3. Wedding Daze, and a Hint of Doubt
Suddenly, though, there was the sound of bells, and Matthew found himself outside the church, with Elspeth beside him, arm linked in arm. There were people in the churchyard – people whom he did not recognise, but who were smiling at him. One woman, a visitor, had a small disposable camera, which she raised and pointed at them. Matthew smiled for the camera automatically, although he felt dazed. He turned to Elspeth, who was looking behind her now; the children had emerged from the front door and were jostling one another for her attention. She bent down and placed a kiss on the forehead of one of them, a small boy in a curious, rainbow-coloured coat. Matthew saw the boy’s sandals, one of those little details one notices, and smiled again; he was proud of Elspeth. He was proud.
There were other guests now, stepping out into the light. The late afternoon sun was blocked from the church by the towering bulk of the Caledonian Hotel over the road, but it reached the Castle now, up above them, touching the walls with gold; and the sky was so empty, just blue. Somewhere behind them, a train moved through Princes Street Gardens, a clattering sound, and there were pigeons in the air, a sudden burst of them. The children pressed around Elspeth; Matthew found himself beside Gordon, his father, bekilted like Matthew himself. This unites us, he thought, father and son; this shared garb, this same tartan; and he reached out and took his father’s hand in a handshake that became a semi-embrace and then reverted to a handshake.
“Well,” said Gordon, “that’s that then. You’ve done it, Matt. Well done, son.”
Matthew looked at his father. The little paternal speech, so apparently trite, seemed just right, so pre-ordained, just like the words he himself had uttered in the church, although he could hardly remember what he had said. Presumably he had done all that was expected of him, as Charlie had smiled throughout and had not corrected him. And what else could his father say? That he was relieved that Matthew had at last done something decisive? That he hoped that at least he would get marriage right, even if he had never got anything right with all the businesses he had been set up in? The gallery, though, was not a failure, and he wondered if his father knew that. But this was not the time.
Gordon leaned forward and whispered into his son’s ear. “When you walked up the aisle together, you know, I thought by the look on your face… I thought that you were having second thoughts! I was mighty worried!”
Matthew’s smile was fixed. “Me? Second thoughts?”
“Well, obviously not,” said Gordon. He glanced at Elspeth, who was surrounded by a group of women in elaborate hats who were having their photograph taken with her. “You’ll remember those people we knew in Kilmacolm? Well, she called it off at the very last moment, you know, and everybody had to traipse back to the hotel. It was over in Largs. And then she changed her mind and they sneaked into the registry office two weeks later and did it. You were too young to know about it.”
Matthew listened to his father’s story patiently, but he was really thinking of what his father had said about his expression as he had made his way up the aisle. Had it been that obvious? If it had, then he wondered if anybody else had noticed it. Of course nobody looked at the bridegroom; all eyes would have been on the bride, as was always the case at weddings.
His father was, of course, right. As he walked behind Charlie Robertson, he had been thinking of the consequences that would ensue if he were to decide not to go ahead with the wedding. It would be heartless in the extreme to let the bride down before the altar, but presumably that had been done before, on the very brink of the exchange of vows. And perhaps there were circumstances in which it would be the right thing to do – not an act of selfishness, or cowardice, but an act intended to prevent the other person from making the mistake of marrying somebody whose heart was not in it.
Well, he had not done it, and they had gone ahead with the ceremony. And now, he thought, I’m married! He looked down at his hand and turned the ring around on his finger. How strange it felt; how grown-up.
He glanced at Elspeth. She had moved away from the women in hats, and the children, and was talking to an elderly man wearing a soft brown hat and a pair of large sun-glasses. That, he thought, was the Uncle Harald of whom she had spoken, her half-Norwegian uncle who had moved to Portugal with his friend of thirty years, a man who wrote books on china. The friend had drowned when their yacht had been swept onto rocks. Harald had remained in Portugal, alone; how many of us lead lives of quiet desperation, thought Matthew; we hope to be saved by one person, one thing; we convince ourselves that one thing can last.
Harald was making a point to Elspeth and reached out to touch her on the arm. Matthew heard what he was saying to her. “I do so like weddings,” he said. “I’ve always liked them.”
And Matthew thought: until a very short time ago, you could have been only a spectator. And now it’s too late.
The car that was due to take them to the reception had turned round and was now pointing back up the driveway of the church. The chauffeur, wearing a smart black uniform and peaked cap, had opened one of the passenger doors and was standing by it. Matthew caught Elspeth’s eye, and she nodded. She whispered something to Uncle Harald, and then came over to join Matthew. They climbed into the car.
As they turned out into King’s Stables Road, the chauffeur turned to them and said, “A busy day for me. I did an airport collection first thing and then I did a chap I used to know at the pub.”
“He got married?” asked Matthew.
“Yes,” said the chauffeur. “A dreadful mistake.”
There was silence in the back of the car.
Matthew smiled. “Do you mean it’s a mistake to get married, or your friend made a mistake in his choice?”
“Both,” said the chauffeur.
Elspeth laughed. “Very funny,” she said.
“No, I’m serious,” said the chauffeur.