The former maid, Nellie Barrow, opened her eyes knowing exactly who she was now and exactly what had happened to her over the past thirty six hours.
It was impossible not to know. Everything felt different from the life of poverty she had lived for all her born days, from the differing feel to her new body; that of the beautiful lady Harriet Neville, younger daughter to the Earl to the silken sheets surrounding her on the bed.
She hadn’t been deeply asleep. She had been rising up from deep dreams to wakefulness, and the closer she had come to it, the more real those dreams had become, the closer to directed thought. Until they had come together into a pinpoint focus that mirrored the framework they had found themselves in as she drifted off the night before, lying in this exact position.
That was why she was gazing now still at the little partially hidden grille beside the tall chest of drawers there. She lay still, watching it without movement, thinking about what was hidden inside and the terrible potential it held then gave a quick nervous glace toward the bedroom door as someone might march in at any second and take back what was concealed.
Surely that was possible. This was the real Lady Harriet’s bedroom, and though she was presently ensconced within her own father’s body, that wouldn’t stop her entering if she wished to. On the contrary, She seemed to be enjoying his greater authority immensely. She was more likely, if anything, to throw her weight around now.
Nellie had formulated the beginnings of her plan last night as she fell asleep and allowing Hattie to regain control over what was in there would ruin everything.
Feeling suddenly extremely ill-at-ease and panicked, she scrambled out of bed and went down on her knees in front of the grille. She looked again toward the door.
When would Hattie come to retrieve it? Had she already considered the risk of leaving it here? Perhaps she had dwelled overnight on the fact that she had let slip its location to Nellie. Perhaps she would arrive at any second to take it back.
Nellie’s breathing became elevated.
She questioned herself. Did she still plan to go through with her scheme? Did she dare? What of the repercussions when she was inevitably found out? Because she would be. That was all part of it. Being caught was unavoidable. She could only hope to weather out the following storm.
She opened the grille and reached tentatively in; retrieving the jewellery box that Hattie had hidden there sometime the day before. She cracked it open, eyes glittering like a greedy Egyptologist explorer breaking open one of the ancient tombs.
Just as she’d left it, the powerful pendant that had effected every magical exchange of identity lay there, ready to do it all again, or to wreck even further havoc.
It was a fiendish device. Surely it had to be. It had caused nothing but chaos so far. Nellie felt guilty at the idea of stealing away control of the thing from its previous owner but on the other hand... on the other hand, she would be protecting them from potentially worse things to come.
Yes. That was the way she saw it. It was too dangerous an item to be left in play. It needed to be taken away and given to someone who could be trusted to keep it safe; to stop it doing further damage.
It was a weak justification that favoured Nellie in its entirety, but she didn’t allow herself to consider it deeply enough to notice how self-centred she was being. Nellie, like most every human being, liked to think of herself as a good person. More than many, she perceived herself as God-fearing and pious. Having said that, this was just too big an opportunity to pass up. She couldn’t bear the thought of going back to her life as a maid or the worse one she had had before that. Becoming Lady Harriet was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She had to cling on to that and fight to keep it, no matter the consequences when her scheme was exposed.
The real Lady Hattie, in the Earl’s body, was planning to swap everybody back that night so she had that much time at least, and that gave her plenty of time to dispose of the pendant.
She closed up the jewellery box and got back to her feet with it in her hand.
One things was clear was that she couldn’t leave it here. She had to carry it with her from now on until she could pass it along to the right person. If the real Hattie came in to look for it before then then she would simply have to deal with it. It was better still to have it on her even then.
She went to the wardrobe and opened it up, wondering what to wear, then paused and smiled to herself. Instead, she went over to the bell pull and rang it.
Why have a dog and bark yourself? she thought to herself.
Lady Harriet had a lady’s maid to help her dress. She was Lady Harriet now. That meant she had the maid.
She grinned, really enjoying the moment.
The more she thought about that, the more she knew she was doing the right thing. She had to hold on to this new body no matter what, even if it meant that everyone who had swapped so far got stuck the way they were forever.