The Bodice Ripper Chapter 4

The Bodice Ripper
Part 1
Chapter 4

The diners and the footmen stood like stone, their eyes transfixed by the sight of the fat countess on the fine carpet. Then Prudence flew to the end of the table and cast herself down beside her stricken parent.


'Great merciful heavens,' cried Hewbert.

'Bless the woman,' said the Earl. 'Sometimes I think she does it on purpose.'

He strode leisurely from the head of the table and looked down at his wife with interest.

'Mr McAuliffe?'

'Yes, your Lordship?'

'A steak knife.'

'No,' cried Prudence, throwing herself on her mother's prostrate form. 'What are you doing, Papa?'

The Earl had taken a sharp knife from his henchman and now crouched down beside the his fallen wife.

'Get away, you silly girl. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? McAuliffe!'

'Now, now, Lady Prudence,' said the butler, prying her away.

'Charles, what on earth are you about?' demanded Mr Robinson.

'Watch carefully, Hewbert. You never know, this could come in handy if ever, please God, you
become a family man.' The Earl flipped his wife over like a pancake, so that she sprawled face down on the carpet. 'The authorities recommend a bread knife, but for real ripping action, there is nothing like a trusty steak knife.' And with that he began to saw away at the strings of the Countess's bodice.

'Oh poor mama,' said Prudence. 'Her beautiful bodice!'

'Aha!' said the Earl. 'And what have we here? Just as I suspected, she has laced her corsets too tight. Mr McAuliffe!'

'Yes, your lordship?'

'Summon Reece and tell her to fetch her ladyship's shawl.'

The Earl continued to saw away while the protesting corsets made a sound just like cardboard when you cut through it with an X-acto knife.

'It is not for me to question the will of the Almighty,' said the Reverend Hewbert Robinson, 'but it seems a pity that one of the results of the Fall is that the spines of women do not work without outside help.'

'It's not their spines so much,' said the Earl. 'It is that their wombs would ascend to their brains and drive them insane. Anyway, this is preventable through exercise in youth, which is why we have encouraged Prudence to be so athletic, riding horses and such.'

'What a lot you know about female anatomy, Charles,' said Hewbert. 'I am amazed.'

'It goes with the territory,' said the Earl. 'And there!' He ripped the last of the corsets away with his bare hands. 'Avert your eyes, Hewbert, or you will see my poor Hermione in her shift. She would not like that; she is pure.'

The cleric hastily averted his eyes, as did the footmen. Mrs Reece came busting into the dining-room with a great shawl of Stewart tartan, and the Earl stepped back so she could wrap it around her stricken mistress. Prudence hastened forward to help her flip the Countess over again.

'Brandy, please, Lady Prudence,” said Mrs Reece.

Mr McAuliffe handed Prudence a glass of brandy, and Prudence held it to her mother's lips as Mrs Reece smacked her plump jewelled hand.

Colour returned to the Countess's face, and she snatched her hand away.

“Ouch, you zany. Stop that—it hurts. Oh dear,' she added, looking at the table legs. 'Have I fainted? How silly of me.'

'Never mind, my dear,' said the Earl. 'It could happen to anyone.'

'That's the second bodice this week,' said his wife with a sigh. 'Really, it makes me cross. I'm very sorry, Mr Robinson, that you should be privy to this domestic fracas.'

'Nae bother,' said Hewbert kindly.

'Ah, Prudence,' said the Countess. 'You have no idea how lucky you are to take after your father and be so slim. Now help me up. We shall withdraw to the Chinese Sitting Room.'

As the ladies departed, Reece dutifully following behind, the Countess bestowed on the men a sunny smile. Mr McAuliffe shut the door.

'Whew,' said the cleric, sitting down. 'I thought she was dead.'

'Nonsense,' said the Earl, drinking from his brimming glass of port. 'Just an operating blip.'

'It must be very difficult to be a married man,' said Hewbert reflectively, sipping from his own glass. 'I would be afraid to cut through a bodice like that.'

'Nonsense,' repeated the Earl. 'It is no different from carving a turkey. Now tell me what you heard about the Wollstonecraft woman.'

Hewbert shuddered.

'Frankly it is not becoming to my cloth to utter what I heard.'

'Spit it out, man. Spit it out.'

'Okay, but I'm warning you that hem hem is involved.'

'Don't be ridiculous, Hewbert. Mary Wollstonecraft is not married.'

'Charles, I am sorry to say this, and I apologize for my unpriestly language, but this Mr Imlay told me that the woman Wollstonecraft is no better than she should be.'


'I do not wonder at your horror, Charles, when you as a husband and father are the guardian of whatever womanly purity we can expect in this vale of tears.'

'I would rather be dead in my coffin than hear what you have just said spoken of my wife or daughter!'

'It does credit to your Christian heart, Charles.'

'It's Aphra Behn all over again!'

'Alas for the iniquity of Woman,' said Hewbert and drank another glass of port.

'Here I am,' raged the Earl, 'doing my best to encourage my womenfolk to grow in reason and virtue through education, and these educated women keep acting like slappers.'

'Alas,' said Hewbert, signalling the footman to pour him another glass. 'You have to keep an eye on them, you know. I see this so many times in my ministry. You would be shocked.'

'What is the solution?' asked the Earl. He drummed his fingers on the table. 'Do you think teaching them to read is a mistake?'

'Not necessarily,' said Hewbert. 'Few in my Home for Indigent Slappers can read. They just look at the pictures in glamour magazines. I have tried to ban them, but to no avail.'

'I must marry off Prudence at once,' said his friend abruptly. 'She is the purest creature; she knows none of the facts of life and is as innocent as a lamb and therefore currently suited to the realities of marriage and childbearing. But what if she falls in with the wrong set? What if her natural high spirits lead her astray? Zounds, Herbert! I say she must marry.'

'Good idea,' said Hewbert, draining his glass. 'After all, the world must be peopled.'

The Earl shot him a hopeful look.

'What about you, Hewbert? Would you like to marry my lovely Prudence?'

The Reverend Hewbert Robinson choked. Red port sprayed everywhere, staining the white damask tablecloth, his clerical stock, and even the footmen. It was sad.

'What?' he spluttered. 'Me?'

'Yes, of course, you. What do you think? You are my dearest friend of Oxford days.'

'Oh no,' said Hewbert. His dark eyes were huge. 'Oh no, no, no, no. Ah ha, ha, ha, ha. No, Charles. I don't think so.'

'Why not?' demanded the Earl pettishly. 'What's wrong with her, I'd like to know?'

'What's wrong with her! Have you forgotten my Death Came Into the World Through a Woman sermon?'

'Oh that,' said the Earl, and his bejewelled hands glinted as he waved the sermon away. 'You have to say that stuff.'

'I have to say that stuff because it is true,' said Hewbert. 'Women are the drill sergeants of Beelzebub and the slavedrivers of Mahound. Their hairs are the nets of Satan, and their attractions the—.'

'Oh stop it,' said the Earl. 'I am around women all day, and I am fine. Besides marriage is in the Bible and the Prayer Book. It is perfectly acceptable, even for Protestant priests like you. You should take advantage of the fruits of the Reformation. Besides, wouldn't you like a son?'

'I don't need a son. My older brother took care of all that. He has three sons.'

'But what if there's a plague? You can never be too careful. They all live in Leith, for heaven's sake. Leith is rife with disease. Think of the future of the House of Bough.'

'Hmm,' said Hewbert. He drank another glass of port.

'How happy I am to have an eldest son,' said the Earl craftily. 'My dear, dear son. Whenever I think of my dear son Egbert Charles Edward, I congratulate myself that I at least have done my duty as a Scotsman and a Christian.'

'Hmm,' said Hewbert, drinking hard.

'Though outwardly we profess allegiance to the vile German interlopers, the memory of our great Stuart kings—even Charles II who was a bit papist and dodgy—will never fade in the minds of the Pewseys. Indeed, I thank my lucky stars not only for Egbert but for the twin male babies sleeping high above us in the nursery.


'And although for her safety we have raised Prudence to be a Hanoverian, how could she not fail to succumb to the charms of Jacobitism in the hands of the right man? Hewbert!”


'Hewbert, thou are the man!'

'I don't know,' said Hewbert slowly. 'What about the thirty year age difference?'

'What about it?'

'Girls don't like it. Prudence would not want an old man like me.'

'Nonsense,' said Prudence's papa. 'You are not old: you are my age. It is true you are a Ginger, but even if you have no wig on, that's nothing a bit of powder can't disguise.'

Hewbert drank another glass of port. He put down the delicate crystal and gazed seriously at his friend with dark and haunted eyes.

'Charles, do you remember my sister Clementine? She was married to the Duke of Paisley when she was but 16 and he was 45.

'Yes, of course I remember. Match of the season. Your parents rejoiced.'

'Charles, I saw her eyes when they returned from their honeymoon in Spain. Her eyes were full of the blackest hatred.'

'Spain,' said the Earl, 'is not all it's cracked up to be.'

'Not hatred of Spain, you plonker. Hatred of her husband. And he died soon afterwards.'

'But that was caused by a collision of humours.'

'It was not. His humours were in perfect balance. Charles, it was poison.'

'Good heavenly days. Hewbert, you can't mean it.'

'Of course I mean it. We hushed up the scandal with the co-operation of the present duke. He was very good about it, actually. He set up Clementine in London like a queen and started spending money like a sailor on shore leave.'

'Grief is like that sometimes,' said the Earl. He sighed. 'Oh, Hewbert. I cannot tell you how it would set my mind at ease to yoke my daughter to a man of sense. I am sure Prudence wouldn't poison you. She is very fond of you, you know.'

'I didn't know. I hardly know Prudence. You have hidden her way since she was twelve. I don't know what her interests are or anything. What is she interested in?'

'Well,' said the Earl crossly. 'If you must know, she is potty about elephants.'


'Yes, elephants. Hewbert, please, I am begging you here. If you don't marry Prudence, I will have to take her to London for the Season, and the place is lousy with Hanoverians. Even if I do manage to yoke her to a man of sense, he will probably have his manor far, far away in some ghastly southern region like Northumbria. Her mother's heart will break. My domestic life won't be worth a shilling. Please help me, Hewbert Robinson. You're my only hope.'

'Well,' said Hewbert slowly. 'I'm not promising anything, but it is true that Prudence is very lovely, and it might be nice to have sons around the house....'

'She can play harpsichord in the long boring winter evenings, too,' said the Earl.

'I don't have a harpsichord.'

'I will give you one as a wedding present.'

'Not so fast—I said I'm not promising anything, but if you can't get Prudence yoked to someone decent by the end of the London Season, then I will marry her myself.'

'Good man,' said the Earl. 'You won't regret this.'

'She would have to dress very plainly, though,' said Hewbert. 'I'm not going to have all the old women in church saying that I have married a fish-hook of hell.'

'No problem,' said the Earl. 'What a relief to my mind. Another bottle of port, Mr McAuliffe.'

In the pretty Chinese Sitting Room the Countess and Prudence were embroidering a long panel of white silk with bright flowers and butterflies. After a while, Prudence spoke.

'This is so pretty, Mama,' she said. 'What is it to be?'

'That is a surprise,' said her mother archly. 'Dear me, what could be keeping the men?'

'Oh,' said Prudence. 'Do they join us afterwards?'

'Oh yes. And that is the wonderful thing about being married to a man of sense. In some households, Prudence, you would not believe it, but instead of enjoying intellectual conversation, the ladies and gentlemen play silver loo and other card games after supper. Or they discuss hunting or shooting or fishing. But in this house, thank goodness, and I am certain it will be the same in the house of the future Mrs Hewbert Robinson, whoever that lucky maiden may be, more worthy subjects hold sway. There, as here, will be talk of politics, history, philosophy, divinity and divers other worthy topics.

'And elephants? Do you all ever talk of elephants, Mama?'

'Well,' said the Countess. 'Perhaps we might talk also of Natural History.'

'Oh, goody,' said Prudence. 'I cannot wait to try Uncle—I mean, the Reverend Hewbert Robinson on the topic of elephants, for if he is, as you say, a man of sense, he will certainly know a lot about them.

'The only problem,' said the Countess, coughing lightly, 'is that he might not be in a fit state.'

'Goodness,' said Prudence. 'Why not?'

'Well, my dear, you are old enough to know that when gentlemen like your father behave oddly it is not really because their brains are away with the fairies but because they are drunk.'


'Alas,' sighed the Countess. 'Men are like that, even men of sense.' She yanked the bell-pull by the fire. The butler came in from the dining-room.

'Yes, your ladyship?'

'Mr McAuliffe, would you be so kind as to tell me in what state are the gentlemen?'

'The gentlemen—ahem!—are in a state of excessive sensibility, your ladyship.'

'Oh dear. Could you repeat their most recent utterances?'

'Yes, your ladyship. I believe his lordship said, Alas poor Cherlie! Alas, my poor dead king!'

'Mmm. Pray go on.'

'And then the Honorable the Reverend Mr Hewbert Robinson burst into tears and said, 'O God have mercy on our dear dead Cherlie's soul!'

From the dining-room came the sound of men singing the “Skye Boat Song”.

'Thank you, Mr McAuliffe,' said the Countess, standing up. 'Come along, dear Prudence. We might as well go to bed'.


  1. Laughing til I cry.

    " 'She is the purest creature; she knows none of the facts of life and is as innocent as a lamb and therefore currently suited to the realities of marriage and childbearing. "

    1. Haha, that part is AWESOME!!!

      I'm so rooting for Prudence to marry Hewbert!! (But I haven't read this before. :)

    2. Heh heh heh. Textbook Georgette. Kitten-like teenage girl, doesn't know the facts of life, innocent as lamb: MARRIAGE TIME!

    3. Even in our current enlightened age it boggles my mind how many otherwise-reasonable people I've heard argue against any kind of sex education on the grounds that "it isn't rocket science and can be figured out after one gets married". :P

    4. Booklover: the horror. A brave and honourable Catholic couple, overseen by a medical doctor and a priest, should write a handy marriage manual. Nobody look at me. Never, never, never, never, never.

  2. "It is that their wombs would ascend to their brains and drive them insane." Ha ha ha!

  3. Oh, thank you for translating the Bodice Ripper into standard orthography. This is so much fun!


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