All Lessons Learned [Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book Eight]
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by Charlie Cochrane
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: He's at the end of his rope?until fate casts a lifeline. Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 8 The Great War is over. Freed from a prisoner of war camp and back at St. Bride's College, Orlando Coppersmith is discovering what those years have cost. All he holds dear--including his beloved Jonty Stewart, lost in combat. A commission to investigate a young officer's disappearance gives Orlando new direction?temporarily. The deceptively simple case becomes a maze of conflicting stories--is Daniel McNeil a deserter, or a hero?--taking Orlando into the world of the shell-shocked and broken. And his sense of Jonty's absence becomes painfully acute. Especially when a brief spark of attraction for a Cambridge historian, instead of offering comfort, triggers overwhelming guilt. As he hovers on the brink of despair, a chance encounter on the French seafront at Cabourg brings new hope and unexpected joy. But the crushing aftereffects of war could destroy his second chance, leaving him more lost and alone than ever? Product Warnings Contains sensual m/m lovemaking and is a three hankie story, two of which you'll need for the happy ending.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2011
eBookwise Release Date: January 2011
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [337 KB]
Reading time: 213-299 min.
High Table was excellent as always and coffee back in the SCR was almost as good as the stuff Matthew had tasted in Boston with Rex. "I didn't think you could get coffee like this in England. Camp Coffee seems to be the standard fayre and that's hardly worth the effort of putting in the hot water."
"Might as well drink diluted shoe polish," Orlando agreed, with a smile. "The world's changing, Mr. Ainslie, and I'm not sure I like the way it's turning out." Outside the security of his study they were back to surnames, just as it had always been his custom with Jonty. They wouldn't change things, especially now the driving force for change had gone. "Goodnight, Dr. Panesar." Orlando waved a greeting as the man in question departed, grinning madly as he dragged a poor unsuspecting guest off to the labs to show him his latest heap of metal masquerading as a technological breakthrough.
"He was on good form tonight. Certainly lights this place up." Matthew tipped his head towards the other occupants of the SCR, only half a dozen remaining now and three of those apparently asleep.
"Aye, Panesar keeps this college alive at times. All the rest seem to have descended into semi-torpor." Just so must life in St. Bride's have been prior to 1905.
The comparative solitude gave the opportunity to speak more openly than usual in this room. "Why did you sign up for the army? You were doing such a worthwhile job already in Room 40."
"Worthwhile? I suppose it must have been. It was certainly safe, if you're really asking why anyone should turn up a cushy number in search of a surefire way of getting himself killed." Orlando couldn't hide the bitterness in his voice.
"I'm not asking that. It just occurred to me that your brain was maybe more usefully employed doing things that only men of your intelligence could do."
"As opposed to being cannon-fodder like any other man with two arms and two legs and who cares how much brain?" Orlando frowned, passing his hand over his face. "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for. Your argument's a fair one and I had it put to me on more than one occasion. How best to serve my country and all that." He closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead as if soothing away the years. "Too many of them had died, Mr. Ainslie. My students. Did you know the Stewarts turned the Manor into a sort of hospital-cum-convalescent home? Opened the doors to a stream of soldiers--not just officers, other ranks as well--who needed some peace and quiet and care. My Italian sort-of-cousin took charge of the medical side and Mrs. Stewart was quartermistress."
"Ah, the Italian connection." Matthew grinned. "I saw the Baron Artigiano del Rame in The Times recently, taking over as chairman of Mrs. Stewart's charity for--what did she call them? Unfortunate girls."
"That's the one." Orlando couldn't hide his pride in the family he'd never known he had, not until he was a grown man. "They've become quite pally, the houses of Coppersmith--Italian version--and Stewart. There'll be an intermarriage with one of the latest batch of offspring, no doubt. One of Paolo's girls and young George Broad is where the smart money lies." Shame the really great love match between the two families could never have been officially recognised.
"Do you see a lot of them?"
"Not as much as I should, I suppose. I like them, don't get me wrong, and they've welcomed me beyond all I could have hoped for, but it's not like it was with the Stewarts." Once experienced, nothing could compare to that family's love and generosity.
"The hospital at the Manor..." Matthew brought the conversation back before the silence became awkward.
"Of course. I went down and visited one of my ex-students there." Orlando shuddered in remembrance. "Physically it looked as if nothing had touched him and his mathematical capabilities were all still there, better than most of my dunderheads. But something had snapped inside him."
Matthew nodded. "Never to be put together, no matter what any of the king's horses or men could do?"
"It was that visit which made up my mind for me. How could I sit in a safe little room playing with letters and numbers when young men I'd had in my study trying to understand vectors, were being sacrificed? Little more than boys, who'd not seen anything of life, some of them."
"So young." Matthew shook his head, staring into his coffee cup. So many fresh faced lads he'd seen, passing through on their way to the front, enthusiastic and emboldened. He'd seen a few of them passing back--broken shells, bare remnants of humanity.
"So many." The silence of the SCR was broken only by a murmuring from the other end of the room, one whispered conversation and the droning of gentle snores. "We had to go. We couldn't not go, in all conscience."
"At least you didn't have to lie about your ages."
"We'd have only had to if we'd been quick off the mark. By 1916, they weren't so choosy."
"I wish they'd been more scrupulous. Dear God, some of the lads I saw looked no more than schoolboys." Such meticulous and painstaking checking there'd been at some of the recruitment centres, such desperation to get bodies into the system. Seventeen, did you say? Go out and come back in and then answer the question again, there's a good man. Babes in arms, literally.
"There were times I didn't think there'd be one of us left standing."
"I still can't believe I'll never see Mrs. Stewart again. Oh, I'm sorry." Matthew worried whether he'd overstepped the line, if the pain of bereavement was still too close for anything more than formal expressions of condolence. Orlando's face suggested too much hurt still lingered.
"No, please talk about them. So few people do talk of the dead." Orlando managed an unexpected smile. "A world without Mrs. Stewart's kind heart seems a much colder place. She meant a great deal to me."
"I saw the obituaries in the papers, although they didn't do either of their subjects justice." Matthew drew out his wallet. "I kept the clippings, just in case you wanted them and hadn't been able to get hold of the newspapers. I'll understand if you would find them too painful."
Orlando put out his hand, which was shaking slightly. "I'd appreciate them very much, thank you." He took the little pieces of paper without reading them, putting them in his notebook for later scrutiny. Perhaps.
"It was the flu, they said, that took both of them. Or complications following it." Matthew slipped his wallet back into his inside pocket, the action giving him time to choose his words. "The newspapers weren't very clear."
"Lavinia said they'd made a bit of a mess of things, one of the so-called correspondents getting all the details wrong. There was quite a stir, I believe, among the family." Orlando studied his hands. "I wish I'd been here to help, to clear up the mess. I felt so bloody helpless, miles from anyone."
The uncharacteristic swearing--especially in the SCR--the equally uncharacteristic baring of the Coppersmith soul, took Matthew aback. Still, it was understandable. He had Rex to tell his troubles to, if the occasion arose, but Orlando hadn't a confidante in all the world, except for him.
"The news shook me up pretty badly. God knows, I saw enough death out there, but that..." he ran his hands through his hair, "...that was almost the last straw. Something snapped inside me."
Matthew held his tongue. There'd been at least one occasion in the past when things had snapped, when things had overwhelmed Orlando to the extent he'd upped sticks and left, leaving Jonty and his family bereft and desperate to find their prodigal.
"I volunteered for a mission from which I didn't expect to return." Orlando raised his hand to prevent any interruption. "I was an idiot, I know. And apparently they didn't expect me to return, either. Missing, presumed dead, that's what everyone was told."
"Couldn't you get word back?"
"I did as soon as I could. Trouble is I was out for the count for a fortnight. I woke up in a German hospital and couldn't even remember who I was for the first few days. Lost a lot of blood, with it." Orlando passed his hand over his eyes, in remembrance of the previous time he'd lost his memory. Some mysterious part of his brain seemed inclined to shut down when it decided he needed protecting. "It seemed to take forever to get word back that I was still alive. It must have been the October of last year."
Matthew waited as Orlando gathered himself again. He knew what it was like to lose someone you loved to a violent death, but for loss to have piled upon loss... No wonder something "had snapped". Maybe it could never be repaired.
"I'm sorry, I sound like some snivelling child."
"That's fine, old man. God knows it doesn't bother me." Matthew reached into his pocket again. It was time for decisive action. "This may not be the opportune moment, but I've got something here--I'd be grateful if you could cast your eye, and your mind, over it." He produced an envelope, which he put in Orlando's shaking hand.
The effect was better than he'd hoped, his friend showing an instant, if slightly grave interest in the letter the envelope held. "It's from Collingwood." The genuine note of curiosity in Orlando's voice was a good sign. "Isn't he retired by now?"
"Do solicitors ever retire? He keeps his hand in, for favoured clients. He remembered the time you helped us and he wanted to turn to you again." Matthew was heartened by the glint in his friend's eye, one he hadn't seen there for a long time. "If you're still willing to take a commission."
"Willing?" Orlando turned the letter in his hands, as if he was trying to remember what a commission might entail, why it was being brought to him. He smiled, suddenly and unexpectedly. "Of course I will. It'll give me something to live for, Mr. Ainslie. I thought I would never have that feeling again."