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Authors: Charlie Cochrane

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BOOK: Lessons in Discovery
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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

in them.”

“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. 133

Charlie Cochrane

“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

Breton himself?” 135

Charlie Cochrane

“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
in case

“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

last carol.”

“‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’? One of my favourites.”

“I know.” Orlando beamed. “I won ten bob off you about it

last Christmas.” 137

Charlie Cochrane

“No need to keep gloating about it.” Jonty stopped abruptly.

“You’ve remembered!”

“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

Orlando’s neck.

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

BOOK: Lessons in Discovery
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