The Bodice Ripper Chapter 7

The Bodice Ripper
Chapter 7

The Hon & Rev Hewbert Robinson got up, strode past the billiards table, and stood before the window looking out at the Firth of Forth, hands clasped behind his clerical back. He wished very much that his cousins would go away so he could have a sensible conversation with his brother. Although morally weak and given to the pleasures of the flesh, the Earl of Bough was cognizant of his duties as the Head of House and gave good advice. The problem was the Cameron cousins who were as ever a bad influence. Startled by a loud shout of laughter, Hewbert turned to see Henry and Cousin David clashing knives in a mock sword fight. He shut his eyes and prayed for patience.  

The door opened and a tremendously fat woman with a mob cap on her red head and a voluminous white apron over her grey dress appeared, closely followed by a tall thin woman with grey hair and a grey dress. Behind them came Mr Adam, looking rather more tranquil than he had before. The tall thin woman brushed past the fat woman, and they both made deep curtsies. 

"Ah," said the Earl of Bough, "now we shall have some sport. Gentlemen, Mrs McCready, my housekeeper, and Mrs Burns, my cook. McCready and Burns, the gentlemen.

The women curtsied again.

'Damme,' said Sir David. 'I hope you don't burn the vittles.'

The fat woman giggled.

'Oh, sir,' she said. 

'Now,' said the Earl, 'so that we do not have a repetition of the most painful and disgusting scene just witnessed, perhaps I should explain what is expected of you.'

The fat woman turned deep crimson.

'Oh, your lordship,' she said. 'I collect I must apologize for the deportment of my silly lassies. It is a mystery to me that they should be so froward, as normally they know their place and---.'

'Silence,' roared the Earl, and a small smirk appeared on the pinched face of Mrs McCready the housekeeper. 'I do not wish to waste any more time on that subject. You perceive this bread knife, Mrs Burns?'

'Aye, your lordship, I do.'

'Mrs Burns, I plan to rip your bodice with it. Any objections?'

'No indeed, your lordship.'

Sir Nicholas whispered some joke into his sire's ear, and they both spluttered with laughter.

'Hmm,' said the Earl, ignoring his relations. 'Very sensible, Mrs Burns.'

'I hope I give satisfaction, your lordship.'

'And Mrs McCready, do you perceive the steak knife held by Sir David Cameron?'

'Aye, your lordship,' said the housekeeper, standing very straight. 'I do.'

'Mrs McCready, Sire David shall rip your bodice with it. Any objections?'

'No, indeed, your lordship. I hope I know my place.'

'Again very sensible,' said the Earl. 'I am well satisfied. Some men hold that there is no use for women over forty, but in cases like this I find truth in the old adage "age before beauty".'

'Oh, I don't know,' said young Sir Nick, examining Mrs Burns' hefty bosom. 'I would not say beauty has entirely given up the field.'

'Oh, sir,' said Mrs Burns and curtsied again. 

'See me later,' mouthed Sir Nick silently, and Mrs McCready, intercepting this,  looked more vinegary than ever.

'Right,' said the Earl. 'Down to business. Hewbert, as you have no money riding on the outcome, you shall be timekeeper.'

'Oh, very well,' sighed his brother and took his turnip from his pocket. 'At least then we will be done with this nonsense.'

'Good man,' said the Earl. 'Hmm... I wonder if perhaps the women should have something to hold onto.'

'Billiard table,' suggested Sir Nick.

'The very thing,' said his cousin. "Women to the billiard table and take firm hold.'

'Very good, your lordship.  

The women clutched the rim of the billiard table. Mrs Burns back shook with giggles. Mrs McCready's was still.

The Earl and Sir David divested themselves of their coats and waistcoats and rolled up their shirt sleeves. Sir David took a few warm-up swishes with the steak knife. The Earl tested the points of his bread knife with his finger. 

'Stop that giggling, Mrs Burns. You will put me off my cutting action.'

'Yes, your lordship.'

'Right,' said Sir Nick. 'Competitors to the starting gate at my signal. Now get ready, Mrs McCready--go!'

'Tally-ho,' cried Sir David and began to saw through the housekeeper's grey bodice. 'Damme, this knife is great for close-work.'

'Knives for bandits, swords for gentlemen,' retorted the Earl, dragging the bread knife back and forth. 'Hold still, woman.'

The door flew open. Startled, Hewbert turned and beheld a tall handsome woman in a white curled wig and a wide-striped calico dress of the latest Edinburgh fashion.

'Henry,' cried the lady. 'What are you doing?'

'Her ladyship,' gasped Mrs Burns.

Henry dropped his knife on the carpet with a thud just as Sir David triumphantly ripped cleanly through Mrs McCready's bodice.

'Victory,' cried Sir David. 

'Wha ha hey!' shouted Sir Nicholas, and the Rev. Hewbert stopped his watch.

'Good morning, Laetitia,' he said calmly.

'It is neither good nor morning any more,' said the Countess of Bough dismissively. 'What orgy, may I ask, is taking place in my house in full view of the Firth of Forth, Henry?'

'Well, my dear,' said the Earl abashedly. 'It is only a bit of fun.'

'A bit of fun. A bit of fun! Debauching the upper servants in the billiards room, a bit of fun! And before a clergyman, too. Hewbert, although I have come to expect nothing more than rank sensuality from your brother, I thought better of you.

'Madam,' said Hewbert. 'You mistake the situation.'

'McCready, Burns, back to your posts. You shall hear more of this hereafter. What say you, Hewbert? I mistake? Nay, it is you who are mistaken if you think I am going to countenance more of his lordship's foul lies and uncleanliness. Out of the room at once all of you so I can give my husband a lecture he will remember to the end of his days. Out, out, out!

She fairly shook with wrath.

Mr Adam fled. Mrs McCready fled. Mrs Burns fled. Sir David fled. Sir Nicholas fled, and from the sound of it, it would seem that gentlemen pinched Mrs Burns on the way. Of the whole company, the Hon & Rev Hewbert Robinson alone stood by his brother in his hour of need.

'Dear Laetitia,' he said, 'please listen.'

'My dear Hewbert,' she sneered, 'there is nothing you could say right now to which I would listen for a moment.'

Twenty years of ministry had taught Hewbert what girls instinctively know from the cradle.

'I'm contemplating matrimony,' he said.

The countess stared at him. Her dark eyes almost bulged from her head.

'What!' she shrieked. Her hands flew to her heart, and she fell back against the door frame. 'You! Hewbert! Matrimony!'

'Yes, my dear,' said Lord Bough, hurriedly picking up the bread knife, 'and we must discuss the particulars at once.'

'Matrimony! Hewbert!,' cried the Countess. 'A seat! A chair! I can scarcely breathe. Oh, for pity's sake, put away that bread knife, Henry: I'm not going to faint.'

She staggered to a settee and sat. 

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