Lady Harriet Neville sat quietly in the carriage as it trundled along, arms folded, hand on her chin, fingering her bushy moustache and thinking how devilishly well it was all going.
Her plan had gone perfectly and all there was to do now was sit back and enjoy it as it continued to unfold.
It was so funny becoming her own father. Nobody suspected a thing and though she still missed her pretty face and womanly body it was diverting to experience what life as a man was like; especially a man as powerful as the Earl. As a lady, she had been deferred to by servants throughout her life but she was on a whole other level now. She could see the light of admiration even in the eyes of Uncle Patrick and Aunt Geraldine as they looked up to her. Uncle Patrick was now her younger brother effectively and she had the greater respect of her higher rank and age. Being a middle-aged man was obviously not something she relished remaining but for as long as she was, she was enjoying it.
Trapping Ann as Mavis and allowing Mavis to travel to Nockton Vale with Richard was absolutely delightful. Her sister had long been a thorn in her side and the longer she had to live as a commoner, the better. Of course there was every likelihood that Ann was actually Burt now and had been for over a month but that just made it all the more delightful.
Hattie had planned to swap back after only one more day but she supposed she could extend the time if she wanted to. The thing stopping her doing that was her own involvement. If she hadn’t had to change herself then she might have left her family in their new bodies for a week or two but she didn’t want to risk taking on too many traits of her father. She wanted to get back to being a pretty girl as quickly as she could really.
And speaking of girls, her father looked a treat as the new maid, Nellie. It was so funny. He had been there loading the food into the third carriage with the other servants with a dour look on his plain face. That was surely the best part of all of this: her father brought lower than anyone had ever sent him. He made a perfect little maidservant.
Hattie gave a deep throated chuckle.
As for her mother; stripped of her rank and her sex and trapped in the body of a six year old; it was simply too amusing for words. The only shame was that Reggie had to be involved because he was proving to be something of a problem.
The former maid, Nellie, was fine now that she was wearing Hattie’s true form. She knew her place and was sitting across from them primly and silently. She would follow orders and play her part until she was instructed to turn back – Hattie had no doubt about that. Reggie, on the other hand, was now rather too prominent, being the Countess. He was far too childish and people were going to notice.
Even now in the coach, he was chattering on about all the things he could see outside and inside in an exuberant vice that sounded entirely incongruent to his new matronly form. It was fortunate that the former maid was in on it because he had already revealed himself more than once by referring to Hattie as “Uncle Howard.” Nellie had clearly noticed but she had the good grace not to say anything. She just started, wide-eyed as Reggie chattered on.
“Uncle Howard, this is amazing,” said Reggie. “I never knew that being a grown-up could be so fun. It was funny to see Aunt Elizabeth being made to look like me and even funnier when Father told her off and smacked her.”
“Reggie, be quiet!” snapped Hattie gruffly, glad that she had the power and depth of her father’s voice. “You are supposed to be an adult woman; now act like it!”
Reggie pouted and the light went out of his eyes. Tears formed and started to dribble down his cheeks.
“Oh don’t start that for goodness sake. Listen to me.” Hattie turned in her seat and made the new woman look at her. With his mouth shut there was nothing to tell an observer that he wasn’t really Elizabeth Neville. “First of all, let me have the pendant I gave you back.”
Reggie stopped crying but continued to pout. He did as instructed, lifting the pendant from around his neck.
Careful only to touch the chain, Hattie took it and slipped it inside her jacket’s breast pocket, relieved she had control of it again and glad there hadn’t been an accident to swap her with Reggie. She wouldn’t have minded becoming her mother – at least she would have been a woman again – but the powerful Earl with the mind of a child would have been awful.
“Thank you,” she said. “Now listen to me my boy. You are not Reggie anymore. You are Elizabeth, the Countess and my wife. Is that clear?” It felt strange to say those things because she was, at the same time, identifying herself as her father, but it was necessary so that he would understand. “You are to keep quiet as much as possible. If you must speak then act maturely. Do not reveal who you really are under any circumstances or you will have me to answer to. Do you understand?
“Yes sir,” replied Reggie.
Hattie sighed. “Not yes sir. Yes Howard. I am your husband. I am Howard Neville. You are my wife, Elizabeth.”
For a moment she felt distracted by an odd warmth in the back of her neck but she didn’t pay it any mind. It was a pleasant enough sensation.
“Do you understand?” asked Hattie, straightening her tie. “I am Howard, your husband and you are my wife, Elizabeth.”