The Bodice Ripper Chapter 1

The Bodice Ripper
by Seraphic McAmbrose
Author of “The Tragical Tale of Aelianus of England”, “The Widow of St. Pierre”, etc.

Dedicated to Notburga von Gräser


Chapter 1

'Oh, fie, mademoiselle', said Prudence, tossing her powdered locks with a smile. 'I cannot see how reading Livy will prepare me for adult life. It is all right for Mama as she is a blue-stocking, but Livy does not interest me'.
Mademoiselle Blanche, seated by the fire in the pleasant painted schoolroom, clapped shut the yellow leather book.
'Ma chère Prudence,' she said with a sigh. 'You know very well that your father wishes you to be a fit companion one day for a man of sense. Besides, you never know—God forbid!—you may one day have to make your own way in the world. If the current terror in my beloved France teaches us anything, it is that life is uncertain and anything can happen. Indeed this lesson is taught by Livy, too. Consider poor Lucretia'.
'I care not a rush for revolutions,' cried Prudence, 'for we have more stability in Scotland now than we have ever had before. Nothing will happen to King George. Why, not even Papa is a Jacobite anymore, and although I have my doubts about Uncle Hewbert, what can one man do? Meanwhile, I will never have to make a living because Mama's fortune is huge, and besides I am terribly pretty'.
'O mon Dieu, Prudence, you must not say such things,' said Mademoiselle Blanche. 'If you did not know that you were pretty, you would be even prettier, so the best policy is to try to forget that you are'.
But it was too late. Prudence had bounced up from her ornate chair and rushed to the large looking glass at the end of the schoolroom. There she beheld a beautifully slim maid of sixteen with sparkling blue eyes and thin dark eyebrows under lightly powdered chestnut hair. Her complexion was that of an apple blossom, and her small full lips resembled a rose bud in May. Prudence wore a white and blue calico dress trimmed with ribbons, and as she curtsied to her own image in the glass, it was clear that she had studied with the finest dancing masters in Edinburgh.
'May you have this dance?' she asked an invisible partner. 'I don't know, Lord Balustrade. Let me consult my book. Ah, here is your name for the cotillion. Very well then'.
And rising to her toes, Prudence began the steps of the dance.
'O fie,' she said to the invisible man. 'Lord Balustrade, you should not say such things. Your fortune does not tempt me. I shall marry an Indian officer and go to India where there are elephants. I have always wanted an elephant; it is my principal ambition'.
'Is it indeed?' sniffed the governess. 'Last week your ambition was to marry a great composer like your papa and travel to the Austrian court. The week before that your ambition was to marry a Highland lord and keep sheep. And the week before that you wished to marry an officer in the Household Guards, principally because of the uniform'.
Prudence concluded her dance with a curtsy that would have brought a sigh of delight to the lips of Monsieur Pétain, her dancing master du jour.
'That is true,' she admitted. 'My ideal gentleman changes, but I have always wanted an elephant, you know. I do not care who I marry, just so long as he is young and handsome and gives me an elephant'.
'And what is all this?' demanded a manly voice. 'This, I believe, is the hour for Latin, not for dancing'.
Mademoiselle Blanche stood and swept the newcomer a gentle curtsy, her heart beating rather fast. Although five and forty winters had besieged his brow, the Earl of Grunstane was a very handsome man. He retained the slim figure of his youth, and although thoroughly masculine, he was just as graceful as his daughter. Indeed, where looks were concerned the Earl was an older, male version of Prudence. He might have been mistaken for an older brother, not her father, were it not for the grey in his hair, which was today concealed by the latest fashion in wigs. His blue eyes were usually merry, but today they held a stern light.
'O Papa.' exclaimed Prudence. She tripped lightly across the floor and sank into an exaggerated obeisance. 'Papa, you will be so proud: we have reached the story of Lucretia, and I did not need my dictionary more than thrice per line'.
'Thrice per line, eh? Alas, my daughter, despite the heroic efforts of Mademoiselle de la Curtain, I do not think we will make a scholar out of you . However, do not be downcast: I have not come to scold but to tell you to look sharp. I expect you down to supper tonight.'
Prudence gasped.
'Yes, you. No, no—don't crush my coat; it is new. If my tailor could see you he would swoon. Your mother and I have decided that it is high time you left the schoolroom and took your first steps in society. Your mother'—here he coughed a little—'is under the impression that perhaps you are too young yet to be thinking of marriage, but my feeling is that in these still uncertain times it would be well to yoke you to a man of sense'.
'Goodness' said Prudence. 'Yoke is a frightening word, Papa. It makes me feel like a prize heifer'.
'Yes, well, it is in both the Bible and the Prayer Book, and for heaven's sake don't say things like that at supper. Our only guest will be the Reverend Hewbert Robinson, but even there—perhaps especially there—you must be careful'.
'Oh', said Prudence, disappointed. 'Just Uncle Hewbert? I mean'—for she saw the flash of steel reappear in her father's eyes—'that will be lovely. Thank you, Papa'.
'Yes, and as you are old enough now for supper parties, you might want to stop calling Uncle Hewbert, “Uncle Hewbert.” He is not really your uncle, you know, but my dear friend of Oxford days'.
'How funny it will be to call old Uncle Hewbert “Mister Robinson”, but I will endeavour to please you, Papa. Goodness, how handsome we look in the looking glass. Look, Papa, I am a miniature female version of you. How funny that I look so much like you when my brother Egbert looks so much like Mama'.
'Yes,' said the Earl of Grunstane. He looked in the glass and smiled wryly as he thought of his plump blond son now away at Eton.
'However did you come to marry Mama anyway?' asked Prudence. 'I mean, I love Mama. She is the most wonderful mother in the world, but she has never been pretty, and everyone says that you are the most handsome man in Edinburgh and environs'.
'Lady Prudence!' gasped her governess.
'I'm just asking,' said Prudence, pouting.
'Your mother is a woman of good sense,' said the earl as his eyebrows joined threateningly over his straight nose. 'Beauty is only skin deep. Any man of sense would say the same. It is not youth and beauty that count in a marriage, although they don't hurt, of course. What count are character and the ability to inspire both respect and affection in the bosom.'
He took a turn around the room gesticulating with one hand while he held the other behind his back. Perhaps it was unusual in a gentleman to be an artist and a composer, but the earl was an unusually expressive man.
'When I met your mother, it is true that at first I was inclined to overlook her for her more beautiful friends. However, I was much struck when, during a dance at the home of the late Lord Hailes, I overheard her debating David Hume in the most natural and friendly fashion. At the time I was so frustrated by the insipid remarks of my dance partner that at the first opportunity I secured a dance with the learnèd Miss Fairfax and asked her to do me the honour of becoming my wife.'
He smiled at the memory.
'She was very surprised, of course, but being a woman of good sense, she told me that she was inclined to favour my suit but that I must ask your grandpapa.'
'Did he jump at the chance?' asked Prudence.
'Prudence,' gasped Mademoiselle Blanche, but the earl merely laughed and dusted off the embroidered cuffs of his coat.
'What do you think?'
Prudence clapped her hands and danced around the room.
'What a romantic story, Papa. I hope I can one day tell my own daughter something similar'.
'So do I, my child, and thus I hope you will comport yourself in a way that will render not only your looks but your mind and conversation of interest to a man of good sense'.
'I will, Papa, I will!'
'Very good,' said the earl and prepared to leave. 'Just one last thing. I believe your mother has purchased in town a beautiful new bodice for you. I think you should wear it'.
With that he left the schoolroom, tramped down the stairs to the enfilade and then strode along it to his suite.
'And a new bodice, too,' said Prudence, again clapping her pretty hands. 'How excited I am, though it is of course only supper with Uncle Hewbert. Still, it is a start, and soon I will be able to bid adieu to Latin forever. Good-bye, Lucretia, good-bye!'  

©D Cummings McLean 2015


  1. Brava! I've missed The Bodice Ripper. Hoping for more installments.

  2. Check back on Sundays. It will be a Sunday serial until I get it done.


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