Hattie made sure that Reggie went through to the drawing room to wait for her, prodding the little boy with her big hands on his tiny shoulders.
She closed the door after him, straightening, and got another real sense of how big she was now; not just tall but broad as well. The man’s suit on her form was still unfamiliar but it perfectly accentuated her new shape. She liked it. It offered a different sense of freedom than she was used to. Normally, her long dresses dragged on the floor and generally made her feel slowed and hindered. This wasn’t like that at all.
She wandered back through the house, looking for the Countess, hands clasped loosely behind her back. It wasn’t until after she’d been doing that for a while that she noticed how uncharacteristic the posture was for her but how natural it would have been for her father. When she recognised that she stopped and unclasped her hands, examining them.
Was she... becoming her father too quickly or too much?
She didn’t want to risk losing herself in this game – not at all – but on the other hand, everything was going so splendidly well, it would be a shame to shy away now. It was true that she felt more comfortable as a middle-aged man than she thought she would, but that might only be because she didn’t understand the nature of trading places. She was Howard Neville now, physically. Why shouldn’t it feel normal after a brief period of acclimatisation. She hadn’t become an animal or a bird. She was still human. Being male wasn’t so awfully different from being female.
She shrugged it off and went on, clasping her hands behind her back and humming to herself.
Her mother was in the back hallway, talking to Meg, the housekeeper. Normally Hattie would have waited until the conversation was finished before speaking to her mother but with a confident swagger she raised her voice immediately and said, “Ah there you are Elizabeth. How long before we depart on this dashed picnic of yours?”
“Not long now dear,” she replied. “Everything is organised. We just need to get everyone gathered in the hall. The coach is on its way as well as an extra cart for the servants and supplies.
“Good. Good,” said Hattie, pleased with how well her father’s turns of phrase were coming to her without her even needing to try too hard. “I was just heading for the drawing room. Would you care to join me?”
“Not now Howard,” said Elizabeth, Hattie’s new name startling her somewhat. “There isn’t really time.”
Hattie frowned. “Surely you can spare five minutes.”
The Countess looked flustered for a moment then melted somewhat and said, “Of course darling. Lead the way.”