Ellen stood before the altar in the little church, beside Edward. He’d tossed her life up in the air and caught it in his steady, sensitive hands.
John was in the narrow box pew to her left with the Earl of Barrington’s butler, Mr Davis, and his housekeeper, Mrs Barclay. The servants had attended to bear witness.
Ellen’s first wedding had been a similarly fast affair. A long ride to the Scottish border and vows shared over an iron anvil, but the time she’d had with Paul had been gold to her. She remembered it with a dreamlike distance. She’d been innocent, a virgin, beholding Paul with glowing expectation and no fear of fate. This time she was neither innocent of life or death, and she was afraid of fate…
Tears in her eyes, she said, “I will,” and Edward took up her left hand to slip a narrow gold ring onto her finger.
“I give thee…”
She had John, and she had Edward. She would not think of anything else, not yet, not until the moment came when she must. Until then she would take every chance of happiness life gave her. Her eyes took in the glinting light from the tall plain glass windows which shone down on Edward’s hair, reflecting back like a halo.
“I now pronounce you man and wife.” The vicar’s sharp, shrill, words rang out against the bare stone of the small parish church and rising to her toes she wrapped her arms about Edward’s neck, hugging him tightly, wordlessly begging him to never let her go.
“I love you,” he whispered into her hair and as she lifted her head to answer he kissed her.
“And I you, husband,” she spoke against his mouth, close to crying. Blinking back the tears, she smiled, laughing at their folly. “Marrying me is madness, but I love you more for it.”
“Mama!” John came rushing to her side, barrelling into her and wrapping his arms about her waist, hugging her tightly as Edward released her.
“Am I to call you Papa now?” John asked, gripping Edward’s other hand, as they turned to leave the church by the small exit from the vestry.
“You may call me what you wish, John. If you like it can be, Papa, or if not then it shall be, Edward.”
The boy smiled up at him. “I would like to have a Papa, I cannot remember mine.” Ellen’s teeth caught her lower lip.
“Then you have a Papa now, John.” Edward’s hand slipped from John’s and instead rested on John’s shoulder and pulled John to his side. They were a family in every appearance, Ellen thought, as they followed the path from the church back to the house, the servants behind them.
“My real father fought in the war, but no one will speak of him.” John continued, with the innocently blind speech of a child.
“From what your Mama has told me, John, your father was a very brave man, who you have good reason to be proud of.”
Clutching Edward’s hand more tightly, Ellen expressed her gratitude for his consideration. In response, looking back at her, he lifted her knuckles to his lips and kissed them, as though he truly understood.
She knew he did not.
John had been brought up to ignore the existence of both his parents. How was Edward to imagine that?
“I would like to know about my real Papa, Mama. Would you tell me?” John urged.
She smiled, looking at Edward in case he would not like it, but he never flinched. Amazing man. Her gaze passed back to her son. “He was special, John, brave, and you are very like him.” …