by Jackie J
The guest room that Lady Hogarth entered had been prepared to perfection with fresh flowers and neatly folded towels. A filled bathtub, still lightly steaming, sat at the foot of the bed on a soft mat.
Having bathed Lady Hogarth smiled opening the closet to find her clothes neatly arranged the drawers no different. The maid had been busy. The supper prepared and served by Annie brought compliments that Martha gratefully received and passed on to Annie.
Maud had concluded that Constance’s motivation, for exploiting Annabella’s feeble mind and supressed obsession with servility and her own subjugation, at the hands of the housekeeper in being a maid, stemmed from inheritance. Annabella stood to inherit everything, if Annabella disappeared, could not be traced, became hidden away at Buckshire manor, one of the Countesses maids, which she already was? Well who would inherit then? Annabella inheriting the family fortune was not ideal and no doubt would soon be squandered but that women getting her hands on the family’s wealth never.
Maud had received word, that her brother the Earl, was currently unlikely to survive a journey home from Switzerland and it could be some time before he returned if at all, such was the seriousness of his condition. With his physical and mental condition deteriorating by the week, the question of inheritance was becoming more of an issue and prayed on Maud’s mind.
Lady Hogarth’s daughter, Emily, had not been seen around the manor since her arrival, she was not well and confined to her room and Maud continued to brood over that gold diggers scheme. It was obvious that Annabella was gone, that was for sure, a maid she was and a maid she will be most likely to remain. The only alternative being that she would spend time in an institution in an attempt to have her regain her sanity, which no doubt would be a long process and just looking at her, how successful would that be? She was Annie now and more disconcerting, Annie was a perfect maid. With her figure, looks and posture along with the natural and instinctive deference she offered to her betters, who would ever consider she was anything other than a maid and, once Annabella Montgomery, heiress to Buckshire manor, who in their right mind would think that?
Having accidentally happened upon Constance’s scheme before its fruition Maud could not let Constance get away with her wicked plan and her own scheme started to gestate in her mind.
The likeness of Emily and Annabella, before Annabella’s dramatic transformation was obvious. Sisters at worst? Twins perhaps?
Lady Hogarth was quite casual in her request for Emily to move into Annabella’s old rooms and Annabella’s things and wardrobe may as well be returned, Emily would find use for them.
Annie, without thought of her own once ownership, brought things down from the lofts and set out the room that was once her own. Annie seemed to know where everything should go but how could she know why? Maud confided her scheme in her daughter and Emily needed little encouragement to make use of Annabella’s wardrobe and lifestyle and Annie obliged in adjusting many of Annabella’s dresses to fit Emily perfectly, although in truth little adjustment was needed.
Three weeks had passed, and Maud stood her daughter by the large mirror in the hallway beneath the portrait of Annabella and smiled.
“There, my sweet Emily, no need to look in the mirror look at the portrait of…”
Emily stared up at the picture of Annabella, then at her reflection in the mirror. Emily’s mother had her wearing the same dress that Annabella was wearing in the portrait, the diamond necklace, matching broach and earrings that dangled from hidden lobes beneath her flowing locks, the hair- slide, the bangle on her wrist, the rings on her fingers, all the same as in the picture. Emily turned her head and pouted copying Annabella’s cocky, yet elegant pose and poise then sniggered.
“O mother I do believe your scheme will work look at me, look at the picture, we are twins, I am Annabella.”
Maud put her arm around her daughter and smiled.
“Yes dear, yes, you are Annabella, Annabella is a maid, maid Annie, and you my sweet Emily are now Annabella heiress to Buckshire manors fortune.”
During the weeks previous, in the privacy of her rooms, under the supervision of her mother, Emily had been mimicking Annabella’s surely behaviour, petulance, and mannerisms. Lady Hogarth smirked all was ready to introduce Annabella back into the household of Buckshire manor.
Martha was called to the Parlour and almost fainted seeing Emily dressed as she was.
Lady Hogarth laughed.
“Yes Jarvis, Miss Annabella has returned to Buckshire Manor. I am sure we don’t have a problem with that, do we?”
Martha knew that dismissal at best, prison at worst awaited her, she had already been warned of that.
Martha could not take her eyes off Lady Hogarth’s daughter. The way she looked, the way she was dressed, the way she sat. Even though Martha had just left Miss Annabella, down on her hands and knees scrubbing the floors of the upper landings, what sat facing her, smiling, even with Miss Annabella’s expression, could not be mistaken for Miss Annabella!
Martha stuttered her response in disbelief.
“No, no problem, no problem. It is good, good, to have Miss… Miss Annabella back at the manor.”
Lady Hogarth smiled at Martha’s complicit acceptance knowing the Housekeeper had little choice.
“Good Jarvis, now bring the maid Annie. Time for her to meet Miss Annabella."
Brought into the Parlour Annie curtsied and stared at Emily sat serene in one of Annabella’s beautiful dresses, one of her own dresses, the same dress that she had seen Miss Annabella wearing in the portrait. It was Miss Annabella, Annie’s broken mind needed no prompting, this was the lady who had brought her to Buckshire manor, allowed her to be trained by Miss Jarvis to be a maid.
Emily stood, herself a little nervous at this encounter.
“Well Annie I see, and I have been told by Miss Jarvis, that you have become a perfect maid at Buckshire manor just like I wanted for you. And now you are settled here, and taken into service at the manor. I am so pleased for you.”
Annie knew she should be thankful, Miss Jarvis and Mrs Hardwick had told her so, forced such a wicked concept into her befuddled and receptive mind.
“Yes Miss, thank you Miss.”
Emily smirked and Martha stood watching what had been Miss Annabella, now a competent and willing housemaid, offering deference, without compunction, to her accepted doppelganger.
Satisfied with the subterfuge, over the coming weeks Lady Hogarth had her daughter continue to grow into the persona of the spoiled Miss Annabella adopting all of her mannerisms until not only did she look like Annabella, walk and talk like Annabella, she was behaving like Annabella.
With still no date fixed for the Earls return, Lady Hogarth set about cementing her subterfuge inviting guests to Buckshire manor who had previously met and socialised with Miss Annabella. Close associates rather than close friends but all knew Annabella well. The visitors were not suspicious in any way and found the more polite Annabella a welcome change. Still surly and Arrogant yes, but somewhat tempered from their previous encounters. None of the guest paid any heed to the maid that busied herself about their needs, why would they?
Annie appeared happy fawning over the lady who had given her the opportunity to train to be a maid at Buckshire manor. Martha, for her part, feeling more comfortable with the whole situation. It was Annabella who wanted this in the first place, to become a maid, the Countess had condoned and encouraged it and now Lady Hogarth and her daughter had become complicit in the wicked conspiracy. Martha had no issue in addressing Lady Hogarth’s “Cuckoo in the nest” by its adopted name, Miss Annabella. Miss Emily becoming more comfortable and confident by the day, to be the replacement of Miss Annabella.
Such was Emily’s growing confidence, at the suggestion of her mother, she even travelled to London, to Annabella’s apartments, and spent time there. She told people there she had been ill, and her mind was still a little foggy which carried the day, no one being too alarmed by her still arrogant but less aggressive personality. A benefit of her illness most presumed. Emily had used Annabella’s accounts at the stores without issue and returned to Buckshire Manor loaded with goods that her own family could ill afford, but she was the Earls daughter now, and money was no object. Perversely even her lavish spending was still well below what Annabella would normally have squandered.
In the wilds of the Swiss Alps Constance sat be her husband’s bed, the Earl drifting in and out of consciousness. Still very weak although the last few days had seen some improvement and the doctors were hopeful that his progress would continue. The planned three month stay at the chateaux had now been extended by two months and the winter weather would soon be upon them. Travel would then be impossible even with the Earl retuned to good health. The prospect of waiting until Spring, to make the return journey to Buckshire manor would be intolerable for the Countess, Lord Edmund having already left for England some weeks previously. The Countess had no choice she would have to wait out the winter in the isolation of the chateaux, she could not desert the Earl and return alone.
Aware that Malcom’s sister Maud would have visited Buckshire manor, a stay agreed to nurse her brother when he returned, but with their return postponed, Constance had assumed that the busy body Lady Hogarth would have returned to her own home to await news of her brother not taken up residence at Buckshire manor like she had. With Annabella, a maid now in service to Miss Jarvis, confirmed by the letter she had received from her housekeeper, the week before her intended return, the Countess was confident her plans for Annabella, would not have been disturbed. Martha would have the good sense to have kept the new maid at Buckshire manor hidden whilst her sister in law turned her carriage around. The last thing Constance wanted was an unsupervised unveiling of maid Annie, especially to Lady Hogarth, she would be the last person she would want to become suspicious or aware of her plans for Annabella.
Things had become quite settled at Buckshire manor. Lady Hogarth continued to indulge her daughter who was becoming increasingly comfortable in Annabella’s skin. Strange but even Martha welcomed and accepted the normality of having a spoilt demanding young mistress back at Buckshire manor. Annie? She went about her duties like any good maid should doting on Miss Annabella.
News from Switzerland, however, was going to change this scene of domestic tranquillity.