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)


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an episode! It's all building up to quite a weekend for our Betsy isnt it! And now all the staff now its his/her birthday, and nearly all the guests seem to know who he really is!! Please keep this story going, cant wait for the visitors to all arrive and see what happens to Jack/Betsy then!
I just love it!
Maid Marcia xx

Anonymous said...

I can see so many delightful possibilities going forward. The story for why Miss Havisham's first experiment left, Miss Crafty contriving a situation where Betsey must act the girl with a boy as a way to inflict punishment for fooling her, Betsey's Mom becoming involved in further feminization, all of the above? I can hardly wait.

Anonymous said...

We're loving the slow gradual build up to the big weekend. It's great to imagine all the things that might happen when they all arrive and Jack has to put up with the humiliation of serving so many guests who have tormented him, all at the same time. Can't wait for it all to begin!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, please keep up the good work. It is clear that the story is not going to have an ending that will satisfy all readers. To my mind Betsy must continue to suffer with her maid training before gradually coming to realise that her only true path in life is maid service. She must then totally accept her fate by becoming a petty, uniformed maid to a dominant woman for the rest of her humiliating life.
Excellent story especially if it ends the way I hope it will.

L.G. said...

Thank you for your comments, Marcia, J&R and the other anons. As a new writer it is very encouraging to know how much you seem to be enjoying this story.
There are still a few more episodes for me to write and I agree it will not be possible to satisfy all readers. I just hope that I will at least have done justice to Bea's original idea, and to Carrie's magnificent "Rose and Jack" and "Amongst Women" strands, by the time Jack finishes his time in service as the heroine of Havisham Hall!
Have fun! L.G.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic story, love the way Betsy is becoming totally feminized, by his mom now as much as the people at Havisham Hall. Can't see how he can get back to being a boy now.

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