A Gentlewoman's Ravishment

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“Personally, I’d love to be abducted and ravished by some handsome brigand or pirate…swept away into a story from the One Thousand Nights and One Night, and subjected to desperate passion in a seraglio or the lair of some ruthless, brawny rogue!”

“Goodness me, Mrs. Enderby! Where in heaven’s name do you get such ideas? Why ever would you want something like that to happen to you?”

“I don’t know that I do want it to actually happen, Mrs. Brigstock,” I reply, wickedness stirring in me as I stab another ill-formed, meandering stitch into what passes for my embroidery. “But imagining it excites me… That and the idea of being debauched and pleasured by more than one man at once, with perhaps a whole crew of them looking on.”

Mrs. Mary Brigstock’s eyes bulge wide and her prim mouth drops open as if I’ve suddenly grown two heads. Does our hostess not have any imagination? Any secret dreams and desires? Does she not have any exotic fantasies herself?

For my own part, I can’t imagine not having them.

“Well, I think your daydreams sound perfectly delicious, Prudence, my dear,” counters Madame Chamfleur, a sly smile playing around her lips. She waggles her neat, dark eyebrows at me, as if she wants to expatiate on the topic, but is holding back in respect of Mrs. Brigstock’s delicate sensibilities. Which seems odd, because Sofia Chamfleur was the one who started this game of “let’s reveal our most scandalous fantasies” in the first place.

“Doesn’t anybody else have any lewd and outrageous daydreams?” I demand of the Ladies’ Sewing Circle. “I can’t believe that Sofia and I are the only ones.”

A ripple of smiles and titters circumnavigates the room. One or two very smug and secretive looks pass across certain faces, which seems to suggest that those ladies don’t actually need fantasies. Other circle members focus earnestly on their needlework, as if they have them too, but perhaps deemed them too outrageous to utter.

“Well, I’ve always had a fancy to be thrown on my back and serviced by a couple of my grooms in the hayloft…perhaps even three or four of them,” announces Lady Arabella Southern, before pausing for effect and stabbing her needle into her own sampler. I can see from here that her stitches are even more haphazard than my poor efforts, although at least she hasn’t pricked her finger and splattered blood over the cloth, as I have. “Oh, no, wait, I think I really did do that, didn’t I?” Her patrician eyes sparkle as the room erupts with a fusillade of gasps and snorts and giggles.

I fall silent though, not at all scandalized by Arabella’s claims. In fact, she’s set me thinking, thinking, thinking…

Perhaps I should fabricate my own little story about grooms—multiple—and haylofts? Something especially piquant like that would amuse Mr. Enderby no end. He’s extremely fond of my outrageous little fictions, and frequently asks me to impart them to him late at night, when the candle burns low, and we’re in bed. The more outlandish and daring the exploits I manufacture, the better he likes it. And the better he likes it, the more ardent he becomes afterward.

And I adore it when Mr. Enderby becomes ardent.

Over tea and cakes after our sewing labors, Arabella regales us with more tales of her supposedly scandalous private life with her grooms, her footmen and certain enthusiastic friends of her husband. I’m not sure any of us believe everything she tells us, but I think most of us, apart from Mary Brigstock, enjoy the confabulation. Especially Sofia, who smiles at me slyly, again and again, as if she knows something that I do not. Something deliciously indecent.

I smile back. I like Sofia. I like her very much. Even though I sense she’s a bottomless well of guile and secrets. And she’s definitely the lady amongst us who least needs to make up stories about her love life. Her husband, Monsieur Chamfleur, is tall and well set up, jolly but sophisticated. Exactly the sort of man who doesn’t need any lessons in the art of pleasing a woman. He looks as if he’s a veritable encyclopedia of sensuality and daring. Much like my own Mr. Enderby, who also knows his stuff.

Eventually, our little sewing circle breaks up, and Mrs. Brigstock’s maid brings us our hats and cloaks and walking jackets. Several ladies have carriages to collect them, and one or two elect to share cabs. The Honorable Lucy Dawson even has her bicycle. But I decide to take