By morning she was once again reconciled to married bliss and a contingent of flunkeys appeared bearing irons, flowers, tiaras, makeup trays and a series of hairdressing implements, whilst those downstairs coiffed glasses of champagne. My conservative, but far from dull, choice of stripes and a black tailcoat, black topper, buff waistcoat with a grey silk tie and lemon chamois gloves brought forth general derision from some of Hetty’s house guests, who favoured Moss Bros’ latest fashions. Andy, Hetty’s hairdresser friend, summed up the popular mood whilst still perpetuating the myth that I was Miss Briar-Pitt’s father, doubtless because I had been asked to give her away:
“Wouldn’t you rather have a scrunchie tie, dad,” he said, “or a lovely cravat?” I smiled in wintry fashion. “And I’d have thought you’d have gone for a blue and cream paisley for your waistcoat.”
Then there was a sudden rustle of taffeta on the stairs and a split second of silence before “oohs”, “ohs” and “ahs” came from downstairs as a beatific looking Hetty glided down the stairs. The women surged forward to kiss her and the men shuffled uncomfortably in this temple of female mystery.
Then a clip-clopping sound accompanied by squeaking announced two horses and an open carriage bedecked with ribbons and flowers. I noticed with relief that I was not meant to make the beasts go – a relief which quickly evaporated when the driver turned round and I saw the face of Ronnie, our junior clerk. “Didn’t know I could ride, did you sir?” he said. I certainly did not.
Thankfully, the journey was mercifully short. As we arrived, what looked like a Hollywood film unit surged forward to record the entrance. Whether the horses had been at Henrietta’s All-Bran, or whether it was just the stress of the occasion, they simultaneously lifted their tails for an unhappy interlude, somewhat detracting from the festal scene. Hetty started to cry. “Don’t worry!” I said. “It hasn’t got on your dress.”
“I never knew my father!” she said, clutching me round the neck in a two handed manoeuvre. This did not seem the moment to conduct a Jeremy Kyle inquiry but, fortunately, the malodorous atmosphere a few inches ahead drove us out of the carriage and within moments, we were entering the lovely village Church. As I led her up the aisle to “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”, I noticed that the “dearly beloved” in the pews resembled Grand Night at my Inn.
We sang lustily, prayed fervently, and I performed my role without disaster. Indeed, it was a textbook wedding until the bride and groom knelt on two beautiful seventeenth century kneelers for their prayers. Just as at the pre-wedding meal, an hideous rending sound accompanied a savage gash in the rear of the bridal gown. A ripple of suppressed laughter erupted into a storm. I glanced at Hetty in horror. However, on this occasion, she was laughing the loudest.
The wedding breakfast was exceptionally generous and magnificent. Even the Twist brothers overdid it and Paddy Corkhill, our Chambers’ resident alcoholic, suddenly fell asleep in the peach soufflé mid-way through an incomprehensible anecdote. However, like fairy tales, goodness has to exist with wickedness. I was basking in the drunken praise resulting from my own little speech when Andrew, our Senior Clerk, marshalled someone in my direction who, as my eyes re-focused, was the dreadful judge recently appointed to the Bailey and assigned to try poor Jason Grimble – a man who famously retired to bed with the Criminal Procedure Rules and cocoa. No-one invited him to anything, but I guessed that Hetty, in a spirit of exuberant celebratory largesse must have sent him a stiffie. Oh well, it was a party!
He came nose-to-nose and I could see he was quivering with rage. “Have you even heard of my pre-trial orders?’ he said in a spluttering voice. Sadly, the vintage Rioja procured by Ernst Pennington J., our bridegroom, spoke for me: “Can’t say I have actually, but if you hum it, I’ll sing it.”
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.