Conditions of Inheritance



When I was little, I was convinced the house was haunted. Even in bright sunshine it was an imposing structure. We'd visit several times a year for a few days and I always looked forward to leaving. The joists creaked throughout the night and the nearby trees cast skeletal shadows across the moonlit walls. I always mistook the hoot of an owl for the mutterings of a ghost or ghoul... and in the mornings we had to endure Aunt Agatha and her housekeeper Bernice. Agatha's husband, Uncle Quentin was always away on business until he was lost at sea many years ago. With no children of her own, Agatha's approach to youngsters wasn't ideal. Seen and not heard was the way she saw it.

When I was young I felt it was just myself and my elder sister Mabel that she despised. But as I got a little older, I came to believe that she disliked pretty much everybody. Aunt Agatha was a cantankerous old bag. I don't think a single member of the family liked her either, but the various strands had a tendency to visit her two or three times a year. She's rich... stinking rich. She's also a childless widow and her various nephews, nieces and distant cousins were only interested in one thing: getting their hands on a chunk of her wealth. Agatha has already disinherited Uncle Albert because she didn't approve of his second marriage and often claimed she'd leave everything to charity since her own family are so unworthy of inheriting her wealth.

That didn't stop them from visiting and sucking up to her, trying to find favour and secure a place on her final Will and Testament. After Bernice passed away, Agatha managed to piss off the entire family when she took in one of my cousins as Bernice's replacement. It wasn't the fact that she had a new maid and housekeeper that pissed my mother and the rest of Agatha's nephews and nieces off... but the fact that she'd changed her Will to benefit Uncle Rupert and Aunt Beryl only... my mother and Agatha's other nieces and nephews would receive nothing, nilch, yada, zilch. 

Some strands of the family turned their back on Agatha since they now have nothing to gain, but my mother and a handful of others continued to visit, sucking up and feigning friendship in the vain hope she'll leave them a portion of her wealth in her final Will & Testament.




My cousin Rebecca didn't seem at all happy living with Aunt Agatha, and it was an oft repeated rumour that her parents (Rupert & Beryl) had pretty much sold their 16 year old daughter into servitude. Rebecca used to have beautiful long hair, often tied in plaits and ribbons but Aunt Agatha insisted that it should be cropped short, in a style more suited to servitude. Rebecca didn't suit her short curls and detested having to maintain the style. My sister told me that our cousin has to sleep with numerous itchy steel rollers in her hair, but I’m not sure if I believed her or not. Agatha was always ordering the girl about, belittling her, telling her to hurry then berating her for being noisy as her heels clacked on the parquet floors of her huge house. Whenever we visited, Rebecca was always fetching or carrying, scrubbing, cleaning, toiling or tidying. Being a similar age to my sister and a few years older than myself, we often tried to engage her which often ended up having to help her. I recall her complaining to Mabel about having to wear a corset and my sister expressing how awful it must be. I also recall the first time I saw Rebecca's bedroom. Unlike the nine spare bedrooms in the manor house, the maid's quarters is little more than a broom cupboard. An iron framed bed fills one wall. There's a tiny wardrobe by the door and an old dressing table and mirror in the remaining corner. It's dank and draughty and I recall expressing how awful it must be, having such tiny bedroom. Rebecca told me that after a whole day slaving away for Aunt Agatha, she does little more than sleep in her room so it doesn't need to be any more than it is. “There are nine other rooms though.” I said. “It'd be nice if she'd let you have a bigger one than this.”

“Being nice isn't one of Aunt Agatha's priorities.” Rebecca told me. “Not to members of her family anyway.” She worked from dawn 'til dusk, seven days a week for no reward save for room & board. She appeared to be stuck there until the cantankerous old bat gasped her final breath. But that was not to be. After a couple of years, Rebecca couldn't stand it any longer and much to her parents disappointment, she left Aunt Agatha and never returned. Uncle Rupert and Aunt Beryl were livid since it meant they were no longer the sole beneficiaries of Agatha's estate, and it was rumoured that Rupert had disowned his daughter as a result of her 'selfishness'.

It was a week or two after this news that I overheard my sister crying in the lounge. Mother was comforting her and I feared the worst... either her fiancé Bertrand had been killed, or he'd broken off the engagement ...thankfully it was neither. Agatha had written to mother with a proposition; send Mabel to her as Rebecca's replacement where she'll work as maid and housekeeper indefinitely, and in return, Mother will be the sole beneficiary of the entire estate. Of course mother was keen to send my nineteen year old sister because mother's only concern is getting her hands on Agatha's money.

My mother and sister discussed it for days before Mother wrote back to Agatha, explaining that Mabel is engaged to be married, but would consider the proposition if certain conditions are met, i.e. 'normal' working hours, a day off each week, a proper bedroom rather than the maid's quarters and no mandatory corset. She also stipulated that her fiancé Bertrand moves in after the wedding and Mabel will divide her duties between her aunt and future husband.

A week passed before Agatha made contact. She flat refused to make any concessions and basically said that Mabel should call off the wedding if she wants to do right by her family. It was a tense and tearful time for my sister. One the one hand, she wanted to secure the inheritance for our strand of the family, but on the other, she didn't want to break her engagement to Bertrand in exchange for years of servitude. Mabel and my mother discussed what to do at length. Both had their greedy eyes on Agatha's estate and it didn't take them long to set their beady eyes on me!

To begin with, I dismissed the suggestion as ridiculous. I knew nothing about housekeeping since it's woman's work, and had my studies to concentrate on in order to progress to university. I may only be fifteen but I've got far better things to do than play housekeeper for Aunt Agatha. “Any way, she wants a maid... I very much doubt she'd accept me as a replacement for Mabel purely on the grounds that I'm not a girl.”

“On the contrary Peter.” my mother replied. “I've already written to Agatha with my proposition and she's more than happy to have you as her housekeeper instead of Mabel.”

“Well I'm not at all happy about it.” I retorted. My mother should have consulted me before she consulted Aunt Agatha, and Father would be turning in his grave if he knew I'd become a lowly manservant or valet for my cantankerous old aunt. I suggested my mother wrote to Aunt Agatha and suggested she find someone else to serve her, because I’m not going to it.

"Then she'd leave us nothing.” Mother stated.

“So?” I shrugged. “Father left us plenty.”

Mother told me that whilst father may have believed he'd left us plenty when he passed away (contracted typhoid on an overseas business trip, didn't return), the money is fast running out and the way it's looking, there won't be enough to fund my higher education. I countered by suggesting that she spent less money on luxurious clothes & jewellery and spent less time wining and dining in expensive restaurants.

Mother's retort was that we're the sort of people who do wear expensive clothes and do dine in the best restaurants and that father would be turning in his grave if we were anything less. “If you don't go to Agatha's, then someone else will and they'll get everything and you'll get nothing.” she told me. “Is that what you want?”

My sister interjected and said there's nothing wrong with being a manservant. “It's only a stone's throw from being a butler, and that a most prestigious role.” she claimed.

Only if you're the King's butler, I figured. Mother assured me that it would only be for a year, maybe two. “Agatha's not got long left... even when I was a girl she was an old woman.” she claimed. “She must be well into her sixties.” she added.

“But what about my studies?” I asked. Father's dying wish was that I attend university. He even left a trust fund to facilitate it.

“We've been living of that trust fund for the last two years Peter.” Mother informed me. “Once we've inherited Agatha's estate, you can go to any university you want... Oxford, Cambridge, even Harvard!” she claimed. “Money will be no object... all you need to do is take a year or two out, the rewards will come back tenfold... a hundred fold.”

“Why can't Mabel take a year or two out?” I asked. Bertrand can wait and year or two, so why does it have to be me?

“Because Bertrand's very well-to-do.” my mother said. “And so is your sister. Aside from having to cancel the wedding... she'd lose her social standing if people knew she'd worked as a mere housemaid.” she claimed. “I can't imagine that Bertrand's parents would be too happy about him marrying a mere servant either.”

“And what about my social standing?” I asked. “I'd be a mere valet or manservant or whatever you call it.”

“You're barely out of short trousers Peter... you don't have a social standing.” my mother said. “That you'll gain at university, and the better the university, the bigger your social standing shall be.”

It wasn't an easy decision, but it was one I’d have to make quickly. Aunt Agatha won't sit around indefinitely waiting for a reply. I recalled just how hard Rebecca used to work and how Aunt Agatha was always really mean to her. Mother said that since I'm a 'big strong boy', I won't find the work anywhere near as arduous as a girl, and since I’m an 'bright young man', I'll soon learn that Agatha's bark is far worse than her bite. Mother penned a letter to Agatha, informing her that I'd agreed to become her manservant. “...is manservant OK... or would you prefer 'valet', or 'butler'?” Mother asked as she drafted the letter.

“Not Butler... she'll think she's Queen Victoria if she thinks she's got a butler.” I replied. “Valet I guess.. or manservant... does it matter?”

“Not really.” mother replied before writing ...to become your manservant until such time that his services are no longer needed. Please let me know when you'd like me to bring him to you. Yours Sincerely, blah blah blah.

A few days later, mother received a telegram from Agatha requesting that I be brought to the manor house as her earliest convenience. “Tomorrow!” I yelped after asking when I’d be going. I'd expected a few days notice so I could... I dunno... prepare myself. Agatha greeted us with the usual disdain when we arrived. The atmosphere was frosty and I tried to make conversation by asking if I'd be a manservant, valet or butler.

“You'll be the maid.” she retorted. “I have no need for a manservant.”

“But I er...” I stammered and gestured to myself. “...I am a man.”

“You're a boy.” she stated. “But first and foremost, you're the maid. My maid.” she told me. “I trust you remember where Rebecca used to stay?” she asked. I did. “You'll find a uniform on the bed. Go and change into it.”

“Er... I er...”

“Your mother may help.” Agatha said. I looked at my mother who smiled back. I picked up my case. “You won't be needing that.”

Mother followed me up to the tiny room in which Rebecca used to stay and there, on the bed is what looks like Rebecca's old uniform. “She doesn't expect me to wear that does she!” I gasped.

“Well she does appear quite insistent that you be the maid and not a manservant.” My mother replied. “I have a feeling she'll insist you wear this too.” she added as she dug out a corset from beneath the frock.

“Really?” I gulped. “It's going to be bad enough wearing that.” I sighed as I aimed a trembling finger at the jet black frock. I felt as if I was being imprisoned as mother wrapped the corset around me and showed me how to fasten its busk. She began pulling on the laces and I let her know when it was snug. Mother tied the laces off and told me that normally one would fit and tie off their own corset. “Only ladies with a maid have someone to help.” she said.

“Does that make me the lady or the maid?” I asked.

“Well I suppose whilst I’m around to help, you're a lady of sorts.” she said. “How does it feel?” she asked. “Not too tight?”

“No it's er... fine... I guess.” I gulped as I ran my hands over the alien garment. It's a plain cotton canvas, undecorated and uncomfortable in the way it holds me. I must admit I expected it to feel a lot worse, especially after hearing Rebecca whining about it and Mabel's relief that she's never had to wear one. Maybe men are made of stronger stuff. Mother showed me how to handle a pair of silk stockings and how the garter clips work and before too long, I found myself buttoning up the jet black housekeepers frock. “It's too small.” I grumbled.

“Let me see.” mother said. She had me remove it and turn around so she could tighten my corset.

“That's too tight.” I said as she tied off the laces.

I began buttoning myself into the dress but it still wouldn’t fit. Mother claimed that my corset wasn't quite tight enough. I claimed that my dress is too small. “Just another half an inch, that's all it needs.” Mother said. Before long, I'm clad in the demeaning uniform and mother is putting the little lace 'thing' on my head. I bend as best I can to seek my reflection. “I look ridiculous.” I said.

“Well... lets she what Agatha thinks.” Mother said. “Hopefully she'll say the same and order you a suit.”

Aunt Agatha isn't at all impressed with what she sees. “But, he's wearing the uniform, just like you requested... and the corset too... what's wrong?” Mother asked.

“Couldn't you tidy him up a bit?” Agatha barked. “Do something with his hair... apply some make-up? I want my maid to look like a maid... not some boy you've dragged off the street and put in a uniform!” she ranted.

“Yes Auntie. Of course. I just thought you'd like to see him beforehand.” my mother claimed, brown-nosing all the way. “Although I’m... not sure what to do with his hair.”

My hair was normal for a boy; plenty on top but not invading my neck or collar too much. I am in need of a trim but Aunt Agatha had other ideas. “There's a set of rollers in his room. I suggest you teach him how to use them.” she tells my mother.

“Rollers?!” I gulp.

“Come on Peter.” Mother says. She takes me back to my quarters and begins to style my hair, explaining the process as I watch in the mirror. Whilst it's setting, she plucks my eyebrows to within a quarter of an inch of their former glory, before instructing me in the art of facial cosmetics.

“And I'm supposed to do this every morning?” I ask as I smear my face with foundation.

“It won't be for long.” mother assures me before reminding me what we'll get out of this endeavour.

“I think I'll suffocate wearing this blasted corset all day.” I whine as its firm grip encases me as I imagine an anaconda might. It's definitely more uncomfortable whilst seated.

Mother suggests that the cranky old aunt will probably only check my corset for the first few days and after that, I'll probably get away with not wearing it. I remind her that my frock doesn't button without it. “Oh, yes... I'd forgotten about that.” she replied. “I'm sure you'll get used to it. Rebecca did... in time.”

“Rebecca left because she couldn't stand it any longer.” I stated. Mother claimed I'd be here nowhere near as long as Rebecca, who was Agatha's servant for little more than two years. “She's on her last legs.” she claimed.

Mother coached me in applying eye-shadow and eye-liner, which really wasn't easy. She said I had to train myself not to flinch and assured me that practise makes perfect. “I'll get plenty of that if I have to do this every morning.” I grumbled, before moaning about what little was left of my eyebrows.

“They'll probably grow back in no time.” Mother claimed. This may have been a lie but I did find reassurance in the claim. Until she said, “Which means you'll have to groom them regularly.”

“Really?!” I whined.

“Really.” Mother said. “You may only be the maid but you should see yourself as a lady.”

“I'm anything but a lady.” I grimaced as I looked at my reflection. Porcelain skin with deep set eyes that appear wider and brighter than I'm used to seeing them. I painted my lips in an autumnal shade and mother began removing the numerous metal rollers from my hair. She told me that the curls probably wouldn't hold for long because they haven't had enough time to set, before telling me the 'best' way to get a really good set of curls. “Overnight!” I yelped. “How on earth does one sleep with all those in?” I asked as she carefully removed the rollers, one by one.

“Well you'd wear a hair net to stop them coming out.” she said, before claiming that it's not unusual for a woman to sleep with rollers in.

“But I'm not a woman Mother.” I moaned as I stood. I feel a little less pressure around my ribs once upright, but now I am on my feet, it's my shoes I need to be wary of. Being a boy, I've never worn anything with more than half inch heel and the shoes Aunt Agatha put out for me are at least two inches above that.

“So you keep saying.” she replied. “But you are the maid.” she said as I hung my head. “Hopefully this time, she'll approve of what she sees.”

“I'm hoping that she'll see the whole thing as ridiculous and send us both packing.” I said. “I can't believe I've let you talk me into this.”


Accompanied by my mother, I return to Aunt Agatha. A wry smile crosses her face as she has a good long look at me. My hair is curled and pinned in places. I can feel the almost weightless layers of powder, paint and lipstick that covers my face and my eyebrows are still smarting from being plucked. The corset grips me tightly and combined with the heels I'm perched on, I find it impossible to feel anywhere near relaxed. Agatha circles me. “Much better.” she says. “I expect this standard daily.”

“This is ridiculous!” I spat. “You seriously don't expect me to dress like this every day?”

“You're my maid, are you not?” Agatha asked.

“I'm your nephew!” I retorted. “Surely I should be a butler or valet or something... not this!”

“Peter... if you're unhappy with the terms, then by all means, leave.” Agatha said. “The reason you're here is because your sister declined my proposition.” she reiterated as she turned towards my mother. “...and because your mother will do anything to get her grubby little hands on my money.”

I gulped and glanced at my mother. My great aunt isn't wrong, although that didn't stop my mother from claiming she's only thinking of Agatha. “We're stepping in to help because Rebecca wasn't willing to do so.” she claimed. “We have your best interests at heart now you're in your...” Mother paused for a moment. “...twilight years.”

“There's plenty of years left in me yet young lady!” Agatha snapped. She calmed herself and added, “Although I can't deny that I do need help.”

“And Peter's more than happy to provide it Agatha.” my mother claimed. “Aren't you Peter?”

“Yes mother.” I replied. “...but is all this really necessary?” I asked, gesturing to my attire. “I can hardly breathe, barely walk and I'll never be able to do my hair like this on my own.”

“Like I say Peter... if my standards are too high for you, then you're welcome to leave.” Agatha stated in no uncertain terms.

“He's not going anywhere!” my mother insisted. She took hold of my upper arms and told me what she'd told me a hundred times. “We all know it's not an ideal situation Peter and under different circumstances, your sister Mabel would be doing this.”

“My sister should be doing this!” I retorted. “Only women should do woman's work.”

“Oh you think it's beneath you do you boy?” Aunt Agatha asked.

“Of course it's beneath me! I should be studying to go to university... not skivvying here.”

“Peter, we've discussed this.” my mother stated. “You'll be able to go back to your studies soon enough.”

I gulped and glanced at Great Aunt Agatha. The smug grin she wears is menacing. There's a good ten years left in the old bat yet which means I'll be stuck here until my mid twenties at least. Mother claims the 'craggy old aunt' has only got a year or two left but I beg to differ. Where we do agree is the fact that the money pot father left won't last forever since mother appears to be hell bent on spending it, especially now she's set her sights on Aunt Agatha's estate.

~o0o~

My days are long and laborious. My nights seem short and are often sleepless. I work from 6.00am but have to rise at 5.00am in order to fix my hair, apply my make-up and lace myself into the mandatory corset. By 6.00am I'm creeping around the ground floor as quietly as I can, cleaning and polishing the fireplaces, cleaning, polishing and lighting kitchen range before preparing Aunt Agatha's breakfast, which I deliver to her room at 7.00am sharp. She's always grouchy first thing. In fact she's always grouchy... only more so in the mornings. I pour her tea and butter her toast, light the fire, empty her chamber pot and help her dress. Then after changing her bedding, I wash the breakfast dishes and begin dusting the house from top to bottom, sweeping the parquet floors upstairs, scrubbing the tiled floors downstairs, polishing the brass, fixing snacks and delivering pots of tea, laundering her bedding and clothing, washing pots and dishes, running errands and doing anything and everything that needs to be done in and around her large manor house. The routine is repetitive and she's always giving me additional chores such as stitching a split pillowcase or clearing leaves from the gutters then complaining that I’m taking too long. Climbing a ladder in heels and a frock isn't exactly easy... it's not something I’m going to rush!

I'm starting to realise why her previous maid, cousin Rebecca, upped sticks and left. Agatha seems to relish in belittling me just as much as she used to love belittling Rebecca. I work my fingers to the bone and do all I can to live up to her standards, but according the Agatha, I’m lazy, fat, ugly and noisy. How can I be fat when my waist is drawn into a breathtaking twenty-seven inches?! How can I be lazy when I work almost eighteen hours a day? I can't stop my heels clacking on the floors and it's she who insists I wear them... and as for ugly... of course I’m not petty like Rebecca was... but I try my best. I almost left on the very first morning when, after cleaning out her chamber pot, she asked me if it was clean. I claimed it was spotless and she asked me to prove it, so I showed her the inside of the pot. “If it's as clean as you claim it is.. then you'll have no problem running your index finger around the inside then putting it in your mouth.” she said.

“What!?” I yelped. “I'm not doing that!”

“Then I suggest you go and clean it again.” she insisted. I did as asked and returned. She told me to run my finger around the inside, then to put my finger in my mouth. “It's the only way I can be certain it's clean.” she stated. My stomach turned as I did as asked. It turned my stomach every time after that when forced to demonstrate that her chamber pot was absolutely clean, which was on average, several times a day!

As well as tending to my aunt's every need, cleaning the house, doing the laundry and helping her prepare the meals, I also have to tend the gardens, vegetable plot and orchard. I mow the lawns, weed the flower beds, prune the bushes, plant, nurture and harvest a variety of fruit, veg and herbaceous plants. I pick apples, damsons and pears from the orchard. I help her make soups and stews, jams and preserves, cakes and biscuits... but I seldom get to enjoy them.

I make do with meagre portions and leftovers whilst her friends and acquaintances enjoy the scones and jams and cakes she makes. It's just as well really since there's not a great deal of room in my belly now I'm confined to my corset. Removing it before bed is one of the few pleasures, along with kicking off my heels. It's a pity I can't stay awake for long enough to really enjoy the freedom. I tend to collapse into bed and no sooner I'm horizontal, I'm asleep. Even my rollers can't keep me awake any more. No sooner I drift off, it's morning, I'm awake and I'm lacing myself into my corset before removing my hairnet and rollers, fixing my hair and applying my make-up before creeping down the stairs to begin my chores all over again. I imagine how it must be for the servant classes. From a very young age they know that all there is before them if a life of servitude... for the girls anyway. At least I know that my time is limited to the number of beats left in Aunt Agatha's cold callous heart.

After a couple of weeks I got used to wearing the heels and corset. But I longed for just one day without them. I even got accustomed to sleeping with my hair in rollers, since that's the only way I could ensure that my hairstyle met Aunt Agatha's impeccably high standards. My mother and sister (often accompanied by fiancé Bertrand) would visit once a month or so. Other relatives were also infrequent visitors which added to my daily workload considerably. I'm down preparing breakfast, up changing their bedding, down clearing up after breakfast, then it's time to start preparing lunch. Thankfully Agatha does most of the cooking (I'm a bit clueless in that department) but I do all of the peeling, chopping and clearing up afterwards.

I often tell myself that we don't need Agatha's inheritance, but with an incomplete education and my prospects of going to university slowly slipping away... I wonder what else I'd do for gainful employment should I decide to leave. If I told a prospective employer what I've been doing since leaving my academic endeavours... I doubt they'd be impressed that I'd been mostly doing woman's work. I suppose I could try for an apprenticeship as a tailor maybe. With servitude comes plenty of sewing so I've had to learn how to sew. Agatha has been patient with me and claims I'm quite nimble for a boy, which I found most encouraging. Aside from enjoying it, tailoring does have a higher social status than gardening or labouring, those being the only other transferable skills I'm gaining from this experience. My best bet is to try to get myself to university... but that's a long term plan. The only thing stopping me is my mother who's busy spending the money Father put aside to send me to university, and my great aunt who's still breathing. I wouldn't be surprised if she lives long into her eighties, by which time I expect I'll have spent so long wearing only feminine attire that my genitals will have shrivelled away and my chest will have sprouted breasts. I'd like to believe that we don't really need Agatha's inheritance, but as the weeks and months pass by... the more I realise that we need it more than ever.

One weekend, Uncle Rupert and Aunt Beryl came to stay. I discreetly asked after Rebecca's well being and Aunt Beryl told me she'd married a sailor. Uncle Rupert berated me for mentioning her name. “That selfish girl should have put her family before herself... but after everything we've done for her, she turned her back on us.” he spat. “She could be lying dead at the bottom of a ditch for all I care!”

I tried to explain that it's not easy being at Aunt Agatha's beck and call all the time, but they weren't interested. I guess Aunt Beryl has some empathy for the situation her daughter was in, but she seldom shows it. Rupert on the other hand, being a typical chauvinist thinks woman's work is easy and Rebecca couldn't hack it because she's a 'spiteful, lazy whore'. He clearly resented me too... since I’m the one who's securing what he sees as his inheritance for my mother. He never used my name and always referred to me as 'the maid', and I assume Rebecca must have told her father about having to demonstrate the cleanliness of the chamber pots because he insisted that I do just that! I know they're spotlessly clean but having to run my finger around the inside of the pot then having to stick my finger in my mouth always made my stomach churn.

Agatha did give me a meagre weekly allowance which I mostly spent on soap and stockings. Agatha insisted that I buy silk stockings and claimed that the cheaper and more hard-wearing Rayon alternatives were for whores and harlots only. She also insists on me wearing seamed stockings too... probably for no other reason than to berate me when my seams aren't perfectly straight. Whilst silk certainly looked and felt better, I'd have been happier wearing Rayon stockings as at almost half the price, would leave me a little money for an occasional treat.

As the months rolled by, I got accustomed to my new life with Aunt Agatha. Maybe she's not as bad as people make out. She just has a very stern manner and doesn't suffer fools gladly. She's not one for handing out compliments but occasionally, she does express her gratitude. My first Easter with Agatha, she bought me an expensive Sunday dress and when I asked why, she smiled and said it was a reward for all my hard work. It wasn't exactly the height of fashion, but I guess I didn't want it to be. It was a plain sage green frock with mint green trim. I wore it on Easter Monday when she asked me to escort her down to the town. By this point I'd been with Aunt Agatha for some ten months and whilst I was no stranger in the small town which her manor house overlooked, it seemed strange wearing something other than my black housekeeper's frock, and stranger still accompanying my largely reclusive yet well known aunt. I say I'm no stranger in the town (I run errands, collect groceries and other shopping as well as buying my soap and stockings), but I'm most definitely 'strange'. Everyone knows I'm Agatha's nephew who, for all intents and purposes, has been sold into servitude by my mother and there is a certain level of empathy amongst some of the townsfolk, most cast me suspicious glances for in spite of my slight build, feminine attire and appearance, It's common knowledge that I'm male. Normally I kept my head down and scuttled quickly between the shops I'd frequent, speaking only to those I needed to. But on that Easter Monday, we strolled and mingled amongst Agatha's old friends and acquaintances, many of whom I knew from serving them afternoon tea when they've visited Agatha... and for the first time since I became her servant, I felt like an actual person as opposed to 'the maid'. They greeted me, complimented me and asked after my well being which made a nice change from being asked to fetch this or do that. One of Agatha's acquaintances told me that my aunt not only speaks very highly of me, but is also very fond of me. It seldom feels like she appreciates me and I could barely believe that she's 'fond' of me, but on that day, I did feel almost proud to be in her service.

That dress hung in my wardrobe for months before I wore it again. Agatha went back to her usual grumpy persona the day after Easter Monday and I couldn't do right for doing wrong. Her tea was too hot, her toast too cold. I was too noisy whilst doing my chores and too slow when tending to her wants and needs. But subtle expressions of gratitude and little treats did come my way every once in a while. She occasionally gifted me a new lipstick in a shade she felt may suit me and was suited to the season (nutty browns in autumn and winter, pinks and reds for spring and summer). She took me to a salon to get my hair permed which saved me from having to wear rollers overnight. She also took me to a corsetiere to be measured for a new corset and I made it quite clear that didn't want a new corset, nor did I need one. I resented having to even wear one! But unlike the basic 'off-the-shelf' canvas corset I'd become accustomed to, the corset she had made for me is lined with satin and decorated with lace... but most importantly, it fits me absolutely perfectly. I fell in love with the exquisite garment the moment I laced myself into it.

My sister married Bertrand and after teasing me on numerous occasions prior to the big day, I wasn't one of her bridesmaids. I did wear the sage green dress Aunt Agatha had given me since all I have is that or one of my housekeeping frocks. Agatha bought me a pair of shoes to wear with them; mint green with a 2” heel; almost an inch lower than my usual footwear. I borrowed a hat and a handbag along with some jewellery which included a pair of clip-on earrings. I couldn't wait to take those off! I'd have rather worn a suit and spats and thus avoided the peculiar glances from various members of the extended family, but at least I wasn't dressed as a maid for the occasion. Mother spent a fortune. If she was a little more frugal with her spending she wouldn't need Agatha's estate since father did leave us a small fortune. But my mother is one of those people who wants to appear far more affluent than she actually is. I dread to think how much Mabel's wedding cost.

The newlyweds went away on their honeymoon and Mother came to spend some time with Agatha. They had a frosty relationship to say the least. So much so I was relieved when my mother finally left. Agatha doesn't seem to like people, especially those she's related to. My mother is always on eggshells, sucking up to a woman she despises. She's also begun treating me more like a servant than a son. In fact I don't recall her asking after my welfare once during this last visit. She did say my perm looked nice though... so at least she noticed something other than my uniform. I began to tell her how much easier it is than using rollers, but she clearly wasn't interested. I guess she's too busy thinking about how long it'll be before Aunt Agatha pops her clogs.

I'd be lying if I said that thought didn't cross my mind too. It'll be a shame when the old battleaxe goes, but it will mean the end of the daily drudgery that my life has become. I'll be twenty soon. When I was fifteen, I recall wondering what I'd be doing when I was no longer a teen. Fighting in a second Great War maybe. Working as a clerk for some prestigious company. Travelling to far off lands or receiving my degree in whatever subject I might have studied. It wasn't long after that when Mother told me that Mabel couldn't become Aunt Agatha's maid and I'd have to do it instead. It seemed preposterous at the time but here I am in the closing weeks of my teenage years and I've spent almost a quarter of my life living, working and dressing as a maid. Funny thing is... now when I imagine what I’ll be doing in five years time, I can't imagine doing anything other than what I’m doing now. My mother claimed that Agatha only had a year or two left. That was over four years ago and the old crone is still as fit as a fiddle.

Agatha's passing was both unexpected and upsetting. Neither of us saw it coming. It was early one afternoon when she requested I fetch her spectacles. Initially I thought she'd simply dozed off in her chair so I gently nudged her hand. It wasn't cold but it didn't feel alive. I knew something was wrong and instantly called the doctor. He arrived within twenty minutes and suspected a massive heart attack. He told me that she wouldn't have suffered, suggesting she'll have just closed her eyes and... gone. I contacted my mother that evening and wept as I broke the news to her. “I don't know why you're upset Peter... this is what we've been waiting for.” Mother said. The truth is, for all her berating and belittling ways, Aunt Agatha was the nearest thing I’ve had to a friend and companion in recent years. I knew she appreciated me in her own little way. She didn't have to show it. Mother on the other hand has become increasingly selfish in recent years. I hope Agatha has left her entire estate to charity because my mother is the last person who deserves to be the sole beneficiary.

Mother comes to the house the day after Agatha died and immediately began acting as if she owns the place. As on her previous visits, my mother tends to treat me more like a servant than a son. I suggest getting some clothes since I'll at least need a black suit for the funeral. “You've got plenty of clothes.” my mother replied.

“I've only got what Agatha made me wear... I need some clothes of my own.”

My mother tells me that money is tight and the funeral costs are far higher than she'd expected. I'd have assumed that a woman of Agatha's standing would have had some sort of insurance in place to cover the costs of her funeral, but it appears that all funeral costs are to be paid for by Mother as a condition of inheritance. Until the Will is read and the estate transferred to her, there is no money. Father left enough money to see her right for the rest of her life, enough to put me through university... but that's all but gone and he's been dead barely a decade. I berate my mother for her constant over spending, living beyond her means, spending money like there's no tomorrow, pretending she's stinking rich when in reality she isn't. “Just who on earth do you think you are? Speaking to me like that!” my mother retorted as she rose to her feet.

“I'm your son!” I barked.

“You're the maid!” my mother snapped.

“Not any more I'm not.” I growled as I pulled the lacy band off my head. “Agatha's dead!” I spat.

“But she's not buried yet!” my mother spat back. “So long as this is Agatha's house, you're the housemaid... and when it's mine, I've a good mind to keep you on indefinitely.”

“No no!” I shook my head, hastily removed my lace trimmed apron and scrunched it into my fist. “This. Ends. Now.” I stated, staring straight into her eyes. I dropped the apron at her feet and marched myself out of the room. I was in a good mind to slit the bitches throat for what she's done and what she's doing. I had everything to look forward to before all of this began, before my money grabbing mother sold me into a life of servitude, and now the grouchy old Agatha is gone, my own mother is moving herself into her house and filling her shoes. “How dare she even think about keeping me on as the maid!?” I growled as I stormed up to my room.

Meanwhile, Peter's mother is rummaging through a folder full of paperwork. Eventually she finds what she's looking for and spends a good few moments perusing it.

“What.” I snap as I hear a knock on my door. It opens. “I didn't say you could come in!”

“I wasn't waiting for permission.” my mother retorted. “I thought this might interest you.” she said, showing me a contract of some sort. “I can read it for you or you can read it yourself.” she said. “Section 4, paragraph C.” I snatched the document and read the terms whilst my mother paraphrased. “It specifically states 'until the day I'm buried' so like it or not, you're still the maid for a few more days. You breach this contract, there's no inheritance, and no inheritance means nothing for me, and nothing for you.” she paused whilst I finished reading the document. In her other hand she held my cap and apron. She offered them to me and suggested I get back to my duties.

I wanted nothing more than to plant my forehead bang in the centre of her smug fucking face... but the document I’d just read does appear to be binding. After everything I've put into this, I'm not going to come out of it with nothing. With a heavy heart, I took hold of the cap and apron. My mother snapped the document from my fingers and folded it two. She turned on her heel and left.

“Bitch.” I growled as I slumped on my bed. Ever since I agreed to become Agatha's housemaid my mother has been treating me differently. At first she was supportive and empathetic, apologetic yet encouraging. She assured me that I was doing the right thing and whilst not ideal, we'll all come out on top when Agatha passes. She taught me how to style my hair, tend my eyebrows and apply my make-up, how to walk with grace and elegance in high heels, how to curtsey, how to sit, stand and crouch like a lady... but all the time reminding me that I'm the maid, the skivvy, the doer, the fetcher, the carrier, the cleaner. When she and (occasionally) my sister came to stay, they seemed to enjoy having me running around and tending to their every need, emptying their chamber pots, changing their bedding, laundering their garments, polishing their shoes as well as doing all Aunt Agatha's bidding too. I was always glad to see the back of any overnight guests... but none more so than my mother. I donned my cap and made sure it was correctly positioned. I tended my hair and re-applied my lipstick before standing and donning my apron. Three more days isn't going to make much difference, I figured as I returned to my duties.

The following day, Mabel and Bertrand arrived. Mother and I greeted them but they paid barely any attention to me. I'd spent all morning preparing the 'rose' room; a room Agatha reserved for 'special' guests so virtually no one was ever permitted to use it. Mabel was over the moon and couldn't wait to show it to her husband. “Wait 'til you see it Bertie.. it's just wonderful!” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him toward the staircase. He tried to grab their cases. “The maid will fetch those.” she said, dragging him up the staircase. “That's what she's for!”

“Ahem.” I grunted.

I was about to protest but my mother interjected and reminded me where I stand. “She's not in the ground yet.”

I hung my head and picked up their cumbersome cases before carefully climbing the stairs. After all these years, I still feel that my heels may betray me. When I reached the Rose room, Mabel and Bertrand were in an embrace. I coughed to make my presence known. “Oh er... put those on the bed.” my sister requested before returning her attention to her husband. “Isn't it delightful?!” she yelped as she cast her eyes around the large lavishly decorated room.

“I spent all morning cleaning it.” I said.

Mabel didn't reply. Instead, she skipped around the room like an over excited school girl; opening the huge ornate wardrobe, admiring herself at the equally ornate dressing table, bouncing on the large four poster bed. “I think I'll have this side.” she grinned.

“Whichever you like my love.” the pompous Bertrand replied.

Mabel pulled open one of the bedside drawers. Like all the other storage in this room, it's empty save for a sheet of scented floral lining paper. “Where are you going?” she asked as I turned towards the door. “You need to unpack first.” she stated. “Why don't you go and keep mother company Bertie... I'll make sure the maid puts everything where it needs to go.”

“Can't you use my name?” I spat as Bertrand exited the room. “And can't you do your own unpacking?” I dryly suggested.

“Do I look like a housemaid?” Mabel retorted. “As I understand it... you're the maid until she's in the ground.” my sister stated. “Which means you're contractually obliged to serve the lady of the house and any guests therein.”

The contract is binding, although I can't envisage my sister or mother claiming that I've failed to abide by the conditions of inheritance at this stage. “And when she is in the ground... you can go to hell!” I spat as I opened the first case and began unpacking it.

“We'll see.” Mabel retorted. She didn't lift a finger as I unpacked her and her husband's cases. She did direct me though, telling me what to put where but failed to use either 'please' or 'thank you'. Even Aunt Agatha had the decency to be polite whilst ordering me about.

More members of the extended family arrived the day before the funeral. I had my work cut out for me, preparing rooms, greeting them and carrying their cases, serving drinks and snacks, running baths and clearing up after them all. Mother was playing her usual keeping up appearances game, pretending that money is no object and swanning about like she owns the place, telling people about how she's going to brighten the place up with modern wall coverings and the billiard room and swimming pool she's considering having installed. It's quite sad really. I'd understand it if she was obsessed with money itself, but it's the spending that she's obsessed with. 'They don't have pockets in shrouds' is one of mothers mantras, along with 'if you've got it, flaunt it' and 'why buy one when you can buy two for twice the price?'

I suspect she'll never be truly happy, even now that she's got what she wants. For all any of us know, Agatha's fortune may not be the bottomless money pit her extended family assume it to be. She could be ridden with debt and claimants could be queuing up to stake their claim, although I suspect Agatha was too astute to allow anything like that to happen. It's a few more days before the Will is read.

The funeral is a solemn affair. Even my mother is on her best behaviour. It makes a pleasant change to see her being humble rather than trying to be the centre of attention. As well as the extended family, the funeral and following wake is attended by many of the local townsfolk who (unlike the family) are genuinely saddened by Agatha's passing. My emotions are torn between sorrow and relief. Many people greet me and offer their condolences. Uncle Rupert and Aunt Beryl attend and are clearly furious that my mother has secured the entire estate. But their fury doesn't stop them from brown-nosing and sucking up to Mother, hinting at a share since they've made sacrifices too. Rupert wastes no time belittling me. “I'd have thought you'd have taken that frock off the moment she dropped dead?” he sneered as I greeted them at the wake.

It's all I have.” I replied. Since mother wouldn't give me the money to buy some male clothing to wear for the funeral, I had to adapt one of my housekeeping frocks into a mourning dress by unpicking the lace collar and white cuffs. He baulked and told me that I’m stinking rich now Agatha's dead. “Not until the Will is read... and it's Mother who'll be rich.” I replied. “Not me.”

Same thing.” he grumbled before finishing his drink, handing me the glass and requesting another.

Now that Agatha's body is actually in the ground, I'm no longer obliged to play housemaid but since Agatha's friends and acquaintances from the local town are attending, it feels appropriate to serve them. I don my cap and apron and take on the role of housemaid for one final time. It's what Agatha would have wanted, I think. Playing the maid also means I don't have to spend too much time mingling with the likes of Uncle Rupert and other money grabbing members of the family. Playing the maid also means I can mingle amongst those who (like me) had a genuine fondness and real respect for the cantankerous old battleaxe.

No one offered any assistance in clearing up once wake was over. I was left to clear up all on my own, which was no small task. There's still plenty of uncles, aunts and respective cousins who could pitch in, but no... it seems that such a menial task is beneath them. I asked my sister if she'd do the decent thing and assist me, but she declined saying “We've got a maid for that.”

Not now she's in the ground.” I replied. “I'm not clearing up because I have to.” I told her. “I'm doing it because it needs doing.”

Good for you.” she shrugged before swanning off.

The following day, I woke up at the usual time but didn't get up. I must have wallowed in my bed for an hour before washing and dressing myself. It was luxury... just laying there, not having to get up and tend the fires & ranges and prepare breakfast. I fixed myself some tea and toast at around 8.00am. Mother emerged at around 10.00am. “Why are you dressed like that?” she asked. I'm wearing my sage green Sunday dress since it's the only thing I have that isn't a domestic dress.

Because I'm not the maid any more.” I replied.

Technically... no.” mother retorted. “...however the house does need a domestic, and no one knows the place better than you.” she says. “We could get you a new uniform, something more suited to a manservant or valet.”

When I wanted a suit for the funeral, you refused and I had to wear a dress... now you're offering to buy me a new uniform in order for me to play manservant?” I retorted. “Really mother... you are beyond belief sometimes.”

Mother looked me up and down, from my mint green shoes and ivory stockings to my sage green dress and painted face. “It you who's beyond belief Peter.” she said. “Don't forget who the sole beneficiary is.... if you want to share in my wealth then you're going to have to play by the rules. My rules.”

I gulped. It's not the first time she's hinted at the possibility of me remaining in servitude. “But you'll be rich mother... you can hire a hundred maids if you want. You don't need me any more.”

I could but... good maids are hard to come by these days and servitude suits you. I like having you around. You're loyal and obedient.”

Loyalty and obedience were part of my terms of service Mother.” I replied. “As of yesterday, those contractual obligations are no longer applicable.”

That maybe so Peter, but when Agatha's estate is transferred into my name, I can draw up a new contract, and just as Agatha did with me, I can stipulate any conditions of inheritance I like.” Mother stated. “You wouldn't want Mabel and Bertie to get everything would you?”

You wouldn't do that.” I claimed. I reminded her of the sacrifice I’ve made, that I’d given up my university fund, given over four years of my life, my formative years. “Doesn't all I've done count for anything?” I asked.

Of course it does Peter... I'm very grateful for all you've done.” she claimed, placing her hand on her heart. “All I'm saying is... it's a large house and I'm going to need help running it, especially when Mabel and Bertrand move in.”

Like I say, hire a maid.” I shrugged.

That's what I’m trying to do.” my mother retorted. “You'll be part of the family too... you wouldn't be working every hour that god sends, and you won't have to stay in that grubby little room any more, and when I’ve had some indoor bathrooms fitted, you won't be emptying chamber pots and maybe we could hire someone else to help you with the laundry and cleaning.” she claimed. “At least think about it.” she said.

I took myself off for a morning stroll. Mother was doing my head in and I needed some fresh air and some clarity. I can't believe that she threatened to disinherit me if I didn't agree to stay on as the housemaid, but maybe that was little more than an idle threat. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I had 'normal' hours such as 7.00am – 7.00pm and had every Sunday afternoon off, received more than my meagre monthly allowance and slept in a proper bedroom. 

Throughout my years of servitude, I’ve become acquainted with some of the servants who work in the town. Unlike me, they seldom live-in and enjoy one or two half days each week. They only work evenings if their masters' are entertaining, so more often than not their day is over by 6.00 or 7.00pm. It's all variable though. Some have to provide their own uniform and have to wear the old fashioned and impractical floor length frock & apron. Some are beaten or worse. Some are laced to twenty-six inches whilst a handful don't even have to wear a corset. Whilst I'm bitterly aware that this last four years could have been a whole lot better had I not been put into servitude, I'm also aware that things could have been whole lot worse.

I've often thought about what I'd do should I have left before Aunt Agatha passed. I'm too old to apply for an apprenticeship. My incomplete education puts roles such as junior clerk or accountant beyond my reach and having no money with which to continue my education, I’d be looking at either manual labour or skivvying... or the workhouse. I've certainly got the skills to continue as a domestic but I can't imagine anyone but Aunt Agatha employing a young man to undertake what is generally considered woman's work. 

“Mother's simply got to pay for my place at university.” I tell myself as I enjoy the fresh air and panoramic view. I've certainly kept my part of the bargain so surely mother will keep hers. The problem with Mother is the goalposts keep moving. One really cannot rely on anything she says, which is probably why Agatha made her sign such a binding contract in the first place. What's most worrying is the fact that my mother is well within her rights to make me sign an equally binding contract of I’ve any chance of securing my inheritance.

It's noon when I return to house. Mabel and Bertrand have finally dragged themselves out of bed and through either ignorance or deliberate insolence, my sister immediately asked why I'm not wearing my uniform. “Because I'm no longer the maid.” I retorted.

Really?” she replied. “That's a shame. That means when Mother is the lady of the manor, she'll have to find a new maid... which means you'll have to find employment elsewhere.” she told me. I get the feeling she and mother have spoken. “Now let me think... with your experience, what kind of job do you think you'd get?”

I gulped. I knew she was taunting me and trying to provoke a reaction. I also feared that she knows something that I don't. Maybe she and Mother have been plotting to keep me here in servitude for months, maybe longer. It'd certainly be cheaper than paying for my higher education like Mother promised she would all those years ago. I wasn't going to roll over and take it though. I flat refused to prepare a round of sandwiches for lunch. I also refused to empty their chamberpots and change their bed linen. Mabel went ballistic but Mother, strangely, defended me and said it was my day off. “It's a bit more than my 'day' off Mother.” I dryly sighed.

We'll see.” she replied. “The way I see it is, you're simply in between contracts. When Agatha's estate is transferred to me, I'll be the one holding all the cards.”

But Mother... you promised to send me to university. I don't want to remain here, certainly not as the maid.”

Well dear... the problem with university these days is, it's ever so expensive and it's just a means to an end. I'm offering you a perfectly good job and at the end of it, the rewards will be vast.”

The way you spend money Mother... at the end of it there'd be nothing left.” I retorted.

Nonsense!” Mother claimed. “According to Reverend Bower, Agatha's estate could be worth over a million pounds... and even I couldn't spend that much money.” she chuckled.

Bertrand was so aghast to hear this that his monocle fell out. I contained my snigger as the pompous prannock retrieved and replaced it. He always been a bumbling fool. I wonder what Mabel sees in him, but then I remember... his family isn't short of money either.

I spend the afternoon considering my options. Mother has made it perfectly clear that she won't finance my higher education and won't toss any money in my direction should I decide to leave. Unfortunately for me, my sister Mabel is right in so much that as things currently stand my employment prospects are limited to servitude, gardening or labouring, and only domestic service offers long term prospects since gardening is usually seasonal and labouring jobs are often short term. I expect I'd have to find a staunch feminist and suffragist to employ a man as a maid, I can't imagine a normal lady doing so. Then the fact that I don't have a reference springs to mind. I doubt Agatha had chance to write once since her death came so sudden. Maybe she gave one to her solicitor... but then again, why would she? I begin to fantasise that my wily old aunt has set aside a fund to finance my way to university. She may have been firm and unforgiving but she was fair, and she was fully aware that my heart was set on education when I put my life on hold in order to serve her, so maybe... just maybe. I know that my imagination is running away with me and such fantasies aren't very productive. I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place and I need to decide what to do.

Mother approaches me later in the day and asks if I’ve had a think about things. I tell her that if I do decide to remain (and that's a big 'if'), I'd rather adopt the routine of a 'day' maid rather than that of a live-in maid. Most of the servants in the town work as day maids and usually finish their duties in the early evening rather than late at night. They also get Sunday afternoon off and receive a decent allowance. “I'm more than willing to consider such terms Peter.” Mother replied. “I'm not the stick in the mud that Agatha used to be.” she claimed. “We'll discuss it in more detail after the Will has been read.” she says. “But in the meantime... I'd like to see a little more loyalty and obedience from you.”

What does that mean?” I asked.

It means you don't speak out of turn or question me in that tone of voice young man.” she sternly stated. “You seem to forget that I’m still your mother.” Blimey! If anything, she's the one who's forgotten that I’m her son. She's speaking to me like some prospective employee, but as things stand, that's pretty much what I’ve become. She reiterates her theory that I'm simply in between contracts and that today has been a day off “...of sorts. Tomorrow, I want to see you back in uniform and performing your normal duties.”

But mother!” I protest.

If you want me to consider your conditions...” she says, reiterating the shorter days, Sunday afternoon off, etc. “...then you have to meet me halfway.” she states. “This house needs a domestic and you're it. Unlike Aunt Agatha, I'll pay you a decent allowance and depending on your commitment over the next couple of days, I'll happily consider the terms you've proposed.”

I really didn't want to but what choice do I have? The next day it got up at 5.00am, fixed my hair, applied my make-up, donned my uniform, cap and apron before embarking on the drudgery of my daily routine at 6.00am. I cleaned, polished and lit the kitchen range, prepared breakfast, changed the bedding and emptied the chamber pots, cleared up and washed the breakfast dishes, dusted the house from top to bottom, swept the upstairs floors and scrubbed the hallway, polished the banisters and balustrades before starting on the silverware. Mabel and Bertrand would be returning home today, which meant I had to pack their clothes and blitz their bedroom. I was glad to see the back of them but it won't be long before they're moving in permanently. Bertrand has to finalise the sale of their town house and when that's gone through, I'll be running around and clearing up after three of them! Christ I hope they don't have children!!

The following day, I accompany my mother down to the small town and the firm of Solicitors who are Aunt Agatha's appointed executor. I'd have rather worn my Sunday dress for the reading of the Will but Mother insisted that my domestic frock was adequate. She didn't even let me remove my cap or apron! I guess she wanted all and sundry to see that she's the sort of lady who can afford to employ a housemaid. She needs to be seen as the new lady of the manor and I suspect that the only reason she's invited me to accompany her is to perform in an ostentatious display of her social standing. I was severely tempted to thump her when she introduced me not as her son but as 'Agatha's maid'!!! “You remember Peter... Agatha's maid...” she said to a dapper looking gent. “...he's staying on to look after the manor house. You'll have to come and visit, I’ll be throwing a party before long and everyone's invited... well, almost... I’ll keep out the lower classes to ensure it's a classy event.”

The gent didn't seem at all impressed, although he did feign interest for the sake of social graces. My mother has no idea just how thin her veneer is. In fact I'd rather be 'the maid' than 'her son'. She's an embarrassment. In fact, I've a good mind to decline her offer of employment and take my chances. Even if do end up in servitude, at least I won't have to bear witness to her flamboyant and false performances. What to do, what to do? I wish Agatha was still around. No matter how harsh her manner, how abrupt her tone, she always gave a no-nonsense reply. Direct and straight to the point. Firm, yet fair. She'd have told me to follow my heart, do what I felt I needed to do, proceed and progress with my head held high.. or something, possibly. On the other hand she may have told me to put up and shut up... I'm lucky that I'm being offered anything at all.

We enter the solicitors' offices and take a seat. The executor introduces himself and spits out some legal formalities before opening the envelope that contains Great Aunt Agatha's final Will & Testament. It's very predictable. The manor house goes to Mother who puts on a well rehearsed yet clearly fake performance in which she feigns shock and surprise. This act is followed by yet more pretence, now she's almost humbled to tears by Aunt Agatha's kindness. Who she's performing to I've no idea... there's only me, her and the executor present.. “...The contents of the house shall be auctioned and the proceeds donated to charity." the Executor continues.

Mother is perplexed to hear this. “A charity?” she sneered

“Yes.” the executor replied. “In fact a number of charities.” he stated. “Agatha was a very generous lady and supported a variety of worthy causes.” he informed her.

“But... the contents of the house... you mean the furniture?” she quizzed

“The contents of the house means everything, including furniture.” the executor states. Mother claims it's her furniture and that it simply cannot be given away to the needy. “Not according the this.” the executor states, drawing Mother's attention back to Agatha's final Will & Testament. “Now if you'll let me continue madam.” he politely requests “The remainder of the estate, including the bank accounts, stocks, shares and a property in Devon will go to her loyal servant... Peter.”

“What!?” my mother gasps. “Him!”

I'm just as shocked as she is. All these years we've believed that the entire estate will go to my mother, providing I fulfil my duties as servant. My sense of shock only increases when the sum total of her bank accounts and current share values are revealed; £2.4 million! Plus a 'modest' house on the south coast. Mother is livid and claims the entire estate should be hers. The executor states otherwise. “The Will is quite clear. It was dictated by Agatha some months ago, drawn up by myself and Reverend Bower & Councillor Wren acted as witnesses.” he explains. “She was in good health, of sound mind... this Will is virtually uncontestable.” he assured.

“Well forgive me but I intend to contest it!” my mother spits.

I was asked to wait outside for a moment, but could hear my mother complaining and whining through the door as the deeds for the manor house are signed over to her. After a few minutes, my mother exits and I'm asked to return. She scowls as we pass and tells me that we need to talk. I say nothing as I shut the door behind me. I scoop up my skirt and take a seat, resting my handbag on my lap. “I assume this has come as a great surprise to you.” the executor said.

“Yes.” I replied. “I thought everything was going to my mother.”

“Well Agatha had second thoughts.” he replied. “She may not have shown it but she did become very fond of you.” he claimed. “She wanted to reward you for the years of hard work and loyalty you've given her.”

“I don't even have a bank account.”

“Ah but you do Peter.” he smiled. “Agatha opened a building society account in your name when you turned eighteen. All her funds were transferred into it this morning... here's the paperwork, paying-in book, and if you could sign here...” he said, pointing to the dotted line. He gave me the deeds and keys to the house in Devon before advising me not to let my mother bully me into giving up what is rightfully mine. I smiled and told him that I don't intend to. He stood and bid me farewell. I took his hand and curtseyed, thanked him for his time and left.

It was all very overwhelming. I still can't quite believe it as mother and I headed back to the manor house. Two point four million... blimey! Mother suggests a variety of deals, half and half between me and her. “That's not very fair on Mabel.” I state, so Mother suggests a three way split between me, her and Mabel... she says I can keep the house in Devon too. “Oh I'm intending to.” I dryly reply.

“Don't forget your position Peter... you're just the mai...” she halts as we approach the manor house. “What on earth!” she gasps. Three large removal vans are being loaded with... well... everything.

It seems the Lawyers have set the wheels in motion and the manor house is already being emptied of its contents. Every item of furniture, every piece of silverware, every decanter, every ornament, every painting, all of Agatha's expensive dresses, shoes, jewellery and accessories... the house is emptied right under my mother's nose. I say nothing as she barks at the team of removers and argues with the Solicitor in charge. I hum to myself as I climb the stairs and enter my tiny room. I open my wardrobe and remove the sage green dress and lay it neatly on my bed. I remove my domestic attire and don my Sunday dress, before packing my housekeeper's uniform into a small leather case, along with my black shoes, some stockings, underwear and the few personal belongings I have.

I tend to my make-up for a moment and give my tiny room one final glance before descending the stairs. My furious mother is being told by the solicitor that the house alone is worth a great deal “Even with the liability clause.” he adds.

My mother claims that she'll contest the Will and the solicitor tells her that that is within her rights, but would be a costly a waste of time. “I have a contract!” my mother barks. “Agatha drew it up and I've abided by it to the letter... her entire estate should be mine!”

“I think you'll find that it's Peter who's abided by that contract to the letter.” the solicitor retorted as I entered the study.

“Peter.” my mother said, noticing the small case in my hand. “What are you doing?”

“I'm leaving Mother.” I replied.

“But... you can't.” my mother said. “We have things to discuss.”

“You've got the house Mother. Isn't that enough?” I asked.

“No!” she spat. I bid the solicitor farewell and walked away. “Peter!” she yelled. “PETER!”

In spite of becoming quite attached to the place and the cantankerous old crone who owned it, I left the house once and for all with my head held high. I didn't look back. There's nothing here for me now. I've walked the lane down to the town many times before, always in a hurry when running an errand for my late aunt. Today however, I stroll. My first port of call is the building society where I withdraw some cash. Then I head to the train station and purchased a one-way ticket to the south coast and with a couple of hours to kill, I purchased a few essentials (tea, bread, milk, cheese) and enjoyed afternoon tea before visiting Millighan's Couturier. This is where Agatha had my housekeeping frocks made, so I'm no stranger. The proprietor greeted me and offered his condolences. I thanked him asked if Vanessa (Agatha's preferred dressmaker) was present. She was and she too offered her condolence. I told her that I'd be leaving for good and wanted/needed some suitable clothing. “Something more suited to a young man such as yourself.” she supposed, gesturing towards one of the well dressed male mannequins.

“Yes.” I replied. “Although this is more what I have in mind.” I stepped to one of the female mannequins clad in the latest trend; the ladies trouser suit.

“I see.” Vanessa replied. “Agatha didn't approve of such styles for ladies.” she stated.

“We both know that I'm not a lady Vanessa.” I said with a smile. “I do however prefer the cut and colour of this suit.” I informed her that I have a train to catch and request an immediate fitting. She sends me to the fitting room to undress whilst she removes the outfit from its mannequin. One upon a time, I used to feel so ashamed having to undress in this fitting room, being measured for a new housekeeping dress wearing little more than my corset and stockings. Auntie was very particular regarding the length of my skirts (just below the knee) and the circumference of my waist (exactly twenty-seven inches, no more, no less). Vanessa enters with the beige trouser suit. She offers to help me out of my corset. “That won't be necessary thank you.” I reply. “They do say a year means a lifetime.” I added.

“They do.” Vanessa replied. “I could let it out a little.” she suggests. “...to twenty-nine or maybe thirty inches?”

“Let's see how the trousers fit first.” I suggested. I slid my stocking feet through the legs and pulled them up to my waist. Vanessa tended to the back button fastening. The waist is a little loose and the legs are too long. She slackens my corset until the waist is a perfect fit, before asking if I have some flat shoes so she can pin the hems at their proper length. “I've spent so long in heels I can't imagine wearing anything else.” I replied before donning my shoes. Stood on the small stool, Vanessa pins the hems of each leg before taking the trousers to her sewing machine and stitching the hems. Meanwhile, I try the cream blouse and matching beige jacket for size. It's not a perfect fit but it's not bad. Had I the time to get the jacket tailored, I would. It takes barely five minutes for Vanessa to sew the hems and before long, I'm wearing a pair trousers for the first since I was fifteen years old. I pay Vanessa for the trouser suit, blouse and her seamstress service, as well as leaving a sizeable tip. I pack my Sunday dress into my small case and bid Vanessa farewell.

I feel like a movie star as I stroll to the train station. I've only ever seen the likes of Louise Brooks and Florence Lawrence wearing such cutting edge fashions before. It's strange that Agatha didn't approve of 'trouser' styles for women. She was always quite vocal when seeing photographs of the aforementioned movie stars in her periodicals. She also didn't approve of modern girdles which replaced the traditional corset and felt that all girls should be corseted from the age of ten. “A corseted girl knows her place.” she used to say when berating my mother for not putting my sister in one. I found it rather hypocritical that she held such traditional views regarding what women and girls should and shouldn't wear, yet forced me to wear female garments throughout my years of servitude. Of course I questioned her at the beginning and she told me it's so I know my place. “You may well be male Peter, but first and foremost, you're the maid and you shall dress in a manner appropriate to your position.” she used to say. I used to hate donning my corset each morning. I'd pull it's laces as tightly as I dare before donning my housekeeping frock. Its unforgiving waist was precisely twenty-seven inches and if I couldn't fasten the buttons, I'd have to remove it and tighten my corset a little more. Her voice echoed in my mind. “You're worse than a girl boy!” she'd bark. “You'll get used to it.” she'd claim. She was right about that. After six months or so, my back felt weak without the support of my corset. After twelve, my feet didn't feel at all comfortable without the support of a significant heel.

I hear the train before I see it. I stand on the platform and peer down the track. My eyes track the billowing plume of steam above the treetops and as it trundles around the bend and into view. I've always enjoyed train travel, but I've never travelled first class before. In the past when an errand took me to the city, it wasn't unusual for maids and servants to travel in the goods wagon to save a shilling or two. The engine comes to a standstill and engulfs itself in a voluminous cloud of steam. I board the first class carriage and find myself a vacant window seat.

It's a three hour journey to Exeter, then a short connection along the branch line to Sidmouth. I don't communicate with my fellow passengers save for some initial pleasantries. I spend the journey peering out of the window, watching the hills and hedgerows and day dreaming of a brighter future. It's nerve racking. There's no doubt about that. And any thought of my greedy scheming mother induces feelings of anger deep in my gut. But I'm proud of myself for walking away. If I'd stayed a moment longer she'd be doing anything and everything to get her hands on Agatha's money. She probably is anyway. I had to hand it to the cantankerous old bat though... I wouldn't be surprised if the manor house turns out to be a poisoned chalice. Saying that, I haven't seen the house in Sidmouth yet. I know she hasn't used it for many years so it could be derelict. The executor described it as 'modest' in size, which could mean anything.

I alighted the train at Sidmouth station and asked the station master for directions to Clouters Cottage on Crofters Brow. “Shall need a carriage?” I asked.

“Not unless you want one.” he replied. “It's only ten minutes by foot.” he said, directing me right out of the station, up the lane, second right. “It's just where the dark lane forks.” he says.

“Thank you.” I say before making my way up the hill. All the other passengers are heading downhill towards the tiny coastal village

I was a little disappointed that the cottage isn't on the seafront as I'd imagined, instead it's a mile or so inland, down a quiet country lane and not far from the station. My heart skips a beat as I turn the corner and see it for the first time. It's much smaller than I'd anticipated but it isn't lacking in charm.

Inside it's both dusty and musty since clearly no one has been here for a good few years... ever since Aunt Agatha was widowed, I presume. The furniture is draped with dust covers. I open the curtains and a window to let some fresh air inside before exploring the rest of the dwelling. Compared to the manor house, this cottage is quaint, humble in fact. Downstairs is a kitchen with a range and pantry, along with separate living room with a cosy open fire. Upstairs is two bedrooms with a small cinder fire in each. There's a privy out the back, plus a coal bunker and wood-store, a potting shed and what would have been an allotment garden. It needs some work. I head upstairs and change into my housekeeping frock, don my apron and cap and set to work removing the dust-sheets, dusting the furniture, sweeping the floors and cleaning the windows. I gather some kindling and shovel the few remaining lumps of coal from the bunker and light the kitchen range. The kitchen is well stocked with crockery and cutlery plus plenty of pots and pans. They're all dusty so I boil some water and give them a good scrub. I find some blankets and bed linen in a cupboard and change the bedding.

It doesn't take long for one of the locals to notice the smoke coming from the chimney. I answered the door to a woman who asked if Agatha would be returning. I informed her that Agatha had recently passed away and the woman seemed genuinely saddened. “Are you preparing the cottage to be sold?” she asked.

“No... I'm moving in.” I replied before inviting her inside. She seemed surprised that Agatha had left the cottage to a mere servant, and positively shocked when I revealed that I'm also her nephew. I told her my story and reluctantly admitted that after spending so many years as Agatha's servant and maid, that I’m not ready to return to male attire just yet. “I can't imagine not having the support of my corset, and I simply can't walk comfortably in anything but heels.” I told her.

“Well they do say that after a year in a corset, they provide a lifetime of comfort.” the woman replied. “I can't imagine a mother doing such a thing to her son though... it must have been awful.”

Well sometimes doing the right thing isn't the easiest option.” I replied. I didn't have my years of servitude in mind when I said this, but the moment I turned my back on my mother and walked away. The woman said I was wise beyond my years, which I took as a compliment. She also said that I’d be wise to buy myself some male attire since my current attire might prove to be a little too controversial in the sleepy little fishing village.

She had a point and I did purchase myself some genuine male clothing, although I didn't wear it very often and when I did, it was always with heels and a touch of make-up. The residents of sleepy seaside village soon became accustomed to my presence; sometimes in male attire, sometimes in feminine clothes, but more often than not I'm seen wearing a domestic frock and apron since I spend more time tending to my little house and garden than anything else. I made a few friends and acquaintances and gained a certain level of respect. I never flaunted my money but did help those worse off where I could; buying from the impoverished street sellers, giving surplus foodstuffs to the poorer families, paying well for their labour... that sort of thing.

I often wondered how my mother, sister and husband Bertrand were getting on. So far as I'm aware, my whereabouts is no more specific than 'in a cottage in Devon' and their only contact is via my solicitor. I have no intention of making contact myself and wouldn't be surprised if I never heard from them again. But saying that, I wasn't surprised when I received a letter from Mother (via my solicitor) some three or four months after parting company. She was asking for money and her sob story didn't move me in the slightest. She'd spent the remainder of father's money repaying the debts connected with the house (the liability clause) and partially re-furnishing it, only to discover that the roof needs fixing, there's both dry and wet rot in places and she doesn't have the money to get any of the problems fixed. She claims that I have a responsibility to maintain the manor house and keep it in the family. I couldn't help but chuckle to myself. All these years she's had her greedy eyes set on Aunt Agatha's manor house and now she's got it, it's a poisoned chalice, little more than a crumbling shell that she can't afford to repair and probably can't sell either. “You got exactly what you deserved mother.” I said to myself as I scrunched up the letter and tossed it into the fire.

4 comments:

  1. Very good and well written story. PJ, you are a talented novelist. I am amazed by the greedyness and the cruelty of the mother. In Bulgaria such relations between mother and son do not exist. Money cause this evil.

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  2. Amazing as pre usually PJ really I cant think of anything else to say but amazing cant wait to see what come from u next

    Your Sincerely
    Miss Alexandria

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  3. As always, an excellent story. However, I especially enjoyed the outcome. It's good to see some justice sometimes in these stories. I'm not sure "Peter deserved the years of drudgery he endured, since he had his eyes on Agatha's fortune too." After all, he did work for what he received and underneath it all he must have made Agatha's life pleasant to be left her fortune.

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  4. Another good one PJ, thanks! I think in any family with money, most people are interested in getting what they see as their fair share of any inheritance. It often causes big problems. No danger of that happening in my family! :-)

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