When the Earl – well, the real Lady Harriet – left the picnic with the Countess, Nellie suddenly found herself feeling very alone.
The Earl, when he had been present, had dominated the conversation with his presence and opinions. Nellie hadn’t worked at Griply Hall for long at all but it was remarkable how well Lady Harriet managed to emulate her father. The trouble was that now there was no Earl to lead the conversation, she was suddenly pushed into a much more prominent position. The servants had withdrawn far back from the picnic area leaving her with the Earl’s brother, Patrick, his sister-in-law, Geraldine and the two children (one of whom she knew was secretly and shockingly the Countess).
Reggie remained sullen and silent. Felicity looked off over the water. This left her the sole attention of Patrick and Geraldine.
“So, Hattie,” said Geraldine. “Your mother was telling me about your recent trip to York.”
Nellie felt her heart rate rise as a shiver of panic started to settle into place. “Er, yes,” she said, trying to use short phrases so as to disguise her accent. She didn’t have a hope of duplicating the real Lady Harriet’s mode of speech with her common inflexion.
“What did you buy there?”
“Uh, well...” Nellie had absolutely no idea that the real Lady Harriet had even been on such a trip, let alone the detail of her purchases. She looked at the little boy, strongly suspecting that he, as the Countess, had been in attendance on that trip. The boy was looking conflicted and confused. This wasn’t going well at all. “Um, I’m sorry, uh, Aunt Geraldine,” she said. “I’m not feelin’ well. I think I need to walk it off.” She got to her feet, feigning a light head.
“Are you alright dear?” asked Geraldine.
“Yeah. Yes. I’m sure I am. I just need to be by myself fer a minute.”
The two adults looked on with concern and Nellie gave a little smile and pulled away. She turned her back on them and walked along the edge of the lake.
As soon as she was clear of them she felt a lot better but there was still an edge of anxiety to her thoughts. This was all so new and she didn’t really know what to do with herself. She didn’t know how long it was going to go on for or what was expected of her. Well... she did know she was meant to pretend to be the real Lady Harriet, which was proving difficult. She wished that she was as good at pretending as Hattie seemed to be.
It was such a strange feeling, becoming one of the quality. Her body felt entirely different to how it did and that made her feel different about herself. She was a real beauty now with her raven hair and perfect skin, her generous bosom and curvaceous figure. She wasn’t an antelope beauty like Lady Ann but she was hundred miles above the way she looked in her own body.
She smiled to think of how funny it would be to return home to visit her mam and da as she was now. Just to imagine their faces when they saw how pretty she was – and how gorgeous her clothes were! She had never imagined having the chance to dress like a real lady. The material was so rich and well-tailored. How much could a dress like this have cost? It beggared the imagination to think.
Along the water’s edge, the stable hand was watering the horses. He looked up at her as she approached and took on an immediate aspect of trepidation. She’d seen him around but hadn’t been introduced in the short time she’d worked as maid. He was tall and fairly handsome (for an outdoor servant) with shorn hair and a bushy moustache, but he was very broad and muscular. Though she didn’t know him, he clearly knew Lady Harriet. He doffed his cap and averted his eyes.
“Eh up m’lady,” he said. “Is there anythin I can do fer ye? Anythin at all?”
Nellie giggled to herself. It was so funny to have this man be so servile to her as though she was really as important as she looked. “No thank you,” she said, surprising herself by how well formed her words were all of a sudden. Then she had an impious idea and added, “You can move those horses out of the way.”
The stable hand hurried to do so, apologising obsequiously and bobbing his head nervously.
Nellie stood back and witnessed the power she suddenly had. As far as this smelly man was concerned, she was Lady Harriet. As far as everyone there was concerned she was.
She knew it was only temporary – in order for her to keep this body she supposed the real Harriet would have to choose to remain in the body of her middle-aged father, which would surely never happen – but she wished she could stay like this. It would be like a fairy story if she could remain this way – like becoming a beautiful princess.
She sighed, wandering past the fawning stable hand and walking on along the water’s edge. It was a shame that fairy tales weren’t real.
Though on the other hand, she hadn’t believed that magic was real twenty four hours earlier so maybe anything was possible!