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charliecochrane [userpic]

May our days be merry and bright

December 22nd, 2011 (11:56 am)

Remember about a gazillion years ago, when you voted for what free Christmas story you wanted? You chose Matthew and Rex as the pairing and "White Christmas" as the inspiration for the story. (And, lee_rowan, I've worked in a very old in joke or two.) Inevitably, Jonty and orlando had to poke their noses in...

Massachusetts, 1910

“I love the snow.”
“I know. That’s the third time you’ve mentioned it in the last ten minutes,” Rex Prefontaine said, affectionately. Matthew Ainslie could say he liked the snow a million times and Rex still wouldn’t tire of hearing it. Nor would he grow weary of seeing the light in Matthew’s eyes every time the man looked out of the window. “Don’t you have snow in England?”
“Of course we do. But I don’t remember it being as bright as this. Nor as clean, in London at least.”
“Trodden grey by thousands of dirty boots?” Rex had never been in the capital during the winter so his mental image of it was all based on guesswork.
“I don’t mind that so much as the brown and yellow. All those horse drawn cabs.” Matthew rolled his eyes. “This is so…pristine. Perfect. Dazzling.” He dragged his attention—it appeared reluctantly—from the lawn and the trees. “Almost as dazzling as you, running along the platform and bustling into our carriage on a spring morning in London.”
“Dazzling? I thought I was a sweaty, over-garrulous mess.” Rex smiled in fond remembrance of their first meeting. “I’m still amazed that Mrs. Stewart should have taken such a shine to me.”
“Her youngest son says that she’s always had a soft spot for handsome young men.”
“You’re making me blush. How is Jonty? And talking of handsome young men,” he added mischievously, “how is Orlando?”
“When last I saw them, the same as ever. For better and worse.”
“I can guess the better—that’s the only side I’ve ever seen of them. What’s the worse?”
Matthew turned back towards the window, smiling slightly, as though he was sharing some private joke with the snowflakes which still occasionally stroked the glass. “If you don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t enlighten you.”
“That’s unfair. We’re to have no secrets, remember? Business or private.” Rex laid his hand on Matthew’s arm; they were alone in the room, but who could tell when the door would open and the rest of the Prefontaines, bored of cards or games, might tumble through it? Any further contact would have to wait until they were alone in the house—and that would depend on the weather being kind and the rest of the family’s proposed trip to their aunt in Connecticut being possible.
“You know Orlando well enough to guess his feet of clay. Pedantic, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, fiercely protective of Jonty. To the point of covetousness.” Matthew briefly squeezed Rex’s hand. “I’m glad you’re not as jealous.”
“I have no need to be. And I wouldn’t have thought Orlando has, either.”
“Only in his own mind,” Matthew said, with a sigh. “He’s had a lot of growing up to do in a short time. Not an easy life.”
“It’s a very fortunate man who doesn’t have a hard life, one way or another.” Rex returned the squeeze then took his hand away. “Now, if I’m going to be let in on all your secrets, tell me about Jonty’s feet of clay, as well.”
“A tendency to lose his temper, spectacularly if usually only temporarily. A propensity to play practical jokes.”
Rex sat up straighter, easing his leg into a more comfortable position. Snow might be pretty, but sitting in a draught was one of winter’s least pleasant aspects. “Don’t tell me you’re going to give me all the gen on the incident of the goat in the porters’ lodge? That would be a real treat for Christmas.”
“It’d be a treat for me, too. I’ve even tried bribing the Bride’s porters but they won’t cough up the story.” Matthew took out his cigarette case, lit two then gave one to his lover, without asking. “I can tell you about the grotty penguin, though.”
“The what? Did he raid the zoo and dump the proceeds in the lodge?”
“No.” Matthew took a long draw on his cigarette. “He just gulled the innocent, as usual. It was at Bride’s, in the Senior Common Room, and the supporting cast includes a visiting professor from…” Matthew screwed up his face in recollection, “from Boston, actually.”
“Are you sure you’re not the one pulling somebody’s leg? Mine, for instance?”
“I wish I was. I thought it was going to provoke a diplomatic incident. Jonty was trying to persuade this chap—he was another English literature type—that Death in the Stocks: The Grotty Penguin was a famous Victorian crime novel.”
“Did the guy fall for it?”
“Hook, line and the proverbial sinker.” Matthew grinned. “Seems not all your countrymen are as wise as you. When he asked who’d written the thing Jonty said that nobody knew, as the author had used a pseudonym. Rumour was one of the minor royals had a hand in it. Poor Doctor Covington swallowed the bait whole and wanted a précis of the plot.”
“Which Jonty provided?”
“Oh yes. Can’t you imagine it?”
Rex could. He’d have given a hundred dollars to have been present, insult to his fellow countryman notwithstanding. “What did Orlando say?”
“As little as possible. Jonty alleged the story was set in Oxford, at a college less well known for its academic rigour than for the excellence of its rowers. Every time Orlando piped up to defend his old University, he got flattened. Along the lines of things at the place having gone downhill over the past twenty years, probably because they accepted people like him.”
Rex grinned; there were University rivalries at home, such things were only to be expected. “So, tell me the story.”
“Fictional Oxford college, two men obsessed with penguins, one an anatomist and the other a mathematician.”
“Oh, he’d have had to get the math bit in somewhere.”
“But of course,” Matthew said, stubbing out his cigarette, “this is Jonty. These two men argued about a poorly preserved penguin residing in the museum. Doctor McCaw was sure it represented a species as yet unknown to science while his rival Dusauttoir was convinced it was a boring old Macaroni penguin and of no interest to anyone.”
“And one of them murdered the other, right?” Rex had to know how the unlikely tale panned out.
“Got it in one. McCaw was found in the old town stocks,” there followed a slight digression while Matthew explained to Rex the form and function of things like pillories. “Anyway, he was dead, strangled with his college tie.”
“And somebody had set it up to look like the other had done it?” Rex nodded. For all that Jonty Stewart’s sense of mischief was going to get him strung up one day, the guy could carry off a good yarn.
“You’ve got it in one. It turned out—according to Jonty –that McCaw had secretly taken a wife in the past then left her, and their three children, to spend all his time and resources in the search for another penguin to match the specimen of what he hoped would be called Eudyptes artigianodelrame. ” Matthew offered another cigarette, which Rex refused with a rueful smile.
“And this guy Covington didn’t get the reference to a coppersmith? Jonty might as well have said Eudyptes Cupprofabus.
“He wouldn’t have got that, either. Orlando did, though. I thought his eyes were going to disappear around the back of his head.” Matthew returned the silver cigarette case to its pocket. “Anyhow, Jonty pressed on, all about how Mrs. McCaw had tracked her wayward and fanatical husband down and done the foul deed herself.”
“So the youngest Stewart got away with his deception, did he?”
“He was sailing on blue waters, until Orlando managed to get his oar in—he swore he’d seen the penguin in question,” Matthew said, eyes aglow. “If you’ve never seen Jonty with the wind taken out of his sails then you’ve missed a spectacular sight.”
“What did he do?”
“There wasn’t a lot he could do except play along. He was sitting next to Orlando—usual chairs—so he couldn’t quite see the glint in the man’s eye. That was spectacular, too.” Matthew looked out again at the snow, beaming at both present and past delights. “All he could manage to say was ‘did it impress you?’ Orlando played a blinder, not batting an eyelid and saying the penguin was nothing, compared to the other specimens the museum had on display.”
“I never thought he’d have it in him.”
“He never used to,” Matthew said, turning again towards his lover and smiling his devastating smile. “He’s learned with time, though. You sink or swim, where Jonty’s concerned.”
“Thank God I didn’t have to learn that with you,” Rex said, drawing his hand along Matthew’s thigh.
“Steady on there. It’s a long while before you and I can take advantage of what that contact promises.”
“Ah,” Rex sighed, “the perils of a family Christmas. Carry on with the story then. I need some form of amusement.”
“You’d not have been lacking in amusement if you’d been there to hear Orlando spout forth. A great trail of taradiddle about a common or garden unicorn which was stuffed but to a better standard than the penguin. And a leprechaun that had been pressed like a flower so looked rather grotesque.”
“I never realised he had the nerve to do it.” Rex was going to need to reappraise Dr. Coppersmith.
“It was a bravura performance. I’m glad I was privileged to see it.”
“And what about this Covington guy? What did he do when he found he was being strung along?” Rex had visions of the genteel calm of St. Bride’s being shattered by pistols at dawn or fist fights in Old Court.
“Lucky for our friends he didn’t find out until months afterwards. I had to tell him.” Matthew reached into his inside pocket. “He contacted me quite recently to see if I could, in my professional capacity, track down the book for him as all his attempts had failed. I had to confess all. This is his reply.” He handed his lover a much folded letter.
“Wow,” Rex said, after he’d read it. “I’m surprised you’ve kept this. Strong stuff.”
“I’m going to post it to Cambridge as soon as I get home. I wanted you to have the pleasure of reading it first.” Matthew grinned. “Some of those insults are particularly well crafted.”
“That’ll set the cat among the pigeons. Orlando’s going to have to get his dictionary out.” Rex folded the paper up again, handed it back and smiled. “At last their sins have caught them out.”
“Let’s hope it’s a free warning against misbehaving in future.” Matthew hid the letter away again. “They’ve been good friends to us. If it hadn’t been for them—and the Stewarts—we’d never have met.”
“I never forget that, believe me.” Rex briefly caressed his friend’s hand. “And I never forget how fortunate I am. You know, it’s not too early in the day to open a bottle or two. Shall we drink a toast to absent friends?”
Two glasses of whisky with soda, two men either side of the hearth like fire dogs, two hearts united in love and gratitude.
“Jonty and Orlando.” Rex raised his glass.
“Jonty and Orlando,” Matthew said, then took a draught. “And I’m glad to see that at last I’ve taught you how to properly propose toast.
Rex raised his glass again. “I had a good teacher. Us, this time. All our days to be as merry and bright as they are when Jonty and Orlando are on top form.”
Matthew nodded. “And all our Christmases to be white ones?”
“They can be bright blue, so long as you’re at my side...”


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Posted by: grace_roberts (jessie_lansdel)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 12:50 pm (UTC)

Well even though I don't know Jonty & Orlando as well as some, (they are on my Wish list. All of em) I feel as though I am beginning to. That was a lovely story and the description of the snow in Mass' and how different to snow in the city was lovely. Bright, clean and dazzling. Spot on. Thank you.

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Love your kittens.

Posted by: eglantine_br (eglantine_br)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 02:06 pm (UTC)

I have a warm spot for Rex, you know. And this is very sweet.

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 04:01 pm (UTC)
all that jazz

Aw, thank you. I like Rex; he's terribly civilised.

Posted by: Rikibeth (rikibeth)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 03:01 pm (UTC)

I love this. What a lovely holiday gift!

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC)

Thank you. My pleasure.

Posted by: Jestana (jestana)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC)
StB: William

Hee! A lovely story. I like how we get hints of Matthew and Rex's relationship and how it's different from Jonty and Orlando's, but still lovely in its own way. :D Bravo!

I love the 'mystery', too. So very Jonty. *giggle*

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)

LOL Jonty's a right little tart, isn't he? I do see matthew and rex as being so much more mature than J/O, even though they're only slightly older.


Posted by: Lokei - a little mischief now and then (lokei)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)

So ridiculously adorable. Pressed leprechauns, indeed!

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 12:37 pm (UTC)

Tee hee. Thank you. (A pressed orlando would be even more wondrous.)

Posted by: oceankitty1 (oceankitty1)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 05:52 pm (UTC)

Lovely Charlie! Thank you so much. May your Christmas also be merry and bright, and hopefully white. My snow has melted *pout* ,but there is still a couple of days to go and miracles DO happen.

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 01:02 pm (UTC)

You can have any snow that's coming our way. :)

Thank you for reading and commenting!

Posted by: oceankitty1 (oceankitty1)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Stevie Carroll (stevie_carroll)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
Festive Penguins by sallymn

Smashing! I love the story within a story within a story.

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 01:30 pm (UTC)

Ta, love. It's a device I have to stop myself using too often.

Posted by: Lee Benoit (leebenoit)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)

What fun! As a Massachusetts dweller, this makes me wistful for snow (*not* something I often say) as we're having a creepily warm December so far. Also, the Grotty Penguin exchange is priceless! Thank you and happy-merry.

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 01:53 pm (UTC)

Creepily warm over here, too. Never been in Mass when it's snowed but it must be pretty. *sighs*

Thank YOU and happy-merry as well. :)

Posted by: Lee Benoit (leebenoit)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Anne (darthanne)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
TQ snow

I loved this. Lovely glimpse of Matthew and Rex's relationship - I want to see more of these two, and an added bonus of Jonty and Orlando. I would have loved to have seen the expression on Jonty's face when Orlando jumped into that conversation. Brilliant. It really shows how far he's come.

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC)

Thanks, sweetie. I can just imagine the horror on Jonty's face when he realised he'd been seen right through and how he'd have madly tried to hide it. :)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC)

So happy to have been included in the invitation to read this.. I too love Rex and matthew, as well as dear darling Jonty and orlando.

Nan hawthorne

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 01:32 pm (UTC)

Thank you, sweetie. I think rex and Matthew have a more mature relationship than J/O, becuase they're more mature anyway (and I don't just mean age!)

Posted by: Elin Gregory (elin_gregory)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 09:58 pm (UTC)


I love this to bits. There's some super observations - draughts are my bug bears - but the humour of it is terrific. Jonty is such a tyke!

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 12:45 pm (UTC)

He's a little bugger, if you'll excuse the expression.

Ooh - draughts. Must go and amend typo. *hugs*

Posted by: knightengale40 (knightengale40)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 02:02 am (UTC)

Delightful! Thank you for a lovely Christmas gift!

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 12:42 pm (UTC)

My pleasure, my dear.

Posted by: helenajust (helenajust)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 09:54 am (UTC)

Lovely! Thank you so much. I wish you a lovely, white, Christmas.

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 12:40 pm (UTC)

Aw, thank you. Maybe it could be white for the day itself and then clear up so we can go to Bournemouth on Boxing Day? :)

Posted by: Becky Black (becky_black)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 11:32 am (UTC)

Hah, that was funny. Loved it.

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 12:38 pm (UTC)

Thank you, toots!

Posted by: lee_rowan (lee_rowan)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
Wee Mad Amelia

good god. The Pengrin That Would Not Die...

You're just jealous that Cambridge hasn't got it!

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)

Very jealous. Every time I see a slightly tatty penguin, I think of you!

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