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" A Dance to the Sneezes of Time" m and f - (2 Parts)


count tiszula

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Very uncanonical, I fear.

Spoilers; BDFAR Ah, at last a genuine use for the acronym.

A DANCE TO THE SNEEZES OF TIME

Returning to Thrubworth after Erridge's obsequies, I wondered if the funeral baked meats coldly brought forth by my sisters-in-law would include, with the inevitable tea, the almost as customary sweet sherry, Erry himself having latterly favoured the beer and sandwiches demanded by a commitment to the wilder shores of socialism. Entering through the labyrinthine corridors of the old house, I penetrated my brother-in-law's final keeping-room flat, the church party now coalescing there. Walking across the room to gain a view of the park from the window, I noticed that a recumbent figure on the huge sofa was that of Pamela Widmerpool, she having left the service early with much disruption on the excuse of suffering from the potentially disturbing symptoms of some minor ailment. Propped against cushions, a cup of tea beside her on the floor, its pages downward on the carpet, she was loooking straight ahead of her, apparently once more lost in thought. Asking if she were feeling better, I met the cold stare of her pale eyes, her answer an odd mixture of fury and laughter.

"Worse than the bloody corpse."

"Flu?"

"God knows."

"A virus?"

"Doesn't really matter does it?"

"Diagnosis might suggest a cure."

"It's probably just hay fever."

Thinking back over the last two decades. I recalled that at Stringham's wedding the little bridesmaid, then Pamela Flitton, his niece, had disrupted the nuptials witha prolonged sneezing fit, having been stationed too near the font, fillled with seasonable flowers.

Glancing to the gloomy vestibule through the door to the main house, I remarked a shambling figure burdting from an ill-fitting astrakhan-collared overcoat, alone amongst the men topped by a dusty silk hat. Masked by heavy-rimmed glasses, the thick-lipped mouth, engaged in loud guttural German converse with Siegfried, Erry's tame prisoner-of-war, sat among receding dark-shadowed jowls, giving more than ever the air of the Frog Footman.

It was Widmerpool.

Leaving him to his amphibian duties, Siegfried entered with a large teapot, his Nordic face developing a troubled look. Tossing back his blond fringe, he advanced with mouth open and eyes half shut, sneezing violently over his silver tray.

"Hap-Tschisha! Ich habe die Blumen eingeladen, Durchlaucht. Hap-Tschaaah!" he remarked to Frederica. Posssibly attracted by sympathy with or curiosity about a fellow-sufferer, Pamela, without a word, made for the teatable, leaving me to conversation with my wife's many relations.

The afternoon drawing on, I found Widmerpool at my side, looking about him desperately.

"Nick, do very kindly escort Pam to the door. She's not feeling quite herself, a slight recurrnce of what she went through earlier."

She having certainly gone very white, we at once set off down the stairs together, Pamela bidding no one goodbye. Amongst the thickest of the bric-a-brac that littered the passage, she stopped, an unusual look overtaking her face.

"I'm going to sneeze." This being a crisis indeed, she glanced round about, her eyes coming to rest on the two tall oriental vases, which Lord Huntercombe had disparaged as nineteenth-century copies. Standing about five feet high, they were overflowing with funeral lilies, their tongu-like stamina dripping golden pollen over the plinths on which they sttoood, perhaps the flowers Siegfried had been handling, cause of his magnificent sternutation. Small pointed nose twitching franticallly, her pale face froze into a rictus of anticipation, her whole body seeming to sway as if about to collapse. Eyes closed, mouth open, she reached out one arm to steady herself against the nearer urn, releasing a fresh orange pollen cloud into the air.

TBC

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"Hitchoo!" she sneezed, her head jerking forward. "Hitchoo! Hitchoo!"

Producing a sound far more sibilant and subdued than seemed possible , she tilted her head back, in doing do showing a grace I could not help admiring in spite of the circumstances.

"Hatcheef! Hatcheef!"

" Matters having feached this stage, it seems appropraite to bless you, the locution scarcely adequate to the occasion." I mumbled curtly.

"Huh-eshooo! Eshooo! Tchooh!"

Inasmuch as it were possible to do what Pamela had done with the minimum of fuss or disagreeable concomitant, she achieved that difficult feat, colour, never high in her cheeks, suddenly returning.

"Hatchoo! Hatchooooh! Give me your handkerchief."

Rather than blowing her nose in the conventional manner, she pressed it to her nostrils and gave an enprmous sniff, wiping their edges fussily yet enthusiastically, Putting it in her bag, she shook her hair, a huge grin unexpectedly transforming her blushing countenance.

"I thought those sneezes would never come. It's just like that business at Uncle Charles's weddign. Right through the first part I had those blooody honeysuckle things virtuallly climbing up my nose. I was really trying to sneeze, but the damned things were stuck." Her eyes shining, perhaps with allergic tears, she was more animated than I had seen her since the War, acting as my driver on a blacked-out run amongst falling bombs.

"I only got them out when they were saying the vows. I musst have sneezed twenty or thirty times. Of course Buster looked absolute daggers, but I just got on with it; it hardly being my fault."

Betweeen the fronds dangling from the vases, I glimpsed a strange, hideous face, thick spectacles barely disguising a look I had seen before.

It was Widmerpool.

On his face being an absolutely slavish look, as when Barbara Goring poured sugar on himat the Huntercombes' ball, when I had first met Erridge, and admired Mr Deacon's painting of "Gyges and Candaules, the wine having been offered", or when at schoool Frederica's marital alliance Budd had hit him in the tuckshop with a banana, I was reminded of the myth wherein Gyges, or was it Candaules, took pleasure watching his wife in sexual ecstasy with the other, this having little of course to do with the present scene.Brushing pollen deliberately from his ill-fitting, frankly middle-class overcoat, perhaps lineal descendant of the famous "Widmerpool overcoat" Stringham had told me of at the school, he emerged from his hiding-place, his expression still that of a hopeless lover.

" Ah, there you are, dear. I expect you are better, and Nicholas has been pointing out the objets d'art to yyou. What are these great vases, for example? Japanese? I doubted the wisdom of retaining the Emperor. We must also keep an eye on Uncle Sam's mailed fist - but I am running away with myself".

She did not utter a word but, turning from us, walked quickly towards the door.

Seeing her self-possessed, youthful progress, I recallled again Proust's first vision of Albertine, when on the dyke at Cabourg he had taken her and her companions to be the very young mistresses of racing cyclists, her exiguous hat recalling the beret basque, whetther its veil had contributed to tickling her upturned nostrils being unclear, its funereal hue now somehow inappropriate, her colour brighter, nose pinker.

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Very nice indeed! :P Clearly I'm going to also have to go and buy some Anthony Powell books in order to improve my appreciation of this still further. How uneducated I am.:P

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