All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 24 'That which does not kill us...'
The season continued well with packed houses. As November 10th approached, Paul told Jemma that she was to play the matinée, and as I predicted, she was over the moon.
“This is something I dreamed about, but I never thought it would happen, not with you and Cassie sharing the rôle,” she said.
“Well Paul wouldn't have agreed to it if he didn't think you were ready. He's probably thinking that it will also ensure Cassie and I don't let our standards slip,” I laughed. “I'm joking, but I've been an understudy myself so I know what it's like. You've worked really hard and you deserve this opportunity.”
“I'm learning so much from watching you two perform. This is just an amazing experience,” said Jemma.
“Well you enjoy your performance,” I said. “I enjoy every one, and I think that's the secret of acting well.”
The morning of 10th November arrived, crisp and clear. I awoke and thought to myself. 'This is it. This is the day of Reggie's wedding.'
Quite frankly, I would rather have rolled over and gone back to sleep, but this was no time to be a wimp. I remembered that quote from Friedrich Nietzsche 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.'
'I'm going to get through this and come out stronger at the other end.' I said to myself.
Both Dale and I were up early. We were going to drive up to Blackpool in Dale's car, a Jaguar Mark 2 with the 3.4 litre engine. Built in the nineteen sixties, it was about fifty years old, but in beautiful condition and with those classic lines it certainly didn't look its age. I knew Dale spent many hours tinkering with it in the garage at the driving school, and that it was in excellent condition mechanically as well as having an immaculate body. I suspected that Dale would like to have the even more admired Jaguar 'E' type, but I don't think his funds stretched that far.
I had decided that my black sequin dress was a bit too 'evening wear' for an afternoon church wedding, so I had selected a dark blue satin tea-length dress for the ceremony and would return to the hotel and change for the evening. Both dresses were hung in their covers beside the back seat. There was plenty of room in the boot for our suitcases, and also the wedding present. I had bought a very nice Willow Pattern dinner set which happened to be on special in a Stratford shop, but no-one had to know that. It was still quite expensive. I wondered if Sophie would ensure that it never saw the light of day after being unpacked, but if it was brought out on special occasions, I hoped that Reggie would remember who gave it to them.
We set off about eight o'clock. Even with a coffee break, we would still get to Blackpool by eleven-thirty. Dale pulled over and let me have a drive for an hour in the middle of the trip. I have to say that the power under my right foot was extraordinary, and made my dear little 'Bluebird' seem like a golf buggy in comparison. More than once I had to ease off as the speed began to creep up over the limit. Getting a speeding fine was the last thing I wanted.
We found the hotel quite easily. I had borrowed a plain gold ring from the props department, and so we registered as Mr and Mrs Swenson. I know that no-one cares nowadays, but I preferred not to use my own name anyway, even if it wasn't too well known yet. Being famous has its pros and cons.
The room was bright and sunny with a queen size bed and ensuite. After leaving our suitcases, we went down to the restaurant for a light lunch and then returned to the room to get ready. We had decided that Dale would have his shower first and get dressed while I took over the bathroom. When he was dressed, he would wait for me down in the lobby. Naturally enough it was going to take me more time to get ready, although I didn't want to keep him waiting too long.
After I had completed my shower and dried myself, I had the bedroom to myself and dressed in a set of my favourite French lingerie and drew on some sheer stockings and attached them to my suspender belt. Then I set about doing my hair and makeup before putting on my dress and heels. I checked myself in the mirror, decided I was happy with how I looked, picked up my clutch bag and took the lift down to the lobby. The whole process had taken forty-five minutes. I hoped Dale didn't think that was a very long time since I thought I'd been a real greyhound.
Dale stood up when he saw me. He seemed impressed as he walked up to greet me and kissed me on the cheek. I was surprised. That hadn't been in the script.
“Harriet, you look amazing,” he said.
“Thank you Dale. I was thinking how handsome you look,” I replied. He did look handsome in his dinner suit and black tie, and I was sure he would make quite an impression.
Dale drove us to the church and managed to park about five minutes' walk away. I took his arm as we walked up the path. Now we were 'on stage'. To our mutual surprise I saw Reggie's Aunt Jane from Swansea standing there on her own in a very nice blue silk dress with a matching hat.
“Harriet! I would say it's nice to see you, but this has all been something of a surprise,” she said.
“It surprised me too, Aunt Jane,” I replied. Seeing her look at Dale, I introduced them. “Dale, this is Reggie's aunt, Mrs Thomas from Swansea. Dale is a friend who has agreed to be my partner today.”
Aunt Jane held out her hand. “It's nice to meet you Dale.”
I glanced at my watch. “Could I have a quick word in private Aunt Jane? Would you mind Dale?”
We moved away from the other guests and Jane said “I don't understand, Harriet. What happened? You and Reggie seemed so happy together.”
“Sophie happened.” I said grimly.
“But why the wedding?” she said looking puzzled. “I really thought you two were in love.”
“We were, in fact we are. I'm sorry if none of this makes sense, but it's a complicated story and for now this is how it has to be. Just one thing though, I don't want you to hate me, so don't believe all you see today. Dale is a friend, nothing more, and I'm an actress. Maybe Reggie can tell you more, but only if you can speak to him on his own. For goodness sake don't do it when anyone else is around.”
If anything Aunt Jane looked more confused. “Alright Harriet, I believe you but I can't say I'm happy about it.”
“Neither am I, but trust me, what Reggie is doing is an incredible thing, 'greater love' and all that.”
Just then an usher appeared through the church door and asked all the guests to take their seats, so we walked into the church. There was not a large congregation, and as I had suspected the groom's side was much smaller than the bride's. An usher took us up to the second row of pews and directed us to the right-hand side. I would have preferred to sit further back but we could hardly move without making a fuss, so we went along with it. We were right behind Reggie's parents, Mr and Mrs Staunton. She half turned as we took our places, saw me and was obviously surprised.
“Harriet!” she said in a half whisper. “I didn't....” and she stopped embarrassed.
“I'm one of Reggie's oldest friends, so I'm here to support him,” I said, also in a half whisper. At that moment I really think she wished that I was the bride.
“Thank you for coming,” she said, and I think that was almost like an apology.
A few more people moved into the pews behind us, but I didn't turn around. Over the aisle the bride's family and friends were filling up far more of the pews. They chatted rather loudly amongst themselves, obviously unused to being inside a church.
Seated on the front row pew was Sophie's mother. She didn't seem the sort of woman to be married to someone of Sid's reputation, being as far as I could see a rather plain woman She was wearing a fur coat which I hoped was imitation but I suspected might not be, and she appeared to have had a purple rinse in her hair. I've heard that some women married to men who make their living in a dubious manner prefer not to know where the money comes from so long as it keeps coming.
Just then the door of the vestry opened and the minister appeared, followed by Reggie and two other young men, his Best Man and Usher. Reggie looked at his parents and then held my gaze for a fraction of a second; he didn't smile. My heart went out to him. He didn't look like a man on the happiest day of his life, more like someone walking to the gallows, or was that my vivid actress's imagination?.
A few seconds later the organ which had been playing quietly in the background burst into the Bridal March from Lohengrin. As is tradition, we all stood and turned to watch the bride walk up the aisle on the arm of her father. I had to stifle a gasp. Sophie was wearing a big white 'Cinderella' wedding dress with a bridal veil, hardly suitable attire for someone who had announced she was pregnant, but she had obviously promised herself the full bridal experience.
' Hmm, she's got more front than Selfridges,' I thought to myself.
Now I had my first look at Sid Vertue. People don't always look how you imagine them, but in Sid's case he did. He was wearing a dinner suit of course, although I imagined that his usual dress was a lot flashier. His hair was jet black and shiny, probably dyed, and slicked back into a pony tail, something I have never come to terms with in men, especially older ones. His nose was large and pointed, and I couldn't help thinking that he looked like a rat. I took all this in a single glance, since people often sense when someone is looking at them, and I didn't want to draw his attention.
It was hard to see where Sophie was looking thanks to the veil, and in a few seconds they and the two bridesmaids passed us. When they arrived in front of the minister, my heart lurched as Sid placed Sophie's hand into that of Reggie. Dale must have sensed my reaction because he reached for my hand and held it. I gripped him so tightly my nails dug into his skin and he winced.
“Sorry,” I whispered and eased my grip. I watched the minister as he opened his prayer book. ' He's putting on a performance. I wonder how many times he's done it and how many times he's thought 'this won't last',' I thought.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and in the face of this company...” he began.
It was when he came to “If any man can show just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together...” I wanted to jump up and cry out “Yes, I can show just cause, because the bride is a seductress, a cheat and a liar!'
“...let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.” And I, coward that I was, held my peace and said nothing.
The moment passed and the minister carried on. I think I tuned out of the rest of the service. There was a couple of hymns, and a man stood up and read the traditional '1 Corinthians 13', which is all about love, and I thought of Tina Turner singing 'What's love got to do with it?'.
Finally the whole ghastly business was over and the organ was blasting out Mendelssohn's 'Wedding March' as Sophie and Reggie started to walk down the aisle. Sophie caught my eye and gave me a look of triumph which changed to a questioning look as she caught sight of Dale standing beside me. Once they had reached the church door, we all started to walk down the aisle after them. For the first time I saw the people in the pew behind me and a couple of them I recognised from when I was at school, but they showed no sign of knowing who I was, and I was grateful for that.
The photographer and videographer were instantly busy capturing the occasion, and after they had shot every possible combination of bridal party and relatives, we were all coerced into assembling on the church steps for a group photo. After that it appeared that the bridal party was going to a park for yet more photos, but for the rest of us, it was a chance to take a break before coming back for the reception.
Dale drove us back to the hotel, and we took it in turns to go into the bathroom to change. I took off my dress and put on my dressing gown and Dale took off his suit and also put on his dressing gown, Then we both lay on the bed to relax for a while. I set my alarm clock for four o'clock.
“You did very well to get through that,” said Dale.
“I nearly lost it at one stage,” I replied. “I'm sorry the way I dug my nails into your hand. I hope there's no permanent damage?”
Dale laughed. “I'll live,” he replied.
“I wonder how many times people have stood up at the point where the minister asks if anyone has an objection to the marriage? There's always that second or so where everyone in the church seems to hold their breath. I must confess I was sorely tempted.”
“Well, that would have blown your strategy out of the water of course. Does having Reggie's aunt there cause complications?”
“I don't think so. That's why I had to have a word with her. I didn't want her to misunderstand what she sees at the reception. The trouble is I couldn't say too much, I just hope she trusts me.”
To be continued
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Louise Anne in proofreading the text and giving me a great deal of useful advice about modern-day Britain to incorporate in the story, also to Julia Phillips for picking up 'typos' etc which we missed..
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