The Bodice Ripper Chapter 3

The Bodice Ripper
Part 1 

Chapter 3

When the ladies entered the drawing room, the Honourable the Reverend Hewbert Robinson was standing by the ornate marble hearth with his back to the fire and a crystal glass of ruby-red madeira in his hand. He was clothed all in black, save for the white cloth around his neck which, as like his grey wig, betokened his clerical state.

Like his friend the Earl of Grunstane, Hewbert Robinson had retained the slim figure of his youth, but his skin was tanned and lined from the hardships of being a Piskie priest (if priest he were). His flaming ginger eyebrows provided a strange contrast to his brown skin and dark eyes, and he considered it an irony of fate that so far age had not silvered a single hair on his blazing head. The young viscount, Egbert Charles Edward Pewsy, and once wondered allowed if his hands would burn if he reached under the reverend gentleman's wig.

“Aye,” had said that worthy man, 'for your hands would immediately receive six of the best.'

'Oooh,' young Egbert had replied. 'Six of the best what?'

'This you shall soon discover at Eton,' said the Reverend Hewbert, and indeed this proved to be true.

So it must not be said that the Reverend Hewbert Robinson was entirely deprived of a sense of humour although his dark eyes often blazed with holy wrath against sin and generally held a wistful melancholy as if he had expected better from life. He had a special horror of loose women, and although he himself had founded it, he dreaded his pastoral visit to the Edinburgh Home for Indigent Slappers.

Visits to Grunstane House, however, he fulfilled with alacrity, for the Earl was his best friend. After religion and music, their friendship was his principle solace in life. The Reverend Hewbert was the second son of the Earl of Bough, so he had been accustomed to moving in the first circles until his calling to the priesthood (if priesthood it were) had forced him to rub elbows with all kinds of dodgy people. Meanwhile, he had grown accustomed to the Countess and even to like her somewhat. Although he could not see the attraction, even he had to admit that she was a woman of sense.

'Good evening, Lady Grunstane,' he said now as she swept into the room with Prudence modestly behind her. The Earl had been playing a piece by Handel on the fortepiano in the corner, but now he stopped.

'Good evening, my dear wife. Ah, and here is our lovely daughter Prudence. Prudence, you remember my dear friend Mr Robinson.'

Prudence stepped out from behind her mama and curtsied.

'How do you do, Uncle—I mean, Mr Robinson?'

The Reverend Hewbert bowed as solemnly as if he had never seen Prudence before.

'Good evening, Lady Prudence. Er. Um. Er. My, you have grown since I saw you last.'

'Yes,' said Prudence. 'Goodness, why do grown-ups always say that? Can you imagine if I hadn't? How shocking that would be! And then what would you say?'

'Ah ha ha ha,' said Prudence's mama. 'How droll! Prudence, darling, why do you not go to the fortepiano and sing for us?'

'Certainly, Mama, although I cannot sing so well as you.'

Prudence walked swiftly to the fortepiano while the Reverend Hewbert's melancholy eyes followered her from under his fiery eyebrows.

'How well she walks, Mr Robinson,' said the Countess, sitting down on the Chinese silk settee.

'Aye,' said the Reverend Hewbert.

'What shall I sing, Papa?' whispered Prudence in her fond parent's ear.

'What about a folk song?'

'O goodie! What about Black is the Colour of my True Love's Hair?'

'No, not that one, I think,' said her father firmly. 'Perhaps we will let Mr Robinson choose—not something that might get us arrested, though, Hewbert.'

'Oh,' said Mr Robinson. 'I collect Wha'll be King But Charlie? won't do then.'

'I think we can get away with The Bonnie Bonnie Banks,' said the earl and struck up the melody on the black keys.

Prudence sang the good old song very prettily.

'How well she sings, Mr Robinson,' said the Countess.

'Aye,' said the Reverend Hewbert, 'Only not so well as you.'

'Fie,' said Prudence's mama, whacking him with her fan. 'What matters that?'

'Well, quite a lot from a musical point of--.'

'Hewbert!' interrupted the Earl. 'Hewbert, I insist you sing a duet with Prudence.'

'What an excellent idea,' said the Countess.

'Aye, alright,' said the cleric, crossing to the fortepiano. 'A folk song makes a nice change from your modern high-brow chapel service settings.'

'What about Missus It's Cauld Outwith?' said the Earl as he rummaged amongst his music books.

'Tut tut, Charles. That would be unbecoming to my cloth. What about Barbara Allan?'

“Goodness, what an old song,' said Prudence. 'That one has whiskers on it.'

'Folk songs are like great men in that they better with age,' said the Earl frowning. 'Barbara Allan it is.'

' How well you and Prudence look together, Mr Robinson!' cried the Countess.

The Reverend Hewbert looked down at Prudence and then at her mother. His eyes were more melancholy than ever. It was as if he could see the '45 happening right then and there.

'What? Like Vulcan and Venus, I collect'

'Fie, Uncle—Mr Robinson,' said Prudence. 'You are not ill-looking, only old.'

'Ah well, you should have seen me twenty years ago. Then I was something to see.'

'Ahem,' said the Earl and struck the keys rather too forcefully. Handel would have had something to say.

The couple sang very well, and the Countess dabbed again at her eyes with her lacy handkerchief. Prudence's eyes sparkled, and even the inky wells of the cleric's eyes lost their habitual sorrow.

'That was barry,' he said, and might have said more had not the butler just then appeared in the door. He bowed.

'Supper is served, your Lordship, your Ladyship'.

The Earl stood and offered his arm to his daughter. They followed the Countess and the Reverend Hewbert into the dining-room.

'La,' thought Prudence. 'How marvellous it is to be a grown-up woman and get so much respect.'

The dining room had windows on both sides, the eastward view looking towards the sea, and the westward view showing the fine courtyard built by the third Earl. The evening sunlight was supplemented by banks of candles and paraffin lamps. A footman stood behind each chair as the family and their guest ate from the many dainty dishes on the table. Prudence listened with interest to the adult conversation.

'I ken what you're saying,' said the Reverend Hewbert. 'But I still ha'e my doubts about the northward position.'

'Nonsense, man. It is in the Prayer Book.'

'Yes, it seems so, but that might be the wrong interpretation, just as the edict against candles--.'

'Don't tell me you are still moaning about candles, Hewbert. Surely two are enough for any altar.'

'It's all very well for you, Charles, you have two whole candelabras over the organ . I assure you that it is no joke trying to read the Prayer Book by the light of two measely tapers. If I had my way, I'd have at least ten.'

'Shocking,' said the Earl. 'What Piskie priest besides yourself could afford that number?'

'I am not saying that everybody must have ten candles. I am just saying that I think it no outrageous heresy if I have ten. My eyes are not what they were, and I am having increasing difficulties in reading my sermon. By the way, my dear Lady Grunstane, I thought I should warn you that this coming week begins with 'Death Came Into the World Through a Woman' Sunday.

'Dear me, Mr Robinson. Must we hear that sermon again?'

'Yes, it is the most frequent request. In fact, women ask for it most of all.'

'But it cannot help the spiritual lives of women for them to be told that our tresses are the nets of Satan and our other attractions the fish-hooks of hell. Really, Mr Robinson, you are too severe.'

'I do admit, Hewbert,' said the Earl, 'that your homily does seem to preclude the fact that women can be taught to become reasonable and virtuous companions. Why, I have been reading a very interesting treatise by a lady name Mary Wollstonecraft and—!'

'Eeeee!' exclaimed the Reverend Hewbert with a terrible grimace as if he had been burnt.

'Don't tell me you know her,' cried Lady Grunstane. 'We have corresponded, and she is a most intelligent and amiable woman.'

The Earl looked swiftly from the curious faces of his wife and daughter to that of his old friend. He cleared his throat and frowned.

'Do you know Miss Wollstonecraft, Hewbert?'

'No, I don't,' said the priest (if priest he were), 'but I have met--cough, cough, ahem—a certain Mr Imlay in France.' His dark eyes rolled in the direction of the port bottle.

'You don't say,' said the Earl. 'The port, Mr McAuliffe.'

The footmen pulled back all the chairs, and the gentlemen stood expectantly.

'Oh dear,' sighed the Countess and stood up. 'It's like that, is—ow!'

Her face went as white as newly fallen Highland snow.

'Gracious, Mama! What ails you?'

But without a word, Hermione, Countess of Grunstane, fell senseless to the floor.

1 comment:

  1. Haha! I miss the inner child's spelings, but the humor still persists. I forgot that bodices caused so much trouble so early.

    I really love how Catholic weird stuff (aka "Laetare Sunday", "Stewardship Sunday", etc) are sekritly referenced here.


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