INGEL BRANKEL’S WEDDING
Organ music came to our ears as we reached the porch of the chapel. Presumably, only family and close friends were invited inside for the actual wedding service. But no-one tried to prevent our entry.
Horace directed me to join the other crusaders at the back. The pews in front were filled to overflowing with fashionably dressed ladies and gentlemen. In front of the altar, the service was already under way.
The bride looked more lovely than ever, standing demurely beside the groom. The groom stood as if attending his own funeral. The cavalry officer, acting as best man, had taken up a position one pace behind him. The priest read from a massive leather-bound tome.
‘Does any man or woman here today know of any reason or impediment why this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony?’
It was a traditional service, conducted in Hungarian. Linaeus kept sneezing into a large white handkerchief. The chapel environment evidently disagreed with his allergies. Several people turned round to shush at him. Fliss and Raveena shushed back.
As the service progressed, it became somewhat less traditional. The priest’s tome appeared to contain additional sheets of loose paper. When it came to the taking of vows, there were many strange vows addressed specifically to the groom.
‘Do you, Ingel Brankel, promise to obey the rules and expectations of normal married life?’
‘Do you, Ingel Brankel, forswear all secret correspondence and mysterious connections outside your family?’
‘Do you, Ingel Brankel, abandon all inventing, theorising and suchlike scientific nonsense?’
The cavalry officer had quietly drawn his sword and was holding the naked point against the nape of Ingel Brankel’s neck. The wretched groom was forced to say his I do’s, even while visibly shaking his head.
The crusaders didn’t need to understand Hungarian to observe what was happening.
‘Look!’ cried Fliss. ‘He doesn’t want to do it! They’re making him!’
The cavalry officer looked round, then barked an order to the priest. ‘Faster!’
The priest began to rattle out words at top speed. The Reverend Squench stepped out into the aisle.
‘He’s a New Believer!’ he shouted. ‘He doesn’t accept your wedding service!’
The other crusaders formed up behind the Reverend Squench.
‘Forward!’ cried Lord Sain. ‘Hail to the Principle!’
They marched off down the aisle, all chanting Hail to the Principle! They put their hands together and made the upwards-pointing motion I’d seen before. It no longer looked like a gesture of Christian prayer—in fact, it reminded me of that symbol of an upwards-pointing arrow painted on the side of their carriages and the iron box.
The bride saw them coming. She produced a ring, grabbed Ingel Brankel by the wrist and jammed the ring onto his finger. Then she snatched the other ring from the best man, the cavalry officer, and jammed it on her own finger.
‘You may now kiss the bride,’ she said, flinging back her veil.
What daintiness and sweetness! Tip-tilted nose, small pink mouth, soft peaches-and-cream complexion. A becoming blush mantled her cheeks as she held up her mouth to be kissed.
‘Go on, do it, dummy,’ she said.
The crusaders were halfway down the aisle. Their chant changed to a solemn hymn.
‘Upwards to perfection!
Advancing to the Future!
Believing in the Will
And the holy name of Darwin!’
On the word Darwin, the Reverend Squench reached into his cassock and brought forth a copy of The Origin of the Species.
‘Too late!’ screeched the bride. The blush had now spread to her neck and forehead. She clasped her arms around her new husband. ‘Get on with it! Start kissing! What’s wrong with you, you log?’
There was an eager gleam behind Ingel Brankel’s spectacles. But not for his young bride. He was staring at the book in the Reverend Squench’s upheld hand.
‘You may kiss the bride,’ said the priest, and gave Ingel Brankel an encouraging push on the shoulders.
The bride stood on tiptoe and seized her reluctant groom by the ears. She tried to drag him down closer.
‘I’m your wife! Don’t look at them, idiot! Do what you’re meant to do!’
But Ingel Brankel pulled away. He swung her aside, thrust her towards the cavalry officer. As the bride stumbled into him, the officer went down in a heap. The bride lost her footing and went down too.
A great murmur of shock and disapproval rose from the throats of the congregation. Ingel Brankel raced away from the altar to join the crusaders.
‘No, never!’ he yelled. ‘I’m a New Believer, not a husband! I’m going on a crusade!’
The crusaders gathered around him in a solid phalanx. Then they reversed direction and ran for the doorway.