Wednesday, December 11, 2013
He waited for an answer to the bell, then pressed the button for a second time. He could see lights on in a room on the second floor, but could hear no sound of anyone coming to the door. As he stood alone outside this strange place, in his delicate, extremely feminine clothing and without the suitcase which he had carelessly left in Miss Havisham's limousine, he felt more vulnerable than ever.
He began to wonder what he would do if there was still no respone to the door-bell, as he pressed it for a third time. All that he had with him was the pretty, peach purse which Miss Strang had chosen for him, and as he glanced down at it he noticed how well it matched his blouse and his Alice band. At least the Alice band was now keeping his rather long hair in place, as he stood in the corner of the porch trying to keep out of the wind. He realised that he had no money in his purse - just his make-up, nail varnish, lipsticks, some hankies, a spare pair of nylons and the bottle of vitamin pills which Rose told him his mother insisted he keep taking every day.
Jack was starting to become very fearful of being stranded here all evening and impatiently pushed the bell button a fourth time. After a further delay, he at last saw the hall light come on, heard some footsteps and, to his relief, the door opened to reveal a perfectly attired parlourmaid. Jack thought immediately that she was one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen.
"Hello" she said, smiling at Jack and admiring how well he was dressed. "Can I help you Miss?"
"Oh hello" replied an astonished Jack. "Er, I'm Elizabeth Swanson. I believe Madam is expecting me".
"Ah yes" replied the maid. "You're Mrs Quinn's friend, is that right? Madam mentioned that we were to expect you. Had you been waiting long Miss? It's just that we don't normally expect Madam's guests to come to the staff entrance..."
Jack was unsure how to reply and the maid continued "I'm afraid you've just missed Madam, she's just left for her regular bridge evening. But do come in, if you don't mind coming in through the staff quarters Miss. By the way, I'm Annabelle, I'm one of the parlourmaids here. Please follow me."
Jack stepped inside, relieved to be in out of the cold and to receive such a friendly and respectful welcome. He watched as Annabelle locked and bolted the door behind them. "We can't be too careful with the security here" she was saying. "Some while ago I'm told there was a burglary and the thieves stole some of Madam's most valuable jewellery. We're constantly being reminded by Miss Craftey that our first duty as maids is always to make sure every door is secure."
"Miss Craftey? Who is she?" enquired Jack. "Oh, she's the housekeeper here, Miss" came Annabelle's response. Then, relaxing her formal manner, she added with a grin, "We call her Crafty behind her back, Miss - you know, Crafty by name, crafty by nature!"
Jack relaxed and smiled for the first time for ages. He liked this spirited girl and, he thought to himself, he'd be happy to spend more time with her, if that was possible. But Annabelle continued
"I'm sorry Miss, you don't want to hear all this servant gossip. I'd better take you upstairs and see if we can find you somewhere comfortable to spend the evening until Madam returns. I expect you'll be wanting a drink and something to eat as well, Miss?"
Jack nodded as he followed Annabelle up a wide, spiral staircase and into a huge long corridor. As they walked side by side down the corridor, he turned and smiled at Annabelle. Despite his own expensive clothing and her black and white parlourmaid uniform, he felt at ease with her - more comfortable than he had been for ages, he thought. "She must be abouut my age" he thought to himself.
Annabelle smiled at Jack again as she knocked on a large oak door. "Enter" came the sound of a loud, rather deep woman's voice. Annabelle stepped forward into the room, beckoning to Jack to follow. "Miss Elizabeth Swanson is here, Miss Craftey" she stated, dropping a curtsey to this fierce looking woman as she spoke. Jack, without thinking, immediately dropped a similar curtsey himself, mumbling a hurried "Hello Mam" as he did so.
Miss Craftey smiled, looked penetratingly at Jack for a moment, and then turned to Annabelle. "Yes Annabelle, I can see that she is here. What did you want to say girl?"
"Well, Miss Craftey, Madam told me to look out for Miss Swanson when she went out and to bring her to you until she gets back. Shall I take her through to Madam's drawing-room?"
"No Annabelle, I don't think that is appropriate until Madam returns" retorted Miss Craftey, then, turning to Jack, asked "So, you're Elizabeth are you? Are we to presume that you're the latest apple in Madam's eye, young lady?"
Poor Jack was completely taken aback by this latest exchange. "I don't know, Madam" he responded, unable to avoid bobbing a little curtsey once more.
"Well, at least you show proper respect to your elders" said Miss Craftey, "in fact you curtsey very nicely indeed. I think you will be very welcome in this household." She paused for a moment, before adding "In fact, perhaps you'd like to make yourself useful this evening?" She stared straight at Jack, waiting for him to respond.
Jack thought of his mother's words as they parted, only an hour or so earlier. He must be as helpful as he could whilst he was at Havisham. "Yes of course Madam" he replied to Miss Craftey and then, noticing that she was still staring at him, dropped another curtsey.
"Splendid" said the fearsome housekeeper, knowing now that she had this Elizabeth girl exactly where she wanted. "Well now, we've still got work to do getting the guest wing ready for Madam's next weekend party, haven't we Annabelle. Elizabeth, no sorry I can't be calling you all by such long names, let me see... I know, 'Betsy' - that will do won't it? - Annabelle, I suggest you take Betsy somewhere to change into some working clothes and then I'll meet you in the guest wing and you can make yourselves useful." Now off you go, both of you.
Jack wondered whether they should curtsey once more to Miss Craftey. He looked at Annabelle, who was in no doubt. They both mumbled a "yes, Miss Craftey", dropped simultaneous curtseys and turned to leave the room. "Now, don't take too long, I'll expect you in the guest wing in twenty minutes" Miss Craftey called out to them as they closed the door behind them.
Annabelle looked at Jack with a mixture of pity and apology. I am sorry about this. I'm afraid that's Crafty for you. Now where's your luggage? You're going to have to change into something more suitable for housework I'm afraid."
"Oh I'm sorry, I never told you. My suitcase got left in the back of the car" explained Jack.
"Oh I see" said Annabelle. "Well, don't worry, we're about the same size, I'll find you one of my uniforms. Now we'd better get a move on..."
(to be continued)
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Just then, footsteps could be heard from inside the house - first Mrs Swanson's soft careful steps, then the clacking of poor Jack's high heels as the delicate, nervous teenager reluctantly followed his mother out towards the front door, dressed up to the nines like a young secretary on her way to her first job interview in a smart city office.
But Jack was not on his way to any office - he was about to be whisked away, in his transparent peach bow blouse (clearly showing off the intricate lace on his expensive bra) and his soft, taffeta pleated skirt, to spend a whole two weeks at the country house of this strange, and evidently very rich, Miss Havisham.
How Jack wished his mother was not going away right now. Surely she could have delayed her meetings with the drama school architects for a week or two, so that he could get back to some sort of normality without being constantly forced into feminine finery and lace lingerie over the dreaded breastforms which Rose had again affixed to his chest - this time, he felt sure, with an additional application of the adhesive which was so difficult to remove.
Yes, he realized that Miss Havisham had liked him so much when they met recently at Mrs Quinn's, that she couldn't wait to have him come and stay with her, and start grooming him as her personal assistant and companion. But Miss Havisham was not his mother, and, however much she doted on him, it was never going to be anything like being at home.
"Now make sure you're good while I'm away", his mother was saying, while Miss Havisham's rather impatient driver was picking up the luggage. "Oh thank you, yes" said Mrs Swanson, "yes, that is his, I mean her case, yes that's all I think, just her purse - yes, you've got that haven't you... er, Elizabeth. Yes, please make sure you do everything you can to help, it's so kind of Miss Havisham to have you - and at such short notice too."
Gail Swanson held her feminised son for a few tender moments, giving him the kind of gentle, lingering embrace known only to loving mothers and daughters. Then, with tears on both their cheeks, Jack stepped reluctantly away and made for the limousine.
"No, not in the back, Elizabeth" called out the driver, "you come in the front beside me." And, as she drove away, "we can't have our new maid arrive at the Hall as though she's one of Madam's personal friends, now can we?"
"New maid?" said a startled Jack. "Surely you know I've been asked to join Miss Havisham as her personal companion."
"No, I think not, young lady. That's what Madam says to all the bright young things she invites to join her household. And by the way, my name is Miss Rodriguez, and you'll meet all the other domestic staff tonight when you all sit down for your evening meal in the kitchen. I won't be joining you tonight as I will have to take Madam straight out to her friends for their bridge evening. We're already running late so I'll drop you at the staff entrance as soon as we arrive at the Hall."
Jack, now almost moved to tears again, was silenced by this response. Surely they wouldn't take him into the kitchen to become one of the maids - he was supposed to be visiting Miss Havisham personally, to become her assistant.
"I don't know what position they've arranged for you" Miss Rodriguez continued "but I'm sure it will be something menial to start with." She glanced across at the beautifully attired young lady. "And you won't be needing those posh clothes here, that's for sure - except perhaps for going home in at Christmas and Easter, if you're allowed home, that is."
This was getting worse and worse for Jack. Fighting back more tears, he said "But I'm only here for two weeks Miss, to live with Miss Havisham. I think there's been a dreadful misunderstanding."
"No, my dear, no misunderstandings. All our housemaids are recruited personally by Madam and told they'll become her personal companion, but you all have to start as maids. Mind you, they're not all as pretty as you - if you shape up well, and obey all the rules, I guess you'll make it into Madam's own little circle after a few months.
"Rules?" Jack wondered what was coming next. Was he back at school again? This really was becoming a nightmare.
"Oh, mainly just things like the dress code, the servants etiquette and pecking order, punctuality and so on." Madam prides herself on having immaculate household staff, everybody keeping their uniform spotless and in pristine condition at all times. You'll enjoy it, you wait and see, I only get to wear these outdoor things but you maids - you all look a picture in your beautiful taffeta dresses and aprons - and those sweet little frilly caps. Quite a picture."
"And by the way" she went on. "Don't ever let anyone hear you referring to Madam by her name. Only Miss Craftey, the housekeeper, is allowed that privilege, and she's been here since Madam was a girl. No, to you, and all the other maids, Madam is Madam, whenever you have reason to refer to her for some reason."
Jack fell totally silent again and, for the rest of the journey, was left pondering his fate. After a few more minutes, Jack noticed a discreet sign, saying simply "Havisham Hall" - typically understated in the manner of the English aristocracy. They took a turn leading down the mile-long drive, straight to the staff entrance. This, Jack noticed, was called "Tradesmen's Entrance".
"Now, here we are, Elizabeth. I'm running very late for Madam, so I'll leave you to jump out as soon as we come to a halt and then I can drive straight round for Madam."
With that, Miss Havisham's favourite limousine came to a screeching halt, right outside the staff entrance, and Jack was obliged to disembark hastily. "Just ring the bell and someone will let you in" called Miss Rodriguez to him, as she sped off towards the Hall's imposing main entrance.
Only then did Jack realise he had left his case in the back of the limousine. He pushed the bell, wondering to himself whether things could get any worse for him. He was about to discover they could.
(to be continued)
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Over the past few weeks Jack's life had become even more confused, with one of the other drama students, Pamela Quinn, who had been teasing Jack mercilessly in school, planning the production of her one-act play, "The Mistress and the Maid", in which she (and her mother and all the relevant school staff) had agreed that she, Pamela, should play the part of the Mistress while Jack played that of the Maid.
Although no formal rehearsals have yet taken place, a considerable amount of Jack's time has been taken up with "living his role" in a real life situation in the Quinn household. His recent acclaimed performance as a sweet young girl in front of Mrs Quinn's rich friends, had not only confirmed his increasingly feminine persona in his own mind, but had also raised his standing in the eyes of all these ladies as an outstanding emerging actress who would make the perfect advertisement for the school's extremely high theatrical standards.
With confirmation of the necessary funding for the construction of the drama school now being received, and an opportunity for Gail Swanson to visit some notable international theatre and drama school architects, Gail is frantically trying to arrange for someone suitable to look after Jack while she is away, possibly for several months. We join her as she is making an urgent phone call to Mrs Emily Quinn.
"Hello, could I speak to Emily Quinn please."
"Yes, Emily speaking - is that Gail Swanson?"
"Yes, of course Emily, oh Emily, I just cannot thank you enough for arranging that meeting and obtaining all the funding for the drama school project. I'm just so thrilled, and so is Miss Strang and everybody else here at Stuyvesant. Thank you so, so much, we are all so grateful."
"Oh please don't thank me Gail, it was my pleasure, and anyhow it is your beautiful, talented daughter... I mean son... who made it all happen. She, I mean he, is just so adorable - you must be so proud of her..."
"Oh I am, Emily, and I'm also just thrilled to have been asked to act as the founding Director of the School, I just never expected to have such an exciting opportunity."
"Gail, we all know how well qualified you already are for this role, and of course Stuyvesant do need someone of your calibre to lead the School, you know what high standards the Academy sets for all its activities. And drama is such a high profile department for the girls, I am sure you will want to impress everybody with the standard of your first production in the new theatre - in fact my daughter is already putting the finishing touches to her own play, which she's now calling "The Princess and her Very Obedient Maid" and she hopes this might feature during the theatre's official opening next year."
"That sounds very interesting Emily, it would be so good to include a play that's been written by one of the pupils. I wonder who would play the title roles? We're going to have so much to think about, it's all so exciting Emily, and I'm starting straightaway with the plans, in fact I'm flying off to New York tomorrow to discuss some ideas for the design of the School and its theatre with one of the very top architects, which is why I wanted to talk to you this afternoon."
"Me? Why me, Gail? I'm not an architect! What do you mean?"
"Well, it's about Jack, and the question of who is going to look after him while I'm away. I was wondering, as you know him well, whether he might come and stay with you, and he does of course know your daughter Pamela very well..."
"Oh, I'm sorry Gail, I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to help this time. I've decided to take Pamela away for a couple of weeks. She's been getting more and more tomboyish, which is the last thing I want, as you can imagine, so I've booked to take her to France for the Paris Fashion Week. I'm hoping it might help to teach her about becoming a lady, in the true sense of the word..."
"Oh I do understand Emily, of course you must take her away, it's just that I was hoping..."
"Now, please don't worry Gail, I'm sure we'll find somewhere suitable for your daughter - er, son - for the next two weeks, and then she'll be most welcome to come and stay for as long as you want her to. My sister Georgina should be back from her latest travels by then, so we'll be at my country residence. I'm planning to do a bit of entertaining this summer - you know, garden parties, country house weekends, that sort of thing, so it would be very good to have somebody like Elizabeth to give a helping hand. And it's only about 30 miles away from Stuyvesant. In fact it's also not very far from Gloria Havisham's place and, now I think about it, I expect Gloria might like to have Elizabeth join her for these next two weeks. They did get on very well together when they met earlier Leave that with me Gail, I'll call her right away..."
Twenty minutes later, Gail was taking a call from Gloria Havisham.
"Hello, is that Gail Swanson, Gloria Havisham here, how are you I wonder? And how is that adorable child of yours?"
"Oh hello, Miss Havisham, we're very well thank you. What can I do for you, Miss Havisham?"
"Gloria, please Gail, please call me Gloria. I'm Gloria to all my friends, and Madam to all my staff of course."
"Yes of course Miss Hav... I mean Gloria."
"Now Gail, I understand that you are flying to New York tomorrow to set things in motion for the building of this wonderful drama school, and you are looking for someone suitable to look after young Elizabeth while you're away. Gail, I shall be delighted to have her stay with us here at Havisham Hall. We're only about forty minutes drive away and I've already instructed my driver, Maria Gonzales, to come and pick Elizabeth up from your place. If you could just pack a suitcase for her, with the essentials - you know, night-dresses, lingerie, a skirt or two, and one or two tops. No pants please - our housekeeper, who runs everything here, doesn't allow staff to dress in male attire - I can't even wear a trouser suit myself when I'm here, ha ha!"
Gail started wondering just what she would be letting poor Jack in for. This did sound extremely feminising for the poor boy, and after all his recent experiences, how might he react? But then she thought about how he had been showing a growing desire to reveal his feminine side. Maybe he would welcome an opportunity to develop this side of his character. Besides, time was fast running out for her to find an alternative home for him in the immediate future, and, with his prospective future acting roles in mind, she decided to go ahead and accept Gloria Havisham's kind offer. She said farewell, put the phone down, and started to think quite how she would explain to Jack what he was now being asked to do. Well, she thought, he has been saying he doesn't mind being a girl, he's just not sure about being a maid...
She called to Jack, who was still in his silk shirt and the pants with the rather feminine cut. "Jack, can you come over here please. It's good news dear, we've sorted out where you can go and stay while I'm away. That nice Miss Havisham says she'll be delighted to have you right away. There's only one thing, she apparently does insist that you're dressed as a girl while you're there. Something about the need to keep it a single-sex household. I know you won't mind that - you've got very good at it, haven't you, so good that Miss Havisham and her friends are making a wonderful investment in the new Drama School. And now you'll have plenty of opportunity to show Miss Havisham what an accomplished actor you are, so long as none of the staff guess you aren't a girl. Do you understand how important this is?"
"But I haven't got any girl's clothes, Mummy" replied Jack, not sounding half as worried about this turn of events as his mother had feared. Maybe he really didn't mind all that much.
"Oh yes, you have my darling, for a start you have that lovely outfit Miss Strang found for you to walk over to Mrs Quinn's house in - that beautiful peach blouse with the bow, and the lovely cream pleated skirt. I'll ask Rose to look that out for you, and some suitable lingerie, and you'll be very comfortable in that for travelling in. We'll also pack you a suitcase, although Miss Havisham says not to worry too much about changes of clothing, she'll have all the clothes you'll need while you're there.
"But I can't wear that blouse and that skirt again, they're so soft and silky and it's so embarrassing if anyone sees me" said Jack.
"All right then, I think the only other thing I can think of is to see if Rose can find one of the spare maid's uniforms. Hopefully there might be one of those that fits you? I wonder??" replied Gail.
"Oh, no, please don't make me turn up at Miss Havisham's dressed as a maid. Whatever I do when I'm there, I really don't want to be a maid"
"All right then, it's the blouse and skirt, but you're going to have to hurry. Miss Havisham's driver will soon be here to pick you up."
Gail promptly rang the bell for Rose, who readily agreed to take Jack and get him dressed in the peach blouse and the cream skirt. Fifteen minutes later they re-appeared, with Jack looking - and feeling - even more feminine than ever before, thanks to some expensive seamed silk stockings and a pair of matching peach-coloured heels which Rose had managed to find from somewhere. "Doesn't she look a picture" said Rose proudly as she presented Jack, now very much Elizabeth, to
"My word, you get prettier every day, my darling" exclaimed Gail, noting the expert way in which his face had been freshly made up, his hair styled under the matching peach Alice band and the effect which the stockings and heels had on his shapely legs. "Have you managed to pack his suitcase, Rose?" she enquired.
"Yes, Madam, I've put all Jack's favourite nighties, his nicest panties and bras and the girdle he likes so much, and a few spare pairs of the stockings in case he ladders the ones he's wearing. And I've also put most of his favourite lipsticks and all his make-up into this little purse for him."
"Oh that is so thoughtful of you Rose, you really do think of everything don't you? Jack, please thank Rose for getting everything sorted for you so quickly."
Jack looked reluctantly at Rose, who smiled triumphantly at Jack. At that moment the sound of a large limousine could be heard entering the driveway and a large, well-built lady wearing a chauffeur's cap, and whose only semblance of femininity appeared to be a sturdy dark skirt, came to the door.
"I've come to collect a Miss Elizabeth Swanson on behalf of Miss Gloria Havisham" she said in a very formal tone.
(to be continued)
Sunday, November 24, 2013
The final part of "Amongst Women" included a happy scene in which Jack delighted several of Emily Quinn's friends, impressing them all with his portrayal of the pretty young Elizabeth to such an extent that they have all agreed to invest huge sums of money in the establishment of the Stuyvesant Academy's new drama school, of which Jack's mother Gail Swanson is director. Miss Gloria Havisham, the wealthiest of all these rich and refined ladies, took a special liking to "Elizabeth" when she met him at Emily's get-together, and cannot wait to continue seeing him and perhaps even taking him under her wing as her personal ladies' maid.
Meanwhile, after hearing that these ladies' generous pledges would enable a first-class new drama school to be built, Gail gets down to work planning the design and building of the new school. This requires her spending most of the next six months away, meeting the finest theatre architects and ensuring that the very best facilities are created for the school's future productions. Her only concern is to ensure that her son Jack will be well looked after while she is away...
Follow the further adventures of Jack/Elizabeth in the first instalment of "The Heroine of Havisham Hall", due to be posted very soon.