"They shall never get the marriage chain around my neck!"
(continued from last episode )
Mr Carrington was taken aside and the plan to marry outlined. The need for reticence was stressed. Berkeley would be obliged for his services as a witness. William Tudor, who had returned from a tour of duty on the Continent, was the obvious choice for a second witness. In his view, this was a new start which would ensure economic security. The earlier farce was a lost cause and should be buried without trace if they all meant to keep their heads!
While this was going on, the governess’ antennae were twitching. The scent of intrigue hung about the Cranford rooms and she correctly guessed what was afoot. On the sixteenth of May, at Spring Gardens, she recorded in her journal that Miss Tudor appeared in the late morning dressed in emerald silk with silver crewel work. She wore a short pelisse and shoes to match and the heels were slightly raised, which was uncommon for the mistress.
“Dear Miss Tudor! How elegant you look. I should not want to brush the dust of a warehouse on those clothes!”
It was Mary’s stated intention that day to buy furniture for a house in Littlehampton she had taken for the summer. The South Gloucesters were stationed in the area and the whole family would benefit from the sea air.
“Why, thank you, Price.” Mary bestowed upon her an enigmatic smile, then turned and walked to the waiting barouche with the merest flounce. She was alone, but Price wasn’t fooled. Lord Berkeley was not at home. There would be a hallowed venue and the most important rendezvous of their lives. Price nodded slyly to herself. Mr Carrington was also absent.
To enter the parish of Lambeth on the south side of the River Thames was to step back in time, away from the hurly-burly of the West End. Lamhytha, it was called in the Domesday Book. The landing place for lambs. What could have been more in keeping for a butcher’s daughter who had been sold to her warder, and whose patron saint was the Blessed Virgin, to be married in St. Mary-at-Lambeth? A knot garden commemorated the Tradescants, father and son, who had ranged far and wide to find exotic fruits and blooms which could be established on England’s soil. Anemones, tulips, cyclamen, hyacinths, quinces, mulberries, cherries and vines. Such detail delighted Mary.
Billy was waiting on the cobbled pavement outside gates gleaming with new paint. He dashed forward to help his sister alight from the carriage. Linking her arm through her brother’s, Mary inhaled deeply and strolled into the porch and down the nave to be deposited on the left side of Berkeley. The curate, Mr Lloyd, commenced. Berkeley saw his lips form the time-honoured phrases and heard his own assent as from another space.
Within a few short minutes, the promises were made. There were no bells, no fugues, no fanfares. The bride carried no flowers, but the altar was radiant with Madonna lilies. Billy produced the ring Berkeley had given him and placed it on a prayer-book for a blessing. It glinted with a peculiar sentience. To her astonishment, Mary saw that it was the old ring, the first ring, long forgotten in a casket, the one artfully recorded by the jeweller who sold it as a ‘golden seal’. Never was an article more fatefully described!
This is truly the last time I shall sign my name Mary Cole, thought the new Countess. Even as the pen swept through the peaks and curves of her signature, a fleeting presentiment caused her to shiver. She passed the tomb of Archbishop Tenison who had consoled the Duke of Monmouth at his execution for High Treason in 1685. Further, the Primate was known to have preached the sermon at the funeral service for Nell Gwynn whose portrait by Kneller hung on the staircase walls at Berkeley. The knowledge stole about Mary’s psyche like ectoplasm. It had to be cancelled with positive thought. She was the Countess of Berkeley. Now she could travel light! The children would not go hungry, or see their mother cast out in favour of an heiress.
Berkeley kissed his bride and decamped with Carrington via the vestry door to his waiting chariot, a mode of exit that was so in keeping with his character! Mary set off in the carriage to seek examples of Sheraton’s craft, while Billy walked home to Lydia and the baby, William Henry. Idly, it occurred to him that he had written William Tudor in the register, whereas he had been moved to give his full name William Henry Tudor as witness to Susan’s wedding. All the signatures had been expansive on that certificate. Everyone seemed glad to subscribe to the union. What a prosaic thing a signature was to tow such momentous weight!
Preview excerpt of THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS, Book Two of the Berkeley Trilogy
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...