style was vigorous and correct; his moral tone that of the period.
article on Lucius Africanus
Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition,1911
died for our sins, the Bishop muttered, rehearsing his wedding
Yes, jolly good of Him, Choir answered, looking around for
Lady Tabitha, who had yet to descend. What was keeping her? The ballroom,
not permitted to be used for dancing yet, was the site of an increasingly
restive, milling crowd. The great doors were thrown back, creating a
large, unbroken space that included the entrance hall as well. Now
listen, the royal family has a very plebeian sense of punctuality. They
think there is something fashionable about being late. But I must be
married by midnight. So it is imperative we spring into action once
the new King arrives. Are you sure you have everything you need?
Perhaps a glass of punch, the Bishop suggested. He was eying
the Grand Stair with its dramatic landing presided over by the Maastricht
Tattson, with some degree of trepidation. I am used to performing
the ceremony in a church, you know.
I shall carry you up to the landing myself, if necessary,
Choir assured the old man, who, in his robes, resembled one just woken
from a deep sleep. ...and then hurl your aged carcass over the top rail
once your usefulness to me is ended, he added silently. Boy! A
glass of punch for his Grace.
Yes, milord, James answered, intercepted as he returned
from changing into his formal livery.
Choirs gaze followed him. Familiar little manikin. Of course at
that age they all tend to resemble each other. One of their appeals.
No personality to fuss with. Hepzibah Schlierbecks words came
back to him: ...your attempts to evade true intercourse with an
adult person. Perhaps she was right. No one else had even been
gifted with enough shrewdness to guess, much less analyze, his obsession.
He had had, he grudgingly admitted, an uncommonly good time with her
that evening, simply eating and talking. But sacrifice, in this case
marrying a great beauty and gaining control over her fortune, was second
nature to him by now, the force of habit overruling any isolated feelings
or last minute reconsiderations of his scheme. Dealing with this Bishop,
though, was an unfortunate necessity. The old buffer was now patting
his absurd costume as if he had fleas.
Well, what is it?
My bible, the Bishop frowned. I could have sworn I
brought it with me.
You came to perform a marriage ceremony without a bible?
Well in a church there is always one handy. But no matter. I remember
most of the important parts. Ah! At last.
He took the glass from James and downed its contents in a single gulp.
Let me see: Dearly beloved...
Boy. Choir grabbed the shoulder of James dark purple
jacket. Has that punch any spirits in it?
I wouldnt know, milord.
Now Tabitha arrived, not just in body, but in scent, in brilliance (her
dress made one fancy all the lights in the room were vying for the privilege
of shining on her) and in nature as well, for she seemed to have broken
through her frigid reserve and was so affectionate, taking Choirs
arm, standing close to him, with a gay smile on her lips and, if one
looked closely, a fire in her eyes.
There you are, Choir said, nonplussed, letting go of James,
who scooted off, to more effectively deal with this warm wave of womanhood
that was threatening to swamp him. Took your time about it, didnt
I have been having the most interesting chat with the Baroness
Hen party, eh?
...a state not to be entered into...not to be entered into...
The Bishop examined the sleeves of his robe, as if he could possibly
scrawl the key words there.
...lightly, Choir supplied, through gritted teeth.
Lightly! Of course. Do you think I could trouble you for another
glass? This punch has the most delicate hint of grenadine.
No doubt. My dear, Choir said, still staring, this
is the man who shall marry us. Lady Tabitha de Bourneville, the Bishop
Congratulations, my Lady, the Bishop hiccoughed. I
shall be back in just a moment. It is either grenadine, or perhaps curaçao...
I apologize, Choir said, as they watched him totter off.
I suppose he is hardly the type of minister young girls have in
mind when fantasizing about their wedding. But he is a Bishop, which
was necessary to gain the special dispensation.
My dear, he is exactly right, Lady Tabitha purred, still
availing herself of Choirs arm. He is everything our marriage
represents: the sham dignity, the venal sin, the unquenched thirst.
Well, glad you approve. I say, we certainly seem to have piggybacked
our way into a good wedding reception, eh? He nodded to the crowd,
which had grown now to include the whole of Society, not to mention
musicians, servants, and discreetly posted members of His Majestys
Investigatory Services. Look at that spread on the refreshment
table. All at no cost to ourselves!
Jeffrey. Lady Tabitha looked up at him with a smile so wide
it was almost feral, an animal baring its teeth. She was giddy, flirtatious,
she had regained the spark she had not felt in herself for almost a
year. Do you want to hear a secret?
Not particularly, Choir yawned. The Duchess hasnt
been feeding you grenadine, I hope. It will not do to be intoxicated
for your own wedding, except, of course, he amended roguishly,
at the sight of the groom.
I am a bastard, Tabitha breathed.
I beg your pardon? He looked around, wondering if there
was a chair he could guide her to. He sensed one of her moods coming
on and did not want to be in the center of the room.
A bastard, Tabitha repeated. Illegitimate. Remember,
in Switzerland, how I told you of my parents? Of their late and, I thought,
You told me a great many things, Choir said, and I
affected to listen and did not interrupt, which, I thought we agreed,
was a sound basis for a marriage, and so here we are. You look smashing,
by the way.
But I was wrong about my parents. I jumped to conclusions. In
fact, I am illegitimate. My mother was compromised by another man. No
one knows who. My father...or rather the man who married her, did so
out of genuine love and pity. But I am not his daughter. That is what
the Baroness Tattson and the Duchess Middleton have known for over twenty
years but never said until now. It is why my mother was later treated
as such a pariah.
Choir looked down at Tabitha. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement,
her eyes burning, she was clutching him, literally hanging off him,
so eager was she to see his reaction.
A common misunderstanding, he smiled. You think I
will be shocked by your illegitimacy. You think the prospect of a bar
sinister on our sons coat of arms will deter me from our match,
will make me release you from your promise.
My dear girl, bastardy is as commonplace amongst the upper classes as
incest and overcooked vegetables. Although I cannot say I am pleased
to hear of this tainted seed nestled in our little garden, you will
find me most tolerant of trespasses in matters of sin. It is more a
disregard for form, the mislaying of the fish fork in a table setting,
for example, that ignites my temper.