Lessons for Survivors (A Cambridge Fellows Mystery)
This title is part of the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries universe.
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A more than professional interest . . . a more than personal intrigue.
Orlando Coppersmith should be happy. WWI is almost a year in the past, he’s back at St. Bride’s College in Cambridge, his lover and best friend Jonty Stewart is at his side again, and—to top it all—he’s about to be made Forster Professor of Applied Mathematics. And although he and Jonty have precious little time for an investigative commission, they can’t resist a suspected murder case that must be solved in a month so a clergyman can claim his rightful inheritance.
But the courses of scholarship, true love, and amateur detecting never did run smooth. Orlando’s inaugural lecture proves almost impossible to write. A plagiarism case he’s adjudicating on turns nasty with a threat of blackmail against him and Jonty. And the murder investigation turns up too many leads and too little hard evidence.
Orlando and Jonty may be facing their first failure as amateur detectives, and the ruin of their professional and private reputations. Brains, brawn, the pleasures of the double bed—they’ll need them all to lay their problems to rest.
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“I am standing still.”
“You aren’t. You’re jiggling about like a cat after a pigeon.” Jonty Stewart made a final adjustment to Orlando Coppersmith’s tie, then stood back to admire his efforts. “I think that’s passable.”
“You should wear your glasses, then you wouldn’t have to go back so far. You can’t use that old excuse about your arms getting shorter so you have to hold the paper farther away.” Orlando turned to the mirror, the better to appreciate the perfectly tied knot. “Faultless. Thank you.”
The hallway of Forsythia Cottage benefited from the full strength of the morning sun through the windows and fanlight, enough for even the vainest creatures to check every inch of their appearance in the mirror before they sauntered out onto Madingley Road. Still, what would the inhabitants of Cambridge say to see either Jonty or Orlando less than immaculate, especially on a day such as this?
“It’s as well you had me here to help, or else you’d have disgraced yourself and St. Bride’s with it.” Jonty smiled, picking at his friend’s jacket. If there were any specks on it, Orlando had to know they were far too small for Jonty to see without his glasses. “I’m so proud of you. Professor Coppersmith. It will have a lovely ring to it.”
Orlando nodded enthusiastically, sending a dark curl springing rebelliously up, a curl that needed to be immediately flattened, although even the Brilliantine he employed recognised it was fighting a losing battle.
His hair might have been distinctly salt and pepper, but he was still handsome, lean but not angular, nor running to fat like some of his contemporaries. He’d turned forty when the Great War still had a year to run, so there was a while yet before he hit the half century. Jonty was a year closer to that milestone and never allowed to forget it. “I won’t believe it until I see the first letter addressed to me by that title.”
“Conceit, thy name is Coppersmith.” Jonty nudged his friend aside and attended to his own tie. Silver threads lay among his own ruddy-gold hair now, and the blue eyes were framed with fine lines. He knew he could still turn a few heads and young women told him he was handsome. If the young women concerned were his nieces . . . well, that didn’t invalidate their opinions.
Orlando snorted. “Conceit? That’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.” He slicked back his hair again, frowning.
“You seem unusually pensive, even for the new Forster Professor of Mathematics.” Jonty stopped his grooming, turned, and drew his hand down Orlando’s face, remapping familiar territory. Coppersmith and Stewart. Stewart and Coppersmith. They went together like Holmes and Watson, Hero and Leander, or strawberries and cream. Colleagues, friends, lovers, and amateur detectives, they were partners in every aspect of their lives, and neither of them entirely sure whether the detection or the intimacy was the most dangerous part.
“I was just thinking how sad it is that neither your parents nor my grandmother are here today.” Orlando fiddled with his tiepin, at which Jonty slapped his hand away and straightened the offending object once more.
“Leave that alone. I’d only just got it right.” Jonty stuffed a hat into Orlando’s hands—not the one he was going to wear today, but one he could twist nervously to his heart’s content, with no damage done. “Perhaps it’s as well they’re not here for your inaugural lecture. They might have had to put on a magnificent act to cover their boredom. Computable numbers? Hardly the stuff of gripping entertainment.” Jonty smiled, trying to keep his lover’s spirits up. He knew how deeply Orlando still felt the horrible series of losses he’d suffered during the years of the Great War.
So many people he’d been close to, now gone; it had left a gap in his life that Jonty knew even he couldn’t entirely fill. Not that, as Orlando swore, he loved Jonty any the less—nor, as Orlando frequently said, was there any less of him to love. The reports of the college veterans’ rugby matches still referred to him as a little ball of muscle, and Orlando said he was beautiful beyond the power of words or numbers—even imaginary ones—to describe. Both of which were nice, if perhaps biased, compliments.
“Thank you for your vote of confidence.” Orlando ruffled his lover’s hair, grinning smugly as Jonty scurried back to the mirror to begin priddying again.
“My pleasure. I’m looking forward to the lecture, of course. I’ve a list of keywords that I’ll tick off as they come. If I get them all, I’ll win five quid off Dr. Panesar.”
“Does he have a list as well? Does everyone?” When they’d first met, Orlando would have been thrown into a panic at such a statement. Now he was older, wiser, and alive to Jonty’s attempts to make game of him. “And do I get a cut of the proceeds? I’d write my lecture specifically to help out the highest bidder.”
“That’s the spirit. I’ll start the bidding.” Jonty leaned forward and kissed Orlando as tenderly as when they’d first been courting. “That’s the deposit. You can guess what constitutes the rest of the payment.” He was pleased when Orlando, visibly happier, returned the kiss; he couldn’t let Orlando succumb to melancholy now. The man might start blubbing through his inauguration.
“Oh, Lord, look at my hair!” The romantic interlude earned Orlando a return to the mirror to repair the damage to his coiffure. “No more of those before the big event, thank you.”
“We’re not turning into a pair of sissies, are we? I don’t ever remember spending as much time in front of a looking glass, not even when I was in my twenties.” Jonty resisted the temptation to have another glance at his reflection.
“This is an occasion without precedent. We can take as long as we want. You said it was a matter of the college’s honour—surely we can’t have people thinking St. Bride’s is inhabited by scarecrows!” Inhabited by old duffers, eccentrics, and a pair of amateur detectives who had the habit of getting their names into The Times, certainly. “Anyway, make the most of that kiss. There may be no more forthcoming before I give my lecture.”
“That’s hardly the spirit I expect, Orlando. If I were ever to gain a Chair in Tudor Literature or some such wonderful thing, I’d insist on regular romantic activity to fortify and inspire me. A man can’t live by hair pomade and computation alone.” Jonty made good the knot in his lover’s tie for what seemed the umpteenth time. “How far have you got with your first draft, by the way?”
“First draft? At this rate, it’ll never get written. Too many distractions. You being at the top of the list.” Orlando screwed up his face. “Perhaps I should simply write it on the subject of ‘Equations quantifying the known nuisance values of Jonathan Stewart.’”
“That would be impossible to quantify, I’m afraid. Didn’t you tell me there are no numbers bigger than infinity?” Jonty pulled down his lover’s brow to reachable level, but had second thoughts about kissing it, just in case hair and tie both got mussed up again. “If you’re that distracted, we should deem it protocol to sleep in separate beds the next few nights. Then you could scribble away to your heart’s content.”
“It could be done. And the thought of resumption of bed sharing would be a positive incentive to get the wretched thing sorted out. I need something to give me the proverbial boot up the backside.” Orlando deliberately moved away from the mirror. “Right, that’s it. If I’m not fit for public view now, I never will be. Thank goodness it’s just the official bit today and the lecture’s all of a fortnight away.”
“At least that’ll give Lavinia the chance to buy a dress suitable for the occasion. She’s dragging her heels about getting the right outfit. Worse than you. And she’s almost as nervous as you are. Feels she’s representing all the Stewarts and has to be on her best behaviour.” Lavinia Broad, Jonty’s sister and the matriarch of the family now that their formidable mother had died, was developing into the role with surprising dignity and good sense.
“She’s bound to be better behaved than you, so everyone will be relieved.” Orlando smiled, a twinkle in his eye to show that he didn’t mean any—or at least much—of what he’d said.
“And you’ll have Antonio there, to represent your illustrious relatives.” Jonty took out his spectacles and gave them a special polish in honour of the occasion. Not that he intended to wear them. “He can sit next to Lavinia, looking proud and patriarchal.”
“At this point, I’m glad my grandmother had to change her name. Professor Artigiano del Rame sounds a bit pretentious. And they’d never manage to paint all of that on the sign at the bottom of the staircase at Bride’s. They had enough trouble with O’Shaughnessy.” Orlando made one final adjustment to his jacket, ignored Jonty’s whisper of I was right when I said ‘Vanity, thy name is Coppersmith,’ and turned to the door. “It shows you what a state I’m in that I don’t object to turning up in the metal monster. If I was quite myself, I’d have insisted on a horse-drawn cab.”
“The metal monster” was one of the kinder ways Orlando referred to whichever one in the procession of Jonty’s cars was currently standing outside the house, allegedly polluting the vicinity. Only the fact that one of the earlier incarnations had helped save Jonty’s life made the possession of an automobile tolerable, even if the current version was one that Orlando deemed deficient in the number of required wheels.
“You love it, really. Especially since we got the Morgan.” Jonty grabbed their academic gowns, opened the front door, and ushered his lover through it. “Come on, let’s get the bride to the altar.”
“Not the analogy I’d have chosen, but it’ll do. Lead on, Macduff.”
“Lay on, Macduff, you mean. You’re worse than the dunderheads at times.” He closed the door behind them and took a deep breath of the autumn air. “It’s going to be a glorious day, in more ways than one.” As they reached the car, he dropped his voice to barely a whisper. “That moratorium on my bed doesn’t have to start until tomorrow. Only don’t think about that fact while you’re being inaugurated or invested or installed or whatever it is they’re about to do to you, as you won’t look very good in the photographs with a lascivious grin all over your gob.”
Investiture or not, Orlando couldn’t resist calling into the porters’ lodge en route to see if he had any post. It was customary for him when entering or even passing St. Bride’s to see if anything of importance had appeared in his pigeonhole. Or failing that, just some desperate set of calculations from one of the dunderheads. No matter how Jonty tried to break him of the habit—“Once a day is enough for any man, and I do mean checking your post and not anything else, Mr. Filthy Mind.”—the practice was ingrained.
“Dr. Coppersmith!” Summerbee, head of the porters’ lodge in spirit if not in title, greeted him with a huge grin. “The lads were hoping you’d drop in today. We all wanted to wish you the very best.”
“Thank you.” Orlando couldn’t help grinning in return. He’d always liked the denizens of the lodge, and today they felt like the absolute salt of the earth. There couldn’t be a college in Cambridge with a more stalwart set of men in its employ, and they’d taken good care of him back in the darkest days when it had seemed like there was no light left in the world.
Tait, a relatively new porter who still seemed totally in awe of Orlando, whispered something to his colleague.
“Ah, thank you for reminding me. Dr. Coppersmith, would it be an imposition to ask a favour? The lads wondered if there’ll be any photographs taken today for the newspapers and the like. And if so, maybe we could have a copy of one of them, to go up in the lodge?” Summerbee looked imploringly and as like an eager schoolboy as a fourteen-stone, middle-aged man could manage.
“If there are, you can.” Orlando felt slightly overwhelmed by such a request; it always astonished him that anyone should take a genuine and affectionate interest in his affairs.
“Thank you, sir.” Summerbee bent his head as Tait conveyed another whispered message. “Oh yes, that’s right. And if it could feature Dr. Stewart as well, that would be very gratifying.”
Gratifying? Orlando couldn’t help wonder if the porters had twigged the exact nature of the domestic arrangements up at Forsythia Cottage. Well, if they had, they didn’t seem to be showing any signs of disapproval. Not in public, anyway.
“I doubt we’ll be able to keep the little blighter out of range of any cameras. Remember when His Majesty visited the college? Dr. Stewart seemed to get his nose into just about every photograph that was taken.”
“He did that, sir. Mind you, he’s what you might call photogenic.” Summerbee grinned. “We could do a roaring trade with the ladies if we made postcards from those pictures of him dating back to when he was naught but a student here.”
“I beg your pardon?” Orlando had once been taken to see The Tempest and had lost the plot around Act II, Scene 1. He felt the same way now.
“We keep photograph albums of college life—the students and the dons, the sports teams and the like. They go back years. When we have our Christmas party here, some of our missuses and sweethearts like to look through them.” Summerbee tipped his head towards the inner sanctum where the picture albums were stored. “They always pick out Dr. Stewart, especially the one of him with the rest of the rugby fifteen.”
“So long as it’s not a picture of me milking a goat in the lodge, we should be thankful for small mercies.” Jonty, distinctly red-faced as though he’d heard every word of the praise, entered the lodge bearing a handful of letters. “Mr. Summerbee, have you any idea how these ended up in my room and not in my pigeonhole?” He held up his bundle of post.
“Wasps.” Tait at last seemed to find the courage to speak aloud, even if it was only in a monosyllable.
“Wasps?” Jonty and Orlando asked in unison.
“Yes. We’ve got a wasps’ nest behind the wainscoting and we had the little blighters smoked out only yesterday. Trouble is, the smoke seeped through and was pouring out of a crack in the wood.” Tait, gaining in confidence, illustrated his story with dramatic gestures representing pumping smoke and fleeing insects. “It was coming out into your pigeonhole and Dr. Panesar’s, so we decided to rescue both sets of post in case either got damaged. We felt it was safest to put it in your rooms, rather than leave it in the lodge and risk it going astray . . .” Tait’s burst of courage was clearly waning under Orlando’s beady eye. “I’m sorry if we overstepped the mark.”
“Not at all.” Jonty smiled, dispersing all worries about people fiddling with his personal property. “Better safe than sorry.”
Orlando shuddered at the thought of wasps, smoke, or worse still, porters interfering with his letters. “I think I’ll just nip my post up to my study, if there’s any risk of arthropod intervention.” He smiled as if he’d made a wonderfully witty joke, and the porters indulged him with a chuckle. Naturally, it was human intervention that would have bothered Orlando more than the other two.
“It shouldn’t happen again, sir.” Summerbee was conciliatory. “We think we’ve got shot of all our unwanted visitors. A shame we can’t employ the same techniques when we get waifs and strays from the college next door in here.”
The college next door—how every true St. Bride’s man loathed it. Often, although not always, with good cause. A den of plagiarists, scoundrels, cads, and cheats, or so every good Bride’s man swore. The archenemy, camped at the gates. Jonty always said every dark cloud had a silver lining, and maybe he’d be proved right. All the great and the good of the mathematics department had been called to attend an urgent meeting on Thursday morning to discuss a case of possible plagiarism by one of their members, which was not an enticing prospect. But at least the suspect was someone from the college next door.
“Maybe you could get your man with the smoke to make a secret raid on Dr. Owens’s lodge and see if he dislodges something worse than wasps.” Orlando sniffed, clutching his post to his chest as if Owens, head of the much-reviled institution and thief-in-chief, was going to sneak around and purloin it. He’d stolen things from St. Bride’s before and had even tried to get his hands on the notorious, precious, and totally befuddling Woodville Ward papers. Those papers had provided the key to solving a mysterious disappearance that had puzzled scholars for centuries. “Shall I put your letters somewhere safe, Dr. Stewart? Just in case you lose them halfway up King’s Parade?”
Jonty sorted through the pile of correspondence, picked out two items to put in his inside pocket, then handed over the rest. “If you’d be so kind, Dr. Coppersmith. They’ll make a terrible bulge in my jacket otherwise. Two whole papers to check through and both of them on King Lear, so that’ll be a bundle of laughs. I’ll hang about the Old Court while you do the necessary.”
Orlando nodded and swept all the letters and papers to safety before any more wasps—or porters—could get at them. He was too consumed with thoughts and worries about the forthcoming ceremony to entertain any curiosity about the letters in Jonty’s jacket. As he came down the stairs from his room, he found Jonty lurking by the entrance, looking concerned.
“I was just a bit worried that you’d lock yourself in and refuse to take part.”
“Don’t tempt me. The thought’s crossed my mind several times.” Orlando hated fuss. Although there was more than that; he was distinctly miffed that he couldn’t be Orlando Coppersmith, Sadleirian Professor of Pure Mathematics, as he’d always had a fondness for real analysis and Fourier series. But short of assassinating the present incumbent of the post—who looked like he had a good few years in him yet—there seemed to be little chance of him getting the job. So Forster Professor of Applied Mathematics he would be, and if anyone noticed that the title had been endowed by his almost-sister-in-law in honour of his almost-mother-in-law (courtesy of the handsome inheritance Lavinia had received), then they were too polite to mention it.
“You deserve this position. Completely and utterly. If anyone so much as hints otherwise, I’ll belt them one. Anyway, you weren’t even the first person to hold the post.” With that, they began a slow, stately walk over the college lawns.
“True.” Orlando had been in the trenches of France when the chair had first been created. The honour of being the original professor had gone to someone from the college next door, shoehorned into the post by that toad Owens, who had probably used blackmail to get his own slimy way in terms of the appointment. “Your Lavinia said Professor Mann was almost a gentleman, even if he came from such a disreputable place.”
“Did she? Well, the old girl’s always had good sense when it comes to getting the measure of someone, so I suppose we must give him the benefit of a rather large doubt.” Jonty grinned, the great scar on his cheek—his souvenir, along with two medals, of the Great War—tipping up and giving him a piratical air. “She didn’t arrange to nobble him, did she?”
Professor Mann had come to a sticky end, literally, falling into a vat of flour and egg when on a visit to a biscuit factory to observe particle and liquid flow through hoppers and tubes. He’d developed a phobia of machinery as a result and had retired to Devon a broken man. The professor elect wouldn’t do anything as rash.
Orlando was pleased they’d not brought the motor car. Sauntering along King’s Parade with Jonty at his side and not a cloud in the piercingly blue sky, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that the shades of Helena Stewart and Grandmother Coppersmith were walking alongside him as well. He wasn’t sure he believed in God or heaven, even though Jonty was enthusiastic about both, but the thought of the two formidable women who had so shaped his life for the better being in cahoots in some ethereal realm, bossing the angels and telling Gabriel off for going around without his vest on, made the day even brighter.
All he needed now were two things. The first was for the ordeal of the next few hours to be over swiftly and without incident. Please God, his dodgy Achilles tendon, which hadn’t given him any gyp this last five years, wouldn’t decide that today was the day it had its revenge for presumed maltreatment and gave out, sending him arse over tip in the face of the congregation. The second was for his guardian angels, if they did exist, to send him a nice juicy problem to solve. And if they couldn’t manage a murder (which didn’t seem like the sort of thing to be praying for), then some other mystery, maybe one that had evaded all solution for years on end and that he and Jonty alone could master.
“Are you thinking about violent crime of some sort?” The perky voice at his side cut into Orlando’s daydream of knives, victims’ backs, and convoluted inheritances.
“How did you know?” How did Jonty Stewart always seem to know what was going on in his brain? Did it read like ticker tape all over the Coppersmith fizzog?
“You’ve got that look in your eye. The one that only comes when it’s been too long between cases.” Jonty grinned, and Orlando had to admit he was right. Time was when he would have bitten anyone’s hand off at the chance of a nice, complicated crime to investigate. Maybe those times were returning at last.
While there’d never been lean years, there had been the odd stretches of lean months when nobody had come forward with so much as a telegram gone astray that needed to be tracked down, let alone an unsolved murder for him and Jonty to get their brains about. They didn’t count the war years, when they hadn’t felt any need to investigate anything; Room 40 work had kept their wits occupied long enough with cryptography and the like, and when they’d been at the front, they’d shut all curiosity off. If ever there’d been a time when Orlando hadn’t wanted to think too deeply, that had been it.
“Is it too much for a man to want a little diversion when he’s got such weighty matters as an important lecture on his mind?” Orlando tried to sound as if he believed passionately in every word he said. “It would help oil the wheels of contemplation. Working on one would aid the other, naturally.”
“You talk such rot at times. I hope you don’t stuff that lecture with such obvious lies.” They stopped to let an idiot undergraduate from the college next door—instantly recognisable by the vile college colours he adorned himself with—hurtle past on a bike. “That reminds me of something Dr. Panesar was saying in the Senior Common Room about the circulatory system. A clot may be transported in many ways.”
Orlando groaned, rolling his eyes. “And you have the nerve to accuse me of speaking rot.”
“At least I don’t deny doing it.” They carried on walking, safe for a while from being impaled on anyone’s handlebars. “You just won’t admit that you miss the thrill of the chase. You’re like a foxhound. You’ve smelled blood once and now you have to have your share of it. Regularly.”
Orlando stopped, eyeing his friend closely. “And are you saying you don’t?”
“Of course not. There’s nothing I’d like more than a mystery. Been too long.” Jonty’s expression was rueful; their last case had been in the spring and solving it had been bittersweet. “It would prove to me that everything was back to normal. That the last five years hadn’t spoiled the world forever.”
They walked on in silence, each with his thoughts.
“Do you really think that the world’s been spoiled?” Orlando hated to hear his friend so glum. This wasn’t the Jonty Stewart he knew, loved, and sometimes had the overwhelming desire to murder. Especially when he changed cars and became besotted all over again with some metal monstrosity.
“It’ll certainly never be the same. I feel we’ve all passed through the fire.” Jonty slapped Orlando’s shoulder. “Still, there’s no point in grumbling. Some things are above and beyond the passage of time and the cruelty of the world affecting them. Maurice Panesar still tells appalling jokes.” He lowered his voice to barely more than a whisper. “And we still love each other. Which is a miracle in itself when I consider what a miserable swine you are.”
Orlando grinned, finding the insult a welcome sign that the old Jonty was back. “And you’re still the cheekiest toad in Cambridge.” If they’d been home at Forsythia Cottage, sod would have been substituted for toad, but that wasn’t appropriate for King’s Parade.
“Toad, am I? Then I might not feel inclined to give you the little treat I have here.” Jonty patted his jacket through his gown.
“A reward for getting through this afternoon without strangling the vice-chancellor?” Orlando eyed the thick material, as if the layers might become as glass and yield the secrets of the inner pocket.
“Something like that. But you’re not going to find out unless you stop frowning. Do try to smile at least once.”
“Will whatever it is be worth it?”
“Oh yes. Trust your Uncle Jonty. It’s even worth rousing a smile for Dr. Owens.”
“You survived, Professor Coppersmith.” Jonty cuffed his friend’s shoulder. All the solemnity and ceremony was done, Orlando had smiled at least three times and not snorted at anyone, and at last they could relax and enjoy some light refreshments. It might not have been champagne and lobster, but tea and finger sandwiches totally fitted the bill. The hall at St. Bride’s had been especially spruced up for the occasion; even the tiniest indications of a lobbed sprout or a flicked black currant had been removed, and all traces of dunderheads with them. Jonty wondered whether they’d had the place fumigated, just in case.
“I did.” Orlando broke into his fourth smile. “Not quite like going over the top, but it had its similarities.”
“Comfier uniform, certainly. I suspect . . .”
Whatever Jonty suspected was interrupted as Dr. Panesar ran up to them. Or as close to running as an academic gown, the solemn occasion, and the press of people allowed for.
“Dr. Coppersmith.” He clasped his hands to his mouth. “Professor Coppersmith.” He shook Orlando’s hand, pumping up and down enthusiastically. “I’m so pleased for you.”
Orlando beamed. Maurice Panesar—fellow of St. Bride’s, mechanical engineer and budding astrophysicist, inventor of prototypical time-travelling devices and one of the nicest men you could care to meet—was among the elite group of people Orlando labelled ‘friend.’ As he’d confessed to Jonty, he’d never once regretted it.
“Thank you, Dr. Panesar. I got your note. It was much appreciated.”
“I wanted to wish you all the best. I knew I wouldn’t get to talk to you beforehand.” He turned to Jonty, who’d managed to sidle through the throng right at the start and hadn’t budged since from his rightful place at Orlando’s side. “He’s done the college proud, hasn’t he?”
Jonty slapped Panesar’s shoulder, then gave him a big hug. It was probably inappropriately affectionate for the occasion, but clearly Jonty was beyond caring. “He’s a credit to us all. It’ll be your turn next, Dr. P., when they’re filling the engineering professorship.”
“The Chair of Mechanism and Applied Mechanics?” Panesar shook his head. “I’d like to think I had a chance, but I doubt my abilities are up to it.”
“Nonsense!” Orlando cuffed Panesar’s other shoulder. The poor man was buffeted about like a punching bag under the weight of affection. “You’ve more brains than all the dons down at Ascension College put together, although that’s not saying a lot.”
Panesar lowered his voice. There were a few Ascension men lurking about, and you could never tell if they were going to turn nasty. “Even Nurse Hatfield has more brains than the whole company of Ascension. Junior and senior members combined.”
Jonty wanted to say that Nurse Hatfield, doyenne of the St. Bride’s sickbay, had more bosom than all the figureheads in His Majesty’s navy combined, but thought better of it. There was still a persistent rumour that Dr. Panesar sometimes was allowed to rest his head on that soft and expansive cushion, and so the subject had to be avoided if one wanted to escape a black eye. He sipped his tea and smiled to himself.
“I’ll restrain my hopes, though. I suspect they wouldn’t dare elect me. I’m too likely to blow up half the laboratories if they give me free run of the department.” Panesar smiled, having hit on at least part of the truth. He was generally regarded—almost literally, the way his inventions had a habit of exploding—as a loose cannon. People who visited his laboratory were liable to hover at the door or don a steel-lined bowler hat if they had to enter the room. However, even if he hadn’t been such a force for mayhem, he still might not win any promotion; whether Cambridge was entirely ready for someone of his humble background and Punjabi race to take an elevated position was a whole other issue.
“Will you come up to Forsythia Cottage for dinner?” Jonty wondered whether to invite Nurse Hatfield while he was about it, but thought better of that too. No one was supposed to know. “I wish we could invite you at some point over the next few weeks, but all parties and frolicking have been put on hold until Doctor . . . Professor Coppersmith has finished writing, and then delivering, his lecture. We’ve planned a celebration in three weeks.”
“It might well be a funeral wake for my career if I can’t get the thing written.” Orlando studied the contents of his teacup, as if inspiration might lurk there.
Jonty and Panesar exchanged knowing looks and ploughed on, ignoring the doom-mongering. “We’ve our old friend Matthew Ainslie descending on us with his business partner. Mrs. Ward and her granddaughter will be doing the catering.” Jonty’s plans for the dinner party were escalating in proportion to Orlando’s pessimism. Mrs. Ward might well grumble when informed, but she’d be secretly thrilled and her granddaughter would be delighted at the thought of a decent-sized company to try her developing culinary skills on. He gave Panesar another hug. “And I can promise you something a bit more exciting than the spread here.”
“I’d be delighted to attend. Matthew Ainslie is a most entertaining man, and I’d like his opinion on a communications device I’ve been thinking about.” Panesar’s eyes lit up with enthusiasm as he spoke of his latest creation.
“A communications device? Dr. Sheridan would be interested to hear about that, as well.” Jonty tried to look keen, but experience had taught him never to overestimate the capabilities of one of the good doctor’s devices. Orlando should have been grateful that he only had automobiles to contend with. Those weren’t likely to take out half of the university in one enormous blast. Still, maybe one day Panesar would make a breakthrough that would change the world.
“Dr. Sheridan will be there too? And his good lady wife at his side?”
“How could we invite him and not her?” Jonty pretended to be horrified. “It’s always a delight to have Mrs. Sheridan gracing an event. Stops it being just a bucks’ do and keeps us all in line.”
“Dinner it is, then.” Panesar made an elaborate bow and backed through the crowd, almost sending the dean of St. Thomas’s College flying.
“Dear Dr. P. He doesn’t even know what day the party is or what time he’s supposed to be there.” Orlando shook his head indulgently, more than pleased to see the dean nearly come a cropper. He’d never liked the man and suspected his views on Fermat were fundamentally unsound.
“Doesn’t know what day the party is? I’m not sure he knows what day of the week it is today.” Jonty eyed the assembly with indulgence. “And I suspect the same could be said of most of those present.”
“I wouldn’t have it any different.” Orlando nodded. “Cambridge, in all her glory. Old-fashioned, out of touch with the times, a bit stuffy, but wonderful.”
“Sounds just like you. No wonder you love the place so much.” Jonty was pleased to be amongst such a crowd that Orlando couldn’t whack him for the insult. “As for Dr. Panesar, we can leave a note in his pigeonhole, assuming the wasps don’t eat it.” Jonty lightly tapped his friend’s arm. “Come on, we’ve a bit more meeting and greeting to do before you can honourably make your departure. As you said, not quite like going over the top but near enough.” Now they could almost bear to joke about the war or to use phrases lightly in conversation that, even a few months ago, would have been too close, too painful.
“Though I never thought I’d ever say it, I suspect I preferred going over the top to facing this.” Orlando looked around at the mass of people, all there in honour of him and his new position. He lowered his voice. “I couldn’t have faced it if you hadn’t been here.”
“Oh hush,” Jonty whispered, secretly delighted. For all his teasing, he liked the shy and reticent part of his lover’s personality; thank God that hadn’t disappeared during the months at the front. However much a hero Orlando had been out in France, he would never boast of what he’d done. Both of them kept their medals hidden away for secret appreciation. “And here’s Dr. Sheridan.”
The master of St. Bride’s topped Orlando by a couple of inches; he was tall, thin, and handsome with a Puckish twinkle in his eye that sometimes flared and caught anyone who didn’t know him well enough totally by surprise. Dr. Sheridan had astounded everyone by being given the post of master in the first place, not being a St. Bride’s man, but he was proving to be more than able. Jonty envied nobody the job. The master had to be diplomat and arbiter when the situation required, rigorous academic and scholar if that was expected, and Sheridan had filled every role.
The fact that he was the loving husband to the sister of the previous master, and that their late-flowering love had filled the college with its joy, was a bonus.
“Gentlemen. This is a great occasion for St. Bride’s and a greater occasion for you.” Sheridan shook Orlando’s hand for at least the third time that day, and then cuffed Jonty on the arm. “Mrs. Sheridan is furious, of course, not to have been allowed to come—although she understands the constraints placed upon us at such times. She looks forward very much to your inaugural lecture and hopes that she will understand at least part of it.”
“I suspect she’ll understand every word and pick me up on where I go wrong.” Orlando smiled. “Please give her my very best wishes and thanks for her kind words.”
“We could give her a blow-by-blow account of what’s happened if she wishes. With all the speeches and actions.” Jonty grinned. “If she can’t wait until the dinner party, I’ll drop into the lodge and give an impression of Dr. Coppersmith, when he was still a mere doctor and not yet professorified, trying to look dignified and not like a seven-year-old boy with a new kite.”
Orlando was evidently trying not to look like a seven-year-old boy who wanted to murder his best friend. “I’m sure she’d prefer to hear a truthful description of the occasion from me, rather than your exaggerations.”
“Gentlemen.” Sheridan held up his hand like a referee intervening in a nasty set-to around a ruck at Old Deer Park. “You’ll both be superfluous, as I’ll be giving the full story the moment I walk through the lodge door. I won’t be allowed to get my coat off until I’ve at least begun, anyway. You can repeat the tale over dinner, but your thunder will have been stolen.”
The arrival in their midst of an emeritus professor of divinity from an obscure London college interrupted the laughter ensuing on the master’s comments, and Jonty started to count down the minutes until they could make their escape with dignity.
Orlando’s study at St. Bride’s had never looked so welcoming. Despite aching legs from standing on their feet and being sociable for so long, he and Jonty threw caution to the wind and almost bounded up the stairs, then slumped into the armchairs, only stopping en route for two glasses and the decanter.
The sherry was very welcome. Orlando worried at times that taking to the bottle was becoming a bit too habitual for comfort, but Mrs. Stewart had always sworn that a small sherry—especially a sweet one at times of trial—practically counted as medicine. He felt as though he needed something therapeutic now, having been sustained after the ceremony by nothing stronger than milky tea and a few sandwiches. He and Jonty hadn’t been able to make it as far as the porters’ lodge, let alone all the way back to Forsythia Cottage, without nipping in to make use of what lurked in Orlando’s study. Port felt too decadent for five o’clock in the afternoon, so sherry it had to be, and very welcome it was.
Jonty slumped into a chair with his drink and immediately loosened his collar and tie. “You were magnificent. Absolutely looked the part of the austere mathematical man.” He took a swig of sherry and let out a huge sigh. “If only they all knew what you were really like. They’d have to be administered sal volatile at the very least.”
“Oh, hush.” Orlando wasn’t displeased; he quite liked people supposing he was stern and logically minded. Really he was an old romantic—at least where Jonty was concerned—and a positive lion in bed. He didn’t want people knowing that, though. He and Jonty might have a reputation throughout the university as two singular and rather eccentric men who had to share a house as no one else would put up with either of them, but what if someone put two and two together?
“And don’t think I missed the ‘like you’ remark," he added, glancing at Jonty. "Am I really old-fashioned and a bit stuffy?”
“Don’t forget the bit about being out of touch with the times. Yes, you have the capacity to be all of those, but you also said that Cambridge was wonderful.” Jonty leaned forward and tapped Orlando’s knee. “You’re that as well.”
“Hm,” Orlando snorted, deliberately ignoring the compliment. “I’ll have you know, I’m regarded as one of the most forward-thinking men in my department.”
“Yes, well, given what I saw today of the great and good from your department, I wouldn’t use that as any self-advertisement. I’m surprised half of them aren’t on display with the iguanodon down at the museum. You’ll be a breath of fresh air to them.” Jonty leaned back again in his chair. “Been a bit of a strain for both of us today, hasn’t it? I feel like the father of the bride or something.”
“That makes me the bride, I suppose.” Orlando grimaced. “Still, I hope that’s the hard bit done. Even delivering that inaugural lecture can’t be as daunting.” He looked at Jonty for reassurance. “Can it?”
“I always think, with public speaking, that the best thing to do is imagine all your audience is naked. Takes away your nerves entirely, even if it gives you the collywobbles.” Jonty knocked back the rest of his sherry; it had been a hard day. “Only maybe don’t imagine Lavinia in her birthday suit, as Ralph will be round to thump you one. He has the capacity to read minds, I believe.”
“I can’t think of anything more ghastly than imagining the vice-chancellor and all the other great men of the university wandering round in nothing but their academic gowns and hoods.” Orlando reached for the decanter and topped both of their glasses up. This was a ‘take two doses of medicine’ day. “We mustn’t forget to take our post back home. What was so important about those two letters, anyway?”
“Which two letters? Oh.” Jonty patted his jacket. “I’d forgotten about them. One’s from Lavinia, although that’s just family matters. Thought I’d take it with me so the old girl would be represented at your ‘do,’ figuratively if not literally. Seemed right.”
“And the other one?”
“Oh, that’s your reward for smiling so angelically today.” Jonty took out his spectacles, slipped them on, and then caressed the envelope affectionately. “What you’d refer to as a professional enquiry. Someone wants to know if he can consult us. A case. Not one you pack your shirts in. Hey!” Jonty pulled away his fingers, which had come between Orlando’s viselike grip and the letter. “Were you never told not to snatch?”
“And were you never told not to tease? You’ve had wind of a case all day and you hesitated to share it.” Orlando held out his hand and tried to look appealing. “Please?”
Jonty passed the letter over. “See, all you had to do was ask nicely. We shouldn’t run into taking it, though, just because it’s come at what feels like the right time.” In the run-up to the war, they’d been able to pick and choose what they took on, rather like Sherlock Holmes had done in the Conan Doyle stories that Jonty’s father had so loved and Orlando completely detested. Even now, if anybody made the comparison between the two pairs of detectives, Orlando was at pains to point out that Jonty was far more intelligent than the Watson of the stories. Even if Jonty himself argued that Watson as narrator was probably downplaying his own skills while promoting his friend’s.
The last few years, Orlando’d had the growing suspicion that Jonty was doing exactly the same thing.
“Would you care to give me the salient points while I peruse this?” Orlando held up the letter.
“No, that would take away all the fun. You read while I shut my eyes and think for two minutes.”
“Think? You’ll be having a crafty forty winks if I know . . . Ow!” Orlando rubbed his shin. It seemed to have a permanent bruise there at times, being one of Jonty’s favourite kick-you-for-being-cheeky-or-not-paying-attention spots. He wished he’d had the foresight to move the armchairs farther apart, or to have worn shin guards. “Perhaps I should save reading this until you’ve had your nap. In deference to your slowing down with age.”
“Slowing down, am I? By heavens, if you still kept a set of rooms here, rather than just this study, I’d have you over the bed and show you who’s displaying no signs whatsoever of slowing down. Ow!”
“Taste of your own medicine.” Orlando grinned at having managed to get a pretty sharp blow in. Jonty was usually on his guard and ready to shift his leg out of the way; perhaps this was further evidence of him showing his age. “Anyway, I’ve been thinking. Maybe we shouldn’t take on anything before my lecture’s done.”
“What?” Jonty almost shot out of his armchair. “Where’s all the enthusiasm from earlier on?”
“I just want to savour anything we get involved with solving.” Orlando smoothed the letter in his hands. “Too often in the past, the investigation’s all been a dreadful rush, and that’s half the fun taken away.”
“I suppose so. This one’s got a pretty tight deadline attached, although the thought of that always seems to galvanise you. Still, if the timing’s wrong, then maybe we’ll just have to give this one a miss . . .” Jonty slowly took off his spectacles and put them away again. “I’ll send the Reverend Bresnan a reply along the lines of us not having sufficient time at present.” He reached out and took the letter.
“How long a deadline?” Orlando felt the words come out of his mouth, although he’d only intended to think them. For all his reticence, he did like solving a conundrum while the sands were running out of the hourglass, no matter how much he protested. It was like eating very spicy food—both a pleasure and a pain. And he wanted to prove they could still cut the investigational mustard.
“A month. So by your reckoning, we definitely haven’t got time.” Jonty made to throw the letter on the fire, although his grip on the piece of paper remained firm.
Little bugger, he knows I can’t resist for long. He’s playing me like a fish. Orlando stood his ground. “A month? It would be very easy to use up that much time without achieving very much. We’d have to be consulted pretty quickly, for a start, or the sands of time would already be trickling through our fingers.” In that short a time, they might just fail too, which was untenable.
“Well, as a matter of fact—a splendidly convenient fact—that’s not going to be a problem, as the writer is coming up to Cambridge on Thursday. But that wouldn’t be any use, would it? We shouldn’t tempt ourselves.” Jonty made a show of putting the letter away, but it still didn’t leave his hand.
“Where’s he staying?” Orlando sighed, half-defeated.
“He’ll be at the University Arms and we could leave a message there, assuming he starts out from home before I can telephone him.” Jonty folded the letter up carefully.
“Starts out? Where’s he coming from, the Pyrenees?”
“Almost. Deepest, darkest Gloucestershire, which is almost as remote and certainly as cold.” Jonty looked particularly innocent, a sure sign he was winning the fight and knew it. “I could ring him as soon as we get home, if you want.”
Orlando sat back, conquered. A lecture to write and give, new duties to assume in the department (another change Cambridge had seen that he didn’t entirely approve of), newly arrived dunderheads to be licked into some sort of shape, this plagiarism case to be opened and (he hoped) swiftly shut. He didn’t have the capacity for an investigation, especially one with time pressures. But to give up now, through fear of failure, would be an act of cowardice.
“We’ll see him over lunch on Thursday, if that’s convenient.”
“Good man.” Jonty returned the letter to his pocket, blissfully and blatantly triumphant. Orlando tried to console himself not only with the thought of a mystery to solve, but the prospect of trying to replicate that blissful look on his lover’s face in bed that night.
Jonty rang the Reverend Ian Bresnan, reporting to Orlando that an appointment over Thursday lunch had apparently proved to be, “Alas, already spoken for.” He’d promised he’d be free later in the afternoon, so a mutually agreeable time was found when tea, biscuits, and investigation could be on offer in Jonty’s study at St. Bride’s.
Not Orlando’s study this time, even though it had been the setting for many such discussions of mysteries. He’d become even more crabby about who was allowed in there than in his pre-Jonty days. It was, according to his lover, one of the developing (although still somewhat endearing) peculiarities of character, as much a hangover from the war as the diminution in his confidence and the huge scar across his chest. Jonty’s study was messy, welcoming, and a place of refuge for the cares of the world. Orlando would have to explain at some point why the departmental meeting hadn’t gone as well as anticipated, but for the moment, he’d put on a brave face.
Jonty had arranged for the college kitchens to send up tea for him and his guests. The refreshments arrived at almost the same time Thursday afternoon as Bresnan himself. The reverend was escorted in regal state through the college by Tait, who dropped him off at Jonty’s study door like a proud father presenting his son with a view to admission. Ian Bresnan looked almost as nervous as any prospective student might have been.
The reverend was tall, slim, and extremely handsome for his age, which Orlando put at rising sixty. Despite the obvious nerves, there was something almost monastic about his appearance—pious, yet full of the milk of human kindness. The sort of rector any parish would truly welcome, if the man’s outward appearance matched his character. Orlando wondered if he was married or widowed, and whether—if the former case was negative or the latter positive—the ladies of the parish made a beeline for him. Certainly, if he was the recipient of a stream of cakes and homemade jams, he either didn’t indulge much in them or had a remarkable metabolism. As slim as a reed, he even made Orlando look tubby.
They quickly dealt with the formalities, shaking hands and offering their guest a seat and a cup of tea, both of which he accepted with alacrity. “Thank you for seeing me. I realise that you must be extremely busy, with Dr. Coppersmith’s—sorry, Professor Coppersmith’s—recent inauguration and his lecture to come. Such exciting times for the college.”
“Exciting times for all of us. But we’re not so busy that we couldn’t find time for a St. Bride’s man.” Jonty took his seat at Bresnan’s side, allowing Orlando to install himself in the prime information-gathering place opposite the clergyman. “Do you get back here often?”
“Not as much as I would like.” Bresnan shook his head in evident sadness. “I try to take my parish duties as diligently as I can, although I suspect I could do better in that regard. Unfortunately, they don’t allow me much time to travel all the way here.”
“Not the easiest journey from Gloucestershire. I wish I’d had the foresight to put out a decanter of sherry as well. I’d forgotten what taxing work investigation is.” Jonty smiled. “Is there a special occasion for your return?”
“Indeed. An old friend of mine has just been appointed the new rector of Archangel and I’m here to watch the installation tomorrow. It seems to be the season for ceremonies.” Bresnan beamed enthusiastically.
“Ah yes.” Orlando nodded approval. Archangel was another of the less fashionable colleges and one with which St. Bride’s had never struck up a rivalry, both of them being brothers-in-arms against the bigger, more glamorous places. Even when St. Bride’s had begun to gain in both popularity and status, in no little part due to having a pair of famous detectives in its midst, Archangel hadn’t changed its opinion. As opposed to the college next door, which thought St. Bride’s was getting jumped-up delusions of grandeur and complained to everyone about it. “Would that be Dr. Walcott? A very sound man. I’m sure he’ll do a wonderful job.”
“He always was the most able of my generation,” Bresnan sighed. “So many men pass through Cambridge, some with shining potential that never quite fulfils itself. Still, it’s wonderful to have reason to see the place again. I’m staying a few nights at the University Arms and taking the opportunity to renew old acquaintances and revisit old haunts. Especially St. Bride’s.” The sudden light in Bresnan’s eyes gave him the innocent air of a callow undergraduate. “She’s looking lovely, the old girl. Always does in the autumn.”
Orlando waited to see if Jonty hastened the conversation on, in the way he always did when things were threatening to get maudlin. He did.
“You said in your letter that you had a matter of some importance you wished to seek our advice on?”
“My case, yes, I’m sorry. We seem to have deviated off the subject.” The clergyman looked flustered.
“No need to apologise, as it wasn’t even your fault. My colleague himself specialises in going off the subject. Should they make it an Olympic event, he’d be sure to win gold in Antwerp.” Orlando sniffed meaningfully. If Jonty was going to so obviously avoid dwelling on autumn, just because Orlando got a bit sentimental about that time of year, then people needed to know he was the worst sort of wool gatherer. “Please enlighten us.”
“I have—had—two uncles. Born within two minutes of each other and yet with birthdays a day apart. Is that enough of a conundrum to start with?” Bresnan’s eyes began to twinkle; he was clearly fond of puzzles and riddles. This was just the sort of silly stuff that Orlando used to love, even if his appetite for trivial things seemed to have waned. He hoped that as the Forster Professor of Applied Mathematics, he would still find time for laughter, tickling, punting on the river, and other childish delights.
“It is. A nice easy delivery to get our eyes in.” Jonty shared a happy glance with his friend. “Those two minutes straddled midnight, I assume?”
“You assume correctly. Simon first, then Peter. You’d be amazed at how many people—intelligent, sensible people—can’t solve that one. Maybe I should try another. Although they were born at the same time, of the same parents, they were not twins.” Bresnan sat back in his chair, looking just like Dr. Panesar did when he’d propounded some miraculous theorem in the SCR and was waiting for anyone to dare argue against it.
“That’s not possible.” Orlando sat forwards, hands pressed together, intent on the riddle.
“Of course it is, if Mr. Bresnan says so.” Jonty leaned on his elbow, his second-choice thinking position. The best place to work anything out was entwined in each other’s arms, but that couldn’t be used now. “It’s a play on words somehow, I bet.”
Bresnan nodded. “You could say so. And germane to this case, Professor Coppersmith, I promise you.”
“Hold on.” The tip of Jonty’s tongue protruded from his mouth, as it always did when he had his best thinking cap on. “Not twins. Therefore . . . triplets or quadruplets or something. There was a third child who died, perhaps?”
“Absolutely. You show the true discernment of a St. Bride’s man, Dr. Stewart.”
Orlando snorted, cross at not having solved the problem first, although it was more a matter of linguistic pedantry than logic. He really needed to sharpen his wits again on these sorts of things. Couldn’t have a mere scholar of the Bard getting one over on a Professor of Applied Mathematics, not when it came to solving puzzles.
Bresnan, if he’d heard the snort, politely ignored it. “There was a third child, Andrew, named after my grandfather. He did not survive the first day. He was very ill, and so was my grandmother. The children had to be taken and nursed by someone else for the first few weeks.”
“Your grandmother survived, though?” Orlando thought fleetingly but fondly of his own beloved grandmother.
“She did, although she was never the woman she had been, understandably. She died when my mother was five. My uncles would have been barely a year old. I remember seeing pictures of her when I was a child, and thought she was very beautiful. Said to be clever, with it. My mother inherited her looks and my uncles her brains.”
Orlando wondered where the grandfather had come in all this but kept his counsel to himself. Maybe he was reading too much into a few words, although Bresnan seemed to be a man who used words carefully, as his riddles had illustrated. He rose, rescuing the pot from under the cosy and offering another cup of tea all round. It seemed an apt moment to wet their whistles and whet their brains.
“The way you spoke at the start implies that your uncles are also dead.” Jonty’s eyes were alight, the thin lines around them like aureoles and the scar on his cheek almost disappearing into his smile. A greyhound in the slips, indeed.
“That is correct. Uncle Peter died the best part of a year ago and Uncle Simon followed him just two months past. And now we come to the nub of the case.” Bresnan took a sip of his tea, as if fortifying himself. “Simon left me a substantial legacy in his will, part of which—the much smaller part—I am to receive in any case, while the larger part is dependent on me satisfying his executors on a particular point. If I haven’t achieved this by the twentieth of October, his birthday, then the remnant of the legacy will be given to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. It is not an insubstantial amount, certainly to me.”
“That seems very unfair.” Orlando couldn’t help bridling at what he perceived as innate meanness of spirit.
“I felt that at first, but I’ve considered the matter carefully since and I believe Uncle Simon felt so strongly about this . . . case . . . that it was the only way he could see of pursuing it. It’s an issue of justice and the truth, so you might say it would be highly unfair if it were not to be resolved.” Bresnan looked as if he meant every word. He didn’t seem to be rationalising away the potential loss of the money and his aspirations with it. “Not, I hasten to add, that I begrudge the hospital a penny. If I do inherit, then I’ll make sure I give them a handsome emolument. But I would like to travel, to see things I’ve only dreamed of, and this would make that possible.”
“There’s no need to apologise to us for wanting to collect your rightful bequest. We’ve experience of people being given conundrums to solve as part of a legacy.” Orlando thought of his own puzzle, tracking down his real family, the search for his own real name. “Tell us what you’re required to do.”
“I have to establish the case for my aunt having murdered my uncle.” The silence following the remark spoke louder than if it had raised a cacophony of disapproval.
“Heavens,” Jonty said finally, breaking the silence with a single shot rather than a volley. He opened his notebook, which had lain alongside his teacup, almost forgotten in the puzzles and wordplay. This was no simple riddle suitable for the drawing room; this was murder most foul.
Like sitting in one’s favorite chair on a rainy day with a cup of hot tea and quiet music playing in the background.
[T]he ninth book in a much loved series that shows no signs of winding down or weakening.
[A] great book, well written and thought out, liked it immensely.
A must read for fans of this series, Cochrane’s work and anyone that likes a rich historical romance full of depth, romance and mystery.
Cochrane weaves a generous amount of wry British wit into the interactions of two likable characters whose deep emotional connection will touch readers’ hearts as the twisty mystery challenges their brains.