Thursday, December 8, 2016

Story: Her Most Remarkable Performance. Chapter 5.

by Camille Langtry
Chapter 5

Mr. Bermingdale took off his round glasses and rubbed his eyes. As Miss Ashburton’s trustee it was his duty to take care of all the household expenses and, until about a month ago, he could do it all very quickly during his weekly visits. He would pay all the bills, give instructions to the housekeeper and leave Lady Georgina her weekly allowance. Yet, during the last few visits, he started noticing strange things.

Firstly, the expense numbers were no longer adding up and Georgina’s muddled explanations involving some donations to a church charity and unplanned purchases did not make a lot of sense. It was obvious to Mr. Bermingdale –  he has been a solicitor for 30 years after all and knew the human psyche better than most –  that the young woman was lying. Secondly, Georgina was clearly excited about something –  something she wanted to keep secret from him. The new, livelier Georgina was a welcome change from the recluse she turned into following her mother’s departure, but still Mr. Bermingdale sensed some awkwardness in her –  it was as if she was embarrassed of the source of her excitement. Is she seeing a lover? No, that couldn’t be. It was something else. He’d have to find out.

He finished the paperwork and closed his leather briefcase, turning to Georgina to say goodbye, when she spoke: “Can you do me a small favor, Mr. Bermingdale?”
“But yes, most certainly, miss Ashburton. How can I be of assistance?” the solicitor replied.

“As you know, I haven’t been coming out that much in recent months and I’ve lost touch with what’s happening this season. I have a certain… acquaintance… she’s a young and talented singer, who would like to perform at a ball or a house party. Obviously she comes with best of recommendations,” said Georgina.

“Would you like me to find out which of your mother’s friends are hosting something soon?” the solicitor asked.

“Yes, this will be most welcome.”
Mr. Bermingdale nodded and took his leave. Lady Georgina looked at the wall clock –  it was only 45 minutes before Evelyn’s arrival for their session –  barely enough to change into her maid’s uniform.

Today’s scenario was a lady returning from an afternoon walk –  Georgina, dressed in her black dress and a white apron and cap, would open the door for Evelyn, take her coat and her umbrella, remove her boots and show her to her room. Then she may either run a bath for her or Evelyn would do her strict mistress act, chastising and reprimanding Georgina for not doing her servant duties as required. She was very creative about playing the stern lady, constantly finding new ways to remind Georgina-the-maid of her rightful place.

Evelyn would always talk to her maid in a haughty and indifferent manner, treating her with the same mixture of condescension and contempt that Lady Olivia, Georgina’s mother, reserved for her female servants. And the young heiress couldn’t be happier –  she was indulging in her dark fantasy that seemed all too real due to Evelyn Fairchild’s theatrical skill. The fact that she now insisted on calling her Susan, when they were playing the game, only added to the humiliation and excitement for the heiress.

Georgina exited the drawing room and saw Mr. Bermingdale talking to Sarah about something –  she couldn’t make out the words and the two abruptly stopped their conversation when they saw her in the doorway and the solicitor left the house.  Sarah curtsied and looked at his mistress expectantly.

“What did you talk to Mr. Bermingdale about, Sarah?” was Georgina’s question.

“Oh, it’s nothin’, Miss, ‘e asked me where them other servants was,” replied the maid in her working-class accent.

“Right. I need you to help me undress now. And then I want you to go outside for a while, I would like to be left alone in the house.”

Half an hour later Georgina, dressed in her black uniform, was greeting her mistress with a deep curtsey. Evelyn was dressed in a navy silk satin walking dress with a large bustle, its tight bodice accentuating her small waist and her large bust –  Georgina allowed her to borrow some of her mother’s things for the purpose of the game –  after all, it was extremely time consuming to always get Evelyn out of her common clothing first. If she was very beautiful even in her poor cousin dress, attired as she was now she was nothing short of a goddess ready to be admired by everyone around her.

Sarah was let go and the two of them  had the house to themselves again. Evelyn gracefully strode into the entrance hall and handed her parasol to the waiting maid, who accepted it with a small bow. Their little mistress-and-maid game continued to excite Georgina even as Evelyn was beginning to show some reservations. Yes, she was paid very good money for acting the part of a rich and arrogant  mistress, but was that really the role she wanted for herself? How long was it before spoiled Georgina gets tired and decides, on a whim, to kick her out? And after that it will be back to her simple existence as an actress waiting –  perhaps in vain –  for her big role that would make her a new star of the London stage.


It would have been unwise –  indeed, criminal –  not to use the opportunities that working for Lady Georgina Ashburton opened. Surely, a simple letter of recommendation or a couple of words from her could help Evelyn gain access to the houses of the high society. There was no shortage of private parties that required entertainment and some of Evelyn’s luckier colleagues were often invited. On top of being very generously compensated, performing at such soirees was the surest way to establish the right connections to advance one’s career as an actor.

During their previous session Evelyn asked Georgina to find out at which parties she could perform  –  as a matter of fact, she didn’t ask, but ordered her willing maid –  much to Georgina’s delight –  to arrange her future performance. Now was the time to check her progress.

“Susan, did you complete the list of upcoming parties this season that I requested you to do?” Evelyn inquired with a stern expression on her face.

“No, Miss, not yet, Miss.’’

Evelyn inhaled deeply, showing how utterly disappointed she was in her hapless servant’s inadequate performance.

“You are taking your time, girl. You are indeed blessed to have a such a forgiving mistress as myself,’’ she finally said.

With that she turned her back to her maid and began climbing the redwood stairs. She stopped mid-way and looked down at Georgina, who was busy putting her mistress’s parasol and gloves away.

“Bring some tea to the drawing room, Susan. We need to talk.”

Georgina hurried to the kitchen to prepare tea for her mistress and –  after some delay with a stove and a tea-kettle, both unfamiliar devices to her –  she was finally able to bring two cups of tea and some biscuits to the drawing room, where Evelyn was busy reading a book.

“What took you so long, Susan?” Evelyn said with strong hints of displeasure in her voice.

“Sorry, Miss, it’s the stove, it’s very hard to manage.”

“What is so hard about it? Do I need to do everything myself?” the mistress inquired.

“No, Miss, sorry, Miss, I will try to be faster.”

“Very well, Susan. As I said, we need to talk.’’

Evelyn put the book away and, without offering her maid to sit down, took a sip from a large porcelain cup.

“It’s about our arrangement. You see, it is very hard for an actress to act if her partner is not acting. That is very discouraging. Do you understand what I mean?”

“I don’t think I do, Evelyn. As a matter of fact, I think we should better continue with the game,” Georgina argued.

“That’s exactly what I mean. Would a maid call her mistress Evelyn? Would a maid argue with her betters? Finally, would a maid move and talk like an honest-to-God noble lady? How do expect me to act my part if you don’t act yours?”

Georgina was now lost. What did Evelyn want from her? It was her game, not hers.

“I have a suggestion how to make it more enjoyable for both of us. You’ve told me that one of the reasons we are doing this is your fascination with the working classes and how you’ve always wanted to experience what life was like for them. What if I told you I could help you feel like a simple girl from the bottom of society and not some dull and boring aristocratic lady? Wouldn’t that be exciting? It will require some effort from you though,” Evelyn explained.

“What do you have in mind?” asked the intrigued Georgina, who was still unsure what Evelyn’s new plan was.

“There are several things. First and foremost it’s your manners. You may be wearing a cap and an apron, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of good society will immediately see you as one of the upper classes.  It’s how you sit, how you hold your hands, how you walk and how you eat. Here, show me how you drink your tea.”

Evelyn moved the second teacup closer to the maid and motioned for her to sit down by her side. Georgina put one piece of sugar into the cup and began stirring the hot liquid, gently swishing the spoon back and forth without touching the delicate porcelain sides. When through stirring, she carefully removed the spoon and placed in on the saucer behind the teacup to the right of the handle. She then proceeded drinking the tea in small, almost soundless sips as Evelyn looked on triumphantly.

“You see, no maid I’ve known would ever drink her tea like that,’’ she noted, happy that Georgina just proved her point without even realising that. “There are so many little things you’ve been taught as a little girl that no servant girl has ever heard of. You are even holding your cup like a true lady, probably without giving it a second thought –  your thumb on top, your index finger on the handle, the bottom of the handle resting on your third finger! Here, take a look,” Evelyn said excitedly.

The actress poured more tea and began stirring it, clinking the spoon against the cup, scratching its porcelain sides with each strong swish. Following that, she left the spoon inside and began drinking her tea in quick, very audible sips, while trying to hold her cup the way one would hold a beer glass –  with all her fingers.

“I am sure that’s how Sarah drinks hers. I think you should begin observing her habits and manners and try to emulate them –  at least as long as you wish to impersonate my maid. I certainly don’t want a servant who doesn’t know her place and tries to mimic the upper classes,’’ she added rather sternly as if Georgina did something wrong.

She continued her lecture. “There is much more to being a believable maid that just a black-and-white uniform. And if you want me to continue pretending to be your lady, you should do a far better job of pretending to be my maid. I have a suggestion. I spoke to our theatre tutor, Mr. Noble, on your behalf, and he’s agreed to help you. If it weren’t for him, I’d still be talkin’ like them Cockney girls, ain’t I?” she ended with a very believable imitation of Sarah’s low-class accent that sounded completely out of place given her aristocratic poise and her expensive gown.

Georgina was puzzled by Evelyn’s suggestion: “Mr. Noble? How can he help? I am not sure we need to bring anyone else into our game.”

“Do not worry about that,’’ was Evelyn’s response. “I didn’t tell him about the game or about your identity. All I told him is that you are a rich lady that needs to learn how to talk and behave like a working class girl for an amateur theatre production in your country estate. He didn’t ask any questions. Furthermore, he said it was an interesting challenge for him as he normally does the very opposite –  teaches uncultured girls how to talk and behave like the upper classes.”

Once again Evelyn was taking the lead in their relationship much more than Georgina would have preferred, but she had to agree that sounded like an interesting proposition. Becoming a little bit more unrefined in her speech and manners would certainly make the game more believable. Georgina had contemplated imitating the lower class accent when serving Evelyn, but quickly realised she didn’t have the experience to do it well. Perhaps, Mr. Noble could help her become a convincing working-class girl.

18 comments:

  1. Just fantastic..Thank you so much for another great chapter x

    mandy maiden

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  2. I love how the story is developing.

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  3. Could Mr. Bermingdale have requested Sarah to report any eccentric behavior of Georgina to him, in exchange for an appropriate incentive? [Of course, the "Shadow" knows]. ;)

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  4. Nicely done Camille.
    Observing Sarah and a little tutoring from Mr. Noble will make a great deal of difference to how Susan plays her role.
    I wonder will she become friends with Sarah when they become more socially equal. Friends are something Georgina appears to lack.
    BillA.

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    1. Interesting idea, won't spoil it for you. You'll soon find out!

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  5. Did I miss the part where the new maid is taken for a fitting of her uniform?

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  6. Well done so far...
    I`m anxious to learn if Evelyn achieves her ultimate goal to swap places by trickery or if she manages to persuade Georgina to step aside and join the lower class permanently, making place for the "better woman"... ;-)

    marc

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    1. Again, don't want to spoil it for you and other readers. We'll soon find out! Let me just say that I tried to be a bit original with my take.

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  7. Great chapter. Refreshingly creative. Interesting progression. Thank you for your hard work.

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    1. Thank you very much, will try not to disappoint going forward. The story is far from over.

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  8. An Appreciative ReaderDecember 9, 2016 at 2:35 AM

    Brilliant chapter again! Your research and attention to detail is incredible, the rigmarole with the tea, the observations of plush gown and common dress. Mr Bermingdale is a name that could be straight from Dickens (your knowledge is so good, I know this time period is really post Dickens...). And the story - always enough to tease and provoke us! Georgina's motivation is very believable, still an illicit game she thinks she controls... Evelyn too is superb, someone aiming for security and not a 2D villain. Have I said enough? You receive nothing but praise in all the comments I've read, but then that is nothing more than such strong writing deserves!

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    1. Much appreciated. I don't think there are villains in this story. At least not yet-) My motivation was to write a story that will be as realistic as possible, while sticking to the genre's main particularities (aka all the right buttons). We'll see if I pull it off till the end.

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  9. I've just caught up with this and it's an excellent start. It's quite realistic, which I think is your aim. The pretend coaching for a play so that 'Susan' will sound, look and and behave as a real working class servant is chilling in its implications.

    My main gripe about this type of fiction is that it often goes just a bit too far for suspension of belief.

    I eagerly await your next posting. Thanks

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    1. Thank you very much. Next chapter will soon be posted. My intent is to make sure the story remains believable and realistic throughout. Let's see if I succeed!

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