nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk) wrote,


Firstly to assign the fault. I went to see Michael Frayn’s farce* Donkeys' Years the other night, and observed that Edward Petherbridge as the Porter gave, bowler hat, moustache and a couple of inches of excess height notwithstanding, the perfect image of Lord Peter Wimsey in his seventies. I also observed that unless he was wearing a particularly good false nose in the television adaptations (and here I must also blame dolabellae for reminding me what an impressive nose it is), in some people the ageing process causes the nose to appear not larger, but smaller. As the journey home was rather slow, including having to walk back from the station as the rail replacement coach had left me too queasy to face a taxi, I had plenty of time to think up the following.

So here beneath the cut is fic. Usual complete absence of sex and, in this case, violence. Credit to DLS and her Estate.

The Nose of Yesteryear

In his late fifties, having kept all of his hair thus far – and most of it even the old colour – Peter concluded with relief that it seemed unlikely he would go bald. With that realization, he seemed to decide that as physical ageing was inevitable, one would just have to cope with it. He had henceforth regarded the process in a manner that Harriet distinctly remembered adopting as a prefect in dealing with the Lower Fourth – submitting gracefully where there was no alternative, and never giving an inch of ground where it might be avoided. He was able, therefore, at seventy-five to regard his face in the great Venetian mirror with tolerable contentment, and so it was with a little surprise that Harriet found herself standing in the doorway for several minutes watching him peering at the glass with an almost petulant frown, raising and lowering the monocle that had finally been abandoned, at least at home, in favour of a pair of reading glasses.

She moved into the room, and at the sight of her reflection he turned round to answer her quizzical glance in aggrieved tones.

“My nose,” he said, “has shrunk.”

“Your nose?”

“My nose has shrunk. Not by very much, and it can’t have happened overnight, of course – I must not have been paying proper attention – but it has happened.”

He turned back to the mirror as Harriet joined him. “I know. I noticed it some time ago.”

“You never mentioned it.”

“Well, it seemed rather personal. And I never thought that you were particularly fond of it.”

“I didn’t think I was. I used to resent it rather. I never forgave one of the masters for making me read Cyrano at school – rather too much, don’t you know, to have a silly nose on top of a silly face.”

“On the front, surely,” she smiled.

“If you insist. I even spent a couple of weeks blaming it for your refusal to marry me. Perhaps that’s it. It’s simply given up and slunk away. I shall miss it, nonetheless. Funny, how one doesn’t appreciate a thing until it’s gone. I wonder – ” He broke off mid-speculation, fiddling with the monocle in his pocket. Harriet watched him closely.

“What, Peter?”

“Well, if that’s why Gerald never re-married. I don’t believe he simply couldn’t get any woman to take him. He’d learnt from his mistakes, all right, and he’d have been perfectly manageable by the right one. Maybe he – I don’t know.”

“Thought he owed it to her?”

“Hmm. Faithful after death, if not unto.” He shoved the monocle determinedly away. “Too late to wonder now.”

The chime of the clock brought the maid with sherry and biscuits, and a comfortable pause with the remaining bits of the crossword, during which Peter contemplated his reflection curved around the cap of his fountain pen.

“Harriet?” he began, a little tentatively.


“Speaking of appreciating things at the time and all that, I’m not sure I ever told you, quite – ” He broke off again, realized he was still playing with the pen, and put it down rather abruptly.

“Darling – ” He reached across to squeeze her hand.

“No, it’s all right. I only wanted to say – I don’t think I ever have – I did appreciate things, you know, during those five years. I mean, before we were married. I know I can’t have seemed very grateful, but I was. Every time you dined with me when you were feeling fed up and would rather have wallowed, and when you didn’t bite my head off over something foolish I’d said again, and coming to the match that summer, and that red frock,” she laughed at that, and he went on more easily, “and, well, everything. Puttin’ up with me. I did appreciate it. Because you could so reasonably not have done any of it and just told me to go away and stop bothering you when you didn’t want it, and I was so very glad always that you didn’t.”

“I know. I was amazed sometimes that you put up with me. But I couldn’t have done anything else. I imagined I was serious, trying to get rid of you, but I never quite wanted it enough to do it properly. You never did let one be half-hearted.” No, she had been wrong, but never half-hearted; she remembered the sudden force of knowing the truth, of all her desperate denial gone up in a blazing moment of recognition. “But you’re right about the nose – I mean, about not appreciating something until it isn’t there. It was being in Oxford, and wanting you there when you couldn’t be, so that when you suddenly were… I couldn’t even try, after that.”


*You know you’re watching a genuine farce when one of the characters spends the whole second act with his trousers round his ankles. Recommended.
Tags: wimseyfic
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