Authors: Charlie Cochrane
Tags: #erotic MM, #Romance MM
Sheridan was travelling to his wife’s family for the festive
season, which left Lavinia, the sole girl in the brood. She lived near Brighton and had every intention of getting back to her
Lessons in Discovery
mama’s for Christmas day or so she informed her in a call which
ended abruptly when a fall of snow from a tree took the line
“It’ll be a bit quiet without the grandchildren.” Richard
Stewart looked rather disappointed. He’d played with his own
children and now took great delight in chasing Clarence’s and
Sheridan’s little wombats around the house, pretending to be a
crocodile. Lavinia had yet to produce progeny, although she’d had such an unfortunate time of it on her wedding night that Jonty was convinced she now slept in a chastity belt, which was harsh if
quite probably true.
“We’ll make the most of it, we always do. You could
pretend to be a kangaroo and hop at Orlando.”
Orlando looked aghast at this, the suggestion having been
made by Mrs. Stewart as opposed to her son. It wasn’t the only
time that day the elder Stewarts surprised them. Just after
luncheon, when the “lads” were approaching the drawing room in
search of a pack of cards to play Chinese patience, Jonty suddenly put his fingers to his lips, beckoning for Orlando to come near
without a sound.
The door was slightly ajar, enough for them to have a clear
view of their host—with a sprig of mistletoe held high above his head—embracing their hostess. To the men’s astonishment, the
kisses they saw exchanged weren’t at all what they expected from a pair of grandparents. These were the sort of kisses that young lovers shared, that
shared, deep and passionate, full of carnal joy and wonder. Embarrassed at intruding upon such a tender
moment, a swift escape to the library was in order.
“Hot stuff, eh, Orlando? Didn’t think they could still have it
“Jonty!” Orlando still couldn’t adjust to the freedom with
which his lover referred to and addressed his parents. Such things would never have been done in the Coppersmith household.
“I bet they kissed like that the night he proposed.”
“It wasn’t the night of a thousand proposals, was it?”
Orlando giggled like a silly schoolgirl, employing the term that they’d invented for the disastrous evening at the ball which
Helena had described to them a month earlier.
“No, it was here, one New Year. The earl and countess, my
maternal grandparents, were visiting and didn’t notice that their only daughter had slipped into the gardens with the son of the
house. Terribly daring it was of Papa, eluding the chaperone and all.”
“Cold too, I’d have thought.”
“Ah—” Jonty’s eyes lit up with affection, “—they had their
zeal for each other to keep them warm, of course. My father has
always told us the words he used but I never understood them
until that Sunday when Mama spilled the beans. I couldn’t work
out why he felt the need to say ‘If I ask you to marry me, Helena, you won’t knock me out, will you?’”
“Not daft, your dad, is he?”
“No, and he’s a shrewd judge of character. That’s why he
likes you so much. Mama has always been besotted from the first
time you met, but father takes his time to come to a conclusion.
He approves, be assured.”
Orlando, as always when embarrassed, studied his shoes.
“I’m pleased,” he said at last, but the reaching of his hand to take a surreptitious squeeze of Jonty’s was interrupted by the young
lovers who had vacated the drawing room in favour of the library as they needed liquid refreshment of a stimulating kind after their endeavours. They smiled shyly at their two favourite boys and
Mr. Stewart slipped the twig of mistletoe he was still holding into Orlando’s hand, with a wink. “Go and chase the housemaids.”
Orlando felt his cheeks colouring, but managed to make a
riposte. “We find the housemaids too fleet of foot so we’ll have to make do with the kitchen maids.”
Lessons in Discovery
Mrs. Stewart chuckled, appearing more and more like a
schoolgirl. Orlando began to speculate whether Jonty had
inherited his ability at kissing from his father, the end result being that the recipient was turned into a giggling, mushy heap.
“Now, Orlando, I have a question about these papers.” Mr.
Stewart tried to change the conversation to his present favourite topic, but his wife raised her hand.
“Can’t we have one day in which there is no mention of the
Woodville Ward? I’m heartily sick of the doings of the Tudors
and the Yorks and goodness knows who else.” Mrs. Stewart
appealed to Orlando, who could hardly resist the petition.
“Perhaps we could hold things in abeyance for a day or two.
What do you say, Jonty?”
“Well, I’ll be so full of church tonight and goose tomorrow
that you’ll get no sense from me anyway. Let’s call a moratorium until the twenty-seventh, shall we?” He saw his mother’s look of relief and mischievously added, “Then we can get Lavinia’s
Ralph in on the game.”
Mrs. Stewart shuddered. “If you must, dear. I dare say the
sooner these things are translated the sooner we’ll be done with it.”
Mr. Stewart reluctantly agreed, although he insisted on one
last question. “What I can’t come to terms with is the cache of
letters. I understand that Shaa wanted someone to know, at some
point, everything he’d done, especially if he was sufficiently
confident of being far away when the furore was raised. That
smacks of conceit and self-satisfaction. But it’s the specifics, like how the variety of papers got into the hoard. Did Charles stash
them away and if so why are there letters
Breton among them?
Did someone else accumulate them for safekeeping, perhaps
“That’s more than one question—” Mrs. Stewart held up her
hand to stifle protest, “—and you won’t get any answer for two
days.” She sighed happily. “Now who’ll play me at whist?”
Lavinia and Ralph Broad appeared just as the family was
preparing to trudge through the snow, gloved and booted, to the
midnight service. They’d spent the previous night near
Chichester, having been convinced days ago from the sudden
appearance of fieldfares in their garden that bad weather was on the way. They’d progressed to a friend’s house before the blizzard set in and had made the rest of the journey by a combination of
horse, cart and shanks’ pony, carrying their own bags. Lavinia
took after her mother in spirit and her father in intelligence, if not after either of them in a liking for carnal pleasures. They were sent in to be given hot drinks and excused attendance at church, something that wasn’t extended to Orlando, who had subtly
offered to stay at home
“I know church isn’t to your liking, young man, but one has
to do one’s duty,” Mr. Stewart had adjured him. “Anyway,” he
added in a whisper, “Jonty would be so disappointed if you didn’t come along.”
The object of their discussion was up ahead with his mother,
holding her prayer book and laughing like a little boy on the way to the circus. Orlando merely nodded, not daring to answer his
host’s remark in case he got choked up or said something too
obvious. That last night in Jonty’s bed had been on his mind all day, being mulled over and savoured. He could feel his cheeks
burning at the very thought of it and was pleased that the distance to the church would give him a chance to compose himself.
Normally the lesson from Luke was read by the eldest son of
the Stewart family—had been since time immemorial—but now,
with Clarence’s absence, Richard had to find the rector and offer 136
Lessons in Discovery
Jonty’s services instead. He’d have been happy to read out the
nativity story himself, having done it when he was the eldest son, but felt it was more appropriate to maintain at least part of the tradition.
Jonty was delighted to concur in this, of course. The odd
occasion when he’d been allowed to read a lesson here or in
chapel at St. Bride’s had been a treat, especially if it was an Old Testament one full of impossible names. The prospect of
shepherds and angels and good news was charming.
The church was beautifully decorated, candles flickering
among branches of holly and yew, a few Christmas roses lending
a star-like quality to the displays. No hothouse flowers would be found here, just the normal things that Sussex could provide in
winter. Readings were given, prayers said, a perfect sermon
delivered, communion dispensed and gratefully received. Through
it all there were carols, quiet and delicate or loud and joyous, ringing through the air as the bells had rung out wildly to call people to the service.
Yea Lord we greet thee,
born this happy morning.
Jonty’s light tenor soared along with the melody. He turned
to Orlando and saw a sudden expression of delight cross his
friend’s face. For one brief, shining moment he wondered if
Orlando had undergone a road-to-Damascus experience, suddenly
finding a modicum of faith. When Orlando winked at him he
realised that the explanation had to be more down-to-earth,
especially as he seemed very agitated after the service, anxious to get him out of the church and in a position to talk.
“Jonty,” he hissed as they passed through the lych gate, “that
“‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’? One of my favourites.”
“I know.” Orlando beamed. “I won ten bob off you about it
“No need to keep gloating about it.” Jonty stopped abruptly.
“I have. We’d been in chapel and I said there was something
you liked to sing that didn’t rhyme at all. You wouldn’t believe me. And you paid the bet in half crowns.”
Stewart could have kissed him on the spot, but he restrained
himself. “I knew it was all in there somewhere.” He tapped
Orlando’s hat. “Just needed to access it somehow.” He caught
sight of his mother. “Mama! Dr. Coppersmith has recollected
something from last Christmas. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“It calls for champagne at the very least, dear,” she agreed
and, linking one arm with each young man, towed them home to
find some of that enchanting brew.
Christmas lunch proved to be beyond magnificent. Such
food, such drink, Orlando vowed he was going to expire from the
sheer epicurean delight of it all. Jonty, whose tolerance for
alcohol had taken a distinct knock during his illness, was aglow and insisted they take a walk down to the river to exorcise the
aftereffects of overindulgence.
It was a strange, unsteady progress they made, hatted and
booted, be-gloved and be-scarfed, their hostess insisting they
weren’t to put themselves at the risk of a chill. The air was crisp, as was the snow that lay a foot thick and was accumulated in even deeper drifts where the wind had driven it. And most of the time they were careful not to step into anything too treacherous-looking.
The small oxbow pond which Jonty had paddled in as a child
was now fit only for skating. The trees on the little island in the river were bent under the weight of snow, their branches strained almost to breaking point. “That’s where we used to play pillage.”
Orlando had strode on ahead but Jonty was determined to show
him the enchanting little island.
Lessons in Discovery
“You don’t like cribbage.” A voice emerged from the
thicknesses of wool that Mrs. Stewart had wound around
Jonty ran, rather unsteadily, grabbed his friend’s arm and
pulled him back. “Not cribbage, pillage. What buccaneers do. You know, plunder, rapine—”
“I know what the term signifies, I just don’t see what you’re
getting at.” Once faced with the cold air, Orlando had found that he was also slightly inebriated. He spoke carefully and with due dignity, no doubt unwilling to admit to his condition.
Jonty swept his hand in a grand gesture. “My brothers and I,
we used to bring a little boat down and play at pirates.”
“And what, I shudder to ask, did that involve?”
Jonty warmed to his subject, speaking hastily and ignoring
the slurring and hisses that ensued from his rather treasonous
tongue. “Crossing over to the island and razing all the villages there.” He was struck by a glorious thought. “We could play,
when we come next Easter. A bit too parky now, I think.”
“What would we do?” Orlando looked about as enthusiastic
as if his friend had suggested something like catching rats in their teeth.
“Land on that island and leap about a bit with some of the
swords from father’s study. We were never allowed to use them
when I was smaller—it would be glorious to have the excuse to
Orlando grimaced. “Oh joy.”
Jonty was struck by miching mallecho. “If you don’t like
that idea, I’ve another. I could put you ashore, then I’d come back in the boat and I’d jump out and shout things like ‘Avast there, me proud lady’ and you’d run around flapping your arms and