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 Jack..ie, 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)







3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a lovely story - we can't wait to see what happens when all these characters get together for their weekend at Havisham Hall! Please keep this story going, it sounds like it could be amazing - definitely a rival for Downton Abbey!!
Lord and Lady Grantham

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, you are building up to what I'm sure will be a fantastic stay at Haversham Hall for Jack/Betsy. Please keep this going.
Maid Marcia xx

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