|Ten Minute Tales|
For your entertainment
a different Ten Minute Tale* every day
(except Friday when we have Novel Conversations)
“Ten to nine. Twenty, twenty-five minutes to get the business done, a bite of breakfast and you’ll be back at your premises by eleven.” Bartholomew Hines snapped his watch shut. “You’re doing well, they tell me.” He broke off when the minister emerged from the vestry. “I’ll just have a word with Mr Hare.”
Left alone in the pew, Joel MacAllister awaited the arrival of his cousin’s bride. His second cousin, he reminded himself. Apparently the Alderman considered the relationship close enough to request him to act as groomsman at his second wedding. It would have been churlish to refuse, especially as Bartholomew was intent on a private ceremony. Just a year since, he had lost both his first wife and their only child.
Joel idly studied the lists of benefactions inscribed in gold on two dark brown boards and quirked an eyebrow at the gallery’s vice-regal pew where the Lord Lieutenant might shelter between the forceful display of the royal arms and the imposing organ. Strange to think that the rebel Lord Edward Fitzgerald lay in the vaults below. The then rector had waived his right to be buried there in favour of the Duke of Leinster’s son. It showed that even in the worst of times there were men who behaved decently.
The second witness, the clerk’s wife, sat opposite. She was the only other person present.
Bartholomew was marrying the orphaned daughter of a Bristol sea-captain; brought to Dublin three years ago by her uncle, Samuel Gore. She was wealthy, perhaps, but that was not what Joel looked for in a wife. His thoughts drifted to Sarah Lewis, remembered how her warm smile lit up her eyes and softened her lips. A devoted daughter, they said, who had nursed her mother to the end while ensuring that Mrs Lewis Milliners continued to thrive.
She had purchased a pair of scissors the morning he had opened his new shop. ‘This is my first sale,’ he had told her proudly.
She had smiled, counted out the exact sum due and added a silver sixpence. ‘A handsel, Mr MacAllister. May it bring you good fortune.’
And so it had. Between Dublin Castle and the regiments garrisoned in Ireland, a good sword-cutler was always in demand and other cutlery—razors, scissors and the like—was also going well. His fortune would be sealed if he could win Sarah as his wife!
Joel looked towards the door. Still no sign of today’s bride.
Across the city, the young woman in question turned from the window as the carriage disappeared from view. Too late, now, to change her mind. She paced up and down, pausing to peer into the looking-glass. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing? Have you truly considered the consequences?” Her curved lips firmed. She nodded resolutely to her reflection and lowered the embroidered veil, obscuring the pale oval of her face.
The door opened. “You’re ready,” Mr Gore said. “Come, then!”
He neither offered his arm nor waited for her to precede him, but purposefully descended the stairs, confident she wouldn’t balk at this last moment. She climbed docilely into the waiting carriage. Soon they had clattered across Carlisle Bridge and were turning into Dame Street. By rights the wedding should have taken place in the bride’s parish, but the Alderman had insisted on St Werburgh’s. It didn’t matter. She resolutely looked away from her companion, her unseeing gaze fixed on the passing scene.
The air was cool despite the morning sun, and she shivered as they waited. A heavy oak door gave onto a tunnel-like entrance which in turn led to a gloomy vestibule within the thick tower walls. It opened into an ante-chamber. Beyond it, a high arched window flooded the church with light that shimmered down the aisle and spilled through the doors in a glittering stream.
“Wait here,” the clerk instructed. He vanished, to appear moments later at the top of the aisle, hovering behind a minister who stood expectantly at the altar steps beside two gentlemen.
The minister moved forward and the bridegroom beckoned imperiously. Joel touched the ring in his pocket before taking his position on his cousin’s right.
The bride approached slowly over the black and white squares, her head bent and her fingers barely resting on her uncle’s arm. She was expensively dressed in a pelisse of dark green velvet trimmed with fur, her face concealed by the heavy veil which fell from the deep brim of her bonnet.
Was she disfigured? By the smallpox, perhaps? Joel shrugged. It was no concern of his.
The minister commenced the awful prologue to the marriage service.
‘Mutual society, help and comfort,’ Joel reflected dreamily. Perhaps he should simply ask Sarah if he might escort her to church next Sunday. That would make his intentions clear. But to do that, he must contrive to have a private word with her.
“……For ever hold his peace.” The minister paused perfunctorily before addressing the bridal couple, “I require and charge you both……that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it.”
“I do so confess. The bride does not consent.”
It was the bride who spoke. A salvo of startled gasps and bitten-off exclamations escaped the few onlookers. Incredulous glances crossed uneasily before focussing on the still, veiled figure. Mr Gore and the bridegroom closed in on her from either side.
The minister cleared his throat. “I beg your pardon, miss?”
She took a folded paper from her reticule. “Miss Matthews has not agreed to the marriage.”
Gore grabbed for the letter but the minister was before him. Furious, Gore lunged and viciously jerked her by the wrist. “I warned you not to make trouble, my girl. It’s all lies!”
“It’s true, I swear it!”
She put up her veil with her free hand and, chin raised, looked defiantly from one man to the other. Her eyes were huge in her chalk-white face.
As Joel started forward, his cousin rounded on Gore. “What the devil are you about, man? I’ve never seen this woman before in my life.”
Joel pushed past Bartholomew to clasp Sarah within a steadying arm then stretched across to clamp Gore’s wrist in a steely grip. “Release her!”
“Who the devil are you to interfere?” Gore tried to tug his captive towards him. “Fetch the constable! Most likely she kidnapped my niece and stole her clothes.”
“Release her, I said!” Joel’s fingers tightened in a brutal vise that made the other hasten to obey.
“You’ll pay for this, you brazen hussy!
Joel urged the trembling Sarah into a pew and slid in beside her to block her from further assault. “Sit. You are safe now.”
She leaned against him, cradling her wrist. After a moment she looked up, blushing faintly. “What must you think of me!”
“That you are very brave—and very foolish,” he answered honestly and was rewarded by a startled smile.
The minister refolded the letter. “Miss Matthews says she was confined so closely that only through such a substitution could she escape. I shall have to report this. I must remind you gentlemen that it is a grave offence to coerce a woman into marriage.”
Bartholomew bristled. “I did no such thing. Her uncle there assured me the girl was happy with the match.”
“If you had taken the trouble to court your intended directly, sir, you would have learned otherwise.”
The Alderman reddened at Sarah’s quiet reproach and pointed sourly at Gore. “He wouldn’t leave us alone together, said she was willing, but shy. Well, I thought, there’s plenty of time to woo her after we’re wed, especially when he insists the marriage take place quickly. There was some seaman from Bristol annoying her, he said and,” he looked embarrassed, “I was lonely after Maria died. She, Miss Matthews, I mean, is a taking little thing.”
While he was speaking, Joel had gently bared Sarah’s wrist. “He bruised you,” he growled, with a dark glance at the offender.
“That’s nothing compared to Miss Matthews’s black eye.”
“What!” Gore snapped. “I never raised a hand to her and if she said so, she’s a liar!”
“No,” Sarah’s voice dripped contempt. “You put her on bread and water and kept her on her knees repenting her sin in opposing you until she fainted and bruised her face. That’s why he had me bring her such a bonnet and veil,” she explained to her appalled listeners, “so that no one would see.”
“The rotten scoundrel!” the clerk’s wife cried.
“I refuse to stand here and be insulted.”
“Just a minute, my fine buck!” The Alderman hurried after Gore as he headed down the aisle.
“I apologise for the disruption, sir” Sarah said to the minister as a dull thud signalled the closing of the outer door, “but we could think of no other way to manage it.”
“It truly was a unique experience,” he replied with a boyish grin. “I admire your courage, Miss Lewis. Miss Matthews writes that she is safe and well.”
“She is, and out of harm’s way by now.” She sighed. “I suppose it will cause a great stir.”
“Maybe not,” Joel said. “I doubt Gore will wish it bruited about and I’ll have a word with my cousin.”
“Poor man, I was sorry for him,” Sarah looked at the minister. “Do you require anything more of me, sir?”
“No. Thank you, Miss Lewis.
“Come,” Joel said to Sarah, “I’ll take you home.”
To his relief, she didn’t challenge this brusque assumption of authority but simply replied, “Thank you, Mr MacAllister” and followed him out of the pew.
Once in the vestibule, she turned her back to him and, with a murmured, “pray excuse me,” removed her bonnet revealing a heavy coronet of rich auburn hair. It must come to her hips, he thought, shifting uneasily at a vision of it flowing over creamy shoulders and a white shift. When she looked down to unpin the veil, his fingers itched to touch the little tendrils curling at her delicate nape. Better think of something else, he ordered his unruly mind, you’re still in a church and wearing clinging trousers at that. His working garb of leather breeches and jerkin would be more concealing.
Sarah opened the top button of her pelisse and spread the collar wide, then ran her finger around the inside so that a delectable little lace frill sprang into view. She donned the bonnet again, tilting it to what was evidently just the right angle before tying the ribbons in a coquettish bow. Seemingly oblivious to his presence, she removed a small folding mirror from her reticule and examined her appearance, then touched a finger to her lips and smoothed it over each eyebrow. Apparently satisfied, she tucked the mirror, pins and veil away before turning towards the door.
“You look charming,” he said, entranced by this glimpse of the private Sarah.
She jumped when his deep voice broke the silence and blushed scarlet. “Oh! Mr MacAllister! I had quite forgotten— pray excuse me.”
He shook his head, smiling. “That bonnet is much more becoming now than when it was set four-square on your head and pulled down over your forehead like a coal-scuttle.”
She laughed. “Tricks of the trade, sir. I can’t afford to appear as a dowdy any more that you would willingly sport a dull or clumsy blade.”
“Very true,” he agreed.
“I suppose I should be grateful to Gore,” he began as they strolled down Castle Street. “I’ve been at my wit’s end wondering how to arrange a private conversation with you.”
She raised her eyebrows. “For what reason?”
“I’m told you permit your girls to have followers provided they present themselves for your approval first.”
She hesitated briefly but then walked on. “That is correct. They are orphans, you see, and live with me. I won’t tolerate their being pestered by men who consider any shop girl fair game, especially if she has no family to protect her.” Her hand went to her mouth. “Not that I mean to imply, Mr MacAllister—that is, of course an upright man like yourself must always be acceptable.”
“Thank you,” he said gravely. “Tell me, Miss Lewis, to whom does a man apply if he wishes to court you?”
Her jaw dropped. “Please don’t mock me, Mr MacAllister,” she said with quiet dignity and looked away.
“Sarah! You wrong me! I meant it most sincerely,” he protested urgently. They had reached Essex Bridge. He stopped and gently turned her so they stood looking down the Liffey, their backs to passers-by.
“What is a man to do? You don’t appear to have any relatives and you might as well live in a papist nunnery, surrounded as you are by all your girls—they even swarm around you at church. How the deuce am I to get to know you better?”
“Do—do you really want to? Pray consider—I’ll be thirty next birthday.”
“So old?” he teased her. “So will I.”
“It’s different for men,” she said flatly.
“Who says so? They? Sarah, a woman who in the cause of what she considers right is willing to appear disguised as a bride and reject another woman’s bridegroom at the altar should be able to rise above what they say!”
“Most men want a biddable girl. I’m not that.”
He grinned. “You made that very clear this morning. Just listen to me, Sarah. Please?”
After a moment, she nodded.
What should he say? This was worse than awaiting the trial of his proof piece by the Guild. He could only speak from his heart. He laid his hand over hers where it rested on the parapet.
“You’re beautiful, kind, generous, a good mistress, a good neighbour and a highly respected tradeswoman. What man would not want such a helpmeet, provided she could find in her heart a fondness for him to match his for her?”
When she didn’t respond, he was sure he had spoiled his chances. Then she brushed her eyes with a gloved finger.
Her voice, softer, more hesitant than usual, gave him hope and, his heart in his mouth, he corrected her. “Joel.”
“Joel,” she repeated quietly. “I own I feel the lack of a loving companion in my life.”
He tilted her chin lightly so he could see her eyes. “Sarah, could you bring yourself to walk up the aisle again, properly this time?”
Her smile arched through her tears like a rainbow across a stormy sky.
“I think so, Joel, just not at St. Werburgh’s.”
© Catherine Kullmann 2020
You can find out more about Catherine’s books and read her blog (My Scrap Album) at www.catherinekullmann.com
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