Copyright © 2009 Charlie Cochrane
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, June 1906
“A holiday will do us both the world of good.” Jonty was sitting in his chair in the Senior Common Room of St. Bride’s College discussing the long vacation and plans he had for it. These, naturally, involved Orlando, who in the past had usually holidayed by visiting other seats of learning, with the occasional dutiful visit to his grandmother in Kent interspersed among the academic outings.
Orlando had no concept of just going off to some place of leisure and relaxing, frittering the time away on walks or sightseeing or bathing. His eyes widened as his friend recounted the sort of things he’d got up to in the past—the Riviera, visiting archaeological sites, cruising in the Mediterranean. This seemed to be yet another alien world the sophisticated Jonty was introducing to his naïve friend. When he suggested they should go somewhere together, Orlando was appalled.
“Consider it, Dr. Coppersmith, the world is our oyster. Now, before you begin to quibble about the costs, I would remind you my grandmother left her favourite grandson extremely well off, so money is no object. Name where you would like to go and we’ll organise it. Shall it be Monte Carlo or the rose red city of Petra?” A glorious smile lit Jonty’s face as he made the suggestion, brightening the Stygian gloom which usually infested the room.
“Must we go anywhere, Dr. Stewart?” Orlando was quite content here in his own college among the places and things he knew well. No further unrest had come to St. Bride’s since the murders of the previous winter, allowing his love affair with Jonty to blossom as beautifully as the magnolia trees gracing the Fellows’ Garden. In his eyes, life was perfect here and now, so why should he go off searching for anything else?
Jonty narrowed his eyes. “Of course we must. I have no intention of spending my long vac festering here. If you won’t go with me, I’ll go alone.” He sniffed. “Though I have gone alone on holiday too often in the past. I was hoping so much that you would see fit to coming with me, so we could share the excitement. Think of the novelty, the exotic food, the flora and fauna that East Anglia can only dream of. Strange languages. Mysterious sights.”
It was the novelty Orlando couldn’t stop thinking of, or so he told his friend. He’d encountered quite a lot of new things these last few months, particularly when he and Jonty were first acquainted. Now he was hoping for a period of relative calm before the new academic year ensued. The minute he looked into Jonty’s eyes, he knew he was beaten—the man was desperate for this break, the chance of a trip with his lover at his side. Who was Orlando to deny him it?
They eventually reached a compromise—three weeks’ leave, travelling no further than the Channel Islands. Jonty would find them some nice establishment on Jersey and book tickets for the ferry from Southampton. It would be adventurous, although not too much so; the food would be English (with perhaps a little native cuisine included) and there would be no language barrier. Orlando was particularly pleased about that, as modern languages were not his forte—moreover, as he admitted, the thought of being around exotic foreign ladies terrified him.
For the next week Jonty beavered away with the Red Guide, simultaneously picking his mother’s brains about hotels, the Honourable Mrs. Stewart being a great source of information about many things, until finally settling for the Beaulieu at St. Aubin.
“It boasts Three acres of terraced gardens with lawns, Private Tennis Courts, Fishing, and Bathing from the Hotel,” he gleefully explained to Orlando, waving the brochure about. “There are private bathrooms, so you won’t risk ladies walking in on you should you forget to shoot the bolt. The additional cost for that will only be sixpence per night, so you won’t be risking bankrupting me. Convenient for the train, too.”
“It sounds delightful, Jonty,” Orlando said, with liar written plain on his face. “You should book it.”
“Already done. They alleged they were fully booked, August being high season, until they found themselves up against Mama. She spoke to the manager, the owners, probably to King Edward himself—she’s wangled us the best two-bedroom suite in the house. I never really appreciated how wonderful it is to have quite such a formidable mother until now…”
“Do you still want ‘Jerusalem’ sung at your funeral, Dr. Coppersmith?” Jonty began to gently rub his friend’s back as the poor man clung to the ship’s rail, green to the gills as though desperately trying to fathom out whether he would feel better if he were sick again or not.
“I no longer care, Dr. Stewart. I think I would prefer to die with the minimum of fuss, plus the maximum of expediency. I have enjoyed these last ten months, though I’m greatly afraid I won’t survive the journey.” Orlando finished his speech with dignity, then sped off to the toilet again.
Jonty looked out at the sea and tried not to think of what would be going on in the gentlemen’s conveniences. He felt a more than a bit guilty about bringing Orlando on this trip, but how was he to have any idea that his lover would suffer quite so much from seasickness? Orlando hadn’t even known it himself, having been on nothing more adventurous than the paddle steamer out of Ramsgate.
There were at least two hours of the voyage left before they could feel decent, solid ground under their feet again, then there was the awful prospect of having to do the journey all over again, back to Southampton, in a fortnight’s time.
The nightmare of the crossing eventually ended, all the passengers reaching terra firma with much thanks. Orlando swore, afterwards, he’d felt tempted to kneel down and kiss the solid earth beneath his feet at the quay. Plenty of carriages were waiting for custom, so they were soon riding around the wide bay to St. Aubin, able at last to admire the innocuous-looking waters which had managed to wreak such havoc on a delicate digestive tract.
Orlando was recovered enough to smile when he saw their hotel. It was everything the rather overblown brochure had promised and more besides. Their bags were whisked away with just the right amount of efficient deference, the reception clerk was welcoming without being unctuous. Even the suite, once Orlando was entirely convinced it was quite normal for friends of the same sex to take sets of rooms together, was pronounced to be above reproach.
They hadn’t long begun to unpack before Jonty suggested it was time to find a small sherry or some such before dinner. He assured his friend it would be the right medicine to enable him to recover his appetite enough to tackle at least some of the delights that they’d spied on the hotel menu.
Orlando was rather affronted, wanting everything to have found its proper place in the suite before they ventured out, but Jonty insisted, so he struck his colours. Orlando changed into his dinner jacket, newly purchased on his lover’s orders, as the old one looked more suited to the stalls at the music hall. Properly attired, they went down to the bar.
The dining room was full, mainly married couples of various ages, from the bashful newlyweds who sat in the corner blushing at every remark made to them to the elderly couple—all wrinkles and bright smiles—who sat at a table directly opposite the two Cambridge fellows. This couple, the Tattersalls, had taken a great shine to the two young men as they’d chatted with them over pre-dinner drinks, insisting they reminded them of their sons at a similar age. They seemed won over by Jonty’s smile, his obvious good breeding, and Orlando’s gravity and beautiful manners.
There were some families at dinner—two had brought their grownup daughters with them. Both girls were plain and seemed rather smitten with the two young men, if blushes or girlish sighs were anything to go by. The only other unmarried couple present was a man perhaps three or four years older than Jonty, accompanied by what could only have been his father, given the strong family resemblance. The younger was a handsome chap whose dark curly hair framed deep blue eyes.
Not that the two fellows of St. Bride’s had eyes for anyone else, but one couldn’t help noticing these things. They also couldn’t help noticing the palpable tension between the two men, shown in their strained politeness and inability to maintain eye contact with each other.
After dinner Jonty and Orlando made up a four for bridge in the sun lounge with the Tattersalls. They proved excellent company, the lady in particular having an impish sense of humour. She chatted away to Jonty, the pair of them giggling like two schoolchildren, despite her being old enough, just, to be his grandmother.
The father and son formed their own bridge four with another married couple, although they were obviously not having half the enjoyment that Orlando and his friend were. Jonty was fascinated, keeping a surreptitious eye on them all evening.
When they got back to their room, Jonty had clearly decided it was character analysis time, despite the fact that Orlando was struggling to arrange, into some sort of acceptable order, the mass of items his friend had strewn everywhere in an attempt to unpack. “That young man’s not happy to be here, Orlando. I think his father has made him come, while he’d rather be at home with his sweetheart, not entertaining a surly old curmudgeon.”
“I hope you don’t feel like you’ve been dragged along to entertain a surly young curmudgeon.” Orlando grinned. “Anyway, it’s nothing to do with us.” He picked up the tie he’d worn for the journey, finding somewhere to put it carefully away.
“Aren’t you even a little bit curious? This is such an opportunity to meet new people, the sort of folk we might never meet at college. Like that delightful old couple—she certainly had the measure even of you at cards, Dr. Coppersmith.” Jonty yawned, stretching like a great ginger cat. “This is going to be such a delightful holiday. The hotel is perfect, the food is excellent, I have great hopes for the company and you look less green than you did this morning. Such a lovely colour in your cheeks now.” He drew his hand down his lover’s face, across his lips. It was the first time they’d touched with any degree of intimacy since they’d left St. Bride’s. The caress made Orlando shudder afresh, as if they were touching for the first time. “We may have two bedrooms, but do we really need to use them both? It’d be easy enough to slip across before the early morning tea arrives, if we set your alarm clock.”
Orlando looked up, determined to refuse. He was still feeling skittish about staying in a suite of rooms with his lover. Sharing a bed was beyond any imagining although, ironically, the item in question was a glorious double bed such as he’d dreamed, on many an occasion, of sleeping in with Jonty. “I’m not sure I feel sufficiently recovered from the journey to want to do anything except sleep.” He studied his hands, the shirt he was trying to hang up, anything but his lover.
“That would be fine. I’m as happy to simply slumber next to you as anything else. There are plenty of other days for romance—we could just be fond friends tonight, or pretend to be that old couple we played cards with. Still very much in love yet beyond the thralls of passion.” Jonty gently touched his friend’s hand.
Orlando felt as if a spider was crawling down the back of his neck, and his discomfiture must have been plain. “What if we slept apart, just for tonight?”
They had reached the crux of why he’d been so keen not to come on holiday. He was frightened of taking their relationship outside the college walls, displaying it to the world. Within the ivy-clad, male-dominated locality of St. Bride’s, it had been easy to maintain a friendship which was more than close without raising a suspicious eyebrow. He’d spent little time with Jonty out of Cambridge, apart from a visit or two to London, where they’d stayed in the relatively safe environs of the Stewart family home. To be with the man in a strange place was to put himself at risk of making a demonstration of his affection by an unguarded look or touch.
Any footman could walk through the streets of town in his bowler-hatted Sunday best, hand in hand with a parlour maid. A pair of dons could never be allowed such freedom; not in Cambridge and certainly not on Jersey. If they ever were mad enough to be tempted, all they had to do was remember the law—two years of hard labour and public disgrace would be no holiday.
Jonty slammed down the toothbrush he’d been unpacking. “Oh, go and sleep in the bath if you want to! I haven’t the heart to put up with this nonsense. I’m going to sleep in my own bed, in my own soft pyjamas, with my own book. If you change your mind and decide to join me, make sure you knock, because I might just have found other company.” He spun on his heels, entering his bedroom with a slam of the door which caused the windows to shake.
Orlando contemplated opening the door again to give his friend a piece of his mind, but didn’t want to end up in a full-blown row in a public building. He also contemplated going in and giving Jonty the most comprehensive kissing he’d ever received. He decided against that, as it was probably exactly what the little swine wanted, so must be avoided at all costs. Even at the cost of a miserable night alone.
Eventually, after tidying everything to his own immaculate standards, he trudged his weary way into his bedroom and readied himself for sleep.
At two o’clock in the morning the heavens opened, torrential rain driving against the windowpanes while thunder pealed as loud as cannon fire. Orlando leapt out of bed without a second thought, making his way through their little sitting room into Jonty’s bedroom. He didn’t knock, knowing by now that any threats from his friend about finding company were all bluster, to find him standing by the window, shivering.
“Come on, Jonty—you’ll get cold, you know.” Orlando put his arms around the man’s shoulders, which felt icy through his silken pyjama jacket. Jonty both hated thunderstorms and was fascinated by them. Orlando had often found him looking out of the window of his room at St. Bride’s while the lightning rent the sky, making the college’s very foundations seem to shake. He could go into an almost dreamlike state, distracted and seemingly unaware of his surroundings, having to be coaxed back gently into the real world. Orlando wondered whether some of the awful things which had happened to Jonty at school had taken place during storms, although he’d never been brave enough to ask.
Orlando took his lover to bed, tenderly soothing him back to sleep, holding tight as each new clap of thunder brought a shuddering through Jonty’s frame. Eventually the storm passed eastwards and they could both fall asleep, Jonty as content as a child in his mother’s arms. Orlando felt masterful, protective and very much in love. If anyone walked in, he had a legitimate medical excuse to be present. Or so he assured himself.
Thanks to Orlando’s innate body clock, the chambermaid delivering the early morning tea found the two men in their own separate beds, above reproach.
Jonty soon brought his cup into the other room and snuggled under the sheet, the night having been too muggy to need blankets. “Will you wear that tie today, the one I bought you at Easter? The ladies would be very impressed.”
Only a snort came in reply. “Most of the ladies I meet seem impressed at anything.”
“Do you meet very many ladies? Seems you’re living a double life, then, because I never see you talking to them.”
Orlando thumped Jonty around the back of the head with his pillow. “Imbecile. Well, I’m going to take advantage of the ‘private bathroom at sixpence a night extra’ to prepare myself for the day. You can shave at the basin while I’m in the tub.”
Tea shot out of Jonty’s nose, making him splutter in an undignified manner. The thought of Orlando issuing an invitation to be viewed in the bath—such a thing hadn’t happened since the afternoon the man had got drunk at St. Thomas’s college, not even when they’d shared a bathroom while staying at the Stewart family home. It seemed marvellously out of character.
“I’ll certainly take up the offer or we’ll never see breakfast. I can smell the bacon already, although that might just be an olfactory illusion. Breakfast, then church—I saw you wince, but we are going—then off to the beach.” Jonty squeezed his lover’s thigh. “I saw you wince when I mentioned beach as well, so you’ll just have to apply your stiff upper lip.”
Jonty sat down on a rock to get on with removing his shoes and socks.
“What are you doing?”
“Going paddling, Orlando.” The holiday air had affected them both, so using Christian names now seemed acceptable, even outside their suite. Jonty suddenly looked up at the awkward figure which towered over him. “Oh, Orlando. You’d never been in the Bishop’s Cope, you’d never been punting—please, please don’t tell me that you have never paddled.”
“I have actually paddled on a number of occasions, when I was taken to see my grandmother in Kent.” Orlando attempted to look a man at once dignified and completely au fait with the delights of the seaside.
Jonty assumed a sly look. “When exactly was the last time you indulged in this wild activity?”
Orlando mumbled, “When I was seven.”
Jonty giggled. “Then you had better ruddy well get your socks off and your trouser bottoms rolled up, because you’re coming with me.”
Orlando felt distinctly miffed. He contemplated refusing to do any such thing, but decided to obey orders, stuffing his socks into the toes of his shoes, then tying the laces together in imitation of his lover. The reason for this strange procedure became obvious when Jonty slung his shoes around his neck, leaving his hands free to continue picking up stones for skimming or shells for stuffing in his pockets.
As he watched Jonty turning over rocks to search for tiny crustaceans which he then let run over his palms, it struck Orlando more than ever that at heart his friend was just an overgrown boy. An enormous crab got rooted out, a good three inches across the carapace, which Jonty expertly picked up to wave at his friend.
“What a whopper—look!” He passed the creature over, grinning as Orlando inevitably grabbed it the wrong way, earning a sharp nip on his fingers.
He flung the offending animal away, shaking his sore hand and cursing like a sailor.
“Such language!” Jonty hooted with laughter. “Look, take him across the back, so all your fingers are out of his reach.” He demonstrated the technique, then made his friend do the same.
Orlando took up the vicious creature, more gingerly than if it had been a bomb, breaking into a smile of delight when the method worked. “He’s a beauty. Not big enough for tea, though.” Laughing, he placed the crab down among the rocks, returning to follow his friend.
The tide was ebbing, revealing rock pools full of shrimps which Jonty caught in his hand, then let spring out of his grasp with a giggle. Orlando soon learned that game too, proving much more adept at catching the little invertebrates and the darting fishes than his lover. It was like being a child again, except there hadn’t been that much room for play in his childhood, so there was time to be caught up. Yet again, he could experience a freedom with Jonty that he’d never known before they met.
Jonty picked up a huge ormer shell, holding it to the light so that they could both admire the mother-of-pearl glittering in the sunlight.
“Indeed.” Although Orlando didn’t mean the shell so much as the man holding it.
Tired, eventually, of annoying the occupants of the rock pools, they walked along the waterline, the warm sea just lapping over their feet. The occasional wave came in with slightly more force, making them jump out of the way, splashing and laughing.
It took a whole mile of wandering for Jonty to begin to make mischief, starting to splash just a little too deliberately in a particular direction. Orlando didn’t notice at first, blaming the splatters on his trousers on the swell. When he did realise what was going on, he handled the situation admirably, deciding that revenge is a dish best eaten cold. While he would have loved to dunk Jonty head to foot, there and then, more pleasure was to be had by quietly removing himself from flying water range before making his plans.
Seaweed wasn’t the most pleasant thing to handle straight from the sea. Jonty usually found it disagreeable on the feet when he had to wade through it, but it was truly disgusting when someone forcibly stuffed it down the back of his trousers. Orlando had executed his vengeance.
“You’re no longer dealing with some naïve young man who’s spent all his days in a haze of academia. I’m learning, so you’d better watch your step.” Orlando looked smug, strikingly handsome in his triumph.
Jonty fished down his pants to extract the offending piece of algae. He flung it at his friend, missed by a mile, then laughed. “I’ve only ever wanted you to be my equal, Orlando. I’m looking forward enormously to the day when you tease me both mercilessly and with aplomb.” He reached out his hand to take his lover’s, remembered they were in public, shrugged in apology and walked on.
They strolled the length of the beach till Jonty’s pockets were so full of shells he’d begun to rattle. Drying off their feet on their handkerchiefs proved largely ineffective, as did hopping madly about so that the clean, dry foot couldn’t be infected with sand before it made its way into its sock. Sand always found its way into every available crevice and was bound to begin to creep into their shoes, regardless, before they were halfway off the beach. The long walk back to Corbière station would be uncomfortable, although it wouldn’t spoil the delights of the previous hours.
Jonty felt the glow which always came with having enlightened his friend, introducing some new pleasure—innocent or not—into the man’s life. Orlando had shown a spark of delight in having effectively taken a rare revenge and Jonty wondered whether he was plotting other ways of getting one over on him. This holiday is showing every sign of being more than enjoyable.
On the station platform they saw the young man from the hotel looking much happier without his usual companion. He acknowledged them with a tilt of the head, which was all the encouragement Jonty needed to effect an introduction. “I believe you’re staying at the Beaulieu, as we are? My name is Stewart. This is my friend Coppersmith.” Jonty waved his hand to indicate Orlando, who had yet to venture any closer.
“They call me Ainslie, sir. Matthew Ainslie. I’m delighted to meet you.” The man held out his hand, producing an engaging smile in the process.
“Have you been on Jersey long, Mr. Ainslie?”
“Matthew, I insist you call me Matthew.” He smiled again. “I…we arrived three days ago. My father and I always come to one of the Channel Islands once a year—he feels the air agrees with him.”
“I hope it will agree with us, too. It’s our first time here and I’ve been very pleasantly surprised so far. I dare say we’ll be picking your brains about the best places to visit.”
“Your friend over there is enjoying himself, too?” Ainslie indicated Orlando, who looked nothing like a man enjoying himself.
A man trying to win the most surly face competition, perhaps. “I believe he is, although he doesn’t often show it. He enjoyed playing bridge last night with the Tattersalls. Such a delightful couple.”
Ainslie smiled. “They beat us soundly on Friday night. I wouldn’t like to meet Mrs. Tattersall in a rubber if high stakes were in order, although she could charm the birds out of the trees.” His face suddenly changed. “Please excuse me. I can see my father—he’ll want me to attend him.” A smile and the man was gone, leaving Jonty’s interest more piqued than ever.
After another excellent dinner, the fours for bridge were different from Saturday evening. The Ainslies played against Mrs. Tattersall, who was paired with Orlando, Jonty and Mr. Tattersall having opted to observe the fun. The Tattersall-Coppersmith pair trounced the opposition, even when they were obviously not trying, which made it ten times worse. The elder Ainslie’s temper was beginning to fray as rubber after rubber went down, until he snapped at his son, on whom no blame could be fairly laid. Matthew was a far more competent player than his father.
For Jonty the fascination lay not with the play (that was a foregone conclusion) but in what the eyes around the table were doing. Orlando watched Ainslie’s hands in fascination as he skidded the cards over the table. This man was a talented shuffler and dealer, the sort who would be interesting to see playing alongside a competent partner. While Orlando watched Ainslie’s hands, the man watched his. Orlando had long, delicate fingers, fingers with which Jonty was intimately acquainted, which he found both beautiful and capable of causing havoc in the bedroom. Ainslie followed the graceful movements his partner’s digits made as they picked up and sorted his hand, caressing the backs of the cards.
Jonty observed the way that Ainslie was watching. He would not forget it.