I hardly cut a fine figure, running for the train as I was, coat flying everywhere as I sprinted the final few yards looking for all the world as though I was attempting to become airborne in spite of the rather heavy holdall I was carrying or more accurately, dragging along in my wake. I made it with seconds to spare and set of in search of a seat.The train had older carriages with compartments and I was hoping for one all to myself but on a Saturday morning it would be well nigh impossible I thought, but halfway down the sixth carriage, there one was, I almost missed it, in fact was three or four paces past it before I realised it, there followed some tricky manoeuvring as I tried to doge around a fellow passenger in the narrow corridor but having extricated myself I entered the compartment and saw immediately that I was mistaken in my belief it was empty, for there was a youngish looking man, gazing out of the window.
I gave him a cheery greeting which rather belied how I was feeling, hoisted my bulging holdall onto the luggage rack and settled down.
I sat down opposite my travelling companion and gave him a cursory examination, youngish was the best I could come up with age-wise, short blond hair, a very distinctive nose and balanced on it precariously a pair of horn rimmed glasses, he returned my glance momentarily before resuming his scenery watching.
" A fine day for travelling" I ventured.
"Yes it is" he replied and once again returned his gaze to the window.
We were hurtling through the Hampshire countryside, I had joined the train at Winchester and was en route for the village of St Mary Bourne, an idyllic village, almost picture-book in its' loveliness. I was going to the wedding of an old friend of mine,John Ransome, who was now taking the plunge at the age of forty-five, I had long ago become convinced that he was a confirmed bachelor and would remain so but it seems Cupid had fired its' dart and found its' target once more.I had seen very little of him of late and indeed still had to meet his bride so I was more than pleased to receive his invitation, the ceremony was to be held in the village church and the reception in a local hotel, formerly the manor house, on the outskirts of the village.
" It's a lovely part of the world isn't it ?" I said.
" Yes, I used to travel it often a long time ago".
" Me too" I replied " First time for a few years now, I thought the station, well, more a glorified halt really, I am going to would have been closed by now."
" And where is that if you don't mind me asking ?"
" St.Mary Bourne, going to a wedding there today."
" John Ransomes' wedding ?"
" Well yes....you too ?"
" Yes, my name is James Burt, I was at University with John."
I had no real reason to doubt the veracity of that statement, yet he seemed far too young to have been at University the same time as John yet it hardly seemed appropriate for me to question him on it so I just let it go.
"When did you last see him?" I asked, being by now, very curious. " By the way my name is Gary Middleton."
" Oh a long time ago now, lost touch many, many years ago."
" Lucky he managed to track you down then so he could get a invitation to you."
" Ah, well, I haven't got an invitation as such but I heard about the wedding and long, long ago when we were close we promised each other that whatever happened, wherever we were, we would attend each others wedding, so here I am, promises must be kept don't you think ?"
" Sure he will be surprised to see you and there is bound to be a spare bed at the hotel you can purloin, did John attend your wedding or.........?"
" No I never married." he replied.
We travelled the rest of the way in virtual silence, I buried myself in the newspaper and he once again studying the fields and hills as they rushed past. I realised we were now very close to St. Mary Bourne and walked into the corridor to stretch my legs and to use the toilet. When I returned there was no sign of my companion, probably gone to stretch his legs too and wait by the door I thought.
I saw no sign of him on the platform either but thought little of it. The station was very close to the hotel and it was a fine day for walking so I set off, half expecting to see James either ahead of me or behind me, unless he was going straight to the church, but as the service did not start for another three hours I thought it unlikely.
After freshening up, I had a quick sandwich and pint in the bar and then ambled down into the village to the church.Although I was of the opinion I was far too early, there were a few people gathered there. I spotted John and walked on up to him, a smile on our faces.
" How are you John?"
" Happy, Gary,very happy" he laughed " So good to see you, glad so many of my old friends could make it."
"Actually met one of your old mates on the train John."
" Really, who was that then........on no.....sorry Gary, Aunt Edith approaching.....er....must dash, we'll have a long chat later."
I exchanged pleasantries with a whole range of people, none of whom I knew in the slightest and one by one we headed into the church.The bride, Suzanne, looked truly radiant, only matched by Johns' smile when he saw her. The service passed off without a hitch but immediately after being declared husband and wife, they both turned round to face the congregation with the broadest of smiles when something happened which chilled everone there. John was letting his eyes wander all over the church, nodding at folks when he suddenly had a look of abject horror on his face, he half pointed at something or someone, his face deathly white and swaying, he collapsed at the feet of his family.While everyones attention was on John I looked towards the back of the church, to see what if anything could have caused John to react like that, standing by the door, I could see James, my fellow passenger of the morning but would the shock of seeing his old friend have caused such a violent reaction and why the look of horror.
John came to his senses but looked shaky and after a lengthy interval, we were back on schedule with the photographer doing his thing.During the setting up of one of the shots, I managed to have a word with John as he was talking to his mother...
" Are you ok John, what happened?"
" Been trying to explain it to Mum, but it was the oddest thing, as I looked around at all the family and friends, I could have sworn I saw my old friend, James Burt, standing large as life by the door and then I remembered the promise we had made each other to attend each others' wedding and the next thing I knew I was in a heap on the floor"
" But you did see him John"
" W-W-What, you saw him too?"
" Yes I tried to tell you earlier, he was on the train with me, he told me about the promise."
John again looked ready to fall, his lips moved but no words came, his mother moved closer to me and leant her head towards mine....
" Gary.......James Burt died over twenty years ago."
I was now lost for words and the only thing I could think to say was..
" Well, a promise is a promise."