“Now!” whispered Mary Burnett. Grizel Cochrane's fingers touched the organ keys and Mendelssohn's Wedding March rang out joyfully in the old grey church. Sparing a quick glance, Grizel saw bride and groom leave the vestry and played with a verve she rarely felt.
Mary split her attention between her duties as page-turner and watching the congregation file out. “Promise kept, Grizel!” she whispered a few minutes later. “Time for us to join the party!”
Grizel swept her music into the case and followed Mary out of the now empty church. The bridal procession was already making its way to the nearby reception venue but there was still a fair number of people waiting to walk down. To Grizel's mingled pleasure and embarrassment she was greeted by applause, smiles and muttered compliments.
“It's deserved, Grizel”, murmured Mary, “I've never heard you play so well!”
“ I'm just glad to have got through it without too many fluffs. I only had about five minutes to get to know the instrument before people started to come in!” said the musician. “Dolly deserved the best I could do – and Dunc as well, of course!”
Mary grinned at the afterthought and mused on the unlikely friendship between the Chalet School's reserved music mistress and the ex-Corporal who cheerfully described herself as a skivvy.
Her mind went back to a happy group sitting outside a village pub on a wartime summer's evening …..........
“So, there was Marty,” declaimed Meg, “no backside to his breeks and Ma off to a show of wedding presents! Da being a sailor he could have stitched them perfectly well but we wanted to put off the hiding we knew we were due. Luckily for us he was busy hammering segs into Pat's shoes so we managed to sneak into the house and get ready for bed before he saw us.”
Martin picked up the story. “Next day was Sunday and was there a hullabaloo? I had to wait until Pat came back from 10 o'clock Mass so I could wear his trousers to 11 o'clock. He was about six inches taller than me then and they were miles too big even with the waistband turned over so much my eyes were watering!”
“I was made to go with him as it was my fault,” continued Meg, “and with people laughing and asking if he was wearing long shorts or short longers we were mortified! Still, our humiliation was deemed to be punishment enough so that was one spanking we dodged.”
As the laughter at this sorry tale subsided, Grizel spoke. “Oh Meg, Marty, I know your family doesn't have a great deal of money and you did without things we took for granted but you seem to have had such a lot of fun at home. I do envy you!”
Before either Kelly could reply, the usually taciturn Dolly Skinner spoke. “I know what you mean, Miss Cochrane. We were fed and clothed at the orphanage but there wasn't a lot of fun about. They didn't really like us making friends and would change our bed position or seats in class so we couldn't be beside pals.”
Grizel looked startled, then thoughtful, and later she and Dolly talked. For perhaps the first time, Grizel could unburden herself to someone she liked, who understood and whose childhood had been even bleaker than her own. Dolly's father had died when she was a baby, and her mother had succumbed to overwork and pneumonia before her daughter's fourth birthday.
Their friendship blossomed and was encouraged by the school authorities who had always had concerns about Grizel's lack of really close friends. As Rosalie Dene commented to general agreement, “Mary and I have known Grizel since we were children but we still don't feel we understand her at all.”
It was no surprise when Dolly approached the Heads at Gren's wedding reception.
“You will all be invited, of course, though I know my wedding is in term time and you can't all come,” she said, “but if it was possible for Grizel to play in the church, it would mean so much to Duncan and me.”
Hilda and Nell exchanged smiles. “I suspect Grizel would abscond if we tried to stop her attending your wedding, Dolly!” said Hilda. “Of course, she can be with you and we'll see who can be spared to come with her. It's a long journey to do alone.”
The competition to get to the wedding was fierce but, much to the chagrin of Hilary, Gillian and Rosalie, it was decreed that Mary's timetable made it easiest for her to go. Her delight was only slightly tempered by Grizel's insistence on several rehearsals to ensure that the page turning went smoothly!
Laden with gifts for the happy couple, the duo had travelled to Dundee by train, spending the wedding eve at the home of the Eileen Kelly's parents.. Dunc's family had taken his future wife to their hearts, but Dolly would have a good showing on her side of the church as almost the entire Kelly clan would join several friends from wartime days, including Spud Watson who had been delighted to be asked to give the bride away.
The presents and an array of foodstuffs, including tins of meat and fish, cheese, shortbread, rock buns, sugar and a galvanised washtub and bucket full, respectively, of peeled potatoes and carrots, were loaded on board the Baxter coach. The wedding guests, in high feather, settled down for the journey to the small mining village in West Fife by way of a ferry across the river and a drive through rolling hills which gave way to pit bings and the smell of coal dust in the air.
Meg, Dolly's bridesmaid, had gone to Fife two days earlier but any shyness the Chalet School pair might have felt disappeared quickly amid the cheerful chatter. The famous Auntie Bella seemed to have a historic story or song for every area they passed through and there were reminiscences of weddings past .
“In the old days,” explained Ma Kelly, “ the wedding party was usually in one or other family house, whichever was the bigger. Folk would lend chairs and dishes, bring tea, make a plate of sandwiches or a clootie dumpling to help. Nowadays, with rationing tighter than it was during the War, it's still the same. We've saved what we could and we've had a really good crop of tatties and carrots so we said we'd drop them off at the Institute. Some of the local women will be there seeing to the dinner.”
“Mary, wake up!” Grizel poked her companion. “I asked you if you thought Dolly will like her wedding presents?”
“I'm sure she will, always provided the tea set has survived unchipped! That bed linen you are giving them is pre-war quality!”
“Actually, it's pre-World War 1! It was my mother's and very rarely used. Steppy never goes into the linen cupboard – in fact I'm not sure she knows there's one in the house – so I thought it was the ideal solution. It's so difficult to buy anything really good these days.”
“I hope we get to sit near Auntie Bella at the wedding breakfast – that woman is a living history book! I knew about the General Strike but she just made it so real. Oh, look there's Gren, I didn't see her in the church!”
“They probably sat at the back so it was easier to get in and out.” said Grizel . Gren was leaning on her walking cane and beamed as they approached.
“Hello girls, wasn't the ceremony beautiful? I cried! Grizel, the music was just marvellous, well done! We're staying about ten miles away and Cousin Ninian was kind enough to lend us a car so Dougie's just gone to park it. Ah, there you are, darling, look who I found!” Dougie gave the pair a quick hug, offered Gren his arm and escorted the three ladies into the Miner's Welfare Institute for Dolly and Dunc's wedding reception.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Sorry for the long hiatus - life and work!