Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 19

Still looking a picture of loveliness in his immaculate waitress uniform, Jack watched with interest as his two persistent tormentors, Miss Pamela Quinn and Miss Melissa Franklin, stared grimly at one another across the dinner table.   For several seconds the whole room fell silent while the two teenagers, neither of whom wanted to be seen playing the maid's role in the little play which they had agreed to perform, struggled to find an answer to their hostess's simple question.  Which of them was to be the mistress, and which the maid, in this long-awaited production?

It was Emily Quinn who eventually broke the silence, addressing her sister Georgina Davies across the table.  "George, I seem to remember we agreed on your suggestion earlier, that Dame Olivia be invited to toss a coin to settle this important matter."

"You're quite right Emily, that was exactly what was agreed" came Mrs Davies' reply.   "Girls, I trust you've fulfilled your side of the agreement and that you've each rehearsed the parts of both mistress and maid?   We don't want any embarrassment, now that you're about to treat us to your special performance."

There was silence once again as both Pamela and Melissa clearly remembered the conversation in the Rolls Royce that afternoon.   Perhaps, they now realized, all the time which they had wasted that evening teasing poor Jack in their bedroom might have been better employed helping one another to memorize the words of their little play.   After all, it was only supposed to be a five minute play, so it wouldn't have taken them very long.

Aunt Georgina continued to take charge of the situation.  "Well, Pamela, at least you should know both parts very well by now - after all, your mother told me the other day that you've been working on it for months.   Emily, didn't you say she's been speaking of nothing else since you first went shopping with Gail Swanson's poor lad?   I remember hearing then all about Pamela's idea for a short play."

Pamela Quinn blushed at the memory of how she had created the idea of "The Mistress and the Maid".   It was true, she had to admit.   And then, later on, she'd decided it would be even more fun if it became "The Princess and the Very Obedient Maid".   The only problem was that she hadn't ever bothered to sit down and write the damned play.   Her long-awaited play had a title - indeed it had two titles - but still no lines!   And all this in front of Lady Lavinia and Dame Olivia, who had been specially invited, along with everybody else, to come to Havisham Hall and watch it performed!

"May I make a suggestion?" Miss Havisham called out from the head of the table, still suffering somewhat from the effects of the champagne.   "What I sushpect, hic - shorry, hic - what I suggesht, I mean, is that Elizabeth and I perform thish play.  I will be the Mishtresh, and you Elizabeth, can be the maid.  Come on over here darling..."   She was now leading Jack in the direction of the little recess by the French window.  And then she whispered to him "All you need to do, shweetheart, is say 'Yes My Lady, of course My Lady" and do whatever I tell you, with a little curtshey her and there...   We'll get along fine won't we?"

And for the next few minutes, a rather tipsy Miss Havisham, adlibbing to her heart's content and still resplendent in her gold mermaid dress, and Jack in his neat waitress uniform, performed to a very appreciative audience.   As they completed their impromptu show, to tumultuous applause and cries of "Bravo", Miss Gloria Havisham and Mr Jack Swanson curtsied, side by side, to their audience before returning to their respective places - Gloria to her seat at the head of the table and Jack, hands folded in front of his apron, standing to the side of the room.

"Well, well, well" exclaimed Dame Olivia, "what an excellent little play that was.  Well done, both of you.  And well done Pamela, for writing that little cameo.   Your mother and aunt are so right, you do indeed have a great talent as a writer, and as a coach too I might add.  When did you find the time to coach the young maid?"

"Oh that's something we're quite good at, Dame Olivia" replied Pamela, as her mother and aunt looked on aghast at her brazen cheek.  "Melissa and I did all the coaching of the maid earlier this evening.  Young Elizabeth here is so new to being a maid she didn't have any idea how to respond, or perform a curtsey or anything.  It took us quite a while, didn't it Mel, but we managed to drum it all into her in the end..."

                                         *                        *                         *                        *

Just as Gloria Havisham and her guests were rising from the table, full of compliments on the excellence of the meal, senior maid Agnes entered the room and whispered to Miss Havisham the news that the weekend's two remaining guests had now arrived, somewhat earlier than had been expected.   Margaret Savage, social science teacher at Stuyvesant Academy, and Gail Swanson, the drama teacher, had not been due to arrive until tomorrow, but Gail's flight from New York had been rescheduled to avoid later weather warnings and Margaret had been able to meet her at the airport and bring her straight to Havisham that evening.

Jack then heard Agnes informing Miss Havisham that, unfortunately, both the ladies had arrived very tired and had asked to be taken straight to their rooms for the night.   "Of course" replied Madam "Gail must be feeling particularly weary after her long flight.  "Elizabeth, I wonder if you could go and enquire whether Mrs Swanson would like a hot drink and serve it to her in her room.  And Agnes, perhaps you could arrange the same for Miss Savage."

Jack was not surprised to hear Madam refer to his mother as "Mrs Swanson".  He had grown used to the fact that, in his role here at Havisham Hall, he was no longer Jack Swanson.   Instead, he was now Elizabeth, or Betsy, and his mother was just one of the many important ladies being entertained at the Hall this weekend.   However he secretly hoped that the opportunity which Madam had given him to offer his mother a hot drink might at least provide her with a chance to acknowledge that it was her own son who was waiting upon her.   Not that he looked anything like a son now, of course...

                                         *                         *                           *                          *

Jack knocked on the door of the room which had been allocated to his mother and waited for a response.   After a few seconds the door opened and a very smart, well-dressed lady stood in front of him, with no apparent sign that she recognized the maid who was attending upon her.  Jack, on the other hand, of course knew exactly who the lady was - although, he had to admit, he had never before seen his mother looking so smart.

"Good evening, My Lady" said Jack, addressing the latest guest just as he had been instructed.  "I've been sent to ask whether you would like any drinks brought to your room?  A hot chocolate perhaps, My Lady, or a coffee or tea?"

There was still no semblance of any recognition on his mother's face - even after hearing him speak!  Of course, he realized that his voice was now much higher than it had been when his mother last saw him.   But she knew he was living here now!   And that it was his birthday!   Surely she must realize that he was her Jack?   Apparently not, Jack reluctantly concluded.

"Oh yes, a hot chocolate would be lovely, that's very kind" came his mother's response.  "What is your name?   You're one of Gloria's maids, are you?"

"Yes, My Lady, my name is Elizabeth..."   But Jack could contain himself no longer.   He hated to show his mother what a demure, submissive housemaid he had now become, but he could hide the truth no longer.   "I'm your daughter, and I'm really your s...." but Jack could not quite bring himself to say he was her son.   Not now, not dressed and behaving, and speaking, as he now did. 

"Oh my goodness, but so you are" exclaimed his mother.   "But wait now, you call yourself my daughter... but aren't you still my son?   You haven't had your surgery yet, have you?   Don't tell me they've done that already.   You do look very, very pretty, and very feminine."

Jack had no answer to what his mother was now saying, but he was still on duty as a maid and soon turned his attention to what he had been sent to say to the newly-arrived guest.   "Yes, My Lady, some hot chocolate right away, My Lady" he replied, and, bobbing a quick curtsey, turned on his five-inch heels and went to fetch his mother's chocolate.   As he made his way down to the kitchen, he wondered exactly what she had meant about him having surgery.   Surely they hadn't planned to remove his manhood altogether?

                                         *                       *                         *                         *

As Jack stood by the stove waiting for the milk to warm for his mother's drink, one of the visiting ladies' maids came into the kitchen and introduced herself to him.   "Hi, my name's Maisie, and I'm Lady Lavinia's maid.   It's awfully nice here - you're all so lucky to have such a beautiful home to work in.   By the way, what's your name?"

"Oh hello Maisie, I'm Elizabeth, but the others call me Betsy most of the time" replied Jack.   He realized now how natural it had become for him to introduce himself in his female persona.  "Would you like some of this hot chocolate?   I'm making a whole jug, because I know Madam - that's Miss Havisham - will be wanting some very shortly, as well as my mo...."

Jack stopped himself, just in time, from revealing that the latest guest to arrive was his own mother.  What would Maisie have made of that, he thought hurriedly to himself?   Instead he added "I've only been working here for a short while, but yes, it is a lovely place isn't it?"

"Yes it sure is, but no, I'll just have a glass of water, thanks Betsy" came Maisie's response.  "By the way, is it really true that some of the maids here are actually boys?   That's what somebody was saying, but I can't say I've seen any maids who look remotely like they could ever be boys..."

At the end of his very, very long day - and his birthday as well, of course - Jack was caught completely unawares by this innocent, inquisitive question.   This was all too much for him.  He felt himself blush all over his face, and then his hand shook as he tried to pour the boiling milk into the chocolate jug.   He stuttered a brief "S-sorry, I'd better attend to Madame" and hurried out of the kitchen with the tray.

When he reached his mother's room, Jack was in for a further surprise.   For she was no longer alone.  Miss Havisham had now joined her and the two ladies had obviously been chatting together for a few minutes.   "Ah, Elizabeth, my darling.  Or should I say Jack?" Miss Havisham chuckled as she greeted her prospective new ladies' maid.   "I see you've made enough chocolate for me to have my usual night-cap as well.   You are so thoughtful.    Gail, you really could never have produced a more wonderful actress - and, at the same time, such a perfect ladies' maid.  But I'm sorry, there's no way I'm going to let her go back to school now.  Not even our new Drama School.  She really is the treasure I need, aren't you my love?"

And both Madam, and Jack's mother, turned their eyes on poor Jack, who, totally overcome by such a rollercoaster of emotions, finally burst into tears.   His mistress and his mother both put an arm around him and all he could hear, from the only two people who he felt had ever shown him love, was "There, there, sweetheart, you're going to be fine here, we know this is the life you really want..."

(to be concluded) 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 18

Jack stood still and silent against the wall, immaculate in his brand new black and white waitress uniform, while Madam said a solemn, formal Grace and then invited the twelve ladies to take their seats.  Once these formalities were over, it was all systems go for Jack and Annabelle, as the two maids who Miss Havisham had specially selected to serve dinner in order to make the best possible impression on her guests.

But, attractive as they both were, they had not been selected purely to serve as adornments in the way that Jack had been earlier in the afternoon.  Far from merely "standing still and looking pretty" the two waitresses now had to move quickly, gracefully and carefully around the table serving each of the guests their first course, before retiring to the side of the room to await Madam's next signal.   This might be to serve more wine, or the next course, and then perhaps to serve the vegetables individually to each of the guests.  As Jack approached each of the ladies, all decked out in their luxurious gowns and priceless jewellery, he had to concentrate carefully on balancing the dishes he was carrying, especially as he was of course still tottering around in five inch heels.

So Jack was caught slightly unawares when one of the guests, Miss Rose Wilson, looked him in the eye while he helped her, with some difficulty, to carrots and broccoli from the vegetable dish.  As he did so, she congratulated Jack on his appearance.   "You look absolutely beautiful tonight, Master Jackie" was not exactly what he had expected to be told at this moment.  And, as he finished ladelling the correct number of carrots on to Miss Rose's plate, carefully placing them beside the finely carved venison with which she had already been served, she continued: "I bet you never expected to end up waiting upon me like this, did you?   Didn't I train you well?"

Jack was able to escape at this point with the requisite little bob curtsey and a mumbled "Yes, My Lady" before moving on to serve the next lady.   But oh, no!   This was Miss Quinn.   As Jack struggled with the serving forks and an obstinate stick of broccoli, Pamela whispered to him "So where were you when Miss Franklin and I needed you to help us dress for dinner?   We'll catch up with you later, you cheeky disobedient maid!"   And a humiliated "Yes, My Lady" was again all that Jack could say before once again he bobbed and moved on.

And so it went on.  Mrs Quinn also had a word with him, reminding him that she still held the keys to his neck chain and bracelet.  This was something which had been really worrying Jack - did she really mean to retain her hold on him, as Miss Rose had implied after that infernal tea party at the Quinns?  Surely, Jack felt, and hoped, he now belonged completely and permanently to Miss Havisham?

At least Lady Lavinia and Dame Olivia both treated him kindly.  And they were obviously in on his secret, it seemed, for Lady Lavinia whispered to him "Well, I see now what they mean - you really are rather a good actor, aren't you?"   Jack didn't know how to respond to this, and nearly dropped the vegetable dish altogether before quietly replying "Yes, My Lady, of course My Lady".  He was now rather grateful for this phrase, which he had been forced to repeat over and over by Miss Quinn and Miss Franklin - he didn't like to admit it, but it now seemed that this aspect of their training was actually proving rather helpful to him.

                                             *                         *                       *                         *

By the time they had reached the dessert course, the guests were all immersed in an animated discussion over the plans for the remainder of the weekend.   "I thought some of you might like to go riding in the morning - and work up an appetite for lunch?" suggested Miss Havisham.  "I've got some spare jodhpurs for any of you who haven't brought your riding breeches.  Of course, now that Crafty's left, there's nobody to stop us wearing trousers - hee, hee, hee!" she added with a chuckle.

Jack decided, as he stood quietly in the corner of the room, that he had never seen Madam so happy and relaxed.   Was she really now rather relieved to have said good-bye to Miss Craftey?  Perhaps she would be able to cope without the old battle-axe after all, thought Jack.  Or would she?   From what he'd seen these past few weeks, Jack wasn't quite so sure.  In fact, now he thought about it, he didn't think it would be long before somebody would have to be appointed in Crafty's place...

Suddenly Jack's mind was brought back to the present with a jolt.   "Ladies, can I have your attention please" Madam was saying as she tinkled her wine glass with a silver fork.  "I hope you all have your glasses charged, for I wish to propose a toast.   Ladies, today is somebody's birthday.   Somebody very special to me, and that person is present here this evening."   Gloria Havisham paused for a moment and the ladies all looked at one another.   None of them seemed to be aware whose birthday it was.   Meanwhile Jack, suddenly feeling very vulnerable, froze solid in his high-heeled shoes.   Surely Madam was not about to propose a toast to him - a mere waitress and humble serving maid?

Miss Havisham glanced for a moment in Jack's direction out of the corner of her eye, then continued:
"Ladies, in the past few hours I have lost one old treasure - someone who I knew would have to go one day, and I think had actually reached the time when she knew it too.   But in the past few weeks, I have also gained another, much younger and much more charming treasure.  Her name is Elizabeth, or perhaps Betsy, or perhaps Jackie to some of you...   Or even Jack.   I think you all know now who I am referring to, and she herself...."    Miss Havisham paused again at this point and sipped a little of her wine, before continuing "Or perhaps I should say, he himshelf...  knows that it is his birthday.   Don't you, my dearest, darling Elizabeth?"   And now there was a further pause - which seemed to Jack to be a much longer pause - while he realized that Madam, his wonderful kind Madam, was inviting him to join the conversation for a moment.

Jack steadied himself, performed one of his immaculate curtseys, and replied "Yes My Lady, of course My Lady."   There was a further short silence, one or two little gasps from around the table, a giggle from Pamela Quinn and Melissa Franklin, even a quiet but audible gasp from Annabelle.  And then, to Jack's relief and delight, a tinkling of glasses as each and every lady around the table followed Gloria Havisham's invitation and joined in the birthday toast.

For the second time in what seemed to Jack to be the most eventful birthday anyone could ever have, he listened, blushing, to the singing of "Happy Birthday".   But this time, instead of the "Happy Birthday dear Betsy" to which he had been treated in the servants' hall that morning, most of the ladies were singing "Happy Birthday, dear Elizabeth".   Except, Jack thought he detected, those few who he felt sure were uttering the words "Happy Birthday, dear Jackie".   He knew who they were and now wished he could forget altogether the time when he was Jackie - perhaps even forget being Jack.  For he had never been so happy - nor so secure - as he was now, as Elizabeth, the newly-appointed lady's maid and property of Miss Gloria Havisham.

As the singing came to an end, he curtsied low and replied "Thank you Madam, I mean thank you My Lady" while Annabelle, now smiling broadly, came round the table refilling the ladies' champagne glasses.  Meanwhile a very happy and increasingly inebriated Miss Havisham, glass still in hand, was saying "Pam...ela,  Mel...itha, what about showing us your little play?  Now, wish one of you is the mishtress...  and, hic, wish of you the... er... maid?"

(to be continued)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 17

For the next hour Jack was subjected to gentle but relentless humiliation at the hands of both Pamela Quinn and Melissa Franklin.   First he was required to run a bath for Miss Quinn, then to carry her washing-bag into the bathroom for her, then to lay out a bath mat, and then to start warming one of the fluffy towels on the radiator ready for her use.  Pamela had insisted that, to each instruction, Jack must reply "Yes, My Lady, of course My Lady" with a respectful curtsey before obeying her command.  Poor Jack found himself nipping backwards and forwards between the bedroom and the en suite bathroom, not only performing the endless little tasks but also having to utter this infernal phrase every time.

When Pamela Quinn was finished in the bathroom, Jack thought this ordeal might be over, but no, it began all over again with Melissa Franklin.  If anything this was even worse for Jack, for Melissa decided to provide added amusement by conducting a constant teasing dialogue.  While she lay relaxing in the bath, she asked him the most embarrassing questions she could think of.

"So, Betsy" Miss Franklin would ask, "what's it like for a boy like you to become a sweet little maid?  Was this the job you were hoping for, when I first met you in the street with your auntie?  Are you enjoying the work?   You are very good at it, and very pretty, don't you think?" 

On and on she went, and Jack was obliged to respond "Yes My Lady, of course My Lady" to every question and to keep curtseying all the time.   He then had to help Miss Franklin out of the bath, dab her dry with another warm fluffy towel, hand her bath robe to her, and curtsey once more as she solemnly announced that she was now going to rest on her bed for a while so that she would have the energy to dress for dinner.

At this point, to Jack's great relief, Miss Quinn - now seated at the dressing-table where she was admiring herself in the mirror - glanced over her shoulder and casually dismissed Jack:  "Maid, either Miss Franklin or I will send for you when we require you next.  I think we'll need some help with our new gowns in a little while, won't we Mel?"   And Melissa Franklin yawned and replied "Yes, I certainly will, I'm beginning to think it will take me all evening to get into this Dior creation...."

But Jack didn't wait to hear any more.  Seizing upon Miss Quinn's invitation to escape, he had already curtseyed and, with a prompt but courteous "Very well, My Lady" was straight out the door.

As he made his way back to Annabelle's room to complete the packing of his belongings, ready for his move later that evening, Jack wondered to himself how soon those two arrogant girls would ring for him again.   He had visions of them fetching him straight back, and then having him run backwards and forwards between his room and theirs until they were ready to present themselves for dinner.   But a pleasant surprise awaited him when he reached Annabelle's room, for on his bed he found a scribbled note:

"Dear Betsy.  Madam asked me to take all your things to your new room for you, so I've done that. She also asked me to tell you to stop attending upon guests in their rooms now, as she has some jobs she needs you for.  She said they're old enough to dress themselves!!  You lucky thing Betsy, your new bedroom looks a lovely room, and it sounds to me like you'll just be working for Madam from now on!   Good luck!   Must go now, Karen needs me to help lay up the table in the dining-room and it's going to take us ages.  See you later, Love A x"

Jack literally jumped for joy!   He hurriedly wrote a short thank-you to Annabelle, closed the door and skipped along the corridor and up the stairs to his new room.

                                         *                          *                          *                         *

To enter his new bedroom, Jack was required to knock first on Miss Havisham's own bedroom door, wait for Madam to answer it, enter the room, drop the obligatory curtsey and await her invitation to pass through her bedroom into his own.   This, he immediately realized, was going to be a regular ritual from now on.  But he consoled himself with the thought that he would be under Miss Havisham's protection - and hopefully would now enjoy a closer and more intimate relationship with Madam.  The rigmarole required to gain entry to his bedroom was a small price to pay for the safe, secure feeling which this arrangement would give him.  Besides, he was now so relieved to be free, not only from the fierce discipline of Miss Craftey, but also, at least for the time being, from the cruel psychological bullying he was suffering at the hands of Miss Quinn and Miss Franklin.

Jack felt quite suddenly that he had arrived in a sort of haven, some kind of paradise even, compared with where he had been these past few weeks.   As Madam opened her door to let him come through her room, he completely forgot the curtseying and instead fell into her arms, crying as he tried to thank her for what she was now offering him.

"Oh thank you Madam" Jack sobbed. "I'm so pleased to be of service to you.  I hope I'll be allowed to serve you for ever Madam.  Please tell me what you want, Madam, I'll do everything I can for you."

                                        *                         *                            *                             *
For her part Gloria Havisham was thrilled to have finally made the decision to engage "Elizabeth" as her ladies' maid.   She had known all along that this was what she wanted, ever since she first met Jack at Emily Quinn's little tea party, but what particularly thrilled her now was the look of sheer delight apparent behind the tears of pleasure on Jack's face.  Now here he was, this most perfect of little girly boys, throwing his arms around her neck as she welcomed him into her own embrace.

There was a moment or two of further quiet sobbing while they caressed one another, then Miss Havisham spoke gently to her new personal ladies' maid:  "Now now, my little love...   It's your birthday today and I told you there would be a special present for you didn't I?   Well this is it, my beautiful, and I know how much you will enjoy working for me...."    Madam paused again for a moment then went on, slightly hesitantly "You will work for me, for always, I mean?  Not for anyone else, please....   I know you'll be very good indeed as my maid...."    And then, after another brief pause, "Now come along, there's lots to do - and I haven't even dressed for dinner yet.  You're going to have to help me Elizabeth.  Now tell me please, which of these three dresses do you think would be best for tonight...?"

                                          *                            *                        *                            *

Sixty minutes later, thanks to Jack's natural flair as a ladies' maid - not only in helping Madam to select the right dress, but also in constantly reassuring her how wonderful she was looking - Gloria Havisham was in sparkling form downstairs receiving all her guests.  She was so pleased that Elizabeth had encouraged her to go for the gold lame mermaid-style dress, which she felt helped her to stand out as the hostess amongst the stunning array of top designer outfits worn by her guests.   And how sensible to opt for the plain gold necklace and the simple gold and pearl ear-rings, as Elizabeth had suggested.   As she led the party through to the dining-room to take their places for dinner she winked at Jack, who by now was positioned against the wall and responded, as he and Annabelle had both been instructed by Agnes, with a neat little curtsey to Madam and a soft "Good evening, My Lady" to each of the guests.

As the dinner guests passed before him, Jack noticed a variety of expressions on their faces.  Lady Lavinia and Dame Olivia both seemed to be quite impressed and smiled benevolently at him as they passed by.   Several of the other guests, including both Mrs Quinn and her sister Mrs Davies, and also Mrs Franklin, simply ignored him.   Jack had been warned, long ago, that as a humble maid he should not expect to be treated any differently from a piece of furniture.   Nevertheless it was pleasing to have been acknowledged by the more distinguished guests, he thought to himself.   Then in came Miss Quinn and Miss Franklin, the former scowling at him, the latter giggling - they had no doubt been annoyed to find they were no longer receiving room service.  And then, worst of all, came Rose.  Was he really going to have to call her mother's former maid "My Lady" all this weekend?  Rose simply gave him a quick look up and down, as though to tell him he passed inspection for now, but would have a word with him later.   What, Jack wondered, would Rose - er sorry, Miss Wilson - be wanting to say to him....?

(to be continued)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 16

After the drama of Miss Craftey's sudden dismissal, Havisham Hall's orderly regime was restored remarkably quickly.   As far as the staff were concerned, the shock of what had happened was tempered by what was, for most of them, the sense of relief that from now on they would be spared the severity of such a fearsome disciplinarian.   None of them, apart from Cook, whose memory had been failing fast for some while, could remember a time when Havisham had not been ruled over by the austere, uncompromising Nora Craftey.    Now, perhaps, there was at last the prospect of a more liberal, relaxed and altogether happier atmosphere and whoever it was who had brought about this dramatic turn of events was undoubtedly something of a hero, or heroine, as the case may be...

It was the senior maid, Agnes, who calmly took charge straightaway, in place of Miss Craftey.  Having explained to the guests that Miss Havisham was resting for the afternoon in readiness for the evening's activities, Agnes invited those who had just arrived to join Miss Burgess and Miss Hughes and make themselves comfortable in the drawing-room, where Karen was serving tea and coffee, or, if they preferred, in their rooms from where they were welcome to ring for service if required.  She also arranged for Linda to welcome the visiting ladies' maids at the staff entrance, whilst she asked Maria Rodriguez to escort the disgruntled and thoroughly shaken Miss Craftey off the premises.  Miss Craftey was duly driven away to the nearest railway station, with two hurriedly packed suitcases containing all her essential belongings.   Was this really the last they would ever see of "Crafty", some of the staff were already wondering?

Agnes had earlier warned Karen, when the two of them were sent out for more coffee, against mentioning to any of the other staff the embarrassing accusation which they, and of course Betsy, had heard in the drawing-room.  She knew how reliable Karen would be in a matter of this importance.  So, for the time being, Miss Burgess's suggestion and Jack's little secret were not generally known to the staff.  But the mystery of exactly why Miss Craftey had left so suddenly was certainly now exercising the minds of most of the staff as they gathered in the servants hall to welcome the visitors' maids.

Jack, meanwhile, was glad of the opportunity to make himself useful tending to his mistress's needs as he accompanied her upstairs to her bedroom.   Miss Havisham kept insisting that she was feeling fine, but she was very grateful for his attention and readily agreed that she now needed a restful afternoon before receiving her remaining guests and hosting dinner that evening.  Once they reached the sanctuary of Madam's bedroom Jack was in no doubt that Madam was now fully recovered.  "We're going to have to move you, Elizabeth" she began by saying. "We can't have you sharing a bedroom with Annabelle now that half the house knows you're a boy.  Well, you were a boy, perhaps I should say."

Jack blushed at this last remark for he was becoming increasingly conscious of his pert little breasts, which he now realized must be due to the so-called "vitamin pills" he had been told to take when leaving home some weeks earlier.  "Yes Madam, I'm a boy" he replied, but at the same time noticed to his embarrassment how high-pitched his voice seemed to have become.  Was that something to do with the pills as well, or the result of having to pretend he was a girl all this time, he wondered to himself.

"Let me show you where I'm going to put you" Madam was saying to him.  "Look dear, there's a nice single room here with a connecting door with my own room.  It hasn't been used as a bedroom for very many years, but I remember when I was a small child my Grandmama's maid Daisy used to sleep in here.  She sometimes invited me in to play with her, when Granny wasn't around.  I've used it very occasionally as a dressing room but it's been a bit neglected since Granny and then my parents all passed away." 

Jack detected a sad, faraway look on Madam's face and felt he should say something to cheer her up.  "Oh yes Madam, I should love to sleep here" he said as they walked through into the small room with one another.   "Well, it would be so much more convenient for me to have my ladies maid close by from now on" Miss Havisham responded.  "Now let me show you what's in this wardrobe.  Look dear, isn't this the most beautiful ladies' maid uniform.   Just feel the softness of the fabric and the delicate lace collar and cuffs.  Isn't it just adorable, my sweet?   I'm sure you'd just love to wear this wouldn't you. my dearest?  Now look... yes that's right, hold it against yourself, oh yes, that will suit you perfectly.  I'll get Miss Bracegirdle to tidy it up a little and adjust it slightly to fit your size.   Oh I'm so thrilled, you could become my official ladies' maid by next week, complete with the proper traditional Havisham Hall lady's maid uniform.  What do you think, Elizabeth?"

And Jack, determined to remain loyal and close to Madam, the one person who still seemed to care for him, heard himself respond excitedly as he stood holding the dress and white apron, "Oh yes Madam, it's absolutely lovely.  Didn't they make such beautiful, elegant outfits in those days Madam.  I'm sure I'll love....."

Jack broke off as they heard someone knocking to enter Madam's bedroom and suddenly there was Agnes who, as promised, had hurried upstairs to check how Miss Havisham was feeling.  "Oh I'm sorry to interrupt Madam but I don't think you heard my knocking.  Is everything all right for you Madam?"

"Oh yes Agnes" replied Miss Havisham "that's very kind of you.  Yes, everything is just fine thank you, Elizabeth here is showing me what a wonderful ladies maid she is going to be...."

                                        *                      *                        *                     *

Downstairs in the drawing-room most of the guests had decided to accept the offer of tea or coffee and were politely introducing themselves to one another, or renewing acquaintance, as the case may be.  One face which was new to many of them was that of Mrs Georgina Davies, Emily Quinn's very wealthy elder sister, who had recently married her long-standing companion much to many people's astonishment.  "I know this is a ladies only weekend" Emily was saying as she introduced Georgina to Janet Strang "but it's a shame you couldn't have brought Gwyn with you."  And Georgina, a confident well-built lady if ever there was one, replied to the effect that "Gwen" would be well occupied at home catching up with the mending and ironing.  "I've told him there'll be hell to pay if he hasn't attended to my lingerie and a couple of my blouses by the time I get back" she added with a grin.

Both the titled guests, Lady Lavinia Lovelace and Dame Olivia Laurence, had mixed in with the other guests very easily, thanks to Cecily Burgess who had known Lady Lavinia for some years.  Having such distinguished ladies to serve was, however, proving somewhat confusing for Karen and Annabelle, both of whom were struggling to remember that Lady Lavinia had to be addressed as "My Lady" whilst the other guests were simply "Madam".  Shortly after Jack returned to the room, having been told by Agnes to leave Miss Havisham to sleep for a while, he heard Lady Lavinia saying in quite a loud voice "We can't have this nonsense, I shall tell Gloria we should all be treated the same.  If you're all agreed I will ask her to instruct the staff to address you all as "My Lady" throughout the weekend.   And to Jack's dismay, all the guests - including, he noticed, both Miss Pamela and Miss Melissa - signified their agreement.  "Equal rights!" Miss Burgess was heard to call out, to much amusement among all the guests, "I'm sure Gloria will be entirely happy with that."

Jack's worst fears concerning the reactions of his former classmate and her new friend to this exalted status were realized only an hour or so later.  He had just started to pack his possessions ready to move bedrooms, having apologetically explained to Annabelle that Madam had asked him to move to a room close to hers, when the bell from Miss Quinn and Miss Franklin's room rang loud and long.  The girls obviously found it fun to keep their hand on the bell, so they could irritate their maid to the maximum.  Of course they already knew exactly who that maid was going to be and, when Jack duly knocked on their door a short while later, they remained totally silent.  Jack knocked again and there was still no response.  He was just beginning to wonder whether he had gone to the wrong room in his anxiety to show how quickly he could respond, when he detected a stifled laugh from behind the door, followed eventually by a giggling "Enter, maid!"

Jack had no option but to curtsey low to both the girls as he entered the room, uttering the totally humiliating "Good evening, My Lady" to each in turn.  This reduced the girls to further laughter, until Miss Pamela eventually pulled herself together and asked Jack if he was the girl who was to be her ladies maid for the weekend.  "Yes, My Lady" came Jack's reply, through gritted teeth, but for once he quite forgot to curtsey.  "Well, maid, how long have you been a maid in this house, may I ask?" said Miss Pamela, while Miss Franklin looked on with a smirk.  "Just a few weeks, My Lady" Jack replied.  "Well, you may only have been here a few weeks but I would have thought by now you would know that when you are speaking to a lady, you always curtsey to her.  I will have to report you to the other guests later, if only to warn them that standards in this house are not what one would normally expect." 

"Oh, I am sorry Madam, I mean My Lady, Madam" replied Jack, reduced once more to the nervous wreck he had so often been at the hands of Miss Craftey.  "Well, I shall be gracious this once, but don't forget again" said Miss Pamela, now satisfied that she had poor Jackie - as she had always known him - exactly where she wanted him.  "No, My Lady" replied a relieved Jack "I promise I won't, My Lady" as he gave her a full, perfectly executed curtsey.

(to be continued)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 15

Jennifer Hughes was the first to break the silence.  "Cecily, I hardly think we are going to find any more of those girly boys working here now - are we, Gloria?   Not after what happened to that pretty young man of yours at the Matriarchal Society Luncheon..."

Miss Havisham rose to her feet.  Jack, standing to attention as the obedient parlourmaid he had become, was surprised how calm Madam looked in the circumstances.   He listened intently as she addressed her two guests firmly and directly:  "Cecily, Jennifer, I do not know what either of you is talking about. It's all stuff and nonsense.  Now, I think we could all do with some more coffee, or perhaps you would prefer tea - and maybe some biscuits?"  And, turning to the maids Agnes and Karen, "Girls, please would you attend to that as quickly as you can - my other guests will be arriving at any minute now."

Agnes and Karen curtsied hurriedly and, looking as though they could not escape fast enough, left the room with a brief "Yes, of course, Madam, right away".   Jack was now left alone with the three very rich and powerful ladies who he had first met, all together, at Mrs Quinn's house just a few weeks earlier.  His initial reaction to what he had just heard had been one of utter humiliation, as he listened to two of the ladies openly discussing him without once appearing to realize that he, the humble maid now standing by the door, was that very same Elizabeth to whom they were referring. 

But now he felt heartened by the manner of Madam's firm response to them.  He was coming to admire her more and more, despite all the lengths that she was going to in her determination to turn him into a sexually desirable female servant.   Madam's calm, confident authority gave him some much needed reassurance and he now stood motionless awaiting his instructions, surprisingly comfortable in his black satin parlourmaid's uniform and the very tight and constricting undergarments, not to speak of the small butt-plug which she had casually inserted into him a short while earlier.  Somehow the otherwise unloved Jack was now finding solace in Madam's obsession with him as her new "little favourite" and in a curious way was rather enjoying the experience. 

But his wandering mind was soon brought back to the present, as he heard Madam address him in her customary kind manner.   "Betsy, would you mind closing the door please, Karen and Agnes seem to have left it slightly ajar.  Thank you dear.  Now, you may remain with us while I converse for a while with Miss Burgess and Miss Hughes."  

Miss Havisham paused for a moment before turning to her guests.  "Cecily, Jennifer, you both should be well aware that I have arranged this whole weekend - at great personal expense to myself I might add - for the sole purpose of supporting and promoting the success of the drama school project in which the three of us have all agreed to invest.   You both know, as well as I do, that it was the impact which one highly talented young man made upon us at Emily Quinn's tea party that persuaded us all to commit considerable financial support to the project.  That young man's ability to transform himself into a stunningly attractive young lady, not simply through his clothing and make-up but also his beautiful, gentle manner of behaviour, took us all into raptures, did it not?"

Jack listened to this with a mixture of astonishment and embarrassment, as his mistress waxed on about his feminine charms.  He was starting to wonder where this was all leading.

"Well, ladies, I have news for you" Miss Havisham continued.  "The lovely boy girl, who we got to know as Elizabeth that afternoon, is now right here.  Aren't you, Betsy?"

Jack was totally stunned and the whole room fell into silence.  He had only just begun to digest the fact that Miss Hughes and Miss Burgess really had not recognized him today under his new feminine hairstyle, his beautifully made-up face and his tight-fitting parlourmaid's uniform.  He also recalled that Madam had herself failed to recognize him when she first saw him in a Havisham Hall uniform.  Perhaps, he had started to think, they might have failed to identify him over this whole weekend - if everybody else was also taken in, or kept quiet about who he was?   

But would they all have kept the secret?   For the whole weekend?    Jack soon realized that there was no chance of this at all.  For a start, the Quinns and the Franklins would soon be arriving, and Miss Franklin (was he really going to have to refer to her as "Miss Franklin" and to Pamela as "Miss Quinn"?) was hardly likely to be fooled, having seen him in his present role - and worked out exactly who he was - only a few days earlier.   Once again, Jack realized, Madam had now done exactly the right thing in the circumstances.  There was no point in pretending any more.

It was obviously now Madam's intention to be absolutely open about Jack, at least to her guests.  Jack thought again about that list of guests, which he had been instructed by Miss Craftey to memorize.  He had been worrying how they would all react to the pretence, for most of them knew all about his feminization anyway and in some cases had been personally involved in taking him down that route.  So perhaps it would be a relief that it would all now be an open secret.   But then, Jack thought, what about all his fellow maids?  And, worst of all, Miss Craftey?   Jack was just starting to contemplate how they would all react, when the long stony silence was finally broken, quite gently, by Madam.

"Betsy, are you with us?  You seem miles away dear.  I asked you a question."

"Oh yes, oh I'm so sorry Madam, yes I'm here Madam" Jack replied with an apologetic look on his face and a hasty, but perfectly executed, low curtsey.

Miss Havisham continued "You see, ladies, he really is quite an actor isn't he?  I'm sure you'll agree that we made absolutely the right decision to invest in the success of talent such as this."

But before either Cecily Burgess or Jennifer Hughes could respond, the door burst open and into the room stormed a furious looking Miss Craftey.   "Madam, may I have a word please?  I have just heard an appalling assertion from two members of my staff."   And turning to the Misses Burgess and Hughes, she added "I am sorry ladies, but we have encountered a very serious problem and I need to speak privately with Madam."

                                            *                    *                   *                    *

Jack, now just as bewildered as the ladies upon whom he was attending, looked first at Madam, and
then at the increasingly angry and agitated housekeeper, who chose that moment to turn her attention on to him:  "You scoundrel, how dare you come into this house and intrude upon our peace and sanctuary?  You're a....   you are....  you are a b-boy, aren't you?   A disgusting, revolting boy.  I must say I've been wondering about you ever since you arrived here, despite your extremely convincing girlish appearance..."   And turning back to Miss Havisham, she added "Gloria, how could you?  You know how we've always kept this house pure and clean - and now, look what we have..."

Once again Gloria Havisham responded calmly and confidently.  "Nora, please come with me to my study" and the two women left the drawing-room together in total silence.

Remembering his instructions for the afternoon, Jack smiled sweetly at Miss Burgess and Miss Hughes, who were now looking at one another in dismay.  How had they failed to recognize this lovely girly boy that they had so admired a few weeks earlier, and who they had anyway been expecting to see some time during this visit to Gloria Havisham's?   "I must say, Cecily, I did wonder how long it would be before we found Gloria up to her old tricks again" said Jennifer Hughes, to which she received the frank response "I'm sure you're right Jennifer, I think we may merely have hastened the inevitable with our remarks this afternoon."

Jack, now feeling very conscious - and quite scared - about being the cause of Miss Craftey's outburst, was quite glad to be subject to the strict servant's etiquette which prohibited him from opening his mouth unless he was spoken to.  Clearly Miss Havisham's desire to have him here, disguised as a girl, had clashed head on with Miss Craftey's long-standing obsession with preserving Havisham Hall as an exclusively female household.  He had heard that terrible things had been done by Miss Craftey to another boy who had, it seemed, chosen to live as a girl in Miss Havisham's admiring presence but whose male gender had been revealed at a charity function to Madam's, and his, great discomfort.  Now here he was, in danger of similar treatment at the hands of the furious housekeeper. But he had not exactly chosen the humiliating path down which he had been led, and which now resulted in his present predicament.

Through all that was happening around him, Jack resolved to adhere to the etiquette expected of him as a humble maidservant and, above all, to remain totally obedient to Madam at all times.  After all, this was her house and surely she would look after him and not let him be abused, by Miss Craftey or anybody else for that matter.   Besides, she had certainly been a great deal kinder to him than that old battle-axe who they all addressed as "Crafty" behind her back.  Jack felt sure that by maintaining his loyalty to Madam, whatever happened, all would be well.

                                          *                     *                        *                       *

Agnes and Karen eventually returned to the drawing-room with the further refreshments that Madam had ordered and Jack watched in silence from his station beside the door as they served the two spinster guests.   The conversation between Miss Hughes and Miss Burgess, such as it was, became increasingly stilted, while the three maids - now with nothing else to do, in the absence of their mistress - stood all in a line beside the door, smiling sweetly and harmlessly if either of the guests glanced in their direction.   The time passed slowly, while everyone's thoughts were on the conversation that Madam and Miss Craftey must be having across the corridor in Madam's study. 

Eventually, after an excruciatingly painful ten minutes, which had seemed at least twice as long, Madam returned alone to the room.  "Is everything all right Gloria?" asked Cecily Burgess "I am so sorry if we have caused you a problem this afternoon..."

Miss Havisham cut her short "No, Cecily, you have not caused a problem.  I have caused myself a problem.   I have just...."   Miss Havisham stopped in mid sentence and Jack noticed a solitary tear running down Madam's cheek.   There was a further short delay, while Miss Havisham gathered herself, and went on.  "I have...  I have just had to dismiss a woman who has served me loyally for over thirty-five years...   Since I was ten years old..."    And the mistress of Havisham Hall, who had been left alone as a child all those years ago after her parents' fatal accident, with only her old nanny and parents' housekeeper Nora Craftey to look after her, broke down once again.   After a few seconds, she got herself together once more and carried on.  "I just don't know how I'm going to cope, oh, I really don't know...  I've never been without Crafty, I just don't know....    And now Gloria Havisham, the richest and one of the most influential ladies in the entire neighbourhood, broke down completely in tears.   How was she going to cope, indeed?

Just then the sound of the front door bell could be heard once more and the voices of several very excited sounding ladies could be heard thanking Annabelle, and Maria Rodriguez, for collecting all their suitcases from their cars.  "Will you excuse me Madam" said Agnes "I think Karen and I should assist Annabelle and Maria in the front hall.   It sounds like most of the other guests have all arrived one after another.   Betsy, would you mind escorting Madam up to her bedroom, I'll be there to see you Madam in a short while.   I think you should rest awhile, don't you Madam, so you and your guests can all have a lovely time later."

Y-y-yes Agnes, of course, thank you so much..." sobbed a distraught Gloria Havisham.

(to be continued)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 14

"Oh, I'm so excited Melissa, I just can't wait to see dear Jackie in his new role.  You saw him, or should I say her, the other day didn't you?  Please tell me, is he really working as a regular maid like you told me?"

Pamela Quinn had been pestering her friend Melissa Franklin for the up-to-date news on Jack ever since she heard that Melissa and her mother had been to visit Gloria Havisham a week or so ago.  Now they were all travelling over to Havisham Hall, together with Mrs Quinn's newly married sister Georgina Davies, for the ladies' weekend house party which Miss Havisham had specially arranged with the aim of gaining further support for the new Stuyvesant Academy drama school.  Only a few weeks earlier, the thought of spending a weekend with a crowd of middle-aged ladies in a stately home would have held no appeal whatsoever for either of the two teenagers.  But since learning that they had been offered places amongst the very first students to be admitted into the brand new drama school, they had suddenly become quite interested in meeting the world-famous actress Dame Olivia Laurence and the other lady who they had been told was also very important in the world of theatre - "Lady Lavinia Lovely, or whatever her name is" as Pamela Quinn had referred to her.

Pamela and her mother had recently enjoyed two wonderful weeks in Paris, where they had not only visited several fashion shows during the annual Paris Fashion Week but had come away with several fabulous evening dresses created by the top designers.  One of Mrs Quinn's oldest friends was also attending the shows and had arranged for them to meet the great Christian Dior in person for a short while.  Pamela, previously very much a tomboy, had been bowled over by the whole experience, and by the grace and beauty of the new designs on show, and she just could not wait for an opportunity to try on some of the creations which her mother spent a fortune purchasing.

Since their return home they had met up with Marjorie and Melissa Franklin and the four of them had spent a very happy morning trying on these extravagant gowns, most of which had come straight from the Paris catwalks.   And now all four ladies - even the previously reluctant Melissa - were to have the perfect opportunity to show them off, for Emily Quinn was only too happy to share the dresses out between the four of them, and indeed with her sister Georgina too, for this special weekend at Havisham Hall. The two families had become much closer since discovering that the girls would be studying alongside one another and there was also no doubt that the chance to wear such beautiful, feminine gowns seemed to be having exactly the effect on both Pamela and Melissa that their mothers had been hoping for.   Marjorie and Emily had recently remarked to one another with great satisfaction how both girls were now behaving in a much more mature manner.

Encouraged by this improvement in the girls' demeanour, Emily Quinn had ventured to suggest to Pamela that the last couple of days before the weekend party might be an opportune time to begin rehearsing her newly-written one-act play, so that extracts from it could perhaps be performed in front of Miss Havisham and her guests, including Dame Olivia and Lady Lavinia.  What better way could there be, both to thank Miss Havisham and also to celebrate the decision to go ahead with the whole drama school project?   She had gone on to point out to Pamela that, as the writer of the school's first ever play, she would surely forever be remembered at the school with great distinction.

So Pamela and Melissa had been persuaded to start rehearsing "The Princess and her Very Obedient Maid", the short play which Pamela had mischievously and rather hurriedly written as a pretext for getting Jackie Swanson into a maid's uniform while she herself could lord it over the poor boy in her vastly superior role.  But as Pamela and Melissa now began rehearsing, it soon became clear that for the play to be performed during the forthcoming weekend, they would have to decide which of them was to be the Princess, and which the humble, obedient maid.   The actor for whom the part of the very obedient maid had been written would certainly not be available, as he was now fully employed performing a somewhat similar role in real life!   It simply would not do to involve one of the serving staff in the guests' entertainment.

So, as they now travelled over to Havisham in Aunt Georgina's chauffeur driven Rolls Royce, Pamela heard her aunt suggest that, in order to prove their suitability for a dramatic education, both girls should learn both parts and be able to play them on demand.  In fact, she added, I think we should invite Dame Olivia to toss a coin over dinner as to which of you will be the Princess.  "What an excellent idea" agreed both Emily Quinn and Marjorie Franklin.

                                             *                    *                   *                   *

Meanwhile, at Havisham Hall, once Gloria Havisham had taken Jack downstairs in his brand new uniform, complete with the five inch heels which now made him carry himself in an even daintier manner than before, she immediately sent him to report to Miss Craftey who was already carrying out a thorough inspection of all the staff in readiness for the guests' arrival.

"My word, what have we here?" was Miss Craftey's reaction when she saw Jack looking so much more confident and elegant than before.   Jack bobbed a little curtsey, blushing from ear to ear, both at the greeting and at the realization that this was only the first of many such curtseys which he would be required to perform over the next few hours, each one now a difficult and delicate manoeuvre in his extremely restricting new uniform and undergarments, let alone in heels that were higher than ever.

"Well, well, well, doesn't our Betsy look lovely" exclaimed Edna, one of the older maids.

"Yes Edna, Little Miss Favourite certainly does" responded Miss Craftey with more than a hint of bitterness.  "Except that she's not so little in those shoes, she's almost my own height now."   And Jack himself noticed what he thought now sounded like a note of resentment in the housekeeper's voice.  Was this perhaps an indication that the sense of inferiority, which he had felt ever since he first met Miss Craftey, might actually diminish when he wore such high heels?

But there was no time to contemplate this prospect any further.   Jack was now required to stand in line alongside all the other maids, who he noted to his great relief were all in identical parlourmaid uniforms to his own.   However only he and Annabelle were in high heels, and Annabelle's were certainly no more than two or three inches - only half the height of his.  Jack did not mind this extra height, he decided.  It was definitely helping to boost his confidence.  Besides, he was quickly growing used to the heels and, even with the tight skirt and everything else he was now wearing, he was beginning to become quite comfortable walking around.  

Just as it was Jack's turn to face Miss Craftey's individual inspection, she dropped a spoon on the floor in front of him, requiring him to pick it up for her.   "Just testing you, Betsy, that's all" she said as Jack easily stooped to retrieve it, returned it to Miss Craftey, and curtseyed to her for good measure - now feeling much less fear than before.  Somehow Jack was feeling a definite sense of inner confidence.  Was it the height of the shoes?   Or the quality and comfort of the uniform, or perhaps the firmness of his new underwear?   Or maybe the stimulus of the little butt-plug?   As Miss Craftey moved on to inspect Annabelle, and then on to Karen and Linda and the others, Jack thought to himself that it was perhaps also down to the new sense of happiness and belonging which he had started to enjoy in the company of Miss Havisham.   How he wished he could now stay with Madam, and not be required to move on and be in service for the next few months to the Quinn household.

                                         *                     *                       *                     *

It was another half-hour before the first of Gloria Havisham's weekend guests began to arrive.  By now Jack was stationed in the drawing-room, close to the door so that he could help open and close it when the principal parlourmaids, Agnes and Karen, were carrying trays.   Other than this simple task, he was merely instructed to stand still, smile sweetly, and curtsey prettily to each guest as they entered or left the room.  If any of the guests spoke to him, he was to respond politely "Yes Madam" or "Thank you Madam", again with a sweet smile and a neat little curtsey.

Cecily Burgess and Jennifer Hughes, two long-standing acquaintances of Gloria Havisham's and now her fellow benefactors of the drama school, were the first to arrive.  Jack immediately recalled meeting them both at Mrs Quinn's on that excruciatingly embarrassing afternoon when, in a child's frock and six layers of frilly petticoats, he had also been introduced to - and had so delighted - Miss Havisham,   He was not sure whether he preferred facing them now in his present guise, with the humiliating loss of status that his uniform now implied, or in that sweet little girly outfit in which he had become the instant darling of Mrs Quinn's guests.  What he did know was that he now felt a great deal more assured and secure in Miss Havisham's service.  But what he was much less sure about was how he would feel, very shortly, upon the arrival of Mrs Quinn and Miss Quinn (and how he hated being told that he must now refer to Miss Pamela in such a deferential manner).  He was, after all, still wearing the locked chain which had bound him so permanently to Mrs Quinn.

"Gloria, may I compliment you once again on the immaculate appearance of your staff" Miss Burgess was soon heard saying to her hostess in front of Jack and the other maids, Agnes and Karen, who were busy serving coffee for the ladies.  "These three, and the girl on the front door - Annabelle, was she called? - all look so adorable and the uniforms are absolutely exquisite...    We were also hoping we might see that lovely young thing, Elizabeth, weren't we Jennifer?    I'd heard that she, or should I say he, was working here now.  Is he going to be on duty this weekend Gloria?"

There was a stunned silence, whilst Gloria Havisham glared at Cecily Burgess, Jennifer Hughes let out a little gasp, and Agnes and Karen briefly stopped pouring the coffee.   Jack, who until then had been feeling quite relaxed and comfortable in his tidy uniform and effortless duties, felt his heart sink.  Was Miss Burgess going to refer to him as "he" and "him" all weekend?   And who else might then do the same?   Suddenly Jack's feeling of inner confidence completely disappeared.   How long now before his secret was all round the servants' hall?   Agnes and Karen could hardly be expected to keep this to themselves for long...

(to be continued)