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Title: The Blossoming Rod
Author: Cutting, Mary Stewart Doubleday, 1851-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Blossoming Rod" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE BLOSSOMING ROD

by

MARY STEWART CUTTING


A.L. Burt Company
Publishers New York
Doubleday, Page & Company



[Illustration: _He was out in the backyard ... flapping that rod in
circles_]



Mr. Langshaw had vaguely felt unusual preparations for a Christmas gift
to him this year; he was always being asked for "change" to pay the
children for services rendered.

It might have seemed a pity that calculation as to dollars and cents
entered so much into the Christmas festivities of the family, if it were
not that it entered so largely into the scheme of living that it was
naturally interwoven with every dearest hope and fancy; the overcoming
of its limitations gave a zest to life. Langshaw himself, stopping now,
as was his daily habit, to look at the display made by the
sporting-goods shop on his way home the Friday afternoon before
Christmas Monday, wondered, as his hand touched the ten-dollar bill in
his pocket--a debt unexpectedly paid him that day--if the time had
actually arrived at last when he might become the possessor of the
trout-rod that stood in the corner of the window; reduced, as the ticket
proclaimed, from fifteen dollars to ten.

The inspiration was the more welcome because the moment before his mind
had been idly yet disquietingly filled with the shortcomings of George,
his eldest child, and only son, aged ten, who didn't seem to show that
sense of responsibility which his position and advanced years called
for--even evading his duties to his fond mother when he should be
constituting himself her protector. He was worried as to the way George
would turn out when he grew up.

This particular trout-rod, however, had an attraction for Langshaw of
long standing. He had examined it carefully more than once when in the
shop with his neighbour, Wickersham; it wasn't a fifty-dollar rod, of
course, but it seemed in some ways as good as if it were--it was
expensive enough for him! He had spoken of it once to his wife, with a
craving for her usual sympathy, only to meet with a surprise that seemed
carelessly disapproving.

"Why, you have that old one of your father's and the bass-rod already; I
can't see why you should want another. You always say you can't get off
to go fishing as it is."

He couldn't explain that to have this particular split bamboo would be
almost as good as going on a fishing trip; with it in his hand he could
feel himself between green meadows, the line swirling down the rushing
brook. But later Clytie had gone back to the subject with pondering
consideration.

"Ten dollars seems an awful price for a rod! I'm sure I could buy the
same thing for much less uptown; wouldn't you like me to see about it
some day?"

"Great Scott! Never think of such a thing!" he had replied in horror. "I
could get much cheaper ones myself! If I ever have the money I'll do the
buying--you hear?"

"--Hello, Langshaw! Looking at that rod again? Why don't you blow
yourself to a Christmas present? Haven't you got the nerve?"

"That's what I don't know!" called Langshaw with a wave of the hand as
Wickersham passed by. Yet, even as he spoke he felt he did know--his
mind was joyously, adventurously made up to have "the nerve"; he had a
right, for once in the twelve years of his married life, to buy himself
a Christmas present that he really wanted, in distinction to the gift
that family affection prompted, and held dear as such, but which had no
relation to his needs or desires. Children and friends were provided
for; his wife's winter suit--a present by her transforming
imagination--already in the house; the Christmas turkey for the janitor
of the children's school subscribed to--sometimes he had wished himself
the janitor!--and all the small demands that drain the purse at the
festal season carefully counted up and allowed for. There was no lien on
this unexpected sum just received. The reel and the line, and the flies
and such, would have to wait until another time, to be sure; but no one
could realize what it would be to him to come home and find that blessed
rod there. He had a wild impulse to go in and buy it that moment, but
such haste seemed too slighting to the dignity of that occasion, which
should allow the sweets of anticipation--though no one knew better than
he the danger of delay where money was concerned: it melted like snow in
the pocket. Extra funds always seemed to bring an extra demand.

The last time there was ten dollars to spare there had been a letter
from Langshaw's mother, saying that his sister Ella, whose husband was
unfortunately out of a position, had developed flat-foot; and a pair of
suitable shoes, costing nine-fifty, had been prescribed by the
physician. Was it possible for her dear boy to send the money? Ella was
so depressed.

The ten dollars had, of course, gone to Ella. Both Langshaw and his wife
had an unsympathetic feeling that if they developed flat-foot now they
would have to go without appropriate shoes.

"You look quite gay!" said his wife as she greeted him on his return,
her pretty oval face, with its large dark eyes and dark curly locks,
held up to be kissed. "Has anything nice happened?"

"You look gay, too!" he evaded laughingly, as his arms lingered round
her. Clytie was always a satisfactory person for a wife. "What's this
pink stuff on your hair--popcorn?"

"Oh, goodness! Baby has been so bad, she has been throwing it round
everywhere," she answered, running ahead of him upstairs to a room that
presented a scene of brilliant disorder.

On the bed was a large box of tinselled Christmas-tree decorations and
another of pink-and-white popcorn--the flotsam and jetsam of which
strewed the counterpane and the floor to its farthest corners, mingled
with scraps of glittering paper, an acreage of which surrounded a table
in the centre of the room that was adorned with mucilage pot and
scissors. A large feathered hat, a blue silk dress, and a flowered skirt
were on the rug, near which a very plump child of three, with straggling
yellow hair, was trying to get a piece of gilt paper off her shoe. She
looked up with roguish blue eyes to say rapidly:

"Fardie doesn't know what baby goin' agive 'm for Kissemus!"

"Hello! This looks like the real thing," said Langshaw, stepping over
the débris; "but what are all these clothes on the floor for?"

"Oh, Mary was dressing up and just dropped those things when she went to
the village with Viney, though I called her twice to come back and pick
them up," said the mother, sweeping the garments out of the way. "It's
so tiresome of her! Oh, I know you stand up for everything Mary does,
Joe Langshaw; but she is the hardest child to manage!"

Her tone insensibly conveyed a pride in the difficulty of dealing with
her elder daughter, aged six.

"But did you ever see anything like Baby? She can keep a secret as well
as any one! It does look Christmasy, though--doesn't it? Of course all
the work of the tree at the mission comes on me as usual. The children,
with the two Wickersham girls, were helping me until they got tired. Why
don't you come and kiss father, Baby? She is going to sweep up the floor
with her little broom so that father will give her five cents."

"I don't want to fweep 'e floor!" said the child, snapping her blue
eyes.

"She shall get her little broom and Fardie will help her," said
Langshaw, catching the child up in his arms and holding the round little
form closely to him before putting her down carefully on her stubby
feet.

Later, when the game of clearing up was over and the nickel clutched in
Baby's fat palm, he turned to his wife with a half-frown:

"Don't you think you are making the children rather mercenary, Clytie?
They seem to want to be paid for everything they do. I'm just about
drained out of change!"

"Oh, at Christmas!" said the wife expressively.

"Well, I hope nobody is going to spend any money on me; the only
presents I want are those you make for me," said Langshaw warningly. He
gave the same warning each year, undeterred by the nature of the
articles produced. His last year's "Christmas" from Clytie had been a
pair of diaphanous blue China-silk pyjamas that were abnormally large in
chest and sleeves--as for one of giant proportions--and correspondingly
contracted in the legs, owing to her cutting out the tops first and
having to get the other necessary adjuncts out of the scant remainder of
the material. "You hear me, Clytie?"

"Yes, I hear," returned Clytie in a bored tone.

"Do you know--" Langshaw hesitated, a boyish smile overspreading his
countenance. "I was looking at that trout-rod in Burchell's window
to-day. I don't suppose you remember my speaking of it, but I've had my
eye on it for a long time." He paused, expectant of encouraging
interest.

"Oh, have you, dear?" said Clytie absently. The room was gradually,
under her fingers, resuming its normal appearance. She turned suddenly
with a vividly animated expression.

"I must tell you that you're going to get a great surprise tonight--it
isn't a Christmas present, but it's something that you'll like even
better, I know. It's about something that George has been doing. You'll
never guess what it is!"

"Is that so?" said Langshaw absently in his turn. He had a momentary
sense of being set back in his impulse to confidences that was not,
after all, untinged with pleasure. His delightful secret was still his
own, unmarred by unresponsive criticism. "By the way, Clytie, I don't
like the way George has been behaving lately. He hasn't shown me his
report from school in months; whenever I ask him for it he has some
excuse. Hello! Is that little Mary crying?"

"I wonder what on earth has happened now!" exclaimed the mother, rushing
from the room, to return the next instant, pulling after her a
red-cloaked and red-hatted little girl who sought to hide behind her.

"Well, what do you think she's done?" Clytie's tone was withering as she
haled forth the shrinking culprit, her small hands over her eyes. "She
lost her purse with the dollar she had saved up for your Christmas
present--lost the money for dear father's present; and all because she
took it with her to buy a five-cent pencil--a green pencil with purple
glass in the end of it; to buy something for _herself_ before
Christmas!" Clytie paused tragically. "Of course, if she hadn't taken
her money out to spend it on herself she wouldn't have lost it!"

"I don't care!" burst out the culprit, her big dark eyes, just like her
mother's, flashing from under her brown curls, and her red lips set
defiantly. "It was my own money, anyhow, if I did lose it. I earned it
all myself. It wasn't yours!"

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" interposed the father in gentle reproof. "Little girls
mustn't talk like that to dear mother. Come, get up here on father's
knee--so." He took off the red cap, tucked the brown curly head in the
bend of his arm, his chin resting on the top of it as he went on, with
the child's small hands clutching at his. "Mary must always do what
mother says; but, so far as this money is concerned, you can make me
something that I would like far better than anything you could buy. Why
don't you make me another pincushion, for instance? The one you gave me
last year is quite worn out."

"A pink one?" asked Mary faintly.

"Yes. What's the matter now?" The child had suddenly wriggled to a
kneeling posture in his hold and had her little strangling arms round
his neck in a tempest of sobs.

"I don't want to give you a pi-ink pincushion--I don't want to! I want
my dollar! I want my dollar--to spend! I want--Father, I want my
dollar--my do-o-ol-lar! I want my--"

"What did I tell you, Mary Langshaw?" cried Clytie. She appealed to her
husband. "It's just the way I knew she'd act. Now I suppose you'll have
to give it to her. Mary, be still a moment--her head is so hot!"

"There, there!" said Langshaw soothingly. "She shall have her money this
minute."

"Of course she doesn't deserve it," said Clytie, but with a tone of
relief in her voice that seemed oddly greater than the occasion
warranted. Mary had wound herself round him passionately; her sobs were
dying away happily in long, deep breaths at intervals. Baby, being
undressed on her mother's lap, was laughing over some pieces of gilt
paper. In the heart of this domesticity it was as if the father and
mother were embarked with this little company on a full and swelling
river of love, of which they felt the exquisite soothing ripples.

Langshaw put his hand into his pocket.

"No, I can't give you the dollar this minute, little girl; father has
only a ten-dollar bill. I'll get it changed right after dinner. Isn't
dinner 'most ready, Clytie?"

"We'll go down just as soon as I get Baby in bed," said the mother
peacefully. "I don't see why George isn't here. Goodness! There he is
now," she added as a tremendous slam of the front door announced the
fact. The next moment a small boy, roguishly blue-eyed and yellow-haired
like Baby, with an extremely dirty face and a gray sweater half covered
with mud, hurled himself into the room, surreptitiously tickling one of
Baby's bare feet and pulling Mary's curls on his way to greet his
father.

"What have you been doing to get so dirty?"

"Playing cops and robbers," said the boy, serenely. His dimples
appeared suddenly; his eyes lit up. "Say, mother"--he turned to her
irresolutely--"shall I tell father now?"

"Not until after dinner," returned the mother inexorably. "Go and make
yourself clean!"

"May I put on my white silk tie?" George's white tie was the banner of
festivity.

"Yes."

"You rouse my curiosity. This seems to be a great occasion," said
Langshaw.

"Oh, it is!" agreed the mother happily. She murmured in his ear as they
went downstairs: "I hope you'll show that you're pleased, dear. You know
sometimes when you really are pleased you don't show it at once--and
George has been trying so hard. If you'll only show that you're
pleased--"

"Yes--all right!" returned the husband a little impatiently. Clytie had
a sensitive consideration for her son's feelings which struck him at
times as exaggerated. He thought of the delightful secret back in his
own mind; there was no reason for talking any more about the rod until
he bought it; he would manage to replace the dollar abstracted from the
reserve fund.

If he gave absent answers during the meal Clytie seemed to be
preoccupied also. Little Mary, who sat by him, tucked her hand into his
as she prattled.

"Now, George!" said his mother at last suddenly when the rice pudding
had been finished. George rose, clean and red-cheeked, looking more than
ever like a large edition of Baby, in spite of his jacket and
knickerbockers, as he stepped over to his father with a new dignity and
handed him a folded sheet of paper.

"What's this?" asked Langshaw genially opening it. He read aloud the
words within, written laboriously in a round, boyish hand:

     To George Brander Langshaw, from father.
       You Oh me five dolars.

                         Reseived paiment.

"Hello! Hello! What does this mean?" asked Langshaw slowly, with an
unpleasant startled sensation that any such sum in connection with
George was out of all reason.

"It means a bill for you from me!" announced George. His cheeks grew
redder, his blue eyes looked squarely at his father. "It's for this!" He
pulled from his pocket a school report card divided into tiny ruled
squares, filled with figures for half its length, and flung it down
proudly on the table before his parent.

"It's the Deportment--since September. You said when Miss Skinner sent
that last note home about me that if I could get a hundred in Deportment
for every month up to Christmas you'd be willing to pay me five dollars.
You can see there for yourself, father, the three one hundreds--no, not
that line--that's only fifty-five for spelling; nobody ever knows their
spelling! Here is the place to look--in the Deportment column. I've
tried awful hard to be good, father, to surprise you."

"The way that child has tried!" burst forth Clytie, her dark eyes
drowned in sparkles. "And they're so unfair at school--giving you a mark
if you squeak your chair, or speak, or look at anybody; as if any child
could be expected to sit like a stone all the time! I'm sure I love to
hear children laughing--and you know yourself how hard it is for George
to be quiet! We had a little talk about it together, he and I; and now
you see! It's been such work keeping his card from you each month when
you asked for it. One day he thought he had a bad mark and he couldn't
eat any dinner--you thought he was ill; but he went to Miss Skinner the
next day and she took it off because he had been trying so hard to be
good. Joe, why don't you speak?"

"George, I'm proud of you!" said Langshaw simply. There was a slight
huskiness in his voice; the round face and guileless blue eyes of his
little boy, who had tried "awful hard to be good," seemed to have
acquired a new dignity. The father saw in him the grown-up son who could
be depended upon to look after his mother if need were. Langshaw held
out his hand as man to man; the two pairs of eyes met squarely. "Nothing
you could have done would have pleased me more than this, George. I
value it more than any Christmas present I could have."

"Mother said you'd like it," said the beaming George, ducking his head
suddenly and kicking out his legs from behind.

"And you'll pay the five dollars?" supplemented Clytie anxiously.

"Surely!" said Langshaw. The glances of the parents met in one of the
highest pleasures that life affords: the approval together of the good
action of their dear child. "George can go out and get this ten-dollar
bill changed."

"If you can't spare it, father--" suggested the boy with some new sense
of manliness, hanging back.

"I'm glad to be able to spare it," said the father soberly. "It's a good
deal of money," he added. "I suppose, of course, you'll put it in the
bank, George?"

"Now you mustn't ask what he's going to do with it," said Clytie.

"Oh, isn't it much!" cried little Mary.

"Dear me, there's the doorbell," said Clytie. "Who can it be at this
hour? Run, George, and see!"

"It's a letter for you, mother," announced George, reappearing. "There's
a man in the hall, waiting for an answer."

"It looks like a bill," said Clytie nervously, tearing open the
envelope; "but I don't owe any bill. Why, it's two and a quarter, from
the tailor, for fixing over my old suit last fall! I'm positive I paid
it weeks ago. There's some mistake."

"He says he's been here three times, but you were out."

"Have you any money for it, Clytie?" asked her husband.

Clytie looked as if a thunderbolt had struck her.

"Yes, I have; but--oh, I don't want to take it for that! I need every
penny I've got."

"Well, there's no need of feeling so badly about it," said Langshaw
resignedly.

"Give the ten-dollar bill to the man, George, and see if he can change
it." He couldn't resist a slight masculine touch of severity at her
incapacity. "I wish you'd tend to these things at the time, Clytie, or
let me know about them." He took the money when George returned. "Here's
your dollar now, Mary--don't lose it again!--and your five, George. You
might as well take another dollar yourself, Clytie, for extras."

He pocketed the remainder of the change carelessly. After his first pang
at the encroachment on the reserve fund the rod had sunk so far out of
sight that it was almost as if it had never been. He had, of course,
known all along that he would not buy it. Even the sting of the "Amount
due" quickly evaporated.

Little Mary gave a jump that bumped her brown curly head against him.

"You don't know what I'm going to give you for Christmas!" she cried
joyously.



II


Langshaw was one of those men who have an inherited capacity for
enjoying Christmas. He lent it his attention with zest, choosing the
turkey himself with critical care as he went through the big market in
town, from whence he brought also wreaths and branches of holly that
seemed to have larger and redder berries than could be bought in the
village. On Christmas Eve he put up the greens that decorated the
parlour and dining-room--a ceremony that required large preparations
with a step-ladder, a hammer, tacks, and string, the removal of his
coat, and a lighted pipe in one corner of his mouth; and which proceeded
with such painstaking slowness on account of his coming down from the
ladder every other moment to view the artistic effect of the
arrangements, that it was only by sticking the last branches up any old
way at Clytie's wild appeal that he ever got it finished at all.

Then he helped her fill the stockings, his own fingers carefully giving
the crowning effect of orange and cornucopia in each one, and arranging
the large packages below, after tiptoeing down the stairs with them so
as not to wake the officially sleeping children, who were patently stark
awake, thrashing or coughing in their little beds. The sturdy George had
never been known to sleep on Christmas Eve, always coming down the next
day esthetically pale and with abnormally large eyes, to the feast of
rapture.

On this Saturday--Christmas Eve's eve--when Langshaw finally reached
home, laden with all the "last things" and the impossible packages of
tortuous shapes left by fond relatives at his office for the
children--one pocket of his overcoat weighted with the love-box of
really good candy for Clytie--it was evident as soon as he opened the
hall door that something unusual was going on upstairs. Wild shrieks of
"It's father! It's father!" rent the air.

"It's father!"

"Fardie! Fardie, don't come up!"

"Father, don't come up!"

"Father, it's your present!"

There was hasty scurrying of feet, racing to and fro, and further
shrieks. Langshaw waited, smiling.

It was evidently a "boughten" gift, then; the last had been a water
pitcher, much needed in the household. He braced himself fondly for
immense enthusiasm over this.

An expression of intense excitement was visible on each face when
finally he was allowed to enter the upper room. Mary and Baby rushed at
him to clasp his leg, while his wife leaned over to kiss him as he
whispered:

"I brought out a lot of truck; it's all in the closet in the hall."

George, standing with his hands in his pockets, proclaimed loudly, with
sparkling eyes:

"You nearly saw your present! It's from mother and us. Come here, Baby,
and pull brother's leg. Say, father, do you like cut glass?"

"O-oh!" came in ecstatic chorus from the other two, as at a delightful
joke.

"It's a secret!" announced Baby, her yellow hair falling over one round,
blue eye.

"I believe it's a pony," said the father. "I'm sure I heard a pony up
here!"

Shouts of renewed joy greeted the jest.

All the next day, Christmas Eve itself, whenever two or three of the
family were gathered together there were secret whisperings, more
scurryings, and frenzied warnings for the father not to come into the
room. In spite of himself, Langshaw began to get a little curious as to
the tobacco jar or the fire shovel, or whatever should be his portion.
He not only felt resigned to not having the trout-rod, but a sort of
wonder also rose in him that he had been bewitched--even
momentarily--into thinking he could have it. What did it matter anyway?

"It's worth it, old girl, isn't it?" he said cryptically as he and
Clytie met once unexpectedly in the hall, and he put his arm round her.

"Yes!" answered his wife, her dark eyes lustrous. Sometimes she didn't
look much older than little Mary. "One thing, though, I must say: I do
hope, dear, that--the children have been thinking so much of our present
to you and saving up so for it--I do hope, Joe, that if you are pleased
you'll show it. So far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter; but
sometimes--when, of course, I know how pleased you really are--you don't
show it at once to others. That's why I hope you'll show it to-morrow
if--"

"Great Scott! Clytie, let up on it! What do you want me to do--jump up
and down and make a fool of myself?" asked her husband scornfully. "You
leave me alone!"

It was Langshaw's firm rule, vainly protested even by his wife, that the
household should have breakfast on Christmas Day before tackling the
stockings--a hurried mockery of a meal, to be sure, yet to his masculine
idea a reënforcement of food for the infant stomach before the long,
hurtling joy of the day. The stockings and the piles under them were
taken in order, according to age--the youngest first and the others
waiting in rapt interest and admiration until their turn arrived--a
pretty ceremony.

In the delicious revelry of Baby's joy, as her trembling, fat little
fingers pulled forth dolls and their like, all else was forgotten until
it was Mary's turn, and then George's, and then the mother's. And then,
when he had forgotten all about it: "Now father!" There was seemingly a
breathless moment while all eyes turned to him.

"It's father's turn now; father's going to have his presents. Father,
sit down here on the sofa--it's your turn now."

There were only a blue cornucopia and an orange and a bottle of olives
in his stocking, a Christmas card from his sister Ella, a necktie from
grandmamma, and nothing, as his quick eye had noted, under it on the
floor; but now George importantly stooped down, drew a narrow package
from under the sofa and laid it beside his father, pulling off the
paper. Inside was a slim, longish, gray linen bag. Langshaw studied it
for a moment before opening it.

"Well, I'll be jiggered!" he breathed, with a strange glance round at
the waiting group and an odd, crooked smile. "I'll be jiggered!"

There in its neatly grooved sections lay the rod, ready to be put
together--not a rod, but, as his eye almost unbelievingly reassured him,
_the_ rod--the ticket of the shop adorning it--in all its beauty of
golden shellac and delicate tip. His fingers touched the pieces
reverently.

"Well, will you look at that! How did you ever think of getting it?"

"How did I think of it? Because you talked about it all the time," said
his wife scornfully, with her arms round his neck from behind, while the
children flung themselves upon him. "Oh, I know you thought you didn't;
but you did just the same. George heard you, too. We got Mr. Wickersham
to pick it out. He said it was the one you wanted. And the reel--you
haven't noticed that box there--the reel is the right kind, he says; and
the line is silk--the best. There's the book of flies too--six. Baby's
crazy over them! Mr. Wickersham said it was all just what you ought to
have. We've been saving up for the longest time; but we had to wait, you
see, for George's deportment before the things could be bought. If it
isn't right--"

"Right? Say, this is the finest present I ever had!" said Langshaw with
glittering eyes and that little crooked smile. "It just beats
everything!"

He rose, scattering his adoring family, and, walking to the window,
threw it open to the frosty December air and called across to a
neighbour standing on the walk.

"Want to come over here, Hendon? Got something to show you. Will you
look at this! Present from my wife and the kids--been saving up for it.
It's a peach, I'll tell you that! I'm going to take George off fishing
this spring--What? Well, come over later, when you've got time to take a
good look at it."

"Do you like it, father?" came from three different voices at once.

"Do I like it? You can just bet I do," said Langshaw emphatically. He
bent and kissed the three upturned faces, and leaned toward his wife
afterward to press her sweet waiting lips with his; but his eyes, as if
drawn by a magnet, were only on the rod--not the mere bundle of sticks
he might have bought, but transformed into one blossoming with love.

"And do you know, we hardly saw a thing of him all day!" Clytie proudly
recounted afterward to her sister. "My dear, he would hardly take time
to eat his dinner or speak to any one; he was out in the back yard with
Henry Wickersham and Mr. Hendon until dark, flapping that rod in
circles--the silliest thing! He nearly sent a hook into George's eye
once. George acted as bewitched as he did. Joe kept telling every single
person who came along that it was 'a present from his wife and the
kids.' He certainly showed that he was pleased."

"It's been a pretty nice day, hasn't it?" Langshaw said to his wife that
Christmas night when the children were at last in bed. "Best Christmas I
ever had! To think of you and the kids doing all this for me."

His hand rested lovingly on the rod, now once again swathed in the gray
linen bag. He would have been the last to realize that, in his humble
way, he typified a diviner Fatherhood to the little family who trusted
in his care for them--for all things came of him, and of his own had
they given him.





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