The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 19

Johnny and Miranda’s love knew no bounds for each other. Their snatched trysts, when Johnny could get away from the fighting, acted like an anaesthetic for Miranda against the very real possibility that Johnny would be killed. Unsure of what the future held during the turmoil and desperation of the time, and anxious to formalise their relationship, they bought their marriage forward. Johnny was granted leave to marry Miranda when the remnant of his squadron was posted to RAF Acklington in Northumberland for a short, well-deserved rest.

Johnny and his friends celebrated his last night of freedom with a stag night on a Friday evening early in July, at the local Swingate Inn in Westcliffe. The best man, Anthony Barker, Miranda’s brother, marred the evening by getting into a furious row with a local drinker who accidently spilled beer over his jacket. Getting out of hand, it developed into a brawl before Johnny and others stepped between them and pulled them apart. Anthony, who’s opponent, a burly docker from the port built like a brick outhouse, had hit him hard in the face, and Anthony had stormed out in a huff, nursing what would soon become a black eye.

The vicar held the wedding service the next day in the small St Peter’s Church in Westcliffe. Johnny, standing before the altar, looked back over his shoulder as the music of Mendelsohn’s rousing wedding march filled the small church, and saw his lovely bride walking towards him down the aisle. Miranda took her place beside him, looking stunning in her white bridal dress and Johnny could not believe that he was about to marry such a warm, radiant, beautiful girl.

The popular, elderly Reverend Collins, who had baptised the bride and groom as babes in arms in years gone by, performed the service to a packed congregation of guests. At the end of the ceremony, the happy couple walked out of the church under a guard of honour. Formed by pilot friends from another squadron based at Biggin Hill, which was on deployment at nearby RAF Hawkinge, they stood in their smart dress uniforms with swords held high in an arch over the newly-weds. The guests streamed out of the church and threw handfuls of rice and coloured confetti as Miranda threw her bouquet over her shoulder, which Catherine Faulkner skilfully caught. Catherine was thrilled for Miranda and her brother Johnny but shed a tear for Max Schiller, the German pilot she had met before the war, who she missed dearly. She wondered how Max was faring in the war and if she would ever see him again.

The newlyweds got into the highly polished Rolls Royce of Miranda’s father, Lord Barker, the door held open by Jenkins the chauffeur. They drove away to the cheers of the guests and the accompanying clunk and crash of the old boots and tins tied to the car’s back bumper bouncing about on the road behind.

Lord Barker held the reception in the manor house where a large marquee had been erected in the garden for the occasion, as there were many guests, who enjoyed the luncheon and the customary speeches, made to laughter and applause. All had a good time and the dancing went on late into the evening. Catherine stood looking at Miranda enjoying herself on the dance floor with Johnny when Lady Barker approached her.

‘Catherine, my dear, I want to have a private word with you as it’s the only chance I will get now with all the partying going on.’ she said, waving her hand around at the celebrations.

‘I wanted to thank you for being Miranda’s bridesmaid today and for being her good friend. I am so sorry for the trouble you got into after meeting that young German pilot, but I feel sure that from now on you will have a bright future. When you get to my age life goes by far too quickly so make sure you make the most of your time to enjoy yourself as much as you can.’

Lady Barker handed the small gift to Catherine who eagerly unwrapped it to find a small book with covers bound in the finest leather. She admired the exquisite quality of the rich red leather and the fine gilt script and clicking open the gold-plated clasp, found inside the pages of a new diary. She thanked Lady Barker warmly and kissed her on the cheek.

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