Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 12

"Wake up, Betsy, it's past seven o'clock and we'll be late for breakfast if we don't hurry."  After Jack's restless night he sat up with a start as Annabelle urged him to get dressed and be ready for the busy day ahead.   It was Friday morning, the first day of Miss Havisham's country house weekend, and outside the day had dawned bright and sunny.  A total of twelve house guests were due to arrive that afternoon, some of them accompanied by their own ladies' maids, whilst the others had all been promised they would receive personal maid service from Miss Havisham's own staff.

Havisham Hall, the stately home of Gloria Havisham, generous benefactor of the Stuyvesant Academy's new drama school, was buzzing with anticipation.   The sense of excitement and responsibility was not lost on either Jack or Annabelle as they hurriedly dressed in their working maids' uniforms and made their way down to the kitchen to join the other staff for breakfast.  In the nick of time, Jack remembered to look at the list of weekend guests which, he learned the day before, had been pinned on the staff notice board.   He had been in enough trouble last night for not having studied it so that he would know exactly who would be staying at the Hall, and in which room they would each be sleeping.

Jack looked carefully at the list.   Sure enough, it was headed by the names Lady Lavinia Lovelace (lavender suite) and Dame Olivia Laurence (rose suite), but it was the remainder of the list that told Jack just what an ordeal this weekend was going to be for him.  As expected, the next names on the list were those of Miss Cecily Burgess and Miss Jennifer Hughes - Jack remembered these ladies had accompanied Madam to Mrs Quinn's soiree, the afternoon when he had made such a favourable and significant impression upon Madam.   Then, below their names, was that of Mrs Emily Quinn herself, and Miss Pamela Quinn.  "Miss Pamela"- how Jack hated having to think of her in such deferential terms.  Would he ever again be able to think of her as just plain Pamela, one of his own class at the academy?

Next there was a name which Jack did not readily recognize - a Mrs Georgina Davies - followed by Mrs Marjorie Franklin and "Miss Melissa Franklin".  Ugh!  Jack still could not get last night's vivid dream out of his mind, nor the memory of the Franklins' visit the other day when Miss Melissa had gradually worked out exactly who this parlourmaid really was.  It began to dawn on him that almost all the weekend guests now knew his true identity, his real name, and of course his gender.  Yet surely Madam would not want them to give away his secret and risk the wrath of Miss Craftey, this weekend of all weekends...

Below the Franklins' names came that of Miss Janet Strang, the head of the Stuyvesant Academy of course.  But who was this that Miss Strang was sharing her room with?   Miss Rose Wilson?  No, surely this could not be the maid Rose, who had started Jack on his long slippery slide into femininity and domestic servitude.  "MISS Rose?"   Was she the one who had risen to become a personal companion, while he - who had expected only a few weeks earlier to have been in line for such a role with Madam - was now little more than a junior parlourmaid?   This just could not get any worse as far as Jack was concerned, for almost every one of these guests, it seemed, would be ready to enjoy his discomfort at being reduced to such an ignominious and humiliating position in the Havisham household.   The mocking laughter he had endured in his dream, at the hands of Miss Pamela and Miss Melissa, would no doubt now last - on and off - all weekend.

Finally Jack noticed, at the very foot of the list, a brief sentence indicating that two additional members of the Stuyvesant Academy teaching staff were also expected to join the party but would not be arriving until Saturday.  

Suddenly Jack jumped as he heard the stern voice of Miss Craftey behind him.  "So Betsy, I take it you now know exactly who will be in each of the guest rooms tonight, is that right girl?"

"Er yes Miss, I mean I'm not,  I er think so Miss" replied Jack, blushing with a mixture of guilt and fear and curtseying lower than ever.  "I've only just, er, had a chance to read it, Madam, er I mean Miss".  As Miss Craftey studied him for another few seconds he gave her another curtsey, holding his position for a few seconds until finally the terrifying housekeeper nodded her acknowledgment of his efforts.

"Well, we'll see about that" announced Miss Craftey as the staff all took their seats for breakfast.  "You sit next to me today Betsy" she indicated to Jack.   And, as they all started to munch their breakfast, she gave one further briefing to the assembled maids, drumming into them all, and especially to poor Jack, how "imperative" it was that each and every guest should have a perfect weekend at Havisham Hall.   There must be no question of any complaints or dissatisfaction amongst any of the guests.   They had all been especially invited for this weekend because of the roles they would be playing in Madam's "great project" - the establishment of this dedicated drama academy.  Two of the guests, Miss Craftey reminded the staff as if they were not already well aware, were Lady Lavinia Lovelace and Dame Olivia Laurence, and they were particularly important because not only were they titled ladies but they were also great figures of importance in the world of theatre.  But all the other guests were important too, including two young ladies who had recently been enrolled for the school's first year and who, this weekend, would be performing for the first time a "dress rehearsal" of a short play which one of them had written, entitled "The Princess and Her Very Obedient Maid".  And in front of Lady Lavinia and Dame Olivia!   Miss Craftey thought they must be very brave and talented girls.   She did not expect the staff to be allowed to watch this performance but, if by any chance Madam did allow them to do so, they were all advised to watch very closely and observe how well the Obedient Maid performed her role.  You might learn a few things to your advantage, she added, looking directly at Jack as she spoke.

Miss Craftey then went on to allocate specific duties to all the maids and, as expected, Jack learned that he was to be on front door duty.   This was to involve answering the front door bell whenever it rang, curtseying politely to each guest and taking them through to the drawing-room for coffee while their luggage was taken to their bedroom by one of the outdoor staff ("the men", as the kitchen staff all referred to these strongly-built women who worked as the Havisham Hall gardeners, drivers or maintenance staff)..   Jack thought immediately of Maria, the chauffeur, who had collected him from his home only a few weeks earlier and dumped him at the servants' entrance to the Hall - would he now be handing the luggage to her, as someone much stronger than him and better able to carry such heavy cases?

The briefing finished with "Now is that all clear, girls?  I sincerely hope so, I've told you all enough times, now it's up to you to make sure everything runs perfectly, is that understood?"  Miss Craftey then proceeded to help herself to some more toast and coffee while she sent all the maids to start work on the final preparations for the weekend.

As far as Jack was concerned, most of his morning was taken up with cleaning duties, making up beds with freshly-ironed linen and putting out clean towels in each of the guests' rooms.   At eleven o'clock the staff were allowed a short break and it was during this break that Miss Craftey handed Jack an envelope addressed to "Elizabeth Swanson, c/o Havisham Hall".   It had been postmarked New York some days earlier, and Jack immediately recognized the hand-writing as that of his mother.  "There's a letter, or a card, for you Betsy" said Miss Craftey, "I see it's from someone who addresses you as Elizabeth.  I still think that's a rather grand name for a scullery maid, don't you Betsy?"

"Yes, Miss Craftey" responded Jack, who was dying to open the envelope and read what his mother had to say to him.  She must have remembered his birthday after all.   Hurriedly he curtsied to Miss Craftey as he now felt obliged to do every time he spoke to this fearsome woman.

"Well, come on girl, open it up and read it.  Don't you know what to do with it?   Or is it that you can't read, girl?   Perhaps I should read it for you, should I?"

"N-n-no, please Miss, I can read it" pleaded Jack, but too late.  Miss Craftey had taken the envelope back out of Jack's hand, deftly slit the flap open and was examining the card.  "Oh what a beautiful card, Betsy.   Look at this girls" she called to the other maids who interrupted their break to join her and study Jack's "beautiful" birthday card.   It was a few moments before he was able to look at it himself, by which time Miss Craftey was reading the message on the front of the card to a cluster of excited housemaids.

"Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen, it says.   Is it your birthday Betsy?   Oh, isn't that nice girls, aren't you lucky Betsy, oh and what a pretty picture on the front - a ballerina in a pink tutu!  Isn't that lovely Betsy?   Well, girls, we must all sing Happy Birthday to our Betsy now, mustn't we?"

And a few moments later, with the chorus of "Happy Birthday dear Betsy" ringing in their ears, the maids all returned to their cleaning duties ready for the big weekend to begin.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 11

Despite the comfort and sensuality of the lovely pink satin nightie that he was now accustomed to wear in bed, Jack was quite unable to sleep when he retired to bed that night.  It was of course the eve of his sixteenth birthday, as well as the last night before Miss Havisham's great country house weekend, and Jack tossed and turned at the prospect of being on constant call, night and day, at least until Sunday afternoon.  For it was now apparent to him that all Miss Pamela and Miss Melissa (as he was now required to refer to them) would need to do, in order to have him attend upon them in their bedroom, was to ring a little bell which was conveniently positioned between their beds in the Lilac Room they had been allocated for the weekend.   As he lay restless in his bed, Jack realized to his dismay that he had been required to dust and polish that very bell-ring only a few hours earlier.

It was well after midnight before tiredness took over and Jack eventually slipped into the land of nod...    He had been taken aside by Miss Craftey and introduced to Madam's personal dressmaker, a sturdy and determined lady by name Barbara Bracegirdle, who had been tasked with creating suitable parlourmaid uniforms for this special weekend.  Jack found himself being fitted for a black satin French maid's outfit, with a plunging neckline that revealed his now quite noticeable little breasts, short puffy sleeves edged with delicate white lace,and a short flared skirt from under which layers of frilly lace petticoats peeped out cheekily.   With this sensational outfit, which he found irresistibly exciting to wear, or even just to touch, Jack was given a tiny silky white bib apron and a sweet little frilly cap which beautifully set off the blonde pageboy hairstyle he now wore.   Shiny black court shoes with a five-inch heel, and seamed nylon stockings completed the outfit. 

Having completed the fitting to Miss Havisham's and Miss Craftey's satisfaction, Miss Bracegirdle enquired whether Jack required any further uniforms.   "No, I don't think that will be necessary - just three sets of the one you've just fitted, that will do him nicely, thank you Barbara" replied Miss Havisham on his behalf.   To which, turning to Jack, Miss Craftey added "Betsy, you will of course be expected to wear this uniform night and day, and remain at all times immaculate in your appearance, for the duration of Madam's special weekend.   We can't have you not being available to our guests, and properly attired, whenever you might be required, can we now?"

"N-no, Madam, of course not, Madam" replied Jack, curtseying to Miss Craftey and Miss Bracegirdle as well as to Miss Havisham, as he came to terms with these instructions as well as Madam's latest accidental revelation of his true gender, this time in front of Miss Craftey.  These next forty-eight hours were going to be enough of a trial, he thought, without having to stay on duty all through each night.  And how long now before Miss Craftey cottoned onto Madam's slip of the tongue and started to check his gender?  The thought of her having him stripped and paraded in front of the entire household, unable to hide his excited little willy, was too unbearable to contemplate. The next thing he knew, he was back in the servants' hall being admired by his fellow maids, including Annabelle and Linda who kept asking whether they too were to be provided with such sexy uniforms for the weekend.

The weekend itself seemed to flash by in a blur.  At one point Jack was required to answer the front door twenty times in as many minutes, as chauffeur-driven limousines appeared in the drive at regular intervals, carrying their fur-coated owners to the Hall for this great country house weekend.  In the midst of them all there appeared Mrs Quinn and Miss Pamela, and Mrs Franklin and Miss Melissa, who all arrived together in a huge Rolls Royce.   "Oh look Pam" exclaimed Melissa as they disembarked, "Jackie... I mean Betsy, has come out specially to greet us."   And when Jack duly curtsied to them and their mothers, Miss Pamela responded by pointing out in a loud and bossy voice that he wasn't curtseying low enough for guests of such importance.   From then on, Jack was never allowed out of Miss Pamela and Miss Melissa's sight as he was forced to follow them around all weekend, carrying their drinks and curtseying every moment of the day and night, while they laughed loud and long at his total humiliation and embarrassment....

"Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!" the laughter grew louder and louder until Jack awoke in a hot sweat and the girls' cruel merriment faded away.    He wasn't in that French maid uniform, he was still lying in his satin nightgown, wide awake again now in the twin maids' bedroom he shared with Annabelle.  As he realized that he had only been dreaming, he felt the after-effects of the excitement he had just experienced - his little member climaxing for the first time in his life.  The gaff, which Madam had given him and insisted he wore at all times, was now badly soiled and he could feel the tell-tale sticky mess which combined with his hot sweat to leave him feeling, and smelling, quite horrible.

Jack wondered for a moment whether Annabelle had heard him dreaming and exploding.  But to his relief he could soon tell from her steady breathing that she was still fast asleep.   Quietly he crept out of the room and made his way down the corridor to the nearest servants' lavatory.    How would he have explained himself, Jack thought as he cleaned himself up, if Annabelle had been awake to hear what must surely have amounted to the exposure of his little secret?

As he made his way quietly back to his bed, Jack resolved to behave himself more perfectly than ever throughout the weekend that really would now be happening, and which would be starting later that day.   However much of an ordeal he was put through, he consoled himself with the thought that it could not possibly be as appalling as the dream he had just experienced.   And after all, it was, he now reminded himself, his own portrayal of a lovely girl just a few weeks ago which had persuaded Miss Havisham to invest so heavily in the Stuyvesant drama school project, thus providing his mother with the opportunity of her lifetime.  Of course it had also resulted in him being subjected to the most humiliating and demanding training imaginable here at Havisham Hall.   But Madam would now be entertaining some of the most influential ladies in the world of drama, here in his presence this very weekend!   Perhaps, he thought to himself, if he were to give the most perfect demonstration of a dutiful and impeccable parlourmaid and ladies'  maid, these eminent ladies might also support the project in some way.   And then wouldn't his mother be thrilled...

Jack fell asleep again, this time almost immediately and dreaming now of all the hugs and kisses and cuddles which Mummy would bestow upon him if she could have been here to see how well he played such a part.   It was such a shame that her name was not on that guest list in the servants hall - the one which Miss Craftey was instructing him to memorize...

(to be continued) 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bicycle Shorts

They say that the bicycle is the modern man's principle instrument of personal liberation. While it is true that the bicycle - in most cases - needs to be ridden on roads, the product of the industrialization of our planet, it nonetheless brings the rider in touch with nature. As the rider moves about solely by the power of his muscles, the slow pace of travel and the nature of his propulsion make him aware both of his surroundings as well as his own physical and psychical being. The strict limitation imposed on the quantity of luggage further liberates him from the chains of personal belongings and thus sets his spirits free.

Sometimes, though, it doesn't quite work out that way. Here's two such cases.

# # #

They say that in these modern times, a bicycle is the principal instrument of man’s liberation. A romantic exaggeration perhaps, but for me it would be a very welcome break in the daily routine. I felt a wave of exhilaration even as I imagined myself, free and untamed, riding down the open road.
Not only would it provide me with a healthy dose of recreation but also with a perfect excuse to get away from the house every once in a while. It wasn’t that I was being kept in the house by force, but at the same time it had become increasingly apparent that I was constantly under the direct influence of either Sarah or Laverne. Not that I was complaining about anything. Granted, I was the butt of their jokes more often than I would have cared for, being smaller than either of them, and chronically unemployed. In the end though, they did treat me fairly. You are what you do, I guess. Sarah, my wife, was a successful career woman, working in an architect office. Her mother, Laverne, ran a lucrative consulting business from home. As for myself, after a brief stint of unsuccessful job hunting, it was decided that it would be best if I stayed at home, helping Laverne with her business. What would have been a learning opportunity and a good starting point boiled down to taking care of all of the aspects of housekeeping. Gradually, we all came to admit that I was effectively doing the job of a maid. With the exception that a maid would have gotten paid whereas I didn’t. With my savings long gone, I lived my life with no means of my own whatsoever. Our unspoken agreement was that, in lieu of a salary, Sarah and Laverne would take care of my every need. I have to give them credit that they never spared any expense if taking care of my needs, but at the same time, I had absolutely no say in how my needs would be taken care of.
That is why I started to think about taking up cycling. Not so much to get into shape, though it wouldn’t hurt, but to have the opportunity to get away, to be alone with my thoughts for a while. Another consideration was that the tight cycling shorts and the shaved legs wouldn’t exactly be incompatible with my day to day clothing. I had also considered swimming for that reason, but I figured that the public changing rooms were simply too much of a hassle, and anyway, I couldn’t spend as much time in chlorinated water as I could on a bike.
“Cycling gear,” I shout out when they asked me what I wanted for my upcoming birthday.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have answered so directly and let them know that I had the whole thing thoroughly thought out, but what was done was done. I tried to repair the damage when Laverne asked me just what ‘cycling gear’ stood for.
“Well, a bicycle, of course,” I said, as if I had to really think about it, “then maybe a cycle computer, perhaps a pair of cycling shoes, one of those sweat-absorbing sport shirts, a pair of shorts…”
“How about we start with the bicycle first?” Laverne replied, “Try it out for a while just so we can figure out what else you really need.”
Sarah was more accommodating to my wishes. She patiently watched as I showed her all the models I had considered for my present. Mountain bikes, trekking bikes, even some racing bikes, though I was a little scared of riding one. I even ventured as far as to propose some cycling clothes.
Eventually, the big day came. It wasn’t as relaxing as I had hoped because in addition to my regular tasks, I worked my ass off in preparing the party. Still, with the anticipation of my present, I took it all in good stride until my work was all done. Once off duty, I changed into my party clothes and waited at the door to greet the guests properly. There weren’t that many guests, my mother and sister, and some of our friends, yet I couldn’t avoid the usual formalities. Even though it was my party Laverne wouldn’t let me forget my true status in the house.
When we had finally exchanged the pleasantries, Laverne led me out of the door. When I saw the bike-like mass of gift wrapping and bows I simply couldn’t help myself but to throw my arms around Laverne’s neck and plant a big kiss on her cheeks. I realized immediately my error when I saw her wipe off the pink imprint of my lips on her cheek, but she just smiled benevolently. I thanked her again, this time properly, by plucking the gauzy fabric of my skirts in my fingers and dropping a deep curtsey. Then I did the same for Sarah.
I proceeded to unwrap my present with the proper decorum, taking care not to create an excessive amount of torn wrapping paper. The wrapping was quite elaborate which made the unveiling of the bicycle tantalizingly slow. By the time I had managed to unwrap the bicycle, all of my enthusiasm had left me. It had become painfully obvious that my new bicycle wasn’t going to serve as an instrument of my liberation from the world of femininity but rather quite the opposite. What I got wasn’t a mountain bike, a trekking bike, nor a racing bicycle. It was an old-fashioned, pastel green ladies bike with wide, back-swept handle bars with a weaved basked attached to them, a wide seat, three gears and clunky pedals.
But, as I had learned that under no circumstance I should show Laverne or Sarah ingratitude, there was only one course of action for me. Holding back my tears, I dropped another curtsey, thanking my benefactors. There was a small round of applause from the on-lookers.
“Why don’t you take it for a spin?” Laverne said.
More humiliation followed when I had trouble getting on, and Laverne had to help me.
“God only knows what you would do with a men’s bike,” she said, loud enough for everyone to hear.
“The seat needs to be lowered a little, that’s all,” I protested weakly as she led me around her spacious driveway.
“Sure, honey,” she said sarcastically, then, when she finally let go of the handlebar, added, “don’t go too far out now.”
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave the driveway but because she pretty much pushed me out on the street, I would need to take a very tight corner to turn back. Tighter than I dared to, so I rode out onto the street.
They say that riding a bike is, well, like riding a bike. Once you’ve learnt how, you’ll never forget. While it was by no means the first time I had rode a bicycle, I had absolutely no prior experience to riding one wearing a full skirted ball gown and high heels. Even though I rode as slowly as I could, it still took me almost ten blocks before I had gained enough confidence to turn around.
Going back, however, I was starting to actually enjoy the ride. I now realized that my high heels could also be used to stop my feet sliding off the pedals, and that the un-aerodynamic and definitely not sporty upright position that the wide handlebars and the frame had me assume actually wasn’t so bad because in my tight corset, this was pretty much as far forward as I was going to bend. Two block from home, I had even managed to build up enough speed to feel the wind sweeping my face. It didn’t sway my hair as much as I had hoped, but it did flutter up my chiffon sleeves considerably. Sitting comfortably upright, with one hand on the handlebar and the other holding my full skirts in place, I rode triumphantly back onto the driveway. Having been gone so long, I was surprised that everyone was still outside, though they were engrossed in conversations that they hardly noticed my return. I circled the driveway a couple of times before Sarah caught my eye and helped me dismount. Effortlessly, she set the bike on the kickstand while still keeping one hand around my waist.
“I know it’s not quite like the bike you wanted, honey,” she said, “But I hope you still like it.”
Feeling her other hand join the other on the small of my back, I snaked my arms around her neck.
“At least my heels won’t get stuck in the pedals,” I whispered.

# # #

I watched as Harriet rode into out courtyard. With her athletic figure, she didn’t look the least out of place on my old men’s racing bicycle. She was covered with perspiration and I couldn’t help but to admire how it made her taut muscles glisten in the afternoon sun. She dismounted as effortlessly as I never could. As always, I stood in awe, and fright, of my wife’s best friend.
“That’s a mighty fine bike,” she said, “don’t you miss it? Don’t you miss pedaling down the open road? I bet it gets boring, riding that old ladies’ bike of yours all the time.”
Silence was the only way I could respond to her taunts. Still, even without provocation, she walked up to me, pressed me against her sweaty body and lifted me in the air. Twirled me around once, then, when she saw she wouldn’t make me squeal like she wanted me to, set me down and went to our bathroom to take a shower. For once I was glad I was wearing my full apron.
I was setting the table – wearing a different apron – when she came out.
“Had a nice ride?” my wife, Marsha, asked her as she kissed her hello.
“Fantastic,” she said, still keeping her arm about Marsha’s waist.
“Say I’ve been thinking,” Harriet went on, “Why don’t we let that husband of yours go for a proper ride? He’s gotta miss it.”
I should have kept on setting the table but I couldn’t help it. With a swishing sound, I turned around to face the women, to see what humiliation Harriet was now cooking up for me.

“Nah,” Marsha said, her arms wrapped around Harriet’s neck, “I don’t want his heels getting stuck in the pedals.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 10

It was now clear to Jack, from Melissa Franklin's parting comment, that despite his very feminine hairstyle, the make-up and his parlourmaid's uniform, his little secret was out.  With Melissa and her mother due to attend the forthcoming house party at Havisham Hall, together no doubt with Mrs Quinn and Pamela, there would now be nowhere for him to hide.   He needed to think very carefully how to survive what threatened to become an excruciatingly uncomfortable weekend for him.  Indeed his whole future was now looking decidedly bleak.

As he made his way disconsolately back into the house to clear the coffee cups from the drawing room, Jack cursed his luck.  Above all he cursed his mother for leaving him in the hands of so many scheming women, while she happily travelled the world of drama school experts and architects to plan the construction of the Stuyvesant Drama Academy which now dominated her life.  How could she?  How he missed her motherly love now, more so than at any other time in his life.   As he pondered his fate, he realized that it was now only a few days until his birthday - his sixteenth birthday - and he wondered where his mother would be on his special day.   Every birthday he could ever remember had always been celebrated by the two of them together, with friends or other relatives.  But this year, he thought mserably to himself, his birthday would probably pass completely unnoticed.   Nobody at Havisham Hall would even know it was his birthday and he hardly felt he could go telling anybody.  That would look like he was asking for presents or special favours and, anyway, he would far rather keep a low key right now.   He was in bad enough books with Miss Craftey as it was.

The big weekend was also fast approaching and Jack now realized that his birthday coincided with the very day the guests were all due to arrive.   Just his luck...  But he consoled himself with the thought that he would be kept really busy attending to their needs, so that would at least take his mind off not being able to celebrate his birthday.  

Over the next week he and all the other maids were kept busy from dawn to dusk, ensuring that every room at Havisham Hall was given a thorough "spring clean".   Each member of staff was instructed to anticipate every possible requirement which any of Madam's guests might have during their stay, so as to make sure that they would all take away memories of a wonderful, unspoiled visit.   No expense was being spared by Madam, Miss Craftey constantly reminded the staff, so the least that they could do was to anticipate every need the guests might have during their stay.

On the eve of the big weekend Miss Craftey called all the staff together in the servants' hall.
"Now then girls, we've all been working very hard indeed these past few weeks haven't we?  But the real work hasn't even begun yet.   I hope you all realize that?   The real work starts tomorrow afternoon, when the guests begin to arrive.   Now you'll all have seen the list of the guests and the rooms to which they have each been allocated.   It is of course essential that every one of you is aware of exactly who is in each bedroom, to avoid any embarrassing misunderstandings.   So let me check."

And Miss Craftey began to test the maids, who were clearly already supposed to know precisely which room each guest would be sleeping in.   "Karen, can you tell me which room Lady Lavinia will be in?   The Lavender Suite at the end of the south wing, did I hear you say?   Yes, that's right Karen, easy to remember that one -  Lavender for Lady Lavinia, and a lovely spacious suite which I am sure her Ladyship will appreciate.   Now then, Linda, where will Dame Olivia be?   Yes, that's correct, she'll be in the Rose Suite, adjacent to Lady Lavinia's but with an even better view of the gardens.   Now Betsy, let's see, yes, I know....    Where will Miss Pamela Quinn and Miss Melissa Franklin be sleeping?"

There was a stony silence while Jack took in the fact that those two beastly girls were actually going to be staying over, as overnight weekend guests.   As they both lived within the county, he had consoled himself with the thought that they and their mothers would return home for the night and just drive over for the parties to which they had been invited.   But no, it was clear from Miss Craftey's question that they would be staying the whole weekend!    And of course he had no idea  which rooms they had been allocated.   In fact he had been so busy for the past few days, scrubbing floors, sweeping carpets and polishing furniture, that he was not even aware of the guest list pinned on the servants' noticeboard which had been updated daily to indicate exactly what guests were to be expected.

"Betsy, I asked you a question" roared Miss Craftey, "where will Miss Pamela and Miss Melissa be sleeping?   You don't know, do you?   Well, let me tell you - as they are two of the guests who will not be bringing their own ladies maids, you and Annabelle have been allocated to them.  They will be sharing a twin-bedded room on the east wing, the Lilac Room it is called, so you will be able to attend upon them easily and quickly whenever they ring for you.   On their arrival tomorrow, the two of you will  be expected to report to them together, so that they can decide which of you they would each like as their maid for the weekend.  Is that understood?"

Poor Jack was now completely stunned.  He could not bear the thought of being paraded in front of Miss Pamela and Miss Melissa for them to decide which of him and Annabelle they each preferred.  For a brief moment he imagined them teasing and testing them with little tasks before making their choice.  But he managed a soft "Yes, Miss Craftey" as the two of them quickly acknowledged their responsibilities with the customary curtsey.

"Well girls" continued Miss Craftey, " most of you seem to be clear exactly which guest will be sleeping where.   I think it's just you, Betsy, who still has a bit of preparation to attend to, especially if Madam decides she wants you on front door duty tomorrow.   As I expect she will, in your skimpiest parlourmaid uniform too, no doubt...    And we don't want you showing anybody to the wrong room now, do we?"

(to be continued)

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Heroine of Havisham Hall - Part 9

"Do take a seat" said Gloria Havisham to Marjorie and Melissa Franklin as Jack curtsied again to the guests and awaited his instructions.  And with the ladies all comfortably seated in their armchairs, Miss Havisham duly turned to Jack. "Betsy will bring coffee now, won't you Betsy?"

Jack, relieved at the opportunity to escape the Franklins' attention for a short while, curtsied once more and took his leave, retiring to the kitchen to prepare the coffee as instructed - together with Madam's favourite biscuits, of course.   By the time he returned, carrying a silver tray laden with a Royal Derby coffee pot with matching cups, saucers, sugar basin, the plates of biscuits and a small jug of milk, the conversation between Madam and her guests was in full flow.

"So do all your staff come to you by personal recommendation?" Mrs Franklin was enquiring.  "You must have an excellent reputation as an employer.   I know I would find it very difficult to get staff without advertising in the local newspaper - certainly not staff of the quality that you seem to attract."

"Thank you Marjorie, that's very kind" replied Miss Havisham.  "Yes, I am indeed fortunate.  Take this young girl for example.   Betsy, you came here on a personal referral from Mrs Quinn, didn't you?  A very special referral in fact."   And Jack, whose concentration until then had been fully taken up with serving the ladies their coffee without any spillages or other mishaps, suddenly realized that a question had been put direct to him by Madam.

"Yes Madam, I did Madam" replied Jack, bobbing the little curtsey which was required of him whenever he responded to his mistress.  But he wondered to himself where this conversation was now going to lead.  How well did the Franklins know the Quinns, and how much would they know about his past experiences at the hands of that family?   There would be hell to pay in this household if his "little secret" became common knowledge...

But Miss Havisham was enjoying the compliment of being an exemplary employer.  "You see, Marjorie, Betsy is actually the daughter of a mutual acquaintance of Emily Quinn's and mine.  She has undertaken to serve three months in each of our households so as to gain the best possible experience of life in service prior to embarking upon a stage career.   You see, provided she proves herself to be an impeccable maid, Betsy has been promised a role as the ladies maid in a major production for the new Stuyvesant Drama Academy which I have agreed to sponsor.  She is indeed fortunate, aren't you Betsy?"

And poor Jack, who was in the process of offering milk and sugar to each of the ladies including a grinning Melissa Franklin whose mouth was now wide open in amazement, was now faced with this latest direct question from Madam, which of course he was obliged to answer politely.  "Yes, of course Madam, I'm very fortunate Madam" he replied, with a further elegant curtsey as he privately bit his lip.  What was all this about three months with both Miss Havisham and then with Mrs Quinn, he wondered?  This was the first he had heard of this.

Panic-stricken, but anxious to avoid the conversation going any further down this direction, Jack took it upon himself to try and change the subject.   As he replaced the sugar basin and milk jug, he politely turned to Miss Havisham, bobbing another pretty little curtsey and asking "Would you like me to open the French window now, Madam?"

"Oh yes, Betsy, what an excellent idea!   In fact, Marjorie, and Melissa, let's take our coffees out on to the patio.  Betsy, when you've opened the windows, would you mind taking our coffee cups outside please."

"Of course, Madam" Jack responded.  And the distraction did seem to have the desired effect of steering the conversation away from his training as a ladies maid, which had come as a complete shock to him.  Indeed, the ladies spent most of the remainder of the morning admiring Madam's beautiful garden.   As Madam took her guests off to see her prize-winning roses, Jack was dismissed back to the kitchen, only to find himself confronted again by Miss Craftey, the fearsome housekeeper who seemed increasingly hostile to him now that he was spending so much of his time with Madam.

"Ah, so Little Miss Favourite is available for work for a few moments is she?" said Miss Craftey in her most sarcastic tone.  And Jack, instinctively submissive to his tormentor, surrendered once again to her domination, responding with a curtsey "I'm sorry Madam, I mean Miss Craftey, I was required to attend to Madam and her guests."   To which Miss Craftey, with a deep laugh, added "Yes, you were weren't you.   Well, at least you're acknowledging your new title now, ha ha ha."

For a few minutes Jack was put to work scrubbing the kitchen floor, until the drawing-room bell rang to signal his attendance was required once more.   Quickly replacing his now somewhat grubby apron with one of the crisp white parlourmaid pinafores, Jack checked his appearance in the mirror and straightened a wisp of his blonde hair.  "There she goes, pretty little Miss Favourite" he heard Miss Craftey utter as he hurried to attend upon Madam and the Franklins.

Jack returned to the drawing-room to find the ladies standing, looking out across the garden and discussing how the recent improvement in the weather had brought the roses out into their full bloom. "Oh, there you are Betsy.  Mrs Franklin and Miss Melissa are leaving now, will you help them with their coats."   And Jack was left to fetch the coats and help both ladies into them, in Melissa's case a simple anorak which she could perfectly easily have slipped into but which she rejoiced in making Jack hold out for her, before watching him carefully to make sure he followed up with the obligatory curtsey.  

Jack escorted the two visitors back to their car.   He opened the rear door and, as they entered the vehicle, he was dismayed to hear Melissa saying to her mother "oh I do hope he's on duty when we come for the party.  It's all going to be such fun..."

(to be continued)