In Heffers at lunchtime, I observed that the author of the execrable Mr Darcy Takes a Wife has written a sequel; Elizabeth and Darcy: Nights and Days at Pemberley. Clearly professional fan-fiction is the way out of the 9 - 5. Only another 27 years to go before Sayers is up for grabs. In the meantime, a bit of Wimsey fic, on the subject of Barbara. You may say “whitewash,” I couldn’t possibly comment. I have theories about Barbara, and I still want to see Barbara/Paul Delagardie fic. Call it my Snape/Squid equivalent of choice.
On the Steps of the Resplendent
What with one thing and another, she didn’t get a moment to look at the newspaper until after supper. Robert had finished his prep and was in the garage mucking about with his stinks, his stepfather looking in periodically to check that the boy wasn’t on the verge either of asphyxiation or blowing something up. John himself was in his study going through some notes, and Barbara tucked her feet up on the sofa with a cup of coffee within reach, picked up the newspaper and very nearly dropped it again.
He was on the front cover, strolling down the front steps of a large south coast hotel with a familiar smile on his face and a dark-haired woman on his arm. It wasn’t hard to recognise Harriet Vane, looking somewhat flushed and self-conscious, divided between wanting to drop his arm and bolt, or to stick tight for protection against the crowds of newspaper men. Distantly, Barbara thought that the distinctive face was rather attractive in its own way. Oh, but Peter’s smile … that was what made her heart leap in sudden and wholly unexpected feeling. So unexpected, because of course she saw his name and even his face in the papers often enough with no concern but the mild and amiable interest one experiences at the doings of any old friend, glad to see him well, and otherwise unmoved. This, though, this was different, staring at her out of the Morning Star, because she had seen Peter look just like that, those quick grey eyes glancing at her and then a smile, happy and mischievous and hopeful and clever, and absolutely and utterly transparent so that one felt as if everyone around knew everything about one, stripped bare in the middle of the room. She wondered whether Harriet Vane felt the same. Barbara hadn’t cared; she had had nothing to hide and she loved him so much in those days before the war, until he joined his regiment and suddenly there was space to think and thinking she knew what a disaster it would be to marry him. That she couldn’t possibly live up to it, that she was probably not good enough for him, and certainly not clever enough; that he would only be dutiful and miserable and she would be miserable, and then she’d probably make a fool of herself and she’d feel a fool anyway because she wasn’t clever enough for Peter, not in the way that he needed. She stopped him being himself, and even sometimes thought guiltily that perhaps he wasn’t very good for her, that without him she would have to make more of herself, that she could do something real. So she picked up her feet and ran in absolutely the wrong direction and only thought that she’d got away. It was only later that she realised how much of her misery afterwards was shame. Well, if Peter had ever wanted her to pay for it she certainly had, though Robert was worth it, all of it, and now she had John and they were happy. But to see him look like that again…
She heard the heavy door of the study bang – John never did remember to pull it shut – and by the time he had come in and bent to drop a kiss on her cheek she was calmly reading the editorial.
“Would you like a drink?”
“Hmm, please.” A clatter and splash, and John put the cocktail into her hand and nodded towards the paper on her lap.
“Oh, I meant to tell you. Peter Wimsey’s on the front page.”
“Yes, I noticed. Hard not to - a full page spread with photographs.”
“I suppose that’s the feminine interest.”
“Maybe.” She hesitated. “Do you think she’s pretty?”
“I hadn’t thought about it. I wouldn’t call her beautiful. A certain je ne sais quoi, perhaps; it’s hard to look one’s best being pursued by photographers. Besides,” John grinned at her over the newsprint, “she’s not my type.”
She wouldn’t have been Peter’s once. It was odd how things changed: a good thing that they did. Barbara looked down at the newspaper. The woman in the photograph was tall, almost as tall as Peter, her dark eyes defiant, far more defiant than one suspected she felt. Barbara felt a twinge of sympathy, Poor woman, having to cope with Peter and the press. But still, that hand on his arm, and clever and nervous and smiling, and utterly herself in a way that Barbara had never quite managed with Peter.
“I think she could make him very happy.”