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Authors: Hilda Pressley

Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1972

Harbinger of Spring

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HARBINGER OF SPRING

Hilda Pressley

Sara Seymour was a career girl, a London sparrow, never happy unless she was near the bright lights.

And then, under the terms of an eccentric will, she found herself obliged to live for three months in an old mill miles from anywhere, in the heart of Norfolk.

She needed that legacy

but could she possibly hold out for long enough to get it?

 

CHAPTER I

It was as cheerless and bleak a February morning as Sara could remember. For most of the two hours

journey from London to Norwich she stared through rain-lashed windows. She supposed she ought to feel excited, but she was not in. the least. She couldn

t think why. Being left a legacy by a great-aunt she had never before heard of was not an everyday occurrence. Why was she not even a tiny bit thrilled?

She left the train and stepped quickly from the windswept station entrance into a taxi, giving the address she wanted to the driver.

Her father had been barely interested in the lawyer

s letter either, but then it had always been difficult to turn his attention from whatever civil engineering project he had in mind. Although they loved each other and were comfortable and happy in their St John

s Wood flat their lives, strictly speaking, were joined together only by the capable hands of
Mrs.
Worthing who kept house for them and had done so since Sara

s mother died five years ago.

Eric Seymour had his civil engineering business and Sara had her boutique, or rather a half share with Desmond Morris, and everything was very satisfactory. Well, almost. Her father had a very definite dislike for Desmond Morris, but as the two men very rarely met that did not matter very much.

Secretly, Sara was amused by her father

s antagonism towards Desmond, knowing it stemmed from Desmond

s trend-setting clothes, long hair and affected speech. She knew
him
to be strong and somewhat ruthless. Once, three loutish youths had entered the boutique and tried to upset the business. Desmond had dealt with them so quickly and efficiently that they were all outside nursing

their injuries in less than a minute. Sara thought it was a good illustration of the advice not to judge a parcel by its wrapping—something so many of the older generation seemed to do.

The taxi stopped in a narrow street of Georgian houses, all of which had been converted to offices. Sara paid the driver and after a glance at the brass name-plates, ran up a curved flight of stairs. She waited a few seconds in a rather austere waiting-room then was shown into a small office. A pale-faced man of about forty rose from behind his desk to greet her.


Miss Seymour? I ho
pe you had a pleasant journey.’

Sara

s brown eyes lit up as she smiled.

Except for
the atrocious weather,
Mr.
Carrigon.


Perhaps you would like some tea before we begin
?’


No, thank you. I took coffee on the train.


Then we

ll begin. Your great-aunt,
Mrs.
Esther
Knowles, willed to you all her possessions.


But I didn

t even know
of
her, and my father could barely remember her existence.


Quite so. I was about to say that she was something of an eccentric, but that would not be true.
Mrs.
Knowles became a widow early in her married life and joined the Women

s Suffrage Movement. You

ve heard about that, I suppose?


Something about getting votes for women, wasn

t it?


That was the main aim. She became a militant and suffered much as a consequence. This embittered her and she became a complete feminist, barring men from her life as much as possible. She willed her possessions so that only females of her kin could succeed to them. You, Miss Seymour, since your mother is dead, are her only female relative.

Sara felt moved.

Poor Aunt Esther,

she said softly.

What a grim life she must have had.


I think, in a way, she enjoyed the fight.


I hope so, but isn

t there some way in which her money could go to some charity she would have favoured? You see, I don

t think it really belongs to me, and I have no need of it. I have a fairly good business and—


There isn

t much in actual cash, but the property is quite valuable. However, that

s entailed, so—


Entailed? What does that mean?


It means that you have the use of it for your lifetime and when you die it passes to your nearest female relative.


Suppose I haven

t any? I haven

t at the moment.


Then it will go to the Crown.


I suppose I can refuse the bequest?

Sara said with a slight edge to her tone.


You may indeed. In which case the property and the money would pass to the Crown.

He gave a little smile.

I

m bound to say that this is my first experience of anyone talking of refusing a bequest and a quite valuable one. Fenchurch Mill must be worth all of ten thousand pounds today.

For some reason the word mill

conjured up a picture of a decaying watermill in Sara

s mind. She visualized a low building on the very edge of a weed-choked stream with dark, sullen water spilling over a rotting sluice gate to froth vainly about a rusted iron waterwheel which was motionless for ever. She barely heard the lawyer

s next words.


It

s a condition of the will that you must reside at the Mill for a quarter—thirteen weeks—before you can either rent or lease the property to another party.


I beg your pardon. I

m afraid I wasn

t paying proper attention.

He repeated the condition.


Stay away from London! Oh, I couldn

t do that. There

s my business.

She half rose from her chair.

The lawyer made a gesture.

Don

t be
in a hurry
to make a decision, Miss Seymour. I don

t
know
how heavily your business in London weighs
on you,
but surely you could use some more capital? If you were to fulfil the condition of the will and then lease the property you would have a very useful income from it.


I suppose I could travel backwards and forwards each day. When would I have to take up residence?


Any time you like, within reason. I would suggest the spring, say early in May when it

s beginning to be pleasant to be out of doors.


Oh no. From that time onwards is our best business period. In fact we

re well in full swing before
Easter.
Why not now? Let me get it over and done with.

For a moment he looked almost startled,
then
he smiled.


This is a sudden change of front.

He glanced at the clock.

I think perhaps you

d better see Fenchurch Mill this morning before you decide to move in immediately.

He spoke into an intercom.

Thompson, ring
the
boatyard at Barton and ask them to have an all-weather launch ready in about half an hour, and one of
their
men to drive it, please.


Do I understand we have to reach the Mill by water?

Sara asked.


There is a road—or rather lane—to it, but it will be in rather a bad condition at this time of the year. In any case it

ll be quicker by water.

He saw the dismay on her face and added,

Think nothing of it, Miss Seymour. The launch will be as comfortable as a car and you can be back in Norwich
for
lunch.

He held the office door open for her, but as she went down the stairs and entered his car she thought her worst fears were being confirmed. The lane he had mentioned was probably a muddy track over swampy ground, and
far from being able to reach London rapidly each day she would probably find herself marooned for days on end.

He drove rapidly through narrow, twisting streets, but Sara hardly bothered to glance out of the window on her own side. Then she noticed they were in open country on a road which was probably a very pleasant one when the trees were in full leaf. She noticed the scarcity of traffic and the distance between cottages and thought how empty the place was. Then there was a sizeable village, and crossing a river the steepest humpbacked bridge she had ever encountered.


Wroxham,

Mr.
Carrigon informed her.

They call it the Capital of Broadland.


Oh.

Rain still pouring down and spraying from under the car wheels did not help to impress Sara, and London with its hurrying crowds, speeding taxis and general air of wealth and importance seemed an awful long way off. This woman, this Great-aunt Esther who had intruded with dramatic suddenness into a life she had up to now found entirely satisfactory, what had she really been like? Domineering and unloved probably, and certainly wishful of interfering in other people

s lives after she was dead. Well, she could do that as far as she herself was concerned for just thirteen weeks, and not a moment longer.

The car turned from the main road into a very narrow one, then through a gateway to stop almost at the edge of a wooden quay with several white-painted boats moored alongside it. A man appeared from what seemed to be an office and spoke to the lawyer.


Drive into the boatshed,
Mr.
Carrigon. There

s no need for the lady to get wet stepping out of the car.

The car moved into the shed. Sara stepped out of the vehicle and gave an exclamation of surprise as she saw
rows of cabin cruisers and yachts resting on their keels on the concrete floor of the shed. Out of the water they looked huge and she wondered by what means they had been put there. Then to her nostrils came a pleasant, tangy scent which she recognized as coming from wood shavings.

The lawyer broke into her thoughts.

Miss Seymour, let me introduce
Mr.
Barker, the owner of this little yard.


Little! I think it

s absolutely tremendous. All these boats! How do you do,
Mr.
Barker?


Nicely, Miss Seymour. But it
is
only a little yard. You should see some of those owned by the big groups. Here

s your launch in the covered dock. I

ll run you out to the Mill myself, although why
Mr.
Carrigon shirks doing so, I don

t know. He

s perfectly capable of handling a launch.


Except when I come into moorings,

the lawyer said.

I usually misjudge whatever current there is.

Sara was helped to a comfortably cushioned seat and the launch slipped quietly from its moorings into the open river. She glanced out of a window at her side and saw a patch of blue in an otherwise grey and forbidding sky. Then, within the space of seconds, it seemed, the overall grey turned into billowing, white-topped clouds which raced furiously across a wide sky.


Typical East Anglian weather,

the lawyer observed.

In these parts prolonged rain is the exception rather than the rule. Savage squalls are the more usual thing.


You learn to see them coming,

Mr.
Barker said.

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