Original Fiction by BUSK

   Hearing unexpected footsteps, Sir Frederick looked up from his book for a moment, distractedly. Then he looked again, harder, at the form that presented itself.

   "You must be the new maid," he said after a pause.

   "Yes, sir."

   "Well, er…" The master of the house was clearly embarrassed. After another pause, "I hope you find it pleasant here."

   "I'm sure I shall, sir," she said with a little curtsey, of which Sir Frederick, despite his darkened mood, couldn't help noting the elegance. He was also bothered to find her so pretty.

* * * *

    "Gertrude," he said to his wife. "That new maid Ginette. Did you check her references?"

   "Of course. Actually, I was suspicious, for a moment, until I had finished interviewing her. They were too good. She's too well-educated to be a maid, I thought. Anything wrong with her?"

   "Well, I only just saw and exchanged a few words. But I couldn't help being struck by …dammit!"

   "Darling!" It was as if he had pricked himself in the finger of his thought.

   "Alright ... I'll tell you straight. From my first impression, and I could see it pretty clearly, it seemed to me she tight-laces. Now you know my position on such things, everyone knows, I've written enough against the practice, and still have to, since so far all my efforts have had no effect, as far as I can see. And along comes a maid, flaunting …”

   "Wait a minute," his wife interrupted, before he could get up steam. "I was particularly impressed by her neatness. And yes, good looks; which is unfortunate only in that we are unlikely to keep her long. She'll find a husband in no time. My opinion is she is naturally slender, so that if she wears a corset at all, which she must do, excuse me Sir Frederick, despite all your masculine theory, she is naturally going to be enhanced somewhat."

   "Naturally enhanced? Unnaturally enhanced, you mean. Your feminine illogic is perfect ... Right, I can't ask you to get rid of her, it's too late, and that's your domain, but I do ask that if she's to perform as an above-stairs maid, and -- " a thought struck him " -- serve me and my medical colleagues tea when we next meet over our sanitary dress reform project, she wear something loose to hide that unfortunate, nature-given deformity."

   "Signed, Sir  Frederick Treves, Fellow of the Royal Society of Surgeons." Sir Frederick turned, in disgust, back to his newspaper.

 * * * *

    "Ginette, you know I am a physician."

   "Yes, Sir, and a famous one."

   "And that one of my campaigns in the domain of public health, has been to reform the current fashions in dress."

   "Yes, Sir, that is well-known ... I don't read The Lancet of course, but I have read some of your letters to the press and Advice columns in the feminine magazines."

   "Well, excuse the observation, and the informal medical diagnosis I make on your appearance before me at this moment, but it seems to me that you -- er, tight-lace."

   "Oh no, sir. My corset is quite loose about me. I can put my hand down in front, underneath it."

   They all say that, thought Sir Frederick. "You certainly give that impression, which your manner of dress does nothing to mitigate."

   "This is the way nature made me, Sir. Of course you would not have me not wear stays at all, that would not be decent, would it, Sir?"

   "I am certainly tempted to have you examined by a  physician -- not me of course -- to make sure you are unwittingly harming yourself. Have you thought how the babies you may eventually expect, when you marry, will find room to grow inside you?"

   "Nature will surely assert itself in that department, Sir, when the time comes." Her educated locutions disconcerted and irritated the tetchy, stubborn doctor.

   "A small waist such as yours does not bode well for motherhood, and may cause difficulties in the delivery," said Sir Frederick, after a pause.

   "Will that be all, Sir?"

* * * *

   "Frederick, you've been interrogating that poor girl. You've no right to, and it causes her distress."

   "Oh, she complained to you, did she?"

   "No, I discovered it by accident. I was in the kitchen instructing the cook about dinner, and overheard her playing the piano. I asked about her upbringing, her education, and she told me that when she was orphaned at thirteen, she was sent by an aunt to a boarding school where feminine arts were taken seriously, including dress and deportment. At my delicate prompt, she confessed -- and if I tell you this, you will promise absolutely never speak to her on the subject again, or I'll fire you -- that the girls in that school got into a sort of rivalry as to who could have the smallest waist. She had a running start, and could hardly not join in. That's where it began and that's where it is now. She says she is positively uncomfortable and unable to do the physical work required, if she wears her stays looser."

   "Schools! And the schoolteachers encourage it! I knew it! Give me the name of the school, and I'll have someone over there right away to put a stop to it."

   "I shall not, and you shall not." There was a long and painful pause.

   "Well for heaven's sake, don't let that girl help serve us dinner tomorrow. My medical colleagues will be there. I won't have that girl shame me, in my own  house!"

   "I'll do my best," said Lady Treves, with cunning ambiguity.

  * * * *

    At the club. "That dinner at Sir Frederick's last night, did you notice the stunning maid who served us?"

   "Of course. And did you see Sir Frederick's face when she first appeared? It turned as pale as a ghost. You know why?”

   "Surely. He's been on this anti-tight-lacing rampage for years now, virtually built a public reputation for it, and here is this perfectly delicious creature, a knock-out in face and figure, immaculate in starched collar and cuffs over black silk -- expensive silk mind you, and the tiniest waist you ever saw… All eyes were upon her. And they who should have seen red, had this vision in black and white instead..."

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