5. Almost a Perfect Summer Night
Elspeth Harmony’s parents were both dead and so there had been nobody to object to Gordon’s offer to pay for everything connected with the wedding, down to the last canap'e. Of course the custom that the bride’s parents should pay for the reception had changed, although it was still sometimes defended by the fathers of grooms. It was common enough now for the couple themselves to pay, thereby relieving the parents of all costs, and Matthew would certainly have been in a position to afford anything (he had, after all, four million pounds; rather more, in fact, as the market had been kind to him). But Gordon had been insistent and Matthew had not argued.
The rental of the marquees, of which there were two, was expensive enough in itself, costing over two thousand pounds – and that was before anybody had so much as sat down at the tables at which they were to be served the menu that Janice had arranged with the caterers. This was Menu E on a scale that progressed from Menu A – the you’ll-have-had-your-tea menu, at six pounds per head (inclusive of half a glass of champagne per guest) – through Menus B, C and D, to the higher glories of Menu E, described in the brochure as a meal of which passing angels might well feel envious. But it would have been unlikely that any passing angel would have guessed at the cost of what was seen below – fifty-eight pounds per head.
The caterer, a short, stout man, had recited the delights of Menu E to Janice when he came to visit her with his illustrated brochure and notebook.
“We shall start,” he intoned, “with the parcel of oak-smoked salmon, with fresh crab, bound in a lemon and dill mayonnaise.” He paused, watching the effect. “And then,” he continued, “there will be a gazpacho, over the surface of which a fine amontillado sherry has been dribbled.”
Janice raised an eyebrow. “Dribbled? Or drizzled?”
The caterer had laughed. “Drizzled. Of course. Silly me. It’s just when talking about such delicious things, one’s inclined to…”
“And then, a trou Normand, followed by loin of Perthshire lamb with mushroom mousse, wrapped in…” again he paused for effect, “puff pastry.”
“Delicious,” said Janice.
The caterer agreed. “Indeed.” He raised a finger. “And to pile Ossa upon Pelion, if you’ll permit the allusion, biscuits and cheese, rounded off with strawberries, meringues glac'es and clotted cream.”
Menu E was chosen, as were wines – champagne, a good Pouilly-Fum'e, and an equally good, but considerably more expensive, Brunello di Montalcino.
Then there was the music, which was provided by the Auld Reekie Scottish Dance Band under the leadership of David Todd, an accomplished musician who was also the nephew of that great man, the late Sir Thomas Broun Smith, author of the Short Commentary on the Law of Scotland. Dancing would take place in the second of the two marquees, with the band at one end, heroically making their way through “Mhairi’s Wedding” and the like, and the dancers at the other, flinging each other about with all the enthusiasm which Scottish country dance music engenders in the normally sedate Scottish soul. Tribal memories, thought Matthew, as he watched the spectacle of the dancing that evening; distant tribal memories that were still there.
As Matthew surveyed the guests enjoying themselves, the reality of what he had done came home to him. It made him feel more adult than he had ever before felt. Now he was responsible for somebody else, and that somebody else, who was at that moment dancing a Gay Gordons with Angus Lordie, was responsible for him. He felt the ring on his finger, twisting it round and round – it was a strange feeling, a symbol of the profound thing that had happened to him.
Elspeth caught his eye from the dance floor and smiled. Angus Lordie nodded. And then they were swept away by the whirl of dancers. Matthew saw the children dancing too – he noticed Bertie with a rather bossy-looking little girl; Bertie seemed to be an unwilling partner and was grimacing, which made Matthew smile. What did little boys see in weddings? he wondered. The end of freedom? The end of fun? Or something simply inexplicable?
Matthew moved outside. The evening sky was still light and the air was unusually heavy for early June. He moved further away from the open sides of the marquee, from the light and sound that spilled out from within. There were days, he thought, which one was meant to remember in all their intensity; days such as this, his wedding day, which he should be able to bring back to mind years from now when the rest of this year would be forgotten. And yet he found that he could barely remember anything that had transpired within the church, and that even the journey from the church to the Moray Place Gardens, a journey of ten minutes at the most, seemed to have passed in a flash of… of what? Confusion? Elation?
He threw a glance back into the marquee. The band had started to play something slower now and the crowd of people on the dance floor had thinned. He should not stay out here, he decided; he should go back into the marquee and claim his bride.
He had reached the entrance to the tent when a figure came out – Elspeth’s Uncle Harald, holding a glass of champagne in his hand.
“Are you enjoying yourself, Harald?” Matthew asked. It was a banal question, but he did not really know what else to say.
Harald nodded. “Of course I am. And if I appear to be somewhat emotional – which I am – then that is purely because this music makes me pine for Scotland. I go back to Portugal tomorrow, but every time I return to Scotland it becomes more difficult to leave.”
“Then why don’t you stay?” asked Matthew; if exile was a bitter fruit, it seemed to him, then end the exile.
Harald took a sip of his champagne and looked at Matthew from over the rim of his glass. “It’s the idea of Scotland that I like,” he said. “The real thing is rather different.”
Matthew frowned. “But this is the real thing,” he said. “This is real.”
Harald looked at Matthew in what appeared to be astonishment. “My dear chap,” he said, after a while. “You’re not serious, are you? Smoked salmon and Perthshire lamb in Moray Place Gardens? The real Scotland? Oh, my dear chap! My dear, dear chap!”