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Sleeping Murder

By Ruth Robinson,2014-11-04 16:56
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EDITORIAL REVIEW:Originally published the year of Agatha Christie's death, *Sleeping Murder* is a novel as legendary as its lead character and its creator...A novel that adheres to the classic mystery formula, and transcends it... A novel that is a must for every mystery reader, marking the final bow of Christie's beloved sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. Now Sleeping Murder is back in a special trade edition, sure to delight old and new fans alike...."Agatha Christie makes us feel Miss Marple's shiver."-*New York Times*"Has all the virtues of Agatha Christie's work; a coherant plot, firm and purposeful narration, and a pleasant style."--*Times Literary Supplement* Published by New American Library on 2000/08/08

    Sleeping Murder

    Book Jacket

SUMMARY:Although Gwenda and Giles Reed are determined to solve a macabre puzzle involving a

    hauntingly familiar Victorian villa and a terrifying vision of a strangled woman, Miss Jane

    Marple advises them not to uncover a long unreported murder

    Agatha Christie - Sleeping Murder

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    Miss Marple's Last Case Complete and Unabridged

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    1 A HOUSE

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Gwenda Reed stood, shivering a little, on the quayside.

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    The docks and the custom sheds and all of England that she could see, were gently waving up anddown.

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    And it was in that moment that she made her decision—the decision that was to lead to suchvery momentous events.

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    She wouldn't go by the boat train to London as she had planned.

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    After all, why should she? No one was waiting for her, nobody expected her. She had only justgot off that heaving creaking boat (it had been an exceptionally rough three days through theBay and up to Plymouth) and the last thing she wanted was to get into a heaving swaying train.

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    She would go to a hotel, a nice firm steady hotel standing on good solid ground. And she wouldget into a nice steady bed that didn't creak and roll. And she would go to sleep, and the nextmorning -- why, of course -- what a splendid idea! She would hire a car and she would driveslowly and without hurrying herself all through the South of England looking about for a house-- a nice house -- the house that she and Giles had planned she should find.

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    Yes, that was a splendid idea.

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    In that way she would see something of England -- of the England that Giles had told her aboutand which she had never seen, although, like most New Zealanders, she called it Home. At themoment, England was not looking particularly attractive.

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    It was a grey day with rain imminent and a sharp irritating wind blowing. Plymouth, Gwendathought, as she moved forward obediently in the queue for Passports and Customs, was probablynot the best of England.

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    On the following morning, however, her feelings were entirely different. The sun was shining.The view from her window was attractive. And the universe in general was no longer waving andwobbling. It had steadied down. This was England at last and here she was, Gwenda Reed, youngmarried woman of twenty-one, on her travels. Giles's return to England was uncertain.

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He might follow her in a few weeks. It might be as long as six months.

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    His suggestion had been that Gwenda should precede him to England and should look about for asuitable house. They both thought it would be nice to have, somewhere, a permanency. Giles'sjob would always entail a certain amount of travelling.

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    Sometimes Gwenda would come too, sometimes the conditions would not be suitable.

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    But they both liked the idea of having a home -- some place of their very own.

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    Giles had inherited some furniture from an aunt recently, so that everything combined to makethe idea a sensible and practical one.

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    Since both Gwenda and Giles were reasonably well off the prospect presented no difficulties.

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    Gwenda had demurred at first at choosing a house on her own. "We ought to do it together," shehad said. But Giles had said laughingly: "I'm not much of a hand at houses. If you like it, Ishall. A bit of a garden, of course, and not some brand-new horror -- and not too big.Somewhere on the south coast was my idea. At any rate, not too far inland." "Was there anyparticular place?" Gwenda asked. But Giles said No. He'd been left an orphan young (they wereboth orphans) and had been passed around to various relations for holidays, and no particularspot had any particular association for him. It was to be Gwenda's house -- and as for waitinguntil they could choose it together, suppose he were held up for six months? What would Gwendado with herself all that time? Hang about in hotels? No, she was to find a house and getsettled in.

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    "What you mean is,39 said Gwenda, "do all the work!" But she liked the idea of finding a homeand having it all ready, cosy and lived in, for when Giles came back.

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    They had been married just three months and she loved him very much.

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    After sending for breakfast in bed, Gwenda got up and arranged her plans.

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    She spent a day seeing Plymouth which she enjoyed and on the following day she hired acomfortable Daimler car and chauffeur and set off on her journey through England.

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    The weather was good and she enjoyed her tour very much. She saw several possible residences inDevonshire but nothing that she felt was exactly right.

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    There was no hurry. She would go on looking. She learned to read between the lines of the houseagents' enthusiastic descriptions and saved herself a certain number of fruitless errands.

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    It was on a Tuesday evening about a week later that the car came gently down the curving hillroad into Dillmouth and on the outskirts of that still charming seaside resort, passed a ForSale board where, through the trees, a glimpse of a small white Victorian villa could be seen.

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    Immediately Gwenda felt a throb of appreciation — almost of recognition. This was her house!Already she was sure of it.

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    She could picture the garden, the long windows — she was sure that the house was just what shewanted.

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    It was late in the day, so she put up at the Royal Clarence Hotel and went to the house agentswhose name she had noted on the board the following morning.

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    Presently, armed with an order to view, she was standing in the old-fashioned long drawing-roomwith its two french windows giving on to a flagged terrace in front of which a kind of rockeryinterspersed with flowering shrubs fell sharply to a stretch of lawn below. Through the treesat the bottom of the garden the sea could be seen.

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    This is my house, thought Gwenda. It's home. I feel already as though I know every bit of it.

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    The door opened and a tall melancholy woman with a cold in the head entered, sniffing. "Mrs.Hengrave? I have an order from Messrs. Galbraith and Penderley.

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    I'm afraid it's rather early in the day -- " Mrs. Hengrave, blowing her nose, said sadly thatthat didn't matter at all. The tour of the house began.

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    Yes, it was just right. Not too large. A bit old-fashioned, but she and Giles could put inanother bathroom or two. The kitchen could be modernised. It already had an Aga, fortunately.

    With a new sink and up-to-date equipment -- Through all Gwenda's plans and preoccupations, thevoice of Mrs. Hengrave droned thinly on recounting the details of the late Major Hengrave'slast illness. Half of Gwenda attended to making the requisite noises of condolence, sympathyand understanding. Mrs. Hengrave's people all lived in Kent—anxious she should come and settlenear them... the Major had been very fond of Dillmouth, secretary for many years of the GolfClub, but she herself.

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    "Yes.... Of course.... Dreadful for you.... Most natural.... Yes, nursing homes are likethat.... Of course.... You must be..." And the other half of Gwenda raced along in thought:Linen cupboard here, I expect.... Yes. Double room—nice view of sea — Giles will like that.Quite a useful little room here — Giles might have it as a dressing-room.... Bathroom — Iexpect the bath has a mahogany surround— Qh yes, it has\ How lovely — and standing in themiddle of the floor! I shan't change that — it's a period piece!

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    Such an enormous bath!

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    One could have apples on the surround.

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    And sail boats — and painted ducks. You could pretend you were in the sea.... I know: we'llmake that dark back spareroom into a couple of really up-to-date green and chromium bathrooms— the pipes ought to be all right over the kitchen — and keep this just as it is.

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    "Pleurisy,' said Mrs. Hengrave. "Turning to double pneumonia on the third day --5) "Terrible,"said Gwenda. "Isn't there another bedroom at the end of this passage ?" There was -- and it wasjust the sort of room she had imagined it would be -- almost round, with a big bow window.

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    She'd have to do it up, of course. It was in quite good condition, but why were people likeMrs. Hengrave so fond of that mustardcum-biscuit shade of wall paint?

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    They retraced their steps along the corridor. Gwenda murmured conscientiously, "Six, no, sevenbedrooms, counting the little one and the attic." The boards creaked faintly under her feet.Already she felt that it was she and not Mrs. Hengrave who lived here! Mrs.

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    Hengrave was an interloper--a woman who did up rooms in mustard-cum-biscuit colour and liked afrieze of wistaria in her drawing-room. Gwenda glanced down at the typewritten paper in herhand on which the details of the property and the price asked were given.

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In the course of a few days Gwenda had become fairly conversant with house values.

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    The sum asked was not large -- of course the house needed a certain amount of modernisation --but even then.... And she noted the words "Open to offer". Mrs.

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    Hengrave must be very anxious to go to Kent and live near "her people".

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    They were starting down the stairs when quite suddenly Gwenda felt a wave of irrational terrorsweep over her. It was a sickening sensation, and it passed almost as quickly as it came. Yetit left behind it a new idea.

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    "The house isn't--haunted, is it?" demanded Gwenda.

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    Mrs. Hengrave, a step below, and having just got to the moment in her narrative when MajorHengrave was sinking fast, looked up in an affronted manner.

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    "Not that I am aware of, Mrs. Reed.

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    Why--has anyone--been saying something of the kind?" "You've never felt or seen anythingyourself? Nobody's died here?59 Rather an unfortunate question, she thought, a split second ofa moment too late, because presumably Major Hengrave -- "My husband died in the St. Monica'sNursing Home," said Mrs. Hengrave stiffly.

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    "Oh, of course. You told me so." Mrs. Hengrave continued in the same rather glacial manner: "Ina house which was presumably built about a hundred years ago, there would normally be deathsduring that period. Miss Elworthy from whom my dear husband acquired this house seven yearsago, was in excellent health, and indeed planning to go abroad and do missionary work, and shedid not mention any recent demises in her family." Gwenda hastened to soothe the melancholyMrs. Hengrave down. They were now once more in the drawing-room. It was a peaceful and charmingroom, with exactly the kind of atmosphere that Gwenda coveted. Her momentary panic just nowseemed quite incomprehensible. What had come over her? There was nothing wrong with the house.

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    Asking Mrs. Hengrave if she could take a look at the garden, she went out through the frenchwindows on to the terrace.

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There should be steps here, thought Gwenda, going down to the lawn.

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    But instead there was a vast uprising of forsythia which at this particular place seemed tohave got above itself and effectually shut out all view of the sea.

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    Gwenda nodded to herself. She would alter all that.

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    Following Mrs. Hengrave, she went along the terrace and down some steps at the far side on tothe lawn. She noted that the rockery was neglected and overgrown, and that most of theflowering shrubs needed pruning.

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    Mrs. Hengrave murmured apologetically that the garden had been rather neglected.

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    Only able to afford a man twice a week. And quite often he never turned up.

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    They inspected the small but adequate kitchen garden and returned to the house.

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    Gwenda explained that she had other houses to see, and that though she liked Hillside (what acommonplace name!) very much, she could not decide immediately.

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    Mrs. Hengrave parted from her with a somewhat wistful look and a last long lingering sniff.

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    Gwenda returned to the agents, made a firm offer subject to surveyor's report and spent therest of the morning walking round Dillmouth. It was a charming and old-fashioned little seasidetown. At the far, "modern" end, there were a couple of newlooking hotels and some raw-looldngbungalows, but the geographical formation of c the coast with the hills behind had savedDillmouth from undue expansion.

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    After lunch Gwenda received a telephone call from the agents saying that Mrs.

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    Hengrave accepted her offer. With a mischievous smile on her lips Gwenda made her way to thepost office and despatched a cable to Giles.

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    HAVE BOUGHT A HOUSE. LOVE. GWENDA.

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    "That'll tickle him up," said Gwenda to herself. "Show him that the grass doesn't grow under myfeet!"

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    2 WALLPAPER

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    A MONTH had passed and Gwenda had moved into Hillside. Giles's aunt's furniture had come out ofstore and was arranged round the house.

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    It was good quality old-fashioned stuff.

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    One or two over-large wardrobes Gwenda had sold, but the rest fitted in nicely and was inharmony with the house. There were small gay papier-mache tables in the drawing-room, inlaidwith mother-of-pearl and painted with castles and roses. There was a prim little work-tablewith a gathered sack underneath of puce silk, there was a rosewood bureau and a mahogany sofatable.

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    The so-called easy chairs Gwenda had relegated to various bedrooms and had bought two largesquashy wells of comfort for herself and Giles to stand each side of the fireplace. The largechesterfield sofa was placed near the windows. For curtains Gwenda had chosen old-fashionedchintz of pale egg-shell blue with prim urns of roses and yellow birds on them. The room, shenow considered, was exactly right.

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    She was hardly settled yet, since she had workmen in the house still. They should have been outby now, but Gwenda rightly estimated that until she herself came into residence, they would notgo.

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    The kitchen alterations were finished, the new bathrooms nearly so. For further decoratingGwenda was going to wait a while. She wanted time to savour her new home and decide on theexact colour schemes she wanted for the bedrooms.

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    The house was really in very good order and there was no need to do everything at once.

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    In the kitchen a Mrs. Cocker was now installed, a lady of condescending graciousness, inclinedto repulse Gwenda's overdemocratic friendliness, but who, once Gwenda had been satisfactorilyput in her place, was willing to unbend.

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    On this particular morning Mrs. Cocker deposited a breakfast tray on Gwenda's knees, as she satup in bed.

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    'When there's no gentleman in the house," Mrs. Cocker affirmed, "a lady prefers her breakfastin bed." And Gwenda had bowed to this supposedly English enactment.

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    "Scrambled this morning," Mrs. Cocker observed, referring to the eggs. "You said somethingabout finnan haddock, but you wouldn't like it in the bedroom. It leaves a smell. I'm giving itto you for your supper, creamed on toast." "Oh, thank you, Mrs. Cocker." Mrs. Cocker smiledgraciously and prepared to withdraw.

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    Gwenda was not occupying the big double bedroom. That could wait until Giles returned. She hadchosen instead the end room, the one with the rounded walls and the bow window. She feltthoroughly at home in it and happy.

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    Looking round her now, she exclaimed impulsively: "I do like this room." Mrs. Cocker lookedround indulgently.

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    "It is quaite a naice room, madam, though small. By the bars on the window I should say it hadbeen the nursery at one time." "I never thought of that. Perhaps it has." "Ah, well," said Mrs.Cocker, with implication in her voice, and withdrew.

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    "Once we have a gentleman in the house," she seemed to be saying, "who knows? A nursery may beneeded." Gwenda blushed. She looked round the room. A nursery? Yes, it would be a nice nursery.She began furnishing it in her mind. A big dolls' house there against the wall. And lowcupboards with toys in them. A fire burning cheerfully in the grate and a tall guard round itwith things airing on the rail. But not this hideous mustard wall. No, she would have a gaywallpaper. Something bright and cheerful.

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    Little bunches of poppies alternating with bunches of cornflowers.... Yes, that would belovely. She'd try and find a wallpaper like that. She felt sure she had seen one somewhere.

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    One didn't need much furniture in the room. There were two built-in cupboards, but one of them,a corner one, was locked and the key lost. Indeed the whole thing had been painted over, so

    that it could not have been opened for many years. She must get the men to open it up beforethey left. As it was, she hadn't got room for all her clothes.

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    She felt more at home every day in Hillside. Hearing a throat being ponderously cleared and ashort dry cough through the open window, she hurried over her breakfast. Foster, thetemperamental jobbing gardener, who was not always reliable in his promises, must be here todayas he had said he would be.

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    Gwenda bathed, dressed, put on a tweed skirt and a sweater and hurried out into the garden.Foster was at work outside the drawing-room window. Gwenda's first action had been to get apath made down through the rockery at this point. Foster had been recalcitrant, pointing outthat the forsythia would have to go and the weigela, and them there lilacs, but Gwenda had beenadamant, and he was now almost enthusiastic about his task.

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    He greeted her with a chuckle.

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    "Looks like you're going back to old times, miss." (He persisted in calling Gwenda "miss".)"Old times? How?" Foster tapped with his spade.

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    "I come on the old steps -- see, that's where they went -- just as you want 'em now. Thensomeone planted them over and covered them up." "It was very stupid of them," said Gwenda. "Youwant a vista down to the lawn and the sea from the drawing-room window." Foster was somewhathazy about a vista -- but he gave a cautious and grudging assent.

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    "I don't say, mind you, that it won't be an improvement.... Gives you a view --and them shrubsmade it dark in the drawing-room. Still they was growing a treat -- never seen a healthier lotof forsythia. Lilacs isn't much, but them wiglers costs money -- and mind you -- they're tooold to replant." "Oh, I know. But this is much, much nicer." 'Well." Foster scratched his head.

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    "Maybe it is." "It's right," said Gwenda, nodding her head. She asked suddenly, "Who lived herebefore the Hengraves? They weren't here very long, were they?" "Matter of six years or so.Didn't belong. Afore them? The Miss Elworthys.

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    Very churchy folk. Low church. Missions to the heathen. Once had a black clergyman stayinghere, they did. Four of 'em there was, and their brother--but he didn't get much of a look-inwith all those women. Before them--now let me see, it was Mrs. Findeyson--ah! she was the realgentry, she was. She belonged. Was living here afore I was born." 'Did she die here?" askedGwenda.

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