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Sylvia sewing in the doorway of the Millhouse, Rus

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Sylvia sewing in the doorway of the Millhouse, Rustington, in August 1898.

Dolly Parry (Ponsonby) later wrote to Peter, "It conveys her so completely — at least to me. It recalls so visibly the Mill House, the sea, the wind and the little boys in red tam o'shanters. You were too young to remember it. It is too subtle to be conveyed in writing. But the calm and beauty of her, and her delicious whimsical sense of humour, sewing perhaps in a tiny cottage sitting-room with those rampageous boys tumbling about her - I shall never forget it."

From elsewhere in the Morgue, Peter writes that "The first Mill House holiday seems to have been in 1895, when A. and S. were there "with two babies." They returned there again in 1897 with three, and how often thereafter I am not quite sure. This Mill House, really no more than a cottage, was right on the shore, and I fancy my very earliest memory is of looking over the wall at the foot of the little garden (perhaps being held up for the purpose) at the sea which, at high tide, came right up to it. An enchanted place, with the windmill in working order and lofts and sacks of flour to play about among.....

Thus far I had written when a further communication from Lady P. brought me up short by revealing that the second of the three Rustington houses, at which we stayed at various times subsequently, and which I remember only as a thatched flint cottage, was in fact also a Mill House, complete with windmill; so that may be the mill and lofts and sacks of flour I was thinking of. Be that as it may, the whole of Rustington as it was or seemed to be then, is to me an enchanted place. We must have gone there for our summer holidays much more often than to any other place up to the death of A.Ll.D., and never afterwards.
Even in those days, of course, vile and vulgar encroachments had begun. But they passed unnoticed by the childish eye, and were for the most part away from the heart of the village, which still preserved much of its ancient dignity and seclusion, and from the sea shore. With unerring discrimination, A. and S. chose the pleasantest, least tampered with spots in it. Today Rustington is utterly bevilla'd and bungaloid; is, in fact, little more than a loathsome suburban excrescence on the dismal fringe of Littlehampton. Cudlow House, meaning 1906 to us, holds out almost a sole survivor, fenced in from the surrounding crudities, still retaining a passé sort of late Georgian graciousness, an all too obvious air of having seen better days. On the site of the Mill House by the sea, and its weather-boarded outbuildings and rural surroundings, stands a large, unlovely, staring red-brick loony-bin. Not that I bear the loonies any grudge, poor critters. But the whole thing is a good instance of the shocks that surely await those who revisit the glamourized haunts of their childhood in this progressive age.

From Lady Ponsonby: "In 1897 A. and S. were at the Mill House again. I write: 'Had tea with Sylvia and Arthur and Mrs. du Maurier — how exceptionally delightful they are.' Sylvia I describe as much occupied with the last baby, Peter Ibbetson. You were not nearly so strong as George and Jack, and it was thought to be due to vaccination as you were quite normal until you were vaccinated. You were pale and different, and the fact that you were not hearty for some years appealed to me."


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