A rough hand was clamped round her neck. Katy struggled to claw it away, her father’s furious face glared at her, his gapped teeth bared.
‘Don’t give me anymore of that lip,’ he growled, releasing her. Massaging her neck she struggled to draw breath. ‘You might think yourself high above us all now but believe me you’re not above going over my knee if there’s anymore of that directed at your stepmother.’
‘Stepmother?’ breathed Katy, ‘when did she become my stepmother? Anyway, I didn’t say anything I just…’
‘You didn’t have to, all these presents and fancy togs you parade about it, what do you expect her to think.’
Katy shook her head, ‘she’s…’
‘Enough!’ bellowed her father, ‘you can stop right now, stop rubbing her nose in your good fortune or I’ll not be letting you go off at all. I’ll tell that swell he can clear off and then you can kiss goodbye to all your fineries. Once he’s gone I’ll let Esther have them and you can go back to scrubbing the kitchen, which is about all you’re fit for.’
‘Right,’ said Katy, ‘if you send him away that’s fine by me, but I’ll be going with him, you can’t stop me.’
‘I can if I wring your…’
Katy moved quickly to the far side of the table.
‘Go on then, and I hope your public hanging goes well. My only regret will be that I won’t be there to see it.’
‘How dare you.’
‘I tell you what,’ said Katy. She took hold of the back of a chair, if her father advanced any further she would hurl it at him. ‘Instead of complaining about the fact that my future husband wants to send me gifts, why not be a man yourself. I know how much money Henry gave you. Why not spend some of it on buying Esther a new dress? Or a gift? It isn’t my fault she’s not getting anything, it’s yours. You’re her husband after all.’
Her grip tightened on the chair, she wondered how best to do it, she’d never been so close to performing an act of violence. The door to the parlour burst open.
‘Interesting,’ said Esther, entering the room and looking at the two of them, ‘what’s going on here?’
‘Oh nothing,’ said Katy, before her father could speak, ‘I’m just suggesting your husband spends some money on buying you a new gown. He doesn’t seem to want to though. I think he wants to kill me for suggesting it, that’s how much you mean to him.’
‘You twisted little vixen,’ said her father.
‘So you…? What?’ said Esther. Her face looked witless and Katy realised just how dim she actually was, ‘so am I getting a new gown?’
‘I doubt it,’ said Katy, ‘that money’s being saved for more important things… like whisky.’
‘Bloody gowns and whisky,’ roared her father. He kicked over a chair and stormed from the room.
‘So does that mean he’s getting me one?’ said Esther.
‘Why not go and ask him?’ suggested Katy, remedying the fallen chair, ‘he seems in a good mood.’
Oblivious to the sarcasm, Esther hurried off.
Somehow she prevailed. As the wedding day drew closer Esther’s jealousy lessened slightly mainly because of the new gown she now sported. Katy smirked every time she saw her parading about in it, trying to catch her reflection in every bit of glass or polished surface. She even decided she would attend the wedding, that wiped the smile from Katy’s face. She didn’t fancy the idea of Esther and her father sitting sniggering in the pews.
Her anxiety increased, she received only brief notes from Henry. They were dry and uncommunicative. She had no idea where his lodgings were so was unable to exchange sentiments with him, she merely had the moot pleasure of reading his dry notes on the subject. She wondered how it would’ve been if she’d accepted George’s disreputable proposal, she might be sitting here reading notes of a more scandalous and intriguing nature. Forming schemes of illicit meetings and staged encounters. Instead she felt cold and flat. The afternoon before the wedding she received his final note, instructing her that his carriage would be sent to convey her and her family to the church. The wedding would take place, they would return to the Inn for a small breakfast and farewells before leaving for Tharstaine. It seemed too short and calculated a note to do justice to the situation. She read it over and over, willing some words of kindness to appear on it, something to calm her nerves or let her know that he felt the same. This was Henry however. How could she expect such a thing? Theirs was to be a marriage of business, a formal arrangement. These notes were a precursor to the life she was about to enter. He didn’t care about the significance of the wedding, the upheaval to both their lives or the immense challenges that faced them. he just wanted the formalities out of the way so that his plan could be implemented. She was a tool, nothing more, an object that warranted no concern.
She folded up the letter and placed it with all the rest in the small box on top of her open trunk. The wedding gown was hanging at the side of her closet, it looked as out of place here as Henry had the first time he’d set foot in the gloomy passageway, too expensive and rich for her.
And then she was being hoisted into the dress, how had the morning come so quickly? Had she slept? The night had been one long mix of worries, nightmares and waking dreams. Esther had deigned to dress her hair so that when she was done, she could hardly believe it was her own face looking out at her.
All this effort, for what? She wondered if Henry would even notice. Did he ever see her as anything to be admired? She imagined his low voice saying, ‘very smart, young lady.’ But would he even stretch to that, it was doubtful.
Henry checked his watch before leaving his lodgings, everything was packed into the carriage ready to go.
‘Will we be seeing you again soon,’ asked his landlady, unable to disguise her hopeful smile.
‘I rather doubt it,’ said Henry, ‘not in the foreseeable future. I have other engagements.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Nothing too unpleasant I hope?’
‘I hope not,’ said Henry, ‘I most certainly do.’
He stepped into his carriage and they were off in an instant. The watch was in his hand again, he forced it away. It was compulsive, like he was counting down the seconds of respectability he had left.
Rob, the coachman reigned in the horses outside the smart office in Union Street where he’d been bidden to stop.
Henry stepped out the carriage.
‘Wait for me here,’ he commanded, ‘I won’t be long.’
The small office was quiet and still. Only one man was working, Archie Colquhoun. He was not expecting the visitor.
‘Mr Cranston,’ he said, looking up from his work, an expression of polite satisfaction hoisted onto his face.
‘Please, there’s no need to be so formal. Henry will do.’
‘Of course, and to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure.’
‘I understand you are to be congratulated on a new arrival.’
Archie smiled not quite hiding his surprise at the greeting, ‘indeed, thank you.’
‘Please, give her something from me, and all your children, my niece and yourself,’ he said, handing him an envelope, ‘I’m not well-versed on the preferences of young children and their parents, so I’ll leave the choice to you.’
‘But sir,’ said Archie, ‘I don’t understand.’
‘A gift,’ said Henry. Archie surveyed the gift with a puzzled look, he opened his mouth to speak but Henry continued, ‘I do have something I should like you to do for me however. Not in return for this, for it is a gift as I say. But if you have the means to help me then perhaps you will be so good as to do this for me.’
‘Indeed, what is it?’
‘Can you spare me an hour? It is rather important.’
Archie checked the clock.
‘Yes, I could, I think, but what...’
‘Good, then come please,’ said Henry, ‘we must go immediately.’
Looking very perplexed, Archie collected his hat and gloves. Locking up the office he got into the carriage after Henry.
‘What is this about?’ he asked, ‘is it some kind of emergency.’
‘No, I need you to bear witness.’
‘To what?’ said Archie, ‘a signature on a document? Why didn’t you bring it with you?’
‘No, I’m getting married, I need a witness.’
Henry thought he might require smelling salts to revive his young companion, Archie almost collapsed, staring in shock.
‘You’re getting married? I didn’t know, aren’t you inviting…’
‘No, I’m not inviting anyone. I simply need a witness.’
‘Who is she? The bride?’
‘A young lady. You know my mother and my sister, I’m sure you’ll understand that they are not all congruous with the idea of my marrying. I wish to do it with as little discomfort to them and the bride as possible, you understand?’
‘Of course, yes, yes I do.’
Archie still looked dazed. Henry suspected he would agree to anything and everything.
‘Why leave it this late to ask me?’
Henry smiled. This way there was no chance of his mother and sister getting word of the event before his own arrival at Tharstaine.
‘Last minute change of plan,’ he said, ‘I hope you don’t mind.’
They arrived at the church. Rob, the coachman looked bewildered as Henry instructed him to drive to the Anchor Inn, pick up the awaiting individuals and return to the church with them.
‘Do it discreetly, my man,’ said Henry in a low whisper, ‘not a word of anything that happens here today is ever to pass your lips. If it does you’ll find yourself out of employ, not just with me but anywhere in decent society.’
The coachman nodded, ‘yes, sir.’
Henry watched him go, involving the servants from Tharstaine in the plan was risky but Rob wasn’t quite so deep in his sister’s pocket as some of them.
Esther was sulkier than ever. Katy could hardly speak. She entered the carriage, holding her veil steady, not knowing if she was nervous, excited, anxious or just pure terrified. This really was it, there were no more turning points. Once they were married that was it, a lifetime with Henry and his family.