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The Birds and the Bees

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~*~

"Legerwood, you simply must have a talk with Freddy!" Lady Legerwood exclaimed, running her husband to ground in his study, where he had gone to find respite from a household currently held fast in the throes of wedding planning madness.

Lord Legerwood set down his Horace. "Must I, Emma?" he said calmly.

"Yes, for you are his father, and if you don't talk to him, who will? It is your duty, Legerwood!"

"Loathe should I be to stand accused of failing in my duty to our son. But you will forgive me, my love, if I am sadly slow on the uptake this evening. Precisely what is it that I am to talk to Freddy about?"

At this, Lady Legerwood coloured prettily, looking strikingly like the youthful debutante with whom he'd fallen in love, not a soon-to-be grandmother and mother of six. "About certain...matters that take place between a newly married couple in the bedchamber," she said. "Fond though I am of Freddy, and overjoyed that he is to be married, and to such a dear child as Kitty, too - for though you know I had hoped Freddy might marry more advantageously, I consider her as quite another daughter now - he has never been in the petticoat line. Indeed, Legerwood, if Kitty were to be disappointed in her husband, I should feel as badly as if it had been Meg, though, Buckhaven, of course, was older and not entirely without a certain reputation before he tumbled into love with her, and it was of all things the most unexpected for he'd evaded every trap set for him...but that's neither here nor there. What," she demanded, "are you going to do about it?"

Lord Legerwood, unknotting with the ease of long practice the tangled skein of his wife's speech, said, "Do I take it you want me to discuss the niceties of love-making with Freddy?"

"Yes," replied his other half baldly.

He could think of a dozen things he would rather do than hold such a conversation with his son, among them walking barefoot over hot coals or strolling down Bond Street without trousers. But he knew that Emma, scatterbrained as she could be, was right. Discreet inquiries over the years since Freddy's majority had yielded no evidence that he ever kept a mistress or even visited one of those establishments that catered to a gentleman's needs. Freddy was undoubtedly as virginal as his bride-to-be, and perhaps a few pointers wouldn't go amiss to help get the newlyweds off to a good start.

"Very well, Emma," he said, resigned to his fate. "I will have a talk with Freddy."

"Thank you, my love. Indeed, you are the best of husbands!" Lady Legerwood declared emotionally, and took her leave.

Lord Legerwood rather thought he was.

~*~

He found his son at White's, having been tipped to his present location by Icklesham, for he went first to Freddy's rooms in Ryder Street on the chance that he might still be at home. The club's morning-room was sparsely populated, and Freddy was sitting off by himself in a corner; a fortuitous if surprising circumstance, for as Lord Legerwood well knew, his son was neither prone to self-reflection nor of a solitary temperament.

"Ah, Freddy, there you are," he said by way of greeting.

Freddy started violently in his seat, the sherry he was absentmindedly holding nearly slopping over onto his bisque-coloured pantaloons. He set down the glass on the round table at his elbow and cast a hunted look over his shoulder, but relaxed when he recognised the speaker. "Oh, it's only you, sir."

"My paternal heart rejoices at the enthusiasm of your reception," said Lord Legerwood sardonically.

He raised his quizzing glass and contemplated his eldest son and heir. Freddy was, as ever, dressed in the height of fashion, from his brown curls cut à la Titus, his high starched collar encircled by a snowy white cravat whose intricate folds had lesser mortals seething with envy, and his coat of dark blue superfine made by the peerless Weston, to his pantaloons tucked into tasselled Hessians so highly polished that his lordship could see his reflection in them. Only one thing spoiled the picture of sartorial perfection: the frazzled expression that marred Freddy's normally genial countenance.

"You appear a trifle on edge, my son," Lord Legerwood observed, lowering the quizzing glass.

"I jolly well am, and so would you be if you were me," Freddy replied in aggrieved tones.

"Trouble in Paradise, Freddy?" Lord Legerwood asked sympathetically as he sat down in the chair opposite.

"That a new gaming hell, sir? Never heard of it, but I promise you I ain't rolled up. Not such a bacon-brain as that."

Lord Legerwood's lips twitched. "I should be seriously distressed to discover that you were at point non plus and didn't come to me for help - as I've told you before. But no, Paradise is not a new gaming hell nor do I have any fear that you are in Dun territory. What I meant is, is everything all right between you and Kitty?"

Freddy looked astonished. "Between me and Kit? Whyever shouldn't it be? Dash it all, sir, we're getting married in a se'nnight."

"You astonish me," his father said dryly, thinking not only of the state of heightened excitement in Mount Street in recent days, but of the numerous bills arriving daily in the post, there being no financial help forthcoming from the recently married Matthew Penicuik, enjoying, presumably, connubial bliss with the (now former) Miss Fishguard. "But when a young man on the verge of marriage is jumpy as a hen surprised by a fox in the chicken coop, it's natural to wonder if perhaps he's having second thoughts. Which would grieve me deeply, for I am very fond of Kitty."

Freddy's expression brightened, his pleasant features transformed so that he was almost unrecognisable as the amiable but somewhat vague Pink of the Ton Lord Legerwood had (more or less) raised. "Kit's a wonder, ain't she?" he said in the sort of love-struck tones his father had never expected to hear from him.

"She is," agreed Lord Legerwood.

"Too good for me, of course, but I hope to make her happy. That is to say, do my best."

"You do yourself an injustice, Freddy. I believe you are good enough for Kitty, and you will make her a very fine husband indeed."

Freddy flushed. "That's devilish kind of you to say, sir."

"Not at all; it's not kindness, but the simple truth. But tell me, if all is smooth sailing between the two of you, what has cut up your peace?"

"This wedding fuss and bother," Freddy replied. "Hardly ever set eyes on Kit, and when I do she's either dashing off to the milliner's or dressmaker's or what-not, or she's got one of those cursed lists m'mother drew up and nothing will do but for her to ask my advice. It's all 'Freddy, what do you think about this?' and 'Freddy, what do you think about that?' I ain't complaining, mind you. Best to keep an eye on things; Kit ain't entirely up to snuff yet, and m'mother has the children to deal with. Only leaves me or Meg, and she'd make a proper mull of it: too scatterbrained by half and no eye for colour. But lord, sir, it's almost enough to make a fellow kick over the traces and elope, like poor old Dolph did with Hannah, though that was a ramshackle affair. Like to think I'd manage things better."

"I have no doubt you would, Freddy," said Lord Legerwood, whose eyes had been opened to Freddy's unsuspected depths during the recent events involving his son, not one but two elopements and an ivory-turning faux Chevalier. "But I hope you will restrain the impulse. It would deeply distress your mother if you were to do so."

"No, no, wouldn't do something so shatter-brained. Not that I could talk Kit into it even if I wanted to. Never seen her so happy - merry as a grig. M'mother and Meg, too. Don't understand it, but there it is." Freddy sighed. "But what I want to know is, how did you survive it, sir? This getting leg-shackled lark, I mean. You're up to every rig and row in town. What's the trick to it?"

Lord Legerwood cast his mind back to the frenetic days leading up to his wedding. He barely repressed a shudder at the memories. "I'm afraid there is no trick. My best advice is to look forward to when the ceremony is over and you have Kitty to yourself. Weddings are the province of women, Freddy. We men simply have to let them have their way."

"Thought you were going to say that," replied Freddy gloomily. Then he brightened again. "Still, worth it. Kit never had much, you know, growing up in that gloomy pile of bricks with Uncle Matthew and the Fish for company." He ended simply, "Like her to have everything she wants now."

"Your feelings do you credit," Lord Legerwood said, touched. Deeming it an opportune time to steer the conversation toward the reason for his presence at White's at an hour when he could usually be found sparring at Jackson's saloon, he continued, "But if you won't object to a change of topic, Freddy, I came here specifically to have a word with you about a rather...delicate matter."

"M'mother increasing again, is she?"

"Not that I'm aware," Lord Legerwood said, diverted by this unexpected question but hoping it meant that Freddy's mind was inclined in the direction of husbands, wives and the creation of children.

"Then what's to do?" Freddy asked curiously.

Lord Legerwood removed his enameled snuff-box from his waistcoat pocket, flicked it open and took a pinch, all in one smooth, dexterous motion that drew an admiring look from his son. Only when he'd returned the snuff-box to its place and dusted his finger-tips with a handkerchief did he say, "The delicate matter concerns you and Kitty."

"Me and Kit?" A certain wariness entered Freddy's eyes and voice at this.

"Yes. Tell me, Freddy, what do you know about the birds and the bees?" After much internal debate, and taking into consideration his son's temperament and inexperience in matters amatory, Lord Legerwood judged it wisest to approach the topic in a roundabout fashion, and avoid dismaying Freddy any more than he could help.

"Don't know a thing, but if you think we should spend the night there instead of at the George, we will. Downiest fellow of my acquaintance, only a fool'd not take your advice."

Lord Legerwood sketched a half-bow from the waist. "You flatter me, Freddy, but I fear you are labouring under a misapprehension. I am not referring to a hostelry in Dover, but to the actual birds and bees and, ah, their behaviour in nature."

Freddy goggled, his grey eyes protruding slightly so that he bore a marked resemblance to his mother and sister. "Sir, don't tell me you're on the go. Not like you to dip deep."

"I promise you I am not drunk, although," he added ruefully, "by the end of this conversation I suspect I shall wish that I were."

"Seems a deuced odd thing to wish if you ask me," remarked Freddy.

"No doubt you are correct," Lord Legerwood acknowledged, defeated once more by his son's literal-mindedness. "But to return to the topic of the birds and the bees, there are some interesting facts about them that I believe you might find useful."

But Freddy, apparently, wasn't having any of it. "No I bally well might not," he retorted with some heat. "Can't stand either of 'em, sir, if you must know. Never cared for the way birds stare at you. Beady eyes: remind me of m'Aunt Augusta. And as for the bally bees! Got stung on the nose by a bee punting when I was at Eton. Hurt like the very dickens, I can tell you, and I wasn't fit to be seen for a week. Never been able to look a bee in the eye since."

"I can imagine the sight of a bee punting would incline one in that direction, even without getting stung," Lord Legerwood said, unable to resist.

Freddy gave him a suspicious look. "Are you roasting me, sir?"

"Perhaps a little," his father replied. "But Freddy, I fear, as so often happens in our conversations, we've wandered from the point."

"Maybe you have, sir, but I ain't," said Freddy firmly. "Tell you what, if you need to jaw about nature, wait until Charlie arrives for the wedding. If he ain't off kicking up some lark, I daresay he'd like it well enough. Fact is, had enough of lectures when Kit dragged me about to see the sights after she came up to London, and dash it all, expect I'll be in for more of it in Paris. Turns out London ain't the only place overrun with rubbishy bits of broken rock like those Elgin Marbles I was telling you about. Thought it must be a hum, but Kit showed them to me in one of those dashed guidebooks she's so fond of. City is full of statues missing arms and heads and what-not. French must take us for a bunch of flats, too." Freddy sadly shook his head. Then he consulted his fob watch and with a creditable show of surprise said, "By Jove, look at the time! Be late for my appointment at m'boot maker if I don't leg it. But if you don't like to wait for Charlie, Father, you can always call on m'friend Jasper - Stonehouse, you know, has rooms in Ryder Street, too. Best of good fellows, positive encyclopedia when it comes to nature and what-not. Daresay he'd give you a listen." And with that, he rushed out of the room.

After Freddy's departure, Lord Legerwood, not unexpectedly, gave his pent-up feelings free rein, until a passing servant enquired with some alarm if 'my lord has been taken ill and needs assistance?' At that he raised his head, to reveal a laughing countenance and tears of mirth running down his cheeks. "N-no, I am q-quite w-well, I assure you," he stuttered, taking out his handkerchief and wiping his streaming eyes.

Though Emma would undoubtedly be disappointed at his failure, Lord Legerwood couldn't regret having made the attempt. If only, he thought, it were possible to distill the essence of Freddy and sell it in bottles. He was a better pick-me-up than any tonic.

~*~

After leaving White's, Freddy did not, in fact, go to his boot maker's, as the appointment was entirely apocryphal. Instead, feeling a burning need to unburden himself after his disturbing conversation with Lord Legerwood, of whose good sense he'd previously had an unassailably high opinion, he drove his tilbury to Mount Street to see Kitty.

The butler, taking Freddy's hat and Malacca cane, informed him that Miss Charing was at home, and he would find her in her sitting room. Freddy made his way upstairs with alacrity, stopping only once in front of a large gilt mirror to examine his reflection and make a few minute adjustments to his hair and cravat.

He paused on the threshold to admire his betrothed, seated at her writing-desk with pen in hand. She looked, Freddy noted approvingly, all the crack in a charming morning dress of white cambric, under a pelisse of pale green sarsnet with a vandyke Spanish border that was tied at the waist with a darker green ribbon. Her slender feet were encased in green kid slippers and her dusky curls were pulled back in a high knot, secured with a matching ribbon, from which a few artfully careless ringlets fell free to frame her delicate features.

Kitty wore no jewelry, but Freddy thought with satisfaction of the emerald parure that was to be his wedding gift to her and would become her dark colouring to perfection. He thought with even more satisfaction of the gold band that would soon adorn her left ring finger. At this juncture an image of Jack Westruther's handsome face flashed through Freddy's mind, and though gloating was an emotion foreign to one of his easygoing temperament, there was no doubting that stealing a march on Jack had done wonders for his self-esteem.

But thoughts of Jack inevitably revived the memory of the leveller Freddy had tipped him, an event which he still recalled with embarrassment, so he put them from him and advanced into the room saying, "Hallo, Kit. Hoped I'd find you in."

"Freddy!" Kitty exclaimed, turning in her seat. Her face broke into an enchanting, dimpled smile and she jumped impetuously to her feet and ran to meet him, hands outstretched.

Freddy took them, pulled her close, and a pleasurable few minutes then passed that left both parties flushed and breathless. By this time, Freddy was growing accustomed to the depredations Kitty wrought on his cravats, but counted the reward well worth it, however greatly it scandalised Icklesham. Kitty then drew him to a comfortable sofa and they sat down close together.

"Oh, this is nice," Kitty said with a contented little sigh. "It seems as if we hardly set eyes on each other lately!"

"Just what I was saying to m'father," agreed Freddy.

"Do you mind very much?" she asked worriedly, taking his hand between hers in that way she had that made Freddy feel like one of those bally heroes the Fish went on and on about: dashing here and there, rescuing maidens and what-not.

"Enjoying yourself?" Freddy asked, evading the question.

"Oh, yes," Kitty said, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. "There's still so much to do before the wedding that I don't see how it can possibly all be ready in time, but I don't believe I've ever enjoyed myself more."

"Well then, stands to reason I don't mind. Like to see you happy, Kit."

"Oh Freddy." Another lengthy silence ensued. "But it is costing an awful lot of money," she confessed in a worried voice. "And while your dear father makes light of it, I cannot help but feel that it is too, too much."

"No, it ain't," Freddy replied promptly. "Going to be a Standen, Kit: no reason m'father shouldn't sport the blunt. No one else to do it, since Uncle Matthew ain't come up to scratch and probably won't now he's married the Fish. But don't trouble your head about it. I promise you m'father don't."

Kitty looked rueful. "The sad truth is, Freddy, that I don't trouble my head about it, or at least not nearly so much as I ought. No doubt Hugh would say it shows that I am sadly unsteady of character."

"Oh Hugh!" Freddy said dismissively. "Can't listen to anything he has to say. Only give you the megrims. But speaking of megrims, brings to mind the reason I came to see you. Well, the other reason. Don't have to tell you what the first is."

"No indeed," Kitty said with an impish smile.

But Freddy, for once, didn't return the smile. "Fact is, Kit, worried about m'father. Wanted to talk to you about it."

In an instant Kitty was all seriousness. "Oh Freddy, is something wrong with him? Is he ill?" she asked anxiously. "Your mother has made no mention of it, but she would not like to worry me so close the wedding."

"Ain't sick, not in the way you mean, that is. Pains me to say it, Kit, but I think he's getting queer in the attic."

"Oh surely not! Why, he's younger than Uncle Matthew."

"Can't see any other explanation," said Freddy, who had pondered the matter hard on the drive to Mount Street.

"You must tell me everything, Freddy," Kitty said at once. "And then we will decide what's to be done."

Freddy judged it wisest not to tell her everything, so he made no mention of his glum state of mind when Lord Legerwood found him. Instead he said, "M'father stopped in at White's earlier. Came there looking for me. Said he had a 'delicate matter' to discuss - to do with the two of us. Sounded dashed serious, I can tell you."

"With us? What was it?"

"That's just it, Kit. Didn't have anything to do with us. Started jawing about bally nature, if you can believe it."

"Nature?" repeated Kitty, baffled.

"There!" Freddy exclaimed with satisfaction. "You see? Exactly how I reacted, way any sensible person would. Next thing I know, he's wanting to fill my head with a bunch of rubbishy nonsense about the birds and the bees. Well, honestly, Kit! The birds and the bees? What do they have to say to anything? No other possible explanation: m'father's growing senile."

Kitty's reaction to this unburdening of Freddy's outraged feelings was not at all what he expected. Her face turned bright pink and she let out something between a gasp and a giggle. "Oh Freddy!" she uttered in a choked voice. "Oh Freddy!" But that was as far as she got, for she covered her face with her hands and her shoulders shook.

"Here now, Kit, ain't that serious." Alarmed, Freddy put a supportive arm around her. "Just a distempered freak, I daresay, and he'll be fine in a few days. Didn't mean to upset you."

Kitty lowered her hands. "I'm not upset," she said. "Truly, I'm not. But Freddy, dear, dear Freddy, your father isn't growing senile. He was only using a euphemism."

"Well, if that don't beat Dutch!" Freddy said indignantly. "How was I supposed to know he was speaking bally Greek or whatever language that is?"

Kitty covered her face again, and it was nearly a full minute before she'd recovered herself sufficiently to say unsteadily, "Freddy, do you mean to say you've never heard the expression 'the birds and the bees' before?"

"Should I have?" Freddy asked in bewilderment. "Don't see why I should. Like I told m'father: ain't fond of either. Prefer the city to the country. Reason I always made jolly well sure I never got rusticated," he added with justifiable pride.

"But Freddy, the thing is, it isn't actually about birds and bees." Kitty's already high colour deepened. "It's simply a way of explaining, well, how babies are made."

"Good god!" ejaculated Freddy in horror. "No, Kit, you're bamming me. Must be."

"I promise you I'm not," Kitty replied earnestly. "Fish explained it to me, when I was fourteen. She said it was her duty to prepare me for marriage and what - what happens between a husband and wife. You see, bees carry pollen on their legs and fertilise the flowers when they fly inside them, and birds, of course, lay eggs." She wrinkled her brow. "Though I must admit that last part didn't make very much sense to me, and I had a horrid nightmare that night about sitting on a nest and being brought worms to eat. But perhaps it was Fish. She is terrible at explaining things, Freddy. She rambles so and wraps everything up in poetry."

Freddy's expression had been growing more and more appalled as Kitty spoke, until finally he could take no more. "Never heard such a load of claptrap in my entire life," he exclaimed in outrage. "Always knew your Fish was touched in the upper works, but it's even worse than I thought. No wonder you had a nightmare. I should bally well think you would!" Then he added apprehensively, as a thought occurred to him, "Kit, don't need me to tell you how it really works, do you? Will, of course, though I'd as lief not." Freddy looked a trifle pale, but determined.

"You will?" Kitty sounded doubtful.

"Course I will. Ain't clever like Charlie, but good lord, Kit, not a flat no matter what m'father thinks," said Freddy indignantly. "Might not be in the petticoat line, but I dashed well know how babies are made! Wouldn't need a rubbishy load of birds and bees to explain it, either. Only, rather not."

"Oh Freddy, truly, you have the most chivalrous heart!" Kitty clasped his hand again. "But you may set your mind at ease." She blushed again. "Meg explained everything to me."

"Well, thank the lord for that!" Freddy drew out his handkerchief and mopped at his perspiring brow.

They sat in silence for a minute while Freddy recovered from the strain of the conversation, and then Kitty said thoughtfully, "Freddy, do you ever wonder if Fish and Uncle Matthew...?"

"No, I don't, and neither should you," said Freddy firmly, and stopped the train of her thought in the only sensible fashion.

~*~

The Honourable and Mrs. Frederick Standen returned from their honeymoon in Paris and took up residence in a townhouse in Berkeley Square that they had rented for the remainder of the Season. On the evening after their return, they dined en famille in Mount Street with the Legerwoods and Lady Buckhaven. When the meal was over, Kitty, Meg and Lady Legerwood retired to the drawing room, while Freddy and Lord Legerwood sat on, drinking their brandy and wreathed in cigar smoke.

"Married life agrees with you, Freddy," remarked his father.

"Don't see why it wouldn't. After all, married to Kit," Freddy replied simply.

"Nevertheless, I'm delighted that all is still well in Paradise. And what about Paris? It's plain that Kitty enjoyed herself immensely, but did you?"

"I should bally well think I did." An unexpectedly satirical gleam, distinctly reminiscent of his father's, sprang to life in Freddy's eyes. "Learned an awful lot about the birds and the bees while I was there," he said.

~end~