Mistress of Elvan Hall

By: Mary Cummins

CHAPTER ONE



ANNE DRUMMOND climbed a small hill, then lay flat out on the grass, gazing down on the quiet valley which had been her birthplace. Soon her father would retire from the old Manse where he had been minister to the parish of Arndale for almost quarter of a century, and go with Nell, his wife, to the small cottage they had bought on the Ayrshire coast in preparation for his retirement.



Anne sighed, thinking that an era of her life was now coming to a close. The fact that the cottage was too small to hold three had not troubled her, because she had been engaged to Graham Lord, whom she had known all her life. Graham’s father, Dr. Lord, had also served Arndale for as many years as Stephen Drummond. The two children had been brought up together and their parents had often smiled indulgently at their close-relationship. Anne and Graham were ideally matched, in their opinion.

They had become engaged after Graham, too, had qualified as a doctor, and Anne had just started her first job as secretary to Francis Wyatt of the Wyatt Engineering Company in Carlisle. Three weeks ago she had handed over her job to another girl, her wedding to Graham being eagerly awaited by the whole of Arndale, then two days before the wedding, Graham had backed out.

“It’s no good, is it, Anne?” he asked her, having taken her in his arms to kiss her goodnight, then released her abruptly.

“What’s no good?” she asked.

“You and me. You especially. You don’t really love me, Anne. Oh, I know you love me in a way, but not real love... not as I want it to be.”

She stared at him in the fading light.

“I don’t know what you mean, Graham,” she whispered.

“Oh yes, you do. I can feel you stiffen against me whenever I try to kiss you properly. You’re only marrying me because it’s what has been expected of us for years. At first you were happy to go along with it, but not any more. I can feel the change in you, Anne.”

Her knees began to tremble a little.

“Change?”

Graham reached out and held her close again.

“It’s all right, darling. Don’t think I’m angry. Only nobody is going to force you into marriage if it isn’t right for you, even if it’s marriage to me. You hate to disappoint your father and mother, especially your father, who wants to see you settled.”

They were both quiet for a moment. They both knew that Stephen Drummond’s health wasn’t at its best these days. Dr. Lord’s eyes had often been anxious as they rested on his old friend.

“And my folks are every bit as bad,” Graham said wryly.

“How ... how long have you felt like this?” Anne asked. “Couldn’t you have spoken before ... before the arrangements went so far?”

A small smile twisted Graham’s mouth.

“I wasn’t sure before. Now I am. And besides, I thought you’d be the one to call it off. There’s someone else important to you, isn’t there, Anne? Could it be Francis Wyatt?”

She threw her head back as though he had stung her cheek.

“No!” she cried. “What a thing to ask! Mr. Wyatt is ... was ... my employer. How could you think such a thing!”

“Because I saw you with him in Carlisle just before you left Wyatt’s for good. You and he were having a cup of coffee in a restaurant there, and I saw you ... you were at a table just by the window. I almost rushed in to speak to you, then I saw your face, Anne. It was a shock, I’ve had to wait a little to decide whether or not it was true. You’ve fallen in love with him, haven’t you, my dear?”

Anne swallowed.

“I don’t know,” she said huskily. “It’s hopeless anyway. He doesn’t even notice me. I’m only the girl at the typewriter. That day ... that day we were working on a special order and he was rather worried. I think he had home worries, too. I ... I was sorry for him, Graham. I hated to see him upset. He hides his worries so well, but I always know...”

“You’re in love with him, that’s why you know,” repeated Graham. “I can’t take the chance on marrying you while your heart belongs to someone else.”

Anne drew a long breath, and looked squarely at Graham. She had been trying to hide from the truth ever since she had left Wyatt’s. There had been a great gaping hole in her life as she walked out of the quiet offices, resigning her desk and chair to Louise Dalton, Francis Wyatt’s new secretary.

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