The Second Attempt

As dawn brushed her rosy fingers through the sky, in the gentle manner that a mother adopts when stroking the hair of her first-born child, or perhaps that a violinist uses when tuning his treasured instrument, Ruth awoke. She watched through the high window of the tower bedroom that she and Quin shared as the yellows, pinks, turquoises and blues that were breathed through the clouds were reflected with utmost clarity in the endless expanse of the sea around Bowmont.

With a jolt – of nerves? Excitement? Joy? – she remembered what day it was, and why Quin did not, for the first time since his return from war, lie beside her as she slept.

Her wedding day.

She had to force herself to remember how ridiculous it was to have this feeling that she was holding a hundred butterflies captive somewhere in her lower abdomen: she was already married to Quin; this was their second wedding; nothing was going to go wrong; this would not change anything in their relationship.

It had not been Ruth's own idea to redo their wedding, as she needed nothing more than to be with Quin; nor was it Quin's, as for him it was enough simply to have the certificate that stated that Ruth was his and nobody else's. No, it was on the stubborn insistence of Leonie and Frances that today was to be the best of their lives.

"Ruth, I already missed the birth of my first grandchild, due to your obstinacy," Leonie had implored, stroking James' blonde hair fondly. "Please, please, let me see my only daughter's wedding. Please?" Ruth had given in to her mother's wishes relatively easily. Not, she claimed, because she herself wished to celebrate the most important moment in her life properly – surrounded by the people she loved, and meaning exactly what the vows said; no, it was simply in order to allow her parents the opportunity to cry at the wedding of their daughter.

Quin had been more difficult to convince. For him, it was not an issue of unnecessary expense (for he insisted that Professor Berger not pay for the ceremony, despite the Bergers having been restored to some of their former wealth and status, due to Professor Berger's position in Manchester), but simply one of pointlessness. Nevertheless, Ruth and Leonie had, at Frances' insistence, left it to her to convince her nephew. How exactly she managed to do so, none but the two of them (and perhaps Martha, who was always in Frances' confidence) were ever to know.

"Surely," Aunt Frances had said sternly, upon questioning, "it is not how that matters, but simply that it worked?" And Leonie and Ruth had had to agree.

At precisely six o'clock that evening, the seventeenth of October 1946 (which, incidentally, was exactly eight years after that fateful day when Ruth had first set eyes on Quin's home), the friends and family of Quinton Somerville and Ruth Berger gathered in the relatively large church in the village at Bowmont. The church was so full that any passers-by would have been left with no doubt that the bride and groom were much-loved people. In actual fact, there were no passers-by, as the majority of the inhabitants of the village had been invited as guests to the wedding.

Leonie sat in the front row, weeping openly into a handkerchief, sitting beside her sister-in-law, Hilda. Uncle Mishak, looking a little disgruntled at having had to dress up, but his face nonetheless a picture of pride, sat next to Hilda. On Mishak's other side sat Frances Somerville, dressed as expected in the black chenille dress with its oriental shawl, but with one noticeable difference to her usual formal attire: on her feet, she wore fortunati pumps with a Cuban heel, in kid. Among the well-wishers crowding the church sat Sam, next to Janet, and her husband, Richard, and their son. Humphrey Fitzsimmons sat by Elke Sonderstrom, who had seen the love between Quin and Ruth long before they themselves had seen it. At the back of the church stood Martha, and Elsie, who had, by now, completed the WEA course in Botany, alongside the other staff and villagers whom Ruth had befriended at Bowmont. Miss Maud and Miss Violet sat near to Mrs Burtt and her son Trevor and his pregnant wife. Mrs Weiss and Fraulein Lutzenholler sat side by side, and von Hoffmann had returned from Hollywood to attend such an important event. Paul Ziller was chatting animatedly with Dr Levy's wife, while his quartet murmured amongst themselves, watched avidly by Roger Felton's twins.

However, despite the fullness of the church, there were devastating absences. Only one of the Bainbridge twins was present, for Leo had been killed in the RAF, and Mick sat alone, his happiness at the joyful day marred by the haunted look his eyes had carried since his twin's death. Helen and her girls were there, but Caroline sat without her husband, Dick Alleson, who had been killed at the Battle of Stalingrad, just days after Huw's death at Alamein. Heini and his new American starling had been unable to attend, and Verena and her mother had not been invited.

Quin stood at the altar, looking handsome, beside his son, James, who was acting as best man, and carrying the rings. Then every head in the church flickered to the door at the back, just as the wind ripples through a golden field of wheat, and the congregation sighed as one, as Professor Berger entered, with his daughter on his arm. Ruth, dressed in white organdie, and carrying a posy of autumn crocus, seemed to light up everything around her with her joy and beauty. Behind her, Pilly held Katy's hand, helping her down the aisle behind her mother. They were both dressed in bridesmaid's dresses of rustling, bronze-coloured silk – a colour that so flattered Katy's blonde hair, and Pilly's creamy skin – and beaming with delight at the obvious elation the Ruth radiated.

The ceremony was simple and traditional, similar to, and yet the complete opposite of, the one which had first bound Quin and Ruth to one another. A delicate ring carrying an emerald now joined the gold band that Quin had given Ruth at that first wedding.

The reception was, as expected, held at Bowmont. The wine drunk was a Pouilly-Fuissé, Vieux, and the waltz to which Quin and Ruth opened the dancing was Weiner Blut.

They were to honeymoon in Paris, and then go on to Manaus – with Leonie and Kurt looking after James and Katy for the fortnight – and the Seine, and the Amazon would join the Varne and The Danube and the Thames in the group of rivers that Quin and Ruth had collected.

And they would proclaim their love for one another in each of the languages of their rivers, writing their declarations down, and sending them down the rivers in a thousand lemonade bottles:

Ich liebe dich

I love you

Je t'aime

Eu te amo