Earl Winston trotted nonchalantly alongside his equerry James.
A murder of crows cawed loudly, high up in the budding horse chestnuts. Pale spring sunshine lit up the eastern sky.
'Earl Winston,' James asked,' how is Olympia this morning? She appears to be rather languid in her trotting?'
With a gentle movement of his spurs Winston sat up promptly and replied curtly,' Olympia is in excellent form, James.'
Equerry James and his master, Winston, continued to trot until the familiar loud peals of the church bells marked noontime.
Dismounting by the stable door, Winston brushed his riding breeches perfunctorily and made his way towards the morning room. As he did so the cook, Lizzie, accompanied by a young girl were walking purposefully in the distance.
Winston found himself staring in the direction where the pair were walking. Lizzie seemed to be explaining kitchen duties to the young girl. She appeared comfortable in her surroundings. A long dark braid hung down her back beneath her blue bonnet.
Winston turned the key and entered his father's study. He was obliged to spend many hours writing letters for his father, Lord Ainsworth, who was abroad in Switzerland.
On Monday evenings supper was usually served earlier at Brampton Manor as Dowager Mabel came to dine. Mabel considered herself to be indispensable to Brampton since the death of Lord Ainsworth's wife, Lady Annabelle. three years earlier.
Though now twenty-five years old, Winston was still melancholy following his mother's death.
It was Winston's duty to be seated next to the Dowager, in his father's absence. A duty he bore with decreasing fortitude.
Dowager Mabel was exceedingly overbearing at times, particularly in matters of politics and war in the aftermath of 1945. Having served as a nurse during the war years, Mabel wished to convey her experience to a younger generation.
Butler Harry mopped his brow as he hurried to and fro, preparing for the Dowager's visit. The silver cutlery, a family heirloom from the Dowager's grandfather, shone particularly bright on the mahogany sideboard.
'Winston,' the Dowager began, 'how did Olympia fare today? Was she a little tardy?'
Winston was relieved that the topic at dinner this evening was rather benign.
'Dowager,' he replied,' Olympia trotted like a true champion, as always.'
'My equerry, Harold, has heard reports of horses displaying symptoms of a mysterious illness. Who knows the provenance of our horse flesh these days? Since the end of the war, russian horseflesh, we are told, is lurking among our own.'
Winston's attention was suddenly diverted from the Dowager. The girl with the long braid, whom Winston had noticed earlier, stood at the top of the dining room, as staff served supper.
Tonight it was his favourite, quail with asparagus. Dessert was blancmange.
Winston was disconcerted. He averted his gaze and rejoined the Dowager's political meanderings.
'Have we hired extra kitchen staff?' Winston blurted out to nobody in particular.
On overhearing his remark, Butler Harry hastened to his side and whispered that a new girl, Annika, had come to work at Brampton.
Shortly thereafter, Winston's older sister, Lady Melissa and her husband, Lord Avers entered the dining room.
'When supper's been served can the gentlemen repair to the smoking room for backgammon and brandy, as is our wont on Monday evenings?' Lord Avers enquired.
Winston remained seated. Lord Avers asked, 'now my good brother-in-law , Winston, have you eaten and supped more than usual? You appear to be stuck to your dining room chair. Ha! ha!'
Avers, pompous as ever, was given to laughing uproariously at his own jokes.
'We cannot play backgammon properly without your guidance, Winston. You are our, what's it, chef de partie?'
Reluctantly Winston took his place at the backgammon table.
In the smoke-filled room, Winston played without his usual flair.
The following morning Winston was seated early at his father's desk, dealing with Brampton matters before his father's return.
There was a loud knock on the study door.
'Enter,' Winston called out brusquely.
Butler Harry entered the study and proceeded to inform Winston as to the new girl, Annika, hired to assist the kitchen staff.
'Earl Winston,' he began,' it is my duty to advise you that we have hired a new girl, Annika, to assist the staff in the kitchen. Margaret, who has been in Brampton for many years is moving up north with her new husband, Michael. Her husband works in the mines.
Annika was born in Russia. Her family were separated in the war. She has informed Lizzie, our cook, that she has royal blood in her veins. Many young staff make such claims, these days, especially since the end of the war.'
Winston's cheeks blushed a mild color of red. He shifted uncomfortably, hoping it would go unnoticed by Butler Harry.
'You must bring Annika to the study immediately so I can make her acquaintance,' Winston replied.
'At your service, sir,' Butler replied as he hastily exited the study.
In his absence, Winston stood up, rushed to his boudoir and glanced quickly at himself in the mirror. He adjusted his yellow cravat. Opening a drawer in the tallboy, he removed a silver box. It creaked as he lifted the lid. Inside, a pair of ruby and diamond cufflinks rested on a white silk cushion.
His footman, Albert, was busily polishing Winston's leather shoes for the Spring Fair. Leaving the polish aside he turned to assist his master.
'Earl Winston, I am happy you are finally going to wear your ruby cufflinks. Your father would be pleased, having never seen you wear them since he brought them from the russian steppes for your coming-of-age. It must be a special occasion.'
Winston's face flushed slightly but he did not respond.
A few moments later, he was again seated at his oak desk.
A knock on the study door alerted him to Butler Harry's return.
'Earl Winston,' Butler began, ' I have complied with your request and Annika will now step into the study.'
Winston's young heart was pounding.
Annika's dark brown eyes looked, it seemed, admiringly into his own. Her skin reminded him of alabaster. Her braid was hidden beneath her kitchen maid's white cotton cap while her apron was neatly tied around her slim waist.
Winston stood behind his desk. He strove to compose himself in a manner befitting the Earl of the ancient seat of Brampton Manor.
Clearing his throat, he began, 'Annika, I welcome you to Brampton Manor on behalf of my father, Lord Ainsworth, who is abroad on business in Switzerland.'
'Ze are kind sir.' Annika replied. 'I see you wear russe gems on your sleeves.'
Both Butler Harry and Earl Winston were dumbfounded and did not quite know how to reply.
Just then Annika interjected, breaking the awkward silence,' scuse me, Earl, I must to the kitchen.'
Short of words, Butler Harry hastily retreated from the study.
All through the month of March Earl Winston couldn't wait for supper to be served. He longed to feast his lovestruck eyes on Annika.
One evening in early April, as the scent of cherry blossoms wafted on the breeze, Winston took an evening stroll with his daschund. He stooped down to pick up a pinkish, white blossom, blown down in the breeze.
Passing by the Orangerie, he noticed a solitary figure walking in the distance. Getting closer he realised it was Annika.
'Good evening, Annika,' he called out.
Annika turned around abruptly.
'Evening sir,' she replied, '
Impulsively he reached out towards her, offering her the cherry blossom, 'Annika , a cherry blossom for you.'
Annika reached out her hand to receive the blossom. As she did so Winston took her hand and placed a gentle kiss on her palm. The young pair stood holding hands by the Orangerie.
'Annika,' Winston blurted out, 'My heart is yours since the first day I saw you at Brampton Manor.'
Annika's reply was carried away on a blustery spring breeze.
Next morning when equerry James went to the stables to accompany Earl Winston on the morning canter, the stable door was ajar. Olympia's favourite snack of carrot and apple remained untouched in her stall. Equerry James set off in search of Olympia.
Just before he mounted his horse, James noticed a ruby cufflink lying on the cobblestone outside the stable door.
Legend has it, that on balmy evenings in early Spring, the silhouettes of the young lovers can be seen beneath the cherry blossoms at Brampton Manor.