by Jackie J
It was late afternoon when the carriage pulled into the grounds of Sandowns and having removed the pram with little Raymond inside Annabella smoothed down his blanket.
“I will not come inside Emily, I will go back to our cottage to see Raymond and tell him the news, I am sure it will be as much of a shock to him as it is to me, I still cannot believe it, me a lady?”
Emily forced a smile she felt relieved, cleansed in some strange way but would have to tell her mother what she had done and was not looking forward to that.
“Yes, yes of course Annabella, it’s all true, what I have told you, I will see you in the morning, wear that pretty dress again, not your uniform, you won’t be needing that again will you?”
Annabella stumbled from a halted curtsy, that was going to be a hard habit to break, she had curtsied to most others for as long has she had known.
“Sorry Emily, I don’t know how I am going to cope, I really don’t”
Both girls went their separate ways, Annabella back to her humble cottage and Emily inside the hall to face her mother.
Lady Hogarth hearing her daughter speaking with Mrs Scripts in the hallway put down the chronical she was reading and turned to face the door. She was pleased her daughter had returned from London having much to discuss with Emily concerning her preposterous intentions that she had written in her letter, her intention to emancipate maid Annie.
Emily entered the parlour rather sheepishly unsure how to explain to her mother what she had done.
“So, you have returned from London young lady, have you been to Buckshire or did you come straight here?”
Emily took a sip of her sherry.
“I came here, I hate it at Buckshire manor, you know I do, anyway that’s over now.”
Maud looked at her daughter questioningly
“Over, over, what do you mean, not that nonsense you wrote in your letter, about Annie?”
Emily gulped down her sherry.
“You might want one of these yourself mother, I have done it, what I said I would in the letter, I have told Annie, Annabella, everything. I met with her this afternoon.”
The colour drained from Maud’s face her anger unsuppressed.
“WHAT, WHAT you stupid girl, without speaking to me first, what have you done, we will be ruined?”
Emily told her mother how she had met with Annabella and told her everything. Maud sat grim faced listening to her daughter.
“Annabella knew nothing of her past life before entering service at Sandowns. Some strange dreams but that was all. Annabella had shown no anger or animosity towards me. She had no recollection of her father or indeed her stepmother the countess. It was as if I was telling her about some other person not her. No matter how hard I tried to prompt her memory, even with things we did when we were children, she could recall nothing. That drug induced coma you put her in stole everything from her. I told her that it was herself who wanted to be a maid, showed her the document she had signed for her housekeeper. How you had helped her live out her fantasy, for me to take over her life, everything was done to protect the Buckshire wealth. After recovering from her illness, I explained how her mind closed to her past and, knowing she would be safe at Sandown’s, you kept her for your maid given that is what she wanted. She even said that she wished I had not told her, that she was happy as she was, but must think of her son.
Maud poured herself a drink and refilled Emily’s glass.
“Well Emily that is Interesting, very interesting so all Annie knows about her past life is what you have told her, and she believed you. Well I hope you are pleased with yourself, when she considers what you have told her, when she comes to her senses, which I am sure she will, realises what we have done to her, with her, I doubt she will be as understanding as you seem to think.”
Annie made her way slowly back to her cottage, her mind wrestling with what Miss Annabella, Emily, her cousin, had told her, it was beyond comprehension. Try as she might she could remember nothing, nothing at all of being anyone other than who she was? Why had she been told this now, for almost three years she had been kept a maid at Sandowns? She had seen the evidence, she had asked to be a maid, turned her back on her wealth, Emily taking her place to be the Miss Annabella that she had been? Emily had been contrite and sincere telling her that her Aunt agreed to be her Mistress, it is what she wanted. The illness she remembered her illness, well recovering from it, but before that, nothing of what Emily had told her, just an empty void.
Back in her home Annie fed and settled her baby and waited for Raymond to return from his days work with Rodrick, what was she going to tell him, how was she going to tell him? She was not the maid he thought her to be but the heiress to a fortune, the Buckshire manor fortune according to Emily? Changed into her more normal clothes she prepared the nights meal and sat by the fireside waiting for the men’s return.
There was an obvious nervousness about Annie sat eating her food and with the table cleared the reason for her unease became clear. Raymond and Rodrick stared in silence at what they had been told. Annie had never withheld anything and there was no doubting what she had struggled to tell them, as how implausible it was. Annie the girl Raymond loved was not the maid he knew her to be but hidden within was Miss Annabella Montgomery the heiress to Buckshire manor. Annie was in tears fearful of Raymond’s reaction, but she need not have worried his arms were soon wrapped around her in a loving embrace.
“Annie you poor thing how could they have done this to you, such wickedness, to have you for a maid all this time knowing who you really were, surely they should have helped you not conspired to enslave you, steal your life.”
“But I am happy with my life, with you and baby Raymond, being a maid, it is all I know, how can I be a lady, how can I, how? I have tried to remember, the things Emily told me, but I can’t, I can’t. Why has Emily told me all this now, why?
Rodrick tossed some more logs onto the fire.
“Well she is obviously not as wicked as her Mother, that lady Hogarth she as a lot to answer for, that’s for sure and all done because it’s what you wanted, they say. They took advantage of you girl, stole your inheritance, mark my words that is what this was about. Now this girl who took your life, masquerading as you, has developed a conscience, can’t live with herself, that’s what she told you isn’t it, wants to atone for what she has done.
Rodrick sat back at the table and took hold of Annie’s hands looking into her worried teary eyes.
“So, what are you going to do about this, like you say you must think of young Raymond, is he to be a woodsman or an Earl?”
Annie clung to Raymond.
“I don’t know, I just don’t know, Emily wants me to meet her tomorrow.”
Raymond gently eased Annie for his embrace and stood by the fire.
“Emily, Miss Annabella, the times she has been here, like butter would not melt in her mouth, well I know what I would do with her, when you are to be restored to your rightful position, like you should be. Yes, she will atone alright that’s for sure.”
Rodrick could she how troubled Annie was.
“Look, it’s getting late, we have the overgrown copse to trim out tomorrow, why don’t you two get to bed and sleep on it, it will all seem clearer in the morning.
There was little sleep once into bed, Annie and Raymond spoke into the small hours. Raymond did not agree with some of the things Annie proposed and neither did Annie agree entirely with Raymond’s suggestion’s, but they eventually found a consensus on what they should do, and an agreement was reached. One thing they both agreed on from the outset. They were very much in love and whatever happened, it could and would never change that.
Morning came and Annie was up and about with her usual routines. Little Raymond washed, dressed, fed, and laid in his pram. Breakfast on the table and when breakfast was finished, and the plates cleared, Rodrick and Raymond were both ready for their days work. Raymond smiled at Annie.
“You are sure you don’t want me to come with you, I will, give those two a piece of my mind.”
Annie walked to Raymond and kissed his cheek.
“No, like we agreed I will go alone, I will see you at supper.”
Annie was not wearing the new dress she had worn the previous day like Emily had suggested and chuckled tying the tapes of a clean apron around her before slipping on her cap. Would this be the last time she would wear this uniform, she pondered.
It was a few minutes before six and Annie made her way into the kitchens of the manor to help prepare breakfast for Lady Hogarth just like she had done for as long as she could remember.
Mrs Scripts, oblivious to who her maid actually was, fussed with the trays noting that her maid was somewhat distracted.
“No butter knife Annie? Come one shape yourself, get that tray set Mistress will be waiting with Miss Annabella.”
Annie curtsied and smiled.
“Sorry Mrs Scripts, on my way.”
Maud was still seething for what Emily had done and was not looking forward to having all her scheming and connivance unravelled. The victim of her plotting would be coming to meet with Maud and Emily later in the morning and she was dreading what would follow from that.
When Annie appeared in the doorway wearing her pristine uniform, breakfast tray in hand and laying her respectful curtsy Maud and Emily looked on with surprised expressions.
Annie laid the breakfasts in front of lady Hogarth and Emily in her normal fashion. Toast, butter and preserve placed between them Annie pouring tea for both.
Emily looked quizzically at Annabella, what was she doing, why was she here, and dressed in her uniform? Why is she not wearing that lovely dress that she wore yesterday after all she had told her about who she really was?
Having served the breakfasts Annie stood back.
“Aunt Maud, Emily, I have considered all that was told to me yesterday, what you have done with me these past years. Enjoy your breakfasts and we should meet in the parlour when you have finished. Ring the servants call bell when are ready.”
Looking directly at Emily Annabella smiled and curtsied
“Until later then.”
Maud and Emily watched their maid turn and stride out of the dining room before turning to each other. Maud picked up her tea and took a sip
“Well, what do you make of that Emily? Perhaps I am to keep my maid after all.”
Emily could not understand, she had told her cousin to dress like she had for the meeting yesterday and definitely not still wearing her uniform, and serving breakfast and the curtsy?
“I don’t understand mother I really don’t. No doubt we will know more when we speak with her later?”
It was Gwen who returned to clear table and, having retired to the parlour Emily rang the servants call bell and Emily and her mother waited for Annabella to join them. They did not have to wait long Annabella entered the parlour still dressed in her uniform and stood by the doorway but there was no curtsy.
There was tension and Emily could see her cousin was nervous and stood from her chair.
“Annabella come in won’t you, take a seat here next to me.”
Annabella took her seat and fussed with her apron. She had rehearsed what she was going to say, what she had agreed with Raymond and turned to Maud.
“Well Auntie Maud, this is the strangest of situations, Emily told me everything yesterday and I am still finding it hard to believe, I really am, and like I told Emily, I can remember nothing of what I was told, hard as I try I cannot. I only know of being here at Sandowns being your maid. Buckshire manor, my father, my stepmother the life I once had I recall nothing, it is a blank.”
Maud smiled at this confession.
“Indeed, well this is what you wanted Annabella, what I provided for you, the position of a maid in my household. It has not been easy for me always knowing who you really are or should I say were. It was never meant to last, you were to tell me when you wished to leave, but you never did. You became ill and when you recovered you had suffered total amnesia. I am sorry to admit but you had become an excellent maid and, well, I got used to your service. With Emily having taken your place and you being content here at Sandowns, selfish I know but, why shouldn’t things continue and they have, that is until Emily decided you should be told, who you are, who you were.”
Annabelle listened to her Aunt, much the same as what Emily had told her.
“Indeed, and the inheritance Emily told me about, no doubt that was another reason to keep me for your maid.”
Maud looked indignant and continued to paint herself to be Annabella’s saviour rather than her enslaver.
“Inheritance let me tell you, that wicked stepmother of yours was the one chasing your inheritance. She was the one who had her housekeeper demean you, turn your, what some may have considered a harmless fantasy, into something very, very real. You will know from what Emily told you, your father was my brother, I was not going to let that gold -digging witch steal the family’s wealth and have you for her maid. When I found you in the clutches of the housekeeper and an ex maid and discovered what they had done to you, I wanted to put an end to the nonsense but you begged me to continue being a maid, my maid, for me to be your Mistress. That I should be custodian of your inheritance, which I have done. Yes, I have used my brother’s wealth and why not, I have taken care of you have I not, given you much more than a common maid would expect.”
Annabella was feeling the repressed anger she had within her dissipating. Her Aunt, like Emily had told her, had only sought to protect her from others, especially her stepmother, this Countess, who according to Emily had already paid a price for her planned treachery, but in truth, it would seem protecting Miss Annabella from herself.
Annabella glanced at Emily then back to Maud.
“But what about my father, who I have no recollection of, when he was dying when he died, why did you not tell me I should have known.”
Maud looked concerned but knowing Annabella would have no grasp of the chronology of events spoke again with a degree of indignation.
“Really, so soon after your illness with no memory of your father? expose Emily to be an imposter, let that grabbing, adulterous Countess take everything? What do you think she would have done with you then? Would you have been looked after, like you have been here at Sandowns?”
Annabella had been told everything by Emily the previous day, but the way her Aunt spoke, Annabella was realising, but for her Aunt and Emily, things could have been much worse for her.
“Aunt, whilst I did not think this before, when Emily confessed what you had done with me, from how you have now explained, I can only except you were initially acting in Miss Annabella’s best interests although I still suspect also in your own. However, but for Emily’s conscience, you would have continued this deceit, your own words just now, not the act of a concerned aunt that you seek to portray is it? This would be seen by most to be embezzlement on a grand scale.
Emily had remained silent up to this point but sat forward in her chair.
“Annabella, what is done is done, my mother and I have told you everything that happened we must look to the future, your future.”
“My future, I am a maid it is all I know all I have ever known. Like I have said I have no recollection of being anything other than who I am. You tell me I was a lady, that I looked like you, dressed like you, spoke like you Emily, but choose to be a common maid and had a housekeeper and maid train me to be such. Accepted for you to take my place and my name and knowingly and willingly signed myself into the service of this household, the household of my aunt. So yes Emily, the future, what future awaits this maid?”
“I could remain a maid here at Sandowns, but knowing now what I do, that will be impossible, I am sure you agree. Seek retribution perhaps through the courts but what a tale that would be. No, there is another way for you Emily and you Aunt Maud to deliver my emancipation, let me explain how things will be.”