All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright© 2016, 2017 Bronwen Welsh
A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl'
Chapter 52 “With this ring...”
Christmas was barely over and the last of the ham and Christmas pudding were consumed, when it was our wedding day. Reggie and I must be one of the few couples who got married between Christmas and the New Year, but it suited us because of my work and Reggie's studies. It also meant that the McDonalds didn't have to stay in the Bridchester area for too long, and could then explore the rest of the country.
They filled in the intervening days by going back to York for a day, taking in the Minster more thoroughly; also visiting the Jorvik Viking Centre and the National Railway Museum, a special treat for both Rons. On another day they went to Castle Howard. Aunt Peggy had always wanted to see it after watching the series “Brideshead Revisited” on the television. It's a magnificent estate and she wasn't disappointed.
The day before the wedding, the women of the family insisted on giving me a 'hen party', and since it was going to be quite conservative in nature, Flora and Penny were allowed to attend. We went to a restaurant in Bridchester for a lunch that went well into the afternoon. It was fun having an 'all girls' event. The adults shared a bottle of champagne, but with the food we were eating, none of us got tipsy.
“This is what we'd call 'secret women's business' in Australia,” said Aunt Peggy. In fact there was nothing very secret about it at all, but it's true that women can let their hair down more when there are no men present.
With a number of family members and guests coming in from other parts of the country, accommodation was rather tight, and so Reggie suggested that he and his best man, Desmond, or 'Des' as he preferred to be called, stay at our flat in York right up to the night before the wedding, thus freeing up a bedroom at his parents' house for other family guests. He explained that they could get dressed and drive to the church from there as it was only about an hour away. I had a feeling that it wasn't such a good idea, but I could also see the rationale behind it and so agreed.
“Alright, but don't be late,” I warned him.
The morning of our wedding dawned bright and clear but very cold. We all hoped that it would warm up later in the day as we weren't exactly going to be dressed for freezing temperatures. A decision had been made that all the girls and women would get ready at Emma's house, and the men at Mum's.
The hairdresser and makeup artist arrived early and rather amazingly, everything went like clockwork. Emma and David's house had a bathroom and an ensuite, a really good reason for having the women and girls get ready there. After dressing in my special wedding lingerie, Emma helped me to put on with my beautiful wedding gown and make sure that nothing was forgotten, including my new gold locket. Mum was close to tears when she saw me fully dressed, but they were happy tears.
“I knew you would make a beautiful bride, but I couldn't imagine how beautiful,” she said to me, and of course I had to keep it together and not get emotional which might ruin my makeup. That's not easy when your Mum says something so wonderful to you. I had wanted to be a bride for such a long time and now that it was happening, it was a dream come true.
It had been decided that Emma, Aunt Peggy and Mum would look after the junior members of the party, namely Elizabeth, Stella and Thomas between them and they, in turn, were suitably dressed for the occasion. Elizabeth, who was the flower girl, and Stella, wore pretty white embroidered dresses and Thomas was in black shorts and a white shirt with a black bow tie, thus matching the rest of the men in the wedding party. It had been decided that he was too young to be the ring-bearer, so Desmond was taking charge of them.
About eleven o'clock, Jeff and Colin turned up, cameras at the ready, in order to record events for posterity. They arranged us in every possible combination for pictures and as Jeff shot them, Colin recorded everything on his video camera.
We then had a light lunch, so that there wouldn't be 'rumbling tums' at the church, as Emma put it.
We had decided to use the mini-bus again so that we could all be conveyed to the church in one vehicle, and David would drive it. The ceremony was due to start at two o'clock, and the church was less than ten minutes from Emma and David's house, so we started off in plenty of time.
As we turned the corner and drove up to the church, there was the first inkling that things weren't going according to plan. The verger was standing by the lych gate, and he quickly walked up to the bus with a worried look on his face. David got out and they engaged in an earnest conversation, while we all sat there wondering what was going on.
David returned to the bus and said. “It seems Reggie and his Best Man haven't arrived yet. Has anyone heard from them?”
“I spoke to him last night,” I said. “He'd been out with Des to have a few drinks, to calm his nerves he said, but he didn't sound drunk. I finished off by saying 'See you at the church'. Maybe he's had a puncture or breakdown. I thought it was taking a bit of a chance to drive from York on such an important day.”
“That's what the verger said. We're early anyway, so he suggests we drive around the corner and come back in five minutes,” said David.
He started the engine and slowly drove around the roads behind the church and then, glancing at his watch, drove back to the front gate again. I could see from the verger's face that there wasn't any good news.
“Have you tried phoning him, David?” I asked.
“Yes, I'd better do that,” he said.
David took out his phone and rang Reggie's number. After a couple of minutes, he said: “No luck, I'm afraid; his phone goes to messages and I don't have Desmond's phone number.”
“He might have it switched off, but I wonder why he hasn't phoned us if he's had a breakdown,” I said.
“Well I'm the only one with a phone here today, I've heard nothing and I'm sure he has my number,” said David. I was starting to get rather concerned. Up to now everything had gone so well, but with the groom missing and no-one knowing where he was, things weren't looking good. There was nothing for it but to do the circuit behind the church one more time. By now we should have been in the church so it was quite worrying.
Another five minutes and we turned the corner to the church and the verger was still standing there as we drew up. I came to the conclusion that someone would have to go into the church and tell our guests that there was a hold-up, due to the missing groom. Just then a taxi came down the road towards us at high speed, closely followed by a police car, its lights flashing and siren blaring.
As it reached the church, the taxi skidded to a halt and out jumped Reggie and Des in their dinner suits, closely followed by the taxi driver. The police car had stopped right behind them and the two policemen were equally quick in alighting. Seeing an animated conversation start involving all five men, I made a quick decision and said to the rest of the wedding party “Wait here!”
I slid out of the mini-bus, and holding up the hem of my dress to avoid it getting dirty, I ran across the road as quickly as I could in six-inch heels. As I neared the men, one of the policemen heard me coming and turning to me said: “Excuse me miss, but I don't think this is any of your concern.”
“I'm sorry to contradict you, sergeant,” I said, spotting the three stripes on his arm, “but it's very much my concern. This gentleman (indicating Reggie) and I are supposed to be in church at this moment getting married, and we are very late!”
The sergeant fixed his gaze on me and said: “May I ask your name, miss?”
“It's Harriet Stow,” I replied, wondering what on earth my name had to do with the situation.
He actually smiled. “Of course. My wife and I saw you in “The Taming of the Shrew” in Stratford some weeks back and I thought I recognised your face and voice.”
I flashed him a one thousand watt smile. “I hope you don't think I'm a shrew sergeant?”
He laughed. “I like a woman who speaks her mind. You're just like my wife.”
Meanwhile, the constable was looking round and suddenly spotted Jeff and Colin in the distance with their cameras pointing towards us.
“'ere Sarge, what's going on?” he cried. We all turned to look in the direction he was pointing and my heart sank; what with me being an actress and the presence of cameras I sensed that things were rapidly spiralling out of control.
The sergeant's face darkened. “Is this some kind of 'Candid Camera' prank?” he said.”Because if it is...”
I cut in quickly, “I assure you it's not, sergeant, those gentlemen are here to shoot our wedding.”
For a long moment he looked at me, and then finally spoke. “I don't know why, but I believe you. However if this does turn out to be some sort of prank then I'll charge you all with speeding, wasting police time, and anything else I can dream up.”
He turned to the taxi driver. “There's very few excuses for speeding, and getting a groom to church for his wedding isn't one of them. Take this as a warning and don't let me catch you again.”
“I won't, sergeant, I can promise you that,” said the relieved taxi driver, and after accepting his fare and a generous tip from Desmond, he got into his taxi and drove off at a sedate pace.
“Now, I suggest you three get to the church as quick as you can,” said the sergeant to us.
“Thank you sergeant. Just one thing, may I have your name please?” I said.
“It's Smithson, Ian Smithson,” he said.
“Thank you very much Sergeant Smithson, and if you're ever in Stratford again while I'm performing, please let me know and I'll see about getting you some really good seats.” I paused. “I hope that doesn't constitute a bribe.”
He laughed. “Since I haven't charged you with anything, it can't be a bribe. Now off you go, your audience awaits.” (Why is it that whenever the theatre is mentioned, everyone seems to release their 'inner thespian?)
As the three of us turned to cross the road, I could see faces pressed up against the mini-bus windows.
“You two go ahead, I can't run in these heels. Collect Ron junior from the bus and tell everyone to get out; David has to park it and come back to escort me down the aisle. See you in five minutes.”
They did as I suggested, and by the time I reached the bus, everyone was standing beside it and straightening their dresses.
“Things looked really bad there for a minute,” said Emma. “How did you smooth things over?”
“I've got the 'gift of the gab' I suppose,” I answered. Before Emma could comment further, Jeff and Colin came up to shoot pictures and video. In a few minutes David came back after parking the mini-bus and it was time for us to enter the church. Mum, carrying Stella and Aunt Peggy carrying Thomas went into the church to sit in one of the pews. The rest of us stood in the vestibule, arranging ourselves in order. As we did so, I saw the vicar lead Reggie, Desmond and Ron junior out from the sacristy to stand before the altar. When we were all ready, the verger signalled the organist, who had been extemporising for goodness knows how long, and he suddenly cranked up the volume and launched into Wagner's 'Wedding March'. Everyone stood up, and that was our cue.
Elizabeth was holding a small basket of rose petals in her right hand. Penny stood on her left side and offered to hold her free hand, but Miss Independence wanted none of it. Flora stood on her right side and all three of them slowly walked down the aisle. Elizabeth even remembered to scatter a few of the rose petals, smiling broadly as she did so. Then came Emma, and finally David and I, with me holding David's arm. The congregation in the church was far larger than I expected, but I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. This had been Mum's parish church for many years and no doubt many of her friends had come along to see her second daughter married.
When we reached where Reggie was standing, David put my hand in his and stood back.
“You look stunning,” whispered Reggie as though this was the first time he had seen me that day, as indeed he would have done if things had gone according to plan.
I couldn't resist a mischievous grin. “Stunned, more like,” I whispered. “You must tell me what happened later.”
The Rev James Sutton smiled at us both, and with a twinkle in his eye said “I've been asked by the Groom and Best Man to apologise for keeping everyone waiting. Apparently it's a long story involving a cow on the road and them driving into a ditch. The good news is that they're both here in one piece and the cow wasn't injured either.”
He waited for the laughter to subside and began the service in a time-honoured way:
'Dearly beloved, We have come together in the presence of God to witness the marriage of
Reginald and Harriet, to ask his blessing on them, and to share in their joy. Our Lord Jesus Christ was himself a guest at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and through his Spirit, he is with us now.
It was the traditional Anglican ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer, and so resembled every other wedding ceremony that I hardly need go into details. We recited our vows, exchanged rings, and the vicar then made the pronouncement:
“In the presence of God, and before this congregation,
Reginald and Harriet have given their consent
and made their marriage vows to each other.
They have declared their marriage by the joining of hands
and by the giving and receiving of rings.
I therefore proclaim that they are husband and wife.
Whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.”
And that was it, we were married!
The vicar then gave the blessing, and the congregation sang the hymn 'Love Divine all Loves Excelling' while the registry and wedding certificate was signed and witnessed.
The service concluded with the Lord's Prayer, and the organ started to play Mendelssohn's Wedding March as we walked down the aisle together, pausing to receive congratulations and kisses from family members and friends. It all seemed a trifle surreal to me – I was finally Reggie's wife! I could hardly believe it.
When we reached the door of the church and stepped out into the sunlight, I was a little surprised to see the police car still sitting over the road where we had last seen it. Did that mean the sergeant wanted to make absolutely sure that we were genuine when we said we were getting married? I waved and the driver's window was wound down and the constable who was in the driver's seat waved in return. Then the car slowly drove away.
More photos followed and then we walked round to the parish hall where everything was set up for our wedding reception. I hope it doesn't sound like we were cheapskates having our reception catered for by the Women's Institute ladies of the parish, but quite frankly they do as good a job, if not better, than many of the hotel and reception centres, and what's more we were putting some money into the parish coffers by doing it this way.
The guests were already assembled when we arrived, and David, who was now acting as Master of Ceremonies, asked everyone to be upstanding while the bridal party entered and took their places. This we did to great applause. Who would have thought that twenty-five people could have made so much noise?
The reception was so much fun. I confess that even someone as experienced as myself at being in front of an audience had been just a little bit nervous in the church, but now it was time to let our hair down.
David started proceedings by welcoming everyone to the reception on behalf of our families, and the first two courses of the meal were served.
When it came to the speeches, since I didn't have a father to make the traditional toast to the bride and groom, Reggie's father Stan Staunton took on this rôle. He said some very nice things about me, how lucky Reggie was to have me as his wife, and how they welcomed me into their family.
Reggie started with the traditional “On behalf of my wife and I...” which always get a great cheer. He thanked everyone for coming and also for their generous gifts, and paid due tribute to his Best Man and ushers, and then proposed the toast to the Matron of Honour and the bridesmaids.
In a break from traditional, which says that the bride remains silent throughout the proceedings, I stood up and made a little speech, thanking everyone for coming and making a special mention of the McDonald family for coming all the way from Australia to be present at my wedding. Of course there were other reasons why they were present, but this wasn't the right time to go into them. I even thanked Reggie for asking me to marry him, and this produced another cheer. I promised to be a good wife to him, and couldn't help referencing my recent rôle as Kate in 'The Taming of the Shrew'.
“Reggie may not need to 'commit his body to painful labour by sea and land
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold
While I lie warm at home, secure and safe'
But I know that both he and I will work hard to make this marriage a great success.”
“And finally, I will make it my first job as his wife to find out exactly what happened today to make him late for our wedding and give us all heart failure.”
With that, I sat down to a standing ovation.
Desmond, the Best Man then stood to give his speech. This can be a disaster if not handled correctly, but fortunately, Des did it well. There was no reference to Reggie's first marriage, nor any embarrassing stories from his past. He concluded his speech with a toast, first to Mum as the mother of the bride, and then to Sylvia and Stan Soames, the parents of the groom.
After this we cut the wedding cake, which had been made and beautifully decorated by one of the W.I. ladies, and afterwards came the bridal waltz, played by a local trio of piano, saxophone, and drums. After two rounds of the dance floor, everyone else joined in.
With the formal part of the reception concluded, Reggie and I were able to mingle with our guests. I should mention that Dale and Frank were among them. Frank was the only man present to compliment me on my wedding gown, but that was hardly surprising. Not for the first time I wondered where his and Dale's relationship might be going, especially if he started to consider whether he should transition. He had an important decision to make.
Later, when Reggie and I took a break from dancing and were sitting together alone at the bridal table, I asked him exactly what had happened to make him so late at the church.
“It's a long story, but I'll try to condense it,” he said. “Yesterday evening, as you know, I was feeling a bit nervous about the wedding and standing up in front of all those people. I'm not used to it like you. Anyway, Des and I went out for a few drinks. The local pub is frequented by a lot of the students, even Phillip Whitlow was there, the guy we think....” I nodded, hoping he wouldn't spell it out, just in case. “He actually asked about Stella which I thought was nice.”
Alarm bells started to ring in my head, but I chose to say nothing and just filed the information away.
“Well we had a few drinks, well more than a few, but we weren't drunk,” Reggie continued hastily. “As a result, we forgot to set the alarm when we went back to the flat and woke up rather late this morning. We had a quick cup of coffee, showered and dressed in our dinner suits. Then we set off for here. We still had enough time.
“We were driving in Des's car, mine's parked behind the vicar's house for us to go away today. Des said he knew a short cut to get us here earlier and we might have time for a quick snack, so we turned off down a side road and drove for ages. Eventually, we came to a dead end at a farm gate. Des apologised and said it must be the wrong road, so I said we shouldn't waste any more time and go back to the main highway.
“On the way back, about half-way to the main road we turned a corner and there was a cow in the middle of the road. Des swerved to avoid it and we ran into a ditch. Fortunately, we managed to get out of the car without getting dirty, but there was no way we could get it back on the road so we left it and started to walk. It seemed to take forever to reach the main road.”
“Didn't you think to ring us?” I asked.
“Sorry, I forgot; yes we did. I told Des that we should ring David but he didn't have the number. I took out my phone to find it and the battery was flat. Then I said to ring my Dad but I've since found out he had the phone switched it off in case it rang in the church. We'd run out of ideas by then and had to start walking and hope to get a lift. No-one would stop, and then along came Charlie in his taxi. I asked him to step on it, which he did, and we were about a mile from the church when the police car started to follow us. Charlie was actually slowing down by then and he wanted to stop but we told him there was an extra fifty pounds if he kept going until he reached the church The rest you know. Thank goodness you were able to charm that sergeant or I don't know what might have happened.”
While Reggie was telling this tale, he hadn't noticed but a group of interested eavesdroppers had arrived and were standing behind him listening with great interest. When he finished his story, they all applauded!
“Well, that sounds like the script for a Laurel and Hardy film,” I said, trying to keep a straight face and not really succeeding. “I think that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.”
“You can say that again,” said Reggie.
“Well the main thing is that you made it in the end and I wasn't left at the altar.”
“I'd never have done that!” said Reggie in outraged tones.
“I was just kidding you,” I replied, laughing.
We had a lovely time at the reception, but finally, it was time for us to quietly go into a side room where our suitcases had been left, and which had been set up as a changing room.
Reggie helped me take off my wedding gown which Emma had promised to take care of. When he saw what I was wearing underneath it, he said that he didn't know how he could wait until we reached the hotel! We changed into our 'going away' outfits – mine was a cream linen suit with a knee-length skirt and matching heels, and Reggie wore grey trousers, a shirt and tie and a sports coat. While we were gone, Desmond was asked to bring Reggie's car around to the front door of the hall.
We appeared again to cheers from the guests who had formed a circle and we went around giving everyone a hug and kiss. Then I had to throw my bouquet over my shoulder and who should catch it but Flora!
We went out to the car in the gathering dusk and got in. As we started off, of course there was a great clanging of tin cans which in the time-honoured way, Desmond had attached to the rear bumper bar. Reggie drove down the road with them in place until we turned the corner, and then stopped the car to remove them. When he got back in we looked at each other.
“Well Mrs Staunton?” he said.
“Well Mr Staunton, where are we going to for our honeymoon?” I asked.
“I hope you remembered to bring your passport. We're staying at a hotel in Manchester tonight, and tomorrow morning we're flying to New York for a week.”
“New York!” I squeaked rather than exclaimed if I'm honest.
“I remember you saying that you didn't really have time to see it the last time you were there. I've also bought tickets to four of the shows you'd really like to see, and we might even add a few more if you want.”
“Oh Reggie, that's perfect. I love you so much,” I said, throwing my arms around his neck and locking my lips to his for quite a long time.
Reggie grinned. “So how does it feel to be married?” he asked.
“It feels wonderful,” I replied.
He started the engine, engaged 'Drive' and we set off into the setting sun.
The curtain falls – end of Act Two.
I started posting this book, the second in Harriet's memoirs, just over a year ago, and now, after 52 chapters and over 167,000 words it has come to an end. More statistics – around 1200-1400 people have read each chapter, which is very flattering and humbling. I would like to thank each and every one of those readers; also the people who kindly made comments on each chapter, sometimes on multiple occasions. Some have generously given me ideas to incorporate into the story. My thanks again to Louise Ann and Julia Phillips for steering me away from anachronisms and errors about Britain in the early years of this century, and also for picking up the inevitable 'typos' which creep in no matter how hard I try to exclude them.
Harriet and Reggie's story is not over, and so, after a brief respite, I intend to make it into a trilogy. I hope that current readers will indulge me by continuing to read 'what happens next'. Knowing Harriet, it won't all be smooth sailing!
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