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Missed – The Fenian Outrage at Wantsumford ManorMISSEDThe Fenian Outrage at Wantsumford Manor*************************************************Copyright Oggbashan July 2015The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.*************************************************Chapter One: Wantsumford ManorMy cousins and I like experimenting with new things. We will try anything at least once as long as it isn’t wholly i*****l and doesn’t frighten the horses. One of our experiments got me into serious trouble. If it wasn’t for my twin second cousins Felicity and Graham Ffordes I might have ended on the scaffold as a traitor to my Queen and a martyr for a cause I detest.It happened several months after I had graduated from Oxford. My father wanted me to start to learn my eventual role as a landowner and gradually take over some of the work from him. He had allowed me time to relax after three hard years of study. Graham and I had just returned from a short tour in Europe. I was staying for a few days at Wantsumford Manor which was a small estate in North East Kent owned by Graham’s parents.Graham’s parents and his twin sister Felicity had come to meet him at Wantsumford Manor. This was an unusual visit because normally they only visited it in summer. In early February it was a dismal place almost surrounded by flooded marshland. The house and garden were on a slight rise which was like a peninsula sticking out into the floods. At this time of year the only approach was from the South-West along an old Roman road from Canterbury until the half mile long drive which had been laid by Graham’s grandfather on Mr MacAdam’s principles.Apart from welcoming Graham back to England the family visit was to avoid the builders at the family seat in Berkshire. The Ffordes had been remodelling the building to modernise it, particularly the domestic offices which were very antique, and to install SEVEN bathrooms all with plumbing. Unheard of! Lord Ffordes had taken the whole family to the Great Exhibition and then decided that he needed to bring his Berkshire home up to the modern standards of the mid-nineteenth century. No more food cooked on open smoky fires; no more bucket chains of maidservants for every bath; no more chilly corners for guests to freeze in. He would have the lot – new kitchens and washrooms, the seven new bathrooms, and steam central heating throughout the whole house including (and this really was radical) the servants rooms!So the whole family were making the best of Wantsumford Manor. Even with as many fires as the servants could keep burning it was still cold and damp. That disastrous morning had dawned crisp and bright with a film of ice across the floods. Graham and I had decided on a vermin shooting expedition before breakfast. Felicity declined to accompany us because she had been practising her shooting while we were in Europe. I was relieved. Felicity was and is a better shot than Graham or me. I liked Felicity but her skill with guns made me jealous. I took a double barrelled shot-gun from the gunroom, but Graham borrowed his father’s new French pin-fire rifle without permission. Lord Ffordes had been praising it as a wonderful improvement on the rifles used by the army. It was a breechloader with metal cartridges, unlike the muzzle-loading rifles still in use.Graham would not have dared to borrow it except that Lord and Lady Ffordes had left for London the day before. I had said my formal thanks to Lord Ffordes and also raised a subject with him. His response had been most gratifying. Graham did not want to miss the chance of trying out the rifle before the rest of us left during the day. Neither Graham nor I realised exactly how much the rifle differed from those we had used before.Both Graham and I are adequate shots. We hoped for a few rats or an unseasonable squirrel – nothing more. And that’s what we got – or rather I did. Graham missed everything he aimed it. Eventually he passed the rifle to me. I wanted to try it. I had been watching Graham impatiently as he missed shot after shot. I hadn’t thought that there might be a reasonable explanation for his lack of success and I was sure that I could do better.”Here, Frederick, you try. I can’t hit a thing today.” Graham took the shot-gun. I opened the breech of the rifle but my hands were frozen. I dropped a cartridge into the mud and lost sight of it. I kicked the mud about as I tried to find it until Graham stopped me.”It doesn’t matter Frederick. Father bought hundreds of the things. One won’t be missed.”It was a long time after that before I saw anything worth aiming at. Graham had potted several rats but the spread of the shot gave him an easier task. To hit something with the unfamiliar rifle I really needed a stationary target. We had walked in a large circle and were back near where I’d dropped the cartridge.I heard something move on the slope behind us. We were hidden below a hedge at the edge of the flooded area. I looked carefully and spotted a squirrel poised on top of a branch below the crest of the rise. It was poised, still, listening intently. Slowly I raised the rifle, allowed for the drop of the bullet, and squeezed the trigger gently.The squirrel darted up the tree uns**thed, alarmed by a shout from behind it.”Damn it! Someone’s shot my hat!”There was a flurry of movement up the hill. Graham and I looked at each other and took to our heels making best use of the available cover. We crept back into Wantsumford Manor unseen and into the gunroom where we cleaned the guns thoroughly before returning them to the rack. We returned to our rooms, cleaned up and went down to breakfast as if we had just got up.We thought that I had accidentally damaged a local farmer’s or yeoman’s hat. It was only later that day that we found out how serious my shot had become. We should have recognised that the tone of voice did NOT belong to a local.The difficulty both Graham and I had experienced was that we were over-compensating for the bullet to drop in its trajectory. The new rifle and cartridges produced a much flatter line in flight and the maximum range was double that we were used to. Both of us had consistently aimed too high.Chapter Two: I’m not here.Felicity brought us the news after luncheon.”The Duke of Edmondsbury was shot at near here this morning. His hat was knocked off by a bullet. His bodyguards are looking for Fenians who are said to have threatened him because he is a cousin of the Queen and an Irish landowner. They say that a young man was seen nearby. He was slightly built, well dressed, was carrying a rifle and a cartridge has been found …” Felicity’s voice trailed off as she saw the consternation on our faces.”You didn’t! Please, tell me you didn’t!””We did.” I said “At least I did, not Graham. I was shooting with your father’s new rifle at a squirrel but I missed and hit someone’s hat. We heard him yell and then we ran for it.” “Frederick!” Graham exclaimed. “Didn’t you go to a Fenian meeting at Oxford?”I groaned. “Yes. I did. It was reported in the local newspaper. I went out of curiosity but I was forcibly ejected after objecting to the speaker’s remarks about the Royal family. The report identified me but not why I’d caused a disturbance.””So you could be in real trouble if you were identified as the man who shot at the Duke of Edmondsbury?” Felicity asked. She seemed more excited than worried.”Yes.” I admitted. “At least until they find out exactly what happened at the meeting in Oxford. They would not believe that it was an accident if they think I’m a Fenian. They’ll probably sling me in gaol until they have made enquiries. I don’t fancy a term in gaol. I certainly don’t want to be hanged for an assassination attempt.””We are all leaving today,” said Felicity. “I think you have left already.”Graham and I looked at her. What could she mean?”If you have already left, they can’t find you here, can they?” she asked.”But I AM here!””No you are not. You left just after luncheon, didn’t he, Graham?””Of course he did. And – we don’t know where he went.” Graham was following Felicity’s train of thought much faster than I was. I suppose it’s because he is her twin brother and more used to her.”So how have I managed to leave and yet still be here?” I asked, still unenlightened. “My horse is at the Smithy having new shoes fitted. It won’t be here for an hour or so.””Forget your horse. I always fancied playing Flora McDonald.” said Felicity with a wink at Graham.”Felicity! You can’t mean …?””Why not, Graham? Frederick will vanish and all the searchers won’t find him.””Then you had better get moving quickly. I’ll order the carriage to be made ready for us to leave. You have about twenty minutes, Felicity.”Felicity whispered in Graham’s ear. He whispered back. I was still at a loss. Felicity grabbed my hand and dragged me off upstairs.”I don’t understand, Felicity,” I protested.”Shush! Wait until we are upstairs,” she ordered.Felicity pulled me into her bedroom. I was horrified. I should not be in a young lady’s bedroom. She shut the door firmly behind me.”Now, Frederick,” she said firmly “You have got to obey my orders if you are going to avoid gaol and the scaffold. Will you?”I nodded.”I want you to say it.””Yes, Felicity, I will obey your orders.” I didn’t know what she had in mind but I was really worried about the situation.”You didn’t follow what Graham and I were suggesting downstairs, did you, Frederick?””No. It was obvious that you two did. I haven’t a clue.””You are leaving with us,” I started to speak but her hand covered my mouth “as my maidservant.”I tried to say something but Felicity clamped her hand tighter across my mouth.”Flora McDonald did that for Bonnie Prince Charlie. She took him through the searchers as her Irish maid. It should be easier for us because you are not as tall as he was. You, Graham and I are about the same size. If anything you are slighter than I am.”I nodded. It was true. Felicity and I are the same height but she is the heavier by a few pounds. She and Graham were almost identical until they were about f******n. Even now they were still obviously twins. If Graham shaved off his moustache and they dressed identically they could pass for twin brothers (or even twin sisters!).”Can you keep quiet?”I nodded again. Felicity removed her hand from my mouth.”We have to get dressed, both of us, in the next few minutes. Graham is packing your clothes into your valise. That will go in the carriage with us as part of his luggage. Mine is already packed and will be loaded. You will have a servant’s wicker basket. In that we can put what you are wearing now, and a change of maidservant’s clothes. But we have to hurry. Strip to your underpants. Now!”I thought of objecting but Felicity’s hand started to reach for my mouth again. I stripped. She unlaced her dress and threw it on her bed. My eyes opened wide at the sight of her corset and crinoline. Her breasts were more exposed than I’d ever seen them even in her lowest cut evening gown. She saw me looking.”Nice aren’t they?” she said, cupping them in her hands “Do you like what you are getting?”She giggled at my surprise.”I know what you were discussing with my father last night. He told me. When were you going to propose?”I gulped. “St Valentine’s Day.” I whispered as I removed the last piece of clothing except for my underpants and socks.”I think I’d like you to propose now,” Felicity said “because you are seeing more than even a fiancé‚ should see.”I dropped to my knees, took her hand, and looked up at her.”Miss Felicity, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?””Yes, Frederick, I will.” She pulled my head hard into her soft cleavage and held me there. After a few blissful seconds she pushed away and held my shoulders.”Now, my intended husband, you have to become my maid. Stay kneeling there.” She went into her dressing room and returned with a large armful of garments.”This is your chemise. I’ll put it on for bursa escort you. Hold your arms up.”She fed my arms into the sleeves of the white lace-trimmed chemise and pulled it so that it spread around my knees.”Now your corset.” She laced the shabby well-worn corset tightly, and then stuffed stockings between it and my chemise to give me a bust.She stood me up so that I could climb into a small diameter crinoline which she laced to my corset. An old pair of her buttoned bootees on my feet and I was ready for the gown.”This is an old gown that I used to wear for walks around here when it is muddy. I haven’t worn it for years.”She threw the gown over my head and laced its back. The sleeves were unfashionably narrow but the dress was just full enough to sit properly over the small crinoline.”Good.” Felicity said. “Now to turn you from an unfashionably dressed lady into a ladies’ maid. Here is an apron. Put it on while I dress.”I tried, but I had never tied an apron. Felicity was dressed before I had tied that apron. She spun me round and tied that large waist apron neatly.”Men!” she snorted. “You can’t do anything useful.”She stuffed my discarded clothes into a dusty wicker basket on top of a pile of female clothing and donned a heavy hooded cloak.”We can’t let your hair be seen. It is too short. You’ll need a shawl even under a hood.” She went back into her dressing room and returned with a silk Paisley shawl and a handful of scarves. She tied one of the scarves tightly around my head. It covered my forehead and all my hair. Then she wrapped the shawl over the scarf, crossed it under my armpits and tied it behind my back. The shawl covered my lower face just leaving my nose and eyes visible.”Apart from a coat, that should do.”I tried to speak but my voice was muffled by the shawl.”What was that?” Felicity asked, pulling the shawl away.”I can hardly breathe,” I said. “With the shawl and the tight corset …””You’ll have to manage,” Felicity retorted as she replaced the shawl. She wrapped an old cape coat around me, buttoning it down the front. She pulled my hands through the slits and shook her head.”Those hands won’t do. They are too clean and soft for a maid’s”She rummaged around in a drawer and produced an old pair of leather gloves which she fitted on my hands and buttoned at the wrists.”There. We’re ready. Just pick up your basket and off we go.”I picked up the heavy basket and followed Felicity out of her bedroom. I felt very odd walking with a crinoline. I had to be very careful on the stairs because I couldn’t see my feet.In the hall Felicity opened the front door and pushed me out towards Graham who was waiting with a closed carriage and a groom. Graham was on the seat dressed up to the nines as a gentleman driver. The groom held the horses as I clambered awkwardly into the carriage. No one would help a maidservant.Felicity came out followed by the butler. He was elderly and was in charge of Wantsumford Manor as a form of retirement. He had been with the family since Lord Ffordes’ father’s time. Felicity climbed nimbly into the carriage then leant out of the window.”Hamble!” Felicity said “Master Graham and I are going to visit Aunt Gloria on our way to London. She asked us to bring Abigail back with us. I understand that the girl has been to see her grandmother nearby.””Yes, Miss Felicity,” Hamble replied. “What message shall I give to any callers?””Only that we have left for London. Don’t mention Aunt Gloria. She detests visitors.””Miss Felicity, what about Master Frederick?” Hamble asked.”He’s already left. Oh. That reminds me. His horse was being shoed. It should be brought here today. Please instruct the stable staff to look after it. Master Frederick is coming back when the family return next week.””Yes, Miss Felicity.””Thank you, Hamble. Until next week. Goodbye.””Goodbye, Miss Felicity. Goodbye, Master Graham.””Goodbye” they chorused as the groom released the horses and scrambled up beside Graham. We set off at a fast trot down the macadamised road.I started to speak but Felicity leapt to my side and gagged me with her hand. She hissed in my ear.”Quiet! If there is any problem it is likely to be in the next mile or so. You just sit quietly and don’t say a word. No. I’ve a better idea.”She unbuttoned the front of my cape coat and lifted my apron.”You’ll have to help. Slide your hands under the apron’s waistband.”I did. It wasn’t easy because Felicity had tied that apron so firmly. Before I realised what she intended she pulled a scarf from her coat pocket and tied my wrists together. She lowered the apron covering my tied hands and then re-buttoned the coat. I looked at her quizzically. What was she up to?Felicity pushed the hood and the shawl back off my head. She turned away from me for a couple of seconds then stuffed my mouth full of wadded scarf. She wrapped another scarf across my mouth and knotted it behind my head. Then she replaced the shawl and hood.”There. That should do. You are not just a maidservant. You are a pert and insolent maid who is being punished. You will stay like that until we reach Aunt Gloria’s. She will see that you are soundly whipped.”I couldn’t protest. I was too soundly tied and gagged. What sort of woman had I asked to marry me? I had time for such reflections as we bowled down Wantsumford Manor’s long carriage drive. A little way beyond the lodge gates a command resounded.”Halt the carriage!”The carriage slowed and stopped.”Oh, it’s you Master Graham.””Good Afternoon, Major Jones.” Graham replied. “What can I do for you?””Nothing, I hope. We are supposed to be looking for a desperate Fenian who shot at Lord Edmondsbury this morning. Personally I think that it was an accident but there is a fuss because a new fangled rifle of some sort was used. Had it been a shot-gun I think it would have been ignored as a hunting mistake. But a rifle … you don’t use one for hunting squirrels. I and my men are to stop all travellers, to examine them, and to make sure they are not concealing desperadoes. Who is in the carriage, Master Graham?””My sister and a troublesome maidservant that we are returning to our Aunt while we are on our way to London.””Troublesome maid?””She’s a bit pert and fancies the men too much. A man’s clothing was found in her basket. Fashionable clothing. No doubt our Aunt will whip the truth out of her.””I have to see inside the carriage, Master Graham.””Of course, Major Jones. Just don’t expect any answers from the maid. She has been tied and gagged for the journey. She’s too elusive otherwise.” “I see.”Major Jones’ face appeared in the carriage window.”Afternoon, Miss Felicity. Just you and this maid in here?””Yes, Major Jones. Just as my brother told you.””Can I see a bit more of the maid, please, Miss Felicity? I have to say that I have examined every traveller.””If you must,” Felicity sighed. She pulled the shawl away from my mouth disclosing that I was tightly gagged. She unbuttoned my coat, lifted my apron and showed my tied wrists.”This is Abigail, the minx. Satisfied, Major Jones?” Felicity asked, rearranging my clothing so that I was as before.”Yes, Miss Felicity. Give my regards to your parents, please.””Thank you, Major Jones, I will.”Major Jones stepped back from the carriage.”Thank you, Master Graham. You can drive on.””Thank you, Major Jones.”As the carriage moved off I was fuming inside. Graham’s conversation with Major Jones showed that Felicity and he had meant me to be tied and gagged but they hadn’t told me what they were going to do. I struggled with my bound hands.”Stop that, Abigail!” Felicity hissed. “You are staying like that until we get to my aunt’s house.” Then before I realised what she was doing she dropped to the floor of the carriage and tied my ankles together. As I feebly tried to kick she tied the end of the scarf round my ankles to part of the carriage seat.She got up and sat beside me. She leant her head close to mine and whispered to my scarf muffled ear.”Major Jones was easy. He is a friend of the family. The next search may be much more serious. Just sit still and let Graham and I do all the talking. Don’t worry, Frederick my fiancé, I’ll untie you as soon as it is safe. Until then …” Her lips brushed my nose which was almost all she had left uncovered.Irritatingly she was right. Very soon afterwards we were stopped by a Sergeant of Militia. He insisted on seeing that Abigail was firmly tied hand AND foot. He made coarse jokes about my predicament.A few miles further on we were stopped again by a village beadle. He seemed very nervous. I doubt he really wanted to find a Fenian. He was relieved when Graham told him that we had already been stopped twice. After the village Graham drove the carriage at a reasonable speed. We must have covered another twenty miles before I felt the pace slacken. I might have enjoyed those miles because Felicity was snuggled next to me, but my bonds were cutting my flesh. Chapter Three Ffordes CastleFelicity peered out of the window. “We are here, Frederick, but it isn’t my aunt’s. You will be safe here. No one will find us but, more importantly, no one will find you.”When the carriage stopped Felicity untied my legs. Then she hissed in my ear.”You will have to stay bound and gagged until the groom has gone. He doesn’t know about you. Everyone else we can trust.”Graham opened the door and helped Felicity out. She helped me. That wasn’t in character for me if I was a delinquent maid but I needed her help. My legs were still very wobbly. I looked around. In front of me was a small gate in the crenellated stone wall of a set of buildings that looked more like a small scale castle than a gentleman’s country retreat. The various rooflines projected above the wall almost at random. It was in a small clearing almost surrounded by woodland except for the track we had arrived on. Even down the track the view was cut short by a bend. As I hobbled towards the gate I noticed that the buildings were set within a moat of weed covered water. There was even a narrow wooden bridge to the gate. The bridge was little more than a couple of planks side by side. Felicity’s crinoline extended wider than the bridge and she had to squeeze through the gate past the heavy iron studded door pulling me behind her. Behind me I faintly heard Graham giving instructions to the groom.Once through the gate we were in a walled courtyard set with flower beds that must be pleasant in summer but not in a cold February. Facing us was an antique gatehouse flanked by substantial stone buildings that occupied three sides of the enclosure. We had entered on the fourth side that had stables and low roofed storerooms. The whole effect was of a medieval fortress but on a very small scale.”Welcome to Ffordes Castle,” said Felicity in my ear, “by the servants’ entrance or more accurately the postern gate. This was the family’s original base in England. We don’t come here very often. It is too antique and uncomfortable, and much too small.”She hurried me across the courtyard and through a door into a building to the left of the larger gatehouse. Just inside was a pleasant looking matronly lady who wrapped her arms around Felicity and hugged her tight.”Miss Felicity! You should have told us you were coming. I’ve sent my girls to light fires in your rooms but it will be hours before they are warm enough to use. You should know better.” The lady ended by pinching Felicity’s ear.”Sorry Nursey,” Felicity replied with a grin, “we didn’t have time and we needed your help.””I should have guessed. You always come running to me when you are in trouble. Who is in trouble this time? You, or Master Graham?””Neither. He is.” Felicity pointed at me. “This one pretending to be a maidservant.””Miss Felicity!! What have you been doing? And what have you done to him? Oh never mind. Come into the turret room out of the way and I’ll try to sort you out again, you little minx.”Felicity led us through a door into a round room that was the lower part of one of the gatehouse turrets. It was dim inside only illuminated by a couple of glazed arrow slits. Nursey followed with a lighted candle. She çanakkale escort lit candles set in wall brackets. Then I could see the massive construction of the room. The arrow slits pierced a wall at least six feet thick. Nursey took a taper and lit a ready laid fire in the massive fireplace.Felicity sat me down beside her on a stone bench. Then she took off my cape coat, untied the shawl, ungagged me and finally removed the scarf tightly wrapping my head. I worked my mouth to ease it from its long disuse. Felicity gave me a fleeting kiss on the cheek. Nursey watched everything with a resigned expression on her face as if she was used to such unusual behaviour from her Miss Felicity.”Nursey, sorry, Mrs Simkins, can I formally introduce you to my second cousin Frederick, who is my fiancé? Frederick, this is Mrs Simkins who was our nurse when we were young.”Mrs Simkins nodded at me. “Pleased to meet you, I’m sure, Master Frederick.”I tried to reply but my mouth was too dry. All that came out was a croak.”Miss Felicity!” Mrs Simkins said, “You’ve been misusing the poor lad. He can’t even speak. Now stay there, both of you, until I bring you a dish of tea.”Felicity tried to object but was quelled by a fierce look. Mrs Simkins swept out of the room.”Did I hurt you, Frederick?” I nodded.”Then I suppose I ought to untie your hands as well?”I nodded again.”I will, but you must stay as a servant girl until Graham has sent the groom away. Do you promise?”I nodded.Felicity lifted my apron, winked at me, then flipped it over my head while she untied my wrists. I shook my head but I couldn’t displace the apron. There was just too much of it. Once my wrists were free she removed the gloves gently. Even so that hurt because my wrists and hands were so swollen. Gingerly I pulled each hand out from the apron’s waist band before pulling the apron off my head. I looked at my purpled hands resting in my lap. If I could speak I would have said “Ouch!”Felicity looked at my hands and burst into tears.”I’m sorry! I’m so sorry, Frederick. I didn’t realise how much I was hurting you. I’ll get something to ease the pain.”I smiled at her. It took an effort but I wanted to show her that I understood the necessity. If I had not been so tightly bound we might not have got past the Militia Sergeant. A few hours’ pain was much better than a trip to the scaffold. Felicity went after Mrs Simkins to find some salve for my wrists.Chapter Four Becoming PrudenceShe took some time. I suppose she was explaining the situation to Nursey. Eventually Felicity came back with a pot of salve. She applied it gently.Mrs Simkins returned with a tea tray. Felicity had to hold the tea dish while I drank. My hands still wouldn’t work. Eventually my mouth was moistened enough to be able to speak.”I am sorry to bring this on you, Mrs Simkins …” I said, although it still hurt to speak.”Don’t worry about it, Master Frederick. Save your voice for a while. I’m used to rescuing Felicity and Graham from their sc****s. There is nothing different about this one except the possible consequences if we don’t succeed. Master Graham is already on his way to Oxford to get the true story about the Fenian meeting. Once it is known that you are NOT a Fenian, then the Duke of Edmondsbury is likely to accept that your shot was an accident. In the meantime, though, you are still at risk. Even here might be searched if they work out exactly who fired the shot. I’m sorry for you, Master Frederick, but I think you are going to have to stay as a maid for another few days.””Oh no!” I croaked.”Oh yes!” said Felicity. “Not only is it safer for you, it is better for me. Apart from Mrs Simkins and her two daughters, there are only outside servants here. I don’t need a chaperone if I am here with only a maid. I DO need one if I am here with a young gentleman even if we have been engaged a whole six or seven hours. So you must stay as Abigail.”“We will have some warning, Miss Felicity, in case anyone comes looking for a desperate assassin.” Mrs Simkins said. “The gamekeeper and his son have removed the bridge to the Postern and that door is firmly barred and bolted. The main door is shut even if we can’t lift the drawbridge.”“Can’t we?” Felicity asked. “I suppose we can’t. It takes four men on the winches and we haven’t got four men.”“And it would look suspicious, Miss Felicity,” Mrs Simkins retorted. “No one raises a drawbridge in the mid 19th Century. That would be like shouting ‘Look! We’ve got something to hide’. But if the main door is shut and they have to ring the bell…”“We’ll have time for Frederick to appear as a maid.” Felicity said.“There’ll be plenty of time because I’m deaf, elderly and slow to get the door open.”“But you’re not deaf, elderly and slow, Nursey!”“I can pretend to be, can’t I? And if I need the help of Abigail the maid to get the door open, they won’t be looking for a gentleman disguised as a maid. They wouldn’t expect him to be the first person they see, would they? But you won’t need much time because Frederick will always be a maid while he is here. All he will have to do is get to the main door with me.”I could see how Mrs Simkins had extricated the twins from difficulties before. She was a natural conspirator.Later, over our evening meal, I met Mrs Simkins’ daughters, Rose and Hazel. They seemed amused by my predicament. They served the food but all five of us sat down at the table. Hazel criticised my apparel which she said wasn’t sufficiently maid-like. The daughters offered some of their old clothes to change me into a more realistic maid.Felicity agreed with that I needed more appropriate clothing than her old dress. All four of them agreed something had to be done about my hair which was too short and straight. Although I could wear the mob cap Rose had found for me, I should have visibly longer hair.Mrs Simkins remembered that there was a chest of dressing-up clothes in one of the upper rooms. They hadn’t been used for years since the twins became adults but there might be something there.After the meal Felicity, Rose, Hazel and I went up to the room and found the chest. The three women had a wonderful time sorting through the ancient clothing, much of which was absolutely useless, but they played at dressing up. While they were diverted, Felicity ordered me to practise walking, sitting and standing in a lady-like manner with my small crinoline. From time to time they criticised my actions. I was behaving too much like a man, or if I was pretending to be female, not servant-like. Gradually I began to get the movements more plausible, until Felicity asked me to climb a few stairs to the level above and return.That caused them to laugh. I was showing too much ankle and leg. I climbed up and down those few steps many times before they were satisfied.Hazel dragged out a massive 17th Century court gown with panniers. As she pulled it out, Felicity was giggling at the impossibility of wearing anything as bizarre as that gown. Hazel lifted the gown further and something fell to the floor from its folds.“That’s what Frederick needs!” Rose exclaimed. “It’s a wig.”She pounced on it and held it up. It was tangled and dirty but a basic female brunette wig.“That was Great-Aunt Mavis’ wig,” Felicity said. “She was losing her hair in her old age. My grandfather ordered it from a wig-maker in London but she rarely wore it. Apparently Mavis told him off in no uncertain terms. As you can see, it is brunette, the hair colour she had been when younger. But she had been grey-haired for years. She said it made her look a fright and took to wearing a large cotton hood instead.”“I’ll take it to mother,” Rose said. “It needs washing and probably setting before Frederick could wear it.”She went down the stairs. She returned with a bundle of clothing.“Mother said these might be more appropriate for a below-stairs maid. And she found a larger mob cap. That one…” Rose pointed at my head, “…is too fancy for a junior maid.”Rose put the clothing down on a bench. The dresses looked very shabby and dull. She held up the mob cap. Unlike the small white one I was wearing, it was larger and grey. Felicity took the grey cap, pulled the white one off my head, and fitted the grey one.It covered all my hair and most of my forehead. Felicity scrunched up the white one and pushed it in the back of the grey one.“There,” she said. “That looks as if your hair is tied back.”It also made the grey mob cap fit better. As it had been it could have slipped down over my eyes or even further.“Mother thinks that she can wash the wig and it will dry overnight with curled papers,” Rose said. “It should be ready by the morning. But she had a message for you, Miss Felicity. Mother thinks you should change Frederick’s name. Abigail went with you through the checks on the way here, but this maid should have no connection with Abigail. She should have been resident here, a farm labourer’s daughter from one of your other estates learning to be a maid, and not very good so far. Abigail should have been sent back to her parents in disgrace and have been nowhere near here.”“That sounds like a good idea, Rose. Now what can I call Frederick?”“How about Prudence?” Hazel suggested. “He should be prudent if we are to get away with this masquerade.”“Prudence? Yes. That’s a good name for an imprudent fiancé. Thank you, Hazel. Prudence he is.”They were determined to make me look like a Prudence, and nothing like a Frederick or Abigail. The clothes Rose had brought helped. They were more typical of those that would be worn by a poor farmer’s daughter. They were clean, but worn, mended and very shabby. Felicity’s old dress, that I was currently wearing, had obviously belonged to a young gentlewoman. It might have been passed down to a maid, but to a Ladies’ Maid, or Chambermaid, not to the below-stairs drudge I was supposed to be.The three of them turned on me. I was stripped of my finery and even shed the corset. That was a relief. A real Prudence wouldn’t wear a corset. When I was down to my shift, Felicity asked me to turn around.“You need some padding up top, Prudence, but otherwise you’ll do.”There was a small sewing box in the dressing up chest. Rose and Hazel sewed soft cones of material to give me a bust. They didn’t overdo it, just enough to give a hint of some shape. Felicity tacked their handiwork to my shift before adding tapes to go around to my back. Once the tapes were tied, my apparent breasts stayed in one place.I struggled into a single heavy cotton petticoat and a coarse grey dress. Hazel laced the dress in front while Rose tied a sacking apron so that it covered most of the dress’s skirt. No more white aprons for Prudence. Abigail might have had a fine white apron, pin-tucked and with a narrow lace border, but Prudence the drudge needed protection, not decoration.When Hazel had finished lacing, I had a high collar that concealed my Adam’s apple. They had considered a gorget or wimple under my chin, but that would draw attention to that area. A high collar was normal, and at all costs I must appear as a normal slatternly maid who had much to learn.“There’s something that gives him away,” Felicity said.“What’s that?” I asked.“Your hands, Prudence. They’re too clean and well kept for a drudge.”I looked at my hands. Felicity was right. They were the lands of a gentleman of leisure, or perhaps a lady, but not those of a hard-working servant. Even Rose and Hazel’s hands were redder and coarser.“Mother had another suggestion, Prudence, but you’re not going to like it.” Rose said. “Hazel and I will enjoy it. You won’t.”She paused for effect. We waited.“If you are going to seem to be a junior maid while you are here, she says you should live and work like one. That means, among other things, that you should be up at five o’clock in the morning to do the fires, to clean them out, fetch the firewood and coal, relay and light them.”Rose laughed. “There are sixteen fireplaces, Prudence. It should only take you about three hours before your breakfast. Hazel and I can stay longer in bed.”I looked at Felicity in mute appeal. Surely dirtying my hands escort bayan would be enough?Felicity was implacable.“That’s a great idea, Rose. Thank your mother from me. I’ll make sure Prudence is ready for her duties at five o’clock. Prudence and I have a couple of tasks before we retire for the night. Could you and Hazel put Abigail’s clothes away safely, please?”“Yes, Miss Felicity, we will,” Rose replied. “Split between our boxes, Hazel?”“That’s a good idea,” Hazel said. “Mixed in with our summer clothes they won’t notice.”“You and I, Prudence, have to put the missing Frederick’s clothes in the room my brother Graham uses when he is here. There are some of his already there. Yours are the same size.”The three of them carefully replaced all the dressing-up clothes in the chest. Rose and Hazel left carrying Abigail’s clothes. Felicity and I went up to Graham’s room. My valise, prominently labelled as Graham’s, was on a chest of drawers. The masculine clothes I had been carrying in my wicker basket were on the bed. We carefully unpacked the clothes, shook them out, brushed them free of creases, and hung them up, or folded them in drawers. Anyone searching the room should think the clothes had been untouched for weeks.I was finding it much easier to move as Prudence. I had shed the corset and the crinoline. The narrower skirt made my stride shorter and after a few minutes I had reduced my leg movement to fit what was possible.In Felicity’s room a truckle bed had been set at the foot of the curtained large four-poster.“Through there,” Felicity said, “is the garderobe, the ancient toilet. It has been fitted with basic plumbing. You can relieve and wash yourself in there, and then you are sleeping, dressed as you are, on that truckle. I’ll wash after you and I’ll undress inside the curtained bed. No peeking, Prudence! We may have been engaged almost a whole day, but you’ll have to wait until you are yourself again, as my fiancé, before we kiss or do anything else. That might ruin your disguise, and besides, you should wait until this lady is ready…”When she was in bed a hand reached out and snuffed the candle. I slept on that truckle bed as if it was a fine mattress. I was happy that I was engaged to Felicity, slightly worried that she was organising me so much, but I felt safe. I was surrounded by thick castle walls and protected by four women who seemed determined to rescue me from the consequences of my incompetent marksmanship.Chapter Five: Living as PrudenceI was woken by a foot in my ribs.“Wake up, Prudence! It’s a quarter to five. Your duties start at five. Take this candle…”In the light of that candle I could see a very shapely foot and ankle, poised to kick me again. Felicity was shrouded in yards of white nightdress. I struggled off the bed, shook out my unfamiliar skirt and apron, and took the candle from her. Her hand reached out to stroke my cheek.“You’ll need to shave,” Felicity pronounced. “One of Graham’s old razors is in the garderobe but there’s only cold water. Hurry!”I hurried. Graham’s razor was blunt and there was nothing to strop it on. I managed at the cost of a sore and reddened face.“Goodbye, Feliclty,” I said as I left her bedroom.“Bye,” came a sleepy reply. Lucky Felicity. I had to work.I hadn’t realised just how hard a maid’s work could be. When I had finished with all the fireplaces I was sweating, covered in coal dust, and my hands were sore. I washed my hands at the pump in the courtyard before going into to see Mrs Simkins, and a much needed breakfast.“Hold out your hands, Prudence,” Mrs Simkins ordered.I obeyed. I could see dirt under my broken fingernails.“They could be cleaner, but they are better than they were yesterday,” Mrs Simkins said. “A couple more days of work and they will be just right.”A couple more days? I was exhausted and my day had hardly begun. After breakfast Felicity and Mrs Simkins’ daughters harried me all day, fetching, carrying, cleaning, polishing, dusting… I thought they were overdoing it. Rose told me they were actually being gentle with me. A real Prudence would have to work much harder than I was.The next three days were the same. I was beginning to find the work, not easier, but more routine. Wearing the wig was irritating. It had been stuck on with gum Arabic. Except at night in Felicity’s bedroom when I could relax, I lived as Prudence the maid-of-all-work. From five o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night I was Prudence and the four women treated me as Prudence. I became sweatier, dirtier and my hands were permanently red raw from the unaccustomed labour.Chapter Six: Graham returnsAfter lunch on the fourth day Graham arrived. He laughed at me as I helped Mrs Simkins to open the great doors of the castle. Mrs Simkins told him off what for her was strong language. Once inside, with the doors shut behind us, she told him that he must treat Prudence as the maid she was.However she was less fierce when we sat down for tea, all six of us around her kitchen table, and Graham told his news.“Mrs Simkins, Rose, Hazel, my sister Felicity, and maid Prudence,” he started. “I have been to Oxford and obtained proof that the missing Frederick was against the Fenians. But I was wasting my time. I stopped at our town house on the way back. My father was there. He wanted to know why I had been to Oxford and insisted on an explanation. Eventually I told him everything…”“Everything?” Felicity was dismayed.“Everything,” Graham repeated. “That we had borrowed his rifle, that Frederick had accidently shot Lord Edmondsbury’s hat, that Frederick left as the pinioned minx Abigail, and what Frederick was to become while here. He found it most diverting.”“Diverting!” I protested, forgetting to speak in higher tones.“Yes, Prudence, diverting,” Graham confirmed. “Before I left, Mrs Simkins had told me that she intended that Frederick would be disguised to live and work as a below-stairs maid. She hadn’t told you four that, had she?”“No, she hadn’t,” Felicity said, looking at Mrs Simkins.“Well, Miss Felicity, I thought it would have to be introduced gradually if Frederick was to cooperate. If I said that at first, would you have accepted it? Would he?”“Probably not,” Felicity admitted.I knew I wouldn’t have done. Being Abigail had been bad enough. Four days as Prudence had been very difficult.“My father decided that the best course of action was to approach Lord Edmondsbury directly. They are friends. That is why Lord Edmondsbury had been on our land. He had been thinking of coming to visit us in the summer, and on the way back from Dover had made a diversion to see where our estate was.”“That could be awkward. This summer, I mean,” Felicity interrupted.“No, it won’t. Let me finish, Felicity.” Graham retorted. “Father told me to stay in London while he went to pay a call on Lord Edmondsbury. Our father told him everything I had revealed. Edmonsbury found it very amusing, particularly the thought of Frederick hiding as a scullery maid. Father paid for a new hat. That’s five guineas you owe him, Prudence.”“I’ll pay it,” I said, as Prudence this time.“Father added that if I had asked to borrow his rifle, he would have lent it willingly, but would have warned that it shoots a very flat trajectory that needs getting used to. That’s why I couldn’t hit anything.”Felicity nearly interrupted. She knows she is a better shot than Graham. She stopped herself.“The situation now, Prudence, is that Lord Edmondsbury is no longer looking for a Fenian assassin, and has forgiven you. It might be prudent, Prudence, to write a grovelling letter of apology to him, but he isn’t seeking punishment.”“Thank you, Graham, your father, and Lord Edmondsbury.” I said.“There is a but, Prudence.” Graham added, “A large but. Although Lord Edmondsbury is satisfied, it will take some time to call off the agents that were looking for a Fenian assassin, perhaps several days from now. If they find a Frederick, they might arrest you and treat you harshly. Lord Edmondsbury will cancel the search, but it will be real for a while yet. Our father thinks it would be prudent, again, Prudence, for you to remain as Prudence until Sunday to be safe.”Sunday? Four more days as Prudence? That was harsh.“He also has a message for his prospective son-in-law to be, who of course ISN’T here, Prudence.” Felicity stopped Graham by holding up her hand.“Should you deliver that message to all of us, Graham, or is it just for the ear of the person who isn’t here?”“I think father intended all of us to hear it, Felicity.”“Very well, Graham. Out with it.”Graham produced a sheet of paper.“He wrote this: Dear prospective Son-in-Law to be, you should now be aware of some of the traits of my daughter. I value her for her wit, her intelligence and her presence of mind. I think you too have had an opportunity to see her in action. You now know her much better than you did when you spoke to me asking for her hand. If you haven’t proposed to her yet, she would probably propose to you. She wants you. You haven’t really got a choice, and you may well find, like her mother does, that she organises the men in her life very effectively. Just relax and enjoy it. I do, and I love her mother for it. You will find that Felicity is a woman to stand by your side whatever happens. A holed hat at the cost of five guineas, and a few days humiliation, are as nothing compared with a lifetime with Felicity. You two have my blessing.”I lifted my skirt and knelt in front of Felicity. She had been blushing as Graham read her father’s words.“Felicity, I have already proposed and you accepted me. But I want to do that in public. Will you marry me, please?”Felicity stroked my roughened cheek.“Of course I will, Prudence or Frederick or Abigail. Anyone who can put up with what I have done to you in the last few days, and yet can bring himself to propose again, is worth having.”Graham and the three women congratulated us. Felicity hugged my head to her body.“I also have a message from Lady Ffordes to both of you. She too wishes you well but Felicity should treat her fiancé more gently than she has so far. Like horses, men repay delicate handling…”We were interrupted by a loud clanging of the doorbell.“Prudence!” Mrs Simkins shouted. “Come on. Now!”I followed her towards the main doors. We opened them slowly to reveal several embarrassed Policemen.“We are sorry to disturb you, Mrs Simkins, but we are looking for a Fenian who shot at someone a few days ago. Have you seen any strangers around?”“No, officers,” Mrs Simkins replied. “We have Mr Graham and Miss Felicity here for a few days. Apart from them, there’s my two daughters, and this is Prudence, our below stairs maid.”I dropped a wobbly curtsey but the sergeant barely glanced at me.“Thank you, ma’am,” He said. “We’ll keep looking but we are so far away and it happened so long ago that I think we are wasting our time. I’m sorry we came to the main door. We would have gone to the Tradesmen’s entrance but the bridge is missing.”“The postern? One of the planks was rotten. It should be replaced by the end of the week,” Mrs Simkins said.“Thank you. We’ll leave you. Do you want any help shutting the doors?”“No thanks, officer. That’s Prudence’s job. She’s helping out with the heavy work. She’s a good strong girl, a bit clumsy still, but improving.” The sergeant saluted and led his men away. I pushed the doors shut. Mrs Simkins and I walked away, back towards the kitchen.“Well done, Prudence,” she said once we were inside the buildings. “You were perfect.”Graham left the next morning, taking my fulsome letter of apology to Lord Edmonsbury. Felicity and Mrs Simkins insisted that I stayed as Prudence until Sunday when Graham would return to take the engaged couple back to Wantsumford Manor.Felicity was enjoying ordering me around as Prudence. My last task on Sunday morning was to fill a bath for me to wash Prudence clean and resume my status as a gentleman and Felicity’s fiancé. We left after a flurry of kissing from Nursey and her daughters.It took weeks for me to get Prudence’s grime out of my hands. I had them clean when Lord Edmondsbury visited us. He gave me his holed hat as a souvenir, and sent a gift for our wedding at St George’s Hanover Square. Graham was my best man.His speech at the reception had some phrases that most of the guests didn’t follow, repeatedly referring to ‘prudence’…But Prudence is very pleased to be married to Felicity.

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