Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Story: Her Most Remarkable Performance. Chapter 3.


by Camille Langtry

Chapter 3

Evelyn had been to houses of the affluent classes before, but she was unprepared for the sheer opulence of the three-story mansion. The Ashburton residence was a flamboyant wonder of polished mahogany panels, Venetian glass, shiny marble floors, gold and crystal chandeliers. The silk-lined walls of the entrance hall were covered by paintings and Evelyn could see two matching Greek statues in a room to the right.

The actress looked in with little-restrained awe at the richness surrounding her as she was led by Sarah through an enfilade into a lavish drawing room that would not look out of place at a royal palace. The lady of the house, a young woman in a silk taffeta high-necked, long-sleeved grey dress with a prominent bustle, rose from the sofa. Her auburn hair was swept up in an intricate cluster of Josephine curls.

“It is very nice to make your acquaintance, Miss Fairchild.” The lady smiled and asked Evelyn to take a seat  next to her. “Sarah told me so much about you.”

Lady Georgina was hesitant at first when she heard her maid’s idea to hire an actress to impersonate a rich mistress. However, after she gave it some thought, she decided to give it a try and asked Sarah to invite Evelyn for a conversation. Before then, however, Georgina went to see Evelyn Fairchild perform to make sure she was up to the task. The play she went to see – The Queen of Hearts – was a contemporary comedic take on the story of Helen of Troy, set in a fictional European kingdom of Honoria. Evelyn played one of the secondary characters, Countess Eudoxia, and only appeared on the stage three times. Nonetheless, it was enough for Lady Georgina to realize how gifted the young actress was. It wasn’t just her exceptionally refined, aristocratic moves or her imperious voice, she was a true presence on the stage, even though she was barely there for ten minutes. It was then that she decided to meet Evelyn in person and asked Sarah to arrange it.  

Georgina examined Evelyn’s appearance. Although her guest was dressed in a rather unflattering and unfashionable light brown dress of the type that a country governess would wear, there was no denying  that she was a very beautiful woman. She was tall –  half-a-head taller than her hostess –  and slender, her full shoulders and prominent bust contrasting nicely with her narrow waist . Lady Georgina felt that familiar feeling of female envy and inadequacy in the presence of a far prettier girl – something she always felt when she accompanied her stunning mother to the opera or to a ball.

Evelyn’s black hair was gathered in a simple bun and the only jewelry she wore were small silver earrings. Yet, if she were now transported into a room full of glittering society belles in their most exquisite finery there was little doubt she would outshine them with no effort at all.  As earlier in the theatre, Lady Georgina was particularly amazed by the natural grace and ease of Evelyn’s deportment.

Evelyn sat down next to Georgina, and looked around the palatial room –  a black shiny piano in the corner, a long table with a massive silver epergne that, but the looks of it, weighed no less than a stone, heavy plush draperies. A large full-height portrait, showing a beautiful lady in an elegant red evening dress with a daringly low neckline, hung above the fireplace –  that was undoubtedly the deceased Lady Olivia. The woman,  whom was painted holding a feathered fan in her opera glove-clad hand, shared a resemblance with the hostess –  it was her somewhat older and much prettier version. Georgina inherited her mother’s thick brown hair, her long neck and slender waist, but the transcendent beauty of Lady Olivia’s aristocratic face escaped her –  with her long nose and smallish chin she almost looked like her caricature.  She was not as unappealing as Sarah made her out to be though, Evelyn thought to herself.

“This is my mother. She was a true beauty, was she not? This painting really does her justice,’’ said Georgina.

Evelyn nodded. It was time to discuss why she came here.

“Sarah said you had an offer for me.”

“Yes, indeed,” Georgina sighed and paused for half a minute, gathering her thoughts. “You may find this a rather peculiar request. Think of it as a role you would play for just one person –  me.”

“What is the role you expect me to play?” Evelyn inquired.

Georgina paused again, trying to overcome her shyness. It was one thing to ask Sarah, who completely depended for her livelihood on her mistress, it was something else entirely to involve a complete stranger, who could easily respond with a “no” or, even worse, laugh in her face.

“Well, we both will be playing roles. I will be the maid, and you will be my mistress. Maybe twice a week. You will come here, and we will… play,” said Georgina and looked at her visitor expectantly. She spent a better part of the previous night reciting what she would tell Evelyn to convince her, but she still was not sure her words made a lot of sense.

“I am sorry, Miss Ashburton, I don’t think I understand,” confessed Evelyn, confirming Lady Georgina’s worst fears.

“You are an actress, so you must be accustomed to pretending to be someone else,” Georgina began, trying to present her proposition as the most natural thing, as something not to be ashamed of. “But instead of performing it on stage, you will act the part in this house, with me as your sole audience. You will dress as the lady of the house, and I will serve you, while acting as the maid.”

“This is rather peculiar. I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Evelyn started. “And you must understand that I have other engagements… I am in very high demand this season.”

“It goes without saying that you will be very handsomely compensated for your performance,” Georgina assured her guest.

Now it was time for Evelyn to pause for thought. Just what exactly did “handsomely” mean for a rich heiress such as Georgina, who didn’t have to work a single day in her life?

“How much?” Evelyn challenged.

"I am not sure how much they pay you for your work currently. Do they pay you for each performance?” asked Georgina.

“I’m paid five guineas for every performance,’’ Evelyn lied, trying not to blush. Even Mr. Harrison, The Royal Strand’s biggest star, was probably making less. A lot less.

“Very well! You will be paid that much,” replied Georgina almost without a pause, as if she was fearful that Evelyn will walk away if she didn’t give her a response right away.

Evelyn couldn’t believe her luck, even as she immediately regretted she didn’t give Georgina a far bigger number –  unsurprisingly,  this girl was completely clueless about the value of money. Evelyn still didn’t quite understand what it was that the lady in front of her wanted exactly, but the offer was way too tempting –  she’d never made that much money for so little work.

“I agree, Miss Ashburton,” said Evelyn. “When shall we start?”

“How about now?” offered Georgina.

“I don’t think I am prepared. I would need to think about my role,” said Evelyn.

“Will you excuse me for a minute?” said Georgina, as she stood up and walked to the adjoining room, leaving Evelyn alone on the sofa. She came back shortly, and placed a small stack of gold coins in front of her guest.  “Here is your first fee.”

“But I still don’t know the script,” responded Evelyn.

“There is no script as such,” replied Lady Georgina. “I expect you to draw from your theatrical experience. Some of the scenes I would like to act out are composed here’’ Georgina walked to the bureau and grabbed a folded piece of paper, which she handed to Evelyn.  

Evelyn quickly read the instructions written on the sheet of paper, and nodded.

“I think I can do that,’’ she said, and put the gold coins in her purse. “Where shall we dress?”

Georgina led her guest upstairs through the empty house. There was not a single sound to be heard from anywhere.

“All the servants with the exception of Sarah have been given a day off,” Georgina explained why the mansion looked deserted. “We don’t want them to interrupt the game,’’ she said, as she proceeded to open a two-leaved door for Evelyn. They both entered a large and richly adorned lady’s boudoir, complete with a canopy bed, a red wood cabinet and a vanity filled with endless little bottles and boxes. There were four large unopened black leather trunks standing in the corner, as if someone just came back from a long travel, or was about to leave.

“This was my mother’s room,” said Lady Georgina. “You are about same height and build as her. Her clothes should fit you nicely. Follow me.”

The hostess opened another door close to the bed, and they entered a room with a sizeable wardrobe and several smaller closets and cases. It was the late Lady Olivia’s dressing room.  Georgina swung open the gigantic wardrobe and two of the closets, revealing a treasure trove of lady’s things –  dresses for various occasions, hats, slippers and boots, parasols, opera gloves and shorter kid gloves for daily wear, petticoats, stockings and stays –  there was enough there to play dress-up for months! The room, even though it was meant for just one woman, was probably as big as The Royal Strand’s entire wardrobe department,  Evelyn thought to herself.

“Look around and select what you would like to wear. Let me leave you here, I also need to change. You can ring the silver bell when you are ready, but give me some time to prepare too,” said Georgina.

The lady of the house, barely containing her excitement, exited the boudoir to put on her uniform, leaving Evelyn to explore the contents of the dressing room in more detail. She went through the hanging dresses one by one, admiring their quality and elaborateness –  only a truly rich lady could ever afford anything like that. Even the simplest outfit was an embroidered marvel of frills, trims and extravagant materials. All the undergarments were of the finest silk –  not the cheap cotton and wool that Evelyn was used to.

Lady Olivia also left behind a large shoe collection. Evelyn tried on delicate-looking satin evening slippers with a fashionable Louis heel and was pleased that they fit her well. She made several steps, lifting her dress to see how the shoes looked, and a smile crossed her face. To get paid to dress up and act as a rich and noble lady? She could most certainly do that. Even if that meant tolerating the spoiled young heiress who employed her and joining her stupid “game” as a willing participant.

She walked across the room, slightly wobbly on the high heels, and opened another door on the other side of the bed. In the corner of the room stood a large and deep bath tub with cast iron lion’s feet and two shiny brass water taps. Evelyn has heard that some rich houses had hot running water, but she has never seen anything like that yet. She pulled a small handle and looked in amazement for a minute as steaming hot liquid began filling the marble tub. A clever thought about the game crossed Evelyn’s mind. If Georgina wanted her to act as the rich mistress, she may as well get pampered as one! Evelyn turned the handle again and water stopped flowing. She then walked back to the wardrobe and pulled out a full length lace dressing gown with an intricate Oriental ornament.

It was time to call her new maid. She grabbed a silver bell from the vanity and rang.

17 comments:

  1. OMG, what a Chapter!
    Wonderful I can't await to read the next!
    BTW: Dear Camille it seems you have also a great Talent to cut the Chapter exactly when I'm most excitet how the Story will continue.

    Even after the very first beginning I would like to say it will be the best story I have ever read.

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    1. Thank you so much. We are only about 1/4 into the story so hold you judgement, as much as I am flattered by your compliments-)

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    2. I'm sure the actress will teach lady Georgina very well about a true noble Ladys behavier and demands on a personal maid.
      I suppose as soon as Georgina is answering the bell she will hear her mistress complaining why does it take so long to answer the bell, what is she waiting for because can't she see that her mistress must be undressed and her bath being prepared.
      Wonderful!!!!!!

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  2. I love how the lady/maid relationship is developing.

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    Replies
    1. Then you'd love the next chapter even more (I hope).

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  3. Still loving the detail Camille, looking forward to the next enthralling episode.
    BillA.

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    1. Thank you, will make it as enthralling as possible!

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  4. Very intersting and thrilling development. I suppose that Georgina will learn to behave like a real maid.
    Waiting impatiently for the next episode.
    Sylvia

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    1. Why do I have the feeling, that playing roles twice a week will more or less rapidly become playing roles all the week, and that it will become less play and more real? And when and how will Georgina lose control of the "play"?
      Sylvia

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    2. Well, won't spoil it for you then!

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  5. I love your stories! Can't wait for the thickening plot!

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    1. Thanks. It will thicken a lot more, don't you worry.

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  6. An Appreciative ReaderDecember 2, 2016 at 1:37 AM

    Chapter 3 and already I am running out of compliments! Again a fabulous mix of narrative and description, this really is right up there with stories I have most enjoyed. Thank you :)

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    1. Tell me about it, I am running out of ways to say thank you! Cheers.

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  7. You tease...fancy finishing the chapter there. On tenterhooks now for the next one

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