Posted on Thursday, 17 August 2006
“I . . . I beg your pardon, sir?”
Mr Gardiner and his prospective nephew both blushed fiercely. “This is all my wife’s doing,” he said. “She insisted upon it. She is talking to Elizabeth even as we speak.”
Darcy blinked, turning redder. “Ah . . . I see. And is Bingley receiving this . . .” He coughed -- “additional guidance?”
“Yes, but only as a matter of . . . only briefly. I suspect my wife believes that . . . a young man of his . . . easy, impulsive, affectionate disposition will . . . er . . . likely know what he is about.” Mr Gardiner was proud to have reached the end of that sentence with a straight face.
“I see,” Darcy repeated, regaining his composure and complexion.
“Naturally, I am certain that a man in your, er, position, will also, er . . .”
“Know what I am about,” Darcy supplied.
“Yes. Your, er, situation in life being what it is.”
“My situation in life?” Darcy’s eyes narrowed slightly. “I fear I do not entirely understand you, sir. That is to say, I hope I do not understand you. Did you mean, sir, that all men of my -- ‘situation in life’ -- are debauched libertines, or must have been at some time?”
For the first time, Mr Gardiner understand his niece’s early dislike of her betrothed. Honourable and usually agreeable as he might be, the man was also quite prickly when displeased. “I did not say that, Mr Darcy. I understand, however, that certain standards . . . that what is considered acceptable, even respectable, is quite different among the circles in which you move.”
Darcy lifted his head. “With all due respect, sir, the principles of aristocrats -- that is what you mean, is it not? -- are no more uniform than those of tra -- merchants.”
"Well," Mr Gardiner said hastily, "it hardly signifies. This is just a formality, you understand. I promised my wife that I would talk about it to you, and I intend to do so." *Even if it kills me,* he thought. "I am certain you already know well enough -- well, I have seen that you love Lizzy, and I am certain you will be kind. That should be enough, don't you think?"
"Sir, I . . . you misunderstand," Darcy said, more civilly. "I -- I would welcome some -- clearer -- advice."
Mr Gardiner's eyes widened. "What?"
"Please do not make me repeat it. It was difficult enough the first time."
Mr Gardiner gulped. He had never dreamed that he might actually have to -- he snuck a look at the other man. Darcy had turned scarlet, again, and his eyes were fixed on the floor. "I . . ." What was he supposed to say? "I am not certain what you already are . . . aware of. That is, surely . . ." Mr Gardiner shut his eyes and thought of his dear niece. Then he poured himself a large glass of wine and gulped it down quickly. "You must be aware of the mechanics, surely?"
Darcy looked somewhat amused. "Of course."
"And, uh . . . Lizzy is . . . the first time can be painful for a lady. You must . . ." Dear Lord, what did I do to deserve this? "If she is -- also, er, eager, it will be less so. If you are -- if the two of you indulge in . . . behaviour that was unacceptable during your engagement, but that is still not part of the actual act . . . that should . . . help her. Erm, do you understand what I am speaking of?"
Mr Gardiner stared at him despairingly. Darcy was still studiously examining the rug. “You cannot be entirely -- er -- chaste, can you?” he demanded.
“Well . . .” Darcy considered. “No. Yes. That is, not exactly, but mostly.”
*Not 'exactly'? How can one be 'mostly' chaste?* “Er . . . just talk to her. And -- ” Mr Gardiner shut his eyes as terrible vivid images paraded through his mind -- “touch her. Let her touch you. Make her tell you what she likes. All the rules of propriety, you understand, have nothing to do with this? You and your, er, your wife may do whatever you like, as long as you both like it.”
“And, Lizzy being so . . . fearless, sometimes it might be better simply to . . . go along with her suggestions. Let her, er, take the lead if she wants. It can be . . .” Mr Gardiner whimpered internally. “You need not feel confined to, er, conventional, er . . . er, ah, situations.”
“You will understand better, er, afterwards. But you should talk. That is the most important thing. Margaret always says so. And Lizzy will want to talk, I am certain. And one one other thing.”
“You are quite a bit larger than Lizzy. She is just a slip of a girl and you are very, uh, tall.” Mr Gardiner coughed. “You should -- afterwards -- if you have -- not crush her. If you understand?”
“I understand,” said Darcy, looking faintly ill. He turned to face the door, looking slightly desperate. "Ah . . . I shall just go fetch Bingley, it would be quite unjust were he to miss such an . . . opportunity." He fled.