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Authors: Essie Summers

Bride in Flight

BOOK: Bride in Flight
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BRIDE IN FLIGHT

Essie Summers

Kirsten MacPherson was dressed and ready for her wedding to Gilbert when the phone call arrived that was to shatter her life—the call from the woman to whom Gilbert was already married.

Kirsty’s immediate instinct was to run blindly away—back to New Zealand, the land of her childhood. But even there her troubles followed her, and led to even more complications.

 

The author acknowledges with thanks permission from Australian Woman’s Mirror to quote a poem by Molly Howden.

 

CHAPTER ONE

KIRSTY told herself this must be an attack of pre-wedding nerves, that all brides suffered from them, and tradition had it that they disappeared as you walked up the aisle and met your bridegroom’s eyes. Most girls woke up on their wedding morn, had the sudden panicky realization that here, at last, was the day when you said goodbye to girlhood and became a woman. You wanted to cling to the known and familiar. Your husband-to-be suddenly seemed a stranger and you were going to be bound to him for the rest of your life ... yes, that would be it. Brides laughed about it later.

One of the nurses at the orphanage, coming back for an afternoon tea and looking radiantly happy, had chuckled over it. “I could have run away,” she confessed. “Only the thought of the presents and the guests and the horrible hue-and-cry there’d be held me to it. But when I stepped into the church the organ was playing ‘Praise my soul the King of Heaven’ and Mark turned his head and smiled and I thought: how stupid! I’m not marrying a stranger ... I’m marrying Mark. And my topsy-turvey world came right way up again.”

Yes, that would be it. No need to panic. Outside the birds were singing in the warm Australian air, the silky oak was stirring against the ethereally blue sky in a gentle zephyr. Happy was the bride the sun shone upon, they said. This afternoon she would be married to Gil, she would never be alone any more, tonight they would board the plane and fly across the Tasman to New Zealand where she hoped to touch fingers with the past, where childhood memories would be recalled. Back
home
it would be, even if sixteen of her twenty-three years had been spent here in Australia.

She would be with Gil. She whispered it to herself, willing the old magic to come flooding back at the thought, at the sound of his name.

It didn’t.

She went across to the window, pushing aside the curtains impatiently. This was stupid! a mood, no more.

“What’s the matter with you, Kirsty Macpherson?” she demanded. “What more do you want?”

She was surprised to hear herself answer aloud. The words came jerking up in a sort of desperate honesty: “Well, not a reluctant bridegroom, for one thing!”

For a horrified instant she felt as if the words were actually written on the wall of the garage opposite. Then she knew she had to face the implication of it. She had to find an answer, now, this very minute. She must not evade it. She must not take that first step up the aisle without having satisfied herself.

This wasn’t pre-wedding nervousness.
This was something she had been trying
not
to face ever since Gil had flown in from Queensland a week ago.

At first she had known a lift of the heart, a quickening of the pulses when she had returned from the final fitting of her wedding gown to find him on the doorstep.

Originally he hadn’t been going to arrive till the day before, since the trip to New Zealand meant he was taking a whole month off from the firm for his honeymoon.

Gil had said there was a sudden lull in business, the chief had suggested that as he obviously couldn’t keep his mind on his work why not get away to Sydney now?

Yet when the first joy of reunion had spent itself she had been conscious, somewhere, of a restraint in Gil, a lack of spontaneity, of eagerness, that had been there before...

Now, at this eleventh hour, she was suddenly, disastrously convinced something was definitely wrong.

She tried even now to argue with herself, to still the remembrance that her own voice had said so shockingly that Gil was a reluctant bridegroom.

Perhaps, after all, she had been foolish not to allow her matrons-of-honor to spend the night with her.

Nicola had said: “Are you sure that’s your reason—feeling you’d like to spend it alone with your memories of Aunt Mandy and Uncle Dick? Or is it just because Patty and I are married and you feel it would upset our husbands for us to be away for the night?”

Kirsty had convinced them. “I’m not going to sit here grieving for them. My memories of them are too happy, but I just want to feel near them. It still seems quite unbelievable that Uncle Dick should have gone too. The wedding day will be so busy, I’ll hardly have time to think of them—and they planned this. Aunt Mandy even picked the style of my frock six months ago. I just want a quiet evening at home, looking through the projector at all our lovely colored slides, seeing them as they were, reliving the past from the time they took me from the Home. Then tomorrow I’ll think of nothing but present and future. I promise.”

So they had let her. Now she wondered if it had been a mistake. Because when she had packed the last slide away and made her supper and gone up to bed, the warmth and love of her memories had slid from her and the doubts and fears had returned.

Gilbert
had
been remote and strange.

Why had she not asked him the reason?

Because she’d been afraid to? Afraid that there might be some very good reason ... afraid that something might, at the last moment, happen to prevent all she had dreamed of for the last twelve months, taking place as it was going to do, today.

Today.

At high noon she and Gilbert would be married, and any questions she had to ask would be asked as a wife of her husband. Not as an engaged girl of her fiancé. And a plain gold ring was more binding than diamonds.

Could she face going up the aisle with these questions not answered?

The memory of a short story she’d read months ago flashed into her mind ... one about the absurd doubts suffered by a girl on her wedding morning. Till suddenly she slipped out, found her groom in the same state as herself, they told each other it was idiotic, chuckled over it, and she returned home over the garden wall ... a radiant, assured bride.

Well, this was no case of marrying the boy next door, but Gilbert wasn’t very far away and there would be no one to ask questions. He was occupying the flat of friends of Kirsty’s who were away on vacation.

Her mind was made up. The girls wouldn’t be here for another hour.

All she needed to come back to normal was to see Gilbert. Her mind suddenly halted. How would Gil react? He was much more self-possessed than she was. He had never known the insecurities she had known as a child. He wouldn’t laugh at her fears, would he? She wouldn’t mind him laughing
with
her ... tender, understanding laughter ... but if he was impatient or resentful that she was feeling this way it wouldn’t do a thing for her.

If only she didn’t have to explain, if only she could see him on some valid excuse.

Her eyes lit on a little white box on her dressing-table. Heavens, the ring she had had to shop for as they had thought Gil wouldn’t be here in time. She’d meant to give it to him yesterday. What a godsend.

She would say: “Darling, what a dreadful thing. I forgot to give you the ring. Wouldn’t you have felt an ass!”

And they would chuckle and he would kiss her and say, “Just imagine when next I kiss you; you’ll be Mrs. Gilbert Brownfield, Christine.”

Kirsty instantly felt better, sure she was doing the right thing. See ... even the thought of seeing Gil soon had dispersed some of the clouds.

She picked up the box, slipped it into a bag, wriggled out of her brunch coat, twisted the long shining blonde hair into a smooth knot, clipped the strand of pearls about the coil and fastened it securely, buttoned herself into a green Dacron frock, slipped her bare feet into green straw sandals, picked up the bag and ran down the path ... ten minutes, and serenity would again be hers!

It was a quiet street, in a new suburb, with as few of the gum trees removed for the houses as possible. They were charming gardens, bright with flowers. No lack of money here. She and Gil wouldn’t have elegance like this, but what matter? They’d have a plain little bungalow to start with, right in the middle of the sugar-cane. Sometimes it would be blackened by the burning-off ... but it would be theirs.

Her light sandals made no sound on the steps of the red-tiled porch that led to the ground-floor flat. The door stood invitingly open. She wouldn’t need to ring, she’d just call out as she stepped into the cool dimness of the hall.

But she didn’t—because Gil was talking to someone. Surely his best man and groomsman hadn’t arrived as early as this! What foul luck. Still, if didn’t matter, they’d tease Gilbert about having forgotten the ring, but no doubt they’d give them a few moments alone.

But it wasn’t his best man. For at that moment Gilbert’s voice, anything but self-possessed, said savagely: “Dallas! What the devil do you think you’re doing here! What on earth possessed you to trail me up?”

Kirsty stopped dead, one foot forward to take another step, her lips parted, listening for the next answer.

The voice was cool, mocking. “Because I didn’t trust you, my dear Gilbert. And with very good cause, it seems. Since the first thing I see is a cellophane box containing three white buttonholes! Very, very bridal! Presumably for a wedding you swore to me would not take place. You rat, Gilbert, you rat!”

Kirsty stood as if turned to wood. She might have been a figurehead at the prow of some Scandinavian ship of long ago, her golden-brown eyes incredulous, the expression in them denying the evidence of her ears.

She still dared not take that step, dared not let her feet carry her on into that room whence the voices came.

Gilbert, still in that tone of ultimate rage, continued: “All right, Dallas. I’ve just got to admit it, haven’t I? I’ve
not
called the wedding off. So what?” It sounded like bluster, that last bit.


You’ve
got to answer that, Gilbert.”

Surprisingly he did. “Well, let’s put it down to the fact that after all, I found my affair with you was infatuation. That when I got down here to Christine, I realized that she was the one and only for me.”

Kirsty released the breath she had held in check. That sounded better ... a little.

Dallas’s voice was amused. “My dear Gil! Your one and only! I’ve got my blinkers off. I heard enough tales about you after my visit up there. I met someone who knew you very well—to her sorrow, she said. That girl hadn’t even known you were engaged. She said enough to make me check up on you. I just got here in time, didn’t I?”

“What do you mean ... in time?”

She sighed audibly “Don’t pretend to misunderstand me. In time to stop the wedding. You promised me when you left that was how it would be—that you’d come down early enough for it to be less inconvenient all round. But I suddenly got uneasy.”

That makes two of us, thought Kirsty.

She could hardly recognize Gilbert’s voice, it was sullen, defiant. “Well, I changed my mind, came to my senses.”

“Let’s not be ridiculous, Gil. There’s more behind it than that—and I’d stake my oath that it’s to your advantage. I remember all you said about your Christine ... a little Puritan, you said mockingly. Very, very tame. Not the sort of girl a chap would find satisfying for a lifetime.”

A cruel note crept into Gilbert’s voice. “Perhaps men do prefer to
marry
Puritans.”

Dallas laughed disbelievingly. “Not you! No, there’s some other reason ... and knowing you I’d say it was money. What makes it more desirable for you to marry Christine after all? Has she come into a fortune or something?”

Kirsty’s mind was racing, trying to make sense of it. Uncle Dick’s unexpected death a month ago meant that the house was hers, but that was purely a technical statement, since it still carried a heavy mortgage. There’d be very little over when it was repaid, a small nest-egg could be all she would get out of it. Gilbert knew that. Apart from that there would be just the sale of the furniture and a few paltry stocks and shares. Poor Uncle, his small-time investments had never panned out. Aunty used to laugh, said Dick got a real thrill out of dabbling in stock exchange and at least it kept him happy, always sure that some day he’d strike it lucky. He always did things at the wrong time. Like selling out those shares in that mine where uranium had now been found.

The uranium mine! It hit Kirsty like a blow. The news about the find had been splashed over the headlines the night Gilbert had arrived. She’d come back from making him an omelette to find him reading it. She’d meant to say, “Isn’t it a pity Uncle Dick sold out,” but the telephone had rung. Gilbert hadn’t mentioned it later. That was strange too, because he knew Uncle Dick had the shares ... but not that he had sold out.

Kirsty felt she had the full sum of it now. Gilbert
had
come early with the idea of breaking it off. That news had changed his mind. This was the answer to her deep uneasiness ...

But she mustn’t miss what they were saying. Gilbert had laughed at that last remark of Dallas’s. “Fortune! Of course not, she’s as poor as a church mouse, brought up in an orphanage. You’ll have to take it, Dallas. Our association is all washed up. Finished. No use clinging. You ought never to have come.”

“I don’t intend to go. I’ll stop the ceremony. You promised me marriage. You owe it to me.”

“You knew I was engaged. You made a dead set at me just the same. The risk was yours, and if—”

There was the sound of a ringing slap and Dallas’s furious voice. “Take that! And know what? I’ll turn up at the wedding and make you a laughing stock. I’ll stop it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t. There’s nothing to stop it for.”

“Isn’t there? But who’s to say your precious little Christine will marry you when I’ve had my say? It’s going to be good. A sensation. When the minister says his little piece about anyone knowing any just cause or impediment, I’ll step out. I shall say there are extremely good reasons why
I
should be the bride.
And
I’ll ring up one of the more lurid newspapers beforehand and suggest they’ll find this ceremony interesting.”

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