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Authors: Felicity Hayle

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A Promise Is for Keeping

BOOK: A Promise Is for Keeping
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A Promise Is For Keeping by Felicity Hayle

 

Fay played a rather
passionate game of Postman's
Knock with Mark at a country
house party, not thinking they
would meet again:
Then she found herself
working under him as a nurse
at her new hospital.

 

Printed in the U.S.A.

Winnipeg · Canada · New York · New York

First published in 1967 by Mills & Boon Limited, 50 Grafton Way, Fitzroy Square, London, England.

Harlequin edition published July, 1968

All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the Author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the Author, and all the incidents are pure invention.

The Harlequin trade mark, consisting of the word HARLEQUIN® and the portrayal of a Harlequin, is registered in the United States Patent Office and in the Canada Trade Marks Office.

Copyright, 0, 1967, by Felicity Hayle. All rights reserved
.

CHAPTER ONE

WITH fingers that were almost too stiff to move, and certainly too cold to feel, Fay Gabriel pulled at the old-fashioned bell. The taximan had already done so once and it had not been answered, so she had paid him off and let him go.

Now she began to wish that she had not. The ground was already covered with a layer of snow several inches thick and from the leaden look in the sky it seemed that there was more to come.

There was still no reply to the echoing peal of the bell. So far as she was concerned it was almost the last straw. Stiff with cold, shut outside a house to which she was a stranger, in the middle of a countryside which seemed to consist of nothing but dark trees and white undulating fields—if it had not been for the fact that she had flown in from Australia only that morning she would have felt like turning round and going back again.

That being impossible, she decided to try the bell again, when she became aware that voices were approaching. She could not see over the tall hedge which separated the Victorian Gothic mansion from the road, but after a few seconds hope sprang to life again as two figures turned in at the drive gates and came towards the house.

Two young people, from the sound of their voices, Fay decided. It was not possible to determine their sex, for both wore duffle coats, and had trousered legs with rubber half-boots.

They came up the porch steps and for a moment a smile

 

trembled on Fay's lips as she expected them to offer some greeting. But she found herself staring blankly after them as they passed her as though she was not there at all and went into the house—the door seeming to require no more than a turn of the enormous brass knob. They passed through, still engrossed in animated conversation, and left the door ajar behind them. Fay wondered what she was expected to do next, but at that juncture one of the young people came back. It was a boy, she was now able to observe.

"Have you come to stay?" he asked in a voice no longer animated but distinctly bored.

"Yes," Fay answered readily. "Is Mrs. Travers in?"

"Oh, I expect so. You'd better come in then, hadn't you? Damn draughty with this door open."

Fay stepped inside and deliberately refrained from picking up either of the suitcases which stood at her feet. They were heavy—and she had ideas that even in the latter half of the twentieth century good manners did not come amiss from the male of the species. The suggestion seemed to communicate itself, for after staring distastefully at the bags for a second or two the young man stooped, picked them up and dropped them again resoundingly inside the hall. Then, taking no more notice of them or their owner, he went up the rather fine central staircase, calling out to someone as he did so.

It was distinctly more pleasant inside the hall than it had been on the porch. There was a great open fireplace with a good fire burning in it, and Fay went and stood near it to thaw out a little.

Several people passed fleetingly through the hall, but no one took the slightest notice of her and none had the appearance of being domestic staff. She devoutly wished she had never come. In her wildest forebodings, fed assiduously by friends who wanted to discourage her, she had never imagined a reception like this. She longed desperately for the golden beaches at Waikerooma, with the sun beating down on the bronzed bodies of the surf-riders. When she shut her eyes she could see it all—the fifteen-foot waves with foaming

 

crests, the shouts of the surf-riders, the fun and sparkle of it all.

"Who're you?" The question made her open her eyes quickly and dispelled the beautiful dream. Fay found herself staring at two children. One of them, a very small girl in a long loose sweater, almost no skirt at all and with thin legs with blue bony knees, regarded her stolidly. The other, a slightly older girl, in jeans and a similar sweater, smiled as if with sudden inspiration and cried, "It's the angel child!" and fled through a door at the far end of the hall, screaming "Horsey ! Horsey, where are you?"

Quite plainly, Fay thought, she had arrived at some sort of mental institution, and the words which came from the gnome-like child facing her without the slightest change of facial expression did nothing to discredit the idea.

"Who are you sleeping with?"

Taken aback by the unexpectedness of the question, Fay stammered, "I—I don't know. Why?"

"Well, you must be sleeping with someone," the infant went on. "Everyone does. Cynthia sleeps with Bernard, and Lucy with Derek, and Jill with Charlie—only I think she's getting tired of him, so she'll prob'ly change next week. Mark went to meet you—I expect you'll sleep with him," the child finished, and having settled things to her own satisfaction, apparently got tired of Fay and went off through the same door as the other child had.

Fay gasped, literally as well as figuratively. She had been brought up on tales of the Old Country told by her mother, who to her dying day remained no more than an immigrant in the land which had afforded her husband a brilliant career as author and publisher. Over and over again she had told Fay stories of her own godmother—Mrs. Antonia Travers—tales which had made Fay feel that she knew the old lady—for that was what she must be now, she remembered. But those tales had never included the slightest hint of this bedlam. Old ladies did grow a little eccentric, Fay very well knew, but this—this was pushing eccentricity to the nth degree.

The door at the far end of the hall opened again and this time a businesslike middle-aged woman wearing a white

 

coat came through. She had a smile of sanity and came up to Fay with apologies. "Miss Gabriel? I'm so sorry—we didn't hear the bell—I suppose you did ring?"

"Several times," Fay told her faintly, almost unable to believe in this apparition of normality.

"We were all busy with the yule log," the woman explained. "We can't get it through the door—but we will, we will!" she laughed happily. "Christmas wouldn't be Christmas to Mrs. Travers without a Yule log! But please do come along—I'll show you your room."

To Fay's intense relief the room to which she was escorted was a small one and contained only a single bed. She did not care for a room-mate—of either sex.

"The house is terribly full—as, usual," her cicerone explained, "so we've had to tuck you away in this corner. You're next to the bathroom and the cistern makes abominable noises—I hope you won't mind."

"I sleep very soundly," Fay told her with a smile.

"That's a good thing, I must say, Miss Gabriel—for the goings-on in this house when there's a party here are nobody's business and they go on until all hours of the night. So if you take my advice you'll snuggle down and get your rest—no matter if you hear somebody screaming blue murder!"

"When can I see Mrs. Travers?"

"Ah well now, she never sees anyone between lunch and dinner—and I can't say I blame her either, with this lot on the go all the time. But she said to make a special exception of yourself. As soon as you've had a wash and tidy up I'll take you along to her room for tea. Shall we say a quarter of an hour?"

"That'll be fine," Fay agreed, "but I've forgotten to bring my cases up—"

"I'll send them up for you—and if you want anything just give a shout for 'Horsey !'—Mrs. Horsfall's the name."

Sometime
later, much refreshed after removing the traces of her long journey, Fay tapped on Mrs. Travers' sitting room door. A crisp "come in" answered her, and as she obeyed she felt that she had stepped right back into the past.

Toni Travers' sitting room had all the gold and white

 

elegance of an eighteenth-century boudoir with gleaming spindle-legged chairs and bureaux. It must have been left unchanged since the house was built, Fay thought, and then remembered that the house was not that old. That brought back the memory of something her mother had once told her of Toni Travers. She had been a reigning Italian beauty when she had met and married Charles Travers just before World War One. But in the ferment of patriotism which swept the country immediately afterwards, Antonia had become even more English than the English themselves in her efforts to become the typical "county" gentlewoman.

"My angel child! At last—I've waited for you so long! Why didn't you come to see me before?"

In complete contrast to her room the figure who greeted Fay, standing back to the fire on the hearthrug, wearing a tweed suit and with hair close-cropped like a man, was certainly more "county" than anything Fay had been led to expect from her reading of English novels.

If the words of greeting puzzled her a little there was no mistaking the warmth of welcome which went with the outstretched hands and the effusive kiss on both cheeks.

"It's very kind of you to let me come," Fay smiled in response. "Mummy told me so much about you."

As she spoke Fay was noticing that all that was left of the Italian beauty was a pair of over-bright dark eyes and a beautiful bone formation which showed through the tightly-drawn skin of her face.

"I do hope I'm not going to be a nuisance. Your housekeeper tells me that you have a house full of visitors for Christmas."

"I've always got a houseful of visitors," Toni smiled. "I have an enormous number of relations—I've quite lost count of them, and half the time I don't know which is which. So many of them seem to suffer from marriages which have come adrift. I keep open house. Let them come here to sort themselves out—and no questions asked. And there are the children too—poor little mites! They've got to have some place that seems like home, haven't they. Now, come and have some tea. Or don't you drink tea?"

 

"Oh, indeed yes," Fay assured her. "We drink a great deal of tea in Australia."

Toni started to pour. "Australia, yes—an outlandish place to live. I could never think why you wanted to go there in the first place. But it hasn't changed you, not really. You haven't got that nasty flat accent—"

Fay was going to explain that with English parents and an Australian school she had grown up to the necessity of being entirely bilingual, but Antonia swept on to another topic.

"Mark's a nice boy, isn't he? Quite the nicest relation I've got—in fact I can never quite explain how he crept into the family at all. We're a raffish lot on the whole, you know—but Mark's so respectable and quite dependable. I want you two to like each other very much, angel child. Where is he now?"

BOOK: A Promise Is for Keeping
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