Wedding Bells

Chapter 24, Excerpted from The Tale of Castle Cottage
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I’m sure you want to hear all about the wedding, don’t you? Imagining this wonderful event, I felt it would be delightfully appropriate if Miss Potter and Mr. Heelis were to be married at St. Peter’s Church in Far Sawrey, by the Reverend Samuel Sackett, with the Woodcocks and the Kittredges and the Braithwaites and Lady Longford and all their village friends in attendance, dressed in their very best. The church would be quite crowded, but I’m sure that everyone would find a place.

As to weather, the ceremony would take place on a beautiful autumn day—perhaps a Saturday afternoon—and the sun would be so charmed by the event that he would shine from sunrise to sunset without allowing a single cloud to cross his beaming face. I do not imagine that Mr. and Mrs. Potter will attend the wedding. After all, they are not fond of the village and they know almost nothing of the villagers—and this is not exactly the happiest of events for them. They are indeed gaining a son, as the saying goes, but they are losing a daughter. That is, when Beatrix is married, she will be living with her husband in Sawrey. She will no longer be at her mother’s beck and her father’s call, and they will miss her devoted attentions. But of course, they are free to come if they choose. I am sure that everyone would welcome them.

Now, then. Thinking about the wedding party, I feel that Mrs. Woodcock will most likely be Miss Potter’s choice as her matron of honor, and that Mr. Heelis will ask Captain Woodcock to be best man—that would be fitting, don’t you think? The bride might be dressed in a lovely white lace-trimmed gown with a flowing white tulle veil caught by a cap of silk flowers trimmed with pearls, and her matron in pink. (Mrs. Woodcock looks so well in pink.) Both would carry bouquets of pink and white lilies from the Hill Top gardens, with fresh ferns and rosemary and trailing ivy. The groom and groom’s man would wear handsome morning coats and fresh boutonnières of tiny white flowers made and presented by the bride.

Before the ceremony, I’m sure that Mrs. Grace Sackett (accompanied on the organ by Miss Rebecca Randall) will offer a memorable rendition of “Oh, Promise Me.” And after the wedding, there would be a lovely reception at Major Kittredge’s Raven Hall, and of course all the villagers will be invited. Sarah Barwick will bake and decorate a tiered wedding cake—a culinary masterpiece—whilst Mr. and Mrs. Barrow (from the pub) will provide hams and cold tongue and salads and many other delightful refreshments. The Great Hall will be decorated with bouquets of wildflowers gathered from the surrounding countryside by the village children, under the direction of Deirdre and Jeremy Crossfield. Lady Longford (who had allowed Miss Potter to persuade her to donate The Book of the Revelation of John to the British Museum and is now quite proud of her generosity) has been asked to offer the first toast, which will then be followed by such a round of toasting as the village has never before seen.

And when the toasting is finished, the wedding couple and their friends will be serenaded by the Village Volunteer Band (Lester Barrow on trombone, Mr. Taylor and Clyde Clinder on clarinet, Lawrence Baldwin on coronet, and Sam Stern on the concertina), and perhaps Mrs. Heelis will even be persuaded to dance with her new husband, whom everyone recognizes as the very best dancer in all of the Land Between the Lakes. Mrs. Regina Rosier of Hawkshead will photograph the entire occasion and will present an album of her photos to Mr. and Mrs. Heelis, so that the wonderful event can be remembered forever, just as it happened.

And as the autumn afternoon wears on into a cool autumn evening, all the creatures of the Land Between the Lakes will undoubtedly creep out of the woods and fields and gather outside the windows to watch the Big Folks celebrating the marriage of their friends. Rascal and Crumpet and Tabitha Twitchit and the other village cats are there; and those dear badgers from The Brockery and Briar Bank, with W. P. Thackeray and the dragon, of course. Professor Galileo Newton Owl has flown in from his beech at the top of Claife Woods. Hyacinth, Primrose, and Parsley have organized the animals to pick baskets of tiny blossoms, and when Mrs. Heelis and her new husband step out of the front door, they step onto a delightful carpet of wildflowers, brought as a special gift by their woodland friends.

Meanwhile, down at Hill Top Farm, the barnyard animals will no doubt be holding their own celebration. Mustard, the old yellow dog, and Kitchen the cow and Mrs. Heelis’ three favorite hens, Mrs. Boots, Mrs. Bonnet, and Mrs. Shawl, as well as all the Puddle-Ducks, and of course the pigs and Tibbie and Queenie and their multiple lambs—well, what can I say? They’re all delighted that the wedding has finally taken place and look forward to seeing Mrs. Heelis every day, rather than just on the days when she managed to escape from London and her parents.

And then I believe that Mr. and Mrs. Heelis will borrow Captain Woodcock’s blue Rolls automobile and drive off by themselves, perhaps to the Magical Isle of Somewhere, where they can be together, alone, and enjoy a blissfully quiet few days, walking along a glittering beach and sitting before a roaring fire and toasting one another’s health with one or two glasses of bubbly. And kissing and holding one another close and in general behaving exactly like a devoted couple on their honeymoon—and all the more happy a honeymoon for having been delayed for so very long. After a fortnight of these intimate pleasures, they will return to the village and take up their everyday lives as a married couple, to the welcoming applause of all their friends.

Ah, yes. That is how I imagine it, or nearly, and I imagine you did, too. It is entirely lovely and exceedingly romantic, isn’t it?

But it isn’t what happened.

What happened—I mean, what really happened—was a great deal simpler, if less romantic. The wedding of Beatrix Potter and William Heelis took place on Wednesday, October 15, 1913, in London, at St. Mary Abbots, a large church not far from the Potters’ home. The church, which counted many socially-prominent Londoners among its parishoners, boasted a vaulted, cathedral-like nave, elaborate stained-glass windows, and an ornate marble-and-wood altar with a carved Florentine crucifix. It seated seven hundred worshippers.

But except for the wedding party of six—seven, counting the officiating curate—the vast church was empty. Mr. and Mrs. Potter attended, as did Beatrix’s friend Gertrude Woodward (also an artist and a scientific illustrator) and Will’s cousin, Lelio Stampa, an Oxford don. Beatrix is thought to have worn the same outfit she wore for the wedding photograph her father had taken the previous day in the family’s garden: a gray tweed suit woven of Herdwick wool, a dressy blouse with a lace jabot, and a flower-trimmed, broad-brimmed hat. William wore a suit.

Make of all that what you will. What I make of it is that sensible Miss Potter wanted to become Mrs. Heelis with as little fuss and as few feathers as possible, and that her parents—for their own reasons—were glad to have it over and done with and did not wish to invite their friends. There was a brief announcement in The Times and a longer and more admiring story in the Westmoorland Gazette. The writer began, “In the quietest of quiet manners two very well-known local inhabitants were married in London. None of their friends knew of the wedding, which was solemnized in the simplest form, characteristic of such modest though accomplished bridegroom and bride.”

And the honeymoon? The Magical Isle of Somewhere, the beach and the bubbly?

No. Sorry to disappoint. The newly-married couple returned to Sawrey by train on the day after the wedding. At the Windemere station, they collected Beatrix’s wedding present, a young white bull, which they took on the ferry back to Hill Top Farm. Beatrix also brought pieces of her wedding cake from London to shares with her village friends. She would perhaps have invited them to their home, but Castle Cottage was not finished. (Are you surprised?)

But that hardly mattered, I am sure, for at last Beatrix had found her dearest love, and Will had married the wife of his dreams, and the two of them did what all married couples, in every story, should do.

They lived happily ever after.

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