For one whose throwaway remarks are worth keeping.

The vicar peered out of the squint. What he saw made his fingers drum faster on the table and the golden sherry lap at the rim of its glass. His companion in the vestry sipped his own and waited for a turn to peep out.

'Filling up. You're on soon.'

'Five times I read the Bible, cover to cover. Five times. I don't read the Bible through from one year to the next. I can't believe that God didn't specifically prohibit it somewhere.'

'I'm sure the bishops have been through this. Come on, get out there, it's show time.'

'Five times. I have always considered myself Old Church. Not High Church, not for flummery and tradition for the sake of it. Conservative, yes, there are some who would call me conservative --'

'Geoffrey --'

'-- But I move with the times. "Who gives?" instead of "Who giveth?", that's a very sensible change; and dropping the "obey", no qualms there.'

'Geoffrey, that old fool Henderson's looking at his watch.'

'He can come and find me. Ntch. Is that the last of the -- Oh, another bottle. Well done that man.'

'He's collared Annie. She's going... I can't see.'

'Not to the organ? I can't do this. Tell them I'm ill, Derek.'

'You will be if you skulk in here any longer.'

In thirty years the Rev. Mr Carter had seen his wife's pubic hair, and no other except for the occasional irruptions on television meriting a 'dear me' and a glance back at his novel. With his girlfriends from student days he had not always got that far. He was quite unprepared for how dominating the bride's luxuriance was. He had only met Penny Stewart a few times before they had come to him to plan the wedding, and could not remember whether her curls were natural. If the hair of her head had been done up, so had that profuse triangle drawing the eye in across her smooth flesh. Her arms and legs were tan and her torso wan. Slight breasts, budded in coral pink, erect, teasing, softly round.

'I'm sorry?' Mr Carter said to one of Mr Henderson, who was looking strangely at him, or strange.

At young Alan Hudd he would not look. One sight of the smirking, priapic, goatee'd beast had told him all he wished to know, and more, of what married life held in store for Penny, who had seemed such a nice girl.

He risked another glance at her before attending to his prayer book. Although he could not bring himself to look her in her face, he wondered whether there was a flush upon her chest, a muted trembling in her soft limbs, a slick of trepidation made liquid and betraying her hidden mortification as it seeped in glistening rills over the dovelike flanks.

'I'm just trying to, finding the wedding service, Mr Hendersong,' he responded to the jab in his side. The bride was awkwardly placed so that he continually saw just that most salient part of her over the top of the book as he held it out before him riffling through it, to and fro.

After the third effort he was pleased to find himself distracted by mild theological curiosity over why there were no headings to help him find his place. Could it be a relic of some printer's convention from the time of Cranmer? In this dutiful frame of mind he resolved to study the prayer book more closely next week: it had barely registered with him till now that it was a bilingual text, not that he knew much Hebrew or Greek, but now, bless me, there was so much of it that he could barely find the English.

The organ music had stopped.

Craftily he dropped the book and bent to pick it up again. It sounded heavily in the resonant silence, broken only by an unexplained squelching just in front of him.

Penny was shifting uneasily. She froze as the Rev. Mr Carter gripped her calves and climbed unsteadily to his feet, pausing to rest for breath at the height least opportune for clearing his head.

Whether the groom's pointed intervention was more out of jealousy or out of kindness to old men of the cloth, it had the vicar upright and bobbing backwards in no time.

'I voted against g-gay p-priests,' Mr Carter threatened.

Time swam, and the ancient sacred ceremony swam with it, and the whole church joined in -- pillars and corbels and hatchments, in the shimmering rose of the west window. It was all going swimmingly.

'You may now put your finger in the bride's ring,' he explained, then fainted in the excitement.

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