When Francesca met Richard they were predisposed by fate to like each other – even though neither of them know it at the time. They were both blandly handsome, both successful, both good-humoured if a little humourless, and both laboured under the disadvantage of unimaginative parents who bestowed on their offspring the sort of names more sensibly found in burlesque than high finance.
Richard (Rich to his very few friends) Dripping was an investment banker. He was a whizz kid and a high flyer, if rather more risk averse than his peers, who was tipped for an early seat on the board of the private bank for whom he worked. Francesca (no diminutives please, the name is Francesca) Phaart was a tax accountant whose forensically detail-orientated carefulness had already earned her a junior partnership and made her not a few enemies.
Quite who thought it might be funny to introduce them to each other is rather lost in the mists of time, although the best guess is an undeniably louche specimen rejoicing in the cognomen Francis Ffotheringham, who was rather in the habit of collecting people with odd names. In the end, of course, it matters not who did the deed because some puckish deity somewhere had decreed that they should not only meet but that they should also fall in love.
For a couple of months Francesca and Rich met every weekend, discovering mutual tastes, mutual interests, and mutual dislikes enough to persuade them that they were well on the way to becoming a serious item. With this in mind, Francesca took Richard to her family home in the Cotswolds, where her parents were favourably impressed by the rather stolid young man on whom their daughter’s fancy had lighted. Their only private caveat was his name. As Papa Phaart remarked to his lady wife in the privacy of their wide, white bed:
“Seems a reasonable sort of a chap, but I’m pretty sure he won’t make the top of the tree with a damned silly name like Dripping.”
His wife nodded wisely and passed him a digestive biscuit.
Two weeks later, Richard and Francesca were on an aeroplane heading for the glass and steel tower in New York which Mr Dripping, the second Mrs Dripping, and Richard’s young half siblings called home. By and large, the visit was a success, with the New York Drippings united in approval of Francesca’s bland blonde handsomeness and her placid uncomplaining nature. The entire family accompanied the young couple to the airport and waved them off with smiling fondness. However, once they were through the departures gate the whole American contingent burst into raucous laughter.
“Phaart. Francesca Phaart.” Papa Dripping was holding his sides and the young Drippings were actually rolling around on the floor of the concourse.
“It’s a very good job,” the second Mrs Dripping opined genially, “that Richard inherited his mother’s sense of humour”.
“The lady doesn’t have a sense of humour,” Dripping senior expostulated.
But none of this hilarity was apparent to either Richard or Francesca who sailed serenely towards the next phase of their relationship without a care in the world.
In due course, a reputable jeweller was visited and a diamond of suitable size was purchased. The young couple hosted a dinner party at a fashionable restaurant to celebrate their engagement, and Francesca moved into Richard’s home in leafy Richmond.
Certainly, Francesca was well aware that her name caused a great deal of ribaldry among those she mentally dismissed as the uneducated, but she could see no humour in it herself and nor could she quite understand why certain of her acquaintance seemed to think Richard’s surname a source of ill-bred sniggers.
She might have carried on in blissful ignorance, had she not been placed in a position where she could not avoid overhearing a conversation between two female interns at her place of work. She was in one of the stalls in the female restroom, in fact she was about to emerge, when the sound of two sets of clicking heels stopped her in her tracks.
“…madam Phaart,” the voice was loaded with spite, “and I suppose she thinks that becoming Mrs Dripping will make her less of a household joke”.
“You should watch your mouth,” the other voice was quieter and more refined. “You don’t know who might overhear you.”
“I don’t care. Can’t she even see it?”
See what? Francesca wondered. But she was disturbed enough to mention it to Richard over dinner that night. He shook his head bemusedly.
“I don’t know, dear. Does it worry you?”
Francesca shook her fair head.
“Not really. I suspect it was just more vulgarity.”
And that might have been the end of that had not the bank chairman called Richard into his inner sanctum. They were closeted together for the best part of an hour before the older man wrung Richard’s hand.
“You will think about it then, Richard?”
“I’ll do better than that sir. I will get onto it immediately.”
That night he spoke seriously to Francesca.
“It has been put to me that a seat on the board of the bank is being kept warm for me.”
She looked at his heavily handsome face and felt a glow of pride.
“However, there is a stipulation. It is felt that the name Dripping is unsuitable to elevation to the board.”
“Oh. So what will you do?”
“Choose another. With your assistance, my dear.”
“I don’t think it much matters what. Other than Phaart.”
He smiled his complete understanding.
“I am quite drawn to Smith.”
And so it was that, after a bit of legal sleight of hand, Francesca and Richard became Mr and Mrs Smith and enjoyed many years of happy, if unexciting, marriage.