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Ewe’s Stockings – runner up in the Elizabeth Goudge award!

In a mad moment, I entered this year’s Romantic Novelists’ Association Elizabeth Goudge award. You had to write a story of no more than 2000 words, based on a prompt: in this case “The woman who sat in the corner of the railway carriage with her eyes shut was attracting a good deal of attention.”
My story, “Ewe’s Stockings”, came equal second!
Here it is…

Ewe’s stockings

The woman who sat in the corner of the railway carriage with her eyes shut was attracting a good deal of attention. And envy.

The attention had been coming from the well-dressed man of business in the opposite corner, who’d earlier looked like he couldn’t resist appreciating the olive tweed coat and skirt Harriet wore, the well-shod feet, the elegantly curved legs on display. The envy was strictly confined to the two women who occupied the two seats facing him.

“How did she get those stockings?” One hissed. “Pre-war quality.”

Her friend whispered, “Courtesy of our friends from the land of the free, I’d guess. Ashchurch is awash with them.”

The woman in the corner, eyes still closed, suppressed a grin. No, the stockings hadn’t been a present for services rendered, although admittedly they’d not been obtained through the usual channels. Part of the uniform. Part of the disguise. Let them be admired as much as the legs they sheathed.

The door from the corridor opened. “There you are, Harriet. Oh, sorry, did I wake you?”

The owner of the cool, deep voice was worth opening one’s eyes for. He might not have been expected to gain the admiration of the businessman—except in the matter of his immaculate suit—but he’d no doubt raise the female envy levels. Clive’s flashing dark eyes and cut-glass cheekbones couldn’t fail to impress. He raised his hat gallantly to the other occupants of the compartment, then took the seat next to Harriet’s.

“I wasn’t asleep. Just resting my eyes. What have you been up to, Clive?”

“Going up and down the blithering corridor, looking for you.” He twirled his hat in his hands in an adorably carefree way, hiding formidable brains behind the Bertie Wooster-esque facade.

“You were supposed to be getting on at Cleeve and we stopped there ages ago. Is the corridor that long?” Harriet gave him a grin.

“No, but Arthur Fanshawe’s long-winded. I’d no sooner stepped onto the train than I happened across him and he wouldn’t let me escape without a full briefing on the doings of his family, unto the least of his brethren. The good Lord preserve us from old schoolmates.”

“I couldn’t agree more. Did I tell you about running into Millie Morstead in Cheltenham?” Harriet launched into a tale of an encounter with a girl from school whose most notable feature at the age of ten had been consistently loose knicker elastic. If the other occupants of the carriage were listening in, all to the good.

Part of the disguise.

Once they’d arrived at Gloucester station, Clive took Harriet’s arm as they stood on the platform, the pair dawdling while the other passengers dispersed. A quick peck on the cheek and a word in the ear, in tones quite unlike the silly-ass ones he’d used earlier.

“Carter was devouring you with his eyes all the way here. Please be extra careful.”

“I will. And I noticed the attention. When Hazlerigg chose me for the job he certainly knew Carter’s preferred type.” Harriet squeezed Clive’s hand. “As a last resort, I’ve a flick knife in my handbag. I hope I don’t have to use it.”

“I’ll be nearby. I know you don’t need my protection but there’s safety in numbers.”

“I do appreciate it.” A final peck on the cheek before the operation launched into the next stage. “When this bloody war is over, Clive, we’ll find that cottage in the Cotswolds we’ve talked about. I’ll raise sheep and you can write your book.”

“It’s a deal. So make sure you damn well survive to make that dream a reality.”




As Carter strode off to his meeting, he couldn’t stop thinking about that well-dressed young woman in the corner of the carriage. He hadn’t been taken in by all the chat about old school pals, seeing through the disguise soon enough. But then they were birds of a feather, he and Harriet. Not that he believed Harriet was any more real a name than Carter, but a man could hardly use his family surname, Wagner, given the situation. Nobody at present would have dealings with the manager of an English agricultural supplies company who appeared to be Germanic, and Carter came close enough to Wagner in meaning.

Manufactured English name and background, manufactured English war record, although the limp he bore was genuine. Obtained on the western front, just not for the side who’d won. Now he was serving his homeland again, using eyes, ears, radio and codebook, rather than rifle and bayonet. A dangerous deployment—possibly a fatal one if he were discovered—fraught with danger on all sides including elements that left him open to blackmail. As perilous as the trenches had been.

Pausing at the kerb as a lorry came past, Carter remembered those legs, that face, the seductive little smile Harriet had favoured him with while Clive was concentrating on fiddling with his hat. Did Clive know about the subterfuge—being himself part of the disguise—or was he simply an English public school educated halfwit who would never question what he was told by someone he regarded as a nice girl? Someone with whom he was clearly smitten, given the way he’d been looking at Harriet and the way they’d been cuddling on the platform.

The young man had walked haltingly, one foot turned in perhaps as a result of a club foot or an injury received very early in this war, when Germany had chased the feckless British troops back across the channel. Like Carter’s limp, it appeared to be the real thing.

What were those two doing now?  Probably nothing more daring than walking by the river holding hands, rather than making the most of a soft bed in a local hotel, Carter was certain of that. He was almost as certain of the fact that he’d be seeing Harriet’s seductive smile again.

Birds of a feather.




Harriet entered the club, noting that Clive was already there, standing at the bar. He flashed an encouraging smile before taking his drink to a table in a booth, a seat where he wouldn’t be seen but could remain close at hand.

Not usually the done thing for a woman to visit a club on her own, unless she was in a certain profession, but this could hardly be described as a typical establishment. Ordering a drink, finding a comfortable seat, checking lipstick and stocking seams: all to be done before Carter arrived for the early evening drink he always took when he had business in Gloucester. The barman—put into the role when Hazlerigg started on Carter’s trail—would ensure nobody would get in the way of a smooth operation.

It wasn’t normally Harriet’s role to take part in field work, being more effectively employed using that notable intelligence for analysis.

However, like the club itself, this wasn’t the usual type of procedure. There’d be no entrapment, no sordid encounter in a hotel interrupted by one of the higher-ranking officers, perhaps Hazlerigg himself, with a view to coercing the target.

Would you want your wife to see these photographs? Would you like your masters to know you sleep with British agents?

Harriet understood that was how these things went, with the object of turning the German agent to work for the British as well or to wring him dry of information.

No photographs this time. Nor was the intention today merely to distract and delay Carter while a surreptitious raid was, even now, taking place on his home and office. Clive had said the officers conducting that part of the plan would be a joy to behold, leaving not a trace of their activities behind. Yet even those skilled operatives lacked the basic skills required to divest a man of something he carried on his person all the time and without him realising he’d been divested of it.

In reality, there had been no smart girls’ school for Harriet, just an East End slum upbringing, with a violent father and a mother always kept short of sufficient money to look after her brood. You had to learn quickly to survive, which often meant being on the wrong side of the law. Going on the game or acquiring the ability to pick a pocket. Harriet had chosen the latter.

Harriet had confessed the details of those formative years to Clive, over a bottle or two of wine from his father’s cellar. How a teacher had spotted the intelligence, had helped steer a path through education towards respectability and eventually into working for the intelligence services. Clive had told their boss, Hazlerigg, who’d been delighted to find his team contained such a potentially valuable talent and thrilled when the chance came to employ it.

The man they were up against was no fool. Carter would never let himself be taken unawares, falling for the bedroom trick and letting his clothes be rifled while he slept or was otherwise occupied. According to the barman—and to the other operatives who’d been keeping an eye on Carter—he never let his jacket out of his sight or his grip. And in one of the inner pockets lay Hazlerigg’s equivalent of the holy grail.

“Good evening, Mr Carter.” The barman’s greeting put Harriet on alert. Time to appear to be doing nothing more suspicious than listening to the pianist.

“Are you following me?”

Harriet glanced up at Carter’s voice. “I’m sorry?”

“We were in the same train compartment today.”

“Oh, yes.” Harriet gave him a smile as tempting as the one used earlier. “I’ve been here ages, so you must be following me.”

Carter took a seat. “Not quite. Although I guessed you might fetch up here.”

“How very perceptive of you. I had no idea this club existed until a friend recommended it to me.”


“Clive? Oh, you must have seen him on the train. No,” Harriet chuckled. “Not his kind of place at all.”

“I can imagine. Shall we find somewhere quieter?” Carter nodded towards the booths.

“Why not?”

Once settled, and with the piano tinkling seductively in the background, Harriet edged closer. Hopefully this would be straightforward: a couple of drinks and a bit of a grope in the booth should provide opportunity enough, although if that didn’t work, there was the possibility that a fumble in the alley might be needed to access Carter’s pocket.

Soon, his hand was making its way along Harriet’s thigh and quickly after that the mission was accomplished. Whatever the barman had put in Carter’s drink to loosen his inhibitions had worked a treat, swiftly befuddling him and allowing Harriet a dip of the fingers and then an easy escape, virtue pretty well intact.

“What you lifted is hot stuff,” Clive said as they headed for Hazlerigg’s car. He’d had a brief flick through it before they left the club for the dark streets. “Add it to whatever the raid turns up and Carter will have no choice but turning to serve the right side or facing the noose. Unless he cheats us and the hangman before that, of course.”

“Ah. Take a look at this.” Harriet’s hand opened to reveal its deadly contents. “I snaffled his cyanide capsule while I was at it.”

“Harry, you’re an absolute marvel. I don’t care what Hazlerigg says, you deserve a kiss.”

Once the reward had been dispensed, Harriet’s voice dropped two octaves and a social class. “How can women wear these shoes? My feet are in agony.”

“Not as much agony as Carter’s going to be in when he sobers up and realises what’s happened.”

“He’s only got himself to blame. When you see through one lot of camouflage and find a kindred spirit, you should remember your new pal might be wearing another disguise, as well.” Harry chuckled. “Your ram in ewe’s stockings could also be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”







Charlie’s Latest newsletter

Hi all. Am feeling much better now (thanks for the good wishes) and ready to knock six kinds of brick dust out of the rest of the year. We’ve Battle Prom’ed and are getting ready for a week in Turkdean, where I shall be inspecting every molehill for bits of mosaic because it’s that kind of area…
Interview and competition: am baring my soul (and thank goodness that’s all I’m baring, because wrinkles, you know) over at RJ Scott’s blog. I’m talking about the inspiration behind the Lindenshaw books and sharing important facts like whether I’m a dog or cat girl. You can be in with a chance of winning a copy of one of my self-published ebooks (winner’s choice) by commenting at the site.

July in Christmas is live. So many good books, several of which are on offer. So many good authors, including several I’m privileged to call good pals. Just look at this line-up: Jay Northcote, Annabelle Jacobs, Garrett Leigh, RJ Scott, V.L. Locey, Roan Parrish, Becca Seymour, Ana Ashley, Jodi Payne, BA Tortuga, Clare London, Eli Easton, Jackie North, Louisa Masters, N.R. Walker, DJ Jamison, Anyta Sunday, Charlie Cochrane, Victoria Sue, Leta Blake, Christina Lee, Avery Cockburn, Nic Starr, Posy Roberts, K. Evan Coles, Jamie Lynn Miller, Beth Laycock, L.C. Chase, Talia Carmichael, Emma Jaye, Lillian Francis, Charley Descoteaux, Anne Barwell, BL Maxwell, Mel Gough, Emily Calirel, Crystal Lacy, Jaclyn Quinn, Lily Morton, Keira Andrews & Brigham Vaughn.
Just a little bit of advice following on from the last Bookfunnel event, the main pages do tend to disappear pretty quickly once the event is over, so please make sure you screen cap or note down any books you may want to come back to. I don’t have a master list for this one.
My featured “July in Christmas” book is Wild Bells, which was my first self-published  effort and which garnered one of my favourite ever reviews from The Novel Approach. “Charlie Cochrane’s historical fiction is the chicken soup for my soul.” Makes a girl proud.
The Shade on a Fine Day:
Curate William Church may set the hearts of the parish’s young ladies aflame, but he doesn’t want their affection or presents, no matter how much they want to give them to him. He has his sights set elsewhere, for a love he’s not allowed to indulge. One night, eight for dinner at the Canon’s table means the potential arrival of a ghost. But what message will the spirit bring and which of the young men around the table is it for?

The Angel in the Window:
Two officers, one ship, one common enemy.
Alexander Porterfield may be one of the rising stars of the British navy, but his relationship with his first lieutenant, Tom Anderson, makes him vulnerable. To blackmail, to anxieties about exposure—and to losing Tom, either in battle or to another ship. When danger comes more from the English than the French, where should a man turn?
“The bells, listen to the bells, Alexander!” Tom Anderson’s eyes shone with reflected starlight and snow as he and his captain made their way back from the church to the Anderson family home.
The midnight service had been enchanting, the Andersons full of goodwill to all men, even a sombre heathen like Alexander Porterfield. Although he couldn’t really be sombre when he had his first lieutenant at his side, like now.
He looks just like the dark-haired angel in the stained glass window. Beautiful and pure.
An especially wicked grin from Tom broke the illusion, recalling to mind all the occasions when his behaviour—their behaviour—would have made the most broad-minded of angels blush.
“I still don’t know how you can believe in God.”
“Oh, that old chestnut again.” Tom waved away the comment with a flick of his hand.
Alexander snorted. “It’s an old chestnut because you never give me an answer I can accept.”
“Maybe that’s because you don’t want to accept it.” Tom smiled. “Try this one. Perhaps I believe because God sent me my very own angel to deliver me from prison.”
Alexander reserved his answer. There’d been no stone walls, nor iron bars, just a cage of Tom’s own self doubts. Releasing him from those had been a pleasure.
“I think the last thing I resemble is an angel, but I’m glad you believe I was sent especially for your own service.” Alexander immediately regretted using the words, the lascivious grin on Tom’s face conjuring up thoughts of beds and hammocks they had known. And used. “So how do you reconcile our particular relationship with what you are taught in church? Is not what we do against God’s laws?”
The bells of the church slowly ceased their peals as they continued the long walk back to the big house.
“Captain Porterfield!” Tom punched Alexander’s arm. “You have the nerve to ask that, when you stand as bold as brass every Sunday and read the Articles of War to the ship’s company. How you can recite number twenty-nine without flinching is beyond my understanding.”
Alexander returned the punch. “And how can you have the audacity to criticise me when you’ve performed that office in my stead when I was sick of a fever?  I’ve been told you orated in such a harsh manner it made me look like a simpering maiden. Anyway, I was talking about God’s laws, not man’s.”
It was Tom’s turn to snort. “We break God’s commandments all the time at sea. Do you not remember that ‘thou shalt not murder’? And yet we kill our enemies because we believe it is right to protect our country. The matter of killing is between me, my conscience and God himself, as is the matter of us.” He stopped, dark eyes twinkling below a fringe of unruly curls. “I’m sorry for sermonising. Take my arm and walk with me on this perfect night—do not spoil it with talk.”

Charlie’s latest newsletter

Waving feebly. As Terry Wogan would have said, I’m not feeling the Mae West – in fact, I have the cold from hell. I promise it’s not ‘the rona’ as I got tested yesterday and all was clear. However, as a result this latest missive will be very short but, I hope, sweet. Cliché alert! Like me…
The Bold Strokes Books UK Bookathon went very well, enlivened by the fact Cari Hunter and I looked like identical twins, separated by hundreds of miles and twenty years at birth. Usually the panels go up at the BSB youtube page after the event, so I’ll post links when I have them. The discussion about romance writing was both enlightening and hilarious. Isabelle de Hotstuff really did exist, I promise you.
There are various promo events coming up, via Bookfunnel and other sites, where I’m taking part and doling out giveaways: best place to keep up with these, especially at short notice, is via my author page at facebook. I’m particularly looking forward to the Christmas in July event, as I like Christmas any time.
Free story:
I’m going to tease you about a story I’ll probably be sharing next time around, which is my entry for the RNA short fiction award. It has the usual Charlie twist in the tale and I’m itching to post it, but I have to wait for the judging to happen.
In the meantime, here’s something very different: something I wrote for a flashfic challenge from our local RNA chapter facebook group. We were given the sentence in italics and a couple of hundred words to finish the tale…
She stared at it. She knew she’d have to open it eventually but if she did, everything might change.
Helen wasn’t usually so spineless—bloody hell, she’d picked up a grass snake in the garden only yesterday and flung it into the back field—so why was it so difficult to do this simplest of things? She should walk round the garden right now and get her courage up. Four circuits and then she’d come back into the house and tackle the task.
Halfway round, first lap, she remembered other times she’d been faced with a not dissimilar situation. A level results, hospital reports from routine tests, letter from Frank telling her that he’d found somebody new and wouldn’t be coming home. In each instance she’d put off the act of opening, dreading the contents, and in each case things hadn’t been as bad as she’d feared. Three B’s, all clear, a clean break from a man who was no longer her ideal.
Maybe it would be similar this time.
By the time she’d almost completed the last lap, Helen had given herself every sort of pep talk. “This is for your own good. Better to deal with any potential problems than let them fester. In the greater scheme of things, this is nothing.”
She re-entered the house, went back to the mirror and stared at her mouth once more, dreading opening it. So long as she wasn’t one hundred percent sure she’d lost that filling, she didn’t have to ring the dentist.


At the BSB event I read a snippet from one of the novellas I’m particularly proud of, Awfully Glad which features a cross dressing entertainer from WWI and his life back in civvy street. He’s just found a note in his dressing room…

Sam couldn’t resist unfolding the note; he’d had these sorts of things before and they were always good for a laugh. The invitations would range from the innocent to the knowingly experienced, although nobody ever suggested something entirely obscene—Miss Madeleine gave an air of always being above such things. This would probably be the usual Might I buy you a drink? I know this little estaminet…

It wasn’t.

“I’m awfully glad you’re not a girl. J.”

Sam read it again, not trusting the evidence of his eyes, but they’d been right the first time. J? Which of the officers had that been? Jimmy, Jeffrey, Jonathan…Sam had forgotten their names already, even if he’d been told them.

But when had the note been written? After he’d taken his wig off and burst the little lieutenant’s bubble, he supposed, although if he had no memory of the thing being lodged in its hiding place, he equally had no recollection of somebody scribbling the thing—there’d been very little time for it, anyway. And how much more courage would it have taken to do such a thing in plain sight? It wasn’t the sort of note which could be easily explained away if discovered.

He closed his eyes, trying better to picture the scene. There’d been Corry, whom he’d known since he was a lad. Not him. Not his writing, anyway. And the ginger-haired officer hadn’t been anywhere near those pots. So it had to be the quiet, dark-haired chap or the tow-headed one. He wouldn’t have said no to either of those if they’d met in a certain bar in London. Decent-looking lads, a bit of life about them, and clearly with some spark of interest that was more than platonic. But which of them had written it? And how to find out?

Lots of love and a promise to return to normal service next time.

Charlie’s latest newsletter

What a May we’re having. Hail, thunder, high winds, freezing cold and just a smidge of sunshine. I’ve been reading a book of diary entries from a real life Dad’s Army leader during World War two and I’m reassured that the English weather was just as bad and as variable back then!


The latest Lindenshaw will be finished and submitted today. The last few weeks have been plagued by my brain coming up with new solutions to whodunnit on a regular basis. I think I’ve at last established “What really happened”. In other writing news, I’ve done a couple of short things for RNA competitions, which I’ll share here exclusively as soon as they’re available for me to do so.

Event wise, I’m taking part in two panels at the Bold Strokes Books UK Bookathon on Sunday June 6th. You can now book your places to watch the panels you’d like to virtually attend.

Free story –

I’ve decided to share some of my older free stories here, having realised that not everyone saw them first time around (which is some cases is a long time ago.) There’s a whole page of downloadable tales on my website, all of which will cost you not a sausage to read.

A Man Lay Dead in Winter was my first stab at a murder mystery and I hope it stands the test of time.

The fortified manor at Pain’s Wyke had been one of the Countess of Gloucester’s favourite retreats; when her husband had been away fighting, or in happier times attending to business, then she would take the chosen ladies of her household there. Were it high summer they could enjoy the clean air and the good honest country smells. It was an added advantage that the Lord of the Manor was such a handsome and courteous young man, and the unattached ladies (and one or two respectable matrons who should have known better) were content to flirt with him. It never came to anything, much to their regret, but it made for a pleasant pastime.

England had seen many an unhappy hour during the time that the King and his sister had fought for the throne and nearly torn the country apart in the process. Now, with the return of Maud to France, it was hoped that some sweeter times might be ahead, although not for the Countess, who found she had too many memories of happier times to let her be entirely at ease anywhere in England. Other people might come and stay at the manor, nonetheless; connections of the Earl or well bred travellers who couldn’t complete the journey to the city of Gloucester before nightfall. The lesser folk might seek refuge with Roger, who had the church and served his flock with humility and humour, but the finery stayed with Horace Dumanoir.

Just such a fine young man had sought accommodation one summer morning and been welcomed heartily, his recommendation from Gloucester being impeccable. He was making a slow journey home from the crusade, in the steps of his natural father though determined to let him get home first. This man was second son of an Earl, born the wrong side of the blanket and dearly beloved of his sire, if not of the man’s wife. They had felt it politic to let the nobleman return home first, to rapturous delight, before the by-blow made his appearance. The son might then be greeted rather more warmly, his half brother and step mother having had their fill of the Earl’s affection. The arrangement suited the younger man admirably as it gave time for reflection and rest, something which had been sorely lacking these last few years of hell. Johannes Fitzrichard had taken up arms in his saviour’s cause and regretted almost every moment.

You can read the rest here.

Charlie’s latest newsletter

 I hope that spring is springing as beautifully wherever you are as it is here in England. The daffodils have been stunning and now it’s the turn of the bluebells and the blossom and they’re making the most of it.
It’s a busy old time. I’m reaching the last stages of the first draft for the next Lindenshaw book, alongside doing the edits for the upcoming Alasdair and Toby novel which will be out this summer. Amazing what you find that you didn’t get right in the first or second draft!
Event wise, I’m taking part in two panels at the Bold Strokes Books UK Bookathon on Sunday June 6th. I promise to be on my best behaviour – sort of – but the fact that Cari Hunter and I are on the same panel doesn’t bode well for us not descending into fits of giggles.

Meanwhile, I’m getting together with some other cracking authors, including my old muckers RJ Scott and Anne Barwell, to highlight some of the excellent hurt/comfort books there are lurking about out there waiting to be read.

Excerpt –
Has to be an excerpt from Lessons in Discovery, doesn’t it? Here’s the hurt coming up… 
It was such a fine afternoon, they ventured far beyond the lock to a stretch of river where a few rowing eights were practicing, their red-faced coaches cycling along the towpath, scattering ducks and little old ladies as they went.
“Did you ever attempt rowing, Dr. Coppersmith?” They’d been content to use Christian names when they were in public on holiday, but back in their own city they’d gone back to their usual formality.
“I did, with no great success. Every time I took to a boat I seemed to have acquired an extra pair of knees and all four of the bony things kept trying to smack me in the ear.”
Orlando laughed and Jonty laughed with him. Orlando’s attitudes had changed beyond all recognition this past year. Before Jonty had come and stolen his chair, he’d been sullen, unsmiling, someone who viewed intercourse as akin to the preparation of Egyptian mummies—he knew the procedures existed, but the mechanisms were a puzzle and the process itself of no interest. Neither love nor easy laughter would have been possible before Jonty came along. Anything was possible now, even intimacy. Now they made love for all sorts of reasons, not just for gratification but in friendship, for consolation, because they were happy or because they were sad.
Jonty smiled indulgently as they walked along, even while he was sniggering just a little at the sight of a seven-foot oarsman suffering a tongue-lashing from a cox who was all of four foot eleven. He could see this idyllic life stretching long into the future, God willing, with his true love by his side and a bank balance full of his grandmother’s money to support them in whatever they decided to do. To buy a little house, with an apple tree in the garden and a flowering cherry outside the bedroom window, that would be ideal. Some of the furniture held in store for him up in London or down in Sussex could grace it, although it might seem rather grand for a little villa up the Madingley Road. If Orlando would ever agree to their buying one.
The two men tired of watching the rowing, turned and began to amble back to the college, a slight anticipation starting to bubble up in Jonty’s stomach. There was every chance that he could get Orlando into a bed this afternoon, and that would be an absolute delight. Even if the mattress wasn’t visited there would still be at least a hug or two on the sofa which was always very pleasant. They’d reached a stage where the last favours were not the be-all and end-all, wonderful as they were. Jonty cast a glance across at his lover and caught him, unquestionably, in the same act of anticipation.
Orlando blushed, something that hadn’t happened for a long time. I know what you’re contemplating, Jonty mused. Great minds definitely do think alike.
Their pace quickened and by the time they’d reached the Bishop’s Cope they were no longer just ambling but striding along with great purpose. Their tempo was brisk by the time they passed the porters’ lodge and they positively sped up Jonty’s staircase, eager to find themselves alone and safe to express their affection.
Orlando was taking the steps two at a time, as usual, in his desire to be in the room as soon as possible. He misjudged the edge of a particularly worn stair, which had endured hundreds of years’ worth of treading and wasn’t inclined to be kind anymore, then slipped. Perhaps nine times out of ten a man might have done that and suffered no worse than bruised knees or a scraped hand. Orlando suffered the ignominies of the tenth, and went clattering halfway down the flight.
It was ironic. Orlando normally led the way, making the joke that Jonty should be behind him in case he slipped, so that there would be adequate padding to break his fall. But this day Jonty was ahead, even more eager to reach the room than his friend was. He heard the tumble, turned—dismayed—and rushed back.
“Orlando!” the rule about names was immediately broken. This was a moment of crisis, as the minute Jonty looked down he could see that his friend wasn’t moving. “Can you hear me? Are you all right?” He reached the crumpled body, was relieved to see the chest rising and falling and to hear that the breathing sounded clear.
But there was no response, not even a moan, and blood had begun to trickle from the back of Orlando’s head.
Jonty leapt up, his heart racing and a nauseous feeling filling his stomach. He knocked at the nearest door, demanding that the occupant go to the lodge to make the porters fetch a doctor. The inhabitant of the next room was sent for Nurse Hatfield. He returned to keep an eye on Orlando, making sure that he was comfortable and not about to do anything dramatic like swallow his tongue. It was all he could do, apart from worry himself sick.
Lots of love