nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk) wrote,
nineveh_uk
nineveh_uk

Wimseyfic: When in Paris II

It is far too long since I wrote the first fic of this sequence, in which Paul Delagardie set up his young nephew with a professional in Paris. This is the sequel, set some months after the introduction has been accomplished. I started it last summer, but the end has been a long time in coming.

When in Paris II

In the old farmhouse at A- that served as her country home Natascha was reviewing her accounts in anticipation of a visit from her man of business. Taking on young Peter Wimsey had been well worth the effort. Financially she had done very nicely, in cash and in the little investment she had made on Paul Delagardie’s suggestion. Natascha had never been the least bit attracted to Paul and had been rather relieved that he seemed to feel similarly towards her; his tit-bits of financial information with their always mysterious sources were worth far more than any number of diamond brooches showered by a gentleman upon his mistress. Besides, she feared his expensive trousers hid spindly legs, and Natascha despised spindly legs.

As for Peter, he had proved every bit as bad as she had expected, and nowhere near as awful as she had anticipated. He was a mere child, of course, and in spite of Eton and all her scepticism he had indeed been a virgin, two states which alone had signal disadvantages to a woman looking for pleasure from her partner, and compounded offered considerable challenge. He had no taste for rum at least, and whether he might under other circumstances have developed one for buggery, a lady with Natascha’s knowledge of the world could well understand why a young man of his physical type would not consider the experiment at school. Besides, it was all very well for men who preferred that sort of thing, but for those whose inclinations lay primarily in the usual direction it was apt to set up expectations that could only spoil things later. Many a young wife had been disappointed by a husband seeking something other than she knew to give him, although one must admit that thereby many a young woman of her own profession had been enriched. But Paul had spoken of presenting her with a virgin sheet, and Natascha found that she rather enjoyed writing her name across it.

How well Paul had known her. Revenge on her former lover had been irresistible, and once she had met the boy and found him passable she would have put up with him for that alone: to make the man who had humiliated her the laughing stock of Paris, or at least of all Paris that he knew and whose opinion for which he cared. That the Marquis de S- should be so easily replaced, and by an English youth of seventeen! There had been nothing so entertaining since the rumours that a certain lady of hitherto impeccable reputation was with child by a Chinese lover. Even the Marchioness, evidently disappointed in his husband, had made the most delicate suggestion to her friends that Natascha’s reaction was entirely understandable. Youth was inevitably young and comparatively unpractised, but youth meant vigour and strength and sweet firm flesh. The Marquis’ cheeks had fallen and his teeth weren’t the only thing, they said, less hard than in former days. When all was said and done, Paris considered that Natascha had done rather better for herself.

Besides, Peter was refreshing, thought Natascha, there could be no doubt about that. She had taken him for the Marquis, but she kept him for himself, and for her sake, too, because extraordinarily enough she found that she liked him. One could not call him good-looking, but he wore good clothes well and had a certain charm. Nor could he be said to have the figure of a Hercules, but slender youth was preferable by far to etoliated age. Entirely ignorant and unpractised he might have been beyond the usual solitary indulgences of young men, but the willing confession of ignorance was itself a pleasing novelty in the circumstances. He was a quick learner, not ashamed to be instructed, and though naturally possessed of the usual male vanity, was at least willing to put it to the service of his education. If sometimes she could not help but laugh at him, it was not meant unkindly and he showed a sense of humour about himself that she would not have expected to find behind the schoolboy solemnity. Someone had taught him French very well, although certain elements of his vocabulary had been a little lacking, and if she had heard the new thoughts of his age a thousand times, she let herself be charmed by enthusiasm if not by novelty. Out of bed, she found herself honestly enjoying his conversation. In it – there lay the sole, but seemingly intractable, problem.

‘Most people,’ she said gently, ‘say something occasionally.’

They had come to A- for the weekend. Peter claimed to hate the country, the school life from which he had not wholly broken free requiring a certain amount of scorn for wherever one usually lived when out of it, but he seemed to have no objection to riding along the river in the morning, tea in the orchard in the afternoons, and no social engagements by night. Natascha laid aside the financial pages of the newspaper, took Peter’s ludicrous novel from his hands, and reflected that this was after all why Paul Delagardie had come to her. Physical proficiency was all very well, but many a capable husband had wrecked his marriage upon the rocks of emotional inadequacy. It was a disease to which the English were known to be particularly prone.

‘People will expect you to say things,’ she continued. ‘I would like to hear you say things now and then.’

Peter frowned. ‘I’m awfully sorry. I ought to have realised - most remiss of me. But,’ he blushed, a trait he found dreadfully embarrassing and she secretly considered rather sweet, ‘I do say things. You told me it was important, that one mustn’t assume -’

‘I did, and you do very well. But darling, you might be a little bit less, well, practical sometimes. A girl likes a little romance. You like the things I say to you, don’t you?’ Perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea to have this conversation outside the bedroom after all.

‘I see. Yes, of course, thank you. I’ll resolve to do better henceforth.’ He fidgeted for a moment, then swung himself out of his chair. ‘I’ll go and see about tea.’

She supposed that she had been bound to make a mistake sooner or later. If one could always tell what would hurt someone, life would have far fewer novels in it. And she undoubtedly had hurt him. She wondered how far he genuinely hadn’t realised what was expected, a discouraging thought, or whether he simply didn’t know what to say. Of course one could not possibly ask. But there were worse misunderstandings. She took up the paper again and Peter returned with tea and a cheerful expression, and began an animated indictment of an editorial on railway investments. Perhaps the problem would now resolve itself. God knows, she thought, he has enough to say under other circumstances.

Some days later and once more in Paris, Natascha reflected that she might have been too sanguine. It was strange that someone with such a ready tongue should be so inept at more carnal conversation, but it was indisputably the case. Perhaps it was public school coming out in him after all. It would hardly be surprising if he had not escaped its influence entirely. She had undoubtedly made a mistake, and for what? After all, what did she care for herself? No need for anxiety there; she knew quite well what he thought about her, and she wasn’t sentimental enough not to believe it without his words. She might have waited a little longer to care for his future wife. Plainly her approach had been wrong; she would have been better with a coaxing Tell me you love me. Tell me I am beautiful, and he could have done no other. Too late for that now she had made him self-conscious. She would need to find another way.

The summer heat had struck and Paris sweltered beneath a dirty sun. They ought to have gone to the country again, but she had business to see to and really she could not immure herself in rural tranquillity for a month with only a schoolboy for conversation, particularly as he apparently had nothing to say. It was not an environment conducive to imagination. Natascha’s profession had long given her experience in concealing impatience and irritation beneath a complacent facade, and even if she had had no affection for the boy, professional pride would have required an answer.

When it came, it was so simple she felt a fool. He raised his head from her breast where he had lain inarticulate and inaudible though not inactive, and said suddenly and clearly, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s no good. You’ll have to chuck me for a dumb beast. You see, whenever I think of something it sounds only dreadfully hackneyed or completely idiotic. I can’t bear to subject myself to it, let alone anyone else.’

He looked so apologetic she couldn’t help laughing.

‘My poor Peter! Have you been thinking all this time that you were required to be original?’

‘Aren’t I?’

‘Of course not! What is original in love-making? The art lies in making what is old feel original. Do you imagine that all the dull and tedious people in the world are suddenly poets when they go to bed?’

‘I rather assumed,’ said Peter, sitting up and looking considerably more cheerful, ‘that they were dull and tedious.’

‘Some of them are,’ Natascha admitted, ‘but only because they are unhappy. You, I hope, are not unhappy, and therefore nothing you say need be dull, if only you will say it. You will permit me to be honest, Peter, because it is for your education; I do not find you in the least bit tedious, but when you have a wife of five years, she may find the lack of conversation begins to pall.

‘Well that’s all right,’ said Peter, ‘because I won’t be getting married for ages.’

‘All the more reason not to allow yourself to fall into bad habits.’

‘That’s all very well, but what am I to say?’

Natascha threw up her hands. ‘Whatever you like! You have a brain as well as other parts. Use it! You’ve read enough and heard enough; you’re not some unique sort of animal that can’t say what everyone else says.’

‘I see. One remarks on the size of the room or the number of couples, and whether private balls are nicer than public ones.’

‘There’s no need to be vulgar.’

He laughed. ‘I mean, one calls one’s partner beautiful.’

‘Of course. No woman objects to being called beautiful any more than a man declines a tribute to his virility. Compliments are generally pleasant to receive, even when the rational mind admits the exaggeration. And, with a little variation, they may be infinitely repeated.’

‘You make it sounds awfully mechanical,’ he complained.

‘When you are in love you will not think so. I am not suggesting that you lie: if there’s nothing you like in a woman, you shouldn’t be in bed with her. You need not,’ continued Natascha, warming to her theme, ‘tell a woman you love her if you do not, and even if you do, it is often unwise. But you may call her marvellous, adorable, magnificent and mean it with all your heart, without being near to love.’

‘I suppose that means you don’t believe in a word you’ve said to me.’

‘Not at all; you ought to believe everything you say. I have never said I love you, and so everything else I have said I mean. I haven’t paid every man the compliment of letting him hear the truth.’

Peter grinned. ‘One does like to be up to standard.’ He muttered in English, ‘Courage mounteth with occasion,’ and straightened his shoulders. ‘Natascha, have I ever told you how you really are quite utterly splendid?’

‘Do you know, I believe you haven’t? Under present circumstances, at least.’

‘Then I shall try to make up for lost time.’

*

Some time later he was plaiting her hair, as lavishly praised as any part of her, when he said,

‘Was that an improvement?’

‘Decidedly,’ she answered, kissing his hand. ‘You will do very nicely. You aren’t dissatisfied?’

‘It’s only, it feels like it ought to be more – not romantic – important than just saying the same things as everybody else.’

‘My God, child, how young you are! On n'est pas sérieux, quand on a dix-sept ans.

‘Dix-sept ans ! - On se laisse griser.
La sève est du champagne et vous monte à la tête...
On divague; on se sent aux lèvres un baiser
Qui palpite là, comme une petite bête....


‘Dear Peter, you will need to experience a great deal more of life to be, or deserve to be, original. But it will come.’

‘I’m eighteen, as you well know. But you’re right! Darling Natascha! You’re wonderful, and I never thought of it!’

‘What?’

‘If I’m not going to be original, I might as well borrow from the best. Come live with me and be my love, and we will some new pleasures prove Of golden sands... Although I think that might be fearfully uncomfortable if one tried it.'

‘Peter?’

For God’s sake, hold your tongue and let me love. John Donne, best thing I ever learned in school. Or do you prefer French?Je plongerai ma tête amoureuse d'ivresse. I’m afraid I can’t do Polish, you’ll have to teach me that as well. Making the old seem new, and the complacent true, and never having to say a single thing oneself. Aren’t the poets marvelous?’



*No one’s serious at seventeen.

Seventeen!--Drink it in.
Sap is champagne, it goes to your head. . .
The mind wanders, you feel a kiss
On your lips, quivering like a living thing. . .

(Rimbaud, trans. Wyatt Mason)


Bonus lyric
This is the fault of azdak who when I posted a snippet of this as a WIP in picowrimo asked if Peter was going to be taught to piffle by a Polish prostitute in the manner of a music hall song. So I had to write a music hall song in which this happened. It would not of course pass muster in the genre as it uses the word prostitute rather than such sophisticated examples of the double-entendre as With My Little Wigger-Wagger in my hand**. But you get the idea.

VERSE 1
I was a lad of seventeen
When I went to Gay Paree.
I walked up and down the Eiffel Tower
And I shopped on the Champs Elyee.
I dined at old Maxims, and I rather fancied more,
But when I tried, they cried “My eye!” and sent me out the door.
I was down on my luck for I wanted a – franc
When what should I see?
But a welcoming smile from a girl just my style
At the Polish Em-bass-y.

CHORUS
Oh! I was taught to piffle by a Polish prostitute.
She taught me all the lingo as she played upon my flute.
Farewell to French and English girls, I can’t find any cute
Unless she knows the lingo of a Polish prostitute.

VERSE 2
Oh, I was quite a tongue-tied lad
Before I met that filly.
I never had a word to say,
I was a silly-billy.
But she taught me all the words and she taught me more besides,
And though I’m taking mercury to cure the old insides,
I’m so glad of my luck on that night in Paree
When what did I see?
But that nice bit of skirt, such a terrible flirt,
At the Polish Em-bass-y!

CHORUS
Oh! I was taught to piffle by a Polish prostitute.
She taught me all the lingo as I played upon her lute.
Farewell to French and English girls, I can’t find any cute
Unless she knows the lingo of a Polish prostitute.

** With my shirt on fire, then I walked along the wire, with my little wigger-wagger in my hand. Glory! Someone’s posted it on YouTube For those whose filthy minds and the audio quality are getting in the way of the sophisticated lyrics, the wigger-wagger is of course his cane.
Tags: fandom corrupts the mind, wimseyfic
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