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The next day was sunny, a perfect June day. Rix was up very early after quite a decent night’s sleep and he felt better than he had done for months.

The wedding ceremony would take place at St Mary’s Church in the village at midday and the large evening reception would take place in the seldom-used Quadrant ballroom. Freddie had engaged a firm to redecorate it, restoring it to its former glory and another to handle the decorations for the wedding, which had been finished yesterday. Rix thought he would go and have a look at it for something to do.

He pushed open the heavy double doors and found someone else already up and sat playing the grand piano.

“Oh, it’s only you.” Daphne said, turning around. “I was practising my song.”

“What song is that, Daph?” Rix crossed the large room to stand next to her.

“I’m singing this at the wedding.” Daphne flourished her music at her brother, “For all the guests. Maeve said I could if I wanted.”

“What did Dad and Mother say?” Rix asked, pointedly. Daphne had far too high an opinion of her undoubted talent for singing and the Bettanys had decided a long time ago to gently squash any kind of conceit she might show.

Daphne scowled. “Dad said no, but I don’t care!”

“What a hideous child you can be.” Rix grinned, then pushed her off the stool, sitting down himself. “Let’s hear this song then.”

Daphne usually needed no encouragement to sing, but his casual amusement confused her. “What’s hidjous?” she asked, forgetting her bad mood as he had intended.

“Completely dreadful. How long have you been thumping away on this piano? It’s only six. Listen, why don’t you sing the song for me later? I’m sure Bride and Simon would like to hear as well, and Con and Felicity. That would be better than singing for all the guests wouldn’t it?”

“OK then.” Daphne said, sweetly, trying to do a cartwheel on the well-polished floor.

“Shall we ask Cook for some breakfast?”

“OK. Rix, when you get married can I wear a blue dress like Mary-Lou’s? The princess dress?”

“Daph, if I ever get married, you can wear whatever you like.” Rix said, distractedly, thinking about Mary-Lou in her ‘Princess’ dress.

“When do you think you’ll get married? You’re lots older than Maeve.” Daphne continued, dancing across the room.

“Only six years, you little horror. And you don’t ask people questions like that anyway.”

“Why not?” Daphne asked, at once.

“Because – what if I said I wanted to get married to a beautiful girl and she didn’t want to get married to me? Then I’d feel pretty bad, wouldn’t I?” Rix said, lightly. “You shouldn’t ask questions that might make people feel unhappy.”

“Why wouldn’t the beautiful girl want to get married to you?” Daphne slipped her cold little hand into his.

“Well, she might just want to be free.” Rix said, thinking of Gina, “Or she might have another man she rather liked… I don’t know, do I?”

“If she had another man, that would be hidjous.” Daphne said, solemnly. “I think Mary-Lou is a beautiful girl, don’t you?”

“Yes, she is.” Rix replied. He played the first few bars of Daphne’s music, and then closed the lid of the piano. “Come on, we’d better go and see what we can get for breakfast. Maeve won’t want us in here messing everything up.”

They ate cornflakes at the kitchen table, talking to Cook about the wedding. Afterwards Daphne went off to find her mother and Rix to retrieve his notes from the drawing room.

~

At twelve, they were all dressed in their finery and sat in the church, waiting for the bride to make her entrance.

Mary-Lou sat quietly, lost in her own thoughts. She had been invited to sit with the Bettanys but had decided to sit just behind them, next to Daniel Lyndhurst who also seemed rather preoccupied. Rayner sat down on her other side and gave her an unexpectedly warm smile.

She smiled back, rather relieved. She knew beyond a doubt that he had recognised her from one of the events she had attended with Gerard and had taken in every aspect of the situation. She had expected him to be disgusted or worse, think of her as available. The fact that he obviously thought neither made her feel ever so slightly better, although she still felt ashamed of herself.

She glanced at Rix, who was acting as usher; he looked very handsome. She bit her lip as she saw to whom he was speaking; it was Gerard and his wife.

As discreetly as she could, Mary-Lou pulled her hat down slightly to cover her face and watched Gerard looking for a seat on the opposite side. His wife was a few years younger than him, very beautiful and dressed expensively, although she looked rather bored and her mouth had a discontented droop; she surveyed the proceedings with a disdainful expression.

Rayner saw her looking over and also her expression. He frowned and decided to speak to her. He was just leaning forward to speak, but at that point the organist started up and people turned to see the bride enter the church on her father’s arm.

Maeve looked very pretty in her white satin dress and her mother’s veil of delicate point d’Alencon lace. The vicar started the service and Mary-Lou forgot everything and listened to him. Freddie was unusually quiet and the guests could hardly hear his responses. All too soon they were signing the register and the ceremony was over.

They were throwing confetti and congratulating the bride and groom before Gerard noticed Mary-Lou. He froze and stared at her, then at his wife, looking wild. He then gave Mary-Look such a nasty look that she was startled. David, who was stood nearby also noticed it and looked at Mary-Lou in surprise.

“What’s the matter with him? Who is he anyway?”

“Gerard Ellingham… He’s nobody, h-he sponsors the exhibitions at the Museum sometimes.” Mary-Lou said, hesitantly.

“Oh, I know him. He’s putting up all the money for Rix’s hospital, isn’t he? I say, I wouldn’t quarrel with him, old girl. He's far from being nobody and he probably holds Rix’s whole career in his hands at the moment.” David laughed and went to kiss the new Lady Brentford, leaving Mary-Lou aghast.

Mary-Lou barely tasted her food at the meal, nor heard the speeches. She knew she would have to talk to Rix before Gerard did, if he hadn’t already. And Rayner – he knew everything, she was sure of that and he might decide to warn Rix that she was – she was - .

She stared miserably at the floor.

David tried to engage her in conversation a few times, but he soon gave up and flirted with one of Freddie’s young blonde cousins.

Mary-Lou thought the day would never end and planned to excuse herself from the evening reception as soon as she decently could, however, Lady Brentford sought out her company and it was more difficult to slip away that she had anticipated.

“Mary-Lou, Aunt Annabelle, could I fetch you some champagne?” Dan Lyndhurst asked, in his quiet way. Mary-Lou smiled and accepted, she knew by now that he hated to have any notice taken of his disability, much as she longed to ask him to sit down while she went for the drinks.

“Daniel is a good boy.” Lady Brentford said, regally. “Terribly dedicated to his work, of course. I expect that explains why he has yet to marry. Such a handsome boy, such a shame.” She added, vaguely. Mary-Lou presumed she was referring to his damaged leg, but didn’t comment although she felt indignant on his behalf.

Lady Brentford continued, however.

“My sister and her husband passed away at such a young age and of course, Daniel came to live with us. I wouldn’t hear of anything else, my sister’s boy… And he had polio when he was seven. But my dear, you don’t want to talk to me all evening. Why don’t you dance with one of those young men who wish to dance with you?”

“I don’t think...” Mary-Lou began, doubtfully, but at that point Francis Rayner approached her.

“Would you care to dance?” he asked Mary-Lou with such determination that she couldn’t refuse.

He was silent for the first few moments of the dance and then spoke with a thoughtful expression on his face.

“I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with David Russell. I wouldn’t pay him too much attention, my dear. I think Gerard Ellingham would find it very difficult to interfere with internal staff matters, regardless of the amount of money he was prepared to donate.”

His voice was very kind, and Mary-Lou felt relieved.

“I don’t want any trouble for Rix,” she replied at once. “It’s not fair if…”

“I agree.” Rayner cut her off. “I’ll say no more about it, but rest assured that everything will be fine.”

“I didn’t – I didn’t know…”

“I can see you didn’t, believe me when I say that it is not your fault. I’ve known Ellingham for a number of years and, well, I don’t need to spell it out, do I?”

“No,” Mary-Lou blushed.

They danced the rest of the waltz in silence and then he delivered her back to Lady Brentford and Daniel with a rare smile. Mary-Lou felt as if a huge weight had lifted from her shoulders.

She glanced across at Rix, who was dancing with Maeve and she bit her lip. She knew that what she had taken as love for Gerard had been nothing compared to how she felt for Rix and the feeling was torture.

Daniel handed her a glass of champagne and she thanked him. He nodded, but she noticed he was also looking at Rix and Maeve with a strange look in his eyes, one Mary-Lou recognised as being similar to her own. She felt sorry for him, obviously he felt the same way towards Maeve as she did towards Rix and was equally – or even more so – unable to confess his feelings towards his cousin’s new bride.

“You promised me a dance.” David grinned at her, thinking again how pretty she looked and how much she had changed from the slightly officious schoolgirl she had been when he had last seen her properly.

Mary-Lou smiled and allowed him to lead her onto the floor. At that moment, Maeve and Freddie announced their farewells and the dancing was interrupted so that everyone could kiss them goodbye. As they were leaving, the orchestra struck up once more and David led Mary-Lou out onto the dance floor.

Mary-Lou was pleased he had taken the hint and stopped being so flirtatious; she felt she needed her friends. She saw Rayner talking to Dan and Lady Brentford and looked around for Rix.

“Are you looking for someone to rescue you from me?” David said, laughing, completely unable to believe that she would do such a thing.

“Of course not.” She saw Rix dancing with Daphne and resolved to speak to him before the end of the evening. She turned her attention back to David with an apologetic smile.

“I’ve got a few things on my mind, I am sorry, David. I didn’t mean to be so rude,” she added.

“I forgive you.” David said, smoothly, and leaned towards her, anticipating an embrace. Mary-Lou froze.

David stopped dancing and stared at her, confused, but was prevented from questioning her by the appearance of Gerard.

“Enjoying yourself?” he said curtly. He smelt of whisky and seemed intoxicated, nothing like the calm and composed Gerard she was used to seeing. “I expect you are, in your usual fashion.” he sneered.

“I beg your pardon?” David asked, bemused.

“Wrapped around the nearest man,” he said, loudly, regardless of people starting to stare. “I wouldn’t even go there, if I were you, old man. Too many people there before you, if you get my drift.” He gave a nasty laugh, “My god, she didn’t even care that – “

“Leave me alone.” Mary-Lou said, tears falling down her cheeks, “I didn’t know!”

“You didn’t care I was married!” Gerard shouted, as the music stopped.

Mary-Lou looked from David – so obviously not going to intervene – to Gerard, who looked threatening. She took a step backwards, and he followed her, regardless of anything but the fact that she was dancing with another man.

“What did I expect? You’re nothing but a whore!” He shouted. She heard someone – Mollie Bettany? – exclaim; the next thing she knew, Rix was at her side and he had punched Gerard full in the face.

Gerard retaliated at once, but Rayner forced them apart before either could damage each other too badly, although Gerard was already holding his nose, which was pouring with blood.

He glared horribly at Rix, “You broke my nose, you little...”

“Be quiet!” Rayner said, authoritatively and such was the force of his personality that Gerard was silenced, although only temporarily. It was enough, however, for Rayner to physically push him out of the room and slam the door behind them.

“Rix – what have you done?” David asked, an expression of complete shock upon his face.

“What you should have done!” Rix retorted, angrily, wincing as he touched his bruised cheekbone.

Dick had been on the far side of the ballroom and hadn’t heard Gerard’s words, he had only seen, as he thought, his son attacking one of the guests.

“What the – what do you think you are doing?!” he demanded, furiously, striding across the room and seizing Rix’s shoulder in a vicelike grip.

“No, it’s all my fault.” Mary-Lou sobbed. “I’m so sorry.”

Dick released Rix and looked down at her. “I think we should all go outside, don’t you? Are you all right, Mary-Lou? I’m sure we can sort this out.”

Rix took Mary-Lou into his arms at once. “Please don’t cry.” He said, gently.

Mary-Lou made a huge effort and got her sobs under control. Dick glared at the orchestra and motioned for them to continue playing, then turned to Mollie.

“Come on, Moll, try and get people dancing again.” He hissed. Mollie nodded and swiftly turned away, urging guests to dance. The majority of them had seen very little of what had occurred anyway and most happily did so.

Dick opened the ballroom doors, to see Francis Rayner attempting to remonstrate with Gerard, whose nose was undoubtedly broken. His expensive suit was blood-splattered.

“The nearest bathroom is there – can you deal with him? We’ll be in the Library.” He said to Rayner.

“Where’s my wife?” Gerard demanded, trying to push past Rayner, who stood firm. “Darn it, Frank, get out of my way! He’s broken my nose, I’m going to call the police…”

“You will not.” Rayner replied in tones of pure ice. “Go and clean yourself up, for heaven’s sake, and I’ll fetch Louise. If she’ll see you!”

Gerard shot a look of pure hatred at him, but between them Dick and Rayner managed to get him into the nearby bathroom and Rix and Mary-Lou, with David trailing along behind, went to the Library as Dick had ordered.

“I can’t believe you did that – “ David said, still shocked, “How could you do that? You’ve thrown away everything…”

“David – shut up!” Rix said, slamming the Library door closed in David’s face, then threw himself onto a chair, his head in his hands. Mary-Lou sat down next to him and took hold of his hands, scarcely realising what she was doing. He looked at her and she started crying again.

“I’m sorry – I’m so sorry.” She repeated, incoherently, into his chest; and he put his arms around her once more, forgetting everything but her presence in his arms.

“Ssh, it’s all right – it’s all right.” he soothed, stroking her hair. “I promise everything will be all right.”

They heard voices in the corridor, then the Library door was opened and Dick came in, followed by Mollie and Rayner. David sloped in reluctantly, just before the door closed again.

“Mary-Lou, mavourneen, come with me?” Mollie said, in her motherly way and Mary-Lou allowed herself to be led out of the room, still weeping.

“Are you all right, are you hurt?” Dick asked Rix, still obviously extremely annoyed with him. Rix nodded, although his cheek was sore.

“Well, I’d like an explanation.” Dick pressed on. David and Rix both looked discomforted, neither really wanted to tell him what Gerard had said. Rix couldn’t ever remember his usually laid-back father looking so angry. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my entire life. It’s a good job your sister had already left!”

“He called Mary-Lou a whore. What was I supposed to do?” Rix retorted, but his temper had gone. “I’m sorry, Dad, but – he - ”

“Ellingham won’t call the police.” Rayner said confidently but he looked rather grave.

“He called Mary-Lou what?” Dick was calming down again. “Why on earth would he call her that? Do you know why?”

Rix shook his head, “I only heard him call her that and saw her crying.”

“David? Do you?” Dick insisted.

“We were dancing – he interrupted us. He’s drunk, Uncle Dick.” David repeated Gerard’s awful comments, finishing with the one about Mary-Lou not having cared that he was married.

Rix went rather white. “He implied something similar when I met him for lunch that time. He said – about the donation…” he trailed off, looking at Rayner in dismay.

“Yes, I think we can say we no longer have the donation.” Rayner replied with a wry smile. “However, that’s probably the least of our concerns. If you are trying to say that Ellingham tried to blackmail you with the threat of withdrawing the donation, or taking away your job, then you should tell us now.”

“He didn’t actually say – it was more –"

“Implicit? I see. You should have told me.” Rayner was sympathetic however. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. And as for this evening, I would have done exactly the same thing.”

He looked at David, meaningfully. David looked away first, flushing angrily.

Dick took charge. “David, thank you, but we no longer need you here. Go back to the dancing, will you?”

David left the room, feeling that nobody thought much of him. He puzzled over the way that Rix had been holding Mary-Lou when the door opened and he realised why his cousin had been so reluctant to enquire about Mary-Lou’s feelings towards him, David. He knew he had lost. He frowned and went to his bedroom to pack his case and find his car keys.

~

“Dad, I’m really sorry.” Rix said, “But can I go, please? I really need to speak to Mary-Lou. I-I need to ask her something.”

“Let me say something before you do.” Dick said, “I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you, both now and yesterday. I’m very proud of you for sticking to your principles, and yes, I have to admit that I probably would have landed that idiot one too. I am most relieved that you aren’t going to be arrested though.” He gave a short laugh.

“There would be too many questions from his wife if he called the police.” Rayner said, shortly. “Wait! Before you speak to Mary-Lou, bear in mind that he would have lied to her from the beginning…”

Rix looked at him.

“But it doesn’t matter.” he said, simply, and left in search of her.

In her pretty guest bedroom, Mary-Lou was still crying. She had always rather prided herself on her inner strength and ability to confront disaster head on, but this seemed to wound her more deeply than anything ever had before and it took a long time for her to calm down and stop sobbing.

Running continually through her mind was the awful thought that Rix would now know she was party to adultery and, if she was honest with herself, exactly what Gerard had called her.

He’ll be disgusted, she thought, full of despair. He won’t want to know me. And he’s thrown his career away for nothing.

Mollie was kind, at first she just let Mary-Lou cry, then when it became clear that she wasn’t going to stop, she spoke up.

“It’s not worth crying over any man!” she said, wisely. “Do mop up and wash your face, Mary-Lou, I promise you that nothing ever looks so bad the next morning. Come on, mavourneen.”

Mary-Lou blew her nose and sat up. “I’ll be fine.” She managed to say.

“That’s the spirit! Now give your face a good wash in the basin, and I’ll get you some cocoa… Why, Rix!”

“I need to speak to Mary-Lou, Mother.” Rix said, a determined expression on his face.

Mollie looked startled, but she left them at once. Rix sat down on the bed next to Mary-Lou. He longed to take her into his arms, but knew they needed to discuss what had happened, and eventually, the way he felt about her.

She spoke before he could, “I didn’t know he was married at first.” she began, quietly, “It was more than two years ago now. I’d started at the Museum and I loved it there. I worked really hard, Rix, and I was good at my work. I got a promotion quite quickly and the girls I worked with, that I thought I was friendly with, didn’t want to talk to me any more. I-I wasn’t involved with him then, but I knew him, he was offering to fund one of my exhibitions.”

“You don’t need to explain anything to me.” Rix said, taking hold of her hand.

“No, I want to. You deserve an explanation.” Mary-Lou said. “I can’t believe how stupid and na´ve I was. He lied to me, but the signs were there. I just chose to ignore them. I was lonely – he was so nice to me. He said he was separated, getting divorced, but in March he said he had to finish things because she said she would leave him and take their daughters away… That was when I saw you in the Savoy, remember?”

“I remember.” Rix said, thoughtfully. “Look, please stop blaming yourself, he took advantage of you.”

“I got over it, but then, he came round to the Museum and said he wanted to restart things, he said he would divorce his wife if I wanted him too. I said no. Rix, please believe me when I tell you I didn’t know he was married.”

“Of course I believe you. Look, you need to forget about it, he isn’t going to bother you again, I promise. I won’t let him.”

“Oh, but what about him putting all the money up for your ward? And David said you’d lose your job…”

“I don’t care about any of that, I just care about you.” Rix said, quietly.

“Oh, Rix…” Mary-Lou replied, and the look in her blue eyes displaced the last of his hesitation. He took her in his arms, his lips met hers and they kissed.

~

Twenty minutes later, Daphne knocked on the door, slightly breathless from her mad dash up the stairs.

“Rix! John said someone was probably getting engaged, but he didn’t say who! What did he mean?” she demanded. “Why are you laughing? Rix, your shirt has got blood on it! And you’ve got lipstick on your face!”

“Engaged means I’m going to get married.” Rix explained, grinning and wiping his face. “And you’ve got chocolate on your dress, so the less you say the more you’ll shine!”

“You can’t get married ‘cos Maeve just did!” Daphne said, disapprovingly, then she brightened up. “Are you going to share her cake or get a new one? Who was that hideous man downstairs? John wouldn’t let me see.”

“We’ll get our own cake.” Mary-Lou reassured, smiling. “Forget about that man, he is hideous, I quite agree.”

“He’s gone now,” Daphne reported, full of self-importance at being the bearer of news. “His wife drove their car away though, he had to walk! I don’t know why though, but Uncle Frank said to Daddy he deserved it. He said I could call him Uncle Frank,” she added. She paused and looked at them, suspiciously, noticing for the first time that Rix had his arm around Mary-Lou’s shoulders. “Have you been kissing up here?”

“Talking, mostly.” Mary-Lou said, speaking the truth. The last twenty minutes had been spent revealing all their secrets, being completely honest with each other. Rix had told her everything about himself, about Gina, his politics and even about his visit to the Museum when Lily had spoken to him. Mary-Lou had been furious about that, but he had calmed her with more kisses. “Well, there was some kissing.” she laughed.

“Well, we did have something to celebrate,” agreed her future husband, before they all went downstairs.



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