Henry paced at the front of the church rubbing his hands together, his state of nervous tension bore into Archie who suddenly sat down.
‘Don’t worry,’ said the minister, in a soothing tone, ‘they will be here in a moment, no need to fret.’
The stare Henry gave him made him draw back.
‘I’m not fretting,’ he said, ‘and if I am, it has nothing to do with their late arrival. Believe me, that is the least thing that could go wrong.’
He ignored the shocked look on the face of the old clergyman.
The carriage drew up at the church. Katy had lost the ability to speak. Esther was punctuating the silence with annoying remarks and pointless observations.
‘I hope he doesn’t have to speak.’
‘Who?’ said her father?
‘Henry,’ said Esther.
‘Why?’ said Katy finding her voice, her mind so mixed up she could hardly figure out what Esther was saying, ‘he’ll have to speak, to say the vows.’
‘Hmm,’ sighed Esther, ‘I suppose so, but his voice… it does something to me.’
She shivered as though a gust of cold air had swept through the carriage.
The coachman opened the door.
Still trying to work out what Esther was talking about, Katy allowed the man to help her out.
‘You look beautiful, Miss,’ he said, ‘if you’ll permit me to say so.’
‘Thank you,’ she smiled.
Her father jumped down looking very pleased with himself.
‘This is what it’s all about Katy, your destiny is behind those doors.’
The urge to turn and runaway had never been stronger. She could still do it, there was time.
The doors were open. She was through. They were walking down the aisle. Henry was waiting, a stranger at his side. The arched window at the end of the aisle let in an eerie beam of light, hazy dust particles danced in it. For a moment she almost collapsed, remembering the dream she’d had of a man standing beneath an arch. She’d taking it to be a bridge but was it here? When she reached the front would he turn round and reveal not a striking white face and ice blue chips for eyes but a warm smile, round hazel eyes and thick dark hair. It had to be George, it was all a trick, a nightmare, a dream, something, anything.
He turned round slowly, enough for her to see quite clearly. It was Henry. Tall and slim, his ever immaculate costume seemed to have reached an impossible level of precision. The stranger beside him, though well-dressed in his own right, seemed diminished and ordinary.
She felt the ice blue eyes watching her, she could hardly bring herself to look him. she wondered if he was scanning her dress for some flaw or looking at her face for a speck of dirt that she’d missed and that might give the game away.
Eventually she drew level with him and forced herself to look up at him. she received a faint smile and he nodded his head. She took this to mean she was acceptable.
‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered here…’ began the minister.
She stole another glance at Henry, he was still looking at her. She smiled. He looked away attending to the words of the minister.
‘…holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought…’
It was a miracle, thought Katy, that they had even got this far. Her whole life seemed to have been leading to this moment but now she was here her mind was full of dread.’
‘…It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication.’
Henry seemed to stiffen at the words, Katy knew every eye was upon him. Even his unknown companion seemed to be checking his reaction. Katy almost laughed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps the stranger thought Henry had defiled her and was now trying to put it right. She couldn’t help grinning at the thought.
‘… Therefore if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace…’
This was the moment, where George should burst through the doors and lay himself at her feet, but such events were best left for novels or fantasies, she knew now there would be no rescuing. Henry shuffled his feet slightly. He would undoubtedly be delighted if anyone appeared to stop the proceedings. Katy wondered if at that moment he even wished for the sighted of his dreaded sister to burst in and demand that they stopped but only silence answered the minister.
‘As you will answer at the dreadful day of judgement when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, you do now confess it…’
Their eyes met, though neither expression flickered. What they were doing wasn’t a crime. They’d made an arrangement that was all. Marriages were arranged in such ways every day.
‘Will you Henry George Cranston have this Woman to thy wedded Wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as you both shall live?’ said the minister, his eyes boring into Henry.
Katy had time to smile at the uncanny middle name before she heard him say, ‘I will.’
Her heart nearly stopped, maybe it was the words or maybe Esther had a point, there was something about his voice, she’d never noticed before. It seemed to touch her inside.
‘Will you Katherine Kelso have this Man to thy wedded Husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Will you obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as you both shall live?’ the minister turned his gaze to her.
She looked at his scrubbed white face. His stern expression looked momentarily uncertain, perhaps he expected her to say no or maybe he wished it.
The minister coughed and Katy had a hard nudge on her back from her father
‘Who gives this Woman to be married to this Man?’
Her father almost pushed her into Henry as the minister indicated they should take hands.
‘Repeat after me. I, Henry George Cranston take thee Katherine Kelso…’
Almost whispering, Henry spoke the words. Katy wondered if it was emotion that had drawn the usually commanding tone from his voice, but the whisper, if anything was even more beguiling, she felt mesmerised, ‘…to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.’
It was almost believable, she knew ‘loving and cherishing’ were not feelings to be found in the repertoire of Henry Cranston but outsiders listening in wouldn’t have known. She could hear Esther’s shallow breathing from somewhere behind, hanging on every word.
Katy said her own vows and, taking her lead from Henry, made them as convincing as she could. She caught the expression on the face of Henry’s unknown companion. He looked flabbergasted. She smiled as Henry produced a small gold band from his upper pocket.
Taking the ring he laid it upon the holy book proffered by the minister. The minister lifted the ring and returned it to Henry.
She did not hear him say the words for Henry to follow. Henry seemed to speak them of his own accord, his voice still little more than a whisper but the commanding undertone running through.
‘With this ring I thee wed.’
He took her left hand and placed the ring on her finger,
‘With my body I thee worship.’
Her heart skipped several beats, she almost desired him.
‘And with all my worldly goods I thee endow.’
That was the arrangement after all.
They looked at each other for several seconds. Hands still joined. Not hearing or seeing anything else. It was done.
She was Mrs Cranston. A lady.