A Hero’s Guide to Gift Giving
Our Guys of Austen offering for the Jane Austen Birthday Soiree, 2011. Enjoy!
At an undistinguished inn located upon a little used road in –shire, but possessed, nevertheless, of an excellent reputation with those gentleman of taste and breeding, a meeting is underway in the snug private dining room by a roaring fire this cold December night.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” Captain Wentworth rapped on the podium. “Quiet down, please! We’ll be here all night if we don’t settle this.” He nodded to Fitzwilliam Darcy to take his place as moderator.
Darcy rose looking pained, for public speaking was not his strong suit. Squaring his shoulders, he manfully stepped forward and placed his timepiece prominently on the podium. “Thank you, Captain,” he said, and faced his audience. “As you know, the Gentlemen of the Austen Service Society has been commissioned with presenting to our esteemed authoress a gift worthy of her immense talent and magnificent imagination–”
Charles Musgrove stifled a yawn. “More jawing,” he murmured to no one in particular. “I hunt tomorrow…early to bed and all that. The sooner we settle this, the better.”
Darcy looked annoyed. “–and magnificent imagination,” he repeated, with emphasis. “Most unfortunately, our last meeting devolved into a shouting match. We must resolve this in a civilized manner.”
“Define civilized,” someone quipped.
The Rev. Edmund Bertram spoke up. “When Miss Austen’s villains come up with appropriate suggestions,” he said primly, “we shall certainly come to an agreement. As for the cost–”
A man in the back stood up. “It is you heroes who should bear the cost!” he shouted. “It’s only fair! We villains are purse-pinched, no thanks to Miss Austen! Why she deserves a gift is beyond me!”
Darcy’s valet, Fletcher, who doubled as the Sargent-at-Arms, stood. “Mr Wickham, sir!” he said, his eyes sharp with warning.
“She ought,” Wickham continued hotly, “to have provided for us properly! As it is, we bear the deprivations of poverty and the scorn of readers! I for one refuse to contribute!”
“This issue has been settled, Mr Wickham,” said Fletcher darkly. “ If you persist, I will remove you–”
Wickham laughed maliciously. “I’d like to see you try, you pretentious piece of–” He lunged forward.
A shot rang out. Admiral McGillvary lowered Charles Musgrove’s shotgun. He turned to Darcy. “Go ahead.”
“My word,” protested Darcy. “Who the devil are you? And what about Wickham?”
“I’m a New Creation, and it looks like Wickham’s dead. Problem solved. Shall we get on?”
Captain Wentworth grinned at the startled Darcy. “A most civilized resolution,” he remarked. “Now, to the issue at hand. Resolved: we all pay for Miss Austen’s gift.”
Darcy drew a long breath and took hold of the podium for support. “Would anyone like to offer a suggestion?”
There was silence in the hall. Presently John Dashwood lifted a hand. “I still say that a gift card from Bed Bath and Beyond is the ticket,” he said. “She undoubtedly wants to get beyond Bath. I know I would.”
“I’d prefer the Bed, myself. At a nice little inn with a snug companion.” Mr Willoughby winked broadly.
Darcy scowled. “Hardly appropriate for Miss Austen!”
“But that’s just the trouble,” said Captain Benwick. “How does one choose a gift for a lady who is over two hundred years old?”
Frank Churchill spoke up: “You know how women are,” he said. “There’s always a hidden message. Or so they think.”
“Just how old will Miss Austen be?” This was from Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Charles Musgrove began counting on his fingers. Arithmetic was not his best subject.
“Two hundred and thirty-six,” said Captain Benwick.
Someone whistled. “There isn’t a cake large enough to hold the candles!”
“That’s not an age,” said George Knightley. “That’s an area code!”
Darcy placed both hands on the podium. “Might I remind you, gentlemen,” he said, “that the entire world will be celebrating Miss Austen’s natal day? One can hardly avoid the issue of age.”
“All the same, she won’t like it,” Charles Bingley said.
“And she’ll take it out on us,” added Knightley. “Even if it’s a gift she likes.”
“Who knows what that is?” Colonel Brandon said. “All we have is her novels.”
“The only gifts mentioned in my book,” said Captain Wentworth, “were the ones the Elliots decided NOT to give. Unless you count Louisa’s concussion as a gift.”
“Hey!” protested Charles Musgrove.
“It certainly was for me,” said Wentworth.
“And me,” added Benwick.
Darcy raised his voice. “I propose that our gift must be a pianoforte. Miss Austen must secretly desire such a gift, for the instrument appears everywhere in her stories and at least twice as a gift to one of her females.”
“It’s a little late to order one,” Henry Tilney pointed out. “Or are pianofortes so easily acquired?”
Darcy raised his voice. “I have personal information,” he said, “that the pianoforte at Chawton is in a deplorable state. And that confounded brother of hers, the rich one, will do nothing to replace it with even a serviceable instrument.”
“But what does that have to do with us?”
“And a pianoforte is mightily expensive,” added Charles Musgrove. “I say, how about launching an Occupy Godmersham campaign to force brother Edward to furnish Jane with a pianoforte? Or better plumbing or heating at Chawton?”
“Plumbing as a birthday gift?” Colonel Fitzwilliam straightened from his pose against the wall. “I don’t think so.”
“She had me give a horse to Miss Marianne,” said Mr Willoughby.
“No, it must be a pianoforte,” insisted Darcy. “Miss Austen had me give one to Georgiana and Churchill there gave one to Miss Fairfax, so it must be a secret desire she entertains.”
“How do you know the bed isn’t a secret desire?” said Willoughby.
“At her age? All she wants is a comfortable mattress and a thick shawl against the cold and diseases we older people are heir to,” declared Mr. Woodhouse.
McGillvary gave a shout of derision. “Not her. A good corset is more her style. Keeps her looking trim on the dance floor.”
“All right! Now we’re getting somewhere,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said. “What does a woman on the slightly high side of two hundred want?
“How about a bottle of wine?” Wentworth chimed in. “And some Belgian chocolates?”
McGillvary cocked an eyebrow. “Darcy, you ought to write to your aunt at Rosings. She’s plenty ancient and would know what to advise.”
Darcy snorted. “I daresay she would…endlessly!”
Colonel Fitzwilliam put a hand to his breast declaring sotto voce “If I’d ever become an old woman, which I am most assuredly not, I would have been a true proficient.”
Charles Musgrove suddenly sat up straight. “If you ask me, we could offer to finish one of her books. Make it a bit more lively. No more bonnet books, my lads. Blood and Guts–now there’s the ticket!”
“Musgrove, may I point out that you haven’t read a book in over a decade,” Wentworth snorted. “The idea of you writing one is preposterous!”
“And what is Horse and Hound, may I ask!”
“To be correct, it is a journal, sir.,” Fletcher interrupted, “not a book. If I may, Miss Austen
“Very perceptive for a servant–Fletcher is it?” Sir Walter peered at him with grudging interest. “I was going to suggest gloves. And Gowland’s Lotion. All women of a certain age are simply wild for Gowland’s.”
Darcy pounded on the podium. “No, I must insist–the pianoforte is the perfect gift for our esteemed creator. It will keep her out of trouble and our lives safe from her quill.”
“Hear, hear!” said George Knightley.
“And a fan as well,” added Wentworth. “They have a language with those things, women do. Like semaphores, but nice for the drawing room.”
Darcy sighed. “I will concede the gloves and, perhaps, the lace.”
Fletcher bowed, “Thank you, sir.”
“Although I initially discounted Musgrove’s idea, there may be more merit there than at first blush.” Rev. Burtram rose and addressed the gathering. “You must agree that the agony of waiting that she’s put us through with the old goose quill and paper stuff is unconscionable.” He resumed his seat to the sound of general approval.
“Sir, I heard of a new mechanical device that allows a writer to speed through their work in a trice. It is an author-actuated typing machine.” Fletcher looked about the room and leaned close to Darcy. “It is a French contraption, I believe.”
Darcy’s eyebrows rose. “Faster writing, hmmm. Perhaps then Miss Austen could write her OWN sequels, prequels and whatever the blazes people will think up next and leave us in peace and our own century!”
“I have it!’ Bingley cried brightly. “A holiday We could give her an all-expenses-paid holiday to– oh, I don’t know–somewhere nice, of course. Not Brighton or Bath but perhaps to Truro or Ireland.
McGillvary shook his head. “Rains too much in Ireland. And we’re at war with most everyplace else.”
“Ireland!” Wentworth hooted. “Bingley, please, the woman should at least have a hint of the sun if she’s on holiday.”
“An ALL-expenses paid holiday?” John Dashwood protested. “How about a partial-expenses-paid holiday? Can’t go overboard, you know, even if she is our authoress.” He looked back to the meeting’s moderator. “I say, Darcy, where did that Byron chap end up? It was nice and cheap.”
“Well, the Lake District then,” said Bingley. “Lots of GEOGRAPHY in the Lake District. Don’t she like ‘prospects’ after all? And walks, she’s dotty for long walks, ain’t she?”
“Whatever,” said Dashwood. “I don’t want to spend a lot of money. Or any money. How about a card with a sketch of the beach?
“What are those to rocks and mountains?” Colonel Brandon said quietly. Henry Tilney and John Thorpe, on either side of him, looked at one another and shrugged.
Wentworth loudly cleared his throat. “In keeping with the general approval of an economical holiday, we could send her a card with perhaps a seaside landscape? Could we get someone to draw something? Who draws? Has Jane Eyre been born yet? She’s a dab hand at art.”
“Emma is an artist!” exclaimed Mr Elton. “Knightley! Call your girl and see what she can do for us.”
“No,” protested Darcy. “I must insist–the pianoforte is the perfect gift for our esteemed creator. It will keep her–and us! –out of trouble.”
“I still say a good bottle of something comforting,” said Wentworth. “The nights have to be long for the old girl.
“Oh, all right!” Darcy conceded. “A bottle of good port, and Belgian Chocolates, as well as the gloves, fan, and lace!”
“But, blast it, the expense!” Charles exploded. “For a lady that old we’re going to need to buy a lace TABLECLOTH.”
“Musgrove,” Darcy addressed him sternly, “even if it takes a tablecloth, think of the people it will employ. You don’t fancy an Occupy Musgrove Farm on your doorstep, do you?”
“Gentlemen,” Benwick intervened, “I think Mr. Darcy is most perceptive in his idea of a pianoforte. Music will comfort her heart if she is lonely.”
“But so will a young bloke!” McGillvary snorted.
“All right!” Darcy despaired on bringing the men to order, but shot McGillvary a disapproving scowl nonetheless. “So, here we have it: port, lace, gloves, a fan, and chocolates all delivered by a fine young squire. And what she does with any or all of these is her own affair!”
The Admiral quipped, “If I know her reading public, what she does will soon be detailed in a true-life romance book: Jane and the Squire Bearing Gifts!”
The room exploded with booing and raucous cat calls. McGillvary barely missed being clipped by a particularly well-crafted shoe with a silver buckle.
So, you see Gentle Reader, the gentlemen are full of ideas and enthusiasm, but are not yet able to decide on a gift for dear Jane. The thinking is, since she IS two hundred and thirty-six years old, she can wait a few more days.
That’s the trouble with birthdays. Every year they come around … and the gift choosing process begins all over again.
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