Before reading this one-act play I stongly suggest visiting my introduction post which provides a short trailer to the story, plus free bonus material of matters ecclesiastic, to allow you to clear your minds completely and get you in the mood for the action which follows. I shall be posting subsequent Episodes in 2-3 day intervals. Now make yourself a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy. Anyone caught falling asleep will be ejected from the theatre! Please switch off your mobile phones and no talking! Exits will be barred, so there is no escape until the final curtain! Lights off please, and . . . . . curtain!
Curtain rises slowly to the sound of organ music
The long awaited day arrived, during Easter Week, to be precise 10 April 1891 - the marriage of James Pendleton to Elizabeth Evans, or perhaps Elizabeth Pendleton - at this stage we are not sure which! How strange, for the genealogical records from the distant future are entirely unclear. All we know, almost 120 years on, is her Christian name, Elizabeth.
Whatever her surname, guests assembled at Congleton Parish Church, fully expectant that the happy couple would be united at last. James Pendleton was seated in the front pew with his best man, John Standish, waiting nervously for his bride to appear. Would she turn up, he wondered anxiously? He knew the answer was in the affirmative when the organist began proceedings with a grand rendition of Mendelssohn’s “Hear comes the bride”, from his 'new-fangled' masterpiece, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, as the bride, an attractive brunette, entered the church on the arm of her proud father, followed by two very good-looking bridesmaids.
And then . . . a young lady walked down the aisle to an empty front seat, followed by another . . . then another . . . . soon more young ladies followed them – each carrying a piece of paper . . . seemingly in endless procession. First a few, then a dozen, then a score . . . then hundreds of them! whilst the organist completed his task, playing Mendelssohn faultlessly. The ladies kept coming in droves and so, sighing, the talented organist seized his opportunity for glory and embarked on Bach’s Toccata and Fugue followed by Handel’s “Entrance of the Queen of Sheba”.
The vicar, aged about 45, bespectacled with silver hair, looked at his time piece and wore a frown on his reddening face – it was all taking far too long and these ladies kept coming in, oddly all about the same age 30 -32. The organist coughed and thought it prudent to play again, this time a very difficult rendition of Widor’s organ symphony, which he executed with remarkable precision and wild enthusiasm. He completed this epic virtuoso performance to tumultuous applause just as the last young lady entered the now very full church. The congregation all remained standing until silence prevailed, with the organist bowing to admiring glances. Overcome with emotion he bowed once more in gratitude and felt pride welling up inside his chest. My word, he enjoyed that!
At last things settled and the vicar opened proceedings and coughed, remarking, “Well, well, well. What a full house we have today! I can say I have never seen so many at one sitting - and I may add, such an array of attractive young ladies has never before graced my church so eloquently.” He proceeded to enquire, “Who is the chief usher here?”
“I am he, your reverence – my name is Walter Douglas Pendleton b 1871, due to die 19 Feb 1942, and I am James Pendleton's first son by his first marriage. I am engaged to Sarah here and I am told our descendants will be so plentiful they will be like the stars in the heavens, or the sands on the shore, whichever is the greater! I am an extremely fertile lad and will have 10 children. It seems my fellow usher is not so fertile. He is my younger brother, Cyril Herbert Pendleton b 1873, not sure when he will die because his descendants have not managed yet to find his death certificate, try as they may. He is, like me, fathered by James Pendleton b 1847 by his first wife, Emma Long b 20 August 1850 d 21 April 1888. He will marry his cousin . . . . . . . . "
" . . . . . . . . and I have two sisters, Edith Mary and Gertrude! . . .
"Stop . . . stop . . . . stop! . . . . . young man, we have not got all day. Would you mind, please, making your answers as brief as possible with much less of the genealogy . . . . . if you please? You are verbose in the extreme! Tell me, who are all these ladies filling the pews on this fine day – and why are there so many of them? The place is packed to the rafters. I've never seen anything like it.”
“They are special guests, your reverence. There are 279 Elizabeth Pendletons and 488 Elizabeth Evans – the entire Lancashire and Cheshire stock of eligible young ladies named as such, born between 1857 and 1862. There is a big mistake on future 'microfiche' records of Elizabeth’s and James’ marriage certificate - even though the wedding has not occurred yet, if you see what I mean!
Future generations have seen to their dismay this certificate showing her father as Joseph Pendleton, cattle dealer, when they expected him to be Joseph Evans, cattle dealer. Some people from the future are running round in huge circles trying to sort it all out because the registrar must have got so confused with all the Pendletons and Evans ladies around today he, or some silly twit, called Elizabeth’s father Joseph Pendleton on the actual marriage records when it was blatantly obvious that the registrar had all the information to hand to make a correct entry of Joseph Evans on the original certificate AND the records. What a monumental ‘senior moment!'. To clear it all up and to make absolutely sure of things we asked all available Elizabeth Pendletons and Elizabeth Evans to come to this wedding with their birth certificates, and it looks as though they have all turned up with a headcount of 767. There are a couple of other possibilities coming as well. We think all the Elizabeth Pendletons might be disqualified because of this mistake. Upon hearing this all 279 Elizabeth Pendletons burst into tears and sobbed, “Ah! what a shame, we want James, we love him”.
A self righteous woman shouted from the pews, "Incest! incest! a Pendleton should not marry a Pendleton so all these Pendelton women should be disqualified, vicar - the mere thought of it is disgraceful! My, what a fine time I am having!"
"Shut up you old witch!" screamed all the Elizabeth Pendletons in unison, "We don't want to be left on the shelf and end up like you!"
"Silence, please, young ladies", exclaimed the vicar, I am in an extreme hurry and wish to complete this wedding with utmost speed. I have a funeral to see to this afternoon and afterwards I have arranged to meet the Bishop and two nuns for a croquet match. Now chop! chop! Come along!"
Walter continued, "Assuming the Elizabeth at the altar is the wrong Elizabeth I shall announce that the first prize to the lady who has the correct birth certificate is the hand in marriage of my father, James Pendleton himself. Second prize is a consolation of me – oh sorry I am not available, my heart belongs to Sarah, as I explained. Third prize is Cyril Herbert – oh sorry he is already engaged to Annie Sidebottom - both ladies are here today so we'd better watch our steps. What's that, dear? Oh! Alright, dear!"
"This mistake has caused our descendants tremendous confusion because they are not sure whether Elizabeth started out as a Pendleton and her mother married an Evans who adopted her, or whether her parents were not married (gasp! from the congregation) or whether Elizabeth herself started as a Pendleton, married an Evans who then died, and she then met James Pendleton and now intends to marry her, in which case she will become a Pendleton again! – quite confusing really, isn’t it! So we had to invite them all to make sure we cover all eventualities! All the ladies here today are very keen on James because every Elizabeth here has seen his photograph and he is such a dashing bobby dazzler that they all want to marry him. It looks a bit like the X-factor with ferocious competition for the hand of my father – may the best lady win, I say!”
“Ladies!” asked the vicar, “Apart from his photograph you have viewed you can see Mr James Pendleton in the flesh at the altar, and do you all wish to marry this James Pendleton?”
All 767 sighed and replied at precisely the same moment - “Not half!” Yes, we do, he's lovely!”
“Well I can’t marry you all to him, just one I think! But before I do so you must prove your genealogy first! Talk to the ushers who will examine your credentials. Now young lady at the altar, why are you here and not with the other Elizabeths? Can you prove your genealogy, be it an Evans or Pendleton? Cum, cum, hurry along!”
“Not here”, your reverence, “I do not have my birth certificate with me. I didn’t think I would require it today, but I can tell you my surname is not Pendleton nor Evans. It is Dutton."
"What! Not Pendleton nor Evans, but Dutton!", exclaimed the entire congregation. "What's she doing here then?"
"Precisely!" exclaimed the vicar, "What are you doing here? Who gives her away? You Sir, are you her father and state your name please?"
"Richard Dutton and I am her father. This is the correct Elizabeth for this church because the banns of marriage were called ages ago and it's all perfectly legal and above board. Elizabeth Dutton is engaged to James Pendleton - they have been courting for 5 years or more. I've been trying to get rid of her for years and he comes along perfectly willing to take her off my hands and who am I to stand in his way? Further, I am a banker and have enormous bonuses each year so I have pots on money so I had no difficulty attracting a suitor for her! He seemed decidedly keen."
"Oh! Daddy, you are so hurtful! How can you say things like that about your little girl? Don't you want me to marry for love?"
Before he could answer the vicar protested, "But I have on my sheet Elizabeth Pendleton or Evans . . . . not Dutton. Something is very wrong! How strange! Where is the registrar? Is he here? Not yet? Now I really must get on with this wedding so I take it that it is a mistake on my sheet and nowhere else so I shall start proceedings immediately. I really do not know why all these other Elizabeths are here - they are an irrelevance!"
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the marriage of James Pendleton to Elizabeth, err Dutton. Has anyone got any just cause or impediment why this man and this woman may not be joined together in holy matrimony? Speak now or forever hold your peace!"
“We have!” Shouted all 279 Elizabeth Pendletons and all 488 Elizabeth Evans in unison, “He’s mine! Get your ‘ands off ‘im, you Elizabeth at the altar. I’ll scratch your eyes out!”
There was a series of scuffles in the pews and several Elizabeths swung their handbags at each other until the vicar stood up and shouted, “Silence, ladies please stop fighting at once!”
They were all silenced by a tremendous FLASH and everyone fell to the floor. The poor vicar looked terrified. From nowhere appeared a stern looking middle aged lady dressed in strange clothes - she looked as though she belonged to a different age. The lady materialised fully at the back of the church to a stunned and already nervous congregation. She yelled, " I have an objection! - stop the service - I come from the future! You are making a grave error and I am here to give you dire warning!
"I am Geraldine", she continued, "this wedding is a total shambles - nearly everyone here is at the wrong church - you are 50 miles away from where you should be! It seems Elizabeth Dutton, her father, the bridesmaids and the vicar are the only authentic players in this complicated fiasco, plus the possibility of another James present somewhere in this church, but not the one standing at the altar. The rest are intruders!"
"What!", exclaimed a highly confused congregation. Needless to say the startled, soon to be bride and James the groom at the altar both wore astonished frowns and looked round at the lady who, turning bright scarlet in the heat of the moment, reiterated, "At least one or maybe two of those marrying today are attending the wrong church! There has been a huge 'cock-up! I will be back soon with evidence - until I return stop the service immediately".
She vanished as quickly as she had appeared, in a flash, much to the relief of all, who thought her a crank, yet remained highly nervous.
(To be continued - Episode 2)