It Started With An Apron
by Monica Graz
When Betty brought in the coffee and biscuits she noticed that Jennifer
had lit up a cigarette, but Anita had not, so she surmised that she herself
would not be allowed to smoke whilst drinking her coffee with them and she
wasn't. But she did ask the big question in her mind, "Does all this mean
Ma'am that to us Bob Burns is no more?" "Yes, that is absolutely right,"
replied Anita and continued, "All his affairs will be transferred to my name
and I will cancel his driving licence and credit cards and anything of that
nature we find; and tomorrow the only job you will have to do, under Miss
Armstrong's supervision, apart from the regular chores, will be to sort out
all his personal items such as records, photographs, diaries and books and
certificates of any qualification for any kind of employment. His Medical
Card and National Health System number will be needed for notification of
his change of name, but everything else must go, anything saleable to be
sold and the rest to be destroyed."
Suddenly panic hit Betty. She was about to lose completely Bob's identity. She wouldn't be able to prove in the future who Bob was and what he accomplished so far. She addressed Anita in a voice sounded slightly hysterical and more feminine than ever, "But Ma'am, could you possibly keep Bob's records and certificates for possible future reference, what if you require to produce some legal documents on Bob' behalf. Should you consult with a lawyer before you destroy legal documents?"
Anita looked at Betty slightly perplexed. Betty had a point here, legally Anita was married to R.J.Burns and that couldn't change at once. Legal steps were required. She had to act in a cautious way. She decided quickly on that matter. "Yes Betty, I agree with you, we will not destroy any legal documents concerning Bob's past, I will keep them somewhere safely. When you sort those documents out tomorrow, Miss Armstrong will keep them and pass them on to me."
By that stage Betty was desperately tired, but also trying to come to grips with the realisation that she has being methodically separated from everything that Bob possessed, first every stitch of clothing, then the personal belongings, then his money and bank accounts and to be completed tomorrow his other goods, books, qualifications etc and finally as all her abilities, as Betty, were concentrated on her situation as a maidservant, even his knowledge and interests. But she realised once more that it was herself who had asked for the surname to be replaced by her mother's maiden name and still wanted it to be legal as soon as possible.
However a new and dreadful fear came to her after Jennifer's explanation on the important clauses in the contract which she had accepted without any reservation. She turned appealingly to Anita and asked, "You wouldn't send me away to be a maidservant to a strange lady, would you Ma'am?"
"I don't think so," was Anita's reply. "As I have told you already, I am now making great progress in my business and if I continue in the way I am going it is quite likely that I will be expected to go abroad in about a year's time for at least a year or perhaps longer. I don't think I could take you with me. So I may have to find another Mistress for you."
She looked at Jennifer as she said that and Jennifer picked her train of thought because she said, "Don't worry Betty, you might find that you have been assigned to me. That would be a big wrench, would it?" Betty didn't know how to answer that and was not conforted when Jennifer went on, "And remember that if you turn out to be the super excellent maid we expect you to be and go out for occasional work in other housed, there may well be some ladies who would like so much to have you that they would be prepared to buy the contract." "Thank you Miss Jennifer," said Betty, "but I do hope I will not find myself assigned to a strange lady."
Jennifer ignored Betty's last remark as she turned to Anita, "I'll be coming tomorrow dear, as arranged, good night for now." Betty collected all the coffee things and started washing up in order to leave the kitchen tidy for the morning. Anita came in and said in a rather sweet voice, "Good night Betty, get to bed and sleep well. You needn't worry about what is happening to you. We are only fixing you firmly in a situation you desire. Once you also realise you cannot have that and have Bob as well, you will become more content. You are happy already in the work given to you. And you have many delightful things to learn yet. For example we cannot let you go out maiding in other houses until you are able to look after babies, as far as may be expected of a general housemaid. To learn that you may have to attend classes for would be mothers!"
Betty was too tired to open a new conversation, but this proposal excited her again in that sinister way, the way that made her stomach flicker. Her excitement increased when Anita gave her a kiss in the mouth and then left as quickly as she appeared. All that she could say was, "Thank you Ma'am, good night Ma'am." Tired as she was when she went upstairs, she cleansed her face with cold cream, took off her pretty maid's dress and hung it up carefully. Then after a quick rinse in the bathroom she finished undressing, slipped on her nightie, set the alarm and eased herself into bed. For a moment she wondered what Anita might be feeling now but did not dare to go to that door, now closed to her and was asleep before many minutes have passed. The second time the alarm called her at 6.30 in the morning it seemed more demanding than the previous morning, but she slid out of bed immediately, rousing herself as she began to move around, to such a good effect that she was nearly five minutes ahead of time when she took Anita's tea to her. When she was preparing the tea in the kitchen she realized that it was Wednesday, her second day of work as a full time maid and only four days from that Saturday morning that Anita and Jennifer started Bob's transformation!
As soon as she offered the tea to Anita she prepared the clothes the latter had chosen for the day. As she was carefully laying them ready Anita asked her to come and kneel beside the bed, close her eyes, put her hands behind her back and bend her head. She did as she was told and Anita then slipped something over her head. "There, you can look now," she said and Betty saw that it was a gold locket and chain. "As I told you last night," she went on, "everything belonging to Bob must go out of this house today, but I am going to keep that photo on the dressing table as a keepsake. That locket and chain I have just put on you contains a photo of him which I put into it and you may wear as your keepsake of him."
Betty opened the locket, looked at the photo for a while, closed it again and fingered it at her chest. It seemed that she was more interested in the locket and chain than in the photo, but she had no idea then how many times in the future she would look at the photo again and wonder if Bob's life had really been as carefree as it seemed in retrospect.
"Thank you very much Ma'am," she said.
"Good," said Anita, and then rather sharply, as if to counter any suggestion of softness, "you can get off your knees now and get my bath running! I shall be taking a lot of time out of business today on my own affairs, so I must not be late, so hurry!"
Betty did hurry and besides seeing to Anita's needs in the bathroom she helped her dress this morning and still had her breakfast ready five minutes early.
Before she went out, Anita told Betty to get on with the items on the daily chores list as soon as she had her breakfast and washed up, because Miss Jennifer would be in to see to the removal of Bob's things. So it was not long before Betty was busy again, cleaning down in the kitchen, tidying the living room etc., and then going upstairs to clear up the bathroom and tidy Anita's room.
She was nearly finished when Jennifer arrived, so as she let her in she asked if she could have another ten minutes to finish the daily chores list.
"Of course," replied Jennifer, "while you finish up there I will look at what you have done downstairs and then I will come to see the rest of your work."
She made a thorough inspection of the kitchen and other downstairs rooms and was surprised by the competence Betty had already developed. She was a natural on housework, someone who regardless of sex should have been a servant! She joined Betty in Anita's room and she was about to praise her about the work, when she noticed the locket and chain on Betty. "Have you had permission to wear that?" she asked rather sharply. "Yes Miss Jennifer," Betty answered meekly, Mistress put it on me this morning" and went on to explain how and why Anita had given it to her. She showed Jennifer the photo in the locket and pointed to the photo on the dressing table, Anita was keeping for herself. Jennifer did not look pleased and said, "Well, no doubt she had a good reason." She looked around the room and asked Betty if she knew of anything else of Bob's in there.
Betty said she didn't know because she was not allowed in the room at all other than in the course of her maid's duties. "All right, now show me your room then," she said, closing the door behind her as she followed Betty out.
"This only needs a quick dust over now" Betty said, "I make it tidy every morning as soon as I am dressed."
As Betty dusted, Jennifer looked into the cupboard and drawers and checked that all the cases were empty. She noticed how carefully Betty had smoothed out and hung her dresses and how few clothes she had been given so far.
Then she suddenly exclaimed, "Good Heavens! You can't keep these! Of all things!" Her eyes were on Bob's hairbrush, comb, toothbrush and shaving gear. Betty's eyes were wide too, but she didn't know what to say. After a little pause Jennifer said, "I can find you a lady's razor. You will find it light after that old thing, but you will have to make the best of it. I can also find a toothbrush and comb, but unless the Mistress can turn out an old one for you, you will have to wait for a hairbrush."
She then looked around the room again and said to Betty, "Have you anything else of Bob's in here?"
Hesitantly Betty started to bend down, but stopped when Jennifer called out, "Not that way!" and went on, "If you want to pull something out from under the bed, lower your body as you would to curtsey and go on lowering, until you are sitting on your heels if necessary. Remember it is not ladylike to bend from your hips!"
Betty tried again, got it right this time and shyly drew out from under the bed a small cardboard carton. "I have only a few old things in here," she said quietly. "Nothing of any value, but it would hurt me very much to have to part with them."
Jennifer looked at the contents. An old teddy bear, well cuddled it seemed and about a dozen photos.
"Who are the people in the photos?" she asked.
"Only family and children friends," Betty replied. "Well, you know what Mistress said last night, don't you? Everything must go, anything saleable to be sold and the rest destroyed. However, if there is a photo of your mother in amongst them, Mistress might like to keep it."
"There are two photos of my mother there," Betty said, picking them out and showing them to Jennifer.
"Good!" said Jennifer, as she studied them. "I think the Mistress would like to keep this one and I would like to keep the other, but the rest must go!"
She then called for two cartons, one for the items to be sold and the other for the items to be destroyed. Bob's shaving gear etc went in with the items to be destroyed. Before leaving Betty's room, Jennifer looked around again and then said softly, "It's absolutely amazing! To see what you have done in here and to think how there must be so many housewives with years of experience, who could miss several of the things you have done this morning!" and then in a stricter tone, "Well, we must get on."
They went into the guest bedroom. Betty had tidied it and dusted it the day before and it was still tidy. Jennifer asked if the cupboards and drawers were empty and Betty told her that only the top drawer of the dressing table and the wardrobe hanging space were kept clear for visitors. Most of the remaining space was taken up with Bob's more valuable possessions, including some electronic gear, photographic equipment, a microscope, drawing instruments, some drawings, technical reference books and data tables. Since Bob was made redundant he had kept himself up to date on all new information published about his work and had spent many hours in this room doing so. But Betty's delight in being accepted in a feminine role overcame any doubts she might have had about abandoning Bob's equipment. All of it was brought out and sorted into cartons. She took the cartons downstairs into the hall. There Jennifer paused and said to Betty, "I have put a razor and some other things in your room for you whilst you were fetching the cartons. Amongst them you will find some eyebrow tweezers. Before every shave look carefully to see if you can find any hair long enough to grip and when you do, pull them out. As you shave leave a little patch, so that a few days later you will find some to pull and then start another little patch alongside the first and so on. Also after every shave, look carefully at your eyebrows and pull out the three strongest over each eye. You will find that taking so few will not hurt and in a year or even sooner, you will have only a few to pluck each day to keep your eyebrows soft and tidy." She didn't bother to explain where the razor and other things had come from.
By now, Betty was in need of a break, so she was relieved when Jennifer said, "I would like a cup of tea now Betty and as I am working with you this morning I'll have it in the kitchen with you. Put the kettle on and fetch out some biscuits please. I hope it will give us enough energy to finish the clearing out."
Jennifer had a cigarette with her tea and biscuits, but did not offer one to Betty. This was just as well however, for had she done so, Betty would have had to refuse because to have accepted it would have been contrary to Anita's instructions.
They looked around the kitchen to see if there was anything there of Bob's and found some small tools, screwdrivers, pliers etc. Jennifer said she could use them herself and found a small box for them. Next, they went out to the Garage. Betty was very nervous about that because she was abandoning the safety of the house dressed as a maid for the first time. But Jennifer made it clear that she shouldn't worry about that. They found in the garage some heavy tools, including spade and fork, shovel, crow-bar, bow saw and big hammer. They took these directly to Jennifer's car and loaded them into the boot. One of the neighbours watched them and then said, "Mr. Burns has gone away I believe. Could it be that those tools are not needed here any more?" Betty, thankful that it was not her appearance which had prompted the enquiry, but still very anxious, went quietly back into the garage and on onto the house playing nervously with the edge of her apron. Jennifer started talking with the neighbour. Not long after she came in as well, saying that the gentleman had come round, looked at the tools and made an offer for the lot, which she thought was too good to refuse. So they had been sold and taken away by the purchaser. She put the money in her purse without saying how much. All they found in the dining room was an unframed photo of Bob and colleagues at his firm's last annual dinner, which went for destruction, of course. Finally they came to the living room, where they knew Bob had kept all his private papers. They were in a built-in furniture unit comprising a bureau, a bookcase and several drawers. Jennifer put aside for Anita all the legal documents. She also put aside some personal letters in case Anita would like to see them. In the bookcase were many books relating to his work and some to his hobbies, a few of them very expensive. All of them were put with the items to be sold. On a last look around, in case anything had been missed, Jennifer found his umbrella in the hall. After a little thought, that too went with the items to be sold. Then they packed all these things in Jennifer's car, as she had agreed to sell them for Anita. Back in the house after that they looked at the items for destruction. A few of them went into the dust bin. the rest were all combustible, so Jennifer said to Betty, "Stir up the fire in the boiler Betty, while I bring all these things into the kitchen, then, as I hand them to you, put them in the fire and see that they burn." This took quite some time and at one stage Betty had to riddle the fire again. But eventually all had gone. Jennifer had watched Betty's face as she had handled the pieces to her and the only time she saw real distress on it was when the little teddy bear was burnt. She thought about that but said nothing at the time.
Jennifer drove off and Betty wandered around the house, rather confused, thinking how difficult it would be now to find anything to indicate that Bob had ever been there. She felt vulnerable and more than ever dependant on Anita. She realized, not without some bizarre satisfaction, that her life from now on was going to be the life of a female servant and that was becoming rapidly an irreversible fact! But soon she put those thoughts aside; she had to prepare herself for the evening. She made another pot of tea and had a very late tea and sandwiches lunch. She went up to her tiny room for that longed for cigarette with a much needed rest. She took off her dress and prepared to shave. On finding the things Jennifer had put out for her she remembered her advice on the purpose of the tweezers. As she expected, she could not find one facial hair long enough to see, but left a little unshaven patch under her chin. The eyebrow hairs came out without hurt, but she thought that it would take a long time at that rate before she would have only soft hairs in her brows. The lady's razor was very light but quite easy to use.
As soon as she had changed into her pretty afternoon black frock and white frilly apron Betty hurried down, removed her white apron and put on her large red cooking apron and started to prepare the evening meal. She knew Jennifer was coming in for dinner as well as Anita, so the amounts to be made ready were enough for three. Anita had planned that the meal should not take long to prepare, so she had chosen a packet soup, tinned ham with tinned potato, salad and beans, fresh lettuce and tomatoes and a fruit and cream sweet. So, although she started dinner much later she was ready in time and had only to set the table when Anita came in.
As she was settled comfortably in her chair, glass in hand, Betty gave her the morning mail, which this day consisted of just three letters addressed to Mr. R.J.Burns.
"Thank you Betty" said Anita as she took them. She opened them, read them over quickly and then put them aside saying, "I will deal with these later."
Betty had recognised one of the envelopes as a personal letter from Bob's closest friend and had wondered if Anita would discuss it with her, but by now, of course, Anita made all her decisions on Bob's affairs without thought even of telling Betty. Anita had then wanted to know how Jennifer and Betty had done as regards disposal of Bob's things. "Are they all gone?" she asked. "Yes Ma'am," answered Betty, "They all gone, except two photos of my mother. Miss Jennifer thought you might like to keep one of them and she would like to keep the other herself."
Jennifer arrived back shortly after, gave Anita the photo which had been saved for her, showed her the other one and confirmed that she would like to keep it herself. She then gave Anita all the legal documents and the letters she had also held back, saying,, "I held these back in case there is anything in them you ought to see before throwing them away." Putting these aside also, with a rubber band around them, Anita asked, "Have all of Bob's things gone, excluding of course the legal papers you just have given me."
"Yes", answered Jennifer, "everything to be sold has gone from here. In fact the tools in the garage have already been sold, a few items went to the dustbin and the rest were fed by Betty into the boiler in the kitchen and we watched them burned."
"Did this upset you?" Anita asked Betty.
"I wasn't very upset Ma'am," Betty replied. "I had already accepted that on becoming just a maidservant I would have to give up everything of Bob's. But I was very upset watching the little teddy bear burn." Anita didn't comment on that but turned to Jennifer and said, "I have spent most of my day in personal affairs instead of on boutique business. I have been to the bank, to the building society, to the insurance office and kept the appointment made for me to see your solicitor friend's boss Mr. Arkwright, this afternoon. He is prepared to see Betty at the same time, 3.30 tomorrow." She stopped briefly to have a sip of a drink and continued, "Can we find suitable clothing for her and could you be kind enough to escort her to the office?" she asked turning to Jennifer.
"Of course, I will be delighted," replied Jennifer. "She can wear the blue dress you gave her. She must convince Mr. Arkwright that the changeover is genuine of course, so she must look like a proper domestic, which she is now, not a lady of fashion. I'll see if I can find some plain shoes for her and a lightweight coat, not too fashionable, to wear over that dress."
Anita then turned to Betty and said, "You have already guessed of course, that this is to do with your desire to take the name 'Elisabeth Martin'. It's a much more involved procedure than I thought, but I think that after tomorrow you will have given up the name 'Robert John Burns'."
Then, maintaining a matter of fact tone, to steady Betty's nerves, she asked her to serve the dinner.
It took Betty only a few minutes to lay the table, then replacing her red cooking apron with her pretty white serving one; she waited on them whilst they ate. They had their coffee in the dining room, instead of the living room, so they could concentrate on their discussion of Anita's money matters, making use of Jennifer's accountancy experience. When she had served their coffee, Betty went back to the kitchen, put her red apron on again, this time on top of her serving one, to have her dinner and wash up. That done, she knocked on the dining room door and asked Anita if there was anything else to do now. "No, thank you Betty," said Anita, "but I suggest you go into the hall, pick up a Mills and Boon romance I have put on the shelf there for you, take it up to your room and try to relax with it." And she continued in a matter of fact tone again, "Bob would have had no time at all for such fiction, he probably would have founded it silly also, but for Betty the maid should be prime reading!" So Betty obediently took the book upstairs and started reading it. As she was reading the desire for a cigarette came over her so strongly that she toyed with the idea of going back down to Anita to ask if she could bring forward tomorrow's smoke. But she was certain that Anita would refuse, so she put it out of her mind. Suddenly she realized that it was nearly ten o'clock. She ran down the stairs, smoothing out her frock and tying back her white apron. She paused in front of the dining room door to regain her breath and knocked. Anita called, "Come in Betty, you have chosen exactly the right time to come. We are just finishing. Bring in some more coffee for us, will you, and put out the biscuits please. You can take out these used cups as you go."
When she had served the coffee, Jennifer kicked off her shoes and said to her, "Try these for size, Betty."
"Yes, now please!" Jennifer spoke rather sharply this time, so Betty took off her own shoes in front of them, bending down as modestly as she could to undo the straps, and slipped on Jennifer's. "They seem a little long for me," she said, "But I could wear them." "Good," replied Jennifer, and went on, "I have a coat and some shoes which have seen better days, but are quite respectable. I will bring them over for you to wear at your interview with the Solicitor tomorrow."
"I am scared," said Betty, "do I have to go?"
Anita spoke up then. "No, you certainly don't have to go! But Mr. Arkwright is willing to help you change your name if he is satisfied that you really want to do that. Do you?"
Betty paused a little and then said, "Yes Ma'am, I am not so much frightened of the Solicitor as of going to any appointment as a maid." She then turned to Jennifer and with a sudden determination in her voice she said, "I am very grateful that you are so kind and willing to help me Miss Jennifer, and I will do my best tomorrow." "Good girl!" Jennifer said and continued, "It's settled then; I'll take you and present you to Mr. Arkwright at 3.30p.m!" She started preparing to go to the door, saying she would be in soon after lunch to help Betty get ready.
Anita went with her to the door while Betty cleared away the coffee things. She came to the kitchen the moment Betty was washing up the few remaining cups and saucers. She watched her for a moment and then said in a surprisingly soft tone, "You must wonder why I am so formal with you the last few days. I think I owe you an explanation. You decided on your own free will to abandon your male role and to become a female servant. You have accepted very eagerly that role, something that suits me also, because I have great prospects at my work and I love to have a maid waiting on me at all times! In fact I was very excited when I came in before watching you washing up with your black frock and the white apron so neatly tied with the straps crossing in the back, the picture of domesticity."
She paused, and lighted a cigarette then she continued, "But I don't want you to see it as a game, it is the real thing and you must learn to act and think exactly as any female servant. It seems that you have a knack for it and you catch very fast, but we decided with Jennifer to make things as real as possible for you. There is not going to be unnecessary cruelty but we both are going to be firm and strict and teach you everything that we consider as duties of a general housemaid."
She paused again and looked at Betty whose face was getting red from embarrassment. "After a few weeks and when I am convinced that you really feel your new role to the bone, with no traces left of Bob, I might call you to my bed occasionally at night, but don't ever dream that you can take any initiative of any kind!" And she concluded in a firmer tone of voice, "You are the maid now and the maid you will be in the future and it is totally to my discretion to use you the way I see fit!"
Then she dismissed her in an indifferent tone of voice. "You can go to bed now, good night."
Betty went upstairs with mixed feelings. But she felt that Anita was fair to her and the option of going back to her bed, even on Anita's terms was very promising. As she entered her room another surprise awaited her. When she was undressed and took out her nightie, there, tucked in the folds of it was an old rag doll, about the same size as Bob's teddy bear. She was wearing a sewn on dress or nightie, not new but, like the doll herself, clean and tidy. Attached to the garment was a little streamer of ribbon on which Betty could just read the name 'Emily'.
"Oh, Emily!" she said. "I could love you though you are not my little Teddy."
A few minutes later Betty went to sleep holding Emily gently. As she was drifting away she remembered that next Wednesday 21 of September, that is a week from today, she would celebrate her first birthday as Elisabeth Martin, she was going to be 39 years old! Would Anita remember it?
The following morning, when Betty made her bed, Emily was tucked in the folds of her nightie exactly as she had been the night before. Apart from that Betty's routine was as had been laid down by Anita and enabled her to be up and ready for business, breakfasted and out in good time, without any kind of hassle.
As before, Betty was very proud of her Mistress as she watched her drive off to business. As before, Betty had her own breakfast and carried out the work of the daily chores, but there was something 'different'. Her stomach 'fluttered' every time she thought about her appointment at the solicitor's office. It would be her first venture in public in her feminine role and her first appointment with anyone as 'Elisabeth Martin'.
Nevertheless, she had finished the daily chores, prepared some vegetables and had her own lunch by half past one. She went to her room, took off her light blue maid's frock, lit that cigarette, her stock of them now going down, and while she smoked she wondered how she would manage without them when they were all gone. But if she had none and could not get any she would have no choice but to go without, she thought philosophically.
Then she started getting ready and was in the bathroom when the door bell rang. Probably it was Miss Jennifer, but she couldn't answer the door in her undies anyway, so she dashed back in her room, slipped on her blue frock again and ran downstairs doing up her buttons as she went.
It was Jennifer, who said very sharply, "What's the matter with you girl? You are not tidy. Why don't you have your apron on?"
Betty explained and Jennifer made a mental note that a house gown of some sort would have to be provided for her.
She then said to Betty, "I have come in good time to see that you are sensibly dressed and all prepared for your interview with Mr. Arkwright."
She followed Betty back upstairs to the bathroom, saying, "First let me look at your hands" and examined them carefully, then she added, "Not bad, in fact considering that you are a domestic servant, not bad at all! But you have some hair on your wrists which you will have to take off with the razor now, but in future you must keep them clear with pumice stone."
After that she showed Betty how to file her nails in a neat curve, quite short and told her she would have to do without nail varnish today, but in time she would be allowed to use clear varnish. "No talons and no bright colours!" she said.
Then she proceeded to do a little trimming on Betty's eyebrows and to put on her make up, explaining as she went what she was doing and why, emphasizing that for an office appointment in the afternoon, the make up must be applied extremely lightly, so as to be unnoticeable, just enough to cover skin blemishes and make her face look soft and feminine. A bright lipstick could be used, but not applied thickly. Betty had only a few items of make up, so far, which had been given to her by Anita, but she hoped she would eventually have some of her own. Jennifer helped Betty get into the blue dress and since it had a neckline high at the front, brought out the gold locket to lay on it, where it looked very natural.
"Now, stand back and let me look at you" she said.
"Turn round, slowly..... yes, you'll do."
Before they went downstairs, however, Betty touched Jennifer's arm and said, "Oh! Miss Jennifer! It was you who put little Emily in my bed last night, wasn't it? It had hurt me a lot to watch little teddy bear burn and I still feel sad, but Emily made me realise that he had belonged to Bob, not to me, and I felt you had told her to come over and comfort me. Emily is tucked up in my nightie again now, waiting for me just as she waited last night."
She paused for a moment to catch her breath and continued, "I do hope you will let her stay with me for a while."
Jennifer answered gently "Yes, it was me, and yes she can stay with you for a while," and went on in a sharper tone, "I was sorry for you, but no more than I would have been for any other maid required to do as she was told, even if she didn't like it and don't ever assume that you are any more deserving than any other maid!"
Downstairs, Betty put on the light coat and shoes Jennifer had brought for her to wear. Then Jennifer produced a headscarf she had also brought and showed her how to tie it on. Then she looked Betty over again and said, "Now you look ordinary enough for people to take no notice of you. But there is another thing you must have. Do you know what that is?" Betty didn't know, so Jennifer went on, "Well, I know you don't have to worry about what to carry your money in, because you haven't got any, but what about your little personal things like powder and lipstick and hankie and don't forget it, your house door key?" Betty realised she needed a handbag, but could not think of anything which might do, but Jennifer laughed and said, "Never mind, I have a small handbag I can lend you. Bring your things out with you in a paper bag and I will stop at my house and bring it out for you." Betty's stomach fluttered again as she realised it was time to go. But Jennifer had some more instructions for her. She said, "Before you ride in a car in skirts you must learn how to get into it and how to get out of it again with modesty. The rule is that your legs must stay firmly together as you put them in and as you bring them out. Remember that!" And she continued more excited, "The drill is as follows, first open the door wide, do not try to creep through a small gap. Back yourself into the seat before you lift a foot off the ground, hold your skirt, if necessary, to prevent the wrinkling, then swing around with your legs together, lifting your feet enough to clear the door sill. Then close the door. To get out, go through the same drill in reverse." She finished the sentence and started walking towards the car, motioning to Betty to follow her.
"We will go to the car now and I will unlock the passenger door for you.
I want you to get in and out twice before you get in and close the door. Remember I shall be watching you carefully. It does not matter if anyone sees you. You might be looking for something accidentally dropped. Ready?"
With her stomach fluttering again, Betty replied, "Yes, thank you Miss Jennifer" and they went to the car, closing the house door behind them. Jennifer watched Betty go through the drill laid down for her quite successfully and when she had got in herself, commended her for her ladylike performance.
She drove to her own house first and collected the handbag she had promised to lend to Betty. Then, as she drove towards the town centre, she noticed Betty's tension rising as she was being carried to her destination. So she talked to her about facing people in the street. "First," she said, "you must remember you are going somewhere on some purpose of your own. Then remember that they, also are going somewhere on purpose of their own. They are not particularly interested in you. So don't call attention to yourself by acting strangely or showing concern that they might be taking notice of you. If a woman suddenly glares at you, don't jump to the conclusion that something about yourself has caused it, she is probably suddenly cross with herself about something. There is no harm in wondering yourself what that might have been! Or why that smart, military looking man over the road is limping, or why that lady walking towards you is wearing such a monstrosity of a hat!"
With that she turned into the parking space outside the Solicitor's office. Betty's stomach fluttered again and her heart beat faster! Jennifer was out of the car and locking her door before Betty was ready, of course, then she took Betty's elbow lightly to lead her into the office.
"Hello Jean," she said to the girl at the reception desk. "Is Mrs.
Howells, the Assistant Solicitor, about please?" "Yes, Miss Armstrong," the girl replied lifting her telephone. "I'll give her a ring for you."
In a few moments a pleasant round faced woman of about Jennifer's age appeared, saying, "Hello Jennifer, have you brought the new maid in to see Mr. Arkwright, the senior Solicitor and Commissioner for Oaths?" "Yes Madge," replied Jennifer, "this is Betty."
Then, turning to Betty, said, "Say hello to Mrs. Howells, Betty." Betty, felt like a child introduced to her teacher, but dutifully turned to Mrs. Howells and said in her soft, as feminine as possible voice, "Good afternoon, Ma'am."
"Hello, Betty! You needn't be shy with me," replied Mrs Howells, "I hear you are making an excellent maid!"
Then she went on, "I think Mr. Arkwright will be ready to see you now, so I'll take you in," and as she led Betty away, turned and said, "I'll be back in a moment Jennifer."
Betty found herself in a large room, well furnished, with a large desk, a tremendous bookcase full of books, and leather chairs. On being motioned to do so, she sat down gingerly in a chair facing the desk. As she did so, Mrs. Howells said, "This is Betty, as she is now called, Mr. Arkwright," and turned to Betty and said, "This is Mr. Arkwright." And with those words she went out of the room, closing the door softly behind her.
Betty sat nervously at the edge of the chair, wondering what would happen next. Then Mr. Arkwright looked up and said casually, "I saw your wife yesterday Mr. Burns!"
Betty was taken aback, speechless for a while, then replied, "I'm sorry Sir, I no longer think of myself as 'Mr. Burns', I am only Betty a maidservant and Mrs Burns is my Mistress!" "Be that as it may" went on Mr. Arkwright, in law you are Robert John Burns, husband of Mrs. Anita Burns, and you can't walk away from that!" "I cannot walk away from anything Sir. For reasons of my own, I have committed myself to the position of living in maidservant to Mrs. Burns and have to obey the orders she gives me. When I made that decision of giving up the rights and privileges of Bob and had to answer to the name of Betty, I asked if I could be given my mother's maiden name of Martin as a surname, and Mrs. Burns seemed pleased. Last night, when I was told this appointment had been made for me I was frightened and asked if I had to come. Mrs. Burns replied that I was certainly not required to come, but would have to do so, if I wanted your legal help for a change of name. Can you help me, Sir?"
Mr. Arkwright was silent for what seemed to Betty quite a long time. Then he said, "In your present circumstances the change of name you want cannot be made by Deed Poll. Such a Deed would not be acceptable for enrolment to Courts. But, if you intend to use only the name of Elisabeth Martin permanently, you can make what is called a Statutory Declaration to that effect, if you want to do so. Are you quite sure that you do?"
Without any hesitation Betty answered, "Yes Sir, I am." Mr. Arkwright then continued, "Before I could apply my services to your request, I had to be absolutely certain that it was made entirely of your own volition without any coercion and also that it was made with the consent of Mrs. Burns. Mrs. Burns not only gave me her consent yesterday, but also signed an affidavit to that effect. Furthermore she asked for this interview to be given to you, with my fees and any expenses to be charged to her account. As I am now satisfied on both those points, will proceed with the Statutory Declaration." He lifted his telephone and said, "Bring in the form of Statutory Declaration you have been preparing for Mrs. Burns file please." A few moments later he had the papers on the desk in front of him. He then said to Betty, "This is what you can sign, first, in the name you intend to use from now on, 'Elisabeth Martin' and then in what now becomes your former name 'Robert John Burns'." Betty started reading, 'Statutory Declaration of change of Name made this 15th day of September in the year 1983 by me, Elisabeth Martin of 31 Raleigh Gardens, High field, Essex. I do solemnly and sincerely declare that, 1. I absolutely and entirely renounce, relinquish and abandon the use of my former name of ROBERT JOHN BURNS and assume and adopt and determine to take and use the name of ELISABETH MARTIN in substitution for my name of Robert John Burns.
2. I shall at all times hereafter......(there followed several lines of legal phrases, ending with).... be called, known or distinguished not by the former name of Robert John Burns, but by the name of Elisabeth Martin only.
3. I authorize.......(legal terms)... and address me by the adopted name of Elisabeth Martin and I make this solemn declaration.....(legal terms)... the provisions of the Statutory Declarations act, 1835. When Mr. Arkwright was satisfied that Betty fully understood the commitment she was making to herself, he let her sign it, first in the new name and then in the former name, and then signed it himself as a witness.
After that, Mr. Arkwright relaxed his official manner and said, "Well Miss Martin, that's done then, are you happy now?" "Yes Sir, I am happy about it and I am grateful to you, Sir!" "But I must emphasise something to you Miss Martin" the Solicitor continued, "though you adopted a female name, in the eyes of Law you are still a male and also you are still married to Mrs. Burns. That we cannot change, but in the other hand nobody can stop you use legally the name you chose even if it is a feminine one."
Betty thought for a moment and then said, "I don't mind that Sir, for as long as Mrs. Burns is aware of that. And I would like to add that I am grateful for something else Sir. When you were questioning me you made me think again about what happened in my changeover, and I now believe it was not simply a weakness of character that caused my submission to this life of a maid, but a subconscious decision to exchange my freedom in return for my acceptance into a feminine role. This new understanding makes me feel better, because it encourages me to believe that at some time in the future perhaps I will achieve something worth while." Mr. Arkwright looked at Betty for the first time with a more genuine interest and said, "I must admit that your case is quite an experience for me and proves once more what I strongly believe, which is that human character has an immense depth and so many complexities that humans themselves are sometimes unable to understand and analyse." Then becoming again formal, he rose from his chair, showing that the interview was over and said, "Well, I wish you the best of luck with your new life Miss Martin. Good afternoon!"
"Good afternoon, Sir" replied Betty, then got up and walked to the door.
As she was opening it, Mrs. Howells came in.
"Oh!, so you have finished then?" she asked.
"Yes, thank you Ma'am" Betty replied politely, continuing her way out. But before she was out of earshot she overheard '....keep the original in the file... tell Mrs. Burns that Miss Martin has now legally renounced the name of Robert John Burns....'
Then she met Jennifer awaiting her. She instantly asked, "Have you finished here now?"
"Yes, thank you Miss Jennifer, And I am so glad that's over!" Betty replied.
"Good. Tell me all about it on the way home. We had better hurry now or Mistress will be in before the vegetables are cooked!" said Jennifer. She called out, "Goodbye Jean," to the girl at the desk as they walked back to the car. Jennifer unlocked it, saw that Betty remembered the advice she had been given, about getting in modestly, then drove away. The evening rush hour had started by now, so the journey home was slower than the journey into town. On the way Jennifer asked Betty about her interview with the Solicitor. Betty told her how Mr. Arkwright had questioned herself, had said that a Deed Poll would not be acceptable in the present circumstances, but had allowed her to sign a Statutory Declaration in which, in legal terms, she renounced the name of R.J.Burns and taken in its place permanently, the name of Elisabeth Martin and asked to be addressed always by that name. "And where is that Declaration now. Have you got it? asked Jennifer. "Oh, no Miss! The Solicitor will hold it in his 'Mrs. Burns' file" replied Betty.
Jennifer thought for a while and then said quietly, as if to herself, "So, Elisabeth Martin, that's who you are now and that's how you will stay, like it or not!"
With that, Jennifer pulled into the house drive and they were home again. As she drove in, Jennifer noticed the next door neighbour, the one who bought the tools, talking with a lady in her front garden. She said to Betty, "Give me your front door key and don't get out of the car, until I am at the front door. If they look straight at you as you get out, give them a little smile, but don't speak if you can help it." Then Jennifer got out, exchanged greetings with them, commenting on how the roads were getting busy and walked to the door. Betty got out of the car gracefully, giving the neighbours half a smile and followed Jennifer in through the door.
As soon as she was indoors Betty gave a big sigh of relief, took of her borrowed coat and headscarf, put on her large red apron and attended to the vegetables. The dinner menu, like that of the day before, had to be based on cold meat, because of the shortage of time for preparation. Nevertheless, with Jennifer's advice and some help, Betty was ready to lay the table and dish up by the time Anita arrived. Anita looked at her, saw she was wearing the blue dress under her apron and asked, "Did you keep the appointment then?" "Yes, Ma'am," Betty answered.
"How did it go?"
"All right, thank you Ma'am."
"Hmm... that doesn't tell me much!" said Anita and then went on, "What's your name now?"
"Elisabeth Martin, Ma'am," answered Betty.
"And what happened to the name of Robert John Burns?" Anita asked. "Renounced, relinquished and abandoned, Ma'am," answered Betty with a mischievous smile.
"Well, you must fully appreciate that you are only my maid now, and understand that from now on I shall treat you as just that and nothing more!" Anita said very firmly and then added, "And remember that my only obligations to you now, are those I have accepted in the contract of employment I gave you."
Betty, who had thought until then that she was the one who was giving out news that day, realised that Anita had totally demolished any ideas of self importance she might have had and had issued her final ruling on the conditions under which she, Betty, would have to work permanently. She managed to whisper, "Yes, Ma'am," as Anita was heading for the living room.
Jennifer silent and even a bit stunned from Anita's demonstration of absolute authority towards Betty, followed her and shut the door. Betty stood for a while, holding her hands together to stop their trembling, and then managed in a great effort to pull herself together. It took her another minute or two to remember what she had to do next, then prepared the drinks, usually taken at this time, by Anita and Jennifer and put them on a tray. Then she collected the day's mail and added that to the tray and took it to the living room door. It may have been only a fraction of a minute, but it seemed a long time between her knock and Jennifer's answering call to come in. As she did so she noticed that Anita had already kicked off her day shoes and slipped on the soft shoes which she, Betty, had remembered to put beside her chair, before going out that afternoon. She handed Anita's drink to her and also her mail and then handed Jennifer's drink to her. From each of them she received a polite 'thank you Betty' but no further comment. So she went back to the kitchen and the dining room, laid the table and knocked again to tell them dinner was ready.
As she was wearing the blue dress that Anita had given her, which she now regarded as her 'best', she kept her red apron on whilst serving them. She was very relieved when Anita spoke in a kindly fashion, saying, "You look nice in that dress Betty, so you may keep it for the rest of this evening, but you had better keep the apron on as well, until you go to bed."
They had their coffee in the living room and when Betty served it, Anita told her that now she is settling down to a real working maid's life, she must be fitted out with real working maid's clothes, instead of the theatrical maid's uniforms, which seemed marvellous when the changeover was only a matter of fun. The frilly afternoon uniform must be carefully washed and pressed and put away wrapped in tissue, in the hope that one day she might wear it serving guests at some special party. The two morning frocks, the pink and the light blue might be used for ordinary evening wear, say from the time dinner was ready for serving onwards, provided they could be lengthened by at least five inches with false hems or waist insets. She would look into that herself and cut the material for them and have Betty sew them up as part of sewing dressmaking lessons she was to have. In the meantime some simple but hardwearing working dresses with calf length skirts would be bought, together with proper overalls and matching aprons. She broke off then to let Betty go and have her own dinner and wash up, then come back for further talk.
When Betty came back she saw that Jennifer had a long list of items on a piece of paper in front of her and was told it was an attempt to provide her with everything she would need through the coming winter. Buying so much at once would be very costly of course, so everything would have to be the cheapest in style which be expected to wear well, although consideration of winter warmth would have to come first. Most of the items would be chosen on the decision of the Mistress as to what she considered would be suitable, but Betty would be allowed some choice within limits.
"For example," said Jennifer with a laugh, "I have an item here, 'warm knickers or long johns or directoire'. Which would you like?" "Directoire, please," said Betty, "I remember my mother used to wear some very pretty ones."
Jennifer laughed again and said, "Well, yours won't be very pretty, but they'll keep you warm, when you have to hang out the washing!" She then read various other items on the list, allowing Betty to express her preferences for basic colours as available, and noting any other preferences which might possibly be met.
When they had talked over most of the items listed, Anita said to Betty, "I am asking Miss Armstrong to shop tomorrow and Saturday for the clothes and shoes. If the shoes don't fit we will have to change them later, taking you if necessary to try them on. But I cannot let you take part in the shopping for clothes. For one thing it would take up too much of Miss Armstrong's time and for another thing there is too much work here you must do, to allow you to be out so long. The other things like the handbag, hairbrush and so on, I will get for you. You will be able to sort them all out on Sunday and on Monday you will be dressed in proper working clothes and work in the manner we now know you can do, without expecting any special praise."
She paused for a moment lit a cigarette and continued, "Also, as of now, I want you to address Miss Armstrong as 'Miss Armstrong' and not as 'Miss Jennifer'. Somehow or other you have managed to make that sound familiar, so I must stop it. Also, whilst at first I liked the special goodbye you have been giving me and the special welcome curtsey as I return in the evenings, they now seem too effusive for an ordinary Mistress and maid relationship."
Then she thought a bit and added, "But, I want you to learn to show your respect to me and/or any other guests in the house by performing a slight curtsey, almost unnoticeable, whenever you want to ask for something. I don't think you need any more tuition to perform your daily housemaid's duties. You quickly showed an extraordinary aptitude or subconsciously acquired prior knowledge of that. If you come across a job you don't know how to deal with, ask me about it and I will give you advice. Apart from dealing with any special problems, I will expect you to get on with your work without supervision, but I demand efficiency and I will not tolerate any sloppy attitude. You do need tuition however in two areas of normal women's activities. Miss Armstrong and I will help you with these, in our spare time in the evenings. I will teach you sewing and simple dressmaking and Miss Armstrong will teach you knitting, darning, crocheting etc."
She stopped for a moment and added, "That became a long speech I am afraid. Thank you for listening so quietly. Is there anything I have said which you don't understand?"
Betty, as usually, was trying hard to get all this to her head and she simply said, "No, thank you Ma'am," remembering to curtsey slightly, as she was asked to do. And as Anita and Jennifer were exchanging looks of satisfaction, she continued, "You have explained everything very clearly and simply and I will do my best to serve you as your maid and try to please you as I should. If I have shown any familiarity towards Miss Armstrong, I apologise, to her and to you, and promise to be careful about that in the future. I do want Miss Armstrong to know how much I have appreciated some real kindness she has shown to me."
By now it was obviously time for the late coffee and biscuits, so Betty went to the kitchen and prepared it without waiting to be told to do so. She served Jennifer and Anita and returned to the kitchen for her own. It was not long before Jennifer was saying 'good night' to Anita in the hall and Betty washed up to have the kitchen clear in the morning. Anita had gone back to the living room for something and Betty wondered if she should go to her to say 'goodnight' or not. But Anita met her coming into the hall and Betty asked her, "Anything more Ma'am?" to which Anita replied, "No, thank you. Goodnight!" So, with a 'Goodnight Ma'am' and a very slight curtsey Betty departed for her room after her usual inspection of the house. She went to bed holding Emily tightly. She did not go quickly to sleep this night though. She realized that the discipline now being imposed by Anita would make her feel the inferiority of her social status and leave her with no one she could talk with freely. It would be lonely. She got panicked all of a sudden. She was completely under Anita's absolute authority, she renounced Bob's privileges and she was tied to a working contract that was more like paid slavery. And she accepted that fate without the slightest objection. In fact she fully cooperated with Anita and Jennifer for her transformation. And yet again, she loved what was happening to her, she loved getting up every morning, putting her maid's clothes on and working in the house. That was offering her a peace of mind she never had as Bob.
And then she thought of Anita. It was amazing how she adapted herself to her new role of Mistress to her. Her authoritarian manner was exceeding all expectations. Even Jennifer who was the one who initiated everything was obviously surprised with Anita's behaviour towards her ex husband turned maid! Apparently in both Anita and Betty, hidden parts of their characters have been triggered by Jennifer's initiative and an innocent experiment was turning to a serious affair, altering dramatically their lives for ever!
Well, so be it! She is Elisabeth Martin now, a live in maidservant. Then she remembered telling the Solicitor of her hope that some day she might achieve something worth while. As a first step, perhaps, she might rise out of the humiliation of always having to do as she was told, by anticipating everything that was to be done and doing it before having to be told. Was that possible? She was going to try. As she was falling asleep, she remembered again her coming birthday.
Would anyone else remember the birthday of a lowly servant?
To be continued
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