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Newsletter eighty five (includes free Cambridge Fellows story)

August 2nd, 2013 (12:31 pm)

We’re off on holiday tomorrow, so excuse two weeks of what may be radio silence. I don’t think that where we’re staying has wi-fi. (Blessing or curse? Only time will tell.)

News

My short story “Secrets” (Age of sail mystery with supernatural and m/m elements) will be in an Elm Books anthology of similar tales, tentative release date Halloween.

There’s also a little Jonty and Orlando (with added Alan Turing) story going into the Lazy beagle charity anthology (of which more news when I get it).

Talking of Jonty and Orlando, here’s a little going away pressy from me. Cambridge Fellows meets...well let’s just say my thanks go to Alex Beecroft for letting me play with her characters, her name and her good reputation.

Pride, Prejudice, Persuasion and all the rest

Pride

Jonty Stewart put down his book and picked up his thoughts.
He’d never been a great fan of H.G. Wells, but Orlando had insisted that he give this book a try and—glory be!—he’d not regretted it. A strange book, or so it had proved, a mixture of scientific and sociological speculation, entertaining but rather disturbing. Jonty wondered whether he should ask Dr. Panesar if such a time machine would be possible, if some future generation would be able to take to travelling across the centuries, as his own generation were wrestling to make travel in the skies a practical reality.
Second thoughts suggested that might not be the most reliable way forward, as Dr. P—who considered everything possible—was bound to say “yes”.
Still, a bit of speculation on the topic would stave off the ennui; Jonty had to find something to do for the next week. He turned to the empty space in his bed, a space bereft of Orlando Coppersmith, who’d left that very morning for an important mathematical conference at St. Andrew’s. He had a paper to deliver and wanted to make a really good fist of it, unlike the previous occasion when he’d muttered into his waistcoat for forty five minutes and bored everyone rigid. Orlando had been in such a state on leaving the house that he’d come back twice, once because he’d got it into his bonce that he’d not packed any clean socks—despite the fact that both Jonty and Mrs. Ward had checked his case—and a second time because he’d not kissed Jonty goodbye.
Poor Orlando; Jonty loved him beyond all reasoning, even when he was grumpy and obstinate, even when he ate the last bull’s-eye in the bowl. Even when Jonty had been lured by Jimmy Harding, almost beyond the power of any man to resist, he’d defied temptation and remained obstinately true to his lover.

“Lead us not into temptation.”  Well, he’d been led, he’d escaped and Papa would have been proud of him, if he’d ever found out, which thank the Lord he hadn’t. Long may that state of affairs—all those states of affairs—continue.


Prejudice

Mrs. Stewart had always tried to drum into her offspring that they should never feel too smug or proud of themselves, as you never knew what was around the corner to trip you up. Or, in this case, what was half way down Castle Hill waiting to knock you off your bike.
Jonty had cut across to drop some papers off at Girton and had luckily escaped with both his reputation and trousers intact, having only braved the porters’ lodge in the process. He set off for St. Bride’s to collect his college post, singing a nice tricky little Gilbert and Sullivan  patter song as he went, with not a care in the world and the prospect of going out with Dr. Panesar that evening and having too much beer and no-one subsequently telling him off for coming home in a state.
Magdalene Bridge was in sight when something blue and hard came whizzing out from his left hand side, sending him sprawling and bending his spokes.
“I’m sorry.” A hand reached under Jonty’s arm and helped him to his feet. “No bones broken, I hope?”
“No thanks to you, you great clod hopping idio…” Jonty finished brushing off his trousers and looked for the first time at the man who had bundled into him. Strewth.

Whoever-it-was had picked up Jonty’s bike and was examining the front wheel. Tall bloke, wearing a coat with what might be military buttons on it, but the material seemed the wrong colour. Face like he’d seen a bit of action in the bottom of a ruck, hair like Jonty’s when he’d just woken and hadn’t quite licked it into shape for the day.
“I’ve made a hell of a mess of this, though.” The man held up the wheel and looked at Jonty through the spokes. “Want me to get it fixed?” He smiled and the temperature in Jonty’s chest went up four degrees, hotter even than when he’d been laid out with the flu.
“No, it’s fine. The porters down at St. Bride’s will sort it out. It’s not the first time I’ve come a cropper and it won’t be the last. They’re used to me.” Jonty returned the smile.
“I’d better help you wheel it there, then—you look a bit shaken.” The man patted Jonty’s shoulder, in a not-quite-avuncular style.

If steam starts hissing from my ears, will the porters notice?
“That would be kind, thank you. Unless...” Jonty suspected this chap must have been going at a terrible lick to have collided with him so spectacularly. More spectacularly than anything he’d suffered on the rugby field, even at the hands of those swine at Old Deer Park. Jonty didn’t want to ask the question, in case the answer was “Yes, I was. Sorry, goodbye”, but he remembered his manners and said, “You seemed to be going somewhere.”
“I was, but it should be fine.” The might-just-be-military stranger produced what Jonty thought was a small, ebony cigarette case, pressed it in several places then started listening to it. If that wasn’t peculiar enough, he started to mutter into it, as well, although the words were lost to Jonty as a great herd of dunderheads bellowed past.
By the time he’d recovered his composure, whatever had been held to his new acquaintance’s shapely ear had been slipped into the greatcoat pocket.
“There’s no hurry anymore. All shipshape and under control.” The man had obviously escaped from a lunatic asylum, but he was a handsome lunatic. “I should introduce myself. Wing Commander Gatrell.” He saluted and Jonty, in a moment of confusion, wondered whether he should curtsey.
“Dr. Stewart.” He held out his hand. “Call me Jonty.”
“Righty-ho. Call me Chris.” The lunatic balanced the bike against his hip then shook Jonty’s hand. “We should get this mended.”
“What? Oh, the bike. Yes. Come along.”
Jonty chose a circuitous route to the porters’ lodge, involving the Backs and several small lanes, stretching the journey time to its absolute limit and avoiding anywhere frequented by Dr. Peters, Ariadne Sheridan or any of the usual mob. By the time they’d arrived he’d found out that his new, possibly lunatic, friend liked chasing ghosts and flying airplanes. Thank goodness he’d actually been listening when Dr. Panesar had been wittering on about the Wrights and Bleriot and various other madmen who wanted to take to the air like birds, so he could keep up his end of the conversation. Maybe this Chris chap was another one from the Panesar mould.

When they reached Bride’s, the bike got deposited into the porters’ hands, with Jonty leaving ten bob along with it to ensure good service.
“Sun’s just about over the yardarm,” he said, squinting up at the sky to add veracity to his comment. “Would you like a wee snifter? I could do with one.”

He didn’t think Chris would appreciate the offer of the dunderheads’ favourite—toast and tea—while the only person in Bride’s who could make a decent cup of coffee was Ariadne Sheridan and he wasn’t prepared to let the Wing Commander within a mile of that minx.
“That sounds good. Are the pubs open?” Chris looked around him as if he thought there might not be a supplier of alcoholic beverages in the entire city.
“Probably, but there’s always the risk of running into dunderheads there.” And being seen and reported on. “I’ve a bottle or three up in my study. I think I can make it there without any more accidents.”

“Sounds just the thing!” Chris smiled and rubbed his hands together.
Just the thing indeed.


Sense

There were distinctly more than three bottles in Jonty’s room.
Chris plumped for a whisky and soda, which his host matched in choice, then plonked his backside in a disreputable looking armchair the other side of the fireplace from Jonty. The chair gave slightly under the impact of Chris’s wiry bottom, jolting his arm on its heavy wooden support.
“Bugger!” He put down his drink, almost all of which he’d saved from the worst of the impact, and fingered his wrist.
“Have you hurt yourself? I’m afraid I was so taken up with that stupid bicycle I never thought to ask whether you’d suffered in the collision.” Jonty leaped out of his chair.

“It’s fine. Just a scratch.” A thin stream of blood began to trickle down Chris’s palm as he held it out for inspection.
“Let the dog see the rabbit.” Jonty examined the wound. “Look, that’s a dirty great cut and it’s split open again. You’re lucky you don’t need a stitch in it. Our college Nurse likes getting out the old cat gut or whatever it is she uses and she’s none too gentle. Let me clean it up and dress it.”

He fetched warm water, a cloth, and a small first aid kit that Mrs. Ward made sure was kept replenished. He gently wiped away the blood—and the oil from the wheel that seemed to cake Chris’s palms—taking particular care of the cut’s ragged edges, then applied a clean piece of lint, binding it all up with bandages of a dazzling whiteness. Almost as dazzling as Chris’s grateful smile.
A set of expressive fingers—slightly grubby from the bicycle’s spokes—closed over Jonty’s. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” Jonty reluctantly let the hand go. Better to clear away his medicinal necessities before he set the water all over the floor. For some reason he didn’t feel too steady. Maybe it had been a mistake, having Scotch on an empty stomach. “Would you fancy going for a spot of lunch?”
“You wouldn’t need to twist my arm. Where do you recommend?”
Jonty made a quick mental inventory of the local eating places. It would be almost blasphemous for the pair of them to go to the Bishop’s Cope and the Pickerel had been eschewed ever since the oyster pie incident. “The University Arms would be good, although we should find you a tie first.”
Chris’s dress sense seemed scandalously casual and over fond of rustic tones; he’d need to be made decent before he could cross the hallowed portals of a proper hotel.
“You could be right.” Chris smiled and felt his collar. “I came out a bit sharpish today—don’t think I considered what sort of company I’d find myself in.” His piercing eyes looked straight into Jonty’s with an expression he’d not seen in years—not in anybody but Orlando, anyway. He was being, if not directly propositioned, then left in no doubt that Chris fancied him. And might just be prepared to act upon the feeling.
“We could come back here afterwards,” Jonty ventured, after a pause in which he had been staring into his guest’s eyes for just a bit too long. “For coffee or something.”
Chris’s’ gaze strayed, alighting on the settee; a deep, soft one, piled with cushions. “That sounds an excellent idea.”
They took a cab to the University Arms, Jonty still feeling shaken from the morning’s experiences. All through the journey—and all through an excellent luncheon—he and his unexpected guest chatted happily, the wine flowing and lubricating the vocal chords.

Jonty decided to pontificate about the story he’d been ploughing through. “Have you read H. G. Wells’s book ‘The Time Machine’?”
“Yes. Although I found it a bit uninventive.”

Uninventive?  What would Dr. P make of that? “Then do you think that such a device would be possible?”
A strange, knowing look passed over Chris’s face.

“I’ll tell you when we’re back at St. Bride’s,” he said. “It’s too public here to divulge my story. I’ll end up being carted off.”
“Oh, I see,” Jonty replied, nodding and not seeing at all.

Persuasion

Back at Jonty’s room, coffee was made and poured, port being eschewed as they were both feeling very nice but didn’t, at present, want to feel any nicer.
“There’s nobody here to overhear us.” Jonty sat down at one end of the sofa, Chris having parked his shapely behind at the other end. “Tell me about time travel and why you believe it’s possible.”
“I don’t just believe it. I know it.” Chris grinned, flashing a set of pearly teeth, which had clearly not suffered on the rugby pitch like his nose had done. “I’ve learned in the last few years that both time and dimensions can be travelled across or through, like ships can sail across and through the oceans.”

“It sounds like you’ve been to one of Dr. Panesar’s lectures.”
“The only Panesar I know of bowls slow left arm. No, I’ve just had some...interesting...things happen. And met some people—well, broadly you’d call them people—who’d make your Panesar and mine look like the most normal people in the world.” He looked over his coffee cup. “I assume your Dr. P is as eccentric as my Monty P?”
“Stark raving bonkers. But the salt of the earth.”
“Same here, then. You don’t suppose your Panesar and mine are the same person?”
Jonty’s head hurt, and not just from the wine. “How can they...oh. Are you suggesting he might have got one of his mad machines to work? Made a double of himself?”
“No. I mean maybe he sailed through time. Like I did.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t quite follow.” Maybe they should have had port. It couldn’t have made Jonty any more bewildered.
“I’ve been thrown through time in the past, just like one of your sailing ships might end up wildly off course and struggling to get back to where it should be. But I’ve also started taking deliberate journeys. That’s how I’m here, now. Thanks to a machine that Ben—he’s a mate of mine—and I, um, acquired.”

If Chris was a lunatic, he was both a highly plausible and highly attractive one.
Jonty frowned, an expression which Orlando said was particularly appealing on the rare occasions it graced his face. “I still don’t think I understand.”
“Why should you? I’m not sure I do, and I’ve lived through it. Right. Where do I start?” Chris drew his fingers through his spiky hair and began to relate a story about a war, and a huge metal flying machine, intended to drop bombs and wreak enormous devastation. Jonty just about followed that bit, but when his guest started talking about a Paranormal Defence Agency and a Faerie Queen who definitely wasn’t Spenser’s, and a vicar who’d have scandalised even Ariadne Sheridan, he gave up listening and concentrated on those eyes and hands, and the rather attractive lips. And, while the idea flitted through his noddle that if Ariadne might be just the girl to sort these elvish folk out—no being, normal or paranormal would dare answer back to her—she couldn’t be led into such temptation as Chris represented. Only those who could resist should be lured.

“I know I’m being terribly dim, but I’m just a Shakespeare scholar. Science not my hot point, so I need to clarify everything.”
Chris gave him the sort of grin which suggested he’d spotted plenty of hot points about Jonty, all of which he’d like to clarify.
“Are you saying you’re from the future?”
“I am, indeed. Over a hundred years. Look.” Chris had rummaged in his pockets as he spoke, for items to confirm his tale. He produced a pen that worked without an ink sac to be filled and a small oblong card of some strange material with shiny numbers, called his visa card that he said was used to pay for things. There was also a device (the one he’d produced after the accident) which, he explained, could be used to communicate with somebody else who’d come back with him. It all seemed surprisingly convincing.
“I suppose you find this all a bit hard to swallow?” He said, stuffing the objects back in his pockets once Jonty had examined them.
“Oh, I believe you. My…” he was about to add that “his” Orlando was quite enthusiastic about the possibilities of air and undersea and space travel, that he believed it was a matter of engineering developments rather than theoretical impossibility and that maybe time travel was much the same thing. For some reason Jonty changed the words to, “…my doubts were dispelled when you showed me some tangible evidence.”

He picked up the last of the peculiar artefacts from the sofa and handed it back to his visitor. Chris reached for the little card, too, their hands briefly touching and a burst of electricity springing between them.
An accidental move or a calculated deliberate act? Jonty couldn’t decide, but either way it made no odds—Chris’s hand closed around his, the fingers gently caressing and soothing. There was a look in the man’s eye that was more than predatory.
What about Orlando?

He and Jonty had been entirely faithful each to the other, never a look for another man or woman let alone a touch of the hand. Jonty knew that he shouldn’t indulge in anything more with Chris than a conversation or the common courtesies of a handshake. Even though Stewart and Coppersmith hadn’t taken the vows of promising to cleave to each other alone, they held them unspoken in their hearts. Jonty was certain he shouldn’t stoop so low as to disgrace himself.
Or he was up until Chris began to kiss him, hot lips on cold, warm sweet breath invading his face and mind. Then he found—to his great astonishment—that he had no inclination to resistance and simply had to give in entirely.

Orlando (who was that exactly? Jonty seemed to have a vague recollection but couldn’t be sure) had faded like the mist on a hot summer’s morning. All that existed was Chris’s warm hands, his own happy heart and a soft sofa.

Sensibility

Jonty put down his pen and flexed his aching fingers.
He could easily dash off an essay, pages long, about the true relationship between Antonio and Bassanio, but this creative writing lark was a right bugger. How Wells and Doyle and all the rest of them managed to produce the volume of stuff they did was beyond him. Two days he’d been writing, on and off, and barely a few thousand words, or so he estimated, to show for it.
He’d wanted so much to write a novel so good that one day he could show to Orlando. He’d have to go back and change the character names, of course, or it’d be a bit obvious just whose nice little fantasy was being related here. Maybe he should move the action to Oxford and make the hero a Zoologist (Ariadne Sheridan would appreciate that, if he was ever brave enough to give her a look at the story) and he’d have to take the character equivalent to Orlando out of the equation altogether, given the adulterous nature of the tale in its present state.

Or maybe he should take out the college element, and make it a novel more like Wells’s “War of the Worlds”, concentrating on what had been the story within the story. Aliens and fairies and a fight for the future of the earth and flying machines and dragons, and who knew what else?
He was proud of inventing a metal flying machine—just how jealous would Orlando be Jonty ever got his hands on one of those?  But perhaps that female vicar idea had been a bit farfetched. The world was bound to change, heavier than air flight might become an everyday thing, but even the harridans at Girton might find the concept of a woman in a dog collar hard to swallow. And Jonty would certainly have to tone her down for Orlando not to foam at the mouth.
Talking of Orlando foaming at the mouth, what should be done with Chris Gatrell? He’d have to stay as the hero, of course; Gatrell had been the gamekeeper down at the Old Manor and he’d taught Jonty to hunt and shoot, before giving up his life to save a drowning toddler. Maybe just introducing a new love interest would do it, rather than the too obvious Cambridge don. A rather bewildered and displaced character, like Dr. Panesar, although maybe that name should be changed to protect him from ridicule. Singh? Patel? Chaudry? The capacity for private jokes seemed limitless. Even Papa’s racehorse, Under the Hill, could be worked in somewhere, surely?
He laid the manuscript aside to be finished off another time, when his mind would be ready to deal with the delicate matter of completing the tale without risking the wrath of either the censor, or his own Mama (who might create somewhat at her beloved boy writing about you-know-what). Papa probably wouldn’t mind so long as you-know-what didn’t happen at you-know-where and involve you-know-who. No besmirching the old college.

Jonty yawned, stretched, grabbed a fresh sheet of foolscap, jotted down an outline for this newly reworked plot then stuffed everything down the back of the sofa, to be returned to when the muse took him.
Which, alas, it never did...


Love

Charlie

Comments

Posted by: helenajust (helenajust)
Posted at: August 2nd, 2013 12:27 pm (UTC)

Thank you for the lovely short story. You had me worried for a bit.

Hope you have a lovely holiday and that you don't have wi-fi and are forced to have a complete break!

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: August 2nd, 2013 12:42 pm (UTC)

My pleasure. And yes, you were supposed to be worried... :)

The only problem with no wifi is the likelihood of coming home to around 1000 e-mails!

Posted by: helenajust (helenajust)
Posted at: August 2nd, 2013 12:45 pm (UTC)

... and then you realise just how many of them are trifling. Put on an "out of office" automatic response and most of them will resolve themselves before you get back, anyway.

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: August 2nd, 2013 12:56 pm (UTC)

Good idea, genius girl.

Posted by: eglantine_br (eglantine_br)
Posted at: August 2nd, 2013 01:05 pm (UTC)

Yes I was worried, but i knew Jonty was in good hands, (yours I mean.)

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: August 2nd, 2013 01:41 pm (UTC)

I have to admit it was a bit of a challenge I set myself, to see if I could have Jonty be unfaithful while not being. If that makes sense.

Posted by: julian_griffith (julian_griffith)
Posted at: August 3rd, 2013 04:37 am (UTC)

I actually said "No, Jonty, don't!" OUT LOUD.

*pours stiff brandies for her own boys, who were briefly horrified*

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: August 3rd, 2013 05:09 am (UTC)

Ah, but can we condemn Jonty for doing what we all do? Making up stories?

*comforts your boys*

Posted by: julian_griffith (julian_griffith)
Posted at: August 3rd, 2013 05:12 am (UTC)

Not at all for making up stories, but you had me fooled!

Love to see Ariadne take on the fairies, though.

My boys appear to be doing a good job of comforting each other, so I'll leave them to it. :D

Posted by: Stevie Carroll (stevie_carroll)
Posted at: August 4th, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC)
Brig -- Good Show by sallymn

Lovely story. Enjoy your hols!

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: August 7th, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC)

Thanks. And we're having a grand time!

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