nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk) wrote,
nineveh_uk
nineveh_uk

Fic commentary

Some time ago I offered commentaries on fanfics. dolorous_ett and wellinghall requested the Eleven Things Dorothy L Sayers didn’t write series, so here they are. I couldn’t pick, so I did the lot. It is therefore rather long, but you can scroll to the comments, which are in bold.



Whose Body?

‘I’m sorry, Will,’ whispered the maid, Gladys, ushering the young man hastily into the flat, ‘but the old lady was that troublesome, and she’s put me all be’ind. You just step into the kitchen, and I’ll do my face and be out in two ticks.’

William Williams, cooling his heels in the kitchen, observed to himself that a man might as well take opportunities when they offered, and besides the old lady was famously deaf. The flush was just dying away as he stepped back into the hall and met Gladys coming, all in her glad-rags, to remonstrate.

‘You left the bathroom winder open, my girl. I shut it for you.’

On the roof, the murderer laid down his burden.

*

‘Excellent affair, Bunter,’ said Lord Peter, sinking into a luxurious armchair that folded itself lovingly about him. ‘The Dante and the Four Sons of Aymon, and the lot for £770. What shall we spend the spare £40 on? Come on – if you hadn’t found the catalogue so carelessly slipped under the mat I’d have missed the whole bally show. Get out your photographic brochure and show me the treasures marked with a X.’

*

The Morning Star, one month later: MYSTERY CORPSE FOUND ON ROOF.

I like WB very much. It is early Sayers, and at times shows it, but it’s still great fun. Whilst I’d hesitate to give the next two books to a first-time Wimsey reader, I feel no qualms about WB. This ficlet was inspired by the thought that crops up in too many mystery – and Harry Potter – books, “why didn’t X just Y”. At least in this case the murderer’s act in dumping the corpse in the bath is not too appallingly out of character – ironically, he does it not as a rare act of recklessness, but because he thinks that he is just so cool that he can use the opportunity provided by the murder to get one over on one more irritating flea. It’s the same reason that he thinks he can get away with murder in the first place. [NB, halfway through composing this. My father has just read WB. It is fairly typical that amidst various comments he notes the potential interpretation of both Wimsey/Bunter AND Wimsey/Parker. Dad doesn’t know it, but he’s a slasher. ]

***

Clouds of Witness

A buffet of wind, and the plane flipped up, up, then the wind again and they were without power and falling. Through the dizzying whirl, Wimsey saw Air-Pilot Grant wrestling with the controls, but they wanted height and the water was roaring closer. He felt for the buckle at his waist – might as well make a go of it – and thought how new and strange it was that he cared.

CW shows itself as a novel written in patches. Wimsey’s miraculously tough shoulders have been remarked upon by others, and I don’t believe that bogs on top of Yorkshire fells are usually quite like that. Nor, surely, is it really necessary for him to fly the Atlantic. A telegram reading “Have absolute proof of defendant’s innocence. Am travelling on [Ship], please defer trial 3 days” would surely have been enough – especially given that the Royal Personage is sufficiently interested in the first place to sort out the visas. Indeed, he could have telegraphed the contents if he wanted to. It is a really stupid thing to do, and surely only in there because air travel was rather trendy at the time (I went to a rather good paper on how plausible it would have been at a DLS convention a few years ago). Happily thanks to the powers of retcon, one can justify it as a sort of recklessness crossed with sense of responsibility for it all, combined with a disregard for his own life and failure to think through the consequences of what he is doing, and of course a good dollop of sheer showing off that is thoroughly in character.

***

Unnatural Death
‘All the same,’ urged the nondescript young man, dubiously extracting a bubbling-hot Helix Pomatia from its shell, and eyeing it nervously before putting it in his mouth, ‘if he thought the young woman was being murdered, surely it’s a clear case of public duty to voice one’s suspicions?’

‘Of your duty, Charles – yes’ said the young man with the monocle. ‘By the way, it’s not a public duty to eat snails if you don’t like ‘em.’

‘It’s not the taste –’ Charles began, before putting his hand to his mouth with an unpleasant coughing sound and knocking over his chair in his hasty retreat to the lavatory door, concealed behind a Chinese-painted screen. The young man with the monocle fixed the snails with an inquisitorial eye, murmured to the waiter, who also followed the screened route, and leapt into the kitchen.

Hearing the row erupting behind the swing doors, an early crash and splash followed by the sound of swearing in a continental tongue, the thin-faced young doctor at the next table, who had been eavesdropping with quiet interest, mentally totted up his bill, shoved some coins on the table and slipped out of the door.

‘Don’t want to get caught in a dubious case,’ he muttered to himself. ‘After the Dawson affair, another one’d be the end of me.’

*

‘I’ve been wondering,’ said Charles, lying quietly in the hospital bed in which he had been induced to remain by the prospect of a visit on the morrow from Lady Mary Wimsey, ‘how you knew so quickly that it was the chef who had poisoned the snails, and not the waiter. He had the better opportunity, after all.’

‘Undoubtedly, but it’s not so hard for a chef in a crowded kitchen to find a moment to slip a few drops of the Noxious Substance into the chosen molluscs, and besides, the waiter had no motive for poisoning me, whereas it seems that M. Dubois far from letting bygones be bygones and learnin’ from experience, has not forgiven me for those six months in stir over the Red Lion, but been nourishin’ most unsavoury feelin’s of vengeance in an unexpectedly fiery bosom.’

‘You knew that Dubois was in the kitchen, then?’

‘Of course – no other man could have induced me to venture on the tripe. But even so, it had to be the chef, because even were the waiter not an elderly Cockney of - these days - irreproachable virtue, he took the order and had he meant to do the deed best done quickly, would have popped the poison in the proper platter, and not on the unhappy Helix. Whereas the chef, having only the orders to work from, naturally assumed that the officer of the law was the chap on the plain diet, and the decadent aristocrat intending to chomp on the beast that crawls on the ground.’

You are still assuming,’ said Charles in somewhat peevish tones, ‘that the poison was intended for you. I suppose a mere policeman who will never touch snails again shouldn’t presume to more than a cosh in a dark alley?’

‘Nonsense, Charles acushla. I have no doubt that the length and breadth of the dark jungle of criminal London is stuffed to the gills with ingenious types just itching to put you away by foul and unnatural means. But in a restaurant staffed entirely by ex-criminals, some not insubstantial number of whom yours truly has been shall we say instrumental in roughly wooing from their former way of life, I regret to say that I am the obvious target. Oh, didn’t I tell you? It’s my other defence against the lampposts of the revolution.’

I admit, of all of them this one was truly down to desperation. UD is simply not a novel that lends itself to my ficcy mind. The gaps are in the wrong places. And hence, I fear, the farce. Still, I always enjoy seeing Wimsey and Parker together. The ex-criminals are stolen from Ngaio Marsh’s Tied Up in Tinsel, with a hat-tip to Jamie Oliver, a man who does cook well, but whom I admit that I might well wish to strangle if I ever had much to do with him in person. The doctor, of course, is a creep. DLS doesn’t seem to have been overly keen on doctors.

***

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

The jury had been out for three-quarters of an hour.

‘They’re going to bring her in guilty,’ said Parker.

‘I’m afraid so.’

‘They haven’t proved how she got the digitalis, or when she might have given it to him, or that she had any advance knowledge of the will.’

‘No.’

‘Perhaps the sentence will be commuted.’

‘Perhaps.’

The two young men sat in silence. Another hour passed.

‘Penberthy was a very plausible witness,’ Parker said bitterly.

‘That doesn’t always help,’ Wimsey pointed out. ‘Sometimes the jury takes against the plausible sort, if they feel they’re being led.’

‘Not in this case. I suppose I can’t blame the jury – I fell for it myself.’

‘You didn’t, you know,’ said Wimsey. ‘I mean, not for him exactly. You fell for the case against the girl. It’s true she isn’t a very allurin’ girl, and being down about her aunt’s death and thinkin’ the Fentimans were out to rob her she naturally didn’t come off well compared to a man whose training and profession is in conveying to people what they don’t want to hear and chargin’ ’em for the privilege.’

‘You needn’t rub it in; It’s all my fault and I don’t know anything about women.’

‘I didn’t say that,’ Wimsey protested. ‘Besides, you can’t do anything about it now, and there might be an appeal. Look at it this way; even if the worst should happen, you won’t make the same mistake again.’

I like The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. It definitely belongs with the earlier books, but there is something more about it – indeed, I enjoy it more than Strong Poison, in which I always get bored by Miss Climpson in the north, and annoyed by the lack of Harriet. I want more flirting, dammit! Whereas UP Has Marjorie Phelps – I wish we saw more of Marjorie – with snarking at the theatre before eating fish and chips, and a lot about Peter and Charles. I am particularly fond of their tiff in which Parker ascribes to Peter a contempt for his lack of knowledge about women that inspired a line in this - and of course it’s a vital introduction to SP with Parker’s failure to learn from Ann Dorland essential in his pursuit of Harriet. And UP has an utterly ruthless ending – this is the same Peter who cheats at cards in one of the short stories, only playing for higher stakes. Again, I had a little difficulty coming up with this fic, until I picked up the book and saw how very much everyone wants Ann to have done it, even before they meet her and find her unsympathetic, because it is the way that least disturbs things. On a side note, it also entertains me because as a teenager I enjoyed reading an set of books called The Encyclopedia of Modern Knowledge, which alongside its articles on present-day European dictators has an entire series on “Sexology”, which is entirely the sex life of Pacific Islanders and exciting scientific advances in rejuvenation via monkey glands.

***

Strong Poison

Harriet Vane, a free woman, found Eiluned Price and Sylvia Marriott waiting for her as she descended the stairs.

‘Darling!’ said Sylvia.

‘Three loud cheers!’ said Eiluned.

Harriet greeted them a little vaguely.

‘Where is Lord Peter Wimsey?’ she inquired. ‘I must thank him.’

‘I'm not sure,’ said Eiluned. ‘He was talking to that policeman but he got pulled away by somebody from the court, and I didn’t see where Lord Peter got to.’

Sylvia craned her neck extravagantly and scanned the room. ‘There he is! Lurking by that pillar. I think he’s seen us.’

‘He’d have to be blind not to,’ Eiluned said drily, ‘with you rubber-necking like that.’

Harriet, detecting Wimsey melting into the fake marble column, smiled encouragingly at him and he sidled unobtrusively across the room, holding his felt hat in one hand.

‘How are you?’

‘Still reeling a bit, I think. I’ll probably wake up tomorrow wondering if it’s all been a dream.’

‘Well, it’s over now.’

‘Thanks to you. No – really, Lord Peter. I know very well that if it hadn’t been for your efforts I’d be facing a very different – ’

‘Don’t talk about that now.’

‘There’s no point in running away from it. You’ve almost certainly saved my life. I really am most tremendously grateful and I can’t possibly repay you.’

‘But – dash it all – I don’t want repaying. I mean, it’s what I do, donchaknow, I’d have done the same for anybody. I’m only happy that it could be for you, not of course that you were in the whole ghastly mess in the first place, of course, but that, well...’

Sylvia took pity on him and interrupted.

‘Harriet, Eiluned’s gone to get the car. Will you be ready to make a dash for it in a minute or two?’

‘What? Oh, yes, of course.’

‘Don’t mind me,’ said Lord Peter. ‘I need a word with old Collins there. Look here, Miss Vane, we never finished that story. Will you lunch with me one day? I’ve so enjoyed talking with you, you know, though I can’t say that the environs have always been conducive to mutual confidence. Do say that you will.’

Harriet looked rather uncertain. ‘I’m not sure that I shall want to lunch anywhere just a present. The press –’

‘- will have something else to occupy them before the end of the week. They always do. It needn’t be the Ritz if you don’t like it. We’ll go somewhere quiet and then you can be sure that nobody will scoop the plot.’

‘In that case, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt –’

‘Splendid! I’ll write to you, if I may? I have to go down to Denver for a day or two, but don’t worry, I’ll be in touch.’

‘Very well.’ She held out her hand. ‘Thank you, Lord Peter.’

‘Good-bye.’ He took her hand, raised his hat, set it back on his head, and pattered off, Harriet staring vaguely after him and straightening her gloves. Sylvia grinned.

‘That man fancies you.’

Harriet turned away from Wimsey’s retreating back with a jerk. ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

‘I’m not. Honestly, Harriet, he couldn’t take his eyes off you in the courtroom, poor darling, and goodness knows his brain must have been occupied with something when he was talking just now because I don’t believe for a moment that he’s nearly as much of a silly ass as he pretends.’

‘He’s not,’ said Harriet quickly.

‘There you are. There’s only one possible explanation.’

‘I’m sure you’re wrong.’

‘You may think what you like,’ said Sylvia, leading the way to the steps and the waiting throng of photographers, ‘but I am quite certain; I was right about who did the murder, and I’m going to be right about this.’

Strong Poison was the second Sayers book I read, and I wasn’t overwhelmed with it. Partly this was because it wasn’t Gaudy Night, partly I found bits of it rather dry and there wasn’t anything like enough Harriet, and partly because I was reading it on a very busy holiday and the flights there and back before I had discovered drugs. So it didn’t get a good start. These days I like it a lot more, which inclines me to think of it fannishly, and in the case of SP that means thinking about alternatives. The big (non evil) one being that which Lord Peter must have spend a goodly part of those five years banging himself over the head with, as to why he didn’t keep his mouth shut on the subject of marriage the first time he met the prisoner and not burdened her with wondering if he was a creep and whether she had to keep him happy to keep him on the case. I wanted to do something with Sylvia and Eiluned, because I wish there was more of them (perhaps they’d have shown up in Thrones? we’ll never know).

***

Five Red Herrings

Page 21.

Wimsey’s air of idleness had left him. He searched the ground around the easel and stool carefully, crawling over the heather, and wincing as fragments of gorse worked their way through his socks. He sat up, and stared at Dalziel.

‘We’re looking for a murderer, Sergeant. Somebody’s pocketed the flake white.’

I don’t read detective stories for the mystery because I am rubbish at guessing whodunnit (though I do expect it to add up when I go back and look). So this is the sort of trick on DLS’ part that really annoys me. I re-read FRH earlier this summer and found that I really quite enjoyed it when I wasn’t being irritated by the obfuscation around who was the killer.

***

Have His Carcase

I

Harriet Vane looked out at the sweeping rain. She had started on a solitary walking-tour of the south coast: plenty of exercise, no responsibilities, and no letters forwarded. The time was June, the weather hitherto perfect. She had intended to spend the day walking the sixteen miles along the cliffs to Wilvercombe. But the sky was black, her lodgings comfortable, and she had had an idea for The Fountain-Pen Mystery. She turned her back on the lowering clouds and ran down the stairs to reserve her room for a second night.

II

Harriet watched Wimsey as he ran, bathing-suited, down over the sand.

‘And he strips better than I expected,’ she admitted candidly to herself. ‘Better shoulders than I realised, and calves to his legs, and really a very nice bum.’

III

‘I say, Peter! That’s not a bad idea for a novel.’

‘What?’

‘The blood. If one could contrive a situation in which the only evidence for the time of death was that the blood hadn’t clotted, and contrive some way that the blood wouldn’t clot, then the murderer could arrange a false alibi.’

‘Harriet!’

‘My God, Peter. You don’t think that Henry Weldon – ’

‘No. Not arrange it – you said that Henry Weldon was stupid. And arranging that sort of thing would require a good deal of ingenuity. But there is another possibility.’

IV

And dinner. And dancing. And so to bed.

‘Oh my Lord!’

As I always say about HHC, it is the one that were this the Potter fandom, would invite a lot of speculation as to how Harriet and Peter are spending all their evenings in a seaside resort, with “dinner. And dancing. And so to bed.” considered absolute proof. (Mind you, Wimsey does spend a good bit of time in Harriet’s room. I like Mrs LeFranc’s line in the television adaptation about not minding her "ladies seeing their gentlemen friends, as long as there’s no trouble", when she’d quite obviously be happy if Wimsey stayed to breakfast). Given that a good part of the book is about the construction of multiple narratives, this seems only fair enough. Surely we’re meant to think what Peter might have done when he finds Harriet clinging to him when she thinks Weldon is the murderer, as much as about any of the more or less convincing explanations of how the murder might have been committed.

***

Murder Must Advertise

The Morning Star, early edition

TRAGIC DEATH OF PEER’S SON

Amateur Criminologist perishes in Freak Accident

Police were called last night to the London home of society host Major Tod Milligan after a bizarre accident resulted in the death of noble criminologist Lord Peter Wimsey. Lord Peter, the son of the Duke of Denver, was attending a party at the house under an alias, in connection with a criminal investigation believed to be concerned with the trade in illegal drugs. In what is assumed to be a daring stunt necessary to maintain his disguise, Lord Peter broke his neck as a result of diving into a shallow fountain whilst dressed in a Harlequin costume. Police attending the incident made a number of arrests.

The Morning Star spoke to a young man attending the party who confessed himself shocked at the behaviour of fellow-guests. ‘I was there because I was worried about the safety of a young woman, and I consider that I was quite right to do so. Many of the guests were intoxicated by drink and drugs, and disporting themselves indecently.’ It is suggested that some of the rooms at the house may even have been host to the kind of orgy more usually assumed to be the product of the imaginations of some of our less respectable novelists, and that there may be connections to the depraved trade that seduces innocent young British women into foreign harems.

Those close to the Wimsey family have speculated that an unhappy personal life may have led Lord Peter to behave with reckless disregard for his safety. In 1929, Lord Peter had investigated the case of detective authoress Harriet Vane, on trial for the murder of her lover fellow novelist Philip Boyes. Having secured Miss Vane’s acquittal, Lord Peter was widely believed to have pursued a close romantic relationship with her, and society sources had predicted their marriage. However, although the couple were recently seen together at the Eton and Harrow match, many of Lord Peter’s friends considered the relationship a troubled one. Miss Vane, who was interviewed by police early this morning, has refused to comment.

This one is ludicrous, but so is the original (rivrea described MMA as “a bit like Sayers writing Sayers on crack”, which probably sums it up). I’ve said before that I can buy the fountain scene on the assumption that all involved are high on something (and I think this interpretation could work well on TV, at least with a Lord Peter who could carry off a skin-tight catsuit), but it is a bit of an effort. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get in a White Slavery reference, and of course the press would leap at the chance to drag Harriet into the story. These days no doubt they wouldn’t stop until she had posed nude in a lads’ mag with a pair of handcuffs, a bottle of arsenic and a top hat. The timing of the Eton vs. Harrow match is my own theory – H. met Freddie Arbuthnot there about 2 years ago in GN (it seems a slightly strange thing for her to have agree do, so I have to put it down to her being a cricket fan), and if Freddie were there with Rachel that would provide (a) sane people to introduce to Harriet “Look! I have normal friends” and (b) an opportunity for Rachel to mention Pym’s problem to Peter, thus setting up the story. Though unfortunately – at least according to the Guardian’s reviewer, the match in question was pretty grim - which of course is good if it gives P. even more angst. Yes, this one is in the queue.

***

The Nine Tailors

‘No,’ said Uncle Edward, his face a violent shade of puce. ‘Absolutely not. You cannot possibly spend Christmas with that man at the Red House without a chaperone.’

‘The servants will be there. I’d think Mrs Gates would be chaperone enough for anyone.’

Uncle Edward’s grunt showed what he thought of the servants. Hilary shook her head.

‘Well, I think you're being beastly unfair. It’s my house, and I’ve already written to Lord Peter to invite him. He’s going to think me a fearful idiot if I have to say he can’t come after all. It’s simply silly to think that Lord Peter could possibly be after my money – he’s plenty of his own, and Aunt Mildred was saying only yesterday that she’d read he was in love with Harriet Vane – the detective writer, you know – so he’s unlikely to be interested in luring me into unspeakable vice, either.’

Uncle Edward's deserves credit for restraining himself from using bad language in his reply to his niece, but very little else. And so Lord Peter never saw Will Thoday die, nor learnt who had killed Geoff Deacon.

*

Excerpt from a review of ‘Her Footsteps in the Evening’, by Hilary Thorpe, as reviewed by Harriet Vane for The Daily Yell.

Miss Thorpe’s theme of a young girl driven to flee from a censorious trustee into the arms of a dissipated one, is handled with a lightness of touch that brings freshness and wit to a familiar story.’

‘Well, I read The Constant Nymph over Christmas’, Hilary said, tucking into a mince pie with gusto. ‘It was banned at school, of course, but Aunt Mildred never thinks to ask me what I’m reading, and I shouldn’t have told her anyway, and I thought that if that sold so well, something that actually had a sensible ending and less feeble people ought to do even better. I hope you’re not feeling sorry for Uncle Edward. You know, he didn’t want me to go to Oxford, and it was only Lord Peter’s being there and having the Wilbraham money that made him have to give in. Besides, all his friends have gone from thinking that he failed to put his foot down firmly enough to thinking him absolutely heroic for putting up with me for as long as he did, so he hasn’t done too badly out of things.’

‘You were abominable to your aunt in it, you know.’

‘Well, yes, I was,’ admitted Hilary, ‘and I know I ought to be ashamed of it, but honestly, Harriet, you can’t imagine how it was with father and mother both dead, having to go and live with someone who made it abundantly clear with every sentence how badly she thought they had brought me up, and determined to undo everything and turn me into the daughter she never had. She actually tried to persuade me to marry Freddie Wallis from the tennis club instead of going up to Oxford. Horrid cat. I’m glad if I paid her back.’

Harriet, observing the fires of youth, withdrew from the subject of Mrs Thorpe. ‘We’ve got fifteen minutes before we need set out to meet Peter. I hope you won’t think it’s too grimly feminine, but would you like to see the baby? He should be waking up about now, and I dare say you’ll need the copy for the sequel.’

**

[Bonus fic]
From the Minutes of the Meeting of the East Level Waterways Commission Boundaries Committee held on 14 April 1930.

Item 5 (a) (vi)

Agreed, the responsibility for the maintenance of the Van Leyden sluice to lie with the Fen Drainage Board.

I said in the original post that this was largely inspired by imagining the relations between Hilary Thorpe and Lord Peter in The Nine Tailors as Sayers' reposte to Margery Allingham's Sweet Danger, also with its detective and teenage redhead in the Fens, though as I am also reminded of Nancy and Peggy Blackett in The Picts and the Martyrs staying at Beckfoot with ‘only’ the servants, I suppose it could also be the other way round – that Peter’s being there as a responsible adult (pause for laughter) enables Hilary to be. Anyway, Uncle Edward quite clearly doesn’t have Hilary’s best interests at heart in any respect. It shows up the nastiness of Christmas at Denver (which this year no doubt involves everyone saying “Do you remember the trial of that Vane woman last year?”), though if he had thought ahead surely Peter could have arranged to be big game hunting somewhere? Or simply Vienna. I like to think of Hilary getting on well with Harriet – she certainly ought to, unless she really have designs on Our Hero’s virtue.

***

Gaudy Night

Harriet settled herself comfortably as Wimsey arranged the cushions for her, retreated to the stern and lifted the pole.

‘Is it your pleasure to go up or down?’

‘I rather like going down - if you fancy that?’

Lord Peter, who was not usually either rude or deaf, nonetheless did not answer and the punt floated slowly out into the stream and began to revolve as he stared into the middle distance with unusual concentration.

‘Peter! We’re getting a bit close to the – watch out!’

Harriet seized the paddle and lunged at the stonework, and the central arch of the bridge passed three inches over Wimsey’s head with the injury to his dignity as he dropped heavily to the deck followed by a loud “Ow!” as he rapped his shin on a board. The punt emerged once more into the daylight, and Harriet paddled them safely towards the bank as a red-faced Peter simultaneously rubbed vigorously at his leg and attempted to hide his head in his hands.

‘My dear Peter, what were you thinking of?’

‘I really can’t say.’

‘Evidently. Perhaps I’d better take the pole instead; you don’t seem able to handle it. Peter?’

It is not often that I compare myself to Zeus, but nonetheless, this leapt pretty much fully-formed from my brow as I sat on a bus going over Magdalen Bridge (in quest of TK Maxx) watching the river, and was reminded of some unfortunate phraseology that Middle Sister once managed to use in the lift with her boss. I am not sure whether Harriet’s brain is eventually going to remember what she said or not, though again if this were the Potter fandom (see above) there would no doubt be plenty of fics in which she did, leading to AU PWP. This also seems an appropriate (if belated) moment to mention a book that I came upon in O’Hare Airport in Chicago last summer Special Relationship by Robyn Sisman, which directly addresses the practicalities of making love in a canoe. The book depicts the illegitimate son of a presidential candidate, conceived by such means (I didn't say it's a good book). Sisman takes some care to describe the manoeuverings of her protagonists in order to avoid the Capsize! objection, with suitably cautious standing up, tree-grabbing etc., although in having them both entirely naked, she does, alas, forget about hypothermia. It’s not an entirely convincin’ depiction of Oxford, either.

***

Busman’s Honeymoon

The stairs creaked, and the door opened onto the chill dark of the dressing room. Peter’s pyjama collar pressed damply again his neck and he began to feel that not wasting time in drying his hair might have been a mistake. The room smelt of old wood and he padded quietly across, halting shortly before the door. It hung on the latch against the cold, haloed by the faint glow of firelight, and seeping through the boards a scent of soap and powder, lavender and warmth. It had been more than five years, but they were here at last. He reached for the latch.

Harriet sat beside the fire, satin nightgown glowing rosy gold against the flames.

‘Sweetheart,’ her skin was the colour of honey in the dim light. Blossoms of the honey-sweet... ‘Sweetheart, take your bridegroom. Quite clean and’ he wrenched his eyes upwards to her face.

The wide mouth was pinched closed, the dark eyes strained. Her hands, he saw, now, were not folded casually, but digging her nails into her wrist. Harriet, not golden and smiling and welcoming, but green, griped and unhappy. He dropped to his knees beside her and touched her hand. It tightened convulsively on his.

‘Harriet?’

‘Oh, Peter!’ She laughed shakily. ‘I’m so sorry. It’s only the curse, but I really do feel quite dreadful and I’ve got the most awful headache. I’ve taken something for it, but all I want to do is go to sleep.’

He lifted her into the bed and tucked the eiderdown around her shoulders before setting out in search of a hot-water bottle. Thank goodness Bunter had packed the bromide.

This is best explained as the Lois McMasters Bujold approach: what’s the worst thing I could do to my characters? Though it would also explain Harriet’s temper on occasion, if she is sitting in a pub trying to be polite to Peter while he witters on and she feels rotten. It also occurs to me in view of the drug’s more famous qualities that Peter’s occasional dabbling in bromide (which alas for the would-be historical novelist does not seem to be available OTC in the counter in the UK!) may have been useful in his 5+ years pursuit of Harriet, a period in which my reading is that he remains celibate (I’ll allow a quick fling with an old flame if you must). Leaving aside any issues as to whether sleeping with someone else in this period would be “unfaithful” to H., I don't see him taking the risk of getting found out - his sex life has made it into the gossip columns in the past, after all - because getting found out must run a high risk of Harriet choosing to interpret it as “Well, clearly you’re not really interested in me after all, good bye.” If he’s clinging on to H’s continued favour by his fingernails, he’s not going to hand her the perfect excuse to chuck him.

In canon, of course, it is the bromide that assures Bunter of all in the house the best night’s sleep :-)
Tags: wimseyfic
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