Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 8

It soon became apparent to all the Havisham Hall staff, and particularly to Miss Craftey, that the new junior maid Betsy had become Madam's latest special favourite.   Miss Craftey was not at all pleased.  It was only a matter of months since she had managed to make the life of Madam's previous favourite - an effeminate young boy who had tried to pretend he was a girl - so miserable that he had decided to run away, never to be seen since.   Now, no sooner had this Betsy arrived than she was being singled out for special services to Madam, even to the extent of being invited to serve her nightly cocoa in Madam's private boudoir.

Of course Miss Craftey realised that, unlike that previous favourite, Betsy could not possibly be a boy.  She was so girlish in every way, that there was no possibility that she too could turn out to be one of those effeminate young transvestites.   Ever since Madam's mother and father, Sir Henry and Lady Havisham, had been tragically killed in that dreadful car crash - leaving the young Gloria as the sole heir to their Estate and the vast wealth which came with it - Miss Craftey had managed to impose her will upon all the inhabitants of Havisham Hall, including Gloria, and, as she could not stand the male of the species, had ensured that the household remained entirely "drone-free".   That is, until that young thing called "Alice" turned out to be "Alec".   So she had to resort to imposing the harshest of disciplinary regimes upon the young lad and soon succeeded in driving him away.  No-one quite knew what had happened to the boy but, Miss Craftey now reflected with pride, at least she could safely say that he had been the only male intruder ever to venture into her all-female domain.

But, even though Betsy so obviously satisfied her female-only rule, Miss Craftey really could not tolerate the way Madam had so blatantly now adopted this new girl as her personal favourite.  Up to now she had always managed to bend Madam's will to her own - in much the same way as she did when Madam, as "Miss Gloria", was a teenager - but Miss Craftey soon began to realise that it was now going to be very difficult to prevent this special relationship between the lady of the house and the new scullery maid from blossoming.   She thought long and hard as to how she could put a stop to the friendship before it got out of hand.  But with the additional burden of receiving some extremely important guests of Madam's in the very near future, this was hardly the time to confront such a threat to her own authority.

                                               *              *             *              *

The first few days after his arrival at Havisham Hall had proved to be a traumatic period for Jack as he adjusted to life as the junior housemaid, or "scullery maid" as Miss Craftey insisted on calling him.   Every move he made seemed to be monitored closely by the fearsome housekeeper and, with the stunning new hairstyle which Linda had created for him, he was - to his embarrassment - rapidly becoming the envy of all the other staff.   Young Annabelle, the very pretty parlourmaid with whom Jack was now sharing a bedroom, had previously been nicknamed "the Belle of the Hall" but it seemed that Jack was now rapidly taking over this mantle, for better or worse.

It didn't exactly help the situation when, after a few days as scullery maid, Miss Havisham insisted that Jack (or "Betsy" as he had become known to all at Havisham Hall) should be promoted to parlourmaid, with the requirement to wear the shortest of the household's extensive collection of parlourmaid uniforms, together with seamed silk stockings and four-inch heels, so that guests could "appreciate the full splendour of this lovely child in all her splendour".   Moreover, when Miss Craftey had  eventually opened the suitcase which had been packed for Jack and inadvertently left in the car when he arrived several days earlier, she had discovered a huge collection of lipsticks, eye-liner, mascara and other beauty products which she took great delight in showing to Miss Havisham.   Needless to say, Madam then encouraged her "Betsy" to make maximum use of the make-up, both during the day and in the evening, so there was no respite for Jack from the "pretty doll" role that he had now acquired.  As he spent his days constantly hearing references to "Miss World" and other taunts, Jack privately cursed Rose, his mother's maid who had packed his case for him, no doubt with the firm intention of further embarrassing him with its contents when they were revealed.  It had also contained, Jack discovered, a range of beautiful and expensive lingerie, silky flowing nighties and peignoirs, several pairs of silk stockings and two pairs of black, high-heeled court shoes.

Seeing all his possessions had only served to heighten Miss Havisham's growing admiration for Jack's youthful beauty and femininity.   So Jack's life had now become one of being permanently "on show" to Madam's guests, or to Madam herself.  As parlourmaid he was constantly summoned by various bells which Madam rejoiced in ringing at all times of the day, whether from the morning-room, or the dining-room or the drawing-room, and whether or not she was expecting guests or just simply wanted to spend a little more time admiring her "lovely girlish boy".   She periodically reminded Jack, when they were alone together, that he was of course still a boy, and that she intended to keep him that way, but that no-one else in the household was ever to discover his secret...

With such a treasure to display, Miss Havisham now enjoyed nothing more than to invite her friends round for morning coffee, or a light lunch or afternoon tea, and to have her "prettiest of parlourmaids" greet them at the front door, take their coats, show them through to wherever Madam was sitting, and of course serve their drinks.   Madam would then require Jack to stand silently in the corner of the room, in his beautiful uniform, while she entertained her guests.  On these occasions Jack heard his mistress tell each and every one of these guests all about the party she was throwing for the imminent visit of the world-famous actress Dame Olivia Laurence and her friend Lady Lavinia Lovelace.

One morning, when Jack was looking especially pretty in his latest figure-hugging parlourmaid's uniform, complete with a beautiful "broderie anglaise" lacy bib apron and the ever-present little lace cap, he answered the door to a well-dressed middle-aged lady and a rather less smart,and rather awkward, teenage girl who was looking decidedly uncomfortable in a blouse and skirt.  To his horror Jack immediately recognised them both but, being the very calm and discreet maid that he now was, he quietly enquired their names, took their coats and showed the two ladies through to the drawing-room.

"Mrs Franklin and Miss Melissa Franklin to see you, Madam" he announced as they entered the room.   Only then did a glint of recognition start to become apparent on the faces of the two visitors. Was this not the same shy voice that they had heard in the street a few days earlier, when they encountered Miss Strang from the Stuyvesant Academy and her beautiful niece in the pretty peach blouse?   What was Miss Strang's niece now doing working as one of Gloria Havisham's maids?

(to be continued)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 7

Relieved that Miss Havisham had eventually recognized him despite his housemaid's uniform, Jack hurried back to the kitchen to prepare Madam's cocoa and biscuits.   Although he now realized that she was pleased to see him again, he was nevertheless concerned that Madam now saw him simply as someone who performed well as a female maidservant and that she might expect him to remain in that role.   Perhaps this wasn't very surprising, Jack thought, given that he was himself now increasingly accepting this very submissive and feminine role with every moment that passed.

By the time he reached the kitchen, it seemed that most of the other staff had retired to bed.   Only Annabelle and Linda were still there to chat to as he set about boiling the milk for Madam's cocoa and arranging a tray with a plate of biscuits.  As they helped Jack to find what was needed, Annabelle asked him whether he'd been given anywhere to sleep the night?   It was only now that Jack  realized he had neither a bed to sleep in, nor any night clothes.   There had also been no mention yet of where his suitcase now was, and he made a mental note to ask Madam about this when he took her the cocoa.

"You'd better share my room for tonight" offered Annabelle as Jack was contemplating the situation. "We can't have you sleeping down here" she added, to which Jack responded "Oh that's very kind of you Annabelle and I'm afraid I haven't got any nightwear either" only to receive from Annabelle a further kind offer to lend him one of her nighties until his suitcase could be found.

Jack wondered for a moment what it would be like to wear one of Annabelle's nighties, then saw her grinning at him out of the corner of his eye.  They both had a little giggle and Jack immediately felt at ease again.   Annabelle was the one person who had really made him feel welcome at Havisham Hall.   He wondered how she would feel if she discovered his "little secret" and realized he would need to take great care not to give away his true gender, even to her.

As he prepared to take Madam's tray to the drawing-room Jack glanced in the kitchen mirror and Annabelle noticed him trying to tidy his hair.   Turning to Linda, she said "Poor Betsy hasn't had a chance to get her hair styled recently and I've told her that you're the expert stylist here, could you possibly help her?"

Linda seemed delighted.  "Sure, that's no problem -  Betsy I'm always happy to help you, or any of the girls with their hair, nothing I enjoy more.   As soon as you've finished serving Madam her cocoa, I'll put some rollers in for tonight, and then if you can be down here by 6 o'clock tomorrow we can brush it all out, perhaps give you a little bit of a trim and you'll be all ready to serve breakfast.  I'm thinking, from a quick look at you, that something similar to Annabelle's style would suit you - just keeping it about shoulder length with some nice curls once we've brushed it out, maybe a little colouring to bring out the natural blonde in you..."

Jack was quite taken aback by Linda's enthusiasm.   She certainly seemed to know what she was talking about and, judging by the look of Annabelle's own hair, she was obviously quite an expert stylist.  He'd been admiring Annabelle's hairstyle ever since he arrived, but how would he feel to look like that himself?  The thought roused his little secret once more.   But there was no time to linger - he had the tray in his hands and it was high time he took it through to Madam...

                                               *             *           *            *

Jack knocked on the drawing-room door, while carefully carrying Madam's cocoa tray in his other hand.   There was no sound from inside.   He waited for about thirty seconds, wondering when it would be correct to knock again.   If he was to continue in this role, perhaps he should enquire as to the correct etiquette in these matters.   He didn't want to get on the wrong side of Madam by sounding rude and impatient, but nor did he want to be criticized for not knocking again if she hadn't heard him first time.   Just as he was about to try another gentle knock, he heard a rather sleepy voice calling "Oh, yes, enter!"    As Jack carried the tray in to the room he was greeted with "Oh Elizabeth, I'm so tired, this is just what I was wanting.   Please pour the cocoa for me, there's a good girl.   Thank you dear."

Jack leaned over, placed the tray on Miss Havisham's little coffee table, and carefully poured the cocoa for her.   He placed the plate of biscuits beside the cocoa, stepped back and curtseyed to his mistress.

"Oh you are so good to me Elizabeth" exclaimed Miss Havisham, looking up at him.  "Now then, I think you could do with a tidier uniform from tomorrow, and perhaps something doing to your hair, but yes, I think you'll do very nicely.   Tell me dear, do you like it here?"

Poor Jack could not think how to respond.  Everything had all happened so suddenly, what was he to say?   On the one hand he was completely lost in this strange house and felt utterly humiliated by Miss Craftey and the way he was being made to work as the junior housemaid.   On the other hand he was clearly now being appreciated by Miss Havisham who seemed to be wanting him to serve her personally.  As the lady of the house, surely she would make sure he was well treated.

"Yes Madam" he eventually replied.  "It's very good of you to have me here while my mother is away, thank you Madam."

"Yes dear, your mother did seem very grateful when I offered to have you.   She would have sent you to her friend Emily Quinn's but I understand she's gone to the Paris Fashions with her daughter.   They're going to be back just in time for our big weekend so you'll see them then - no doubt wearing the latest Spring fashions if I'm not much mistaken.   And it's so good that you're happy working as a maid, you're so good at it and, my goodness, we're going to need you here - especially over these next few weeks and for that weekend."

Jack's heart sank.   Did this mean he would be expected to remain here, as a maid?  And not just for the next few weeks?  Acting as a maid at the garden party and dinner party which he'd heard were planned for the special weekend?   And if Mrs Quinn and Pamela would be coming, all dolled up in the latest fashions, would he be serving them as a humble maid - expected to keep running hither and thither, and curtseying to everybody, even to Pamela!!   He couldn't bear the thought of Pamela seeing him so set in this role and knowing he couldn't do anything about it.   As for the "dress rehearsal for a one-act play", would this be her "Mistress and Maid" play, or whatever she was calling it now?   Was he supposed to be one of the "two promising young drama students" he'd heard referred to earlier?   He would be so envious if someone else was given the chance to perform "his" role...

These thoughts were all racing through Jack's head as he stood back and thought about what Madam had just said.   Miss Havisham paused for a moment longer, sipped her cocoa, and then changed the subject.   "Oh, and by the way, Maria my driver found a suitcase in the car which I believe belongs to you.   She's given it to Miss Craftey and I expect she'll let you have it in the morning.   Do you have any overnight clothes?   I expect you'll be needing a nightie won't you, and some clean underwear for tomorrow."

"Thank you Madam, but I believe Annabelle is going to lend me things for now.  And she's kindly letting me share her room Madam."

"Aha!  Annabelle, eh?!   Oh, won't that be fun for you Elizabeth... or should I say Jack?   You and Annabelle sharing a room eh?    Well, all I ask is that you take care, my dear - if Nora Craftey gets wind of anything remotely male under this roof, well, I wouldn't care to think what might happen..." 

Gloria Havisham paused again and then made Jack an offer.  "I don't know whether it would help, but just to be on the safe side, I do have what we call a little gaff upstairs, it would just help to hide anything which shouldn't be there - you know what I mean?   I got it for someone else who worked here a little while ago and was going to wear it...   A nice young boy who thought he wanted to train as my ladies maid and then changed his mind.   Oh dear, I do hope you won't do that to me...   He left all of a sudden, which was such a nuisance...    Anyhow she, I mean he, never wore it, so you could borrow it - what do you think Elizabeth?   It would be so embarrassing for us all if anyone saw anything they shouldn't, don't you think?"

Poor Jack, still standing to attention while Madam enjoyed her cocoa, blushed to hear his mistress speaking so directly to him on such a delicate matter.  It was true that he could not risk revealing his true gender but he was taken completely by surprise at Miss Havisham's suggestion of him wearing a gaff.   However he sensed that it would be rude to refuse Madam's offer.

"Thank you Madam" he replied, bobbing a little curtsey, "I'm not sure that I'll need that but thank you Madam.  And thank you for what you said about a tidier uniform and about my hair Madam.  I'll ask Annabelle and Linda about that right away Madam."   Jack paused for a moment like the dutiful maid he had become, then added, with a further curtsey, "Will that be all now, Madam?"

"Yes of course dear" responded Miss Havisham, eyeing him keenly over her spectacles.  "I mustn't keep you here all night... well certainly not tonight...  You go and sort yourself out and we'll continue our little chat tomorrow shall we?   In fact, Elizabeth - sorry, I must start calling you Betsy, Miss Craftey told me to call you that now - I'd like you to serve my bedtime cocoa every night from now on.  Would you do that for me please, Betsy?   At ten o'clock every evening, without fail?   I usually have it in my bedroom, of course...."

(to be continued)


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 6

Standing behind the locked door in his housemaid's uniform, Jack strained to hear what he could of what Miss Havisham was saying to her staff.   He had managed to complete the washing-up and tidy the kitchen in time to make his way up the corridor, only to find that the oak door to the front hall was firmly closed and locked.  Jack had difficulty hearing what was being said, but it was definitely Miss Havisham speaking and, although she seemed to be suffering from a sore throat, he was pleased to hear the same unmistakeably aristocratic English voice that had made him feel so loved and appreciated during his recent visit to Mrs Quinn's little soiree.

Between Miss Havisham's coughing, and other interruptions, Jack now learned that somebody called Lady Lavinia Lovelace and, if he heard right, a Dame Olivia Laurence - who were both "very very important in the theatre world" - would soon be spending a weekend at Havisham Hall to offer their support and advice on the proposed new drama school at Stuyvesant Academy and, of course, to thank the benefactors whose generosity was making it possible.

Miss Havisham seemed to be making it clear that she was herself the principal benefactor, whose support was enabling this exciting project to proceed, and Jack now heard Miss Havisham explain to her staff that these important ladies had been invited to meet "two extremely promising" young drama students who would be attending the school when it opened.   ("Two?" Jack thought to himself, "and who might they be?).   Despite Miss Havisham's low, soft voice, Jack then thought he heard reference to a garden party as well as a dinner party and also a "dress rehearsal for a newly-written one-act play"...

Listening intently, Jack next heard Miss Havisham warn her staff about all the extra work the visit of these important ladies would mean for them.  She went on to promise that they would all be especially well compensated for their extra efforts - provided, she said after a slight pause, service standards were of the highest order throughout.  (Jack imagined that Miss Havisham must have caught sight of a frowning Miss Craftey before adding this condition.)

There followed a few more words which Jack was unable to hear from where he was, crouching with his ear pressed to the outside of the oak door.  Then, all of a sudden, the door opened and out spilled all the staff, chattering to one another as they made their way back to the kitchen.   "Well, well, who would have thought it?   Dame Olivia coming to Havisham?"   And from the older maids, "It's just like the old days, Ethel, we'll all have to put our best foot forward.  Won't it be wonderful to see the house full of guests once again?"   Not all the servants seemed quite so thrilled, Jack noticed, as they clearly realised how hard they would all have to work.  But there was a sense of real excitement as they all started to anticipate what it would be like to serve such a great icon of stage and screen as Dame Olivia Laurence, and of course all her fellow guests.

As Jack stood stock still in the corridor, the next to emerge from the front hall was none other than Miss Craftey and for a moment Jack feared he was going to be interrogated as to exactly why he was not attending to his duties in the kitchen.   He envisaged having to explain what he was doing eaves-dropping on the conversation which had taken place.  But instead, Miss Craftey simply looked Jack straight in the eye and said "Madam would like to see you now Betsy - I suggest you wait here for two or three minutes and then go and knock on the drawing-room door.  There's no need for you to change your uniform, but you might like to know that Madam greatly appreciates your offer to help out as our new scullery maid, especially as these next few weeks are going to be so especially busy."   Miss Craftey looked Jack full in the face, as though challenging him to respond - which the poor boy then duly did, in the form of a mumbled "Yes Miss" and a low, ultra-submissive curtsey.

Jack cursed himself as he realised how easily he had once again succumbed to Miss Craftey's domineering manner and passively accepted that he had chosen to serve as a humble maid.  As he waited for what he judged to be two to three minutes, he wondered exactly what Miss Craftey and Miss Havisham had said to one another.   He had never offered to "help out as a scullery maid", or as any kind of maid for that matter, but what kind of story had Miss Craftey presented to Madam?   Jack checked his appearance in the mirror, noting once again how well Annabelle's uniform fitted him as he straightened the little frilly cap while trying to tidy his long, straggly hair.  He realised for a moment how girlishly he was behaving, and cursed himself once more.  Then, realising that at least three minutes must now have elapsed, he made his way, nervously but with a sense of considerable excitement and anticipation, across the hall and knocked on the drawing-room door.

"Enter" came the immediate response, which Jack promptly obeyed, executing another perfect curtsey as he entered the enormous lounge, known of course to all at Havisham Hall as the drawing-room.  Jack's first impression, as he looked across this room with its heavily-framed oil paintings, luxurious armchairs and sofas at its owner, was one of shock - for it was obvious that Miss Havisham, far from looking delighted to see him once again, wore an expression of deep disappointment.  As she peered over her pince-nez spectacles, she frowned at Jack and said: "Good evening, girl, are you bringing me my cocoa?  I'd like biscuits with it tonight and I'll take it down here.  And would you mind asking the new maid Elizabeth, or Betsy as I believe you're all calling her, to serve it for me please."

Jack was horror-struck.  Not only was Miss Havisham disappointed, she hadn't even recognized him!  But then, realising how different his appearance now was, compared with the previous occasion on which they had met, he quickly adjusted his demeanour and replied, as calmly as he could:
"Madam, I am your Elizabeth.  I arrived earlier this evening, with your driver Miss Rodriguez as you had kindly arranged, and then I found I was put to work as a junior maid.  Please Madam, I'm very happy to bring you your cocoa and biscuits, but I thought I was being brought here to be your personal companion and it's all so demeaning Madam and....."     Jack had surprised even himself with this outburst, which Miss Havisham gently but firmly interrupted.

"Oh I see, Elizabeth, now I think I do recognize you.  But you do look very different dressed in that working uniform.  Ah yes, I can see now, you're still the lovely beautiful young lady - sorry, I know, young boy, I know about that...  but we'll keep that little secret between you and I now, won't we Elizabeth?"

"Yes of course Madam" replied Jack, instinctively bobbing another little curtsey before realizing too late that this gesture had simply reinforced his total lack of masculinity, or indeed claim to any status other than that of a maid.

"You see, Elizabeth" continued Miss Havisham.  "You are a wonderful natural actor, and you are demonstrating perfectly that the role you play best is that of a female maidservant.  Is that not right?"

"Er, yes Madam, I suppose it is Madam" stuttered Jack.   "Well then" added Miss Havisham, "Go and prepare my cocoa and biscuits and serve it to me here, and then we'll have a little chat, shall we?"

"Yes Madam. of course Madam".   Jack realised he now had no option other than to curtsey low, and he added a humble "Very well, Madam" as he turned to leave the room. 

(to be continued)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 5

After serving all the other maids with their meal, Jack was eventually able to sit down and starting eating himself.   Apart from Annabelle, Karen and Linda, and of course himself, he noticed that the other maids all seemed much older.   There was Margaret, Shirley, Edna and two or three others whose names he hadn't yet learned.  He was later to discover that all these older women, and also "Cook" (who seemed always to be known simply as "Cook") had been working at Havisham Hall since before Miss Havisham's parents died many years ago.  Jack found himself wondering what they all did, and how Miss Havisham could possibly need all these servants - however active her social life might be.

Jack was lost in these thoughts when the stern housekeeper Miss Craftey suddenly addressed him from the head of the table.   "Betsy, have you not noticed that we have all now finished our first course?   Please clear the plates and bring us the dessert.   I believe Cook has prepared one of her fruit salads to follow, isn't that correct Cook?"   A murmur of "just my usual offering" could be heard from Cook at the other end of the table.

Jack, now a bundle of nerves, was already on his feet, hurriedly curtseying and uttering an apology to Miss Craftey.   He was delighted to hear Annabelle say "I'll help her" and to see his friend rise from the table.  But alas, Miss Craftey responded very firmly "No, Annabelle, that won't be necessary - Betsy can manage on her own."    So Jack continued to serve the remainder of the meal on his own, feeling humiliated beyond words.

And still there was no sign of Madam returning to rescue him from his nightmare.   He walked solemnly  - and now rather painfully in Annabelle's tight-fitting shoes - around the table, removing the empty plates and then bringing all the staff their fruit salads.

Suddenly a shrill ringing sound came from high on the kitchen wall and Jack noticed for the first time a row of lights, one of which was now flashing to signal that somebody had rung from the front door.  "Madam has returned" announced Miss Craftey and then, as she got up from the table to go and attend to Miss Havisham, murmured what Jack took to be a routine instruction: "Please take charge, Cook, until I return."

Jack's face lit up at the news of Miss Havisham's return.   This was the moment he had been waiting for, ever since he arrived at the Hall earlier in the evening.  Miss Havisham would no doubt ask to see him shortly - after all, she had been so keen to see him again after their afternoon together at Mrs Quinn's.  He glanced down at the grey uniform and plain white apron he was wearing and hoped there would be an opportunity for him to change before he went to meet her, even if it would have to be the peach-coloued transparent silk blouse and the taffeta skirt in which he had arrived.   How he wished he hadn't left his suitcase in the car when Miss Havisham's driver had dropped him off - he thought to himself that there must be something less outrageously feminine amongst the contents which Rose had packed for him while he was saying good-bye to his mother.

Cheered by the thought that he would now at least get a chance to present himself to Miss Havisham, Jack enjoyed his fruit salad and, carefully waiting until everybody else round the table had finished theirs, tactfully addressed Cook:  " Cook, would you like me to clear the table now?"   Cook, who by now had dropped off into a light snooze at the end of the table, awoke from her slumber, saying "Who was that?   Who spoke to me?"    Jack, shaken out of his good humour, responded "It was me Cook, I was asking if I should clear the table."

"Clear the table?  Clear the table?   No, we shouldn't do that until Miss Craftey has finished.  And she hasn't even returned yet.  And who are you anyway?   Yes, you - who are you?" barked the aged Cook, now well and truly awake.

"I'm, er, I mean Elizabeth, but I think I'm Betsy now" stuttered poor Jack.  Now reduced to a total nervous wreck and, struggling to explain himself,  he then added "I used to be known as Jackie when I was younger but my friends all call me Elizabeth these days.  But I'm Betsy now because that's what Crafty, I mean Miss Craftey, said to call me.  I'm sorry Miss, I didn't mean to be rude."  There was silence around the table, as the servants all tried to make sense of this new recruit who didn't even seem to know her own name.

                                                *            *            *             *

It was to be some little while before Miss Craftey was to return to the kitchen.  As soon as she greeted Miss Havisham, she sensed that this had been no ordinary evening's bridge for her employer.  In fact it didn't sound as though much bridge had been played, if any at all.   The four ladies who had met up for their regular game had something much more exciting to discuss on this occasion.

"Nora" announced the excited Miss Havisham, using Miss Craftey's first name for once, "Nora, you'll never guess who's going to come and stay here.   Cecily Burgess has invited her friend Lavinia Lovelace, who's now President of the National Association of Drama Academies, and she's going to bring with her the great actress Dame Olivia Laurence.   They want to come and stay a weekend with me here, in three weeks time.   Three weeks, Nora!!   Cecily's been telling them all about the new drama school at Stuyvesant and how Gail Swanson's child is such a brilliant star, and how I've made it all possible through my generosity.   Well, it isn't only me, but I suppose...   Nora, it's going to be such fun.   Of course, you're going to have to get the house spick and span, so the maids will all have to work flat out between now and then to have it all ready..."   

Miss Havisham paused to cough and clear her throat.  "I'm sorry Nora, I've nearly lost my voice in the excitement!"

"Yes, Miss Gloria" responded Miss Craftey, reverting to addressing her mistress as she had done many years ago, when she no doubt often used to get over-excited.  "Take a deep breath Madam. I'm sure there will be a great deal to do.  But don't you worry, I'll make sure we all pull our weight and get everything ready.   How many visitors did you say there will be Madam?"

"Well" replied Miss Havisham, recovering her voice.  "Lady Lavinia and Dame Olivia for a start, and of course they'll both bring their ladies maids with them.   And then there's Cecily herself, and Jennifer Hughes who was also at our meeting at Emily Quinn's, and of course Emily herself and her daughter Pamela - they should be back from their trip to Paris by then.  Oh, and we must include Janet Strang from the Stuyvesant Academy and that nice lady Mrs Franklin who she seems to be very friendly with, and I believe there's a Miss Franklin too, who's going to be entering the Stuyvesant Academy shortly.  How many's that?   Of course I expect quite a few of them will bring their maids with them, I'm sure they'll all be wanting to make a weekend of it if Lady Lavinia and Dame Olivia are doing so...   It's all so exciting - and all because I've agreed to put all this money up...    By the way Nora, that reminds me -  has young Elizabeth arrived safely?"

"Oh yes Madam" replied Miss Craftey " and what a charming young girl she is, Madam.  She arrived beautifully dressed, she was obviously very keen to impress.  But she insisted that she should work with the other maids and make herself useful, and she's fitted in very happily with us all.  She's even asked everyone to call her Betsy and she doesn't mind what she's asked to do.  She says she wants to start at the bottom like new maids all do.  She'll be a great help Madam, especially with all the extra work we're all going to have these next few weeks."

"Oh, I see..." said Miss Havisham.  "Well, I'm so pleased to hear that Nora, I knew he'd be an...  I mean she'd be an asset to us."   Miss Havisham hesitated for a moment, realising her gaff.   Nora Craftey was the last person she wanted to discover her new young friend Elizabeth's little secret - what with her obsession with keeping Havisham Hall entirely female.  I really must be more careful, she thought to herself.  "Well now Nora, I think I should share the good news with the staff now, don't you.  Ask them to come through to the front hall and I'll explain what's happening to them there.   Oh it's so exciting isn't it Nora?"

                                                *            *           *           *

Twenty minutes had elapsed by the time Miss Craftey was back in the kitchen, looking somewhat flushed and also rather bemused.   The staff were all still seated, having long since finished their fruit salad dessert but obediently following the time-honoured etiquette of not rising until everyone, including Miss Craftey herself, had also consumed theirs.   On taking her seat, Miss Craftey began by saying that she didn't feel like any fruit this evening, then ordered Jack - or "Betsy"- to clear the table, while she spoke:  "Staff, Madam has something very, very important to say to us all.  We are all to report to her in the front hall at 9.30 this evening, which gives us twenty minutes - no, eighteen minutes now - to tidy ourselves up and assemble there.   Betsy, you will be all right dressed as you are, Madam knows that you're getting acquainted with your duties as the new scullery maid so she won't expect to see you in the front hall.  Or in any of the front rooms for that matter.  We'll leave you to clear the table and wash  up, and then you can sweep the kitchen floor and get everything ready for us to serve breakfast promptly for Madam in the morning."

With that, Miss Craftey departed swiftly to prepare herself for the staff meeting while the rest of the staff went to their rooms to change into suitable uniforms for presenting themselves in front of Madam.  Poor Jack was left on his own in the kitchen.   He wondered whether, if he worked fast, he could complete the tidying up in the kitchen in time to go and listen to Miss Havisham through the door to the front hall.   He had noticed this door at the top end of the corridor when he and Annabelle were making their way down to the kitchen from cleaning the bedrooms.   He so wanted to hear what Madam was actually saying, not just hear what Miss Craftey chose to tell him and the other maids...   

(to be continued)