AMANDA CHANDLER REPLACED the telephone receiver with a soft click and stared off into the distance as if she were still listening to disembodied voices. “What an extraordinary call,” she said at last. “The Queen.”

Her husband, Dr. Robert Chandler, halted his proofreading of the galleys of his book on colonial medicine and regarded his wife with an expression of concern. He hoped that she wasn’t hallucinating again, although the clinic had assured him that Amanda was perfectly fine-as long as she didn’t drink. Had she been drinking? He didn’t think so. Surreptitiously, Dr. Chandler leaned forward in his chair to see if there was a glass on the end table beside her. He didn’t see one. He ventured a timid inquiry. “The Queen called you, did she, dear?”

Amanda stared at him over the top of her reading glasses. “Really, Robert! Have you taken leave of your senses? That was Elizabeth on the phone.”

Dr. Chandler took a deep breath. “Yes, dear,” he said carefully. “I know who the Queen of England is.”

“No! I mean, it was our niece Elizabeth. She wants to get married as quickly as possible.” Noting his blushing reaction, she added quickly, “There you go again! It’s not what you think. Do you remember that young man of hers, the one from Scotland?”

“As well as one can remember someone one has never met,” Dr. Chandler replied, stealing another glance at his book galleys.

“Cameron Dawson. He’s a marine biologist. Well, Elizabeth tells me that he has got invited to some Royal Garden Party that the Queen gives each summer in Edinburgh. They want to get married in time for Elizabeth to go with him. Imagine! An opportunity to meet the Queen.”

“That’s splendid,” he murmured, scribbling a notation in the right margin.

“Yes, I thought so!” Amanda said happily, unaware of her husband’s flagging attention. “I had despaired of Elizabeth at one time. She wanted to cut up dead bodies for a living and she didn’t seem interested in social proprieties at all, but I see that it was only a phase she had to outgrow. I quite approve of her new self. You’ll notice that she knew exactly who to turn to in planning this wedding. The only problem is that Doug and Margaret are in Hawaii for the next two weeks-though they’ll be back in time for the ceremony.”

“Ceremony?” Dr. Chandler looked up. “Where is the ceremony?”

“Why, here, of course!” With a wave of her hand, she indicated that she meant within the house. “I thought perhaps the front hall for the processional. That oak staircase would look very nice in wedding photographs, and the chandelier provides excellent lighting.”

“Er-shouldn’t Elizabeth’s parents have some say in the matter?”

“She’s phoned them, of course, Robert. Margaret has given her the go-ahead. With considerable relief, I would imagine. Naturally, I shall manage the wedding. I am the one with all the social graces in the family. Have I not given a reception for the lieutenant governor of Georgia? All my sister Margaret knows how to do is macram? plant holders and speak bordertown Spanish. Where would she hold the wedding-on their carport?”

Amanda Chandler’s eyes flashed with a sparkle of enthusiasm and her cheeks were flushed. Dr. Chandler noted these details with interest. He had rarely seen his wife so animated since their daughter’s death a few years earlier. At that time, Amanda had become depressed and her long-ignored drinking problem had worsened enough for her to be sent away for private treatment. She had been back for some months, and while she had not resumed her drinking, she was still not her old self. Her bright auburn hair showed streaks of the gray she had concealed for years, and she spent long hours in front of the television watching mindless sitcoms. Dr. Chandler had wanted to get more counseling for her, but she had insisted that nothing was the matter.

“I shall have to get my hair done first thing tomorrow,” Amanda announced, peering at herself in the gilt mirror above the mantelpiece. “And then I’ll start making lists.”

Dr. Chandler smiled to himself. The old Amanda was back.

The Chandler home was exactly the setting that a bridal magazine might choose for a photo layout. Surrounded by acres of forested hills, the brick Georgian-style mansion was set in a grove of oak trees in a white-fenced enclosure at the center of a rolling meadow. The house had been in the Chandler family for four generations, but its present stateliness was largely ascribable to the efforts of its present owner. Dr. Robert Chandler provided the income to finance the improvements, while his wife Amanda scoured Southern Living and various decorator magazines for ideas to refine the simple brick farmhouse. In two decades of relentless renovation, Amanda had demolished the white front porch in favor of a columned portico above the front door, added a one-story family room with sliding glass doors, and replaced the original plaster walls, which showed the age of the house like a wrinkled face. Oak paneling had been installed in the hallways and floral wallpaper adorned every other surface.

The result of these modern amendments was a house that looked like an unspoiled relic of the antebellum South. One could imagine General Sherman halting his mount on a nearby hillside, gazing at the neat brick exterior and well-tended lawn of the Chandler property, and saying, “What a fine house! Let’s wipe our feet before we go in there to loot!” Actually, the late general (referred to by Southern punsters as Edifice Wrecks) was never in the vicinity of Chandler Grove, and if he had been, the Chandler farmhouse in its pre-Amanda simplicity would have been beneath his notice.

Now, of course, the house was an object of lust for every realtor in the country. Modern-day Yankees, without the benefit of artillery to negotiate their property deals, would pay millions for the Chandler place. And it wasn’t even the biggest or most elaborate house in the county. No, that house was across the road from the Chandler mansion, and it was for sale, but the realtors weren’t sure what to do about it. They couldn’t even figure out how to word the advertisement. Realtors shrugged and told each other hopefully that somebody from California would buy it.

* * *

“Eizabeth is getting married here?” said Geoffrey Chandler in tones suggesting an outraged Oscar Wilde. “Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for her to do it over there?” He gestured grandly toward the house across the road.

His brother Charles shrugged in completely unfeigned indifference. “I’m just telling you what Mother said, Geoffrey. Besides, don’t you think that getting married in a replica of a Bavarian castle would be tacky?”

“I do indeed,” Geoffrey replied. “That is why I was certain she would leap at the opportunity. Can’t you just see Elizabeth gliding down the aisle in Lohengrin’s swan boat with strains of Wagner in the background?”

Charles shuddered. “Not without a sedative, I can’t. Why don’t they just get a justice of the peace to marry them in the meadow?”

Geoffrey turned away from the window and regarded his brother with a gleam of malevolent interest. “In the meadow,” he repeated, savoring the words. “Flowers in her hair, perhaps? Groom in medieval dress-puffed-sleeve shirt, velvet coat, leather buskins? Processional played on guitar and flute?”

Charles nodded eagerly.

“Write their own vows? Including, perhaps, the odd quotation from Garc?a Lorca and The Prophet?

“Yes, exactly!”

Geoffrey smirked. “Just as I thought! Her taste for the gauche is a genetic disorder. And you have it, too! How fortunate that I was spared its ravages.”

“Really? I should have thought you’d want to wear your cloak and doublet to the ceremony.” Charles nodded toward a black velvet costume hanging from a hook on the closet door.

“That is my costume for Twelfth Night” said Geoffrey gravely. “The theatre group is staging it in August. It’s quite an appropriate costume for a Shakespearean production; however, I attend all family melodramas in modern dress. Still, this will be an interesting little comedy no matter what anyone wears. When is this blessed event, anyway?”

“On the first of July, according to Mother.”

“The first of July of this year?” purred Geoffrey. “Speaking of blessed events, perhaps?”

“No. I understand that the haste has something to do with an invitation to meet the Queen.”

Geoffrey strove to look unimpressed. “This will be an occasion of note, then,” he murmured. “Perhaps we should both brush up on wedding etiquette, Charles.”

Charles’s lips tightened. “I am a scientist,” he announced grandly. “My concerns are above matters of social conventions. I am unworldly.”

“You are unearthly,” Geoffrey agreed pleasantly. “Now run along, Charles. I must go and consult, before Elizabeth concocts an absolutely ghastly public spectacle.”

When the door to his room had closed (with more force than is strictly necessary to move a hinged pine board), Geoffrey Chandler walked back to the window and looked across the road at the confection of turrets gleaming in the moonlight. His cousin Alban’s architectural flight of fancy had ceased to be merely silly a few years earlier when tragedy had ended plans for another family wedding. Even after years of familiarity had rendered the castle commonplace, Geoffrey could not look at it without a feeling of disquiet. To him the castle did not conjure up thoughts of Disneyland and Bavarian calendars, but memories of madness and family sorrow. He wished it had been built of spun sugar rather than Georgia granite so that it would melt away in the spring rains. Just as well that Elizabeth was not lumbering her wedding with the emotional baggage of Cousin Alban’s castle, he thought. He wondered what she did have in mind.

Charles Chandler stalked off down the hall, trying to mutter the quote about a prophet being without honor in his own country, but he kept getting tangled up over the wording. Literary matters were not within his realm of expertise. The sentiments were right, though, he thought with a stab of self-pity. Not only was he without honor in his own family-much of the time he was without ordinary politeness as well. Charles, the earnest and ascetic scientist, felt so out of place in his hearty country family that he took refuge in fantasizing himself as a changeling. He often wondered if Carl Sagan had a son his age who liked touch football and tailgate picnics; and if so, could they arrange to have blood tests?

He wished that it had not been necessary for him to come home again, but his other place of residence, the scientific commune to which he had belonged since college, had been struck by what Charles liked to call Sunnyvale Syndrome, leading to its disbanding and to the relinquishing of the group’s long-term lease on the property. The symptoms of Sunnyvale Syndrome included a sudden aversion to orange crates used as furniture and an uncontrollable urge to possess a BMW. In short, Charles’s scientific cronies had sold out. One by one, as they passed into their third decade of life, the commune members began to seek out jobs in the computer industry; some of them even applied for teaching positions on the same college campuses they had fled not so long before.

“Face it, Charles,” said one deserting yuppie, “even if you are the next Einstein, as long as you stay unaffiliated with a university or corporation, you’re never going to get a grant to fund your work, and anyway, the Nobel prizes are rigged politically, so you’d never get one. No bucks, no glory. I mean, what’s the point, man?”

Others had warned him about the so-called biological clock of physicists, which was just as ominous in its way as the baby deadline was to women. Charles was past thirty. Virtually all of the great discoveries in the theoretical sciences are made by young minds, his colleagues reminded him. Einstein proposed his special theory of relativity at the age of twenty-six. His fellow physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg had won their Nobel prizes by the time they were twenty-eight. Didn’t Charles think that it was time to face the obvious; shouldn’t he start considering tenure and tax shelters? Stung by their lack of faith in his ability, Charles had retorted that Isaac Newton had been a late bloomer, and that he would show them who was over the hill, but they had given him pitying, disbelieving smiles, and told him to keep the orange crates.

Then he tried to persuade them to spend a few more months testing cold fusion theories. According to reports in the journals, those experiments could be conducted in an ordinary kitchen without expensive equipment; anyone who succeeded in producing cold fusion would become immeasurably rich. Surely it was worth a try? They thought not. With ill-concealed grins they had pleaded prior commitments, so in the end, Charles packed his duffel bag and two orange crates and went home to Chandler Grove. Now he was trying to decide what to do, in case he didn’t manage to discover the process of cold fusion. He had nightmares in which Einstein and Alfred Nobel sang “Happy Birthday” to him over a blazing cake with dynamite sticks for candles. He would wake up screaming just as the explosion began. The fact that Charles’s sister had spent years in a mental institution did nothing for his peace of mind. Nor did his parents’ patronizing attitude toward his work. He thought his parents’ hospitality, and his own ability to endure it, might last until the end of the summer.

He welcomed his cousin Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding as a diversion for the rest of the family. Perhaps everyone would become so occupied in meddling in her business that they would have less time to bother Charles. The sooner this occurred the better, he thought, and to that end he continued spreading the news about Elizabeth’s wedding to all the relatives he could find.

His next stop was a pine-paneled study in the back of the house, decorated with ship models and a framed photograph of Tom Clancy. There William Chandler, affectionately known to his daughters’ children as Captain Grandfather, kept himself busy with matters maritime. The old gentleman was seated at his keyhole desk, immersed in the latest edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships.

“Captain Grandfather!”

The old man looked up, frowning at the interruption. His displeasure with his eldest grandson had been clear for some time now, and he had taken to leaving Coast Guard brochures near Charles’s place at the dinner table. “Well, what is it?”

Charles endeavored to look enthusiastic. “Have you heard the news? Elizabeth is getting married!”

The response was a sour look. “What does that mean?” Captain Grandfather demanded. “Tired of graduate school, is she? I wish just one of my grandchildren would have the gumption…”

Charles stood silently through the tirade, trying to think of something else.

“And who’s the groom, pray? I suppose she told him about the inheritance.”

A look of wonder illuminated Charles’s unexceptional features. He had completely forgotten about the inheritance.

Ian Dawson was still in the garden, reading one of his brother’s science magazines when Cameron returned, decidedly paler than when he left.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked Ian. “You’re looking rather peculiar. More so than usual, I mean.”

“I’m getting married,” said Cameron.

“Yes, I know.”

“I mean soon.”

Ian burst out laughing. “Let me guess! In time for the Royal Garden Party.”

Cameron nodded. “July first.”

“Well, congratulations and all that,” said Ian, still grinning. “I take it this is voluntary.”

“Yes, of course. But sudden.”

“Well, I hope it achieves its aim. Did you get up with the Fettes fiend who landed you in this mess?”

“Yes. Fortunately he was in his office. I explained to him that I was getting married before the event and would like to bring my bride.”

“Not telling him how suddenly this wedding had been arranged, I hope?”

“No. He’d have laughed himself into fits.”

“And did he promise to get her in?”

“Well, he dithered a bit, but in the end he said he would take care of it. I rather implied that the mistake in omitting her had been his fault.”

Ian grinned. “You snake!”

“Well it’s all his fault, anyway, isn’t it?” said Cameron obstinately. “That will teach him.”

Tartan bridesmaids dresses… wrote Elizabeth at the top of a sheet labeled WEDDING. “I suppose you can get plaids in something other than wool,” she mused aloud. “But if not, let them sweat.”

For the remainder of the day, Elizabeth had been of very little use to the anthropology department. After Cameron’s phone call, she had tossed the technical journal into a heap of ungraded papers and departed for the library in search of more salient topics for scholarly research. She returned to her office several hours later, staggering under a load of books with titles like Love and Marriage Among the Royal Family; Elizabeth II: A Life; Royal Etiquette; and Backstairs at the Palace: or What the Butler Saw. Now back at her desk she was rooting happily through pages of Cecil Beaton photographs of the royal family, making notes about who was wearing what, and reading pages of italicized copy describing palace festivities.

“Pages in tiny military uniforms,” she said, scribbling furiously. “Wouldn’t Captain Grandfather love that? Not possible, though. There’d be trouble over whose army got represented. They’d better have kilts. Clan MacPherson tartan, of course. Cameron can’t tell one plaid from another anyway.” After some minutes of trying to think of any small boys who might qualify to act as pages at her wedding, Elizabeth was forced to cross them off her list. Neither she nor Cameron had any male relatives under twenty.

Her reverie was interrupted by the occupant of the adjoining cubicle. “Aren’t you here awfully late?” asked graduate student Jake Adair, poking his head around the partition between their desks. He glanced at the books spread out in front of her and smiled. “Switching to a different branch of anthropology?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “No. But thank goodness you’re here. I’ve been dying to tell somebody. I’m getting married!” Ignoring Jake’s protests that he had to meet somebody for dinner, Elizabeth proceeded to tell him all the details of the just-planned wedding. “And we’re going to honeymoon in Scotland, and meet the Queen at the Royal Garden Party!” she finished triumphantly. “I’m so thrilled about the prospect of meeting royalty.”

“Why? You’ve never been too impressed with me.

Elizabeth sighed. “Here we go again. My great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess. Sorry, Jake, it’s just not the same, somehow.” Jake Adair said very little about being Cherokee, but occasionally he liked to remind his colleagues of his noble origins.

“Okay.” Jake shrugged. “I won’t wear my ceremonial headdress to your wedding.”

“I hope I have your word on that,” said Elizabeth. “Tribal pageantry just won’t fit into my plans for the ceremony.”

“But kilts you’ve got?” he said, laughing. “I wouldn’t miss this wedding for the world. Now I understand the part about the Queen. And I remember meeting the groom-to-be. Dr. Dawson from marine biology, right?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“But you’re getting married where?”

“Chandler Grove, Georgia.”

“You’re not from Georgia.”

“Used to be,” said Elizabeth. “My parents moved away when I was in high school, so I don’t really have any friends in the town where they live.”

“Why not here at the university where your friends are?”

“No. I couldn’t possibly manage all the arrangements by myself. Besides, if I were here, I’d be distracted by work in the department.”

“That seems unlikely,” said Jake, nodding toward the pile of books on the royal family. “But why not get married in Scotland?”

“Would you know where to find a caterer in Scotland? No? Well, neither would I. Believe me, my aunt Amanda is the only person in the world who could stage a formal wedding on such short notice, and she’s in Chandler Grove. Besides, I’d trust Georgia’s weather over Scotland’s any day.”

“Okay. Never mind that’s it a six-hour drive for all of us. We’ll carpool. Just don’t expect us to wear morning coats.”

“Kilts will do.” Elizabeth grinned.

“About that ceremonial headdress…”

“Business suits will be fine, Jake.”

“So that’s settled. As I see it, you have just one more problem.” Jake looked grave. “Have you told the Big Zee about all this?”

“No,” said Elizabeth faintly. “I had forgotten all about him.”

“Lucky you,” said Jake.

The Big Zee, as department chairman Ziffel was known to his staff, was a man of little imagination and less humor. He would not be amused-or even civil-about Elizabeth’s proposed defection from her duties as an instructor for the summer term. “And remember that you’ve got to face him for your orals this fall,” Jake added ominously. “You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t pass your skull around the room for analysis.”

Elizabeth looked close to tears. “It’s only one morning course,” she said piteously. “Eight A.M. Any of us could teach it.”

“Yeah, but Mary Clare is gone for the summer, and I’ve agreed to play racquetball every morning with Laura Williams-oh, no. Don’t look at me like that. I need this exercise, and besides, Laura Williams-” He sighed. “All right. I’ll teach the damned course for you. But you’re going to have to tell Ziffel.”

Elizabeth nodded. “That’s nothing,” she said. “I’m going to have to tell Milo.”

Jake patted her shoulder. “Oh, yes. The old boyfriend. Don’t worry, kid. He’ll get over it. How do you feel?”

“Very much like Cinderella,” said Elizabeth. “I have a lot of messy jobs to do before I can go to the ball.”


Обращение к пользователям