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)


Anonymous said...

Looking forword to seeing what goes on between miss havisham and jack. Seems there might be a special friendship between them like a mistress and her maid. Cant wait to see how it turns out when all those guests come to stay.
A humble maid xx

Anonymous said...

Loving this story, it gets better and better. Jack is slowly getting more and more set in his role as a maid. Wish I was him!
Maid Marcia xx

Carrie P said...

Another great instalment, Miss Crafty is certainly living up to her name, keeping Jack/Betsy below stairs while the Mistress addresses the other servants. She has also started their relationship as she means to go on – reducing him to an under-housemaid on arrival and leaving him in no doubt as to where he lies in the pecking order. Our hero seems to have become a male Cinderella figure trapped in an Upstairs Downstairs/Downton Abbey world and it appears he’s pinning his hopes on Miss Havisham recognising there has been a terrible mistake by him being pressganged into domestic service. Poor innocent boy.
Well done LG, will be interesting to see how he copes.

L.G. said...

I'm very pleased to see the comments from Humble Maid, Marcia and Carrie P above. A big thank you to you all. As Carrie and others I am sure know well, it is not easy to create these kinds of stories but it certainly helps to know they are being appreciated.

This strand is getting towards its half-way point so there are still a few challenges and excitements lying ahead for our hero Jack to cope with. I hope readers admire his patience and endurance, as well as the acting skills which seem to have contributed to the situation he is now in.

How many of us would love to have the opportunity to be a Betsy in a house like Havisham Hall, I wonder?

Enjoy the rest of the story!!


Anonymous said...

A lovely story, it gets better with every episode.

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