What the mathematician said to the engineer
As promised, some more of what happened to the Bride's boys on holiday in France.
Orlando Coppersmith’s expression as he picked up the post from the mat was what Jonty Stewart would have referred to—in his more colloquial moments—as a dead giveaway. He stood transfixed, turning the stiff, light green envelope over in his hands.
“From the Bailiffs, is it, Orlando? Or has the Vice-Chancellor found you out at last?”
“No.” Orlando passed the letter across. “It’s from France.”
“Oh. Oh. Do you want me to read it through before you look at it?”
“Yes please, if that wouldn’t be an imposition.”
“Come on then, let’s do it over breakfast. You look like you could do with the biggest cup of coffee I can find.” Jonty led his colleague by the hand—this had been a great shock—installed him in a chair, poured him coffee and made him attack a sausage, even though Orlando vowed he couldn’t touch a thing. Jonty donned his spectacles, perching them just so on his nose so he could look over them to see his lover and through them to see the letter. He began his perusal.
“So is he coming over here or anything?” Orlando had a piece of sausage paused en route to his mouth—it had been up and down like a fiddler’s elbow, without reaching its destination.
“No indication of it, as yet. Not a sniff about coming over to Cambridge in particular or England in general.”
Orlando sighed in relief and at last launched the portion of sausage into his mouth.
“It seems he has some civil engineering project in Grenoble he’s overseeing and will be busy for some time.” Jonty scanned the rest of the letter.
“And what else does he say?”
“Nothing much. Sends his regards to me, which is rather civil of him. If you’ll excuse the pun. Gives an account of drainage systems or bridges or whatever he’s working on. And that’s about it.”
“No reference to Marseille?”
“Not one. Much to your relief, I guess. You know I still think Mama has suspicions. She really does want to know why you’ll give her chapter and verse about every part of our holiday but when it comes to Marseille you button your lip.”
“She doesn’t believe what you said about me having a nasty experience with a Portuguese man o-war?”
“I think she finds it all a bit fishy. Can’t quite imagine you not wanting to tell all and sundry if you’d braved a monster of the deep.” A sly little grin crept onto Jonty’s face. “Only he wasn’t Portuguese, was he?”
If looks could have killed, Jonty would have been immediately joining the heavenly choir, if they’d have had him. “I shan’t even dignify that with a rejoinder. I still go totally cold when I think of the incident.”
“And I still can’t quite get it clear in my mind how it happened.”
Orlando rolled his eyes and shuddered. He took a piece of bacon and gesticulated with it in the air as if enumerating a favourite theorem. “In the first place, as I have said often, he bore a remarkable physical resemblance to your good self. Not just generally—you could almost be two peas in a pod—but in specifics.”
“Oh yes, the hairy forearms.”
“And the smooth legs.” Orlando was warming to his subject. He’d rehearsed his explanation time and again until he’d almost lost track of what had been the reality of a very embarrassing incident. “And he wore an identical bathing costume. Identical in every feature.”
“And I believe there was something about the hair.” Jonty was enjoying Orlando’s discomfiture, just as he’d enjoyed the original episode and the huge puncturing of his lover’s dignity which had ensued.
“The hair was identical, from the back. And the carriage. If you’d been there you would have understood.”
“If I’d been there it would never have happened. But you forget that I was in the offing. I saw the whole thing—and a great shock it gave me.”
“Not as much as it gave me. ” Orlando pushed his plate away, only one each of egg, bacon and sausage attempted successfully. “You have no idea what it was like when he turned around and it wasn’t you. It seemed like someone had grafted this stranger’s face grafted onto your body. I was very distressed.”
“Well he didn’t seem to mind that much. Still doesn’t, if this is anything to go by.” Jonty indicated the letter. “And he wasn’t a bad looking bloke. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he was just your type.”
“Nobody is my type but you.” Orlando made a grab for the letter but was forestalled.
“You can’t have this until you tell me how he got our address. That’s the second most intriguing bit of the whole situation.”
“As I see it, we made a mistake inviting him back for drinks to our hotel. I know it was in an effort to mollify him, but I think I saw him perusing the hotel guest book. He must have remembered our address or copied it down. I’m just pleased we left for Monte Carlo the next day.”
“Perhaps he thought you were interested, despite all your protests and confusion. I mean the average home in the rue could have easily just interpreted your hug as a manly greeting, even if you did sneak up on him from behind and take the lad quite unawares.”
Orlando groaned. “I could have sworn it was you. It should have been you— it was your body and costume and I couldn’t resist slipping my arm around your shoulder.”
“Well, I’ve not seen myself from behind so I have to take your word for the uncanny likeness. But it couldn’t just have been a case of the manly clasp you gave him, can it? What exactly did you say?” Jonty was pleased to see a wave of crimson suffuse his lover’s cheek.
“I daren’t repeat it.”
“It’s been weeks, Orlando, and as we have no secrets, you have to tell me.” Jonty had tried each argument before but never employed both in concert; he hoped the strategy would work.
“I said…” Orlando swallowed hard. He’d long known this moment would come and he could deny things no longer. “I said fancy a naughty time with a mathematician?”
“Orlando!” Jonty spilled his tea all over the tablecloth and then began to guffaw, choking in the process. Both of these attracted the attention of Mrs. Ward, who came bundling in, slapped Jonty’s back, and began to mop up the flood. The excitement at least allowed Orlando to regain some degree of composure and when the room contained just the two of them again he even managed a smile.
“No wonder he’s decided to write. Perhaps he thinks he’s still in with a chance of a naughty time.”
Orlando groaned. “If he comes to St. Bride’s, then I’m going off to Oxford for at least a fortnight or until he’s quit the country. In future, Jonty, I’ll not say a word nor lay a finger until I am one hundred per cent certain I’m speaking to or laying fingers on you and you alone.”
“Muffin head. I tell you what, I’ll reply to him and say you’ve taken a vow of celibacy. Would that work?”
Orlando nodded. “If you please.”
“I have a request to make in return.”
“What you offered him, or thought you offered me. I’ll have that in return for drafting a letter to your admirer.”
“And how naughty a time do you want?”
“Oh sort that out yourself, Orlando. Must I think of everything?