Hattie took her seat at the head of the grand dining and preened, taking just as much pleasure now in her own elevated status as she did in the dastardly revenge she was perpetrating against those she felt had wronged her.
To her right sat Patrick and the maid, Nellie, in Hattie’s own body. At the end of the table was Reggie, disguised as the Countess. Next to her, to Hattie’s left, were Geraldine and the two children. The little boy with Hattie’s mother’s brain looked sullenly down the table at his true body but unlike earlier there was no obvious sign the woman wasn’t who she had always been.
Since doing his lines, Reggie had taken an incredible leap forward in his ability to pass as his aunt. He had assumed the physical poise of an aristocratic lady and though he still clearly knew only the limited things within his sphere of experience, he was cognisant enough to keep relatively quiet and just smile politely to Geraldine’s conversation. It was a staggering transformation from the immaturity he had displayed at the lakeside.
Hattie had to ask herself once more what effect that same activity would have on her. As an adult and a member of the upper class, she was already far ahead on her ability to emulate her father’s modes of action. How much more like him would she become if she wrote a hundred times, I am Howard Neville, the Earl of Griply Manor? How different would it feel?
Her father had always possessed an irascible confidence and strength of will, far superior to her own. It would be amazing to feel that for herself. And surely she could always reverse the process if she wanted to; write two hundred times, I am Harriet Neville, the Earl’s daughter.
She was almost tempted to give it a try.
As they brought in the soup she let her mind wander, imagining what that would be like and how she would do it.
Obviously it would be far too dangerous to do it over an extended period, but maybe just for an hour or two would be alright. She could do the lines and alter her personality to be more like her father’s, walk around and interact with people, say, over the course of a meal, and then do the lines back the opposite way.
How could she phrase it?
I am Howard Neville, the Earl of Griply Manor, and I am a pompous, misogynistic, confident, arrogant, quick-tempered, overbearing, self-important, haughty, condescending, bombastic man with a passion for business.
She grinned to herself.
“And what are you finding so dashed funny Howard?” asked Patrick.
Hattie came back to the moment and realized she had disconnected completely. Her mind went blank as she tried to think of something to respond and she said the first thing that came into her mind. “Er, just thinking about these suffragettes that were in the news again today.”
Patrick chuckled. “Votes for women! I’ve never heard such poppycock in my life! Women possess neither the experience nor the education to form any kind of reasoned opinion on such weighty subjects. Isn’t that right Geraldine?”
“Hmmm?” Geraldine looked up from her soup. “Oh yes. Of course dear.”
“What’s your opinion on the subject Howard?” asked Patrick.
Hattie looked down the table at the different women present. She had long been following the progress of the women’s movement and had supported it (in the quiet of her mind at least – certainly not openly in front of her father). Now she found herself in the rather odd position of being expected to give a response counter to her long-held beliefs. If she started stating her real opinion then it might be obvious to those listening that she wasn’t the real Earl. Everyone knew his stance on the matter. Her mother, trapped in Reggie’s body was right there and the real Earl was potentially in earshot, living the life of a common maid.
She decided she had to state the case she might expect her father to, but as the words rolled out of her, stated as though she believed them, they became more and more familiar on her tongue. She started to wonder if stating beliefs contrary to her own as though they were her own might have a similar effect to writing lines. And indeed, unnoticed by her, the light buzzing started at the base of her skull and continued throughout her speech.
“I think that you are quite right Patrick. Women don’t possess the background or skills to make them capable of deciding what is right for this country. If they excel at anything then it is at inconsequential tasks such as needlework or flower arranging.”
She paused and the buzzing wavered. It was strange. The things she was saying not only belittled herself, but every other woman – ordinarily it would be abhorrent to hear such thoughts, let alone speak them herself – but now that she was saying them aloud, she could start to see the sense of the points she was making. When she was a woman she had only spent time doing trifling activities with no intrinsic worth. She had possessed little or no knowledge about the detail of how the country was run, neither in terms of politics or economics.
Even today she had spent her time in the society pages rather than taking the opportunity to read the business section, proving if anything that her womanly side was not equipped to address such matters.
“It takes a man to rule,” she went on, gaining momentum, “a man to make decisions of great import. No woman is equipped to do such a thing and only a woman would think so. I certainly don’t agree with it.”
She stopped, amazed by how easily that had come to her. That last sentence had slipped out unbidden but she had no particular urge to retract it.
Patrick was nodding his head in agreement and, amazingly, Geraldine was too.
Hattie cleared her throat, feeling as though she wanted to balance this opinion with one that favored women. “I have nothing against the fairer sex,” she said, trying to find words to state their virtues without exposing her disguise. “Only women can be women; can be beautiful and desirable.” She tried to think of an intellectual quality that women possessed over men but for some reason she could think of nothing. Floundering, she finished with the only logical point she could think of. “Women need to do what they do best and leave business and politics to men. That seems obvious to me and… and that is what I think.”
“Bravo old man!” said Patrick. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Hattie smiled, the buzzing just starting to subside at the back of her neck, but she said nothing. She was amazed that she had stated such things and more, that she could sort of see the reasoning behind it.
Perhaps becoming a man wasn’t changing the way she thought into a masculine way. Perhaps it was simply opening her mind to seeing both sides. Perhaps in this case the masculine perspective was simply the correct one.
Patrick and Geraldine went on chattering about the subject with Patrick blaming the liberal government for allowing too great a platform for the puerile rantings of these madwomen. Hattie chuckled to hear it but it made her realize something.
Patrick and Geraldine… Not Uncle Patrick and Aunt Geraldine. She hadn’t been thinking of them in terms of being her aunt or uncle and she reflected on why.
They had been treating her as an equal; perhaps even a superior. She supposed it would be odd to think of them in those terms from this new perspective.
Nevertheless it was odd.
She asked herself if… if she saw Patrick as her… as her brother. But no. No. If she thought deeply into it then she still considered him an uncle. She just had a different point of view now.
She slurped her way down her soup and then banged her fist on the table. “I say! When is that main course going to get here? I’m ruddy starving! I want something substantial to eat!”