Two white swans glided elegantly along by the banks of the river Brin. Three cygnets paddled furiously behind. Eighty- year- old, John Smith, walking his dachshund, stopped to watch, shielding his aged eyes from the glare of the spring sunshine.
At intervals, bunches of crocus added a dash of colour to the, as yet, greyish landscape. A spring breeze held the promise of warmer days.
Lady Priscilla was seated by the open window of the study. April breezes stirred the cream coloured lace curtains. In the chilly sunshine, cobwebs were visible on the window pane.
Priscilla dipped her green quill into the inkpot. She was determined. An unequivocal 'No' was her response to the invitation for the annual village regatta. All the usual gentry would be there, she thought, most of whom were by now betrothed to their beloved, Lord Annesley, Lady Elveen and the rest. How utterly monotonous, she thought.
Papa always wished that she would attend in the hope of making the acquaintance of some eligible young man. Lady Priscilla derided it when Papa, Lord Charles, made his usual remark, 'darling Priscilla. are there any eligible young men in Elsinay who desire your hand in marriage?'
Priscilla tossed her flaxen curls at the question and dashed out to the kennels to take her red setter, Ginger, for a stroll by the river.
Father and daughter had this annual exchange and thereafter nothing more was said between them about matrimonial matters.
Nevertheless, Priscilla 's twenty-year-old heart ached for love. She longed for her very own Mr Darcy just like Elizabeth in her favourite Austen novel' Pride and Prejudice.'
Elsinay was such a tiny village of eighty-five souls, at least that's what Papa always said. Perhaps it was now eighty-four souls, since her beloved Mama, Lady Ivoiry, had died two years earlier. She missed Mama. She loved afternoons spent in the drawing-room with Mama playing their favourite Beethoven sonatas on the pianoforte.
Handsome Lord Carsley was a frequent visitor to listen to the sonatas especially on Summer afternoons. Afterwards, the two young friends strolled beneath the chestnut trees along the river bank. Until one day, a year ago, Lord Carsley announced that he was emigrating with his father, Squire Harold, to live in Nova Scotia. It seemed so far away. Priscilla believed she would never see Carsley again. She wished he had invited her to join him. Priscilla felt bereft. Before taking his leave Carsley held Priscilla close and placed a farewell kiss on her forehead.
Having sealed the letter, Priscilla requested her lady's maid, Anna, to fetch her prettiest blue bonnet as she intended to walk out of doors.
'Ma'am,' Anna replied,' the string on your blue bonnet has come loose and I must needs sew it afore we set off.'
'Fiddlesticks,' Priscilla muttered under her breath. She reached for her winter bonnet, still hanging on the portmanteau and hurried out of doors alone.
Elsinay was a quaint little village where nothing much ever happened. Even the shop fronts hadn't changed colour in decades. The sweet shop' Bulls Eyes,' was now a faded pink from wintry storms and summer sun.
She longed for a little girlish fun and adventure and envied Carsley setting off to a new land.
Cook, Mrs Barnes, happened to be coming up the stone steps, carrying an earthenware pot.
'Miss Priscilla,' Mrs Barnes called out, 'where's Anna, your lady's maid, not taken ill, has she..young women should not walk unaccompanied in the village.'
Priscilla took no notice. Reaching the front gates of Wood Manor, Priscilla hastened her step.
Gazing around her, she watched as the villagers went about their daily chores.
A few ragamuffin children played marbles on the pavement.
Vicar Ernest was entering the Church in his faded grey cassock. A large notice outside the Church read 'Spring Festival Prayers & Hymns at eventide.'
Priscilla wondered who now accompanied the choir in their recitals since Mama had died. The villagers, some who did not believe in any God, used to come to Church on Sunday evenings for vespers to hear Mama's playing.
Walking by the river bank, Priscilla stopped to look at the swans. Dipping her hand in the water, the swans veered away.
'Good afternoon, young lady,' a young man in a bowler hat said.
Priscilla stood up and came face to face with an unfamiliar countenance. She reddened a little before adjusting her bonnet.
'I am Count Richard, recently arrived from London to visit my grandfather here in Elsinay. Why Grandpa did not enlighten me as to the beauty of the young ladies of Elsinay.'
Priscilla stood by the riverbank, unsure what to say.
Regaining her composure she replied,' I am Lady Priscilla from Wood Manor.'
'Make I make so bold as to accompany you on your walk by the riverbank? Richard asked.
A sudden gust of wind almost blew off Priscilla's bonnet. Count Richard dashed to assist Priscilla, almost falling over on the stony ground.
Priscilla giggled to herself at the sight of this tall young man almost coming a cropper wearing his large bowler hat.
'Why Miss Priscilla,' Richard said,' I am a little awkward due to my great height.'
The pair soon walked in step.
'Do you wish to link your arm through mine as we walk?' Richard asked.
Unaccustomed to such forthright young men, Priscilla was emboldened and linked her arm in his.
The afternoon sun grew a little warmer. At the bend in the river, a budding chestnut tree overhung the water. Feeling a little tired Priscilla said,' Count Richard this is where I like to sit on sunny days and watch the water flow.'
The pair sat side by side beneath the chestnut tree. Birds sang sweetly from the branches.
'My favourite bird song, the blackbird,' Richard said,' how sweetly he sings.'
'Where do you live when you are not in Elsinay?' Priscilla enquired.
'Many places,' Richard replied,' New York, London..my father works in banking and must live abroad for many months of the year. It is just Papa and me since Mama passed away at my birth.'
Villagers who walked past heard the laughter of the young couple beneath the chestnut tree.
'Priscilla,' Richard continued,' I am weary travelling ..I long to fulfil my heart's desire and marry a beautiful young woman.'
Priscilla had never heard such an admission from any young man of her acquaintance.
Richard didn't wish to stop now.
'Priscilla, the moment I saw you by the river's edge my lonely heart skipped a beat.'
Taking both of Priscilla's hands in his, he gazed at length into her blue eyes and asked, 'Priscilla, will you do me the honour of being my bride and marrying me?'
Priscilla jumped up and with a large smile on her young girl's face. She replied,' Yes Richard, I will be your bride.'
'Priscilla, I am the happiest man in Elsinay. Can we elope and be happy forever?'
The pair simply ran to the village train station and jumped on board.
Elsinay had never before witnessed such an event as an elopement in its long history.
As word spread the local newspaper 'Elsinay Echo' dispatched a reporter to tell the tale. The young lovers had disappeared. No trace of them was found.
Locals feared for the young couple and what dangers they might encounter from local highwaymen.
Lord Charles grew pale, on hearing the story of his daughter's elopement. He looked around his Manor House and listened to the silence. Alas, his heart stopped within weeks of the elopement. Neighbours carried him to his final resting place in the local churchyard, alongside his beloved wife. Before long blades of grass had begun to grow over his grave.
Eventually, life in Elsinay seemed to return to normal. Locals passing by the Manor stood gazing at the forlorn sight where now only flocks of crows cawed loudly in the trees.
Cobwebs hung on the big oaken entrance door. Paint was chipping off the iron gates. Bats had taken up residence in the stables.
One Summer morning a black Mercedes drove up towards Wood Manor.
Priscilla was the first to get out.
Her blue eyes brimmed with tears.
Her twenty-year-old son Charles took pictures with his tablet.
'Mama, this is a fine property. We can renovate and turn it into a country retreat for rich folk.'
Priscilla and her husband Richard were standing beneath the oak tree listening to the song of the blackbird.
'Priscilla,' he said 'the song of the blackbird led me to your heart many years ago. And now it leads us back to Wood Manor.'
'My heart breaks for dear, deceased Papa.'
'Grandpa would be proud, Mama. You always said he valued his property above all else. Let's build a modern monument to his memory,' Charles proffered.