To the casual observer, the great enlightened city of Edinburgh, home of no-nonsense philosophers and cream teas, might appear immune to the rollercoaster of strong emotions. But at 44 Scotland Street, as Matthew and Elspeth embark on the risky enterprise of married love, the raffish portrait painter Angus Lordie has a premonition of disaster. Soon enough Irene Pollock is shocked to learn that her small son Bertie has a highly unsuitable ambition; the gloriously vain Bruce discovers a wrinkle and confronts rejection; and Angus finds himself facing the grave consequences of unbridled bliss, not to mention a large Glaswegian gangster bearing gifts.
The wedding took place underneath the Castle, beneath that towering, formidable rock, in a quiet church that was reached from King’s Stables Road. Matthew and Elspeth Harmony had made their way there together, in a marked departure from the normal routine in which the groom arrives first, to be followed by the bride, but only after a carefully timed delay, enough to make the more anxious members of her family look furtively at their watches—and wonder.
Customs exist to be departed from, declared Matthew. He had pointedly declined to have a stag party with his friends but had none the less asked to be included in the hen party that had been organised for Elspeth.
“Stag parties are dreadful,” he pronounced. “Everybody has too much to drink and the groom is subjected to all sorts of insults. Left without his trousers by the side of the canal and so on. I’ve seen it.”
“Not always,” said Elspeth. “But it’s up to you, Matthew.”
She was pleased that he was revealing himself not to be the type to enjoy a raucous male-only party. But this did not mean that Matthew should be allowed to come to her hen party, which was to consist of a dinner at Howie’s restaurant in Bruntsfield, a sober do by comparison with the Bacchanalian scenes which some groups of young women seemed to go in for. No, new men might be new men, but they were still men, trapped in that role by simple biology.
“I’m sorry, Matthew,” she said. “I don’t think that it’s a good idea at all. The whole point about a hen party is that it’s just for women. If a man were there it would change everything. The conversation would be different, for a start.”
Matthew wondered what it was that women talked about on such occasions. “Different in what way?” He did not intend to sound peevish, but he did.
“Just different,” said Elspeth airily. She looked at him with curiosity. “You do realise, Matthew, that men and women talk about rather different things? You do realise that, don’t you?”
Matthew thought of the conversations he had with his male friends. “I don’t know if there’s all that much difference,” he said. “I talk about the same things with my male and female friends. I don’t make a distinction.”
“Well, I’m sorry,” said Elspeth. “But the presence of a man would somehow interrupt the current. It’s hard to say why, but it would.”
So the subject had been left there and Elspeth in due course enjoyed her hen party with seven of her close female friends, while Matthew went off by himself to the Cumberland Bar.