We did not go for a walk on the first day of the year. The Christmas snow had melted, and rain had been falling since dawn, darkening the shrubbery and muddying the grass, but that would not have stopped my aunt from dispatching us. She believed in the benefits of fresh air for children in all weather. Later, I understood, she also enjoyed the peace and quiet of our absence. No, the cause of our not walking was my cousin Will, who claimed his cold was too severe to leave the sitting-room sofa, but not so bad that he couldn't play cards. His sister, Louise, he insisted, must stay behind for a game of racing demon.
I overheard these negotiations from the corridor where I loitered, holding my aunt's black shoes, freshly polished, one in each hand.
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