The last of my Dickens inspired ficlets is my favourite, mainly because it’s totally batty. You do need a bit of background to it, so I’ll prologue it with the completely doolally (and slightly re-written) Lessons in Disco, which started when Alex Beecroft said that her e-reader cut off the name of titles so Lessons in Discovery became Lessons in Disco…
Just imagine that somehow the boys have stepped through a time portal (one of Dr. Panesar’s?) conveniently located half way up the Backs, opposite Trinity.
“I think your last evening in the twenty first century deserves a special celebration. Something better than a few beers and a chicken tikka massala.” Alex Beecroft had a particularly wicked look on her face.
“That’s a shame.” Elin Gregory shook her head. “One of the best things about being on earth nowadays must be the accessibility of decent Indian restaurants. And even Orlando enjoyed that take-away.” The remark raised a smirk among all the company, the man in question having sweated so much at the consumption of a simple Korma their first evening here – and having suffered so much in the aftermath – that he swore he would never touch a spice again. Jonty had managed a Madras and now regarded his lover with a distinct degree of moral superiority that could not be gainsaid.
Charlie Cochrane smiled her maternal smile. “There’s a club…”
“Like a gentlemen’s club?” Orlando was trying hard to find his feet again. He didn’t like this modern world and was glad he’d be long gone before it came to fruition. He was happy to cling to anything that reminded him of the 1900’s.
“Not quite, although it’s predominantly gentlemen that frequent it. Most of them definitely men, anyway,” Charlie added, rather enigmatically.
“And what would one do there?” Jonty had caught the undercurrent in the conversation.
“Drink. Eat. Dance. Raise a toast to new friends and departed ones.” Alex nodded as if that sealed the matter.
“Well that sounds just the job. What say, Orlando?”
“How do we dance if there are no women? Is it like the hornpipes that sailors perform on ships?”
When the assembled authors had finished laughing and dried their eyes, they simply shook their heads and rose. “Come on, this you need to see.”
The music was like nothing the men had ever heard. Some of it loud, clashing, at times more like a musical representation of a field gun than anything they’d come across. Sometimes they could make out the odd word; there was a song which Jonty adored and insisted be repeated again and again so that he could sing along that he too didn’t feel like dancing, no sir, no dancing today. He made a point of telling Orlando that he would perform this at High table next time the Master suggested they get the Morris men in for the first of May.
Orlando couldn’t have sung even if he had the musical ear that his lover possessed. He sat, stunned, a bottle of beer in his hand and in front of him a packet of what were said to be thinly cut fried potatoes, but which tasted like salted sawdust. There were men dancing with other men. In broad daylight. Well, not quite broad daylight, given that it was night time and the light inside this club was fairly dim – but in public, certainly. Alex, Elin and Charlie had joined them, waving their arms in semaphore motions to a song about something called a YMCA.
Some of the men could dance beautifully and Orlando suspected if he didn’t concentrate one hundred per cent of the time, one of them would be whisking Jonty up onto the floor and jiggling about with him in an unseemly manner. He’d had a few beers and now needed to find the modern equivalent of the St. Bride’s lavatories, but he dare not, just in case; he crossed his legs and thought of England.
A man came over, looking flushed. Orlando had met him earlier—Bruin, an author of sober, dapper appearance—and the sight of him now, shaking his unseemly parts around, was a profound shock.
“Fancy a dance, Orlando? Just the one?”
Orlando felt like he’d just had someone from ‘the college next door’ sneak up and throw bricks through his window. “Sorry, need to …” he indicated the toilets and sped off to take a refuge there and weigh up his options.
Rarely in the service of mathematics or detection had Orlando Coppersmith had to admit to a mistake, but on this occasion he’d employed the wrong tactics – discretion hadn’t proved the better part of valour. When he returned to the main part of the club he found a song being played that concerned a Dancing Queen and there – out on the floor but definitely not young and sweet, only seventeen – was Jonty, dancing with a hulking rugby player whose name was Gareth. Or sort of dancing – more a sinuous curve of body around body that made Orlando’s blood boil. Action was required – the sort of decisive stroke that had caught many a murderer. Orlando took a deep breath and raised himself up to his full height. “Bruin—I believe I’m ready for that dance which you so kindly offered.”
A smug, shy, little grin crossed the man’s face. “That’d be a treat, Orlando.”
Now it would be an exaggeration to say that Orlando enjoyed himself – but it wasn’t the agony he thought it would be. There were no steps or patterns to learn, just a general moving to the beat of the music, which was all a damn sight easier than the dances he’d had to use at the hotel in Kent. The sheer amount of bodily contact was disturbing and he wished he had the ability to let himself go as Jonty was doing. The man was as happy as Orlando had ever seen him, outside of a bed or rugby scrum.
Several more dances followed, in which the notion of set partners seemed to disappear. At last the rapid tempo of the music fell and a lovely, plaintive melody began to waft over the floor—Bruin whispered in Jonty’s ear and propelled him over to Orlando, leaving himself to pair off with the rugby player. The singer began to say that he’d like to leave right now, and Orlando couldn’t help agree with him. “We should be getting back now.”
“Just a few more dances, Orlando. I’ve not felt so truly alive for ages.” Jonty clasped his one true love closer. “Can’t do this in 1908 and I intend to make the most of it.”
They danced the rest of the tune in silence, Orlando with his eyes closed trying to ignore the mass of humanity around him, Jonty with eyes open drinking in the novelty of this wonderful freedom. Another slow song began and he pulled his head away from Orlando’s shoulder. “Can’t do this, either. May be the only time we ever get to do this in the sight of anyone but God.” He drew Orlando closer and kissed him.
“Jonty, we can’t…”
“Oh but we can. And we will. As often as we can get away with before they throw us off the floor.”
Which sets us up for:
Sometime in the future
Jonty and Orlando from the Cambridge series
“Where are we?” Orlando Coppersmith looked left, right, up and down. Jonty thought he might just bend down and look backwards through his legs in his confusion.
“December 12th, 2018.”
“That’s when, not where.” Orlando rolled his eyes. “And the date was obvious. It said so on the dial.”
“I still don’t know how you persuaded me onto Dr. Panesar’s latest creation. Or how it actually ended up working!” Jonty looked up at the large, handsome building in front of them. “It looks like London. In fact, I could swear that’s the Natural History Museum. I wonder if my glyptodont’s still there?”
“I sometimes think you love that glyptodont more than you love me.” Orlando sniffed. “Why are those women wearing so little for skating? And where did the ice rink come from?”
“No idea and because it’s the twenty first century. Either answer to both. Don’t you remember being in the modern era before?”
Orlando groaned. “The disco? With those awful women? I’d tried to forget.”
“The awful women who write?”
“The awful women who write rude stories.” Orlando lowered his voice. “About what chaps do in bed.”
“And in mud puddles and up against a cliff and who knows where else, if half their stuff’s to be believed.”
“Have you read it?”
“I may have done. Might have slipped a few books into the time machine when we went back to 1908.”
“Is it filth?” Orlando hissed, after looking all around him—although whether for eavesdroppers or the ladies in question, who could tell?
“It’s very moving fiction, of the highest quality.” Jonty drew himself up to his full five foot eight and a half. “Actually,” he added, smirking, “Some of it would knock your socks off. Possibly other parts of your clothing, too. Fancy a skate?”
“I’d love to, only what will we do for money? Do remember the debacle over the white five pound note last time? Lucky Mrs Beecroft rescued us or they might have called the police.”
“Money’s all sorted.” Jonty walked over to a clump of bushes, made a beeline for a particular rock which was half hidden in the soil, rummaged under it and produced an envelope. An envelope which appeared to be bulging with notes.
“Where did that come from?”
“Mrs. Cochrane. She suggested that next time we found ourselves here and in need of what she called ‘dosh’, I leave her in trust some small jewellery to sell and instructions about when and where to leave the proceeds.” Jonty waved the envelope. “And here they are.”
“But how did you know we’d arrive here, today?” Orlando’s eyes looked like they were about to launch themselves from his skull.
“I didn’t. I haven’t set up the trust or instructions yet. I’ll do that when I get home.” Jonty grinned at his lover’s discomfiture. “So are we going to skate?”
“We might as well. My head can’t spin any more than it’s already doing.” Orlando had taken three strides when he stopped. “Mrs. Cochrane. The small woman in the short skirt?”
“Not really. Sauce rather than smut.”
“Which era? Which chaps?”
Jonty grabbed his arm. “Come on or we’ll miss out on the skating.”
“But you haven’t answered my question.”
“I know. And believe me, I’m not going to…”