely. 'Now, I want to know everything. Where you have been, what you have been doing, and what you think of those dear children down in Glen St. Mary.'

'I haven't seen them recently,' Leslie said now, 'and it's hard to make out in the photos, but Nora's by way of becoming really beautiful, I think.'

'Oh yes, isn't she,' said Anne, recklessly adding a third lump of sugar to her own tea. It was that sort of afternoon.

'She gets it from you of course,' she said as she stirred the sugar until it dissolved. 'Her hair always strikes me as being positively alive. Rilla and I both have been thanking all the gods that ever were that living or not it is settling to copper. It has only the littlest hint of red Leslie, and in everything else she is like you and Persis, or is on her way to being.'

'There is only one God,' said Susan to no one in particular but ostensibly to the fire going in the Aga. The two friends begun as they meant to go on and broke into gentle, golden laughter that had no real object, and went on just as gently gossiping and drinking their tea until Susan positively insisted she have the kitchen back.

In spite of the impending departure, the world turned as usual. Birdie was initiated into the building up of the Nativity, and was enchanted by the sound of the Latin name for Advent III. Years later she would coax Mrs. Craig into letting the choir sing Gaudete at the Christmas Eve service, but for now she only tried to get her tongue around the name. Una took on the responsibility of the pudding, which drove Nan to insisting she borrow Esther for an afternoon, 'to clear the kitchen for you,' she said, but Una knew enough to know it was because Esther was Nan's favourite of all the children. Besides, Persis had declared that if John and Birdie were going to help with the stirring, the pudding would be a two-person job and refused, for the first and last time in the course of their friendship, to cede Una her own kitchen. Nan and Esther, for their part, spent a tranquil afternoon baking gingerbread. At least, Nan baked and Esther, even then taking in the world around her, filed away the smells and sounds of her aunt's kitchen and the things said to her. For Esther the combination of ginger and cloves would forever evoke not Christmas, but afternoons with her aunt Nan. Nan, listened keenly to Esther's half-formed words and easy laughter, and recalled a conversation she had with Jerry once over a cushion done up with silk shading. I was not angling for another cat, he had said, or something like it, and for the first time in a long while felt ready and willing to be reinitiated into the world of motherhood and allowed herself to build up that afternoon the picture of a child full of dreams and smiles as Esther was, with a touch of little Tamsin's appetite for joy* and Gil's gentleness.

When Christmas came, it was a joyful thing. It had always been that, of course, but somehow this year, perhaps because it was tangled up in the bittersweet business of partings and goodbyes, it seemed more so. Leslie, driven by an old memory, had put the electric lights at Ingleside off so that the house was lit only by the elfin glow of candles and kerosene. The quavering light was softer than the yellow light of electric lamps, for all their modernity and it was impossible to feel overwhelmed by it. The children ran riot and Ingleside echoed with the sound of their chatter and the impromptu four-part choir that was born at the piano. When inevitably the families divided into units again, there were no goodbyes, only 'Happy Christmases' from everyone, so that the atmosphere of parting dissipated and the suggestion instead was that this was only one of many holidays they will be together.

Persis and Carl stayed only long enough into the New Year for a boat crossing to be possible. It was not that they couldn't fly if they wanted to, but Persis confided over cocoa that neither she nor Carl had ever got on with heights. You could trust a boat, she said. They went with the last of the snowdrops and the first of the coltsfoot, leaving Greengage Close early in the morning on a day when the world was blanketed in fog, as if God had not got round to drawing the lace curtains on the windows of Heaven. As they were going Persis turned her head to catch a last view of the house, and took in, not only the greengage tree and the slope of the hill, but also Tabitha on the front doorstep, and Una and Shirley, both watching them not quite out of sight from the window. Looking at them, and at the house that had housed her so often and so long, Persis thought it was hardly the same house she first came to visit all those years ago; it was fuller and swollen with the day-to-day sounds and memories of its people. She found, as the house began to recede from sight, that she could picture it as it would be; the quilt frame out in the garden and the women quilting; Una, Rilla, Nan, calling as their own mothers had done, to the girls to come, come thread the needles. And Birdie, Esther and Nora would come running, just as she herself and the Ingleside twins, and the Manse girls had done, running up from Rainbow Valley to fill the sharps and the in-betweens, ducking and weaving around and through the still-moving arms of the quilters, burying the needles deep in the seams of the quilt-top before slipping away again to the sanctity of the tree lovers. Perhaps there would be other as yet unknown lasses with them, there might even be one with the sound of Oxford in her voice; but known or unknown, they would listen, all of them, for the soft and low call of the women who cherished them, and they would come running. Persis could picture Una, looking out of the small kitchen windows, making up the summer preserve, teaching Birdie and Esther, passing on that matrilineal inheritance that had mattered so much to her as a girl, the secret to good plum jam. The boys would run riot and would cause between them more talk than ever the Blythes and Merediths had occasioned. John no doubt would go on to build some wondrous thing, redirecting that budding love of assembling parts and would do so with more purpose and as much belief as he put by his great wooden towers, just as surely as Walter would turn into a more consummate fisherman even than his father, little Jem of old, had been, and not without a touch of the athlete about him. She, for her part, would find a way to borrow Birdie, to give to her that complex history and methodology that was both gift and curse, those awful and double-faced flowers, so that she too might contribute to the lives lived of some and might ease the goings of others. There would be music and laughter, and perhaps a good deal of tears, though never so much as the laughter, and all the while the kettle would whistle on the hob and Una –or perhaps it would be Birdie or Esther, or even little Tamsin of Lowbridge –would pour out.

And yet, for all that, Persis continued to see the house still as the same oasis of orderliness, still possessed of the still-small-voice-of-calm quality that she felt on her return from the Amazon. The world might go to pieces if it so chose, but Greengage Close, though it was built on a hill and the red sandy soil of P.E. Island, was clearly rooted in rock and would stand firm.


* 'Apetite for joy' is a phrase I believe I owe to Thomas Hardy's Tess.

And now you must tell me, because I am desirous of knowing, when I wrote this ending it felt the only way I could have ended this story, and I wonder if it is for my readers also. I have half a dozen other ideas to follow on from this story, of the children, the Glen, Oxford -you must tell me if I ought to follow them up.