Hattie had a couple of hours to kill before dinner and decided to do something that normally only her father got to do in the afternoon: read the paper.
As the manor’s alpha male, he generally did whatever he wanted and everybody else had to fit around that. N these circumstances she tended to fall back on her embroidery or a romance novel. Today she relaxed in her father’s armchair, rested one ankle on the other knee (a pose a woman could never take!) and opened the paper up. She rested it on her knee, gently stroking her moustache with the first and second fingers of her right hand.
As she did so it occurred to her that this position, including the stroke of the moustache, was something she had seen her father do a thousand times. She was now following the exact same pattern and she asked herself again whether spending time in his body was influencing her.
She felt mostly the same – she knew she was Lady Harriet in disguise; she had no illusions that she was really her father or anything absurd. It was only a few trivial details; nothing surely to worry about. What did it really matter if she sat in the same position he did? Maybe that was just the natural way this body felt comfortable. The only danger was that she take on mannish traits to the extent that she choose to stay that way. There was no danger of that or any indication of it. She was enjoying being a man rather more than she thought but she was still eager to become herself again.
She missed her soft skin and pretty face. She missed being able to wear beautiful gowns. And silly things, like she missed the sound of her voice when she spoke. It was funny to talk with her father’s booming voice but it was nowhere near as melodic as her voice normally was.
Ordinarily when she read the paper (if she ever got the chance) Hattie read the fashion or society pages but today she decided, for the fun of it, to read the business section, as though she really were her father. She sat there reflecting on what she was doing and said to herself, Now I really am doing exactly what he would do. I really am acting like my father. She gave a single deep chuckle, exactly how he might and felt a sudden overwhelming sense of foreboding.
Hattie’s head swam. She saw herself sitting there, exactly as he would, in his clothes, with his posture, running her hand back across her bald head, and it all felt so suddenly inescapable; as though she really were trapped like this and just didn’t know it yet.
There really was no worse fate than that: being stuck in a trap of her own making. She imagined taking on more and more of her father’s traits until she really did become a carbon copy of him and shuddered. Imagine being so irredeemably pompous and superior; to lose well over thirty years of her life; to lose her beautiful thick hair and gorgeous figure; her delicate facial features. Imagine losing everything that made her who she was and permanently becoming her own father in looks, word and deed.
She wondered if she should go and get the pendant right away.
But she told herself to stop being silly. This wasn’t going to go on that long and there was no danger of her becoming trapped. It was fortunate if anything that she had taken on a little bit of her father’s character. The perspective she’d already gained allowed her to recognise that panicky side of her as being pure female. Only women had such flighty shows of emotion. What masculinity she had absorbed allowed her to stand above that as men were generally able to do and put it aside.
She lowered the paper. “Hmmm.”
She wondered if even there her perceptions were changing too much. Surely she shouldn’t be regarding the fairer sex as less stable emotionally – she was one of them – but she supposed it was a matter of standpoint. From her new outlook, that flightiness seemed far more obvious. It didn’t mean she thought that men were better. Not in every way at least.
Still, she decided to turn back to the society pages after all. Best to avoid exploring her father’s life too much. Best to keep a tight rein on things.
And she’d found the business section confusing and dull. It was much better to read the gossip articles. That was always something she’d loved.
She settled back into the chair comfortably and went on reading for an hour or so until she heard the rest of the family return from the picnic. She hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Reggie, in her mother’s body, since she’d made him write his lines and it occurred to her that she should check up on him.
When she emerged into the hallway, the family were just entering; Patrick and Geraldine first, followed by the two children behind. The maid in her body was nowhere to be seen.
“Ah, Howard!” said Patrick, his mutton chops curling as he grinned.
“What-ho!” replied Hattie cheerfully, realising two things as she said it: the first that she had answered to her father’s name without a second thought and the second that she had automatically used a term she’d never used in her life before in response.
“You missed a dashed tedious picnic there you lucky dog,” said Patrick. “Trust you to fill your belly and then leave me to suffer the company of women and children for the rest of the afternoon.”
Hattie smirked, enjoying the fact that at the moment she wasn’t part of the group that Patrick was running down. It was funny to hear her former – her usual sex cut up like that and she decided to join in. “Yes. I can’t think of anything worse than listening to that kind of superficial twaddle.” She had obviously always seen women from her own perspective and from a defensive stance before, but now that she was playing the game of step outside of that some feminine qualities she would normally have defended could actually be derided quite easily. “Ladies are only able to discuss trivialities because that is all their lives are filled with.”
Patrick laughed deeply as he walked past. “Quite! You do know what you’re talking about Howard and you have the measure of women down to a T.”
Hattie grinned at the complement but she felt as though she were betraying herself somehow.
“Really Howard,” said Aunt Geraldine, coming level. “You have such disparaging views of women. I’d like to see you try being one for a day or two. I’ve never met such a misogynist in all my born days.” She went off giggling to herself and shooing the children along but Hattie watched after her.
She hadn’t meant to pour quite so much scorn on her usual gender, but she hadn’t meant it. Had she?
She rubbed her chin contemplatively.
Did she really think the lives and interests of women were trivial? It wasn’t something she’d voiced before certainly. Though was it possible that she had held the resentment deep down? She knew her sister had long held such beliefs.
No. Of course not. She was only playing along; pretending to be her father. She wasn’t actually thinking like him.
Hattie got a glimpse of her mother, in Reggie’s little body, disappear round the corner looking back at her sorrowfully, and she grinned.
Yes, it was perplexing becoming a man and her own pater; and it might even be dangerous; but it was well worth it to witness her revenge played out in such delightful ways.
She straightened her suit jacket and tie and then headed into the back of the house, whistling a favourite tune of her father’s.