Currier in Somerset

 

 by John Mueter

Charles Currier was found one fine spring morning lying in the low grass beside a country lane in Somersetshire. Things had gone exactly according to plan: a certain Dr. Gibson, who was on his way home from a visit to a nearby patient, drove by in his carriage just after Currier materialized. Currier wasn’t there two minutes when he heard the low rumbling of the carriage wheels and the unmistakable plodding of hooves on the well-trod earth. He didn’t need to feign illness as he felt quite out of sorts after his ordeal—the effect was something like a hangover. He remained as he was, sprawled in the sweet-scented grass. As the carriage was passing him Dr. Gibson commanded the driver to halt. When the vehicle came to a stop the doctor nimbly jumped down and knelt beside Currier who was holding his head and moaning softly.

“My good man, whatever is the matter?” he asked, at the same time sizing up the young stranger who was dressed in a strikingly unusual manner.

“Oh, I’m not quite sure. Don’t think I can stand on my own just yet, though.”

The accent was peculiar, like no English dialect Dr. Gibson had ever heard. And what clothes! Gibson had never seen anything like them. This mysterious gentleman was not wearing a coat but had on a shirt, quite well made from the looks of it, with curious buttons in the oddest places and some sort of monogram stitched onto the left breast pocket. And the color! The man’s bearing was not that of a laborer or field worker; the quality of his clothing, as unusual as that might have been, was too fine for a person of low social standing. He seemed to be a well-bred young man. Dr. Gibson guessed he was in his early thirties.

At a signal from the doctor the driver jumped down and assisted in getting Currier to his feet and into the carriage. Currier didn’t mind at all being half carried by the driver, a well-fed country type by the looks of him, blond, with a solid build and cheeks like rose petals.

“I think you had better come with us and we will get you sorted out properly,” was all Gibson said.

The doctor was a kind and compassionate man. That was part of the reason he had been selected to find Currier that morning. They rode along without exchanging a word, Gibson eyeing his passenger curiously from time to time. Currier, who had by now fully recovered, delighted in the sights passing him by: the splendid English countryside, glimpses of country homes in the distance, the view of a village in the valley a few miles away. That will be Banbury, he thought. There was also the pleasure of riding in an open carriage pulled by a pair of horses. After about a quarter of an hour they pulled into a drive leading to a fine country home. It wasn’t an estate, but still quite impressive, a large house in Neoclassical style. A set of curved steps led up to the front entrance. There was an expanse of lawn in front, a generous amount of shrubbery, and a well tended garden to one side.

Currier thought it best to still play the invalid. He let himself be supported by Dr. Gibson and the driver as he alit from the carriage. He took the liberty of putting his arm around the driver’s waist – for support, of course. They ascended the steps to the front door which was opened by a waiting maid. She made no attempt to conceal her astonishment at Currier’s appearance, gawking openmouthed as he passed. Currier was brought to the sitting room and was gently deposited into a wing chair.

“Are you all right?” asked Dr. Gibson.

“Sure. I’ll be just fine in a few minutes.”

“Let me get you a brandy, and after you have recovered your equilibrium you might care to tell me who you are and what brings you to this county. Mr Thomas Hilfiger, is it?”

“What? Oh no, the name is Currier, actually. Charles Currier. But everyone calls me

Currier. Or Chuck.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Currier realized that ‘Chuck’ was not a name likely to be known. He was trying his best not to make any gaffes of speech or behavior, but knew it was inevitable that he would say or do something inappropriate. He had been distracted by the ‘Hilfiger’ bit and it took him a few seconds to realize that his permanent press cotton chinos had a logo emblazoned over the rear pocket.  “Your home is just splendid, Dr. Gibson.” Currier kept his feelings in check, though he would have liked to dance about in sheer exuberance. Here he was in a house, a room, that looked like a set out of Masterpiece Theater. Only this was the real thing. Dr Gibson had lifted an eyebrow, surprised that this stranger would know his name.

“Yes, I do know who you are, though you don’t know me. Your good reputation goes far and wide.” Just how far and wide the good doctor could hardly imagine, but Currier refrained from mentioning that at this moment. “That’s why you were chosen to find me in the lane. It was no accident.”

Dr. Gibson’s visage expressed even greater astonishment.  “Chosen to find you in the lane? Whatever do you mean?”  He leaned forward in his chair.

“I am very grateful to you for your willingness to come to my aid, more than you can know. I realize that I owe you an explanation. My unusual appearance and general manner must raise a few questions in your mind.”

“Indeed they do. But please proceed.” He had settled back and resumed his impassive demeanor. Whatever thoughts were occupying Dr. Gibson’s mind, he was not going to reveal them too readily, being the well-bred Englishman and doctor he was.

“There is a simple explanation for all this, and I could tell you the whole story, but I’m afraid you shall think me mad.” Currier had actually prepared this part of his speech before his departure. It sounded so British, like a line from the dialogue in a Jane Austen novel. ‘You shall think me mad’ was not something he was in the habit of saying at home. His friends would have thought him pretentious. He paused a moment, wondering just how to continue when approaching steps were heard in the hallway.

“That will be Mrs. Gibson,” said the doctor.

The door opened and in walked a very well dressed woman in her mid-forties, about the same age as her husband. The material in her pale-green dress (Currier guessed it was raw silk) shimmered in the light. She was further adorned with a gorgeous necklace and matching earrings, a Kashmiri shawl with tassels, and topped off by an elaborate hairdo into which a bit of lace had been intertwined. So, thought Currier, the upper classes really did dress up like that, even during the day. Or was she headed to a palace ball? Currier was so impressed with her appearance that he leapt out of his chair. Mrs. Gibson stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Currier and her eyes scanned him from head to toe and back again.

Dr. Gibson took charge of the awkward moment. “My dear, I should like you to meet Mr. Currier who is paying us an unexpected visit. He apparently knows of me already and was about to divulge the nature of that acquaintance.”

“How do you do.” Mrs. Gibson recovered her composure, smiled graciously and stepped forward, extending her hand. Currier took her proffered hand and bowed slightly. He couldn’t help noticing how her eyes seemed to be riveted first on his shirt (a button-down in magenta had apparently not been the best choice), then on his shoes.  He had made a point of putting on his best leather dress shoes (Cole-Haan wingtips they were), but they must have looked odd anyway. He noticed that Dr. Gibson had on high boots. The driver had worn boots as well, though his weren’t as nice.

“Well, Mr. Currier, do tell us what brings you to Bexhill House,” said Mrs. Gibson while taking her place next to her husband on the settee. She was still smiling graciously, but with an added air of mischievous curiosity.

“Well….er….this is going to be a little difficult. I beg your indulgence.” He downed the last gulp of brandy and continued. “Dr. Gibson, you are known to be a rational, kind and fair-minded individual. Please hear me out. You have observed, I hope, that I am not a lunatic, nor am I inebriated.” Gibson nodded in assent. “As you might have already guessed, I am not from this country. My home is in the United States of America. But that doesn’t explain the crucial point. The truth is that I am not from this world.” Here he paused for dramatic effect. “I come from the future.” He waited again to let the dust settle after dropping this bombshell. Neither Dr. nor Mrs. Gibson moved a muscle. They stared at him in incredulous silence. “I am not from this century – it’s 1832 isn’t it? – nor from the next, but from the beginning of the twenty-first century, 2012 to be exact. We have made some remarkable, for you unimaginable, technological advances. My appearance here is part of an experiment that has been underway for quite some time at the university where I teach.”

Currier went on to explain the particulars of the time travel project as best he could. But as he wasn’t a part of the making of it, he wasn’t able to provide too many details. Science wasn’t his field at all; he taught Art History. He was, however, good friends with Dr. Ramachandra, the eccentric but brilliant scientist who masterminded the whole thing from the beginning, running his grand experiment out of his house with the help of a few graduate assistants sworn to secrecy. The person originally scheduled for this particular ‘launch’ had dropped out suddenly and the time could not be put off. It all had something to do with planetary alignments and energy fields, that much Currier knew. Ramachandra had approached Currier just the day before, begging him to consent to be the traveler. Currier was available, he was willing (though a bit skeptical of the whole thing), and was the only person in on the secret who had a comprehensive view of European history. The prospect of traveling to early nineteenth century England was irresistible. Of the two previous launches, one had been a disaster (the chosen traveler had been unwilling or unable to return from the France of Louis XIV), and the next an unqualified success, though that candidate had been so enthusiastic after his visit to first century Rome that he had put the whole project in jeopardy with his indiscretions. It was unfortunate that there had been so little time for preparation on Currier’s part. He did the best he could.

Not only did Ramachandra have the capacity to transport individuals back in time, he was able to observe the doings of selected individuals at any point in time he wished. Currier understood none of this. To him it seemed something akin to the Google street level feature. Dr. Gibson had been observed by Ramachandra for a while and was deemed a suitable contact for the traveler. The doctor had a sterling character, was a generous individual, open-minded (though how he would react to anything as outlandish as a time traveler was anybody’s guess), and was of a respectable social standing. The most fortuitous confluence of particulars had come together quickly and Currier was on his way to Somerset. One moment he was sitting in a chair in a house in Connecticut, a metal halo hovering over his head, and the next moment he found himself sprawled at the side of a country road in early nineteenth-century England.

And here he was now, sitting in an armchair in a magnificent country house on a lovely spring day in the year 1832, calmly explaining his situation to the Gibsons. They had relaxed a bit but hadn’t taken their eyes off of him the whole time. Currier thought he’d better stop for a while.

“Well,” said Mrs. Gibson after a long silence, “I think the best thing now would be a nice cup of tea. Don’t you agree, Mr. Currier?”

Currier agreed, quite relieved they hadn’t thrown him out. Mrs. Gibson got up to ring for the maid.

“Jenny, tea for three here in the sitting-room, please.”

Jenny unabashedly stared at the guest. Rumors of a strangely clad, handsome visitor must have been making the rounds among the domestic help. Currier was grateful for the lull in the conversation at that moment. The blond young man was just outside the window, taking care of the horses, and he found the sight very distracting. Who was he? That was the question on his mind at the moment, but he could hardly ask it.

Currier got up to have a closer look at a Sheraton side table. It was a stunning specimen, the kind of item that would cause antique dealers to go into ecstasy. What a hit it would be on Antiques Roadshow! “You know, Dr. Gibson, if I had a table like this in my century it would be worth a small fortune.”

“Really? How extraordinary.”

Currier thought it time to continue. “I understand why you would be hesitant to believe me – why should you? – so allow me to present you with more tangible proof of my origin.” With that Currier took out his wallet and peeled out a twenty dollar bill, handing it over to Gibson. “That’s Andrew Jackson. He’s currently President of the United States, as you well know. He’s at the end of his first term and will win a second in the next election. His vice president, Mr. van Buren, will succeed him in 1836.”

Gibson examined the banknote with great interest. When he saw ‘SERIES 1999’ next to Jackson’s portrait he did a double-take. “My word, this is extraordinary. Charlotte dear, have a look at this.”

“They don’t ordinarily put someone’s portrait on a bill while he’s still in office, do they now?” offered Currier with a hint of smugness. For good measure he also handed over his Connecticut drivers license, his university ID, and a credit card. “These are made of plastic. It’s a synthetic substance that won’t be invented for quite a while yet. We’re rather fond of it.”

The Gibsons handled each item with increasing wonderment. They were truly dumbfounded. Currier’s exact likeness in color on his license and again on his ID elicited gasps from the both of them. As the coup de grâce Currier took off his wristwatch and handed it over. It was nothing special by twenty-first century standards, an ordinary Timex digital with date and chronometer, but the Gibsons examined it like they had just been handed the Crown Jewels. At this moment the tea was brought in, the tray placed before Mrs. Gibson.

“Do you take milk, Mr. Currier?”

“Why yes, thank you. No sugar, though.” He had to admire the ‘stiff upper lip’, the ability to carry on like it were the most normal thing in the world to have tea with a guest who was visiting from 180 years in the future!

“There’s a lot I could tell you about the future, some of it good, some not. Let’s see…if everything worked out right, today should be the 14th of May, 1832.” Dr Gibson verified that it was, indeed. “The current monarch is William IV. He will reign until 1837, to be succeeded by his niece Victoria who will occupy the throne for an incredible 64 years, until 1901. That’s a record, I believe.”

Gibson perked up and proffered a very British “positively astonishing!”

“I could go on with the royal succession (know most of ‘em, I think) but that’s less interesting. The current monarch, I mean in 2012, is Queen Elizabeth II whose reign began in 1952 – quite a long time too. The British monarchy seems to be blessed with some long-lived individuals. Most of the other monarchies in Europe were swept away at the beginning of the twentieth century. But that’s another story…”

He had been able to read up on the events of the 1830s before he left, but there were still many points he was foggy about. “Your beloved author Sir Walter Scott will pass away this year, on September the twenty-first. I’m sorry to report that the cholera epidemic will really rage next month, too. Next year the Parliament will abolish slavery in the Empire.”

“And thank God for that!” exclaimed Gibson who was listening with rapt attention.

“The situation in my country will not resolve itself so easily on that issue, I’m afraid. There will be a bloody civil war in thirty years with the antislavery forces ultimately winning and the Union being preserved. It’s one of our darkest chapters.”

The Gibsons had many questions and Currier went on to deliver a brief history of the world, or as much as he knew.  The twentieth century, with its barbarous world wars and other horrific events, was painful to recount and he glossed over much of it. One could so easily become a cynic looking at history from either vantage point, from before or after. The Gibsons were enthralled with Currier’s recitation and seemed to welcome him completely.

“Now, Mr. Currier, what can we do to make your visit with us, however long that might be, as pleasant as possible?” asked Gibson cordially.

“We are delighted to make your acquaintance and look forward to many interesting hours in your company” added Charlotte Gibson.

“You are so very kind. I am entirely at your disposal and indebted to you for your generosity.” He continued, “I will need the proper clothing, of course, and your assistance in dealing with the niceties of your society. You see, things have changed a lot in the intervening years. I feel like a fish out of water here.”

The Gibsons very quickly assembled a wardrobe for him, down to every detail. The laundry maids would undoubtedly be fascinated with his Polo Ralph Lauren shirt and trousers with a permanent crease, thought Currier as he was changing, as well as his modern underwear. If he had only had time before his departure to contact the wardrobe department of the university theater, he could have avoided making such a fashion spectacle of himself. Men of this era wore high-collared white shirts made of linen, wool trousers (no crease), a waistcoat, a dark frock coat and boots. The linen underwear was an interesting touch, he discovered. And then there was the problem of his hair. Currier’s was fairly short, with a part. The style of the day was long and often coiffed in what struck him as a ridiculous manner. He would have to see what he could do with a comb and Macassar oil.

His first outing was into the village, in the company of Dr. Gibson. It was decided that Currier’s true identity and origin be kept a secret. He avoided conversation as much as possible. When he was introduced as an acquaintance visiting from abroad he nodded politely and let Gibson do most of the talking. At first he lived in constant fear of doing or saying something inappropriate, but after a while he relaxed and enjoyed the pleasures of living in a more gracious age. He learned to be evasive yet polite with strangers who inquired about the details of his own life. As virtually no one he met had ever encountered a real live American before he could fudge quite a lot. He thought it best to say that he came from a small town in Connecticut—which happened to be true. The outward aspect of everyday life in Banbury continually fascinated him. Of course everything was made by hand, sewn by hand, hewn and erected by craftsmen, cooked and baked from scratch. Observing the gentility of social interactions and the general elegance of dress, he had to remind himself that these were real people going about their lives – it wasn’t a film set. The level of sanitation took some getting used to. There was dirt and mud everywhere. It was hard to avoid. And the glaring poverty of the less fortunate was another shock. Well, those problems hadn’t been solved by the twenty-first century either, he thought. He couldn’t wait for his first trip to London.

The Gibsons housed Charles in a separate building, a spacious apartment above the carriage house. He could come and go as he pleased, although he was expected to show up for meals. No one bothered him at all. The Gibsons maintained a comfortable life style and kept a number of servants. He learned that Bexhill House had been part of Charlotte’s dowry. The young man who was so helpful on his arrival was named Andrew. He was technically a medical assistant to Dr. Gibson but he helped out in many other ways. There was no real medical schooling at the time. An aspiring doctor attached himself to an established physician and, after a few years or so, he was ready to hang out his own shingle. This seemed a frightening arrangement to Currier. But, no matter; he wasn’t interested in Andrew’s medical credentials anyway.

Andrew was the shy, quiet sort. He didn’t say much, yet he seemed to be awed by Currier’s presence. The American visitor had caught the young man staring at him a number of times. Currier always smiled back. Was the young lad intrigued by his exotic appearance and manners, or was something else in play? It was a tricky business. Currier had to be very careful to remain in the Gibsons’ good graces. He had no idea how a dalliance with another male, if it came to that, would be looked upon.

Andrew had assisted Currier in getting settled in his quarters, had been very polite and eager to please. He also seemed to be in no hurry to leave when the time came. Currier had to show him the door the first time, but not before taking Andrew’s hand and warmly thanking him for his help. He also invited Andrew to drop by any time, reminding the blue-eyed beauty that he, Currier, had virtually no society outside of the Gibsons. Andrew appeared a bit perplexed by the open invitation. He said nothing and departed. Currier asked himself if he hadn’t been too forward. Oh, these quiet types, he lamented, they are so inscrutable!

The weather turned warm. Two days later, as the sun had nearly completed its lazy summery descent in the West, Currier heard steps on the stairs and then a soft knock on the door. It was Andrew. At first the lad was tongue-tied and made no sense at all. Currier pulled him in the door. “I am delighted that you came to visit me. I was hoping you would come.”

“I am sorry, sir, to disturb you. Dr. Gibson asked me to bring you…er… this volume, the poetry you were interested in. If you’re too busy, I can leave.”

“Leave? You just got here. And please don’t call me ‘sir’. I’m Charles, or Currier, if you prefer. Come in and sit down. But do take your coat off; it’s far too warm.” Currier had noticed that men never removed their coats indoors, no matter what the temperature. He had made himself at home in his private apartment, shedding his coat, unbuttoning the collar of his shirt, discarding his cravat, and removing his boots. Andrew was reluctant to comply so Currier took matters into his own hands. He stepped behind Andrew, lifted the coat off his shoulders, slid it off and flung it onto a side chair. Then he faced his reticent guest and unbuttoned his collar. And he didn’t stop at the top button either; he slowly proceeded one, two, three more buttons down Andrew’s chest, his fingers caressing the taut flesh underneath during this delicate operation. Andrew’s color rose. But it wasn’t embarrassment, it was excitement. The young man gazed at Currier the whole time, as if he were in a state of suspension. It’s now or never, thought Currier – damn the torpedoes! He moved his hands to Andrew’s upper arms – firm and muscular they were, too. “You know, Andrew, I have become quite fond of you. You have been very helpful. You are like a younger brother to me and I would like to show you my brotherly regard.” With that he leaned in and slowly planted a kiss on Andrew’s right cheek, then one on his left, and finally on his forehead. Currier would have been finished with his audacious license, but he observed that Andrew did not move at all, that his eyes were closed, that his lips were slightly parted, as if expecting more. Currier obliged by kissing him on the lips, at first very gently. He didn’t know whether French kissing was known or acceptable and he didn’t want to risk spoiling the moment. He slid his tongue cautiously into Andrew’s mouth and met with no resistance. It was a delicious moment. It was Currier who broke it off. Better not go too far, he thought. “You should go now,” he said quietly, still holding Andrew’s arms, “But you have to promise me you will come again soon.” The boy nodded, took his coat and left without saying a word.

The following evening Andrew showed up again. Not a word was spoken between them at first. Andrew removed his coat without any extra encouragement. He even unbuttoned his own shirt completely. He remained where he was, expecting Currier to make the next move. Currier was only too happy to pick up where they had left off the night before. After a bit of serious smooching he made a proposal. “Andrew, my dear boy, I would very much like it if you spent the night with me here. Is anyone keeping track of where you are?”

“No,” he replied. “Nobody knows where I am and no one will miss me.”

Currier then removed his own shirt, his stockings and his trousers, leaving him in nothing but the curious linen under shorts. He felt somewhat embarrassed to be caught in such a decidedly unsexy garment, but there was nothing to be done. Currier had always taken good care of himself. He was an avid runner, though he didn’t dare indulge in that type of exercise in Banbury. He was already regarded as strange and didn’t need to do anything else to draw attention to himself. He was a hairy man, with a dark carpet that extended unbroken from his upper chest down to his ample bush. Andrew was agape at the sight. He had probably never seen a half naked older man before. By now it was evident to Currier that Andrew was totally inexperienced in matters of physical intimacy. He was virgin territory – and Currier was only too happy to explore it. He gestured to Andrew that he should reciprocate. The boy seemed reluctant to remove his trousers. When he finally did, Currier could see why: he had a tent in his pants. Andrew’s embarrassment was so innocent and endearing that Currier nearly laughed out loud.

Currier harbored no illusions about Andrew’s sexual preferences. The lad was young and inexperienced, in the thrall of a temporary infatuation with him, an older, more sophisticated man. Currier could easily imagine that Andrew, having now been initiated into the delights of Eros, would soon take great interest in the female staff below stairs, and perhaps even impregnate a scullery maid by year’s end. And Jenny, the parlormaid, was sure to be after him as well. In the meantime, Currier would show the younger man what physical pleasure was all about. He did not enter into this lightly. He wanted to give Andrew something he himself never enjoyed – a gentle, caring introduction into the world of adult sexuality. Not that it wasn’t fun for him as well…

What a guileless youth I have here, he thought. He also reminded himself that the boy must be handled with care and respect. He would never want to cause the young man unnecessary embarrassment, or put himself in an untenable position with the Gibsons. Currier would have to proceed with the utmost caution and let Andrew indicate how far he was willing to go. It was like walking on eggshells but, oh, it was so exciting!

They spent the night locked in an embrace, kissing much of the time. But it did not go further than that – not that night, anyway. There was little conversation as the timid one was reluctant to say much. The boy had grown up on a farm not far from Banbury, had shown some scholastic aptitude, was sponsored by the good doctor in his schooling and then offered his current apprenticeship. That was as much as Currier could get out of him. Oddly, Andrew exhibited no curiosity whatever in Currier’s background. And that was fine with him. The less explaining he had to do, the better. Eventually Andrew got used to the idea of being pawed and petted by another man and even let Currier explore his most intimate parts. The boy certainly enjoyed being taken to sexual climax, but he never reciprocated. He just didn’t know how to go about it.

The Gibsons and Currier embarked for London two weeks later. Fortuitously, Andrew served as driver of the carriage (this time a much nicer landau), and as general manservant to Dr. Gibson. It took two days to get there, although it wasn’t all that far. For Currier, being enclosed in the carriage was a torture. It was cramped and the ride was a bone shaker. The inn they stayed at was primitive and not all that clean. He was relieved when the ordeal was over. It had been arranged that they would all stay at the home of Charlotte Gibson’s brother in Grosvenor Square. Mr. Charles Currier soon became a sought-after addition to those many social occasions which took place in town (as London was referred to). He sensed that there was something about himself that was very appealing to the society he now circulated in, quite apart from his youthful good looks and easy manner. He noticed that his studied reticence did much to effect a potent mystique about himself. His enthusiasm for certain subjects, his complete ignorance of others, the unexpected and sometimes incomprehensible opinions he expressed only served to enhance the perception of mystery. Currier didn’t intend any of this; he was not one to put on airs. It didn’t take long before he had entrée into the best houses. The Gibsons’ connections were good, especially in view of the fact that Charlotte’s brother, Florestan Porter, was a member of the House of Commons, but their social standing improved considerably with Currier’s presence. Dr. Gibson was seen to exchange knowing glances with his wife when society ladies and gentlemen commented on the enigmatic charm of their American friend.

Florestan was another matter. On a few occasions Currier noticed the much older man ogling Andrew with a look of undisguised lust. He once caught Florestan’s eye at the same moment and gave him a withering look. The MP backed off after that. Currier was not about to let some randy old goat defile his golden boy. He felt protective of the lad.

The Gibsons very generously provided their guest with decent clothes. Besides the everyday suit they had somehow found for him, there was another outfit for traveling, and even formal wear for London. Charlotte insisted it was nothing, but Currier knew that even the first suit couldn’t have been easy to find. Everybody was smaller, much smaller. How did she ever find his size? he wondered. And the newest outfits had to be made to order, no ready-to-wear stuff off the rack. He loved the frock coat and the boots. It made him feel like a real gentleman. Then there was the problem of money. Currier didn’t have any, not a farthing. The Gibsons took care of all his needs; he was wined and dined in the best houses of the city, but he was totally dependent upon the Gibsons. And no one ever asked Currier how long he planned to stay.

There was not much opportunity to spend any time alone with Andrew. Sometimes the boy was able to come up to Currier’s room at bedtime, after he had finished attending to Dr. Gibson. Andrew’s insatiable need for intimacy surprised Currier. Once the floodgates were opened, there was no closing them. They kissed long and passionately when they had the chance. Going further was always risky as the doors couldn’t be locked, but they often threw caution to the wind. It added to the excitement of the moment.

Currier had mixed feelings about attending his first formal dinner party. He was enthralled by social conversation but dreaded it at the same time. At the dinner party he was seated between a Mrs. Hubbard (just dripping pearls), and a Viscount of something or other. Mrs. Hubbard asked him what he had already seen in London. He told her he had visited a number of Christopher Wren churches (there are dozens of them around) and had looked for Buckingham Palace. “Why would anyone be interested in such old buildings?” she asked, seriously puzzled, “… and don’t you mean Buckingham House? What could possibly be interesting about that?” Then he realized his mistake. There was a building on the site, but it was much smaller than the one we know today. The royal residence was Saint James’s Palace, where it had been for centuries. The expansion of Buckingham wouldn’t be made until Victoria’s reign. Oops! He quickly changed the conversation to painting, and William Turner – that was a safe topic.

Currier thought he knew something about the literature of the period – he had read his share of Byron, Shelley, Keats and Scott – but when the conversation turned to other writers he was lost. William Hazlitt? Who was that? They all had read him and were perplexed that he hadn’t. He said that he really admired Charles Dickens and had read his works many times. But all Currier got in return were blank looks. (Wasn’t Oliver Twist published yet?) He felt like a complete fool at that moment. But worse was yet to come, when someone mentioned the new railway line that had just been opened between Manchester and Liverpool, the first in the country. There were varying opinions as to whether this was a good thing or not. Currier couldn’t resist and launched into a big speech about what the future might hold and the role of railways. He must have gotten a little carried away because Mrs. Hubbard turned to him and said: “Mr. Currier, you speak on these matters with such conviction and enthusiasm. It is really quite charming.” He learned to control his tongue better after that.

Before he was ‘launched’ and transported to 1832, Ramachandra provided Currier with a list of possible times for his return. He had to be in exactly the right place at the right time or it wouldn’t work. Currier did not mention this to the Gibsons and was loathe to think about it himself; he was still enjoying himself immensely and he had become quite attached to Andrew. But by the middle of July there were only two possibilities of return left and Currier didn’t want to press his luck. He thought it best to say nothing directly to his hosts. Instead, he left a note for them expressing his gratitude and his sadness at leaving them. He planted the note in Charlotte’s travel bag. Telling Andrew would be the most difficult part, but it had to be done. On what was to be their last meeting, Currier simply told Andrew that he had to go away, that he might not return for a long time. He was relieved that Andrew didn’t ask him any questions, but a look of infinite sadness came over the young man’s face. Currier couldn’t help shedding a few tears. They embraced for long time and said nothing more to each other. There was one last kiss, and that was it.

On the 14th of the month, shortly after two o’clock, Currier left Grosvenor Square headed for Bedford Place and the town house of the Marchioness of Higgenbotham, where he was expected for tea. He never arrived and was not heard from again. The Gibsons were, of course, rather distressed by this unforeseen development and made enquiries all over town, but to no avail. They eventually returned to Banbury with a good deal of sadness. It was only on their return that Charlotte found the note. It provided a comfort of sorts. They had suspected all along that Currier would someday depart as unexpectedly and mysteriously as he had arrived.

Sir Walter Scott did pass away on September the 21st of that year, just as Currier had foretold. That day turned even sadder for the Gibsons as it again brought to mind their unusual friend from the future. Charlotte removed a packet that she had secreted in a drawer in one of the guest bedrooms. It contained the clothes that Currier had arrived in. She undid the string and allowed herself to admire once more the impossibly perfect stitching of the impossibly magenta shirt, the curious emblem embroidered on the pocket with the letters Chaps RL, the still perfectly creased trousers, and the stylish though unusual shoes. There was also a sort of diary, but Charlotte couldn’t decipher too much of it. Jenny the parlormaid had pilfered Currier’s underwear and stashed these curious items among her own things. Who was Calvin Klein, she wondered, and why was his name stitched into Mr. Currier’s undergarments? It was very perplexing. She wondered, too, when the mysterious and handsome foreigner might be returning to Bexhill House. Andrew returned to Somersetshire with a heavy heart. There was no one with whom he could share his grief. Dr. Gibson charged him with putting Currier’s former room to rights. As he climbed those steps again and entered the room that Currier had so recently occupied, his mind was filled with memories. It was another warm night. He removed his clothes and stretched himself out on the bed. He thought of the embrace of his friend, of the sweet intimacy they had shared in that very bed. One thing led to another and he was soon awash in ecstasy.

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